This story has the ingredients of a Hollywood blockbuster. First, it has a spooky setting - the desert outside of the top secret Area 51 military base. Think classified projects, dark secrets, maybe space aliens.
Then, add in some diabolical Nazis, white supremacists, maybe use some of the costumes from Raiders of the Lost Ark since, as we all know, Nazis had a thing for weird and mystical secrets.
Finally, toss in some colorful rural characters, the kind of rugged individualists and assorted oddballs who would be willing to live in the middle of nowhere, eschewing all of the conveniences of life in a normal town. Presto—the day Neo Nazi’s invaded Rachel! Book a suite of rooms at Cannes.
This combination of elements might sound far fetched, but it is all too believable to residents of tiny Rachel, Nev., regarded as the gateway to Area 51 and the unofficial UFO capital of the world. For 25 years, the few businesses in Rachel have survived by catering to flying saucer enthusiasts, TV crews, and assorted desert travelers. Many of the souls who live out there are either loners, retirees, or expatriates from big cities who really don’t want any attention. When someone comes to town with deep pockets and starts buying things up, word gets around pretty fast.
In this case, that someone is Richard Bunck, a licensed Nevada contractor with a colorful past. According to public records, Bunck has purchased six different parcels in Rachel, including the town’s only grocery mart and gas station, and the land under what used to be Rachel’s only trailer park/RV lot. (The other four parcels gobbled up by Bunck are five-acre lots of mostly raw land, located in the heart of Rachel proper.)
What’s weird to residents is that Bunck bought the store and gas station, changed the name of the place to Alien Cowpoke, then shut the whole thing down, which means anyone in Rachel who needs gasoline, or a loaf of bread, or a quart of milk needs to head down the road about 55 miles to the next-nearest store. As residents told me, no one was getting rich off of running the store, but since it was the only game in town it was a source of steady income. Ditto for the trailer park. It was home to dozens of long term residents and an assortment of snowbirds who alight in Rachel to ride out the winter months. The trailer park probably didn’t earn a fortune either, but it practically ran itself. When Bunck informed residents that they had to pack up and get out. More than a few simply had nowhere else to go.
No one in town has the slightest idea what Bunck is up to. If he has a plan, he hasn’t shared it with the locals. Bunck doesn’t live in Rachel himself but does drop by once or more each month. Baptist minister Robert Kenniston—a former radio newsman in Las Vegas—noticed that his congregation in the tiny Baptist Church of Rachel dropped by two-thirds in just a matter of a few weeks, mostly because many in his congregation had lived at the trailer park. Kenniston started checking into Bunck’s background and discovered the sordid truth about Bunck’s younger days.
According to a couple of Southern California journalists who covered Bunck years ago, the same Richard Bunck who has been buying up Rachel was involved with a white supremacist Christian Identity Church, JHM Baptist Church, founded by a racist preacher named John Hale McGee. Bunck and McGee not only lived together, but were co-hosts of a public access TV show. Both ran for public office at the same time. That’s when reporters dug up the nasty facts about their racist backgrounds. Photos of Bunck wearing a Nazi-style uniform standing behind a giant swastika and holding anti-Jewish placards were published in SoCal newspapers. The photos effectively ended Bunck’s political aspirations.
Reports told me Bunck denied any connections to white power movements, until he was confronted with the photos and records of his arrests at Nazi demonstrations. He then tried to say he had been working undercover for the FBI, a story that quickly crumbled. And later he said the whole thing had been a passing fancy, a youthful indiscretion. The problem with that is, here we are 30 years later, and Bunck is still operating under the JHM aegis. Each of the properties was transferred from his own name into that of the JHM church, In fact, his contracting company is also listed as JHM.
Maybe there is a logical, non-sinister explanation for what is going on in Rachel. The residents would certainly like to know. And so would the FBI. Agents have quietly interviewed several of the locals to find out what they might know about Bunck. So far, Mr. Bunck isn’t talking but he might want to one day let us know what he has in mind for the little town that is now under his thumb. His Alien Cowpoke gas station might be gone, but a company using the same name and logo is doing pretty well online. Maybe he wants to take over Rachel and corner the market on all the UFO/ET type merchandise that emanates from that corner of the desert.
Lake Mead Fairy Tale:
The anticipation is killing me. When will we get to read about the silver lining in the latest Water Authority screw up? It would seem that the holiday season is the perfect time to put a fairy-tale spin on an otherwise dreary set of facts, which is something SNWA has turned into an art form, so where is it?
Maybe you saw the story a few days ago about additional delays and millions in extra costs to the already $800 million so-called Third Straw project. SNWA has already had to announce two previous delays and millions in additional costs as problem after problem has popped up during construction of a water pipeline out to the deep part of Lake Mead. Whenever there is bad news to deliver to the public, SNWA can always count on the loyalty of its sycophantic minions in the media, who tend to regurgitate the essence of the creative news releases issued by the water honchos.
My guess is that the latest delay, which pushed the completion date back another year and added millions more to the cost of the $800 million project, will turn out to have amazing and unexpected benefits for all of us. It would not surprise me to read in the local paper that this new delay will result in whiter teeth for everyone who lives here, plus everyone’s libido will get a boost, as if someone slipped Viagra into our tap water. Maybe our laundry will smell minty-fresh and our kids grades will improve.
The best that SNWA has come up with so far is an admonition that “nobody panic.” SNWA board members were further informed that still more delays, and additional expenses are also possible.
GEORGE KNAPP is a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter for KLAS Channel 8.