There are multiple tragedies converging in the aftermath of the devastating fire that killed thirty six people, or more, in an Oakland, California warehouse. The space had become a community and home to musicians, writers, artists, and unemployed free spirits who, if not for this facility, would have had no food, no place to lay their head and no support for their work. Derick Ion Almena is the man holding the lease and is under criminal investigation. Almena was also the prime tenant and leader of the collective. He lived in this space with Micah Allison, his wife, and their three young children.
The Daily Mail describes the warehouse as an “illegal enclave” filled with “junk.” Altars and displays of religious and cultic imagery were an integral part of what residents called the “Ghost Ship or the Satya Yuga Collective,” which refers to a Hindi theology. These displays featured Hindi gods, Shiva and Kali, but not exclusively. Skulls, crosses, swastikas, unicorns, candles, statues and African tribal masks were also prominent. These items were highly flammable, as are the accusations that former residents have testified to in court before the tragic fire.
Almena claims he simply wanted to offer shelter and support for artists in need. His desire was for a creative community. Testimony from others as to his intentions are mixed. Last year, Almena was “accused by artists and events producers of stealing equipment, breaking contracts, and making violent threats. . .” It is also claimed he held people captive or told them what to do with the threat of being kicked out. Other descriptions of Almena’s personality detail a charismatic nature that turned into a cult-like stature. But in this interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, Almena’s shock and grief over the event appear evident.
Dailymail.co.uk suggests that Hindi blood rituals may have taken place at this “Ghost Ship,” yet evidence for that accusation seems inconclusive. A supporter and friend of Almena, artist Anthony Perrault, was the a lone voice in defending the intentions of the man who will most likely be held accountable for the homicide of thirty six individuals, along with multiple city housing code violations.
There were survivors in this devastating fire, and their interview demonstrates another very real tragedy in this story. In many collapsing cities where housing is unaffordable, people gather together in slip shod buildings to do the best they can. Many have no other option.
(Photo credit: Dailymail.co.uk)