Of all the pop-punk bands to emerge in the 1990s, few achieved success like Blink-182. Massive hits like “What’s My Age Again?” and “All the Small Things” fueled its distinct brand of cheery-cum-snotty adolescence. By October 2001, the band could draw 15,000 eager fans to Maryland’s Merriweather Post Pavilion. There the crowd watched as Blink-182, then composed of Mark Hoppus, Travis Barker and Tom DeLonge, performed in front of a giant four-letter word set ablaze.
But all flaming swear signs must burn out. The band went on hiatus between 2005 and 2009. In 2015, four years after the New York Times declared that, “no punk band of the 1990s has been more influential than Blink-182,” guitarist and vocalist DeLonge walked away. Hoppus and Barker, in a statement to Rolling Stone, said that DeLonge had left Blink-182 “indefinitely.” The band continued without him.
A different kind of stardom — space, and the aliens who lived there — seduced DeLonge.
Now 41, DeLonge has found success in his post-punk pursuit. In February, the Arizona-based International UFO Congress, which each year holds the largest convention of UFO investigators in the world, awarded DeLonge its UFO researcher of the year award. In March, DeLonge published a book, “Sekret Machines: Gods, Man, & War,” with occult historian Peter Levenda. The book, DeLonge said, marked the first nonfiction entry in a sweeping project that includes science-fiction novels, concept albums and movies.
All of those works are related, in one way or another, to a subject DeLonge calls “the Phenomenon.”
More than 20 years of research and reflection led to the new book. DeLonge’s perspective turned to the heavens in early adolescence, he told The Washington Post in a recent phone interview, after witnessing the conflict between his mother, a devout Christian, and his father, who was “not religious at all.” He began to wonder if something sinister was at work.
“I realized early on there was something odd with the human life experience,” DeLonge said. “There’s all these wars. I had a really difficult, broken family. I got kicked out of high school.”
DeLonge’s phenomenon is a grand unified theory of extraterrestrial encounters. It encompasses virtually all aspects of human culture, including religion, technology, media and science. “It is the UFO phenomenon, to be sure, but that is a box too small to contain it in all its glory,” DeLonge and Levenda wrote in their new book, “as no two experts can agree on what it is.” In “Sekret Machines,” a metaphor for the phenomenon emerges: the human experience as cargo cult.
During World War II, indigenous tribes in the South Pacific, who rarely interacted with outsiders, observed planes airdropping food and medicine. “To this day there are religions based on worshiping those planes,” DeLonge said, “because they did not know what they were.”
There is no question that cargo cults have existed on our planet. One group of villagers in the Vanuatu islands honor a holy savior named John Frum, the spirit of an American who lives in a nearby volcano. (It has been speculated that the name John Frum came from World War II soldiers who greeted the villagers, saying, “I’m John from America.”)
“John promised he’ll bring planeloads and shiploads of cargo to us from America if we pray to him,” one village elder told a Smithsonian magazine reporter who visited the island in 2006. “Radios, TVs, trucks, boats, watches, iceboxes, medicine, Coca-Cola and many other wonderful things.”
Similar events happened on an interplanetary scale, DeLonge said. “Whether it is Joseph Smith meeting an angel and forming the Mormon religion, or it’s the star of Bethlehem or light hovering over a manger,” he said, “what happens is, is people see these things and they create religions off of them. We wanted to say, ‘Well, hey, we are all some form of a cargo cult.’ The question is, why?”
DeLonge’s book will not convince any skeptics about the reality of aliens. Sufficient evidence already exists, DeLonge told The Post, citing the scale of the universe. “There are trillions of galaxies,” he said. “There’s trillions of planets within each galaxy, and people go, ‘Are we alone?’ ” DeLonge dismissed his own question with a word Blink-182 once set on fire.
He also had little time for those who doubt whether aliens had visited Earth. “It’s all out there already,” DeLonge said. “It’s so frustrating when people say they’re waiting for some big person to say something. Well, there’s been a hundred books, national press events in D.C., meetings in Congress and multi-star generals on the record.”
There is no evidence of contact between aliens and humans, according to scientific consensus. “At the moment, life on Earth is the only known life in the universe, but there are compelling arguments to suggest we are not alone,” astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson wrote in 2003.
When Bill Clinton was president, he denied that the White House had proof of aliens. “No, as far as I know, an alien spacecraft did not crash in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947,” Clinton said during a 1995 speech while in Ireland, responding to a letter sent by Ryan, a 13-year-old resident of Belfast. “And Ryan, if the United States Air Force did recover alien bodies, they didn’t tell me about it, either, and I want to know.”
(As recently as Monday, scientists publicly dismissed the idea. “I do not believe that anyone from outer space has ever visited the Earth,” said Alan Bean, 85, the fourth person to walk on the Moon, to an Australian newspaper.)
In his search for information, DeLonge said he made his way into upper echelons of the American government. In October, the Wall Street Journal reported that DeLonge corresponded with John Podesta, the chair for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, according to emails WikiLeaks had released; Podesta, for his part, has frequently advocated for the United States to declassify any information regarding Area 51 or other UFO incidents.
It took DeLonge a year, but he managed to set up “very high level meetings” with members of the Defense Department, he said. “And I got to the people that are in charge of this stuff.” He declined to confirm to The Washington Post whether he had met with Podesta or any specific government officials. “I can’t comment on who I met with,” he said, “or what those meetings were about.”
A Defense Department spokesman said in an email to The Washington Post that neither the Defense Department’s Community Relations nor the Air Force had records of such a meeting. The spokesman “did see one open source story that named generals who supposedly worked with Mr. DeLonge.” Both of the generals mentioned had retired, the representative said, the first in October 2013 and the other in June of 2014.
Several scientists involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, are optimistic that any alien life advanced enough to happen upon Earth would also be benevolent. “I doubt aliens would drop what they’re doing to come over here and wipe out Clapham Junction — why would they do that?” Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute in California, told the Guardian in July. “They probably have what we have at home — except for our culture, maybe they are big Cliff Richard fans or like our reality television.”
But DeLonge’s air of secrecy — and the government’s — stemmed from the danger that alien contact posed, the former Blink-182 guitarist said. It was a pessimistic view of alien intelligence, a fear shared by physicist Stephen Hawking (though Hawking still supports SETI initiatives such as Breakthrough Listen). DeLonge had been “briefed on things” that caused him to lose sleep “for multiple days on end,” he said. “Because it really, really threw me down the stairs.”
DeLonge’s view was not completely dour, however. Far from it. He said that exposing the phenomenon as a malevolent extraterrestrial influence would persuade humans around the world to cooperate. He likened current global conflicts to someone incorrectly fighting a fire. “When I was in high school, I wanted to be a firefighter. I learned that you spray the base of the flame. You squirt water on the fuel, not the flame itself,” DeLonge said.
“I feel that lot of the fighting taking place across the world, when we drop bombs — that’s spraying on the flames. The fuel of all these wars are our belief systems. And the sooner we attack that,” he said, “that we’ve been duped about our belief systems, maybe we’ll start to realize we’re much more connected.”