A Man




An interview with William Queen

Billy Queen is a man of true character, one of the most courageous men I’ve ever met – well actually, I only spoke with him on the phone, for security reasons that will shortly become apparent.

Starting in 1998, ATF Special Agent Billy Queen worked a deep undercover investigation for two and a half years inside the San Fernando Chapter of the Mongols – the most dangerous motorcycle gang in Southern California (or America). He assumed the identity of “Billy St. John,” a bad-ass, beer-guzzling, long-haired, gang brother who became a fully “patched-in” member, eventually rising through their ranks to the office of treasurer.

After successfully putting 54 of the 350 gang members behind bars for offenses ranging from narcotics and gun violations to rape and murder, Queen is still in hiding from those men who would like to see the veteran law-enforcement officer dead.

In order to infiltrate the gang, the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) created a false criminal history for “Billy St. John” along with a bona fide police record from the High Point Police Department (a couple counties over from where I live) in North Carolina.

Queen once served as a police officer in the city of High Point. Before that, he was in Vietnam as part of a Special Forces intelligence unit in 1971 where he earned a Silver Star. He then became a U.S. Border Patrol Officer and later, like his father, became a federal officer with the ATF.

Discovering that he had a talent for undercover work combined with his experience with military weapons, Queen conducted undercover operations in the Klu Klux Klan and in the Skinhead movements.

His biggest ordeal came when officials in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles told him of an opportunity to be introduced to members of the fierce Hispanic motorcycle gang – the Mongols. He wrote a book about his experience, entitled Under and Alone – The true story of the undercover agent who infiltrated America’s most violent outlaw motorcycle gang. Warner Brothers and Mel Gibson are slated to do the movie soon.

The book was a page-turner for me. It was an adrenaline rush. At any moment “Billy St. John” could have been discovered and killed on the spot by his gang brothers. Although they treated him like a brother, if they’d found out who he really was they would not have hesitated to put a bullet in his skull.

It is unprecedented for someone to go alone undercover for so long. It had to have been an emotionally draining experience for Queen. As I read the book, over and over again, I asked myself how this man could hold the tension of the cop and the criminal – how he handled the double life and the inner turmoil. It’s not easy to explain such things.

Early on, a Mongol member named Red Dog accused him of being an undercover agent. Queen pursued the investigation with that obvious suspicion, and believed many times his identity had been blown. There were also occasions when Queen hoped the “police officer” would not have to show himself in the event of a violent crime like a rape or a murder. Somehow, Queen walked the straight line while his darker alter ego became accepted by the group. He drank and fought with the best of them. There were genuine good times he shared with these hard-riding motorcycle buddies. Queen, a motorcycle aficionado since his youth, had his own big Harley Davidson he rode.

In 1999, Queen’s mother died. His colleagues at the ATF barely acknowledged his loss. The Mongols, conversely, expressed their deep love and concern for him during that difficult time. What a paradox it was for the law enforcement officer to feel the love and support of these criminals while he was in their midst gathering evidence to prosecute them.

“Hey, brother,” he said, grabbing me with the traditional Mongol handshake and hug. There was such genuine affection in Rocky’s embrace, making this another one of those disorienting moments for me; there was no doubt in my mind that Rocky really loved Billy St. John. - from Under and Alone

Mostly what Queen experienced with the Mongols, however, was fear – fear he would be found out. He was in constant danger.

In order to become a full member of the gang, “Bill St. John” had to endure the gang’s relentless physical and emotional abuse. It was a common type of dark initiation that occurs in most gangs. I asked the author about the word initiation that many of us in men’s work are familiar with in a good way.

“I think it’s all too true that many men like the idea of being initiated into a club,” he said. “Unfortunately, in most of these gang cases, it’s a matter of a ‘chip off the old block.’ Most gang membership is generational – one generation of gang bangers to the next. When you get to areas like South Central LA, they start off gang bangin’- then they have children that grow up gang bangin’ - it’s a vicious circle.”

Initiations could be brutal, degrading, and downright filthy. You might be required to take hard drugs and participate in sexual acts with women. Back in the 1960’s prospects were beaten and covered in human feces before gaining that coveted top rocker. - from Under and Alone

Local neighborhood crime is different from motorcycle gang activity, he noted.

“A lot of these motorcycle people meet each other at events, or in prison … it’s different than just hangin’ out next door in the neighborhood with the brother or cousin.”

Throughout the interview I repeatedly asked Queen how he maintained his integrity with such conflicting forces working around him for so long. I was in awe of this guy.

“It’s something inside,” he said, taking a minute to let the answer come to him. “I don’t think doing what’s right was something I had to work on – I grew up that way. I’ve always had my own ‘line in the sand.’ Doing what I did for more than two years was unusual … the government doesn’t like its agents going deep undercover by themselves the way I did. I knew the gang was extremely violent, and I would have to be just like them. They expected that. They looked for it in their members. I had to tell myself I would do these things, but not others … no rape or murder or beating people within an inch of their lives.”

Queen did gain his first real acceptance from the gang when he protected the Mongol’s president, Domingo, after a drunk had been glaring at him.

"When Domingo demanded to know 'What the F--- are you looking at?' the drunk started to swing, and bam, I decked him," Queen said.

I pressed Queen on the issue of what kind of personal character it took for him to be true to his sworn oath as an officer of the law. He didn’t explain himself in complicated terms: “All the rest of it is who you are. It’s ingrained in a person and hopefully you’re not going to slip. I admit I got close to the other side running with these guys.”

Queen said he saw the bad elements in the Mongols, along with “redeeming factors.”

“What makes gangs attractive is that sense of belonging to something, to an organization or something … I think they offer that, but it’s not just something they throw out there to entice recruits - it’s real. The love and loyalty they have for each other rivals any other organization I’ve been in, including military or police organizations. When you’re out on a limb and your life depends on a brother, or a solider, or a police officer … you get close to them. My life depended on others. I quite possibly could have been dead if not for my ganster brothers. I know those gang brothers would have died for me, just like a law enforcement officer would.”

The psychological contrasts here are juicy for me when I consider the symbology of Jung’s black-hat man coming in with the answers the white-hat man doesn’t have.

I pressed on. What’s the answer to gang violence, particularly in the inner cities?

“Society’s become more tolerant of that stuff,” he responded, with a hint of hopelessness. “We’ve gotten away from basic traditions that held us together. Not long ago our country was much more religious and the upbringing of children was not necessarily more strict but the morals were much greater. It’s not the same today. The respect for individuals is not the same as it used to be … nor is there the same respect for our country. Gang problems go much deeper than the gang itself - it’s our entire society that’s contributing to it. I don’t necessarily think that people are getting meaner, but the gang activity is certainly getting more violent.”

I was always studying these guys for the most subtle changes in their demeanor, any little tic that would indicate some change in their attitude toward me. - from Under and Alone

Again, I wanted to know what built the character of this new hero of mine.

“When I was kid, my Aunt raised us kids. She dragged me to church from the earliest moments of my life, going to Sunday School, and listening to her talk about God and right and wrong and the way it should be … that’s my background. I graduated from high school and I thought I could save the world. It didn’t take me long to discover that the only thing I was going to save was my own ass, but I still tried. I thought I could do a lot of good so I went to college and got a degree in Administration of Justice Studies, and then studied psychology and got a Master’s degree. I’ve tried to understand why people do what they do, and apply that as a police officer. But after years of trying to understand the bad guys … I’d see the same ones right back out there doing the same bad stuff. Finally, I thought, I’ll just put as many in jail as I can.”

I admitted I did not understand the criminal mentality.

“In gangs you have those who simply succumb to the loyalty of those who are more criminally minded. There are bad people in the general population, but when you have bad people in a gang … I mean they’re really bad people … cold blooded people who will murder for a little bit of money, or a patch. These gang guys are willing to do outrageous things and then the other people find themselves in the middle of following them. They may all be ready to fight at the drop of a hat, but many wouldn’t initiate a fight. Most are just there drinkin’ beer and intimidating people. Unfortunately, in the gang arena, the really bad guys drag everybody into stuff that creates war with other gangs, and with the police. It’s the psychopaths that drag everybody into the bad stuff.”

Marlon Brando’s The Wild One gang is so tame as to be romanticized now. It’s not what modern gangs are about.

“Gangs need to be recognized for what they are – bad organizations,” Queen argued. “They’re so unpredictable and prone to violence.”

If the Mongols demonstrated unhealthy aggression, was there a place for a kind of good fierce masculinity in our culture?

“I see that masculinity manifested in football, baseball, car racing … healthy ways to channel it. I just bought my own race car!”

Billy Queen said he doesn’t adhere to political correctness, and yet he’s got an enormous empathy for cultural struggles because of being a white man in a predominantly Chicano motorcycle gang.

“It was that much tougher for me, not because of the Latinos, but one of the white guys – Red Dog – who thought he had to prove his mettle. I also got to see what it was like living the life of a ganster and the wrath I suffered from police. I know why there’s a cultural gap between law enforcement and bad guys. I was out there with a strapped on patch. The officers treated me like just another ganster. I got to be concerned of being jammed by the cops. I felt oh, shit! I’m gonna get my knuckles crushed together, or have shotguns to the head, or my feet kicked out from underneath me, or getting tickets and chicken shit stuff like that.”

I wouldn’t go through what Billy Queen did even if Mel Gibson wanted to do a movie of it later. By the way, what did attract Mel to your story?

“I think what intrigued Mel was that I was actually able to pull it off for more than two years,” the author said. “The fact that this criminal organization is such a violent organization and to have a cop inside it was a pretty amazing thing for him. When I showed him some of the under cover footage, he just couldn’t hardly believe that it was all a reality.”

Me neither.

So tell me again, how you did it?

“I was trained as a special agent with the government. I’m the kind of person that could do it, and that’s what the ATF people expected. I didn’t have to do it. It turned out to be much more than I expected it to be … it got deeper and more dangerous than we all thought it would get. We didn’t know I would get in and become an officer in the club. With this particular group, you were lucky to get next to them and buy dope and motorcycles.”

I saw my work as part of a tradition of service to this country, and as I fastened my black bandana around my neck, that sense of tradition began to overwhelm the thought of Red Dog or C.J. shooting me. Yes, I’d hang in there, and I’d beat Red Dog and the rest of the Mongols. - from Under and Alone

Queen became like a member of a tight-knit family, sharing almost every moment of his time with these new brothers – these Mongols that could intimidate even the Hells Angels. I thought I perceived a slight sense of pride that Billy Queen could run with the wolves.

But the reality of today is that he still gets death threats coming across the net or from ATF tips.

“The ATF will call me and say they’re talkin’ about ya … it would be a coup d'état if any one of those motorcycle gangs could put a bullet in my head. Not just the Mongols – they’re buddy buddy with The Outlaws (another Latino motorcycle gang) and others. It’s something I have to live with now. I wish that I didn’t. If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t. I wish I could live a normal life like everybody else.”

A strong wave of compassion flowed over me. I thanked the man for his years of service.

“Well, at least the government knows now how bad these guys can be,” he said.

And still, it doesn’t compensate for the fact that Queen has limited connections with his two sons, and with his current wife because of the fallout from this one assignment.

“That connection with my family was another thing I ended up losing on … at the end of the investigation. I thought that life would go back to normal … I’ll be a dad and have my old job back. It didn’t happen that way.”

Billy Queen lives by himself. I asked him what he did with his time.

“I go around to other police organizations out there around the country, and in other parts of the world. They want me to speak about under cover work and motorcycle gangs. I do a lot more of that than I should. But I get to share this learning experience. I can tell people going under cover what they can expect – what they’re looking at.”

I don’t usually get so personal, but I told my new friend that I held a prayer in my heart that God would bless him for the risks he took to “serve and protect.”

“I did what I had to do,” he answered back. “There are so many real good people who do the same thing I did in different ways.”

I asked him who he was close to – who he talked to about the life he lived and the loneliness of his present circumstances.

“I tried the psychologist thing with a person the ATF provided, but it didn’t help that much. It’s other people who have ‘been there done that’ that I talk to. That helps.”

Over the years, testifying against my former Mongol brothers became a kind of personal purgatory. I came to dread those court dates almost as much as I dreaded my time as a Mongol prospect. … I hated the anticipation of making eye contact with the Mongols I had come to know well in my years undercover. My mind would play tricks on me as I sat in my Texas house, playing with Winchester, my golden retriever, and reviewing my tape transcripts before each court date. I was their friend. I was their brother. I drank with them. I partied with them. I rode with them and fought for them. I knew their kids’ names and they told me they loved me. Jesus, I had no doubt that guys like Domingo, Rocky, and Evel would have died for me. - from Under and Alone

There’s an anguish I experienced as I heard this man’s story. How many men have lived double lives and felt alone in some way? How many of us have a good guy vs bad guy running simultaneously within us? It was painful for me to listen, and yet Billy Queen was not a man looking for pity. He’s the toughest son-of-a-bitch I’ve ever spoken with.

“It is a lonely life,” he said. “Recently I’ve been want to do something about my situation. I’m not going to run and hide, but I’m also not going to be stupid. I want to return to a normal life. I want to start going out again and doing things I used to do and not worry about it.”

I asked the retired ATF officer what he would think if there was an organization that initiated men in a good way and provided a place where they could hang out and help each other actually become better men – men of integrity and character.

“You’d have your work cut out for you,” he quipped.

I told him about the ManKind Project and that I hoped some day he could join in a circle of men that is safe, a circle that can hold all the gold and shadows of a man’s life.

© 2006, Reid Baer

Related Issue: YouTube commercial for this column. Also see Reid's poetry on YouTube.

Reid Baer, an award-winning playwright for “A Lyon’s Tale” is also a newspaper journalist, a poet with more than 100 poems in magazines world wide, and a novelist with his first book released this month entitled Kill The Story. Baer has been a member of The ManKind Project since 1995 and currently edits The New Warrior Journal for The ManKind Project www.mkp.org . He resides in Reidsville, N.C. with his wife Patricia. He can be reached at E-Mail.

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