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A legend falters
Jacques Vallee's offering to Congress misfires
Bigger than Roswell? According to Trinity: The Best-Kept Secret, a UFO crashed near ground zero of the world’s first A-bomb blast just weeks after the explosion in 1945.
Ninth-century France, or at least the rural areas under the scrutiny of Archbishop Agobard of Lyon, must’ve been a pretty trippy place. Word among the local farmers was that their crops were being flattened by “aerial sailors” descending from the clouds. Wreaking havoc with storms and hail, these bandits were stealing veggies and retreating to a sky haven called Magonia.
The tales were so threatening to Lyon’s sense of order that Agobard felt compelled to intervene. He attacked the witnesses themselves, charging they had been “overcome with so much foolishness” and “made crazy by so much stupidity”; for good measure, the cleric quoted biblical scripture to put these numbskulls in their place. And that apparently ended matters, because we heard no more about Magonia until seven hundred years later.
In 1606, a French historian discovered the archbishop’s manuscripts and entered Magonia into the long list of fables and lore from antiquity. And there it might’ve languished, in the dustbin of trivia, were it not for the omnivorous curiosity of Jacques Vallee. In 1968, one of phenomenology’s pioneering giants plucked it from obscurity and used it to challenge conventional theories about UFOs.
Vallee’s Passport to Magonia: On UFOs, Folklore, and Parallel Worlds was initially published 55 years ago, and I was late to the revolution. I was late to the book’s updated and expanded edition in 1993, and when I finally got around to it, I was slow to warm.
Because I was a lot smarter about this stuff decades ago than I am today, I knew UFOs were from other planets. They had to be. It was drummed into us by popular culture. “Invaders From Mars,” “Earth vs. The Flying Saucers,” 1953’s “War of the Worlds,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “It Came From Outer Space,” “This Island Earth,” etc. – an entire generation of American kids grew up with these imprints. And, Steven Spielberg’s more benign visions of space visitors notwithstanding, Hollywood’s dominant storylines cast ET as a technologically superior version of ourselves, motivated by conquest, colonization and subjugation of the Other.
Dog, meet blackboard
Then along came Vallee, the ridiculously gifted astronomer/computer entrepreneur/writer whose UFO sighting as a teenager in the Parisian suburbs of Pointoise drew him into the pit. A prolific author and protégé of J. Allen Hynek, Vallee’s work shifted seamlessly from technical manuals to peer-reviewed journals to fiction (Jules Verne Prizewinner, 1961). But the bulk of his nonfiction explored UFO themes; of those, the most radical, arguably, is Passport to Magonia.
It was an audacious project whose 180-page appendix bulged with 923 landing or near-landing UFO cases dating back to 1868. It argued the extraterrestrial scenario alone was too narrow to accommodate the diverse scope of those encounters. Contextualized with traditional references to angels, demons, fairies, elves, etc., Vallee’s analysis went so deep into mythology, it could’ve easily ascribed the entire UFO tableau to delusion or fabulism. After all, many of the “modern” eyewitness reports sound so bonkers they make Little Green Men look as sober as a state funeral in Soviet Moscow.
Instead, he presented them dispassionately, without judgement, vouching for the authenticity of none. But he wondered if, in the presence of a “superior race,” we “would find in their actions only random data and incoherent pictures, much as a dog would if confronted with a mathematician writing on a blackboard.”
Vallee’s contention that extraterrestrials might represent a single (if at all) slice of the UFO pie was an outlier in the Sixties. He even sounded cautiously optimistic about science’s potential for solving the ancient riddle, if only it could conceive of a bolder vision. Maybe the mystery was reflecting earthly, material, and/or psychological anomalies that our math might catch up with someday.
“If there ever was a time for scientists to bow their heads with awe before the variety and power of natural phenomena and human imagination,” he wrote, “it is to be found in our own age of technology and rational thought, not in the confusion of medieval philosophies.”
A congressional audience
It’s probably too late to imagine that the arrival of such clarity could do us much good at this point. This planet’s pretty much fucked. Still, as evidence grows for the phenomenon’s complexity – most notoriously, in a summary of a Defense Intelligence Agency investigation, Skinwalkers at the Pentagon: An Insiders' Account of the Secret Government UFO Program – Vallee’s vision has surfaced once more, in a big way.
The news peg is a section of the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act ordering the Pentagon to spend unspecified hours and money on figuring out the UFO/UAP mystery. Of special interest are the NDAA instructions to the Defense Department and the Office of National Intelligence to reconstruct a modern history of the UFO era. The original proposal from the Senate Intelligence Committee last year touted 1947, the year of the Roswell controversy. But the final language in the 2023 NDAA ordered military intelligence to start in 1945.
“I was not involved in the drafting of the legislation,” Vallee told the Daily Mail in December, “but several of my DC friends were, and they got the date of the investigation pushed back to 1945.”
Why? Read all about it in Vallee’s 2021 book, Trinity: The Best-Kept Secret, co-authored with journalist Paola Harris. Like Roswell, it promotes an alleged military recovery of an alien craft that smashed into a New Mexican desert. But it’s even better than Roswell. Because this UFO went down just one month after the world’s first atomic bomb rocked civilization on July 16, 1945 – and barely 20 miles from ground zero.
Rating cover endorsements from the likes of futurist Paul Hynek (son of the famed “Close Encounters” astronomer) and former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defense for Intelligence Chris Mellon, Trinity got bookend coverage after the NDAA bill passed, from the New York Times to Tucker Carlson at Fox News, and lots of points in between.
Well, if Tucker Carlson says it …
“People within the U.S. government believe it’s true,” Carlson informed at least two million viewers in January. “And they believe it so strongly, that now, as of this week, the Defense Department’s annual spending bill will require, as per Congress, the Pentagon to go back and investigate what really happened.”
Researcher Douglas Dean Johnson, who often breaks the news of UFO-related legislative language on his Twitter account, was agog. He had been consuming Vallee’s work since he was a teenager. But he found Trinity so “disappointing,” he couldn’t believe it was influencing policymakers.
“I see Vallee giving interviews on these podcasts talking about how his friends intervened to make sure the timeline for his case was encompassed in the study, and I thought, what the hell, what is this?”
Confession: After catching Vallee’s pre-publication teasers on Joe Rogan in 2020, I snapped up Trinity as soon as it rolled. I was more than a little surprised by the collaboration with Harris, cited in UFO Watchdog’s Hall of Shame for “lump(ing) the charlatans in with credible witnesses very easily.” Still, it was a fresh new angle. New to me, anyway. Plus, it was Vallee.
Trinity builds its case atop two (2) alleged eyewitnesses, Reme Baca and Jose Padilla, who tell an amazing story. They grew up on ranchland just outside the northwest boundary of what the Army called White Sands Proving Ground during WWII. In mid-August, 1945, while checking the cattle fences on horseback, the boys followed a sudden boom to a plume of smoke rising from a distant canyon. They discovered a shattered, “avocado-shaped” spacecraft. From a distance, they saw disoriented but living occupants, and they would make multiple surreptitious return visits to the scene.
The Army converged and fenced off the site. Yet, Baca and Padilla managed to slip through the implausibly deserted security perimeter. They entered the doomed vessel, ripped a “souvenir” off an inside wall, and left with a trophy that turned out to be a low-grade industrial alloy bearing a strong resemblance to a windmill motor component. The kids also snatched what they later insisted were two samples of far more exotic spaceship scraps; unfortunately, both pieces have been lost or tossed.
A precedent for recorded history
Nevertheless, “No other witnesses in recorded history have actually done that before them, or since,” Vallee insisted. “Any significant material associated with these objects is in the hands of governments, and off-limits to researchers without a specific clearance, and related need to know.”
The book informs us early on that Vallee was a latecomer to a story that had been circulating in small public circles since 2003, and that Harris had done the bulk of the research. In fact, by time Vallee climbed aboard in 2017, Baca had been dead for four years. Only Baca’s recorded interviews remained, along with Born on the Edge of Ground Zero, his self-published 2011 memoir, which included Padilla’s byline. Hoping to encounter more substance and corroboration with each underwhelming turn of the page, I gave up about two-thirds of the way through. It wasn’t Vallee’s best work, and why call attention to it?
I was so disinterested, I didn’t know a second edition of Trinity had come out in 2022 until I read about it a few weeks ago. Doug Johnson included it in a lengthy, detailed and blistering online review, Crash Story: The Trinity UFO Crash Hoax. Based on three months’ worth of scouring public records, contemporaneous newspaper articles, myriad podcasts and consultations with experts, Johnson’s fact-checking revelations are absolutely devastating.
Trinity, Johnson concludes, is “a tale dreamed up by a serial pretender” (Baca) who “enlisted a man (Padilla) who faked his history as a police officer and a wounded veteran.” Worse, “These two fakers hijacked the names and personas of a real policeman (Eddie Apodaca) and a real governor (Dixy Lee Ray) as characters in their shoddy work of fiction.” The second edition was issued, Johnson adds, in order to inject dubious corroboration and to expand the role of an erratic raconteur whose name was misspelled in the first edition.
“The (NDAA’s) date change (from 1947 to 1945) doesn’t bother me. In fact,” says Johnson in a phoner, “given some of the interesting things that were happening at some of the nuclear production sites before 1945, I might’ve set it back even further. What bothers me is that, according to the New York Times and the Daily Mail, they did it because of this ‘wonderful’ case.”
Thanks for the votes — now check this shit out
Johnson’s digging reached a turning point when he heard Harris guesting on a podcast.
“When she said Baca told her Dixy Lee Ray had shown him the secret files on the (Trinity) case, I knew right then, without a doubt, it was a hoax. Utterly preposterous. That would’ve been a felony. I’ve known a number of elected officials in my life, but even the dumbest one would’ve never done a thing like that.”
Former chair of the Atomic Energy Commission, Ray was elected as governor of Washington State in 1976. Baca worked in Washington’s unemployment benefits office and campaigned for Ray. As a “reward” for Baca’s helping to turn out the Hispanic vote, the governor allegedly showed him the allegedly secret Trinity UFO file.
Johnson went all in to flesh out Trinity’s slippery origin story, or stories, one of which includes evidence of Baca plagiarizing his own biographical material. Some of the contradictions are found in the Born on the Edge of Ground Zero memoir, a primary source for Vallee-Harris. It includes transcripts of a 2010 interview Harris conducted with one Billy Brophy, who claimed his late father, an Army pilot, visited the 1945 crash site and said three aliens, two dead, one living, were taken into custody. Curiously, however, that most sensational of allegations rates barely a one-sentence mention in Trinity.
The book omits the fact that Billy Brophy’s tale continued to evolve. Prior to 2003, when Baca and Padilla began sharing their story, Brophy had written a series of rambling and disjointed letters claiming dad had knowledge of a UFO incident in the White Sands region in 1947, separate from the Roswell incident, and that dad had been a “witness” to a 1950 UFO crash in Mexico. But he never mentioned dad’s 1945 encounter until after Baca and Padilla went public.
Furthermore, Trinity’s first edition says Brophy’s father, “William Brothy, Sr.,” was on base at Alamogordo when he was informed that a plane on a training mission reported smoke from a crashed object. He was subsequently ordered to lead an investigative team into the field. While at the scene, he also got a glimpse of “two little Indian boys on horseback” watching from afar.
In the second edition of Trinity, however, “William J. Brophy” himself is flying the plane that first spotted the crash-site smoke. “He circled the area,” the revised account states, “saw the crashed object in the vegetation and radioed back that ‘two little Indian boys’ were close to the site.”
The discrepancies go on and on, especially concerning the military and law enforcement credentials of Padilla, and the alleged participation of New Mexico State Patrol officer Eddie Apodaca at the crash site. But Johnson isn’t the only one assailing the book. Last week, veteran MUFON investigator James Clarkson issued an unambiguous rebuke to Trinity’s suggestion that the feds might have attempted to discourage researchers from reexamining the crash site by introducing toxic plants to the area.
On Tuesday, Vallee offered a 10-page response to Johnson’s critique posted on Harris’ website. Johnson counterpunched within hours. Although both are worth a look, Vallee is the one who makes some grudging concessions. A superficial glance at the exchange could be taken for just another example of the acrimonious squabbling that so often characterizes ufology. But this one’s different.
The influencer whose prodigious research into near and distant history set standards for critical thinking in the dreadfully complicated realm of UFOs has stumbled, needlessly. The timing couldn’t be worse. Congress is looking for guidance in hopes of separating fact from fiction as it contends with an obstinate military bureaucracy whose only self-evident strategy is stall delay bore. Vallee offered lawmakers Trinity as a starting point.
Since Johnson’s review broke, Vallee acknowledges the critical feedback has been withering. “Two papers summarizing scientific findings so far have been drafted, then withdrawn in the face of the current controversy, which creates an environment making scientific debate impossible,” Vallee complained in defense of his book. “They may be resubmitted at some point, and adjudicated on a purely scientific basis when the raucous accusations dissipate on Facebook.”
But maybe Facebook isn’t the problem. Maybe it isn’t the scientific findings, either. Maybe it’s just journalism 101.
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