On Friday, self-described forensic geologist Scott F. Wolter and self-proclaimed forensic historian J. Hutton Pulitzer announced the creation of a new media company, XpLrR Media, in order to create fringe history streaming content for the internet as part of a drive to democratize what they demonize as elitism in the “recording of history.” The new company launched an unfinished website, XpLrR.tv, which they promptly mislabeled as XpLrR.org. They also provided social media hashtags for fans to use to discuss the new venture, #GoXplrr and #WolterPulitzer, which, as of this writing, had garnered almost no discussion across popular social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
According to Pulitzer, the new company will focus on making TV-style programs for streaming on Apple TV. The programs will contain limited commercial interruptions, according to Pulitzer, who also paradoxically claimed that an hour-long show would also contain an hour of content. Late on Friday, Pulitzer posted a podcast to Sound Cloud in which he and Wolter discussed their vision of history and the future of history. As of this writing on Sunday, the podcast garnered fewer than 450 “plays” on Sound Cloud. (Perhaps planning a professional product launch would have been more effective than a slapdash hurling of spaghetti at the wall.) It would surprise no one listening to the interview that neither man has any formal training in historiography, or any detailed knowledge of the subjects they claim to investigate.
Both men hit their usual problematic points. Scott Wolter complained that “academia” is biased against him and too wedded to dogma to accept his radical revision of the date of the Kensington Rune Stone. (According to Wolter’s own, albeit flawed, analysis, even if accepted at face value, post-colonial dates cannot be excluded; his medieval dating is an interpretation, not a fact, even under his own analysis.) Both men commiserate over their shared loathing of academic elites, and Pulitzer says that their new business venture is especially welcome because it will give “the people” an opportunity to “have a say in how history is recorded.” In other words, Wolter and Pulitzer are making Trumpian ad populum arguments that ignorance and prejudice should substitute for reason and judgment.
Both men, for example, are quite taken, in their writings and media appearances, by lost Templar voyages and the allegation that Henry Sinclair, Earl of Orkney, came to America long before Columbus. But in appealing to the biases and prejudices of the public, they ignore the fact that the very reason that popular history fails the test of time is precisely because those who lack training in historiography are only too keen to turn history into propaganda. Consider this entirely typical expression from 1893 of why Henry Sinclair needed to be written into the history books in place of Columbus to protect America from insidiously nonwhite people:
The glorification of Columbus in the discovery centenary of 1892 was an aid towards the threatened Spanish or Latin domination; and Scandinavian energy has been in movement, especially at the Chicago Exhibition of 1893, to counteract the southern tide, by ascribing the discovery of America to Norsemen of the Teuton stock, including, as principal factors, the English and the Dutch. Caithnessmen [i.e., the Sinclair family], especially of Canada and the United States, have the strongest personal interest in such a gigantic Armageddon contest of blood and belief, if it is to be early fact.
Numerical support is not sufficient to create truth, or else scientific racism, lost white civilizations, and other insidious but widespread beliefs would be taught in every school. Incidentally, Pulitzer adds that “having your say” doesn’t mean that people should be coming to their own conclusions. He says that “having your say” means consuming XpLrR products! “I don’t want the system making decision for me,” Pulitzer said before asking listeners to turn to him for facts and information instead. Wolter adds that Wikipedia’s lack of mention of Scott Wolter is another example of the system suppressing truth by scrubbing inconvenient facts. “It’s what ISIS does to monuments in the Middle East,” Pulitzer said, adding that it is the same as “toppling Confederate monuments” to erase history.
Even their ignorance of the history of their own ideas wouldn’t be entirely terrible if they actually had an understanding of the facts that they rest their ideas upon. In the podcast, Pulitzer claimed that in the United States, mummies were dragged into the street and set aflame because unnamed elites were “afraid” of the public viewing them. What the hell is he talking about?
As best I can figure, Pulitzer is conflating a number of different claims, promiscuously uncaring about their correctness. One part of the claim seems to be the allegation made by David Childress and others in the 1990s that the Smithsonian destroyed the bones of “giants” in order to suppress evidence of Biblical inerrancy. This claim, in turn, was based on hearsay that the Smithsonian sank barges full of artifacts into the Potomac to hide them from fringe historians. To this, Pulitzer seems to add a vague awareness that the public was interested in mummies. Indeed, in the nineteenth century mummy “unwrapping” parties were strangely popular, with wealthy individuals importing Egyptian mummies to dissect either in private parties or in public events. These mummies were not destroyed, and in fact the results of one such unwrapping party have been on display in a museum a stone’s throw from my own house for almost 150 years. No one tried to hide it.
You might wonder what became of the wrappings of said mummies. Weirdly, they ended up here in Albany, New York, and other places in the northeast where they were used to make paper. According to reports from the first half of the nineteenth century—which have never been confirmed by surviving examples—mummies were imported by the shipload to be stripped of their papyrus and linen wrappings in order to make paper. This may be a bit of a folktale, exaggerated from the real fact that American printers imported rags and linen fragments from Egypt and other countries to make newsprint.
The third part of his conflated story seems to be a half-remembered joke from Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad (1869) that mummies were so prevalent and worthless that the Egyptians burned them to fuel their trains. “I shall only say that the fuel they use for the locomotive is composed of mummies three thousand years old, purchased by the ton or by the graveyard for that purpose…” Mummies were used, however, for medicines since the Middle Ages. Surprisingly, one could still buy ground up mummies as medicine in the United States until 1910.
All of this, in other words, doesn’t imply that anyone was trying to hide mummies but rather that no one valued them or respected them as the remains of long dead humans until very recently.
Wolter and Pulitzer spent most of the 19-minute podcast posturing about how they will change history, and their appeals reminded me so much of Donald Trump. They hinted at vast conspiracies and promised that they would defeat the insidious forces of the elite, whom they compared to ISIS. They made coded references to the Confederacy as a dog whistle sop to their unspoken angry white male base. They stressed their honesty and willingness to say and do anything to achieve their goals. And like Trump, they had nothing but insults, random appeals to their own greatness, and vague promises of winning as the reasons for supporting their endeavor. They offered no specifics, no facts, no evidence.
But they do want your eyeballs and to encourage you to take back history from the elites. Listening to them talk about how they’re going to find secrets in tombs and uncover hidden truths reminds me of how schoolboys of old were taught to view archaeology in those hated “textbooks” our authors rail against. Here is how Jennie Hall introduced her 1922 three-volume account of Buried Cities to all the young people of the world:
Do you like to dig for hidden treasure? Have you ever found Indian arrowheads or Indian pottery? I knew a boy who was digging a cave in a sandy place, and he found an Indian grave. With his own hands he uncovered the bones and skull of some brave warrior. That brown skull was more precious to him than a mint of money. Another boy I knew was making a cave of his own. Suddenly he dug into an older one made years before. He crawled into it with a leaping heart and began to explore. He found an old carpet and a bit of burned candle. They proved that some one had lived there. What kind of a man had he been and what kind of life had he lived—black or white or red, robber or beggar or adventurer? Some of us were walking in the woods one day when we saw a bone sticking out of the ground. Luckily we had a spade, and we set to work digging. Not one moment was the tool idle. First one bone and then another came to light and among them a perfect horse's skull. We felt as though we had rescued Captain Kidd's treasure, and we went home draped in bones.
I’m not sure XpLrR, with its whispered conspiracies, call to adventure, and hunt for secret North American “tombs,” is much more than a similar fantasy.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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