Sunday, April 19, 2009

420 Again

What does "420" mean? April 20th? Or something deeper?

I first wrote and posted this on April 20, 2007. It seems appropriate to reprint it on the 10th anniversary of the Columbine tradegy.

High school student Jeff Weise, an Ojibwa, killed ten, including himself, at the Red Lake Ojibwa Reservation in Minnesota, on March 21, 2005. A great admirer of Columbine, it was discovered that Weise left references to Columbine throughout his online presence. For example, he employed a username, which translated to "Abandoned 420."

Columbine and 420

Obviously, one meaning of "420" is directly linked to the Columbine date, as "4/20" is April 20, the anniversary of the Littleton, Colorado shootings. This date is also Adolf Hitler's birthday. The Columbine shooters, Klebold and Harris were extremely conscious that it was Hitler's birthdate, and often spoke German to each other, while walking around in long black trench coats, videotaping themselves.

Copycat Weise left messages on such sites as Weise wore a dark trench coat to school all year round, and had a swastika fascination, a symbol used by both First Nations people and Nazis. In one of Weise's online profiles, he noted that two of his favorite movies were Elephant and Zero Day, based on the events of the Columbine High School massacre.

Jeff Weise virtually haunted the Neo-Nazi Internet forum of the Libertarian National Socialist Green Party under the aliases NativeNazi and Todesengel (German for "Angel of Death"). He admired Hitler, his posts revealed. Weise also alleged online that his school was warned in 2004 that someone was going to "shoot up" the school on April 20, the birthday of Adolf Hitler and the anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre, and that the school authorities "pinned" the threat on him.

But Weise sometimes would sound almost typical. For example, on one of his user info pages, he said he was "nothin' but your average Native American stoner" and mentioned that he used marijuana. After Columbine, one oft-repeated story circulated that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were upset by an unfounded accusation made by an anonymous classmate that the two had brought marijuana to school, prompting a search of their property. Harris and Klebold were said to have found the incident humiliating.

The Other Meaning of 420

The use of "420" for almost four decades is related to the use of marijuana.

4:20 or 4/20 (pronounced four-twenty) is a term used in North America as a discreet way to refer to cannabis and, by extension, a way to identify oneself with cannabis culture. Phrases such as "420 friendly" sometimes appear in roommate advertisements, indicating that the current occupants are tolerant of cannabis users.

It is widely accepted that in 1971, a group of teenagers at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California, calling themselves The Waldos, used to meet every day after school at 4:20 p.m. to smoke marijuana at the Louis Pasteur statue. The term became part of their group's salute, "420 Louis," and it eventually caught on more widely. Many cannabis users continue to observe 4:20 as a time to smoke communally. By extension April 20 ("4/20" in U.S. dating shorthand) has evolved into a counterculture holiday, where people gather to celebrate and consume cannabis.
Source: Wikipedia

It was the research of Steven Hager, editor of High Times, who found the term 420 originated at San Rafael High School in 1971, among the Waldos. A quote from one of the Waldos in the article notes, "We did discover we could talk about getting high in front of our parents without them knowing by using the phrase 420."

Adolf Hitler, marijuana, Columbine: For copycats, 420 appears to have served as a reflective mirror. For the rest of us, 420 may reflect a dangerous combination that has resulted in terrible memories that now reach beyond the mere date of April 20th.

2009 Update:

Todd Campbell's blog adds an interesting new footnote to the "420" decoding research.

It appears in the H. P. Lovecraft short story, "In the Walls of Eryx" (1939), one of the characters smokes a strangely familiar plant, experiences some visual sensations, and then he "looked at [his] watch and was astonished to find that the time was only 4:20. "

While the origins of the time of 4:20 is tied, allegedly, to when detention students were released at San Rafael High, and then the Waldos would meet and smoke, could one of the well-read students have been aware of Lovecraft's story too?

P. S. - Please give me the intellectual respect to understand this is not an anti-drug message, but one about awareness of the twilight language behind code words like "420" in one shooter's message. To think this is as an anti-marijuana blog is as illogical as thinking I am going to let myself get involved in the quicksand of a pro-gun-control vs pro-gun debate. Blaming drugs, guns, video games, and the long list of candidates seems to ignore what's happening in the imprinted mind of the suicidal potential school shooter.


Bladerunner said...

Fascinating stuff. I found the H.P. Lovecraft reference almost startling. I think I will re-read 'eryx' to look for the passage. Thought provoking as always sir.

Anonymous said...

420 degrees F is also the optimal temperature that cannabis burns in a vaporizer.