In an earlier time Philip Klass and Stanton Friedman probably would have shot each other by now in a dramatic predawn duel. Earlier still they might have bludgeoned each other with crude wooden clubs. Today’s custom dictates that they meet under less civilized circumstances, such as talk shows.
Friedman is a nuclear physicist and well-known UFO investigator, or ufologist. He helped research the first book on an alleged 1947 flying-saucer crash in Roswell, New Mexico, now the hottest UFO issue around. Klass–or Phil, as everyone calls him–is the world’s top UFO skeptic, author of five debunking books. He tends to gaily shout things like “Can I buy some of your snake oil, Mr. Friedman?” if he’s around when Friedman is giving an interview. Friedman recently wrote that a certain Klass article “contains so much baloney it should be distributed by a delicatessen.”
The two antagonists also regularly square off at the annual international symposium of the Mutual UFO Network. MUFON calls itself the world’s largest UFO organization, with about 5,000 members, about 125 in the Chicago area. This year MUFON booked the O’Hare Hyatt Regency and turned Chicago into a battleground for the two men–among others.
Ordinarily Chicago is not a UFO believers’ mecca. “Chicago has always been a strange place for UFOs,” says Mark Rodeghier, science director for the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS). “All the big east-coast and midwest cities have fewer people interested than what you’d expect, given the population.” Yet Chicago is home for CUFOS, thanks to its namesake, Dr. Hynek.
Until his death in 1986, Hynek was the quintessential ufologist, a respected Northwestern University astronomy professor who coined the phrase “close encounters of the third kind.” Hynek founded CUFOS in 1973, intending it to be a scientific think tank. Instead, scarce funds forced it to become a volunteer organization that collects UFO reports, maintains a vast UFO library, conducts and supports UFO research, and publishes the bimonthly International UFO Reporter–all on a shoestring. CUFOS, based in a nondescript low brick building on West Peterson, has associates rather than members, and they contribute a minimum of $25 for their yearly subscription.
So MUFON is the UFO world’s big membership organization–sort of its AAA motor club, while CUFOS is more like the UFO Brookings Institution. Yet MUFON, founded in 1969, says it’s picky about prospective members, who must be recommended by a current member. “We don’t want flakes,” says MUFON’s Illinois director, Thomas Stults. “We don’t want kooks. We want people who are seriously interested in finding out and learning more about ufology.” MUFON has a 45-member board of consultants, ranging from physicists to doctors and historians, who study UFO phenomena. Members who are trained as field investigators check out UFO sightings around the world. The organization also publishes the monthly MUFON UFO Journal.
The Phil Klasses of the world have their own group too–the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. CSICOP is a group of scientists and like-minded folks who study claims ranging from psychic healing to UFOs; they also publish The Skeptical Inquirer. Klass, who’s been doubting UFOs for 25 years, is a founding member. CSICOP pronounces its acronym “sigh-cop,” though some UFO enthusiasts prefer “sick-cop.” The two sides have a love-hate relationship, best illustrated by the alleged Roswell flying-saucer crash. Roswell pervades current UFO literature, and it dominated this year’s MUFON conference. And whatever obsesses the UFO community, by definition, obsesses Phil Klass.
According to the UFO community, at least one alien flying saucer crashed in the desert near Roswell, New Mexico, on July 2, 1947. Then the U.S. government spirited away the debris and four alien bodies, beginning a cover-up that makes Watergate sound like a teenager lying about throwing a party while the folks were out of town. Klass thinks a weather balloon simply deflated and caused a lot of unnecessary brouhaha. Something did crash that day–even Klass goes along with that. The question, 44 years later, is what.
Rancher Mac Brazel found whatever it was after a storm. He reported it to the Roswell sheriff, who called the nearby Roswell Army Air Field. Major Jesse Marcel and Captain Sheridan Cavitt accompanied Brazel back to the ranch, making them the three prime eyewitnesses. Marcel and Cavitt collected some debris and returned to the base. On July 8 an Army press release announced that a flying saucer had crashed, making the Chicago Daily News headline that evening: “Army Finds Air Saucer on Ranch in New Mexico.”
Troops recovered the remaining debris. Marcel took some to Fort Worth to show the Eighth Air Force commander, who issued a statement that the crashed object wasn’t a flying saucer but a common weather balloon–either correcting a very silly misunderstanding or beginning the cover-up.
Stanton Friedman was the first to interview a Roswell eyewitness, Jesse Marcel, in 1978. Friedman helped research the first book on the subject, The Roswell Incident, authored by Bill Moore and Charles Berlitz, and has written subsequent papers with Moore on Roswell. A second Roswell book appeared just before the MUFON conference, UFO Crash at Roswell by Kevin Randle and Donald Schmitt. Randle is an Air Force Reserve captain, and Schmitt is director of special investigations for CUFOS. Recent Roswell developments have put Randle and Schmitt at odds with Friedman, who’s now finishing his own Roswell book. Randle, Schmitt, and Friedman are also now at odds with Bill Moore, who only recently dropped lawsuits against all three. And they’re all at odds with Phil Klass, who’s talking about writing his Roswell book.
Friedman, Klass, and Schmitt all attended the MUFON conference, drawing crowds wherever they walked, loitered, or sat. Nearly everyone carried a copy of Randle and Schmitt’s UFO Crash at Roswell. A week earlier Randle had tangled with Klass on CNN’s Larry King Live!, a performance that was endlessly critiqued all weekend. Plus, rumors flew that Friedman, a conference speaker, would denounce the Randle-Schmitt book during his lecture. If only Bill Moore had shown up, there would’ve been enough for wrestling tag teams.
If the debate over Roswell sometimes resembles professional wrestling, it’s late-night mud wrestling when it comes to the Majestic 12 documents. The MJ-12 documents purport to be a briefing for newly elected President Eisenhower on the Roswell crash and the government cover-up, including a memo from President Truman to Defense Secretary James Forrestal ordering the formation of a secret 12-member panel to investigate Roswell. MJ-12 members supposedly included Forrestal and General Nathan F. Twining, head of the Air Materiel Command. “It’s a hall of mirrors,” says CUFOS science director Mark Rodeghier. Rodeghier is, obviously, a UFO believer, but he’s not necessarily a pushover. What many ufologists consider true, he calls “goofy,” including MJ-12.
The MJ-12 documents were not suddenly declassified, copied, and stuck under a lot of ufologists’ windshield wipers. Friedman’s former coauthor Bill Moore claims that a microfilm of MJ-12 was sent anonymously to his current research associate, Jaime Shandera, in 1984. Moore and Shandera say they then found a document confirming MJ-12’s existence–the Cutler-Twining memo–at the National Archives in 1985. It is supposedly a note from White House aide Robert Cutler to General Twining about an MJ-12 meeting. Moore and Shandera say it had fallen between two folders in the file drawer and was never seen by archives personnel. Not surprisingly, the archives people question the memo’s authenticity.
Phil Klass wrote a series of articles for CSICOP’s Skeptical Inquirer blasting MJ-12 as a fraud. He found that the Truman signature in MJ-12 perfectly matches the signature on a genuine 1947 Truman letter–a virtual impossibility, according to experts. He also pointed out that the Cutler-Twining memo was dated while Cutler was on his way to Europe. “He certainly was,” said Friedman, who insists National Security Council executive secretary James Lay often took care of such details for Cutler. Friedman is a major MJ-12 booster despite his disagreements with Moore about Roswell.
If nothing else, MJ-12 won Friedman a bet with Klass, who enjoys issuing monetary challenges. Between 1975 and ’85 Friedman lost $1,000 after accepting a bet: Klass would pay Friedman $10,000 if the National Academy of Sciences confirmed a recovered spacecraft was extraterrestrial, if the academy announced other proof of 20th-century alien visitors, or if a “bona fide extraterrestrial visitor” appeared live before the United Nations general assembly or on national TV. But Friedman had to pay Klass $100 every year that there was no such proof, up to a maximum of ten years. “If I had invested Friedman’s contributions in the Fidelity Magellan Mutual Fund, I’d now have almost enough to pay him off–IF that should ever be necessary,” Klass gloated in his own Skeptics UFO Newsletter.
But Friedman recently recouped his losses. Klass had offered him $100 for each authenticated document he could find that was written by Cutler or James Lay using the same typeface as the disputed Cutler-Twining memo–pica. Klass maintained the memo should have been in elite type. Friedman dug around and triumphantly produced ten such memos. “This eases my conscience for having taken $1,000 of your money in $100 increments as part of our $10,000 agreement,” Klass wrote in a letter accompanying his check. There is no last word between these two.
An almost palpable distrust of the government fuels the belief in the MJ-12 documents. In fact, the most difficult notion for Klass to debunk is that the U.S. government is covering up information on UFOs. That’s because it is. Thousands of UFO files, often laboriously censored, have been extracted from the FBI, the CIA, and other agencies under the Freedom of Information Act. Yet plenty more exist. The National Security Agency alone is withholding more than 100 documents, which federal district court judge Gerhard Gesell has ruled it can legally do. Supposedly, no new government UFO files are being created. The Air Force disbanded the last official government UFO research program, Project Blue Book, in 1969.
Klass sees nothing sinister about the agencies withholding these files, since the agencies may be protecting secret sources. Friedman calls it the cosmic Watergate.
Rather than shunning their nemesis, MUFON members flock to Phil Klass, seeking autographs, getting their pictures taken with him, asking endless questions. Klass is 72, a short man with thick black-framed glasses. An editor at Aviation Week magazine for 35 years, he is now a semiretired contributing editor.
Inside the main auditorium at the Chicago MUFON conference, 800 or so conference attendees were watching gorgeous slides of crop circles. Outside the auditorium, Klass was pinned down by about 15 people. With an omnipresent cigarette burning to a stub in his hand, he happily fielded crop-circle inquiries.
Like so many disturbing trends, crop circles are largely a 1980s phenomenon. They are most noted in England’s Wiltshire countryside near Stonehenge, where crops are regularly flattened overnight in huge patterns often discernible only from the air. They have also been reported in Canada, Australia, and the U.S.–including southern Illinois. Crop circles have been reported as far back as the Middle Ages, when they were predictably attributed to dancing fairies and mischievous devils. But crop circles suddenly proliferated in the 80s, and for the last two summers they’ve exploded in number, covering the Wiltshire countryside with ever more complicated patterns.
Many believe crop circles are created by UFOs; skeptics say they’re caused by meteorological forces and hoaxers. Last July, for instance, ten circles appeared in northern Germany, one a double ring 70 yards across. Reuters soon reported the confessions of four law students, who said they created the German circles “to show that what the English can do we can do here.” And just this week two 60-year-old Englishmen claimed credit for some of the Wiltshire patterns, which a London newspaper said they created with “two wooden boards, a piece of string and a bizarre sighting device attached to a baseball cap.”
Atmospheric physicist Terence Meaden, who lives in Wiltshire and founded the Circles Effect Research Group, formulated the meteorological explanation. Very basically, he theorizes that air vortices form over the fields when early morning winds meet stable air layers in the surrounding hills. When the spinning whirlwind touches the ground, patterns are formed.
Yet even those who agree with Meaden don’t think the phenomenon is entirely explained. In addition to countless British tabloid headlines, the circles have spawned ongoing studies by conventional scientists and ufologists. There’s even a journal of crop-circle studies. Meanwhile, farmers whose crops have been trampled by curious tourists have wised up and begun charging admission and selling tacky crop-circle souvenirs.
“Phil,” said one questioner, “would you support an experiment in which, say, a design like this”–he stooped to point to the Hyatt carpeting’s neo-art-deco pattern of circles and slashes–“is made in a field, and then getting together a group of people to see how long it would take to reproduce that design?”
“How many times have you signed your signature in your life?” Klass parried. “I’d like to have you sign, and then ask you to reproduce it. Even signatures, no two are alike. So what I’d prefer to see is maintaining surveillance. Set up guards and maintain watch, and see if they appear. I don’t think they will.” He changed tacks. “Let me ask you this: How long does it take to build a house?”
The questioner hesitated, then said warily, “Well, it depends.”
“Right,” Klass said. “It depends on how many people are building it. If you’re willing to pay enough people, you can build it practically overnight.”
“But can you build 700 houses?” another member of Klass’s circle piped up. His round yellow MUFON conference pin identified him as H. Dyke Spear of Connecticut.
“Seven hundred?” said Klass, puzzled.
Spear asserted that about 700 circles were made last year. Klass had already disclaimed any expert knowledge on the crop-circle controversy, and he didn’t dispute Spear’s number any further. Spear was smug. In fact, there is no exact count on English crop circles, though Spear’s number is in the ballpark of usual estimates.
Someone else asked Klass’s opinion of last year’s rash of triangle-shaped UFOs in Belgium, widespread enough to prompt an official Belgian air force investigation. “We’re all familiar with the traditional UFO shape,” said Klass. “I find it extraordinary that ETs [UFO lingo for extraterrestrials] would build a new shape, like a new model Cadillac, and fly it only to Belgium. If this is a new design, I’d expect we’d see it all around the world.”
Spear jumped in again. “With all due respect, the only sighting I had was triangular. I was within 200 feet of it–it was the size of a 747, with lights like basketballs. I was on I-84, and this thing was hanging off the opposite shoulder.” Spear is 50ish. He wore a red sweatsuit top with the zipper down just enough to let out tufts of curly gray chest hair, red shorts a tad too short for his age, and deck shoes with no socks. Very east coast. He stood with crossed arms, lowered chin, and a serious frown.
Klass listened patiently, then glanced at Spear’s name tag. “Dyke, how do you estimate size?” he asked congenially. Then he explained that it’s impossible for the human eye to judge size without knowing the distance, and vice versa. “So I appreciate your estimate, but this is an intrinsic limitation. If you’re a golfer, you can buy a gadget to tell you how far you are from the green.”
Spear wasn’t convinced. “But the bottom line is, this was enormous,” he insisted. “It was about nine o’clock in the evening. There were lights that were not little lights–”
“That’s the thing about UFOs,” Klass interrupted with a grin. “They want to attract our attention. When was this?”
“1984. Just past Brewster, New York.”
“So this was the famous boomerang,” Klass said, nodding.
The Hudson Valley sightings, which occurred in 1983 and ’84 in parts of New York and Connecticut, featured a boomerang-shaped UFO. Hudson Valley has been largely dismissed as the work of amateur pilots from nearby Stormville Airport who enjoyed flying in formation. When they moved up to nighttime formation flying, UFO reports began pouring in, tempting the pilots to try new shapes, to turn all their landing gear on and off at the same time, and other wacky, illegal amateur high jinks.
While the UFO community doesn’t deny the private-pilot hoaxes, many maintain that the boomerang was something else. CUFOS’s Mark Rodeghier says he and Hyneck, who visited the area, both spoke with credible witnesses who saw both the pilots and the boomerang and insisted they were not identical. The witnesses, says Rodeghier, reported that “the planes acted like planes–the lights shifted position slightly, and they could hear a drone from the planes, and so forth. The boomerang, on the other hand, hovers. Actually hovers in the sky, doesn’t move slowly, and it has a different light configuration than the planes.” Some of the witnesses, he says, were pilots themselves, and many had up to 15 minutes to observe the boomerang.
Klass told Spear that he personally spoke with state troopers and local reporters who chased Hudson Valley UFOs and saw the pilots land in their Cessna 152s.
“I have no doubt that happened, but I also don’t think hang gliders–”
“Not hang gliders. Cessnas,” Klass corrected. “All I’m saying is it’s interesting that ETs sent craft into the same area where private pilots were creating a hoax.”
“I don’t deny that, but it doesn’t account for the hundreds of others or what I saw,” Spear harrumphed. (Spear would spend much of the weekend grumbling about this encounter. Klass, he complained later, “basically does not respond. I’m a lawyer, and I would love to get him on a witness stand and have the opportunity to peel the skin off of his skull square inch by square inch.” Which was one of the more colorful, though by no means most unpleasant, things some people said they would like to do to Phil Klass.)
“Phil, are you saying you believe in UFOs?” interjected a tall, 60ish man whose tag read “Bill Caulfield, CFT Promotions, Kansas City, MO.” Ufologist and conference speaker Bruce Maccabee had stopped to listen. Maccabee is a physicist at the Naval Surface Weapons Center, best known for investigating the 1987 Gulf Breeze sightings, in which one Ed Walters took a series of photos of an alleged UFO near his house in Gulf Breeze, Florida.
By way of an answer Klass said, “I am quite certain there was not a crashed alien craft at Roswell. There were three eyewitnesses.” He named rancher Mac Brazel and the two officers who first accompanied him to the crash site, Jesse Marcel and Sheridan Cavitt. “Two of those three are dead. The third, Cavitt, is alive. [Kevin] Randle talked to him–the only living firsthand witness. And it’s not till page 273 that Cavitt is mentioned by name. Why? Because he doesn’t support the crashed-saucer theory.”
“Have you talked to Cavitt?” Maccabee asked quietly.
“I’m trying to get his phone number,” Klass said.
Bill Caulfield, who looked a little dim, repeated his original question. “Phil, do you believe in UFOs?”
“Well, Bruce has convinced me. It was the Gulf Breeze photos,” Klass deadpanned. Maccabee winced and moved on, but Caulfield believed Klass and scolded him for arguing with Randle on Larry King Live! the week before. “I’m pulling your leg,” Klass finally told him, in a surprisingly kindly tone, as another cigarette burned down to his fingertips.
“Are you being paid by the government, Phil?” Caulfield persisted. It’s a common question among UFO enthusiasts.
“One hundred million bucks plus cab fare,” Klass quipped, heading for the auditorium doors. He has a hard time leaving an audience though, and he swung back at the last minute. “But the only thing is I have to go on working full-time, and my wife has to work full-time at 65, so no one will know I’m being paid all this money. And I can’t fly first-class–I have to make all these connections.”
Eventually the crowd thinned, and Klass broke away long enough to talk about himself. He half sat on a nearby folding table and found a new cigarette. “I’m the skunk at the garden party,” he chuckled. “And I never realized how much fun a skunk must have at a garden party, seeing all these people running away, heh, heh, heh. I try not to disrupt, but when people challenge me–” He paused. “Let me explain. I never attended these until 1987, when it was held in Washington, where I live. I didn’t know if people would be abusive or not. But I enjoyed it so much I went to the next one. I like to be challenged–and if I can’t defend my viewpoint, I should change it.”
Klass fished around in his pockets and extracted a picture of himself at the 1989 MUFON conference, grinning widely and holding up a dart board with his picture on it. The dart board’s caption read “The ‘Classy’ Dartboard . . . For Your ‘Fill’ of FUN.” Someone inside the conference exhibit room was giving out free copies of the picture, he said. “If you were to come into my study, you’d see the board hanging on the wall with a dart right in the forehead,” he chortled.
A teenager tended the exhibit-room table responsible for blanketing the MUFON convention with Phil Klass dart-board pictures. He wore jeans and a jean jacket with Metallica patches; the table was covered with MUFON T-shirts and bumper stickers that said things like “UFOs are REAL–Ask the Government.” I silently regarded the stack of Klass pictures under a sign reading, “FREE with each T-shirt, a picture of the man that has in the pass [sic] 3 decades, done more for UFOlogy by convincing the general public that–yes–“UFOs are Real.”‘
“It’s a joke,” the teenager informed me. He was Roger Greenen, 15-year-old son of Jim Greenen, the table’s proprietor and MUFON section director for Orange and Seminole counties in Florida. “It’s a joke. He joined MUFON even though he’s against everything they do.” Like God, Klass is often referred to with a simple pronoun.
Jim Greenen runs a table at the conference every year, said Roger. “He’s gotten a little carried away with it,” he added. Carried away? “Well, he drug me into it–and my brother. I don’t really mind, but sometimes he talks about really weird stuff. He was tellin’ me that every 25,000 years there’s a pole switch–you know, the poles of the earth–and it’s due in 15 years. They’ll switch, and the earth will tilt another 25 degrees, and then it’ll switch back again. It’ll take about ten hours, and the ice’ll all melt and wipe out Florida. So my dad’s tellin’ me to save up and buy a mountain. They’re trying to keep it secret,” he finished matter-of-factly.
I couldn’t help it. I bit. Who’s keeping it secret?
“The government,” he said, shrugging, and switched right back to his dad. “He basically comes here to socialize, and I gotta sell his stuff. He’s the one over there with about three strands of hair combed over his head.” He pointed.
Jim Greenen’s prominent ears must have been burning, because he headed back to the table and graciously offered me a dart-board picture. He’s 53 and, as Roger observed, balding. He sported white pants, a blue MUFON T-shirt, blue cardigan sweater, and wire bifocals. “He’s got a thick skin, and he enjoys this sort of stuff,” Jim said cheerfully as we gazed at Klass’s picture. “He comes up with swamp-gas explanations.” Roger, his voice dripping with disdain, agreed: “He comes up with logical explanations for everything.”
“I don’t think he’s working for the government like some people say,” Jim volunteered. “He just makes his living.”
I asked whether Jim thought there was any possibility Klass believes in what he does.
“Absolutely no!” he exclaimed. “They’ll pay him to go on things like Larry King Live! They get a UFO person, and then they need someone with the different view–and that’s Phil Klass. He has to come up with some good logic, some stuff that we’ve overlooked, so he keeps us on our toes. Most of it is wrong or false, but once in a while . . .” He smiled. “So he’s good in a way. I like the guy really.”
Don Schmitt was nearby, busily autographing copies of his UFO Crash at Roswell in front of the CUFOS table. Schmitt finished one with a flourish and handed it back to its owner. “Let me know what you think,” he said, then seemed to realize how insincere it sounded and added, “really.” Schmitt is a tall young man with dark hair and a neatly clipped beard. He speaks with the intensity and energy most people save for escaping from wild animals. Someone in the cluster around him mentioned Klass.
“Did you see him on Larry King the other night?” Schmitt snorted.
“That was a catastrophe, and I told him that,” someone else declared. “You know what I said? I said, ‘Phil, how do you think you did on the Larry King show the other night?’ He goes, ‘Well, I-I-I–‘” The speaker was doing a fair, if malicious, imitation of Klass’s habit of blinking rapidly. “You know how he does that. He says, ‘I haven’t had a chance to look at the tape yet.’ I said, ‘Phil, you got stomped.'”
“We had things to pull on Phil if he would have started to play dirty that would have embarrassed him in front of his colleagues to no end,” Schmitt intoned mysteriously.
I asked Schmitt about Klass’s charge that UFO Crash at Roswell doesn’t mention the only living eyewitness, Cavitt, until the end. “I was listening to Mr. Klass talk to a group of people–”
“Anybody who’ll listen, right?” Schmitt scoffed.
“Well, his main objection was that the one surviving witness–”
Schmitt did an elaborate show of mock surprise. “There’s one surviving witness?” he repeated. “We talked to 300 people.”
“He was talking about Cavitt,” I clarified. “His complaint was that you didn’t quote him–”
“That’s a lie because Phil knows he’s quoted in the book,” Schmitt sputtered.
No, no, I assured him, Klass just said the book didn’t mention Cavitt until page 273 because Cavitt doesn’t support the crashed-saucer theory.
“Professional courtesy to Mr. Cavitt because he asked us not to mention him in the book,” sniffed Schmitt. “And we have a standing invitation with Mr. Cavitt to come talk to him again. We are convinced that Cavitt knows everything,” he said portentously. “And I’m not about to let Phil or anyone else ruin that possibility. Now Phil wants to call him.” Either Klass’s desire to talk to Cavitt was common knowledge, or Bruce Maccabee had already relayed this tidbit to Schmitt. “He would be the first witness Mr. Philip Klass has talked to, yet he claims to be an authority.”
A woman behind the CUFOS table began pointing frantically and called, “Watch out, Don, there’s Phil Klass.” Indeed, the omnipresent Klass was wading through the crowd in our direction.
“Hey, Phil, I want to take a picture of you debunking one of the hotel elevators,” someone yelled. Klass chuckled, but as he drew abreast of Schmitt, they both stiffened. Klass stuck out his hand, and they solemnly shook as Klass passed, never stopping, on his way to the CUFOS table.
The Klass danger past, Schmitt talked about UFO Crash at Roswell, which he said involved a three-year investigation. Their major breakthrough, he said, was tracking the military people stationed at Roswell in 1947. “For example, we took the names of the key people and their serial numbers to the Defense Department, the Veteran’s Administration, just for military confirmation. They have no records of these people. We can document their stationing at Roswell in 1947, but the DOD and the VA have no records of them.” Schmitt raised his eyebrows suggestively. “We did a computer search through DOD, and it came up ‘security screen.’ According to the director of DOD’s records department, either these people are still involved in a top-secret classified project–which isn’t the case, because many are now deceased–or it still remains classified.
“The nurses that were involved. We’ve gone through three different nurses’ associations, one being at the Pentagon. They have no records of any of these nurses. Somebody erased all of these nurses and officers who were stationed at the base hospital at Roswell.”
Talking with Schmitt, you sometimes half expect Rod Serling to step out from behind a nearby pillar and cryptically sum up your conversation. Then again, who trusts the military after seeing Rambo III?
Stanton Friedman is the archetypal scientist, with his wire glasses, his beard shot with dignified gray, and his shirt pocket brimming with pens and pencils. Which may explain why he can get away with using “flying saucer” as a technical term.
Friedman started off his much-anticipated MUFON lecture by touching on the crop-circle mystery. “Some of these are lovely pictures, very exciting, provocative. But I keep wondering where the connection is with flying saucers. And I use that word,” he said defiantly. “Some people are very bothered by that. ‘How can a physicist talk about flying saucers. Try to say UFO. Something–respectable.’ I think that’s nonsense. All flying saucers are UFOs, very few UFOs are flying saucers. I want to focus in on intelligently controlled extraterrestrial spacecraft.”
Friedman pointed out that physical-trace cases–in which witnesses first see a UFO, then discover traces of it, such as a scorched patch of ground–have been collected for years without drawing the kind of publicity the upstart crop circles have. He showed slides of landing sites, but what everyone really wanted to hear about was Roswell, and he soon obliged with a brief history of developments.
One development he’d rather forget, but gallantly mentioned, was his own involvement with the sensationalistic 1988 TV program UFO Cover Up? Live. (“They had people on the program blacked out, talking about how the aliens like strawberry ice cream and Tibetan music,” snorted CUFOS’s Mark Rodeghier.) “How many of you saw that show?” asked Friedman, getting a good show of hands. “Oh. Sorry about that,” he apologized. “It wasn’t one of my prouder moments.” There was a friendly, forgiving rise of laughter.
Friedman concentrated on his major difference with Randle and Schmitt. “My perception of what happened in New Mexico, at a minimum, is that two saucers crashed. About 160 miles apart. At the first site there’s wreckage spread over a huge area, crazy stuff. Stuff that had strange symbols on it, foil that you could bend and it would come back to the same shape when you released it. And a couple of miles away, eventually discovered later, bodies in sort of canoe-shaped containers.” Another saucer was found “160 miles away, almost intact, with a big gash in it, maybe from a midair collision–we don’t know–maybe struck by lightning.”
During the second broadcast of the Unsolved Mysteries Roswell episode, Friedman continued in the careful language of one recently involved in legal unpleasantries, both his and Kevin Randle’s addresses were given. “We both heard from a lot of the same people. We approached some of them differently,” he said. Gerald Anderson, the new five-year-old eyewitness, was one of these. “We each talked to him, and we reacted differently to him. Kevin had one conversation with him; I’ve had a lot. He decided to work with me. And he and Kevin mutually decided not to work together.
“Now, his story was basically straightforward. He was five or six, with his older brother, his father, uncle, and cousin. They had just moved there from the midwest, to Albuquerque, because his uncle lived there, and they were out looking for moss agate. One of the family was a very avid rock collector. He’d been told about this area, so they went in the blazing heat. And they discovered this saucer stuck in the ground, bodies alongside it. There was quite a lot of noise and fuss and lots of people. A couple of archaeologists came out, military came out, and chased them away. The leader of the military was a Captain Armstrong, who was a ‘nasty, red-haired SOB.’ Now that got my attention.”
Two weeks earlier, Friedman related, he had tracked down “one Glenn Dennis, a mortician in Roswell, retired now. He’d had several calls that day from the base mortuary officer. And he was asking strange questions, like ‘What chemicals can we use on these bodies in the desert that won’t affect measurements later and the characteristics of the bodies?'” Expecting some business, Dennis went to the base, said Friedman, and saw some strange wreckage in an ambulance before visiting a nurse he knew there.
“And before he could turn around there’s MPs and an officer–a nasty red-haired SOB–shrieks at him. ‘Who is he?’ and ‘Get out of there,’ and so forth. There’s a black sergeant with him. [Dennis] says, ‘Hey, you can’t do this to me, I’m a civilian.’ And they say, ‘Oh yes we can,’ and the sergeant says, ‘We use guys like you for dog food.'” The next day, Friedman said, Dennis met the nurse, who drew the dead aliens on a prescription pad for him, including suction cups on the four-fingered hands.
Anderson and Dennis’s independent and unflattering descriptions of Armstrong as a nasty red-haired SOB are the main reasons Friedman believes Anderson. Friedman also mentioned that another conference speaker, John Carpenter, a Missouri therapist, conducted hypnosis regression sessions with Anderson.
Friedman had gone far past his allotted time, but he went on to defend MJ-12. “I have finally concluded it’s probably the most important document ever leaked to the public,” he declared before wading into an intricate discussion of letter formats, type sizes, and archival research. He announced his successful MJ-12 bet with Klass, who was sitting in the audience, having evaded his personal audience long enough to attend.
“I have to publicly thank Philip Klass for awarding me $1,000 for finding ten memos,” he said. “Phil is an honorable man. He paid me.” Friedman was interrupted by wild applause. “Unfortunately, he set a limit of ten at $100 each, otherwise I would have financed all of my research.
“If any of you know anything, I’d like to hear about it,” Friedman finished. “If you know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody who said, ‘Hey, I was involved,’ I’d like to hear about it. I’m racing the undertaker. I came three days late on one guy, a PhD, who knew about the bodies. I don’t want that to happen again.”
Exiting from the auditorium, Friedman was dogged by people with information, people who knew people who might have information but were afraid for their lives to talk, and people who simply asked in mysterious voices to speak with him.
“You try and follow up on them,” Friedman said, finally seated safely on one of the stone benches in the lobby. “There are time limitations and money. Money is a big missing ingredient. So it gets very frustrating when your phone bill is a thousand dollars and your wife says, you know, ‘How’re we supposed to eat this month?'”
Friedman said he’s been working on his own Roswell book for about a year, but he first got involved with UFOs in 1958. “I was ordering books from a mail-order house in New York, and I needed one more book so I wouldn’t have to pay shipping charges.” He noticed The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects by the head of the Air Force’s last UFO research program, Project Blue Book. “So I figured, it’s not going to really cost me anything, this guy oughta know what he’s talking about.” That led to buying more books, joining some UFO groups in the early 60s, and eventually giving lectures.
A young man who had been standing uncertainly nearby attracted Friedman’s attention. “I didn’t know–it’s not that important, but they said I should tell you,” the young man stuttered.
“Yes, you should,” Friedman answered seriously.
“OK, you ready?” The young man sat down. “When The Roswell Incident came out in 1980, I went to the Brentano’s in Oak Brook here. And I was a little shy to ask because in those days–”
Friedman chuckled in sympathy.
“So I’m looking for the book, couldn’t find it. I started leaving the store, and there’s a man intently reading this book. And I look at the title and I say, ‘My God, that’s the book I’m looking for. How did you know about this book?’ And he gives me this real icy stare and he says, ‘I did everything they talk about in this book.’ And I thought, ‘Oh my gosh.’
“I start talking to him, try to get his address. He wouldn’t give me anything. So he finally pays for the book and leaves. I thought, well, I’ll go up to the cashier and see if I can get his name from the check. So I made up a story that I used to know him or whatever, so I get this name and address and phone number off there. I try calling the number, and they say the number’s disconnected. The address was in Oak Lawn, right near here. So I went to Oak Lawn the next day, and the street that was printed on the check, there was like no houses on that street. Like an empty lot. And I drove around like four times. I couldn’t believe that was the address, but I carefully copied it. So I just thought I’d let you know. I’ve never had anything in my life like that where–it was like stuff you read about.”
Friedman, deep in thought, muttered, “And the address was wrong.”
“There was no building at that address,” the young man affirmed. “And I saw it printed on the check.”
“Of course you don’t have his name and address.”
“Nahhhh. Somebody said I should be hypnotized.”
“That would do it,” Friedman agreed without apparent sarcasm, and then added graciously, “Thank you. You get enough stories like that, they keep you going.” Still, this didn’t look like a lead he planned to follow.
Friedman explained why he believes the government has covered up the nature of the Roswell crashes. “I think the initial cover-up was because it was 1947–most of the cities in Europe and Asia had been destroyed, people were starving, the world was in a terrible mess, and the cold war was beginning. The government couldn’t go public saying, ‘Look, we thought you’d like to know there are these alien spacecraft flying over our country. We don’t know what they want, we don’t know how they operate, we don’t know where they’re from, but we thought you’d like to know.’ But 30 years later, 40 years later, it’s difficult to believe it’s justified in covering up everything.
“I do think we earthlings–especially Americans in a free democracy, et cetera, et cetera–are entitled to know we’re part of a galactic community. This is too important a matter to be left in the hands of unelected officials. So that’s why I’ve been trying to blow the lid off the cosmic Watergate.”
The MUFON conference’s second day was a madhouse. An electrical storm knocked out the hotel’s power at about 7 AM, making it easy to identify which men had packed ordinary razors and which ones hadn’t. The giant Hyatt atrium, un-air-conditioned on a 100-degree day, was less like a weekend getaway and more like the mutant sector in Total Recall after the bad guys cut off the air.
Mrs. Judy Stults, wife of MUFON’s Illinois director Thomas Stults, ran around rescheduling speakers. Stults was recovering from major surgery, so Mrs. Stults arranged to move the lectures to the basement–a real basement, with cement walls and floor, where speakers would stand at a podium under a single naked light bulb in front of gray metal folding chairs.
Some conference attendees trooped to the basement; others languished in the lobby, including a large woman with curly reddish hair, impeccably groomed. Pam, a 43-year-old data processor who lives with her family on a farm just outside Chicago, insisted on a pseudonym before she would talk about her abduction by aliens.
“Well, it began when I was six years old,” she started reluctantly. “I’ve had what amounts to an ongoing relationship, I think–I don’t know what else to say–with someone who isn’t from our planet.”
She seemed painfully aware of what this sounded like; it apparently sounded that way to her too. She pointed out several small, round scars she said appeared after abductions. One on her arm, the newest on her foot, two others near her navel. She admitted they didn’t look like much, more like moles than anything else. A dermatologist insisted they were scars caused by burns, which Pam denied.
“The most bizarre experience happened when I was 24,” she said. “I disappeared for 18 hours, and I haven’t been the same since. Now I study the runes, the Coptic runes.” She opened her purse, pulled out a maroon suede drawstring pouch, and poured out round lacquered wooden chips with strange symbols. “These are what runes look like. What I saw”–on the alien spaceship, she meant–“had dots and slashes very similar to this. I saw them once or twice during this examination process that I’ve been a part of. And it’s like, if I could just find them I’ll remember. It’s like there’s a symbol language I have to relocate. That’s it. That’s how you get involved in something like this. Nobody comes and asks you–it just sort of happens to you.”
Pam clearly wishes it hadn’t happened to her. All three of her daughters have been abducted too, she said. “My oldest daughter is so terrified of it that you can’t talk to her about it. But the second-oldest daughter is really matter-of-fact about it. It’s like, ‘So what else is new, Mom?’ She has memories of something coming into her bedroom, memories she describes as almost floating-type feelings. She’s seen little people, she thinks.”
Pam doesn’t recall many details about the abductions. She remembers a being coming into her bedroom, similar to what abductees call “Grays”–aliens with gray skin, large heads, and big black eyes. “I’ve never seen a spaceship. I’ve only seen the circle in my yard,” she mentioned as an afterthought. Following one incident, she found a circle 37 feet in diameter burned into the crops not far from the house. The insurance company made her and her husband prove they hadn’t done it themselves.
“The best you can do at a place like this is just keep connecting,” she said, shrugging. “And even if it is that we’re all in some terrible paranoid delusion, even if it turns out that we have this one mass new disease, at least we’ll all of us know we’re in the same disease together.”
It’s tricky gauging polite reactions to anyone at a MUFON conference. There are myriad levels of belief in UFOs, so some people would be offended about being linked with alien-abductee stories. And yet even people with the most extreme stories, like Pam, seem perfectly sane.
Phil Klass, who was strolling around the lobby, is easier; he believes in nothing. “Did I tell you how I happened to get started in this?” he asked. About 25 years ago the Washington chapter of an electrical-engineering society asked Klass to be a panelist at a UFO symposium. When the panel was canceled, he wrote an article instead. “I never realized it, but that would completely change my life.”
He hasn’t quit the UFO beat as a matter of pride. At the first hint of a good UFO story, he said, “I’d be like the old fire horse hearing the siren. So I’m afraid I’m probably hooked for as long as I live.” An excited conference attendant walked up, and Klass obligingly signed his program.
Elsewhere in the Hyatt’s tropical heat, Don Schmitt was keeping up a grueling rate of autographing books. I asked for his reaction to Friedman’s lecture about Gerald Anderson, the new Roswell eyewitness. “The disagreement is about the second site, about a second object,” Schmitt explained. “The sole firsthand source on this information is a five-year-old child. And we are the first ones he contacted. Since then he’s changed his story to some degree, so that raises a red flag. So we have become more outspoken about the fact that Roswell is too important, if this person happens to be an opportunist, if he happens to be a ringer.” He meant a CSICOP agent, planted to discredit the Roswell investigation.
As the conference wound to a close, Friedman stood behind his exhibit-room table loaded with UFO monographs and a white bust of an alien, a gift from an admirer. Klass had already agreed to pose for a picture with him, and Friedman grudgingly went along. “Well, I suppose, for the good of the cause.” But once Klass arrived, they got on like old chums.
“Phil, have you ever been to a conference where the power went out for this long?” Friedman wondered.
“Who do you think pulled the power switch?” Klass quipped. “Incidentally, Stan, I hate to admit it, but your talk last night was one of your best.”
Friedman looked genuinely pleased. “Why, thank you Phil. You have heard a lot of my talks, haven’t you?”
“Let me give you the grand tour,” said CUFOS science director Mark Rodeghier, leading the way through CUFOS’s tiny offices on West Peterson. Off the small main room is a slightly less small room bulging with filing cabinets. The files go back through decades of UFO reports. Rodeghier explained the filing system, which distinguishes whether a report is from CUFOS, or from the now-defunct National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), or perhaps Project Blue Book.
Project Blue Book? How did CUFOS get files from a top-secret government project? “Uh, probably the five-finger discount,” said Rodeghier. “Dr. Hynek was on Project Blue Book. I think he copied a lot–or maybe some of these are the originals, and he left them the copies.”
Such economies are necessary in UFO research. Unlike other research institutions, CUFOS has no access to government funding–and no one to stick with a bill for cedar-lined closets. The center exists on about 1,100 subscriptions to its International UFO Reporter and some large donations from private individuals. “When I say ‘large,’ large is like $500,” Rodeghier almost sighed. During the MUFON conference, Chicago seemed filled with UFO enthusiasts. A few weeks later Rodeghier was lamenting the center’s need for volunteers.
CUFOS has members across the country to help with far-flung investigations, said Rodeghier, but it needs people in Chicago to actually run the center, answering phones and the like. “Now we’re looking for a historian of the intelligence agencies or military to help us investigate the background of the Roswell case.” I asked if President Bush’s call for volunteerism had helped. Rodeghier smiled ruefully.
Rodeghier is 38, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and part-time computer consultant. He began at the center answering phones and is now finishing a thesis he describes as “the sociology of science–studying scientists’ attitudes toward UFOs.”
At UIC, he said, “nobody cares that I’m doing this. There’s no stigma, but nobody asks about it, no one cares to talk about it, there’s just no interest. Of course, I don’t go out of my way either, quite frankly. It’s not the kind of thing that you bring up in the lunchroom every day.”
But those who do care care very deeply indeed. Take Thomas Stults, the 58-year-old director of MUFON’s Illinois branch. He was a financial planner until last March. “Then one day I couldn’t breathe, and the next thing I know I’m having major surgery. Life is a very fragile thing.” He couldn’t make his scheduled opening speech at the conference or attend most of its functions. But he was still there–mainly resting in his hotel room with an oxygen tank, but there.
Stults is now recuperating at his Downers Grove home. There is something very, very disorienting about driving up to his yellow brick ranch house, being greeted at the screen door by a yapping terrier, sitting down at his kitchen table, and then listening to him talk about UFOs, his sentences full of dramatic pauses.
“It’s becoming very apparent to a lot of people that the government is involved in a program . . . to . . . educate the American people . . . and make them more aware . . . and better prepare them for an announcement . . . that they’re here.” Stults believes the U.S. government is orchestrating a mass-education campaign to get the public used to the idea of aliens before breaking the news. He believes the education program began with films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, then television shows like Alien Nation.
“Now, two years ago the program got into high gear when they began using TV advertising commercials. And we now have 20 major U.S. corporations that I’m aware of using this theme in their commercial TV advertising.”
This theory, he admitted, is not widespread. “There’ve also been statements made by people in the government–confidentially–that the plan, at least a few months ago, is to release the information in 1992. Now obviously that’s subject to change. It can be moved up or back.”
Though Stults spends so much time investigating UFOs, he doesn’t think the public should know everything about them. “In my opinion, the public reaction would be very fearful. The first thing people would say is, ‘You mean to tell me these things are buzzing around and you can’t do anything about it? They’re abducting our citizens and you can’t stop it?’ They’d lose faith in the government. They’d lose faith in religion. No good would come of a mass announcement, unless the people were ready.
“Some things I know I don’t talk about,” he added. “I don’t intend to talk about them. Of course, I have a natural curiosity, but I sure don’t tell everything I know. Or think I know.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Charles Eshelman.