Separating Fact from Fiction: Unraveling Alien Conspiracy Theories , Every few years, a sinister cycle plays out in the news. Headlines report sightings of unidentified flying objects (UFO/UAP). A state agency then issues a waiver.
In 2006, employees at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago described seeing an unidentified object hovering quiet near terminal. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) dismissed it as a weather event.
Then in 2014, Navy pilots reported seeing a series of rotating saucers. The Pentagon did not comment at the time. Later in 2021, an American Airlines pilot said a long, cylinder-shaped object flew over his plane and it looked like a rocket. In response, the FAA said no such object appeared on official radar.
This cycle of UFO sightings and official denial fueled conspiracy theories that the US government was hiding information about aliens from the public. And in recent months, revelations by former government officials have led more people to believe that these conspiracy theories may be legitimate.
What is a conspiracy theory?
Conspiracy theory is the belief that a small group of people act in secret and their actions are designed to benefit the exclusive group. The idea that aliens exist is not a conspiracy theory. It only becomes a conspiracy theory when people believe that a small group – usually government insiders – are hiding information about aliens from us.
When it comes to UFO conspiracy theories, the US government tends to take the blame. Moreover, conspiracy theorists tend to conflate the US government into a single identity, even though scientists say there are millions of people who work for “the government”.
Have alien conspiracy theories increased?
Conspiracy theories become more palatable to non-believers when reliable (or seemingly reliable) informants come forward with information. The past decade has seen an increase in seemingly credible people claiming to either have witnessed UFOs or have evidence that the government knows about aliens and is hiding them from the rest of the public.
In 2023 former employee at the Pentagon, David Grush, has come forward as a self-described whistleblower who once served on the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force. He claims the US has spacecraft debris of “non-human origin”.
Grush also said the U.S. has known about alien aircraft for decades, and his statements were supported by other government reports, including a 2021 report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which did not deny UFO sightings and instead acknowledged there are many of unanswered questions.
Covering up UFO crashes
A common UFO conspiracy theory, including the one proposed by Grush, is that the government is hiding the remains of a UFO that crashed into Earth. One of the first crash cover-up conspiracies began in 1947 in RoswellNew Mexico when reports of flying saucer debris were found near a military base.
The US military dismissed the debris as a weather balloon rather than a flying saucer. Over the decades, conspiracy theorists believed that the government knew it was actually a UFO and was deliberately hiding the truth.
It turns out that the government really was hiding something — it just wasn’t a spaceship full of little green Martians. In 1994, the General Accounting Office (GAO) audited records related to the Roswell incident and published a report of its findings.
In 1947, the US was worried about Russian nuclear capability. They were trying to monitor the upper atmosphere for evidence of Russian nuclear tests using a balloon device. When the bubble burst, the US military didn’t want the world to know what they were really doing. The UFO conspiracy theory was a useful distraction.
(Credit: Dean Clark/Shutterstock)
Another common UFO conspiracy theory is that the government not only has the remains of an alien spaceship, but is also keeping its occupants.
Area 51, located in Nevada, has long been suspected of harboring crashed UFOs and extraterrestrial beings. One scientist describes Area 51 as “public secret” in which people understand that the government is doing something but don’t know exactly what.
Area 51 is closed to the public, and the nearest public viewing area is 12 miles away. In the 1980s, conspiracy theorists began promoting the idea that the government had hidden aliens at Area 51.
Area 51 stormed
The theory was reinforced in the late 1980s by a former employee who claimed to have seen an alien spacecraft with “gravity generators” when he was working at Area 51. He claimed that the US government was hiding this, what is known about extraterrestrial life by the American people.
The former official also boasted that he holds degrees from prestigious institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). When reporters looked into his background and found no evidence he attended those schools, the former official said the government erased his background from the record because he was working with such highly classified information.
The former employee was ultimately discredited, and the government seems to ignore it. However, the Air Force’s tolerance for alien accusations has its limits. A Facebook group was developed in 2019 the idea of Storm Zone 51 because they “can’t stop us all.”
More than a million people signed the pledge to show up at Area 51 and “see them aliens.” The Air Force issued stark warnings not to come and the event ended before it began.