Agents of Chaos

Thomas King Forçade, High Times, and the Paranoid End of the 1970s


By Sean Howe

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The life and times of High Times’ enigmatic founder Thomas King Forçade, an underground newspaper editor and marijuana kingpin who—between police raids, smuggling runs, and outrageous stunts—battled both the US government and fellow radicals.

Cover illustration by legendary comics artist Bill Sienkiewicz.

At the end of the 1960s, the mysterious Tom Forçade suddenly appeared, insinuating himself into the top echelons of countercultural politics and assuming control of the Underground Press Syndicate, a coalition of newspapers across the country. Weathering government surveillance and harassment, he embarked on a landmark court battle to obtain White House press credentials. But his audacious exploits—pieing Congressional panelists, stealing presidential portraits, and picking fights with other activists—led to accusations that he was an agent provocateur.

As the era of protest faded and the dark shadows of Watergate spread, Forçade hoped that marijuana could be the path to cultural and economic revolution. Bankrolled by drug-dealing profits, High Times would be the Playboy of pot, dragging a once-taboo subject into the mainstream. The magazine was a travelogue of globe-trotting adventure, a wellspring of news about “the business,” and an overnight success. But High Times soon threatened to become nothing more than the “hip capitalism” Forçade had railed against for so long, and he felt his enemies closing in.

Assembled from exclusive interviews, archived correspondences, and declassified documents, Agents of Chaos is a tale of attacks on journalism, disinformation campaigns, governmental secrecy, corporatism, and political factionalism. Its triumphs and tragedies mirror the cultural transformations of 1970s America, wrought by forces that continue to clash in the spaces between activism and power.

  • “Like an obsessed detective hunting a man without a face, Sean Howe has turned the life of Tom Forçade into a detailed metaphor explaining why the seventies were sublime, why the seventies failed, and how those two things are intractably connected.”
    Chuck Klosterman, author of The Nineties
  • “A dizzying ride through the hazy, contentious, loopy world of American radicalism in the sixties and seventies. In Tom Forçade, Howe has found the perfect character for tracing the multifarious histories of the era, from the parties and protests to the sativa-smogged subbasements where idealists, pranksters, and conspiracists clashed. Richly drawn, deadly serious, utterly comical, this book gave me a contact high!”
    Joe Hagan, author of Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine
  • “A gob-smacking roller coaster through the 1970s—who knew the ‘Me Decade’ had such a wild, frightening, and, yes, chaotic underbelly? It’s time to finally give Tom Forçade, faults and all, his rightful place among First Amendment freedom fighters.”
    Tom O’Neill, author of Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties
  • “Who was Tom Forçade? A revolutionary guru? A hippie con man? An undercover cop? In Sean Howe’s brilliant book, he’s a weird one-man secret history of seventies America, a mystery man who keeps showing up everywhere from the early underground press to the punk-rock explosion. Agents of Chaos turns this bizarre tale into an obsessively fascinating and addictive epic, like a countercultural thriller. This book is a brilliant jigsaw puzzle that also turns out to be a mirror.”
    Rob Sheffield, author of Dreaming the Beatles: The Love Story of One Band and the Whole World
  • “[A] gritty investigation.”
    The New York Times
  • “A fascinating, anecdote-packed tale of drugs, guns, and magazine publishing.”
    Entertainment Weekly
  • “Sean Howe’s story of the mysterious hell-bound founder of High Times magazine, as well as the scandals, tragedies and FBI informants that followed in his dank wake, is both wild fun and essential cultural history.”
    Los Angeles Times
  • “The tale of this now often-forgotten underground figure is told by author Sean Howe in bold and lustrous detail—fit for any film….The book also doubles as a history of the countercultural political groups and figures of the era. That’s a positive in that it fleshes out the story and the times….[I]n Agents of Chaos, Sean Howe unravels his riveting and far-reaching tale.”
    Houston Press
  • “Reading Sean Howe’s Agents of Chaos can feel like entering a kind of mirror world…[an] immersive, eye-opening dip into a world discombobulatingly like our own, and yet so different.”
    The Globe and Mail
  • “A cautionary tale from the countercultural past, full of revolutionary glory and ugly criminality…. An impossibly tangled drama, but Howe chronicles it expertly. A fascinating resurrection from the dark side of the 1960s and ’70s.”
    Kirkus Reviews (starred)
  • "[A] rollicking history....Howe offers a nuanced portrait of his subject, finding amusement in Forçade’s zany escapades (he once evaded a police raid at the High Times office by escaping to the roof and jumping to a neighboring building) while pointing out his sometimes muddled logic (“We don’t break any laws or confront the establishment,” Forçade once said while heading the United Press Syndicate, despite having moonlighted as a drug runner). This captures the freewheeling spirit of the counterculture’s troubled march through the 1970s."
    Publishers Weekly
  • “The story of [High Times] founder Thomas King Forçade — is even more complex and dramatic than you might expect. With his new book Agents of Chaos, Sean Howe explores the paradoxes at the heart of Forçade — and the conflicts they led him into.”
    Inside Hook
  • “As Howe’s book describes in colorful, rollicking detail, Tom Forcade lived a life any outlaw would envy. In a culture where the outlaw holds a certain allure and respect, even though they all too often end up dying a violent death, Agents of Chaos gives Tom Forcade’s life the renown it deserves.”
  • “Sean Howe takes readers on a heady, edgy, sometimes eerie ride.”
    Crime Reads
  • “Wild….Awesome cover, awesome read.  Pick it up; you won’t regret it."
  • “[Howe] create[s] a vivid narrative look at the forces that were driving (and being driven by) a cultural transformation, giving the reader ringside seats to the battles within and without the movement….While the broad outlines of this story have been extensively studied and explored, Howe gives us a granular, ground-level account loaded with big personalities and small conflicts, and trusts us to recognize the larger connections….Complex, hilarious, and deeply bizarre….Howe does some valuable research into Forcade’s past and uncovers some surprising details…he lets Forcade’s unbelievable, incoherent, impossibly American career speak for itself, wisely allowing readers to draw their own conclusions….Who Thomas King Forcade really was and why he did what he did will probably always remain a mystery, but the times and circles in which he moved will always provide clear lessons about the limits of dissent, the power of dreams, the corruption of power, the determination of the powerful, and the all-consuming lure of the fast buck.”
    Spectrum Culture

On Sale
Aug 29, 2023
Page Count
432 pages
Hachette Books

Sean Howe

About the Author

Sean Howe is the author of the New York Times bestseller and Eisner Award-winning Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, Bookforum, Wired, and elsewhere. He lives in upstate New York.

Learn more about this author