What Are You Watching? ‘The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker’

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Who remembers the homeless hatchet-wielding hitchhiker who won the hearts of many millions when his outwardly charismatic (and hilarious) speech on a local news channel in Fresno, Calif., went viral?

The man’s name is Kai — or at least that’s the singular moniker he gave to the first-ever newsperson to interview him. His real name is Caleb Lawrence McGilvary. Back in 2013, the video that went viral and made Kai an international sensation surrounded an incident where Kai was allegedly hitchhiking and was picked up by Jett Simmons McBride. While driving, McBride (according to Kai, who was the only eyewitness) crashed into a pedestrian, pinning the person to the rear of a parked truck. When a bystander arrived at the scene to assist, McBride purportedly attacked the good Samaritan. Seeing that the bystander’s life was in imminent danger, Kai pulls a hatchet from his trekking pack and strikes McBride in the head several times.

The details of these events are impossible to corroborate, and the tragic and disturbing incident was immediately overshadowed by the television interview of Kai, where he eventually utters his catchphrase, “Smash, smash, smash,” while describing the way he struck the assailant with hatchet blows.

To me, Kai’s muddled Cali surfer drawl, his long hair and dirty bandana, and his rambling yet somehow entrancing oration to the small-town news broadcaster left me disarmed. I didn’t think this easygoing beach bum could be capable of causing undue harm to anyone, and the story he describes paints him to be a real hero. But the ugly truth of the matter was clearly veiled by Kai’s disposition and his oddly misplaced preachings of positivity and love during his interview.

Just a few months after the interview that had Kai’s face and his “smash, smash, smash” motto plastered all over YouTube remixes and even T shirts and other tawdry internet merch, the freelove wanderer was convicted on murder charges for the violent overkill of a New Jersey attorney, and sentenced to 57 years in prison.

The entire tragic story of this viral vagrant’s fall from web grace is captured and explored in a new multi-episode documentary on Netflix. What other title could this documentary series hold besides “The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker”? In the end, despite Kai’s guilt being proven in a court of law, and the evidence of his horrid crimes being particularly gruesome, I can’t help but feel bad for this clearly mentally ill and abused person. What about you?