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?”
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.
Recently the Southern Humboldt based true crime docudrama “Murder Mountain” debuted on the Fusion Network. I can’t wait to see it myself, but I don’t have a TV, and I don’t know anyone who gets Fusion Network. So far, all I’ve seen is the one-minute trailer, but the show looks pretty good to me. I’ve heard people around here complain that it seems “sensationalized,” but that seems to be the pat response any time anyone draws media attention to any of the unseemly things that really happen around here.
Some complain about the title of the series, but people around here have called the Rancho Sequoia subdivision “Murder Mountain” for at least as long as I’ve lived here, and we call it “Murder Mountain” because things like the disappearance and murder of Garrett Rodriquez keep happening there. The Garrett Rodriquez story really is dramatic, and I’m sure they tell it dramatically in the series, but I don’t think they exaggerate the story. They don’t have to. The truth is dramatic enough. On the contrary, I think we have, as a community, become desensitized to the crazy shit that really goes down here. We’ve learned to look the other way, or dismiss it as normal business as usual. I’m actually glad for the series because I always wondered about that case.
The information we got in the local news left me with more questions than answers. For weeks we heard pleas from Garrett Rodriquez’s family, asking the community to help them find their son. We knew they hired a private investigator and that he was talking to people in the area. Then one night, a truck drops a man off in front of the Garberville Hospital ER with multiple gunshot wounds. The wounded man claimed he was kidnapped at home by eight masked men all wearing camo fatigues who shot him and drove him to the hospital.
The next day, Garrett Rodriquez’s body was recovered. At the time, KMUD’s Terri Klementson’s report on the Local News suggested some connection between the kidnapping/shooting, and the recovery of the body, but no details emerged about how the events were related. No arrests were made and no one pressed charges. That was the last we heard about the murder of Garrett Rodriquez. Until now.
The producers of Murder Mountain really dug into this case and got the whole story from the people who were there, and the truth of the matter is even more interesting than I had imagined. I think the story reveals something of the humanity of this community, as well as the brutality of it. I won’t spoil it for you. In fact, I can’t spoil it for you because I haven’t seen it, but I did, along with a lot of other people from SoHum, get hired to act in it.
In that capacity I got to participate in the re-creation of those events, and talk to someone who was there when it happened. Acting in Murder Mountain answered all of my questions about the Garrett Rodriquez murder. I suspect that watching Murder Mountain will do the same for you, and the truth will surprise you.
I was reminded recently of a peculiar event that took place at the Mateel Community Center a couple of years ago called the “Community Values Conference.” A group of cannabis entrepreneurs wanted to use the term “SoHum Community Values” as a marketing tool to promote and distinguish their fine cannabis products. I attended to remind them that, while they still had a great concert hall, SoHum offers very little in terms of community services.
We had, and have, an extreme housing shortage in SoHum, but we have no shelter or services for people without housing. At the time, we had a rash of brutal assaults, mostly against defenseless elderly disabled men who had nowhere to go, and local social media sites dripped with hatred and vitriol aimed at our unhoused population. I wanted to see what kind of values statement the people whose kids beat a helpless old man into a coma and left him lying on the sidewalk in a pool of his own blood could come up with.
Besides that, we have several homicides every year, where young people come here to work, but instead, someone kills them and buries them in the woods. Those bodies are rarely found. Arrests and convictions are much rarer still, but law enforcement continues to find egregious environmental destruction at grow sites all over SoHum. People around here don’t bat an eyelash about any of it. If not human life and the natural environment, one has to wonder, what do these people actually value?
At the event, we worked through a series of exercises where we pulled a bunch of positive sounding platitudes out of our asses and reassembled them, according to their popularity, into statements of incomprehensible happy-talk. I can’t recall any of these statements, but I do remember that they seemed quite unmemorable at the time. Still, I think I recognize what the organizers of this event hoped to highlight about their community, and why they might think it would be good for business.
I say “their” community, because of the difference between SoHum’s cannabis growers’ community, and the SoHum community at large. SoHum, as a whole, remains as alienated and fractured as any rural American community, and we’re not likely to agree on much, including values. However, one segment of our community enjoys a rare degree of acceptance and comradery. For cannabis growers, SoHum is a very special place.
In most of the country, cannabis growers tend to live very isolated lives. Because of the stiff criminal penalties for commercial cannabis cultivation, growers have to be very careful about who they allow into their lives. If you grow weed in Kansas, you might not know another grower. They don’t have highly specialized garden supply stores in Ohio, at least not in my town, and you couldn’t just drive across town to pick up a tray of rooted clones. If you grow pot almost anywhere else in the country, you do it all yourself, and you do it all alone, and the more you grow, the more isolating it becomes.
I didn’t know anyone else who grew their own weed until I started working with Mass Cann, where I met a number of other, also very isolated, growers. We compared product and talked about cannabis incessantly. It felt great to meet kindred spirits and I learned a lot about growing weed that way. When I got here, my background and interest in cannabis helped me make friends and find employment. That doesn’t really happen anywhere else, at least it didn’t back then. Here in SoHum, cannabis unites us and brings us together, and that’s a rare and powerful thing.
Over time however, this cannabis-centric culture developed it’s own character, but it also developed a mythology about itself. During the War on Drugs, it was important to portray growers sympathetically, in order to garner public support for their cause. We cultivated the myth of “mom and pop,” the original humble hippie growers, but in reality, secrecy shrouded the whole industry, and we ignored, and accepted, a lot of bad behavior in our own community. We learned to turn a blind eye and keep our mouths shut about the dark side of the industry and what happens here.
Also, people began to conflate the value of cannabis to society with the price of cannabis on the black market. People started to believe that growing cannabis didn’t just pay better than other kinds of work, but that it was worth more. In reality, the value of cannabis to society depends on it being cheap for the consumer. Paradoxically, the more cannabis costs, the less valuable it is, and the less benefit people derive from it. Of course, the quality of our cannabis here in SoHum is so legendary that no one could possible exaggerate it further, but we will continue to try. All of this tends to inflate, in our own minds, the value of what we do here.
In this way, our shared passion for cannabis, coupled with the industry’s culture of secrecy and our own need for acceptance, skewed our perception of reality. We learned to ignore what was really happening around here, and started to believe our own bullshit propaganda. We also forgot that the community of cannabis growers is not the community of SoHum, and that the community of SoHum is not society at large. We’ve lived in this bubble of unreality for a long time, because cannabis growers had real money, and anyone who wanted any of it had to suck up to them and tell them what they want to hear.
Today however, google Earth deprives growers of their secrecy while legalization slashes their income. Growers can no longer afford their own reality, and the people around them are less likely to afford it to them. The bubble of unreality is collapsing. There is certainly a value to community, and it is something to celebrate, but an insulated community can lose touch with reality, and money is the best insulation in that regard. I think it’s really tragic that cannabis culture here in SoHum has been so warped by the dynamics of the War on Drugs. You could call it the “fog of war.” The cannabis community remains reluctant to face reality here in SoHum, and because of that we will likely endure a very difficult transition to legalization.