People Are Strange: Unusual UFO Cults Examined
People Are Strange: Unusual UFO Cults Examined
By Scott Corrales
The story was unlikely to make the newswires, much less the major newspapers in the Northern Hemisphere, concerned as they were with celebrity gossip and political infighting. The event, after all, had transpired out where God lost his sneakers, as some would say, or the back of beyond, in the language of more polite society. For it was out in the alkaline deserts of Chile where a unit of the state police - the Carabineros - had suppressed a religious sect with very strange beliefs in the summer of 2010.
Law enforcement had arrested eight people in the community of Vilcún, charging them with belonging to a fanatical cult that revolved around the figure of an eleven year-old child known only as "La Princesita" - The Little Princess - having less to do with a Disney royal figure and more with an oracular child of ancient times. The eight members of the "family" - known as the Santa Ana Cult in the media - protested their innocence and their right to worship freely. "We are God's chosen, followers of Christ, and for that reason we are fearless. We have done no wrong."
Major Jorge Alvarado of the Carabineros strike force noted that the male occupants of the home had long hair and beards, arguing that the law enforcement agents could not enter the premises because “it was holy ground.”
The authorities thought differently about the matter. Rural police officers had been violently chased away from the property during an attempted search, motivated by the fact that the girl had not been to school in months, much to the concern of officials. The toughened Carabineros had stormed the house with a warrant from prosecutor Omar Mérida only to discover that a sort of altar had been erected in honor of "La Princesita", festooned with candles, religious imagery and statues. Ther was an even more ominous discovery: an assortment of firearms ranging from handguns to hunting rifles, ammunition, water bottles, batteries, flashlights and other supplies one might well stockpile in the light of an imminent disaster. Even more disturbing was a coal-black goat tied to a stake in the back yard - its purpose, said the police report, was unclear.
"The child told us a huge earthquake was coming, and we had to pray to stave it off. She has the visions, she speaks to the angels." These were the words of clan leader Cesar Baeza as reported by El Austral de Temuco newspaper. Baeza had worked for years as the caretaker of Fundo Santa Ana (the Santa Ana estate) and he argued that the Little Princess had accurately predicted the February 27 earthquake that year. Angelic forces, he argued, had contacted the child and told her to build the altar. "They told us we had to pray a lot to scare the devil away. We prayed daily, some four times a day. She helped us fight the demons that sometimes came to the house at night."
When asked about the weapons, Baeza argued that they were for protection against Mapuche indians bent on seizing the estate for themselves. Prosecutor Mérida was unmoved by these allegations. As far as he was concerned, "the group shows the characteristics of being a cult in the sense of having an intense, religious-type doctrine."
Perhaps some supernatural forces aided and abetted the Santa Ana Cult. Two years later, a court absolved them of any wrongdoing, merely charging them with possession of unlicensed firearms and munitions. Whether the bearded men returned to worshipping their oracular child and fighting demons in dark is anyone's guess.
High Strangeness or Madness?
In mid-June 1997, the UFOR mailing list posted an item that remains shrouded in mystery. The list’s owner, Francisco Lopez, did his level best to glean further information on the subject even many months later, when I pressed him for assistance in writing the kernel of what would many years later become this article. But it was no use. In the age of the Internet, that hall of mirrors in which people can appear and disappear with impunity by changing e-mail accounts and assuming different names (and even identities), the source was well out of reach. The posted item may indeed prove someday to have been a compelling hoax, but there are certain details about it that have a ring of truth about them.
The narration begins in medias res, in the best tradition of classic epics:".. I want to get the whole of the information first, and then release it, rather than just parts," begins its author. "Also, I need to edit out certain portions. Certain information does not need to be released to the public. In some cases the less they know, the better; it allowed us to work with fewer interruptions." He or she then adds, with chilling effect: "You should never be in the company of one with who you would not wish to die."
This ominous opening would have soared to new heights were it not for the fact that the names and places mentioned in the message were redacted with a series of asterisks. The author, a man or woman with a military or law enforcement background, had participated in the raid of a compound which involved live arms fire in which "all brass was accounted for." The compound, a privately owned skiing or hunting lodge, was then gutted and made to look abandoned by the government forces involved.
"As little evidence as possible was left," states the cryptic author after indicating that a nameless group had been disbanded. "Only Terran humans were found, no XTs or Greys."
This assertion might well relegate the unknown writer to the lunatic fringe, since belief and/or concern of the alleged alien Greys has waned in recent years. The message goes on to talk of how the "cult" in question had cooperated with a number of individuals over an unspecified number of years in the acquisition of "breeder semen from sperm banks" and from unsuspecting human males drawn into certain situations, only to be drugged and subjected to the removal of such a fluid with a syringe. It was then "flash-frozen by use of a portable D-flask of liquid nitrogen, to be stored at a central location," according to the author.
A spec script for the X-Files or a description of a real event? The author continues:
"They used a group of "renegade" (omitted) as aids (sic) and "technical support," with a high priestess working closely with the upper echelons of the (omitted). It appears that, despite the usual (omitted) beliefs, this priestess and her companions were heretics, if such a term can be applied to (omitted) at all."
The cult mentioned in this mind-bending message appeared to be quite deft with the use of weapons, and a veritable arsenal of high-power rifles, shotguns and combat weapons, including "an HK-91 sniper rifle...a Steyr AUG Selective Fire Conversion, and a US Army M60, with about 7000 rounds of .30 cal ammunition...over fifty hand grenades, including explosive, flash, incendiary and smoke...180 kilos of Czech plastique explosive and over a hundred military squibbs (detonators)," are mentioned in the text. It is a supreme irony that this arsenal of death should prove comfortingly familiar within such a high-strangeness context.
The allegations continue: the cult members were in contact with a human group claiming to act on behalf of the "Greys" and capable of projecting images of the entities from opaque, vitreous cubes. Although the author professes being unable to examine this information for him/herself, the putative alien messages appear to have been linked with clandestine UFO landings. "Techniques have been used to confirm that at least one incident took place during May of 1995, but nothing further could be determined."
Many UFOR subscribers read this message and many, upon reading this article, may question the wisdom of reprinting more unconfirmed UFO-related speculation. One guesses that the entire operation may have been a huge "psy-ops" exercise involving live fire, good guys and "bad guys," with the entire alien scenario thrown in for good measure or even as a "sickener" factor for the trainees.
"He Died Like a Space Commander"
The alien action/adventure story posted to UFOR smacked more of science fiction than of Sigma Draconis until Argentinean researcher Andrea Perez Simondini—widely known in her country for her contributions to the study of UFO incidents along with her mother Sylvia, as well as for being an active political figure—forwarded a real-life account of a situation which, at first blush, hauntingly echoed the one scenario posted to UFOR.
"The mystery of the Radar 1 group has finally been solved," noted Andrea in her letter. A contactee cult known as ASHTAR had apparently spawned a disturbed group of paramilitary types, led by one Guillermo Romeu, who assumed the name "Radar 1."
The offshoot organization appeared to have been much more successful than its parent in gaining a following and making itself known. Romeu and his acolytes had access to the best technology and were not afraid to employ it: from their headquarters at 269 Wernicke in the village of Boulougne, Buenos Aires province, "Radar 1" (publicly known as Iglesia Manantial, the Wellspring Church) broadcast its own brand of ufolatry over the FM airwaves. Their station boasted a recording studio with three consoles and mixing board for special effects, eight computers (whose hard drives had been erased prior to the raid by Argentinean authorities on January 12, 1998 and Romeu’s death by self-inflicted gunshot) and the same ominous arsenal as the improbable cult mentioned on the UFOR list: one surface-to-air missile, bullets of various calibers, gas masks, incendiary bombs, tear gas, Israeli-made Desert Eagle.50 caliber antiaircraft handguns (sic) of the kind used during the Gulf War, an approach radar, chemical sample analysis equipment, radiation, electromagnetic, electrostatic and heat detectors, etc. All of this gear was stored in a Bronco 4 x 4, which they would use for alleged field research.
Simondini’s letter explained that all of this lethal and non-lethal hardware had been paid for partly by the 400 to 4000 peso contributions of the cult’s membership and its affiliates. "We strongly believe," she wrote, "that the sect is a facade and there exists a cover-up concerning the weaponry."
Just who was this Guillermo Romeu? An electrician and occasional private pilot, he had joined a contactee study group directed by former UFO researcher Pedro Romaniuk before being expelled a year and a half later. It was during this time that the new cult was spawned, preaching messages received from the ubiquitous space brother known as Commander Ashtar Sheran concerning the "extraterrestrial evacuation plan." In a clever move, the cult leader insisted on the group being widely known as Iglesia Manantial in order to draw recruits from a large membership pool composed by Pentecostal worshippers from other churches.
Guillermo Romeu claimed that his extensive offensive capabilities, gathered since 1991, were devoted to a single purpose: defense against the alien Greys, whom he characterized as "extremely hostile and [who] are using us as a source of food." Two years later, his disciples were further cautioned that "an extraterrestrial race sent by the Antichrist prior to the Battle of Armageddon" would have to be held off by force of arms, thus prompting new arms purchases and further training. Radar-1’s members were not averse to parading around in full battle array, showing off their weapons and alarming the general public. They boastfully termed themselves "Grey Hunters."
As in all cults, the price of dissent was high. Romeu was as authoritarian a leader as any, and those among his "Grey Hunters" who showed signs of wanting to part company with the group were threatened and harassed. Those who left lived in constant fear of being assassinated.
Romeu’s wife’s called it quits in 1997, taking Cristin, the couple’s seven-year old son, with her. The cult leader successfully gained the court’s permission to attend Cristin’s eighth birthday. To everyone’s horror, Romeu pulled a pistol from his jacket, stood straight, and placed a bulled through his right temple. "My father died like a space commander," said Romeu’s grief-stricken son.
Cecilia Diaz, the late Romeu’s mistress, told the press that the cult would continue its activities from the location of San Isidro and would "have more weapons." Argentina’s Secretary of Worship, Angel Centeno, ruled that the cult’s right to exist could not be challenged, as it was lawfully registered with his ministry. The Argentinean Foundation for the Study of Cults (FAPES) subsequently reported that Romeu’s right hand man, Brian Bach, had assumed the reins of the cult, and urged the country’s legislature to appoint a commission to study cults along the lines adopted by many European countries.
Space Brother Blues
If we can bring ourselves to play the role of Devil’s Advocate yet again, can we lend any credence to the UFOR story as representing a mop-up operation against a saucer cult in the U.S., much in the same way that Argentina’s government moved against Iglesia Manantial? That country’s authorities made it clear that the cult was not being prosecuted for its beliefs but for its stockpile of weapons—the same argument wielded against the Branch Davidians at Waco.
There was clearly nothing in common between the cults except for the fact that the belief in UFOs and aliens were reason for their existence—the latter cult armed itself to the teeth against them, while the former served up man in a platter to these forces. It can be noted that both episodes serve as bookends to the Heaven’s Gate and the Solar Temple suicides. The late ’90s were certainly not kind to saucer cults.
But Guillermo Romeu’s violence is reminiscent, to a certain degree, of the activities of Brazilian contactee/terrorist Dino Kraspedon, the nom de guerre of Aladino Felix, who underwent an alleged contact experience in 1952 which was true to the contactee fashion of the time—nocturnal encounters in the wilderness with saucers and their humanoid occupants, disquisitions on "Man’s place in the universe" and life on other worlds. Kraspedon’s non-human "handlers" apparently endowed him with psychic powers, giving him insight into future human events.
Kraspedon dropped from sight until 1968, when he was arrested under suspicion of terrorism (not at all unlikely, since Brazil at the time was seething with political unrest, best exemplified by the activities of Carlos Marighella, the "father of urban terrorism"). In his UFO Encyclopedia, saucer historian Jerome Clark notes that Kraspedon was sentenced in 1971 and to be remanded into the mental health system, after which he vanishes from the record.
Was Aladino Felix truly contacted by aliens and steered wrong into a life of crime? He apparently recanted his alien contact experiences publicly, which should put an end to the story. Nonetheless, the connection between alleged "alien contact" which translates into violence cannot be overlooked.
Pirophos, UMMO’s Little Brother
Thirty-two years after it first erupted on the scene, Spain’s UMMO hoax still commands attention whenever it is mentioned. While not strictly a cult, given its lack of a leader and clear-cut objectives believers in the planet UMMO and the benevolent "Ummites" certainly carried on in cultish fashion. "Its very name ought to have given it away," says the hoax’s creator, Jose Luis Jordan Pena, referring to the fact that UMMO shared the same sounds when pronounced as the Spanish word for "smoke."
Galician journalist Bieito Pazos managed to secure a lengthy interview with this fascinating character, gleaning details about the blond haired space people from the star Wolf 424 and more importantly, a true cult which was formed in the wake of the UMMO experiment: a gathering of very intelligent men and women known as PIROPHOS.
The interest expressed in Kirlian photography by certain members of Spain’s "Sociedad de Parapsicologia" prompted Jordan Pena to realize that people, regardless of their educational or economic background, are fascinated by any phenomenon from which light is issued in a strange way. This led him to create the fictitious deity "Pirophos" and gather some twenty-odd persons in a grimy room in Madrid. One of Jordan Pena’s co-conspirators, known only as "C," read out a letter (a tool that had worked well for UMMO) to the congregation, from "our beloved charismatic leader Phoros," living somewhere in the United States. As the lights went out, the parties in attendance were startled to see a bluish light issuing from C’s mouth—proof positive that the Great God Pirophos had chosen the speaker as the "regional Phoselek" for all of Spain.
The hoaxer told his interviewer that the bluish light was "a basic yet uncommon triboluminescent phenomenon which requires the use of habitual and easily digestible substances."
But that wasn’t the only surprise the master hoaxer held in store for his well-heeled disciples: on a table covered by a purple cloth stood a large glass container which contained a scintillating light which bathed the faces of all present in an eerie glow. Many of the economists, doctors, and engineers present dropped to their knees in the presence of the Great God Pirophos—who was in fact an amalgam of bioluminescent bacteria in a nutrient agar culture. Later on, explained Jordan Pena, "Pirophos" would be created based on a compound of phosphorus diluted in kerosene or toluene.
The Pirophoreans (to give them a name) were entreated to follow a basic "moral code" crafted by the hoaxer himself: a commitment to study physics and biology, kindness toward spouses and children, and above all, to maintain their religion in strict confidence. The cultists were also told that their faith’s supreme leader was a man named George Lipton from Albany, N.Y. (Jordon Pena had successfully placed one Theodore K. Polk from Export, P.A. among the dramatis personae of the UMMO saga) who lived in complete seclusion due to having achieved the rank of "Phoros"—as high as could be achieved in the Pirophorean cult. Mr. Lipton owed his secrecy to the fact that his body now shone with a brilliant blue light...
"This was the ultimate reward," Jordon Pena stated, "to become the God Pirophos himself—immortal before dying and immune from all diseases ... my eschatology was simple enough: the world would end in the year 4634 due to the explosion of a supernova some 220 light years from Earth. At that time, all the adepts who reached the rank of Phoros would be forever joined to that universal light known as Pirophos."
But in the early 90’s the master hoaxer decided to bring his cult to an end, much in the same way he had exposed UMMO. The cult’s members accepted the fact that they had been duped with a mixture of astonishment and amusement. "Only two," Jordan Pena told Pazos, "insist upon remaining faithful to that mysterious light."
Jordan Pena’s tone throughout the interview with Pazos is that of a mischievous schoolboy recalling youthful escapades. A highly educated man, the creator of the UMMO and Pirophos does not suffer fools lightly, and both of his fictitious communities seem to serve the purpose of holding human gullibility up to the harsh light of public scrutiny.
As we make the leap into the 21st century, many aspects of ufology can be safely deemed as no longer relevant. While there is a certain degree of hubris involved in the making of such a pronouncement, few will disagree that things like the "angel hair" which represented a major feature of field’s early days still retains any currency. The same applies to the "critters" or "zeroids" the troubled the sleep of many a researcher in the Sixties: either the phenomenon ceased to occur, or it still occurs but researchers have gone off to pursue more fruitful endeavors, like abduction research or Roswell.
While it is undeniably tempting to consign contacteeism to the graveyard of lost pursuits, the "kind space brothers" and their adepts enjoyed a resurgence in the latter years of the decade. The reasons for this range from disillusionment with formal ufology (which is seen as having failed to "explain" the UFO riddle) to a desire to merge spirituality and the ufological avocation into a single current. Some might find humor in the realization that the very same arguments put forth by scientists regarding the public’s dalliance with UFOs are similar to the ones used within ufology to explain the desertions within the field toward the "garden path" of contacteeism.
But 90’s (and early ’00’s)-style contactee groups seem to differ markedly from their mid-Century counterparts, showing a more volatile and violent face to world.
[Note - An earlier version of this article appears in PARANOIA: The Conspiracy Reader (2003)]