Who says that watching cable crap is a waste of time? According to an article in the Sarasota, Florida Herald Tribune, my coverage of the premiere episode of Hangar 1: The UFO Files last year helped prompt a showdown between MUFON and the History Channel when my discussion of fabricated documents producers created for the program without disclosing they were fakes had MUFON executives scrambling to save their credibility—or at least that’s the implication of an article discussing a feud between MUFON and Robert Hastings, who cited me in discussing the show’s missteps. The newspaper says that MUFON’s executive director, Jan Harzan, told them that “as a result of season one’s accuracy problems, he told History he needed a MUFON review board to preview each episode to minimize mistakes.” Harzan added, though, that the program isn’t meant for people who value accuracy. “If you’re a stickler for details like Robert is, then it’s just not going to work for you.”
That description could apply equally well to any given episode of Ancient Aliens. This episode, however, bothered me for a different reason. S08E02 “NASA’s Secret Agenda” seemed like it would be a retread of S04E05 “The NASA Connection” from 2012 until it revealed itself as a different angle on previous episodes attributing genius to psychic alien signals. Apparently the producers thought their audience would not know the name of Wernher von Braun, so they gave it a deceptive name based on the more famous NASA, an agency that features in only about half the episode, with a secret agenda discussed only in the last thirteen minutes of the hour. In other words, it is another bait and switch.
Over the past few seasons, Ancient Aliens has tried to tell us that geniuses have no actual genius but instead channel their insights from space aliens. They’ve applied this Theosophical dogma to Albert Einstein and Nikola Tesla, and tonight they add Wernher von Braun to the list. The show portrays von Braun as the driving force placing public opinion squarely on the side of exploring space, attributing this to the educational films he made for Walt Disney, a company that owns half of the network this show airs on. The narrator suggests to us that von Braun’s father’s praise of his talent (“I don’t know where it comes from!”) was not the usual parental puffery but instead some sort of vague reference to aliens, and they say that he likely developed his interest in space from contemporary science fiction novels and movies of the 1920s. Nick Pope offers two choices: von Braun developed an obsession with space from science fiction or aliens. David Wilcock speculates that von Braun might have had an alien encounter, but this conclusion, as Giorgio Tsoukalos concedes, is based entirely on the circular logic of ancient astronaut theorists’ own claim that humans are incapable of independent genius, as their own ramblings repeatedly prove.
In 1937 von Braun joined the Nazi party, by command according to von Braun, but he would later misrepresent his party membership to the American government. In 1940, he joined the Allgemeine SS, which had half a million members, but he was eventually arrested as an alleged communist sympathizer. During his work with the Nazis, he developed the V-2 rocket, the first manmade object to enter space. The narrator asks whether this achievement occurred entirely due to an investment of resources and money, or whether the Ahnenerbe—the Aryan archaeology unit of the SS—gave von Braun ancient rocketry tips, since aliens, as we know, travel between worlds with mid-twentieth century rocket technology. David Childress asserts that Ahnenerbe archaeologists discovered alien artifacts that von Braun reverse engineered. David Wilcock then gives us the story of the crash of a UFO in Poland recovered by Nazis. You’ll remember this story because it is a Polish-Russian adaptation of a nearly identical story invented by a Neo-Nazi named Jan van Helsing in one of his racist books, one cited on Tsoukalos’s In Search of Aliens last year. Ancient Aliens dumps the van Helsing version (set in the Black Forest in Germany) and instead endorses the version set in Czernica in what is now Poland (on the property of the parents of Eva Braun no less!), a story with no factual evidence to support it. Nevertheless, Childress rhapsodizes about how advanced the Nazis were, and whether intentionally or due to bad editing, Childress—who in his books identified the white race as the ancient master race of Atlantis and Mu, ruling over the black race—seems to be praising the Nazis.
This segment describes von Braun’s work in the United States after the war, and it covers the claims of Roswell conspiracy theorist Philip Corso that von Braun worked on the recovered Roswell disc at White Sands, thus giving him the technology needed to build America’s rockets. Because alien ships are powered by rockets. We also review Ancient Aliens’ favorite Nazi artifact, the imaginary “Bell” time-travel device, which never existed. Even if it did, Ancient Aliens and In Search of Aliens both told us over the past few years that it traveled through time from 1944 to the 1960s, when it crashed in Kecksberg, Pennsylvania. It can’t be lost in space-time and in von Braun’s possession!
This segment covers von Braun’s work with Walt Disney to develop public support for space exploration, though von Braun was neither the first nor the only person so working, nor was the desire to reach space confined to the United States. As the program obliquely notes, the Soviets had some interest in space, too. Were the aliens helping them? The narrator is silent on how the Soviets managed to get Sputnik into space on their own while von Braun needed aliens to help America catch up in the space race. Nick Pope feels that exponential developments in technology are confusing, because he doesn’t understand exponential growth, or how discoveries build on each other at ever-increasing rates. The narrator next tells us that math is hard. That’s why we have aliens. How else, the narrator asks, could von Braun have determined as far back as the benighted 1950s things like the gravitational force of the moon, or how to time out a mission to make sure the spacecraft met the moon? Certainly, it couldn’t be done by calculation… No, it had to be aliens!
In the last quarter of the episode, Ancient Aliens ran out of things to say about Wernher von Braun, so they switch to conspiracy theories about NASA and the moon. Why? Well, for one things government agencies, like dead people, can’t sue for libel, so they can say anything about them without needing to fact check or get legal clearance. For another thing, they need to justify the title of the episode somehow, since there has so far been no NASA secret agenda discussed.
At the moon landing, NASA left a small gold olive branch representing peace (gold because gold does not tarnish) and a recording of greetings. Ancient astronaut theorists suggest that this was meant to communicate with aliens, and that von Braun knew that aliens would someday wage war on us. (That’s a misunderstanding of his belief that nuclear war was unthinkable and would only occur against an outside threat to earth.) Then we hear some various conspiracies about how astronauts supposedly investigated a hexagonal feature on the moon to recover alien artifacts, and that another crater has rocks that Mike Bara thinks look like technology and a metal skull when raw photo negatives were enhanced and manipulated beyond their original resolution. Bara claims that the crater was formed by an explosion that blew up some humanoid metal robots. Bara is seeing things in ambiguous images of randomly shaped rock fragments—pareidolia.
History’s new schedule of running Ancient Aliens three minutes past 10:00 PM to goose the ratings of Missing in Alaska annoys me because it messes up my DVR recordings while I review this steaming turd. As we approach the top of the hour, the show asserts that von Braun is somehow responsible for private space exploration companies, and they seem upset about the idea that someone other than the government might be up in space. But why? First the government is somehow evil and trying to suppress the truth, but now the government is the only legitimate space explorers? Apparently private companies have a “breakaway civilization” in which the super-rich will float off into the heavens to live with the aliens, while the schmucks left on earth will wallow in oppression on a poor, dying planet. It doesn’t take much to see social anxieties about economic inequality reflected in this, which I admit to describing a bit less subtly than the ignoramuses on Ancient Aliens did, largely because they don’t seem to be aware of their own underlying anxieties.
The show finishes with a rapid-fire recap of famous claims about Martian monuments, and they tell us that NASA has uncovered alien artifacts from such ruins. David Wilcock asks if there is a secret moon colony that is “classified” and we aren’t allowed to know about. But I thought that the one percent in their breakaway civilization were behind it all. Why would NASA help carry their water when they somehow stopped NASA exploration in its tracks decades ago as part of a nefarious agenda? Conspiracies on top of conspiracies! Good thing Wilcock gets support from the Russians to appear on their programs, too, and accuse America of wrongdoing. You never can be too careful about which oppressive, tyrannical regime is really in charge. Best to work both sides.
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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