Jeff Knaebel, renunciant ex-American, dead in self-immolation suicide in India

28 January 2011 by Mike Gogulski
Posted in diary | 24 Comments »

In June 2009, I reported here on Jeff Knaebel’s dramatic act of renouncing his US citizenship in India. On 4 July 2009, Jeff was interviewed on Free Talk Live.

Jeff Knaebel, R.I.P.

From the Hindustan Times:

American kills self, blames India, US

An American national disturbed over denial of Indian citizenship allegedly committed suicide by immolating himself on a hill at Virat Nagar, around 75km from Jaipur, in the wee hours of January 26. Jeff Knaebel, 72, had been living in Shimla since 1995 and had repeatedly tried to get Indian citizenship. He was from San Francisco in California.

Superintendent of police (Jaipur rural) Mohan Singh said on Thursday, “The deceased has left behind a suicide note which mentions, ‘January 26, Republic Day, 3/4 moon. In protest of cruel incidents of the US and the Indian government, please don’t disturb until the police comes, documents are in the handbag’ (sic). Apart from some papers, Rs45,000 was recovered from the handbag which Knaebel, as per suicide note, wished to be distributed among poor widows.”

Police have recovered five bottles of a chemical, which Knaebel is suspected to have poured on himself, and a lighter from the spot.

The SP said preliminary inquiry revealed Knaebal was a follower of Mahatma Gandhi.

Had moved SC

On May 14 last year, Knaebel, a veteran of the Vietnam War, had approached the Supreme Court seeking political asylum in India.

Knaebel had torn his passport at Rajghat on June 19 in 2009. “After tearing up my passport, I’m stateless,” he had told HT. Arguing his case, Knaebel said US policies were based on war and destruction.

  1. 24 Responses to “Jeff Knaebel, renunciant ex-American, dead in self-immolation suicide in India”

  2. By dextroz on 28 January 2011

    RIP Jeff Knaebel.

    I hope western media does a better job than the last two days and picks up more about him.

  3. By Seth on 28 January 2011

    I’ve read some of Knaebel’s writings in the past on, and liked what he had to say about the role a so-called US citizen plays in the military death and mutilation machine. Not being a religious person, I just sort of ignored all the Eastern mysticism Kumbaya bullshit.

    Now he immolates himself because he couldn’t get a special booklet of papers from a large criminal gang doing business as the state of India?!! That is just R-tarded to me. Tragic.

  4. By Eric Fontaine on 31 January 2011

    I’m sorry to hear this news, but I am confused as to why he committed suicide as a result of being denied citizenship. What’s so great about citizenship anyway?

  5. By Mike Gogulski on 31 January 2011

    @Seth & Eric: All was know is that he referred to cruelty at the hands of governments.

  6. By Seth on 31 January 2011

    Uhh…huh-uh, the very first line of the article in the Hindustan Times begins with “An American national disturbed over denial of Indian citizenship”.

    I’m just going on what’s been presented on the post.

  7. By joey on 1 February 2011

    I have been following JK for about 5 years from sites like Lew Rockwell. He kind of only had one-track, but that is OK. I don’t think we can any longer refer to him as “Gandhian.” This just breaks my heart

  8. By Seth on 4 February 2011

    Here’s another angle to the story from a Lew Rockwell blogpost. This perspective makes it somewhat easier to understand why he chose to take his own life.


    Jeff Knaebel, RIP
    Posted by Lew Rockwell on January 29, 2011 11:38 AM
    Jeff Knaebel, 71-year-old pacifist freedom fighter in the Gandhian tradition, is dead in India, where he had lived since 1995. For his writings and talks, and his renunciation of his US passport, he had been persecuted by the political police, who work closely with the CIA. “I am killing myself because of cruel incidents in both the U.S. and in India,” Jeff wrote. He had stopped writing for LRC (see his archive) because of the persecution, which he feared would endanger his friends. The police were after him, and getting closer and closer, and he also feared that friends who gave him shelter, as he moved from home to home in secret, would suffer for their acts of kindness, and so he immolated himself in the ruins of an ancient Buddhist temple. His funeral was conducted according to the rites of Hinduism.

  9. By David on 4 February 2011

    Jeff was my friend. I worked with him for 3 years before his death. I visited him in India twice over the last 2 years, and built his 3 websites. He had been planning his end for the entire time.

    His suicide was NOT because of denial of citizenship. He detested the idea of State citizenship. His protest was against continued crimes and atrocities he perceived as being paid for by the tax-paying citizens on the US.

    He was not harassed or pursued by any government, until his public outcries left them little choice, in their minds. I was with him many times as he approached police and government officials, demanding that they either arrest him or recognize that their law was flawed. In fact, he was repeatedly told by police and lawmakers that if he would only remain silent, he could live in peace as a Stateless person. The idea of remaining silent was not acceptable to Jeff, and weighed heavily on his conscience, obviously to the end.

  10. By Talitha on 9 February 2011

    I was in contact with Jeff until his last day of life. I did not agree with his decision to take his life but want to make it clear that he did not take his life for the reasons reported in the newspapers. It had absolutely nothing to do with him being denied citizenship.

    If anyone reads his supreme court case they will see he applied for amnesty and the right to exist as a free peaceful human being. He never applied for citizenship as reported in the news. In fact the court denied his appeal for amnesty and ordered him to apply for citizenship by a certain deadline, this he refused. He refused to participate in what he described as being a product/resource of government ownership. This position made it more difficult for him to travel about and he had a number of incidences where he had to move to avoid bringing legal persecution to those who sheltered him.

    He explained to me he did not want to continue being a fugitive and also he talked about his physical health challenges along with his failing memory. He saw it as important to his souls evolution to not leave while experience advancing Alzheimer’s, to the place of remembering nothing like his father died. He wanted to have conscious memory.

    He chose a difficult path as he weighed out his moral values with what he saw as his duty to act. He saw himself with few acceptable alternatives and sounded to be at peace with exiting this life as his final freedom of choice.
    In my struggle with his decision …I try to stand in his 72 year old shoes … feeling grief waves of understanding him and grief waves of incongruities too.

    My best awareness of Jeff is this > Jeff has said all he wanted to say to the world in this body and gave all he felt he had left to give down to the last moments. To this end he lived and surrendered to the gateway of death in his most authentic way, unto thyself be true. As we all live and approach this gateway in our own mysterious way, knowing or not knowing its time. Who am I to Judge that *

    Interesting 4 people burnt themselves to death on the Parliament steps in Egypt the same day Jan 25th 2011. The revolution that he saw as necessary had taken wings in the Middle East.
    Jeff’s Message to all of us has always been to wake us up to the environmental crises and to liberate ourselves from the distruction of the Corporate Machine.

    May grace carry him in loving presence,
    as it is Now in the hands of the great mystery.

  11. By Judy on 10 February 2011

    Talitha, Thanks for your statement about Jeff, the article was very confusing. I’m glad you were able to clarify his thoughts and situation. I haven’t heard from or about him in years. So sorry to hear about his departure. I hope he is at peace.

  12. By Hans on 10 February 2011

    Well, whoever the guy was he was still an American citizen if he merely tore up his passport (or burnt it). That makes him an American without a passport; not an ex-American.

  13. By Talitha on 11 February 2011

    Jeff was a citizen of Humanity for the world without borders.

  14. By Eric on 11 February 2011

    I write this as a friend and colleague of Jeff’s–but from a long time ago. I appreciate the comments of Talitha and others who knew Jeff in his final years. After nine years of working closely with Jeff, in 1984 I walked away and never looked back. At the time, I felt I had to do it–at the time I thought that Jeff was losing his grip. What I have seen in the past days convinces me that I was right.

    The Jeff that I see in his recent videos was, at base, no different from the Jeff that I knew as a mining entrepreneur. He was always charismatic–a tremendous attribute for an executive. He had extraordinary drive. That’s what it takes to succeed. But he was always a notch or two over what was reasonable. He was always convinced the apocalypse was just around the corner. His charisma and his drive could convince others that this was true–and I include myself in this.

    In the 1970s and 80s, Jeff railed against the stifling bureaucracy that was smothering vision and enterprise. His ‘battle letters’ and full page newspaper as were legend in Alaska. And he was right. But that notch too much could drive people away–his partners, his wife–perhaps, to be a Jehovah’s Witness. He fought a futile battle in the courts to get his business back–with the same vigor that he pursued the bureaucrats. To no avail.

    That’s where I left him. After that, I heard that he threw in with the environmentalists–the ones that gained their ends by using the same stifling bureaucracy he had once fought. I don’t really know anything after that. Perhaps he got disillusioned with trying to convince bureaucrats to use government power to choke off people’s initiative, perhaps not. I know he went to India to crusade for something I don’t understand, even after watching his videos I don’t understand it.

    But the Jeff I saw in the 2009 interview was the Jeff I knew. The same charisma, the same enthusiasm and razor sharpness and drive. Except this time he was crusading for that thing I didn’t understand. One of the reasons Jeff could be so persuasive and so engaging was that he really believed what he said. He seemed convinced that his plan would make a difference and with that notch-too-much he created his own apocalypse. Too bad. I don’t believe that worry over Alzheimer’s had anything do do with it. I just think that’s the way Jeff was.

    My thought on life is that it is a chain. You are born of your parents and pass what you can on to your children. Jeff missed that. In his 70s he talks of his father as if he is still rebelling against him. His children are strangers. That’s not the way of life. It makes me sad. Passports and country don’t matter. Family does.

    But to end on a more positive note, Jeff was truly an inspirational person. The mining exploration company he created had an esprit unmatched in the business. Contrary to what he says in his video, he didn’t squeeze his employees. He treated and paid them well. To this day, they all look fondly on the old Jeff–as I do too.

    We’ll miss you Jeff, wherever you are.

  15. By Talitha on 11 February 2011

    Thank you Eric for sharing your perspective. You did shed light on many obscure places. Jeff was a very complex man. there were many reasons he rationalized for doing what he did. Some of them contradicted each other and I pointed these out to them. I certainly was in conflict around his reasoning. Jeff mentioned in his diary the book by Sallie B. King’s titled “They Who Burned Themselves for Peace” Quaker and Buddhist Self-Immolators during the Vietnam War.”

    I understand completely the extra notch or two you mentioned Eric. Jeff had extreme moral driven principles that I often thought imprisoned him rather than set him free. It was impossible to suggest medication, though I did at one point.
    I thought something would turn him around but it didn’t happen. His last journal arrived today and I am still reading through it.

  16. By Rick A on 24 February 2011

    None of us can know, or will ever know, what our true legacy will be after we die. We might think we know, but we cannot. For the immediate aftermath of our death, the way it will have happened, the people it will have affected, and what those people do after the fact are things we will never know. Many times it takes years, generations, even centuries for a legacy to form. History is nothing, if not a series of unexpected twists and turns of events.

    Take the recent case of Mohamed Bouazizi, a vegetable seller in a small city south of the capital of Tunisia. He burned himself to death in protest of continued rough harassment and unfair treatment by a brutal police force who had confiscated his goods and cart for not having a license to do business. He had simply had enough. But, he could never have known that that act of self sacrifice would be directly and proximately responsible for a social uprising that brought down the government of Tunisia, which in turn would spur on the protests that caused the collapse of the Egyptian regime. Perhaps (I hope) even more good will derive from this chain of events.

    And, so something such unforeseen may develop from the life and death of Jeff Knaebel. He will never know his own legacy. And we may not either, for the above mentioned reasons. For whatever happens, and it may not be as dramatic as the above example, something good will hopefully come out of his life and his actions, and his final act.

    I first knew Jeff as an employer, and then later as a friend. He was probably the most influential, inspiring, dedicated, energetic, and charismatic person I have ever worked for. He was, during those days, what everyone would call a “workaholic”. He even went into the office on Thanksgiving and Christmas Days. He was always fair, though sometimes a bit impulsive. He would take the time to find you a paperclip, if he thought it would be helpful. The company he helped build was legendary in Alaska — kind of the “Delta Force” of geological exploration there.

    Near the end of my final year with his company, Jeff offered me a promotion into a position which I found intriguing. But, I had traveled to India several years before, and had really felt the need to return for a while. I told him, “Thank you, but I cannot accept your offer. I just have to go back to India.” He said to me (and I will never forget this), “If I were you , I would do exactly the same thing.”

    After returning, and while I was still living in Alaska, I saw him from time to time, here and there. I moved away, however, in the mid 1980’s, and kind of lost track of him. Many years then went by, and while attending a mining conference in Mexico, I came across a guy who said he “knew” him, and told me that Jeff had gone off to live in India for some “crazy” reason or another. I was very surprised, and wanted to know more.

    Through a mutual friend I obtained his address, and wrote him a letter, to which he responded. He told me that he would be in the States, not far from the city in which I live, during that coming summer, and would like to get together. So, when the time came, I drove to meet him, and spent an evening with him over dinner.

    He was the still the same Jeff Knaebel that I had known before, and we had a thoroughly nice conversation. I asked him about his initial reactions to India when he first arrived, and he said, “When I first stepped foot there, I felt like I was home.” I knew what he meant. We talked about his studies in meditation, and the work he had done in India, helping to build schools, organize communities, and the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi. He was going to return there after a few more weeks in the US.

    He was, in every way, just like I had remembered him. Just as dedicated, just as honest, just as true to his beliefs. Not crazy, by any means. Totally aware and in touch with what he was doing. And that was the last time I saw him.

    I strongly admired his convictions about our environment, and shared his loathing for the American War Machine, and the soulless, greedy corporations and regimes that dominate the world these days. However, I have read a lot about Mahatma Gandhi, and I am not so sure about Jeff’s interpretation of some of Gandhi’s strategies.

    While Gandhi nearly killed himself (by fasting) several times, he proceeded in a way that forced others (and finally all of India) to deal with his agenda, ultimately causing them to yield and for him to achieve his goals. His slow, and very public ordeals made the whole population a participant on his road to self-sacrifice (which never did arrive by his own hand, but by someone else’s).

    I wish, so much, Jeff , that you would not have done this to yourself, in the way you did. You had so much yet to offer. If you absolutely had had to make some final protest and statement, I wish you would have done it along the Mahatma’s lines, for I don’t know that your lonely, sudden, horribly-enforced death will have the effect that I suspect you were hoping for. I hope it does, but only time will tell.

    That said, thank you, Jeff, for all the good you have done in this world. I hope in your next go-around, you resume the good works, and keep on trying to make things better with the same vigor I know you once had. And for whatever karmic debt that had to be paid off by your final action, I hope it will have been worth it.

    And, thank you, for being my friend.

  17. By Talitha on 25 February 2011

    Rick your words are so meaningful to me. I overflow with tear. Thank you for sharing.

  18. By Delia Maria Knaebel Ph.D. on 4 March 2011

    Dear Talitha,
    I guess you already know about me – Delia Maria Knaebel, the Indian woman who legally married Jeff Knaebel in 2003. I am handicapped and a volunteer social activist and Gandhian since my teenage years.

    Jeff lived with me till the night of February 28th, 2009 after he quietly deserted me and my sick son Siddharth when we were sleeping. He said he would be back in 90 days but neither phoned nor wrote to us after that, not even a line to say hello, sorry, thankyou or goodbye.

    Well what has happened from Feb 09 to Jan 11 is known better to you and to your readers so I will not comment.

    However, I invite you to a open, honest and public dialogue with me here on this website. Are you willing?

  19. By Talitha Thalya on 19 March 2011

    Delia, I would welcome a private conversation with you.

  20. By NoName NoState on 19 March 2011

    Its not erasing… hummm

  21. By Delia Maria Knaebel Ph.D. on 20 March 2011

    Okay Talitha, my email is , write to me.

  22. By Delia Maria Knaebel Ph.D. on 20 March 2011

    Talitha, my email is shalom2000 at you read (your email was listed in Jeff’s network then, I remember) my SOS email of March 2009 which I sent all over the world to friends and well wishers asking for assistance, when Jeff left my home, and I found suicide notes all over the house, you will find my other email there too.

    I say with utmost sadness, unfortunately, nobody took me seriously and everyone thought it was a private husband-wife matter. Now everyone admits differently, too, too late.

  23. By Delia Maria Knaebel Ph.D. on 22 May 2011

    Hey Talitha, I am still waiting to hear from you.
    Delia Knaebel

  24. By Dave on 23 June 2011

    I am working on a documentary film about Jeff’s life. I filmed him for more than a month in India. I am seeking communication from anyone who knew Jeff, and would be willing to be interviewed. Additionally, I need pictures, if anyone has them, of Jeff before India, or in India before 2008. Feel free to contact me at davem at case42 dot com.

  25. By Delia Maria Knaebel Ph.D. on 24 June 2011

    Dear Dave,

    For your information, a film student from Pune’s famous Film and Television Institute was planning to shoot a documentary of three refugees in Pune , Nezad Amiri-Iranian refugee, Dr. Yousuf-an Iraqi refugee (both living in Pune for 30 years without papers and fear going back) and the third was to be Jeff Knabel (who went missing so the film could not be completed). Jeff Knabel promised him that he would sponsor the film.

    I have photos, diaries, correspondence, video and audio footage in plenty in my house, but I won’t part with them until the suicide case is closed.

    Please let us- family and friends here in Pune, know what the objectives of your documentary will be and what message it will bring across to people the world over. I personally sincerely hope that his violent death of self- immolation by fire will not be labeled as Gandhian.

    I would also like to know if his Indian family and 6 year stay in Pune will be mentioned in your documentary and in what light?

    Delia Maria Knaebel

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