Alien Agenda: My Visit to MUFON-LA
My study consisted of a visit to Mufon LA, the Mutual UFO Network, in North Hollywood. I went with a fellow student of Anthropology 121 to hear the guest speaker Barry Chamish discuss his theory of 7 ft tall hominoids from outer space that had visited Israel between the years of 1993-1998. His reference to biblical passages are the basis of his belief that these giants are the same ones that came 2,500 years ago to the Jewish people, and they have returned to wreak havoc in Israel. Through lectures, videos, and question and answer session, Barry Chamish offered his view of the various phenomena he interpreted as UFO visitation, and why the aliens have returned to Israel.
I studied the group via observation and a couple of interviews. I felt fairly anonymous, and not at all like an 'outsider' who was 'crashing' their seminar. I was largely ignored but I did have a chance to speak with one key informant, the head of the board of directors. I also ease-dropped on some very interesting conversations.
The seminar was held in the lush surroundings of the Beverly Garland Holiday Inn in North Hollywood. The meeting room itself was a comfortable; pastel colored theatre with cushy chairs and soft lighting. The room was air-conditioned. A large projector dominated the stage area with a podium to the side for the guest speaker. Due to technical difficulties, the meeting started 40 minutes late A key organizer of the group apologized for the delay and mentioned that such delays were not common and not acceptable. The lecture, along with the question and answer session, went on for approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes. Time went by fairly quickly. The combination of lecture and video broke the time up so it did not drag.
The first thing I noticed about the participants is that they were almost all over the age of 30, and a large percentage was over 40 or 50 years old. Secondly, they were overwhelmingly White, with no Black participants attending, according to my observation. I noticed a Phillipino man, and an Asian and Hispanic member scattered thinly. Also, there were more males than females by a small margin. A lot of the females present were over 50 years old, and attending with a male spouse. They were dressed casually. A good percentage of the females wore dresses. The crowd appeared basically middle class. A few of the members were selling books and videos outside the theatre, which was a gathering place for many participants before and after the meeting. The head of MUFON LA was the master of ceremonies. It was a casual presentation, despite the technical difficulties. The members and the guest speaker did not appear to take themselves too seriously and had a sense of humor about the technical problems.
One member I spoke with who held a key position in MUFON LA told me his own eyewitness account of UFO's. He said he was once a non-believer till he actually saw spacecraft including motherships. His theory was that they only came here to observe or 'refuel, that they didn't come to everyone because they didn't want to start WWIII, and they would explain things to him telepathically regarding the universe and life on earth.
The meeting had a lot of video presentations which were the eye witness testimonies. According to a conversation going on behind me before the meeting, the eye witness testimonies are the backbone of the movement. As with a religious movement, eye witness accounts are sacred myths. There is a strong theological support (at least by some of the members) because if one can believe the eye witness testimonies of the bible, one must also accept the modern day sightings of UFO's. The video presented the eyewitnesses and also physical evidence to support the claim of UFO visitations. Eyewitnesses and physical proof are important key components in this belief system. Skeptical questioning was a part of the meeting, and was not discouraged. No blanket statements about the validity of the speaker's beliefs were given; he kept his testimony as his belief, and said he could even be proven wrong. When one member seemed to be asking lengthy, inappropriate questions, the members seemed to vocally shoo him from the platform. There was a respect for the speaker. As I said before, skeptical questions and personal theories pervaded the question and answer sessions. Some members seemed to be searching for answers on a lot of UFO subjects that the speaker bluntly said he did not know about.
The religious ideas expressed had to do with biblical references to giants that were present 2,500 years ago. These giants are not friendly, but evil in nature. Belief in the giants was the theory proposed by the speaker, and may have been new to a lot of the members. However, overall the desire to believe in extraterrestrial beings visiting this planet was very strong. The meeting provided a strong social support network for members who believe in UFO's and those who actually have witnessed them. There is a strong need to believe in other worlds, that we are not alone on this planet that humans are not the alpha and omega of creation, but other, more intelligent beings can help us evolve. By providing physical evidence and personal testimony, these beliefs can be kept alive by the members. There was not a need to rely on established media coverage of UFO sightings. There seemed to be a rejection of this conservative point of view, so a rejection of established norms is also a part of the belief system.
If I would continue to study this group, I would focus on the eyewitness testimonies and how these sightings relate to the persons world view. I would focus on the life stressors that precede such sightings to search for psychological factors that make someone susceptible to these sightings. I would find out if the sightings have brought meaning to the person's life and how.