I’ve related more than once that my efforts to get the History channel and its H2 spinoff to comment on the distortions, illogic, and rampant fakery on their programs have often come to naught. It is not exactly heartening to know that I am not alone. Business Insider tried to get comment from History on Ancient Aliens and its ilk, and they were rebuffed. (Discovery refused comment on its fake shark documentaries, too.) It’s hard to blame them; who would want to talk about the fact that their programming is overflowing with scientifically and historically insupportable half-truths and lies? Or that so much of their output is recycled material sent through yet another round of fringe history follies?
This episode of In Search of Aliens S01E08 “The Founding of America” offers an interesting riff on the theme. This starts out as a repeat of an earlier Ancient Aliens episode. The template is S03E11 “Aliens and the Founding Fathers,” which aired back in October 2011. To this show host Giorgio Tsoukalos adds a soupcon of America Unearthed-style Freemason conspiracies just to help keep his show positioned halfway between the two competing tent poles of H2’s appeal to the fringe of the fringe. But then it morphs into a strange effort to undo some of the charges of racism that bedevil the ancient astronaut theory by redirecting the show about as far away from aliens as you can get, arguing instead in favor of Native American influence on the U.S. Constitution, something that has nothing to do with aliens.
But before that we have Tsoukalos doing his best Scott Wolter impression. Tsoukalos, wearing his standard fetching necklace of large and sparkling semiprecious stones similar to one my grandmother once wore, specifically says he’s looking to see if “there’s more to this country’s origins than what we’ve been told by mainstream scholars.” Watch out, Scott Wolter!
We open with Tsoukalos telling us that Washington, D.C. is filled with “reminders of the ancient world,” including an Egyptian style obelisk (the Washington Monument) and Greek columns, but he claims that the Capitol dome is shaped like a Buddhist stupa—certainly news to Christopher Wren, whose dome of St. Paul’s in London was the model for the U.S. Capitol dome, itself modeled on Michelangelo’s dome of St. Peter’s in Rome with an added colonnade.
After the title credits we rehearse the 1952 Washington, D.C. UFO flap, but I’m confused by Tsoukalos’s references to D.C. as “our” nation’s capital. It was my understanding that he was born a Swiss citizen of Greek heritage. Does he have U.S. citizenship? Tsoukalos doesn’t dwell on the 1952 incident (it’s dropped altogether without even a moment’s analysis) but instead turns to our old friend Richard Dolan, the sometime Ancient Aliens pundit last seen about 10 days ago on The Unexplained Files seeking out UFOs with a nuclear weapons fetish. This time, Dolan is on to reveal the “hidden history” of UFOs’ secret influence “upon our government.”
Tsoukalos begins by asking Dolan if any other country on earth ever shared America’s founding freedoms of religion, assembly, and speech before America. He sounds like Sean Hannity at his most nationalistic; the freedoms listed were not originally part of an alien-inspired perfect Constitution but were added by amendment to secure ratification of the Constitution from those skeptical of federal power, and not applied to the states until the fourteenth amendment. Dolan rhapsodizes about the American Dream and speaks of the continent as a beacon of freedom from the time of Columbus, to which Native Americans and African Americans undoubtedly answered “for rich white people.”
Tsoukalos even adopts the long exploded canard that Christopher Columbus “discovered” America (the Vikings beat him by 400 years)—and the even longer-exploded canard that Europeans of the time though the world was flat! In direct contradiction to Scott Wolter’s show on this same network, Tsoukalos asserts that Europeans in 1492 “had no idea America even existed.” Fringe fight! Seriously, though, this isn’t history in any meaningful sense; it is nationalist mythology, particularly the parody of American history favored by the upscale white male audience pursued by H2. What makes it all so odd is the way the last third of the show runs nationalist mythology off the rails in a way sure to upset the same people the show is comforting here with paeans to national greatness and 1950s cartoon versions of American history.
Tsoukalos says that during the discovery of America, Columbus wrote on October 11, 1492 that he saw “a light glimmering from a great distance that appeared like the light of a wax candle moving up and down” from the deck of the Santa Maria. This is almost correct, though it conflates two lines from the journal. In order to deny the man who first saw land, Rodrigo de Triana a large monetary prize, Columbus claimed that the night before he had seen “a light, but so small a body that he could not affirm it to be land.” In other words, he pretended that he saw a signal fire or a light from a settlement on some distant beach, not a large UFO as the show’s graphics depict. So small was it that no one else on the three ships saw it. Columbus is widely believed to have made the story up to claim the money. Tsoukalos thinks a UFO was signaling him.
Tsoukalos next tells us that the architecture of the capital—its pillars and domes and pilasters—is “a great homage to the freethinkers of the ancient world,” as though dictatorships and monarchies (from Rome to the British Empire to Hitler) did not make use of the same classical language of architecture. “You wouldn’t create these structures,” Tsoukalos says, “unless it were to honor where this whole knowledge and ideas originated.” Dolan agrees: “Sure.” In that case Albert Speer’s Zeppelintribune surely must honor the highest ideals of Classical civilization. Tsoukalos might note that America’s neoclassical architecture is drawn from Roman use rather than Greek (domes like the Capitol’s and exterior Corinthian columns such as those of the Supreme Court building are from Roman style), and imperial Roman at that—a far cry from the pure democratic simplicity of early Athens.
We next introduce the idea that the Founding Fathers believed in the plurality of worlds—which is to say aliens. This is not in dispute, but it neither is it, as Tsoukalos says, one of the most important aspects of Enlightenment philosophy. Tsoukalos asks Dolan if George Washington made contact “with these green skinned people.” Back on Ancient Aliens in 2011 he was certain of it, even though the story was from a British tabloid hoax. As I wrote then “Another claim made by Ancient Aliens, that Washington was visited by “Greenskins,” or alien beings, derives entirely from hoax diaries allegedly found in a Scottish castle in the 1990s and later reported on by a British tabloid reporter in the Sun. As far as I can tell, such diaries have never been published and in all likelihood do not exist.” Now he finds it “incredible” and doubts what he once considered incontrovertible. Dolan tells Tsoukalos it’s a hoax but then takes him right into another hoax, the alleged visitation of an angel to Washington at Valley Forge which he asserts is potentially true.
I covered this back in 2011:
One piece of evidence was an alleged vision George Washington had of a “heavenly being” that showed him “the birth, progress, and destiny of the Republic of the United States” while at Valley Forge. [Ancient astronaut theorist] Giorgio Tsoukalos and Ancient Aliens took this as a genuine vision (albeit of an "alien" and not an angel) reported by the 99-year-old Anthony Sherman, a (non-existent) former aid to Washington, in 1859, as told to Wesley Bradshaw. In fact, this is a well-known hoax concocted by Charles W. Alexander, the actual author of the piece, in 1861, at the start of the Civil War. It was intended as fiction, hence the anachronistic references to the “Union” projected back to 1777-1778.
I included the hoax text in my forthcoming book Foundations of Atlantis, Ancient Astronauts, and Alternative Histories.
Now we’re off to Freemason conspiracies because this is the H2 network, so Tsoukalos meets with the same Freemason who has appeared on every other fringe program, Akram Elias, whom we saw on America Unearthed back in January. Elias has previously appeared on Ancient Aliens, America’s Book of Secrets, and a Dan Brown tie-in documentary. We rehearse the standard masonic history of America, that many of the Founders were Masons, that the cornerstone of the Capitol was laid in a Masonic ceremony, and so on. We look at a lithograph of Washington as a Mason, which Tsoukalos identifies wrongly as a painting, and in it Tsoukalos identifies the gate of Heaven as a UFO. He recycles a claim from Ancient Aliens S03E11 that the Washington Monument is aligned with the Pleiades. Really? When? They sort of move during the night and over the course of the year. He also claims that the Reflecting Pool was added to show that the monument represents Hermetic ideas of “as above so below.” Except, of course, that the Reflecting Pool was added much, much later—in 1922—and not to reflect the Washington Monument. It was intended as an adjunct to the Lincoln Memorial, and in fact bears the official name of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.
Tsoukalos next repeats the lie that the Capitol dome is a Buddhist stupa, which symbolizes a UFO. As I mentioned above, it is actually an elaboration of Christopher Wren’s design for St. Paul’s.
Elias tells Tsoukalos that the reverse of the one dollar bill (by which he really means the Great Seal of the United States, featured on the bill) is a Freemason conspiracy, but what any of this has to do with aliens is beyond me. According to Tsoukalos, the all-seeing eye on the Seal is a triangular alien spaceship with political ideas.
After the break, Tsoukalos goes into the fringe claim that Washington, D.C.’s street grid is somehow esoteric because it is composed of straight lines, much like the orthogonal street grids of Roman cities or, say, the orthogonal grid of Manhattan. Almost every planned city has a regular street layout because it is efficient; you don’t have to have secret Freemason plots to know that. The Romans did it for a thousand years, except, ironically, in Rome itself, where organic city growth prevented orthogonal reconstruction. Tsoukalos gets a lesson in surveying to show how the Founders laid out the city’s main streets, and I fail to see what this has to do with any search for aliens, but the demonstration that a surveyor’s chain at the time was 33 feet long (because it divides into miles and acres evenly) gives the lie to Alan Butler’s claim on America Unearthed that the city was measured in megalithic yards. As I noted at the time, the megalithic yard of 2.72 feet very nearly divides evenly into units of 1,000 feet, with an error of just 1 yard per 1,000 feet—and this shows how the city was really measured.
Tsoukalos, though, thinks that the design was put in place to be seen “from the air,” to signal space aliens. To support this he brings up the story of William Dunbar, an astronomer who saw “a phenomenon” in the sky at Baton Rouge on April 5, 1800, which took the form of an object “wholly luminous, but not emitting sparks.” It crashed, he said, to judge from the noise it made. Tsoukalos said that when Jefferson read Dunbar’s letter to the Philosophical Society on January 16, 1801, he became “the most powerful public [figure] to officially recognize a UFO encounter.” This is disingenuous since the event is quite clearly a meteor and matches descriptions of other fireballs and meteors seen in those years. No one seriously doubted that it was a meteorite, and indeed it appears in books today as such.
Next we move on to Benjamin Franklin because… who knows? This episode doesn’t really have much of a purpose except to say that several of the Founders had some connection or another to Enlightenment-era ideas about life on other worlds. Historian Michael Zuckerman takes Tsoukalos on a tour of Franklin’s scientific investigations and his belief that life might exist on other planets, but instead of developing this line into something about the history of science, Tsoukalos says that the Founders were “heavily influenced by Native American culture,” which is of course why they wanted to exterminate them and assign ancient Native works to a lost white race. This takes the form of the claim that the idea for the U.S. Constitution borrows from the Great Law of Peace of the Iroquois Confederacy (a notion endorsed by the U.S. Congress in 1988), despite the very obvious and fundamental differences between the two (the Iroquois Confederacy was a league of chiefs who operated on consensus, for example, while the U.S. has separation of powers and a single executive). At best there is a thematic influence, but no specific legal borrowing—nothing in it can be shown to be directly Native in origin. Tsoukalos implies that he believes that Franklin was a proto-hippie, absorbing spiritual wisdom from the Native Americans. (He did see much virtue in Native people, along the lines of the Noble Savage, much as Tacitus praised the Germans.)
So, anyway, all of this is irrelevant to aliens. Instead we hear that in Iroquois belief North America is shaped like a turtle (if you say so—I don’t see it), with Baja and Florida as the legs, Mexico as the tail, and Alaska and Labrador as the front legs. The head isn’t really there but sort of trails off into Nunavut and Baffin Island. Therefore the Iroquois could only have known this if space aliens showed them North America from space. The trouble is that the Iroquois myth of creation never specifies that the turtle that rises from the cosmic waters is North America (the earth as a whole is built on its back, not just one continent), and the story is recorded only after maps of North America were already in circulation. Guess what: The Europeans managed to figure out the continent’s shape without satellite imagery, so Tsoukalos’s claim that satellites were needed to understand the shape of the continent makes no logical sense on the face of it. Tsoukalos undercuts all of this altogether by declaring the turtle not a continent but a “spacecraft” and the creator of the land, Sky Woman, an extraterrestrial.
Tsoukalos is shocked to learn that Americans used Native Americans as symbols in the nineteenth century, embodying the United States in the form of a Native princess. Tsoukalos meets with Grammy-winning musician Joanne Shenandoah of the Oneida nation, who holds an honorary 2002 Ph.D. in music from Syracuse University and therefore uses the title of Dr. (I’m pretty sure I met her once in college, but I don’t really remember.) She tells Tsoukalos about the “reality” of Sky Woman and she reiterates what we’ve already heard about the Iroquois and the Constitution. There is really nothing in her statements that has anything to do with aliens, or which offers anything beyond what we’ve already heard. The show is just wasting time since Tsoukalos doesn’t even ask for her opinion of his idea that the Sky Woman she believes in was actually a space alien.
Finally, Tsoukalos shows us a state of an “extraterrestrial.” It’s what he calls (wrongly) the “Spirit of Freedom” statue atop the Capitol Dome. Its official name is the Statue of Freedom. It depicts a Native American woman wearing a crown of stars. Tsoukalos identifies her outfit as Native American specifically Iroquois, though the sculptor intended it to be Classical Greek. Her headdress is symbolic, not Native American. As you can see from the proposed model sculptures, the final design was not derived from the Iroquois but from compromises made to secure acceptance of what was originally a more classical design. Jefferson Davis, who oversaw the Capitol dome project, would only accept the eagle headdress version because the original, wearing a cap of liberty, might have suggested that slavery was a bad thing. Tsoukalos says he’s open to the idea that the statue depicts the Iroquois extraterrestrial goddess, but he has competition: Scott Wolter believes that she’s really a Masonic symbol of dualism and the Jesus Bloodline. Get your stories straight, people!
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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