Mention the word "badass" to your average citizen, and one image pops into their heads above all others – that of a ridiculously-gigantor, 325-pound, bald, bearded, sunglasses-wearing leather jacket motherfucker with tatted-up arms the size of telephone poles tearing ass down the highway doing 120 on chrome-plated custom Harley, the road behind him shredding apart into a rapidly-expanding earthquake fissure stuffed with chrome and blood and the meat he'd hand-ripped from the torsos of his eviscerated enemies. This is a reputation that is not earned lightly. Even though I haven't written about many bikers on this site, my father owned an Outlaws MC-affiliated bar in Florida for over a decade, and, while I had a fairly limited connection with the goings-on there, I will tell you one thing – even though everyone I met was always incredibly nice and polite to me I would have rather self-amputated both of my legs with a rusty pizza wheel than piss one of them off because holy shit these guys were more terrifying than a cybernetic genetically-modified Centaur made out of a grizzly bear and Danny Trejo and every single one of them looked like they literally could rip a chunk out of the mahogany bar counter with their teeth and then use it to pummel you into a viscous pink slurry of human entrails.
So, naturally, when the editor of my book BADASS called me up about a month ago to tell me that the new book he was working on was an autobiography about a private citizen who had the balls to infiltrate the Vagos Motorcycle Club on behalf of the ATF, becoming a psychotic Harley-writing madman while simultaneously Donnie Brasco'ing shit up and compiling enough evidence for the Feds to indict the biker gang on 42 felony charges, I of course told him I was interested.
Of course, while George Rowe was in fact the first private civilian in ATF history to ever successfully infiltrate an Outlaw Motorcycle Gang, don't let that delude you into thinking that this guy was some average Joe asshole who wears a collared shirt when he pays his mortgage and spends his weekends sipping double-shot soy non-fat mocha frappuccinos while window-shopping for floral-patterned table runners at the Crate and Barrel by the mall. He was a tough bastard, and, by his own account, went through the first 40-plus years of his life being basically a hardcore, mostly-evil motherfucker. This was a guy who dropped out of Kindergarten to go off into the forest and learn first-hand wilderness survival skills from his Yaqui Indian war hero dad and grew up hanging out in Hell's Angels biker bars getting into fistfights with strangers over minor transgressions. He was exactly the sort of ridiculously-jacked, bald-headed, white-knuckled ass-whomper I mentioned in the first paragraph, the only difference between him and your typical Sons of Anarchy shit being that he didn't have any biker gang colors stitched to the back of his jacket.
In his early life, Rowe had been a total son of a bitch. When he wasn't fighting for cash in California's underground bare-knuckled boxing circuit, he was known as the "U-Haul Bandit" – a drug-dealing bastard who cooked meth in the desert Breaking Bad-style, sold it to any tweakers who promised they were good for the money, and then collecting unpaid debts by rolling a U-Haul truck up to their apartments in the middle of the night, stealing all their shit, putting it in a storage locker, and telling them they weren't getting it back until they'd made good on what they owed him.
Like I said, this wasn't the sort of guy who was going to tutor six year-olds at the Boys and Girls Club or mentor you on your quest to finally get your Helping Old Ladies Cross the Street merit badge. He was a stone-cold bastard, which, incidentally, is actually what ended up making him perfect for this operation.
Well, if his autobiography is to be believed (and, judging by the comments on some of the articles I've listed below, the veracity of his claims are widely dependent upon your position regarding one-percenter motorcycle clubs... I'll argue that history is always subjective and have chosen to accept the story at face value for lack of any evidence to the contrary), at some point George Rowe decided that he was done being a scourge on society and was going to clean his act up. He stopped fighting for money. He got sober. He quit making meth and beating up strangers. He started looking for ways to atone for a lifetime of horrible deeds.
In 2003 he found a unique opportunity to make amends. He had been drinking at his local bar – a place that was also a hangout for the local Vagos Motorcycle Club chapter – attending a party to celebrate the fact that one of his good childhood friends was about to become a father for the third time. The dad-to-be was playing pool, minding his own business, when suddenly the local Vagos chapter president and some of his comrades came in and demanded the table. The guy told them to piss off, so they beat the fuck out of him in front of his wife and kids. He was released from the hospital two days later, then disappeared, presumably whacked by the Vagos and left in a shallow grave in the desert outside Hemet, California.
George Rowe got pissed. He'd seen the Vagos fuck with citizens of Hemet before, but this was too much. He decided it was time to do something.
So he went to the ATF with a proposal: I'm going to infiltrate the gang, dig up all the dirt I can, and bring them down from the inside. Give me what I need to make that happen.
Now I feel like it bears mentioning here that I don't typically have a ton of respect for snitches, rats, and other backstabbing jackasses who sell their friends out to save their own hides... I generally tend to prefer the type of tale I wrote about last week, where the cops find a Mafiosi riddled with machine gun bullets and his response to the cops is "nobody shot me." However, it's one thing the be a member of a hardcore criminal organization, do a bunch of horrible shit, then spend the rest of your life living in a nice taxpayer-funded three-bedroom home because you were the only member of your gang that was willing to throw all of his friends under the bus, and another thing entirely to go undercover with the explicit purpose of infiltrating and ripping a gang apart – especially if your motivation is sweet, delicious, chocolate-covered vengeance drizzled with raspberry jam and a handful of rainbow sprinkles. Whether you're a federal agent or just a guy with a chip on his shoulder, that's something I can get on board with.
And George Rowe was dedicated to the mission. Despite tons of close calls – including several times when he was almost killed and/or had his cover blown – he spent the next three years of his life running an elaborate operation, getting in close with the Vagos leadership and infiltrating the club while simultaneously keeping his ATF contact informed of Vagos movements and operations in the region. During the day, he'd be jumping into bar fights to get his fellow Vagos's backs, getting sucked into nasty turf wars with the hated Hell's Angels, and hauling ass down the highway in massive biker rallies, then at night he'd try to make contact with Agents to report what was going on and keep them up-to-date on his mission. The outlaw motorcycle club lifestyle is dangerous enough as it is, but when you're spending your free time with ultra-dangerous, cop-hating asskickers capable of making human beings disappear, your entire apartment is lined with hidden government cameras, and you go around town with a high-powered multi-directional microphone taped to your balls it might as well be suicide.
This is, honestly, the definition of badass.
While Rowe wasn't allowed (or typically interested) in participating in Vagos beat-downs of unsuspecting civilians, intimidating uncooperative drug dealers, or ripping patches off the jackets of rival biker gang members, as you can probably imagine he saw some crazy shit during his three-year stint undercover for the Feds. One time Rowe used the cast on his broken arm to club a pool cue-swinging biker to the ground. Another time he pissed off the president of a Vagos-affiliated chapter in a different city and was ordered to face off against four members of that chapter's toughest guys (he beat the shit out of them, one after the other). On yet another occasion he found himself in a Hell's Angels bar, ended up starting a huge brawl with the Angels in order to preserve his cover, then was very nearly handed over to them to atone for his crimes – a sentence that would have meant his own slow, painful death. All the while he rose from "hang-around" to Prospect to full-patched Vagos member, constantly preserving his cover and feeding the ATF information regarding the club's illegal gun running and drug smuggling operations, and even uncovering evidence that would be used to gain three murder convictions.
For three years, George Rowe fought, rode, and desperately tried to carry out his mission. He got his home turned into the headquarters of the local chapter. He recorded all of their top-level officers' meetings. Then, finally, at 6 AM on the morning of March 9, 2006, he woke up his pregnant fiancé, and dropped a nuclear warhead on her – sorry, baby, I'm not who you think I am. I'm a federal informant who has been working for the ATF for the past three years, gathering intel on the Vagos criminal operations, and now we're finally about to bring this entire organization down. As we speak, 700 federal agents are preparing to swarm through this town, arresting everyone associated with the Vagos, and then they're going to take me off to Witness Protection, never to be heard from again. You have 15 minutes to decide if you want to come with me or not.
On March 6, 2006, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms conducted 72 raids across 5 counties in Southern California, arresting 42 members of the Vagos motorcycle club, including seven Chapter Presidents, and seizing a hundred illegal firearms, two stolen motorcycles, thousands of dollars in cash, and a couple stashes of cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana. Four men were given massive prison sentences for murder. Others served multi-year terms for their participation in weapon and drug operations. The Vagos in Hemet, California – Rowe's home town – were all either imprisoned, fled the state, or simply just quit the gang. The Vagos would eventually rebuild their organization in the years between then and now, but for the moment George Rowe's operation had been a success.
Rowe left for Witness Protection, got a new identity, and now lives on a secret Moon Base or something. His book was ghost-written by a dude who, as I understand it, has never actually met my editor, and their only correspondence is via snail mail sent to a solitary mailbox in the middle of a forest somewhere. Which is actually pretty sweet.