Former Hells Angel George Christie shortly after becoming a full-fledged member of the outlaw biker gang in 1976. (Courtesy George Christie)
America has always had a fascination with outlaws, and biker gangs have long been a part of that dark focus.
From Marlon Brando’s The Wild One to 1960s exploitation films like The Wild Angels, Savages from Hell and She-Devils on Wheels up through FX’s Sons of Anarchy, the list goes on and on. But the sexy Hollywood depiction of biker bad boys can be a far cry from the actual Hells Angels, a group known for serious crime, brutality and appropriation of Nazi iconography.
George Christie has an insider’s view on the Angels experience. He was a member of the group for 35 years, and president of the Ventura chapter for most of that time. Now he’s written an autobiography, Exile On Front Street, offering his unique take on the outlaw life.
These days, Christie is a clean-cut, affable guy with a wife (his second) and a 13-year-old son living in sleepy Ojai, a few miles north of Ventura, where he was born almost 70 years ago to a stable Greek family. He still recalls his first exposure to the biker world.
"I'm going to guess this was around 1955," he says. "I have this vivid memory of that day, I was standing out front of this Italian restaurant with my dad and the red-and-white checkered cloth, the candle, and after the meal we were talking to this Russian owner [of the restaurant], and you could hear this noise off in the distance."
The noise was a guy approaching on a motorcycle.
"My dad didn't say too much and this [Russian] man was so upset, he actually spit on the ground and said, 'Look at him, he's an animal!' And he goes, 'That's your America!' I metaphorically jumped on the back of that bike with that guy and I thought to myself, 'Yeah, you're damn right. This is America.' And I always kept that vision, it never left me."
Former Hells Angel Reveals Biker Life From the Inside
Stepping into Christie’s quaint bungalow, you’re greeted by Mr. Scruffy and Lulu, two lap dogs who are not exactly what you might expect, given their master’s background.
"This poor guy had been stuck for six months behind bars,” says Christie as Mr. Scruffy wags and pants. “All the other dogs were going crazy and he kinda just lifted his leg, like, 'I know you know about being locked up. You got to get me out of here.' "
Mr. Scruffy wasn’t wrong. Despite Christie’s regular-guy-next-door demeanor, he knows about being locked up.
In 1986 he was tried for an alleged prison murder and spent a year behind bars. He was ultimately found not guilty and cleared of all charges. In 2001 he was indicted on 59 counts related to prescription drugs, spent a year in solitary, took a plea bargain and was released. In 2011 he was indicted for conspiracy to firebomb two Ventura tattoo parlors. The government offered a plea deal, and Christie spent another year in prison. He got out in 2014.
But it all goes with the territory.
"He was certainly the figurehead, the leader of the local [Hells Angels] chapter, which was involved in ongoing criminal activity," says Ventura Police Chief Ken Corney. “They were certainly, in my opinion, a criminal street gang, but also branched a little bit more into organized crime.”
“I think it was a really esoteric lifestyle,” Christie says of his past. “It’s like something Zen. If you have to explain it, you kind of lose the essence of it. Either you fit in or you didn't.”
After riding and hanging with the Angels and other groups like the Goosers, the Coffin Cheaters and the Straight Satans since the mid-'60s, Christie became a full-fledged member of the Angels in 1976.
Despite his relationship with the biker world, he’d been leading a straight life. Christie was married to his first wife and had a daughter (Moriya, now his criminal defense attorney). He was a Marine reservist, and had a good job working for the Department of Defense, at least until his employers discovered his Angels affiliation.
“Once they found out I was a member of the Hells Angels they basically gave me a choice, them or us. I got up and said, ‘Well, I'll see you guys.’ It was a big step for me, and I basically immersed myself in the outlaw bike world.”
But why would a man give up the inside track on the American Dream to live outside the law?
“It's like wanting to be a western gunfighter, then all of a sudden hanging out with the James Gang or Billy the Kid,” he explains. “So that's where I was at. Here I was, man. I was living it.”
Christie’s charisma served him well. He became the high-profile spokesman for the Angels’ brand, partying with celebrities and participating in events like the Olympic torch relay in 1984. He was deep in the brotherhood, hanging out with colleagues like Ramrod, Stairway Harry, Taco, Animal, Little John, Dirty Dick, Little Joe, Terry the Tramp, the Old Goose, Cave Dave and Chico Jones.
“He was a Mexican dude who cut his own finger off on a run,” recalls Christie of Jones. “On purpose. One of the Hells Angels, Butch from Cleveland, said, 'What would you do if I cut that finger off?' and he said, 'You don't have to cut it off, I will.' Showing class. That's what that was called, showing class.”
Some people might say that’s showing insanity.
“I know,” Christie says, “and it very well may be.”
As the years passed, Christie found his biggest enemies were perhaps not law enforcement, but those in his own camp.
“It got very, very vicious, and you didn't know who to trust or who not to trust,” he says. “Maybe that was the beginning of the end. ... I think that the mere fact that I took the position that my former associates had become people I would have rebelled against is the main reason I left."
After Christie quit the Angels, fair and square, he says false rumors began spreading within the group that he was a government informant. One day he got a phone call.
“My status had been changed. I'd been excommunicated. No one was allowed to talk to me and I wasn't allowed to talk to anybody.”
In the years since then, he’s worked his past into a commodity. There was a six-part series on the History Channel, The Outlaw Chronicles. He gives college lectures, and there’s his new book, Exile on Front Street, but that’s where his connection to the Angels ends. He doesn’t even own a motorcycle anymore. Bad hips.
“We don't have any information that George is living [anything] other than as a law-abiding citizen,” says Police Chief Corney. “He's making his living off of reminiscing on his days of old.”
“I'm happy where I’m at now,” Christie says. “I have a beautiful family, my wife believes in me, my children believe in me, and I’m also happy with the 40 years I put in the club.”
He’s unapologetic about his past, and still identifies as an outlaw. This from Christie’s book: “People confuse the outlaw and the criminal. Some outlaws commit crimes, but the real outlaw isn’t a criminal by trade.”