Monday, January 26, 2015

Wesley Swift and the Church of Jesus Christ - Christian

Rev. Wesley Swift, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ - Christian

When Joe Jeffers was asked about British Israelism’s implications for non-Anglo-Saxon peoples, the preacher was always at pains to stress that he wasn’t a racist or an anti-Semite. Like most advocates of the doctrine, he maintained that he primarily preached God’s love for all humans, and that if anything, having a bloodline from the ancient Israelites made White Christians more obligated to behave gently and righteously towards people of color and modern-day Jews.

No such disclaimers troubled the career of Reverend Wesley Albert Swift, late of Lancaster, California. The founder of the Church of Jesus Christ – Christian, Swift spent over three decades proudly transforming British Israelism from a largely-harmless Biblical revisionist doctrine, into a racist ideology that portrayed non-Whites as sub-humans and Jews as Satanic schemers, and inspired religious-based terrorism that has claimed lives across the United States.

Like so many other Christian figures that have put their distinctive marks on the Golden State’s spiritual culture, Wesley Swift was an East Coast transplant. Born in 1913, he grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey, the son of Richard C. Swift. The elder Swift was a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church South, a sect that split from mainstream American Methodism because of the latter’s anti-slavery stance. 

In his teens, young Wesley heard the call to spread the Gospel, and his father’s Church licensed him as a preacher when he was a mere 18 years old. The freshly-ordained young minister then trod off to Los Angeles, where he studied at Philip E.J. Monson’s Kingdom Bible College. Monson was best known a representative of Howard Rand, the founder of the Anglo-Saxon Federation of America and an advocate of British Israelism.

"British Israelism" theologian Howard Rand

The form of British Israelism that Rand and Monson taught deviated sharply from the versions preached by Californian Christian leaders like Joe Jeffers, Gene Scott and the Armstrongs. Unlike original British Israelism, which claimed modern-day Jewish people – “the tribe of Judah” – were related to Saxons and Celts via the “Lost Tribes of Israel”, Rand and his followers taught that the Jews of the 20th Century were Canaanites – descendants of Isaac’s son Esau, who had lost his birthright as Patriarch of the Israelites to his brother Jacob, and had married outside the Abrahamic lineage. As a result, so-called “Jews” were actually Semitic impostors, whereas the true Israelites had been dispersed into Northern and Western Europe, and were the White race of today – a Chosen People blessed by God to dominate all His Creation.

Married to this was an even more sinister concept: the so-called “Two-Seed Theory”. In Randian British Israelism, this was the idea that Adam and Eve were the first true humans, created by God in about 7400 BC to have dominion over “the beasts of the field” – the prototype pseudo-humans who preceded them in the six days of creation, and who were identified with the non-White races. The fall from Eden came when Eve, yielding to the temptations of either Satan or a demonic entity in the form of the Serpent, mated with the creature and birthed Cain, the murderer of Adam’s birth son Abel. After killing his half-brother, the demon-child Cain then married into the Hittite beast-tribe, forming the Canaanite line that Esau later joined. 

The "Two-Seed" theory held that Canaanites
were the descendants of Eve and the Serpent

Although versions of the two-seed theory had been taught in ancient Jewish writings, as well as the Gnostic Gospel of Philip and other Christian Apocrypha, the early Church rejected the concept. But 20th Century fringe-Adventists like Rand rediscovered it, and used it to literally demonize Jews, seeing them as serpentine connivers and a pseudo-human pestilence that had lied and tricked the White race into economic and political servitude, and spiritual and racial alienation. Their racist and anti-Semitic variant of British Israelism told White Gentiles: You are the lost children of Israel. Throw off the yoke of false, Judaicized “Christianity” and reclaim your birthright as the Chosen People of God, and as the masters of the planet.

Swift absorbed and embraced this doctrine during the 1930s. For the rest of the decade he worked as an itinerant preacher, mounting the podium at any Southern California church that would host him, and bringing the Gospel of Randian British-Israelism to any audience that would listen. Swift’s best gig of the era was at Aimee Semple MacPherson’s Foursquare Temple, where he served as a warm-up act for the fading Pentecostal superstar.

Somewhere on the pastoral circuit, Swift met San Jacinto Capt, a California-based Baptist minister. Capt later claimed to have set up the young preacher’s first ministry in Temple City – a “Pyramid Study Group” where his flock, like so many other fringe-Adventists, delved into the mysteries of Egyptology and what they foretold for American and Christian destiny.

By the 1940s the racist British-Israelite doctrine promulgated by Swift didn’t exactly have mass-appeal in a nation fighting a total war against advocates of another Jew-bashing, master-race ideology. But the Southern Californian pastor attracted one major convert to his cause: the legendary preacher and rabble-rouser Gerald L.K. Smith.

Populist firebrand Gerald L. K. Smith
Originally a Disciples of Christ minister, Smith was a charismatic speaker and demagogue whom iconoclastic journalist H.L. Mencken called “the greatest orator of them all, not the greatest by an inch or a foot or a yard or a mile, but the greatest by at least two light years.” Smith first got involved in radical politics as an organizer for Louisiana Governor Huey Long’s Share Our Wealth movement.

When Long was assassinated in 1935, Smith took over the movement, and joined with controversial “radio priest” Father Charles Coughlin and pension-advocate Francis Townsend to form the Union Party, which ran populist Congressman William Lemke against Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1936 Presidential election. When Smith’s rhetoric became increasingly racist and anti-Semitic in the late 1930s, his former allies split with him, and during World War II the Federal Government tried (but failed to convict) him for sedition.

Smith met Wesley Swift in 1947, three years after the sedition trial. Impressed by the 34 year-old preacher, who he called an “eloquent and crusading clergyman,” Smith hired Swift initially as a bodyguard and chauffer, but soon made him the West Coast representative of his “Christian Nationalist Crusade,” and shared the pulpit with him on his California lecture tours. 

Poster advertising a talk by Smith and Swift in Hollywood

Still a potent speaker who could easily rally disaffected and angry Americans, Smith and his protégé filled Los Angeles’ Embassy Auditorium in 1949, as well as other venues across Southern California, one of which they claimed was picketed by “nearly 20,000 Reds and their Dupes.” Their talks merged nascent Cold War paranoia with “Biblically-based” anti-Semitic and White-Supremacist rhetoric drawn directly from British-Israelite sources. They asserted that America was under siege from Jewish Communists who were manipulating everything from Hollywood to race-relations in a plot to bring down White Christian civilization. 

But Wesley Swift wasn’t content to merely share a podium with Smith, and act as his California agent. Now a rising star of the postwar American far-Right, Swift was making waves across the state’s political and spiritual landscapes all by himself. In 1946 he attempted to resuscitate California’s dormant Ku Klux Klan when he burned a cross on a hillside near Big Bear Lake, and lectured to American Legion posts about “the new Klan” and its mission to save America from Communism and race-mixing. When the Attorney General’s office investigated Swift’s doings that year, it found that not only had he organized his own KKK faction, the Christian Knights of the Invisible Empire, but that he’d built a private rifle range in the backyard of his Lancaster ranch, and was conducting paramilitary training for Klansmen in the Antelope Valley desert. For his part, Swift refused to cooperate with the investigation.

Swift's formation of an Antelope Valley-based KKK chapter alarmed California officials

Around this time, Swift founded his own religious denomination: The Church of Jesus Christ – Christian. Originally known as the Anglo-Saxon Christian Congregation (in a seeming hat-tip to Howard Rand), the Church was formed specifically as the spiritual arm of his racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Communist crusade,  and dedicated to disseminating Swift’s version of British Israelism.

The denomination grew steadily throughout California in the 1950s, planting branches in San Francisco, Oakland, Lancaster, Riverside, Hollywood and San Diego. There was also a Church center in St. Petersburg, Florida under the Rev. Oren Potito, Swift’s East Coast coordinator and an organizer for the National States’ Rights Party, a Neo-Nazi/Klan fusionist group whose leaders would later serve time for bombing a Black church in Birmingham and a Jewish temple in Atlanta. Swift’s own lieutenant and co-preacher in California, the Rev. Charles “Connie” Lynch, also served as the NSRP’s state leader, as well as a “traveling parson” at Ku Klux Klan rallies across the South.

Swift’s most important associate in California, however, was William Potter Gale. Gale, formerly the youngest Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army during World War II and a close associate of General Douglas MacArthur, retired from the military in 1950 and worked afterwards as a securities trader. 

Col. William Potter Gale, in clerical garb

Introduced to Swift by San Jacinto Capt, Gale, who had organized the guerrilla resistance in the Philippines during the war, lent a distinctly paramilitary tone to Swift’s operations, helping the preacher found the Christian Defense League as an umbrella group to bring together the various religious and political far-Right groups that cross-pollinated in Swift’s world. Gale also started the California Rangers, a secretive guerrilla corps that acted as the Church and League’s armed militant wing.

As the Civil Rights movement gained steam, and the Fifties became the Sixties, the rhetoric of Swift, his associates, and his followers, got louder and more strident. Using British-Israelite exegesis, Swift insisted that God created the races not only separate but unequal in one publication called THE MYSTERY OF INIQUITY:

And God spoke out then, against these Hivites that came out of the Hittites. He spoke out against the Amorites, the Canaanites. He spoke out against the Perizzites, the Jebusites. And he told His people not to mix with them, not to have covenants with them, not to intermarry with them, for they would teach His people to serve other gods. They would have no spiritual capacity, and the spirit of God would not cohabit in any of their mixed-blood offspring. Such offspring, He said, would be totally unable to understand the truths of God. So God was calling for segregation!

Jews fared no better in Swift’s doctrines. The preacher was quoted as saying “All Jews must be destroyed,” and in a 1962 sermon, stated "the days are going to come when there's not going to be any of them (the JEWS)  in the United States either, because the Bible says so in the book of  Zechariah .... The destroyers of America (the JEWS) are going to discover that it's not the best place to remain inside of these United States, as America wakes up." Colonel Gale seconded his spiritual leader, ranting, “You got your nigger Jews, you got your Asiatic Jews and you got your white Jews. They’re all Jews, and they’re all the offspring of the Devil.”

Gale, who preached Swift’s teachings at his own Ministry of Christ Church in Glendale, later claimed that he coined a new term to describe this Jew-baiting, White-supremacist form of British-Israelite Adventism: Christian Identity. Like many other heterodox Christian doctrines, Christian Identity maintained that apocalyptic Biblical prophecy was being fulfilled in the modern world, and called on its followers to repent and join its struggle against principalities and powers of evil. Unlike most Christian millenarianism, however, the Identity creed prophesied that its believers would not be raptured into the Kingdom of God in the Last Days, but would have to fight to establish the Kingdom on Earth, in an all-out war against Satan’s worldly minions: the Communists, the “mud races,” and the Jews.

Some of Swift’s followers took his battle cry to heart. In August 1963, California Ranger George Joseph King Jr., the son of a retired Admiral, was busted for attempting to sell a .50 caliber machine gun and a British Sten submachine gun to undercover agents who posed as prospective Rangers. King allegedly assured the agents that he could get almost any type or amount of illegal weapon they desired. 

One year later, agents raided the Cucamonga home of Christian Defense League member William H. Garland, a self-described “patriot” who wanted to fight off “invaders,” and seized nearly 100 arms, including fully-operational machine guns, 105MM rockets, and bomb-making equipment. And in 1965 another Swift follower, Keith Gilbert, was caught with 1,400 pounds of stolen TNT; when asked what the explosives were for, he replied that he planned to blow up the Hollywood Palladium when Rev. Martin Luther King spoke there.

Alarmed, the California Attorney General’s office once again delved into Swift’s doings. In 1965 it issued a 100-page report, California Rangers, where it theorized that the Church of Jesus Christ – Christian was a front for the Rangers and a networking device for extremist organizations, and that both Swift and Gale were working to dominate the spiritual and political worlds of the Californian far Right. 

Not all Golden State ultra-Rightists, however, were impressed with Swift and his approach. Don Sisco, a onetime American Nazi Party member who would later gain notoriety writing survivalist manuals under the pen-name Kurt Saxon, recounted how underwhelmed he was with the pastor during a 1964 visit to his Hollywood church:

One night [Swift] raved, "There are 60,000 niggers training with guns in Arizona". A few months later the Watts riots broke out. Where were the "60,000 niggers"? Another time he said, "There are 60,000 Red Chinese hidden in Baja, California, brought over here by submarines". (He was hung up on the number 60,000).
Those in the audience were all southern Californians and had to know that Baja is a barren desert peninsula which couldn't hide or support 60,000 field mice, much less 60,000 Chinese troops. Besides, at that time, the Chinese had only 30 WW II subs, hardly enough or the type of vehicles to transport 60,000 men.
The thing that impressed me about this was, first, Swift was a liar. Second, his audience believed him, even though such lies were preposterous and could be believed only by an exercise in credulity. That is, training the mind to accept absurdities as a test of faith and loyalty, in a pathetic desire to belong.

No less a hard-Right avatar than John Birch Society leader Robert Welch also condemned Swift. In a paper called “The Neutralizers”, he charged that the preacher’s virulent anti-Semitism and fanatical Christian-Identity preaching were alienating potential allies in the fight against Communism. The Bircher chief felt Swift was an embarrassment to the patriotic American Right, and thought it would be a grievous strategic victory for the Reds if “everybody else should come to believe everything he is teaching.”

Yet Swift’s message was still getting through, far beyond the confines of his Southern California home territory. Lacking the national-radio pulpit of predecessors like Father Coughlin, Swift instead took advantage of a new technology to spread his doctrines: cassette-tape recordings. Although not nearly as gifted or forceful a speaker as Coughlin or Smith, Swift nevertheless had a singular talent for explaining Christian Identity concepts in his sermons, and he regularly recorded them, then duplicated the tapes onto cassettes and sold them to followers across America. 

As the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the general Zeitgeist of the Sixties drove White racism out of the respectable American mainstream, there still remained a considerable audience for these tapes. “Listening parties” were held across the besieged Southern states, where far-Right radicals terrified by the end of Black segregation and White supremacy found in Swift‘s preaching a righteous spiritual rationale for fighting back against what they saw as a Godless Communist takeover of the country.

In the book The Awful Grace of God: Religious Terrorism, White Supremacy, and the Unsolved Murder of Martin Luther King, Jr., authors Stuart Wexler and Larry Hancock made the case that Swift’s taped sermons, along with the agitation campaigns of Church preachers like Connie Lynch and Oren Potito, and the crimes of their followers in the KKK and the NSRP, were intended to provoke a race war that would spread from the beleaguered South into all of the United States, and would bring about Federal repression, a full-scale revolution, and the eventual victory of White Christendom over the forces of Communism, Zionism and “race mongrelization.” 

Using previously-unreleased FBI records, the authors also revealed that Swift’s Church of Jesus Christ Christian acted as a front for the Army of White American Kingdom Evangelists (AWAKE), a militant British-Israelite activist organization. AWAKE in turn supplied its most talented agitators to “The Christian Knights”, an elite paramilitary whose inner core members were groomed for terrorism against Black, Jewish and Left-wing leaders and groups. 

Mug shot of Thomas Albert Tarrants III

One of these core members was Thomas Albert Tarrants III, a young Klansman who bought a rifle from Swift with the expressed purpose of using it to kill the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and who was  imprisoned after a bloody 1968 shootout with Mississippi cops.  Wexler and Hancock believe that Tarrants, who later repented of his violent racism and became an Evangelical minister, was part of an underground KKK/NSRP terror network that had taken to heart Swift’s cassette- and pamphlet-driven White-supremacist teachings, and had made the killing of King a primary mission since the early 1960s. This network, they maintain, had provided James Earl Ray, who would later be convicted of the civil rights leader’s assassination, with financial incentive to commit the murder, as well as cover within its ranks. If true, this made Swift the intellectual author of, if not an active co-conspirator in, one of the greatest crimes in American history.

Yet back in Lancaster, Swift’s physical ministry was fading rapidly. Observers of the time noted that while the preacher could still fill meeting halls, he wasn’t able to hold onto a solid cadre of Californian followers, and his string of churches across the state rapidly began to close down. A big blow came when Gerald L.K. Smith dissociated himself from Swift’s organization, and migrated to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where he built a “religious theme park” that featured a 67 foot-tall statue of Jesus (“The Christ of the Ozarks”) and a 4,100-seat amphitheater that hosts an annual Passion Play based on the one in Oberammergau, Germany.

In 1965, further troubles came when Swift quarreled with William Potter Gale about the Christian Defense League and its role in their operations. The Colonel-cum-Reverend split with Swift shortly thereafter, claiming years later that he thought the Lancaster preacher was “a pig,” and that he had defrauded some of his most loyal followers in an investment deal. Gale continued to preach Christian Identity doctrines for the next twenty years at his own Ministry of Christ church, now relocated to a Gold Country ranch near Mariposa, California.

Before his departure, however, Gale introduced Swift to a middle-aged, Los Angeles-based aerospace engineer who would later, help make the Church of Jesus Christ – Christian, under an appended name, synonymous with American White-racist crime and terrorism.

The engineer was Richard Girnt Butler. Born in 1918, Butler had studied at Los Angeles City College in the 1930s, during which he had also been a member of William Dudley Pelley’s Silver Legion fascist paramilitary. Later, he joined the California Rangers, and it was Commandant Gale who told Butler that the Lancaster preacher had the goods on who and what was really behind the Reds and their assorted ill-doings.

As Butler recalled years later: “I finally agreed to go there [Swift’s church] one time. And I must say, when Dr. Swift spoke, he spoke in Technicolor. The words came out and you could just see in living color what he was talking about. You could – he was a master orator, just a master orator.” Independently wealthy from patents and other sources, Butler moved to Palmdale, just south of Swift’s ranch in Lancaster, and soon became a force in the now-dwindling California ranks of the Church.

Although he still regularly preached sermons and distributed tapes, Wesley Swift was seriously ill by the end of the Sixties. He had long suffered from diabetes, untreated since he distrusted the “Jewish” American medical system. When he finally sought help at a Tijuana clinic, he expired in their waiting room of a heart attack on October 8, 1970, aged 57 years. Swift’s wife Olive Lorraine remained at the helm of his Lancaster operation for the next four decades, continuing to circulate his materials until her own death at 85 in 2005.

With Gale and Smith out of the picture, Butler took over as the heir apparent to not only the Church of Jesus Christ – Christian, but also to the multinational network of White racists and radical-Right militants to whom Swift ministered. As Seventies Los Angeles rapidly became a multiracial and politically liberal city, symbolized by Black Democrat Tom Bradley’s 1973 election as mayor, Butler abandoned Southern California, and moved his family and the Church to a 20-acre ranch near Hayden Lake, Idaho in April 1974. 

In Idaho, Butler renamed Swift’s organization the Church of Jesus Christ Christian – Aryan Nations, although it would become best known as simply “Aryan Nations.” To befit the neo-Nazi implications of the name, Swift adopted a standard for the Church that combined the cross-and-sword and Rebel-flag motifs of the American Christian far-Right, with the Wolfsangel – the “hook rune” associated with Third Reich symbolism. 

Richard Butler, backed by the Aryan Nations symbol

Butler also surrounded himself with paramilitary guards clad in blue shirts, black trousers, and Sam Browne belts, and sporting regalia reminiscent of Hitler’s Stormtroopers and SS men. These guards, many of whom were drawn from the White-racist fringe of the Skinhead subculture, maintained order at Butler’s Church services, as well as at the “Aryan Nations World Congresses” – annual rallies on the property that attracted hundreds of neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and ultra-Right radicals from across the Western world. At the Congresses, attendees swapped Nazi salutes, burned crosses, and listened to sermons by Butler, whose rhetoric was becoming even more militant than his mentor’s in the post-Sixties, racially-integrated America he inhabited and feared.

Among other the doctrines he preached, Butler became one of the first advocates of the “White Homeland” concept. He believed that if “race conscious” European-American people moved en masse to Idaho, Oregon and Washington, they could form a new White nation that would eventually secede from the increasingly-multiracial United States, and become a sort of Identity-Christian Israel. Unfortunately, most of Butler’s hardcore followers were Southerners who spurned the call to resettle in the rainy Northwest, and he contented himself with a few dozen adherents living in and around the Idaho Panhandle.

Aryan Nations member and White-supremacist
terrorist Robert Mathews

Although Butler was careful to never openly advocate violence, some of his followers took his militant preaching to its logical extreme. They formed Northwest-based gangs, and terrorized Jews, people of color, government officials, and other Identity enemies throughout the region. The most notorious of these was “The Silent Brotherhood,” or simply, “The Order”: an underground neo-Nazi group led by Hayden Lake regular Robert Mathews. The Order staged armed robberies and murders throughout the Northwest, until Mathews was gunned down on Washington State’s Whidbey Island on December 8, 1984, after a 36-hour police siege. 

Butler and his followers faced an American government and populace far less tolerant of racism, anti-Semitism, and politically-motivated violence than Wesley Swift had back in the Sixties. After the Whidbey Island siege, Federal, state and local law enforcement started a campaign of surveillance and infiltration of the Hayden Lake compound, and the national media became a constant presence just outside Church gates, especially during the World Congresses. 

Butler’s meager empire was an obvious target for anti-racist activists as well, and it eventually crumbled under their attentions. When Aryan Nations security guards assaulted a woman and her son in 1998, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization that monitors American “hate groups”, took the Church to court on her behalf, and won a $6.3 million judgment against them in 2001. Bankrupted, the Church turned its Hayden Lake center, along with other assets, over to the plaintiff. Shortly thereafter North Idaho College gained control of the compound, then destroyed its buildings and turned the land into a “peace park”.

Back in California, former Wesley Swift associate William Potter Gale’s Christian-Identity church also collapsed under government and media pressure. Although his Mariposa-based Ministry of Christ had eschewed Butler’s openly-Nazi sympathies, and he hadn’t drawn nearly as many thugs and crazies into his orbit as the Idaho preacher had, Gale was still very much a radical, and in 1984 formed the Committee of the States, a coalition of ultra-Right groups that called for the end of the income tax and the total replacement of the U.S. government. 

In 1986, Federal officials, who had linked the Committee and Ministry to paramilitary training and other illegal doings in California, raided Gale’s 100-acre Manasseh Ranch, arrested the frail 70 year-old Colonel and charged him and several associates with conspiracy to overthrow the government and murder its employees. Although eventually convicted, the ailing Gale was credited with jail time already served and avoided Federal imprisonment. He died on April 28, 1988, and received a military burial with honors; with his passing, the Ministry faded into history.

Memorial graphic for Col. Gale

As for Richard Butler, he fell victim to a political struggle within the Aryan Nations, and was deposed from its leadership. Still, he remained the spiritual head of the Christian Identity movement, a celebrity in the White-racist subculture who stayed active in the fringe-Right underworld until his death at 86 in 2004. 

Today at least three separate factions claim leadership of the Aryan Nations remnant. One, formerly led by South Carolina-based August Kreis III, preaches a mixture of Christian Identity, Islamic, Wiccan and Norse Pagan theology. Kreis made national headlines in 2005 when he proposed an alliance between Aryan Nations and al-Qaeda; imprisoned shortly thereafter, he quit the movement and passed his mantle onto Drew Bostwick.

A second faction, Aryan Nations Revival in upstate New York, is allied with the so-called “Phineas Priesthood”: an unorganized subculture of White-racist militants named after the Biblical hero of Numbers 25 who murdered an Israelite and his Midianite lover for their “race-mixing.” Members of this shadowy movement have been implicated in bank robberies and various other crimes.

Louisianan Morris Gulett leads the most visible Aryan Nations rump group. A convicted bank robber, Gulett has organized his own faction with tripartite membership for “Skinheads,” Klan-connected “Knights”, and outlaw-biker “SS-MC” subgroups. 

When looking at photos of the heavily-tattooed, hard-bitten Gulett, and the various other present-day Aryan-Nations would-be leaders and followers, one can’t help but marvel at how far Christian Identity has strayed from its origins among lower-middle-class White Protestants, and now largely constitutes an outlaw subculture that ministers to the criminal fringes of Euro-American society. 

Still, whether its tenets are shouted on the cell block, preached in country churches, or downloaded from the Internet, the Identity doctrines of Wesley Swift and his successors will no doubt enjoy a long half-life among alienated and angry Anglo-Americans. With Caucasians destined to become a numerical minority within the United States during the 21st Century, there will no doubt be White Americans ready to see in themselves, as Swift did, a Chosen People being chastised by their Lord for their impiety and sinfulness, much as the ancient Israelites were during the Babylonian Captivity. 

Whether one sees in Christian Identity a clarion-call to a people dispossessed of a distinct spiritual and cultural identity, or a dangerous and demented warrant for murder and terror in God’s name, one must acknowledge how well Swift and his followers re-invented the Old Testament mythos of the oppressed-yet-superior Holy Tribe for consumption in an increasingly racially-divided modern nation. Only time will tell how far and wide its influence will be felt.

The Wesley Swift Library (sermons and other materials from Swift and his cohorts)

Church of Jesus Christ - Christian/Aryan Nations (Kreis/Bostwick faction)
Church of Jesus Christ - Christian/Aryan Nations (Gulett faction)
Seymour, Cheri. Committee of the States: Inside the Radical Right. Mariposa, CA: Camden Place Communications, 1991.
Swift, Wesley A. The Mystery of Iniquity. Marietta, GA: The Thunderbolt, n.d.
Wexler, Stuart and Hancock, Larry. The Awful Grace of God: Religious Terrorism, White Supremacy, and the Unsolved Murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2012.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Incest and Homosexual Church of the Universe

Lot and His Daughters (John Smith, ca 1720) -- a depiction of the Bible's most famous incestuous coupling

During the early 1990s, in a downtown Los Angeles retirement complex, a former United Church of Christ minister carried on a lonely battle against the ultimate sexual taboo.

Carl York Schmidt, founder and bishop of the four-member Incest and Homosexual Church of the Universe, believed he could overturn what he saw as humanity's woeful ignorance and super­stition about kinship sexual relations.  Himself a married heterosexual, Schmidt claimed that both Scriptural and scientific evidence supported his contention that incest is harmless.

And he thought that the world was ready for his controversial message.  A Harvard Divinity School graduate and former minister in the United Church of Christ, the 80-year old Bishop Schmidt told the author he'd operated openly for many years, conversing with total strangers about his Church.

Said Schmidt, "I was surprised to find a Spanish man in the senior complex I live in -- a college-educated man, I think -- who, when I mentioned that incest does no harm, said, 'Of course not!  Anybody who does any reading in this should know it'. 

"I was in the hospital the other day, and I happened to show somebody my calling card, and she said, 'Well, that's interesting. It is true that there's no harm in incest, certainly in most cases.'"

Why was he so optimistic?  For one thing, he had already lived to see one supposedly universal and timeless sexual taboo lose most of its power.

Originally his ministry worked to legitimize homosexuality alone, back when same-sex relations were still looked on with the same kind of revulsion and horror reserved for same-family relations these days.

A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Schmidt had taken a doctorate of Theology from Harvard University, and had gone on to teach at Nashville’s Lipscomb University, and serve at the pulpit of the United Church of Christ. When the US entered World War II, the 30 year-old Schmidt preached against the conflict in the name of non-violence, and refused to join the military, or support its efforts.

Around this time, he began to doubt the truth of the Christian faith in which he’d been raised. As he said later, “I have studied the Bible carefully. My sober conclusions are that it was written by several people over many years and there is no God….I was a strong Christian and I was baptized when I was 14 years old. I have read the New Testament 37 times and Old Testament three times besides Bible studies. My reasons for discounting God are many.”

Schmidt pointed to the inconsistencies of Scripture, and the seemingly uncaring – if not sadistic – acts of the Biblical God, and maintained that the Good Book was exclusively the product of men. No Divine Being could possibly be behind such a mass of contradictions, cruelties, and absurdities, he maintained.

Yet Schmidt was still a trained minister who felt a call to preach – even if his message was essentially Godless and humanistic. In the 1950s, the only American organization with Christian credentials that could accommodate such a perspective was the Unitarian Universalist Church, and Schmidt moved to Los Angeles and took the local UU Church’s pulpit. 

A landmark to the Southland’s leftist/alternative community that hosted a never-ending parade of activists and heretics through its portals, the First UU Church was graced during Schmidt's tenure by a young, talented, male organist who was beloved by one and all. That organist was Bob Hull, cofounder of the Mattachine Society, an organization that discretely advocated for gay rights in the closeted pre-Stonewall era.

Disenchanted with the Unitarians, whom he believed “had (not only) lost faith in God but…had lost faith in humanity too,” Reverend Schmidt left Los Angeles for several years, and resumed his UCC ministry, albeit as a somewhat-closeted unbeliever. When he returned for a visit in 1971, he found out that Hull had committed suicide over an unrequited love affair.  It turned out that the young Hull had been in love with another young man, who'd gone and married a woman. 

This startled the Reverend.  He wasn't naïve – he knew about the games boys played with each other in adolescence.  But he was astounded that those feelings could persist into adulthood, and create such shame and pain that people could kill themselves when their desires were frustrated. 

Returning to his UCC ministry in Denver, Colorado, Schmidt asked a high-ranking "conference minister" if the homosexual sex act was contrary to Christian teachings.  Schmidt was stunned when his superior told him that being gay was acceptable under UCC doctrine, and that he might well profit by setting up a ministry to reach gays with the Christian message of love and tolerance.

Intrigued by this possibility, Schmidt studied the Bible for references to homosexuality.  Though the Old Testament had numerous condemnations of same-sex relations (particularly in Leviticus), only one passage in the New Testament -- Romans 1:26 -- seemed to look askance on the practice.  Reading the Four Gospels, and noting how often Jesus Christ's teachings seemed to supersede or reverse Moses', Schmidt decided that gay sex acts -- like non-kosher foods and other Pentateuchal peccadillos -- were really forbidden only to the Jews.  The New Testament made them okay for Christians.

While studying Genesis, Schmidt began to realize that an even bigger taboo was presented in a much different light than he'd suspected.  Researching the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and finding that the townspeople's "strange sin" was mistreatment of visitors rather than homosexual intercourse, Schmidt began to wonder about Lot and his daughters.  Here was a clear-cut instance of a real no-no -- incest -- being practiced under Jehovah's seeming approval.  Granted, Lot's daughters had gotten Dad drunk and seduced him, but no condemnation occurred.  What was going on?

Reading further, Schmidt found incest in the lives of some of the Bible's greatest figures.  In Genesis 20:12, Abraham married his half-sister Sarah, and instead of being damned by Jehovah like so many other Old Testament characters, went on to found the Jewish tribal-nation.  Later on, another product of an incestuous marriage was none other than Moses, whose father Amram married his aunt.

Even the story of Adam and Eve implied kinship coupling. If Eve was the mother of all living, where did Cain and Seth's wives come from? 

Schmidt felt he was onto something big, and expanded his ministry to include people in incestuous relationships.  Of course he realized such couplings were illegal, and made it clear that he did not advocate breaking the law.  But he felt that the laws against the practice were no different than the laws against "sodomy": statutes grounded in ignorance of true Biblical content, as well as in 19th Century Victorian anti-sex pseudoscience, and the general prejudice against "the different" of any society. 

Schmidt joined the gay-oriented Metropolitan Community Church as an associate member, hoping to learn from their practices how to form a pro-homosexual ministry.  But the onetime Unitarian was dismayed by what he saw as an attempt to structure theology around same-sex relations.  He felt that religious convictions were a private decision, and that his mission was concerned more about people's behavior than their beliefs.

Exploring Denver's ecclesiastical options, Schmidt fell in with Mark Harding's Catholic Life Church.  An independent "Old Catholic" bishop with a checkered, controversial career, Harding accepted Schmidt's pro-homosexual cause and took him on as an assistant, but tensions between the two men eventually produced a falling-out and dissociation. 

Rev. Carl York Schmidt (r), around the time he founded Denver's Homosexual Church of the Universe

Soon, Schmidt formed his own group – allegedly with the blessing and support of the United Christian Church.  He named it "The Homosexual Church of the Universe”, and worked to legitimize Christian homosexuality throughout the 1970s in Colorado.

In a state still notorious for anti-gay sentiment, Schmidt found his ministry both rewarding and highly controversial.  He claimed to have received over 60,000 phone calls during his nine-year Denver tenure; the sheer volume of interest made him wonder if the famous Kinseyan "ten percent" figure was, if anything, a gross underestimate of society's gay presence.  He was on numerous radio and TV talk shows as well, parrying attacks by Fundamentalist Christians both behind the mike and over the phone lines.

Schmidt also found himself at the center of an embarrassing sex scandal. In January 1972 he was arrested, and accused of fellating two underage Denver boys, one of whom was a mere fourteen years old. Although he didn’t admit his guilt, the sexagenarian divinity defended intergenerational sex as “healthy” in The Advocate, the gay-oriented newspaper that reported on the case. When the case came to trial, Schmidt pleaded nolo contendere, and got a suspended sentence and $300 fine.

Schmidt returned to Los Angeles in 1982.  While teaching at Los Angeles City College, he slowly shifted the group's emphasis to incest, since he realized that homosexuality had become far more acceptable in American society since he'd started his ministry eleven years earlier.  Though the AIDS crisis had caused some backlash, Schmidt believed that gays and lesbians had more than enough large, powerful groups working on their behalf. 

So he began to concentrate on demythifying incest, as he had homosexuality, and renamed his ministry “The Incest and Homosexual Church of the Universe”.  Schmidt was careful to explain that he defined "incest" as marriage between closely-related, consenting adults. He had only pity and scorn for child molesters and rapists. 

As he put it, "Coitus by force is rape, but it's still coitus. Like both kinship marriage and molestation, the same act of incest takes place, but they're two different things."  (So much have the two been confused that Schmidt had considered changing his church's name to "The Church of Kinship Marriage," to avoid "incest"'s child-exploitation connotations.)

The Los Angeles incest ministry had been much more low-profile than the Denver homosexuality mission.  For one thing, close-kin sexual relations were far more controversial.  "There are many, many people who agree with us," Schmidt said, "but they don't dare show their faces to the public.  They'd be accused of being incestuous; there'd be calls for investigations, bad publicity, etc., so they just don't dare." 

But Schmidt never acted as if he had anything to hide.  He was aboveboard and public in promoting the Church, insisting that he has never advocated actually committing incest, a felony in most states.  The Church's phone number was even listed in the Los Angeles phone book's Yellow Pages!

One regular on the Church hotline was an anonymous non-member who gleefully spun tales of a long-standing affair with own his mother.  Schmidt didn't know the man's identity, nor did he want to.  If he did, he would have been legally obliged to turn him in to the police as a felon.  All he could do for such callers was to suggest legal alternatives, such as moving to countries where kinship marriage was not punished as severely, if at all.

Church services were held on Sundays at Schmidt's downtown apartment.  Usually there were only one or two attendees present. Meetings included a communion ritual with water -- the "universal element" -- instead of wine, and the singing of a pro-gay hymn that Schmidt composed to the tune of "America the Beautiful": "For love of man for man/All thee we rise and stand...." 

Even though his ministry languished in obscurity, Bishop Schmidt felt that the times would eventually catch up with his controversial ideas, and that kinship marriage would be regarded as the same kind of legitimate and -- possibly even mainstream-church approved -- lifestyle option that homosexuality had become. The octogenarian Bishop believed that California, the West's traditional launching pad for leading-edge ideas, was an ideal place to de-demonize the ultimate sexual taboo, and maintained his lonely mission through his eighties.

Like so many other liberal Christian ministers, Schmidt incorporated teachings from other faiths into his Church.  He favored Buddhism, possibly the only major world faith that didn't specifically condemn incest.  Bishop Schmidt advocated Buddhist-style meditation, citing the faith's almost complete lack of crusades, witch-hunts or jihads as a natural result of the inner peace the practice produced.

Schmidt as Buddhist monk Nashville Samitha, circa 2000.
True to his convictions, Schmidt eventually took refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, joining North Hollywood's Sarathchandra Buddhist Center as a monk sometime in the early 1990s. He took on the monastic name Nashville Samitha, as a tribute to both his birthplace and his original surname, which had often been Anglicized as Smith.  

Venerable Schmidt/Samitha spent the rest of his life at the Center, passing into the Void on June 7, 2005 at the age of 94. He left nothing save for his earthly remains, which he donated to the USC Medical School, and a legacy as the onetime primate of one of the strangest religious sects to ever grace California.

Bishop Carl York Schmidt, interview with the author, Los Angeles, 1991
Hughes, David. "Profile: Wallace de Ortega Maxey." The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Religious Archives Network, 9/11/2013.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Manly P. Hall and the Philosophical Research Society

Manly Palmer Hall -- an occult Magus at 27.

He was the Grand Old Man of Southern Californian occultism.

During his unprecedented 70-year career, he delivered over 8,000 lectures, authored over 150 books and monographs, and wrote countless millions of words in periodicals. A self-taught authority in subjects ranging from alchemy to Eastern religion to symbolism, he amassed in his lifetime thousands of rare and obscure books, manuscripts and documents, and created one of the world’s biggest private libraries of religious and metaphysical titles. And he was one of the first authors and speakers to cast a light on the Western spiritual tradition’s more esoteric corners, and make its doctrines accessible and applicable to three generations of seekers through his lectures and his books, as well as the organization he founded.

His name was Manly Palmer Hall, and the organization that promoted both his teachings, and those of the sages and seers who he brought into the modern world, was the Philosophical Research Society. No occult figure of the 20th century matched his literary output or his durability, and although his Society lacked the global reach of groups like the Theosophists and the Rosicrucians, his writings made him one of the era’s most influential metaphysical authors.

Hall’s life touched quintessentially Californian themes. After he arrived in L.A., he cast off his humble past, and reinvented himself as a guru and prophet in the region’s wide-open spiritual marketplace. He rediscovered ancient ways to expand consciousness, and indulged in unorthodox health treatments. He marketed his ideas to Hollywood, and saw them take shape on screen and reach mass audiences. And, tragically, he ended his life in the shadow of intrigue and violence, as a victim of one of the Southland’s many officially unsolved murders.

Like his fellow Angeleno avatar Aimee Semple McPherson, Hall was an Ontarian Canadian by birth. Abandoned by his mother in infancy, Hall was raised by his grandmother, and spent his childhood crisscrossing the United States with her. A voracious reader from an early age, Hall nevertheless ended his formal schooling after the sixth grade, and wound up in New York during his teens, where he found work as a Wall Street clerk. There, he also hung out at the Martinka Brothers’ “House of a Thousand Memories” store, a stage-magician’s supply emporium where the great illusionist Harry Houdini held court. At the store, Hall often debated the famed conjurer about magic, insisting that Houdini’s hard-nosed, materialistic approach to phenomenology failed to explain all that was truly mysterious and miraculous in the world.

When his grandmother died in 1919, the 18-year old Hall quit his job, and moved to Los Angeles. There, he reunited with his mother, who had remarried after a career as a chiropractic healer in the Alaskan gold fields, and settled in Santa Monica.

In Los Angeles, Hall met Sydney J. Brownson, an elderly phrenologist who had dedicated his life to esoteric studies after having a mystical experience in the midst of a Civil War battle. Impressed by Hall’s interest in spiritual arcana, as well as his obvious intelligence, Brownson took on Hall as a personal student, and taught him a wide variety of occult lore.

Noting that the handsome, articulate, quick-thinking young man had a natural gift for speaking, Brownson invited him to give a talk before a small meeting in Santa Monica. At the gathering, Hall spoke on reincarnation, and then passed the hat, collecting sixty-five cents from the eight attendees. It was the first of Hall’s thousands of paid lectures.

Weeks later, Hall got a chance to speak at the Church of the People, a liberal, neo-Transcendentalist sect based in downtown Los Angeles. He was an immediate hit with the congregation, who had just been abandoned by their regular minister and desperately needed a new leader who shared their metaphysical interests. When they offered him leadership of the church, the teenaged occult scholar accepted the post, and soon not only manned the pulpit, but counseled elderly church members.

A young Manly P. Hall, sporting his Rosicrucian cross.

Although wholly untrained in pastoral work, Hall discharged his ministerial duties with aplomb. Years later, he recalled: “I didn’t know exactly why I was leading a church, but it was one of those accidents or circumstances of fortune that you do not question…[W]hen these people came to me with their problems, I sat back with the supreme wisdom of a teenager and told them what I thought common sense would dictate, what seemed to me reasonable. And it worked in many cases.” The faithful at Church of the People must been satisfied, since they soon gave their young pastor a Rosicrucian cross of gold, platinum and diamonds as a gift for his services.

At the Church, Hall began to develop both the metaphysical philosophy and speaking style that would characterize his life’s work. In his 90-minute talks to the congregation, he would stick to one topic, yet draw on Egyptian mythology, Christian mysticism, Classical philosophy, Theosophy, and many other sources of spiritual wisdom to illustrate points. He portrayed God as an invisible creative principle permeating the universe and expressing itself in the material world, with its essential nature veiled in the symbols and rituals of humanity’s religious faiths and secret societies. This God rewarded balance, moderation, and healthy habits, and punished evildoers with karmic retribution. Sometimes, he said, God would bring forth special people – saints, mystics, Boddhisattvas – to teach these principles to the rest of humanity through their words and actions.

Around this time, Hall began to assemble a private library of religious and spiritual lore. His aim was to create a comprehensive survey of occult teachings across the centuries, from different civilizations and faith traditions, and find the common themes in them. Using both these writings and his own talks for material, he also started publishing a monthly periodical, All-Seeing Eye, as well as illustrated booklets on topics like shamanism, ancient mystery schools, and Freemasonry.

The All-Seeing Eye, Hall's monthly journal of occult teachings.

 The printed matters, and his popular weekly talks at the Church, brought Hall attention in influential circles. Augusta Heindel, the widow of Rosicrucian Fellowship founder Max Heindel, noted the young scholar’s interest in and knowledge about the Fraternitas Rosae Crucis, and made him welcome at the sect’s hilltop compound in Oceanside. More importantly, Hall befriended oil heiress Caroline A. Lloyd and her daughter Alma Estelle, who hosted his lectures at their palatial home in L.A.’s Los Feliz district, and paid him a generous stipend for his work. They would also leave him handsome legacies in their wills.

The Lloyd money freed Hall for full-time research and writing, and allowed him to travel the world, seeking arcane lore and lecturing audiences in Asia and Europe. When he returned, he made All-Seeing Eye a weekly publication that featured news of mysterious and miraculous doings from around the globe. He also ramped up his work on a full-length book about the wisdom traditions of the world, and spent four hours each day dictating it to a stenographer. Hall promised that when it was published, the book would be “the most elaborate and most beautiful volume ever printed on the West Coast.”

After seven years of work on the book, he pitched it to San Francisco publisher H.S. Crocker. The firm agreed to publish it, assigned famed book designer John Henry Nash to do the graphics, and then sank an estimated $150,000 into the project. Much of the initial publishing cost was raised from advance sales.

When the book finally appeared in 1928, it stunned the publishing and metaphysical worlds. Published as Encyclopedic Outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic and Rosicrucian Symbolical Philosophy, it would become better known by the title The Secret Teachings of All Ages.

Hall's masterwork. Over one million copies are in print.

 An atlas-sized tome with dense script, and Roman numerals for page numbers, The Secret Teachings of All Ages was an exhaustive survey of esoteric teachings and lore. The book covered a dazzling variety of topics: ancient Egypt, the Pythagorean School, Freemasonry, Christian mysticism, Kabbalah, alchemy, Rosicrucianism, Native American traditions, symbolism, and the occult powers of gemstones and precious metals, to name a few. The volume also featured over 200 black-and-white illustrations copied from rare alchemical manuscripts and similar curiosa, and 54 full-color plates by famed illustrator J. Augustus Knapp that depicted Gnostic deities, glowing angelic beings, Atlantean temples, alchemical rituals, mystery-school initiations, Buddhist mandalas, and similarly fantastic subjects.

Nobody had ever seen anything like The Secret Teachings of All Ages. It was almost as if a fairy-tale wizard’s Book of Secrets and Spells had been published, and could be had by anyone with $100 in their pocket. The book’s first two editions quickly sold out, and it garnered rave reviews, as well as reams of media attention for its 27-year old author, who had suddenly become the hottest property on the late-Twenties American lecture circuit.  

By 1930, Hall was being hailed as one of the world’s most promising young thinkers and scholars. It didn’t hurt that he had not only a considerable intellect and writing talent, and a commanding presence as a speaker, but also movie-star good looks. Photos of him from the time show a tall, powerfully-built man with a high forehead and long, wavy dark hair, fixing the camera with a piercing stare worthy of a Blavatsky or a Rasputin. Hall often played up his Byronesque image by wearing a cape, and an observer from that time remembered the young autodidact sweeping into a bookstore one day with his entourage in tow, nodding to books on the shelves that his acolytes would instantly fetch for his perusal.

That year, he married Fay B. de Ravenne, his secretary of five years who had transcribed The Secret Teachings of All Ages from his dictation. But the marriage proved to be an unhappy one, as Hall was away much of the time, speaking to capacity audiences in Chicago, New York and other distant cities while his young wife suffered from various physical ailments and depression. (Eventually Fay committed suicide, leaving behind a note that said she was heartsick, sleepless, and desired only death. After her passing, Hall never mentioned her in public again.)

Sample page from the Ripley Scroll (Yale University copy)

Still, the young scholar pressed on. Now flush with cash from lectures and book sales, he traveled through Depression-era Europe and bought up rare alchemical manuscripts and occult treatises at cut-rate prices. Hall picked up original works by legendary mages like the Comte de Ste. Germain, Nicolas Flamel, and Michael Maier, and also obtained a copy of the fabulous Ripley Scroll – a 20-foot long, hand-painted 17th century alchemical treatise packed with colorful esoteric symbolism.

Hall didn’t obtain such items merely as collectible investment pieces to be hidden in some vault or closet. He wanted to bring their doctrines to the Twentieth Century, which in his opinion, had casually discarded far too much historical teaching in the name of modernization, and desperately needed to hear the ancient spiritual traditions’ perennial truths. Mainstream academia, he said, was dominated by scientism and materialism – a new University of Wisdom was needed to create “the center of a new way of life in the midst of the great Pacific theater of the future.”

To realize this ideal, Hall founded the Philosophical Research Society in 1934. The Society’s stated purpose was to assist “thoughtful persons to live more graciously and constructively in a confused and troubled world. The Society is entirely free from educational, political, or ecclesiastical control. Dedicated to an idealistic approach to the solution of human problems, the Society's program stresses the need for the integration of religion, philosophy, and the science of psychology into one system of instruction. The goal of this instruction is to enable the individual to develop a mature philosophy of life, to recognize his proper responsibilities and opportunities, and to understand and appreciate his place in the unfolding universal pattern.”

That year, the PRS bought a ¾-acre lot in Los Angeles’ fashionable Los Feliz district from a holding company for a paltry ten dollars. British architect Robert B. Stacy-Judd, famed for his quasi-ancient-Egyptian/Mayan structures which dotted Southern California’s landscape, contributed the design for the site’s main building. In a midnight ceremony timed to coincide with an astrological alignment, Hall laid the cornerstone for the building; when it was eventually completed it became the library and publishing center for the Society, and also housed his personal office.

Color publicity still from When Were You Born? starring Anna May Wong

 But Hall’s ambitions reached beyond the lecture circuit and library reading room. By the late 1930s, he was writing screenplays based on occult lore, hoping to take messages of ancient wisdom to Hollywood and a movie-going audience. Warner Brothers took his cinematic aspirations seriously enough to hire him as a story-developer, and even produced one of his scripts – When Were You Born? – as a feature movie. The film, which starred Anna May Wong as a detective, was an astrological mystery story whose twelve main characters each represented a different sign of the Zodiac. Although the movie had a gala premiere that featured movie starts mingling with psychics and holistic healers at Hall’s Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home, it was a box-office dud. 

Still, Hall retained enough movieland moxie to work with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi on stories and screenplays. Lugosi eventually became a close friend of Hall’s, sought his help to cure his morphine addiction with hypnosis, and accepted the PRS head’s largesse during lean periods in his movie career. In 1955, Hall even performed the private ceremony where Lugosi married his fifth and final wife, Hope Lininger.

Hall officiating at the wedding of Bela and Hope Lugosi

World War II brought a distinctly flag-waving flavor to PRS. Years earlier, Hall had predicted that the USA and Great Britain would face serious troubles between 1940 and 1942, and when Axis bombs rained down on London and Pearl Harbor, he saw it as a confirmation of his prophetic skills. An immigrant who’d worked his way to wealth and fame in his adopted land, Hall was an unabashed pro-war patriot, and wrote in the Society’s new quarterly magazine, Horizon, that the rigors of boot camp endured by millions of American men could effectively discipline them for the even more strenuous demands of spiritual discipleship.

Hall’s own biggest contribution to war-era patriotic propaganda was The Secret Destiny of America, a book that portrayed America as the physical embodiment of ancient esoteric ideals about democracy and freedom – Lord Francis Bacon’s “New Atlantis” here to lead the world to a new Golden Age.

Lord Bacon, and his alleged doings in the New World, figured heavily in the life of one of Hall’s most enthusiastic supporters, Marie Bauer. A married mother of two, Bauer saw Hall speak in New York City in 1937, and was so taken by his message that she soon had read all of his books. Eventually she convinced her family to move from the East Coast to Southern California just to be near him.

Marie Bauer Hall

While volunteering at the PRS Library, Bauer met a Shakespearean scholar there who told her the story of the so-called “Bruton Vault” The scholar, who firmly believed that Lord Bacon had written the works ascribed to the Bard of Stratford, maintained that his plays contained hidden codes that revealed the existence of a fabulous treasure hoard buried by Bacon in a vault beneath Bruton Episcopal Church in Williamsburg, Virginia. The vault supposedly held copper cylinders containing unpublished “Shakespearian” plays, gold chalices, and keys to more treasures secreted across the globe, as well as a Bacon-designed blueprint for civilization that would establish Utopia on earth.

Bauer became absolutely obsessed with the Bruton Vault, and spent years enlisting supporters and sponsors to help find the Williamsburg cache. In 1938, she actually conducted a Rockefeller-Foundation endorsed excavation of the Bruton churchyard, which failed to unearth the vault, and was called off when diggers started hitting seventeenth-century coffins. Still, she wrote several books about the Bacon treasure, and discussed it endlessly with friends and strangers alike for the rest of her life. Largely because of the obsession, her marriage collapsed.

Scene from the fruitless 1938 excavation of the "Bruton Vault".

A colorful woman, who often wore brightly-hued clothes and serpent-shaped metal bracelets, and painted turned-up eyebrows onto her face, Bauer turned her amorous attentions to Hall, who himself had recently buried his wife. If Hall was put off by her Bruton-vault obsession, her claims of receiving secret messages from billboard signs and similarly unlikely oracles, or her generally loud and overbearing manner, it didn’t seem to matter, and he was smitten by the woman. Finally, the couple married in December 1950, at the home of Hollywood astrologer Blanca Holmes.

Although Hall and Bauer worked as a team, hosting parties and gatherings at their house, it soon became obvious who was the dominant member of the couple. Friends of Hall’s said Marie often bullied and berated her husband in public, and commandeered social events so that she could deliver hours-long rants about Francis Bacon’s alleged treasure-trove. Throughout the Fifties and Sixties, Marie endlessly pestered the FBI by letter and in person about the Bruton Vault’s immeasurable importance to national security; eventually the Feds labeled her a “chronic nuisance,” and ordered her to cease communications with them.

Hall himself lacked both the time and energy to rein in his monomaniacal spouse. Now in his fifties, the middle-aged mage, who was still writing and lecturing at a feverish pace, was suffering from glandular problems and weight troubles (despite his advocacy of living a healthy, active life, Hall himself was a junk-food addict and a physically inert bookworm). He countered his health complaints with the unorthodox treatments popular in Fifties Los Angeles, such as chiropractor James Sabia’s “electro-stimulating machine,” and William E. Gray’s “healing touch” cure that could supposedly “blow out” cancers from the body. Hall was especially fond of Biblical pseudo-scholar Edmond Bordeaux Szekely’s “water angel” – a colonic-irrigation technique that Szekely claimed Jesus Christ had advocated in the apocryphal “Secret Essene Gospel.”

The Philosophical Research Society building, circa 1965.

Meanwhile, the PRS was slowly inching towards its goal of becoming a degree-granting institution. Don Ingalls, a Los Angeles policeman and Society member who later became a successful Hollywood producer and screenwriter, designed a PRS course called “The Basic Ideas of Man,” which would teach philosophy, psychology, and comparative religion as accredited academic studies. And Robert Stacy-Judd drew up a immense Mayan-temple-style building to building to serve as the Society’s lecture hall; the city planning commission eventually forced him and the Society to scale it down to a modest 400-seat theatre, but Hall once again commemorated the erection by laying the corner stone at an astrologically-auspicious moment.

Despite the grand buildings and plans, at the beginning of the Sixties the PRS’ visibility and influence was fading. Hall’s lecture audiences and students were aging, and even though occult and paranormal themes permeated the Sixties pop culture, few young people found their way to the Society’s headquarters on Los Feliz Boulevard. Although the PRS’ dynamic Vice President Henry Drake got noted figures like religious-scholar Huston Smith, parapsychologist Stanley Krippner, and experimental psychologist Bruno Bettelheim to speak at the Society, Hall himself remained badly out of synch with the times, and was widely perceived as a relic of the pre-war Los Angeles metaphysical scene.

Hall did little to dispel this image. He counted among his celebrity supporters not the movie stars and pop idols boasted by other gurus, but such staid figures as former Republican governor Goodwin Knight, and Los Angeles’ hard-Right mayor Sam Yorty, who once presented Hall with an official plaque of appreciation in a private ceremony. Hall may have even inspired the greatest American conservative politician of the 20th Century; Occult America author Mitch Horowitz heard much of The Secret Destiny of America’s mystical-nationalist rhetoric echoed in Ronald Reagan’s speeches, and has speculated that the future California governor and U.S. president read and absorbed the 1944 work back when he was still a liberal film-star.

Hall in 1962. He rejected Sixties "Aquarian" occultism, and influenced noted conservative political figures of the era.

Unlike the optimistic Aquarian Sixties occultists, Hall predicted doom and disaster for civilization and the planet, and felt that the hippie counterculture was escapist, immature and anti-intellectual. He especially opposed the psychedelic subculture, comparing drug-users to Homer’s “lotus eaters” and claiming that LSD was worthless for consciousness expansion. Despite this, his Secret Teachings of All Ages remained a perennial best-seller at metaphysical bookstores and the more cerebral head-shops, and a few hipsters glommed onto Hall’s teachings despite his seeming disdain for their kind.

One of Secret Teachings’ biggest latter-day fans was Elvis Presley, who, like Hall, was a self-taught student of esoteric doctrines. According to Larry Geller, Elvis’ hairstylist and spiritual adviser, the King desperately wanted to go to the PRS and meet Hall, but was afraid he’d be mobbed if he set foot in the building. (He sent his wife Priscilla instead, who was bored stiff by Hall’s lectures.) However, Geller scored a deluxe copy of Secret Teachings and had a flattered Hall personally inscribe it to Elvis; according to him, the rock legend once spent a night in an L.A. recording studio showing the big book to his musicians, and lecturing them about its teachings.

By the 1970s, Hall was a sick, aging man. He stopped lecturing outside of Los Angeles, since he was usually too frail to travel. Arthritis and his weight problem made it almost impossible to walk without pain. His gall bladder malfunctioned, and was eventually removed. And his eyesight was failing; only surgery on a detached retina slowed the advance of blindness.

In his eighties, Hall was granted high honors by both John F. Kennedy University and the Freemasons.
Still, Hall was well enough to accept two major accolades around the time of his 80th birthday. In 1981, John F Kennedy University granted the self-taught middle-school dropout an honorary Doctorate. And the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry presented Hall with its highest honor, the Grand Cross. (Hall, who had spoken and written extensively about Masonic secret teachings since his late teens, finally became a Mason in 1954, and eventually attained the Scottish Rite’s elite 33rd Degree. True to his Masonic oaths, once he became a member, he ceased discussing the Brotherhood around non-Masons.)

And Hall even retained a slight celebrity cachet through the 1980s. His Masonic Brother, folksinger and actor Burl Ives, became a close friend, although their wives often clashed (reportedly, the troubles started when both Marie Hall and Dorothy Ives claimed to have been the Comte de St. Germain’s mistress in their former lives.) Another notable, singer-songwriter John Denver, befriended the Halls and often hung out at their house after his Los Angeles concerts. And Hall’s hipness quotient rose appreciably in July 1985 when he presided over the wedding of hard-drinking and –living writer Charles Bukowski to his longtime girlfriend Linda Lee Beighle.

But none of these figures became as close to Hall as one Daniel Henry Fritz. A former banker and computer salesman, Fritz was an L.A. New-Age fringe-figure who ran a colonic-therapy center in Santa Monica and a “water-birthing” retreat in Hawaii, hung out with Bulgarian mystic Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov, and held a Bishopric in a breakaway faction of the Church of Antioch (q.v.)

Initially, Hall distrusted Fritz, and labeled him a phony. But Marie was smitten by him, and invited him along with the couple on a 1987 trip to Sedona, Arizona, where she spoke at a “Harmonic Convergence” gathering. Hall endured the flu throughout the trip, and may have suffered a stroke during it; at any rate, he was never the same afterwards.

When the trio returned to L.A., Fritz volunteered his services to Marie as a live-in caregiver for the aging sage. She accepted his offer, and the would-be male nurse and his teenage son moved into the Hall residence.

Although Marie thought that Fritz was caring for Hall merely in return for room and board, later evidence proved he was milking them for a fortune. Fritz became a co-signer on the Halls’ checking account and credit cards, and charged thousands of dollars worth of personal expenses alongside his employers’, never keeping records of such expenditures. He also talked the couple into loaning him $25,000 for his Biogenics Health Foundation, and thousands more for the Independent Church of Antioch. And he convinced them to invest $200,000 in a colon-cleaning and air-purifying business, of which only about $70,000 was ever accounted for as business expenses. Fritz never created business plans or partnerships for any of these ventures, and never paid the Halls back a dime on their loans and investments.

To many PRS staffers, Fritz looked like nothing less than a con artist attempting to take over not only the Hall estate, but the Society itself, both of which were worth many millions in real estate, collectibles, and intellectual property. Society employees who tried to meet with Hall were either ignored by the ailing octogenarian, or shooed away by Fritz, who had also taken on the roles of personal secretary and bodyguard. Back at the Society, rare books, artworks, photographs, and even gold coins started disappearing from the premises whenever the ostensible caregiver was around. At one point, some PRS employees bugged the phone of Fritz’ associate Mogens Brandt, desperate to get incriminating info about the caregiver and his shady operations. Their efforts were for naught; Fritz and Brandt deftly maneuvered their way into PRS’ Presidency and Vice-Presidency, and became the Society’s effective leaders.

Hall, who by now was mostly confined to a wheelchair and never strayed far from an oxygen tank, bonded strangely with Fritz. Marie, who’d once called Fritz “my angel from heaven” for his seemingly selfless work with her husband, now looked with alarm on their odd doings. She said that the two men regularly performed a “healing ritual” where they would urinate together at dawn, mix the liquids, and then pour the concoction down the side of a backyard tree. Worse still, she claimed that during his daily colonic irrigations, Fritz masturbated her husband (Marie had long suspected that Hall was bisexual). The regular colonic treatments also worried the Halls’ regular doctor, Sterling Pollack, who believed they were destroying the sick old man’s intestinal lining and leaving him vulnerable to infection and disease. But Hall refused to hear any criticism of Fritz.

Hall at 89. Though sick and bedridden, he still lectured regularly at the PRS.

By mid-1990 Hall was mostly bedridden, yet still lectured regularly at PRS. That year, the frail scholar also published his first serious book in many years: Meditation Symbols in Eastern and Western Mysticism: Mysteries of the Mandala, which got rave reviews and attracted new attention to Hall and the Society. Shortly after it appeared, The Los Angeles Times published its first major story on Hall in decades – a human-interest piece titled “Last Western Mystic Thrives in Los Feliz.”

The story’s title was grimly ironic. By midsummer 1990, Hall was near death, and there was much ugly speculation on August 23rd, when he rewrote his will to make the PRS his beneficiary. This made Fritz and Brandt, who occupied the PRS’ top posts, effective heirs to not only Hall’s personal $2.3 million estate, but also to the vast wealth held by the Society.

Five days after the will was rewritten, Fritz urged the Halls to travel to Santa Barbara. He told Marie that he would take Hall up in his motor home, while she could travel separately in her own car. While Marie was on the road, Fritz called her and told him that his vehicle was overheating and that they were turning back to L.A. for repairs. He assured her that he’d stay with Hall at the house during the night, and would ferry the ailing octogenarian and himself up to Santa Barbara when they obtained reliable transportation.

At about 6:30 AM on August 29th, Fritz walked into Hall’s bedroom, noticed he wasn’t breathing well, and claimed he smelled a “sweet odor of high frequency” around his body. Instead of calling 911 or attempting to resuscitate the old man, Fritz instead chanted and prayed, hoping to ease Hall’s “transition” into death. Minutes later he called Dr. Pollack and said that Hall was dead, but then called him again to say Hall was merely “dying”. He followed this with a third call claiming that Hall was, indeed, deceased.

Dr. Pollack arrived to a most curious death scene. Although Hall had only been dead an hour, according to Fritz’s initial call, his body was already stone-cold, with rigor mortis setting in. Lines of ants streamed out of the corpse’s ears, nose and mouth as if he’d been lying for many hours on open ground. Pollack also noted that housecleaners were furiously scrubbing strange reddish-brown stains off the bedroom floor, and that Fritz’ son David was busily emptying out Hall’s closets. Suspicious, the doctor refused to issue an on-site death certificate, and instead authorized an autopsy for the body.

Hall’s initial autopsy was a sloppy, error-ridden work. Among over 60 other glaring mistakes, it mentioned the presence of Hall’s gall bladder, which had actually been removed decades earlier.  Later, a second, independently-commissioned autopsy not only corrected the errors of the first, but noted suspicious details such as bruises and needle marks on Hall’s body. The presence of the ants, as well as other clues, implied that Hall hadn’t died in bed, but had instead expired face-down on a dirt surface, probably from asphyxiation. Faced with the new information, the County Coroner eventually ruled his death was due “unknown causes” under “suspicious circumstances” that suggested “foul play.”

Infuriated, Marie Hall accused Fritz and his associates of murdering her husband in order to take over the Society and the Hall estate. Fritz countered, saying that Marie had badgered and bullied her second husband into his grave, and was a certified lunatic who’d been committed several times, once by Hall himself.  Although the Los Angeles police took an active interest in the case, and questioned Fritz about his actions, there was never enough hard evidence to charge him with murder, and Hall’s death remains officially unsolved.

Fritz tried to have Hall’s body cremated, but Marie and her extended family blocked him, thinking that the corpse might soon yield enough clues to bring charges of murder against the erstwhile caregiver. Hall’s body was put on ice at Forest Lawn cemetery, but began to rot after several months of storage, and was temporarily buried in an unmarked grave. Eventually it was disinterred in Marie’s presence, and cremated.

For the next few years, the nonagenarian widow pressed her case against Fritz in civil, rather than criminal court. She and the Hall faithful in the PRS fought a long, expensive and vicious legal battle to overturn Hall’s last will; after four years they prevailed, and accepted a settlement where Marie got the house, along with Hall’s art and stamp collections and a hoard of 214 rare alchemical manuscripts that the Getty Museum later bought for $750,000. Marie eventually lived to be 100, dying at a Los Angeles convalescent home on April 21, 2005.

Fritz, who’d been publically labeled a con artist by the judge in the will case, lost his PRS presidency in 1993 to Obadiah Harris, who occupies that post as of this writing. Forced completely out of the PRS along with Brandt, Fritz eventually ended up in Reno, Nevada, where he died in 2001 of adrenal cancer, still boasting of his close relationship and happy years with the legendary occult scholar.

The PRS' current main Web page.

Over twenty years after Manly Palmer Hall’s death, the PRS is once again thriving. It maintains a sophisticated Web site, publishes and sells scores of titles by Hall and other metaphysical figures, and holds regular lectures and classes at the Los Feliz headquarters. On the twelfth anniversary of Hall’s passing, the PRS achieved one of its founder’s dreams by achieving State accreditation for its Masters Program in Consciousness Studies; six years later, the Federal government followed suit.

But despite the Society’s success and prominence three-quarters of a century after its inception, it will never be the same without the living presence of its founder. A man who, despite a lack of formal education, spent seven straight decades researching, writing about, and lecturing on the most arcane of spiritual and philosophical topics. A man who, even though bedridden and near death, was still lifted onto his “throne” at the PRS lecture hall every week to speak clearly and insightfully about the deeper meanings of life and existence. And a man who, whatever his failings and weaknesses, inspired countless thousands of people across the world to delve into the world’s wisdom teachings so that they could live saner, healthier and fuller lives.

There will never be another Manly Palmer Hall. For that, the PRS, and the world, are much poorer.

The Manly P. Hall Archive (huge collection of materials, including the complete The Secret Teachings of All Ages, and a video of When Were You Born?)
Sahagun, Louis. Master of the Mysteries: The Life of Manly Palmer Hall (Port Townsend, WA: Process Media, 2008) (superb biography of Hall)