You might wonder why I do this. Why do I go so far out on a limb to artfully present an opinion that I know will be wildly unpopular? Some people speculate that I do it for the attention. Although I appreciate an audience, I don’t really care about drawing attention to myself. What matters to me is drawing attention to the things that people learn to overlook. People learn to overlook things when those things do not fit within their cultural mythology.
Whether it’s our local myth about the benign benevolence of the marijuana industry, our national myth of American Exceptionalism and the American Dream, or the greater cultural myth of civilization that tells us that there is a technological solution to every technological problem, the myths of our culture have become a threat to our survival, and the sooner we realize it, the better it will be for all of us. I understand the power of cultural myths, and I know how they can blind us to what’s happening right in front of our eyes. At times like these we need to see clearly and think carefully. Outdated cultural myths interfere with that by lying to us about what is real, and distracting us from what is possible.
Entirely too many people still believe our dominant cultural myths, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Cultural myths act like a security blanket, and an auto-pilot. They give us our default settings about what to believe, how to interpret the world around us, and strategies for thriving in it. Most people rarely think about the cultural myths they inherited, and these myths tend to perpetuate themselves because people constantly repeat and reinforce them. People constantly repeat and reinforce these cultural myths because they constitute all of the safe things to say in a conversation.
You can always say: “It’s so great to live here in the heart of the cannabis community, in the greatest nation on Earth, and we’re so lucky to live at a time when technology has put the whole world at our fingertips.” You can say stuff like that all day long, and practically everyone will agree with you and no one will ever question you about it. You’ll never be at a loss for words, and you’ll be telling people exactly what they want to hear.
The problem is that none of it is true anymore. The Marijuana industry is a blood-soaked ripoff, the US has become the most brutal fascist regime on the planet, and technology has driven us over a cliff, environmentally. 20-30 years ago, some of those myths were still true, or at least half-true, and the jury was still out on others, but today, those myths are all lies, and the sooner we realize it, the better. We’ll never solve problems we can’t face, which is why I draw attention to the inconsistencies that betray our cultural bankruptcy.
People take great comfort in those myths, and in the fact that they are so widely shared, despite the overwhelming evidence against them. People do not like having their bubbles bust. They would rather just complain to each other about why things don’t seem to work out the way they are supposed to. When I make a point, somebody’s myth gets deflated, and that makes them angry, at me. I don’t benefit from that anger in any way, but those myths threaten us all.
Most of our big problems, as a community, as a nation and as a culture, became big problems due to our continued belief in these outdated cultural myths. We will not solve our problems with the same kind of thinking that created them. I try to look at the world from a different perspective, from one that shows the worst side of our dominant cultural myths, and encourages us to consider other possibilities. If we hope to meet the challenges of our time, as a community, across the country, and around the world, we need to remove those cultural blinders and look at what is really happening, with clear eyes, and to consider every possibility.
Last month on my KMUD radio show, Monday Morning Magazine. I invited Humboldt County Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Fridley to be a guest on the show, to talk about some of Southern Humboldt’s missing persons and unsolved murder cases. I’ve had Lt Fridley on the show before and he has always been great about it. So naturally, when I needed someone from the Sheriff’s Department, I called him.
It occurred to me that at our community radio station, we spend a lot of airtime trying to help reunite lost pets with their owners. Three times a day, we read the descriptions of all of the lost and found dogs and cats that have been reported to us, along with the phone number of the person to contact about them. We consider this a valuable service that KMUD provides to our community. It seemed to me that we should do at least that much to help bereaved families find out what happened to their missing or murdered loved ones.
My idea was to have Lt Fridley on the air for an hour to remind us of the known public details of some of the missing persons and unsolved murder cases, especially those that took place in Southern Humboldt, and to remind people of the phone number for the Sheriff’s anonymous tip line, in the hope of persuading anyone listening who had useful information to share it with law enforcement.
In the wake of the Netflix mini-series Murder Mountain, and the embarrassment it brings to our community and our Sheriff’s Department, and in this new era of legalization where SoHum growers prevailed upon the county to pay for and send 30 new Sheriff’s Deputies to patrol Southern Humboldt 24-7-365, I thought that in this new atmosphere of openness and cooperation, people might not feel so afraid to speak, especially if they could do it anonymously.
The idea seemed uncontroversial enough. Most people still agree that murder is bad, and that solving them should be one of law-enforcement’s highest priorities. I assured Lt Fridley that this would not be a confrontational interview, but that we would simply remind people of the public details of these cases and ask for help from the community, in a spirit of cooperation. I wanted to remind listeners that these victims were real human beings, with grieving families who desperately need closure, and I wanted Lt Fridley to give us the known facts about them. Lt Fridley thought it would be a good idea as well, and agreed to do it. He talked to homicide detectives, who cooperated with him to put the information together, and he spent an hour on air telling us what we know about these cases.
He had a lot of them. When Lt Fridley told me that we had plenty to talk about, I had no idea how many of these cases there were. Lt Fridley had assembled many more cases than we had time to talk about. As the hour wore on, I realized that the more of these cases he told us about, the more they seemed to blend together and the harder it became to keep them straight. At one point in the on-air discussion, Lt Fridley suggested: “We should do one of these a week.”
That struck me as a great idea. After the show, Lt Fridley and I exchanged emails about this. He told me that he, the detectives, and the Sheriff, thought this a good idea. I talked to KMUD’s News Director Sydney Morrone, and asked her if I could cover one unsolved murder case a week for KMUD’s Local News. She thought it sounded like a great idea too, and so I got the assignment, but when I emailed Deputy Fridley to schedule an interview, he dropped the bomb.
He told me that someone from “higher up” had squashed the idea, and that the Sheriff’s Department would not cooperate with our efforts. I asked him why. He said that it had something to do with them getting criticized for not treating all media outlets equally. That sounded weak to me, so I called Sheriff Honsal’s office and left a voice message, and sent him an email. A few days later, I got a response from the Sheriff’s Department media officer, Samantha Karges:
“Last month, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office provided KMUD’s Monday Morning Magazine with information regarding ongoing homicide investigations in which we would like the public’s help. At this time, a representative with the Sheriff’s Office suggested providing this information regularly to the public via your show. Following this conversation, the Sheriff’s Office began to explore how our participation in something like this would be possible, including the time commitment for detectives, sustainability of participation and fairness to all members of the media. While exploring this idea, several issues with this weekly commitment were identified, including equal access to information for all members of the media and the community.
While we believe that the community’s help is essential to solving a variety of criminal cases, in a county so interconnected as Humboldt it would be narrow-sighted to believe that only one section of the community can help with solving crimes in their area. Whereas in reality, all members of our county may have information regarding a criminal case, no matter where it occurred.
After further consideration into this project, the Sheriff’s Office has decided to respectfully decline its involvement.”
This smells like Bullshit to me. First, why should KMUD be denied access to this important, public information that so greatly affects our community? The reason they offer, it seems, is that unless all of the media outlets in Humboldt County make time in their schedule, and space in their publications, to help the Sheriff’s Department solve murders, they have no obligation to cooperate with us in our community effort to do so.
KMUD still wants to run these stories in the Local News, our flagship program, and I have delivered two of them, which you may have heard, but there are many more cases like them that you haven’t heard. I recycled the audio from my Monday Morning Magazine show to make these two news stories, but I have received no further cooperation from the Sheriff’s Department. KMUD’s Local News is a community effort. Any story I offer has to be cleared by our New Director, Sydney Morrone, who answers directly to KMUD’s elected board of Directors. Thousands of people support this station, and hundreds of volunteers work to keep this station on the air because KMUD’s Local News matters to the people of Southern Humboldt.
Don’t we as a community radio station, owe the families of the murdered and disappeared as much airtime as we afford any stray pit bull? More importantly, doesn’t the Sheriff’s Department owe us, as a community, their cooperation in this effort? If not, what do they think is so much more important? It’s enough to make you wonder: “Who are they protecting, and who do they serve?”
I finally got to see Murder Mountain, the Netflix docudrama miniseries about the disappearance of Garrett Rodriquez and the subsequent recovery of his body by the “Alder Point 8.” The film crew was in town for most of last year putting it together, and they hired me off the street to act in it, so of course I was excited to see myself on TV.
I enjoyed Murder Mountain. I thought they did a great job, and it includes some of the best images of Southern Humboldt’s natural beauty that I’ve ever seen. The series seemed quite slow getting started. I’m sure they could have told the story in two hours, and they included quite a lot of really boring footage of cannabis farms, but they also included lot about this community and it’s history. The series paints a broad portrait of Southern Humboldt, and a cannabis industry in transition, as the backdrop for the Garrett Rodriquez story. Every picture hides much more than it shows, but I am impressed by how deeply they explored this community and how well they told the story. I thought they told it accurately, with sensitivity and more than enough context. Most of the people I watched Murder Mountain with also seemed favorably impressed.
Of course, anytime anyone writes or produces media about the ugly sordid shit that really goes on around here, the knee-jerk reaction of locals is: “How dare those ‘yellow journalist’ outsiders come here to tell sensationalized stories about the bad stuff that happens around here!” According to these people, no one, except people born and raised here, have the right to report on anything that happens here, but when you ask those truly local locals, they all tell the same story: “It’s beautiful here. The people are cool, and everything is groovy. Now mind your own business!” Whether it’s a piece of investigative journalism about human sex trafficking, an expose about environmental destruction wrought by the marijuana industry, or my opinion column, for that matter, whether or not they’ve read it or seen it, a lot of people around here will automatically tell you that it is all just “sensationalized Hollywood bullshit.”
It surprised me that I didn’t hear more of that about Murder Mountain. I think a lot of people actually recognized that the producers of Murder Mountain went out of their way to get the story straight, and to present it in context. Murder Mountain sure doesn’t make us look good, but it tells the truth. Murder Mountain shows us a side of Southern Humboldt that usually remains hidden, and that no one around here wants to face, in a way that is hard to deny.
This time, it’s the Sheriff’s Department that is crying foul, and warning us about “sensationalized Hollywood bullshit.” They feel they were misrepresented in Murder Mountain. They claim that the filmmakers tricked them into believing that the show was going to be about the marijuana industry, not about Garrett Rodriquez.
Sorry guys. I don’t buy it. I will admit that Murder Mountain does not make the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department look good, but it’s the fact that Garrett Rodriquez’s murderer remains at large despite the community’s heroic efforts to recover his body, that casts a pall over the HCSD, not the documentary treatment. More than anyone else, Sheriff Honsal and his deputies, who must have all signed release forms, should know that anything you say, in front of a camera, with a microphone hidden in your shirt, will be recorded and used against you in the court of public opinion. If Murder Mountain embarrasses the HCSD, it’s not because of what they said on camera, it’s because of what they failed to do when they weren’t.
We should also note, however, that the disappearance of Garrett Rodriquez, or the dozens of other people who have gone missing, or been found murdered here in Humboldt County, did not prompt much public outcry, locally. We didn’t have rooms full of angry citizens demanding that the HCSD get to the bottom of this prolonged rash of cannabis industry related homicides and disappearances that happen around here all the time. We didn’t have any public meetings about that problem at all.
No, it wasn’t until a skinny kid from Fortuna shimmied underneath a locked security door and stole some bongs from a head-shop in town, that the folks of Southern Humboldt got up off their asses and filled the gymnasium of the Redway School. Those angry townsfolk didn’t complain about unsolved murders or disappearances in the hills, they complained about poor people smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, and generally looking ugly in front of their businesses in town, so you can’t completely blame the Sheriff’s Department for prioritizing their resources accordingly.
Despite all of the self-delusional happy-talk we like to tell ourselves about our community and the cannabis industry, Murder Mountain offers us an honest mirror that reveals how our community looks to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, it’s not such a pretty picture, but that’s not the photographer’s fault.