A few weeks back (see MT episode #234) I went on a bit of a UFO rant on my podcast MonsterTalk. I’m notoriously slow to wrath, but was so annoyed by some of the media manipulation at play behind the recent surge in UFO (and now UAP) narratives in the media that I felt compelled to point out hypocrisy and deception.
A big challenge in discussing the topic of UFOs is that there is a huge audience that is perpetually in “the now.” They are aware of the current events in the media but are largely unfamiliar with the real and nuanced history of the field. Since the flying saucer craze of the 1940s and 50s there has been a continuous refinement of the narratives and history of the major cases.
To truly understand the whole field you need a multi-disciplinary approach. Yes, scepticism is a valuable part of that path to understanding but it only takes you so far. Anthropology, Neurology, Psychology, Chemistry, Physics, History, and the many specialty disciplines within those larger categories also have much to say.
I believe that a Religious Studies perspective is also needed because when you consider the way that the core stories of UFOlogy (Roswell, Shag Harbor, Rendlesham, etc.) have grown and changed, the pattern of their development hews closely to the way that mythologies are formed. This is different from Theological approaches, which consider UFOs from positions of faith and doctrine – but those also certainly exist in abundance.
Religious fervour and prophecy
UFOlogy is a field of religious fervour, even if many of its adherents are seemingly unaware of it. From the earliest days of Flying Saucers, witnesses often took their unusual experiences to be spiritually significant. Many social and religious messages were delivered from a group of people now called “The Contactees.”
Notable Contactees such as George Adamski preached a flavor of Theosophy whose ideas still permeate the field. It’s not uncommon for modern audiences to be unfamiliar with Theosophy, but you can’t look into these fringe topics without running into its touch. Researcher Jason Colavito has done much to shed light on the historical connection between Theosophy and the particular subset of UFO belief variously called Ancient Aliens or Ancient Astronaut “theory.” You can often find books on UFOs filed in the New Age Beliefs section of your bookstores, usually quite near or integrated with books on religion.
When it comes to religious concepts in the field, the one that seems to most closely parallel traditional messianic prophecy, or perhaps apocalyptic predictions, is the idea of “Disclosure.”
In the UFO world, Disclosure has a powerful, prophetic meaning. Since the 1980s it has become shorthand for the idea that the US Government is quite aware that aliens are visiting the planet (there are stories about other governments around the world being involved with Disclosure, but this is primarily an America-centric belief/mythology). The general narrative of Disclosure is that there are reasons why the government is not revealing all of this now – some good, some bad – but that there will come a day when all is put out in the open. That glorious day will make all the UFO believers right, and all the sceptics wrong. <sigh>
When the recent unclassified congressional report on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena was about to come out, the UFO community shouted from the rooftops that Disclosure was finally at hand. Those of us who’ve been watching the field with skepticism for decades? Let’s just say that the report was the least surprising thing ever. It was even duller and less definitive than my low expectations had intuited. But during all the online hoopla about the upcoming report there was another revelation.
The legacy of Art Bell
Let’s pull the covers off of some of this with some history, and we’ll start with Art Bell. His radio show Coast to Coast AM was absolutely crucial to establishing the wide cultural awareness of several key narratives in UFOlogy. If you know about Area 51, Bob Lazar, Skinwalker Ranch and many other keystones of American Paranormal culture – in part, it’s because of Art.
Art also worked with Whitley Strieber (of Communion fame) on another show called Dreamland. That was his Sunday Night show. It was largely similar to his regular Coast to Coast AM show but eventually he spun it off and gave it to Whitley to host. But did you know that before Dreamland, Art had another Sunday night show?
This was AREA 2000 – and it was not as widely syndicated as the Coast to Coast AM behemoth. Recently a collection of records of this show were added to the Internet Archive. I’ve listened to all of them. The thing that made AREA 2000 really special was that it was “commercial free”. No spots for C-Crane Company or any of Art’s regular radio sponsors. Instead this show was brought to you by The Bigelow Foundation (now ‘The Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies’). Here’s how Art introduces each episode:
The following program is made possible by a grant from the Bigelow Foundation. Welcome to Area 2000. This program introduces our listeners to the scientific approach to two particular subjects: UFOs and Near-Death & After-Death experiences.
Now that’s pretty clear disclosure, right? And there is nothing wrong with investigating UFOs or life after death. But that transparency didn’t last into the 2000s.
In December 2017, the New York Times ran a front page story on UFOs. As you might imagine, this thrilled the UFO true believers who ecstatically await Disclosure. Seeing the New York Times carry a front-page story about UFOs made it suddenly seem like the topic was finally being taken seriously.
But who were the authors of the piece? Helene Cooper, Ralph Blumenthal and Leslie Kean.
These are not disinterested parties executing on unbiased journalistic principles. Helene Cooper is a well-regarded Pentagon-focused reporter. But the other two folks? Leslie Kean is heavily involved in the Disclosure movement and was romantically involved with Alien Abduction researcher Bud Hopkins (I only mention this because of its bearing on her biases around the topic of UFOs and Abduction – she was dating “Abduction Culture” royalty in the form of Hopkins, which surely informs her position on the topic in regards to how she might respond to military themed stories of unidentified craft). Her latest book is on life after death. UFOs and Life after Death – sound familiar? Ralph Blumenthal’s most recent book is a biography of Alien Abduction researcher John Mack. These people are not disinterested reporters – they’re UFO activists. Where was the New York Times’ disclosure about that?
The pentagon program allegedly run by Lou Elizondo was tied to Bigelow and the same set of players. The To The Stars Academy is tied to Bigelow. George Knapp who was key to bringing Bob Lazar and Area 51 into public awareness is tied to Bigelow. Senator Harry Reid was tied financially to Bigelow.
What if a billionaire gave money to a Senator to help fund a UFO research department in the Pentagon and that led to a story in the New York Times which suddenly made it look like the U.S. Government is worried about UFOs? And what if it was conveniently left out of that coverage that this was all the same group of very enthusiastic believers leeching credibility off of the New York Times and the Pentagon to make it look like we were all on the verge of — say it with me — DISCLOSURE.
Seems like the sort of thing an honest news organisation would want to… what’s the word… DISCLOSE?
Absence of proof
You might think this is not important – but it seems very clear to me that after all these decades of research into UFOS, NDEs, and other spooky phenomena, Bigelow’s team can’t find any proof or explanation for their beliefs within the boundary of standard physics. So when faced with that quandary they had two options: one possibility – and I think it a sensible one – is to conclude that whatever is going on with this stuff it has to do more with human perception and culture than ghosts and aliens.
The other option – and I think this is the one they’re shooting for – is to conclude that we have to reject material reality because it doesn’t conform to the preferred answer. That is not an exaggeration. There are many in that circle who openly call for the rejection of scientific materialism, perhaps because it has no room for what Jason Colavito calls “SPACE POLTERGEISTS!” He’s not joking. George Knapp (with Skinwalker Ranch alumni Colm Kelleher plus James Lacatski, another Bigelow-influenced researcher) just released a new book about their work tying the weird world of their Skinwalker Ranch research with the Pentagon’s UAP research. It’s literally called Skinwalkers at the Pentagon.
Spending money to confirm your hope that UFOs and “life after death” are “real” is certainly understandable. Bigelow has spent millions on this inquiry. It could be that an emergent property of dumping cash onto a problem is an ecosystem of positive feedback from the researchers. Plain old confirmation bias could accomplish that without the need for nefarious exploitation from participants, but Bigelow also recently announced a $1 million prize contest for proof that consciousness survives death. (This was an essay contest, so despite the substantial prizes announced for the winners, the contest didn’t prove anything to my satisfaction except that people will enter essay contests when cash is on the line.)
This whole media blitz (whether by design or by accident) has had the net effect of making it seem like the US Government is vastly and deeply interested in UFOs and that there is massive evidence of it being a material threat to the defense of every nation.
Sounds super serious, right?
Yet at the same time the players are also saying that the phenomena is directly tied to poltergeist activities. The whole Skinwalker Ranch ecosystem is rife with confirmation bias, anecdotes, and the kind of “we can’t measure it so that proves it’s extraordinary” mentality that defies debunking because there’s nothing measurable to debunk. Participants report weirdness following them back to their homes, but Occam’s razor suggests it’s more likely that they are making errors of attribution by lumping every oddity in their lives into this new category of paranormal taint. And even as Knapp and company publicly confess that this is all part of a paranormal melange, the newspapers and politicians have largely been discussing the matter as one of national security around a few oddities that likely have mundane explanations.
What has been largely perceived by the world as shocking revelations of UFO activity and government involvement is, under the hood, an echo-chamber of the same players singing the same tired old song, but whose voices are all being amplified through megaphones of mainstream media and seemingly through the imprimatur of the US Government.
I’m deeply disappointed in so many self-identifying journalists being taken in by a basic public-relations ploy. You don’t need a journalism degree to do some basic internet searches on the people behind these reports. You don’t have to actually watch All the President’s Men to know you should follow the money.
Further Reading (and Listening)
Jason Colavito did a lot of work identifying the UFO backgrounds of the people reporting in the New York Times story that kicked this latest UFO surge off back in 2017. Archaeologist (and Spookyologist) Jeb Card and I had frequent conversations about this material both on our show In Research Of and in private. Sarah Scoles clued me into the existence of some of this stuff with her book They Are Already Here which we discussed in episode 221 of MonsterTalk. Mick West and his site Metabunk was very helpful in getting a less histrionic take on the videos released by the players involved. Aaron Gulyas of the podcast The Saucer Life clued me into the existence of audio from Art Bell that I didn’t know about. And if I’m missing anybody else, my apologies.