Kerry Wendell Thornley
From Open City, ca. 1970
April 17, 1938|
|Died||November 28, 1998
|Pen name||Lord Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst
Ho Chi Zen
|Subject||Religion, Politics, Satire|
|Spouse||Cara Leach (1965-?)|
Kerry Wendell Thornley (April 17, 1938 – November 28, 1998) is known as the co-founder (along with childhood friend Greg Hill) of Discordianism, in which context he is usually known as Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst or simply Lord Omar. He and Hill authored the religion's seminal text Principia Discordia, Or, How I Found Goddess, And What I Did To Her When I Found Her. Thornley was also known for his 1962 manuscript, The Idle Warriors, which was based on the activities of his acquaintance, Lee Harvey Oswald, prior to the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Thornley was highly active in the countercultural publishing scene, writing for a number of underground magazines and newspapers, and self-publishing many one-page (or broadsheet) newsletters of his own. One such newsletter called Zenarchy was published in the 1960s under the pen name Ho Chi Zen. "Zenarchy" is described in the introduction of the collected volume as "the social order which springs from meditation", and "A noncombative, nonparticipatory, no-politics approach to anarchy intended to get the serious student thinking."
Raised Mormon, in adulthood Kerry shifted his ideological focus frequently, in rivalry with any serious countercultural figure of the 1960s. Atheism, anarchism, Objectivism, autarchism (attended Robert LeFevre's Freedom School), neo-paganism, Kerista, Buddhism, and the memetic inheritor of Discordianism, the Church of the SubGenius, were all subject to close conceptual scrutiny throughout his life.
On Saturday, December 11, 1965, Kerry married Cara Leach at Wayfarers Chapel in Palos Verdes, California. They had one son, Kreg Thornley, born in 1969. They later divorced. Kreg is a photographer, painter, musician and film maker.
Having already been a U.S. Marine Corps reservist for about two years, Thornley had been summoned to active duty in 1958 at age 20, soon after completing his freshman year at the University of Southern California. According to Principia Discordia, it was around this time that he and Greg Hill—alias Malaclypse the Younger or Mal-2—shared their first Eristic vision in a bowling alley in their hometown of Whittier, California.
In the spring of 1959, Thornley served for a short time in the same radar operator unit as Lee Harvey Oswald at MCAS El Toro in Santa Ana, California. Both men had shared a common interest in society, culture, literature and politics, and whenever duty placed them together, had discussed such topics as George Orwell's famous novel Nineteen Eighty-Four and the philosophy of Marxism, particularly Oswald's interest in the latter.
While aboard a troopship returning to the United States from duty in Japan (some time after the two men parted ways as a result of routine reassignment), Thornley read of Oswald's autumn 1959 defection to the Soviet Union in the US military newspaper Stars and Stripes.
Released from Marine Corps' active duty in September 1960, Thornley relocated with Greg Hill to New Orleans in early 1961. Here he began to write about his experiences as a peacetime Marine both stateside and in Asia, in a book which used Lee Harvey Oswald as the template for its main character, Johnny Shellburn. The aspiring novelist viewed Oswald as the metaphorical embodiment of an intelligent peacetime GI: deeply dissatisfied with the monolithic, totalitarian structure of military life which stood in distressingly sharp contrast to the professed American ideals of individual liberty and free enterprise.
In February 1962, Thornley completed The Idle Warriors, which has the historical distinction of being the only book written about Lee Harvey Oswald before Kennedy's assassination in 1963. Due to the serendipitous nature of Thornley's choice of literary subject matter, he was called to testify before the Warren Commission in Washington, D.C. on May 18, 1964. The Commission subpoenaed a copy of the manuscript and stored it in the National Archives, and the book remained unpublished until 1991. In 1965, Thornley published another book titled Oswald, generally defending the "Oswald-as-lone-assassin" conclusion of the Warren Commission, which met with dismal sales. In his later years, Thornley became convinced that Oswald had in truth been a CIA asset whose purpose was to ferret out suspected Communist sympathizers serving in the Corps.
In January 1968, New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison, certain there had been a New Orleans-based conspiracy to assassinate John F. Kennedy, subpoenaed Thornley to appear before a grand jury, questioning him about his relationship with Oswald and his knowledge of other figures Garrison believed to be connected to the assassination. Thornley sought a cancellation of this subpoena on which he had to appear before the Circuit Court. Garrison charged Thornley with perjury after Thornley denied that he had been in contact with Oswald in any manner since 1959. The perjury charge was eventually dropped by Garrison's successor Harry Connick, Sr.
Thornley claimed that, during his initial two-year sojourn in New Orleans, he had numerous meetings with two mysterious middle-aged men named "Gary Kirstein" and "Slim Brooks". According to his account, they had detailed discussions on numerous subjects ranging from the mundane to the exotic, and bordering sometimes on bizarre. Among these was the subject of how one might assassinate President Kennedy, whose beliefs and policies the aspiring novelist deeply disliked at the time. Later, the former Marine came to believe that "Gary Kirstein" had in reality been senior CIA officer and future Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt, and "Slim Brooks" to have been Jerry Milton Brooks, a member of the 1960s right-wing activist group "The Minutemen". Guy Banister, another Minutemen member in New Orleans, had been accused by Garrison of involvement in the assassination and was allegedly connected to Lee Harvey Oswald through the Fair Play for Cuba Committee leaflet. Thornley also claimed that "Kirstein" and Brooks had accurately predicted Richard M. Nixon's accession to the presidency six years before it happened, as well as anticipating the rise of the 1960s counterculture and the subsequent emergence of Charles Manson and what became his cult following. This led Thornley to believe that the US government had somehow been involved, directly or indirectly, in creating and/or supporting these events, personages and phenomena.
In the wake of this period, Thornley came to believe (among many other things) that he had been a subject of the CIA's LSD experiments in the MK-ULTRA mind-control research program. While skeptics may dismiss as conspiracy theory some of his later notions – such as having been a product of occult-based Nazi Vril selective breeding programs – his claims regarding participation in such highly-classified U.S. government mind-control programs and foreknowledge of the John F. Kennedy assassination are consistent with the time period, his residences, and the nature and locations of his military service.
Later life and death
For the next 30 years, Thornley traveled and lived all over the United States and was involved in a variety of activities, ranging from editing underground newspapers to attending graduate school. He spent most of the remainder of his life in the Little Five Points neighborhood of Atlanta, During this time he maintained a free series of fliers titled "Out of Order." This single page, double sided Xeroxed periodical was distributed in the Little Five Points area. In 1994, he and Malaclypse the Younger were inducted into the Order of the Pineapple. Thornley became increasingly paranoid and distrustful in the wake of his experiences during the 1960s, both by his own accounts and those of personal acquaintances. For a time Thornley wrote a regular column in the zine Factsheet Five, until editor Mike Gunderloy stopped publishing the magazine. Struggling with illness in his final days, Kerry Thornley died of cardiac arrest in Atlanta on November 28, 1998, a Saturday, at the age of 60. The following morning, 23 people attended a Buddhist memorial service in his honor. His body had been cremated and the ashes scattered over the Pacific Ocean. Shortly before his death, Thornley reportedly said he'd felt "like a tired child home from a very wild circus", a reference to a passage by Greg Hill from Principia Discordia:
|“||And so it is that we, as men, do not exist until we do; and then it is that we play with our world of existent things, and order and disorder them, and so it shall be that Non-existence shall take us back from Existence, and that nameless Spirituality shall return to Void, like a tired child home from a very wild circus.||”|
List of pen names and titles
List of pen names and self-awarded titles provided by Kerry himself on the role of Pope of the Discordian Society in an affidavit to the California School Employees Association (CSEA), on a legal case concerning a member of the society that refused to join the CSEA alleging that the Discordian religion forbade him from doing so:
- co-founder of the Discordian Society and the Legion of Dynamic Discord thereof and co-author of Principia Discordia
- Grand Ballyhoo of Egypt of the Orthodox Discordian Society
- Kerry Wendell Thornley, JFK Assassin
- Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst, President of the Fair-Play-for-Switzerland Committee
- Reverend Doctor Jesse Sump, Ancient Abbreviated Calif. of California and Sinister Minister of the First Evangelical and Unrepentant Church of No Faith
- Ho Chi Zen (the Fifth Dealy Lama)
- Purple Sage, Pope
- "I further declare that there is no truth whatsoever to the charge that Kerry Wendell Thornley is a ficiticious (sic) identity created by the Warren Commission for its own mysterious purposes (Vol. XI, pp. 80+, Commission Exhibits and Testimony)"
- Groover, Joel (1998-12-03). "Kerry Thornley, philosopher, writer, friend of Oswald" (fee required). Atlanta Journal-Constitution. p. F8. Retrieved 2008-03-24. "[Thornley] moved to Atlanta in 1969 and became a fixture in Little Five Points, a merry prankster known for his chaos-inspired philosophy and psychedelic conspiracy theories.... Co-author of 'The Principia Discordia,' a spoof of religion written in the 1970s, Mr. Thornley earned international attention as a founding father of "Discordian" philosophy...."
- Staff writer (1999-01-02). "1998 Notable Deaths in Georgia, the South" (fee required). Atlanta Journal-Constitution. p. D6. Retrieved 2008-03-24. "KERRY THORNLEY, 60, Atlanta; founding father of Discordian philosophy whose early book on Lee Harvey Oswald became Warren Commission evidence"
- "JFK". Retrieved 2013-01-24.
- "Kerista". Retrieved 2013-01-24.
- "Kerry Thornley's Family". Retrieved 2013-01-24.
- "Kreg Thornley". Retrieved 2013-01-24.
- Warren Commission Hearings, Volume XI, p. 84
- Warren Commission Hearings, Volume XI, pp. 87–90
- Warren Commission Hearings, Volume XI, p. 109
- Warren Commission Hearings, Volume XI, pp. 96–97; 109; 112–115
- "Deaths: Kerry Thornley". AP Online. Associated Press. December 4, 1998. Retrieved September 11, 2012. – via HighBeam (subscription required)
- "Writer Not Sure Oswald Assassin". The Miami News. Jan 10, 1968. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
- "Writer Seeks Cancellation Of Subpoena". St. Petersburg Times. Jan 20, 1968. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
- 544 Camp Street and Related Events, House Select Committee on Assassinations – Appendix to Hearings, Volume 10, 13, p. 128.
- Marrs, Jim. Crossfire: The Plot that Killed Kennedy, (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1989), p. 497. ISBN 0-88184-648-1
- "Order of the Pineapple: Honored Members". Retrieved 2013-01-24.
- Kerry Wendell Thornley signing as Lord Omar. "Lord Omar's Affidavit to the CSEA". Retrieved 2008-04-06.
- Biles, Joe G.; In History's Shadow: Lee Harvey Oswald, Kerry Thornley & the Garrison Investigation, Writers Club Press, April 2002 (foreword by Robert Buras) ISBN 978-0-595-22455-5
- Gorightly, Adam; The Prankster and the Conspiracy: The Story of Kerry Thornley and How He Met Oswald and Inspired the Counterculture, Paraview Press, November 2003 (foreword by Robert Anton Wilson) ISBN 978-1-931044-66-0
- "Testimony of Kerry Wendell Thornley". Warren Commission Hearings, Volume XI. History Matters. May 18, 1964. pp. 82–115. Retrieved October 14, 2009.
- with Malaclypse the Younger (Greg Hill); Principia Discordia, or, How I found Goddess and what I did to Her when I found Her, 5th Edition, September 1991, IllumiNet Press (Introduction by Kerry Thornley) ISBN 0-9626534-2-X
- Thornley, Kerry; Oswald, New Classics House, 1965
- Thornley, Kerry; Zenarchy, IllumiNet Press, June 1991 ISBN 0-9626534-1-1
- Thornley, Kerry; The Idle Warriors, IllumiNet Press, June 1991 ISBN 0-9626534-0-3
- Works written by or about Kerry Thornley at Wikisource
- "The Unofficially-Official Site of Kerry Wendell Thornley"
- Introduction by Kerry Thornley to the Fifth (IllumiNet Press) Edition of Principia Discordia
- Impropaganda: Zenarchy
- Impropaganda: First 30 issues of Kultcha broadsheet newsletter
- 113 scanned and full-text issues of The Decadent Worker broadsheet newsletter
- "The Dreadlock Recollections" (PDF). OVO Vol 20 # 17. Retrieved 2008-03-25.
- 23 Offerings of Prime Erisiana, Discordian enchantments as described to Sondra London
- "In Defense of Libertarian Communism, with comments by Samuel Edward Konkin III". Strategy of the New Libertarian Alliance #2, May Day 1982-3. Retrieved 2008-03-25.
- Appendix 5 of Warren Commission Report available at NARA (www.archives.gov)
- Orleans Parish Grand Jury Transcript, Testimony of Kerry W. Thornley
- Impropaganda: 1991 NY Press article on Thornley – "Oswald's Other"
- The Vril, the CIA, and Nazi Secret Societies, correspondence of Kerry Thornley
- Official Obituary Announcement by Sondra London
- Confession to Conspiracy to Assassinate JFK, posthumous account of the events surrounding and leading up to Thornley's alleged involvement with the JFK assassination, as told to Sondra London
- Excerpts from Gorightly's book The Prankster and the Conspiracy and Foreword by Robert Anton Wilson
- Hi-res scan of Thornley's Pope certificate