Richard O’Connor is looking up.
Nine years ago, O’Connor founded the Jesse A. Marcel Library, a small red building off South Hills Road in Clancy, dedicated to exploring and exposing certain mysteries of the universe: unidentified flying objects (UFOs), crop circles, and alien life and lore.
He named it after his friend and medical colleague Dr. Jesse A. Marcel Jr., and Marcel’s father Maj. Jesse A. Marcel. In 1947, Maj. Marcel, then an Air Force intelligence officer, reportedly investigated the crash of an unidentified flying object in Roswell, New Mexico.
Since 2012, O’Connor has packed the Marcel Library with books and papers documenting extraterrestrial phenomena. Every Tuesday evening, he has hosted meetings of those interested in learning more. Through the library and the Crop Circle Foundation, Inc., he has raised money for research and to build awareness.
That mostly one-man crusade, he says, left him a bit burned out. That, along with the COVID-19 pandemic, is why the Marcel Library hasn’t opened in two years.
“I guess I hoped that it would have more of an impact than it has had,” said O’Connor, who then admitted it was hard to gauge the impact he and the library have had on the lives of the people who have come through the door in the seven years it was active. “I’m sure many people left here feeling more positive about it. It may have played a more important role than I realized.”
He also felt disheartened by the lack of response to the admissions that had been coming out by government officials over the past few years. “I thought, hey if the New York Times can’t get the attention of the American public about this and get them to really start addressing this in a meaningful way, what am I going to do here in little old Clancy, Montana?”
Now, however, the world may be coming around to something O’Connor has been certain of for years: There is something out there.
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In 2017, The New York Times published an article documenting $22 million in funding for the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), a federal government program that investigated reports of UFOs run by a military intelligence official, Luis Elizondo, from 2007-2012.
The Times report documented the involvement of former senators Harry Reid, Ted Stevens, and Daniel K. Inouye, and highlighted videos of Navy pilots’ sightings. The videos, titled “FLIR,” “GIMBAL,” and “GOFAST” from 2004, 2014, and 2015, were released and allegedly showed encounters by jets from the USS Nimitz and USS Theodore Roosevelt with UFOs.
Since then, more information about UFOs and the US government has emerged. In April, 2019, the U.S. Navy drafted new guidelines for the reporting of UFOs after writing in a statement to Politico of “a number of reports of unauthorized and/or unidentified aircraft entering various military-controlled ranges and designated airspace in recent years.”
In September of that year, the Navy and the Pentagon confirmed that the videos that had been released to The New York Times were, in fact, authentic.
More recently, the CBS news program “60 Minutes” dedicated a segment on May 16 to what it described as “the government’s grudging acknowledgment of unidentified aerial phenomena — UAP — more commonly known as UFOs.”
The segment featured Elizondo, Christopher Mellon, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence, and former Navy pilots Lt. Ryan Graves, Cmdr. David Fravor, Lt. Cmdr. Alex Dietrich. The former pilots were all related to videos of Navy aircraft UFO encounters that were released over the past few years
“Look, Bill, I’m not, I’m not telling you that, that it doesn’t sound wacky. What I’m telling you, it’s real. The question is, what is it? What are its intentions? What are its capabilities?” said Elizondo in the “60 Minutes” interview.
On May 17, during an appearance on, “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” former President Barack Obama also addressed rising questions about UFOs. “We can’t explain how they move, their trajectory...They did not have an easily explainable pattern. And so I think that people still take seriously, trying to investigate and figure out what that is.”
And as early as June 1, Congress is set to receive a “detailed analysis of unidentified aerial phenomena data and intelligence” from the Office of Naval Intelligence, the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force, and the FBI.
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Before all this, Richard O’Connor was an anesthesiologist in Helena. He practiced for nearly 30 years before retiring in July of 2015. For much of that time, he was only vaguely aware of and not that interested in UFOs.
But around 1989, he saw a television documentary about Roswell -- and he recognized the face of a co-worker at St. Peter’s Hospital: Jesse A. Marcel Jr., an ear, nose, and throat specialist. In the documentary, Marcel told the story of his father returning home one night in 1947 with debris collected from an unusual crash.
Back in 1947, the U.S. military said the debris was a weather balloon. But in a 1978 interview with Ufologist Stanton Friedman, Maj. Marcel disputed that official assertion.
When asked about the documentary by O’Connor, “[Dr. Marcel] said, ‘Yeah I was there. I held that stuff in my hands and didn’t think it was from this planet.”
“One of the reasons I opened this library was because of a conversation I had with Jesse Marcel Jr. I just approached him one day and said, ‘You know, you are getting up there in years and you’re not going to be around forever. What do you think if I opened a library and named it after you and your father with the intention of carrying on your story when you’re gone?’”
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O’Connor’s endeavor is funded by donations to either the library itself or the Crop Circle Research Foundation, Inc. as well as his own funds. With those funds, he was able to erect a billboard along Highway 12 near Helena for six months in 2019. It read “…something not from this world,” attributed to Fravor, and below “UFO disclosure is in progress. Get Ready. Get Informed,” followed by the address for the JAML website.
JAML is a small, one-room cabin, with a large white garage door taking up the entirety of the back wall. At the moment, O’Connor’s truck and camper trailer are parked within the building, taking up more than half the space. Normally, O’Connor says the building can hold about 90 people, though meetings tended to be smaller than that. A special Saturday night meeting in June of 2019 garnered eight attendees to meditate for 30 minutes and project thoughts to whatever is out there to come to Earth in a peaceful fashion. But there hasn’t been a meeting in quite some time.
The folding chairs that would seat all 90 are stacked neatly along the left wall which has several large, framed photos of crop circles. Along the right wall stands a series of bookcases back to the brim with books and DVDs.
O’Connor reaches to a high shelf and pulls out one book after the other showing the covers. “Do you know Ardy Sixkiller Clarke?” he asks before explaining, without taking a breath, that she is a professor at Montana State University who writes books focusing on the Native American experience with UFOs. The book he holds up is “Encounters with Star People: Untold Stories of American Indians.” They’ve worked together before, he explains, before whipping around to another shelf.
Despite O’Connor’s soft-spoken demeanor, his excitement to be talking about UFOs is palpable as he bounces back and forth between books. He isn’t a man looking to relax. He is a man looking to know more, to keep moving, and to ask questions. It is hard to believe that he ever had “just a passing interest” in the phenomenon before meeting Dr. Marcel.
“Leslie Kean?” he asks. He points without hesitation, without searching, to a spot on the shelf. “She wrote a book called UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record. It should be right here, but sometimes I have issues with books not getting returned in a timely fashion.”
The book return is a red cooler that sits outside the front door of JAML.
Later, during a short tour of the library, O’Connor sweeps his arm to a wooden lectern pushed against the front wall with a green bumper sticker on the front that reads “Extraterrestrial Highway.” “This is a speaker’s pulpit.” He quickly gestures upward. A projector sits on a wooden shelf hanging from the ceiling, pointed at the white front wall. “When we have a meeting here normally, I’ll show video or something on the wall and we’ll discuss what we see afterward.”
O’Connor is, basically, a one-man-band. For every meeting, when the library was open, he hunted down and provided the content, facilitated discussions, arranged for guest speakers, and found new books to line the shelves. He even had a booth at the Helena farmers’ market to garner the interest of locals.
Sitting on a folding table between two of the bookshelves are bumper stickers and a bookmark. The bookmark shows a picture of a silvery object against a cloudy background. It is a picture O’Connor captured with one of his skyward cameras on Nov. 4, 2015. He installed cameras on the southeast corner of his home and posted the longitude and latitude of the cameras online along with an invitation to the beings behind the UFOs to reach out. He believed, at first, that the picture showed that he had caught a UFO. Though now he says it was a water droplet.
“You know how I know?” he asks, “Because I went up on the roof with a turkey baster and sprayed water to see what it would look like.”
The bumper stickers next to the bookmarks speak to another mission he has: speaking out against nuclear weapons, which he believes are part of the reason for the UFO sightings. Earlier, O’Connor had pointed out a photo in a book of crop circles with a message in binary that he decoded. One of the phrases was, “Much pain but still time.”
“What does that mean?” he asks. “I think for myself that it means it has to do with nuclear weapons...there is just no question that nuclear weapons and nuclear energy are a big attractant to these beings.”
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According to a 2019 article published by internet provider SatelliteInternet, which culled data from the National UFO Reporting Center and the U.S. Census, Montana has the second-highest rate of UFO sightings in the nation, just behind nearby Washington state.
O’Connor says he believes that to be true and that over the years many people have come to him with stories, some willing to be recorded for his YouTube channel, and others less interested in being public about their experiences.
O’Connor pointed to a metal disk hanging from the ceiling, by the front door of the library. “This thing right here? A guy came into one of our meetings and said he used to live in Whitefish and was a member of some club, like the Lions Club or the Rotary Club, and he was standing with three guys outside after their meeting. It was a beautiful clear day and they watched a UFO come over the mountain and descend over Whitefish lake. They watched it for a few minutes and then they watched it turn at an angle and disappear like a bullet.
“He said, he was a religious guy, he went to Pacific Steel and got two drum cymbals and made this so years after he would remember what happened. He didn’t want to, years after, think it was a dream or a hallucination.” After sitting in a garage for twenty years the man gave it to O’Connor who then hung it in the library; to him it represents all the people having experiences who never had a place to go and talk about it and feel safe from ridicule.
“That’s why this place exists: To give people a safe place to discuss this in a rational manner without judgment or getting made fun of,” O’Connor said.
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O’Connor says things are looking up for those who take UFO seriously. “After the 2017 [New York Times] article came out and others subsequent to that, it became a lot easier to talk about in public. Before that, it was pretty uncomfortable to stand up in front of a group of people and say ‘hey, you should really be paying attention to UFOs.’” In 2019, O’Connor began teaching a course at Helena College called “Are UFOs A Threat To National Security?” alongside Dr. Joan Bird, a conservation biologist and author of “Montana UFOs and Extraterrestrials: Extraordinary Stories of Documented Sightings and Encounters. “His book, “UFOs, Nuclear Weapons, and a New Age of Reason” is set to come out this summer.
O’Connor now hopes to reopen JAML in July, after the release of the federal report to the public and the publication of his book. Public meetings, he said, probably will still be on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. — but he may dial back the frequency to monthly from weekly. (Those interested can email email@example.com for updates.)
“We’re hearing a lot about this possibly being a threat, so people are getting an opportunity to think about that and hopefully even look back and see that there is a long history of this UFO phenomenon that our military and citizens have been interfacing with for decades,” he said.
O’Connor believes there may be a more positive side to these sightings. “They are reaching out to us gently and we need to be willing to exchange information. Whatever we can do to coexist and to make it where it becomes a beneficial endeavor for both parties. And I’m pretty sure that is their goal.”