After 26 months of research, the New York Times has finally published Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Serge F. Kovaleski’s 3,500 word think piece on the motorcycle outlaw frontier.
After the brawl and gunfight in John Ascuaga’s Nugget Hotel and Casino in Sparks, Nevada in late September 2011, Kovaleski proposed to take a “totally fresh look” at motorcycle clubs. He consulted informed sources from at least four one percenter motorcycle clubs and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and appears to have carefully contemplated what America needs to know and what the Times is willing to say.
In the end Kovaleski decided to write mostly about Fritz Clapp. On his Facebook wall this morning, Clapp wrote “Big article in NY Times today about me and my friends.” Clapp is an offbeat attorney and confidant of Hells Angels eminence gris Sonny Barger. Clapp initiates all of the trademark infringement lawsuits for which the Angels have recently become famous. He accompanied Barger on the Chief’s book tour after the publication of Hell’s Angel. He was an executive producer on the Hells Angels movie the late Tony Scott almost made: Which would have been the first film since 1967’s Hells Angels on Wheels to allow actors to wear Hells Angel insignia including the death head patch. Clapp is not a member of the club although most Angels consider him to be the club’s best friend.
One long time Angel, speaking on conditions of anonymity, expressed reservations about Clapp’s influence on club policy. He said some members of the club were concerned that the proposed film and marketing deal would have resulted in “death heads on Happy Meals.” The same source alleged that Clapp would have been paid a seven figure fee if the film had gone into production. Mickey Rourke would have played Barger in the film which was roughly based on Jay Dobyns No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey To The Inner Circle Of The Hells Angels and to a lesser extent on two other books.
The Times article lets the Hells Angels represent all outlaw clubs, which may be an inherently flawed point of view. Kovaleski is also oblivious or unconcerned about internal disputes within the club. Overall the feature is fair and even-handed to a fault.
The Times acknowledges that the Angels “still exists as a uniquely American subculture of hardened individualism, fierce fraternity and contempt for society’s mores.” The article also allows ATF Agent John Ciccone the opportunity to say:
“In my experience working street and motorcycle gangs, the Hells Angels operate like a criminal organization with a global infrastructure and a lot of money they can generate from members worldwide…If you go up against the Hells Angels to prove they are a racketeering enterprise, they do have the resources to fight tooth and nail and all the way to the end. You do not usually see those dynamics in street gangs like the Crips and Bloods.”
The article also treats Jay N. Richardson, the unscrupulous federal prosecutor in the South Carolina, Rock Hell Nomads case as an informed and legitimate source. But Kovaleski was bright and honorable enough to close what he has called “My opus on the Hells Angels” with a truthful quote from attorney Richard Gaxiola: “When it comes to the Hells Angels in the justice system, their constitutional rights are under assault at every step.” It would have been a better story if it had begun with that quote.
You can read the full article here.
The photo at the top of this story is from The Australian.