Perhaps the most surreal operation the Weather Underground ever carried out also involved a collaboration with the Black Panthers and a Laguna Beach-based band of acid-dropping hippie hash smugglers known as the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. It all started on Dec. 26, 1968 when a Laguna Beach police officer named Neil Purcell arrested Timothy Leary, the defrocked Harvard professor of “turn on, tune in, drop out” fame, for marijuana possession on Woodland Drive in Laguna Canyon, a neighborhood then known as Dodge City for its frequent police raids. The arrest derailed Leary’s California gubernatorial campaign against then-Governor Ronald Reagan, and in February 1970, a Santa Ana judge sentenced him to one to 10 years at the minimum-security work camp at the Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo.
No sooner had Leary been jailed than the Brotherhood, headquartered at its famous headshop known as Mystic Arts World on Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach, began raising cash for his legal appeal. Dozens of “Free Timothy Leary” posters appeared throughout Laguna Beach seeking cash to “liberate” Leary from prison, claiming he had been “kidnapped by government agents.” On the night of Sept. 12, 1970, Leary climbed up a telephone pole inside the camp and shimmied his way over a fence to freedom. Waiting for him in a car just a few hundred yards down the road were several members of the Weather Underground, who had been paid $25,000 by the Brotherhood via mutual contacts in the Black Panthers. The scheme was first made public in an Oct. 3, 1973, hearing by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security titled “Hashish Smuggling and Passport Fraud: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love.”
The Weathermen drove Leary north to Canada; provided him with a phony passport; and put him and his wife, Rosemary Woodruff Leary, on a plane to Europe. The couple made their way to Algiers, where the Black Panthers enjoyed diplomatic immunity and provided Leary with a safe house. Leary’s penchant for smoking hash smuggled to him by his buddies in the Brotherhood quickly put him on the outs with the revolution-preaching Panthers, and he eventually fled to Switzerland and then Kabul, where federal drug agents arrested him at the airport in 1973. After agreeing to inform on his former Brotherhood pals, Leary spent the next several years in prison.
“The Weathermen didn’t care about Timothy Leary; they cared about their cause,” says one former Brotherhood smuggler who helped finance Leary’s escape. “We were revolutionaries, too, but they were violent revolutionaries. They wanted to overthrow the government through violent means. We were into overthrowing it through love.”