In Southeast Ohio, an anarchist skate park considers its future

2018-10-03T09:35:36+00:00 July 12th, 2018|

VIEW PHOTO ESSAY

 

By Matt Richmond
Photography by Michael McElroy

Twenty years in, change is coming to the place dubbed 88 Acres of Anarchy.

At this year’s Bowl Bash, one of the annual parties at Skatopia, an anarchist skater punk dream land in Southeast Ohio, there were no burning cars. No one brandished firearms. There was little of the mayhem that this place has become infamous for.

According to Brandon Martin, the son of Skatopia’s founder, Brewce Martin, that’s no accident.

“That’s what this place is about, liberty and freedom,” said Brandon. “But the problem is you get this rebellious — in the negative sense not the positive sense — attitude that comes from hedonistic people.”

The scene at Skatopia appears utterly unsafe, unsustainable, leaving the viewer incredulous that, in this day and age, it’s allowed to exist by those with the authority to shut it down.

Skatopia was founded two decades ago by the elder Martin, who also owns the 88 acres of farmland and woods it sits on in rural Meigs County. Brandon came back from the professional skateboarding tour close to 10 years ago to start taking over for his father.

In recent years, he’s hung up a sign with rules cracking down on things like heavy explosives and discharging firearms, and has discouraged the burning of cars, all parts of what gave Skatopia its reputation.

Brandon’s an anarchist and a vegetarian, a proponent of a philosophy known as “natural law” and one of its modern day evangelists Mark Passio. It’s a theory that’s long been used by anarchists as the basis for organizing society under an authority-free system, based on the idea that people can work together to figure out what’s best for themselves and don’t need an organized state to set rules for them.

“I don’t believe in government — it’s a form of coercion and they hold you under duress to make you comply. I do believe in morality, I believe in natural law,” said Brandon.

Brewce fought against that state for a long time before arriving in Southeast Ohio. He built skateboard ramps on other plots of land he’s lived on over the years, in West Virginia and Florida, before moving here. For one reason or another, he’s always had to tear them down and move on. Until he found this place.

“Everywhere I lived, there’s all kind of issues with zoning laws — you can’t build this in your yard, you can’t do that in your yard,” said Brewce. He found this place in the mid ’90s when an old friend told him about land for sale 20 miles outside Athens. He hasn’t left since.

“I’m out here to survive, give people freedom and try not to go to Walmart,” said Brewce. “Well, I’m not allowed in Walmart, they kicked me out.”

To get an idea of what a party at Skatopia used to be like, witness the 2009 documentary Skatopia: 88 Acres of Anarchy. Watch the trailer and you’ll get the idea: In one scene, a woman spits fire into a roomful of partygoers. In another, a guy holding what looks like a handgun is tossed off the top of a car as it barrels down the property’s dirt road. Brewce calls out over a bullhorn: “Who wants to burn their car?”

With a hardcore punk soundtrack as backdrop, the scene at Skatopia appears utterly unsafe, unsustainable, leaving the viewer incredulous that, in this day and age, it’s allowed to exist by those with the authority to shut it down.

In recent years, the younger Martin has hung up a sign with rules cracking down on things like heavy explosives and discharging firearms, and has discouraged the burning of cars.

At this year’s Bowl Bash, which took place over the weekend of June 22, it rained hard into the first night of the festival. By its steep final section, the road through Brewce’s property was almost impassable. On the way up to the tree-ringed, concrete site of the skate competitions at Skatopia, known as the Lula Bowl, some vehicles that never should have been on that road were wedged into the mud, with tents pitched wherever the driver quit spinning their wheels. A few cars made it to the top of the hill and onto the open field beyond. That’s where the fires usually happen, but none of the cars that made the trip this year looked like they were brought to be blown up.

“I’m not into the burning of the cars anymore, i think we should do away with that,” said Brandon. “For a while, I thought it was a Freudian thing where people were trying to release from the materialistic world. But we can’t continue to enable, especially destroying my farm. I’d like to keep my farm at least kind of intact.”

The music at Bowl Bash goes until early in the morning. Heavy metal and punk bands from southern Ohio, as well as from nearby Kentucky and West Virginia, play in the barn that is the center of activity. On one side, there’s a stage. On the other, a deep bowl for skating that’s known either as the Epcot Bean or the Punisher.

On Saturday morning, after a night of partying, the atmosphere was grumpy, bordering on sinister. Many clearly hadn’t slept, those who had and were now wandering around in the early sunshine were not morning people. Two boys, 19 or maybe 20, came up to Brandon and quietly gave him some bad news.

“Hey Brandon, our friend passed out, he turned blue and is, like, foaming from the mouth.”

Brandon called for an ambulance, and shortly after, a couple police cars arrived along with the paramedics. As the ambulance gingerly made its way up the muddy hill, interest spread through the half-awake crowd like a fall breeze rustling dead leaves. Some retreated from the barn, where the police cars stopped, up the hill to the Lula Bowl. One onlooker remarked, for the benefit of those not yet up to speed: “The Narcan Van’s here!”

One onlooker remarked, for the benefit of those not yet up to speed: “The Narcan Van’s here!”

After the police and the ambulance left, Brewce was agitated. He made his way through the grounds in his old BMW convertible.

“Who’s throwing trash on my property? You come and stay at my home and treat it like this?”

One partygoer, surprised at Brewce’s change in demeanor, questioned quietly what Brewce should expect. He established this place on the principles of anarchy, now people are expected to follow rules about littering?

“No, no, no, that’s not anarchy,” said Brewce, who’s been grappling with reining in some of the bad behavior that comes with Skatopia’s reputation. “I think a lot of people come out here and realize this is another kind of freedom they can’t handle.”

Brewce will admit that his approach to Skatopia has changed over the last several years. Now that he’s older, and his skating abilities aren’t what they used to be, he doesn’t feel at the center of the party anymore, so he’d like for the festivals to start paying off. He will also point to an incident in 2009, when he suffered a traumatic brain injury and a coma. A mechanic was trying to put the wrong size tire onto a wheel. It caused an explosion, resulting in shrapnel tearing into the front of his skull. To this day, he still wears a ball cap pulled low over his forehead. When his cap slides up his head, the stitch marks left over from multiple surgeries, where his skull was opened to relieve pressure on his brain, become visible.

“I got to say, when I got hit by that tire, that changed my life,” said Brewce. “I have a really bad temperamental problem now, I lose control of myself a lot of times.”

During last month’s Bowl Bash, Brewce was under house arrest. A year earlier, he was arrested for felony assault. The case is still open. According to court documents, he was seen by three witnesses driving his truck into another man’s car outside a gas station convenience store, screaming, “I’m going to kill you!”

A judge in Meigs County is considering  Brewce’s not-guilty by reason of insanity plea. (The brain injury is the basis for the insanity plea.) He faces years in prison. It’s his first felony, but he has a long record, including a domestic violence charge from 12 years ago and a couple misdemeanor assaults.

When asked about throwing these parties, Brewce is torn about whether his heart is in it anymore.

“It’s just because of the quality of my skating has really diminished. My self-esteem was based in that a lot, so, I don’t know,” said Brewce, before returning to proudly pointing out all the features of the skate park he’s built.

Now, a main concern for Brewce is paying the bills. He’s lost his skateboard company sponsors over the years. He has legal bills to pay. A young daughter to support.

At the bottom of the hill during this year’s party, near the entrance, Tim Tice stood under the shelter outside his residence, collecting a few dollars from each car that arrived. Tice has been with Brewce for a long time. They worked together at a skate park in Daytona Beach when Brewce first became a pro skater. He is gray haired, with a weathered face, a homeless wizard’s beard, bright blue eyes and the restless energy of a speed freak.

And up the hill in the barn, Brewce and some of the older diehards sold shirts and stickers to the partygoers. After his injury, Brewce’s estranged father got him a sticker maker. So now there are tables full of Skatopia merchandise, and Brewce, out on $100,000 bail, with court costs and 88 acres of farmland to maintain, spent his weekend hawking T-shirts for $10 bucks apiece.

As for Skatopia’s future, Brandon wants to invite speakers to share anarchist philosophy.

It was Brewce’s injury that brought Brandon back to Skatopia. The changes have been in place now for years.  Brandon pointed to a major wakeup call near the time of his father’s injury when someone lit off a firework and blew off their hand. Fewer people came to the party this year, and many that did called it the tamest Skatopia event in memory.

“I’ve lost a lot of  friends because I’m trying to do something right,” said Brandon. “A lot of people just wanted to abuse what we were giving and not be grateful for the opportunities we were trying to help people with.”

As for Skatopia’s future, Brandon wants to invite speakers to share anarchist philosophy, and maybe move toward invite-only events. But the place will remain open to people who want to just come and skate.

Continue to Photo Essay

 

Belt Magazine is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. To support more independent writing and journalism made by and for the people of the Rust Belt, make a donation to Belt Magazine, or become a member starting at just $5 a month

 

9 Comments

  1. Brandon July 15, 2018 at 10:02 am - Reply

    Interesting. But I DIDN”T CALL THE AMBULANCE. I nor Mark are evangelists, we are opposed to all religions. The gun thing is BS!

  2. Brandon July 15, 2018 at 10:50 am - Reply

    First thing I’d like to start out with is that anarchy does not mean chaos. It does not mean no rules. By the literal definition of the word it simply means the absence of slavery or no masters and no rulers. Actions that destroy other peoples freedom are not based in the idea of anarchism. Though it has been falsely perceived as such and propagandized as such, people who believe this have bought into a social engineering technique to breed out true rebels that actually would organize against an oppressive tyrannical state. When you litter on my property it destroys my freedom, it destroys my freedom to have property without your litter on it. Anarchy is all about responsibility and respect because it is about actions that can or cannot cause harm to other people directly or indirectly. It is not about a utopia or a perfected state but simply striving to be better than that of which you once were. It is about self-government in the true sense of the word, controlling one’s impulses and oneself to reduce negative consequences on to others because those consequences can destroy other people’s Rights.

    I and Mark Passio and everybody on the farm included do not ascribe to any type of religious institution or religious ideology. Matt asked me if I was evangelical, And I directly answered him no. I do not believe in any creed professed by any church or religious indoctrination. The reason why he’s saying this is because he has a false notion of what speaking out against the system means and or what natural law is. Not surprising though he did not actually ask me what I meant by natural law. The only religion if there was one that we would say we ascribe to would be that of the Truth itself. I never once implied that I was religious actually I vehemently spoke against it though Matt for some reason still assumes that I preach a Christian background which is untrue. I can simultaneously say that I support some things the Christians have Spoke of and not support the institution of Christianity. I am not a Christian nor will I ever be, though some may refer to me as an esoteric Christian I still even frown upon that statement. I am not against anybody’s religion and less those religious beliefs inspire the destruction of freedom or violence. Government is a religious belief, and it is based in the false axiom that authority is legitimate here and that man has the “divine right” to rule over other men.

    What is natural law? Natural law is the body of universal, immutable, innate Laws that govern the dynamics of the consequences of behavior. these laws act as the dynamic for the consequences of creation. Natural law applies to all beings with the capacity for holistic intelligence. natural law has been called many things such as moral law, cosmic law, karma, cause-and-effect etc. The law of freedom under natural law is that objective morality and freedom are directly proportional.

    I am not against firearms nor do we not allow firearms on the farm. We advocate for you to bring your firearms bring them but what we ask of you is that you use them responsibly. We have never supported people using firearms irrationally in large groups of people during a festival, if you think that is responsible then you are out of your mind. Of course, we advocate for you to keep your weapon on you but we advocate for you to keep it holstered unless absolutely needed for the means of self defense. They are not toys and are not meant to be played around with during a time when you are playing around which is at a festival or a venue… It’s common sense and I hope this clarifies a little bit about the firearms.

    The car burning thing was never meant to be a scolding imprint of a tradition for this place, we spoke out against it for years now and it is only the hedonistic children that come here that constantly want to be copycats and repeat what they watched on YouTube. We are not against you burning cars but we do not want it to be our mark on this world that we leave behind, that when you think of our place you think of burning cars etc… The only reason we are asking people to think differently, imagine if you put your time and energy into other creative assets, things that are backed by true imagination and inspiration to create better, there would be no limits to our potential of what we could do once we were organized with this place. The need to destroy inanimate objects comes from deep-seated trauma within an individual’s psyche, and it is directly relating to Freudian psychology and Joung in psychology. Only those who of healed their trauma see no means for such an outburst, but we can see that this is connected deeply with hedonism as well. The idea that rebellion means to destroy anything is absolutely absurd. It is a false notion of rebellion and holds no true place for love liberty and life. Of course, there is a natural process of destruction that we all must accept, but what I am talking about is the unnecessary destruction that actually increases and amplifies consequences which do harm. So if people want to burn their cars is just fine we are only asking that You possibly let us salvage some useful items for means of recycling and other resources such as the battery. There are good things there that we can use and utilize to help maintain this place, be a wise fool instead of a foolish fool.

    People falsely think that freedom means to do whatever you want, but if it meant that you can do whatever you want then that means that slavery is a legitimate which we all know to be false. If you come and destroy my freedom that is not freedom because it is destroying freedom. Freedom is all about actions and what the consequences due to others. Yes if you live in the world all by yourself without any kind of consequences that would be fine, but in reality, we live together and our actions play out in effect other things. So we must become wise to the actions that are harming those actions that cause harm to destroy other peoples freedom and this in effect is why we are standing against the false notion of rebellion that has permeated the minds of the skate community/anarchy community/punk community when they have no true understanding of what it means to actually rebel against oppression and tyranny. We are looking for individuals who are willing to stand up with teeth if necessary against the government! Were not interested in a bunch of cowards who have a problem with not cleaning up after themselves, and think that somehow that is rebellion. You’re a bunch of uneducated pansies that have no true sense of what freedom actually means.

    If anybody is interested in the things that I’m talking about you can find my work at my website or the other website which I will provide at the bottom of this post. Also, we are holding a conference this year September 1&2nd, with like-minded speakers that will be talking about self-sufficiency, consciousness, anarchy, the occult, mind control, government, living green and happy etc.

    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKVsbRg8nvtK6ornKR7m0Ww?view_as=subscriber

    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1611029972317929

    http://Www.whatonearthishappening.com
    http://Www.skatopia.org

  3. Brandon July 15, 2018 at 11:03 am - Reply

    The guy that blew his hand up only lost a few fingers, and most of them were grafted back on during surgery.

  4. Brandon July 15, 2018 at 11:14 am - Reply

    One of the other reasons we’d like to cut back on the car burning is because of the toxic hazard it has on the environment, I just came into possession of a huge greenhouse so I would like to keep my plans healthy even during the times of the event. Luckily that we only have these events twice a year which takes up less than 5% of what this place is made of. Normally it’s just people hard-working day-to-day putting in their time and effort to get things done. As far as the rundown idea of this place that’s a little bit of nonsense as well Most people would get that perception by the outer shell that they failed to recognize that most of the things they see our projects just not finished. This is a DIY community and everything is done through recycled nature to the best of our ability thus it’s not gonna live up to any kind of utopian ideas. We are not perfect nor did we ever claimed to be.

  5. Brandon July 15, 2018 at 11:15 am - Reply

    Other than those things the article is great and thank you very much for sharing and putting the time and to actually write this. As a fellow researcher and writer, I highly recommend that you always fact, ask questions don’t just assume. This is your biggest failure in this article is there is a lot of assumptions without fact-checking.

  6. Paul Gross July 17, 2018 at 12:48 am - Reply

    Such a shame. Just another great…free thinking PRIVATELY OWNED event that will be gone. Mad LOVE to the Martin’s and I hope they can figure something else out: QUICK. Love you guys!

  7. Melissa Dafnos July 19, 2018 at 12:16 am - Reply

    I have nothing but love for you and your father Brandon…and for Skatopia!

  8. Halo Whitelight September 15, 2018 at 5:02 pm - Reply

    Lol!!! I am literally laughing right now!! And about to cry at the same time.
    He “has a young daughter to support”. REALLY!?!! I DO THAT MYSELF! HE DOES NOT HELP AND HIS DAUGHTER IS A TEENAGER THAT WANTS NOTHING TO DO WITH HIM. It’s actually quite sad. And this man HAS A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE FOR over 20 years. HE used to beat on me and many many others way before that accident. Out on $100,000 bond, huh? Your daughter needs some new shoes. Deadbeat.

Leave A Comment Cancel reply