Sunday, October 21, 2007

In the Orbit of UFO Enthusiasts

By Joe Heim
The Washington Post

     As a meeting spot for UFO enthusiasts, Logan's Roadhouse might seem a tad unlikely. But once a month or so, the back room of the bustling, busily decorated chain restaurant in Fairfax becomes the mother ship for area ufologists (yes, that's what they prefer to be called). They gather there to snack on chicken tenders and chili, and exchange sightings and extraordinary stories in the company of like-minded people who won't think they've completely lost their marbles.

"When I first started 20 years ago, it was a bunch of old guys with their pocket protectors, but now the meetings are getting more diverse," organizer Sue Swiatek says.

Swiatek, a software analyst by day, is the state director of the Virginia chapter of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), a private organization that investigates and compiles data on reports of unidentified flying objects. She and her husband, Rob Swiatek, an oft-cited UFO expert, are, for lack of a better term, the first couple of Virginia ufologists.

On Saturday, they will be among the featured speakers at Mysteries of Space and Sky IV: Sixty Years of UFOs, a daylong conference open to the public at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold. Rob Swiatek's talk, "Sacre Bleu! UFOs Over France," alone seems well worth the conference's $30-$40 admission fee.

For UFO buffs, 2007 is a multiple anniversary year. It was 60 years ago that whatever happened in Roswell, N.M., happened. It was 60 years ago that the term "flying saucer" entered the lexicon. And it was 55 years ago that reports of UFOs flooded the Washington region. This very newspaper ran stories with such headlines as " 'Saucer' Outran Jet, Pilot Reveals" and "D.C. Girl Sees Saucer Float Under Clouds."

Five years ago, a new case arose when F-16 fighter jets were scrambled from Andrews Air Force Base to pursue what turned out to be -- dum-de-dum-dum -- an unknown craft. Spooky, huh? And because it happened exactly 50 years to the day of saucers being reported over the region, the event prompted a flurry of local ufological activity. (And, no, don't insert a "we all know how painful that can be" joke here).

Of course, UFO enthusiasts are used to having their ideas about aliens and intergalactic spacecraft ridiculed. Those who opine that there are "others" out there are bound to hear they're more than a little out there themselves. If you talk to enough of them, you realize they have heard all of the insults before: nut job, wacko, loony, space case. But perhaps the most insulting thing to call a UFO believer is, well, a believer.

To believe, they argue, is to imply that there is room for doubt. But, they tell you, if you study the cases, follow the facts, examine the evidence, there is no room for doubt. "We're not believers; we're concluders," says Paul Nahay of Silver Spring. Meet him and find out what he and other local concluders have to say about UFOs.

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