This is Part Two of The Illuminati Files by Brenton Clutterbuck. If you missed Part One, here you will find A Conspiracy is Born.
Suddenly, nothing happened!
Or at least not much. While the Illuminati had copped the blame for trying to challenge the power of church and state in Germany (a fair cop), instigating the French Revolution, and interfering with the founding years of the United States (both substantially less likely), for most of the late 1800s, concern about the Illuminati died down, only to return mutated and with a vengeance in the 1900s. Conspiracy author Nesta Webster brings them back in 1919, characterising them as a Jewish conspiracy dating back to the days of Jesus. She produced several works across her lifetime about the Illuminati. In 1965, the rightwing monthly The Cross and the Flag published by Gerald L. K. Smith featured an article that named the Illuminati as the second most important enemy in the world (pipped to the post by those dastardly world bankers!) Around the same time, a man named Robert Welch was beginning his own crusade against the Illuminati, via the organisation he founded — the highly influential rightwing organisation, the John Birch Society, which characterised the Illuminati as the precursor to Communism.
We find ourselves in the United States of the 1950s and 1960s, in a society being rocked by social change and in an environment where conspiracy theory (some of which would ultimately be proved correct!) was running wild. Campaigns of propaganda helped to overload the bullshit detectors of many, and very quickly, large numbers of people developed the firm suspicion that somewhere, someone was doing something, and whatever it was, it wasn’t good.
Into this paranoid stew of confusion and confoundment, came a new religious movement. It was called ‘Discordianism’, and perhaps unsurprisingly it was obsessed with chaos, disorder, and the impossibility of reaching out to grasp objective truth. Truly, this was a movement of its time.
With such fixations of the nature of truth, confusion, and the great unknown, it is no wonder that many Discordians were themselves entranced by ideas of conspiracy. The Principia Discordia, among other Discordian materials, satirised this re-emergence of Illuminati fever. Riffing on the Illuminati led to the ‘Illuminati letter’ appearing in the Principia Discordia. As with much of the PD, it is influenced by a mixture of sources.
Episkopos Mordecai, Keeper of the Notary Sojac, informs me that you are welcome to reveal that our oldest extant records show us to have been fully established in Atlantis, circa 18,000 B.C., under Kull, the galley slave who ascended to the Throne of Valusia. Revived by Pelias of Koth, circa 10,000 B.C. Possibly it was he who taught the inner-teachings to Conan of Cimmeria after Conan became King of Aquilonia. First brought to the western hemisphere by Conan and taught to Mayan priesthood (Conan is Quetzlcoatl). That was 4 Ahua, 8 Cumhu, Mayan date. Revived by Abdul Alhazred in his infamous Al Azif, circa 800 A.D. (Al Azif translated into Latin by Olaus Wormius, 1132 A.D., as The Necronomicon.) In 1090 A.D. was the founding of The Ismaelian Sect Hashishim) by Hassan i Sabbah, with secret teachings based on Alhazred, Pelias and Kull. Founding of the Illuminated Ones of Bavaria, by Adam Weishaupt, on May 1, 1776. He based it on the others. Weishaupt brought it to the United States during the period that he was impersonating George Washington; and it was he who was the Man in Black who gave the design for The Great Seal to Jefferson in the garden that night. The Illuminated tradition is now, of course, in the hands of The Ancient Illuminated Seers of Bavaria (A.I.S.B.), headquartered here in the United States.
Our teachings are not, need I remind you, available for publication. No harm, though, in admitting that some of them can be found disguised in Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, Burroughs Nova Express, the King James translation of the Holy Bible (though not the Latin or Hebrew), and The Blue Book. Not to speak of Ben Franklin’s private papers (!), but we are still suppressing those.
The letter goes on for quite some time, but luckily for the human race, the Discordian articulation of the Illuminati quest turned out to be actually, pretty wholesome!
Look, if you people out there can keep from blowing yourselves up for only two more generations, then we will finally have it. After 20,000 years, Kull’s dream will be realized! We can hardly believe it. But the outcome is certain, given the time. Our grandchildren, Mal! If civilization makes it through this crises, our grandchildren will live in a world of authentic freedom and authentic harmony and authentic satisfaction. I hope I’m alive to see it, Mal, success is in our grasp. Twenty thousand years….!
Ah, I get spaced just thinking about it. Good luck on the Principia.
Also included in the preceding pages are an advertisement for the Bavarian Illuminati, and a telegraph, apparently from the illuminati to the Discordians, with a comically unbreakable cypher that could be used to permanently render incoherence to any sensitive messages (let’s just hope nobody —ever— needs to decode them!).
Discordian elder Robert Anton Wilson got on board the Illuminati train in a major way. He had been drafted into the Discordians in ’67, but they wouldn’t provide his first exposure to the Illuminati conspiracy. By the time the Discordians drafted him into their weirdness, he’d already been working at PLAYBOY‘s letters section for two years, alongside co-conspirator Robert Shea. PLAYBOY — being a magazine dedicated to all kinds of sexual and moral freedoms — attracted the attention of those who felt their freedoms were being infringed on in the most bizarre and unbelievable ways. This ‘nut mail’ from some of the more paranoid PLAYBOY patrons inspired Wilson and Shea to write a series in which all of the conspiratorial fantasies of their readers were 100% true. The resulting novel The Illuminatus! Trilogy returned to the more sinister power-hungry characterisation of the Illuminati.
The work was already invested in exploring the most deranged and bizarre (though not, of course, impossible) theories about who controlled the world. Wilson and Shea further muddied these illuminated waters of truth by sneaking articles into publications under assumed identities years before, then quoting those sources in their fictional trilogy to develop a strange and unreliable synthesis of truth and fiction. The book was about conspiracy, was produced as the result of conspiracy, and was a satirical exploration of a phenomenon that was far from just a light-hearted joke.
Illuminatus! of course then became another significant popularizer of the modern Illuminati mythos into popular culture. It also popularised the new foundation myth alluded to in the Illuminati letter from the Principia — that the Illuminati originated from the Islamic Assassin cult led by Hassan-I-Sabbah — though they attributed this idea to the John Birch Society.
Illuminatus! as a work, seems to have had a wide influence, although its authors would surely have liked to see more of that influence translate into royalties! It’s been speculated that the work influenced Umberto Eco, whose work Foucault’s Pendulum shares a number of similarities with the Illuminatus! Trilogy. More recently Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons also portrayed the Illuminati within the substance of its plot.
Steve Jackson Games, whose forays into the fringe frequently step into Discordian territory, loosely adapted the Trilogy into a board game (if it had been a ‘tighter’ adaptation they would have had to pay!).
The KLF, music weirdos who burned a million pounds, were also influenced by Illuminatus! Both members were exposed to the Trilogy through Ken Campbell’s epic 10 hour theatre adaptation of Illuminatus!, and this influence can be seen explicitly through the first name they took; The JAMS, a reference to the Illuminatus! Trilogy.
From here, the flow of influence for both the Illuminatus! Trilogy and the Illuminati mythology get pretty hard to track. You can see the source of a trickle, but how do you point to the home of a wave? With the hippie movement as a powerful vector, the Illuminati entered the public consciousness, permeating vast swathes of public life and awareness.
When I was doing my interviews for Chasing Eris, I spoke with Ben Graham who gave one example of how awareness of the Illuminatus! Trilogy, and the associated conspiracy consciousness passed from hippies to members of the electronic scene.
Because of the ravers that had been having free festivals out in fields, [members of the electronic scene] ended up teaming up with guys who’d been having hippy rock festivals in fields forever. Those guys ended up getting into a lot of techno music, but they would have been guys who were reading the Illuminatus! books in the early 70s. It had the whole kind of esoteric hippy knowledge and stuff behind it… You had the club rave kids meeting the hippy travelers, one side being electronic techno music and ecstasy, and the other bringing this kind of like hippy philosophy and ethos and knowledge and it all kind of crossing over. And certainly I think a lot of the kind of Illuminati ideas. Suddenly it became cliché to be referencing the number 23 for one thing.
As for the Illuminati itself, well, today it is Well Known enough that the very term has become a euphemism for any vaguely shadowy institution. When some say ‘the Illuminati’ control the world, they perhaps don’t mean Weishaupt’s group, but instead ‘the Deep State’ ‘the Ruling Class’, ‘the Bourgeoisie’, or maybe ‘the Shadow Government.’ Maybe, in some sense, they are all absolutely right.
The Illuminati perhaps remains so powerful in the public consciousness today because it speaks to the need to fill in the gaps — the dark shadowy gaps — in our knowledge of the world. Every trove of top secret documents that spills out from a Wikileaks page or a pastebin, every release of unclassified documents, every whistle-blower and truth-teller betrays the existence of a murky world of conspiracy that lives beneath the surface of our otherwise normal and logically consistent existence. Voltaire once said that if God didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent him. Perhaps the same is true of a Godlike conspiracy. Fortunately, Adam Weishaupt did us that favor many years ago, and things have only been getting stranger ever since.
The above photo of Robert Anton Wilson, on the fabled Grassy Knoll, popped up on the Twitter a while back courtesy of Mustafa_al_Laylah, taken during a visit to Dallas circa 1998. In said photo, RAW is situated behind the picket fence separating the Grassy Knoll from the adjacent rail-yard bordering Dealey Plaza.
According to one assassination conspiracy theory (examined in the BBC series The Men Who Killed Kennedy), it was from this vantage point that the so-called Badge Man presumably fired the baleful bullet(s) that catapulted President Kennedy’s cranium into the great beyond, a theory based in part on photographic enhancement of the picket fence area at the time the fatal projectile(s) met their mark. Of course, the enhancement and enlargement of an old grainy photo (in this case the Mary Moorman photo) is like peering into a Rorschach Blot, and the longer you do so, the more figures your imagination brings to life, and thus fills in the blanks depending on what you expect to see, or desire to see, a la ‘Who Is The Master That Makes The Grassy Knoll Green?’.
During this tumultuous period, Garrison was viewed as a new darling of the “Radical Left,” presenting himself as a maverick prosecutor taking on corrupt authority in the form of the CIA and the military industrial complex, whom Garrison suggested (at one time or another) were part of the sinister plot that engineered Kennedy’s awful offing.
Due to this view of Garrison as some new hero of the Left, Thornley now found himself in a somewhat peculiar position, as he had long been involved with the burgeoning counterculture, having written for any number of underground magazines and newsletters, but now it appeared he was the odd man out. As RAW recalled in my book The Prankster and the Conspiracy:
“In ’67 or ’68, most of the underground press was publishing a lot of stuff pro-Jim Garrison, and this included Kerry’s role in the assassination. And I had lots of contacts in the underground press, so I starting sending out articles defending Kerry, which nobody would print, because the underground press was behind Garrison and the official corporate media was totally anti-Garrison—I was trying to send the message to the wrong place…”
Among those (in Thornley’s opinion) that had jumped aboard the Garrison bandwagon, was L.A. Free Press publisher/editor Art Kunkin, who, among other pro-Garrison articles, ran the following:
In response, Thornley sent the following letter to Art Kunkin, presenting his side of the story and requesting equal time:
In their efforts to provide counter-programming, Thornley, RAW, and their fellow Discordians launched what became known as Operation Mindfuck, a concerted effort to bombard Garrison and his enthusiasts with a steady diet of zany disinformation under the banner of the Bavarian Illuminati. To further illuminate (or confuse) Art Kunkin, RAW sent the letter below, under the auspices of the Order of the Peacock Angel, signed by his Discordian alter ego, Mordecai Malignatus.
In order to further expand their network of potential Illuminati collaborators, RAW sent the following missive to a select group of underground movers and shakers.
How the Discordian Society became synonymous with the Bavarian Illuminati can be attributed, to a certain extent, to a John Birch Society member named Allan Chapman, who also doubled as a JFK assassination researcher and “Grassy Knoll Irregular,” as they were dubbed; a legion of amateur sleuths who shared their investigative “fruits” with Jim Garrison, which then Garrison regurgitated to greater glory. RAW name-dropped Chapman in his infamous letter & answer in the April 1969 PLAYBOY Advisor.
As Thornley recalled:
“Wilson and I founded the Anarchist Bavarian Illuminati to give Jim Garrison a hard time, one of whose supporters believed that the Illuminati owned all the major TV networks, the Conspiring Bavarian Seers (CBS), the Ancient Bavarian Conspiracy (ABC) and the Nefarious Bavarian Conspirators (NBC).” (The Dreadlock Recollections, Kerry Thornley)
Chapman subscribed to the theory that the Illuminati (who he claimed controlled the Big Three TV networks) masterminded the assassination, and that one of the alleged assassins hid inside a storm drain in the picket fence area of the Grassy Knoll and then popped out of a manhole cover like some diabolical jack-in-the-box and peppered poor JFK with a barrage of bullets before returning to his underground lair there.
It should then come as no surprise that The Grassy Knoll played a part in the Illuminatus! Trilogy, embodied in the character of the Dealey Lama, a robed and bearded holy mad man who lived in the sewers below Dealey Plaza. In retrospect, the Dealey Lama sounds a lot like Kerry Thornley by the mid-1970s, when Kerry lived the life of a homeless holy man of sorts, sporting long hair and a biblical beard, and at one time or another actually lived in a storm drain for a spell.
Recently I stumbled upon this artifact in the Discordian Archives, a clipping from the May 1976 edition of National Weed entitled: “Author Sues Acidheads For Saying Leary Wrote His Book!”
In essence, this article appears to have been a PR prank Robert Anton Wilson pulled as a pretext to promote Illuminatus! while at the same time taking a pot-shot (pun intended) at members of the Neo-American Church, who—on occasion—RAW was known to tussle with.
This article also mentions a Timothy Leary interview RAW was working on that had yet to be published at the time due to what he referred to as “perfectionist” editors at PLAYBOY. This “Lost Leary Interview” —which has yet to see the literary light of day—was among content included in the RVP-never-to-be-version of Starseed Signals, although I’ve been informed that our friends at Hilaritas Press may include it in their forthcoming iteration of the book.
As for the “acidheads” mentioned in the article, RAW was referring to members of the Neo-American Church, founded by former Leary acolyte Arthur Kleps. It should be noted that if RAW was sincerely interested in suing the Neo-American Church, then said lawsuit would have included his friend, and Discordian Society founder, Greg Hill, who was an affiliate member of that august acidhead outfit as documented in this membership card below. Oh, what a tangled web we acidheads weave!
Kleps was fond of penning polemics to counterculture publications, one of which appeared in the November 14, 1975 edition of The Berkeley Barb with Kleps going on about how the “energy crisis” was a hoax that “fits in with the apocalyptic ideas so popular among the moron supernaturalists and occultists of the Robert Anton Wilson type…”
In response, RAW fired back with the following letter published in the November 21, 1975 edition of The Berkeley Barb:
Among the more obscure Early Discordians was Tom McNamara aka Thomas the Gnostic, who was not only of the Erisian persuasion, but also a member of the Bavarian Illuminati, and a participant in Operation Mindfuck as demonstrated in the letter below published in The Rag, a counterculture mag based out of Austin, Texas, during the 1960s and early-70s.
During the Discordian Society halcyon days, McNamara distributed an Erisian newsletter, the alliterative Papish Pastoral Letter to the Provincials of the Provinces of Patareal Paratheo Providence, a sample of which is presented below.
Included in the Discordian Archives are scattered correspondence between Greg Hill and McNamara. In a letter dated March 22, 1971, Hill related recent Discordian developments, including a Chicago meet-up with Bob Shea, Robert Anton Wilson (RAW) and Tim and Mary Wheeler (aka Harold Randomfactor and Hope Springs). Of this Chicago meet-up, Hill wrote:
“Most sorry missed you at the Chicago Meet, but I supposed goddess knows what she is doing. I genuinely hope that the day will come when we can rap some face to face. This correspondence business, it only goes in some directions and it is hard to anchor sometimes. I’ll buy the beer should the opportunity arise….
“The Chicago Meet, incidentally, was no big thing excepting a retouch in the flesh. Met RF [Randomfactor] & Hope for the first time and was not surprised in any way. Wilson kept engaging in political arguments with them and it bummered kind of, it gets difficult to remember that substantial differences are in accord with the Erisian concept—it gets difficult indeed in personal issues. O Were We All Saints. That bit in diatribe about me slipping into the curse of greyface—that was from the soul my friend. Wilson and Tim had a touch of greyface then (at Chi) too. Doubt if Tim feels much a part of us much anymore.
“Mostly we just sat around and rapped on petty incidentals. It was a pleasant time, which is want I wanted actually. Wilson & I played around with literature some—that kind of thing. Very therapeutic. Got stoned and giggled a lot…”
While RAW occasionally described himself as a Libertarian, he was definitely on the anti-war/pacifist end of the spectrum, most notably taking to the Chi-town streets with all the hairy freaks during the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests. Wheeler—conversely—was a William F. Buckley conservative and, as noted in this exclusive Historia Discordia interview, worked as a humor editor for Buckley’s National Review. One issue that might have led to a “political argument” between Wheeler and Wilson would have been the Vietnam War. While there was plenty to be critical about Buckley’s worldview, one important contribution he made to the conservative movement was calling out John Birch Society (JBS) propaganda and its influence on the GOP. To this end, Wheeler produced a satirical piece on the JBS, which took the form of a hoax/gag issue of the National Review, kind of a play on Illuminati conspiracies ala the Trilateral Commission, Bilderbergers, etc. Check it out here.
Wheeler’s irreverent nature is what enamored him to his fellow Discordians, who for the most part were politically aligned with anarcho-libertarianism, which included a fondness for pot, another interest they shared with Wheeler, who was a notorious dope-smoking Republican.
While RAW and Wheeler disagreed on certain political issues, they both concurred that it was a fine and righteous thing to poke fun at Illuminati conspiracies of the John Birch Society variety, and then co-opt said JBS-Illuminati mythology for their own nefarious ends, Hail Eris!
Next we find an exchange between Thomas the Gnostic and Reverend Dean Cleveland of the St. Procopius Rectory, wherein Thomas was evidently yanking the good rector’s chain.
Next in the chronology was a letter dated February 1972 from McNamara to Hill (aka Iggy):
“You know the phantasies you’ve had that the FBI might be after us? Well, you’ll be happy to know that they are at least after me. This is not just paranoia. It seems that recently I wuz incarcerated in the state mental prison here, no shit! How I got there is a long stupid story. How I got out is even simpler. I hired a lawyer to rescue me from the mad doctors. But in the course of all this madness I learned one thing. The F.B.I. is really keeping tabs on me. They made indiscreet ‘inquiries’ to both my lawyer and the keepers. I ain’t going to let this stop me from whatever it is that I am doing that is subversive’. I just wish I could figure out what it is that I am doing. Oh well. As for the mental prison: ‘God save us from those who would save us from ourselves.’
Also in the letter, McNamara mentions an Illuminati-mythology-then-in-the-making ala Morris Kaminsky’s The Hoaxers, which expounded upon a claim that the real brains behind that dreaded secret society was some dude named Sidney Weinberg.
The handful of veiled (or perhaps not-so-veiled) drug references in the Principia Discordia include the ritual of Blessed St. Gulik the Stoned (pages 00027 and 00040), an allusion to a Discordian pot smoking ritual. (St. Gulik is a cockroach.)
Page 00068 of Principia Discordia featured “Plant Your Seeds,” a covert campaign to plant marijuana seeds throughout the cities of America to turn on the squares. “Lick Here” on page 00023 encourages the reader to stick their tongue on the dot for a special dose of you know what!
Principia Discordia (4th edition) evolved out of what were known as Groovy Kits, manila envelopes packed full of groovy goodies that were circulated by Greg Hill to a snail mail network of popes and momes during the Discordian Society’s halcyon days. Although Discordians have never been big on rules, it was encouraged that—upon receipt of said Groovy Kit—the recipient partook in the Ritual of St. Gulik to suitably prepare their heads before diving into the Groovy Kit goods and creating something likewise groovy to add to the package and then pass it along to the next Discordian on the list. (Rules is rules.) And so, in time, these Groovy Kits grew like some weird fungi, spreading their spores via the U.S. Postal System through the collective brains of those who elected to play the game; an art project made up of a communal Discordian stew of collages, counterculture memes, conspiracy theories, word games, irreverent humor, all of which contributed to the evolution of Principia Discordia which, in turn, provided inspiration for Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea’s Illuminatus!
Robert Anton Wilson (RAW) provided some of the earliest reports of Discordian psychedelic experimentation in Cosmic Trigger I: Final Secret of the Illuminati. In 1963, RAW lived in “an old slave-cabin in the woods outside Yellow Springs, Ohio. With my wife, Arlen, and our four small children, I had rented the cabin from Antioch College for $30 per month and had an acre of cleared land to grow food on, 30 acres of woods to seek Mystery in…” It was there, with the aid of peyote, that RAW was able to tap into those ancient nature spirits, this at a time when you could still legally purchase peyote buttons via mail order.
“By mid-1963 [RAW] had logged 40 trips to inner space” and “frequently had the hallucination of telepathic communication with plants, both when flying on the wings of peyote and when [I] was straight… The strangest entity I contacted in those twenty-odd months of psychedelic explorations appeared one day after the end of a peyote trip, when I was weeding in the garden and a movement in the adjoining cornfield caught my eye. I looked over that way and saw a man with warty green skin and pointy ears, dancing.” RAW “watched for nearly a minute, entranced, and then Greenskin faded away ‘just a hallucination…’ But I could not forget him. Unlike the rapid metaprogramming during a peyote trip, in which you are never sure what is real and what is just the metaprogrammer playing games, this experience had all the qualities of waking reality, and differed only in intensity. The entity in the cornfield had been more beautiful, more charismatic, more divine than anything I could consciously imagine when using my literary talents to try to portray a deity. As the mystics of all traditions say so aggravatingly, ‘Those who have seen, know.’ Well, I had seen, but I didn’t know. I was more annoyed than enlightened. But that was not to be my last encounter with that particular critter. Five years later, in 1968, [RAW] read Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan, dealing with traditional Mexican shamanism and its use of the sacred cactus. Castaneda, an anthropologist, saw the same green man several times, and Don Juan Matus, the shaman, said his name was Mescalito. He was the spirit of the peyote plant…”00001
RAW’s enthusiasm for psychedelics led to his 1964 article for Paul Krassner’s The Realist, “Timothy Leary and his Psychological H-Bomb” the result of an interview he conducted with Timothy Leary in 1964 at the Millbrook Ashram. As RAW noted:
“Later [Leary] asked me if I had majored in psychology, and was surprised to find most of my college years had been in the physical sciences. My knowledge of psychology comes entirely from omnivorous reading and several friendships with people in the field, but it may partially explain why Timothy Leary and I had a different sort of relationship than Tim usually has with writers and journalists.”00002
RAW became an ardent Leary advocate, and in the years to follow the two would forge a close personal and professional bond, co-authoring a number of articles together, as well as developing “The Eight Circuit Model of Consciousness” concept.
RAW continued his psychedelic explorations into the 1970s, incorporating consciousness expansion techniques, wicca, magick, tantra, yoga and in particular a Crowleyean ritual known as the “Conversation with the Holy Guardian Angel.” On July 23rd, 1973—coming down off an acaid trip—RAW was performing this Crowleyean ritual when he came into contact with what he perceived to be entities from the Sirius star system. RAW later discovered that July 23 is the very day when Sirius rises behind the sun, the fabled “Dog Days” as they are called. During this same period, RAW was in correspondence with Leary. As RAW recalled:
“In January 1974, Dr. Leary published Terra II, in which he reported his experiments during July-August 1973, attempting to achieve telepathic communication with higher Intelligences elsewhere in the galaxy. Dr. Leary “received” 19 transmissions—the so-called Starseed Transmissions—which he cheerfully admits may be hallucinations. He presents evidence and arguments that they may also be not-hallucinations.
“As soon as I read Terra II, it was obvious to me that I had somehow, during my yoga [magick] sessions, tuned in on Dr. Leary’s brain-waves. My July 23 communication from Sirius was either part of the Transmissions from the higher minds of the galaxy or was part of Dr. Leary’s hallucination, telepathically shared with me. Dr. Leary, however, did not mention Sirius…”00003
Greg Hill chronicled his psychedelic experiments in a number of journal entries, including a three page account from April 1965 entitled “An Experience with Mescaline.” (Download here.)
Body becomes helpless with laughter
As whirly-gig bugs return,
Chills are back too
And the room is
Save one single point
Of life and warmth:
Far below on the floor.
As a Holy Guru
The Omniscient flame
Radiates its serenity
To all who
And body is once again granted
In the mid 1960s, Kerry Thornley joined Kerista, “a sexually swinging psychedelic tribe” into mate swapping, dope smoking and acid tripping. Renowned for their “beautiful weekend orgies,” Kerista was established in New York the late 1950s by John Presmont (aka Brother Jud). After running afoul of the law in NYC, Brother Jud and his crew moved to Southern California, where they joined forces with Kerry. During this period, Kerry’s income was a total of $50 a week, which he earned from writing “case histories,” most of them factual, for Monogram Publications—a southern California erotica publisher—based on his experiences with the Keristas.00004
In 1966, the group’s newspaper changed its name from Kerista to Kerista Swinger, presumably to generate greater appeal with a new generation of hip sexual experimenters. Kerry—calling himself “Young Omar”—wrote several articles for Kerista Swinger, including the group’s mission statement:
Kerista is a religion and the mood of Kerista is one of holiness. Do not, however, look for a profusion of rituals, dogmas, doctrines, and scriptures. Kerista is too sacred for that. It is more akin to the religions of the East and, also, the so-called pagan religions of the pre-Christian West. Its fount of being is the religious experience and that action or word or thought which is not infused with ecstasy is not Kerista. And Kerista, like those religions of olden times, is life-affirming.
By 1967—the so-called “Summer of Love”—Kerry’s politics had gone through a radical shift. His rallying cry was now “sex, drugs, and treason”—everything that flew in the face of a conservative agenda he’d previously embraced with his enthusiasm for Ayn Rand styled Libertarianism. As Kerry later wrote:
When the conservatives began complaining that radical students were interested in nothing but “sex, drugs, and treason” I realized that, instinctually, they had hit the nail on the head. Sex, drugs, and treason were the three things I stood for…. Regarding sex, I became firmly convinced that unless there were trends established in our culture in the direction of uncompromising sexual honesty, tolerance for minority sexual preferences, equal treatment of the sexes, rational openness concerning VD and birth control, and saner attitudes regarding sex and child-rearing, particularly with reference to masturbation—further meaningful social change would not be possible…
Regarding drugs, I gained a great deal of respect for psychedelic substances as powerful tools for restructuring portions of one’s personality which could not be reached by intellectual effort alone, for expanding one’s sense of identification and compassion, and for opening the narrow and dry Western ego to mystical possibilities. Zen and similar styles of meditation, along with the yoga disciplines, I came to see as methods for maintaining psychedelic levels of awareness, once the chemicals had demonstrated the nature of such modes of consciousness…
Regarding treason, I came gradually to a position of supporting nearly all factions on the radical left, except in their quarreling with each other and the dogmatic insistence of some of these groups on the insistence of political violence (or, in other cases, the immorality of violence under all circumstances). I came to this position without ever abandoning some of the more libertarian elements on the extreme right. Meanwhile, I continued to refine my own political philosophy of anarchism—not because I favored “violence and chaos” with which anarchism is nearly always falsely equated, but because of my opposition to violence and chaos, for which government military machines and bureaucratic structures are largely responsible in today’s world…00005
Kerry Thornley helped organize the Griffith Park Human Be-Ins, which were the perfect set and setting to display his irreverent brand of humor. At the first Be-In, Kerry cut a singular swath, equipped with a sign that read: “Stamp out quicksand. Ban LSD.” Fellow Discordian Louise Lacey (Lady L., F.A.B.) recalled the first Griffith Park Be-In thusly:
The weather was perfect. We were all stoned. A single engine plane came and circled, and I thought it was the media, keeping track of us, but then a man all in white dropped down with a parachute and the crowd roared with approval. Later I learned that an old friend of mine from Marin County was the pilot. He got that plane out fast, because it was illegal to parachute within the city limits.
The Be-In was fascinating because I had never seen such a large collection of freaks. I couldn’t keep from grinning. I was particularly interested because some hard assed sociologist had said that when you were on LSD you were extremely susceptible to being led. I was watching for people being led.
I saw a group of people organized into a crack-the-whip game. Twenty or twenty-five people formed and a man with a megaphone was giving them instructions. (Definitely planned.)
“Move up the hill, move down. Hang on tight. Join with more people.” I couldn’t tell if anyone was listening or just all having fun. The people at the end of the line were moving so fast they kept being thrown off, tumbling down the hill in the grass, laughing hysterically. Then some of the crack-the-whip people let go of the hands of the people around them and drifted off. The megaphone man yelled more loudly. “Hang on, don’t let go.” More people drifted away. He was screaming now. The group all dropped hands and disappeared in the crowds and the megaphone man was screaming at the top of his amplified voice, “Come back! We are playing a game here!” But the people were gone.
I didn’t worry any more about what that sociologist had said.
Many groups of people were gathered as “families of friends.” It was the first time I had seen this form of organization. So there were tents, and lean-to’s and lots of signs pounded into the dirt, describing one thing or another to identify who the friends were. (This is where Kerry’s sign fit in.) As I didn’t live in L.A., I didn’t recognize anyone other than Kerry’s friends, who didn’t stay around his sign, but it didn’t matter. I “knew” the strangers as friends, and we laughed and hugged and shared doobies, and listened to music and I moved on. Nobody got hurt, everyone had a good time (except, I imagine, the man with the megaphone). As the day progressed, I gravitated back to Kerry’s sign and others did, too, and we shared what we had experienced, eventually gathered our stuff and drove home to Kerry’s. A most successful day.00006
At the time, Kerry had moved into a house in the Watts section of Los Angeles that became a sort of psychedelic social center. One frequent visitor to this scene was Kerry’s friend, Bud Simco, who recalled:
“Kerry was charismatic and had the ability to attract diverse personalities, people who would normally not be associated with each other, except by the force of Kerry’s personality. For example, there were so-called hippie types tripping under the dining room table, holding burning candles in their hands, while right-wing types were holding forth in the kitchen. One such character I recall had never been to Watts before, and showed up wearing a bullet-proof vest and armed with a .45. He seemed reasonable enough, in conversation, but he was taking no chances [having never been around hippies before]. There were people from all walks of life… including a pilot for the Flying Tiger Airlines, a student from MIT, some swingers, a fashion model, some writers, some SDS student types, and various and sundry others whom I did not know. One of my guests at one particular gathering was a former motorcycle gang member who lost his foot in a motorcycle accident, and his beautiful American Indian wife, who was at the time a co-worker of mine. He had never seen such an assorted group of people in his life, for example, but with his tambourine, magic mushrooms and a Donovan LP loudly playing, asserted his presence along with all the diverse others in one righteous happening. The thing is, everyone was tolerant of the other, regardless of individual inclinations and/or politics. At such an event, many people would never even interact with other groups, in other rooms, although many did. That was the one universal factor re: being present at one of Kerry’s gatherings, either at his home in Watts, or perhaps at one of the original “Be-Ins” at Griffith Park…”00007
A frequent visitor to Kerry’s house in Watts was John Overton who after his first acid trip changed his name to Camden Benares, the idea of which was to bring the teachings of the East into the West: “Camden” for Camden, New Jersey, and “Benares” after Benares, India, the city where the Buddha delivered his first sermon. Benares went on to write the classic Zen Without Zen Masters and was a contributor to the Principia Discordia with “A Zen Story” on page 00005. Camden’s Discordian name was Felix Pendragon. Felix—according to Discordian legend—always carried a pen, and in said pen was a joint. So, when somebody asked Camden who Felix Pendragon was, he’d take out the pen, remove the joint, and “drag on” it.
While this scene was happening at Kerry’s Watts house, Greg Hill was finishing up his military service. After his discharge in early ‘68, he relocated to San Francisco, and ramped up his Discordian activities while immersing himself in the burgeoning counterculture. Among these endeavors included the “Plant Seeds” chain letter he anonymously forwarded to underground papers and news outlets courtesy of “The Discordian Society.”
In addition to disseminating Groovy Kits to his circle of Discordian co-conspirators, Hill interacted with many of the psychedelic luminaries (and trouble makers) of the era, including Tim Leary, Art Kleps of the Neo American Church (author of the Boo Hoo Bible) and Jefferson Poland (aka ‘Jefferson Fuck Poland’) of the Psychedelic Venus Church, among others, often joining their respective psychedelic churches and receiving certain sacraments through the mail. One batch of illuminating correspondence that Hill received from Kleps included a curious index card:
Dr. Robert Newport was another long time friend of both Hill and Thornley as well as contributor to the Principia Discordia with “The Parable of the Bitter Tea” (page 00037) In Brenton Clutterbuck’s book Chasing Eris, Newport recalled his introduction to LSD:
“I was in this psychiatric residency in California in the late 1960s, and the world was in turmoil…. I had been struggling to keep up with all of it, then Greg [Hill] showed up with LSD, and that was goodnight… I had taken LSD months before I left for Okinawa [drafted into the military]… my head was just completely blown apart. And the hostility and violence of the military—I was not obeying too much. I became a revolutionary; I was doing all kinds of things that could have gotten me court-martialed. I didn’t because I tended to be smart enough to stay ahead of whomever… But eventually I was totally stupid and got myself kicked out, which was OK. I didn’t belong there anyway.” 00008
Greg Hill addressed Newport’s troubled military service in his Discordian newsletter The Greater Poop:
The Rev. Dr. Hypocrates, [Newport], has returned from his Okinawa Mission and is presently at Norton Cabal awaiting developments. Brother Hypoc, as you may or may not know, is a POEE psychiatrist who completed his residency in Berkeley a year ago and then promptly got his ass drafted into the United States Air Farce. Poop readers may recall a Xerox of Hypoc’s dog tag which started “Erisian” for religion (issue #6)…
Brother Hypoc [Newport], narrowly escaping legal prosecution, for some LSD antics, because of his professional status as an MD and his privileged status as an Officer, is presently trying to discharge the Pentagon from his life. Human beings in comparable situations but without Privilege Status, of course, are routinely crucified, caged, or psychosmashed by the pig machine, but they couldn’t send Hypoc to the Base Psychiatrist because Hypoc was the Base Psychiatrist, and he advocates that military psychology be in the service of mental health. Due to the awkwardness of the Military’s position, a discharge seems realistic—as soon as Big Uncle finally understands that Rev. Dr. Magoun has sworn the Hippocratic oath as a healer and finds it his moral obligation to RELEASE every person he can from the destructive and corruptive state of being in which the government confines US Citizens for the purpose of turning human beings into soldiers…
This loose-knit Discordian network in which Greg Hill found himself front-and-center was similar to the scene that revolved around Kerry Thornley’s pad in Watts; a colorful coterie of personalities moving from one end of the political spectrum to the other; a melting pot of freaks interested in alternative religions, sexual experimentation, psychedelics, political activism, the civil rights and the back-to-nature movements—with a dash of whimsy and irreverence added in—all of these cultural currents were part of this Discordian letter writing circle that Hill orchestrated.
While some of the Early Discordians have been associated with Libertarianism, it should be noted that their brand of Libertarianism had more to do with hippies and Yippies and freaks of all stripes than it did with current Libertarian strains. The Discordian Society’s involvement in these earlier Libertarian strains concerned their opposition to government overreach into our bedrooms and brains; whereas, nowadays, those who identify themselves as Libertarianism are, in many instances, focused on gutting environmental regulations, which runs counter to where many of the Early Discordians heads were at, such as Louise Lacey, who was more of the Anarcho-Libertarian persuasion: pro-environment and at the same time anti-privatization of land. Louise was one of the founders of the Earth People’s Park.
How can one man own another man?
How can one man own another’s time?
How can he own another’s energy?
How can he OWN a piece of the sky, or the sea, or the earth?
“And who shall command the skylark not to sing?”
—Earth People’s Park brochure (2/70)
A couple other Early Discordians, Tim Wheeler (Harold Randomfactor) and his wife Mary Wheeler (Hope Springs) were about as conservative (politically) as you could get, although with an abiding enthusiasm for the Ritual of St. Gulik. To this end, Wheeler cultivated a marijuana crop on his farm in Indiana to help supplement his income as a humor writer for the National Review. As Mary Wheeler reminisced:
“When we moved to Indiana, we had 25 acres of land, and three acres surrounding the house; that is, not under cultivation. Yes, we grew a lot of pot—it kept us afloat through those years. It was an income for us, though it simply horrifies me now to think how reckless we were. I don’t know about the others [Discordians], but we smoked just for the feel good. No thoughtful insights, no magical apparitions. We smoked with a couple of our conservative friends, but I don’t know about the others. My guess is that everybody smoked, but most people didn’t gab about it…”00009
In the early-70s, Bob Newport relocated to the Russian River area, north of San Francisco. At the time, land was dirt cheap there and he was able to acquire a couple of properties, one of which was a five-hundred seat movie theatre—located in a converted military Quonset hut—named The Rio Theatre.
Newport enlisted Greg Hill and his wife Jeanetta to co-manage the theatre, and over time Cinema Rio became a community effort, a theatre by and for the local freaks, who had fled city life to live among the redwoods along the river in a back-to-nature setting. Cinema Rio was unique in the sense that it was a community effort, a theater by and for the local freaks. In this spirit, artists helped decorate the building, which included a marquee with a free-flowing Mayan theme painted by Wilfred dePaola. Once a month, all the locals who worked at the theatre would gather for a party/meeting and select the films for the following month, usually titles that reflected the counterculture, like Easy Rider or Woodstock.
During this period, Newport operated a psychiatry practice at a property he acquired in nearby Guerneville with a sign at the entrance that read: “Trespassers Welcome.” The property consisted of an acre and a half, with several cabins scattered throughout the redwoods. Newport was also heavily involved with the psych department at nearby Sonoma State; his “office” was located in a tree house on the property, in the center of a circle of redwoods, in addition to a fifteen-foot hot tub where Newport conducted group therapy sessions.
Newport became dissatisfied with the local public school system and decided to home school his children:
“I put together a small school on my property,” Newport recalled, “because I didn’t want to send my kids to the public school, which was horrendous; it was a redneck school and the teachers hated hippies and tortured kids—I mean they were just terrible to the kids who were going there—so I started a school for my kids and hired a governess out of San Francisco… a licensed, credentialed teacher who was also dropping out, and she came up, and that lasted about three days before word got out, and suddenly I had 20 kids in school, and that then started a home schooling movement and we had eight different schools. In all the satellite communities we had close to 300 kids from K to 12, all with teachers who were dropping out, but credentialed… we started a school board and my wife and I administered all of the schools on a budget of 50,000 bucks, which was like charging parents who could afford it 20 bucks a month to put their kids in school, and parents who couldn’t afford it put their kids in school for nothing because we were not in anything to make money…”00010
RAW—who had relocated just north of Guerneville, in Rio Nido—was a frequent visitor to the Russian River scene, and his son, Graham received psychological counseling from Newport, which in turn led to interactions with Tim Leary. As Newport recalled:
“[Leary] and I had an interchange one day. He wanted to talk to me about Bob [Wilson’s] son, shortly when he was breaking and coming apart. So I talked to him about it, and [Leary] had, as far as I could see as a psychologist, as little empathy, real empathy, and as little understanding of schizophrenia as anybody I’d ever met. And it just pissed me off. I was really hoping I was going to get something… So he and I never interfaced really well after that. And Bob sort of rescued Leary, over the objections of a lot of the hip community who felt that Leary had really sold out a lot of people to enumerate his own problems with the law. And there were a lot of people who were pissed off at Bob, too, for doing that. I would do anything to get anybody out of prison, but I don’t think I’d sell out my friends to get myself out of prison and he basically did that. So I basically didn’t have much regard for him after that. I like the stuff he wrote but I didn’t think much of him as a human being.”00011
Not long after opening The Rio Theatre, an old redwood dance hall across the street from the theatre came up for sale, which Newport and Hill purchased and started a community center there that included a restaurant called Stone Soup, in addition to a food co-op, a health clinic (ran by a doctor who had dropped out), as well as an office for the community newspaper.
“A few rock musicians would come through… and all summer long we had these concerts which we organized, and as part of the concert we fed people. A lot of kids would drop through with nothing and were on the road and hungry and on weekends they could sleep on the beach and count on getting fed…”00012
Meanwhile, Camden Benares had his own scene going on a few miles south of Monte Rio at Camp Meeker, which consisted of a cluster of summer cabins that had been overrun by hippies. Kerry Thornley joined Camden there in a lifestyle dedicated to hedonism and assorted forms of Discordian debauchery. At the time, Camden was married to his second wife, Melissa, and mate swapping was a common theme at Camp Meeker, as both Camden and Kerry had been into swinging going back to his days with Kerista in the mid-60s. Kerry and Melissa were an item for awhile; Kerry referred to her as “his ambassador to the world.” Another member of the party was a six-foot-two tall lady named Jerry.
During this period, Benares was writing erotica for The San Francisco Ball. Kerry was also a frequent contributor to The Ball, chronicling his opinions in a column called “Erotic Minority Liberation,” a 13-part series where he defended nearly every taboo under the sun, including exhibitionists, voyeurs, fetishists, transvestites, nymphomaniacs, obscene phone callers, animal lovers, and sadomasochists.
Benares was also working on a book project, Zen Without Zen Masters, which was subsequently published in 1977 and, like Illuminatus!, dedicated to the dynamic duo of Thornley and Hill.
Cinema Rio and the Monte Rio Community Center eventually folded in the spring of 1973, largely because Newport and Hill were over-extended financially. But there were other factors, as well, which caused the scene to run its course, namely the dissolution of Greg’s marriage to his wife, Jeanetta. As Newport recalled:
“It would have been a miracle if the marriage had survived. Life at the River was incredibly difficult. I mean it was wild, it was high and it was fun, it was creative… and there was no money, which meant that just trying to scrimp by with a living was hard to do… It was hard for me, too. I mean I had a little income because I had a practice going. But the theatre made no money—that cost us money. All these other activities we had going—none of them made money… So things were incredibly stressful. And when the marriage broke up, Greg became very depressed. And basically about that time, my mentor who lived next door to me, who had been a very interesting old man, who had dropped out as a President of Union Bank, and had come to the River, and had a very interesting Libertarian philosophy… ah, anyhow, he died, Jeanetta left, and pretty much everything collapsed…”00013
Psychedelic experimentation continued coursing through the Discordian bloodstream well into the 1970s. In a December 1974 letter, Newport reported to Greg Hill that “There’s a new psychedelic out – Legal, too, still – Ketamine HCL. Dosage 100mg. By I.M. injection – Cosmic consciousness in 4 min. Lasts 1 hour – 2 additional hours to come back down – Brand names Ketaject & Ketalar – Ask a long-haired doctor for a prescription.”
On November 23, 1976—which just so happens to be a holy Discordian Holiday, both due to the mystical manifestation of the number 23 and because it’s Harpo Marx’s birthday—an Englishman named Kenneth Campbell premiered a ten-hour stage production of Wilson and Shea’s Illuminatus! novel at the Science-Fiction Theatre in Liverpool. In true Discordian fashion, the production consisted of five plays of five acts (according with the Discordian Law of Fives) with each act 23 minutes in duration. As RAW wrote in Cosmic Trigger:
Campbell’s adaptation was totally faithful to this nihilistic spirit and contained long unexpurgated speeches from the novel explaining at sometimes tedious length just why everything the government does is always done wrong. The audiences didn’t mind this pedantic lecturing because it was well integrated into a kaleidoscope of humor, suspense, and plenty of sex (more simulated blow jobs than any drama in history, I believe.)00014
RAW and his co-author Robert Shea traveled to London to attend the production of Illuminatus! According to some accounts, RAW came bearing LSD tabs which he passed out to the cast members before the play commenced. As he recalled:
“The cast dared me to do a walk-on role during the National Theatre run. I agreed and became an extra in the Black Mass, where I was upstaged by the goat, who kept sneezing. Nonetheless, there I was, bare-ass naked, chanting ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’… and I will never stop wondering how much of that was programmed by [Aleister] Crowley before I was even born.”00015
The following year, a Discordian reunion took place that included RAW and his wife Arlen, Bob Newport and his wife Rita, Louise Lacey and Greg Hill who traveled to Seattle to attend the U.S. performance of the Illuminatus! stage play.
‘Twas a chilly night in Seattle, so someone (who shall remain nameless) produced enough MDMA for one and all (ingested between the second and third acts) which in due time took the chill from the bones of the assembled Discordians—and cranked up the glow surrounding their collective auras—as they sat enraptured, entranced by the spectacle. Louise Lacey recalls the Illuminatus! stage production as a “sublime experience.” As usual, laughter was a common theme. On the plane to Seattle, the group laughed all the way there, and in Seattle they laughed all through the stage play, laughed the rest of the night, and laughed all the way back home….00016
In 2015, a somewhat amusing bio of yours truly was posted at Discordia Wikia that is almost 23 percent accurate and presumably written by someone identified as Miley Spears, who in reality is a sock puppet of a self-styled Discordian named Reverend Loveshade who—it appears—has not only created this Miley Spears persona, but also a number of other phony Discordian characters such as Pope Hilde, Gypsie Skripto, not to mention a certain Johnny Shellburn (the same name of the protagonist in Kerry Thornley’s Idle Warriors) who operates KerryThornley.com where you can find an imaginary interview conducted by the aforementioned Pope Hilde with a supposed early Discordian named Richard Marshall who also probably never existed—or at least never existed in the sense that the interview suggests.
Richard Marshall—it so happens—also has a Discordia Wikia page which is also probably 23 percent accurate (at best!) although there actually was a real Richard Marshall who lived in San Francisco during the same period as Discordian Society co-founder Greg Hill, although none of the real Early Discordians I’ve talked to have ever heard of the guy.
According to Richard Marshall’s Discordia Wikia page (written by Miley Spears), Marshall contributed to Principia Discordia and The Illuminatus! Trilogy although I’ve never come across anything in the Discordian Archives to even remotely suggest that these claims have the slightest relation to reality or that Marshall ever knew Greg Hill or Robert Anton Wilson or Kerry Thornley—let alone Michael Arthur Quinn (aka The Midget) who is another imaginary character (based on an Illuminatus! character) apparently cooked up (once again) by Rev. Loveshade, who—it should be noted—also has a Discordia Wikia page submitted by (you guessed it!) Miley Spears, who—as previously noted—is actually the one and only Rev. Loveshade. In other words, the whole thing is a giant sock puppet circle jerk perpetrated by somebody with a lot of spare time on their hands.
In 1970s—according to Loveshade— his mother was purportedly friends with Robert Anton Wilson’s daughter and because of this Loveshade and his hippie mom became acquainted with Wilson, who he affectionately referred to as ‘Grandbob’ and along the way Loveshade “became obsessed with meeting the original Discordians” and that inspired him to (supposedly) track down Greg Hill in the 1990s at a San Francisco watering hole, an account of which appeared in Loveshade’s Ek-sen-trik-kuh Discordia: The Tales of Shamlicht.
Some might suggest that a shaggy dog story about meeting Greg Hill is perfectly acceptable from an Operation Mindfuck standpoint, as a form of pranking and modern myth making. On the one hand—being a card carrying Discordian—I can appreciate this type of culture jamming. On the other hand—with Historia Discordia and related projects — I’ve taken seriously the task of chronicling, as accurately as possible, the early days of the Discordian Society and its influence on the 1960s counterculture and onward. So when imaginary sources create imaginary history, it certainly leads us down a slippery slope.
In 2012, I was contacted by an enterprising Australian lad named Brenton Clutterbuck (which totally sounds like another made up name, but no he’s an actual dude) who informed me that he was working on a book project about modern day Discordianism entitled Chasing Eris.
While discussing with Clutterbuck different latter-day Discordians during a 2012 midnight Skype session, he informed me that as part of his Chasing Eris project he was planning a tour of the U.S. to interview prominent Discordians, including someone going by the name of Gypsie Skripto who had been introduced to him by Johnny Shellburn of KerryThornley.com, who—as previously noted—is another one of Loveshade’s alter egos.
Using the email address given to him by “Johnny Shellburn,” Brenton started a correspondence with Gypsie Skripto, who claimed that she had been friends with Greg Hill and part of the early Discordian scene in San Fran in the 1970s. In response, I told Brenton that I thought someone was yanking his chain, that the Gypsie Skripto in Greg Hill’s Principia Discordia afterword was an obvious literary construct, and that this person posing as Gypsie Skripto had basically co-opted Hill’s imaginary character as a way to troll the internet and create phony Discordian street cred.
Ultimately, Brenton’s planned meeting with Gypsie Skripto in Austin, Texas failed to materialize when she stood him up, using the pretext that she had to attend some last minute political activist hippie rally fundraiser (or some-such) and Brenton soon came to the realization that I was correct in my assumption that “Gypsie Skripto” was just one among a host of other spurious Discordian sock puppets courtesy of Rev. Loveshade.
With all this in mind, we’ll soon have a post up from Mr. Brenton Clutterbuck himself regarding his take on adventures with the Rev. Loveshade and his various sock puppets.
Jim Garrison not only implicated the military industrial complex, homicidal homosexuals, and anti-Castro Cubans in the plot to assassinate JFK, but he also fingered fringe religions—or “Odd Sects,” as he fancied calling them—in his everything-in-the-kitchen-sink conspiratorial cosmology.
Goddess only knows how Garrison first saddled up on this “Odd Sects” hobby horse, but there’s a good chance that one of his key witnesses, Jack Martin, was responsible for planting this curious seed—as well as our own Rev. Raymond Broshears, who also played a part in advancing the “Odd Sects” theory.
On November 25, 1963—two days after JFK’s assassination—an inebriated Jack Martin phoned the New Orleans FBI office to drop a dime on David Ferrie, implicating him as a getaway pilot in the assassination plot. On November 28, the Feds contacted Ferrie to get his side of the story:
“…FERRIE claimed that JACK S. MARTIN was a private detective who he first met in the fall of 1961. He said that since that time MARTIN has attempted to insert himself into his, FERRIE’S personal affairs. He claimed that at the time he first met MARTIN, MARTIN was working for a woman in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, named CATHERINE WILKERSON or WILKINSON or some similar name. He stated that MARTIN was endeavoring to expose various frauds in the Diploma Mills and Ecclesiastical Mills and was particularly interested in CARL J. STANLEY of Louisville, Kentucky who called himself CHRISTOPHER MARIA. He stated that MARTIN was desirous of obtaining some of the phony certificates of ordination and consecration used by STANLEY and to forward them to Washington, D.C. He said that MARTIN asked his assistance in this investigation and that he accompanied MARTIN to Louisville. He stated that he received only part of his fee for the investigation conducted with MARTIN. FERRIE said that he was slow in catching on to MARTIN but determined that MARTIN WAS dealing in phony certificates. He said that he regarded MARTIN as being an unethical and dangerous person. FERRIE claimed that in 1962 MARTIN disappeared from the scene and after several months suddenly re-appeared. He stated that MARTIN began visiting him at the office of attorney G.WRAY GILL and that Mr. GILL did not want MARTIN hanging out around his office. FERRIE claimed that in June of 1963 he put MARTIN out of Mr. GILL’S office in an undiplomatic manner and that since that time MARTIN has bedeviled him in every manner possible.
“FERRIE said that he had learned that some time after he put MARTIN out of Mr. GILL’S office MARTIN was moving around to various parts of the United States contacting first one clergyman and then another who were connected with the old Catholic Church trying to get ordained and gave FERRIE’S name as a character reference… FERRIE said he also learned that MARTIN had been a sergeant in the U.S. Army and while in the service had been mixed up in obtaining phony degrees in medicine, chiropractic and naturopathy by finding a college that was not in operation but whose charter was not defunct…”
During his November 27, 1963 FBI interview, Attorney G. Wray Gill stated that “Ferrie and Martin were once close friends until they got involved in an ‘ecclesiastical’ deal.” This “ecclesiastical deal” concerned Ferrie’s membership in the Apostolic Orthodox Old Catholic Church (AOOCC). Although details are scant concerning Ferrie’s involvement with the church, Gill informed the Feds that Martin tried to use Ferrie’s standing in the AOOCC to leverage his way into the clergy, which apparently was one of the factors that led to a dispute between the two men, as Ferrie was unwilling to give Martin an endorsement. Due to these events, Ferrie and Martin had a contentious falling out, partly due to the so-called “ecclesiastical deal.” The FBI’s interview with Ferrie was followed a couple days later with this memo:
On February 22, 1967—just one day after Ferrie’s sudden and (some say) mysterious death—Carl John Stanley (aka the Most Reverend Christopher Maria Stanley) placed a call to the Louisville PD, the details of which were passed on to the FBI and captured in the memo below:
Included with the Stanley-FBI memo was the Most Reverend’s rap sheet, a portion of which I’ve included for your possible reading enjoyment. I found it somewhat humorous that a couple of Stanley’s convictions resulted from obscene letters, which—for a man of the cloth—seemed a bit odd… but what part of this story isn’t?
At some point, Garrison wove together his Odd Sects theory like a manic Carrie Mathison in the The Homeland with news clippings, push pins and red strings on the wall, connecting Ferrie to odd ducks like Carl Stanley—and a whole host of other marginal figures—all part of some feverish plot involving rogue men of the cloth moonlighting as CIA hit men.
In Garrison’s “Odd Sects” files you’ll find any number of oddball letters from fringe ministers who wrote in for no other reason, it seems, than to commend Garrison on his investigation and lend their moral support. Each time Garrison or his staff received one of these beauties, into the Odd Sects files it would go!
During Rev. Broshears deposition before Garrison, he identified a number of mail order religions he’d been involved with, such as Kirby Hensley’s Universal Life Church (ULC) in Modesto, California, that in 1967 ordained Rev. Raymond Broshears as a self styled man of the cloth.
The ULC became renowned for ordaining anyone at the drop of a hat—all you had to do was write into headquarters in Modesto, California, to request ministerial credentials and before you knew it your very own embossed certificate was speeding to you in the mail. Discordian Society founder Greg Hill was an ordained ULC minister, and in many ways modeled certain aspects of Discordianism after the ULC, in particular the mantra that anyone could become an ordained minister (or Discordian pope) just by asserting the privilege. The ULC identifies itself “as a non-denominational religious organization founded on a simple doctrine, ‘Do that which is right,’ and states that every person has the natural right (and the responsibility) to peacefully determine what is right.”
The ULC was a nexus for free thinkers, crackpots, draft dodgers, and con men alike. It was through the ULC that Broshears became associated with several of Garrison’s suspects, including Fred Crisman, who was alleged to have been one of the mystery tramps picked up in Dealey Plaza in the aftermath of Kennedy’s assassination.
In his deposition, Broshears was questioned about Crisman and an equally sketchy Crisman associate named Thomas Edward Beckham. Garrison’s investigators showed Broshears a series of photos of suspected conspirators, one of whom was Beckham.
It appears that Broshears was recruited by Garrison as an informant, due to a letter I came across in the GLBT archives dated August 26, 1968, that Broshears sent to the ULC’s Kirby Hensley with the following request:
“…Dr. Hensly[sic], do you have a pic of yourself, Dr. Crisman, Dr. Brister for publication in the next issue of LIGHT? If so, I would sure appreciate them. I already have one of Beckham. I will get one of Brother Douglas this week. This is for a special Universal life section we are preparing…”
“LIGHT” in the letter referred to Broshears’ newsletter, Light and Understanding. It appears Broshears was using this request as a come-on to obtain photos (for Garrison’s investigators) of Hensley, Crisman and other supposed “Odd Sects” suspects. To close his letter, Broshears requested that Dr. Hensley send “minister ordinations” to four members of Garrison’s team: Barbara Reid, Steve Jaffee, James Alcock, and Louis Ivon. This request was most likely a pretext to assist them in infiltrating the ULC, and gather information on other ULC members that Garrison linked to the assassination.
The key evidence that got Garrison hot on Fred Crisman’s trail came in the form of a couple dodgy letters sent from anonymous sources, one of which included the allegation that Crisman was “the first man that Clay [Shaw] called after being told he was in trouble…” However, there’s no evidence that Shaw and Crisman ever actually knew each other.
This link will take you to some of the other phony Crisman docs that ended up in Garrison’s inbox and afterwards provided endless fodder for conspiracy buffs in the years to follow. As you peruse said documents, you will notice that our friends at the FBI or CIA (or some other alphabet soup agency) stamped FABRICATION on several pages to inform future generations of conspiracy sleuths that they were big, fat fakes.
According to researcher Larry Hancock, who has probably taken the deepest dive down this Crisman-Beckham rabbit hole:
“Crisman’s self-promotion was so obsessive and all-encompassing that I strongly suspect he himself wrote the anonymous letters to Garrison, identifying himself as a suspect.”
Beckham—in his mid-twenties at the time of his testimony—described himself as an entertainer, psychologist, criminologist and evangelist. So he was a pretty busy guy. The claim of being a psychologist, it appears, was a title Beckham bestowed upon himself using phony credentials. As for being an evangelist, Beckham received his ordination papers from a shifty character in Toronto named Earl Anglin James, a bishop in the Old Roman Catholic Church.
Garrison claimed that David Ferrie had placed calls to an unlisted number in Toronto supposedly belonging to the aforementioned Earl Anglin James. In a press interview from November 1967, James denied any association with Ferrie, and stated that the only call he had ever received from New Orleans was “in March 1965 and it was from Mr. J. S. Martin. It was personal.”
In 1970, the Toronto P.D. came into possession of a stolen wallet belonging to James, and while going through its contents discovered a number of phony cards, including the sampling below, which included Louisiana law enforcement credentials. It’s my suspicion that Jack Martin was responsible for some of these fake cards. As Beckham noted in his grand jury testimony, he became a protégé of Martin’s because he wanted to acquire all of his “cards.”
As for Beckham’s criminology degree, that was a caper he and Crisman cooked up during the period they first met in late-1965, at which time our dynamic duo formed a number of dummy corporations that included the “Northwest Relief Society,” “Professional Research Bureau,” “Associated Ambulances,” and, most notably, the “National Institute of Criminology, Inc.” from which they advertised a “PHD” course costing several hundreds of dollars. The Seattle FBI Field Office determined that “the firm is very likely a confidence game aimed at those with very little educational background.” According to the Dean of Beckham research, Larry Hancock: “Crisman was involved in bunco activities with Beckham that included stolen car trafficking connected to a car lot in Miami…”
As for the entertainer bit, Beckham promoted himself as a singer going by the name of Mark Evans. During Crisman’s grand jury testimony, when asked about his first visit to New Orleans, he replied:
“I came here with a young man [in early 1966], Tom Beckham, he has a show name of Mark Evans. It was in the vain hope that we could promote a record he was getting ready to cut and I was unfortunate enough to believe that he could promote it here and I went ahead and financed the trip and it turned out to be nothing…”
According to researcher Mike Sylwester:
“While working for the radio station, Subject [Crisman] acquired some knowledge about how the music industry operated. He understood that if a singer managed to sell a certain number of records, then his records would get more air time, which increased the record sales, and this process snowballed. [Crisman] therefore got involved in a scheme to artificially purchase large amounts of records…”00001
One of the more intriguing aspects of Beckham’s testimony was his purported association with Jack Martin dating back to 1960. According to Beckham, he idolized Martin, and for some inexplicable reason modeled his life after him, which was a totally crazy thing to do given the fact that Martin (real name Edward Stewart Suggs) was an alcoholic with a sordid criminal history and sociopathic tendencies. According to researcher, Dave Reitzes:
He was arrested in January 1945 in Fort Worth, Texas, for carrying a pistol; he was fingerprinted in Los Angeles in December 1945; he was arrested in December 1947 for disturbing the peace in San Diego and again in May 1949 in Dallas. He later would be investigated on numerous occasions for allegedly impersonating a doctor, an FBI agent, a CIA employee, a US Army colonel, and an ordained priest. Subsequent to his 1949 arrest, Suggs moved to Texas.
In Houston, Suggs took up a new trade as practitioner of illegal abortions. In 1951, he fled the state when one of his unfortunate patients, one Helen Nichols, died shortly after undergoing an operation at the hands of “Dr. Suggs.” A state grand jury indicted Suggs for murder in June of that year.
Suggs was arrested in Los Angeles on May 2, 1953, as a fugitive from Texas, but he managed to get the murder charge dismissed. He would later describe his philosophy of life as, “The strong take from the weak and the smart take from the strong,” and he “considers himself one of the smart.” He related the details of the “‘murder rap’ he was involved in” and bragged that he “outsmarts everyone.”
In March 1954, Suggs was fingerprinted in Galveston, Texas, for vagrancy and a drunk-and-disorderly charge. Soon after this, he moved to New Orleans and adopted the name, John Stewart Martin, Sr. He had difficulty holding a job and was largely supported by his wife, Paula. Concerned about his erratic behavior and excessive drinking, Mrs. Martin eventually insisted that her husband enter an alcohol treatment program in the Psychiatric Department of Charity Hospital.
In January 1957, Martin caused a disturbance in a New Orleans store and told store authorities he was an FBI agent. The FBI “instituted inquiries in this matter… and determined that he [Martin] was in a psychiatric ward [at] Charity Hospital, New Orleans as of January 17, 1957. His psychiatrist informed our agents that Suggs was suffering from a character disorder…”00002
Beckham followed his mentor’s lead by getting into a number of scrapes himself. In February of 1961—during Army basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in the Missouri Ozarks—Beckham went AWOL, and in short order found himself in the stockade. As is typical in such cases, the Army figured it best just to let him go. Beckham resurfaced later that year in New Orleans where he was arrested for vagrancy.
In 1962, Beckham was running a scam called the “United Cuban Relief Missionary Force” that was subsequently dismantled by the FBI. As part of this con, Beckham sported a clerical collar, pretending to be a Catholic priest, while soliciting donations that he apparently pocketed. That same year he was charged with the rape of a minor, and a second vagrancy charge. Some priest.
Although Beckham repeatedly named-dropped Jack Martin as a close associate and mentor in his House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) testimony, there’s no other evidence I’ve seen to confirm that the two men had actually known one another. I recently posed this question to researcher Larry Hancock, and this was his response:
“I found indications that Beckham was known to some of the street guys who served as sources and runners for Guy Bannister and there is ample reason to think Beckham knew of Bannister and his office – Beckham was a street guy and was charged with a couple of minor robberies along with the underage wife thing before he got his DJ job with the radio station. No sign that he ever knew Jack Martin though.”00003
Like his supposed mentor Martin, Beckham had a history of psychological instability, and was in and out of loony bins during 1962 and 1963, and then later a return visit in 1974. In the latter part of the ‘60s, Beckham shifted his base of operations to Omaha, Nebraska, and spent part of his time traveling around the country preaching the good word, as documented in this letter to our very own Rev. Ray Broshears!
When quizzed by Garrison’s investigators about Rev. Broshears, Beckham gave one of his typically inscrutable answers:
At some point, Garrison got a bee in his bonnet that Beckham was a CIA assassin—but of course Garrison was convinced that everybody and his mother were CIA agents at one time or another, so make of that what you will.
When Beckham was pressed by Garrison about whether he had moonlighted with the CIA—or had known Clay Shaw or David Ferrie—Beckham steadfastly denied these allegations. However, a decade later—during testimony before the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations—Beckham was now singing a completely different tune, claiming he’d indeed been recruited as a would-be CIA assassin by none other than Fred Crisman. Around the time of his HSCA testimony, Beckham was shopping around a “300-page manuscript about the assassination,” so this may have been a ploy to wrangle a book deal. Beckham seemed to be one of those guys always on the make.
In 2005, Joan Mellen jumped the Thomas Beckham shark with A Farewell to Justice: Jim Garrison, JFK’s Assassination, and the Case that Should Have Changed History. The ironically titled Farewell to Justice includes a number of Beckham-related revelations that read like JFK assassination fan fiction, including claims that Fred Crisman and Jack Martin had been Beckham’s CIA handlers, all part of some dastardly plot to groom “Tommy” (as Mellen endearingly refers to him) as an alternate patsy (ala Oswald) in a conspiracy featuring the usual Garrison suspects. Mellen’s source for the Beckham material was none other than Beckham himself, who had somehow snookered his way back into the JFK assassination fray during the 2000s, at the same time he was peddling his self published Remnants of Truth: Revealing Evidence on the Jim Garrison Investigation under the moniker of T.E. Beck’am. This alternate spelling of his name seemed associated with Beckham’s claim he’d became a full-fledged rabbi during this period. In 2003, Rabbi T.E. Beckham founded “The Spanish-American Rescue League Inc,” an LLC that received what’s known as a “Standing B” status from the Better Business Bureau (BBB). (Standing B basically means “bad”). This wasn’t Beckham’s first run-in with the BBB, as they’d been busting his chops as far back as 1967. But you can’t keep a good con down.
The key piece evidence Mellen presented in her book was a letter Fred Crisman allegedly “bestowed upon Thomas Edward Beckham…a government document meant never to be seen…The letterhead is not that of the CIA, but ‘United States Army Air Defense Command’ suggesting that many elements of President Eisenhower’s ‘military industrial complex’ contributed to a collaborative effort to murder John F. Kennedy, an effort in which the CIA stood in the front line…a number connoting his military service name is on this document, along with his correct social security number….The document describes Thomas Edward Beckham’s ‘intelligence service from October 27, 1963,’ under ‘Gov Control Fact Finding Missions.’00004 According to this letter, Beckham was “taught how to be an assassin” in 1963 at Camp Peary, a “CIA training installation…also known as The Farm.”
In my recent email exchange with Larry Hancock, I asked if he had any knowledge of this letter, and this was Larry’s reply:
“Crisman was a proven forger, with a tendency to steal blank stationary from various agencies and departments to use for his work. I advised Joan [Mellen] of that as well as gave her several warnings about Beckham but I’m afraid she decided to trust him as a sincere source…I have no doubt the letter you reference is a Crisman forgery. The ‘United States Army Air Defense Command’ did exist from ‘57 to ‘74 and its primary responsibility was NIKE anti-aircraft missile bases. Crisman may have swiped stationary from them, there were sites in Seattle and at Hanford. It goes without saying that no agency would ever put what was in that letter in print…”
“United States Army Air Defense Command” sounds strikingly similar to an outfit called “Defense Industrial Security Command” that never actually existed, and is cited in a curious tome entitled Nomenclature of an Assassination Cabal (1970).
Also known as the Torbitt Document, it was authored by the pseudonymous William Torbitt, and claimed that:
“The chain of evidence connecting Albert Osborne, Fred Lee Chrismon[sic], alias John M. Bowen, Permindex, and his co-workers became iron clad when a Black Star photographer snapped a picture a few minutes after the assassination of Chrismon, alias Bowen, and two of his charges in the process of being arrested by two young Dallas police officers at Dealey Plaza. Fritz later released all three. The Chrismon, alias Bowen, arrest picture received limited public distribution in 1969 when it was published in the Midlothian Mirror by Penn Jones, the Texas editor.
Co-Director of the Mexico based assassins, John H. Bowen, alias Fred Lee Chrismon, alias Free Lee, alias Jon Gould, alias Jon Gold, and Thomas Beckam [sic], front, and another assassin in the process of being arrested at Dealey Plaza immediately after the assassination.”
One curiosity that jumps out of the above text was the misspelling of the names of both Beckham and Crisman, which seemed intentional and perhaps a way to avoid a potential libel suit.
The smoking gun that some point to as proof of Beckham’s role in the JFK assassination is a photo of Beckham, Oswald and others in front of the New Orleans Trade Mart. According to Larry Hancock, the New Orleans Trade Mart photo “…shows Beckham chatting with his underage wife and some of her friends – they are off to the side of a photo showing Oswald on the same street passing out leaflets. Beckham appears to be paying no attention to Oswald at all…his attention is totally focused on the young women.”
In the mid-2000s, researchers started digging into Beckham’s recent activities and discovered a Kentucky LLC called the Life Management Clinic.
Although this link no longer lists Beckham’s bio, back in 2006 the Life Management Clinic website provided the following info:
r. Thomas Edward Beckham
Dr. Beckham has a degree in Osteopathic Medicine and is educated in both non-allopathic and allopathic medicine, as well as multiple mental health disciplines. He is an internationally known author and speaker…His professional certifications and memberships include the National Association of Forensic Counselors, International Association of Counselors and Therapists, American Medical Directors Association, American Institute of Clinical Psychotherapists, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and International Association of Pastoral Psychologists. Dr. Beckham serves as our Clinical Director making him responsible for all staff, oversight, budgeting and general actions of Life Management Inc. His experience in this role is without parallel.
Beckham continued creating sketchy LLC’s in the years to come. In 2008, he launched a corporation called “World Congress For Justice and Human Rights, Inc.”
In 2012, an individual I assume to be our very own Dr. Beckham rolled out another sketchy enterprise called “The American Institute of Clinical Psychotherapists, Inc.” Beckham’s apparent partner in this operation was an evangelical minister named Josiah Drawhorn.
If that wasn’t enough, I was surprised to find a Youtube video of “Rabbi Dr. Beckham” preaching before a congregation in 2011. Admittedly, I only lasted a couple of minutes with this video, so if you want to torture yourself further go here.
The video is linked to a website no longer active called http://www.shalomrabbi.net/ which I’m guessing was registered our beloved Dr. Rabbi Beckham. However, if you’re jonesin’ for more Dr. Beckham goodness, I discovered he has a blog which appears to be active! On it, Dr. Rabbi dispenses pearls of wisdom he probably copy and pasted from other sources.
Jim Garrison’s “Odd Sects” was further fleshed out by author Peter Levenda with his “Wandering Bishops” theory concerning a network of consecrated con men engaged in political witchcraft. According to Levenda, this lineage of Wandering Bishops started with a schism in Catholicism at the end of the 19th century that resulted in the emergence of the Old Roman Catholic Church, which also appears to have spun-off from the Russian Orthodox Church. This, in turn, gave rise to a smattering of splinter sects which produced “a weird world of monks, priests, and bishops” that crept clandestinely about the country, concealed in the cloak of religion.
This supposed band of Wandering Bishops included the usual “Odd Sects” suspects: Beckham, Crisman, Martin and Ferrie, not to mention our very own Rev. Ray Broshears who got lumped into Levenda’s mix of religious nuts, no doubt due to his association with the Garrison investigation. It’s Levenda’s contention that these Wandering Bishops basically used their religious organizations as fronts for intelligence operations to promote fascist agendas that included the assassinations of U.S. political figures.
Levenda’s entrée into the weird world of Wandering Bishops began in the late ‘60s when he was a “familiar face for about a year at the headquarters of the Old Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn, New York…as well as the American Orthodox Catholic Church headquarters in the Bronx.“ These activities involved trying to pass himself off as a priest to avoid getting shipped off to Vietnam. It was through the American Orthodox Catholic Church that Levenda became acquainted with Archbishop Walter Myron Propheta, who he has described as a right wing wacko somehow involved in the JFK assassination. While I doubt Propheta had any real connection to JFK’s assassination, he did indeed make his way into Garrison’s Odd Sects files.
I suspect Propheta’s letter was something Levenda discovered among a trove of Garrison investigation documents that were released in the early 1990s, and from it he wove together his “Wandering Bishops” storyline, which like a lot of Levenda’s material is highly entertaining while at the same time connects dots in a, shall we say, somewhat speculative fashion. Whatever the case, the connecting link—Odd Sects to Wandering Bishops—seems to be Jack Martin, who is named in Propheta’s letter. Martin, in my estimation, was probably the guiding light behind a lot of the Odd Sects conspiracies that bedeviled Garrison’s brain.
In Dead Names, Levenda—using the “Simon” pseudonym—claims that it was through his association with certain Wandering Bishops that he came upon a copy of the original Necronomicon, a grimoire featured in the tales of H.P. Lovecraft that was supposedly written in Damascus in the 8th century A.D. by the “Mad Arab,” Abdul Alhazred.
The Necronomicon was supposedly reprinted in a number of languages including Latin, Greek and English, and then at some point was lost to the ages, mainly because everyone who messed around with the cursed thing ended up dying in a mysterious and/or gruesome manner. Long story short, Simon aka Levenda claimed he came into possession of the only existing copy ofThe Necronomicon in the late-1960s, then afterwards translated it from Greek so your average Joe on the street could summon their very own Cthulhu! This translated version of The Necronomicon—mass marketed as non-fiction in 1977—is considered one of the great literary hoaxes of our times.
Curiously enough, the Cthulhu Mythos was featured in Wilson and Sheas’ Illuminatus! where it was interwoven with a kitchen sink of conspiracies that revolved around the Bavarian Illuminati, ritual magick, and nazi occultism—central themes Levenda later explored in Unholy Alliance and Sinister Forces.
This leads your humble author to conclude that The Necronomicon was deeply influenced by Illuminatus!
Levenda has been steadfast, over the years, in his denial that he was/is Simon, although The Necronomicon is registered at the U.S. Copyright Office with “Simon” listed as Levenda’s pseudonym. The one thing Levenda has been consistent about is his evasiveness in this matter, as he’s continued to try to distance himself (to the point of absurdity) from the persona of “Simon.”
More recently, Levenda has been involved with Tom Delonge’s To The Stars Academy, a group dedicated to UFO Disclosure, which segues nicely into what will be our next startling installment of this series: The Raymond Broshears Files Part 00003: Flying Saucer Attack!
Rev. Broshears—as I previously noted—studied under Hargis, and was a member of his ministry until getting the boot after being arrested for groping a male youth in 1965, which resulted in Broshears serving six months in the Belleville, Illinois state pokey.
Despite Broshears’ falling out with Hargis, apparently the two remained in touch, at least on a professional level, as documented in this letter dated June 24, 1970, wherein Hargis grants Broshears the use of a rather long-winded quote about the scourge of “ultra-liberalism.”
Tom Jackson points out that Hargis himself suffered a similar scandalous fate (as Broshears) in 1974 when it was discovered that he’d seduced two of his former students, one male, and one female. (Shades of “ultra-liberalism”!) These revelations forced Hargis to step down from his ministry under a cloud of sinful shame, subsequently turning over the Christian Crusade reins to his right hand man, Dr. David Noebel.
As Tom Jackson noted, Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles was mentioned in Illuminatus!, one of the many crazy influences that wormed its way into Wilson and Shea’s magnum opus.
In the Discordian Archives—filed under “Operation Mindfuck” —you’ll find a letter sent to Dr. Noebel from Rev. Charles Arthur Floyd II (aka Robert Anton Wilson) hipping Noebel to the fact that long before The Beatles were corrupting the youth of America, Ludwig von Beethoven had been up to the same sort of perfidy, basically using his compositions as part of an Illuminati plot that later brought us such iniquities as communism, ultra-liberalism and birth control pills.
It should be noted that this communism-conspired-to-influence-rock-music genre is a bit of an obsession with your humble Discordian author. Another Noebel classic in my collection is The Beatles: A Study in Drugs, Sex and Revolution that includes a somewhat hilarious cover because it seemed like the artist was going out of his way to make it NOT look like the Fab Four. I mean, Paul looks a little like Paul, but George looks more like Charlie Manson, and Ringo, well—I don’t know who he looks like—certainly not Ringo. And aside from the granny glasses, you’d never know it was John. But one thing’s for certain: they all look like a bunch of drug-addled hippies, and that’s all that counts!
My initial exposure to this communism-influencing-rock-music-mind-rot was in a rock music anthology I owned many years ago, of which I unfortunately no longer have a copy—nor can I even remember the title of the darned thing—but it featured some of this Beatles communist conspiracy stuff. As I recall, this anthology *might* have included an excerpt from Dr. Noebel’s opus Rhythm, Riots and Revolution, which presented the theory that rock music put American youth into voodoo trance states and turned them into rockabilly zombies, and that black roots music was an influence on rock n’ roll which further ushered in multiculturalism, free sex and interracial coupling. (And all the other bad hootchie-kootchie that I guess the Illuminati is keen on, and of which Aleister Crowley would most assuredly approve!) To this end—according to Dr. Noebel—rock musicians were unwitting dupes spreading the message of peace, love and drugs, which is exactly what the commies wanted so they could bring the United States and capitalism to its knees.
Also in this mystery anthology was an essay about how Jim Morrison was the manifestation of Dionysus, and (as I recall) another essay about how Theodor Adorno had clandestinely composed a lot of The Beatles music as part of some grand plan to indoctrinate the masses. The reason I bring this anthology up is because I’d love to track down a copy. So if any of our readers have a clue as to the title of said book, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you have the correct answer, I’ll send you your very own Discordian patch. (Pictured below.) Better yet, if you have a copy of the book, feel free to gift it to me, and I’ll be your pal forever. (That “pal” offer also includes a patch!)
For some additional Dr. David Noebel goodness check out “Marxist Minstrels – The Beatles” by Henry Makow, and also this video of Doc Noebel babbling about Bob Dylan and Joan Baez:
Discordianism is the most influential parody religion you’ve never heard of. However, the half-century old “joke disguised as a religion” is experiencing something of a resurgence, with events such as Daisy Eris Campbell’s Cosmic Trigger play and the ‘Find the Others Festival’ organized by a team of chaotic pranksters including Ben Graham.
Now that chaos is returning to the UK (in style!), I talk to Ben Graham to look back on the long strange journey it’s taken to get here. From the pop sensation that burned a million pounds, to the reclaim the streets movement, Graham tracks chaos from comics to the Cosmic Trigger play.
Chaos culture is coming to you;
here’s where it’s coming from.
In 2015 trend forecaster K-Hole made a bold prediction; the next big thing would be Chaos Magic. To their credit, they seemed to have their finger firmly on the pulse of the zeitgeist—bit by bit, Chaos seemed to start waking up. A sudden resurgence of interest in Discordianism—a chaos worshipping ‘joke religion’—saw multiple book releases from names such as Adam Gorightly and John Higgs. John Higgs also began to do a tour to promote the legacy of famous Discordian author Robert Anton Wilson. Robert Anton Wilson’s family regained copyright to his works and began publishing under the name Hilaritas press. Meanwhile his book Cosmic Trigger (Amazon) was adapted into a play by Daisy Eris Campbell, and a Discordian festival was announced in ‘a south Yorkshire woodland’.
Suddenly, Chaos seemed to be creeping out from nowhere. But of course it hasn’t come from nowhere—in fact, while Anarchy may get all the attention, Chaos in the UK has a long and appropriately complicated history.
On a cold evening in London, I spoke to writer Ben Graham, an organizer of Festival 23 and author of A Gathering of Promises: The Battle for Texas’s Psychedelic Music From the 13th Floor Elevators to the Black Angels and Beyond (Amazon), who agreed to guide me through the strange trajectory of British Chaos.
I meet him at a pub up the top of Paddington Station. He has a kind of geeky manner to him, and that delightful British politeness that we see in Hugh Grant movies, shaggy sandy hair framing a friendly face well speckled with rough stubble.
From Magic Manual to Comic Book
Ben starts his tour of the chaotic in his childhood; his first forays into these concepts of chaos came as a child reading comic books. Specifically, a hugely popular series called 2000AD—the series that spawned the character Judge Dredd.
“Basically 2000AD was a British kids comic starting 1977,” he says. “It’s still going today. It started as a fairly kind of violent high-end kids comic with science-fiction themes off the back of Star Wars… it was also a primer in Chaos Magic for a few years there because the guys who were writing it were slipping all this stuff in. Alan Moore, you had Grant Morrison very into it. You also had people who never really got out—like Pat Mills did a comic strip called Slaine which had a lot of Celtic mythology—very into magic ideas. I would have been reading it as a kind of 15/16 year old.”
Grant Morrison, would go on in the late-80s to publish a strip named Zenith, notable for its themes of Chaos Magic. Here, he took influence from Chaos Magician Peter Carroll, the founder of the Chaos Magic organization Illuminates of Thanateros. The inspiration was quite overt—too overt perhaps—at one point Carroll threatened legal action against Morrison.
“You had a kind of a mainstream kids comic where three out of five strips in it would be kind of Chaos Magic primers for kids,” Ben tells me. This early transferal of Chaos Magic ideas from Carrol’s somewhat obscure special interest publications, into mainstream youth popular culture was perhaps one of the first big steps that Chaos took into the mainstream of the British public’s imagination.
Chaos Magic has another notable influence; the ostensibly jocular religion of Discordianism. In his work Oven-Ready Chaos Phil Hine describes this influence:
An important influence on the development of Chaos magic was the writing of Robert Anton Wilson & co, particularly the Discordian Society who revered Eris, the Greek goddess of Chaos. The Discordians pointed out that humor, clowning about and general light-heartedness was conspicuously absent from magic, which had a tendency to become very ‘serious and self-important’. There was (and to a certain extent remains) a tendency for occultists to think of themselves as an initiated ‘elite’ as opposed to the rest of humanity.
Unlike the variety of magical systems which are all based in some mythical or historically-derived past (such as Atlantis, Lemuria, Albion, etc), Chaos magic borrowed freely from Science Fiction, Quantum Physics, and anything else its practitioners chose to. Rather than trying to recover and maintain a tradition that links back to the past (and former glories), Chaos magic is an approach that enables the individual to use anything that s/he thinks is suitable as a temporary belief or symbol system. What matters is the results you get, not the ‘authenticity’ of the system used. So Chaos magic then, is not a system—it utilizes systems and encourages adherents to devise their own, giving magic a truly Postmodernist flavor.
Robert Anton Wilson was himself one of the original Discordians, and is probably single-handedly the person most responsible for the spread of Discordian ideas through the series of books he wrote with his friend Robert Shea—The Illuminatus! Trilogy (Amazon). This strange trilogy featured Discordians fighting against the evil plans of the Illuminati, and proposed that nearly every conspiracy theory popular at the time of writing was simultaneously true.
Epic Productions: Illuminatus! on Stage and the KLF
The event that bought Wilson’s ideas across the pond from the USA was the adaption of his Illuminatus! Trilogy into a play in 1977. Such a feat seemed impossible to do; luckily the discovery of the trilogy came to Ken Campbell; a man who regarded nothing as worth doing unless it was impossible. He was also the father Daisy Eris Campbell, who recently produced the play of Wilson’s book Cosmic Trigger.
Campbell was a theatre legend. His production of Illuminatus! into a play was a testament to his drive and creativity—the final presentation was performed as five acts across five nights, followed by an epic 10 hour presentation of all acts together. The opening date—November 23, 1976—took advantage of the Discordian obsession with the number 23.
As part of Ben’s writing career, he had the opportunity to interview one of the participants in this epic scale caper—Bill Drummond, who had developed the visionary set design of the play, creating surreal sequences with sets out of proportion to the actors, and using innovative techniques to position audiences in surprising ways, such as presenting actors horizontally to allow for a birds eye view of a tarot reading.
“So when I interviewed him, it wasn’t long after Ken Campbell had died,” Ben tells me. “So I wanted to ask him about that. And he was very effusive about the influence Ken Campbell had had on him when he worked on the 1977 production of Illuminatus! at the Liverpool Theatre and how he introduced him to those book and those ideas. Also I didn’t realize that Ken Campbell had been a lifelong friend. He would go to his house, keep in touch, for dinner, stayed like a friend with his family, more or less up to the point where he died. He said he was like a friend, not just a mentor from way back. He’d lost somebody who was an important guiding light.”
“He was always working in the now, he wasn’t thinking in terms of making films, writing books; it was always like, the event, what’s actually happening in the room,” Graham’s 2010 Quietus interview quotes Drummond as saying. “That was one of the big things I learnt from Ken Campbell. And taking risks, and just making things happen. That continued to inspire me about what he does, what he did do, right up until he died. And so I always got a lot out of getting together with Ken Campbell, or going to see a Ken Campbell production.”
Drummond is actually more famous for his role in music than for his role in the Illuminatus! play. He, together with Jimmy Cauty, founded The KLF, a sample based pop outfit. Their original name was The JAMS, a name alluding explicitly to a group in Wilson and Shea’s Illuminatus! Trilogy.
By the time Ben had had his interview, the band had been long broken up. They ended their career in an extraordinary way—by announcing their retirement, shutting down their record catalogue and traveling out to a small island on Jura to burn the money they made—an entire million pounds. (For those interested, aforementioned author John Higgs has brought this strange tale back into the spotlight with his book, The KLF: Chaos, magic and the band who burned a million pounds (Amazon.)
When the band first burned the money, they followed up with a tour where they invited audiences to ‘tell them’ why they burned the money. Ben was in attendance at one of these nights in 1995, and detailed it for his fanzine News From Nowhere.
“They came to Bradford where I was staying and did a showing, a Q&A. I took part in the Q&A, so I had some interaction with the guys but it wasn’t an interview. I did write up the piece. I kind of tied it in with a lot of Discordian Illuminati type thing to sort of put my spin on why they’d done that. It did kind of get back to the KLF chaps, and I gathered that they thought that that was kind of the best piece on it at the time.”
Ben later sends me a copy of it. It is a good piece. The mood of the gathering is palpable, an audience frustrated at being asked questions rather than being given answers, in parts angry, congratulatory and indifferent.
“It was at the One in Twelve Club, Bradford, which was the kind of Anarchist underground club there, so the quotes from the people watching it were that these were kind of rich pop-stars that were burning money that could have gone to a good cause—that it was kind of an indulgent, decadent act. The guys, when they were talking, they weren’t really trying to defend themselves. Their approach was that they were trying to say, ‘we’re trying to find out why we did it, you tell us why we did it, we want to hear your stories,’ so they were being a bit of a kind of blank canvas.”
At one point Graham describes some of the outbursts of the crowd, describing the reaction of a group of punks unhappy that no explanation would be forthcoming.
“How do you get rid of piles,” they demand, amidst assorted jeers and heckles.
“Grab ‘em in your hand, right, and shove ‘em back up yer arse and hold ‘em there,” demonstrates Bill.
“It was a hostile night for them I think at the One in Twelve. My take on it; I suppose I kind of thought that one thing—it was their money. People have wasted that amount of money, music people have made that amount of money and wasted it on far more frivolous things, not many people give it to a charitable cause—they spend it on cars, houses, drugs, whatever with that money. They chose to make an art project by burning it. And I think it was quite a good reaction, they did make people think about the notion of money, money is the relationship between the paper and whatever it is you value in the world.”
His article also quotes the following passage from The Illuminatus! Trilogy:
“And you know what they do with Federal Reserve notes. Every time they get one, they burn it. Instant demurrage, they call it.”
“I doubt that it’s literal that they kind of saw this reference in the book and either it gave them the idea or said that it justifies that. You know, it’s not like the Bible where you’re looking for quotes to justify or base your actions on. But I think the action of doing that was sort of in line with the ideas that came from Discordia and the Illuminatus!…”
“And the burning of the money—it is a random act in the sense that they—they sort of knew why they were doing it I think, but you don’t really know what the consequences are going to be. You know you’re taking this money and you’re burning it and it’s a big—it’s sort of a magical ritual. In that way I think it’s very much a Discordian thing to do. And they deleted their back catalogue. Seemed sort of very much, let’s destroy the idea of the KLF but also you’re sort of creating more of a myth you know, beyond the sort of money making, the actuality of the music business, actuality of the KLF—you’re actually furthering its mythical life.”
At one point in the article Graham quotes one of the pair saying they weren’t trying to make a big statement like “chopping off our hands or something.” The joke would have been lost on the audience—Bill publicly admitted seriously considering that mad idea in his book 45, released in 2000.
One interesting point made towards the end of the article is Graham quoting Bill talking about a gender divide; men were more likely than women to support the burning.
Temporary Autonomous Zones and Radical Rave Culture
“After the KLF, some of the Illuminati stuff did spread into more general rave culture for a few years when it was in its peak,” Graham tells me. He pronounces it Illumin-ar-tai. “Kind of in the early-90s people kind of talked on—sort of around ’87, ’88 but then it went more widespread. It was also in that period when you had in the UK, the kind of club, the rave sort of techno clubs crossed over with the older traveling free festival scene that sort of came with the guy in the 60s and 70s, Hawkwind, that had been traveling hippy dreadlocked guys, because of the ravers that had been having free festivals out in fields, they ended up teaming up with guys who’d been having hippy rock festivals in fields forever. Those guys ended up getting into a lot of techno music, but they would have been guys who were reading the Illuminatus! books in the early 70s. It had the whole kind of esoteric hippy knowledge and stuff behind it, and guys who’d been living outside society for like a decade or so, going around in buses and all sorts of stuff.”
“I don’t know how much you know about this stuff; the whole peace bus in the UK, the battle of the Beanfield at Stonehenge where police smashed up, destroyed buses and a whole community, then you had the Castlemorton Festival which led to the Criminal Justice Bill which is a law in the UK outlawing repetitive beats in public places which basically killed the outdoor bass scene. But when you had that whole scene going in the 90s, you had the club rave kids meeting the hippy travelers, one side being electronic techno music and ecstasy, and the other bringing this kind of like hippy philosophy and ethos and knowledge and it all kind of crossing over. And certainly I think a lot of the kind of Illuminati ideas. Suddenly it became cliché to be referencing the number 23 and something, for one thing.”
I mention to Ben the prevalence of the concept of the Temporary Autonomous Zone, in the rave scene. This idea came from Hakim Bey, a philosopher, who described this concept of a space in which the usual laws did not apply in his 1991 book of the same name.
“Yeah,” says Ben. “And in practical terms that sort of crossed over into the reclaim the streets movement doesn’t it. What they were doing certainly kind of early on, there was a lot of theory behind it and the notion of Temporary Autonomous Zone was very much to do with what they were doing, going into the business area of London and having a big party and stopping the traffic. It wasn’t really a protest. Maybe a protest against business or car culture or whatever but at the same time it was the notion of the Temporary Autonomous Zone. It’s like the Situationist idea of beneath the pavements, the beach and in the heart of the city we can have a party, we can bring flowers, we can have a fete in the middle of the road, and that came out of that sort of politicized and radicalized rave culture. You know, they became the reclaim the streets movement and the anti-road protesters, it’s really the same people who’ve moved on from music just into protesting. They’re outdoors and they’re reclaiming their environment, on a kind of Utopian Situationist principle.”
He describes the recent Occupy as a natural outgrowth of reclaim the streets movement.
“It’s like William Burroughs says,” he tells me. “Artists legislate the world, they’re more powerful than politicians because artists create ideas and politicians just put things into action; good artists come up with something new and put it into the world and that kind of changes things.”
Ben Graham has joined forces with a number of other co-conspirators to be part of a contemporary Discordian celebration—Festival 23—that in part formed itself through the energies of the motley crew that came together for the ‘Conferestival’ that marked Daisy Eris Campbell’s opening of Cosmic Trigger. Festival 23 hosted a giant artwork by Jimmy Cauty—an industrial container filled with an epic post-riot miniature landscape. Ben Graham provided the writing on a leaflet that accompanied the artwork:
Both festivals and riots aspire towards freedom; both ultimately are only temporary negations of a stultifying status quo, but may lead to more long-term solutions catalysed by their unfettered expression of energy, anger, love and/or ecstasy. There is freedom in the heart of a riot; a wild abandon and a sense that suddenly anything is possible. Do what thou wilt is quite literally the whole of the law, for the law as defined by policemen, judges and politicians is shown to have no empirical natural authority. It is an assumed condition imposed by those temporarily in power, and can be overthrown both within and without by the will of the people, if only for a limited time and space. But if it can be done once, even for a few seconds, can such glorious lawlessness not be achieved again?
* * *
So did chaos jump from magic manual to comic book, find itself in fiction, transferred to stage before implanting itself in the minds of future pop superstars, whose rave hits implanted it into the culture of rave, and ultimately protest and party culture?
Well, of course not—such a story is far too clean for the messy madness that is chaos. But if there’s a lesson here, it’s that every strange step of history sets off another twenty-three steps in all sorts of directions. With so many chaotic steps bouncing off each other, how long do you think it will be before you too have the pleasure of being plunged into chaos?
My forthcoming book Chasing Eris will be released next month. The book documents my worldwide adventure to experience modern Discordian culture, meet its personalities, and the discovery of many elusive Erisian mysteries. —Brenton Clutterbuck