Birth and Death of the Freedom Fighters
I started a goof column called “My Amerika by Ed Hassle” when I first came to High Times, a tribute to my favorite deejay at the time, Bill Kelly, who’s Sunday afternoon radio show had become my favorite weekly ceremony, inspiring me to form my own band, The Soul Assassins.
Bill would read from the Weekly World News, including a right wing column called Ed Anger’s My America. Since hippies are considered the lamest thing possible in New York City (then and now), I parodied that redneck columnist by creating a hippie fascist who believed in UFO’s and was always pissed off about something. Of course, a huge segment of my audience thought Ed Hassle was a real person and agreed with all his hippie fascist ideas (just like many readers of the Weekly World News never realized Ed Anger was comedy). Ed Hassle founded the first national hemp legalization group, The Freedom Fighters. Members got an ID card and instruction manual that included where to go for the next rally and campground and how to dress for the event. All members were encouraged to bring Colonial costumes and carry drums or musical instruments or flags. Anything to make a more theatrical appearance.
The first Freedom Fighter rally was held at the Ann Arbor Hash Bash, where I revealed to the puzzled membership there was no Ed Hassle. Funny thing, a lot of them assumed it was really the magazine’s most famous columnist at the time, Ed Rosenthal. When I’d first discussed making a cartoon character for the column, I told Flick Ford to make him look like “Ed Rosenthal on acid with long hair and dressed like a typical deadhead.” So I probably created the confusion. But when Jack Herer signed on to become one of the founding members, I dropped the Ed Hassle character from the magazine entirely and published a one-page interview with me, where I revealed the truth and cleared up the misconceptions about the Freedom Fighters’ origins. Because what had started as a goof, had suddenly transformed into a dynamic political movement. That’s when I became a target of a few people in the establishment media, who claimed I was creating a dangerous cult similar to Hitler’s stormtroopers? All I knew was I had a tiger by the tail.
The Freedom Fighters were heavily influenced by the Rainbow Family Gatherings and the first place we assembled was the Hash Bash in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A local member, Thom, found us a campground and we set-up Rodger’s giant tipi, which had arrived from West Virginia in the Purple Bus. Chef RA and I ran the 24-hour free kitchen in shifts. We held council at 4:20 PM and also during breakfast and dinner. On the morning of the rally, most of us climbed in the Purple Bus for the ride into town. I often led the parade and carried the loudest drum, a tom-tom from my precious vintage 1960s drum kit used by the Soul Assassins.
I had no idea I was a budding shaman at the time, but looking at the photos, you can see the transformation. I was wearing a lot of psychedelic images and patching my jeans with psychedelic patches. A tricorn hat, moccasins and sunglasses completed the ceremonial outfit.
I always made a lot of psychedelic signs at the campground and carried a homemade bag around my waist with water-based paints and brush. I learned about customizing my environment from Kenny Scharf (and the Merry Pranksters), and I learned about the power of instant signs with sigils from Rainbow. First thing I’d do is make an elaborate recycling center in a central location. It made a huge impression to see such a lavishly decorated art installation that also served such a useful function. This center always had a free box, where anyone could drop off or pick up anything, a good place to share vital supplies. Of course, the cops would always show up and camp close by, despite the wickedly cold nighttime temperatures. We had tents and a tipi, while they had a lavish RV. Other spooks, however, were no doubt embedded inside our group.
But that was the magic of Rainbow. Everything was so open and loving it didn’t matter if someone was a spook! In fact, some suspected spooks were among the hardest working Rainbows! I’d always make a point of making friends with anyone I suspected of being an undercover. Undercovers sent into the Rainbow Gathering were just as likely to get zapped by the vibes and flip into Rainbow Family people as anyone else.
So that’s how I set up the Freedom Fighters. Everything was open and loving and nobody expressed any negative energy about anything within the group, which was devoid of machinations or power struggles. It was the people on the outside who created the problems. The Freedom Fighters reached a crisis point when someone on the outside sent a letter threatening the President and called themselves a Freedom Fighter too, which initiated a Secret Service investigation of my group, even though we were expressly non-violent and forbade weapons at all our events. The state leader in Georgia resigned after his home was broken into and all membership information removed. There were other incidents, including a break-in at my apartment. At the same time, the government launched a huge assault on the magazine’s advertisers, known as Operation Green Merchant. Paranoia abounded.
In three years, the Freedom Fighters accomplished a lot. The rallies we manifested became the biggest political events of our time and I’d amassed one of the largest mailing lists in the movement. But my company grew unhappy with the organization, so I gave the mailing list to NORML and that was the end of the Freedom Fighters and the end of my career as a political activist. I stopped organizing political events and started organizing ceremonies.
Some day I hope the Freedom Fighters hold a reunion.