The High Times Freedom Fighters was a marijuana legalization group started by High Times Editor-in-Chief Steven Hager in 1987. The group was famous for marching into marijuana rallies dressed in psychedelic Colonial-style outfits while playing drums. They injected some life into what had become a slowly dying legalization movement. They forged a new generation of activists, and created a number of events around the country, the largest being the Boston Freedom Rally, which drew 100,000 people to Boston Common in the 1990s. The Freedom Fighters published a national newsletter for four years edited by Linda Noel (who also founded the Boston Freedom Rally). The Freedom Fighters also created free kitchens at the summer National Rainbow Family Gatherings, and the winter Regional Gatherings in Ocala, Florida.
In 1990, High Times released the documentary film Let Freedom Ring, detailing the activities of the group. The film was directed by Bob Brandel and featured music by the original Soul Assassins. In 1993, the mailing list was given to the NORML and the organization was disbanded. Members of the group went on to create The Cannabis Action Network and The Green Panthers, among other groups. Even after the group disbanded, High Times continued to name a Freedom Fighter of the Month in every issue of the magazine, as well as an annual Freedom Fighter of the Year, who was always crowned at the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam.
A partial history:
According to Steven Hager’s Myspace blog:
John Howell hired me as High Times executive editor around 1987. For amusement I started writing a column called “Ed Hassle” in the news section. The column was a parody of “Ed Anger,” a hilarious right-winger who was appearing in the Weekly World News. Ed Anger columns were being read over the airwaves by my favorite deejay, Bill Kelly of WFMU. But instead of being a rightwing lunatic, my Ed Hassle was a hippie fascist who grew pot and believed in alien abductions. I eventually worked the concept into a cartoon strip drawn by Flick Ford. One day High Times got an invitation to the Hash Bash in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Apparently the event was about to die, and some local stoners were hoping High Times could help resurrect it. Ed Hassle made a plea for all marijuana activists to attend the Hash Bash in Ann Arbor to hold a convention to create a national group called the Freedom Fighters. Hassle suggesting bringing drums and dressing in Colonial-style outfits. (This was a publicity ploy for news cameras and opened the door for interviews about hemp in Colonial times.) My band, The Soul Assassins, drove to the event in a psychedelic bus, marched into the Diag at the University of Michigan with a fife and drum corps of psychedelic pirates. That night, the Soul Assassins performed to a standing room crowd at a local bar. The Freedom Fighters organized free campgrounds for many rallies and provided free food to activists. The biggest supporter was a West Virginian named Rodger Belknap, who was also the first person to be voted Freedom Fighter of the Year. Eventually it became clear the group had been targeted for surveillance and many leaders dropped out while others were railroaded into jail with unusually harsh sentences, including Rodger Belknap.
After the Freedom Fighters were about a year old, I decided to drop the “Ed Hassle” persona because it had gotten confused with another High Times columnist, Ed Rosenthal. In order to re-write the history off the origins of the group, I asked my friend Allegra to interview me for my own magazine. Unfortunately, the interview was perceived as signs of a messianic power trip and very quickly led to serious problems. I’d naively set out to throw a party and suddenly found myself in the center of a cultural tidal wave. The pressure got so intense I turned the Freedom Fighter mailing list over to NORML, and that was the end of the Freedom Fighters and also the end of any attempts at political activism or organizing.