Acorn Arson

Someone tried to kill me this morning.

As controversial as i sometimes am, this does not happen often.  In fact it has never happened until today.  There is a story, of course, and i am going to tell it to you.

At moments after 5 AM this morning i smelled smoke.  I had been sitting with the door open in the conspiracy office in the middle of Acorn’s main building, Heartwood.  I jumped out of the office and there was a fire burning right outside the dishwashing area, which was less than 10 feet from where i was sitting.  As i looked around quickly for a fire extinguisher, i saw that there were three large diesel containers on the floor of the building and someone had poured the fuel on the floor.  I started screaming to wake people up.



I dragged the gas containers, which were still partially full, out of the kitchen/living room area and down the hall away from the blaze.  As soon as i was sure other people were awake and getting people out of bed, i called 911 – it was 5:08 AM.

Unlike other life threatening emergencies, like a couple of car crashes i have been in, everything did not slow down around me as my adrenaline kicked in to survival mode.  And despite the danger of the situation and the urgent need for action i felt somewhat calm.  And even as i was fighting the fire with other responsive Acorners, i was thinking to myself “Who did this?”


smoke was more of a problem than the fire was

We don’t have many enemies.  Mostly, people are excited about the communities’ movement and want us to succeed.  From the moment i saw the gas cans (which fortunately turned out to be diesel fuel cans, which burn quite slowly, unlike real gas cans – or especially, gasoline ignited in the movies), i suspected it was Nero.

Nero was a gregarious volunteer at the communities conference.  He was a bit odd in manner, said things which did not always make sense.  But he compensated for this with his generally pleasant manner and his willingness to work.  Frankly, there are a fair few strange folks in community, and saying weird things occasionally is not a big red flag.

After the fire was extinguished by the fire department,  i started looking for Nero.  i found his tent which was partially open, despite the light rain – making me think he had run.  Inside the tent there was a mostly empty backpack, several mattresses piled unevenly and clothes strewn about.

Nick was the only person missing

Nero was the only person missing

Nero was the only person unaccounted for in the 40 odd people who were sleeping at Acorn that night, further solidifying the circumstantial case against him.  None of the cars were missing (and the keys are fairly accessible) nor was the cash box missing.  As classical motives vanished, my fears that it was an “inside job” started to seem more real.

Nero had been struggling some the last week, his mania was amping up.  And though i was not his Acorn host anymore, i felt some responsibility, because i asked him to come to Acorn after the community conference.  We had a good long talk a few days ago.  I told him if members were uncomfortable about him being around, i would have to ask him to leave.  I said it several times and it was clear that he both agreed and supported such a choice.

Things seemed to get better after our talk.   He was ranting less, listening a bit more.  He did take a couple days off work, but he had worked so much in the previous 5 weeks, i was certainly not going to tell him to leave, since he was responding to constructive criticism.  And i was a bit worried.

What goes on in the manic mind

What goes on in the manic mind

i wrote an informant about the fire, which specifies that there was no structural damage to the building and no one was hurt by the fire directly.  But what haunted me through the day, even after Nero was apprehended, was the idea that i had helped Nero several times, including inviting him to come to Acorn, which he had really wanted.  And then this early morning, he walked past my clearly visible back several time as i worked in the conspiracy office, placing inflammable liquids in the room beside me and then he set it on fire.

Update:  Nerois under arrest for 3rd Degree Arson and one count of attempted murder (on me actually, perhaps because i was the first to give the police information).  The maximum sentence for these two crime is life, the minimum is 20 years.  He is being held in the Orange County jail, which is where i did tiny time for my local anti-nuclear arrest actions.  He is being held without bond.  His bond hearing is Tuesday and the state trooper said because he is a high flight risk and the crimes so serious, he is unlike to have a bail option.  i have decidedly mixed feeling about Nero going to jail for a long time.  What he did was messed up, and wasting his life in prison is a 3rd rate solution.

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

Tags: , ,

About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

47 responses to “Acorn Arson”

  1. tickledspirit says :

    Holy shit, Paxus. I may have a more eloquent response later, but right now I’m stupefied (and relieved, of course, that it didn’t turn out as disastrous as it could have).

  2. someeverydaystories says :

    I am so happy everyone is safe.

  3. moonraven222 says :

    I’m glad you and everyone are okay.

  4. Jack Marxer says :


    I’m very glad to hear that you are all right and that only one person was injured.

    Dealing with people who are having severe mental problems is difficult, perhaps especially in community where the ‘norm’ is rather more free than in the outside world.


    • Logan says :

      Three times in my life, I have had apartments where neighbors have become psychotic. Plus, I once was assaulted downtown by such a person, for asking them not to smoke in a coffee shop. I’ve come to view them as living in a dream world. So much they do makes no logical sense. I’d ask myself, “What did I do for them to turn on me?” It all begins to make more sense when I see them as literally walking around in a dream state. Now, as for the fate of Nero, odds are he isn’t about to serve 20 years. I’d bet one of 3 outcomes will transpire: he will go to jail and get some mental health care. “Some”, but probably not enough mental health care. Or, he will be found incompetent, beat the charge, and then when he is deemed not a threat to anyone, the mental health system will lose control over him and he will walk free. Or, he will go to a correctional facility for the insane. I dunno how it all works. Let’s all hope he gets the help he needs.

  5. North Star says :

    Sorry to hear about this. Glad you and everyone else are OK. Glad the local police and fire departments were able to assist quickly, in addition to the assistance from Twinoaks.

    I know it is difficult when someone you have spent many hours helping turns on you, all the worse when they essentially try to kill you and burn you down. Undoubtedly there will be a lot of pulling together among the other members at Acorn.

  6. santalorena says :

    I’m so thankful no one was hurt. I can commiserate. As one who struggles with mental illness (thankfully I’ve never gotten manic), and as one who has watched really sweet, wonderful people go over that edge and become completely different–and often frightening–people, I can appreciate the compassion you’ve shown.

  7. deWriterMD says :

    Reblogged this on MetaRead360 Small Press presents and commented:
    A cautionary tale of welcoming new people to intentional community…

  8. Benji says :

    That’s absolutely crazy!! I am pleased to hear that no one was severely injured; this incident could have been a lot worse. I wonder what the long term consequences will be for TO and Acorn from this incident. Will people stop tolerating oddball guests and visitors? Will they start vetting people more? One thing I always loved about TO and Acorn was that they didn’t do background checks, which seems endemic in outside society. These were places where you could go and start over again – a very American ideal that has steadily disappeared over the past 30 years, with the profusion of registries, no-fly lists, background checks for everything, etc.

    • Logan says :

      You said it! If one’s landlord is a jerk and one breaks the lease, one’s name can go on the equivalent of a credit report. Apply for an apartment 6 years later, and they see that you broke a lease years ago! Used to be, if you, say, had treatment for depression and knew health insurers would deny coverage, you could lie. Now, I hear there is central data sharing among insurers, although ObamaCare means you can’t be so discriminated against anymore. No place to run, no place to hide, in this digital age.

  9. Ahnika Delirium says :

    I am glad yer okay & am of the mind that the meta-Light & meta-Dark in the World have become mutually self aware & are now looking directly at each other, each waiting for the other to move. I think this is occurring inside alot of us & perpetuating mania and/or deep calm, depending on how good folx are, respectively, at having dynamic balance in themselves. I’ve heard more & more about strange & intense things happening, not too dissimilar from this one. So glad that no one was hurt & that Heartwood is mostly otay! Love to everyone over there! ❤

  10. Scott Busby says :

    Glad you were able to stop the blaze before it hurt or killed someone. A close call. Unfortunately, communities do attract the crazies. They also attract some of the most positive, beautiful people.

  11. Angie Tupelo says :

    Reblogged this on Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History and commented:

    Glad all my friends are ok, wishing I could be closer/of more help. Reblogging so people who follow me but might not follow Pax see the news.

  12. Sharon Enlow says :

    Thanking high powers, Paxus and smoke alarms!!!

  13. Sarah Taub says :

    I’m so glad everyone is safe, and the building is not badly damaged. Congratulations on your quick action on smelling smoke. I imagine you and others are having lots of feelings right now. When the emotional shock has worn off, I wish you a deeply productive examination of your values and practices around inclusion of people who are mentally “other”, untainted by self-blame or recrimination. As an organizer attempting to practice “radical inclusion”, I look forward to hearing the results of this examination.
    love, Sarah

  14. Benita Winslow says :

    Oh, Jim, I am so sorry, and so happy you seem to have sustained only injuries to your spirit….your spirit is strong, and will heal soon. Let me know what I can send or do to to assist!
    And: a conspiracy room! I am back upon my heels, examining the concept. When you are feeling more robust, will you walk me thru this? In the meantime, take care of yourself, and follow your instincts!


    • paxus says :

      The office is called several things, but i like calling it the conspiracy room (which i did not make up). In community it is often difficult to find private spaces to have conversations. This is a tiny office with a door which closes, And i am inclined to think of the world of conspiracies.

      • Tim says :

        October 14, 2013 / Monday / Columbus Day / approx.: 11:30 pm PST


        A miracle no one was injured, and I’m glad all are safe.

        * * *
        Your incident brings to mind an ongoing question:
        Where is the line between allowing the mentally challenged
        to function freely in society – and refraining those who clearly
        need close, professional observation?

        I remember the days when Ronald Reagan ( as governor of California ) cut
        spending across the state for mental health facilities – – – the idea being that
        the institutionalized could now participate in society equally with others and
        with dignity. This was a great [ GOP ] rationale , and who could argue?
        – The real reason, of course, was to take money from one place and spend it in another area.

        * * *

        The years of dismantling our infrastructure is coming home to roost.

        Crazy in California – TB

      • Benita says :

        It has been quite a while since I lived in Community, so I had forgotten this aspect. Thank you for the explanation about the Conspiracy Room!

        I keep returning to this thread. I used to work as a nurse at a State Mental Hospital here in Michigan. Under our infamous Governor Engler, the Mental Health system was Englerized, which meant essentially turning patients out on the streets. They either learn to survive, however briefly, there on the streets, or find a way to exit and join the mainstream, or get funneled into the jail population. It is a tough and bitter life for those who don’t learn how to fit in, or stay on meds… I just wanted to say that the generosity shown by you and the others at Acorn should be honored. It is Not Your Fault that things happened as they did, in fact you prevented a greater tragedy. Thank you for that.

        I just keep thinking of your visitor and wishing him help and health.


  15. Seby (aka Twigsy) says :

    That’s pretty wild… glad you were awake and able to detect the fire before it became too serious. I know it’s always a helluva mess after the fire dept comes through, but at least it can be cleaned up. I guess the comforting thing about the whole experience, is that even as ‘open’ as the communities try to keep their doors, this sort of bad thing is pretty uncommon. Glad everyone is ok and the culprit was caught.

  16. Val Kyrie says :

    I am certainly glad no one was hurt. That said, I find this post to be incredibly narcissistic. Why, Pax, you make it sound as if you were the sole hero, saving the day, keeping the hippies from burning alive, when instead you were the person responsible for bringing a stranger who was having a mental breakdown into community. Way to avoid your responsibility while painting yourself as a savior.

    • paxus says :

      and both things can be true. i did both spot and put out the fire, those are facts. i did bring Nick to Acorn, and slowed this guest o visitor transition, asked the community to ado an evaluation fo him beyond, just “he is nice” to be a cultural fit. No one has expressed they are upset about my inviting him to Acorn, f the people who live there.

  17. Ken Jollofsky says :

    My father was bi-polar, and never did anything violent like that. This is true for most bi-polar folks. Those of us close in his life monitored his situation closely and would try to get him assistance when he was at either end of the spectrum. There was only one time that I had to do it through the courts, and it was awful- he was very angry about it. Unfortunately at this time there is not much help that psychiatry can do to approach anything like a cure, only to contain the mania and depression with meds, and unfortunately, electro-shock treatment (they still do it!). Bi-polars tend to resist treatment when they are high, it feels great to them. They want it bad when they are low. I am glad that you thought so quickly on your feet and everyone came out alive. It could have been different.

  18. Chrystie says :

    I was speechless as I read this. I am SO glad everybody is safe. I know very little about the situation other than what I just read, but in general, I totally agree with you about jail not really being what disturbed people need. Serious help is what they need. Jail is just throwing them in a cage and washing our hands of them. I thought we were supposed to phase that out along with old school insane asylums. Alas, jail seems to be the option of choice most of the time. Anyway, all of you stay safe!

  19. Sigrid Kulkowitz says :

    Wow! So glad you are okay.

  20. gia says :

    hi pax and acorners – in deep gratitude for your safety and protection. sending lots of love energy to you all to manage this difficult period with grace and ease. you are admirable in your handling of such situation. also pray for divine guidance for nick. and all of us.
    much love to you

  21. anissa ljanta says :

    Wow. (And other unpublishable words) So relieved you are okay. STINK about the damage to Acorn. And that you have all had your home violated by someone you welcomed in. I have mixed feelings about the culprit being caught. I want there to be other options than jail for someone so out of balance, and yet, in this circumstance, I am not sure what they would be. It’s a challenging one. Thinking of you all.

    • paxus says :

      We both want there to be options other than jail.

      • anissa ljanta says :

        I know this about you and yet, I wonder about the choices we have. The energy we have after assaults on our lives like this is for ourselves, not for sorting out the person responsible for the damages issues. You will note I was not sad that the guy that attacked me and destroyed my stuff ended up a jail for awhile, that gave me time to feel safe in the world again.

      • paxus says :

        And in this we are in agreement, For a while it definitely makes sense for him to be isolated from the general population. The arresting officer told me that the minimum sentence for this type of arson is 20 years, if we assume 7 years off for good behavior, that means 13 years in prison to think about why he did what he did. Do we need to be adding decades of jail time to this? i dont think so.

      • leavergirll says :

        13 years, and then he is out again, free to wreak mayhem on someone else. Is that how it should go in the ideal world, Paxus?

      • paxus says :

        It is not utopia, never will be. And it is so much better than the mainstream, we should clearly be doing more of it.

      • paxus says :

        @Leavergirl: So you think no one reforms, everyone should be locked up and the key thrown away. i think prisons waste lives and i have been in a few.

      • Logan says :

        When I went to court over a schizophrenic homeless man’s assaulting me, the prosecutor asked me what I preferred to happen. Not that I got to determine his fate, but they took my words under consideration. So, you may get to do the same with this guy.

      • paxus says :

        Dearest Logan:

        i hope so. i have no desire to have him do time for attempted murder of me. That is lost years as far as i am concerned.


  22. Benita Winslow says :

    I have several dear friends who are bipolar, in varying degrees of severity. Some have had brushes with the police, most have spent time in institutions….medication is far preferable to incarceration, but it is up to the individual to decide to abide by the regimen prescribed. I agree that prison will be a sad and ineffectual method of dealing with this crime. It is heartbreaking that an effective way to treat the underlying cause most likely will not be utilized in prison. This is a sad tale, the only ray of light is that Acornites escaped physical injury. Thank you for thinking so quickly and acting effectively. I am sending love and good thoughts to y’all!

  23. Megan says :

    I’m so glad every one is okay. It’s such a shame this happened, but I’m glad you were able to know who it was. Jail is certainly not a great answer, but I suppose at least you know he won’t be coming back around.

    Something that concerns me though, is your comment “what goes on in the mind of a manic person?” paired with a dark picture that has violent tone to it, especially when paired with this article. I’m bipolar and have worked in mental health offices. We are not some unknowable mystery ready to snap at any moment and try to kill everyone. Most people with bipolar manage it quite well, on and off meds. It can be extremely difficult, but something like arson is not common for bipolar people, especially while manic. More often mania leads us to insomnia, drinking, risky sex, and sometimes drug use. We are generally more likely to get into fights, but trying to kill someone suggests a secondary problem. It could be anything from aggression to psychosis to paranoia.

    It’s dangerous to paint people in a manic phase as dangerous. There is a great deal on mental health stigma still and people still very commonly get disowned, fired, abandoned, or killed for having mental health issues. Adding to the image of us being dangerous only encourages that. I’m certain you didn’t mean to, but that’s why I wanted to say something about it.

    The focus though is of course that there was a horrible event, not a few comments around the event. I hope things get fixed up soon!

  24. laughingbirdfarm says :

    Wow. I’m glad you’re okay. This is the first I’ve heard of this. Acorn and SSE do a lot of good work in the world.

    His actions aren’t the work of someone who is typically manic, however. People with bipolar disorder don’t usually become violent (except for bar fights and the like) when they are manic, much less try to commit murder and arson. It sounds like he has something a lot more serious going on, such as schizophrenia.

    Anyway, I’m sorry for what happened and I hope you get everything back up and running soon!

  25. oldfriendofnero says :

    Paxus, unfortunately I don’t have too much more to tell you. We cut him off from our friend circle over 18 months before he moved away to Acorn. He started to make weird comments about reading our minds and knowing what we were thinking. He didn’t trust anyone and became very paranoid and delusional. Def some sort of mental illness. He was very toxic though, so we cut him off. I can only imagine how worse it got.

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