Las Vegas New Times, June 6, 1996. Cover Story.

True Believers

Vegas UFO watchers are everywhere, but where are the aliens?

Story by Anne Hosier

Miesha Johnston, a Las Vegas woman who claims to have had almost daily contact with extraterrestrials since she was three years old, is describing some of the various groups of aliens she says have visited her over the years:

There are the small, fuzzy creatures resembling baby bears, the tall willowy cream-colored beings with huge black eyes, and the shorter, more common "grays," who seem to be a sort of proletariat working class group.

There are the "reptilians," who, she says resemble little dinosaurs, and an array of "human" extraterrestrials, including the Pleiadians, who wear attractive, tight-fitting blue and silver jumpsuits.

Like the outfits they wear on Star Trek?

"Yeah!" she replies enthusiastically. "I think that's where Star Trek and some of the other shows got the idea."

Miesha is the head of a group called Celestial Contacts. It offers Star Children support groups for others who've had contact with aliens. There's a coed group and groups for teens and young adults, women and children. In all, around 75 people who claim to have had contact with extraterrestrials participate.

But members are urged to use certain politically correct terms to refer to their experiences:

"We do not like the word 'abductees.' It has negative connotations. It donates victimization and we are not victims. We're kind of like humans having abnormal experiences," Johnston says.

To say the least.

Later, I ask Glenn Campbell, a local Area 51 researcher, if he knows about Miesha and her group. Campbell has long been a member of MUFON (Mutual UFO Network), one of the oldest and largest UFO-interest groups in the country. Local members of the group recently formed a chapter called Las Vegas, Nevada MUFON, Inc. They know Miesha from her attendance at their monthly meetings at the Spring Valley library, which are free and open to the public.

Campbell grins and replies: "(Miesha's group is) more into personal experiences and we here at MUFON are more into the 'hardware.'"

Unlike Celestial Contacts, Campbell says MUFON can't really offer the high drama of abductions by handsome Nordic men who perform gynecological probes.

The differences between the two groups place them at opposite ends of a vast spectrum of individuals who make up Las Vegas' large and diverse "UFO community." It's a loose network comprised of many rather ordinary folks - housewives, retirees, professionals, and former and current military personnel.

And then there a few members who are bit out of the ordinary.

There's the Area 51 buff who allegedly spread a rumor that human beings at the well-known, top-secret site were being blended into a tasty paté to be rubbed on the skin of aliens.

There's Ambassador Merlin of the Las Vegas Embassy of Saucerians, who claims on a message on his answering machine that residents of a distant star will be landing on the Extraterrestrial Highway in northern Nevada in three years. Merlin has deemed himself the official Nevadan ambassador to alien civilizations.

We couldn't talk to him. Perhaps he was out of town. Perhaps way, way out of town.

There are also countless government conspiracy theorists, science and astronomy buffs, crystal-toting New Agers and others who share the belief that alien life is a possibility.

But that's about the only thing they have in common.

"The UFO community is in disarray. No one can agree on anything," Campbell says.

Yet interest in UFOs appears to be flourishing here in Las Vegas.

Channel 8 reporter George Knapp, who became something of a local UFO guru after doing an a series about aliens a few years ago, says he gets between 10 and 15 calls a day from folks wanting to talk about ETs. Others approach him in movie theaters and restaurants.

"There is a tremendous amount of interest," Knapp says. "It's not reflected in the size of the MUFON group here."

Roseann Entin, a retiree living in Sun City, agrees. Last fall, she began teaching a course in "UFOlogy" as part of a continuing education program at UNLV. Nearly two dozen people have registered for the class during each of the last three semesters, she says.

Local bookstores like the Science Fiction Store, Amber Unicorn, Tower Books and the Psychic Eye feature sections on UFOs and paranormal phenomenon.

UFO seekers, when they're not watching the X- Files, take trips to the Valley of Fire, Red Rock Canyon and the periphery of Area 51 to scan the horizon for unusual lights.

It's all part of what Campbell jokingly calls a current "ratings upswing."

"We're definitely in a fad," he says.

To some, the fad seems a little ironic, given the fact that much of the local UFO community was built around a story that remains unresolved and virtually unchanged for the past seven years.

It all began in 1989, when Knapp did a series of reports on UFOs. He interviewed Bob Lazar, a man who claimed to have taken apart and analyzed an alien spacecraft for the government out at Area 51.

"He described how he got the job and the whole process of how the saucers worked, how the propulsion system worked," Campbell says. "His tale was very intelligent and it fit perfectly with this very mysterious area and it clicked with a lot of people."

The story created a wave of interest locally. A radio talk show host even sponsored bus tours to the area, Campbell says. And it wasn't long before the Area 51 story attracted the attention of the outside world.

"We just had this wave of people going up there in '89 and '90 to see the UFOs, and they all came home satisfied," Campbell says of the people who saw lights in the night skies around Area 51.

"Nobody seems to understand the operations of the Nellis (U.S. Air Force) range, which is basically war games. You have a lot of good lights, and that greatly complicates the situation."

Later, when some researchers tried to look into Lazar's background, they found very few records to verify his claims about his past education and work experience, says Chris Sanderson, a local MUFON board member. Some believed that the government, in order to punish Lazar for taking his tale public, simply destroyed his identity by erasing all of his records. Others felt Lazar made the whole thing up and lied about his credentials.

"He's generally fallen from favor," Campbell says. "But you have people polarized on both sides. What frustrates people is that nothing's been resolved."

The same could be said for many of the other stories that UFO fans accept as gospel. But for some, that fuzziness seems to be the attraction.

"It's just such a hard-to-grasp phenomenon that everyone impresses upon it whatever they want," Campbell says.

There are also those who seem to derive a kind of delusional sense of power from their beliefs, like the guy who told MUFON members he was responsible for making the Las Vegas Hilton sign come crashing down. Most people thought it was just due to high winds.

"Every so often you come across people who are a little bit, you know, they just take on a little more power than they actually have," Sanderson says.

And there are those who seem to spend the better part of their lives traveling in spaceships, allowing aliens to perform medical experiments and gynecological exams upon them.

"When you first get into it, you have a tendency to believe everything you read and hear, and then as you go along, you become more discerning, and you build what I call a database," Sanderson says.

Campbell adds: "For philosophical reasons, it's a great challenge trying to find the truth when you're in a sea of hogwash."

He recently traveled to Hungary, where he noticed that UFO sightings tended to cluster around areas where the greatest number of UFO watchers lived. He's also noticed that many people tend to see aliens who look like the ones in movies they've seen.

But, he adds, just because people interpret an event in varied, often colorful, ways, doesn't mean the event didn't happen. As for himself, Campbell says he's never actually seen anything he'd call a UFO, despite the fact that he lived near Area 51 for two-and-a-half years.

Alan Gudaitis, a local MUFON board member, hasn't seen any UFOs either.

"Believe me, a lot of people haven't who have an interest in it," he says. "But the possibility of an alien life right now at this very moment is obvious to me.

"God created everything, He's created many species and many races. When you plant a garden, you don't plant one seed, you plant many seeds," he reasons. "Why would He throw all his eggs in one basket called humanity?"

Sanderson nods in agreement. But unlike Gudaitis, she's seen some unusual things in the sky over Las Vegas, things she's still at a loss to explain. One incident took place several years ago, before she was a member of any UFO interest group.

It was a clear sunny weekday morning and Sanderson was approaching the intersection of Cimarron and Buffalo. Suddenly she saw something that looked like a huge fisherman's net suspended directly over the intersection. There was little traffic, so she paused and gazed up at it, waiting for it to dissipate.

But it just hung there.

"Had a semi (truck) gone by, it would've hit it, it was that low in the sky, this net. And it wasn't disappearing or anything."

She grins, remembering her reaction: "The first thing I thought of was the Incredible Shrinking Man. I thought 'If I drive my car under that, I'm going to shrink!'"

She ran her car over the curb and sped off toward home.

"I don't know what it was. It just spooked the heck out of me."

And around six months ago, she was driving along the expressway near Rancho when a huge ball of light sailed across the road in front of her car.

"I kept watching, because usually with a helicopter, it will change positions and the light will go out. But this thing, it just kept going, and I watched it over my shoulder and it went behind some cypress trees. And when it came out from behind the cypress trees, it had a blue-green tail on it, and it went SSHHHHHT! Like that!"

About 24 hours later, people reported seeing something similar in California, says Sandy Gudaitis, another MUFON board member.

To this day, though, Sanderson is a little uneasy when discussing her experiences.

After talking about the vision of the net, one woman told her, "You've been on a mother ship. That means you've been on a mother ship."

Sanderson shakes her head and laughs: "That's only one person's opinion and not the general consensus."