The Truth About Hunter S. Thompson's Time With The Hells Angels

"I think the Angels came out of World War Two," argued gonzo pioneer Hunter S. Thompson in an interview with fellow journalism great Studs Terkel in 1967 (via Huffington Post). "This whole kind of alienated, violent, subculture of people wandering around looking for either an opportunity or if not an opportunity then vengeance for not getting an opportunity."

Thompson's wasn't a speculative observation. Just turning 30 years old at the time of the interview, the journalist was about to become a sensation following the release of "Hells Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs," his first full-length book. The memoir chronicled his time living, partying, and traveling with the band of outsider bikers who had struck fear into the hearts of everyday Americans since their notorious arrival in Monterey, California in 1974 had turned them into a household name.

Huffington Post notes that Thompson's time with the Hells Angels lasted around a year and gave him the scoop that would make his name. But though the writer certainly saw many commonalities between his own "outlaw" view of America and that of the gang he at one time believed he had befriended, his adventure also took some dark turns, with Thompson becoming a witness to some of the gang's most sickening crimes, as well as the eventual victim of their well-publicized brutality.

When the Angels 'stomped' Hunter Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson had stood in closer quarters with the Hells Angels than any writer ever had before, allowing him to chronicle their horrifying behavior, including mindless violence and sexual assault. A typical journalist might have been able to extract themselves from the declining relationship before it got out of hand. But Thompson's flourishing gonzo style — which Britannica explains is unique for its "personal" style of reporting, in which the journalist chronicles his own interactions with their subject — meant his friendship with the gang ended with a savage assault on Thompson himself, who had interjected after witnessing a gang member beating his wife and dog, calling the biker a "punk" (via Google Books).

Thompson describes the attack as follows: "The first blow was launched with no hint of warning and I thought for a moment that it was just one of those drunken accidents that a man had to live with in this league. But within seconds I was clubbed from behind by the Angel I'd been talking to just a moment earlier. Then I was swarmed in a general flail" (via Google Books).

In the final line of his postscript, Thompson turns to the work of one his literary heroes, Joseph Conrad, and lifts a line of dialogue given to the "Heart of Darkness" character Kurtz — "The horror! The horror! ... Exterminate all the brutes!" — to crystallize his final feelings on the gang who had turned their violence against him.