Today we're going to take a deep dive into the evolution of one particular UFO story, and it's fairly unique for Skeptoid in that it's a story that is virtually unknown in the English speaking world. That is, it was virtually unknown until 2023, when the US House of Representatives held a subcommittee hearing featuring three longtime UFOlogists as the eyewitnesses, who told fantastical tales of alien spacecraft and non-human "biologics". Today we're going to reveal what the Congresspeople's due diligence should have revealed, had they actually done any.
The most famous of the UFOlogist witnesses was David Grusch, a military veteran who had worked in aerial photography analysis and possibly other intelligence-related tasks, and had been on the Navy's defunct UAP Task Force. His testimony to the subcommittee was, in short, that he'd heard many UFO stories from many different people over many years. The bulk of Grusch's testimony — all of it, in fact — was uselessly vague. He answered every question requesting specifics with a claim that he couldn't say in public. Here's a sample of one answer he gave, note how thin it is on specifics:
And really, all of Grusch's testimony was more and more rephrasing of this. Only once did he ever give a single specific, at least that I caught, and it was when he said that there's been a 90-year coverup of UFOs. One of the Congresspeople asked him to clarify 90 years, and Grusch answered:
1930s! Well, that's certainly an old UFO case. Which one might he have been referring to?
Grusch's repeated claims during his Congressional testimony that he didn't have the needed security clearances to discuss the specifics of these cases did not seem to hinder him from doing so a few weeks before when he went on NewsNation, a fledgling cable TV news network which spent the first half of 2023 all-in on UFO coverage, presumably to boost their ratings and become a bigger player. NewsNation even had me on as a UFO expert, twice, in the weeks around the hearing — if that gives you an idea of just how hard they were scraping the bottom of the barrel. And on Grusch's appearance, he was happy to go into as many specifics as you want — contrary to his statement to the Congresspeople that he could only do so behind closed doors:
Now, just to give a little bit of context — the very next UFO case that Grusch gave as a specific example was — you guessed it — Roswell, New Mexico, 1947 — a story that's been so exhaustively debunked countless times that it gives genuine cause for concern whenever anyone expresses that they believe it was an alien landing. Unfortunately, that seems to be exactly where David Grusch is. And that gives crucial context for his belief in this 1933 Italy event.
So the whole story of the 1933 Italy UFO crash, as it's known today in the annals of UFOlogy, is as follows. This spacecraft crashed on June 13, 1933 (sometimes given as April 11), outside of the town of Magenta in Lombardy, Italy. Two alien bodies were found in the wreckage, described as tall blonde Nordic people with blue eyes and Asian features. Benito Mussolini took personal charge of the investigation, forming a top secret research committee called RS/33 headed by the inventor of radio, Guglielmo Marconi. The wreckage was stored in a warehouse at the SAIA-Marchetti aircraft company. Japanese dignitaries were given the details, and when the Japanese said that the Nordic figures were found in their own history, Japan proposed the Axis powers should be formed on this basis. In 1938, Mussolini and Hitler agreed to a pact to share the data. Pope Pius XI (sometimes wrongly identified as Pius XII) learned of this pact, and fearing Nazi Germany might gain a technological advantage, he shared this information personally with US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Then during World War II when the Allies captured that part of Italy, the Americans secured the spacecraft and bodies, and whisked it all off to the United States, to the Army's Wright Field, later Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, home of the mythical Hangar 18.
So now you know everything David Grusch does. But what you may not know, and what Grusch does not appear to know either, is the extraordinarily dubious growth and transfiguration of that story over the years. Let's take it from the very beginning.
The very beginning of the story, it turns out, is not 1933, but 1996. Prior to 1996, there is no documentary evidence that anyone had ever told any part of this story, or that the story had existed at all, in any form.
1996 was just over a decade after 1984, when in the United States, some unknown person created a package of fake documents that were the foundation of the Majestic 12 mythology. Forged government documents alleging a US alien program, that were mailed anonymously first to newspapers — who showed no interest — and then to a number of prominent UFO authors who published them. The Majestic 12 papers are nearly universally considered a hoax, but made quite a splash in UFOlogy and a few still accept them as authentic. (Check out Skeptoid #528 for a deep dive on Majestic 12.)
In 1996, nearly the exact same thing happened in Italy. A large set of papers, ostensibly Italian government documents that told a whole history of Italy's contacts with aliens, were mailed anonymously to newspapers — who showed no interest — and then to a number of prominent Italian UFO authors who published them. Among these was Roberto Pinotti. Although Pinotti still believes at least some of the documents may be authentic, nearly all other Italian UFOlogists dismiss them as a hoax. They've come to be known as "The Fascist UFO Files."
In these files, the 1933 event is hardly more than a footnote. The only part of the story in them is that the crash happened, that RS/33 was formed to investigate it, and that Mussolini made his pact to share it with Germany. That's all. The rest of the story as Grusch tells it today — the Pope, the Japanese, the Americans, and the relocation of the wreckage to the US — didn't yet exist.
So Pinotti included the small part of the story that did exist in a book or two and in some articles in UFO magazines, and one such article (by Pinotti's co-author, UFOlogist Alfredo Lissoni) was translated into English and published in 2003 in Flying Saucer Review, a British magazine. It was this first appearance in English that led to the rest of the story, and to explain how that came to happen, we need to introduce you to a Mr. William Brophy, Jr.
Bill Brophy is an interesting character. I wasn't able to find out very much about him, other than that he has a history of writing letters to UFO publications, giving all sorts of details, and always invoking his father, a long-deceased Air Force transport pilot, William J. Brophy. In Brophy's letters his father turned out to have been intimately involved in virtually every UFO story, and revealed all this information to his son after having seen an episode of In Search Of in the 1970s. Brophy has done this in a number of famous UFO cases. He would see something on television or in an old book on UFOs, and then he would write letters to the principal characters or to the magazines, adding what he believed was additional context and new details, always saying that he learned this new information years ago from his father, the pilot. This appears to have been a habitual, lifelong practice of Brophy's.
In some of his letters, I noticed something I found genuinely disturbing: a habit of pattern-matching so strange that it raises mental health concerns. For example, the Roswell event having happened in 1947, and 1947 being the Chinese year of the pig, was why the CIA decided to make their botched invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs; and his father having been from the "twin" cities of Duluth, MN and Superior, WI would be oddly italicized and emphasized next to a sentence bearing the same emphasis on "twin" alien bodies discovered in a crashed UFO, as if there was some cosmic connection between the two; and calling out similar names and dates in unrelated people, places, and events. To my eye, Bill Brophy may have some sort of delusional disorder, and may have a pathological fixation on UFOs and on what he perceives as his family's entanglement with them.
So it should be no surprise that in an article by researcher Douglas Dean Johnson titled "The Morphing Fantasies of Billy Brophy About His Airman Father" we find out there's no evidence William Brophy Sr. had any connection to any of the cases Brophy Jr. talked about — including corroboration of this from another of his sons, Sean Brophy (who acknowledges his brother can be "a bit eccentric"). And yet, Brophy Jr.'s stories form an essential link in the mythology that certain Congresspeople are now regarding as evidence of alien visitation.
After he read the Flying Saucer Review translation of Lissoni's article, Brophy began sending letters to the magazine in 2003. By 2009, he was sending letters to Pinotti and Lissoni directly. By 2010, Pinotti invited Brophy to Italy where he gave a presentation on what he claimed was his father's involvement with bringing the 1933 wreckage to the United States. It was in this presentation that he first gave all the new modern enhancements to the story: the Nordic bodies, the Pope, the Americans, the wreckage making it to Wright Field. He even enhanced the crashed spaceship itself, tying it to another modern addition to UFO mythology, a fictional bell-shaped Nazi flying saucer called Die Glocke — and you can read all about this in Skeptoid #293 on Nazi Wunderwaffen.
A few years later, the whole modern UFO thing exploded into the media in the United States beginning in 2017 when a large group of longtime UFO promoters and authors deluged the press (see Skeptoid #787 and 788 for this cast of characters — but suffice it to say they are the same characters who persuaded Congress to hold this 2023 subcommittee hearing). Among the newly minted UFO celebrities were burned-out rock musician Tom Delonge, former government official Chris Mellon, and UFOlogist Lue Elizondo, whom the press had made famous as the head of an alleged Pentagon UFO program called AATIP, but who has since been revealed to have had nothing to do with any such program. Under the banner of Delonge's new entertainment company To The Stars Academy, they produced a season or two of a show for the History Channel called Unidentified, which was basically an infomercial for the three men and their alien visitation beliefs. In a 2019 episode, Elizondo traveled to Italy to speak with Italian UFOlogists about some of their favorite cases (always presented to the cameras as "government scientists" or "former officials"). There, Elizondo met with Pinotti, who showed him "The Fascist UFO Files", which Elizondo seems to have taken at face value.
The two men already knew each other. In 2018, Pinotti had invited Elizondo to speak at a UFO conference in Italy, where they appeared on camera together; and in 2021 they both spoke at another Italian UFO conference.
Following these trips to Italy, Elizondo began mentioning the 1933 Italy case on some of his many podcast appearances. In one interview, he called "The Fascist UFO Files" that Pinotti had shown him "compelling". The full version of the story — that combined the first half of the story from hoaxed Fascist UFO Files with the second half from Brophy's own personally-delusional enhancements, had finally made it to the English speaking world.
It's known from various podcast interviews and social media that Elizondo and David Grusch have been friends — or at least acquaintances — in the UFO community for quite some time. And so we end up with a sort of chef's kiss of a completed connect-the-dots puzzle. The anonymous originator, in an effort to duplicate the American Majestic 12 hoax, sent fake documents telling a fictional story to Pinotti. Brophy, pursuing his lifelong habit of making up new chapters of old UFO stories starring his late father, invented and sent Pinotti the rest of the story. Pinotti told it to Lue Elizondo, Lue Elizondo told it to David Grusch, and David Grusch told it to the United States Congress — and all of this happened without a shred of evidence, credibility, or corroboration. Even most other UFOlogists had dismissed this story as a hoax more than a quarter of a century before.
Now, researching this episode took me the better part of a week, because I had to track down every part and verify each with solid references. If I was a US Congressman, like Tim Burchett who is the one most responsible for putting Grusch on this stage, I would have at least assigned a staffer (an intern, an aide, anyone) to spend at least a day or two on the Internet to verify this guy Grusch's story just to make sure I wouldn't end up looking like a fool. Well, Burchett felt confident enough not to do that, and now he looks like a fool — because a lot of people like me can do this research, and we have easy platforms to get it out there.
And David Grusch, bless his heart, I'm sure he's honest and he believes deeply in what he's saying; he just seems to have a very, very low bar for the quality of evidence that he accepts, to the point that he doesn't even double check it before testifying to it before Congress as fact. And this is common, not just for Grusch and other UFOlogists, but for all of us: When we hear something that supports our preferred worldview, we tend to accept it uncritically. Too few of us apply the same scrutiny to things we agree with as we do to things we disagree with. It's just one more of countless examples we have, reminding us that we should always be skeptical.
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