When America Unearthed began last year, it promised to use science to investigate the mysteries of North American prehistory. Science went out the window long before the production had dowsers scouring for giants with magic sticks, but the show kept its focus on prehistory for its first season. For this season, however, we have apparently slipped the surly bonds of history to touch the face of Alex Jones, or at least Jesse Ventura, spiritual godfathers to the show’s sudden turn toward contemporary conspiracies.
And there are just so many conspiracies! From Glenn Beck warning darkly of FEMA concentration camps for the coming Obama-run anti-conservative genocide to Jim Marrs proclaiming that Pres. Obama and the ancient aliens are conspiring with China to commit mass genocide to Alex Jones claiming that the United Nations is planning a global genocide to reduce the world population... there are just so many!
Hmm… Well, I guess, there’s a theme, at least. Oh, and happily it’s also the theme of our episode tonight: a conspiracy to commit global genocide. For all of you who hate when I mention politics, I am sorry that the show chose to explore a claim associated strongly with the right-wing paranoid fringe, but it shows that politics and history cannot be completely unlinked.
To Scott Wolter’s credit, however, he seems barely interested in this week’s topic. There are very few statements of “I believe” or “I’m convinced” as there are when he talks about Holy Bloodline conspiracies or the Knights Templar; instead, all of the weird stuff is attributed to “some people,” tacit admission that this episode is the brainchild of producers trolling the internet for topics designed to provoke the interest and outrage of the perceived audience. Wolter himself is merely reading a script, one at times he seems barely able to convince himself is worth the effort. The show’s halfhearted conclusion only confirms the episode is a waste of time designed to attract those already interested in imaginary conspiracies.
As Profs. Jeffrey M. Berry and Sarah Sobieraj write in their new book The Outrage Industry (Oxford University Press, 2013) in terms of political media, but which equally well applies to pseudo-historical programming:
Controversial content like this has always existed in small pockets of the media landscape, but in the last twenty-five years this form of commentary has come into its own, as a new genre of political opinion media that we term outrage. The genre has several distinctive attributes but is most easily recognizable by the rhetoric that defines it, with its hallmark venom, vilification of opponents, and hyperbolic reinterpretations of current events.
You can add America Unearthed to the list of program that use hyperbolic reinterpretations and feigned outrage at unloved “elites” to forge an emotional bond with the audience that exists beyond facts and thus helps grow the show’s audience share. The show’s exploration of fringe political beliefs, such as New World Order genocide conspiracies, in addition to fringe historical beliefs is disappointing and portends an ever-closer alignment with the greater “alternative” movement, in all its many and mutually exclusive forms, united only in a deep-seated belief that “elites” are somehow hiding a “truth” which, if exposed, would somehow set us all free.
Here, I am afraid, fringe characters have an advantage over me. When one does not need any special training or education in a discipline to become a self-proclaimed expert in it, there is nothing to stop the fringe speculator from exploring with equal fervor prehistoric Phoenician voyages to New Hampshire, medieval royal genealogy, or contemporary political maneuvering beneath the Denver International Airport. I, on the other hand, do feel the need to have some kind of grounding in the subjects I discuss, and this means that while I am well-versed in ancient history, I am much less familiar with the fine details of contemporary conspiracy theories. They’ve never been of much interest to me, and I don’t have the same depth of background knowledge on New World Order conspiracies that I do on ancient subjects.
America Unearthed S02E02 “The New World Order” opens with the Georgia Guidestones, which the show describes as “apocalyptic” despite the fact that they contain no reference to an apocalypse and no explicit statement about any type of doom. The show plays up the mystery angle and announces that the dramatized 1979 historical recreation we are about to see, imagined as occurring on grainy surveillance cameras that were not widely used in 1979, is fictional, apparently in tacit admission that last year they fabricated a few too many “video” scenes. The reconstruction is based on the testimony by Wyatt Martin and Joe H. Fendley, Sr., who both rode the Guidestones to modest fame and had a vested interest in creating a “mystery” that would turn them into a tourist attraction. Bad acting emphasizes “discretion” and “secrecy” as an unnamed man (who in real life, if he ever existed, went by the fake name R. C. Christian) makes arrangements to finance the construction of the stones.
The opening credits roll and we are off to… A discussion of America’s freedom and liberty, courtesy of Scott Wolter, who promises to “expose” the “true mission” of “one of America’s secret societies,” which seems to “go against” freedom. He does no such thing in the hour, failing to even establish the existence of this organization, the New World Order, which Wolter describes with short clips of Nazis. He flies to the Denver International Airport, but there isn’t even a feint toward ancient history or archaeology.
Conspiracy theories about Denver International Airport, which is confusingly referred to both by its IATA code DEN and its acronym DIA, emerged shortly after construction began on the airport in the 1990s and really took off when construction finished in 1995, two years late and $3.1 billion over budget. Unable to accept incompetence as an answer, fringe thinkers speculated that the government diverted secret resources into the airport as part of a master plan. These were discussed on Jesse Ventura’s Conspiracy Theory, where the ex-governor claimed that the airport was a bunker designed to withstand the Maya Apocalypse of December 21, 2012.
Most of the conspiracy theories were distortions of truth. Fringe thinkers, for example, claim that the airport has fewer runways and less capacity than the older airport it replaced. This is only partly true. The older Stapleton International Airport had six runways, four of which crossed each other. As a result, no more than three could be used at once. By contrast, DIA has five runways that do not cross each other. DIA’s runways are also longer, allowing the airport to accommodate modern jets, something the older airport could not do. As a result, DIA can accommodate more and larger jets.
But, really, that’s not what everyone wants to hear about. Another part of the conspiracy asserts that the runways are shaped like a Nazi swastika. They are not in a geometrically exact or perfect swastika shape, but the fact that they are offset and perpendicular to each other might suggest one—a shape necessitated by the simple fact that otherwise the planes would be crossing one another’s runways, the problem at Stapleton that DIA was supposed to fix. You can draw a swastika with the runways, but only by leaving out several paved areas, including the airport’s longest runway.
Conspiracy theorists also home in on two sets of murals painted by Chicago artist Leo Tanguma, an ethnic Mayan. The first, called Children of the World Dream of Peace is a diptych depicting a fascist soldier stomping across a ruined landscape in one panel, and the soldier dead as hope blossoms anew in the next. Conspiracy theorists think the first panel represents the New World Order’s plans for world conquest. The second mural is called In Peace and Harmony with Nature and shows in its first panel a post-apocalyptic world in which some animal species have gone extinct and can be seen only behind glass in a museum thanks to environmental devastation. The second panel depicts life blooming anew. Conspiracy theorists believed that this represented the preservation of key species during the 2012 Maya Apocalypse, allegedly known to the Mayan artist, until, of course, the apocalypse failed to happen.
The art isn’t to my taste, but that doesn’t make it evil.
On the floor is a depiction of a mining cart with the letters Au and Ag inscribed—the chemical symbols for gold and silver, key minerals mined historically in the Rocky Mountains. Conspiracy theorists read this as Australian Antigen (Au-Ag), a hepatitis antigen variant that they believe the New World Order will use to control the population. The more common modern abbreviation for the antigen is HBsAg, for Hepatitis B Antigen, and at any rate antigens are not diseases; Au-Ag is a protein found on the surface of the hepatitis B virus and is harmless on its own.
Others claim that Navajo geographic terms used in the airport are an extraterrestrial language.
But this is nothing compared to the one piece of “evidence” that sets Scott Wolter’s hair on fire: A plaque commemorating a time capsule buried by the local Freemasons in 1994. The plaque contains the names of various government officials and the grand masters of Colorado’s two grand lodges flanking a central Masonic logo and the March 19, 1994 dedication date. Beneath this, the plaque records three members of the “New World Airport Commission”: Martin Marietta Aeronautics (now part of Lockheed Martin); Fentress Bradburn, Architects; and Zimmerman Metals. Contrary to conspiracy claims that this is an acknowledgement of the New World Order, DIA officials confirm that the organization was an informal group of local businesses (the New—as in second—World [as in world-class] Airport Commission) who promoted the airport as a new era of transport. Further, the underground tunnels were not a secret Illuminati-Freemason death camp but were baggage tunnels; they were eventually shut down for the most banal of reasons: they lost money due to crippling expenses. But as DIA officials told conspiracy theorist Greg Ericson in 2003, “these explanations rarely satisfy people who love to believe in conspiracy theories and who are convinced that Denver International Airport is at the center of something sinister. It is important to keep in mind that this airport was the largest, most scrutinized Public Works project in American history. There were cameras and reporters here documenting every single inch of dirt ever moved.”
Wolter examines most of this material, and then he stops a passenger from a plane to ask her what she thinks of the murals described above. He tells her that he’s “going to try to uncover the truth,” and she stares at him. Who is this nut with a camera crew ranting about the “truth” in the airport?
A staged phone call pretends that Wolter is about to meet someone who know about the New World Order, which Wolter links to the Illuminati and to Hitler and George H. W. Bush through shared use of the phrase “new world order” (“new order of the ages,” etc.). The fact that the airport gave Committee Films permission to shoot inside should suggest that there isn’t much they’re worried about him finding there.
Greg Ericson, a conspiracy theorist who the show allows to call himself a “factualist,” as though this gives him credibility, describes how global economic collapse, mega-terrorist attacks, or some other crisis will lead the military to take over America in order to impose what Wolter describes as Nazi fascism. That’s when Ericson suggests that the airport is a swastika, and Wolter says this is one of “many symbols” that are “hidden in plain sight.” Ericson explains that the Freemasons, Illuminati, New World Order, etc. are all connected “at the highest levels” of Freemasonry. Ericson calls the New World Airport Commission a branch of the upcoming fascist state as well. Wolter calls it a “possibility” that elements of the U.S. government are planning a fascist revolution. Wolter misidentifies AUAG as “deadly,” which it is not, although he says that that the inscription makes more sense as the symbols of gold and silver. He then prompts Ericson to declare AUAG part of a global genocide conspiracy. Ericson is angry that Americans don’t care that fascists are planning to move the U.S. capital to Denver after a false flag terrorist attack on the White House, and he describes the alleged underground base beneath the airport—that would be the expensive baggage tunnels.
As we head into break number one, Wolter plans to discover whether the ground at Denver is capable of supporting an underground base, as though this would establish the “truth” of the fascist conspiracy claim. The existence of the underground baggage tunnels already establishes that underground structures are possible, so this exercise in rooting through rocks seems to be just for show.
But what on earth is the purpose of this episode? It seems designed to appeal to the same paranoid, anti-elitist, nativist audience that the show has so successfully courted with its mixture of America-focused Eurocentrism and religious revelation. But it’s just disturbing to see another hour of prime time cable television devoted to political paranoia—and so sloppily done that even after fifteen minutes of TV air time, viewers unfamiliar with the conspiracy theories would have no idea what the hell Wolter and Ericson are talking about. The mural artist, for example, was not named in this segment, nor were his works shown in full. Surely Wolter could have worked the fact that the artist is Mayan into his “Mayans in Georgia” anti-government conspiracy, where he though the U.S. government was trying to hide the truth about Mayans.
Wolter and Ericson head out into a field so Ericson can relate secondhand conspiracy theories he heard from the ex-wife of some guy whom he does not know, does not name, and has never met—and who is also dead. Ericson suggests a murder conspiracy, and the show does not do even a cursory job of asking whether any element of this story is true. The man’s name was Philip Schneider, and he died in 1996 (officially a suicide) after claiming that the government was hiding extraterrestrial craft from eleven different races of aliens (who use our “glandular secretions” as their food) in bunkers he helped design across the country in preparation for the New World Order’s alien-directed global genocide. One alien, he said, works in the Pentagon and is named Val Valiant Thor, presumably as in the comic book heroes Prince Valiant and Thor. America Unearthed conveniently leaves out the alien connection and the fact that Schneider never produced a shred of evidence to support any of his outlandish alien or conspiracy claims. After his death, Schneider became a martyr celebrated by fringe thinkers of many stripes, most notably anti-government activists and ufologists.
Wolter, who could have learned the geology of the airport site from a decent U.S. Geological Survey map, examines the soil several miles from the airport and declares the ground fit for secret fascist bases. Ericson says that airport officials refused to answer his questions, but I’ve linked above to his actual questions and the answers he received so you can see that the airport did everything it could to patiently explain the truth to him, over his own foaming rage that his fantasy wasn’t true. As we head into the second break, absolutely nothing has happened in this episode except that Wolter has now left a voicemail (recreated for the camera) for airport officials demanding “answers.”
I’d rather hear him try to explain the eleven different races of “secretion”-eating aliens that undergird Ericson’s conspiracy claims.
By the way, this exercise in paranoia is brought to you by Xarelto, an anticoagulant to reduce stroke risk. I may have a stroke by the end of this episode, which is also sponsored by ChristianMingle.com, a site that once employed Jason Martell, the ancient astronaut theorist.
And we’re back, in Georgia this time to look at the Georgia Guidestones. Apparently, if you are a conspirator you are driven by an unstoppable force to proclaim your conspiracy in public.
The Georgia Guidestones of Elberton, Georgia I find terribly boring since they are only thirteen months older than I am (they were erected in March 1980), but Brad Meltzer liked them enough to devote an episode of Decoded to them, which contains much of the same information repeated here. I can’t believe I will ever say this again, but compared to America Unearthed, Decoded was a rigorous and analytical exploration of the stones. Brad Meltzer at least understands the basics of nonfiction TV, which involves presenting information clearly and in sufficient detail for viewers to have some sort of understanding of what they are seeing.
The stones are not old, and their superficial resemblance to Stonehenge and their astronomical alignments are entirely purposeful. Four vertical slabs surround a central pillar, and each contains an identical message written in one of eight world languages. The “message” asks humankind to maintain a population of only 500 million, unite in a single language, and engage in eugenics to improve the fitness of the species. According to a stone placed near the monument, “a small group of Americans who seek the age of reason” put up the stones, but conspiracy theorists refuse to see the smallish monument as the work of Malthusian cranks but instead as the announcement of the New World Order’s plans for genocide in the name of environmentalism. They make much of the fact that the man who carved and set up the stones on behalf of the unnamed sponsor, Joe H. Fendley, Sr., was a 32 degree Freemason, a fact Wolter overlooks, apparently through poor research.
No, I take that back: He purposely avoids discussing Freemasons this week because he can’t. Although I believe Fendley is now dead, to accuse other living people of plotting genocide is libel, so he mutes his usual love of Freemasonry and instead places emphasis on the non-existent New World Order, which, being fictional, cannot be libeled and can’t sue for cash money.
According to that Fendley and Wyatt, the sponsor of the stones was a man who went by the pseudonym R. C. Christian and identified himself as a concerned Christian. The stones seem to show influence from fringe works like Hal Lindsey’s Late, Great Planet Earth (1970), which had been made into an Orson Welles-narrated documentary in 1979, one of that year’s top-grossing films, and Paul Erlich’s The Population Bomb (1968) and its successors, which predicted mass deaths due to overpopulation and recommended government sterilization and population control efforts. The astronomical alignments recall Gerald Hawkins’s Stonehenge Decoded (1965), which attempted to trace alignments at the British site, and the “ancient wisdom” school of fringe thinking surrounding Alexander Thom. Overall, the monument appears to be a product of 1960s and 1970s fringe ideas, and nothing in the monument is out of place for a 1980 construction emulating fringe history claims about ancient monuments. It is therefore humorous that this outgrowth of 1970s fringe ideas is now taken as proof that those ideas were right all along!
Conspiracy theorists also point to the inclusion of Hebrew as one of the eight world languages on the stone as evidence of a Zionist-Freemason conspiracy, shading at times into anti-Semitism. Wolter never mentions this, and with good reason. It’s not only false, but also libelous.
Wolter seems content to suggest a link between the Guidestones to the Denver Airport and the New World Order, all without offering even a hint of an evidence to support this—mostly because he plans to conclude later on that there isn’t one, despite all the time wasted pretending that there might be.
Wolter discusses the granite stones with Gary Jones of the Elberton Star, and he discusses the granite without any real reason to talk about its grain and lack of polish. Any crank with cash can raise a hunk of granite—how many granite Ten Commandments monuments litter parks and courthouses across our country? Wolter scoffs at the monument’s demand for a World Court and a restricted population. “If that doesn’t sound like a New World Order mandate, what does?” He asks whether a nuclear war or a genocide would be responsible, but Jones tries to explain to Wolter that 1980 was deep in the Cold War and reflected its era; Wolter twists this into suggesting that the New World Order planned for a catastrophe.
The site’s astronomical alignments are explored, but they are not “archaeoastronomy,” which Wolter continues to mistakenly believe means “ancient peoples’ astronomy” instead of the application of archaeology to study ancient people’s astronomical knowledge.
At this point I realize that this show is so slow that, except for two or three background paragraphs I prepared ahead of time, I am typing this review in real time and haven’t struggled at all to keep up. They are really stretching things out this year, and there is notably less information per hour than last year.
Scott Wolter tries to get Wyatt Martin of Greensboro, Georgia, the onetime banker to R. C. Christian, to tell him about the real R. C. Christian. Martin has never spoken of the real man (if there ever was one), largely because to do so would be to dispel the Guidestones’ tourist draw. Martin recites the same story he’s been telling consistently since 1980, and he doesn’t reveal Christian’s identity. Instead, he tells Wolter that Christian created a fake mystery to make the Guidestones into a tourist attraction. Wolter ignores this and seizes on Martin’s half-remembered idea that Christian may have mentioned the New World Order to press him again for Christian’s real identity, which leads us into our next commercial.
After the break, Wolter suggests that because the translations for the monument were produced at the United Nations, the UN could be involved in the conspiracy. Martin tells Wolter that there were plans for “moon stones” to be added to the monument to track the moon, just as Gerald Hawkins had suggested that Stonehenge had been designed to do. Martin claims that the monument was designed to “restart” science and the calendar after an unspecified apocalypse. In its historical Cold War/nuclear-winter context, this is entirely to be expected and has no direct relationship to a conspiracy, least of all through what Wolter continues to mislabel “archaeoastronomy.”
At the three-quarter mark, all we’ve gotten is mood music, hot air, and suggestions that lead to nothing. Worse than even Ancient Aliens, this episode simply looks at stuff and wonders at it really hard. Apparently season one of America Unearthed was a close-ended Holy Bloodline miniseries, and the producers didn’t plan ahead for an encore.
Wolter pretends to talk to the Denver Airport by phone from the Georgia Guidestones, although this is obviously not how it happened given the internal evidence of the program itself, and gets clearance to see the underground baggage tunnels.
Stacey Stegman, an airport official, meets with Wolter, who is dressed in his clothes from the beginning of the episode even though the show pretends that he has flown to Georgia and back in between the opening segment and meeting Stegman. Please. Viewers ought to be smart enough to understand that segments are edited together without this cutesy fakery that just serves to make the producers look even more dishonest than their half-hearted, time-wasting show usually makes them seem. This isn’t Keeping Up with the Kardashians, and the routine fakery of reality TV only serves to call into doubt any claim to “truth.”
This leads to another commercial, and three-quarters of the way through the show, not a scintilla of evidence for the existence of the New World Order has been presented, yet the New World Order has somehow gone from a hypothetical to be proved to a reality that must be combatted. The two physical subjects of the hour, the airport and the Georgia stones, lacked anything like a coherent presentation (writing my paragraphs about them above filled in for me a lot of details the show simply failed to even pretend to present), and I can’t imagine what people who didn’t know anything about either site before coming to this hour made of this slipshod set of suggestions.
After the break, Stegman tells Wolter that there is nothing to his conspiracy claims. Wolter wants to know about the Freemasons, and Stegman explains that it’s the New “World Airport” Commission, not the “New World” Airport Commission. We go down under the airport, wasting a very long time, and Stegman shows off the failed baggage system. Wolter replies with recitations of internet theories that even he doesn’t pretend to believe and asks how we can know they aren’t true. Wolter shows off the “swastika” runways, and Stegman notes that all the planned runways aren’t yet built, and that when they are the imaginary pattern will vanish. She also informs him that the “Au Ag” symbol is nothing more than gold and silver—which Wolter himself recognized back at the beginning the show but conveniently chose to forget until the end of the show. Stegman explains Leo Tanguma’s two-part mural about violence and peace, and Wolter is happy to accept all of these answers, which he could have done 45 minutes ago and instead spent time productively by confronting Greg Ericson about how he can believe ridiculous things. Instead, the conspiracy and debunking segments are separated by 45 minutes, letting the original claims sink in unopposed, making the later debunking ineffective and ensuring that viewers tuning out before the end got the wrong impression.
It seems painfully clear that Wolter could not really care less about this conspiracy and is simply putting on a show for the camera at the behest of the producers. He declares that there is no New World Order influence at the Denver Airport, but he stops short of declaring the conspiracy fake. Instead, he says that the New World Order “could” exist, and he declares that the Georgia Guidestones are proof of actual New World Order “connections.” Wolter declares that even though nothing in the airport supports the claims made in the first half of his show, nevertheless we are supposed to take away the lesson that the symbols—which by his own admission don’t have anything to do with the New World Order—somehow have meanings we don’t “expect,” even though all of the airport’s symbols mean exactly what at face value they seem to mean. Perfect.
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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