January 09, 2003 News » Cover Story

The Aliens Among Us 

Until the grays land on the White House lawn, "Ufology" is unlikely to go mainstream

This is not your father's UFO story. No single sighting, or close encounter of the second, third or 46th kind will be assessed or scrutinized.

Nowhere on these pages will a clean-cut Air Force retiree unearth three decades of "suppressed" evidence exposing the bizarre and tenuous connections between extraterrestrials, the Cosa Nostra, and the assassination of our 35th president.

This tale certainly won't illuminate the big honking question underlying all UFO-related media matter: Are we alone in the universe? Or the other more implicit question about those who claim to have contact -- be it up close and personal or from afar -- with interstellar visitors: Are these people out of their gourds?

In the 55 years since either an Army weather balloon or an alien spaceship crashed into a sheep farm outside Roswell, N.M., the fascination with UFOs has blossomed into a global cultural phenomenon.

The portrait of a Gray -- the now proverbial bug-eyed, thin-lipped alien -- has become nearly as ubiquitous as the Nike swoosh, serving as the de facto logo for all things paranormal.

To remain oblivious to stories of UFOs is tantamount to claiming ignorance of Elvis Presley. However, to know too much, to take the exploration of it too seriously, places you on another margin of American culture.

One does not have to look further than El Paso County to meet folks whose devotion to Ufology -- the study of UFOs and related phenomena -- has become a central part of their lives.

No leading questions

Twelve years ago, Colorado Springs resident Ed Burke's interest in UFOs was triggered when a friend began to experience "abduction problems."

Now a trained UFO field investigator, Burke serves as the assistant state director of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), the world's largest UFO research organization headquartered 60 miles north of the Springs in Littleton. MUFON studies UFO-related phenomenon, including sightings, abductions, animal mutilations and crop circles.

MUFON's stated purpose is to attract greater public awareness of and interest in Ufology as well as further the scientific study of UFO-related phenomena.

Headed by retired Boeing engineer John Schuessler, the 33-year-old organization hosts conferences and lectures and publishes a bimonthly journal. It also trains its members in the proper procedures for UFO investigations.

"The protocols for doing [a UFO investigation] is not to ask leading questions," said Burke, noting that he's currently working with several abduction cases in the Springs area. "We know that somewhere around 80 to 90 percent of these sightings will have natural explanations."

Other communions aren't as easy to rationalize. Roughly once a year, Divide resident Connie Isele wakes up with a swath of hair missing and her home filled with what she describes as a metallic, ozone-like aroma.

Isele, who moved to Colorado from Sacramento in 1994, is currently a psychology student at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. To better comprehend her experiences, she underwent hypnosis and participated in support groups for abductees. "I had questions about my sanity," she said.

Isele claims UFO experiences have plagued her family for several generations and have included unexplained missing time, waking up with bruises and cuts -- even a missing fetus.

"I wish they'd learn proper social behavior," she joked about her cosmic visitors. "They could use the front door, and I have a big front yard with plenty of room to land."

Benevolent or hostile?

Belief in UFOs is not as marginal as one might think. As part of the publicity push for Taken -- Steven Spielberg's recently aired 10-part miniseries chronicling the UFO abductions in three different families over 50 years -- the SCI FI cable channel sponsored a Roper poll.

The survey revealed that 72 percent of Americans believe the government knows more about UFOs and extraterrestrials than it's passing on to the public.

Still, UFOs, extraterrestrials and the people who love them often serve as stock straw men for the media. With a tone of orchestrated paranormality, sensational reports typically focus on accounts of sightings and abductions with speculation on the alien agenda.

Often missing are any reports on how diverse the world of UFO research actually is. As is the case in just about any broad movement, Ufologists fall into numerous and often conflicting camps.

A few of the questions that divide Ufologists: Are extraterrestrials benevolent (as in Alf and E.T.) or hostile (as in Signs and Independence Day)? What, if anything, happened in Roswell, N.M., in 1947? Are humans routinely abducted into alien spacecraft? Are alien-human hybrids living among us? To what extent is the government covering up its knowledge of the phenomenon?

As the self-professed paranormal investigator and preacher Larry Resel of Las Animas, Colo. notes, "It's such an elusive field that no one has the corner on the truth."

Representatives of several different Ufological schools converged this past November at the first annual UFO Conference of Pueblo to probe these pressing questions.

Roughly 50 to 60 mostly white middle-aged earthlings composed the audience in Pueblo Community College's Fortino Ballroom. Attendees paid $20 a pop to hear several speakers and watch their slides and videos.

With no lack of humor, conference organizer and emcee, Bill Winkler, opened by posing the following question to the crowd: "If you could have one question to ask the ETs, what would it be?"

Snippy the horse

While Roswell, N.M., remains the Vatican City for Ufologists, Colorado's San Luis Valley also holds a prominent place. It's been 35 years since Snippy the horse was found dead on a farm in Colorado's San Luis Valley, its heart and brain excised with surgical precision and eviscerated corpse and a mystifying lack of blood. No evidence of human foul play or predator activity was found.

The phenomenon of animal mutilation originated here and was replicated in other parts of the West. The corpses were mostly calves, and the body parts expurgated typically reproductive organs.

What became a pattern of mutilated cattle reached critical mass in 1975 with more than 170 mutilations reported statewide. The state's national guard even flew helicopter sorties over the most afflicted regions.

Mool Verma, a forensic anthropologist who worked for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation during the scare, said he examined approximately 30 calf hides from throughout Colorado, and concluded that the majority showed signs of "indentation" consistent with predators like coyotes and other small rodents.

Still, he said, "There was no definite conclusion I could arrive at."

"We were losing calves pretty regularly," said former Colorado Cattleman's Association president Freeman Lester. "We thought it was some kinda goofy cult."

Farmers increased patrols over their livestock in an effort to get to the bottom of things, and Lester recalled one incident where he fired three shots at an unmarked black helicopter flying above his ranch in Del Norte. "The ranchers was all armed. We were out for blood."

During November's UFO conference Larry Resel, a reverend from Las Animas who has studied the animal mutilation phenomena in southeastern Colorado and New Mexico, gave a presentation on the subject.

His report was mainly a compilation of video footage of bright lights in the sky around Las Animas, as well as mutilated cows and Apache Army helicopters hovering over southeastern Colorado.

At the time of the mutilations, Resel was a pastor of a fundamentalist congregation in Las Animas and found his interest in UFOs frowned on by church leaders. He has since established his own nondenominational congregation.

"People ask me, 'Do I believe?'" said Resel. "I say, 'I don't believe, but I have knowledge that there is something out there beyond what we can see and understand.' "

Several small men

Following Resel to the podium was Aurora-based crop circle researcher Ron Russell. A former Hollywood consultant, Russell showed slides of crop circles from the Midwest, England and New Zealand.

The majority of crop circles have their origins in elaborate hoaxes, or simply the fancy of creative farmers. But research conducted by crop circle researcher Colin Andrews, funded by a grant from the Rockefeller Institute, shows that some of these circles are derived from a mysterious shift in the magnetic field, which creates a current that flattens crops.

Crop circles have been linked to Ufology based on the assumption that the patterns are coded messages from extraterrestrials.

Russell describes them as "spiritual machines" that typically disrupt the magnetic field. According to Russell, birds flying near a crop circle will split their flock to avoid flying directly over it while airplanes will temporarily lose power.

Russell also recounted several curious instances during his summer crop circle tours of southeast England near Stonehenge. While meditating inside a crop circle, a member of his group drew a picture of a pattern that she alleged "came to her." Three days later, Russell said, the same shape appeared in a nearby field.

The conference attendees received Russell's tales with a mixture of passive respect, shocking credulity and outright enthusiasm. Near the end of his presentation, Russell recounted how he sneaked into an English crop circle in the middle of the night. After mediating for a while, Russell left the circle to return to his car. While en route, he suddenly encountered several small men seated around a campfire speaking Chaucerian English. Russell surmised that the crop circles' spiritual energy creates disturbances in the space-time continuum.

Being probed

UFO and extraterrestrial phenomena might rest within a precarious toehold in science, but it has been clearly established within popular culture.

A 1996 Halloween episode of The Simpsons, for example, features Homer being abducted by the alien team of "Kang" and "Kodos." On board their ship, he immediately unbuttons his pants with resigned despair. "You probably want to probe me," Homer laments. Though Kang and Kodos look more like octopi than Grays, being probed is a common allegation of abductees.

Aliens also serve as nearly inexhaustible fodder for pseudo-scientific docudramas like the 1970s In Search Of and prime-time television, as in the wildly popular The X Files. And no summer movie season is complete without a Close Encounters of the Third Kind incarnation, last summer's being Signs where Mel Gibson recovered his faith while warding off hungry ETs bent on an earthling buffet.

Visit Roswell, N.M., and you'll see the visage of Grays everywhere from the Crash Down Caf to the local Wal-Mart.

Roswell's International UFO Museum attracts nearly 200,000 visitors a year who, according to the city's chamber of commerce, generate $1.2 million in revenues.

While Ufology can be marketed by both the entertainment and tourism industries, its allure stems from its connection with the paranormal and the spiritual. Thus it often attracts individuals who are less interested in nuts-and-bolts research -- in provable claims -- than situating UFO phenomenon into their own spiritual agendas.

Take Gary Young of Colorado Springs, a Vietnam veteran, author (under the pseudonym John Gee) and facilitator of workshops on New Age spirituality.

Young claims that 15 years ago he spent an evening at a Denny's restaurant with an older man, who he admits "was a bit crazy" but nevertheless instructed him in the art of contacting alien spacecraft.

After several years of UFO communions, Young and his nephew went to Carson Mountain in the Sangre de Cristo Range in southwestern Colorado with hopes of an intergalactic hitchhike. On the mountain, Young said he successfully summoned a UFO but the experience stopped there.

"I tried to get on board, but they wouldn't take me," Young said. Shortly thereafter, Young claimed to have reached an intuitive understanding that further contact was not appropriate for him at that time.

"I'm interested in sharing what has been shared with me," he said. "I'm happy, healthy and live in a state of peace."

Getting some action

The stereotypical profile of a UFO devotee is that of a frumpy white, middle-aged man with a zealot's passion and a child's credulity.

Dwight Connelly, editor of The MUFON Journal, concedes that with the exception of the New Hampshire man Barney Hill -- who claimed to have been abducted with his wife Betty in 1961 -- African Americans have not been abducted as frequently as whites.

"It doesn't seem that blacks are abducted much, so perhaps that accounts for the relative lack of interest by blacks in being (UFO) investigators," Connelly said.

According to Robert Sheaffer, a writer for The UFO Skeptical Inquirer -- a magazine that challenges claims made by Ufologists -- the majority of cases involving UFO abductions have been reported by white women.

"There is evidence that abductees are among the 'sexually troubled,'" Sheaffer said, referencing an argument made in a book titled The Abduction Enigma by Russ Estes, Kevin Randle and William Cone. "It seems that what goes on in the saucer is the only 'action' most of these people get."

There is a widespread resignation within Ufology that the field is beyond the pale of mainstream respectability. Talk to any experienced Ufologists and it won't be long before you hear the word "ridicule."

Similar to other subcultures fixated on conspiracies, there exists a palpable righteousness in UFO believers -- many view themselves as persecuted purveyors of a systemically suppressed truth.

Charles Emmons, a sociology professor at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania and author of At the Threshold: UFOs, Science and the New Age, notes, "Because they receive no institutional funding, Ufologists are increasingly dependent on conferences where anyone who pays can attend. This doesn't tend to improve your respectability."

Temple University history professor Dr. David Jacobs, author of two popular books on UFO abductions, points out that "everybody who claims to be an expert is an expert simply because they claim to be an expert."

"One of the first things you learn in this area is that it's a minefield," said Jacobs, who remains less than sanguine about the future of Ufology. "There's no standards, there's no course of study, there's no institutional backing for it, nothing."

And people who believe they have been abducted are often reluctant about coming forward.

New York-based artist and writer Budd Hopkins claims that out of the approximately 750 UFO abductees from whom he has taken testimony during 25 years of research, only 12 are willing to go public with their abduction stories.

"Say you have a NASA research scientist, a prominent physician, a colonel in the Army, a police officer, a psychiatrist and a kid who works in a Sunoco station in North Dakota," Hopkins said. "I can tell you there's only one person on that list who will come forward -- [the gas station attendant].

"The higher a person is on the socioeconomic ladder, the more they have at stake and the less likely they are to come forward."

Abduction protocol

Still, nearly all serious UFO researchers believe in the abduction phenomenon, says author and professor David Jacobs. "They will disagree on the frequency, they will disagree on the meaning of it all, but very few will say that no abductions happen."

Abductees typically report their stories many years after the event with details emerging only through extensive hypnosis.

Abductees frequently recount being beamed through bedroom walls and automobiles into a sterile, laboratory-like spacecraft where they are telepathically communicated to by small gray aliens. Other common occurrences include unexplained cuts and bruises, brain implants, forced sexual experiences with other abductees, gynecological examinations, the taking of sperm samples, and anal probes.

Divide resident Connie Isele said her experience conforms to many other abduction accounts and that her 22-year-old daughter has similar experiences of missing time and unexplained bruises.

"It's scary, but because of it I learned a lot about myself, and the world, and in that sense I wouldn't wish that it didn't happen," Isele said. "Before, I'd find all these excuses, psychologically, for what's going on -- now I'm looking at it as a reality."

While abductee researchers like Jacobs and Hopkins are more than aware of the fringe nature of their work, they repudiate charges that abductions are culturally or psychological induced delusions. They counter by mentioning how abductees cut across all racial, political, geographic and cultural lines.

"The only profile of an abductee," said Jacobs, "is that they are human."

However, Robert Schaeffer, a San Diegobased columnist for UFO Skeptical Inquirer magazine, said, "We can find all the major elements of contemporary UFO abductions in a 1930 comic adventure, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century."

Schaeffer is one of several known UFO debunkers, who through magazines and Web sites shoot down claims of the paranormal.

Yet others -- including Pueblo resident and UFO conference organizer Winkler -- are convinced that both negative and positive reports of alien abduction must be based in some kind of reality.

Winkler, like many Ufologists, is a retiree. During interviews with 91 Ufologists as part of research for his book, Gettysburg College professor Emmons noted that many didn't begin pursuing UFO research until retirement for fear of ridicule and other professional consequences.

David Jacobs has been an associate professor at Temple University for over 25 years. He has published four books and numerous articles. It is his conviction that his pursuit of UFO research explains why he has never been promoted to full professor.

Government secrets

Among the more controversial groups in search of answers to the extraterrestrial question is the Charlottesville, Va.-based Center for the Study of Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (CSETI).

CSETI has raised eyebrows with its Disclosure Project, a campaign that calls for the federal government to release information pertaining to UFOs and what it calls zero point energy -- an extraterrestrialderived energy source, which the organization claims has the potential to eliminate our dependency on fossil fuels.

CSETI claims to have videotaped testimony of more than 500 active military personnel who vow they have witnessed the governments covert involvement with UFOs, extraterrestrials and the suppression of technology gleaned from fallen spacecraft.

Don Daniels, an Evergreen, Colo.based commercial airline pilot who spoke as a representative of CSETI at the Pueblo conference, said a majority of the taped testimony is in storage units across the country, and the identities of the informants cannot be shared for fear of retribution by the government.

In stark contrast to nearly every other school of Ufology, CSETI believes that the abduction phenomenon is part of a government-sponsored disinformation campaign using appropriated UFO technology to turn public sentiment against extraterrestrials.

Covert groups that pull the strings have abducted some high-level government people and given these people a negative experience because they want them to react with fear, Daniels said. Our feeling is that the real ETs are peaceful.

Several Ufologists and UFO skeptics, however, dismiss CSETI, claiming that it is not taken seriously by the majority of researchers. Still, Daniels is scheduled to speak at MUFONs upcoming state meeting in Littleton on Jan. 11.

We used to really try and stay away from the New Age thing because it gives the impression of being on the fringe, said MUFONs acting state director Lin Simpson. Yet Simpson maintains that they want their organization to be as inclusive as possible.

At the UFO conference of Pueblo, Bill Winkler and others lamented this summers hit film Signs and the fact that Hollywood never makes enlightening films about UFOs. Sadly, the field of Ufology will continue to trail the bandwagon blazed by movies and miniseries.

The public fascination with the subject shows no sign of abating, but it is hardly a juggernaut capable of encroaching upon mainstream science. Ufologists are unlikely to receive any research grants from universities or foundations, or any institution concerned with its respectability.

Were winning the war in terms of bringing the subject into mainstream consideration, said Budd Hopkins. More scientists and mental health professionals are taking it seriously.

Yet without hard, irrefutable evidence, skeptics will continue to win the day-to-day battle to define reality.

Naysayers may wish on a profound level to believe, but government conspiracies notwithstanding, earthlings are locked into the age of reason that will not be abandoned for an uncertain cosmic future anytime soon.

A lot of people ask the question, Why dont they just land on the White House lawn and come out and get it all over with? Daniels said at the close of the Pueblo conference.

The problem with that is it would create a massive case of interplanetary codependency. Wed look to them as saviors and want them to solve all our problems for us.

When we grow up enough, he deduced, well get to meet the neighbors.


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