A while back I reviewed Greg Bishop’s Project Beta, an account of how New Mexico scientist Paul Bennewitz ended up subjected to hoaxing at the hands of UFOlogist Bill Moore and AFOSI agent Richard Doty – supposedly at the direction of Doty’s superiors, who needed to steer Bennewitz away from reporting on signals he’d detected in the region related to a secret NSA project. Or, perhaps, Doty was just a bit of a Walter Mitty type who, having been given no AFOSI responsibilities more significant than running a mess hall, decided to make up this self-aggrandising mythology around himself and used credulous UFOlogists to do it.
Either way, the jig was up in 1989, when at the annual MUFON convention Bill Moore stood up and confessed to his role in the whole thing, justifying it by claiming that he’d been led to expect that by helping out with this he could get access to some juicy extraterrestrial secrets. Despite the fact that this, and Richard Doty’s subsequent revelations (even considering their rather self-aggrandising spin), should really have put paid to the idea of an underground alien base in the vicinity of Dulce, New Mexico, this is far from the case.
One of the more credulous treatments of the subject is The Bennewitz Papers by Christa Tilton, now most easily available in a possibly-pirated version entitled Underground Alien Bio Lab At Dulce. This edition was put out by veteran huckster Timothy Green Beckley, who seems to have made a small cottage industry of splurging his own writings and purloined material from others up on Amazon with absolutely shit-awful covers.
In this case, Beckley is being particularly shameless: as well as reprinting The Bennewitz Papers, he tacks on a bunch of appendices which are nothing more than freely-available articles from the Internet on the subject (like the ramblings of “Branton” or stuff from exopolitics.org), and he even goes so far as to credit himself as a co-author – with Tilton getting second billing – despite the fact that there’s less text credited to him in this book than from anyone else.
All he provides in terms of original material of his own is a brief introduction in which he claims – in a way which seems intended to make this whole thing seem more sinister – that Paul Bennewitz committed suicide in 2003. I can find no corroboration of this – the death notice in the local press says nothing about it, Greg Bishop’s Project Beta doesn’t mention it, and you would think that if there were a finding of suicide or reason to think it was suicide other conspiracy theorists would have latched onto that. Either Beckley is breaking the family’s confidences in a really classless way – which would be odd, since Bennewitz’ family don’t talk to UFOlogists and so there’s no reason to think Beckley is at all close to them – or he is simply making shit up in an astonishingly distasteful way.
Speaking of making shit up, if there is any value to the material here – and frankly, even if you just trim it back to Christa’s own self-published book, it’s presenting a rather disorganised collection of notes more than a clear narrative – it’s an illustration of how over the years various people have desperately tried to infer that there’s more to the whole sad affair than meets the eye.
The obvious hoax aspects won’t stop people from trying to tell themselves that there’s an underground alien base in the area – or claiming that they worked there – and the whiff of government disinformation gives oxygen for folk who want to take a very extreme and not especially tenuous reading of material like Martin Cannon’s The Controllers – despite his own later disavowal of the theory. Cannon, in fact, gets mentioned in the acknowledgements section of Tilta’s book, quoted at the end to provide an alternate explanation, and even has some illustrations by him featured in here, and the idea that equally-flashy abduction experiences to those attributed to aliens were in fact happening but were being done by the government seems to be the main alternative theory presented here.
The truth is almost certainly much less flashy, but is also much more difficult to turn into a flashy story you can sell books on the back of. In the case of Bennewitz, what is often forgotten about the whole thing is that when you pull a hoax, disinformation operation, or gaslighting abuse on someone, you are effectively putting their sense of reality through a stress-test – and sometimes you get a catastrophic failure which breaks it entirely.
It’s pretty clear from the material here that Bennewitz was reporting stuff which, in retrospect, are pretty obviously signs of some variety of mental illness – that he believed he was receiving messages which simply weren’t there or things were happening to him that simply were not happening, and the hoaxing reinforced those delusional states of mind and may well have accelerated them.
In particular, it is notable that even here, where Tilton quotes from letters and documents that Bennewitz sent her (and reprints his entire “Project Beta” blueprint for an armed attack on the alien base) after she had apparently gained his trust, that the raw messages (or even Bennewitz’s decryptions of those messages) that Paul claimed to have received from aliens via his computer have never come to light. It is mentioned in the book that Paul thought he’d invented a way for him to communicate with his computer via thought – raising the very real possibility that at least a proportion of these communications with aliens just consisted of Bennewitz using something like a ghost box or some other thing and reading into it what he on some level was hoping to read into it.
Some of Bennewitz’s supposed findings are meant to be more concrete, but not meaningfully so. Bill Moore reported that what he saw from Paul in terms of other messages seemed to just be garbage which didn’t mean anything – just a bunch of noise which Bennewitz had developed a computer program to ascribe an essentially arbitrary meaning to, supposedly through the assistance of the aliens. The human ability to find signal where in fact there is only noise is legendary, and when people get into delusional states of mind it can go into overdrive.
Tilton’s own materials as assembled here make it clear that Richard Doty was telling different stories to different people at different times, but the UFO community seems to have been determined to cling to whatever they could have out of this whole sad affair anyway. Even Bill Moore, in his infamous MUFON speech, essentially declared that he thought it was all essentially true and all the disinformation that had gone out was just to throw people off the scent of the truth by telling more or less the entire truth.
The possibility that the truth is more banal and tawdry and shabby than we have been led to believe is not one that brings people much comfort. But the conviction that the truth must bigger, flashier, and grander than the lie is an intellectual fallacy which must be deeply mistrusted, lest it take you down contaminated rabbitholes like the Dulce, New Mexico situation.