Saturday, January 26, 2008

UFOs AND THE TEXAS TWO-STEP

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Something strange transpired in the night sky over Stephenville, Texas recently. In the weeks following, something truly out-of-this-world occurred on the ground.

In the early evening of January 8, the residents of this small farming community witnessed the most sensational UFO sighting since the Phoenix lights of 1997.

Dozens of residents, among them a certified pilot and a law enforcement officer, reported a UFO hovering overhead. Some saw the craft return minutes later, pursued (in vain) by two military jets.

By morning, newspapers and local radio were buzzing with alien activity. Unlike most UFO claims, it was clear the Stephenville incident could not readily be dismissed as a hoax, atmospheric conditions, or experimental weather balloon. And, equally bizarre, the media took a serious approach to the subject. As a result, this little community in the heart of the Bible-belt, received national, and then international, scrutiny.

Making accurate observations of aerial phenomenon is notoriously difficult. People tend to miscalculate size, distance, and speed. Which is why pilot Steve Allen became a key witness. A man used to flying these same skies, his judgment of events offered more validity than most.

“I guarantee that what we saw,” he said, “was not a civilian aircraft.” He described the object as enormous, perhaps a half-mile wide and a mile long. It was “bigger than a Wal-Mart.”

Allen claims the UFO sped across the skyline at speeds above 3,000 mph, while two fighter jets attempted to follow.

ENTER THE MILITARY

Where believers see UFOs, skeptics see mundane aircraft. With Allen and others claiming the presence of jets, the media turned to the military. The likeliest suspect was the Joint Reserve Base Naval Air Station, in Fort Worth.

If the base were running exercises over Stephenville that fateful night, all the UFO furor would surely die down.

But, said officials, no military planes were flying in the area that evening.

With a military denial, and so many residents reporting something extraordinary in the sky, the possibility of a close encounter loomed larger.

More residents came forward, admitting they, too, saw something unexplainable. At the weekend, members of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) set up business in nearby Dublin and began compiling reports. They received more than 50, an exceptional number from a church-going, sober (the county is dry), down-to-earth, farming region.

“I’d say a very small percentage of people who see these (UFOs) actually report,” said Kenneth Cherry, the Texas director of MUFON. If true, potentially thousands of bystanders witnessed something strange and seemingly unexplainable that night.

But then things got really weird.

The military reversed its position. Suddenly they did have aircraft in the vicinity the night in question. Not just one or two, either. No, they had ten F-16s on maneuvers.

Ten F-16s?! Okay, then…

Why the change in story? Major Karl Lewis, a base spokesman, said they were mistaken and wanted to set the record straight “in the interest of public awareness.”

After the announcement, the public was very aware, aware that something didn’t smell right in Fort Worth.

It’s likely that the incident would have passed quickly from the public conscience had the Air Force not fueled conspiracy fires with it’s dramatic new claim. Without hard evidence, even the strongest saucer sightings fail to entice lasting interest. Yet the reversal, if designed to abate talk of alien antics, only served to guarantee Stephenville a permanent place in UFO lore.

Why had the military first denied a presence in the area? Did they have something to hide? And what possible reason might there be for ten F-16s to be operating that night?

“This supports our story that there was UFO activity in that area,” said MUFON’s Cherry. “I find it curious that it took them two weeks to ‘fess up. I think they are feeling the heat from the publicity.”

And the publicity would increase. In the week ending January 16, “UFO photos” was the number three fastest-moving search term used on all web sites. Among news and media sites, “UFO sightings” ranked fourth among all U.S.-based searches.

Chat forums were alive with discussion. Everyone had an opinion about what took place over Stephenville, and few believed the military’s version of events.

THE TEXAS TWO-STEP

The culture of UFOlogy is simple to appreciate. Those making the claims of flying saucers are branded as nutcases. Those debunking the claims are branded (by the nutcases) as government agents working to subvert the Truth. The media tends to ignore the subject except to occasionally offer a minute or two of tongue-in-cheek attention. The military sends out press releases explaining what really happened, reassuring us that the nutcases really are nutcases.

But the culture breaks down over Stephenville. You can’t brand an entire town crazy: Respected businessmen, a policeman, friends and neighbors all saw something peculiar. The media took a sober approach to the story, and the only nutcases in town appeared to be the experts, the military.

Just how gullible do they think we are?

First they claimed no presence in the region. Then they suggested that residents were letting their imaginations run wild. It was an optical illusion, they claimed, brought on by sunlight reflecting off two airliners.

Sunlight? Between 6pm and 8pm? In January?

Then the reversal. Then the F-16s.

Excuse me for believing your average Texan can tell the difference between an F-16 and a mile-long flying saucer. Even Mr. Magoo can ogle the disparity. And let’s not forget, several witnesses reported seeing the UFO and jet fighters. Explain that one, Major.

The 457th Fighter Squadron uses the Brownwood Military Operating area for training exercises, which includes airspace above Erath County. Fighter jets over Stephenville, then, should not be uncommon. Residents would be familiar with their night lights, their sounds, their shapes in the sky. The encounter January 8 should be a regular occurrence in this part of the country. Only it’s not.

Something else happened. Some residents are whispering “cover-up.” And who could blame them?

The military’s appalling reversal and subsequent refusal to offer more information rates as an astronomical public relations blunder. When the official explanation sounds more bizarre than the suggestion of extraterrestrial visitors, you can’t help but wonder if there really is something to all this conspiracy talk after all.

At least the 17,000 residents are having some fun with the publicity. High-schoolers are selling tee shirts that read: “Stephenville: The New Roswell” on the front. The back reads: “They’re here for the milk!” and shows a flying saucer beaming up a cow. Maybe the military has a theory about cattle mutilation, too. Maybe it’s just the night sun reflecting off truck beds. Or maybe, finally, this is one Texas two-step for which the military can’t find a dance partner.

3 comments:

Floyd said...

Wonderful blog - excellent post.

Got to you from ATS.

Props!

TheAvenger said...

Ditto, same as Floyd. Great story.

Good show, mate!

AJ Lavender said...

Thank you, both, for your feedback. I really appreciate your taking the time to send a positive message! The ATS is an excellent community. Look forward to chatting with you both in the near future.