When Samantha Kelcinski was in high school, she wore Star Trek shirts and spoke in Klingon. So it probably came as no surprise that she was obsessed with the idea of UFOs, an interest sparked by a short documentary the now-26-year-old Staten Island native found on Netflix as a kid.

When she began her current job as a vet tech, she decorated her locker with UFO and alien stickers. Her peers and co-workers “thought I was weird, in a fun way,” she said.

But things changed when she announced that she had finally witnessed a UFO for herself.

It was a stormy day, which usually would have kept her hiding inside. “I’ve almost been struck by lightning three or four times,” she said. But something drew her out the door to a small crowd. She looked up.

“It looked like a saucer,” she said. “It was shiny, and it was right above the trees. It was reflecting the trees. … Then it just shot straight up into the sky. All of our jaws dropped.”

Skeptics might think what she saw was a weather balloon or another man-made object, but she said she knows what she saw. She submitted it to the National UFO Reporting Center.

She also called her boyfriend to tell him about it, then told her co-workers. None of them were particularly nice. It felt as if, in their eyes, she went from “quirky” to “nut job.”

“It was embarrassing. I was like, ‘Why am I even telling anybody?’” she said. “They probably just think I’m crazy.”

Now, she hopes the tide might be turning. On Friday, President Biden’s director of national intelligence released a report that shared everything unclassified that the U.S. government knows about unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs), as mandated by last year’s pandemic relief package.

The report has had many in the UFO community buzzing with anticipation, though as expected, it did not offer firm conclusions as to what the UAPs might be. Several believers spoke to The Post before it came out, but even afterwards, they generally felt the same.

Some thought it could mark a sea change in how the public considers the possibility of UFOs and all the implications that come with them. Maybe, after decades and decades of being written off as kooks, the believers would have some government-backed support for the idea that people should at least keep an open mind.

“Finally,” Kelcinski said. “I’m glad people are actually taking this seriously. This needs to be talked about.”

Footage from 2004 shows an encounter between a U.S. fighter jet and "anomalous aerial vehicles," which is military jargon for UFOs. (To The Stars Academy of Arts and Science)

Tim Staley, 37, a San Francisco-based experiential producer, said the day the New York Times published an article that referenced potential UAP crash retrieval programs “stands still in time for me.”

He has been interested in UFOs since he was a teenager, when he had “recurring dreams of a visitation-type scenario” every night for a year. And now, finally, people might be paying attention. “The last few weeks have been unreal,” he said.

Some have been working through more complicated emotions. Mark Thomas, a Seattle-based believer in his 30s, offered an extended analogy via email: “What is it like to be gaslighted by your spouse for years, and find she recently has opened up about cheating on you? Rewarding? No. Validating? Yes. Worthwhile? Yes. Is justice served? No. Meaningful? Yes. Empowering? Yes. Debilitating? Yes. Absurd? Yes. Do you trust her less? Yes. Has some trust been earned with the confession? Yes. Do you trust yourself more now? Yes. Do you feel like a fool who is less than? Yes. Is the truth worth knowing? Damn straight.”

Others still felt some trepidation. The report could be too vague to make a dent in the skepticism, and after all, it’s not like believing in UFOs is the best way to win friends and influence people. Mike Rezl, a North Dakota-based moderator of Reddit’s 422,000-member r/UFOs forum, remembers the day he decided to keep his interest close to the vest.

He had a copy of “UFOs” by Leslie Kean in his car when a friend hopped in, spotted the book and shouted, “What the f--- is this?”

“It was this very accusatory, sort of derogatory affront. Like, ‘I thought you were smarter than this.’ I immediately felt defensive, like I had to make a case for the entire phenomenon,” Rezl said. “I didn’t have any other experiences like that. It only took one for me to be more careful.”

The Post's Cleve R. Wootson Jr. explains why a 2017 admission from the government was like pouring kerosene on UFO conspiracy theories. (Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

Many in the UFO community wonder what exactly it is that makes people so skeptical of a topic the government takes seriously. Conjectures abound — humanity’s fear of the unknown, some religions’ dogmatic opposition to the idea of extraterrestrial life, the ridiculous-seeming pop-cultural portrayal of flying saucers and little green men.

“There is just so much nonsense out there,” said Jason Brar, a 23-year-old software engineer with Google. “To actively digest this topic, you have to be a very skeptical person, but very skeptical people aren’t often the ones interested in this.”

“The topic is often viewed in an adversarial way, like as if [we believe] aliens are coming to take over the world, yada yada yada,” he added. The forthcoming report, though, “has helped me talk about this with normal people. Instead of saying, ‘Hey, some person with questionable validity said this,’ I can say: ‘Hey, the Pentagon said this. Do you believe the Pentagon?’”

Tom DeLonge is trying to alter the perception that UFOs are a fringe phenomenon. “People are just kind of wired to live your daily life and not ask questions, and they don’t even imagine anything outside of those boundaries,” he said. That is one reason he took the money he earned from his bands — first Blink 182 and now Angels and Airwaves — and co-founded the entertainment and UFO investigation company, the To the Stars Academy of Arts and Sciences.

And recently he’s been hoping the report — and the serious tone with which the media are treating it — will be the “watershed moment” he’s been waiting for.

He acknowledges that for a UFO prognosticator, that tone “definitely gets a little bit of your ego going,” but he said there’s something much bigger at stake.

“The world is really going to have to learn how to digest something that I’ve had a couple of decades to digest, and they’re going to have to do it quickly,” he said. “It’s going to be really hard on a lot of people.”

DeLonge is a true believer. He thinks that the government has hard proof on UFOs — and that the release of said proof would be a balm to humanity’s darkest ills.

“It’s going to be kind of the great equalizer of races and people on this planet. I think it’s going to be more so than any politics or any discussion or any march can do,” he said, noting, “We’ll have to look outside of ourselves, our tribal warfare.”

“I lay in bed at night considering some of the good that could come out of this,” he said.

Many, though, remain doubtful that this month’s news cycle will do anything to change the minds of skeptics.

“Lots of people like myself cannot shake the idea that this is just another huge setup for disappointment,” Brar said.

Among them is Sam Smith, a 30-year-old Nashville native who moved to D.C. more than a decade ago to pursue work as a historian.

A childhood obsession with the Loch Ness monster and the search for the lost city of Atlantis led him to UFOs — an interest that he said was also “a kickback against religion a little for me, like: ‘I don’t want to go to church. It’s all aliens anyways.’”

“I probably said that most to p--- off my mom, but it worked,” he added. “Both getting me out of church and making her angry.”

But soon he fell down the rabbit hole, waking up at 3 or 4 a.m. to hit UFO forums for a few hours before school. Despite his nearly two decades of fierce curiosity in the subject, he’s not particularly excited about the report. The believing community has been burned before. There have been several reports in the past century, he pointed out. “And I feel like the reports always come to similar conclusions — basically, ‘Some stuff, we don’t know what it is.’”

“A UFO flap is what they call it,” he added. “You know, it's just it'll be exciting for a couple of months and then people will probably move on.”

From former president Barack Obama to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), here's what lawmakers have said about UFOs in the past. (The Washington Post)

Still, anticipation of the report has sparked a drastic uptick of interest in r/UFOs. The 13-year-old subreddit has attracted more than 100,000 new members in the last year.

That increase has not been wholly welcome, according to several earlier members. Many of the newcomers aggressively try to debunk everything they see, while others share obviously invented stories of little green men to earn some online cachet.

“It was a very fun community to be a part of. It felt like I could blend in with other people who wouldn’t look at me condescendingly,” Kelcinski said. But now she dubs it “toxic, in its own way.”

Such noise filling her once-safe space makes her all the more energized. She’s putting together a TikTok series on major “UFO incidents” in recent history.

Though the report found no evidence of extraterrestrial life, it did state that the U.S. does not yet know the origins of more than 140 unidentified flying objects. For many believers, that’s enough.

“The report is going to bring on a lot of great things,” said Kelcinski, citing the deluge of media attention.

Brar, the Google software engineer, was “pleasantly surprised." He said it “supported what UFO believers have been screaming about this whole time — there are very strange objects in our sky, and we have no good explanations for what these objects are.”

The mere existence of the report — not to mention the classified version that only government officials have seen — is step one. Because in the end, all these enthusiasts want is the truth, however it appears.

“I would love complete honesty ‘This is what we know. This is what we don’t know,’” he said. And who knows? Maybe more will come out later. “My view is, if this is real, this is easily the most important event in all of human history.”

This story has been updated.

Read more: