Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Stranger in a Strange Land: The Curious Life of Ronald Stark Part III

Welcome to the third installment in my examination of the life and times of LSD baron Ronald Hadley Stark, one of the most bizarre figures the 1960s counterculture spawned (which in and of itself is something of an accomplishment). Stark is a difficult figure to get a handle on and I am greatly indebted to the work of Skilluminati for the excellent article published on that website several years ago concerning Stark. Those of you looking for a preview of where this series is headed are strongly advised to check out that piece. But moving along.

During part one I addressed what little is known of his background prior to 1969, with a special emphasis on his alleged ties to the Bellevue Medical Hospital and to possessing patents his father smuggled out of Nazi Germany. With the second installment I noted Stark's obsession with Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and briefly addressed Heinlein's deep background. I also touched upon Stark's time in Paris during May 68, his mingling with radical groups such as the IRA and the Angry Brigade committed to the "armed struggle" and the relationship that developed between the Brotherhood of Eternal Love and the Weather Underground after Stark became involved with the former.

Stark's possible modus operandi? 
At the conclusion of that piece I noted that Stark was the only figured linked to the Brotherhood whom authorities declined to pursue charges against despite his by that time decade-spanning endeavors in the international drug trade. With this piece I'd like to begin addressing Stark's British LSD operations which still have not gained nearly as much attention as his dealings with the legendary Brotherhood of Eternal Love (at least in the US, anyway). So, let us start things off my noting a partnership that developed in 1968 between two figures whom Stark would soon befriend:
"In 1968 Richard Kemp, a Liverpool University science drop-out and his partner, Christine Bott, a doctor of medicine, met David Solomon, the writer on LSD and cannabis research. At Solomon's request Kemp attempt to synthesize THC, the active ingredient of cannabis. This venture failed but in early 1969 they decided to try making LSD after Solomon managed to obtain some ergotamine tartrate. Kemp got to work in a makeshift lab in the shed of his parents' house in Liverpool and succeeded in making dark syrupy acid. Although it was rather poor quality, it was good enough to sell and Kemp decided to have another go a few months later. At this point, summer 1969, Ronald Stark arrived in Solomon's house in Cambridge and introduced himself, saying he had obtained Solomon's address someone he met in Parisian radical circles. Solomon soon told Stark about Kemp's promising work and at Stark's request, invited Kemp to meet 'a man with a million dollar inheritance.' A meeting was convened at Stark's rooms at the Oxford and Cambridge Club on Pall Mall."
(Acid: A New Secret History of LSD, David Black, pg. 119) 

Before we can get on with the fruit's of this meeting, a bit need's to be said about the enigmatic figure of David Solomon. Here's a bit concerning his background:
"David Solomon left the United States with his family in 1966 as a rising authority on drugs. The man who first took mescaline as a magazine assignment after reading Huxley's books turned from jazz criticism to a series of works in which he pulled together and edited the views of artists, philosophers and experimenters on drugs. The books on LSD and marijuana added, for their readers at least, a gloss of respectability to the growing drug culture. Many of them might well grow out of the culture eventually, but Solomon did not. In his early forties he did not shrug aside the faith he had acquired. The psychedelics – to which he had been introduced in the first fevered period of lay interest, becoming part of an LSD pipeline in the IFIF days – were a natural part of an unconventional philosophy he already accepted.
"From the United States the Solomon family moved to Majorca where their friends included the poet Robert Graves. But they did not stay long. Arrested by the police for drug possession, Solomon left the island without paying the court fine. In late 1967, he moved to Britain and settled in Cambridge."
(The Brotherhood of Eternal Love, Stewart Tendler & David May, pgs. 140-141)
Let us pause here so I can make a few points. The above-mentioned IFIF stands for International Federation for Freedom. This organization was a nonprofit group established by Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert probably some time in early 1963. It was a advocacy group for psychedelics and quickly attracted some three-thousand dues paying members. Presumably Solomon was among this group. In summer 1963 the group established its headquarters at a hotel in Zihuatanejo, Mexico and soon drew the ire of local authorities. Some six weeks later they returned to United States after being booted out of Mexico.

It was at this point that Leary encountered the notorious William Mellon Hitchcock (of whom I've written much more on before here) and relocated to the heir's family estate in Millbrook, New York. For a time Leary and his followers would reside here. It was at this location that "Farmer" John Griggs journeyed to speak to Leary before founding the Brotherhood. And it was here a representative of Stark's would travel to and be sent in the direction of the Brotherhood. The go-between was David Solomon, who seems to have been involved with Leary for several years by this point.

"Farmer John Griggs (right) with Leary (center)
Leary was hardly the only acquaintance Solomon had by this point with a interest in psychedelics, however. There's also the curious relationship his family, as noted above, had with the famed poet and mythologist Robert Graves. Graves himself expressed an interest in psychedelics in some of his mythological works such as The White Goddess and The Greek Myths. He also kept some interesting company during his time on Majorca.
"... Graves was a close friend of William Sargant, author of the standard text on mind control and brainwashing, The Battle for the Mind, to which book Graves even contributed a chapter. According to Sargant's introduction, he credits Graves with having encouraged him to complete the work while he stayed at Graves' home in Majorca, Spain..."
(Sinister Forces Book I, Peter Levenda, pg. 91)
Sargant published The Battle for the Mind in 1957, so presumably he would not have been around when the Solomon family was there. But Graves' association with Sargant is none the less interesting in the context of this project. It has of course long been alleged that Sargant had links to MI5 and/or the CIA, but as HP Albarelli noted in A Terrible Mistake, this association has not been conclusively proven. Thus, it seems unlikely that Solomon's relationship with Graves had much bearing on his later endeavors.

This is far from the only brush Solomon had with the US intelligence community, however. Indeed, he had likely been quite active before the family moved to Majorca in the mid-1960s.
"Solomon claimed to be an ex-member of the Communist Party of the United States (CP-US), although when the British police investigated him years later in Operation Julie, they were told by the FBI that this could not be verified. It is worth mentioning here that although by the end of the 1950s CP-US's membership had shrunk to under 5,000 after the Hungarian Revolution and Khrushchev's secret speech, J. Edgar Hoover maintained up to 1,500 FBI informers in the party. If Hoover had been paying 1,500 membership dues for informers, who would have had to prove themselves as good recruiters and paper-sellers, then the FBI must have kept alive American Communism in the middle of the Cold War!
"Inspector Dick Lee of the Operation, Julie squad learned that Solomon had served with the OSS during the Second World War. Solomon had another, later, intelligence connection: he worked for Ronald Stark in the late sixties and early seventies, although there is no evidence that Solomon was working directly for the CIA during this period."
(Acid: A New Secret History of LSD, David Black, pg. 64)
the insignia of the OSS
It should be noted that the OSS conducted limited tests on drugs as "truth serums" during WWII. Some of the drugs considered included mescaline, scopolamine and cannabis. It is unknown whether Solomon had any ties to these tests or whether he was even aware of them. Regardless, he had become a vocal advocate for LSD and cannabis in the early 1960s before such things were exactly common, especially for a middle-aged academic (though hardly unheard of as Leary demonstrates).

But moving along. Shortly after Solomon introduced Stark to the above-mentioned Richard Kemp the chemist would be put to work on producing a batch of LSD. During this period, late 1969/early 1970, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love was still going strong and ties were forged between them and what would become the nucleus of  Britain's so-called "Microdot Gang" that would go on to dominate the LSD trade by the mid-1970s:
"The Great British LSD plot, hatched within weeks of Stark's first meeting with the Brotherhood in California, strengthened its transatlantic dimension when, in autumn 1969, Stark introduced Kemp to the Brotherhood's chemists, Nick Sand and Lester Friedman. Bill Hitchcock and the Brotherhood's other chemist, Tim Scully – who were about to detach themselves from the Brotherhood's activities – came to England to help Sand set up a company named 'Alban Feeds' with two English businessmen...
"The official purpose of the new Alban Feeds company, based in Dunstable, was to develop livestock feed for Third World countries. But the $100,000 the Brotherhood invested in the company was intended for the procurement of materials they needed for making LSD; they wanted five kilos of lysergic acid-base, 20 kilos of ergotamine tartrate, plus a range of other chemicals that were being traded legally. At Christmas 1969, Ron Stark and Richard Kemp took a trip to Morocco, where they drew up a contract of employment for Kemp to work at a laboratory tucked away on the premises of the PACS chemical company in Paris in the 13th Arrondissement. In the first production run, Kemp created a kilo of LSD for export to the USA and in the process had upon a method of making an even stronger and purer formula for future production. He discovered that freezing the solution could greatly speed up the process of making it... 
"In May 1970 Richard Kemp, Ron Stark, Nick Sand and Lester Friedman held talks lasting four days on future plans of the 'Atlantic Brotherhood.' One sensitive point for discussion was a trip to Britain that Kemp and Simon Walton had made from France. They traveled in Stark's Ferrari 250-GT to buy an infra-red spectrometer but had been pulled by customs, who checked out Walton and discovered he had a heroin conviction. The car was searched, but the customs failed to see the significance of documents on the backseat relating to the purchase of a massive nine kilos of ergotamine tartrate.
"Kemp was beginning to wonder if his freedom might be one of Stark's lesser concerns. Kemp had now been assigned to work on Stark's project for a new synthesis of THC, which he hoped would be as strong as LSD and eventually as cheap to make. With a huge acid production-run just completed, Kemp was not happy about doing all of the work in the lab on night-shift, while Stark and friends were out having fun and adventures, and when money promised to Kemp was not forthcoming. To make matters even less bearable, Stark made clear his disapproval of visits from Christine Bott and Kemp felt 'sexually harassed' by Stark, which may only have been hetero-sexist paranoia.
"According to an informant of the police Operation Julie squad, later set up to investigate LSD production, one of the major Brotherhood figures visited Stark and Kemp in Paris and advised them to clean up; they did and the Paris laboratory ceased operating from that time. When Stark transferred the work to another laboratory in Orleans, France, Kemp found conditions even less palatable and decided to quit.
"Stark had claimed he had been warned of US Drug Enforcement Agency interest in his Paris operation by a source in the US, and by an 'old pal' he said worked with the CIA station at the London Embassy. In the latter case Stark apparently had a 'chance' meeting with the agent, who told him there was 'impending trouble' for him in Paris.
"Did the CIA below a DEA operation to save Stark? According to a classified document released under the US Freedom of Information Act, not only did the CIA have an interest in the drugs trade during this period, the agency also kept a close eye on the activities of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (later renamed the Drug Enforcement Agency). The CIA memo said: 'It appears that the activities of the BNDD, ongoing and planned, could, under the appropriate arrangements, provide valuable information to the agency... For this reason, they will be followed very closely.'"
(Acid: A New Secret History of LSD, David Black, pgs. 120-122)
Nick Sand, one of the Brotherhood members who worked with what would become the "Microdot Gang" during their early days
Indeed, there were a lot of shenanigans the CIA was playing in relation to the BNDD/DEA during this period (which never really stopped, actually) and France (specifically the Corsican Mafia) was an especially hot spot during the early 1970s. But such a topic is far beyond the scope of this series, though the curious reader is advised to consult The Great Heroin Coup and/or either of Douglas Valentine's histories of the BNDD/DEA for further details. Moving along.

This was reportedly the end of Kemp's association with Stark yet Kemp would go into business with David Solomon again and Solomon in turn would continue to have ties with Stark. At one point Solomon's behavior became so brash that Stark was called in to temporarily remove Solomon, whom he greatly disliked, from Kemp's operation. During this time Stark was also in contact with Stephen Abrams, the founder of the cannabis lobby group SOMA whom Solomon and Kemp had been involved with. SOMA also had ties to highly reputable figures such as the legendary physicist Francis Crick and the radical psychiatrist R.D. Laing. Stark was able to procure an audience with the latter via Abrams and made a modest proposal to Laing:
"Abrams told me: 'The Stark business culminated when I arranged for him to be analyzed by Ronnie Laing. It was at Stark's request. He was interested in what Laing would do with him and also what he could get out of Laing. So at a certain point Stark insisted on taking acid with Ronnie and Utta Laing.
"'I think Utta took a small dose of 150 to 200 "mikes" (micrograms), Stark took a large dose of 300 or 500 and insisted that Laing take a huge dose, though actually even a large dose of acid just tends to start off the process. The three of them have this trip, and at the top of the trip Stark makes his pitch.
 "'I heard this from all three participants – from Ronnie, Utta and from Stark – they all told the same story. Stark said that Leary was on the run; Leary' story was over and Leary wasn't the right chap; they wanted Laing to take over, not as hired help but as Boss.
"'All the pharmaceutical companies, all the protected investments would come under his control. If he agreed he was now worth 50 million dollars and everybody worked for him, including Stark – that's the way Stark put it. Then to cap it off Stark said, "Look, respectfully Ronnie, what are your orders?" And Ronnie said to Stark, "Get the fuck out of my house!" He threw him bodily into the street as he was well known to do to people sometimes.'"
(Acid: A New Secret History, David Black, pgs. 124-125)
Laing is an interesting figure we should consider for a moment. Here's a bit about his background and work:
"The surrealist perspective is echoed in that of Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing who, in his controversial and thought-provoking essay The Politics of Experience, makes many of the same points concerning schizophrenia and the possibilities of spiritual growth through madness. It should be noted that Laing also began his medical career in the army, in this case the British Army, where he worked as a psychiatrist before going on to the Tavistock Clinic. Laing agrees with the surrealists when he states that '... we are bemused and crazed creatures, strangers to our true selves, to one another, and to the spiritual and material world – mad, even, from an ideal standpoint we can glimpse but not adopt,' and, 'We are potentially men, but in an alienated state, and the state is not simply a natural system.' The Politics of Experience includes a final section, entitled 'The Bird of Paradise,' that would have satisfied many a surrealist, as it seems to be a free-association-like account of the journey into and out of madness..."
(Sinister Forces Book III, Peter Levenda, pgs. 100-101)
A bit more on Laing's ideology:
"... Dr. R. D. Laing's work at the Tavistock Institute, which involved experimental treatment with LSD. When Laing began his career in mental hospitals in the fifties, he was appalled by the way schizophrenics were so casually subjected to insulin injections and lobotomy. He found that by listening to schizophrenics 'talking to themselves', he could begin to make sense of what they were saying within the existential context of their family relationships and their experience of mental institutions which are often perceived as scary, uncomprehending set-ups that serve to increase the pressure to withdraw into oneself.
"In Laing's view, psychiatrists tended to operate as an elite police force employed to 'punish' by means of treatment those who society judged to be other than 'normal'. Schizophrenia, he argued, was in reality a psychosis; worse still, it was all too often an 'iatrogenic' disease, ie caused by the cure.
"In applying LSD in experimental therapy for schizophrenics at Kingsley Hall, the Scottish psychiatrist began to see madness as a journey toward sanity. The LSD treatment suggested to him that the patient, freed of ego by the experience, could re-engage with a lost world of repressed childhood memories. In The Politics of Experience, Laing argued that 'we can no longer assume that such a voyage is an illness'; rather it was 'itself a natural way of healing our own appalling state of alienation called normality.'"
(Acid: A New Secret History of LSD, David Black, pgs. 62-63)

Its easy to see why Stark had Laing pegged as a replacement for Leary, though Laing's ideology was even more democratic.
"Leary, however, was 'dismayed' by Laing's belief that insanity was a creative resolution of emotional conflicts. In Leary's view human evolution depended 'on finding and training the intelligent ones who will guide the species forward.' In this respect, Leary's position was similar to Aldous Huxley's..."
(Acid: A New Secret History of LSD, David Black, pg. 63)
Tavistock Institute, where Laing worked for so many years, is a favorite bugaboo of the conspiratorial right. The driving force behind these allegations is a former British intelligence agent named John Coleman. Coleman pegged Tavistock as the world's premier mind control institute and argued, with no supporting evidence, that it had created the 1960s counterculture as a means of controlling the masses.

While its entirely possible Tavistock played some type of role in Britain's behavioral modification experiments, this researcher has found no references to it in any of the scholarly accounts (i.e. John Marks, H.P. Albarreli, Gordon Thomas, etc) of the US intelligence community's work in similar fields. Nor has he found any mention of Laing.

And here we have Laing seemingly being offered to be set up as the (public) kingpin of the international LSD trade by Stark. Given how Leary ended up in a similar role, Laing probably made a wise decision in showing Stark the door. Given the scope of the criminal activities Stark was engaged in by this point Laing surely would have ended up imprisoned and discredited as well. But then again, that was likely the idea.

This was not the last time that an attempt was made to link Laing to this network either. When Operation Julie was rounding up Kemp's network Laing's name again came up.
"One evening in 1977, following the arrests in March, Lee contacted R. D. Laing and Steve Abrams through Bing Spear at the home office to suggest a 'social' get-together. Lee and Sergeant Allen Buxton, a former drummer with Georgie Fame's band, came round to Laing's home and announced that although both Laing and Abrams had been 'in the frame' at one stage in the investigation, they were now happily off the hook.
 "The police had been interested in both Abrams and Laing because of their long time association with David Solomon. Solomon's old friend, Gerry Thomas, had told Canadian police that Solomon 'was a member of an exclusive intellectual circle surrounding Dr. Ronald D. Laing, a top psychiatrist...', and that Christine Bott had attended Laing's seminars.
"Around that time, Laing was picked up by the Metropolitan Police. According to Abrams, Lee told them that they were 'in the clear' as far as Operation Julie was concerned but 'someone in the Met' had it in for the doctor:
"'I remember Laing calling me up to say he had been arrested; he stayed the night and then went off to court with me need the next morning. He was saying, "But I'm a famous psychiatrist, they can't do this to me".'
"The Met. had seized about 150 bottles of Czechoslovak LSD, but they were all tiny one-dose units of 150 micrograms, used for one small trip of acid. They had been supplied to Laing on license by the Ministry of Health to use with his patients, so he was in legal possession. The LSD turned out to be inert; Laing had forgotten about them. The case against him was dropped and he was awarded 500 pounds costs..."
 (Acid: A New SEcret History of LSD, David Black, pgs. 146-147)
Stephen Abrams, who also seems to have been targeted by Stark
So here we have Laing allegedly part of a circle featuring David Solomon, a former OSS officer and some time associate of Ronald Stark. And then, in the midst of Operation Julie, an attempt is made to bust Laing on inert LSD supplied to him by the Ministry of Health. Indeed, it does seem like someone had it out for Liang and that there were repeated attempts to discredit the controversial psychiatrist. But then again, the same could be said of so many individuals and organizations that became linked to the counterculture.

And it is here that I shall wrap things up for now. In the next installment I shall finish up with Operation Julie and the Microdot Gang and then move along to Stark's curious time in Italy. Stay tuned dear readers.


  1. Interesting stuff. Can't find parts 1 and 2 anywhere.

    1. Part 1