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Uh, So… What About Them Aliens?

The government disclosure of UFO activity was a huge story lost in the chaos of 2020

I don’t want President Trump to win re-election, and I certainly don’t want to help him do so. But at the risk of handing him a killer October surprise, I must point out that he’s sitting on untapped political capital. I’m not talking about the opportunity to rush through another round of pandemic stimulus money for voters and businesses. I’m talking about aliens. Or, more accurately, UFOs.

If you wanted to downplay the evidence of unexplained aerial phenomena that resemble spaceships or similar advanced technology, you could scarcely pick a better moment to declassify it than late April 2020. This was six weeks into the “lockdown” phase of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., and people were more concerned with having enough toilet paper than the likelihood of extraterrestrial intelligence. Within another month, nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police had consumed the media and our attention. If anything, the Department of Defense confirming the authenticity of three UFO videos recorded by Navy pilots — footage that already existed in the public domain — was taken as just another curveball in a year shaping up to be even weirder. 

For a few minutes, viewers puzzled over the black-and-white clips. The New York Times reported that “there was nothing new.” Our collective reaction fell quite short of the enthusiasm for 2019’s “Storm Area 51” meme, a coordinated but unserious effort to break into a U.S. Air Force facility in the Nevada desert that has long been a focal point for alien conspiracy theories. We moved right on, assimilating this headline into an increasingly surreal landscape.

You would think, at a moment of exponential disaster, and with a president who delights in spectacle, that there was an edge to be gained in the UFO disclosures. After all, if Congress could make time to investigate steroid use in Major League Baseball or explicit lyrics in pop music in decades past, why not push for even more transparency and research in this area? Perhaps an interest in strange, otherworldly things zooming around in our atmosphere just isn’t partisan enough to merit federal action. And while some had hoped that Trump’s loose talk would eventually indicate what kind of top-secret briefing U.S. presidents get on the topic, he seems too fundamentally incurious to give a shit where UFOs come from or what they are, only making semi-regular promises to look into these occurrences. In other words: “Next question.”            

It’s fascinating (and depressing) to see the double failure of mass imagination and leadership here. On the one hand, we have citizens mired in a swamp of misinformation, creating and spreading utter nonsense about human trafficking, coronavirus, antifa, vaccinations, voter fraud and more, often encouraged by elected officials if not the president himself — with almost no traction for the enigma of UFOs, which, again, actually exist. On the other side is a so-called representative democracy that may never adequately respond to the 68 percent of Americans who believe that the government is withholding further information on UFOs. Even as Trump has moved to dismantle institutions of state, either by gutting these agencies or handing them to hostile deregulators, he has not dissolved the curtain of secrecy around this ongoing story.

“Red tape” is bad unless it conceals a privileged fact. The White House has been completely brazen in their efforts to harm women, immigrants, people of color and the LGBTQ community, but they’re still too afraid to say what we’ve learned so far about flying saucers? We’re meant to cough up $15 billion for Space Force without having a clue what’s out there. Fucking weak.

If you want a juicy cover-up, it’s here. You have former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid saying so in a forthcoming documentary — that “most” of the government’s material on the matter “hasn’t seen the light of day.” That’s not a casual admission from someone of his reputation, and his proposal to spend money on thorough examinations of UFO incidents is not an inherently Democratic or Republican idea. But whichever party manages to run with a policy of demystifying our contact with these objects will have the backing of an inquisitive populace who are sick of being lied to, shut out and gaslit. In an alternate universe, the two parties would be racing to reveal the truth in order to sell themselves as pillars of honesty and integrity, committed to the maximum of shared information. This would be, in short, a patriotic duty.

Meanwhile, in our own timeline, that feels like less and less of a fringe position. If those in power wish to hide their conclusions and hypotheses on some incomprehensible thing we’ve all seen with our own eyes — something with potentially world-historical ramifications — then we have only conjecture. Decades of mistrust in the ruling class have brought us to an era of polarized realities, and a lack of consensus on the most elemental science. Any authoritative report on the UFO question is bound to have its doubters and critics. But it would be a first, crucial step onto something like solid ground.