Guv Believes in Aliens—and Jeb Bush’s Chances

Here’s something every flailing campaign needs: an endorsement from an Arizona governor-turned-pastry chef who once wrote an op-ed about seeing a UFO.

Photo illustration by The Daily Beast

A man who saw a UFO also sees Jeb Bush as president of the United States.

On Wednesday, Fife Symington, a former governor of Arizona who claims that “some form of an alien spacecraft” hovered over the mountains in Phoenix in 1997, endorsed something equally implausible: Bush’s bid for the Republican nomination.

“As governor of Florida, Jeb enacted smart conservative policies that grew his state’s economy and helped lift up his state’s education system,” Symington said in a statement released by the Bush campaign.

“And since leaving office Jeb has been a successful private sector leader, creating jobs and opportunity. As we have painfully learned over the last 7 years, we need a president with a proven record of getting results beyond being a talking head on television.”

Receiving a political endorsement from Symington, who could not be reached for comment for this story, is sort of like getting a letter of recommendation from a phone psychic or Gary Busey. But then any support may be good support when the candidate is polling behind Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Marco Rubio, and the general consensus is that we’d all be wise to have our Bush campaign obituaries ready to go.

Enter Symington. The scion of a privileged Maryland family—his great-grandfather was famed industrialist Henry Clay Frick—Symington is a Harvard grad and Air Force vet. He was stationed in Arizona during the Vietnam War and stayed there, building a life for himself in the real estate business before entering politics.

That’s when things got weird.

Symington, a Republican, became governor in 1991. A few years later, in November 1995, during his second term, a federal budget impasse closed the Grand Canyon National Park. Outraged, Symington attempted to bring in the National Guard to force it open. He brought 50 National Guard troops “in Humvee all-terrain vehicles, ambulances, and personnel trucks,” according to The New York Times report on the event. Ultimately, the Interior Department rejected Symington’s effort, and the park remained closed.

Then, in March 1997, something odd appeared in the sky.

Witnesses reported a V-shaped, football field-size constellation of lights above Nevada. It came to be known as “the Phoenix lights” and, according to CNN, it was “seen by thousands.” There was never a definitive explanation for what it was, though the Air Force suggested the lights could have been flares.

At the time, Symington dismissed his constituents’ fears of an alien invasion. During a press conference, he asked law enforcement to “escort the accused into the room so that we may all look upon the guilty party,” and out they brought his own chief of staff, dressed as a shimmering, silver alien with a beach ball-size head and fingers as long as carrots. “Don’t get him too close to me, please,” Symington deadpanned. Then he cracked a smile. “This just goes to show that you guys are entirely too serious,” he said.

Not long after that, Symington was forced to resign from office after he was convicted of fraud. He was later exonerated—and pardoned by his old pal Bill Clinton, whom he had once saved from drowning in the ocean—but he never ran for office again.

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Instead, he became a pastry chef, working at Franco’s Italian Caffé in Phoenix. “I think it’s magic,” he said of his new line of work.

And maybe the honest work was what inspired him to get honest with himself. In 2007, Symington told the world the truth: He had seen the Phoenix lights himself, which he called “something that defied logic and challenged reality.” He said he wouldn’t continue to stand for the powers that be “putting out stories that perpetuate the myth that all UFOs can be explained away in down-to-earth conventional terms.”

“I witnessed a massive delta-shaped craft silently navigate over Squaw Peak, a mountain range in Phoenix, Arizona,” he wrote in an op-ed for CNN. “To my astonishment this apparition appeared; this dramatically large, very distinctive leading edge with some enormous lights was traveling through the Arizona sky. As a pilot and a former Air Force Officer, I can definitely say that this craft did not resemble any man-made object I’d ever seen. And it was certainly not high-altitude flares because flares don’t fly in formation.”

Symington said the government needed to be more honest about UFOs, because “incidents like these are not going away.” What he saw in the sky, he said, “goes beyond conventional explanations” and, “I suspect, unless the Defense Department proves us otherwise, that it was probably some form of an alien spacecraft.”

Asked if Bush believes in aliens, his campaign did not respond.