NEO-AMERICAN CHURCH TIMELINE
1928 (April 17): Arthur J. Kleps was born in New York City.
1960: High school and prison psychologist Arthur (Art) Kleps and his wife Sally first experimented with the psychedelic substance mescaline and had transformative experiences.
1963 (November 1): The Neo-American Church (NAC) was founded by Kleps and incorporated in California.
1963 (December): After reading an account of psychedelic researchers Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert moving to the Hitchcock estate in Millbrook, NY, Kleps wrote to Leary and was invited to visit for the first of many times.
1964 (Winter): Kleps was fired from his job as a school psychologist for distributing a memo he had written suggesting that marijuana use was not dangerous. Kleps began experimenting with LSD at this time.
1965 (April): The NAC rented a camp in rural Cranberry Lake, NY called Morning Glory Lodge.
1965 (Summer): Morning Glory Lodge was opened as summer retreat for members of the NAC and for those associated with the Millbrook commune.
1965 (Fall): Kleps and his family moved to Florida for the winter with the intention of returning to Cranberry Lake the following summer. He established a branch of the NAC in Miami.
1965 (December): New York State Police began investigating Kleps and his association with Leary.
1966 (Spring): Kleps returned to Cranberry Lake and again opened Morning Glory Lodge to visitors.
1966 (May 25): Kleps testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee investigating LSD use and called for psychedelics to be made legal for religious purposes.
1966 (Summer-Fall): Kleps and Sally separated, and she moved to Florida with their two children.
1967 (January): Kleps moved full-time to the Millbrook commune, which was already home to Leary’s League for Spiritual Discovery and the Sri Ram Ashram and its guru William Haines.
1967 (Spring): Kleps estimated the NAC had approximately 1,000 members around the nation. However, NYS Police records from November 1966 indicated only 327 members in the United States.
1967 (May 4): The NAC was incorporated as a religious corporation in New York State. The original trustees included Kleps, Leary, Haines, and William Mellon Hitchcock, co-owner of the Millbrook estate.
1967 (April): Kleps married his second wife Wendy Williams at the Millbrook estate. The ceremony was conducted by Timothy Leary.
1967 (July): Local Dutchess County police established a day-long roadblock around the Millbrook estate, stopping motorists as they passed by and ticketing many for a variety of minor reasons.
1967: Kleps’ book The Neo-American Church Catechism and Handbook was first published by the Sri Ram Ashram’s Kriya Press. A coloring book titled History of the Psychedelic Movement Cartoon and Coloring Book was also published.
1967 (December 9): Local Dutchess County police raided the Millbrook estate and charged Leary, Kleps, Haines and Hitchcock with drug possession.
1968 (February-May): Kleps and other members of the NAC were forced off of the Hitchcock Estate when it was closed to everyone other than Hitchcock family members and employees. Kleps established the NAC headquarters in South Hero, Vermont with $10,000 given to him by the Hitchcocks.
1968 (July 1): The United States vs. Kuch decision was issued by Judge Gerhard A. Gesell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The ruling asserted that the NAC was not a religion in the same way that the Native American Church was and that, as such, the defendant Judith Kuch (a member of the NAC) could not claim she was transporting marijuana for use in her religious practice.
1969 (April 6): Kleps was arrested in Washington D.C. for attempting to distribute peyote in front of the Department of Justice building in protest of the United States vs. Kuch ruling.
1969 (Fall): Kleps separated from Wendy and moves to South Hadley, Massachusetts and began living with a seventeen-year-old Smith College student. Their apartment was raided that September, and Kleps was charged with possession of LSD and marijuana and lewd and lascivious cohabitation. He eventually served four-months in prison for these offenses.
1970 (February): Kleps was arrested for allegedly attempting to smuggle cocaine to prisoners at the Hudson River State Hospital in Dutchess County. The charge was reduced to possession of an illegal substance, and he was put on probation for three years.
1970 (Summer): Kleps returned to Millbrook to briefly live on the Hitchcock estate once again.
1970-1971: Kleps married his third wife Joan.
1971: The second edition of The Neo-American Church Catechism and Handbook, aka, The Boo Hoo Bible, was published.
1973 (December 7): Kleps excommunicated Leary from the NAC for Leary’s recent publication, Starseed.
1975: Kleps’ memoir Millbrook: A Narrative of the Early Years of American Psychedelianism was first published in book form. Revised versions were published in 1977, 1992-1994, and 1997-1998.
1977 (Winter): The NAC purchased 100-acres of land in Humboldt County, California to establish a commune called “Mandalit.”
1984 (September): Arthur Kleps was charged with possession of 927 marijuana plants and for shooting at a police observation plane in Humboldt County. He fled the state.
1985 (May): Kleps was tracked down in Vermont after fleeing Humboldt County and was extradited back to California to stand trial.
1988-1991: After serving time for his California charges, Kleps moved with his family to Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He is soon forced to leave the country by that nation’s government for reported anti-Semitic activities, which he denied.
1999 (July 17): Kleps passed away in Multnomah County, Oregon. His wife Joan has continued as Bee Hee of the NAC.
The Neo-American Church (NAC) was originally incorporated as a religion in California by Arthur J. Kleps in 1963. [Image at right] Kleps, born in New York City in 1928, was the son of the prominent Lutheran minister Arthur R. Kleps, and earned a master’s degree in psychology from Syracuse University. In 1959, he married his first wife Sally Pease, and the two moved to Virginia where Kleps held the post of chief clinical psychologist in education at the Lynchburg Training School. The two lived in Virginia only briefly before returning to New York State when their first daughter Susan was born. In 1960, Kleps and Sally had their first experience with a psychedelic substance (pure mescaline sulfate), which he later described as a “ten-hour long total visionary” experience (Kleps 2005:6). By 1963, the family was living in New York’s Adirondack Mountains where Kleps served as a psychologist for four regional school districts. In the fall of that year Kleps first read about Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, Harvard psychologists who had begun conducting experiments with psychedelics in 1960 and had been dismissed from their positions in the spring of 1963. Leary and Alpert, along with their former graduate student Ralph Metzner and others, moved onto a 2,500-acre estate in the village of Millbrook, Dutchess County, New York, in August of 1963. Intrigued that there were other psychologists interested in psychedelics and willing to put their careers on the line as a result, Kleps wrote to Leary that fall and sent him a copy of a mock psychological test he had devised as well as a description of his mescaline experience. Leary responded with a postcard and invitation to visit the Millbrook estate (Kleps 2005:5). [Image at right]
By the time Kleps first visited Millbrook in December 1963, he had already decided that the psychedelic experience he had undergone was profoundly spiritual in nature and thus the substances themselves were in fact sacramental. As a result, on November 1, 1963, Kleps incorporated the NAC in the State of California with the intent:
To provide mutual help and encouragement in the search for Truth, for the enrichment and unfoldment of the spiritual life.
To furnish a central headquarters, through which seekers may locate and communicate with each other.
To encourage reading and study on the part of members and friends, and to make available books and literature in the fields of religion, mysticism, philosophy, psychology, and parapsychology.
To provide, for those that request it, the opportunity to have an experience, which is a sacrament of the Neo-American Church. The experience is defined as that experience which occurs following the partaking of such substances as may be found useful for the purpose of increasing man’s understanding of himself. (Neo-American Church By-Laws, 1963).
The fact that the original by-laws do not specifically mention psychedelics as being sacraments, and the fact that the church was initially incorporated in California and not New York State where Kleps lived, was most likely the result of his desire to continue being employed as a school psychologist. This changed in the winter of 1964 when Kleps issued a report in response to harsher marijuana penalties having been enacted in New York State in which he argued that cannabis was not addictive and that these new penalties were too harsh. Kleps maintained that he was dismissed from his school psychologist position as a result of having authored this report, though school officials suggested at the time that he resigned (“Art Kleps Formed Neo-American Church” 1966:40.).
Kleps’ loss of employment freed him to devote more of his time to establishing both the NAC itself and its initial headquarters, known as Morning Glory Lodge, located on Cranberry Lake in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. For the church, Kleps decided to take a decidedly irreverent and satirical tact when establishing its structure. “Clergy” were known as “Boo Hoos (male)” or “Bee Hees (female)” while a “Primate” was designated for each state by the “Chief Boo Hoo (Kleps).” State Primates could name local Boo Hoos, but final decisions were made by Kleps. A “Board of Toads” acted in an advisory manner and included Timothy Leary and William Mellon (Billy) Hitchcock, co-owner of the Millbrook estate along with his twin brother Thomas (Tommy) Hitchcock III. The church’s symbol was a drawing of a three-eyed toad, [Image at right] while its official motto was “Victory over Horseshit” and its official hymn was “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”
Morning Glory Lodge was a former private camp that included a wood-framed house, four smaller cabins, and an outbuilding with a generator. [Image at right] The camp was accessible only via boat or by walking through a wooded area that abutted a nearby Department of Environmental Conservation campground road. Kleps found the rustic and peaceful location suited his desire to establish a “psychedelic summer camp.” He purchased the property in the spring of 1965 for “$15,000, with $2,000 down on a $100-a-month land contract” (Kleps 2005:36-37).
Kleps had kept in touch with the Millbrook group during this time and visited them in the spring of 1965, when Leary was away in India on his honeymoon. During this visit, Kleps was unknowingly given a large dose of LSD and had an extremely intense experience in which he described himself as changing colors until finally completely disappearing (Kleps 1971:209-11). This was Kleps first experience with LSD, which he found to be most useful for achieving his definition of enlightenment, and he referred to it as “the Divine sacrament,” or “the True Host.”
Through a network established via his friendly relationship with the Millbrook group, Kleps was not only able to grow membership in the NAC, but also played host to several visitors at Morning Glory Lodge throughout the summer of 1965. A mimeographed flyer noted that the Lodge had electricity and running water as well as “docks, boat, beach, etc.” while all “mail, food, booze” were delivered daily by boat. A list of activities included slides, a stroboscope (which they “hoped” to acquire), music (though the Lodge’s generator had to be running to power the stereo), group meetings at sunset, yoga in the morning (all group activity was voluntary), discussion time, summer sports (swimming, fishing, hiking), “bizarre, surreal activities,” the possible construction of a chapel in the woods, art work, reading, divination, and psychedelic sessions, though psychedelics themselves would not be distributed (Kleps 1965b: “Morning Glory Lodge”). Guests that summer included Lisa Bieberman, an associate of Leary’s who published an informational bulletin on psychedelics from an office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, underground psychedelic chemist Tord Svenson, professor of the psychology of religion Walter Houston Clark, Ed Rosenfeld, founder of the psychedelic religion known as the Natural Church in Greenwich Village, and, briefly, Timothy Leary and Billy Hitchcock (Kleps 2005:49-59).
The fall and winter of 1965 saw Kleps shut down Morning Glory Lodge for the winter, and he and Sally helped move her mother to Florida. While in Florida for the winter, Kleps rented a house and held weekly meetings of the NAC, and his activities received local media attention (Davis 1966:68). While Kleps was in Florida, one of the members of the NAC from Upstate New York attempted to claim that he was a conscientious objector and that due to the beliefs of his religion he refused to serve in the military. This situation gained the attention of the FBI, who contacted law enforcement in Florida to investigate Kleps and the NAC. The Florida Bureau of Narcotics opened an investigation that included interviewing Kleps and other members of the NAC as well as monitoring their meetings. The Florida Bureau of Narcotics contacted the New York State Police which began an investigation into the activities taking place at Morning Glory Lodge, including interviewing various locals and collecting written material related to the NAC. The investigation also included the testimony of a variety of informants who continued reporting on the goings on at Morning Glory Lodge throughout the summer of 1966, after the Kleps’ had returned (Neo-American Church files, New York State Division of State Police Non-Criminal Investigation Case Files).
Shortly after returning from Florida and opening the Lodge for the summer, Kleps reached his peak of national fame, first by being featured in an interview in Pageant magazine, which at the time had a circulation of over 300,000, and later through his testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on narcotics at which he outlined the general philosophy of the NAC, answered questions from various Senators, and suggested that should Leary, who was facing a jail sentence due to his December 1965 arrest for possession of marijuana at the Laredo/Mexico border, be incarcerated, there would be a “religious civil war” (Watertown Daily Times: May 25, 1966) (Bowart 1966:3). Though the “civil war” quote gained notoriety in newspapers across the U.S., the rest of Kleps’ testimony was an impassioned declaration that psychedelics (and marijuana) were used by the members of the NAC as paths to enlightenment, not as frivolous “kicks,” and were therefore sacramental and because of this it was unconstitutional for the government to regulate the free exercise of their religious practice. Citing the recently passed Drug Abuse Control Amendments which exempted peyote use by the Native American Church, Kleps declared that since the government saw fit to allow one religion to use psychedelics in ceremonial practice, it must therefore allow other duly formed religions the same ability (Kleps 1966:413-17).
Following his Senate testimony and the media attention it received, Kleps became a kind of underground celebrity. However, his wife Sally was finding it increasingly difficult to raise small children in an unstable environment that included various visitors and hangers on, most of whom were under the influence of marijuana and psychedelics, as well as Kleps’ admitted alcoholism and philandering. She left Morning Glory Lodge with the children and moved to Florida full-time in the summer of 1966. Kleps, upset by the loss of his family, attempted to relocate permanently to the Millbrook estate shortly after, but Leary dissuaded him, suggesting instead that he move to Alabama where a supposed wealthy donor was willing to pay Kleps’ living expenses so that he could write a book. Kleps attempted to do so, shutting down Morning Glory Lodge once again and moving to Alabama, but the wealthy donor turned out to be a criminal conman who disappeared with most of Kleps’ belongings. (Kleps 2005:92-93). By the winter of 1966, Kleps was back in New York State, essentially alone and with no permanent place to live. He returned to Millbrook and once again asked to be allowed to move onto the estate full-time. This time Leary agreed and in January 1967, Kleps moved his meager belongings into the estate’s sixty-four-room “Big House.”
By the time Kleps had returned from the fiasco in Alabama there was another religious group also living at the Millbrook estate; a splinter group who once were part of the Ananda Ashram in nearby Monroe, New York and were now known as the Sri Ram Ashram. Led by their guru William Haines, the Sri Ram Ashram members had left Ananda after a falling out over the use of psychedelics and marijuana, and Leary had invited them to reside at the estate. In Haines, Kleps found an iconoclastic fellow-traveler with an equally dark humor and sharp wit. The two immediately hit it off, though their relationship would be a tumultuous one.
Once Kleps moved onto the Millbrook estate he embarked on his most productive time. In May of 1967, he incorporated the NAC as a religion in New York State; Leary, Haines, and Billy Hitchcock were among its directors (the Board of Toads). Upon moving on to the estate, he met Wendy Williams, whom he would marry at a psychedelic ceremony overseen by Leary that summer. All the while, Kleps worked regularly on his first book, The Neo-American Church Catechism and Handbook, aka, “The Boo-Hoo Bible,” which was first printed and distributed by the Sri Ram Ashram on a printing press they installed in the estate’s former carriage house. [Image at right]
It was also during this time that Kleps began to have philosophical and personality differences with Leary and his group, which by that time was also incorporated as a religion in New York State and was known as the League for Spiritual Discovery. Often jealous of Leary’s fame and charisma, and also envious of his relationship with the Hitchcocks whom Kleps saw as would-be benefactors of the NAC, Kleps bristled both at what he perceived as Leary’s lack of philosophical depth and his ability to consistently be in the news. Kleps saw himself as a more radical psychedelic advocate than Leary and one with a purer conviction. For his part, Leary at first viewed Kleps as a similarly minded former psychologist whose views and ideas were in line with his own. Over time, however, Leary and others on the Millbrook estate began to question Kleps’ alcoholism and sometimes erratic behavior as well as his biting satire.
The differences between Leary and Kleps were exacerbated when The Neo-American Church Catechism and Handbook was first published. At Kleps’ request, Leary agreed to provide a review of the book in which, despite lauding Kleps as an “authentic American anarchist, non-conformist, itinerant preacher,” he also described him as having “absolutely no sense of beauty,” being a “clumsy manipulator, a blatant flatterer, a bully to the willing weak, the world’s most incompetent conman” and “a sodden disgrace to the (psychedelic) movement” (Kleps 2005:206-08.) This double handed review was likely a result of Kleps’ frequent alcohol-fueled benders and the fact that he had begun plotting with Haines to usurp Leary as the wealthy Hitchcocks’ favored tenant. According to Kleps himself, both he and Haines were constantly attempting to curry favor with Billy Hitchcock particularly in an attempt to receive financial backing for their various endeavors (Kleps 2005:115-16).
External pressure was also rising on the Millbrook communal scene. Local law enforcement had been concerned about the situation on the estate for some time and after Leary’s Laredo arrest and the subsequent media fallout, they took action. In April, 1966, the Dutchess County Sheriff’s office, along with the Dutchess County District Attorney’s office, raided the estate and arrested forty-one people for various drug-related offenses. While Kleps was not there at the time, the raid represented to him the first salvo in the “Battle of Millbrook.” Continued law enforcement pressure throughout 1966 and 1967 included roadblocks around the estate, stopping anyone and everyone passing by, and the visiting of the estate by undercover informants. In December, 1967, the estate was raided once again, and this time Kleps, along with Leary, Haines, and Hitchcock were arrested on drug charges (Kleps 1971:69-73; Leary 1968:5). A prolonged legal battle would result, lasting into the early 1970s.
The continued law enforcement pressure and internal fissures eventually led to the Hitchcock brothers closing the estate to everyone but their own family and employees in early 1968 (“Dr. Leary and Followers Told to Vacate Estate” 1968:20). Leary moved with his wife and children to California while Haines and the Sri Ram Ashram moved to Arizona to land purchased by Billy Hitchcock and another wealthy patron. Kleps, Wendy, and their infant daughter moved to Vermont with $10,000 donated by Billy Hitchcock. The NAC continued after the Kleps’ left Millbrook and in the spring of 1968 one of its members, Judith Kuch, the “Primate of Potomac,” who had been arrested for possession of marijuana and LSD, attempted to have her case overturned via the Freedom of Religion clause. Kuch’s lawyers argued that as a member of the NAC she held the religious belief that marijuana and LSD were sacraments and that she should be allowed to possess and use them based on the legal precedent established by the Native American Church’s peyote exemption. However, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that, essentially, the NAC was not a “true” religion at all and that, therefore, its members were not protected by the free exercise clause. In the ruling opinion written by District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell, he suggested that a close examination of the NAC’s established beliefs and a reading of The Boo Hoo Bible [Image at right] showed a lack of “any solid evidence of a belief in a supreme being, a religious disciple, a ritual, or tenets to guide one’s daily existence” and that instead “one gains the inescapable impression that the membership is mocking established institutions” and shows no regard for “a supreme being, law or civic responsibility” (United States v. Kuch 1968).
The Kuch decision has remained controversial as it was effectively an attempt by a federal court to rule upon what is legally considered a “legitimate” religion, which itself has a contentious legal history (Newman 2015). Kleps attempted a public protest of the ruling in 1969 by trying to distribute peyote in front of the Department of Justice building in Washington, for which he was arrested. He also included a transcript of the Kuch decision in the second edition of The Boo Hoo Bible, which was published in 1971.
By the early 1970s the NAC was essentially dormant, though Kleps did periodically issue church bulletins (which were called Divine Toad Sweat) and published the second edition of The Boo Hoo Bible. Kleps and Wendy separated in the fall of 1969, and he began an affair with a seventeen-year-old Smith College student. The apartment they shared was raided and Kleps was arrested for possession of LSD and marijuana and for “lewd and lascivious cohabitation” (“Kleps Faces Another Charge” 1969:10B). He was arrested in 1970 for attempting to smuggle cocaine in to a prisoner at the Hudson River State Hospital (“Charge Reduced Against Kleps” 1970:17). In all, he served four-months in prison and was placed on probation for three-years. Kleps also met and married his third wife Joan during this time and made successful attempts at abstaining from alcohol, though he continued to use both marijuana and LSD.
In 1973, Kleps excommunicated Leary from the NAC for publication of the essay Starseed, in which Leary declared that he was decoding the secrets of the universe through the recent discovery of the Kohoutek comet. Kleps found these claims preposterous and, frustrated by Leary’s continued ability to be in the news while he and the NAC had faded in the post-1960s media landscape, he published a Divine Toad Sweat banishing Leary from the church (Kleps 1973). Leary did not respond and by 1973 had stopped communicating entirely with Kleps.
In an attempt to raise money (Kleps refused to work at a paid job and instead lived off NAC membership dues and welfare), he wrote a memoir of his time at Millbrook titled Millbrook: A Narrative of the Early Years of American Psychedelianism. Despite grandiose hopes that the book manuscript would be picked up by a major publisher and lead to a windfall of several hundred thousand dollars, Millbrook drew little interest, and Kleps first self-published the book via hand-typed and mimeographed pages. In 1975, it was published by a small publisher called The Bench Press and has been republished several times since, though never earning near the money Kleps had hoped (Call 2020:77-80, 122-23).
In the winter of 1977, the NAC purchased 100 acres of land in Humboldt County California. Kleps had decided that he and his family, along with a small group of church members, should move to a rural location to live communally and grow and sell marijuana to earn money. In Kleps’ mind this would become the headquarters of the NAC and would eventually attract many members to join them who would each pay a fee to acquire a small piece of the acreage to build some type of residence and otherwise pool their resources. Called “Mandalit,” the commune lasted until 1984 when it was raided by police and Kleps was charged with possession of 927 marijuana plants and for shooting at a police observation plane (“North Coast Residents Indicted by Grand Jury” 1984:2.) He fled California but was tracked down in Vermont and extradited to Humboldt County where he was sentenced to over two years in prison (“$40,000 Bail Set for California Fugitive” 1985:17).
In 1988, after serving his jail time in California, Kleps moved with his family to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. He was soon forced to leave the country by that country’s government for reported anti-Semitic activities. Kleps himself claimed that he had been set up by “a DEA agent named D. O’Neill and his co-conspirators in the Dutch police, Mossad, and American Express” and unsuccessfully filed suit against the Netherlands in the European Court of Human Rights (Kleps 2005:171-72). Kleps and his family returned to the U.S., and he eventually passed away on July 17, 1999 in Multnomah County, Oregon, at the age of seventy-one. His wife Joan continued the NAC, which has continued as a web-based organization.
The NAC is a very loosely organized religion and has long been against overt doctrine. However, there are three principles listed on the current NAC website that all members are required to agree to:
The psychedelic substances, such as cannabis and LSD, are religious sacraments since their ingestion encourages Enlightenment, which is the recognition that life is a dream and the externality of relations an illusion (solipsistic nihilism).
The use of the psychedelic sacraments is a basic human right and all interference therewith is an assault on this right.
We do not encourage the ingestion of the greater sacraments such as LSD and mescaline by those who are unprepared and we define preparedness as familiarity with the lesser sacraments such as cannabis and nitrous oxide and with solipsist-nihilist epistemological reasoning based on such models as David Hume, Sextus Empiricus and Nagarjuna. (Neo-American Church website).
The current three principles are variations on the original three as created by Art Kleps in 1965. The original three were:
Every human being has the right to explore and expand his own consciousness in his own way, and to simulate visionary experience by whatever means he considers desirable and proper—without interference. Others may encourage, assist, deplore, ignore, argue, or keep silent but they have no right to use force.
We regard the writings and teachings of Timothy Leary to be the best general present guide to expansive living in our time-space. This is subject to individual reservations and future changes, interpretations and misinterpretations.
We will not encourage (although we will not prevent by force) the ingestion of psychedelic substances by people who are unprepared. (Kleps 1965a:1).
Most likely these changed after Leary was excommunicated by Kleps in 1973.
As with doctrine, the NAC did not have fixed rituals. Kleps wrote in a 1965 that the reason for the lack of doctrine or rituals in the NAC was because “anyone who has been through the psychedelic experience knows that what appears to be a great shining truth at one level can turn out to be the most crashing nonsense at another” (Kleps 1965a:1). In the 1966 interview with Pageant magazine, Kleps stated that “the important thing with the Neo-American Church is not the service. We do hold weekly meetings, and they certainly have instructional and social value, but the important thing in the Church is the psychedelic experience itself” which is best conducted “in your own home, with people you know very well and trust, or to have it in the kind of situation that is available at Morning Glory Lodge, our headquarters on Cranberry Lake, New York, or at the Castalia Foundation’s Center in Millbrook, New York…” Through the group meetings, NAC members, often with the aid of marijuana or a low dose of LSD, could achieve, in Kleps words, “the same sort of group identity that you sometimes will get in a meeting of the Society of Friends” (Kleps 1971:83-84).
The NAC also used nonchemical means to achieve a state akin to the psychedelic experience, through a variety of ways including “multiple reading,” where four or more people read random lines from different books in succession, turning on a television with no sound while playing a random radio station, as well as psychedelic paintings, stroboscopes, and slide shows (Kleps 1971:84).
The following is a summary of the 1968 by-laws of the NAC, as reprinted in Kleps 1971:39-43, except otherwise noted:
The Chief Boo Hoo/Bee Hee:
He/she is, by virtue of their office, the Chairperson of the Board of Toads.
He/she has such powers as may be reasonably construed as belonging to the chief executive of any organization, and, in addition, absolute power to rule by fiat within the Church on all matters pertaining to faith and morals and the ordinary affairs of the organization.
He/she appoints all officers of the Church and defines their duties and responsibilities.
He/she appoints members of the Board of Toads.
The Board of Toads:
The primary purpose of the Board of Toads is to ensure that the Chief Boo Hoo/Bee Hee’s every wish is granted.
Upon the apparent incapacitation or death of the Chief Boo Hoo, a special meeting of the Board may be called by any Toad to elect a successor to the post of Chief Boo Hoo. This shall be done through consultation with astrologers, who attempt to find a candidate whose horoscope closely resembles that of the incumbent. If two or more nominees are found with such horoscopes, the issue may be settled through bribery and “deals.” However, once the new Chief Boo Hoo/Bee Hee is elected, his/her power shall be absolute, and he/she may repudiate any agreement made with electors prior to his/her elevation. If no replacement is found within one year of the Chief Boo Hoo/Bee Hee’s death or total disablement, the organization shall be dissolved, and all assets sold, and the proceeds given to the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York.
SPIN is the super-secret, highly trained defensive arm of the NAC. Made up entirely of young men of fanatical and paranoid dispositions, SPIN serves to ensure a supply of the True Host (LSD, peyote, etc.) to members held by the enemy and to carry out special assignments designed to prevent persecution of our religion (Kleps 1971: 14).
SPIN activities are entirely the responsibility of the Chief Boo Hoo/Bee Hee and shall not involve the Board of Toads.
All clergy shall be ordained by the Chief Boo Hoo/Bee Hee or his/her nominees (at present Toads, Primates, Metropolitans or Patriarchs). Powers of removal and excommunication are reserved to the Chief Boo Hoo/Bee Hee.
Boo Hoos/Bee Hees may call meetings, distribute the sacraments, perform marriages, etc.
Boo Hoos/Bee Hees report to the Primate, Metropolitan, or Patriarch of the sack in which they reside.
ORGANIZATION OF THE LOCAL BAGS
- The administrative district from which the local Boo Hoo/Bee Hee draws his/her congregation shall be known as a “bag,” and shall be self-governing.
- The social policy of the NAC shall be set by the Chief Boo Hoo/Bee Hee, however, members of the Hierarchy, Boo Hoos/Bee Hees and ordinary members are free to speak and act on the basis of their own convictions and to represent the Bags, Sacks and administrative divisions for which they are responsible, even if such conviction and representation is contrary to official policy.
The main issues and challenges for the NAC had to do with the fact their “sacraments” were illegal, despite various legal challenges by the NAC and affiliated religions such as the League for Spiritual Discovery. As noted earlier, this illegality led to nearly constant law enforcement pressure, up to and including arrests and jail sentences for Kleps and others affiliated with the NAC. This constant pressure led to the NAC being an essentially underground religion with limited growth. Kleps’ own erratic behavior, alcoholism, misogyny, philandering, extreme views, and overall iconoclasm limited the attraction of the NAC, despite its countercultural bona fides.
After being forced off of the Hitchcock Estate in Millbrook, Kleps’ association with Leary essentially evaporated, leading to his eventual excommunication of Leary in 1973. In subsequent years, the struggle of the NAC to attract and maintain new members led to Kleps and his family’s frequent financial troubles and instability. Various attempts to establish permanent headquarters in Vermont, upstate New York, and California ran into similar problems with local law enforcement. Even Kleps’ attempt to move his family to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, seeking more liberal attitudes towards the use of drugs ended in failure when he was accused of antisemitism and forced to return to the United States. However, despite all of these struggles, the NAC has survived as an organization, though it is far from the mass religion that Kleps had envisioned it to be.
Image #1: Photo of Art Kleps when he was a school psychologist, early 1960s, Neo-American Church Website.
Image #2: Photo of the “Big House” on the Hitchcock Estate, Millbrook, NY, winter of 1966-1967, Neo-American Church Website.
Image #3. Logo and motto of the Neo-American Church, Neo-American Church Website.
Image #4. Photo taken by NY State Police undercover officers of the cabins at Morning Glory Lodge, Cranberry Lake, NY, summer of 1966, New York State Archives.
Image #5. Photo of the “gray buildings” on the Hitchcock Estate, Millbrook, NY, winter of 1966-1967.
Image #6: Cover of the the Boo Hoo Bible.
Bowart, Walter. “Neo-American Church Gives ‘Em Hell.” 1966. The East Village Other, June 15, 3.
Call, Jack. 2020. Life in a Psychedelic Church: Memories and Musings. Wittier, CA: The Institute for the Advancement of Psychedelic Christianity.
“Charge Reduced Against Kleps.” 1970. Poughkeepsie Journal, February 27, 17.
Davis, Miller. 1966. “LSD: ‘Walls Come Alive…You Soar.’” The Miami Herald, March 13, 68.
“Dr. Leary and Followers Told to Vacate Estate.” 1968. New York Times, February 20, 20.
“$40,000 Bail Set for California Fugitive.” 1985. The Burlington Free Press, May 25. 17.
Kleps, Art. 2005. Millbrook: A Narrative of the Early Years of Psychedelianism, Recension of 2005. Oakland: The Bench Press.
Kleps, Art. 1973. “The Excommunication of Timothy Leary.” Neo-American Church Website. Neo-American Church. Accessed from https://okneoac.org/ on 28 October 2023.
Kleps, Art. 1966. Testimony before the United States Senate, Committee on Government Operations, Subcommittee on Executive Reorganization, May 25, 413-25.
Kleps, Art. 1965a. “Announcing the Formation of the Neo-American Church.” Neo-American Church files, box 1, folder 113, items 251-260, New York State Division of State Police Non-Criminal Investigation Case Files, New York State Archives, Albany, NY.
Kleps, Art. 1965b. “Morning Glory Lodge.” Timothy Leary papers, box 80, folder 33, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library, New York City.
“Kleps Faces Another Charge.” 1969. The Poughkeepsie Journal, September 21, 10B.
Leary, Timothy. 1968. “The Great Millbrook Snot Bust.” The East Village Other, January 1, 5.
Neo-American Church. 1963. “By-Laws.” Neo-American Church files, Box 1, Folder 113, items 251-260, New York State Division of State Police Non-Criminal Investigation Case Files, New York State Archives, Albany, NY.
Newman, Joel S. 2015. “What is a Church? A Look at Tax Exemptions for the Original Kleptonian Neo-American Church and the First Church of Cannabis.” Lexis Federal Tax Journal Quarterly, December 1. Accessed from https://ssrn.com/abstract=2714965 on 28 October 2023.
“North Coast Residents Indicted by Grand Jury.” 1984. Ukiah Daily Journal, September 16, 2.
United States v. Kuch, 288 F. Supp. 439. 1968. United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
“Arthur Kleps Formed Neo-American Church.” 1966. Watertown Daily Times, May 25, 12-13.
Axler, Judith. “Chief of LSD Sect Warns of Religious War.” 1966. New York Daily News, May 26, 686.
Bieberman, Lisa. 1968. “The Psychedelic Experience: Its Betrayal and Its Promise.” The Boston Globe, January 21, 216-20.
“Chief Boo Hoo Beats War Drums on Leary’s Retreat.” 1968. Poughkeepsie Journal, February 21, 1.
“Cult Leader of Cranberry Lake Predicts LSD ‘Holy War’ If U.S. Jails Famed Advocate of Drug.” 1966. Watertown Daily Times, May 25, 12.
“Dr. Leary and 2 Associates Indicted in Narcotics Case.” 1968. New York Times, March 13, 23.
“‘Floating Parsonage’ Planned by Chief Boo Hoo Arthur Kleps.” 1968. Poughkeepsie Journal, April 21, 5.
Lander, Devin R. 2011. “Start Your Own Religion: New York State’s Acid Churches.” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 14:64-80.
Partridge, Christopher. 2018. High Culture: Drugs, Mysticism, & the Pursuit of Transcendence in the Modern World. London: Oxford University Press.
29 October 2023