UFO sightings, secret government operations, a U.S. president barred from viewing and declassifying government documents on UFO sightings, a joke-turned-organized-raid of a top-secret government training facility: It all sounds like a very exciting plot to a futuristic, action-filled spy movie. Well, Hollywood, take notes.
On Sept. 18, 1973, Jimmy Carter, then-governor of Georgia, filed an official report with the International UFO Bureau about a UFO sighting several years before. Forty-six years later, we are just a day away from a joke-gone-viral of raiding Area 51, an U.S. Air Force training facility in rural Nevada that has long been rumored to house highly classified government secrets, including evidence of extraterrestrial lifeforms.
In Oct. 1969, Jimmy Carter, then gubernatorial candidate for the state of Georgia, was preparing to give a speech at the Lions Club in Leary, Georgia. On that fated day, as Carter was waiting outside in the warm breeze of a Southern fall evening, he, along with about 10 other spectators, looked up to the night sky and witnessed something that would be talked about for decades and would become one of Carter’s key campaign promises in his race for the Oval Office: an unidentified flying object.
“A light appeared and disappeared in the sky,” Carter was quoted in a Washington Post article. The unidentified object was in the sky for 10-12 minutes, said the governor, repeatedly changing colors and brightness before flying out and away.
Four years later, as governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter filed an official UFO sighting report with the International UFO Bureau. The report is now available for viewing at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta.
Carter then went on to make UFO intelligence transparency between the government and the people one of the key issues during his 1976 presidential campaign. As president, he vowed he would release information the government had on UFOs to the American people.
When he was president-elect, Carter even sat down with then director of the CIA, George H.W. Bush, to discuss more transparency between the government and the American people about UFOs and all things extraterrestrial. The request was met with strong opposition from Bush.
After the unsuccessful meeting and his inauguration as the 39th president of the United States, Carter backed off UFO politics, saying that publishing such documents could impact issues of national security.
The government’s involvement in UFO research, however, has been extensive and even more secretive.
In December 2017, Pentagon officials finally confirmed the existence of a program commissioned to research unidentified aerial objects. The program, named the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, was established in 2007 and dissolved in 2012, five years before the American people even knew of its existence.
Started through the initiative of former Nevada senator Harry Reid, the program was tasked with investigating things such as invisibility cloaking, traversable wormholes, stargates and negative energy, warp drive, dark energy and the manipulation of extra dimensions, and technical approaches to controlling external devices in the absence of limb-operated interfaces, among other science fiction-like concepts. And UFOs, of course.
In its short-lived duration, the program received $22 million annual funding — a small fraction of the $600 billion annual Defense Department budget — but a reasonably large amount to spend on something supposedly meritless.
Despite the program having formally disbanded in 2012, some of the efforts are said to have continued, albeit at a lower capacity.
The secrecy of operations like the AATIP is what draws speculations, conspiracy theories and the mysterious stigma associated with UFOs. It’s this curiosity that led Matty Roberts, the organizer of the “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us” Facebook event, to create the event. It was intended to be a joke he and his friends could laugh at and maybe forget about years down the road.
In a matter of days, however, the event went viral and over 2 million people RSVP’d that they would be attending. While the event was understood as a humorous stunt for the most part, it is impossible to guarantee its jocular intent for the millions of RSVPs and many others who have heard of the event due to the widespread media and social media attention.
A week before the scheduled raid, Roberts cancelled the event online, fearing it would turn into a “possible humanitarian disaster.” Even so, authorities are prepared for an influx of tourists at the very least.
The Area 51 training site is in Lincoln County, Nevada, a town with a population of 5,223 people. It’s easy to see why a viral joke encouraging millions of people to meet in this small desert town would put its officials on edge. Joke or not, even a small fraction of the RSVPs would overwhelm the town and cause serious concern for humanitarian safety.
The world’s fascination with UFOs and slimy green alien people is nothing new. It didn’t start with Roberts’ Facebook event and it didn’t start with Jimmy Carter’s UFO sighting in 1969. The secrecy and mystery surrounding the issue is what continues to fuel UFO fanatics, conspiracy theorists, movie producers and anyone willing to entertain the idea that the vast unknown may contain intelligent lifeforms.
If anyone says they have the answers, they’re fooling themselves.
We don’t know the answers but we have plenty of evidence to support asking the questions. This is about science and national security. If America doesn’t take the lead in answering these questions, others will.
— Senator Harry Reid (@SenatorReid) December 16, 2017
In a 2017 tweet after the Pentagon had confirmed AATIP’s existence, Reid encouraged Americans to ask the necessary questions: “We don’t know the answers but we have plenty of evidence to support asking the questions. This is about science and national security. If America doesn’t take the lead in answering these questions, others will.”
Whether or not the answers are hidden in Area 51 in Lincoln County, Nevada, is a different story.