The Apex-Bananas Crime Story Of The 70's
In 1970, Dr. Timothy Leary was sentenced to 10 years in prison for possessing two marijuana joints, which is kind of like when they got Al Capone on tax evasion. A former Harvard psychologist, Leary was probably the most famous advocate of LSD and other psychedelic drugs in history. The judge called him an irresponsible pleasure-seeker and "an insidious menace" to society ("What's wrong with wanting to be happy?" his lawyer weakly protested). Another 10 years were later added. Leary, who famously coined the hippie catchphrase "turn on, tune in, drop out," had basically been drop-kicked out of the national conversation.
A couple months later, Leary shimmied along a 100-foot telephone cable over the prison walls, freezing motionless when cars passed below, before dropping into a ditch. He was collected by members of an underground bombing campaign who had been bribed by an LSD-based religious surf mafia to smuggle him to Algeria. The escape was a media sensation and infuriated Richard Nixon, who dubbed Leary "the most dangerous man in America" and personally demanded his recapture, probably while scowling furiously and eating a big bowl of unflavored cottage cheese.
What followed was possibly the most insane international manhunt in history, involving Swiss arms dealers, the Black Panther government-in-exile, an ill-advised publicity tour of Yasser Arafat's secret Jordanian training camp, and an attempt to bribe a US presidential candidate with the greatest Rolling Stones tour never staged. And just a ton of LSD, of course. It's hard to even know where to begin, so let's just start with the acid cult and work up to the disembodied voice of Charles Manson.
The "acid cult" in question was the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, also widely known as "the hippie mafia," because literally every group in America gets their own mafia. The Brotherhood believed that LSD offered "a key to unlock the doors of perception" and that they had a calling from God to lead humanity into a new era by distributing it as widely as possible. To fund this, the ragtag collection of SoCal surfers and petty crooks transformed themselves into a massive international drug smuggling ring. It genuinely might be the most impressive thing a bunch of completely stoned people have managed to pull off, not counting that time Seth Rogen accidentally founded the Sinaloa Cartel.
The Brotherhood had a particularly lucrative line smuggling Afghan hashish inside hollowed-out surfboards, musical instruments and even VW vans. Basically, if it looked like a background prop in a screwball comedy, the Brotherhood were moving hash in it, which worked in the glorious era when customs agents saw nothing odd about taking a quick surfing holiday in Afghanistan. They used the profits to fund their true goal of flooding America with LSD, producing vast quantities in California labs and shipping it out across the nation, basically for free. The high point was probably Christmas 1970, when they dumped 25,000 tabs of acid out of a plane onto a cheering crowd partying in Laguna Beach. The one-day concert in question ended up lasting three days, at which point the cops dragged everyone out, dumped all the debris in a giant hole, and then set it on fire.
The Brotherhood's ultimate plan was to drop out of society altogether and start their own country on an island somewhere, based on love, understanding and industrial quantities of psychedelics. After discussions with the King of Tonga failed, the Brotherhood focused on Clipperton, a tiny island in the Pacific best known for the time the entire world forgot about the guano mining colony there, leading to a full-scale Lord of the Flies situation erupting before a ship stumbled across the survivors three years later. The Brotherhood sent an emissary to buy the island from France, but he just disappeared with a bunch of their money and law enforcement started closing in before they could try again. Which might be for the best, since a bunch of people dropping acid on Murder Ghost Island seems like it might open some dimensional gateways better left closed.
The Brotherhood were huge fans of Leary, who was something like their spiritual guru. After being dismissed by Harvard, he moved into the luxurious New York estate of William Mellon Hitchcock, Wall Street broker, heir to the Mellon banking fortune and the Brotherhood's money launderer. After forming a rivalry with uptight local prosecutor (and future Watergate burglar) G. Gordon Liddy, he moved out to California, living in one of the Brotherhood's isolated LSD labs hidden in the San Jacinto Mountains. It's currently the ranch home of YouTube star Logan Paul, who you absolutely did not see coming up in this article.
Leary's behavior around this time became increasingly erratic, culminating in a disastrous run-in with the cops during which his 20-year-old son, arrested mid-trip, caused consternation by stripping nude and masturbating in the middle of the police station. Never a diligent scientist (he fought Harvard's suggestion that at least one person administering a psychedelic study should not be high as shit), he was now rambling about LSD's power to access past lives, allowing everyone to reject "canned, static, dead knowledge" and become their own Einstein by "living out every possibility of the human, prehuman, and even subhuman adventure." He also claimed it was a great aphrodisiac, which probably got more people interested than the time travel thing.
To orchestrate Leary's escape, the Brotherhood paid $25,000 to the Weather Underground, who had recently declared a "state of war" against the US government, pledging to attack "with rocks, riots and bombs the greatest killer pig ever known to man -- Amerikan imperialism." The Weathermen believed the escape would help fund their bombing campaign and give them credibility with the "flower children." This was a pressing issue for the Weathermen, who had suddenly started writing all their communiques in painfully condescending hipster lingo in an attempt to appeal to the teens. The hippies weren't entirely won over by C-grade beat poetry declaring "thousands of freaks plot to build a new world on the ruins of honk America," so freeing Leary seemed like a great idea.
As it turned out, they really weren't ready for Timothy Leary. Shortly after escaping prison, he shaved his head bald and insisted they all go to see the new Woodstock concert movie, despite being among the most wanted people in the country. He spent the whole time wolfing snacks and yelling at the screen, with the Weather Underground leadership sitting directly behind him, silently willing him to shut up. They got him out of the country pretty quickly after that. They did manage to get him to issue a press release saying it was no crime to shoot a "genocidal robot policeman," although that might just have been an acid-induced premonition of Terminator 2.
The Weather Underground had arranged for Leary to hide out with the prominent Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, who had fled to Algeria following a shootout with Oakland police. In Algeria, Cleaver set up a "government-in-exile" and made bizarre plans to overthrow the American state, while attempting to wrest control of the American Panthers away from Huey Newton. Cut off from the US party, Cleaver's government-in-waiting amounted to about 30 people and was desperate for media attention and funds, especially since the Algerians kept confiscating all their airline hijacking money. Sheltering Leary seemed like a positive step, although they had one minor problem: the Algerians had been assured that Leary was actually a persecuted black civil rights leader and were very surprised to learn they were actually sheltering the world's most famous LSD promoter.
Oh, but did Malcolm X ever put out a terrible single where Jimi Hendrix plays bass for some reason? We didn't think so!
Meanwhile Nixon was fast becoming obsessed with Leary, since his administration had decided they needed a single "drug enemy" to crush in order to give the War On Drugs a little pep. He was egged on to make it Leary by one of his top allies: TV's Art Linkletter, host of Kids Say The Darndest Things. But by prominently targeting Leary, the government now found itself embarrassed when they couldn't actually find him. In one White House tape, Nixon and his aides can be heard furiously yelling Leary's name in chorus as they demand his immediate recapture.
Luckily, Cleaver had a plan to endear Leary to the Algerians. Since their hosts were big supporters of Palestinian liberation, Cleaver arranged for Leary to visit the Palestinian guerilla training camps in Syria and Jordan. One photo with Yasser Arafat and other PLO leaders, and the Algerians would never agree to deport him. It wasn't a terrible plan, except that the trip had a layover in Beirut and Leary's party innocently checked into the hotel used by every Western media organization. He was promptly swarmed by delighted reporters, who don't usually expect the hottest story in the world to show up in line for the breakfast buffet. The Palestinians cancelled the whole trip and Leary fled back to an increasingly bad scene in Algiers.
Cleaver had declared drug use "counter-revolutionary" and demanded Leary stop promoting LSD and release some political statements instead. Leary, by now prone to declaring himself some kind of celestial being, refused, and continued to ignore politics in favor of tripping in the desert. At which point Cleaver kidnapped him, confiscated 20,000 tabs of acid, and imprisoned him under "revolutionary arrest," which could have gone very badly considering Cleaver had just murdered another Panther for getting too close to his wife. Instead, Cleaver simply issued a press release stating "something's wrong with Leary's brain...his mind has been blown by acid," and then allowed him to flee to Switzerland. Where he was promptly kidnapped again, this time by an arms dealer.
The arms dealer in question was a pretentious grifter named Michel Hauchard, who preferred to think of himself as more of a weapons croupier, and insisted he was only sheltering Leary because of an "obligation as a gentleman to protect philosophers." In reality, he simply forced Leary to sign over the rights to his life story in exchange for political protection, which is not something that ever happened to Aristotle. Once he obtained some of the rights, he had the Swiss government throw Leary in prison, in the belief that locking him in a cell with only a typewriter would force him to complete a memoir that Hauchard could sell for six figures and hopefully a movie deal.
Hauchard did at least keep Leary out of the clutches of Nixon, who had sent the Attorney-General on a secret mission to persuade the Swiss to hand over drug enemy No. 1. He also introduced Leary to the Rolling Stones, via Keith Richards' partner Anita Pallenberg, who came up with her own plan to save the fugitive during a late-night drinking session with Leary's new girlfriend Joanna Harcourt-Smith. Democrat George McGovern was struggling in the polls against Nixon, but surely the power of rock could turn the tide. Why not offer to stage a whirlwind Rolling Stones tour of the US to raise cash and support for his campaign? In return, McGovern would secretly agree to pardon Leary once he was elected.
It's unclear if the Rolling Stones themselves were ever actually consulted about this, but Leary was certainly enthusiastic. Harcourt-Smith even flew to America to pitch the idea to the McGovern campaign in person, but was politely rejected by his aides, allegedly on the grounds that he was already too far behind in the polls. Although, honestly, if the campaign was going that badly they might as well have launched an international conspiracy to get front row seats for an encore of "Brown Sugar." In any case, the plan was abandoned, robbing us of a world where the Watergate scandal was actually about breaking into Mick Jagger's dressing room.
By this point the Swiss had quietly made it clear that Leary should leave. Things aren't going great when you can even hide out in Switzerland, a country whose entire foreign ministry is just a parrot trained to say "well we'll keep an eye out for him." But Leary had one final ace up his sleeve. Like all great plans, it started with a one-way ticket to Afghanistan, where the Brotherhood still had strong connections with the country's most expensive surfboard retailers. Brotherhood smugglers informed Leary that the Afghan king's nephew was a huge stoner who would love to give him shelter. Armed with that iron-clad offer of protection, Leary boarded a flight to Kabul.
Unfortunately, they had slightly overestimated the influence of the prince, and stoner nephews in general. What's more, the plan had been betrayed to Nixon by Leary's own son-in-law, who had secretly become an informant. US agents were waiting at Kabul airport where they basically kidnapped Leary, since Afghanistan had no extradition treaty, and hustled him back to the US. He was thrown into Folsom prison, where he whiled away the time talking to his unseen neighbor in solitary confinement: Charles Manson.
By this point, Leary's era was basically over. The Brotherhood of Eternal Love was broken up by the cops, although they rallied for a final blow-out concert in Hawaii, featuring Jimi Hendrix shredding in the crater of a volcano. Eldridge Cleaver eventually returned to the US, where he marketed a line of "penis pants" called the Cleaver Sleeve, designed to free the male organ from its fabric prison. He later converted to Mormonism, formed his own religious group called "Guardians of the Sperm," and finally became a hard-right conservative Republican.
Leary himself landed a reduced sentence by informing on basically everyone, wrote articles for conservative magazines, and eventually embarked on a sell-out lecture tour debating his old nemesis G. Gordon Liddy. His ashes were blasted into orbit in 1997. Sadly, they didn't launch some of Nixon's ashes up shortly afterward, allowing them to chase each other around the world for a few more years.