- Tucker Carlson, 53, was one of more than 7,000 gathered at the Stockton 99 Speedway to pay respects to the fallen Ralph ‘Sonny’ Barger
- Barger, who founded the motorcycle club in 1948, died in June following a brief battle with throat cancer aged 83
- It was an event the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office warned could become dangerous – but the leather-clad mourners in attendance stayed peaceful
- Of those to deliver a stirring tribute to the Modesto native was Carlson, who in the past had expressed his admiration for Barger’s no-nonsense, patriotic ideals
Tucker Carlson turned up at the funeral of Hells Angels leader funeral Sonny Barger Saturday, and delivered an impassioned speech in honor of the fallen societal figure.
Carlson, 53, was one of more than 7,000 gathered at the Stockton 99 Speedway to pay respects to the fallen Ralph ‘Sonny’ Barger, who died in June following a brief battle with throat cancer, aged 83.
Thousands turned out on two wheels for Barger’s six-hour service – despite for years him bringing fear into the hearts of housewives and miscreants alike as the head of a group that is still considered an organized crime syndicate by the US government.
It was an event the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office warned Friday could become dangerous – but the hulking, leather-clad mourners in attendance stayed peaceful, crying, and sharing stories of how they remembered the gang’s longtime leader.
Of those to deliver a stirring tribute to the Modesto native – who moved to the Bay Area as a child before the area was overrun by a dangerous wave of crime – was Carlson, who in the past had expressed his admiration for Barger’s no-nonsense, patriotic ideals.
Arriving in a button-down shirt amid a sea of bare chests and leather vests, Carlson took to the podium and delivered a heartfelt tribute to Barger, offering an anecdote about the late gang leader and a letter he left to his widow that the Fox News host said perfectly encapsulate his – and the quintessential American’s – values.
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Ralph ‘Sonny’ Barger died in June following a brief battle with throat cancer at 83. Barger became the club’s president and helped grow it to the international organization it is today after founding its first Oakland branch back in 1957
‘Sonny Barger died in his home state of California. He was 83 years old,’ Carlson began, addressing thousands in the crowd.
‘When he died, his letter to his wife and friends was released, and my college roommate was also a Harley-Davidson fan sent it to me.’
The famously outspoken host of Tucker Carlson Tonight continued: ‘We’d always been fans of Sonny Barger, but I didn’t know what his personal views were apart from representing the club.
‘And the letter,’ Carlson said, trying to recall the contents of the note, ‘if I can summarize it from memory, was: ‘Always stand tall, stay loyal… remain free, and always value honor.’
While remembering the motorcycle club boss’ supposed credo, Carlson paused at a point, clutching his chest in a fit of emotion. He to the crowd, ‘Ah, it made me emotional reading it.’
The Fox News host, however, pressed on, repeating the mantra to those in attendance, asserting that the phrase served as his own personal creed that he continued to live by.
‘Stand tall, stay loyal, remain free, and always value honor,’ Carlson said, before thinking to himself and taking another emotional pause. ‘And I thought to myself, if there is a phrase that sums up more perfectly what I want to be, what I aspire to be, and the kind of man I respect.’
‘I can’t think of a phrase that sums it up more perfectly than that,’ the host proclaimed, later posing with some of the Hells Angels in attendance.
Carlson, 53, posed with Hells Angels members at the Saturday funeral that the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office previously warned ‘could become dangerous’
The talking head proceeded to pan detractors who criticized Barger’s rough-and-tough image, while slamming the left and seemingly the Biden Administration for supplanting ideals expressed by Barger and other likeminded Americans.
‘And I thought that, that’s the outlaw biker that every mom in my neighborhood was scared s**tless of as a child,’ Carlson said, sharking his head in disapproval.
‘That’s Sonny Barger’s world view?’ Carlson continued, appealing to those in attendance.
He then asked, growing increasingly animated: ‘Why aren’t we hearing that from the people who run the country? Why is it left to Sonny Barger to say, “Stand tall, stay loyal, remain free, and always value honor?”
‘The president of the United States should be saying that – every single morning as he salutes the flag – but only Sunny Barger is saying it,’ Carlson continued.
‘And I thought to myself, “I want to pay tribute to the man who spoke those words.”‘
Carlson would go on to offer a heartfelt signoff that saw him tout how he dropped his fulltime broadcasting responsibilities to attend the procession, which was held Saturday from 2 pm to 8 pm at the 99 Speedway on North Wilson Way.
‘When I was invited to this funeral, I cleared my schedule, and I thought, ‘I don’t care how hard it is to get from Maine to Stockton – I’m going. And I’m here. And I’m honored to be here,’ Carlson told the crowd, before offering a characteristic signoff.
‘Thank you for having me, and I hope that you continue to represent those views. Amen.’
The surprisingly touching tribute from Carlson echoed that of dozens of other eulogies delivered for the late Barger, who is credited with creating the first Oakland chapter of the Hells Angels in 1957.
Thousands of those in attendance staged a funeral ride for Barger, riding in solidarity for their fallen brother
Mourners decked out in garb associated with the notorious motorcycle gang pose for a photo at the Saturday funeral
The group – which has a reported 3,500 members in the US – has chapters across the globe, as shown by this mourner
Carlson himself even dedicated a portion of his broadcast to the late leader the day of his death – a tribute that also saw him mention Barger’s mantra as detailed in the note to his wife, Zorana, 63.
Thousands of bikers and members of the group – which rose to prominence in the 60s under Barger and other members of the now 3,500 strong group, which has a hazy history as to whether it was a group of likeminded individuals bound by brotherhood, or a violent criminal syndicate with footholds all across the nation.
And while many saw Saturday’s procession as an event to be cherished, the San Joaquin County sheriff did not see the service the same way.
‘I made it clear we did everything to stop this from happening,’ said Sheriff Pat Withrow.
However, the funeral went off without a hitch, and served as fitting send off for such a prominent personality.
Barger moved to Oakland, California, as a child and was suspended from school for slapping a teacher. He then enlisted in the U.S. Army at 16 after forging his birth certificate.
He was kicked out with an honorable discharge in 1956 when his deception was discovered and was drawn to the oil-stained world of the so-called ‘one-percenters’ – a term coined by the American Motorcycle Association to describe the tiny minority of bikers they deemed troublemakers.
‘I wanted to live my life the way I wanted to live it,’ Barger said in 2008, explaining the credo of loyalty and rugged individualism he once expressed as ‘don’t be a rat, and sometimes you literally have to fight to be free.’
The California outlaw, who was involved in drugs and protection rackets, died surrounded by his wife Zorana and other loved ones. In the early 1980s, Barger was diagnosed with throat cancer which required the removal of his vocal chords
Sonny Barger, (center front row), President of the Hells Angels’ Oakland chapter, announces at a press conference that the notorious California motorcycle gang would not stage a demonstration against anti-Viet Nam marchers in November 1965
Barger says in one of his autobiographies that the Hells Angels were a small club in San Francisco which had fizzled out when he and other bikers decided to pick up the name, starting the Oakland Hells Angels, the club’s most significant charter.
Trading his first motorcycle, an Indian, for a Harley Davidson – widely known as ‘hogs’ for the firm’s one-time pig mascot – he swiftly became leader of the Hells Angels Oakland charter and oversaw the formation of independent charters, or branches, across the United States and then worldwide.
Barger became the club’s national president and was the most famous member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, which was founded in San Bernardino, California, on March 17, 1948. He helped grow it to the international organization it is today.
His reputation as the two-fisted granddaddy of the world’s oldest, largest and most notorious motorcycle club, has spread far beyond the biker community, attracting both hero worshipers and detractors on the way.
The Hells Angels’ hell-raising activities shocked ‘straight’ America in the 1960s, when among other exploits, Barger offered the services of club members to President Lyndon B. Johnson as a ‘crack group of trained guerrillas’ to drop behind enemy lines in the Vietnam War. His offer was turned down flat.
In another notorious incident, he forced the Rolling Stones to play at gunpoint in 1969 at Altamont Speedway, near San Francisco, after the band had threatened to pull the plug on a concert when an 18-year-old man was stabbed to death by a member of the club.
An FBI agent said in a documentary that bad blood from the incident lingered for years, and the Hells Angels later plotted to kill Stones frontman Mick Jagger.
‘I have no recollection of it ever happening, and why it showed up 35 years later, I don’t know,’ Barger said in 2008.
Barger had frequent run-ins with the law, spending several stretches in prison mostly for narcotic and firearm offences, but he has also avoided longer sentences after beating a number of more serious charges in court.
In 1972, Barger and three others were acquitted of murder after a Texas drug dealer was killed in Oakland and a residence was set on fire.
Barger was sentenced to ten years to life behind bars in 1973 after he was convicted of possession of narcotics and a weapon by a convicted felon. He was later paroled in November 1977 after serving four-and-a-half years of his sentence.
In 1979, Barger was among 33 people indicted on charges that violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
But he was let off for racketeering charges in a split verdict while nine others were convicted.
In his book Hells Angel, Barger claims he was sentenced to 30 years’ in jail but served just five and had addictions to ‘bikes, booze, girls and good times’.
After a rival gang stole Barger’s Harley Davidson, he hunted down the person responsible, before beating him senseless and breaking his fingers one by one with a hammer.
In 1987, Barger was arrested on charges relating to narcotics, weapons, and explosives after FBI agents carried out raids.
A year later, Barger was convicted of conspiracy to transport and receive explosives in interstate commerce with intent to kill and damage buildings and sentenced to four years in jail.
Barger and three others were convicted on another charge dealing with a stolen government manual, and five others were acquitted on all charges, Schwartz said.
The government contended that Barger and the other defendants planned the attacks in revenge for the slaying of John Cleve Webb, a Hells Angel from Alaska who was shot outside a Jefferson County bar in August 1986. A Louisville Outlaw later pleaded guilty to reckless homicide in Webb’s death.
Barger was released from prison in November 1992 after serving three-and-a-half years of his sentence.
In the early 1980s, Barger was diagnosed with throat cancer which required the removal of his vocal chords.
Following the health scare, Barger publicly advocated against smoking, tailoring his message with the Hells Angels’ textbook anti-establishment attitude: ‘Want to be a rebel? Don’t smoke as the rest of the world.’
Barger and his wife Sharon are shown after his release $100,000 bond in San Francisco after he spent a year in prison on racketeering conspiracy charges
In Hunter S Thompson’s seminal book Hells Angels, Barger was described as the group’s ‘maximum leader’.
He has fiercely defended the group despite its multiple controversies, including when Meredith Hunter was killed by its members during a Rolling Stones concert at the Altamont Free Concert in 1969.
Barger said the Stones wanted to stop playing but he managed to convince Keith Richards to continue.
He recalled: ‘I stood next to him and stuck my pistol into his side and told him to start playing his guitar or he was dead.’
Barger was diagnosed with cancer in 1983 but continued to smoke three packs of Camel cigarettes a day and eventually had his vocal chords removed.
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