It was a typical sixties scene: a group of scruffy, long-haired students stood in a circle passing joints and hash pipes. The setting could have been Berkeley, Ann Arbor or any other hip campus. But these students were actually FBI agents, and the school they attended was known as “Hoover University.” Located at Quantico Marine Base in Virginia, this elite academy specialized in training G-men to penetrate left-wing organizations. To cultivate the proper counterculture image, they were told not to wash or bathe for several days before infiltrating a group of radicals. Refresher courses were also held for FBI agents who had successfully immersed themselves in the drug culture of their respective locales. For months they had smoked pot and dropped acid with unsuspecting radicals, and now the turned-on spies had a chance to swap stories with their undercover comrades. Former FBI agent Cril Payne likened the annual seminar to a class reunion. Between lectures on the New Left, drug abuse, and FBI procedure, the G-men would sneak away to the wooded grounds to get stoned while American taxpayers footed the bill.
In the late 1960s the Yippies were infiltrated by an FBI agent named George Demmerle. Known in New York radical circles as “Prince Crazy,” Demmerle wore weird costumes, smoked a lot of pot, and instigated some of the most outrageous street theater actions. He also was a member of the YIP steering committee, and he served as Abbie Hoffman’s bodyguard during the Chicago convention. At one point Demmerle tried to interest the Yippies in a plan to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge, but fortunately wiser heads prevailed. They never suspected he was a spook; after all, marijuana was a “revolutionary” drug, and no pig could maintain his cover while under the honest influence of the herb (the old truth drug scenario). So the Yippies believed until they learned the extent of the government’s penetration of the New Left.
According to Army intelligence documents later obtained by CBS news, nearly one out of six demonstrators at the Chicago convention was an undercover operative. The retinue of spies included Bob Pierson, a Chicago cop disguised as a biker, who latched onto Jerry Rubin during the convention and became his bodyguard. Enthralled by the romantic notion of an alliance between motorcycle gang members and middle-class radicals, the Yippies were easily conned by Pierson’s tough-talking rhetoric. He was always in the thick of the street action, throwing stones at police, pulling down American flags, leading crowds in militant chants, and urging protesters to start fires and tie up traffic. Pierson’s testimony at the trial of the Chicago Seven was instrumental in putting Rubin behind bars for sixty-six days, before his sentence and those of the other defendants were overturned by an appeals court.
The use of informants and provocateurs was part of a massive sub rosa campaign to subvert the forces of dissent in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Joining the FBI in this effort was an alphabet soup of federal agencies: the Internal Revenue Service (1RS), the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA), the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW), the intelligence divisions of all the military services, and numerous local police forces. Over a quarter of a million Americans were under “active surveillance” during this period, and dossiers were kept on the lawful political activities and personal lives of millions more. Those affiliated with black militant, antiwar, and New Left* groups were prime targets of dirty tricks and other underhanded tactics designed to stir up factionalism and “neutralize” political activists.
During the Nixon presidency the CIA stepped up its domestic operations even though such activity was outlawed by the Agency’s charter. In 1969 the CIA prepared a report entitled “Restless Youth,” which concluded that the New Left and black nationalist movements were essentially homegrown phenomena and that foreign ties to American dissidents were insubstantial. That was not what President Nixon wanted to hear. The “Communist conspiracy” had become an idée fixe in the White House, and Nixon pressed CIA director Richard Helms to expand the parameters of Operation CHAOS (an appropriate acronym) and other domestic probes. In addition to monitoring a wide range of liberal and left-wing organizations, the CIA provided training, technical assistance, exotic equipment, and intelligence data to local police departments. The Agency also employed harassment tactics such as sprinkling “itching powder” (concocted by the Technical Services Staff, the unit that oversaw the LSD experiments in the 1950s) on public toilets near leftist meetings, which drove people wild for about three days after they sat down.
The FBI, meanwhile, escalated its secret war against all forms of political and cultural dissent in America. The assault on freedom of expression included a systematic attempt to cripple the underground press, which FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover found loathsome because of its “depraved nature and moral looseness.” There was also a concerted campaign to make political arrests by charging radicals with possession of small amounts of marijuana. “Since the use of marijuana and other narcotics is widespread among members of the New Left, you should be on the alert to opportunities to have them arrested on drug charges,” Hoover stated in a top-secret FBI memo. “Any information concerning the fact that individuals have marijuana or are engaging in a narcotics party should be immediately furnished to local authorities and they should be encouraged to take action.”
Nixon made the issue of drug abuse a cornerstone of his law-and-order campaign during the 1968 election, and when he took office he pushed through a series of no-knock laws allowing police to break into homes of suspected drug users, unannounced and armed to the hilt, to search for a tiny tab of LSD or a pipeful of pot. While no-knock and other draconian legal ploys were allegedly designed to crack down on the abuse of controlled substances, the targets of the antidrug campaign were often involved in radical politics. Examples are legion: in 1969 John Sinclair, leader of the White Panther party in Michigan, was sentenced to nine and a half years in prison for giving two marijuana joints to an undercover officer; Lee Otis Johnson, a black militant and antiwar organizer at Texas Southern University, was given a thirty-year jail term after sharing a joint with a narc; Mark Rudd, an SDS militant who played a prominent role in the uprising at Columbia University, was fingered for drugs by an informant; and police in Buffalo, New York, planted dope in a bookstore run by Martin Sostre, a black anarchist who served six years in prison before Amnesty International successfully interceded on his behalf.
Drug laws were also used to persecute Timothy Leary and other counterculture leaders. An example of this type of harassment came to light in federal court when Jack Martin, a musician who’d been busted on a dope rap, testified that he was asked to turn informant and assist the Federal Narcotics Bureau in framing Allen Ginsberg on a marijuana charge. The FBI and the CIA kept tabs on Ginsberg’s activities in the late 1960s and early 1970s, while the narcs maintained a file that included a photograph of the well-known poet “in an indecent pose.” The picture was placed in a special vault at BNDD headquarters and marked for “possible future use.”
A number of big-name rock musicians were also targeted for surveillance by the FBI. Hoover’s men shadowed John Lennon after he and Yoko Ono got involved in radical politics in the US (Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” became the anthem of the antiwar movement). In addition the FBI kept tabs on Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, the Fugs, and other rock stars, many of whom were prosecuted on drug charges. The harassment of rock musicians was part of a crusade against the emerging counterculture and the alternative lifestyles associated with radical politics in the late 1960s. Some rock groups took explicitly political stands, and their music received wide airplay despite halfhearted attempts at government censorship. As a result large numbers of young people were exposed to the rhetoric of radical politics. While rock music certainly did not politicize its entire audience, it reinforced a pervasive anti-authoritarianism and provided an audacious soundtrack to the hopes and anger of the younger generation. High energy rock songs were clarion calls to revolt: the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man,” Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild,” the Doors’ “Break on through to the other side,” Jefferson Airplane’s “We are all outlaws. . .” “All of these and many more items of popular culture thrived in and reproduced an apocalyptic, polarized political mood,” noted former SDS president Todd Gitlin. “In ensemble they shaped a symbolic environment that was conducive to revolutionism out of context, to the inflation of rhetoric and militancy out of proportion to the possible.”
After the Chicago convention an increasing number of radicals began to talk about the need for violence to raise the domestic political costs of the war in Vietnam. The revelations of My Lai, the tiger cages, the napalm, the cancer-causing defoliants, the carpet bombings, the delayed-action antipersonnel weapons, the images of daily carnage on television—all this and much more dislocated the sensibilities of young and old alike until it was difficult for some to see anything virtuous in “Amerika” (or “AmeriKKKa”), as it came to be spelled by left-wing militants. The imperial center had to be defeated at all costs for the sake of those who were dying in Southeast Asia.
As every legitimate gesture of dissent was rebuffed by another round of US atrocities, antiwar activists were forced to reconsider their tactics. The overwhelming horror of Vietnam made all political choices seem urgent and simple. Radicals were under tremendous pressure to translate their jargon into action, to demonstrate their revolutionary commitment by pushing militancy to the extreme. Although they did not realize it at the time, the ultramilitants were playing right into the hands of the Nixon administration, which seized upon incidents of violence by protesters to justify the imposition of repressive measures against the antiwar movement as a whole. During this period the New Left became open turf for undercover operatives who spouted revolutionary rhetoric in order to incite others to violence. But covert manipulation was not solely to blame for what happened in the late 1960s. The provocateurs’ success depended on a climate of tolerance for their wild suggestions and antics.
Some radical groups didn’t need any provocation. The “Up Against the Wall, Motherfucker” collective made their antisocial debut during the New York City garbage strike in early 1968 when they set fire to heaps of rubbish and threw bricks and bottles at firemen who came to douse the blaze. Formed as the Lower East Side chapter of SDS, this band of acid-fueled fanatics supported the student strike at Columbia by occupying a building and sabotaging the school’s electrical system. After the strike was over, however, they berated their fellow communards for not slugging it out with the cops. The Motherfuckers proceeded to terrorize other radical organizations, causing havoc at meetings and protest rallies. At one point, they crashed a conference of socialist scholars and denounced the participants as “armchair book-quoting jive-ass honky leftists. . . .who are the VD of the revolution.”
In pursuit of “total revolution” the Motherfuckers divided into small affinity groups and introduced “motion tactics” or “trashing” to SDS. The idea was to get loaded on drugs and run wild through the streets, breaking store windows, spilling trash cans, and smashing windshields in an improvised war dance. It was sheer bravado, a blow for a blow’s sake, but there was something almost mystical about it. The political efficacy of trashing was less important than how it felt, the sense of psychic liberation, the existential buzz that came from “doing it in the road.” They just wanted to let loose and do whatever they could to put some hurt on the oppressor.
The Motherfuckers saw their role as “a permanent fermenting agent, encouraging action without claiming to lead.” In a poster disseminated on the Lower East Side they denounced Timothy Leary and his apolitical followers for “limiting the revolution” with their lightweight metaphysical theories and gooey religious rhetoric. Shortly before they dispersed in 1969 the Motherfuckers issued a manifesto called “Acid Armed Consciousness,” which spoke in grandiose terms of picking up the gun and correcting the cosmic imbalance: “We are the freaks of an unknown space/time. . . . We are the eye of the Revolution. . . . Only when we simultaneously see our magic drugs as an ecstatic revolutionary implement, and feel our bodies as the cellular macrocosm and galactic microcosm will our spiral/life energy destroy everything dead as it races over the planet. . . . Blown minds of screaming-singing-beaded-stoned-armed-feathered Future-People are only the sparks of a revolutionary explosion and evolutionary planetary regeneration. Neon Nirvanas finally overload their circuits. . . as we snake dance thru our world trailed by a smokescreen of reefer.”
The Motherfuckers might be dismissed as a lunatic fringe had they not prefigured the paramilitary fad that engulfed the New Left as the decade drew to a close. The classic photo from this period appeared on the front page of the Berkeley Tribe, an offshoot of the Berkeley Barb; it showed a hip couple posing earnestly in front of a wooded commune, the long-haired man with a rifle in hand, and his woman in a granny dress holding a baby on her back. This was the mood of the late 1960s. A lot of self-styled outlaws and freaky-looking people were studying karate and learning how to handle shotguns. Former pacifists were now talking about bloodshed as a necessary evil in political struggle. The underground press published instructions on bomb making, and Yippie tactics of humor and guerrilla theater were supplanted by real guerrilla attacks. The Anarchist Cookbook included a recipe for concocting Molotov cocktails as well as LSD. “Acid armed consciousness”—a far cry from flower power, but that was what the Movement had come to since the Summer of Love.
There was no containing the violence any longer. Across the country militants blew up power lines, burned down ROTC headquarters, trashed draft board offices, and traded potshots with police. All told, major demonstrations occurred at nearly three hundred colleges and universities during the spring of 1969, involving a third of the nation’s students. A plethora of radical groups sprang up: the Young Lords (a Puerto Rican organization), the Brown Berets (Chicanos), the GI resistance movement, the Gay Liberation Front, the American Indian Movement, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in the car factories of Detroit. High school students were becoming more militant, and women’s liberationists were going after Playboy magazine, Wall Street, the Miss America Pageant, and other bastions of sexism. Whether all these groups could cooperate in a comradely way was another matter entirely, but the sum total of their efforts produced a thunderous cacophony that almost sounded like a revolution.
Ironically, just when the New Left was experiencing an unprecedented wave of support, its leading organization, SDS, which claimed almost a hundred thousand members and a million supporters, was being torn asunder by internal contradictions. Chapter meetings throughout the country degenerated into ideological squabbles as the Progressive Labor party (PL), a disciplined Old Left cadre, made a power play and tried to take over SDS. The PL people were cultural conservatives; they wore their hair short, dressed straight, mouthed Marxist dogma, and dismissed lifestyle as a peripheral concern that diverted attention from the true working-class struggle. On repeated occasions PL castigated SDS regulars for being “escapist” and “objectively counterrevolutionary” when they spoke in favor of turning on. (Quite a few SDS members would have agreed with Arthur Kleps when he said, “Marxism is the opiate of the unstoned classes.”) PL also criticized propaganda tactics like guerrilla theater and rock bands at rallies as “creeping carnivalism,” and they even claimed that Timothy Leary was a CIA agent who pushed acid on the Movement as part of an imperialist plot.
The drug issue wasn’t the only axis of division within SDS. Action freaks taunted the “wimps” who emphasized day-to-day grassroots organizing; hippie elements were angry at hard-core militants; and women started to leave the organization in droves, criticizing the New Left for its ingrained male chauvinism. Through it all the ubiquitous FBI and CIA stoked the fires of internal dissension at every given opportunity. A CIA document of April 1969 forecast the fatal rupture that occurred two months later: “The SDS prize continues to be fair game for takeover by any organized communist group on the American scene with the power, prestige, and cunning to do so. . . . It can be predicted that such efforts will continue until someone succeeds. Then SDS will split and their influence on the American campus can be expected to diminish.”
The death knell was sounded at the SDS national conference in Chicago in June 1969, when an ultramilitant faction put forward a position paper called “You Don’t Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows.” The title came from a line in Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” a song full of homespun advice to disaffected youth, with the usual Dylanesque overtones of anti-authoritarianism and rebellion that appealed to many SDS members. The Weathermen, as this group immediately came to be known, announced their intention to form urban guerrilla cadres and carry on the revolution with sporadic gestures of violence. Then they walked out en masse after declaring that they had “expelled” PL from SDS. When the dust settled, there were two groups stridently claiming to be the “real” SDS, neither of which inspired much enthusiasm among students. Just as the CIA had predicted, the split marked the end of SDS as an effective organization, and the collapse of the New Left as a whole soon followed.
The Weathermen’s decision to go underground was formulated during a period when many of their key leaders, including chief spokesperson Bernardine Dohm, were tripping out on LSD. Dohrn, whose fiery personality and good looks raised eyebrows among her male comrades, showed her solidarity with the youth culture when she organized a be-in for Chicago in the spring of 1967. Her enthusiasm for acid was shared by Jeff Jones, a former Motherfucker who joined the Weather contingent when SDS bit the dust.
Some Weather leaders were initially reluctant to experiment with psychedelic drugs. Mark Rudd, who had been chairman of the Action Faction at the Columbia University chapter of SDS, declined numerous offers to turn on with the Crazies (a militant offshoot of the Yippies) on the grounds that it would interfere with his politics. The Crazies chided Rudd and his cohorts for being straitlaced and ignorant of the youth culture, but Rudd’s crowd was not to be persuaded. Finally the Crazies took matters into their own hands and put acid in the wine at a Weather party without telling the hosts. Soon the place exploded into a frenzy of song and dance; afterwards the local leadership agreed that LSD was inherently revolutionary, and they ordered every Weatherperson in New York to take the drug and get “experienced.”
Meanwhile the White Panthers were turning on future Weather recruits in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Billy Ayers was a prominent figure in the Jesse James Gang, Ann Arbor’s version of the Action Faction, before joining the Weathermen, and he too had reservations about LSD until Ken Kelley, a White Panther who edited an underground newspaper called the Ann Arbor Argus, turned him on. “I remember when it hit the Weathermen,” said Kelley. “That’s when they just got out there.”
While the Weathermen are an extreme case, the degree to which acid accentuated their militant tendencies underscores an essential truth about the drug: LSD does not make people more or less political; rather, it reinforces and magnifies what’s already in their heads. Most of the Weatherpeople (at the outset there were three hundred full-fledged members) came from middle- and upper-middle-class families and their encounter with LSD dredged up a lot of guilt about “white skin privilege.” They felt that all white youth, including themselves, were guilty of crimes against Third World people. This guilt, according to Weather logic, could only be purged in sacrificial blood: white blood must flow to prove to blacks, Vietnamese, and other victims of American imperialism that white revolutionaries were serious. Accordingly the Weatherpeople organized themselves into a network of secret cells, each with ten or twelve members, and prepared to undertake armed attacks against the state.
“We have one task,” Billy Ayers stated, “and that’s to make ourselves into tools of the revolution.” Toward this end the Weather collectives embarked upon a rigorous process of internal purification. They sought to overcome their bourgeois cultural conditioning by living in places that were filthy and foul. Sometimes they went without food to save money for more important items, such as guns. They rejected romantic love as a capitalist hangup and abandoned monogamous sexual relations in favor of orgies and freewheeling partner swapping. (“People who fuck together, fight together” was the going slogan.) Their days were filled with weapons training and karate practice; at night they held endless criticism and self-criticism sessions, often with the aid of LSD, in an effort to exorcise their natural passivity and bring themselves closer to that apocalyptic edge where political violence intersects with personal transformation and privileged youth become street fighters. The amount of acid a person could take during these sessions without freaking out was a measure of personal toughness. (For all the talk about the ego-dissolving properties of LSD, the male ego flourished among the Weathermen.)
The communal ingestion of LSD also served as a rudimentary security check. In a manner recalling the CIA’s use of LSD as a truth drug, the Weatherpeople attempted to weed out suspected informants by putting them through a group acid test. On one occasion a Weather collective in Cincinnati thought they had identified an agent provocateur when Larry Grathwohl, an ex-Green Beret who had fought in Vietnam, announced during an acid trip, “You’re right, I am a pig.” After mulling over his confession, the Weather cadre concluded he was merely expressing his guilt for having served in the army, and he was accepted into their ranks. They were particularly attracted to Grathwohl’s military skills. He supplied guns and drugs and taught them how to make bombs. A few months later Grathwohl fingered two New York Weatherwomen for the FBI.*
When a group of people trip together frequently, it’s easy for them to get caught up in a mutually reinforcing world view and lose sight of the degree to which they’ve drifted off-center, far from the day-to-day perceptions of most individuals. This was particularly true of the Weatherpeople, who lived a very isolated existence. The collective was their whole world. All their waking hours were geared toward making the revolution. They were totally consumed by it—eating less, sleeping less, getting charged up until they were oblivious to the outside world. They used to sing a song to the tune of the Beatle’s “Yellow Submarine”: “We all live in a weather machine, a weather machine. . .” And that’s how it was; they were like a machine, an integral unit composed of interchangeable parts. “We got carried away,” an ex-Weatherwoman admitted. “We were out on a limb with each other. . . . We thought about picking up the gun all the time. We really thought there was going to be a revolution.”
The Weathermen’s fantasies about the coming revolution were nourished by the hermetic quality of their own experience and the hectic atmosphere of the late 1960s. Things were moving so fast during this period, people were going through so many changes, the antiwar cause had picked up such incredible momentum, but hardly anyone paused to absorb what was happening. It was easy to lose a sense of balance as the pace of history accelerated. Committed activists felt as though they had lived through several lifetimes in a few months, which inevitably led to widespread exhaustion. “Inside the movement,” Todd Gitlin recalled, “one had the sense of being hurled through a time tunnel, of hurtling from event to event without the time to learn from experience.”
This dizzying sense of onrushing time was reinforced by the use of psychedelic drugs. An LSD trip encapsulates an enormous amount of experience in a relatively short period; insights that might normally take years to acquire can burst forth in an awesome flurry during an eight-hour acid high. “It was like a cheap form of shrinkdom,” Ken Kelley stated. “A week became a decade in terms of your consciousness. . . . Every single aspect of your life was affected by it. . . . It was like if Jesus Christ came for the Second Coming and said, ‘Follow me.’ That’s what LSD was like. No one could believe it. All you knew was that you’d find out more of what was going on in the cosmic scheme of things if you took LSD.”
As a catalyst of psychic and social processes, LSD amplified a chaotic cultural milieu which in the late 1960s was completely saturated by the inflated images of the mass media. Both these perceptual technologies—LSD and the media—combined to accelerate the temporal flux and fuel the wishful thinking of the young activists who jumped from rebellion to revolution without knowing what they were really getting into. Television was particularly insidious, reducing history to a series of discontinuous freeze-frames or, as Gitlin put it, “a sequence of tenuously linked exclamation points”—Columbia! Sorbonne! Chicago! In this mythic “event time,” each tumultuous confrontation was a peak moment, like an LSD trip, packed full of vivid experience not always easy to assimilate or put into proper context in the short term. “Tripping ratified and gathered into a single day’s experience what, in fact, life had become,” an SDS veteran explained. “Life was very trippy from about 1968 on in the worst and best sense, and the conflict was, do you go with it or do you escape it?”
Those who lived inside the high-velocity Weather machine chose to go with it no matter what the cost. After months of intensive preparation they plunged into the next mythic showdown, the Days of Rage demonstration in Chicago in October 1969. It was the second anniversary of the death of Che Guevara, and the Weatherpeople were determined to “bring the war back home” by making revolutionary violence a reality inside the Mother Country. Armed with pipes, clubs, poles, motorcycle helmets, gas masks, goggles and flak jackets, six hundred hard-core militants went on a rampage, whipping themselves into a frenzy with Battle of Algiers war whoops. They marched through the streets carrying Viet Cong flags and trashing everything in sight. Hundreds of demonstrators were beaten, a dozen were shot, and half of the Weatherbrigade was arrested within a few hours.
For the Weatherpeople, the violent outburst in Chicago was a way of “upping the cost of imperialism.” They had little patience for those who were still hung up on building a broad-based movement. “Organizing is just another way of going slow,” said Mark Rudd. He and his cohorts wanted to get on with the business of destruction; everything else was dismissed as liberal dillydallying. Drunk on confrontation and intoxicated by an overblown sense of their capacity to “make history,” the Weathermen believed they could overthrow the American system by sheer willpower. Theirs was an acid dream of revolution, and the course they had chosen, more by instinct than by rational planning, sent them hurtling down a oneway road to political oblivion.
The Acid Brotherhood
“Bringing the war back home”—the deeper resonance of the Weather motto returned to haunt the New Left. As millions of Americans took to the streets to protest the Vietnam debacle, the Defense Department was drawn ever more deeply into the problem of containing domestic violence. Military strategists recommended an array of bizarre weapons to quell civil unrest, including the psychochemical incapacitating agent BZ, which had been utilized on a limited basis as a counterinsurgency device in Vietnam.
In March 1966 French journalist Pierre Darcourt described in L’Express an action known as Operation White Wing, in which grenades containing BZ were deployed against a Viet Cong battalion of five hundred troops by the First Cavalry Airmobile; only one hundred guerrillas were said to have escaped. According to Dutch author Wil Vervey the superhallucinogen was used on at least five other occasions in Vietnam between 1968 and 1970. In all probability, however, the Vietnam experience showed the drug to be only marginally effective as a counterinsurgency agent, given its tendency to elicit maniacal behavior and the difficulties of controlling the amount of BZ absorbed in a combat situation. As one senior Defense Department official admitted, all the incapacitants “have dosage ranges into lethality. They can clobber people.” Despite these drawbacks the army stockpiled no less than fifty tons of BZ, or enough to turn everyone in the world into a stark raving lunatic.
Documents prepared at the army’s “limited war laboratory” at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, one of three major military installations where BZ is stored, indicate that the government seriously considered using the superhallucinogen as a domestic riot control technique. One scheme involved the use of tiny remote-controlled model airplanes nicknamed “mechanical bees.” The bees, mounted with hypodermic syringes, would be aimed at selected protesters during a demonstration to render them senseless. Another plan called for spraying BZ gas to incapacitate an unruly mob. A CIA memo dated September 4, 1970, reaffirmed the importance of BZ-type weapons: “Trends in modern police action and warfare indicate the desire to incapacitate reversibly and demoralize, rather than kill, the enemy. . . . With the advent of highly potent natural products, psychotropic and immobilizing drugs, a new era of law enforcement. . . is being ushered in.”
While American soldiers were waging psychochemical warfare with BZ gas to subdue the Viet Cong, other GIs were dropping acid and tripping out on the battlefield—an ironic development in light of the fact that a few years earlier the army had tested LSD on American servicemen to see if the drug would impair their ability to carry out military maneuvers. Now the soldiers were taking LSD voluntarily in order to incapacitate themselves. “I was stoned every day of my life in Vietnam,” a GI acid veteran admitted, “stoned to the gourd. It was the only way to deal with all the horror and the insanity, and that’s what everyone did. Everyone was stoned on something.”
An authentic drug subculture thrived among American troops in Vietnam. Soldiers often wore beads and peace symbols on their uniforms and grooved to the same rock music that was popular in the States. Words such as “bomb” and “knockout” were coined by soldiers to describe the drug experience and were soon adopted by heads back home. Vietnamese reefer was especially potent, and its widespread use both in the barracks and in the field was a unifying factor among dissident GIs. Pot smoking was so prevalent (80% of American servicemen got stoned) that the military brass never even tried to crack down on it. There was also plenty of heroin available, and soldiers often smoked or injected it (15% of those who saw action in Vietnam returned home as heroin addicts). But nothing compared with getting high on LSD for the first time in a combat situation. “Apocalypse Now—that’s how it really was,” said a former employee of the supersecret Army Security Agency. “After a while, Vietnam was an acid trip. Vietnam was psychedelic, even when you weren’t tripping.”
One type of acid was particularly popular among American ground forces in Vietnam. It was called “orange sunshine,” and much of it was smuggled in from southern California during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Far from the rice paddies of Southeast Asia a group known as the Brotherhood of Eternal Love was waging its own holy war of sorts in their tireless efforts to turn the world on to LSD. During their heyday the Brotherhood ran the world’s largest illicit LSD ring. Ironically their base of operations was Orange County, home turf of Richard Nixon, Disneyland, and the John Birch Society.
The saga of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love is a bizarre melange of evangelical, starry-eyed hippie dealers, mystic alchemists, and fast-money bankers. Federal investigators described them as a “hippie Mafia” of approximately seven hundred fifty people that allegedly grossed $200,000,000. But the Brotherhood’s secret network of smugglers lived by a code different from that associated with organized crime. They were fired with idealism, committed to changing the world by disseminating large quantities of psychedelics. At least that’s how it was at the beginning. . . .
It all started back in 1966 when a motorcycle gang from Anaheim, California, led by a stocky, intense man known as Farmer John Griggs, held up a Hollywood producer at gunpoint and robbed him of his stash of Sandoz LSD. A week later the bikers dropped the acid on a hill overlooking Palm Springs in Joshua Tree National Park. They must have seen the Burning Bush, for they threw away their guns and ran around the desert at midnight screaming, “This is it!” The next morning Griggs and company roared back to Anaheim, determined to begin a new life. They experimented with psychedelics on a weekly basis and dabbled in mysticism. Griggs was the proselytizer, the moving spirit of the group. In the summer of 1966 he traveled to Millbrook to meet with Leary, who was quite taken by the ex-hoodlum. “Although unschooled and unlettered he was an impressive person,” Leary said of Griggs. “He had this charisma. . . that sparkle in his eye.”
Griggs looked to Leary for guidance, revering the older man as a guru. At the time, the High Priest of LSD was urging everyone to start their own church. This seemed like an excellent idea to Griggs. The Brotherhood of Eternal Love, consisting of approximately thirty original members, was formally established as a tax-exempt entity in October 1966, ten days after LSD was made illegal in the state of California. The articles of incorporation announced the group’s objective: “to bring to the world a greater awareness of God through the teachings of Jesus Christ, Buddha, Ramakrishna, Babaji, Paramahansa Yogananda, Mahatma Gandhi, and all true prophets and apostles of God, and to spread the love and wisdom of these great teachers to all men. . . . We believe this church to be the earthly instrument of God’s will. We believe in the sacred right of each individual to commune with God in spirit and in truth as it is empirically revealed to him.”
The Brothers settled in Laguna Beach, a small seaside resort thirty miles south of Los Angeles. It was the pure scene, an electric beach community tucked against a semicircle of sandstone hills rising twelve hundred feet above the Pacific. The majestic landscape attracted an artist colony, and the sun and waves brought surfers. John Griggs supplied a lot of LSD for a growing Freaktown where hippies danced barefoot across beaches and mountains murmuring, “Thank you, God.” In this exquisite setting the Brothers employed acid as a communal sacrament, hoping eventually to obtain legal permission to expand their consciousness through chemicals in much the same way that the Indians of the Native American Church used peyote. To support their spiritual habit, they opened a storefont in Laguna Beach called Mystic Arts World, which sold health food, books, smoking paraphernalia and other accoutrements of the psychedelic counterculture. The headshop became a meeting place for hippies and freaks of every persuasion, and soon more people wanted to join the fledgling church.
While Mystic Arts provided a steady income, it wasn’t enough for the ambitious plans of the Brotherhood. They needed more money to purchase land for their growing membership, so they started dealing drugs—mostly marijuana at first, which they snuck across the border in hundred-pound lots after paying off police officials in Mexico. Within the next few years the Brotherhood of Eternal Love developed into a sophisticated smuggling and distribution network that stretched around the globe. Huge quantities of hashish were brought in from Afghanistan by Brothers equipped with false ID and crew-cut wigs. They eluded the authorities by zigzagging across oceans and continents in transport outfitted with hollow compartments filled with contraband—unloading at one port, sometimes traveling a short distance overland, then reloading at the next port and substituting yet another phony registration for the vehicle. They also sold LSD obtained from Owsley’s lieutenants in Haight-Ashbury.
The dealing operation was already in high gear when Timothy Leary decided to pull up roots and head for the West Coast, the Mecca of hippiedom. By the spring of 1967 the Millbrook scene was collapsing. Three rival religious sects (the League for Spiritual Discovery, the Neo-American Boohoo Church, and a Hindu-oriented ashram) had taken up residence at the acid commune, and the entire place was under round-the-clock surveillance by the police. California beckoned, and Billy Hitchcock, the Millbrook patron, decided to move to the Bay Area. He gave Leary a parting check for $14,000 and sent him on his way after evicting everyone else from the estate.
Leary and his new wife, a young ex-model named Rosemary, had a standing invitation from John Griggs to visit Laguna Beach. He was greeted by the Brotherhood like a private heaven-sent prophet, and he acted the part, preaching to the group about love, peace, and enlightenment. Leary enjoyed the adulation as well as the town’s mellow atmosphere. He and Rosemary rented a house near the ocean and spent much of their time dropping acid, lolling in the surf, and talking with the hippies on the beach. Leary was very conscious of his role as elder statesman of the town’s burgeoning head colony. He tried to stay on good terms with everyone and never missed a chance to flash his trademark grin when he saw a policeman.
But there was one person Leary could not win over. Neal Purcell, a rookie cop, came to Laguna Beach in the fall of 1968. A squat, dark-complected man with a pencil-thin moustache, Purcell harbored a deep animosity toward long-haired skinny-dippers and young women without bras. He considered marijuana and LSD part and parcel of a generational corruption that was destroying the country’s moral fiber, and it irked him to see Leary roam freely through town spreading his evil creed while America was going down the tubes.
Purcell had previously been assigned to entice and entrap homosexuals at a nearby beach, but he had bigger things on his mind as he patrolled the quiet residential section of Laguna. He was determined to put the screws to Timothy Leary. Shortly after Christmas 1968 Purcell spotted a station wagon blocking a narrow road. He later claimed that he did not realize it was Leary’s until he approached and saw Tim roll down the window, releasing a thick cloud of marijuana smoke. Rosemary sat next to her husband in the front seat while Leary’s son, Jack, frolicked in the back, making faces at the officer. Purcell searched the car and came up with two weather-beaten roaches and a few skimpy flakes of pot. “Big deal,” said Leary when his nemesis produced the evidence.
Leary was charged with possession of marijuana and released on bail. It was his second drug bust; he was already facing a thirty-year sentence for the snafu in Laredo, Texas, in 1965. Despite his precarious legal status Leary announced his intention to run for governor of California in 1969 against Ronald Reagan. The High Priest had suddenly become political! Midway through his upbeat campaign he got a call from John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who were then conducting their “Bed-ins for Peace” in luxury hotels around the world. They wanted Leary to help them cut their antiwar song “Give Peace a Chance.” Leary joined them at their bedside in Montreal while photographers flashed cameras for the international press. Lennon asked Leary what he could do to help his electoral efforts, and the candidate suggested that Lennon write a song. The Beatle began to improvise around Leary’s campaign slogan, “Come together, join the party,” and soon the song “Come Together” (on the Abbey Road album) was playing on California radio stations.
All the notoriety surrounding Leary’s movements and pronouncements was something of a mixed blessing for the Brotherhood. They were happy to provide living expenses for the acid guru and finance his frequent travels up to Berkeley, where he rented another house, but Leary attracted a lot of attention—which was exactly what a secret dope-smuggling outfit didn’t need. Griggs and several of his cohorts decided to establish a second base of operations at a secluded ranch near Idylwild, California. They bought a three-hundred-acre plot at the arid base of the Santa Ana Mountains to provide a safe haven for their extralegal activities. The Brotherhood occupied a run-down farmhouse surrounded by a circle of seven teepees and grew their own vegetables, which their wives and girlfriends dutifully cooked. A wooden watchtower camouflaged by eucalyptus trees enabled the dealers to spot any unwanted intruders moving up the winding dirt road to their hideaway. They stayed high all the time, smoking as much as thirty joints per day per person and dropping acid whenever the spirit moved them.
The setup was ideal, and everything went smoothly. The Brotherhood even started to deal a new product—hash oil, a gooey resin thirty times more potent than the bricks they were importing from Afghanistan at a rate of a thousand kilos a month. The Brothers were making a lot of money, but that wasn’t their sole motivation. They believed they were carrying out a special mission. “It was the Dead End Kids who took acid and fell in love with beauty,” stated Michael Hollingshead, who visited the Brotherhood commune in Idylwild. “They were totally committed. They had tremendous determination. They were all very tough; once they were moving dope, they were manic. . . they did this nonstop thing.”
There was just one hitch in the otherwise flawless operation: they lacked a sufficient quantity of LSD for wholesale marketing. Ever since Owsley’s arrest in late 1967, a steady supply of high-quality street acid had been hard to come by. The king of the acid underground had been caught red-handed by federal agents at his tabbing factory in Orinda, California, with a large stash of LSD and STP that would have netted $10,000,000 on the black market. He was eventually sentenced to three years in prison and fined $3,000 for tax evasion.
While Owsley slugged it out in the courts, his former assistant, Tim Scully, vowed to carry on the chemical crusade. Flushed with the potential of consciousness expansion, Scully believed that LSD was the solution to man’s inhumanity to man and all other problems caused by shortsightedness. His goal was to make as much acid as possible before the inevitable legal crackdown. But Owsley had kept him on a short string financially, and Scully lacked the necessary resources to set up an underground laboratory. His search for monetary support led him to Billy Hitchcock, who was then living in Sausalito, a scenic tourist town just north of San Francisco.
Hitchcock and Scully first became acquainted when the young chemist passed through the psychedelic menagerie at Millbrook in the spring of 1967. They hit it off immediately, and Hitchcock was pleased when Scully called on him again in Sausalito a few months later. They agreed to form a business partnership. Hitchcock would lend him money for supplies and equipment, and Scully would synthesize LSD and other psychedelics. At first Scully proposed that they give the acid away free of charge, but his financial mentor would hear nothing of it. People wouldn’t appreciate what they didn’t have to pay for, Hitchcock argued, and after all, he was the boss.
Hitchcock also bankrolled another chemist named Nick Sand, who began his illicit career by making DMT, a short-acting super-psychedelic, in his bathtub in Brooklyn. Sand got into the writings of Gurdjieff (a Russian mystic who had been a spy for the czar) and later wound up at Millbrook, where he served as alchemist to Arthur Kleps’s Neo-American Boohoo Church. When the Millbrook scene unraveled, Sand followed Hitchcock out to the Bay Area and started making STP in an underground lab in San Francisco. He would have preferred to make acid, but he was hard-pressed, as was Scully, to find ergotamine tartrate (which they referred to as “ET”), one of the key ingredients of LSD-25. Hitchcock saw a way past the bottleneck. He contacted a European source with legitimate access, and Sand and Scully were off and running. The demand for street acid had skyrocketed ever since the Summer of Love, and these young men intended to fill the void created by Owsley’s sudden demise.
Sand and Scully met at Hitchcock’s house in Sausalito and agreed to work together at the instigation of their host. They were admittedly an odd couple—Scully, the brilliant, sensitive soul with messianic visions, and Sand, the hard-nosed street tough eager for economic gain, who cultivated contacts among all manner of fringe types, including the Hell’s Angels. Scully didn’t want to have anything to do with the bikers, who had distributed STP for Sand, and a rift quickly developed between the two chemists.
Scully had already manufactured a sizable allotment of LSD when the police discovered his underground drug lab in Denver in June 1968. They seized and tagged all his equipment, which was returned to the young chemist after his lawyers got him off the hook. Shortly after the Denver bust a delegation of Brothers led by John Griggs first made contact with Sand and Scully. The powwow, which had been suggested by Leary, took place at Hitchcock’s villa in Sausalito, with the ever-obliging Mr. Billy in attendance. The Brothers were looking for a good connection, and they couldn’t have asked for a more righteous brew. A few weeks later Sand traveled south to Idylwild to finalize the arrangement.
With the Brotherhood ready to serve as their distribution arm, Sand and Scully embarked upon a full-fledged manufacturing spree. Hitchcock bought some property in Windsor, a small town sixty miles north of San Francisco. He helped Scully move to the premises, hauling large metal drums and wooden crates full of glass beakers, Bunsen burners, flasks, rubber tubing, chromatography columns, vacuum evaporators, and bundles of semiprecious compounds—all the equipment necessary for a sophisticated drug lab. In January, 1969, Sand and Scully went to work, each on a modest $12,000 yearly retainer from Hitchcock. Scully was absolutely meticulous, keeping hour-by-hour logs whenever he made a new batch of acid so there’d be no chance of mistakes. His LSD was said to be purer than Sandoz. Sand, on the other hand, liked to take liberties. He cut his product with a pinch of this or that (usually Methedrine), and sometimes went on binges, working for thirty consecutive days with little sleep or rest. During these marathon sessions Sand inevitably got stoned to the gills from breathing dust particles of LSD and absorbing it through his fingers.
By the time the Windsor lab shut down in June 1969, Sand and Scully had turned out no less than ten million hits of the soon-to-be-famous orange sunshine. The chemists protected themselves by keeping the drug off the streets until they liquidated the entire laboratory. They also experimented with new formulas, concocting a grab bag of psychedelics, some of them scarcely known to the scientific community, let alone narcotics officials. Hitchcock concurrently hired a prestigious New York law firm—Rabinowitz, Boudin and Standard—to research the legal status of obscure hallucinogenic drugs.
At a rock concert in Anaheim, the Brothers’ hometown, it suddenly began to rain orange pills. A man in black leather trousers wearing a T-shirt that read “Orange Sunshine Express” was scattering LSD into the air, his long hair flowing behind him. The psychedelic sower was a member of the Brotherhood, and he was handing out as many as a hundred thousand doses in a single day. Leary, meanwhile, began to act as an unofficial publicist for the new product. During his frequent public lectures he made a point of endorsing orange sunshine above all other brands. He even wrote an article for the East Village Other, “Deal for Real—the Dealer as Robin Hood,” in which he sang the praises of the Brotherhood. The High Priest suggested that as a moral exercise all psychedelic users ought to do a little dealing “to pay tribute to this most honorable profession, brotherhoods or groups of men.”
Indeed, if a dealer wanted to impress his clientele, he’d often rap about the Brotherhood, but it wasn’t always the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. There were many names: the Brotherhood of Light, or White Light, or whatnot. At one point nearly every hippie in Laguna Beach claimed to be a Brother, and who could dispute them? It was nearly impossible to separate the truth about this elusive organization from the romantic embellishments of stoned-out dopers. The tiny orange pills quickly acquired near-mythic status. “There have got to be cosmic influences connected with Sunshine,” an acid buff effused. “There is a fantastic karma to this LSD. If you get on a dealing trip and do not abuse it—trying to make outlandish profits—you realize you have a lot of power on your hands with a tremendous responsibility for a lot of heads. You realize that you are not just selling drugs, but are selling to people a great and important part of their existence.”
The magic caught on. In the late 1960s and early 1970s orange sunshine turned up in all fifty states and numerous foreign countries, including such far-flung outposts as Goa Beach in India, the mountains of Nepal, Indonesia, Australia, Japan, South Vietnam, Costa Rica, Israel, and the ancient Muslim shrine of Mecca. Sunshine was truly acid for the Global Village, and its worldwide popularity added to the growing mystique of the Brotherhood, who were already part of the underground mythology of California. If you smoked pot or dropped acid in the late 1960s or early 1970s, you probably heard legendary tales of this secretive group of dopers who were dedicated to making sure that primo stash was available at reasonable prices. “They were very good dealers on a spiritual trip,” said a woman who lived on the Brotherhood commune in Idylwild. “They had a great reputation because they had the best dope.”
But the image of the Brotherhood as saintly dealers did not tally with the seamier side of the fast-money crowd that gravitated around Billy Hitchcock, the sugar daddy of the LSD counterculture. Hitchcock, ostensibly acting as a broker for a small investment firm called Delafield and Delafield, managed his business affairs by phone from Sausalito. His specialty was setting up tax shelters for various business associates, and he knew exactly what to do with the proceeds from the Brotherhood’s missionary work. The dirty cash would be laundered through Bahamian slush funds in the same way professional criminals hid their gains.
Hitchcock served as banker for the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, although later he insisted he was nothing more than a financial adviser. In truth he had a lot to say about how things were done. According to Scully, he was involved in numerous planning sessions at his house in Sausalito. (Sometimes after these meetings they all got stoned and played Monopoly; Mr. Billy always won.) But Hitchcock never expected to make big money from LSD. He was in it more for the adventure. He enjoyed his status as the behind-the-scenes facilitator who brought people together and made connections. Most of all he liked to party, and he wanted to see more folks turn on to acid.
In the spring of 1968 Hitchcock and acid chemist Nick Sand journeyed to the Bahamas, where they stayed at the spacious mansion of Sam Clapp, chairman of the local Fiduciary Trust Company. Clapp was a college chum of Hitchcock’s and they had been doing business together for years. They arranged for Sand to open an account under a false name at Clapp’s bank. Hitchcock and Sand also looked into the feasibility of setting up an offshore LSD laboratory on one of Bahama’s secluded cays—which led some to wonder whether Mr. Billy was “on a Dr. No Trip.”
Fiduciary’s hermetic banking provisions also appealed to the likes of Bernie Cornfeld and Seymour (“The Head”) Lazare, directors of the Swiss-based Investors Overseas Services (IOS), a fast-money laundry for organized crime, corrupt Third World dictators, wealthy expatriates, and freelance swindlers. Cornfeld and Lazare were both acid veterans.* Like everyone else, these hippie arbitrage experts needed a broker, and they found the boyish Mellon heir irresistible. Hitchcock took full advantage of his unlimited borrowing privileges at Fiduciary. At Clapp’s urging he poured over $5,000,000 into unregistered “letter stocks” (the kind that aren’t traded publicly but tend to show dramatic gains on paper) associated with the Mary Carter Paint Company, later known as Resorts International. It was the single largest chunk of money raised by Resorts, an organization suspected of having ties to organized crime.* Resorts International proceeded to build a casino on an exclusive piece of Bahamian real estate called Paradise Island. A star-studded cast was on hand for the grand opening of the gambling spa, complete with tennis courts, swimming pools, albino beaches, and the clear blue waters of the Caribbean. It was New Year’s Eve 1968 and the guest of honor at this gala event was none other than Richard Nixon, who was about to launch a successful bid for the White House. James Crosby, president of Resorts International, contributed $100,000 to Nixon’s campaign. Crosby and Bebe Rebozo, Nixon’s best friend, mingled with a bevy of movie stars, jet setters, gangsters, and GOP faithful. Billy Hitchcock was also there, idling among the heavies with drink in hand.
In addition to his dealings with Resorts International, Hitchcock maintained a private account at Castle Bank and Trust, a funny-money repository in the Bahamas that catered to mobsters, entertainers, drug dealers, and Republican party fatcats—the same crowd that boozed it up whenever Resorts threw a party on Paradise Isle. A certain Richard M. Nixon was among three hundred prominent Americans who used Castle to deposit their cash. The bank’s clientele included actor Tony Curtis, the rock group Creedence Clearwater Revival, Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner, Bob Guccione’s Penthouse, Chiang Kai-shek’s daughter and her husband, and billionaire eccentric Howard Hughes.
Castle Bank was no ordinary financial institution. Originally set up by the CIA as a funding conduit for a wide range of covert operations in the Caribbean, this sophisticated “money wash” was part of a vast worldwide financial network managed by American intelligence. Specifically the Agency used Castle Bank to facilitate the hidden transfer of huge sums to finance subversion, paramilitary operations, an occasional coup d’état, bribery, and payments to foreign informants. Castle played a key role in funding the CIA’s secret war against Cuba—a campaign that drew upon the “patriotic” services of Mob hit teams assembled at the behest of the Agency to assassinate Fidel Castro. The Syndicate, seeking to return to the days when Havana was the brothel of the Caribbean, had a score to settle with the Cuban president. They also had much to gain from a cozy relationship with the CIA, whose clandestine financial network provided a perfect shield for criminal activities. In effect Castle Bank was an intelligence front that covered for the Mob.*
Billy Hitchcock wasn’t the only figure in the Mellon clan who rubbed shoulders with the espionage community. A number of Mellons served in the OSS, notably David Bruce, the OSS station chief in London (whose father-in-law, Andrew Mellon, was treasury secretary during the Depression). After the war certain influential members of the Mellon family maintained close ties with the CIA. Mellon family foundations have been used repeatedly as conduits for Agency funds. Furthermore, Richard Helms was a frequent weekend guest of the Mellon patriarchs in Pittsburgh during his tenure as CIA director (1966-1973).
But Billy Hitchcock was clearly the black sheep of the illustrious Mellon flock, and his high-powered family connections showed little sympathy when his luck began to falter. The first sign of trouble came when American authorities began to display an unhealthy interest in the financial affairs of Sam Clapp, the manager of Fiduciary Trust, which was headquartered on Jail Street, of all places. That was where Clapp feared he’d end up—in jail—unless he liquidated his bank. Hitchcock, who had been called to testify before the Securities and Exchange Commission regarding Fiduciary Trust, quickly shifted his assets—which included the Brotherhood’s drug profits—into a series of new accounts (no names, just numbers) in Switzerland. A total of $67,000,000 illegally sloshed through Paravacini Bank in Berne.
Then something went amiss. Charles Rumsey, Hitchcock’s bagman, ran afoul of Customs as he reentered the US in the summer of 1969 with $100,000 in cash. Rumsey choked and fingered his boss, revealing that the money came from various Paravacini accounts in Switzerland. Customs officials alerted the 1RS, which already had a thick file on Billy Hitchcock. Freddie Paravacini, owner of the bank, produced a letter stating that the money was a loan, but his credibility was suspect among federal agents. He and Hitchcock had garnered millions from fraudulent stock manipulations. The scam buckled later that year when they gambled on some chancy issues. Both men took a bath, and Paravacini was eventually forced to sell his bank. Most of the LSD booty was squandered in the process—much to the chagrin of Nick Sand and the Brothers. A large chunk of Owsley’s money, which Hitchcock had been managing, was also lost due to stock market chicanery.
Hitchcock’s personal life was not faring any better. His wife, Aurora, had grown weary of LSD and other shenanigans. She filed for divorce in 1969, claiming in an affidavit that her husband hid profits from illicit drug deals in a Swiss bank. Hitchcock, heeding the advice of his lawyers and accountants, got out his checkbook and forked over $500,000 to the 1RS for back taxes and potential fines, but it was too late to head off a full-scale investigation. With the feds breathing down his neck, Mr. Billy decided it was time to withdraw from the acid business. He moved back to the now tranquil Millbrook estate to gear up for a protracted legal battle with the government.
At the same time there were also problems at the Brotherhood commune in Idylwild. In July 1969 Charlene Almeida, a teenage friend of Leary’s daughter, drowned in a pond at the ranch. An autopsy revealed traces of LSD in her blood, provoking a raid by the Riverside County sheriff. Leary was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and five Brothers were sent to jail on pot charges. But the greatest setback occurred in early August when Farmer John Griggs took an overdose of PCP. Griggs refused medical assistance as he lay dying in a teepee at Idylwild. “It’s just between me and God,” he muttered softly before passing away.
In the aftermath of Griggs’s death there was a shakeup in the Brotherhood hierarchy. A different breed took over, and their approach to dealing was more competitive and cutthroat than before. Robert (“Fat Bobby”) Andrist became the kingpin of the hashish operation. His counterparts in the LSD trade were Michael Boyd Randall and Nick Sand, who controlled a network that included over thirty regional distributors. They unloaded orange sunshine in parcels of eighty to two hundred fifty thousand, and the supply was quickly dwindling. Sand wanted to commence another manufacturing run, but he was stymied by a lack of raw materials. Hitchcock’s source in Europe had dried up, leaving the Brothers in the lurch.
It was at this point that a mysterious figure named Ronald Hadley Stark appeared on the scene. The first time anyone heard of Stark was when one of his emissaries turned up in New York to see Hitchcock. The man claimed to represent a large French LSD operation. He was seeking to unload his product through covert channels. Hitchcock, who was then trying to distance himself from the drug trade, directed his visitor to the Brotherhood ranch. A few weeks later Stark and his assistant traveled to Idylwild.
The Brothers were hesitant initially, but after some verbal sparring Stark proved his sincerity by showing them a kilo of pure LSD. This was a rather impressive credential, to say the least. None of the Brothers had ever seen that much acid in one place before. Stark informed them that he had discovered a new quick process of making high-quality LSD. He laid out his plan to turn on the world—not just the West, but the Soviet Union and the Communist countries as well. Stark had business contacts with the Japanese Mafia, and they could smuggle drugs into the Chinese mainland. He also knew a high-placed Tibetan close to the Dalai Lama. Why not offer him enough LSD to dose all the Chinese troops occupying Tibet? The CIA was then training Tibetan exiles for guerrilla actions in their former homeland, and the hallucinogen could come in handy. The Brothers dug his rap. “We were definitely very gullible in believing the stuff he told us,” Scully said.
Stark’s talent as a raconteur was enhanced by an insatiable appetite for intrigue and deception. He was adept at dropping names, dates, and places that would change depending upon the situation. At various times he passed himself off as a medical doctor, a gourmet cook, a professional chemist, a collector of fine art. Every story he told was slightly different, and no one knew for certain who he really was. His net worth in 1967 was a paltry $3,000, but a year later he was a millionaire. Stark claimed a relationship to the Whitneys, one of America’s richest clans, and attributed his sudden wealth to the deft handling of a family trust fund.
Stark maintained an expensive apartment in Greenwich Village and liked to dine at the best restaurants in immaculate three-piece suits. Yet whenever he visited the Brotherhood ranch, he put on a smelly jellaba or a rumpled shirt and grease-stained tie. Five foot eight, with a bulging waistline, high forehead, and thick, brooding moustache, he could easily come off as a shlub, but his motley appearance belied a ruthless and cunning intelligence. Although only in his early thirties, Stark spoke ten languages fluently, including French, German, Italian, Arabic, and Chinese. He was, in short, a genius con artist who could talk circles around just about anybody.
Stark presented himself to the Brothers as the premier fixer, the man who could get anything done. He came across as someone who really knew his way around the world of international finance, claiming to sit on numerous boards of numerous corporations—some legitimate, others illegitimate—that he alone controlled. He promised to use his connections to help the Brothers. Stark warned them that buying real estate openly, as they had done, was much too risky—but his lawyers could remedy the situation by hiding ownership in a maze of shell companies. Before long he assumed Hitchcock’s role as banker and money manager for the Brothers’ dirty cash.
But Stark got much more involved than Hitchcock, overseeing the production end of the LSD operation in addition to the finances. As eminence grise of the psychedelic movement, he had a lot going in his favor, principally a reliable source of raw materials from Czechoslovakia and an excellent manufacturing facility in Paris, which had already produced large quantities of LSD in crystalline form. The acid was dyed orange so as to continue the sunshine legacy, and the Brothers tabbed and distributed it.
Meanwhile the redoubtable Stark dashed to and fro, attending to various business scams in at least a dozen countries. Like a chameleon, he moved swiftly from underground drug factories and hippie communes to posh hotels and private clubs for the rich and famous. He maneuvered on four continents, leaving a trail of ambiguities at every turn. A master of innuendo and disinformation, he preferred to keep his range of contacts ignorant of each other’s activities. Oftentimes he concealed the fact that he was an American. His European associates were not privy to his affairs in Africa, and those in Asia knew little about his work in the States. The Brothers, for example, had no idea that he was running a separate cocaine ring in the Bay Area.
Stark compartmentalized the different spheres of his life, managing everything on a “need to know” basis. His modus operandi was not unlike that of an intelligence operative. He often claimed to know exactly how things worked in the espionage community. He said he knew lots of spies, and to some of his friends he even boasted of working for the CIA. It was a tip from the Agency, he explained, that prompted him to shut down his French operation in 1971. A few months later he opened another sophisticated production center in Brussels, which masqueraded for two years as a reputable firm engaged in biomedical research. During this period Stark communicated on a regular basis with officials at the American embassy in London. He even elicited their assistance while setting up his Belgian drug lab. By the time it was all over, Stark had made twenty kilos of LSD—enough for fifty million doses! It was by far the largest amount of acid ever to emanate from a single underground source, and most of it was sold in the United States.
Some of the Brothers began to have qualms about the way Stark operated. Scully, for one, decided to retire from the acid business not long after Stark entered the picture in the summer of 1969. There was something unnerving about this newcomer. His slick manner seemed worlds apart from the traditions of the psychedelic movement, and Scully distrusted him. A man with bisexual proclivities, Stark used drugs and sex to manipulate people. Occasionally he made overtures to one of the Brothers. This didn’t bother Scully as much as the overall feeling that Stark was an unsavory character. His intuition proved correct, as Stark ended up with nearly all the money and property in his name after the feds broke up the Brotherhood network in the early 1970s.
“He must have pegged us as real softies,” said Scully, who attributed much of his own naivete to an infatuation with LSD. “My friends and I thought that taking acid would necessarily make people very gentle, very honest, very open, and much more concerned about each other and the planet,” he explained. “But, in fact, that was just a projection of our own trip. It had nothing to do with reality, and we were able to ignore what was actually happening for a number of years. . . . Many people had different reasons for what they were doing, and they were all coming from wildly different places. Because of the feeling you get when you’re stoned on acid—that you’re one with others—you think that the people you’re with understand you and agree with you, even though that may not be the case at all. I’m sure that led a lot of people astray.”
In retrospect Scully realized that the love-and-peace mythology associated with LSD made the scene especially attractive to hustlers and con men who claimed to have lofty motives. This in part explains how a complete stranger like Stark was able to insinuate himself with such ease into the core of the Brotherhood and assume a commanding position within the organization. His fateful appearance at the Idylwild ranch coincided with the unpleasant changes that began in the summer of 1969, when Griggs died and Hitchcock pulled away from the group. Ironically, things started to sour just when the acid generation was celebrating its greatest public triumph on a rain-soaked weekend in upstate New York.
Bad Moon Rising
It was awesome to behold: a wide, sloping pasture paved with humanity, countless bodies nestled together in a swirl of dazzling colors. Close to a half million people had descended upon Max Yasgur’s farm in August 1969 to attend the Woodstock music and arts fair. The three-day “Aquarian Exposition” was the greatest be-in of all, and a good many acid heavies came out of the woodwork to join the celebration. A full busload of Merry Pranksters, wildly attired in their Day-Glo costumes and American flags, drove all the way from Springfield, Oregon, where Kesey was sitting out three years’ probation for marijuana possession on his brother’s farm. The Yippies were also there, along with a rabble of Crazies, Motherfuckers, White Panthers, and Weathermen, who came to politicize the stoned masses. The activists set up booths and a printing press in a choice spot known as “Movement City,” situated next to a psychedelic forest where headshops and dealers advertised their wares: “Acid, speed, mushrooms, mese. . .” As soon as they arrived, the Motherfuckers struck a blow against hip capitalism by tearing down a portion of the wire fence that surrounded the natural amphitheater, and Woodstock became a free festival by default.
But losing money was not the primary concern of the promoters at this point, for they had an enormous problem on their hands. By the second day food was running out, the wells weren’t pumping, and trucks couldn’t get in to service the overflowing portable toilets. After the first downpour the field turned into an oozing crater of mud, with collapsed tents, bottles, tin cans, and garbage galore giving off a horrible stench. Medical supplies were brought in by army helicopters, conjuring up images of a Vietnam delta under siege, and the press carried a very plausible report that the entire festival site was about to be declared a disaster area.
But there was no disaster—no riots and no violence despite the abominable conditions. What kept the peace was no great secret. Nearly everybody was buzzed on something, and the unarmed policemen, clothed in bright red T-shirts with the words “love” and “peace” emblazoned across the chest, wisely followed a laissez-faire policy and let the dopers do their thing. Orange sunshine was plentiful, and lumps of hash appeared like manna from heaven. Some badly manufactured LSD also circulated among the crowd, and the makeshift hospital staffed by the Hog Farm, a New Mexico-based commune, was crammed with hundreds of freaked-out trippers. For the most part, however, the drugs had a calming effect, and a spirit of goodwill prevailed throughout the weekend. Woodstock “was less a festival than a religious convocation,” wrote Myra Friedman in her biography of Janis Joplin. “Its ceremonies were the assertions of lifestyle, and the lifestyle included a celebration of the mystical relationship between drugs and rock. . . . What ruled was the rock world’s Realpolitik: you are only as good as the number of joints you smoke, only as blessed as you are high. It was as if Woodstock was the ultimate declaration of dope, not as an incidental euphoriant, but as some kind of necessary virtue.”
If rock-dope had become a new American religion, then the musicians were akin to prophets. Thirty-one of the finest musical acts, including a number of San Francisco acid rock bands, performed that weekend. But the real stars of Woodstock were those who sat in the mud and listened to the assembled talent. Never had a hippie gathering been so successful, so impressive by any standard. Here, it seemed, was irrefutable proof of the moral superiority of the new order. The sheer power of the cultural mood was overwhelming. “One, Two, Many Woodstocks,” Rolling Stoneexulted in an article that told of plans to repeat the triumph. Not every segment of the youth culture, however, was wild about what went down at Yasgur’s farm. “Fuck hippie capitalism,” the Weather Underground declared. “Events like the Woodstock gentleness freakout. . . indicate that as long as militancy isn’t a threat, pig and ruling class approval is forthcoming.” The Yippies agreed with their Weather brethren. “The revolution is more than digging rock or turning on,” said Abbie Hoffman. “The revolution is about coming together in a struggle for change. It’s about the destruction of a system based on bosses and competition and the building of a system based on people and cooperation.”
Hoffman was high on acid when he ran on stage at Woodstock to deliver his political rap about the plight of John Sinclair, Pig Nation, and the whole shtick. Just as he started to talk, the microphone went dead, and Peter Townshend, leader of the Who, bonked Hoffman over the head with his electric guitar. So much for the grand alliance of cultural and political rebels that the Yippies were trying to forge under their banner. The two factions were at odds once again, reflecting the old split within the youth movement that became impossible to reconcile as the decade drew to a close.
The once fruitful dialogue between head culture and activist politics had degenerated into acrimonious word-slinging. Jann Wenner, publisher of Rolling Stone, the one national magazine that came out of the Haight-Ashbury subculture, dismissed the New Left as “a completely frustrating and pointless exercise of campus politics in a grown-up world.” Wenner believed that rock and roll, in and of itself, would bring about the millennium. But the mystical aggrandizement of rock as “the magic that can set you free” concealed the fact that it was just another form of entertainment for most people. While Woodstock showed the vast size of the rock audience, it also symbolized the rapid growth of the music industry, which by 1969 had become a billion-dollar enterprise. Rock and roll was a victim of its own success, and the new music, despite its frequent anti-authoritarian overtones, was easily coopted by the corporate establishment. At one point Columbia Records actually ran an advertising campaign based on the moneymaking slogan, “The Man can’t bust our music.”
Economic factors had little to do with the original impetus of acid rock—a vital, seething outburst that blew apart the established world of record company rules. The bizarre, twisting rhythms of the early psychedelic bands were too long and formless for AM radio airplay, so there was little national exposure for this type of music. It wasn’t until after the major record companies swooped down upon the Haight and used their formidable financial clout to sign, record, and promote the most successful acid rock performers that the San Francisco sound was reduced to formula. Earsplitting volume and light shows became standard fare at concerts. “It’s like television, loud, large television,” Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead said of acid rock after it became institutionalized. “It was a sensitive trip, and it’s been lost. . . .[It] hasn’t blown a new mind in years.”
The capacity to absorb its critics is among the chief characteristics of American capitalism, and one of the keys to its enduring hegemony. Although they begin by posing a symbolic challenge to the status quo, rebellious styles invariably wind up creating new conventions and new options for industry. Even long hair—the outstanding symbol of revolt in the 1960s (at least for men)—proved to be a commercial bonanza for hairdressers: $20 a clip and everyone could look like their favorite rock star! By the turn of the decade the counterculture had millions of visible adherents. Rock and roll, drugs, and hip fashion were incorporated into the social mainstream like so many eggs being folded into batter.
The Yippies and their allies in the youth movement tried to resist this trend by promoting the myth of a unified counterculture. “We are a people. . .a nation,” said John Sinclair. This unique psychogeographical entity had its own media, its own music and dance, its own youth ghettos and communes; moreover, its citizens were involved in a struggle for national liberation against the “fascist pigs” of the Mother Country. Abbie Hoffman called the budding youth colony “Woodstock Nation,” and in his book of the same title he blasted the movie Woodstock for extolling hip capitalism while steering clear of politics. He and his cohorts felt it was high time for the hippies to grow thorns and defend themselves and their life-style, which had come under increasing attack. There was even talk of forming the Woodstock People’s party, which would serve as the militant vanguard of the psychedelic liberation front.
Such a notion was yet another example of the megalomania of the younger generation, which blithely “mistook its demographic proliferation for real political power,” as Stanley Aronowitz put it. (We Are Everywhere was the title of Jerry Rubin’s second book, which he dedicated to the Weather Underground.) In their stoned hubris the Yippies, the White Panthers, and the Weatherpeople misread the depth of the cultural revolution and its impact on the political situation in America. Their delusions about the omnipotence of the Movement derived in part from their experience with psychedelic drugs. They believed that LSD contained an intrinsic revolutionary message; such a notion, however, was essentially an amplified reflection of their own political inclinations. (“Woodstock was political because everyone was tripping,” said Karl Crazy, a member of the YIP steering committee.) Like so many others, the turned-on activists succumbed to the perennial “LSD temptation” and assumed everyone else would have similar insights while buzzed on acid. “I didn’t have a sense of how unique I was,” John Sinclair later recalled. “I projected so much for so many years that it blinded me from seeing it. . . . LSD did that, you know what I mean—‘Everyone is one, and da-da-da.’ . . . I just thought that this is how I got to where I was, and I figured everyone was in the same place. . . . I was so deep into it, I didn’t see what was going on.”
When Sinclair first turned on in the early 1960s, there was a prevailing sense among hip pioneers that acid should be used for initiation, in the way that Huxley implied when he spoke of opening the doors of perception and widening the area of consciousness. Sure, getting high could be loads of fun, but it was rarely a matter of just kicks, a pure recreational buzz; the era demanded more than that. “Drugs had a lot to do with placing people in a historical context—of placing people in a radical position,” wrote George Cavaletto for the Liberation News Service. “Using drugs was the revolutionary first step a lot of people took.”
By the late 1960s, however, so many people were getting high that the identification of drug use with the sharper forms of cultural and political deviance weakened considerably. Instead of being weapons in a generational war, marijuana and LSD often served as pleasure props, accoutrements of the good life that included water beds, tape decks, golden roach clips, and a host of leisure items. High school kids were popping tabs of acid every weekend as if they were gumdrops. And much of the LSD was like candy—full of additives and impurities. The physical contamination of street acid symbolized what was happening throughout the culture. “The pill was no longer a sacrament,” said Michael Rossman, “but a commercial token, stripped of its essential husk of love, ritual and supportive searching community.”
Many people who tried LSD for the first time during this period indulged their appetite for altered states in a confused, unfocused, and self-destructive manner. This was certainly the case when a horde of young people flocked to the Altamont Speedway in Liver-more, California, in December 1969 for a free rock concert featuring the Rolling Stones. With the crowd came the dealers, selling every type of drug, including large quantities of LSD. Mick Jagger floated over the stoned throng in a helicopter with the High Priest himself, Timothy Leary, who was then awaiting trial for his marijuana bust in Laguna Beach the previous year. Even with the long arm of the law preparing a stranglehold for him, Leary still flashed that giant lighthouse of a smile wherever he went. His effusive demeanor gave no hint of a man destined for prison as he and Jagger landed at Altamont. They emerged together, with Leary grinning and waving the peace sign.
Security for the festival was entrusted to the Hell’s Angels, who busied themselves guzzling their allotment of beer and eating acid by the handful. Fights broke out near the stage while the Angels faced down a crowd of a quarter to half a million. To make matters worse, there was some contaminated LSD circulating among the audience, but the scene was so violent that people were freaking out regardless of what type of acid they took. The paramedics and physicians from the Haight-Ashbury and Berkeley free clinics treated so many bummers that they ran out of Thorazine in half an hour. Thousands of others suffered cut feet, broken bones, head wounds, and worse as the Angels went on a rampage.
Into this maelstrom walked the Rolling Stones. Leary sat at the side of the stage brooding over a vast sea of bad trippers as they launched into their set. The violence reached its inevitable climax while the Stones did “Sympathy for the Devil,” their song about everyone being implicated in life’s evils, the sinner and the saint as two sides of the same coin. An eighteen-year-old black named Meredith Hunter was knifed and stomped to death by a gang of Hell’s Angels. He was one of four people who died at Altamont. But Jagger couldn’t see anything more than swirling shapes and shadows, and the Stones continued to play, at times with amazing beauty and urgency, even as fights erupted in front of them.
Things went from bad to worse as the decade drew to a close. The week of the Altamont fiasco Charles Manson and his “hippie” followers were arrested and charged with the murder of Sharon Tate and four of her friends. The glamorous young film actress, wife of director Roman Polanski, was eight months pregnant with her first child. She was stabbed forty-nine times with a butcher knife in July 1969, and the walls of her mansion in Bel Air, California, were smeared with slogans written in the blood of the victims. Sensational tales of black magic, hypnotism, and intimidation by spell-casting were played up in the national media, which fastened on the Manson case as if the entire youth culture were on trial.
The newspapers made much of the fact that Manson had once been a familiar figure in Haight-Ashbury and that he and his family used acid and chattered about revolution. The lawyers for the defense tried to blame the slayings on the deleterious effects of hallucinogenic drugs—an argument that had about as much credence as the notion that LSD was responsible for generating the good vibes at Woodstock. If the Tate killings showed anything, it was that acid has no implicit moral direction. The Manson affair was a vivid refutation of the sixties myth that anyone who took LSD would automatically become holy or reverential or politically conscious or anything else except stoned.
The canonization of Manson by certain segments of the counterculture was a measure of how desperate and bitter people had become in the final days of the 1960s. Jerry Rubin confessed that he fell in love with Manson’s “cherub face and sparkling eyes” when the accused murderer appeared on television. Tuesday’s Child, an underground paper in Los Angeles, named him Man of the Year and ran his picture with the word “hippie” as the caption. The Weathermen went a step further by lauding Manson as a heroic, acid-ripped street fighter who offed some “rich honky pigs.” “Dig it!” exclaimed Bernardine Dohm. “First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them, then they even shoved a fork into a victim’s stomach! Wild!” The Weatherpeople proclaimed 1970 “the Year of the Fork” in Manson’s honor.
Dohrn’s remarks, which she later came to regret, were made at the drug-crazed Wargasm conference, otherwise known as the National War Council. Held in Flint, Michigan, over the Christmas holidays in 1969, this meeting was the Weathermen’s last public fling before dropping out of sight, a farewell to the shattered remains of SDS and the old Movement, and a final appeal for comrades to join their underground crusade. There was general agreement that armed struggle was necessary to smash the “imperialist motherfucker,” and much of the discussion focused on possible terrorist actions. Someone proposed attacking the Strategic Air Command base outside of Dayton, Ohio, to knock out an H-bomb. “It’s time to get down,” the Weather Bureau declared. “Any kind of action that fucks up the pig’s war and helps the people win is a good kind of action.”
At the close of the four-day conference the Weatherpeople dropped acid and danced all night long while Sly Stone sang “Thank you for letting me be myself” over and over again on the phonograph. A terpsichorean frenzy filled the room as everyone burst into Indian war whoops and spirited chants: “Women Power!” “Struggling Power!” “Red Army Power!” “Sirhan Sirhan Power!” “Charlie Manson Power!” Some had dressed in hippie garb, with headbands, beads, and capes, while others wore leather jackets and chains for the wargasm climax. “It was like a collective puberty rite,” one participant recalled. There was heavy laughing and heavy fucking until the wee hours of the morning, and then they all dispersed. Before long approximately one hundred of the Weather cadre were living clandestinely with the avowed objective of making war on the state.