The Surprising Link Between The Hells Angels And Concert Security

The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club is a one-percenter organization that was established in California in 1948. Today, the group has grown into hundreds of charters spread around the world. Not just anyone can join the elite motorcycle club. Prospects go through a rigorous vetting process and must be ready to dedicate their lives to the group. The Hells Angels weren't as well known as they are today back when the organization first started. According to Britannica, it wasn't until the 1960s that they, as well as other motorcycle clubs, became notorious for their alleged illicit activities.

The Hells Angels even became more infamous after the Altamont Free Concert that was held in 1969. Back then, as reported by The Richest, it was common for the Hells Angels to be hired as security for concerts. The Woodstock music festival had just happened months prior, and the Rolling Stones announced a free concert with the goal of having a Woodstock-like event on the West Coast. It was also their way of kicking off their tour after not being on the road for almost a couple of years. The location chosen was the Altamont Speedway, and the Hells Angels were hired to provide security at the huge event (via The New Yorker).

The Altamont Free Concert tragedy

The Altamont Free Concert organizers expected a huge turnout, not only because it was free, but also because the line-up included big acts, such as Jefferson Airplane, Santana, the Grateful Dead, and The Rolling Stones as the headliners. The event wasn't carefully planned as one would expect. In fact, the location was secured just two days before the concert was to take place, and the Hells Angels were paid $500 worth of alcohol in exchange for their security services during the show, per History. On Saturday, December 6, 1969, a crowd of about 300,000 people gathered to watch the bands perform, as reported by Forbes.

Hiring the Hells Angels to provide security wasn't a good decision. Reports indicate that members of the motorcycle gang resorted to violence to control crowds. Even Jefferson Airplane singer Marty Balin was assaulted. Many of those in attendance also did drugs — as was usual in the hippie era — which added to the already-tense atmosphere. With all the chaos taking place, the Grateful Dead decided to pull out at the last minute. Beer cans were flying all over the place, and people were being hit by pool queues.

The death of Meredith Hunter

The most tragic event that occurred at the Altamont Free Concert was the death of an 18-year-old boy named Meredith Hunter. Prior to the concert, Hunter's sister warned him that it might be dangerous to go, as he was a Black man and she feared he might become a target of racial violence. Hunter insisted on attending the concert with her girlfriend, Patti Bredehoft, but he brought a pistol just in case, as reported by Talk Murder. During the Rolling Stones' set, Hunter tried to get closer to the stage by climbing up on one of the speakers. He was immediately pulled off by a Hells Angels member and thrown to the ground.

Hunter attempted to run from the scene, but other Hells Angels confronted him, and one of them — 21-year-old Alan Passaro — stabbed Hunter repeatedly with a knife. The teen was able to get his unloaded gun to scare them, but that only aggravated the situation, and the Hells Angels beat him to death. The footage of the incident was caught on film, as cameramen were present at the concert to get footage for the Rolling Stones documentary titled "Gimme Shelter," which was released in 1970.

Alan Passaro was acquitted

Hells Angels member Alan Passaro was charged with the murder of Meredith Hunter. In court, as reported by Rolling Stone, Passaro said that what he did was an act of self-defense, and he just stabbed not knowing whether or not he was hitting Hunter. Several concertgoers were called as witnesses, and most of them testified to seeing Hunter harassing members of the Hells Angels and pulling his gun out. One witness, however, testified against Passaro and said that he saw the Hells Angel stab the young man at least a couple of times. In the end, the jury sided with Passaro and decided with a verdict of not guilty.

In 2009, news of the Hells Angels' plot to kill Rolling Stone frontman Mick Jagger was reported. According to ABC News, Jagger was targeted after a dispute regarding the hiring of the Hells Angels during the Altamont concert. The band insisted that they didn't hire the motorcycle gang, and that's what allegedly prompted the assassination plot. However, it didn't take place as the plan was foiled by a storm, according to Mark Young, a former FBI agent.