Phoenix's UFO Congress Probes What Believers Insist Comes From "Above"

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Like those who've long discounted an official explanation that Roswell Incident wreckage was from a secret Air Force weather balloon, Kitei continues to investigate because she's unsatisfied with government explanations about what she and many others witnessed.

Willes and Kitei attend the UFO Congress each year to discuss openly what's often dismissed as fringe or pseudo-science. People here toss out terms like "definitive evidence" with impunity. They sport shirts with slogans like "I think therefore I'm dangerous."

One attendee explains that the conference is "like church" to him. He's cautious as he talks. He doesn't want government agents — "Men in Black" (he believes they sport similar get-ups to that movie's characters to avoid suspicion) — overhearing him. Like many at the Congress, he believes the government is hiding info, that the National Security Agency fears gatherings like this, where truth-seekers could put together the pieces and spark a revolution.

"You've got your various cliques," McClellan says, smiling. "There are certainly pockets of people who are 100 percent convinced that extraterrestrials are here, abducting people and interacting with people. There are groups of people who are fascinated by this. There are people who say, 'Yes, life is out there, and we're going to find it soon, but it isn't here yet.' And then you have the hundreds of people who say, 'We are aliens.'"

Rojas says, before taking the stage to introduce another guest, "You've got a really wide variety of opinions and ideas. It's certainly something we struggle with, because we try to represent all of that . . . We attempt to get information out there in an unbiased way."

The Open Minds team may be interested in objectivity, but for many of the people who attend the Congress, as noted, there's no convincing necessary.

In the vendor hall, curious musicians test out wooden flutes, attendees browse mountains of free literature and flyers for online radio programs. They meander by David Armstrong's table, checking out his outer space funk CDs. At Ben Hansen's table, there's a spread of books, photos, and a poster. It features a grainy picture of a UFO hovering over woodlands — an image popularized on the wall of FBI agent character Fox Mulder's office in The X-Files.

It reads: "I want to believe."

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.