Heaven’s Gate I: The Classroom
by Niklas Göransson
An in-depth conversation with Mrcody of The Telah Foundation – caretakers of Heaven’s Gate, an American UFO group which captured the entire world’s attention in March 1997.
– In 1975, I was twenty-one years old and had just spent two years in college. Lvvody and I lived in a Krishnamurti commune near Medford, Oregon, trying to find out more about the teachings of this individual. And no, Lvvody and I were never in any kind of relationship. We later found out that Ti and Do were familiar with Krishnamurti from their time studying the Theosophical Society while in Ojai, California. They were not impressed by him, but he was the best of the worst.
At the time, Ti and Do – a woman and a man in their forties, the founders of what ultimately became known as Heaven’s Gate – had been on a soul-searching pilgrimage for many years. After travelling the country and evaluating various wisdom teachings, they had come to the understanding that they were the two witnesses foretold in the Book of Revelation, chapter eleven. Not in the traditional Christian interpretation, but as representatives of the Next Level: a higher plane of existence reminiscent of the biblical Heaven. Come the autumn of 1975, Ti and Do’s journey had led them to Waldport, Oregon, where they announced a September 14 meeting. ‘UFOs’, stated the poster. ‘Why they are here. Who they have come for. When they will leave.’
– While shopping in Eugene, Oregon, our friends found this poster on the bulletin board of a natural food store. Neither Lvvody nor I were particularly interested in UFOs or their activities, but our friends were so we decided to come along. Both of them went into the Group after the meeting but stayed only for a few months. Lvvody and I stayed longer. Waldport probably had the highest yield of long-term Class members, around twenty people. The earlier California meetings produced very little, so even Ti and Do were surprised by the bounty from that day.
Many who joined during this era would later recall seeing the Two, as the mysterious couple called themselves, haloed by a radiant glow. One student named Tddody described a series of experiences that ‘in no way could be called coincidence’. Questions he’d been formulating in his mind were repeatedly answered by Do. ‘When this occurred’, he wrote, ‘I felt as if I were in a tunnel with Do at one end and me at the other.’
– Over the years, many in the Group relayed unusual circumstances of coming across either its information or members. Tddody’s observations were just part of those experiences. We know we were led to come upon Do again. Two thousand years earlier, Do had told us that we were not yet ready to graduate and must remain on this planet. That we were in line for rebirth and would meet up with him in the future. We’d all be rounded up when the Next Level returned to this planet. If we wanted to go, we’d go. If we didn’t feel it, we’d either not enter this new Class or drop out a few months later. Free will was always in play. We could tell at the Waldport meeting that this clarion call had sounded. Many of those present immediately remembered who they were and realised that this was the return our souls had been waiting for – hence the ‘smelling salts’ reference.
In an article called Ti and Do as Smelling Salts, a member known as Jwnody described her first time encountering the Two as ‘being awakened abruptly from a deep sleep’. ‘The voice of our Shepherds rang clear in the depths of our soul as we heard their familiar song once again.’ Attendees of the Waldport meeting were told that every second millennium or so, the Next Level – creators and caretakers of all worlds throughout the multiverse – visit Earth in the flesh to see how human civilisation has progressed. Once here, they reveal themselves as to offer interested parties a way to transcend the human condition. This can only be achieved through a gruelling process during which one severs all attachments to the world one intends to leave behind.
– Those who were committed and recognised as true returnees were instructed to go to a park in Eugene, Oregon, the next day. Once Lvvody and I got there, we met with most of the Group who’d been collected from LA and San Francisco. Ti and Do were not present. The culling continued through interviews and discussions with Older Members. They had been instructed to put up speed bumps, or barriers, to everyone who’d joined following the Waldport meeting. Looky-loos and reporters were not to slip through. We talked to Nrrody and Echody for a while, and they found us acceptable.
What were your first impressions of them?
– Echody didn’t speak much but listened intently. Nrrody was very organised and direct in what was necessary to get through. They certainly weren’t Ti and Do, nor did they purport to be. Both of them were trying to find equals, not adepts. We were instructed to return to our human homes, divest of all property, bid our families goodbye, and then travel to Colorado with camping gear, a vehicle to drive in, and – if we had any – some money for food. A few of us lived in states on the East Coast, so it took several days to gather everyone again.
How did your relatives react?
– Like many of the families, they wondered what this was about. Some were curious and others were bewildered that their daughter, son, or parent was doing something that didn’t make sense. Some thought it was just a passing fancy they’d soon return from – which many did. But all of them had to accept that those entering the Group were adults doing what they wanted to do. To fight it was futile. As for us, our parents listened and expressed their concerns. They essentially gave their blessing but hoped we could stay in touch. Our family members were somewhat passive about it and just looked on. One sister tried to contact authorities to stop us, but she was rebuffed by the simple fact that we were legal adults. We weren’t crazy then and hadn’t been crazy in the months leading up to it. We’ve heard stories about the range of feelings that families had but, in September 1975, life had to move on, and no one could stand in our way. To not leave with the Class was out of the question. That would’ve been like asking us if not breathing was a viable option. We’d waited for this moment for almost two thousand years and responded accordingly.
Prospects were told they must make it to the Colorado National Monument outside a town called Fruita by the end of the week. The Group appears to have left quite the lasting impression among the locals, seeing as how there is a logistics company named Heaven’s Gate Trucking LLC currently operating out of Fruita.
– We remember car after car arriving at the campground that Friday and Saturday; so many individuals were trying to grasp this new understanding. Ti and Do knew some of them wouldn’t even last a few days, so the several dozen recruits had to be interviewed. Ti and Do – or Bo and Peep, as they were called at the time – met with each person separately. I remember them speaking to me about my view of life, some theosophy, and their teachings. They looked into my soul. It was later relayed to me that I should clean up since either my clothes or my person needed a bath.
Did they have the same otherworldly presence when you spoke to them in private?
– Lvvody and I clearly felt the power of who they were, but others did not. Many referred to it as a ‘glow’ or ‘light’ because it seemed to be more of a life force that could not be contained in the body. I don’t know how many made it through the interview process. Some were turned away with no meetings or interviews at all. Others left voluntarily, simply because a spaceship didn’t come that weekend. By the way, still to this day people contact us and very seriously think they can just sign up, receive their boarding pass, and enter a craft leaving the planet within days. We never thought this would happen, not even in 1975. It was never like that and never will be.
Despite diligent culling, plenty of prospects were sent along to the Poudre River campgrounds outside of Fort Collins, Colorado.
– Some were there just out of curiosity, others for a joy ride, but many were very serious. We lost a few more at Poudre because of the basic rules being laid out: no drugs, sex, alcohol, or smoking. No human partnerships or relationships were recognised in any way. By the end of September, everyone was camped in small pods along the river. Some were given new clothes and had their long hair cut off. We began disconnecting from societal support systems and human ways of thinking. It was all just preliminary activity, but it separated some wheat from the chaff.
Following Waldport, the media started taking notice. Many newspaper articles were written about the strange phenomenon. CBS Evening News anchor-man Walter Cronkite reported, ‘A score of persons have disappeared. It’s a mystery whether they’ve been taken on a so-called trip to eternity – or simply been taken.’ In early October, facing increasing pressure from authorities, Ti and Do moved the Group to a campground in Kansas.
– People still came and went, which was unsettling. All of us were on a strict ‘need to know’ basis. Talks of Next Level practices were limited at this point. Ti and Do were not around the camp: we assumed that they and their small protective cadre spent time in Boulder, separate from all of us, for protective reasons. Understand that Ti and Do did not know whom to trust; many of those present were new and excited. By the middle of October, we were heading to the Chain O’Lakes campground in Illinois – trying to stay one step ahead of concerned family members and the authorities they were trying to force into action. The Group had grown to almost seventy-five people by then. Some may have left without us knowing it. When we say that information was on a ‘need to know’ basis, we’re not kidding. We maintained a secure and no-gossip protocol.
October 18, 1975: one month after Waldport, the news about Ti and Do’s human names broke. In her former life, Ti had been known as Bonnie Nettles. She was a registered nurse who’d led a relatively normal family life until meeting Do in 1972, following which they became inseparable – but strictly on a platonic level, there are no indications of any sensual interest between the Two. Do, previously named Marshall Applewhite, received most of the media attention on account of being a convicted felon.
– You do know that this felony – for which Do spent a combined six months in jail – was for the ‘crime’ of using a rental car too long? The judge handed him a four-month sentence for this. He’d already served six months upon his release in St. Louis on February 13, 1975. Ti was there to meet him, and they proceeded with their mission. That was the full extent of Do’s ‘life of crime’, which had now come to an end. He never got his extra two months back.
Most of the Group seems to have taken this news in stride – how did you react?
– I can honestly say that we did not pay the slightest bit of attention to their names or personal history. None of this even became known to us until the end of March 1997. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t have mattered.
The Group’s early days saw the introduction of its ‘check-partner’ system. Each member was paired with someone of the opposite sex, matched with the individual most likely to force them to confront their humanness and mortal attachments. The ensuing sexual tension, complete lack of privacy, and interpersonal conflicts were meant to cause constant friction. It does indeed sound bloody awkward.
– It was intended to be awkward. We received instructions from Ti and Do to split up into twos – although there were a few with three – under the guidance of a helper partnership of what was called Overseerers. There were endless confrontations with one’s humanness in both thought and action. If you were sincere about overcoming your human ways, you’d genuinely grow from this; even actively welcome it. Under the care of Cddody and Flxody, I was paired with Jwnody in a partnership that lasted a very long time. Jwnody and I learned a lot together.
Jwnody certainly underwent a trial by human fire in her very early days with the Group. At the Chain O’Lakes campground, Jwnody sought out Flxody and Cddody and informed them that – judging by her lack of menses – she was probably pregnant.
– Jwnody had an African American boyfriend in Oregon, with whom she’d conceived in the early August of 1975. He did not join the Group. I was unaware of the situation, but Jwnody let Ti and Do know as soon as she deduced it. They spoke with both of us and laid out our task. Jwnody was to deliver the child, in agreement with Ti. Since everyone was on a ‘need to know’ basis, only a handful of individuals knew about this. We performed our meeting tasks throughout the winter. Ti cared for Jwnody’s medical and dietary needs during that period. She didn’t show much, so the Group was still pretty much in the dark when we left for Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in February 1976.
Following all the media notoriety, travelling together in large numbers grew increasingly impractical. So, the Group was split up and ‘check-partners’ set out to spread the word. In the early days, Ti and Do spoke of something they referred to as ‘the Demonstration’. Once the prophecies of Revelation 11:3 – where the witnesses are first widely mocked and then assassinated in public – had been fulfilled, the Two would return in extra-terrestrial form and lead their followers off this world and back to the Next Level. The perceived media witch-hunt had already covered the first part, so members across the country anticipated word of the murders that would fulfil their prophecy. Meanwhile, the many proselytising partnerships were holding meetings from coast to coast.
– After listening to Ti and Do at some of the earlier meetings during November, December, and January, we were ready to talk the talk with confidence and authority. We were totally comfortable speaking the knowledge of the Next Level. Jwnody and I held a meeting at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill – Tar Heel country. Just the two of us booked the hall, spread posters, and did radio appearances to promote it. Actually, the very same morning, February 14, our car was totalled by a Greyhound bus. Nevertheless, we proceeded to carry out our task without issue. The university’s assembly hall was fully attended, and we spoke to many afterwards. Srrody came from that gathering. We netted only one but were, and are, very happy with the results.
A 1997 edition of Nashville Life quotes Srrody’s former friends from school, who describe him as ‘a born leader, an achiever, a magnetic personality.’ From that day until the end, Srrody dedicated his entire mortal existence to Heaven’s Gate. Another key member from the early years, Dncody – who joined in April 1975 – spoke in a video interview about how Ti and Do advised him and his partner to ‘travel around a while, run out of money, and see what happens’. They did just that and ran dry while driving through Yellowstone. However, they came across some kind strangers in a church, and everything worked out. In a ’97 interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Dncody spoke about making his way towards Olympia, Washington, when they had to get new tyres. After stopping at a small tyre shop and spending several hours rummaging through old, used rubber, trying to find something their size, the owner suddenly handed them a brand-new set. He explained that ‘the Lord had told him to’. Dncody mentioned several similar instances, noting that this string of minor miracles and synchronicities were interpreted as omens of him being on the right path. ‘When this happens over and over and over’, commented Dncody, ‘pretty soon you get the idea that somebody upstairs is looking out for you.’
– Yes, very much so. Jwnody and I had people fill up our gas tanks and give us meals and a place to sleep for no other reason than kindness. Several Classmates had experiences of generosity on the part of those who were placed in their path to get a chance to serve the Next Level. We were always happy to allow such moments to unfold.
Ti and Do hosted roughly 130 speaking events in the early days. Something which strikes me as odd is how it seems to only have been at a select few meetings that scores of people joined; most yielded zero.
– It is true that many meetings brought us few to no new followers. Usually, if you got one or two, that would be about it. Waldport was an anomaly. After the news broke, Ti and Do were more cautious and often let the students perform in their stead. Sometimes – like in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on April 17, 1976 – they let students do the first half before Ti and Do took over. That day yielded Sngody, which was fine with us. Was it possible that Ti and Do would bring in more people? Yes, but our net was exclusive as to whom it would pull in. Anyone joining up due to the sizzle would leave soon thereafter. The main thing was giving those who needed to make contact with us the chance to do so.
Due to continued media pressure, it became increasingly difficult to draw much of an attendance. Finally, on April 21, 1976, after a less than stellar meeting at the auditorium of Manhattan College in Kansas, Ti declared the harvest closed – no new members were to be accepted.
– At the time, we had left Chapel Hill and went to Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. We camped outside the city. Lawrenceburg was the closest city to ‘The Farm’.
The Farm was – and still is – a hippie commune with about two hundred residents in Lawrence County, Tennessee.
– They had a history of midwifing and, more importantly, accepting infants given to them with no questions asked. A local pastor and his wife took us in and provided meals and care during the last five weeks. We slept in a campground each night to keep our distance and privacy. We ended up delivering at Crockett General Hospital; I stayed with Jwnody the whole time. The nurses must have thought I was the father, but they realised it was someone else’s once the baby girl with golden eyes and biracial skin had been delivered. I remember the child as being remarkably beautiful. We brought her to The Farm as soon as Jwnody was released in early May 1976. They took the baby in and raised her. Hopefully, she’s had a good and fulfilling life. Her forty-seventh birthday is coming up at the beginning of May 2023.
There are many intriguing aspects to this episode. My primary fascination is the strength of spiritual conviction so profound as to override hard-wired maternal instincts, especially with all the raging hormones associated with pregnancy.
– Jwnody knew who she was and the task she had to do. The only time I saw her show a bit of emotion was when we drove south to Biloxi, Mississippi. She began lactating through her bra and shirt, which caught her off-guard. She wept for a short while, and we stopped to clean up. She felt it was a moment of weakness. As we proceeded down to Biloxi, the engine of the car we’d bought after a small settlement from the Greyhound company threw a rod. We stood on the road in Mississippi, abandoned the vehicle, and hitchhiked to our final destination. Ti and Do were down there personally to meet her that night and took care of whatever she needed. She always maintained her task and handled whatever the Next Level threw at her. If she struggled, I did not see it and I remained her partner for a long time.
With the harvest now closed, it was time to ‘clarify the butter’, as Ti put it – filtering out those who were unable to disavow their human ways. Upon arrival in Laramie, Wyoming, in June 1976, the entire Class met in a university lecture hall. After consulting with the Next Level, the Two announced that the Demonstration had been called off. Do later wrote that it was with ‘much embarrassment’ they gathered their students to share the news, expressing full understanding if anyone wanted to dismiss them as charlatans.
– Many of us knew that a quick demonstration was not important. We weren’t waiting for a spacecraft to land. Those who pegged their hopes on this were quickly disappointed by the ‘day-to-day’ lesson plan and soon departed. We cannot tell you how many left during the first year. So, stated simply – no, it did not change our perceptions. Ollody did a headcount, and the official tabulation was at eighty-nine. Those eighty-nine people had been through quite a bit by then.
Before proceeding, everyone present was asked to wander off by themselves and spend the next few hours contemplating whether a life in the Class was indeed their calling.
– We were all given time to examine our place in this mission for the Next Level. When you get caught up in the consistent mundane necessities of acquiring food, gas, and shelter, you need a break to look at where you are in the world and realise your place before the next step is introduced. Ti and Do employed this measure to weed out those still hiding human tendencies from themselves. It was as simple as that: if those who weren’t ready were shown the door, the rest of the Group wouldn’t have to pick up and move to another place because of the security risk. Why set up a new camp if someone leaves during the night and forces unnecessary costs and movement? This procedure happened all the time, for decades. From Laramie, we all went to the Medicine Bow National Campground. That’s when we started having regular meetings with Ti and Do, and the real Classroom training began. Everything before that was just pre-work.
This event ushered in the monastic era of Heaven’s Gate – ‘getting down to the nitty-gritty’, as Do later put it. It was also when the concept of the Group as one hive mind, rather than an association of like-minded individuals, emerged.
– We never used terms such as ‘hive mind’. We always understood it as being of one mind or following the ways of the Next Level. We know this may just be semantics, but sci-fi wording did not see much use in the Group. We sometimes used Star Trek verbiage for fun, but such instances were few and far between. When the human body and brain are disciplined, true individuality is discovered. Humans strive to be individually different and take great pride in doing so. That desire to be different from each other carries a banal sameness in society. Even humans begin to recognise this as they grow older and realise that none of them was ever ‘unique’. They’ve all followed the same age-old patterns, like ants in a colony. The only way to truly be free is to overcome your human habits and tendencies.
The subsequent three years were spent camping in the Rocky Mountains during the summer, only to relocate to Texas once the cold crept in. I read a description about how each day was fully regimented, from dawn to dusk, with assignments often changing every twelve minutes: an approach designed to help rid the mind of both reliance on and influence from the self. Students also wore hooded masks to prevent themselves from judging one another by expressions made on the face of their vehicles.
– We know you had to condense the experience of camp-life for brevity, but when trying to demonstrate the diversity of the learning plan you’re conflating lesson steps rolled out at different times. For example: in the early summer of 1976, Ti and Do had us walking slowly around a circle to learn what twelve minutes of concentration felt like. As hands of a clock, we would end up back where we started by moving through four arches of a circle at three minutes per arch. It was a meditative technique to calm the brain and time yourself through this circular journey. At another time, we donned hoods while working around the camp; the intention was to learn how to see Classmates’ souls instead of their bodies. We also wore loose-fitting grey suits with bottom pants and parka-type tops. Removing body form was very helpful in seeing the essence of an individual.
In the summer of 1977, the Group began leasing a property from a rancher near Medicine Bow. The Classmates camped in tents arranged like an arrowhead pointing to Ti and Do’s trailer.
– It was to make service more practical. The tip of the spear was our ‘central’, where there were always four people on a ramp waiting to assist LNKS (internal jargon, pronounced ‘links’, referring to Ti and Do) at one-minute intervals. During our stay in Utah, we had just shed nineteen individuals – all of whom had more work to do – which put us at forty-eight. So, four people could service over twelve minutes. That was a cycle.
In a 1997 New York Times piece called Eyes on Glory: Pied Pipers of Heaven’s Gate, Dncody recalls sneaking away from the Wyoming camp one night. His faith was wavering, so he’d decided to re-join society. After hitchhiking to Cheyenne, he sought out a truck stop to have some breakfast. Studying his surroundings, ‘the dead-end lives of the truckers and the waitresses’, he decided that what the world had to offer simply wasn’t worth it. Dncody was back at the campground before noon.
– All members of the Group had different experiences of understanding their place in the Next Level. Some had the same resolve as in 1975, whereas others left within days. Lvvody, for example, was one of Do’s most trusted during the last ten years, but she walked away and was gone for several days in the mid-1980s. There was never any reason to hold back anyone who wanted to leave. Free will was in play and had to be allowed free reign. You must exert a strong forward drive to get into the Next Level, and this was – and still is – a very individual and sometimes lonely experience.
They worked their way down to Canyon Lakes, Texas, in the winter of 1977. The remaining students were, under ceremonial circumstances, given new names: the ody-suffix, which means something like ‘child of God’. The children of the Next Level. The first three letters were the member’s unique identifier. Lvvody is pronounced ‘Luvody’, Jwnody ‘Junody’, and Srrody ‘Surody’.
– Being adopted was a big deal for us, as well as for Ti and Do. Instructions had come down from the Next Level as to our naming procedure. For example, I had gone under the name Phillip until this time. Phillip and June had been a long-term partnership. Those nicknames had served us well. Ti and Do indicated that June would now be Jwnody – Son of Do. For myself, they determined I had the speed of Mercury and named me Mrcody. I never asked them why the name changed entirely, but that was the instruction they received. It was a huge event for all of us. We were adopted forever, no matter what small bumps occurred along the way.
Ti and Do would occasionally have different interpretations of their improvised teachings, following which they excused themselves to work out the details. However, through all my research, I have yet to come across a single claim from anyone that they outright argued about anything.
– No, they never argued. There were only clarifications, not arguments, because Do knew very early on that Ti was his Teacher and Father. There was no question of it from the earliest days in 1975. Do was continually being awakened to this understanding and his proper place in this great link of chains from us to him, he to Ti, and Ti to her Father and upward.
Would you say that Ti was in charge?
– Everything that occurred in the Group was conceived and detailed by Ti. Do refined it a bit, but he was basically the way to get things done. For example, when Ti sensed something coming down on us in a city, she’d mention it to Do. If he acted fast, we could stay one step ahead of trouble and clear Amarillo or Dallas or wherever just in time. We’d find out weeks or even months later. Do managed to keep us out of tricky situations due to Ti‘s guidance. It was never legal trouble, but things that would blow our security; moving fifty people at a time poses a few challenges. Ti had a more solid connection to the Next Level and Do always listened to it. Ti was able to handle tasks in fields she’d never worked within. She knew how to tend to people’s medical problems. She could also tell when a Classmate was troubled and acted swiftly to keep everyone safe. Ti always sensed when someone had a yellow traffic light and would try to help them before it turned red. Talk about a true shepherd.
By late May 1978, the Group had left Texas and travelled back to their leased campground in Wyoming.
– A freak snowstorm buried us in two feet of snow only a couple of days after arriving. It was a lot of work digging ourselves out to the nearest farm road so we could get supplies. We regarded this as a clear signal that new plans had to be made. When the snow started flying in October 1978, we relocated to a house in Colorado. The shift from living in tents to indoors was a significant change.
Have you done any recreational camping since then?
– Not that much. But we are about to try it again.
The Group’s first of many abodes – or ‘crafts’ as they called them – was located in a suburb of Denver, Colorado, called Wheat Ridge. The finances for these housing escapades came from the sizeable trust fund of Ollody, another student from the Waldport meeting. To avoid drawing attention to themselves, most members stayed out of sight.
– Our sense of security was always very good; the neighbours never knew our true numbers. We moved into homes with coordinated plans, like a Navy SEAL team. We arrived in large trucks, but they would always be parked in garaged areas so we could unload without passers-by observing us from the outside. Only a few residents were ever seen outdoors. Homes containing anywhere from twenty-four to fifty people would appear as if there was just one family inside.
Constantly on the move, they rarely stayed in the same place for more than six months. I came across an amusing anecdote from their time in South Texas. While indoors, Classmates dressed in the same outfits as on the campground. Allegedly, a snooping neighbour peered through the window and spotted an entire crowd of people walking around wearing hoods over their faces. One can only imagine what went through this person’s mind, but he was nonetheless distressed enough to call the police.
– At that time, we were split into two houses due to task issues and lesson plans. I was at the north craft when this supposedly happened at the south craft. I’m not sure whether they were wearing hoods indoors though; we never did. Either way, one of the Group members talked to the officers and led them to believe that everything was fine. Since the police could not legally enter, they backed off and let it go. It was a security breach and an indication of something being off. We made corrections, and nothing of the sort ever happened again.
In the early 80s, Ollody’s trust fund started running dry, prompting members to seek employment. As ever, this was handled with a security-minded approach – not from concerns of Classmates defecting but to avoid leaving behind a trail. Members initially worked only menial jobs, avoiding professions connected to their past lives.
– We had jobs in the service industry. Many of us worked in restaurants, so we’d be able to change at a moment’s notice and keep off the radar. The daily work did put us out in the public for the first time in a while, but we kept to ourselves. We survived in the Group by earning money, or ‘sticks’. We liked to contribute our share but were ambivalent about how much it was or how it was used. We handed it to the pursers and walked away.
Members gradually took on more qualified employment, bringing in higher salaries to the communal coffers. Since everyone had disconnected from their past lives, a cunning scheme was developed: resumes listed out-of-state phone numbers that were call-forwarded to the house. Fellow students would pose as former bosses – highly satisfied ones at that – and offer glowing recommendations.
– It worked very well for all involved parties – those employers got the best in the business. But remember that we had to have a Social Security card, so all those rumours about us using ‘fake identities’ are inaccurate; it was more along the lines of going under a nickname at work instead of our real names.
I read that the members who did not hold jobs – referred to internally as ‘Out of Craft tasks’ – were assigned household work in painstakingly regimented schedules.
– First of all, every single Classmate had in-craft chores. It was not exclusive to those without OOC tasks. Second, there were no ‘painstakingly regimented schedules’ – it was just specified assignments we’d carry out. The public perception of it as a hard, disciplined life is a bit skewed; rather, it was a well-oiled machine. We appreciated the defining aspects to make things work more like the Next Level.
Much of the background information brought into this conversation relies either on outside sources or interviews with, and writings of, former members. One such claim is that there was a massive tome known as the Procedure Book mandating every conceivable task, from how to shave using a razor – complete with directions and number of strokes – to the proper circumference of a pancake.
– It was actually several different books that stayed in the various labs. There was the Nutri-lab (kitchen), Yeast-lab (bakery), Fiber-lab (laundry), dispensary, maintenance, etcetera. The main book was for tasks that fit into none of these. That was the biggest and consisted of many steno-books full of chorological information. All of these procedure books were destroyed before the Group departed. The shaving instructions were more in one person’s head than others; we never shaved the way he described on TV. The pancake measurement was simply to fit five on a griddle so we could feed as many as possible, as fast as possible. Too much emphasis is placed on minor details; not every activity was strictly defined.
The Group also engaged in various human optimisation experiments. Besides serving as research, they also had a practical advantage. Members were shown how their human vehicles could quickly become accustomed to a range of lifestyles and routines; whenever this occurred, it was an indication of things needing to be switched around. They engaged in a plethora of different diets, fasts, enemas, and sleep cycles. I read about a pasta-only diet, which sounds like an absolute health disaster. But for all the talk of transforming one’s human vehicle, I have yet to read anything about actual physical exercise.
– I cannot remember exercising, but we were always active naturally and did not overeat. The reason we slept in shifts – 7 am to 3 pm, 3 pm to 11 pm and 11 pm to 7 am – was to fit thirty-six people in twelve beds each day. That arrangement lasted only for a few weeks in Amarillo. Most of the time, in normal house situations, we slept from 10 pm to 6 am. We did try different diets to see what worked best for us, but most of them only lasted for a few days or weeks. We usually ate balanced meals with adequate amounts and were never prone to obesity. I’m not familiar with a pasta-only diet; that can’t have lasted very long. We did try a fruit diet and a vegetable diet with slow-cooked grains. After all of that, it just came down to well-cooked, well-balanced meals.
Did you pick up any habits during these experiments that are still in use today?
– We always eat in moderation and do not go on fad diets or use extreme spiciness. We still have the Group’s cooking books and use their recipes every so often.
In May 1983, Ti lost an eye to cancer. After consulting with her doctor – and having a medical background to boot – she would’ve been well aware that the disease was spreading through her body. However, it is unclear to me whether her students knew.
– Yes, she explained all this to us. Ti didn’t heed the doctor’s advice to any greater extent because she knew there was nothing to be done. Her mind was literally burning through her body’s capability to maintain. Ti was never cavalier about her health, but she understood that her mind did not match up to its container.
Two years later, in June 1985, the cancer reached Ti’s liver, after which she died. Despite apparent indications of her being in poor health, I’ve understood that Ti’s passing came as a huge shock to the Class – forcing many to re-examine their worldview.
– Not to come off as cold about this, but the impact wasn’t quite as big as the public wants to make it out. We lost Arrody, but the rest of us adapted and moved on with Do. It was the information that was important, not the bodies of the messengers. I do not remember anyone crying about it, and we maintained our connection with Do. In fact, we recommitted even stronger to assist him with his task. At times, when he spoke to us about it, Do questioned whether his new instructions were completely fleshed-out. He often wished Ti was there to guide him. We know that the media and pop psychologists want to make this out to be an important, unstable period, but it simply wasn’t. Think of it like raising children in a household after the death of a spouse: it’s hard, but not impossible or a mental breakdown-inducing experience.
A lady named Lee Ann Fenton, identified as the Group’s former bookkeeper, stated in the aforementioned New York Times article that Do was deeply distraught after Ti’s death. She said he once asked several students, ‘Am I crazy?’ and ‘Should I tell everyone to go home?’
– First off, she was one of six craft bookkeepers, with Ollody being the main one. But yes, I witnessed a version of what she says. Do asked that question like someone today would say, ‘Politics drive me crazy’, or ‘You drive me crazy!’ It was rhetorical – not an admission of loss of reason. Do did this every so often, so students would realise that he constantly questioned his source of information. In context, it was a simple statement of asking students to decide if they wanted to keep following him. Healthy questioning if one is on the right track only lends credibility. The media takes these terms out of perspective and blows them up into something they are not. Ti and Do were the sanest individuals on this planet.
Another source claims that Do at some point asked whether ‘the Class would follow him even if he wasn’t from the Next Level’.
– I do not have any such information. We heard about it, but that was just Do shaking the tree again. Please keep this in perspective.
In late 2020, HBO Max aired a four-part documentary series called Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults. Ti’s daughter from her former life, Terri, is featured extensively. I’m a bit confused about their relationship. I’m aware that Do would listen in on their phone calls, so there was nothing clandestine underway – but I’m still not sure what purpose this served, seeing as how everyone else was expected to sever all family ties.
– Ti explained that she had to actively keep her daughter at arm’s length because of Terri’s ability to get the authorities involved. Terri could really mess up our security due to her belief that they were close friends who relied on each other. Ti knew who she was and what she had to do for the Next Level. Terri never accepted this and only allowed it to go on if a letter arrived every month. We spoke to her in 2014, and she still believes this and has only added on and re-defined it to match her own myth about her mother. She holds a firm belief that her mom was just playing pretend because of Do and was going to return to her and resume their normal Houston lifestyle. When pushed gently about Ti leaving instructions for Do not to inform Terri of her mom’s death, she starts to fall apart. Terri is sceptical regarding facts about her relationship with her mother. Now, one could say that others in the Group had relatives like that too – but we stayed in touch with those families also.
I thought the first family contact was on Mother’s Day, 1980?
– Contrary to popular belief, most of us had some contact with our relatives. The media likes to say we were completely cut off, but the real families knew better. We had a pattern: when we were moving from a place like Texas to somewhere in Colorado or Wyoming, we would initiate contact of some kind. The families could not track us but knew we were okay. So, to put it succinctly: we had communication of some sort nearly every year. But that wasn’t satisfactory to those who only wanted their family members back: it was never enough. We wrote letters and postcards and sent them out through an elaborate network of forwarded mailboxes. We made phone calls from secure locations all the time, but it was never enough. Human beings constantly go through this when their parents guilt them into staying in touch.
Following Ti’s death, many members were sent home for the first time since joining the Group – under orders to spend two weeks with family and assess their next steps in life. All but one returned.
– We were sent home at different times, to at least try to satisfy certain families’ demands to see some of us. It was also a test to see if any of the students wanted to leave. Whenever Do sensed that someone had doubts, he would bundle up packages for all of us to take some departure money, go home, and evaluate our position in the Group. He was determined not to hold back anyone who didn’t want to be there and offered them a gentle way out. The Group had a turnstile-type door. People left all the time. People returned all the time. No one was ever held against their will. Some were honestly not allowed back unless their tendencies had changed. But we did not visit our families, like others did, in 1985. I saw my family for the first time in 1987.
It sounds emotionally conflicting, especially in the aftermath of Ti’s departure?
– For some it was, yes. For us, it was not. We had, and still have, our mission.
The second part of this conversation will be published in the near future.