Several people have messaged me about the news today that President Trump’s nominee for Federal District Court of Alabama, Brett J. Talley, is a paranormal investigator. He disclosed in his Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire that he had been involved with the Tuscaloosa Paranormal Research Group from 2009 to 2010.
People are making quite the deal of this disclosure, having a good laugh. It’s not funny to me, but not for the reasons you might think.
But first, some clarifications. This news was not secret. Talley was a former speechwriter for Senator Rob Portman. Back in December 2014, a Washington Post article featured Talley who has written several horror novels and two “true ghost story” books specific to the Alabama area. (Including a Lovecraftian novel called “That Which Should Not Be” An appropriate title for this commentary.) The article noted it was a strange alternative career but writing books hardly pays the bills (as he also states on his Amazon author profile). The story made it rather clear that Talley, a Harvard-trained lawyer, needed to stick to a more traditional career path. The article called him a “paranormal detective” which isn’t a commonly used term since members of these amateur research and investigation groups (ARIGs) hardly ever solve a mystery. Talley admitted that he seeks a “good scientific explanation for the weird things people see and hear” and though open to the idea that paranormal causes are at play, he finds these activities fun. This is near-universally the attitude of ARIG members.
I studied over 1000 groups, mostly ghost investigation groups, across the US from 2010 to the present. My book – Scientifical Americans – chronicling their incorporation of scientific language, processes, and gadgetry in order to present a serious and authoritative image, is out this month. You can pre-order it here, please. There has not been another book that looked into this cultural phenomenon specific to scientific appropriation before. I think I have some fair insight into this backstory of Talley’s former paranormal doings.
Talley seems unique as an ARIG member in that he has a degree from a reputable institution, but not unusual in that it has nothing to do with the subject at hand. Training as a lawyer gives little preparation for the job of understanding the psychology of fear and media influence that dictates the trend in reporting local and personal paranormal events. It’s also fair to say that certain plumbers might technically be more qualified than a lawyer to make sense out of strange events going on at any house.
The same might be said for Talley’s qualification for being a judge. He has basically none. That’s the real story here. Being an amateur paranormal investigator is hardly the same as being an amateur head of a court of law where real people’s lives hang in the balance of your judgment.
Talley was nominated on the basis of recommendations by Alabama senators. He had served as deputy solicitor general for Alabama and works for the Department of Justice Office of Legal Planning. But he has never even argued a case in court let alone presided over one. The US Bar Association unanimously deemed him unqualified for this Federal Court position – a lifetime appointment.
While some media sources are using this past paranormal investigation as a way to discredit Talley, he’s done a more than fine effort to discredit himself. In his information to the Senate Judiciary Committee, he failed to disclose his previous political blog writing. But in an egregiously obvious misstep, he failed to disclose the potential conflict of interest that his wife is a White House lawyer!
None of these ethical issues was enough to prevent the SJC from approving his application. So, a past as a cemetery lurker with a flashlight talking to tombstones is hardly the problem, is it?
Moreover, we should be worried about Talley’s anti-gay and pro-gun views. He reportedly wrote about how he joined the NRA after the Newtown shooting of children because he felt this violence problem could be solved by “manning up”. Eww. The current administration is bent on putting in unqualified and conservative young people into the system. The huge issue with Talley’s appointment (in a state that is now the bullseye for “backward” American culture) is that he is totally unqualified and unsuitable for the job of judge six ways from Sunday, the occasional venture to seek evidence of life after death is a total red herring.