“For God so loved the world …” John 3:16
It’s hard to know how accurate opinion polls are anymore, given the transient nature of smartphones. But the latest Pew survey indicates 51 percent of Americans “definitely” or “probably” think UFOs represent extraterrestrial intelligence. For what it’s worth, according to a recent Reuters poll, 56 percent of Republicans – and roughly a quarter of all Americans – believe the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.
With Trump’s “Save America!” rally coming to town, I thought it might be instructive to roll these threads into a single question: Do you think Dems and Republicans can and should find a bipartisan way to confront the UFO mystery?
I was well aware of TrumpWorld’s hostility toward the press after having attended one of these things in 2015. Though I no longer worked for Sarasota’s hometown paper and couldn’t be accused of being a tool of the lamestream media, I thought interviews might go more smoothly if I had some sort of visual identifier that could close the psychic gap between us. I had no MAGA apparel, but I did have an old “Creation Museum” baseball cap, which would have to suffice.
Undercover #fakenews subversive attempts to escape detection at Sarasota’s “Save America!” rally on Independence Day weekend.
A good seven hours before 45 was scheduled to speak, the traffic on Fruitville Road was already gummed up. Not surprising, considering Trump swamped Biden in Florida by a quarter million votes more than his victory margin over Hillary in 2016. More Floridians have been snared in the 1/6 insurrectionist arrest dragnet than from any other state. The Sarasota Republican Party gave Trump its “Statesman of the Year” award in 2012 and 2015. So I was bound for the souk of a 21st century Jerusalem.
Andrew Jackson got me a parking space behind a Circle K strip mall and a row of industrial-grade garbage bins. Columns of parked police vehicles to the rear of the adjacent Robarts Arena hinted at the law’s massive but discreet presence. Organized dissent was nowhere in sight.
The crowd was largely white, all ages, some braving the heat in wheelchairs, walkers, motorized scooters. There was also a smattering of African-Americans, some wearing T-shirts proclaiming themselves “Blacks For Trump.” Hours later, they enjoyed disproportionate livestream exposure on the stage behind Trump, displaying an enthusiasm that could’ve been an Obama rally.
I joined the line outside the Arena, rimmed with dozens of vendor tents and carnival theatrics, a man treading carefully beneath a 14-foot tall Trump effigy, another with the Gadsden “Don’t Tread On Me” flag, charging for selfies with a boa constrictor draped like an ermine stole around his shoulders.
Banners, bunting, American flags and variations thereof – Confederate symbology, Trump as bare-chested Rambo beefcake, AR silhouettes – snapped amid stiff northerly winds, and business was brisk in the sloganeering paraphernalia market: “Fuck Biden and Fuck You For Voting For Him.” “Trump Won,” “Biden Sucks Kamala Swallows,” “Trump/DeSantis 2024 Make America Florida,” “Joe and the Ho Gotta Go,” “Jesus Is My Savior Trump Is My President,” “Trump 2024 Fuck Your Feelings.”
A young guy behind me, Sebastian, streamed the scene to an audience presumably tuning in from his native Toronto. He showed them how quickly and how far the line behind him had materialized – he’d only been here for a few moments. Registered with Canada’s Conservative Party, he said “I believe in Republican values.”
Sebastian said he didn’t know much about UFOs, but yeah, sure he’s curious. “I think everybody wants to know what’s going on.” He didn’t know much, either, about bipartisanship in the States. He also said “they should work together across the board to find out” like it was no big deal. Sebastian was obviously from Canada.
“I don’t see it – I can’t see Democrats and Republicans working together on anything,” said Tanya Barrett, who drove from Orlando to attend her first-ever Trump rally. “We need to know, but things are so polarized I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”
“Democrats can’t work with anybody – they’ve already proven that,” added a woman wearing an olive “USAF” baseball cap. Her name was Stephanie, and she came to Sarasota from an hour or so north of Tampa. You don’t need to tell her about the UFO coverup. She had a relative who worked on Project Blue Book. She knows.
Stephanie pulled out her phone and dialed up several photos from 26 May, after midnight, during the lunar eclipse. The sun’s glare made it difficult to see. The top of her roof was clear in the foreground, but the images above, less so. They appeared to be clouds, one triangular shaped, the other resembling a classic saucer. Coincidence? Something else?
Anyhow, Stephanie warned, there are bigger fish to fry than UFOs – like the “evil, greedy bastards of the deep state” and institutions like the FBI, which “couldn’t conduct an investigation to find a golf ball in a golf hole.” And surely you’ve heard of the National Economic Security and Recovery Act, right? Stephanie urged me to check it out. And I did. There’s not enough time.
She also urged me to fasten my seatbelt. “Trump signed an executive order before he left office – total declass(ification). Of everything,” she added. “And it goes into effect on August 1. It’s all coming out. Just wait.”
Army veteran and erstwhile middle-school math teacher Mark Gibson of Spring Hill is so intrigued by the possibility of ET life, he once plugged his home computer into Cal-Berkeley’s crowdsourced SETI@home project to sift through cosmic static for non-random signals. He’s mildly curious about UFOs but thinks SETI is the way to go.
“It always irritates me when I hear this, oh, we’re covering it up because people can’t handle the truth. Bullshit,” Gibson said. “Our species has been seeing horrible things, forever. And we’ve handled it.”
Still, Gibson doubts ET has arrived. He did, however, jot down an equation relating to special relativity effects that proves how space aliens could’ve reached Earth without violating the known laws of physics. “But,” he added, “Carl Sagan once said be careful how much you want to believe in something so bad, because it could erode your critical thinking.”
Wouldn’t a bipartisan approach to addressing the UFO controversy be the best way to settle the issue? “That’s not going to happen for awhile because there’s so much polarization,” Gibson said. “Maybe when we get more old school Democrats in there that aren’t radical nuts – there’s too many of them right now.”
A small army of Secret Service uniforms worked security, filtering out everything from lawn chairs to beer. The crowd was herded clean through Robarts and funneled into the fairgrounds spread out back. The bleachers, the sound stage, the jumbotrons and massive speakers in the scaffolding stood like a new city, and a local band – “in Birmin’ham they love the guv’nah!” – was tearing into one of the standards.
The singer chatted it up between songs: “This crowd reminds me of Woodstock … with all the beautiful people out there!” Before she closed the set with Lee Greenwood’s national anthem, she invited them to sound off: “How many people here love their country?” The roar sounded unanimous.
The size of this gathering was, in fact, astonishing. Nearly six years ago, candidate Trump’s local turnout was modest enough to fit into the 4,000-seat Arena. Now, after enduring two impeachments in two years, six months after inspired mobs charged the Capitol Dome, and one day after Trump Inc.’s CFO was perp-walked into 15 counts of tax fraud, this Fourth of July weekend groundswell surpassed the 2015 tally by orders of magnitude. There were announced guesstimates of 15,000, 18,000, 20,000, maybe more. Ahead lay an ocean of MAGA red, elbow to elbow, pixelating into a single massive organism.
“Be sure of it. Give me the ocular proof” — Othello
A woman with a “Four More Years” T-shirt didn’t see any way a bipartisan probe into UFOs could work, “not with today’s Democrats and Republicans.” Hell, you’ve got Republicans who aren’t even Republicans. “Romney isn’t a Republican,” she declared. “He’s a RINO elitist.”
Her name was Maureen. Maureen came down from Pinellas County with two other women, including a “born-again Christian” named Tammie. Tammie blew off the idea of a bipartisan UFO investigation as pointless.
“I believe UFOs are a manifestation of demons and demonic forces,” she said. “The book of Revelation tells us we will continue to see signs in the sky – and as evil rises, as we get closer to the end times, we are in a season where will see more and more of this.” She cited a New Testament verse foretelling of a “great star from heaven” named Wormwood, which will fall to Earth and wreak epic havoc.
Maybe Wormwood has another name today. Maybe, she said, it’s the asteroid that’s going to reach us in 2029. She forgets the name, starts with an A. (Back in 2004, an asteroid named 99942 Apophis was given a 2.7 percent chance of hitting Earth on 13 April 29; more recent NASA calculations, however, lowered the risk to zero.) Either way, Maureen said, the U.S. especially is in the target zone because of abortion, the normalization of relationships outside heterosexual monogamy, and the celebration of non-biologically assigned gender identity.
“Even in the Middle East, which believes in Allah, which is a satanic religion, they don’t believe in this,” Maureen said.
Clouds pregnant with rain rolled in from the north. Shortly before they emptied their load — a good two hours before Trump’s scheduled address — Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), under investigation for underage sex trafficking, spoke long enough to urge Trump to be the next Speaker of the House.
The downpour was torrential. All umbrellas had been screened out at the front gate, and the crowd scattered for the Arena.
I was drenched to the bone. The rains tapered off, but another round was on the horizon, and I’d had enough. Sunburned, shoes and socks squishing on the way to the car, I veered over to an idling vendor waiting it out. His name was David Dickson. UFOs, he said, shouldn’t be much of an issue, not unless the military “does something stupid” like opening fire. “I just don’t think they’re that much of a threat, really. Fear is America’s biggest problem, and the media just hypes it up.”
Dickson has followed Trump through more than 200 events in 48 states, merch flying off the tables at each stop. Biggest crowd: 50,000 in Orlando, 2016. So it’s good to see 45 on the road again. Dickson invested $400 in Trump inventory on the front end of the 2015 campaign; by last year, he’d made enough to buy a house, cash, in Homosassa Springs.
I skipped the rest of the warmup acts — Guilfoyle, Junior, etc. — and watched the main event online. By then, the skies had parted and stayed as calm as the Sea of Galilee in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and John. 45 marveled over how none of his people had abandoned him throughout blistering heat and cloudbursts alike. He rewarded them with what they’d come for, the sweet familiar: “—there’s a word, disinformation. It’s called disinformation ... If you say it enough, and keep saying it, just keep saying it, they’ll start to believe you … It’s such a disaster, what these people do. It’s disinformation. They say it again and again and again, and after months and months of hearing it –”
The man on whose watch the reality of UFOs became official uttered nary a word about the biggest story of all time. But 90-some minutes after the superstar took the stage, the fireworks’ red glare gave proof through the night that his flock was still there.
“… free speech is under assault like never before, religious liberty is being crushed, nobody took care of religious liberty like we did … our streets are being overtaken by vicious thugs and bloodthirsty criminals …”