This is an old article from 20 years ago about the Green Panthers, a group of militant stoners that advocated armed resistance to the “war on drugs,” and the creation of a “stoner homeland” in northern California. This article first appeared around the time that I was starting to develop the idea of an “alliance of separatists” as a tactical paradigm for anarchists. I remember circulating this article, and even a lot of hard-core radicals thought this group was a joke. But guess what? They won.
By Cletus Nelson
The Bong and the Rifle
Not all stoners are passive in their loathing of the War on Drugs–the pot-loving Green Panthers are preparing for armed struggle and the possibility of a seperate stoner nation. Sound like the plot of Kurt Russel’s next post-apocalyptic flick? Read on
By Cletus Nelson
The tactics used by activists to voice their dissent against the prohibition of marijuana have changed very little since the 1960s. Despite the fact that the drive to legalize cannabis began in an environment that spawned such violent, armed groups as the Weather Underground and the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), today’s hemp advocates are firm adherents to the peaceful protest.
Each year a myriad of non-threatening marches, candle-light vigils, demonstrations, and sit-ins are held in the hope of ending the herb’s illegal status. Although the tireless efforts of these many tie-dyed warriors are to be commended, the war against America’s pot smokers keeps escalating.
Casualties of war
The government’s own statistics betray this fact. Consider the FBI’s 1995 Uniform Crime Report, which shows a record 600,000 Americans arrested on marijuana charges. Of these, 86 percent were charged with the simple possession of a substance that has caused far fewer fatalities–zero, to be exact–than alcohol, tobacco, prescription medications, or aspirin.
Will Foster is a living example of a victim of the hysterical anti-pot crusade popular among politicians. The father of three and successful owner of his own software company sits in an Oklahoma prison after being handed a 93-year sentence for the “crime” of growing a few plants to help assuage his painful arthritic condition. High Times magazine reports that over 25 percent of the 1,630,000 prisoners in America’s prisons and jails are doing time for drug crimes, with the majority of these non-violent offenders serving sentences for growing or possessing marijuana.
“In 1994, at least 25 marijuana users were killed by police officers or died while in custody,” hemp activist Ed Rosenthal notes in “Why Marijuana Should be Legal.” This statistic alone gives evidence that these laws which were originally intended to protect the health of the public have long since strayed from their dubious goal. As the criminal prohibition of a herb that has yet to be linked to a single death continues, those who aren’t arrested (or dead) often live in constant fear of anonymous tips, urine tests, asset forfeiture, and other components of the “zero tolerance” juggernaut that continues to victimize law-abiding citizens.
Fighting the police state
Today, many a casual smoker must fearfully wonder if a paramilitary team of black clad “no-knock ninjas” brandishing semi-automatic weapons will break down their door in a dramatic pre-dawn raid. Out of this miasma of fear, oppression, and intolerance emerge the Green Panthers.
Shifting their focus from protest to resistance, the Panthers–referred to as the “fanged mouthpiece” of the hemp movement–are adjusting their tactics to a drug policy they predict will one day devolve into outright bloodshed on the cannabis using community. They openly reject the posture of non-violence and pacifism adopted by their ideological peers and have given up trying to “change the system.” This loosely based cadre of activists is boldly choosing to move in a different direction.
When a militia … isn’t a militia
Fiercely asserting their Second Amendment right to bear arms, the Panthers represent an interesting social phenomenon: They are the first marijuana group preparing to openly espouse armed rebellion against federal drug policy. Their strong defensive position is not unlike today’s burgeoning patriot movement. Although the two may share a common mistrust of the federal government and a firm belief in the right to own and bear arms, Terry Mitchell, one of the founding members of the Panthers, finds the comparison inaccurate.
“We found with very few exceptions–[members of] the militia movement think the drug war is a good idea,” he scoffs. The WACO siege, a rallying cry for militia groups, registers little with these new-model pot heads who have a strident dislike of drug war supporters. “As a group the Panthers have very little sympathy for them [Branch Davidians] because they were anti-druggies–Heaven’s Gate, too,” Mitchell says. Opinions such as these have not endeared him to local patriot groups and he says they have threatened his life on four different occasions.
However, they aren’t dealing with your typical bong-toking peacenik. “I can shoot the asshole out of a rat at a thousand miles and you can print that,” snaps the native Texan.
Headquartered in Cincinnati, OH, these hard-liners are mainly recognized by drug policy activists for their incendiary publication Revolutionary Times. However, if events occur as they predict, they may be the forward guard in a revolution among the nation’s tokers. The Panthers foresee a time when stoners will be forced to take up arms for their right to use what they call the holy herb.
“The actual dynamics of an armed struggle haven’t formed up yet,” says the 47-year-old activist. Articulate, well-read, and politically astute, Mitchell is emblematic of a growing segment of society who at one time “played by the rules,” but now view the Washington establishment as corrupt, and any attempts to change the system futile. Far from a backwoods political neophyte, the ex-’60s radical carries extensive experience with the Libertarian party of Texas and in 1988 served as Interim-Director for the Washington, D.C. office of the National Association to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML).
The Panther finds no ethical dilemma in activists arming themselves. “We think an armed society is a polite society,” he says in his rich Texas twang which crackles over the phone like machine-gun fire. Mitchell believes the virulent anti-gun stance found among the modern left is unrealistic in the post-WACO 1990s.
“That actually is some hangover politics from the ’60s,” he observes. Above all, Mitchell says the Panthers hope to sound a much needed wake-up call to those who still believe these pernicious laws can be reformed.
“What we’re trying to convey to the pot movement is that the system isn’t the one we grew up with. ..the Tenth Amendment is a myth,” he says bitterly.
Birth of a movement
The genesis of the Panther weltanschaung began ironically in the backyard of the nation’s most powerful drug war hawks. Some eight years ago, a small core of firebrands gathered in Washington, D.C., hoping to provide a “new wrinkle” to end the senseless criminalization and harassment of America’s estimated 10,000,000 pot smokers.
Seeking to provide tools, strategy and political focus to other groups across the nation, they began to study the tactics used by fellow dissidents with other agendas.
“We had to get out the narrow focus of the pot movement,” Mitchell says. Analyzing the methods of such successful political factions as Aids Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP), Queer Nation, and Earth First!, Panther experts came to an interesting conclusion: The entrenched powers had quickly learned how to nullify these confrontational tactics, which the Panthers are convinced have become obsolete.
“Our enemies learn real fast–you try these methods of direct action now and you’ll get zilch,” he says heatedly.
Birth of a nation?
Their continued studies led the Panthers to come upon what Mitchell calls an “endgame strategy”: secession. “Once the US starts to rumble like the old Soviet Union did, that is when our people have the biggest opportunity in our cultural history,” Mitchell says enthusiastically.
He envisions a day when a repressive federal government will declare martial law, and the nation will be plunged into civil war–not unlike the post-Cold War conflicts that arose in many nations, such as the former Yugoslavia. When this time comes, the Panthers plan to be prepared.
The armed pot smokers and their supporters hope to stake out a coastal strip of land 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean beginning due north of San Francisco and extending 10 miles south of Portland. If they succeed, they will create what they call the first “Stoner Homeland.”
The nation will be based on libertarian values, community-based government and the Gross National Product will be high quality marijuana, and the many other products which can be produced with the versatile Cannabis sativa plant. Mitchell is a fatalist who is convinced this is the only choice left for the pot community.
“If we don’t win, nothing is lost. We were marked for extermination anyway,” he says.
A trend toward secession
Today’s post-modern mindset may find such an idea laughable, but a number of similar movements already dot the national landscape. The Nation of Islam, the Aryan Nations, and the well-publicized Republic of Texas are the most visible examples of the many divergent factions who view secession within America’s borders as the only antidote to an oppressive federal government.
The national Libertarian Party has noted this growing trend; their 1998 platform includes a plank calling for the “right to political secession–by political entities, private groups, or individuals.”
The Panther’s designated homeland was chosen for a number of reasons other than the high-quality buds indigenous to the region. Mitchell’s previous experience with NORML and the Libertarian party gave him insight into the marijuana-sympathetic demographics of the Pacific Northwest. While examining databases for both organizations, he found that the majority of the nation’s libertarians and card-carrying members of the pot legalization lobby reside in this small section of the country.
There is already a steady flow of bud smokers who have been relocating to the Pacific Northwest since the 1960s to escape draconian marijuana laws in their respective states. Terry believes the recent increase in arrests has exacerbated this trend.
“According to our sources in the areas, the migration has sped up considerably over the past five years due to the Drug War–with property seizures being the way they are, they have fewer things to move anyway,” he comments.
The new prospective country already has its own set of by-laws based on the U.S. Constitution, the Articles of Confederation, and other landmark documents.
“Some of the best forward thinking minds came up with the by-laws,” he says.
Will the armed Panthers expect resistance from the government when they declare their sovereignty? Mitchell doesn’t expect it to be an obstacle.
“When our roadblocks go up on the highways and our voices start coming over the radios and televisions …we expect most of the cops and National Guard will have left their non-paying jobs and there won’t be much trouble with them,” he says optimistically. Those who choose to remain and possibly obstruct the new homeland will be promptly asked to leave.
“This will probably not be pretty,” Mitchell says. “But it is a political imperative. This calls for leadership that has nerves of steel and an iron determination not to be stopped,” he adds.
Maintaining the network
Currently, the Panthers believe the first step in achieving their homeland is providing vital intelligence to other dissident groups who stand opposed to the War on Pot. Their efforts include their unique “diagram of the war on drugs.”
Posted on their website, the chart tracks major anti-drug policy from the United Nations Office of Drug Control Policy in Vienna, Austria all the way down to what they term “snitch groups,” like the Girl Scouts of America and Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) Mitchell says the schematic that alleges the United Nation micro-manages US anti-narcotic policy was originally met with skepticism by the reform community.
However, Terry points out that Global Days, a series of demonstrations held worldwide in June to protest the UN’s role in drug prohibition, was directly influenced by their efforts. ”
“A lot of people thought we had made it up–now were starting to see a real focus,” he says.
The information war
Gleaning information from teachers, scientists, police officers, military veterans, prisoners, and others, the Panthers publish Revolutionary Times (formerly the Revolutionary Toker), providing excellent coverage of the drug war. The small periodical scooped Time magazine and their non-mainstream competition last year when it reported on experiments conducted on behalf of law enforcement in the use of allegedly “non lethal” weapons, such as infra-sound technology.
Their publishing house, Panther Press, sells important survival materials for the ’90s pot smoker. Like a pot-focused Paladin Press, the Panthers distribute publications on building resistance groups, surviving police encounters, “guerrilla growing,” cold weather survival, and other vital resources for renegade bud smokers. They also furnish free legal referrals for busted potheads, and their POW support project raises the awareness of the prison population by sending free copies of Revolutionary Times to inmates.
On toward a “stoner homeland”
These many activities lend credibility to a group of activists who appear to take themselves and their mission seriously. Could we one day see a stoner homeland enriched by hemp-related commerce flying their own flag–a white field bearing a large green pot leaf?
Mitchell hopes that if enough people get involved, America’s “last outcasts” will join them in fighting for their “light at the end of the tunnel.”
“I believe that the odds for the pot culture are better now than they ever have been for the formation of an independent Homeland,” he says. Mitchell grimly foretells a day when many will be faced with the choice of joining the Panthers or death.
“It’s either gonna be a stoner homeland or a stoner last stand,” he warns.
The Green Panthers website outlines the group’s agenda.
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Web extra to the October 8-14, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.
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