William Cooper’s Alien Conspiracy Theory: Reality or a Hoax?

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Behold a Pale Horse" by Milton William Cooper. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are aliens real? If so, what are they doing here? Why would the U.S. government try to conceal the truth?

William Cooper claims that a major conspiracy is operating just under the surface of American society: the presence of aliens on Earth. He claims that this has been kept secret for decades by a government that’s in collusion with the aliens.

Read more to understand William Cooper’s alien conspiracy theory, and decide for yourself what’s really going on.

William Cooper’s Alien Conspiracy Theory

William Cooper’s alien conspiracy theory suggests that an alien race first made contact with Earth in the early 1950s and has maintained a formal relationship with the U.S. government since the ’60s. Alien spacecraft regularly land on Earth and abduct people to this day, and the government has hidden this from the public as a way of maintaining social control.

In fact, the aliens and the government are colluding to exploit the general population of Earth for their own gain, though Cooper offers several competing theories for which poses the greater threat.

Timeline of Earth-Alien Contact

Cooper claims that contact was first made in the early 1950s when over a dozen alien spacecraft landed or crashed in the American Southwest over a 10-year period. Advanced technology and alien bodies were secretly recovered, while public sightings of UFOs were dismissed as hoaxes. Information about these encounters was tightly controlled, limited to only a few officials within the government. Those who objected, like Secretary of Defense James Forrestal or, later, President Kennedy, were removed or assassinated. 

(Shortform note: James Forrestal’s death in 1949, apparently from suicide after a severe depressive episode, has been the subject of conspiracy theories for decades. Cooper’s theory is a variation on the popular claim that Forrestal “knew too much” about alien sightings, but it’s also been speculated that he was murdered by the KGB for his virulent anti-communism or by the CIA for threatening to publish his uncensored diaries, which may have contained information embarrassing to the Truman administration.)

A number of government organizations, including the CIA, the National Security Agency, and the National Security Council were founded with the express purpose of addressing the potential alien threat, though they were disguised as being general security or foreign affairs organizations. The most significant of these was Majestic Twelve (MJ-12), created by President Eisenhower to be the primary investigative force and go-between for the U.S. government and the aliens. 

Cooper claims that MJ-12 became a pawn of the Illuminati almost immediately through the leadership of prominent members like then-Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. The Illuminati encouraged a closer relationship with the aliens in order to gain access to their technology at the expense of America’s security.

(Shortform note: The Rockefellers and other “dynastic fortunes” are often the subject of conspiracy theories, especially secret society theories, given their ability to dramatically influence international politics and the economy without “earning” their power through democratic elections. While suspicion of these families is sometimes motivated by a legitimate history of exploitation, it also tends to overlap with the antisemitic fear of Jewish wealth as being inherently threatening to non-Jewish society.) 

According to Cooper, the U.S. government signed a formal treaty with the aliens at Edwards Air Force Base in 1954. The treaty promised that the government would keep the aliens’ presence on Earth a secret and allow them to abduct humans for study, provided that the aliens would not harm the abductees, return them quickly, and provide MJ-12 with a full record of their activities. In exchange, the aliens agreed to help the government develop more advanced technology and to not establish a relationship with any other Earth government. They immediately began constructing joint underground bases throughout the American Southwest for building and testing weapons and aircraft.

(Shortform note: The treaty Cooper describes could explain the number of UFO sightings reported in the Southwest in the 1950s-’70s. On the other hand, skeptics argue that there were no aliens involved, and observers were seeing highly classified weapons testing carried out by the CIA and the Air Force—given the Southwest’s low population, it was a popular site for these sorts of activities. It’s even been suggested that the U.S. government may have encouraged the UFO narrative to deflect attention and keep the exact nature of these experiments secret.)

Within a year, however, the U.S. government discovered through their espionage and the accounts of abductees that the aliens were violating the treaty by mutilating human and animal abductees, conducting abductions in secret, and sharing their weapons with other countries, such as the USSR. Because human weapons were no match for alien ones, MJ-12 resolved to maintain friendly relations as long as possible while preparing to fight back. This is the state of human-alien relations in the modern day.

(Shortform note: Stories about alien abduction first gained popularity in the 1960s, with the Barney and Betty Hill incident being one of the first to attract nationwide attention. These stories usually involve the victims being taken to a mysterious location by humanoid creatures to undergo invasive medical “testing,” only to wake up hours later with unexplainable gaps in their memory. Skeptics argue that most abductees are simply experiencing hallucinations or sleep paralysis and that any memories recovered under hypnosis are likely false and not to be taken seriously.)

The Year 2000 Disaster

Part of the reason the U.S. has maintained a relationship with the aliens for so long is in the hopes of using their superior technology to bail the Earth out from an impending environmental disaster. According to Cooper, an investigation by the country’s top scientists in the late 1950s concluded that the planet was doomed. By the year 2000, overpopulation and military tensions between nations would destroy every society through war, famine, and nuclear holocaust. The only way for humanity to save itself would be to either dramatically reduce its population and rate of resource consumption or to rely on the aliens for help. Though the government attempted to keep the impending threat a secret, it eventually became public knowledge with the publication of books like Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb

The Year 2000 and the Rapture

Behold a Pale Horse was published in 1991, and though the year 2000 has now passed without disaster, apocalyptic theories centered around the dawn of the new millennium were popular in the late ’80s and ’90s. Cooper’s choice of the date comes partly from mid-century scientific works like Ehlrich’s, which choose it as a convenient deadline around which to center their calls for change, but also from evangelical teachings about the rapture. Evangelicals predict that on some significant date (2000 having been one of many suggestions) all worthy Christians will ascend to Heaven, leaving sinners to face their extinction on a doomed, apocalyptic Earth. 

While Cooper never describes his religious background in detail, he does call himself a Christian and refers to God and Jesus throughout Behold a Pale Horse. The influence of religious apocalyptic beliefs is also alluded to in the book’s title, Behold a Pale Horse, which is a direct quote from the Book of Revelation in the Bible. Saint John witnesses the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse riding on differently colored horses, with the personification of Death riding on the last, “pale” horse. 

Eisenhower commissioned the JASON Society of prominent scientists to develop options, and they generated three. The first was for humanity to devote itself to environmentalism and work toward peace among all nations, which was dismissed as unlikely to succeed. The second was to build underground facilities in which those chosen could retreat and survive following the apocalypse, while the rest on the surface died out. The third was to exploit alien technology by working with them in order to establish colonies in space, though again only for a select few. 

(Shortform note: These second and third options have been popular premises for dystopian or post-apocalyptic science fiction since the mid-20th century. Such fiction is usually satirical, contrasting utopian visions of Earth’s future with the preventable-but-through-hubris destruction of the Earth and mass death of humanity. Two of the most famous examples include Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and the video game series Fallout.)

According to Cooper, both the U.S. and the Soviet governments immediately began joint work on the second and third options. And, with the aliens’ help, they have already built functioning bases on the Moon and Mars. Cooper claims that popular representations of both planets as barren are a cover-up by NASA and that the truth can be seen in the 1977 documentary Alternative 3 and George Leonard’s study of NASA photographs, Someone Else Is on the Moon

(Shortform note: Alternative 3 was a mockumentary, intended to be aired as the April Fools’ Day edition of the English TV program Science Report. The film used fake interviews with astronauts and physicists to claim that the U.S. and the USSR were working together to develop colonies on Mars and the Moon, where a select few would be able to escape after climate change destroyed the Earth. When the broadcast was delayed to mid-June, many viewers assumed that what they were watching was real, and some UFOlogists continue to insist that the program is legitimate and the TV studio’s denials are a government cover-up.)

Cooper also claims that these governments are simultaneously working to reduce the Earth’s population as much as possible through the promotion of birth control, importation of drugs and guns to vulnerable populations, forced sterilization, and man-made epidemics (he suggests HIV/AIDS as an example). He theorizes that, while the world’s elites will escape underground or to the colonies, the remaining humans who survive these initiatives and the devastation of Earth will either be sold to the aliens for experimentation or used as slave labor. 

Pandemics From a Lab?

Cooper’s theory that AIDS was a man-made disease was one of the most controversial claims in the book, but it has believers to this day; in 2000, a South African health minister came under fire for distributing relevant pages from Behold a Pale Horse to other government officials. In the 2020s, conspiracy theories surrounding Covid-19 similarly suggest that the disease was chemically engineered and released into vulnerable populations, either to try to eradicate them or as an act of biological warfare between nations.

Though there’s little evidence for these theories, they’re given legitimacy by the fact that the U.S. government has conducted medical experiments on its people in the past. In addition, vulnerable populations do tend to die from diseases at greater rates, though this can be attributed to government indifference and prejudice limiting their access to money and health care rather than deliberate genocide.

A New World Order Hoax?

Cooper admits that many UFO-related documents and theories—including the original MJ-12 document—are confirmed hoaxes and that his theories may sound outlandish to the reader. Ultimately, he suggests that it’s possible that the presence of aliens on Earth is itself a hoax perpetrated by the U.S. government and the Illuminati, as part of their plan to establish the NWO. 

(Shortform note: The MJ-12 document provided the foundation for a number of other conspiracy theories, but its authenticity was questioned almost as soon as it was discovered. Both the FBI and respected scientists like Carl Sagan dismissed it, and interest in the document faded after one of its originators, UFOlogist William L. Moore, claimed that he’d worked with the government to spread deliberate misinformation about UFOs.)

If this is the case, then all UFO sightings, abduction stories, and leaked documents are intended to convince the people that an existential alien threat could appear at any time. When the time is right, Cooper theorizes that the government will stage an alien attack, announce the presence of the threat, and use it to justify establishing total control over the people—depriving them of their weapons and material possessions, rounding people up into camps, and requiring total surveillance—and merging with the governments of foreign nations, all in the name of safety. This will pave the way for a formal declaration of the NWO.

(Shortform note: This theory was famous before Cooper, as it’s the ending to the influential ’80s comic book series Watchmen. World War III between the USSR and the U.S. is averted when the superhero Ozymandias stages an alien attack on New York City, killing millions but ensuring cooperation between nations against this supposed new threat. Though most of the characters are horrified by this act, they agree to keep it secret for the sake of world peace.)

Evidence for this theory, according to Cooper, can be seen in the development of military national disaster contingency plans in the 1970s and ’80s, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). These programs provided for the suspension of the Constitution and mass detention without cause in the case of a vaguely defined “national emergency.” A supposed alien attack would have the benefit of uniting everyone in their fear of an outside threat, making them more likely to comply with a police state.

(Shortform note: Although the disaster contingency plans Cooper describes did exist, they’ve never been implemented. FEMA was developed to allow for a swift government response to natural disasters or foreign attacks, and since its creation, it’s been deployed mostly in response to hurricanes, snowstorms, and wildfires. There’s no evidence for the idea that FEMA plans or even has the capability to imprison Americans en masse.)

William Cooper’s Alien Conspiracy Theory: Reality or a Hoax?

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  • One of the most influential conspiracy theory books ever written
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Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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