Retired ATF agent Ken Croke is the only federal agent to ever infiltrate the notoriously violent Pagans motorcycle gang in a now-legendary operation that took down 20 hardcore outlaws. Ken had a long history of undercover work, but nothing could have prepared him for the two years he ultimately spent living undercover as a biker and becoming a fully patched member of the Pagans.
In this chapter from his book, Riding with Evil: Taking Down the Notorious Pagans Motorcycle Gang, written with veteran crime reporter and New York Times bestselling author Dave Wedge, Croke describes one of his first forays into the Pagan lifestyle, when he visited the gang on St. Patrick’s Day weekend 2009 in Rocky Point, N.Y. on Long Island.
He was immediately faced with intimidation from chapter leaders and quickly learned of their depravity and penchant for brutality.
It was eye opening to see how the Pagans literally ran the town. They slapped guys around, and the bar owners and doormen did nothing. Cops weren’t called. The Pagans were the cops in those bars. They were also the judges, juries, and executioners.
After drinking the town dry, we went back to Roadblock’s house, where I was sent back to the living room floor to sleep. Just like the previous night, Roadblock continued his pacing past me all night. It was haunting. One time, he stopped next to me, leaned over, and stared down at me as I lay on the ground pretending to be asleep. I could feel his stare. His breath smacked my face and I could smell his stench.
Does this guy ever fucking sleep?
I made it through another sleepless night. The next day was the St. Patrick’s Day parade—the reason we came. I didn’t have any crimes on record yet, but I was growing more certain that there was an opportunity to infiltrate at some level. I knew I could at the very least become a hang-around, and probably more.
Bob and I were told to stand behind the clubhouse with a few other hang-arounds to ensure no Hells Angels snuck up on the club. Tensions were high. The Pagans had been on a rowdy three-day bender, and whether the Angels showed or not, violence was inevitable.
The whole chapter was “slickback,” meaning they weren’t wearing colors, so as not to attract the attention of the small army of cops patrolling the parade. It was bone-chillingly cold and depressingly rainy—the kind of St. Patrick’s Day that called for lots of booze.
Partygoers drank from plastic Solo cups as they walked up and down Main Street, dressed in green and wearing Mardi Gras–style beads. Members of the cover team blended into the crowd, ready to respond if the Hells Angels showed up or if I needed to get the hell out of Dodge.
The fact that the Pagans were in street clothes was bad news for any drunk that decided to mouth off to the wrong guy. All of them were the wrong guy, colors or no colors. If you fought one, you fought them all. Not surprisingly, that’s what happened.
One of the Long Island chapter members was Michael Thornton, nicknamed Tumbleweed, a felon with convictions for drugs and maiming. Yes, that’s right—maiming. That’s an actual federal criminal charge. The legal definition is “mutilating or inflicting injury upon a person which deprives him/her of the use of any limb.” I’m not sure of the circumstances of how Tumbleweed caught that case, but I was made aware of the charges during my prep work before I went to Rocky Point.
Tumbleweed was the oldest in the club and looked like Blue from the Will Ferrell movie Old School. He’d lost his leg in a motorcycle accident and had a prosthetic limb. His wasn’t a fancy titanium or plastic limb, though. It was wooden—just like a storybook pirate’s leg.
A group of drunken revelers walked down the sidewalk, and one of them made the mistake of telling a member to get out of the way. Next thing you know, he was being beaten by several Pagans. Me and Bob heard the ruckus and ran around the front to see the melee. Tumbleweed was in the middle of it, whaling away at this poor sap. At one point, his leg came off and he fell down.
You’d think his fake leg coming off would have ended the brawl, but not with those savages. Tumbleweed hopped up on his good leg and wielded his fake leg as a weapon. He swung it wildly, raining down blows with his own fake leg onto the victim. When the beating stopped, the victim’s buddies scraped him up off the ground and hustled him out of the area.
That evening, there was another blowout at Roadblock’s house and several out-of-town Pagans joined me in crashing on the floor. Most of them smelled like shit and snored like bears, but somehow it was the best night of sleep I had that weekend. Unlike the other nights, Roadblock didn’t do his walking guard duty. Perhaps he was done intimidating me for the time being, or maybe he just passed out. Whatever it was, I took small comfort in the mass of smelly humanity. At least I wasn’t the only one there, should that ax-handle-wielding mammoth decide to stalk and intimidate.
As I lay there on the floor, passing out in a sea of dirty bikers, I thought about my beautiful little girls snug in their beds and realized just how far away from my family I had traveled.
From the book RIDING WITH EVIL: Taking Down the Notorious Pagan Motorcycle Gang by Ken Croke and Dave Wedge. Copyright © 2022 by Ken Croke and Dave Wedge. Published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.