Jun 14, 2017 04:34 PM EDT
Why won't the conspiracy theories about Roswell die? The answer is in merchandising, a hoax made into a movie, and the birth of the Internet.
Let's start at the beginning.
In 1947, a rancher named Mac Brazel in Roswell, New Mexico discovered unusual debris in his field. He called the local sheriff who, unsure of what he was seeing, called the Roswell Army Air Force Base (RAAF). The Base sent out Major Jese Marcel who thought, incorrectly, that he was seeing the remains of a flying saucer. So much for military intelligence. The term 'flying saucer' was new at the time and was originally coined by aviator Kenneth Arnold when "he described seeing flying objects in the sky moving like a saucer skimming on water."
The RAAF sent out a press release on July 8 saying that they had recovered a "flying disc." This got everyone excited. The Roswell Daily Record published a front page story the next day saying "RAAF Captures Flying Saucer on Ranch in Roswell Region."
With that, the conspiracy theory was born.
The Air Force tried to roll back the press release, saying that the remains they had found were actually from a weather balloon. This seemed to satisfy people at the time.
But no appealing conspiracy theory ever dies. And 20 years later, this one found its champion in a nuclear physicist named Stanton Friedman.
Friedman met Major Marcel in 1968 while waiting to do a TV interview in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Thinking he had found his star witness who could blow open the supposed government cover-up about the Roswell incident, he went on to interview several eyewitnesses and continued to propagate the theory that extraterrestrial beings had been found and that the information was being hidden from the public by the U.S. Government.
"If you look at the eyewitness testimony, a lot of it was either deathbed confessions, or things related years later," Nigel Watson, author of Haynes UFO Investigations Manual tolf IFL Science. "You'd think, for something so important, people would have written in their diary at the time, or taken pretty good notes."
What he had actually uncovered was a secret Cold War program called Project Mogul that was using high altitude balloons and microphones to monitor atomic bomb tests by the Soviet Union. The U.S. Air Force couldn't reveal the nature of the program, so they kept quiet until it was declassified in 1994. This left years for conspiracy theorists to run wild with speculation.
"Roswell has got everything really," according to Watson,"It's got government conspiracy, it's in a remote location, it's got stories of aliens and spaceships, and there's the [idea] this wreckage was perhaps taken to Area 51."
The U.S. Air Force had been using dummies in it's high altitude balloon tests. Parts and sometimes entire dummies were falling from the sky around the town of Roswell during failed balloon tests and being taken to Area 51. The U.S. Government was very secretive about the balloon project because of the raging Cold War against the Soviet Union. People thought that there were alien autopsies occurring and the government was being silent about them.
To further muddy the waters, the Internet was just becoming popular in 1994 and pages began to pop up promoting the conspiracy theories put forth by Freidman and others. In 1995 a movie called Alien Autopsy was released. Though it would later be revealed as a hoax, the seed had been planted in the minds of a new generation about the possible government cover up regarding Roswell.
About that time a popular TV show called The X Files began to get traction and it focused heavily on theories and stories that the government was withholding information from the public about Roswell and Aliens in general. The town of Roswell, not known for anything else except this conspiracy theory about Aliens landing there, actively fed the conspiracy theorists and even set up a museum in 1991 for UFO sightings in order to cash in on the gullibility of people. It worked and the museum stands today as a slice of Americana.
Despite the release of information by the U.S Air Force and the debunking of the conspiracy theories of aliens and crashed flying saucers, the Roswell UFO conspiracy story is not going anywhere.
"If you believe it's a cover-up, you'll never believe they revealed the full facts," said Watson. "People who believe in Roswell will always believe in Roswell. I don't think there's any way you can really turn the clock back now."
We have the Cold War to blame for the birth of the theory. The Internet and a TV show and movie helped pass it to a new generation. Now Roswell and merchandising will not let it die.
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