The Brotherhood of Eternal Love, started by my friends Bobby Bel and Edward Padilla (and others) in Laguna Beach, was just that: a Brotherhood. It started when LSD was legal. Its history has been maintained more accurately than that of the Cannabis trade in Humboldt. Ed has released numerous books and interviews detailing it, and Bobby maintains both a website and an active Facebook ground devoted to telling the true history of The Brothers. I encourage you to read about them there, as well as here. They are the unsung heroes of the counterculture movement. This is my tribute to their endeavors. Aum mani padme hume.
In 1966, The Brotherhood had its awkwardly nefarious beginning when a man by the name of “Farmer” (born John Griggs) robbed a Hollywood socialite of his acid. He and his friends later dosed in Joshua Tree on the stolen LSD. That trip changed everything. Realizing the error of their ways, Griggs and friends returned to Anaheim to form the nucleus of the Brotherhood. The point was to make sure that people had access to the substances that allowed them to turn their lives around. They looked at themselves as freedom fighters. Members of the Brotherhood, like most hippies of the era, felt that the Vietnam War was not only illegal, but that President Richard Nixon was using drug laws to imprison political opponents, and felt emboldened to resist in their own ways as a result.
Then, that same year, the BEL essentially adopted Tim Leary as their guru (or maybe it was the other way around, depends on who you ask. As they say, if you remember the 60s, you weren’t there…). Technically, at the time, the BEL was a legally registered nonprofit religious institution centered on Mystic Arts World, a head shop in downtown Laguna Beach. Leary and the Brotherhood preached spiritual awakening through Buddhist meditation and drug experimentation.
The Brotherhood’s bible was Leary’s Psychedelic Prayers, his personal translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Behind a bamboo-covered wall, church members gathered in a meditation room decorated with a massive Taxonomic Mandala, a technicolor spiral depicting the evolution of life, from primal ooze to Homo sapiens. Mystic Arts was more than a head shop or meditation center, though, as we now know. It was also Orange County’s first major international drug smuggling network. The Brotherhood viewed marijuana and acid as sacraments, and believed everyone should have access to them, high-quality options at that. They became “psychedelic evangelists.”
The empire grew from there. For the first few years, the Brothers focused on selling high-quality ganja, imported sensimilla mostly from Mexico. As business expanded, they decided to see if they could build a national distribution network. After a successful, albeit slow, weed drop in NYC, The Laguna Branch of the Brotherhood sent researchers around the world to look into purchasing opportunities. Numerous now legendary varieties of hashish were purchased and imported in volume. The cash flow was quickly more than sufficient to set up an LSD lab. Much of it was made by Nick Sand. The Brothers produced and distributed large amounts of the legendary “Orange Sunshine” LSD during 1967’s Summer of Love.
It was about this time that The Brotherhood began cross pollinating with the other budding crews on the west coast, like The Rainbow Family, specifically at The LADET (“Love Animals, Don’t eat them”). LADET was a small vegetarian restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway, operated by volunteers. Much of the food was donated, and menu items did not have a price; patrons left donations for the food ordered. It was owned and operated by members of the Rainbow Family, also centered in Laguna Beach during the late 1960s.
The core membership of the Brotherhood continued to be led by Griggs, elevated to something of a spiritual guru, dabbling in mysticism after his life-altering trip in Joshua Tree in ’66, until his death in the summer of 1969. It was reported that he passed from an overdose of psilocybin. That is not the case, in my opinion, as an overdose of psilocybin would have put him in the halls of medical history. I suspect he died of some unknown complication, such as a latent heart condition. The death of the spiritual leader, however, did not slow the growth of the BEL. In fact, as Bobby described it, it had a cell structure with no distinct leadership:
“We do not know the other folks much. We never shared bread. Each stage had an original core, and all members did not know or even like one another, especially the later groups and claimants. Some are a band of thieves. I still don’t know who’s “in” The Brotherhood, nor does anyone else.”
The feds said there were as many as 750 members at one time, and claim they generated $200 million before 1972.
In 1970, members paid the Weather Underground to break Timothy Leary out of prison (see my post about The Weathermen). A 1972 Rolling Stone article later dubbed The Brotherhood the “Hippie Mafia.” This moniker stuck, and it is still how they are referred to today by many on the lot. Others see them as they were original conceived: front-line freedom fighters in the War on Drugs. They were not, however, gangsters or pushing for the sake of cash. Tim Leary may have said it best:
“The whole concept of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love is like a bogeyman invented by the narcs. The brotherhood was about a group of individuals who took the LSD, and they practiced the religion of the worship of nature, and they’d go into the mountains. But they were not big-shots at all. None of them ever drove anything better than a VW bus. They were just kind of in it for the spiritual thrill.”
On August 5, 1972, dozens of group members in California, Oregon, and Maui were arrested. Others scattered around the world. My friend Bobby “Bel” Ackerly, head of the San Francisco chapter, was arrested in Santa Cruz. He was ratted on by Tim Leary’s son-in-law Dennis Martino, as well as Tim’s son, daughter, and others. Dennis was killed by the French Underground, according to Playboy Magazine, after he set up Leary in Afghanistan (see my post on Leary’s jailbreak).
After that initial arrest, the cell structure became the primary tool used agains The Agencies when they came a’callin. A system called “the triage” was developed to keep producers, suppliers, and buyers separate, as well as glassware, money, and product. The Rule of Threes kept Brothers out of prison for decades. The LSD fraternity that crystallized during the late 60s grew like a giant sugar crystal, covering the global. The Brotherhood was united by an ideology: harmless drugs made to explore the mind and spirit should not be illegal. No leadership meant that there was no organization to dismantle.
A number of major arrests of Brothers were finally realized in the nineties, decades as the Brothers scatted to the four corners of the globe. In 1996, Orange Sunshine chemist Nicholas Sand was arrested in British Columbia, still making LSD, for which he spent several years in prison. Sadly, Nick passed this year, on April 24th, 2017. He died a free man. On September 26, 2009, Brenice Lee Smith was arrested in California after nearly four decades on the lam. He was taken into custody at SFO, after arriving from Nepal, on two nearly 40-year-old warrants for smuggling hashish. Released the next morning, he got back on a plane to Nepal where he still lives with his wife and daughter. Brother Ed still talks to him. Although a few were popped, the Brotherhood lives on. I like to think we won that round.
(Special Thanks to Bobby Bel Ackerly and Iona Miller for verifying this posts authenticity.)