In May the tabloids revealed that detectives from Scotland Yard ‘kept dossiers on The X-Files and Star Trek, fearing the television series could cause riots and mass suicide’.
Special Branch HQ: Scotland Yard (credit: express.co.uk)
The story emerged from two briefing documents I obtained from the Metropolitan Police using a series of Freedom of Information requests in 2005.
Their contents are summarised in my book How UFOs Conquered the World: The History of a Modern Myth (Aurum Press).
One deals in detail with the events surrounding the mass suicide in San Diego, California, by thirty-nine members of the Heaven’s Gate movement on 26 March 1997. The second – the sixth enclosure in a series of papers contained in the file – links Heaven’s Gate with a range of pre-millennial popular beliefs and obsessions including conspiracy theories, alien abductions and the UFO myth.
Although the documents are undated the context suggests they were produced in 1997-98 in the aftermath of the mass suicide and the impending 50th anniversary of the birth of flying saucers and the Roswell incident.
My FOI request asked for ‘information on police investigations into people…with an interest in flying saucers and UFOs’. The Metropolitan Police responded on 28 February 2005 saying ‘there are only two reports that may be relevant’. The first report is transcribed in full here:
New Religious Movements (NRM’s)
(UFO NRM’s and the Millennium)
1. The purpose of this note is to draw attention the risk posed by UFO NRM’s, in relation to the millennium. It should be remembered that UFO NRM’s are new, and draw inspiration from sources one would not normally associate with religious devotion, particularly rock music, television drama and feature films.
2. Over the past decade, there has been an increase of interest in alleged government conspiracy theories. The spectrum of topics is wide ranging, particular interest is shown in UFO sightings, alien abductions, political assassinations (particularly John F. Kennedy), the Vietnam war, aeronautical and computer technology.
3. Most groups are based in the United States, and, not surprisingly, their concerns relate to events there. What should be appreciated, is the area of interest ranges from idle curiosity, to absolute, unquestioning belief. Furthermore, although some are in distinct groups, many are in isolation, but appear to embrace a general orthodoxy as to what events have taken place, and that the governments of the leading nations are conspiring to keep the truth from the general public.
4. What is of interest, is the cross fertilisation of ideas between the UFO movement, and elements of the Pentecostalists, with their interpretation of the Book of Revelation. This has particular relevance at this time, with the approach of the millennium. Certain factions attempt to give the areas of interest expressed by the UFO movement credibility, as having been predicted in Revelation.
5. Fuel is added to the fire, by television dramas and feature films, mostly produced in America. These draw together the various strands of religion, UFOs, conspiracies and mystic events, and put them into an entertaining story-line. It is not being suggested, that the production companies are intentionally attempting to foment trouble. However, the producers of the programmes, including…
The X-Files, Millennium, Dark Skies and Stark Trek know what psychological buttons to push, in order to excite interest in their product. Obviously, this is not sinister in its self, what is of concern, is the devotion certain groups and individuals ascribe to the contents of these programmes.
6. With the millennium in mind, various groups are showing an unhealthy interest in microchip technology and bar codes. It is being seriously propounded that microchips will, in the future, be implanted into hands to provide immediate screening identification, and bar codes all contain the number 666. The relevance of 666 is an obvious reference to the mark of the beast as mentioned in Revelation. Surgically implanted microchips, are being interpreted as references in Revelation to a mark being placed in the right hand or forehead, of followers of the Anti-Christ, again predicted in Revelation 13:15-18 (See Appendix A).
7. There is justifiable concern, that the millennium could precipitate an act of extreme violence, by one of the many religious apocalyptic groups. However, given their antipathy and suspicion towards areas of modern technology, it may be prudent to broaden our view of what such an attack might constitute. An obvious area of interest to UFO/Pentecostalist factions is, as previously stated, microchip and bar code technology. This could have implications for various industries, most notably international banking, as some groups appear to be interpreting their computer systems as tools of the Anti-Christ.
8. It is easy to dismiss those who adhere to these beliefs as being mentally deranged, and therefore of no consequence. Recent events, most notably the mass suicides in California by members of the Heaven’s Gate group, (who were ardent followers of the X-Files and Star Trek), and David Koresh, founder of the Branch Davidians, (who believed the feature film Lawnmower Man, was an interpretation of the Book of Revelation), indicates that their views can, and do influence others. In essence it does not matter that we do not believe, what really matters is, they do.
In the second document the anonymous Special Branch author says members of Heaven’s Gate, like many other UFO-related NRMs, drew inspiration from science fiction.
‘Much of the genre is concerned with governmental conspiracy theories. Indeed, programmes and magazines such as The X-Files, Dark Skies, Roswell and UFO Reality cite large-scale conspiracies and cover-ups as being “factual”. The problem is that growing numbers, are not treating this as entertainment, and finding it impossible to divorce fantasy from reality.
‘It is virtually impossible to disprove a negative, and the more attempts to do so simply adds fuel to the fire. The worrying aspect is that as some elements, as in the case of Heaven’s Gate, take extreme measures. On that occasion the group imploded, we cannot be certain that other groups in the future will take such ‘limited’ action. Although an American phenomenon, it is being imported into the UK’.
The Metropolitan Police have, more recently, denied access to additional files requested under FOI on groups and specific individuals linked to UFO and conspiracy-related beliefs.
‘To confirm or deny that any information is held [on individuals] would harm law enforcement functions of the MPS by disclosing operational techniques used over a significant number of years,’ a denial response dated 19 January 2015 stated. ‘This would compromise the future law enforcement capabilities of the police’.
In their response the Met cited a series of absolute exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act including section 23 (information supplied, or relating to, the security services MI5, MI6 & GCHQ), section 24 (national security), section 31 (law enforcement) and section 40 (personal information).