HASHISH, HAWAII & THE HIPPIE MAFIA
Updated: Nov 22, 2020
The life and crimes of Travis Ashbrook—founding member of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love.
When discussing the history of cannabis in America—or drug culture in general, for that matter—it’s impossible to overstate the influence and impact of The Brotherhood of Eternal Love. In the span of just a few short years (1966-1972), this handful of stoner surfer buddies from Laguna Beach had transformed into the largest drug syndicate on earth—dubbed by Rolling Stone magazine “The Hippie Mafia.” Producing and distributing tens of millions of doses of LSD, they were sacred psychedelic warriors on a mission to turn on the world. From Charles Manson to Timothy Leary, the Grateful Dead to Jimi Hendrix, Newport Pop to Altamont…so many iconic aspects of the counterculture connect back in some way to the Brotherhood and the infamous acid they distributed, Orange Sunshine. The Brotherhood’s grand vision was made possible in large part by one of their founding members—and arguably the most notorious hashish smuggler in US history—Travis Ashbrook.
THE BROTHERHOOD BEGINS
As a teenager in Orange County, Travis was making and repairing surfboards out of his parent’s garage while still in high school before eventually opening a small surf shop on Laguna Beach. He smoked his first joint with his buddy Buddha in 1963 and was immediately hooked. He started making regular surf trips down to Mexico and bringing weed back with him. By the age of 17, he was smuggling kilos back from Tijuana into Tecate every weekend and selling them to other dealers—such as a local acid connection known as The Witchdoctor. It was at Witchdoctor’s place up in Seal Beach in 1964 that Travis reconnected with a fellow teen pot dealer named Johnny Griggs.
Part of a local hotrod gang called the Street Sweepers, "Farmer John" Griggs was a notorious boozer, brawler, and heroin user. But after robbing a stash of LSD from the home of a Hollywood producer, he tripped out for the first time and had a spiritual epiphany. Overwhelmed by his experience of "God-consciousness,” Griggs returned the stolen acid, gave up his gangbanger ways, and devoted himself to proselytizing on behalf of LSD. He began taking small groups out into the woods every Sunday and leading them on guided trips. Travis had also experienced “death of the ego” moments while tripping before, but it wasn’t until he accompanied Griggs on these excursions that he began to find meaning in the experience. Believing that LSD was the ultimate tool for human enlightenment, Griggs—along with his wife Carol, friends Michael Randall, Ricky and Ron Bevans, Chuck Mundell, Travis, and a number of others—made it their sacred mission to turn on the world. They decided to form a new religion dedicated to truth, love, peace, and oneness for all, which Mundell christened “The Brotherhood of Eternal Love.”
On October 26th, 1966 (just 20 days after California became the first state to make LSD illegal) the Brotherhood incorporated themselves as a non-profit, then rented an old stone house in Modjeska Canyon and made it their church. Before long they were cranking out their own acid, and Griggs’ trip sessions had expanded into groups of 50-100 people.
In the fall of 1967, at the urging of guru friend Richard Alpert (a.k.a. Ram Dass), they rented a storefront at 670 South Coast Highway and opened a huge psychedelic emporium—selling books, hippie clothing, drug paraphernalia, and health food, as well as offering a juice bar, meditation room, art gallery and more. Mystic Arts World, as they called it, quickly became the biggest headshop in SoCal–earning it the nickname “Haight Ashbury South.”
With hordes of hippies moving into the area, they soon took over a small neighborhood off Laguna Canyon Road which Griggs nicknamed Dodge City. Dodge City became such a psychedelic hotspot that in Winter 1967, Griggs even persuaded acid’s patron saint himself Timothy Leary to come live there with them.
The Brotherhood’s plan was never to get rich from selling acid, but rather to facilitate an evolution of human consciousness by giving it away to as many people as possible. But to turn on the masses, they’d need to produce hundreds of millions of hits of acid—and to do that, they’d need money. The best way to fund their revolution, they decided, was by smuggling marijuana and hashish. That’s where Travis came in.
“I was the hash guy,” Ashbrook attests with a smile. “That was my thing.”
THE HASH GUY
Travis first fell in love with hash during his high school days at the Golden Bear—a famous bar in Huntington Beach where surf guitar king Dick Dale used to perform. From 1963-65, Travis worked there as a stage manager and drug dealer to the musicians (he turned The Monkees’ Peter Tork on to acid). Like LSD, hashish was scarce and expensive in the mid-1960s—a problem he hoped to rectify.
“I was always looking for it…you just couldn’t find it anywhere,” laments Ashbrook. “So I finally got to thinking, you know what? Let’s just go get some of this for ourselves!”
After a bit of research, he hatched a bold plan: fly to Europe, buy a car, drive to Istanbul, fill the door panels with hash (as he did with weed back in Mexico), and ship the car back home. He raised $5000 from the crew and he and fellow Brother Ricky Bevans took off on their hashish hunt. In winter 1967, they booked a flight from LA to NY, then an Icelandic Air prop plane to Luxembourg, then a train to Munich where they bought a brand new Ford Taunus for $500 and hit the road for Turkey: up through the Alps into Austria and down through Yugoslavia. Just before crossing the border into Greece, they picked up a hitchhiking hippie couple. While sharing a joint, they told the couple of their plans and were offered a bit of advice.
“You don’t want to get your hash in Turkey—the stuff’s not that good and it’s expensive,” the hitchhiker cautioned them. “You wanna go to Afghanistan. Don’t even bother to score any hash until you get to Kandahar—get it there.”
Travis had no clue where Afghanistan was, but after sampling a variety of different hashes in Istanbul, he was convinced. He and Bevans dropped the couple off and headed into Iran, where they ran into some trouble: first, their car broke down in Tehran, then Travis got sick with dysentery in Mashhad. After two weeks in the desert, they finally made it to Kandahar—but still had no idea where to find any hash. Luckily, it found them.
“We were standing in line at a fruit stand at the center of the city, and I see this Afghani guy in a turban start walking towards us,” Travis recalls. “He comes right up to me and goes, ‘Do you guys wanna buy some fine Afghan shit?’”
That guy’s name was Nazrullah Tokhi. Nazrullah led them to his little clothing shop where they met his brother Hayatullah, who offered them a sweet deal on some primo hash.
“We’d come there planning to get 10 kilos, but we ended up trading them the car—which was trashed at that point—for 50 kilos of hash,” Ashbrook says. “We still had a lot of money left because everything was so cheap there, so we ended up buying a bunch of strange antique musical instruments and stuffing them with the hash. We packed all of the stuff up with some furs in a big crate and shipped it back to California as unaccompanied baggage.”
After that, they hopped one of the first flights out of Kandahar’s new airport to Frankfurt, then on to LA. The package arrived the day after they got back, where Ricky’s brother Ron was waiting to pick it up. Despite a very close call with customs, the load made it through.
“We thought we’d be coming back with 22 pounds, but we came back with 88 pounds so everybody was really excited,” Ashbrook recalls. “We split it up—each of us and the five investors got 13 pounds, and everyone in the Brotherhood got a pound each.”
Travis had paid approximately $4 per kilo for the best hash in the world, or around $200 for the entire load. Back in Cali, they could sell a single pound for four times what they paid for all 88 pounds! The deal was so lucrative that he started shipping loads of hash back from Kandahar every six months—almost always in vehicles, and almost always from the Tokhi brothers. That went on for years, with loads eventually reaching up to 500 pounds per run.
During these early Kandahar runs in 1968, Travis also brought back a few Afghani chillums (hookahs)—two of which we’ve acquired for our collection . They each have a traditional hand-beaded bamboo stem, a ceramic bowl at the top (called a sarhana), and a ceramic base. One of the bowls is wrapped with beaded chainmail to prevent it from exploding from the heat; the other bowl, and both of the bases, are all replicas Travis made out of pottery during the late 1980s.
“Everybody back in Dodge City had one of these pipes in their house,” Travis remembers. “It got to the point where, when you got up in the morning, instead of having your morning coffee you smoked the big pipe. We'd all get together at someone's house in the morning, sit around, and take our chance at the big pipe. Instead of your turn, it was your chance.”
In spring of 1968, the Brotherhood bought a big property up in the San Jacinto Mountains near Idyllwild known to locals as Fobes Ranch and turned it into their new communal compound and headquarters. Only couples from the inner circle moved there—including Leary, who Travis grew close with and looked up to as a sort of far-out father figure. These were great times for the Brotherhood—hash was flowing in, acid was flowing out, and everybody was living their best life.
That summer, the Newport Pop Festival was held in Laguna Beach featuring some of the biggest names in rock music, and Mystic Arts ran the juice stand at the show (you can guess what was in that juice). There were also visits to the ranch from counterculture celebrities like Ken Kesey, The Moody Blues (who had written a song about Leary), and even the Rolling Stones (who never quite found their way up to the house).
But by far the most consequential happening that summer was the partnership the Brotherhood formed with chemists Nick Sand and Tim Scully, who enlisted them to be the exclusive distributors of their new, ultra-potent LSD which Griggs named Orange Sunshine. Virtually overnight, Orange Sunshine took the counterculture by storm. In little over a month, they had produced around four million hits and were handing them out like candy.
From the surf scene there in Laguna, up to the Grateful Dead scene in the Haight, back East to New York, across the pond to Europe and Asia, and practically everywhere in between—the whole world seemed to be tripping out on what Randall referred to as the “Coca Cola of LSD.” Sadly though, Sunshine didn’t affect everyone in a positive way: it was credited with amplifying the hostility of the Hells Angels at the ill-fated Altamont concert and allegedly inspiring the Manson Family’s horrific murder of Sharon Tate. Nevertheless, for better or worse, Orange Sunshine had become a household name…and the Brotherhood’s trademark.
In early 1969, as Travis was about to set off on another run to Kandahar, a friend asked him to bring along a couple of surfboards he’d hollowed out. Brotherhood member Mike Hynson (one of the top surfers in the world) had come up with the idea years earlier—hollowing out long compartments down the middles of surfboards and smuggling Nepalese temple balls from India to Hawaii inside.
Travis agreed, took the two boards with him to Kandahar and filled them with about 10 pounds of fresh hashish each, then shipped them back along with a car. The car (which had about 500 pounds in it) made it back fine—unfortunately, the boards were another matter.
“It was just bad luck,” Travis says. “The boards came into New York during an airline strike and they sat outside in a freight yard for a couple of weeks. The sun heated them up, and the hash started to mold and ferment and rot. The boards swelled up, and the hash got loose. So when the strike was over and they went to load them onto the plane, the hash rattled around and they found it.”
Customs officials helped Travis load the boards onto his car, then secretly followed him with a plane and a caravan of vehicles back to the ranch where they busted him. Luckily, the agents had no idea about the Brotherhood or Leary being up there at that point, so Travis was the only Brother busted. To post his bail, Griggs put up the ranch as collateral.
In the summer of 1969, the Brotherhood’s utopian hippie dream began to disintegrate. In May, Leary announced his run for governor of California in front of Mystic Arts World, drawing unwanted attention to the Brotherhood. Within weeks, Mystic Arts World was burned to the ground—allegedly by the John Birch Society, a radical right-wing group whose members were on the Laguna city council.
Next, on July 14, Ricky Bevan’s underage girlfriend Charlene Almeida accidentally drowned in a pond on the ranch while tripping, causing Leary to be arrested on “corruption of a minor” charges. Less than a week later, the ranch was raided—resulting in five more arrests and the seizing of large quantities of pot, hash, and LSD. Then on August 3, tragedy struck again when the Brotherhood’s 26-year-old hippie messiah Johnny Griggs died suddenly of an accidental overdose of synthetic psilocybin.
After Griggs’ death, the ranch was all but abandoned, and the fate of the Brotherhood was suddenly thrown into question. Five months later, Leary was sentenced to ten years for possession of two roaches, and ten more years for another previous pot charge. Not wanting to see their beloved guru rot in prison, the Brotherhood decided to break him out. They spent over six months formulating a plan, then paid radical leftist group the Weathermen (aka Weather Underground) around $20,000 to execute it—allegedly coordinating it all through the Black Panthers and their mutual lawyer Michael Kennedy (who would later represent High Times founder Tom Forcade). Leary escaped on September 13, 1970, and was spirited off to Algeria and into hiding.
With both of the Brotherhood’s spiritual leaders now gone, and prison time for his surfboard bust looming on the horizon, Ashbrook did what any good outlaw would do—he skipped bail and went on the lam.
HENDRIX IN HAWAII
By the fall of 1969, Travis and a few others from the Brotherhood all migrated to Maui, where Hyson and Mundell had already been living since late 1967. Hynson—who had starred in the surfer movie Endless Summer a few years earlier—was collaborating on a new hippie art film that would eventually become the cult classic Rainbow Bridge.
In July 1970, they brought Jimi Hendrix out to the island to perform a free live concert for the film on the slopes of Mt. Haleakala volcano. The Brotherhood had their own tent on the side of the stage during the show, and Travis got to know and get high with the guitar legend during his visit.
“When Jimi came to the island, he hung out with the Brotherhood.” Travis brags. “He hung out with us for a couple of weeks before the concert…he was at our houses every day smoking the pipe.”
According to Ashbrook, Hendrix only played three songs at the show before walking off stage and back to his tent. With a crowd of 10,000 plus high-ass hippies growing restless, Travis tried to persuade Hendrix to get back on stage by offering him some crystal acid. Hendrix was reluctant, so to show Jimi it was “no big deal,” Travis snorted a big line of the crystal. Jimi still wouldn’t take any but did agree to go back out for an extended encore.
“I snorted it and he says, ‘Damn—I'll play for you guys anytime!’ Then he gets up and goes back out on stage.” Unfortunately, Travis never got to see the performance.
“My buddy Johnny Daw says, ‘Do you know how much acid you just took?!?'" Travis remembers. “I said, no—I didn’t even really think about it. He said, ‘You just took well over a hundred hits man! You better go sit down somewhere!’"
"A dose was 200 micrograms—which you can’t even see with the naked eye—and I’d snorted a whole line! Plus I’d already taken a couple of hits and some mescaline earlier that day. I went and laid down, and I can remember him starting to play...and the next thing I know I’m waking up and it’s dark out, and everybody's gone."
Sadly, that would be Jimi’s last recorded American concert—two weeks later, he was dead.
While on the island, Ashbrook decided to expand his smuggling efforts by bringing in a load of weed from Mexico. He took a crew of four guys, headed down to St. Thomas, and bought a 60-foot schooner appropriately named the Aafje (“Affie”); though its name is actually Dutch, it sounds like it's short for “Afghanistan.” They spent about a month fixing it up, then sailed it over to Guadalajara, loaded it up with 5000 pounds of “really good weed,” and sailed it back to Maui.
“We unloaded it at McKenna beach in broad daylight,” he laughs. “There were like 300 naked hippies living on the beach back then, and they were all just standing there yelling and cheering as we were loading the dingy up and bringing big gunny sacks of weed ashore.” (It was from this load of primo Mexi weed, crossed with seeds from an Afghani load, that the legendary Maui Wowie strain was later born.)
Ashbrook planned to sell that weed, then use the money to buy an even bigger load of Afghani hash—like three or four tons—and sail the boat from Honolulu harbor to Karachi, Pakistan, and back with the load. But before he could set off on the job, he learned from his lawyer that the final appeal on his surfboard conviction had run out and he was forced to flee. On May 1, 1971—the very day he was supposed to turn himself in to go to prison—Travis took off for Honduras. There, he bought a dive resort off the coast and spent over a year laying low…and of course, running hash.
FALL OF THE BROTHERHOOD
It was in 1972 that the Brotherhood’s entheogenic empire finally came crashing down. First, in January, the Feds busted a Brotherhood load of over 1300 pounds of hash in Portland, Oregon—the largest quantity ever seized in the US. A month later, another 729 pounds were seized in Vancouver, Canada. Then on August 5, the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (precursor to the DEA) executed the largest drug raid in American history against the Brotherhood. Operation BEL, as they called it, was a multi-state, multi-agency operation that executed warrants in Hawaii, Oregon, and California (including the ranch in Idyllwild) that resulted in 57 arrests and the seizure of around $8 million in drugs.