The Anarchists director Todd Schramke and his wife and executive producer Kim Kylland had been texting with one of Acapulco, Mexico’s most famous anarchist couples who went by the pseudonyms “John Galton” and “Lily Forester” the day that Galton, whose real name was Shane Cress, was murdered.
The murder, framed by the rise and fall of Acapulco’s anarchist community and the popular Anarchapulco conference, is at the heart of HBO and Blumhouse Television’s six-part docuseries The Anarchists, which premieres Sunday, July 10 on HBO.
The day that John Galton died in early February 2019 had been normal — well, as normal as a day can be when you’re living on a shoestring budget in one of the world’s most dangerous cities, while simultaneously being wanted in the U.S. for marijuana possession and living in constant fear of deportation — right up until Forester, whose real name is Miranda Webb, heard rocks being thrown at the house. Then, she heard gunshots, and minutes later, she and Galton’s roommate, Jason Henza, informed her that Galton had been shot dead at the bottom of their driveway by a group of unidentified attackers.
“We were texting very actively, and then they just went silent,” Schramke told MovieMaker. “It was shortly after that we saw Lily’s [Facebook] live stream asking and begging anyone for help. And then things just started to spiral more and more out of control.”
Galton’s death caught international attention and was widely reported due to his ties with Anarchapulco, the conference that was set to take place just a few weeks later.
What followed, Schramke said, “was the most emotionally complicated few weeks of my life.”
He and Kylland had already spent a few years documenting the growing anarchist community in Acapulco and had gotten to know John Galton and Lily Forester well, along with other anarchists in the Anarchapulco world including the conference’s founder, Jeff Berwick, and former festival organizer Nathan Freeman and his wife Lisa Freeman.
“We were texting both the Freemans and John and Lily that morning because we were only a week away from going down to Acapulco. We had a production trip planned,” Schramke said. “We were actually trying to figure out, Oh, are they going to be crossing paths at the conference or in any event this year, and could we maybe find them together on camera at the same time? Because that was the central conflict.”
But moments later, Schramke and Kylland would realize that the minor, non-violent feud between John, Lily, Nathan, and Lisa would pale in comparison to the murder plot that was about to unfold.
“We were questioning whether or not we should go down there at the time. We were still very skeptical of all the people in the community because of the anonymity — John and Lily, we hadn’t actually been able to verify their backstory in any way because they were living under pseudonyms. So we were wondering how safe it was for us even tried to connect with [Lily] and meet with her,” Schramke said.
While most people were canceling their tickets to Anarchapulco 2019 over rumors that a local drug cartel was behind Galton’s murder, Schramke and Kylland decided to go on with their production trip as planned. The artsy, Nashville-based couple are also musicians and have two songs, “Good Luck Kid” and “Turbulence,” featured in the show’s credits.
“It was really, really terrifying, and against all of the advice from our friends and family, we went and did the best we could to vet our locations,” he said.
Out of the tragedy of John Galton’s murder came a barrage of attention on the docuseries Schramke and Kylland were making.
“Because it was such a huge international story, and the social media presence that we were using for our documentary to just refer people in the community to what we were doing, we started to get contacted by the press, and then ultimately, film industry people who were interested in the story we’re telling,” he said. “So it was like, on one hand, it’s a terrifying, sad experience, and then [there was] this strange other side of the coin, which was, Oh, now people are more interested in what we’re doing.”
The Mexican police have yet to bring Galton’s killer to justice, and the theories about the motivations behind his murder that subjects in The Anarchists discuss remain just that — theories. But there’s no doubt that the nature of a truly anarchist lifestyle — one that rejects all forms of governmental control — comes with a lot of dangers.
John Galton and Lily Forester, like many others who embrace anarchy without the benefit of independent wealth, came to Acapulco in poverty, hoping to find a community of like-minded individuals.
“There were other people who were coming to Acapulco who were being promised that there was a community that was going to help them, help lift them up and embrace them. But there really was no infrastructure in place or organization in place to support that,” Schramke said. “So you had a lot of people who are coming, who were dealing with financial issues, with mental health issues, and just general life issues. So ultimately, I think what happened to John was a consequence of that.”
The Anarchists premieres on Sunday, July 17 at 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.
Main Image: A still of people on the beach in Acapulco, Mexico from The Anarchists, courtesy of HBO