Even for a Senate campaign that’s taken detours through one-world conspiracy theories and debates over the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the latest Rand Paul blow-up, involving kidnapping, forced drug use, and idol worship, is unusually bizarre. The story, according to GQ: Paul, as part of an anarchic secret society at Texas’ Baylor University called the NoZe Brotherhood, abducted a student, forced her to smoke marijuana from a bong, and then demanded she bow before a satirical deity known as “Aqua Buddha.” According to the kidnapped woman, the ritual was intended to mock her Christian faith, part of an ongoing struggle between NoZe and the Baptist school’s religious culture.
One current member said he saw the “Aqua Buddha” anecdote in GQ as “plausible,” given that the group now has “a deity we praise called Elmo” meant to satirize Baylor’s “over-religiosity.”
The story would likely have faded away as too weird to take seriously, especially given that the woman in question didn’t give her name, if the Paul camp had quickly labeled it false. But the Kentucky Republican’s campaign manager, Jesse Benton, responded to GQ with a non-denial, deadpanning in an email that, “During his time at Baylor, Dr. Paul competed on the swim team and was an active member of Young Conservatives of Texas.” Paul’s camp did not return calls from The Daily Beast, but as the story spread across the Web, Benton’s response to other reporters, including Slate’s David Weigel, grew angrier: “We are investigating all our options—including legal ones. We will not tolerate drive-by journalism by a writer with a leftist agenda.” Nonetheless, as of Monday evening, the campaign had not denied the substance of the article.
Current and former members of the NoZe Brotherhood couldn’t confirm Paul’s affiliation or the substance of the allegations. All brothers are typically referred to by their pseudonym in the club’s archives, known as the “Book of the Holy Law,” and Paul’s has not been reported, making it difficult for the club to verify his membership.
“Real names aren’t so important to us,” one current member, who referred to himself as NoZe’s Ark, told The Daily Beast via email.
Several members said the article’s depiction of their organization as an anti-establishment challenge to the school’s Christian affiliation was largely accurate.
“It’s a pretty homogenous population—people are mostly Baptist and white and fairly conservative,” one former member active in the 1990s, who asked to be identified by his college pseudonym SerpicNoZe, said. “NoZe brothers solely exist to give balance to that and provide an alternative for people.”
The group, which the campus newspaper reports is 84 years old, hides the identity of its members, often behind Groucho glasses and wigs, but does not make its existence a secret—it even has its own humor publication, The Rope. The brotherhood was an official school organization until being booted from campus in 1965 when, according to school lore, school officials suspected the group of painting a bridge pink, NoZe’s official color, and then burning it down. Pranks by the group continue to this day; one member recalled stealing a statue of Jesus and leaving a note saying, “Back in three days,” a parody of the resurrection. Other recent examples reported in the campus paper include stealing toilet seats and painting them pink and handing out phony parking tickets.
Members were quick, however, to deny any behavior as drastic as Paul’s alleged spree. NoZe’s Ark said he was “taken aback” by the GQ article, writing in an email that the group’s “initiation process involves some degree of ‘kidnapping’ but it’s all in good fun and no one is ever forced to do anything against their will, or mistreated in any way.” He added that the group “is about humor and undermining the Baylor administration, not abusing fellow students.” He did see the “Aqua Buddha” anecdote in GQ as “plausible,” given that the group now has “a deity we praise called Elmo” meant to satirize Baylor’s “over-religiosity.”
“It’s really egregious,” one former member who attended Baylor in the 1990s and asked to remain anonymous said of the kidnapping story, “but I feel like these are the things that happen in college to some extent—I think it’s the kind of thing you read about everywhere.”
Paul’s opponent, Jack Conway, has not weighed in on the article, but the Paul campaign’s aggressive challenge to GQ over the allegation means it’s likely to stay in the headlines at least a bit longer.
Which is just fine by NoZe’s Ark, who does not appear to care about the “secret” part of NoZe’s “secret society.” “We love publicity,” he said.
Benjamin Sarlin is Washington correspondent for The Daily Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.