Raid(s) Of The Day: The CAMP Raids

Raid(s) Of The Day: The CAMP Raids

Note: The "Raid of the Day" features accounts of police raids I've found, researched, and reported while writing my forthcoming book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces. It's due out in July, but you can pre-order it here.

In the mid-1980s, the federal government and the state of California stated the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, or CAMP. The program combined federal law enforcement and military resources with state law enforcement in an effort to eradicate marijuana cultivation in the northern part of the state.

It effectively turned parts of California into a military zone. CAMP sent U-2 spy planes over the skies to search for pot, then sent -- literally -- black helicopters full of armed National Guard troops, drug cops, and sometimes even volunteers to cut down the plants. Anyone who happened to be nearby could be detained, often at gunpoint.

Journalist Dan Baum writes in his book Smoke and Mirrors, that CAMP roadblocks started hauling whole families out of cars and holding them at gunpoint while searching their vehicles without warrants. CAMP troops . . . went house to house kicking in doors and ransacking homes, again without warrants." California Attorney General John Van de Kamp also recruited LAPD cops to raid suspected pot grows in the northern part of the state. Baum reported that the the feeling within the department was that spending a couple weeks of raiding hippies in a place like Humboldt County was like "summer camp."

More from Baum:

A CAMP team rousted a family form their home at gunpoint and shot their dog. A CAMP helicopter chased a nine-year-old girl down a dirt road and pointed guns at her. Another hovered so low over a woman taking an outdoor shower that she could see the pilot laughing. CAMP troops were searching without warrants not only the homes of suspected pot growers, but also the neighbors' homes as well, ostensibly to "protect themselves." Once inside, the troops would empty the refrigerator, pilfer what they wanted, and leave empty beer cans on sofas and counters. No home or vehicle in Humboldt County was immune from a helicopter assault and a warrantless search. The citizens of the county, who had first welcomed CAMP as a way to get rid of dangerous lawbreakers, now viewed the operation as an occupying army.

The journalist and drug law reform advocate Arnold Trebach also tells a series of CAMP anecdotes in book The Great Drug War.

At about 9 am on August 16, 1984, Charles Ervin Keys and his five-year-old son Arthur spotted a diamond formation of helicopters coming toward their home. The choppers came with 100 feet of Keys' hillside home, "shaking and blowing the tree tops." A half hour later, the largest helicopter came back while Keys was in his outhouse. The pilot maneuvered the aircraft to eye level, then hovered, "watching me defecate . . . He blew the toilet paper away and Arthur had to retrieve it for me." Later, CAMP troops entered Keys' home while he was away, without a warrant, and seized his .22-caliber rifle. Keys had already sworn he was not growing marijuana, and they had produced no evidence to the contrary. Yet when he complained and asked for the return of his gun, he was told to keep quiet, or he'd be arrested and charged with cultivation.

Marilyn Bewith, 52, described herself as a "conservative Republican." She kept a journal during the CAMP raids. From an entry on August 17, 1984: "They came again this morning at about 8:00 o'clock. A large cargo-type helicopter flew low over the cabin, shaking it on its very foundations. It shook all of us inside, too. I feel frightened . . . I see how helpless and tormented I am becoming with disgust and disillusionment with the government which has turned this beautiful country into a police state . . . I feel like I am in the middle of a war zone.

The following month, the helicopter buzzed the home of Allison Osbourne, who lived in the town of Briceland with two young girls. "It seems that we are in Vietnam or Nicaragua," she wrote. "The helicopters chased them (two 12-year-old-girls) up Perry Meadow Road, for about 20 minutes. When my daughter and her friend would hide under the bushes, the helicopters would lift up; when the girls would try to run to the nearest house, the 'copters would come again and frighten them . . . They saw guns, and though they were going to be shot!"

"As I came around a bend, a CAMP troop with an M--16 rifle was standing in the road," wrote Hal Friedberg. He told me to halt. I kept moving and told him I was later for work. He told me to 'stop or I will shoot your ass.' I stopped. I asked him why he stopped me. He told me to put my hands on the dash. He then radioed someone else saying that "I have two suspects. What should I do?" He was told to let us go . . . The whole time his weapon was pointed at us, and at some point he was joined by two other troops with weapons pointed at us . . . I was shaken and highly nervous the whole day."

Within a year, the CAMP program had extended to other states, and by 1985 was operating in all 50. The program is still operational today.

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