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Denver's plummet from the summit.

It's up to Denver to fan the flames.

Space Case

On Tuesday, Peter Jennings broadcast ABC's World News Tonight live from Civic Center Park. The supposed reason that Denver was chosen for this honor was the metro area's fight against gridlock. But to really keep the area moving would require the impossible: ignoring Boulder, where the University of Colorado remains stuck in a quagmire of questionable athletic-department recruiting and questionable liquor-store purchases and the very questionable resumé of professor Ward Churchill.

And Boulder isn't just smack-dab in the middle of the media universe, subject to endless eyeballing by everyone from Alexander Cockburn to Bill O'Reilly. It's now the center of the galaxy, the point around which all things loony rotate -- talk-show hosts included.

That's because the Raelian Movement -- which bills itself, at some 60,000 members strong, as the world's largest "atheist, non-profit UFO-related organization" (www.rael.org), and which is billed by others as a nutcase cult founded in 1973 by former racing-car magazine journalist Claude Vorilhon (now known as Rael) that believes that humans were created by extraterrestrial beings who had mastered genetic engineering, that started the Clonaid company to make clones in case the extraterrestrials aren't around to do the job, and that still plans to establish an embassy to welcome people from space if they are -- recently bestowed the title of Honorary Priest on Churchill.

He can hang that right beside his honorary enrollment in a branch of the Cherokee nation.

"Mr. Churchill is exactly right in what he wrote!," said Ricky Roehr, leader of the U.S. Raelian Movement, in a statement issued February 10. "If we are to have peace, we must take responsibility for our part in the violence and stop handing out blame as if we have done nothing. Quite the contrary, we have done terrible things to countless people. Churchill addressed the cause of the 9/11 attacks, and people want to shoot the messenger. Fox News and the right wing would have him thrown out of the U.S. for being unpatriotic and insensitive to the innocent people killed in the 9/11 attacks. It is precisely Churchill's compassion for loss of innocent life that prompted his essay."

Roehr sent Churchill a copy of the release along with a personal note, but so far the Raelian hasn't heard back from the besieged professor. Then again, he hasn't heard back from Bill Owens, whom he took to task in that same release for saying that "the victims of the 9/11 attacks were murdered by evil cowards."

In the days since he issued the statement supporting Churchill and taking a shot at Colorado's governor, Roehr's feelings have only grown stronger. "I thought it was beautiful," he says of Churchill's essay, "Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens." "How can someone not support him? What he says is right on the money. The right wing was telling us he wasn't patriotic, and they took everything he said completely out of context, as part of this fear-based culture they're trying to create."

This isn't the first time the Raelians have come down to earth and gotten involved in a down-and-dirty debate. Last year they made Linda Ronstadt an honorary priest, too, after she took a hit for criticizing Bush and the Iraq War. "We send support to these people who are otherwise considered politically incorrect," Roehr says. "Our organization tries to bring consciousness to this society. When you have a culture of conformists, you have a great, great danger. That's how Nazi Germany happened."

Still, Roehr offers a ray of hope. "It's not too late," he concludes. "If the U.S. were to spend only a portion of the time and money it spends for war and apply it toward apologies and actions toward reparations, we would become as we once were -- a benevolent big brother instead of the big bully everyone hates and fears. And while we're apologizing, send one to Ward Churchill, too."

Fine. But only if, when the UFOs return to earth, they promise to beam up all of Boulder.

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