Here is material about John-Rogers from an interview years back with David Lane, who researched Eckankar and then researched spin offs of Eckankar. Eckankar was bricolaged by Twitchell with material from a legitimate shabd yoga tradition in Northern India, which Twitchell did not mention.
At Hillcrest's Espresso Roma Cafe, Lane confides, "The people who scare me are John-Roger's people, not Eckankar's." John-Roger Hinkins, founder of the Church of the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (M.S.I.A., pronounced "Messiah") has gotten a lot of bad press lately. Last year former cult member Peter McWilliams published a scathing tell-all, Life 102: What to Do When Your Guru Sues You, November's Vanity Fair linked Arianna Huffington's allegiance to M.S.I.A. to her husband's unsuccessful Senate campaign, and the March issue of Playboy ran a detailed exposé. But Lane had the jump on all of them when back in 1984 he wrote, "The J.R. Controversy: A Critical Analysis of John-Roger Hinkins and M.S.I.A."
Lane pays for my coffee and his Coke, and we sit down at a small dark table. The walls are covered with Andrea Zuill's dramatically lit oil paintings of monstrous chalky-fleshed zombies. I imagine them as the tormented souls of all the cultists who have lost their faith because of Lane. "John-Roger was a follower of Eckankar," begins Lane. "In '68 he was a 'convener,' which means he held ECK satsangs [classes] in his home in Rosemead, California. After a year or so, he branched off and started his own group, M.S.I.A., claiming that in 1963 he had a kidney stone operation and that after nine days of being in a coma he had been commissioned to be the Mystical Traveler Consciousness." At first Hinkins thought it was the legendary Rebazar Tarzs who came to him on the inner planes and passed on the "keys" to the Kingdom, but, later, after seeing a photo of Radhasoami guru Sawan Singh, Hinkins decided that it was really Sawan Singh who had given him the mantleship.
Browsing in a bookstore, Lane stumbled upon one of John-Roger's books and noticed it was a "rip-off" of Eckankar. "You can imagine how I felt," exclaims Lane. "This was in '76 or '77, and I was twenty years old, so it's like All the President's Men. I wrote to him, and he wrote a real nice letter back, saying that we should get together and talk. This guy's pretty smart, because he knows that if he pays attention to me, that's a good way of buying me off, so he can spin-doctor my research. He invited me to his house in Mandeville Canyon, a beautiful house, a mansion. I should have been suspicious because there were really good looking guys all over the compound, washing his car in short-shorts. I was very naive. The minute he saw me he canceled all of his appointments and spent six hours with me." Lane leans across the table towards me and grins. "I never thought he was gay until everybody said, 'Hello-o, looks like he likes you a little too much, Dave.' One of his major disciples, Victor Toso, later revealed that he had kind of a quasi-crush on me."
I nudge, "Can't you tell when somebody's got a crush on you?" Lane looks away shyly. "Did John-Roger ever make any moves on you?"
"No, no, no, no."
"He's really into setting it up so that I would get to the place where I would want it. That's his mentality. I was flattered that here was a spiritual master who was spending hours with me instead of dissing me or suing me. He wanted to know every dirty piece of laundry on Twitchell and Eckankar. He was obsessed. He used to send me Christmas cards, he gave me his personal phone number, and he offered me $5,000 to help with my research on Eckankar."
"Did you take any money?"
Lane shakes his head. "No. I kind of knew he was a fraud, but at the time he was being nice to me so I wasn't in the mood to expose him. Well, the upshot of it is, we were friendly for five years, and then in 1983 four of his closest disciples defected. They knew what I had done with Eckankar, and they thought, 'Well he can do this with J.R. ' So there was a secret meeting in a Santa Monica condominium with these defectors. Very top secret, for they were really scared of upsetting John-Roger. I taped them for five hours." The accusations leveled against Hinkins included embezzling money, plagiarizing from the teachings of Paul Twitchell and others, skirting zoning laws, illegally obtaining airfare discounts, setting up tape recorders throughout his house to obtain information that he would later use to appear psychic, and sexual misconduct.
Lane pauses and thinks for a bit. He's concerned about sounding homophobic, particularly since he knows I'm staying with two gay men. "This is where I've got to be careful. Everybody's sexuality is different than everybody else's. I imagine we have a wide spectrum. The problem is that John-Roger claims to be celibate. His disciples told me he would pick a guy every night out of the staff and claim that they needed to have sex with him in order to be increase their aura-or they needed, pardon my language, a 'rectal innerphase' in order to burn off karma."
"He has this thing called aura innerphasing, where you do aura balancing, soul balancing, etheric balancing. He usually likes heterosexual disciples, that is people that are not overtly gay, to have sex with. The disciples felt used and manipulated for spiritual reasons. It's not as if J.R. said, 'Look, I find you attractive. Let's go to bed.' That's one clear way of doing it-instead of saying, 'I'm God and God says that in order for you to get to the higher astral planes you need to get on all fours or whatever.' A friend of mine calls him the Divine Rump Ranger."
After the secret meeting, Lane phoned Hinkins to ask him about these charges. "He went nuts. The courtship was over. Man, it was a nasty conversation. I told him I didn't plan to write about him, but he started to send out smear letters around the country, saying that I was a gay FBI agent in San Diego, that I had researchers working for me that I wasn't paying. Some letters contained death threats against me and my informants. In one he refers to me as 'Lane the widower'. So then I wrote "The J.R. Controversy" for a new journal called Understanding Cults. When it came out I got a twenty-five page letter from a group in Wilshire called the Coalition for Civil and Spiritual Freedom. It never existed. It was a P.O. Box with John-Roger's own name signed to it."
Four or five months later, on October 5, 1984, Lane's apartment in Del Mar was broken into. "John-Roger personally came and robbed my house. I was teaching at UC San Diego at the time. I came home around 12:30 in the afternoon and the place was ransacked, I mean I couldn't get in the door. So I had to climb through the bedroom window. The bed was overturned, drawers were everywhere. The phone wire had been disconnected. And there was a big note on a box that said, 'NO MORE.' No jewelry was gone-he took only research stuff, including materials for my doctoral dissertation."
"He took nothing else?"
"He took my wife's personal diaries, a camera which he must have thought had film in it, video tapes, an address book, and my recipe file containing my favorite recipe for Del Mar Lentil Loaf. He probably thought my recipe file was written in code, had secret information, or something like that. Gumby and Pokey were laid out on the bed, like they'd been thrown. I said, 'I know it's John-Roger-look at Gumby and Pokey!' I called John-Roger immediately. I got one of his disciples. I said, 'Where was John-Roger yesterday?' The guy turned totally paranoid. His voice changed, 'Well, we can't reveal that information.' 'Was he in San Diego?' No reply. The next day Channel 8 News came out and did as their lead story 'Cult Researcher Robbed.' They took a picture of Gumby and Pokey lying on the bed, and of a copy of my article, 'The J.R. Controversy.' But they didn't name John-Roger."
About four weeks later Lane's guru in India, Charan Singh, received a letter, supposedly from another follower in San Diego, criticizing Lane and quoting from his wife's stolen diaries. Charan Singh realized the letter was a fraud and forwarded it to Lane. That same week Hinkins wrote to Lane assuring him that he wanted to be friends again and that he had nothing to do with the robbery. Hinkins also wrote to Charan Singh asking him to use his influence to get Lane to stop doing research on him. All three letters are printed in the same typeface with the same malfunctioning capital A.
"Then," Lane says excitedly, "John-Roger committed the biggest mistake he's ever made. He took my wife's diaries and made hand-written notes in the margins. 'Should I send this to the IRS?' 'Should I send this to Eckankar?' Little notes he was making to himself. Then he mailed some of the stolen documents anonymously to Eckankar, under the assumption that they would use it against me, and I would think Eckankar robbed my house. But Eckankar's attorneys mailed the package back to me. It came from a P.O. box that John-Roger had personally paid for. The guy's like an idiot, right? And so I had handwriting analysis done on the writing on the diaries and on that NO MORE sign. Two different analysts verified they were all written by John-Roger Hinkins. Moreover, people within John-Roger's group have confirmed that on the day of the robbery he was in San Diego, and he came home that night, hot, sweaty, like he'd done something really bad, dude. Another person in John-Roger's group, who has to remain anonymous because he's right next to him, admitted to me that he was with John-Roger the day of the robbery, and that John-Roger personally entered into it."
Lane decided against pursuing a lawsuit against Hinkins, but he did go public with his story. In Understanding Cults Lane published "The Criminal Activities of John-Roger Hinkins," a laborious account of Hinkins' alleged break-in and smear campaign. He also gave full accounts to the San Diego Sheriff's Department and to numerous news agencies. "On the Marie Vega Show in Los Angeles, I said, 'John-Roger Hinkins robbed my house.' He threatened to sue the TV station for a million dollars if they ever ran the program again. But they kept running it, and he never sued them." In August 1988, The Los Angeles Times published an extensive two-part critique of John-Roger's activities, based on Lane's research. Lane also appeared on Geraldo Rivera's Now It Can Be Told. "Geraldo was in New York and I was on satellite hook-up at Universal Studios in San Fernando Valley. 'The Cadillac of Cults. Are your tax dollars being spent by this group?' So they interviewed me, and I had this rainbow tie on, and Geraldo and I were going at each other. I said, 'Yeah, Geraldo, this guy robbed my house, he did this he did this he did that'-all on national TV. I just went off on him. At this stage Peter McWilliams, the guy who later wrote Life 102, was still pro-John-Roger, so he was putting his hands on the camera, that kind of scene, when they tried to interview John-Roger. So you get this juxtaposition, Lane really going off on John-Roger and McWilliams trying to protect J.R.'s reputation."
After such an exhausting chronicle, I feebly inquire, "Are you still doing research on John-Roger?"
Lane takes a deep breath. "No."