Very Intriguing Person
is a series about people who fascinate us, for better or worse.
To a certain degree, the rise, fall, and eventual redemption of blink-182 follows the textbook rock and roll narrative. A group of winsome young men (Mark Hoppus; Tom DeLonge; and some guy who was quickly kicked out in favor of the virtuosic Travis Barker), armed with catchy tunes and interesting haircuts, get plucked from the ranks of their scene by a major label, who elevates them to stardom beyond their comprehension. But creative differences yield interpersonal sleights which yield solo projects, and by the time they all get their shit together they’ve been replaced by younger bands. The cycle starts anew.
For bands willing to wait out the ensuing storm of unpopularity, a beautiful rainbow awaits, replete with a nostalgia-tinged gold. Reader, blink-182 had reached this promised land. By 2011, they were back together, playing stadiums. Their once-young fans had grown up, and most of them had money, and the ones who didn’t had become music writers. They made an album called Neighborhoods, which sold poorly because it was bad, but it didn’t matter because they could still play the hits; Twitter became a thing, and Mark Hoppus got pretty good at making dad jokes on it. All there was left to do now was make a kind-of okay album, and the circle would be complete.
But, like many a protagonist in a blink-182 song, that album never came. In January 2015, Hoppus and Barker issued a press release announcing that DeLonge would no longer be playing with the band and had been effectively replaced by Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio. Given that the group only had three members to begin with, and that DeLonge was the one who played guitar, this was a pretty big deal. Together, he and Hoppus produced anthems full of starry-eyed, emotive juvenalia while managing to be as dumb as humanly possible — they were half Lennon-McCartney, half David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap. Without DeLonge, they were blink-182 only in name. But, as Hoppus explained to Rolling Stone, DeLonge had spent years pushing back blink-related projects to concentrate on “other, non-musical stuff” and that he, Barker, and Skiba would carry on in his absence.
So what, exactly, was this other, non-musical stuff?
Tom DeLonge had decided to go look for aliens.
This year, NASA will be launching a satellite called TESS, whose job it will be to map out all the stars we can see, so that we can identify planets that aren’t too far from their sun to be really cold, but not so close that they’d be too hot. (This ideal space is called the “Goldilocks Zone.”) From there, a high-powered space telescope will hone in on those planets and analyze their wavelengths, looking for these biosignature gases. By the calculations of Sara Seager, the MIT astronomer who conceptualized the project, that this process, once complete, will provide us with exactly one life-bearing planet besides our own.
Tom DeLonge, however, thinks the aliens are already here. During his music-making prime, DeLonge had long been fascinated by conspiracy theories. He referenced the alleged 50s-era alien hunters Majestic 12 on Enema of the State’s “Aliens Exist”; the sole album by his Box Car Racer side project was peppered with angsty lyrics about how frustrated he was with the lack of government disclosure about various secrets; in 2001 he got married on Coronado, an island near San Diego that was once the site of an alleged alien abduction. (From here on out, just mentally insert the word “alleged” whenever you see something that seems dubious, because shit’s about to get alleged as hell.)
But around the time of his split with blink, he went full tinfoil. He began giving conspiracy-laden interviews to incredulous outlets, who gleefully racked up clicks by playing up the incongruity of the blink-182 guy talking about aliens. He became a curious footnote in last year’s presidential election when a Wikileaks dump of Hillary Clinton’s emails revealed he’d been communicating with Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta about aliens, which in part led to him being named “UFO Researcher of the Year” by OpenMinds.tv.
Last October, he made an appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast, in which the disconcertingly aggro stand-up goaded DeLonge into dropping basically every fringe belief he had. He claimed, among other things, that the first “unidentified flying objects” in American history were created by ex-Nazis living in Argentina using alien technology; that the Cold War never erupted into violence because we were worried about an impending alien invasion; that he’d spoken with a reliable government source who has seen a dead alien body; that he was once interrogated by the Men in Black for two days straight; that the ancient gods were actually aliens, and also humans are descended from aliens, and also, by the way, there are aliens on Earth as we speak.
When Rogan pressed DeLonge on why anyone should believe literally anything he was talking about, DeLonge claimed that he had shadowy deep-state sources revealing all of this to him, and that they’d entrusted him and his company, To the Stars, with slowly revealing the truth to the American public. And when Rogan pressed him about why anyone should believe that, he would say, simply, “You don’t know what I know.”
Given all of this, it’s perfectly understandable why the general public might think DeLonge was completely off his rocker. But even ufologists — the community of amateur researchers and conspiracy theorists devoted to turning up every shred of evidence to be found about the existence of aliens, who, it goes without saying, are highly prone to paranoia and infighting — have mixed feelings about DeLonge. Some think it’s cool that he’s a high-profile guy using his platform to talk about this stuff; others think he’s a huckster playing up his connections in an attempt to make money; others still think he’s a government stooge spreading misinformation.
Since DeLonge is the most famous person who will invariably talk about aliens if you put a microphone in front of his face, he has quickly become the public face of ufology. This has made him a frequent punching bag for the ur-nerds of the r/aliens subreddit, who mocked his seemingly dubious connections to the Deep State, as well as his habit of making grand pronouncements of impending government disclosure that never seemed to come true. That was, at least until December 16, when The New York Times dropped a report, revealing that the government, at the behest of former Senators Harry Reid, Daniel Inouye, and Ted “Series of Tubes” Stevens, had been siphoning off millions of dollars per year to research UFOs. Not only did DeLonge seem to have correctly called that a disclosure was coming, the Times revealed that Luis Elizondo, the government’s former point man when it came to UFOs, had left his work with the government and joined DeLonge’s company To the Stars.
“It’s something amazing. Historic,” wrote a poster on a DeLonge-bashing r/aliens thread whose tone, after the news broke, had suddenly reversed its course. “I thought he was full of shit, but the NYT article actually mentions To the Stars,” added another. “Something really did come. Maybe Tom isn’t crazy after all,” wrote a third person, summing up the collective shock at the news.
Despite how hard the square world had been clowning him, it seems that DeLonge had indeed managed to attract some extremely serious people to his company. One of his co-founders is a former senior intelligence officer at the CIA; the other is a theoretical physicist who has consulted with NASA and was once enlisted by the CIA to research the insane phenomena of “remote viewing.” Meanwhile, pretty much everyone else affiliated with the company is either a former high-level government official, an acclaimed scientist, or both. The company’s business model seems to function something like this: DeLonge co-authors books, including the well-regarded Poet Anderson young adult science fiction series, whose proceeds help fund the research by everybody else, and the whole shebang is meant to help our feeble sheeple brains cope with the massive paradigm shifts that will occur once the aliens show up. (To the Stars is also a public company; after listening to his interview with Joe Rogan I decided to buy some shares because DeLonge mentioned they were really cheap. What he didn’t say was that though shares cost $5 each, the minimum investment is $200, so I didn’t end up pulling the trigger.)
George Knapp, a Las Vegas-based journalist who has the distinction of both winning a Peabody and occasionally hosting the very fun late-night conspiracy kookfest that is the Coast to Coast AM radio show, put all of this into context while speaking to Coast to Coast’s regular host George Noory. “A lot of people, Tom [DeLonge] drives them crazy… but the fact is he put this thing together,” he said. Knapp, who explained that he’d had multiple off-record conversations with the now-retired Reid about the program during his time in office and that he’d recently eaten dinner with Elizondo, continued (quote has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity):
“Elizondo had been collecting UFO information for ten years. And for the last year, he’s been making preparations. He’s been declassifying videos that have been acquired of military encounters with UFOs, putting them in places where they could be leaked out without getting him in trouble, because he had a place to go with Tom DeLonge. That’s what really kicked off all these revelations that have come out. Elizondo worked directly for James Mattis — he loved the guy — [but] he wrote a letter to him when he resigned saying, “Look, this UFO issue is really important. We’re not putting enough resources into it. That’s why I’m leaving to go work for Tom DeLonge. Whether Tom’s endeavor will work or not, we’re going to have to wait and see, but man, he’s really delivered I think.”
Even if DeLonge is exaggerating or even bullshitting in his public statements, the fact that he played a substantial role in the disclosure of the government’s UFO hunting program is a redemption far greater than anything his ex-bandmates have found. Reforming your non-cool band once it’s been once again deemed cool is, more than anything, reacting to the whims of the market, and shifting notions of taste. Deciding that you’d rather forego that sweet, sweet festival money to go off and do your own thing is a different kind of admirable. And when we consider that DeLonge’s version of doing his own thing was to go look for aliens with a bunch of ex-spies, then it’s impossible to be anything less than weirdly impressed.
Today, our behavior and speech are constantly monitored by our peers and measured against those around us. Some of this is positive, of course — one of the ideals of free speech is not using yours in ways that might limit someone else’s — but it can also have a chilling effect on our capacity for disagreement. By giving us what we want all the time, the internet tends to sort us into buckets based on the things we like, surrounded by people who think like we do, and when people get thrown into an unfamiliar bucket and say their typical spiel, everybody else around them ends up mocking them or attacking them.
It’s likely that, no matter how vindicated DeLonge might be to some by this recent New York Times report, people will always view him as a bit of a nutjob. After all, he is the guy who quit blink-182 to find aliens. Still, there’s something brave about the fact that DeLonge chooses to keep at it anyway, and no matter who will acknowledge it, it seems like he genuinely might be onto something, even if he’s also off about a lot of other things. But if we’re at a point, culturally, where we’re going to take the possibility of aliens existing a bit more seriously, and we’re already taking blink-182 more seriously, then we might just have to start taking Tom DeLonge a bit more seriously, too.