Lords of Acid

How the Brotherhood of Eternal Love Became OCs Hippie Mafia


Thumper knew it was time to run away from home when he saw his dad's car in the driveway. He was walking home from Laguna Beach's Thurston Middle School, heading up the hill to his house, reflecting on the fact that, months after the Summer of Love, his mom and dad weren't quite finished beating the hell out of each other.

His dad was vice president of a major perfume manufacturer, rich, and angry. His parents had separated four years earlier and now were beginning the second round of a bruising reconciliation. Dad had come home with a 5-year-old kid from a relationship with another woman. Thumper's stepbrother was there, during all the arguments that would follow, "tucked into a corner," he says.

Later that day, Thumper's older sister, home on break from UCLA, called. "We were on the phone, and she's like, 'What's he doing there?'" Thumper recalls. "And I was like, 'You don't understand: he's back. 'And my sister said something like, 'That is so not happening. That is not groovy.'"

His sister never came home. She moved into a house in Laguna Canyon. His parents didn't seem to care. "She was old enough to do what she wanted to," he says. "And my mom and dad were more into trying to save their own marriage for whatever goofy reason than caring about us, quite frankly."

A month later, Thumper came home from school and heard yelling and screaming again. "So I go into the house and Mom's all bloody and Dad's beating the hell out of her," he recalls. He pretended to call the police—a desperate ploy to scare his father—grabbed his stepbrother, and ran out of the house.

"So I went in search of my sister and stopped by Mystic Arts right across from Taco Bell" on Pacific Coast Highway. Unbeknownst to Thumper, his sister was already notorious. "Everyone called her Sunshine," he says. "I asked a bunch of people where she was and they said, 'Yeah, she's at a group grope.' I had no idea what that meant, because I was 14 years old."

Thumper thumbed a ride. "There are these guys out front of this house smoking doobies," he says. They told him Sunshine was inside. "So I go in there. They're having this massive orgy. They looked like maggots. So I'm like, 'Excuse me, pardon me, excuse me.'" Finally, someone pointed out his sister. She was "like, busy every which way."

It's easy to imagine the 14-year-old Thumper, barely entering puberty, standing fully clothed in the middle of an orgy, the sitar of Ravi Shankar dripping thick from the ceiling, incense and pot smoke hanging in the air like cotton, naked bodies writhing around him.

He tapped his buck-naked sister on the shoulder. "I'm hungry," he said. "Mom and Dad are fighting. Do you have five bucks?

"She's like, 'Not on me.' Which was pretty apparent."


In the midst of that throbbing mass of passionately entwined bodies, Thumper set foot on a path that would take him into the arms of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, a legally registered nonprofit religious institution centered on Mystic Arts World, a head shop in downtown Laguna Beach. The church's figurehead and high priest was Timothy Leary, a world-famous former Harvard psychology professor turned proselytizer of psychedelic drugs. Leary and the Brotherhood preached spiritual awakening through Buddhist meditation and drug experimentation.

Leary's mantra—Tune in, turn on, drop out—had already led countless disaffected middle-class kids to quit their jobs or classes, head to California and drop acid. The Brotherhood's bible was Leary's Psychedelic Prayers,his idiosyncratic translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Mystic Arts sold copies of Leary's book, along with incense, candles and imported countercultural paraphernalia. Behind a bamboo-covered wall, church members gathered in a secret meditation room decorated with a massive Taxonomic Mandala, a technicolor spiral depicting the evolution of life, from primal ooze to Homo sapiens.

But Mystic Arts was more than a head shop or meditation center. And although it didn't start out that way, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love wasn't just a church. It was also Orange County's first major international drug smuggling network.

The Brotherhood viewed marijuana and acid as sacraments. Many of its members were serious, spiritual people who hoped to end the war in Vietnam and inspire a generation to achieve worldwide peace and harmony. It funded vegan soup kitchens and promoted an array of local artists, but it also financed a complex conglomeration of underground pipelines that would eventually funnel untold quantities of hash and marijuana—and later cocaine—to Southern California from such exotic locales as Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Costa Rica. The Brotherhood also ran secret local laboratories for the production and distribution of Orange Sunshine, a powerful orange acid tablet that turned on thousands of young people in Laguna each year.

By the time Thumper met the Brotherhood during one of its sacred sex rites, the group's inner light was already dimming. Less than a year later, on Dec. 26, 1968, an ambitious young Laguna Beach police officer named Neil Purcell arrested Leary for possession of 2 kilos of marijuana and hash. Leary would spend a brief stint in state prison before escaping—with the help of the Brotherhood—to Algeria. Four years after his arrest, the Orange County grand jury indicted 46 Brotherhood members and fellow travelers on charges of belonging to an international drug ring. A 1972 Rolling Stone article dubbed them the "Hippie Mafia." Local law enforcement officials declared victory.

Next Page »