In the century since The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was first published, it has appeared in a variety of guises, but none stranger, perhaps, than a 1991 edition. It begins with a brief, deceptively conventional description of its English translator, Victor Marsden, and its Russian editor, Sergius Nilus, but then it adds this prefatory passage:
So be it and, again, may ye be given into the hearing and understanding of that which is being given unto you for it is the direct PROTOCOLS as given forth from the ANTI-CHRIST TO HIS PEOPLE FOR THE FINAL TAKING OF PLANET EARTH! IF YE KNOW NOT THINE ENEMY, HOW CAN YE STAND AGAINST HIM? SALU!
The phrasing may strike one as a bit odd, even archaic, in style, but the substance is more or less consistent with theological anti-Semitism in its emphasis on the threat posed by Antichrist. Odder than the language, however, is the authorship, for the passage quoted is said to come from a 9 1/2-foot-tall extraterrestrial from the Pleiades named Gyeorgos Ceres Hatonn.
His messages from outer space have appeared since 1989 in a series of periodicals with changing names but similar contents, which, for simplicity’s sake, I have termed the “Phoenix publications,” not after the city but after the name of Hatonn’s spaceship. The publications first appeared in Tehachapi, California, but the offices were later transferred to Las Vegas. The communications from Hatonn are not, strictly speaking, examples of channeling but are said to be received as coded radio transmissions by an amanuensis Hatonn identifies as “Dharma” but who in fact is a woman named Doris Ekker of Tehachapi. In addition to numerous brief anti-Semitic references, Hatonn has on at least two occasions “transmitted” the complete text of the Protocols, together with his own commentary. In certain respects, Hatonn deals with the Protocols in ways that are indistinguishable from those of terrestrial anti-Semites, but in other respects he extends their reach in troubling ways.
Three themes predominate in those portions of the Hatonn materials that deal with The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. First, the Hatonn communications treat the Protocols, with rare exceptions, as though the forgery issue did not exist. They are largely oblivious to questions of authenticity, and, when they address them at all, they make little attempt to rebut the evidence of forgery. Second, they fold the Protocols into what has become a common theme in contemporary anti-Semitic literature, namely that there are false Jews and authentic Jews, and it is only the false Jews who are responsible for the Protocols.
Finally, the Protocols is treated not merely as a political document but as evidence of a titanic struggle of cosmic significance on which the ultimate fate of the planet rests. This derives not simply from a tendency to see the world as living in the end-times—a propensity widely shared in a millennium-saturated age—but results from the theological influences that created the figure of Hatonn. For Hatonn and his extraterrestrial colleagues are no mere run-of-the-mill aliens. They are, in fact, divinities, exalted spirits in the Ascended Master tradition of Theosophy, who now communicate with humanity from spaceships.
Hatonn ignores the forgery issue most of the time, but, when he does raise it, he manipulates it in order to make it, paradoxically, a sign of authenticity, rather than fraudulence. The argument is not unlike the one suggested in the mid-1920s by Nesta Webster. Webster was an influential British conspiracist whose major work appeared between the two world wars and who continues to exert a powerful influence on contemporary conspiracy theorists. She claimed to regard the issue of the Protocols’ authenticity to be “an open question.” However, she constructed an elaborate argument to suggest that, even if they were a forgery, the original materials out of which they were constructed came from a genuine revolutionary secret society in which Jews likely played a major role. Therefore, evidence of forgery was irrelevant to the work’s validity.
Hatonn’s view is similar. To the extent that the forgery issue interests him at all, it is in the manner of all conspiracy theorists, for whom nothing is as it seems. If the Protocols were forged, then forgery was yet another stratagem of the conspirators. Hatonn, like Webster, sees history as the unfolding of plots, and therefore every untoward event must be the intended effect of a cabal that is its hidden cause. For him, as for her, the rise of Bolshevism ultimately validated the substance of the Protocols; the book must be true, no matter who wrote it, under what circumstances. This post hoc argument leads him to conclude, “God always makes sure you get the facts.”
The distinction between true and false Jews goes back at least to the late 19th century. As it appears in the Hatonn materials, it takes the form of the so-called Khazar thesis. It is generally uncontested that the leadership of the Black Sea Khazars converted to Judaism in the seventh century. The elite Khazar conversions, however, became the springboard for a far more sweeping theory of Jewish origins, begun by Ernst Renan, who in 1883 suggested that the general Khazar population also converted and became the ancestors of Ashkenazic Jewry. The latter were, therefore, not descendants of Israelites at all but, rather, were deemed to be “Asiatics” with no claim to a biblical inheritance. The most famous recent advocate of this theory was, of course, Arthur Koestler, who, late in life, advanced a version of the Khazar theory in The Thirteenth Tribe, duly cited by Hatonn. Although the Khazar theory gets surprisingly little attention in scholarly histories of anti-Semitism, it has been an influential theme among American anti-Semites since the immigration restrictionists of the 1920s, and it figures prominently in Hatonn’s analysis of the Protocols.
Referring to the authors of the Protocols, Hatonn reminds his readers, in his characteristically stilted diction, “Please always be in the remembering at every writing that these are the false ‘Jews’ often referred to as the imitation Jews of the Khazar choosing.” Elsewhere he speaks of the “Zionist Khazars who call themselves Jews.” By identifying the Protocols’ authors as Khazars, Hatonn can claim, first, that he is not really an anti-Semite, and, second, that he is in fact trying to protect the authentic Jews, who have been victimized by the false Jews, the Zionist usurpers.
The “JEWS” of today are more and more controlled—in ignorance of the fact—by the Zionists. THE JEWS WILL BE THE ONES TO SUFFER THE GREATEST PAIN AT THE HANDS OF THESE UNGODLY MEN.
This takes on a special resonance because of Hatonn’s insistence that we live in the end-times. And yet, given the strange provenance of this version of the Protocols, one may be sure that it is an apocalyptic vision different from the one that circulates more broadly among fundamentalist Protestant millenarians. Hatonn has a millennial script, but it is not the usual Rapture-and-Tribulation scenario, in which the saved will enjoy Jesus’ rescue from end-time chaos.
The clearest picture of this new apocalypse comes in a joint transmission from Hatonn and “Jesus Sananda”—Jesus in his Ascended Master persona— who make clear that the end is near but that it will not follow the scenario laid out in the Book of Revelation. As Jesus Sananda puts it, “There will be no fluffy clouds for a ‘Rapture,’” Human sinfulness and environmental corruption will lead to a time of troubles—he does employ the phrase “severe tribulation”—“nuclear war, pestilence, famine, plague, and earth upheaval.”
The climactic disaster will be a reversal of the Earth’s poles. This was in fact predicted for May 5, 2000, in a book that circulated widely in the late 1980s. Pole reversal was one among many predicted cataclysms much talked about in New Age circles beginning in the 1970s, under the general rubric of “Earth changes.” Other versions emphasized end-time floods that would inundate entire continents, while still others featured earthquakes that would rupture mountain ranges. They all derived from information communicated through such paranormal sources as dreams, channeling, or, as in this case, warnings from benevolent “space brothers.”
As Hatonn and Jesus Sananda see it, Jesus will return, but by spaceship for those who believe. Jesus Sananda describes it as “a ‘migration’ which shall take place as lifting off your orb and into very meticulously prepared shuttle craft into Mother ships for holding in security.” Presumably, those who miss the shuttle craft will be doomed to perish on a faltering Earth. Neither Hatonn nor Jesus Sananda explains precisely why such a rescue is necessary, but surely Hatonn’s readers know by now that the disasters have been brought about by the evil deeds of Zionist-Khazar controllers.
At one level, the Phoenix-Hatonn materials graft science fiction elements to the Protocols. But, at another level, they draw the Protocols into a formidable modern religious tradition: Theosophy and its offshoots. Begun in the late 19th century by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott, Theosophy postulates the existence of a group of spiritually evolved beings on a nonmaterial plane of existence, who communicated with worthy earthly disciples and guided the spiritual course of humanity.
Originally centered on the Theosophical Society the movement subsequently fragmented into numerous, often mutually hostile variants under such figures as Alice Bailey, Guy and Edna Ballard, and Mark and Elizabeth Clare Prophet. Each variant depended on individuals who claimed to have privileged communication with one or more Ascended Masters, whose teachings had divine authority for followers. The first such figures identified by Madame Blavatsky were Indian or Tibetan sages, suggesting the spiritual cachet that attached to Eastern mystics. This may also explain Hatonn’s affectation of a kind of broken English that might suggest someone who had acquired it as a second language in the East. Hatonn often addresses his reader as “chela,” employing the Indian term adopted by Theosophists to signify “disciple.”
Yet, it is not altogether clear exactly where Hatonn fits into a Theosophical scheme. He certainly sounds like an Ascended Master, with his authoritative messages to earthlings on all matters spiritual and temporal. But Hatonn’s precise status in the divine hierarchy has been placed in doubt by one of his more vocal supporters, a figure with the improbable name of Patrick H. Bellringer.
Bellringer, who maintains an elaborate website that archives all of the past Phoenix publications, gives Hatonn his formal title, “Commander in Chief of Earth Project Transition.” He also calls Hatonn one of the “Higher Spiritual Teachers,” which seems to place him clearly among the Ascended Masters.
However, in April 2005, Bellringer responded to an email asking, “Is Hatonn like the be-all-end-all god incarnate or is this physical form of God like another lower aspect of God? Any light u [sic] can shed on this matter is greatly appreciated.” Bellringer responded by suggesting that “Hatonn” was merely a disguise for the “Creator God ‘Aton.’” The Creator God, according to Bellringer, “has chosen to come to us as a nine and one-half foot tall bald-headed Pleiadian Gray and commander of their Star Fleet. So be it! Who am I to question.”
Who, indeed? To hear Bellringer tell it, then, by implication, the Protocols come not merely from an Ascended Master but directly from God himself.
Theosophy developed troubling associations with racial anti-Semitism and with Nazism. There was a racial strain in Theosophy from the beginning. Madame Blavatsky spoke of seven primeval “root races,” among which were the Aryans. It was scarcely surprising, therefore, that, while the Theosophical Society itself did not develop into an explicitly racialist organization, racialists quickly developed their own versions of Theosophy. This added to an already overgrown jungle of what some have termed “esoteric Nazism.” Those who have mapped it, such as Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke and Joscelyn Godwin, point out that racialists and anti-Semites on both sides of the Atlantic actively incorporated Theosophical motifs.
It is tempting, therefore, to see the Phoenix publications as merely the latest manifestation of an occult anti-Semitism that had circles of adherents in Europe, Latin America, and the United States for many decades. It is also clear that those who have held such occult beliefs have been just as likely to accept the Protocols as other anti-Semites.
Unfortunately, although the Theosophical connection seems a logical explanation of the Hatonn communications, in the end it fails to do so convincingly. The line of descent seems plausible but in fact breaks down. This is why:
In the first place, the range of reading cited by Hatonn and his colleagues consists for the most part of straightforward anti-Semitic literature. There is the Protocols, of course, and then a few of the “usual suspects”—for example, the aging Ezra Pound acolyte Eustace Mullins and the prolific contemporary British conspiracist David Icke—neither of them in the mold of Nazi esotericism. Whether because his spaceship has a small library or because Hatonn’s editors have their own intellectual limitations, there is no sign that either the extraterrestrial Ascended Master or his “ground crew” (as they sometimes call themselves) seems to know much about Theosophy, much less its more recondite Nazi variants.
What we actually have is a highly derivative form of Theosophy— bits and pieces of what should really be termed neo-Theosophy, almost certainly lifted from sects that had themselves broken away from the larger Theosophical movement, such as the “I AM” Religious Activity in the 1930s and 1940s or the more recent Church Universal and Triumphant, and that have provided the Hatonn materials with a fragmentary and superficial Theosophical gloss.
The Protocols texts I have described sit, therefore, within a setting formed primarily neither by Theosophy nor by occult or esoteric Nazism. Instead, the mixture is much less coherent. The Hatonn materials are an example of what I have elsewhere termed “stigmatized knowledge.” By stigmatized knowledge, I mean knowledge claims unrecognized by such validating institutions as universities, the scientific and medical communities, government agencies, and mainstream religious organizations. A wide array of claims is made for knowledge that lacks such recognition, ranging from knowledge said to have been present in the ancient past and forgotten, to knowledge once recognized and superseded or rejected, to knowledge claims that are ignored, to knowledge said to be deliberately suppressed.
The Protocols is an obvious form of stigmatized knowledge, since it was published as an authentic document before being unmasked as a forgery, yet many people continue to accept it as authentic—despite the fact that fully 91 years have passed since the incontrovertible proof of the forgery appeared.
One of the characteristics of believers in stigmatized knowledge is that belief in one form of stigmatized knowledge predisposes acceptance of other forms. And it is this rather simple observation, rather than any complex Theosophical pedigree, that explains the presence of the Protocols in the science fiction setting of Hatonn’s spaceship messages.
One’s first reaction to such material is to dismiss it as too bizarre to warrant serious attention. But the same might also be said of the Protocols themselves, and, unfortunately, all too many people have taken them seriously. There is a subculture of those for whom stigmatized knowledge claims are considered authoritative precisely because they have been stigmatized. To be rejected, to be denied access to university curricula, to respected newspapers, to the pulpits of major religious organizations, to scientific and medical textbooks—for some, it is precisely such rejection that confers the ultimate form of validation. To those already disposed to suspect authority, what could be more persuasive than the cultural products that authority itself rejects? This leaves us, I am afraid, in the situation of having impeccable arguments against the Protocols that will never convince a particular kind of audience, that audience drawn to stigmatized knowledge. I am suggesting, too, that the inability to convince that audience hinges not so much on the intensity of its anti-Semitism (although that may certainly be a factor) as on the Protocols’ stigmatization, leading to the paradox that discrediting them is precisely the characteristic that makes them attractive and that, the more convincing our arguments, the less their power to persuade.
Adapted from “Anti-Semitism from Outer Space” in “The Paranoid Apocalypse,” edited by Richard Landes and Stephen T. Katz, with permission of NYU Press.
Michael Barkun, professor emeritus in Political Science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs of Syracuse University, is the author of, among other titles, Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America.