Sonny Barger, the notorious and feared leader of the Hells Angels, was actually a hell-raising hypocrite who relied more on his biker mystique than actual menace.
In his new book “Exile on Front Street: My Life as a Hells Angel and Beyond,” Barger’s one-time heir apparent George Christie exposes his ex-boss as snitch, a wife-beater and a phony.
Take the first two allegations. Barger’s call to the cops followed a domestic violence incident where he attacked spouse Noel and her 14-year-old daughter, Sarrah.
Rumors were flying that Noel was a paid FBI informant — but that wasn’t the impetus behind the assault.
According to Christie, Barger came home angry after Noel caught him riding with another woman on his motorcycle and tried to run him off the road.
Barger then called 911, tipping police to a handgun inside Noel’s car.
“An outlaw didn’t dial those three numbers … it’s the same as testifying,” Christie fumes. “Sonny had been the model of the wild, unbending outlaw. But living with an informant? Beating a 14-year-old girl? Calling 911?”Those were things a Hells Angel didn’t do.”
At the next West Coast officers’ meeting, Christie produced the 911 transcript along with a newspaper article offering a “stunning description” of Barger “in what can only be described as a nervous breakdown.”
A neighbor found Barger in a delusional state, so out of touch with reality that he was hospitalized.
The Angels, rather than sanctioning Barger, accused Christie of faking the transcripts. Barger was spared any blowback for breaking the outlaw code.
“He’s always had a peculiar sway of the membership, particularly the weaker-minded Angels,” Christie bitterly reflects.
But a line was drawn between Barger and Christie, a feud that won’t die until one of them is in the grave.
“Sonny and I were done,” writes Christie. “He hated being questioned. He believed it was his club. Anybody who said differently was a threat that had to be eliminated.”
Christie, 69, snidely dismisses the 77-year-old Barger as all “mystique” and no menace, claiming Sonny lacked a “reputation for violence or being physically dangerous.”
That would be news to Hollywood and most everyone else, including law enforcement.
Barger was the feral face of the Angels back in the glory days when the gang was the most feared tribe on the road. Or maybe in the world.
Christie, president of the Ventura, Calif., chapter, built his own status within the Angels by calming the terror inspired by Barger after he founded the Oakland chapter in 1958.
A former Marine who became a full-patch member in 1976, Christie stepped up to the microphone with a disarming message after Barger lost his voice to throat cancer in 1982.
“I wanted to frame the club as a bunch of good guys who held freedom dear and just wanted to live life their way,” he writes.
Over and over again, he pressed that the “Hells Angels love America more than anyone else.”
In a brilliant public relations move, Christie ran a leg of the Los Angeles Olympic torch relay in the summer of 1984. It was a story no news outlet could resist.
Christie so convincingly played the role of an honorable outlaw that a Ventura County deputy district attorney once told a reporter he’d become a “folk hero.”
The “hero” took every opportunity to pound his message home. Individual Angels might commit crimes, he preached, but the organization itself was clean.
Technically, he had a point.
While federal authorities identified the Angels as major suppliers of methamphetamine in the 1980s, the club kept the trade at arm’s-length by running deals through its many hangers-on.
In 1987, Christie reaped the benefits befitting a statesman. While California prisons were crowded with convicted Angels, he walked away from a charge of soliciting murder.
The FBI sent a high-level member of the Mexican Mafia, informant Michael Mulhern, to Christie with an offer to kill a member of the Ventura chapter who had ratted to the feds.
The prosecution even had Christie on tape telling Mulhern he’d kill the guy himself.
Christie, claiming entrapment, carried himself so well in court that he was acquitted. In a move worthy of “Teflon Don” John Gotti, he then threw a backyard barbecue for the jury.
The drama only enhanced Christie’s reputation as a peace whisperer.
Hollywood soon came courting. His first wife, Cheryl, killed a movie proposal from filmmaker Michael Mann over concerns about how she’d be portrayed. Cheryl even made Christie refuse Diane Keaton’s offer of an appearance in “Heaven,” her documentary on the afterlife.
Still, Liza Minnelli threw a bash for him in Paris when he arrived on one of his international peacekeeping missions. The globe was dotted with chapters of Hells Angels frequently at war.
One of the book’s heroic tales took place in Steamboat Springs, Colo., the 1996 destination for the annual USA Run — the biggest day in the Angels’ calendar.
Christie was tucked in for the night when he received an emergency call. One of the younger Ventura members, a meth head, had shot two other Angels down at the Horse Inn.
He arrived to find the cops had mounted a show of force around the bar. Inside were a hundred or more angry Angels — stoned, drunk and heavily armed.
The cops, hoping to avoid a firestorm, let Christie through. Inside, the Angels had the shooter surrounded, guns drawn. After an hour of tense negotiations, Christie persuaded the bloodthirsty bikers to let the shooter leave with him.
The Angels formed a cordon outside, allowing Christie, with the kid on his bike, to make a getaway into the night.
By 2001, Christie was at the height of his power in the Angels — until the cruel shock of a multicount indictment with charges of fraud, theft, selling drugs and tax evasion.
The sweep brought in 28 members and associates of the Ventura Angels, but Christie was the principal target. Like Sonny Barger, the Ventura County prosecutor wasn’t impressed with Christie’s reputation as a peacekeeper.
Christie spent a year in solitary confinement before a deal was struck. The county invested $30 million building the case, only to watch Christie walk away with time served.
But he emerged from prison a changed man on a downhill slide. The one sweet note came when he married the woman who had waited for him, Nikki. Mickey Rourke danced at their wedding.
But within a few years, a road accident left him hobbled and a swindler left him impoverished. And word was circulating that Barger wanted him dead.
Life is rarely kind to aging outlaws.
In 2010, Christie did the unthinkable: He “retired” from the Hells Angels, respectfully surrendering his patch and his Death Head rings at a meeting. He walked away expecting no trouble.
But the Angels weren’t going to let the old man go peacefully. Christie claims Barger was behind the decision to change his status to “out bad, no contact.”
The Angels had put him out on Front Street, unprotected with a target on his back.
Perhaps it was fortunate, then, that the feds got to Christie first. In 2013, he went to prison, convicted on charges related to the firebombing of two competing tattoo parlors.
Christie, who starred last summer in the six-part History Channel series “Outlaw Chronicles,” says he now pities Barger. He chooses to remember the good times with a pack of brothers riding “free and fast, hard against the wind.”
Donation to Insane Throttle
Please consider donating $5.00 to help keep the best content on the biker scene coming. Your donation will help keep programs like Motorcycle Madhouse Radio and the YouTube channel programming going. Without your help we wouldn’t be able to bring the content we’ve been known for.