‘Freak Power’: What Hunter S. Thompson’s fight to fix American politics can teach us in 2020

It was a billy club to the gut that convinced Hunter S. Thompson it was time to get personally involved in politics. After being beaten and tear-gassed by police thugs during the anti-war protests which surrounded the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, the inventor of gonzo journalism returned to his home in Woody Creek, just outside Aspen, Colorado, a changed man. “I went to the Democratic Convention as a journalist, and returned a raving beast,” he later wrote. “Suddenly, it seemed imperative to get a grip on those who had somehow slipped into power and caused the thing to happen.”

Thompson was also disturbed by the environmental destruction he saw happening around him in the Rocky Mountains, so the question he found himself posing half a century ago became one many of us are still asking today: in the face of obvious police brutality and the shadow of ecological disaster, how do we wrest control of power from those too corrupt to care? The answer Thompson came up with was a radical, local political campaign he termed ‘Freak Power’, and a run to be elected Sheriff of Aspen and the surrounding Pitkin County in 1970 under the banner of a six-fingered fist clutching a peyote button.

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