It’s been fifty years since the Kennedy assassination. Fifty years since the conspiracy subculture came screaming out of the hivemind’s womb. Fifty years since the CIA made “conspiracy theorist” a derogatory term (if you believe some people). I planned to acknowledge the day with some kind of drinking game associated with the Zapruder film, but I couldn’t make it work.
Everyone remembers where they were when Kennedy died, but no one seems to be able to pinpoint the moment they were dragged into conspiracy land. I was ripe for it. I believe everything I hear for at least five seconds. And there’s something sexy about an intricate web of connections. Thankfully, I was exposed to Robert Anton Wilson’s playful brand of agnosticism at an early age and escaped delusion’s evil clutches.
So, of course, he just had to be tied into the JFK assassination.
Wilson, in his introduction to the Prankster and the Conspiracy, says he was accused of being a CIA “handler” by author Kerry Thornley, who was convinced that he had been the subject of MK-Ultra experiments along with his army buddy, (here it comes) Lee Harvey Oswald.
Thornley and Oswald were in the same Marine regiment in 1959. Later that year, Thornley was transferred to Japan, where he heard that Oswald had defected to the Soviet Union, an event that he fictionalizes in The Idle Warriors, a novel he finished in 1961. It was based on some of his companions in the Marines, with the main character as a kind of mish-mash of Oswald and himself, who defects at the end.
Because of The Idle Warriors, Thornley was called to testify before the Warren Commission in 1964 on his connection to the accused. The following year, he published Oswald, which endorsed the findings of the Warren Commission.
Thornley’s relationship with Wilson begins in 1967, two years after the production of the first edition of the Principia Discordia, the holy book of Discordianism, written by Malaclypse the Younger (Greg Hill) and Lord Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst (our friend, Kerry Thornley). Discordianism had been created by the two men in 1957, two years before Thornley met Oswald. It espouses that the true reality is one of chaos, and the order that we perceive in the universe is an illusion, created by our consciousness to help us cope with existence. It’s often compared with Zen. Robert Wilson became an enthusiastic convert to Discordianism and, along with Robert Shea, included the group in the Illuminatus! trilogy, a move that brought the religion into the realm of public discourse.
(As an interesting side note, Illuminatus! was part of the overarching Discordian project, “Operation Mindfuck,” which Thornley and Wilson participated in. One aspect of the project was the distribution of letters claiming to have been written by the “Bavarian Illuminati” to different religious organizations and conspiracy investigators. Soon after, investigative pieces concerning the Illuminati began to appear, some of which were not written by Discordians. This may very well be the catalyst of all the Illuminati conspiracy theories that have been going on ever since. For more on Operation Mindfuck and Wilson’s and Thornley’s involvement, see Jesse Walker’s Disinfo article, “Robert Anton Wilson and Operation Mindfuck.”
Pay attention, because this will all play into the story in a moment. I promise.)
Back to 1966 and the New Orleans District Attorney, Jim Garrison, who, after finding the Warren Commission’s report unsatisfying, had begun an exhaustive investigation into the Kennedy assassination. Oswald had spent some time in New Orleans before moving on to Dallas, and it was Garrison’s belief that the conspiracy had been developed there. The famous Oliver Stone film, JFK was based on Garrison’s book, On the Trail of the Assassins. He was played by Kevin Costner.
(Here’s a bizarre synchronicity: the first handful of copies of the Principia Discordia were originally printed in 1965 on the xerox copier in Jim Garrison’s office by Greg Hill and Lane Caplinger, who worked as a typist for Garrison.)
Garrison brings Thornley’s name up again during his investigation, this time he is accused of posing as Oswald in New Orleans in 1963, and engaging “in a variety of activities designed to create such a strong impression of Oswald’s instability and culpability in people’s minds that they would recall him as a suspicious character after the President was murdered.”
Thornley, in fact, had been in New Orleans in 1963, but claimed he wasn’t aware of Oswald’s presence. His alibi may rival Garrison’s “second Oswald” theory in pure weirdness, though.
According to Thornley, he spent his time in New Orleans planning to assassinate Kennedy alongside a man named “Slim Brooks” and his brother-in-law, a self-proclaimed Nazi who was known to Thornley only as “Gary Kirstein.” Their plans to kill the president were rudely interrupted when Oswald (or whoever) decided to kill him, themselves. In other words, he couldn’t have been involved in the conspiracy, because at the time, he was involved in another one that failed.
Operation Mindfuck’s effects started manifesting in the Garrison investigation when, in 1968, Allan Chapmen, one of Garrison’s assistants, began making statements to the media that the assassination was the work of the Bavarian Illuminati, and that the Discordians were a CIA front. Thornley and crew gleefully continued issuing statements from “the Illuminati,” some of which purposefully indicted him as an agent.
During Garrison’s investigation, Thornley always maintained his ignorance of Oswald’s stay in New Orleans and his own lack of involvement in the assassination conspiracy. But, interestingly, sometime in the mid 1970s, after the release of A.J. Weberman and Michael Canfield’s book, Coup d’Etat in America, Thornley began to think that maybe Garrison wasn’t completely wrong about all of his assertions.
Coup d’Etat in America looks into the story of the “three tramps” who were arrested in Dealy Plaza and released shortly thereafter. The book claimed that the tramps were Intelligence agents involved in the assassination plot, one being the famous CIA spook, E. Howard Hunt.
After seeing the photos of E. Howard Hunt in Coup d’Etat, Thornley became convinced that Gary Kirstein, his Nazi co-conspirator in New Orleans, was actually Hunt in deep cover. Around this time, he also began to describe having heard auditory hallucinations during his time in the Marines, the result of a government implant left at the base of his skull during his brainwashing at the hands of MK-Ultra.
Bringing these two “facts” together led Thornley to start wondering if he had maybe been an unwitting conspirator, after all, a mind-controlled slave of Hunt. He also started wondering if Discordianism was a CIA front, perpetrated by himself and his closest friends as a result of MK-Ultra mind control.
All of this came to light in 1992, when Thornley did an interview for A Current Affair, a popular television magazine. Between his 1970s revelations and the interview, he had come up with a number of theories explaining his involvement with the assassination and with U.S. Intelligence, including one where he was a product of a secret Nazi breeding program, which he learned through what he said was his “way of communicating with- I guess it’s the Intelligence community” by way of coded messages.
Kerry Wendell Thornley died in 1998 in Atlanta, Georgia, leaving behind him a convoluted heap of delusions, pranks, theories, and a new religion. In the midst of all of his delusional paranoia, he had managed to alienate his friends and accuse Robert Anton Wilson of being a CIA operative. I’m sure he left a lesson for us somewhere in there, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.
Most important of all though, he left us with a nagging voice in the back of our heads, telling us that maybe our most revered heroes are actually a part of the conspiracy, leading us around by our noses and turning us all into dupes.
Or he was just a crazy person in New Orleans at the wrong time.
Or (and here’s the one I like) it’s all some kind of elaborate Discordian initiation, where I solve a series of increasingly complex riddles that ultimately lead nowhere. I think I should be expecting a call from the Illuminati at any time.