Visit the Group News Blog operated by friends of Steve:

Steve Gilliard, 1964-2007

It is with tremendous sadness that we must convey the news that Steve Gilliard, editor and publisher of The News Blog, passed away June 2, 2007. He was 42.

To those who have come to trust The News Blog and its insightful, brash and unapologetic editorial tone, we have Steve to thank from the bottom of our hearts. Steve helped lead many discussions that mattered to all of us, and he tackled subjects and interest categories where others feared to tread.

Please keep Steve's friends and family in your thoughts and prayers.

Steve meant so much to us.

We will miss him terribly.

photo by lindsay beyerstein


Driftglass: "Come Join Us - Part 1"

It’s soooo beautiful here.

(Crossposted from driftglass.)

Thank you, Driftglass - great post

A grim anniversary compels me to come off the blocks a little early for next weekend’s

Blog Against Theocracy.
(Logo courtesy of Tengrain)

Ten years ago – on March 27, 1997 -- 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult committed mass suicide by swallowing a mixture of magical thinking, vodka, Phenobarbital, bad sci-fi and apple sauce.

A few weeks later, Harlan Ellison weighted in with this now-famous Newsweek commentary on the cult, their beliefs and their predictable ending.

Now, ten years later, Mr. Joshuah Bearman has written a long and sympathetic piece on the Cult and Rio DiAngelo -- the sole survivor of the day the Gaters finally chose to play out the final act of their game of Blind Man’s Follow The Leader.

Right off the cliff and into oblivion.

As Mr. Bearman strives to pose and frame Mr. DiAngelo’s story in the gentlest, and most favorable light possible, he simultaneously struggles in a way that is positively Boderian to avoid judging exactly that which most desperately cries out for a verdict.

It is not the article I would have written. Shit, Ellison’s article is the one I woulda written if I had those kind of chops.

The Gaters offed themselves during the sunny days of the Clinton Era, when it was deeply disturbing to learn that 39 people had gotten themselves so…ensorcelled…by a stupid idea that they talked themselves into personal extinction over it.

Now, in the grim, twin shadows of 9/11 and Iraq, it should be all too clear to us that Big, Apocalyptic Visions in the hands of any band of zealous lunatics – whether we know them as Taliban, Neocon, Shining Path or Christopath -- is the principle, looming danger of the 21st Century.

In a world that is ideologically gas-soaked and tinder-dry, there is simply no place left for anyone who think god or aliens or the family dog is telling them to start tossing torches around.

Here are key observations from M. Bearman’s piece, intercut with my own words, and followed by the Ellison article which, ten years later, could not be more timely.

Heaven's Gate: The Sequel

Ten years after the 39 suicides, the sole survivor is back – and he has something urgent to tell us.

Rio DiAngelo has a message he wants to share with the world. It’s an important message, one that begins in space. That’s where he came from, and where he will one day return, following in the footsteps of his 39 friends.

Rio’s friends knew what to do.

When another amateur astronomer announced on Art Bell’s conspiracy-minded radio show that he’d taken a picture of Hale-Bopp showing an elongated fuzzy brightness lurking in the tail, word quickly spread in UFO circles that there was an alien spacecraft accompanying the comet.

driftglass: Do you see the Emperor’s New Clothes too?!?

Remote-sensing practitioner Courtney Brown collected clairvoyant “data” that also suggested an extraterrestrial presence. DO’s followers went out and bought a telescope. They couldn’t see the ship themselves, but that wasn’t important.

driftglass: Why yes, I do. Aren’t they splendid?

Aren’t they magnificent?

Aren’t they just to die for?

What Mr. Bearman does not mention is this (from Wikipedia)…

In November 1996, amateur astronomer Chuck Shramek of Houston, Texas took a CCD image of the comet, which showed a fuzzy, slightly elongated object nearby. When his computer sky-viewing program did not identify the star, Shramek called the Art Bell radio program to announce that he had discovered a "Saturn-like object" following Hale-Bopp. UFO enthusiasts, such as remote viewing proponent Courtney Brown, soon concluded that there was an alien spacecraft following the comet. In fact, the object was simply an 8.5-magnitude star, SAO141894, which did not appear on Shramek's computer program because the user preferences were set incorrectly. [3] Reportedly, Shramek refused to admit to his mistake when this was pointed out to him.

Later, Art Bell even claimed to have obtained an image of the object from an anonymous astrophysicist who was about to confirm its discovery. However, astronomers Olivier Hainaut and David J. Tholen of the University of Hawaii stated that the alleged photo was an altered copy of one of their own comet images.

Details, details, details…

Mr. Bearman continues:

For years, they’d been hoping to return to the Kingdom of Heaven, which they called “Evolutionary Level Above Human,” or the “Next Level.” Day in, day out, the group — which they always said was not a cult but a “classroom for growing a soul” — had learned to transcend human existence through rigorous discipline. In preparation for the final step of leaving their human bodies, or “exiting their vehicles,” the group assembled uniforms: matching black Nikes and homemade black pants and shirts, each adorned with a custom-made triangular patch that said “HEAVEN’S GATE AWAY TEAM.”

Most people remember the bizarre unfolding of details surrounding the largest mass suicide in U.S. history, but few recall the sole survivor. Rio had been fitted with his departure uniform, and was prepared to “graduate with the rest of the class.” Then, one day in February, as the exit plans were coming together, Rio woke up and felt he had some unnamed thing yet to do here on Earth.

He had followed his instincts before, when he abandoned his life to join the group, and now the directive coming into his awareness was telling him to leave the mansion. Rio was confused, and had an emotional meeting with DO, who telepathically consulted the Next Level. Word came back that Rio should stay behind; that it was all part of the plan. Rio was given a camera, a computer, $1,000 for living expenses and $12.50 for train fare back to Los Angeles.

OK campers, this is a really important lesson. If the phrases:
“In preparation for the final step of leaving their human bodies…”

“He had followed his instincts before, when he abandoned his life to join the group…”

“…the directive coming into his awareness was telling him…”

“…who telepathically consulted the Next Level.”

are any part of your decision-making process beyond what your answers are to a random Cosmo quiz you are doing in a salon waiting room (Sexy?…Or Very Sexy?) then RUN DO NOT WALK out of whatever epistemological opium den you’ve wandered into.

No kidding. See, this is where Not Crazy People suddenly realize that the ground has opened up beneath them and, at best, nothing but the impoverishing end of another Divine Ponsi Scheme awaits them.

And at worst, there is nothing but the grave ahead.

On the other hand, here --

Three of his fellow followers, those who “dropped out” before graduation, killed themselves in subsequent weeks and months so as to not miss out on their one brief opportunity to pass through Heaven’s Gate.

-- is what Crazy People do.

With the 10th anniversary of the Exit coming up on March 27, Rio e-mailed our managing editor and offered to do his first interview since writing a self-published book, Beyond Human Mind: The Soul Evolution of Heaven’s Gate, an account of his experience that will “clarify the truth about the group and their amazing agenda.”


I called right away. I’d heard about Rio before and thought about trying to track him down. When I pointed this out to Rio the first time we met, he quickly chalked it up to cosmic significance.

When I’d read about Rio, I’d always assumed that he’d survived because he came to his senses and realized the flaw in Heaven’s Gate’s suicide pact. In fact, Rio remains a true believer, one for whom a divine mission has crystallized. He began our first interview by asking me to be sure to include his prepared declaration, part of which reads:

“I am alive not because I rejected anything about Heaven’s Gate.

“I am alive because I have discovered something so extraordinarily important to the world that it needs to pass on to you in its most true and accurate form from ME.”

How does one come to understand their messianic blessings? For DO, that journey began in a Houston psychiatric hospital in 1972. Marshall Herff Applewhite, or Herff, as the charismatic son of an itinerant Presbyterian minister was then called by his friends, had been a talented musician, well-liked teacher, choir director, and singer with the Houston Grand Opera. But those days were over. He’d left his wife and children after a tryst with a male student led to his requested resignation from a university position. Herff was adrift, torn by his sexual desires, and shaken by voices in his head.


Another of the bastard children of bad religion and sexual confusion slouches towards Jerusalem to be born.

In the hospital, Herff met Bonnie Lu Trousdale Nettles, a registered nurse whose investigations into astrology and theosophy were guided by communications with a 19th-century monk named “Brother Francis.” …

Then, one summer, on the banks of the Rogue River in Oregon, among the wildflowers and sugar pines, Bonnie and Herff were struck by a “vibration like thunder,” a simultaneous disclosure that they were the two witnesses foretold in the Bible’s vision of Apocalypse.

Severing all ties fit their belief system, in which DO and TI had come to see themselves as extraterrestrial representatives from the Evolutionary Level Above Human. DO, they’d decided, was the very same alien spirit that had inhabited Jesus, and TI was his Heavenly Father. Updating esoteric, early Christianity by way of science fiction, their millennial paradise could be found only by renouncing terrestrial attachments and shedding one’s “container” or “vehicle” to ascend into space and live eternally with the Chief of Chiefs, or God.

driftglass: Why continue? It makes for a crappy narrative because you know how this story ends.

How it almost always ends.

No, what is of interest to me is how the writer framed this piece and what it reveals about one of our most dangerous cultural Achilles’ Heel.

This was a very frustrating conversation. I wanted to do justice to Rio’s ideas, because he really means them.

So does the BTK murderer.

So did the Son of Sam.

So did Zodiac.

So did Manson.

So what?

Of what relevance is the sincerity of a madman who smiles at the thought of his dead friends.

Or, as Nietzsche very succinctly put if: “A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.”

It was difficult, though, when I realized he was literally suggesting that alien craft insert intangible essences in select human beings. So I asked a lot of detailed questions, which was equally frustrating for Rio, since many of them amounted to a challenge. “I don’t expect you to believe me,” Rio said at one point. “I wouldn’t believe me. But this works.”

“What works?”

“This system for growing a soul that DO brought back to Earth.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I know. I can feel it. It’s something I experienced.”

It’s hard to argue with fundamental subjectivity. I’m guessing that Rio has not followed much of the 20th-century debate about epistemology, since the proof for Rio — the bedrock upon which rests the undeniable, immutable, universal truth of DO’s teachings — is a dream he had regularly as a kid.

Weird, yes, but how much weirder than other things we’ve come to accept? Like, say, partaking in the body and blood of Christ every Sunday? We all know that Jesus, one of many schismatic religious peddlers in biblical Judea, was scorned for his beliefs. When dealing with extreme behavior like collective suicide, it’s a natural response to look for an easy explanation, such as “These people are nut jobs.”

That they killed themselves for it seems bizarre only because it happened in San Diego, with five Jamba Juices and a Green Burrito nearby. At the turn of the previous millennium, Christian Europe was full of apocalyptic sects prepared for blood. And many medieval Christian monks castrated themselves for the sake of purity. In Diane Sawyer’s interview, she is shocked by how many children DO’s followers left behind, but our monotheistic religious tradition began when Abraham prepared to kill his own son.

End of Part 1 of 2.

- posted by Driftglass