By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The health-care experts I interview for this story keep saying, ”You can see longtime heroin addicts, but you never see any longtime meth addicts.“ I hear plenty of horror stories about meth, about people on meth binges -- tweakers -- killing friends, relatives, strangers. Several of the police officers killed in the line of duty in L.A. County in recent years were allegedly murdered by tweakers. Different people tell the same anecdote about a man in New Mexico or Arizona who cut off his son‘s head and threw it out the window while driving down the highway.
But unless you believe the Reefer Madness theory of drug use, unless you believe that a drug spreads itself through its irresistibly addictive power, the question arises: Why did a drug that’s been around for so long suddenly start to boom in popularity within the last few years?
Meth As the Emblem of Globalization
What seems to have happened is textbook Harvard Business School.
Originally, in the ‘70s and ’80s, places like the deserts outside of Lancaster, San Bernardino and northern San Diego County were home to a different kind of illegal meth manufacture. Back then, groups associated with biker gangs using a precursor different from ephedrine made a less-potent form of meth, called d-l-methamphetamine, because it contained both the d, right-hand isomer, the strong one, and the l, left-hand isomer, which is not very potent.
Back then, cocaine was the illegal stimulant of the middle classes. The market for d-l-methamphetamine as an illegally manufactured crystal that you could snort or swallow, or, if you were really hardcore, inject or smoke, had a limited clientele, low-class white people of a certain social set -- the people authorities refer to as ”trailer trash,“ although never on camera or for attribution.
As the ‘80s wore on, the crack epidemic began to make the middle classes see coke in a different light. At the same time, business began to go truly global. By the time the Berlin Wall came down, among the leading global enterprises were the Colombian drug cartels, vertically integrated corporations for the export of cocaine to the U.S. Originally, the coke came in via smuggling routes through the Caribbean to Florida. But after heavy U.S. interdiction efforts in that area, the Colombian cartels were obliged to seek new smuggling routes. They chose Mexico and, in the process, built the Mexican cartels into what are now being called the largest criminal organizations that the world has ever seen, cartels not only allegedly capable of corrupting large sectors of Mexico’s government, but also of challenging the Colombian cartels head on.
As the Mexican cartels grew in power, the problem they faced was simple: Coca leaves don‘t grow in Mexico. In search of a stimulant to replace Colombian cocaine, they discovered that by simply knocking an oxygen molecule off ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient in over-the-counter cold remedies like Sudafed, you can produce pure d-methamphetamine, a much more powerful drug than the d-l-methamphetamine being turned out in biker labs. So that’s what they did. They started clandestine meth labs in Mexico, smuggled meth up into the U.S. But like any global business, the Mexican cartels seek efficiency, so they ultimately chose a favorite technique of multinational corporations -- offshore production. They moved some of their ”technical-support people“ into California and made our state the meth- manufacturing center of the world.
Uncle Fester Leads the Counterattack
If one of the problems with globalization is that it creates a worldwide economic system that is unable to differentiate between licit and illicit enterprises, facilitating the move of Mexican national organizations into the California meth business, so then, the rise of small-time meth manufacture can be seen as a kind of felonious Pat Buchanan backlash.
In the last several years, low-income white Americans, Uncle Fester‘s people, have begun lashing back so hard that the number of small meth labs seized across the U.S. has gone up by roughly a third each year. ”I’m all for free speech,“ complains Guy Hargreaves of the DEA, ”but the formula for meth is too easy to find. It‘s all over the Internet.“ And it’s in Uncle Fester‘s books.
A chemist in Green Bay, Wisconsin, named Steve Preisler is identified as the author of the Uncle Fester books. But while Preisler claims that he was the original innovator of easy-to-use meth formulas, he acknowledges that ”it’s a team effort to keep the field advancing,“ and that coming up with new cooking recipes ”tends to be a group effort.“
A reliable source introduced us to a man he says supplies cooking tips for the Uncle Fester books, a white guy in his late 30s, whom I‘ll call Tab. Tab has been a cooker in a white ”brotherhood“ that has been making big batches of meth since the ’80s, when it was under the control of white organized-crime groups linked to West Coast biker gangs. From years of absorbing meth through his skin as he cooked it, Tab seems to share our reality at only a few points, going in and out with a kind of tidal rhythm. As to Uncle Fester and his books, Tab is enigmatic. ”All I can say is that those books were written because we want the drug spread worldwide.“