Look for chaos — fires, shortages, excesses, earthquakes, destruction of all kinds.
—Marshall Herff Applewhite (a.k.a. DO), 1974
We were at a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on Beverly Glen when Rio told me that some time soon, the Earth will shift its axis and many people will die. I had just sat down with a chocolate-covered graham cracker, and the sun was setting. Information of this kind, he said, arrives in his mind like a ticker tape, providing constant updates in thought form. “I can’t yet say when the axis will shift,” he added with his usual conviction. “But hopefully that will come soon.” When I asked if this ticker tape is coming straight from DO, he said, “I think so.”
I should point out that Rio is not technically the sole survivor of Heaven’s Gate. There have been other apostles, like RKKODY, a.k.a. Chuck Humphrey, who believed he had to actively gather souls for DO, until he killed himself in a tent in the Arizona desert in 1998. SWYODY, a.k.a. Steve Havel, recently decided that he too will write a definitive memoir “that proves DO and TI were the Second Coming.” Rio bills himself as the sole (or “soul”) survivor by making the distinction that although many “dropouts” came and went, he was the only student who learned all the lessons DO’s classroom had to offer.
There’s an element of hucksterism in all religion, so I suppose it’s not surprising that every single person I talked to who knew Rio asked, “What’s his angle?” Nancie Brown, Alex Pappas, Rio’s ex-wife — they all wanted to know what Rio’s selling these days. Besides a book and a screenplay, that’s a good question.
Rio’s ex-wife, who is bitter about his lack of child support over the years (she says she calls once a year to remind him that he owes her $100,000), said that Rio “never has a penny but is always looking to get rich.” Rio did once mention to me that one of his three life goals is to make a lot of money, although he claimed that the purpose would be to help clean the oceans.
It does seem strange to turn any kind of profit off the deaths of 39 of your friends, but Rio’s not just a charlatan. He definitely believes in something, although it’s hard to tell what exactly that something is. In a nutshell, the message is “Buy the book.” Beyond that, I’m not exactly sure. The Next Level seems to have chosen some elliptical emissaries. Following in DO’s footsteps, Rio speaks very precisely about impossibly vague things. What is a soul again? “Let’s get it straight: Spirit and soul are different. Spirit reincarnates here, learning Earth’s lessons, while the soul is ‘you’ choosing to evolve a new creature that has the nonhuman requirements for the Next Level.” How does that happen? “The Representative becomes your teacher.” Then what? “You will not be reincarnated again!” None of the language of Heaven’s Gate has any external foundation; the more I tried to understand it, the more it became a wash of intangible words — words Rio’s asking us to believe just because he had some dreams that he was in a giant dark room that felt like an oil tanker.
I asked Rio to boil it all down to three sentences. This proved impossible. After a long pause, I got more “finishing school for Earth lessons” and “the Exit was a time of passage and is over” and “the Flood was the beginning of the cycle.” Then his girlfriend called.
By now, the internal contradictions were somewhat maddening. Rio insists that the rigorous monastic control was necessary to achieve spiritual perfection, but he now does what he wants, watches movies, is romantically engaged and offers a spiritual “shortcut” to anyone who wants to preorder Beyond Human Mind on Amazon.com. It sounds like a suspiciously convenient adaptation of the original philosophy, but then again, Rio’s divine ticker tape also told him to not commit suicide, write a book and dust off that old screenplay. In his interview with Diane Sawyer, Rio talked about how the Procedure was supposed to erase one’s confidence. Every statement was tentative, including household requests from the “Individual Needs Department,” which would have been phrased, “I may be mistaken, but I think my deodorant is empty and I need more.” And yet Rio is 100 percent confident that DO was an extraterrestrial messiah who still communicates with Rio from the stars. Recent memoranda received by Rio exhort us to “embrace love, creativity and goodness,” but he also assures me that we’re in the Tribulation period and there will soon be widespread disaster. I’m always skeptical of someone who believes that death is a trifle and nonchalantly predicts vast human suffering while indulging in a mint Coco Jo and Iced Blended. Even the apocalyptic math is off: Rio’s cycle has Noah’s Flood, Moses, Jesus, and DO and TI in 2,000-year intervals, completing a 6,000-year recycling process that’s about to cataclysmically reset the counter, but when I pointed out that biblical archaeologists date Moses’ time to 1250 B.C., he said, “Really? Hmmm. Well, you know.”
The next time we met was on the Santa Monica Pier. That was where, in 1994, Nancie Brown’s son David and his fellow Overcomers asked to have their picture taken for the L.A. Weekly article. At the time, the group had thoughts of a UFO rendezvous on the water. This was when DO still thought the Next Level would come to the surface and pick them up, before he decided that the Exit would entail leaving the vehicle.
I asked Rio again about the axis shift. “It might be six to 10 years,” he offered. “And it will be due to some kind of jolt.”
“What will you do then?” I ask.
“Try to help with the information that I have. I’m altruistic, a caregiver.”
“I mean, what will you actually do when the shit hits the fan? I mean, you’re talking famines, wars, Road Warrior stuff. You’re not going to be sitting at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf talking about being a caregiver.”
“I see what you mean,” he said with a strange, knowing smile. “I’ll be moving inland,” he said, making his usual direct eye contact. “But the key thing is that I will have no fear.”
His matter-of-factness reminded me of the Exit Videos, and their unflinching embrace of death. I couldn’t figure out if that preternatural calm was admirable or dangerous or simply sad — the disastrous result of anguished lives searching for meaning. These were emotionally vulnerable people looking for answers. I know the feeling. I want answers too. I wish I could be cheerful about death and certain about my cosmic purpose. I’d love to have the serenity I saw in those videos. I just couldn’t bear for that serenity to stem from believing that The X-Files might be nonfiction. These people were so alienated they literally believed there are aliens. If that’s what absolute tranquillity requires, it’s a psychological Rubicon I’m not willing to cross. For those who did, I don’t want to judge them other than to say that there was likely another answer for them, one that didn’t entail 39 grieving families.
Later, I called Nancie Brown. She wanted to know Rio’s phone number so she could ask him some questions about David. Nancie is a Quaker, forgiving and loving, and seems like an all-around delightful woman. I can’t begin to understand what DO provided that Nancie couldn’t. I gave her the number. I asked her what David was like, and she said it was sometimes hard to remember, but he gave the greatest hugs. Then she told me about the call she received from the San Diego County coroner. It was the worst day of her life. The coroner was tactful. He said David had a peaceful look on his face. She wasn’t sure if it was true, but it left her with a nice image. When she hung up the phone, she was startled by a loud, shuddering scream. Then she realized it was coming from her.
O.K., brace yourself...Our Father... requires of us what any “sane” earthly person would deem impossible.
—Marshall Herff Applewhite (a.k.a. DO) and Bonnie Lu Truesdale (a.k.a. TI), 1975
David and the others were first seen by the outside world in the police video shown by the media. It was composed as a clinical document of a suspected crime scene, whereas Rio says the video he shot before the police arrived was an attempt to tell “the real story.” I was surprised to discover how short it is, around two minutes long, making it the most unfamiliar two minutes of home video I’ve ever seen. The sound is off — Rio said he was calling out to make sure there were no survivors who needed help — and editing makes the camera jump from room to room. We fade in on the Compulab, or office, where there’s a bulletin board, a map of the world, some flowers on the table. In the adjoining hall are the first bodies, resting on a fold-up table and mattress on the floor. The black Nikes are there, along with the purple shrouds diagonally stretched over the head and torso. Seven more rooms reveal the rest of the departed crew. Rio lingers at times on details — a pair of glasses neatly folded next to a hand, a thick trail of coughed-up blood soaking through one of the purple shrouds. Finally, we enter the master bedroom, where DO is alone, face-up on a queen-size bed with his shroud fully extended like a purple manta ray. Rio pans to the fireplace, revealing a drawing of an alien on the mantel. “It just kind of happened, that artist’s rendering of the Next Level sitting there,” Rio had told me. “I thought it was a nice touch.” Then the camera zooms in on the figure. There’s a pause, just long enough to see the expressionless alien gazing into a field of stars. And the screen goes black.
Tags: New, World, Order, Secret, Societies, Illuminati, Anti, Jesus, Christ, Satan, UFO, Aliens, Intruders, Phoenix, Lights, Sightings, Star, Wars, Hale, Bopp, Comet, Heaven's, Gate, Triangle, Military, Flare, Mind, Control
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