Born in Chicago in 1938, Philip Kindred Dick sold his first story in 1952, his first novel in 1955, and went on to become one of the most celebrated science fiction writers of the 20th century (see FT161:42–46; 162:24–25).
He is now perhaps best known for his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which was the basis for Ridley Scott’s 1982 movie Blade Runner, starring Hollywood crowd-puller Harrison Ford.
On 20 February 1974, Dick was recovering at home from the effects of sodium pentothal, administered after the extraction of an impacted wisdom tooth. Answering the door to receive a delivery of additional painkillers, he noticed that the delivery woman was wearing a pendant displaying what he later described as the “vesicle pisces”. After her departure, Dick began experiencing strange visions of laser beams, geometric patterns, Jesus, and ancient Rome.
As the visions increased, Dick came to the remarkable conclusion that he was being contacted by some form of higher power that he referred to as Valis – an acronym for ‘Vast Active Living Intelligence System’. Struggling to comprehend what was occurring, Dick kept an extensive journal, entitled the Exegesis, which ultimately ran to 8,000 pages of religious speculation.
Over time, Dick’s odd beliefs and worldview became increasingly paranoid. He believed that Valis had specifically contacted him as part of an attempt to have President Richard M Nixon impeached, and he believed that he was being persecuted by both the FBI and the KGB.
And, as a result of seeing dark conspiracies here, there, and everywhere, Dick wrote to FBI Headquarters on 15 August 1975 requesting the declassification of his own FBI file – a file that throws a great deal of light on the man, his motivations, and his unusual beliefs.
MR SCRUGGS AND MR SMITH
Dick knew that there had to be an FBI file on his activities because, as he told the Bureau in the letter requesting access to it: “In the early ’fifties, two agents of the FBI, Mr George Scruggs and Mr George Smith, approached me.”
Undoubtedly, one of the prime reasons why Dick attracted attention from the FBI was a series of bizarre letters he penned to the Bureau in the early 1970s, in which he described his personal knowledge of an alleged underground Nazi cabal that was attempting to covertly manipulate science fiction writers to further advance its hidden cause.
And the nature of that cause was even more bizarre: to initiate a Third World War by infecting the American population with syphilis. On 28 October 1972, Dick wrote to the FBI and outlined his distinctly odd beliefs:
“I am a well-known author of science fiction novels, one of which dealt with Nazi Germany (called MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, it described an ‘alternate world’ in which the Germans and Japanese won World War Two and jointly occupied the United States).
“This novel, published in 1962 by Putnam and Co., won the Hugo Award for Best Novel of the Year and hence was widely read both here and abroad; for example, a Japanese edition printed in Tokyo ran into several editions. I bring this to your attention because several months ago I was approached by an individual who I have reason to believe belonged to a covert organization involved in politics, illegal weapons, etc., who put great pressure on me to place coded information in future novels ‘to be read by the right people here and there’, as he phrased it. I refused to do this.”
Dick then elaborated on his unusual theories:
“The reason why I am contacting you about this now is that it now appears that other science fiction writers may have been so approached by other members of this obviously Anti-American organization and may have yielded to the threats and deceitful statements such as were used on me. Therefore I would like to give you any and all information and help I can regarding this, and I ask that your nearest office contact me as soon as possible.
“I stress the urgency of this because within the last three days I have come across a well-distributed science fiction novel which contains in essence the vital material which this individual confronted with me as the basis for encoding. That novel is CAMP CONCENTRATION by Thomas Disch, which was published by Doubleday & Co.
“P.S. I would like to add: what alarms me the most is that this covert organization which approached me may be Neo-Nazi, although it did not identify itself as being such. My novels are extremely anti-Nazi. I heard only one code identification by this individual: Solarcon-6.”
Were sinister, ultra-right-wing figures really attempting to infiltrate the world of SF as part of some greater, and highly sinister, conspiracy designed to bolster their political aims and ideologies?
Dick appeared to be on a crusade as he sought to reveal his data to FBI agents. Moreover, declassified FBI records show that, only days later, Dick contacted an Inspector Shine in the Marin County Sheriff’s Office, San Rafael, California, to whom he imparted further details of the alleged Nazi/SF plot:
“As you may recall, on or about November 17, 1971, my house at 707 Hacienda Way, Santa Venetia, was extensively robbed. The last time I talked to you, during February of this year, you informed me that you had broken the case; a man named Wade (Jerry Wade I believe) had been arrested with the Ruger .22 pistol of mine stolen during this robbery. I have been in Canada and now in Southern California and hence out of touch. Have any more of my possessions been recovered? Do you have anything more you can tell me at this date?
“While I was in Canada, evidently my house was robbed again, during March of this year. I did not know this until what remained of my things arrived down here; my realtor, Mrs Annie Reagan, had stored them and at least one entire room of stuff is missing; the bedroom in which the control system of the burglar alarm was located, the one room not covered by the scanner. Obviously it was robbed by someone who intimately knew the layout of the alarm system and how to bypass it. I recall that Inspector Bridges thought that the November 17 robbery was an inside job, at least in part. I believe that this later robbery in March of this year proves it.”
Dick had his theories about who was behind the robberies and what their motivations were:
“Only two or three persons that I can recall knew the layout of the burglar alarm system. One was Harold Kinchen, who was under investigation by Air Force Intelligence at Hamilton Field at the time I left (Mr Richard Bader was conducting the investigation; through Sergeant Keaton of Tiberon, he asked me to come in and give testimony. It had to do with an attempt on the arsenal of the Air Force Intelligence people at Hamilton on I recall January first of this year).
“I have more reason to believe now than I did then that Kinchen and the secret extralegal organization to which he belonged were involved in both robberies of my house, although evidence seemed to point more toward Panthers such as Wade. I say this because this is Orange County where I live now, and I have come to know something about the rightwing paramilitary Minutemen illegal people here – they tell me confidentially that from my description of events surrounding the November robbery of my house, the methods used, the activities of Harry Kinchen in particular, it sounds to them like their counterparts up there, and possibly even a neo-Nazi group.
“Recently, I’ve obtained, by accident, new information about Kinchen’s associates, and the neo-Nazi organization theory does seem reinforced. In this case, the November robbery was political in nature and more than a robbery. I have thought this for some time, but until now had less reason to be sure.
“As to the motive of the assault, I’m not sure at all. Possibly it had to do with my published novels, one of which dealt with Nazi Germany – it was extremely anti-Nazi, and widely circulated. I know for a fact that Harry Kinchen and the Japanese relatives he had through his wife Susan had read it. Kinchen’s Japanese-born mother-in-law, Mrs Toni Adams, had read the novel in the Japanese edition.
“Beyond any doubt, Kinchen is an ardent Nazi trained in such skills as weapons-use, explosives, wire-tapping, chemistry, psychology, toxins and poisons, electronics, auto repair, sabotage, the manufacture of narcotics. Mr Bader is of course aware of this. What I did not pass on to anyone, because I feared for my life, is the fact that Kinchen put coercive pressure, both physical and psychological, on me to put secret coded information into my future published writings, ‘to be read by the right people here and there’, as he put it, meaning members of his subversive organization.
“As I told you last November, he accidentally responded to a phone call from me with a code signal. Later he admitted to belonging to a secret ‘worldwide’ organization and told me some details.”
Then, if such a thing were possible, Dick’s story got even weirder:
“The coded information which Kinchen wished placed in my novels (I of course refused, and fled to Canada) had to do with an alleged new strain of syphilis sweeping the US, kept top secret by the US authorities; it can’t be cured, destroys the brain, and is swift-acting. The disease, Kinchen claimed, is being brought in deliberately from Asia by agents of the enemy (unspecified), and is in fact a weapon of World War Three, which has begun, being used against us.
“In a recent confidential discussion I had with my Paris editor, a close friend of mine, this editor ratified my conviction that to allow this coded ‘information’, undoubtedly spurious, to get into print, would be a disaster for this country. These neo-Nazis or whatever they are would ‘break’ their own code and make public this phoney information, this creating mass hysteria and panic.
“There is, of course, no such new untreatable paresis, despite rumours we have been hearing from Servicemen returning from Viet Nam. I have contacted the FBI on the advice of my editor-publisher friend, but I felt I should contact you, too. You may wish to pass this information about the coded information in novels onto Mr Bader.”
In a postcript, Dick concluded: “Harold Kinchen introduced me to only one individual, who asked me to write for his underground pornographic publications; I refused. By accident, I recently learned that this man, ‘Doc’ Stanley of Corte Madera, ‘was a student of the speeches of Hitler during his college days at the University of Chicago, advocating their doctrines and reading them to people’. Neither Stanley or Kinchen mentioned this to me.”
Questioned years afterwards about the burglary, Dick admitted: “[T]hat whole thing is something that fills me with a great deal of anxiety. I try not to think about it.” Nevertheless, he did later elaborate upon his relationship with the FBI and with agents Smith and Scruggs, referred to in Dick’s 15 August 1975 Freedom of Information request to the Bureau.
When asked to confirm some of the rumours that his SF stories of the 1950s were considered subversive and had created problems for him with the authorities, Dick stated:
“They did more than that. They got me many friendly visits from Mr Smith and Mr Scruggs of the FBI… They came to my house every week for what seemed like ever and ever and ever… I honestly expected to be called before the House Un-American Activities Committee… Years later, I wrote away for my FBI file under the Freedom of Information Act. Do you know what it had in it? Things like: ‘…has a long beard and frequented the University of Vancouver’. I delivered a lecture there. I was granted an honorary doctorate and was a guest of the faculty club. They made it sound like I hung out in the shadows selling dope.”
But what did government agents have to say about Dick’s odd theories concerning a grand SF-related conspiracy that implicated Nazi sympathisers in a plot to instigate a Third World War by infecting the population with syphilis?
Were Dick’s beliefs merely the result of too much drug use with his beat-buddies (he took LSD once or twice, smoked marijuana and was a heavy amphetamine user for many years)? Or was there a grain of truth to his seemingly wild claims? There is no doubt that official summaries of Dick’s theories and bizarre beliefs were circulated within the FBI, as a memorandum of 21 November 1972 amply demonstrates:
“DICK said KINCHEN telephoned him on one occasion. When DICK immediately redialed KINCHEN after terminating the phone call, DICK said he thought KINCHEN gave a code name of ‘Solarcon 6’. He said he was not certain as to what was said and did not know why such a code name would be given. KINCHEN claimed he was a member of a ‘secret world health organization’ which was tracking down paresis, an alleged new strain of syphilis sweeping the United States, which caused quick death.”
The FBI files add: “KINCHEN claimed paresis was the start of World War III, that DICK did not have long to live, and he wanted DICK to put science fiction code names in any of his new future science fiction novels. KINCHEN also told DICK that if DICK died, ‘they’ would continue his novels and ‘they’ would place code names in such novels. DICK said he did not know who KINCHEN was referring to as ‘they’ or what the purpose of the code names was. He believed KINCHEN had probably read the science fiction novel Camp Concentration, which was a story regarding paresis.”
Additional FBI memoranda make it clear, however, that after agents spoke with Dick, Bureau officials concluded that any deep investigation of his wild assertions was deemed to be wholly unwarranted:
“The information reflected in those letters was presumption only on [Dick’s] part regarding neo-nazism and Minutemen. He did not have any further business or substantiation, names of individuals, or additional information to which he had previously furnished.” [sic]
Whether Dick continued to believe in the story of Solarcon-6, he apparently gave up trying to convince the FBI. His wife Tessa recalled that “Phil told me he had only sent the first three or four letters, and he stopped mailing them because the FBI had lost interest in the case.”
Philip K Dick died of a stroke in 1982 at the age of 53.
Extracted from Science Fiction Secrets: From Government Files and the Paranormal by Nick Redfern
Published by Anomalist Books, USD 15.95 ISBN: 1933665408