The “Living God” is unlikely to “open the ground and swallow” Santa Feans at Will Shuster’s Zozobra effigy-burning, according to public safety officials, federal investigators, Zozobra organizers and a biblical scholar.
Nor should Santa Feans worry about a group calling itself “The Messengers,” which issued such a threat to Santa Feans by mail last fall, officials tell SFR.
“Anytime we receive any type of threat, whether it’s veiled or not, we take it very seriously,” Santa Fe Police Capt. Gary Johnson says. “From all accounts, [the group’s threat] did not appear to be credible, but they are in our discussions again this year.”
On Sept. 10, the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe will host the 85th burning of the giant “Old Man Gloom” marionette, an annual ritual designed to eliminate the year’s misery. According to Santa Fe Fire Department Assistant Chief Erik Litzenberg, SFFD is already prepared for the worst, with 20 emergency medical technicians on duty within the Fort Marcy Park grounds.
“If it does open up and swallow anybody, we’re ready to respond if we have to,” Litzenberg says.
Last fall, Litzenberg was the battalion chief for the first SFFD unit on the scene for the Zozobra-related threat. According to the Nov. 6 police report, Santa Fe resident Linda Hansen dialed 911 after receiving a letter titled, “Warning to the People of Santa Fe.” The envelope contained a suspicious white powder.
The letter was written in first person from the point of view of the “Great God of Israel,” who likened Zozobra to a false idol prohibited by the second of the Ten Commandments.
“For at your pagan festival I, the Living God, will open the ground and swallow your people for this horrible thing you do,” The Messengers’ letter states. “This too was done in the day of Moses, for the Israelites built their god (a golden calf) at the base of Mount Sinai.”
SFFD’s hazmat team judged the powder to be “nothing that was a threat to humans,” according to Litzenberg. FBI investigators also arrived on scene, but ultimately the case was assigned to the US Postal Inspection Service.
“For law enforcement, that wouldn’t constitute an actual threat,” PIS spokeswoman Amanda McMurrey tells SFR. “It’s more of a pontificational type of statement…Obviously, the powder itself was intended to at least bring a modicum of fear to somebody, so we would investigate that regardless of whether it has an [actual] threat or not.”
McMurrey says inspectors have not determined the letters’ origin.
Citing the open case, McMurrey would not disclose the chemical makeup of the powder. Hansen was not tested for contamination, nor have investigators contacted her since the incident.
“I never heard a follow-up, nothing,” Hansen says. “They said the powder wasn’t anything, but you still feel like, ‘Well, are you telling me the whole truth or is this a cover-up?’”
Several others contacted SFR about the letters and a stack of letters was found on a newspaper box outside Ohori’s Coffee on Old Santa Fe Trail. The letters did not seem targeted at Zozobra-connected people.
“The last time I went to Zozobra, my son was 2 years old and he’s going to be 27,” Hansen says. “Talk about barking up the wrong tree.”
The Messengers are just as off-target with their Old Testament references, biblescholars.org founder and CEO Roy Blizzard Jr. tells SFR after analyzing the letter.
“One way that you can tell that these people are not very intelligent is the reference to Moses and the Golden Calf,” Blizzard says. “The people who were disobedient were slain by the sword. It had nothing to do with the ground opening up and swallowing them.”
However, the Bible says the ground did swallow three men who led a revolt against Moses’ authority, Blizzard explains.
The letter also is incorrect in its claim that Santa Feans contribute $300,000 to the event each year. According to Zozobra Event Producer Ray Valdez, Kiwanis collected approximately $150,000 for Santa Fe youth in 2008. Annual production costs range from $50,000 to $80,000.
Certainly, a ground fissure of biblical proportions would impact the event’s future fundraising efforts.
“I’m not worried about that at all because I keep up with tectonics and geological science and those specific events in a specific location don’t usually happen,” Valdez says. “Somebody has way too much time on their hands.”