Post-9/11 pied piper

San Francisco Examiner/June 4, 2003
By J.K. Dineen and Adriel Hampton

A bit Ken Kesey and a bit Jim Jones, farmer and self-proclaimed "9/11 Bounty Hunter" John Jenkel is assembling a following of disaffected youth who ape his wild claims of government conspiracy.

Jenkel has been after Mayor Willie Brown and other Bay Area elected officials for at least several years. Now, he says a recent inheritance allows him to hire people to back up his campaign to impeach the president and expose Brown as shadow chief of the United States. He teaches them from a hand-assembled book some call "John's Bible."

Jenkel has pressured various local officials for years and now has a theory that Brown and Vice President Dick Cheney control the country with Bush acting as their puppet.

For the past several weeks, about a dozen followers have joined Jenkel in public comment sessions before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Tuesday, Jenkel's followers singled out individual supervisors in their comments.

The focus of their ire was House Joint Resolution 20, a bill that would revoke President Bush's war power. Jenkel's kids repeatedly said they wanted the board to push Rep. Nancy Pelosi to strengthen the law.

Outside City Hall, Jenkel's crew, mostly in their early 20s with tattoos and multiple piercings (and one in Marilyn Manson-style drag) waved signs at passing cars.

Jenkel told The Examiner he pays his followers $12 an hour to do a variety of tasks and that his "misfits," as he calls them, are people disenfranchised by the system.

According to Jenkel, the Secret Service and Sonoma County Sheriff's Department visited his ranch on May 23. He said they told him to stop sending blast faxes of the 9/11 theories he espouses at Jenkel claims to have more than 15,000 fax numbers and e-mail addresses.

"They asked me what in the world it would take for me to stop," Jenkel said. "I said, 'The impeachment of your boss.' "

The sheriff's department said it had not visited his ranch, but a Jenkel follower who identified himself as Wiley Mann confirmed the visit. Jenkel claims he taped it.

Jenkel kids say that same day, San Francisco police raided their Mission co-op in full-force. A man called Harrison said officers held a gun to his head and asked if there were any babies inside the house because the property was a health hazard. Police also wanted to know if it was a squat or if the residents were paying rent, Harrison said.

No one was arrested, according to SFPD records. A spokesman at the Hall of Justice couldn't confirm whether officers visited the house that day. However, Harrison said a book of Jenkel's theories was missing after the raid.

While police weren't particularly familiar Jenkel's movement, local politicians are.

After leaving City Hall on Tuesday, Jenkel and crew headed to the State Building and Sen. John Burton's office, where they repeated the HJR 20 plea.

"Have you read the Bible?" Harrison asked a reporter, as Jenkel briefed them on Burton potential role in their quest. "This one? John's?"

He passed over a book Jenkel calls "Impeach Them," a bound volume of photocopied news articles, lawsuits, bill language, meeting minutes and cartoons overlaid with Jenkel's extensive handwritten notations accusing politicians of treason and endorsing a system of "no beliefs."

Jenkel said his youth movement is also the precursor to a school called "Natura" which he plans to build up north in Graton.

Asked about perceptions that he might be building a cult, Jenkel scoffed.

"Fine! Come up and see my cult. I'm a farmer. I have horses, quail," said Jenkel, who has a ranch outside of Sebastopol. "That's pure nonsense."

After leaving Burton's office, Jenkel took the crew for lunch near City Hall, then said he was going to the Sonoma County Supervisors meeting, then the Santa Rosa and Sebastopol city councils to log public comment.

"You definitely have your strange contacts at City Hall," Brown spokesman P.J. Johnston said, but "very few people are as energetic about sending bizarre press releases through everyone's faxes.

"When communications with this office are so incredibly bizarre and confused, the best thing is just to ignore them," Johnston said, adding that the new following makes the whole thing sound "very David Koresh," referring to the Texas cult leader who took his followers to a fiery, fatal showdown with federal agents.

San Francisco Supervisor Chris Daly said he is concerned that people like Jenkel detract from a massive peace movement, and laughed off Jenkel's Tuesday tirade.

Asked if they seemed to be a cult, Daly withheld full judgment: "I would hesitate to say that because that's something thrown around a little bit too easily, but, this is starting to get weird."

Jenkel has managed to alienate his neighbors in Sonoma County. Kate Burroughs, who owns Harmony Farm Supply and Nursery, said Jenkel's paid picketers have been blocking her driveway and stopping the cars of customers.

"He is not out there, it is his paid minion," she said.

Burroughs is frustrated by signs urging motorists to "Honk for Bush in jail" -- a sentiment that is apparently well received by Sonoma County motorists.

Recently, a picketer in a motorized wheelchair spent the day traversing back and forth in front of her driveway.

"It's non-stop, incessant honking," Burroughs said. "I'd like the noise pollution to stop."

She said rumors are rampant in town about the activist's intentions.

"Some people have said he is trying to organize a school of truth," Burroughs said. "Maybe he is trying to start a cult."

Lt. Jeff Weaver of the Sebastopol Police said Jenkel's ranch is outside of city limits. But, its remote location has not prevented the department from coming in contact with the quirky activist.

"He has called to report damage to his pile of manure," said Weaver. "I don't know how you damage a pile of manure."

Since the Summer of Love in 1967, The City has been home to charismatic figures like the benevolent hippie leader Kesey, an acid guru who traveled in a bus of Merry Pranksters, and the malevolent Jones, who led hundreds of worshipers to their deaths in a Guyana compound.

Cult expert Rick Ross of the Ross Institute called the Jenkel/Natura situation "very odd."

"I have not heard of the group and no family have called me complaining. I would be concerned about accountability," Ross said. "I would want to see pay stubs. I would want to see the financial nature of the relationships. Do they have a board? Can they fire him? Do they keep reports?"

Sebastopol City Manager Dave Brannon said Jenkel has made public comment for some time but only recently started showing up with his acolytes.

Tuesday afternoon, about eight of those who have worked for Jenkel sat on the front steps of their Mission house. One was naked except for his red socks and high tops. None were interested in giving their real names and they asked that their address not be published. Some threw food at a reporter from an open window.

"He's convincing," Harrison said of Jenkel.

"When he found out our friend was homeless he found him a place and paid the down payment and got him a phone," said another kid.

Jenkel buys his followers Muni passes, gives them food and takes them out to his ranch, the kids said. One named John met him while playing the guitar on the street.

"He said he needed help spreading the word and said he would pay me so I called him," said John. "He's got millions but his farm is not all blinged out. It's modest and run down. There are little shacks where I think he has homeless people staying sometimes."

While most of the Jenkel kids at City Hall on Tuesday were from The City, some were Santa Rosa residents.

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