© 2005 William Queen
This fall, I unexpectedly became a fan of Sons of Anarchy, a criminal drama with a plot reminiscent of Hamlet and set in the world of outlaw motorcycle gangs. This piqued my interest in said gangs, leading me Wikipedia and eventually this book. Author William Queen is an agent working for the Bureau of Arms, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), who is asked by his superiors if he is interested in infiltrating the notoriously violent Mongols motorcycle club. Queen’s lifelong interest in motorcycles and experience infiltrating right-wing organizations under the guise of “Billy St. John” have prepared him in part, but the resulting two-and-a-half-year operation takes its toll on the agent, sharply evident in his account.
Perhaps the most important distinction between outlaw motorcycle gangs and other organized criminal groups, in Queen’s eyes, is that while groups like the Mafia primarily engage in criminal activities for profit and seek legitimacy, motor gangs engage in these activities only to finance a life lived beyond the rules. The violence that is the Mafia's tool is their chief pleasure: they delight in being viewed as a scourge, taking pride in defying societal expectations. One of the more striking anecdotes Queen related concerned an annual run by the Mongols, during which they drove in a stream of over a hundred, ignoring speed limits, road signs, and police officers: the Mongols are a gang of men prone to violence, armed altogether too well, and possessing little fear of retribution. Queen inserts himself into this dangerous world, navigating it for over two years by instinct and good fortune, for there are many edgy moments. Drugs and violence are the gang’s favorite pastimes, and Queen must pretend to participate in “the life” fully while not actually breaking any serious laws.
While Queen advances in the club -- first simply hanging around with Mongol members, then serving as a prospect and eventually earning his “patch” , he is increasing isolated from his own world. Meeting the MC’s demands takes away his nights and weekends, and the physical appearance of his outlaw persona offends all the “normal” people he might otherwise interact with amicably -- his children’s teachers, for instance, or passersby in the grocery story. Over the course of the two years, he regards many of the men as friends. This is perhaps encouraged by is increasing isolation from his work peers, and perhaps the book’s most poignant moment comes near the end of Queen’s assignment: when the woman who raised him like a mother dies, Queen is met with cold silence by his fellow DEA agents, but with hugs, support, and sympathy from the outlaws. His convictions as a lawman conflict with his increasing tendency to see the bikers as his friends.
Under and Alone is a particularly effective book, serving to both explore the world of outlaw motorcycle gangs and the effect living in had on Queen. It's a certain recommendation to those who find motorcycle gangs interesting to any extent.