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Yes Virginia, There are UFOs

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If you spend any time on the internet, you will daily see geographical ranking listicles:  the best colleges, the best small towns, the best places to retire, the cities with the worst drivers, the states with the worst tippers or the rudest residents.

Apparently whoever or whatever is behind the UAPs (the acronym for the new  bureaucratese “unidentified aerial phenomena” – what we used to call UFOs) that the Senate Intelligence Committee will soon tell us about - also seem to have a list of where they prefer to visit.

Former national intelligence director John Ratcliffe hinted that the report will be surprising, telling FOX News anchor Maria Bartiroma, “We are talking about objects that have been seen by Navy or Air Force pilots, or have been picked up by satellite imagery, that frankly engage in actions that are difficult to explain, movements that are hard to replicate, that we don’t have the technology for or are traveling at speeds that exceed the sound barrier without a sonic boom.” By now everyone has seen or read or heard some mainstream media coverage of UFOs, but almost no one seems to be talking about the UFOs preferred destinations.

The National UFO Reporting Center maintains a database of reports of UFO sightings and it organizes them by state, as well as by shape of the UFO and other categories.  NUFORC, which is not a government agency, is run by Peter Davenport, a man with a variegated career who recently bought an abandoned missile silo in which he has built his home.  NUFORC is coincidentally located in Washington state, a state that had an early UFO sighting in 1947, and which is also high in NUFORC’s rankings.

If UFOs become as hot a political issue as the Electoral College has been recently, NUFORC may come under attack for its methodology.  In NUFORC’s rankings, the state of Virginia, for example, is 35th in the rankings, and California is even lower at 45th place.  

But now that the government is about to tell us what it knows, we see fairly constant interviews with people like Navy pilot Lt. Ryan Graves about daily incursions by UFOs into restricted air space, often over waters near military bases.  Graves saw them over waters near Virginia Beach, Virginia, telling 60 Minutes  “The highest probability is it’s a threat-observation program,” said the pilot, adding: “If these were tactical jets from another country that were hangin’ out up there, it would be a massive issue. But because it looks slightly different, we’re not willing to actually look at the problem in the face. We’re happy to just ignore the fact that these are out there, watching us every day.”  Other military pilots report seeing or following them in Florida and California.


NUFORC does its rankings by dividing the number of sightings in a state by the population of that state.  It’s almost operating under the current notion of “equity” plaguing education and other public policies.  It would be “unfair” to rank a big state like California highest, even though it has the most reported UFO sightings in absolute numbers – California accounts for over 10,000 of the 90,000 sightings in the NUFORC database – (with Florida second) because populous states have more eyes with which to see them.  The result is that relatively unpopulated states – Idaho, Montana, Maine, and New Hampshire – top the NUFORC’s rankings for UFO sightings, even though as an actual count of sightings they have relatively few.  Local newspapers and online publications actually cover NUFORC’s rankings often. Maine’s Portland Press Herald was so pleased with the state’s high ranking in the sightings that it even generated a handy map in which the Northwest and New England are the dark blue regions of intense UFO activity, and the rest of the country, including California, Florida, and Virginia, are light blue regions of little interest to the UFOs.

This gives an inaccurate picture (literally) of where most sightings are.  After I wrote a first draft of the article below the FAA actually released statistics on where both UAP/UFOs and also explained unmanned aircraft like drones are concentrated, and the Virginia/North Carolina coast and another circle from Arizona to San Diego are the two major American hot spots.



Perhaps in these low density states civilians really are better able to see the truth that is out there:  less light pollution from big cities means whatever happens in the night, from shooting stars to UFOs, is easier to see.

If you get rid of NUFORC’s division of sightings per capita, the listings change.  California and Florida are in first and second place, whether you are looking at only reports in 2020 or at NUFORC’s total cumulation of sightings by states and Canadian provinces.  Virginia rises from 35th to 14th, with the states in this order: California; Florida; Washington, Texas, and Pennsylvania clustered together; Ohio, Arizona, and New York clustered together; Indiana and New Jersey with similar counts; then Colorado, Illinois and Michigan; and then with only slightly fewer Virginia, followed closely by Georgia and North Carolina.

The waters off of North Carolina are the same Virginia Beach and Norfolk area waters where Lt. Graves said he was daily seeing UFOs.  If you put Virginia and North Carolina together, as a kind of UFO equivalent of the Census Burea’s MSAs (metropolitan statistical areas),  they leap to third place (though that is true of several other combinations of adjacent small and mid-sized states.)  If you scan through the NUFORC reports for Virginia, Virginia Beach, and surrounding coastal areas (known to pilots as Warning Area W-72) are well represented.  Virginia Beach military personnel have been having UAP/UFO encounters for years before Lt. Col. Graves appeared on “60 Minutes.”  In 2020 the New York Times reported that the “Navy Reports Describe Encounters With Unexplained Flying Objects” covering Virginia Beach sightings starting in 2013.

This list of the top 16 states visited by the little green, or grey, men doesn’t align closely with states of large area that might have more geography free of light pollution.  Only five states – Texas, California, Arizona, Colorado and Michigan – are in both the lists of the 16 largest states and the 16 with the most UFO activity.  Alaska, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Wyoming, Minnesota, Utah, Idaho, Kansas and Nebraska are large states but don’t have so many sightings.



A better overlap appears if instead we look at the 15 states that receive over $10 billion in defense spending in 2019.  Ten of them are also on the list of states most popular with UFOs:  California topped the list in 2019 with $66 billion, and Virginia came in second at $60 billion (only 0.3% of which, $22 million, was spent on the Pentagon’s UFO program, the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program), along with Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona, New York, North Carolina, Colorado, and Georgia.  Only five of the top 15 states for defense spending are not among those most visited by UFOs:  Maryland, Alabama, Missouri, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.  I have a suspicion that if one isolated only Air Force, or perhaps an aggregate of Air Force, Space Force, and naval aviation spending by state, the overlap between a narrower category of defense spending and UFO sightings might increase.  (My “study” here is pretty back of the envelope, but some statisticians published an academic paper showing that in France, where about 20% of UFOs are never explained away, UFOs seem to favor visiting nuclear facility sites. And there is a heavy overlap between civilian and military nuclear programs.)

Not having any previous acquaintance with UFO enthusiasts – beyond enjoying science fiction – and having only been to the Virginia Beach/Norfolk area four or five times, I decided to reach out to people in Virginia who work in each area.

A survey of the various local coastal Virginia tourism agencies produced a pretty universal reply that they were unaware of any subspecies of tourism motivated by seeing a UFO, the way one might take a cruise to see a whale.  One did refer me though to a local businessman, Tom Van Benschoten of Rover Cruises, who very entrepreneurially replied “Good morning!  We have not received that request yet but might be a good idea for a future cruise!”

Virginia actually has a wealth of UFO enthusiasts who have devoted decades to a study of UFOs and have their own theories about them.  One, a (now retired) emergency room medical doctor, Dr. Steven Greer, was profiled by the New Yorker  in an article this year on why the Pentagon now treats the topic more seriously.  Dr. Greer, who started a group called the Sirius Disclosure Project, has been on record since 1999 saying he does not trust the government to honestly disclose what it knows about UFOs, and he reiterated that this week: “The new Pentagon report continues a 75 year long disinformation campaign.“

Whether the government can be expected to tell the truth about the UFOs, we still want to know:  Why do the little green men seem to stalk our military, especially here in Virginia?

Another Virginia UFO researcher provides one theory.  Jessica Youness is the founder of the UFO Club of Virginia.  When I asked her for her theory of the concentration of sightings near Virginia Beach, she opined that there are extraterrestrials visiting us because they use the ocean to hide:  *Of course there are patterns, most Ufologist/Researchers know this because they, as I, have been studying sightings for decades. Depending on the area, for example the East Coast, the relation to the pattern would be the ocean. Water makes the perfect location for a base or short term stay on Earth because they will be ‘unnoticed’ and hidden from public view. Humans are limited to what they can do in the ocean and Extraterrestrials can protect themselves under the ocean by simply moving quicker and hide where humans cannot go. Therefore, more UFO Sightings.”  This of course fails to explain why they are hiding, or rather being sighted, in coastal waters, rather than making their visits in deeper waters far from shore.

Another answer is given by Andrew Follet, a writer skeptical of whether there are UFOs.  Writing in National Review (and conservatives, from Tucker Carlson on down, were until this month leading both the coverage of the UFOs/UAPs and the discussion of what their implications are),  Follet argues that we should all “calm down.”  The reason military aircraft keep picking up weird images in restricted airspace is because at the extreme speeds the aircraft travel, their sensors are subject to distortions that cause images of things that aren’t there.  It is hard to know which is more concerning for our military readiness:  that our restricted military airspace is being daily invaded by UFO/UAPs or that our military aircraft have sensors that don’t work when they fly at the speeds they would need to obtain in a conflict.  Though Follet and other skeptics don’t want to consider explanations involving extraterrestrial intelligence, they may be fighting a losing public opinion battle.  In a 2020 Ipsos poll 45% of Americans believe there may be aliens, up from 35% two years earlier in a Chapman University poll.  (It will be interesting to see what the poll results will be after the Senate Intelligence Committee releases its report.)



Another explanation is offered by the left-wing, anti-American (or anti-American military) writer from Australia,  Caitlin Johnstone.  Johnstone’s hypothesis was actually the basic plot for Christopher Buckley’s 1999 comic novel, Little Green Men: the Pentagon fakes UFO sightings (and even abductions) so it can ask for bigger military budgets.  (Jessica Youness also advanced what could be considered a different but slightly similar version of this hypothesis for why we are getting disclosures now: “My expectations are different than the general public’s. As a Ufologist and researcher in this field of study, I am more aware of events and sightings all over the world, the general public is not. What I expect the ‘Senate Intelligence Committee’ will release (and they will release something) in specific is more video from the Navy in particular. This will also show the location of these sightings within the video. There will be more of course, but this will help the government get more money for the Space Force, the DOD and other space related trips, inventions, committees for monitoring Extraterrestrials, etc.”)  On the one hand you could criticize this theory by pointing out that Biden is increasing most government agencies budgets by around 16%, while freezing defense spending (each of which will effect different parts of Virginia in different ways), so the coming disclosures (which were actually mandated by President Trump) aren’t working.  On the other hand you could argue that having DoD budgets frozen would drive the military to make – or make up – disclosures it hopes will encourage the public to support more military spending.



There are other explanations, one suggested by a new science fiction show, NBC’s Debris, which just wrapped its first season.  Debris borrows its plot from the 1976 David Bowie movie, The Man Who Fell to Earth.  (Or perhaps news reports of the celestial object dubbed Oumuamua that passed near the earth in 2017.) A derelict alien craft has entered our solar system, and pieces of it crash to earth as meteorites.  The U.S., British, Chinese, and Russian intelligence agencies are in a race to see who can retrieve the most, and the most potent, pieces of this advanced technology, with an eye to reverse engineering and harnessing it for its weapons potential.  At one point a character who is one of the scientists trying to do the reverse engineering has a bit of dialogue that reads like a libertarian public choice theorist: “Governments are created to serve the public interest.  And everywhere, inevitably, they serve their own.”  What if real world government officials – the same ones who lie to Congressional Committees about illegal domestic spying on American citizens or lie to Presidents about how many troops are stationed in Syria – have captured crashed alien craft and are trying to steal the intellectual property therein?  And the aliens are not happy about the theft and haven’t licensed the use of their technology?  This hypothesis accounts for the – growing? – sightings of UFOs and for why they so often enter restricted military airspace.



And if it creates a hostile relationship, it fits in with our long history of government policies that have disastrous unintended consequences and require spin and cover-ups for those who implemented them.

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