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28 January 2004. On September 11, 2003 we were contacted by a "Mary Morrelli" asking us to participate in a televised debate on the moon landing hoax theory. Her references to "crazy hoax theory conspirators" and "ridicules [sic] hoax conspirators claims" seemed unprofessional to us. And conspicuously absent from her message was any mention of who she worked for or how to get hold of her except for an anonymous e-mail address.

Frankly it sounded to us like an ambush, so we declined the invitation and cited discomfort with the format as our reason. Normally that would have been the end of it. When bona fide authors or producers find out you don't want to help them, they move on to greener pastures. But Ms. Morrelli contacted us again to assure us that the participating conspiracists would be given only a minute to state their points and we would have plenty of time in which to respond. We were even given the opportunity to "black-ball" any conspiracy theorist we didn't want on the program.

Now that sounded too good to be true so we declined again and heard no more of it. We later learned that Ms. Morrelli had contacted other Apollo experts at the same time with the same offer. Some of them had taken her up on it and were negotiating with her the details of the proposed debate. One of these invitees found an ad for a new book by Charles T. Hawkins at Authors and Experts.com. Here is the current entry for the book. But this is how it read on September 22, 2003:

Charles Hawkins a 41-year-old high-tech genius, was recently asked by several teen-age kids in his neighborhood, to help them prove if the America [sic] Moon Landings were faked. Since then Charlie has spent the last 2 years, recruiting some of the brightest scientific minds in the world, to assist him in answering that very question. Together this group of scientists, geologists, engineers and mathematicians uncovered an insurmountable amount of NASA evidence, which proves the Moon landings were indeed faked. The biggest conspiracy of all time, filled with government corruption and murders to conceal the truth. Charlie has just completed a 200 page book, documenting all this new never-before-seen evidence. When his book is releases [sic], many predict the American Government will be forced to confess to faking the MOON LANDINGS, the information is it's that good! Can you imagine the amount of media attention your program will receive, with an early exclusive? Your audience is simply not going to believe their eyes and ears; they'll be talking about your show for years to come. Please note, pre-book release exclusive are [sic] limited and you must make your request ASAP.

For more information, please contact Agent "Mary Morrelli"
Tel: (612) [withheld by Clavius]
Fax: mmorrelli@operamail.com
Note that Ms. Morrelli claimed to be the agent for this author -- same e-mail address and everything. And the questionable grammar in the ad was similar to the questionable grammar in Ms. Morrelli's letters. Needless to say we became concerned. Ms. Morrelli had suggested we would be treated not only fairly but preferentially in her debate. But while she was placating her invitees she was also apparently representing a conspiracy theorist author. It seemed to us like a grave conflict of interest that demanded some answers.


QUICK ACTION AND FAST TALKING

In December 2003 Ms. Morrelli informed her pro-Apollo invitees that the spokesman the conspiracy theorists had selected for the debate was none other than Charles T. Hawkins. She didn't know then that her invitees had discovered evidence that she was representing Mr. Hawkins when she invited their participation. When Bob Braeunig confronted her with it on 17 December 2003, two things happened.

First, within two days Mary Morrelli's name disappeared from Mr. Hawkins' Authors and Experts profile page. When we called the phone number that had been listed along with Ms. Morrelli's name (a cell phone in Minnesota) we got only anonymous voice mail. The new contact for Mr. Hawkins was listed as "Brian Wilson", who has no verifiable information.

Second, Mr. Braeunig reports that Ms. Morrelli did not deny her association with Mr. Hawkings, but explained it away as just a formality: that she was managing the pre-marketing for all the participants in the upcoming debate. Since Mr. Hawkins was relatively unknown, they had to get him some public exposure quickly.

The red flags started flying. It's difficult to believe that the better-known conspiracists would pass up the opportunity to appear on national television for free to plug their books and videos. And in their stead are they really going to send the unknown, untried Mr. Charles T. Hawkins to represent them and their interests -- and to plug his book?

Mr. Braeunig said Ms. Morrelli denied any inherent interest in Mr. Hawkins and explained that she was obligated to act on his behalf for the purposes of the televised debate. Except that back in September 2003 the invitees remember being told that she was in charge of getting together the pro-NASA team, and that someone else -- with whom she had little contact -- was in charge of the conspiracist's group. Less and less of Ms. Morrelli's story was adding up.

On 26 January 2004, Ms. Morrelli told us that Mr. Hawkins had yet another agent, whom she declined to name; but apparently it's neither herself nor Mr. Wilson. She has declined to explain exactly what she was doing for Mr. Hawkins back in September 2003 and to reconcile her conflicting job descriptions in the proposed debate. We're left in substantial confusion over who really speaks for Charles Hawkins.


MEAGER CONFIDENCE PROMPTS HARD QUESTIONS

A little recent Googling produced another "hit":

From:"Mary Morrelli" <mmorrelli@operamail.com>
Subject:Re: Moon Hoax Book

Say I am trying to writing a book about the moon landing hoax. I was wondering if you would agree to letting me put your web page example explaining Tuttles methods in my book. I would be more then happy to give the author of NASAscam the credit and even add a little story how he or she made the discovery, if you would like. Thank You, M Morrerlli PS. I have attached copy of one of the few NASA photos in existence with Michael J. Tuttle marking on it. I thought you might like to have a copy, of it to confirm your theory.
(http://www.geocities.com/apollofeedback)
Here as late as December 2003 Mary Morrelli claimed to be writing a book herself on the moon hoax. Just what was going on here? It's alarming enough that the person who offered to represent our interests was also apparently representing someone else's conflicting interests. But all of a sudden there was evidence that she had interests of her own.

The invitees felt obligated to participate in Ms. Morrelli's debate as agreed, but were understandably concerned over the escalating evidence of her conflicts of interest. It was clearly time to question whether Ms. Morrelli was negotiating in good faith. Mr. Braeunig, acting as spokesman for the invitees, asked her these and other questions:

  • Why didn't Charles Hawkins' name appear on an early list of candidate conspiracists that Mary Morrelli gave to those who accepted her offer, even though she was evidently representing him at the time?
  • Why did Ms. Morrelli suggest that the selection of Charles Hawkins as the conspiracist spokesman for the debate was a recent development as of December 2003, when it was evident that she represented Mr. Hawkins at least three months prior?
  • Why did Ms. Morrelli claim to represent only the pro-Apollo side of the debate while she was soliciting their participation, but then claim to represent all the participants after she was asked about her questionable association with Mr. Hawkins?
  • Would Ms. Morrelli certify the intent of her proposed debate as a fair discussion, and specifically deny any ulterior motive such as promoting Mr. Hawkins' work or providing "straw man" opponents for him?
  • What is this book Ms. Morrelli claims to be writing?
  • Who is Mary Morrelli and for whom does she work?

Although Ms. Morrelli wrote a response, Mr. Braeunig noted that it did not address the questions. Specifically, the invitees' request for an "absolute assurance that there will be no effort on the part of the network or producers to intentionally distort or misrepresent [the invitees'] views and positions," went apparently unheeded. The invitees persisted and sent another message reiterating their concerns and threatening to withdraw from the project if their questions were not directly addressed.

A week later, Ms. Morrelli assured the invitees she would answer their questions, but did not provide any answers at that time. After another week with no promised answers, the invitees withdrew from the debate. Then some days later Mr. Braeunig received a belated reply from Ms. Morrelli saying she had been busy and had forgotten to send the promised answers. Since this was starting to look more and more like evasion, the invitees concluded that the public should be informed about Mary Morrelli.

We then decided to take a more active role in obtaining the facts for ourselves. We contacted Ms. Morrelli to indicate we were willing to discuss the debate. When she responded, we laid out the evidence from the web sites and her correspondence with the invitees and invited her to comment on it for the record.

Abruptly Ms. Morrelli announced that our concerns, which she characterized as too "sinister" for her employer's comfort, had prompted them to cancel the debate altogether. She announced that she had destroyed our letter, and she accused us of threatening to slander people publicly. Fears over potential lawsuits arising from such slander convinced them to pull the plug, she said. But if we're the ones apparently on the verge of committing slander, why would her comments for the record expose her or her employer to any liability? If anything, they'd be the victims of such defamation.

In response to our questions (see above) she offered nothing concrete. When asked about the precise nature of her association with Charles Hawkins she replied only that she had not kept it a secret, and that if we wished to know who represented Mr. Hawkins we could find that out for ourselves.

Ms. Morrelli insisted that we didn't know the whole story. Very well, but the reason for contacting her was precisely to get her side of it. And Mr. Braeunig and his associates asked for it repeatedly. If our intent was to defame Ms. Morrelli why would we have contacted her to solicit her comments in the first place? Why would we have tried to contact her by phone? It seems everyone is clambering to hear Ms. Morrelli's side of the story, but now she claims she is "too busy" to answer questions.


WHY BOTHER?

The debate has been cancelled. Mary Morrelli has vanished into the Internet ether from whence she arose. Shouldn't we just let the issue die and move on to better things? Perhaps we should, but there are nagging issues.

Ambush tactics seem to be gaining favor with conspiracy theorists. It is disturbing when they attempt to win meaningless rhetorical victories by the underhanded strategy of engaging their critics on false pretenses or catching them off guard. These authors presume to safeguard the truth. How is the truth served by trumping opponents on empty technicalities? The strength of one's argument is how well it stands up to rigorous criticism, not merely how well it appears to vanquish a straw man. An author who really believes in his conclusions should feel confident facing fully-prepared, accurately-represented critics. Are these authors really as sincere as they seem?

Suspicion of concerted effort on government's part to distort or conceal the truth is a common theme in conspiracy literature. The authors warn us that we "aren't being told the whole story." Given that type of doomsaying, aren't we justified in wanting to know who Mary Morrelli works for? Shouldn't we expect these people to be as forthright with us as they want their government to be with them? We see a double standard: the conspiracists want us to be suspicious, but only about the things that make them suspicious. Apparently we're not allowed to form our own suspicions -- especially about the conspiracy theorists themselves.

We don't know what Charles Hawkins himself thinks about this Mary Morrelli business, or even if he knows about it. Frankly we'd like to hear his opinion. If someone is playing Mr. Hawkins for a stooge, I'm sure he'd like to know about it. But if Mr. Hawkins knows and approves of Ms. Morrelli's actions, then this episode indeed casts doubt on his sincerity. There has even been speculation that "Mary Morrelli", "Brian Wilson", and "Charles Hawkins" are all one and the same person. If that turned out to be true, it wouldn't be the first time a conspiracist created a phantom army. We believe Mr. Hawkins should set the record straight.

The conspiracy theorists ask us to question appearances. They remind us that not everyone who asks to be believed, ought to be. I can think of no better application of these principles than to the case of the elusive Mary Morrelli.



Clavius thanks Robert Braeunig, Jim McDade, Phil Plait, and Jim Scotti who contributed to this report.

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