The Mystical World of Madge Gill

Madge Gill: Self Portrait

The concept of outsider art is a contentious one. Comparatively recent in definition, it is linked both to the work of psychiatrists and their study of art work presented by patients (for example, Dr. Walter Morgenthaler who in 1921 published his book, Ein Geisteskranker als Künstler (A Psychiatric Patient as Artist) about Adolf Wölfli), or isolated self-taught artists who have little to no contact with the artistic world, however as a term it was first unleased on the world by UK based art critic Roger Cardinal in 1972.  It is both a loaded term, and arguably one that seeks to differentiate between the amateur and the professional, and in doing so reinforces differentials that the art world (especially in relation to commerce) has historically thrived upon. There are many noted ‘outsider’ artists, but one of the most noted was from the East End of London, who grew up in poverty, and would go onto to produce works which are now displayed in galleries around the world; Madge Gill.

Madge Gill was born in 1882, apparently named Maude Ethel Eades. According to the research conducted by Roger Cardinal, who as well as coining the term outsider art is also one of the few to write about Madge, she was born in East Ham in Essex. A records search shows that a Maude Eades was also registered in West Ham in 1882 however. Regardless of the confusion of her place and time of birth, what is known is that Madge was born an illegitimate child to her mother, Emma Eades. How old Emma was and what happened to the father of Madge seems to be lost to history, but it is known that Madge was bought up in the house of her grandfather by her mother, and her aunt Clara who also resided in the property. For an illegitimate child in late Victorian England, life typically was unpleasant. To be born illegitimate was to be born a second class citizen, and many families were embarrassed by the presence of such in the home environment. It may have been as a result of this embarrassment, or as a result of financial difficulties of the family (or even something as seismic as the death of the patriarch) but for whatever reason, a probably isolated Madge, found herself placed into the Dr Barnardos’ Village Home for Orphan, Neglected and Destitute Girls in Barkingside, Essex. Detained in the austere environs of a girls home with hundreds of her peers, Madge was later to become part of one of the worst abuses ever suffered on the children of the poor.

Barkingside Girls Home circa 1910 (from: http://www.workhouses.org.uk)

Starting in 1869, a child migration scheme for the poor was founded by Scottish evangelical Annie MacPherson. Under the auspices of the Home Children scheme some 100,000 children from the British Isles were transported to Australia, Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand to alleviate labour shortages. Sourced from the ranks of orphanages and the urban poor, many children were transported across the globe. Many Home Children were either orphaned or from families in poverty. They were placed with settlers or within industrial settings that were often poorly supervised and regulated. Many of the forced young migrants were exposed to lives of privation and abuses of all kinds thousands of miles away from any support networks that they may have once had access to. The Home Children and other forced child resettlement schemes have left dark marks on the history of the United Kingdom and its former colonies, and many of the countries have formally recognized and apologized to the victims. One such was Madge.

Following three years in the home, Madge was transported with 254 other children on the ship, Scotsman headed to Quebec in Canada where it arrived in port on 8 August 1896. Accompanied by a Mr. Owen from Barnardos, these hundreds of children travelled across Canada before arriving eventually in Toronto. Luckier than some who travelled with her across the length of Canada, Madge who was only twelve years old and travelling under the name Maud Jago, found employment or rather had it found for her as a domestic servant and baby minder on a series of farms around Ontario. Many of the Home Children were routinely abused (physically, sexually, and mentally) and it is very likely that in the unsupervised environs that Madge found herself in as a young teenager she was subject to such abuses. Thankfully her time in Canada was comparatively brief and in November 1900, the eighteen year old Madge (now going by the name of Maud Eades) returned to the UK onboard the ship Corinthian. Back in London, Madge was according to Cardinal able to secure work as a nurse at the Whipps Cross hospital, Leytonstone and moved in with her aunt Kate, who was instrumental in introducing the teenager to Spiritualism.

To modern readers, Spiritualism may seem to be something of an historical oddity, but between the 1840s and 1920s, a belief in Spiritualism and mediumistic practice was widespread in the English speaking world. According to reports published in the New York Times as of November 1897, Spiritualism had over eight million followers around the world. Although sceptical minds had begun to question the bahaviours of mediums and their supposed claims, by the time of Madges’ arrival back in the United Kingdom, Spiritualism was both popular and practiced across all sectors of society. For a young adult, who had led a life of privation, it may have offered a raft of belief to cling to. For Madge it was to become part of who she was to become and remain for the rest of her life.

Following her return to the UK and several years living with Kate, Madge was to marry Kates’ son (and thus her cousin) Tom Gill who was employed as a stockbroker when she was twenty five. Here the subject of Madge, like much of her life gets somewhat blurred. According to her Wikipedia entry, the photo below shows a young Madge Gill:

Photo of Madge? (from: http://www.christianberst.com/fr/artiste/gill.html in 2011 and currently displayed on her Wikipedia page)

Further research however illustrates that whoever it is in this photograph it may not be Madge Gill. According to the Victoria Horticultural Library this photograph shows a widower by the name of Madge Williams who married the Portland, Oregon based farmer Edward E. Gill in 1914.

Photograph of Madge Williams and Edward E. Gill? (from: http://www.saveseeds.org/company_history/gill_bros/)

Although Madges’ marriage to Tom was far from happy, they rapidly had three sons, Laurie, Reggie and Bob. Reggie was to fall victim to the influenza outbreak of 1918 aged only eight years old. Considered by many to be the most brutal medical pandemic in history, the 1918 flu outbreak has been said to have killed more individuals than the Black Death resulting in the deaths of some 3 – 6% of the worlds’ total population. Although young Reggie was only one of many millions of victims, his death would leave his mother bereft and would be further compounded less than a year later. In 1919, Madge gave birth to her only daughter who was stillborn, and was also to suffer complications herself which left her bedridden, and resulted in the loss of an eye, which was later to be replaced with a glass replacement. It was around this period that Madge according to her own words first felt the urge to express herself artistically.   In a 1937 interview published by Prediction magazine (and later reprinted in Madge Gill Medium & Visionary, published by Orleans House Gallery, ISBN 1-902643-17-8), Madge stated:

“It was in 1919 when I first started my work. I then had an inspiration to take up my pen and do all kinds of works of an artistic type. I felt that I had an artistic faculty seeking expression. It took various forms. First of all, knitting – even without any pattern. Then came a flow of all kinds of inspirational writing, mostly Biblical. Then I felt impelled to execute drawings on a large scale on calico. I simply couldn’t leave it and I did on average 20 pictures a week, all in colour. All the time I was in quite a normal state of mind and there was no suggestion of a ‘spirit’ standing beside me. I simply felt inspired. Sometimes I would be dissatisfied with the work and tear it up or burn it. But I felt I was definitely guided by an unseen force, though I could not say what its actual nature was.”

Following her initial artistic outpouring, according to the brief biography that is available on Madge from Roger Cardinal it was in March 1920 that she first began to interact with Myrninerest, her supposed spirit guide with whom she was to maintain contact with for the rest of her life, and with whom she would commune in a trance state, and under whose supposed guidance she would produce her works.

Her now daily artistic endevours as well as the depression she arguably suffered following the loss of two children in rapid succession in an unhappy and strained marriage may have led Madge to seek refuge with Myrninerest. It seems likely that she may have begun to suffer from schizophrenia or other delusions, or potentially be utilising her spirit guide as an outlet to allow her artistic creation. Her behaviours definitely were a cause for concern however and in 1922, Madge found herself confined in the Lady Chichester Hospital for Women and Children in Hove which used the then nascent psychotherapy to treat neurosis.

Lady Chichester Hospital in 1976 (from the Brighton Health Bulletin:  http://www.mybrightonandhove.org.uk/page_id__9482.aspx)

It was in this clinical environment that Madge passed on a packet of postcards she had illustrated under the guidance of Myrninerest to a female doctor. The doctor passed the illustrations to the Society for Psychical Research, where they were pronounced according to the London Review of Books to be “more of an inspirational than an automatic kind”. Art critique aside, Madge was soon released from the Hove hospital and found herself returned home to the house she shared with her husband and children in Upton Park. Here, relations with Tom grew even more strained, and he spent more and more time away from home, potentially as suggested by Roger Cardinal with a number of mistresses. Unfortunately, Madges’ ills did not cease. Her youngest son, Bob was involved in a motorcycle accident that left him an invalid for two years. Madge was to spend her evenings sitting by his bedside illustrating and creating under the thrall of Myrninerest by the dim light of a gas lamp.

In 1932, Tom Gill was diagnosed with cancer, however, it was also during this year that the Whitechapel Gallery started holding their annual East End Academy Show. Open to all amateur artists in the East End, the gallery had received entries for exhibit from both Bob and Laurie, and it may have been at the urging of her sons, that the self-taught Madge submitted too. Her entry stole the show, and as later reported by The Times of London (and quoted by the London Review of Books):

“One of the most remarkable works in the exhibition – a work that would be remarkable in any exhibition, both in form and technically – is a pen and ink drawing on calico, measuring no less than 17ft by 5ft 6in., entitled Reincarnation by Mrs M.E. Gill. For convenient description, it is something between the work of modern Dutch and Belgian mystics and that of Mr Stanley Spencer.”

Madge was to continue to exhibit at the Whitechapel Gallery nearly every year until 1947, however she both refused to exhibit at larger venues, and also steadfastly refused to sell any of her voluminous output for fear that it would disturb or upset Myrninerest to whom she was to claim the work rightly belonged.

One of Madge Gills’ many illustrated calico scrolls (from: http://pfeiferthompson.squarespace.com/the-big-picture-blog/tag/madge-gill)

From 1919 onwards Madge continued to produce illustrations, paintings, and tapestries all guided by Myrninerest. Following the death of her son Bob in 1950, she continued to live with Laurie who was to be her faithful carer until she ended her days. Madge was to spend her last days a virtual recluse, however she developed an increasing reliance on alcohol and was prone to both irascible and erratic behaviour and remarks. Through it all until she finally stopped producing art in 1958, Madge produced hundreds of unique artworks.

Madge Gill: Untitled (from London Borough of Newham Collection)

Many of the artworks produced by Madge feature female figures, and have been interpreted by some critics as representing the relationship between herself and her daughter. Although often obsessively and quickly applied, many of them are also haunting. Scratched, etched and inked, the art that Madge created all too easily can be considered amateur and the preserve of the obsessive. Although many of her behaviours were certainly obsessive, Madge was clearly driven to create. Whether governed by the voice of Myrninerest which she alone could hear or by the desire to create art to address her demons, Madge produced over a period of decades thousands of individual works.

Madge Gill: Untitled (from London Borough of Newham Collection)

Following her death in 1961 just before her seventy ninth birthday Madges’ small house was found to be crammed with thousands of unique art pieces. Stored in cupboards, behind wardrobes, and under beds, her surviving loyal caretaker Laurie donated hundreds of pieces to the London Borough of Newham, where they are still stored in archival and controlled conditions. In 1968 a retrospective of some of Madges’ work was held at the Grosvenor Gallery in London, and in 2012, a small selection of the work gifted to Newham was exhibited by the Nunnery Gallery in London drawing both praise and adulation.

Madge Gill: Untitled (from London Borough of Newham Collection)

 

Madge Gill: Portrait of a Head

At the time she was creating her art, Madge was considered an eccentric by the press, her neigbours, and the art establishment. Sadly, history has been equally unkind to her, and she is most commonly considered to be an outsider. This arguably is a phrase that possesses negative connotations. Outsider art is sometime considered as being “less” than that of conventional art, and when considering Madges’ prodigious output and style this certainly does not hold true. Coming from a background of privation and probable abuse, Madge wrestled with the urge to create for the majority of her adult life. As well as potentially struggling with depression, neurosis, loss, and a strained marriage, Madge fought her own demons to leave a rich and sadly largely undervalued artistic legacy that deserves a broader audience.

Madge at work in her studio / living room (from: https://diattaart.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/artist-of-the-moment-madge-gill/)

The Bonny Doon Bombers

Excerpt from NWLF communique published in Dragon, No. 5, December 1975

In 1941 Orson Welles unleashed his vision of William Randolph Hearst upon a largely disinterested cinema going public. Now rightfully considered one of the finest films ever made, the fictionalised biography Citizen Kane sees the titular character seeking eventual refuge in his Xanadu. In Kane, Welles mirrored the reality of much of the life of Hearst including the eventual retreat of the yellow journalist and press magnate to the extravagant property that cost $40 million to construct and that he called La Cuesta Encantada (The Enchanted Hill) and that was known more colloquially to friends, and enemies alike as Hearst Castle. In the nineteen twenties and thirties, invitations to the sprawling one hundred room Mediterranean revival castle and grounds were sought after by the great, the good, and the Hollywood elite. Following the death of Hearst in 1951, the estate became a California State Park in 1954 before being opened to members of the public in 1958. Nearly twenty years later in February 1976 a bomb that had been planted on the veranda of the three story castle blew a three foot hole through a six inch thick concrete wall. Shortly after the explosion ripped through the estate causing an estimated million dollars’ worth of damage (at least according to the estimates provided by the San Luis Obispo County Telegram-Tribune) a female caller telephoned a nearby San Francisco television station, and claimed responsibility for the bombing on behalf of one of the most prodigious left wing radical groups of the period, the NWLF.

Largely unknown today, the NWLF (or New World Liberation Front) were one of many radical groups of the sixties and seventies. Unlike the Symbionese Liberation Army who would go on to kidnap the granddaughter of Hearst, Patricia (known to the SLA as Tania, but to everyone else as Patty) and the Weatherman / Weather Underground about whom numerous books and documentaries have been created, the NWLF have largely faded into obscurity. This is surprising given not only the fate and history of the group, but also because it was one of the most prolific exponents of domestic terrorism in the United States, and responsible for more explosions on US soil than any of its more well-known peers. To date there has been little investigation of the group, its motivations, and its downfall, and beyond a few rogue historians, their story remains largely obscured.

It is arguably not possible to discuss the NWLF or their actions without first putting them into historical and social context. The nineteen sixties and seventies were a politically tempestuous time in the United States. In Indo-China, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon oversaw a conflict that was raging beyond their control. On the home front, a generation of young people was becoming politically aware and engaged. Starting with the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) that formed in Ann Arbor in 1960, the “new left” emerged as a force to be reckoned with. The reaction of the state in sending more young men to their almost certain demise in Vietnam, the international televised coverage of the horrors of war, and the illegal actions of government programs such as COINTELPRO, as well as the chasm of both experiences and understanding that existed between the young and the old, did nothing to reduce tensions. As a direct response to the war in Vietnam, as well as the disparities and inequalities of life in Capitalist America, a range of groups sprang up. Many were non-violent in form however many were to be radicalised by the constant harassment and violence of the police and federal authorities. Some groups eventually resorted to violent mechanisms in an attempt to overthrow the machinery of the state and the wider society. Both the East and West coast (most notably New York and San Francisco respectively) were hotbeds of revolution, with all points in between being impacted.

Donald DeFreeze was a one time car thief who joined the revolution when in 1970 he met visiting students from the University of California Berkeley who established the Black Cultural Association in Vacaville prison where he had been imprisoned a year earlier for a short gun battle outside a bank he had been attempting to rob. The association sought to assist prisoners with tuition and also impress upon them the widely held left leaning political beliefs of the period. The student volunteers found a welcome convert in DeFreeze who sought an economic explanation for his frequent brushes with the law. In 1972, DeFreeze was transferred to the Soledad Prison in California, where on March 5 1973 he escaped, before making his way to Oakland, and the homes of contacts he had made with the Vacaville BCA. Embracing the political tumult of the time, DeFreeze trading on a romanticised image of the black radical ex-convict and outlaw formed what was later to be known as the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). Best remembered today as being behind the robbery of the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco, and the kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patty Hearst., the SLA mixed freely with other underground radicals of the period, and were suspects in at least one murder of a public official, namely the former Oakland Deputy School superintendent, Robert Blackburn. The SLA was far from the only urban guerrillas that were operating in the United States during the seventies, and were joined by groups as diverse as the Weather Underground, the Black Liberation Army, the FALN, and a host of others. One of the most prodigious in terms of sheer volume of incidents that they created was the NWLF.

Revolutionary Chic: Patty Hearst as SLA member ‘Tania’

It was in 1973 that the NWLF first emerged onto the radical stage in the United States. That year saw the SLA gaining all manner of negative coverage and criticism in the press, and in was also the year that one time actress turned urban revolutionary and active member of the SLA, Kathleen Ann Soliah started a study group in California by the name of the Bay Area Research Collective. Commencing in August 1975, BARC began publishing a mimeographed journal by the name of Dragon. Truly a product of its time, Dragon published news of bombings, communiques from predominantly West Coast radical groups, political cartoons, incomplete bomb making instructions, and occasional extracts of poetry. For both law enforcement officials and radicals of the period, Dragon was mostly associated with the SLA, but also the New World Liberation Front. For many it was assumed that this latter mysterious group was either a direct outgrowth of the SLA, or else existed purely on paper as many other supposed revolutionary organisations did during the period. Both of these theories were to be proven incorrect by history.

Dragon Number One published August 1975. The Canadian journal Arm The Spirit has made all issues of Dragon and a variety of other journals available via Issuu

The pages of Dragon in their first issue were to reveal the extent of the actions of the NWLF up until its publication, and the majority of these claims are further supported by one of the few writers to investigate the group with any depth, Bryan Burrough, whose book Days of Rage is rightfully considered the most comprehensive manuscript to address seventies left wing terrorist groups in the US. According to the NWLF themselves the chronology of some of their early actions is as follows:

“5/31/74: May 19th Combat Unit issues a greeting to the people and a statement of solidarity with the SLA.

9/3/74: Peoples Forces bomb the S.F. brokerage offices of Dean Witter & Co. and issue Communique 1 explaining the firm’s complicity with B of A, ITT and Standard Oil in the exploitation and oppression of the people. Solidarity expressed with the BLA, WUO, and SLA.

9/?/74: Peoples Forces Unit III bombs ITT Harper in San Leandro. Communique declares unity with the Chilean people and indicts ITT for its role in bringing the military junta to power.

10/2/74: Unit II bombs S.F. Sheraton Palace Hotel

10/5/74: Second Sheraton Hotel bombing. Communique names Sheraton chain as an ITT subsidiary and further indicts and documents the ITT role in the creation of the Chilean military government. Response is demanded.

10/30/74: Unit III bombs Los Altos home of ITT Jennings president Robert Hallock. Communique reiterates ITT role in Chile.

11/6/74: Unit I firebombs a Berkeley garage containing government cars. Communique discusses ITT in Chile and further explain Hallock bombing.

12/19/74: Unit I bombs S.F. office of General Motors’ Overseas Operation Division. Communique indicts GM’s labor practices and history of exploitation of the people. A general explanation of the NWLF is made by the Peoples Forces, Communication Division.

2/3/75: Unit III bombs GM office in San Jose, the Pillar Point Radar Station, and Chevron plant in Oakland. Communique ties in different aspects of the capitalist-imperialist system.

2/6/75: Unit III bombs KRON-TV in S.F. Communique indicts the station as a mouthpiece for the ruling class.

3/20/75: Units I & IV bomb an East Bay PG&E tower. Communique denounces PG&E as a “parasite corporation which feeds on the misery of the poor”.

3/27/75: Unit III bombs PG&E Hicks substation in San Jose. Communique makes further indictment of PG&E and salutes the CLF, FALN, SLA, BLA, WUO and locked down comrades.

4/7/75: Lucio Cabanas Unit bombs Hicks substation and issues another statement on PG&E.

5/1/75: Nat Turner and John Brown Unit bombs Department of Corrections in Sacramento. Communique discusses Joe Remiro and Russ Little and includes educational material about clandestine activity.

5/9/75: Nat Turner and John Brown Unit bombs PG&E offices in Berkeley. Communique briefly discusses PG&E attempts to raise rates.

5/18/75: Nat Turner and John Brown Unit bombs gun shack in San Quentin. Communique sends “warmest revolutionary love to Russ Little, Joe Remiro, Ruchell Magee, San Quentin Six, all comrades trapped behind enemy lines and to all our fallen comrades of Attica and the SLA”.

6/3/75: Peoples Forces issue an open letter to Popeye Jackson containing four criticisms of / questions about Popeye’s lifestyle, what the NWLF sees as his privileged treatment by the Adult Authority and his possibly provacateurish criticism of the underground. They ask for a response.

6/11/75: Peoples Front issue a communique denying responsibility for the murders of Popeye Jackson and Sally Voye; this is in response to a pig “NWLF” communique taking credit for the killings. Criticism of Popeye is restated.

(pub 6/27/75): Peoples Forces issue an open letter to the BARB criticizing the paper as basically a servant of the ruling class.

6/27/75: NWLF bombs the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Alameda and firebombs two houses in Piedmont. Communique expresses solidarity with the Indians of Pine Ridge.”

As their own statement reveals, the NWLF were responsible for a wave of bombings across the West Coast. According to the research conducted by Bryan Burrough however rather than being a well-oiled and practiced underground militia, their first device failed to detonate correctly when it was left outside the offices of General Motors Acceptance Company in Burlington, California. As well as expressing solidarity with popular causes of the period and other radical left wing groups, the NWLF also publicly decried Wilbert “Popeye” Jackson. The one time convict who had spent nineteen of his fourty four years in the US prison system was the leader of the California based United Prisoners Union and was suspected by some of being a police informer (including the NWLF), and was killed either by agents of the state or an individual or group on which he had informed. The UPU was active in seventies prison reform and were able in conjunction with the Weather Underground associated organisation Prairie Fire Organizing Committee able to lodge petitions for US prisoners to the UN during the period (the radical prison movement is covered in some detail in ‘The Rise and Fall of California’s Radical Prison Movement’ by Eric Cummin). The murder of a radical organizer and that of local teacher, Sally Voye  as they were sat in Johnson’s car at 2am in the morning, was a major talking point of in the West Coast of the period however, it was the NWLF who made front page news in the Berkeley Barb (who they were later to criticise) in June 1975.

Berkeley Barb Issue 513, June 13-19 1975

Although the NWLF was to be accused of the murder of a fellow California based radical, ultimately it seems according to Kohn and Weir (Howard Kohn, David Weir: Tania’s World: The Inside Story of the Patty Hearst Kidnapping, Part Two: People in Need, November 20, 1975) that it was the SLA that were responsible and sought to position blame on the NWLF who had unleashed a wave of bombings, and as a result were garnering far more coverage and sympathy from left leaning Californians. The explosions that were ripping through California were not to end with the death of a prison activist however, and estimates for the 1970 – 1978 period in which the NWLF was active range from 80 to 120 bombings (the accepted figure is typically somewhere around 85 as detailed in the Global Terrorism Database from the University of Maryland). In an era tainted by regular politically inspired explosions on American soil, the NWLF were amongst the most active groups, and was responsible for a sheer volume of explosive attacks that had not been seen before or indeed since.

The targets of the NWLF were varied but all focused either upon broad political targets or those that could readily be associated with life in California. The group targeted Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) sub stations and transformers, Safeway stores, TV stations, Court houses, military installations and the California department of corrections. Although these targets may at first glance appear to be arbitrary in nature, in their communiques, the NWLF either expressed solidarity with other radical groups or populist causes, or else focused on injustices in the local San Francisco area, such as the high price of utilities, poor housing conditions endorsed and supported by slum lords, or labour disputes that were taking place at the time. For residents of San Francisco, the bombings of the NWLF during the period they were active became as persistent and almost as reliable as the fog that frequently blanketed the streets.

Following the arrest of Patty Hearst and the televised pitched battle between the SLA and the Los Angeles Police Department, the NWLF escalated their campaign of bombings, and also altered their modus operandi. Up until 1975, the NWLF had distributed their communiques by mailing them to radio stations, newspapers (both of the above and underground variety) and friendly Californian / Bay Area journalists. However this altered in 1975 when the NWLF established an above ground communications platform. To head this up they needed public supporters that were not concerned with the media and law enforcement exposure that would result. They soon found a likely candidate. Following the death of Popeye Jackson, in which the NWLF was a prime suspect, a tall ex-convict using the name Jaques Rogiers convened a ‘Peoples Court’ to investigate. According to research conducted by Bryan Burrough, Rogiers’ real name was Jack Rogers and he had been imprisoned in San Quentin on drug related charges. Upon his release from jail in 1974 he moved to San Francisco, and after hearing of the death of Jackson and the impact it made on radical circles decided by way of his ‘Peoples Court’ to investigate.

On 17 May 1974, police and the SLA clashed in a televised shoot out on 1466 E. 54th street in Los Angeles. Lasting two hours, the gun battle resulted in the deaths of all six members of the SLA that were in the house as it burned to the ground including their leader, Donald DeFreeze (image from Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Society)

The fourty four page document that Rogiers produced exonerated the NWLF of all involvement with the death of Popeye Jackson (the document itself is available via the Internet Archive) and the group clearly liked what they saw. According to statements provided to the Berkeley Barb and San Francisco Chronicle, the NWLF approached Rogiers following the publication of his investigation into the death of Popeye Jackson, and appointed him as their public facing courier, and the man in charge of Public Information Relay-1 (PIR-1). Working in tandem with an Oregon native by the name of Marlene Tobias, he initially opened a print shop on Valencia Street in San Francisco, before moving a year later to 423 Oak Street. Here the PIR-1 published TUG (The Urban Guerilla) a mimeographed journal in the same vein as the competing Dragon that was largely a platform for the NWLF and allowed for their communiques, observations, and rationalisations to be published.

“Jaques Rogiers” as pictured by the Berkeley Barb Issue 626, August 12-18, 1977

Law enforcement and federal investigators were largely baffled by the NWLF, having no idea about how large the group was, how they were being funded, how they were finding their explosives that were detonating with such regularity, and indeed what their next targets would be. This was largely due to the model of the NWLF itself. As would be revealed later, the group (such as it was) appealed to all members of the urban guerilla movement in the US of the period, allowing any and all actions to be attributed to it. Although some other groups did potentially brand themselves as the NWLF, the core group such as it was, was small in number. For both the media and law enforcement, Jaques Rogiers and other public members of PIR-1 such as Marlene Tobias (the editor of TUG), Kit Bowden, and Ande Lougher (the ex-wife of Jaques and the mother of his child) who also distributed communiques on behalf of the NWLF) made attractive targets for gathering information.

On 14 July 1976, the twenty five year old Ande Lougher headed from the Haight to the Grand Jury chambers of the City and County of San Francisco. With her she took a communique purporting to come direct from the NWLF and threatening retaliation should the Grand Jury continue investigating the group as the local rumour held that they were. Delivering what could be interpreted as a bomb threat to a government building was contentious even in the heady environment of the nineteen seventies West Coast, and Lougher soon found herself arrested. Held on a $100,000 bail, she was eventually bought to trial in October and following a defence from her court appointed lawyer, J. Tony Serra and a fifteen hour deliberation she was found not guilty of the charge of intimidation of a jury and released without charge.

Free Ande Lougher poster distributed by PIR-1 around the San Francisco Bay Area following her arrest in 1976 on charges of intimidating a jury

Just as the bombings of the NWLF failed to cease, so too did the legal troubles of the above ground cadre that made up the PIR-1. On 26 January 1977, Rogiers was arraigned on four counts of threatening public officials and one count of threatening for proposes of extortion in connection with his work distributing communiques on behalf of the NWLF. Held on a $100,000 bail like Lougher before him, the then thirty eight year old Rogiers did not initially enter a plea to the Municipal Court Judge, Judge Ollie Marie-Victoire having taken a vow of silence upon arrest on January 23 like one of his heroes Meher Baba (an Indian philosopher and mystic who publicly criticised the use of psychedelics as distracting from true spirituality in 1966). Again like Lougher, Rogiers found himself being represented by the public defender, J. Tony Serra.

According to accounts provided by Burrough, the defense strategy Serra and Rogiers utilised was an odd one. Before his court appearances, and during recesses throughout, the defendant and attorney would gather together and frequently and largely consistently engage in smoking marijuana. Although highly unusual, the strategy seems to have reaped dividends, in as much as on June 7, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. And this is where the story of Rogiers takes a very odd twist. On the day of his release from detention, a large party was planned at which the former defendant was to be the guest of honour. Although friends, acquaintances, comrades, and his lawyer waited for his appearance, it never came. Indeed following his release Rogiers disappeared from public view. To this date, his whereabouts are unknown, and what happened to the former leader of PIR-1 remains a mystery.

Despite the disappearance of their above ground courier, the attacks and explosions by the NWLF continued ceaselessly. Before the Patty Hearst trial commenced, the NWLF sent a package to a San Francisco city council member by the name of John Barbagelata. In it was a bomb. A few days late on January 25, 1977 four shots were fired into the windows of real estate office that he owned and operated. Over the course of the next few weeks, the NWLF also sent what were later to be referred to as “candy box” bombs to the homes of San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, Supervisor Quentin Kopp and numerous other Bay Area politicians. As revealed by the San Francisco Chronicle, at the time “No messages accompanied the devices, but yesterday local newspapers and radio and television stations received copies of an ‘Open Letter to the Board of Supervisors’ ostensibly from the New World Liberation Front. The terrorist organization did not claim responsibility for sending the bombs but reiterated frequently expressed demands for improved health care at the county jail” (source: Berkeley Barb, January 16-22, 1976, Page 6). And still the attacks came.

Local law enforcement and the FBI finally caught a break in February 1976. Police were called to a house in Marin County in which as shoot out had been happening. Two members of the New Dawn Collective which ran a local bookshop and also published communiques for the Emiliano Zapata unit of the NWLF had been attempting to rob a local drug dealer. As drug dealers typically do not embrace expropriations of their profits, they resisted and a gun fight broke out. A search of those arrested, pointed the police and FBI at houses in Richmond and Oakland, where more NWLF literature was recovered and a 21 year old by the name of Anthony Joseph Baker and several other would be domestic guerillas were arrested (source: FBI find factory for bombs, The Stanford Daily, Volume 169, Issue 15, 23 February 1976, Page 1). The FBI thought they had finally broken the back of the NWLF and yet the bombings continued.

Up until March 1978, the NWLF continued with a wave of bombings throughout California and beyond. The exact composition of the group will perhaps never be known, but at least one source indicates that the SLA may well have played a part in the composition of the NWLF. According to a 1977 book (The Voices of Guns, Vin McLellan, Putnams) about the SLA, following her arrest by the FBI, Patty Hearst claimed that two members of the radical group, James Kilgore and Kathy Soliah had been involved. According to statements from Hearst to law enforcement the duo of Soliah and Kilgore had “used the NWLF signature for the dozens of bombings in 1974 and 1975”. This suited the agenda of the NWLF perfectly. One of the primary drivers of the group had been to make itself appear bigger than it was. Any radical guerilla operating on US soil was free to utilise the NWLF provided that its goals were in accord with those of the group. For modern historians it is impossible to determine how many attacks were conducted by the core group of the NWLF or by sympathisers such as the remnants of the SLA. Following a cessation of their attacks and explosions in 1978, the NWLF would have vanished back into obscurity were it not for a seemingly unrelated and shocking murder which again thrust their name back into the public and media consciousness.

James Kilgore and Kathy Soliah circa 1975

In either 1971 or 1972, a young woman by the name of Maureen Minton met a man by the name of Ronald Huffman. Born in Mountain View California, Maureen was the daughter of a lumber company owner who was later to attend and graduate from Berkley. At the time he met Maureen, Ronald was according to Burrough “a small time marijuana dealer in the San Jose area” (Bryan Burrough, Days of Rage, Page 385). At some point, the man known to all and sundry as ‘Revolutionary Ron’ met Maureen and after a brief spell they moved together to a small rented bungalow in the remote mountainous area of Bonny Doon some ten miles away from San Francisco. Although the bungalow at 350 Martin Road was small, it had a number of advantages, in as much as it came with land, and the neighbours did not pry into the lives of the young couple that had rented it. This suited Huffman and Minton perfectly. Although Maureen was later to become a nursing student at a nearby college, most of here interests and those of Ron, were centred on two key activities, namely the cultivation of marijuana and the construction of bombs.

According to evidence that was later to be gathered by the FBI and prosecution and detailed by Burrough, Minton and Huffman were the core of the NWLF. Although members of the SLA were involved and there was a scattering of other cells throughout California, this young couple was liable for over seventy explosions during the seventies. And they would have probably remained unknown were it not for tragic actions that were to unfold in the backyard of their bungalow. According to later testimony, either due to mental illness or his frequent and consistent marijuana use, Huffman was to become convinced that Minton was possessed by the spirits of “demon dogs” (source: April 25, 1983, Santa Cruz Sentinel, California, Page 2). At the time, Bonny Doon was overrun with both coyotes and feral dogs which frequently howled long into the night, their cries echoing around the hilly community. Prior to her possession, Huffman had already developed a long string of complaints against Minton. According to a local man and long-time acquaintance of Huffman by the name of Dennis Morgan, Maureen was responsible for running his crop, or failing to medicate his dog, Che. Morgan was also involved in the tending of the thousands of marijuana plants the couple were cultivating on their property and according to his later testimony would turn down and offer of $20,000 to help them bring in a harvest. According to Burrough, another reason for a growing sense of acrimony between the couple may have been because Minton had “had an abortion against his wishes” (Burrough, Page 358). Add to this the paranoia caused by long term drug use as well as being sought after because of their explosive antics throughout California, and there was an inevitability to what was to come later.

On the morning of September 23, 1979, Huffman dragged Minton into the rear of the property. After forcing her to kneel, he bought down an axe on her head. She died instantly. Not satisfied, Huffman beat her body with a nearby plank of wood, before removing a section of her brain. Packing quickly, Huffman dashed from the property in the car he had shared with Minton, taking with him $30,000 in cash, and a paper sack which held the portion of Maureen he had removed. After picking up a male hitchhiker from Germany he had found on the side of the Pacific Coast Highway, Huffman continued his flight. After rambling at the confused and understandably terrified young German for some time, Huffman pulled the car to a stop and slashed at his passenger with a knife. Thankfully the young man escaped and sought refuse at a nearby market. Police were called.

Approximately an hour after the savage murder of his long term partner, Huffman was forced to stop by California highway patrol. Huffman emerged from his vehicle, swearing and sweating profusely, and as the police drew their revolvers, held aloft the paper bag containing the mortal remains of Maureen as if attempting to ward off the bullets that may have wended their way towards him. Huffman was subdued without being shot, and soon found himself in police custody. Initially set for trial in San Francisco, Huffman was defended by J. Tony Serra who had previously defended other members of the NWLF. At first Huffmans’ ties to the group were unknown but eventually the FBI were able to confirm that the fingerprints of both Huffman and Minton matched those that had previously been found on communiques distributed to the media throughout the course of NWLF activities. It was not until 1983, when the trial commenced in Monterey (Serra having forced the change in trial location owing to potentially prejudicial pre-trail reporting) that the links between Huffman, Minton, and the NWLF became known.

Although the crux of the defence offered by Serra was that his client was insane and thus not culpable for his actions either in the murder of his girlfriend, cultivating bales of marijuana, or causing multiple explosions around the Bay Area, the jury was not convinced. Huffman who was described by Serra as “stark raving mad” (Burrough, Page 360) was following a guilty plea sent to a Californian state prison, in which he was to die unknown and forgotten in 1999.

Between them, Huffman, Minton and various other Bay Area radicals (including the remains of the SLA) were to be responsible for a wave of attacks that caused widespread alarm during the nineteen seventies. They were one of the most successful domestic terrorist groups that operated in the United States, and many core members of the NWLF were utterly unknown to both local law enforcement and federal investigators. Outside of a few articles and references in local media, they were also largely forgotten until the publication of Days of Rage in 2015. Both the Weather Underground, and the SLA who were active in nineteen seventies California have had a wealth of books, films, and other reference materials produced since the days of their activities. The NWLF who were even at the time considered a fringe group of radicals, have like others in their milieu (such as Popeye Jackson) been largely ignored by social and political historians. Even stranger, their activities and the viciousness and pointlessness of the death of Minton, have been ignored by even true crime authors. The activities of the NWLF and their associated groups caused more explosions on American soil than any other terrorist organisation before or since. Using a loose network of affiliates operating under unified banner their actions confounded investigative authorities for years. Although the majority of their attacks were not deadly, they had devastating economic impacts, and the chilling effect of their actions impacted upon regional and national politics of the period. In a modern age that is fraught with the threat of terrorism by domestic radicals, the actions of the NWLF and their ilk should arguably be investigated closely. As our own age seems to drifting into a terrorist frenzy, consideration of earlier progenitors is arguably both vital and necessary if effective mechanisms are to be found in reducing the impact, reach, and dangers posed by the actions of those that put beliefs ahead of the safety of innocent civilians.