Heaven’s Gate II: The Graduation
by Niklas Göransson
In the second part of this conversation, Mrcody – who joined Heaven’s Gate in 1975, and manages their teachings to this day – discusses the developments leading up to the mass suicide event of March 1997.
The first part of this interview series chronicled Mrcody’s first twelve years in what we know today as Heaven’s Gate. We left off in the fall of 1987 as he went home to Phoenix, Arizona, to see his parents. At that point, Mrcody had not been back there since September 1975 when he made a quick visit to get his affairs in order before bidding his family goodbye. Along with him was his check-partner, Srfody.
– When returning to the families, we’d usually bring a Classmate we could bounce ideas off. They would help to clarify the situation if things got confusing. My family had grown used to me being away and thought of us as somewhat of a curiosity. We found ourselves distant from their views and way of life. We sat down, spoke with them, and tried to relay our story as clearly and positively as possible. We were kind and pleasant, as were they. Hoping to figure out what had happened to us, they asked careful questions. At times, it was like being examined – as if our views were unusual and it wasn’t really an issue whether we stayed or left. We felt the same way.
After the trip, Mrcody and Srfody resumed their service in one of the Class’ lodgings – a house, or ‘craft’, in the suburbs of Boulder. A few weeks later, both of them were out of the Group.
– There has been a lot of misinformation and ink given to this topic, so we might as well put it on record and let people know what happened. Something had come up about me being assigned a new Out of Craft (OOC) task right around the same time we were deliberating whether to leave the area. This occurred only a few weeks before the move to Atlanta. We had just purchased a rear-drive Cadillac, and I realised that – in a mountainous, snowy area – it might not be able to handle the job it would be required to do. I mentioned this issue to some individuals, and it made its way back to Do that I was bringing up ‘problems’ where it wasn’t needed.
I’ve come across a number of claims that Mrcody’s departure stemmed from his inability to adhere to a lesson step called ‘I could be wrong’. This was a technique designed to decrease reliance on the self – and one’s own desire to be right – by overriding both soft and hard-wired circuits of the brain. Instead, complete trust should be placed in one’s Older Members, which is Next Level nomenclature for a superior.
– Things spiralled out of control until we had a support meeting on September 22, 1987. Do realised that the idea of me getting an OOC task had not come from him but from Classmates who were unaware of what the future held. We got past this matter, but the automobile issue raised the notion that it was part of the whole ‘I could be wrong’ Mrcody problem. Certain people brought up instances of how I, over time, had made statements which seemed to confirm this attitude. Needless to say, it was a difficult meeting for me. Afterwards, Do wanted to speak to me privately, and we did so for a while. He could see that I did not want to go, but circumstances were forcing things to a head. Srfody and I left the following day.
Like Mrcody, Srfody joined the Group after a September 1975 meeting in Waldport, Oregon – a gathering which saw about twenty people bid friends and relatives farewell and commit wholeheartedly to overcoming their mammalian behaviour. Today, the two of them serve as proprietors of the Heaven’s Gate website and all intellectual property left behind by the Class.
– I don’t know why Srfody was sent along with me, but she was expected back soon. They expressed as much to her by phone on September 24, but she could see how devastated I was from being asked to leave. She stayed. Within days, Do realised that a mistake had been made and asked us to return at once. He understood that the cure had been worse than the disease and called many days in a row to get us to come back. Do and his helpers had already left for Atlanta to perform some groundwork before the move, so those still in Boulder would’ve heard nothing about this.
A meeting was called two weeks after the Group’s relocation to Peachtree, Atlanta. Do announced that he, ever since the move – and to his great dismay – could no longer feel Ti’s presence. Ti was Do’s Older Member, and he relied on her for guidance. Ti’s human container expired in 1985, so their correspondence was restricted to the ethereal plane. Consequently, the students quit their new jobs, packed up, and left for Colorado again.
– To this day, many who remain from that time erroneously think we were kicked out because of ‘I could be wrong’. This became a watershed moment and Do realised that things needed to be corrected. But Srfody and I remained in Phoenix – not out of rejecting Do’s request, but because the Classroom still had these misunderstandings and none of them were being addressed. The back and forth went on into October, but things turned quiet after the new year. We resumed contact in late 1988.
How was your experience of re-integrating into society?
– We used our skills from the Class and applied them to various human projects, all of which we excelled in. We soon bought autos and a house as we advanced in our careers. We’ve built many successful businesses from scratch by now. Do noted that we had pushed higher and further than any other former members. While there was never much emphasis on the human experience, he did inform us that applied effort and a concentrated desire to serve were Next Level attributes noticeable in any endeavour. Our intention was still to serve the Next Level.
The Group began exploring new ground after Mrcody and Srfody’s departure. In the ’88 Update – The UFO Two and Their Crew, a manifesto of sorts, they describe a project called the Anonymous Sexaholics Celibate Church: an outreach program for chronic sexaholics seeking relief from their affliction. That was a wild idea, I must say. Considering how many former students mention celibacy as the most challenging aspect of purging themselves of human patterns, having raging nymphomaniacs living under the same roof sounds adventurous to the extreme.
– Anonymous Sexaholics was a repackaging of the Next Level understanding for those humans who could most relate to it. The ‘88 Update was a mixture of different ideas Do thought might be relatable to the public. It sounded unusual but never added up to real people coming in. It did not have any effect, and there were no new members. But the Celibate Church did gain popularity within the Group and lasted a long time into the 1990s. It was a useful tool to evaluate the endless sexual games played on this planet – and for those who wanted off the ride. It brought up the notion that being non-sexual wasn’t such a bad idea for some on Earth. It made the abnormal seem normal, so those rid of carnal desires would not feel like freaks.
There is one remark in particular from the ‘88 Update I find confusing: ‘We also thought that we could help AIDS victims realise that their problem could actually be their blessing.’
– Ti always regarded this disease as a way of having a section of the human population realise that the reduction – or elimination – of sexual activity can clear the mind and bring it closer to the evolutionary movement towards the Next Level. She stated this in 1984, back when Boy George was more popular. His move towards androgyny may have confused the general public, but it was a step closer to having no gender roles or sexual activity at all. Ti believed AIDS offered people a chance to pause and consider relating to their fellow human beings in ways completely devoid of sensuality.
At some point in the late 80s, while residing in Poudre Canyon, Colorado, Do underwent a bout of Rocky Mountain spotted fever which reportedly dragged him to death’s door. Do later recounted to students how he came so close that he only needed to let go in order to exit his vehicle. But as much as he longed to be reunited with Ti, his tasks on Earth were as of yet incomplete. In 1990, the Class left all three Colorado crafts and resumed life in the outdoors, roaming from state to state. For a while, they camped in Phoenix, where they performed a thirteen-day water fast in preparation for a presumed UFO pick-up in the desert.
– We heard about the spotted fever episode but have no details. We were also aware of the desert fast but did not participate – it was a difficult experience, from reports back. We did not meet with them physically around this time; for security reasons, both parties kept to themselves. We seriously contemplated a return, but the same issues might have resurfaced. Do spoke with both of us, yet the opportunity did not present itself in a workable manner. It was tempting, though.
Come May 1993, to the cost of $29,911, Heaven’s Gate – using the name Total Overcomers Anonymous – took out a three-quarter page advertisement in USA Today titled UFO Cult Resurfaces with Final Offer. Variations of the same ad were placed in dozens of other publications across the United States. Everything was funded by the students, most of whom had qualified jobs by then.
– The USA Today piece was the main expense. The regional papers received a modified version which cost far less. Many were package deals where you’d publish in one and, for a bit more, it would appear in affiliated papers. From regional publications like Dimensions and Free Spirit in the northeast to Pathfinder and Phenome News in the Midwest – we published wherever we could. We were also featured in international magazines like Steam Shovel Press and Nexus. All the publication dates and issues are listed in Section 5 of our anthology.
These ads stirred enough interest for the Group to re-open ‘the harvest’ – as they referred to the recruitment process – and hold public meetings again for the first time since 1976.
– They tested the waters in Denver and Albuquerque in November 1993, but the harvest didn’t go live until the following January when they were in the LA area. The Group actually grew from twenty-four to fifty during this time, with people coming and going throughout the year. Some entered because they thought they’d be leaving on a spacecraft immediately, but the veterans knew this was not the case.
Phoenix was one of the few places they managed to get local news coverage – did you have a hand in this?
– No, this was not our doing, but we did meet up with them while they visited Arizona in February 1994. We later saw them in Tucson, where they asked us to come back into the Group. Some of those who’d started the rumours that forced us to leave in 1987 had left by then – ironic, isn’t it? So, we asked for time to think. We considered making that transition but ultimately did not.
Come September 1994, Heaven’s Gate had returned to California and taken up residency in the city of San Clemente, where they slept in tents inside a warehouse. From their many years on campgrounds through all seasons, the senior members had considerable outdoors experience. As such, they could get contractor work testing out camping equipment. One day, Do summoned the Class to a meeting during which he – flanked by a vacant chair to signify Ti’s presence – broached the topic of purposely shedding their human husks. In his view, it was a means of leaving behind the cumbersome corporeal vessel to allow for the consciousness to return to the Next Level. Just like Jesus, the same spiritual being that now occupied Do’s body, had done two thousand years prior by willingly submitting to crucifixion. The Group were down to around forty members at this point; one of them left, but the rest stayed. A common speculation is whether they would’ve moved towards the physical exit strategy if Ti had remained at the helm.
– We feel it would’ve come from Ti sooner than Do, but we don’t know for sure. It’s hard to conjecture about this. We were unaware at the time, but the development itself was unsurprising. From the beginning, Ti and Do knew we would not be entering the Next Level in our human bodies. Flesh and blood are not made for space travel. Instead, we’d receive new, space-capable Next Level bodies. You vacate your earthly vessel either before or after entering the craft – take your pick. And don’t tell us that tethered trips to the moon or Mars are ‘space travel’. Exiting the earth’s atmosphere on an explosive chemical tube and hoping you’ll make it back in one piece is controlled playtime in our restricted solar system; high-speed movement around the universe, it is not. The Next Level controls our playground.
Many researchers – with a notable example being Ben Zeller, Assistant Professor of Religion at Lake Forest College and author of Heaven’s Gate: America’s UFO Religion – have suggested that the lukewarm response to the Group’s proselytising efforts accelerated these leanings.
– That might have played a part in the timing, but it was going to happen regardless. Again, you must enter the Next Level in a Next Level body. The only question was: would it be done before entering the craft or in the privacy thereof? This time, the instructions were to discard the physical body before boarding – making of it a demonstration to the world. Had this occurred afterwards, it would’ve gone by unnoticed. Would you be writing about them today if option two had been exercised?
Shortly after the evacuation conference – but for unrelated reasons – another long-time member who’d joined at the Waldport meeting left the Group. He was sent to live with Mrcody and Srfody in Phoenix, presumably to help him re-adapt to life in modern society.
– We did serve to transition Swyody to the world, yes. The Group called us every day during late September and October to see how we were doing. They were worried he was going to go off the deep end. He did. Swyody boomeranged into drugs, music, sex, and a general tendency to do nothing. His motivation was nearly at zero as he bounced like a pinball from one human experience to the other. We finally told them that we had to push Swyody out to an apartment we’d found for him, to allow us to continue with our lives. He became a bum and ended up with some musicians in Mesa, which somewhat surprised the Group. It was no coincidence that, thirty months later, he did not receive any of the Class’ final instructions about what to do following their departure. They had his phone number and address but sent him nothing. He also birthed a child – which we did not, so we’d be ready for Next Level instructions. And the Class knew it. He has since taken on roles of dissemination the Group did not give him. These tasks are self-generated and not from the Next Level. In fact, his information and views are quite the opposite. He appears in every interview because we turn them down. We take care of all the legal issues, and the production companies run to him in need of talking heads. Such has been the cycle for many years now.
In 1995, the Group purchased forty acres of land in Manzano, New Mexico. It had previously served as a summer camp, as evidenced by the mess hall still standing on the property. Inspired by the housing model laid out in Earthship: How to Build Your Own – a book by American architect and ecologist Michael Reynolds – they constructed a veritable fortress from recycled tyres and cement. The structure even boasted a guard tower and a stash of firearms.
– We were not aware of the Earthship or the related activities. It seems they put in a lot of work there. But we did help them with many requests while they were in New Mexico, such as funnelling cash donations.
Were any of the donors unaffiliated with the Group?
– No, we are not aware of any donations from outsiders. During the 1990s, a few former members would supply cash to aid them in their mission. But beyond Ollody and Lggody in the late 70s, there were never any substantial donors.
Once the weather turned cold, maintaining the Earthship to a satisfactory degree became too much work. So, after ten months in Manzano, the Group relocated to Phoenix. Soon after arriving, they set up a foundation called TELAH Services – TELAH being an acronym for The Evolutionary Level Above Human – meant to handle mail requests for books and tapes.
– We kept in touch through 1995 until they, ‘by chance’, entered our new postal store in Phoenix to establish a mail-order relationship. Using our company office as their address – the one still on the website to this day – Lggody and Mllody set up TELAH Services as a legal entity with a bank account. It was all tied into their online activities and other tasks. They turned the corporation over to us in May 1996; after that, we were asked to assist them with many things. We helped where we could, but safety for both parties was always in play.
Also in May 1996, for the first time in 4,200 years, the comet that would eventually become known as Hale-Bopp grew visible to the naked eye. It had been completely unknown to the scientific community until ten months earlier when two amateur astronomers, Alan Hale and Thomas Bopp, discovered a gigantic heavenly body with a dust envelope the size of our sun approaching the orbit of Jupiter. In contemporary popular culture, Hale-Bopp seems to be the primary association most people have with Heaven’s Gate. However, it is a common misconception that they believed a spacecraft to be trailing the comet; rather, it was interpreted as the celestial omen they’d been waiting for. Hale-Bopp caught the entire world’s imagination and inflamed interest among everyone from religious personalities to conspiracy theorists. One outlet that picked up a lot of the extravagant ideas in circulation, such as the one about a UFO hiding behind the comet, was Art Bell’s classic radio show Coast to Coast, which the Group is said to have listened to regularly.
– We don’t like UFO shows – they are boring. Srfody and I paid no attention to it and heard about this only after they departed. And no, there was no craft following the comet. Hale-Bopp was never important to us; it was just a marker. As was Easter.
By October 1996, Heaven’s Gate – still using the Total Overcomers Anonymous moniker – had left Arizona for California. They took up residence in the exclusive San Diego community of Rancho Santa Fe, renting an enormous mansion for a whopping $7,000 per month. Earlier that same year, the Group had founded a web-design company called Higher Source; I’m assuming this is what allowed for the accommodation upgrade.
– We think there has been a misunderstanding about the financial assistance provided by Higher Source. It was basically a wash. A lot of money was invested when the company started in April 1996 – computers, technology, etcetera – and it only lasted until February 1997. There was some revenue from website contracts during those ten months, but the start-up costs were very high. In late March or April 1997, we tried to acquire some of the account receivables the Class asked us to retrieve but got none of it. The clients denied having had work done or even knowing anyone from the Group. Some out of embarrassment for being associated with a ‘cult’, whereas others just didn’t want to pay the bill. So, Higher Source did not bring in the kind of funds the rumours say. We have their financial ledgers, and it simply isn’t true.
How did Heaven’s Gate come to have so many skilled IT professionals?
– It wasn’t the case of having skilled IT professionals: they were devoted Next Level members who could perform whatever tasks they were assigned. Many of those who worked in this field did not have computer backgrounds. Students learned, improved, and excelled. We could switch our skills to whatever discipline was needed to carry out the task at hand. Classmates could write and edit a book, then switch to handling a backhoe the day after, only to start developing construction skills when building the Earthship. The Group switched over to the internet and coding in 1996. Whatever was needed could be filled by members. Many individuals learned to code, and the best were picked for service. With a clear, focused, and disciplined mind, you can handle many things coming your way.
In October 1996, the Group released two videos: Last Chance to Evacuate Earth Before it’s Recycled and Planet About to be Recycled – Your Only Chance to Survive – Leave with Us. This concept of an impending Recycling was a core tenet in the Heaven’s Gate worldview. They believed the Next Level to regularly carry out full planetary resets of the environment, as well as of any lifeforms sustained by it. This is typically implemented through catastrophic natural events, such as whatever ended the era of dinosaurs. The only chance for consciousness to survive would be to transcend to the Next Level. From their perspective, actual suicide would be staying behind to face the Recycling as an ordinary human. But simply offing oneself without having first qualified for and then organised a Next Level collection is pointless, seeing as how it would merely trigger another cycle of reincarnation.
– Srfody and I found the information on the tapes consistent with what we’d been taught. As you know, they were styled differently to appeal either to a religious or a sci-fi-oriented audience, respectively. For security reasons, the Group often had us handling the shipping. We sent them out to the appropriate locations: many legal, governmental, and religious entities in the United States and the rest of the world received copies. We also dealt with the returns, of which there were many. Lots of ‘Return to Sender’, ‘We don’t want your tapes’, and similar mean-spirited rejections. The religious organisations were especially rough. Every TV evangelist received a tape, and their responses were mixed. It is always amazing to see what kind of behaviour such people can justify as compatible with their teachings.
Mrcody believes these videos, along with the written material produced during the Group’s final years, primarily targeted the hundreds of former members across the country. Despite dropping out, often due to an inability to master their human urges, many remained Next Level devotees. Should Mrcody be right about this, it would explain one conundrum I’ve been grappling with regarding their last-minute recruitment run. My layman’s interpretation is that an individual must undergo an extensive Classroom setup – taught by Next Level tutors – to be eligible for graduation. And, as I’m sure Mrcody could attest to, this is unlikely to be attained in a mere few months.
– Yes, it would be nearly impossible for the uninitiated to fully understand the ways of the Next Level within such a limited timeframe. The Group indicated to us clearly that they were always going after former members. They wanted them to be part of the upcoming departure. There were never any indications of when this might occur, but they had to cast nets and former students were the easiest to catch. The only new individuals to bite were Lkkody and Dvvody, in September 1996. The Group were going to put them in our halfway house in Phoenix but decided to just accept them into the Rancho Santa Fe craft instead. Dvvody took to it, but Lkkody was out in weeks. Dvvody was indeed an exception – definitely ‘the last shall be first’.
Matthew 20:16, ‘So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.’ On March 21, 1997 – the day before Hale-Bopp’s closest proximity to Earth – Mrcody and Srfody had a conference call with Do and the Class. The Group announced that plans had been made to take the leap, so to speak, and travel off-world. They had some requests regarding the management of their legacy.
– They all thanked us profusely for what we had done and would do. It was a very kind and loving call. We had just received a parcel containing the latest version of their anthology and knew they wanted us, with the help of Oscody, to make sure it got published and submitted to the Library of Congress. We talked about that as well as the other work coming our way. However, we didn’t quite realise the full scope of our task until the FedEx boxes arrived the following Wednesday.
Starting March 22, employing the same teamwork efficiency with which they prospered both professionally and privately, the remaining thirty-nine members went to their human deaths in three shifts over three days. Those in line for evacuation ingested a lethal dose of an anti-seizure medication called phenobarbital and then potentiated it by downing some vodka. This would’ve been the first drop of alcohol many of the students consumed for over twenty years. Wearing identical uniforms, complete with the famous Heaven’s Gate Away Team patches and Nike shoes, they pulled plastic bags over their heads, secured them, and laid down to die. Upon expiry, Classmates from the next shift removed the bags and draped their corpses with purple shrouds. Do was part of the third and final wave, which was down to nine people. He left third to last, assisted by Lvvody and Jnnody – two women in their mid-forties, the former of which attended the Waldport meeting with Mrcody – who then covered him and followed suit. The next day, March 25, Mrcody and Srfody received a FedEx parcel containing a personal letter addressed to them, a press release, a list of the other recipients, account details for heavensgate.com, and various keys to cars and storage units complete with maps and directions. There were also two tapes containing ‘exit videos’, showing the departed members’ goodbyes. I’m trying to imagine what it must have been like to watch these heartfelt but visibly elated farewells from people they’d shared so much with.
– The two videos were in SVHS format and could not be played on our home equipment, so we had to get them converted and then watched both in one sitting. We do not feel sorrow. We were happy they made it, but there was simultaneously the sense of having a big task ahead of us. It felt really special, and the humour we saw directed at us was very funny. Do and the Group loved laughter.
Speaking of which, I’ve found the Heaven’s Gate material to contain some rather subtle and clever elements of humour. Nothing whimsical, but more of a dry and poignant wit. Several remarks in Do’s tapes, as well as the ’88 Update, for example. Not to mention the Nike shoes; ‘Just Do it’. Jwnody – Mrcody’s old check-partner, the one who was pregnant when she joined the Group – closed her exit statement with a Star Trek reference: ‘Thirty-nine to beam up!’
– We were laughing all the time. Their wit was priceless. The pocket contents of an ID, a five-dollar bill, and some coins was hilarious. Sending us non-durable power of attorney over everyone in the Group, knowing they terminated on death… could you imagine the reaction if someone had survived, and their families found out we held the legal authority? The account receivables from Higher Source, even though every single client would deny all affiliation. The Class knew we’d get the back of the hand from some former students, but our letter said, ‘You are about to inherit what’s left of our purser task, to do with as you choose.’ Our detractors never mention that sentence. Also, the ‘If you choose to accept this mission’ part is especially delicious. Their love of fun was wonderful.
What were the five-dollar bill and quarters in the Exit Team uniform pockets about?
– According to the autopsy report, the individuals who departed had all sorts of change in their pockets. Some were found with pennies and dimes, others with only one quarter. When heading out to our OOC tasks each day, we brought along our state ID – usually a driver’s license – so that we could legally identify ourselves. We also took a five-dollar bill to cover the vagrancy fines in any state, plus one to three quarters to call the house if we were running late. Humans take these things for granted and never consider why they must have them to function in society. It was our way of not letting ourselves be tripped up by petty legal issues. To us, this ‘dispatch procedure’ was rather amusing since we knew it was a wink and a nod at former Classmates. Did they need to do this? No. Was it indicative of following basic procedures until the end? Yes. Was it an inside joke? Yes. Humans were confused about this because it was for us to joke about, not them. It was a lovable trait we appreciated greatly.
On March 26, the day after the FedEx delivery, two former students named Rkkody and Oscody – both of whom had received letters of their own – flew to San Diego to retrieve vehicles and various Classroom materials. They picked up the Lincoln Continental waiting for them at the airport and then drove to the Group’s commercial storage space.
– It was an opportunity for Rkkody to clear out the storage room. Oscody tried to get him to do it, but Rkkody was only interested in some audio tapes, his designated automobile, and the cash stored in it. Rkkody said his back was hurting, so he didn’t want to put the contents into the moving truck we’d assigned to him. They then went up to the mansion in Rancho Santa Fe at about 5:30 pm and were met by a large police presence. Rio, another former member, had made his way there first. Rkkody and Oscody left the area and drove to Phoenix.
Did you have any idea what awaited them in the mansion?
– None of us knew the details of how the Class would exit, but we pieced it together soon enough. We were with our attorney group in downtown Phoenix and told them it was going to happen at any time. One of their assistants burst into the conference room and said, ‘Turn on CNN, now!’ Via our legal counsel, we assisted the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department throughout the evening. We sent them a chart of the expired so that they could be identified quickly. We supplied all the relevant information.
Given Mrcody and Srfody’s security-mindedness, it must have been a somewhat disconcerting realisation that the street address of their livelihood was listed on the Heaven’s Gate website – upon which the entire world’s attention now rested. I read many contemporary news stories stating that reporters had reached out to the owners for a comment about their affiliation with TELAH Services.
– We knew this would be difficult to handle. When the full pressure of the global press and legal entities is applied, you must be quick on your feet. We stayed away from direct questions and told the reporters that TELAH were box-holders at our business. We were careful with what we did and where we went. Some of our employees wondered what was going on, but we instructed them to remain quiet and only take messages. It quieted down in a few days and passed entirely within a reasonable amount of time.
Several of the letters to former students stated, ‘We want you to feel free to exercise any available options with whatever timing feels right for your own next step’. As did Srfody and Mrcody’s – but with the added phrase ‘No doors are closed to you’. I’m unsure whether this was an invitation or a humorous reference to all the keys included.
– We knew this had two meanings – from departing after them to taking the steps necessary to protect and carry out our tasks. We’d been left with the lion’s share of their work and legacy. Some former Classmates had specific assignments which could be completed in days, whereas we have tasks for the remainder of our lives.
The Heaven’s Gate website offers German translations of the two Recycling tapes from 1996. Coincidentally, Rkkody‘s letter from the Class includes a remark about a potential seeker from Germany – ‘Oscody is in contact with this individual and has offered housing for him at the Phoenix satellite.’
– There was never any satellite in Phoenix other than what the Group set up with us in May 1996. The German’s name was Sören. He never made it to the United States; Oscody told us he’d offered to do some translations but lost interest after the incident.
After arriving in Phoenix, Rkkody drove to Denver in the Lincoln Continental. On March 29, Oscody returned to San Diego to continue the storage room clearance. After collecting the Group’s Mazda MPV minivan from the airport, he found that an external party had placed a padlock on the door. An employee of the storage company had recognised Dstody – one of the departees – from a news report and then alerted law enforcement.
– Rkkody updated the website as instructed but failed at everything else we asked him to do. He was unable to accomplish the task the Group had given him and then proceeded to go his own way. This refusal of his lost us the storage contents. It took us two years of fighting the San Diego County property system and cost us a lot of money in legal fees to get it all back.
In early April 1997, Mars Media – the company hosting the Heaven’s Gate website – discovered that someone had hijacked the domain name and taken the site down.
– Chris Milus of Mars Media always tried to help us and was as kind as he could be under the circumstances. Unfortunately, Rkkody had allowed someone to steal the URL and take the site offline. It had been down for days at that point, and this stretched into months. It was another case of Rkkody keeping the website away from the public through all of 1997, contrary to the instructions left by Do and the Class. It’s been alleged that the original website came back up in August 1997, but we’ve seen no indication of that.
Mrcody’s letter mentions a Romanian internet service provider meant to function as a pre-paid online backup, should the main site be shut down or buckle under heavy traffic. The Class describes the ISP’s owner as an agreeable fellow – however, since he wasn’t quite aware of what manner of client he was dealing with, ‘We’re not sure what his response will be to this most recent event.’
– He disappeared when the website crashed due to overuse, so we had to go to another server. We never heard from him or his organisation. So much for those payments.
To complicate matters further, TELAH Services – the business set up by the Group and transferred to Srfody and Mrcody – was still registered to Logan Lahson, known in the Class as Lggody. The state of Arizona would not allow for this to be changed; instead, the entity itself had to be renamed.
– In May 1997, Srfody and I flew to Washington DC to speak with an IRS panel and get the appropriate changes to a 501(c)(3) organisation done. It was an unusual board meeting of sceptical bureaucrats who later approved the new name: The Telah Foundation. Contrary to a rumour floated about this, no attorneys recommended these measures or were employed in the achievement thereof.
Another rumour I came across is that Srfody had spoken to a fellow former student and been very upset, exclaiming, ‘How could they do this to us?’
– No, Srfody stated nothing of the kind. She never implied that we were ‘wronged’ by the Group in any way. We’d been in training for ten months, between May 1996 to March 1997, to assume responsibility for tasks we were – and still are – honoured to carry out. Those same former members have also alleged that we gave up on said tasks for a brief time; that is equally false. All the things our detractors indicate we’ve said or done could fill a book. They seem to take comfort in clinging tightly to their delusions. And once that pattern is set, they’d feel empty if any of it were to be explained to everyone’s satisfaction.
There are also claims that Mrcody believed himself in line to ‘make millions’ from their proprietorship of The Telah Foundation.
– No, what I actually said was that a foolish lawyer had suggested that we could make a million – but we thought it would do nothing but cost us time and money. Funny how our detractors keep omitting the latter part. Their bitterness and hatred are not of the Next Level and never will be. We still nurture the hope that they will one day find it in their hearts to sincerely embrace kindness and understanding instead of this endless broken record of spiteful misconceptions. We believe it is tearing them apart and distancing them from the Next Level.
In early May 1997, a former member called Jstody travelled to Mexico to procure phenobarbital for himself and Rkkody. Before springing into action, they recorded exit statements of their own and then sent them by post to family members and media outlets. If I’ve understood Jstody’s video correctly, he was not expecting an immediate reunion with the Away Team – which included Slvody, his wife from before the Class – but rather to be set up for incarnation into a future Classroom where he’d get another chance to graduate.
– To exit was his choice; we knew nothing of what they were doing. But he’s not too far off with his exit statement – it’s called being ‘put on ice’. That is an option.
That reminds me of Srrody’s exit video, in which he directly addresses former Classmates. He urges them to rely on personal experience rather than media portrayals in how they should relate to the graduation event.
– The option was given to all former students within a short window of time; only a few took advantage of it. The two of us had our tasks to do and feel confident we’ll be taken care of. But we don’t know exactly what the future holds. Since the next opportunity may be a long way off, it is possible that we will also be put on ice. Most likely, many Classmates are in the same position.
On May 6, 1997, Jstody and Rkkody donned the Away Team uniforms, ingested large quantities of phenobarbital, and pulled plastic bags over their heads. Meanwhile, CNN and CBS News had received the farewell tapes and notified authorities. Investigators contacted Rkkody’s daughter, who had just opened an envelope containing a tape of her own. She told police that her father was likely somewhere in San Diego, close to the Group’s compound. After checking motels in the vicinity, law enforcement discovered that the two men had booked room 222 of the Holiday Inn Express in Encinitas, a community adjacent to Rancho Santa Fe. When the first responders arrived, Jstody had already died. Rkkody was in critical condition; he had instinctively torn off the plastic bag before suffocating. Unlike the Class, he drank no vodka to boost the medication, so the dosage proved insufficient to kill him. Rkkody woke up chained to a hospital bed. A few months later, in February 1998, he drove out into the Arizona desert. This time he succeeded.
– We finally found out that Rkkody had gotten the domain back and given it to his daughter before he died. It was being held in Mexico. We paid a lawyer to take them to court and after a fight, we got it back. The daughter in question has still not complied with the other terms of that settlement, and she should. The website went back up immediately in early 1998. Until then, we’d been using the Group’s other domains, such as heavensgatetoo.com.
The Heaven’s Gate anthology, How and When “Heaven’s Gate” May Be Entered, was treated to a posthumous release by Wild Flower Press on March 1, 1998. My impression is that this was not a hugely lucrative venture.
– We had to pay cash to get the final version printed; it cost us a lot of money. The publisher did his job but became disillusioned when no one wanted to buy the book. Ultimately, before he threw them all away, we got him to ship the remaining copies to us. We’ve been selling them one by one – at the mere cost of our production expenses – over the past two decades.
After first suing the County of San Diego Property Group in April 1997, Mrcody and Srfody made it into court by the end of 1998.
– It took the designated Special Master two years to realise he wasn’t going to shake us. Finally, after about $325,000 in total costs, we got a settlement of all the Group’s intellectual property. Not only did we receive the videotapes and the balance of audio recordings, writings, and patches, but we got all the important items from the storage locker and the house. That’s how we acquired items even Do never expected us to get. Our settlement with San Diego County included all the Group’s financial records, logs, and items from the house, as well as Do’s bed and nightstands along with all of his books. We purchased the camera they filmed everything on, and all the tapes associated with it. We still use that camera. Through the auction, the public got the cars, clothes, kitchen items, and laundry goods. They got the bunkbeds because we did not want them. Anyone claiming to have original patches, purple shrouds, or other items of that exit is mistaken. Remember, San Diego County incinerated the mattresses, bedding, shrouds, shoes, clothing, and anything else that touched their bodies. The county even provided us with the police case files – perhaps by mistake? – so we got their correspondence with the families and the real stories of what they thought of us.
Do you mean the county’s correspondence with the families?
– Yes. The county employees were very frank about what they thought of us. We were considered ‘the enemy’, and they indicated that we’d stopped the auction of goods meant to pay for the family members’ funerals. As if we owed them that. When we put a stop to this in court, their anger level increased and they got the families even more riled up. Once we had received what was due to us, as mandated by a court of law, they blamed us for the low turnout at their auction and the meagre amount of dollars it brought in. They had illegally secured items from the storage, and we had to get it all back. Which we did, to great cost out of our own pocket. We have not received any payments other than the production cost of the book. The total expenses of all court cases, production costs, legal issues, etcetera is now over $500,000. But we had to do what was right and necessary to make the Next Level information available to the world.
Most accounts I’ve read from outsiders who dealt with Classmates in person have been consistent about them coming across as relatively ‘normal’. A May 1997 Seattle Times article quotes a spokeswoman from Interact Entertainment Group who describes the Higher Source consultants they hired as ‘strict in diet and dress’ but with ‘a good sense of humour’ and being ‘exceptionally smart’. In the discourse surrounding Heaven’s Gate, there is much talk of ‘brainwashing’. Students are portrayed as some manner of hypnotised victims spellbound by a charismatic leader. Ben Zeller – whose writings are a must-read for anyone who wants to understand Heaven’s Gate – disagrees. He argues that, rather than mindless cultists, the members were devoted religious adherents. Bearing this in mind, it’s interesting to observe how both HBO’s Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults and an ambitious podcast series I listened to feature Zeller heavily in the historical segments yet omit his views on brainwashing. Instead, these analyses are provided by a colourful cast of characters who all appear to be occupational anti-cult entrepreneurs with only rudimentary knowledge about Heaven’s Gate.
– Ben Zeller has demonstrated a tendency to rely on a more studied model of careful analysis and educated background, resulting in an independent point of view and objective reasoning to back up his studies. Documentary producers inevitably want less thorough examinations in favour of provocative quips and vapid statements. Accordingly, they often turn to a second or third tier of people in the field – alleged ‘cult experts’ who possess neither the credentials nor the logic required.
Today, most scholars consider the concept of brainwashing– a term that first emerged to explain why captured US soldiers had defected to North Korea – as not only pseudoscience but also inapplicable to members of what we commonly call ‘religious cults’. One of the consultants in the HBO series, a sociologist named Janja Lalich, dismisses the relative scientific consensus on brainwashing as ‘some academics who want us to think that it doesn’t exist’. On the contrary, she ‘guarantees’ its existence based on her experience as an activist in a Marxist-Leninist political party. She has since, and I quote, ‘dedicated her life to educating others about cults’ by writing books and giving lectures. She’s also launched her own scientific explanation for brainwashing: ‘bounded choice’. One of her books uses Heaven’s Gate to argue this model.
– Lalich wrote a non-objective book about her experience in a cult and then threw in our trademarks – which are illegal for her to use – to get people to buy it. None of these ‘experts’ have any training in the relevant fields. They have neither the studied background nor the discipline but are used by directors for sheer sensationalism. The characters in that HBO special had already been discredited by professionals in fields such as anthropology, sociology, psychology and applied religious studies long before it was produced. They are low-level hacks who should never be used by real news or documentary-makers seeking accurate information. We told the production crew, in person, not to use those individuals. Instead, they edited Zeller’s contributions to the show down to a minimum.
In the media section of Janja Lalich’s website, Cult Research & Information Center, there is a 2021 video called Secrets of the Heaven’s Gate Cult. I watched it and noticed a few extraordinary assertions. For instance, she purports to have been the first to figure out who the departed were and what cult they belonged to. That is downright ridiculous since everyone’s pockets contained an ID, and the Heaven’s Gate website was left open on their computers. Furthermore, she says there were media vans ‘lined up’ on her street, with reporters hanging on her doorstep waiting for the renowned expert to appear. Robert Balch and David Taylor – both of whom appear in the HBO series – are by all accounts the only academics to have worked directly on Heaven’s Gate before the suicides, and they attracted nowhere near that kind of media hounding.
– If those in the Class truly were ‘brainwashed’, there really is little hope for the world. This insistence is a clear indicator of weakness and lack of serious study by these ‘specialists’. In reality, they are just recovering from their own failures. Why have neither Lalich nor the other one – Steve Hassan – who appeared in the Stitcher podcast and HBO special never so much as contacted us to get the real story or verify their information? Nor have they spoken to any of those from the Class featured in the same programs. We own all the Group’s teachings, and we’ve never heard from either of them.
Mrcody and Srfody have now served as Heaven’s Gate’s caretakers for over twenty-five years – longer than the Class even existed. Their day-to-day tasks range from website maintenance to answering emails and handling the Group’s intellectual property. Ever vigilant, in 2020 they threatened to sue a rapper called Lil Uzi Vert unless he changed his album cover which used a modified version of the Heaven’s Gate logo.
– The Telah Foundation requires roughly four hours on an average day; about thirty hours per week, including weekends. The remaining time is devoted to our full-time jobs so that we can finance these activities. Our main task is disseminating the Next Level information to the world – from the website to the book, the tapes, and all that relates to it. It is our firm belief that the Class bequeathed their teachings to us in the way they wanted them to be, without edits or spotlights placed on individuals left behind. Srfody and I have gone to great lengths to ensure the materials remain intact. We have a profound understanding that the Group’s writings and intellectual property are part of their legacy.
Do you have any human goals you are currently working towards?
– We are just making due. Our main goal right now is to get done with this interview; it is just a few sentences short of The Greatest Story Ever Told, and that ran for over four hours. Things are different with Ti, Do, and the Group gone, but Srfody and I do what we can to evolve in the ways of the Next Level. We have grown together to become the longest-lasting partnership in the history of the Class. The Next Level knows what they are doing.