Happy New Year! As we start 2016, I thought I would take today to look back at 2015 in fringe history. It’s been a long, strange year.
The year began with the final episodes of what seems like it will be the final season of America Unearthed. Perhaps sensing that the chances of renewal diminished with the impending transformation of the H2 network into the Vice channel, the producers went for broke, doubling down on Templar and Holy Bloodline conspiracies. But it was also the season where Scott Wolter went hunting Bigfoot. This was also the month when the New York Times published a piece explaining that skepticism ruins the “euphoria” of believing in aliens. The Discovery Channel earned positive press for announcing that its flagship station would no longer air pseudoscience, but few in the media noticed that Discovery merely moved all of its paranormal programming to sister station Destination America, a network targeted at credulous rural viewers.
In February A+E Networks, the parent of the History Channel, announced a new line of Ancient Aliens fashions that they promised to have for sale in major retailers by the end of the year. The threat came true, and you can also buy the clothing in a dedicated Ancient Aliens online store. Meanwhile, the BBC debated the “big question” of whether Jesus and the Buddha were space aliens, and Ancient Aliens pundit Jason Martell claimed that an invisible second sun in our solar system was responsible for creating golden and dark ages in history. My book Foundations of Atlantis went on sale.
In March I appeared on the American Heroes Channel’s Codes and Conspiracies to discuss the ancient astronaut theory. It was my first cable television appearance. (Note: AHC is owned by Discovery.) Ancient Aliens pundit Mike Bara showed his unerring talent for being wrong when he claimed, based on anti-Islamic blog posts, that the tragic Germanwings plane crash was the work of Islamic terrorists. It was later determined to have been caused by a suicidal, non-Muslim pilot. Also in March, famed British art historian Julius Spalding wrongly claimed that pyramids the world over were all built with four sides to represent the flat, square earth and to concentrate earth magic. The Travel Channel’s Expedition Unknown, normally a mainstream program, made its biggest misstep to date when they invited fringe historian Brien Foerster on and legitimized the man who claims ancient Peruvians were a different, European species of humanoid. Foerster and host Josh Gates raided a grave, destroying its archaeological context, before reburying the remains out of “respect.” The Russia Today propaganda channel hired American conspiracy theorists for an all-conspiracy news show, and conspiracy theorist David Icke lost a libel suit brought against him by a Canadian lawyer.
In April, the remaining episodes of the seventh season of Ancient Aliens aired after a long delay. Newsweek lent its name to a “special edition” produced by an outside company that alleged various Henry Sinclair and Templar conspiracy theories. Former Egyptian antiquities minister Zahi Hawass walked out of a debate with Graham Hancock over their different interpretations of free speech and personal provocation. Meanwhile, in Germany, rightwing publisher Kopp Verlag held the “Great International Erich von Däniken Congress” to celebrate the ancient astronaut author’s birthday and the publication of a new book of his best quips, complete with lectures from a range of fringe luminaries, including Graham Hancock. That month, I also reviewed Mark Adams’s Meet Me in Atlantis, the first book on Atlantis from a major publisher in a long time.
In May, I appeared on The Rundown Live conspiracy show, and discussed conspiracy theories for several hours. Also that month, Pop Matters published a glowing profile of ancient astronaut theorist and conspiracy peddler Jim Marrs and his genocidal conspiracy theories. Nephilim romance took off as a subgenre of what might loosely be called “literature.” The collapse of the claims for the so-called Roswell Slides, alleged to depict an alien body but later revealed to show a child mummy in a museum, led to apologies from some and doubling down on conspiracy theories by others in the ufology community. A group in California were arrested for impersonating police officers after they began meeting with law enforcement and claiming to be Masonic police descended from the Knights Templar.
In June, I appeared on the Archy Fantasies podcast and discussed—what else?—fringe history. The annual Contact in the Desert ancient astronaut festival occurred, and Scotty Roberts, Micah Hanks, and Jason Martell announced their participation in a September 2016 ancient astronaut cruise, with rates running $1200 to $1650 per person. Jacques Vallée gave a faulty presentation on ancient UFOs in Spain. Scott Wolter announced he would write a new book about Jesus with the help of disgraced author Charles Pelligrino, whose 2010 book on Hiroshima had been pulped for containing fabricated material. Henrik Williams debunked Scott Wolter’s claimed for medieval English runic carvings in Arizona, and Wolter dedicated a new statue of the Westford Knight in Westford, Mass. George Noory of Coast to Coast A.M. launched a dating site for believers in the paranormal to let them know “you are not alone.”
In July, the History Channel launched the eighth (!) season of Ancient Aliens, a show that ran out of new ways to say “IT WUZ ALIENZ!!!” back in season two. To coincide with the new season, they also put out a credulous book on ancient astronauts for kids. Also that month, a producer for the History Channel accused UNESCO of anti-American bias, the first shot in what would become a major controversy that enveloped the network’s Pirate Treasure of the Knights Templar. As a result of UNESCO scrutiny of underwater explorations conducted by the show, producers retooled the series to curtail its original focus on Barry Clifford’s exploration of a pirate ship and instead focus on Scott Wolter and Templar conspiracies. American Antiquity published a special section with archaeologists reviewing books of pseudo-archaeology, ostensibly to help educate the public on pseudoscience, but only an outcry from scholars and educators led them to break their paywall and make the reviews accessible to the public.
In August, I appeared on the Afternoon Commute podcast, and the conversation degenerated into weird creationist claims about cosmology. Former Neo-Nazi and convicted child rapist Frank Joseph gave a speech to the Ancient Artifact Preservation Society, where Scott Wolter also spoke. Later in the year the same AAPS would later work with J. Hutton Pulitzer on an alleged Roman sword claimed to have been found in Oak Island. That month I received galley proofs of Graham Hancock’s major new fringe history book Magicians of the Gods, and I discovered Hancock attacked me in the book. Also, a Russian geologist claimed to have found evidence of automobiles 12 million years ago.
In September, Graham Hancock launched Magicians of the Gods, which despite reaching #1 on several bestseller lists did not sell as well as expected, leading Hancock on a pity party tour in which he complained about mainstream scholars and the media (verbally) attacking and humiliating him to anyone who would listen. (See, for example, a December 30 book review in the Washington Times for how the media have reacted to his stance.) His former writing partner Robert Bauval released a preview of his new book alleging that Egypt was the center of global spirituality and the key to becoming one with the universe. Meanwhile a desperate Giorgio Tsoukalos urged his followers on Twitter not to worship aliens or look to them for spiritual guidance. Scott Wolter attacked UNESCO for undercutting his new show, but nevertheless the History Channel tried to cut its losses on Pirate Treasure of the Knights Templar by airing the series in two-hour blocks on Saturdays. Ratings were so low that the network bumped the final episodes to an afternoon timeslot. Perhaps something of a canary in the coal mine, the failure of the show seemed to signal a retrenchment of fringe history on TV. While Curse of Oak Island and Ancient Aliens are still standing, the trend has been to replace aliens and Atlantis with shows based on treasure hunting.
In October, a major new survey timed to coincide with Halloween revealed that 1 in 5 Americans believes in ancient astronauts. After airing a crappy documentary that wrongly claimed to have found Atlantis, the History Channel gave gigantologists Jim and Bill Vieira two hours of air time, and they used it to reenact an America Unearthed episode about the lost colony of Roanoke, but with more conspiracies. Gigantologists rejoiced when an obscure newspaper published an almost certainly fake story about finding a giant skeleton in Ecuador. Nephilim theorist L. A. Marzulli started raising money for a TV studio for a new Nephilim conspiracy program, and millionaire venture capitalist Jacques Vallée asked his fans to give him $42,000 to revise Wonders in the Sky, with changes and new translations ripped off from my criticisms of the first edition. Fans gave him $31,142 for the project. Meanwhile, I completed my translation of the Akhbar al-zaman, an important source of medieval legends about Egypt, without payment and without millions in my bank account. At more than 300 pages, it is the longest thing I have ever translated.
In November, GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson dominated several days of news coverage after claiming to believe Late Antique legends that the pyramids of Giza had been built by the Biblical Joseph to store grain. The star of the History Channel’s Hunting Hitler conspiracy show, mixed martial artist Tim Kennedy, announced his plans to make fringe history his new career because his family convinced him it was better than getting punched in the face for a living. Also that month, Alan Butler and Scott Wolter’s wife Janet launched their new book America: Nation of the Goddess, which recycled Butler’s and Scott Wolter’s typical Templar conspiracies and added to them references to the Grange and to baseball diamonds as symbolic vaginas. The book did not make as big an impression as expected, and as 2015 drew to a close, Amazon had no reviews for the book, and aside from a few brief notices no publication I could find, other than this blog, reviewed the book.
In December, Treasure Force Commander J. Hutton Pulitzer alleged that a Roman sword had been retrieved from the waters off Oak Island either years or decades ago. The sword appeared to be one of many similar swords, one of which was for sale on eBay, all likely tourist souvenirs made in Italy. Pulitzer then threatened Andy White and me with lawsuits for using a photograph of the sword that Pulitzer claimed to own but refused to provide proof of ownership. Pulitzer demanded the picture be removed. The year concluded with the publicist for America’s Stonehenge demanding I remove references to that alleged ancient site from my website for claiming the stones were not in their original positions. Guess what? They have moved.
1/1/2016 11:01:04 am
Keep shinning a light on them Jason and watch them scurry back into the dark. The cycle of fringe shows is coming to an end. Even oak island is boring, you just want Marty to slapping his postman brother in the face to stop him from blowing Marty's money.
1/1/2016 12:50:19 pm
And EvD has got three new books scheduled to be published on 15 January.
1/1/2016 01:14:46 pm
Even the puns are boring.
1/1/2016 02:56:43 pm
1/1/2016 06:27:12 pm
I suggest this at the risk that the history channel will actually follow my advice. They need some t&a for the 12-35 year old male audience. Have some "internet models" on the show with really short shorts and spandex shirts. They can be introduced as "Marty's" nices
1/1/2016 01:14:55 pm
I would think that after a while instead of calling the show "The Curse of Oak Island" they would rename it "Curse at Oak Island". They spend them time and effort digging a hole which always comes up empty. "Damn Island, another useless hole in the ground!"
1/1/2016 05:23:58 pm
From what I'm hearing it'll be a miracle if there's another season of Farce of Oak Island. And good riddance.
1/1/2016 07:45:46 pm
From whom and /or where, are you "hearing" this? What makes them a reliable source? Or is this not a factual statement, but just hopeful thinking on your part. I haven't found anything stating, or even rumored about. cancellation or renewal of the program.
1/1/2016 07:47:35 pm
Is a high-level employee a reliable enough source for you?
1/2/2016 01:12:43 pm
Rick Lagina did an interview for a local Michigan website before the current season aired that bordered on the pessimistic. It could be that the Laginas are realizing the pangs of their conscience in furthering this hoax, as there is no way, in my view, that Marty Lagina (who is an engineer, a lawyer and a millionaire) didn't do his homework beforehand to realize the true nature of this farce from the very beginning. Considering that when the Laginas bought into it, they did so as Oak Island Tours, Inc., I've always figured that when the ratings fail due to lack of credible finds of any kind, the Laginas will pat themselves on the back for a job well done; but alas, the Curse beat them. Thing is, the ratings for this show are the tops for first run cable programing on the night it currently airs. Which makes a strong case for Season 4.
1/2/2016 01:14:53 pm
Forgot to add... then the Laginas will open up a resort on the island.
1/1/2016 05:43:21 pm
I found the perfect picture for july.
1/2/2016 02:25:04 am
It's the nutcases on the internet that are to blame for all these satellite channels taking on board all these goofball subject matters and forsaking serious rationalist and educational documentaries that existed before. The internet has given the nutcases a major platform on which to present their various insanities.
1/2/2016 02:45:25 am
And the boring of holes in the ground for absolutely nothing is a fix. If the intention behind that is a sparkling crackpot idea.
1/2/2016 04:21:27 am
I would like to see UNESCO in a far greater role to combat the rapidly disappearing line between education and entertainment.
1/2/2016 06:48:53 am
You obviously omitted the one post from last year that defined the essence of what you do and who you are. Remember when you took a brief newspaper article that related a handicapped man in Pennsylvania asserted that stone piles on land he bought were Native American burial cairns?? Remember? You took it and wrote a headline asserting "Pennsylvania Man Claims to Find Lost Civilization in His Backyard!" We need more of you making up fake headlines and making fun of people who can't defend themselves. Especially make fun of those who don't have the resources to take action. Time to make up more about the "big boys" Jason. You have a lot of people here who will support you.
1/2/2016 02:42:52 pm
Unless you are libelously implying that the gentleman's physical disability somehow impaired his mind or his judgment, it is irrelevant. If you are implying that a man with a large tract of land and access to newspaper coverage "lacks resources," you will have a hard time trying to argue that I, who have little money and no land, am somehow disadvantaging him, especially since he threatened to spend thousands of dollars on a campaign against me, which he said would include billboards. I could not possibly spend in such a manner. However, since you brought it up, I spent several hours on the phone with man in question, and it was quite obvious that his argument was not with my summary of the newspaper accounts but the original newspaper articles, which contained the claims he deemed false. The rest is a matter of interpretation. The journalist in question retracted some of the statements in those articles at the man's request, and I removed the blog post because the underlying news report had been withdrawn.
1/2/2016 08:07:17 pm
Oh no, Princess.
1/2/2016 08:23:48 pm
Just so everyone knows, the person posting here is Scott Reaney, the gigantologist who falsely accused me of plagiarism and created an attack page against me.
1/2/2016 08:30:26 pm
I am obviously not fucking hiding, Huckleberry!
1/2/2016 10:26:35 pm
1/3/2016 12:01:17 am
Nah, if his feelings are hurt it's because he doesn't own the rights to old newspaper clippings about giants.
1/3/2016 11:44:36 am
I dunno, Clint, I have no idea what he's talking about either. I don't see anything from him before December 30th, and Jason responded to that.
1/2/2016 07:59:55 pm
Colavito has a habit of making up ridiculous claims, then pretending that he has done some Sherlock Homes-style detective work to undermine those claims.
1/2/2016 08:04:11 pm
I think you have confused me for a fringe historian. I cite my sources so you can see where they come from, and you are welcome to disagree with my conclusions if you have better facts.
1/2/2016 11:57:37 am
Thank you so much for linking to the reviews in American Antiquity.
1/2/2016 03:46:54 pm
Whenever you mention Frank Joseph, you always make sure to mention that he is a former Neo-Nazi and a convicted child rapist. I understand that having Neo-Nazi beliefs could be tied into his historical beliefs, but what does him being a convicted child rapist have to to with anything, such as in this case when he, "gave a speech to the Ancient Artifact Preservation Society" as you listed under August. Was his speech somehow encouraging child raping activities? If not, what does this have to do with discussing historical beliefs? I am not supportive of his past activities, but it seems like just a reason to dig at someone that has nothing to do with the matter at hand. Kind of like announcing that convicted tax fraud felon, John Q. Public, gave a lecture on how to refinish a wooden table.
1/2/2016 05:14:14 pm
Read these, then ask if Jason's mentioning of Joseph's background—including his conviction—are unnecessary digs:
1/2/2016 05:32:16 pm
I read over these, and a great deal of the info about Joseph was related to his Neo-Nazi views. I agreed that his views could affect how he sees/interprets history. The only mention that I noticed about his sex offenses was that he later wrote part of and edited books that were published by a publisher of children's books. I can see where that would upset some people. Did writing/editing a book for teens violate the terms of his criminal punishment? Was the book an attempt to convince teens that it was okay to molest or be molested? Or was it just a crappy fringe history book that if written by anyone else would called simply that, "a crappy fringe history book?"
1/2/2016 08:01:44 pm
His past crimes are not directly relevant to his historical claims, but they are relevant to the broader fringe history movement, which treats itself as a research community of mutual support. That they not just tolerate but openly embrace and happily work with Joseph without speaking a word about his dark past speaks volumes. This is not to say that people can't reform, but Joseph and his colleagues don't make that case; instead, they actively helped him to hide his past, which has the effect of shaping public perceptions of him and his work. When the publisher of his fringe history book for kids found out, they pulled the volume, so clearly they found it relevant.
1/2/2016 08:23:52 pm
Colavito and his ilk have a difficulty grasping the difference between actually discrediting an idea, and attacking the person who presents the idea.
1/3/2016 12:30:15 am
Reporting that a man is, in fact, a convicted (note the difference between conviction and allegation, please) child molester whose fringe career took off while in prison is not a personal attack; it is journalistic accuracy.
1/3/2016 09:22:44 am
"...but they believe that attacking the man ALSO undermines the idea"
1/3/2016 06:10:54 pm
Jason: thank you.
I've been interested in Atlantis for years, and it was that link I followed here, though I found you by a roundabout way while wikihopping through various depictions of the ancient alien theories in pop culture and scifi.
2/1/2016 11:15:41 am
Every time I hear about the Ark of the Covenant or Egyptians coming to America with their treasure (more specifically the Grand Canyon), it makes me laugh! In my opinion, it comes down to one question. Why the hell would you leave a harsh African desert to set up shop in the Grand Canyon? You perform a near miracle by crossing the Atlantic and you choose to hump your way across three quarters of the United States and live in a desert? You pass lush forests, perfect farming land in the Midwest, and you still have the Pacific Northwest to look at! Some of what Scott Wolter says piques my interest, and he obviously believes himself, but this is just foolhardy nonsense!
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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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