Good Vibrations

Disputed Reform Party candidate John Hagelin thinks he can change the world with the power of positive thinking. Does that make him nuts?

For Hagelin, the passage to kookdom occurred gradually. Even at the Maharishi University of Management, Hagelin continued to distinguish himself scientifically for some time.

Along with his mentor John Ellis, head of CERN's theoretical physics department, and other scientists, he co-authored the theory "Flipped SU(5) Supersymmetric Grand Unification." It's a treatise, according to Nature, that is "one of the better-accepted unified field theories" that seek to bring together all of the physical laws into one tidy package--but the theories are "highly speculative," according to physicist Robert Park, director of the American Physical Association's Washington office.

A Transcendental Meditator since his teen years, Hagelin ultimately wasn't content to keep his scientific and spiritual pursuits separate. Eventually, he sought to extend the Flipped SU(5) theory to human consciousness, thus attempting to bring the "Maharishi effect" into the fold of quantum physics. The move appalled Hagelin's former scientific colleagues and shattered the remains of his mainstream credibility.

John Hagelin stumps in Dallas this summer. Hagelin, who made a failed attempt to unseat Pat Buchanan as the Reform Party candidate, represents the Natural Law Party.
Michael Hogue
John Hagelin stumps in Dallas this summer. Hagelin, who made a failed attempt to unseat Pat Buchanan as the Reform Party candidate, represents the Natural Law Party.

"A lot of people he has collaborated with in the past are very upset about this," Jorge Lopez, a Texas A&M physicist, told Nature in 1992. "It's absolutely ludicrous to say that TM has anything to do with flipped SU(5)." John Ellis of CERN also told Hagelin to knock it off with his "flaky" assertions, to no effect.

Most ignominious of all, Hagelin was awarded an "IgNobel" prize in 1994 by junk science debunking Annals of Improbable Research Journal. But the clear-minded Hagelin pays little heed to such criticism, even calling Robert Park's book Voodoo Science, which heaps doubt on Hagelin's 1993 TM experiment in Washington, a work of narrow-minded "smut."

A witty and affable debater, Hagelin appeared on Nightline, Politically Incorrect, CNN Talkback Live, and other shows in the wake of the Reform Party convention to plead that he is the rightful heir to the Reform Party nomination. Only months ago, those TV programs wouldn't have even fleetingly considered granting a forum to the small-time contender. On August 11, that changed when Hagelin stood before at least 100 supporters at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center to give his first major public address.

Earlier that day, Hagelin led a symbolic walk-out from the main convention to a hastily set-up doppelgänger function at the arts center. The civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome" was sung, symbolizing Buchanan's supposed oppression of the party. Speaking before his supporters, Hagelin hit not only on generic Reform Party themes, such as campaign finance reform, but also on more esoteric topics such as organic farming and other Natural Law issues. "I accept with humility and pride the mantle of H. Ross Perot," he told a euphoric crowd on nomination night, August 13.

How did Hagelin make it to Long Beach? He stepped in when the party that Dallas billionaire H. Ross Perot created in 1996 as a vehicle for his second presidential run fractured over Buchanan. By the time Perot loyalists changed their minds about Buchanan, he had already begun peopling state conventions with his foot soldiers. Livid, the old guard began looking for an anti-Pat, but found few takers. Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, the nation's first Reform governor, had already been driven from the party after he tried to play kingmaker. Ralph Nader and Sens. Gary Hart and San Nunn, as well as actor Warren Beatty, didn't bite.

Enter John Hagelin, eager for alliances with other third parties, especially after an attempt to commandeer the fledgling Green Party fizzled. Despite the appearance of many shared values, especially on environmental matters, Green Party activists soured on Hagelin last spring when he released glossy materials claiming he had led a "Green-Reform-Natural Law" coalition before consulting them. "I took great offense when he unilaterally declared the Green Party part of his coalition," says Nancy Allen, a Maine-based spokeswoman for the Association of State Green Parties.

Reached in Iowa, Kingsley Brooks, co-chairman of the Natural Law Party, admits that Hagelin's outreach attempts to Greens were a flop. "They accused us of trying to take over the party," he says, denying any underhanded strategies in their bid to join forces with Greens. (He also denies that the Natural Law party is chiefly about TM and says TMers have actually become a minority in the growing party.) Anyway, the Green debacle is ancient history to Natural Law Party backers, who had better luck lassoing the disorganized Reformers.

A few blocks away in the city's convention hall, Pat Buchanan was also accepting a Reform Party nomination. Broadcast live on C-SPAN, Buchanan's shindig looked more professional, with large TV monitors and upbeat, patriotic rock anthems. But Hagelin, whose show C-SPAN recorded for later airing, insisted he was the genuine nominee, citing allegations of ballot fraud made by his campaign and the Perot loyalists against the Buchanan campaign.

Buchanan strongly denied the charges, and Hagelin's allegations have yet to find an audience either in court or in election bureaucracies, where officials avoid internecine party battles. The question of who exactly was the real Reform Party leader remained unanswered until September 13, when a California state court forbade Hagelin the use of the moniker "Reform Party."

The ruling capped a costly battle in state courts across the country, which proceeded at times on a more humorous level as some state officials choose Hagelin or Buchanan for the ballot line by picking names out of hats. (Buchanan won Iowa, while Hagelin won Montana by a hat pick.) The tussle over the $12.6 million in federal-matching funds also added to Buchanan's consternation, delaying his campaign for several weeks until the Federal Election Commission officials finally awarded him the funds.

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