Once again Philip Klass has stirred controversy and he didn’t even have to do anything himself. All of this started, for me, with a column by Billy Cox in which he mentioned the story that Klass had offered Steve Pierce, one of the witnesses of the Travis Walton abduction, ten thousand dollars to say the case was a hoax.
Some have been angry at me for accepting the story. As I mentioned then, my first reaction was to reject it, but then I remembered some of the other things that Klass (seen here with his fans) had done in his efforts to debunk everything UFOlogical (yes, it is hyperbole, but what the heck, it’s not the first time that one side or the other has engaged in hyperbole).
I took a stroll over to “Bad UFOs: Skepticism, UFOs, and the Universe” hosted by Robert Sheaffer so that I might read the other side’s take on this (though saying the other side here is something of a misnomer since I’m not a big fan of tales of alien abduction).
First, (well not first in his article but first in this piece) Sheaffer seemed so outraged that he wrote, “So, because of Travis Walton’s slanderous new charges against Philip J. Klass, I have performed a major Document Drop of papers in my files on Travis Walton...”
Slanderous new charges...?
More hyperbole. I just wanted to point out that both sides often engage in hyperbole and we, who are more or less outside of the particular debate, must be aware of this.
But then we do get to the meat of Sheaffer’s response. He points out that on a “website promoting the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina as a UFO ‘hotspot,’ Sky Ships Over Cashiers, there is a page titled Debunker’s $10,000 bribe to stop UFO truth.”
Sheaffer continued, writing, “Someone shouts on the Outpost Forum on February 5 , “BRIBE BOMBSHELL! STEVE PIERCE WHO WAS WITH TRAVIS WALTON WHEN HE WAS ABDUCTED CLAIMS THAT HE WAS OFFERED A $10,000 BRIBE FORM (sic) THE LATE DEBUNKER PHIL KLASS TO STATE THE ENTIRE TRAVIS WALTON ALIEN ABUCTION CLAIM WAS A HOAX!”
Walton then replied, according to Sheaffer, “Yes, it is true. I even mentioned this in the 1996 edition of my book. But all I knew then was that Deputy Click had taken Steve the message when Steve still lived in the area. I didn’t know that Klass had also flown to Texas and spent hours taking Steve out to dinner and trying to get him to accept the bribe. And followed Steve to another state or two. Very curious... All this strongly supports the belief that Klass was a paid government disinformationist.”
Well, nearly everyone in the UFO field gets branded with that label regardless of what side you come down on. I have been accused of working with Hector Quintanilla and Project Blue Book, though I was in high school when Blue Book neared its end and was in the Army in Vietnam in the few weeks before it was finally closed. I have been accused of being a CIA agent and even a member of MJ-12. Stan Friedman suggested that I was a government agent attempting to divert attention from the crash on the Plains of San Agustin, so Walton’s allegation doesn’t really mean much in the greater scheme of things. You might say its just par for the course and an indication you have arrived in UFOlogy.
In fact, Klass often said he was a government agent. Oh, I know his tongue was firmly planted in his cheek and his claimed ten million dollar a year salary suggested that he was much richer than his lifestyle showed... and no, I don’t believe any of that, but the point is that Klass made the claim himself. I doubt he would worry about the allegation today, if he was alive to comment on it.
Sheaffer wrote, “In Bill Barry’s 1978 book about Travis Walton, Ultimate Encounter, it says, ‘According to Mike Rogers, ‘Steve told me and Travis that he had been offered ten thousand dollars just to sign a denial. He said he was thinking of taking it.’” (p. 160)
Sheaffer noted, as do I, that the accusation did not originate with Pierce, but was made by Mike Rogers, who Sheaffer described as “Travis’ best friend” (and I have no reason to doubt that... I have seen them traveling together) “and future brother-in-law.”
Sheaffer then wrote that Klass wrote, “...had Barry checked with me, I would have assured him that I never made such an offer to [Deputy] Click or to anyone seeking to ‘buy off’ a member of the Rogers’ crew.”
And while this piece is meant, mostly, to show the other side’s opinion on the Steve Pierce suggestion, I will note that Klass didn’t take his own advice. From his SUN Newsletter of November 1993, page 3, Klass wrote, “Kevin Randle has contracted to author a new book which will be a compendium of crashed-saucer tales dating back to the ‘Mysterious Airships’ of the 1890s and also include the 1908 Tunguska incident in Siberia. Publication in soft-cover is expected in the fall of 1984 [sic]. Randle recently told a friend that he received ‘a great deal of money’ from the publisher.”
Had Klass checked with me, he would have learned that I didn’t receive a great deal of money from the publisher... though I wish I had. I suppose Phil was suggesting a financial reason for writing the book, and a financial incentive for filling it with tales of crashed saucers with little interpretation or investigation. The point here is that Phil repeated the tale without checking with me, which is what he suggested Barry should have done with him.
Sheaffer then launches into the reasons he thinks the Walton abduction story is a hoax and I have no problem with his analysis or his conclusions. There are problems with the Walton abduction and like so much else in the world of UFOs, there really is no consensus. Hardcore UFO believers think the case is a hoax and Karl Pflock, something of a skeptic on much in UFOlogy, after a short analysis of the case, wrote, “I hasten to add that, while I think a hoax is possible, I have not yet made up my mind.”
As for the idea that Klass hounded Pierce, that too is a tough call, given Klass’ attacks on both James McDonald and Robert Jacobs (see Phil Klass and his Letter Writing Campaigns published here on September 11, 2011).
Klass apparently called Pierce on July 20, 1978, which can hardly be called hounding. According to the tape of that conversation, Pierce told Klass, “Uh, well, I thought it was something a deer hunter, you know, rigged up. You know, ‘cause it was deer season, you know, so you could see. You know? And, uh, but I couldn’t see the bottom or a top or sides, all’s I could see was a front of it, you know. You couldn’t tell if it had a bottom to ir or, you know, or a back to it or anything...”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the UFO, given by one of the witnesses to the abduction. This doesn’t read like the experiences of someone who was there making observations, but someone who is confused by what he saw and not sure what to make of everything that went on around him that night. It leaves the door wide open for various interpretations.
Sheaffer wrote, “Klass says that when he told Pierce that he believes Walton’s story to be a hoax, Pierce replied, ‘Me too. If I could ever prove it a hoax I’d damn sure do it.’”
So, the Pierce story of the attempted bribe is not as black and white as it has been made out to be by many of us. I will say here again, I don’t believe it beyond Klass to attempt something like this, given what he had done in the past... but, I will also say that the evidence that he did is extremely weak. Given all that, we’d have to conclude the tale is not true, unless and until we could find something stronger.
Over at his blog, Bad UFOs: Skepticism, UFOs, and The Universe, found at:
you can find a link that will take you to some of the documents that Sheaffer believes should be reviewed before anyone makes up his or her mind about all this.
As I say, this is, sort of, the other side of this debate. I will note that Klass’ personal attitude has influenced this debate. Some of his activities were highly questionable (such as writing letter to the employers of UFO witnesses as noted in that earlier blog posting), which means that many of us see the idea of his attempting to bribe Pierce as a reasonable extension of these other activities.
But, as I said, the evidence to prove it seems weak and the various tales told about it are contradictory. Yes, I believe Klass might have tried something like this but I don’t think we have any proof that he actually did it.