Almost exactly three years ago, I was sitting in a bar in Oxnard with a Mongol named Target Owens. Owens was going to prison within a month and we had a few beers and talked for awhile about an episode of a History Channel show called Gangland. The Mongols had been the subject of a Gangland episode and Target remembered that was when he started to worry about his club.
“Whenever the television cameras start to come around any motorcycle club,” Target told me, “you have to know there is going to be a big bust within six or eight months.” At the time I couldn’t have agreed with him more.
Gangland might never have aired except for a Deputy Assistant Director named W. Larry Ford at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Ford was one of the geniuses behind the selling of Jay Dobyns – although Dobyns maintains he opened show business doors for Ford, not the other way around. According to public documents, Ford “promoted other investigations and ATF agents to the networks, resulting in documentaries about ATF operations or agents that included: Agent Richard Marianos, Chicago street gangs (two programs: “Vice Lords” and “El Rukns”); Agents Steve Martin and James Langley, Warlocks motorcycle club; Agents Blake Boteler and Darrell Edwards, Sons of Silence motorcycle club; Agent Kenneth Croke, Murder for Hire investigation; agents John Ciccone, Darrin Kozlowski, John Carr, Paul D’Angelo and Greg Giaoni, Mongols Motorcycle Club.”
Gangland LLC, the production company behind the television show liked to brag that it was doing “journalism” and it seemed to understand “journalism” to be a kind of domestic spying that helped put people in prison. In the Mongols case, both aired footage and outtakes from the Mongols production were entered into evidence in federal court. Ciccone described it as, “video footage obtained by ATF from the producers of the television show Gangland who produced an episode concerning the Mongols. The footage included in the clip includes some footage that was broadcast, as well as some that was not. Many of the defendants in United States v. Cavazos, including Ruben Cavazos, are featured in the clip.”
The Warlocks Motorcycle Club was hosed by Gangland and by A&E Networks, the soulless corporation that produced the show. In the Warlocks episode ATF Agent Steve Martin relived his infiltration of the club and bragged about how he engineered a mass arrest to coincide with a Warlocks funeral. Martin expressed the emotional ordeal he went through when he betrayed his friends.
(Martin also bequeathed the bike he rode during that investigation to Dobyns. A story about Dobyns civil case against the ATF, published on this page June 7th and titled “Dobyns Trial Begins Monday,” was illustrated with a cropped photo of Dobyns, without a helmet in direct violation of California law, riding a motorcycle down Catalina Avenue in Redondo Beach. The bike is the same motorcycle Martin rode during the Warlocks investigation.)
So it was a shock to learn from sources not generally sympathetic to the Warlocks that the club would be the subject of a four part, four-hour-long documentary to be cablecast on Discovery and called Warlocks Rising.
I was so prepared to detest the first episode that I had a lead already written, an illustration already prepared and a particularly snarky video all picked out yesterday. I slept on that, watched the show Saturday morning and was surprised by what I saw. I liked it. As it turns out, Warlocks Rising looks like American television’s makeup blowjob for Gangland. I felt bad about tossing the lead. It quoted legendary, if imaginary, defense attorney Vinny Gambini and I thought it was at least droll. Unfortunately, writers who don’t work for the American secret police are compelled to try to tell the truth, even when a lie would be funnier.
Warlocks Rising is the rarest thing. It is a show about outlaw bikers that is sympathetic to and mostly truthful about its subjects. It may be what Discovery was trying to accomplish when the network bought the ridiculous Devils Ride – which is to Warlocks Rising as professional wrestling is to the Olympic sport.
As portrayed on television, the Warlocks is clearly an evolved and authentic motorcycle club. The members are all lifers and they have their shit together. One subject describes the MC world as a “dangerous lifestyle” which pretty much nails it. They all ride like real, live motorcycle outlaws.
One subject, a grandfather who can’t attend his grandchild’s recital because he has to go to a party for a brother returning from prison, explains to his fully tatted old lady, “You only get out of prison once…er, twice…er…three times in your life.” Many of these guys are grey.
I never got the sense that the subjects of the show were acting, at least not much. If they were acting they are very much better at it than the patch holders of the Sinister Mob Syndicate. When they are self-dramatizing they are authentically self-dramatizing. They are sometimes a little over the top in the same way the entire counterculture is self-dramatizing and over the top.
The party scenes look like club parties. At one point a rude civilian presumes to pull a willing woman away from the brother just released from the penitentiary. A scuffle ensues and just as in real life the club protects the homecoming man from violating the terms of his parole. Men like the civilian in the show usually pay for their rudeness with something between an ego crushing beating and a trip to intensive care or the morgue. The Orlando chapter of the Warlocks is to be commended for its admirable restraint. Of course they knew they were being filmed.
And the show authentically ends with one of the club brothers going down on a highway. Everyone who has spent five minutes around a motorcycle club, probably including men like Jay Dobyns, understands that the most dangerous part of being in a motorcycle club is the motorcycle part.
The show is about members of the Warlocks Orlando chapter, which is the club’s mother chapter, and much of it is filmed inside the clubhouse. The first episode was apparently shot before the deaths of three club members named Harold “Davey” Liddle, Peter “Hormone” Schlette and David “Dresser” Jakiela last September. At the time, the Warlocks MC issued a statement that read: “We extend our heartfelt condolences not only to the families of our poor, fallen brothers but to our entire Warlocks Nation. We have all lost three true brothers and they will be remembered!” Four members of the Chester, Pennsylvania version of the Warlocks were charged with murder in the deaths. The accused men are David Maloney, Victor Amaro, Robert Eckert and Paul Smith.
Much of the four accused men’s shared defense will rest on the allegation that between 60 and 75 Warlocks had assembled at the Orlando clubhouse, that the accused knew it and that they felt justifiably threatened by the potentially overwhelming odds. It is certain that some of the subjects of last night’s television show were in the Orlando clubhouse at the time. So, what might be most interesting about Warlocks Rising will be to see how Discovery handles the homicides. It was a major event in the life of the club. Discovery was filming the show when the shootings occurred and if the show is journalism, as opposed to entertainment, it can’t ignore the deaths. It just can’t, because lies of omission are still lies.
And, those facts raise questions that aren’t usually asked outside of newsrooms.
A lot of guns in hands appeared in last night’s show. One can only hope that none of the subjects broke any laws when the cameras were around. But there are so many laws there is always the chance that someone did. So the real question about Warlocks Rising is not its impeccable intentions or its apparent journalistic integrity. The real question becomes how faithfully Discovery’s in-house production company has guarded the outtakes. If the show is as journalistic in intent as it appears to be after one episode, the producers will ignore any subpoenas and eat any resulting contempt charges.
The show was shot in Florida by a production company based in Maryland and is about a motorcycle club that has been the subject of multiple federal investigations in Florida and Virginia. The current murder case is a state case and Florida has a shield law. The federal government does not. So simply airing the show creates its own drama.
For the time being Warlocks Rising is the truest television show ever produced about an outlaw motorcycle club. The subjects are familiar to people who know the counterculture but they are likely to surprise and inform people who are not. And, at least so far before another shoe drops, Discovery should be commended for putting it on the air.
Everybody will start to find out next week whether the show will keep telling the truth or will be satisfied to be just another biker exploitation side show. But Warlocks Rising might be important and you should watch it while you can.