John Lauritsen & Ian Young, The AIDS Cult: Essays on the gay health crisis Asklepios USA 1997, 224 pages, ISBN 0-943742-10-2.

Reviewed by Mark K. Anderson


In 1942, American physiologist Walter B. Cannon wrote about a phenomenon he called "voodoo death". In his essay of the same name, Cannon detailed anthropological accounts of Aboriginal tribes whose doctors have the power to kill errant tribe members merely by pointing a bone at the offender. The condemned believes in the power of the shaman’s curse, and within a matter of hours or days dutifully dies as prescribed.

In The AIDS Cult, gay rights activist and HIV/AIDS dissident John Lauritsen has compiled a compelling group of 10 essays on the "bone-pointing" aspects of the AIDS epidemic. All the authors present cause for doubting the HIV=AIDS=death formula. Some question the first equals sign, some the second equals sign, some both.

As co-editor Ian Young writes in his introduction to the book, "All [contributors] agree that the orthodox view of our protracted health crisis - as a highly infectious contagion from without - has been found wanting, and that we must seek the causes of this and other medical dilemmas in our own society, our own assumptions, our group-fantasies, our regimens, our recreations and our rituals."

Probably the most intriguing tale the book has to offer is that of Dr. George N. Hazlehurst, who contributes two essays, "Lessons from Hiroshima" and "AIDS as Information Disease". Hazlehurst, as he writes in "Hiroshima", was an internist during the mid-‘50s with the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, which studied the long-term effects of the first atomic bomb blast in Japan. One phenomenon with which Hazlehurst grappled was the staggering twofold difference in death rate between the exposed population and the non-exposed - a difference that far exceeded what could be explained by the long-term physiological effects of radiation exposure from 10 years earlier.

Hazlehurst came to realize that this "A-Bomb Disease", as the local medical professionals were calling it, was in part, if not in toto, psychosomatic. Hiroshima residents who moved in after World War II and bomb survivors together had developed a strange belief system that stigmatized the survivors, making them outcasts, subjecting them to ridicule and even preventing intermarriage between the exposed and the non-exposed. Through interviews with both populations of Hiroshima residents, Hazlehurst also discovered that the entire community operated on the implicit assumption that exposure of any kind automatically marked one for early death, even if the blast and fallout had had minimal or negligible effect on the survivor.

After his tenure with the commission, Hazlehurst continued to investigate the mind-body connection, and how belief structures can have toxic effects.

In "Lessons from Hiroshima", Hazlehurst applies his experience with "A-Bomb Disease" to HIV and AIDS. The essay does not question the HIV-causes-AIDS theory. Hazlehurst does, however, lambaste the media and AIDS industry for their relentless negativity in asserting without proof or even substantial cause for belief that the presence of HIV antibodies is tantamount to a death sentence.

"If the bridge between Hiroshima and HIV/AIDS could be clearly shown and could gain acceptance by victims of the virus, the unrelieved sufferings and early death of the A-bomb survivors might at last find some meaning and requital", he concludes. "Their sufferings would not have been in vain but a gift to many others who were given no hope in another time, at another place."

If "Lessons" asks the question, "AIDS as Information Disease" gives the kicker. In "Information Disease", Hazlehurst writes of his complete inability to communicate his findings to the AIDS community. It certainly wasn’t for lack of trying. Sending "Lessons from Hiroshima" to more than 200 AIDS organizations, for instance, produced not one response.

Grappling with his frustration, Hazlehurst realized that even he wasn’t getting to the potential root of the problem. In the summer of 1994, he discovered to his surprise that hundreds of reputable scientists has also reached similar dead-ends, only to find that the entire AIDS establishment - working on the assumption that the HIV virus causes AIDS - is founded on an unproved hypothesis. More important, more than 100 of these researchers had begun to suspect that HIV may not be the cause of AIDS at all. The rug was pulled out from under Hazlehurst’s feet only to reveal that there was no floor beneath it.

Taking a more pointed attack in "Information Disease", Hazlehurst cuts through the guarded wording of "Hiroshima" ("Corrections are in order"; "Perhaps support groups could be organized to effect deep changes in attitude") to make a more forceful and direct case. ("Consensus reality is not reality and only prevents our finding and seeing reality." "Our culture, however, is far too civilized, educated and sophisticated to believe in the casting of spells, and when we are all hexed by the AIDS industry’s hoax, we are helpless to act because we have no remedies in place to deal with such phenomena.")

Hazlehurst’s odyssey from AIDS doctor to AIDS dissident is The AIDS Cult’s transformative story. But there’s more to the book than metamorphosis.

Lauritsen’s essays - "Psychological and Toxicological Causes of AIDS" and "HIV Voodoo from Burroughs Wellcome" - provide a perspective that’s in short supply in the AIDS dissident camp: sharp, informed writing from someone willing to ruffle feathers. As a member of New York’s Gay Liberation Front in 1969 and editor of the post-Stonewall publication Come Out!, Lauritsen has been a prominent member of the modern gay press from its outset.

Neville Hodgkinson of the Sunday Times of London observed that Lauritsen’s AIDS-dissident writings, published primarily in the now-defunct New York Native from 1985 to 1996, were "the most trenchantly informative, irreverent, funny and tragic writing of the AIDS years."

Given Lauritsen’s insightful and sharp contributions in The AIDS Cult, Hodgkinson had it right on all of the above counts except one. Lauritsen will have to concede his laurels for the most trenchantly tragic writing to Casper G. Schmidt.

The first AIDS dissident on record, Schmidt published "The Group-Fantasy Origins of AIDS" in the Journal of Psychohistory in the summer of 1984, mere months after the press conference that announced what would later be named the HIV retrovirus as the "probable cause of AIDS". Schmidt’s groundbreaking essay is, naturally, the first entry in The AIDS Cult, and it leaves one wondering that if such a provocative and persuasive case could be made against the viral AIDS theory in 1984, how could so many people have gone so wrong in the meantime? Even if the HIV-AIDS hypothesis is conclusively proven tomorrow, Schmidt’s testimony leaves a black mark across the AIDS industry’s record to date, demonstrating that from the earliest days onward there were thoughtful, reasonable and scientific criticisms of the unproved HIV-AIDS hypothesis that were never even acknowledged, let alone addressed.

A sad legacy indeed. Like Cassandra’s warnings about that wooden horse outside the gates of Troy, Schmidt’s insights were cursed to fall on unsympathetic ears. Schmidt died in 1994 - ironically, of an AIDS-related illness - before he could see a more receptive world begin to take his work seriously. Now, that’s tragedy. *

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