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Going back to the 20th century, people have been fascinated by the thought of aliens and sightings of unidentified flying objects (UFOs). From Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds in 1938 to the popularity of The X-Files TV series in the 1990s, there has long been an interest in finding out if we truly are alone or if extraterrestrials exist.
It would only make sense that the President of the United States, the most powerful position in the world, would also typically have an interest in this. They should know more about the truth than us mere citizens too, but has there been any documented cases of U.S. presidents seeing proof of aliens from flying saucers or other UFOs?
Historian Garett M. Graff has written a book about the search for alien life on this planet, and he shared his thoughts with Politico through the prism of what U.S. presidents have experienced when it comes to aliens over the decades.
Harry S. Truman (1945-53) and the Roswell Incident
The 33rd president of the United States, Harry S. Truman took office at a time when World War II was finally coming to an end with Adolf Hitler and the Nazis defeated. Americans were moving on with normal, happier lives following a pair of World Wars, a global pandemic, a recession, and the Great Depression.
The late 1940s and early 1950s popularized domestic family life in the country. The kind of lifestyle you’d see on Leave It to Beaver as television sets were about to wind up in many houses as new technology arrived.
People were looking for new outlets of entertainment whether it was the TV or rock ‘n’ roll music. But there was also a newfound interest in aliens, also known as Martians, little green men, UFOs, and flying saucers.
Early into Truman’s tenure as president in 1947, the Roswell incident in New Mexico happened when reports of a flying disc (or saucer) was reportedly captured. This was thought to be alien-related to the public, but Truman was more concerned about the flying objects being spy crafts from the Soviets. It was later determined by the government to be a weather balloon.
In 1948, Truman consulted his military aide, Col. Robert Landry, to the Oval Office to discuss what people were allegedly seeing flying through the skies. Truman wanted to keep up with reports of these objects in case anything important came up, but Landry insisted nothing significant as proof of extraterrestrial life ever surfaced. “Nothing of substance considered credible or threatening to the country was ever received from intelligence,” said Landry.
Truman’s predecessors, Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-61) and John F. Kennedy (1961-63), never went on record to say anything about UFOs. There has been an unverified
story that Kennedy ordered the director of the CIA to give him information on UFOs, but that letter has supposedly never been confirmed to exist.
Kennedy was president when The Twilight Zone was at its peak on TV as one of the best shows ever made about sci-fi stories, including episodes about aliens. But nothing quite got the presidents interested like the Roswell incident in Truman’s time in 1947 and the mass hysteria around the country over flying saucers.
Richard Nixon (1969-74) and the Paranoia of the 1970s
Richard Nixon, the 37th president of the United States, was notoriously paranoid and liked to secretly record conversations on tape. If any president was going to be interested in aliens, it would probably be him, but there is no official record of him coming into contact with any proof of aliens.
But there was a press conference in 1974 shortly before Nixon resigned where he was asked about UFOs. Trying to answer with humor, Nixon said “I’m not at liberty to discuss the government’s knowledge of extraterrestrial UFOs at this time.” He also added, “I am confident that the scientific community… would agree that, if there were such evidence, it would be known by now.”
But with Watergate marking Nixon’s tenure as untrustworthy, public sentiment grew that the government would cover up the truth of aliens if they had any to not cause any panic that we are not alone on Earth.
Jimmy Carter (1977-81) and His UFO Experience
Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States, had a reported UFO sighting years before he took the Oval Office. In 1969, Carter alleges he saw a UFO while he was at the Lions Club in Leary, Georgia. While waiting for a meeting to start in the early evening, a bright light appeared to Carter and a group of men nearby.
The light was large, bright, and it appeared to move closer to the men before scurrying away. The light also reportedly changed from blue to red colors, and it was anywhere from 300 to 1,000 yards away from the men before it disappeared.
Carter reported the UFO years later, and he did not think it was an alien spacecraft. It was “probably an electronic occurrence of some sort” in Carter’s words. Some believe this UFO was a common mistake people make when they see the planet Venus in the night sky, which is supposedly the explanation for a lot of UFO sightings.
In 2016, a researcher apparently cracked the case on what Carter saw in 1969. It was a high-altitude rocket-released barium cloud. By checking the records of where Carter was and the date, the researcher figured out where a Florida rocket launch happened and how Carter could have seen the aftermath of the barium release from that rocket. The electric charge can give off a glow in the sky and that must be what Carter saw in Georgia, the neighbor to Florida.
Chalk one up for science. Carter did not experience extraterrestrials. He also did not keep his campaign promises. Carter promised in 1976 that he would open the nation’s UFO secrets. “If I become president, I’ll make every piece of information this country has about UFO sightings available to the public and the scientists,” said Carter. But after he beat Gerald Ford, Carter never followed up on this promise.
Was he hiding something?
Ronald Reagan (1981-89) and the Fantasy-Heavy 1980s
When Ronald Reagan beat Carter in the 1980 election to become the new president, it was a decade that would become known for excess, greed (Wall Street), and lots of science fiction fantasy work in film:
- Star Wars sequels (The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi)
- The Terminator
- Back to the Future
- Blade Runner
- The Thing
- E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Those classic films are still enjoyed today as people cannot get enough of stories about other lifeforms besides our own.
The classic comic book Watchmen was also released in 1986-87 and it was inspired by being against the politics of the 80s from Reagan and British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. One of its main plot points involves a powerful man orchestrating a giant squid creature to attack New York City and kill millions of people, leading to the world uniting to fight a common enemy instead of each other.
It was a fitting story for the Cold War of the 80s between the U.S. and the Soviets. As Graff notes for Politico, Reagan shared an interesting moment with Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet president, during his second term.
‘What would you do if the United States were suddenly attacked by someone from outer space? Would you help us?’” Gorbachev recounted. “I said, ‘No doubt about it.’ He said, ‘We too.’ So that’s interesting.”
Reagan was a former Hollywood actor and a science fiction fan. He was more vocal about aliens than the presidents before him. At a United Nations speech in 1987, Regan said “I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.” Wow, did he read Watchmen too?
In fact, Reagan’s love of the 1951 alien invasion movie The Day the Earth Stood Still is what could have inspired that quote in the speech. Reagan reportedly did have his own UFO sighting in 1974 while in a plane near California. According to Reagan, when the UFO disappeared from sight, “it went straight up into the heavens.”
Bill Clinton (1993-01) and the Height of Aliens
When Bill Clinton won the 1992 election, the country was soon crawling in conspiracy theories and interest over UFOs and aliens again. Look at some of the events that happened during Clinton’s 2 terms:
- The X-Files debuted in 1993 as one of the most successful sci-fi TV shows ever made with FBI agents Mulder and Scully investigating many extraterrestrial stories.
- Fire in the Sky was a 1993 film based on the real-life story of Travis Walton, who claims he was abducted by aliens in 1975 in Arizona. Walton’s story has since been ridiculed as a hoax.
- Independence Day was an extremely popular and successful 1996 film starring Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum as they faced the threat of a global alien invasion.
- The rise of the internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s led to online communities (message boards, fan sites, etc.) that were devoted to UFO sightings and discussion. The internet is also filled with conspiracy theories, so it is a natural setting to talk about aliens.
Clinton was no doubt interested in the alien phenomenon too. When he visited Ireland in 1995, Clinton joked to a child that “No, as far as I know, an alien spacecraft did not crash in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947,” and then added “and Ryan, if the United States Air Force did recover alien bodies, they didn’t tell me about it, either, and I want to know.”
What does Clinton really know about aliens? We may never know.
Donald Trump (2017-21) and Recent Revelations
Let’s face it. If there was ever a U.S. president who would spill the beans that he saw an alien body and all the secrets hidden at Area 51, it would be Donald J. Trump. But maybe the government is so shadowy with this stuff that it would never have let Trump see a thing, knowing he would tell people what he saw.
Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, has opened up about this topic on talk shows and other places over the years. Here is what Obama said to James Corden in a 2021 interview: “When I came into office, I was like ‘All right, is there the lab somewhere where we’re keeping the alien specimens and spaceship?’ And you know, they did a little bit of research and the answer was ‘no.’ But what is true — and I’m actually being serious here — is that there’s footage and records of objects in the skies that we don’t know exactly what they are. We can’t explain how they moved, their trajectory. They did not have an easily explainable pattern.”
It’s true. In 2020, the government finally opened up about UFOs or unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP). The Pentagon released videos captured by U.S. Navy pilots showing contact with UAPs. In August 2020, a task force was set up to investigate these sightings.
With everything going on in the world since 2020, including COVID and the Russia-Ukraine war, a lot of people glossed over this story about UFOs and that the government is taking a more open approach to tracking these events and sightings.
Thanks to smartphones and social media, anyone can record a sighting and upload it for the world to see now. Anyone can fake one too, so it will be more important than ever to have verifiable video.
But if you are worried about aliens, you shouldn’t be. There are already enough concerns in the world without thinking about that next. The fact that Donald Trump hasn’t said “they showed me an alien, and he was the ugliest, biggest, most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen,” should give you some confidence that we don’t have any aliens in storage on ice anywhere.
Because he totally would spill the beans.