There’s a good chance you’ll see plenty of Hells Angels on the streets and highways this month.
Social distancing is advised.
The world’s biggest outlaw biker club plans to be out in force, celebrating the end of COVID-19 lockdowns.
Their plans, coincidentally, closely follow the recent deaths to cancer of two of the club’s flawed icons, Ralph (Sonny) Barger of Oakland, Calif., and Maurice (Mom) Boucher at the Ste-Anne-des-Plaines federal penitentiary, 40 kilometres north of Montreal.
Each in their own way, the two men represent different eras in the history of the outlaw biker gang.
Barger was the first-generation modern Hells Angel who perhaps most brought the violence of 1960s outlaw life to mainstream attention in his own books, and as a character in others’. He died late last month as a celebrity. He even occasionally appeared on screen, like when he was a recurring character on the 2008-2014 show “Sons of Anarchy,” loosely based on the history of the Hells Angels.
Perhaps more than anyone else, Boucher made people hate the Hells Angels. The force behind the most brutal period for Canadian motorcycle gangs, he spearheaded the bloody 1990s turf war with the Rock Machine gang. It left some 165 dead, including 30 victims with no involvement in crime. Boucher’s Hells Angels feuded with police and the mob, assassinated prison guards and shot a prominent Montreal journalist. By the time of his death in prison on July 10, he had been kicked out of the club — many in the gang thought he had gone too far and brought down too much heat. Some simply thought he was crazy.
Some members of the newest generation of Hells Angels would not have been allowed in back then. In Barger’s heyday in the 1960s, the club was exclusively white and racist; many charters remained whites-only through to the 2000s. But as the club has grown, bylaws have been revised to make it far more ethnically diverse, opening the door to chapters in Japan, Korea, Thailand and Cambodia. According to a former member of the B.C.-based United Nations gang who travelled with Hells Angels, some of today’s club members now belong to multi-ethnic criminal associations, like the mostly millennial Wolfpack Alliance, with links to other organized crime groups.
Only what the club considers “undesirables” are barred now. That would include police, Crown Attorneys, prison guards and crime reporters.
Younger club members are different in many ways from the older generation, the UN gang member said. They’re more impatient and tech-savvy. They’re also tidier — the older days of outlaw biker produced stories of members dubbed “Pigpen,” who revelled in things like rolling in filth and eating mice, just to get a reaction.
Today’s Hells Angels are largely a tidy bunch with more refined dining habits.
Upcoming Hells Angels activities include a tribute run from Newmarket to Toronto on Thursday, July 21, to honour former Toronto member Robert Donald (Donny) Petersen, who died at the age of 74 while writing on his computer in his Oshawa home.
That will be followed by a National Run that weekend, which is a series of mandatory get-togethers for the Angels’ 550 members across Canada and their associates.
Roughly 200 of those members are in Ontario.
Topics for discussion may include Ronaldo Lising, 59, a long-time B.C. member with a strong Toronto connection and a criminal record for drug trafficking. Someone opened fire on Lising outside his Burnaby, B.C., home on July 4. Lising is recovering from the attack. No arrests have been made.
The fortunes of Boucher’s former bodyguard Gregory Woolley in Quebec may also be up for discussion. Someone apparently mistakenly fired on the home of one of Woolley’s neighbours in his posh neighbourhood in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu in May.
Woolley, who has been referred to as “The Godfather of Montreal Street gangs,” served prison time in the early 2000s on a number of charges, including conspiracy to commit murder, gangsterism and possession and trafficking of narcotics.
Boucher helped him become Canada’s first Black full Hells Angel.
The death toll of Boucher’s feud with the rival Rock Machine could have been far higher.
In August 1996, a van loaded with 181 kilograms of explosives failed to detonate next to the Rock Machine’s Montreal clubhouse. The next October, police discovered 130 dynamite sticks hidden in the conference room of a defence lawyer, where several Rock Machine members were to gather.
Boucher seemed to be everywhere then. He was nicknamed “Mom” because he pestered people to pay attention to details, a bit like an overbearing mother.
Like Barger, Boucher was a school dropout with a tough upbringing; he spent his teens in a haze of hashish, LSD, cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, and Valium.
After a time with the SS motorcycle gang, which disbanded in 1984, he drifted toward the Sorel, Que., chapter of the Hells Angels, Canada’s original Angels chapter.
The Quebec Angels were forbidden to use cocaine, on penalty of death and so Boucher quit drugs cold turkey.
As head of the elite Nomads’ chapter, he decided to attack the justice system head-on. That meant pushing members to kill prison guards, Crown attorneys, judges and police — all crimes for which there was a mandatory life term. That way, he reasoned, there was little chance of them turning informer.
Meanwhile, he visited Mexico and tightened ties with cocaine cartels there.
In the summer of 2002, Boucher stood trial for the murders of prison guards Diane Lavigne, a mother of two, and Pierre Rondeau and the attempted murder of guard Robert Corriveau in 1997. The star witness against him was Angels’ killer Stephane Gagne.
Gagne’s testimony helped prosecutors stick Boucher with a sentence of life imprisonment.
While in custody, Boucher was stabbed by an Indigenous gang member, who was upset that he hadn’t been allowed into the Hells Angels. The attacker was beaten and stabbed by Boucher supporters.
Also in prison, Boucher was sentenced to another 10-year-term for plotting the murder of underworld leader Raynald Desjardins, who was a key figure in the Mafia organization of the late Vito Rizzuto.
Behind bars, Boucher was quietly kicked out of the club in 2014, the Journal de Montreal reported.
Asked about Canada’s bloody biker wars in a June 2000 interview with the Star, Barger acknowledged, “I read about it once in a while,” but added: “I don’t believe too much of what I read.”
Barger did say he was upset that his criminal record barred him from riding through Canada: “You can take Canada and stick it where the sun doesn’t shine as far as I’m concerned.”
He spoke on the phone in a soft, low, serious voice, made raspy by the throat cancer that led to the surgical removal of his voice box.
He had just co-written a book called, “Hell’s Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club.”
It describes bullwhipping people while crushing their hands in vices, and why it’s more efficient for three people to stomp an enemy than four or five or six. (The added stompers tend to get in the way, much like extra editors.)
Three pages of the book catalogue his criminal record for things like kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon and racketeering. He served 13 years in prison, according to news reports.
Still, he sounded surprised when asked if he was an angry person.
“When I fight, I’m calm,” he said. “When you get excited, you get beat up.”
He spoke wistfully of almost daily fights as a child.
“That’s something kids don’t do anymore,” he said. “(Now) they shoot each other.”
He also talked about the Hells Angels’ most-notorious episode at the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont Speedway in 1969. That was when a Hells Angel stabbed a fan to death after the Angels were hired to act as security in exchange for $500 in beer and front-row seats. Barger was there that night, when, in the eyes of many writers, hippie culture died an ugly death.
Some reports say he pointed a pistol at guitarist Keith Richards.
The Star interview shifted to religion — perhaps because of his club’s name.
Does he believe in an afterlife? “We all basically just are dead. That’s the end of it, as far as I know.”
Boucher and Barger had that fatalism in common. Boucher made up funeral cards while in custody, with the death date left open.
Barger announced his own death on Facebook on June 29, via his company, Sonny Barger Productions. He was 83.
Boucher died in prison on July 11. He had throat cancer. He was 69.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION