Canada was well represented at the 30th Annual International UFO Congress and Film Festival which ran from Sept. 7 to Sept. 12.
Winnipeg-based editor-in-chief, and co-founder of the Debrief, MJ Banias, joined his team members to discuss a year in UFO news via a virtual panel on the conference’s last day.
On the docket for the Debrief team, featuring Direct of Media and PR, Torontonian Chrissy Newton, content creator Cristina Gomez, co-founder CEO Tim McMillan, journalist and co-founder Micah Hanks and lead writer Chris Plain, was the Pentagon’s move to create an office for unidentified aerial phenomena, as well as misinformation and disinformation within the UFO community.
“Outside of other paranormal topics, the UFO topic has always been tied to a national security aspect,” Banias said, during a September phone conversation. “You have this heavy governmental through-line that focuses predominant focuses on national security and defence.”
From a disinformation standpoint, he added, countries like China and Russia can rile up a community with a predisposition for government, military or intelligence mistrust.
Evidence of this can be found on the state media network RT, which comes from Russia. Their focus is American government corruption and coverups.
“The UFO community is a good community to tap into if I needed to create messaging that was designed to be critical of the government,” the 35-year-old said. “The UFO community has really good soil for that and it wouldn’t take much for, let’s say, a foreign team to plant a few seeds and say, ‘Yeah, let’s write a few articles or a few blog posts or create a few Twitter bots that retweet specific things concerning UFOs from the conspiratorial mindset.’”
The panel was a great chance for the Debrief team to establish their mandate: looking at science news from the viewpoint of the future.
“We pursue the people and the organizations and the science of dreamers, and those who sort of look out there and say, it’s impossible right now, but it’s probably not going to be impossible tomorrow, or in a year, or 50 years, or in a century from now,” Banias said.
The news website was launched in November 2020 after a year of hammering out the details with co-founders Hanks, who hails from North Carolina and McMillan, a retired police lieutenant from Georgia.
Banias has written on the topic of UFOs, UAP and other subjects relating to the unexplainable objects spotted over earth for Vice and the Globe and Mail. But UFOs were not on his radar, save for pop-cultural touchstones like “Star Trek,” Star Wars and “The X-Files”.
His area of focus for his English degree at the University of Winnipeg was cultural studies and critical theory.
“I was interested in studying subcultures,” he admitted, adding he tagged along with a Winnipeg ghost investigation team.
It wasn’t until he met Chris Rutkowski that he was set on the path of exploring the UFO subculture.
“He said to me, ‘If you’re into subcultures, and if you want a real subculture to look at, you should go check out UFOs. The UFO subculture is ridiculous,” Banias recalled. “I dove in. I started reading a couple of books about UFOs. (Rutkowski) gave me a reading list, and after I read those books, I started talking to people who had UFO sightings and experiences. I eventually joined MUFON as a field investigator because I wanted to dive in with both feet, and I did that for a couple of years.”
The experience led Banias to write the book The UFO People: A Curious Culture, which was published in April 2019. Now, his focus is his role as editor-in-chief at the Debrief. He fields FOIA requests, edits the writers’ work and ensures,
And he’s encouraged by the team’s appearance and panel to share their mission at the International UFO Conference.
“It’s probably one of the finest UFO conferences out there,” Banias said. “There’s of good content at that conference and a lot of room for different voices to speak, and contradict one another, which I thoroughly enjoy being that I’m probably the most skeptical of all of them.”
Feature photo courtesy of MJ Banias/Twitter