Kerry Thornley

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Kerry Thornley

Kerry Wendell Thornley (April 17, 1938 - November 28, 1998) is perhaps best-known as the co-founder (along with childhood friend Gregory Hill) of Discordianism, in which context he is usually known as Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst. He and Hill authored the religion's seminal text Principia Discordia.

Less known is a series of Zenarchy articles written for Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger under the pen name "Ho Chi Zen". "Zenarchy" is described in the introduction of the collected volume as "the social order which springs from meditation," and "A noncombative, nonparticipatory, no-politics approach to anarchy intended to get the serious student thinking."

Brought up as a Mormon, in adulthood Kerry shifted his ideological focus as frequently as to rival any serious countercultural figure of the 1960s. Other than Discordianism, atheism, anarchism, objectivism, neo-paganism and Buddhism had all been subjects of close conceptual scrutiny throughout his life.


Military life

Thornley had believed, among many other things, that he had been part of the CIA's notorious LSD-soaked assassin-conditioning program MK-ULTRA which had officially been in operation from 1949 to 1973 (and had previously been codenamed ARTICHOKE and BLUEBIRD). While skeptics may dismiss as flimsy conspiracy theory his later notions of having been a product of occult-based Nazi Vril selective breeding programs, his claims regarding participation in such highly-classified US government mind-control programs and his possible foreknowledge of the John F. Kennedy assassination are somewhat plausible, as they are consistent with the time period, his residences and the nature and locations of his military service.

Epistle to the Paranoids
Epistle to the Paranoids

Having already been a US Marine Corps reservist for about two years, Thornley had been summoned to active duty in 1958 at age 20, soon after completing his freshman year at the University of Southern California. Incidentally, it was also at this time that he and Greg Hill—alias Malaclypse the Younger or Mal-2—shared their first Eristic vision in a bowling alley in their hometown of Whittier, California (a hometown shared by Richard Nixon). Thornley had served for a short time in the same radar operator unit as Lee Harvey Oswald in the spring of 1959 at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) in Santa Ana, California. Both men had shared a common interest in society, culture, literature and politics, and whenever duty placed them together, had discussed such topics as George Orwell's famous novel Nineteen Eighty-Four and the philosophy of Marxism, particularly Oswald's interest in the latter. Some time after the two men parted ways as a result of routine reassignment, Thornley read of Oswald's autumn 1959 defection to the Soviet Union in the US military newspaper, Stars and Stripes while aboard a troopship returning to the United States from duty in Japan.


Released from US Marine Corps active duty in September of 1960, Thornley had relocated with Greg Hill to New Orleans in early 1961 and began to write about his experiences as a peacetime Marine both stateside and in Asia; Lee being the inspiration for a book Thornley had titled The Idle Warriors. The aspiring novelist had viewed Oswald as the metaphorical embodiment of an intelligent peacetime GI deeply dissatisfied with the monolithic, totalitarian structure of military life which had stood in distressingly sharp contrast to the professed American ideals of individual liberty and free enterprise. (In his later years, Thornley became convinced that Oswald had in truth been a CIA asset whose purpose was to ferret out suspected Communist sympathizers serving in the Corps.)

During his two-year sojourn in New Orleans, Thornley had claimed he'd had numerous meetings with a mysterious middle-aged man named "Gary Kirstein" where they had discussed in detail several different subjects mundane as well as exotic, one of them being how to assassinate President Kennedy, whose beliefs and policies the aspiring novelist had deeply disliked at the time. Later, the former Marine had come to believe this "Gary Kirstein" had in reality been senior CIA officer and future Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt. Thornley claimed Kirstein/Hunt had accurately predicted Richard M. Nixon's accession to the presidency six years before it happened as well as anticipating the rise of the 1960s counterculture and the subseqent emergence of what became Charles Manson and his cult followers, leading the novelist to believe that the US government had somehow been involved, directly or indirectly, in creating and supporting these events, personages and phenomena.

Prophetically, in late 1962, Thornley had completed the The Idle Warriors, the only book written about Lee Harvey Oswald before President Kennedy's assassination in 1963 (although it was not published until 1991). Thornley had in 1965 published another book titled Oswald which had generally defended the "Oswald-as-lone-assassin" conclusion of Warren Commission but it hadn't sold well. Due primarily to the serendipitous nature of his choice of literary subject matter in The Idle Warriors, Thornley had been called to testify before the Warren Commission in Washington DC on May 18, 1964. The Commission subpoenaed a copy of the book and stored it in the National Archives. In January 1968, controversial New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison, certain there had been a New Orleans-based conspiracy to assassinate John F. Kennedy, subpoenaed Thornley to appear before a grand jury, claiming the novelist had conspired (along with wealthy local businessman Clay Shaw and private pilot David Ferrie) with Oswald in the assassination. Garrison had charged Thornley with perjury after Thornley had denied, truthfully, that he had been in contact with Oswald in any manner since 1959. The perjury charge was quickly dropped.


Struggling with illness in his final days, Kerry Thornley died of a heart attack in Atlanta, Georgia on November 28, 1998, a Saturday, at the age of 60. The following morning, 23 people attended a Buddhist memorial service in his honor. His body had been cremated and the ashes scattered over the Pacific Ocean. Shortly before his death, Thornley reportedly said he'd felt "like a tired child home from a very wild circus," a reference to a passage by Greg Hill from the Principia Discordia:

"And so it is that we, as men, do not exist until we do; and then it is that we play with our world of existent things, and order and disorder them, and so it shall be that Non-existence shall take us back from Existence, and that nameless Spirituality shall return to Void, like a tired child home from a very wild circus."

Bibliography and references

  • Malaclypse the Younger (Greg Hill); Principia Discordia, 5th Edition, September 1991, IllumiNet Press. Introduction by Kerry Thornley.
  • Thornley, Kerry; Zenarchy, IllumiNet Press, June 1991
  • Thornley, Kerry; The Idle Warriors, IllumiNet Press, June 1991
  • Gorightly, Adam; The Prankster and the Conspiracy: The Story of Kerry Thornley and How He Met Oswald and Inspired the Counterculture, Paraview Press, November 2003. Foreword by Robert Anton Wilson.

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