Fear and loathing at the National Archives
Today’s post is written by College Park archivist Kylene Tucker.
As part of my ADP (Archivist Development Program) rotation with the FOIA staff, I reviewed the FBI case file of Hunter S. Thompson from the Denver Field Office. The file covers 1965-1971 when Thompson lived in Colorado briefly, moved to California, and then returned to Woody Creek, a small town outside of Aspen, Colorado. Thompson, often associated with gonzo journalism, gained national prominence after publishing a book about the year and a half that he had spent with the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang, entitled Hell’s Angels (1966).
Much of the material in the file concerns Thompson’s race for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado in 1970. Initially, Thompson did not consider himself a serious candidate for the position, but instead, a foil for the candidates for county commissioner and coroner. Thompson believed that the more absurd his positions appeared, the more palatable the other two candidates would seem by comparison. To the dismay of some town leaders, Thompson gained a slight lead over his competition and garnered national attention. The documents in the file explain his positions and his “Freak Power” platform. Included is a Washington Post article entitled “Hippies May Elect Sheriff,” which argued that the population of young, relative newcomers to Aspen were swaying the election in Thompson’s favor. Thompson’s campaign promises included ripping up the pavement in Aspen’s downtown area and laying sod on the streets as well as changing Aspen’s name by referendum to “Fat City” to dissuade those who would exploit the area and its image. In the end, Thompson lost the election for sheriff.
While living in Colorado, Thompson was part of the bi-monthly publication The Aspen Wallposter. The case file contains two of these publications, namely no. 4 and no. 7. The publications were of particular interest to the FBI because of their comments on law enforcement and the FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover. The no. 7 edition alleges that a “good friend” of President Nixon and some “freelance FBI agents” stopped the distribution of the original No. 5 edition by threatening workers at the printing plant and stealing the copies.
The remainder of the file includes Department of Motor Vehicles records and FBI memorandums establishing Thompson’s place of residence. By February 1971, the FBI saw no further need for investigation into Thompson and placed the file in a closed status. The last few documents of the file refer to an anonymous letter alleging that Thompson had a criminal record in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.