Las Vegas Sun, Apr. 4, 2003
By Timothy Pratt, LAS VEGAS SUN
But for its first national meeting since making that unproven claim, the Raelians were able to attract only about 50 people to the first day of a four-day seminar at Lake Mead Lodge on Thursday.
Ad: Vacation? City Trip? Weekend Break? Book Skip-the-line tickets
The meeting, billed as a “Science and Sensuality Seminar for Peace,” was expecting a “record number of Raelian priests, members and even non-members … following the public surge in interest in the Raelian movement after the announcement of the birth of the first cloned baby,” according to the group’s press releases.
Participants paid to attend the event, and another 25 or so are expected today, the sect’s spokeswoman, Donna Newman, said. Ten to 15 of those attending were new to the Raelians, and most came from other states, with the notable exception of several Las Vegas residents who are leaders of the movement, Newman said. Clonaid, the lab that announced the cloning of the baby, also has a public relations office in Las Vegas.
Reporters and news photographers were not allowed into this week’s seminar because of concerns about breaches of confidentiality, Newman said.
Las Vegas resident Ricky Roehr, a national priest for the U.S. chapter, said he was not disappointed by the small turnout.
“We’re not out there trying to get massive numbers of people to join our religion,” he said.
“We don’t think trying to convert people works anyway … and we’re just trying to get information out about the origins of the universe.”
Roehr said the event was a statement against the war in Iraq, and it concludes with an “outdoors sensual peace party” at 6 p.m. Saturday at Government Wash on the shore of Lake Mead. It will feature live music, dancing and films promoting peace, organizers said, and it is open to the public. The Raelians also invited Las Vegas peace organizations to attend.
“Our philosophy is aimed at awakening, pleasure and happiness, and wars are created by unhappiness,” he said.
“We’re here to find people for peace … and help them stand up.”
Lisa Stiller, an organizer of ongoing anti-war rallies at the New York-New York, said she had met with several Raelians at one of the protests, but didn’t see eye-to-eye with the group.
“We had some discussions with them, but I didn’t understand where they’re coming from and think they’re on another planet,” she said.
Paul Brown, Southern Nevada director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada — a group that opposes the war — said he would not be taking the movement up on its invitation.
“We thought we’d send out clones,” Brown joked. Then he added, “I just don’t take them seriously.”
The media took the movement and its affiliated company Clonaid seriously enough to report on the lab’s December announcement that a human baby had been cloned using the DNA of an adult. But the mainstream media quit taking the group seriously after the Raelians — and specifically Brigitte Boisselier, a Raelian and former Las Vegas resident who is Clonaid’s chief executive — backed out of initial commitments to allow scientific verification of the claims. She now says that it will be left up to the parents of the alleged clones to bring the children forward.
Raelians had set up the lab in 1997 to clone a baby because they say they believed beings from another planet created human beings and cloning is part of their cosmology.
Roehr said the coverage of the cloning announcements raised interest in the movement, and worldwide membership went from 55,000 to 60,000. To become a U.S. member, the movement suggests contributions of up to 3 percent of a person’s income after taxes.
The Raelians have about 1,000 members in the U.S., Newman said.
Thomas Kaenzig, vice president for Clonaid and a Las Vegas resident, said he is now recognized more frequently when he goes to local supermarkets.
“People ask if I’m from the Raelians and express interest in the movement,” Kaenzig said.
“When we provide the proof, obviously there will be more interest,” he said.
Kaenzig, a former management consultant, said he handles the financial aspect of the lab. He said the Raelian movement does not fund Clonaid and that venture capitalists and people interested in cloning pay for its research. He would not say where the lab is located.
Kaenzig said the Lake Mead seminar had gotten off to a good start.
“We’re very happy with the number of people who are here and passionate about the Raelian movement — rather than how it is with the Catholic Church, where many belong but don’t believe in it,” he said.
The lab official also said the Bush administration created a hostile climate for Clonaid to do its research.
“We’d be very happy to have a lab in the United States — including in Las Vegas,” he said.
“But that would have to wait for another president.”