My Time With Heaven’s Gate

Sitting at the conference room table of the Twin Cities Reader, I found myself asking a question which I have never asked in an interview before, “Are you,” I posed to the leader of the group of four young men and one woman, “a human?”

The man, who would only give his name as ‘Logan,’ looked otherworldly. His head was big and appeared to bobble on his skinny neck. His eyes were large, pale blue orbs, he had no upper lip and his face was smashed flat, as if he had been raised in a petri dish, face down. Unlike his companions, Logan looked fit, like a marathon runner in his early 60’s, tan and lean. The men looked, as I wrote in my notes that day three years ago, like people bred to work on computers: long, skinny fingers, pale skin, and clothes which hung on their bodies like plastic bags caught in the branches of a tree.

Logan answered me simply, eager to go on explaining his group’s mission. “No,” he said, he was not a human. The two absent leaders of the group, known as Bo and Peep, He and She or Chip and Dale, were also not human and the female had already left the planet. Logan would not tell me where the male alien lived. The other people sitting on either side of him along the luminously polished table of the Twin Cities Reader’s conference room, however, were still human. “We are at the end of the age,” he said. It would soon be time for the chosen few–including the people sitting to his left and right as well as others not present–to “graduate,” to leave the earth for another “real, physical level of existence” somewhere in the sky. He said it didn’t matter if it made sense to others; “the aliens don’t want everybody.” When Logan spoke of someday leaving his body behind, like a suit of clothes,” all five people gazed at me and smiled.

Last week, 39 members of this group apparently made this dream come true in Rancho Santa Fe, California. Whether they brought any Minnesotans with them is still unknown, but when the eight members of “Total Overcomers Anonymous” came to the Edina Community Center and the Walker Community Library three years ago, they attracted the attention of at least 150 people, one of whom may may since have died in a rented California house with plastic bag knotted around his head. Logan has since been identified as John M. Craig (aka Logan Lahson, 63) who was among the dead.

After the hour-long interview, I was anxious to see who would show up for their FREE community meetings. The first, held in the Edina Community Center on a Thursday night, drew about 25 people. I assumed they had come as a result of the legal size flyers which had been posted around the university and uptown areas. “Organized religion (especially Christrian) has become THE PRIMARY PULPIT FOR MISINFORMATION AND THE ‘GREAT COVER-UP,” read one. The rest of the flyer was crammed with jargon-ridden, nonsensical, quasi-biblical prouncements, with little white space. Another, given to me by the group, advertised a previous meeting in Little Rock, Arkansas, on April 9. Neither flyer provided a phone number or address where they could be reached if one was interested in joining. The modus operandi appeared to be to remain secretive unless a particularly absorbent candidate asked for more information. I was given a post office box in California where I could send a copy of the article.

As I approached, I struggled to remember the names the five “crew members” had given me. Wendy, the older woman. Derwin, the gangly, slightly misfit-looking one who worked with computers, Alex, the talkative ardent apprentice and Ray, whom the group had named in accordance with their leaders’ own musical pseudonyms, Do and Ti. Five, including Logan and Wendy, sat at the table facing the rows of folding chairs. Though their clothes were not identical, their shirts were collarless, or asymmetrically designed worn open over dark, baggy pants.

During the informal presentation and subsequent dialogue with the audience, one member kept vigil at the back door, Ray sat in the audience and Derwin stood against a wall, watching our backs. With no notes, handouts, literature or visual displays, Logan simply began, “Now let’s talk about aliens.” With that, about ten audience members promptly got up and left the room.

The ones who remained, however, were skeptical but not entirely comprehensible. In a “What’s My Line,” interrogative style, one woman spoke up. “So… you’re from outer space… and this kingdom place really exists somewhere…” sensing no objection, she continues. “Okay… so… where is it?”

The female on the panel speaks just above a whisper. Something about a “security risk” preventing her from revealing or even knowing where the kingdom is.

Alex cuts in. “Well, she didn’t mean to say ‘security risk,’ exactly–”

A man in the audience jumps on the chance, “No, I think that is what she meant” and tries to pin down the address of the place the aliens will be moving to. Now Logan attempts to describe it. “We don’t have a headquarters that’d be like… like… a… headquarters… exactly.”

A grey-haired woman in the front row whose friend is wearing two watches asks the aliens how quantam physics figures into their cosmology. Logan waves his hand, “Oh, we’re not into that at all.”

Just then, a very large, wet-looking man walks in and takes a seat. He breathes very loudly and smells like Fritos.

A man who looks like a college freshman decides it’s time for his critique of the aliens’ pitch. “You know, if Jesus came back, he wouldn’t be making up flyers that talk about space ships.”

Alex glares at the young man.

Now a woman in the audience tries to help the aliens communicate, “It’s just that your energy feels like it’s not from the heart. You should try to give more from your heart chakra.”

The whispering female alien jumps in. “The joy that we experience is the knowledge that we have to serve in our father’s kingdom and the future eternal life.”

A man with a hat in his lap is now sketching pictres of the aliens on the backs of their flyers. “Where have I heard that before?” he mutters.

From the back of the room comes a loud voice, “We all know that civilization is going to end.” Everyone turns to look at the man wearing red suspenders in the last row. As he speaks, he zips up his backpack, “And I’m not planning on staying here too much longer. What I want to know is, are you aware that the six-pointed star on your poster is the symbol for Moloch?” Logan merely stares at him and blinks.

Later, as Alex explained that our sexual desires and human concerns were unimportant because extra-terrestrial beings–whom we should emulate–do not have genders. When another spectator quickly announced “Everyone knows that aliens have genders!” I thought, God, I’ve really walked through the looking glass this time. What a great story.

When I read this week that a number of the members had been castrated, Alex’s strangely infantile perspective on human sexuality now made sense. The androgynous appearance of the eight people I met, their self-censoring attitudes on normal human drives and appetites–suddenly the act of mutilating one’s own sexual organs had a kind of reason to it.

“Well,” said Alex, trying to pick his words carefully, “Well, it’s true that certain aliens do have bumps where males have bumps and other aliens have bumps where females have bumps…” He finally gave up in exasperation, “It would be foolish for me to try to explain this to you.” Alex, who appeared to be in his early twenties, started to dominate the discussion. His speeches were only partial evangelical zeal. He just seemed to be trying to find a way to explain himself. After a particulary losing round with an audience member about the exact location of the “Kingdom,” Alex tried to put an end to the confusion. “Look, there’s this kingdom,” he says, aiming his eyes at one audience member, “There’s a way to get out of here and there’s a formula. If this doesn’t make sense toyou, it doesn’t make a bit of difference.” Alex’s personality had not, apprently, been completely streamlined to the group consciousness. After the meeting, the older woman, “Wendy” approached me and asked, hopefully, “Did that make sense?”

After this informal meeting, a couple of phone calls (they had a temporary local phone number) and some reading from their flyers which made the hair on the back of my neck stand up, I realized I was witnessing the nascent age of a cult. Written in a cramped typeface on the flyer advertising the two Minneapolis meetings, was “That formula for being born into the Evolutionary Level Above Human requires: the shedding of all human-mammalian behavior, such as sexuality (all forms); ties (to family, human relationships, possessions, and responsibilities); addictions (of all types); habits; and self-concerns.”

It was a baby cult, I was sure, but a dangerous blend of domination, apocalyptic thinking and intellectual isolation techniques were being braided into one very tight rope. In my notes, I wrote that these were people had spent way too much time on their computers. From the cultural vacuum they had created for themselves had erupted a cynical mirror version of Christianity–with hierarchies, good aliens and bad aliens, monasteries and biblical references updated for the hyperlink generation.

I sensed, at the time, that the group was savvy enough to repel any attempts to paint them as a cult. Logan emphasized that people could “volunteer” their belongings, but were not required to relinquish them. They were careful not to “recruit,” preferring instead to liken their teaching methods to an “astronaut training program” in which qualified students could meet with “representatives of the next level.” As Logan told me, “A dog can’t teach another dog about the human kingdom. It takes the human to domesticate the dog.” Which is why, he explained, the group all lived together in California, sharing their money and food, and why, Ray, the newest member of the group, told me “you gotta have somebody with you 24 hours a day to tell you what’s wrong and right. We need constant instruction and correction.”

Today, it is Ray’s likeness I am searching for on the Internet. When, on that Saturday afternoon in 1994, I showed up for the second meeting in the basement meeting room of the Walker Library in Uptown, Ray’s face lit up when he saw me. I talked to him for a minute alone, in the lobby of the library, and asked him what he was doing three months ago. “Sitting around the Santa Cruz mountains, smoking pot, waiting for them to show up.” He actually met them about 50 miles north of Santa Cruz, at a meeting just like this one, in Palo Alto, my hometown.

The look on Ray’s face as he told me about the girlfriend he sacrificed by joining the group known then as “Total Overcomers Anonymous” was heartbreaking. Of the eight members, he was the only one whose expression was not completely consumed by the distraction of The Message. Just as our conversation began to warm into normal tones of commonality, Alex appeared at Ray’s shoulder and the talk about girlfriends ended abruptly.

In the Fifties, aliens were malevolent. On the modern day Twilight Zone, with the cultish following, the X Files, aliens are menacing, secretive and somehow related to shadowy government officials. The strangest phenomenon, howeverr is the recent embrace of aliens as welcome visitors, mute angels victimized by human technology. As computers become more a part of our consciousness, it poses as a candidate for spiritual transcendance. The almond-eyed, bald-headed and somewhat cherubic alien is now the icon for a generation spooked by the end of a century.

“The question,” said Logan during our first interview, “IS what do you have to do to get out of here?”

[Sari Gordon is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis. Her story, “Out There: Aliens Offer a Trip to Their Kingdom,” appeared in the Twin Cities Reader on April 26, 1994.]