The Hippie-Mafia Connection

When the hippie generation first emerged around 1966, they had a tremendous, global impact almost immediately. The hippies influenced the Beatles, for example, not the other way around. The movement was actually deeply ethical and spiritual, and involved respect for nature and native cultures, as well as a deep suspicion for the oil companies, who had emerged as the world’s dominant corporations. Their relentless campaign to turn everything in America into plastic really annoyed us. Plastic was a bad word to hippies. We hated it.

One thing we didn’t hate was marijuana, which was the primary sacrament from day one. All sorts of other plants and substances quickly followed. We needed people to cultivate, transport and sell these sacraments. These people were closer to priests than outlaws to us since they were providing our sacraments at great personal jeopardy.

It’s no accident that the most spiritually advanced hippie clan was also the most successful smuggling and dealing operation in North America. I speak of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love based out of Laguna Beach, California and founded by hippie saint Johnny Griggs.

John Griggs.

The Brotherhood became known as the hippie mafia, and their story became a tale of drug smuggling and police interventions. The Godfather was John, picture at the left. But the hippie mafia story is a little bit like the blind man describing an elephant by touching its toe. Nick Schou recently wrote an entertaining book on the Brotherhood and he couldn’t understand why John’s widow couldn’t relate to it. The illegal part of hippie life is like the visible part of an iceberg. The heart and soul of the culture lies submerged, out-of-view. And that is the spiritual side, known to made members. We have no official ceremony for this initiation, but we know how to recognize when one gets “zapped” by this unique, non-violent form of spirituality. But to the population at large, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love remains just another “crime syndicate.”

Which is why I can relate to the so-called “mafia.” See, the Sicilian immigrants that came to America arrived with a very strong sense of tribal culture and clung together and supported each other. The most successful among them, the man who produced the most jobs, became “the father” of his clan, and among his duties was to negotiate disputes among family members and navigate towards peace. Because Sicilians lived under conquerors for centuries, they developed a unique sense of justice. When a Sicilian feels dishonored, he does not go to a policeman or the halls of justice, both of which were historically controlled by an enemy culture. He does things the Sicilian way, which is to say in a dark alley from behind with a stiletto to the throat.

When prohibition set in, all the immigrant cultures had criminal gangs, and the Irish were among the strongest. Nucky Johnson was the grand poo-bah of that culture, but Joe Kennedy was probably a close second. But the biggest money-makers at the time were probably the Jews in Canada, the Bronfmans. But slowly, the Sicilians took power. Why? Perhaps because their spirituality was stronger and they were more dedicated to their tribes. And maybe also because they were students of Niccolo Machiavelli, who taught them the strategies of force. Those who seek only to do good inevitably lose to those willing to commit evil. The great dons of the past were often educated, well-read and deeply spiritual, although they’ve been stereotyped as virtual morons with mustaches. The reason “The Godfather” resonated so strongly is that this elaborate and ancient culture was actually investigated for the first time.

Strangely, after Joe Kennedy’s son became president, his brother launched a vicious campaign against Jimmy Hoffa’s control over the Teamsters, and Hoffa’s greatest ally, Carlos Marcello of New Orleans. For the most part, these investigations became centered on the Sicilians, as if they were the only organized crime in the country. From their perspective, RFK looked more like a political demagogue than righteous crusader. RFK called up some of the most respected fathers and treated them with the utmost of disrespect. This was done because he wanted to subvert their influence over the labor movement, when, in fact, they’d been leveraged into that position to replace the Communist Party, which, in fact, was just another intel op, part of the grand chessboard where all sides report to the same bankers. The media is always trying to paint the picture of organized crime as one grand criminal conspiracy instead of the complex web that actually exists. If there is a grand conspiracy, the perpetrators are hiding inside the halls of the Pentagon and the Wall Street banks, and scapegoating hippies running grass or even Italians running bingo parlors isn’t going to threaten that situation anytime soon.

2 Replies to “The Hippie-Mafia Connection”

  1. Though an imperfect book, I too enjoyed Nick Schou’s “Orange Sunshine: The BEL and Its Quest to Spread Peace, Love, and Acid to the World.” The book is wonderfully fact-heavy, but light on conclusions. As one BEL member after another dies or is crippled, Schou doesn’t pause for much meaningful reflection: several members walk into a Hawaii volcanic creator and die; a teenage girl drowns on their ranch in 1969; the legendary “Farmer” John Griggs overdoses (on synthetic psilocybin, supposedly, though reported as a PCP overdose in Martin Lee’s “Acid Dreams”); Jerry Griggs (John’s toddler son) gets accidentally mega-dosed on STP and suffers some sort of brain damage, etc. The list of casualties in the book is not insignificant. Perhaps it is appropriate that Schou doesn’t offer much judgment of the BEL’s carelessness (or bad luck). After finishing the book, the main question unanswered for me was: whatever became of poor little Jerry Griggs, the toddler who OD’d on STP? Having also recently read the biographies of both Joey Gallo and Frank Costello, two American mafiosos, I don’t consider the BEL to be altogether like the Mafia. Though both capable of being charming men, Gallo and Costello operated with brute violence, bordering on the sadistic, anathema to Griggs’ vision. I did enjoy your article though, Mr. Hager, and enjoy your blog.

    1. Nick relied mostly on the second tier for the book, and court testimony of the snitch; the real made dudes didn’t open up; it’s the same with the Valachi testimony, he wasn’t made, just had his idea of what was going on; Jerry died not to long ago. He had a troubled life. John’s death was much talked about, little understood, those who went through the experience had no way to express it, still have trouble dealing with it, but basically, his lungs filled with fluid and he hung on until he got to the hospital and then died right before they could carry him inside; the hippie mafia was a tag the press put on the BEL, but in hindsight, I do see elements in common, mainly this intense sense of spirituality and brotherhood. But the counterculture is sworn to non-violence, while the men of honor consider revenge a necessary part of life. The Gallo Brothers lead the insurrection against Don Peppino. They represent the de-evolution of a spiritual tribe into chaos and greed.

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