New Age, paranormal topics influenced alleged domestic pipe bomb terrorist Luke Helder – News and Comment – Brief Article
At a time when international terrorism was on America’s collective mind, it was an American terrorist who panicked many in the heartland in May of 2002. Six people were injured when pipe bombs left in their rural mailboxes exploded. Over the course of a week, eighteen pipe bombs were found in Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Colorado, and Texas.
Finally the bombs were traced to Luke J. Helder, a twenty-one-year-old college student from Pine Island, Minnesota. Following a high-speed car chase, he was armed with a shotgun when he was arrested in Reno, Nevada, on May 7. According to messages and material Helder left near the attacks, the bombs were “attention getters.” Though many news reports characterized Helder’s messages as anti-government, in fact many of them deal with his philosophical views and the paranormal.
In a six-page typed letter to The Badger Herald, a student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Helder discussed his belief in various paranormal topics and that death is an illusion. A friend of his was quoted by ABC News as saying that Helder “seemed really obsessed about New Age religion and death and the fact that death really doesn’t mean an end to existence.”
His motivation to plant bombs to kill and injure people came from his desire to enlighten the world to his beliefs and revealed truths: “I’m doing this because I care…. In the end you will know I was telling you the truth anyway…. I’m taking very drastic measures in attempt to provide this information to you.”
Helder writes that each person can create his or her own reality, and that “once you begin to realize the potential you have as a consciousness/soul/spirit, you will begin to harness the abilities you have to produce realities…. Because you are producing the reality entirely, you are not confined to the laws of physics….” Helder discusses the New Age idea of lucid dreaming, in which, he says, “you enter a reality within your body.” Helder mentions astral projection as a path to knowledge, writing “Whether it’s logic, meditation, channeling, astral projection, or ghosts, all are ways of knowing.” An exgirlfriend of Helder’s said that he was fascinated with astral projection, or out-of-body experiences, and tried unsuccessfully to achieve one several times.
Helder also had a strong interest in ghosts: “Many consciousnesses linger around on earth, clutching to material things; this is what ghosts are…. You may hear ghost stories, but have you ever seen one? If you haven’t, get out the camera and start seeing…. I was curious about the existence of ghosts, and my curiosity led me to further investigation, which in turn allowed me to know ghosts truly do exist. Needless to say, it was an exciting occasion to finally see one! When I got my film developed to find orbs, the week was even more exciting!”
Here Helder is referring to the idea that ghosts can be photographed, and appear as small unexplained blurs, lights, or “orbs” in photographs that were unnoticed when the photo was taken. As CSICOP Senior Research Fellow Joe Nickell notes in this book Camera Clues, there are many perfectly ordinary, photographic explanations for such phenomena.
“Orbs” are often simply the result of a flash reflecting dust particles or moisture droplets near the lens, or an unnoticed shiny surface.
Nonetheless, many self-styled “ghost experts” write books and give seminars on such “orbs” as a way for people to confirm the existence of spirits. Had Helder looked for science-based, skeptical information on ghosts instead of to the rafts of uncritical, pro-paranormal books, he might have come to different conclusions.
The paranormal cannot be said to have caused Helder’s bombing attacks, just as belief in UFOs did not directly cause the mass suicide of the Heaven’s Gate cult in March of 1997. But clearly belief in and fascination with the paranormal played a large role in these crimes and tragedies. Magical thinking in one part of a person’s life can easily lead to a lack of critical thinking in others as well.
As usual, those who knew Helder appeared in the media to express shock and puzzlement over his actions. Helder’s parents said that the only odd thing they’d seen him do recently was ask for his mother’s Bible, then sit and read it for an hour, something they had never seen him do before. Within a week he was off making pipe bombs to maim or kill innocent people.
Benjamin Radford is a writer and Managing Editor of the SKEPTICAL INQUIRER.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal
COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group