January 2, 2003
Sex,Space and Swastikas
The explosive claim by Clonaid that a human being was successfully cloned has focused attention on the Raelian Movement, the quasi-religious sect that set up the genetic engineering company in 1997. Sharp-eyed viewers of television interviews with founder Rael may have noticed him wearing a necklace featuring a Star of David-shaped medallion, with a pinwheel filling the star. The design has been the official logo of the movement for more than a decade, but that's not always been the case; the original symbol was, incredibly, a swastika within a Jewish star. The change came after an emotional confrontation I had with Rael in early 1992.
At the time, I was senior reporter for a TV newsmagazine program that had done an extensive investigation of the flamboyant Frenchman and his thousands of followers. He was an outspoken advocate of promiscuity ("If you like to have free sex, you have free sex," he told his adoring adherents), and he delighted in telling the story of his 1973 encounter with a 4-foot-tall extraterrestrial who called himself "Yahweh Elohim." The visitor explained to Rael (a former auto racer originally named Claude Vorilhon) that life on earth was created by scientifically advanced beings, and that the Hebrew word "Elohim" had been mistranslated in English Bibles as "God." Rather, it really means "those who came from the sky."
Rael said his little buddy told him to establish an embassy where the aliens can be welcomed when they return to earth sometime before 2035, and to that end, he has repeatedly asked the Israeli government for permission to build what he calls "the third temple" somewhere near Jerusalem. The request, for some reason, has been denied.
After our initial report on Rael, we heard that he'd be giving a lecture at the Loew's Santa Monica Hotel. The program's host, Geraldo Rivera, and I decided to confront him before the speech, and while awaiting his arrival with our camera crew, I perused a long table filled with Raelian literature and various tchotchkes. I was appalled to see the swastika/Star of David symbol emblazoned on virtually everything.
Rael was surprised to see us in the lobby, but pleasantly agreed to an interview in which he told us how extraterrestrials had taken him to another planet and revealed that he was to be the New Messiah; he also confirmed that he had personally met Jesus, Moses, Mohammed and Buddha, and that "I was speaking to them like I am speaking to you now."
After watching his lecture, I told Rael's assistant that I wanted to meet with him privately. Following some whispered negotiations, I was ushered into a darkened room adjacent to the lecture hall. "Rael," I began. "I have no problem with you and your movement. Believe what you want to believe, preach what you want to preach, sell what you want to sell. But how dare you use a combined swastika and Star of David as your symbol!"
The soft-spoken guru expressed shock. "Why does this offend you?" he asked. "It is an ancient Sanskrit design which means 'well-being' and also represents infinity!"
"Excuse me," I replied, trying to contain my anger. "When I return home, I'll show this to my mother and grandmother, who escaped from Nazi Germany. I'll show it to my relatives who survived concentration camps, and to my cousins whose parents and siblings were murdered by people wearing this grotesque symbol. Do you think it will say 'well-being' to them?"
Rael, to my surprise, was clearly shaken by this line of reasoning, which was apparently a revelation to him, despite the fact that Jewish groups had already held protests outside his lectures. After more discussion, he told me he'd be in touch. A week or two later, I received a press release in the mail announcing a new emblem for the movement. There was also a full-page, handwritten letter to me from my new pen pal. Rael said that after our conversation, "I spent part of the night praying telepathically to the Elohim for a solution to not make more suffering for old people who were victims of the Nazi Holocaust. Finally, I got the authorization to change the symbol."
He closed the letter by thanking me for my "intervention," for explaining the problem to him, and for making him realize that the old design might be an obstacle to establishing that new embassy in Israel. Glad I could help, Rael.