On April 14, Ed Buck was sentenced to 30 years in prison for crimes that resulted in the overdose deaths of two black men in his West Hollywood apartment. The case has garnered national media attention for a host of interrelated reasons involving social class, race, politics, and sexual identity. Buck, an openly gay man and self-styled animal-rights and AIDS-awareness activist, had donated large sums of money to Los Angeles and national Democratic causes. The men who died in his apartment and many surviving victims were gay, often destitute, and almost exclusively ethnic minorities, paid to participate in “party-and-play sessions.” The slang term, well established in the gay community, is code for consuming drugs while engaging in sexual activity.
L.A. Times headlines surrounding the Buck trial have predictably sought to tie the deaths of the two men in Buck’s apartment (Gemmel Moore in 2017 and Timothy Dean in 2019) to the Black Lives Matter movement. “Ed Buck’s Black Victims Fought to be believed” reads one headline;“It took two years to arrest Democratic donor Ed Buck despite shocking allegations, red flags. Why?” read another. Despite the fact that the district attorney who declined to prosecute Buck at the time of the first death was a black female Democrat endorsed by a host of LGBT organizations, the L.A. Times and other outlets suggested that the victim’s and perpetrator’s race played a role in the initial failure to file charges.
There undoubtedly is some truth to these claims. But, to borrow the parlance of Los Angeles nonprofit groups about whom I have written in these pages, media claims regarding race, class, and the shortcomings of the criminal-justice system overlook some of the “structural” or “root causes” of Bucks’ predations on black men. What are they? The truth is that Los Angeles itself, along with progressive cultural norms, were Buck’s silent accomplice.
While the ultimate responsibility for these mens’ deaths lies squarely in Buck’s hands, Los Angeles politics and public policy bear some of the blame. As Soledad Ursua has documented meticulously for City Journal, Los Angeles is a sanctuary by design both for homelessness and drug use. Both have been “decriminalized” in the city with disastrous consequences, luring tens of thousands from out of state, including some of Buck’s victims, to the City of Angels. In 2016, Proposition 47 turned virtually all categories of drug possession for personal use into a misdemeanor offense; that same year, Proposition HHH prioritized the so-called “housing first” strategy, treating homelessness not as a law-and-order issue but rather a housing- and rent- “affordability” crisis. These perverse incentives have made Los Angeles a hub of domestic migration for the homeless and addicted.
In addition to the (semi)transient status of many of Buck’s victims, the gay subculture of “party and play,” through which Buck enticed or cajoled his victims to participate, has become such a fixture of West Hollywood’s cultural life that the city has even dedicated town-hall meetings to the subject of “chemsex.” While the deaths of Buck’s victims were and are singular tragedies attributable to Buck’s particular acts, the circumstances in which the men died have become, sadly, a near-quotidian occurrence in West Hollywood’s gay social scene.
The liberal establishment’s moral confusion and outright incoherence surrounding the “party and play” culture to which Moore and Dean fell victim is nowhere better exemplified than in an L.A. Times article on the subject. A self-identified drag queen and “chemsex” addict in recovery describes his rehabilitation in the following terms: “When I got sober, I had to learn how to have sex again because I was used to this seedy, dangerous, risky sex…. You can go to the orgies, honey. You can go to the bathhouse. You can do this stuff sober.” In other words: Group sex is okay as long as you are not abusing drugs in the process.
Homosexuality, extramarital sex, promiscuity, orgies, and the like are nothing new in human history. What is new—the advent of the last half-century or so—is the loosening of societal norms around sex and sexuality, and the inexorable shift from tolerance to celebration of practices that would have been considered abhorrent not long ago. As the Times piece makes clear, Los Angeles’s and America’s liberal establishment has gone from condoning gay relationships to condoning orgies, at least as long as they are conducted “safely” by consenting adults.
Another part of the Ed Buck tragedy that will go largely unnoticed and unexamined is the false premise of freedom upon which our contemporary culture is based, namely, the notion that sexual liberation is a good in its own right and an end in itself. The #MeToo movement showed us, in a way not entirely dissimilar to the Ed Buck trial, that the line between coercion and consent in the post-sexual-revolution society is often murky at best, at all times muddled by the age-old forces of status, power, and wealth. Yet we insist, particularly in major cities on the culturally liberal coasts, that any taboos surrounding sex are unwarranted prejudices. Something here doesn’t add up.
As Rusty Reno demonstrates in his 2016 book Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society, the cult of personal liberation (that is, individual freedom untethered from any moral-ethical framework) is in reality a “war on the weak.” Reno writes: “Educated, well-to-do Baby Boomers are disciplined in their hedonism, careful that their pecadillos don’t impede their scramble for success. For the most part, the rich have developed a relatively safe and moderate approach to drugs, and for the few who haven’t, well, there’s professional help.”
Reno goes on, with my emphasis, to elucidate the nature of our regnant cultural chaos:
No social crisis of our time is more profound than this disregard–to the point of disdain–for the moral needs of the vulnerable. Official ideologies of “diversity,” “inclusion,” and “nonjudgementalism” are not oriented towards the “marginal.” They serve the high achievers, the meritocrats, the comfortable people who have the social and financial capital to navigate this moral deregulation and protect themselves from its dangerous consequences.
I cannot think of a better way to describe Ed Buck’s predatory overtures to gay men, many of whom were struggling with addiction, extreme poverty, or both, than a war on the weak, a part of a larger war waged by our ruling elite under the false flag of freedom. The upper class sees post-1960s cultural deregulation both as its birthright and the carrot it gives the underclass instead of the stick; in exchange for their submission to a meritocracy that is at once libertarian and socio-economically Darwinian, the working classes are allowed the modern-day version of bread and circuses: unrestrained sex and drugs.
The question now becomes whether our nation’s shrinking population of Christians can fully assume their role as a creative minority in an increasingly post-Christian West. Our only hope is that this minority, like a suddenly heeded prophet, can alert us to the specious form of freedom that sunders our country’s social fabric.
Kurt Hofer is a native Californian with a Ph.D. in Spanish Literature. He teaches high school history in a Los Angeles-area independent school. His writing may also be found at the European Conservative, where he is a contributing editor.