- [Dennis] I had just pulled up in front of my house, and when I looked left and looked up, I saw this amazing sight in the sky.
And all my children, they just came to the front of the van and were all looking and gawking at it, and that's where we saw that object just parked in the sky.
- UFOs, extraterrestrials, aliens.
Questioning if there's life outside of planet Earth has interested humans since ancient times.
For centuries, people have come together to share theories and experiences.
And it's not hard to understand why.
It's really fun to talk about aliens.
In recent years, UFOs have been a hot topic, ever since a 2017 New York Times report revealed the details of a $22 million Pentagon program that research unidentified flying objects.
Then in 2020, the Pentagon stirred things up even more when they released two UFO videos themselves.
- [Radio] look at that thing.
- And UFOs are once again a hot topic in 2022 as Congress began its first hearing on UFOs in over 50 years.
While an interest in extraterrestrials has been hitting the mainstream in a new way, there's a community of people who have been active in this discussion working behind the scenes for a long time.
I want to be clear, in this episode, we are not investigating the question, "are aliens real?"
Instead, we're gonna take a different approach and talk to enthusiasts and ufologists to find out why this fascination is so popular in the first place.
(dramatic music) Ever since I was a kid, I've been intrigued by UFOs or UAPs as some call them.
I grew up watching "The X-Files," reading sci-fi and I'm naturally a very curious person.
But I've never immersed myself in the UFOs scene before, so the first thing that I did was call someone who studies UFOs themselves.
Meet UFO Jane.
A UAP researcher who has collected over a thousand sightings in her home state of Texas.
- My born name is not UFO Jane (Josef laughing) Definitely didn't think that I would grow up to become a ufologist as they say.
I've been documenting, unidentified sightings in real time here in my home state for over 10 years now.
(dramatic music) So I'm pretty curious about what's out there, and trying to see what I can find out.
Can I get to the bottom of it?
- Could you define UFO and UAP?
What does that mean?
- So the literal definitions of UFO, unidentified flying object.
UAP, unidentified aerial phenomena.
- Would you consider yourself more of a skeptic or more of a believer?
- Really it depends on who you put me next to, right?
So there's- - it's all relative.
- It really is, especially in this world.
- When that 2017 moment happened did you have an "I told you so" moment?
where you're like, "Ha, like finally."
- Yeah, oh my gosh, there's been so many "I told you so" moments and it's starting to get where it's like, "Okay, they're great."
But you don't get paid for the "I told you so" moments, right?
Nobody really cares.
- It seems this recent government activity surrounding UAPs might be causing the UFO community to grow.
According to a Gallup poll from 2005, 24% of Americans believe that aliens have visited earth at some point in the past.
Compare that to a 2021 Gallup poll that found 41% of Americans believe that some UFO sightings have been alien spacecraft.
The greater UFO community consists of academics, podcasters, experience or support groups, online threads and more, all devoted to uncovering the existence of extraterrestrial life forms.
The community also includes people from different belief backgrounds.
People from both sides of the political aisle, as well as skeptics and believers.
- These are people who don't necessarily care what other people think about them.
I think it's usually a playful personality.
There's a lot, I would say maybe intellectuals, I think in this group.
And I would just say there's a lot of variety to it too.
- I wanted to know what it is about the possible existence of aliens that brings people from all walks of life together.
So I turned to a PBS peer for help.
Dr. Z is the host of the PBS series 'Monstrum' and a historian on all things monster.
Have you ever seen a UAP?
- (chuckles) I have actually, yes.
I'm not going to claim it was an extraterrestrial craft of any kind.
- What do you think it is about extraterrestrials specifically that makes humans so excited?
- I think that we've always been fascinated by the sky.
If you think back to again, original humans or even some people today, you might never have seen the ocean but we've all seen the night sky.
And again, I think a lot of what happens with extraterrestrials, is it really makes us think about what it means to be human.
I actually teach a post humanism class and I teach a unit about extraterrestrials.
And a lot of the questions that come up are, you know, how would you not only communicate, what would they look like?
What kind of gifts would you wanna give them?
Because so many things could be misconstrued and of course those conversations and any conversation about extraterrestrials usually ends up becoming about science, about the concept of life, about intelligence and what it means to be a sentient being.
(bright music) - From sky ships in 218 BC Rome, to floating washbowl-like objects in Korea during the 1600s.
Throughout recorded history, UFO sightings have been written about across the world.
Though Americans reported seeing flying airships during the late 1800s, it wasn't until June 24th, 1947 that the UFO frenzy began here in the United States.
That's when a lone pilot named Kenneth Arnold spotted a flash of light while flying his plane over Washington state.
Arnold thought he had almost hit another plane until he got a closer look.
That's when he saw what he described as nine saucer-like discs, moving around 1700 miles per hour between him and the surrounding mountains.
It was this description that led to the media coining the term, flying saucers.
Arnold's report inspired more than 800 others to come forward with their own UFO sightings during the flying saucer craze of 1947.
A few weeks later in Roswell, New Mexico, one of the world's most famous UFO incidents began.
On July 8th, 1947, the United States air force issued a press release saying they had recovered a flying disc near a ranch in Roswell, New Mexico.
- I think the significance of Roswell's UFO or UAP incident largely got so much attention because of its connection to the US military.
- [Josef] The day after the report was released, the statement was retracted claiming that what they discovered was actually a weather balloon.
- From the beginning, people sort of doubted that.
I think that's largely where Roswell's initial interest and sort of lingering presence and culture has come from.
So that was the first sort of government cover up, is what a lot of people would say about it.
- Over the years, shows books and movies were released depicting the events at Roswell and also adding new unconfirmed details like discovery of alien bodies at the site.
Then in 1994 and 1997, the Pentagon released two reports to put the final seal on the case.
These reports claim that the debris discovered was not a weather balloon but likely part of a top secret program of high altitude balloons designed to monitor Soviet nuclear testing.
To this day, there are those that claim the back and forth messaging is evidence of a government coverup.
After spending weeks reading about UFO experience stories, I wanted to talk to someone who's had a firsthand account.
That's when I met Dennis Sant a father and retired county clerk that lives in the village of Brewster in New York's Hudson Valley.
During the 1980s, Dennis and others in his town caught national media attention when they had a shared UFO experience.
- When I looked left and looked up, I saw this amazing sight in the sky.
You know, Josef, I want you to know that sometimes people will say, "I was out on this farm and I saw this crazy thing in the sky and I thought it was a UFO."
- It wasn't only just me, 7,000 people along with me saw an object which a lot of us called a city of lights hovering, parked in the sky.
(bright music) The object started to rotate into a very large V and it came towards my home and it parked itself right above my house.
In fact, it lit up the backyard.
We went running to the backyard to see it all for ourselves.
By that time, all of my neighbors had come out of their house.
They're all yelling and screaming, "Look up, look up can you see that?"
And I said, "Yeah, I can really see that."
- Did you find it really difficult to be public?
Did you find a lot of backlash back in those days?
- A little bit.
I can remember the newspapers upstate in New York saying, calling the county executive and saying, "You are running with this county clerk who believes that a martian and little green men are running all over Putnam County?"
I think as the government begins to declassify many of these documents that they've held as top secret and secret documents, it'll give the public a chance to see that there's a lot of good facts that go along with this.
- On May 17th, 2022, the United States Congress had its first hearing on UFOs or UAPs in over 50 years.
This hearing is coming after a greater push for information surrounding UAPs from the government.
That brings us to another part of the UFO community.
The advocates that are pushing for more transparency surrounding UAPs.
One advocacy event called the Big Phone Home started in April, 2021.
Organized by Louis Jimenez to bring awareness and ask for transparency.
The event brought together experts from across the UAP community to request public officials to hold congressional hearings.
So the first two you were asking for- - Congressional hearings.
- Congressional hearings.
- That was number one.
- Congressional hearings have happened.
- [Louise] Yep.
- What are you asking for now?
- So now we're asking for more congressional hearings.
- Obviously, the second thing we're asking for is declassifying information that doesn't need to be classified.
So what happens is you've got the navy, the army, the air force, all of these different entities that classify things that don't need to be classified.
And it makes it very difficult for other departments to communicate.
- [Josef] Although the UFO community is able to work together, they don't always get along.
And just like in other communities, division can spread easily online.
- People just say things they wouldn't otherwise say when they're behind a screen and on a keyboard.
and there's very much the mob mentality on if you'd ever follow the #UFO, Twitter.
- Yeah, I think it's just an anonymity of it is what gives 'em the courage to do it.
- Do you think that the division that exists in the community right now will get better?
I mean, you talk a lot about maybe UFOs can heal this left right divide in politics.
- But what about the divide in UFOs?
- I think if this conversation gets to a point where everyone tries talking about it, I think the community disappears.
I think a new community forms.
- Today, the public revelation and speculation over UFOs continues.
In June of 2022, NASA announced that they're joining the hunt and commissioning a study team to examine UAPs.
Even mainstream social media platforms like TikTok have become hubs for people showing footage of possible alien abductions and UFO sightings.
While working on this episode and probably because UFOs have been at the top of my mind, I actually had a sighting myself.
I don't think it was evidence of alien life, but it was fun.
While watching the sky at night, I saw floating light above the city, hovering but not moving.
I quickly took my phone out to get a video.
Is it a drone, a floating lantern?
I can't say for sure.
All I know is it's an unidentified aerial phenomena.
I hope you liked our episode about the UFO community.
If you wanna learn more about aliens, you can go to the link in our description and head over to "Monstrum" to watch their episode about gray aliens.