After years of drug dealing, mayhem, and violence, George Rowe decided it was time to turn his life around. Newly sober and deeply upset at the disappearance of a friend who stood up to a member of the Vagos motorcycle gang in Hemet, Calif., Rowe decided to try to make things right by going undercover and helping the ATF bring down the gang. In Gods of Mischief, Rowe offers a nail-biting account of infiltrating a gang, enduring the grueling and often humiliating initiation process, tangling with the Hell’s Angels, and gathering information all while trying not to blow his cover. Currently in the Witness Protection Program, Rowe agreed to an interview with PW via email.
How long did it take you to decide to write the book? What compelled you to do so?
I never intended to write a book about my undercover experience. But a few years ago, after I‘d spoken at a law enforcement conference on motorcycle gangs, I was approached by an ATF special agent who asked if I’d be interested in sharing my story with a journalist he knew. Given my situation with witness protection, it was important that the journalist came recommended by someone in law enforcement. The two of us collaborated on Gods of Mischief from that point forward.
Did the experience of going undercover measure up to your expectations?
The only expectation I had going into the assignment was getting the Vagos off the streets in my old hometown of Hemet. They were causing trouble with the locals and I wanted to put a stop to it. To be perfectly honest, though, I was naïve about the process. I figured after a few months I’d have those boys locked up, but Operation 22 Green stretched on for three years and I couldn’t get out from under it. I’ve been asked if volunteering for that undercover mission was some kind of thrill for me. Let me tell you, there was nothing thrilling about it; it was incredibly stressful.
You note that the gang’s membership has increased substantially since the takedown in 2006. Do you feel that justice was served?
The easy answer is, I did what I set out to do back then—I busted up the Vagos in my hometown. There was only one member left when I was done with Operation 22 Green—the others either quit or were jailed. Also, the two Vagos I targeted most are now out of the game: Big Roy Compton, the Hemet president, fled to Hawaii; the other, Todd Brown, was killed by rival outlaws. Unfortunately there’s a chapter back in Hemet now and; you’re right, Vagos membership has increased since I went into WITSEC. So when you ask if justice was served my answer has to be, “Yes”; the battle was won, but the war goes on. It’s like my handler, Special Agent John Carr, once told me—motorcycle outlaws are like a cancer. It’s hard to get rid of them completely.
You put yourself in an incredibly risky position for some time and those who were ultimately convicted received relatively light sentences, all things considered. Do you feel that it was worth it?
That’s a hard one to answer. My heart says, yeah, it was worth it. I have to feel that way, you know, otherwise those years spent undercover and with WITSEC would be a complete waste of time. So that’s what my heart says, but I’d be lying if I told you there were no regrets. My life had been turned upside down. Operation 22 Green spelled the end of my life as I knew it. I lost my home, a successful business, and everyone I knew back in Hemet. But it’s not like I sit around feeling sorry for myself. I made a life-altering decision and I have to live with that. What choice do I have but to keep moving forward?
Is there anything you miss about life in the Vagos?
The only thing I miss is riding a motorcycle with a bunch of guys tearing ass down a highway doing 80, 90 miles per hour. Other than that absolutely nothing; my time with the Vagos was nothing but misery.
How has the book been received in the motorcycle club community?
We’ll find out. I think anyone outside the outlaw world will find Gods of Mischief a fascinating window into how an undercover operation is conducted, how motorcycle outlaws live, and what their renegade lifestyle is really all about. There’s been too much glamour attached to motorcycle outlaw gangs thanks to shows like Sons of Anarchy. I think the book busts those myths wide open. Most outlaws are bullies that run in a pack, and I can almost guarantee those bullies are going to hate anything written by a so-called “snitch.” In their view, being an informant is a sin punishable by death. They’d like to see author George Rowe dead. But if they could somehow get past the fact that the book was written by a rat, they’d recognize Gods of Mischief as an honest account of their outlaw culture. Odds are that won’t happen, though, so screw ‘em. Most of those assholes deserve to get knocked down a peg or two.
What does it feel like to be in Witness Protection, to step into a completely different and new life?
It wasn’t easy stepping away from everything and everyone I knew—including myself. Sometimes I even forget who I’m supposed to be. No question I miss my life back in Hemet.