Under your Christmas tree, did you find gift-wrapped copies of "Gunrunning for Fun and Profit," "Take No Prisoners: Destroying Enemies With Dirty and Malicious Tricks," or "Above The Law: The Complete Guide to Obtaining Diplomatic Immunity" by an author called "Ambassador X"?
No? Then you must not be on Michael Hoy's mailing list.
Hoy, a former accountant once dubbed "Conan the Librarian," is the publisher from Hell. His company, Loompanics Unlimited of Port Townsend, Wash., claims to do a million-dollar-a-year mail order business selling 800 titles that stretch the First Amendment far enough to give the Founding Fathers heartburn.
Among its most outrageous offerings are such mayhem manuals as "Kitchen Improvised Plastic Explosives" ($7.95); "How to Get Anything on Anybody" ($30), a handy guide to bugging, tailing, tapping, tracing, snooping and reading other people's mail; "Mercenary's Tactical Handbook" ($12), and a six-volume treatise on "How to Kill" ($8 each).
The Loompanics catalogue is "an important source for anarchists, survivalists, iconoclasts, self-liberators, mercenaries, investigators, dropouts, researchers, and just about anybody interested in the strange, the useful, the arcane, the oddball, the unusual, the unique and the diabolical," Hoy declares.
"We are the lunatic fringe of the libertarian movement," he adds.
Hoy insists that his business is perfectly legal. In fact, he says the FBI, the CIA and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are among the 20,000 names on his mailing list, along with a number of famous mystery writers and Hollywood studios.
Still, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles did a double take when a Loompanics book entitled "How to Launder Money" was found during a search of the Newport Beach home of jailed investment adviser Steven D. Wymer.
Wymer is charged with civil and criminal securities fraud and money laundering in connection with the alleged loss of more than $100 million of his clients' money. The indictment does not say where the money is alleged to have gone, but Wymer's attorney, Michael Perlis, has said it was lost through bad investments and is not "in an offshore bank account waiting for Steven Wymer."
Federal prosecutors say the money-laundering manual was found in Wymer's dresser. Perlis said it belonged to Wymer's wife. "He did not read the book," Perlis told reporters.
"Put it this way: We're not accepting that it was hers," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Jean A. Kawahara.
Written from prison by one John Gregg, "How to Launder Money" was published in 1982 and has sold several thousand copies, Hoy said. But it has been out of print--and out of the catalogue--for five or six years and its advice is now dated, Hoy said.
"Some of those loopholes have been closed," he said.
The publisher would like to update and reissue it, but Gregg died behind bars. "We used to have to send his royalty checks to an attorney because he was in prison," Hoy said. "I think it was for money laundering or some kind of money shenanigans."
Hoy describes his personal philosophy as practical anarchism. "The basic idea is you don't have to overthrow the government if you can avoid it," he said. "Rather than being oriented toward crusades on issues, personal empowerment is what it's all about."
And if it's illegal, immoral or revolting, Hoy has a book about it--and possibly three of them.
Loompanics sells the gruesome "Physical Interrogation Techniques," which instructs on "how to torture information out of an unwilling subject," and the macabre "Silent Death by Uncle Fester," billed as "the most advanced book on household manufacture of poisons we have ever seen."
The weird, the wacky and the defiant are offered along with less benign fare. "How to Start Your Own Country," "Steal This Urine Test" and "The Computer Underground: Hacking, Piracy, Phreaking and Computer Crime" are offered next to neo-Nazi, satanic and misogynist tracts. Political musings range from "Confessions of a Holocaust Revisionist" to Friedrich Nietzsche's "The Antichrist," several volumes on Ayn Rand, and a wide selection on "tax avoision," or "how to get government parasites out of your pockets."
Loompanics sells about 150 of its own titles, with the balance from other underground publishers, including Los Angeles-based AMOK, a necro-punk, cult, gonzo and gore bookstore in the Silver Lake district. For $8.95, the "AMOK Fourth Dispatch" catalogue offers "a guide to the steamy undergrowths of the well-manicured fiction garden and a thorough directory of the extremes of information in print."
Officials with the FBI, the IRS and the Treasury Department either declined comment on possible investigations of Hoy or said his operation appears to fall safely within First Amendment protections. The publisher says he pays his taxes and has never been harassed by the authorities.
"There's nothing active on him," said Lawrence LaDage, special agent in charge of the U.S. Department of Customs for the Pacific Northwest, who said he had not heard of the money-laundering manual. "But what can I say? It's the price we pay for a free country."
LaDage said it is not unusual for federal agents to find underground manuals when searching homes of drug-trafficking suspects. But several Southern California law enforcement officials said they have not run across such literature. And few would-be criminals are likely to study Hoy's literature for pointers, said one official who asked not to be named.
"They are not the kind of people who did well in school and approach problem-solving by looking up reference materials," the official said.
For the serious criminal, LaDage advised against taking the how-to manuals to heart.
"We know all the tricks they know, and we're looking for those tricks," LaDage said, adding, "You have to be a little more creative if you want to stay out of jail."
Hoy said he has twice been contacted by law enforcement agents who found Loompanics literature at the last-known address of a fugitive and asked the publisher for an updated address.
"Our policy is that yeah, we do cooperate," Hoy said. "We have no interest in helping anybody commit a crime or get away with murder. What we do not allow is our whole list to be used for a fishing expedition or snooping."
The Loompanics catalogue contains a lengthy disclaimer, saying that the books are sold for informational purposes only and that the publisher does not advocate lawbreaking. It rejects any liability for "damages resulting from the use of information in this catalogue"--a proviso legal scholars said might not hold up in court.
A year ago, an Alabama jury awarded $12.4 million in damages to the sons of a man whose 1985 killing was blamed on a hit man who had taken out a classified advertisement in Soldier of Fortune magazine. But a similar verdict against the magazine was later reversed on appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court let that decision stand.
In a related case in California, a federal appeals court upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit by the mother of a teen-ager who shot himself while listening to a song about suicide. The court found no evidence that record publisher CBS or the musician had intentionally incited the boy to kill himself.
Loompanics runs another kind of disclaimer as well, warning customers that it also cannot be responsible for shipments that are confiscated--a particular hazard in Canada and in U.S. prisons.
"If you are a prisoner or a Canadian, you are advised to check with your authorities before ordering books," Hoy warns.
Legal scholars said that the First Amendment status of mayhem manuals has not been tested in court but that under current law the publisher would likely prevail.
Even if the publisher were to advocate violence, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a landmark case in 1969 that the government could not ban such expression "except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action." That deliberately difficult standard would be difficult for the government to meet, said University of Southern California Law Center professor Michael H. Shapiro.
"If you're sitting in your study with your pipe and a hot toddy on your lap reading this stuff, harm is not likely to be imminent," Shapiro said.
However, a book that was simply a recipe for crime, without political or ideological overtones, could provide a new test case for a right-tilting Supreme Court, Shapiro said.
Meanwhile, Hoy continues to receive interesting manuscripts in the mail.
"There was a guy who wanted me to publish a manual on how to keep women as slaves, lovingly and painstakingly illustrated by the author," Hoy said. The publisher said he rejected it because "I'm not sure if the guy knew what he was talking about. It seemed more like a fantasy of his than something he knew how to do."
Had the manuscript been excellent, Hoy said, he might have decided otherwise.
Beyond the Lunatic Fringe Loompanics Unlimited Inc. is a publishing house from Hell. It offers 800 titles for the eclectic, if not eccentric, reader. Among its mail-order offerings: "The Complete Guide to Lock Picking," by Eddie the Wire; "How to Lose Your Ex-Wife (Financially) Forever," How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found" and "How to Make Disposable Silencers" (in two volumes).