Friday, July 06, 2012

Travis Walton and Me [Kevin Randle]

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Travis Walton at the 2011 Roswell Festival

Kevin Randle By Kevin Randle
A Different Perspective
     While at this most recent Roswell Festival (2012), I had a chance to sit down with Travis Walton. I knew that he had been more than a little annoyed with The Abduction Enigma and our reporting on the Walton abduction case. In fact, last year, he wouldn’t even speak to me, not that I really attempted to engage him in conversation. Had I done so then, he might well have talked to me.

This year, however, he was with Steve Pierce who had been one of those on the wood cutting crew and who had witnessed the abduction. Steve had become the center of a small controversy about the case in recent months, and I thought this would be a good time to talk with him about that. In fact, I engaged him in conversation the first opportunity that I had.

I worried, however, that Travis might have seen this and think I was digging for dirt on the abduction. I was more interested in what Steve had to say about Philip Klass and Klass’ attempt to induce Steve to say it was a hoax. With that in mind, I walked over to Travis’ table and sat down in the vacant seat.

I opened the conversation by asking, “Are you still mad at me?”

Travis explained that he thought I (and by I, I mean Russ Estes, Bill Cone and me) had relied too heavily on Klass’ arguments about the case. Travis, I think, didn’t believe we had given him a fair shake.

Russ Estes in Roswell in 1997
That might well be, and of course, we were writing about the alternative explanations for alien abduction, meaning we were writing from the point of view that alien abduction had terrestrial explanations. We used many of the sources available, but Travis didn’t think we had used his book and explanations enough in our reporting.

I did tell him early on in our conversation that my interest in talking to Steve was to get his side of the Klass story and I wasn’t looking for new information on the abduction. That said, we talked a little more about the case.

Yes, it does seem that the first, failed lie detector test might have been more about the operator’s observations of Travis’ reactions to the questions and not anything the machine showed. It might be that the first operator was injecting his own personal bias into his interpretation of the results. I do know that often the lie detector is used as a way to encourage the guilty to confess.

So, the results of that first test might have been skewed by Travis’ reactions to the events of that week and by the operator’s belief that there is no alien abduction. To him anything to suggest otherwise must be a lie. In other words, he based his opinion, not on the results of the machine but on his opinions about UFOs.

And there was the second, passed lie detector test which I mention here in the interest of fairness. And a third test, some twenty or so years later that was also passed.

Anyway, the riff that I had created in the late 20th century had been repaired now, early in the 21st. We shook hands and Travis understood that I was not seeking information about the abduction but about Klass’ communication with Steve Pierce.

We did talk about the efficacy of the polygraph and I suggested that I knew a way to test if a lie told over a long period became so ingrained that the machine would not detect it. He said that such experiments had been done by giving lie detector tests to prisoners in an attempt to gauge the way a lie might become, for the teller, the same as the truth.

I was surprised that Travis could discuss such a thing at such a high level, which is not to say that I was surprised by his intelligence. I was surprised that he had been reading, or had access to, psychological journals. These are usually quite expensive and often not “light” reading, not to mention easily available.

And, I’m not sure the validity of those tests. I think a better experiment would be to use Vietnam “wannabes.” These are guys who tell horrific tales of Vietnam combat to families, friends and to support groups. They clog the VA system taking up spaces for real veterans who have real needs.

But there are records that can be checked and by accessing those records we can compare their tales with the facts. In some cases those men were clerks or cooks and while they did serve in Vietnam, they did not have a combat role. Some of these wannabes had served in the Army but not in Vietnam. And in more than a few extreme cases, they didn’t even serve in the military.

The point is that they have been telling the stories for decades and might have become so comfortable with their tales of combat that their lies won’t register… Or maybe, sitting hooked up to the machine, their body would betray them, revealing their lies. I think this might be a more accurate way to test the theory and is something that hasn’t been done, as far as I know.

Kathleen Marden
So, as I say, Travis and I shook hands. If there had been a “feud” it was now over. Later, and by later I mean Sunday evening, I was having dinner at the Cattle Baron (which I mention only because a. I get to plug the Cattle Baron and b. I can mention that I was sitting at a table with Stan Friedman, Kathleen Marden and Stan’s son) when Travis walked up to the table to say, “Hello,” to me. We shook hands again, proving what a class act Travis is.

I asked if he remembered when we met in Germany and he said he did. We didn’t see much of each other because of the schedules, but he did remember. Just a little aside to suggest that we had met a long time ago.

If you ask me today what I think about the Walton abduction, I will tell you that if alien abduction is real, I would expect it to be more like that experienced by Travis, or Betty and Barney Hill. A one-time thing that is more of a target of opportunity than these decades long experiences told by so many others. I would tell you that I believe that alien abduction has a terrestrial explanation, or rather terrestrial explanations but that is just my opinion. I would concede that the Walton experience is quite strange.

But I would note here that most hoaxes are confessed eventually. In the Walton case, you have a number of young men, who are now much older, and yet they have not broken ranks. The Santilli film is an admitted hoax. I can’t tell you the number of UFO photographs that have been admitted to be hoaxes, including those that have fooled some very smart people. Or the number of hoaxes created by skeptics to prove that we are credulous. With this case, there have been no defections from the ranks (and we’ll explore my discussions with Steve Pierce about that later).

I don’t plan to engage in a long debate about the details of the Walton abduction. I do have an autographed version of the updated book that Travis gave me a decade and a half ago, which might explain why he thought we should have used more of his information.

I am glad that Travis, who was once more than a little annoyed with me, and I have reached a new understanding. I really don’t like to offend people (though I seem to do it quite easily and much more often than I care to admit) and I have taken the sting out of some of my words written quite a while ago. I guess it just shows that sometimes you have to talk to one another in person so that everyone is on the same page.

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