All photos courtesy of The Church of Euthanasia
On September 13, 1993, motorists driving on the Massachusetts Turnpike witnessed an unusual sight: A highway billboard for the Museum of Science in Boston had been covered by a ten-foot-by-ten-foot black banner with the words "Save the Planet—Kill Yourself" painted in white.It would be the first high-profile action by the newly formed Church of Euthanasia, featuring the group's most enduring slogan. Throughout the 1990s the church orchestrated several similarly outrageous public actions—including an appearance on the Jerry Springer Show—seeking to draw attention to the environmental dangers of overpopulation.
Today the Church of Euthanasia website is still up and serves as an archive, although the church itself is gone. Its aggressive campaign against the existence of humanity never caught on, but you can say this for the group: In falling apart, at least they practiced what they preached.
Filmmaker Stephen Onderick is currently chronicling the church's mostly forgotten history in a new documentary, which he is funding via Kickstarter. "To some, the Church of Euthanasia was a heroic organization calling attention to important ecological issues,to others it was an elaborate series of pranks," Onderick said, "to still others it was a genuinely dangerous cult."While the documentary is still in the initial stages, it promises to be a compelling retrospective on a movement that was likely the most controversial pseudo-religion of the 1990s. Onderick has obtained access to several hours of never-before-seen footage, as well as 12 hours of interviews with the key players.The Church of Euthanasia was founded in 1992 by software developer and DJ Chris Korda. Korda was inspired by the ideals of Dadaism, an artistic movement that emerged during Word War I out of a desire to, as one artist put it, "to destroy the hoaxes of reason and to discover an unreasoned order." According to poet Tristan Tzara, the beginnings of Dada "were not the beginnings of art, but of disgust."On the church's site, Korda says this inspiration came to her in a dream, during which she was "confronted [by] an alien intelligence known as The Being who speaks for the inhabitants of Earth in other dimensions. The Being warned that our planet's ecosystem is failing, and that our leaders deny this. The Being asked why our leaders lie to us, and why so many of us believe these lies." She was also heavily influenced by news of global climate change, a view she claims to have begun forming as early as age 10, after reading a New York Times headline about the irreversibility of global warming.
For this reason, the church—and Korda is adamant that she perceives it as a religion first and foremost—has one commandment: "Thou shalt not procreate."I recently interviewed Korda and asked if there had ever been members who had to be expelled for violating it. "Regrettably yes," she told me. "There have been a number of excommunications, and it's been my unpleasant duty to enforce them. Since we only have one commandment, there's zero tolerance for failure to uphold it."There are also four pillars, which are voluntary: suicide ("optional but encouraged"), abortion ("may be required to avoid procreation"), cannibalism ("mandatory if you insist on eating flesh," but only if someone is already dead), and sodomy ("optional, but strongly encouraged")."Save the Planet, Kill Yourself" emerged as a succinct way to express alarm at the destruction of the environment, as well as a pathway to the only viable remedy Korda could identify, which was voluntary population reduction.
The first effort Korda made at popularizing this phrase was at the 1992 Democratic National Convention in New York City, where she passed out stickers with the slogan to other convention delegates. A few months after that, she began applying the stickers on police vehicles. The slogan would become a staple of the church's abrasive banners and signs at public events for years to come. It was also the name of Korda's 1994 EP—released, fittingly, on the label Kevorkian Records.
In 1994, the church was recognized by the state of Delaware; 501(c)(3) tax exempt status would follow a year later. A journal called Snuff It was published and mailed to members along with Korda's "e-sermons." On September 10 of that year, the church held its first public march as part of Boston's Population Awareness Day event. Korda led a contingent of about a dozen members while carrying a stick with a bloody baby doll and a torn strip of an American flag tied to it—a pro-abortion symbol. Other props included a large fake RU 486 abortifacient pill that was rolled around while everyone chanted "Save the planet! Kill yourself!" The church was promptly ejected from the festivities.
The church's pro-suicide advocacy began in 1995 with the purchase of a billboard with a 900 number for a "Suicide Assistance Hot-Line" and the message: "Helping you every step of the way! Thousands helped! How about you?" The idea was to play callers pre-recorded messages with suicide instructions, but the phone company, recognizing these intentions, never activated the line.The church's website would go on to feature explicit suicide instructions. This was back in the days when Jack Kevorkian was actively assisting people in ending their lives, and Korda figured the legal risk of advocating suicide was low. She would openly tout the instructions on the site as a way to get publicity, telling Shovel in 1999 that it was "a disappointment to me that no one's actually killed themselves and then had their parents sue us. That would actually punch through the media shield."
That was a dark bit of foreshadowing, it turned out: In 2003 a woman in Missouri was found dead lying next to a printout from the Church of Euthanasia site. Jennifer Joyce, the top prosecutor for the city of St. Louis, publicly threatened the church with voluntary manslaughter charges, and the instructions were promptly removed. When I asked Korda, who is generally verbose and fast-talking, if there had ever been any follow-up by the courts, she paused, then said rather slowly, "I am unaware of any such activity, nor would I be disposed to comment on or discuss such an activity if it did in fact exist."In 1996, the church began counter-protests against anti-abortion activists in the Boston area. The first weekend, church members stood outside a Boston clinic carrying signs to provoke demonstrators with messages like "Fuck Breeding," "Sperm-Free Cunts for the Earth," "Fetuses are for Scraping," "Depressed? Commit Spermicide," "Make Love, Not Babies," "No Kid, No Labor," "Love the Earth, Tie Your Tubes," and "Feeling Maternal? Adopt!"The following weekend, they visited a clinic that had been the site of a shooting a year earlier and had attracted a large group of protesters from the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. This time they showed up with the same signs plus a new 15-by-six-foot banner that said "Eat a Queer Fetus for Jesus." The carnivorous babies on sticks made a reappearance "just in case there was trouble," except now they had blood-red fake skulls on top. A month later the church was antagonizing anti-abortion demonstrators outside a different clinic, led by a member dressed as a Catholic priest and carrying signs for "Pedophile Priests for Life."
In 1997 the church upped the ante by creating a fake organization called the Boston Fertility Task Force. Onderick described the operation in an email: "[They] proceeded to use it to draw real pro-life protesters out to a completely invented protest of fetal trafficking at a sperm bank in Boston. They also put up posters around town claiming that Courtney Love would be at the Sperm Bank to be inseminated on the day of the protest, and they showed up to find nuns fingering rosary beads and teens waiting around to see Courtney Love outside of the building, at which point they unveiled a two-story tall penis puppet that ran through traffic toward the building and ejaculated pseudo-sperm in front of the building.""We went toe-to-toe with some very dangerous people," Korda said. "We were on the Operation Rescue list of official enemies. We discovered that when we did the Walk for Life and they had a book full of their official enemies. They had a whole page devoted to the Church of Euthanasia, with pictures. They hated us. They wanted us dead, and these were not guys to be messed around with."The same year, Korda and other church members were on the Jerry Springer Show in what is their most widely-viewed media appearance. The episode, called "I Want to Join a Suicide Cult" (video here, transcript here), was framed in typical Jerry Springer fashion as a plea to "Grace Petro" (actually church member Nina Paley) to not join the Church of Euthanasia. She appeared alongside an alleged ex-boyfriend, who broke up with her due to her desire to not have children, and radical anti-abortion activist Neal Horsley. At the time, Horsley was preparing a website called the "Nuremberg Files," which would list the names and personal information of abortion doctors. Doctors that had been killed would remain on the list with a line drawn through their name.
While agreeing with much of the church's platform, Springer took Korda to task for statements suggesting that a depressed teenager contemplating suicide should be offered assistance, rather than talked out of it. He also repeatedly expressed disgust at the calls for cannibalism and brought attention to the church's literature that provides explicit instructions on "butchering a human carcass."
Korda spent much of the following year making appearances in Europe in support of her techno album Six Billion Humans Can't Be Wrong. In 1999, the church turned its sights on the environmental movement with a homemade raft that traversed the Charles River during Boston's WBOS Earthfest festival. The raft had an 18-by-five-foot "Save the Planet, Kill Yourself" banner and struggled to stay afloat, but managed to play music from Korda's CD loudly enough to draw crowds. Eventually the police escorted the raft to shore and told the activists to turn the music off.The next year, the church attempted to join the environmentalists outside Boston's Bio 2000 conference. While most protesters were there to oppose genetic engineering and other activities that were part of the conference, the church wanted to show its support for the conference, on the grounds that destroying mankind was a desirable outcome. They carried a banner that said "Human Extinction While We Still Can." According to Korda, the protest organizers cut the cables to the group's sound system and then proceeded to beat them up. It would be the last of the group's public demonstrations.
"What we were doing was extremely dangerous," Korda said. "I got tired not just of the hate and the death threats, of which I have boxes, but I got tired of nearly being beaten to death. A lot of these actions took place in the street, and by the time the police showed up we were happy to see them. Usually by that point we were just about to go to the hospital. It's fair to say that most of the most formidable opposition didn't come from Christians, whether of the Catholic or Baptist variety, but from leftists, because they believe in 'direct action.' They don't like the police. They'd much rather beat us up. You can imagine why we might get tired of that."
In December 2001, Korda would court controversy one last time, by releasing a music video called "I Like to Watch." The video was a mashup of amateurish techno with clips of porn, sports, and the 9/11 attacks. Korda told me that it accurately captured her "perverse fascination and sexual arousal" at watching the attacks on television."Politically, it felt good to see Americans dying for a change. There was a sense of justice, of the 'chickens coming home to roost,'" she said. "In gender terms, the huge gash made by the plane was obviously female. I had witnessed a Freudian drama on a national scale: America's penis had been turned into a vagina."
Comments like that, coupled with the church's penchant for big, over-the-top displays of crude, vicious misanthropy, might make some wonder if the Church of Euthanasia was, wholly or partially, a huge performance art piece, or a decade-long prank.If so, neither Korda nor her disciples ever broke kayfabe, and even today—the group is dormant, its 501(c)(3) status lapsed because it's not bringing in any money—she seems deadly earnest, eager to discuss the church and in particular her "Antihumanism" manifesto.In the 6,000-plus-word document—the last bits of which are just bullet-points—Korda says that "humans are making a conscious choice to place their interests above the well-being of life, and this is not merely foolish or misguided, it is shameful and criminal. If humans are unable—for whatever reason—to exist in a way that supports life, then humans are unfit, and must be eliminated." She points out that "unlike mere misanthropy, anti-humanism is distinguished by reverence for nonhuman life." A section called "Solutions" outlines ideas for how human elimination might play out, as well as thoughts on "behavior modification" strategies that might avert mass human extinction. (That bit contains a disclaimer in the end stating these are all hypotheticals and not calls for violence.)Korda's manifesto is filled with scientific concepts like the Fermi paradox and the ideas of thinkers like E.O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins. It makes for an odd juxtaposition against the "church-approved" list of resources on HIV/AIDS denialism, for which there is no scientific justification whatsoever. If not completely nihilistic—Korda expresses some sympathy for nonhuman animals—her worldview is bleak to the point of absurdity, and the philosophy behind it is a hodgepodge of strands of radical thought seemingly snatched at random. If the church is a joke, it's not a very funny one.At bottom, though, her demand is very simple: "Don't procreate." I told her that my wife and I had no plans to do so. At the end of the interview, when I asked if she had any final questions or comments, she asked: "Do you want to join the church?"If you'd like to contribute to Stephen Onderick's documentary on the Church of Euthanasia, his Kickstarter campaign is here.Follow Simon Davis on Twitter.