Let me start by clarifying one thing: I’m fully aware of the fact that you don’t actually need another reason to boycott the annual two weekend-long, infamous carnage of a festival that is Coachella. From the part it played in the rise of cultural appropriation in festival fashion and beauty to more recently being compared to Fyre Festival (no less), the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is no stranger to controversy. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the unavoidable celebrity drama it leads to every year—though, admittedly, I’m here for it most of the time, this year, witnessing Timothée Chalamet snogging a yet to be named lady has proved to be the last straw that broke the camel’s back. But I digress.
We’re not here to speak about Lil Timmy Tim’s love life—if you are, please feel free to slide into my DMs—we’re on a mission to unveil what is probably Coachella’s most problematic aspect, its very owner, American billionaire and openly homophobic businessman Philip Anschutz.
Known as “the man who owns Los Angeles,” Anschutz is, you guessed it, an old white man who was born wealthy and proceeded to make even more money for himself. Born in 1939 to a Kansas family, Anschutz first followed in his father’s footsteps as a land operator and oilman before investing in railroads, telecommunications, newspapers and entertainment. With an estimated $11 billion fortune, one of his many assets is one of the world’s best-attended and most profitable music events, Coachella.
Through his company the Anschutz Corporation, and one of its subsidiaries, Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), the billionaire also operates more than 90 clubs and theatres around the world and produces or supports more than 25 music festivals. Oh, and the man also owns the Los Angeles Kings hockey team and a one-third stake of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team, as well as both teams’ home arena, the Crypto.com Arena (formerly and colloquially known as the Staples Center).
As previously mentioned, Anschutz has been a billionaire for a long time. In fact, according to Business Insider, he’s one of only two people who’ve made the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans every year since the first version was published in 1982. But it comes as no surprise that billionaires have shady beliefs and hobbies.
In April 2018, Cara Delevingne shared on Instagram a message explaining why she had decided to boycott the festival despite previously saying that Beyoncé’s “iconic” headline performance had left her speechless. She wrote, “I still refuse to go to a festival that is owned by someone who is anti-LGBT and pro-gun.”
In response to the model’s remarks, AEG released a statement saying it “wholeheartedly” supports the LGBT community. Anschutz himself went on to express “regret” if any money given to charities “may have worked against these values.”
“That was not my intention, it does not reflect my beliefs, and I am committed to making sure it does not happen again,” he stated.
The accusations—which Anschutz has kept on denying ever since—relate to payments made to hard-line conservative religious and political groups across the US through his charitable foundation. These include allegedly supporting: anti-gay laws, same-sex marriage opposition and pro-gun support.
According to US campaign group Freedom For All Americans, Anschutz gave £35,000 to the National Christian Foundation (NCF) between 2011 and 2013. NCF is known to fund a lot of the groups aggressively working to chip away at the equal rights of LGBTQ+ Americans.
The FADER also detailed alleged payments made by Anschutz to a number of hard-line conservative politicians. This included a payment of £1,900 to Republican Scott Tipton, a strong opponent of same-sex marriage and abortion, in October 2017.
Last but not least, the same investigation also alleged that in March 2018, Anschutz gave £3,780 to Senator Cory Gardner, a vocal pro-gun advocate. Following the Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people, Gardner came out against gun control. “This is a tragedy, if you’re trying to politicise it, or if anyone is trying to politicise it, then shame on them,” he told TIME.
In January 2018, the pro-legalisation publication Freedom Leaf reported that the Anschutz Foundation had handed over more than $200,000 to fund anti-marijuana efforts in Colorado as recently as 2016.
Under pressure from all these accusations, which were clearly bad for business, Anschutz made a $1 million donation to the Elton John AIDS Foundation which, among other things, provides help and protection to sexual minorities. Yet just a few months later, he was found once again to have made significant donations to evangelical institutions promoting LGBTQ+ discrimination, such as Colorado Christian University (CCU), whose charter states that “no one shall teach, defend, support or condone homosexuality.”
Since then, Anschutz has had to remain as discreet as possible in order to not overshadow the festival. According to Bloomberg, he has only ever given two public press conferences in his career. But, as Los Angeles economist Jack Kyser described in the Los Angeles Times in 2006, Anschutz is still “the man behind the curtain pulling the levers. Nobody sees him, yet he has a huge impact on Los Angeles.”
Depending on which generation you were born into, you might know the American actor and musician Jared Leto for a wide array of reasons. I personally remember him from Requiem for a Dream and the absolute trauma that movie caused my 15-year-old self. Some may also associate Leto with Fight Club’s Angel Face character while for others his face brings forth unwanted flashbacks from the car crash that was his performance as Suicide Squad’s Joker. Heck, if you’re not much of a movie buff but know a thing or two about fashion, then Leto can only represent one thing to you: Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele’s most favoured muse, placed even before Harry Styles and Lana Del Rey on the pedestal.
But Leto should be known for more than his surprisingly long-lasting acting career or the name he’s made for himself in the music industry with his band Thirty Seconds To Mars—fronted by the man himself along with his brother Shannon Leto on drums. It’s time for Leto to be dragged for more than his embarrassingly meme-worthy acting attempt in House of Gucci—it’s about time we addressed the problematic behaviour he’s been displaying for years without ever facing the repercussions. From accusations of paedophilia and rape to his bizarre cult island, we’ve gathered all the receipts.
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When the Leto brothers formed their rock band in 1998, they probably never imagined the fan base it would accumulate over the years. Thirty Seconds To Mars (also known as 30STM) went on to consistently enjoy sold-out tours and even headline numerous festivals. Known for its energetic live performances, fused elements from a wide variety of genres, its use of philosophical and spiritual lyrics, concept albums, and experimental music, the band took a strange turn when it started holding cult-like “summer camps” for its audience in 2015.
What seemed to have started as an ironic comment—in 2013, Leto told The New York Times Magazine that it was “a joke, a response to journalists saying, ‘You have such a cult following.’”—quickly turned into a golden opportunity to fleece their audience. In August 2019, while on yet another island retreat they’d held in Croatia for hundreds of fans, Thirty Seconds To Mars tweeted, “Yes, it’s a cult,” sending the internet into an understandable frenzy.
As reported by KQED in September 2019, the band’s fans “collectively refer to themselves as ‘the Echelon’, and are a group that seems overwhelmingly immersed not [just] in music nerd-dom, but rather a more general sort of love for the community surrounding the band.” I mean, just watch 10 seconds of the fan-made video below and you’ll get an idea of the megachurch vibes 30STM is giving off:
Oh, and in case you’re still not convinced, keep in mind that the Echelon also seems more than happy to don all-white uniforms and worship Leto’s feet. No biggie.
KQED further noted, “Like many cults, the Echelon espouses an us vs. them mentality via the hashtag #YouWouldntUnderstand, a refrain Leto repeats often. That idea has pushed supporters to ever more fervent degrees of devotion any time the band receives any degree of criticism.”
Looking into the band’s eyebrow-raising trips, the publication revealed that its Camp Mars event, which was held between 7 and 9 September 2019, charged $999 for two nights of outdoor camping, where you had to bring your own tent and supplies, Fyre Festival-style. The getaway also included daytime outdoor activities like rock-climbing and archery, plus two Thirty Seconds To Mars concerts, which the band called ‘Church of Mars’. More expensive dorm options were also offered, but the only way to sleep in a space that wasn’t shared with strangers was to pay $6,499 for a “VIP experience.” Neat.
But that’s all fine, because Leto declared the band “anti-greed” back in 2013. Whether the whole cult aspect surrounding 30STM started as a joke or not, what certainly seems to be serious is how aware Leto is of his fans’ dedication to him. This thirst for devotion has most definitely played a part in the worrying accusations the celebrity has faced both before and after.
In May 2018, in the midst of the #MeToo movement, Dylan Sprouse—yep, that’s the twin brother of Cole Sprouse who is best known for his role as Zack Martin on the Disney Channel series The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and its spin-off, The Suite Life on Deck—posted a tweet accusing Leto of sending DMs to every model aged 18 to 25.
It quickly escalated when Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn tweeted the following as an answer to Sprouse’s initial tweet, “He starts at 18 on the internet?” Though the tweet has since been deleted, many netizens managed to grab a screenshot beforehand:
This was not the first time Gunn tried speaking up about Leto’s predatory behaviour either. In June of 2015, the director reportedly did a live stream on the video app Periscope in which he made similar remarks about the actor’s habits of sleeping with underage girls. SCREENSHOT did not manage to locate a copy of the video in question.
In that same year, the New York Post reported that the 30STM frontman had been pursuing teen models. “He’s been approaching all the girls and inviting them to his shows,” an anonymous source told the paper. “He’s a serial texter. He is constantly texting these 16- and 17-year-old girls. It’s really kind of creepy.”
For a man who openly held a competition in which the prize was a night sleeping in his bed and who fronts a band that is known to specifically request their fans get tattoos in their honour, to be accused of such things should have been enough to eventually lead the actor to face at least some kind of consequence. And yet, not much happened to the cult leader in 2018, even after a worrying number of allegations, some from years before then, started appearing online.
Though the article has since been wiped clean from the internet, in July 2015, pop culture writer for the now-vanished media criticism site Contemptor, Evangeline Van Houten, made some waves for her piece titled Another Cosby? A Reminder That Several Women Have Accused Jared Leto Of Sexual Assault. In it, the journalist collected several confronting allegations of sexual misconduct from fans of 30STM.
A number of victims, as young as 15, described having sex with Leto and some of the allegations suggested the singer acted despite a lack of consent or continued even when asked to stop. One account stated, “He was very pushy into coercing me to do sexual acts with him and he was quite rough and forceful. Once he was unnecessarily rough and when I told him it hurt he didn’t stop—he never did anything slowly or for my pleasure… And no, he never asked me if I was ever ok or comfortable with anything he wanted to do, simply because he is not the person to care.”
The 50-year-old actor never tried to respond to such accusations, and let’s be honest, it never seemed like he really had to, especially since barely anyone even made the effort to shed light on his alleged predatory behaviour. A Reddit thread based on the article mentioned above includes many more shocking accounts, in case you’re wondering exactly how many victims we’re looking at here.
In 2014, a Star Magazine print issue featured an interview with former adult film star Vicki Marie Taylor claiming that, back when Leto dated Cameron Diaz, she and three other strip dancers had been invited to a post-concert get-together one night in April 2002.
“The other girls and I stripped down to bikinis and hung out with Jared and the band backstage,” Taylor told Star. “After a while, Jared invited me onto his tour bus. His brother, Shannon, the band’s drummer, was already on it and the three of us were the only people there. I gave Jared a lap dance for just a minute, but then he asked me to do the same for his brother, who was sitting on a couch. As I started to dance for Shannon, Jared suddenly grabbed me around the throat from behind and said to me, ‘I can reach pure sexual enjoyment in 30 seconds just by looking into your eyes’. Obviously, it was kind of a weird situation.”
She went on to say that Leto then sat back down and watched Taylor lap dance his brother for ten minutes until a roadie announced it was time for them to leave for their next gig.
The internet is home to many (many, many) more accounts of Leto allegedly sexually assaulting (sometimes underage) victims. However, some internet users have suggested that such online accusations are not to be taken seriously due to the fact that they never actually evolved into sexual assault and rape police cases—a very stupid and uneducated way of looking at the situation.
How many times do we have to say it? The fear of not being believed makes it even harder for victims to come forward, so imagine how frightening it must be for anyone facing Leto and his somewhat invincible yet invisible team of lawyers. Almost 90 per cent of sexual assault survivors will never go to the police.
And it’s not only that victims are worried people won’t believe them, they also worry they will face horrific repercussions for coming forward with their story—whether personally, professionally or from the perpetrator themselves—especially if they go on to report the assault to concerned authorities. Seeing how much of an expert Leto is at emptying his fans’ pockets, it’s not hard to think of the many options he has under his belt when trying to silence his victims.