Well, I was kind of expecting to see a bit of a fanfare this month about the infamous MJ12 documents. Why? Simple: this month marks exactly twenty-five years since they surfaced into the public domain in the pages of Tim Good’s acclaimed book of May 1987: Above Top Secret: The Worldwide UFO Cover-Up. That there hasn’t seemingly been much in the way of commentary on the 25th anniversary of what are, without doubt, one of the most controversial “things” ever to have surfaced within the ufological arena, suggests a few possibilities…
First, maybe whole swathes of Ufology have simply forgotten about MJ12. Second, perhaps the fact that – for many in Ufology – the documents continue to frustratingly languish in that murky stalemate-driven realm of “genuine, disinformation, or hoax?” has led the research community to focus its attentions on what it sees as far more profitable and likely ways to secure the truth behind the UFO phenomenon. And, third, maybe people just don’t care anymore about the debate surrounding the papers, their content, the way they surfaced, and the attendant analysis of their content.
Whatever the answer(s), the papers did – and, for some, still do – play a significant role in Ufology for many a year. I still very well remember how, when Tim Good’s book surfaced in the U.K. in May 1987, they provoked widespread debate, excitement, fury and skepticism in the British UFO arena of the day. And, hot on the heels of Good’s book was the release – in the United States – of the same documents team from the team of Bill Moore, Stanton Friedman and Jaime Shandera. And, in no time at all, the world of Ufology was faced with its biggest piece of news in a long, long time.
For those not fully conversant with the papers in question, they actually appeared under mysterious circumstances in the mailbox of the aforementioned Shandera back in December 1984, and were carefully and quietly studied for years – not surprising, given that they appeared to be official, highly-classified documents concerning the establishment, in 1947, by President Harry Truman, of a highly classified group of people in government, the military, the intelligence world, and the scientific community, who, collectively, became known as MJ12 or Majestic 12.
And, so the papers made it clear, the group was sitting on just about the biggest secret of all: the recovery of a crashed UFO and dead alien bodies from the New Mexico desert in the summer of 1947. That’s right: Roswell. But, that quiet study came to an end when Above Top Secret was published. The cosmic cat was now out of the bag and everyone knew the story and was on the trail.
For those people reading this who weren’t on the ufological scene back in 1987 – or, maybe, weren’t even born – it’s probably hard to understand the near-hysteria and huge excitement that accompanied the MJ12 papers when they first hit the headlines. There really was a deep sense of “This is it!” And a feeling that “the truth is coming.”
Of course, and as is always the case in Ufology, it wasn’t quite that simple. While some in Ufology championed the documents – and their content – as being utterly genuine, others soon cried “Hoax!” And some claimed this was all a case of government-created disinformation to further cloud the already murky waters of stories relative to Roswell, dead aliens and crashed UFOs. There was forensic analysis of the typeface in the documents, Truman’s signature on the papers became a hugely controversial matter, and extensive research was undertaken into the names, lives and activities of the alleged MJ12 members. In some cases, this all went on for years. And such was the controversy, even the FBI got involved in the MJ12 affair at one point.
But, for all the studies, papers, books, lectures, analyses and more, the MJ12 papers did not resolve Roswell. Nor did they open the floodgates to a revelation that, yes, UFOs are real and the government has secretly had proof ever since aliens had the misfortune to crash in the wilds of Lincoln County, New Mexico in the summer of 1947. What the documents did do, however, was to keep many significant figures in the UFO research community busy – and arguing – for years. And the outcome was pretty much as I expected it to be.
If there is one thing that can be said about the ufological research arena (and this also goes for Cryptozoology, ghost-hunting, and every other aspect of Fortean-based studies, too), it’s that everyone has an opinion. Everyone has a favorite case. And there’s never-ending debate on what’s genuine and what isn’t.
Whether it’s George Adamski’s 60-something-year-old photos, the Gulf Breeze affair, the Bob Lazar-Area 51 controversy, or the truth behind the Men in Black puzzle, the reality is that such issues – and countless more – polarize people into different camps. Some believe, some disbelieve, others doubt, far more than a few don’t know what to think, and many end up exasperated, exhausted and frustrated by their quest for the truth – which always remains a tantalizing step or several ahead of them. And the very same thing can be said about the MJ12 documents.
So, twenty-five years later, where are we at with those pesky papers? If you’re a believer, you’ll say the truth is in, even if we can’t fully prove it. The skeptic would say it’s all a big fuss about nothing, a hoax, a joke, a distraction. Many – certainly me – might say that, as interesting and as exciting as that period was in the summer of 1987, neither the documents nor the era have changed anything at all. But, isn’t that what Ufology is all about: new controversy layered upon new controversy, but never a straight answer that we can nail to the ground and finally say “Gotcha!”?
So, as much as I find the whole MJ12 controversy as frustrating as it is sometimes intriguing, today I raise a glass of something chilled and potent to those papers of the purloined, leaked, faked or whatever else nature might spring to mind. And, I have no doubt that in another 25 years people will still be asking questions about MJ12, about the Truman signature, about whether or not the brand of typewriter used to prepare the documents was actually in use in 1947, and about…well, the list will go on and on, as will the definitively unanswered questions.
A 50th anniversary for MJ12? I don’t know whether to laugh or cry…