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© 2004-2019 Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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One Way to Tear Down a Hash

Sue a big company. Even if you’re in the right, even if you eventually win, it’s hell on the hash.

Here’s a quick summary of two previous blog posts on this subject:

I shared a newspaper article about a lawsuit between members of the Sacramento H3 and a large aerospace defense contractor, Aerojet. Some hashers wandered onto Aerojet property back in May 2007 and were detained by Aerojet security. Well, somewhat more than detained, according to a copy of the lawsuit sent me by a confidential informant, which I also shared with you.

Five of the fourteen detained hashers sued Aerojet for damages. Aerojet counter-sued. Things dragged on for almost four years.  Then, just last month, Aerojet and the hashers settled out of court.  My reading of the lawsuit was that the hashers had a good case against Aerojet, and from what I hear it was Aerojet that finally backed down.  Rumor is the five hashers got some kind of cash settlement, but since no one’s allowed to talk about it under the terms of the settlement, we’ll never know for sure.

The newspaper article went on to say that the Sacramento Hash almost folded over the incident, with what had been regular weekly turnouts of 70 hashers gradually dwindling to “five or six.” I was curious about that. Lots of hashers and hash groups have had run-ins with overzealous police, fire departments, and private security forces, but you rarely hear about hash membership dropping off as a result, at least not to that extent.

Matter of fact, it’s often the opposite, especially when hashers feel they’ve been harassed for no good reason.  In such cases, hashers band together and thumb their noses at authority.  Chicago H3 celebrates an infamous run-in with The Man by holding an annual Anthrax Scare Hash.  The New Haven Connecticut H3 hosts an annual Ikea Hash.  There’s an Anti-Ranger Run every year in California’s Marin County.  We used to have annual Killer Bee Hashes here in Tucson.

Something else must have happened in Sacramento, something to inspire what my informant described as a “feeling of spies in our midst and general paranoia” in the wake of the incident, something bad enough to drive people away from the hash. I wanted to know more.

Working with my confidential informant, the same hasher who sent me the court document, I now have a clearer picture of what went down.  My guy could be wrong and I could be wrong, but my take is this: it wasn’t the incident with Aerojet security that hurt the hash, it was the lawsuit.

When the five hashers filed their lawsuit, things turned serious for everyone in the Sacramento Hash.  I’m not saying they shouldn’t have sued; when you read the lawsuit you’ll probably feel, as I do, that they had a righteous case.  But do note that of the fourteen hashers involved only five sued, so there was a bit of a split in the hash right there.  And then, once the suit was filed, Aerojet counter-sued and started deposing individual hashers.

Hashers, both those directly involved in the lawsuit and those who weren’t, were called in for depositions with Aerojet lawyers and grilled for hours at a time about hashing and their involvement in it.  Had they ever trespassed on private property?  Had they ever heard of hashers trespassing on private property?  How much did they drink at a hash?  Oh, yeah, all that and worse.  A lot of the hashers called in for grilling by Aerojet lawyers worked for the State of California or the federal government and had security clearances to worry about.  It’s no damn wonder people had second thoughts about hashing.

Almost immediately after the incident, Sacramento H3 mismanagement cleaned up its website and Yahoo email group, pulling photos, email addresses, discussions about the incident and the lawsuit, and incriminating hash trashes.  But with the lawsuit pending, and Aerojet lawyers continuing to pull hashers in for depositions, cleaning up online information wasn’t enough to calm all fears.  Hashers began to wonder about newbies showing up at hash events.  Were they real virgins, or Aerojet provocateurs?  How about new people trying to sign up for the email list?  Were they for real?

There was plenty of distrust and paranoia going around in the wake of last year’s witch hunt in San Diego, when citizen vigilantes and local news outlets discovered embarrassing photos on an area hash website and used email addresses found there to identify a local hash couple and vandalize their home.  As bad as that was, it was harassment by civilians.  In Sacramento, the harassment was far more intimidating, coming as it did from a major defense contractor with almost unlimited resources.

As far as I know, no lawsuits were filed in the aftermath of the San Diego incident, and local hashes survived with their membership mostly intact.  Oh yeah, they went underground for a while, but everyone is still hashing.  Sacramento?  The lawsuit ratcheted everything up a notch, from something you could ignore to something you couldn’t ignore.  The lawsuit may have been justified, but it exposed the hash and its individual members to harsh legal pressure from a big company that is used to getting its way.

I can’t fault those who quit hashing in Sacramento.  If I had faced similar threats when I was in the USAF, I would have made the same choice.  We all would have made the same choice.

At the risk of repeating myself, hashing is an underground activity.  If we had to ask permission to do the things we do, you and I both know the answer would be “no.”  The less the civilian world knows about us, the better.  The fewer encounters we have with authority, the better.  The fewer newspaper articles that mention hashing, the better.  It wasn’t Sacramento H3′s fault … it could have happened anywhere … but please, no more Sacramentos.

To end on an up note, now that the suit has been settled the core of active hashers who remain in Sacramento are slowly building up the hash again, and at least one area hasher is planning to start an annual Hazmat Hash.  On-On, Sacramento hashers!

© 2011, Flying Booger. All rights reserved.

About Flying Booger  Hash House Harrier, man about town.


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