- NOTE: The day after this post ran, Kevin Randle contacted me to request corrections. These are listed at the end of the article.
America Unearthed strikes again! Prolific UFO author Dr. Kevin D. Randle, a retired U.S. Army veteran and Ph.D., watched his first ever episode of America Unearthed last week and became convinced as a result that the Smithsonian Institution is conspiring to suppress the real history of America. Although this conspiracy theory emerged only in 1993 as a result of David Childress’s misunderstandings and uncritical mystery-mongering, it is now a touchstone of fringe history conspiracy culture. The idea keeps reproducing as one uncritical conspiracy theorist after the next picks it up from earlier conspiracy works.
Despite his self-described critical thinking and skepticism, Randle was already open to the idea of hyperdiffusionism before he watched the program. He already believed, for example, that the Chinese discovered Oregon before Columbus, that the Clovis people were European, and that Solutreans from southern France settled in Florida 20,000 years ago (though he mistakenly says 2,000). Since he already was in so much agreement with so much of what America Unearthed puts out, it isn’t hard to see how he could easily conclude that Scott Wolter must be right about the Smithsonian, too, when Wolter claimed that a woman who discovered (almost certainly fake) Viking rune stones should not send them to the Smithsonian because the museum would suppress them.
That set me to thinking. How many other discoveries, how much other evidence has been submitted in good faith only to be hidden away by those who believe they know best? How much evidence has disappeared into classified files, been buried deep in an archives, how much has vanished into files and locations that are misnamed, and how many documents have been destroyed to keep those secrets?
Randle, however, has obviously done even less homework on the matter before publishing his speculations than even David Childress had done, for he sees as a “precedent” to the conspiracy the so-called Bone Wars between Edward Drinker Cope of the Academy of Natural History and O. C. Marsh of the Peabody in the late nineteenth century, in which the two competed and sometimes stole from one another to furnish their respective museums with fossils. Randle misunderstands the 1800s as the “eighteenth century” and claims that the U.S. government seized Marsh’s fossils. “Ahh, nothing like having the federal government getting involved in science research and determining who would be the recipient of their generosity.”
This is only partially true.
Marsh collected fossils with government funds as part of the U.S. Geological Survey, which was and is a government organization. His nemesis, Cope, collected dossier of salacious material on Marsh and had it printed in the New York Herald, which resulted in a Congressional investigation of Marsh for misuse of government funds. Congress terminated the Survey’s paleontology program, and after Marsh was fired from the Survey the Smithsonian demanded that fossils collected with government money be turned over to the museum. While Randle says that the government “confiscated” Marsh’s fossils, they in fact remained with him until his death a few years later in 1899, at which point, in accordance with his will, they were divided between the Smithsonian and the Peabody. In theory, those acquired under government contract went to the Smithsonian and the rest to the Peabody, though as I understand it the records aren’t detailed enough to know if that worked out exactly right.
But all of this isn’t really a “precedent” for Smithsonian suppression of knowledge since (a) the fossils were not suppressed and (b) according to Smithsonian conspiracy theorists, the museum has been suppressing history since at least Cyrus Thomas’s 1892 conclusion that Native Americans rather than a lost white race built the earthen mounds of the eastern United States. But why attribute to financial concerns and legal title events that are more intriguing when couched in the language of conspiracy?
This all was sparked simply by the suggestion that had the Viking runes been donated to the Smithsonian, they might have disappeared into the basement. Maybe the Smithsonian would have put the runes into a public display. I don’t know. I just thought it an interesting observation by a fellow who had worked with the Smithsonian in the past. I thought of it as an interesting way of hiding alternative history without having to deal with the problems such history caused. I thought of it as a way of maintaining written history as we all have been taught it was rather than updating it when we learn something new.
Special thanks to Graham Donald for calling this story to my attention.
After this post ran, Kevin Randle contacted me by email to request corrections because he felt that I had misrepresented his views. He would like my readers to know the following:
- Randle says that he does not bill himself as or consider himself a leading expert on the Roswell UFO crash.
- Randle says that although he did not remember the name of America Unearthed or its host when he wrote his blog post, he saw episodes of the show prior to the one he wrote about in his blog post.
- Randle says that his blog post was not meant to state any beliefs and that it was simply "speculation" about Scott Wolter's beliefs and therefore not indicative of Randle's own conclusions, which may or may not be similar.
- Randle says that his belief that there is "some evidence" to support various diffusionist claims is not the same as "believing" that hyperdiffusionism occurred; therefore, while he is open to hyperdiffusionism he does not want to be considered as believing in it. He did not explain how this squares with his claim in the blog post that "a lot of people from a lot of different places arrived long before Columbus, and I haven’t even mentioned the people that all those others found when they got here."
- Randle says that he was copying without acknowledgement from the exact wording of page 17 of photojournalist Louis Psihoyos's 1995 coffee table book Hunting Dinosaurs to the effect that Marsh had his dinosaur bones confiscated and therefore I and my readers should not be "offended" by this anecdote.
- Finally, Randle says that I have an agenda that prevents me from fairly representing his views, which, of course, he claims not to actually have stated.
As always, I regret the errors.