Friday, April 04, 2008

The Dark Side of Internet Forums and UFOs

The Internet is rife with forums that deal with various paranormal subjects, including the UFO phenomenon. While the vast majority of people who frequent these chat groups and message boards are good, sincere people, there is danger lurking there as well - especially when it's impossible to know who most of these people really are, because they usually use pseudonyms. It is especially dangerous for children who might wander by, and become involved with someone with bad intentions who uses their interest in the paranormal as a way of getting close to them. Ernst Zundel used to do this - he used young people's interest in UFOs as a way of luring them into his web of neo-Nazi hate (note: much of the bunk spread about Nazi UFO bases at the South Pole was propagated by Zundel). There have been other, even more egregious examples, however. One such case is that of Richard Romero.

In 1995, the then 36-year-old Romero "met" a 12-year-old boy in a "chat room" on the Internet devoted to UFOs and extraterrestrials. Romero posed first as a 15-year- old boy, then as his 20-year-old brother. He exchanged e-mails and phone calls with the 12 year-old throughout 1995 and into 1996. He said his father had been killed by government agents because he knew too much about UFOs. He asked the boy to join him in a mission to uncover secrets about aliens and UFOs. During the summer of 1995 Romero and the boy frequently exchanged letters and e-mails. The boy told Romero he was seeing a psychiatrist for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), that he was adopted, and that his parents were too restrictive and did not understand him. Romero sympathized with the boy's situation and told him that he, too, was adopted and having trouble with his parents. By the end of the summer the boy considered Romero to be his best friend.

Eventually, in March of 1996, Romero convinced the boy to run away with him. On March 14, 1996, Romero flew to Chicago and checked into the Ramada Inn under the name Ricardo Romero. The next morning the boy left for school but went instead to the Ramada Inn to meet Romero. After they met, Romero called a taxi to take them to the bus station. He told the boy not to talk to the taxi driver. At the bus station he purchased two one-way tickets to Florida with cash. He told the boy not to talk to anyone or draw attention to himself while they waited for the bus. Romero told the boy that it would be best for him to live in Florida and not return to his parents.

The two boarded a bus in Chicago bound for St. Petersburg. Some quick investigative work by the local police and the FBI foiled the trip, as Romero and the boy were intercepted at the Greyhound bus station in Louisville, Kentucky. Romero was eventually charged with four crimes: kidnaping and transporting a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity for inveigling the boy to leave his home and travel to Kentucky; traveling in interstate commerce for the purpose of engaging in a sexual act with a juvenile based on his trip from Florida to Illinois; and obstructing justice because of subsequent efforts to get people in Florida to destroy evidence of his interest in child pornography.

Romero was eventually convicted on the obstruction of justice, kidnapping and transportation charges. He was sentenced to 327 months in prison, a decision upheld on appeal.

Is Romero's case unique? Alas, no - there are others. Because the UFO subject tends to attract people who have a propensity to... suspend disbelief, it will always attract people who will use that fact to further their own nefarious purposes, whether it's neo-Nazi hate-mongers like Ernst Zundel, or sexual predators like Richard Romero. The anonymity that the Internet provides creates the perfect place for these people to lay their traps, which is why parents should carefully monitor their children's usage of a computer, and their participation in UFO and paranormal related forums and groups. There is also a responsibility on forum owners and moderators to keep an eye on message traffic, and look for patterns or behaviour that might be suspicious.

This is not to say that people shouldn't participate - even children - because most people on-line are good people. But one should always proceed with caution. Sadly, where anonymous internet users are concerned, the old X-Files mantra of "trust no one" is a good baseline piece of advice.

Paul Kimball

Thursday, April 03, 2008

UFOs & Municipal politics

What happens when small town municipal politics and UFOs meet?

In 1997, in the city of Horseshoe Bend (pop. 2,271), Arkansas, Ruth Parks was elected the city recorder / treasurer, where she served with Mayor Robert Spear, who was elected to a four year term in January 1999. While the relationship between the two elected officials began well, a rift developed after a dispute over the city's contract for ambulance services. Parks expressed disagreement with the mayor on other policy issues, as well.

Shortly after the ambulance service disagreement, one of Spear's friends, David Perkins, began to drive by Parks's home at a high rate of speed, honking his horn. Parks believed that Spear had directed Perkins to undertake this annoying practice, and reported the incidents to Spear and Police Chief Fred Mitchell. Mitchell had Parks file an affidavit in support of an arrest warrant for Perkins, and Perkins was arrested for harassment. The state court entered a no contact order prohibiting Perkins from continuing the conduct. Nonetheless, Perkins continued to drive past Parks's home, honking his horn.

Perkins was tried in state court on the harassment charge; the state court also considered whether Perkins violated the no contact order. At trial, Parks and her husband, Arlon Parks, testified. During cross examination, Parks was asked if she believed in unidentified flying objects (UFOs), whether she had ever seen a UFO, and whether she had been abducted by a UFO. She testified that she believed in UFOs, and had seen them in the past. She stated she had never been abducted by aliens. The defense attorney asked Mr. Parks similar questions. Mr. Parks testified he believed in UFOs, but had never seen one. He denied he had been abducted by aliens, but stated his wife had been abducted by aliens, commenting that she had scars to prove it.

The trial court found Perkins not guilty of harassment, but concluded Perkins had violated the no contact order and held Perkins in contempt of court.

The local newspaper, The News, reported on the Perkins trial. Janice Fae Mitchell, the wife of Police Chief Mitchell and a member of The News staff, authored an article about the Perkins trial that was published in the The News. In the article, Ms. Mitchell recounted the testimony regarding UFOs. Specifically, the article noted that both Ruth and Arlon Parks testified that they believe in UFOs and had seen them in the past. It said they each denied having been abducted by aliens, but noted Mr. Parks's testimony that he believed his wife had been abducted by aliens.

Parks sued. She didn't challenge the accuracy of the article's account of the UFO testimony, but instead claimed the article, and others written by Ms. Mitchell about the Perkins controversy, were defamatory and designed to make her look foolish.

During the Perkins controversy, The News published a letter to the editor written by Parks. Underneath the letter, The News ran a cartoon lampooning Parks. Parks alleged the cartoon, which was published without attribution, was drawn by Police Chief Mitchell, although she never provided a factual basis for this assertion.

Subsequent to the Perkins controversy, Parks ran for re-election for recorder/ treasurer. Two candidates ran against her: Charles "Chuck" Simmons and Ann Shaw. Parks alleges Spear selected Simmons to run against her to silence her. Simmons, then the court clerk for the City of Horseshoe Bend, won the election, with Shaw receiving the second highest number of votes.

Parks filed a lawsuit in which she alleged that Spear, Simmons, the City and the Mitchells violated her constitutional rights by conspiring to prevent her re-election in retaliation for her vocal opposition to Mayor Spear. Parks claims the events described above were part of the alleged conspiracy.

The case was summarily dismissed, a decison upheld on appeal.

Only in America...

Paul Kimball

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Would I Hoax a UFO Sighting?

Not too long ago, I was chatting with someone about UFOs, and they asked me if I would ever consider hoaxing some sort of UFO event. I thought about it for a second, and said, "absolutely".

For profit? Nope (any money made would go to charity). Instead, I would do it, maybe someday, to prove a point.

When might it happen? Probably on the day when I've finally heard so much stupidity and silliness with respect to the UFO subject that I couldn't take it anymore. I don't see that day coming anytime soon, but one never knows...

I certainly have the means, knowledge and ability to pull off a hoax. Given my education, training and background, it would probably be along the lines of some MJ-12 style documents, followed by a major media blitz. But who knows - maybe some clever pyro tricks of light, and a faked film? Or maybe... well, let's not give it all away.

Unlike other hoaxers, such as Billy Meier, or George Adamski, or Silas Newton, or Ray Santilli, or Rick Doty, I would quickly reveal all (I would also do a much better job). What fun is a hoax without a "gotcha" moment? Only wackos or disinformation agents keep it going ad infinitum.

So, what would be the point, you ask? First, to see if it could succeed with the selcted target (see below re: the initial target); second, to show that even after a hoax has been perpetrated, and then admitted by the perpetrator, it will live on... because I can guarantee you that even after I fessed up, there would still be people who would believe it was real, and that I had been made to recant.

Especially because I would never reveal how I did it, just that I did. Like a good magician, one should always leave them guessing.

Now, the only question is who would I target - the true believers, or the fundamentalist debunkers?

Easy answer - the fundies. The true believers would be like shooting fish in a barrell, and what fun is that? A fundamentalist debunker would be a much bigger challenge, and hence a much bigger reward!

Besides, the true believers will be there long after the hoax is over, keeping it alive, until the end of time.

Now, just in case anyone wants to get all huffy and self-righteous about the fact that I would even consider this, I can tell you that you would be surprised how often this topic gets bandied about by people who research the UFO phenomenon, and how many of them agree with me, and for the same reasons.

In short, trust no one. ;-)

Paul Kimball