Science  /  Origin Story

How Washington Got Hooked on Flying Saucers

A collection of well-funded UFO obsessives are using their Capitol Hill connections to launder some outré, and potentially dangerous, ideas.

On April 30, the online UFO community lit up with excitement. The New Yorker, the most luxe of news magazines, published a major UFO article by Gideon Lewis-Kraus alleging there was good reason for the U.S. government to get back into the business of hunting flying saucers. On May 16, CBS’s Sunday Morning and 60 Minutes broadcast stories about UFOs, with Florida Senator Marco Rubio sternly intoning about the importance of treating them as a potential national security concern. All month, major media have jumped on the bandwagon. Magazines published think pieces. Ezra Klein gushed about the “spaciousness of mystery” in The New York Times. Morning Joe invited Lewis-Kraus on to chat about UFOs, and Gadi Schwartz did multiple spots across NBC’s broadcast, cable, and streaming platforms breathlessly hyping new videos from the Navy showing fuzzy shapes in the sky.

For UFO believers, this was the moment they had been waiting for. UFOs were everywhere, and they were suddenly respectable. With a new intelligence report on UFOs due to be delivered to Congress in June, even the U.S. government seemed poised to take UFOs seriously again. For many on UFO Twitter, only one word could describe this seemingly spontaneous explosion of UFO excitement: disclosure, the longed-for moment of revelation when believers prophesy the Pentagon will confirm UFOs are real and unearthly, and everything will change. “It’s happening,” UFO YouTuber Jane Kyle tweeted about the 60 Minutes story: “#disclosure.”

But the real story isn’t disclosure, and it’s stranger than any UFO sighting. Behind the creamy pages of high-end magazines and the marble columns of the Capitol, the media elite and Congress are being played by a small, loosely connected group of people with bizarre ideas about science. It’s easy to dismiss UFOs as a fantasy or a fad, but the money, the connections, and the power wielded by a group of UFO believers—embedded in the defense industry and bent on supplanting material science with a pseudoscientific mysticism straight from the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens—poses a danger to America more real than a flying saucer.

And it all started with poltergeists from another dimension.