Breaking the Code: A True Story by a Hells Angel President and the Cop Who Pursued Him

Book Review by Anthony Saia

2015_ijms_spring_saia_a_001Breaking the Code: A True Story by a Hells Angel President and the Cop Who Pursued Him
By Pat Matter and Chris Omodt
The Real Deal, LLC, 2014
ISBN-13: 9781939288738

Violating the outlaw code[1] is seen as the biggest faux pas a biker can make in the “life.” Pat Matter, a former President of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club in Minneapolis, Minn., did just this when he cooperated with law enforcement following the in-depth investigation by the Hennepin County Sherriff’s office and co-writer Chris Omodt. What comes from the experience and the story is Breaking the Code, a true crime book written from both sides of the law. What the book attempts to achieve is to discuss the life that some outlaw bikers live and the difficult decisions they have to make when it comes to their personal code and the desire to keep themselves and their families whole.

It is apparent that the name of the book was chosen in the effort to show that Matter was destined to turn on the members in the Minneapolis chapter. The book, with the help of Omodt, shows how Matter came to that decision. Like other tell-all books in the genre such as former Hells Angel George Wethern’s A Wayward Angel, Matter reveals what life was really like for him in the outlaw life. In addition, the inclusion of Omodt’s story is reminiscent of Retired Special Agent Jay Dobyns’ book No Angel, but without the egotistical self-aggrandizing that existed in Dobyns’ pages. Instead, the book is the romanticized view of the outlaw motorcycle club (hereby referred to as OMC), a young man coming up in the outlaw world, and the pressure of leading an organization while running a criminal enterprise all while law enforcement built a case against him. While the romanticizing of the life is not surprising, this mode of writing was necessary in order to articulate the message Matter and Omodt were trying to get across: Just because the OMC life can be glamorous, it is not always the best life.

Matter traces his desire to join a motorcycle club back to a desire for brotherhood and being part of something larger than himself. Unlike some men who enter the OMC life, Matter was not a veteran having never served in the military, and instead was exposed to the outlaw mentality early on. It was obvious from a young age that Matter was destined to become a statistic following the departure of his father and his absentee mother. Left to his own devices, Matter chose to live the life he wanted to live notching his first arrest at 15. Conversely, Omodt was born into a long line of law enforcement and he seemed destined to follow his family’s path. What is interesting about this parallel in the book is the idea that if Matter had a steady family life he may never have taken the path that he chose.

Given the nature of the way the book is divided between Matter and Omodt, the perspectives provided for a dynamic read. Matter seems to be more of a storyteller than Omodt, then again, it is likely because Matter chooses to discuss his colorful life experiences coming up in the Grim Reapers Motorcycle club and the trials he went through to join the Hells Angels. Omodt, on the other hand, chooses to not be as forthcoming with his personal life, but this seemed a deliberate choice as the authors knew that Matter’s gritty life was more attractive to readers. That said, the format of the book seemed to be such that Matter would write about what was going on in his life and the club and Omodt would respond from his voyeuristic standpoint, discussing what he saw from an outsider’s perspective.

Matter’s candid description of his life touches on many stereotypical or assumed aspects the biker culture. What comes out of this tell-all-book is an earnest account from the perspective of an outlaw. Matter recognizes that the life he was participating in was perpetuating the myth of the outlaw biker and further debilitating his chances of being exonerated once Omodt and the Sherriff’s office were able to gain enough evidence to arrest him.

As the book starts to come to a close, tension begins to rise as Matter and Omodt share their views regarding the investigation and who was giving information to whom. Though toward the end of the book Matter states that he “didn’t write this book for the purpose of bashing law enforcement,” it was apparent that Matter had little respect for those investigating him and less respect following the rejection of the plea deal he was promised by prosecutor Jeff Paulsen and Omodt. At this point, regardless of the deal being rejected, Matter had already plead guilty and it seemed that he had no choice but to talk, especially after he broke the bonds of brotherhood with his Hells Angels brethren.

What also comes from Matter’s view involves insight into witness security and life on the inside. From here, Matter’s story continues to develop as he grapples with the decision made, however, this is where Omodt’s contribution begins to shift. Omodt, after discussing his opinion of Matter and the investigation, moves toward telling more about his life after the case. Essentially, what Omodt and Matter are doing is discussing how life was going to continue for both of them after dedicating a large part of their lives to being on separate sides of the law.

Ultimately, Matter and Omodt’s story telling is an in-depth view of how OMC life does not function when the code is broken. While there is negativity surrounding outlaw club life, the story of brotherhood is important on both sides of the law. Matter was invested in the club, but it turns out those he trusted most weren’t interested in brotherhood, but rather protecting themselves.

While this book is not a work of fiction, it is not a scholarly work either. The first-person account is biased from both perspectives, but it does show an insider’s angle to the motorcycle club lifestyle, while also providing a narrow view of an OMC police investigation. There is a legitimate voice from both sides in these pages and while prejudiced, the book might prove as a deterrent to those who want to join an OMC, while also giving those interested in investigating them the proper, just, and legal way to pursue those OMC members who participate in criminal activity.

[1] The outlaw code is a set of written and unwritten rules followed by outlaw motorcycle club members that urges members not to talk about club business, let alone talk to law enforcement about anything involving outlaw motorcycle club life.

Anthony Saia is a Master’s Candidate from the History Department at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho. His thesis explores the influence of outlaw motorcycle clubs in the American West, discussing the creation and evolution of the motorcycle, creation of motorcycle clubs, both outlaw and not, exclusionary principles that exist amongst OMCs as well as the perpetuation of the outlaw image through different facets of mainstream media. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in History from the University of Idaho in 2012. He is currently in between motorcycles.

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