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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: UFOs? We’re Listening

Consider our interest piqued by mention of opening up documents, Area 51 files

The Columbian
Published: May 20, 2016, 6:01am

This editorial-writing stuff can be serious business. After all, pontificating about taxes and bathroom rules and politicians doing stupid stuff leaves little room for levity. So when a headline such as “UFOs: ‘Open-minded’ Northwest is fertile ground for cosmic buzz” appears in The Seattle Times, well, it touches our whimsical side.

The people of the Northwest are, indeed, pretty open-minded. We are slow to dismiss those we might think are a little nutty, and we gladly embrace our status as iconoclasts. Portland, after all, isn’t just weird, it brags about it. Plus, we live in a region where it is pretty easy to get away from the bustle and the lights of civilization — a corner of the country where late-night drives down dark, dusty roads are not uncommon. You don’t find that, for example, in New York City.

All of this, apparently, has helped Washington blossom into lush landscape for sightings of unidentified flying objects. As Una Drake of the Seattle UFO Network Meetup told The Seattle Times: “Seattle is open-minded about a lot of stuff, spiritually, politically. It’s just part of our culture. People on the fringe are more accepted than in other parts of the country.” That was part of a story in which reporter Erik Lacitis noted, “The term ‘flying saucers,’ after all, started right here 68 years ago, when a private pilot recounted in great detail seeing nine unidentified objects flying by Mount Rainier.”

So, when Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton said that, if elected president, she would open up the Area 51 files and other UFO documents, plenty of people in the Northwest took notice. “I’m going to get to the bottom of it,” Clinton said during a campaign stop. Area 51 in Nevada long has been ground zero for those who believe in UFOs, with the most popular theory being that aliens crashed in New Mexico in 1947 and government officials have been covering it up ever since.

Such secrecy would require a vast ongoing conspiracy, one that defies credulity. But who are we to judge? Instead, we shall embrace the ethos of a region that welcomes nonconformity, even if involves little green men or big, hairy ones. The forests of the Northwest, for example, have given birth to about one-third of reported Bigfoot sightings.

But Bigfoot is a discussion for another time, because the topic at hand is UFOs and Clinton’s promise to get to the bottom of them. As the Conway Daily Sun of New Hampshire reported: “Back in 2007, Clinton had said that the No. 1 topic of freedom-of-information requests that her husband, former President Bill Clinton, received at his library was UFOs.” And a 2012 survey by National Geographic found that 36 percent of American adults believe that UFOs exist, while only 17 percent do not, and the rest are undecided. At the same time, the survey found that 80 percent of the public believes the government is covering up information about UFOs.

So, yes, there are plenty of people who believe that Earth has been visited by beings from another planet. The Columbian has reported on local sightings over the years, including one from a reader named Diana in 2014: “I was really surprised late Friday night while walking my dog and I spotted what I can only describe as a small fleet of UFOs! I’ve never seen anything like this and it was hard to believe what I was seeing!”

Credible? We aren’t here to argue. But when talk about UFOs enters a presidential campaign, it piques our interest. As the believers like to say, the truth is out there.