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.
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."
Legally 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."
The 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.”
Legal 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.
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.
- 01-Kinski // Master Of The Universe
- 02-OPaon // Sainte Patronne De Rien Pantoute
- 03-Saadoun Al Bayati // Marrayna Bikum Hamid Faugi Al Malama
- 04-Spacemen3 // Take Me To The Other Side
- 05-Phew // Dream
- 06-IHear Sirens // OFailing Vessel Brave The Violent Sea