Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Jan Harzan and the Decline of MUFON

Jan Harzan, the Executive Director of the Mutual UFO Network, was arrested by Huntington Beach, California, police on July 3 on charges of soliciting sexual activity with a thirteen-year-old girl.

According to the Huntington Beach Police website, Harzan solicited the minor to meet with him for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity. Instead of the young
Jan Harzan
girl, Harzan was arrested by detectives who were there to take him into custody. He has been charged with multiple felonies.

Harzan became the MUFON Executive Director in 2013, and since that time, MUFON has undergone a number of changes and endured several scandals that rocked the organization. In 2018, John Ventre, the MUFON Pennsylvania State Director and a member of MUFON’s “Inner Circle,” posted several racist comments on his personal Facebook page after learning about a Netflix series that he claimed promoted white genocide. Ventre wrote, “The last things blacks want is for white males to organize and that’s not too far away!”

In Harzan’s tepid response, he worried about the social media world in which we all now live rather than the racist nature of the comments. Harzan wrote, in part, “there is no justice in hate.” After an internal rebellion by a number of MUFON’s state directors, including the resignation of a few, Harzan’s statement was withdrawn, replaced by another and Ventre was removed from his leadership positions in MUFON.

Just last month, Ken Pfeiffer, MUFON Rhode Island and Vermont State Director, posted a number of allegedly racist comments to his Facebook page. MUFON took no action because they found no evidence of bigotry in his posts.

The Inner Circle caused additional trouble for Harzan and MUFON after Ventre’s rant. Although described by Harzan as a “donor level perk” without any real clout in the operation of MUFON, the website described it differently. According to that website, “Inner Circle members provide advisory guidance to MUFON and are included in annual conference calls, attend private functions…” which sounds like something more significant than a donor level perk.

Importantly, the website added, “You’ll meet other Inner Circle members at MUFON who are kindred spirits [emphasis added] and you’ll participate in Inner Circle Only events.”

Joining Ventre and Harzan in this Inner Circle was J Z Knight, described as a New Age leader who channels a 35,000-year-old Lemurian warrior named Ramtha. While that sort of belief is not a disqualifying characteristic, her attitudes which were “filtered” through Ramtha said “To screw [though she used far stronger language] over God’s chosen people”, meaning the Jews. She said they’d earned enough cash to have paid their way “out of the… gas chambers by now.”

Ramtha, speaking through Knight, added that Mexicans “breed like rabbits,” all gay men were once Catholic priests and that organic farmers have questionable hygiene.

To make matters worse, another member of the Inner Circle was David MacDonald, who owned a flight service that provided a platform for those who wished to join the Mile-High Club. While certainly not as egregious as the racist and homophobic comments made by other members of the Inner Circle, the sexual nature of that activity has now come back to haunt MUFON.

Chris Cogswell was the MUFON Director of Research who resigned because of what he termed the “racist culture” at the organization. He said that the leadership at MUFON had been problematic for years. The attitudes of some of the State Directors and the members of the Inner Circle certainly reflect that.

Before all this came to the attention of the UFO community, MUFON had been involved in earlier scandals. John Carpenter, one time MUFON’s Director of Abduction Research, sold confidential information and notes about the abductees he interviewed and hypnotically regressed to a third party. According to some of those abductees, they had been told that the information would remain confidential. Carpenter admitted that he had received cash payments from Robert Bigelow through the Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies, on multiple occasions, but, he said, his clients had not been hurt and that he had just supplied notes rather than cases. However, in a letter dated June 29, 1996, Carpenter wrote to Bigelow, stating, “Personally, I want to thank you, Bob, for your assistance regarding the 140 cases I mailed to you.”

For those interested in this rather tangential tale, the complete story, including the documentation, can be found here:

Although MUFON did not profit, directly, from Carpenter’s cooperation with Bigelow, MUFON did enter into an agreement with Bigelow Aerospace, again sharing information that the volunteers and unpaid field investigators had collected. MUFON was paid for the information but that money did not trickle down to those volunteers. This all began under the administration of Walt Andrus, the original International Director. John Schuessler, who took over from Andrus as this story began to break at the turn of the century may not have been aware of these arrangements. The April 2001 issue of the MUFON UFO Journal announced that Carpenter had resigned his position as the Director of Abduction Research, which tended to end that scandal.

One question arises from all this. What, exactly, is the mission of MUFON? Originally it had to do with the scientific investigation of UFOs, but in the last decade, it seemed to have shifted into creating financial streams of compensation for the MUFON corporation. Scientific investigation has been lost under the stewardship of Harzan.

One of the best examples for this redirection is the list of speakers announced for the 2017 MUFON Symposium. Here the criterion seemed to be who could fill the seats without a thought given to the reality of the story. For those interested in this episode see:

In 2018, X-Zone’s Rob McConnell created a petition calling for the removal of Harzan as the Executive Director. Response was tepid with some of those in the organization, defending Harzan and his leadership.

The petition didn’t gain much traction when it was first announced. Ironically, two years later, the MUFON Board did react to the arrest of Harzan faster than they did when Harzan had almost justified Ventre’s rant. In a matter of hours, they announced that Harzan was out and that there is no place for him in the organization in the future no matter the outcome of his current trouble. Harzan had not been convicted of a crime, only that he had been charged with multiple felonies.

The problem here is that the Board replaced Harzan with David MacDonald, a member of the Inner Circle. According to the information available, MUFON had taken the precaution of creating a way to rapidly transfer power from the west coast if there was a catastrophic event to their California headquarters. I was told that it took little more than the push of a button for the operation to shift.  

MacDonald’s selection did not meet with universal approval. As one member of the UFO community put it, “…this seems to me to be an incredibly tone deaf appointment by the MUFON board considering what just occurred with Jan Harzan. I mean the guy ran a company for aerial sex. Is this going to smooth over the bad publicity over the reprehensible sexual activities of the previous International Director [Harzan]?”

The speculation by some of the MUFON membership is that the organization might not be able to survive the latest scandal. At worse, it could fragment with some of the State Directors, or regional officers organizing on a smaller level. At best, it could see MUFON return to its original mission of scientific investigation and an elimination of some of the more controversial elements of the paranormal that has crept into the MUFON hierarchy.


Louis Nicholson said...

Kevin, if MUFON goes down, would you be willing to start up another UFO organization to replace them? If so, Im not a scientist but I would be willing to volunteer in whatever way I could. I live in the D.C./ Md area.

ilfakiro said...

kevin, let me say it straight: mufon , as we know it, is dead.
the only way to save it is kevin randle executive director and chris coswell scientific director.

Tom said...

One would think that this is the final straw for the History Channel to break their business relationship with MUFON.

MUFON has become synonymous with cranks, koooks, rascists and now, allegedly, pedophiles.

For the good of ufology, MUFON needs to be simply another ignominious chapter in the past history of this field.

edithkeeler said...

Who would have thought that selling leadership positions and influence to large donors who have been allowed to run the show, and apparently amok, for decades, wouldn't work out? I think it's way past time to "re-imagine" ufo organizations.

John Steiger said...

Kevin: Alternatively, you can continue to write your wonderful books on UFOs ... (!)