Beacon Of Centauri 8
The views of Rabbi Meir are certainly consistent with the views of most of the world’s major religions. Years before the discovery, many religious authorities had begun seriously debating what ETI would mean for them. Not surprisingly, the Dalai Lama blessed SETI. Hindus also had very little problem with the idea. These were faiths that had no interest in a creation story set just around Man and Earth, but rather one that would happily envelope any form of intelligent life in the universe. Most religious leaders had become used to the debate of Life outside the solar system, and even encouraged their believers that if it did exist, it would have no negative impact upon their scriptures.
The main group that came under threat from the evidence were Young-Earth Creationists, who had always held that the Earth was 6000 years old, and humanity was unique. Some Creationists were quick to adopt the view of the more mainstream Protestant Churches, that God would be present in the lives of ETI. However, some groups held beliefs that could not be ratified with the evidence before them. Several churches around the world decried the revelation as a hoax, aimed at them. Some believed that the scientific community had misinterpreted their findings. A very small number even believed that the Aliens were either angels or demons, and that the end was near, and began shutting away their communities. In the more extreme cases, attacks were planned on various astronomical observatories. It seemed to many that Creationism was becoming unstuck, and that these groups were fighting with their last breath to destroy any evidence that would demolish their beliefs.
Perhaps most memorable, and most tragic, was the student protest at the University of Texas at El Paso.
A major Nationwide student protest was organised in the USA, flying the banner of Creationism. Over 60 Creationist universities and colleges staged a week long strike, joined by many more Christian student organisations in mainstream institutions. The protest was not quite as centralised as one would expect. Some students were adamant that the scientists should take back their claims and stop lying to the world (or misinterpreting the truth), whilst some were determined that scientists didn’t try and contact what they believed must be troops of Satan – and yet others urged everyone to repent.
Banners were flown across the country, crying “Bring Science back to God”, “Keep Satan from our Front Door”, and the age old classic “The End is Nigh”. Authorities were over stretched to control the situation. In several institutions protest turned to civil unrest, panic and riot. Students blockaded themselves in, some blockaded science departments. In many cases the National Guard was brought in to restore order.
Spurred on by their brothers and sisters, students at UTEP took up the battle cry.
I visit Henry Wight in Wichita, Kansas, to discuss the incident. He was the Sheriff on the scene. He is a broad man, with hair that has prematurely grayed. His arms tremble, almost spilling his coffee, as he recites the events.
“The news had spread around to all the sheriff departments in the country beforehand about the planned protests. Something on that scale has to be observed and, if necessary, controlled. We all know what students can be like. So, as you would expect, there was a national response set up, to make sure nothing got out of hand and that any unrest could be effectively dealt with.
“The whole affair began with a large sit-in in the Sun Bowl Stadium. The students had set up a PA system, and there were various speakers throughout the first few days, and they’d been joined by other students and Creationists. Most of the life on campus seemed docile. Not much was going on, a few people still working about the faculties – probably normal student life really. Most of the university was practically at a stand still. On the 5th day, a group of the students had got into the science department. The first we knew was from Adrian Pires, the University President. When we got there they’d already barricaded themselves in.
“We managed to get through some of the barricades, and arrested some of the students, but the rest were holed in quite tight. I mean nailed in. By the end of the day, we’d decided to treat it almost like a hostage situation and let them sit it out, and arrest them when they got hungry.”
Why didn’t that work?
“Some of the other students had begun supplying them, you know, food parcels and stuff.”
Couldn’t you stop them?
“We could and we did. But the students know that place like the back of their hands. We closed down one route, they opened up another. And they were getting pretty aggressive, a lot of them. They were picking up sticks, throwing missiles. We began to have a riot on our hands – one that was beginning to spread across the campus. We couldn’t hold them all. I mean, I’ve got a limited number of men. We have to arrest people, process them, keep the peace at the Sun Bowl and observe that situation. Then there’s the whole of El Paso to look after as well. I can’t just take my men off the streets. Resources were limited.”
But your men are trained for the eventuality of a riot?
“Sure, you’re trained for the eventuality of street riots, but inside? We were fighting in narrow corridors against people who’d got the advantage on us. They’d locked themselves down, devised a battle plan and found ways to resupply themselves. Besides, how many riots have you seen in El Paso over the past few years? We were under-resourced for this. On that day we knew the best policy was to let the fire burn itself out. Systematically close down their supply routes, shut off the water and wait for them to give up. We could have them in lock down, and a perimeter set up by late evening.
“Of course, it was at the end of the day that we realized what else had been smuggled in.”
Sheriff Wight drops his head and stares at his feet.
“They were just bloody students. Kids. Could have been our own.
“Adrian called me in the evening to tell me that the ROTC had been broken into, 5 minutes after one of my officers had been shot in the head! We were about to walk into a remake of fucking Taps! Now there’s a firearms situation.”
Weren’t there procedures in place to stop this from happening?
“Of course there was! But I told you, they knew this place inside out. Even the most stringent procedures would find it tough to stop a well informed, well motivated group from getting what they want. Hell, they used the training the bloody ROTC had given them! And now they were getting ready to use that training on us if necessary!”
So a group of undergraduates broke into the ROTC, stole military use hardware, and smuggled it into the department without your knowledge?
“Look, we’re police. We deal with petty arguments all the way up to riots and gang wars. We don’t deal with renegade armies, especially not ones being trained by our own fucking military!”
So you believe you dealt with every foreseeable eventuality?
“Are you kidding me? Have you not listened to what I said? The ROTC is the provision of military police. Not us. We weren’t told that it was seen to be a possible outcome.”
Even though you had a group of frightened kids, cornered away, believing they were fighting for their survival in very biblically apocalyptic times?
“Oh come on! Yes, these were kids. We knew they were frightened. But who could have predicted that some of them would be insane enough to begin to take up arms? There’s a world of difference between a protest and a war!
“That’s why the FBI and the Army National Guard were called in. That’s why it was taken out of my hands. I’m a cop, not a general. My men were ordered to fall back, to hold the perimeter, and to make sure nobody else entered. The last thing we needed to do was give them an excuse to use those guns.”
But those guns did get used.
“Yes, and that’s regrettable. The FBI and the ANG arrived, quickly taking control and setting up positions. This had gone beyond the university president’s hopes of keeping the department in tact. They needed to get in fast and get those kids disarmed and out of there. That wasn’t going to happen peacefully. They already had the blood of one of my officers on their hands. You think they’d come out nice and slowly with their hands in the air when they’d already brought themselves that far? Even they knew they were screwed. I don’t know if some of them even cared.
“We had their parents down to talk them out of it, but to no avail. One of the students parents actually said they supported their kid! Can you believe that? Yeah. They said that ‘a well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.’ The one and only time I hear the 2nd amendment said correctly, used in a context against my men! We were being accused of perpetuating a tyrannical rule, and that these kids had a right to take up arms against us! That’s the mentality of the parents – think of the mentality of the kids!”
Within minutes of the FBI and the ANG turning up, and communications were set up, several students who didn’t want to be in there anymore were allowed out.
“At least we got them out. I think some of the guardsmen have a hard enough time sleeping as it is. I know I do.
“I just wish the others would have come out as well.”
At about 9pm the ANG attempted to enter the department. The reception was less than hospitable. 2 Guardsmen fell, with another 7 injured, as they walked into the student’s trap.
“It was horrible. The situation was deteriorating. The students had them boxed into a room and were just bombarding them. They even managed to capture 2 guardsmen. Now it was a fucking hostage situation. It’s like Beslan, only it’s the kids taking the hostages.
“But this wasn’t a normal negotiable hostage situation. Their demands could not be met. That meant we’d have a body count rising up soon. There are 2 guardsmen in there that may not be coming back out, and there’s a lot of guardsmen out here who want to make damn sure they see their buddies again. They had to be located and isolated.
“Now, locating someone behind walls is easy with thermal imaging, but isolating them inside a building of small rooms and corridors ain’t a piece of cake. The FBI couldn’t play with the ANG’s time on this. Those kids had already taken lives. To be honest, it had got well out of the FBI’s ability and jurisdiction as far as anyone was concerned. Things got so heated at our end that one of the guardsmen nearly pulled his gun at an agent. That’s not good when you’ve got a situation like this on your hands. You need total collaboration.
“The FBI had to concede control to the ANG. As far as I’m concerned there was no other way. They were the only outfit that could neutralize these kids. Remember, this wasn’t some home spun WACO-style militia we were dealing with – these kids were trained by the fucking military!”
At 2am the ANG began it’s liberation of the department. As troops moved forward with armoured personnel vehicles, others began to take the rooftops. Once the rooftops were secured, they began their descent to the room containing the hostages. The operation took about an hour and a half. 7 students lay dead, having claimed the lives of another 2 guardsmen. Both hostages were liberated. Mr. Wight claims it was ‘a miracle’.
“Some of the parents were screaming and hitting my officers. It was pandemonium. We had to hold them back from trying to get in. They were screaming their kid’s names. Crying and kicking. One of the fathers punched me square in the jaw – and may have got past if it wasn’t for another officer tackling him to the ground. You must have seen the photos. The looks on their faces as they’re held back, unable to help their children. Some of the parents being arrested, because they were going to go back and get their guns. Get that? Parents threatening to go and get their guns to use them against us! Every burst of gunfire brought a new wave of panic.
“We were the bad guys that day. No doubt about it. Everyone was screaming at us to stop, but it wasn’t in our power to stop it. I’ve never felt so impotent.
“The worst part was the clean up. Finding those kids and having to bring their bodies out to their parents. I can still see their faces, still hear their folks asking me ‘why?’
“I couldn’t answer them – and I still can’t.
“Adrian was almost in tears. He was being spat on throughout it all. ‘How could you let this happen to our child?’ ‘We trusted you with our kid’s safety!’
“When it was over, he was a shadow of a man. Everyone was. Even the guardsmen came out almost crying.
“My boy was 20 at the time, over in UCLA. They’d had one of the protests over there. A civil affair, really. I’m glad he never found himself in this situation.
“I still can’t answer that question ‘why?’ – but I know I haven’t been to church since and I won’t be going again.”
The US was not the only country to suffer from anti-message protests. In the UK a group of 20 anti-message activists broke over the fence around the Lovell telescope at Jodrell bank. 10 of them chained themselves to the legs of the telescope, while the other 10 climbed up into the dish and chained themselves to the antenna. For several hours, the telescope – which had not been used for SETI purposes since 2004 and was unable, due to its latitude, to be used in communicating with the newly found ETI – was nonoperational. The largest obstacle facing the police was the safe removal of those on the dish.
Fortunately, the British activists were less militant than their American counterparts, so there were no real casualties on either side.
The demonstrators new about the latitude problem, and sent out a press statement that their protest was merely symbolic. Jodrell bank is the home of radio-astronomy, and thus the direct ancestor of the SETI programme. However, the fact that they disrupted an entire days worth of research gave them little sympathy from the wider population.