Who is stalking the great astronauts of America? And, better yet, why is he carrying around a Bible?
The guy with the astronaut fetish is a Nashville man named Bart Sibrel, a self-described investigative journalist who believes that the Eagle never landed, the Sea of Tranquility must be in the South Pacific and the only giant leap Neil Armstrong ever made was a big belly flop in his neighbor's pool.
In short, he believes that men never walked on the moon. He thinks the whole thing was faked by NASA so that the Soviets would think we were technologically superior.
Oh, yeah, and the Bible is his weapon of choice for tormenting former Apollo astronauts.
Last week in Beverly Hills, Sibrel set his sights on the second man to walk on the moon, Edwin Aldrin (you probably know him as "Buzz" Aldrin because how can you be an astronaut with a nerdy, non-Space-Age name like Edwin Aldrin?).
Emerging from a fancy hotel on Rodeo Drive, Aldrin, who at age 72 still looks like he could outlast Lance Bass in a centrifuge, was approached by the Bible-toting Sibrel, who started pointedly accusing Aldrin of making money for something he didn't do: walking on the moon.
Aldrin tried to walk away, but the 37-year-old Sibrel followed him onto the street, demanding that Aldrin place his hand on the Bible. "Swear that you walked on the moon!" Sibrel cried.
For a second, a glint crossed Aldrin's eyes as it seemed he was actually considering swearing on Sibrel's actual Bible to something that he actually did do.
But, alas, the hotel doorman came over and broke things up. And then Aldrin put two-and-two together: He had been had been lured to the hotel as part of a ruse by Sibrel, who had arranged for a fake Japanese film crew to interview Aldrin for a fake kids show about space.
At that point, Aldrin finally lost his cool. When Sibrel and his Bible came at him again, Aldrin unleashed a moon shot of his own--right to Sibrel's jaw. (It couldn't have been that much of a punch, though, because less than a second after it landed, Sibrel was already asking his cameraman, "Was that on camera?").
Now, I must admit to you that I was not standing on Rodeo Drive as this action unfolded. Nor am I painting the word picture based on a detailed report from the Beverly Hills Police. No, they were too busy hanging out at the Le Pain Quotidien to fill me in. Rather, I witnessed this textbook case of astronaut-taunting thanks to a videotape that Sibrel provided to the local authorities, the better to convince police that he, not Aldrin, was the victim of an assault.
At this point in the story, it behooves me to ask: Short of taking No-Doz to avoid missing even a minute of a "Battlestar Galactica" marathon on UPN, is there anything that quite qualifies a guy for loserdom than setting up fake interviews with fake Japanese producers and then chasing an ex-astronaut onto the street with a Bible?
Make that ex-astronauts. According to Aldrin's lawyer, Robert O'Brien, Sibrel has been stalking many former Apollo astronauts. Neil Armstrong cursed him out once. Al Bean had to throw him out of his house. Even Al Worden, whom I like to consider "The Forgotten Moonwalker," got the Bible treatment.
Pull out the list of men who have walked on the moon and Sibrel has stalked them all, said O' Brien.
He even had a prior run-in with Aldrin. "He said things I can't repeat," said Aldrin's wife, Lois. "He was not a nice man, and it really upset Buzz a lot."
Hey, you want to upset Neil Armstrong, be my guest. That guy has a serious attitude problem. But don't mess with Buzz Aldrin (whose mother's maiden name was Marion Moon--a coincidence? I wish).
You may remember Sibrel from last year's groundbreaking Fox TV special, "Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?" a telecast of such stunning idiocy that even the network (and, remember, we're talking about Fox here) distanced itself from the broadcast with a disclaimer admitting that "the theories expressed [in the show] are not the only possible interpretation."
That's a nice way of saying, "It's hard for us to distinguish this show from an episode of MADTV."
Sibrel is in such a deep orbit that even other conspiracy theorists complain that he's giving conspiracy theorists a bad name.
"The claim that the moon landing is a hoax is completely crackpot," Kevin Christopher, a spokesman for Skeptical Inquirer magazine, told the L.A. Times. "He's just crazy. The scientific evidence is overwhelming" (Then again, Skeptical Inquirer recently examined the possibly that Bigfoot--a.k.a. Sasquatch, a.k.a. Yeti--is real.)
So if even the conspiracy theorists think we landed on the moon, where, exactly, did this conspiracy theory originate? (I mean, let's face it, "Capricorn One" was not that good a movie.)
Sibrel didn't return my calls, but his Website claims that if you look at photos supposedly taken on the moon, some of the shadows appear to intersect, which should be impossible considering that the Sun was the only source of light. And how come no stars show up in the lunar sky? And why didn't the Command Module leave a blast crater? And what about the green cheese? Why is NASA holding out on us? There's your conspiracy!
Of course, you'll have to pay good money to see Sibrel's "evidence." NASA, on the other hand, offers its evidence for free.
This is the part of my story where I would typically call in a psychologist, who would say that in our stressful, complex world, conspiracy theories offer a neat-and-tidy explanation for things that may not be so clear. The psychologist would also talk about how conspiracy theories tend to circulate, especially now, thanks to the Internet because people of like minds tend to seek each other out, the better to feel that it's "us" versus "them."
But I didn't bother to call a psychologist because the actual truth about the moon conspiracy theories is that it's built entirely of manure.
Of course, that didn't stop me from doing my journalistic duty. After softening up Aldrin's lawyer, O'Brien, by getting him to recount the punch incident, I suddenly asked him--point blank and out of the blue!-- "Has Buzz Aldrin ever been on the moon?" I figured maybe I'd catch him unprepared. But Aldrin's paid mouthpiece didn't flinch.
"Yes, Buzz Aldrin has been on the moon," O'Brien said. "He was there with Neil Armstrong." (He made it sound like a fraternity road trip.)
I reminded O'Brien that he is a sworn officer of the court and that if he was lying to me, I would make sure he was disbarred faster than Bill Clinton. "You can quote me as saying for the record and unequivocally: Buzz Aldrin has walked on the moon," he repeated.
Wow, that must have been cool. If it really happened, of course.