Visiting Paranoia Gulch

Jacques Vallée. Revelations: Alien Contact and Human Deception. Souvenir Press, 1992. -- 

On this leg of his whistle-stop return to the UFO field, Vallee stops at the station marked Paranoia Gulch, USA: that quaint township inhabited by the likes of Bill Cooper, John Lear and others who shall be nameless. The problem with Paranoia Gulch is that even if one stops off as a tourist gawping at the strange ways of its inhabitants, a little of their malaise seems to rub off. Vallee is quite clear-headed in seeing through the dementia of Cooper, Lear and cronies, who clearly regard all tourists as spies and sabateurs. When Vallee tries to disabuse Cooper of the idea that he was performing autopsies on those zapped by aliens in Brazil, Vallee is denounced as part of the universal cover up.

But maybe some of it rubs off, and Vallee's undoubted talents as a writer of science fiction thrillers perhaps makes him see over-elaborate theories himself. It may be comforting, flattering even, to imagine that the hoaxers who fooled you needed the huge resources of a government or international agency to pull the wool over your perceptive eyes. Rather humiliating to admit that you may have been taken in by a bunch of imaginative teenagers. Do we really need to believe that the Cergy-Pontoise 'abduction' was organised by the French intelligence service to test the reactions of the local gendarmes to unusual events. More likely a scam that went wrong from a couple of local 'Jacques les Lads'. Remember that the great Warminster Hoax was not perpetrated by the massed ranks of MI5, but by half-a-dozen lab technicians in between visits to the pub.

Also included are other freelance hoaxers like UMMO and APEN. It was only when I dug out some APEN material to give to Vallee at his recent Manchester talk that I suddenly worked out who was behind APEN. The hoaxer had thrown me and others off the scent with exciting hints of a vast fascist conspiracy - much more interesting to politically aware 1970's Magonians than crashed saucers. There were plently of giveaway clues: a penchant for Shakespearian quotations for article titles, a interest in studying (and infiltrating) neo-nazi groups, a ready supply of student colleagues able to post APEN letters from all points of the compass when returning home during the vacations. I hereby reveal (what Jenny Randles and others probably worked out years ago) that the originator of APEN was Bryan Jeffrey, late of Cambridge University.

UMMO had, one suspects, a more serious purpose. It was samizdat literature saying things which could not be said openly in Francoist Spain, where writing openly in praise of figures such as Bertrand Russell or Che Guevara could be hazardous to your health. UMMO contrasted a rationalist Utopia with Franco's anachronistic dictatorship.

In some cases hoaxers' motivations may be unclear even to themselves. Is it too unreasonable to speculate that under the disguise of 'having a bit of a lark', some of the crop circle makers can express quite serious artistic leanings, which, if expressed in say painting, would not be acceptable in their community or subculture: "Fred paints, must be a poofter, 'eave a brick at 'im!"

Other stories can only be appreciated in context. Bentwaters/Woodbridge can only be properly appreciated if we realise that it took place at the height of the Cruise missile controversy. If, for one reason or another, servicement were telling exciting 'tales out of school' about the base, better that they be silly stories about crashed flying saucers than details of the location of missiles. If flying saucer stories were circulating about the base, it might not have been prudent to put a stop to them until the leaker had been identified and neutralised. Indeed, it may have been helpful to reinforce them, even supplying different versions to individual suspects.

This paranoia not only infects the reporter but the reader as well. There are those clues which Vallee has missed: the mysterious characters involved at the beginning of the Hill story, for instance. One could easily invent a plot whereby the whole scenario was suggested to them in order to discredit them. After all, they were just the sort of couple likely to earn the undying hatred of J Edgar Hoover. There is the shadowy figure of Bertil Kuhlmann; the strange political affiliations of some of the Lear Jet Set.

I could go the distance and create a nice rumour about the real conspiracy, the shadowy Project Far Stranger, based on after-dinner musings by Churchill to Truman about how the external danger of Germany had saved Britain from insurrection in 1914. Wouldn't it be nice if some external threat could unite the dangerously divided wartime victors - dust down those old Defense Department studies of the great Martain Fear, and recommission Hedley Cantril, Joseph Campbell and others into the plot to promote the theme of the Martian bombers.

At some point in 1949 however, the project begins to be infiltrated by radical rightists and allies of Colonel Lindberg, as part of their half-baked plans to make general MacArthur proconsul of America. Not surprisingly it is hit on the head by Eisenhower when he takes over in 1953. But it is easier to start a myth than to stop it, and in any case the underlings, once let loose, spin their own strands. Of course, things change again when the actor who was to have read the news of the invasion on coast to coast broadcasts becomes President...

One thing that annoys the more sensible neighbours of Paranoia Gulch USA is the visitors from afar who come gawp at their embarrassing relatives, yet forget that they have relatives of their own back in Paranoia Gulch Europe who they wouldn't want to have turned into tourist attractions. There is for example that nice Mr Creighton who, if I am not very much mistaken, believes that UFOs or their pilots are card-carrying communist djinns who go around stealing library books on flying saucers.

I'm being facetious and I must stop it. It strikes me that despite his often well-placed barbs against much of American ufology, Vallee is probably closer to it in most respects than to the really radical 'psychosocial' (for want of a better word) ufologist both in Europe and in the States. His only real disagreement with the ETHers is on the place of origin of the 'real phenomenon', and all his criticisms of the old time ETH apply with equal if not more force to theories involving alternative universes, fractal beings from the nth dimension, time travellers, or any other hypothesis involving a someone else from somewhere else. -- Reviewed by Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 43, July 1992.

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