FX's ultra-violent drama "Sons of Anarchy," about the inner workings of biker gangs, amassed a cult following in its seven-season run. From there, the show has since been spun off into new series, titled "Mayans M.C.," which tells the story of the rivals-turned-allies of the eponymous group of the original show. In interviews, co-showrunner Elgin James (along with show creator Kurt Sutter) is now discussing his own history of rogue justice and how it led him down a dark path. James has since mined his own experiences to inform the writing on his program.
Elgin had served time for attempted extortion after he was convicted in 2011, according to IndieWire. James was a founding leader of a violent punk crew born out of the Boston hardcore scene known as FSU — alternatively Friends Stand United or F--- S--- Up, depending on who you asked — that was known in Boston, and eventually in other punk scenes, for its violent confrontations with racist skinheads, or anybody else who got in its way.
James' violent past caught up with him in 2009, when he was hit with charges stemming from an incident four years earlier, when he and his FSU pals had repeatedly threatened to beat up a Chicago-area musician with reputed white-supremacist ties unless the man made a $5,000 "donation" to the gang, according to Rolling Stone.
James was convicted of extortion and sentenced to one year and one day in federal lockup, with the sentence coming just a day after he received accolades at Sundance for his 2011 film "Little Birds," the Chicago Tribune reported at the time.
“The last few months have been a juxtaposition of the best and worst of my life,” James had said in a statement at the time, the Tribune. “Today I faced my day of reckoning ... I have accepted responsibility for my past, and I am now looking forward to continuing my film career.”
In a recent interview with Vulture, James reveals that some ideas for "Mayans M.C." began germinating while he served time. In the conversation, James explains how his discovery of the punk community was ultimately what catalyzed his descent into malfeasance.
"[Being involved in punk rock was] the first time I ever felt accepted in my life. And that always felt so safe to us and that’s why it became the gang," explained James, who noted that despite the eventual illegal proclivities of the group, much of his actions were actually at first militantly anti-fascist.
"Even before the gang, we all banded together ‘cause there were all these white supremacists and white-power skinheads in this same culture. You had to violently stamp those out because what we had was precious and that was poison."
In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2007, Elgin had elaborated on the operations of FSU.
"We never really had a political agenda,” recalled James to Rolling Stone. “It was more of a visceral reaction: ‘You’re gonna call me a n*gger? I’m gonna bash your face in with this f--king brick.’ And with the white members, even the kids from South Boston who maybe grew up being distrustful of other races, it was more like, ‘You’ve got a problem with my friends? You’ve got a problem with me.'”
James also recalled how his faction slipped from aggressive activism into criminality.
"What it really came down to is my whole life being terrified, being scared," James told Vulture. "I understand gangs and I’m not an anti-gang person ‘cause I totally understand the reason for gangs. If we’re here and that person has a problem with you, it’s not your problem — it’s my problem, and I’m gonna take care of it. So, for the first time, you feel safe and you feel loved."
And on whether James will be able to some day forgive himself for his crimes, he offered a fairly macabre answer.
"Oh, my whole life I’ll never know joy. My whole life, I have this f--king body bag of shame that I just carry everywhere," James explained to Vulture. Even coming in here ... I felt like everyone thought I was gonna steal the f--king silverware. You know what I mean? I just feel I cover everything in this slime. I feel a lot of shame for everything. The Sundance Labs taught me tools to express myself with art instead of violence, but it still feels weird. I’m still disaffected. I’m still hurt. I’m still just as scared and sad, and I still have so much rage inside me of how awful people are to each other and to things."
The authenticity which Elgin brings to the "Mayans M.C." story has clearly already paid off. The first season of "Mayans M.C." debuted on September 4. The show's first episode broke records when it became the most-watched cable series premiere of 2018, averaging 6.8 million total viewers, according to Entertainment Weekly.
— Noah Hurowitz contributed to this report.
[Photo: Elgin James by Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images]
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