A review of Adam Gorightly's The Prankster and the Conspiracy
James Leroy Wilson
April 26, 2011
An old proverb says, "Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it."
"The Prankster and the Conspiracy," Adam Gorightly's biography of Kerry Thornley, prompts a similar thought: "Be careful what you joke about: the joke may be on you."
I ordered the book for a couple of reasons. The first was that I heard Gorightly interviewed in a few podcasts and he seems like an interesting fellow. A pen name like his should be rewarded.
The second was to indulge my fascination with the nexus of individualist anarchism, neo-paganism, conspiracy theory, and synchro-mysticism.
Kerry Thornley lived this nexus. Born in 1938, as a teenager he founded the religion Discordianism with friends. As a Marine, he befriended Lee Harvey Oswald, and, when Oswald defected to the Soviet Union, began writing a novel based on him. In the early 60's, they both lived in New Orleans and met some of the same people, though Thornley had no recollection of seeing him there. Thornley became an anarchist writer and free-loving, LSD-using neo-pagan. And then he was indicted by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison for involvement in the JFK assassination. After charges were dropped, he came across more information which triggered disturbing memories that suggested mind control and made him suspect Garrison was right after all. This drove him mad, and he spent much of the rest of his life in near hobo-like conditions, although he kept writing. He passed away in 1998.
I didn't keep careful notes while reading, but Gorightly quotes either Thornley or one of his friends that, although the founders of Discordianism were essentially atheists or agnostics, it almost seemed as if the creation of the Discordian religion really did awaken the goddess of Chaos.
Thornley's life was filled with strange coincidences, or synchronicities, as if Eris was directly intervening to make things strange. Another way to look at it, however, is that Thornley's life was an example of the Law of Attraction at work. The Law says that "like attracts like," or that the Universe will respond at a vibrational level to our thoughts and words -- even if they're stated in a supposedly sarcastic or humorous way.
Gorightly doesn't discuss the Law of Attraction angle, which makes sense because "The Prankster" was published in 2003 and Law of Attraction ideas didn't become trendy again until 2006. But I couldn't help but think of the Law of Attraction while reading the book; as Thornley pulled off pranks, the Universe seemed to pull pranks on him:
Thornley's Discordianism was a parody religion based on worship of Eris, the goddess of chaos, strife, and discord; there was rarely any structure, order, or steady income in Thornley's own life
When sought out by the Warren Commission, Thornley joked to acquaintances that he masterminded the JFK assassination; he later began to believe that, as a subject of mind control, he was indeed involved
With Discordian friends such as the writer Robert Anton Wilson, he pulled off pranks under the name Operation Mindf---: eventually, it was his own mind that got f---ed up
Of course, all the coincidences connecting Thornley and the JFK assassination could just be "bad luck," being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Perhaps you don't believe this Law of Attraction stuff. Maybe you think your God punished Thornley for his unbelief. Or maybe you do believe in Eris. Or, maybe Thornleyactually was a JFK conspirator, with or without mind control.
In any case, this book reminds me to be careful what I think about, what I say, and what I do. Even when I make jokes.
Aside from these philosophical and mystical considerations, Gorightly's book provides an informative account of what life was like in the counterculture of the 60's and 70's. Thornley was a graduate of Robert Lefevre's Freedom School who opposed violence and The State. The "Far Left" and the counterculture wasn't just a bunch of young Democrats who didn't want to get drafted; it was full of people like Thornley who sought new ways of doing politics, new ways of practicing spirituality, and new ways of living.
"The Prankster and the Conspiracy" is recommended for conspiracy buffs, people interested in libertarian history, and anyone who's fascinated by the strange and synchronistic.