The study of UFOs and extraterrestrial entities has been with us for quite some time. Officially the term "ufology" dates back to the late 1950's, with one of the first citations coming from Times Literary Supplement dated from January 23, 1959. The field exploded following an incident in Roswell, New Mexico that became a modern media and cultural phenomenon. The most telling aspect of ufology is that Roswell, the most famous of all alleged UFO crashes, is to this day still hotly debated and very much unresolved. All who engage with this research should be prepared for a lifetime of unanswered questions and moving targets. Maybe even a little cloak and dagger.
A deluge of alien-themed science-fiction films saturated the market throughout the 1950's and has never truly exited the public stage. There have been peaks and valleys – times when UFOs are a hot topic and others when the notion serves as little more than a comedic punchline. One thing is for sure, the public fascination with alien life, human abduction and invasions of our planet is as strong as ever. Each year is sure to deliver more books, TV specials, films, merchandise, conferences, lectures and radio programs. There never seems to be enough content to satiate what has become an out and out fan craze as loyal as any other.
The topic of UFOs has long since transcended a scientific or academic study and has become a sociological touchpoint that everyone in the world has an opinion on or an experience with. This personal and individual perspective of the alien hypothesis is just the area that researcher and writer, Ryan Sprague decided to zero in on when developing his first book, Somewhere in the Skies: A Human Approach to an Alien Phenomenon.
Diehard followers of the subculture will already be aware of Sprague and his many associations within the field. With his passion and ambition, he has managed to work his way into the spotlight with the help of highly regarded veterans of ufology and paranormal media like Richard Dolan and Jim Harold, while at the same time forming partnerships with a slew of newer names that are quickly becoming fixtures, one day to replace the old guard represented by Stanton Friedman and Jacques Vallée.
With youthful energy and enthusiasm, Sprague is taking ufology by storm and adding new and fresh perspectives that aim to shake-up the same old same old without dishonoring the mountains of work that stands behind him. In this interview we touch on his background and get his take on many historical highlights and new developments that animate our daydreams and possibly even our nightmares.
What were you into as a child - media and pop culture-wise?
As a child, I was heavily into comic books. My bedroom was littered with Batman, X-Men, and a lesser known Image-Comic-turned short-lived animated series, Wild C.A.T.S. And bands such as Green Day, Nirvana, Goo Goo Dolls, and Blink 182 were always blasting from my beat-up boombox that I cherished with all my heart. Other than that, I had some really obscure hobbies. I would draw assembly lines in factories on huge poster boards. It didn't matter what the factory was assembling. I just loved the forward progression of something starting from nothing and being created and sent out into the world.
My factories ranged from Easter egg dying to battle tank manufacturing. It really depended on how random my brain happened to be blending that day. I also had a weird obsession with ancient Egyptian locations. My parents would enable my obsession by purchasing reams of construction paper, and I'd create these elaborate dioramas of deserts, pyramids, and the seemingly never-ending Nile River. Safe to say, I had a rather eclectic adolescence.
What is your first memory of aliens or UFOs? Was it from TV, movies or a book?
The first time I ever came across the topic of aliens or UFOs was late one night when I snuck into the living room to watch TV and I distinctly remember seeing an episode of The Twilight Zone called “The Gift”, in which an alien, disguised as a human, is shot and killed after presenting a “gift” to a group of people in a small Mexican village. The gift is burned in fear that it may be evil... but then they read a note saying that the alien came in peace and the gift was the cure to all cancers for humankind. To this day, I remember fondly the final line by a doctor that the alien attempted to give the gift to.
|The Twilight Zone, "The Gift"|
He says, “We have not just killed a man; we have killed a dream.” This entire idea of an “other” not being accepted really stuck with me. And it is something I kept in mind as I continued studying the UFO phenomenon. Perhaps whatever it is... it is just as perplexed, scared, or curious as we are. Empathy, a vital trait of humanity, is something that should never be taken lightly.
You had a sighting yourself at age twelve. Can you describe it and how it changed your life or how you viewed life?
My interest stemmed from a sighting I had in 1995. I was twelve years old, and I was on a weekend getaway with my parents to the Saint Lawrence River, which runs all through upstate New York and separates The New York border from Canada. I was fishing off a dock one night, listening to Green Day on my headphones, and I notice three white lights reflecting in the water. I look up, and there's this massive triangular formation about three hundred feet above me.
There's this fuzzy orange/red sphere in the center of the formation. I couldn't see any type of structure, but I also couldn't see the stars behind this formation. I rip my headphones off and my disc-man goes flying down the dock, and I'm expecting to hear this thing above me, but there was nothing.
All I could hear was the water hitting the dock. And I could feel this low vibration running behind my ears, down my neck, and into my chest. I yell for my Dad to come out and he sees this thing slowly disappear off in the distance. He assured me it was nothing but a plane. And while he may have been right, it certainly wasn't a conventional air craft that I knew of. And if it was man-made, it most definitely had to be some sort of top secret military technology.. Or... it could have been extraterrestrial.
|Ben McGuire's artistic rendition of Ryan's sighting|
Either way, that night terrified me, and I began to have nightmares every night about that formation in the sky and just the complete silence that enveloped it. I became obsessed with UFOs after that, taking out book after book about them thereafter. That singular event changed the entire course of my life. That's for damn sure.
When did you begin to study the history of the phenomena in a serious way?
Believe it or not, my research truly began only a year later at the age thirteen. My seventh grade English teacher gave us an assignment to write a paper on something mysterious that we found of interest. Naturally, I chose UFOs. My mother knew a friend whose father had witnessed a UFO during his service in Vietnam. He was working on a Command and Communications vessel for the NAVY and had a dramatic UFO sighting over the water with four other officers. They witnessed seven orbs, orange in color, floating over the Pacific Ocean in a boomerang formation. This man had never spoken about this before, so I was very honored that he was willing to speak to me about it. I compiled his entire testimony and detailed it in my paper.
So in essence, I have my English teach to thank for ostensibly starting my UFO journalistic endeavors. It was a snowball effect thereafter, and when I started college, I connected with the folks over at OpenMinds Production and starting writing for their magazine. After two years of writing short, objective articles, I wanted to stretch my muscles a bit further, and that's when I decided to write my first book on the topic.
Can you give us an overview of your new book Somewhere in the Skies: A Human Approach to an Alien Phenomenon? How is this book different from the thousands of other UFO books out there?
The book is a little different from most UFO books, in my opinion. I interviewed about two hundred people in my research and narrowed it down to about two dozen individuals who have had UFO sightings, close encounters, or claimed abduction experiences. But rather than focusing on the event itself, I put a microscope on those involved and how the event impacted their lives.
How does a UFO experience change a person? What do they believe happened to them, and what did they take away from that experience? It's more of a sociological approach than a Ufological one.
The individuals having these experiences are the backbone to the entire study of UFOs, and I genuinely believe that their thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of what happened to them can truly further the overall study and move us forward in humanity, not matter what UFOs are or are not.
You have looked at not just whether UFOs are genuine non-human phenomena but at the actual psychological or spiritual effects that take place with the humans involved in these experiences. Are there ways that you have come to categorize the post-experience tracts that people tend to go down in response?
A UFO event seems to effect humans on many different levels. Spiritually, religiously, psychologically, sociologically, philosophically, scientifically, sexually, and everything in between. It finds a place in every single corner of our existences, and it sits there, waiting for our hearts and minds to either reject it or embrace it. It often amplifies one, several, or all of these. It makes us grow and it makes us change.
Sometimes for good, and sometimes not so good. Some I spoke to became obsessed, like me, and research the topic daily. Some rejected the event and never thought of it again. Others became pastors of churches, teachers in schools, trainers in metaphysical studies... it really runs an often complex, emotional, and very messy spectrum. It all depends on what the individual takes from their experience and how they decide to fit it into their own world view.
Who is Peter Robbins and why do you consider him your mentor?
I was a huge fan of Peter Robbin's work in his co-authored book, Left at East Gate: A First-hand Account of the Rendlesham Forest UFO Incident, Its Cover-up, and Investigation. I noticed he lived in my neck of the concrete woods, New York City, so I contacted him. We sparked up a quick friendship and meet at least once a month in Manhattan. He taught me early on to always have compassion for those you are interviewing. This became essential when writing my book, as there were some stories that, frankly, were just completely unbelievable to me. But I learned to treat every witness and experiencer with the same respect and open-mindedness.
|Ryan and Peter Robbins|
As a journalist, you are there to record the story and state the facts. And sometimes, the story is all you have to rely on. It then comes down to integrity. If you as the journalist feel the story is worth telling and progresses the study of Ufology, then it is up to you to bring it to the public in the most responsible way you see fit. Robbins also taught me to never be afraid to admit when you are wrong. It happens. It will always happen in this field. Admit it. Correct it. And move onward and upward.
What’s your relationship with paranormal podcaster Jim Harold?
Jim Harold's acclaimed Paranormal Podcast was the first podcast I ever heard. I was immediately hooked, and followed his trajectory as his podcasting career took off. I have been fortunate to be interviewed on both the Paranormal Podcast and one of his other shows, UFO Encounters. Harold eventually invited me to become a writer for his website where I truly got to stretch my muscles and write not just about UFOs, but many other esoteric and enigmatic topics. He compiled a very skilled team of writers which included Nick Redfern, Theresa Argie, Micah Hanks, and Marie D. Jones. I was deeply honored to be amongst these individuals. Our past articles can all be found at www.jimharold.com.
How did you develop a working relationship with the “famous” Richard Dolan?
Just like Robbins, I was fascinated by Dolan's work on his UFOs and the National Security State volumes. I very much enjoyed his historical perception and approach to studying UFO phenomena, and I felt compelled to reach out to him about possibly publishing a book of mine. I sent him a few writing samples one night, and the very next day he called me and said, “Yes. Let's do it.”
For the next two years, I worked closely with him and my editor, Jane Moore, in structuring my book, and the rest is history. Dolan is a powerhouse in the UFO field... and to even be connected to him in any way is a true honor. I hope I've done his publishing company proud, and can't wait to see what the future holds for him and our working relationship. Can you tell I'm sucking up a little?
Do you need a journalism education to write essays and books on the paranormal?
Robbins, my mentor, once told me that in order to become a UFO or paranormal researcher, you need only stand on one foot, touch your nose with your right pointer finger, and spin around three times... and boom... you are a “Ufologist”. We all know there is no degree in UFOs or paranormal studies. In a field that strives to be taken seriously by both the scientific community and the mainstream media, I think it would benefit a writer immensely to have some sort of journalism back ground.
For me, I took several communications and journalism courses while attending college. But for many, writing on these topics is strictly a hobby, and you will see the worst of the worst writing out there. And I mean almost incomprehensible. But I do feel that the integrity and skill level of many who are now writing about UFOs has grown immensely, which then challenges the rest of us to step up our game and reach that level of professionalism as well. It's healthy competition, and can only help the field(s) in my opinion.
There is an important distinction between UFO and UAP, not just a change of words but a different philosophy for the field. Can you comment on the way you see this shift?
I think that UAP is a wonderful addition to the study. The acronym "UFO" was coined by Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, who headed Project Blue Book, then the USAF's official investigation of UFOs, which clearly had an agenda to downplay the phenomena and debunk most of the cases. Therefore, the term conjures many controversial images, especially that whatever these aerial phenomena are or aren't, that they represent something extraterrestrial. We don't know this to be 100% true, or that all the phenomena exist in an ET vacuum.
We also have many reports of UFOs not being solid objects in any way, shape, or form, therefore it technically isn't an object. This new(er) term, UAP, is more accurate and paves the way for a whole new approach from both a scientific and philosophical angle.
You recently gave a presentation at the International UFO Congress. How did it go and what else did you learn at the conference?
This was my first time ever speaking to an audience face-to-face about UFOs, save a few co-workers in the break room at my job... so to present at the largest UFO conference in North America was a little intimidating to say the least. But I could not have asked for a more welcoming crowd and a successful presentation.
My talk, UFOs Versus Ufology: The Convergence of Experience & Study, focused on several cases from my book and how the events changed the lives of those involved. I then moved into a deconstruction of what we consider “Ufology”, and how the topic can find a place in every realm of study. These include hard sciences such as astronomy, astrobiology, physics, and everything in between. I then moved into the soft sciences such as psychology, sociology philosophy, and even theology.
|Ryan speaking at the 2017 International UFO Congress|
I wanted to show that the experiences itself must come first in studying these phenomena. I then wanted to show that the topic spans every aspect of our lives in terms of our history with the phenomenon, our present state, and possibly the future of humanity. It is a presentation I very much look forward to continue developing and sharing. As for what I learned at the conference... I learned that everyone has a story to tell. And that at venues like this, amongst others who have had experiences or simply find it fascinating, there are those out there willing to listen. I heard so many amazing stories throughout that week, and I can't wait to speak to these new witnesses very soon.
You are involved with the Rouge Planet media team. How are Jason McClellan and Maureen Elsberry presenting extraterrestrial media in a new and fresh way?
I was huge fans of Jason and Maureen's work on their web series show, Spacing Out! And I'd worked directly with them at the International UFO Congress for many years, so when they decided to start the Rogue Planet company, I was very honored to be asked to contribute on the ground floor. While Rogue Planet covers many different topics such as technology, "geekdom", science, and the paranormal, a main passion and focus of ours is UFOs. That's why we've created a podcast, hosted by the three of us, called UFOmodPOD. Basically, it's a modern introduction to the UFO phenomenon for a new generation.
|Ryan and Jason McClellan|
It features round table discussions, by us and featured guests, who approach the UFO subject with responsible skepticism and the scientific, journalistic attention it deserves. We've also released Jason's first book, Only Weirdos See UFOs: An Introduction to the Public's Misperception of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena and Extraterrestrial Life.
It's a wonderful introduction to the topic for a new generation of people interested in UFOs, but felt lost in a sea of hoaxes, misinformation, and extremely biased material. We also just started to release essays in booklet form as well, which will be very digestible introductions to key cases within the UFO history, and also other UFO-related topics. We hope to tap into the younger crowd out there who not only find the topic cool, but both interesting and often life-changing.
From my vantage point you are a part of a new-wave of younger, millennial-aged voices in the paranormal field that for awhile was starting to become comprised of mostly older dudes. Is there a changing of the guard happening?
I, among several others, are honored to be considered the young guard, as it were. But again, we'd be more excited to get even younger people involved. And we think what we're doing over at Rogue Planet may very well contribute to that endeavor.
What I personally see happening in this self-described field of Ufology, is that I learned from individuals decades older than me. I then took what I learned, built and expanded off of that information, and constantly try to look at it with fresh eyes and perhaps even completely new eyes.
The days of nuts-and-bolts Ufology, while essential, seem to now be working in tandem with a whole new movement of looking at UFOs from a consciousness angle. I, along with fellow researcher and author, Greg Bishop, are currently exploring these concepts in a new book of essays titled, UFOs: Reframing the Debate, conceived by Robbie Graham.
We're excited to bring these alternative ideas (which have been written about before, mind you) to researchers and readers alike. I'm sure we'll get some hate from it... but we're not in this field the be praised. That rarely ever happens! We are just attempting to ask different and new questions of the phenomena.
What researcher from that older “Gen-1” ufology movement still rings true and provides a solid foundation to build off of?
The work of Jacques Vallée comes to mind first and foremost. By navigating his way through the lens of folklore, astronomy, psychology, and sociology, he has time and time again broken the doors down of simple saucers coming here from another star system and kidnapping people.
He reinvents his thoughts and theories as the science and philosophy evolves, and that is something I always aspire to do. Move forward. Use what we know and build upon it. And hell... just when we think we have an answer, I have no doubt that the phenomena will damn-well evolve with that, as to remain enigmatic and ever-elusive.
Do you still listen to Coast to Coast AM or Fade to Black with Jimmy Church, or are you more into the newer media sources?
I don't listen to many late night radio shows as I have the sleep schedule of an eighty-year old and those shows are both on past my bedtime! That beings said, I think they are classics and always entertaining when I do catch them. I like to listen to things on my own schedule, so there are some shows I subscribe to religiously. They include Expanded Perspectives, Mysterious Universe, Euphomet, and The Grailien Report. I could name so many other shows... but I will spare you. I have a good laundry list on my website if you are looking for some brilliant hosts doing what they do best!
What is the one old-school sighting story that never gets old for you?
The Cash/Landrum Incident. On December 29th, 1980, two women and one child encountered a craft of unknown origin, and all three suffered not only emotional trauma, but severe physical injury as well. It is one of very few UFO cases to result in civil court proceedings.
It is a highly compelling and controversial case, where the military may or may not have been involved. It was one case that had multiple witnesses, trace evidence, possible military activity, and the tragic death of one of the witnesses supposedly due to the aftermath of the events. I highly suggest your readers research this case.
What would you say is the most provocative sighting or story from the 21st century that should get as much attention as the old standbys like Maury Island, Roswell, Kecksburg or Phoenix Lights?
One case that's always been very provocative to me was the 2008 Stephensville Lights sighting. About fifty witnesses saw a UFO that hovered over the farming community for about five minutes before disappearing in the blink of an eye. Many reported that the UFO was suspended about 3,000 feet in the air and at least half a mile wide. It made national headlines and continues to investigated up until today.
I find the Secret Space Program development to UFO research to be very fascinating and puts some new life into the field. How do you see that theory? Does it replace alien life theory or work in tandem with it?
This is a highly controversial sub-category of the study of UFOs. My publisher is actually credited with coining the term; Breakaway Civilization. In short, this is a small, elite group of individuals who, presumably funded by black budgets, operate an entirely separate space program in complete darkness to the public, having very little public accountability or oversight of any kind. Perhaps the most telling evidence we have of this type of program came from Gary McKinnon, who in 2002, was accused of the “biggest military computer hack of all time.”
Seeking suppressed UFO information, he claimed that he'd found information pertaining to “Non-Terrestrial Officers” and “Off-Planet Ships.” Many believe that this program and those involved are exploring the outer reaches of space in hopes of finding extraterrestrial life for their own benefit, or they possible could be using back-engineered alien technology and/or are working with the aliens for some sort of agenda. This is all highly speculative, and a part of the UFO topic that I haven't personally explored to the extent of others. I'd highly suggest checking out the work of Peter Levenda who has researched the topic extensively, and is currently working with Tom DeLonge on his Sekret Machines non-fiction books.
Are you more of a “nuts n’ bolts” UFO guy, a multi-dimensional/metaphysical believer or think it’s an all of the above scenario?
I believe that the UFO mystery is far more complex than any of us could possibly imagine. It's aliens. It's angels. It's demons. It's Bigfoot. It's Mothman. It's Cryptoterrestrials. It's natural phenomena. It's supernatural phenomena. And it's us from the future.
What I'm trying to get at is that UFOs can't be lumped into one box or another. Anyone who says they have the answer to the mystery is either a huckster or an idiot. I've been researching this topic for half my life, and I still am no closer to an answer than the day I started researching and investigating it.
We may never truly know what lay behind these deeply profound questions... but in my opinion... the journey is far more rewarding than the destination.
What is the aspect of this whole paranormal culture that you are most skeptical of or that hurts genuine research and perception more than helps it?
I believe that the mainstream media paints these topics as pure sensational entertainment. This can often muddy the perception of true research, and can even influence our beliefs. It has been so engrained into our psyche at this point, that unless we strive to find alternative avenues to get our information, we are stuck in this feedback loop of sensationalism, commercialism, and “alternative facts”. (Sorry... I couldn't resist)
If you had to call out one famous UFO sighting as hoax or government orchestrated dis-info, which would it be?
Two words: Roswell slides.
What did you think of the latest CIA declassification of UFO documents? Did you learn anything?
The recent release of files was quite interesting. More than anything, we now know that Project Stargate was indeed a real project, and that the CIA were looking heavily into possible psychic warfare.
As for UFO files... I know many researchers who are now sifting through every single document with a fine-toothed comb. This could yield some interesting results. Perhaps we'll find a new case with first-hand witnesses we can than contact. After all... the Roswell incident didn't come to light until many decades after.
It's exciting in many aspects. Only time will truly tell.
You are the co-host of both Into the Fray and UFOmodPod podcasts. That is on top of writing for a variety of pubs and being a guest of the Travel Channel’s Mysteries at the Museum. Is the key to making a career out of the paranormal to have a bunch of balls in the air at all times? How challenging is it?
Career may be a stretch. I certainly dedicate much of my time to this topic, but it ain't paying the bills. There are very few in these fields who can actually make money. Even less that can call it a career. The facets I've connected myself with such as the podcasts, publications, and television shows are outlets that I find highly credible and take the topic very seriously. I've made wonderful friends and colleagues with all of them, and learn so much each time I contribute to any of them.
As I’m trying to keep up with the paranormal world, I’m amazed at how many new personalities, websites and podcasts keep popping up in this field. Is it competitive to be seen and heard with so many people covering the same material? Or is everybody supportive of each others projects?
In my experience, everyone is extremely supportive. I can count on one hand how many people have deterred me from these topics because they felt threatened or like I was stepping on toes. We are all trying to find answers together, and I think that the more people interested, the more voices out there, the more the conversation both opens up and also narrows in. It's exciting... and the more the merrier!
Setting aside ufology and the paranormal, you are an active playwright and screenwriter. Is that work totally separate from the paranormal stuff or are there similar themes that cross-over?
They used to be totally separate. There was a point where several colleagues in both facets of my life suggested I keep them completely separate, as one may hinder the other in terms of how I am perceived. But it got to a point where I just said the hell with it... and I started writing several plays about UFOs.
|Rendlesham Forest incident|
I'm currently developing two stage plays about UFOs and one short film, all revolving around the 1980 Rendlesham Forest incident. I'm hoping to bring the UFO topic to a theater audience, which hasn't been done that often. And trust me... they've seen much weirder shit go down on a stage!
What do you have coming up in the near future we should be looking out for?
The essay book, UFOs: Reframing the Debate, comes out in May. More information can be found at: www.whitecrowbooks.com
I have several other lectures coming up in late 2017. I'll be posting specifics for that on my website as they roll in.
Other than that, I'm working hard on a new book with Jason and Maureen over at Rogue Planet. All information can be found at: www.somewhereintheskies.com
My playwriting and screenwriting endeavors can all be found at: www.ryandsprague.com
Meanwhile, Somewhere in the Skies: A Human Approach toan Alien Phenomenon, can be found on Amazon in paperback or E-book. Or, for signed copies, you can contact me at the website!