"It’s a hell of a challenge," says Stephen Bassett as he saws through his chicken Caesar salad at a restaurant in the Key Bridge Marriott in Arlington, Virginia. "But the reason we’ve made progress is because this isn’t just any issue." After logging thirteen discouraging years as a lobbyist in Washington, Bassett is finally feeling optimistic. Compared to Barack Obama, Bill Clinton was "utterly unacceptable," and there were "huge problems" with George W. Bush. "They did what was necessary to contain the issue," he says.
"They had to do that because it wasn’t a secret," he adds, leaning in, elbows on the table. "The ETs are all over the place. They’ve been flying around our skies for sixty-two years."
Bassett is Washington’s only registered UFO lobbyist. He is in his early sixties but looks easily a decade younger: compactly built and straight-jawed, with slate-blue eyes set like marbles below a prominent brow, he still resembles the small-time tennis pro he once was. The director of the Bethesda-based Extraterrestrial Phenomena Political Action Committee, Bassett works on behalf of what he calls "the exopolitical disclosure movement," a subculture of UFO fanatics and researchers toiling to end what they believe is a government cover-up of the extraterrestrial presence on our planet. Although Bassett arguably represents a larger constituency than most K Street denizens—a third of Americans believe that aliens have visited earth, according to a recent Scripps Howard poll—he has scraped by on only an estimated $75,000 in outside contributions since 1996, plus about $200,000 of his own money he says he has poured into the cause. "If the civil rights movement had had to operate under these conditions," he says, "there’d still be separate bathrooms."
Bassett’s PAC doesn’t make campaign contributions, and Bassett rarely meets with congressmen, who are, he says, "deathly afraid to speak about" his issue. Instead, he has deluged the Hill with "congressional alerts," issued hundreds of thousands of press releases to news outlets across the country, and given perhaps a thousand speeches worldwide. "At the moment, Stephen is very, very active," says Alfred Webre, a founder of the "political science" of human/ET interactions. In fact, Bassett’s Web site lists ninety-one radio and conference appearances in 2009 alone.
Bassett thinks his tireless activism is finally paying off: he and others in the disclosure movement believe that Obama could be the answer to their prayers—the "disclosure president" they’ve been waiting for. If Obama doesn’t announce the existence of aliens by early 2010, they say, he certainly will in the next few years. For one thing, there are Obama’s ties to his transition team cochairman John Podesta (an X-Files buff who once declared that "it’s time to open the books" on the government’s UFO investigations) and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (who told MSNBC in 2007 that while he doesn’t believe in UFOs, "the federal government has not come clean" on the issue). In addition, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, and a stream of other nations have declassified heaps of UFO documents in recent years—a trend that disclosure advocates interpret as an international call for American transparency. There is also the "Rockefeller Initiative." From 1993 to 1996, Laurance Rockefeller, the billionaire grandson of John D. Rockefeller, repeatedly tried to convince Bill Clinton to declassify key UFO files, and his correspondence with the Clinton White House, Bassett believes, outs several Obama officials, including both Hillary Clinton and CIA Director Leon Panetta, as players with knowledge of the ET issue.
Bassett didn’t devote his life to UFO lobbying until he was forty-nine, and he claims to have never had a paranormal experience of any kind. A onetime Georgia Tech physics undergrad who had intended to get a PhD before the tumult of Vietnam led him to march for civil rights and get "pretty good and fried," Bassett spent most of the seventies operating tennis clubs and playing in the sport’s equivalent of the minor leagues, and he later got into penny stocks and business consulting. Arriving in middle age with no immediate family and no long-term friends, Bassett decided to devote himself to the ET cause. (He had been "almost certain, intellectually, that ETs were here" since the age of twenty.) In January of 1996 he began volunteering at the Program for Extraordinary Experience Research at the Harvard-affiliated Center for Psychology and Social Change, which was operated by John Mack, a controversial psychiatrist who researched the alien abduction phenomenon. Bassett relocated to Washington that July, telling a friend he would stay two weeks. But two weeks turned into five years; the disclosure issue, he concluded, "was getting ready to pop."
Like all good lobbyists, Bassett insists that his interests are perfectly aligned with the country’s. Disclosure, he believes, is the key to America’s continued global dominance: Obama will command international respect not only because of his moral courage but also because he will introduce "the common man’s payoff"—ET technology. If you visit someone you don’t know very well, Bassett explains, "you show up with a gift. Some wine, maybe some nice cheese. Well, if you’re going to show up at a planet, and you’re not their species, you had better be carrying a lot of gifts." Obama, he anticipates, will announce the existence of "ET physics," deduced from the workings of alien craft, that will solve the energy crisis and global warming, and the ETs themselves will shower us with antidotes to cancer and other diseases. But the government needs to act soon. "If China breaks the truth embargo tomorrow," says Bassett, "let me tell you something: the United States might as well just pack it up."
By "truth embargo," of course, Bassett means "cover-up," but he dislikes the latter term’s connotation. This careful framing of the issue represents just a small part of his effort to "normalize" his cause. When he arrived in Washington, Bassett felt that any real political issue needed a lobby. There wasn’t a lobbyist for ET disclosure, so he registered. Candidates weren’t debating the issue during elections, so in 2002 Bassett got on the ballot in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District and amassed about 1 percent of the vote. The disclosure movement needed an institutional home, so he created an advocacy organization called the Paradigm Research Group. It needed a conference, too, so he founded the X-Conference, which in 2009 was attended by about 300 people.
As the Bush administration drew to a close, Bassett hoped that the time for disclosure had come at last. The Cold War, during which disclosure could have inflamed American-Soviet relations, was a distant memory. In contrast to Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Barack Obama seemed on good terms with military intelligence officials—always a plus, since they’re the ones sitting on the information. "He’s also brilliant," Bassett says, "so he could handle the complexities of what disclosure is going to mean." There was also his international popularity—and his skin color. "If you’re going to go to the world and say, ‘We have been keeping from you the most profound information in history for six decades,’ and it so happens that that world is predominantly brown, it might help a lot if the president who was telling them was brown," Bassett says. "These are significant assets, alright?"
Following the election, Bassett mounted a final push, which he plans to continue until disclosure: he calls it the "Million Fax on Washington." Calling on his network of advocates—the initiative’s Facebook group has more than 1,000 members—Bassett began bombarding the Obama administration and the White House press corps with letters, faxes, and e-mails. What is notable, he adds, is that no one has admitted to receiving a single one of them—if they did, they would have to respond. "You see, they have no response," says Bassett. "We have them in the corner."
Lucky for us, Bassett thinks that when Obama finally introduces "our friends," they won’t resemble the aliens in Independence Day. "They’ll be real popular, real fast," he says. "Nobody’ll have a bad thing to say about them. ‘My mama just got cured by the ET tech! I love those ETs.’ "
He pauses. "So that means the next three, five, six years are going to be pretty damn interesting."
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Daniel Fromson is a former intern at the Washington Monthly.