The War on Christmas is Real

The Espresso Shot Heard Round the World

On November 5, Arizona vlogger and possible psychopath Joshua Feuerstein posted a Facebook video calling for a worldwide movement to force Starbucks to acknowledge Christmas.  His rant went viral, topping 12 million views in just three days.
Feuerstein was incensed that the world’s largest coffee chain had removed all vestiges of Christendom from its holiday paper cups, though a review of previous years’ cups reveals that Starbucks never actually had Christmas-themed cups in the first place. The cups usually feature stylized swirls, snowflakes, and other random wintery stuff. What does the birth of Christ have to do with the outline of a poinsettia? I don’t know, either. I just know that the ’99 cup design included a car so poorly drawn it resembled a UFO. Because Jesus.

starbucks cups

Feuerstein contends that Starbucks “hates Jesus” and is waging an assault-by-omission on Christmas.  Never mind, please, that Starbucks is offering Christmas blend coffees, Christmas albums, Christmas cookies, and porcelain Christmas mugs in all its stores. Frankly, the average Starbucks in November looks like Santa’s man cave.

Feuerstein also announced his intention to open carry in Starbucks, because Jesus just loved weaponry, right?

On a CNN appearance, he insisted that unnamed plotters are trying to “remove Christmas out of society.” He cited two examples: The SouthPark Mall in Charlotte, North Carolina, has “required that they take down their Christmas tree this year” (falseby popular demand, the mall’s Christmas tree will be going up) and “cities are banning nativity scenes in front of churches” (false – I can’t find a single instance of this happening in the U.S.; cities such as Santa Monica have banned public displays, but never private ones on church properties).

This sort of tirade has become an annual tradition in the U.S., and it is infinitely more beloved than fruitcake or mulled cider ever were.

I’ll Give You My Yule Log When You Pry It From My Frostbitten Hands

It all began roughly two decades ago, when Colorado pastor Jim Hagen noticed that employees at a shopping mall were greeting customers with “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Obviously, this was not an attempt to sideline Christmas (the five aisles of tinsel-decked fuzzy reindeer that pop up in stores every October will attest to that), but Pastor Hagen took (or pretended to take) umbrage. He started a grassroots campaign to get in the face of any minimum-wage retail employee that dared say “happy holidays”, although “happy holidays” is probably more appropriate for a season that includes Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Henry Miller’s birthday, Solstice celebrations, and New Year’s Eve.

Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly later became the face of the movement. In 2004, he began collecting random tales of “holiday trees” being erected in public squares, of elementary schools staging “winter” pageants, etc. His collective term for these widely separated and unconnected incidents was – say it with me now – the “War on Christmas.”
According to O’Reilly (and other Fox pundits, notably John Gibson), this was a full-frontal assault on Christmas orchestrated by liberals, non-Christians, atheists, and Wal-Mart cashiers; a systematic effort to tear down public Christmas trees, banish nativity displays, sanitize school Christmas pageants, and render Christmas carols obsolete. In 2005, Gibson’s book The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought became a bestseller.

However, Pastor Hagen and Fox News didn’t manufacture the War on Christmas all on their own. It was actually the brainchild of a British Fortune editor, Peter Brimelow. In the late ’90s, he founded one of the most virulent anti-immigration sites ever run by an immigrant: VDare.com. The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies VDare as an extremist site, and it isn’t difficult to understand why. The sidebar of the site’s main articles page is a wall of Confederate flags, advertised as part of a “Personal Patriot Pack” offered to generous donors. Featured articles include “Dalton Trumbo Had It Coming” and essays mourning the death of white civilization. VDare makes it plain that immigrants are probably the worst thing to happen in the history of this planet.
Every Christmas, VDare awards a prize to the writer who can present the most enraging example of the War on Christmas. Bill O’Reilly, as we’ve noted, sticks mostly to elementary school festivities and nativity mangers and such. VDare sticks mostly to immigrants, Communists, Muslims and Jews. You read that correctly. Year after year, the “winners” of VDare’s annual War on Christmas essay competition are crackpots who believe that Jews and other “Christophobes” are trying to abolish Christmas. The 2001 winner, for example, declared Hanukkah to be a make-believe holiday unworthy of observance, and waxed nostalgic over how awesome it was for Whittaker “Pumpkin Patch” Chambers to celebrate Christmas with his kids after leaving those crummy pinkos behind.

Santa Commie

More respectable Christian media outlets soon joined in the yearly rage-fest. In 2007, Focus on the Family, America’s most popular Christian radio show, called for listeners to throw out any mail-order catalogues that used the term “Happy Holidays.” They called this campaign Merry Tossmas.

It was around this time that my own late grandmother, worked into a righteous lather by an afternoon of Fox News viewing, told me she would shout “MERRY CHRISTMAS” to the first cashier that had the gall to say “Happy holidays!” to her. To my knowledge, she never had to bother.

Then came the legislators.  In 2008, Utah senator Chris Buttars announced a resolution pressuring retailers to allow their employees to use the word “Christmas” in their greetings to customers. He ultimately abandoned the idea, but declared the battle wasn’t over.
In 2009, Rep. Henry Brown, R-S.C., introduced a resolution calling for the House to protect Christmas symbols and traditions. Brown was particularly peeved that the Obamas’ holiday cards hadn’t explicitly mentioned Christmas. “I believe that sending a Christmas card without referencing a holiday and its purpose limits the Christmas celebration in favor of a more ‘politically correct’ holiday,” he told Fox Radio.

I was more than a little baffled by this War on Christmas rhetoric. You see, I live in a very multicultural city where Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism are well-represented. We also have a good number of Sikhs, Hindus, atheists and agnostics, Sai Baba people,  Bahá’í and Unitarian people, Maitreya people, Scientologists, folks who think Jesus came back as a South Korean, and people who worship a former shoe salesman.
Yet there is still a huge Christmas tree in the city square every year. Even when we had a Jewish mayor, you would find an enormous nativity manger parked outside city hall each Christmas. In our stores, Christmas carols play, greeters say “Merry Christmas” more than “Happy Holidays”, and expanded holiday hours are often called “Christmas hours.”

But I’m here to tell you that there is a War on Christmas, ladies and gentleman. It’s all real. A sinister cabal of people actually is trying to rip down your treetop angels and your boughs of holly and those gigantic inflatable snowglobes in your front yard. They are engaged in a tireless, year-round campaign against Christmas presents and gingerbread houses. These merciless killjoys don’t even want you to hang mistletoe or host ugly sweater competitions!

And guess what? These people are Christians.

Let’s take a look at the frontline soldiers in the real War Against Christmas.

Alex Jones/Infowars

Texas broadcaster and professional paranoid Alex Jones has long been an anti-Christmas fanatic. I first discovered this during his December 14, 2007 broadcast, when he spent a solid five minutes excoriating listeners for buying frivolous Christmas gifts like clothing and sweets and Pagan-inspired Christmas decorations – buy merchandise from the Infowars Store instead! Get the extended 12-hour director’s cut of The Obama Deception! Annoy your friends! Depress your family! Make everyone wish you’d get carted off to a FEMA camp so they don’t have to listen to your fatalistic bullshit a minute longer!

Three Christmases later, Jones’ Prison Planet website re-posted a Russia Today report titled Christmas is pagan celebration of shopping & eating’.

Last December, Infowars re-posted Michael Snyder’s essay on how Christmas gift-giving – and Christmas itself – is a sick, soulless pagan tradition.

So it’s well-established that Jones and company don’t like Christmas trees, Christmas gifts, and the other heathen and godless trappings of Christmas, right?

Well, not quite. In 2013, Jones sent two of his lackeys reporters to the Christmas tree display on the Texas state legislature grounds to express his outrage that non-Christians allegedly opposed having a Christmas tree there. He titled this report “Soft Killing Christmas” (video here). Confused yet? That’s Jonestown for you. Don’t agree with him, he’s already changed his mind.

Santa tapping your phones

The Santa = Satan Crowd

Last Christmas, the Born Again Independent Baptist Church in Harlem displayed “Santa is Satan” on its marquee sign. Most observers were baffled by this, but Pastor Edward Caruthers’ choice to associate Santa Claus with the Adversary of all mankind is not uncommon among American Christians.

santa is satan

Answers in Genesis features an article by Roger Patterson, urging parents to cool it with Santa Claus because belief in him involves deception and manipulation – and takes away too much attention from Christ. Cutting Edge Ministries has a handy chart to show you why Santa is the counterfeit Jesus.

Some Christians, like this guy, rebel against modern depictions of Santa because they stem from Coca-Cola marketing campaigns.

For true Santa-hate, it’s hard to top Wisconsin outsider artist Norbert Kox. An alleged former biker, Kox developed some rather outré Christian beliefs after an Easy Rider-calibre acid freakout in the ’70s. He decided that most of what we know about Christianity, right down to Jesus’s name, is really blasphemous misinformation that must be discarded by seekers after truth. That includes everything we think we know about Christmas. In the December 1986 issue of his now-defunct newsletter, The Wisconsin Caver, Kox linked Santa Claus to Zeus, “Old Nick” (the Devil), Odin, and just about every non-Christian deity known to history. He habitually referred to Santa as “Satan Claws.”

Santa watching you

“We Don’t Do Christmas”

It’s not just eccentrics waging war on Christmas, though. Many Christian denominations have always eschewed the season: The United Church of God , the Church of Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Seventh Day Adventists are the best-known denominations to reject Christmas.
In addition, there are a growing number of evangelical Christians who won’t celebrate the holiday because it has pagan roots, encourages “worldly” behaviour such as greed, and/or isn’t explicitly referenced in the Bible.
In fact, there are so many of these Christians that Kirk Cameron addressed a presentation to them at Liberty University last year (video here) and attempted to reclaim Santa for Christianity with a feature film, Saving Christmas. He pointed out that Saint Nicholas was a model Christian who can be fondly remembered for his charity. Other, anti-Catholic evangelicals promptly told him to put a sock in it.

So if you want to save Christmas, you might end up saving it from the people who created it in the first place.

 

P.S.:  This post was written in my local Starbucks.

starbucks

Wednesday Weirdness Roundup: Slow News Week

As the U.S. seethes with racial tension, protestors swarm the streets of Hong Kong, and missiles gut Syria, a few intrepid journos have somehow managed to ferret out the real stories…

  • Say, does anyone remember the absurdly disappointing mystery of those invisible flying creatures known as “rods“? No? Well, let Oklahoma City’s News 9 take you back to ’97 with their hard-hitting report on bad photography.
rods

Fascinating.

Fry Screaming

IKR?

Somaly Mam and the Dark Side of Charity

Since 1996, a non-governmental organization known as AFESIP (from the French, Acting for Women in Distressing Situations) has been working to rescue and aid young female victims of human trafficking, operating three centres in Cambodia where the young women are housed and educated.
The guiding light of this effort is co-founder Somaly Mam, a Cambodian-born woman who claims to have been a child prostitute in the ’80s. She has become one of the world’s most prominent anti-trafficking activists, racking up prestigious awards and honours. According to Mam, over 4000 girls and women have been rescued from forced prostitution thanks to AFESIP’s efforts. AFESIP’s fundraising arm, the Somaly Mam Foundation, has raised millions since its inception in 2007.
So it came as a nasty surprise to many supporters when Mam stepped down as the head of her own foundation in May, amid allegations that she fabricated not only the stories of two of her spokespeople, but also her own life story. To hear other media outlets tell it, Mam’s downfall was brought about by a single Newsweek cover story penned by Simon Marks.

newsweek

A Distressing Situation

The Newsweek article is shocking, but here’s something even more shocking: Nothing in the Newsweek story is breaking news. Not one thing.

Back in October 2012, Simon Marks, along with Khy Sovuthy, published a piece in Cambodia Daily, “Questions Raised Over Symbol’s Slavery Story“, probing the accuracy of the horrifc story of sexual slavery and mutilation told by Mam’s most high-profile spokesperson, Long Pros (AKA Somana Long). This was just one of several articles Marks has written about Mam and AFESIP over the past two years.

Also in 2012, Cat Barton wrote several articles like this one, questioning the wisdom of the high-profile brothel raids engineered by Somaly Mam.  AFESIP has received a considerable amount of criticism from other anti-trafficking orgs for allowing journalist Nicholas Kristof to “live-tweet” a brothel raid in the northern Cambodian town of Anlong Veng in November 2011, as this violated the privacy of the young women removed from the brothel.
Barton also reported concerns that not all of the women and girls housed by AFESIP centres were there voluntarily; some had been dropped off by police following raids.

In November 2013, Lindsay Murdoch raised further questions about Somana Long’s  account and the integrity of Somaly Mam in a Sydney Morning Herald article, “Dark Truths or Fiction?

Another Marks article, published in El Mundo last year, exposed the same lies that Marks revealed in the Newsweek piece. In fact, there are few significant differences between the two articles. It’s disappointing that the world’s major media outlets ignored such an important investigative piece published by one of the largest newspapers in Spain.

In March, AFESIP launched an inquiry into the allegations raised by journalists over the years. Staffers knew that Marks was working on the Newsweek piece, and apparently realized it was time to deal with the issue head-on. The details of the independent, third-party investigation conducted by Goodwin Proctor LLP have not been divulged, but a statement posted on the website of the Somaly Mam Foundation makes it clear that the investigation results were the direct cause of Mam’s resignation. In other words, Goodwin Proctor discovered that aspects of her story were fraudulent.

With so many people raising the alarm about her, why has Somaly Mam been bulletproof for all these years?

The Long Con

One reason is the compelling stories told by young women she has rescued.

The first of these “pretty victims”, as Daily Beast* writer Amanda Marcotte has dubbed them, was Meas Ratha. Ratha, 14 years old at the time, appeared with Mam on the French TV programme Envoyé Spécial in 1998, only a couple of years after AFESIP was formed. This broadcast drew international attention to Mam’s work, winning Mam the endorsement of Queen Sofia of Spain and the prestigious Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation. She was subsequently able to gain some U.S. government funding, and donations began to flow into AFESIP.

Ratha spoke of being imprisoned in a Phnom Penh brothel, lured there by traffickers who promised her a job as a waitress. She said her father had abandoned his large family, leaving her mother destitute.
Last year, however, she admitted that she and her sister, Meas Sokha, were sent to the AFESIP center in 1997 by both of their parents, not because she had been a child prostitute, but because the couple was unable to provide for all eight of their children. Meas Sokha confirmed this, as did Marie Christine Uguen, a woman who was caring for Ratha at the time of her Envoyé Spécial appearance. Ratha confessed to Uguen, shortly after the TV show aired, that Somaly Mam had selected her to tell a scripted story on television.
Prior to their TV appearance, Mam told Ratha that the trafficking story had really happened to another AFESIP resident, Sokha, who was too traumatized to discuss the events publicly. Ratha was stunned to discover, last year, that Sokha had been featured on the same Envoyé Spécial broadcast, relating a completely different story of forced prostitution.

It was Ratha’s story that won the world’s interest in Somaly Mam’s work, but the young woman known as Long Pros became her most visible success story, and a haunting symbol of human trafficking in Cambodia.

When she first spoke out about her ordeal in a Phnom Penh brothel, Long Pros (Somana Long) said she was 13 in 2005, the year a young woman kidnapped her and sold her to the brothel. The teenager was twice impregnated by rapists and subjected to home abortions. She refused to service the brothel’s clients on the day of her second abortion, and this so angered the brothel owner that the woman seized a chunk of jagged metal and gouged out Long’s eye. She threw the girl out into the streets when the infected, oozing eye socket began to displease customers. Her own parents refused to take her in. Somana was then rescued by Mam’s organization.

An entirely different account appears in Traffik, a 2008 book by photographer Norman Jean Roy. In this version of the story, Somana’s eye became infected after she was kicked in the face by a pimp, and it was surgically removed in hospital. Roy has worked closely with Somaly Mam, photographing girls at AFESIP centres.
Long herself told Josephine Lim, in a 2012 interview for the Australian website Our World Today, that people at the brothel had taken out her eye with a piece of steel and that she was rescued by a police raid.
Asking if Mam had perhaps exaggerated the stories of survivors, Lindsay Murdoch pointed out in the Sydney Morning Herald that Somana’s story changed over time, becoming increasingly gruesome and awful.

Two years ago, Cambodia Daily reported that Somana actually had her eye removed by surgeon Dr. Pok Thorn at the Takeo Eye Hospital in November 2005, because of a benign tumour that had been growing for years. Her parents, Long Hon and Sok Hang, confirmed this. They have since refused to discuss the surgery, worried that their daughter could lose her job if they do (she worked for an Australian nonprofit program affiliated with Somaly Mam’s organization).
Te Sereybonn, who was the director of the Takeo Eye Hospital in 2005, says his staff was responsible for Long’s placement in the AFESIP centre. She was not an abused child or a prostitute, but the staffers could see that her family was in financial straits, so they contacted AFESIP to see if she could be enrolled in one of their vocational training programs.
Goodwin Proctor also investigated Somana Long’s story, and it seems they found it to be untrue. The Somaly Mam Foundation has announced it is breaking all ties with her.

The pressing question is, why did Mam fabricate sex-trafficking tales? If her organization has, indeed, saved thousands of girls from forced prostitution, then surely a few of them would be willing to share their true stories. Even if the stories Ratha and Long told were 100% true, though, Mam’s use of these young women as spokespeople for her organization would be questionable. Having to relive their trauma over and over again in front of strangers could delay their own healing.

The Star Factor

Mam would not be where she is today – disgraced and unemployed – without the support of powerful people in business, entertainment, and journalism. She carefully courted these people, going to red-carpet and black-tie events in lovely gowns. She received endorsements from Queen Sofia of Spain, Ban Ki-moon, Hillary Clinton, Angelina Jolie, and Meg Ryan. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Susan Sarandon are advisory members of the Somaly Mam Foundation board of directors. Mam worked closely with Pulitzer-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof and his wife. Her 2005 memoir, The Road of Lost Innocence, received dustjacket endorsements from Mariane Pearl and Ayann Hirsi Ali, two women who have survived very real hardship and tragedy.

These people are not fools. Who among us, looking into the earnest, anguished faces of young girls as they recount abduction, rape, and torture, would ask questions like, “Is she putting me on?” In the end, journalists like Marks were the ones to ask the hard questions and dig up the hard, disappointing answers.
One of these journalists should have been Nicholas Kristof. He had observed the sex trafficking situation in Cambodia up close. In 2004, he spent $350 to buy two young girls out of a Cambodian brothel. Kristof is a good journalist, but even the best journalists are human. His emotional response to the plight of women in the Third World blinded him to the reality of the NGOs working with those women. In a 2009 New York Times article, he expressed admiration for the work of Greg Mortenson, the author of the New York Times bestseller Three Cups of Tea. Mortenson founded a nonprofit to educate girls in Middle Eastern countries, achieving worldwide renown for his efforts, but a 2012 investigation concluded that he had misspent $6 million that should have gone to his charity, and Mortenson agreed to repay $1 million. Like Somaly Mam, Mortenson had also fabricated portions of his life story to help promote his organization. When his lies were exposed by 60 Minutes, Mortenson hit back with angry denials; today, he thanks his detractors for putting him back on the straight and narrow. Sadly, his remorse came far too late to save the life of his co-author, David Oliver Relin. Relin committed suicide when the veracity of Three Cups of Tea was challenged.

Kristof embraced Somaly Mam’s work in the same manner that people had approached Mortenson’s accomplishments – with an uncritical eye and a deep willingness to believe in the strength of the human spirit. Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, co-wrote the 2009 bestseller Half the Sky, a passionate call to justice for women in developing countries. This became a PBS documentary of the same name in 2012. Both book and film featured Somana Long telling her story in her own words. She subsequently appeared on Oprah, and her story is still posted on Oprah.com.
It would be difficult to underestimate the amount of credibility that Mam gained by her affiliation with Kristof. His New York Times pieces, his book, and the PBS doc boosted her already thriving NGO into the upper echelons of nonprofit stardom.

Based on a Lie

The fake trafficking victims are bad enough. Then there is the issue of Mam’s own distortions.

On December 7, 2004, police and AFESIP raided a Phnom Penh hotel called the Chai Hour II, removing 83 women and girls to the local AFESIP center. The next day, a group of about 30 men forced their way into the center and removed the females.
In a speech she gave before the UN General Assembly in April 2012, Mam stated that the Cambodian army had killed eight of these girls. This bizarre claim was immediately challenged, and Mam had to  admit that she did not have any firsthand knowledge of events following the raid; she had relied upon secondhand information (from a “reliable source) that eight girls and women had died after the raid in a “series of accidents that may have had something to do with their pimps and traffickers.”

That could be chalked up to a mistaken assumption, but the story of her daughter’s abduction is not so ambiguous. In The Road of Lost Innocence, Mam wrote that in 2006 her 14-year-old adopted daughter, Ning, was kidnapped and gang-raped by traffickers in retaliation for the Chai Hour II raid. When the police found Ning, she was in the company of a “boy she knew”, who acted as a lure for the traffickers.
Mariane Pearl wrote about Ning’s abduction in a piece for Glamour.
However, Mam’s ex-husband and Ning’s father, Pierre Legros, told Lindsay Murdoch that Ning was not kidnapped. She ran away with her then boyfriend. Legros’ version of the story is supported by Aarti Kapoor, who worked as a legal adviser to AFESIP from 2003 to 2006. No police report was ever filed in connection with Ning’s “abduction”.
The creation of false enemies and phony “brushes with death” is something we’ve seen over and over on this blog, among “former Satanists“, conspiracy peddlers, and fraudsters. If you have powerful foes, you must have a powerful message, right? Disturbingly, Kapoor told Simon Marks that other AFESIP employees knew the story was a fabrication, yet elected to remain silent.

Finally, there is Mam’s own chilling tale of survival.
As she tells it in her memoir, Mam was essentially a feral child, living out her earliest years in the forests of northeastern Cambodia with no one to look after her. Her parents and maternal grandmother abandoned her in the village of Bou Sra sometime in the late ’70s, when she was not yet 10 years old. As she repeatedly laments, she grew up without a mother.
Bou Sra was in a remote, forested area that had not been heavily affected by Vietnam or the Pol Pot regime, and Mam was sheltered from modern life. By the time she left the village around 1980, she had never seen a car, hot running water, or a pair of shoes. She had to forage for food and sleep in the open.
Around age 10 she was taken away to a far-off village, Thloc Chhroy, by a man who called himself her grandfather. She was subjected to daily beatings and forced to work in the rice fields. The Khmer villagers treated her like a slave, with the exception of a schoolteacher named Mam Khon and his wife, Pen Navy. This couple took her in, though they had six children of their own. Khon told her he was her paternal uncle, but Mam didn’t believe this. She was just grateful to be unofficially adopted by the family. “Grandfather” exploited Mam until she was approximately 14, then forced her to marry an abusive soldier. Without any medical training, she worked as a nurse in the military hospital at Chup, watching helplessly as soldiers and villagers died terrible deaths at the hands of untrained medical workers.
When her husband failed to return to Chup, Grandfather sold her to a brothel in Phnom Penh, where she was forced to have sex with half a dozen clients per day. She was “about 16 years old.” She remained captive there for about 3 years. She witnessed a brothel owner fatally shoot her best friend. She was subjected to brutal beatings, rape, and electric shocks.

By the time she was in her late teens, however, the brothel owners no longer held Mam captive. She admits she worked for them voluntarily, on and off, up until she decided to leave prostitution in 1991, having met future husband Pierre Legros, a young French biologist working in Phnom Penh.

At least, that’s one version of her story. Speaking at the White House in February 2012, Mam said she was trafficked at age 9 or 10 and spent a decade in the brothel. Sitting beside Susan Sarandon on the Tyra Banks Show in 2008, she said she was sold to the brothel at 13 or 14 and remained there for 4 or 5 years. Legros has stated that when he met his ex-wife in 1991, she was working freely as a prostitute, not in a brothel but in an upscale hotel bar. Some biographies of Mam, such as this one at Women’s Conference.org, would lead you to believe that she met Legros in France.

Simon Marks probed these discrepancies by interviewing villagers in Thloc Chhroy who had known Mam as a child. These people say that Mam was not an abandoned child. She was the biological daughter of the kindly couple she mentions in her memoir, Mam Khon and Pen Navy.
According to residents who were there at the time, the family arrived in the village in 1981 from a nearby community. Prior to that, Mam Khon had been assigned to teach in a remote part of northeastern Cambodia – the same area where Mam supposedly lived as an urchin of the forest for the first 10 years of her life. Furthermore, she attended school in the village from 1981 right up to graduation from Khchao High School in 1987, the period when she was supposedly being prostituted in Phnom Penh. After graduation, she and a friend both sat for a teachers’ exam in Kompong Cham. Then, around 1987, Mam left her family home voluntarily. Never, at any time prior to age 18 or 19, was she homeless or abandoned. She was not married off at the age of 14. She was not pushed out into the streets to sell herself. There was no abusive old man posing as her grandfather. She did not sleep beside the body of a dead mother in the military hospital. There simply wasn’t time for Mam to have been prostituted as a child. Again, this “not enough time” issue is a problem we’ve seen many times in Satanic ritual abuse accounts and self-glorifying autobiographies.

Many of the other stories in Mam’s memoir have yet to be verified, like soldiers decapitating a small boy in Thloc Chhroy, and another little boy being fatally wounded by a hand grenade during military training in the schoolyard, and another little boy (Mam’s best friend) being torn apart in an accidental rocket blast.

But She’s Helping Trafficked Girls, Right?

At this point, an estimated 150 women and girls are living in AFESIP centres. We have no way of knowing how many of them were trafficking victims, and how many are simply young women seeking an education because their families cannot provide for them.

As mentioned, AFESIP has been criticized for taking in sex workers picked up in police raids. One former prostitute told Simon Marks she was taken to an AFESIP center by police on two separate occasions, and fled both times because the centre insisted she learn to sew.
This raises the question of what, exactly, the centres do to help women overcome their tough financial circumstances. In the interview below, Mam enthused that her girls may be doctors and lawyers in 10 years. In reality, the young women in her facilities are taught sewing, hairdressing, weaving, and other traditionally female skills that will allow them to eke out only the smallest incomes. Last fall, Estee Lauder announced it will be training sex trafficking survivors at a Somaly Mam beauty salon in Siem Reap.

It would not be out of line to call Mam’s behaviour predatory. She has been exploiting and manipulating vulnerable Cambodian girls to promote her cause. She has brazenly, outrageously lied to millions of people about ordeals that never occurred, which undermines real victims of trafficking and sexual assault. She has collected millions from donors under false pretenses. She has seized a heroine status that isn’t hers to claim. In a 2013 Daily Beast article, she actually likened herself to the protagonist of 12 Years a Slave. I think we’ve gone well past exaggeration, here. This is cold-blooded deception on a frightening scale. We could be dealing with a sociopath.

Most NGOs struggle. It isn’t easy to raise funds and effectively operate a charitable organization at the same time, especially if that organization is anchored in a remote area of a developing country. So when a relatively tiny operation like AFESIP achieves dazzling success and brings in millions, attracting some of the most influential people on the planet to its cause, one has to wonder if the money and prestige have become more important than the cause. AFESIP seems to have a lot of both; the SMF regularly ran full-colour, full-page ads in TIME. The ads didn’t show trafficking victims, but a glamour shot of Mam herself.

Sex tourism has long been a problem in Southeast Asia, but now sex trafficking survivors are drawing in tourist money. Last November, U.S. travel company OmLuxe took 20 people to Cambodia to meet with Mam. They were promised they would be able to spend time with sex-trafficking victims. What if anti-trafficking is becoming the new trafficking? This year’s trip, scheduled for November, includes a lunch with Mam.

The Problem Doesn’t End Here

The Somaly Mam debacle is not an isolated incident. Charity-related fraud is widespread, and it’s very easy to be taken in by slick, professional-looking campaigns that want your donations. A few of the problems in the NGO world include:

  1. Fake Charities/Charities that aren’t actually charitable
    One example of a bogus charity is Pink Pagoda, an organization that claims to have rescued 50,000 Chinese girls from infanticide and is trying to raise $1 billion to rescue a million more. While it has the outward appearance of an NGO, a legal disclaimer in teeny-tiny print on the bottom of its website states that it is not a charitable organization. It is a for-profit enterprise, and an extremely dodgy one. Its founder/director, Jim Garrow, appears to be engaged in the buying and selling of babies. I’ve covered Pink Pagoda in a recent post about Garrow at Leaving Alex Jonestown.
  2. NGOs that aren’t actually doing anything
    Many orgs have good intentions, yet suffer from mismanagement, poor planning, or misguided goals.  NGOs dedicated to ending malaria in Africa (Roll Back Malaria, Malaria No More, etc.) tout mosquito netting treated with chrysanthemum-derived insecticides as the most effective method of stopping the disease. Unfortunately, a 2003 study found that an average of 55% of African households given treated bed nets actually used them over sleeping children. This amounts to roughly 20 million children – an impressive number, but far from enough to make an impact.
  3. Trafficking Activists who may be mistaken or lying
    In Argentina, Susana Trimarco is receiving the same accolades Somaly Mam did. Trimarco became an anti-trafficking activist after the disappearance of her 23-year-old daughter, Marita, in 2002. She insists her daughter was abducted and sold into prostitution, though the evidence seems thin, and has implicated everyone from hospital staffers to the governor of her province. She began to disguise herself as a prostitute to infiltrate brothels, piecing together stray bits of gossip in an attempt to track down her daughter. By some accounts, she has now rescued about 150 South American and Spanish girls from sexual slavery. She has millions convinced that some of the highest officials in South America are complicit in human trafficking, but how much of her story is accurate?
  4. The crying wolf effect
    Charity frauds like Mam and Garrow harden people, making them less likely to donate time or volunteer hours to worthy causes.

* It should be noted that Daily Beast made Mam one of its “Women of the World” just three years ago. Last November, it published Mam’s firsthand account of her time as a child prostitute, in which she likened herself to the protagonist of 12 Years a Slave.

The Top 10 Stupidest/Weirdest Theories About Flight MH370

lost numbers

We all know the first part of the story: Early in the morning on March 8, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, just one hour into its flight, lost radio contact with air traffic controllers. After going silent in the Gulf of Thailand, the plane unexpectedly veered west and flew back across Malaysia, heading into the Strait of Malacca. As indicated by primary radar returns, it was last charted heading northwest towards a navigational waypoint called IGREX, near the Andaman Coast of Phuket. However, ACARS reports indicate that Flight 370 remained in the air for at least 4 hours after losing radio contact, and the UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch collaborated with the satellite company Inmarsat to track the plane as far as the Indian Ocean west of Perth, Australia – meaning the plane was airborne for at least 8 hours after losing radio contact. As there are no potential landing sites anywhere near this location, it is assumed that Flight 370 crashed into the ocean. Despite extensive searches, not a single piece of debris has been found. Another search is scheduled for August. There were 277 passengers and 12 crew members aboard, making Flight MH370 the largest aerial disappearance in history.

mh370 map

Flight MH370’s last known movements (Daily Mail)

Contradictory and false information given by Malaysian authorities led many people to suspect that Malaysia knew exactly what had happened to its plane, and was suppressing the truth for reasons unknown. In Beijing, victims’ family members have protested and staged vigils outside the Malaysian Embassy, demanding the truth. One of the first Western conspiranoids to contribute a theory was Rupert Murdoch, who tweeted that jihadists had hijacked the plane to “make trouble for China.” Rush Limbaugh chimed in that the plane may have been shot down by some “hostile little country.” Then the professional conspiranoids took over. Here, in no particular order, are ten of the goofiest narratives they came up with to explain the disappearance of Flight 370.

10.   Scientific Sabotage

Retired Delta Air Lines Captain Field McConnell believes Flight 370 was hijacked to obtain information about pending technology patents from some of the passengers, Chinese employees of Freescale Semiconductor, an Austin-based microchip company. According to McConnell, Freescale has developed a classified technology that uses paint and electronics to turn regular jets into stealth aircraft. He points out that a patent (#8671381) related to integrated circuits and semiconductor wafers was approved just days after the plane vanished. McConnell and others have claimed that the rights to this patent were supposed to have been split five ways: 20% to Freescale Semiconductor, and 20% each to four employees who were on the plane. 

This theory isn’t completely out in left field, since rashes of odd scientist deaths related to innovative or secret technology have occurred a few times. In the ’80s, over a dozen British scientists involved in defense research died rather weird, untimely deaths; several of them worked for Marconi. But there have also been red herring Dead Scientist memes floating around in the conspiracy world for years, including the Dead Microbiologists meme that began shortly after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The list of dead microbiologists thought to have some knowledge of U.S. and/or Iraqi bioweapons became so absurdly long that even community college biology teachers ended up on it.

Field McConnell’s theory crumbles under scrutiny. Not one of the names listed on patent #8671381 appears on the passenger manifest released by Malaysian authorities. To date, there is no evidence that any of the people listed on the patent worked for Freescale or that the patent has anything to do with Freescale.

It must also be noted that McConnell and co-researcher David Hawkins have one of the most batshit insane, least coherent websites on the entire Internets: Abel Danger. Don’t believe me? Try reading whatever the hell this is. The entire website is like that – lesbian assassins taking over the world, word salad, Floyd Cramer videos. Field McConnell is also the author of the self-published tome Lesbian Cults, Pedophile Oaths and the Guild of Patented Hits. I challenge you to read more than two pages of it on Amazon without getting annoyed. Can’t be done.

The Scientific Sabotage theory has been embraced by Henry “Lesbian Candy Bars” Makow, though he awkwardly grafts the Diego Garcia abduction theory (below) onto it. Needless to say, Makow also found a way to drop a Rothschild into the mix, repeating the snopes-debunked factoid that Jacob Rothschild owns Freescale. Rothschild is a member of the Blackstone Group’s International Advisory Board, and the Blackstone Group owns more 196 million shares in Freescale, but the Carlyle Group and TPG Group Holdings both own the same number of Freescale shares as the Blackstone Group does. Then Makow got bored with missing planes and returned to his usual gay-bashing and theories like “Jesse James Killed John Wilkes Booth by order of the Freemasons.”

9.   The U.S. is hiding the plane at Diego Garcia (AKA the Assphone Scenario)

This theory holds that either the plane was hijacked by agents of the U.S. government, then flown to the U.S. military base on the island of Diego Garcia, or the plane made an emergency landing at this base and was captured on arrival. 

 Here’s how it started: Shortly after the flight’s disappearance, a message and a photo were posted to 4chan by a man claiming to be a passenger. The message read, “I have been held hostage by unknown military personal after my flight was hijacked (blindfolded). I work for IBM and I have managed to hide my cellphone in my ass during the hijack. I have been separated from the rest of the passengers and I am in a cell. My name is Philip Wood. I think I have been drugged as well and cannot think clearly.”

The photo was just a black screen, but its Exif data identified the iPhone user, a time consistent with the plane’s last known movements, and GPS coordinates of a building on Diego Garcia.

Philip Wood, a 50-year-old IBM engineer living in Asia, actually was a passenger on the plane. Wood’s girlfriend, Sarah Bajc, has appeared on CNN and a few radio shows to air her belief that he and his fellow passengers are being held hostage at a secret facility. She hasn’t mentioned the Assphone message, but one has to wonder if she accepts it as genuine. I doubt that she does, because she seems like a smart lady.  And to accept the Assphone Scenario, one has to accept a shit-tonne of dodgy things:

  • that the abductors remembered to dose everybody with drugs, but forgot to confiscate phones from all of their super-secret hostages, on a military base that has wi-fi
  • that a successful, industrious adult man, caught in a situation that would make Jack Bauer twig out, decided not to email a loved one or post a message to Facebook or notify the FBI or send a message to his Congressman
  • instead, he chose 4chan, because credibility
  • he relied on 4chan for his salvation
  • srsly, people, fucking 4chan

8.   Accidental Shootdown and Cover-up (AKA the Whoops Scenario)

Whether Limbaugh really believed his shootdown theory or not is unclear. Let’s face it, most of the time he just says words on the air. If he believes his theory, then he thinks Malaysians accidentally shot down their own plane in blind panic.

Nigel Cawthorne has a different shootdown theory. His book Flight MH370: The Mystery, released in May, argues that a joint US-Thai fighter jet training drill accidentally shot down the plane. Fearing an international incident (or maybe just epic embarrassment), Thailand and the U.S. collaborated on a cover-up that would put Charles Widmore to shame.

Cawthorne is a freelance journalist and prolific author. His specialties are the sexual peccadilloes of English gentlemen and Hollywood starlets, historical military battles, ’60s celebrities, and true crime. His titles include The Mammoth Book of Football Hooligans and Takin’ Back My Name: The Confessions of Ike Turner. A review of Flight MH370: The Mystery by David Free of The Australian might confirm your suspicions about Cawthorne’s level of expertise in this area. The book contains many typos, factoids, and speculative scenarios, but no new evidence that would support the War Games/Whoops scenario.

7.   Black Hole, Wormhole, Portal from Donnie Darko

A poll posted on CNN‘s website reported that 9% of respondents thought it was either very or somewhat likely that the plane was abducted by aliens, “time travelers or beings from another dimension.” To date, CNN has not conducted a poll to determine how many people like to screw with CNN polls.

The notion that a “miniature” black hole swallowed the plane shouldn’t have gone anywhere, but CNN Newsroom host Don Lemon briefly entertained it on-air. Panelist Mary Schiavo gently informed him that black holes don’t work like that.

If it seems unbelievable that anyone could believe time travel made a jet vanish, keep in mind that people still buy into the Philadelphia Experiment and Montauk Project hoaxes.

6.   Reptilians or Whatever

Alexandra Bruce, a conspiracy writer who specializes in stories about reptoid aliens and New Age flim-flam, became the first person to throw out the obligatory “ALIENS” theory. Her evidence consisted of a YouTube video of a computer simulation of the plane departing from Kuala Lumpur,  in which the simulated plane seems to vanish in the presence of an aircraft Bruce identifies as a UFO.  Boston.com journalist Jack Pickell, in his own rundown of silly Flight 370 theories, pointed out that the “UFO” was clearly marked as Korean Airlines Flight 672.

5.   Predictive Programming

“Predictive programming”, which I have written about here and at Leaving Alex Jonestown, is the profoundly dumb notion that the baddies who run everything can’t do terrible things to us without asking our permission first (a common theme in the folklore of vampires, demons, and other supernatural entities). But they can’t just ask, “Mind if we kill several hundred of you today?”, so they resort to seeding clues about their plans into episodes of The Simpsons. As reported by the Independent, predictive programming experts agree that the 2012 Pitbull/Shakira song “Get It Started” betrays prior knowledge of Flight 370’s disappearance, containing lines such as, “Now it’s off to Malaysia” and “Two passports, three cities, two countries, one day.” The lyrics “No Ali, No Frazier, but for now off to Malaysia” refer to the shady character known as Mr. Ali (no word yet on who the hell Frazier is), and the “two passports” are clearly a reference to the stolen Austrian and Italian ones Mr. Ali provided to two mystery passengers. The song also mentions Times Square, Tom Cruise, and Manila. I think this means that Tom Cruise is going to marry a Filipino ladyboy on New Year’s Eve.

No fewer than eight people share the writing credits for “Get It Started.” In addition to making me fearful about the future of pop music in general, this makes me doubtful that the Illuminati was involved. I could see letting Shakira in on a secret plan to kidnap a planeful of people – she could never become an effective whistleblower, because people are so busy staring at her that they rarely hear a word she’s saying. But seven other people? That’s just silly. Besides, if Morrissey didn’t predict MH370, then no one did.

4.   A Scary-Ass Machine or Something

Mike “Health Ranger” Adams, who was recently featured on Dr. Oz’s TV show, ponders the fate of the plane in this article at his Natural News site. He dismisses the conventional explanations,  one by one, before telling us that an “entirely new, mysterious and powerful” weapon can make airplanes vanish without trace.  Whoever controls this Aircraft-Disappearing Machine clearly has the capability to dominate the whole planet. Elsewhere on his website, however, Adams opines that a rogue nation has commandeered the plane and will soon be using it as a “stealth nuclear weapon.”

langoliers

Maybe it was these guys.

3.    China

This theory, first proposed by Reddit user Dark_Spectre, also revolves around Philip Wood, who was an IBM Technical Storage Executive for Malaysia. Since IBM was one of the companies implicated by Edward Snowden as helping the NSA spy on China, maybe the Chinese hijacked the flight to abduct and interrogate Wood. And maybe the U.S. found out about it, located the plane, and killed all the passengers to prevent the Chinese from learning anything. Or maybe, in bloody retaliation for NSA algorithms, China patiently waited nearly a year after Snowden’s IBM revelations to off Philip Wood in a manner that looks totally accidental. Makes sense.

Eric-Snowden1

Fail.

2.    Israel

Israel framed Iran. Without actually framing Iran. Yoichi Shimatsu aired this theory during an interview with conspiranoid radio host Jeff Rense (below). Citing alleged eyewitness reports from anonymous sources, “Jews did 9/11” researcher Christopher Bollyn reported that a lookalike of MH370 is being stored in a hangar at Tel Aviv Airport, possibly for use in a future false flag attack by Israel.

1.    Distraction

No matter what you talk about, some dickhole is going to inform you that there’s something more important to talk about. In Conspiracyland, this is taken to the nth extreme, creating elaborate Russian nesting dolls of derp. For example, after mentally disturbed mother Miriam Carey was gunned down for driving through a barricade in D.C., Jones declared that her death was simply a distraction from the government shutdown, while the shutdown was “political theater billed as a government shutdown”, while the political theatre was just globalists reinforcing a false left/right paradigm. Is everything a distraction? Just where do distractions stop and real events begin, guy?

In the case of Flight 370, people opined that it was a distraction from the Ukraine, One of these people was David Hawkins, of the aforementioned Abel Danger website.

Technically, everything on this planet distracts you from something else on this planet. No one has to deliberately engineer distractions in an age of commercial-free television, beer pong, and breastaurants.

Perhaps we shouldn’t judge any of these wonky theories too harshly, though. Reporter and CNN commentator Jeff Wise has candidly admitted in a piece for Canada’s National Post that he poured feverish enthusiasm and plenty of money into pursuing a theory that turned out to be flat-out wrong. Unlike a lot of the other MH370 armchair detectives, who will defend their discredited theories to the death, Wise has admitted his error, and he explains just how easy it is to fill in the blanks or craft wildly imaginative scenarios when there are so many unanswered questions, so many red herrings, so many unknowns.
Like Flight 19, Flight 370 seems destined to become one of the great unsolved mysteries of our time…and that means we’ll be seeing scores more wacky theories in years to come.

Sandy Hook Truth, 9 months later

It has been about seven months since I first looked at the Sandy Hook Truth movement, an assortment of individuals who believe they have uncovered evidence of labyrinthine conspiracies behind the Newtown, Connecticut school massacre.
These intrepid investigators have had nearly nine months to crack the case wide open and tell us who really did the crime, and why. Let’s take a look at what they’ve found by comparing/contrasting aspects of the “official story” with some of their results. After that, I’ll list the Sandy Hook Truth movement’s best evidence.

The Official Story

On the morning of December 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, in the home they shared in Newtown, Connecticut. He then drove his mother’s Honda Civic to Sandy Hook Elementary School with four semi-automatic firearms licensed to Nancy. He took three of the guns with him when he entered the school.
Using a  Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle, he shot his way into the locked building at approximately 9:35 AM local time. Between that time and about 9:49 AM, he killed principal Dawn Hochsprung, school psychologist Mary Sherlach, teacher Natalie Hammond, first-grade teacher Victoria Soto, teacher’s aide Anne Marie Murphy, substitute first-grade teacher Lauren Rousseau, and 20 students who were 6 years old or younger. 6-year-old Dylan Hockley was autistic. Lanza shot all but two of his child victims multiples times; 6-year-old Noah Pozner was shot 11 times. All of the staff members died trying to stop the gunman or shield their students. Ms. Murphy covered Dylan Hockley’s body with her own. Throughout the school, teachers and faculty members hid children in closets and bathrooms, thereby saving an untold number of lives. 
Six children fled Ms. Soto’s classroom and escaped from the school, making their way to the driveway of a home owned by Gene Rosen.
Before police could reach him, Lanza returned to Soto’s classroom and shot himself in the head with  a Glock 10mm.
His motivation remains obscure, but Lanza reportedly suffered mental and emotional problems that left him socially isolated and unable to work full-time or complete college. Around the time of the massacre, Nancy Lanza told friends she was considering leaving New England and attempting to enroll Adam in college for a third time.
Adam had access to the weapons because his mother was an avid collector who had taught both of her sons how to shoot.

The Truther Stories

The most popular alternate theory of Sandy Hook, by far, is that it was a government operation engineered to push through restrictive gun legislation, psychologically destabilize Americans, make blood sacrifices to the Devil, and/or distract us from “more important” things that are happening.
Some Sandy Hook Truthers agree with the general outline of the official story, but suspect Lanza was a victim of government-sponsored mind control (according to one Truther, Lanza’s mind control programming could be linked to Satanism, the Illuminati and Lady Gaga).
Some Truthers think Lanza may have had accomplices, and this is not completely unsupported speculation, as Connecticut State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky did mention other “potential suspects” when arguing that unsealing warrants in the case could compromise the investigation.
Other Truthers have floated the idea that the shooter was not Adam Lanza, but a man named Scott Vollmer. Vollmer was apparently singled out because his mother Janet taught kindergarten at Sandy Hook, and the school nurse seemingly confirmed to a reporter that the shooter’s mother taught kindergarten at the school (see “The Nurse” under Best Evidence, below). Also, Vollmer is said to be an event manager for New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, a vocal advocate for increased gun control. In reality, Vollmer was a director of special events for Bloomberg TV’s catering company, Flik International. Not exactly the guy you would handpick as an assassin.
Other alternative suspects include: A three-man Israeli hit team, the FBI, three people in a purple van, and men in the woods (whom Truthers have still not identified; see “The Man in the Woods” under Best Evidence).
But not all Truthers buy into the notion of alternate suspects. For example, YouTube user “ReviewManify” has posted a video titled “There Is No Shooter” in which he discusses – and dismisses – the Vollmer theory before telling us that there is no evidence that even one child died in Sandy Hook Elementary. Funerals and grieving parents notwithstanding, “There ain’t no proof of that.” So, no shooter. Problem…solved?
Florida professor James Tracy came under heavy criticism when he suggested basically the same thing on his Memory Hole blog, but he later clarified in an interview with Miami’s WLRN that he believes some people died at Newtown. He went on to publish his Sandy Hook articles on the website of Global Research, a Canadian outfit that has also declared the Srebrenica massacre a hoax and argued that Rwanda was really a massacre against Hutus, not Tutsis.
There are also Truthers who have argued that Adam Lanza does not exist and Sandy Hook was not actually a school.
The idea that no one died at Sandy Hook has led to the harassment of several people involved in the tragedy. The first person to come under heavy attack from Sandy Hook Truthers, strangely enough, was not a city official or a government agent. He was Gene Rosen, the retired grandfather who sheltered six escaped kids in his house until their parents arrived. For reasons I can’t even begin to fathom, some Truthers decided Mr. Rosen was not only an actor portraying a helpful Newtown resident, but could also be a pedophile, a liar, and/or a government agent. He has allegedly been harassed and slandered by conspiranoids who think he’s a paid “crisis actor” or a Satanist. The anti-Semitic wing of the Sandy Hook Truth movement is certain that Gene Rosen’s ethnicity is a key to his involvement. A YouTube user posted a music video about “creepy Gene”, to the tune of The Monkees’ “Daydream Believer”. Rosen has also reportedly received threats on his life. Yet not one shred of real evidence has been presented to back up any of these slurs. Truthers tried to prove that Rosen was a professional actor, but that turned out to be a different Gene Rosen.
The official Sandy Hook investigation is ongoing, and the final report may not be released until late autumn. But by the end of February, there was already a bumper crop of Sandy Hook conspiracy documentaries online, including Mark Howitt’s Sandy Hook: The Documentary, “Sandy Hook Massacre: A Closer Look” by Tina Charby (one of several Truthers who has pointed out “suspicious nuns” at Sandy Hook), and Sandy Hook Shooting: Fully Exposed  by “ThinkOutsidetheTV”. That last one went viral, resulting in a long Snopes entry. Press TV (Iran state television) had already decided that Israelis were probably to blame, as had retired professor and conspiracy researcher James Fetzer and the bizarro “anti-Zionist” publication Veterans Today (see Fetzer’s article “Did Mossad Death Squads Slaughter American Children at Sandy Hook?“).
The rush to judgment spawned countless red herrings, like the rumour that Adam Lanza’s father, Peter, was scheduled to testify on the Libor banking scandal at the time of the massacre (here is an example of that rumour in action, from an Infowars forum user). It turned out that Peter Lanza, a GE exec, had no link to the scandal. Max Keiser.com and Occupy Corporatism were among the alternative media outlets that worked to squash this rumour, alleging that it originated with Sorcha Faal, the same peculiar conspiracy-monger who was behind one of the least credible conspiracy theories about Michael Jackson’s death. Another red herring was that Nancy Lanza’s car was actually registered to a man named Christopher Rodia. Truthers went crazy connecting Rodia-Lanza dots (Andrew S. MacGregor even made the Rodia vehicle the linchpin of his FBI-did-Sandy-Hook theory) until blogger Joe Quinn helpfully pointed out that police-scanner references to Rodia had nothing to do with Sandy Hook.

Best evidence

I’m going to leave out the sillier evidence, like the Batman/Sandy Hook connection and the Freemasonic links and the allegations of Satanic ritual sacrifice.

Gun grab
The gun theory of Sandy Hook, which is definitely the most popular one out there, posits that the Powers That Be are so desperate to dismantle the Second Amendment and disarm the people that they stage mass shootings to help ramp up popular support for restrictive firearm legislation.
If that’s the case, then Sandy Hook was a miserable failure. The massacre actually mobilized the pro-gun community, and bills to restrict sales of semiautomatic weaponry and legislate tougher background checks for prospective gun buyers were shot down. In the end, cries of “gun confiscation” were cries of wolf.
There’s no question that elements of both the pro- and the anti-gun lobbies have exploited Sandy Hook and the Aurora incident, but there’s no smoking-gun evidence (no pun) that anyone engineered the massacre just to take away guns. By this logic, any incident involving firearms could be a staged event. And that’s exactly what “media lookalike” proponent Ed Chiarini of Dallas believes; he has stated that not one of the school shootings in the U.S. was a real event. Each and every one was faked.

Actors
The “actor” theory of Sandy Hook holds that no one actually died. The whole thing was an exquisitely stage-managed fake event in which crisis actors and/or other professional performers were hired to portray bereaved family members, eyewitnesses, and even shooting victims.
No one has managed to locate the bogus Sandy Hook students and their families. Are they in Witness Protection? Underground bunkers? Ed Chiarini believes some of them have gone back to work as actors, athletes, and performers. For instance, Robbie Parker (father of 6-year-old victim Emilie Parker) is actually skateboarder Tony Hawk, and the late Emilie is an “actress” who has also “portrayed” the daughters of Bachelorette contestant Emily Maynard and Taylor Armstrong of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Adam’s Lanza’s father, Peter, is really comedian Michael McDonald from MADtv. The part of Lt. J. Paul Vance was played by John Goodman. You get the drift. You can see more of this weirdity on Chiarini’s website.
Henry Makow, a Canadian who used to call his conspiracy site “Save the Males”, believes he can spot the actors’ “handlers” by what kind of purses they carry.
However, many Truthers, like Mark Howitt, dismiss the actor theories as absurd and divisive. Some of them have even become casualties of the theories; Dan Dicks of the Canadian alternative media outlet Press for Truth says he was accused of being a Crisis Actor at one point, and Ed Chiarini has proposed that Sonia of the Truther Girls conspiracy radio show is played by 30 Rock actress Tina Fey. In the description for one of her Sandy Hook-related videos, Sonia sensibly points out that no actor would be foolish enough to impersonate a grieving parent on national television – he/she would instantly be outed by relatives or acquaintances, and if not, recognized during auditions. There goes his/her career. In another Sandy Hook video, Sonia opines that the actor theory provides an easy target for those who wish to undermine Sandy Hook trutherism; who in their right mind is going to believe the Truthers if they go around insisting that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is really Henry Winkler?
Other Truthers, like James Fetzer, are willing to entertain and promote the actor theory without necessarily embracing it. As I have mentioned in my previous posts on Chiarini, I suspect “actor-based reality” theories may be rooted in the Fregoli delusion or something similar.

Sealed case documents and unreleased evidence
This is a prime example of the fallacy that if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. Nearly every Sandy Hook Truther has complained at some point in the last nine months that case evidence is being withheld or isn’t being released quickly enough; the authorities must either be hiding it to conceal “what really happened”, or the evidence simply doesn’t exist because nothing happened.
But it is not just the big bad authorities who don’t want the evidence released. The parents of at least three of the child victims have campaigned to prevent case evidence such as crime scene photos from being made public. Dylan Hockley’s mother, Nicole Hockley, said to a Hartford press conference, “What purpose would releasing these documents serve? The shooter is dead and in terms of checking first-responder procedures they have all the information they need. The media won’t learn anything either. I will defend this as long as possible.” Her husband Ian Hockley, Mark and Jackie Barden, and Jimmy Greene and Nelba Marquez-Greene joined her in signing a petition to block the release of certain information related to the murders of their children, including 911 calls. In a letter to the Hartford Courant, Dean Pinto (father of 6-year-old victim Jack Pinto) also urged that the photos and calls not be made public.

If you have to wonder why parents would want to keep crime scene photos and case documents out of the hands of the media, think back to the JonBenet Ramsey case. Did the media use discretion in their handling of autopsy photos and 911 calls? The Globe tabloid triumphantly published six leaked autopsy photos, in full colour. Would you like to see death photos of your murdered child, or friend, or niece, as you stand in line at the grocery store or flip through channels?

The nurse
An unassuming school nurse named Sally Cox has become a central figure in Sandy Hook conspiracy theories.
Because of a large divorce settlement and her son’s educational needs (Adam was mostly homeschooled), Nancy Lanza was not employed. Nonetheless, there were (erroneous) reports that she worked as a schoolteacher. This led to a great deal of confusion in the wake of her son’s spree killings, because there were (erroneous) reports that she was (or had been) employed as a kindergarten teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary. There were even (erroneous) reports that Nancy had called in sick that day, and Adam targeted the class she usually taught. Later, there were reports that Nancy may have been a volunteer teacher’s aide for Adam’s class at the school, years earlier.
On the night of December 14, WUSA reporter Andrea McCarren approached Ms. Cox and asked her if she knew the shooter’s mother. Cox affirmed that she did. McCarren then asked her if his mother was known to be a good kindergarten teacher, and Ms. Cox said that she was a very loving woman, good with the children.
Her response truly is a bit baffling, because we now know that Nancy Lanza never worked as a teacher at all, anywhere (she was a stockbroker back in the ’90s). Nor has it been confirmed that she volunteered at Sandy Hook when Adam was enrolled there. It’s quite possible that Cox knew Nancy, but that has never been confirmed, either. Truthers would pounce on this flawed report and some minor inconsistencies in Cox’s accounts of that day, but what does any of it prove? Even if the school nurse lied about knowing Nancy Lanza and/or seeing the gunman – and I’m certainly not saying she did – that would not be evidence of conspiracy.
Another red herring popped up when Truthers revealed that no one named Sally Cox was registered as a nurse in the state, not knowing that “Sally” is an old-fashioned nickname for “Sarah”. Sarah Cox is, indeed, a fully-qualified and registered nurse in the state of Connecticut, and has been employed at Sandy Hook for over 15 years.

The guns and inaccurate media reports 
Initially, there was a lot of confusion as to which guns Lanza used, and where they were found. Sandy Hook Truthers hold up a few apparent discrepancies in the earliest media reports as solid evidence that the entire official story is a sham, ignoring the fact that early reports are often inaccurate. At first, Adam’s older brother Ryan (who was not even in Newtown on the morning of December 14) was reported to be the shooter (which helped spawn conspiracy theories, of course).
There has been extensive analysis of the media gaffes and spectacularly shoddy reporting that occurred in the hours after the massacre (see, for instance, Paul Farhi’s piece in the Washington Post). In my opinion, the bad reporting on that day serves as evidence against a cover-up, because a massive conspiracy would have micromanaged the media, feeding reporters carefully selected tidbits. Instead, it was the usual media free-for-all, with news outlets so desperate to get something – anything – into print or on the air that they seized upon rumours heard from bystanders, statements taken from traumatized witnesses, and other unreliable sources. This is reflective of a general decline in media standards, as far as I’m concerned, but that’s a whole other post.
Some early reports indicated that only two guns had been found inside the school; this was later amended to three guns, with a fourth left in Nancy Lanza’s car. To make things more confusing, some reports stated all four guns were inside the school, and NBC’s Today Show reported that Lanza shot his victims only with handguns.
These early-report errors were soon straightened out, but the Sandy Hook Truthers continue to use them as a foundation rock of their theories. You can see an example of this in a Veterans Today article by Jim Fetzer and Dennis Cimino, in which they highlight “the Bushmaster hoax”.

Emilie Parker’s Dad
Robbie Parker has been raked over the coals by every Sandy Hook Truther on the planet. Why? Because he laughed, and then cried, at a press conference. That’s pretty much it. He was laughing at something when he approached the mic to speak about his murdered 6-year-old daughter, but within seconds he was weeping and speaking emotionally about what his family was going through. Truthers decided this was a performance. Some even suggested that Emilie wasn’t dead at all; she posed with the President days later (this was actually Madeline Parker, one of Emilie’s two younger sisters).
While excoriating the rest of us for buying into the media’s epic lies, Truthers have whittled the entire spectrum of human emotion down to “sad” and “not sad” – if you exhibit both, you’re screwed. You will be permanently branded a member of the conspiracy. This has happened not just to Robbie Parker, but to several other parents of Sandy Hook victims. The Sandy Hook Hoax website maintained by Jay “New Age Messiah” Johnson has an entire page dedicated to exposing them.
For those who accept the “crisis actors” theory, there is an intriguing paradox here: Wouldn’t professional actors be more convincing than actual grief-stricken people? An actor would already be in character before the cameras even started rolling. Authentic emotion, however, obeys no such rules. Many times, I have seen tears and laughter at funerals and memorial services.
Like the actor theory, this “not sad enough” line of reasoning doesn’t cut it with all Truthers. Sonia of the Truther Girls observed in one of her Sandy Hook videos that it’s difficult to judge people’s emotional responses to the loss of a child, particularly if we haven’t experienced such loss ourselves.

The coroner
Truthers like James F. Tracy point to the answers given by Connecticut Chief Medical Examiner H. Wayne Carver during a December 15, 2012 press conference (see video below)  as proof that he didn’t really do a thorough job of examining the victims’ bodies, if he did so at all. An editor at Global Research finds it “startling” that Carver only conducted seven of the autopsies himself, though it is far from unusual for assistant coroners to do autopsies, particularly when there are mass deaths.
Carver’s answers are rather peculiar, and his behaviour strikes me as awkward and odd, but there’s nothing here that can’t be chalked up to fatigue, and/or a reluctance to reveal information that the police didn’t want to reveal yet. From Carver’s comments, it seems he has had some bad experiences with courtroom testimony in the past and is painfully aware that committing yourself publicly to anything can have serious repercussions. For instance, he knows it would be improper to speculate about the weapons, since that isn’t technically within his field of expertise. Truthers make much of his statement that he doesn’t know if the children were standing or seated when they were struck, but without knowing the layout of the classrooms and the relative positions of the shooter and the victims, that’s not something that can always be determined at autopsy.
In keeping with his “crisis actors” theory, Ed Chiarini attempted to prove that H. Wayne Carver is actually the late “Mafia hitman” Richard “Ice Man” Kuklinski, who died in prison in 2006.


The man in the woods
This is one of the genuine enigmas in the case. A WABC news helicopter captured footage of at least one adult male, dressed in camouflage, dashing through a wooded area close to the school, being pursued by police officers. This occurred around 12:24, over two and a half hours after the shooting stopped, according to the ABC News timeline of events. Who was this man?
We know that there were at least two arrests at the school immediately after the shootings – Chris Manfredonia, father of a first-grade student, was apprehended near the school and briefly detained. He reportedly said he was en route to his daughter’s classroom when he heard shooting, so he remained outside the building. A second unidentified man was also briefly detained, and police determined him to be a bystander, according to Snopes. Either of these individuals could be the man that one student reportedly saw handcuffed on the ground near the school.

But the man in the woods remains an unknown. According to the last sentence of a December 27 article in the Newtown Bee, a law enforcement source stated the man in the woods had a gun and was an off-duty tactical squad (SWAT) officer from “another town”. No Truthers have confirmed this, nor have they uncovered the man’s identity, so we have no idea why he was there or why he was apparently running away from police. One witness, seen in this video, told a reporter that he and other observers saw a handcuffed man in camo pants being led out of the woods and placed in a police car. Was this Camo Man, or someone else?
One theory holds that Manfredonia is Camo Man, but why he would be fleeing into the woods has not been explained.

Adam Lanza’s death certificate and inaccurate date stamps
Truthers accessed an electronic version of Adam Lanza’s death certificate (the Social Security Death Index Record) via geneology websites like Ancestry.com and Geneology Bank, and breathlessly reported that Lanza died on December 13…one day before the massacre. Truthers like Jeffrey Phelps are aware that this date is probably a typographical error that might not even exist on the original document, but that doesn’t stop them from presenting it as evidence.

One of the most popular pieces of Truther evidence is that some of the webpages created on behalf of Sandy Hook families seem to have existed prior to the shootings. For example, the United Way Sandy Hook support fund was created three days before the massacre, according to the Google timestamp. But as a Salon article points out, wonky timestamps are more the rule than the exception; one Fox News article on Sandy Hook is dated by Google as having been published in 1983. That’s 13 years before Fox News existed, and 9 years before Adam Lanza was born. Also, webpages are sometimes repurposed.

The drill
Since 9/11, conspiracy researchers have embraced Webster Tarpley’s theory (outlined in his book 9/11 Synthetic Terror: Made in USA) that training exercises and drills conducted by law enforcement and military personnel are sometimes used to mask false flag attacks. They will point to training exercises that occurred in proximity to a real event as evidence that someone in authority knew all about it in advance. During a January 18 interview on The Alex Jones Show, for instance, James Tracy said the Newtown massacre was a “drill that went live”. Holocaust revisionist Nick Kollerstrom, in a Veterans Today piece written with Fetzer, attempted to draw parallels between Sandy Hook and the 7/7 bombings in London, another “drill that went live”. Somewhat paradoxically, Kollerstrom opens his article by introducing the possibility that the Newtown shootings didn’t actually happen.

Here’s the deal: On the day of the Sandy Hook shootings, an “active shooter drill” was being conducted at a school in the community of Carmel, New York, by the Putnam County Emergency Response Team (ERT), a unit comprised of specially-trained officers from the sheriff’s office and two area police departments (Carmel and Kent).  This, presumably, is the drill that Tracy contends “went live”.
But that doesn’t seem to be the case at all. Two days after Sandy Hook, the Southeast Brewster Patch newspaper reported that the drill was part of regular ERT training, and that the Putnam County ERT commander had phoned Newtown police to offer ERT assistance at the school. He was told the ERT would not be needed, since police had already secured the scene. Nonetheless, Truthers insist the ERT must have been involved. The team even plays a key role in an alternate timeline of Sandy Hook events compiled by Andrew S. MacGregor – though McGregor doesn’t present any actual evidence documenting ERT presence at the scene, because his scenario is wholly speculative.

Truthers have also responded negatively to a FEMA course offered under the auspices of the Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (part of Connecticut’s Division of Emergency Services and Public Protection), titled “Planning for the Needs of Children in Disasters”, that was held six times in November and December 2012, including on the day of the Sandy Hook shootings. Frankly, I don’t know what this has to do with the massacre. The course deals not just with school violence, but with natural disasters, fires, and other emergency situations that could befall any school at any time. I view this as another red herring.

Henry Makow and others have catalogued “evidence” that Sandy Hook was part of some other, unspecified, drill.

The Bottom Line

The Sandy Hook Truthers will continue their investigative efforts, but this will probably be the last post I devote solely to their results. I have five good reasons for this:

1. Twenty children and six women are dead, beyond question. Adam Lanza is dead, beyond question. Nancy Lanza is dead, beyond question. I have not seen any persuasive evidence that the key figures in the investigation are not who they say they are. Keep in mind that hoaxes involving even one fake person always collapse under their own weight. Look at the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax, the Kuwaiti incubator babies fraud, and the Catfish case; they were all exposed by just a few diligent people within weeks.
2. The Second Amendment is firmly intact.
3. The noise-to-signal ratio is incredibly high in the world of Sandy Hook Truth. Red herrings vastly outnumber genuine leads. After nine months, we still don’t have viable alternate suspects, smoking-gun evidence of a conspiracy, or anything else of substance. The majority of the Truthers have never been to Connecticut and have not spoken to anyone close to the case.
4. Truthers working in multiple countries have not yet supplied answers to the few unanswered questions that remain about the tragedy. If they can’t even figure out who Camo Man was, I doubt they could expose an epic false flag operation.
5. Bizarre, groundless conspiracy theories pop up after every mass shooting, as I discussed in another post.

Miracle in Missouri

Mysterious priests, guardian angels, and…aliens?

1950s VINTAGE POSTCARD Angel with Children On Bike and Dog

Check out the update at the end of this post.

No one wants to debunk an inspiring, heartwarming, faith-affirming “angel” story. But somebody has to be the grownup around here.

Last Sunday morning, there was a serious two-car crash on Highway 19 near Center, Missouri. Aaron Smith, 26, struck Katie Lentz, a 19-year-old on her way to church, head-on. Lentz was pinned against the steering wheel of her totaled car with a broken femur and other injuries, unable to move. After nearly an hour of unsuccessful rescue efforts, Lentz asked the rescue crew to pray with her. They obliged.
That’s when the mystery priest materialized. “He came up and approached the patient, and offered a prayer,” New London Fire Chief Raymond Reed told KHQA-TV. “It was a Catholic priest who had anointing oil with him. A sense of calmness came over her, and it did us as well.” The priest prayed that the tools being used on the car would work so that Lentz could be removed.
Moments later, the  Hannibal Fire Department arrived.
After the jaws of life were used and Lentz was extracted, people began to wonder if the priest was an angel. He came out of nowhere, vanished without a trace, and doesn’t seem to be attached to any of the area’s Catholic churches. He also doesn’t appear in any photos taken at the scene. The story has appeared in USA Today, the New York Daily News, and the Washington Times, and is now blowing up the Internet, with many people feeling that the mystery priest was either a kindly good Samaritan who is too humble to make himself known, or an honest-to-goodness angel whose prayer facilitated a miraculous rescue.


“They were Asian. I think they were speaking…Asian.”

It’s a beautiful story, but on closer inspection it’s just plain weird. For one thing, an officer who was at the scene claims he had a little chit-chat with the priest.
“My first thought was that it would possibly send the wrong message to Katie that maybe we had called a priest and thought she wasn’t going to make it. So I went back and talked to the priest and told him we were worried she would think we’d given up hope. He said, ‘I just want to anoint her,’ and so we just let him come up to the scene,” Ralls County Sheriff’s Deputy Richard Adair told WTKR-TV.

Secondly, the priest’s prayer didn’t even work. He prayed that the inefficient cutting tools the rescue workers were using would suddenly start working properly. They didn’t. Lentz was rescued because the fire department – which was already en route when the praying began – reached the scene with the right tools for the job. This would have happened with or without prayer.

Thirdly, and most significantly, we have some extremely conflicting descriptions of what the mystery priest looked like. A composite sketch shows a balding man in his ’40s, with a narrow nose. Another witness saw a priest who looked like Walter Matthau.
Adair insists the man he saw is “not even remotely close” to the composite sketch. Adair thinks he was 60 to 65, about 5’6″, with an olive complexion and a “very strong” accent.
No one has said the priest was elderly, yet commentators have speculated that the spirit of the controversial saint Padre Pio, who was 81 when he died in 1968, might have visited the scene of the crash in spirit.

This is not the first time “angels” have looked different to every witness. In the Cokeville Elementary hostage crisis of 1986, several children reported seeing angels in the classroom where a deranged gunman and his wife were holding authorities at bay with explosives while making outrageous demands. Several of the children claimed to have seen a “beautiful lady” who herded them toward the windows. Sisters Rachel and Katie Walker saw beings that glowed like light bulbs hovering above the heads of the other hostages. Nathan Hartley said the angel looked like his great grandmother.
The thing is, if you’re going to believe in angels just because a group of schoolchildren saw them, then you’d better start believing in aliens, too. In 1994, 60 students at the Ariel School in Ruwa, Zimbabwe claimed to have seen an alien emerge from a landed craft in the schoolyard. Unlike the Cokeville children, these kids gave consistent physical descriptions of a bald little man with huge black eyes (with the exception of one little girl who saw long, lustrous hair on the creature).
What? You still don’t believe in aliens? Then why don’t you go back to wanking to Cosmos, you black-hearted materialist bastard?

Ariel School Sketches

Pictures drawn by the Ariel School children

Yes, I’m being silly, but there’s a point here: You are not obligated to believe in angels (or aliens) on the say-so of traumatized people who may be suffering crisis hallucinations, or misinterpreting the actions of a kindly stranger, or even just flat-out lying.
There are those who would argue that God’s messengers appear to each of us differently, coming to us in the form that is most familiar and comforting to us. In that case, I fully expect my guardian angel to be a taco that poops ice cream.

the-ice-cream-crapping-taco

My hero.

UPDATE: The mystery priest has been identified. He is a local priest, Father Patrick Dowling. He has gray hair, resembles the composite sketch far more than Walter Matthau, and was en route to Mass when he stopped at the crash site. Now can we stop this angel/ghost business?

Wednesday Weirdness Roundup: The Bogus Christian Memoir Hall of Shame

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Literary fraud is an important topic at Swallowing the Camel. Whether it’s middle-aged women pretending to be teen boys afflicted with HIV/AIDS (here and here), or James Cameron’s BFF letting himself be snowjobbed by a lying WWII vet, or fake Holocaust memoirists, no one gets a free pass when it comes to literary misdeeds. So why should Christians be any different? This week’s Weirdness Roundup covers some of the most egregious frauds involving inspirational Christian nonfiction, starting with the most recent case:

  • A year after diligent readers expressed their concerns, UK Christian publishing house Authentic Media has withdrawn a popular preacher’s autobiography from the market. Tony Anthony’s Taming the Tiger (2004) told the awesome story of how Jesus transformed him from an angry young criminal to the person he is today (I’ll let you decide if that was an improvement or not).
    Taming the Tiger describes how 4-year-old Tony learned Kung Fu from his grandfather. As the book’s cover reminds us, he ultimately became a “3 times Kung Fu World Champion”. His professional debut was in 1984. The following year, he went to work as a bodyguard for international VIPs, including the Saudi ambassador to the UK, Italy, and Cyprus. In 1988 or ’89, his world fell apart when his girlfriend of three years, Aiya, was killed in a car accident. He turned his back on everything good in his life and become an enforcer for his boss, threatening and beating and even killing people who posed the slightest danger to the ambassador. He then became a burglar to raise money for an expensive medical procedure his father needed, and started getting into confrontations with police in Cyprus, where he was then living. He landed himself in jail in Christmas 1989, and it was there that an Irish missionary introduced him to Jesus Christ.
    Upon release in 1992, Anthony returned to the UK and settled down to have a family. He considered himself a good Christian, but after he was arrested for killing a woman in a hit and run (and lying to police about it) in 2001, he realized he still needed a lot of work. His second awakening as a Christian spurred him to write the memoir, which has sold more than a million copies in 25 languages. Its success gave him the opportunity to preach all over the world, and he established an Essex-based international evangelism organization called Avanti Ministries.
    The whole thing imploded when skeptical readers decided to look into Anthony’s actual background. One of the first things they discovered was that he was born in 1971…meaning he would have been just 13 years old when he became a Kung Fu grand master, and 14 when he was supposedly protecting an ambassador. He would still have been a teenager when he ended up in Nicosia prison. Also, the Saudi ambassador to the UK from 1980-1992, Nasser Almanqour, was never sent to Italy or Cyprus.
    It wasn’t just readers who were skeptical. One director of Avanti Ministries, Mike Hancock, resigned because Anthony seemed reluctant to verify the stories in his book. Hancock joined forces with another former Avanti director and a few concerned Christian ministers to investigate Anthony’s claims. Last year, they submitted a summary of their findings to the board of Avanti, the UK’s Evangelical Alliance, and Authentic Media, resulting in Authentic’s decision to pull the book.
    Tony Anthony has issued a statement saying he “wholeheartedly” defends everything he wrote in Taming the Tiger, with the exception of some details that he claims he wasn’t aware of at the time he wrote it. He admits that some names, places, etc., were altered to protect the privacy of certain people. He also claims he recently tried to publish an updated autobiography, but was blocked from doing so by unnamed persons “intent on discrediting” his ministry. Hilariously, he seems astonished that anyone would be interested in the historical veracity of his work (which is categorized as a nonfiction martial arts book in libraries and bookstores).
    Anthony’s statement includes the announcement that Avanti Ministries will no longer be in charge of its outreach programs.
  • The story of “Lauren Stratford” is by far the weirdest, most convoluted bogus Christian memoir tale of the past several decades. In 1988, her book Satan’s Underground was published by one of the top Christian publishers in America, Harvest House. In it, Stratford described a nightmarish existence as an abused child prostitute, handed over to child pornographers and pedophile rapists by her own mother (a schoolteacher). As a teen, she became a virtual sex slave to a Satan-worshiping porno kingpin known only as “Victor”. Victor’s cult engaged in everything from infanticide to cannibalism, and Lauren was forced to participate in their hellish rites. She was the first former Satanist to claim status as a “breeder”, a woman forced to bear children for ritual sacrifice, and I doubt it’s a coincidence that within months of the release of Satan’s Underground, breeders were popping out of the woodwork to appear on Geraldo and Sally Jesse Raphael. Stratford herself was invited to appear on Oprah and Geraldo as a victim of Satanic ritual abuse. Her book became very popular with recovered memory advocates and Christian therapists, and other ritual abuse survivors credited Stratford’s book with helping them retrieve their own “repressed memories”.
    Then, in 1991, the Christian magazine Cornerstone investigated Stratford’s background. The reporters couldn’t find a shred of evidence that Laurel Wilson had ever been abused by Satanists or anyone else, but they did uncover evidence indicating that Wilson/Stratford suffered a factitious disorder.
    Toward the end of her life, Stratford re-emerged as a Holocaust survivor named “Laura Grabowski”. She said she had been one of Josef Mengele’s victims, and even had a touching reunion with a fellow child survivor of Auschwitz, Binjamin Wilkomirski. The problem was, Wilkomirski had never been in Auschwitz, either.
    You can read more about the peculiar Wilson/Stratford/Grabowski saga in Part IX of my series The Prodigal Witch.
  • In 1986, Christian pamphleteer Jack Chick published a bizarre book titled He Came to Set the Captives Free, by one “Rebecca Brown, M.D.” It told the story of a crusading Christian doctor (Brown herself) who was engaged in a life-or-death struggle against evil forces in Indiana. Satanists were dogging her every step because she had rescued a young woman named Elaine from their clutches. Elaine had been brainwashed by the Satanists from childhood, and as an adult was forced to literally marry Satan in his human form.
    Having divorced Satan and her second husband too, Elaine helped Dr. Brown foil Satanic assassins and rescue other cult victims. The duo claimed to have saved about 1000 witches from dangerous covens in the first half of the ’80s alone. Brown published a second book about her battles with darkness, Prepare for War, in 1987. That same year, she and Elaine appeared on one of Geraldo Rivera’s shows about Satanism.
    In 1989, writers G. Richard Risher, Paul R. Blizard, and M. Kurt Goedelman delved into the backgrounds of Rebecca Brown and Elaine for the Personal Freedom Outreach Newsletter. What they found was deeply disturbing. Brown was really Ruth Bailey, and she had been stripped of her medical license five years earlier, after colleagues discovered she had been giving massive (potentially fatal) doses of prescription painkillers to one of her patients, Edna Moses. Edna Moses was “Elaine”. The two women had been living together in a filthy house for years, telling neighbours they were sisters. Bailey was known for her violent, unstable, paranoid behaviour. Edna/Elaine died in 2005.
    Bailey/Brown left Edna in 1989 to marry an ex-con who claimed he was tortured by Swiss rabbis as a boy, and the couple now runs a small ministry called Harvest Warriors.
    Though many Christians recognize Brown’s books for what they are (pure batshit insanity), they remain in print and continue to captivate the more gullible members of the Christian community.  In 2010, a sixth-grade science teacher in Brooklyn was mildly reprimanded for distributing and selling copies of They Came to Set the Captives Free to some of his students.
    The full story of Ruth Bailey and Edna Moses can be read in Part VIII of my Prodigal Witch series.
  • In the early ’70s, a roly-poly young Californian named Mike Warnke took the evangelical world by storm. He was loved for his Christian stand-up comedy (yes, that’s a thing, I guess), but it was his truly sinister background that drew the most attention to him. As he detailed in his 1973 memoir The Satan Seller, Warnke had dropped out of college to lead one branch of a nationwide Satanic cult that practiced blasphemous rites, lured teenagers into their ranks with the promise of sex and drugs, and occasionally raped and dismembered innocents in the name of the Devil. You know, typical frat stuff.
    Just like Tony Anthony, Warnke founded a successful ministry on the strength of his testimony. It wasn’t until 1992, nearly 20 years after The Satan Seller was printed, that a group of Christians published an exhaustive refutation of Warnke’s claims in a Cornerstone magazine article. As writers Jon Trott and Mike Hertenstein revealed, Warnke hadn’t been a Devil-worshiping drug addict in college; he had already become a Christian by that time, and spent most of his time doing ridiculously wholesome things that other square kids did in the late ’60s: Bowling, going out for ice cream, double-dating with his devoutly Catholic girlfriend, etc.
    Confronted with his make-believe past, Warnke weakly explained that his Satanic following may have been a bit smaller than he originally stated (around a dozen people, rather than 1500). He would not back down from anything else in his book. A few years ago, though, he admitted to Jim Bakker that he had felt compelled to present a dramatic conversion testimony to impress the evangelical community, and made a joke about “evangelasticity”.
    You can read more about Warnke in
    Part II of the Prodigal Witch series.
  • The same year The Satan Seller was published, Doreen Irvine’s autobiography From Witchcraft to Christ was released in the UK. A prim-looking older lady, Irvine claimed to have been a teen prostitute who was inducted into Satanism in London around 1950. Over the next 12 years, she developed the abilities to levitate several feet off the ground, read minds, render herself invisible, manifest apports, and kill birds in midflight just by looking at them. She was crowned Queen of the Black Witches of Europe. Then she walked into a church on a whim and was instantly converted to Christianity. After a grueling exorcism removed 47 demons from her body, she traveled to churches all over the world, sharing her story of redemption.
    No one has ever extensively refuted the claims in From Witchcraft to Christ, probably because they are too absurd to take seriously in the first place. But the book, and Doreen’s preaching, had a profound and lasting impact that has left at least one young woman dead. You can read more about her influence in Part I of The Prodigal Witch.

There are a number of other Christian memoirs that definitely set off my BS alarm, but the claims made in these books are so unverifiable that there is really no way to refute them. These include:

  • A Divine Revelation of Hell (1997) and A Divine Revelation of Heaven (1998) by Mary K. Baxter. Baxter, a Pentacostal preacher from Michigan, claims she was given walking tours of both Heaven and Hell by Jesus himself, so that she could bear witness to their physical reality. She says Hell is located near the planet’s core, is shaped like a human body, and contains many homosexuals. In Heaven, angels collect the tears of everyone on Earth and store them away in jars.
  • Blood Secrets by Isaiah Oke, as told to Joe Wright (1989). Oke is a Nigerian Christian who claims he was once a ju-ju shaman, and that he witnessed a brutal human sacrifice carried out by his mentor. The person who commissioned this sacrifice is described as a powerful colonel, and it’s quite obvious that Oke wants us to think he was Idi Amin.
    Oke became a Christian while studying accounting at college. As he and Wright tell it, a young American co-ed had annoyed him one day, but Oke was unable to “hex” her even after numerous attempts. Finally, he asked her why she was resistant to his magical powers, and she told him she was a Christian. He promptly converted, and continues to talk smack about Nigerian spirituality to the present day.

Flim-Flam Friday: Chlorella

flimflam1

Chlorella

Last week I glimpsed a Facebook ad for “nature’s perfect superfood”, Chlorella, a freshwater green algae that grows naturally in certain parts of Asia.
Every single time I hear the term “superfood”, this happens:

redalert.gif

There are two reasons for that.
1. Sure, certain foods are nutrient-dense, but foods slapped with the prefix “super” usually turn out to be plain old food, neither  more nor less healthful than other foods in the same category. For instance, acai berries were hailed as a superfood and an anti-aging aid due to their high levels of antioxidants, but researchers have pointed out the berries contain about the same amount of antioxidants as other (far less expensive) fruits like blueberries and grapes. (1) Thanks to the trendiness of acai products, rural Brazilians who rely upon the berries as a staple food find their stomachs grumbling. (2)
2. You probably don’t need dietary supplements if you are healthy and have a varied, nutrient-rich diet. Certain foods or supplements might be beneficial when you have a deficiency, but if you don’t have a deficiency, you will get little to no benefit from them. (3)

Superfood

Looks even sillier than it sounds.


What does Chlorella supposedly do?

An incredibly broad range of claims has been made about the health benefits of Chlorella. In addition to being hailed as a nutrient-dense superfood (example), a detoxifying agent, and an energy booster, one Japanese study suggests it can:

– reduce body-fat percentage
– alleviate Type 2 diabetes by reducing blood-glucose levels
– help reduce cholesterol (4)

Many, many scientifically unsupported claims are being made about Chlorella. It can supposedly aid digestion by stimulating the growth of probiotic bacteria, treat ulcers, alleviate depression, increase “liver energy”, prevent or even cure cancer, and “boost immunity” (which would be a bad thing, if your immunity is normal).

Does it work?

As a food source? Yes (see “The Bottom Line” at the end of this post). As a cure-all pill, diet aid, or detoxifying agent? Probably not.
The problem with the bulk of the recent research involving Chlorella is that the results have not yet been replicated. When the Telegraph breathlessly tells you Chlorella can “reduce body-fat percentage”, they’re not telling you that this was found in just one study. (4)

At one time, Dr. Joseph Mercola claimed Chlorella could “fight cancer”. As absolutely zero evidence supports this, and federal law prohibits supplement suppliers from making health-related claims for their products, the FDA ordered Mercola to stop making that claim (and several others) on his website. So then he switched to saying Chlorella could eliminate your risk of getting cancer. The FDA ordered him to stop saying that, as well. Has this prevented Mercola from making extravagant claims about the curative properties of Chlorella? Nope. These days, he declares it can “prevent or ease” everything from stress to liver cancer. (5)

A lot of woo has attached itself to Chlorella over the years. Erich Von Däniken of “ancient astronauts” fame proposed in his 1980 book Signs of the Gods that maybe the Ark of the Covenant was a miniature nuclear reactor and manna machine. According to this theory, the “ark machine” absorbed and stored dew, to which green algae (Chlorella) was added, and poof! Delicious manna came out of the machine. It would have been radioactive as hell, but meh. Logic is for the unimaginative.
Not that Von Däniken was being particularly imaginative; he borrowed the entire “alien manna machine” concept from an April Fool’s article in New Scientist, which later became a book.

moses_speaks

“We have reached the Promised Land!
Sadly, you all have cancer.”

One health blogger says she’s taking Chlorella to “detox heavy metals” that supposedly remain in her body from chemotherapy she received some time ago. This is not a sound decision. First of all, heavy metals can be eliminated from the body only if treatment is administered immediately after exposure. Secondly, nothing in Chlorella has been shown to remove metals from the body. Thirdly, there is only one heavy metal involved with chemo (platinum, found in the chemo drugs Carboplatin and cisplatin). The platinum from both drugs generally remains in cells for up to 180 days. (6) Even if Chlorella could bind heavy metals, it would be incapable of removing them from the tissues and bloodstream without  the aid of chelation. (5)

The Bottom Line

So, Chlorella manna and Chlorella “metal detox” are bunk. But is Chlorella a superfood? In the ’50s and ’60s, scientists thought it could be. After WWII, the Baby Boom led governments around the world to study Chlorella in the hope it could be used to feed the masses cheaply and efficiently in the event of food shortages. NASA studied it with a view to feeding it to astronauts, and perhaps growing it on space stations. But processing Chlorella for consumption turned out to be too costly and time-consuming for either purpose, and it was relegated to the dietary supplement shelves of health food stores. It is an excellent food source. In its dried form, Chlorella is 45% protein, 20% carbohydrate, 20% fat, 5% fibre, and 10% vitamins and minerals. It contains nine essential amino acids. (7)
But according to an article on Chlorella at WebMD, the quality of the Chlorella found in supplements can vary wildly. The Chlorella in some products may contain only 7% protein, for instance.
To become a supplement, Chlorella is dried , crushed to a powder, and converted to small emerald tablets, which are vaguely reminiscent of Soylent Green. If the cell walls remain intact – and there are indications that this is the case with some Chlorella supplements – the Chlorella will be of no benefit to humans.
The recommended daily dosage for one of the most popular brands of Chlorella tablet is 15 tablets per day, at about $34US per 300 tablets. Perhaps this makes sense if you don’t have access to fresh, inexpensive greens like kale, but for the average consumer this is a pretty penny to spend on what are essentially veggie pills. A diet with sufficient carbs, protein, and vitamins will not require Chlorella.


Sources:

1. – Kuskoski EM, Asuero AG, Morales MT, Fett R, et al. “Wild fruits and pulps of frozen fruits: antioxidant activity, polyphenols and anthocyanins”. Cienc Rural 36 (July/August 2006)
– Seeram NP, Aviram M, Zhang Y, et al. “Comparison of antioxidant potency of commonly consumed polyphenol-rich beverages in the United States”. Journal of Agriculutral Food Chemicals 56 (February 2008). (abstract)
2.‘Superfood’ Promoted on Oprah’s Site Robs Amazon Poor of Staple” by Adriana Brasileiro, Bloomberg, May 14/09
3. Brown University’s page on nutrition supplements
4. T Mizoguchi, I Takehara, T Masuzawa. “Nutrigenomic studies of effects of Chlorella on subjects with high-risk factors for lifestyle-related disease“. Journal of Medicinal Food 11:3 (Sept. 2008)
5.Dr. Oz Revisited” by David Gorski, Science Based Medicine blog, Feb. 7/12.
6. Elke EM Brouwers, Alwin DR Huitema, Jos H Beijnen, Jan HM Schellens. “Long-term platinum retention after treatment with cisplatin and oxaliplatin“. Clinical Pharmacology 2008, 8:7.
7. Belasco, Warren. “Algae Burgers for a Hungry World? The Rise and Fall of Chlorella Cuisine”. Technology and Culture 38:3 (July 1997). Available from Jstor.

Wednesday Weirdness Roundup: Steven Greer’s alien + lots of other fake dead aliens

srsly

On April 22, Amardeep Kaleka‘s documentary Sirius will premiere in L.A. Though the film is mostly about magical alien energy sources, like Thrive, the highlight will undoubtedly be the tiny alien body that Dr. Steven Greer has been studying for more than a year. (Update: You can read more about that here. )

Greer’s alien was discovered by a treasure-hunter back in 2003, in the ghost town of La Noria in Chile’s Atacama desert (interestingly, a place considered similar to the Martian surface). The dessicated little skeleton, which is no longer than a pen yet has perfect proportions, was found buried  in a ribbon-tied bit of cloth near La Noria’s Catholic church. It had well-formed teeth, nine ribs, and a strangely elongated skull. The tabloids in Chile joked about a “horrible dwarf extraterrestrial”, but no serious interest was shown in the “Atacama humanoid”. It changed hands a few times, eventually ending up in Spain.
That’s where it came to the attention of Dr. Greer, an American ufologist best-known for founding the Disclosure Project. He probably heard about the humanoid during the Exopolitical Symposium held near Barcelona in 2009 (he was a presenter). Last year, he announced that his Center for the Study of ET Intelligence had gained access to the body, and would need funding to carry out scientific tests. He released a single photo and an X-ray of the “humanoid”, failing to mention it had already been in the Chilean tabloid press nine years earlier. In late October, he announced the body had been examined by “experts” using X-rays and CT scans, but still wouldn’t release more photos or give the names of the scientists working with him. For a disclosure advocate, Greer doesn’t like to disclose much. He would only say that “one of the world’s top geneticists” was studying DNA samples from the alien, and the “world’s foremost authority on skeletal abnormalities” had pronounced the skeleton non-human.

Atacama Humanoid

The Atacama alien

Steven Greer has a – how shall I put this? – rather checkered history in the field of UFO studies. He has promised big things before, with no payoff:

  • Throughout the ’90s, he claimed the ability to summon and communicate with UFOs using lights, lasers, and mental telepathy.
  • In 2008, the Orion Project announced it was developing a free energy device. Delay after delay pushed its unveiling all the way to the spring of 2010, when the Orion Project declared the work could not continue until their funding needs were met (a mere $3 million or so). Greer repeatedly insisted the device was already functional, yet it has still not been revealed.
  • In 2009, he practically guaranteed that the Obama administration would give full disclosure about UFOs and ETs by the end of 2010. (video)

Greer claims the secrets of aliens, free energy, and antigravity spacecraft are being kept from the public by a massive conspiracy possibly known as PI-40, comprised of Freemasons, Bilderbergers, the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, and…uh…Mormons. He says most of his associates, including Eugene Mallove, were murdered because they came too close to the truth about aliens – just like Marilyn Monroe and former CIA director William Colby. He also thinks the government has possessed the capability to induce cancer from a distance since the 1950s.

You would think the Atacama humanoid results would be big, big news in the world of ufology, but skepticism and disinterest remain high. I’m guessing this is partly because of Greer’s track record, partly because he won’t even release the names of these world-renowned scientists, and partly because we’ve been through all this before. Since the ’50s, we have been subjected to a veritable parade of alien fetuses, alien autopsies, alien skeletons and alien skulls – nearly all of which turned out to be terrestrial. Let’s take a quick look at some of the alien corpses of years past. Be warned that a few of the photos are kinda gross.

1953: Spaceman hit by a truck

georgia monkey

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a bald monkey.

Three young men in Georgia reported to police that they had struck what appeared to be a 2″-tall space creature with a pickup (the alien’s two companions had managed to escape in their flying saucer). A local vet confirmed the round-eyed, jug-eared being was no animal known to mankind, but Emory University anatomists who studied the body disagreed: The Georgia alien was a shaved Capuchin monkey with its tail removed. The three men confessed to staging the hoax to get into the local paper. Today, the spacemonkey is displayed at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation museum. (read more at The Museum of Hoaxes)

1979: Puerto Rico’s baby Conehead

Puerto Rico Alien

Consume mass quantities.

As one version of the story goes, two teenage boys exploring a cave near Cerro Las Tetas stumbled upon a whole colony of aliens, and bludgeoned one of the creatures to death in their panic. The pickled alien was revealed to the world by ufologist Jorge Martin later that year. It was never subjected to thorough scientific examination, however, and its current whereabouts are unknown. Señor Martin has since moved on to other dead aliens that are definitely fake. (read more at the Forgetomori blog)

1995: American alien autopsy

alien autopsy

His name was Bob.

Supposedly a film of doctors conducting a peculiar autopsy on an alien killed in the Roswell crash of 1947, the film turned out to be precisely what it looks like: A hoax utilizing rubber aliens, animal parts, and raspberry jam. The owner of the footage confessed to fakery, but stubbornly insists it was a “recreation” of genuine Roswell autopsy footage that is too damaged to be shown.

1996: Dr. Reed’s alien, AKA the Screaming Alien or the Microwave Burrito Alien

Burrito Alien

Protip: Fake aliens always look more real if you stick ’em on a space blanket.

You could probably compose several novels, an entire History Channel series, and an opera out of the hilariously dumb saga that is the “Dr. Reed” hoax, in which a Seattle psychologist enthralled Coast to Coast AM listeners with his tale of encountering a landed triangular spacecraft in the Cascades, watching a very fast alien vaporize his dog, then capturing the alien and stuffing it into his freezer. The alien wasn’t quite dead yet, however, and let out a horrifying shriek when Reed opened the freezer. Reed claimed the body was stolen by government agents who continued to stalk and menace him (though they somehow forgot to confiscate his photos of the UFO and the frozen alien).
“Dr. Jonathan Reed” was soon exposed as Seattle gas station attendant John Rutter. Incredibly, Rutter still insists his alien story is essentially true, and has made many fantastical additions to it over the years, including the discovery of an alien bracelet that either allows him to teleport (skip to the 7:00 mark) or just sit on a couch in a Mexican TV studio. (read more at UFO Watchdog)

1999: The Starchild skull

starchild skull

In 1999, American novelist Lloyd Pye purchased what is probably the skull of a hydrocephalic child. But he’s pretty damn sure it’s an alien-human hybrid, and won’t stop talking about it.

2005: Yugoslavian alien autopsy

Yugoslav alien

I prefer them medium rare.

Basically the same as the American autopsy footage, this film was said to have been taken in the former Yugoslavia in 1966. In photos sent to UFO Casebook by one “Ivan Kremer”, doctors are shown examining the charred corpse of an alien, supposedly recovered from a crashed UFO in the village of Otocek. Italian skeptic Andrea Zoboli later took credit for the hoax, citing the American alien autopsy as his inspiration.

2006: alien in a jar

attic alien

Antiques Roadshow estimate: $3.50

During renovation of a cottage in Gunthorp, workers found a jar containing what appeared to be (and was) a realistic alien model made from clay. Who put the alien model in Barney Broom’s attic, and why, remains a mystery. (read more at the BBC)

2008: Russian alien autopsy

Russian alien autopsy

Might be Joan Rivers. Somebody check.

The makers of this film were quite innovative. They opted for colour instead of black and white, chose a small alien dummy rather than a child-sized dummy, and zoomed in on the alien instead of standing ten feet away. The film even includes footage of Russian soldiers surrounding a crashed UFO that looks about as real as Tara Reid’s breasts. B for effort, guys.
This is not to be confused with a  “KGB” film that shows unmasked doctors hovering over random bits and pieces of an alien (judging by the hair on the lady doctor, this one was shot in the ’80s or early ’90s).

2011: Siberian alien and Russian refrigerator alien

Siberia alien

finger lickin’ good

The Siberian alien was probably the biggest dead alien story to hit the news since the American autopsy. Media outlets around the world carried stories of the cell phone video shot and posted to YouTube by anonymous teens, showing a pitifully one-legged alien entity sprawled in the snow. The Kremlin actually launched an investigation, and within hours an “alien” made out of old bread and chicken skin was found in the home of one of the kids in the video. Two boys confessed to creating it.
A few months later, Marta Yegorovnam of Petrozavodsk produced photos of a plastic-wrapped alien corpse she had been storing in her fridge for two years. It looked somewhat like the lovechild of Jabba the Hut and Kermit the Frog. Sadly, no one ever had the chance to examine Ms. Yegorovnam’s disgusting leftovers, because she surrendered them to the Karelian Research Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The Academy disclaimed any knowledge of the fridge alien. (read more at the Daily Mail, which was one of the few mainstream media outlets to bother with this)

Russian fridge alien

C’mon, lady.
At least put it in the crisper.

Date unknown: Roswell alien that looks suspiciously like the masks from the movie Brazil

roswell alien  brazil

Wednesday Weirdness Roundup

Notamused

  • Off the Hook: Conspiracy theories about the shootings in Connecticut, if they can even be called “theories”, are starting to draw attention from mainstream newspapers, websites like Salon and Gawker, and TV reporters. I’ve talked a little about these theories (here, here, and at Leaving Alex Jonestown), but the Sandy Hook conspiracy meme is far more contagious than I realized. 8.5 million people have viewed a 30-minute YouTube video by anonymous user Think Outside the TV. It’s basically a mishmash of outdated information culled from early reports, misinformation, and the “media lookalike” nuttery of Ed Chiarini, the Texan who believes the Pope is actually Robert Blake. Among other weirdness, TOTV includes the “theory” that one of Adam Lanza’s victims, 6-year-old Emilie Parker, is not only alive and well, but met with the President for a public photo op after she was murdered.
    The media is critical of websites such as Sandy Hook Hoax, which was started by Jay Johnson. Johnson bills himself as the New Age Messiah, and boasts that he “solved LOST” with the aid of an Egyptian goddess. He has also written a screenplay about his life (or, as he likes to call it, the “greatest true story ever told”). His evidence for a grand Sandy Hook conspiracy is essentially the same as TOTV’s. He is quite indignant that family members don’t publicly cry enough for his satisfaction.
    But not everyone in the mainstream media is critical of the Sandy Hook theories. Ben Swann, an award-winning reporter with Cincinatti’s Fox affiliate, devoted a segment of his Full Disclosure Web series to the possibility that Newtown, Aurora, and the Sihk temple massacre involved more than one gunman, citing early interviews with non-eyewitnesses and footage of Newtown police chasing a suspect into the woods (this man turned out to be a parent, Chris Manfredonia, who may have fled the school). To Swann’s credit, he didn’t actually tack a theory to any of this. It’s interesting to note, though, that he has been a guest on The Alex Jones Show. Jones, as always, is at the forefront of conspiranoids who insist that nearly all mass shootings are false flag operations perpetrated by drugged-up Manchurian Candidates on behalf of the New World Order.
    A World Net Daily article by Aaron Klein attempts to tie Adam Lanza to other “Satanic” killers, and even suggests the possibility of a Satanic conspiracy.
    Other online Sandy Hook theories too ridiculous to attract U.S. media attention include wacky Biblical interpretations of Google maps, “Newtown is a hub of Satanism”, “Lady Gaga and Satanism had something to do with this“, “Freemasons had something to do with this” (a theory that also emerged in the wake of the Dunblane massacre in 1996) and of course Jews did Sandy Hook. And Jews did Sandy Hook.
    We could pass this off as harmless crankery – and most of it is – but we must face the fact that conspiracy theories have real-world consequences. In this case, an entire county in Connecticut shut down its schools after the Christmas break because the religious conspiracy website Revelation Now warned that a map in the latest Batman movie predicted another school attack. Gene Rosen, a retired Newtown resident who assisted six children after they bravely fled their classroom, is being harassed and slandered by conspiranoids who think he’s a paid “crisis actor”, a Satanist, or even a paedophile (merely because he took children into his house). The anti-Semitic wing of the Sandy Hook peanut gallery is certain that Gene Rosen’s ethnicity is a key to his involvement in a mass murder conspiracy. He has been threatened with death.
    Yes, the Sandy Hook “theories” are idiotic – but they’re also deadly serious.
  • I know, I know, it’s really serious: It can be said that the only perfect girlfriend is an imaginary one (or maybe that chick with three breasts). Devoutly Mormon Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o seems to have taken that literally.
    Last September, media outlets around the nation relayed the touching and inspiring story of how Te’o led the Fighting Irish to a 20-3 victory against the Michigan State Spartans just days after his beloved grandmother passed away and his girlfriend of nine months, Stanford graduate Lennay Kekua, lost her battle with leukemia. Lennay, 22, had been diagnosed after a car accident early in 2012. A cover story in the September Sports Illustrated Regional hailed Te’o as a “star student” who had “restored the shine to the golden dome” in spite of his personal tragedies. Writer Pete Thamel described how Te’o spent his few free hours on the phone to Lennay, comforting her as she lay in her hospital bed. Even after Lennay slipped into a coma, he continued to call and speak reassuring words through the phone. Her death on September 12, coming just six hours after the death of his maternal grandmother, was a devastating blow to the 21-year-old design major. They had been good friends since 2009, and began a relationship in January. A Yahoo! Sports piece describes how Te’o dedicated the September 15 game against the Spartans to his gran and his girl, grateful for the support of Lennay’s family after he made the difficult decision to stay with his “football family” and play Saturday’s game rather than fly to Oahu to be with his and Lennay’s relatives. Writer Dan Wetzel opined that Te’o is just the kind of player Notre Dame needs – young men of “accountability and awareness”, and athletic director Jack Swarbrick is quoted as saying Te’o “may be the perfect Notre Dame football player”. Even I heard about this amazing kid, and I don’t follow college ball.
    The warm fuzzies lasted all the way up until this week, when the sports news site Deadspin released its investigative report on Te’o’s story. Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey could find no evidence that Lennay Kekua existed; she was not registered at Stanford, birth announcements can’t be found, no obituary was ever published, and no one other than Manti Te’o has ever met her (remember, he did supposedly meet her in person; according to an October story in the South Bend Tribune – which has been yanked offline – Brian Te’o said his son Manti met with Lennay several times in Hawaii in 2010 and 2011). They could find no record of a 2012 traffic accident in California involving a Lennay Kekua. Nor could they find any relatives of Lennay, like the older brother (Koa) mentioned in the Sports Illustrated article. Sure, there were photos of Lennay (one was shown on CBS This Morning the day of the Notre Dame/Michigan game, and her Twitter feed featured a few more), but Burke and Dickey claim to have traced them to a woman in California who was shocked that her pictures have been misrepresented to the media as photos of a woman she doesn’t know.
    Te’o and Notre Dame are insisting that Manti is the victim of a cruel hoax. Having never met his girlfriend in person (which contradicts his earlier stories about meeting her), he was duped into believing that a voice on the other end of the phone was Lennay Kekua. However, he has not addressed Deadspin‘s examination of the Twitter accounts belonging to him and to “Lennay”, which indicate they met online in 2011 rather than in-person in 2009. At this point in the story, it’s still possible that Te’o is a hoax victim. But here’s where things get sticky for him. The California woman told Deadspin that an acquaintance named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo asked her to pose with a sign reading “MSMK”, supposedly to cheer up someone who had suffered a car accident, and she obliged. “LoveMSMK” was the name attached to Lennay Kekua’s Twitter account. Here’s the problem for Te’o: He knows Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, and exchanged Tweets with him all last year (he even plugged a song recorded by Tuiasosopo). Then there’s the issue of a supposed relative of Lennay trying to hush up the controversy by sending emails to webmasters, contacing Nev Schulman of Catfish fame, and being given a shout-out on Manti’s Twitter feed. It looks like Manti Te’o may have been undone by his own twittering.
    I don’t know how common fake girlfriends are, but cancer hoaxes occur with troubling frequency. Just two months ago, the Wednesday Weirdness Roundup featured another one that had the town of Gypsum, Colorado mourning a little boy who never existed.
    Anyway, time will tell. For the rest of the story, you’ll have to read Deadspin‘s exposé yourself. This post is already far too long for a Wednesday Roundup. In honor of the fictional Ms. Kekua, let’s have a musical interlude…