Two amateur documentary makers say they've infiltrated the UFO cloning sect known as the Raelians and come away with candid videos they hope will further tarnish the group's reputation and even help shut it down.
The Raelians are no strangers to bad press: Brigitte Boisselier, a Raelian bishop and biochemist, created a media furor in December 2002 when she announced the world's first successful cloning of a human. But her credibility, as well as the Raelians', was questioned when she never produced "baby Eve" or 12 other purported clones.
Now, rare video footage of the group taken at one of its Las Vegas seminars has been spun into an as-yet-unreleased documentary that brings a fresh, critical slant to the Raelians -- replete with allegations that the sect uses sex as a recruitment tool, targeting people most likely to sympathize with its message that aliens populated the world: "Trekkies and whatnot," explained Abdullah Hashem, who taped the group in May as part of a broader, personal investigation of the group.
"There are a lot of people (at these seminars) who believe in aliens, and all these beautiful women who will have sex with you even though you're a dork," he said. "And that's why most people were there."
Billed as an exposé, the video does little to shed light on the cloning controversy, according to its makers' own admissions. In a taped interview, Boisselier largely ducks questions about the existence of baby Eve, Hashem said. And Claude Vorilhon, the Raelian leader, says that he has never seen the baby, but that he supports Boisselier's efforts "morally."
In fact, few people believe the cloning claims anyway, so there is little left to debunk. But the video does offer a little-seen view into the inner workings of the Raelians and the sway that Vorilhon -- aka Rael -- wields over his followers, according to people who have seen it.
"I think what's disturbing about the Raelians is the total submission members have to Claude Vorilhon, and the fact that families have been estranged and marriages have been broken as a result of his influence," said Rick Ross, a cult expert based in Jersey City, New Jersey, who screened the documentary footage.
In an interview with Wired News, the Raelians dismissed Hashem's claims as a big misunderstanding. Spokesman Sage Ali said the group has nothing to hide, and is not ashamed of anything the team may have recorded.
Raelian theology states that aliens long ago visited the Earth and populated it through cloning. The religion also teaches that nudity and sexuality are pure and beautiful, and that if people were more in touch with their feminine sides, there would be less violence in the world.
"We love sensuality," Ali said. "We're very proud of what goes on. We have nothing to hide. The footage taken at the seminar is all great as far as I'm concerned."
Like most people, Hashem first heard of the Raelians as a result of the human cloning claims. But the group really caught his attention after he discovered that one of the Raelian commandments is to give 1 percent of your annual income to help Vorilhon deliver his message. Hashem says it was then that he suspected the group was a scam.
He recruited longtime friend Joe McGowen to attend the Raelian seminar. The duo carried digital recorders and posed as hopeful inductees making a student film. What they really wanted was to tape incriminating activities of a group they suspected was coercing people to join the organization to get their money.
"That's why I decided to make the documentary, to expose them," Hashem said. "I contacted Rael and all the Raelian bishops and told them they had a choice. I didn't have to release it if they would return all the money and give a public apology."
The Raelians refused. After that, Hashem began holding talks with TV networks to license his footage, and he said he has already struck one deal that he hopes will see light as a news documentary as soon as this fall.
Hashem isn't the first person to take on the Raelians and Clonaid, the company the group owned and operated that purportedly conducted the cloning.
Florida attorney Bernard Siegal, who sued Rael, Boisselier and Clonaid for custody of the supposed cloned child, discovered that Clonaid had no address or board of directors. "I came away completely convinced it was a totally specious, fraudulent claim and publicity stunt, and that Clonaid was a sham," Siegel said.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has investigated the Raelians for their association with Clonaid and the company's cloning claim. But Vorilhon has never been convicted of a crime.
Hashem hopes to give authorities more fodder. He claims his videos and other investigations prove the Raelians deserve to be shut down.
It's unclear how damaging the video footage might be on its own, however. Although it reveals activities that some people might find hypocritical or distasteful, Hashem cannot point to anything illegal that he caught on tape.
One "gotcha" moment shows the Raelian leader riveted by the erotic gyrations of Raelian dancers. Another shows him instructing seminar attendees not to gamble while visiting Las Vegas because it's against the teachings of the Elohim -- the aliens that populated Earth through cloning, according to Raelian doctrine. Later, Vorilhon is seen betting at a casino.
Hypocrisy itself is not a crime, however. And, having weathered one media storm and survived, the Raelians could be hard to fluster.
"That was the cutest thing," spokesman Ali said of the alleged gambling incident. "The biggest thing we want in life is to see all humans happy. A big part of our philosophy is to play, have fun."