UFO awareness group really isn't so far out
12:00 AM CST on Monday, December 31, 2007
Anyone who takes the topic seriously knows about what they call the "giggle factor."
So when Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich was asked in a recent debate about his belief in unidentified flying objects, the North Texas members of Mutual UFO Network weren't surprised when it turned into a political punch line.
On the other hand, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has also addressed UFOs – seriously – on the campaign trail. And last month, a group of highly credentialed aviation experts from around the world called for more official investigations of UFOs.
Getting their cause into the news – and not just as a joke – is welcome to people who have felt pushed to the fringes for a long time.
"There is a growing awareness and willingness on the part of the public to take this seriously," said Ken Cherry, the Texas MUFON director.
Is the secret that the ufologists of MUFON have been chasing for decades about to come out?
"We don't think it's a secret. Just some people don't believe it," said Terry Groff, webmaster for the local MUFON group and a trained UFO investigator.
He was one of about two dozen members who assembled for a regular meeting this month at an Irving public library. Organizers say they've filled a hall with more than 100 people for meetings where a particularly popular speaker appears.
Outsiders often misunderstand the purpose of the organization, Mr. Cherry said.
"People want us to confirm their claims," he said. "That is not our job."
Most UFO sightings quickly become IFOs after a little investigation, he said. Airplanes, satellites, model rockets, helicopters – all of these can fool an untrained eye. But all of those valid explanations still leave a few unexplainables.
Those few are what the ufologists say make them think there's more to know – but they aren't necessarily sure what the "more" is.
"I really haven't made my mind up," said MUFON regional director James Shatley. "The preponderance of evidence is that either we have discovered incredible technology, or there are some other races that have conquered time and space and figured out how to get here."
For all the scientific aspirations of MUFON, it's a mash-up of a serious amateur investigation club and a support group for people who say there is Something – or Someone – Out There.
"We have had people come to our meetings who literally wear a protective hat to protect themselves from aliens invading their thoughts," Mr. Cherry said.
The members of his group try to be welcoming and not dismissive of them, he said. After all, they all know what it's like to be ridiculed for their ideas.
"I don't think we've ever had a bad experience where someone that everyone thought was off-the-wall came and they didn't go away feeling good," Mr. Cherry said.
On this afternoon, nobody was wearing an odd hat. After a bit of business, they settled in to watch a decade-old video of a speech made at a previous meeting. The speaker was Jim Marrs, the Texan author of Crossfire, a book Oliver Stone drew on for the conspiracy-filled plot of his movie JFK, and Alien Agenda, Mr. Marrs' account of a government suppression of information about UFOs.
It's safe to say that Mr. Marrs' views about UFOs are as accepted by most scientists as his ideas about the Kennedy assassination are by most historians. But this was his home crowd, and they listened attentively as he recounted tales of the supposed UFO crash at Roswell, N.M., the odd crop circles and other stories ufologists say have never been explained.
After the video, Mr. Marrs "appeared" live via a cellphone held up to a microphone and took questions.
"There may be more breathtaking discoveries coming out in the coming months," he said.
The recent mainstream news about UFOs did not seem likely to produce a new revelation anytime soon.
Mr. Kucinich said he saw a UFO 25 years ago while visiting Shirley MacLaine's home in Washington. Mr. Richardson pledged to reopen the famous case of aliens reportedly crashing at Roswell in 1947.
The aviation experts calling for more investigation included a deputy chief of staff from the Belgian Air Force, the retired chief of Accidents and Investigations for the Federal Aviation Administration, a pilot with the Chilean Aviation Army, an Air France captain, a general in the Iranian Air Force and a representative from the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defense.
The group spoke in support of a petition that said, in part: "We maintain that a restive, concerned public has the right to be informed of the facts about UFO incidents that are well-documented and involve multiple witnesses."
Not all the MUFON members claim to have seen UFOs. But some do have their stories.
Lucy Jane Mock, whose husband was in the Air Force, believes she has seen several unexplainable things in the sky.
"I hope you get to see one," she told a visitor to the meeting. "Thrilling!"
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