"What had driven me to Marxism was simply that, as a political philosophy it was the only thing I could find without a blatantly mystical base. I had seen enough of U.S. foreign policy to know who was winning the Cold War, and all of Ike's prayers left me no more secure in the face of a system with both coercive methods and moral (altruist) justification as its disposal. So I was about ready to look up a friend in San Francisco who belonged to the Communist Party and ask him what I could do to speed up the revolution, when I picked up Atlas Shrugged as a good, long book to read at sea. Well, by the time I set foot on U.S. soil again I knew I'd happened upon a genius. It took me about two years to work out and adjust to my new philosophy, but I knew it'd be worth it. It is." - on pp. 42-43 of The Prankster and the Conspiracy
This letter was written around the time Thornley's book Oswald was being written. As many of you know, Thornley knew Lee Harvey Oswald before Oswald allegedly shot JFK; they knew each other as Marines. I still find this surreal to think about.
This general train of thought - true yet quite surreal - seems almost too rich for words. Thornley reads The Warren Report, and by 1967 his politics had undergone a radical shift again: to "sex, drugs, and treason." Everything Rand was against, all authority, laughing at the "free market" ideology of Rand. He found liberation in zen, psychedelics, anarchism, and free love. And he, like Robert Anton Wilson, wrote about a psychedelic orgy cult, The Keristans, for the underground press. (RAW's article on a NY chapter of the Keristans in 1965, for Ralph Ginzburg's magazine Fact.)
The Keristans were heavily influenced by Robert Heinlein's 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land. One can easily trace today's polyamorist adherents (movement? sects? citizens?) to the Keristans, although it seems quite possible that, for every polyamorist or ethical non-monogamist you run into, few today would make the connection to the seminal science fiction novel. Perhaps the urge for open sex is universal enough I'm giving Heinlein and the Keristans too much credit for influence? At any rate...
he's talking about is San Francisco-based Emperor
Joshua Norton, Lord High Protector of Mexico.
At any rate, Kerry Thornley and his wife Cara were living in Watts in 1966, a year after the famous riots, when Robert Heinlein received a letter from the LA Keristans offering him $100 to come to LA to speak to them, as they considered him "the 'New Testament'." It is not known if Thornley wrote the letter. The neo-Pagan Church of All Worlds was definitely influenced by Heinlein's novel, for which, if I were Heinlein, I'd be sorta pleased. Charles Manson was heavily influenced by the same novel; Heinlein has about as much responsibility for the Tate-LaBianca murders as Jesus had for the Inquisition.
[Heinlein's novel has had at least the occult power to colonize weirdo minds as Salinger's Catcher In The Rye has. So far...- The Mgt]
At any rate, Heinlein turned the Keristans down, calling them a "far-out cult." (Grumbles From The Grave, ed. Virginia Heinlein, p.236)
In 1967, DA Jim Garrison, through various bizarre machinations, decided he wanted to indict Kerry for perjury. He issued a press release: "In September of '63, Kerry Thornley was closely associated with Lee Oswald at a number of locations in New Orleans." A witch-hunt? You betcha. Nevertheless...
The underground press, for reasons not totally clear to me, despite plenty of digging, sided with Garrison, despite the fact that Kerry had written for such stellar underground papers as the L.A. Free Press and The Great Speckled Bird. As Gorightly writes, "This irony did not go unnoticed by Robert Anton Wilson, who encountered a media blackout when trying to address Kerry's situation. As Wilson explained during our July 2001 interview:
"'In '67 or '68, most of the underground press was publishing a lot of stuff pro-Garrison, and this included Kerry's role in the assassination. And I had lots of contacts in the underground press, so I started 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.'" - Gorightly, pp.91-92
Kerry had known Oswald in the Marines. He'd published two books about his connections to Oswald, but the first was a sort of novel about the craziness of military grunt life; it felt sorta "beatnik" to me when I read it...and Oswald was in it...before the JFK hit. (I read The Idle Warriors and it's still unheimlich that Oswald was the focus of a novel before November 1963...maybe it's just me...but read the one reviewer comment at the Amazon link; there's something to CIA and/or military LSD experimentation at the American base in Japan the writer mentions. You can look it up. But let me get on with other weirdness.) Then Kerry published a book on Oswald in 1965. Many people remarked that Oswald and Thornley looked very much alike. And Kerry had been in New Orleans while Oswald was militating for "free play for Cuba." What were the odds?
If this material is new to you and it seems like I'm making it up...I often feel like I'm making it up, but it's true. And it gets far, far weirder.
Garrison did charge Thornley with perjury, and Kerry wrote to his Principia Discordia co-writer and boyhood friend Greg Hill that he was afraid he'd do 20 years for being "up to my ass in a spy novel." He wrote to Hill that the reasons he might go to prison were, "1.) having gone to USC at the same time [alleged spy] Gordon Novel did; 2.) having written a novel based on Oswald which re-inforced his apparent Marxist cover; 3) having been from that point out the victim of either the most fantastic chain of incriminating co-incidences or the most satanically evil plot in history..."(Gorightly, p.97)
Well, Kerry got out of it, but he really just sunk deeper into a darker well. The story of Thornley seems underappreciated, and I highly recommend Gorightly's book for rousing good read about his life, which, if you wrote it as a novel, it might seem too fantastic. The subtitle is "The Story of Kerry Thornley and How He Met Oswald and Inspired the Counterculture."
Meanwhile, Eris reigns. And so does Discordianism. As Margot Adler writes, quoting Robert Anton Wilson on Eris in 1976, "Whichever Eris you choose, she always seems to take the form of paradox, and an Erisian notice printed in Green Egg said that the Erisian path generally appealed to those who have 'an affinity toward taoism, anarchy and clowning; who can feel comfortable in a Neo-Pagan context, and who probably have a tendency toward iconoclasm.'" - Drawing Down The Moon, 1997 revised and expanded edition, p.333
An article by Gorightly on Thornley, "Prankster or Manchurian Candidate?"