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Illustration by Zoë Petersen, Deseret News

Is there a conservative position on UFOs and aliens?

Everyone from Barack Obama to Donald Trump is weighing in on the upcoming government report about mysterious sightings

SHARE Is there a conservative position on UFOs and aliens?
SHARE Is there a conservative position on UFOs and aliens?

A forthcoming report has both Democrats and Republicans weighing in on unidentified flying objects, leading to a question the Pentagon is unlikely to address: Is there a partisan divide when it comes to ET?

While there’s no official party line on the subject, some big names have been talking about UFOs lately, including Harry Reid and Donald Trump, and even a prominent journal of conservative thought has taken on the topic.

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Vito Chimienti, left, talks with Parker Collard at an event at the Little A’Le’Inn inspired by the “Storm Area 51” internet hoax on Sept. 21, 2019, in Rachel, Nev.

John Locher, Associated Press

Reid, the former Democratic leader of the Senate, has said he is fascinated by UFOs, having grown up in rural Nevada, a few hours’ drive away from the Extraterrestrial Highway that leads to Area 51, a classified U.S. Air Force facility. In 2007, Reid was one of three lawmakers (two Republicans and a Democrat) who helped to secure funding for the study of UFOs.

Trump, the former president, recently sounded skeptical of extraterrestrial visitors in an interview, saying that he doesn’t want to ruin anyone’s fun, but that he is “not such a believer.”

“I’m sort of a believer in what you see,” Trump said recently on the “Dan Bongino Show.”  “But some people are. I don’t want to hurt their dreams or their fears.”

Let the record show, however, that the order to release the much anticipated report on what the government calls “unidentified aerial phenomena” was a provision of a COVID-19 relief package signed by then President Trump.

The latest survey data shows that Democrats are slightly more likely than Republicans to believe that UFOs are extraterrestrial in origin, as opposed to being natural phenomena or human-made. More Democrats than Republicans also say they want the government’s UFO intelligence made public, according to a recent Data for Progress poll.

This doesn’t mean that the GOP can take over the Democrats’ claim to be the party of science, given Republicans are more likely to believe in Bigfoot than Democrats, according to one poll.

The truth is out there, we’ve been promised by Mulder and Scully, the alien-hunting FBI agents on the television show “The X-Files.” Whether we’ll get the truth in the Department of Defense report, expected by June 25, is another story. The New York Times reported Thursday that two senior administration officials briefed on the report said it offers no definitive answers on where the mysterious spacecraft spotted by military pilots came from or who was flying them.

Meantime, here’s why some Republicans might be more inclined to stand with Trump on this issue than to believe in ET.

‘If it flies like a duck’

While the GOP doesn’t have an official position on UFOs, it does have a voice in two widely read conservative publications, National Review Online and the Daily Wire. Both recently published online essays skeptical of alien visitors.

“There is no reason to believe that life exists anywhere other than our very own earth,” Michael Knowles wrote for the Daily Wire. Andrew Follett was equally assured in his essay for National Review Online, entitled “Calm Down, Everyone; The ‘UFOs’ aren’t aliens.”

Follett wrote that the declassified videos making the rounds on social media and in news reports have “obvious terrestrial explanations.” He suggested that one image that puzzled Navy personnel could have been a Canada goose.

“If it flies like a duck, is the size of a duck, and quacks like a duck ... it probably isn’t an alien spaceship or ultra-advanced drone from a foreign power,” he wrote.

Reid, in a recent op-ed for The New York Times, came across as more receptive to other-worldly explanations.

“It’s unclear whether the UFOs we have encountered could have been built by foreign adversaries, whether our pilots’ visual perception during some encounters was somehow distorted, or whether we truly have credible evidence of extraterrestrial visitations,” said Reid, who was the Senate majority leader from 2007 to 2015.

Similarly, former President Barack Obama has said recently that UFO sightings by Air Force and Navy pilots are not easily explained. “What is true is ... there’s footage and records of objects in the skies that we don’t know exactly what they are,” Obama said on “The Late Late Show” with James Corden. “We can’t explain how they moved, their trajectory. They did not have an easily explainable pattern.”

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Jackson Carter and Veronica Savage wait for passes to enter the Storm Area 51 Basecamp event in Hiko, Nev., on Sept. 20, 2019.

John Locher, Associated Press

A minority belief

A writer for The Washington Post recently concluded that there is rare bipartisan agreement on the subject of UFOs, citing, among other things, Obama’s remarks and GOP Sen. Marco Rubio’s concern about sightings over U.S. military bases. (According to the Post, Rubio wrote the provision requiring a report within 180 days on “advanced aerial threats” that was part of the COVID-19 relief bill that Trump signed in December.)

In 2019, Gallup found that roughly one-third of Americans believe that UFOs are likely from alien civilizations, with slightly more Democrats (32%) than Republicans (30%) holding those views.

“That was still, though, in both parties, a minority belief,” said science writer Sarah Scoles, author of the 2020 book “They Are Already Here: UFO Culture and Why We See Saucers.” Most Americans, Scoles said in an email, believe there are earthly explanations for the sightings.

But, she said, “Democrats were a bit more likely than Republicans to believe UFOs represent something real, and not just something in people’s imaginations. And they were considerably more likely to believe that there are people somewhat like ourselves living on other planets in the universe.”

And, perhaps most significantly, “More than twice as many people agree — on both sides —that the U.S. government knows more about UFOs than it’s revealing.”

That’s consistent with Pew research that has found historically low levels of trust in government for the past decade. In a 2020 report, Pew said that just about 20% of Americans say they trust the government always or most of the time. Among Republicans, the figure was 28%, but for Democrats, only 12% expressed trust in the government.

The image from video provided by the Department of Defense, from 2015, an unexplained object is seen at center. The U.S. government has been taking a hard look at unidentified flying objects, under orders from Congress, and a report summarizing what officials know is expected to come out in June 2021.

The image from video provided by the Department of Defense labelled Gimbal, from 2015, an unexplained object is seen at center as it is tracked as it soars high along the clouds, traveling against the wind. “There’s a whole fleet of them,” one naval aviator tells another, though only one indistinct object is shown. “It’s rotating.” The U.S. government, under orders from Congress, has been taking a hard look at unidentified flying objects and a report summarizing what officials know is expected to come out in June 2021.

Department of Defense via AP

Fascination and fear

Regardless of what Obama or Trump say, Americans’ thoughts on UFOs are more likely to have been influenced by Hollywood than by political leaders, according to an NBC report.

From the 1982 film “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” to the 1996 thriller “Independence Day” to the comic “Men in Black” trilogy, filmmakers have long exploited consumers’ fascination — and fear — about aliens visiting Earth.

“Men in Black” director Barry Sonnenfeld told NBC’s Daniel Arkin, “If there are aliens out there, I can’t imagine they’re nice, and I don’t think we deserve to be treated particularly nicely. Let’s face it, humans are the virus of the planet.”

While Sonnenfeld’s political leanings are unclear, his “humans are the virus” take is definitely not a conservative view.

But don’t worry. You can be a Republican and welcome our alien overlords in good conscience. As conservative commentator Matt Walsh recently said on Facebook, “When the aliens come, I’m going to be the only guy at the Daily Wire who doesn’t get immediately zapped with the death ray.”

And Scoles, the author of “They Are Already Here,” said that belief in aliens and UFOs is not necessarily incompatible with religious faith. In fact, some research suggests that people who aren’t religious are more inclined to believe in aliens than the religious, “because humans, in general, crave meaning whether they go to church or not,” Scoles said.

“After all, the idea that there are more advanced beings out there, and that there’s something more to the universe than just this life on Earth, is not so different from the basic idea behind most religions,” she said.

As Reid, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in his New York Times essay: “I have never intended to prove that life beyond Earth exists. But if science proves that it does, I have no problem with that.”