The switching room at Channel 4 News is abuzz with frantic activity. The picture from San Juan is grainy – something about electromagnetic interference – and seemingly nothing can be done.
Head local anchorman George Rivera takes a moment to straighten his tie and shuffle through his notes while the meteorologist makes his predictions for the Miami area – sever tropical storm warnings as a spiral cloud gathers strength in the Atlantic ocean four hundred miles away.
Laura asks for the fifth time if her hair looks good and if they’re ready to roll. She holds her microphone ready and glances around nervously at the people around her, who chanting and staring out to sea. The coastal breeze ruffles her carefully styled hair, but the sunset bathes the whole scene in rich, pleasing light.
The camera cuts back to Rivera’s reassuringly calm countenance and he says “Tonight we have an update on what some are calling a mass demonstration which is taking place right here in southeastern Florida, and which seems to stretch into the Keys and even farther out to the islands of the Caribbean. Laura Tucker is on the scene in San Juan Beach in Puerto Rico. Laura?”
“Yes George, I’m standing here barefoot in the silky white sand of northern Puerto Rico near the busy capital of San Juan. Standing around me are hundreds, possibly thousands of people, staring out toward the ocean to the north. Some of them have not moved for days and many are not pausing to eat. You can hear them chanting the same sounds, over and over. Many of them are waving green crystals over their heads or around their bodies. If you ask one of them what they are chanting, they can’t even tell you. It sounds like gibberish, and linguists cannot even agree on the language that is being used.”
Laura holds the microphone near the closest chanter, a young man with long heir dressed in what is probably hemp clothing. He seems shaky and tired but he chants in a long stream something that sounds like “am an lok toka ahan ras resef nahan aht lant sis mal af ekek tek am…” He doesn’t seem to notice the microphone or the bright lights of the filming crew and his chanting continues unabated. In his left hand is clutched a green gemstone.
George pipes up, “That’s truly amazing, Laura. And to think that many of these people have been standing on the beach, day and night, for three days now. What are locals saying about all of this where you are?”
Laura returns the microphone to the point just beneath her chin. “George, the feeling on the island is generally one of frustration and confusion. Many attribute these recent events to some sort of mass cultic activity similar to Aum Shinrikyu’s gas attacks in Tokyo or their alleged testing of a nuclear device in the Australian Outback. So far this seems more benign, but tensions are high. Many of those on the beaches are tourists from the United States, and local authorities have been carefully monitoring these demonstrations for any signs of drug use or violence. So far, the only real dangers have been from heat-stroke and dehydration, and ambulances are standing by to resuscitate those who collapse as time goes on.”
“Absolutely incredible.” Laura’s box disappears and Rivera’s face swells to fill more of the screen. “For another perspective on recent events, we turn to two experts in their respective fields. The first is a clinical psychologists who researches what he calls ‘deprogramming’ and is an advocate for young people who have been brainwashed by cults or other organizations. He sees the mass gatherings along our coasts as an immanent threat to social stability and a symptom of a culture that no longer provides appropriate role-models for behavior. Our other panelist is an attourney from the American Civil Liberties Union who believes that these people are simply practicing their First Amendment rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of religion. We’ll hear their debate, and respond to viewer calls, after this break.”