The life and times of High Times’ enigmatic founder Thomas King Forçade, an underground newspaper editor and marijuana kingpin who—between police raids, smuggling runs, and outrageous stunts—battled both the US government and fellow radicals.
Cover illustration by legendary comics artist Bill Sienkiewicz.
At the end of the 1960s, the mysterious Tom Forçade suddenly appeared, insinuating himself into the top echelons of countercultural politics and assuming control of the Underground Press Syndicate, a coalition of newspapers across the country. Weathering government surveillance and harassment, he embarked on a landmark court battle to obtain White House press credentials. But his audacious exploits—pieing Congressional panelists, stealing presidential portraits, and picking fights with other activists—led to accusations that he was an agent provocateur.
As the era of protest faded and the dark shadows of Watergate spread, Forçade hoped that marijuana could be the path to cultural and economic revolution. Bankrolled by drug-dealing profits, High Times would be the Playboy of pot, dragging a once-taboo subject into the mainstream. The magazine was a travelogue of globe-trotting adventure, a wellspring of news about “the business,” and an overnight success. But High Times soon threatened to become nothing more than the “hip capitalism” Forçade had railed against for so long, and he felt his enemies closing in.
Assembled from exclusive interviews, archived correspondences, and declassified documents, Agents of Chaos is a tale of attacks on journalism, disinformation campaigns, governmental secrecy, corporatism, and political factionalism. Its triumphs and tragedies mirror the cultural transformations of 1970s America, wrought by forces that continue to clash in the spaces between activism and power.
Proving that truth can be stranger than fiction, this rollicking history from journalist Howe (Marvel Comics) details the exploits of Thomas King Forçade, who ran the Underground Press Syndicate ("a consortium of the largest and most influential independent" counterculture newspapers) in the 1970s and founded High Times magazine in 1974. Forçade's coverage, Howe notes, often focused on marijuana, exploring how the use of herbicides on Mexican marijuana fields posed health risks to smokers and stirring up outrage over the 1971 arrest of legalization activist Dana Beal. Forçade and his cohort endured FBI surveillance, police raids, and legal troubles, including Forçade's arrest for protesting Richard Nixon's 1972 renomination in Miami, which only hardened Forçade's antiestablishment convictions. Howe offers a nuanced portrait of his subject, finding amusement in Forçade's zany escapades (he once evaded a police raid at the High Times office by escaping to the roof and jumping to a neighboring building) while pointing out his sometimes muddled logic ("We don't break any laws or confront the establishment," Forçade once said while heading the United Press Syndicate, despite having moonlighted as a drug runner). This captures the freewheeling spirit of the counterculture's troubled march through the 1970s.