Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press, Part 2 (Voices from the Underground)
edited by Ken Wachsberger
The Guru Gets Pied
The second controversial story involved the rise of religious cults. With the dropoff of political activity, a lot of young people were apparently still searching for something—anything—to believe in. Religious cults moved in to fill the psychological need and soak up the energy, often giving back little in return.
People in many cases gave all their worldly possessions to these groups; took part in long sessions called "love bombing," where attention was showered on them (actually a form of indoctrination); and submitted to control over the most minute aspects of their daily lives. They also worked at fundraising for next to nothing.
Some examples of these cults included "Moses David" and the early Jesus freak movement, and Sun Myung Moon, whose church was already well enough developed in 1974 to lead demonstrations against impeachment. The black community was also affected. Jim Jones's congregation was growing in San Francisco, and Jonestown — the nation's wake-up call about the danger of cults—lay four years in the future.
In 1973, still another cult was growing in power and influence:
the Divine Light Mission of the fifteen-year-old Guru Maharaj Ji, who claimed to be God himself. The Divine Light Mission had attracted followers in chapters across the country, including Detroit, and the guru himself embarked on a national tour.
Total amazement gripped the Fifth Estate office when staffers first heard that Rennie Davis, an antiwar organizer par excellence since 1961 and an architect of the 1971 May Day demonstration, had announced in California that he was now a supporter of the young guru. Quite simply, credibility again was strained, and staffers even made several long-distance calls to the West Coast to confirm the news.
Soon the guru visited Detroit on his national tour, and the Detroit City Council, not having enough to do, with a major national recession and automotive slump approaching, decided to give the guru the key to the city. What he had done for Detroit in his fifteen years was unclear.
Pat Halley was another new Fifth Estate staffer, and the only one ever to advocate pandemonium as a political solution (see figure 1). He went to the city council chamber posing as an admirer of the guru, carrying a bouquet of flowers. However, under the flowers was concealed a shaving-cream pie, which Halley threw in the face of the Guru Maharaj Ji at a strategic moment (see figure 2). [Ed.: Halley tells his own story for the first time in "Looking for Utopia" at the end of this article.]
A Ken Kelley article describes what followed:
"I don't want the man hurt or arrested," explained the embarrassed child-god to his followers and the press as he wiped the soap from his face.
However, one week later the pie-thrower was brutally beaten from behind by two of the guru's top devotees. The two men, one an older Indian and the other a young American, had tried to reach Halley for several days after he threw the pie. They told him they wanted to "expose" the Guru Maharaj Ji as a fraud.
The older man claimed he had traveled all the way from India for that purpose. To track down the story, and aware of warnings from other Fifth Estate staff members not to accompany the men alone, Halley led them to his apartment.
"For forty-five minutes or so they told me what a great thing I had done, that the guru was evil, and that they would show me hypnotic techniques he employs so that I could tell the world," he recalls. "The older man told me to close my eyes, which I did, while he walked behind me. I heard the sound of metal scraping metal, and I thought it must be some kind of flashlight they used to produce their divine light or something. Then I saw the light all right — and lots of stars. I didn't realize what was going on till I heard my blood splatter on the wall."
He screamed; the men fled. Luckily friends were next door and managed to get him to a hospital. He had received six skull lacerations and contusions; for the rest of his life Halley will have a plastic plate over his cerebrum where the skull bone was shattered. …
The men were identified as 25-year-old Richard Fletcher and 55 year-old Jupteswar Misra. … When I talked to Rennie Davis, he admitted to me that the two are still very much a part of the DLM. In fact, the Indian turns out to be Mahatma Fakiranand, one of the first two mahatmas to give knowledge in America. … "Was he stripped of his mahatmadom," I asked. "No he wasn't — he was just shipped off to Europe and he's there now giving knowledge."
Rennie Davis added, "I really feel Maharaj Ji is doing everything — he had the pie thrown in his face, and he had Fakiranand do that. The whole thing is one gigantic lila (i.e., game) that operates on many levels." Including, apparently, felonious assault and its cover-up.
Though felony warrants were issued for their arrest, Halley's assailants were never caught or prosecuted. Following the Halley incident, the Fifth Estate ran a series of articles investigating the nature of religious cults. If all was peace and love, why did the bloody fangs come out so quickly when a hippie pantheist pulled a harmless prank? What else lay hidden behind the clouds of incense, the hypnotic chanting, and the beautiful altars (which in the Detroit guru house had stacks of money on them)?
The Fifth Estate again deserves credit for some early whistle-blowing. But again, the crisis was essentially a negative phenomenon. Young Americans were blindly following a half-baked punk from India rather than thinking for themselves how to live.
As in the case of LaRouche, people were turning to the irrational rather than to the rational, to mysticism and mindless violence rather than to snuggle and analysis. The fact that Rennie Davis was now leading them down the primrose path was doubly shocking.