Of Hoaxes and Hoaxing. Paul Hopkins

From Merseyside UFO Bulletin, volume 3, number 6, December 1970′

This article was published in Merseyside UFO Bulletin nine months after David Simpson and SIUFOP conducted their famous experimental hoax at Warminster. Despite comments and suggestions made over the years Paul Hopkins was unaware that SIUFOP had conducted their experiment when he wrote this piece. The nature of the experiment did not become publicly known until summer 1972, when Flying Saucer Review published an editorial exposing the hoax. A link to David Simpson’s MUFOB article revealing full details of the hoax/experiment can be found at the foot of this article

Wherever there is a mystery or intrigue, or when man hovers on the brink of dicovery, hoxes will inevitably occur. Great hoaxes of the past such as the Piltdown Man have made scientists and authorities ever cautious, with some good reason since their reputation as experts is vulnerable through the mass media. Of all subjects that come under the shadow of hoaxing, the UFO receives more than its fair share, which is unfortunate since it is so easy for both the public and the experts to disregard any evidence in favour of the UFO, and thus to class any number of events as due to the unquestioned activities of hoaxers. Looking at hoaxes, so far the UFO scene is concerned they can be roughly placed into three broad categories. The first, hoaxes perpetrated for sheer amusement and performed in a light-hearted manner. Secondly, hoaxes perpetrated by cranks for a number of devious reasons, such as a genuine belief that they are messengers or ambassadors for alien creatures. Also a need to be accepted as a prominent figure in UFO activity; to create an aura of mystery about themselves, and through sheer insanity. Thirdly, hoaxes by publicity addicts and those that are in the game for personal and financial gain.

There is of course no strict dividing line between one category and the next, and a hoaxer will more often than not cover all three of these categories, but will be heavily biased towards one. In the examination of a hoax one must consider the quality of that hoax as regards the total cost to the hoaxer in terms of time, finance, and possible enhancement or damage of reputation, and on the other hand the total barrage incurred by the hoaxed, and finally the success of the whole operation as far as the hoaxer is concerned. It is the determination of success that is perhaps the hardest factor to assess, since the motives of the hoaxer, or suspected hoaxers have first to be determined, Allowance must be made for the time factor between event and investigation, thus the investigator, in order to initiate his works and to have a reference point from which he may follow a line of investigation, will have to use a great deal of conjecture as regards the personality of any persons connected with the observations.

UFOs are very much transitory phenomena, and even more so when they appear as lights in the sky. From such sightings or claims there is little that the investigator can deduce since he has not only to consider the possibility of a hoax, but also such things as mistaken identity of common objects under peculiar circumstances, or ignorance on the part of the claimant of astronomical objects and atmospheric phenomena. A hoaxer has little to gain from remote observations except perhaps a mention in the local rag, unless the ‘observation’ is an intricate part of a larger hoax, and the hoaxer is relying upon the cumulative effect.

The cumulative effect may operate in a number of ways according to the control the hoaxer has over his situation. Opportunists may operate immediately after a sighting elsewhere so that momentum is added to their own story; while some will rely upon others coming forward with similar stories. The subsequent influx of investigators, gullible tourists (hoping to witness an event) and the lunatic fringe then primes the locality so that a carefully planned hoax may be carried out fairly successfully, since the influx of the differing factions causes confusion to the serious investigator. This, I suspect, is what happened at Warminster. Though such a situation is hard to rationalise owing to its complex nature which often affords some degree of protection to the hoaxer or hoaxers.

Another way in which the cumulative effect may influence a hoax is in the case of a fairly simple ‘class one’ hoax where the hoaxer, seeing that the public — at least some elements of the public — are taking him seriously, carries the hoax a little further. As long as he remains relatively undetected the hoaxing continues until the hoaxer suddenly realises that his fame has spread beyond the confines of his country, and also that some eminent persons are taking a keen interest in the whole affair. The hoaxer is now faced with a dilemma. He must either admit to his wickedness and be castigated through the press, or maintain a front until the whole issue dies away. If we consider the Adamski saga in this context, as a man trapped by his own hoax, then the peculiarities of the story are self explanatory. Certainly the Adamski affair was, and still is, an integral part of a cumulative hoax due to the numbers that jumped onto his band wagon before and after his death. Two of the best known factions (at any rate to me) being the IGAP, USA, and in England the Aetherius Society. Both these societies rely upon the fact that human beings of this modern age are essentially insecure especially in the West where Christianity is slowly dying, and the world is seemingly balanced on the edge of a nuclear holocaust. The new religions centred about Adamski-type space beings fill to some degree this religious void since they provide the security of extraterrestrial guardians of the earth. The appeal of such a religion attracts and fulfils the needs of many people and as such the hoax of Adamski has become a self-proliferating legend.

From the experience of Adamski, it is evident that in order to perpetrate a successful hoax with a long life and the probability of good returns in terms of support and finance one must resort to a contact claim with some mythical or imaginary being bearing a message for mankind. Such were the essences of the claims of Dan Fry, Truman Bethurum and many others. Alternatively one can appeal to man’s aggressive instincts by attributing acts of violence and interference with machinery to visiting aliens. Such claims however do not seem to be as successful as those of friendly visitors.

Each new contact claim, each close observation, and claim of UFO photography presents both a challenge and a burden to the UFO investigator that may extend for several months with no definite result forthcoming at the end of that period. Apart from mistaken identity, one is invariably left with the conclusion either that an extraterrestrial event did indeed occur, or that a hoax was perpetrated and the hoaxer is intent on keeping quiet. (Persons often talk about the ‘men in black conspiracy’, but it seems to me that there is just as much evidence for a world wide hoax conspiracy.)

Those readers who have been to Warminster will probably appreciate my meaning when I refer to it as a hoax-sized town

The point is, in my opinion, that we probably know more about UFO phenomena than the phenomena of hoaxing, and to this end I suggest adding a fourth class of hoax to the three already given. Namely, hoaxes perpetrated for the purpose of the study of hoaxing and its cumulative effect upon people. To suggest deliberately setting up a hoax would no doubt invoke a great deal of controversy in the UFO world. No doubt this has been done before on a small scale. Many amateur photographers fake UFO pictures just to prove that it is easy, for indeed it is. Yet such pictures seldom take the serious investigator in for long. Likewise the more nutty or occult tinged stories. I suggest that there is a case for the setting up of a carefully planned and controlled hoax on a grand scale. In effect it would be desirable to create a second Warminster for the sole purpose of examining the time it takes to get a hoax off the ground, to observe the influx of parasites and nutters, to take account of the total cost, and most important of all, to study witness reactions.

Those readers who have been to Warminster will probably appreciate my meaning when I refer to it as a hoax-sized town. It is too large for its inhabitants to know each other intimately, and yet information would spread fairly rapidly via the various media. Being situated on a main trunk route it has a fairly large itinerant population, especially during the tourist season, Further relevant properties of this town are that it is situated in a region of the country that is deeply imbedded with man’s primitive history. As well as the conventional historians, the area is very much a shrine for those occultists who believe that the Holy Grail is still to be found, or that a new age will dawn with Avebury or Stonehenge at the centre of the universe. The Army encampments naturally add interest and help further the mystery of the area both by their presence and weird activities, especially when it comes to making noises.

In such an area it is little wonder that a hoaxer could, after acquainting himself with the surroundings and the traits and haunts of the local populace (and also accounting for the small influx of new-ageians keeping their vigils) guarantee himself an audience. Thus for an experimental hoax, the investigators would have to find a town that has very similar properties to those of Warminster. This done, their troubles are only just starting, if they are not to transgress in any manner the law. It is a simple matter to make lights appear in the sky at will, providing one has an assistant. A couple of polythene clothes bags filled with coal gas and tied together will lift a small battery and bulb high into the air. Strictly speaking this is illegal, unless you have obtained permission from the Ministry of Defence and also notified local airports.

Again, it is not too difficult to make a crater appear in a farmer’s field, and to experimenters I would suggest they try the following method. First obtain an iron pipe, say about five feet long and l½ inch diameter. At one end films a couple or more sharp cutting teeth, and at the other drill a hole to take a tommy bar. Armed with this device and a large hammer the tube can be driven deep into the ground and cores of earth removed by a number of repeated borings until you are left with a fairly smooth straight hole. To add interest you can scoop out several radiating channels from the central hole and make several other interesting depressions round about. Fill the central hole with a finely divided mixture of magnesium, aluminium and tin, (the three supposed constituents of flying saucer metal) insert an igniter wick and retreat. With a high proportion of magnesium in the mixture an extremely hot and brilliant flame will be produced that should attract some attention. Should you have got your timing wrong and there was nobody within the vicinity, then the farmer is sure to come across the desecration of his field some time or other. This is to be preferred since it may give rain time to wash away the tell-tale traces of white ash.

We can now see what the score is. First there is the cost of the tubing. Then several pounds will be required to pay for the cost of filling the bore with an explosive mixture. You will have fallen foul of the law on several counts. For trespassing, and doing damage to a crop, (Remember, grass is a valuable asset to a farmer, let alone barley, oats or potatoes.) and for discharging and possessing explosive materials. As your hoax gained momentum so also I suspect would the number of antisocial acts that you committed rise in proportion.

Which brings us to two points. Firstly a hoaxer most probably has antisocial tendencies. This would explain why so many saucer contactees want to kick, modern science and society in the teeth. They want to be considered apart from the herd, as selected beings often guided by superior intellects from above. Like so many restless ‘students’ they want to give convention a jolt; to have reporters and camera men rushing about on a wild goose chase while they themselves sit back enthralled by their powers of disturbance, while their egos swell. Secondly the hoaxer of a large hoax runs the real risk of being sued or prosecuted. Thus he is often forced to remain anonymous.

With these points in mind the setting up of an experimental hoax is not the sort of thing that should be attempted overnight. Neither should it be set up by an amateur body, since the results are not only likely to be disastrous but also wasted. The co-operation of local bodies would be required, including the police and the local council. Permission would have to be obtained from the Ministry of Aviation if one wished to eject objects into the sky, and so on.

To sum up, a large scale, will organised UFO hoax could provide valuable insight into how people think and react to what they think is an unknown phenomenon. By facing then with artificial UFO situations modelled on past case histories, even though the stimulus is false, the reaction would be the same as would most probably occur under the genuine conditions of a UFO sighting and flap. Then, and then only, will the UFO investigator really know what he is about.

Read the story of the actual experimental hoax at Warminster HERE




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