As we approach the New Year, it’s time to take a final look back at 2017 in fringe history. This was a year when political news overshadowed almost everything else, but 2017 still managed to find new ways to use and abuse history, rivalling the historic low of 2016. This year in fringe history might not have been more extreme than last year, but it was certainly darker. It was the year when fringe historians rejoiced that they had an ally in the White House whose courtiers proudly flew the banner of “alternative facts,” but more than anything, it was the year of Tom DeLonge, the musician turned ufologist who published an ancient astronaut book, launched a UFO research company, was crowned UFO researcher of the year, and took credit for the year’s biggest UFO research flap. Let’s look back at what happened over the past twelve months.
The year began in an explosive fashion with the claim that alien bodies had been uncovered in South America. The supposed three-fingered alien corpse was quickly debunked, but it launched a year’s worth of programs on anti-truth web network Gaia TV in which the alleged alien corpse was subjected to various tests. Former OWN-TV “Miracle Detective” Randall Sullivan moved over to Curse of Oak Island on the History channel and wrongly declared the island to be Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis. The Turkish government funded an Islamic propaganda program declaring the 10,000-year-old site of Göbekli Tepe to be a temple built by Jewish patriarch Abraham’s father and destroyed by Abraham himself. The Egyptian god Thoth co-authored a book and somehow managed to assign his copyright to a New Age mystic. Steve Quayle started selling Nephilim sculptures in exchange for donations of $50,000 or more to his giant-hunting doomsday prep company. A Minnesota man asked for $10,000 to prove that a skull found in that state belonged to one of the Norse who carved the Kensington Rune Stone. He failed to get the money, and even failed to make his downwardly revised $5,000 goal. At the end of the month the National Geographic Channel debuted James Cameron’s and Simcha Jacobovici’s Atlantis Rising documentary, which garnered fluffy press coverage but produced no lasting results other than the impression among the gullible that the Titanic director had commissioned a fake Indiana Jones to find Atlantis in Spain. Steve Quayle and L. A. Marzulli ended January by claiming that the U.S. government encountered multiple Nephilim giants in Afghanistan. Ancient astronaut theorist and a self-described “intellectual” of the alt-right who happened to have a fetish for Nazi philosophers Jason Reza Jorjani joined white nationalists to celebrate Donald Trump’s inauguration at a rally where Nazi slogans were used. Jorjani promptly went into business with white nationalist Richard Spencer, whom he met at the rally, in order to launch AltRight.com.
Newsweek profiled people in California who wrongly believe that a Viking ship is buried in that state. No surprise, but two cable channels confirmed that they were making documentaries about the fictitious ship. Rob Lowe announced that Ancient Aliens is his guilty pleasure while explaining his plans for his own paranoid paranormal cable show, which came and went over the summer on the History Channel’s corporate cousin A&E to no great fanfare. Ancient Aliens star William Henry announced that the “Divine Feminine” had blessed Donald Trump, a man who once bragged that he could grab women “by the pussy” without consequence. Another Ancient Aliens star, David Wilcock, alleged that a conspiracy of Democrats and space aliens were attempting to stop Donald Trump from defeating evil and revealing the truth about Atlantis. John Anthony West, the founder of modern “alternative archaeology,” announced that he had cancer and was raising money for unproven alternative treatments. He also admitted that his brand of pseudohistory is actually a political movement to overthrow capitalism. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and Nephilim theorist L. A. Marzulli, both of whom had endorsed Trump, had a collective freak out about Satanic and Illuminati imagery in the Super Bowl halftime show and the threat the Illuminati posed to Trump. Creationist Ken Ham planned to add an exhibit of Nephilim battling dinosaurs to his Noah’s Ark museum. Tom DeLonge was named “UFO Researcher of the Year” by OpenMinds.tv even before releasing any of his UFO research.
In March, the FBI began investigating Russia’s connection to Alex Jones’s InfoWars and Russian propaganda outlets’ promotion of conspiracies, UFOs, and pseudohistory. Jones apologized for promoting the false “Pizzagate” conspiracy about a Democratic child porn ring located under a Washington, D.C. pizzeria, but Ancient Aliens star David Wilcock doubled down on his belief that space aliens and Democrats ran a child porn and murder empire under that same pizzeria. Bosnian pyramid enthusiast and frequent Ancient Aliens guest star Semir Osmanagić claimed that mountains in Bosnia that he mistook for pyramids use faster-than-light waves that science says do not exist to communicate with space aliens. Nephilim theorist L. A. Marzulli launched a UFO merchandise line to compete with Tom DeLonge’s To the Stars. DeLonge released his first ancient astronaut book, Sekret Machines, written by Peter Levenda under a joint byline, in March to much fanfare but little intellectual coherence. DeLonge announced that his “strong sense of business” would allow him to dole out UFO revelations incrementally for “years to come.” Xaviant Haze, a DJ with anti-Semitic views about the Rothschilds, announced that the History Channel had hired him to hunt Nephilim giants, but by year’s end nothing had come of the effort. The History Channel sent the giant-hunting Vieira brothers on a Return to Roanoke in a failed effort to prove that the hoax Dare Stones were genuine. Former basketball star Shaquille O’Neal announced his belief that Europeans colonized the New World in ancient times.
In April the Defense Department said that it had no record that any official ever met with Tom DeLonge as DeLonge claimed, but by year’s end we would learn that a Pentagon official in charge of UFO reports was in talks to join DeLonge’s company, and left the government only days before joining To the Stars in October. Peter Levenda attacked Ancient Aliens in Rolling Stone for proposing exactly the same false hypothesis that he had used in Sekret Machines. Steven Greer marketed his documentary Unacknowledged with claims that the UFO movement is a government disinformation campaign and that the government will assassinate anyone who reveals the truth. Greer refuted his own claims by remaining alive. A columnist for the New York Daily News endorsed the ancient astronaut theory. Zena Halpern released her self-published book teased on History’s Curse of Oak Island claiming proof that the Knights Templar visited upstate New York. It was a sad failure at every level. The American Heroes Channel tried to rip off Ancient Aliens. A college began offering a continuing education course in Bigfoot’s battles with Solutreans, while an academic journal published a bad article about comets at Göbekli Tepe based ultimately on speculation by Ancient Aliens talking head Andrew Collins about lost civilizations. Ancient Aliens star Giorgio Tsoukalos tried to use medieval legends to claim that aliens built the pyramids, while Will Hart used Victorian fantasies to the same end. Ancient Aliens ended the month by launching its twelfth season of recycling old material from past episodes. On the last day of the month, Graham Hancock published a major article bashing scientists and defending the centuries-old search for Atlantis.
In May France’s top ethnology museum hosted a forum on space aliens and dinosaurs in North American rock art, but in a surprising twist, it did so only to debunk extreme claims. On the other side of the Pond, the Smithsonian’s cable outlet ran a documentary incorrectly claiming that a Babylonian tablet preserved an exact image of the Tower of Babel. Skeptic magazine founder Michael Shermer made a hash of his debate with Graham Hancock on Joe Rogan’s podcast, though Hancock managed to be angry about it anyway. A MUFON executive got caught up in a racism scandal after going on a Facebook tirade about how white people gave civilization to “F’ing blacks.” The annual Contact in the Desert ancient astronaut conference occurred, but made no news and offered nothing new. Former History Channel host Scott Wolter tried to stage a television comeback by recording interviews for the Science Channel, which eventually aired them in November and December, to no fanfare, on What on Earth. An actor from Jane the Virgin begged fans to watch Ancient Aliens because “Oh my dear god, it’s so good!” More ominously, billionaire UFO believer Robert Bigelow shared his alien obsession on CBS’s 60 Minutes, but his connection to the Pentagon’s UFO office, Jacques Vallée, and Tom DeLonge’s To the Stars went unmentioned, though it would come to define ufology by the end of the year.
A former pornographic actress claimed that space aliens developed marijuana and gave the plant to the Cherokee. A Cambodian scholar claimed that the Romans visited ancient Cambodia and paid for the construction of a key temple based on his belief that bas reliefs of people from India actually represented Romans. Gaia TV began promoting the supposed discovery of an “alien” mummy in Peru with videos available by paid subscription. The alien mummy flap died down when the corpse was identified as a human body altered by taxidermy. L. A. Marzulli’s stopped clock was right once on the day he decided that the alien mummy might just be a hoax, but he also claimed that the so-called “Deep State” was planning to destroy him because of his love of Donald Trump and his knowledge of Nephilim. The Destination America cable channel unveiled a new on-air identity centered on the paranormal as part of its transition to an all-fringe, all-rural cable network. Former Glee star Chris Colfer endorsed Ancient Aliens and said he uses the show to plan alien-themed vacations. NASA ended the month by denying claims made on Alex Jones’s InfoWars that the U.S. government runs a child slave colony on Mars and uses pedophilia to provide fresh blood to vampiric liberal elites.
In late June and early July, the seventieth anniversary of the start of the modern UFO era was greeted with muted celebration, overshadowed by darker conspiracies surrounding the controversial Trump Administration. A U.S. congressman with close ties to Vladimir Putin and Russia used a congressional hearing to promote the ancient astronaut theory, alongside Russian propaganda outlets covering the same idea. Gaia TV doubled down on alien mummies, while the History Channel suffered embarrassment but high ratings after trying to pass off an unremarkable 1935 Japanese photograph as an image of Amelia Earhart after her 1937 disappearance. The network pulled the Earhart documentary from its lineup after online critics debunked its central claim in less than 48 hours. The British pseudohistory series Forbidden History returned for a fourth, mostly unremarkable season of six episodes. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop lifestyle magazine endorsed the work of maverick geologist Robert Schoch and told its upscale New Age readers that Egypt had been founded by a lost civilization more than 12,000 years ago, while celebrity psychic Uri Geller planned to excavate what he believes is “Egyptian” treasure belonging to the fictitious Queen Scota on a Scottish island he owns. The dig is scheduled for 2019. With the aid and endorsement of Scott Wolter, a Minnesota county developed a museum presenting the history of the Kensington Runestone and its claims of medieval Norse visits to that state. An academic journal got taken in by a Renaissance forgery of Berossus. A pay-for-play Chinese journal published a fringe piece by Robert Schoch and Robert Bauval, while a Classical scholar announced that ancient statues are racist because they are made from white marble.
In early August conspiracy theorist Jim Marrs died at the age of 73, leaving behind legacy of anti-Semitic paranoia, recycled ancient astronaut claims, and rightwing ranting. Alternative historian Graham Hancock announced that he had nearly died after lapsing into a coma as the result of years of prescription drug misuse. He blamed skeptics for causing his health crisis with their “negative” energy. Scott Wolter announced plans for a new television show, but by year’s end they had failed to come to fruition. The Atlantic diagnosed ancient astronauts and Donald Trump as part of the same wave of American unreason going back to the Founding, while Robert Bauval published a book coauthored with an Indian cosmologist endorsing panspermia and announcing that he both believes that the Egyptian pyramids were planned by space aliens and that he receives his ideas through communication with another dimension. Two British retirees sought a second Great Sphinx at Giza, but found nothing. The History Channel sent Giorgio Tsoukalos on a goodwill tour across Latin America to promote Ancient Aliens as a lifestyle brand.
In September millionaire venture capitalist, ufologist, and Bigelow Aerospace consultant Jacques Vallée announced that he was testing metal alloys with undiscovered physical properties that allegedly fell off of visiting alien spaceships. A Rice University professor alleged that a Renaissance painting contained an unknowable UFO mystery beyond human comprehension. It was in fact a picture of the Annunciation. Ancient Aliens ended its twelfth season and aired no more original episodes for the year. The daughter of one of the key players in Erich von Däniken’s largely fictitious exploration of an Ecuadoran cave full of alien gold announced plans to cash in on her efforts to find the same non-existent treasure trove with a documentary and a potential book or cable deal. The half-Iranian Jason Reza Jorjani had a falling out with Richard Spencer and left the alt-right movement following racist online attacks on Jorjani by Spencer’s followers, who considered him insufficiently white. Jorjani returned to promoting Persian nationalism and ancient astronaut theories full time. L. A. Marzulli blamed YouTube for cutting off a lucrative stream of funding when they removed ads from his anti-Muslim videos, and he claimed that fallen angels were causing men to adopt a transgender identity. Scott Wolter closed the month appropriately by announcing that he had absolute proof that the Knights Templar had colonized ancient America but that he would not reveal it until someone gave him a TV show. As of year’s end, no one had taken him up on the offer.
A survey released by Chapman University found that belief in Atlantis had grown into the most widely held fringe idea, with 55% believing—the first time a clear majority held such a belief. A full 35% also held the ancient astronaut theory to be correct. The Travel Channel’s Josh Gates took Expedition Unknown on a Hunt for Extraterrestrials. He didn’t find any, but in the ensuing promotional efforts Gates confessed that he is a closet ancient astronaut theorist before backtracking on his endorsement of the ancient astronaut theory. Ancient Aliens pundit Andrew Collins traced civilization back to the Denisovans, without evidence, while fellow Ancient Aliens star David Wilcock blamed a deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas on space aliens, whom he believed were trying to distract the public from an imminent leak of U.S. government UFO secrets. But the big news of the month was Tom DeLonge’s launch of To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science, which saw the musician selling stock to the public to fund a guaranteed $100,000 or more annual payday for himself. DeLonge teased UFO revelations but offered none. At the end of the month, DeLonge made a bizarre appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast, where he claimed to have access to alien metal alloys with time-distortion properties and conceded that most of his “secret” knowledge of aliens was gleaned from paperback UFO books.
One month after launching To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science, DeLonge’s company had made $1.95 million in stock sales, reaching $2.3 million by year’s end, though fewer than 2,500 people actually bought stock in his company. In the ongoing Russian ancient astronaut propaganda effort, a Russian youth claimed that the ancient Egyptians were in league with Martians and that he had lived a past life on Mars. Erich von Däniken released yet another book that his publisher billed as the “first” sequel to Chariots of the Gods. Filled with his standard repertoire of claims, it was notably only for its cranky rightwing conservatism, including an attack on transgender people in defense of traditional gender roles. Ancient Aliens star William Henry claimed that a Leonardo da Vinci painting was a portal to another dimension. An Italian archaeologist claimed, without much evidence, that the Trojan Horse was actually a boat. A Swedish scholar discovered more evidence that the Kensington Runestone is a nineteenth century hoax.
In December, the political media outed former Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) as a UFO nut. Reid funneled more than $22 million in government funding to a secret, and useless, Pentagon program to investigate UFOs at the behest of UFO crank and billionaire Robert Bigelow, a friend of Reid. Reid later admitted that he became a believer in space alien conspiracies after reading a UFO book about the Skinwalker Ranch written by another Bigelow associate, George Knapp, who had provided a chunk of supposed UFO wreckage from Bigelow to a Nevada museum that Reid worked to join to the Smithsonian. Tom DeLonge’s To the Stars company claimed credit for the revelations, which were sparked by the former head of the UFO program, who left the Pentagon and joined DeLonge’s company a few days later. He told the New York Times that Bigelow had alien metal alloys in secret Las Vegas facilities. Everyone involved partnered with, worked with, or was paid by Bigelow. Ancient Aliens star David Wilcock accused the Rothschild banking family of threatening to assassinate him and cutting his brake lines to stop him from reporting on UFOs disclosure. A History Channel executive boasted that UFO, ancient astronaut, and conspiracy programming like Ancient Aliens “continually worked for us.” A luxury lifestyle magazine ran a fawning interview with Graham Hancock that put Goop to shame. A South African philosophy professor endorsed Hancock’s lost civilization hypothesis. Jason Reza Jorjani shut down his blog without giving a reason, while Donald Zygutis ended the year by claiming that clues in Carl Sagan’s novel Contact point toward a Bible code that proves the presence of ancient astronauts through references to olive oil.
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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