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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1997 > Mar > Mar 27

The San Diego Suicides and 'UFO Cults'

From: UFO UpDates - Toronto <updates@globalserve.net>
Date: Thu, 27 Mar 1997 21:46:06 -0500
Fwd Date: Thu, 27 Mar 1997 21:46:06 -0500
Subject: The San Diego Suicides and 'UFO Cults'

While watching CNNs coverage of the San Diego
suicides this afternoon I heard a 'cult-expert'
mention 'Bo and Peep' and 'Te and Do' (as in
the last two notes of the musical scale).

I wondered if any other UFO researcher picked-up
on the reference as I looked for a back-issue of
Vicki Cooper Ecker's UFO Magazine that featured
UFO cults. Rebecca Schatte called me an hour later
as I was keying the article below, asking if I "knew
what the hell was going on?" She's in New Mexico
and was frustrated by not being able to get at
her archives at home - had heard the Bo and Peep
reference and made the same connection.

My OCR software is not too swift and it took an
hour or two to key Michael Miley's article below.
It's quite prophetic, in the light of the events
of the past few days.



There's a photograph at:


From: UFO Magazine - A Forum on Extraordinary Theories and Phenomena
      Volume 10, Number 3, May/June 1995. Pages 26 - 35.

      Published bi-monthly by
      UFO Magazine,
      8123 Foothill Blvd.,
      Sunland, CA 91040.

Return of 'The Two'
by Michael Wiley

A 'classic UFO cult has re-surfaced, well after some sociological
detective work traced the group's long - at time fragmentary -
evolution of beliefs and practices. Despite bearing the 'cult' label,
'The Two' never used blatantly coercive techniques normally associated
with the cultic milieu - a fact pointed out by the author and others
who've studied the group.


In January of 1994, a group calling themselves Total Overcomers
Anonymous (TOA) resurfaced on the American scene after 18 years out of
the public eye. Some 24 people, those who had remained committed to
the group from the first recruitment period of 1975 and 1976, went out
to spread the Word of "true membership in the Evolutionary Level Above
Human, the true 'Kingdom of God.'" Their message remained simple,
though extreme: the last days of the biblical Apocalypse are now upon
us. It's time to give up your human life and all your attachments to
family, possessions, sexual relations, and the like, and join TOA in a
"human individual metamorphosis." TOA members live an ascetic
lifestyle they believe will prepare them for ascension in a
transformed body to "the literal heavens" via a UFO.

TOA Re-surfaces

Over the past year and a half, small groups of TOA members have been
seen in cities as far-flung as Madison, Santa Fe, Seattle, and San
Francisco, where meetings are held and new recruits made. Six members
of TOA, in fact, gave a talk at Fort Mason, San Francisco on May 26,
1994, which I attended along with a couple of friends. I'd been
intrigued by their flyer, which alluded to "space aliens and their
final fight for Earth's spoils." At the meeting, however, I found
their message unpalatable and their behavior robotic, and I left after
the formal presentation, which took about an hour. I assume some
people stayed for the question and answer period that followed. I
don't know if anyone from San Francisco joined them.

Who are these people? AQnd why should we care? For starters, TOA is
not some invasion from the skies, but the creation of a middle-class
Texas couple named Marshall Herff Applewhite and Bonnie Lu Nettles,
also know as 'Bo' and 'Peep' or 'Do and 'Te' to their followers and
the press (TOA was first covered in a UFO context by Jacques Vallee
in 'Messengers of Deception: UFO Contacts and Cults', And/Or Press,
Berkeley, CA, 1979.) But the bigger answer is more complex, with
negative repercussions, I think, for potential new recruits, UFO
researchers, and abductees alike.

'Earmarks of Cult'

TOA has all the earmarks of a cult, and the current 'metaphysical'
climate in certain sectors of American society makes them dangerously
susceptible to groups like these. TOA is in the process of a
recruitment drive, and if its past history is any indication, new
recruits will be culled from the same sub-culture of spiritual seekers
and disaffected people as in the 1970s - with the possible addition
of abductees who are confused by their experiences.

New recruits aside, TOA also offers debunkers and a poorly informed
public a golden opportunity to tar the UFO community with a very broad
brush. As the UFO phenomenon gains wider attention, so will UFO cults,
and legitimate researchers and experiencers may find themselves in
the unhappy position of being lumped together with groups like

This isn't as far-fetched as people might think. For example,
when Harvard psychiatrist John Mack came out with his book
'Abductions', he was immediately branded by 'Time' magazine as a
cult leader guilty of brainwashing his patients to believe in
aliens. Similar allegations have been made of other ufologists
and abduction therapists. Thus, it behooves the UFO community to
know what Total Overcomers is about, and to gain some insight
into the formation of cults.

Interviews with CAN, others

To that end, I contacted the Cult Awareness Network (CAN) in
Chicago, and was given the names of three people who could give
me some information about the group. The first person I spoke to
at length was former executive director of CAN, Priscilla Coates,
who followed the group in its early days, keeping track of them
via accounts in the press (i.e., articles in 'The New York Times
Magazine', 'Psychology Today' and 'Time', is an activist educator
on the formation and ideology of cults.

The second person I spoke to was professor Robert Balch, a
sociologist at the University of Montana who's done extensive
research on TOA, and who, along with David Taylor, infiltrated
the group in 1975, spending seven weeks travelling and living
with them. Dr. Balch followed up this 'participant-observer'
phase with extensive interviews of people who  knew the founders
prior to their creation of the group; he also interviewed some 43
group members, both during their membership and after their
defection. Finally, I spoke with a mother whose son joined the
group in May of '94, but whose concern for him requires her to
remain anonymous. While I won't be quoting from my interviews
with those folks for reasons of space, they inform my research.

Brief history of TOA

Balch and Taylor's studies of Total Overcomers Anonymous - also
known as Human Individual Metamorphosis and the Next Level Crew -
are extensive and various. The topics covered in their papers
include analyses of the founders' spiritual awakening and the
origins of their belief system; the beginnings of the group in
Los Angeles in 1975; studies of TOA members' recruitment,
conversion, and commitment, as well as their disillusionment and
defection in the first few years; and changes introduced by the
leaders in early 1976. Balch's most recent article, 'Waiting for
the Ships', in 'The God's Have Landed, (State University of New
York Press, 1995) includes the current revival phase of TOA and
lists a complete bibliography of Balch and Taylor's previous
articles on the group.

Using these papers as source material, as well as various
magazine articles and TOA ads, I identified five phase in the
history of TOA, periods I call the Personal, Crisis, Recruitment,
Commitment, and Revivalist phases.

The Personal Phase.

This is the period of the founders' lives prior to their
"spiritual awakening". When describing this phase, Balch is only
able to provide a few details on Bonnie Lu Nettles' life prior to
her emergence as 'Peep, because not much is know about her. We do
know that when she met Herff Applewhite, she was a nurse in a
Houston hospital. Although she'd been raised as a Baptist, when
she met Herff Applewhite she was a member of the Houston
Theosophical Society and belonged to a meditation group that
channeled messages from discarnate spirits.

Complex profile of 'Bo'

Balch's description of Marshall Herff Applewhite, or 'Bo' is more
extensive, and is a complex profile of an outwardly conventional
but talented man who concealed a privately troubled existence
full of sexual confusion, emotional trauma, and spiritual crisis.
The son of an exacting Presbyterian minister Herff at first
studied for the ministry, but later switched to music and earned
a degree at the University of Colorado. After working briefly on
the music faculty at the University of Alabama, during which time
he got married and fathered two children, he divorced and moved
back to Houston, a rift which occurred presumably as a result of
secret homosexual liaisons he'd had during the time he was

In Houston he got a job at St. Thomas University to establish a
Fine Arts program, where he was loved as a charismatic teacher
and successful fund raiser. At the height of his career in 1970,
however, he got involved in a scandal with the daughter of one of
the trustees, and was fired from his job. This was the second
major blow to Herff.

The Crisis Phase

After leaving St. Thomas, he got a job as music director in a
local theatre, which didn't pay well. He had problems with his
boss when he wouldn't show up at work, having laid awake at night
hearing voices, which added to his spiritual confusion. In 1972,
he met Bonnie and established a platonic relationship with her.

Bonnie introduced Herff to the world of New Age metaphysics, and
together they established a short-live venture at a local
Episcopal church, called the Christian Arts Center, where Herff
directed a choir. There, Bonnie offered classes in astrology,
mysticism, and Theosophy, wile Herff taught the performing arts.

Rumours of seances

When church members got wind of their activities, however, and
rumours of seances surfaced in the press, they were asked to
leave. For a short time then, the couple held classes in a house
they called 'Knowplace', while they gradually became anti-social,
becoming, according to Balch, "absorbed in a private world of
visions, dreams, and paranormal experiences that included
contacts with space being who urged them to abandon their worldly

Then, in 1973, Herff and Bonnie left Houston and travelled around
the country, camping and doing odd jobs to survive. This was a
time of much spiritual searching, and in letters to friends, they
compared themselves to the two mystic characters 'Brother
Sun/Sister Moon' who lived a life free of material possessions.

After much wandering, they eventually wound up on the Oregon
coast, where they set up camp along the Rogue River in an isolated
spot they called their "Hideaway". It was during this six-week
period that they had their 'revelation' that they were, in fact,
the two witnesses prophesied in the Book of Revelations, Chapter
11. According to that text, after they went out and spread the
word, they would be assassinated; three days later, they would
rise from the dead and 'ascend up to heaven in a cloud'
(Revelations. 11:12), a reference they interpreted as a UFO.

Mission of 'Two Witnesses'

This period marks the fitful beginnings of their mission. Over
the next few years, they travelled around the country, planting
notes signed as 'The Two Witnesses' in churches around the
country and visiting metaphysical bookstores and New Age centers,
where they tried out their message on people, with mixed results.
Gradually, their teaching solidified into the rigid, dualistic
world view we've come to associate with TOA: the world is the site
of a cosmic battle between good and evil, heaved and earth, the
saved and the damned, and angels and Luciferians - a hybrid
mixture of Christian beliefs and Herff's cursory readings on

The Recruitment Phase

In the spring of 1975, Herff and Bonnie recruited 24 students of
metaphysics in Los Angeles, California, and took on the names
'Bo' and 'Peep' to symbolise their role as space-age shepherds.
Men and women were put together in platonic partnerships, much
like their own, and told to spend most of their time with their
partners "tuning in" to "the next level", while minimizing all
socializing as being "too human".

By summer, Bo and Peep began sending their followers out on the
road to be 'tested', a process that mixed proselyting with
begging church ministers for food and gas money. Meetings were
advertised by posters across the country and Bo and Peep began
alluding to the proposed 'demonstration' of their role as the
Apocalyptic Two, where they'd be assassinated and rise from the
dead. On the way to meeting in Chicago, however, two men
infiltrated the group, looking for a friend who had joined in
Oregon, and Bo and Peep, fearing an early assassination before
all the 'ripe fruit' could be harvested, abandoned their plans to
hold a meeting in Chicago and retreated to the wilderness.
Followers were split up into small groups, each headed by two
spokespeople, and were sent out to spread the message.

Sociologists infiltrate

At this time, Bach and Taylor joined one of the groups. Balch
characterizes this period as one of rapid recruitment, chaos and
defection, as the groups dispersed across the country, holding
meetings and spreading the message. The sudden disappearance of
Bo and Peep caused confusion in the ranks, as did the democratic
organisation of many of the groups, where each individual's
'tuning-in' to the next level competed with everyone else's.
Defection at this time was about 70 to 80 percent, according to
Balch. This period extended to the summer of 1976, when a marked
change toward extreme discipline coincided with the end of the
first recruitment phase.

o The Commitment Phase

This phase was marked by a change in ideology, where the Two took
the remaining group to a remote camp in the mountains near
Laramie, Wyoming, and announced that the demonstration had been
cancelled. They now ushered in an authoritarian regime, more in
keeping with usual cult tactics, where all information from the
'next level' was channeled solely through Bo and Peep, through a
so-called 'chain of mind'. As part of this more rigid structure,
they now divided the members into circular camps know as 'star
clusters', and each cluster was monitored by two inner circle
members who were rotated from camp to camp.

Space-age language was pervasive throughout the groups. Bo and
Peep's camp was called 'Central', trails to the parking area were
called 'docking zones' and a remote circle was established called
the 'decontamination zone' where members went when they were
fighting off 'evil spirits', Bo and Peep's name for doubts and
negative emotions.

Regimented lifestyle

Daily life was made up of countless drills and exercises, where
every minute of the day was accounted for. Staying in tune with
the higher level meant eliminating 'human thoughts' a process
helped by placing a tuning fork against the temple and
concentrating on the note it produced. Members spent days without
talking, using handwritten notes to communicate, and uniforms
were sometimes worn, an outfit that included a nylon windbreaker,
a hood with cloth-mesh eyes, and gloves in winter.

At this time, as a mark of the groups new effectiveness defections
from the group decreased overall, to about 12 percent per year,
according to Balch, although people who found the regime too hard
were encouraged to leave, as when 19 of the least committed
members were sent to Phoenix, Arizona, where they eventually

Near the end of 1976, this harsh outdoor life came to an end when
Bo and Peep came into money through two members' inheritances, a
figure totalling more than $300,000 . Houses were rented in
Denver and in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and the group dropped
out of the public eye. During this long retreat, they've
maintained a high level of secrecy and relative commitment,
though 18 years of discipline have taken their toll. From a
height of 88 members in the Wyoming days, only about 24 were left
by 1993.

TOA's re-emergence -

o The Revivalist Phase

This phase governs the period from around May of 1993 to the
present. Apparently, TOA's re-emergence into the public eye began
with an ad placed in 'USA Today' on May 27, 1993, entitled 'UFO
Cult Resurfaces with Final Offer'. The ad focuses on the groups
beliefs though their message is more apocalyptic than ever
before: "The Earth's present 'civilisation' is about to be
recycled - 'spaded under'. Its inhabitants are refusing to
evolve. The 'weeds' have taken over the garden and disturbed its
usefulness beyond repair."

In January of 1994, the group started holding public meetings
again and recruiting new members. By May, I saw their flyer in
he Haight-Ashbury area in San Francisco, posted in a head shop
window that also sports products with an alien theme.

TOA's flyer begins:


o All reproducing space aliens - including mammalian and
  reptilian - use Earth's humans simply for their own interests
  (and have been for thousands of years.

o They intentionally keep humans falsely 'programmed' or 'in the
  dark - primarily through religious concepts - secondarily
  through reproductive and 'humanitarian' concepts.

o They support these preoccupations by transmitting images and
  thoughts into Earth's atmosphere around the clock.

o The 'Luciferians' abduct humans for genetic experimentation,
  'rob' healthy human specimens for their own next 'suit of
  clothes' and induct humans into their service.

o In spite of these facts, there is a true Kingdom of 'God' - a
  truly Evolutionary Kingdom Level Above Human...that exists in
  the literal Heavens...[etc.]


One final note: though Peed died in 1985 from cancer, members
viewed her death as her outgrowing the need for a "human
container" and consider her higher in the "chain of mind" than
Bo. Her new status affords an even better connection to 'the
Fathers' - a line through Peep, then Bo, on down to the members.

Since they're still waiting for the UFO to come and take them, the
last chapter of TOA has not yet been written.

Cults and the metaphysical milieu

A full discussion of cult formation is beyond the scope of this
article (readers are referred to Balch's work, as well as 'Cults
in America: Programmed for Paradise', by Willa Appel, Henry Holt
&  Co, 1983, for starters), though it's clear that some basic
characteristics of TOA are common to many cults: they have an
authoritarian structure, true belief in a revealed system of
truth that creates an 'us and them' mentality, they isolate their
members from critical scrutiny by family and friends, and have
strict code of acceptable behaviour that works to repress
individual initiative and independent thinking.

Other questions that might be asked: What were the sources of Bo
and Peep's UFO Beliefs? (One TOA paper I had read had a list of
works by Wendelle Stevens, Leonard Stringfield, 'Fate Magazine'
Berlitz and Moore's 'Roswell Incident' and  MUFON status reports.
How are we to evaluate Bonnie's channeling as a source for TOA's
'revealed truths' - indeed, any channeled sources? Are the
current psycho-pathological models for the creation of a 'messiah
complex' adequate, or do we need to develop a transpersonal model
that can include genuine mystical experience? And more
importantly, can we develop methods for comparing the
transpersonal with psychotic material? And shouldn't we treat
Christian belief systems, and the uses to which they're put, with
the same sort of critical eye as we do any world view, whether
religious or secular? All our cards should be put on the table.

Balch's insights

Despite these questions, Balch's work develops an important
insight: Both the leaders and followers of TOA are part of a
'meta-physical sub-culture of middle class whites that
includesNew Age Spiritual seekers and members of the
counter-culture who became disillusioned by the collapse of the
idealism of the '60s (see 'Seekers and Saucers: The Role of the
Cultic Milieu in Joining a UFO Cult', by Robert W. Balch and
David Taylor, 'American Behavioral Scientist', Vol. 20 No. 6,
July/August 1977).

Evidence Balch gained from over 40 interviews indicates that
most of TOA's recruits were young people in their 20s, people he
characterised as 'protean' types who'd gone from one 'trip' to
another, and would continue to do so after they left TOA. Thus,
recruitment to the TOA message was not such a stretch for many and
hardly a process of brainwashing (though the commitment phase
could be characterised as such). Indeed, TOA recruitment meetings
are not a hard sell and in the meeting I attended, TOA members
took pains to present a self-aware, intelligent, even humorous
tone; they often refer to themselves as a cult, so as not to
appear crazy to the audience. (Nonetheless, I found them
authoritarian and rigid, especially in their use of programming
language to describe nature and human beings.)

Spirituality, cynicism, conspiracy

But one thing is clear: in the mid-1990s, we're seeing a
resurgence of this metaphysical sub-culture, with a new interest
in psychedelics and alternative spirituality re-surfacing amidst a
cynical political climate that fosters mistrust, paranoia and
un-founded conspiracy theories.

Balch's portrait of Herff and Bonnie includes a poignant
portrayal of Herff's psychology and his erratic, difficult life,
one punctuated with a spiritual crisis that includes psychotic and
paranormal components that left him with a messianic sense of
self (though little is said about the source for Herff's UFO
beliefs). This sits alongside a depiction Nettles as a spirit
'channeler' with her own 'familiar', a being she identified as
St. Francis of Assisi. The point to be made here is that
'freelance' spiritual seeking can be a dangerous business in a
sub-culture that provides only a provisional framework for
understanding it, where the only spiritual tools used to make
sense of the paranormal are poorly understood systems of the

The work of transpersonal psychologists Stanislav and Christina
Grof shows just how stormy the 'search for self' can be and what
pitfalls can lie along the way. And one of those pitfalls -
especially when it come to deciphering the phenomenology of
purported alien beings - is really conceptual: resorting to the
good-and-evil dualisms of fundamentalist Christianity means
you've abandoned a 'look/see' attitude in favour of ready-made

'The Two' Herff and Bonnie, are not the first nor will they be
the last to preach 'the final answer' to the UFO/alien phenomenon
by ascribing it to evil spirits or fallen angels. In fact, a
recent book 'Unmasking the Enemy' (Bendan Press, Arlington,
Virginia, 1994 by Nelson Pacheco and Tommy Blann) takes up this
view, demonising aliens and UFOs in much the same way TOA does.

Finally, any analysis of the roots of the 'metaphysical milieu
- this growing sub-culture 'ripe' for the influence of cults -
must include a diagnosis of the dominant culture. That culture is
ruled by science that has long held a materialist ideology. In a
world, however, where the paranormal cannot be an object of true
scientific inquiry because,, by definition, it's not clearly
physical - an attitude taken by UFO skeptics and non-skeptics
alike - a shadow is cast across the culture, where the negated
aspects of reality are left to the vagaries of freelance

Small wonder then, that cults have a context to flourish in, when
scientific materialism itself has been a kind of cult.
Fortunately, that world view is changing, with both quantum
physics and transpersonal psychology now postulating other
dimensions, accessible (we hope) to a questioning and a systematic


Michael Miley is a freelance writer and researcher of the
UFO/Alien phenomenon, transpersonal psychology, and the new
physics. He can be reached at MikeMiley@aol.com