Gods of Mischief: My Undercover Vendetta to Take Down the Vagos Outlaw Motorcycle Gangby George Rowe
George Rowe’s gritty and harrowing story offers not only a glimpse into the violent world of the motorcycle outlaw, but a gripping tale of self-sacrifice and human redemption that would be the stuff of
This is the high-octane, no-holds-barred, true story of a bad guy turned good who busted open one of the most violent outlaw motorcycle gangs in history.
George Rowe’s gritty and harrowing story offers not only a glimpse into the violent world of the motorcycle outlaw, but a gripping tale of self-sacrifice and human redemption that would be the stuff of great fiction—if it weren’t all true. Rowe had been a drug dealer, crystal meth addict, barroom brawler, and convicted felon, but when he witnessed the Vagos brutally and senselessly beat his friend over a pool game, everything changed.
Rowe decided to pay back his Southern California hometown for the sins of his past by taking down the gang that was terrorizing it. He volunteered himself as an undercover informant for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and vowed to dismantle the brotherhood from the inside out, becoming history’s first private citizen to voluntarily infiltrate an outlaw motorcycle gang for the U.S. government.
As “Big George,” a full-patched member of the Vagos, Rowe spent three brutal years juggling a double life—riding, fighting, and nearly dying alongside the brothers who he secretly hoped to put away for good. During this time, Rowe also became entwined in a tumultuous relationship with a struggling addict named Jenna, never once revealing that he was actually working for the Feds. The road to redemption was not an easy ride. Rowe lost everything: his family, his business, his home—even his identity.
To this day, under protection by the U.S. government, Rowe still looks over his shoulder, keeping watch for the brothers he put behind bars. They’ve vowed to search for him until the day they die.
“Oh my God, what a story. This is a dangerous and emotional page turner that’s going to leave you thinking to yourself, ‘My life’s not so bad after all.’ Reading Gods of Mischief is like sitting right next to George Rowe listening to him tell it.”
"Far from the glamorized lifestyle of the bikers in the television series Sons of Anarchy, the MC world George Rowe lived in was dirtier, more mundane, and filled with humans who seemed to enjoy and thrive on committing random acts of senseless violence… You’ll find yourself caught up in the emotional turmoil and you’ll be turning pages late into the night."
“In this roughhewn memoir, one-time meth dealer and reformed felon George Rowe describes his undercover mission to infiltrate the notorious Vagos motorcycle gang . . . with candor. . . . Lends unusual depth to what could have been a boilerplate tough-guy memoir.”
“Brash account of a reformed bad boy’s decision to help the federal government take down 'Green Nation,' the Vagos outlaw motorcycle gang….Rowe writes clearly, with a lighter touch and a more grounded specificity than in many reformed-gangster memoirs….delivered with more grime than romanticism.”
“Gods of Mischief is a fascinating book…a wild tale."
“Reading Rowe is a bit like sitting on a bar stool next to a biker for several hours as he tells his story: You endure the misogyny and the profanity because the man has an amazing story to tell.”
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Gods of Mischief
Ninety miles east of Los Angeles, out beyond the San Bernardino Mountains and down into the scorching heat of the San Jacinto Valley, you’ll find the city of Hemet, California. My old hometown was still a ranch and farming community when Mother forced it down my throat in the summer of ’71—nothing but potato fields, low buildings and a few flat streets skirting the western edge of the Mojave Desert. But with Californians migrating inland from the coast in search of affordable property, the valley’s population was booming.
From the Santa Rosa Hills on Hemet’s south flank to the city of San Jacinto, which shares the valley floor to the north, came a growing flood of retirement communities, trailer parks and stucco subdivisions. In just ten years—from 1970 to 1980—the city’s population nearly doubled, creating opportunities for anyone looking to make a buck . . . legal or otherwise.
For the lawless few, geography was the key to scoring big money. Hemet’s founding fathers would have shit their Levis had they known their little start-up would become the ass-end of a pipeline delivering marijuana, cocaine and heroin from Mexico, one hundred miles to the south. Starting in the 1960s, Hemet became a banging place for outlaw biker gangs hungry for a slice of that Mexican drug connection, many rolling in from neighboring cities like Riverside and San Bernardino, birthplace of the Hells Angels.
As a boy, I grew accustomed to the roar of their straight pipes blasting through the valley—iron horses farting thunder, ridden by barbarians with wild manes, greasy leathers and fuck-you attitudes. I wanted some of that. I too raised my middle finger to authority and shared a passion for motorcycles, which I’d been riding since I was seven years old, barely tall enough to reach the shift lever of the little Hodaka my father bought me before he died.
He was tough, my old man, a full-blooded Yaqui Indian and decorated Korean War veteran. But the warrior was no match for malaria and alcohol, a one-two punch that fried his brain and ravaged his liver. Terminally ill, Dad wanted to spend his last years teaching his boy how to hunt and fish in the mountains, but for that he needed custody from Mother, a mean-spirited drunk with a face like leather, ridden hard and put away wet by more men than I can remember. When I was a toddler I swear I spent more time napping in bars while Mommy trolled for bed partners than I did sleeping in my own room.
Warren Road in Hemet, biker paradise.
Custody was hard fought and harder won by fathers in those days, but when I jumped to my feet at the juvenile court hearing and screamed, “I don’t want to live with her, I want to live with my dad!” the judge heard me loud and clear. Mother got my sisters, Carol and Lin Ann, while Dad pulled me from kindergarten and took me into the Cascades up near the California-Oregon border.
Those were special years we shared in the high country, the absolute best of my life. But watching your father wither away from cirrhosis and thrash on the ground in fits of epilepsy, eyes rolling in their sockets, was asking a lot from a ten-year-old. So in 1970, with the end near, the old man packed our belongings and came down from the mountain, returning to Southern California to die.
Me at five years old, just before dropping out of kindergarten.
Dad was forty-one when his wasted body finally quit. In my mind’s eye I can still picture the end like it happened this morning. We were sitting on a couch watching television when he slumped sideways and fell across my lap. At first I thought he’d passed out—it had happened before—but as his skin grew cold I realized there was no waking him up again. Four hours later my uncle stopped by and found me still pinned beneath Dad’s stiffening body. Truth is, I didn’t want to let go. I was ten years old and terrified of a future without him. Afraid of being alone.
I became a ward of the state, bounced between foster homes until a kind woman from Buena Park took me under her wing and tried teaching me how to read and write, lessons this kindergarten dropout had missed while learning survival skills in the Cascades. The world turns unexpectedly, and certainly nothing is guaranteed in life, but I believe my future would have been different had I stayed with that woman. I really do.
But then Mother returned, looking for custody of the Social Security checks I’d been collecting since my old man passed away, and once they were hers I was dragged into the backseat of her Oldsmobile 88 and shanghaied to Hemet. I still remember heading east on the San Bernardino Freeway, desperately trying to memorize the road signs that would lead me back to that foster home in Buena Park. Instead the bitch dumped my ass on the county, and I ended up in a cage at juvenile hall trying to figure out what “incorrigible” meant.
The couple that rescued me owned the Hemet property where Mother was shacking up. With her blessing, they adopted me a few months later. Guess I should have been grateful for a roof over my head and three squares on the table, but life was never easy with that dysfunctional crew. There was a shitload of drinking and fighting in that house, with much of the anger directed at me.
My new dad was a tough little sonofabitch, strong and tanned from working with the town’s park and recreation department. Pat was a firm believer in old-fashioned “spare the rod, spoil the child” discipline. And when that man doled out punishment, the lessons came hard. To be fair, I was never a choirboy and probably deserved the occasional butt-kicking, but Pat’s brand of abuse was an entirely new experience. The dad I’d lost had raised his hand to me only once.
This one broke my arm.
Had my old man been alive, I know how he would have handled things. When my uncle back in the San Fernando Valley gave me a black eye, dad gave him two. When a perfect stranger in a Burbank mall slapped me upside the head for mouthing off, my father lifted him up and dropped him on his skull.
“Son,” he said as he knelt before me, “don’t ever let anyone push you around.”
Later in life I took Dad’s advice to heart, but when you’re an eleven-year-old getting pounded by a grown man, it’s easier said than done. For now my best defense against my adoptive father was vaulting the six-foot backyard fence whenever he was after me.
“That boy sure can jump,” Pat would boast to his drinking buddies.
Tough as he was, though, my new dad was no match for his 250-pound wife. Pat might have worn the pants in the family, but no one messed with Mama Cass—that’s what I called her when she was safely out of earshot. Pat came through the door shitfaced one night and mouthed off as his wife was in the middle of ironing. Big mistake. Dodi pinned him to the wall and ironed her hubby’s chest. Swear to God, that woman had a heart as big as her appetite, but piss her off and you’d best run for cover. Whatever Dodi had in her hands you’d get clobbered with. Garden tools, spatulas, skillets—you name it, she’d wing it. I saw more spaghetti on the walls than in the pots.
In the back bedroom of the house, my alcoholic mother was shacking up with Pat’s brother, John, the town drunk with a heart of gold. Down the hall lived my little sister, Lin Ann, and my older sister, Carol, fifteen years old, knocked up and soon to be married. In the basement slept my adoptive brother, Keith, a machinist in town who was good friends with a couple of biker brothers from the neighborhood—one who rode with the Vagos Motorcycle Club, and the other a patched member of the Hells Angels, named Freight Train. Vagos and Angels mix like oil and water, but in the brothers’ case blood was thicker than club loyalty.
Keith’s half brother, Gary, the only family member missing from that Hemet nuthouse, was a twenty-four-year-old roughneck who’d lost his foot in a Texas oil field accident. As gangrene crept in, the doctors chased the infection up his leg, amputating it one chunk at a time. Wasn’t long before the poor bastard lost that entire limb, followed by his wife and kids. Homesick and depressed, Gary came limping home on a prosthetic leg, rented a house with Freight Train and got busy drinking himself to death.
Freight Train had earned his road name with the Hells Angels for good reason. The man was a four-hundred-pound behemoth with hands the size of baseball mitts. His hair was long, his beard wild, and he had a silver-plated front tooth that gleamed when he smiled. And when Freight Train smiled, it meant someone was about to get hurt.
God’s truth, I once saw that man-mountain flip a police cruiser on its top—with the cop still inside. Another time he took on a platoon’s worth of shitfaced marines outside a bar in Winchester, California. Ol’ Freight Train was outnumbered and surrounded, but then came that slow smile, out popped the silver tooth, and down went nine of those jarheads. It took a pool stick punched through his gut to finally derail him, but by then the damage was done. For his one-man assault on the United States Marine Corps the government charged Freight Train with—I shit you not—destruction of federal property . . . a charge they later dismissed.
I earned a few bucks mowing Gary’s lawn back then, and watched as motorcycle outlaws from across the valley come thundering in on their Harley-Davidsons to raise a little hell. These were tough mothers—many of them Vietnam War vets searching for the same camaraderie they’d found in the service.
They wore patches on their backs with club names like Mescaleros, Hessians and Hangmen, and boasted of being “one percenters,” the outlaw’s badge of honor since 1947. That was the year a bunch of shitfaced bikers “rioted” at a motorcycle rally in Hollister, California—an event made famous by Marlon Brando in the 1953 biker flick The Wild One—then got slammed in the press as “the deviant one percent” of an otherwise law-abiding motorcycling public.
Over in San Bernardino, the Hells Angels took that as a backhanded compliment and began wearing a “1%” patch on their jackets, identifying themselves as outsiders who followed nobody’s rules but their own. Many of the bikers who hung at my brother’s place wore that diamond-shaped badge of honor, and it wasn’t long before I was ditching the lawn mower and sneaking inside to be nearer those larger-than-life characters.
Sure, they sometimes got pissed off and ran my scrawny ass down the road, but I’d always worm my way back in. Eventually I was adopted as a kid brother and came to know their ironclad code of loyalty and commitment, which placed the brotherhood above all else: above jobs, above friends . . . even above their own families. To me those bikers were modern-day musketeers, saluting each other with bottles of beer while shouting, “Fuck with one, you fuck with all!”
FW1-UFWA: the universal battle cry of the motorcycle outlaw.
But by the late 1970s, the beer-guzzling, gang-brawling characters I’d grown up with were a vanishing breed in the San Jacinto Valley. Tired of the life and increasing pressure from law enforcement, outlaws like Freight Train had become more interested in raising families than raising hell. Of course, turf-pissing contests were still fought over the patches on their backs, but with the old dogs slowing down and the young pups lying low, the roar of straight pipes quieted in the valley, and a biker flying his colors became a rare sight on the streets of Hemet for almost two decades.
Then the century turned and a new, more aggressive generation of outlaw rolled into town, one pumped on steroids, fueled by testosterone and always looking for a brawl.
Meet the Author
George Rowe is originally from Hemet, California. He is now being protected by the US Witness Protection Program.
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Well written. Quick read. I enjoyed it.
I don't read a lot of books, but my girlfriend does and I thought I'd start getting into reading some titles myself. I'm more of a non-fiction or biography type reader, and heard the author of this on our local talk radio. He's in witness protection and couldn't answer some of the hosts questions, but he really got me interested in hearing his story so I got on line and ordered the book for my iPad. Only took about 3 to 4 days to read it, the book isn't long but it kept up my interest and I knocked it out pretty quick. If you are into non-fiction true stories, give it a go, I think you'll like it. Now I'm going to read the book on the same biker gang by Charles Falco to see how it matches up with this one. Enjoy!
George Rowe is tired of the way the motorcycle gang, the Vagos, is treating the residents of his town. He decides to do something about it and joins forces with the ATF, becoming an informant. He spends three years with the brothers of the Vagos and is ready to get out. On top of dealing with the ATF and the gang, he also has to deal with a drug addict, pregnant fiancée, Jenna. When he tells Jenna the truth, he realizes he has lived a total lie for the last three years and has lost everything, his business, his home, his family, and even himself. Gods of Mischief is not the typical story that I would pick up and read, but I was totally enthralled with it. George Rowe puts it all out there. He digs deep and tells exactly what being in a motorcycle gang entails, not sugar coating any of it. The life of a 1%-er is not easy but as a tough bad-ass gang member you can make it. This is a true story told by the man who lived it. I found this novel full of adventure and fear. It was heart wrenching and moving. George is a hero, putting his own well being at risk to help the town and people he calls friends. Do not hesitate to pick up this novel, you will not be sorry.
Could not put this book down! Left me wanting to know more about George, Jenna and Joe! How they are today! God Bless all and thank you George for sharing your story!
Gods of Mischief is a gripping, tell-it-like-it-is memoir of George Rowe, a man who once lived a life of criminal activity and turned his life around, doing his best to right the wrongs in his community. A savvy drug dealer and ruthless small businessman, George Rowe was forced to take a hard look at the path of his life when his 8 year old son point blank asked him if he was a drug dealer. From that moment on, he did his best to put his adverse lifestyle behind him. Because members of the Vagos Motorcyle Club had previously tried to recruit him, George enters into an agreement to become a confidential informant for local law enforcement. His task is to infiltrate the Vagos MC and gather evidence. Understanding the danger and consequences, George accepts and lives the lifestyle for several years, putting his life in danger more than once. This book is a revelation, giving readers an intimate look into the functions and dysfunctions of outlaw motorcycle clubs like the Vagos, their club rules, their attitudes and beliefs, and their ruthless behaviour. More importantly, one cannot help but admire George Rowe for not only changing his own life, but for having the courage to aid law enforcement in bringing to a halt the rampant crimes and danger suffered by townsfolk, albeit temporarily. It was his own way of making amends, of sacrificing 3 years of his life by going undercover, of trying to do what was right despite his own sad background. I’m glad that George Rowe took the time to pen his tale now that he is in hiding and in Witness Protection. I was completely engrossed in his story, unable to put the book down, and reading it in two sittings. The author has a blunt writing style, adding vividness and impact to the storytelling. What I liked most about George Rowe, that despite his gruff exterior, he is a man with heart – taking care of his girlfriend Jenna and her child, sticking with her despite the agony of her drug addiction and the havoc it played upon his life and that of her father. It speaks to George Rowe’s credibility and integrity. This is a great story of redemption and personal triumph and I highly recommend it. I truly loved this book! Bravo George Rowe – I applaud your courage wherever you are.
Great book George Rowe tells it like it is from the inside out. Once I turned that first page I was sadened when it was my last page being turned. Once again it is very raw to its context laced with profanity and violence but then again what outlaw biker lives by the rules.
This is one book that was much more than I had expected. This is a very frank and candid look at life as an undercover informant in one of the nation’s most notorious motorcycle gangs. Author George Rowe tells it as he remembers it. He doesn’t romanticize his role in the gang’s activities or his part in bringing the gang down in March of 2006. If you don’t care to read foul language or straight forward talk, then be warned this story contains both. But it is presented in a manner fitting the story. Rowe was no angel to begin with. He grew up in a hard life becoming a drug dealer and convicted felon. But there was still good in him as he attempted to clean up his act. The major turning point, however, came when members of the Vagos outlaw motorcycle gang brutally beat up a friend of his. Days later that friend went ‘missing’ and hasn’t been seen or heard from since. Rowe wanted revenge and his hometown out from under the gang that terrorized it. For the first time in history a private citizen, Rowe, volunteered to work undercover. He would bring the gang down from the inside. For 3 years Rowe was known as ‘Big George’ walking the walk, talking the talk of the Vagos. He even became involved with an addict named Jenna without telling her who he really was. In fact, as he helped bring the brotherhood down around them, she was pregnant with his child. Gods of Mischief gives a raw look at the lifestyle Rowe lived. As a reader, the story is a roller coaster ride of emotions. The story flows smoothly leading readers on the highs and lows of the double life. A number of black and white photographs are also included throughout the book. They depict numerous members of the Vagos. Once all was said and done, some things changed and others remained the same. In the end, it’s sad to know Rowe is the one who really lost the most in his attempt to make life better for others. He remains in the U.S. Witness Security Program as the ones he helped put in jail have vowed to find him. Gods of Mischief is a gritty memoir. It’s hard hitting with a powerful punch. It’ll give you a new appreciation for the unsung undercover heroes helping to rid our country of drugs, violence and the like. This is a gripping story that you won’t be able to put down once you turn that first page. FTC Full Disclosure - This book was sent to me by the publisher in hopes I would review it. However, receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review.
Let me start of by saying...This book is NOT for everyone! It is definitely R rated! George Rowe tells his story, in his language, and shares his sex life at times, in great detail, so if that might be offensive then this book is NOT for you! George Rowe's story is incredible. When I was given the option to review it and I read the excerpt, I was intrigued. I'm not sure what I expected but I can tell you I am still just shaking my head as to how this man was able to first survive the "prospect phase" while trying to become a Vagos member and secondly, living with them while working with the Feds to take them out and not being busted!! It seems George had a rough life from the start. His parents split, his mother was an alcoholic and took George from bar to bar as she found a new "lover" every chance she got. The court granted his Father custody and when George was just a young kindergartner, his father removed him from school and took him away to live in the Cascades. His Father taught George many things that would prove to help him in his future but sadly, his father became ill and he and George had to move back to Southern California where he later passed away. He and George were watching tv when his father slumped over into George's lap and died. George was only 10 years old. After a friend of George's went missing and he knew "who" was involved in his disappearance, he had to do something. He agreed to work with the Federal Government to bring down the Vagos. Honestly, everything that George had to do to "become" a Vagos was more than most people can endure in a lifetime, George endured it all in 3 very long years. Add to that, the stress of every single day wondering if you would live or die or even worse, be found out by those you are helping to put away! His story is fascinating, but I have to wonder...If George happened to ever read this review, I don't think he would appreciate my choice of words. His story is far more than fascinating, it is an incredible story with a very sad ending. George did so much for his community, for his friend who disappeared, and for those who were abused, intimidated, and far worse by the Vagos. But George will live forever with one eye open wondering if the Vagos' have finally found him and come to get their revenge. Thank you Ashley Hewlett and Touchstone Publishers for allowing me this book for review in exchange for my honest opinion.
Didn't quite know what to expect from the title of this book and the verbage on the back. First it is "R" rated for Language, Sex and Violence. My Mom used to live in Fresno CA, now I have the feeling that I was sharing the road with these people. One never knows, and Mr Rowe doesn't pull any punches, he says it just like it is! You wonder why there are so many problems with people today, well look at these people who are raising them. The drug use is so rampant that I wanted to go and get that poor 2 year old. George is the bad guy, turn good guy? Well kind of! We ride along with these misfits, and low lives and they really made me sick! The disregard for human life is so terrible, don't look at someone wrong. When one of George's friends, a new father to be, ends up missing forever. He finally decides he want to help clean up Hemet CA. He enters into a very dangerous world of infiltrating the Vagos Motorcycle Gang. Being a snitch is a perilous position, but he is finally willing to put his life on the line. Will George ever make it out alive? Does he ever clear his name with the gang and get out of the probation period? Let me say this is a good mystery, and unfortunately very true. So scary!! Once you start, there is no putting this read down! I received this book from the Publisher Simon & Schuster, and was not required to give a positive review.