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Birther’s gate

It was 16 years ago last month:

Heaven’s Gate was an American UFO religion doomsday cult based in San Diego, California, founded in the early 1970s and led by Marshall Applewhite (1931–1997) and Bonnie Nettles (1927–1985). On March 26, 1997, police discovered the bodies of 39 members of the group who had committed mass suicide in order to reach what they believed was an alien space craft following the Comet Hale–Bopp, which was then at its brightest.

— Wikipedia

Something powerful must have been at work to convince 42 people to commit suicide (3 committed suicide shortly afterwards), the ultimate commitment to a belief system. They believed that they were actually aliens inhabiting human bodies, the so-called “walk-ins,” a popular idea in the New Age subculture of the time. An amateur astronomer photographed the comet showing an ambiguous fuzzy image discussed on the conspiracy-minded Art Bell radio program as possibly a UFO accompanying the comet. That was the sign to a group that was looking for a sign.

Things to note:

  • Their beliefs were in line with the contemporary New Age subculture
  • They had invested in their belief system by giving up their assets
  • The Internet was the primary way the group disseminated their beliefs

We know that the Heaven’s Gate beliefs are wrong because the world didn’t come to end in 1997, although there is still (as of 2007) a survivor of the group saying any day now.

Heaven’s Gate was possible because a subculture evolved in which their belief system was considered normal and reinforced. They took random events as evidence. They are a little like the birthers, who believe equally irrational nonsense, living in their online subculture of conspiracies and fuzzy photographs revealing to them what the know must be true. They are convinced that concrete, irrefutable proof exists that Obama’s birth certificate is a forgery, although Maricopa County Bill Montgomery says there’s not even enough to take to a grand jury.

Some worry about a lone wolf excited by birther myths doing some act of violence. I’m more worried about a birther cult springing up in a retirement community doing something to themselves in 2014 based on crazy beliefs about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act going into full effect or some other doomsday totalitarian government scenario.

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34 Responses to Birther’s gate

  1. avatar
    Lupin May 30, 2013 at 10:27 am #

    Both scenarios (lone wolf vs heaven’s gate) are not incompatible. But I think the lone wolf scenario will be driven by much more hatred towards Obama than birthers’ arguments alone can muster. They don’t pull that cart. IMHO.

    The heaven’s gate scenario strikes me as unlikely after 6 years of Obama; if it were to happen, it would happened in 2012 when he was reelected; it now seems to me to lack traction. Again IMHO.

    Despite the foaming-at-the-mouth from some quarters, the truth remains that Obama (and his policies) remain steadily to the right of Richard Nixon, and behind closed doors, he is not perceived as the threat to the 1% than either communism and/or FDR was in 1932. The Greedos would like another Bush, but can live with Obama.

    The saddest thing for the birthers is, they won’t even be a footnote (like, say, Father Coughlin) in the history books.

  2. avatar
    Andrew Vrba, PmG May 30, 2013 at 10:42 am #

    Oh, I wouldn’t shed a single tear if birthers all decided to take a collective dirt nap together.
    Just so long as they don’t take anyone else with them(IE family members who don’t share their twisted beliefs, neighbors, kids, etc). It would be like if the Klan or a group of Neo-Nazi’s decided to off themselves. Nothing of value would be lost.

    Does this make me a cold son of a bitch? Probably, but I can live with that.

  3. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy May 30, 2013 at 12:42 pm #

    You know, I used to think I was an alien in a human body but then I turned 11 years old and forgot about it.

  4. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy May 30, 2013 at 12:44 pm #

    I agree with Lupin that a birther apocalyptic implosion is unlikely; however, I think they will be a footnote in history, if not as individuals, as a movement.

  5. avatar
    aarrgghh May 30, 2013 at 12:51 pm #

    oops — 1997 was not 13 but 16 years ago!

  6. avatar
    Kiwiwriter May 30, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

    The birthers will indeed wind up like Father Coughlin…footnotes in the history books, studied by historians and their students for decades.

    I remember the Hale-Bopp fiasco…I was back in New Zealand at the time. We took a few media calls about it, because the comet was spotted by the observatory in Antarctica, did we have any comment?

    What could we say?

    By the way, among the dead was Nichelle Nicholls’ brother, who was estranged from the original Lt. Uhura. She barely writes about him in her autobiography. Having him in the group was considered a major PR coup for the cult at the time.

  7. avatar
    aarrgghh May 30, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

    butterdezillion:

    What it comes down to for me is this: There are things much, much worse than death. The people we are dealing with are EVIL to the core and the one they’re serving is the master of all evil. If they ever fully take control, we will all wish we were dead. Scripture says it will be spiritual torment and in my mind that spells sharia, which is the union of corrupt religion and corrupt government, the 2 beasts of Revelation – which just happen to be the two allies of George Soros, who seriously believes he is God (like the abomination that brings desolation, which sets itself up in the Temple).

    So I suspect there will be a communist-Islamist coup followed by communism and sharia. I suspect that “infidels” will be given the choice to convert to Islam or be killed, perhaps after being tortured as a means to “convince” people to convert and as an example for those who might consider forsaking Islam.

    I’d rather have my children shot execution-style before it comes to that. A Breitbart-like assassination sounds merciful in comparison to what awaits if we’re still alive when sharia hits. It sounds terrible, I know, but when a person’s back is against the wall their only option is to fight; they’ve got nothing left to lose. And I believe that’s where we’re at right now – or at least fast approaching. I would rather that my children and I die in the fight, when they still have to hide what they’re really up to, than be stuck here to be tortured and eventually killed anyway.
    Call me a coward, but we’re all ready to go Home at any time, and I’d rather be There than here if what I suspect is true.

  8. avatar
    aarrgghh May 30, 2013 at 1:16 pm #

    pa-river:

    I don’t care what people call me, I proudly tell everyone I know that the BC is fraudulent. I have 30 years in electrical engineering and computer science, and stake my reputation on it in every conversation I have.

    ———-

    I would submit that even if SCOTUS demanded the BC and found there is fraud, SCOTUS would let him off, and the Senate would give him a pass. They would excuse it.

    We have hit the tipping point. There is no going back.

    The only question is when and how it ends. Will it all blow up in a month, or will it be a slow grind for several years.

    I tend to think we will see it blow up. Debt will start to accelerate, like a run away truck on a mountain. We slam into the trees. Then riots begin. Then marshal law and curfews.

    Until then, I need to be happy. When it comes, I just want a nice bottle of irish whiskey and a pile of ammo. I also want a pistol to end it when I run out of ammo. They won’t put me in a cage.

  9. avatar
    BatGuano May 30, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

    aarrgghh:
    oops — 1997 was not 13 but 16 years ago!

    CONSPIRACY! where was obama during those missing three years?

  10. avatar
    BatGuano May 30, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    ….. however, I think they will be a footnote in history, if not as individuals, as a movement.

    agreed. i think any future mention/discussion of internet driven political rumors will always have a nod to birtherism.

  11. avatar
    alg May 30, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

    I remember following the Heaven’s Gate tragedy when it happened. I even communicated with Chuck Shramek, the amateur astronomer whose photograph of comet Hale-Bopp triggered the mass suicide. He vehemently denied being the source of the suggestion that fuzzy blotch in the comet’s tail was a spaceship.

    As testament to the power of belief to overcome all rationality, the Heaven’s Gate followers had purchased a telescope so that they could personally see the “spaceship” for themselves. When they trained their telescope on the comet and it revealed no such thing, they returned the telescope to the store as “defective.

    So when birthers are faced to confront the multiple lines of independently verifiable documentation that Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii in August of 1961, they similarly grasp at straws to regard that documentation as somehow defective.

    Skeptic author Michael Shermer has written several good books about why it is human beings often lock in on beliefs that are clearly not true. This tendency towards dysfunction, he argues, is an artifact of what was once a successful evolutionary trait in early human beings to help them make quick and effective choices in an otherwise dangerous environment. However, what may have worked well for us to avoid sabre toothed tigers when we were foragers in the savannah isn’t always helpful to us in the socio-technological age we now exist within. Very interesting reading.

  12. avatar
    Greenfinches May 30, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

    aarrgghh: butterdezillion:

    What it comes down to for me is this:

    I have not had the priviledge of reading any of that renowned lady’s work before.

    I am plainly not missing anything. Delusional, or what? Evil corruption I do not perceive in Obama’s administration or godlike claims from Soros. Where oh where does this all come from, what prompts it?

    What did Obama do to be seen as evil – beyond perhaps having the nerve to be elected whilst black…..

  13. avatar
    Arthur May 30, 2013 at 4:44 pm #

    butterdezillion:: I’d rather have my children shot execution-style before it comes to that.

    I knew that butterdezillion reminded me of a famous historical figure, but I couldn’t quite place it . . . now it’s all clear:

    “Goebbels arranged for an SS dentist, Helmut Kunz, to kill his six children by injecting them with morphine and then, when they were unconscious, crushing an ampoule of cyanide in each of their mouths. According to Kunz’s testimony, he gave the children morphine injections but it was Magda Goebbels and Stumpfegger, Hitler’s personal doctor, who then administered the cyanide. Shortly afterward, Goebbels and his wife went up to the garden of the Chancellery, where they killed themselves.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Goebbels#Defeat_and_death

  14. avatar
    Graham Shevlin May 30, 2013 at 4:45 pm #

    What did Obama do to be seen as evil – beyond perhaps having the nerve to be elected whilst black…..

    For a significant percentage of his diehard opponents, that is good enough.

  15. avatar
    Kiwiwriter May 30, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

    Arthur: I knew that butterdezillion reminded me of a famous historical figure, but I couldn’t quite place it . . . now it’s all clear:

    “Goebbels arranged for an SS dentist, Helmut Kunz, to kill his six children by injecting them with morphine and then, when they were unconscious, crushing an ampoule of cyanide in each of their mouths. According to Kunz’s testimony, he gave the children morphine injections but it was Magda Goebbels and Stumpfegger, Hitler’s personal doctor, who then administered the cyanide. Shortly afterward, Goebbels and his wife went up to the garden of the Chancellery, where they killed themselves.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Goebbels#Defeat_and_death

    Johannes Hentschel, who was the mechanic who maintained the power supply in the Fuehrer Bunker and survived the Walpurgis Night and frenzy of self-pity and suicide down there, gave a chilling interview to American journalist James O’Donnell for his book, “The Bunker,” describing how Frau Goebbels emerged from her children’s room after killing them, smoked a cigarette, sipped some liquor, and then calmly began to lay out a hand of solitaire.

    Incidentally, all six of Goebbels’ kids had first names that started with the letter “H.” Writers have said that was in honor of Hitler, but other writers say that Frau Goebbels named all her kids (she had one by her previous husband) with names that started with the letter “H.”

  16. avatar
    Loren May 30, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    I agree with Lupin that a birther apocalyptic implosion is unlikely; however, I think they will be a footnote in history, if not as individuals, as a movement.

    I think the only Birther who even stands a chance at being remembered as an individual is Donald Trump. Because he’s not just independently famous, but he’s one of the few Birthers who one can look at and honestly say “He should know better than this.”

  17. avatar
    BatGuano May 30, 2013 at 6:50 pm #

    Loren: I think the only Birther who even stands a chance at being remembered as an individual is Donald Trump.

    now that trump has run away from the maher “orangutan” case i seriously doubt that he’ll dabble in birther again. my thought is that history will see it as just another trick trump used to gain free publicity.

  18. avatar
    Jim May 30, 2013 at 6:58 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    I agree with Lupin that a birther apocalyptic implosion is unlikely; however, I think they will be a footnote in history, if not as individuals, as a movement.

    A curiosity to be lumped together with Lincoln, Kennedy, Moon Landing, Clinton, etc. conspiracies. To be studied…and laughed at. 😀

    What’s interesting, is I could see myself in 30 years and someone comes up with a completely new hypothesis about President Obama being ineligible. Which of you will be available for interviews? 😀

  19. avatar
    Kiwiwriter May 30, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

    BatGuano: now that trump has run away from the maher “orangutan” case i seriously doubt that he’ll dabble in birther again. my thought is that history will see it as just another trick trump used to gain free publicity.

    I think Mr. Trump toned down his rhetoric at the insistence of his family…those are folks he would listen to.

  20. avatar
    misha marinsky May 30, 2013 at 8:38 pm #

    BatGuano: CONSPIRACY! where was obama during those missing three years?

    In Moscow. [Ow – stop hitting me.]

  21. avatar
    misha marinsky May 30, 2013 at 8:42 pm #

    alg: When they trained their telescope on the comet and it revealed no such thing, they returned the telescope to the store as “defective.

    From what I remember, they bought a custom made telescope from the manufacturer. When they could not see the “spaceship”, they tried to return the ‘scope to the maker and were refused.

  22. avatar
    misha marinsky May 30, 2013 at 8:45 pm #

    Arthur: I knew that butterdezillion reminded me of a famous historical figure, but I couldn’t quite place it . . . now it’s all clear:

    “Goebbels arranged for an SS dentist, Helmut Kunz, to kill his six children…

    Denialists are fascists, in the actual meaning. Orly has nice friends.

  23. avatar
    misha marinsky May 30, 2013 at 8:56 pm #

    Must see: SNL Heaven’s Gate Keds commercial: http://www.hulu.com/watch/285688

  24. avatar
    BatGuano May 30, 2013 at 9:02 pm #

    Kiwiwriter: I think Mr. Trump toned down his rhetoric at the insistence of his family…

    i’ve wondered about that. no matter what you think of him “trump” had become a marketable brand name. the old man was quickly undermining that marketability.

  25. avatar
    G May 30, 2013 at 9:18 pm #

    *snicker*

    misha marinsky:
    Must see: SNL Heaven’s Gate Keds commercial: http://www.hulu.com/watch/285688

  26. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy May 30, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

    Ironically, the movie Lunopolis rolled around on my viewing list today; it also includes a UFO religion, and conspiracy theory launched by a call to a conspiracy theory radio show.

  27. avatar
    Thomas Brown May 30, 2013 at 10:12 pm #

    Kudos, Doc. That telescope story is an EXACT correlate of BirtherThink: if confronted with concrete evidence contrary to their beliefs–evidence they themselves sought out–the explanation is that there must be something wrong with the evidence.

  28. avatar
    G May 30, 2013 at 11:14 pm #

    Thanks for the link. I checked out the trailer. While I don’t believe in conspiracies in real life, I like a good crazy sci-fi yarn and the faux-documentary style can be quite entertaining… looks like fun.

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    Ironically, the movie Lunopolis rolled around on my viewing list today; it also includes a UFO religion, and conspiracy theory launched by a call to a conspiracy theory radio show.

  29. avatar
    bovril May 31, 2013 at 4:24 am #

    @Greenfinches……

    Not supped at the Slough of Despond that is BitterDelusional….!!! Zut-alors, merde etc.

    Link to her Freeperville comments

    http://freerepublic.com/tag/by:butterdezillion/index?tab=comments

    Link to her Freeperville “Articles”

    http://freerepublic.com/tag/by:butterdezillion/index?tab=articles

    Butt-Butt is the creator of the 180 degree analysis where everything stated by real people is an indirect confirmation of its exact reverse.

    So, Onaka states for the record in the words required by law and regulation that the President BC and records are whole and accurate and he was born in Hawai’i…..In Buttereland that is INDIRECT LEGAL CONFIRMATION that Onaka is deliberately saying that the records are faked and that the President was not born in Hawai’i……..

    Basically in BZ World, the flimsiest, indirect hearsay by felons, con men and WND (apologies for the repetition) is FACT !!!!!!

    Legal statements, SC rulings, dismissed cases, actual Constitutional scholars etc…..LIES….UNPROVEN…..THEY WUZ GOT TO !!!!!!!

    She, like Mad Ole Orly is at best computer semi-literate and reguarly blows her PC to hell and back, probably due to the nest of infected malware sites she trolls for “Evidence”. But no…..its all the CIA and Obots tracking her and tricking and interfering with her.

    She is the wife of a pastor and has written that both her husband and children have informed her in no uncertain terms to keep her delusions and actions to herself and not to interact it with the real familiy and real work.

    Nellie, (for such is her name) has a big ole anti-moslem, anti-semitic and apocalyptic Weltanschauung and has never come across a conspiracy theory that she cannot drop at the feet of the satanistic Obama and his Obot minions.

    Read and weep for the humanity of it………….

  30. avatar
    Lupin May 31, 2013 at 4:29 am #

    Just for argument’s sake, I’m not sure the bithers as a whole graduate to the level of a Father Coughlin.

    Today Coughlin is indeed a footnote studied by historians. But he exerted some influence & power and arguably managed to achieve some success in, shall we say, influencing the course of things. Not a lot, but a little.

    Have the Birthers achieved anything? Have they had any impact whatsoever on our public life? It’s hard to say, but I don’t see it.

    I suppose Obama being more or less forced to display his BC for a second time count as a tiny achievement, but not one that really had any impact.

    So I’d rate the birhers movement below Father Coughlin in terms of national importance, as I’d rate Coughlin below Huey Long.

    IMHO a better analogy for Coughlin would be Pat Robertson or the late unlamented Jimmy Falwell.

    Reportedly there were folks who though FDR was a Communist Jew and that it was somehow linked to his ancestor Claas Martenszen van Rosenvelt crazy yada yada crazy etc.

    I’m afraid I can’t come up with any names of then-proponents of that sort of lunacy (which sort of proves my point) but these would have been the birthers’ equivalent and they’re all but forgotten.

  31. avatar
    The Magic M May 31, 2013 at 4:32 am #

    Lupin: The heaven’s gate scenario strikes me as unlikely after 6 years of Obama; if it were to happen, it would happened in 2012 when he was reelected; it now seems to me to lack traction. Again IMHO.

    I could imagine a scenario close to the end of Obama’s second term when some birthers have convinced themselves that he will not leave office peacefully and therefore has to have some last minute card up his sleeve (declaring martial law, pulling off his mask and revealing himself as Satan himself etc.). Such a conviction might actually drive some birthers to suicide.

  32. avatar
    Lupin May 31, 2013 at 4:35 am #

    The Magic M: I could imagine a scenario close to the end of Obama’s second term when some birthers have convinced themselves that he will not leave office peacefully and therefore has to have some last minute card up his sleeve (declaring martial law, pulling off his mask and revealing himself as Satan himself etc.). Such a conviction might actually drive some birthers to suicide.

    Not really I think, because the campaign for the next Prez will have started long before, so it’ll be clear he is leaving.

    But OTOH the presence of Satan’s own wench, Hillary the Butcher of Benghazi, and her considerable odds of winning against likely GOP nominee Rick Santorum, might drive some to drink a draino cocktail. I can’t wait.

  33. avatar
    The Magic M May 31, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    Lupin: because the campaign for the next Prez will have started long before, so it’ll be clear he is leaving

    You really believe a nutjob will rely on that? They’ll go “it’s just a distraction, he’ll never leave peacefully”.

  34. avatar
    G May 31, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    For at least the past twenty years, I’ve heard nuts proclaiming that President X won’t really give up the office and will declare martial law, despite the elections taking place.

    Some of these folks are probably the same paranoid nuts, always proclaiming this nonsense, regardless of who is office or regardless of how many times their predictions fail.

    So yeah, we’re stuck with a bunch of delusional, angry, scared lunatics out there. Thankfully, reality doesn’t bend to them and our elections and Presidential transitions will continue to happen with relative ease, despite their ravings…

    The Magic M: You really believe a nutjob will rely on that? They’ll go “it’s just a distraction, he’ll never leave peacefully”.