The Hippie Mafia: Brotherhood of Eternal Love

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Thirty nine years ago, the biggest raid that had ever been staged in America’s war on drugs took place when a task force of state, local and federal law enforcement agencies combined to take down a secretive group of hippie acid dealers and hashish smugglers known as the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. On August 5, 1972, cops in California, Oregon and Maui arrested dozens of people, sending an even larger group scattering around the world in pursuit of an underground life that in some cases lasted decades.

By then, the Brotherhood, better known among cops as the “Hippie Mafia,” had become America’s biggest hash smuggling network, with a direct pipeline to Kandahar, Afghanistan. They were also the country’s hardest-working distributors of LSD who even had their own trademark version of the mind-altering drug, Orange Sunshine. They operated their own storefront, Mystic Arts World, in Laguna Beach, where many members lived. After befriending ex-Harvard psychology professor Timothy Leary, they lured him to Laguna Canyon and later, to a mountain ranch in Idyllwild, California. Members, including the group’s charismatic leader, John Griggs, slept in tipis and ate vegetables from their own garden – all with the aim of creating a self-sustaining utopia.

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That dream ended in August 1969 – the same month that saw Woodstock, the Manson murders and the first moon landing – when Griggs died of an overdose of synthetic psilocybin. By then, Leary had been busted for marijuana possession, and not long after Griggs died, he went to prison. That’s when the BEL pulled off one of the most spectacular stunts in American counterculture. They raised some cash and paid off the notorious anti-war radicals, the Weather Underground, to bust Leary out of prison and help him escape to Afghanistan, where he was finally arrested in 1973.

During the early 60’s Griggs and his crew were a gang of itinerant surfers, custom car enthusiasts, junkies and petty crooks known as The Street Sweepers. In ’66 they came into a stash of LSD (a substance they knew nothing about and which was ironically still legal at the time) through armed robbery. This would be the watershed moment: a week later Griggs "threw away his gun and was running around hollering, ‘This is it.’ That’s how it all began."

altLegally incorporated in 1966–ten days after LSD became illegal–in California, the tax-exempt organization declared a dedication "to bring to the world a greater awareness of God through the teachings of Jesus Christ, Rama-Krishnam Babaji, Paramahansa Yogananda, Mahatma Gandhi and all true prophets and apostles of God." Some of their nascent ideology was reflective of Timothy Leary’s east coast League of Spiritual Discovery, but the BOEL were headquartered in Laguna Beach, California, "a sleepy little township and artists colony and resort thirty miles south of Los Angeles." As for membership, "there were no fixed rules for joining; no name signing or ritual. But there was one basic rule among the Brothers–they believed in taking as much of the psychedelics as possible, the largest doses of LSD they could buy."

"There was a lot of grass and there was a vibe that you could make it with love and digging each other. It was cheap and it was fun. You know the bond, the thing that tied us up together was surfing and dope and balling." The focus went from grass to LSD and large quantities of hash rather quickly, it seems, and before long, a "hippie mafia" (as it was labeled by local law authorities and then Rolling Stone magazine) was in effect. But before then, for just just a couple years, the Brotherhood were at the center of "a Haight-Ashbury on the sea."

altThe Brotherhood’s products/sacraments did not stay free for long. Linked with (in)famous Grateful Dead-associated LSD (al)chemist Owsley Stanley up in San Francisco, and with Leary on the east coast, the Brotherhood’s operations got grandiose and risky. Cash was everywhere, ranches were bought, surfboards full of hash were made and mailed around the world, an infamously incoherent Jimi Hendrix film was financed, and at one point a tentative offer was tendered to the government of France to buy a tiny Pacific French island to become "the world’s first independent state based on LSD." Timothy Leary’s son, at a Laguna Brotherhood gathering, torched one of many $1000 bills, and when Leary called to apologize for his offspring’s behavior, he was told "Hey, Uncle Tim, we all wanted to burn a thousand-dollar bill. It was a great thing he did, very enlightening.”

altLegal authorities were not so enlightened or amused. In Laguna Beach–which sits in Republican stronghold Orange County, just up the coast from Nixon’s West Coast White House–longhairs started to get busted for just being there, and suspicions were aroused by the presence of money and Leary. Still, the Brotherhood funded Leary’s famous escape from California prison and supported him with an extra $25,000 while he was the exiled guest/hostage of Eldridge Cleaver in Algeria. State, Federal and and international investigations got underway as well. Mystic Arts World burnt to the ground in a 1970 fire widely viewed as arson that was approved, if not committed, by local authorities. By the time a couple of founding leaders has overdosed or been arrested (including Leary, who turned out to be more liability than leader) trouble was everywhere for the Brothers. A big bust became pretty much inevitable, and in 1972 it came. "Between 1966 and 1971 the Brotherhood was virtually untouchable, but in the course of the investigation 750 members had been identified in a business the IRS estimated to be worth $200 million." Such estimates tend to be inflated, but no matter, the BOEL Corporation was assessed over $70 million in back taxes. Which seems odd to me considering the feds had already granted them tax exempt status, but whatever. Members rolled over and turned one another in to avoid doing time. A government report estimated that the Brotherhood was held responsible for 50% of all the LSD and hash to be found in the United States.

By then much of the illegal activity had shifted to Europe, as personified by a mysterious figure named Ronald Stark, who flitted around the world under various false identities (multiple fake passports were a Brotherhood specialty). Still even the more professional gangster types couldn’t survive the crushing weight of indictments nor the near religious zeal the authorities exhibited in their pursuit. It wasn’t long before the Brotherhood was gone: dead, in prison or scattered to the wind, on the lam in the far flung areas of the globe.

Orange Sunshine: The Strange But True Story of the ‘Hippie Mafia’ from DANGEROUS MINDS on Vimeo.

All the being said, the story doesn’t truly end until a mere two years ago when minor player 64-year old Brenice Lee Smith was busted at San Francisco International Airport after nearly four decades in Nepal. Which goes to show I guess that a crew cut can hold his breath a motherfuckin’ long time when there is hippie faggot hair to cut.

%s1 / %s2

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13 Comments

  1. Rich
    Posted October 23, 2011 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    I was there working at the store in the imports dept.
    Gary parris was my boss
    Om brothers

  2. Posted December 31, 2011 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    THE HIGH ADVENTURES OF THE BEL BROS

    THE AQUARIAN TEMPLE BEL IS A BROTHERHOOD OF ETERNAL LOVE BRANCH IN THE HAIGHT. THE FIRST HIPPIE MINISTERS ON TV AND THE NEWS PAPERS.

    I CAME TO THE HAIGHT FROM PASADENA AS A FUGITIVE FOR NOT CUTTING MY HAIR AND RIDING A FREIGHT TRAIN.
    I OWNED THE EUPHORIA COFFEE GALLERY WITH BOB THOMAS, BUDDY MORGAN AND OWSLEY. WE PLANED THE LOVE INS THERE AND TRIED BEARS NEW ACID.

    THE AQWUARIAN TEMPLE BEL WAS FOR THE WANTED BROS THAT HAD TO LEAVE AND HIDE OUT FROM THE BUST IN ANAHEIM BY THE 1ST SNITCHES JOHNNY VALLALA AND TRAVIS ASHBROOK.

    MOST OF THE NEW BEL ASSOCIATES FROM BUENA PARK, MAJESKA CANYON CHURCH, AND LAGUNA MYSTIC ARTS WORLD FOLKS NEVER NEW WHO I WAS AS I WAS USING THE NAME CHRIS WHEAT AND THAT TWAS BEFORE THEIR TIME WITH THE ORIGINAL BROTHERS FRO ANAHEIM 1957

    THE TRUE STORY OF THE BEL BROS IS FAR FROM OUT AS MOST OF THE INFO COMES FROM RATS, RIP OFFS, LAMES, SHOPKEEPERS AND COPS..

    NOT ONE ORIGINAL BRO HAS BEEN INTERVIEWED YET BY ANY ONE BUT ME AND IM NOT GIVING THEM UP YET.

    EVERYONE THAT BELIEVES IN HARMONY WITH NATURE PEACE AND LOVE ON EARTH, THAT DOES GOOD ,IS THE BROTHERHOOD OF ETERNAL LOVE. WE ARE ALL ONE IN THE SAME POND AND CAN CO CREATE A BEAUTIFUL REALITY IN THIS BEAUTIFUL PLACE,

  3. daniel
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    the book was okay, but as was stated most didn’t know each others real names anyhow. it talked a lot about Maui. In ’67 I was 17 living on Oahu. The islands were always a microcasm of the mainland. the brotherhood was well known to me back then. several years later i am sure many of my exploits were brotherhood related. LSD, hash and weed were everpresent. In ’68 Orange Sunshine hit Oahu and much fanfare regarding the brotherhood was voiced. I was living in the then infamous Islander Apartments behind the Marketplace in Waikiki. It was grand adventure back then. I too experience the loss of ego and saw god smiling down on me from the clouds as we drove to the North Shore for a naked be-in on the beach after Hendix played at the HIC in Honolulu.

    stoned daniel out

  4. Victoria
    Posted July 21, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    I worked at Mystic Arts briefly and eventually moved up to Big Bear Lake with my friends Cher and Marnie. We were part of the circle.

  5. Posted July 25, 2012 at 12:38 am | Permalink

    Really enjoyed this first read about this group and the book. On a MANSON website they suggested possible links between MANSON and the Family to the Brotherhood

  6. Posted July 26, 2012 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Nice to read this history. I loved the Orange Sunshine LSD and was living in back of one of the houses in Laguna Canyon in the fall of 1969. One of the BOEL’s local leaders let us use the back room of his house for the first HARE KRISHNA TEMPLE in Laguna.

    He had large jars full of Orange Sunshine and tray after tray of hashish…

    That was definitely some of the best LSD I ever experienced!

  7. Victoria
    Posted July 27, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    anyone remember a handsome young man named Pat, on of the brothers, who married a pretty blonde girl. they had a bunch of kids from what I heard.

  8. cj
    Posted August 22, 2012 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    such great memories… as usual, the real energy of the brotherhood was missed by the press and outsiders… i worked at mystic arts world and that time in laguna was the beginning of my spiritual path… our group was a few years younger than most of tim’s direct associates, and one day a wonderful brother named calvin came to our house in silverado canyon, one canyon over from modjeska canyon where tim and most of the boel lived, and said “i’m going to show you how we use the sacrament”… it was a life changing experience (that’s what we called it… having an experience) as we went way back into the canyon early in the morning, took the sacrament and layed down as calvin read tim’s expanded consciousness version of the tao te ching, called psychedelic prayers… i remember how impactful one of the prayers was, and how it taught me to ‘let go’… ‘a sunrise does not last all day… all things pass… nor a moonrise all night… all things pass’… etc. big love to brother tim, calvin, johnny and janet riggs, eddie padilla, big bobby, stubby and the other love-filled way showers… we planted the seeds of peace and love back then… now they are ready to fructify and transform the planet here in magical 2012…

  9. Posted December 26, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    If it dosen’t crawl in the dirt,,,,the gov. will destroy it.

  10. McCarty
    Posted July 2, 2013 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    Love this! Ive thought about starting the same type of organization until i stumbled upon the existence of BOEL. Up until then i didn’t realize how similar we were all connected and how similar our psychedelic realizations were. Psychedelics are my religion. The love of knowledge is what keeps me coming back. The mind expansion makes it easier to see from a unified perception. I appreciate all the comments too. Its good to know the faith remains. Stay confident in knowing that a younger more ambitious psychedelic youth is arising to continue the good work.

  11. Posted August 1, 2013 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    Hey! I simply want to give a huge thumbs up for the good info you have got right here
    on this post. I will probably be coming again
    to your blog for more soon.

  12. CRISSTOPHUR WHEAT
    Posted December 1, 2013 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    SURE I WAS THERE WHEN THIS WAS COMING DOWN SO MANY YEARS AGO ITS PLAIN NOW THAT IT WAS ALL AN ILLUSION , A PIPE DREAM , IF YOU WILL …

  13. Bing
    Posted January 30, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    I came across a couple of posts in ICmag regarding the origins of the “Haze” cannabis genetics. One of the kids who grew up with BOEL parents had posted his recall of growing up in the canyon (Laguna) and remembering his parents processing hash that had been imported on a “surf trip” of several of the brothers. It wasn’t uncommon to find fiber and seeds in the packs which were wrapped in leaves and called burritos if im remembering right. Many of the seeds would end up germinating in the canyon.

    I roamed those canyons as a kid and remember guerilla grow spots with the MOST amazing cannabis phenotypes back up in that canyon, some (patches) had males and females and would produce tons of seeds, some which may have ended up in my grubby little hands.

    Sam the Skunkman and the brothers grimm probably know for sure. I’m still a frequent visitor to the sawdust and still am overcome by grief excitement and nostalgia when I drive the toll road which cuts across some very secret and sacred places in the early 70′s.

    I also remember some members and their families moving out of the houses into our suburban Laguna Niguel neighborhoods. Hippies with cash kinda clashed with the OC neophytes, but it wasn’t long before that sweet sweet smell was wafting from many of my friends homes after the kids had gone to sleep. I also went to Villa Park HS for a year and frequented Modjeska and Silverado canyons…same smell, very distinctive…havnt come across anything I can compare to it.

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