Written By: Jenae
Trigger Warning: Undertones of Homophobia, Internalized Homophobia, and Suicide.
Before I can even dive into Heaven’s Gate, we really have to talk about Marshall Applewhite, one of the founders. Applewhite was born in Texas in 1931, he was born into a very religious home as his father was a Presbyterian minister. One of three children, this religious streak would stick with Applewhite into his adult life. By 1952, Applewhite had completed his bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and was onto seminary school. Shortly into his time there, he decided to leave and pursue a career in music instead. By this point, Applewhite had a wife, Anne, and would go on to have two children. In 1954, Applewhite was drafted into the military. After two years, he left the military to earn a master’s in music from the University of Colorado.
In an attempt to advance his musical career, Applewhite moved to New York City after receiving his degree. He didn’t have much luck as a musician in New York and soon left for Alabama to teach at the University of Alabama. There, he lost his job for advancing a sexual relationship with a male student. (Due to the time and Applewhite’s upbringing, it’s commonly believed that Applewhite was gay and struggled to grapple with his identity. More on this later.) This triggered a separation in Applewhite’s marriage and eventually, a divorce. After losing his position with University of Alabama, Applewhite moved on to another position at the University of St. Thomas in Texas. Here, he began to make a name for himself both as a professor and a local performer. Before long, that would fade. While it’s said that Applewhite was openly gay while working at University of St. Thomas, he pursued a relationship with a woman. Her family was insistent on marriage and children, adding pressure to the already mounting tension around Applewhite’s identity. In 1970, Applewhite decided to resign from his position. When he did, he said he was struggling with depression and emotional problems. Colleagues of Applewhite said that near the end of his time at the university, he was “often mentally jumbled and disorganized”. While mental health concerns were an issue, some believe that the reason for his resignation was another sexual relationship with a male student.
In 1971, Applewhite helped run a deli in New Mexico, which he was very successful at. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t last. The same year, Applewhite’s father passed, sending Applewhite spiraling in a deep depression that led to money problems.
In 1972, Applewhite met Bonnie Nettles. Let’s talk about Bonnie Nettles. Nettles was also born into a religious family in Texas but unlike Applewhite, she didn’t remain religious into adulthood. She became a nurse and married Joseph Nettles, starting a family of four children with him. The marriage seemed fine until Nettles began getting entrenched in religious studies. She would do seances to contact the dead, believed St. Francis had been communicating with her and providing instructions, and seeing fortune tellers. One of these fortune tellers told her she’d soon meet a “tall mysterious man with a fair complexion and light hair”. Marshall Applewhite fit this description.
A Friendship Begins:
Applewhite and Nettles became fast friends while Applewhite was visiting a friend in the hospital. When writing about it later, Applewhite stated that he believed they had met one another in a past life and that’s why they had become such fast friends now. Nettles agreed, going as far as today that their meeting was predetermined by aliens. Due to this, Applewhite now believed he had been given a “divine assignment”. Applewhite and Nettles began to study the New Testament, as well as other works regarding the life of St. Francis of Assisi and other works that discussed theology, science fiction, astrology, and asceticism ( a lifestyle that is absent of sensual pleasure, in order to pursue spiritual goals.) Just three months into their friendship, Nettles and Applewhite were ready to share their theories with the world. These beliefs included that Applewhite was the second coming of Jesus, that they had been given “higher-level minds” than others and that’s why they had to do this. During this time, Applewhite moved in with Nettles and they both cut off contact with their families.
Once they had their beliefs set, they simply needed others who would listen. During this time, Applewhite began to get into legal trouble. In August 1974, Applewhite was arrested for failing to return a rental car. His explanation? He had been “divinely authorized” to keep the car. This ended up a six month stint in jail in St. Louis. During this time, Applewhite’s faith seemed to change. He stopped studying the occult and spent more time on aliens and evolution.
Upon Applewhite’s release, they began recruiting a group called “The Crew”, they held meetings and posted flyers. At these meetings, the pair told attendees that they were aliens sent there to experiment on them and take them back to their planet, called Next Level. At these meetings, they continued to share their beliefs. The weirdest belief, Nettles and Applewhite were the two witnesses discussed in the Book of Revelations and they traveled around to churches and other religious places telling people this. This gained them their rep as “The UFO Two”. Part of this belief meant that they believed they had to die, to be “restored” and go into space in a ship. These meetings began drawing attention, with one meeting in ‘75 having 80 people in attendance. In the beginning, the name was Anonymous Sexaholics Celibate Church, but it soon became known as the Human Individual Metamorphosis. Nowadays, Applewhite would be an ancient alien believer, as he truly believed in UFO contact during prehistoric times. He also believed that aliens spoke to him through the TV during episodes of Star Trek. Soon, more and more followers began devoting themselves to Applewhite and Nettles.
In 1975, the crew and founders met at a hotel after selling all of their things and being asked to say their goodbyes to their families. The media reported this as a mass disappearance. Applewhite had wanted to move his organization underground, but when this wasn’t possible, he led over 100 followers across the US. They begged for food and slept in tents. Authorities began to worry about what seemed like an over 100 person disappearance.
Through his writings, we’re able to see into Applegate’s ideas. He believed himself to be the next coming of Jesus, that his body had been inhibited by the same alien spirit that belonged to Jesus. As the crew moved through the US, they tried to share Applewhite
and Nettle’s teaching in order to recruit. As the 80s began, Heaven’s Gate began discussing the “cult of personalities” theory to recruit. This boosted membership. Unfortunately, tragedy would soon strike the group.
In 1983, Bonnie Nettles was diagnosed with cancer, which caused her to lose an eye. At this time, Applewhite began calling Nettles “the Father” in her final days. By 1985, it had consumed her liver and she had passed. Applewhite informed members that Nettle’s body had given up. He explained that it was time for Nettles to move to the Next Level as her work was done on Earth. After Nettles’ death, Applewhite revised some pieces of the religion and began to explore the internet as a way to recruit. The structure of Heaven’s Gate changed a lot during this time, Applewhite became more controlling and called for more structure in order for followers to reach the Next Level.
In 1995, Applewhite and seven other members opted for surgical castration to remove all sexual desire. Applewhite believed that sexual desires were one of the biggest reasons that humans had not ascended to the Next Level. He explained that Next Level creatures didn’t have reproductive organs, so that was never an issue for them, but Lucifairian beings do. Finally, he made members cut their hair the same and wear the same clothes to minimize sexual attraction amongst members.
In 1996, Heaven’s Gate rented a large, expensive home in California and took out alien abduction insurance on 50 members with a one million dollar pay out for each person. During this time, members found that Comet Hale- Bopp was supposed to pass by the Earth after being discovered by scientists. Members believed that this comet could hold the secret to Heaven, whatever that means. Applewhite began filming what’s known as Do’s Exit Guide. This guide explained that mass suicide was the only way to exit the planet and get to the Next Level. The ship to take the members to Next Level was believed to be following the comet. Out of 80ish followers, Applewhite convinced 38 followers to join in his ritualistic suicide plan. One of the things required to participate was to film an exit video that will come up later.
Applewhite and 38 members dressed in matching all black outfits, new Nikes, and patches that went over the arm that said “Heaven’s Gate Away Team”. All members were given $5.75, the quarters for making calls and the $5 for fines. They added plastic bags to their heads, after eating a combo of barbiturates, applesauce or pudding, and vodka. These members died over a period of three days. Before the final deaths, including Applewhite, BBC and former members of Heaven’s Gate received packages with the Do’s Exit Guide and farewell videos from members. At this point, one of the recipients calls the authorities for a welfare check on the home. Authorities entered the home to find no one alive.
I leave you with the parting words from their website:
Whether Hale-Bopp has a "companion" or not is irrelevant from our perspective. However, its arrival is joyously very significant to us at "Heaven's Gate." The joy is that our Older Member in the Evolutionary Level Above Human (the "Kingdom of Heaven") has made it clear to us that Hale-Bopp's approach is the "marker" we've been waiting for -- the time for the arrival of the spacecraft from the Level Above Human to take us home to "Their World" -- in the literal Heavens. Our 22 years of classroom here on planet Earth is finally coming to conclusion -- "graduation" from the Human Evolutionary Level. We are happily prepared to leave "this world" and go with Ti's crew. If you study the material on this website you will hopefully understand our joy and what our purpose here on Earth has been. You may even find your "boarding pass" to leave with us during this brief "window." We are so very thankful that we have been recipients of this opportunity to prepare for membership in Their Kingdom, and to experience Their boundless Caring and Nurturing.