Overweening Generalist

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Erisiana: Kerry Thornley Snippages, Featuring Ayn Rand, Lee Harvey Oswald, Robert Heinlein,and Jim Garrison

I just got done channel surfing and caught Rand Paul, pretty worked up over Obama's gun safety initiatives. I have had a long day and have built up some sleep debt, so I thought of the chaos in the midnight theater in Aurora, the mentally ill student at Virginia Tech, the mentally ill guy who slaughtered a bunch of children recently in Connecticut...And "Rand" Paul, his father, and Ayn Rand, and her cult of "rationality," and Rand and Kerry Thornley, who is quoted in Adam Gorightly's The Prankster and the Conspiracy. It's August, 1960, and Thornley had just been discharged from the Marines and was a pretty hardcore Marxist. Then he accidentally had a look at Atlas Shrugged and was instantly converted to capitalism, Rand-style. Here's a quote from a mid-1964 letter Thornley wrote, in Gorightly's book:

"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...

                                     Thornley, from later in his mad life. The "Norton"
                                     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)

Margot Adler (grand-daughter of Alfred Adler, who famously broke with Freud) was a terrific observer of this underground scene. She wrote that Thornley's coverage of the Keristans greatly influenced the neo-Pagan movement: free love communes, Wicca, back-to-nature ideologies, and others who sought an unhindered life of psychedelic experimentation and open expressions of sexuality.

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?"


BrentQ said...

Weird coincidance.

I was just having a conversation with my Dad about the JFK assination yesterday. He's read a lot more about it than I and has come around to accept the official story of the lone crazy gunman. I, on the other hand, am steeped in RAW's books so I'm much more open to other interpretations and I tend to lean towards the idea that Oswald was a useful idiot for the CIA or some other nefarious group. But it seems to me like MK-Ultra and the military LSD experiments played a much larger role in what was going on in the 60's than most historical counts care to admit.

The Kerry Thornley connection is new to me and adds an interesting wrinkle. It's pretty odd that a book about Oswald before the assassination is not in print any longer. Looks like an interesting read but it's going for $117 new on Amazon!

Also, tangentially related, there's a great documentary called LSD, The Net, and the Unabomber that's worth checking out.


michael said...


I obtained The Idle Warriors via an interlibrary loan. That's probably the best way to go, unless you live in a rural area and the nearest library is 30 miles away and they don't do ILLs.

The only time I've seen Thornley's 1965 book on Oswald was in a used bookstore and it was way too expensive for me, so I just stood there and read about 60% of it.

Kerry seemed to many of his friends to be mentally ill the 20-some yrs of his life. I remember RAW talking about how sad it was that Thornley had become convinced that RAW was a CIA agent and had long-ago infiltrated Thornley's circles. RAW thought Kerry thought RAW was his "CIA babysitter."

I have tried to get myself to believe Oswald acted alone and failed. I lived in the Oswald Acted Alone reality tunnel for one month, reading Posner, thumbing through much of Bugliosi's ponderous book, and a few other sources. I think maybe Anthony Summers's book: rogue elements within the CIA and the Mob did it: it seems maybe the most plausible to me.

re: documentary: I actually own a copy of that. I think it's an underrated film; it should be more widely distributed.

The guys who put it out are in San Francisco, even though the filmmaker was German. (Other Cinema also put out Craig Baldwin's Tribulation 99, which I consider the closest film in spirit to Illuminatus! that I've ever seen.)

If you want to swim further down that tributary: check out Allston Chase's book on Kaczynski. I don't agree with Chase's social philosophy, but it's a fine bio, well-researched, and Chase himself had been to Harvard and "dropped out" and lived in Montana, also. That book allowed me to understand Ted better than any other text.

From there: read Lee and Shlain's Acid Dreams, Jay Stevens's Storming Heaven, and of course, Marks's The Search For The Manchurian Candidate. Oh and what the hell: check out Christopher Simpson's book Blowback. Have you looked at Markoff's What The Doormouse Said?

WARNING: once you've steeped yourself in these books (and about 40 others), you run the risk of sudden onset of Lovecraft Horrors. Also: it depends on your social circles, but most people will think you're making stuff up when you tell them, 'This really happened!" Or, they'll think you've been watching too many spy films and you're mixing them up with "reality."

Have you seen Hoffman's Potion? Early LSD research from a different angle.

BrentQ said...

I was watching that Tribulation 99 this morning. Quite the trippy movie haha.

I'm not sure if I'm quite ready yet to delve into full-blown JFK or unabomber research yet. I'm worried I might end up like Alex Jones if I get too deep into this stuff. But I definitely have been meaning to pick up Acid Dreams when I get a chance as I've seen it in several used bookstores. I'll have to see if my library has Thornley's book when I'm done borrowing Saharasia by James DeMeo.(Higly recommend this one!)

And Hoffman's Potion is a great doc too. I've seen it several times.

But thanks for the recommendations. Always find your blog coincides with a lot my weirdo autodidactic inclinations. (I used to post under Satori Guy on blogspot but have since changed my stance on anonymity after reading Rushkoff's Program or Be Programmed.)

Anonymous said...

Another good documentary to watch is Derren Brown the experiments the assassin available on archive.org.

My vote for the lone gunman goes to Jack Ruby who was seen near the grassy knoll with a rifle in his hand.
I also remember the first news report that said the president had been killed by a burst of machine gun fire.

The absorption of the Gehlen Apparat into the policy levels of the uniStat NS madhouse guaranteed us an official worldview that leaves most citizens bemused by the oddness of everything done on a federal level.

The "righteous" Carmen Ortiz is only the latest in a long series.
We need to make sure Jacob Applebaum doesn't wind up like Aaron.

Anonymity on-line is only partially useful since it is easily breached by any savvy user but some of us have been around long enough to have a big investment in their handle. I post
here as anonymous, as a joke, as an erisian ha ha only serious and
most people don't know who great grandpa Haren is and don't care.

I stumbled across the Derren video while looking for Adam Curtis documentaries on archive.org. They also have the New England and the Bavarian Illuminati book available for a free download.

Krassners Realist is also on-line for an in depth taste of the tenor of those times from the unofficial viewpoint.

As a rifleman from my early youth, if Oswald made that bankshot he should have made a million dollars as a pool hustler. I'm more inclined to believe what Bill Hicks had to say on the subject of JFK.

We're supposed to be in-line for a near miss asteroid again (17,500miles away), too close for any real comfort.

I've been reading Arouet (Voltaire) so am less than connected today.

BobbyC said...

There is this underground documentary on the web called "JFK 2"

Produced in that classic, amateurish but dedicated, conspiracy theory style, and it spins this deliciously persuasive yarn which convicts George H.W. Bush of the assassination of President Kennedy!

We should be so lucky that history could be so well written and contain such thematic truth!

I do not think this is what actually happened, but it remains one of my very favorite historical fictions. (Esp. if you add in the masonic ritual sub plot)

BobbyC said...


michael said...

@Brent (formerly Satori Guy):

Tribulation 99: Craig Baldwin as a mad genius/scientist/artist of found footage and collage in film. His collage conspiracy film Mock Up on Mu has a story of L.Ron Hubbard taking over the moon to make it into a special Scientological Disneyland, with the story involving Crowley, Marjorie Cameron, and Jack Parsons. IIRC, RAW is in the credits as inspiration, or something like that. It's quite whacked, but I think Tribulation 99 is better. In academic Mark Fenster's book, Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in America - of which I have only read the earlier edition, but he takes RAW's work "seriously" and seems to sort of "get" what RAW was up to - he devotes 4 pages to Tribulation 99 as an example of using conspiracy theory to subvert "narrative form," along with Crying of Lot 49 and Delillo's Libra.

When reading those books I mentioned, augment with 15-30 mins a day of pranayama or meditating on something like we're all far greater artists than we realize.

Saharasia - part of RAW's syllabi for those who want to enter the 21st century - is a neo-Wilhelm Reichian book, as you know. And after 9/11 RAW had a bit of a tiff with DeMeo. That book was for me a fair chill wind and did blow my mind in a couple of ways. I understood why I place such a high value on living around lush greenery, tall trees, flowers.

Thanks for mentioning Rushkoff's short, profound book. I've become a bit of an evangelist for that one.

I recently read a book that reminded me of Program Or Be Programmed, but it was from the dedicated reader's POV: The Lost Art of Reading, by David Ulin.

Whenever you chime in here it's much appreciated, Brent.

michael said...

@Bobby: I had never heard of JFK2! Thanx for the link.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I'm kind of a "Program or Be Programmed" evangelist, too.

I had never heard of the Gorightly book on Kerry Thornley until I read your piece, Michael. I'll have to read it, although I have promised myself to read the JMR Higgs biography on Timothy Leary first.

michael said...

Leary said everyone gets the Tim Leary they deserve, or something like that. I'd read at least four bios of TL before Higgs's and his was the first one that reflected the Leary I felt. I never met Tim.

The Leary I got through film footage, RAW's books and Leary's own large and uneven oeuvre finally glinted through with I Have America Surrounded.

A difficult-to-find bio by underground press writer John Bryan (Whatever Happened To Timothy Leary?, pub while TL was quite alive and healthy), was the previous best bio I'd read.

The Leary that shows through in BH Friedman's Tripping was an interesting Tim, as were parts of Charles Slack's Timothy Leary, The Madness of the Sixties, and Me, which has Slack as a Harvard colleague and admirer, but not so much the evangelical drug stuff: more the irrepressible Irish modern-day Bruno/Zelda Fitzgerald of the 60s, very disappointed to track Leary down in Switzerland to see TL doing smack. When he encounters TL (who knows what the real story was with Hauchard?) doing smack, it reminded me of Mr.Bernstein coming to a darker understanding of Charles Foster Kane.

The Rbt Greenfield bio is one of the weirdest biographies I've ever read: incredibly well-researched, but seeming to miss the point totally. It's hard for me not to think that Greenfield blames his Sixties for being derailed by Leary, which to me is ludicrous. Greenfield goes a long - inadvertent? - way in showing that alcohol was the drug that brought Tim down, not LSD.

I enjoy the Leary I got in Flashbacks and other autobiographical writings.

There are little fugitive articles (pun intended) by people who knew him that are filled with, as Pound said, "luminous details." I forget who wrote a little piece about partying with Tim, and someone puts on a Billie Holliday song and Leary starts crying for the sheer pain in her voice.

You'll like the Gorightly book. Lots of RAW. Gorightly is one of my Top 10 writers in what Bob Black (or was it Jim Hogshire?) called "the marginals milieu."

Has anyone reading this message read Gorightly's Shadows Over Santa Susana? I've had a tough time getting hold of it.

Elayne said...

One of these days I'll have all my INSIDE JOKE issues scanned and uploaded somewhere, and I can point folks to all the Kerry Thornley stuff therein. Weird guy, fascinating writer.

michael said...

@Elayne: When you do, make sure to alert us here; there are a lot of readers who'd like to know more about Kerry Wendell Thornley, the co-inventor of Discordianism and one of the dedicatees of the unspeakable Illuminatus! Trilogy.

Gorightly's book contains snippets of Kerry's writings that, I don't think appeared in any book...or any book one is likely to be able to find and read. As I re-read The Prankster and the Conspiracy I thought, "All of this written material from Kerry ought to be out there, available."

Do you have an opinion on Gorightly's book?

Neil_in_Chicago said...

"I don't make things up. I don't have to." has become a stock comment of mine.

Let's say, hypothetically, you ascertained The Real Truth about JFK's assassination. Then what? What could you do or change? Nothing, it seems to me.
If it's not confused and implausible enough for you, check into RFK's murder . . .

michael said...

I agree about not having to make things up. Sometime around the 4th of July, 1989, non-fiction - IF we are reading and paying attention and thinking for ourselves - became weirder than fiction.

The RFK hit and public perception about the "reality" of it seems even more instructive than the JFk hit: It's so overwhelmingly a conspiracy. If anyone has looked into it, you really have to go through some wicked mental contortions to believe Sirhan Sirhan acted alone there.

But what's most interesting about both assassinations: last I read most people think JFK was a conspiracy. It's seems a lot of people are murky about RFK. I'm fascinated in the mass mind; how they can watch a documentary or read a book and be convinced there was a conspiracy, and then also not put other ideas together about how the story about our democracy is something Wholly Other than what we get in the mainstream corporate media.

So: even if I knew for sure who killed JFK? You're right. I can't change anything. But I DO want to know as much of "the truth" about things as possible, which seems... fairly rare?

Anonymous said...

The "Church of All Worlds" was in fact Manson's group. His hook to bring people in was that he promised to duplicate the cult in Heinlein's book. Of course unlike the fictional original, Manson didn't have any magical source of super-knowledge telling him which people had "wrongness" and needed to die -- but he convinced the members he did.

I agree that Heinlein was not in any way responsible for that insane idiocy. If "Stranger" hadn't been written, Manson would have found another fairy tale to latch onto. Still, it needs to give us pause. I have not heard any ideas on how such tragedies could be prevented in the future that doesn't create worse problems.

michael said...

In Ed Sanders's book The Family he says Manson picked up a lot of lingo from Scientology while in prison. Also: he read Eric Berne's Games People Play, a best-seller and the most famous popularizer of Transactional Analysis...Robert Anton Wilson thought Berne popularized Leary's ideas about "interpersonal diagnosis of personality" without crediting Leary. Leary wrote about these ideas before he ever did any drugs stronger than alcohol...

"He had a friend, one Marvin White, who appears to have been released from McNeil Island and then to have made arrangements to mail Charlie books on black magic and related subjects." - Sanders, p.10

Then there was Charlie's use of The Beatles.