America Unearthed makes people angry, especially the type of people who go on America Unearthed. It seems that they make enemies wherever they go. In the past, we’ve heard from Scott Dawson about his deep anger at the show for promising a sober documentary about Roanoke and then spending the filming day attacking Dawson for his refusal to agree with pseudoscience. We’ve seen bookbinder Joe Rose express his upset that America Unearthed misrepresented his views to make it look like he supported factually inaccurate claims about Mithraism. Other guests have made similar claims that they had been taken out of context or misrepresented or had important parts of their statements omitted. Today we can add another name to this list of the program’s discontents.
Jay Longley appeared in S02E12 “Lincoln’s Secret Assassins,” about the Knights of the Golden Circle, where he seemed to suggest that a man named Henry Ford in his hometown of Brownwood was actually the outlaw Jesse James. It almost goes without saying that Longley claims to be another victim of the show’s slippery relationship with the truth.
Here he is in his own words, posted last Sunday on his website. I have broken it into paragraphs for easier reading, but the original spelling and punctuation remain:
I was with the crew in Downtown Brownwood for 11 hours in September 2013. Much of it was while being recorded as I gave as much information about the subjects as I could. They promised that they would return to Brownwood to do a much more detailed account but when the show aired in February, I was truly disappointed in the results.
How many times do we have to travel down this path? The ritual is always the same. Someone goes on the show and gives a lengthy interview. The producers chop it up and reassemble selected pieces to support a different narrative, and then they utterly ignore the anger and bad blood created through their misrepresentations. It happens often enough that it can’t be an accident or ignorance; the producers must be purposely manipulating interviews to support a predetermined narrative. Worse, Committee Films’s irresponsible behavior is poisoning the pool for future documentarians and researchers.
But on the other hand, America Unearthed seems unable to shake Richard Thornton, the fringe writer who appeared in the very first episode to discuss his belief that the Maya colonized Georgia. Thornton continues to publish an unending series of articles attempting to keep alive the pseudo-conspiracy Scott Wolter hinted at in that first episode, namely, that the U.S. Forest Service was conspiring to suppress Wolter’s work for fear of… well, it was never really stated. Thornton, however, has become a bit of an embarrassment as his version of the conspiracy has mushroomed into a trans-national conspiracy involving prejudiced Latinos who hate Thornton for his self-described racial identity of “mestizo,” evil Federal authorities bending over backward to appease Native Americans, and gay panic.
In a lengthy piece published on his LinkedIn profile on Friday, Thornton outlined the racial conspiracy he feels Scott Wolter stumbled into alongside him. He began by describing how Ignacio Bernal, the Mexican anthropologist, refused to assist him, implying that Bernal was prejudiced against both mixed race people and the poor:
When he realized that I was a young mestizo student from a family of modest means, who was just beginning to speak Spanish, he glanced at his watch, threw up his hands, uttered “idiotas,” and walked away. I never saw or heard from him again.
Thornton said he had to turn to a fellow “mestizo,” Dr. Roman Piña-Chan, to learn about the mysteries of Mexico, though he also claims to be “self-taught.” Thornton oddly enough also revealed some of the origin for his hatred of the federal government. He writes that in 2009 he lost his home to a Fannie Mae eviction and contemplated suicide before throwing himself into forest exploration as an escape from his troubles, moving from site to site every two weeks for two years. The turning point came when he started writing for Examiner.com and sparked a controversy with what he (wrongly) believed to be evidence of a Maya city in Georgia. This in turn prompted Scott Wolter to come calling.
This is where the conspiracy truly began. It really has to be read in his own words, especially the part where Thornton asserts that Federal authorities tried to frame him as gay and a sexual predator:
On the day before filming began here at my cabin, Scott Wolter, the host of the History Channel’s America Unearthed, made one more attempt to get permission to at least personally visit the Track Rock Site. He was rejected and told that with or without a film crew, he would be arrested if he stepped on the property. The arrogant USFS bureaucrat signed the denial with an oversized signature that stretched across the form. It was on a clipboard beside my computer as I was being filmed with Scott. They filmed here for over eight hours, but only about seven minutes made it to through the final cutting.
Thornton provides no evidence than any of his allegations actually occurred. There is a Florida sex offender who shares Thornton’s name, so there is a small chance that there was some confusion about his identity, though it seems unlikely. Thornton, of course, also believes that academics are out to get him because several archaeologists made public statements against his views in response to his Examiner articles.
His statements remind me of nothing so much as Sirius Mystery author Robert Temple’s angry allegations that the CIA and the “hypnosis community” were conspiring to ruin his life, deny him jobs, and suppress his books because of “revelations” about space frogs from Sirius. Both men felt that dark forces were monitoring them and secretly turning their friends against them. We could draw some conclusions from this, but Thornton seems like the type who’d sue me for doing so; therefore, I’ll leave readers to make their own evaluations about whether we can trust Thornton’s account of what he sees as the government’s gay frame job.
Thornton credits America Unearthed with helping him put one over on the evil Federal government, and he says it changed his life (it’s the first thing on his LinkedIn profile), so much so that tourists now visit his cabin to thank him for sticking it to evil “college professors” who are suppressing the truth.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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