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Friday, August 15, 2014

Sandy Hook, Hippie Communes, and US Homeland Security

Prof. Jason Kissner

What follows either signifies next to nothing or something rather unsettling. On June 3, 2014 someone writing by the name of “Duke Reichert” contributed an article to the MemoryHole blog entitled “Gut Feeling: Something is Wrong with Newtown.”

[image, right: Former San Francisco State University professor and spiritual guru Stephen Gaskin preaches to followers at his "Sandy Hook Church of Christ" circa 1972 in Summertown, Tennessee. "It's easier to be God than to see God," Gaskin proclaimed. Image Credit:]

In that piece, Reichert indicates, among many other things, that two personages with ties to Sandy Hook—Jim Champion, brother of Nancy Lanza, and a Dr. Alexander Isgot—each have histories that place them in the very curious locale of Summertown, Tennessee.

Here, from the above-linked article, is Reichert:
…searches on Alexander Isgut and Police Officer James Champion- Nancy’s brother- return ANOTHER common location. It seems that both Dr. Isgut and Nancy’s brother (Champion) have past addresses in Summertown, Tennessee. Summertown Tennessee? I had never heard of it. And, if you haven’t that’s probably OK since most Tennesseans haven’t either.
Summertown, TN is what is known as “an intentional community” - basically, a commune. To reside there, you must be brought in by a member of the group, and the group votes and decides if you can stay. The community does its own farming and in co-op style they attempt to barter and trade goods and services when they can to keep to themselves as much as possible.
A couple decades ago at the height of free love and flower children, Summertown TN had over 2000 people – “members”. Today, it is barely thriving at 800 with the last of the members hanging on to the good old days. What on earth were Jim Champion and Dr. Isgut doing there? What are their ties to a commune down south, and how do these threads all Connecticut?
While the present article offers no answers (directly, anyway) as to why the two personages mentioned by Reichert were at Summertown, it does bring to light some facts about Summertown that some might consider most curious indeed.

Summertown may well have been and may still be a commune, but it also appears to have been tinged with intelligence-related activities (to be discussed momentarily) and came complete with a charismatic personality (a former professor from San Francisco State University by the name of Stephen Gaskin) of the sort frequently associated with cults (click here to see a picture of Gaskin, in an evidently inspired moment, regaling a Summertown/Sandy Hook Church of Christ flock).

You read that correctly: “Sandy Hook Church of Christ.” You will note the caption at the bottom of the picture with considerable interest:

Stephen Gaskin, standing, explains his religious beliefs to gathering of his followers and some of the congregation of Sandy Hook Church of Christ at a joint meeting in Summertown, Tenn., in 1972. (AP)
You also read that correctly: the Sandy Hook Church of Christ, in Summertown, Tennessee of all places!

Regarding the items on the late Gaskin’s Summertown (and Sandy Hook Church of Christ ?) agenda in the 1970s and quite probably thereafter, at least “officially”, we have: No guns. No liquor. No synthetic psychedelics. Don’t work at something you hate but work at something. All for one, one for all, love thy neighbor, and meditate frequently. At Sunday gatherings, Gaskin sermonized about the well-lived life, presided over burials and performed marriages. Unions of two or three couples were not unheard of, and Gaskin was for a time involved in a marriage of six.

[The bus that took Gaskin and his followers from San Francisco's Haight-Asbury to Summertown in 1971. Image Credit:]

Whatever the nature of the Sandy Hook Church of Christ’s activities really was in the 1970s and whatever its ties to Gaskin’s group, one very well known global elitist took, for whatever reason, a rather pronounced interest in Gaskin’s group. The elitist’s name? None other than Vice President Al Gore, who at the time was a reporter for the Tennessean (click here, if you can stomach it, for confirmation, and here for Gore’s 1972 article on Gaskin.)

Not to pile oddity upon oddity, but for some reason after some 42 years the Tennessean has just seen fit, on July 8, 2014 to be precise, to dredge the Gore article out of the archives. In any event, Gore’s piece begins:

SUMMERTOWN, Tenn. A barn decorated with oriental rugs and bleachers made of straw has become the unlikely meeting ground between members of Stephen Gaskin’s commune and a Church of Christ congregation.
Every Sunday afternoon and every Monday night for the past four weeks, the minister of Sandy Hook Church of Christ has come with 30 to 40 members of his congregation and several other ministers to share “the word of God” with Gaskin and the estimated 450 members of his commune who live on a farm near here.
IT BEGAN as a brave attempt by the churchmen to …(unreadable line). Overshadowing all the disagreements, the real importance of the debates is that representatives of two groups of people who are mortal enemies in many parts of America are learning to listen quietly to each other.
…(bad line) “save” the souls of those who came here seven months ago from San Francisco to start a new life here in Lewis County. But it has developed into a series of electric debates. Each side presents its beliefs and then both sides hash out their disagreements. Unlike most communities, the Gaskin group is committed to leading a religious life. His followers look to him for spiritual guidance and he is more than willing to give it to anyone who asks. Gaskin describes his group as a …monastery.
TO THE SURPRISE of both sides, they found they share a lot of common ground in the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, the Golden Rule, the value of working hard and trying always to tell the truth – and most important, a deep faith in God.
“I think it’s been profitable for all of us”, said Bobby Williams, minister of Sandy Hook Church of Christ. “Our first impulse was to associate them with Charles Manson and their first impulse was to associate us with their unfavorable religious background.”
There have been some surprises on the other side, too. Gaskin, the “Spiritual Leader” of the commune which is known simply as “The Farm” said of all the persons he has debated in San Francisco and around the country, “These Church of Christ folks are some of the toughest, a lot tougher than the Hare Krishna people”.
In any event, Gaskin shepherded the “Farm”—the commune near Summertown—for 43 years. During that time span, Gaskin seems to have “evolved” considerably. For example, we have this rather startling language from the LA Times article:
Businesses on The Farm include a publishing company and a firm that makes radiation detectors used by law enforcement agencies worldwide.
“Homeland Security’s been good to us,” Gaskin told the Times in 2004. “We’re high-tech hippies now.”
Did the stints of Champion and Isgut at Summertown coincide with DHS’s interactions with the commune? Quite possibly; if so, I’m sure it’s nothing more than a coincidence. As to the Sandy Hook Church of Christ designation and that institution’s Summertown connections to Gaskin and perhaps Champion, Isgut, DHS, and the manufacture of law enforcement technology, I’m sure we have nothing other than more coincidences, since there are probably tens of millions of Sandy Hook Churches of Christ across the country—and Al Gore has written about each and every one of them.

Jason Kissner is Associate Professor of Criminology at Fresno State University. This article first appeared at Memoryhole Blog.

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