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The UFO Rogues Gallery Takes Over America, Part 2

Donate An unlikely group of paranormalists has persuaded the American public that the government takes UFOs seriously.  

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Aliens & UFOs

Skeptoid Podcast #788
July 13, 2021
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The UFO Rogues Gallery Takes Over America, Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of our episode revealing how, for more than 50 years, a small group of paranormalists and believers in reincarnation have been pursuing their interests on the payroll of the American taxpayers, and finally got their biggest PR success with claims of Navy UFO videos and ever-failing promises of government disclosure. This is a gallery of rogues who have presented a public face of UFOs that threaten our skies, while keeping their true beliefs behind the scenes, which is that they believe UFOs and poltergeists are inter-dimensional beings who hold the keys to life after death. Sound incredible? Sound too hard to believe that the government could be duped into funding such nonsense? Well, people forget: One does not need to fool the entire government to win a research grant; one needs only to find the right person holding the right purse strings.

To briefly recap last week's episode: In Chapter 1, we met the young paranormalist Hal Puthoff in 1978 while he was working at the Stargate Project, testing psychic performers like Uri Geller for the CIA, under the watchful eye of a fascinated government staffer named Chris Mellon. In Chapter 2, Puthoff was funded by the hotel billionaire and reincarnation aficionado Robert Bigelow at Skinwalker Ranch in Utah beginning in 1995, where they called themselves the National Institute for Discovery Science. They tantalized Bigelow's friend, senator Harry Reid, that poltergeists and flying saucers were the same manifestation of inter-dimensional beings, and talked him into coughing up $22 million in taxpayer money to fund such an exploration, which he began disbursing to Bigelow in 2008. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 covered the transfer of this $22 million to at least three different entities over at least five years, all controlled by Bigelow. The last of these various incarnations of the inter-dimensional poltergeist hunt was called AATIP, the Advanced Aerial Threat Identification Program, and was funded by Bigelow himself with exactly one employee, former military man Luis Elizondo. It was the unveiling of AATIP that first exploded onto the world news scene in 2017, accompanied by Navy UFO videos. In today's episode, we're going to discover just how this group of fringe paranormalists, armed only with Bigelow's very deep pockets and his passion to discover the secret of life after death, managed to capture the world's attention, their appetite for the paranormal now somehow reframed for public consumption as a hunt to learn the truth about UFOs that could threaten the military.

Since getting the funding from Harry Reid, the rogues gallery had become increasingly fringe, and had impressed the government less and less. It seemed like it might all come to an end.

Chapter 6: The New York Times (2017)

But then we have that famous 2017 New York Times article that kicked off all the public interest in the UFOs. It spoke about a serious Pentagon investigation into UFOs, and made no mention at all of Robert Bigelow, Skinwalker Ranch, or inter-dimensional poltergeists. There's a good reason, and it's rooted in how the article came to be, and who wrote it.

Remember Chris Mellon? Fascinated by the idea of UFOs as inter-dimensional constructs, he'd kept in peripheral touch with our rogues gallery all these years. And now, as he had a very respectable resume from his public life as an intelligence official, they brought him back in. Their funding cut off, their strategy was to go public, and to go public big. Mellon would partner with Elizondo to announce AATIP to the world. Mellon provided the three Navy UFO video clips we've all seen a million times, and the two men planned their PR strategy. Mellon later told the UFO website Open Minds, "We had a strategy from the outset and a plan before [Elizondo] even left [AATIP]. We discussed what that would look like, and we've been executing on that ever since."

They needed someone to break the news, and they all knew Leslie Kean quite well. She was a busy paranormal and UFO author, and shared an intense interest in aliens with former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, who'd even written the foreword to one of her UFO books. Bigelow had known her for years; her boyfriend had been Budd Hopkins, whom Bigelow had previously funded to do alien abduction research. Leslie Kean suggested bringing in an even bigger gun, Ralph Blumenthal, who was tight with the New York Times and was currently writing a biography on John Mack, a disgraced Harvard Professor who had been Budd Hopkin's partner in the alien abduction research. The rogues gallery had formed the Dream Team to persuade the American public that the government believed in aliens. The New York Times story "Glowing Auras and Black Money: The Pentagon's Mysterious UFO Program", written by Leslie Kean, Ralph Blumenthal, and Helene Cooper ran in December 2017, and the headlines have never quite looked the same since.

Recently, Blumenthal said they deliberately downplayed the poltergeists and skinwalkers, and emphasized UFOs and credible threats, to give the story more credibility.

Chapter 7: To The Stars Academy (2017)

Simultaneously, the plan included launching To The Stars Academy, a public benefit corporation funded with a $50 million public stock offering. At its head was Tom DeLonge, lifelong UFO obsessive and burned-out former guitarist for Blink-182. Hal Puthoff was a co-founder; Chris Mellon was a paid advisor and bought most of the small amount of stock that was ever actually sold; Luis Elizondo was its "head of global security", basically Tom DeLonge's unnecessary bodyguard; and Jacques Vallée handled all the testing of any alien spaceship wreckage they might obtain. They had gotten the whole band all back together — a 50-year through-line of dedicated advocates of alien visitation.

Although nominally about scientific investigation, To The Stars Academy was actually filed as an entertainment company. It has produced a handful of graphic novels, poetry volumes, and music albums; and its one significant success was the short-lived TV series Unidentified: Inside America's UFO Investigation for HISTORY channel.

By the end of 2020, most of the rogues gallery had left To The Stars, possibly realizing that Tom DeLonge was even more spaced out than they'd been prepared for. Some of his online videos are pretty sobering.

Chapter 8: Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies

The rogues gallery was again without a home, but once again Robert Bigelow was quick to provide one. He created and funded the Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies to offer $1.5 million in prize money for the best evidence of life after death. Its board of directors are also the judges for the contest, and they are the same familiar faces: Leslie Kean and Hal Puthoff, of course; also Colm Kelleher, a biologist who led Bigelow's science team at Skinwalker Ranch; Jessica Utts, who had been engaged at the Stargate Project to write a report to counter the fraud that Ray Hyman had uncovered; also a reincarnation author or two, and even the chairman of the metaphysics-focused Esalen Institute in California.

It's essential to understand that what is presented by the credulous news media as serious reports that the US military is keenly interested in UFOs and believes they might be alien, is actually merely the most successful press campaign by a group of well-funded people who have, for 50 years, dedicated themselves to their belief that psychic powers, telekinesis, poltergeists, life after death, shapeshifters, and inter-dimensional aliens are all closely interconnected. They've won over a large number of people — including politicians, reporters, and even the few former legitimate scientists they count among their ranks — but it's key to remember that they won them over by misrepresenting their beliefs as the user-friendly soundbite "Alien UFOs are in our skies." Their true beliefs are far stranger.

None of what the rogues have been up to has been investigation or discovery. They had all the answers they wanted 50 years ago, and those conclusions have not changed.

As of this writing, HBO has announced it is producing a movie about Leslie Kean's life, and it will no doubt portray her as a brave, maverick reporter trying to dig up the truth from a government coverup; and will likely omit any mention of the fact that she has spent decades as one of the primary creators of that very same mythology. Elizondo has gone a different direction, co-founding a startup called SkyFort that appears to be positioning itself to win lucrative government contracts to interpret UFO videos as evidence of alien visitation.

We can only close this episode with our usual exhortation: When you see something in the news that flies in the face of what we know about the way our world and our universe work, you should always be skeptical.

By Brian Dunning

Please contact us with any corrections or feedback.


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Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "The UFO Rogues Gallery Takes Over America, Part 2." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 13 Jul 2021. Web. 12 Jul 2024. <>


References & Further Reading

Banias, MJ. "Ex Intel Official Says He Was the Source of the Pentagon's UFO Videos." Motherboard. VICE, 20 Oct. 2020. Web. 29 Jun. 2021. <>

Bender, B. "How Harry Reid, a Terrorist Interrogator and the Singer From Blink-182 Took UFOs Mainstream: The hidden history of how Washington embraced a fringe field of science." Politico. Politico LLC, 28 May 2021. Web. 30 Jun. 2021. <>

Colavito, J. "How Washington Got Hooked on Flying Saucers." The Soapboax. The New Republic, 21 May 2021. Web. 30 Jun. 2021. <>

Cooper, H., Blumenthal, R., Kean, L. "Glowing Auras and Black Money: The Pentagon's Mysterious U.F.O. Program." The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 16 Dec. 2017. Web. 30 Jun. 2021. <>

Reid, H. "Harry Reid: What We Believe about UFOs." The Big Ideas. The New York Times, 21 May 2021. Web. 29 Jun. 2021. <>

Rojas, A. "How US Intelligence Community Insiders Got the Senate’s Attention Regarding UFOs." Open Minds. Open Minds Production, LLC, 23 Oct. 2020. Web. 30 Jun. 2021. <>

Whalen, A. "Pentagon's Secret UFO Program Investigated Poltergeist Connection to Alien Mystery." Newsweek. Newsweek Digital LLC, 29 May 2018. Web. 29 Jun. 2021. <>


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