January 31, 2007 – From the greatest tragedies emerge the most redeeming seeds of hope. Most of the time the seeds are unseen because they are small and their promise of life has not been fulfilled. They lie sleeping in the rubble. The seed of hope I bring you here has to do with the future of investigative journalists and investigative journalism as a whole at a time when it is, in its most courageous forms, most needed.
FROM ME TO YOU
A PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM MICHAEL C. RUPPERT
A TRIBUTE TO GARY WEBB AND A MESSAGE OF HOPE
Michael C. Ruppert
There are two big thank yous I must offer before beginning. The first is to the more than 100 loyal “From The Wilderness” (FTW) subscribers who took the time to write personal letters from all over the world and send donations to my attorney, Ray Kohlman to keep me alive last November and December. That doesn’t count the hundreds of emails that were sent to the blog encouraging me and giving me the strength to continue to put one foot in front of the other, no matter what. What those letters and messages said was “Mike, you have done enough for all of us. Stop now and take care of yourself because you have nothing you need to prove anymore. We have learned what you taught us.”
The second thank you is to author, horse “whisperer” and (people) trainer par excellence Chris Irwin, who had the personal courage and honesty to open his second book “Dancing with your Dark Horse” with a brutally self-honest account of a personal failure from which he grew as both man and spirit.
Who is the “you” to whom I am writing this message?
You are the loyal FTW subscribers who hung with me for eight years. You are those who discovered me and FTW after reading “Crossing the Rubicon”. You are those who have never heard of FTW and have just come here for the first time to look around. You are the former FTW employees who left because you just couldn’t stand working with me anymore. You are the former FTW employees who remained loyal and steadfast. You are the journalists and educators who, for many years, came to FTW for good, accurate information and analysis.
You are my friends. You are also my enemies. You are those who know me, who think you know me, who don’t know me, and who partially know me. You are the ones who have wished me well and who have wished me every kind of ill imaginable.
I need to tell you these things because it has always been my nature to be open. What I have experienced in the last eight months nearly killed me; it certainly far exceeded any wish that any enemy could ever have held for my personal destruction, pain, suffering or loss.
I say this only because I am still breathing. When I returned from Venezuela first to Canada and the loving generosity of Barry Silverthorn and his wife Francine, I weighed – for the first time in two decades – in the 170s. I was sick and physically very weak. I got that sick in Venezuela. I am still in that weight range and usually still have to take a nap every day just to get by. I walk the streets of New York 10 or 15 blocks at a time before wearing out.
The fact that I am still breathing is a miracle, even to me. My life almost ended twice last year. Although slightly better, life is not at all pleasant or easy right now and yet I continue. I am receiving medical treatments and/or therapy at least once a week.
I am also (counting the debts of FTW, which nearly tripled after I left the US in July) $140,000 in debt. All of my credit cards are maxed and past due. I do not have an open bank account. I have no car, and am currently living in New York thanks to the grace and wonder of one amazing woman, Jenna Orkin, who, in spite of my lack of outward “appeal”, is becoming a true partner; something I have never known.
New York has been saving my life. But the obstacles to the peace I long for, with open spaces, horses and a “dawg”; to be out of debt and have a bank account seem insurmountable. I am not the same man I was. I will never be that man again. What I am to become has not yet been defined.
This is the tragedy that has happened in my life. Soon I will show you the seed of hope that I found and which I hope will encourage you as well.
“He has the virtues of his defects.”
That’s what Jenna said recently as she observed that in looking at my life’s accomplishments it was necessary to understand – or at least accept – that those accomplishments came with the price of me being at times ill-tempered, impatient, stubborn, over-controlling, demanding and curt with those in my immediate vicinity. There was no other way to produce FTW or Rubicon. Some tried in my absence and they could not, even with the best of intentions, succeed. I see now how I drove some people away but I am quick to remember that FTW’s great writers stayed until the bitter and painful end.
There are also, however, some who are quick to remember my generosity (an ounce of gold for every employee each Christmas), lots of time off, paid vacations and (for some) travel to exotic places and foreign countries.
But I’m not talking about how nice I was here. I am talking about seeing that I was an a—hole at times; what I have learned and how that relates to the life of the great writer and investigative journalist, Gary Webb. Gary was a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter (The San Jose Mercury News) and author (“Dark Alliance”) who told the world about the CIA bringing cocaine into Los Angeles during the Contra wars of the 1980s. I am talking and thinking about what I see in a life very similar to mine that I no longer have or intend to have.
Gary broke his seminal news stories about the CIA and drugs in 1996. His book “Dark Alliance” came out in 1998, at the same time I started publishing FTW. I resigned from LAPD over the agency’s role in drug trafficking in 1978 and went public in 1979.
Gary Webb took his own life in December 2004 after having his career trashed and life ruined, personally and professionally. His experience and mine were all very similar, almost too similar. His life was ruined within a corporate environment. For me, as a self-employed entrepreneur and publisher, the endless attacks (well documented in these pages) took different forms. FTW even won court cases showing deliberate sabotage of our operations by employees who had been turned against us.
The result was the same. No good deed goes unpunished. And as much as individual supporters reached out to help, there were no institutions powerful enough to protect people like Gary Webb and me.
I knew Gary. He had human failings too (who doesn’t?) but none of them ever detracted from the magnitude of his accomplishments. Still he had been made, as the Chicago Tribune put it, “radioactive” in the newspaper industry. By 2004 he was jobless and almost homeless. The price he paid for telling the truth was huge. And I must tell you that as I lived through the horrors of these last eight months I almost followed in Gary’s footsteps several times when it came time for me to pay my own price.
It’s not time for the ray of sunshine I promised you yet.
In November, when it had become clear that FTW was finished and my health was critical we posted a fundraising appeal on my blog, begging for money, a ticket back to North America, for medical treatment and living expenses. It was apparent to all who had seen me that I was very ill and worse – very demoralized. More than $9,000 came in even though we did not have the services of the FTW mailing list or webmaster at the time. (That’s a separate story). We have used more than $4,500 of that for my medical care and also for essential things like moving the FTW web site away from an $800 a month server which we could no longer afford. It is on the balance of that money that I am living now, for as long as I can. I cannot work or open a bank account because of judgments, debts and health.
Oh how the mighty have fallen.
Oh how the mighty yet continue to breathe.
There is no doubt that FTW was “done in”; mostly by the government or its minions who did things like burglarize our offices and smash our computers, but also by those who saw an opportunity to get away with cheap and easy financial crimes. While our bookkeeper remained loyal, ethical and efficient she only worked part time. Financial records accessible to others were stolen or destroyed. Our store was taken offline for two months and all of our subscriber-only stories were given away for free. All of this happened during the four months I languished in Venezuela and finally lost hope of a fresh start there as described in my last essay “Evolution”.
There were also those who sought to trash my reputation by alleging that I had smashed my own computers in June. The Ashland Police Department recently confirmed to my attorney Ray Kohlman that I have never been a suspect in that crime. Others said I had committed financial improprieties like insurance fraud. These allegations were also totally disproved. And one former employee waited five months until November to charge me with sexual harassment, not in a civil court or with the police department but with the Department of Labor in Oregon. That charge was filed at a time when it wasn’t clear at all whether I would get out of Venezuela alive, let alone in time to respond.
But respond we did, with documentation that demolishes her allegations. We believe we have beaten that case but should it go to a hearing we will go to Ashland with additional documentation and evidence that will put that matter to rest forever. The whisper campaigns against me evaporated with only the slightest scrutiny. Still they succeeded in evaporating morale at a critical moment.
As long as I have breath, I will defend my honor and name because I have never broken faith with FTW’s subscribers.
Some, even formerly close friends, sought personal profit by spreading these unprovable, fictitious allegations. The clearest answer that I have for all of them is that I am here, in the United States. I am not hiding, and I encourage anyone with criminal or civil allegations to come forward because we will neither hide nor run from them. My attorney’s contact information is at the bottom of this article. I did not publish FTW for eight years without ever once being sued and write “Crossing the Rubicon” with 1,000 footnotes (now in the Harvard Business School Library) without learning how to hold on to important evidence.
The second clearest answer that I have to these personal allegations is that someone will have to show how I benefited from any of these alleged acts. Given my current circumstances that’s quite a stretch.
I made my reputation by being honest with my readers and openly admitting when I made mistakes. That’s how FTW earned the trust it still enjoys around the world.
But this is the way people are destroyed. Bumper sticker allegations, no matter how weak, last longer in the public mind than hard evidence. Gary Webb and I both found that out first hand.
When I arrived in New York in late November I was so depressed I could barely speak. Who wouldn’t be depressed? Suicide was on my mind daily. I remembered other great journalists who had died in pain after producing great works. Jonathan Kwitny comes to mind.
But then attorney Ray Kohlman started bringing me the letters from subscribers and fans. “Homework” he would chuckle as he tossed me stacks of letters from which he had extracted checks. What was in my head about me was “worthless”, “failure”, and “hopeless”. What was in the letters was something entirely different and reading them caused me to cry, almost uncontrollably, for hours at a time.
Here are a few excerpts.
“Mike, you don’t owe anybody anything. The world owes you. What you have done has changed the lives of thousands. You rest. You get well.”… --- Jim, Vermont
On a Christmas card showing a father, mother, four children and a snowman with “Hope” scrawled across its chest. The message read “Dear Mike, Enclosed $250 are for your support with best wishes for your recovery. I have been a regular reader of your FTW and would like to thank you for all the information.” – Stefan P and family, Ontario, Canada.
On a blank guest check from a coffee shop a waitress sent a few dollars with a note reading, “Please tell Mike I’m sorry I can’t send more – it’s living paycheck to paycheck time… please tell him he’s in my prayers.” – Gail M
Linda F of Terrebonne, Oregon wrote a long letter with her check. It ended, “And now Michael Ruppert, it seems to be your time to rest. I pray for your recovery, so you can discover the second passion of your life. A passion full of joy. A passion that feeds your body, mind and soul.”…”Please post on your web site from time to time how you are doing. I want to know my friend is well.”
You see, there’s one thing that investigative journalists like me, or Gary Webb or so many others never get to do and that is to see and feel the love that people have for our work and what we have done. We get crowds at lectures but they come and go like TV programs. The interactions don’t last and they don’t show the deeper communication that takes place, soul-to-soul and heart-to-heart between writer and reader. That is something I wish Gary Webb really could have experienced. I wish he could have seen how much he was loved and what a difference his life made.
NEW YEAR'S AT BELLEVUE
It was not long after arriving in New York that panic attacks started as I looked at the seemingly insurmountable task of reassembling a life. They were serious and debilitating. I called my old friend Dr. Faiz Khan who had sponsored my first post 9-11 lecture in NY. He had been an ER physician in Brooklyn on 9-11 and was one of the first responders at Ground Zero. He is also a Muslim Assistant Imam who is one of the finest human beings I have ever known.
He referred me to his sister, Dr. Faiza Khan, who is a psychiatrist there in NY. Both had attended my lectures. Quick prescriptions were arranged for Atavan which I did not like at all and got off quickly. Faiza recommended that I go to the Psych ER at Bellevue to see Dr. Heather Lewerenz, a friend, who had also been to one of my lectures.
Since I had no money, job, or insurance, there was only one place I could go, the infamous Bellevue. Fortunately, doctors there knew who I was. Google searches had been done. Calls had been made.
While I was waiting to be seen, there were a bunch of NY cops in the waiting room and one of them recognized me. He had read Rubicon and asked to shake my hand. The other NY cops were very cool and not one of them displayed the “love it or leave it” syndrome. They were actually quite sympathetic.
They all shook my hand and asked me to pass around a copy of Rubicon which I did so they could see it. Jenna was there to witness all this. I told them, truthfully, that I was there because I was having a lot of PTSD. No shit.
One psychiatrist would later tell me that I had seen enough trauma for 10 lifetimes. How could I not have PTSD?
I was released that night and with a scrip for valium. In a follow-up visit I was also started on a new drug called Effexor and warned of many possible serious side effects for this new anti-depressant (one of the greatest understatements in human history as far as I'm concerned).
After a week, the dosage of Effexor was upped and that's when everything went haywire. I tightened up with paralyzing anxiety, showing some 14 of the listed dangerous side effects. Suicidal thoughts were constant. I had great difficulty with urination and bowels. I lost appetite. It got so bad that I had chosen the means and place of my suicide. I talked to Jenna, we called Faiza and we rushed back to the Bellevue ER on New Year's Eve. Fortunately, Dr. Lewerenz was on again and she saw that I was in -- to use her words -- "great torment".
It was decided to admit me immediately in order to detox me from the Effexor under close supervision. It was at the end of that detox period that the redeeming miracle took place.
THE TRIBUTE TO GARY WEBB
On my last day, January 2nd, with the morning rounds there came a group of young clinicians (I'll call them “residents”) who were a mix of psychiatrists and clinical psychologists. I believe the Dr. who brought them in was named Kohberger who introduced himself as the Deputy Director (Number 2) of all Psychiatry at Bellevue. Politely he asked if I could spare a few minutes to talk to a group of students before being discharged.
I said sure.
We went into a private exam room with the Dr. and about six or seven students. The doc said that they were all aware of who I was and that he wanted his students to have some experience talking to an investigative journalist about the "price" that got paid by those who investigated the government.
He asked if I knew Gary Webb and you could have heard a pin drop. I said, "Very well". (I delivered the first eulogy for him after his family at his memorial service). From the faces of the students it was clear that many of them knew of Gary as well. I immediately started to cry on hearing his name but mine were not the only tearing eyes. I wondered if Gary had ever thought that young doctors might have been influenced by "Dark Alliance".
I thanked them for remembering Gary and his work.
I said that I saw clearly now that in going to Venezuela after the smashing of my computers that I had run out of fight. After decades of harassment and personal attacks; after the office sabotage in LA where I had won a court case, after the threats on my life, and after discovering that an Ashland employee had destroyed or thrown out all of my financial records, I just couldn't go on any more. I was longing for a valorous, Valhalla-type death in Venezuela or a way to continue my struggle without having to face the endless attacks in the states. My health had been failing for a long time before the burglary in Ashland. It was stress, bad diet, fatigue and a lack of balance. My adrenal system was shot and a lot of my endocrinal functions were screwed up. I just hid it and denied it to myself. I was waiting for either death or a miracle in Venezuela. There were many other great journalists who had died or were worn out along the way. They were all on my mind in Venezuela.
Gary's tragic suicide had begun looming larger and larger in my mind. I told the students that twice in Caracas I had had a necktie tied around my neck, tied to the shower rod and that I had actually gotten off the floor.
The students asked again about Gary and it was so clear that they knew the whole Dark Alliance story and what had happened to him. It was clear they had been affected by his death. They were seeing the parallels with me. They asked if anyone suspected that Gary would commit suicide and I answered that in some respects he had been "telegraphing" it for quite a while. Toward the end I was doing a lot of telegraphing of my own from Venezuela.
A couple of students could not hide their tears. The lead doctor explained that he and other psychiatrists knew that there was a special issue for investigative journalists who bucked the system and they really wanted to help when and if they encountered people like me and Gary in the future. Letting these students have this discussion was important toward that end.
I cannot tell you how hard I started crying when I heard that.
I was crying in gratitude also because I wished so much that Gary could have seen this and that's what I told them. It was a most special vindication. I said that the one thing a journalist like me or Gary never really got much of a chance to experience is a tangible, touchable, reflection of whatever positive impact we make on the world.
Until I came back from Venezuela I could never really access the love of the people who have supported my work and that of all the FTW writers over the years. I didn't think that Gary ever knew how many people really, really loved him or how they so purely treasured his contribution.
They asked what the difference was between me and Gary and I said that I thought that Gary never got it that even with a Pulitzer Prize and his great book “Dark Alliance”, the mainstream was never going to come back to him and accept him. I was different because I never wanted the mainstream's acceptance in the first place. All I prayed for now was a chance to put a life together again and I emphasized that I was through with the work I had done for decades and the price that came with it. Remembering a line that had once made me laugh: “Climb down off the cross, jerk; we need the lumber,” I extended my arms like Christ and said, "I am climbing down off this cross. It’s too painful."
All of the students shook my hand as they left and I knew they would not forget either me or Gary. The fact that they remembered him now is a great and important tribute to him and his work.
What the staff and students at Bellevue did was partially redeem my faith that in the professional world all is not cynicism and pragmatic thinking. Dreamers, boat rockers and Socratic questioners are still valued and needed in important places. I truly pray that Gary's life and my story here have opened a chapter for those charged with caring for caregivers.
I was released immediately after the interview. I still want to return to the left coast someday, maybe even Oregon. I would push a peanut around Brooklyn for a Hinano's cheeseburger on Venice Beach in LA. I would still love to write, to teach, to have a dog, a horse maybe, a quiet home with Jenna and to just do things to help people in trouble if all this ever gets straightened out.
We need fearless investigative journalists and publishers now more than ever. The twin dragons of Peak Oil and Global Warming are out there, hungry and approaching. Someone has got to scout for all of us and we especially must find a way to better care for them.
When you make donations to keep the FTW archives alive know that any amounts exceeding basic expenses will be used first for my care and then – if there is enough – to find a way to start an organization to protect and care for other brave investigative journalists.
It is the least we can do. We must.
Michael C. Ruppert
I am reachable through:
My literary agent Ken Levine
My attorney Ray Kohlman
116-16 142nd St. Jamaica, NY, 11436
Or through my blog, where the spirit of FTW lives on:
This function has been disabled.