When Freak Power Failed

In 1970, Hunter S. Thompson ran for Sheriff of Pitkin County on the Freak Power ticket. Freak Power was a political movement he developed with a group of friends in and around Woody Creek in response to what they perceived as negative developments in the area.

Ultimately, Thompson did not succeed in his bid to be Sheriff (and it is likely he never actually intended to win). Yet he came far closer than anyone thought he could and even generated national interest with his outrageous campaign platform. He described this in his first ever Rolling Stone article.

I read a lot of the local press and of course Hunter’s own writings on the Freak Power campaign when researching my book and various essays I wrote about Thompson during that period. There’s some great stuff in D.J. Watkins’ book, Freak Power. (A must-have for any self-respecting Gonzo fan.)

Recently, I dug up a few reports from the mainstream media and thought I’d share them here.

The first is a report from the Los Angeles Times on October 7th, about a month before the election. It shows Thompson finally being taken seriously as a candidate and striking fear into the hearts of the Establishment.

Next, we have a UPI report from November 2nd, the day before the election.

Finally, there’s a report from November 4th, the day after the election. This one is also from the Los Angeles Times.

Was that the death of Freak Power?

In a sense, yes. However, Thompson set in motion certain changes that took place in the years that followed. His campaign was not merely a prank or publicity stunt. His ideas were often comedic but they drew attention to serious issues and inspired people, showing that even the most outrageous candidate could come close to winning. Just six years after Thompson’s defeat, Dick Kienast was elected Sheriff, “espousing many of the same philosophies that inspired Thompson in the 1970 race,” according to the Aspen Times. He was followed by Thompson’s good friend, Bob Braudis, who kept up the good work. Aspen became known for its progressive Sheriffs, men who prided themselves on fair and reasonable rules and actions, a huge step forward from the regressive, hippie-stomping Carrol Whitmire, against whom Thompson had run.

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