Almost a year since the stunning announcement they had engineered the birth of the world's first cloned humans, Rael and Clonaid president Dr. Brigitte Boisselier have yet to prove the existence of these babies, even to their own members. In fact, Raelians have made fun of the media that gave such extensive coverage to their cloning story.
"Come my beloved friends and journalists, and ask me if we did all that just to benefit from free publicity . . . Yes!" Rael cries and bursts out laughing during a Raelian gathering staged in Montreal.
Boisselier is also much amused as she recalls the news conference last Dec. 27.
"When I played games with the journalists . . . everything turned into a circus," she says.
In December and January, the announcement garnered worldwide media attention and mobilized the scientific community as well as the American justice system.
Today, Claude Vorilhon, known to his followers as Rael, laughingly contends that the cloning controversy was perhaps a simple stroke of genius to make his movement known.
"Even if you want to think that we did all that only for publicity, it is wonderful. If that is the case, we are promotional geniuses," he says.
"But if what we say we did is true, we are also scientific geniuses. In any case, we are geniuses. Wonderful. In any case, we win."
In an interview earlier this year, he said analysts estimated the media attention was worth nearly $500 million in free publicity.
During a Raelian gathering in February in Montreal, Rael himself declared he didn't know whether or not the Clonaid babies were true clones.
"Brigitte (Boisselier) says it's true and I have no reason to doubt her word," he declared at the time.
Alain Bouchard, a sociologist specializing in religions, is not surprised to see Vorilhon distance himself from Clonaid.
"The more time passes, the more we are sure that cloning is just hogwash," he says, adding: "A publicity stunt."
"They really blew it with their cloning story. They looked like a weird bunch," contends Dianne Casoni, a psychologist and criminologist specializing in cults.
As for Boisselier, she continues to perpetuate the word of Rael, her intellectual guide, and no longer disassociates science and religion.
"In a convention, they could say anything they wanted to; I was with my beloved prophet," she said during the annual awakening seminar in Maricourt.
"(Last Dec. 27) was maybe the most important day of my life when (Rael) told me: You did what you had to do," she says.
"Imagine had I failed . . . failed that for which I was created."
Not one Raelian at the movement's headquarters in Quebec's Eastern Townships can certify the babies who made front-page news last December are true clones. And none of the Raelian women from Quebec who volunteered to bear a clone has apparently fulfilled that mission.
Jocelyne, 37, was one of the surrogate mothers presented to the media with great pomp in 2001. She knows all the volunteers in the group well and is adamant.
"There has been at least three babies, but we don't know who the surrogate mothers are. Anyway, they aren't from here. And we don't know where they are," she confided to me in my guise as a Raelian.
In fact, the issue is taboo within the movement. I quickly understood how easily any questions on Clonaid can prompt instant suspicion.
"With everything that's going on, I'm not going into any detail," a Raelian man answers curtly.
"Most Raelians are not informed," admits Benoit, 24, adding: "But those who have to know are informed."
He believes they should avoid the subject to protect the babies from the American scientists who wish to take them away to study them.
"Proof can only be established in a few years time. All they have to do is to bring one of their cells in a laboratory and that's it," he says with conviction.
"The silence of the members is the prophet's loophole," offers Alain Bouchard, a sociologist specializing in religions.
"In December, the movement was not ready to deal with so much attention," says Dave, a Raelian "guide" from British Columbia.
"The cloning scared many Raelians, given the considerable proportions of the media coverage."
"In January, no one was ready," says Ricky Roehr, national guide for the United States.
"I answered a few hundred e-mails myself. When Brigitte (Boisselier) decides to make her next move, we must be ready."