By ERIKA LOVLEY
The airspace above the U.S. Capitol is a no-fly zone, but Wilbur Allen says he regularly sees unidentified flying objects overhead.
At dusk, Allen often sits quietly at the base of the Reflecting Pool, his camera pointed toward the Capitol dome, waiting for something, anything, to travel through one of the most heavily secured skylines in the world.
“When it grows dark here, things can get bizarre,” he says matter of factly, peering through the lens of his camera.
Allen is among a small, persistent group of activists invested in “exopolitics” — the study of the social-political implications of human contact with extraterrestrials. Like many exopoliticos, Allen believes that Congress should disclose to the American public that the government is aware of the existence of other life forms — and that it needs to develop a game plan in case actual contact is made.
Allen, who has a master’s degree from Howard University and used to work as an engineer for a local news outlet, is practically part of the Capitol landscape, and his photos, taken over a period of years, do appear to show different lights, bulbs and flying objects hovering around the Capitol dome.
There’s never been a solid explanation of them, but Allen’s images have so disturbed him that he regularly sends his latest photos to the U.S. Capitol Police.
He doesn’t get much of a reaction.
Technically, the Capitol’s airspace is not considered within police jurisdiction.
“Capitol Police do a great job, but they are not prepared to deal with extraterrestrial life forms,” Allen says with a shrug. “And most members of Congress are nonbelievers. They don’t want to believe that something outside the box could happen.”
“No comment,” said a spokeswoman for the Capitol Police.
As a general matter, things are looking up in the exopolitical world. In 2007, the French government announced it would release all of its UFO documentation. The chief astronomer for the Vatican recently said that the existence of extraterrestrial life was not outside the realm of plausibility. A recent Reuters poll showed that one in five people in 22 countries believe in extraterrestrials.
Official Washington remains skeptical.
Though the Internet is filled with stories about UFO sightings in Washington in 1952, Senate historian Donald Ritchie says he has no record of it.
“The only UFO I’ve seen at the Capitol was in the movie ‘Mars Attacks,’” Ritchie says.
Stephen Bassett continues to be the only registered lobbyist on the issue, attending congressional hearings, writing letters and attempting to land meetings with members.
Bassett’s Paradigm Research Group is dedicated to pushing the government toward disclosure and includes a fundraising arm — Extraterrestrial Phenomena PAC.
Earlier this month, Bassett hosted X-Conference 2010 at the National Press Club, during which he and other experts called for disclosure. While every member of Congress and representatives from the White House were invited, the 130-person crowd contained mostly scientists and believers.
For most lawmakers, UFOs are an intergalactic third rail a concept they can’t touch for fear of looking like overgrown Trekkies.
“I have met with members of Congress, but the overall situation is always the same. They will not publicly address the issue,” says Bassett. “People on the Hill are largely taken up with raising money and getting reelected. They aren’t going to say something that will hurt them.They’ll get clobbered pretty badly.”
“The problem is, I don’t know if [extraterrestrials] are registered in my district,” says Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), an avid supporter of space exploration. “Members typically tend to deal with problems we already have. Maybe someday we’ll deal with this, but we’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Bassett’s lobbying records show little to no activity; for the past several years, he’s spent less than $5,000, lobbying the House, the Senate and the executive branch.
This year, he says, the X-Conference lost $35,000, which Bassett now needs to make up.
Michael Salla, executive director of the Exopolitics Institute, says he and others in the field have tried to reach out to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta, National Security Adviser Jim Jones and members of Congress. Podesta, who heads the Center for American Progress and orchestrated the Obama administration’s transition, has in the past called for the government to be more transparent about its records.
“It’s a politically dangerous topic for politicians,” said Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “They have to be careful they don’t get labeled as loony because of their interests. The chances of there being life out there go up every day, but you don’ want to be exercising leadership on an issue when no one is behind you.”
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) learned that lesson the hard way after insisting, during a 2007 presidential debate, that he “saw something” over a friend’s house in Washington state.
Kucinich tried to make a joke of it — “You have to keep in mind that Jimmy Carter saw a UFO and I think more people in the United States have seen a UFO than approve of George Bush’s presidency,” he quipped, but he was still lampooned far and wide for the comment.
So the exopoliticos toil on, a tiny minority making a lonely push for disclosure on Capitol Hill.
“Few people are willing to make this kind of sacrifice. There’s no money. You can’t have a spouse or kids, and you have to live a very basic life,” Bassett says.
“I have nobody in my life right now,’ Allen says. “When you talk about seeing UFOs, everyone thinks you’re strange.”
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