Chapter Five: UFO Conspiracy Theories, 1975-1990 5
UFO Conspiracy Theories, 1975-1990
Immediately after the Oklahoma City bombing in the spring of 1995, mainstream Americans suddenly became aware of a radical political subculture in their midst. With the arrest of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols and the media coverage of their lives, attitudes, and associations, the public was abruptly introduced to the previously insular world of militias, antigovernment shortwave-radio broadcasts, and racist literature. A racist novel (written by Andrew Macdonald, also known as William Pierce), The Turner Diaries—unobtainable through conventional bookstores—became an object of intense interest once it became known that McVeigh had read and recommended it, and it was revealed that the novel contained an episode strikingly similar to the federal building bombing. An avalanche of television, magazine, and newspaper stories uncovered the existence of conspiracy believers obsessed with black helicopters and armed against what they believed to be an imminent invasion by forces of the New World Order.1
More than any other single event, the Oklahoma City bombing brought New World Order ideas to the public's attention. But New World Order ideas had begun to seep into broader segments of the American consciousness even earlier. Pat Robertson had published his book The New World Order in 1991. Robertson's version of the conspiracy (what might be termed "New World Order lite") is mild compared to that of such militia figures as Mark Koernke; nevertheless, his book is filled with ominous warnings: "The New Age religions, the beliefs of the Illuminati, and Illuminated Freemasonry all seem to move along parallel tracks with world communism and world finance. Their appeals vary somewhat, but essentially they are striving for the same very frightening vision." Robertson claims that an elite network of the superrich, operating through secret societies, is on the verge of taking undisputed control of the world. At the same time, references to the New World Order were also beginning to appear in the speeches of another conspicuous public figure, Pat Buchanan, who linked such concerns with threats to America's economic independence.2
Thus in the early 1990s New World Order conspiracy theories ceased to be beliefs that circulated only in an obscure political underground and began to penetrate some channels of mainstream discourse. In fact, however, the most dramatic New World Order penetration came not from Robertson, Buchanan, or coverage of the Oklahoma City bombers. Rather, it occurred earlier, in a segment of American culture that straddles the divide between "mainstream" and "deviant" and encompasses millions of people—the UFO community. Those who are interested in UFOs, believe in them, or claim to have been contacted or abducted by them form a subculture knitted together by lecture circuits, Web sites, magazines, and conventions. Depending on how it is defined, it is also a subculture of immense size.
UFOs and Public Opinion
The number of Americans who actually participate in the UFO subculture—by buying books, magazines, and videotapes; attending conferences; visiting Web sites; and engaging in similar activities—cannot be precisely estimated. But survey data make clear that those who do participate represent merely a fraction of a vast number of people interested in the subject. Whether they are open-minded or simply credulous, it remains the case that millions of Americans view UFOs with considerably less skepticism than do the government and the academy.
Within a few months of the first modern claim of a flying saucer sighting in June 1947, polls showed that 90 percent of the population had heard of them. By 1966, that figure had risen to 96 percent, and, more important, 46 percent of all Americans believed UFOs actually existed. More than a decade later—in 1978—30 percent of college graduates believed they existed. At that time, the number of Americans who believed UFOs were real reached its highest level, 57 percent. The number fell to 47 percent in 1990 but was still at 48 percent in a 1996 Gallup poll, nearly half a century after the first sighting.3
The Yankelovich polling organization interviewed 1,546 adults in mid-January 2000 for Life magazine. Forty-three percent of respondents believed UFOs were real as opposed to "the product of people's imaginations," and 30 percent thought intelligent beings from other planets had visited the earth. Six percent had seen a UFO, and 13 percent knew someone who had. Seven percent claimed to have "had an encounter with beings from another planet" or knew someone who had.4
A 1997 Time-CNN poll (presumably commissioned in connection with the fiftieth anniversary of the Roswell, New Mexico, UFO "crash") indicated that 17 percent of Americans believed in alien abduction. An even stranger result had appeared in a 1992 Roper survey, which suggested that 2 percent of Americans (roughly 3.7 million) believed they themselves had been abducted. While the Roper result is almost certainly inflated, a number even half as large would be extraordinary.5
Two aspects of these figures are particularly striking. First, they have remained astonishingly stable over a fifty-year period. What might have been an early Cold War fad clearly came to occupy a semipermanent niche in the American psyche. Second, the level of belief was not only relatively stable; it was extraordinarily high, regardless of when the survey was taken or by which polling organization. Even if one compensates for problems of sampling or the wording of questions, tens of millions of Americans accept the reality of UFOs. In a survey of 765 members of the UFO community, Brenda Denzler found her respondents to be anything but "fringe." They were predominantly white, male, middle-class college graduates, with incomes just slightly below the national median.6
At the same time, attitudes about UFOs contain the seeds of conspiracist thinking, for public attitudes are clearly at variance with the official position that there is no credible evidence that UFOs exist. Indeed, in the 1996 Gallup survey when subjects were asked, "In your opinion, does the U.S. government know more about UFOs than they are telling us?" 71 percent answered yes. In the Yankelovich poll in 2000, 49 percent believed that the government was withholding information about UFOs.7
Thus an extremely large number of people hold beliefs that contradict official government positions and believe that government concealment explains the discrepancy. Belief in a government cover-up runs deep in the ufology community, especially among those who are professional or full-time UFO writers or investigators. Because government investigations have failed to satisfy believers, the existence of a cover-up appears logical to them. Even so, early ufologists did not generally advance a broader political agenda. While steadfastly maintaining that military and intelligence organizations were concealing the truth from the public, they did not extend that suspicion to embrace any larger ideology of conspiracy. In short, ufology's early political program did not extend beyond a general desire to see revealed what was believed to be concealed.
But by the late 1980s, elements of the UFO community began to link their interest in explaining flying saucers with a larger political vision. Receptivity to New World Order ideas in some UFO circles was facilitated by two legends peculiar to the ufology milieu: the "men in black" story and the tale of underground bases.
The legend of the men in black originated in the early and mid 1950s and quickly became a staple of UFO folklore. According to this legend, people whose experiences or research brought them too close to the truth were apt to be stalked, harassed, or even killed by small groups of men—usually two or three—in dark suits who did not identify themselves. Their ambiguous appearance has led to a number of explanations: to some, they are secret government operatives; to others, representatives of a conspiracy that controls the government; to still others, they are aliens whose appearance is close enough to that of humans to allow them to pass. In any case, their appearance and demeanor make them a potent symbol of mysterious but pervasive evil.8
The underground-bases legend is part of a larger complex of beliefs about secret installations where (depending on the version) captured or crashed alien craft or aliens themselves may be kept. In the most dramatic versions, the aliens actually control parts of the installation, either by themselves or in concert with secret government agencies. The most famous base is Area 51, also known as Groom Lake and Dreamland, north of Las Vegas, Nevada; but the most elaborate tales involve labyrinthine subterranean caverns, tunnels, and chambers such as those allegedly near the town of Dulce, New Mexico. These stories have led to belief in a hidden world variously inhabited by alien beings or evil human forces, in which conspirators can both conceal their enterprises and seek safety when disasters overtake the earth's surface.9
UFOs and the New World Order
Gradually, parts of the UFO community began to adopt elements of the conspiracy theories described in the previous two chapters, and by the end of the 1980s virtually all of the radical right's ideas about the New World Order had found their way into UFO literature. Ufology's adoption of the New World Order was by no means universal, but those who have found it attractive have been able to create a version of New World Order theory with some distinct political advantages.
The most immediate advantage for New World Order ideas of being placed in a UFO context has been a reduction in stigma. Although UFO ideas have often been the target of ridicule, the enormous size of the UFO-accepting public has made it impossible to stigmatize UFO beliefs so completely that they are banned from public discussion. Far from it—UFO ideas have ready access to such avenues of distribution as cable television, mainstream bookstores, and magazine publishers. They fall into the realm of stigmatized knowledge discussed in chapter 2, in that they are rejected by science, universities, and government, but the level of stigmatization has not been so great as to exclude them from popular culture.
By contrast, the views of the radical right have been so excluded, through an unstated yet powerful pattern of self-censorship on the part of the mainstream. This voluntary silence has denied access to beliefs deemed racist, bigoted, completely unfounded, or likely to justify or promote violence. Tales of secret Illuminati conspiracies, imminent UN invasions, and Jewish, Masonic, or Jesuit plots, for example, have been informally banned from media, classrooms, and other mechanisms of knowledge distribution. Unlike beliefs about flying saucers, considered eccentric but socially harmless, many conspiracy ideas deemed both false and dangerous have been banished from the mainstream discourse.
The linkage of New World Order ideas with UFOs gave the former a bridge to the territory of semirespectable beliefs. Ufology became, as it were, the vehicle for the New World Order to reach audiences otherwise unavailable to it. To be sure, New World Order ideas occasionally reached mass audiences, as the cases of Pat Robertson and Pat Buchanan have shown. In both cases, however, the conspiracies were presented in highly diluted versions; and in Robertson's case, even his weak version produced significant political problems.
The story of the New World Order—UFO connection is a story of ideas moving in two directions, not one. In the initial movement (examined later in this chapter), New World Order beliefs became entwined with UFO beliefs. A second migration followed in the 1990s, in which New World Order ideas with their new UFO add-ons returned to the right-wing milieu in which they had first developed. In that milieu, the combination led to the development of two diametrically opposed syntheses. In one, exemplified by British writer and lecturer David Icke (discussed at length in chapter 6), the human conspirators feared by the radical right are actually doing the bidding of malevolent extraterrestrial forces whose ultimate aim is control of the earth. In the other, epitomized by the views of Milton William Cooper at the end of his life (addressed later in this chapter), there are in fact no aliens at all. The appearance of an alien assault on the earth is being manufactured by human conspirators to provide a pretext for the assumption of global dictatorial powers.
The first movement, when New World Order ideas left the hermetic world of the extreme right and began to seep into ufology, is the more significant of the two. As the preceding discussion suggests, there were factors in ufology that made this penetration seem logical, but it was not inevitable. It does not seem to have been consciously undertaken by conspiracists or done for opportunistic reasons, even though in the end it provided a large new audience. Rather, it began in a disorganized, piecemeal fashion, and it provides a case study in the migration of deviant ideas.
UFO Conspiracism: The First Phase
The development of New World Order conspiracy theories within ufology can best be understood as the product of two separate phases. The first—from roughly 1975 to 1980—introduced increasingly conspiratorial motifs into UFO speculation, but without any discernible links to the conspiracy ideas that were prevalent on the extreme right. There seem to have been two separate conspiracist tracks that developed independently of each other. This lack of connection between the two is all the more striking because the late 1970s were a period of substantial right-wing activity, with the growth of such movements as Christian Identity and the Posse Comitatus. The Posse was an antigovernment movement made up of local paramilitary groups active in the West and Midwest during the 1970s and 1980s. They believed the only legitimate governmental authority to be the county sheriff's posse, in the form of the armed adult males of a community. There is no evidence that ufologists were aware of, interested in, or sympathetic to those tendencies.
During this initial phase, some important themes emerged in the UFO literature that were eventually integrated into more elaborate conspiratorial structures. One of these concerned small devices allegedly implanted in the bodies of UFO abductees. Although such stories were not numerous, they implied the existence of a powerful technology for monitoring and controlling victims' behavior. Thomas Bullard's detailed analysis of 270 abduction stories (most of them dating between the 1940s and 1980) reveals only thirteen cases of reported implants—barely 5 percent. These were almost uniformly distributed among the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Despite their small numbers, however, the implant stories contained two points of potential connection with the independently developed New World Order conspiracy theories described earlier. First, they offered apparent confirmation of the mark of the beast associated with the Antichrist. Second, they also appeared to validate the mind-control fears of more secular conspiracists.10
About the same time, in 1976, a Toronto-based neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier, Ernst Zundel, published the first of several reports linking flying saucers with the Nazis. In the strangest version of this tale, Nazis, not aliens, had invented flying saucers and, with the regime's defeat, had fled to subterranean bases in Antarctica with their invention. The suggestion that flying saucers had been under development by the Third Reich and were spirited out of Germany appears to have emerged first among German nationalists in the 1950s. It was quickly assimilated into legends of Hitler's supposed escape to South America or the Antarctic. By 1960, comparable tales were circulating in English, though their full elaboration had to await the efforts of Zundel and other neo-Nazis a decade and a half later. While this scenario begged the question of how so technologically advanced a government could manage to lose the war, it was a story that turned out to have a long life for two reasons. First, it introduced the idea that a secret group of human beings might in some conspiratorial fashion develop such devices. Second, it established a link between UFOs and the much older occultic tradition of an "inner world" beneath the earth, discussed in detail in chapter 7.11
The year 1976 was also the year that some ufologists began to link UFOs with cattle mutilations. Stories of mutilated cattle, mostly in western states, began to appear in the late 1960s and became numerous and the subject of national media coverage by the mid 1970s. Although they were occasionally connected to reports of UFO sightings, a number of alternative explanations were offered, including satanic rituals, "hippies," and natural enemies. The carcasses were often missing portions of soft tissue, and some reports claimed that cuts were made with a precision inconsistent with animal predators.12
In 1979, Linda Moulton Howe, a Denver filmmaker, began work on a documentary that alleged a mutilation-UFO connection. The film, A Strange Harvest, was broadcast in 1980. She later stated that "I am convinced that one or more alien intelligences are affecting this planet. I would like to know who they are, what they want and why the government is silent." Howe and others, influenced by her film and subsequent publications, began to speculate that aliens mutilated cattle in order to secure body parts or biological substances they needed for their own survival, and that the U.S. government was complicit in these efforts. The idea that aliens were engaged in some obscure effort to "harvest" or otherwise retrieve biological substances from the earth has turned out to be a fertile subject for speculation, which eventually came to include such suggestions as the breeding of alien-human hybrids. The ease with which stories of cattle mutilation were assimilated into the UFO literature was a paradigmatic case of fusing disparate forms of stigmatized knowledge. If cattle mutilations and alien spaceships could be connected, why not other stigmatized knowledge claims as well?13
Speculations about an alien harvest soon coalesced with aspects of the abduction stories. Nearly half of the abduction tales examined by Bullard featured invasive, often painful physical examinations. A number of accounts included examinations of reproductive organs, and about half a dozen individuals reported sexual intercourse with alien beings. Out of this body of narratives came suggestions that aliens were seeking either to harvest substances from human bodies or to create a race of alien-human hybrids. Because the "other" here was alien in every sense, it was easy to blur the distinction between procedures performed on cattle and those performed on human beings; in the more sinister interpretation, it suggested that human beings were being treated like breeding stock, presumably to compensate for some biological defect in the aliens.14
In 1977, UFO speculation took a different turn with the broadcast by Anglia TV in Great Britain of the strange purported documentary Alternative 3. Alternative 3 claimed to expose a secret plan, approved at the highest levels of the U.S. and Soviet governments, to launch a program of space colonization that would allow a select few to flee the earth before environmental calamities made the planet uninhabitable. The show strongly implied that a secret joint base already existed on the far side of the moon, that another existed or would shortly be established on Mars, and that the Martian surface, contrary to general belief, was hospitable to human life.15
Alternative 3 was clearly a hoax—and not only because it was broadcast on April Fool's Day. The interviews with supposed scientists, astronauts, and others were far too dramatically polished to have been spontaneous, and in any case the program's closing credits named the actors who took the roles of interviewees and correspondents. Though artfully produced, the show's counterfeit documentary style could scarcely have been expected to fool many. As an Anglia TV spokesman put it, "we felt viewers would be fairly sophisticated about it." They apparently were not; television and newspaper switchboards were swamped after the broadcast. Anglia found it prudent to sell off the book rights. The 1978 book version, by Leslie Watkins, continued the pretense of factuality. It also reached countries, including the United States, where the broadcast had not been aired. Whenever the book was unavailable, believers attributed its absence to the conspirators' attempts at suppression. This type of quasiparanoid fear is a particularly strong tendency in the United States. And the story lent itself to conspiracist interpretations—who were the elite the secret space program was intended to save? Even those willing to acknowledge that Alternative 3 was trumped up insisted that its core argument might very well be true—another instance of the demolition of the fact-fiction boundary discussed in chapter 2.16
Alternative 3 does not mention UFOs or aliens. As discussed in chapter 6, its role in the growth of conspiracy theory lay in a later permutation, according to which UFOs and the threat of an alien invasion of the earth are believed to have been invented by the shadowy elite in order to gather sufficient power and resources to complete the space-colonization enterprise. When the scenario of Alternative 3 came to be enfolded within ufological conspiracism, it suggested that UFO conspiracy theories could go in two different directions. The first insisted on the reality of a threat from outer space, with human conspirators involved as the aliens' lackeys or collaborators. The other direction, following the Alternative 3 suggestion, claimed that UFOs from outer space were a deception concocted by the conspirators for their own malevolent purposes, in order to deflect attention from the real evil.
UFO Conspiracism: The Second Phase
The first phase in the growth of UFO conspiracy theories extended through the late 1970s. It was characterized by a fragmentation of themes, whether of abductees' implants, cattle mutilations, or Nazi bases. The only product of the period that purported to offer an integral conspiracy theory was the fictional Alternative 3 broadcast, which had not mentioned UFOs at all. By contrast, the second phase, which began in the mid 1980s, was marked both by the broader scope of conspiracy allegations and by the convergence of UFO plots with the better-developed conspiracism of the extreme right.
The first full published statement of such a theory appeared in 1986, in George C. Andrews's book Extra-Terrestrials among Us. Although Andrews's conspiracy theory appears in bits and pieces strewn throughout the volume, it can be reconstructed roughly as follows. A race of evil extraterrestrials is using a "privileged elite caste" of humans to manipulate and control the masses. As far as the United States is concerned, the principal mechanism for political control is the CIA, a "government within the government," implementing a form of "corporate fascism." Andrews accuses the CIA of having assassinated John F. Kennedy, and he cites William Pabst's pamphlet claiming that a network of concentration camps is being readied for dissenters. He fears that martial law is about to be declared, bringing an end to American democracy. The explicit use of Pabst's work, warnings about the Rex 84 exercise (discussed in chapter 4), and repeated claims that the Constitution is in imminent danger make Andrews's political views almost indistinguishable from those associated with militias. Only his placement of extraterrestrials at the pinnacle of the conspiracies identifies him as a ufologist.17
The publication of Extra-Terrestrials among Us marked the beginning of a feverish period of UFO conspiracism, from 1986 to 1989. Much of the literature of this period was based on the concept of a secret governing apparatus, unknown and unaccountable, not unlike Andrews's notion of the CIA as a "government within the government." The idea of a hidden government received its most significant boost in 1987 with the publication of the so-called MJ-12 papers.
MJ-12—sometimes referred to as Magestic-12 or Majic-12—purports to be a document prepared for President Dwight Eisenhower, to which was attached a memo from President Harry Truman to his defense secretary, James Forrestal. Though made public in 1987, MJ-12 had a history that went back to 1984.
According to those involved, on December 11, 1984, Jaime Shandera, a film producer, received a package anonymously sent from Albuquerque, New Mexico, containing an undeveloped roll of film. He and UFO writer William Moore developed the film, which they said contained images of the MJ-12 documents. Although the documents were not made public until June 1987, when they were revealed at a UFO conference in Washington, D.C., UFO publications referred to them as early as 1985. Facsimile copies were reproduced in the British edition (and later the American edition) of Timothy Good's Above Top Secret, and have appeared elsewhere many times since.18
The MJ-12 documents take the form of a briefing paper for the newly elected president, informing him of the existence of a supersecret group of the same name, allegedly established during the Truman administration, that consists of a dozen high military and scientific figures. The documents describe crashes of UFOs and the recovery of their occupants' bodies, which established them as of indisputably extraterrestrial origin.
MJ-12 immediately polarized the UFO community into believers and skeptics. Among the skeptics was Jacques Vallee, who compared the incident to the activities of "Deep Throat" during the Watergate scandal. He suggested that the documents' sender was more likely interested in disinformation than in whistle-blowing, and implied that the documents were forged. Even more dismissive was Philip J. Klass, a longtime debunker of UFO hoaxes, who argued that the format and language of the documents pointed to forgery.19
In the years since the MJ-12 papers became widely known, they have taken on a life of their own. Additional, related documents periodically appear, some as recently as 1998. Just as with the Kennedy assassination, MJ-12 has generated a cottage industry of commentators, authenticators, and critics. More broadly, MJ-12 laid the foundation for elaborate conspiracy theories by suggesting that UFOs were of extraterrestrial origin, that the federal government was aware of them as early as the late 1940s, and that a secret bureaucracy had been created to study and control the situation. These claims allowed some ufologists to shift from observation of flying saucers to attempts to unravel alleged government machinations. The proliferation of MJ-12 documents and theories not only identified the enemy as a segment of the government, but—inasmuch as this "secret government" was supposed to have hidden all relevant information—allowed great latitude in what might be "revealed." It mattered little whether publicly available evidence confirmed a claim; its author could always respond, "The government knows it, but won't tell you."20
The first such revelation occurred on December 29, 1987, a few months after the release of the MJ-12 papers. It took the form of a statement by John Lear, estranged son of inventor William Lear. Building upon the original MJ-12 documents, Lear constructs a far more elaborate edifice of intrigue and dissimulation. The Lear statement narrates the purported history of the relationship between the MJ-12 group and the extraterrestrials from 1947 to 1987. Although Lear cites few sources and offers no documentation, his statement, like many conspiracy narratives, is striking in its specificity.
The "horrible truth" to which MJ-12 was allegedly privy was so frightening that it drove at least one member—Secretary of Defense Forrestal—to suicide, his death disguised as the result of mental illness. According to Lear, the U.S. government began to hold meetings with the aliens on April 30, 1964, and by 1971 had negotiated a "deal." Its terms called for transfer of the aliens' technology to the government, in exchange for which the government would acquiesce in cattle mutilations and in the temporary abduction of American citizens. The abductees would be implanted with tracking and control devices, given posthypnotic suggestions, sometimes used as guinea pigs in genetic engineering and cross-breeding programs, and occasionally killed.21
Lear's text alleged that the "EBEs" (extraterrestrial biological entities) have a "genetic disorder" that has caused their digestive system to atrophy. They can survive only by ingesting biological substances obtained from cows or humans, or by creating an alien-human cross-bred race. This need led to the construction, under government auspices, of gigantic laboratories, not only to receive the aliens' technology but also to allow them to conduct biological experiments. These laboratories included Groom Lake, Nevada (better known in the ufology literature as Area 51 or Dreamland), and several in New Mexico, notably near the small town of Dulce. There, Lear claims, a joint CIA-alien laboratory provides facilities for unspeakable experiments on abducted subjects. Indeed, the aliens' behavior was so repugnant that in 1979 a subterranean battle supposedly took place between them and U.S. military personnel, in which sixty-six U.S. troops were killed.22
The battle at Dulce was the beginning of a crisis for MJ-12, which gradually became aware of the "Grand Deception"—namely, the failure of the aliens to live up to their agreement. Their technology turned out to be only partially usable, they were abducting far more Americans than they had agreed to, and they were mistreating them. Faced with this situation, MJ-12 supposedly decided it was foolhardy to attempt immediate resistance and instead opted to develop weapons that might permit effective resistance at some later time. This weapons development program was the Strategic Defense Initiative, disguised as a Cold War project.23
The Lear statement is brief—only seven printed pages—but dizzying in its claims. It elevates MJ-12 to a conspiratorial position nowhere hinted at in the original papers themselves. It implies a web of subsidiary conspiracies—to silence the news media and the academic community, and to mislead the UFO community as well. According to Lear, ufologist William Moore, the figure most identified with the MJ-12 papers, was probably himself a disinformation agent in the hire of MJ-12. The statement ends with a litany of rhetorical questions—a common device in conspiracy literature—all implying that the aliens' ultimate aim is the conquest of the earth, and that the conspirators in government, centered in MJ-12, are powerless to prevent it.24
Although Lear did not employ the term New World Order, he managed to bring together a number of elements compatible with New World Order theory, including mind-control implants, a government within the government, and the kidnapping of hundreds of thousands of Americans. Lear's claim of having been a CIA pilot only added to the sense that this was an insider's view, notwithstanding the paucity of evidence.25
If Lear had been alone in his bizarre allegations, they would have disappeared from view. But they were quickly taken up and amplified by a figure who was to prove central to the convergence of UFO and militia positions: Milton William Cooper, the most famous of UFO conspiracists. Cooper also had a military background, having served in the air force and later the navy, from which he was discharged in 1975. Between his discharge and his ufology debut, he apparently received some training and experience in photography as well as working at administrative jobs in vocational colleges. Best known in ufology circles for his bitter conflicts with rivals and critics, his conspiracist reputation rests primarily on a 1991 book, Behold a Pale Horse. While it may not be, as Cooper's Web site biography claims, "the best selling underground book of all time," it is widely available and, apparently, widely read in ufology, conspiracy, and antigovernment circles.26
The Cooper Narrative
Cooper presented his own MJ-12 account in a series of related documents released between December 1988 and the end of 1989. Coming as they did immediately after both the MJ-12 release and the Lear statement, Cooper's claims caused a sensation in ufology circles. In a series of Internet postings and in an appearance at the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) symposium in Las Vegas in July 1989, Cooper claimed to have seen an astonishing array of secret UFO documents during his naval career. His earliest accounts, from December 1988 and January 1989, closely parallel the MJ-12 papers and the Lear statement, yet they mention neither Moore nor Lear. Instead, Cooper claimed independent knowledge, asserting that in 1972, while in the navy, he was shown sets of documents and photographs dealing with UFOs, their extraterrestrial passengers, and relations between the extraterrestrials and the federal government.27
The earliest statement of Cooper's views—"Top Secret/Majic"—was, according to Linda Moulton Howe, posted on the CompuServe and Paranet networks on December 18, 1988. It purports to summarize the material Cooper says he saw sixteen years previously. While the substance is closely related to the MJ-12 and Lear materials, the structure of Cooper's statement is quite different. It is neither a set of primary documents nor a narrative. Most of it consists of brief sections, often no more than a paragraph, each of which describes or defines a name or term Cooper said he encountered in the original navy material. Many are names of projects or operations allegedly initiated by the government to deal with extraterrestrials, giving the entire statement a decidedly bureaucratic tinge.28
Several details of Cooper's account are noteworthy, either in the manner in which they distance themselves from Moore and Lear or by suggesting new political implications. The latter are particularly important, because in the 1990s Cooper emerged as the most conspicuous link between UFO conspiracists and militia circles.
The Cooper variations, while small, increased the congruence between UFO conspiracies and the tales of plots circulating on the extreme right, though there is no explicit evidence that Cooper was familiar with right-wing literature at the time. In his version, the MJ-12 group is a relatively small part of a much larger government enterprise directed at understanding the aliens, dealing with them, and keeping knowledge from reaching the general public. Not surprisingly, the CIA is described as central to the enterprise, a claim also made in Andrews's 1986 description of the conspiracy. Black helicopters make an appearance as well, allegedly accompanying test flights of recovered alien craft over the Nevada desert. Although Andrews had not mentioned black helicopters specifically, he did report transformations in which saucers turned into helicopters and vice versa.29
Cooper did not mention the Trilateral Commission, but he introduced motifs that were to make its future inclusion appear natural. He referred to teams called Delta that, he claimed, provide security for all projects related to the aliens and whose members in fact are the legendary men in black. Later on, others more explicitly identified this group with the well-known Delta Force counterterrorism organization. Cooper's references to Delta are closely related to his lengthy discussion of what he called "a trilateral insignia" allegedly found on alien spacecraft. He claimed that the Delta security guards wear red badges with a black triangle, similar to the "alien flag" of a triangle divided by parallel lines. His linking of the terms delta, trilateral, and men in black offered the possibility of conspiracy in which U.S. military forces, aliens, and the Trilateral Commission collude.30
Like Lear, Cooper alleged that the aliens came to Earth not out of mere curiosity but because some biological flaw made them dependent on substances, including blood, that could be obtained from human and animal bodies. According to Cooper, they might have evolved from plants, because they use chlorophyll to convert food into energy and excrete waste products through the skin. How this mechanism related to the need for human and animal blood was not explained.31
In early 1989, Cooper issued a revised version of this document. It has since been frequently posted on the Internet. Not all versions, however, are identical. As is often the case with Internet documents, there is no way to determine definitively if changes have been made since the date the document bears.32
Notwithstanding these difficulties, the later Cooper document is interesting in its own right. In the first place, Cooper attributed the differences between this and the earlier version to his having undergone "hypnotic regression in order to make the information as accurate as possible." He did not indicate who performed the hypnosis, when, or under what conditions. The second version also contains a much-elaborated description of the MJ-12 group itself. It allegedly consists of the twelve senior members of a thirty-two-member secret society called the Jason Society, which was "commissioned" by President Eisenhower to "find the truth of the alien question."33
Identifying a complete and accurate text of the second Cooper document is difficult. Howe's published version contains elisions. An Internet version is considerably longer and places material in a somewhat different order. It is also more overtly political, with references to the Kennedy assassination, the Rockefeller family, black helicopters, and the trilateral insignia; and it charges that the activities described violate the Constitution, as well as "the human rights of every citizen of the world." This longer text may well have been written as early as the printed one (i.e., January 10, 1989), but the technology of the Internet makes the date impossible to verify.34
Cooper's claims in the second document regarding abductee implants and concentration camps were equally sweeping. One in every forty Americans has allegedly been implanted, which would amount to several million individuals. The concentration camps are part of a plan in which, under the pretext of a terrorist nuclear threat, martial law would be declared and the media nationalized.35
Cooper's next text, dated May 23, 1989, was an Internet document made public at a UFO symposium in Las Vegas on July 2 of that year. It subsequently formed part of a chapter in Behold a Pale Horse. Here, too, the political element was conspicuously present: the CIA was created to deal with the alien threat, Secretary of Defense Forrestal was an abductee, and the presidents were kept in ignorance.36
Up to this point, Cooper had suggested little in the way of political action beyond recommending that Congress be informed. Sometime in 1989, however, he associated himself with an anonymous document labeled "Petition to Indict." In his undated accompanying letter, Cooper spoke of "Many other signatures . . . on the original copy," presumably in addition to his own. He begged Congress to act on the petition, but "not to trust any other government agency with these matters because this conspiracy runs deep within the government."37
The "Petition to Indict," which runs somewhat more than four typed pages, appears in some places to be addressed simply to "the government," at others more specifically to Congress. It charges that "the government" entered into "a secret treaty with an Alien Nation" in violation of the Constitution. In addition to repeating many of the points already made by Lear and Cooper, it charges that the resources to fund secret, alien-related projects came from CIA involvement in the international drug trade.38
The petition is also significant for its lengthy references to the involvement of then-president George H.W. Bush. Calling Bush "the most powerful and dangerous criminal in the history of the world," the petition charges that Bush's involvement in the international drug trade went back to his days in the oil business and continued throughout his tenure as CIA director. Bush's associations with Skull and Bones and the Trilateral Commission have made him a favorite target of conspiracy theorists.39
Because the petition asks full disclosure of government plots by May 30, 1989, it can reasonably be dated to early that year, that is to say, roughly contemporaneous with the revised version of the Cooper document. The petition is vague about what might happen if no government action is taken on its charges. But it warns that failure to act will make every member of the House and Senate "accessories to the conspiracy and the crimes outlined in this document," and the signatories "swear on the Constitution" to bring "all guilty parties . . . to justice." How they might do this is not specified.40
The "Petition to Indict" bears some similarities to the "Constructive Notices" sent in 1986 to a judge and to Internal Revenue Service personnel in Nevada. The "Constructive Notices" were purported indictments issued by the Committee of the States, an entity created by Christian Identity preacher and tax protestor William Potter Gale. The "Constructive Notices" threatened the lives of the recipients, and in October 1987, Gale and his associates were tried and convicted of interfering in the administration of the tax laws. In retrospect, it can be seen that the Committee of the States affair anticipated such developments as so-called common-law courts among antigovernment groups in the 1990s. There is no direct evidence that Cooper or the anonymous drafter or drafters of the "Petition to Indict" were familiar with Gale's activities. Nonetheless, like the Committee of the States and many subsequent examples of right-wing shadow legal institutions, the petition implies the authority to bring malefactors to justice if formal legal institutions do not.41
By the late 1990s, Cooper had moved away from the ufology community, where he had first appeared a decade earlier, to the subculture of militias and other antigovernment groups. His Web site circulated conspiracist versions of the Oklahoma City bombing, and he spoke in the name of a shadowy organization called the Second Continental Army of the Republic (Militia), about which little is known. As Gale had, Cooper also took on the Internal Revenue Service.42
Cooper became convinced that he had been targeted by "The Illuminati Socialist President of the United States of America, William Jefferson Clinton" as well as "by the bogus and unconstitutional Internal Revenue Service." His conflict with the latter resulted in an arrest warrant issued in July 1998. As of fall 2000, it still had not been executed, which resulted in Cooper's being named a "major fugitive" by the U.S. Marshals Service. The government's reluctance to arrest Cooper was apparently a reflection of his conflict-laden rhetoric: "We are formed as the Constitutional and Lawful unorganized Militia of the State of Arizona and the united [sic] States of America. . . . By invading the Sovereign jurisdiction of the State of Arizona to attack the Citizens of the State of Arizona the United States has declared war upon the Citizens of the Several States of the Union. . . . We have drawn our line in the sand." The warrant was never served, because Cooper was shot and killed by sheriff's deputies in November 2001 as a result of an incident unrelated to his tax problems. This bizarre conclusion to a strange life is described more fully in chapter 10.43
Cooper was not the only figure in the UFO subculture who was elaborating politically charged conspiracy theories by the end of the 1980s. The year 1989 marked the beginning of the activities of John Grace, also known as Val Germann and Val (or Valdamar) Valerian. Grace was an air force enlisted man stationed at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas, where he apparently came into contact with Lear. About 1988, Grace-Valerian founded the Nevada Aerial Research Group in Las Vegas, but soon relocated it to Yelm, Washington, under the name Leading Edge Research Group. He has been an extraordinarily prolific writer and publisher, claiming to have issued tens of thousands of pages. His central works are the massive, ongoing series of Matrix volumes, of which at least six have appeared, and the serial publication The Leading Edge.44
It is impossible to summarize Valerian's system. Indeed, it may well be one of the most complex superconspiracy theories ever constructed. Scarcely any major organization or institution escapes inclusion. One diagrammatic representation requires six pages to lay out the connections among elements of the plot, including the Gestapo, the Mafia, and the Wobblies (IWW). Valerian ranges not only across the usual UFO and conspiracist terrain but across politics, religion, science, and history. He clearly regards his system not merely as an explanation of flying saucers or contemporary politics but as a synoptic vision of all knowledge.45
Cooper edged gradually toward more ambitious conspiratorial schemes, but even at his most sweeping he never sought to cover areas such as the sciences (about which, in fact, he claimed ignorance). Valerian, by contrast, takes conspiracism to its logical conclusion by suggesting that all true knowledge has been deliberately hidden, and that attempts to reveal it in one area will inevitably reveal the entire structure, if only one digs widely and deeply enough. Anything that is available and obvious is false, while what is hidden has to be true; its hiddenness can have occurred only because those who truly know do not wish it to be revealed. As Valerian puts it, "As a result of the suppression and compartmentalization of information, cultures have been fragmented into several distinct groups and mind sets which both co-exist and oppose each other." He clearly believes that he has discovered the suppressed synthesis.46
Leading Edge's location, Yelm, Washington, is also the home of J.Z. Knight, a channeler who claims to be the medium transmitting the words of a 35,000-year-old warrior named Ramtha. The Ramtha School of Enlightenment in Yelm was founded in 1988 or 1989, about the time Valerian arrived. There appear to be no direct links between Valerian's organization and Knight's, but they do share common themes. Ramtha asserts that the UFOs carry aliens who are "your higher brothers." Valerian, like Knight, employs the entity terminology standard in channeling circles, and he includes favorable material about Ramtha in the Matrix volumes. There are some differences: for instance, like many conspiracy-minded ufologists, Valerian believes that there are many alien races, some of which are malevolent. For their part, Knight and Ramtha identify evil with a conspiracy of international bankers who include the Rothschilds and the Federal Reserve. The Ramtha School's book service sells works by Cooper, David Icke, and Jim Keith, and the Ramtha newsletter has published lengthy interviews with Mark Phillips and Cathy O'Brien, with their tales of CIA mind-controlled sex slaves. Notwithstanding the lack of formal connections, Valerian and Knight clearly seem to tap into the same cultic milieu.47
By the early 1990s, therefore, at least some of the ufology literature had gone through several transformations. It had become intensely politicized. It insisted that powerful elements in the U.S. government were in continuing collaboration with an evil, alien race. And it claimed that in order to protect this information, the secret government was prepared to destroy American liberties. From 1986 to about 1990, the activities of Andrews, Lear, Cooper, and Valerian created a conspiracist form of UFO speculation, which Jerome Clark refers to as ufology's "dark side."48
Much of this material was either strikingly similar to or compatible with the conspiracy ideas simultaneously circulating in the militia and militant antigovernment subculture. The mythology of concentration camps, secret government security forces, wholesale violation of the Constitution, and control of the state by a hidden elite are themes prominent in both domains. Yet any link between them in the 1980s appears circumstantial. The UFO conspiracists were especially active in the West, where the extreme right was particularly evident; even so, no evidence exists at this time of direct contact between them. But convergent ideas are bound to meet, and as the next chapter shows, this occurred in the early 1990s.
5. UFO Conspiracy Theories, 1975—1990
1. Andrew Macdonald (pseudonym of William L. Pierce), The Turner Diaries, 2d ed. (Washington, D.C.: National Alliance, 1980). Typical of the news coverage is Mark Potok and Katy Kelly, "Militia Movement's Draw: A Shared Anger, Fear," USA Today, May 16, 1995, 6D.
2. Pat Robertson, The New World Order (Dallas: Word, 1991), p. 185. "Buchanan Promises 'Millennial Struggle' against World Government," CNN, January 6, 2000; http://www.cnn.com (January 7, 2000).
3. Phil Patton, "Indeed They Have Landed. Look Around," The New York Times, June 15, 1997, section H, 38. Jodi Dean, Aliens in America: Conspiracy Cultures from Outerspace to Cyberspace (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1998), p. 36. Amy Harmon, "For U.F.O. Buffs, 50 Years of Hazy History," The New York Times, June 14, 1997, section A, 1. "Gallup UFO Poll: Some Want to Believe, Some Don't," http://www.parascope.com/articles/0597/gallup.htm (July 2, 1997).
4. Cynthia Fox, "The Search for Extraterrestrial Life," Life (March 2000): 56.
5. Dean, Aliens in America, pp. 30, 52.
6. Brenda Denzler, The Lure of the Edge: Scientific Passions, Religious Beliefs, and the Pursuit of UFOs (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), pp. 164—167.
7. "Gallup UFO Poll." Fox, "The Search for Extraterrestrial Life," p. 56.
8. "Men in Black," in The UFO Encyclopedia, ed. John Spencer (New York: Avon, 1993), pp. 210—211. Jerome Clark, The UFO Files (Lincolnwood, Ill.: Publications International, 1996), pp. 127—129. Peter Rojcewicz, "The 'Men in Black' Experience and Tradition: Analogues with the Traditional Devil Hypothesis," Journal of American Folklore 100 (April—June 1987): 148—160. The first book on the subject, which initially appeared in 1956, was by Gray Barker: They Knew Too Much about Flying Saucers, repr. (Lilburn, Ga.: IllumiNet, 1997).
9. The literature on each is very large; but the nature of the material can be gleaned from the following. On Area 51: David Darlington, Area 51: The Dreamland Chronicles (New York: Henry Holt, 1997); and Phil Patton, Travels in Dreamland: The Secret History of Area 51 (London: Millennium, 1997). On Dulce: Branton, The Dulce Wars: Underground Alien Bases & the Battle for Planet Earth (New Brunswick, N.J.: Inner Light/Global Communications, 1999); and Commander X, Underground Alien Bases (n.p.: Abelard Productions, 1990).
10. "Abduction Phenomenon," in The UFO Encyclopedia, ed. Jerome Clark, vol. 1 (Detroit: Apogee, 1990), p. 4. Thomas E. Bullard, UFO Abductions: The Measure of a Mystery (n.p.: Fund for UFO Research, 1987), vol. 1, pp. 87—88.
11. "Hollow Earth and UFOs," in The UFO Encyclopedia, ed. Jerome Clark, vol. 2 (Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1992), p. 204. Commander X, "Legions of Doom," UFO Universe, Conspiracies & Cover-ups, Special Issue 1 (1998): 64—65. The Nazi-UFO stories have been most fully reconstructed by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke in Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity (New York: New York University Press, 2002), chap. 8.
12. "Animal Mutilations and UFOs," in The UFO Encyclopedia, ed. Jerome Clark, vol. 3 (Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1996), pp. 18—25. George E. Onet, "Animal Mutilations: What We Know," National Institute for Discovery Science, http://www.nidsci.org/articles/animal1.html (September 13, 2000). Idem, "Animal Mutilations: What We Don't Know," National Institute for Discovery Science, http://www.nidsci.org/articles/animal2.html (September 13, 2000).
13. "Animal Mutilations and UFOs," pp. 18, 23.
14. "Linda Moulton Howe: The 'Alien Harvest' and Beyond," transcript of a conversation in UFOs and the Alien Presence: Six Viewpoints, ed. Michael Lindemann (Newberg, Ore.: Wild Flower, 1991), pp. 61—64. Linda Moulton Howe, An Alien Harvest: Further Evidence Linking Animal Mutilations and Human Abductions to Alien Life Forms (Huntingdon Valley, Penn.: Linda Moulton Howe Productions, 1989), p. 224. On Howe, see Idaho Statesman (Boise), June 5, 1998, 1d. Bullard, UFO Abductions, pp. 50, 86—87, 91.
15. Alternative 3 (videotape; Beverly Hills, Calif.: Underground Video, 1996); originally broadcast on Science Report, Anglia Television (U.K.), April 1, 1977.
16. Alternative 3. Leslie Watkins, Alternative 3 (London: Sphere, 1978). Jim Keith, Casebook on Alternative 3: UFOs, Secret Societies and World Control (Lilburn, Ga.: IllumiNet, 1994). Idem, Mind Control and UFOs: Casebook on Alternative 3 (Lilburn, Ga.: IllumiNet, 1999). Bob Rickard, "Hoax: Alternative," Fortean Times 64 (August—September 1992): 47—49.
17. George C. Andrews, Extra-Terrestrials among Us, repr. (St. Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn, 1993 [orig. 1986]), pp. 166, 174—175, 229, 270. William R. Pabst, "Concentration Camp Plans for U.S. Citizens," see, e.g., http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/2012/camps.txt (January 25, 1999).
18. Patton, Travels in Dreamland, p. 236. Stanton T. Friedman, Top Secret/Majic (New York: Marlowe, 1997), pp. 20—21, 56. Howe, An Alien Harvest, p. 157. The texts appear in Timothy Good, Above Top Secret: The Worldwide U.F.O. Cover-up (New York: William Morrow, 1988), pp. 544—551. The MJ-12 documents also appear in Friedman, Top Secret/Majic, pp. 222—229, and Howe, An Alien Harvest, pp. 165—172. Robert Alan Goldberg provides another description of the affair in Enemies Within: The Culture of Conspiracy in Modern America (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2001), pp. 205—208.
19. Jacques Vallee, Revelations: Alien Contact and Human Deception (New York: Ballantine, 1991), pp. 38—41. "Skeptics Attack," http://www.parascope.com/ds/0996/maj2.htm (July 1, 1997).
20. For example, "Declassified Documents Confirm Recovery of Alien Craft and Bodies!" Nexus 6 (February—March 1999): 55—60.
21. "Statement Released By: John Lear, December 29, 1987," William F. Hamilton III, Alien Magic (Glendale, Calif.: Uforces, 1989).
25. A brief biographical statement precedes the text of Lear's statement.
26. Donna Kossy, Kooks (Portland, Ore.: Feral House, 1994), pp. 191—192. "William Cooper: A Short Biography," http://williamcooper.com/william.htm (August 29, 2000). Milton William Cooper, Behold a Pale Horse (Sedona, Ariz.: Light Technology, 1991).
27. Don Ecker, "Dead Man Talking," Fortean Times 155 (March 2002): 38.
28. The December 18 statement is reproduced in Howe, An Alien Harvest, pp. 177—196.
29. Howe, An Alien Harvest, pp. 183, 184—185. Andrews, Extra-Terrestrials among Us, p. 184.
30. Howe, An Alien Harvest, pp. 185, 190—191. Milton William Cooper, "The Cooper Document: The Absolute True Information Regarding the Alien Presence on Earth" (1989), posted October 29, 1997, http://server.wizards.net/mac/handy/incoming/cooperdoc.html (November 6, 1997); capitalization in original.
31. Howe, An Alien Harvest, pp. 187—188.
32. There are some discrepancies in dates for Cooper material between Hamilton, Alien Magic, and Howe, An Alien Harvest, pp. 290—291.
33. Howe, An Alien Harvest, pp. 292—294.
34. Cooper, "The Cooper Document."
35. Howe, An Alien Harvest, pp. 297—298.
36. Cooper, Behold a Pale Horse, p. 198.
37. Letter from Milton William Cooper, published in Hamilton, Alien Magic, unpaginated section.
38. "Petition to Indict," published in Hamilton, Alien Magic, unpaginated section.
41. For a detailed, though partisan, treatment of Gale, see Cheri Seymour, Committee of the States: Inside the Radical Right (Mariposa, Calif.: Camden Place Communications, 1991). Michael Barkun, Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement, rev. ed. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), p. 208.
42. Milton William Cooper, "The Plot Thickens," http://harvest-trust.org/plot.htm (June 30, 1998). Idem, "In Search of . . . Mail Digest, May 11, 1997," http://in-search-of.com/frames/WWWBoard/messages/1050.html (November 11, 1997).
43. For Cooper's quotation, see "Cooper Family Targeted by Feds," http://www.williamcooper.com/targeted.htm (August 29, 2000). "USMS Major Fugitive Cases," http://www.usdoj.gov/marshals/wanted/major-cases/cases.html#A (August 30, 2000).
44. "Unofficial Link Page for John Grace," http://www.ufomind.com/people/g/grace/ (September 16, 1998). "Animal Mutilations and UFOs," p. 34. Valdamar Valerian, Matrix II: The Abduction and Manipulation of Humans Using Advanced Technology, 3d ed. (Yelm, Wash.: Leading Edge Research Group, 1990—1991). Idem, Matrix III: The Psycho-Social, Chemical, Biological and Electromagnetic Manipulation of Human Consciousness (Yelm, Wash.: Leading Edge Research Group, 1992).
45. Valerian, Matrix III, vol. 1, pp. 632—637.
46. Valerian, Matrix II, p. v.
47. J. Gordon Melton, Finding Enlightenment: Ramtha's School of Ancient Wisdom (Hillsboro, Ore.: Beyond Words, 1998), pp. 70—71. Idem, "Ramtha's School of Enlightenment," in The Encyclopedia of Cults, Sects, and New Religions, ed. James R. Lewis, 2d ed. (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2002), pp. 596—600. "Ramtha's School of Enlightenment," http://cti.itc.virginia.edu/~jkh8x/soc257/nrms/Ramtha.html (January 21, 1999). Steven Lee Weinberg, Carol Wright, and John Clancy, eds., Ramtha Intensive: Change, the Days to Come (Eastsound, Wash.: Sovereignty, 1987). Valerian, Matrix II, p. i. Idem, Matrix III, vol. 1, pp. 475—446. Melton, Finding Enlightenment, p. 131. "Conspiracies," http://www.ramtha.com/cgi-bin/private/c. . .&nav_mode = search&frames = &refer = homepage (September 21, 2000). "Cathy O'Brien," The Golden Thread Newspaper (November 1999), http://ramtha.com/golden/11—1999.html (September 21, 2000).
48. "Animal Mutilations and UFOs," p. 33.