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The Strange and Unfortunate Case of Paul Bennewitz
Beware the Mirage Men 👽
This week at POP 'N’ PIZZA, we’re exploring the story of Paul Bennewitz, a complex and contentious tale that intertwines UFO conspiracy theories, government disinformation, and the devastating effects such actions can have on vulnerable individuals.
Born in 1927, Paul Frederic Bennewitz served in World War II as a radio electronics engineer for the Coast Guard. After the war, he worked as an engineer for CBS television stations like KPIX in San Francisco and KPHO in Tucson. In 1966, he founded Thunder Scientific — a humidity generation and calibration equipment manufacturer — in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
During the 1970s, Bennewitz joined Arizona's Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO), a civilian UFO investigation group. In 1979, he began filming strange lights and recording peculiar radio signals over Kirtland Air Force Base. His findings caught the attention of the United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI).
Enter Richard Doty, an AFOSI special agent assigned to investigate Bennewitz’s UFO claims. Allegedly, Doty — the subject of the 2013 documentary MIRAGE MEN — was ordered by his superiors to make Bennewitz believe there was an impending alien invasion. Doty and other insiders, like ufologist and author William Moore, exploited Bennewitz's fascination with the phenomenon, leading to a disinformation campaign with far-reaching consequences.
Instead of offering clarifications or debunking UFO theories, Doty fed him false information about alleged alien bases and covert government projects. The objectives of this campaign were two-fold: diverting Bennewitz's attention from actual military activities and discrediting him within the UFO research community.
Bennewitz would begin to believe in a conspiracy involving an extensive network of UFO bases tied to an alien colonization and control scheme to subjugate humanity. Convinced that he was intercepting electronic communications from alien spacecraft outside of Albuquerque, Bennewitz soon believed that he had located a secret alien facility called Dulce Base.
The impact of the disinformation campaign on Paul Bennewitz was profound. His mental health rapidly declined as the false information reinforced his belief in extraterrestrial conspiracies and further exacerbated his paranoia of an impending invasion.
By August 1988, Bennewitz was accusing his wife of being in control of the extraterrestrials. After attempting to barricade himself in his home using sandbags, his family admitted him to the mental health unit of Presbyterian Anna Kaseman Hospital, where he remained under observation for one month.
On July 1, 1989, at a MUFON conference, William Moore told the UFO community that he tried to push Bennewitz into a mental breakdown by feeding him false information about aliens. In 1990, the Bennewitz story was publicized in Howard Blum's book Out There: The Government's Secret Quest for Extraterrestrials.
What became of Bennewitz in the ‘90s — whether his mental state improved or worsened — is unknown. All we know is that the World War II veteran died on June 23, 2003, at 75. He was buried at Santa Fe National Cemetery.
As for Richard Doty, he joined the New Mexico State Police in August 1988, where he still serves as Sergeant. In 2019, he spoke at UFO Mega Con in Laughlin, Nevada, where he acknowledged participating in the surveillance of UFO groups and disseminating false information.
Doty maintains that his interest in the phenomenon is sincere and that he is now free to speak of otherworldly things he saw while in the military, including a stint in which he was supposedly stationed at Area 51. But why would you believe a known disinformation agent? If you’re interested, here’s Doty’s side of the story:
The unfortunate tale of Paul Bennewitz highlights the potential harm that propaganda and disinformation campaigns — carried out by political parties, government bodies, or individuals with an agenda — can cause, especially to susceptible individuals. Here are some more recent examples of disinformation campaigns:
Russian operatives used social media platforms to spread disinformation and sow discord during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Various disinformation campaigns have targeted vaccines, claiming false links between vaccinations and serious health issues like autism. These campaigns have led to vaccine hesitancy and undermined public trust in vaccination programs.
In 2016, a baseless conspiracy theory claimed a Washington D.C. pizzeria was the center of a child sex trafficking ring connected to prominent Democrats. This false information spread widely on social media, leading to a real-life incident where an individual opened fire inside the pizzeria.
In Myanmar, false information and hate speech were disseminated through social media, contributing to the persecution and violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority in 2017.
QAnon is a baseless conspiracy theory that originated on internet forums. It claims that a secret cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles controls the world and is being fought against by former President Donald Trump. The conspiracy theory has resulted in real-world violence and dangerous beliefs.
Some organizations and individuals have conducted disinformation campaigns to downplay or deny the scientific consensus on climate change, misleading the public about the severity and causes of global warming.
It's important to remain vigilant and critical of the information we encounter, especially on social media and online platforms, to prevent the spread of disinformation and ensure that we base our beliefs and actions on accurate and verified information.
More About UFOs & Disinformation
Mirage Men: A Journey into Disinformation, Paranoia and UFOs by Mark Pilkington
Saucers, Spooks and Kooks: UFO Disinformation in the Age of Aquarius by Adam Gorightly