Thursday, September 1, 2022

UFOs: Going to the Next Level

In the early 1970s, the Human Individual Metamorphosis (HIM) movement was launched by Marshall Herff Applewhite, an ex-music teacher, and Bonnie Lu Nettles, an ex-psychiatric nurse from Texas. Presenting themselves as incarnate aliens, they gathered students to teach the way to extraterrestrial salvation. By 1975, former followers were predicting a tragic end. On March 26, 1997, in Rancho Santa Fe, California, Applewhite and 38 of his followers were found dead from a mass suicide. The Heaven’s Gate story is well known, but so we won’t repeat it all, just focus on how the group interacted with UFOs culture and how they exploited it to influence their followers.

In the 1950s, Theosophical concepts of ancient godlike beings from other planets guiding mankind were redressed for a new audience. George Adamski claimed he’d met a savior in a flying saucer from Venus, becoming the first major Contactee. Many imitators followed with inspirational contact stories of their own, planting the seeds for de facto UFO religions. What happened with Applewhite, Nettles, and their students is a byproduct of the Contactee teachings.


First Contact

In 1973, Applewhite and Nettles took to the road traveling around the country, where they came up with the concepts for their teachings. As the son of a Presbyterian minister, Applewhite had set out to follow his father’s religious profession before focusing on music. Nettles was interested in astrology, Theosophy and UFOs. In 1974, mixing concepts from Christianity, Theosophy, and UFO Contactee lore, they reinvented themselves as celestial saviors. The asexual couple cultivated an air of mystery about themselves. They shed their names and became known as “the Two,” individually as “Bo” and “Peep,” later as “Ti” and “Do.” The Two began taking their ministry public by contacting UFO organizations.

On July 13, 1974, Applewhite and Nettles arrived in Oklahoma City at the office of Hayden Hewes of the International UFO Bureau where he interviewed them for 90 minutes. Hewes asked about whether UFOs were physically real and Applewhite said: 

“…they are real at a vibratory control rate… for example a spaceship can change its vibration rate. An individual who is a member of the next kingdom can change his vibration rate. He can appear and disappear in front of your eyes, because he has developed to that capacity.”

Applewhite also explained how our earthly lives must be shed to reach the heavenly next level: 

“…if you were willing to flake off all your humanity to make this graduation, you would move into an entirely different consciousness, you would change your body over just as the chrysalis in the caterpillar to butterfly.”
The Aerial Phenomena Research Organization was their next known stop. The APRO Bulletin Oct. 1975, described their visit.  

“In July of 1974 a middle-aged couple walked into APRO’s office and held a conversation… The gist of it was that they were some sort of emissaries and that within a year and a half they would be assassinated and would be taken up by a UFO, rejuvenated and returned to earth for some sort of revivalist movement.”

Before their recruiting campaign was properly launched, some trouble with the law resulted in Applewhite spending six months in jail.

Valley Morning Star TX, Aug. 29, 1974

Afterwards, they recruited “students” for HIM by putting up posters for their meetings which featured a UFO headline. Many of the people who were attracted by the group’s posters had a prior interest in UFOs.

In Messengers of Deception, the 1979 book by Jacques Vallée, he wrote about attending the HIM meeting on August 13, 1975, at the Stanford campus. A panel of eight members talked about how they had abandoned everything to follow The Two, and encouraged the audience to join them, saying it was free. When a woman challenged them on this, the speaker replied, "It only costs your life, you know. . ."

Two recruits were students from the University of Oregon, who’d become excited by news about the claims of crashed UFO at Hangar 18 by Robert Spencer Carr. In his final interview, the member said:

“One day in Oregon in 1975 an article showed up in the campus paper… [about] a Florida professor's presentation about the Aztec, New Mexico, crash and the bodies found inside. Autopsies showed the beings had brains capable of superhuman intelligence... I showed the article to [my friend]. This was before we joined the class, and we thought, ‘Wow this is going to be a big story.’ … some months later… we saw a poster that said. ‘UFOs: Why they are here…’”

They and many others left with the cult and were said to have “vanished.”

HIM poster, Calgary Herald, Oct. 17, 1975

To reach the Next Level involved some sacrifice, and their students were required to forsake most worldly pleasures like drugs and sex. Further, they were to sever contact with their families and devote themselves completely to the mission. The press on HIM focused on families that were torn apart by the cult.

The Courier Journal, Nov. 4, 1975

Joan Culpepper, a California psychic was a follower of HIM, but she dropped out and started speaking publicly to expose them.

Tucson Daily Citizen, Nov 29, 1975

The cult continued to recruit, sometimes drawing an audience of several hundred prospects.


Billings Gazette, Dec. 23, 1975

The fame of The Two was growing. In 1976, William Shatner, ex-Captain Kirk of Star Trek, was working on a paranormal documentary, Mysteries of the Gods, based on an Erich von Daniken book. Ufologist Dennis William Hauck was interviewed by Shatner in the film, and wrote in his 1995 book, Captain Quirk, that Shatner believed in alien visitors. He'd heard something about The Two and was curious.

Dennis William Hauck and William Shatner

Hauck told him about attending one of the HIM meetings and hearing about their message. “There must be over 150 members by now. Both Jackie Gleason and musician Steve Halpern came close to joining the group.” Shatner asked, “And why didn't you go with them?” When Hauck told him about The Two’s criminal record, Shatner lost any interest he had in them.

Hayden Hewes met The Two again in 1976 along with Brad Steiger. The interviews formed the basis for the 1976 book, UFO Missionaries Extraordinary. The Two had hoped their message would be spread to the world, but they were unhappy with the book, since it left out their alleged connection to Revelations and their predicted resurrections.

This edition was from the Heaven’s Gate book collection.

Excessive publicity caused Applewhite to become paranoid about being pursued by the law. The Two took their class underground.

The Next Generation

The late 1970s saw a boom in science fiction movies with aliens and other worlds, and this helped the class visualize the next level. Trouble came in 1985, when Bonnie Lu Nettles died from cancer, something not accounted for in their philosophy. It shook the faith, but when prophecy fails, change the prophecy. Physical entry into the spaceship to Heaven was no longer necessary. In 1993 the cult publicly remerged and started recruiting again, eventually renamed Heaven’s Gate. Applewhite had a new plan and taught his followers, “The Shedding of Our Human Bodies May Be Required To Take Up New Bodies in the Next World.”

The group was founded around the principles of UFOs and alien beings, and that was reflected in their allowed entertainment choices. Members were kept from watching TV programs featuring explicit sex but permitted to see shows more aligned to their values such as the Star Trek series, Voyager and Deep Space 9, and The X-Files and Millennium.

Applewhite and students take a trip.

In late 1996, remote viewer Courtney Brown was the guest on Coast to Coast AM with Art Bell, claiming a UFO “four times the size of Earth” following the comet Hale-Bopp. A photo alleging to show the was promoted on the websites of Whitley Strieber and Art Bell in mid-January 1997. Applewhite and his followers believed it pictured their ride, and they started preparing for their departure. We know how their story ends, but one of their first stops along the way was at a major UFO convention.

A large contingent from Heaven’s Gate attended the fringy 6th Annual International UFO Congress in Laughlin, Nevada, January 18-24, 1997. Perhaps they were drawn to it since at least two of the lecturers were speaking about the Hale-Bopp UFO, Whitley Strieber and Lee Shargel.

The scope of the IUFOC convention was described in a report from Pete Creelman in the March MUFON-Arizona newsletterNewsweek reported the Heaven’s Gate students were good customers. “While there, they shell out $740.86 on hotels, books, tapes and UFO magazines." Applewhite’s group already had a collection of UFO books, but some of the new items may have been mentioned in The Los Angeles Times, Nov. 21, 1999, when their belongings went up for auction and, “the cult's book collection for $340.” It included:

The Star Trek Encyclopedia, 1994.

Disneyland of the Gods by John Keel, 1995. 

Aliens from Outer Space by David Jackson, a 1991 children's picture book. 

Additionally, news video of the auction showed six boxes of books with at least three other UFO volumes from the collection:

UFO: The Complete Sightings by Peter Brookesmith, 1995.

An Alien Harvest by Linda Moulton Howe, 1989.

UFO... Contact from the Pleiades, by Wendelle C. Stevens, 1979.

There were apparently at least two lots of books auctioned, and a Reddit post pictured some of the volumes said to be part of the Heaven’s Gate collection, books from the 1950s to the 1990s.

 Also, among their possessions were a T-shirt with the picture of an alien and the logo "FARFROMHOME," and two "Star Wars" hats with the logo, "May the Force Be With You."

Astronomers identified the alleged UFO following the comet as an ordinary star, but Applewhite and his class were committed to leaving earth. The Heaven’s Gate site said, “Whether Hale-Bopp has a ‘companion’ or not is irrelevant from our perspective.” 


Out of Their Vulcan Minds

Gene Rodenberry created Star Trek incorporating ideas form classic science fiction, which by that time had folded in quite a bit of UFO and alien lore. Heaven’s Gate was fond of Star Trek and its spin offs, and it was reported that their demeanor was asexual and emotionally aloof, resembling the cool detachment of Vulcans from the series.

One of the members on their voyage to the final frontier was Thomas Alva Nichols, brother of Nichelle Nichols who played Lt. Uhura. For their mission, Heaven’s Gate members wore a patch inspired by the series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, which called the landing party transported to other planets an “away team.” 

In the videotape made in late 1996, “Planet About To Be Recycled - Your Only Chance To Survive,” in late 1996, Marshall Applewhite said:
“In the eyes of the Kingdom of Heaven, there's no such thing as race or color or religious background... If the extent of your religious background was Star Trek - that in itself could be the best background you could have, if you could accept this as Truth, if you could accept this as reality.”
In the members’ farewell videotape, one trekker used a science fiction analogy to try to explain their choices:
"…to us, this step of laying down... these human bodies [is] simple, like we watch a lot of ‘Star Trek,’ a lot of 'Star Wars’… "We've been on a holodeck, we've been into training... The game's over. It's time to put into practice what we've learned."

They poisoned themselves and died for their beliefs, a twisted religion based on UFOs and aliens. “Going From This World to a New Life” by James Phelan in the Lakeland Ledger, Feb 29, 1976, closed with a quote from Marshall Applewhite:
"Some people are like lemmings, who rush in a pack into the sea and drown themselves. Many migrate to the West Coast. They join any movement – self-discipline, this kind of meditation, that kind of meditation… Some people,” says the former opera singer who claims he will rise from the dead and take his followers to heaven on a UFO, “will try anything.”

. . . 



  1. Pretty interesting library,
    Flying Saucers Proof in Pictures
    Giants in the Earth
    My favorite tabloid cover story on them was "How Star Trek, Star Wars Helped Lure Loonies to their Deaths"

  2. The latest in the Heaven's Gate saga: feuding among surviving members and intellectual property lawsuits.

    * "Exposing the TELAH Foundation's lies",
    * "The TELAH Foundation Alleges Copyright and Trademark Infringement in Lawsuit", (Full complaint:

  3. Brad Steiger never met a huckster he couldn't write a puff piece on, but interestingly enough his frequent collaborator Warren Smith wrote critically of Tee and Doe in his book "UFO Trek" from 1976, quoting another saucer cultist named Bob Geyer who says Applewhite and Nettles are bad news. A capsule review of that volume:

  4. From my essay “A UFO Skeptic’s Odyssey,” published in Skeptical Odysseys: Personal Accounts by the World's Leading Paranormal Inquirers (Prometheus Books, 2001).

    One day in April of 1976, some enigmatic handwritten signs suddenly began appearing around the University of Maryland in College Park, which I was fortunate to spot. The signs proclaimed a lecture on the evening of April 19 "to explain the UFO Two." I suspected that this mysterious meeting may involve "Bo and Peep" - Marshall Herff Applewhite and Bonnie Lu Nettles (also known as "The Two," "Him and Her," and many other names), who had recently been in the headlines as a kind of 'Pied Pipers' of UFOlogy. In numerous cities they had appeared without advance notice to give lectures about a type of "salvation" involving UFOs. They had somehow lured dozens of people away from their homes and normal lives into a UFO cult. I made plans to attend.
    It indeed did turn out to be one of the cult's recruiting meetings. Arriving early, I recognized Applewhite and Nettles standing around and chatting with the cult members. I said nothing. During the meeting, Applewhite and Nettles sat incognito among the audience while the cult members at the speakers' table talked glowingly about the coming "harvest." Those who were ready to be "harvested" would be taken up to the "next level" by the UFOs, where they would live a better life. Bo and Peep are the only two people now on earth representing that higher level. The cultists on the panel obviously believed every word of this nonsense. When asked about the whereabouts of their leaders, the cultists claimed to not know where they were. "We believe they are in the Midwest somewhere." They were lying. The Two were seated in the audience, although amazingly nobody seemed to realize this. Some of the audience members were quite angry, presumably having had friends or relatives disappear into the cult - probably this is why Bo and Peep preferred to remain incognito. When I had a chance to ask a question, I raised the issue of The Two's previous brushes with the law - news reports had mentioned several - and I asked if these were the kind of persons whose word they would trust so completely. As I was speaking, Applewhite rose up from his chair on the other side of the aisle, stood full up and glared at me, from about fifteen feet away. He was a large man, and he had an air of being dangerous. It would have been easy to blow apart the charade by confronting him right there, but I did not. I have always regretted my failure to act in that moment, most especially in light of what ultimately happened.
    Bo and Peep gradually faded from sight, their cult largely forgotten, until the astonishing news burst upon the world in March of 1997. Believing reports from an unreliable source that the brilliant Comet Hale-Bopp was being followed a mysterious UFO "companion," Applewhite proclaimed to his followers that the sign had at last come for them to move on to the "next level." They would be joining Nettles, who had died several years earlier. In Rancho Santa Fe, California, thirty-nine members of Applewhite's cult now calling itself "Heavens Gate," put on their sneakers, took fatal doses of drugs and alcohol, then lay down with plastic bags over their heads expecting to "rise up" to the "next level" and join Nettles on the comet.



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