There’s one video available on the internet concerning my father, Patrick McGuire. It’s strange. Uploaded to YouTube 15 years ago — though clearly recorded much earlier — the video frames another TV screen. There is constant static, and the image is fractured as if the broadcast comes from far away. My father is discussing cattle mutilations under hypnosis.
“We come up on a cow that was dead. They cut the nose off, tongues out and the sex organs were gone,” he recounts as though he is sleepwalking through a nightmare. He goes on to describe in great detail a “spaceship” that landed on his ranch and took members of his herd ― their distant, terrified animal cries filling those dark prairie nights.
One comment below the video reads, “Having lived and worked with cow-men, can you immagine this guy going to town after this got out publicly. I mean they are a finicky bunch to say the least.”
I don’t have to imagine. I grew up with him walking through our small Western town, his life by then fractured like that broadcast. He was completely destitute, picking through my classmates’ garbage, and when a classmate came to school the next day and told me what they saw, their grin, and subsequent laughter, left little to the imagination. However, I then joined in with their laughter. That commenter was right: We are a finicky bunch, to say the least.
On May 14, 2009, my father passed away in a Colorado hospital due to cancer. He was 67. I did not speak to him before he died. His last years were spent in homelessness, though he hadn’t always lived that way. His last words, so I heard, were about grand conspiracies and sinister deep states, though he hadn’t always spoken about such topics. My father’s legacy in our small Wyoming town ― and inside our family ― is stained with his tales of alien abduction, interstellar prophecy and the insistence he was chosen, though he had not always been chosen. There was a time before my birth when he was obsessed with the lore of his rural community, the spiraling complexities of high school dances and the schemes of enlarging his Roman Catholic family. He was normal, caring and complete. That was before the stars came knocking.
When I first saw the bold headline “Intelligence Officials Say U.S. Has Retrieved Craft of Non-Human Origin,” published June 5, 2023, in The Debrief, I initially didn’t think about whether the headline was true. I didn’t contemplate what the recovered crafts might look like or that “non-human” was just another euphemism for the same thing we have been talking about since 1947 ― I thought about my father.
I can see him now as though he were alive today, black cowboy hat tilted, face tanned and cracked from the high plains sun, saying, “Who’s laughing now?” I’m not laughing anymore, but not because I know what that headline is saying is absolutely true and proof lies just around the corner; I’m not laughing because I should never have laughed in the first place.
In 2017, The New York Times broke news about a previously unknown Pentagon department: the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP). This department was involved in investigating what were formerly called UFOs, now referred to as Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP). More shifting euphemisms and acronyms for us to track. Since then, the news surrounding these phenomena has steadily grown. There was a congressional hearing in 2022, the creation of a governmental department called the All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO) and a NASA hearing devoted to encountered ― or not encountered ― UAPs. And now a new whistleblower, former intelligence official and AATIP task force member David Grusch, claims a government cover-up. “These [programs] are retrieving non-human origin technical vehicles, call it spacecraft if you will, non-human exotic origin vehicles that have either landed or crashed,” he stated to NewsNation recently. What once seemed to be the premise for the next ”X-Files” reboot has become front page news, gaining mainstream consideration by the serious, the rational, the institutional and the scientific.
It’s strange to be here in this cultural moment. I think many people feel that to some degree. Whether this is all true or not, it is unmooring to read that U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is demanding disclosure on a subject that, only a decade ago, would have been political suicide to even mention. To read former Pentagon official Lue Elizondo state, “My personal belief is that there is very compelling evidence that we may not be alone” is surreal, and stranger still is reading about governmental UFO agencies and “Black Money” in The New York Times.
D.W. Pasulka, author of the 2019 book ”American Cosmic,” an exploration of our cultural interaction with the UFO phenomena, recently referred to this specific whistleblower event and to the preceding media coverage as a “paradigm shift,” a fundamental change in the way we conceptualize an issue. “That is,” she explained, “there is huge pressure from [the] fringe, then marginal sources that finally initiate a shift in consensus.” And there is an unexpected change in our current moment from the one that preceded it, though now it feels to me — perhaps, given my family history, more than most — like there has also been an unexpected change in the past.
The stigma against people who believe in UFOs may go back to the very birth of the topic itself, when the first reports of UFOs described by Kenneth Arnold went from “saucer,” “disk” and “pie pan” to sensational terms like “flying saucers” in the press, for which Arnold later stated, “I have, of course, suffered some embarrassment here and there by misquotes and misinformation.” From there, this subject expanded to include tropes like anal probes, stock characters in films living their lonely, manic lives in houses criss-crossed with spiderwebs of yarn.
Abductees have been satirized on “Saturday Night Live” and in popular beer commercials. Even famed Harvard psychologist Richard J. McNally stated in his past clinical research into the abduction phenomenon that “it occasionally took [a researcher] several tries to record these [abduction] narratives properly. He would sometimes burst out laughing while trying to record these stories with the necessary solemnity.” Insincerity and mockery has shrouded the subject so thoroughly that NASA recently shared at a hearing that “the stigma associated with reporting UFO sightings — as well as the harassment of people who work to investigate them — may be hindering efforts to determine their origins.”
I know that stigma well ― having experienced it from both sides. My father was born and raised in Wyoming and was a rancher like his father and his grandfather. He nestled into a Western community that branded their cattle and youth alike with abstract symbols, that found definition in the regularity of rain and saw acreage as an inappropriate subject to discuss openly. “Asking about the size of a man’s spread is like asking to look at his checkbook,” he said to me once, laughing. And one local recently told me, “He could break a horse like nobody’s business. He was real sharp like that. Shame what happened to him.”
My father saw UFOs. Not one, once, like a dinner guest might claim after a few glasses of wine, but many times. Numerous UFOs all at once, up close, lingering in the western Wyoming sky like a nightmare that refused to dissipate come sunrise. In 1981, on NBC’s prime-time TV show “That’s Incredible,” my father’s story gained national attention as he related, under hypnosis, the specifics of his abduction claims and the demands aliens had made upon his life.
On the March 5, 1980, airing of ABC’s ”Eyewitness News,” he reported that UFOs had landed on his ranch “somewhere around 25, 30 times,” and witnesses present were quoted as saying they saw “two or three of them land at separate times… [and] we stayed and watched the sun come up and we saw two of them, in daylight, hovering in two separate places.” A headline in the March 24, 1981, National Enquirer reads, “Farmer: Aliens Use My Ranch as Their Landing Place,” and it reports that “Local newspaper and television reporters have also seen strange lights darting over the McGuire ranch.”
There appeared to be no shortage of witnesses to what was happening on his land. “While we cannot be certain of what we saw,” Casper Star Tribune investigative reporter Greg Bean wrote on June 29, 1980, “none of us left the McGuire farm with as much skepticism as we arrived with. Perhaps we can return.”
My father’s claims continued. Under hypnosis with famous UFO psychologist R. Leo Sprinkle, he recounted abductions by “Star People,” who demanded his actions in conjunction with their plan for humanity. These Star People told him of a coming climate apocalypse. Following this hypnosis, in a mere handful of years, he was completely destitute without home or family, and he claimed that governmental forces were keeping him that way because of what he saw and said. This story is a regular in the UFO community. In fact, the story of Grusch, the whistleblower, is no surprise to the community, the folks who did believe and respect my father. Covert conspiracies, recovered craft, Nazi research and “non-human origins” ― almost everything the whistleblower related, my father related to me in similar fashion at some point in my life.
From the earliest points in my childhood, I was told that UFOs were nothing to make light of. At every turn, every nightfall, through any locked door — the Star People could take anyone, even me.
My father’s description of the Star People, and my subsequent nightmares, matched what our culture has come to expect: 5-foot hairless beings with eyes like colorless pools hovering by my bedside. Soon classmates and teachers alike were smirking at my fears, and then, like any sociological contagion, I began to smirk, too. Then TV took over for my teachers, and “South Park, “Coneheads” and “Mars Attacks” taught me that this was, indeed, a laughing matter.
My brothers and I laughed when our father talked about the implants and their accompanying pain. We laughed when he claimed he could barely walk after what the Star People did to him. We laughed when he said that he was suing the government for the land they took from him, for destroying his life, for destroying our lives. We laughed. The world laughed.
If you were not one to laugh about UFOs, then you didn’t say anything at all, and if you did, you hesitantly considered the person you were talking to first, making sure they would not laugh at you, too, before you said anything at all. For many, it was a precarious high-wire if one was to discuss the trauma of the phenomenon or its reality.
When we weren’t getting our meals in school, my father often took us to the local soup kitchen in a basement bunker in the town Episcopal cathedral. I remember best the dampness of the walls and the claustrophobia of dining elbow-to-elbow with the other folks weathering the financial storms outside. Breaking expired bread to share over lentil soup, we were often the only children in attendance. For most of the diners, this was the last place to go. The person across from me would make small talk between spoonfuls, but nothing of the weather or local gossip. In the soup kitchen, the talk was of remote viewing, reverse-engineering and tapping into the collective unconscious for cosmic spiritual growth. I would nod with feigned excitement and encourage them to continue, go deeper. “What about the face of Mars?” I would ask with a smile. My brothers and I often failed to contain our laughter.
As the world contemplates Grusch’s claims, I’m the one who feels ashamed. These potential findings mean only one thing to me: An accounting must be made. How should we address our past mockery and ridicule if it turns out that, hidden in a desert base somewhere, there are indeed crafts, cadavers and photographs of strange visitors?
Regardless of the origins of the metallic orbs, Tic Tac crafts and flying saucers — and independent of the validity of Grusch’s claims — we should feel impelled to investigate and rescue a community living with the trauma of the unknown and indescribable. A community we greeted with sneers and derision for so long, a community we pushed to the outskirts of our cultural limits to be safely ignored. If it is all true ― or it is all lies and sickness ― we should approach both valuations with care and consideration, even skepticism, but not with the intense ridicule so many of us have given them for so long.
I cannot say for certain that a shift in the wider cultural acceptance of UFOs is already occurring in our institutions, as some have begun to state, but I can report what has occurred in my own consciousness. Since the ’50s, intrepid investigators have spent their whole lives and careers dedicated to the phenomenon of UFOs and abductions, and here we are, possibly closer to the truth than ever. And yet I somehow feel no closer to understanding my father. I was not at his side while he lay on his deathbed, by choice ― a choice I seemingly made as a child and never reassessed. I chose not to hear his last words, and that’s hard for me to accept.
“Although delusions are commonly encountered in schizophrenia and affective disorder, it turns out that anyone can have them,” Mahzarin Banaji and John Kihlstrom stated in their 1996 research titled, “The Ordinary Nature of Alien Abduction Memories.” “They are natural byproducts of our attempts to explain the unusual things that can happen to us.” As has been the tradition with this topic, I have little certainty about what happened to my father; I can only say that something unusual happened to him, then he spent the rest of his life trying to make sense of it. And now I will spend the rest of my life trying to make sense of him.
David Riedel, born and educated in Bosler, Wyoming, is a University of Wyoming graduate student whose writing often examines the realities of addiction and mental illness inside this strange, frightening world we all inhabit. In 2021, he won the Torry Award for his novella submission “Terrestrial Issues,” and his short stories “The Space Beneath” and “The Body” have been published in the Worm Moon Archive literary magazine.