Last month The Associated Press asked American newspaper editors and television news directors to name the top stories of 2012. The AP does this every year and the news service released its most recent survey results a few days before Christmas. The consensus among America’s media executives is that the rash of mass shootings like the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut; the national elections; “Superstorm Sandy;” “Obamacare;” the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya; Jerry Sandusky, the Penn State pedophile; the economic recovery; the fiscal cliff; gay marriage; and the civil war in Syria – in that order – were the top ten stories about which America most needed to be informed.
Not even Mark Lett, the executive editor of the State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina ever thought the local prosecution of Diamond Dan Bifield was important enough to make one of his reporters drive the four long miles from the plant out by the airport to the federal courthouse all the way downtown. Maybe Lett just wants his staff to conserve gasoline. The State may pick up the story tomorrow, now that the lead defendant has thrown in the towel. But that depends on whether United States Attorney Bill Nettles sends the paper a press release that one of Lett’s news monkeys can rewrite. That’s how news works.
Another South Carolina newspaper did mention the Hells Angels in its list of the last year’s top local stories. The Myrtle Beach Sun News listed another Hells Angels prosecution as the ninth most important local story of 2012 – well below last May’s scaled down Blue Crab Festival but just ahead of a touching human interest piece about a black Lab that walked 500 miles to reunite with his master. People love dogs. Reporters love human interest stories.
But people don’t love Hells Angels – at least not since they killed Sharon Tate and ruined that free Stones concert. Reporters don’t love Hells Angels because, you know, if those guys screwed up a free concert 43 years ago who knows what else they might be capable of. All of that is why, since the first indictment was announced last June, no newspaper or magazine has bothered to cover United States versus Daniel Bifield and others. The case has been ignored because no editor, reporter or writer has found an angle to hang the story on.
Maybe The Aging Rebel can help. This page has published 16 stories about the case so far and has found that if you bother to look, the case is not at all what the prosecution has made it out to be. The story of this case has larger than life, innocent and villainous, brave and cowardly, noble and ignoble characters wrestling with big, important, relevant, sexy issues. This racketeering case is more important than the Blue Crab Festival. US v Bifield et al. might even be more important to America than gay marriage. It may say more about the state of the nation than the deaths in Bengazi. It should be easier to explain than the Syrian uprising.
So here are some obvious angles on this case that even a news monkey could have written on but that no newspaper or network bothered to pursue.
America’s greatest exports have always been ideas. The American Revolution inspired the French Revolution. In 1888, as part of a complex business strategy intended to frustrate unionization and sell sporting goods, National League founder Albert G. Spalding sponsored a round the world baseball tour that made baseball matter in Japan. One of the attractions the touring baseball players viewed in Paris and again in London was Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show – a kind of rodeo that had a global effect on how America and the American frontier are still understood. America’s most important exports in the decade after the Second World War might have been rock n’ roll and blue jeans. When hippies protested in Berkeley, hippies appeared and protested in Paris and Prague. And, there are now three piece patch motorcycle clubs modeled on similar clubs in the United States in every English speaking country, most of Europe and even in the former Soviet Union.
“Bike is the most democratic transport vehicle,” Vladimir Putin told the Night Wolves in Sevastopol in July 2010. “Bike is the most daring, challenging, as it gives its owner the tempting feeling of freedom. That is why one can say without exaggeration, bike is a symbol of freedom. You came here, because you are a free people and you can go wherever you want.”
American style outlaw motorcycle clubs, for reasons that are too complex and varied to be explored here but that should nevertheless be self-evident to any reporter of near normal intelligence, are now one of the most cogent institutions on the planet. They are not a symptom of social decay. They are, as the historiographer Arnold Toynbee would have put it, a “response” to some transnational “challenge” in exactly the same way that fever is a response to infection. A significant fraction of the world’s population is now fascinated with the idea of small, tightly knit bands of armed, mobile, capable, secretive, honor driven, anti-materialistic, defiant, loyal and physically courageous men who make and live by their own rules.
Monkeys who own televisions know this. Brothers in Arms was a hit in Australia. Sons of Anarchy is the highest rated basic cable series in the United States. Even The Devils Ride, a reality drama about members of a small club in San Diego, can attract two million viewers in any seven days. The television bikers have become role models for millions of disaffected and otherwise invisible adult men. Almost everyone knows this, too. Kurt Sutter probably knows this. The advertisers on his show absolutely do.
Even federal prosecutors may understand this but, as a rule, they are too personally selfish and egotistical to behave rationally. A great, bloated, apparently recession proof industry has appeared in America, Australia and other traditionally free nations that exists to invent imaginary threats and then defeat them. The currently escalating war on the outlaw biker menace is a major component of the so-called war on terror. This terror war is not a war on Al Qaeda. It is obviously a war on inner city neighborhoods, immigrants, recreational drugs, fringe religions, survivalists, militias, outlaw bikers and other social dissidents. It is a war on behalf of social and political orthodoxy and the longer it continues the more likely a catastrophic reaction to all this becomes.
The defendants in the Bifield case were targeted, spied on, tempted with forbidden fruit, encouraged and entrapped because they were relatively defenseless and because they were easy to vilify. At any point in this case a prosecutor or one of his witnesses will likely invoke an imperfect memory of either Hunter Thompson’s Hell’s Angels or Marlon Brando’s The Wild One. Jurors are not likely to learn that Thompson mocked the very notion of the biker menace – beginning with his ironic “the menace is loose” on page one. The Internet Movie Database summarizes the Brando film as, “Two rival motorcycle gangs terrorize a small town after one of their leaders is thrown in jail.” But that isn’t what the film is about at all.
“Hey Johnnie, what are you rebelling against,” a loose blonde in a burqa style skirt asks the leader of the biker pack in what is probably the most famous minute in the film.
“Whaddaya got,” Johnnie the antihero replies.
The movie’s bikers, two factions of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are annoying and disquieting. But the movie, produced in 1953, is about a witch hunt inspired by a popular panic over “juvenile delinquency.” Before the film ends Johnnie is pursued, assaulted and framed for manslaughter. And, he escapes only because one old cop cares more about discovering the truth than in padding his permanent record with a slam dunk conviction.
The defendants in Columbia do not have the advantage Johnnie had. The men who are prosecuting them don’t care about truth.
Diamond Dan Bifield
The case that has swallowed more than a score of people is named for Daniel Eugene Bifield who was founding President of the Hells Angels’ Rock Hell Nomad charter and Vice-President of the charter at the time of his arrest. He is a genial and charming man who is well-regarded by almost everyone who knows him and his biography is more interesting than most contemporary fiction. Any hack could compare Bifield to either Rip Van Winkle or Richard Farnsworth’s The Grey Fox. Farnsworth’s old stage coach robber – based on a man named Bill Miner – spent 33 years in prison before his release in 1901. Van Winkle lost 20 years to a magical sleep. Dan Bifield spent 27 years in a couple prisons. The two fictional characters and the two actual men, Miner and Bifield, were thrown into a world that was radically different than the world they knew. In Bifield’s case the new world he found himself in had a much more corrupt and petty system of federal justice than the world he had prepared himself to enter. When Bifield went to prison the first time America punished men for committing crimes. The world he found beyond the walls that bound him for so long punishes men for being criminals.
Dan Bifield never stood a chance. And, like all the most tragic heroes he is an interesting man.
He has been a Hells Angel since 1975. He founded the Bridgeport charter of his club. He got his nickname because he has always been fond of expensive jewelry. He was arrested in 1981 on federal gun and extortion charges. Federal authorities described him as the most dangerous man in Connecticut – which may have carried more romantic overtones then than it does now.
Shortly after his arrest he was mentioned in a news story as an example of a man who refused to tolerate racially motivated, homosexual rapes of young and weak white inmates in the Bridgeport Correctional Center. Even then jailers detested Bifield – possibly because he was a more moral man than they were. He developed kidney stones. Federal officials denied him treatment and in September 1981 he found an open window and he broke out of jail.
Within a week the United States Attorney prosecuting Bifield declared the young Angel was dead and that his body had been found in the East River in New York. A few months later Bifield sent that prosecutor a photo taken in the Bahamas. That prosecutor became a United States Senator. The great American meritocracy didn’t work as well for Diamond Dan. He was captured by U.S. Marshalls in Denver in February 1982.
He was sent to what was then America’s Devil’s Island, the escape proof, super-maximum federal penitentiary in Marion, Illinois. In general, at least at that time, federal prisons were not intended to simply segregate criminals from the general population while they were rehabilitated and paid their debt to society with great fractions of their lives. Marion in particular was a place where men nobody cared about were punished everyday out of sight of the public, press, prosecutors and politicians. Bifield was locked in a small cell for 165 hours a week. Guards ignored him. He knew John Gotti. Gotti didn’t make it out of that cell block in Marion but Diamond Dan did.
In 1990 he was transferred to the federal prison in Allenwood, Pennsylvania. Seven years later he was convicted of participating in a scheme to collect undeserved income tax refunds. When banks pull equivalent scams they become too big to fail. Unfortunately, Bifield wasn’t trying to get rich. His share of the bogus returns went to the woman who was then his wife. He took the blame and was sentenced to serve another eleven years in prison. This chivalrous streak may be the most obvious feature of Bifield’s character. He is a sentimentalist. His wife was not. While he served those years she divorced him.
When he was released in 2008 all the 58-year-old Bifield had in the world were his club brothers and memories of a world that used to be a better place. Instead of being released in New York or Connecticut he was sent to South Carolina and offered a minimum wage job as a dishwasher. Throughout his long ordeal Bifield became what most people would describe as a better man. Prison refined his masculine virtues. Almost everyone who has spoken about him describes him glowingly. “Diamond Dan is like a Pops to me,” one of his friends wrote. “I lost mine when I was 12 and now I am 37.”
Bifield rebuilt the life he had lost. He put together the Rock Hill Angels’ charter, mostly on a borrowed cell phone. He found a woman who loved him to replace the woman who did not. Her name was Lisa Meyers. During the worst economic crisis since the great depression he found a way to support himself by buying and selling precious metals and jewelry. In 2011 Bifield got married again. The FBI investigation that would doom him was already underway. South Carolina police subpoenaed a copy of the couple’s wedding license.
“I knew exactly what that meant and I cannot believe Danny didn’t,” a source said last June. “I’m sure he knew but his bride naively, did not. Already they were getting RICO info.” The Federal Bureau of Investigation intended to leverage a massive indictment with multiple defendants into the plea deal that would seal Dan Bifield’s fate. The FBI’s most effective tool against Bifield was his good character. He had already proven years before that he would act against his own best interests to protect someone he loved.
“He’ll do it again,” the source said, “and, Lisa will either be told by him to ‘make the best deal you can but only include me or he’ll take one hundred percent of the blame on himself again. In fact, I am sure that right now, he is counting on the feds making some sort of deal for his old lady and he is probably smiling that he is two steps ahead of them…. Danny will likely die in prison, barring some miracle. But if that happens he will die with a smile on his face and he will die a Hells Angel.”
The Racketeering Angle
All the defendants in U.S. v Bifield et al. are charged with racketeering under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations statute which is usually called “RICO.” The law is whimsically named for a film character called Rico “Little Caesar” Bandello who was supposed to represent the mobster Alphonse Gabriel “Scarface” Capone. One of Capone’s most heartfelt desires was to get out of whiskey and get into milk. In 1932 Capone used his bootlegging money to buy Meadowmoor Dairies and so he almost escaped a risky life of crime. Many men who followed Capone’s path to wealth and power also wanted to eventually “go legitimate.”
RICO was written to prevent that legitimacy so the so-called “Mafia” couldn’t “get away with” their crimes. When the law was new, the definition of a “criminal enterprise” was explicitly understood to mean the legitimate enterprise, like Capone’s dairy, that served as a “front” for racketeers. The legal concept was related to the “fruit of the poisoned tree” analogy that applies to the admission of evidence. Theoretically, police have to play fair when they gather evidence against you and if they don’t the evidence can be thrown out. Similarly, RICO would prevent bad men from hiding behind illegal money by converting that money into a legitimate asset. That was what racketeering used to mean.
In 1981 however, in a case called United States v. Turkette, the federal Supreme Court redefined the meaning of “enterprise.” Before Turkette “enterprise” meant the legitimate business that had become tainted by its association with an organized criminal organization. Turkette changed the meaning of “enterprise” to mean the criminal organization itself. The Columbia Law Review called this newly defined RICO “The Crime of Being a Criminal.”
The Los Angeles Times editorialized: “A good law has several essential attributes: It is clear; it addresses itself to a specific and clearly defined form of illicit conduct; it prescribes a remedy or punishment proportionate to the damage done by the offense. Statutes that fail to meet these tests are enacted not in the cause of justice, but for the convenience of the state. RICO, in fact, is one of the latter…. RICO originally was directed against the conspiratorial activities of so-called mob families. However, the law is so loosely worded that any two instances of illegal conduct within a 10-year period – even if relatively trivial – can, if they involve use of the mail or telephone, be prosecuted as a ‘pattern of racketeering activity.’”
One of the first targets of RICO after Turkette was the San Diego charter of the Hells Angels. The law has since been used extensively in motorcycle club cases as a de facto “Writ of Attainder” to punish men for associating with motorcycle clubs. Over the last three decades RICO has become a way to find petty criminals and innocents guilty by association.
The law enforcement collaboration that stalked and trapped the defendants in this case was called “The S.C. Hells Angels Task Force.” It was a collaboration of federal and state police that attempted to catch the defendants breaking local laws. Most of those laws including informal firearms sales and the possession, use and sharing of common recreational drugs like marijuana were punishable by months or as long as a few years in jail. Except for an alleged conspiracy invented by paid government agents provocateur the crimes were all what lawyers call malum prohibium – which means that they are not crimes because they are intrinsically wrong but because someone passed a law that makes them crimes: As buying and selling beer was illegal during prohibition and as buying and selling marijuana is a federal crime everywhere in the country today.
Because the defendants had ties to a perfectly legal, but frequently vilified, association called the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club the defendants all face penalties of twenty years or more in federal prison. Worse, if the defendants were simply charged with their alleged crimes under state law prosecutors would have to prove them guilty of those “predicate crimes” beyond a reasonable doubt. But RICO allows federal prosecutors to prove the defendants guilty by the civil standard which is by a “preponderance of the evidence.”
Prosecution Is Punishment
Except for the wealthy and advantaged, America no longer has an adversarial legal system and the accused are no longer considered innocent until proven guilty. As in Soviet Russia, laws have become a way to supply the bodies needed to support the police-prison industrial complex, which has become an important component of the rotting American economy. Dying towns that once competed for factories now compete for prisons.
Virtually no one escapes federal “justice.” According to the most recent statistics available, about 93 percent of all of the federally accused take a deal. In very many cases, defendants continue to stubbornly maintain their innocence until their assets are exhausted and they have to fire the lawyer of their choosing. Federal public defenders, usually instruct their clients to take the deal. Contesting a charge alienates these defenders from their prosecutorial colleagues and the judges upon whom they depend for their income. Federal prosecutors are never interested in freeing innocent prisoners but only in improving their batting averages and the esteem with which they are regarded by their colleagues.
At least 90 percent of those who insist on a trial before a jury comprised of people too stupid to get out of jury duty are convicted. And universally, defendants who go to trial are punished more harshly than they would have been if they had cooperated and taken the plea. All federal district judges “believe in the plea bargaining system.” And almost universally,judges resent the assets – starting with sending a jury subpoena to 5,000 or more registered voters – that must be squandered to try uncooperative defendants,
Federal defendants are considered guilty until proven innocent and federal judges consider themselves to be administrators of punishment not judges of innocence. In biker cases, defendants are typically punished in at least three ways before they are even offered a plea and sentencing agreement: By Swat, by public shaming and by punitive incarceration.
Dan Bifield and his wife Lisa were arrested by a Swat Team. Swat, a word that began as an acronym for “special weapons and tactics,” now means militarized police armed with machine guns. In most cases these ersatz commandos are transported by quasi tanks. The original concept of Swat in Los Angeles in the 1960s was to institutionalize a police squad to deal with snipers. Soon Swat meant a specialized police squad that could “reduce risk to the police forces…to the suspects and to the community at large.”
Currently Swat translates as “goon squad.” Dynamic Swat entries follow a formula. First they blow in your door. Then they kill your pets. Then they point guns at your wife and children. Then they wreck the interior of your house.
The Bifields were Swat victims. “The feds have ruined and taken everything we had and worked for,” the biker from another, more innocent age wrote from jail. “They blew up our house! They searched and destroyed it! And, all they found were seven knives! They didn’t have to do all that. We were told and knew they were coming but we had no idea it would be a set-up. I told the cops over and over that they didn’t have to come blow up our house and destroy it. I told them that we had nothing in there. We never have and we never would. I told one of the officers to call us or let us know (when the indictment was unsealed) and I would turn myself in to whoever I had to.”
“When I stepped outside with my hands up they had five red dots in the middle of my chest,” Dan Bifield continued. “And do you know what I told them? I said, ‘Go ahead and shoot me.’ One of the feds ran up to me and tried to push me hard but I pushed back and held my position. I told them they did not have to do all that. I was more worried about my wife. She was so scared, upset and confused! I wanted to run over and hold her. We hardly had any clothes on but they didn’t care. They took our jewelry which we had paid for long before all this bullshit. They took and kept my club jewelry that had been given to me 30 years before. They even took the bracelet my wife had given me for my birthday. The took the diamond earring she had given me for our anniversary. They took our wedding bands.”
After the Swat raid the public shaming began. Police held a news conference to announce that the Bifield’s arrests, “follow a two-year interagency investigation by the South Carolina Hells Angels Task Force (SCHATF). Assisting in the investigation and today’s operation were the Federal Bureau of Investigation-Columbia and Charlotte Field Divisions; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; Lexington County Sheriff’s Department; Lexington Police Department; Rock Hill Police Department; York County Sheriff’s Office; Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office; State Law Enforcement Division; Gastonia, Police Department; Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department; Gaston County Sheriff’s Office; and North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.
“United States Attorney Bill Nettles commended the inter-agency cooperation, saying, ‘Today’s arrests and seizures are an important step in our ongoing fight against criminal gangs operating in South Carolina. This investigation is also another example of what can be accomplished through a close partnership among local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.’”
An FBI special agent stated, “The significance of the extensive and long-term investigative efforts that resulted in the arrests today represent the FBI’s continuing commitment to the dismantling of organized criminal organizations. By working in a joint environment with federal, state, and local counterparts, we send a clear message that such pervasive criminal activities will not be tolerated.”
The bare bottom of the press handout warned, “all charges in this indictment are merely accusations and that all defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty” but that was simply boiler plate and the press knew it. The immediate press coverage stated that “91 indictments had been returned against the Rock Hell City Nomad Chapter of the Hells Angels, for charges including racketeering, narcotics, money laundering and firearms.” No press outlet even mentioned the possibility that the defendants might be innocent or that the authorities might be wrong let alone corrupt. In some press accounts the Bifields were even accused of prostitution and the point of that was to portray Dan as a pimp and Lisa as his whore. That accusation will haunt both of them for the rest of their lives.
Bifield remained defiant, however, so he was furthered punished in jail.
“I see how they did my wife and me! They took us to different jails,” he wrote in July. “They put us in the hole with no visits, mail, phone calls or recreation. We have no clothes. They refused to give me clean clothes, showers, tooth paste, soap or toilet paper. I had to wipe myself with a towel! I weighed 224 pounds and now I weigh 211. The cells were dirty and nasty and ice cold. There was little food and it sucked. Ask my wife all they did to her and how badly they treated her. All of this was at the orders of the feds. She has never been arrested or in trouble for anything before. She worked hard in the bars she was partners in. She took care of her daughter, me and everybody else.
“When I was in the hole I finally managed to get something to write with, a couple of pieces of paper and an envelope from another convict. Believe me, that was not easy. I wrote my public defender about the conditions in the hole. I included a letter to my wife in the same envelope and asked the defender to send it to her but he never mailed that letter because he was afraid.”
As recently as a month ago Dan Bifield was denied a blanket to keep him warm at night. But the way the Government of the United States really punished the technically innocent Dan Bifield was by punishing his wife.”
The Tragic Love Story
A unique feature of this prosecution has been the use of wives as hostages to compel men to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit. At least four of the defendants in this case have been coerced this way. Somying Anderson is being prosecuted because she is married to a Hells Angel defendant named Bruce Long. Lisa Bifield was prosecuted because she is married to Diamond Dan.
In his life, as a Hells Angel, a sometime criminal and as a prisoner, Dan Bifield found reasons to be proud of himself. “People don’t know who I am,” he protested after his arrest. “I always talk to people with respect and courtesy. In my life I have helped children, women, families, career people, special needs children and abused children. I did not do any of that to impress people. I did it because I cared about them and wanted to help. It makes me feel good in my heart and it is the right thing to do. I say this as a husband, a man, a Hells Angel and a convict. I have never done anything I was ashamed of. My wife was always telling me that I can’t help everybody and that I was too trusting. That is just how I was.”
Not even prosecutors contest that that is how Dan Bifield was. Prison led Diamond Dan to a very Christian outlook on life.
“Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth,” the educated, thoughtful and anonymous author of The Epistle of Paul The Apostle To The Hebrews wrote, “and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” Whether you are a believer or not, even a news monkey must see that Diamond Dan Bifield glimpsed the big picture in prison. His suffering was not without meaning. God would see and care if he lived by a code.
And sure enough, after the government dumped him in South Carolina he found for his earthly reward the great love of his life. Her name was Lisa. And in the end prosecutors, for reasons God sees, used her to get the old outlaw.
“Anybody who knows me knows how I am,” he wrote to a friend. “I always helped my wife at the bar and watched over her. We always travelled together. We were a happy family. I never had a woman love me like she has. It hurts deeply that she is suffering because of me.”
“Now I’m fighting for my wife, my club and my life,” he wrote again. “I am at the point where I don’t care what they do to me. I may spend the rest of my life in prison but I would never sell out the people I love and believe in. I will never turn my back on any of them.”
One thing those who now judge Dan Bifield should consider is that when he listed what was worth fighting for he listed himself last after his wife and his club.
Dan and Lisa Bifield were finally reunited late in December, a day or two after Christmas. The reunion was brief. What they said to one another is nobody’s business but theirs. They talked and said goodbye and then he took the deal. The deal was that he would get twenty years in prison if she only had to do three.
That is the heartless bastard the government of the United States will now lock in a cage and throw away the key. This is what our government does. This is what the fourth estate ignores. This is who matters less than the squabbles of politicians. These are the news angles no reporter can find. Imagine the stories you will never read.