A weekend conference that had hoped to study Bigfoot with scientific aloofness degenerated into arguments, alleged death threats, an arrest and a restraining order.

"The whole conference has become such a joke," Mark Francis, director of the North American Bigfoot Information Network, said of the eighth annual meeting of the International Society of Cryptozoology.Francis, 26, of Twinsburg, Ohio, complained that "flakes" with no scientific merit were being allowed to speak at the gathering on the Washington State University campus. "It's like a circus," he said.

About 100 people, including about a dozen specialists on Bigfoot, showed up for the meeting of the society, which studies creatures that have been reported but not yet found.

Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, is a legendary creature of the Northwest woods, described by the few who say they've seen it as a large, hairy, humanlike animal with a strong streak of shyness.

Although the members intended a scientific inquiry into evidence of the animal's existence, much of the discussion between sessions was dominated by arguments over subjects ranging from false claims to the paranormal.

The conference hadn't even begun when the Whitman County sheriff's office on Friday arrested a Malibu, Calif., man for investigation of harassment and coercion.

Jon Erik Beckjord, 50, who contends Bigfoot came from outer space, was released on a $2,500 bond Saturday after spending the night in the county jail and was ordered to stay away from the conference and Pullman.

Francis said the arrest came after he sought a restraining order because Beckjord had allegedly written him a number of letters that Francis characterized as "basically death threats."