People will believe the nuttiest things

By James A. Haught
Tallahassee Democrat, Aug. 9, 2002

Well, the recent movie “The Mothman Prophecies” stirred thoughts about the eagerness of some people to believe nutty things.

Back in the 1960s, I wrote news reports on the original Mothman craze. After West Virginia witnesses reported a “man-size” bird with a 10-foot wingspan and glowing red eyes, I figured they had seen a huge crane in the night and gotten overexcited. But the Mothman tale was unstoppable. Ardent fans didn’t want an ornithological explanation. Speculation grew.

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Flying-saucer buffs – who flock to such bizarre happenings like, uh, moths to a flame – held a worldwide “Congress of Scientific Ufologists” at a Charleston, W.Va., hotel in June 1969. Sponsors said a Philadelphia mystic who communicated with “space intelligences” foresaw a wave of West Virginia UFO appearances during the session. But none occurred.

In fact, I was trying to ignore all such ding-a-ling topics, but someone sent me a book titled “The Abduction Enigma.” It says matter-of-factly that “between 3 million and 6 million Americans have been abducted” onto UFOs by space aliens who experimented on them. A Web site ( offers to perform “alien implant removal and deactivation” for victims.

I’ll offer a wager: If you concocted the most preposterous claim imaginable – say, that Mothman reappeared and told you to start a cult worshipping him – I’ll bet some followers would join your movement and give you money. The record contains plenty of corroboration. For example:

• The mystic Judy Knight “channels” the voice of Ramtha, a warrior who lived in Atlantis 35,000 years ago. Hundreds of believers flock to hear Ramtha’s revelations, and pay up to $1,500 per session. Actress Shirley Maclaine says she wept with joy upon learning that she had been Ramtha’s sister in Atlantis.

• Members of the Heaven’s Gate commune believed that if they “shed their containers” (committed suicide), they would be transported magically to a UFO behind the Hale-Bopp comet. So they did it.

• Some New Agers proclaim that magical “Lemurians” live inside Mount Shasta in California.

• Members of Japan’s “Supreme Truth” sect worshipped their guru so fervently that they kissed his big toe, paid $2,000 each for a drink of his bathwater, and paid $10,000 to sip his blood. At his command, they planted nerve gas in Tokyo’s subway to kill commuters.

• Americans spend $300 million a year on calls to psychic hot lines.

• Armed militias out West contend that ZOG (the Zionist Occupational Government) is plotting to seize America for the Antichrist.

• Science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard declared that planet Earth was an alien colony 75 million years ago, and troublemakers were exterminated by nuclear explosions. Their spirits, called “thetans,” became the souls of all humans. This assertion turned into Scientology, a billion-dollar religion that attracts Hollywood stars.

What does it mean that certain earnest, trusting people are eager to believe astounding things – so much that they’ll part with their money, or even their lives? It’s baffling.

James A. Haught is editor of The Charleston Gazette in West Virginia, 1001 Virginia St. East, Charleston, W.Va. 25301.

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