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Heaven’s Gate and the Cult of the Socialistic Welfare State, Part 1


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Several months ago, police discovered the bodies of members of a cult known as Heaven’s Gate. The cult members had taken their own lives, apparently under the belief that they would be transported to a space ship hiding behind the Hale-Bopp comet that would take them on an intergalactic space trip.

The Heaven’s Gate episode received an inordinate amount of attention in newspapers, in magazines, and on radio and television shows all across the country. It captured the fascination of the American people, especially because the members of Heaven’s Gate seemed “so normal” compared with other Americans.

Normal? Well, perhaps to nonlibertarians. Certainly, one would not be surprised to find IRS officials, BATF agents, DEA officers, and West Point graduates maintaining seating charts in their homes and having each food in their refrigerator carefully labeled. But would libertarians find such conduct “normal”? Not a chance. Unlike their fellow Americans, libertarians viewed the entire Heaven’s Gate experience, including its members, as quite abnormal and bizarre.

Why this difference in perspective between libertarians and nonlibertarians? Perhaps the answer lies in the similarities between Heaven’s Gate and the cult of the socialistic welfare state.

If the Heaven’s Gate people had been libertarians or homeschoolers, there is absolutely no doubt that newspaper headlines all across America would have read: “Libertarians [or Homeschoolers] Commit Suicide on the Way to Intergalactic Space Travel.”

But they were not libertarians and they had not been homeschooled. All of the Heaven’s Gate members were graduates of public schools or, at least, government-approved schools. Therefore, why didn’t the headlines read, “Public School Graduates Commit Suicide on the Way to Intergalactic Space Travel”?

After all, think about it: these people spent several hours every single day for at least twelve long years having their minds molded by government officials in public schools. Therefore, how in the world could something like this happen? Recall that the main selling point for systems of government schooling when they were instituted at the end of the 19th century was: “Let us have your children for a large portion of their waking hours from the time they are six years old and continuing for many years after that. We will mold them into good, responsible, educated little citizens.” So, again, since these people spent so many of their formative years under government tutelage, how in the world could they turn out like this?

Of course, nonlibertarians would respond, “This is ridiculous. Most public school graduates don’t join cults.”

They don’t? Let’s compare the Heaven’s Gate cult with the cult that the American people have joined, in large part because of the indoctrination that they have received at the hands of government officials in their public schools — the cult of the socialistic welfare state. As we do this, keep in mind that a cult is not determined by how many people join it. The dictionary definition of a cult includes a “devotion to or admiration for a thing.” As we compare these two cults, it might become more apparent why non-libertarians view the Heaven’s Gate people as “so normal.”

How was the Heaven’s Gate cult funded? Each member was required to surrender his entire earnings to the leader of the cult, Herb Applewhite, who was also known as “Do” (pronounced “Doe”). Applewhite and his associates at the top of the cult’s hierarchy would then decide how the money was to be spent for the benefit of the entire cult. For example, if Do decided that the cult members would have ice cream for dessert one evening, he would use the cult’s monies to purchase the ice cream for everyone.

Is this not the method of financing and spending in the socialistic welfare state? By means of the national income tax, our government rulers decide how much of our money will be taken from us, how much we will be permitted to keep, and how the money will be spent. In other words, people are not permitted to individually decide how to spend all their money. Instead, they are required to send a large portion of it to their rulers, who spend it in ways that they feel are best for the entire nation — for example, on public housing, food stamps, farm subsidies, foreign aid, aid to the arts, highway construction, and so forth. If the government had not nationalized income with the Sixteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the argument goes, these “wonderful” things would not have come into existence. Thus, Americans are much better off, our rulers claim, than if they had not been members of the socialistic welfare state.

And make no mistake about it — everyone’s income has indeed been nationalized. Everything that people earn is owned by the collective. Sometimes our rulers are good to us and permit us to keep a larger portion of the earnings. Sometimes they’re mean to us and permit us to keep a smaller allowance. But what matters is not how much we are permitted to keep but rather the fact that that our rulers set the percentage. They decide what is to be taken by the collective and what is to be retained by the members.

Actually, Applewhite’s system of financing was much more honest than that of the cult of the socialistic welfare state. In the Heaven’s Gate cult, everyone was required to deliver 100 percent of his earnings to the cult and then the leaders would decide how to spend it. But at least everyone could see the exact nature of the system — that the monies they earned belonged to the cult and that the cult would decide how the monies would be spent.

But in the socialistic welfare state, Americans mistakenly believe that their income belongs to them and that they are simply remitting a portion to their rulers. The deception is compounded by IRS pronouncements that America’s tax system is “voluntary.” Actually, the more candid and forthright approach would be one similar to Applewhite’s — that is, one in which 100 percent of everyone’s income was withheld and sent to Washington; Washington would then send an allowance (refund) back to each member of the collective. At least that would expose the exact nature of “national income” and the national income tax — that all earnings belong to the collective and that the rulers decide what is to be done with them.

Another common characteristic of the members of Heaven’s Gate seemed to be their desire to escape the everyday problems of life. All of us know that life is difficult. There are bills to pay. The spouse never stops griping. The children scream and fight. The dog bites the neighbor. The boss is a jerk. Sickness strikes when it’s least expected. Loved ones die.

Along comes Herb Applewhite, offering an escape from all of this. No more worry. No more unpleasantness. Surrender your life to the cult, and the cult will take care of you, handle your problems, and make your decisions for you.

Is this not the approach of the socialistic welfare state? Don’t worry about your retirement; we’ll take care of it with Social Security. Don’t worry about health care and medical bills; we’ll take care of them with Medicare and Medicaid. Don’t worry about the poor and needy; we’ll take care of them with public housing, food stamps, foreign aid, and other subsidies. Don’t worry about your children’s education; we’ll take care of it with public schooling. Don’t worry about drugs; we’ll take care of them with a war on drugs. Don’t worry about anything; just surrender your life, your freedom, your choices, and your money to us, and we will take care of them all.

What happens if a person decides to leave the cult? In Heaven’s Gate, a member was free to leave, but lots of subtle pressure was undoubtedly put on anyone who chose to do so. The silent treatment and ostracism are favorite devices that cult leaders use to keep members from leaving the cult.

Unfortunately, it is worse for members of the socialistic welfare state. The cult leaders won’t let anyone exit this cult. For example, suppose a cult member were to send the following affidavit to the Social Security Administration: “I hereby waive all future claims to Social Security benefits. Therefore, I am no longer remitting Social Security payments to you.”

The cult’s rulers would go bananas. They would immediately embark on a campaign to pressure, harass, and intimidate the cult member into remaining in the system. IRS agents would pay visits to his place of employment. Liens would be placed on his home and bank accounts. Grand jury subpoenas and possibly indictments would issue. The pressure would be incessant until the cult member finally said, “I surrender. I will remain a member of the cult.” The cult leaders would let up on the pressure and publicly advertise the result. (Cult leaders have recently devised a plan that would enable them to seize a large portion of a person’s savings if he tries to totally exit the cult by obtaining citizenship in another country.)

It’s the same with children in a cult. Recall the Branch Davidian cult. Before the Branch Davidian children were gassed by cult members of the socialistic welfare state, they were required to undergo countless hours of indoctrination from the Branch Davidian cult leaders. If a child resisted the indoctrination, he was undoubtedly separated from the others in order to receive “special attention.” As soon as he recognized the errors of his ways, he would be returned to the regular classes.

Is this not the method of the socialistic welfare state? For most of the 20th century, cult members have been required to send their children to indoctrination centers known as public schools, where they have learned government-approved doctrine from government-approved schoolteachers using government-approved textbooks and following a government-approved curriculum. It is not a coincidence that most cult members believe that the 1929 stock-market crash reflected the failure of free enterprise, that Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal saved America’s free-enterprise system, that World War II brought the United States out of the Depression, that the purpose of the war on poverty is to help poor people, that the purpose of the war on drugs is to end drug abuse, and so on.

Private schools provided some relief from the indoctrination, but not much because if they deviated too much from the official line, they risked having their license to operate yanked by the government. They were “free” to operate only within tightly controlled, government-established parameters.

What happened when cult members decided to remove their children from the cult’s indoctrination centers and instead educate them at home? The cult officials would haul the parents into court and threaten to terminate their parental rights and make the child a ward of the cult if the parents did not agree to have their child attend the government schools. What would happen if parents still resisted? Well, some years ago, state cult officials killed a man in Utah named John Singer for refusing to obey a court order to return his children to public schools. They called the killing “resisting arrest” even though Singer was unarmed and simply checking his mailbox.

In recent years, cult members have resisted the government indoctrination centers and insisted on the right to remove their children from them. Some have insisted on homeschooling their children because they believe that this is the best method of education. But others homeschool simply because they lack the money to pay the tuition in a private school. (The cult continues to take a large sum of money from them in the form of school taxes even though they have no children in the government school system.)

Even with homeschooling, however, the cult insists on the right to approve the method and quality of education that the children receive. Homeschooling parents are required to meet periodically with cult leaders to seek their approval on what their children are learning and how they are learning it. One can imagine what cult leaders would say if homeschooling parents presented them with a study program consisting of works by Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Frederic Bastiat, Leonard E. Read, Frank Chodorov, Murray Rothbard, Milton Friedman, and Ayn Rand.

What happens if a child within the public school system resists the indoctrination and desires to leave? Again, a high- pressure campaign is put on him. Teachers begin to flunk him. They put him in “special” classes for “slow learners.” They even inject him with drugs such as Ritalin. Cult leaders simply cannot imagine that they and their beloved system are the problem. In their minds, there has to be something dreadfully wrong with a child who fails to get excited about sitting in a hard wooden chair listening to a government official drone on about some boring subject about which the official usually knows little. (Government schoolteachers are ordinarily required to secure a certificate in teaching but not in the subject they are teaching.)

The ultimate goal of every one of these cults is to break all semblance of resistance in order to mold the mind of each member into one of obedience and conformity. In this way, reality, in the minds of the cult members, becomes whatever the cult leaders say it is.

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.