Neo-American Church

Chapter 14


I would have considered this a doubtful errand, myself.

I was talking the matter over with Charlie at the bar one morning when a call came for me. It was Carl Perian, who worked for Senator Dodd’s (the elder, kids) Juvenile Delinquency Subcommittee. Senator Dodd was under heavy attack at that time for accepting bribes, and did not seem to figure at all, as planner or participant, in the scenario Perian painted. He and other members of the subcommittee staff had formed a favorable impression of me when they read an article in Walter Bowart’s The East Village Other magazine which quoted, in full, my letter to the Food and Drug Administration demanding that our Church be exempted, as the Native American Church had been, from the peyote prohibition of the Drug Abuse Control Amendments of 1965.

They wanted me to testify at one of the hearings the subcommittee was about to hold. Tim had already testified, before a different committee, but, in Perian’s opinion, had badly let down the home team. The religious case for psychedelics deserved to be made, Perian thought, but Timothy Leary had not made it. Tim hadn’t even bothered to prepare a written statement but had aimlessly rambled, Perian said, making quite an ass of himself in the process. Based on the “great job” I had done in my FDA letters, Perian hoped I might make up for some of the damage Tim had done to our cause. My expenses would be paid in full. They would mail me a ticket and a check to cover my hotel bill. Would I fly down as soon as possible so they could help me prepare my statement?

I certainly would. Holy shit, it was like something in a Frank Capra movie. Could it be that I had become overly cynical about the powers that were? I instantly forgot about the state campsites, MGL, family problems and the nature of the universe. National publicity! My name and doctrines, very possibly, broadcast far and wide! An opportunity to make my case directly to the highest powers in the land! Feelings which, with some difficulty, I identified as being patriotic, or at least semi-patriotic, crept into my cranium, which I had thought fully inoculated against any such invasions. For a very brief period, there was some excuse for such idiotic emotions. At least at the federal level, a number of people who actually knew what they were talking about on the subject of psychedelics were granted an opportunity to protest the laws against us which were already in place and the new repressive measures being contemplated to extend the “tyranny” over “the mind of man” which Thomas Jefferson swore “eternal hostility” against “every form of.” Me too.

It’s the “eternal” and the “every” that make this such a great line.

Never again has there been anything resembling fair and open public hearings on the subject of psychedelic drugs and religion at the federal level. Instead, we have the “drug war,” and as is oft observed, the first casualty in any war (or “war”) is truth. Flat-out lies are the standard weapons for daily use but much of the deception is more sophisticated and harder to spot. The established power defines its enemies through control of the media. Revolutionary movements have always had this problem. For years, during a period of enormous growth of the socialist movement throughout Europe, the name of Karl Marx was never mentioned in the popular press.

Jonathan Swift had it right: “Should a man of genius appear among you, you may know him by this infallible sign; all the dunces will conspire against him.” No doubt about that, but the dunces will often conspire against each other, also, thus confusing matters considerably. Modern technology has made this old scam easier for its practitioners in some ways and more difficult in others. One sub-trick that’s now easier is to expose parts of an opposition player in the mass media while leaving out other parts, thus putting some very hideous (or, worse, pitiful) freaks on the field. On the other hand, it is much harder now than it was a hundred years ago to totally suppress anything. Does it all “balance out”? Damned if I know. I decided to drive to Millbrook and take the train from Poughkeepsie to Washington. When I got to the turnoff for Millbrook, however, I pulled over at a rest stop, opened a beer and thought it over.

Tim’s Laredo bust and the extremely high probability that his appeal would fail greatly confused matters for me. Would it help or hurt to talk to Tim in his present condition? Hurt, probably, I decided. Tim’s defense against the Laredo bust had pretty much rested on his declaration that he was a “Hindu.” (“Hindu” is not a good term, but its usage is so well established that there isn’t much sense in fighting it.)

Although many Hindus smoke cannabis, and little is thought of it one way or the other by Hindus who don’t, there is no Brahmanical Vedantist sect I know about that religiously obliges or even officially encourages the practice. To try to overturn the marijuana laws of the United States with such flummery seemed senseless, if not suicidal.

Why hadn’t he copped a plea? And if there was any hope at all for a religious defense in a pot case at that time (I don’t think there was), why didn’t he just say he was an Emersonian or “a William James kind of guy,” a transcendentalist, or something else an American judge and jury might feel they ought to respect?

All of this was crazy and hazy then and it’s crazy and hazy now. Those of us who admired him thought of Tim’s latest moves and pronouncements, including his declaration of a “moratorium” on the use of psychedelics and the persecution of Psychedelians, as the aberrations of a mind unsettled by desperation and the Kafkaesque quality of a thirty-year prison sentence for entering the United States, when he hadn’t really left it, with a daughter who had a few shreds of a common plant on her person. How rational would I be if I suddenly found myself looking at thirty years, even if I deserved it?

One thing was sure. I didn’t want to hear anything from Tim, or anyone else, about a “moratorium” on my constitutional right to the free exercise of religion. To hell with it. Advice from Tim, in his present condition, would be a distraction. I would go directly to Washington and stop at Millbrook on my way back. I tossed my empty Budweiser can into a trash receptacle provided by the State of New York, took a piss in a state urinal, and passed Millbrook by.

On the train, I reviewed my correspondence with the FDA, as printed in the East Village Other:


by Walter Bowart

Kleps told EVO of a letter received from Carlton Sharp of the Food and Drug Administration’s Division of Industry Advice, Bureau of Education and Voluntary Compliance, stating that the Neo-American Church would not be allowed to administer psychedelic substances but that “based on the centuries of traditional use of peyote by Indian members of the Native American Church and the intent of the Congress as evidenced by the legislative history, the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration has exempted this church and this church only from the registration and record-keeping requirements of the Act for peyote use for bona fide religious ceremonies.” The letter said that peyote was not exempted from the requirements of the Act under any other circumstances. “We do not know of any similar justification for exempting LSD from the requirements of the law,” said Mr. Sharp.

In answer to Mr. Sharp, Kleps posed the question of exactly what constitutional amendment it was that gives to Congress the right to establish a religion on the basis of longevity. “As I read the First Amendment, it says Congress shall make no law respecting the establishing of a religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

“If you seriously maintain you can make a legal distinction between one church and another on the idiotic basis that one is older than the other you are propounding a doctrine that would give Catholicism a higher standing than Protestantism, and Judaism a higher standing than Catholicism and Animism a higher standing than Judaism.

“If you maintain that religion has nothing to do with it, and your favoritism is merely a recognition of a cultural difference, then I would like to point out that I am an intellectual person with an interest in mysticism, and that for thousands of years, members of my sub-culture have experimented with consciousness expanding substances for religious purposes; or is the distinction you make strictly racial?

“The fact of the matter is that you would not have made this exception if the Indian use was merely social, no matter how ancient the custom, and that you have made it because of court decisions favoring the Native American Church based on the First Amendment.

“You also establish a religion in exempting what you refer to as ‘ceremonial’ use, while presumably not exempting the use of peyote by, say, some heretical Indian who prefers to take his peyote alone on a mountain top as an aid to meditation, who, indeed may be obliged to do so because he is not permitted in the Church, on account of his heretical opinions on theological matters.”

Kleps asked, “Exactly what do you intend to do about splinter groups from the Native American Church?

“I suppose the non-orthodox will be put in prison?

“If our church adopts the use of peyote instead of LSD, will we be granted an exception? What about mescaline? These distinctions, as you know, are all superficial; the effects are pretty much the same except that peyote makes many people sick.

“In the event that a clergyman of our non-established church is sent to prison for distributing the sacraments to his congregation, and he recants and embraces the doctrines of the established church and is accepted into the established communion, may his membership in the established church be made retroactive, thereby legalizing what was formerly a crime, on account of his heresy?”

Boo Hoo Kleps continued: “If these substances have nothing specially holy about them, then the state may prohibit them. But if they do have something specially holy about them, then the state may neither prohibit nor control them, nor even encourage nor discourage their use, for they are entirely outside the province of government and are under the protection of religion and conscience alone.

“It is not the business of legislatures to define what is holy and what is not, although the courts may rightfully inquire into the sincerity of religious assertions, if those assertions lead to a proper question of law.

“The discovery of LSD may be taken as the intervention of God in human history; if the government says this is not possible, then the government has in effect made a law respecting an establishment of religion, disallowing all that is present and future and permitting only what is past.

“To define these divine bio-chemicals as ‘drugs’ in statutes is to do nothing but render an opinion, very possibly wrong, and no one is obliged to act accordingly, for, in the same manner the wine of the Christian communion might be called an intoxicant and narcotic given to minors and the Jewish circumcision termed an assault on infants. If sane and orderly men say that a thing is religious, and the thing is no murder or robbery, then it is their natural right to have it, no matter what multitudes of believers in the holiness of other things, or even in the holiness of nothing, may be arrayed against them.

“We do not believe these substances may be taken from us by whatever means, under any circumstances, no matter what the courts may decide, for free men have a natural right to the exercise of their religion which transcends all ordinary laws should conflict arise, so long as the matter in dispute is integral and essential to the practice of the religion and involves no direct injury to the person or property of non-participants.

“This is the official position of the Neo-American Church on the question of government control and/or prohibition. It is not binding on the clergy or membership of the Church, but I intend to steer by this course, and those who disagree should make their views known, so there will be a minimum of confusion.”

Kleps took issue with Dr. Timothy Leary stating that he specifically rejects a “moratorium” on the use of LSD until its legal status is cleared up, or any acquiescence to government controls of any kind, however mild. Kleps expounded: “No court exists with such jurisdiction.”

Kleps encouraged all Church leaders, called Boo Hoos, to defy the law and continue to celebrate holy communion as they have in the past, but said that “Timothy Leary continues to be the single most respected spiritual guide of the Church, and we will do all in our power to save him from persecution and the torture of imprisonment.”

Good stuff, I thought. It had been written at night with pen and pad at the lodge by the light of three kerosene lanterns. Nice shadow effects. Cozy, also, with a cheery fire going. Synchronistic with the Age-of-Enlightenment, eighteenth-century, Rights-of-Man tone of the thing.

If I could maintain the “grand manner” in my statement to the subcommittee, I thought, I might be wafted to the Elysian heights of national media coverage. The dreary landscape of industrial New Jersey arrived and departed in segments through the train window. I wasn’t drinking. Don’t fuck this one up, Kleps, I kept telling myself. I thought of the train trips I used to take between Crestwood and Scarsdale or Bronxville during the war, to go to the movies when I was a kid, and how I fantasized I was an important adult on some great expedition. Well, here I was. To get smashed would be to betray my youthful image of myself as an adult. Fuck this one up and I won’t have anything more to do with you, I told myself.

In D.C., I quickly found a nice room at a reasonable rate in a small, old-fashioned hotel near Union Station. The weather was ideal. I strolled up to the Old Senate Office Building. There was a small town atmosphere about it all? No guard checked me out as I entered. I walked right in and got on an elevator with Ted Kennedy, who gave me a big but appealingly shy grin as we elevated.

Déjà vu feelings washed over me. My emotions were similar to those I had felt on first entering the grounds at Millbrook. What in God’s name was happening to me? I felt at home in this sinkhole of corruption amidst this gang of blackmailers, extortionists and serial mass murders? To this day that feeling remains in my memory as one of the weirdest I have ever experienced.

This down-home feeling increased when I introduced myself at the subcommittee offices. I instantly liked everyone I met. Their motivations and attitudes seemed clear and reasonable; they wanted to put on a good show, and if any truth emerged in the process, so much the better.

Carl Perian explained the situation to me. Senator Dodd’s Juvenile Delinquency Subcommittee, of which Carl was the administrator, had been holding hearings on drugs for some time, but Senator Bobby Kennedy, scenting publicity, had decided to muscle in on the act, and was now ringmaster of a Shrinks & Cops Show before a different subcommittee.

Tim had appeared on 13 May but, according to Carl, hadn’t made much of an impression. We got right to work. Carl showed me to a desk and offered me a pad and pencil with which to write my statement and said one of the three secretaries in the office would type it up for me. Bernie Tannenbaum, one of Carl’s two assistants, would help me editorially, if need be.

Far out, cool and groovy. I settled down behind the desk and started writing. Nothing to it. Not only did the words roll out effortlessly, but the synchronicity in the newspapers was ideal. A lady in California had just been ordered sterilized because some marijuana was found in a room in which she was present. I included that information in my presentation. Senator Murphy of California had testified about a friend of his children who had been bombed by some acid-spiked punch at a party? Good for him. I worked that in, too.

Carl and Bernie were delighted with the pages I handed them. Visions of blanking out Bobby started dancing in their heads, no doubt. His next hearing was to be held at exactly the same time as ours. A spirit of enthusiasm prevailed. At closing time, I went out and bought a new shirt and tie, had dinner, and went to bed, cold sober. This, I thought, is the way to live. There’s no business like show business.

The next day, as I sat at my desk, surrounded by displays of machine guns and other lethal weapons left over from former subcommittee hearings on gun controls, I could see I wasn’t the only one who liked show business of the Senatorial sort. A parade of dark-suited and frowning professional thugs came and went. Most of them were lobbyist hirelings of the AMA, according to Bernie. They were there to beseech Carl for an opportunity to speak, lest the Psychedelianisticalonian power fall into the hands of the likes of me. On the way out, they favored me with dirty looks.

One minion, more courageous than the rest, came over and introduced himself. Doctor so and so. Had met Tim and did not share the usual view that he belonged in a snake pit. Just an irresponsible visionary. He went into a song and dance about the necessity for “medical control,” and the great loss to the healing arts that would occur if the police were allowed to have their way and ban all psychedelics. Having had a few small doses himself, he knew what I meant about the “religious aspect,” but other people would never understand that. One must consider what “other people” would think, etc., etc. I was getting bored.

“What other people?” I asked.

His mouth fell open, just as in the movies. He got up from his chair.

“My God, are you going to talk like that tomorrow? You’re confusing levels! You can’t confuse levels, Art!”

“What levels?” I asked. He had a point, but I just wanted to get back to work. Lamentably, I did not intend to “talk like that” in there, partly because I did not yet have a satisfactory vocabulary to do it with, but mostly because I was suffering from the delusion that my role in the Psychedelian world was political, not philosophical. I intended to deliver high-class smarm like a loyal Learyite.

He lifted his arms, looking heavenward, and left.

Sandy, a cute secretary from another office, who had been hanging around, came over and firmly nudged the back of my neck with her left tit as she looked over my shoulder at what I was writing. “Mmmm, good stuff, Chief!” Did I want to come with her? She had to go out and buy the morning papers.

Aha! Fun and games in the places of the mighty! Walking over to the store, she pointed out the building where Bobby Baker’s club used to operate. “Boy, we used to have some high old times in there!” she said. In the store I got a few more nudges and bumps amidst the stacks of papers and mags, and she showed me the announcement for the hearings in the Washington Post. Sure enough, there I was, listed along with a Dr. Baird, a Dr. Berger, and Sergeant Bellinger, a narcotics cop from Miami whom I had met on a TV show the previous winter, before there were any possession laws banning the Supreme Sacrament. They were all scheduled to speak before I did. Good.

“Why don’t we have a couple drinks after work today?” I asked her, as we walked back to the office. Sure. Bernie and one of the other girls would probably like to go, too. Fine.

By 7 p.m., my statement was finished and mimeographed. Carl was delighted with it. He asked a lot of intelligent questions and confessed to a great urge to try some acid himself. “God knows I wouldn’t have any supply problems,” he said, laughing and opening a drawer in his desk to reveal a truly impressive collection of psychoactive drugs. There was enough potential “energy” in that drawer to lift Washington (heavy hydraulic metaphor) six inches off the ground. Bernie and the two secretaries also seemed to take a lively and personal interest in Carl’s collection. How would I like to be the guest of honor at a party on the following evening? Sure. Well, here we go again, I thought. That night, in Sandy’s apartment, I asked her if she had had much contact with Senator Dodd, whom I hadn’t seen once since arriving, although his name was often invoked.

“Yes,” she said, “all the time. He’s a nice old man, and I really feel sorry for him. He’s so sick and unhappy and can hardly do anything anymore.”

“Well, he sort of deserves it, doesn’t he?” I asked.

Sandy didn’t think so. He didn’t do anything the rest of them didn’t do. No, they were out to get him for other reasons. The “gun people” were behind it all.

“You know what?” she asked.

“No, what?”

“His arms are covered with tracks. I saw them myself.”

Well, could be this, could be that, I thought to myself. I had better things to think about than Senator Dodd’s drug use.

I have found lots of heavy synchronicity associated with the damsels who have appeared and disappeared in my life. There is no such thing, Snazzm, as a chance encounter and no matter how casual and transitory the relationship, the person you are with will tell you a great deal about yourself as of that moment. I know you guys who hang out exclusively with stupid, ignorant, crazy sluts don’t want to hear this, but so it is.

In this case, I’m sorry to say, the girl I was with did better in public than she did in private. She even apologized. Lying flat on her back, closing her eyes and, perhaps, gritting her teeth, was the best she could do. Up-tight Southern Baptist upbringing, she said. I told her not to worry about it. She might be in for one hell of a pleasant surprise in twenty-four hours or so, if the party we had planned took place.

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