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Police Probe Astronaut's Fist Launch

Violence: Buzz Aldrin apparently was provoked before hitting a moon-landing skeptic, Beverly Hills authorities say.

September 11, 2002|KENNETH REICH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin apparently was lured to an interview with a video maker who claims the moon landings never took place and then was "poked" repeatedly with a Bible before he hit the video maker in the face, Beverly Hills police said Tuesday.

Bart Sibrel, 37, of Nashville, Tenn., said he plans to file a criminal assault complaint against the 72-year-old astronaut and will sue him for civil damages. But Beverly Hills police Lt. Gary Gilmond said just who committed assault Monday night will be investigated.

Gilmond said police will interview both men and file a report with the district attorney's office.

Aldrin's attorney, Robert O'Brien, said the astronaut, who lives in Westwood, "was forced to protect himself and his stepdaughter when he was aggressively confronted" outside the Luxe Hotel.

O'Brien said Sibrel, whom he described as 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighing 250 pounds, "intercepted" Aldrin, who weighs about 160 pounds and is 5 feet 10 inches, and physically blocked him from leaving.

Sibrel had a different story. "I never poked him, never physically touched the guy," he said, asserting that his cheek was swollen and that he had been advised to get an X-ray.

Both sides said there is a video that will support their version.

Sibrel said he was trying to get Aldrin to swear on the Bible that Aldrin had gone to the moon. Sibrel said he had tried before to get six astronauts to swear similarly, but none had agreed to do so.

Sibrel said that a Japanese company was shooting a film at the Luxe on the authenticity of the moon landings and that he was "a surprise guest" on the show, arriving with his own video team. He said Aldrin was not told in advance Sibrel would be there.

Sibrel has made and is peddling a 37-minute video entitled "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon," which accuses NASA of a hoax in claiming that it sent men to the moon.

Gilmond said Aldrin went to the hotel thinking that he was going to be interviewed by a Japanese educational television station, and had no idea Sibrel would be there.

"Mr. Aldrin then left the interview when he found out what it was all about, but was followed by Mr. Sibrel," Gilmond said. "[Sibrel] poked Mr. Aldrin repeatedly with the Bible, telling him to repent, and pushing the Bible in his face."

Although the astronaut did hit Sibrel, Gilmond said, the video maker apparently wasn't injured. Aldrin left before police arrived, Gilmond said.

The Beverly Hills officers who came to the scene were "biased" against him, Sibrel said Tuesday. "A couple of police when they arrived were already calling me a liar, and they hadn't even talked to me yet," he said.

Citing his journalistic credentials, Sibrel said he had worked for two years at a Nashville television station, WSMV. However, station news director Mark Shafer said Sibrel "only worked for the station as a part-time editor for two months eight or nine years ago, and he has no right whatsoever to claim any association with our news organization."

At NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, a spokeswoman, Eileen Hawley, said, "We have a lot of respect for Buzz Aldrin, but he no longer works for us. The only thing I can tell you is we did land on the moon, and this incident [in Beverly Hills] has nothing to do with NASA at all."

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