The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club wants to have one last ride in East Oakland for Sonny Barger, the founder of the Oakland chapter who died two weeks ago at age 83.
The club has requested to hold Barger’s memorial service at the Oakland Coliseum complex, a few miles away from the Foothill Boulevard clubhouse where he founded perhaps the most influential chapter of what would become an international organization of outlaw bikers.
Whether a Coliseum funeral for the former head of the motorcycle gang gets to happen is up for discussion. Henry Gardner, the executive director of the Coliseum Authority, plans to discuss the club’s proposal with his board on Friday morning.
In a memo to the board, Gardner said the Hells Angels have asked to use the stadium’s parking lot for a service in August, but he’s waiting to hear back from authorities.
“We have consulted with the city’s leadership, including the Oakland Police Department, to seek guidance on whether or not this event can be safely and securely managed,” Gardner wrote. “The group estimates there will be approximately 2,000 of their members in attendance. OPD is taking the lead in determining a safety plan and will be providing us with their recommendations on whether and how we should proceed.”
Barger was born in Modesto, moved to Oakland as a youngster, co-founded this city’s chapter of the biker club in the late 1950s, and became its national president, credited with growing the organization internationally. He died of cancer on June 29 at his home in Livermore. His death was announced on his official Facebook page with a note he said was to “be posted immediately after my passing.”
“I’ve lived a long and good life filled with adventure,” the Facebook post said. “And I’ve had the privilege to be part of an amazing club. Although I’ve had a public personna for decades, I’ve mostly enjoyed special time with my club brothers, my family, and close friends.”
That public personna was a controversial and violent one. Barger’s Oakland Hells Angels led attacks on anti-Vietnam war protesters, a war the club supported, and the Angels became police informants in the 1960s, trading information to Bay Area cops about the activities of radical Leftist and Black power groups. Barger was present when Hells Angels assaulted concertgoers and stabbed a person to death during the 1969 Altamont rock concert. The Oakland police tangled numerous times with the club, carrying out raids on properties owned by the Hells Angels and taking part in investigations of murder, gun and drug trafficking, and other alleged crimes.
Barger was arrested numerous times on drug, weapons, assault, and murder charges in the 1960’s and 1970’s. He spent several years as the chapter president of a club in Arizona and quietly returned to the East Bay to live in Livermore. His 81st birthday was celebrated at the Oakland clubhouse—the 8 and 1 referring to the H and A in the alphabet, and a number the club’s supporters use.
Events at the Coliseum, which is publicly-owned, do not necessarily need the approval of the Coliseum board, which is made up of members of the Oakland City Council, county Board of Supervisors, and members appointed by both government bodies.
The Coliseum was recently the site of another memorial this year. In February, a public gathering was held for John Madden, the former Oakland Raiders coach, broadcaster, and longtime Pleasanton resident.
“We don’t want to deny the ability for family, friends, and associates to memorialize Sonny Barger at a public facility,” Supervisor Nate Miley, who is the chair of the authority board, told The Oaklandside. “We just want to make sure there’s ample precautions taken.”