Over the last few days, the Irish fringe history writer and radio host E. A. James Swagger had a number of high profile fringe history guests on his Capricorn Radio YouTube series. I don’t have time to listen to all of them, so today I have chosen two of this week’s interviews to write about: David Hatcher Childress, from December 29, and Scott F. Wolter, from yesterday. It was something of a slog to get through two solid hours of conspiracy theories, badly sourced claims, and wild speculation, but I made it.
David Hatcher Childress was on to talk about vimanas, Nan Madol, and Nazis, and even though it isn’t relevant I can’t help but note that Swagger misspoke and called Childress an “enema” before correcting it to “enigmatic.” He actually meant that Childress writes about mysteries, not that he is one. Childress is the kind of person who benefits from editing. In this radio interview he sighs a lot and sounds alternately out of breath and exasperated. It’s quite distracting. His stories are discursive and unfocused, and his monotone drawl is exaggerated the more he talks. Only when reciting what seem to be pre-digested talking points does he rise to a more dramatic intonation like he uses on Ancient Aliens, before sinking back into breathy quiet.
Childress discusses the city of Nan Madol in Micronesia and repeats more than once that 200 million tons of basalt were used to build it. The number, typically given (in Childress’s own books) as 250 million tons, is popular in fringe circles, but I don’t know that it’s true. Childress says that basalt, a magnetic stone, was used so that antigravity technology or magnets could be used to float the blocks into place, and he scoffs at claims that the “primitive islanders” could “somehow” quarry and move basalt by boat. Childress says that archaeologists don’t know where the basalt came from, but this isn’t true either. It was sourced to Temwen Island and Pohnpei in 2012.
Childress is actually on to promote a second book he has written about vimanas, the flying chariots of Indian epic poetry. Childress, who makes this sound very boring, has based all of his claims on taking Sanskrit poetry at face value and interpreting what he himself identifies as stories that are “like science fiction” as science fact. Worse, he still accepts the twentieth century hoax Vaimānika Śāstra as a legitimate ancient source of Vedic wisdom and therefore concludes that vimanas were powered by mercury vortex engines. He knows that the text can’t be traced back before the early twentieth century, but he still claims (as he has done for years) that the book was secretly found in a library and dates back thousands of years.
Following this, Childress claims that Area 51 contains a town called Mercury, Nevada, and that this was named for the engines of the vimanas, whose memory also was applied to the “Greek” (actually Roman) god Mercury. (The town, which does exist, used to be called Jackass Flats and was renamed for a nearby nineteenth century mercury mine.) He goes on to describe the mysteries of mercury (the metal) and assert that the Nazis built “swarms” of mercury-powered “foo fighters” during World War II to buzz Allied planes. Mercury, apparently, has the “well known effect in UFO lore” of shutting down electronic devices when placed in a spinning vortex engine.
Childress becomes extremely excited in discussing the Nazis, whom he seems to hold in awe. He discusses their advanced technology and their ancient wisdom, and he asserts that at the end of the war, they got in their submarines and took off for a “secret base in Antarctica” as well as their bases in the Canary Islands and Greenland. Childress calls Antarctica “the last bastion of the Third Reich” and says that in 1947 a Navy flotilla and Admiral Byrd traveled to the Nazi base, where the Nazis defeated America with their flying saucers. There is no evidence of any of this; it derives from a recent attempt to find support for F. Amadeo Giannini's book The Worlds Beyond the Poles (1957), which presented dialogue from the movie The Lost Horizon as a message given by an alien to Byrd while he was visiting the hollow earth at the North Pole in February 1947. Not wanting to reject the ridiculous claims entirely, recent writers have revised this to the South Pole, where Byrd actually was in early 1947, and swapped out hollow earth beings for underground Nazis.
Childress claims that Byrd spoke of UFOs and Nazi bases to the press after the failure of the 1947 Operation Highjump, landing him in a mental asylum, but this isn’t quite true. He told the press that he was worried that the Soviet Union could fly planes undetected over the poles to reach America. And contrary to claims that he spent his life in an asylum, he returned to Antarctica in 1955 to set up America’s first permanent Antarctic base. Much of the Navy material about Operation Highjump was declassified and discussed in a scholarly article back in 2007, if anyone is interested in how badly Childress mangles this story.
Childress believes that the U.S. government is making flying saucers but that regular Americans won’t benefit from advanced propulsion technologies because the “entire world economy is based on oil” so a major conspiracy is at work to keep us dependent on oil. Therefore, the military is keeping mercury-powered UFOs a secret to preserve the internal combustion engine and the economic power of oil. Contrary to his stance on Ancient Aliens, Childress now claims that UFOs are not alien spacecraft but rather human-made products of technology and physics.
No one ever accused Childress of being consistent. He says whatever sells.
Next, Swagger and Childress discuss ancient stone constructions, and Childress tells us that if we look at these stones we are in awe of how ancient people moved such large rocks. But, he says, there is no reason to think ancient people would have expended effort to build stone structures. That’s work, and ancient people were lazy. Instead, they only used big rocks because they could easily move them with antigravity technology. Childress further denies that the Inca built their own cities and fortresses, like Cuzco, Sacsayhuaman, and Machu Picchu. He claims that these structures are vastly older and the Inca, whom he sees as both ignorant and primitive (“they didn’t have the wheel, didn’t even have writing”), simply squatted in the ruins of better people’s works. This is despite the fact that the Spanish investigated their construction back in the 1500s. Here is Garcilaso de la Vega, himself half-Inca, describing how it was done: “they dragged them with stout ropes by the force of their arms” (trans. Clements Markham).
So much for David Childress.
Two days later, Wolter announced on Capricorn Radio that he and Committee Films are hoping for a fourth season of America Unearthed, but he said that due to declining ratings for the H2 network and all cable TV as a whole (which he blamed on Netflix), the network is “reevaluating” its direction and whether to continue with the series past the conclusion of the current season. The fact that America Unearthed currently has only low-paying infomercial advertisers (the kind that have 1-800 numbers) willing to buy time rather than higher paying ads for cars and booze (the network’s targeted advertisers) does not bode well for the future of the series.
Swagger asked Wolter about the so-called Stone of Destiny and whether the Ark of the Covenant had been hidden in Ireland. In recapitulating the story, Wolter shows that he still has not learned that the story is a medieval hoax since he continues to assert that he has concluded that “the legends were strong enough and credible enough” to suggest that the Ark was in Ireland. Wolter tells us that the point of his show isn’t to find artifacts but to “try to teach people about these legends,” which is a crock considering America Unearthed fails, at the most basic level, to understand the very legends it’s trying to investigate. In the case of the Stone of Destiny and Ark of the Covenant stories, the show completely failed to understand how those legends were fabricated in the High Middle Ages and then repackaged by a specific individual as part of the British Isrealism movement in the nineteenth century—as I wrote about before.
“It’s a lesson in life,” Wolter says in discussing why, Zen-like, the journey is more important than the goal. “Did we really think we were going to find the Ark of the Covenant? No, not really,” he said.
Swagger, who is very proud to be Irish, wants to claim the Judaculla Stone for Ireland, suggesting that its patterns look like Irish megalithic designs. Even though Scott Wolter concluded that the stone was Cherokee on America Unearthed, in response he tells Swagger that Native Americans have told him that their ancestors met with people from Old World cultures “regularly” and therefore were using the same symbols as the Irish. “It really makes sense,” Wolter said.
Wolter then explained that he hopes his show can help to contribute toward improved race relations. “You can’t tell the history of America without involving Native Americans,” Wolter said, just a few days after America Unearthed showed him telling a Native American that the French “stole” America from the Welsh, who by virtue of a well-placed rock owned all the land on which Native Americans lived.
Wolter and Swagger then discuss the role of individual personality in research, and Wolter explains that for him personal relationships and socialization are the most important criteria in doing research. People who are friendly and open to sharing, he implies, are good people, while those who are not friendly and are “territorial” in their research are bad people. Logically, this shouldn’t have anything to do with facts and evidence, but “that’s the way the world works,” Wolter says. This explains why Wolter is still defending Dr. Lee’s assertion to him that the 1602 Chinese map, signed and dated 1602, that he showed a couple of weeks ago was instead made around 1430. Dr. Lee is friendly and shares, so he must be right, even though he has no evidence whatsoever that the map predates 1602. (It is actually based on a 1570 map by the European cartographer Ortelius, which the Jesuit scholar who drew the Chinese map used as his source.)
But that pales before Wolter’s most audacious misunderstanding of history and international law:
Maybe the government and the powers that be were worried that something like the [Kensington] Rune Stone could have opened up a can of worms where some other country could say, ‘Hey, we want to lay claim to this land,’ and it would have been a credible threat to the sovereignty of our country.
As I explained in the past, even if pre-Columbian America had been “owned” by the Welsh, their claims would have passed to England upon the annexation of Wales, and would have been terminated with the Treaty of Paris in 1783, which ended all the claims of the British Crown. Had America been “owned” by the Templars—well, it could not have been since they were not sovereign and had no legal standing to claim land in their name. (They could not coin money, either.) At any rate, with no European occupation, the land was terra nullius in European law, which did not recognize most Native American rights. Compare, for example, Joseph Trutch’s declaration in 1870 that because Native Americans (First Nations) rejected the idea of land ownership, British Columbia was therefore terra nullius and any and all land could be taken by white men—no special rocks or conspiracies needed. Crucially, no claims of prior Welsh ownership were advanced. (Trutch, a wild racist, called Native people the “ugliest and laziest” on earth.) The Kensington Rune Stone wasn’t discovered until 1898, decades after U.S. officials like New York Gov. Morgan Lewis were actively promoting the idea of a supposed Welsh colony in ancient America, so it seems highly doubtful that anyone would have been concerned about a “land claim” from the Middle Ages, especially one by powers that had no legal standing.
Building off of this, Wolter decides to talk about Tartarian script, which he and Swagger both fail to understand beyond Hjalmar Holand’s misrepresentation of it, and Wolter follows Holand in concluding that the La Vérendrye rune stone was not written in “Tartarian” but “runes,” though which set of runes (there were many) he chooses not to say. He speculates that the Jesuits were purposely lying about the carvings being in Tartarian to cover up Templar land claims because the Jesuits were enemies of the Templars. Wolter says Tartarian is “identical” to runes in many respects, proving that he has no idea what Tartarian was supposed to be.
Wolter asserts that Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin learned about Templar land claims to America from the secret societies of France to which they belonged, though he again fails to provide any evidence to support his assertion that we “know” the Templars had been in America since the twelfth century.
Some people hear this stuff and go, ‘It’s too fantastic to believe.’ Well, no, it’s not if you understand anything about how these secret societies work and about this political intrigue and the whole idea of land grabs, gold, silver, and how, you know… That’s what it was all about. So, to me, this isn’t a stretch at all. It’s just how it was done back then.
Wolter goes on to say that medieval people were constantly coming to America “in secret” for wood, fish, and fur, and purposely chose not to tell anyone to keep their source of materials safe. This should be easy enough to test by looking for American species in medieval European contexts, but Wolter doesn’t want to do that since there isn’t any American wood or fur in European materials before the start of the Columbian exchange. (This is barring the odd piece the Vikings may have returned from Vinland.)
The longer he speaks, the more animated he becomes, and as the hour starts to draw to a close, Wolter is again upset at the academics and skeptics who try to “chop down” his work and any fringe claim that doesn’t fit the standard paradigm. “It’s disingenuous; it’s not honest,” he says. “If all you’re trying to do is come up with anything and everything to put down an idea,” he says, then you’re not contributing to a productive discourse, by which he seems to mean agreement with him. Later, he complains about “stodgy old Egyptologists” who refused to accept Robert Schoch’s work on the Great Sphinx. Wolter and Schoch met each other recently, with fringe history’s two highest profile geologists having a meeting of the minds over the way mainstream academia refuses to accept their evidence. “People will go to great lengths to protect their belief systems, which are really dogma, religious dogma. It’s not science.”
In promoting his work near the end of the show, Wolter misstates his own blog’s URL, which I will link to in order to help him out, and claims that he does not censor any comments left there.
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.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter, The Skeptical Xenoarchaeologist, for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.