By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
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Cheyenne Turner bursts into the Unity Church's carpeted lobby, looks around, and, with lips pursed, executes a hasty head count. Maybe 250 people are buzzing and milling around, but Turner isn't impressed. "Could be better," she says, sending off the efficiency vibrations of a million-dollar real estate agent--or the lady they send to explain the deductibles in your company health plan.
It's about 15 minutes before Stan Deyo, a self-styled UFO inventor, predictor of earthquakes, and Hopi Indian chosen one, is to begin lecturing. A fairly normal-looking crowd is buying $1 coffee--fundraising for the open-minded Unity Church, which is renting out its Forest Lane sanctuary for the mid-January lecture--and browsing the hundreds of titles on the 42-foot-long book and videotape table. Mercury, UFO Messenger of the Gods, Reincarnation, Channeling and Possession, and The Power: Governments and Mind Control are a few of the saner-sounding ones.
Despite the cosmic conversations going on all around, Turner's thoughts at the moment are strictly earthbound. "Central was impossible," she says, describing her drive down from Plano. "I was on the shoulder all the way from Richardson."
Before more North Dallas traffic chatter blossoms, Turner announces, "There's things I need to do," and is instantly gone. All you catch is the back of a petite woman in a platinum perm, black turtleneck, and taupe pantsuit plunging into a crowd that could be described as pure Middle America if it weren't for the slightly higher-than-average number of white beards.
For the past five years, Turner's one-woman business, The Eclectic Viewpoint, has been Dallas' clearinghouse for the spacy inventory of alternative thought that has captured these prairie souls. Broadly categorized, the subjects range from "extraordinary science," to "the paranormal," to "alternative medicine"--or, for the skeptics, from pseudoscience, to occultism, to quackery.
Of course, there's a bunch of stuff on UFOs.
Six times a year, Turner brings to town speakers who have attained a certain stature in the fringe science community. People like Whitley Strieber, the San Antonio-based author of the bestselling Communion who claims to have been visited by anal-probing aliens and now has an uncomfortable device implanted in his brain; near-death-experience guru Dannion Brinkley, who says an unfortunate lightning strike left him clairvoyant; and Ruth Montgomery, a former president of the National Women's Press Club, who has widened her beat significantly in her retirement years. These days she says she gets her scoops from spirits in the beyond.
Turner works full time to keep The Eclectic Viewpoint afloat with a well-produced bimonthly newsletter, book and lecture tape sales promoted on the Internet, sales of a few "alternative health" products such as "freeze-dried aloe-vera mucopolysaccharide" for "enhancing the body's immune system," and an occasional "mystical" vacation tour to Peru or Egypt.
The newsletters review and summarize upcoming speakers' books and speeches and sell an ever-expanding catalogue of videotapes of lectures past. As a business, Turner admits, The Eclectic Viewpoint is just getting by, and then only with a lot of help from her friends.
Efficient, autocratic, and deft at public relations, the fiftysomething Turner is so personable that even the president of the North Texas Skeptics, whose chief purpose is to debunk everything Turner stands for, has a good word for her. "She's well-meaning if misguided," says Joe Voelkering, whose group is affiliated with the Buffalo, New York-based Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.
As the kind of person who knows that offering a few door prizes will result in a detailed mailing list, Turner is a savvy seeker in a world usually haunted by more ethereal spirits. "I call them airy-fairy," she says, casting herself as someone else altogether. "I don't think I conduct myself like a crackpot or a Froot Loop."
Which isn't to say Turner is not among the believers. Behind her conservative looks--pastel pink lipstick, blush applied just so--lies a committed follower of the paranormal. "I definitely think we have been visited by UFOs from another planetary system," she says. "There's also a strong possibility that we have our own [advanced space ships]."
The world of "ufologists," transcendentalists, and government mind-control conspiracy theorists in which Turner operates is naturally prone to factionalism and feuds. But with her politic manner, she has been adept at keeping this diverse following intact.
Still, at the fringe of the fringe, there are hateful opportunists--neo-fascist "channels" and the like--who try to tap the UFO community's underlying mistrust of the federal government, its slow-burn paranoia. When E.T. phones home in the '90s, his message could turn out to be something about "the international Jewish conspiracy" or claims that the Holocaust didn't happen.
It takes a certain conviction to separate the nuts from the berries in these circles, and some unsavory ideas inevitably seep in. To her credit, Turner has taken a stand against allowing the most obvious hate-mongers to infiltrate Dallas' alternative cosmos. "I want science and ideas," she says. "Not someone with a religious or political axe to grind."
By any measure, hard-minded North Central Texas is several cognitive galaxies away from Sedona, Arizona; Boulder, Colorado; Santa Cruz, California; and some of the other places where people actually have an idea about what aromatherapy and reiki might be.