When your beat is Ashland, a reporter is bound to develop some eccentric sources. I realized this truism might come into play during my assignment on chemtrails, airplane exhaust seen in the sky that some believe are biochemical weapons used by the government to control anything from the weather to the population to the people themselves.




However, when I sat down at Bloomsbury Coffee House the other day to interview three Ashlanders about this conspiratorial phenomenon, I never would have guessed that the one who ate enough raw silver to turn his skin a deep metallic blue color would serve as the voice of reason.




Compared to his co-interviewee, Sunan Levine, he was actually quite rational.




Within a few hours of Levine attacking me in the coffee shop, in a disruptive and failed attempt to steal my notebook, the silver man &

who asked not to be identified by name &

wrote in an e-mail, "The incident certainly lends fuel to the ad hominim tactic of disparaging a viewpoint/cause because of the personality of a proponent."




Levine tried to take my notes, he said, because he didn't want me to reveal that he was speaking under the pseudonym John Keris. He said the FBI would become wise to his whistle-blowing efforts. While it is not the job of a journalist to do the dirty work of law enforcement, Levine put me in a compromising position. His associates told me his name was Sunan, and I addressed him as such when we met.




"That's not my name," he replied nervously. "It's ... John."




Then I asked him for his last name and he was stumped. He clearly hadn't thought one up yet, and darted his eyes around the living room-like cafe as if in search of inspiration. I joked that most people show up to interviews with their alias already determined and that seemed to defuse the awkward situation. I then asked if John was spelled with or without an "h" and he told me I could use either.




Because two of the three interviewees had decided to conceal their identity, and yet they were acting as spokesmen for a grassroots political campaign against chemtrails, I decided I should further explore this dynamic.




But first I wanted to hear what they had to say about chemtrails.




"The geometry of clouds has changed in the last 20 years," silver man said. "There is a spray being turned on and off to form an artificial cloud structure."




He seemed to be the most knowledgeable on the subject, as well as the strangest character of the three. Previously, I have received e-mailed photos from him purporting to show a UFO flying over the Rogue Valley.




Before he arrived, his fellow chemtrail believer Tom Steckinger warned me that he would be silver.




"I assume you mean he has a long, white beard," I said, but he told me to wait and see, and then I would understand what he meant.




Steckinger explained that his friend takes colloidal silver for health purposes. Taking colloidal silver for health purposes has its own following, but with chemtrails, the jury is &

at best &

out on its effectiveness. The Dermatology Online Journal reports that long-term ingestion of silver may result in argyria, a condition in which skin color turns blue or gray.




When I asked him why he didn't want his name in the paper, he spoke of "dirty tricks" and "black ops" performed by secret branches of the government on those who would expose their plans.




When I asked Levine a similar question, he replied, "You're not going to say that isn't my real name, are you?"




I told him that I did intend to mention that. He forbade me from doing so, and I let him know he was not in a position to determine which facts I include in my story.




The next thing I knew, he was trying to take my notes away. I was sitting in one of the big, comfortable chairs in the coffee shop, and Levine was sitting about three feet away. He lept from his chair toward mine, pawing at my notebook. His best efforts managed to wrinkle a few pages, but he could not dislodge it from my hands.




Call me a fool or a hack, if you will, but do not mess with a reporter's notes.




In an effort to protect myself and my notes, I pushed him away from me. He landed on the floor, taking a table and Steckinger with him. I left while the getting was still good.




the time I made it to East Main Street, Levine had decided to chase after me. Two Bloomsbury baristas followed him, as well. Rather than start another confrontation, he stopped abruptly and asked me, in an accusatory tone, "Who are you, and who do you work for?"




Had I had my wits about me, I might have told him I was an undercover government operative sent to discredit the chemtrail movement.




Interestingly, other chemtrail believers, such as former Ashland City Council candidate Randy Dolinger believe Levine may be a government plant himself, used to make people who believe in chemtrails seem insane or untrustworthy.




However, when asked, I told Levine the truth.




"I'm Bob Plain, and I work for the Ashland Daily Tidings," I said.




Later on, the silver man and Steckinger both called me to apologize for their friend's behavior. Again, I told them the truth: It's actually not all that uncommon of an experience when you're a reporter in Ashland.




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