The Believers

Local UFOlogists bring a religious zeal to their tales of alien visitations. Delusions? For real? Whatever, they watch the skies and wait.

"Do you people believe in God?" a man shouts from the rear of the horde.
"Yes, we do," says Diaz, who also goes by the alien name Akal.
"Do you have a mission here?" someone else asks.

"I'm programmed to do certain things," he responds, then goes on to explain why. Earlier in the day, he notes, a white pigeon flew peacefully from a nearby tree to land on the hilltop. It was a portent that many saw as a sign of a miraculous presence. "I sent the pigeon people that we do exist," he says. The crowd shushes each other in excitement so they can hang on his every word.

Diaz throws in references to "hyperspace," the 1947 Roswell case (cited by UFOlogists as a massive U.S. government coverup of the crash of an alien spacecraft in New Mexico), and Area 51, but he halts for a moment in confusion. "It's hard," he says. "They're blocking my thoughts. They don't want me to tell you." While he continues, saying, "There's a lot of masters who are going to come here..." a woman whispers, "Ask him what the six numbers are going to be in the lottery tonight."

Although Diaz may come from another planet, he's attentive to earthbound realities. When a New Times reporter asks him for an interview, he first demands to see credentials, then gives out his business card from a heavy-equipment company; it reads, "Tony Diaz, rental department." The crowd is awestruck when, like a rock star after a concert, he begins signing some slips of paper, although in his case the autographs are odd hieroglyphs. In a reporter's notebook, Diaz inscribes the symbols, then writes the translation underneath: "Life is a God creation." Next to those symbols, he draws an additional one that includes two dots representing the two suns from his planet, Elion, in another galaxy; he also wears this figure on a gold chain around his neck.

Diaz starts walking away when he's confronted by a fundamentalist Christian who shouts at him in Spanish, "I'm a man of God -- and this meeting is not something from God." The crowd shouts down the interloper and follows Diaz -- virtually clinging to him -- as he moves slowly toward a tree and takes refuge next to it. As they encircle him, he looks out over them with an almost wounded look in his eyes, caged by forces that he inadvertently has unleashed --Miami's man who fell to Earth.

In a Coconut Grove Pollo Tropical a few days later, Tony Diaz comes across as a sincere, goodhearted 41-year-old man with all the signposts of normality: married; holds down a regular job as an equipment rental agent; once owned his own auto repair company; drives a Mercedes (bought from his prosperous father). He also happens to believe that since he was five years old, his body has been invaded by alien intelligences on twenty-eight occasions, and that he's been aboard flying saucers a few times.

Diaz is just one of several seemingly rational people among local UFO believers who tell stories that medical authorities would consider either delusions or fantasies. (Others are more outwardly unhinged, but you never know when any of these people is telling the literal truth.)

He claims he doesn't remember much about the bedlam he triggered on that Saturday in Tropical Park. After all, he points out, "I share this body with a walk-in." When the walk-in finally walked out on Sunday, Diaz checked his watch and it was shortly after 10:00 p.m.; at that point he realized his body had been inhabited by an alien.

Diaz first saw extraterrestrials as a child, he says, when they visited him in his bedroom in Cuba just before he fell asleep. They were ghostlike images, he recalls, and, pointing to a thick book about UFOs he's brought along with him, says they looked like the big-headed, almond-eyed creatures UFO devotees call "the greys," generally portrayed as heartless bad guys who abduct humans for breeding experiments. He doesn't recall any abductions occurring, but he's convinced they took over his body.

Young Tony caused a bit of a family crisis when he told his parents he was from another galaxy. "I kept telling them they weren't my parents, and I wasn't from here," he says now. His parents' response to all this? "They thought I was crazy."

After his family moved to Florida when Diaz was seven, he was sent to a psychiatric facility, but he ran away to stay with a nearby uncle for several hours. He kept insisting that he wasn't insane, and his parents relented, taking him back in. But the alien visitations continued, he claims.

Diaz and a friend named Jose were driving along a deserted stretch of road near Krome Avenue and the Tamiami Trail in West Dade around midnight when they saw a craft hovering above them. It soon landed in a nearby picnic area, and eventually Diaz was invited onboard by four-foot-tall aliens with rough grayish skin. (He says Jose doesn't remember anything about the incident, adding that he since has lost touch with his old friend.)

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