Conspiracy Theories

James W. Moseley, RIP

The death of a UFO hoaxster.


That gum you like is going to come back in style.

I haven't read many memoirs as entertaining as Shockingly Close to the Truth!, James Moseley and Karl Pflock's account of their years in that great participatory postmodern science-fiction narrative that is the saucer-hunting subculture. The most refreshing thing about the book is how upfront the authors are about UFO hoaxes, including quite a few carried out by Moseley himself. That makes him an unreliable narrator: Once a writer admits that he likes to lie to people, you have to wonder how much of what he's telling you now isn't true either. Fortunately, that just makes the book more fun.

Moseley died last Friday, and the cryptozoologist Loren Coleman has posted an obit for him. Coleman reports that he first met Moseley

when he, John Keel, and I were speaking at a Fortfest in the D.C. area, in 1973. The most vivid memory I have of that time is sitting with these two gentlemen in the dark and shabby lobby of a motel, listening to the foremost scholars of ufology decide what they would do that evening. I recall politely excusing myself to finetune my next day's presentation, as they skipped off, by foot, across the multilane highway, to visit a nearby striptease joint. And thus I was introduced to the braintrust of ufology, and knew what the end would look like—some sort of cosmic mix of humor and nudity galore!

When I interviewed the Rev. Ivan Stang, co-founder of the Church of the SubGenius, for my upcoming book on political paranoia, he told me that Keel once came to a SubGenius book party. According to Stang, the old ufologist got drunk and confessed that his writings regularly fudged the facts: "I'm from a carnival background. You think that stuff's real?"

Moseley's memoir has that same carnival-barker flavor, with the added twist that he still insists, even as he describes his hoaxes, that there might be something to some of those other saucer stories out there. Or at least that's what he claimed to believe. Maybe he meant it, and maybe it was another gag. Once you start down this road, it's easy to get lost: At one point, Moseley writes, he was temporarily taken in by a story that turned out to be an echo of one of his own pranks, thus ever so briefly hoaxing himself.

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  1. Even though the King of Romania was unable to attend, he, like I, applaud your alt-text.

  2. A carne barker’s primary job is to sell entertainment. Ufology is really entertaining to a lot of people–even when it was sold as pure entertainment a la The X-Files.

    Some people entertain themselves with fantasy football. Some people build model trains. Some people like ufology. Some people like arguing with other libertarians on the internet…

    There, I said it. Somebody had to.

  3. I can confirm that John Keel was fun, though I knew him only late in his life and peripherally. Unfortunately he was reclusive, and supposedly complained after his heart attack that people didn’t visit or inquire about him while he was ill; duh, he hid from them so long that they lost touch with him (as did I).

  4. Your final bit reminds me of the old story of the oil man who died and went to heaven. It turned out to be too crowded–a long waiting line at the golf links, his harp to be available real soon now.

    So he started a rumor that there had been a big oil discovery in Hell. Pretty soon the place emptied out, and he had no trouble getting in his daily golf game.

    But after a while he started to wonder if maybe there was something in the rumor after all, and went off to Hell to see.

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