The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) admitted this week that portions of a detailed file on legendary outlaw journalist Hunter S. Thompson were destroyed during the Clinton administration.
Responding to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by Argus Leader reporter Cody Winchester, the FBI explained that “records responsive” to the request were “destroyed on Feb. 1, 1994 and Sept. 1, 1998.” The FOIA request was ultimately answered by the National Archives, which released 58 pages of material pertaining to Thompson.
It’s not clear why the FBI destroyed information in Thompson’s file. Winchester also noted that there’s likely more in the archives which simply hasn’t been indexed yet and could be released later.
The file shows that the bureau took an interest in Thompson after an article titled “The Motorcycle Gangs” appeared in The Nation magazine, only to become a book called “Hell’s Angels,” widely regarded as Thompson’s first claim to literary fame.
He again crossed the FBI’s radar in 1965 when he subscribed to “People’s World,” a communist newspaper in San Francisco. The file explains that an FBI source inside the paper had reliable access to the subscription list. From there, agents dug up as much cursory information on Thompson as they could, pulling government records, address histories, citations in the media and even sending an agent to his hometown to poke around.
The FBI listed his legal address as “Owl House Gen. Del.” (likely meaning “General Delivery”) in Woody Creek, instead of a numbered address and street name. His file also notes that a local liquor store clerk told an FBI agent about Thompson’s comings and goings, claiming that she saw “some very obscene publications come through the mail” from a publishing company in New York.
The file also contains details on Thompson’s unsuccessful run for sheriff in Aspen, including something incredibly rare: a copy Thompson’s “Aspen Wallposter #6,” designed by artist Tom W. Benton and printed in Canada, but seized at the border and never released in the U.S. It featured President Richard Nixon’s face with vampire fangs and a hidden Nazi swastika in place of the “x” in his name, which only appeared when held up to a light.
Thompson’s open hatred of Nixon is the stuff of journalistic lore, so it’s probably not surprising that the only president to resign his office to avoid impeachment would have sent agents digging for dirt on one of his loudest critics. “Some of my best friends have hated Nixon all their lives,” Thompson explains in Nixon’s obituary, published by Rolling Stone in 1994. “My mother hates Nixon, my son hates Nixon, I hate Nixon, and this hatred has brought us together.”
Next to the original serialized version of Thompson’s “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas,” the “Aspen Wallposter” series is among the most valuable and sought-after Thompson memorabilia in existence. The FBI also obtained a copy of “Aspen Wallposter #4” and “Aspen Wallposter #7,” along with a series of “Aspen Wallposter” articles edited by Thompson, specifically citing concern over an article speculating on whether his establishment-loving opponent in the sheriff’s race might suddenly be killed by savage assassins from parts unknown.
“They are trying to kill the sheriff again,” the article opens. “Just like the tried to kill him last summer. And the summer before that. They never rest, God damn them.” The article isn’t an actual threat: the specter of random assassination was mere parody of the sheriff’s reelection efforts, which he pegged to the amorphous yet supposedly dire threat of savage motorcycle-riding hippies peddling drugs and mayhem.
The file also includes a Washington Post article by Leroy F. Aarons, titled “Hippies May Elect Sheriff,” which opens by describing a jittery, sleepy Thompson on the come-down from a mescaline trip. Another article, by Associated Press reporter Loudon Kelly, quotes Thompson calling modern America the “wreckage of Jefferson’s dream that haunts us on every side, from coast to coast, on the TV news and a thousand daily newspapers.” A third piece, by Rocky Mountain News reporter Peter Blake, notes that Thompson’s platform called for renaming Aspen “Fat City,” which he said would “prevent greedheads, land-rapers and other human jackals from exploiting Aspen’s overdeveloped image.”
Key quotes from Thompson were also excerpted on several pages that follow, including his plea to “disarm the sheriff and his deputies” to prevent them from setting off riots. Thompson, the file explains, would have preferred to maintain civil order with “a pistol-grip Mace-bomb” instead of truncheons. The final pages contain an anonymous, handwritten note about Thompson that was passed to the FBI. It accuses him of being “The bad boy of our neighborhood when he was high school and college age.” The letter’s author explained the tip came from an interest in “good government.”