They Came From Plano

For Dallas' wackiest speaking gig, Cheyenne Turner brings in UFO inventors, alien abductees, and millennial prophets. But she has to keep her antennae up. These days, E.T. could be a neo-Nazi.

Religious conservatism, an economy based on applied technology, and some serious materialism are all possible reasons that the kinds of ideas Turner's speakers espouse are a tough sell in Dallas. Most people around here think NorthPark is the mother ship.

"It took a while to build a really good core following," Turner says. "A lot of publishers won't even bring these authors into Dallas. They can't get them on the radio or television, so they go to Houston or other places. Dallas is just very, very tough."

She recalls that after a local television station interviewed her a few years ago, "I had a couple of old boyfriends who had lost track of me, and they called. But nobody else." Running a boutique-size business rather than a high-volume outlet, Turner sends her newsletter to about 800 local subscribers. Her lecture series draws anywhere from 200 to 700 people, with tickets priced at $15 or $20, depending on the speaker; the next lecture, featuring New Age author Neale Donald Walsch, is set for March 8.

"I have a very interesting cross-section of people," she says. "There are engineers, professional people, doctors, attorneys, dentists, all kinds of people who are interested in this type of thing but would never let their colleagues know. People think you might be unbalanced if you were interested in things like crop circles."

A North Carolina native who studied biology at the University of Tennessee, Turner says her own scientific background drew her to the subject of space and aliens more than a dozen years ago. Following college, she worked in the Oak Ridge National Laboratories in Tennessee on radiation and immunology studies, and later worked in biological research at the University of Texas at Austin. Between the two was a stint as a high school chemistry and physics teacher in Topeka, Kansas.

Turner, who changed her name to Cheyenne from Wanda in high school, moved to Dallas in the mid-'70s with her second husband, an encyclopedia sales manager. By the early '80s, that marriage was over, and it was around that time that Turner began her personal exploration of the heavens.

"I remember an old Look magazine from the '60s, where they interviewed Betty and Barney Hill, the famous UFO abduction case," she says. "I was interested, but it wasn't until I saw a flyer for a lecture by a local UFO group in Dallas that I went a step further." Turner says she was impressed by the sincerity of the two lumberjacks who came to a local Marriott to discuss their close encounter with a flying saucer. "I don't think that type of man, a lumberjack, would just come out with this kind of story," she says. "I was hooked. I thought, 'There's definitely something out there beyond what science has reported.'"

The group that sponsored the lecture, the Dallas chapter of the Seguin, Texas-based Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), was the type of group that needed someone like Turner, someone who could apply herself to building and running an organization. She was president of the Dallas group from 1987 to 1991, and big into UFOs.

Jerry Decker, a film lab manager who has been a close friend of Turner's for years, remembers how the chapter activists readied themselves to photograph alien visitors--sort of like tornado chasers. "In 1988, Cheyenne and a few of us took a ride out to Granbury. We had cameras, a MUFON book telling you how to interview witnesses, everything. Anyway, it turns out these two women who called us must have been on pills or something.

"We went out by their trailer house, and we all laid down on the lawn, looking up at the sky. They were pointing out twinkling stars. One woman said, 'There's the ship.'"

Undaunted, Turner kept building the group, beefing up its regular attendance from about 50 to 200 in her four years at the helm. "She's driven--not so much by money but by what interests her," says her ex-husband, Jim Turner, who at the start considered all of it "too weird," but these days attends many of the lectures.

In 1991, Cheyenne Turner came upon something she too considered too odd to take. That fall, some members of the group's governing board wanted to bring in a speaker named George Green, the publisher of a California-based newsletter that spreads the views of a bigoted extra-terrestrial named Commander Hatonn, as channeled through a grandmotherly woman called Dharma.

In Hatonn's myriad writings, UFO magazine reports, he contends that a "secret government" works inside the U.S. government, which is run by a "Committee of 300" and the "international bankers who control the world." Hatonn, sounding like a fascist propagandist, believes that Jews control the world's finances and that the existence of death camps in Poland and Germany during World War II is a fabrication. One of his tracts is titled "The Trillion Dollar Lie: The Holocaust."

"There is no way I would have my name on the same program as that speaker," Turner says. "I think I had heard more of Green's anti-Semitism than my board had. I had heard him at a conference. Anyway, they insisted they wanted him, and I resigned."

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