Mirage Men is a limited-release documentary from late 2013, and if you get a chance, you should definitely see it.
They talk about Alice going down the rabbit hole; this film starts with you already lost down in the hole, and you’re never quite sure whether you find your way out of it. Its central character is Richard C. Doty, always charming, always convincing, and sometimes even credible. Through interviews of Doty and those with whom he has interacted, Mirage Men spreads a thick new layer of mythology over the history of UFO culture in the United States.
The film opens with a telling of the Dulce Base story. In the late 1970s, Albuquerque UFOlogist Paul Bennewitz began a descent into a delusional psychosis from which he never recovered. He believed aliens living inside a nearby mesa were beaming signals into his brain, and he abandoned work and family to dedicate himself to investigating the case, and to defend the Earth against this invasion. He flew his plane over the mesa, took photographs, hiked and camped, and shared all of his “findings” with officials at Kirtland AFB. Bennewitz’s elaborate delusion has since become a cornerstone of UFOlogy, and to this day a subculture insists that the alien base is real.
Doty says his job, ostensibly a Special Agent with the US Air Force Office of Special Investigations, was to liaise with Bennewitz. Why? For two reasons: to find out if Bennewitz’s explorations might have compromised any actual classified Air Force activity, and to feed Bennewitz stories confirming his alien beliefs, and thus distract him away from any actual classified activity. Like a magician who secretly does one thing with his left hand while distracting you by wildly waving his right hand, Doty says the US Air Force wanted to work undisturbed on its actual classified projects, and so engaged in a prolonged disinformation campaign about UFOs and aliens to distract and deflect its closest critics, the UFOlogists.
Much of Doty’s story is believable and dovetails very well into history. The late 1970s and early ’80s were the years when the F-117 Nighthawk stealth attack aircraft was still a secret, but very much operational. Soviet spies desperately wanted information about it. Armies of UFOlogists had been encamped around every Air Force installation since the 1950s, documenting, filming, and disclosing their findings at conferences. The Air Force very astutely assumed that Soviets were likely to have infiltrated the UFOlogy community to see what these legions of amateur investigators had found, and sent Doty (and, we presume, others like him) to provide stories of captured flying saucers and alien ambassadors working with the US government. This kept a two-way dialog open: the UFOlogists desperately wanted information about alien visitors; the Air Force desperately wanted to know if the UFOlogists had captured any F-117 video that might make it into the hands of the Soviets. Sxo all the Air Force had to do was make up fake lists of alien crash sites, etc., and offer them in exchange for details of the UFOlogy community. The deal was eagerly accepted.
Mirage Men offers a dramatic piece of video that lays this Faustian bargain bare. In 1989, at the MUFON conference in Las Vegas, prominent UFO author Bill Moore (known for releasing the Majestic-12 documents) announced his involvement with Doty, and others in the intelligence community, that he called the “Aviary.” As he revealed having cooperated with authorities and provided them information about the movements and activities of the UFOlogy groups, he was shouted down at the lectern by a whole audience of betrayed UFOlogists. Moore subsequently left the UFO community.
Alien disinformation goes back to the early days of UFOlogy. When the Army Air Force lost one of its balloon-lofted low-frequency antennae designed to detect Soviet nuclear tests in 1947, they said “Pay no attention to this actual classified military object, BUT LOOK! ALIEN SAUCERS!” and ever since UFOlogists have pooh-poohed just about anything Earthly that the Air Force might have. If the strategy works, stick with it.
Mirage Men brings us a spectrum of characters that you’ll never likely find all in the same room. Profound UFO believers, military historians, ideologue filmmakers, and the disinformation agents who kept the whole machine running are all here. When you watch the film — which I recommend you do — just keep in mind one little tidbit that Doty reveals at the very beginning: about 80% of what he says is untrue. It’s a theme that runs from the film’s start to its finish, and you’ll need to keep your skeptical radar filters on high alert throughout.