One man's alien is another man's puppet.
Jeff Peckman, a Denver resident and believer in alien life, has begun the work of putting a ballot initiative to the city's voters that would, if passed, establish an "extraterrestrial affairs commission" made up of 18 members appointed by the mayor to ensure public safety in the event that aliens -- or their vehicles, according to the ballot language -- were to arrive in the Mile High City.
Peckman has already met with the city council in a fact-finding question-and-answer meeting. He received approval from the city clerk to start going after the 4,000 signatures he needs to get his initiative on a ballot, a task he has 180 days to complete.
Before beginning that work, Peckman vowed to show a video to members of the media that he claimed has cemented his belief that aliens exist and that it would be prudent to prepare for the inevitable encounter.
"It's the best evidence I've seen," said Peckman of a roughly one-minute snippet of footage he showed this morning in Denver. "If people believe it, it's really significant."
Peckman described the footage to ABC News in these terms: "It starts out with a digital camera looking out across the room toward a window. There's a couple of flashes of light. After a few seconds, there is a small head clearly rising above a sill, panning the room, blinking its eyes, all slowly." The skin of the alien's oblong face, he said, is smooth, not wrinkled like the being in the popular film "E.T."
About 50 journalists attended the screening, including about 20 TV cameras, according to the Denver Post. Originally, Peckman said that members of the media would be required to sign waviers in which they agreed to stop rolling tape during the scene featuring the purported alien. A producer from ABC News' Denver affiliate KMGH said that Peckman buckled under pressure from skeptics and distributed a still of the supposed extraterrestrial.
The footage was originally protected because it is part of a documentary under production by Stan Romanek, another UFO believer.
While Peckman, Romanek and other experts he assembled to speak at the viewing may be convinced in the alien's authenticity, not everyone believes the footage offers irrefutable proof that we are not alone.
A Rocky Mountain News writer who blogged throughout the event reported that a Denver man came forward with a video he had created Thursday night that is a near-replica of the footage Peckman aired this morning, just to prove the video could be a hoax.
Bryan Bonner, a member of the Rocky Mountain Paranormal Research Society, said that he and his friends rented a foam latex alien from a costume shop to use as the base of their recreation. "It's so amazing that anyone would believe that video is a real space alien," Bonner told the Rocky Mountain News. "And it's so frustrating to see that they want to use city time and tax dollars on this."
Peckman said that Jerry Hofmann, a professor at the Colorado Film School, authenticated the footage. Hofmann said that he was not a believer in aliens until Romanek approached him about his footage a year ago. He concluded that, in his opinion, there is no possible way that the footage was doctored after filming. There is a chance, he said, that the alien figure might be a puppet, but only a very elaborate and expensive one. "If this was faked, it's the most elaborate fake I've ever seen," he said. "This is no 29-cent puppet."
Hofmann said that Romanek has other videos that are equally convincing, but the alien footage, which he said was shot in Nebraska in 2003 or 2004, is downright scary. That fear, he said, is exactly why the government has attempted to keep similar footage from the public.
"I was totally skeptical when I looked at this stuff," Hofmann said. "I kept saying, 'How did he fake it?' This is a world-changing type of thing."
David Broadwell, the city attorney in Denver, said the city council does not comment collectively on "the merits" of ballot initiative efforts, adding that Peckman is in the very preliminary phase of the process. If Peckman collects his 4,000 signatures in 180 days, he will get the chance to put the issue to voters. Peckman succeeded once before in getting an initiative on the ballot, which Broadwell described generally as a promotion of peacefulness through transcendental meditation.
Charlie Brown, a Denver city councilor who has tussled with Peckman in the past, said simply, if not abrasively, that the Denver constituent needs to find a job. "We're getting ready to host the DNC in 100 days, and we have a variety of public safety issues to deal with," Brown said. "We're not exactly focused on men from Mars. One can say it's not really on our radar screen."
Brown also balked at the $75,000 Peckman originally requested to help fund the commission, an amount stripped from his final proposal. There would still be a cost, the city councilor cautioned.
"This is going to take government time, legal time from the city's attorney office; this is not free," he said, adding that public relations ridicule is one more reason the initiative is a bad idea. "Denver will be poked fun at on 'Jay Leno' or 'David Letterman.'"
What was not stripped from the ballot initiative language is an acknowledgement that evidence of aliens has existed from Franklin Roosevelt's presidency through the current Bush Administration, and that since 1947, the federal government has put the American public at risk by not acknowledging that evidence.
It was a discovery in 1947 in Roswell, N.M., that began what has been repeated cries of a government conspiracy aimed at discrediting alien existence among believers. What the Army originally described as remains from a "flying disc" the military now maintains was parts of an experimental research balloon.
Literally thousands of reported sightings and abductions have followed in the United States and around the world since the Roswell controversy. Earlier this month, the Vatican's chief astronomer said in a published interview that it is impossible to rule out extraterrestrial life in such a vast universe.
Robert Shaeffer, an author who has refuted the existence of aliens in multiple books, was curious why Congress was not pursuing a commission like Peckman's to protect the entire nation. "Why does Denver need this, but presumably, San Francisco does not?" he asked.
It's not a matter of simply disbelieving, Shaeffer said. He has studied every possible picture and bit of video footage and remains unconvinced that anyone has captured irrefutable evidence of extraterrestrials. "UFOs always manage to slip away before the evidence becomes too convincing," he said. "And that's an astonishing thing."
Shaeffer's skepticism, he said, comes in large part because no one has been able to claim a smoking gun image or video of alien life despite a culture in which so many people have cell-phone cameras or handheld video cameras -- not to mention the explosion of YouTube and advanced photoshopping capabilities for would-be hoaxers.
Of course, it doesn't surprise Peckman in the least that not everyone believes in his cause. "You're going to find some detractors for every single phenomenon in history," he said. "They just don't accept the reality, and we're not going to try to convince them."
Plus, he said, he fully expects to get the 4,000 signatures he needs and put the initiative to the people of Denver. "Things at this level," Peckman said, "are best handled by direct democracy."