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Atlanta believers keep the faith in the otherworldly

DATE: June 29, 1997
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution

EDITION: The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Dozens of people stroll expectantly into the planetarium at the Fernbank Science Center, mumbling reverently to one another as if they're entering a house of worship.

They look well scrubbed and well heeled. Some wear gold chains, expensive diamonds and watches. One man sports a long white beard. One young couple arrives in robes.

The lights go down, then flitting flying saucers appear on the ceiling as weird-sounding chants and notes echo in the background. The saucers glow. Then the lights brighten, and Dr. Steven Greer walks down the aisle like a prophet about to speak to his flock.
Greer, an emergency room doctor from Asheville, N.C., is founder of the Center for the Study of Extraterrestrial Intelligence, a national group of ardent UFO believers that contends the U.S. government not only knows about aliens, but has made contact with some.

The center has many followers in most major cities, including Atlanta.

According to Greer, who claims he's made contact with aliens himself, this secret will be revealed to the world within a few years. He also claims top government officials have been "briefed" that aliens are real. His mission, he feels, is to help avert a panic, to alert the world to the probability that ETs are "benevolent, not malevolent."

And so it goes in the massive network of UFO believers ---an estimated 31 million in America ---half of whom claim to have seen them.

Many believers, like John Thompson, head of the Mutual UFO Network in Georgia and an insurance man in LaGrange, are methodical and sincere. He is a ``certified MUFON investigator," which means he's been trained by the national group on how to weed out fakes from facts.

"I became interested when my whole family and I had a sighting in 1994," says Thompson, 44, who also is a board member of the International Society for UFO Research. "We saw a string of Christmas tree type lights, hovering a hundred feet off the ground. It went toward the house at one point and went back. It might have been as big as a football field."

Many national organizations have Georgia members.

Brad Young, 29, of Marietta, is co-director of the UFO Forum, which meets monthly, usually at the Holiday Inn just off Howell Mill Road. Also a member of Greer's group, he says there's a reason science fiction is dominating television and Hollywood ---it's an orchestrated effort to "get us ready."

Young, like many Georgians, is a big fan of Art Bell, the Nevada-based late-night talk show host who's heard on Atlanta's aptly named PlanetRadio, WGST. Bell's ratings are good and he takes many calls from Atlantans who believe in a government cover-up.

Henry Monteith, a physics professor at Eastern New Mexico University and a former government rocket scientist, says the popular notion the UFO buffs are all a bunch of nuts is wrong. In fact, he says surveys indicate a higher percentage of educated folk believe in UFOs than people with high school diplomas or less.

And some respected academics even buy into it.

Emory University's Courtney Brown, a political science professor, wrote "Cosmic Voyage," in which he describes a technique for contacting aliens. And former nonbeliever John Mack, a Harvard psychiatrist, wrote a best-seller on alien abductions.

Brown, founder of the "Farsight Institute," claims he can show aliens are "among us" and that this somehow proves the "existence of the soul."

Aliens are worried, says Young, "that we're on a path to destroy ourselves," and want to help.

Rachel, Nev., reflected in window of UFO Museum and Research Center./ BILL HENDRICK / Staff

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