Magazine October 14, 2019, Issue

It Came Out of the Sky

People watch the skies during a UFO tour outside Sedona, Ariz., in 2013. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

If, like me, you claim unofficial membership in the League of Enthusiastic Americans with Slightly Overactive Imaginations, the past few weeks have brought both exciting and weird news. Here’s the exciting: The United States Navy has basically admitted that UFOs are real. Here’s the weird: Very few people seem to care. 

Perhaps you’ve seen the video evidence, which has floated around the Internet since 2017, after being leaked to the New York Times and — wait for it, because this is awesome — the To the Stars Academy of Arts & Sciences, a UFO-curious organization founded by a former member of the pop-punk band Blink-182. In the footage, recorded by Navy pilots, you can see mysterious unidentified aircraft, some surrounded by an enveloping glow, prompting various incredulous comments, such as “Look at that thing, dude!” and “Wow, what is that, man?” 

These objects — the Navy prefers we call them “unexplained aerial phenomena” instead of “UFOs,” but come on, whom are they kidding? — “undertook aerial maneuvers that aren’t possible with current aviation technology,” Popular Mechanics reports. “In the 2004 incident, according to the New York Times, the objects ‘appeared suddenly at 80,000 feet, and then hurtled toward the sea, eventually stopping at 20,000 feet and hovering. Then they either dropped out of radar range or shot straight back up.’” 

Commander David Fravor, who piloted an F/A-18F Super Hornet that day over airspace near San Diego, told the Times of an object that hovered over the ocean, “around 40 feet long and oval in shape,” jolting around above a churning marine “disturbance” that “looked like frothy waves and foam, as if the water were boiling.” As he headed for the object, it fled, accelerating “like nothing I’ve ever seen.” In the end, this whole bizarre ball of aeronautical wax left Commander Fravor, as he told the Times, “pretty weirded out.” 

No kidding. Me too! But don’t worry: The Navy would also like you to know, as Popular Mechanics helpfully adds, that the video clips “should have never been released to the public in the first place.” Ah. Here’s my no-bologna translation for that, folks: Remember the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where some anonymous elderly government worker in a newsboy cap slowly wheels the Ark of the Covenant into a giant warehouse undoubtedly full of other mystical and legendary treasures, never to meet the public eye? There’s almost definitely something like that for videos of UFOs. 

Now, to be fair, because these unidentified flying objects are, well, unidentified, we can’t declare them the work of a band of extraterrestrial alien explorers just yet. Nor can we jump the gun and storm Area 51, as approximately 3,000 fun-loving Americans pretended to attempt to do — most of them were pretending, at least, I think — on Friday, September 20. 

The potential explanations are countless, really: Perhaps the UFOs are part of a secret Russian spy operation. (In 2019, it’s always the Russians, isn’t it? It’s like the 1980 and 1984 Olympics combined.) Perhaps the UFOs are part of a top-secret United States Air Force project so top-secret that the United States Navy knows nothing about it. Perhaps there’s even some smart-aleck high-I.Q. kid in La Jolla laughing his rear end off right now because he just fooled us all with his army of souped-up garage-built drones. 

But regardless, isn’t it rather mind-boggling that this story — a true-life tale that touches on pretty much every high-drama topic in the world, including spycraft, metaphysics, theology, military intrigue, and the question of whether we are alone in the universe — has not become a massive multiweek front-page affair, garnished with deep-dive follow-ups and an engaged cadre of Earthlings clamoring for the truth?

For instance, despite my aforementioned slightly overactive imagination — a predisposition that leads me to devour news stories about things like haunted houses and the North American Sasquatch and possessed dolls named Annabelle and, well, UFOs — I completely missed this story’s first go-round two years ago. Somehow, the Great UFO Video Leakage of 2017 managed to waft away in a small cloud of news-cycle pixie dust, lost amid Russiagate (there they are again!) and Twitter kerfuffles and The Handmaid’s Tale and that fascinating category of people who consistently lose their minds over the very existence of the rather mild-mannered Mike Pence. 

In other words, UFOs, schmoo-eff-ohs. Nobody cared. 

I have no delusions: I suppose the story’s second go-round, with U.S. Navy confirmation and all, will meet a similar destiny. After all, we have other things to worry about, or at least so I am told. For starters, there’s the suggestion that “we are in the beginning of a mass extinction” — that’s 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, speaking to the U.N. General Assembly on September 23. On the same day, to halt this impending catastrophe, climate activists clogged up the streets of D.C., armed with a bunch of high-carbon-footprint props. Next, they threw a bunch of confetti on the ground, lit a dumpster on fire, and had one very enthusiastic young man in alarmingly short jean shorts twerking in front of a banner that said “Capitalism is killing the planet.” 

If that’s not your cup of tea, I understand. You can always worry about the herd of Democrats currently running for president, who seem on the verge of losing their collective mind. There they are, loud and clear, hollering about things like socialism and national rent control and seizing guns and taxing meat and supporting abortion until birth and stealing everyone’s money — or, if you’re Joe Biden, offering a variation on these themes while regularly veering off into random rants about things like the sexual identities of prisoners and how Americans should “make sure you have the record player on at night.” 

Hmm. Who knows? Maybe we’ll never see the UFOs again. Perhaps we managed to scare them all away.

In This Issue

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White House

The Democrats’ Burisma Bait and Switch

Imagine you get indicted in a swindle. The prosecutors represent that they can prove you and your alleged co-conspirators planned to fleece a major financial institution. You counter that you weren’t fleecing anyone. Sure, you were asking for millions in loans, but the collateral you were prepared to post was ... Read More
White House

The Democrats’ Burisma Bait and Switch

Imagine you get indicted in a swindle. The prosecutors represent that they can prove you and your alleged co-conspirators planned to fleece a major financial institution. You counter that you weren’t fleecing anyone. Sure, you were asking for millions in loans, but the collateral you were prepared to post was ... Read More

When There Is No Normal

One of the ancient and modern critiques of democracy is that radicals destroy norms for short-term political gain, norms that they themselves often later seek as refuge. Schadenfreude, irony, paradox, and karma are various descriptions of what happens to revolutionaries, and unfortunately the innocent, who ... Read More

When There Is No Normal

One of the ancient and modern critiques of democracy is that radicals destroy norms for short-term political gain, norms that they themselves often later seek as refuge. Schadenfreude, irony, paradox, and karma are various descriptions of what happens to revolutionaries, and unfortunately the innocent, who ... Read More
Politics & Policy

15 Flaws in Adam Schiff’s Case

Adam Schiff did most of the heavy lifting for the House managers, and if he performed ably, he also relied on arguments and tropes that don’t withstand scrutiny. The Democratic case for impeachment and removal is now heavily encrusted with clichés, widely accepted by the media, meant to give their ... Read More
Politics & Policy

15 Flaws in Adam Schiff’s Case

Adam Schiff did most of the heavy lifting for the House managers, and if he performed ably, he also relied on arguments and tropes that don’t withstand scrutiny. The Democratic case for impeachment and removal is now heavily encrusted with clichés, widely accepted by the media, meant to give their ... Read More