The case of Paul Pantone, an Oklahoman who says he’s invented a contraption that will run on virtually any liquid, illustrates the link between defiers of conventional scientific wisdom and radical rightists who violently distrust the government. In fact, Pantone’s alleged ties to radicals have both neighbors and law enforcement worried.
On the day of the demonstration, Paul Pantone trundled out his aging pride and joy, an old red Briggs & Stratton motor fitted with a confusing tangle of piping. The device, he claims, converts any liquid, even urine, into clean-burning fuel.
With a Marlboro dangling from his lips, Pantone called over a potbellied assistant to start the engine, which runs on a system he has named Global Environment Energy Technology (GEET). The fuel for the day was a bottle of chilled Mountain Dew, and a few jerks of the starter cord was all it took to get the motor sputtering and coughing for the benefit of a curious visitor.
“It works,” said Pantone, breaking into a toothless smile. And then, grimmer, he added, “That’s the problem. They don’t want it to work.”
Unveiled nearly 30 years ago at the 1984 ExtraOrdinary Technology conference, a venue that draws basement inventors and would-be heirs to legendary electrical engineer Nicholas Tesla, Pantone’s magical machine made him an instant hero in certain circles. To fellow inventors and defiers of conventional wisdom, he was a brilliant and indefatigable man of vision. But to many extremists of the radical right, men who are accustomed to the idea that the government and corporations deliberately work to keep key technologies and their benefits from the people they oppress, Pantone was a great revolutionary, a brave man with a machine that had the potential to radically and irreversibly alter the very order of things.
James “Bo” Gritz, the militia icon and former Green Beret who founded an Idaho survivalist community in the 1990s, once came calling, seeking exclusive rights to Pantone’s device. “Coast to Coast,” a radio show dedicated to promoting a huge array of conspiracy theories, heralded his contraption as revolutionary. Other extremists, interested as always in unlocking the secrets the government keeps from the rest of us, saw Pantone as a potential key to American liberation.
But it wasn’t long before the hullabaloo faded, and Pantone instead found himself entangled in a state investigation into the business practices of his GEET Inc., a case than ultimately landed him in the Utah mental health system.
Now, three decades since the creation of GEET and three years after he was released from a Utah hospital where supporters claim he was “railroaded,” Pantone has reappeared in Oklahoma with a recharged vision for his product. He has built a sprawling compound where he offers to teach paying customers the secrets of his GEET technology, and a stream of outsiders have been making their way there to study at his feet. At the same time, while he has local supporters, rumors abound in surrounding communities that his home is fitted with secret passages and even, some say, a sort of lookout tower said to be fitted with shooting ports.
Mr. Pantone’s Brain
The American radical right has long been fixated on secret technologies and machines that the government allegedly either keeps from the people or, as they claim, uses against them in its nefarious efforts to crush freedom. One of the most popular far-right theories, for instance, is the idea that colloidal silver, which was used in nose drops almost a century ago, is a surefire cure for more than 650 diseases. (It isn’t, and in fact the material, if ingested, has long been known to rapidly turn human skin a cadaverous grayish blue.) Other remedies supposedly held back by a heartless government include blueberry enemas and laetrile, a substance derived from apricot pits that some people insist can cure cancer.
Similarly, many right-wing extremists believe the government has developed secret weapons, typically sounding a lot like sci-fi rayguns, that it uses against its enemies. Many warn about the black helicopters supposedly used to track and harass American dissidents. Some say there is a secret weather machine hidden away underneath the city of Brussels, Belgium, that is being used to destroy American farmers, while still others insist that officials are secretly implanting microchips into citizens’ bodies in order to track and control them.
And then there is GEET.
According to the story he told dozens of news outlets, the technology behind GEET was given to him in 1975, while he worked as a carpenter, by a mysterious woman named “Mrs. Cunningham,” who he believes was an angel. Such claims — along with even wilder ones he made off the record to the Report — inevitably led to serious scrutiny of Pantone and his assertions.
In 2005, as Pantone was living in Salt Lake City enjoying widespread popularity as a rising star at conspiracy conferences, the state of Utah charged him with two counts of securities fraud relating to allegedly ripping off investors for more than $200,000.
Richard Hamp, an assistant attorney general in the Utah Attorney General’s office who prosecuted the case, told the Report that Pantone’s claims about his engine were “pure, unadulterated nonsense” — the crackpot notions of a “fraud” looking to get rich quick. The engine, for all its apparent mysteries, was really running on re-circulated gasoline left in its fuel lines or still unburned in its exhaust, he said.
Pantone’s trial was a “zoo,” Hamp said, with supporters picketing the courthouse and challenging the proceedings as a witch hunt meant to tar the inventor who dared to challenge the status quo. All of that didn’t amount to much, however, as Pantone was convicted of two counts of securities fraud.
But as sentencing neared, Pantone began an odd series of legal maneuvers.
Following the advice of supporters, he asked Judge Royal Hansen of the Third District Court in Utah, to excuse him from sentencing, claiming he was mentally incompetent and unable to understand the nature of the proceedings. He missed court appearances, his physical appearance suffered, and his behavior became erratic. Hansen ordered a barrage of mental examinations, ultimately determining what, for most, was already utterly apparent.
“Much to Mr. Pantone’s chagrin,” Hamp said, “he is crazy.”
According to one evaluation obtained in 2007 by the Salt Lake Weekly, psychiatrists found that Pantone “exhibit[ed] grandiose and persecutory delusions, complicated by a personality disorder and a history of substance abuse.” He was sent to the Utah State Hospital, a mental health facility in Provo, where he was held for three years pending being judged competent to undergo sentencing.
Meanwhile, Pantone and his many supporters claimed that he was being tortured as part of a multinational corporate plot to discredit his invention. He was diagnosed with hepatitis C, skin rashes and infected gums. His teeth were rotten. His homegrown support network, the Paul Pantone Defense Project (PPDP), began advocating for Pantone’s immediate release amid charges of “inventor abuse.”
“As we go to press, Paul Pantone, the developer of GEET, struggles as a prisoner railroaded into a mental ward of the State Hospital at Provo, Utah,” George Gabouri, president of the Tesla Society in San Francisco, wrote in 2006 for the society’s journal, ExtraOrdinary Technology. “Some of Paul’s teeth are broken in half. Some have fallen out. His mouth is swollen. He has bleeding skin sores contracted from other patients. ... Every day is a new battle.”
Indeed, photographs of Pantone from that time show his physical appearance radically changed. Gone was the handsome inventor once championed in the underground as the next Bill Gates; in his place was a man who seemingly aged decades in a short while. In one photo, his mouth is agape to show teeth ground to nubs. Others show toes curled and broken, his buttocks raw with a rash.
Ultimately, the state agreed to let Pantone leave the mental health facility without serving any jail time — he had been in the hospital for more time than any sentence he would have received anyway. But he emerged a bitter man.
“He thought that Utah had conspired to do this stuff to him,” Hamp recalled. But, in reality, he added, “We fixed his teeth. We fixed his feet. All in all, Utah taxpayers spent a lot of money on Mr. Pantone. One thing we didn’t fix is his brain. He wouldn’t let us fix that, and we got tired of messing with it.”
Free at Last
On May 12, 2009, a website called GEET Friends posted the news. “Paul Pantone is FREE,” the article read. “He is cheerfully recovering from the physical damages inflicted on him and is finally receiving treatment.” Supporters wasted no time declaring Pantone “an American hero who has survived horrific inventor abuse by corrupt Utah officials and businessmen.” And Pantone, for his part, wasted no time starting anew. He left Utah for Stephens County, Okla., where a friend had parceled off several acres on which he could build a home.
He was angry and defiant, according to many accounts, and came to Oklahoma to rebuild, away from the corruption he felt he had been subjected to. It was here, according to law enforcement officers, that Pantone began to take on the personality of an embattled hermit.
This April, at a gas station outside of Comanche, a woman waiting in a line of farmers buying breakfast gave directions to Pantone’s home. It wasn’t far, she said, adding in a whisper, “He’s a genius.” Even with such support, though, Pantone shows signs of paranoia. On a corner outside the gas station, a man wearing a nondescript security guard-type uniform and wearing a holstered revolver — later confirmed to be Pantone’s security guard — quietly sipped coffee from a Styrofoam cup as he scanned the scene.
Pantone’s compound is about three miles off the blacktop down a narrow country road. A large edifice totaling 6,800 square feet but with only two bedrooms, the building doesn’t look like a farmhouse. In fact, it is reminiscent of Mt. Carmel, the ill-fated, dorm-like Branch Davidian main building in Waco, Tex., where cultist David Koresh held sway. A tower-like gable rises from the middle of the roof to form what sheriff’s deputies say could be used as a shooting position.
Pantone, who claims to own no guns, laughed at the implication that he is readying for a standoff. But he does boast of having created 180 inventions, including some that sound anything but benign. “One is how to turn water into a detonation device,” Pantone told the Report. “I could level a jail cell with six ounces of water.”
The building is sparsely furnished. Its living room is large with a few flat-screen televisions and a black leather sectional couch. The walls of an office adjacent to the living room are covered in odd décor, including a photograph of a man riding a motorcycle outfitted to look like a naked woman on her hands and knees. The kitchen floor is painted to look like marble tile, and Pantone’s bedroom is kept like a monk’s quarters. As for the tower in the middle of the structure — one of many features of the building that appear oddly out of place — Pantone said it was simply a storage area.
“Would you like to see?” he said, cracking a door on carpeted stairs rising toward the next level. Then, without explanation, he closed it again. “We shouldn’t go up there,” he said with a laugh. “We’ve got a bit of a wasp infestation.”
‘You Better Be Ready’
It would be easy to dismiss Pantone’s tale as a kooky story, the bizarre but unimportant case of a man living out his life in seclusion except for occasional contact with the extreme right. Or you could see him as his followers do: an ostracized visionary and a brilliant man victimized by a conspiratorial web of industrial interests hell-bent on destroying him.
The Sheriff’s Office is careful to stress that Pantone has not been accused of breaking any laws. Pantone himself says that he has distanced himself from extremist elements who once came calling because of his invention. However, there still are legitimate concerns, law enforcement officials say.
In recent months, Pantone has been involved in an ongoing, increasingly volatile, feud with a neighbor, Forrest Pitman. The two have argued over property, with 911 records indicating that the confrontations have edged closer to violence. Pittman did not return phone messages seeking comment, but Pantone has told authorities that Pittman has repeatedly harassed him with weapons.
What comes of Pantone, in many ways then, remains to be seen. His supporters dismiss questions and worries surrounding Pantone as the byproduct of years of persecution; though even they note his behavior has changed.
“There is no question Paul is eccentric. ... [But] whatever is going on with him internally, it seems to be there is something viable going on with the technology,” said Gabouri, the Tesla Society president.
He added: “Paul is just trying to make sure he doesn’t get backed into a corner again.”
After years of struggling to develop a viable business model to make money from his GEET technology, Pantone announced this May that he planned to open “schools” beyond the classes he offers at his home compound. He claims that some schools — by which he apparently does not mean brick-and-mortar buildings, but rather simple gatherings of hobbyists in a garage or a basement to tinker with small motors — already exist in Brazil, Israel and Pakistan.
The base of operations will be from Pantone’s home in Oklahoma, where the inventor has set himself tirelessly against the known world, joined by a new breed of students who come with worries and fears regarding the economy, the environment and, yes, the government.
It’s impossible to say if the worries about Pantone are valid. But what is indisputable is that he represents a phenomenon quite common on the American radical right — the intersection of self-described inventors and creators of alternative technologies with those who despise the government for political reasons, sometimes to the point of violence. Once one believes the government is conspiring against them because they know key scientific secrets, it’s often not a far leap to believing that action against that oppressive government is needed.
Pantone didn’t explicitly address the ideas and concerns of antigovernment radicals in his interview with the Report. But when he speaks, he does seem to suggest that something big, and perhaps scary, is coming.
“[My students] know that something is coming down the pipe. They know that power is going out sooner or later,” Pantone said, pausing for a brief moment for effect. “And when it does, you better be ready.”