The classics are the classics for a reason. This is from Lenny Bruce’s Berkeley Concert (1965):
I think in 1951 there were probably about 7,000 dope fiends in the state and maybe 50 narcotics officers. Today probably there are about 15,000 narcotics officers and 4 dope fiends… They got 4 dopey junkies left, old time 1945 hippies. Okay, one guy works for the county undercover, the other guy works for the federal heat…
Would Bruce only smirk knowingly, or would he have something to say about a motorcycle club with cops in its membership and even in its leadership? Not that anything is intrinsically wrong with the idea — if the group is the Iron Pigs. If it’s the Mongols, that’s another story. Sure, infiltration is an organization’s own fault. For instance, to patch guys in first, and then weed out the bad ones, isn’t the best way to build a membership base. Wisdom dictates caution when reaching out, and even more caution when being reached out to.
The main thing here is that law enforcement has been infected by an immense cultural shift, expressed as a mania for thespianism and low-rent cheap thrills. They want Halloween and Mardi Gras all year long. Actually, raising hell in disguise and blaming somebody else is a tradition since the incident known as the Boston Tea Party, when patriotic Americans masqueraded as Mohawk Indians to vandalize a British ship.
Cops are outrageous enough when in uniform, reserving to themselves the exclusive right to break laws. Ever seen a patrol car signal a turn? Me either. Imagine the mischief they make undercover. Even in a normal SWAT team, cops get to run around in intergalactic storm trooper outfits and blow shit up like a bunch of hormone-crazed teenagers playing a video game. Undercover widens the scope. A cop can pretend to be a hooker or derelict or junkie or high school student, for chrissake.
The new wave in play-acting is electronic impersonation. There may be more cops in online chatrooms pretending to be 13-year-olds, than there are actual 13-year-olds roaming the malls of suburbia. Cops want to put on hippie gear and stir up shit in a crowd of protesters. They want to play make-believe and get into show business. The nation spends millions so some government lifer can have his picture taken with Sonny Barger. Mainly, they want to do things that neither cops nor civilians are supposed to do, and all in the name of maintaining their cover. They get together and have a hella good time swapping anecdotes about their adventures posing as lowlifes.
As in so many human conflicts, the question here is, who are the real low-lifes? What kind of a person worms his way into a group, accepts the friendship and trust of brothers, and then starts recording their war stories, and entrapping them into crimes they wouldn’t have done otherwise, and all those other duplicitous things that undercover agents do? Technically, ATF agents are not permitted to consume illegal drugs or commit any other crimes when in disguise. A National Public Radio story quoted agent William Queen, aka Billy Slow Brain, whose specialty was using violence to impress a club he wanted to join.
Whatever they wanted me to do. If it was stand by and assist in stealing motorcycles or hauling the drugs for them, whatever it was that came up, I did. I had my own little line in the sand, and that was rape and murder.
Oh, is that how it works? They get to draw their own little line in the sand? Apparently, the self-drawn line for some agents extends all the way to murder. And there is no rule against being a total asshole all day long. Like, when some bikers beat up a black guy who allegedly disrespected one of their female relatives, three others bikers contributed by yelling racist epithets. The cheering section were undercover ATF agents, a fact not mentioned in the news or the legal paperwork on the offense. They don’t just pretend to be what they’re not; they instigate and provoke under false colors, worsening the reputation of their targets.
Think of a group you belong to, and think how you would like it if some random douchebags pretended to be members of your group, and did things to make John and Jane Q. Public hate them. Plus, acting like a dick is an excellent way to contaminate certain kinds of evidence. The grand jury sees clandestinely-recorded videotapes of a bunch of wild outlaws acting uncouth, and they don’t know which of the participants are agents or snitches. They figure, just indict everybody and let someone else sort it out.
Cops even play dress-up to investigate each other. There was a club called the Chosen Sons, made up of law enforcement officers, prison guards, bounty hunters and private eyes. When a member sold guns to genuine outlaw gangs, the Chosen Sons were undercover-investigated just like anybody else, for doing what those same investigators had no doubt done in the course of their own careers. The amazing hypocrisy of law-and-order types who form motorcycle clubs baffles other bikers at a soul level. As phrased by Donald Charles Davis,
Some of them are not doing it for undercover purposes, but just because they like to ride and be in a club. Yet if assigned by their masters to undercover duty, they would happily infiltrate and betray Americans who just want a life that includes big machines and the road.
Police need to be doing police work, not amateur theatrics. Every now and then, amazingly, someone in authority agrees. Props to Judge Otis D. Wright, who was trying a guy named William Ramirez. Apparently, Ramirez’s crime was being on the scene when an undercover cop completed a drug transaction with another undercover cop. Judge Wright called it a “staged phony transaction.” He said no to the sentence the prosecution wanted, the unfairness of which offended him. He said, “I don’t think this is what this system is about.”