The idea of the central “conspiracy” in The X-Files is too vast to distill; indeed, its aspect changes markedly throughout the show. The Files obsessive is always tempted to ask: How did Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan, and the show’s other central writers come up with all of this stuff? How many of these ideas came from pre-existing case files, or theories?
When it comes to the central conflict of the show — the cover-ups at the highest level, and the truth of the shadowy extraterrestrial-world government industrial complex — the central real-life reference points is the story of MJ-12 (“Majestic 12”), a supposed dozen-strong group of scientists, government officials and other all-powerful, shadowy presences who formed following the supposed Roswell, New Mexico UFO crash of 1947, and are referred to throughout a series of faux-top secret government missives.
And when I say “real-life,” I mean that it is a very prevalent alien conspiracy theory even outside of The X-Files. In the show, the isomorphic group is the “Syndicate,” or the “Majestic Consortium” — of which “The Well-Manicured Man” and “The Cigarette Smoking Man,” among others, are members. In other words, MJ-12 is the central evil coalition with which Mulder and Scully are always at odds.
MJ-12 talk came to the fore into the 1980’s, during a new height of UFOlogy craze. In 1984, top-secret documents about the group were supposedly sent anonymously to a TV producer and ufologist, Jaime Shandera, on a roll of film, which ignited something of an uproar. The hype around the theory became so overwhelming that the FBI — in cooperation with the US Air Force — looked into the veracity of the documents related to the group in 1988, only to term the accusations and documents related to it as “BOGUS” (what they wrote across several of the pages in this document).
The initial document describing the Roswell crash, the initial UFO sighting in Washington state and mentioning MJ-12, are online for all to enjoy, not just in the Pentagon archives of the Cigarette Smoking Man. Its account begins:
On 24 June, 1947, a civilian pilot flying over the Cascade Mountains in the State of Washington observed nine flying disc-shaped aircraft traveling in formation at a high rate of speed. Although this was not the first known sighting of such objects, it was the first to gain widespread attention in the public media. Hundreds of reports of sightings of similar objects followed. Many of these came from highly credible military and civilian sources.
One wonders what a “credible…civilian source” might look like, when it comes to UFO sightings. Later, the juicy details come out.
On 07 July, 1947, a secret operation was begun to assure recovery of the wreckage of this object for scientific study. During the course of this operation, aerial reconnaissance discovered that four small human-like beings had apparently ejected from the craft at some point before it exploded. These had fallen to earth about two miles east of the wreckage site. All four were dead and badly decomposed due to action by predators and exposure to the elements during the approximately one week time period which had elapsed before their discovery.
Poor lil’ guys! Remember every kinda-cute, diminutive alien carcass in The X-Files? Here’s the inspiration.
The veracity of all things related to the MJ-12 group is complicated by the testimony of Richard Doty, supposedly an ex-special agent involved with internal investigations in the U.S. Air Force. Doty supposedly leaks inside documents about alien intelligence to ex-Air Force Law Enforcement agent Paul Bennewitz, who claimed to have detected electromagnetic pulses seemingly produced by UFOs, and took pictures at the Kirkland Air Force Base in New Mexico in the early ‘80s. The results of his tests, supposedly, were judged inconclusive by the wider Air Force administration. But Air Force employee Paul Bennewitz later claimed to be in contact with the aliens, and conducted his own research, until he was committed to a mental institution in 1988 (Shades of Mulder at the end of the sixth season there).
Doty’s story, passed around widely to this day, is that he was part of a project to provide Bennewitz and others in the UFOlogy community (with the assistance of a noted Roswell researcher and cowriter of the popular 1980 book on the incident, William L. Moore) with disinformation. Doty “leaked” many supposedly classified documents — about UFOs to obscure top-secret Air Force technological testing to Bennewitz and other in the “ufology community.”
This incited heavy discussion and writing about extraterrestrial, post-Roswell testing in Los Alamos, government meetings with aliens and the millenniums-long history of ET visitation to Earth. There were many supposed briefings to Truman, Eisenhower, and Carter in Doty’s insanely complicated paper trailer. Many current-day ufologist believe that Doty was acting alone in forging documents and that this was not part of a cover-up. Others believe that only some of the documents are illegitimate, and others think that the MJ-12 group is a hoax, but that similar units do exist.
For an in depth, headache-inducing summary of the MJ-12 disinformation campaign, watch this 2014 “documentary”:
MJ-12’s influence has extended everywhere in the realm of entertainment and media. In the realm of TV, its influence has not only been felt on The X-Files; the show Dark Skies was completely about it. The complexity and circles of disinformation or claiming disinformation to discredit real leaked documents and testimonials is part and parcel to the central mythology of The X-Files, in which Mulder is consistently being jerked around by different inside informants willing to making a deal, but whose motives are usually ulterior. The Cigarette Smoking Man, the Syndicate, or other sub-villains are always interested in throwing Mulder off the real trail. If they aren’t — like “Deep Throat” — they generally meet a cruel end.
The new X-Files series begins with Mulder and Scully looking back into government experiments using alien-derived technology to perform cruel experiments. It’s a usual trope, but the kind of X-Files thread we never get tired of — that feels like home. The noise around the MJ-12 incident, and the UFO hype that built to a fever pitch in the ‘80s following the Roswell mythology gaining popularity, defined the whole tone of Carter’s show, and the ambiguity and paranoia which allowed the franchise to survive so long. Will Mulder and Scully find hard truth, and a worthy source to hang their hat on, in this short mini-series? Will it be the one final ride we needed, or muddy the water and create even more questions? With UFOlogy, is there ever a clear answer?