In the late 1980s, a young investigative journalist named George Knapp, whose history of reporting and involvement with the UFO subject now holds near-legendary status, hosted a small public access television program called On the Record. Breaking from the regular lineup of interviews with city councilmen and public officials in the Las Vegas area, in January 1987 Knapp was joined by a guest very different from his normal roster: pilot John Lear, who joined Knapp to discuss the controversial subject of UFOs.
Lear, who recently passed away in late March, was of the same famous Lear family that the Lear Jet borrowed its name (John’s father had been the creator of this, and several other innovations). John himself was also a highly decorated pilot, having flown cargo aircraft for the CIA during the Vietnam War. But by the 1980s, he had turned his attention from conventional aircraft and his profession as a commercial pilot over to reports of other objects that were purportedly being seen in the skies, which were far less easily accounted for.
As Lear told Knapp in 1987, it had only been about two years prior to their discussion that he became interested in the UFO subject.
“My father saw a UFO, and my brother did,” Lear explained, although noting that he felt there was “really no proof, as far as I was concerned, to really look into it.”
That changed in around 1985, when he and a friend who was passing through town met for a visit. During their talk, Lear’s friend told him that the infamous 1980 UFO incident at Rendlesham Forest near Suffolk, England, had definitely happened, and that several U.S. Air Force servicemen had described personal experiences seeing the object on the night in question.
“Since then,” Lear told Knapp, “I ran into one of the security police who was within ten feet of the saucer, and actually saw the three aliens get out and go up to General Gordon Williams, who was the wing commander at that time.”
It was an astonishing statement, to say the least. Lear seemed to be referring to Larry Warren when he said this, a man who had only recently come forward at the time claiming to have been one of the Rendlesham witnesses. After co-authoring an account of the incident with noted UFO author Peter Robbins, Warren’s version of the story remained unchallenged for years, until significant differences between his account, and those of other military personnel who observed strange phenomena on the night in question, finally came to a head. By 2017, many researchers who had once endorsed Warren’s version of the story began stepping back, including his co-author.
“I felt I had proved enough to myself of Larry's account and details surrounding it that he was telling the truth,” Robbins said in a May 2017 interview. “And I feel now that in part that was not the case and there was an intent to deceive.”
Although the truth behind Warren’s claims wouldn’t come out for many years, in 1987 this had been only one of the questionable UFO claims that John Lear helped bring to public attention. The broader narrative that Lear began to promote around this time was equally dubious: one where the United States government had been concealing an alien invasion by having entered an agreement with the “extraterrestrial biological entities”, or EBEs, going back several decades. This uneasy arrangement purportedly granted the EBEs an allowance as far as abductions of humans and mutilations of cattle, in exchange for access to certain extraterrestrial technologies which the U.S. government possessed, but kept hidden from the public.
However, while the government turned a blind eye to the abductions and cattle mutilations, it had slowly become clear over time how sinister the extraterrestrial agenda actually was. Among their activities, according to Lear, had been the insertion of small tracking devices into the nasal cavities of abductees, along with the use of posthypnotic suggestion to hide this fact from unwitting abductees. Genetic experiments were also carried out by the EBEs, along with the impregnation of human females for purposes of creating ET-human “hybrids.” Perhaps most concerning of all, there were even instances where the assassinations of individuals who interfered with the aliens’ dark agenda had occurred.
This, in essence, formed the basis of what became known as Lear’s “Dark Side” or “Dark Hypothesis”, a ufological horror story that, despite the incredible claims it was comprised of, managed to become highly influential in UFO circles beginning in the 1980s.
That isn’t to say that there weren’t researchers early on who didn’t question some of Lear’s claims. In postings on ParaNet, an early modem-based Bulletin Board System (BBS) network for the exchange of UFO-related information and other claims of the paranormal, Ohio-based attorney Rick Dell'Aquila, then the State Section Director for the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) in Cuyahoga County, had been among those who poked a few holes in Lear’s claims, even while seemingly accepting his general premise.
“Without explaining the EBE's reason(s) to do business with the most powerful nation on Earth when they could covertly continue their activities in the Third World without concern,” Dell’Aquila argued that Lear put forth his fearful hypothesis about the ET reality, without ever really explaining “why these advanced and powerful aliens would even want or require our ‘agreement’ to continue their activities,” along with other worthwhile criticisms.
“Were it not for his credentials and Paranet's assurance of his ‘numerous contacts in sensitive positions,’ the otherwise outlandish claims he makes could be dismissed as entertaining fiction,” Dell’Aquila wrote. “However, Mr. Lear's character and reputation require that greater consideration be given to his statement.”
Although it was true that Lear’s background and achievements helped afford him a degree of credibility, that didn’t necessarily make his claims about the U.S. government’s hidden history of involvement with UFOs and aliens any more believable. In fact, within a few years of Lear entering the UFO community, serious questions—and concerns—would begin to be raised over the sources behind the narrative he presented.
According to UFO historian Jerome Clark, much of Lear’s information early on came directly from researcher Paul Bennewitz, who “had first heard these scary stories from AFOSI personnel at Kirtland in the early 1980s,” during a series of now-infamous meetings where Bennewitz was provided disinformation to lead him toward concluding that NSA testing he had managed to detect over Kirtland was, in actuality, evidence of extraterrestrials.
“By this time Bennewitz had become something of a guru to a small group of UFO enthusiasts,” Clarke wrote in his exhaustive work, The UFO Encyclopedia. However, there were even darker shades to Lear’s “Dark Hypothesis” since, according to Clark, Lear had also been “linking his UFO beliefs with conspiracy theories about a malevolent secret American government that was attempting to use the aliens for its own purposes, including enslavement of the world's population through drug addiction.”
As Clark points out, at the time a “considerable body of rightwing-conspiracy literature, some with barely concealed anti-Semitic overtones, was making similar charges.” During the late 1980s, Lear also began to associate with controversial figures the likes of William Cooper, whose early involvement with the UFO subject gradually began to shift over time toward more concerning, far-right conspiracies involving the United States government. Cooper was eventually killed in a shoot-out with Apache County sheriff’s deputies at his home while they attempted to arrest him on charges of aggravated assault and endangerment. Cooper, who had also been avoiding tax evasion charges since 1998, was killed during the ensuing melee after he shot one of the deputies in the head.
But of all the many controversial figures John Lear would associate with during this period, it is perhaps his relationship with Paul Bennewitz that is the most perplexing. While Bennewitz’s paranoid UFO claims (fueled by disinformation provided courtesy of the AFOSI) played a key role in shaping Lear’s views on the subject, the relationship between the two men became strained with time, and under somewhat mysterious circumstances.
Researcher Christian Lambright gives the following details about an incident involving an extended meeting between Bennewitz and Lear, which apparently went south for reasons that remain unknown:
“Sometime in 1987, or possibly 1988, John Lear went to meet Paul [Bennewitz] at Paul’s home. I found out later that John spent several days there, though to the best of my knowledge it was the first time they had met in person. A few days after John’s departure, I got a call from Paul. He was extremely angry about something involving John and, from the strong words he used, it was very clear that he did not care to see John again.”
“Following his interactions with Lear, Bennewitz changed his phone number and withdrew from the front lines of ufology,” Adam Gorightly said of the incident in his excellent book, Saucers, Spooks and Kooks: UFO Disinformation in the Age of Aquarius, reiterating Lambright’s suspicion that “the cause behind Bennewitz’s self-imposed ufological exile had something to do with his meeting with Lear,” with Gorightly adding that “by this time Bennewitz was teetering on the edge of a psychological meltdown.”
Whatever happened between Lear and Bennewitz still remains unclear. However, the ultimate takeaway from the entire affair is that most of Lear’s views on the UFO subject had been borrowed from Bennewitz, whose own conspiratorial offerings were significantly influenced by disinformation efforts that were later revealed to have been targeting him at the time (see Greg Bishop’s Project Beta for the most authoritative account of the Bennewitz story, as well as Mark Pilkington’s Mirage Men, which also looks at UFO disinformation and the Bennewitz case). In light of such revelations, Lear’s “Dark Side” claims regarding cooperation between the U.S. government and hostile EBEs are well deserving of the skepticism they have received.
While Lear’s views remained controversial—and questionable—throughout his life, few can argue that his firebrand persona didn’t drive much of the ufological dialogue during the 1980s and 1990s. It is a legacy that is both troubling, and fascinating in many ways, given that Lear’s views on the subject helped to steer a conspiratorial narrative about UFOs and the U.S. government’s involvement which, even after many decades, remains highly influential in some UFO circles. As problematic as that is, it is a reality that must be recognized in order to make sense of the seemingly never-ending hall of mirrors that comprises much of modern ufology.