Los Angeles traffic often is at a standstill, but last Friday was a special case.
Suddenly, up in the sky, there wasn’t just a bird or a plane, but a glowing plume of smoke soaring across the darkening horizon. Drivers pulled over to record the mysterious phenomenon with their phones. Social media exploded with warnings of an extraterrestrial invasion – and somehow, after a year of watching Donald Trump stumble through the presidency like a bad reality TV show, such a stranger thing seemed entirely plausible.
“Nuclear alien UFO from North Korea,” SpaceX founder Elon Musk quipped on Twitter.
In truth, SpaceX had just launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County. “So strange that people often believe things inversely proportionate to the evidence,” Musk tweeted later. “Given a set of possible explanations, why pick the extremely unlikely one!?”
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Probably because UFOs aren’t so unlikely after all.
As The New York Times reported this month, the Department of Defense has been running an off-the-radar program to investigate unidentified flying objects and study people, including pilots, who say they’ve had close encounters with them.
To this day, according to The Times, there are scientists working to identify unearthly metal alloys recovered from UFOs, even though the program was officially defunded in 2012. In true “X-Files”-style, the work continues, led by someone at the Pentagon.
Former Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada insists it was never a waste of money. He happily takes credit for starting the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program and securing its $22 million budget. “I think it’s one of the good things I did in my congressional service,” he told The Times. “I’ve done something that no one has done before.”
If nothing else, Reid is certainly going where no legislator has gone before in publicly supporting UFO research. For decades, people who have talked about encounters with aliens, crop circles and fast-moving balls of light in the night sky have been derided as crackpots and pseudo-scientists peddling elaborate falsehoods of government cover-ups.
But this is 2017, the year files on the assassination of John F. Kennedy were declassified. We have a president who is willing to promote – and put taxpayer money behind – all sorts of conspiracy theories, from his denial of climate change to his belief Barack Obama was born in Kenya.
On UFOs, Trump has been strangely silent, though. Asked whether the president was a believer, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that she hadn’t discussed it with him.
Maybe she should. If the Trump administration is going to be in the business of funding programs based on questionable science, then why not UFO research? It certainly has more upside potential than investing in coal.
A Pentagon briefing from 2009 warned that “what was considered science fiction is now science fact,” and that, without more study, the country would be unable to defend itself against some of the technologies discovered. The military intelligence official who ran the program for years said that more attention should be given to “the many accounts from the Navy and other services of unusual aerial systems interfering with military weapon platforms.”
In short, the truth is out there. If we can’t have it about UFOs, then maybe we’ll get it about the yeti. The possibilities for 2018 are endless.