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Tue, 04 Jan 2022 08:01
An elderly swami from India captures the zeitgeist of 1960s counterculture in America, with his message of peace and love. But his western disciples are hungry for power, and one of his most trusted devotees betrays him.
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To listen to American scandal one week early and add free, join Wondry Plus in the Wondri app. Download the Wondri app in your Apple or Google Play mobile app store today. This is a special encore presentation of our series on the Harry Krishna murders, which originally aired in 2019. It's an incredible story that spans decades and followed a spiritual group that took a surprisingly dark turn. We hope you enjoy it. It's a little past midnight on May 22nd, 1986. Steve Bryant walked towards his van on a quiet residential street in West Los Angeles. With his round glasses and soft kind eyes, Steve could be a UCLA grad student. But the truth is he's a college dropout. While he spent the last two years studying and writing, it's not about anything you'd learn in school. He's been living in his van as he crisscrosses the country, trying to get people to listen to his tale of abuse, corruption, and fraud by a worldwide religious organization. It's an explosive story bursting with salacious details that would blow people's minds if they'll only believe him. And that's the problem. He's talked to reporters, written a book. He's talked to anyone who would listen. But most people dismiss him as a nutcase. And the ones who do believe him, insiders who saw things firsthand, are afraid to speak up. And the ones in power, the ones who know the truth, they want to see him silenced. When he thinks about everything that's happened, all he can do is shake his head. He was in his early 20s when he joined. He was a happy guy. He'd finally found a community where he felt like he really belonged. Now he's 33. Divorced. He's lost custody of his kids. So many battles and all of them lost. A couple of weeks ago, he finally admitted defeat. The bad guys have won. Now it's time to just let go of the anger, let go of the hurt, and move on. Tomorrow, he'll head up to the bucolic town of Mount Shasta, California, where he has a lead on a job customizing vans. He wants to start over, have a normal life. Tonight was a good night spent with old friends. He didn't have to convince them of anything. They know he's telling the truth. Their conversation was about the future and new beginnings. The message was clear. Move on, Steve. Let it go and live your life. But he knows he's in danger. That's why he refused his friends invitation to spend the night at their apartment. The last thing he wants to do is draw them into this mess. He'll park a few blocks away and spend the night in his van. He crawls into the back, lays on his home built bed, and wraps himself in a blanket. It's after midnight, and he's exhausted. His mind keeps racing. He closes his eyes, willing to sleep to come. But sleep is not cooperating. He throws off the blanket, crawls into the driver's seat, and rolls a joint, chanting softly as he rolls. Harae Krishna. Harae Krishna. Krishna Krishna. Harae Krishna devotees like Steve aren't supposed to do drugs. They aren't supposed to do a lot of things, but some of them do. Some of them do terrible things. And if you speak up and challenge their authority, he shakes his head. Let it go, Steve. You're moving on. New beginnings. As he fires up the joint, there's a tap on his window. He turns and recognizes the face and the shadows immediately. It's not someone he wants to see. Tirta. Or Thomas Dresher. Tirta lives in West Virginia, so he should not be here. Not in LA and certainly not standing next to Steve's van late at night. Maybe it Steve's mind playing tricks. He blinks to see if Tirta will disappear. But when he opens his eyes, Tirtas still there staring at him. Steve keeps chanting. Harae Rama. Harae Rama. Does he still believe in Krishna? After so many years of disappointment, after losing his wife, losing his children, his innocence, part of him still does. And all of him needs Lord Krishna's protection right now. Harae Harae. Tirta raises his hand. It's holding a 45. Steve leans closer. Harae Rama. American scandal sponsored by Sachi Art. I'm lucky, not only is my wife beautiful, funny and smart, she also has great taste that matches mine, which has made decorating our home together a delight. But how do we go about finding the art for our home? Well we agree on that too. Sachi Art. They have art works from thousands of emerging artists around the globe in all styles, so you're guaranteed to find art that fits your style, space and budget. Their view your room feature lets you visualize the art on your walls, and my advisor Satin was instrumental in finding our newest piece. Get 15% off your first order with promo code podcast. Just go to sachiart.com and enter code podcast at checkout. Find art you love today. Officially one hour until your favorite show premieres, time to get some snacks delivered through Instacart. Okay, let's get some popcorn, seltzer, chocolate covered almonds and wait, did they release the whole season? Better cart some ice cream for the two part finale. When your day should be ending but a new season is starting, the world is your cart. Visit Instacart.com or download the app and get free delivery on your first order. Offer valid for a limited time, minimum order $10 additional terms apply. I'm wondering, I'm Lindsey Graham and this is American Scandal. In 1966, America was at war. Pippies were marching in the streets and an elderly Indian swami arrived with a joyful message. Join the harry christianas and you can chant dance and meditate your way to eternal happiness. The message sparked the imaginations of free thinkers and seekers across the country, looking for an alternative to their parents boring conventional lives. Some gave up college and friends to join the movement and then gave up alcohol drugs and free love. They shaved their heads, dandorned robes and chanted their way to higher consciousness. Within a few years there were tens of thousands of followers and the swami was hanging out with celebrities like the Beatles, Alan Ginsberg and Timothy Leary. But soon rivalries broke out between devotees hoping to earn the swami's favor and eventually take over as leader. When he died without naming a successor, the movement took a dark turn. This is a five part series exploring an eastern religion with pure intentions that, in the hands of its western followers, became a criminal enterprise of drug running, molestation and murder. This is episode one, Go West Old Man. It's May 24, 1986, two days after Steve Bryant's murder. On the 24, 100 miles away, Bhaktipad Kirtana Nanda sits on a simple cushion behind his desk in his home office. The folds of his orange robe drape over his pot belly, a large German shepherd sleeps at his feet. His home is near the top of a ridge and rural West Virginia, surrounded by hardwood forests. He selected the spot himself. A road had to be bulldozed up the ridge, but that wasn't a problem. He gave the order and it was done without question. When the house was built to his exact specifications, his office is simple, hardwood floors and a low desk, but the temple room next to it is opulent, beautifully carved deities and mirrors all around. A silver altar, the contrast is deliberate. A Swami has no need for material things. The glory, the gold, the opulence, that all belongs to the Hindu God Krishna. The Swami is but a humble servant. High Agriva enters the room. The dog jumps up, ready to attack. He is not a pet. He is a trained guard dog. Kirtana Nanda whispers a command and the dog lays back down. High Agriva smiles at Kirtana Nanda. After more than 25 years together and all they've been through, High Agriva doesn't need to say a word. Kirtana Nanda knows why he's smiling. The deed is done. The seed Bryant is no longer a problem. Thomas Westfall has been the deputy sheriff of Marshall County, West Virginia for 12 years. He's seen most of the usual things at Copsies, domestic disturbances, theft, assault, even murders. But one thing sets him apart. His beat includes New Vrindaban, the Highri Krishna commune. It had already been in operation for a few years when he joined the force back in 71. When he was a fan, the locals called the commune residents the Harry critters and wanted them gone. But instead the commune kept growing and Sergeant Westfall made it his personal project to keep tabs on them. He'd chat up any of their residents he'd see in town and run background checks once he got their names. At first it was just wide eyed hippie kids who rarely made it through the Appalachian Winter. And there was the occasional call from frantic parents wanting him to rescue their child from the cult up the road. He still gives those. He's told plenty of sobbing mothers that their innocent little angel is an adult now. And if they want to join a new age religious sect, there's nothing he can do. He's never understood the appeal of working for free on a primitive farm, spending all your time chanting, but you know, do each his own. What does concern him is the way the commune has changed. A few years ago, a different type of person started showing up. It's with serious rap sheets for serious crimes like theft and drug dealing and assault. So when Sergeant Westfall's phone rings on May 23, 1986, it's the kind of call he's been expecting for years. It's a detective from Los Angeles who's investigating a murder. He sounds hesitant and confused though. The victim's friends claim it was a religious assassination. Westfall leans back in his chair as he tries to get more details from the LA detective. You wouldn't believe the story they told me. It's right out of a spy movie. First, everyone has two names. I had to take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. On one side, I've got their given names and on their other side, I've got these Hindu names. The victim is named Steve Bryant. That's Sulao Chah. He stands up, nearly yanking the phone off his desk. Did his friends mention a guy named Tirta? Yeah, Tirta. That's who they said did it. It feels disrespectful to be excited over news of a murder, but Westfall's been banging his head against a wall with Tirta's name on it for years. He opens up a file drawer and grabs the thick file on Thomas Dresher, Hindu named Tirta. He's been after this guy for a long time. Tirta killed a man on the commune three years ago, even confessed to another resident, but the DA wouldn't take the case because they've never been able to find the body. Now maybe he can finally nail Tirta once and for all. The detective assures him that the LAPD is taking the case very seriously and will do everything they can to help bring Thomas Dresher to justice. But Westfall shakes his head. This is way bigger than Thomas Dresher detective. This goes all the way to Kirtanandha. There's a pause on the other in the line. You can hear the detective shuffling through his notes. What the hell is that? Kirt? Whatever. The US fall reaches into his drawer, grabbing a bulge and file folder and slats it onto his desk. Not what detective who? I bet my paycheck that Kirtanandha ordered Steve Brian's murder. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. He's involved in counterfeiting, fraud, drug dealing, and there's rumors about child molestation as well. He runs this commune over here with an iron fist, but they treat him like a god. It takes the top sheet of paper from the file and reads it, but he doesn't need to. He's got the details memorized. Kirtanandha started life as Keith Gordon Ham, born in peak skill New York in 1937. Son of a preacher dropped out of college when he fell in love with a fellow student named Howard Wheeler, Hindu name Hayagriva. They ended up in Greenwich Village in the 60s, smacking the middle of the counterculture revolution. That's where it all started. That's where they were given their new Hindu names. That's where they met the Swami. It's July of 1966, 20 years before Steve Brian's death. Keith Ham is brewing a batch of bathtub beer in the Greenwich Village apartment he shares with Howard. He stirs the concoction, leans down, and enhales deeply, savoring the aroma of hops that would surely smell like brimstone to his Baptist preacher father. Keith smiles as he imagines his parents reaction. Their good Christian son and Grennitz village, ground zero for hippiedum, living with his homosexual lover. And if that doesn't guarantee him a ticket to hell, how about the fact that he and Howard have taken in a homeless teenage boy and they're all having sex together? His parents heads would explode, and he's okay with that. He likes his life. His boyfriend Howard is pursuing a master's degree in English literature, but his heart's not in it. Howard is drawn to Eastern texts, especially the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Hindu text that explores the three paths of action, knowledge, and devotion that lead to enlightenment. Mahatma Gandhi called it his spiritual dictionary, and Howard studies it in detail, wishing it a mentor to guide him through it. Like so many kids there age, Howard and Keith have no interest in the lifestyle and cold war values of their parents, nine to five jobs, dinner at six, instead of white picket fences they want a world without borders. They want freedom over security. They don't care about getting ahead, or what the neighbors think. They're looking for meaning, and they know they won't find it at the top of the corporate ladder. Keith finds some of what he's looking for right outside his door in Grennitz village, Marlon Brando and Paul Newman live in the neighborhood. He can walk down the block to a cafe and hear Jack Kerawak and Alan Ginsberg read their poetry, or Bob Dylan try out his newest songs. And the parties, he's watched Andy Warhol work a room. Now there's a guy who knows how to manufacture fame. But Keith isn't just watching, he's taking notes. All his observations will come in handy someday, that he's sure of. He just hasn't figured out how or where yet. The answer comes though, when Howard burst through the door. Keith, I found him. On second avenue, Keith. Keith stops during his tub full of beer and rushes out of the bathroom. He's never heard Howard like this. Howard often has an academic's Tweety detachment, but right now he's on fire. I asked him, are you a guru? He said yes. Do you know the bug of Agita? And I said no, and I practically got it memorized. Hey, how are you? Slow down. What are you talking about? AC Vaktivat Danta Swami. Howard, we spent two months in India, two months searching for a guru. You think you found one right outside our door here in New York City? Well, yes, he's got to be close to 70. He said he spent years living in Krishna temples in India, but he was called to bring Krishna consciousness to America. Keith Cox's head, make sure he's the real deal. I mean, so many of the gurus were met in India were just trying to fleece us like we're dumb hippies. Well, let's listen to him and find out. Keith smiles. Tell you what. We'll get the gang together and check out your amazing new Swami. And if he's a fraud, at least we'll have fun exposing him. The gang is a collection of friends that call themselves the Mott Street gang, but they don't troll the mean streets of Grenets Village. Their turf is smoky cafes, and their primary weapon is Keith's razor sharp tongue. Keith loves to strike up conversations with strangers about their philosophical views, then methodically catalog every logical flaw on rhetorical mistake. He was a boy preacher, while he strayed far from Baptist teachings, something in him still yearns to see wrapped faces hanging on his every word. If this old man is a fraud, Keith will tear him apart. A few days later, the gang makes their way to a second avenue storefront, a collection of village hippies and bohemian sit on rugs on the floor, incense and sweat mix uneasily in the muggy air. There's an empty chair at the front of the room, and after a few minutes, an old man appears and sits. He has a high forehead and a mouth that looks too big for the rest of his face. He smiles and Keith finds himself leaning forward, the dark knowing eyes, the outsized smile. This intoxicating, the Swami introduces himself, clangs a pair of finger symbols and begins to lecture in heavily accented English. Unlike the fiery sermons delivered by Keith's father, the Swami speaks with calm authority and precision about a god of love and happiness called Krishna. He tells them that Krishna can free them from anxiety and take them to a state of pure unending blissful consciousness. Keith is intrigued. The god he grew up with was a god of judgment and punishment, but Krishna is a carefree, blue skinned boy who dances and plays the flute. With his long flowing hair, he looks like the people sitting in the room. No wonder the hippies are drawn to him. The old man continues, the path to Krishna consciousness is not easy. It takes work, study and discipline. But the reward is that the soul becomes liberated from the material world. Krishna consciousness means to understand Krishna. As soon as you understand Krishna, you understand everything. The path to Krishna is to chant his holy name. Keith is mesmerized. This is what he's been looking for. Then Swami begins chanting. He repeats sixteen words over and over as he clings his finger symbols. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. The congregation joins in and so do Keith and Howard, chanting louder and faster, swaying with the rhythm. With the chanting and the music come feelings, possibilities and all, Keith hasn't felt since he was eight years old, peering over the top of a pew at his father. Then, just like that, the Swami stops, gets up and leaves. Keith looks at Howard. Their eyes meet in wordless agreement. There will be no debating tonight, they've found their guru. They don't know it yet, but their lives will never be the same. Keith will get the power and adulation he so desperately craves, but Krishna's divine light is going to take him to a place of unimaginable darkness. Lots of people don't know it, but autumn is an ideal time to plant. Shorter days and cooler nights create ideal conditions for the plants to get established. 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Keith Ham stands in the bathroom of his Greenwich Village apartment. The man in the mirror looks very different than the one looking back at him a month ago. Today his head is shaved except for a long tough at the top called a seka. He's no longer brewing beer in the bath tub or for that matter drinking any alcohol at all. He's spending more and more time at the temple chanting, studying with the swami and cooking vegetarian meals for the growing congregation. The problem is it leaves him very little time to work and he's got bills to pay. So today he's going to the welfare office to sign up for public assistance. If the state of New York can assist him on his spiritual journey by providing a welfare check he's happy to take it. So he walks out of his apartment barefoot wearing a pair of cut off jeans and a t shirt. It's the village in the 1960s. No one gives him a second look. But when he gets to the welfare office and the clerk sees his seka and his dirty bare feet he's told he'll have to go to Bellevue and pass a psychiatric evaluation before he can get benefits. Bellevue is the oldest public hospital in America. It's a forbidding brick building that gives Keith a chill just walking through the door. But he's willing to do whatever he has to to get that regular check. He waits tapping his barefoot against the cold floor. When his name is finally called Dr. Handsome of Form without looking up. Here fill this out, Keith is in a hurry. He feels out the paperwork without bothering to read it. So how long till I get my first check? The doctor sits back in his chair full of his arms and persists his lips in disdain. What's with the hair? I'm a follower of Lord Krishna. It's part of being a devotee. Lord who? Krishna, the blue skin boy. Blue skin, huh? Did you meet any little green men from Mars too? The doctor takes Keith's papers, checks a box and adds his signature. And that's all he needs to have Keith committed. Keith already gave his authorization when he signed without bothering to read the form. The doctor thinks Keith is a danger to himself and to society. And with that check box and Keith's signature, he can keep him locked up for the rest of his life. Keith doesn't make things any easier on himself. He refuses to speak to anyone, so the doctor's label him as anti social. Howard visits and urges him to play the games so he can get released. Keith agrees, and sides he'll just be himself. He teaches the other patients how to chant and tells them about his Swami and the blue skin God named Krishna. He's enough to convince the doctors he's a schizophrenic who needs to become a permanent resident. After a week, Keith feels like he might actually be going crazy. The screams of the other patients keep him awake at night, and he's so sleep deprived he's practically hallucinating. Howard is desperate to get Keith out. He enlists the help of Alan Ginsburg, a famous beat poet who is an admirer of the Swami. Ginsburg gets a Jungian analyst he knows to examine Keith and write a letter certifying that he's a sane follower of a legitimate Eastern religion. But it's still not enough for the doctors. They insist their patient can only be released to a family member. Keith has been estranged from his family for years, but he's desperate. He calls his father, who is furious and refuses to sign the papers unless Keith promises to return to the Baptist faith and move back home. Keith agrees, and his father drives to the hospital to retrieve him. But when they're pulling away, Keith jumps out at the first red light and runs as fast as he can, leaving his father raging. Keith goes straight to the temple where he's welcomed with open arms. In fact, surviving the ordeal makes him something of a celebrity. Back at the temple, Keith and Howard decide to take the next step on their spiritual journey. They'll become full on Hari Krishna devotees. It's a big commitment. It means giving up meat, drugs, alcohol, and sex other than for procreation. The Swami initiates them in a purification ceremony and gives them Hindu names. Howard becomes Hyagriva, and he's also given the honor of editing the Swami's English translation of the Bhagavad Gita. Keith is Kirtana Nanda. Soon, the Swami gets written up in the underground press. He's excited to have his story told. After decades spent in quiet spiritual study, his spiritual master challenged him to bring Krishna to America. But he was an old man with no money. Still, he obeyed. He talked his way into a free ticket on a freighter. He had a heart attack during the journey, but he kept his resolve, praying and chanting even when he couldn't get out of bed. He recovered, and when the ship arrived, he found his way to Grenish Village, where he rented a grimy storefront and began preaching his message of love of God, non materialism, and spiritual fulfillment. Now his story is imprint. It's all too much to be a coincidence. Something bigger must be guiding him. The village hippies and bohemians flock to his lectures. Some street people join as well, though maybe just for the free food. A few of the new members have criminal records, but that doesn't matter. One is welcome. One evening, a few months after Keith and Howard's initiation, a serious young man named Hans Kerry enters the temple. Keith chats with him after the service and can see immediately that he's different from most of the hippies who wander in. In fact, Hans isn't a hippie at all. He thinks hippies are lazy and undisciplined. Hans tells Keith that he was raised Catholic, and while he's rejected Catholicism, he's still searching for meaning, and Keith gets it. Giving up the faith you were raised with doesn't mean giving up faith entirely. You need to find your own spiritual path. Hans is taken with the Swami's lecture. He joins in the ecstatic chanting and dancing afterward. Now he's charged up. I've smoked a lot of weed, he tells Keith, and I did acid for a few months, but I realized it's a dead end. I've been there to God, brother, Keith tells him. His contemporary, Krikshna, is a high that never ends. As Hans is leaving, Keith gives him a small paperback book written by the Swami called Easy Journey to Other Planets. Hans doesn't wait to get back home. He sits in his car, opens the book, and devours it immediately. One can transfer himself to whatever planet he likes, possibly to planets where life is not only eternal and blissful, but where there are multiple varieties of enjoyable energies. Anyone who can attain the freedom of the spiritual planets need never return to this miserable land of birth, old age, disease, and death. Hans knows, to most people, this sounds crazy, but Hans is pretty miserable on planet earth. He's struggling to make a living as a freelance photographer, his relationship with his wife is strained, and he's living in New Jersey. By the time he finishes reading the pamphlet, he's hooked. He walks the street chanting at the top of his lungs. He arrives home and announces to his wife that he's found what he's been looking for. The next day they both return to the temple, and after a month they both decide to become devotees. The Swami performs the ritual to initiate them and gives them their new names. Hans will become Humsaduta. Humsaduta's practical nature and self discipline quickly prove to be an asset for the temple. The congregation is growing, but they aren't taking in enough money by silently passing around a basket during the service. Hans realizes that there has to be an incentive to make people give. He gets an idea while they're dancing, and someone blows a conch shell. It's loud, almost painful. So at the next service, as the basket is passed, Hans announces he's blowing on the conch shell until the basket is full. The basket quickly fills. The conch ritual becomes standard routine, and soon they're taking in enough money that the Swami feels they're ready to bring Krishna consciousness to the world. By the winter of 1967, the temple is doing well. Swami has disciples he can trust, and money is flowing in. It's time to expand. The world's fair is about to open in Montreal, and the Swami cannolly dispatches Keith to open a temple there. Keith is thrilled to be chosen, but he's less thrilled when the Swami tells Homsaduta to join him a few months later. Keith thinks he can handle everything on his own, but the Swami thinks Homsaduta's discipline and attention to detail would be a good compliment to Keith's passion and charisma. Next, the Swami sends another devotee named Mokunda to open a temple in San Francisco. The movement is growing. In Montreal, Keith and Hans rent an old bowling alley, and they're soon getting several new devotees every week, thanks to a few local press pieces. But rather than working together like the Swami had hoped, they compete with each other. Their relationship is decidedly uncretionally. Krishna consciousness calls for the elimination of ego. It's the ego that wants fame, wants power and material things. Only by giving those things up can the ego be vanquished, so the soul can shine through. This is part of Krishna consciousness, but it's not so easy for two ambitious young men to put into practice. Keith has been giving a lot of thought to the future, both his own and the future of the movement. Last July, the Swami founded Iskhan, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. The Swami is thinking big, temples in every country, a worldwide movement with millions of followers. Clearly, the Swami won't be able to run all of it on its own, in his 70s and with a heart condition. Keith knows he's the only logical choice as his successor. He has the drive, the intellect, and the vision to take things to the next level. Unfortunately, Hans feels the same way. He thinks he should be the chosen one, and soon he and Keith are behaving like siblings fighting for their father's attention. When the Swami calls, Keith makes sure he's the one who answers the phone, and he monopolizes the conversation. He sets himself up as the Swami's go to guy, which enrages Hans. But Hans isn't Keith's only concern. He's also worried about Makunda, the devotee the Swami sent to San Francisco. Success out there is pretty much guaranteed. The city is crawling with hippies and flower children looking to expand their consciousness. He wonders why the Swami didn't send him there. Maybe thought Montreal was more challenging? Keith was better suited to take it on. But then why did he also send Hans? Keith finds himself spending more and more time worrying about how to get the Swami's attention, and less time on how to build up the Montreal Temple. In the Swami thinks, he's sending his best men to spread Krishna's message of love. Instead, he's unwittingly planting the seeds of a rivalry, one that will split the Hari Krishna's in a battle for control, lead to theft, drug dealing, abuse, and eventually, murder. The best weddings are always filled with unforgettable moments and personal thoughtful touches. Like my friend Sassali's wedding where the groom tossed the bouquet. For any kind of wedding you want, there's one place to start. Zola. Zola has everything you need, all in one place. They've thought of everything. Zola has a new use, invites, registry, and more, and they'll be with you every step of your wedding planning journey. Whatever your style or budget, Zola has you covered, with venues, photographers, florists, and more to make your wedding happen. 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He rents the Avalon Ball Room and plans a concert called the Monterey Rock Dance, where the Swami will be the main attraction. He recruits the grateful dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Janice Joplin. Makunda's concert is the hottest ticket in town, and the Swami is delighted. Keith and Howard drive in for the event, but Keith is seizing. It's bad enough that he's stuck in an old bowling alley in the frozen north when Makunda got assigned to San Francisco. But worse, the concert wasn't his idea. He wants to beat the Swami's golden boy, and Makunda is very much in his way. On January 29, 1967, the line for the Monterey Rock Dance stretches around the block. The hell's angels roar up on their harleys. There's a light show going on inside. Timothy Leary speaks on stage, and acid is passed out like candy. Alan Ginsburg introduces the Swami, who gives a brief speech explaining the hurry Krishna mantra. Ginsburg leads the chant. Janice Joplin's band joins in. Then the grateful dead. All the bands join in, as the chant spreads to the audience, and soon everyone is dancing and chanting. Swami Prabhupad is officially a rock star. And he keeps a rock star's hectic schedule, leading chanting and dancing at the temple and in Golden Gate Park, then working late into the night on his translation of the Bhagavad Gita. But unlike most rock and rollers, he rises at 3 a.m. every day. It's a grueling schedule for a man in his 70s, but he doesn't ever seem to feel fatigue. Five months later, when the Swami returns to New York, Keith is there to meet him. Keith shrewdly figures it's more important to be next to the Swami than to fight with Hans Montreal. Let Hans think he's won. Meanwhile, Keith will be curing power and influence with the Swami. On Memorial Day in 1967, Keith is at the Swami's side when the old man has a stroke. Over the Swami's objections, they rush him to the hospital, where the doctors find that besides having a heart condition, he's also diabetic. The Swami insists on a treatment regimen consisting only of diet and massage, and the devotees take shifts, massaging him every waking moment. Soon, he's well enough to refuse treatment, leaving his doctors perplexed. He announces that he wants to leave the hospital, but the doctors won't release him. Keith, already a veteran of hospital escapes, enlists a couple of other devotees and tries to sneak the Swami out in a wheelchair. But the doctors block their way and declare that the old man will die if he leaves. But the Swami brushes them aside and demands to be discharged. The doctors cave. The devotees rent a mccottage on the Jersey Shore where he spends his days resting, chanting, and being massaged. The Swami's near death experience has left his followers shaken, especially Keith. The movement is growing, they now have temples on both coasts and in Canada. If the old man dies, who will take over? There's no plan, and he hasn't appointed a successor. It nulls a Keith. A few weeks after his stroke, the Swami decides to complete his recovery back in India. He'll return to Vrindabhan, the tower he did his spiritual study. He'll have access to Ayurvedic doctors and feel closer to Krishna. And if things don't go well, that's where he wants to die. But he decides to take Keith with him, and Keith is thrilled. It's an affirmation that he's the Swami's favorite disciple. As long as he plays his cards right, he will return from India, as the new leader of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. In August, Keith and Swami fly to Delhi and then take a train to Vrindabhan, the holy town in northern India where it said Krishna spent his childhood. White stone temples devoted to divine love, dating back hundreds of years, dot the streets. Keith's excited to visit the town where the Swami did his decades of spiritual study, and he believes that this is his opportunity to convince the Swami that he should be his unknowited successor. But as soon as he steps off the train, his grand fantasies evaporate in the 110 degree air that's pungent with the smell of sewage. The Swami's room, which they share, is cramped, dirty and bug infested. And to make things worse, Keith gets dysentery and spends days confined to bed unable to eat. But on August 28th, Krishna's birthday, the Swami bestows a great honor on Keith. He anoints him as the first American Sanyasi. It doesn't put him on the same level as his teacher, but it means that other devotees should now address him as Swami Keith, or Swami Kirtananda. It also means that Keith has renounced the material world and will devote his mind and body to the service of Krishna. It's a huge honor for someone so young and it solidifies Keith's belief that he can take the movement to the next level. He understands American culture and how Americans think. The Swami just needs to trust him. In fact, Keith thinks the Swami should step aside now. He's 71. Keith is only 29. He has the energy and the drive that's needed. But the Swami shows no signs of stepping aside or even slowing down. He wakes Keith at 3 every morning to chant. Keith wants to talk, not chant for hours. He's brimming with ideas of how to expand the movement in America. Many of the initial devotees were drawn to Krishna consciousness because it felt so different from the religion that was forced on them as children. But there are others who want something familiar to hang on to. Keith believes they need to package it in a more palatable way. Being the son of a Baptist preacher, he knows a thing or two about how to market a religion to Americans. He tells the Swami, we have to make the movement less exotic. We should wear street clothes instead of robes, and we can emphasize all the ways it's similar to Christianity. That there's only one God and that they're all the same. Christ is Krishna and Krishna is Christ. The Swami dismisses him with a wave of His hand. There is no need to change anything. Krishna has a plan for us. No, that's chant. After a few more weeks, Keith grows frustrated and asks to be sent back to New York. He feels like he's needed there. The movement is ready to explode and he can provide the right kind of leadership. But the Swami has a different idea. He instructs Keith to go to London and open a temple there. It's not with Keith wants, but at least it'll get him out of India. But on the way to the airport, Keith feels something tugging at him. He's making a mistake. What's the point of opening another temple if the entire movement is headed in the wrong direction? The Swami keeps telling him to leave things up to Krishna. What if Krishna is trying to guide him now? He steps up to the ticket counter, but he's distracted. The question keeps echoing in his head. What does Krishna want me to do? Will you be checking any bags to London, Mr. Ham? Excuse me, sir. No, then here's your boarding pass. You'll be at gate 12 and boarding will be going to London. No, I mean, no, I'm not going to London, but your ticket, sir. I need to change it. To where, sir, where Krishna needs me. And that would be, get me on the next flight to New York. It's the first time Keith betrays the Swami, but it won't be the last. Keith isn't worried. He's convinced that his ideas about the future of the movement are right. He tells himself that Swami doesn't understand the American psyche. He'll go to New York and preach his version of Krishna consciousness. He'll draw crowds. He'll kick the movement into overdrive. The Swami will realize his mistake and he will bow down and thank Keith. And most importantly, the Swami will see that the only choice to be his successor is Keith. From Wondering, this is Episode 1 of the Hari Krishna murders from American scandal. In our next episode, Keith is exposed and expelled when he comes back with even bigger ambitions that become deadly. A quick note about our reenactments. In most cases, we can't know exactly what was said, but all our dramatizations are based on historical research. American scandalous hosted, edited and executed produced by me, Lindsey Graham, for airship. Sound designed by Derek Ferrance, music by Lindsey Graham. This episode is written by Steve Chivers, edited by Andrew Stelser. Our consultant for this series is Henry Daktorsky, author of the book, Killing for Krishna. Executive producers are Stephanie Gens, Marshal Louis, and her nonlopest for Wondering. What if your family was the victim of a home invasion? Or you woke up in the morgue? Or you were seriously injured miles from help? What would you do? This is actually happening. Asks our listeners this very question while we bring you captivating real life stories of trauma and perseverance. This is actually happening brings listeners extraordinary true stories from the people who lived them. You'll hear stories about conflict, turmoil, or threats that dramatically alter the course of someone's life. Each episode is an exploration of the human spirit and how survivors manage to overcome hardship and move on with their lives, even thriving afterward. The new season of this is actually happening is available ad free only with Wondering Plus. And if this new season isn't enough, you can listen to more than 120 exclusive episodes available only to Wondering Plus subscribers. Join Wondering Plus on Apple Podcasts or on the Wondering app.