Hunter S. Thompson
The godfather of gonzo says 9/11 caused a “nationwide
nervous breakdown” — and let the Bush crowd loot the
country and savage American democracy.
By John Glassie, Salon
Feb. 3, 2003 | He calls himself “an elderly dope fiend
living out in the wilderness,” but Hunter S. Thompson
will also be found this week on the New York Times
bestseller list with a new memoir, “Kingdom of Fear:
Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final
Days of the American Century.”
Listening to his ragged voice, there is some sense that
Thompson, now 65, has reined in his outlaw ways, gotten
a little softer, perhaps a little more gracious now
that he’s reached retirement age. “I’ve found you can
deal with the system a lot easier if you use their
rules,” he says. “I talk to a lot of lawyers.”
But do not be deceived. In “Kingdom of Fear” and in a
telephone interview with Salon from his compound in
Aspen, Colo., Thompson did what he’s always done: speak
the truth about American society as he sees it, without
worrying much about decorum. “Who does vote for these
dishonest shitheads?” he writes, referring to the
people currently occupying the White House. “They are
the racists and hate mongers among us — they are the
Ku Klux Klan. I piss down the throats of these Nazis.”
That’s his enduring attitude in this new age of
darkness: a lot more loathing than fear.
Q: Your author blurb says you live in “a fortified
compound near Aspen, Colorado.” In what sense is it
fortified and why does it need to be?
A: Actually, I live in an extremely pastoral setting in an
old log house. It’s a farm really. I moved here 30 years
ago. I think the only fortification might be my
reputation. If people believe they’re going to be shot,
they might stay away.
… Do I have any illegal weapons? No. I have a .454 magnum
revolver, which is huge, and it’s absolutely legal. One
day I was wild-eyed out here with Johnny Depp, and we
both ordered these guns from Freedom, Wyo., and got
them the next day through FedEx. Mainly, I have rifles,
pistols, shotguns; I have a lot of those. But everything
I have is top quality; I don’t have any junk weapons. I
wouldn’t have any military weapon around here, except
as an artifact of some kind. Given Ashcroft and the
clear blueprint of this administration to make
everything illegal and everything suspicious — how
about suspicion of being a terrorist sympathizer?
Goddamn, talk about filling up your concentration
camps. But, yeah, my police record is clean. This is
not a fortified compound.
Q: I assume you’ve taken a side in the civil
liberties debate that’s come up in the aftermath of
A: It’s a disaster of unthinkable proportions — part of
the downward spiral of dumbness. Civil liberties are
black and white issues. I don’t think people think far
enough to see the ramifications. The PATRIOT Act was a
dagger in the heart, really, of even the concept of a
democratic government that is free, equal and just.
There are a lot more concentration camps right now than
Guantanamo Bay. But they’re not marked. Now, every jail,
every bush-league cop can run a concentration camp. It
amounts to a military and police takeover, I think.
Q: Well, as some have pointed out, Lincoln suspended
habeas corpus during the Civil War. Is some suspension
of civil liberties ever appropriate or justified in a
time of war?
A: If there’s a visible, obvious threat like Hitler, but
in my mind the administration is using these bogeymen
for their own purposes. This military law is nothing
like the Constitution. They’re exploiting the formula
here: The people are afraid of something and you offer
a solution, however drastic, and they go along with it.
For a while, yeah. My suspicions are more justified
every day with this manufacturing of dangerous killer
villains. The rest of the world does not perceive, I
don’t think, that some tin-horn dictator in the Middle
East is more of a danger to the world than the U.S. is.
This country depends on war as a primary industry. The
White House has pumped up the danger factor because
it’s to their advantage. It’s to John Ashcroft’s
advantage. There have always been pros and cons about
the righteousness of life in America but this just
seems planned, it seems consistent, and it seems
Q: What do they get out of it?
They get control of the U.S. economy, their friends get
rich. These are not philosopher-kings we’re talking
about. These are politicians. It’s a very sleazy way of
using the system. One of the problems today is that
what’s going on today is not as complex as it seems.
The Pentagon just asked for another $14 billion more in
the budget, and it’s already $28 billion. [Defense
spending in the 2003 budget rose $19.4 billion, to
$364.6 billion]. That’s one sector of the economy
that’s not down the tubes. So, some people are getting
rich off of this. It’s the oligarchy. I believe the
Republicans have never thought that democracy was
anything but a tribal myth. The GOP is the party of
capital. It’s pretty basic. And it may have something
to do with the deterioration of educational system in
this country. I don’t think Bush has the slightest
intention or concern about educating the public.
Q: Well, what do you prescribe? What do you advocate?
A: All the blood is drained out of democracy — it dies —
when only half the population votes. I would use the
vote. It would seem to me that people who have been
made afraid, if you don’t like what’s happening, if you
don’t want to go to war, if you don’t want to be broke,
well for God’s sake don’t go out and vote for the very
bastards who are putting you there. That’s a pillar of
any democratic future in this country. The party of
capital is not interested in having every black person
in Louisiana having access to the Ivy League. They
don’t need an educated public.
Q: So what took place during this past election?
I believe the Republicans have seen what they’ve
believed all along, which is that this democracy stuff
is bull, and that people don’t want to be burdened by
political affairs. That people would rather just be
taken care of. The oligarchy doesn’t need an educated
public. And maybe the nation does prefer tyranny. I
think that’s what worries me. It goes back to Fourth
Amendment issues. How much do you value your freedom?
Would you trade your freedom for some illusion of
security? Freedom is something that dies unless it’s
Q: Why would anybody listen to you?
A: I don’t have to apologize for any political judgments
I’ve made. The stuff I wrote in the ’60s and ’70s was
astonishingly accurate. I may have been a little rough
on Nixon, but he was rough. You had to do it with him.
What you believe has to be worth something. I’ve never
given it a lot of thought: I’ve never hired people to
figure out what I should do about my image. I always
work the same way, and talk the same way, and I’ve been
right enough that I stand by my record.
This country has been having a nationwide nervous
breakdown since 9/11. A nation of people suddenly
broke, the market economy goes to shit, and they’re
threatened on every side by an unknown, sinister enemy.
But I don’t think fear is a very effective way of
dealing with things — of responding to reality. Fear
is just another word for ignorance.
Q: You’ve also referred to your beat as the “Death of the
American Dream.” That was the ostensible “subject” of
“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Has it just sort of
been on its deathbed since 1968?
A: I think that’s right.
Q: A lot of people would argue with you about that anyway,
and believe that the American Dream is alive and well.
A: They need to take a better look around.
Q: But in a way, haven’t you lived the American Dream?
A: Goddammit! [pause] I haven’t thought about it that way.
I suppose you could say that in a certain way I have.
“I do not advocate the use of dangerous drugs, wild amounts of alcohol and
violence and weirdness — but they’ve always worked for me.”