On January 8th, my friend and colleague Susan Demeter announced on her Facebook page the passing of Angelia Joiner, which had taken place a day prior –and one day after the death of her husband Randall– due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has currently taken the lives of 386,000 Americans, totaling almost 2 million people around the world.
But there is a reason why Angelia doesn’t deserve to be just another tragic statistic in the wake of the virus. Exactly 13 years prior to the news of her passing began to circulate in social media, she found herself at the center of a social whirlwind nobody could have predicted –least of all, herself.
In 2008, she was a reporter working for the Empire-Tribune, the local newspaper in Stephenville, Texas; a small town content with labeling themselves as the “Cowboy Capital of the World.” But the tranquility of this community was suddenly disturbed when several residents reported multiple sightings of strange lights in their skies –lights, some of them claimed, that were even chased down by fighter jets.
Up until that point, Angelia had never really cared too much about the UFO subject; but the fact that her own neighbors –people she had known all her life and knew to be credible, upstanding citizens– were claiming to have seen something they could not easily explain, forced her to leave her natural skepticism aside and pay attention. And then she did something that would forever change the course of her life: she decided to break the story.
Perhaps it was because the news cycle was going through a downtime due to the time of the year. Perhaps it was because the Chicago O’Hare UFO sighting of 2006 was still fresh in the collective memory of the American public. For whatever reason, Angelia’s article was picked up by the mainstream news agencies and exploded into an international sensation. Add to it the fact that initially the Air Force had claimed they didn’t have any airplanes in the area, but later they retracted and stated they had actually had a group of F-16s jets performing ‘military drills’ at the time of the sightings. Not only that, but the FAA confirmed that unidentified targets flew on a trajectory that would have led them straight into the private ranch of President George W. Bush (who was not present in the premises at the time), a no-flight restricted air zone.
Angelia’s journalistic instincts recognized a good thing when it came up, so she chose to keep up with the story and dig up more corroborating testimonies. At the same time, she kept answering the calls of international news outlets hungry for more updates, and she even appeared in Larry King Live and other TV shows. During one of those TV appearances, a Channel 11 News reporter asked her behind the scenes, “How did you have the guts to write this story? I wouldn’t have touched a UFO story with a ten-foot pole!” This anecdote, which was shared during the Binnall of America interview with Angelia Joiner in February of 2010, perfectly illustrates the stigma still present in the UFO topic not too long ago. Such things were perceived as fodder for supermarket tabloids, and absolute career-killers among ‘serious’ journalists.
Even with all the priceless free press The Empire-Tribune was receiving, Angelia’s employers were quite uncomfortable with it. She was ordered by her editor to drop the UFO stuff and go back to covering regular stories (she claimed the newspaper’s publisher, who had final word, was still supportive of her work); but since Angelia still felt a personal responsibility to keep answering the calls of both distraught witnesses and fellow reporters asking for an update (the editor told her to just ignore them) she decided to conduct these calls during her lunchtime and after business hours. She ended up getting fired anyway, in what it seemed to be more a matter of professional jealousy mixed with pressure from ‘town elders’ –who had no interest in watching the “Cowboy Capital of the World” turn into the Texan Roswell– than one of those sinister ‘cover-up conspiracies’ oft invoked in UFOlogical circles.
After getting fired, Angelia and her family moved from Stephenville to Dublin, Texas, where she became a free-lance reporter without receiving the benefits of a fully staffed writer. To compensate, she entered the UFO lecture circuit for a while, and started her own podcast –The Joiner Report– which lasted a few years until it slowly faded away into obscurity (one can only find a handful of episodes scattered across the Internet); her personal website angeliajoiner.com disappeared in November of 2012, according to the Internet’s Wayback Machine. Although she appeared in James Fox’s documentary “I Know What I Saw” and a couple of TV series, it’s fair to say hers is not a ‘household name’ in contemporary UFO circles, and even the Stephenville sightings themselves have been largely forgotten.
Now let us look at the contrasting reaction received by the December 2017 New York Times article which uncovered the existence of the secret Pentagon UFO program. If the Stephenville case and Angelia Joiner’s articles are an example of ‘grassroots reporting’ of UFO events which influences public perception from the bottom-up, then the article written by Helene Cooper, Leslie Kean and Ralph Blumenthal seems to be the complete opposite: Like most of the ‘UFO Disclosure’ discourse, it intended to create an influence from the top-down, in a manner not unlike the ‘trickle-down’ economic theories that were put in vogue in the 1980s thanks to the Ronald Reagan administration. And it doesn’t take a PhD in Economics to realize that the grotesque economic inequality we are now experiencing in the XXIst century was largely the result of these elitist ideas, which posit that the masses should be content with whatever scraps, if any, should fall from the feast table of the rich and powerful.
Trickle-down plans do not work in Economy. Why would they work in UFOlogy? Why should we be content with just scraps of information from the cherry-picked cases declassified by the government?
When AATIP was formed, the Stephenville sightings were still relatively recent –they were even more recent than the USS Nimitz sightings, in fact– AND these events had presumably involved Air Force pilots. Did Luis Elizondo ever investigate them during his AATIP tenure and try to contact any pilots willing to speak up? And if not, why? Will Stephenville be mentioned in that highly anticipated Pentagon UFO report which is supposed to be released in the next six months? Will at least be covered in season 3 of Unidentified –if there even is a third season?
In her 2010 interview with Tim Binnall, Angelia claimed she was not bitter by the turn of events resulting from her “trial by fire,” and were she given the chance she would still do it all over again, because she was grateful for the experiences and the people she had met. Among those experiences she obtained after being unexpectedly catapulted into the UFO hurricane, she and her husband even claimed to have had a close encounter experience in the forests of Oregon, in the Fall of 2008 –something best left for another time…
“it was a life changing event. There’s not one country that I couldn’t go to that somebody wouldn’t welcome me with open arms.”
Some folks say the public openness toward the UFO topic is unprecedented, and although most would be eager to credit it to Tom DeLonge and his (former) associates. But I for one would first give credit to all the unsung heroes of UFOlogy: people like Angelia Joiner, who did not rely on secret documents handed down by anonymous sources –in fact, she hated the proliferation of anonymity tolerated in the field– and sought answers the old fashioned way –by going out there and asking questions.
If UFO Disclosure ever comes flooding down into global consciousness, it will not be due to celebrities cheerleading to those in power who asks us to toe the line with their agenda. It will be due to the myriad of people who preceded them, and quietly chiseled down at the wall of official denial; until –hopefully– it eventually crumbles down by the weight of its own deception.