They Came From Plano
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.
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."
Decker, who led the MUFON group before Turner, says the falling-out had as much to do with Turner's unwillingness to share control as it did with Hatonn's ravings. "To put it politely, she's a very dominating woman," he says.
Still, the incident shows how anti-Semitism and right-wing fringe thinking is a half-click away from the UFO community on the ideological dial. "There is a lot of suspicion of the federal government in these circles. People think the government is covering things up," says Ed Conroy, a journalist who now works as director of corporate development for the San Antonio Symphony and regularly writes for Turner's newsletter. "I've been to a lot of conferences over the past several years where there are all kinds of levels and layers of extremism that get bandied about."
Turner saw her break with the now-inactive MUFON chapter as a chance to widen the scope of inquiry to include New Age transcendentalism, alternative health, and Egyptology, to name a few subjects.
"People had constantly been sending me books and articles, and I was a clearinghouse of information," she says. "I decided, 'Why not turn it into a business?' They say if you want an interesting job, do something you're interested in.
"I've always had this insatiable curiosity," she adds. "I try to question everything, look beyond the pat answer. I think sometimes it's almost like an affliction."
At the same time, unlike nearly everyone in her field, Turner has never had a personal encounter with a UFO or any other aspect of the paranormal. "I wonder why I haven't, but I am not an 'experiencer,'" she says.
Some of her favorite researchers are Graham Hancock, a British journalist who suggests that a technologically advanced civilization lived during the last Ice Age, and Robert Bauval, an "archeo-astronomer" who also is exploring the mysteries of early societies. "I guess I'm interested in all kinds of things that are controversial and stimulating," Turner says, her voice lilting with an accent that retains more of North Carolina than Texas. "That's what I'm trying to do, stimulate people to think in different areas besides the commonplace, everyday old things."
There's nothing humdrum about a night with Stan Deyo at the lectern. Brain-washing. Viewing remote objects using only one's thoughts. UFO propulsion systems. Government experiments in time travel. Cattle mutilations. International plots. Theories about an alien craft hiding in the shadow of the Hale-Bopp comet. The "face" on Mars.
And all before the midway break.
Turner promises an "extremely interesting evening" as she introduces Deyo, a lumpy, middle-aged guy in a baseball jacket, jeans, beard, and wire-rimmed glasses.
Within 10 minutes of Deyo's arrival at the podium--oddly decorated for the occasion in a spray of flowers--that promise is fulfilled. Deyo, who describes himself as a native Texan who moved to Perth, Australia in the '70s, starts by telling how he was kicked out of the U.S. Air Force Academy. It wasn't in a cheating scandal, as reported in the press. Instead, it was his resistance to government-sponsored mind control, or as he puts it, covert attempts "to turn your mind on like a radio."
Before long, in a sort of mumbling, no-details way, he settles into his amazing life story, recalling how he went to a corporate compound in North Carolina and was "allowed to go in and play with Townsend Brown's original flying disks. We have photos." Moving to his computer, which is wired to project images onto a large screen behind him, Deyo punches up a photo of a classic flying saucer, something like the one in The Day the Earth Stood Still.
"This," he says matter-of-factly, "is one of my own designs.
"They said, 'You are not the first to come along with an idea like this.' Dr. Teller has been overseeing it since the mid-'50s. They already had anti-gravity! They already had plasma-drive ships! They had other guys like me, but they wanted me out. I was a loose cannon. I didn't work for anybody. I wasn't in the mood to keep a secret."
At the break, more than two hours into the lecture, it's clear that most people in the audience are taking Deyo at his word. They're getting their $20 worth. "He didn't give me enough to judge, but it's in the realm of the possible," Bruce Welch, a 55-year-old electronics engineer, says of Deyo's saucer design. "When you go to school, you get brainwashed into thinking one way. You get older, and you start finding out that all these things that were called laws end up being hypotheses."
"It's brilliant," says Virgil, a man with deep blue eyes and a white ponytail who later will ask Deyo if he was personally acquainted with Albert Einstein. Virgil declines to give his full name or any other identifying details, but says he can be reached by going to Lower Greenville and asking three people where Virgil is. "One will point you in the right direction," he says.
On that note, Virgil wanders away to browse a stand of pamphlets heralding an upcoming UFO conference in the Ozarks, a "wellness" fair in Addison, and a directory of holistic medical services.
Dee Emrich, a Mid-Cities resident, says she is impressed with Deyo's ideas about "stacking energy," which has something to do with kick-starting the anti-gravity device that powers the saucer. "Dallas is not interested in things of this kind," she observes. "It's kind of several beats behind the West Coast, you know. This would be old hat in San Francisco."
Julie Gillentine, a former financial executive from Richardson who volunteers to work the book-table cash box, says she was a bit disappointed with Deyo. But not for the reasons one might guess. "I think he's a government agent," she says.
Deyo begins the second half of a lecture that will end up stretching longer than a full-length Hamlet with the statement, "OK, enough of the dull and boring stuff. Now the stuff you really came to hear. Earthquakes. The end of the world. The next life. Hopi Indian predictions...Some of this gets into the twilight zone."
You said it, Stan.
Perhaps it's best to let Deyo tell it in his own words, which after four hours become hypnotic, hallucinogenic, a sort of science-fiction performance art best followed by a double dose of aspirin and a big glass of water. Perhaps he really does know something about brainwashing and mind control.
"Back in Dallas, I had a near-death experience. At that time it wasn't popular...The Hopi chief told me [in a hokey fake Indian accent], 'We knew you were coming. We saw you in the dream. You are the fifth of eight. You will come back and soon. Your white brothers and sisters will be involved in a lot of war between themselves and a lot will not survive...'
"Do not eat meat. It will cause a great sickness...There are no safe places. A 1,200-foot wave will destroy the white cities...Two weeks ago a friend said, 'Hey, the Ross Ice Shelf just shifted 371 feet.' We know it's coming. I was given an e-mail address, a back door into the NASA [computer] site. Plans are being made to accommodate the changes to our culture...With 70, 80 percent certainty, I can tell you where there are earthquakes and volcanoes. California, Oregon, Washington, Baja, Mexico are places not to be...Because of the near-death experience I've had, I have a view of our destiny which is a positive one. I've been there. There's no way to explain how wonderful it is...As for the alien prospect, the Bible does warn of a first landing...Don't trust the first ones. They say they come in peace and harmony, maybe they look like us, maybe a bit taller, a bit handsomer, the skin is a bit scaly in the sunlight. Don't believe them. The first ones are the impostors, and there will be a terrible government set up under them."
At a quarter of midnight, as Deyo winds down, a line of people form with questions. "Stan, I've heard our government is going to stage a mock alien invasion. Is that what you are saying? Are you hanging back or what?" one man asks.
A woman, sounding like someone seeking advice from Money magazine, inquires: "You are encouraging us not to buy precious metals. What do you suggest we invest in?"
Following up Deyo's thesis that the earth's magnetic forces may shift and radically alter the world's climate, a young man in a white shirt and tie asks earnestly, "What's the weather gonna be like in Dallas?" To which Deyo responds, "What did the guy on the radio say? Just take a leak out the window and see if it's freezing...No, really, I don't know...I don't know. I try to be very cautious about what I say. I am just using logic."
Sure. And we're ready for our alien anal probes.
In Turner's view, there's been a temporary surge of interest in "alternative science" like this and its many variants, and she's seeing plenty of new faces come to The Eclectic Viewpoint's talks.
No doubt, the popularity of TV's X-Files, Dark Skies, Sliders, and their ilk, plus the summer blockbuster Independence Day, have helped raise UFO consciousness, she says. As a testament to the power of pop culture to sway public opinion, a recent Newsweek poll finds that 41 percent of Americans think humans will have contact with intelligent space aliens in the next century.
Turner says she thinks the public frame of mind approaching the millennium may also be playing a part in this latest UFO craze, which has made the skeletal-shaped, big-eyed alien head a teeny-bopper icon.
Joe Nickell, a senior research fellow for the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, says reporters ask him a lot about the millennial connection. "I'm not convinced," says Nickell, whose organization includes Isaac Asimov and the late Carl Sagan among its founding members. "There's been this kind of attraction to the paranormal at all places and all times," he says. "The particular phenomena come and go. You hear now about alien abductions instead of people being transported to fairyland.
"These things connect with our hopes and fears, our love of mystery," he says. "It's more compelling to think about the possibility of alien abductions or the Bermuda Triangle than to see them solved."
But don't bother trying to convince Turner that the mystery lies only in ourselves. "Stan Deyo has me convinced we can build a flying saucer," she says. "I like his science.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Observer's biggest stories.