Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Process: A Strange and Terrible Journey Part I


While largely a marginal sect during their heyday the Process Church of the Final Judgment has gained a reputation as one of the most enigmatic and potentially sinister artifacts of the American counterculture that came to prominence in the late 1960s. Originating from England, the Process was bizarre even by the standards of Haight-Ashbury circa 1968. Appearing on the streets decked out in black cloaks with hoods, sporting Goat of Mendes patches and peddling literature with titles such as Death, Fear and Humanity Is The Devil, the Process was in stark contrast to the flower power and tie-die that characterized the era (at least in the public consciousness). At the time, years before heavy metal and goth fashions become a staple of American malls everywhere, few knew what to make of the Process and for their part the group itself also perpetuated the enigma.

Process co-founder Robert de Grimston

While the Process seemingly accomplished little before rebranding itself as the Foundation Church of the Millennium in 1975 and largely disappearing from the public consciousness (until approximately a dozen members of the original Process collective reemerged as part of the Best Friends Animal Society, the final incarnation of what was originally the Process, an organization regularly featured on the TV series DogTown) it would ultimately have a significant, if little appreciated, influence upon popular culture.


Early on the group would seek ties with popular rock acts of the day, a move that would ultimately lead to aspects of the group's art work and ideology (and eventually, even their hymns) being incorporated into the works of various artists over the next few decades.
"The Process Church of the Final Judgment officially changed its name and its gods in 1975, but even today the original group enjoys cultural influence. It's screeds were reproduced as linear notes for two Funkadelic album; Skinny Puppy had an album called Process complete with an anti-vivisection lyrics, a prominent Process Church concern. Process rituals were appropriated and valorized by Psychick TV and Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth (or TOPY), and the Process' misanthropic bombast appeared on the pages of my Apocalypse Culture compilation."
(Love Sex Fear Death, "Rarely What It Seems," Adam Parfrey, pg. 7)
the legendary, Process-quoting inner sleeve of the Funkadelic album Maggot Brain

Eventually even a rock band would be formed to reproduce the hymns of the Process, a retro occult act known as Sabbath Assembly, of which I've written much more on here and here. But enough about the Process' ties to rock 'n roll's mythos.


Easily the Process' most significant cultural contribution was its incorporation into conspiracy literature, specifically those revolving around Satanic cults and serial killers. As early as 1971 the Process was being portrayed as the inspiration to (and possibly the guiding hand behind) the Manson Family by the Fugs' Ed Sanders in his book The Family. Then, in 1987, this association went into overdrive with the publication of Maury Terry's The Ultimate Evil. Not only did Terry link them to Manson, but he also argued that a splinter group of the Process had formed some type of Satanic cult that operated on a national scale and had been involved with various serial killers and other occult related killings in addition to more conventional crimes such as drug trafficking. The chief premise of The Ultimate Evil is that the Son of Sam killings were actually committed by this cult (of whom David Berkowitz, the man convicted of the Sam killings, Terry alleges was a member of) and that it was yet another terror campaign directed by this Process splinter group (which Terry dubbed the Four-P Movement).
"A key element in Terry's thesis is that the Process Church of the Final Judgment is alive and well, and involved in nefarious activity stretching from drug-running to child prostitution to murder. This was also asserted in Ed Sanders' study of the Manson Family, The Family. Sanders was successfully sued (in the United States) and references to both the Process and the OTO -- so prevalent in the first edition of his book --were expunged by the time the book was republished. (This was not so in the United Kingdom, where the courts decided in favor of the publisher and author.) However, Terry recounts in The Ultimate Evil his discussions with Sanders concerning these cults. Terry makes no bones about mentioning both the Process and the OTO in The Ultimate Evil, and has evidently resisted any legal attempts to get him to change his story."
(Sinister Forces Book III, Peter Levenda, pg. 196)


Since the publication of The Ultimate Evil a host of other researchers have joined the fray and expanded Terry's thesis to include a whole host of serial killers, cults, and criminal organization such as Henry Lee Lucas and his alleged Hand of Death cult, Adolfo Constanzo's Matamoros cult, the "Company" of Kentucky drug smuggler Drew Thornton, and so on. Several of the most compelling accounts include later period works such as David McGowan's Programmed to Kill, Adam Gorightly's The Shadow Over Santa Susana and especially Peter Levenda's brilliant Sinister Forces trilogy.

The conspiracy theories surrounding the Process have also trickled into the popular consciousness, at first via low budget horror sequels such as Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (both of which I've written extensively on here, here and here). Eventually such notions were incorporated into high concept prime time dramas such as the Chris Carter created and produced Millennium (of which I covered before here, here and here) and The Following (which I covered here).



Still, Terry's original thesis remains highly controversial and for good reason. Terry's original research, from which many of the later period works are all heavily dependent upon, is highly suspect, to say the least.
"Maury Terry has insisted that there is a connection between Charles Manson and David Berkowitz, and he has based this conclusion largely on jailhouse confessions and some controversial interviews with convicted felons. His research has been attacked in many cases, especially as it has contributed to the rise of 'satanic cult survivor hysteria" in the 1980s and 1990s in the United States. Some of his conclusions have been drawn from an idiosyncratic decoding of the 'Son of Sam' letters to the press and by a loose association of the dates of the Sam murders to dates with alleged occult significance."
(Sinister Forces Book III, Peter Levenda, pg. 162)
Levenda is being kind. Publisher Adam Parfrey was able to find several major holes in Terry's research with little effort as far back as 1987.
"I first learned in 1987 that some of the conspiracy literature regarding the Process Church was either dishonest or was poorly fact-check. After hearing a rumor that Robert de Grimston was listed in the Staten Island phone book under his given name Robert Moor, I called him up -- that is, after certain hesitation. After all, Murray Terry's The Ultimate Evil informs us that de Grimston is a diabolical mystery man who had removed himself from the world at large to pursue the practice of evil. What was he doing so easily reached in the phone book? And how confident could I be of Maury Terry's research if he couldn't even bother locating Robert de Grimston by calling the Information operator?
"After dialing the listed Mr. Moor and hearing the phone answered by a polite man with a British accent, I was more than a bit surprised. Though he wasn't particularly happy to receive an unexpected phone call, Mr. Moor and I spoke for ten minutes about the conspiracy literature ("unbearable... a pack of lies"), and my appeal for him to tell his story ("I'll think about it").
"Murray Terry reveals more about his experts on the Process Church within The Ultimate Evil:
I raise the subject of the dead German shepherds with Larry Siegel... Larry, twenty-seven, was a well-inform researcher and professional writer. he'd offered to spend some time checking into the occult, and was ready with an opinion.
'You've heard of the Process, right? Well, the Process German shepherds.'
"Here, a 27-year-old 'researcher' speculates that since the Process Church took care of German shepherds, some sort of weird splinter group must be the ones massacring them a la the Son of Sam murders in the late '70s long after the Process Church folded and became the Foundation. Maury Terry further writes:
The Process, as far as is known, has now officially splintered, and its offspring -- while still active --have gone underground. But before the Process divided, it spread seeds of destruction throughout the United States. Those spores were carried on winds of evil across the 1970s and into the present. The terror still reigns with far-flung subsidiary groups united by the sins of the father.
"It's strange to see these unsubstantiated assertions stated as fact, and repeated widely online as absolute proof. Coincidently, Maury Terry's New York agent contacted Feral House in 2008 to publish a revised edition of The Ultimate Evil.
(Love Sex Fear Death, "Rarely What It Seems," Adam Parfrey, pgs. 9-10)
Adam Parfrey

Over the course of this series we shall examine the legitimacy, or lack therefore of, of the Process' ties to some type of serial killer cult bent upon wrecking Satanic havoc across the United States. While I've found compelling evidence of some type of terror outfit that operates not unlike what Terry describes in The Ultimate Evil I remain highly dubious of the notion that this organization had any ties to the Process except possibly amongst marginal individuals within the British import. While I've always found certain elements of the Saunders/Terry account to be highly dubious (most notably their portrayal of Robert de Grimston as a Manson/Jim Jones-like cult leader with total control over his followers, but more on that later) I left the Love Sex Fear Death: The Inside Story of the Process Church of the Final Judgment, an anthology largely comprised of accounts by former Process members such as Timothy Wyllie, all but convinced the Process was little more than a red herring.


The accounts of the Process given in Love Sex Fear Death can hardly be described as romanticized -- Indeed, virtually all participants in the project took a rather dim view of the Process aside from Genesis P-Orridge, the only contributor to the anthology (aside from editor Adam Parfrey) who was not actually in the Process (or one of its later incarnations). Love Sex Fear Death compellingly resolves lingering mysteries about the Process, such as its command structure (its inner circle was effectively a matriarchy centered around Mary Ann de Grimston), while also highlighting actual incidences of abuse (chiefly concerning children) that the cult engaged in.

Still, I can't help but shake the feeling that Wyllie and company tactfully left a few major revelations out of their accounts of the Process. Or perhaps, though he would be loath to admit it, Wyllie takes a certain delight in perpetuating the Process mythos. For instance, early in his account he casually states:
"I should add that my family was not drawn from the upper classes. I got into Charterhouse, my public school, through a stroke of luck and my mother's connections in British intelligence from working for MI6 before the war."
(Love Sex Fear Death, "My Life Inside the Process Church," Timothy Wyllie, pg. 25) 

Given the long-standing allegations that the Process had ties to some type of intelligence service (likely either of the United States or Britain), a topic of which Wyllie discusses and compellingly debunks at several points during his narrative, I find it most curious that he would make such a revelation with so little elaboration considering the various charges that have been made against the Process over the years. I'm assuming that his mother's work for MI6 was largely secretarial or something of the like, and that Mr. Wyllie is simply having a little fun with researchers such as your humble author, but who knows?

My chief concern here is in examining the evidence both for and against the involvement of the Process in some type of terror network. As a result, this series will only discuss the Process at length and will not delve too deeply into potential alternatives for said network. I will hopefully have a separate series concerning these possibilities posted for my readers at some time before year's end, but make no promises as the research for this subject is rather vast.

With these boundaries established, let us first turn our attention to the chief source of Process conspiracy lore, namely Maury Terry himself. As noted above, many investigators who followed Terry found his research more than a little suspect at times. Even Peter Levenda, who arguably provided the most compelling argument for the Process' involvement in some type of sinister plot, acknowledges that Terry's research (especially that involving the occult and secret societies) is lacking.
"Where Terry is on shakier ground is his analysis of occultism and the activities of various cults and secret societies. His background in this field comes strictly from a handful of very poorly-composed occult books designed for popular audiences that were themselves written by people with very little direct knowledge. This has happened to many investigators, of course, who come upon occultism for the first time and have their eyes opened wide at this strange demimonde  in their own communities, and thus begin to believe everything they read on the subject, growing more and more nervous with each purple page of sensationalist prose, not realizing that the reality behind most of what comprises the modern manifestation of occultism is usually a lot less exciting and a lot more tawdry, about one step up from the standard established by Star Trek conventions, but minus the sophistication. Thus, it is possible for Terry -- in The Ultimate Evil --To confuse the Golden Dawn with satanism, or the OTO with the Process, etc. Although we can easily show a 'line of succession' leading from the Golden Dawn to Aleister Crowley, and from Crowley to the OTO and from the OTO to Scientology, and from Scientology to the Process Church of the Final Judgment, and eventually from there to Charles Manson, the so-called 'Solar Lodge of the OTO,' and even cult killers such as Clifford St. Joseph and others, we certainly don't have enough to show a deliberate conspiracy on the part of all these organizations in the Son of Sam case, and certainly not enough for calling all of these groups 'satanic' or 'murderous.' Perhaps, from a very narrow Fundamentalist Christian point of view, Terry could be forgiven for making these assumptions, because to a Fundamentalist anything smacking of the occult is automatically from the Devil and satanic. This includes rock music, homosexuals, prime time television and your daily horse go. All the evidence shows, however, the Terry is not a Fundamentalist Christian with an ax to grind against alternative religions..."
(Sinister Forces Book III, Peter Levenda, pg. 195)
Terry

Actually, Terry's politics are hardly as cut and dry as Levenda indicates above. Indeed, Terry would become involved with more than a few far right individuals while working on The Ultimate Evil. One of the least remarked upon aspects of the Son of Sam killings, especially by conspiracy theorist, is the role Rupert Murdoch played in creating the mythos.

Rupert Murdoch, the notorious media baron

At the time Murdoch had recently just acquired the New York Post and said daily's coverage of the Son of Sam killings has generally been described as sensational, a description commonly applied to any number of enterprises affiliated with the media mogul. The Post was the first major publication to hint at a possible conspiracy concerning the Son of Sam killings. What's more, individuals working for the New York Post with ties to Murdoch going back to Australia provided Terry with his first access to alleged Son of Sam killer David Berkowitz.
"The New York Post, a recent acquisition of Australian publishing magnate Rupert Murdoch, was heavily involved in coverage of the Son of Sam case. At times, it was guilty of sensationalism, but so were the rest of the media. The Post was losing money when Murdoch took the reins, and he immediately laid claim to the .44-caliber investigation, engaging the Daily News, particularly, in a battle of headlines as the probe continued. It was said in New York that Murdoch ' hung his hat on son of Sam.'
"Two weeks after Berkowitz's arrest, I said in the office of Peter Michelmore, the Post metropolitan editor, and elicited his interest in the subject of John Wheaties Carr and the Carr illustration studio. The Post was headquartered at 210 South Street, near the Seaport, not far from the Brooklyn Bridge. Its city room reflected the papers financial struggles, which antiquated typewriters and general disarray in evidence.
 "Murdoch had imported a number of Australian writers and editors to work at the Post; people he knew well from his overseas operations. Michelmore, a distinguished-looking, gray-haired man of about 50, was one of those.
"'I think this John Carr thing is good stuff,' he said, after I explained what I'd discovered. Michelmore summoned columnist Steve Dunleavy, another Australian, and assigned him to work with me to develop the story. Dunleavy was about 40 and had just written Elvis, What Happened?, which would become a bestseller...
"A week later I heard from Peter Michelmore,who asked me to drive to his office for another session. 'I think we can get something on Carr,' he said.
"'How?'
"'We've got a man in the hospital.'
"'In King's County? You've got access to Berkowitz?'
"'Yes,' Michelmore answered, but he didn't reveal who it was. I knew Berkowitz was being guarded closely, segregated from other prisoners and patients... 
"But there was no time for self-congratulation. Michelmore asked for a list of pertinent questions which the source could put to Berkowitz one or two at a time. Dunleavy, meanwhile, would use some of my information in a letter he was composing to the alleged .44-Caliber Killer. It was agreed that John Carr wouldn't be mentioned in the note: we wanted the hospital source to handle that one personally, so he could observe Berkowitz's immediate reaction."
(The Ultimate Evil, Maury Terry, pgs. 144-145)

Peter Michelmore (top) and Steve Dunleavy (bottom)

Berkowitz responded to the Dunleavy letter shortly thereafter.
"Steve Dunleavy, meanwhile, was having better luck. Berkowitz answered his letter, in a fashion, and the Post made plans to publish it on Monday, September 19. Acting on the Carr illustration studio lead, Dunleavy also located a couple of Berkowitz's former friends from Co-Op City. Both agreed that the writing ability manifest in the Breslin letter surpassed Berkowitz's, and they stated that the printing style didn't resemble his either. These were important building blocks, adding to the credibility of my suspicions.
"Michelmore called me the night of the eighteenth. 'We're going to fire the first of the big guns tomorrow,' he said, and then read me the text of Berkowitz's letter to Dunleavy.
"In it, Berkowitz was still following the party line. He called Sam Carr 'one of the devils of Satan... a force beyond the wildest imagination of people. He is not human...' The dog, of course, was 'a demon from hell.' Then Berkowitz gave Dunleavy what he was looking for: 'When I kill, I really saved many lives. You will understand later. People want my blood but they don't want to listen to what I have to say... there are other Sons out there --God help the world.'
"I wasn't overly thrilled with the letter's contents. 'He sounds just as crazy as the cops say he is. I think it's an act. So what good are we going to do printing this?'
"Michelmore explained that the letter would provide a basis for raising the questions about the handwriting and composition ability. 'This gives us an opportunity to go into these things. And [Berkowitz] did say that there were "other Sons" of Sam.'
"Michelmore was true to his word. The next day the Post hit the newsstands with a banner headline: BERKOWITZ WARNS OF MORE 'SONS.' LETTER TO POST SUGGEST ACCOMPLICE.'
"The handwriting issue was addressed; the possibility of a co-conspirator was mentioned; and Dunleavy managed to squeeze an admission from a police source that officials 'haven't had a real chance to question [Berkowitz].'"
(ibid, pgs. 147-148)
The Post would  eventually introduce Terry to their source, a former member of the New York City Police Department known as Jim Mitteager. Mitteager was not the actual source but was in contact with the individual that was communicating with Berkowitz during his stay at Kings County Hospital. Mitteager (who informed Terry during their first meeting that he got involved in the Son of Sam investigation in order to procure a position at the Post) would go on to become a key source for Terry's research into the Son of Sam cult in the early stages.

However Terry, to his credit, would eventually become weary of the Post and would even speculate that some element within it was trying to sabotage his investigation. Terry and Mitteager lost access to Berkowitz almost immediately after their first meeting due to the Post running a series of photographs that Mitteager's source had taken. The photographs, one of which notoriously depicted Berkowitz sleeping soundly in his cell, would bring the Post ample notoriety in addition to raising questions about the security surrounding Berkowitz.

not the actually 'Sam Sleeps' photo, but the closest I could find

Some six weeks after the Post ran the photographs Mitteager was arrested for bribing a corrections officer. He was ultimately acquitted by jury in 1979, but this incident effectively cut Terry off from the Post. Still, the Post would not be the only source that Terry would draw upon with ties to the far right.

Another individual who would aid Terry's investigation was Ted Gunderson. Anyone who has read their fair share of conspiracy literature has surely encountered Gunderson at some point, but for those uninitiated: Gunderson was a former high-ranking FBI agent who had headed the field offices in Memphis, Dallas, and ultimately Los Angeles throughout the 1970s. Then, in 1979 he retired (after interviewing for the directorship of the FBI) and opened a private detective agency. Shortly thereafter he became involved as an investigator for the defense of Jeffrey MacDonald, a former Green Beret doctor who was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and two daughters in 1979. For years MacDonald had alleged that the murders, which occurred in 1970, were actually conducted by a Manson-like, drug-addled hippie cult, a notion that Gunderson quickly embraced (all the while charging an hourly rate of $100).

a young Ted Gunderson

Soon, Gunderson allegedly became convinced that the FBI had been co-opted by some type of Satanic cult affiliated with the Illuminati, the longtime bugaboo of the conspiratorial right. Naturally Gunderson, who was by all accounts an excellent investigator during his time with the Bureau, was totally unaware of this state of affairs while working for the FBI despite being in upper management. Ah, but the MacDonald investigation combined with a book known as Pawns in the Game by William Guy Carr soon opened his eyes to the centuries old Jewish/Masonic/Illuminati/Communist conspiracy to implement a one world socialist government.


From there on Gunderson would become a staple of the conspiratorial right throughout the 1980s, 1990s and even into the 00s (Gunderson died in 2011), rubbing shoulders with more than a few far right organizations along the way. While Ted would weigh in on virtually every single major event associated with conspiracy theories in the past century his bread and butter would continue to be allegations of some type of vast Satanic cult network that had infiltrated the government at every level and was involved in an international drug/child sex trafficking ring. Indeed, Gunderson was one of the chief architects of the Satanic ritual abuse panic that unfolded in the United States in the 1980s and early 1990s. The Examiner notes:
"Sensationalist journalism quoting from him almost universally described Gunderson only as a former FBI man, even long after he had become an obvious caricature, a public paranoid for hire. Ted was still simply a respected former FBI man even after decades of attaching his expertise to the furthest-flung theories of world-wide Illuminati/Masonic/Satanic/Zionist conspiracies. Throughout the moral panic of the 1980s - 1990s regarding Satanic cults thought to be subverting Christian-American lives, he would regularly appear on daytime talk shows warning of the insidious influence of Heavy Metal music and ubiquitous subliminal urgings being silently forced upon impressionable youthful minds."

Needless to say, Gunderson was and remains a highly controversial figure. For years conspiracy theorists accepted Gunderson's allegations without question because of his background with the FBI even when such a background should have raised major red flags. The Bureau has a saying that goes something like "once FBI, always FBI" and for good reason. Any number of former Bureau men, typically operating through private detective firms, have continue to operate on behalf of the FBI in a more covert fashion. In such cases they are typically gathering intelligence, usually relating to industrial security, for the Bureau or another agency in the US intelligence community.

While some may scoff at the notion that Gunderson was working under deep cover during his affiliation with the conspiratorial right, such an operation is hardly without precedent. Guy Bannister, a "former" FBI Agent and New Orleans private detective who has been widely linked to both CIA plots to overthrow Castro and the Kennedy assassination, was the Louisiana organizer of the Minutemen (the 1960s version, which was a prototype of the modern day militia movement) in addition to being a member of the John Birch Society and affiliating with various paramilitary anti-Castro Cuban organizations such as the Cuban Revolutionary Council. All the while working as a private detective and collaborating with these "patriot" type organization Bannister continued to report to the FBI.
"Guy Banister, to begin with, was undoubtedly working with the FBI. A declassified CIA document has confirmed that Sergio Arcacha Smith, the chief delicate of the Cuban Revolutionary Council at 544 Camp Street, maintained extensive relations with the New Orleans FBI... Two of his regular FBI contacts were a [name deleted] and the deceased Guy Banister.'"
(Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, Peter Dale Scott, pg. 87)  
Bannister

With this in mind combined with the frequently sensational claims and suspect evidence Gunderson presented during his days with the conspiratorial right, it seems fair to question whether or not he had he was involved in some type of domestic operation, likely involving intelligence gathering and possibly the spreading of disinformation, for the Bureau or some other branch of the US intelligence community. But I digress. Let's return to Terry.


I tend to give Maury Terry the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is a basically well-intentioned individual. But as the above should illustrate, Terry does not seem to have been overly critical of his sources. Thus, while there is some highly compelling raw data in The Ultimate Evil there are also indications that Terry was being fed misinformation and disinformation by several of his sources. This makes several of his conclusions, most notably his notion that the cult that he was pursuing was a "subversive foreign group," highly suspect.

And with that I shall wrap things up for now. In the next installment we shall examine the evidence for an association between Charles Manson and the Process, a notion first put forth in Ed Sanders' 1971 classic The Family. Stay tuned.

3 comments:

  1. I notice your blog doesn't seem to get many comments; it's hard to judge from that fact just how large your readership might be, but just in case you might get discouraged, I wanted to chime in to say that I appreciate what you post. It's clear that most of your entries take quite a bit of research, and I, for one, appreciate them, and the work you put into them.

    I've intended for some time to go back through your archives, but haven't yet done so. I do plan to do so soon, though.

    Many thanks, and warmest regards.

    ReplyDelete
  2. ditto... i'm currently finishing "Programmed To Kill" which has been my first book exploring the American twilight zone. one of things that strike me about this stuff is the unbelievable number of "dots" connecting often on many levels. it indeed takes research to even start to wrap one's mind around it all. while i not always agree with the interpretations presented here, i really appreciate this blog and find it helpful. thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Tristero-

    Thanks very much. I genuinely enjoy doing the research for this blog because it gives me a reason to explore topics that are of great interest to me but I always appreciate that people seem to respect the quality of research I've done. Much thanks again for taking the time to comment.

    Anon-

    "Programmed to Kill" is a great starter for the "American twilight zone" as you so aptly put it. I highly recommend picking up Levenda's "Sinister Forces" trilogy --he covers a lot of the same ground, but his scope is wider and his research is better overall.

    Anyway, I'm glad you've found this blog to be helpful. Thanks for taking the time to comment.


    -Recluse

    ReplyDelete