1931-1997 aka Bo, Do, "The One That Was Jesus", and the "Present Representative".

Marshall Herff Applewhite and 38 of his followers in what was known as the Heaven's Gate cult killed themselves with a mix of vodka and phenobarbital over the course of three days in the end of March 1997. Applewhite had convinced his band of otherwise intelligent followers that a spaceship was hiding behind the Hale-Bopp comet and would carry away their immortal souls in a kind of cosmic rapture if they were brave enough to leave their physical body "vessels" behind on Earth. The members of Heaven's Gate joined the cult with the ultimate intent of dying, and the unidentified flying object seen near Hale-Bopp appeared to be the mothership that they had been awaiting for many years. Many of the members who committed suicide even filmed cheerful goodbye videos for their friends and families.

Until 1972, Applewhite led a relatively normal life as a professional theater singer, university music teacher, and choir director, in addition to being a husband and father of two. Applewhite met Bonnie Lu Nettles, a nurse, in a Houston hospital and believed her extraordinary assertions that Applewhite had escaped death in order to help her spread an important message of extraterrestrials, salvation, and the apocalypse. They traveled across the southwestern U.S., calling themselves "Bo" and "Peep", preaching to converts about an imminent visit from a spaceship that would transport them to heaven. In 1974, the pair were arrested in Harlingen, Texas for stealing credit cards and a car from a cult member's husband. In 1975, Bo, Peep, and 20 converts from Waldport, Oregon traveled to Colorado to rendezvous with a spaceship which never arrived. Nettles died of cancer in 1985, and would be posthumously referred to as "Ti" (to Applewhite's "Do").

Applewhite began recruiting new members in 1993, but this time funded cult operations from members' salaries instead of larceny. The Higher Source graphic design company was the cult's legitimate business front, which saw much work in the Web boom of the mid 1990s. In late 1996, the cult moved into a large group house in Rancho Santa Fe, California, where the 39 men and women lived (and ultimately died) as cosmic monks - matching outfits, androgynous haircuts, celibacy, and even optional castration.

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 Applewhite himself.

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:

castration (thing)
+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 worldview.

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)
+ 1, +4/-3 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.  

Reproduced with Permission

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 members.

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 auctions.  

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 home."

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 Human."

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
phenobarbital (thing)
+ 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 and allusion.

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 thought.

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?
<tWD> coughs
<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.
<Tabs> 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...

 Halloween Special

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.

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