The Greatest Political Shitshow That Ever Was

Bribery! Impeachment! Drug smuggling! Gambling! Judges getting drunk in the chambers! The Florida Supreme Court scandals of the 1970s make today’s political circus look tame by comparison. Art by Justin Klanke.

My latest piece for Narratively explores the wild circumstances of the Florida Supreme Court in the 1970s, in which five of the seven justices were facing some kind of intense legal pressure, impeachment, and disbarment. One had to take a sanity test to prove he was competent enough to keep his position and another later became a drug runner and disappeared to avoid prosecution.

It’s obviously a timely piece given the madness surrounding the US’s resident dickhead at the moment but is also a perennial reminder that power most likely will only corrupt!

Please feel free to check out this ridiculous story here.

A retrospective on the time a mountaintop solar observatory was mysteriously closed by the FBI


A year ago I was working as a reporter for the Alamogordo Daily News and we got a call that a remote mountaintop observatory had suddenly been evacuated, apparently by the FBI. I went up there to try to figure out what was going on, and by the time I came back down, the internet had exploded with wild theories as to what exactly was going on. I admit I was swept up in the speculation, but it quickly became apparent how maddeningly incorrect almost all of the self-assured conspiracy theorists were about basic aspects of the situation, which in turn called into question the legitimacy of anything they were saying. Still, it was a pretty wild situation and the ultimate answer as to what caused the evacuation left more questions than it answered.

I wrote a piece on the whole situation one year later, and though I’m woefully late on posting this link, it can be viewed here at Narratively.

I’ve since received a brief email from the FBI saying only “The matter about which you inquire was investigative in nature, and Justice Department agencies generally do not comment on investigative matters. The FBI therefore cannot respond to your inquiry other than to state that the investigation concluded without the filing of criminal charges.” While I’m grateful for the response, other sources say this isn’t entirely accurate and they are still waiting for the other shoe to drop in terms of what comes next for the person allegedly behind the crime discussed in the above story.

I’ll continue to look into this strange saga, not indulging any conspiracy nonsense but at least sniffing out some leads on some other weird things that were going on in the area at around the same time. It’s probably nothing, and there’s ample evidence that the charges mentioned in the story are simply a cover for an investigation into a much more serious security breach, meaning that we’ll probably never know the real story. Then again, maybe something will suddenly be announced or maybe this really was all that happened.

At any rate, check out the story and feel free to get in touch with any ideas, leads, or suggestions!

Just published – The Curse of the Ship of Gold!

Aboard the SOG mission

I’m very happy to post a link to one of the most in-depth stories I’ve had published, the fascinating and tragic tale of Tommy Thompson, a brilliant scientist cursed by the grandeur of his discovery.

Please feel free to check out The Curse of the Ship of Gold here!!!

In 1988, Thompson and a crew of scientists and adventurers discovered the remains of the SS Central America, a ship that sank in a hurricane in 1857. The ship was carrying tons of gold from the Gold Rush, making it the dream quarry of treasure hunters. Thompson’s mission drew widespread acclaim as an example of classic American ingenuity, but he soon learned that he had also unleashed the wild specter of greed.


From there, Thompson’s life was turned upside-down and would take him from court rooms to hoarded-out mansions to life on the run as a federal fugitive. He was ultimately captured after disappearing for almost two years and recently went on trial for allegedly making off with gold due to investors in the mission three decades before.

Thanks again to Narratively for taking on this piece and for the fantastic and classy look of the finished story!

Thanks for stopping by at the Ohioana Book Festival!

Yours truly at the 2019 Ohioana Book Festival

Yours truly at the 2019 Ohioana Book Festival

It is rare that I get to spend so much time with other writers and so I was very glad to be able to spend the day hanging out and hawking my goods at the 2019 Ohioana Book Festival. Talking to everyone from science writers to novelists to obscure nonfiction writers was incredibly inspiring, and being asked to participate as a panelist in a discussion about Ohio politics was a cool opportunity as well. Living in Texas, I don’t often get the chance to talk about the Ohio township system, so cheers to the organizers for letting me do just that! It was an honor to share the table with other dedicated, smart, and interesting nonfiction maniacs, and simply being in an environment where writing and books are so appreciated was very moving. Plus the catering of the after-party was so sick – thank you to whoever arranged such an impressive spread!

I became aware of the controversy surrounding the festival the day before it started and was surprised at the embarrassing oversight that almost all participants were white. Ohioana issued a statement addressing this, so hopefully things will be different and better going forward!

Cheers to Trillium Press for arranging for me to be there! My book Dance of the Trustees: on the Astonishing Concerns of a Small Ohio Township is of course still available for sale. Thank to everyone who bought this book at the festival and for appreciating my obscure area of expertise!

See you all next year I hope.

Criminal conspiracies on the world’s foremost micronation


I am very pleased to announce that I recently had an adapted excerpt from my upcoming book on the Principality of Sealand and its remarkable 51-year history published by Narratively.

What happens when a gang of international criminals bootlegs passports from the country your family founded? Quite a bit, it turns out: bank fraud, gunrunning, and a connection to the murder of Gianni Versace.

The article can be found here.

Read on if you like intrigue, self-determination, kidnapping, and governments-in-exile!!

My appearance on WYSO’s Book Nook

Dance of the TrusteesIf anyone is for some reason interested in anything I have to say, please feel free to listen to this interview I did with Vick Mickunas for the long-running and always interested program Book Nook.

We spoke about my book Dance of the Trustees, life in Yellow Springs, the joys and difficulties of writing nonfiction, and some of the strange situations I’ve managed to get myself into and/or write about over the years.

Thanks a ton to Vick for the invite, and although everyone usually dislikes hearing their own voice, I have to say I think this turned out pretty well!

The interview can be heard here.

Some thoughts on the strange and unexplained closure of the National Solar Observatory in Sunspot, NM

Update: 9/13/18, 10:18 p.m. – a cool new article was just published with the director debunking some theories and comments from someone who was evacuated from the mountain.

What follows is a collection of some thoughts and information about the mysterious FBI-led shutdown of the National Solar Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico. Obviously it’s a pretty wild thing to happen, and the total silence from the Feds is stoking the fires of conspiracy theory and allegations of questionable-goings on.

In fact, I’m surprised at how much traction this story is getting. Media outlets from all over the world have picked it up, and almost immediately a bunch of videos appeared on YouTube offering all kinds of extraterrestrial/New World Order/prophecy explanations for the evacuation. I am as intrigued as anyone by this (and just as stonewalled by authorities in getting information), and  I thought I’d compile some ideas about what’s going on and a few of my own thoughts on the situation.

Note: I am not posting the in any sort of official or reportorial capacity but simply as someone who lives very close to the area and who drove up to the facility the morning after the evacuation occurred. (In fact, I’m happy to say that I took one of the photos that is being circulated everywhere ha!)

A little background on the facility and the evacuation:

The National Solar Observatory (NSO) is a group of telescopes located in the Sacramento Mountains near Alamogordo, New Mexico. As the name indicates, the primary area of research is the Sun. The facility is managed by the National Science Foundation and is used by a consortium of research facilities such as New Mexico State University and Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA). There is an unincorporated community near the site with a post office called Sunspot that, as far as I understand, was/is comprised of a small amount of researchers, workers, and their family members.

Sometime on the afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 7, the FBI appeared at the facility and ordered everyone out. All told, approximately 25 employees and residents were moved.

The Otero County Sheriff’s Office was told to stand by but they weren’t alerted as to what was actually going on. The most thorough account of the situation was reported by the Alamogordo Daily News, and a few comments made by the County Sheriff have really stuck out in reports on the closure:

“…for the FBI to get involved that quick and be so secretive about it, there was a lot of stuff going on up there,” (the sheriff) said. “There was a Blackhawk helicopter, a bunch of people around antennas and work crews on towers but nobody would tell us anything.”

As a reporter for an area paper, I drove up to the Observatory at around 11 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 8 to see what was going on. The NSO is an incredibly beautiful area, and part of its beauty is the wonderful stillness of the mountain forests. The only barricade was a single line of cautionc tape and a temporary stop sign. Nothing was seen or heard in the roughly 45 minutes I was parked at the entrance. It was completely, totally silent.

I next drove over to the Apache Point Observatory, a facility less than a mile away on the same mountain range but run by entirely different entities. There, it was business as usual. Vehicles were parked in parkingp spots, people were inside doing work, someone was walking to her dorm carrying an empty lunch container. She said they had no idea what was going on either but were told that they did not have to evacuate or stop working. If something huge or incredibly dangerous was about to happen, she said, it apparently wasn’t a threat the employees of a facility very close by.

After my visit to Apache Point, I went back to NSO and there happened to be a truck going in and a car going out at the gate. The truck belonged to a maintenance guy dispatched to make sure some water pumps were working, as the NSO pumps water to the Apache facility. The car going out was an older couple who used to live in Sunspot and still collect their mail there. The maintenance guy said he didn’t know anything more than anyone else: his boss told everyone to evacuate because some kind of threat was levied at the Observatory. He didn’t know if it was against the foundation or employees, or if it was an employee of the facility making a threat.

There has been no word from anybody about anything since the evacuation. Every possible agency has been contacted and the answer is essentially the same: no comment and the facility will remain closed until further notice. (The NSO’s website has a cute message: “With the excitement this closure has generated, we hope you will come and visit us when we do reopen, and see for yourself the services we provide for science and public outreach in heliophysics.”)

Some notes and observations:

  • The facility is not nearly as remote as some people are saying. In fact, I can see the large telescope of the observatory on the ridge of the mountain from the parking lot of where I work. NSO is around 40 miles from Alamogordo but takes at least an hour to get there because you have to approach it in a roundabout way. That being said, it is no more than half an hour from the tourist town Cloudcroft, and the drive is all on paved and well-maintained roads.
  • Some have theorized that the facility was evacuated due an incoming threat, such as aliens (of course) or a space rock coming to obliterate the area. If this was the case, evacuating only the facility at Sunspot makes no sense. Again, Apache Point is a mile away. If something was coming to destroy the mountain, you’d think they’d get everyone off. To me, this suggests that it was probably a threat or a problem affecting the National Solar Observatory specifically. Maybe a disgruntled employee; maybe someone planning an attack.
  • People are suggesting the facility was evacuated because the government doesn’t want the Sunspot scientists observing something secret out in space. This also makes little sense, as there are numerous facilities all over the country and world that would have no problem observing everything  Sunspot can. Unless every single one of these facilities was evacuated at the same time, the trying-to-prevent-people-from-seeing-stuff theory doesn’t really hold a lot of water.
  • A bunch of random people started following me on Instagram after I posted about the evacuation. I don’t really know how Instagram works, so I don’t know if my post was publicized somewhere or if these people are a bunch of bots. Either way, someone claiming to have an inside source at the FBI messaged me and said the site was evacuated because a craft would be entering the atmosphere and landing at the nearby White Sands Missile Range and the government didn’t want anyone to see it. The person would not tell me if the craft was human-made or alien, or if it was malevolent or good.The person also said the facility would be reopened the following Monday once the craft landed, with the official story being that there was a mercury leak, as one of the telescopes using something like 10 tons of mercury in its operations. As of Thursday, a week after NSO was evacuated, the facility is still closed.

All of this leads me to believe that the cause of the evacuation was your average human threat. Either someone internally or externally made a threat against the facility or the FBI was investigating something sketchy going on nearby. The area has a prominent “Don’t tread on me,” anti-government attitude, and it’s been suggested that maybe there was militia activity in the surrounding forests.

It’s possible there was a hazmat issue on account of the aforementioned mercury or other chemicals used by the site. I didn’t see anyone in white suits when I was up there, and as far as I know nobody from the nearby towns has seen trucks or crazy equipment rushing through the area. (Not that this means anything, as I certainly didn’t roam the facility when I was there.)

Or perhaps the scientists at the observatory did actually see something out in space and the FBI swooped in to grab all the evidence. It would be helpful to know where the staff is now – are they just hanging out at home, or are they in a secret location being debriefed?

Still, though, I can’t imagine that a lone observatory saw something that no other place on the entire planet picked up. As much as I would be thrilled to know life exists beyond our own planet, it seems way, way, way more plausible that a violent idiot human was making threats.

Some other theories/explanations that have been put forward:

  1. NASA launched a rocket from the nearby White Sands Missile Range the day the site was evacuated.
  2. FBI warns regional research facilities of threat of intellectual property theft. Maybe someone was trying to get at information they shouldn’t?
  3. Some dickhead kid was plotting an attack against a college; turns out it was NMSU. The story broke on the day before the NSO evacuation, but the plot goes back to 2015.
  4. C) Or, as one person simply said, Sun Aliens.