It occurred to me the other day that in his final years, Hunter S. Thompson somehow managed to predict America’s wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, the NSA scandals, the financial crisis, the Arab Spring and the clampdown on journalists that we’ve all watched play out after his death in 2005. Now, I’m obviously biased toward the Good Doctor, or I wouldn’t be writing on a blog named “Gonzo Muckraker,” but hear me out on this one.
My girlfriend and I had this conversation recently, talking about who in recent history was most right about how the world would change after 9/11. We swapped stories about where we were that day and how we heard the news. Then I played Thompson’s famous radio interview from 2002 (listen below), in which he calls the events unfolding in the months after the attack a “military takeover” — which still haunts me as I read every new revelation about the NSA’s activities, made possible because 9/11 blew a hole through our collective psyche big enough for the USA PATRIOT Act to be rammed through. The allegations about our spooks spying on the Senate is what really sold me on that storyline.
In that same interview, he also warned about “the looting of the Treasury,” saying it had already begun and would escalate dramatically. Though Thompson was dead by the time the Big Ripoff really charged through the door in 2008, what happened was just as he predicted: A looting of America’s Treasury so great that it carved a tread through our democracy that has not healed. Trillions spilled out across the financial system once the vault swung open, and the Plutocracy finally got to throw its big rolling-out bash.
Give it a listen:
His ESPN Page 2 column from Sept. 12, 2001 was every bit as prophetic, particularly this bit:
We are going to punish somebody for this attack, but just who or what will be blown to smithereens for it is hard to say. Maybe Afghanistan, maybe Pakistan or Iraq, or possibly all three at once.
And wouldn’t you know, that very thing happened. Leon Panetta admitted in 2012 that we are in fact at war in Pakistan. We’ve finally tucked out of Iraq, leaving millions lost, maimed, obliterated and displaced. And the troubles of Afghanistan still wring our necks every other day, no matter how desensitized the general public has become to the headlines.
He wasn’t just right about the next 13 years of our military adventures either: Thompson nailed where a big part of American culture was heading as well, warning in his ESPN column that a subset of our leaders would turn this conflagration into a conflict between Christians and Muslims:
It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerilla [sic] warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy.
Here too: Merciless fanatics have risen up on both sides. Anti-Muslim violence has exploded in the U.S. since 9/11. Thanks to the Arab Spring — where democracies are sprouting, sometimes by force, in countries long held in the death grip of U.S.-backed dictators — there are very few true front lines anymore. And as we can see through the terrible lens of Syria, it has become very hard to differentiate between friend and enemy in this New War.
In the 2002 interview, Thompson characterized the media as having become obsessed with celebrities and characters of its own creation, and warned that real journalism may soon become a crime. He put it even more succinctly on Sept. 12, 2001, writing:
The numbers out of the Pentagon are baffling, as if Military Censorship has already been imposed on the media. It is ominous. The only news on TV comes from weeping victims and ignorant speculators.
The lid is on. Loose Lips Sink Ships. Don’t say anything that might give aid to The Enemy.
As history unfolds, hinged as it is upon these events, it’s becoming ever clearer that Hunter S. Thompson earned his reputation. Perhaps the godfather of Gonzo Journalism really did see that much more than any of us could fathom as he gazed out over the edge and into the great beyond.
More than just an outlaw journalist or a drug-addled verbal brawler, Thompson was one of those rare writers who was revered in his emeritus years like a sage who sits upon a mountain, dispensing wisdom to travelers and imparting visions of doom upon the society down below. He’s as close as we’ll get to that sort of figure in America, anyway.
The true shame is that with Thompson gone, there’s nobody alive who could possibly come as close as he did to predicting the major events we’ll witness in the next 13 years. The only good news: It’s likely to get amply weird, even enough for the Good Doctor himself.