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George Knapp: Anger in Dreamland

<p>George Knapp</p>

George Knapp

The world’s best-known “secret military base” is about to become even more ubiquitous, right up there with Pawn Stars, assorted Kardashians and — dare we say it — Honey Boo Boo.

Did you see the story a few weeks ago about plans to launch a prime-time dramatic series about the men and women who toiled in obscurity at Area 51, the Nevada military base that, for years, officially did not exist? AMC has green-lighted the project, which is under the creative control of the same talented team that created The Walking Dead.

You might think that the patriotic folks who worked on such classified projects as the U-2 and SR-71 spy planes, the Stealth fighter and all kinds of truly spooky technology would welcome a quality show about the work they did. After all, it is no exaggeration to say that the Cold War was won at Area 51. But the men and women who sacrificed so much to protect our country — and who could not even tell their own spouses what they did for a living — are deeply disappointed by the TV series. Some are flat-out livid.

By now, of course, Area 51 veterans are more than familiar with the hoopla surrounding the base. A certain reporter’s stories back in 1989 about rumors of flying saucer-type craft being tested at the base set off a stampede of sorts, and launched hundreds of commercial ventures. At least 10 movie screenplays about the base have been shopped in Hollywood, seven or eight books have been written, hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles penned, and the name has been appropriated by rock bands, dive bars and video games, and plastered on T-shirts, bumper stickers, ash trays, greeting cards, posters, model kits and Christmas ornaments. The Roadrunners, an organization of former Groom Lake employees, isn’t crazy about the UFO stories, but they have learned to live with the mythology that has sprung up.

However, they are not at all comfortable with the best-selling book, Area 51, written by journalist Annie Jacobsen. Much of the book is an accurate, behind-the-scenes portrait of life at the base in the ’60s and ’70s, information that should be critical in the creation of fictional characters and story lines. But Jacobsen’s book became a best-seller, in large part because of her surprise ending — her claim that the flying saucers of Area 51 lore were not from outer space, but rather were the creation of Nazi scientists, working under the direction of Russian dictator Joseph Stalin, and were piloted by alien-looking concentration-camp survivors who’d been subjected to horrible medical procedures under the direction of Nazi supervillain Dr. Joseph Mengele.

Still with me?

The Roadrunners are a fun group, extremely patriotic but also quiet and easy-going. But there is nothing easy-going about their reaction to the TV series. T.D. Barnes, the principal spokesperson for the Roadrunners, has written a blistering statement about Jacobsen and the series, and it almost sounds like he would rather see the base shut down than be used to perpetrate what they all see as a terrible smear.

“We allowed Jacobsen into our homes to meet our families and accompany us to the Inner Sanctuaries of our black world, including the Central Intelligence Agency,” Barnes writes. “The Vietnam veterans have Jane Fonda … we have Annie Jacobsen, who is becoming wealthy trashing those who fought for her freedom.”

Barnes admits he has not seen scripts for the series, but he predicts that because of the twisted tale of the Nazi/Russian saucers, “much of the Roadrunner legacy will never be told, and what has been revealed will be exploited by the hate zombies who wander the gutters of the Earth feeding off of literary garbage. I am deeply insulted, shamed and sorry for what our veterans are about to be exposed to.”

So, I’m thinking he will not be attending the red-carpet series launch.


The Atomic Testing Museum will host what’s shaping up to be one heck of a presentation about the military and UFOs. Five former government insiders — including two officers attached to the Air Force’s Project Blue Book UFO study — will tell what they know on Sept. 22. Las Vegan Col. John Alexander will be part of the panel, as will Nick Pope, who was the “UFO guy” for Britain’s Ministry of Defense for several years. The real coup for the event is the presence of Col. Charles Halt, deputy base commander at a U.S. nuclear base in Britain during the so-called “Bentwaters incident,” a dramatic, still-controversial encounter between U.S. forces and something very unusual. I don’t know if the event will reveal any “UFO secrets,” as promised in promotional literature, but anyone who is interested in the subject could not ask for a better, more credible group.


Soft porn mogul Joe Francis learned an expensive lesson about messing with casino kingpin Steve Wynn. A California jury awarded Wynn at least $20 million in damages after Francis alleged Wynn threatened to have him whacked. Francis says Wynn threatened to hit him in the head with a shovel and dump his body in a hole in the desert. While I really love stuff that sounds like it is straight out of Casino, I knew when I heard it that Francis would lose. A shovel? A hole in the desert? C’mon. If Francis had concocted a story about Wynn wanting to feed his entrails to the Mirage dolphins, or sticking him in a cage with Montecore, he might have had a better chance with the jury.

Wynn was reportedly at his silver-tongued best during the trial and persuaded jurors that it would make no sense for him to issue death threats, given the intense government scrutiny of the casino industry. Then he issued what has to rank as the best line of the week. According to one news report, Wynn said that sensational claims made by Francis might prompt Nevada gaming regulators to launch an investigation of Wynn. That’s a rip-snorter, isn’t it?

GEORGE KNAPP is a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter for KLAS Channel 8. Reach him at