UFOs as Trojan horses for social chauvinism and reactionary politics
Updated: May 22, 2022
It is apparent to anyone unfortunate enough to have spent any significant amount of time on social media, or who is masochistic enough to engage in prolonged debates about UFOs or "paranormal" cases in YouTube comment sections, that there is a sinister undercurrent of reactionary politics and social commentary within "ufology" and "paranormal studies" more generally. I argue that the ufological "field" is structurally biased by its very nature to attracting this flavor of politics and then acting as an incubator for it, often reaching a fever pitch that becomes unbearable to and leading to the defection of those who are not completely consumed by the UFO religion (or who are not cynically invested in perpetuating it). This is why defectors often make the best skeptics: they know the tricks that have been played on them. In the past few months, I've been made aware of many examples of UFO enthusiasts who peddle toxic narratives, from a Twitter neo-Nazi who defends a convicted child molester because of the latter's devotion to Billy Meier, to a grown man and "UAP enthusiast" who retweets pornographic harassment of a 16-year climate change activist, to people who defend the creep, sociopath and charlatan David Jacobs while bad-mouthing his victims.
Why does "ufology" contain so much rot? There are certainly a multiplicity of answers to this question, with each thread converging into a chimera of overall toxicity. Each thread has a story to tell, but each thread also interacts with the others. Overall, though, the basic elements, as I see them, are fear of social equality, a penchant for narcissism, and a lack of critical thinking. All of these are fanned by "ufology" to various extents, and are themselves eminently exploitable by the cynical manipulators and liars who often sit at the helm of various fandoms within the "field".
"Collective malignant narcissism" is a wonderfully apt phrase used by writer and commentator Jason Colavito to describe the selfish and deranged general anti-scientific mood that has gripped much of the United States, with anti-vaxxer propaganda reaching pandemic levels (pun intended), alongside anthropogenic climate change denial, QAnon conspiracy theories and adolescent "freedom" motifs in which any plea for social responsibility is taken as an assault on individual liberty. Mixed into all this is the "Disclosure" religion, in which the government's supposed involvement with extraterrestrials will soon be "revealed". The religious connotations should not be overlooked and are in fact highly instructive in understanding the motivations for these beliefs. "Disclosure" seems uncannily reminiscent of Christian eschatology but in a more secular guise, with God swapped for aliens. In place of the Second Coming, we have the Coming Great Reveal by the Government. In place of the Rapture, we have the believers, the true faithful who "always knew" there was something to UFOs (beyond them being mental or social constructs) and are now on the cusp of being rewarded for their steadfast adherence to the faith - while the naysaying skeptics are to be exposed, shamed and cast aside, providing cathartic release for the believers (with a pinch of Nietzschean revenge thrown in for good measure. Indeed, at least some of this is motivated by a type of revenge fantasy, with various Twitter ufologists openly wondering whether the "keepers of the truth embargo" should be given amnesty for their "crimes"). In place of the Scriptures, we have sacred texts in the form of "leaked UFO documents" of questionable provenance. In place of Jesus, we have "whistleblowers" who have purportedly been "persecuted" by the authorities for bringing the "truth" to the masses (in reality, these "whistleblowers" are often wealthy and have never experienced persecution in any meaningful sense - but, crucially, they do provide their adoring fans with the things they yearn to hear, soothingly reassuring them that they are living under a cloud of lies and deceptions perpetuated by the powers that be. It seems that there is much money to be made and esteem to be harvested from telling people that they are being lied to).
We also see martial and masculine themes, imagery and motifs increasingly being trafficked throughout "ufology", from Luis Elizondo brandishing his Pentagon credentials, tattoos and sports cap, to Skinwalker dude-bros posing as no-nonsense cowboys who will "get to the bottom" of the "mysteries" of the former Bigelow-owned property, to the worship of military personnel who are celebrated as infallible "experiencers" (this itself evokes religious imagery, as though these experiencers have been touched by God and their testimony is forever beyond repute), to Jeremy Corbell promising that he won't stop until "bodies hit the floor", to Tucker Carlson implying that the military is uninterested in defending us because it is lax on UAPs (notably, such insinuations are made against the social backdrop of concerns about migration from Mexico and the supposed indifference of the government to protecting American citizens from hoards of rapacious migrants "invading" the United States). "Ufology" has become a launching pad for "real men" to showcase their manly outlooks and to posture with their "take-no-bullshit" stances, and so what if a bit of casual sexism gets mixed into the rough-and-tumble? One Twitterer suggested, I think plausibly, that the male dominated landscape of "ufology" may be a compensation for the fact that the natural sciences are being increasingly peopled by women. Males are thereby afforded a safe space for the intellectual equivalent of fart jokes. And yes, much of it really does seem to be about the emotional high of the meat-headed "hurr hurr hurr" that follows the sexist or "anti-SJW" punchline.
The CE5 narrative pushed by Steven Greer quite vividly demonstrates the convergence of multiple threads of irrationality and pseudoscience. It posits that we can communicate with extraterrestrials through meditative means, and that we can reach higher levels of consciousness while doing so. Perhaps not insignificantly, Greer's desert outings, like the Skinwalker camping adventures of the outdoors-kitted dude-bros, may have more than a dab of reaching for something like Germanic pagan revivalism to them. By going out into nature and summoning powers yet unknown but purportedly involving portals to other dimensions, werewolves, bright lights and poltergeist activity, with allusions to Native American gods and spirits co-opted and folded into the fables being trotted out mostly by a lily-white group of men linked to an eccentric billionaire, it is troubling to think that perhaps, just maybe, there is a gravitation to a religious aspect that finds resonance in the distorted pagan rituals and folkish themes of Germany a century ago. Note that I do not have a problem with paganism per se, nor with Germanic folk mythology; my issue is that tropes huffily put out by "no-nonsense" men (donning their wares on reality TV specials interspersed by ads for erectile dysfunction medications and SUVs) speaks to this being motivated by a dynamic of spiritual awakening tied to martial and macho themes, and this is not exactly something new. It has the potential to congeal into something truly ugly. While this is admittedly conjecture on my part, I think it is worth taking a closer look at the development of the machismo within "ufology" that may have been brought even more to the fore with the advent of the Skinwalker saga.
The UFO is a mythical vehicle that promises everything from free energy to instantaneous space travel, but it is also a Trojan horse filled with reactionary refuse. It dazzles and mesmerizes with its supernatural abilities, while holding out the promise of technological emancipation. It is at once a spiritual and a mechanical device, a manifestation of ultra-technology while also an apparition that moves and darts about haphazardly, as if taunting and daring us to let go of our established systems of thought. It is simultaneously a symbol of enlightenment and one of obscurantism. Adopting an inkblot nature like the Bible, one can read whatever one wants into it. For the current contingent of male enthusiasts with unresolved issues relating to women, it is a symbol, if unconscious, of shaking up a political order that feels to them like the feminine has taken over and the masculine yearning for adventure and bravado has been stifled by political correctness and "cancel culture". In the UFO, many see a way to punch through this constricting social sphere and burst out on the other side with new found sense of masculine purpose. The UFO is, in short, a way of regaining a sense of agency and footing to many males, and it is no wonder that these males are often all the more open to suggestion by people who feed them derivative anti-communism, juvenile shit-posting culture and imagery evoking their own ascendance and dominance.
I should also mention at this point that there is another rustic narrative that is deeply pseudoscientific and is believed by many paranormal enthusiasts, including UFO enthusiasts, and that is the Mound Builders mythos beloved of many white supremacists. Pseudo/"alternative" archeology is a major conduit for white supremacist notions, and is often closely tied with belief in "Ancient Aliens" stories (themselves conduits for racist talking points in which mostly non-white peoples are stripped of their cultural achievements by crediting them to extraterrestrials). The particular threads within this overall universe of muck do not have to explicitly link to one another very strongly for them to achieve resonance; rather, it is the presence of a willingness to eschew mainstream science and logic that is the binding agent, with the challenge to material science acting as the glue for the ball of snot. This is another reason to be on guard against pseudoscience generally and to not assume that just because a certain item is not in and of itself explicitly tied to racism and reaction, that it cannot therefore be coopted in service of them.
Please understand: I'm NOT saying that Steven Greer is a white supremacist. I'm saying that all of this stuff can easily lend itself to white supremacy and fascism, or core narratives that find traction among fascists, and that it is incredibly easy to use pseudoscientific notions of the sort bandied about within "ufology" as wedges and conduits to promote still more reactionary politics. They can also act as dog-whistles or "virtue signals" to like-minded people who are displaying their willingness and lack of embarrassment in eschewing science and objectivity in favor of raw belief and inclusion into a community of adherents. Despite the calls for "open-mindedness" among many believers, the saga surrounding Skinwalker Ranch has shown the ugly undercurrent of very earthly male chauvinism. The disgraceful treatment of Erica Lukes is sadly not an isolate instance but merely one that has highlighted an underlying problem. It seems that many men are willing to extend an open hand of friendship or reverence to the "mysteries" of Skinwalker and whatever entities or forces are reputed to lurk there, but are tied to and committed to the petty defense of their male "turf" in our earthly realm. This should not be taken as a contradiction but possibly, I argue, as two sides of the same problematic coin.
Perhaps one of the more bizarre recent developments, and again continuing with the rustic, out-doorsy theme flowing through Skinwalker and CE5, has been that of "Anjali" (original name: Angelia Lynn Johnston, a former DIA employee who later became involved in a number of short film projects) who claims to know of an alien base in the Mojave desert in which she came into contact with "higher-density beings" who bestowed her with much wisdom and insight (according, of course, to her). She has made overtures to lead an expedition back to the site to reinitiate contact with these beings (currently, such plans have come to naught and seem to be perpetually on hold for a variety of reasons, among them a lack of cooperation by the property owner). This is reminiscent of the Dulce base story, a core myth within "ufology", though in Anjali's incarnation there are no hostile Greys engaged in firefights with commandos or engaged in gruesome experiments on human beings. The Anjali mythos has a decidedly more progressivist tone or inclination than the hyper-patriotic Dulce narrative that reached its tragic nadir with the shooting death of Bill Cooper, a right-wing conspiracy theorist whose notions of persecution by the federal government led him along a trajectory of physical confrontation with it. Anjali's take has a decidedly more left-leaning and universalist nature, if that is indeed the proper way to put it. The danger in her narrative, however, is the promotion of credulity among her followers combined with a condescending style of talking down to them, which is typical of leaders adopting a fountain-head posture. This initiate scheme is dangerous because it sets into motion the dynamics that are well known within cults and extremist religious sects. Tellingly, Anjali's Twitter account shows her not to be following a single other person on that platform while she herself sports thousands of followers, many of them no doubt keen devotees. Apparently, being a conduit for the wisdom of other-worldly beings means that she is above the trivial musings of mere Earth people. The leader (though she is no doubt keen to avoid such an epithet) is reputed to be, or have been, in communication with supernatural agencies, and others must strive to reach her "level". She drones on about "growth", but offers nothing demonstrably different to the dime-a-dozen tropes that a million other New Age-style sects and leaders have offered for many decades.
Someone graciously pointed me to this bizarre series of posts on Reddit. In it, the author makes a series of dubious connections and strained logical leaps linking everything from other dimensions, higher levels of consciousness, UFOs, "13 bloodlines" (a far-right anti-Semitic trope positing that "world Jewry" or one of its dog-whistle analogues secretly rules the world and is responsible for everything from the 1917 Russian Revolution to the 9/11 attacks), Bitcoin, and gaming. Unsurprisingly, an odious little toad in the comment section, perhaps sensing an opportunity to smuggle in his ideological wares, unctuously offered the author moderator rights. Sometimes, toxic ideologies are flanked by gibberish seemingly having nothing to do with the toxic trope itself, but this flanking is often a way of providing lubrication for the passage of the trope and normalizing it; the "warhead" is the trope, while the surrounding gibberish is just the protective capsule for its transportation. In other words, it is a way of driving a wedge into discourse in order to allow still more toxic ideological wares to follow in its wake. When people are comfortable accepting the notion that financial "bloodlines" rule the world, they are more amenable to the notion of Jews controlling the world. From there, it is but a short stone's throw to whites being persecuted "for being white". You get the idea. I can't prove that the author was going for this or that he/she is a neo-Nazi or white supremacist (he/she denies supporting racism, for what it's worth); it's possible that this individual simply happens to hold a coupe of toxic ideas while adhering to a bunch of merely goofy ones, and that the latter, to them, are the real talking points. But again, we see the troubling aspects of the UFO discourse on display: the smuggling in and trafficking of outright toxic ideas, coupled with the UFO itself as a reorganizer of our categories, a vehicle for breaking down our logical systems and the rules of material science, in lieu of making people more receptive to gibberish. Whether or not this is the intention, it is often the effect. People who have eschewed their logical thinking and who imagine everything to be a conspiracy, or who think that realities are optional and that facts can be "alternative", are very easy to ply into whatever form a cynical manipulator and exploiter may wish. The Redditor's garbled pseudoscientific escapade, incidentally, mentioned Jacques Vallée and his Control System hypothesis for UFOs. Vallée is a long-time Bigelow associate and was apparently involved in AAWSAP/AATIP, which has overlap with Skinwalker by way of the people and inter-personal networks involved. Again, this is an example of how all this stuff overlaps to a large extent, complete with a core of gurus. I should hasten to add, however, that Vallée has spoken forcefully about the dangers of extremist and racialist thought in "ufology", and has warned about the advent of UFO cults and religions, a theme he explored at length in his book "Messengers of Deception: UFO Contacts & Cults" (the book, nevertheless, contains some kooky notions and is not at all a consistently level-headed treatment of UFOs or cults). He would no doubt be aghast at bona fide neo-Nazis using his ideas as vehicles for political extremism. Unfortunately, Vallée is not entirely blameless in the sense that I have been alluding to in this essay. He has pushed pseudoscience, philosophical idealist attacks on material science itself, and has now more or less come full circle by promoting a UFO crash retrieval narrative involving very dubious foundations, reversing a long-held stance of his that saw such crash retrieval fables as a fool's errand.
All of this stuff - the sociology, psychology and politics - needs to be properly sorted out using the standard and readily available tools of investigation, anthropology, statistics and science. Here, I offer only some possible leads for potentially fruitful avenues of research. I think it is entirely reasonable to venture, however, that there are deep and recurrent problems that indicate that something is indeed rotten in the state of "ufology".