Prior to his arrest on Wednesday, few outside of the black LGBTQ community had likely heard of Ed Buck, the 65-year-old Democratic political donor and LGBTQ rights advocate who was arrested in West Hollywood and charged with operating a methamphetamine ring. Police arrested Buck after a 37-year-old man overdosed at his home. Prosecutors allege that the man asked Buck to help him get medical help, only for him to refuse and prevent him from leaving his home; the man somehow managed to escape and call 911 from a pay phone at a gas station, which saved his life. In total, three men have overdosed on methamphetamine at Buck’s home, two of them fatally. Buck has been charged with three felony counts, including battery causing serious injury and administering methamphetamine, and could face more than five years in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors claim Buck ran a “drug den,” targeting members of a vulnerable population — namely, black gay men who struggled with drug addiction and homelessness — and shooting them up with drugs as part of his “violent, dangerous” sexual fetish. Many in fringe corners of the internet have responded to news of Buck’s arrest by putting forth bizarre claims about his ties to various left-wing political establishment figures. But for many members of the black and LGBT communities, who have long been calling for Buck’s arrest, news of him being charged has been cause for celebration, though many are outraged that it took so long for authorities to finally hold him accountable.
“It’s incomprehensible to me that it took a third black gay man to be attacked and almost die to finally dissolve the unconscionable apathy that has allowed Ed Buck, a racist sexual predator, to roam free,” Democratic U.S. Rep. Karen Bass told the Associated Press. “[The] inaction in response had a message that was loud and clear: Black gay lives obviously didn’t matter.”
Who is Ed Buck?
While not exactly a household name, Buck is a longstanding figure in high-powered Democratic circles. Born Edward Buckmelter, Buck is a former model who spent some time working in Europe. He reportedly made his money through an Arizona-based company that provided driver’s license information to insurance provider. Though he purchased the company for only $250,000, he later made “more than a million dollars'” profit selling it when he was in his early thirties.
A former conservative Republican, Buck became an LGBT rights activist in Phoenix, organizing a recall campaign against former Arizona governor Republican Evan Mecham, who once said during an interview that he would demand a list of names of his LGBTQ employees, presumably so he could fire them. Buck also successfully lobbied for the convenience store chain Circle K to provide insurance coverage to employees with HIV/AIDS. (Bill and Ted would have been proud.) When he moved to West Hollywood in the early 1990s, he continued his activism, campaigning on behalf of many LGBTQ causes and donating to animal welfare organizations, at one point making a $300,000 gift to the animal rights organization Animal PAC. In 2007, he unsuccessfully ran for West Hollywood City Council on a platform of fighting real estate development within the area.
After he lost, he continued donating to the campaigns of prominent Democratic politicians like Hillary Clinton, Congressman Ted Lieu, and Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti. Some of these politicians, such as Lieu, have publicly commented on the allegations against Buck, and promised to give $18,000 total to at least five civil rights organizations, including LAMBDA and the NAACP, as recompense.
So where did the controversy begin?
On July 27th, 2017, a 26-year-old man named Gemmel “Juelz” Moore was found dead at Buck’s house in West Hollywood from a methamphetamine overdose. According to Moore’s mother LaTisha Nixon, Moore was working as an escort at the time, and Buck was one of his clients (though a lawyer for Buck at the time referred to Moore as his client’s “good friend.”)
Although the coroner’s office determined the death was an accidental drug overdose, Moore’s mother LaTisha Nixon posted a YouTube video the following month accusing the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Department of ignoring her requests for a thorough investigation into the “supposed accidental death of my son.” “I’m calling on anybody who will listen. It seems like everyone is turning a blind eye because my son was a gay black man and Ed Buck was a wealthy white politician [sic] who has contributed a lot of money to different campaigns and different funds,” she says in the video. Journal entries reportedly written by Moore prior to his death further implicated Buck, with Moore writing, “I honestly don’t know what to do. I’ve become addicted to drugs and the worse one at that. Ed Buck is the one to thank, he gave me my first injection of chrystal [sic] meth. It was very painful but after all the troubles I became addicted to the pain and fetish/fantasy…”
Through his attorney, Buck has consistently denied all of the allegations against him. “On behalf of Mr. Buck we categorically deny all allegations of wrongdoing and look forward to litigating this matter in a court of law,” his lawyer Seymour Amster told NBC News after Nixon filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Buck.
Following the investigation, authorities said there was insufficient evidence to charge Buck with Moore’s death. Yet community activists led by Jasmyne Cannick, a Los Angeles-based writer, have led the charge in calling for Buck’s arrest. Cannick has spent the past few years interviewing young gay black men in the West Hollywood, most of whom have told the same story: Buck recruited them for a night of paid sex, then offered them more money to inject them with dangerously high doses of methamphetamine. Many of the men were homeless or struggling with drug addiction, making it particularly difficult for them to turn down the offer.
“If another young, Black gay man overdoses or worse dies at Democratic donor Ed Buck’s apartment it’s going to be the fault of the sheriff’s dept and L.A. District Atty for not stopping him when they had the opportunity to,” Cannick said in a 2018 tweet.
In January 2019, a full year after Cannick’s tweet, a second man was found dead at Buck’s home: 55-year-old Timothy Dean, who was also black and gay and who was determined to have overdosed on methamphetamine. In that case as well, Dean’s death was ruled by the coroner as an accidental overdose.
Then, earlier this month, a 37-year-old man referred to as Joe Doe in court filings, who had visited Buck’s apartment at least once before, was intentionally given a dangerous dose of methamphetamine and overdosed, according to prosecutors. When Doe attempted to call 911, Buck allegedly tried to prevent him from doing so and tried to prevent him from leaving the apartment. Doe eventually was able to escape and called 911 from a payphone at a gas station. Police later found hundreds of photographs of men in “compromising” positions at Buck’s home.
What has been the reaction within the local black LGBTQ community?
The reaction among activists within the community has largely been one of vindication, mixed with frustration. For years, black LGTBQ activists have accused Buck of intentionally preying on gay black men, and have rallied investigators to place him under arrest. And in light of the reports of other young men whom Buck has allegedly targeted and injected with methamphetamine, many are furious it has taken so long to see him held accountable, pointing to his privilege as a wealthy white man as a reason why he escaped justice for so long.
“It’s been two years. In that time, we’ve presented nine witnesses who’ve been forced to ingest drugs. The police did nothing with these reports,” attorney Hussain Turk, who represents one of the victims’ families, told the Daily Beast. “The reason why we believe police did nothing with these reports is because of the races and sexual orientations of the victims—they’re black, gay, homeless, and people who are the most vulnerable of our society. The police don’t view them as valid witnesses.” Turk added that he believed the district attorney’s office only filed charges against Buck to prevent a public relations crisis as a result of backlash within the local black community.
In a series of tweets, Cannick, the activist and journalist who worked tirelessly to bring Buck’s alleged crimes to public attention, said that while she is “elated” by Buck’s arrest, the road to justice for the victims “is by no means over,” pointing out that more charges against him may be forthcoming. “For now, it means that I can go to sleep knowing that I don’t have to worry about getting another phone call about someone dying in Ed Buck’s apartment,” she said.
Why is this significant?
Buck’s arrest has caught the attention of many right-wing conspiracy theorists on Twitter, in large part because his story is similar to that of Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced financier accused of sexually abusing dozens of young women who was found dead in his cell last month. Like Epstein, Buck was a wealthy, politically connected white man; also like Epstein, he allegedly targeted members of marginalized communities, and his alleged crimes escaped notice from authorities for years before his arrest, largely due to his wealth and privilege. Perhaps more to the point, from the perspective of far-right conspiracy theorists, both Buck and Epstein had connections to powerful Democratic politicians, and many right-wing trolls on Twitter have leaned heavily into Buck’s links to Hillary Clinton in discussing the case. QAnon followers also made hay with news of Buck’s arrest, suggesting that it was part of President Trump’s larger plan to round up members of the Democratic establishment and send them to Guantanamo, as so-called “drops” from the anonymous 4chan poster Q has intimated.
But the truth is that Buck’s arrest is significant because it does point to a larger conspiracy — just not the one that far-right trolls think. Members of the community have long argued that Buck targeted vulnerable members of the community — men who were HIV-positive or homeless or struggling with drug addiction — for one specific, bone-chilling reason: because he believed he could get away with exploiting them. And if the years of police inaction regarding the allegations against Buck are any indication, he was correct in this belief. The fact that it took the deaths of two men to prove that is a tragic, shameful reminder of just how much power men like Buck still wield, and how little is shared by those our society deems disposable.