AP, Jan. 20, 2003
By PHIL COUVRETTE, Associated Press Writer
VALCOURT, Quebec — From the first sight of a futuristic, curving concrete building amid the barns and grain silos of southern Quebec farmland, something is off-beam.
Entering the headquarters of the Raelian religious sect, past a sign welcoming visitors to UFOland, is like strolling onto the set of a bad 1950s sci-fi movie, complete with a replica of the flying saucer that supposedly brought the space aliens who visited Rael, the sect founder. But the display lights don’t work and inflated plastic pool seats create the command post.
This is no theme park, but the Canadian base of a group associated with Clonaid, which stunned the world with the Dec. 26 claim of having cloned a baby but has failed so far to provide proof.
Few believe Clonaid head Brigitte Boisselier’s claim, and Rael readily acknowledges it may not have happened.
“If it’s real, she deserves the Nobel prize because she is making history and it’s the most fantastic scientific advance in history of humanity,” Rael said, sitting at a small plastic table with his book and a sign with his Web site address.
“If it’s not true, she’s also making history with one of the biggest hoaxes in history, so in both ways it’s wonderful. Because, thanks to what she is doing now, the whole world knows about the Raelian movement. I am very happy with that.”
A former race-car driver and journalist named Claude Vorilhon, Rael wears a pointy-shouldered white outfit, a large silver medallion in the shape of a swirling Star of David around his neck.
With a graying, thin beard and mustache and hair pulled back into a ball, his face has a slight resemblance to the artist’s rendition of the extraterrestrial named Yahweh who Rael says came by spacecraft to deliver a message to him on Dec. 13, 1973.
“We were the ones who made all life on earth, you mistook us for gods, we were at the origin of your main religions,” the messenger told Rael, according his Web site at www.rael.org. “Now that you are mature enough to understand this, we would like to enter official contact through an embassy.”
Despite such conditions for the one-hour interview as referring to him as “his holiness” and avoiding questions that make him repeat himself, Rael came across as calm and charismatic. He smiled and laughed frequently, gesturing gently with his hands.
No matter what subject came up, the answer always seemed to come back to attention for his sect.
Boisselier initially said she would provide DNA proof that an unidentified American woman gave birth to a clone. After a Florida lawyer filed a court motion for the state to take custody of the baby, Boisselier said the parents decided against the DNA testing. The parents have not been identified.
That caused universal dismissal of the cloning claim, though Boisselier says accusations of a huge publicity stunt were the product of prejudice.
Even Rael sought to distance his movement from Clonaid, calling it a separate, independently funded organization and saying he only assists Boisselier — a Raelian bishop — in a “spiritual” capacity.
“She has created a new company, I don’t know where. I don’t know where the lab is, I don’t know the family” of the baby, he said. “I know absolutely nothing, it is her company. I don’t know and I don’t want to know, I told her, because I never lie, and I don’t want to say to you I don’t know if I know. Like that I can tell you honestly I don’t know.”
Yet the more he spoke, the more he seemed to know. He told of finding out about the forthcoming birth of baby Eve at a Christmas party he attended with Boisselier and of later telling her to prevent the child from being taken from her parents.
“If you have to choose between your credibility and reputation and the future of the child and the family, choose the child because it’s much more important than your reputation,” he said he told Boisselier.
Stopping the DNA tests was correct to prevent “any chance that the child is removed from her family,” Rael said.
No matter how it turns out, the story has attracted new Raelians, according to Rael. He put worldwide membership at 60,000, a figure considered grossly exaggerated by those who follow cults.
“A media analyst said the Raelian movement got about $500 million worth of media coverage across the world and I think it is true, and it is not finished,” he said, later noting, “This event saved me 20 years of work.”
That work involves spreading the word of the Elohim, Hebrew for God or, in Raelian translation, “those who come from the sky” — a technologically advanced species that chose Rael as their spokesman on Earth.
With the help of the Elohim, Rael believes, scientific and technological breakthroughs will make advanced cloning an everyday feat. Eventually, he said, fully grown clones will be downloaded with memory and experiences, like software in a computer, to enable people to achieve eternal life.
Raelians also embrace free love and nonviolence, Rael said, calling Mahatma Gandhi his model.
Standing next to a model of a DNA strand, guide Daniel Heroux, 45, said a desire for something new drew him to the movement 22 years ago.
“I was pretty lost then,” Heroux said, mentioning drug use in his past. “When I asked a friend where he derived all his knowledge about everything from politics to sexuality, he said, `You wouldn’t believe me,’ and told me about the Raelian presence in Quebec.”
Heroux is now an active member, passing out pamphlets and living at UFOland, where he said he can play his keyboard at all hours without disturbing anyone.