Ken Croke is a retired ATF agent who worked undercover for years to bust numerous criminal organizations, and is the co-author of Riding with Evil: Taking Down the Notorious Pagan Motorcycle Gang. [This is part one of a two-part episode. You can continue on to part two here!]
What We Discuss with Ken Croke:
- What’s the hardest part about keeping an undercover identity intact while under heavy scrutiny by some of the world’s most paranoid and dangerous miscreants?
- How does the hierarchy of an outlaw biker gang work, and what does the process of becoming a trusted member entail?
- What does an undercover agent do to pass among criminals without actually committing crimes (or stepping outside the boundaries of what’s been cleared in advance)?
- How do outlaw bikers really feel about the way their subculture is portrayed in popular media (e.g., Sons of Anarchy)?
- What did Ken’s wife and kids do while he was undercover for two years?
- And much more…
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The Pagan’s [sic] Motorcycle Club is one of the most ruthless and secretive “one-percenter” outlaw biker gangs in the country. Active since the late ’50s, its most consistent rival for the past few decades has been The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. Yet for the impressive size of their combined, constantly-at-war memberships, nobody in either group seems to understand how apostrophes work.
For this and countless other crimes, ATF agent Ken Croke risked two years of his life to infiltrate the Pagan’s(‘) inner circle, as chronicled in his book (co-written with New York Times bestselling author Dave Wedge), Riding with Evil: Taking Down the Notorious Pagan Motorcycle Gang. Here, we discuss the darker side of human nature brought out by outlaw tribalism, the hierarchy observed by this and similar criminal organizations, what real one-percenter bikers think of Sons of Anarchy, what someone has to go through to gain initiation into the trusted ranks of this particular gang, and much more. Listen, learn, and enjoy! [This is part one of a two-part episode. You can continue on to part two here!]
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
Please note that some of the links on this page (books, movies, music, etc.) lead to affiliate programs for which The Jordan Harbinger Show receives compensation. It’s just one of the ways we keep the lights on around here. Thank you for your support!
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Thanks, Ken Croke!
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources from This Episode:
- Riding with Evil: Taking Down the Notorious Pagan Motorcycle Gang by Ken Croke and Dave Wedge
- Dave Wedge | Twitter
- Pagan’s Motorcycle Club | Wikipedia
- How I (Barely) Survived a Near-Fatal Holiday Weekend with a Biker Gang | The Daily Beast
- Road to Revenge: Pagan’s ‘Roadblock’ Blair Kept Flames of Vengeance Lit in War Vs. Hells Angels After ’02 Hellraiser Ball Brawl | The Gangster Report
- An Inside Look at the Pagans Motorcycle Club and the Threat It Poses in NJ | NJ.com
- Sons of Anarchy | Prime Video
- What Is a One Percenter Motorcycle Club? | One Percenter Bikers
- Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs: Aspects of the One-Percenter Culture for Emergency Department Personnel to Consider | The Western Journal of Emergency Medicine
- Hate Symbols Database | ADL
- Feds Can’t Find Body Buried By Undercover Agent | Gothamist
- Joe Barone | Living in Dread Between the Mob and the Feds Part One | Jordan Harbinger
- Joe Barone | Living in Dread Between the Mob and the Feds Part Two | Jordan Harbinger
673: Ken Croke | Undercover in an Outlaw Biker Gang Part One
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: This episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show is brought to you by Nissan. Why wait for tomorrow? Today has made for thrill.
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[00:00:08] Ken Croke: So the chapter president at the time was like, "Hey, listen, I got permission for you to get Surtr's sword early." They've broken a bunch of things with me early. Like I became an officer earlier than I was supposed to. I got arrested, and so I should have been pushed out of the club until that case got adjudicated. There's all these different things that they had rules, they broke it for me. So when it came to this, I'm like, "Man, I go home, the Surtr's sword on my neck. This is not going to play well with my wife to start with and then forget where else." And so I said to him, I said, "Hey, listen, man, I'm already getting some attitudes for some folks because you know, I've been cutting corners and you guys have been doing things for me earlier than you probably should have. Let's just let this one run out. Let me do my time and earn this one." The chapter president was like, "Hey man, I stand up a hundred percent behind you." So it was another bullet dodged.
[00:00:58] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people. We have in-depth conversations with scientists and entrepreneurs, spies and psychologists, even the occasional organized crime figure, former cult member, or rocket scientist. And each episode turns our guests' wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better person.
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[00:01:50] Today's guest — man, folks, where do I begin? Okay. He spent years undercover with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the ATF. Now, usually these guys specialize in catching bad guys, moving guns, bombs, other super dangerous and illicit material. If you're not from the United States or you have no idea what I'm talking about, it's kind of like the FBI, but focusing on alcohol, tobacco, and firearms. And most undercover operations, they are a few weeks, maybe a few months. This operation lasted years, which is just unreal. He infiltrated the Pagans Motorcycle Club. So think Hell's Angels or Mongols or Sons of Anarchy, if you've seen that show. Just a crazy dangerous group of guys, that would be scary to even be around, let alone, go into the lion's den for years at a time and try to dismantle the organization from the inside. The stories in this episode are absolutely bananas. And we are just lucky as a society to have guys like Ken Croke, keeping us safe from some of the absolute animals out there who just don't give a crap about anything or anyone. This is a two-parter, there's a lot here. Let's do it.
[00:03:08] You know, when you're an undercover, you must see these guys' IDs sometimes. Or no? Or is that kind of not a thing that happens?
[00:03:14] Ken Croke: It depends on, you know, the type of undercover — like if it's short term or regular undercover, you know exactly who it is you're meeting with, you know what their background is, what they're capable of, and you'll know the names, but it's short term. When you're doing this long term, particularly when you're meeting hundreds of people over a period of time, the odds of used — because some of them go by their real names. Some of them go by their club names. And so whatever — it's just like, I'm introduced to Jordan, you know, if I knew your nickname was Bill and somewhere, I refer to you as Bill and you'd be like, "Oh, where'd you get that from?"
[00:03:47] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, I see. Yeah.
[00:03:49] Ken Croke: I always told them, just don't tell me. As long as you knew who they are now, you could tell me, "Hey, how bad are they?" Like if they killed five people, so I have that going in, but outside of that, don't give me much more.
[00:03:59] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Because you don't want to say like a gang name that only a gang member would know. And if they haven't introduced you in that way and they've given you something totally different, it just totally blows you up, right? Because it's like, "Well, who do you know that knows me, that told you my name?" Right?
[00:04:11] Ken Croke: Or these guys use aliases all the time. They'll throw them out there. And if all of a sudden they threw an alias out five years ago and I have to use that alias as opposed — they'd be like only a cop would know that.
[00:04:21] Jordan Harbinger: Uh-huh.
[00:04:21] Ken Croke: I just try to keep it as simple as I can and like I said, this type of investigation — you know, people always like, "Oh yeah, it's amazing." The hardest part of this was keeping your story straight—
[00:04:33] Jordan Harbinger: I bet.
[00:04:34] Ken Croke: —for two years. You know, people have always asked me like, "How do you do it?" And I'm like, "Well, you know, how difficult it is it?" And I use the same analogy, which is, "So tell me a lie about last night, where you went to dinner, who you went with, what was the restaurant? What did you eat? What was the environment? Who was sitting around you?" And I get into some details and you'll sling that out in a second and it'll sound very convincing and I'll believe you. But then I'm going to circle back next week and I'm going to come back and I'm going to say to you, "Hey, how did you have your steak cooked last week?" And you have told me, and if it was a real memory, you'd remember it. If it's not, then it's very hard to recall because you just made that stuff up. And so then do that over two years and it gets to be really difficult. And these guys would regularly — particularly Roadblock — would regularly circle back on my stories to see how valid they were.
[00:05:21] Jordan Harbinger: The Roadblock is one of the guys in the club — was that the guy that sort of sponsored you to see if you were—? It's hard to keep these names straight for me having read the book. There was one guy who kept testing you. I assume that is who that was, yeah?
[00:05:32] Ken Croke: Yeah. I mean him and Peter, probably the two biggest when it came to testing, but Roadblock was my sponsor. At the time, he was the sergeant-at-arms. The chapter president wanted me into the club, but presidents generally are not supposed to sponsor folks. So he designated Roadblock to be my sponsor.
[00:05:49] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. So that seems to be one of the reasons why you hear undercovers say like always use as many real details as you can so that you don't have — you can always default to like, "Hey, I get my steaks done medium. Maybe I'm a vegan or vegetarian." You don't have to pretend you're not or that you are for something else. And maybe you use like what, like a real first name, but a fake last name. Is that kind of the general gist?
[00:06:11] Ken Croke: Most folks will use their real first name. Because again, if I'm going to an alley and meeting you and buying a gun, it's going to be a half hour, whatever, you can stay focused for that. But over two-year period all of a sudden, I changed my name to Harry. Inevitably, somebody would have been like, "Hey, Harry," and I wouldn't have turned it around. Like you just wouldn't click. Whereas if you keep the same first name, you know you'll naturally respond.
[00:06:32] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Oh, man, the pressure is just ridiculous. Let me back up a little bit. How did you end up deciding to slash getting selected to work undercover? I assume they don't make you do that. They ask you if you want to, right?
[00:06:44] Ken Croke: Yeah. You're talking about all the way back at like day one of my career?
[00:06:48] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:06:48] Ken Croke: You know, they do not make you do it. When you're in the Academy, at least when I went to the Academy, everyone was — you had to do it in that environment. So you could at least, for two reasons, one, see if you liked it. Number two, you have to have an appreciation of what it's like to be an undercover. And again, it's an Academy environment. Nobody's going to die, but they do make it as real as they possibly can. And even if you never did it again, you'll understand what undercovers go through.
[00:07:14] And when you were planning your operations and you're asking somebody to do undercover for you, you'll have a little bit more understanding of how that process works and what they're going through when they're doing that. But then afterwards it's just, for me, in the Academy and, you know, I thought I did pretty good at it. And I also felt like a lot of them the undercover work was kind of pushed on to different minority groups. And so it would be like, "Hey, you looked apart type of thing." And I always felt like, you know, looking the part, you got to be able to explain what you look like. And so—
[00:07:42] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:07:42] Ken Croke: You know, I did undercover with African-American gangs, Hispanic gangs. It's all your story and who's introducing you. And so I did a fair amount of undercover with MS, Mara Salvatrucha, the street gang. And it must be like, How does a white guy do that?
[00:07:57] Jordan Harbinger: Isn't that El Salvador?
[00:07:59] Ken Croke: Yeah.
[00:07:59] Jordan Harbinger: Those gang, yeah.
[00:08:00] Ken Croke: Yeah, exactly. And so, this was when I was in Los Angeles and they were big in Los Angeles, but my story was, there was a prostitute who worked on that area who's white. She introduced me into the gang, so I was her brother. So then they accepted it like, "All right. Yeah, we've got this white guy here. He's buying some guns and some drugs and what have you." So it's really your story, more so than it is what you look like. And so I wanted to kind of change that.
[00:08:23] Further, I went along with it or got into it, the more I enjoy doing it. You know, I looked at it as a challenge. It's almost like a chess match, but I was not one-dimensional in my career and I never intended to. You know, I worked really good cases. I had gone up into management up to the highest levels within the agency. So I just wanted to be a well-rounded agent.
[00:08:44] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It sounds like the level of excitement for undercover is much higher than — I'm stereotyping here, but it seems like if you join the police or the ATF in your case to be close to the action, there's no closer to the action than pretending to be in a gang and selling drugs with a gang and running guns with a gang for whether it's half an hour or half a year.
[00:09:06] Ken Croke: Some would view it that way. And I think, but there's also — you know, if you're on the SRT team, you know, there's a lot of adrenaline—
[00:09:13] Jordan Harbinger: That's like a SWAT team situation, yeah.
[00:09:15] Ken Croke: Exactly. And so it was a lot of aspects of the job that get that adrenaline flowing. But this to me was one where it's kind of like a skill set and you develop it as you go along and you get a little bit better. You have to be very quick in thinking. Because even the short-term stuff, also if all of sudden something comes up and somebody throws something at you, you've got to be able to respond to it just like you naturally would. And this case was full of things that happened that I would get out of bed every day. And, you know, I have a plan and what I was going to do by nine o'clock in the morning, that plan completely was blown up and not a single day went according to what I thought it was going to do.
[00:09:51] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It sounded like that from the book too. You know this is a full-time job — and we'll kind of get to this because I took a copious amount of notes, but tell me a little bit about how biker gangs work. There's different club ranks, right? There's like the full-on patched members. And then there's this kind of, I guess, prospects who are for lack of a better word, like applicants almost, right? Initiates.
[00:10:15] Ken Croke: More like indentured slaves.
[00:10:16] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:10:17] Ken Croke: So the process starts with hang-arounds. And so hang-around is actually, you know, if you ever going to hang around a biker gang, that's the level you want to be at. Because they get to go to the parties. They have no responsibility. Nobody cares what they do. They're also not involved in any of the inner workings of the club. They won't know any of the criminal activities. They won't know a lot of anything, any of the dynamics that are happening inside. But they go to the clubs, you know, they go to the parties, they'll support them and so forth.
[00:10:40] But for the biker gangs, that's an important part because they're watching you and how you are, just normally. And so they're wanting to see, you know, is this a standup type of person. Is it somebody we want to be part of this? Do they have what it takes to be a part of it? And then if you do the next phase, they're going to ask you to prospect. And that is by far the worst phase.
[00:11:02] It's a little bit different for each club, but for the Pagans, it's six months and they can add days to it, depending on what happens. And during that period of time with the Pagans, you're a prospect for what they consider to be the entire Pagan nation. So you don't belong to a chapter, you don't belong to a person, you belong to the entire Pagan group. So on a normal day, you're beholden to the chapter that you're in. But when you go to these mandatories where there's a thousand bikers there, you're beholden to every single one of them. And so it is like indentured servitude.
[00:11:34] So like my first mandatory, we were up at four o'clock in the morning after maybe going to sleep at three o'clock in the morning, you run the grills. You go around picking up trash. You have these bags of things that you have to carry with you. Things being like spark plugs, lights for the motorcycle, cigarettes, tampons. Like you name it, you're carrying all this stuff. And there's a list. Like you have to have a lighter, you know, all this stuff. And if you don't have one of these items and one of those members asks you for it, several things can happen. One they'll bang check you, which is an open palm strike to your forehead. Two, they can whack you with an ax handle if it's significant enough. I mean, if you're missing a toothpick, you probably not going to get an ax handle but other violations, you would. Or they add days to your prospecting.
[00:12:15] And so you have this little calendar book that you carry with you and you cross off days as you complete them. And so if you screw up, it'd be like, "Hey, add another week," which I'd rather get a bang check than add time to the prospecting phase. So like they say it's six months, but it's not like six months you watching the clock wind down and you're like, "Hey, I've got four more hours." It's not that way. Six months is the general time. And they'll let you know in their own special way when you've made it or if you have it.
[00:12:43] Jordan Harbinger: Right. So you're done when they say you're done. Not, when you're like, "Hey guys, this is my last day," right?
[00:12:48] Ken Croke: Yeah, exactly. Then you're a patch member and you're on probation for a period of time. And then there's officers within the club. And so back to your original — there's a treasurer, secretary. There'll be a vice president who really doesn't have status unless the president's dead or in jail. Sergeant-at-arms, which is the number two in a chapter and is also responsible for the weapons, but also the discipline, and then the chapter president. And then those chapters report up to what they call it, president of presidents, a pop, and that's the level right below mother club. And then mother club has its own chapter. So the national president, the national vice president, national sergeant-at-arms are all across the mother club. And so everybody reports up to that.
[00:13:30] Jordan Harbinger: So mother clubs sounds like what? It's the national chapter instead of the local chapter of the Pagans.
[00:13:35] Ken Croke: Exactly. It's the national oversight. And so you'll have each mother club member will have an area. I was in New York. So the mother club member at the time was Cano and he had New York and Northern New Jersey. That was his area. So everybody reported up to him and he was part of other clubs.
[00:13:52] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. It's like regional management, but it's also like a mafia with the commission and everything, right? Is that what it's called? The commission?
[00:13:59] Ken Croke: Yeah, no, that's exactly it. And there is a hierarchy. I mean, you know, people think that these are just a bunch of morons running around partying, and then they're very sophisticated in how they move their money. They're very sophisticated in their structure. They're also very sophisticated in what they do. They plan operationally. They have undercovers. They are people who would they call it, [Ryan sit back], no colors, no nothing. People who kind of look like they'd blend in. If they're going to events and stuff, they'll have those people out there planted, watching to see if others gangs are showing. See what the local law enforcement is doing. Their planning, maybe not on paper, like what law enforcement agencies do but in the end, it's really the same thing. You know, they would brief and debrief after their events.
[00:14:39] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. It's surprising because some of these guys are really horrific human beings. And I've got some examples that we can talk about in a little bit here. Early in the book, you talk about simulating using drugs and drinking at a party. And this is something I'd never thought about, right? Okay. You pour out a beer when no one's looking. Maybe you hold a shot in your mouth and then you kind of spit it back into your beer bottle that looks like you're chasing the booze. So you don't get super drunk, but how do you fake a line of cocaine, right? That sounds like a challenge.
[00:15:09] Ken Croke: Yeah. So people ask that question and honestly, I don't go into it and I'll tell you why because it just makes it more difficult for the people behind me. The folks that are—
[00:15:15] Jordan Harbinger: Got it.
[00:15:16] Ken Croke: —doing this type of work.
[00:15:17] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:15:17] Ken Croke: But I will say this, and it's easier to talk about the alcohol in that sense is that — you know there'll be plenty of nights where folks will be like, "Oh my god, you know, we're out slammed and had 10 beers last night." Well, the reality is like you think about the last time you were in a bar with some buddies and they're ordering different beers. But did you really see them drink the beer? Did you really watch that liquid cross across their lips?
[00:15:36] Now, if you're watching somebody drink a beer and you're paying attention to it. You're going to be able to tell when they're drinking or not, but who does that? If you're going to sit there and say, "Hey, watch me," and I'm going to fool you into thinking I drank 10 beers, but just stare at me the whole time, you're going to be able to pull it off, but that's not how it works.
[00:15:52] And so you do, like when it comes to alcohol, you take your beer to the bathroom, dump it out, most of it out. And then you go back and you order and you make sure you buy everyone around. So people know, "Hey, he's back up at the bar again," you know, doing that kind of thing. And again, it's just what people will assume. And there was a time in the book where I talk about where it was a test and a test that I would have failed if I didn't have some dumb luck on my side. And I had plenty of dumb luck throughout this case.
[00:16:17] Jordan Harbinger: You've definitely had some good luck in this case, which is fortunate. It's probably why you're here to tell us the story. And just doing the fake lines of cocaine — it seemed like there was some close calls and I guess I've done all this training and tolerance building just in case I need to go undercover and I didn't need to do it. For no reason at all, I could have just done the fake cocaine. I could have just faked it the whole time.
[00:16:36] Ken Croke: You know to your point like you could sit here and say, "Hey, I'm not—" because there is a huge risk to faking using drugs or the alcohol, whatever it is.
[00:16:43] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:16:44] Ken Croke: Even if on the alcohol, you know, people are going to say, "Oh, who's drank the whole time," so when you take the stand, they're going to be like, "Oh, you were drunk because you had 10 beers." So you're like, you're always going against that but the reality is take the flip side. So here's this guy who parachutes in from nowhere. Also he's hanging around with these guys. Oh, by the way, he doesn't do drugs or alcohol—
[00:17:01] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:17:01] Ken Croke: —but he's willing to be a biker. It's like, come on, you know, at some point they're going to be like, "Really? Mother Teresa now wants to be a biker." Like, how does that work?
[00:17:09] Jordan Harbinger: This is probably a dumb question, but why not just do a real line of cocaine, right? It's probably not going to kill you right away. I don't know. It seems like the risk — but the guy, if he finds that you're not doing it in front of him, he could kill you right away.
[00:17:20] Ken Croke: Yeah. And listen, there's rules against it. It also would put you under the influence when you — these are all things like everyone thinks like, "Oh, you're just hanging out and you having a good time." There's nothing fun about this. Not one minute of it is fun because it is a constant chess match. You're constantly at risk, but you're also constantly building a case. And everything you do during that time is going to be scrutinized later on when it comes time for trial or motions or what have you. And so you constantly have to be on guard against that and you have to get the evidence you can get as far as whether it be recordings, video, audio, copious notes, and be able to attest to everything that happens during that time.
[00:17:56] And so if something does happen on a script, now, listen, if somebody were to put a gun to an undercover said, do this line, "I'll blow your brains out," the undercover is going to do the line, but then they're going to come out and they're going to write a report about how they did assign they're going to go to the hospital because, you know, I noticed it comes as a shock to you, but somebody may say it's coke and it's not coke. It could be something else.
[00:18:13] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:18:13] Ken Croke: And there's all sorts of bad things — I mean, that alone would be a reason not to do because you don't know what the hell they are actually giving you.
[00:18:19] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:18:20] Ken Croke: Having that documentation, anytime you had, like for me, anytime I was part of any illegal activity, you had to make sure you documented all that because it's coming back. Somebody just says, "He was there. He saw this person get beaten," or whatever it was and you better have documented it.
[00:18:34] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. You can't be like, "Man, I was really high on meth, but they made me do it, your honor, they made me do it."
[00:18:39] Ken Croke: Yeah, exactly. "I think this is what happened." It doesn't really play well in court.
[00:18:42] Jordan Harbinger: Right. "I was seeing triple, but I'm pretty sure that that was the guy that hit him.
[00:18:46] Ken Croke: One other addition to that—
[00:18:47] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:18:47] Ken Croke: I mean, we've all been drunk at some time in our lives, and that's generally the time you do the stupidest things. And so if your real life is what it is and then all of a sudden you do this undercover role and you let your guard down and you drank 12 beers, what's the odds that you're not going to say the wrong name or the wrong thing about yourself? It's super high. Just another reason, it's hard enough to do it when you're sober and other mind trying to add that into it.
[00:19:09] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Good point. Yeah, you don't want to start crying about your ex-girlfriend from back in Michigan and then like, "I thought you were from New Jersey, man." "Oh, uh, yeah." And also then you can't really defend yourself because you can't see straight.
[00:19:19] Ken Croke: Yeah, exactly.
[00:19:20] Jordan Harbinger: You talk about the Devil's Disciples, which is like, I guess like a minor league support club or versus the Outlaws who are legit. So what is the difference here and why would somebody be in one, but not the other? Why be in one club if you're trying to hang out with the Pagans all the time? Is it like AAA baseball?
[00:19:38] Ken Croke: I mean, in some ways it is. When I do some training with law enforcement, I talk about it that way. It's like the minor leagues, but really, you know, I don't mean that to sound negative. What it really is that it's a proving ground to start, number one. Number two, the support clubs are not as regimented as the big five or the big six, depending on the day. But the bigger clubs, there's a lot more to that membership. There's a lot more expected from you. The smallest support clubs it's like, yeah, they're on.
[00:20:05] If they're going to a mandatory in support of like the Pagans, you know, for example, yeah, you've been heavy stuff dialed in because bad things can happen to you there as a support role. But generally, they're treated pretty good because they want numbers. And so when there is an issue, they're going to call that support club and bring them in. So for some people that's about, there will to be a weekend warrior if you will, but they don't want to really want that full-time commitment. A lot of them go in there and they stay exactly there or their lives change and they decide, "Hey, this isn't for me," or whatever it is, but a lot do come up to those ranks.
[00:20:34] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. That makes sense. You can keep your day job as a truck driver or a lawyer or a doctor, and then you can sort of almost like LARP bad-ass biker dude. And hopefully, you don't get shot during a Hell's Angels' dust-up.
[00:20:47] Ken Croke: Yeah, exactly.
[00:20:48] Jordan Harbinger: You said big five or big six. You're talking about the major biker gangs, right? So what? Hell's Angels, Pagans, Mongols, Outlaws — which other clubs are there?
[00:20:56] Ken Croke: It depends on — you know, the Warlocks, the Vagos — it depends on kind of the time. Their numbers swell and shrink, but really the biggest and most violent would be those gangs.
[00:21:07] Jordan Harbinger: Warlocks, I've never even heard of them. I guess I have heard of Vagos. That's a Latin gang?
[00:21:11] Ken Croke: So Vagos, people will consider them to be a West Coast gang.
[00:21:16] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:21:16] Ken Croke: And part of my backstory was that I rode with the Vagos. I was not a Vagos, but I rode with the Vagos. Now, I had done some undercover work against the Vagos when I was in a LA. And it seemed like a safe bet to use that as kind of a back — and I had done a bunch of research and we had some folks that we knew where their bars were and I went out and it was a part of that. So I had my whole backstory intact. What I never expected was the Vagos to skip the entire country and open a freaking chapter in New York in the middle of our case. But that was an example of really bad luck.
[00:21:45] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:21:45] Ken Croke: But going back to my point at the beginning where I said, you know, you got to be quick on your toes, their initial inclination was to talk about me knowing that I knew people. They'd be like, "Oh, hey, you know—?" In the time I was a prospect and they're like, "You know Ken?" And so I had said to them, when I caught one of the sides, like, "Hey, listen, man, something shady about this." Like the Vagos skipped the whole country and decided to open up in New York. Something's going on here. I said, "Let's not let them know, you know who I am. And let me check through my people back in California." And they bought that hook line and sinker they got and they never did tell them. And I would feed them a bunch of BS until that I was getting out of California that made sense, but it wasn't true. They were like, "Hey, this is great."
[00:22:26] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Ken Croke. We'll be right back.
[00:22:31] This episode is sponsored in part by House of Macadamia. Macadamia, it's the king of all nuts. Did you know that South Africa is the macadamia nut farming capital of the world? Of course, you did. They hold the record in macadamia yields and quality, and they source directly from local farmers. So they're able to bring in South African macadamias to the rest of the world at a more affordable price. House of Macadamia makes bars, butters, milks, and more that taste good and are good for you. I inhaled the entire starter pack that they gave me — well, I shared it a little bit, but not much not really. Macadamia nuts are special. They have low allergy rates. They also require less water to produce than other nuts. Plus they're loaded with antioxidants and heart-healthy fats. I noticed that not dying young from preventable diseases is really trending up these days. Plus, I like this business. It's run by a brother and sister team. They're good people. They want to welcome/wake up the world to the benefits of healthy fats and omegas. And last but not least, eh, they taste good. My kid ate a ton of them and he eats pretty much everything. My favorite flavor is zesty salsa. In case you were wondering.
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[00:25:25] Now back to Ken Croke.
[00:25:29] Okay. So to clarify for people who are listening and maybe a little confused, so your cover story included, you were riding with this other gang back on the West Coast that wasn't present on the East Coast. And when you were undercover with the Pagans on the East Coast, suddenly this gang, the real actual gang wanted to come and start a chapter there. And you were like, "Sh*t, they're going to ask about me." Then the people are going to say, "I've never heard of this guy," then your cover's blown, or at least there's a hole in it. So you made up some spiel about how they shouldn't say anything because it looks shady that they were jumping in New York and thankfully they just decided to keep it quiet because of that.
[00:26:01] Ken Croke: Yeah. And if they don't know that I have connections there, then we can check on them unknowingly.
[00:26:06] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:26:06] Ken Croke: It worked like a charm, but you know, for a minute or two, I was like, "Oh man, I'm screwed."
[00:26:10] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Oh my gosh.
[00:26:11] Ken Croke: There's no way this is going to stand up.
[00:26:13] Jordan Harbinger: Pagans and these other clubs are vias big five, big six these are full-time jobs, right? So these are not things where you go, "Oh, that would be fun to do. You know, I can probably take Friday afternoons off now that I'm older and I'm establishing my career." This is your life, right? This is how you generate revenue. It's how you support your family if you have one. This is your job, right? when you're in a gang like this.
[00:26:32] Ken Croke: So a lot of them don't have jobs. Some of them do have jobs and some of them have — like, there was one guy who worked on Wall Street and he did a lot of the money laundering and set up the LLCs for the funding and stuff like that. He's not the guy you bring into a bar room brawl, because he's about five feet tall. And he looked like a bowling ball, but there were some that had legitimate jobs. The club priority is the club activity. And so you have to live by that.
[00:26:57] But I will say that if you had a legitimate job, they would work around that for the most part. They weren't looking to get people fired from their jobs and just say, "Hey, you have to be full time. You know, Pagans got to be here," you know, wherever. Now, if there's a manager, you better be there, but managers were planned out, so you would know. And if one of your brothers needs you, then you better drop whatever you're doing to get there. So most weren't working in the corporate world if you will, but you know, you'd have a lot of mechanics and folks like that were part of the gang and a lot were unplugged.
[00:27:25] Jordan Harbinger: Everything I've learned, like everyone else, you've probably talked to about this. Everything I know about bikers is aside from your book, from the show Sons of Anarchy, I got to wonder, did these guys watch that and go, "Uh, that's not how it is," or are they obsessed with this show? That wouldn't surprise me.
[00:27:37] Ken Croke: So they refer to it as the sons of malarkey.
[00:27:39] Jordan Harbinger: Ah, okay.
[00:27:41] Ken Croke: But I will say this, it was the ultimate in irony. So I'm a make-believe biker hanging out with real bikers watching a show about make-believe bikers. Like you can't make this stuff up and they would just make fun of the show the whole time. Now, part of there, there was some HA, Hell's Angels' consultants, rumored to be on that show. So that just made the Pagans hate it more. But yeah, these guys, and not so much with Sons of Anarchy, these guys did their homework. When there was books written — like they gave me two books when I was part of the gang, they said, "Read these and look for information in there that can help us identify who undercover cops are."
[00:28:15] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:28:15] Ken Croke: And they would watch all those shows on Discovery and things like that, Gangland and all that stuff looking for tidbits. One of the reasons why, when I wrote this book, I was — and to your question at the beginning about, you know, "Hey, how do you fake a line?" Like I don't give up that stuff—
[00:28:30] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:28:30] Ken Croke: —in the book because there's no purpose. It doesn't change the story, but it does make it — I don't want to make it more difficult on the person who comes behind me.
[00:28:36] Jordan Harbinger: No, I completely understand that I've had all kinds of people on here before, and they're like, "Hey, that was a little bit of tradecraft that while interesting to you probably shouldn't be — because it's going to be very interesting to Al-Qaeda or like Iranian special service, secret service." And I'm like, "Okay. I'll cut it out." I'd feel pretty bad if somebody got in trouble at the expense of me entertaining somebody with an anecdote on this podcast, right?
[00:28:59] Ken Croke: Yeah.
[00:28:59] Jordan Harbinger: Tell me what the one-percenter thing is? Because I've heard of the patches. I've heard of the one-percenter clubs. I've seen that in movies as well. Like what's the deal? What is a one-percenter?
[00:29:08] Ken Croke: So it all comes back from a study that was done by the military back in, I think, it was either the late '50s, early '60s — you know, everyone was saying, "Hey, motorcycle enthusiasts bikers are all that." So they did this all studying. Based on that study came back and said, "Hey, listen, 99 percent of them aren't. You know one percent of these bikers might be problematic gang members or what have you but the rest are not." So the point of the report was like, don't judge, just cause they're bikers. Well, then the bikers, the real bikers, the outlaw bikers were like, "Hey, this is great. We are the one percent. We're proud of being the one percent." There's only certain clubs that can wear the one-percent patch. And if they see somebody riding with a one-percent patch and then out from one of the big clubs, they will go and rip it off of them or worse.
[00:29:50] They're very protective of who can be in the one-percent club, if you will. And a lot of that patch structure, generally when you see a three-piece patch on somebody's back, then that's going to be one of the bigger five clubs, or it could be one of the support clubs but more clubs won't have one percent on. Some of them will have like 0.99 percent, which is kind of a joke.
[00:30:11] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:30:11] Ken Croke: But the sports clubs will have something. So like the Pagans had, it would, P or a 16 or a support club would wear that patch. So it show that they were a sport called with the Pagans and so they kind of flew in the protection of the Pagans.
[00:30:24] Jordan Harbinger: There's a lot of symbolism and almost like numerology when it comes to these things. And I noticed that since Pagans are also white supremacists, they have that in common, right? Where it's like, this number means this, and this is the 14 words from Adolf Hitler, and this is the number of mother club members or branches of the club. And you got to put this in there and then this skull has this and the shape of the eyes. They always do that. And it's a little culty kind of.
[00:30:47] Ken Croke: I mean, it is, and you have some that are much stronger believers in it than others. Like others are kind of like, "Yeah, I'm into that." And then others are like, "Hey, this is like the core of what we are," but you're right. There is a lot of symbols. There was one and I use the term old lady because that's how they refer to the females that are either they're married to, girlfriends or whatever. It's not my view. But one of the old ladies had said, "All these guys are—" and she was drunk and probably shouldn't have said it, but she was like, "Hey, all these guys are evil Boy Scouts." And that was attributed back to the patches. Like all these patches that they wear, there's not a single patch they're wearing that doesn't mean something. Some of it may be trivial. And then, you know, with my colors, like I was selective of what patches I would put on. Because some of them you earn, some of them, it just depends on what's happening, but there were some that were given to me, you know, like the SS lightning bolts and stuff like that. I wasn't like, "Oh no, hey, I am not a believer in that." I just took them and never put them on my colors.
[00:31:39] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I'm kind of wondering how you got away with that. You know, like how would you even explain that to some? Like, "Oh, hey, this is an SS neck tat. Don't worry. Daddy's going to cover it up with a butterfly when he's done with his project at work."
[00:31:50] Ken Croke: Well, after I become patched. So after one year, I'm with the Pagans. You would get Surtr's sword on your neck. And it's kind of a level like after three years you can get the word Pagans or a small version of the colors. And after seven years, you can have full colors, like on your back tattooed. So the chapter president at the time was like, "Hey, listen, I got permission for you to get Surtr's sword early." They've broken a bunch of things with me early. Like I became an officer earlier than I was supposed to, you know, not to jump ahead, but I got arrested. And so I should have been pushed out of the club until that case got adjudicated. We can get into that in a minute, but there's all these different things that they had rules, they broke it for me. So when it came to this, I'm like, man, I go home with Surtr's sword on my neck. This is not going to play well with my wife to start with and then forget where else. I said to him, I said, "Hey, listen, man, I'm already getting some attitudes for some folks, because you know, I've been cutting corners and you guys have been doing things for me earlier than you probably should have. Let's just let this one run out. Let me do my time and earn this one." The chapter present was like, "Hey man, that stand up. I'm hundred percent behind you. Yeah, let's do that." So it was another bullet dodged.
[00:32:57] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. No kidding. That's one of those kinds of close calls. And it's funny when I searched for Surtr's sword, one thing that comes up is the Pagans Motorcycle Club worldwide trademark application for their insignia.
[00:33:08] Ken Croke: Yeah.
[00:33:09] Jordan Harbinger: They have this trademark like there's an attorney of record on file. They have a registered agent, office, everything. It shows the patch.
[00:33:15] Ken Croke: In the Mongols' case, they seized the trademark for the Mongols and it was a battle. It's gone on for years and I already know where it stands right now. But the Mongols could not use their colors and then they got it reversed. And then they could use their colors, this is an ongoing battle that went on. With the Hell's Angels, all that stuff's trademark. Like they've all done it.
[00:33:31] Jordan Harbinger: It makes sense when you think about it, but it's just kind of funny, like, "We're outlaws, but make sure you register that trademark on time and don't let it lapse," right? It's like having a domain name in good standing or something for your meth and money-laundering business.
[00:33:44] Ken Croke: And not for nothing like you don't want to be making up your own Pagan shirt and wearing it around town because you will get called out and you will be beaten severely. I mean, if they found out somebody was wearing a Pagan shirt like you're not supposed to have— you could wear a shirt that says, "Support 16," and that's what they do for a lot of their supporters. They can wear those and they know what that means and people know what that means, but you cannot have anything that says, "Pagan," not unless you are a Pagan.
[00:34:04] Jordan Harbinger: Even if it's just like a random, the word pagan had nothing to do with the club, they're still going to take offense or take issue with that?
[00:34:12] Ken Croke: I mean, if you were on a baseball team and your last name is Pagan, and you have Pagan on your back and they're not like come beat you, you know, come out of the stands and beat you for it. But if you're in any reference to like what a Pagan would be. So if you had a t-shirt on that says, you know, Pagans are — you'd have problems.
[00:34:26] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:34:27] Ken Croke: You'd have big problems.
[00:34:27] Jordan Harbinger: Interesting.
[00:34:28] Ken Croke: And even as a prospect, as a prospect, you can't touch anything that says Pagans, you can't touch Pagan colors. Nobody's supposed to be touching. And there was an incident in the book that I talked about where somebody actually put their hand on the back of the chapter president. And that created all sorts of problems.
[00:34:41] Jordan Harbinger: Oh man. Yeah. It's really interesting symbolism. And like you see the same kind of reverence for the colors as you do for like a flag in North Korea, for example. Like it has cult languaging and everything.
[00:34:54] So you're building trust. You're standing in these guys' homes, you're drinking, you're hanging out with them. Another possibly foolish question, but why bother to go undercover and bus these guys? Are they mostly killing each other?
[00:35:05] Ken Croke: It's a great question because there are people out there I believe like, "Hey bikers are just skilled bikers." And it could be further from the truth. You know, people have asked her I'm like, "How would you feel if a clubhouse opened up in your neighborhood?" It's going to change your neighborhood dynamics dramatically, like to the point where you're not even going to be able to live there. But they do extort, they sell drugs — like just like any other gang, they affect the area that they're in. And they recruit from the areas that they're in and they don't just — when I was in the club, they would extort protection money from whether, it would be bars or different establishments, depending on what chapter where you were. And so they've criminal organization, just like anything else.
[00:35:41] The reason why I did go undercover is from the outside too, you know, maybe some prospects or some hang-arounds, you'd be able to deal with maybe some low-level members and maybe you can build a case on that. You're never getting anywhere near the leadership of the gang because they were insulated. The only way to do that is to go undercover in the club and go up into the ranks. For me, out of the two years, it probably took the first year and a half just to get to the level where I was dealing with all the club members and the likes.
[00:36:09] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. Wow. The way you described these guys, they're all absolutely enormous. It's always like this guy was 6'5", 345 pounds. Is that normal or are these just the absolute monsters that you came across that were noteworthy? Like, is there anybody where you're like, "Yeah, he was 5'9" on a good day, depending on how thick the soles of his shoes were, former lawyer — now, he's got a podcast probably get his ass beat with two punches in a bar fight"? Or is that not exactly the phenotype of what outlaw biker gangs are looking for?
[00:36:35] Ken Croke: I'll be honest. There's some little cats in there too.
[00:36:37] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:36:38] Ken Croke: Some scrappy ones. But the chapter I was in has very large humans.
[00:36:42] Jordan Harbinger: Uh.
[00:36:43] Ken Croke: And I'm not talking like weightlifters, fit-marathon runners, or anything like that. These were some big humans that had a lot of weight but also for some of them were very tall. And so when we walked into the bars and into businesses, in some cases like in a restaurant, their presence — I mean, anybody wearing the colors is going to get some sort of recognition, but these are some large humans. And so people would stop and gasp and be very focused on — and quite honestly feared them, you know? And you could see that when you walk into these areas.
[00:37:12] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:37:13] Ken Croke: Or there would be this sick attraction. Like I can never say, like, we'd be embarrassing. You'd have guys who'd be coming up and like buying new beers and doing all this stuff. Like you were a sports star or rockstar. And they need to have women and some beautiful women who be hitting on some of these guys. And some of these are the ugliest humans I've ever seen in my life. And they would regularly have some beautiful women who were very interested to be with them. And I could never, I could never figure it out why.
[00:37:38] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It's that whole bad boy thing turned up to 11. It seems like a little bit — it's a little bit too dangerous. I think it's not — I assume these women don't know what they're getting into a lot of time.
[00:37:48] Ken Croke: You can figure they have at least some idea. I mean, it's not like you're hiding it. They're wearing colors, they're in packs. You know, it was probably not a safe bet hanging out with this group of folks, but there was definitely that attraction. I'm not saying everyone by any stretch of imagination, but there were times I'd be like, "You got to be kidding me. How could she be interested in him?" And in summary, I think it was just like you said, the bad boy image.
[00:38:09] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Oh, man, it's bizarre, but also, I guess, look, power — if people are afraid of somebody and this person has that pattern in their past, I mean, that's a whole psychological episode of this podcast, I supposed. The pressure just seems enormous. You're no stranger to action and pressure. Tell me about that shootout you got involved in earlier in your career. That was kind of like, it seems like you got to taste right from the jump.
[00:38:32] Ken Croke: Yeah, it was supposed to be kind of routine activity and I was in between academies. And so at the time, I mean, you still have two different academies here. You have a basic academy and then like the advanced specialized like geared towards your specific agency. And so at the time, you would go to the first one, which would be about 12 to 16 weeks, and then you'd have a gap of maybe two, three weeks, and then you go back down for another 12, 16 weeks.
[00:38:57] So in that gap, when I was back in LA, we were executing an arrest warrant. So it's was going to be kind of like a buy-bust for a couple of kilos of coke. And then we were doing a search warrant on the apartment that was above where the buy-bust is going to take place. The buy-bust was going to be in a parking lot. LA style, you know, it's underneath and you can see into them, but they're gated and what have you.
[00:39:19] So I was on the team going in to secure the apartment and do the search warrant. But as we approached, it was right out of the get-go, shots are firing. And so we had an agent go down. He was shot in the foot. One of the bad guys who's standing — so the garage ends up closing so those who were inside were inside and those who were outside were outside. And you were not going to get through the other way.
[00:39:39] Jordan Harbinger: So you're trapped in a parking structure that's locked with guys shooting at you and you shooting at them essentially.
[00:39:46] Ken Croke: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So they had techniques. They had some pretty good weaponry, but one of them was standing by on a pillar and his round is flying everywhere. It was hundreds of rounds that were fired and he never gets hit which is amazing. The other one had multiples. It was like, I forget the exact but it was like 32 entry and 26 exit wounds. Like he'd been shot, but the way he was shot and he was strung out on coke, he lived.
[00:40:07] Jordan Harbinger: He lived? Unbelievable.
[00:40:09] Ken Croke: He was crossed behind our car. The only thing that stopped it was his magazine— he had an extended clip and the magazine got shot and all the rounds fell. And so that's really what ended that. And an agent had come in or an agent that was in there had a shotgun with a slug and it basically blew his arm off. That shut it down. And then we still had to go up and clear the apartment because we thought there was two more individuals up there. So we go to do that and then it gets locked down and it happened to be only about three blocks from where I lived, but it got locked down and we were there all night. It got a bunch of coverage.
[00:40:41] So then it's like, we're trying to notify family members. And so anyways, long story short, they were like, "Hey, it's too stressful. We're not going to send you back to the Academy." So I ended up being on the job for almost two years before I fully got through the Academy. But one of the things they had done is — because they had some undercover opportunities and so they gave me a memo that said, "Hey, before you can go to the second academy, we're going to let you do some undercover work." And so I started doing undercover work before I had finished doing the Academy.
[00:41:07] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:41:07] Ken Croke: But back in those days, LA was different. In the sense that, you know, there were a whole lot of brand new agents. There were not a lot of senior agents. They were all trying to get out. It's too expensive, too dangerous. And so as a new agent, you got to do a lot of things that you weren't able to do in other areas in the country, just physically, there was nobody else do it. So you're given a lot of latitude. So it really helped you learn the job faster than somebody who might've been in, say Boston.
[00:41:31] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Although being short-staffed and under-experienced is probably not a good— it's not exactly the best way to further your career, I suppose, or the safest way.
[00:41:39] Ken Croke: Yeah. Plenty of ways that you could make mistakes or worse.
[00:41:43] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:41:43] Ken Croke: But no, I really valued my time in LA. I learned a lot by being out there.
[00:41:50] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Ken Croke. We'll be right back.
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[00:43:51] Now, for the rest of part one with Ken Croke.
[00:43:55] Your parents must've been thrilled, right? You go to school, you get an accounting degree and then you come out and you're getting shot at, by drug dealers, right? Like on the first year in or first few months in, it's like, "What'd you do today?" "Oh, man, this guy got shot 27 times."
[00:44:08] Ken Croke: Yeah. I'll tell you. They were — you know, again, as you just said, I went to school for accounting and my dad was a CPA. My brother's a CPA. So they were like, "Oh, he'll be a CPA." And I was like, "It's just not in my DNA to sit behind a desk for 25 years or whatever it is." And I applaud those who do, but it just wasn't for me. And my mom had a couple of big things. She hated motorcycles, hated tattoos, hated guns. And so I was, you know, pretty much like the giant disappointment because I had done them all, but really, they were just concerned about my safety. I think they knew how much I liked the job and how much I put in to doing the job. And they just wanted me to stay in one piece.
[00:44:43] Jordan Harbinger: Sure. Yeah. No, understandable. You're doing all this exciting stuff. It's hard for them to be like, "Have you tried spreadsheets? Those are fun too."
[00:44:51] Ken Croke: They weren't digging when I was particularly in this case because I just look like a dirt bag.
[00:44:54] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:44:55] Ken Croke: And so you're going to family events and even for my kids and stuff, it's hard to explain, you know, "Your sh*t bag son. Why does he look the way he does?" But yeah, they got through it.
[00:45:05] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. "This is my son, the deadbeat. Oh no, he's going to make something of himself." Like, oh man, they must be so disappointed at him.
[00:45:11] Yeah. Oh, man, it sounds a little bit like my career except replace accounting degree with a law degree and replace taking down international drug rings with doing a podcast in your underwear.
[00:45:23] So a lot of these guys, they seem mentally ill, the bikers. One of the least disgusting examples aside from the violence is the guy who found like freshly born kittens and licked the blood off them. And he did so many worst things in the book, but I'm afraid if I describe them here, people will literally — if they're eating right now, they're going to at least stop eating if not worse, because some of the examples are just like, I can't get them out of my head. They're so disgusting. And that's not even the crimes. This is just the weird personal habit that some of these dirt bags.
[00:45:53] Ken Croke: Yeah. It was funny. One of the folks that I knew who read the book, you know, their advice was don't read it while you're reading—
[00:45:58] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:45:58] Ken Croke: —for that reason. And your stories tie back to Hogman. There's worse — I chose not to put it in there.
[00:46:04] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:46:05] Ken Croke: And so he had a blood fetish. She was a vile human being. Even when you have — and to your point, we know we don't have to cover them all here, but when you have a chapter president react in a very negative way and throw him out of the hospital that we were in when he had done something. You've crossed the line. You've really gone above and beyond if you can get a Pagan to actually feel that that was disgusting. So, yeah, he was at a different level.
[00:46:28] But you know, people always ask about like, what was the makeup? And the makeup was really — just like society, just like any group of people. You know, you'd have some folks that were not associated. Some folks were just looking for belonging. You're not just straight-out criminals. The other people were just like, "Hey, I like to intimidate. I like to bully people." Maybe by themselves, they couldn't do it, but in a pack, they could. There was no really hidden formula. People were like, "Oh, there's a lot of military joining biker gangs." That's not what I saw. I mean, there were some military members, but not in huge amount.
[00:46:59] I mean, there's a lot of different bike organizations out there — and going back to what we're talking about, the one percent, the vast majority of them are just in bike clubs. And law enforcement has bike clubs. You know, much to my chagrin, when I do presentations, I ask. "Anybody in here, part of law enforcement, any of you part of a club?" And if you have a structure in there, like a sergeant-at-arms and a president of those things, and I'm like, "You know what, you're in the wrong profession because why do you need a sergeant-at-arms? What does the sergeant-at-arms do?" But there's like really no rhyme or reason of who belongs to it and who's successful at it.
[00:47:31] Jordan Harbinger: You've got to really work to create this sort of undercover life in character, right? Because I assume you need to have like a fake high school diploma or bills lying around or fake junk mail that's addressed to your fake name. There's got to be an office that helps with that I assume at ATF, right?
[00:47:46] Ken Croke: Yeah. And there's one of those things that you do over the course of your career. You have one or maybe more undercover identities that you're building over time. Like they do an extensive background. I had to fill out a bunch of forms, a very long background. They were supposed to polygraph, which they ultimately ended up not doing, but they have, and other clubs do. So you have to have all these things lined up. And then my criminal history, I was a convicted felon in my undercover world. My felony was for kicking the sh*t out of a cop, which was not a good choice that I later lived to regret.
[00:48:20] But all of a sudden I get arrested. And now all that comes into play. So you have all these different levels of backstopping, if you will. And you never know if it's going to come into play, but you better have it squared away because when something happens. So like when I got arrested, they're going to pull those prior convictions and there'd better be prior convictions. There'd better be police reports when they order them and all those kinds of things, or that's the end of it. Because the attorney that was representing me was a Pagan attorney given to me by the Pagans. You don't think they're going to make a quick call and say, "Hey, by the way, this guy, I know he told you he's a convicted felon. There's no felony conviction. He never was convicted. As a matter of fact, that name doesn't even exist." So there is a lot that goes into it and a lot to — I don't spend a lot of time talking about it because I don't want to give up something, but just simple things.
[00:49:06] It's just more common sense, but like you get all this junk mail at your house. Well, you get it because you belong to all sorts of different things. You do different things, but when you don't do anything, because you don't exist, you don't get junk mail. So like, how do you get junk mail? So you actually have to put in an effort to go out and get yourself on these mailing lists that you wish you could get your real life off, but you have to do that. So you can have this stuff. Because when they come to your house in your apartment, you better have that stuff there. It can't be a sterile environment.
[00:49:31] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. You need like a birthday card from a used car dealership. That's like, "Come in and look for your new ride." Yeah, that annoying ass crap car warranted spam.
[00:49:40] Ken Croke: Yeah. And you better have a story about like what your family, who are your family? Where are they? Because they did background checks and they went and did surveillance on where I said work. They did a lot of their homework on me. And so if you say, "Hey, your dad lives at 123 Main Street. They're going to go by to see if your dad's there. Now, they may not knock on the door. They may just sit there and watch, see if he comes out. Who knows what they're going to do? But you better have your stuff square away.
[00:50:04] Jordan Harbinger: What's really the cringe — I remember reading in the book that this is really cringed there y'all kiss each other on the lips is a greeting. Like what the heck is that about? That's so gross.
[00:50:14] Ken Croke: It is the accepted biker, you know, they all do it. Most will kiss on the lips. Some will kiss on the cheek. It's kind of hard to explain.
[00:50:23] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:50:23] Ken Croke: But it is what it is, but there's some that — like Hogman, the dude had a blood fetish, like who wants to be kissing that guy?
[00:50:27] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. That's why it's gross. I don't care about the dudes kissing each other on the lips. That's the least gross part. The part that's gross is these guys probably have hepatitis for the last 20 years from sharing needles and stuff.
[00:50:37] Ken Croke: And a lot of them did. And they will tell you, " I have hepatitis," and be like, "Hey, by the way, you want to try my pasta?" It's like, "No, I'm pretty sure I'm all set, man. Thanks."
[00:50:43] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:50:44] Ken Croke: And that's why I have a wonderful personal doctor who every opportunity was testing me for everything under the sun—
[00:50:50] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:50:50] Ken Croke: —because you just never knew what you were being exposed to.
[00:50:53] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I have to clarify that. I don't want people to think that it's a homophobic thing. That's far from it. It's mostly that these guys are — the guy who we talked about before who licked the blood off the kittens. When you read the book, you'll understand why you wouldn't want to kiss a guy like that on the lips, besides the kitten thing. That was like the G-rated version compared to the stuff that was in the book. And you said there was stuff that didn't even make it. And yeah, he's not the only gross one in the pack. That's for damn sure.
[00:51:14] Ken Croke: And they would joke amongst themselves.
[00:51:15] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:51:15] Ken Croke: You know, there was one guy named [Wiz], the dude had lizard breath and it was like, nobody wants — you know, every time he's coming, they're like, "Oh god, here comes Wiz." They would joke amongst themselves about who is still part of the culture. You had to do it, but nobody enjoyed it, you know?
[00:51:30] Jordan Harbinger: How do undercovers get permission to do illegal things? I had a guy on the show named Joe Barone. He was a mafia gangster-turned FBI informant. He showed me a lot of his court documents and the FBI clearing him for doing illegal activity. But it was pretty vague, you know, it was like maybe involved in money laundering and other racketeering gambling activities. And I was like, "Man, that's a wide berth of illegal stuff."
[00:51:52] Ken Croke: But there's no way to script it, right? You don't know — like I was saying earlier, I don't know how my day was going to turn on any day. You don't know what criminal activity — now, there was never going to be a day that I was going to go out and be part of murder or anything like that. You're not authorized to do it, nor would I do it, even if I was, but when it came to narcotics trafficking or weapons trafficking, then yeah, those things could happen and did happen. And that you had to have the authorization. So your agency, along with the US attorney's office, they basically sign a memorandum saying that you're authorized to participate in these tier one, tier two activities, blah, blah, blah. And it's all part of when you're starting the case up and you get those things in order ahead of time.
[00:52:29] Jordan Harbinger: You did all this when you had kids, your wife, must've just loved that. That's so stressful already, but when you have kids and you're married, it's just 10x.
[00:52:39] Ken Croke: Yeah. Like I could tell you, people were like, "Oh, I can't believe your marriage survived." And I'm like, "Well, listen, the first thing I'll tell you, if you're ever looking for like how to strengthen your marriage, going undercover for two years is not going to be on that list of things to do." But you know, my wife was an agent and so that's great. She understood what it was, but it was also horrible because she understood what it was.
[00:52:58] Jordan Harbinger: Right. You can't lie to her and be like, "No, no, no, I'm safe the whole time. They're right next to me, I'm wearing a wire," and she's like, "That's bullsh*t and I know it."
[00:53:05] Ken Croke: She could go in and pull up the reports. She had access to the system.
[00:53:08] Jordan Harbinger: Ugh, that's even worst.
[00:53:10] Ken Croke: So there's absolutely no BS in her as to what it was. And then she had the burden, you know, our girls were teenagers at that time. You know, that's just a tough age to start with. And so she's dealing with that. She had her own job, and then she's getting phone calls in the middle of the night that Ken got arrested or whatever was happening at that time. Because the case agent would try to keep her as up-to-date as he could to what my activities were.
[00:53:33] So it was a very tough time, really for the whole family and a lot of stuff with the kids was kept for me at the time, because my wife wanted me to focus on what I was doing. And you learn a lot about it after or later. And even to this day, they now know. They have a really good view of the case, but they didn't know a lot of what had happened. And then, you know, they read the book, and then they were a big part of why I wrote the book. I had no intention of writing a book. My wife and my daughters were like, "You need to memorialize this because you'll be gone someday. And the story needs to be told." And so that's what made me do it.
[00:54:03] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I loved it. I plowed through the book in two days. I mean, I'm a fast reader, but two days is that's fast for a book of this size.
[00:54:09] Ken Croke: That's good. That means it had to — I want it to be an easy read. I want it to be, you know, ability for somebody to come in and take a look inside my world during that time to just get really kind of get a feel for it.
[00:54:19] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, absolutely. Okay, so your wife was an undercover as well. What was she — what type of work was she doing?
[00:54:24] Ken Croke: It goes back to your original question about, "Hey, do you have to do undercover?" And so my wife is a Hispanic female. And so she was kind of like, "Hey, we need you to do this." And so she was working in New York and so they would ask her to go in and buy drugs, more drugs, sometimes guns in the Projects, in New York. And, you know, first of all, there's no one covering you to some of those Projects that go up 30, 40 floors. There's no cover team you ever going to get to you and being a female that brings up a whole lot of other concerns and risks. She was very good at it, but she didn't like it. When we were early dating when I was in California, and I had the better of the deal only because she be doing on it — we both be doing undercover at the same time or in the same day. And so for her, she'd be doing a drug buy at 11 o'clock at night. Well, that's eight o'clock for me.
[00:55:07] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:55:08] Ken Croke: We would notify each other when we're safe. But for me, if I'm doing it at midnight, that's three o'clock in the morning for her. So she lost a lot of sleep over those that time, because, you know, she wouldn't hear from me and I was involved in the shooting in one of the undercover deals that I had done, and she didn't hear from me for like a day. So there was a lot of stress that went with that, but she was really good at it. But when we got married and she came out to LA, she's like, "You know, I really don't like this. I don't like doing it." I'm like, "Then don't do it." And I said, "Here's a clean break. You come in a new division."
[00:55:35] So the ASAC that time, he was really good guy, he said, "I can't wait to get you going undercover. I heard all this stuff he did in New York."
[00:55:41] Jordan Harbinger: That's the special agent in charge, right? So he's like the boss.
[00:55:44] Ken Croke: So the assistant special agent in charge — there's two of those below the special agent in charge.
[00:55:48] Jordan Harbinger: I said ASAC, okay.
[00:55:49] Ken Croke: And he was like, "Hey, I can't wait to get you involved in undercover work out here. You'll be a great fit." And so she told him, she's like, "Yeah, I'm not doing undercover work anymore." And he was like, "What? What are you talking about?" And he was like, "Hey, this is a perfect opportunity." So she focused her career more on arson and explosives.
[00:56:04] Jordan Harbinger: Arson and explosives. Wow.
[00:56:05] Ken Croke: Yeah. That was her thing. And more of a who done it. Like if something blows up and you figure out who did it, where mine was more like, "Okay, here's the people who are doing it." Build the box around them, that type of thing.
[00:56:16] Jordan Harbinger: All right. Part two coming up in a few days. Links to all things Ken Croke will be on the website in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com. Please use our website links. If you do buy the book, it does help support the show. Transcripts are in the show notes. Videos up on YouTube. Advertisers, deals, and discount codes, all at jordanharbinger.com/deals. Please consider supporting those who support the show. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn. I always love talking with you there.
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[00:57:04] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Campo, Ian Baird, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. If you know somebody who's into these undercover, true crime, or biker gang stuff, cop stuff, share this episode with them. It's a great episode to get people started with our show. The greatest compliment you can give us is to share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
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