In the past few years of blogging, I have seen some bizarre things on the Internet. Conspiracy theories have always been around, but since the turn of the Millennium, they have proliferated online to create a new kind of post-Postmodern folklore. Along with users' feverish circulation and misalignment of data, the Internet erodes the line between real and virtual, between fact and fiction.
Irrationalizations pose as quasi-rationalizations. The ideas which have sprung out of this mindset have become increasingly counter-intuitive and counter-factual: you have, to name a few, 9/11 truthers and associated chatter around Osama bin Laden's death and the purported deaths of the Navy SEAL team members who invaded his compound (this, despite the fact that the man who shot bin Laden was recently interviewed by Esquire); Illuminati New World Order fear mongers; and Bigfoot hunters. There are people who do not believe the moon landings took place, or that there are sinister reasons why we never went back to the moon (besides money and politics?). There are even people who seriously think that Queen Elizabeth II is descended from a race of lizard aliens!
In a way, what Web cultists fear is less important than the fact that their off-kilter belief systems foster new communities online. The Web turns social alienation on its head, so that the marginalized come together in interesting ways, as with the case of Preppers and computer hackers.
At the same time, we would be naive if we did not acknowledge that governments, corporations and practically every major organization have not appreciated the value of the Web for propagandistic, marketing and political purposes over the past fifteen years. The 'Web' might become just that: a tight knot of social control. Part of that control may stem from our willingness to believe the unverifiable, the fantastic, the strange - even though right now, weirder online beliefs are associated with anti-establishment attitudes.
Most outlandish Web myths are just surreal popular entertainment. However, the more unsettling stories occupy grey areas and test our ability to verify fact and fiction.
Of all the odd things I have seen on the Web in the past few years, by far the weirdest was a subterranean rumour about suspicious motor accidents on the M6 in the UK and a similar incident on the Avenue de New York in Paris in 2010, mentioned in this post: "this is an X-files-styled jumble of mysterious highway lights, evaporating drivers, CCTV footage, UFO conspiracy theories, suspect policemen, autopsy body-tampering and sinister shadowy financial interests [which] will make your head buzz." Chris Carter could not have conceived a better story, with locations such as the Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital in Paris and a once-secret nuclear bunker in Cheshire. The story involves time travel or perhaps multidimensional teleportation (a subgenre in Millennial real-fake pop culture).
Sign post to Hack Green secret nuclear bunker, Cheshire, UK, now a Cold War relic and site of interest in Colin Hall's Fact or Fiction? Image Source: Wiki.
Colin Hall plays Fox Mulder in this real life X-Files case with his 2013 book, Fact of Fiction?: The Paris and M6 Crashes. Today, I'm pleased to interview Colin about his research on this case and what led him to it.
Before we continue, the Website Unsolved Realm summarizes the supposed events as put forth by a mysterious Web-persona-slash-'journalist,' Mark Collins:
The M6 crash and the Paris crash allegations:
1.Witnesses claim that a thin white light appeared and caused the first 3 vehicles to lose control.
2.The tachometer of one of the trucks shows that the truck’s speed was greatly reduced at the time of the crash.
3.Three vehicles supposedly had NO drivers and NO bodies and no human tissue or blood was found.
4.CCTV footage (caught before and after crash) supposedly shows 3 separate incidents that can’t be explained. It shows a thin white light appeared a minute before the crash. Distortion appears on the CCTV footage where the light appeared. It is also rumored to show two people who just “Appear” on the grass after the crash. Maybe teleported to save them from certain death from the crash.
5.Police say that one of the autopsies shows that “considerable difference in the accepted chemical makeup of blood normally found in a person who has lived and breathed this atmosphere”. Supposedly spoken by Detective Silverton to Mark Collins.
6.A break-in occurred at the morgue where the bodies of the Paris crash victims were being held and 3 of the bodies were injected with an unknown chemical to “throw off” autopsy findings.
7.Witnesses state that a one of the vehicles had a bright light coming from it just before the crash. (Paris crash)
8.Witnesses who were walking stated they saw one of the vehicles['] driver[s] momentarily “disappear”.
9.A supposed secret code is being investigated by the police after learning of a blog that is being used as communication between the suspects. Actually, the press releases by Mark Collins pointed to the blog called 1of26. And the police, according to Mark Collins, have two code crackers on the case and are asking for people in forums to help crack the code from the 1of26 blog posts. Really? Fishy stuff here.
Okay, there you have it. And from this, all the normal paranormal blogs and websites have picked this up and r[u]n with it. Time travel, teleportation, paranormal activity and so forth. ... It seems that no one is asking – Why is Mark Collins the only person who is reporting this?
ToB: Tell us a bit about yourself and your work. Is this your first book?
Colin Hall: I work as a security consultant, helping my clients develop security protocols in all aspects of their lives; whether that be travel arrangements, online security, or personal security. This is my first book - and possibly maybe the start of a new passion for me!
ToB: Could you briefly describe this case, for those unfamiliar with these incidents?
Colin Hall: The case focuses around two alleged incidents, one on the M6 motorway near Birmingham, England, and one in Paris, near the Eiffel Tower. These became known collectively under the headline 'M6 paranormal crash' - a title coined from the press releases written by Mark Collins, who alleges to have had contact with various 'sources' connected to these alleged incidents.
ToB: What do you mean by 'alleged incidents'? Does this mean they might not have happened at all? Or do you mean that parts of the incidents certainly happened, while other aspects are unverified?
Colin Hall: My research was always going to pose more questions than it answered, and to this day concrete proof of what happened on the M6 and in Paris is still hard to come by; I offer up my possible conclusions throughout the book, I'm always keen to hear from people who have more evidence to support what happened though.
ToB: You mentioned Mark Collins. He was the main source on this case, was he not? Who is he and how did he become involved with these incidents?
Colin Hall: He was the main source and remains so to this day. I know very little about him apart from that he's a freelance journalist based in and around Manchester.
ToB: How did you become interested in the case and what prompted you to write a book about it?
Colin Hall: I became interested, because like many, I stumbled across these reports researching something for a client. In my line of work you are naturally inquisitive and when I was confronted with these reports my inclination was to look into them. The more I read the more I became fascinated by the articles and before I knew it I was driving down the M6 and visiting Paris to get a greater understanding of what was behind these reports.
ToB: Your book is entitled Fact or Fiction? What struck me about reports on this case was how quickly reality unraveled around basic details. Did you find that things became clearer or even more muddy as your research progressed?
Colin Hall: I would describe it as almost like a hall of mirrors - one full of what appeared to be answers on the surface but then only to then be confronted by yet more corridors leading to yet more allegations. What would appear to be an obvious conclusion at one turn would soon become folly as another turn would bring a completely different piece of evidence to the fore or another page to research - muddy would be a good way to describe it.
ToB: Was this a prank, or a case of extortion, with alien myths brought in to conceal criminal activity?
Colin Hall: Well you'll have to read the book for my thoughts on that! Seriously, I came into this with an open mind and still have an open mind as to what this actually was and what motives lay behind it. There is more than one possibility I offer up in my book with none being easily discounted - of course I've said all along that further debate and discussion is welcome on this fascinating subject.
ToB: Unlike most unusual Millennial incidents, for example the mass deaths of birds at the beginning of 2011, the Web's rumour mills appeared to give this case less attention than usual. In other words, it was less fueled by the Web forums than usual. Am I right?
Colin Hall: I think what struck me was the sheer volume of debate, claim and counter-claim in such a short space of time and then nothing - no more reports and no more Mark Collins - then a video. At its peak I saw reports on the USA Today, the Huffington Post, Fortean Times and of all places Florida Today!
Then all the sources seemed to just disappear before our eyes so in effect no one was fueling the debate - one thing that did cross my mind was that a lot of thought had gone into what we were reading. And that there was very little detail to actually debate as no one seemed to set up a counter argument - Mark Collins never seemed to be present on the forums discussing it further - my question would be why was that?
ToB: Well, people on the Internet have short attention spans. Do you feel that they just moved on to the next underground rumour? Did the brief attention given to this case say more about the dynamics of Internet chatter? Or was the silence a function of real world concerns about the case itself, in your opinion?
Colin Hall: People do have short attention spans, and I'm sure many simply moved on to the next rumour or story. I think what caught my attention was the systematic nature of the articles published and how they spread so quickly and then all of a sudden went quiet.
Disinformation was always a possibility for me, covering a motive that was hitherto unnoticed by the majority of people - something that would have made sense of all the work that had obviously gone into the reports written by Mark Collins.
I've looked at the possibility and am still looking whether this is a visual code. Add the 1of26 blog and Twitter feeds to the Mark Collins articles and is there somehow a key buried in there - something I cannot rule out or prove at the moment. Another reason for publishing the book is to see if there is someone out there who can see a link.
ToB: The main first person account I can find on this story is from one Dirk Vander Ploeg who is the publisher of UFODigest.com. Is this case a vehicle for his self-publicity and micro-fame?
Colin Hall: I don't think so - I've shared some correspondence with Dirk and some of those will be in the book. I genuinely believe that Dirk was trying to help Mark Collins in trying to get his point across - but again I ask - why did Mark Collins appear to do very little after that first article when clearly Dirk was trying to help him?
ToB: Do you feel that Collins's reticence was due to some other motivation? If the story was baseless, for example, that might be reason enough for its main proponents to stop talking about it. Why do you think people went silent on this issue? Lack of interest? Fabrication? Secrecy? Or do you mean there was something here that attracted intimidation?
Colin Hall: Mark Collins is someone I and I doubt anyone else will ever truly understand; why publish several reports in one year and then go silent? This was technically the story of the decade - but the fact is did he fabricate it to further his own career? Was it a mechanism he used to show the world his talents? I'm still looking for answers.
If of course, there was a financial motive, again something I cover in the book, then that could have attracted intimidation as it may have attracted the wrong sort of attention - maybe that was a possible motive for him staying relatively silent.
His last post about the subject matter on his blog raised the possibilities that the video may be a stunt, a fake or some form of disinformation - I think there was something in that last release that I've yet to uncover that will hold a clue to the motive.
ToB: What sources did you use and what interviews did you conduct for your research?
Colin Hall: Well I tried to have some correspondence with Mark Collins - although that was very brief - he seemed reticent, almost as if disowning his own reports and to this day is not very interested in the book. I met some people, again there's more in the book, one in particular in Paris who claimed to identify with one of the main people involved in the reports. But on the whole people were reticent about coming forward - again I kept asking myself why?
When a policeman on duty at Eiffel Tower doesn't want to talk about the alleged incident my suspicions were raised - but then a contact of mine in Paris said that the French authorities are very sensitive about anything connected to the Eiffel Tower being that it is one of their main tourist attractions.
Other than that I went trawling the net, finding clues, digging out the backgrounds to the main sources, including Mark Collins, and looking at how this story could spread so fast when many fail to get beyond a simple local press posting.
ToB: Without divulging your conclusions, what comments would you make about this case as an example which highlights the nature of Millennial media?
Colin Hall: I think this case, along with other recent examples like the UFO's over Jerusalem are very fine examples of how social media and journalism as a whole has shifted away from the traditional sources and into the hands of the individual.
The power that one person can have over the internet with a story of any particular subject matter shows how willing we are to embrace reporting from a multitude of sources that would have been unthinkable - even 10 years ago.
ToB: OK, but we are not just talking here about the shift from the MSM to individuals using cell phones to discuss or report on a war zone, local protest or social event. Nor are we talking about 'any particular subject matter.' This subject matter is outlandish and unusual. It truly would be worthy of an X-Files episode. In your mind, is the Web inspiring underground news media to deal with underground subjects?
Colin Hall: There is no doubt in my mind the proliferation of news stories within the internet has helped shape countries, governments and kept people looking over their shoulders across the world - the net is truly a place for free thinkers and speakers to gather and help set trends and spread stories.
The definition of 'underground subjects' can cover many different fields - is it considered underground to expose alleged chemical warfare in Syria for example? Would the exposing of politicians wrong doing or debate on sites such as http://order-order.com/ now considered mainstream due to its popularity but 10 years would have been considered 'underground'?
I think it is all relative, and as we continue to develop our understanding of the world we live in and communicate via the Web, underground topics of yesterday will become tomorrow's mainstream news - after all with the help of Youtube the Jerusalem UFO story went global in days - that would not have happened 10 years ago.
ToB: If the Web is becoming home to underground news media 'journalists' who cover unusual subjects, what do you make of their standards and practices and social role as media organizations? Are online faux-media news reports just a new type of tabloid entertainment?
Colin Hall: I think entertainment is key here; stories such as the one I cover in the book and also the many fantastical accounts we see of similar subject matter should be construed as entertainment, a puzzle to solve if you will.
Where the Web comes into its own is its ability to empower those suffering oppression or injustice and give them a voice - that is a very powerful weapon, and one that can be used for the good of those suffering at the hands of regimes of dictators for example.
ToB: You mention that your research for this book led to a 'hall of mirrors' about what actually happened. Isn't this a cause for concern? After all, if events cannot even be said to have certainly occurred yet attract media debate, we are getting into rather dangerous territory. At what point does the Web legitimize fiction over fact, just by virtue of discussing something?
Colin Hall: That is the crux of what I look at in the book; is it fact or is it fiction? What piques someone's interest enough to take note and report on a subject such as the alleged 'm6 paranormal crash' - has Mark Collins created the greatest internet hoax of the past few years? Or was there something else at play behind the scenes?
History is littered with events reported in the media that have been proven not to have happened; individuals have suffered at the hands of the media and in the UK especially in the wake of the News of the World scandal the media has shown itself to have been less than truthful in how it reported so called 'news' articles about individuals.
I think we can legitmise a subject from fiction into fact through debate - again there are many examples of this - but whether it's dangerous or not is dependent on what the outcome is and who is effected by it.
Thank you very much, Colin, for agreeing to talk to Histories of Things to Come. Colin Hall's Website is here and his book, Fact of Fiction?: The Paris and M6 Crashes, is listed at Markosia here.
- Above Top Secret: M6 UK Crash Report
- Perception 9: Paranormal M6 Crash, by Mark Collins
- UFO Digest: M6 Paranormal Crash Report Overview, by Mark Collins
- PR Log: Press Release Distribution: M6 Crash Report Paranormal Activity Cited as Possible Cause
- Mark Collins's Blog
- Vololegal: Blogs by Mark Collins
- Mark Collins? 1of26 on Twitter, under handle 'Steve'
- Collins's? 1of 26 blog, supposedly a virtual channel for paranormal / alien chatter related to this case
- The Time Traveler's Diary: M6 Paranormal Crash, by Dirk Vander Ploeg
- Unsolved Realm: M6 Paranormal Crash Hoax: No Paranormal Activity After All
- Colin Hall's Blog
- Colin Hall's Book Site: Conspiracy? The Incidents on the M6 and Paris
- Blog de Videastudio: The Double Crash
- Colin Hall Interview with Richard Syrett
- The Conspiracy Review: Huge UK Crash Caused by Aliens?
HOTTC Disclaimer: Colin Hall is a pseudonym. I have not confirmed that he is not connected to Mark Collins. Nor have I confirmed that the 2013 book, Fact of Fiction?: The Paris and M6 Crashes, is not a continuation of a 2010 Internet event which appears to have been fictitiously created around real 2010 events for the purposes of experimenting with Web disinformation and marketing. I do not support conspiracy theories, hoaxes or other misrepresentations around real events - particularly car crashes in which people were injured - for the sake of profit or entertainment. Nevertheless, I am presenting this interview in order to consider an example of complex Internet culture and the uncertainty around Web-based information. The subject matter may be marginal, but as Hall correctly points out, some sites and material online which were once marginal are now mainstream due to their popularity. The concern here is not whether the subject matter is 'believable'; the concern is the evolving exploitation of communications media. On the one hand, the Web builds new communities. On the other, those communities are built around meta-information, conveyed by once-professional journalists who are now advertisers, promoters and entertainers.
News reports regarding car crashes in the period December 2009-January 2010:
- Six Hurt in M6 Crash, Birmingham, 30 December 2009 (Birmingham Post)
- M6 Partially Closed after Car Crash, 4 January 2010 (News and Star)
Read all the Interviews on this blog.