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DIA Conspiracies Take Off

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"I understand that he didn't have free rein on those things," Christopher continues. "He was given an outline of what was supposed to be in the murals. And I tried to talk to him about what I thought, and he wasn't buying it at all. Evidently he was bought and paid for, because there was no talking to him. And his mind was totally shut down to what he was depicting."

Christopher, on the other hand, was open to hearing anything. A man called her and said he had found an elevator at DIA that led to a corridor that led all the way down into a military base that also contained alien-operated concentration camps. She detailed this theory in her next book, Pandora's Box II, and in 1996 was a guest on an esoteric California radio show hosted by Dave Alan. There she outlined her theory that the British secretly control the United States, as shown in the "secret society" symbolism of the Tanguma murals.

But then Phil Schneider turned up dead — officials determined it was a suicide, but conspiracy theorists recognized it as an assassination, and he has since become a martyr for underground-base believers. Christopher became fearful for her life and her children's safety. "And so for them, I shut up and disappeared and decided to see if somebody would take the material and let it take on a life of its own so that their focus would be somewhere else," she says.

And Christopher has tried to stay hidden, which has led to even more conspiracies. "Everybody thinks I'm dead or they think I'm a man," she says. "My daughter and I have a real good chuckle over it." But she's grown tired of how "notorious" her KSCO interview has become, as others pick apart and misquote her work to serve their own conspiracy-theory agendas.

She's now working on an updated version of her books, which she says may even include a DVD containing photographic proof of DIA's underground labyrinth.


While the Tanguma murals appear in all DIA conspiracies, the pieces themselves are not the root of the airport obsession. Every good conspiracy theory needs a foundation of fact or a pre-existing controversy as its framework. And in this case, the theories all build off the origins of DIA, which seem bizarre enough on their own: an airport built absurdly far off into the prairie, on a massive piece of land, billions of dollars over budget, years late, with a high-tech baggage system that never worked. An airport that critics say was never needed in the first place.

Since it first opened in 1929 as Denver Municipal Airport in the northeast corner of the city, Stapleton Airport had steadily grown in both size and capacity. But commercial and residential development around the airport made new construction so cramped that jets were forced to taxi through underpasses built below I-70 to access certain runways. Talk of building a new airport at a different location started as early as the 1960s and continued through the mayoral administration of Bill McNichols, who commissioned a study of new sites. When Federico Peña took over as mayor in 1983, he thought that expanding Stapleton onto the adjacent Rocky Mountain Arsenal might be a better alternative. But the costs of cleaning up the contaminated site and opposition from Adams County sunk that idea. Meanwhile, Park Hill residents were growing increasingly angry over airport noise and pollution and even filed a lawsuit in hopes of prompting a relocation.

Peña knew that building a new airport would not be easy. But with the support of then-governor Roy Romer and other high-profile boosters from the civic and business world, Peña was able to work out a complicated deal that would allow the annexation of a large swath of farmland northeast of Denver. Despite a strong opposition campaign, the arrangement was approved by both Adams County and Denver voters in the late '80s.

From the beginning, plans for DIA were ambitious. Peña, who now works in the local office of an international investment company, says he wanted the airport to make a "bold statement across the world" that would put Colorado on the global map. And the scale of DIA reflected this desire: It was to be the largest, most modern airport in the world. But almost as soon as ground was broken in 1989, problems cropped up. The massive public-works project was encumbered by design changes, difficult airline negotiations, allegations of cronyism in the contracting process, rumors of mismanagement and real troubles with the $700 million (and eventually abandoned) automated baggage system. Peña's successor, Wellington Webb, was forced to push back the 1993 opening date three times. By the time DIA finally opened in February 1995, the original $1.5 billion cost had grown to $5.2 billion. Three months after that opening, the Congressional Subcommittee on Aviation held a special hearing on DIA in which one member said the Denver airport represented the "worst in government inefficiency, political behind-the-scenes deal-making, and financial mismanagement." But Peña, who by then was serving as the Secretary of Transportation for President Bill Clinton, testified that despite the project's shortcomings, more cities would need to construct world-class airports in the future.

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Jared Jacang Maher