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.
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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