Encapsulating an obsession
Who would ever think that being an E2 Copyright Cop would be so entertaining.
I was, as they say, just minding my own business, when I was asked by an indefatigable Content Editor to take a look at the writeup's of a long fled E2
user. At first glance this assignment seemed like a real bore, but Marshall
Applewhite turns out to have left us an interesting and
slightly spooky legacy in the form of a series of writeups that encapsulate an obsession.
The RL Marshall Applewhite was the leader of a
small religious cult that became infamous in 1997 for their mass suicide in a tract home in
Southern California. The E2 Marshall Applewhite (let's call him MA) joined
us a little over 6 years ago on May 12, 2000. MA was a member for almost a
year and a half before he logged off one afternoon and has not been seen
since. During his brief E2 career, our fledgling author produced eighteen
writeups that all addressed the same subject in different and intriguing ways. That subject is, of course, the Heaven's Gate cult and our
user MA adopts the convincing persona of a cult member, perhaps even THE Marshall
MA was last seen at E2 on Sat Oct 27 2001 which is an oddly comforting
thought because the real life Marshall Applewhite died with his followers over
four years previously. Despite that glaring conundrum, MA otherwise behaved
on E2 as though he were the man in the flesh. His writeups even reflect
the cult's cheery optimism and apparent calm as they prepared to leave this
world. Whoever MA is, the writeups as a body of work comprise a
fascinating look into an alternate world view.
To spice things up, there is also an intriguing question about the copyright
status of the Heaven's Gate "official documents" that are posted on
E2 courtesy of MA. My initial interest in MA and his E2 writeups resulted
from a request from a diligent E2 Content Editor who requested
that I review them for compliance with the E2 copyright policy. In the
process of sorting that out, I got caught up in the whiff of mystery associated
with Marshall Applewhite, both the real and the online versions. I thought
I'd use this forum as a way to document an interesting story and have some fun
in the process.
Introducing the oeuvre
My intent here is to take us on a guided tour of the MA user and his
associated work, an annotated walk along the trail of bread crumbs that MA left
behind. I've stumbled onto some of the more obvious allusions and
references and I'll point them out as we go. I'm going to reference and quote
some of MA's assembled work, but I leave it to
the reader to read the original writeups in their entirety.
Since it's both intuitive and in this case highly revealing, let's begin at
the beginning. MA's first writeup on E2 was a short and odd little ditty
bearing the somewhat poignant title Castration. It's short, so I'm
going to reproduce it here in its entirety:
+15, +24/-9, 1C!
Fri May 12 2000 at 17:57:23
It sounds a lot better on paper.
Pros: A mind clear of sexual desires and ready to focus on messages from the Level Above Human, a great singing voice, greatly reduces pain that results from any groin trauma, improves resumé if you applying for a security job at a harem.
Cons: I honestly didn't think there were any until I arrived in the Kingdom of Heaven. Turns out that most people here just engage in sexual intercourse all day. Luckily, I have foosball to keep me occupied, but I keep getting the feeling I'm missing out on something cool.
You can't help but be struck by the utter strangeness of the
message. I'm pretty sure that I've never met anyone who felt that the
"Pros" of castration so clearly outweighed the "Cons," much
less someone who could keep their sense of humor by sticking to the Foosball
table in the midst of an eternal heavenly
orgy. This genial cheeriness is
characteristic of all MA's work, as is a casual acceptance of viewpoints that
many would find repugnant or at least bizarre. Welcome to the MA
Next, let's dive into the deep end and take a look at some of the
"copied" material from the Heaven's Gate cult that MA
unapologetically reproduces on E2. The following writeups were all
originally authored by members of Heaven's Gate and were placed on E2 for the
purpose of setting the stage for MA's more personal writeups
Early Classroom Materials 1975-1988 : Pertinent Background Information (idea)
Fri May 04 2001 at 1:47:35
Exit Statements 1995-1996 : Pertinent Background Information (idea)
0, +3/-3 Fri May 04 2001 at 1:34:09
The 17 Steps (idea)
3, +4/-1 Sun Oct 22 2000 at 0:14:37
First Statement of Ti and Do (idea)
5, +11/-6, 2C! Tue Sep 12 2000 at 15:08:42
Undercover "Jesus" Surfaces Before Departure (idea)
1, +6/-5, 1C! Thu Aug 03 2000 at 19:29:05
Overview of Present Mission (idea)
1, +1/-0 Sat Jul 15 2000 at 0:16:29
Do's Intro: Our Purpose - The Simple Bottom Line (idea)
1, +2/-1 Fri Jul 14 2000 at 23:22:01
'95 Statement by an E.T. Presently Incarnate (Part 2) (idea)
-2, +4/-6 Tue May 16 2000 at 18:08:45
'95 Statement by an E.T. Presently Incarnate (idea)
8, +11/-3, 1C! Tue May 16 2000 at 18:07:55
As you can see from the low reputation numbers, these writeups as a group
weren't particularly well received on E2. Cut and paste offerings in
general are generally ill-advised, and long arcane soliloquies are probably the
worst of a bad breed. In that context, it's interesting that these
writeups did as well as they did. I think that the explanation for that
may be that much of the copied material is pretty engaging, judged on its own
merits. Whatever else it may have been, Heaven's Gate was comprised
of a membership that was both totally committed and impressively erudite. Their
writing reflects that and offers the reader an insight into a strange, but
internally consistent worldview.
It's beyond the scope of this work to explore the details of the Heaven's
Gate philosophy, but in order to appreciate MA's efforts here on E2, we'll need
to refer to some of their documents.
Lest we forget that my original purpose was the vetting of the Heaven's
Gate documents for compliance with the E2 copyright policy, this is probably a
good time to address that issue. On the assumption that MA wasn't actually
Marshall Applewhite, I went looking for the original sources of these
materials. I quickly found that these works have been widely reproduced on
the Internet, but to my surprise, I found that the original Heavensgate.com
website is still active and contains the documents reproduced on E2 as well as
much more. The contact info on the site wasn't still valid however, but I
reasoned that an active domain name would likely have current contact
information. As it turned out that was the case, and after a series of
false starts, I obtained the phone number for a gentleman who is the current
manager of the TELAH Foundation, the owner of all
the copyrights and trademarks of the now departed Heaven's Gate
My contact was a close associate of Marshall Applewhite who provided the
group with legal and other professional services for many years before their
"departure" in March 1997. Prior to that event, the group gave
his firm all the legal rights to their intellectual property. After a series
of legal struggles, those rights have been validated in court. The TELAH Foundation's primary goal
at this point is to utilize their control of the group's writings and artifacts
so as to prevent any inappropriate defamation
of the group, or the use of their work in derivative commercial products.
It's macabre to consider the fact that floor tiles from the Rancho Santa Fe,
California estate where the mass suicide took place appear routinely on Ebay
At his request, I'm not going to provide his name here, but it's fair to
say that he knew the players well. While he was never a member of Heaven's
Gate, he did spend a lot of time with them over the years and he
characterized the groups members to me as "very engaging and intelligent people, exactly
the opposite of how they were portrayed in the media." He was one of
the first people on the scene after the "departure" and he said it was one of
the most unsettling and difficult situations he'd ever encountered. He
also said that the event caught him completely off guard because the calmness of
members prior to their "departure" didn't give any hint of what was to
come. According to him, "they believed that they were going
Was MA Marshall Applewhite?
My source had one more interesting comment to share with us. I
took him on a brief guided tour of Everything2.com, and showed him the Marshall
Applewhite homenode. He took the time to read a few of MA's original
writeups and, while
admitting that MA was a talented mimic, he said he was absolutely certain that
MA wasn't, in fact, the Marshall Applewhite that he knew.
This information is comforting because
Marshall Applewhite had been dead for several years by the time MA showed up on
E2. His comments also raise the
question of what, exactly, MA was up to in his brief and odd E2 career. My
belief is that MA was a writer who, like many of us, enjoyed E2 as an audience
and a laboratory for experimenting with different styles and formats. MA
used the Marshall Applewhite account to create an online persona that reflected his understanding of how
Mr. Applewhite might have perceived the world.
Based on the research I've done thus far, I'd have to say he's done a
pretty good job of integrating the Heaven's Gate dogma into his writeups, which
are filled with allusions and references to Heaven's Gate philosophy. Even
more impressive is the unsettling cheeriness and nonchalance that struck
everyone who came in contact with Applewhite. Whatever else they may have
been, the Heaven's Gate disciples were true believers, convinced that they
weren't from around here in the first place, and that leaving their
mortal coils behind would be a joyous event.
With that in mind, I'd like to direct your attention to the rest of MA's
writeups, written in the first person and from beyond the grave as it
were. Most of them are short and pithy and a little weird. On closer
examination they show that MA has read widely in the Heaven's Gate literature
and the voluminous news accounts of the group and their 1997
"departure," to "The Evolutionary Level Above
X-COM: UFO Defense (thing)
2, +22/-20, 2C! Tue Nov 28 2000 at 3:35:05
How to Be a Charismatic Cult Leader (idea)
31, +41/-10, 1C! Wed Oct 25 2000 at 1:38:38
Inside UFO 54-40 (thing)
5, +10/-5, 2C! Sun Oct 22 2000 at 0:40:42
Drinking the Kool-Aid (idea)
9, +15/-6, 1C! Sat Aug 05 2000 at 0:44:24
The First Annual Level Above Human Everything Extravaganza! (tm) (thing)
-4, +12/-16, 1C! Sat Jun 17 2000 at 2:47:59
8, +12/-4, 1C! Sat Jun 03 2000 at 2:33:11
Our Position Against Suicide (idea)
8, +13/-5, 1C! Tue May 16 2000 at 18:53:28
Comet Hale-Bopp (thing)
51, +53/-2, 2C! Fri May 12 2000 at 19:14:59
Was it a success?
I'd give the MA effort three popcorns, based on the level of research that
would have been required to pull this project off. It's not entirely
trivial to master the skills necessary for E2 noding, much less to conjure up a
credible literary character and inhabit it with élan. MA exercises a
sardonic wit and draws the reader skillfully into a convincing web of reference
But that's just my opinion and I'm no expert. I'd adjure you to pour
yourself a nice tall glass of
Kool- Aid and invest an hour or two prowling through
the MA writeups, the Heaven's Gate archives and as much of the Googlespew as you
have stomach for. It's an entertaining journey and provides some food for
I'll leave you with this prescient exchange, courtesy of ascorbic.net:
Mon, 07th Oct 2002
<amnesiac> they wrote
this too before they all drank their poisined KoolAid
<call> Oh yeah!
<Gritchka> human-mammalian indulgences?
<amnesiac> I like
13 'each must proceed in the forsaking of all gender behavior (sexuality) Some in the class have chosen on their own to have their vehicles neutered in order to sustain a more objective consciousness'
<Gritchka> wondered how that squared with the indulgences.
<Cletus the Foetus> #14, where they refer to non-enlightened beings as "plants," is also very nice.
<Gritchka> Not dead, just heavily neutered.
<amnesiac> wait a minute here - STOP - the user Marshall Applewhite seems to be one of them (for real) !
<amnesiac> every one if its wus deals with these people
<Gritchka> Yes, he's Do.
<amnesiac> hehehe last seen '11 months ago'
<Gritchka> Or was. And was Jesus, though _that_ claim is open to doubt.
this raises doubts about his seriousness though
<metalangel> enjoys the can of nationalist worms he seems to have opened with his irish rail wu :/
<amnesiac> hahah good spot Tabs: "When is the meet: Late August, Where: You know where it is! "
<call> Tabs: also How to Be a Charismatic Cult Leader
<amnesiac> ok, now i'm thinking Marshall Applewhite is really Theonomist
<call> Well, according to hesby, the REAL Marshall Applewhite died 'fore the account was created...
Being as how it's almost Halloween and all, I thought I should share an odd
exchange that I had with a colleague about Heaven's Gate while I was researching
the above. It seems that my friend is the admin for a couple of social
networking websites, whose names he asked me not to mention here. On one
of them they recently ran into a similar situation involving a user claiming to
be Sylvia Cooke, from Minnesota. It turns out that Sylvia was one of the
members who died in Rancho Sante Fe, and her parents were requesting that the
account be locked. Her family said they were "deeply disturbed"
at the entries on the site because they were eerily reminiscent of their
daughter's personality, and, even more disturbing, had references to people and
events that only their daughter would know. Worse yet, they were written
from "beyond the grave," as it were and chatted happily about life
in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Now that's weird enough, but during my discussions with the TELAH
representative, he steadfastly maintained that there was no possibility that
Marshall had written any of the MA material, before or after he died, but as he
was reading through the writeups I directed him to, he commented that some of
the writing really did mimic Applewhite's humor and manner of speaking.
But the real clincher, the part that's going to really bake your noodle, is
that my web admin buddy had just gotten an email back from a webmasters user
group he belongs to and it turns out that at least a dozen web sites have had
online accounts and personas created that claim to be other "departed"
members of Heaven's Gate!
Cue The Twilight Zone theme music...
1 The Heaven's Gate website: http://www.heavensgate.com
2 Wiki's Version: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heaven's_Gate_(cult)
3 CNN's Index of coverage: http://www.cnn.com/US/9703/28/mass.suicide/links.html
4 Related E2 Writeups: Marshall
Applewhite, Heaven's Gate, Note that MA has a few
additional writeups resting quietly in Node Heaven. If there's any
interest, I'd be inclined to resurrect some of the better ones. /msg me if
you're interested in reading them.