Ancient Aliens, Nazis and plastic shamanism at Skepticamp
Sources, resources and further reading suggestions
Some might think Ancient Aliens is just a silly show on the Hitler channel; sorry, History Channel. Or "History!" as it's known today. Ancient Aliens have been on the air for 12 years. Even becoming a lousy video game, NFT:s, and a live show with tickets ranging from 45 to 110 quid. But there's a darker side to the telecast, and in this short presentation, we'll look into the racist origin, the connections to nazism, and the appropriation of Native American culture. In the end, you'll be painfully aware that the Ancient Alien theory builds on nothing more than racist ideas that try to "Weekend at Bernie's" the corpse of colonialism.
We could primarily blame the Ancient Alien phenomenon on two persons, Erich von Däniken and Zecharia Sitchin. Now there are more people to blame, but with this limited time, we'll focus on these two.
Let's start with Erich von Däniken, a convicted fraudster who sold more than 70 million books. The most famous is "Chariots of the gods." If you start to read his books, you'll find quotes like:
"Was the black race a failure and did the extraterrestrials change the genetic code by gene surgery and then program a white or a yellow race?"
The intended answer there is yes; we also find:
"The evolutionists say that man descends from monkeys. Yet who has ever seen a white monkey? Or a dark ape with curly hair such as the black race has?"
Why stop at racist ideas when we can add some evolution denialism to this too? Von Däniken seems to believe that there is a chosen race and advocates eugenics. EVD claims that soon researchers will be able to tell us which combinations of races are desired and non-desired.
But we see this tendency in his writings about monuments too. Däniken often wonders how these primitive people could build such complex things but usually doesn't use that language when speaking about Stonehenge or the French Menhirs.
Zecharia Sitchin is a bit different and not as vocal. But he proposes in the book "The 12th Planet" that gold mining aliens created humans as a slave race. I've no idea how he got to 12 planets, but he is talking about aliens dividing humans into categories. Sitchin is also an evolution denialist, claiming there's no possible way that humans could evolve as we did.
So this has been quite dark, but let's go a little bit darker. Even if Von Däniken and Sitchin might have some racist ideas, they are not actively promoting nazism. Let me introduce Jan Van Helsing. No, Jan is not heavily into goth; we will get to the name soon. But" History!" have quoted his work several times. Not only in Ancient Aliens but also in other shows on the network. As you might have suspected, Van Helsing is not Jan's real name. It is Jan Udo Holey, and he picked the alias since dr. Van Helsing kills bloodsuckers in the book Dracula. You're correct if you feel that bloodsucker means something else. Holey uses it as a synonym for Jews who, with secret societies, control the world.
Jan Udo Holey has been convicted for his Holocaust denialism, even if he does not see himself as anti-Semitic. He prefers the term skeptic. But he wrote a book called "Secret Societes," which he builds on "The protocol of Elders of Sion" and the work of holocaust deniers such as David Irving, David L. Hoggan, and Germar Rudolf.
Jan Udo Holey's writings deal with history revision, hollow earth, and Nazi survivors in Antarctica. But also Nazi UFOs, Aryan aliens, and of course, a re-imagined Vril Society inspired by Norbert Jürgen-Ratthofer and Ralf Ettl. These are more open anti-Semitic and influencers within far-right esoterism than Holey. Even if the show does not name Jürgen-Ratthofer and Ettl, authors like David Childress and Bill Birnes are using them as references in their books. Both Childress and Birnes are frequent flyers on the show.
We also have in the episode called "Nazi wonder weapons" a discussion about Hans Kammler. The show claims that Kammler was involved in creating a stargate or maybe something they call Die Glocke. In reality, he was an overseer over V2/V1 production and part of the concentration camp development. Childress and others claim Kammler killed the involved scientists. But Kammler didn't order scientists killed but instead forced laborers, and POWs in what’s known as the Arnsberg Forest massacre. Some 200 or more people including children were killed. If this is not history revision I do not know what is
Lastly, I'd like to discuss the concept of "plastic shamans." The term usually applies to non-Native American people who pretend to be spiritual leaders or healers within this faith. But we could use it about Ancient Alien proponents too. Reading papers from Dr. Lisa Aldered and Dr. Rayna Green, we learn that even if Europeans have a long history of appropriating the cultures of the indigenous people. But it was not until the 70's New Age movement started to lay claim to native spirituality selling it to the white middle class. I'd say that the Ancient Astronaut theorists are part of this movement since they often build on the same sources, methods, and ideas. Even if they claim to be scientists, they are often more interested in selling books, talks, and merch.
But of course, the Ancient Aliens also claim that Native American religion is, if not created, at least inspired by Extra-Terrestial beings. The best example of this might be when they talk about the Serpent Mound. They repeat the Mound Builder myth that white people build the mounds in America and claim that Native American tribes believe Serpent Mound to be an alien creation.
Thomas Johnson, who is an alien proponent, says quote:
"The Serpent Mound is a marker for space according to the Shawnee Indians. They're convinced that space travelers are using Serpent Mound as a marker."
The Shawnee tribe has, after years of work, been invited back to the Serpent Mound, which they view as a holy site and part of their heritage. It is a victory, but new agers and alien theorists are still trying to appropriate the site. Some do light vandalism in attempting to bury chrystals in the mound. Others interrupt lectures by tribe chiefs demanding that they participate in smoking peace pipes. Members of the Shawnee tribe have done a lot to educate people but still have Ancient Aliens proponents telling them what they believe.
These are just a few tiny examples, and we have not even gotten to white gods, the Mormons, or Atlanteans. But you see that Ancient Aliens are deeply problematic, racist, and spreading colonial ideas. Next time someone asks, "What is the harm?" you can answer: Lot.
You find all references, sources, and transcription at diggingupancientaliens.com/qed.
Thank you for listening
Sources, resources, and further reading suggestions
Aldred, L. (2000). Plastic Shamans and Astroturf Sun Dances: New Age Commercialization of Native American Spirituality. American Indian Quarterly, 24(3), 329–352. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1185908
Bond, S.E. (2018). Pseudoarchaeology and the Racism Behind Ancient Aliens. [online] Hyperallergic. Available at: https://hyperallergic.com/470795/pseudoarchaeology-and-the-racism-behind-ancient-aliens/
Colavito. J. (2014). The Astonishing Racial Claims of Erich von Daniken. [online] Available at: https://www.jasoncolavito.com/blog/the-astonishing-racial-claims-of-erich-von-daniken
Fitzpatrick-Matthews, K. (2014). Is pseudoarchaeology racist? [online] Available at: https://badarchaeology.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/is-pseudoarchaeology-racist/
Goodrick-Clarke, N. (2003). Black sun : Aryan cults, esoteric Nazism, and the politics of identity. New York, London: New York University Press.
Goodrick-Clarke, N. (2004). The occult roots of Nazism : secret Aryan cults and their influence on Nazi ideology. New York: New York University Press.
Green, R. (1988). The Tribe Called Wannabee: Playing Indian in America and Europe. Folklore, 99(1), 30–55. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1259567
Heaney, C. (2017). The Racism Behind Alien Mummy Hoaxes. [online] The Atlantic. Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/08/how-to-fake-an-alien-mummy/535251/
McDaniel, S. (2021). The Ancient Astronaut Hypothesis Is Racist and Harmful. [online] Tales of Times Forgotten. Available at: https://talesoftimesforgotten.com/2021/09/04/the-ancient-astronaut-hypothesis-is-racist-and-harmful
Nhemachena, A., Warikandwa, T. V., & Amoo, S. K. (Eds.). (2018). Social and Legal Theory in the Age of Decoloniality: (Re-)Envisioning Pan-African Jurisprudence in the 21st Century. Langaa RPCIG. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvh9vwf3
Nouvelobs.com. (2007). Prison avec sursis pour l’auteur d’un livre antisémite, Le Nouvel Observateur, 15 June. Available at: Prison avec sursis pour l’auteur d’un livre antisémite
Pember, M.A. (2018). Crazy Theories Threaten Serpent Mound, Demean Native Heritage. Indian Country Today. https://indiancountrytoday.com/archive/crazy-theories-threaten-serpent-mound-demean-native-heritage
Pember, M.A. (2021). Shawnee reclaim the great Serpent Mound. Indian Country Today. https://indiancountrytoday.com/news/shawnee-relcaim-great-serpent-mound
Prometheus Entertainment. (2010). Ancient Aliens: 2.5 – Aliens & the Third Reich. [DVD]. Los Angeles, CA: A&E Networks, LLC / History
Prometheus Entertainment. (2011). Ancient Aliens: 3.1 – Aliens & the Old West. [DVD]. Los Angeles, CA: A&E Networks, LLC / History
Schröm, O. (1998). Braune Esoterik auf dem Vormarsch: Viele Bücher aus der New-Age-Szene zeichnen ein rassistisches Weltbild. Die Zeit, 28 May. Available at: https://www.zeit.de/1998/23/esoterik.txt.19980528.xml
Strube, J. (2015). Nazism and the Occult, in Partridge, C.H (ed) The occult world. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. pp. 336-347. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/292292306_Nazism_and_the_Occult
Thad Allen, M (2004). The business of genocide : the SS, slave labor, and the concentration camps. Chapel Hill N.C. ; London: University Of North Carolina Press.
Von Däniken, E. (1995 ed. 2011) Signs of the Gods?. Souvenir Press Ltd
Welter, C. (2021). Shawnee Citizens Officially Invited Back To Great Serpent Mound. 91.3WYSO https://www.wyso.org/local-and-statewide-news/2021-07-12/shawnee-citizens-officially-invited-to-return-to-great-serpent-mound
Zaitchik. A. (2018). Close encounters of the racist kind. [online] Southern Poverty Law Center. Available at: https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2018/01/02/close-encounters-racist-kind
Erich von Däniken By Sven Teschke, CC BY-SA 3.0 de