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Operation White Rabbit

LSD, the DEA, and the Fate of the Acid King

Dennis McDougal


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Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (12/20/2021)


A search for the truth behind the DEA’s life imprisonment of acid's most famous martyr.
Operation White Rabbit traces the rise and fall—and rise and fall again—of the psychedelic community through the life of the man known as the “Acid King:” William Leonard Pickard. Pickard was a legitimate genius, a follower of Timothy Leary, a con artist, a womanizer, and a believer that LSD would save lives. He was a foreign diplomat, a Harvard fellow, and the biggest producer of LSD on the planet—if you believe the DEA.
A narrative for fans of Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind, Pickard’s personal story is set against a fascinating chronicle of the social history of psychedelic drugs from the 1950s on. From LSD distribution at UC Berkeley to travelling the world for the State Department, Pickard’s story is one of remarkable genius—that is, until a DEA sting named “Operation White Rabbit” captured him at an abandoned missile silo in Kansas. Pickard, the DEA said, was responsible for 90 percent of the world’s production of lysergic acid.
The DEA announced to the public that they found 91 pounds of LSD. In reality, the haul was seven ounces. They found none of the millions of dollars Pickard supposedly amassed, either. But nonetheless, he is now serving two consecutive life sentences without possibility of parole. Pickard has become acid’s best-known martyr in the process, continuing his advocacy and artistic pursuits from jail.

Pickard has successfully sued the US government because his requests for information on his case returned two blank DEA documents. But the appeals of his sentence have continually failed. The author visits him regularly in jail in an effort to find the truth.

Praise For Operation White Rabbit: LSD, the DEA, and the Fate of the Acid King

"Dennis McDougal’s lively writing and muckraking journalism sheds new light on the dark underside of the psychedelic renaissance. Operation White Rabbit serves as a cautionary tale of the good trip breaking bad."— Don Lattin, bestselling author of The Harvard Psychedelic Club.

"No matter how many literary acid trips you have been on, until you read Dennis McDougal’s Operation White Rabbit, you are missing the best trip of all. McDougal paints the life and times of Lennie Pickard with rich colors, subtle texture and brilliant insight. McDougal is held in awe by many of his peers because of how diligently and deeply he digs, McDougal always discovers hidden gems of fact that others miss, then polishes them into a marvelously told story."— David Cay Johnston, bestselling author of The Making of Donald Trump 

"What’s not to love when learning about Leonard? It’s a joy to gaze at the stars of the psychedelic lore: Hubbard and Hoffman, Owsley and Osmond, Scully and Sand, Leary and Ram Dass. But who stands alone, a constellation unto himself? Master shapeshifter among many, the peerless Pickard, larger than life, and then prisoner for life. McDougal has done it again, weaving a tapestry that wraps us in acid and enlightenment, a tale of mischief that morphs into one of hubris before it all comes to a crashing end. Bravo to the biographer!"—Julie Holland, M.D., bestselling author of Weekends at Bellevue: Nine Years on the Night Shift at the Psych ER and Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, the Sleep You’re Missing, the Sex You’re Not Having, and What’s Really Making You Crazy 


Skyhorse, 9781510745377, 336pp.

Publication Date: October 27, 2020

About the Author

Investigative journalist Dennis McDougal is the author of twelve books, including Dylan: The Biography and Five Easy Decades. A staff writer for two decades with the Los Angeles Times and frequent contributor to the New York Times, McDougal has been honored with more than forty awards, including Stanford University’s John S. Knight Fellowship, the Anne Sperber Award for the nation’s best media biography, a nomination for the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, and the George Foster Peabody Award as co-producer of the 2009 PBS American Experience documentary Inventing L.A. based on McDougal’s bestselling Privileged Son.