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

David Armstrong's music is out of this world.

At least that's how he explains it. According to the Minnesota-based musician's website, his "spirit guides recently turned him onto a being named The Traveler." Armstrong communicated with it, and The Traveler "brought David music from various Alien races to help humanity adjust to the ascension frequencies occurring on our planet."

The music sounds surprisingly funky.

Armstrong has five portable CD players splayed across his table at the 2014 International UFO Congress, an annual gathering of UFO enthusiasts at the Radisson Fort McDowell Resort and Casino on the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, near Fountain Hills. Each CD player has a corresponding set of headphones and features a different set of recordings.

Their covers bear UFO imagery and cosmic scenes. Some feature music composed to aid in healing and meditation, naming songs for locations in the Southwest: Scottsdale, Palm Springs, and Joshua Tree. But on albums like Galactic Groove and Music from the Stars, containing tunes he says were beamed to him from a light being from the Andromeda Galaxy, Armstrong plays synthetic acid jazz, sounding like something between a digital Funkadelic and the theme from Seinfeld.

The UFO conference's vendor room acts as a window into its attendees: There are New Age crystals for sale; Native American art featuring UFOs conspicuously floating in beautiful desert skies. One booth examines the extraterrestrial/sasquatch connection, while pop culturists, like Aaron Sagers of the Travel Channel's Paranormal Paparazzi, and former FBI agent Ben Hansen, who hosts Fact or Fake: Paranormal Files on the Syfy channel, display their wares: footage taken with high-tech cameras, books, and posters. There are Sedona citizens discussing orbs and vortexes, wooden flutes emitting haunting melodies, and underwear. Kind of sexy underwear, even: a black thong stretched over a silver mannequin's buttocks. There is a blue alien head — "The Observer," a nearby sign explains — prominently featured on the skimpy strip of fabric.

It's the 23rd installment of the UFO Congress. Founded in Laughlin, Nevada, the Congress has taken place on the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation since 2010, when Open Minds Production, a Tempe-based media company, began organizing the event. Between February 12 and 16, it drew about 2,500 people who convened on the resort to take in presentations, shop, watch films, and argue about the true nature of extraterrestrial phenomena. The event boasts "experiencer" sessions, where therapists Yvonne Smith and Gwen Farrell confer with alleged contactees. These sessions are closed to the press.

The conference boasts a who's who of UFO and paranormal celebrities, including: Stephen Bassett, whose Paradigm Research Group was responsible for a 2013 Citizen Hearing on Disclosure in Washington, D.C.; Robert Powell, director of research for the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON); Sagers; and George Noory, host of the popular overnight radio program Coast to Coast A.M.

The parking lot is packed, with cars from Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, California, Oregon, and Idaho, among other states, in addition to plenty from Arizona. Organizers say there are visitors from Switzerland, Canada, South Africa, and other faraway locales.

The vast majority is gathered to discuss and debate the existence of extraterrestrial beings.

Some attendees are convinced that alien visitors are benevolent; others warn of an impending invasion. Some are here to debunk the discussions and presentations. There are others seemingly not interested much in aliens at all, discussing instead Hitler conspiracy theories and kvetching about the ever-encroaching power of the Federal Reserve, the global elite, the Illuminati, and powerful lizard people.

The UFO Congress is something like a Ron Paul rally crossed with Phoenix Comicon. It's a gathering that draws a diverse crowd united only by a shared belief that things are not what they seem.

Tempe's Open Minds Production, an LLC dedicated to UFO and paranormal research, is responsible for a glossy, full-color magazine, published bi-monthly, a radio program/podcast, a popular YouTube program (Spacing Out!), and the annual UFO Congress.

The staff — Angela Allison, Alejandro Rojas, Maureen Elsberry, and Jason McClellan — does everything from booking guest speakers at the conference to making sure they're happy with their accommodations to running lights, sound, and visuals.

Allison prefers not to speak with the press, but Rojas, Elsberry, and McClellan have no such aversion to the spotlight. The three constitute the face and voice of the media company. Rojas famously hung out with the Kardashians on their show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, taking the socialite family to southern Nevada's Area 51 (a remote extension of Edwards Air Force Base that some UFO believers allege hosted encounters with space aliens) and introducing them to Travis Walton, the Snowflake logger who claimed he was abducted by extraterrestrials in 1975.

Walton's account is one of the most popular UFO-abduction tales in the history of the field — Rojas says he'd rank it in the top 10, maybe the top five. His vivid story of going aboard an alien craft is harrowing: Awaking in the vessel, Walton says, he was surrounded by "grays," alien beings in orange jumpsuits, shorter than five feet tall with enormous eyes and domed heads. After a five-day search in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, Walton was found west of Heber. The 1993 film Fire in the Sky was based on Walton's story.