By Richard Leiby
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 27, 2005
Secret Flying Saucer Base Found in New Mexico?
Maybe. From the state that gave us Roswell, the epicenter of UFO lore since 1947, comes a report from an Albuquerque TV station about its discovery of strange landscape markings in the remote desert. They're etched in New Mexico's barren northern reaches, resemble crop circles and are recognizable only from a high altitude.
Also, they are directly connected to the Church of Scientology.
(Cue theremin music.)
The church tried to persuade station KRQE not to air its report last week about the aerial signposts marking a Scientology compound that includes a huge vault "built into a mountainside," the station said on its Web site. The tunnel was constructed to protect the works of L. Ron Hubbard, the late science-fiction writer who founded the church in the 1950s.
The archiving project, which the church has acknowledged, includes engraving Hubbard's writings on stainless steel tablets and encasing them in titanium capsules. It is overseen by a Scientology corporation called the Church of Spiritual Technology. Based in Los Angeles, the corporation dispatched an official named Jane McNairn and an attorney to visit the TV station in an effort to squelch the story, KRQE news director Michelle Donaldson said.
The church offered a tour of the underground facility if KRQE would kill the piece, the station said in its newscast. Scientology also called KRQE's owner, Emmis Communications, and "sought the help of a powerful New Mexican lawmaker" to lobby against airing the piece, the station reported on its Web site.
McNairn did not respond to messages requesting comment; an employee said that McNairn was traveling last week, and that no one else from the church would be able to comment.
What do the markings mean? For starters, the interlocking circles and diamonds match the logo of the Church of Spiritual Technology, which had the vault constructed in a mesa in the late 1980s. The $2.5 million construction job was done by Denman and Associates of Santa Fe, but company Vice President Sally Butler said of the circles, "If there is anything like that out there, it had nothing to do with us."
Perhaps the signs are just a proud expression of the Scientology brand. But there are other, more intriguing theories.
Former Scientologists familiar with Hubbard's teachings on reincarnation say the symbol marks a "return point" so loyal staff members know where they can find the founder's works when they travel here in the future from other places in the universe.
"As a lifetime staff member, you sign a billion-year contract. It's not just symbolic," said Bruce Hines of Denver, who spent 30 years in Scientology but is now critical of it. "You know you are coming back and you will defend the movement no matter what. . . . The fact that they would etch this into the desert to be seen from space, it fits into the whole ideology."
Recall if you will that Scientology traces most of mankind's woes to an evil alien lord named Xenu, a galactic holocaust perpetrated 75 million years ago, and, uh, the field of psychiatry. (The latter is a particular concern, as all of America now knows, of movie star Tom Cruise.)
The church maintains two other vaults in California to preserve Hubbard's materials and words, according to Hines and another longtime staff member who also quit a couple of years ago, Chuck Beatty of Pittsburgh.
"The whole purpose of putting these teachings in the underground vaults was expressly so that in the event that everything gets wiped out somehow, someone would be willing to locate them and they would still be there," said Beatty, who spent 28 years in Scientology. Some loyalists are tasked specifically with the "super-duper confidential" job of coming back to Earth in the far-off future, he added.
The billion-year contracts are signed by members of what Hubbard, a Navy lieutenant in World War II, called the church's Sea Organization. The motto of that cadre, according to Beatty and Hines, who said they were both members, is "We come back."
The New Mexico site is about a 2 1/2 -hour drive east of Santa Fe, near the small town of Trementina. The contents of the vault itself are not secret -- they were shown in 1998 on ABC News's "20/20."
"Buried deep in these New Mexico hills in steel-lined tunnels, said to be able to survive a nuclear blast, is what Scientology considers the future of mankind," ABC's Tom Jarriel said in his report. "Seen here for the first time, thousands of metal records, stored in heat-resistant titanium boxes and playable on a solar-powered turntable, all containing the beliefs of Scientology's founder, L. Ron Hubbard."
Other religions preserve their sacred texts. Nothing strange there. Scientology leaders apparently just don't want to misplace theirs, and maybe this is why somebody put the giant circles on the scrubland. Because there's nothing worse than arriving from deep space, and not knowing where to park.