Hollywood -- Greetings, earthlings.
Friday's yuletide news conference about a scientifically immaculate conception was staged by a cult that believes people are the product of alien-controlled cloning experiments.
Known as the Raelians, the Montreal-based sect revolves around the teachings of a former French magazine sportswriter and wannabe race-car driver Claude Vorilhon, 56. He took the name "Rael" after he claimed a close encounter of the third kind.
On Dec. 13, 1973, Vorilhon said he was walking in the Clermont-Ferrand volcanic mountain range in France when a UFO touched down. Humanoid creatures with pale greenish skin and almond-shaped eyes took him aboard, saying they wanted him to be their messenger to humankind.
The aliens explained they cloned the first people 25,000 years ago. Calling themselves "Elohim" -- a name appearing in Genesis commonly translated as "gods" -- the aliens said they had been mistaken as divine by several religions.
The little green people said Vorilhon was himself a clone and that they impregnated his mother in 1946 after the use of the first atomic bombs awakened them to mankind's advanced scientific knowledge.
"When I told my mother and grandmother the true story, my grandmother was relieved because she said that she had seen UFOs lingering around the house over the years and had never told anyone," Vorilhon told the Village Voice last year.
Vorilhon, who frequently dons flowing white garments, said his mission is to spread the word that there is no God, and that science and our alien forefathers would set people free -- physically and sexually -- and help them live forever.
Two years after the aliens' first visit, they reappeared and took Vorilhon to another planet where he said he met Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha. All became immortal through cloning, he said.
Ever since, he's been preaching the message of protecting the rights of the "unreborn" -- a buzzword he used while testifying before Congress in March 2001. A federal cloning ban would be a Dark Ages act suitable for the Taliban, not freedom-loving America, he said.
"Traditional religions have always been against scientific progress," he said. "They were against the steam engine, electricity, airplanes, cars, radio, television, etc. If we had listened to them, we would still have horses and carts and candles."
For people such as Andre Pinsonneau, 58, of Miami Beach, the "Raelian Revolution" answered all the nagging questions he had about creation when he first saw Claude Vorilhon speaking on television in Canada in 1977.
Back then, Pinsonneau said, talk about using genetics and DNA seemed pretty far-out. Not any more.
"After years went by, the friends who thought I was crazy are not laughing as much," said Pinsonneau, who is a priest in the atheist religion. "I got some calls this morning."
"Now today, it's proof. This is only the first step. Years from now, human beings will be able to clone anybody. If somebody is killed in an accident, they will be able to re-create the whole person."
Those who adhere to Vorilhon's teachings are encouraged to be respectful of other people and to enjoy the sexual company of others, including those of the same sex.
"He surrounds himself with attractive, glassy-eyed women -- maybe that's why he likes Florida in the winter," said Eric Siblin, a Canadian writer who interviewed Rael for the Canadian magazine Logik three years ago. Siblin said he went to a pro-cloning event in Montreal run by the Raelians, whose interest in extraterrestrials and free love were evident.
"The meeting drew hundreds of people," he said. "Lots of them were sci-fi nerds, and there were strippers, too."
The sect sells science fiction knickknacks at its theme park/compound outside Montreal known as UFOLand, Siblin said.
The group, which claims more than 55,000 members worldwide, supports itself by tithing member's salaries -- up to 3 percent of earnings -- selling $9,000 embryo-obtaining "cloning machines" and charging large sums for cloning services.
In 1999, Vorilhon persuaded former West Virginia state legislator Mark Hunt to pay $500,000 to open a secret laboratory in Nitro, W.Va., to clone his dead 10-month-old son. Raelian Bishop Brigitte Boisselier, who made Friday's announcement, headed the project, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration closed it down before she could finish.
After that, the Raelians never shunned the limelight..
In June, 2000, Catholic officials in Montreal took the Raelians to court in an attempt to break a lease that allowed the cult to use church property for its meetings. Catholic representatives said they were not aware of the Raelians' sexually libertine and space-age beliefs when they signed the agreement.
Problems with the Catholic Church resurfaced this year when Raelian protesters appeared outside a Catholic secondary school in Montreal and urged students to renounce their religion. The demonstrators carried wooden crosses, which they wanted the students to burn.
The Raelians have had run-ins with public institutions as well. In July 2000, they accused the United Nations of religious discrimination after UNESCO excluded the Raelian cult from its Manifesto 2000, a worldwide petition for peace and nonviolence.
Also, Vorilhon has crusaded to try to establish an embassy, preferably in Israel, for extraterrestrials when they return to Earth. The effort hasn't gone far.
But it's been documented in the news. And that's more important for Vorilhon than laying any bricks for a new building, said Rick Ross, a national expert on cults.
Vorilhon is not cut of the same cloth as Jim Jones or David Koresh Ross said. Vorilhon simply loves seeing his name in the paper and his face on television. He's seldom disappointed.
"When it comes to publicity, they truly have developed a science," Ross said. "They saw a lull in the news cycle, CNN had a slow day, and the two met together in a place called Hollywood. It couldn't be any more perfect."