All They Want Is the Truth
June 9, 2011
At an unconventional convention in Atlanta in February, conspiracy theorists, UFO researchers, alternative medicine advocates, new patriots, and paranormalists came together to share their “alternative knowledge” with one another and the world.
On a rainy Friday morning in early February, a line had already formed outside of the Center Stage Atlanta event hall a half hour before the TruthCon began. “They’re not opening until 11:00,” a large woman with a British accent told me. We pressed in close to the building to get out of the cold drizzle.
The TruthCon is the brainchild of Don Pickett, a local event promoter who usually produces music concerts. The TruthCon is a bit of a departure for Don, one that is a special labor of love. He organized the conference because he perceived a gap between the words and actions of the liberty patriots and the Truth movement. “All the time, they’re saying, ‘We need to do something, we need to do something,’” he said in an interview. “So I did this, and I put my whole heart into it.” He rented the 1100-seat venue for a two-day conference, followed on Super Bowl Sunday by a seminar off-site by David Wilcock, a researcher who argues that the fantastic powers of deities and heroes in the world’s ancient mythologies should be interpreted literally as evidence of lost alien technology.
What makes the TruthCon especially interesting to the skeptic is the sheer variety of extraordinary claims covered at the conference. This diversity was reflected in the list of speakers, which included UFOlogist Stanton Friedman, former libertarian presidential candidate and skydiving instructor Michael Badnarik, plastic surgeon and “recognized authority on energy healing” Susan Kolb, “resonant energy” worker Edd Edwards, Steamshovel Press publisher Kenn Thomas, and Eric Jon Phelps, who promised to reveal the threat that the Jesuits continue to pose to the world as they seek to bring about the “Antichrist/Man-Beast.” Don said that he had hoped for a stronger showing from the 9/11 Truth movement, but that his contacts told him they thought appearing alongside UFOlogists would discredit the movement. “That’s ridiculous,” he laughed. “Let the speakers speak for themselves, then decide.”
When the doors opened, visitors entered a spacious, low-ceilinged lobby that had been converted into a display space for vendors. Display tables lined the long wall that curved around the outside of the auditorium. A full bar and refreshments were available, and throughout the conference, the lobby doubled as a social space where speakers and attendees could mingle. The crowd was fairly exclusive, the tickets being prohibitively expensive for gawkers and the casually curious. On the TruthCon website, you could either purchase tickets using traditional online payment methods, like credit cards, or pay in silver coins. I asked Don about the silver coins, since the belief that economic hardship is deliberately engineered through the manipulation of the dollar is widespread in conspiracist thought, while precious metals are perceived as being immune to market fluctuations. “Oh, I just wanted people to think about the value of the dollar, which is basically based on a Ponzi scheme,” he said. “Silver has value. Real value.” Nobody actually paid in silver, he reported.
Former libertarian presidential candidate Michael Badnarik spoke first and at some length. For the last several years, Badnarik has toured the country delivering his eight-hour course on the U.S. Constitution, which he delivered in four-hour segments on Friday and Saturday. Many of the people who arrived at the conference early had traveled great distances specifically to see Badnarik. One woman had driven from Maryland with her boyfriend just to see Badnarik’s appearance in Atlanta. “He hasn’t been touring for a while,” she explained. “He had a heart attack and has been off the road. This is the first time he’s been back, so we had to see him.”
While the talk was ostensibly a Constitution class, it was not until about the third hour that he even referred directly to a single article of the Constitution—first he prepped the crowd with his understanding of the basis of liberty, the lens through which the class then read the Constitution. Badnarik’s argument was that government’s only duty is to preserve citizens’ life, liberty and property. He said that he could boil the Constitution down to seven words: “Don’t hurt me. Don’t take my stuff.” Much of the rest of the course was devoted to elaboration on these principles (which he believes are prior to and supersede the Constitution), and occasionally daring his hypothetical enemies to just try and take the unregistered, concealed handgun holstered under his jacket.
Badnarik’s fellow travelers surrounded him in the lobby after he completed his class on the second day. As I waited for a chance to interview the man himself, I struck up a conversation two enthusiastic supporters, Gary and Jeff. Jeff, who is a member of the Georgia Militia, gestured at the vendors and speakers: “It’s kind of unique when you have someone [Badnarik] talking about the Constitution with these other guys talking about other aspects. Because what it boils down to is the lack of truth and transparency in our government, and basically that’s what this whole thing is about.”
“I think it’s a good foundation to start with, learning your constitutional rights” Gary chimed in. “Plus a lot of the country does not know how to protect itself, and that’s part of the problem. And that can transcend into the other part of this conference, which is about our E.T. presence and getting the truth from our government.”
Both were adamant about the extraterrestrial presence. “It’s absolutely, one hundred percent real,” Jeff insisted. “I personally know people that are involved. I mean, they’re not public people—you’re not going to get them to come out in public with you—but yes, it’s absolutely true.”
“Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there,” Gary finished.
As the conference overlapped with the global 10:23 protest against homeopathy, I asked the small-government advocates about how we should safeguard ourselves from largely unregulated homeopathic products: “Get rid of the FDA,” Gary said. “If we could control the FDA, we wouldn’t have these sorts of problems. They’re trying to kill everything out there that they call ‘quack.’ I mean, why should they allow us to heal ourselves when they can make money off of healing us and telling us how they heal us?” Gary knew a thing or two about cures for cancer, including high doses of vitamin C. “You can’t go out and buy apricot kernels in this country to combat cancer,” he complained. (Apricot kernels contain amygdalin, which can break down into hydrogen cyanide. Nonetheless, in the 1970s members of the John Birch Society latched onto the FDA’s ban on amygdalin as evidence of government encroachment on personal freedoms) (“Leatrile” 1979).
By the time I neared the front of the line, the next presenter, a Georgia-based energy healer named Edd Edwards, was giving his talk in the theater. Edd and I had met a few weeks earlier at a pre-TruthCon meetup, where he told us that he could tug and push on people by manipulating gravity. When he showed us, the people around me swayed at his suggestion, and I knew exactly which audience members I would have been able to hypnotize. I had hoped to see his demonstration of a gravity wave at TruthCon, which he told me he planned to send through the audience. After he saw the theater, however, he decided that the amphitheater seating was too steep for him to demonstrate the wave safely, so he planned to invite people down to the floor to experience his powers.
When I spoke to Badnarik, I asked him what he thought about the beliefs of the other conference goers. “I don’t care,” he said. “If you’re alive and breathing, I want to teach you about liberty.” He paused. “Now, I didn’t listen to any of the other speakers. I know that a lot of people didn’t want to come because they had some people talking about UFOs, and they thought, ‘Oh, my god, that’s a little crazy.’ I mean, a lot of people think I’m crazy saying that most of what the government does is unconstitutional. So, you know, everyone’s got their own flavor of crazy.”
“Now, there’s a guy in [the theater] right now,” I prompted, “who told me that he could alter fields of gravity. As somebody who skydives, would you trust him to….” I didn’t even get to finish.
“No!” he said firmly. “To me, if it ain’t science, it ain’t.”
Back at the vendors’ tables, I chatted with UFOlogist Stanton Friedman. I asked him what he thought about the variety of speakers. “Well, I’m confused by it,” he admitted. “I don’t think they really know what they are doing because there is such a variety of stuff here. How do you promote strawberries and watermelons?” he laughs. “You don’t mix them in the same bowl.” Friedman was, however, looking forward to Michael Tellinger’s talk, “Adam’s Calendar, the 75,000-Year Old Civilization.”
I asked Friedman about remote viewing as a method of UFO research, a position advocated on Friday night by speaker Robert Dean. “Well, I have very mixed feelings about that,” he replied. “I am convinced that there are some strange areas of the world that we don’t have a good handle on. […] And I’m convinced that indeed it’s not like 2 and 2 is four always-forever-no-exceptions. The paranormal doesn’t work that way. Neither does baseball. A guy gets paid a lot of money for getting a hit a third of the time, and do you say he’s a lousy hitter because two-thirds of the time he doesn’t get a hit? You need a sense of perspective about things.”
I asked Friedman about his take on the 9/11 Truth movement, who were invited to be a part of the event but declined. “I’ve read a certain amount of stuff about 9/11, and some of it is intriguing,” he replied. “The way those buildings came down makes you think that something else was going on there, because it didn’t explode outward, but people want me to jump on their bandwagon. Look, I’ve got enough to handle with UFOs, so if I’m going to try to pretend to be an expert [on 9/11] I’ve got to spend an enormous amount of money and time […], which I don’t have, so I’m not going to express an opinion. Now, I’ve seen some papers about how no planes crashed into the Pentagon. Well, some of the points are provocative, but I don’t know how accurate they are.”
A couple of tables down from Friedman’s book stall, a large poster prominently featured images of lights in the sky (though some were clearly lens flair, chromatic aberrations and similar optical artifacts). I introduced myself to Cheryl and (another) Gary, who were stationed next to the poster, and requested an interview. They began by asking me what I thought about crop circles. I told him that they were started by two fellows in England who had been accompanied by a reporter and referred them to Jim Schnabel’s Round in Circles. Gary smiled knowingly, as if he had heard that before, but he did not correct me.
Gary and Cheryl were from Share International, a religious group waiting for the return of the enlightened Mayitreya (and some of whose members unfortunately misidentified San Francisco economist Raj Patel is its Messiah early last year) (James 2010). Gary was clearly excited about delivering a reassuring message: “All UFOs without exception are benevolent.” This information, he told me, came from Benjamin Creme, a Scottish prophet of sorts who once met George Adamski, who in turn had once met beings from Venus and Mars. “The whole thing about abductions and anal probing doesn’t even exist. In fact,” Gary continued, “[Adamski] was saying that ninety some-odd percent of the alien abductions don’t even take place in the mind of the people; they’re perpetrated by a government agency that’s used to denigrate [the aliens] as vicious, vile creatures.”
Those responsible for the crop circles have an urgent message for humanity, Gary explains. “If you watch the History Channel, they talk about how there are so many sightings around nuclear facilities. […] They’re warning us that the use of nuclear fuel is not safe. In fact we think it is safe, but in the upper levels of the physical plain, above gas, we can’t measure it, but it is causing all sorts of physical problems like leukemia. Not that leukemia wouldn’t be here anyway, or Alzheimers, but the extent of it is causing a lot of damage to our immune system. [The Space Brothers] have implosive devices that, within limits, can help clean it up a little bit. They helped clean up the Chernobyl disaster, the Manhattan Project, stuff like that.”
In 1975, according to Gary, five masters entered the world and took up residence on the outskirts of New York, London, Tokyo, Geneva, and Darjeeling. In 1977, the Mayitreya himself entered the world, Gary says. The Mayitreya “who [Creme] says […] is the Christ who worked through Jesus in Palestine two thousand years ago the same way the Buddha worked through the Prince Gautama five hundred before Jesus. The normal mode these Masters work is telepathic contact through one of their disciples. Give me a name,” he challenged me, “of somebody who significantly impacted the world—living or dead, somebody that we would probably all know about, like a household name.”
“Er, uh, well. Maybe. Give me another one.” We had a laugh.
I asked the pair what their feelings about energy healing and the other types of things that were going on at the TruthCon, and Cheryl spoke up. “Everything is energy,” she replied, “We have a thing where we do energy work, but it’s meditation. There’s all sorts of energy in the universe, and the Masters wield this energy.” A normal human being can’t receive this energy because it bounces off of them, she says. In meditation, this energy filters through the chakras and becomes able to affect the world: “You can feel it coming through your hands and your feet. The energy’s going out to the world, and this may change the world, like the coming down of the wall in Germany and also apartheid in Africa. All of this stuff is coming to an end because of the energy.” Miraculous evidence of this transformative energy (which is streaming to earth as the solar system aligns with Aquarius) is found everywhere in the world, says Gary, including Hindu statues that sip milk, weeping Christian icons, and the arrangement of seeds in fruit that seem to spell Allah: “These are all different faiths,” he points out. “That kind of proves what Mr. Creme is saying, that this is for everybody. It’s not just for one sect.” As further evidence, he points to crop circles, images of Jesus in the clouds, and hitchhikers who announce the Christ’s arrival and then disappear.
Leaving with a handful of Share International’s literature and DVDs, I approached two women sitting at another vendor table. Their display seemed to have something to do with rejuvenating skin or turning back the clock. Evelyn did most of the talking. “We are promoting our company NuSkin Pharminex,” she explained. Have you heard about the genome study?”
I assumed she was talking about the Human Genome Project and said I had.
“Well, in 2003 we found out that we have twenty-five thousand genes instead of billions of genes. Well, the genome study is LifeGen Technologies, and they partnered with our company, NuSkin. And we’re the only company in the world that has the technology to go in and reset 13,000 gene clusters.” She hands me a laminated photograph. “First they started out on the skin. This is a picture of me a year ago, and I’m fifty.” It is, in fact, a picture of her. I don’t have it in me to tell her I don’t see any difference. This is the first time I have spoken to a before-and-after model, and it’s compelling advertising; not one person in a thousand, I think, is going to tell this woman that she looks about a year older.
Evelyn then tells me about another product, Vitality, which “goes inside the body.” She hands me a pill bottle. I peek inside and see a couple dozen white gel caps. The label on the bottle informs me, “This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”
Vitality, Evelyn says, “goes in and resets the mitochondria, the energy source of the cells, and it’s incredible. The mice that they’re working with [in] China are living, in human years, to 137-years old.” She recites a list of the benefits she has derived from the product, including mental clarity and sexual vitality. She also reports that she sleeps better and has sustained energy throughout the day. “It’ll help kids with ADD,” she tells me. “It’ll help kids with depression.” I wonder if she’s read the bottle.
“We’re in fifty countries,” Evelyn says, referring to Nu Skin. “We make a new millionaire every five days.” She then talks about the billions of dollars that have been paid out in commission and the even greater amounts to come, and I realize that these women appear to be at the bottom of a multilevel marketing arrangement. (A subsequent visit to Evelyn’s website, where she invites visitors to “contact me to learn more about how I can help you benefit from a closer relationship with Nu Skin Enterprises” suggests this is in fact the case.)
After my interview with the anti-agers, I returned to the main theater, where Eric Jon Phelps was preparing to give his lecture. The first thing that I noticed was that Phelps was wearing a black cassock with a hood, like a Benedictine monk’s garb, which struck me as odd since he was going to be discussing the Jesuit menace. Phelps began by telling us that he came “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the true alien, the one who came from heaven.” He then informed us that the Jesuits are at the forefront of a conspiracy bent on achieving world governance: “The Jesuits orchestrated the Kennedy assassination, as well as 9/11, as well as this present crusade into Iraq … for the purpose of the Jesuit order’s great design of rebuilding Babylon.” Phelps believes that a pope, which one we do not yet know, will be slain and rise from the dead to become the Antichrist, the man-beast of Revelation. He informs us that the Jesuits work through the Masons, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and Muslims. They control the FBI, CIA and every other governmental agency of consequence. Evidence of their power is everywhere, especially in imagery such as pyramids (a throwback, presumably, to ancient Egyptian mystery religions upon which “pagan” Romanism is based), all-seeing eyes and triangles—a symbolism indistinguishable from that associated with the Masons.
Phelps was the only speaker, I thought, whom the crowd turned against, and I think it had something to do with the statement, “Just remember, you black men who are here, you have no leaders. The black leaders have betrayed you, because they are all part of high-level Freemasonry. This includes Louis Farrakhan. This includes Rev. Al Sharpton. This includes Jesse Jackson—Jesse Jackson is a 33rd degree Freemason, a member of the CFR and a bosom buddy of the Archbishop of New York.” He also shifted responsibility for the Holocaust to the Jesuits, and someone behind me gasped, “Oh, it all makes sense!” In the end received only polite, not enthusiastic, applause.
Following Phelps, the emcee of the event, an African-American baritone opera singer named Stephen Salters, came out and sang a Negro spiritual, which I thought was an appropriate and touching counterpoint to the racially tinged rant we had just heard. Then he started talking about his company, Elixirs of Love, which sells magic water. “They are a new spiritual technology,” he claimed. “I work with all sorts of beings—energetics, galactic beings, angels, archangels—to bring these waters to you to help us all shift our levels of consciousness rapidly, safely and powerfully.” I later examined his product catalog at the vendor table and saw that his perfume-bottle sized tinctures range in price from $88 to $2400 (a mix called “Holy Spirit”).
Instead of attending Michael Tellinger’s talk, I sought out Eric Jon Phelps for an interview. He was at the far end of the row of vendors, just past the psychic ghost hunters. He was taking off his cassock and talking to another conference attendee. When I asked him about how he fitted into the conference, Phelps did not see himself as being a part of the holistic medicine or New Age movements: “I was just invited here to speak on the Jesuits.” He paused. “I mean, I do believe in holistic health. I try to eat pure foods.” He praised the speakers who had spoken about the relationship between nutrition and health. “As far as the existential New Age movement, I don’t participate in that because it is a creation of the Jesuit Pierre de Chardin, who was the father of the movement.” (Paleontologist Pierre Teilhald de Chardin, S.J., it turns out, was a ‘co-discoverer’ of Piltdown Man.) (Buckeridge 2009).
I had to come clean with him—I did my postgraduate work at Saint Louis University, a Jesuit institution. I shared with him my observations about the Society of Jesus, that they were an aging order and that it was frankly difficult to see the men I knew running the world. “You have to realize,” he explained, “that there are many Jesuits who, like Masons, think that they are part of a benevolent group, like the lower level Masons.”
During his exposition of hidden Jesuit symbolism, Phelps had pointed to the sloping roof of a gate at a Nazi concentration camp, indicating that it was a symbol of the perverse satanic Trinity of the Jesuits. I asked him if a sloping roof might just be a functional design element, or for that matter if there was ever a pyramid that was just a pyramid. He said that no, that when the Jesuits set up the concentration camps at Dachau and Auschwitz, “they used their symbols to enhance their power.”
As I was getting ready to leave for Steven Greer’s talk about UFOs, I asked Phelps offhandedly what he thought about aliens, to which he replied: “There are no such things as aliens. The ‘Grays’ are creations of the Jesuits in their deep underground military bases through their genetic experimentation. All the grays are hybrids. They cannot reproduce; they live short lives; they are lesser than what a man is—that’s one of the signs of a hybrid. What I maintain is that the Jesuits have perfected their antigravity craft, and god knows what other technology, and so what they did when they crashed at Roswell, they put those little creatures in there.”
The final lecture on Saturday, Steven Greer’s talk, “The Disclosure Project,” drew the largest audience of all. Not only was he probably the best communicator there, but he was also willing to make claims orders of magnitude more sensational than the typical UFOlogist’s. Whereas Robert Dean told us that he had once read a top secret NATO document about extraterrestrials, Greer said that he had in his possession hundreds of thousands of pages of documentation about anti-gravity coils. Whereas Stanton Friedman asserted that the government has known about extraterrestrials for over fifty years, Greer stated unequivocally that “Since 1965, we have been placing platforms in space with very advanced scalar longitudinal weapons. These are ones that go faster than the speed of light that target extraterrestrial vehicles when they approach Earth.” He reported that former UN Secretary Generals Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Kofi Annan were appalled to hear this. Also, he announced that at the end of the lecture he was going to show us a photograph of an extraterrestrial.
Much of Greer’s talk was a pitch for his Orion Project, which he claimed will lead to the deployment of unlimited clean, free energy extracted from the very expansion of space-time. He said that he had “dozens of scientists” on board who were ready to sign on as soon as Greer can raise $5.7 million. Then, in six-to-eighteen months he would give us a world without pollution or poverty. He said he needs the money to build a facility to insulate scientists and their families from the retaliatory pressures of the Secret Government.
Just over a year ago, this Secret Government had made its presence known in a big way. “The Norway Spiral,” he claimed, “was a shot across the bow,” a message directed at President Obama, who was in Norway accepting the Nobel Peace Prize that week, letting him know that they could take out Air Force One at any time. “I was told a week before it happened that this was going to happen. There were only a few people on earth, on my team and a few other people who would know what that thing was.”
Greer also claimed that he could guide a UFO across infinite space using his mind, using his consciousness using coherent waves of consciousness, a mental laser of sorts. He teaches this technique at seminars around the world, and as evidence of its efficacy, he offered a poor-quality video of unidentifiable lights in the night sky that were being gasped at by a crowd. “While this was going on,” he said, “there was a group of ETs in the field with us.” (Apparently nobody thought to point the cameras at the aliens.)
“Do you all want to meet this friend of ours from the Andromeda Galaxy system?”
The crowd erupted in applause.
“About fifteen months ago, [he and people taking his seminar] were at Joshua Tree National Park, and an orb came by, and this,” he said, referring to the image that came up on his PowerPoint, “was taken with a still camera, and we looked, and there was this guy.” The image is of a campsite at night, an unlit four-second exposure. He pointed out a blurry, indistinct form apparently hovering above the scene. If you squinted, I guess, it looked sort of humanoid. “What this is is an actual E.T. being in transdimensional form,” he said. This apparently accounted for why the specter was only half-visible, as if it were stepping out of a shadow. He showed an edited version of the image in which everything except the supposed alien had been cropped. He pointed out a number of features, including the “alien’s” shoulder, chin, head, and what Greer called a “yarmulke transmission device.” He said that he knew that the alien was from the Andromeda Galaxy because of an “electromagnetometer reading,” but did not explain how a metal detector could tell him that.
Next he showed a daytime image of the campsite, which was taken from a slightly different angle, but still recognizably the same location. This was revealing, because where the alien should have been was a Joshua tree. He did not return to the original image so I could not confirm, but the image is available on the Web, and it appears that he has selected the most ‘alieny’ part of a badly lit tree. Nonetheless, he received thunderous applause from the crowd, but I shuffled out of the theater thoroughly unimpressed.
After the convention, I asked organizer Don Pickett about the variety of perspectives his convention brought together. “That was deliberate,” he said. “We wanted to bring people together and get them talking. When you have so many people talking, you’ll usually find that the truth will pop up in the mix.”
“Is there room for mainstream religions at TruthCon?”
“Sure. If you are a Jehovah’s Witness or Catholic, hey, why not?”
“Is there anyone you would not allow in?”
“Nobody who advocated violence. No anarchists. No white supremacists. No demonic or satanic beliefs. This is a positive event, not a doom and gloom convention. It’s about ascension.”
I asked him if he thought there would be room for skeptics to present. He paused. “If the angle they are coming from is objective,” he said. “You don’t want a guest telling the audience that they are all lunatics.”
is optimistic about the future of the TruthCon. It turns out that with
only 150 attendees, the weekend’s headcount, the TruthCon was financially
viable. “We’re planning to have another event here in Atlanta in
six months,” he told me. “After that, we should be able to
hold them in other cities. I’m really excited. I’m already talking
to a guy who’s researching the UFO/Sasquatch connection.”
Buckeridge, J.S. 2009. “The Ongoing Evolution of Humanness: Perspectives from Darwin to de Chardin.” South African Journal of Science 105, p. 427-431.
James, Scott. 2010. “In Internet Era, an Unwilling Lord for New Age Followers.” New York Times, 5 Feb, 19A.
“Leatrile and the Law.”
1979. New Scientist,
11 January, 88.