The danger. The death threats. The time away from family.
Retired federal agent Jay Dobyns spoke about infiltrating the Hells Angels and the personal challenges of undercover work at a police seminar in El Paso this week.
Outlaw biker gang members don’t necessarily have education degrees, “but they have Ph.D.s in violence and intimidation,” Dobyns said in an interview.
“It’s part of that world,” he said. “They’re very dangerous men who live a very dangerous lifestyle that’s built on violence.”
Dobyn’s presentation focused on the mindset, health and well-being of law enforcement officers amid the toil of police work.
The retired agent’s visit was part of a three-day seminar funded by an anti-gang grant to the El Paso Independent School District Police Department.
Dobyns’ exploits and struggles while undercover for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are well-documented in books and gang documentary TV programs
He authored the 2009 best-seller “No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels.”
The key to undercover work is “comfort and confidence” in selling a persona, said Dobyns, who grew up in Tucson and was a wide receiver for the University of Arizona football team.
“To be honest with you, I don’t know which one comes first,” Dobyns said. “Are you a confident individual and that allows them to be comfortable with your role? Or if you are comfortable with your cover story and that allows your confidence to come out.”
During a two-year case in Arizona, Dobyns posed as a gunrunning biker interested in joining the Hells Angels in an operation that included faking the murder of a member of the rival Mongols Motorcycle Club.
Biker gangs have an allure with their fearsome reputations, offer members a sense of belonging and have a criminal side they try to hide from the public, Dobyns said.
“In society, you can be in essence an unimportant, unknown person,” Dobyns said. “When you join one of those gangs and they put that patch on your back, all of a sudden people are paying attention to you. People are buying you drinks. People are giving you drugs. Women want to put their arm around your shoulder.
“You’re intimidating. You scare people, and to some people that’s intoxicating,” he said.
Working undercover in the biker gang world can be extremely dangerous, said Dobyns, who was shot and wounded in the late 1980s while serving an arrest warrant at the start of his 27-year-career with the ATF.
“The first and foremost thing is staying alive,” Dobyns said. “Because the people that you’re infiltrating, you’re gaining their trust and you’re gaining their loyalty and at times you’re gaining their love and it’s all built on a lie.
“And those people don’t take well to being betrayed if they find out who you are,” Dobyns said.
By the conclusion of the investigation dubbed Operation Black Biscuit, Dobyns had been “patched” into a Hells Angels chapter, a feat some at the start had described as impossible, he said.
The leaders of the infamous biker organization have claimed that Dobyns’ entry wasn’t official.
“I was there. I lived it. I breathed it,” Dobyns said. “They (the Hells Angels) have members that participated in the indoctrination. It doesn’t matter what they say in public.”
In the aftermath of his undercover case, Dobyns had a falling out with ATF leadership and his family was “melting down” amid his absences.
During his years undercover, Dobyns was hardly home, visits were short and when he was home he couldn’t wait to get back to the “gangster” undercover work, he said.
“I would get home, mow the lawn, pat the kids on the head and have coffee with the old lady” and then leave, Dobyns told an audience of law enforcement officers at the Bowie High School theater.
He was absent so often that his young son once made a hand-drawn Father’s Day card addressed to Dobyn’s alias and mailed it to his undercover home.
As he spoke to the room full of law enforcement officers, Dobyns showed a photo of his children on a beach during a vacation, explaining he wasn’t in the photo because he was working, feeling he was “important” and needing to save the world.
“My situational awareness at home was nonexistent,” he said.
When the case ended and Dobyn’s identity was revealed, he and his family were the targets of death threats, including injecting Dobyns with HIV so he would die slowly.
The Aryan Brotherhood, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and other gangs allegedly had received contracts on his life, he said.
Dobyns said he felt betrayed by the ATF when his superiors told him no one had forced him to work undercover and neglected to investigate the threats.
The ATF removed protective measures that had kept secret Dobyn’s home, vehicle and other information, he said.
Dobyns won a lawsuit against the ATF for neglecting to protect him and his family and accusing him of burning down his own home in 2008. He retired in 2014.
He said he wrote “No Angel” because the book’s publicity helped protect him by making gangs think twice about retaliation.
Dobyns isn’t in hiding. He is active on social media, gives speaking engagements and even had a role in the Hollywood action movie “Den of Thieves” last year.
His biggest regret is the impact his commitment to work had on his family, Dobyns told the audience.
“I traded this, for this,” Dobyns said, first showing the audience a photo of his family, then taking a Hells Angels vest out from behind the podium.
But the former federal agent said he would do it again.
“I’d do it better,” he said.
As everyone knows our facebook and youtube page has been suspended. Harley liberty is still trucking away. When I was going to do this article. I was hot balls ready to tear into shit after all that went down.
Then I said to myself screw that. Why keep feeding the drama. Decided to stay on track and do what we always do. Put out a good news feeds and not feed into the BS. Afterall, I think I made my point perfectly clear in my previous posts. If the other dude want’s to keep looking a fool than more power to him.
Insane Throttle will not give the dude the time of day to say his name or anything else about him. We did right by him when no one else would give him the time of day and or that. I’m happy I could help.
We wish that group nothing but success on Facebook. Hopefully, the knowledge being passed around can help people.
As for Insane Throttle. Like I said to a member of the AOA. It is my deepest apologies that we failed in our mission not to stick to the principles of staying neutral in this whole mess. My apologies go out to the AOA of Chicago and especially the Westside AOA. My take on being loyal to the end clouded my judgment and affected the reporting that Insane Throttle Does.
I wrote two stories under the guidance of a person I should’ve known was not objective and had a bone to pick with the AOA. In that ignorance and lapse of judgement, I put out stories that I didn’t verify. Instead, I did something I would’ve never done before. That is take the word of someone with direct ties to the situation.
Insane Throttle has always been an independent publication and that is how we will be returning. This lesson in eating crow is one that will be remembered and used to stay focused in the future.
I truly apologize to our listenership and again the AOA for our lack of judgment.
Whats worse than being betrayed yourself if you betraying those who you looked up to all your life because of a lack of knowledge and foresight.
If I learned anything out of this mess. Always stick to the facts, verify and tell both sides of the story.
With that Insane Throttle has a goal that it has been pursuing. Reporting on more independent biker material. Motorcycle Madhouse will be airing twice a week from now on.
Again we hope to have the original youtube and facebook up soon. We will keep everyone informed. Thanks for the support. The hundreds of emails and the many calls. It’s much appreciated.