A Cosmic Catechism

You might, from the title, think Gregory Reece’s 2007 book UFO Religion is a study specifically of UFO cults, and whilst it does visit them by the end, it’s a broader look at the field than that. Reece is instead giving a general overview of the major beliefs propagated within the UFO field and exploring their origins – treating the UFO scene as a sociological phenomenon, whilst not endorsing its claims himself.

Reece structures the book in a logical fashion, beginning with the parts of UFO culture which seem on the surface to have the least parallels with religious or spiritual beliefs and progressing through to end with an examination of organised religious movements with a significant UFOlogical component.

Thus, in the first section, he covers the assertions of the “nuts and bolts” side of the movement – those who maintain that it is an essentially scientific phenomenon that can be investigated in a scientific manner – progressing from this section from the least contentious and most easily-substantiated claims (“People report seeing things in the sky they could not identify”) to progressively more tenuous positions (“UFOs have crashed”, followed up with “there is a government conspiracy covering up the truth about UFOs”, followed up with “aliens are abducting people and doing experiments on them”). From abductees it’s only a little jump into the world of the contactees, and then from there to the mythologists who promote the idea of ancient aliens on the one hand and those who establish organised religions around their contactee experiences on the other.

By and large, Reece is on the money when he is discussing the various topics he hits on, and is particularly good at teasing out their origins. Some of the points he raises are extremely useful ones which are often overlooked in discussions of the subject. For instance, when it comes to the 19th Century wave of mystery airship sightings, he notes that whilst the newspaper reports of these might be taken at face value by UFOlogists, it was actually commonplace in the era for newspapers to throw in joke stories, particularly with local in-jokes that would be picked up by their contemporary readership.

Reece cites a particularly good example where an 1897 report purported to be a witness statement about a mysterious airship flown by strange beings abducting cattle – but both the author of the affidavit and those who put down their counter-signature as an endorsement of his reliability were all known to be members of a local “Liars’ Club”, a group who’d get together and tell each other tall tales for shits and giggles.

Similarly, Reece points out that the “extraterrestrial hypothesis” – the idea that UFOs are alien spacecraft – didn’t snap into place instantaneously. These days, most people on the UFO scene tend to either assume that the extraterrestrial hypothesis is correct, or espouse even stranger notions, but according to Reece this was not the case back in 1947; whilst the hypothesis did gain steam reasonably quickly, various more plausible theories (like secret aircraft testing or atmospheric phenomena) were in wide currency at the time, and the term “flying saucer” was used in a generic fashion in the media to imply something unidentified in the sky but not necessarily to imply an extraterrestrial origin. In this context, the announcement from Roswell that the Army had recovered material from a “flying saucer” means less than later researchers have tried to make of it.

As Reece unpacks the origins of the Roswell controversy and how it was largely patched together decades after the event by Charles Berlitz and William Moore, he also notes how details from Frank Scully’s claims of a UFO crash at Aztec, New Mexico were grafted on – further undermining the credibility of Roswell for (as Reece documents) Frank Scully had been taken in by con artists. Other legends like the Men In Black are put under the microscope, and by and large Reece is wise to the esoteric agendas pursued by some contactees, making sure to note how George Adamski’s alien contacts had this remarkable tendency to divulge cosmic teachings which aligned closely with the Theosophical ideas Adamski had been promoting previously. He also notes how the “ancient alien” narratives often entail a derisive attitude towards ancient cultures – especially indigenous cultures in places colonised by Europeans.

Reece doesn’t spot some angles – for instance, he glosses over Whitley Strieber‘s boosting of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky’s teachings, he gives David Icke an easy ride because he assumes Icke’s targeting of political elites with his reptoid claims doesn’t overlap with more generalised bigotry, and he outright fails to comment on Bill Cooper and his overlap with UFOlogy, the far-right militia movement, and Christian apocalypticism, despite going into conspiracy theories in general.

He can also tend to have a rather superficial, surface level reading of some of his subjects, and tends to regard contactees as mostly harmless and Heaven’s Gate an aberration without considering the connections between some contactees and darker political and occult outlooks. He doesn’t seem to have included Jacques Vallée’s Messengers of Deception on his reading list at all, which I feel is quite the omission, since Vallée’s book is one of the few I’m aware of to attempt a look at the social and political implications of the contactee movement other than this one.

Despite these few shortcomings, UFO Religion is a very good introduction to the field and worth a read if you want to get an immediate grasp on it. What is perhaps the most interesting thing about it is that the book was published in 2007, and now fourteen years later the field really hasn’t moved forward that much at all. Sure, there’s been new sightings, but little in the way of exciting new outlooks or movements which aren’t just rehashing the concepts in here.

Bye Bye, Black Alchemist

The story so far: after being part of the Parasearch crew he co-led with Graham Phillips, who were responsible for getting the whole “psychic questing” thing kicked off – as chronicled in Phillips and Martin Keatman’s books The Green Stone and The Eye of Fire – Andrew Collins caused a bit of a stir of his own when he put out The Black Alchemist and The Seventh Sword, his own accounts of psychic questing exploits.

The Seventh Sword overlapped to an extent with matters discussed in The Green Stone, but it was The Black Alchemist which really made waves. Bearing delightfully sacrilegious cover art and claiming to reveal the secret behind the Great Storm of 1987, it featured Andrew and his psychic colleague Bernard experiencing a series of psychic run-ins with the titular Black Alchemist – supposedly a nefarious occultist who performed dodgy rituals in sacred sites with the intent of making corrupt use of the British ley line network. Despite never actually confronting the Black Alchemist in the flesh, Collins and Bernard purportedly had repeated psychic clashes with the chap as they tried to disrupt his evil works.

As with much psychic questing stuff, it was almost certainly the result of either deliberate hoaxing or a deliberate desire to believe leading to an indulgence of apophenia, Bernard and Andrew yes-anding each other into believing they were tangling with a real life Dennis Wheatley villain and his coterie of co-conspirators. Still, it was a fun story to entertain even if you didn’t actually believe it, which probably helped the book sell well – a little attention-grabbing controversy from evangelical Christian quarters objecting to the book on moral grounds didn’t hurt. A more direct sequel than The Seventh Sword was probably inevitable.

That sequel was 1993’s The Second Coming. This opens with they disruption of one of the Black Alchemist’s grand plans by Andrew and his colleagues when they stand on top of a hill and yes-and each other into thinking that they are under assault from astral wolves. If this incident sounds familiar, it might be because I mention it in my review of The Black Alchemist – for in the 2015 revision of that book, it’s tacked onto the end to provide a somewhat more satisfying conclusion than was provided in the original version, which just sort of ceases rather abruptly without really coming to any sort of conclusion.

Indeed, in the epilogue of The Second Coming Collins notes that the most common bit of feedback he received about The Black Alchemist was “shame about the ending”. He argues that this is a consequence of the book being an account of real events which were still kind of ongoing as the book was being finished, and which didn’t really offer a nice neat confrontation with the big bad, but for this go-around – covering developments in the case from 1988 to 1991 – he’s selected as a stopping-point an incident at Whitby, since that seemed to be suitably dramatic.

That incident, dear readers, was when Andrew Collins and his friends defeated Dracula.

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GOGathon: Broken Swords From a Faulty Forge

When it came to point-and-click adventures, one specialist publisher of note is the UK’s Revolution Software. With the likes of Lure of the Temptress and Beneath a Steel Sky, Revolution carved out a reputation with games which, in retrospect, aren’t necessarily that hot when it came to the gameplay and writing, but did look remarkably nice for the time and did try to do some interesting new things with the form, even if those things didn’t always pan out well.

Such are the qualities which would eventually feed into the Broken Sword series of games. Set in the modern day, these combined globetrotting plotlines, charmingly realised locations, historical conspiracies, and an endearing cast to attain perhaps the most critical and commercial success of any of Revolution’s products, with five games so far being released in the series. However, are the games actually all that great, or do they hover at that good-to-mediocre level which can yield sufficient sales to keep the lights on but doesn’t result in a product which it’s especially fun to revisit after the hype is done?

Shadow of the Templars

The premise of the first game is simple enough: American tourist George Stobbart is enjoying a holiday in Paris when the café he’s sat outside is shattered by a bombing committed by an assassin disguised as a clown. Slain in the bombing is a certain Monsieur Plantard, a highly-placed civil servant in the Treasury, who had invited intrepid journalist Nico Collard to the café in order to discuss a highly sensitive story with her. When Stobbart and Nico compare notes, the duo realise they’ve stumbled onto something big, and neither of them feel able to set the investigation aside until they’ve got to the bottom of it all. And the mystery seems to have something to do with the secret treasure of the Knights Templar…

1996’s Shadow of the Templars is the shortest of the Broken Sword games, and in its original version you only ever played George. However, an enhanced Director’s Cut version of the game – first released on Nintendo DS and Wii in 2009 before being ported to other platforms, including the PC – expands the game somewhat by adding a number of sections where you play Nico, providing both a new prologue section as you play through Nico’s initial entanglement in the case which sets up the fatal rendezvous with Plantard, and then a few additional episodes as Nico’s personal investigation progresses.

These new additions rather dry up partway through the game, though they do lay the groundwork for a new end-of-game cut scene; this is inevitable because Nico’s investigation reaches a point where the writers couldn’t really do much more with it without significantly redesigning George’s segments of the game, and I suspect they simply didn’t have the budget for it that. Still, on balance I do quite like these new additions; as well as fleshing out the story a bit more, it also boosts Nico’s role in the story appreciably, since in the original version of the plot she didn’t do all that much, and it means Shadow of the Templars is no longer the odd-game-out in the series – for in all the others you play both George and Nico at various points in the game.

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Pickin’ Up Truth Vibrations, Part 6: Icke Unleashes His Demons

In many respects, the success of QAnon and its associated penumbra of conspiracy theories – including the pandemic denialism that is so frequently comorbid with it that it may as well be an official part of the QAnon platform by this point (to the extent that QAnon can be said to have one) – represents David Icke’s greatest accomplishment, since the QAnon movement, in attempting to interpret Q’s gnomic posts, has more or less replicated Icke’s entire worldview.

The bit about the archons and reptilians, maybe not so much – QAnon skews more towards conservative American Christianity, after all, but I am sure you can find corners of the movement who are all about Icke’s Gnosticism as an actual picture of the way the world works – but the whole “millennia-old conspiracy controlling a network of secret societies and public institutions that secretly rules the world” thing is not just a broad general theme they have in common; the outline of the conspiracy, and the central role played by massive Satanic child abuse rituals, are decidedly Ickean in nature.

At the same time, the rise of QAnon may in the long run make Icke redundant. Just as Icke initially appropriated his Grand Unified Conspiracy theory from Bill Cooper and William Bramley, as I’ve previously outlined, so too have the QAnon qult largely taken what they wanted from Icke and moved on. Furthermore, the world of conspiracy theory is a fractious and feud-ridden place – as the careers of Icke, Cooper, and Alex Jones illustrate all too well.

Q has the advantage of being an anonymous cipher (and, quite likely, a role played by a series of different people), and as such can never disappoint the qultists. At worst, perhaps some subset of Q drops will be disregarded by the qult and some other source of Q drops will be latched onto – but the idea of Q behind them will stay eternally fresh, because there almost certainly is not one single, distinct person behind the whole thing to begin with. In extremis, the qult could also decide that they had just been misinterpreting Q’s little riddles. Icke has spoken too specifically, and his life history is too well-illuminated, to pull the same trick.

Note the turqouise shirt.

And yet that plucky scamp SARS-CoV-2 has not neglected David Icke when turning 2020 into an absurd rollercoaster the likes never seen in our lifetime and which I hope we will never see again. On 29th August this year, at a protest in Trafalgar Square against social distancing measures which united qultists, campaigners against 5G mobile data networks, and honest-to-goodness fascists displaying the British Union of Fascists flag, David Icke took to the stage and addressed the assembled crowd with a 12 minute speech.

Continue reading “Pickin’ Up Truth Vibrations, Part 6: Icke Unleashes His Demons”

Revisiting the X-Files, Part 9: Hey, Did You Know the Show’s Ending?

OK, here we are. Having covered the beginning of the show, its creative peak, a season hampered by the need to keep the mytharc static for the movie, the movie itself, two awkward post-movie seasons, and a season which started out trying to convince us that John Doggett was a lead character only to reassure us by the end that he really wasn’t – plus touching on two spinoff shows, one glum and one comedic – we’ve now come to the end of the original run of The X-Files. In the show’s run from 1993 to 2002, it had gone from some obscure cult thing to a massive pop culture juggernaut to a show which, honestly, at the time I was somewhat surprised to learn was still running.

I think it’s fair to say that whilst early X-Files at its best managed to catch lightning in a bottle, said lightning had long since escaped, in part because of goofy creative decisions, in part because first David Duchovny and then Gillian Anderson were just really goddamn tired of it, and in part because the audience were also goddamn tired of it. A loyal following continued to watch – ratings stayed over 10 million viewers an episode right through to season 8 – but discontent had grown over time, especially if you were someone who was actually emotionally invested in the show rather than just having it on because it happened to be on.

Season 8 was challenging enough, what with Duchovny leaving the show but then not really leaving the show. This time around, Duchovny really had left the show, only as we’ll see he hadn’t quite left the show, and Gillian Anderson also didn’t want to be on it full-time any more. A deal was reached whereby Scully’s role in the show would be dialled back and Agent Monica Reyes – a character planted in the previous season just in case this eventuality rose – would step up to be one of the lead X-Files Division agents.

However, whereas Doggett had the first half of season 8 more or less to himself without Mulder upstaging him, Reyes was in the awkward position of being a character to replace a different character who hadn’t actually gone away. In fact, Scully’s closely involved in the investigation more often than not in this season, in a half-in half-out situation even more awkward than Mulder’s. There’s also the small issue that, what with David Duchovny walking again, the show had to deal with the fact that they’d ended season 8 with Mulder and Scully back together and all apparently being right with the world, except that Mulder had been fired from the FBI.

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Timothy Good’s Absurd Enterprise

Timothy Good has retired according to his official page, but you can’t say he didn’t go out with a bang. After Need To Know came across as a last-ditch attempt to reach the level of surface-level credibility that he’d attained with Above Top Secret, his final book – 2013’s Earth: An Alien Enterprise – is one last big blowout, an assertion of such absolutely wild theories as to make his absolute wackiest books like Alien Liaison or Alien Base seem sober in comparison. Like Unearthly DisclosureAlien Enterprise does not seem to have much of an overarching specific point it wants to make beyond “aliens are real!!!”, but whereas that book mostly focused on going on deep dives into a few select cases, this one feels like Timothy Good blowing out his archives and airing his absolute weirdest takes on the subject.

Once again, Good reverts to relying largely on unsubstantiated witness statements, often delivered decades after the fact; in fact, the introduction by Jonathan Caplan QC largely boils down to “Well, we’ve convicted and executed people on occasion on the basis of witness testimony, haven’t we?”; as a fellow member of the legal professions, I can sniff when a lawyer is grasping at straws in a closing argument, and it happens there.

Caplan’s introduction takes the spot which was memorably filled in many of Good’s earlier books by Lord Hill-Norton. He didn’t provide an introduction for this or Need To Know, however, largely because he had been too dead since 2004 to provide any comments. This does not stop the front cover from proudly displaying a quote from Hill-Norton. Though the quote is clearly praising Good’s qualities as a researcher (which is frankly rather incredible if you actually pay attention to what he says in his books and can tell the difference between good and sloppy research), a reader who was not aware of Hill-Norton’s death could construe it as an endorsement of a book which, of course, Hill-Norton had never read.

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Why I Won’t Be Fully Chronicling The Lone Gunmen

The Lone Gunmen is the other, less talked-about X-Files spin-off series. Whereas Millennium was originally not supposed to be set in the same universe as The X-Files, but crossed over with it as time went by until eventually it had a backdoor season finale as an X-Files episode, The Lone Gunmen was presented as being part of the same world from the start. As is obvious from the title, the concept of the show was that it would follow the exploits of the Lone Gunmen – Byers (Bruce Harwood), Frohike (Tom Braidwood), and Langly (Dean Haglund), a trio of dorky hackers who put out the underground newspaper The Lone Gunmen airing their various conspiracy theories to the general public.

Having been invented by Glen Morgan and James Wong (who, perhaps, would have made better showrunners for The X-Files than Chris Carter himself, given that they delivered the best episodes of the early seasons), the Gunmen had become beloved features of the show over time, their role largely to be Mulder’s (and, as she warmed to them over time, Scully’s) dorky little friends who sometimes helped out with a bit of info or technical expertise our main agents didn’t have access to.

So popular were they, they ended up getting a couple of Vince Gilligan-penned episodes focused specifically on them, with the story of how they met up with Mulder reprised in Unusual Suspects and Scully getting drawn into one of their investigations in Three of a Kind. With these episodes effectively acting as backdoor pilots, the TV show was cooked up by the four men who by this point made up the core X-Files writing team – Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan, and John Shiban – as a lighter, more comedic show than The X-Files (much as Millennium was a darker and more miserable one), with more of an emphasis on corruption in high places and less on UFOs and paranormal stuff.

The sole season of the show aired in parallel with X-Files season 8. It was a ratings flop, losing around 10 million viewers over the course of its run, a good chunk of whom didn’t bother to stick around after watching the first episode or two, and to be honest you can’t blame ’em.

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Revisiting the X-Files, Part 8: Hey, Did You Know David Duchovny’s (Sort of) Gone?

After a rather muddled sixth season (which itself followed an utter disaster of a movie whose existence had thrown the fifth season out of whack), The X-Files actually offered up a reasonably decent seventh season (if you ignore the utterly risible resolution of the “what happened to Mulder’s sister?” plot) which culminated in Mulder being abducted by aliens and Scully becoming pregnant. This allowed the mytharc to come back to life with two brand new mysteries – “Where’s Mulder?” and “How is babby formed?” – and also deal with the fact that David Duchovny, having become comprehensively tired of the series and wanting to explore other projects, forcing the show to adapt to a brand new Mulder-less format.

OK, so here’s the thing: Duchovny’s departure didn’t stick. Rather than entirely leaving the series, he was cajoled (perhaps with the aid of Fox driving a dump truck full of cash up to his front door) into sticking around on a guest star basis. In fact, he appears in about half the season, with small appearances depicting his peril in the initial two-part mytharc episodes and then returning to main cast duties in the second half of the season, which coincided with the most dense run of mytharc episodes the series had seen to date. Whilst season 6 and 7 had been light on the mytharc, season 8 is almost wholly consumed by mytharc in its second half, making up for lost time.

Speaking of stuff that almost wholly consumes the show, this season also saw a significant shift on the writing side. I’ve recounted how over time the show’s pool of writers tended to contract, until most of the writing was done by a four-man (emphasis on “man”) team of Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan, and John Shiban, with occasional outside scripts filling out the rest.

Here, John Shiban and Vince Gilligan’s contributions are significantly contracted. Gilligan and, to a lesser extent, Shiban were concurrently working on the Lone Gunmen spin-off series, but then again so were Carter and Spotnitz. For whatever reason, for this season and season 9 (which followed the cancellation of The Lone Gunmen and therefore didn’t have that distraction as an excuse for this), the core X-Files writing team was effectively trimmed back to just Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz, with Gilligan and Shiban’s writing contributions not amounting to much more than anyone else outside the inner circle.

To quantify this, a statistic: in both this season and season 9, over half the episodes of the season have their script credited to Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, or both of them. And of those, only a couple of episodes in season 9 involve Carter or Spotnitz collaborating with others – William had a script by Chris Carter distilling a story concept he’d worked on with Duchonvy and Spotnitz, and Jump the Shark was the last episode credited to the trio of Gilligan, Shiban, and Spotnitz – the last time either Gilligan or Shiban would be given a script credit alongside Spotnitz or Carter. One may worry that this would have the effect of making the pool of ideas and writing talent available to the show even shallower, and narrowing its vision to the Carter-Spotnitz duo’s personal take. Let’s see, shall we?

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Timothy Good’s History of Extraneous Knowledge

As Timothy Good notes at one point in Need To Know, his 2006 UFO tome, by that point in his career much of his back catalogue had gone out of print. This may explain why Need To Know not only rehashes a lot of old ground, but also seems to be a bid to claw back a bit of lost respectability.

To recap: Above Top Secret propelled Good into prominence in part because of its careful emphasis of actual government documentation to argue in favour of its first major contention (“various governments treat UFOs more seriously than their dismissive public statements would make you think”), in part because of the controversy surrounding the emphatically fake Majestic-12 briefing documents that Good incorporated to support his much shakier second point (“UFOs are alien spaceships and the US government has one which crashed in Roswell”). Despite the latter gaffe, and the weakness of the second point, the success with which Good argued the former point gave him an air of respectability and credibility rare in the field, if only because 50% wrong is a better track record than 100% wrong.

Then, however, Good’s next run of books (setting aside Beyond Top Secret, which was basically a spruced-up version of Above Top Secret) saw him going further and further out on a limb. Alien Liaison was much less cautious about diving head-first into the maelstrom of the UFO conspiracy subculture at the time, promoting theories about secret diplomatic contact with aliens and the claims of Bob Lazar, whilst Alien Base was, of all things, an attempt to rehabilitate the idea of the 1950s-style contactee in UFO subculture, and the claims of George Adamski specifically. Unearthly Disclosure saw him latching onto a few ideas of particular importance to him and trying emphatically to argue in their favour, with little success.

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Mini-Article: The Poisoned Rabbithole

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.