Ace R. Hayes, 58, an activist and political researcher who was well-known in the Portland, Oregon area, died on February 13, 1998 from an aneurism in the brain. The first severe symptoms occurred only a day earlier; the headaches and neck pains he experienced during the previous week didn't even slow him down, and might have been unrelated.
Corruption and conspiracy in high places is the name of the game, but Ace was on the case. His broad familiarity with the dark side of American history will be missed by senior colleagues and younger proteges alike. Yes, "colorful" and "unforgettable" are words that come instantly to mind, but "committed" is more important, and "permanent state of indignation" is best of all. Ace Hayes was a whirlwind, and his moral outrage could suck you in.
For the last six years he has been an icon on my radar, an early warning system for uncharted political waters. I first heard his name in 1986, when he purchased a database I was developing and had just begun to distribute. The only other purchasers I remember that year were Newsweek (which had the Iran-contra story months before it broke but just sat on it), and Howard Rosenberg from CBS (who used the database several months later to scoop a story that eventually resulted in a conviction for Oliver North).
It took the CIA 13 months longer than Ace Hayes to place an order for this database, and it took the Soviet embassy 8 months longer than the CIA. Who's this Ace guy from Portland? After all, Washington, DC is the center of the universe -- just ask anyone who lives there! (By 1994 Ace had become a member of the advisory board at Public Information Research, Inc., the publisher of NameBase.)
My records from 1986 to 1988 tell me that Ace had a Kaypro computer, and a brochure he enclosed said that he taught courses at the Red Rose School in Portland. They were titled "Radical Research" and "Secret Government in America."
I learned later that Ace already had a long history of activism by this time. He started out at Portland State, and was arrested for anti-Vietnam War protests. Then he lived in Oakland, California while the Black Panthers were active. Ace told stories about how he got into trouble for delivering guns to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua during the late 1970s. Once upon a time, the stories continued, the Communist Party invited him to join. But Ace turned them down "because they were too conservative."
Ace was bright and articulate, in a gruff sort of way. He had no tolerance for the well-turned subtleties of talking heads and conventional wise men. As a one-man information highway, he slew such pundits-of-the-moment with a few well-deserved epithets. His opinions were backed up by an enormous personal library of books and periodicals on current history. Ace Hayes was a man on the move, a man on a moral mission, a man with no time to lose.
His political radar was firmly grounded in what might be described as militant populism. If you knew him only casually, you might mistake him for a militia type, such as those who were so upset over government conduct at Waco. But as Ace would point out, the more important question by 1993 was this: How did it come to pass that the so-called "left" failed to express any outrage whatsoever over Waco? For the previous two years, Ace had been telling me that it was no longer a question of "left" and "right," but rather a question of "top" versus "bottom."
It's clear that Ace had very good radar; even Ivy League black scholars are acknowledging today that "race" issues have obliterated "class" issues, and that the entire civil rights movement somehow missed a very big bus. (It's also true that in the 1970s, Marxist scholars were quietly purged from American universities in favor of women's studies, black studies, and this-and-that studies, all of which were well-funded by Ford-Rockefeller-Carnegie. But why belabor the point by getting conspiratorial?)
Whenever I wanted the low-down on political trends, all I had to do was call Ace Hayes. I hardly needed to do even that. Between the Portland Free Press that he edited, and those thick packets of clippings he sent out to his mailing list, full of underscores and double exclamation points in the margins, all I had to do was empty my mailbox. Then I'd sit back with a six-pack to see if I could read his mind. I'm convinced that my political instincts were well-served by keeping up with Ace's running commentary on world affairs.
The "colorful" aspect of Ace Hayes came to me in 1995, when I had the pleasure of visiting him, and his capable and attractive wife Janet Marcley, at their five-acre homestead near Portland. Soon a couple dozen of their friends arrived for a barbecue. Ace and Janet lived on the top floor of a big barn. Most of this floor was covered with stacks of magazines and shelves of books. The ground floor was half machine-shop (after college, Ace became a machinist), and half of what looked like junk.
After a few beers, Ace and Janet showed me their shitaki mushroom garden (these are grown by placing the spores in holes that are drilled in oak logs). Then Ace started up a monster yellow log skidder parked in the front, to show us how the pincers moved. Ace Hayes was packing a Glock 9-millimeter (he had a permit and loved guns), and a few additional beers later demonstrated his quick draw (I didn't even see his hand move).
I had a great time. The last time I had this much fun in logging country was 20 years earlier, when I visited an old friend named Jim, whom I knew from Vietnam draft days in Los Angeles. By then Jim had settled in a remote cabin in northern British Columbia. His mushrooms were psilocybin, and we canoed on a lake with no people around anywhere, only beavers and birds. But these days I'm too old for psilocybin, so the Oregon blackberries I picked for breakfast the next morning were just right.
Later I watched a videotape of one of Ace's "Secret Government Seminars," which he has held monthly for over ten years. They are shown on cable-access television in the Portland area. Ace sallied forth in his inimitable style, blasting away at corruption and conspiracy in high places. He made his case with his usual foursome: a broad knowledge of current history, a belief in the Constitution and democracy, integrity with common sense, and an instinct that the price of democracy is eternal vigilance.
I'm going to miss Ace Hayes, but not because he was colorful. I'll miss his gruff-and-honest perceptions. This is what produced the sort of politics that couldn't be seduced by our Daily Spin. If we can find more of the same, instead of that usual diet of insipid infotainment, the people will someday rise up in anger against what Ace often called the "kleptocracy."
Ace wasn't a leftist or a rightist, nor was he a refined intellectual or a smooth politician. To his credit, he had some qualities we all can use -- a populist dignity, a well-informed ear to the ground, a massive sense of purpose, and unflagging energy. Such qualities are difficult to find as we anticipate the next millennium. I'm going to miss Ace Hayes. I hope he's not watching us from somewhere, because his act is a difficult one to follow.
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