This week I present a radio feature that was part of my KMUD radio show Monday Morning Magazine on April 8. It includes music by Robin Parmar, Don Haugen, Michal Seta, Mike Rooke, and Kris Force. The Drone Cinema Film festival takes place on Saturday April 27th at Outer Space in Arcata, CA, starting at 7:00pm, with a short set of live drone music by me, John Hardin, on didgeridoo and electronics. The Drone Cinema Film Festival is brought to you by Silent Records and Outer Space.
I don’t have much difficulty understanding radicals. Radicals make sense to me. I understand the reasoning that looks at the gross environmental destruction wrought by civilization and recognizes the need for radical, not incremental change in how we live and do business on Planet Earth. I comprehend the mindset that sees the level of institutionalized violence, injustice and inequity in our society and advocates radical, not incremental change in our political institutions. I even see where people are coming from when they talk about the moral decay they see in our society and I understand why they also say we need radical, not incremental change in our social institutions. Whether you want a new Islamic Caliphate, a white Christian nation, parliamentary socialism, kibbutz style communism, native tribal sovereignty, an African-American homeland, or complete anarchy, I understand people who recognize the need for radical change.
I may not agree with you about what you think is right, or with what you think is good for me or for the rest of us, but I don’t think you are stupid for wanting to try something else, whatever it is, and I agree with your assessment that we are doing it wrong. Just for anyone who doubts this, let me remind you that COP24, the global climate summit in Poland came and went without producing a meaningful commitment to reign-in carbon emissions, proving once again, for only the 24th time, that world governments are totally incapable and/or unwilling to address the critical issues of our time, intelligently. However, just a few weeks before, the G20 met in Argentina, and the same world governments agreed to embrace radical and unpopular new technologies with real long-term risks, like GMOs, universal cyber-surrveillance and Chinese style “social capitalism” systems for global population control.
I understand the need for radical change. What I don’t understand, is how people look at the Orwellian dystopia our society has become, carefully observe the Anthropocene Extinction Event unfolding in real time all around us and witness the dysfunction in our government that consistently fails to address the needs of its citizens, while it exterminates millions of people all over the world for interfering with its hegemony. Who looks at that and thinks “Hmm, maybe a tweak here or there, but otherwise, Full Steam Ahead!”? That I don’t understand.
I understand that people like their familiar rut, especially if it’s a comfortable one, and if you are comfortable, I understand not really giving a fuck about things until they bite you on the ass. I also understand that people feel invested in the system. They bet their lives on this system years ago, before things started biting them on the ass, and before they knew how bankrupt the system really was. Now they don’t feel like they can afford to walk away from that investment. I also understand denial, the inability to face unpleasant facts, and I understand people who feel helpless and depressed about the whole situation too. All of that makes sense to me, considering our predicament.
Everyone else has abandoned the political center. When we talk about this phenomena, we call it “polarization” or “tribalism,” and lately we blame this mass exodus from the political mainstream on “radicalizing rhetoric” from “extremists.” In reality, however, we abandoned mainstream politics and political ideology because of its proven bankruptcy. The people who pay attention, think for themselves, and make their own decisions, have abandoned the center. They don’t agree with each other about what comes next, but they’ve had enough of what we’ve got now. All that’s left of the center are the stranded assets, the comfortable ruts, the depression and the denial, and that doesn’t inspire anyone.
You can’t inspire people with dead ideas. The wreckage of our culture is piled too deep, and the contradictions in our ideology are far too glaring. We can’t help but see the failure of the system. We can’t help but see the injustice of the system. We can’t help but see the violence of the system, and we can no longer even pretend that the system works for us.
We have abandoned the center because we know better. We know that more of the same is not good enough. We don’t agree on where to go from here, but we don’t like the road we’re on, and navigating carefully down the center of it just doesn’t cut it anymore. We abandon the ideology that has united us for over two centuries only because it has lost its integrity. The system is corrupt and the evidence of our own lives makes it impossible to believe in it any longer.
People don’t abandon ship and jump into lifeboats unless they are pretty sure the ship is sinking. Calling it “polarization” or “tribalism” amounts to nothing but denial and scapegoating. Instead of facing the obvious and overwhelming evidence of the failure of our technological culture, or addressing the challenges of our time, we blame “radicals” and their “polarizing rhetoric” for telling the truth about our predicament and offering their particular alternative vision for the future.
The ship we call “civilization” is sinking, measurably, undeniably, and inexorably. A lot of us will go down with the ship, but if anyone survives, they will be in lifeboats, built by radicals, and built from “polarizing rhetoric” held together with strong personal bonds, a unifying struggle, and a shared vision.
It really doesn’t matter much, anymore, who takes the helm of this sinking ship. What matters now is who is in your lifeboat, and does it float.
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.
I heard a report from that stupid conference the HIIMS held last week about the so-called “impacts” of the Netflix miniseries Murder Mountain. From what I heard in the report, people in the cannabis industry worry a lot about their image. Instead of prosecuting the violent criminals in our community, it’s more important to the industry to convict the media for drawing attention to the murders they’d rather sweep under the rug. It seems shocking, but non-events like this recent conference, and the “SoHum Values Conference” that happened a couple years ago, offer incontrovertible objective evidence that the cannabis industry cares a lot about the image it projects. I don’t ever remember having a conference like this to address the problem of violence within the marijuana industry? As I noted last week, the industry obviously cares more about how they are portrayed in the media than they do about real murder and violence within their community.
One should remember that the people who built the marijuana industry, built it on top of an enormous mountain of dead bodies called “The War on Drugs.” To this day, most Humboldt growers refuse to acknowledge that the price they were able to demand for their product on the black market had anything to do with the human costs of the War on Drugs. They’ll tell you that the price they get is all about the quality of their product. This kind of delusional thinking pervades the industry here, and while this denial of reality allows growers to ignore the dark side of this business and helps them cope with the stress of the War on Drugs, it does not help them evaluate their business plans realistically.
Blood stains every single dollar of black-market marijuana money. The bloodbath called “The War on Drugs” makes the Manson murders look like innocent children finger-painting by comparison, and Humboldt County’s marijuana industry was born of it, and in the middle of it. People get killed every day, all across the country, to keep the price of cannabis high, and a lot of those people died right here in this community. The War on Drugs wounded us all in some way. We all lost family members, friends and loved ones in it, and it continues to destroy people’s lives today. At least four people, working in the cannabis industry, were murdered in SoHum in 2018.
Those are the facts of life about Humboldt County’s marijuana industry, because that’s the truth about the War on Drugs. We all know how much blood there is in that marijuana because it is our blood! That’s why the marijuana industry cannot just reinvent itself as “the cannabis industry,” all innocent, clean and new. Anyone who associates the name “Humboldt” with marijuana remembers the War on Drugs. We know! We all know the truth about the War on Drugs in our bones!
For us, cannabis is sacrament. That’s why we found it more valuable than gold, and why the risks you took were rewarded so handsomely. Cannabis is more valuable than gold, because only fools worship gold, but cannabis is not rare, nor is it difficult to produce, so there’s no excuse for high prices. We are not impressed by your expensive display cases, slick marketing lingo or environmentally egregious packaging. That stuff just reminds us that you still make too much money from our blood. We might buy your weed, if it’s the best we can find for the money, but we don’t buy your bullshit.
Try as growers might, to “tell their own story,” that story will remain nothing but a fairy tale from Never Neverland if it doesn’t connect to the facts of life, and the facts of life about Humboldt County’s cannabis industry are intimately entwined in the deadly branches of the War on Drugs. The only real option for Humboldt County’s cannabis industry is to face facts, admit to, and take responsibility for the murder, violence and trauma that the black-market marijuana industry brought to our community and the toxic environment it created here, and in communities all over the country. If Humboldt’s cannabis industry wants to lay claim to the back-to-the-land ideals of their hippie elders, they also need to take responsibility for the war crimes of the outlaw black-market marijuana industry that followed.
It’s going to take real effort to make amends, restore justice and heal wounds to show that the cannabis industry acknowledges its origins and stands willing to take responsibility for its past. If the industry did that, even a little, in a tangible way, they could promote those efforts widely, and use them to rehabilitate their image and their heritage.
That is how you show the world that Humboldt County’s cannabis industry has a conscience and cares about making the world, and our community, a better place to live. But it all starts by facing up to the harm that the War on Drugs has done to our community, and accepting responsibility for it.
I see that the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research will hold a conference to discuss the “impacts” of the Netflix mini-series Murder Mountain on Humboldt County. If you didn’t already know that the HIIMR exists purely to white-wash the marijuana industry, this should convince you. The six-part docudrama, Murder Mountain tells the story of Garrett Rodriquez, who’s young life was snuffed-out on a marijuana farm in the Rancho Sequoia subdivision near Alder Point, and the remarkable recovery of his body by the, now infamous, “Alder Point 8.”
Locals have called the Rancho Sequoia subdivision “Murder Mountain” for as long as I’ve lived here. That maze of ten-acre parcels, littered with burned out cars, ramshackle shacks, and bullet riddled “No Trespassing” signs held became known as “Murder Mountain” because the only time you heard about Rancho Sequoia was on the news, when someone got killed there, and it happened often enough that you couldn’t help but notice.
I enjoyed the TV series, Murder Mountain. I’m sure I never would have watched it, except for the fact that I played one of the “Alder Point 8” in the fuzzy recreation scenes. Still, I live here in SoHum, and I think they portrayed our community pretty fairly, even sympathetically. I thought the filmmakers gave our community the benefit of the doubt whenever they could, but now we step forward, ourselves, to remove the last veil.
The fact that people here, especially people in the marijuana industry, have gotten much more upset about the TV series, Murder Mountain, than they ever did about the disappearance and murder of Garrett Rodriquez, speaks volumes about the marijuana industry, and our community. The very fact that the HIIMR will hold a conference to discuss the impacts of the TV series, instead of a conference on the impacts of the ongoing legacy of violence within the marijuana industry, plainly and chillingly demonstrates the callous narcissism of Humboldt’s marijuana industry, reflected in the HIIMR.
Garrett Rodriquez was neither the first, nor the last, worker murdered on a Southern Humboldt pot farm. At least four people, reported to have been working in the marijuana industry, were murdered in Southern Humboldt in 2018 alone. None of those murders have been solved. That doesn’t count the missing persons cases, solved SoHum murders, murders in other parts of the county, or murders that happened before or since 2018. There are a lot of Garrett Rodriquezes out there, and potentially many more Murder Mountains to come.
The HIIMR should take note: Dead people count as measurable impacts. So do bereaved families, widows, and orphans. Murderers that walk our streets with impunity impact our community. The poisonous relationship between our community and law enforcement impacts our community. A culture that treats Drug War refugees and honest working people as disposable, impacts our community. Trauma, desensitization and learned indifference to violence resulting from overexposure, impacts our community. Those are just a few of the ways that violence within the marijuana industry impacts our community.
By comparison, no one died making Murder Mountain, and nobody killed anyone to see it. I can attest to the fact that everyone who worked on Murder Mountain got paid promptly and fairly. That’s more than I can say about the marijuana industry. How can we possibly measure the minuscule impacts of a TV show, against the unstudied background of marijuana related violence in our community.
Studying the real violence and murder in the marijuana industry might help us put Murder Mountain into perspective. TV shows like Murder Mountain amount to little more than a sidebar in the long story of how the marijuana industry made murder commonplace in our community and fueled our notoriety for it.
Studying the impacts of real violence and murder within the marijuana industry could greatly benefit our community. We might even find a way to protect workers, save lives and rehabilitate the industry. Any cultural change begins with awareness, and making our community aware of the real impacts of the violence that we have come to accept as normal, just might shock us enough to bring us to our senses.
As a community, we have brushed too many Garrett Rodriquezes under the rug. Instead, we save our indignation for anyone who dares to criticize the marijuana industry, regardless of how accurately. Somehow, in our community, we have come to care more about venerating the mythology of Humboldt County’s marijuana industry than we do about the lives of its victims, or the violence it brings to our community. The high rate of violence in this community, and the indifference we show to it, still amazes me, and it’s uglier than anything we see in Murder Mountain.
Instead of whining about what those mean filmmakers did to us with their TV show, perhaps we should recognize Murder Mountain as the wake-up call we needed.
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?”