Saturday, June 13, 2015
Counterfeit Messiah: a Vintage Flicker Street Treatment
This is not the massive Flicker Street treatment I'm currently at work on but rather a treatment/ "scriptment" done for a comix story for anthology editor Mark Mazz in 2008 and set in the Flicker Street Universe. I felt it warranted its own short story. While an entirely fictitious tale, I can state that many incidences in this story could have, and perhaps do, sadly, occur in that blurry zone called "real life".
For anyone further interested in Leo Rosegrave, Bryn Deerfield, Liao Jun Kim, or any of the other characters depicted here, please follow my current progress in realizing new Flicker Street projects by following this blog. Thanx!
by Henry Covert
(sequence breakdowns and synopsis)
Story opens with Leo Rosegrave's voice. Rosegrave, or Graves as he's usually referred to, is our narrator and audience identification/ surrogate. We'll experience the story from his POV, which will hopefully enhance the subtext and aid the story flow.
1 - The First Interviews
Graves is narrating, but does not appear "on-camera" yet. This intro is a visual re-enactment of an interview conducted in 2003 by Barry Keller, a fairly incompetent columnist for a local free 'alternative' weekly paper called The Flicker Street Dispatch (named for the largely bohemian community it has targeted for almost 25 years). The interview is held at a trendy local coffee dive with an author named James Ray Harbin about his new book, a not so subtly titled alleged autobiography called Ray of Hope: The Covert Missions of a Crusader Against Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking.
The punny title is an essential part of the absurdity of the entire mini-phenomenon surrounding Ray (which he prefers to answer to) that is beginning. Harbin is hoping to time the release of the interview with his appearance promoting the book at a corporate but quasi-liberal bookstore called Literati's, which, as fate would have it, is about 3 yards away from the coffee dive in an upscale plaza. Harbin comments that his "semi-biographer... til he left town", a Mr. Jerzy Talbot, had interviewed Harbin and his mentor at this very coffee shop for a magazine that Harbin and his Talbot had both previously contributed to.
Keller asks Harbin to state for the readers the premise of his book, which he claims is 100% true and autobiographical. The book's claims are as follows: James Ray Harbin (b.c. 1963) grew up entranced by comics and cartoons, war movies, and anything to do with kung fu and martial arts. Despite all this fascination with action and violence, Harbin, as his parents before him, was raised as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The boy once enamored of superheroes decided to do what he thought was his heroic calling - to become a missionary and witness overseas for the Mormons. He ends up in South Korea at 18, when he allegedly is swept up in a deadly, days-long riot, where he is attacked and injured by a Korean protester, who he must kill - with his bare hands - in self-defense. Thus begins the transformation from geeky Mormon to lethal assassin.
Social order more or less disintegrates (this is c. May 1981) as a result of the riot, and Ray, after a night in a hospital due to his attack, is caught up again in the midst of the unrest. To survive, falls in with purveyors of contraband, mainly cigarettes, whiskey, and – peanut butter! He ends up in jail and is roughed up by the Korean guards. Upon his release, he is approached by Jean-Marc LaSalle, a man in his 50s who first spotted him in the hospital.
LaSalle recruits him as an operative for Pyramid, a completely clandestine branch of international intelligence clearing house REACT. Apparently, LaSalle just trolled about the streets looking for young foreigners to recruit as special agents, or so Graves thought when he read this. Over the next 15 years, by Harbin's account, he was trained to work undercover amongst human predators, infiltrating their sordid operations, and assassinate them with impunity and without mercy or conscience. LaSalle's line was always that, by the verynature of their crimes (explicitly detailed in Harbin's book), these perpetrators had forfeited their civil rights, and, being beyond the reach of conventional law enforcement due to their wealth and total obscurity/ anonymity, they more than deserved the brutal punishment James Ray Harbin and agents like him were trained to administer.
Harbin details every aspect of his colourful (mostly blood-red) career, from infiltration of Korean prisons to his hand in the "disappearance" of London's most notorious child pornographer; from his seeking out terrorists (who, he maintains, are prime recipients of the vast fortunes reaped from human trafficking)to his role in the celebrated 'Wonderworld' busts, where a huge ring was broken open (Harbin portrays himself in a particularly heroic - if sloppy and reckless - light in this endeavour).
Ray's 300 + page tome depicts numerous acts of Martial Arts prowess and bladed weapons brought to bear against "the world's most evil - and elusive - criminals... human predators who evaded conventional law for far too long... but they were dealt grim justice with extreme prejudice by the agents of Pyramid", or so claims Harbin in his screed.
After the interview is concluded, Harbin poses at the coffee shop's veranda for several "studly" action pics holding various knives and trying to look cool and menacing. Barry Keller, somewhat skeptical of Ray's claims, decides to do some research. He has 2 days til his deadline. the book signing is in just under 2 weeks. Ray is interviewed the next day by the area's larger, more conservative "mainstream" newspaper, The Daily Occidental (who will thus beat the FSD to the punch by a week and a half in breaking the story. The tone of the writer towards Ray and everything he says is fawning, glowing, and obsequious - and nauseating when the grizzled Leo Rosegrave reads it. "They may as well have fellated him while they were at it", he thinks.
This 2nd interview can be depicted in 1-2 panels at most with Graves noting the above, now that the coffee shop scene has given the audience the premise of who and what Ray claims to be. In between this interview and the publication of Keller's piece, Ray does 2 radio reviews - one local; one national. He is quite on a roll, publicity-wise. His radio interviews center on the huge and growing problem of human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of young children. He explains, as he did to Keller, that "the underground kiddie porn industry is used to fund terrorist cells.... there are vast international networks of kidnappers and pornographers who earn billions of dollars working beyond the reach of the law." It was by operating in that grey area that Harbin, LaSalle, and co. were able to administer justice also "beyond the reach of the law".
The reaction of the audiences on both shows is amazing. Both shows are swamped with call-ins, praising Harbin as a saviour of the world's lost, forgotten, and exploited, and a "modern Messiah.. to the many victims whose abuses demand the most extreme punishment".
2 - The Book
Graves works at the Literati's bookstore. Graves is also a freelance journalist on the side. Graves' employers are making a huge deal out of the book signing that day. Graves, ever cynical, is highly skeptical - for many reasons. First, off, he has known James Ray Harbin for almost three years as one of Graves' customers at Literati's. He has always felt strange vibes; something not quite right. To a man like Leo Rosegrave, a man like James Ray Harbin asking where a particular CD is located feels akin to being shaken down by an oldschool flim-flam man.
Graves had been hearing for those three years from Ray that Ray's book will be published soon. And... gradually, Ray began making some of the less outrageous claims in his book to Graves. Graves finally encountered Harbin's more outrageous claims when he did a book loan at Literati's the day they received their shipment in preparation for the book signing. He thought he knew what to expect going into the book, but, right from the start, Harbin launches into a scenario taking place in London, apparently in the early to mid 1980s in the book's context, in which Ray "cleaned" (i.e. assassinated - and violently, with his ostensible specialty, a bladed weapon) a man called Horst Ewers, allegedly one of the world's most wanted - and most depraved - child pornographers and traffickers.
Harbin's account is written like a lurid spy novel, but filled with details about the hotel the events occured at, lending it a certain verisimilitude. Before reading the book, Graves had been more than cynical; now he was stunned, and felt almost violated for giving this cat the time of day to
extol his "secret agent past" as a "crusader against human trafficking". In his mind, from thereafter, Graves never believed a single word uttered by James Ray Harbin.
And then Keller's piece saw print. As promised, Ray was the cover image, knife flashing in his hand, but the headline and much of Keller's article built around his interview with Ray cast considerable doubt on Harbin's authenticity. A major point Keller and his editor, John Bandicott (who neither liked nor believed Harbin at all) included in the piece was that they had taken the time and effort to actually check with REACT's Central Euro-Org (headquarters). The organization's Chief Secretariat had no records of a "James Ray Harbin" as having ever been employed by them or by any of their adjunct organizations (intelligence agencies that route info through REACT, which has always maintained it is an "international intelligence clearing house" only, though romantic rumours and fictions portraying it as involved in hands-on espionage and covert ops have persisted for decades).
Ray refuted the organization's claims, stating that it was obvious an agency employing covert agents would never admit to anyone that they did, or who any of those agents were; otherwise it would cease being "covert" and lose its effectiveness. Keller's piece let this point rest, while, two days later, The Occidental admitted they had followed up on the same lead, came up with the same lead, but still took Ray's "seemingly reasonable" argument at face value, and all was well with the corporate-owned rag.
Not so The Flicker Street Dispatch. Two days before the signing, an enraged Harbin, wife towing behind (as usual), launched into a hysterical tirade at the general manager at the main information desk. Graves was there, and he figured that Ray still saw him as an ally. After his paroxysm, when the GM assured Ray that all would be well at the signing regardless of the press, Ray and wife sidled up to Graves and asked his opinions of the book now that he'd read it. Graves was circumspect, choosing his words carefully.
He said it was "well written... a nice thriller", but did have one pointed question for Ray that he couldn't resist asking while Ray was high on the fumes of ego trip. "If you really killed 100 criminals - as I'm sure you did, it says so in the books, and you're going public under your real name, but REACT disavows you, aren't you afraid ofyour book being seen as a confession of sorts.. and that if someone is able to follow LaSalle's tracks - which I know will be hard, you make that clear here - then, you could be in some real trouble, especially if the story goes international?"
Ray responded, "Well... well, yeah, that's why I mention in the book how the manner I was trained to perform these duties - "
"Psy Ops is the term", Graves smiled.
" - how that went against my Christian ideals and that it was an inner struggle. I got out because I couldn't take it anymore."
"You felt guilty for those murders... assassinations... whathaveyou?"
"Well, the acts, the lifestyle of being an operative.."
"But did you feel guilty?"
"...No. They were all scum who raped children.. and worse, and they all deserved to die. I just happened to be chosen". By God? Graves thought.
Graves broke off to return to work and said he'd see him at the signing tomorrow. He wanted Ray to still trust him, just for a little while longer, til he could pry open the chinks in Ray's persona - cracks already visible to Leo Rosegrave, if no one else.
The next afternoon, Literati's on Paige Street hosts the book signing - and the madness truly begins...
The book signing draws a large turnout. Graves stands near and watches, feeling sick at seeing the fawning masses trip over themselves to thank Harbin for the "great service" he's doing "for mankind". Ray's typical reply: "I risked my own life and sanity time and again to protect our children... they're, like, our legacy." Ray is thanked by mothers and youth leaders (many right-wing fundamentalists) who had “no idea... of how much of this goes on in the world... it's ghastly and horrid." "I've tried educating my young 'uns [Graves chuckles at that quaint turn of phrase] about the dangers out there and to be careful and vigilant, from your book, I know now these predators are literally waiting around every corner... just waiting to prey on our kids.. to rape and sell them off to some horrid place like Asia, I mean, in Asia.."
3 - The Phenomenon
This is just the beginning of the long stretch of blind adulation and hero worship ladled on James Ray Harbin by the ignorant and thankful (or thankfully ignorant?) masses who begin posting laudatory 5 star reviews of Ray of Hope on the Internet. Many of the internet reviews are anonymous; Graves wonders if they're plants, orchestrated by Harbin himself. Harbin's superstar status would prove relatively short-lived, a year at most, as other forces came into play.
However, things first begin to unravel for the local folk hero when magazines he had freelanced for (and was interviewed by, prior to his book's release) begin calling into question his credibility on their internet talk forums. Harbin, more than once, promised to "appear" on the forums and repudiate the claims made against him, but he never surfaced. According to a prominent adjunct site a magazine that Harbin formerly freelanced for, True Dragon, various episodes in Ray of Hope were dissected and fact checked by an intrepid team devoted to uncovering those who misrepresent themselves in the world of Martial Arts and armed and unarmed combat training and skills.
One of the first things debunked, in painstaking detail, was Harbin's alleged assassination of alleged child pornographer Horst Ewers (no evidence of whose existence can be uncovered). All of the 'verisimilitude' Graves noted regarding this incident went out of the window, as the layout of rooms, amount of floors, and architectural details did not match the hotel Harbin swore his "cleaning" took place in. And, of course, no long-time employee of this hotel could recall any murders, or even evidence of one - no evidence of blood, a struggle, nothing - in a five year timeframe on either side of the timeframe Harbin roughly outlines at the opening of his book.
True Dragon goes on, over a period of many months, via chatboards (which Harbin declines to appear on, though offered repeatedly), and, finally, in an exhaustive article by writer Michelle Liao, examining Harbin's claims, top to bottom, to debunk the vast majority of those claims. The May 1981 riot in Kwangju City that Ray claimed to have been caught up in did not in fact occur, so his presence there is impossible. He claimed the riot killed hundreds and wounded thousands, and was a retaliatory riot commemorating one a year earlier in Kwangju by students against the military.
The 1980 riot did occur, though not on the scale described by Ray; its anniversary uprising, quite frankly, did not happen. Liao combs and collects news reports from around the world; eyewitness accounts; and official statements from the South and North Korean governments, and the protesters.
Ms. Liao, whose cousin, Jun Kim, is among the world's most skilled Martial Artists and an expert in nearly every Asian form of unarmed combat, has, along with True Dragon staff members, has found no credible evidence to support Harbin's claims of a 3rd degree Black Belt mastery of Hapkido. The notoriously reclusive Liao Jun Kim did venture an expert opinion, based on materials provided him by his cousin. Based on a cursory read of selected chapters of Ray of Hope, and also upon a photo essay Harbin appeared in in 2001 "demonstrating" his "mastery" of "multiple forms of martial combat", Master Liao concluded that, "This Harbin has not approached the rudiments of true form. He would never survive unarmed in the skirmishes he claims to have been involved in in this book and in your magazine. Unfortunately for the victims of all-too-real human predators, Harbin has crafted an autohagiography, if nothing else... and exploits the pain and suffering of the innocent for his own profit as surely as the 'evil' men he describes. Though I reserve judgment, I sense a sickness in the soul when a man demands fealty to his God from others, and, days later, is dispensing death to his fellow man, no matter how diseased they are..... if indeed such things occurred".
In the 2001 issue of True Dragon alluded to by the Liaos, there did indeed appear a photo shoot of Ray demonstrating certain moves. This accompanied an interview, conducted by Jerzy Talbot, where he first claimed to have been a clandestine REACT agent. He claimed here that in 1998 he led a raid on a Florida hotel room to rescue a missing 7-year-old girl Ray dubbed "Ally" (the real names victims of sexual offenses are prohibited from being used by the press in pending cases). Ally was being sexually abused and slated to be filmed for kiddie porn. Harbin claimed to have killed more than one perpetrator before rescuing Ally, "scooping her up with the very hands I had just used to dispense permanent justice to her victimizers", as he dramatically states in his account of the events.
These events were described extensively in the climactic chapter of Ray of Hope, in which Ray claimed these events were part of the series of nationwide busts on a massive kiddie porn/ human traffic ring code-named 'Wonderworld'. Leo Rosegrave, after reading this magazine and having read Ray of Hope, decided to investigate what really happened with Wonderworld's Florida busts and how (or if) James Ray Harbin was indeed involved. Leo would be mining a richer vein with the True Dragon crowd - seemingly the only healthy skeptics in a country full of rubes desperate for some half-assed hero to "save the children". Here's an idea, thought the grim Leo, "How about start with some decent parenting?"
True Dragon had gone on to challenge "Dr. Harbin"'s Ph.D., which he claimed to have obtained in Korea. A thorough inquiry by Michelle Liao into degrees issued for the last 30 years at the university Harbin cites in his book, there is no such record. This information was later double checked when Harbin's birth name was revealed. The conclusion was the same: this man has never been a doctor - of any sort.
One of Graves' favourite magazines that he freelanced for was ONUS Magazine, based out of a small hamlet called Gossingham, not far from Flicker Street. Grave's editor, Sam Pace, a native of Gossingham, loved to publish anything controversial, anything to get the 'status quo' in an uproar - and anything to rankle the sort of rednecks Sam grew up with in Gossingham - the same sort of folk that seemed to be Ray's most ardent and gullible supporters.
Sam asked Graves to begin working on a longform piece, using his "ins" with Harbin and with Literati's, and pool it with the mounting doubts about Harbin's authenticity spreading like mad over the web (though most in Flicker St and Gossingham still seemed to take him at face value). Pace wanted ONUS to be the venue to bring down this "teller of tall tales" who, he felt, had an "unnatural obsession with discussing kiddie porn". Pace's prompting crystallized for Graves where his own thoughts were already heading.
Graves knew such a piece would be too hot for The Dispatch - despite Bandicott's hatred of Harbin after Ray sent Bandicott a 'letter to the editor' that amounted more to a death threat for daring to question Harbin in any way. Barry Keller was running scared - as usual - so Sam's offer to Graves was irresistable - especially since ONUS, unlike Bandicott's weekly, was a national, not local, publication. Graves decided to focus on all the salient points of the Harbin case, and Sam told him word count was no issue - it could be a two-partner. Sam half-joked that maybe Leo could write a complete book on Harbin down the road, and sell the ancillary rights to retire early. Pace reasoned if Harbin was making an easy living off his chicanery, why not let his old buddy Leo Rosegrave profit from it as well?
One point that puzzled Graves due to its lack of much mention anywhere was - what became of the mysterous Jean-Marc LaSalle, Ray's mentor and inductor into this nightmare world of avenging angel of the world's children? True Dragon had published, in 2002, an interview by Jerzy Talbot with Harbin and a man who claimed to be Jean-Marc LaSalle, supposedly conducted at the same java joint next to where Graves worked. Full circle....
The interview was corroborated by the shop's employees and managers; Keller had even mentioned it in passing in his original Dispatch article; for some reason it just didn't register with Graves - not until it was mentioned, again, in passing, in Michelle Liao's comprehensive online piece. Graves asked Michelle who was the interviewer? She said it was a young white guy named Talbot, one of Harbin's fellow freelancers and that they'd become friends through the magazine. This same gentleman collaborated on Harbin's photo-op piece in 2001. At some point, this gentleman was no longer a part of Harbin's growing hype machine as it hurtled towards the book's 2003 publication.
Talbot, like Ray, had resisted ever appearing on the talkboards online and defending "their" (until they mysteriously fell out) position on Harbin's many claims. Talbot was almost Harbin's publicist; however we regard their association, it ended abrubtly and inexplicably shortly before Ray of Hope hit the streets. Talbot had allegedly moved to Florida and was never seen or heard from again in the Flicker Street area.
But what of LaSalle? Michelle claimed the rumour (perpetuated by Ray himself) was that LaSalle was dead, and, in patented James Ray Harbin style, it was a murder rife with drama. Leo had been corresponding with a young man called Henri Maturin, who'd done some intensive research for Michelle Liao on her piece. Graves asked Henri to check the French newspaper "morgues" for any reports of the murder (or death at all) of Jean-Marc LaSalle. As fate - or luck, in Harbin's case - would have it, LaSalle is indeed no longer alive to be interviewed.
Henri pointed Graves in the right direction: shortly before their falling out (and the book launch), the elusive Mr. Talbot had submitted this report to True Dragon: "In June 2003, LaSalle and Harbin flew to France for a meeting with US and European officials. LaSalle agreed to meet with American intelligence officials on June 6, 2003 in order to exchange certain 'sensitive' documents in exchange for protection. The night before this exchange was to take place - June 5, 2003 - four officers broke into the hotel room in which Harbin and LaSalle were staying. Thee officers apparently attempted to steal the documents and soon a melee broke out.
During the struggle, three of the four attackers were slain and the fourth escaped. "Harbin was left with a dislocated left knee and several cracked ribs. He crawled over to the lifeless body of his longtime mentor and friend, 67 year old Jean-Marc LaSalle. Ray called a Captain Luc Herzog [supposedly a high-ranking Pyramid liaison in France]. Harbin said he needed a team of washer/ dryers [those that clean up after the 'cleaning' apparently]. Herzog dispatched such a group and rushed Harbin to the hospital. The next day, the meeting that had caused such calamity beforehand did indeed go down - Herzog personally drove Ray to the meeting place. Harbin thus gained immunity and protection due to the information he supplied - and lost his best friend over. The documents have been hidden across three continents as ultimate insurance". Graves thinks, if this did really happen, the documents themselves were probably kiddie porn...
Talbot wrote an article about REACT for a leftist political magazine in late 2003 (the last evidence he still lives after the move to Florida) that "three [not 4] unknown attackers waylaid them in Marseilles." Graves follows the logical deduction that LaSalle was killed on, or about, June 6, 2003, in Marseilles, France. However, Henri Maturin, going over and above for True Dragon (or Michelle), made the following statements under oath and signed the affadavit in court:
"There are no reports of, or evidence of, any law enforcement officer being killed in Marseille on these dates. Also, no mention of any shootouts involving REACT operatives or Marseille police on these dates in Marseilles. I reviewed all area newpapers between June 1 and June 10 of 2003 for any mention of the death of a Jean-Marc LaSalle, or any occurrences of violence in any hotel room during this time frame. I found no record whatsoever of any corresponding event in all of Marseilles during those 10 days, and no record of a Jean-Marc LaSalle being there, alive or dead, during those times".
This kid's good, thought Graves. So, all evidence indicates LaSalle didn't die in Marseilles as claimed by Harbin and "reported" by Talbot (his parting gift to Ray?). Of course, Talbot was the only one, outside of Harbin himself, in this whole state, that could say they met LaSalle (or a man calling himself that) in person - during that long ago coffee shop interview. Graves has shaken
down everyone at the coffee shop, his work, anyone who frequents that area - no one seems to recall a sit-down between Harbin, Talbot, and an older, sophisticated gentlemen. Everyone knows Harbin practically lives at that cafe. Some even recall a guy fitting Talbot's decription... but alas, no Jean-Marc.
Graves then launched into an extensively researched piece debunking Ray's Wonderworld story. Leo believed the ultimate pivot on which Ray's dupicity spun lie his book's climactic chapter due to the sheer scope of its treatment of the 'Wonderworld' busts; these were not "top secret" spy missions (though govt agents took part in them), but a nationally coordinated bust conducted by local law enforcement (with federal backup) in multiple cities over a few days throughout America, and with extensive media scrutiny.
Harbin had not indicated anywhere in his book prior to his 'Wonderworld' chapter that he involved or even aware of its planning - very odd considering he painted himself as the ultimate crusader in this very kind of situation. But make no mistake, once he inserts himself into the action, there's no amount of hoary thriller cliches portraying him as the hero of children everywhere that he so pathetically, in Leo's view, is not - nor ever was.
Graves' view is that by inserting himself into such a high profile, nationwide sting operation as Wonderworld, Ray is almost crying out to be revealed as a fraud. Almost. In Harbin's account, the raid went down on September 3, 1998, in "a town in Florida". Harbin actually arrived in this nameless town weeks earlier, accompanied REACT operatives and local law enforcement to stake out suspects in a hotel as part of Wonderworld raids - waiting to coordinate the arrests on an international scale. This should have been right up Ray's alley, thinks Graves - but no, he botched it in the story as in its telling.. but still managed to emerge a superhero in his account.
The suspects were four Korean and three Thai males. On September 3, Harbin was waiting in their "monitoring station" (which he does not describe any further) with 'behavioural scientist' Bryn Deerfield, M.D. when the surveillance equipment that Harbin and co. had apparently placed in the suspects' suite began picking up activity that indicated the group had a captive, a seven year old named "Ally", and were beginning to sexually abuse her, intending to film and/ or photograph their activities.
Harbin, against orders to hold back, ran heroically to the suite, carelessly leaving his firearm behind. He forced the lock with a card and was nearly shot by the lookout man, but he swiftly stabbed him in the jugular with a Ka-Bar knife. Two local deputies entered the room quickly after Harbin and fatally shot the two remaining men in the living room, who had drawn firearms. Ray sped to the bedroom, where he found a Thai man manning a camera tripod - apparently so entranced by photographing "Ally" that he was oblivious to the gunshots he must've heard; Harbin's explanation later was that "very loud techno music was playing in the room". Is this what led Ray in the correct direction of the bedroom? thought Graves. A very sloppy account, in his opinion.
Two of the Koreans were lying on the bed with the naked victim. According to Ray, the camera man swung his tripod at Ray's head as a makeshift weapon, but Ray produced a telescoping baton, with which he shattered the man's left knee, then, as the camera man lost his balance, Ray brought down the end of the tripod, camera attached, on his skull, cracking it and killing him.
A Korean smashed a window, and as he attempted to escape, Ray pushed down the man's neck with one of his Hapkido moves until the Korean's throat was slit completely open (Ray has a thing with Koreans, Graves thought). Then Harbin ministered to "Ally", who was taken to the nearest hospital by Emergency Medical Services, where the girl's family was apparently there waiting for her. Who called them is undisclosed.
Harbin was reprimanded by REACT for his reckless actions, but "Ally"'s father "pulled some strings" (what type of strings this man could pull with a group like Pyramid that he wouldn't have known conclusively even existed until that day is not disclosed in Harbin's account), and not only
was Harbin forgiven all, but the two trigger-happy deputies that followed his lead were as well.
Harbin's old "semi-biographer", Jerzy Talbot, as noted earlier, recounted a truncated version of these events for the 2001 True Dragon piece. There he says four of the seven pornographers died that day; this does not jibe with the above account from Rayof Hope, where apparently five were slain. Talbot claimed in his original article that the 4 kills were corroborated by New Orleans Police Officer Ed Letterier, who was allegedly present at the incident. Graves decides to track down this Leterrier, by Talbot's account a cocky oldschool cop from Bywater with a Cajun father and a redneck temper.
Talbot quotes Letterier thusly: "Yeah, I met these Pyramid fuckers, alright? I worked Wonderworld from August to September '98, and I met two of these clowns. One was some show-off punk, James Earl Ray or some shit, and the other was some headshrinker bitch, Brenda or somethin'."
"James Ray Harbin - and Bryn Deerfield, sir?"
"I guess so, I'm still tryin' to wipe their stench of me. We assumed they were CIA. We were way off. So, anyway, the fuckin' raid went down. These fuckers, they're strictly take no prisoners. They're not legit law enforcement - they're assassins. Think they're above the goddamned law - well, they ain't. Between the closet case 'superhero' and the psychobabble bitch, I hope I never see or hear about their crooked "Org" the rest 'a' my natural life. Jesus. There is still due process, ain't there? Fuck."
Talbot claimed he interviewed Letterier on June 6, 2001 and descibed him as active, not retired, on the force. Graves called the New Orleans PD in February 2005 and was told there was no police officer named Edward Leterrier currently employed by them, full-time, part-time, or even on reserve. Further checking with their Personnel Offices, Graves found he could not obtain the names of retirees, so Leterrier could have retired between June 2001 and February 2005. But what was a New Orleans police officer out of Bywater doing in the unnamed "small town in Florida" where the raid allegedly happened when the officer had no connection to REACT, and was not a member of local law enforcement in Florida?
Leterrier was likely yet another colourful product of Harbin's imagination – and his derogatory comments about Ray, Graves felt, were examples of disinformation – Harbin having at least someone in his book “mistakenly” “misunderstanding” his crusade.
After weeks of exhaustive news searches and online research, Graves found only two Wonderworld raids in Florida during August or September 1998. Local law enforcement, working in tandem with Customs Agents, seized hundreds of images of child pornography from the computer of a man who lived just outside Jacksonville FL. However, no shooting, no arrests. Just the carrying out of a search warrant and the seizure of the offensive materials. This was on September 4, 1998, and was reported in the local media. If police (or anyone working with local authorities) had killed four (or five, depending on the account) men during a daytime raid, it could not have been kept from all media altogether. Graves follows every possible lead, and all that emerges is that on September 3, 1998 - the day of the events Harbin and Talbot describe - a Miami home is raided, and police seize, as they did the next day in Jacksonville, a home computer, its hard drive filled with images of child pornography.
In the media, Miami and Jacksonville are mentioned as among the American and international locations where the coordinated operation on Wonderworld took place. Wonderworld was essentially a worldwide computer file sharing operation devoted to child pornography. Graves reads every account of a Wonderworld bust in the world. No government involvement, no shoot-outs, no deaths, no dubious heroics. As far as can be assessed, Wonderworld was a 'club' devoted to disseminating - not (as in the case of the tripod-wielding arch-villain) manufacturing - the product.
Graves followed up to see if there were any police raids in Florida between August 30 and September 5, 1998 that resulted in any fatalities. Then he asked officers in Jacksonville if any
raids connected to Wonderworld resulted in fatalities. The police department's spokesperson offered a flat, unequivocal "no". Leo did find one newspaper account of the seized computer porn just outside Jacksonville on the September 4. His final visit was to speak with an Officer Janssen of the Miami City Police who had not only not heard of any such incident in Florida in 1998, but in order to be absolutely sure, one would need to provide a suspect's or victim's name, date of birth, and/ or social security number. None of which Harbin so helpfully provided, right along with "a small town in Florida".
There were no reports in the media of an EMS vehicle ferrying a seven year to a "small town" hospital. No trigger-happy deputies chastised, then commended. No reports of four - or five - dead Koreans and Thai at any coroners' offices. By this time Leo Rosegrave was sick of Florida - the visit there, reading about it, the red tape, talking to the locals and cops, the weather, all of it. But, it was, to him, ultimately to a good end. In his view, this entire incident - as so many in Ray of Hope - was entirely fabricated. And the refusal - despite countless opportunities to do so - of Harbin or Talbot to answer their critics online and elsewhere - places all of Harbin's claims in grave doubt.
Even as Harbin's fervent legion of wild-eyed supporters leapt to his defense against any who'd question their dubious hero, Harbin's wife left him, apparently beginning to believe him a fake as well. He talked her back within weeks, but they both remained unemployed (she hadn't worked since they got married and he was laid off in his job as telephone computer tech support around the time the book was published). Even as Graves was preparing his ONUS piece, he ended up in Harbin's orbit one last time.
Two of Graves' fellow employees at the bookstore caught Harbin, usually abetted by his returned wife, trying to scam by bringing back books for refunds - books that appeared stolen from other shops. He also attempted switching price tags on items and began carrying a large black bag which occasionally set off the store's electronic alarm (Ray, of course, would just keep on walking).
One of Grave's co-workers, an affable artist named Ren Kuttner, was a regular at the coffee shop next door; his ex-fiancee Amelia Coxsone still worked there. Harbin was also considered a living legend, folk hero, sex symbol, ad nauseum at this shop. Everyone there militantly defended him, and were rabid attack dogs against his detractors. Much as this sickened Ren, he kept coming here on his breaks because, simply put, he was still in love with the head barrista. In a weak moment, Ren mentioned to her that Ray'd been attempting to steal and scam in the store, and it looking liked he'd be barred from the store (they long ago sent every unsold copy of his book back to the publisher). Amelia humored her ex, but then reported the conversation to Ray.
An hour later, in plain sight of Graves, Harbin and his wife approached Kuttner. Harbin boldly threatened to murder Kuttner for his slander, screaming, "No one - no... one.. slanders the good name of James Ray Harbin" (a line of unbelieveable irony, Graves would discover). Harbin was on a rampage, and finally, he was removed and barred from ever returning to Literati's. When asked if Ren wished to press charges for harassment, death threats, and stalking, Kuttner begged off, finding discretion the best part of valor - and vowing never to trust the girl he once intended to marry for the rest of his natural life.
Following this drama, Harbin's wife split again. Word of mouth was hurting the book, largely due to the online debunkers. He may've still been the Second Coming to a few trendy over-pierced barristas, but weren't going to be paying his rent. So Harbin hustled like a madman for new interviews -print, TV, or radio - and, most potentially lucratively, gigs speaking on the lecture circuit of foundations and universities as an authority on the things he was speaking out against in his book. This may've been his single biggest mistake.
4 - The Fallout
On January 23, 2006, In Colorado, Harbin had been booked for a high-paying speaking gig. Just
before he was to appear, a warrant for his arrest was executed. At this point, the truth about this small-time self-spawned legend was no longer the province of sceptics, journalists, martial arts experts, and internet bloggers. It was now a matter for local and federal the law - the kind of law Harbin sneers at and blames again and again in his book as a root cause of "nothing being done .... for the children".
Harbin's first court appearance in Colorado was scheduled for February 2, 2006; his bond was set at $ 5,000.00. But as far back as 2004 REACT had been describing Harbin's history as pure fiction. Working closely with REACT's Central EuroOrg (including their Chief Secretariat in Auvergne, France - who's been on record since 2003 declaiming Harbin's bona-fides), and other REACT member countries, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation found Harbin's credentials bogus and have classed his numerous attempts to profit from his masquerade as federal felonies. His charges include, but are not limited to, criminal impersonation of a federal agent (a severe felony), fraud, computer crime, and attempted theft.
Once arrested, the Colorado police began unraveling the truth behind the mostly self-manufactured mythology of James Ray Harbin, covert agent of REACT and tireless advocate for and defender to the death of exploited, abused, and molested children. First off, his real (birth) name is Dwayne Ray Gilley. He legally changed his name to James Ray Harbin in Seattle, WA in 1990. Some have said James Harbin was the star of a minor string of spy thrillers from the 1960s - and, sure enough, an eBay search yields a dealer's page specializing in latter-day pulps, or "aggressor" fiction. Actually, the James Harbin series is called 'The Aggressor'. The fictional Harbin is never depicted as liberating Asian children from kiddie porn and snuff film rings, however (elements that do figure prominently in Ray of Hope).
The CBI, with assist from REACT, set about building their case against Harbin, who remained in jail for sometime with no one to come forward to pay his bond (his wife had left him twice since his credibility became damaged; the last time for good, well before his engagements in Colorado). The meticulous research conducted in the last year and a half by True Dragon and their adjunct website, provided a wealth of information debunking almost every incident in Harbin's book and his subsequent claims in his paid appearances. And Leo Rosegrave was not far behind, keeping up as best he could with this process, awaiting the collation of data and the final verdict, at which time the plan he and Sam had hatched was a "final interview".
REACT reiterated their much earlier statements of having no records of a James Ray Harbin having ever been associated with any of their divisions; this time they included the name 'Dwayne Ray Gilley' as part of their statement, now that Ray's birth name was public. REACT disavowed any knowledge of or dealings with Gilley, and, once again, denied the existence of Pyramid, or that they were in any way active such fields of covert operations or espionage.
The CBI and REACT say the chronology given in the book Ray of Hope by the man born Dwayne Ray Gilley is patently false. The following is what they managed to piece together as factual - some of which was uncovered by Leo Rosegrave and Michelle Liao since 2003. Dwayne Ray Gilley was born in Seattle WA on April 6, 1963. A CBI investigator was able to track down and interview Harbin's first wife, Suzy Stroupe. Here were his findings, which Ms. Stroupe would later reiterate under oath:
Suzanne Stroupe was born in Gossingham in 1962 and met Dwayne Gilley at Brigham Young University (he was actually a Mormon). They wed in 1984. hey had one child together in 1989. The couple changed their last names from Gilley to Harbin in Seattle WA in 1990. Dwayne changed his first name to James as well, to fully reflect why they made the name change - they'd selected Harbin because of the character James Harbin in the pulp novel series 'The Aggressor'.
In 1991 the couple separated; Stroupe moved to Gossingham, where most of her family hailed from. Harbin told Suzy that he was moving to Korea to teach English. Three months later, Harbin surprisingly emerged in Gossingham, where he remained near his wife and daughter until 1995
when they divorced. From 1995 to the present Harbin has kept in close contact with his child and ex-wife, and he currently resides in Flicker Street. Ms. Stroupe told the investigator that Harbin "has a fascination with comic books, action heroes, heroes in cartoons and especially in old pulp novels. He regularly attends comic book conventions."
Stroupe stated her view to the CBI investigator that "in my opinion it would be completely impossible for Dway - James, whatever, to have been a covert agent or assassin - these things he claims to be - and a graduate of the university in Korea where he claims to have gotten a Ph.D. without my knowledge. I never saw any Ph.D. Dwayne and I were practically inseparable for most of our relationship. My ex-husband is a habitual, pathological liar and I asked him many times to get some sort of psychological help to help him deal with reality. He refused, and that's essentially what led to our divorce".
Stroupe went on: "Once, he told me his father had passed away and that he needed to make funeral arrangements. I called my mother-in-law to offer condolences, and found that Mr. Gilley was alive and perfectly fine! It was just crazy". Stroupe also wished it pointed out for the record that the scar he allegedly acquired as a result of being stabbed in the riot in Kwangju (the one that never actually occurred), was actually the result of a kidney operation.
With Harbin's personal mythology effectively destroyed, he's accusing the CBI of being a tool of REACT and his ex-wife of herself being a perpetual liar, and bitter over his remarriage. Sam Pace publishes Graves' article and Sam asks Leo if he'll do the exclusive interview with Ray that they'd discussed – as the ultimate follow-up. Graves heads to Colorado...
5 - The Final Interview
Leo comes to see Ray at the jail where he's being held before his final judgment. No one would come forward to pay the $ 5,000. So much for his devoted following, thinks Graves. Ray acquiesces to a "final" interview after pleading guilty and saying very little to explain himself in court - and saying nothing to the press. Whether he will 'come clean' or not, Graves doesn't know - or believe that it'll happen. His intention is to call out Ray, to make him squirm, to gain enough insight by reading between the now-debunked lines, to construct a story - a psychological snapshot of what really drives Dwayne Ray Gilley.
Beyond the need for attention, ego-aggrandizement, the need to be regarded as a hero like those of his comics, cartoons, and pulps - beyond a calculating, years-long and convoluted bit of grifting to enrich himself financially; and far, far beyond what he still claims is the good he's really done. What is this good, that he claims is more important than his own fate and whether what he says is truth or lie? It's to draw attention to, and, hence, aid "the plight of the exploited and degraded children of the world". And it is upon this justification for all he's done that Ray clings - and it is that fragile rationale that Graves hopes to use against Ray, to undo and expose his true sickness once and for all.
This section runs on pure dialogue. Without scripting the entire section, here are some highlights (not necessarily in order) and the resolution:
Leo leans in close to Ray. (Leo's look and manner here evokes a very intense grizzled Nick Nolte [circa Clean and Hulk look - but younger]) "Jean-Marc LaSalle doesn't really exist... does he? He.. never really existed, did he Ray?" (flips back to more jovial Graves as he stands up.)
Harbin: "I didn't like what you wrote in that magazine".
Graves: "What? I mean, what in particular? I'm sure there was a lot in there you could've found objectionable".
Harbin: "That sick description of my book".
Graves (pulls out the ONUS issue, flips through, and his eyes settle on this quote, which he reads aloud to Ray): "Ray of Hope... how to take such a screed? A vigilante's wet dream... or a cry for
help from a closeted pedophile?"
H: "Yes. (angry) Why... how could you write something like that after everything I've done for exploited children?"
G: "Do what? Exploit them further? Make a quick book off of fabricated suffering when the real deal's out there, festering? How are you helping, Ray? Did you read Liao Jun Kim's quote? I've met him, you know - a Zen Buddhist, by the way - and he just nailed it. Not to hurt you, or stymie your book sales - but because he was right. He read you. The whole thing about you.."
H: (getting very enraged)
G: "Easy, big boy. The whole thing is... yes, the hook is sexually exploited children, kiddie porn, human trafficking, the whole sordid enchilada... you know - of course you do - it turns on people, Ray. Certain types of people. Why? We could theorize endlessly, and "behavioural psychologists" do - like Bryn Deerfield, who, by the way, I did find and her story is the Wonderworld deal is pure bunk – she wasn't there, and she's never met you.. oh yeah, and she may sue you for - "
H: (furious) "Did you have a point to make before I smash your head into this table?"
G: "With Crane, Tiger, Monkey, whatcha got for me? Yes, I do have a point, and then I'll leave. And I brought you a present here in my bag. Some stuff I printed off the Internet. Makes me lose my lunch even catching it out of the corner of my eye, but maybe it'll help alleviate your loneliness while you await the sentence. And maybe you'll get something out of it before you scramble to destroy it when you hear a guard coming..."
H: : "What the fuck???"
G: (lays down five pages of child pornography on the table in front of Harbin) "Here you go, Dwayne Ray Gilley - you know, you told the truth about one - just one, apparently - thing - "
H: "Get this filth - "
G: " - the plight of the exploited and degraded children of the world..." (turns to leave) ".... you do care about their plight. You love it, you wallow in it, you jerk off to the suffering.... well...". Graves turns, opening the door, says, "Enjoy it while you can, you sick fuck. Pretty soon, your final secret won't be a secret anymore... Best of luck".
Then Graves leaves. Harbin is enraged. He wants to smash that pathetic bastard. His heart races.... he looks down at the images Graves left behind, and somewhere in his bizarre consciousness flits the thought, there are other ways to calm down .... to relieve all this stress...
He reaches down, under the table, between his legs....
Leo Rosegrave aka Graves, James Ray Harbin aka Dwayne Ray Gilley, Flicker Street, The Flicker Street Dispatch, The Daily Occidental, ONUS Magazine, Sam Pace, Michelle Liao, Jun Kim Liao, Suzy Stroupe Gilley, Gossingham, Jerzy Talbot, Jean-Marc LaSalle, REACT, REACT EuroOrg, REACT: Pyramid, Paige Street, Ren Kuttner, Amelia Coxsone, Barry Keller, Horst Ewers, John Bandicott, Luc Herzog, Edward Letterier, Henri Maturin, Bryn Deerfield, Officer Janssen, Literati's, Ray of Hope: The Covert Missions of a Crusader Against Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking, True Dragon, and all related images and story elements were created by Henry Covert 1983-2008 and are all Copyright 2015 George Henry Smathers, Jr.