Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Real Carlos Hoax Part 2

To recap the first part of this story*:

-  As a young man of 22, David "Deyvi" Pena came to the United States from his native Venezuela on a student visa to study art.  He overstayed his student visa and continued living here illegally.  

-  In 1986 he is documented as traveling with James Randi, appearing in a story about Randi in the Toronto Star “A few feet behind him, David Pena, a young man of about 20, struggles with three large suitcases.”   1986 is also the year that James Randi was awarded a large amount of money through the MacArthur "genius prizes".  It has been reported one of the first things he did was hire the man known to him as David Pena.

-   In 1987, possibly using some of his "genius prize" money, James Randi mounted one of his PR campaigns calling it the "Carlos Hoax", in which David Pena impersonates a "channeling" medium, "Carlos" who is booked to appear on a number of Australian media and staged events.  While "Carlos" was supposedly giving messages from the his spirit contacts, Randi would be feeding him lines through a hidden radio receiver, as the phony faith healer, Peter Popoff's wife did in one of the few real and documented successes endlessly repeated in Randi's PR.  The stated intention of the "hoax" was to show how the media didn't treat claims of the paranormal skeptically and a large number of people were gulled into believing in a total and complete fraud.    

-  Traveling to Australia to play his part in Randi's PR stunt presented a huge problem for David Pena, who is believed to have been living with Randi at the time.  He would need a passport and, as he was in the United States illegally, he couldn't use his real identity.   As he pled guilty to have doing in 2012, David Pena stole the identity of Jose Luis Alvarez, a United States citizen who was living and working in The Bronx, in New York City.   He obtained a passport and was an employee of James Randi under the name of Jose Luis Alvarez, the name that Randi presented him under during his hoax and after that until Pena was arrested in the fall of 2011 for identity theft and, possibly, immigration violations.   The victim of the identity theft, the real Jose Luis Alvarez, had continuing problems with the IRS, his credit and banking and, ironically, with his genuine passport due to David Pena stealing and using his identity, with Randi's obvious knowledge and very possible involvement.  Remember, Randi wasn't only Pena's house companion and lover, he was also his employer who knew full well that he had used his real name before needing the passport.

-  Pena was sentenced after pleading guilty to a term of house arrest followed by three years of probation.   I'm not aware of how his immigration violations will be treated by authorities but that is certainly a crime which could get him deported.  Which would be too bad as he seems to have made a life for himself here but he did commit a crime which caused considerable harm to the victim of his identity theft. 

The "Carlos Hoax", though, has a life and legend of its own, apart from the crime of David Pena and the victimization of the real Jose Luis Alvarez by both Pena and those who participated in his identity theft.  Accounts of the "hoax" hardly ever mention that it was based in a crime and a fraud committed by James Randi and his lover. 

While Randi was deceiving the government and the media about the identity of "Carlos"-Alvarez**,  his account of the "Hoax" presents it as a triumph of Randian debunkery, a master stroke to show how gullible the media are when presented by claims of the supernatural.  That is how you'll see it written up in Wikipedia and in Robert Carroll's frequently cited (and often badly evidenced and researched) "Skeptics Dictionary".

José Alvarez had hoaxed an entire continent with his art. But he had created something that the media and his audiences would take from him and recreate to suit their own needs. One lesson here has to be the magician's refrain: deception requires cooperation. Another lesson might be that the need to believe in something like a "Carlos" is so great in some people that we must despair of them ever being liberated.

But, typical of the Randi Legend, as seen so often in American media and as touted by American "Skeptics" the real hoax is Randi's presentation of it as a triumph for him.  

Tim Mendham researched the "hoax" and wrote up his findings in an article for the Australian Skeptics Magazine, "The Skeptic" in 1988 (p. 26)

During February, Sydney was visited by a fraudulent channeler. But far from being like all the other fraudulent channelers who have visited Australia, this one was different - he was a fraudlent fraudulent channeler, an elaborate hoax organised by Richard Carleton of the Channel 9 60 Minutes program and US arch-skeptic James Randi

Preceded by a sophisticated promotional campaign including a press-kit with totally spurious newspaper clippings, reviews and tapes of radio interviews and theatre performances, and a stunningly inane little volume called The Thoughts of Carlos, 'channeler' Jose Alvarez was interviewed on three Sydney TV programs Terry Willesee Tonight (ch 7), the Today Show (ch 9) and A Current Affair (ch 9). There were also minor references to him on the John Tingle radio program (2GB) and the Stay in Touch column of the Sydney Morning Herald. The Today Show appearance achieved notoriety (and a front page storyin the afternoon Daily Mirror) because Alvarez'manager, upset at continued sceptical questioning by host George Negus, threw a glass of water at him before storming off the set with his charge in tow.

Already we have a problem with the story as told by Randi and his American fans, George Negus apparently didn't play his part by cooperatively being deceived.   I can only imagine the frustration of "Carlos'" "manager" when the person intended to be hoaxed, wouldn't be hoaxed during the broadcast.   And, over all of this, it was a media operation, the Australian version of 60 Minutes, which was in on the caper from the start. 

Mendham continues:

It should also be stated that to a certain extent the whole hoax backfired. As an exercise to prove that the local media were somewhat lax in doing research and effective checking of claims, proved its point, but on the other hand the media were extremely cynical (if not sceptical) of Alvarez' claims, and he received no sympathetic coverage at all. The Today program's hosts, Negus and Elizabeth Hayes, were particularly scathing. Terry Willesee, after screening Alvarez' first appearance on Sydney TV with a satellite interview, followed this up with an interview with Skeptics national committee member, Harry Edwards, who explained how Alvarez' number one trick, stopping his pulse while being 'possessed' was achieved. And the Current Affair program consisted of a confrontation between Alvarez and Negus, at which Negus said it was the first time that audience phone reaction had favoured him. John Tingle's radio coverage consisted solely of an interview with Skeptics president, Barry Williams - he even refused to say where Alvarez would be performing and the Daily Mirror story simply factually reported the waterthrowing incident. Still, the point remains that none of the programs checked out Alvarez' background, which would have proved conclusively that he was a fake. Ironically, the TWT program did check with one authority in the US for a view on the channeler - that authority was James Randi.

Read that last sentence again,  contrary to the story as told by James Randi, he had actually been contacted by the media AS AN EXPERT CONSULTANT IN HOW THE STUNT COULD HAVE BEEN FAKED!   AND IT WAS RANDI WHO LIED TO THE MEDIA TO KEEP UP HIS HOAX.  Which would, one would think, rather definitively show that the media are suckers, for James Randi and his self-constructed and peddled legend.   If you read the article you will find that virtually everything "Skeptical" sources online say about the "Carlos Hoax" is refuted by the facts.  

The rest of Mendham's account is revealing, including the fact that 60 Minutes falsified details in order to make their intended theme come off, the gullibility of their media competition and the public when it comes to claims of the paranormal. 

On the 60 Minutes program, it was claimed that Alvarez would not have had the audience he did at the Opera House (and the potential sales there from) had the media coverage been more aggressive (and factual). "The hall was packed" the program said, screening interviews with the credulous and deluded who had come because "they saw it on TV". Australian Skeptics came, as we had seen it on TV too. The hall was by no means full. Our estimate put the audience at about 250-300, as opposed to the 60 Minutes' 400-500; the Drama Theatre holds a maximum of 550. A large percentage of the audience were sceptical (if not Skeptical), with an even larger proportion thus unconvonvinced after the session was over. We subsequently learned of many who, having intended to attend, had been turned off by the poor performance Alvarez had given on TV

As a "Skeptic", himself, Mendham is to be commended for exposing more of the reality of Randi's failed hoax than American "Skeptics" have, though he obviously doesn't engage in what it really means and placing it in the context of Randi's long history of fraud and misrepresentation of his own record.  The media and the "Skeptics" fan base suck that up without any critical review at all.   The criticism, that the media frequently doesn't sufficiently research what they present is far more general they seldom do sufficient research to catch popular politicians when they lie and deceive, the administration of just about any corporate conservative proved that long before Randi was born.  The media and even large parts of the quasi-academic culture will ususally take the easy and safe route as opposed to the bravely rigorous.  No one needed organized "Skepticism" to tell us that.  Relevant to the theme of these posts, the media covers up and/or fails to discover the fact that "Skepticism" and James Randi are two of the greatest beneficiaries of their negligence to rigorously research the available evidence.  

Organized "Skepticism" has had more than three decades since sTARBABY was first exposed by Dennis Rawlins, it has not cleaned up its act, it is as bad and frequently worse today.   As Steve Volk and others who have gone over Randi's record have pointed out, the great "Skeptic" and his publicity machine are beneficiaries of the suspension of skepticism, able to cover up a long and documented history of lies and frauds.   In every case I'm aware of, when given the choice between the documented record and the easily accepted Randi myth, the media and the "Skeptics" go for the myth.  The near total fraud that the "Skepticism"/ atheism industry is couldn't be clearer than that record.  Which, as I pointed out before, is far easier to read and buy than it is to understand the published, peer-reviewed literature of parapsychological experiment.  I think the reason the media goes with the "Skeptics" PR operation begins in the same failure to do research that the real and larger lesson of the "Carlos Hoax".   There are no greater victims of fraud than the media and the fans who have made James Randi the legend he is today.

Post Script

As I noted at the beginning of this look into the "Skeptics",  Martin Gardner, James Randi, CSICOP, etc. it's hard to know where to begin in writing about their real history.  It's also hard to know when to stop.  The lies and deceptions of James Randi are far more extensive than those I noted, people have been researching and presenting the evidence of the real, as opposed to the public persona of James Randi for decades.  But his PR machine and the media it both dupes and intimidates goes on.

I'm sure this is a subject I will write more about in the future.  For now I will say that anyone who doesn't address the published research and experimental record into telepathy and other topics on the "Skeptics" index of forbidden topics, those who parrot the lines they get from Randi and other professional and amateur "Skeptics" haven't addressed the published, reviewed, scientific record.

Science can't be done through the PR practices of "Skepticism", there is not a single scientist in that ideological movement who would subject their science to those.  They will parrot the line Carl Sagan stole from Marcello Truzzi about extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence.  Well, leaving aside that standards of evidence that are deemed to be inadequate to confirm or falsify telepathy are just as inadequate to confirm any other aspect of any other science.  To use that line against "extraordinary" phenomena would logically impeach any orthodox science to exactly the same extent.  Not that the many psychologists, such as Ray Hyman would tolerate their use in their "science", which has an almost uniformly less rigorous record than scientific research into psychic phenomena.   The frequently extraordinary claims of physics, multi-universes, parallell universes, etc. couldn't withstand that standard even to the extent that the controlled research into psi has, over and over again.

"Skepticism" is a self-interested industry and an ideological movement, not a scientific one.  It is, in almost every case, an aspect of the ideological promotion of atheism and materialism.  I think it's more likely to be a symptom of an ideological dark age than some kind of neo-enlightenment. "Skepticisms" documented history proves it depends on deception and lies, incompetence and cover ups, the insertion of ideological orthodoxy into science.  And that introduction has been, for the most part, a success.  

Scientists who have read the literature into psi are reported to often find it convincing, in some rare cases they have admitted that.  But, for the most part, they self-censor and cover up what they know because they can depend on a career damaging ideological campaign against them that rivals and, I'd say, surpasses that of the red-scare of the 1950s.  It's lasted far longer and it has been more effective.  Sometimes, when coming across those rare defections from the enforced common consensus, it feels like the early 1960s, as the red-scare was melting, far too slowly.   Maybe it is.  We will see. 


  1. James Randi has enough clout in the world that he could have gotten a passport and real identity to whoever he wanted to... He wouldn't have needed to steal one. We're talking about a man with a 200 000 dollar a year salary who runs a multimillion dollar multinational corporation and rubs shoulders with everyone from Johnny Carson to former and current presidents. Attacking Randi over this is absolutely ridiculous.

    1. The evidence is that he knew his boyfriend was using a stolen identity, he knew him as Pena and, then, after the Carlos stunt as Alvarez, he alluded to the identity of the real Alvarez whose identity was stolen when he obviously knew David Pena's real name and origin.

      The only apparent reason for David Pena to have stolen the identity of Jose Luis Alvarez, a crime he plead guilty to, was to obtain a passport under the name of a citizen of the United States so he could travel to Australia to try to pull off Randi's stunt, while he was in the employ of James Randi. James Randi obviously knew that the man he knew was David Pena had obtained a passport under a false name in order to work under his direction.

      The facts, as they say, speak for themselves. Though you Randi worshipers have never let those get in the way as you buy his lies.

      That was all before Randi's "Educational" Foundation racket, I doubt you know what his yearly income was and if he stated a figure, he's such a total liar that anyone who believed it is a a willing dupe.