by Guy Page and Rob Roper
State police have named the Boston man who died of an overdose July 7 at a regional version of the Burning Man Festival, hosted by a Vermont legislator. They also named the drug that killed him: MDA, a psychoactive and psychedelic amphetamine also known as ‘the love drug’ because it creates heightened feelings of closeness and euphoria.
Ian Denhardt, 35, died of ‘acute MDA intoxication,’ police said yesterday. The autopsy conducted by the Vermont Chief Medical Examiner’s Office concluded the manner of the death was accidental.
MDA (also known as Sally, Sass, and Sassafras) is a psychoactive drug belonging to the amphetamine family. The names Sass and Sassafras refer to the fact that MDA, like MDMA, comes from the oil of the sassafras plant in the illicit manufacturing of the drug. MDA was reportedly a drug used in MKUltra, a CIA program that also administered LSD to subjects with and without their knowledge. American tennis player Harold Blauer reportedly died in 1953 after MKUltra researchers injected with with 450 MG of MDA.
Every year, State Representative Kirk White (D/P-Windsor-Addison) hosts the Firefly Arts Collective on his family farm in Bethel. The festival is described as a New England version of Burning Man. Its website says, “This event operates under the 10 Principles of Burning Man: not to dictate how people should be and act, but as a reflection of the community’s ethos and culture as it has organically developed.”
A neighbor who shared video of the event, including the arrival of ambulances and police, said these events often are loud, disruptive, rife with recreational drug use and public sexual activity. This year’s festivities saw three overdoses requiring an emergency response, with one death resulting.
The following was reported by VDC in early July:
Asked to confirm or deny rumors that a death occurred, Bethel Fire Chief David Aldrighetti confirmed that there was an overdose death on July 7 at the festival, and that two other overdose victims, including the wife of the deceased, were treated and survived. The Chief also said this isn’t the first overdose at the Firefly festival in its 15-year history.
The Vermont State Police responded to VDC’s request for information on the incidents with a general press release:
“The Vermont State Police is investigating a death that occurred during the Firefly Festival in Bethel on Friday, July 7, 2023. State police learned at about 11:26 p.m. July 7 that the Bethel Fire Department and White River Valley Ambulance had responded to a 911 call regarding an unresponsive 35-year-old man from Boston, Massachusetts. He was pronounced deceased on scene about 10 minutes later.
“The body was transported to the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in Burlington for an autopsy. A determination on the cause and manner of death is pending toxicology testing, which can take several weeks or months to complete. Preliminary investigation indicates the death is not suspicious. The name of the decedent is being withheld at this stage of the investigation.
“Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call the Vermont State Police in Royalton at 802-234-9933. No further details are available at this time.
Firefly released this statement on its website:
“Many of you may have witnessed emergency vehicles and personnel on Friday night. In the interest of community transparency and to address community questions we would like to share the following information.
“On the evening of Friday, July 7th, three participants had medical emergencies at our event. Firefly volunteers and retained on-site medical staff worked quickly to provide care and call for outside help.
“Professional medical staff escorted one distressed participant to the First Aid tent for care and observation. During care they became unresponsive, and medical staff and volunteers performed CPR until the arrival of local emergency responders. Unfortunately, this participant was pronounced dead after receiving care from local emergency responders.
“Two other participants in distress were transported to nearby hospitals for care. They have both been discharged and are expected to make a full recovery.”
Rep. White is serving in his second term as a state legislator. He is described on the Firefly history page as “neopagan writer and Vermont state assembly member….” White is also the author of Adept Circle Magic, described on Amazon as, “Written for every Wiccan who is ready to expand his or her knowledge of the Craft, this comprehensive volume addresses the practical matters of spells, meditations, and rituals, as well as ethical and spiritiual [sic] concerns important to witches of every skill level.”
In a May 2022 interview with VT Digger, White described Firefly as “a bunch of hippies in my woods,” but he has not yet responded to VDC’s questions regarding this story.