WASHINGTON -- Michael Regimente of Annapolis is sensitive to the image problem.
He says: "It's not like this is a Star Trek convention featuring the Attack of the Pear People vs. the Great Unwashed."
Yet that's what many people think when believers in Unidentified Flying Objects, aliens from other planets, and flying-saucer abductions get together to picket the White House for the "Right to Know" about out-of-this-world phenomena.
About 50 people from around the country marched in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in brutal heat and humidity yesterday to persuade the United States government to release about 20,000 pages of documents they claim proves the existence of UFOs.
One of the placards read: "Stop the Cosmic Watergate!"
"Depending on what poll you use, maybe 50 or 60 percent of the American public has some belief in UFOs, but they don't talk about it because of the stigma," said Mr. Regimente, a 44-year-old construction manager who has pursued the subject as a hobby for about four years. "And there's a lot more going on than even those people want to let into their minds."
Yesterday's protest was the second in as many years for "Operation Right to Know," a Washington group devoted to ending government secrecy about extra terrestrials, including the alleged U.S. Army retrieval in 1947 of a crashed flying saucer and dead aliens in Roswell, N.M.
Larry W. Bryant, a "Right to Know" supporter, has filed suit here demanding that the Army and Walter Reed Medical Center release autopsies of aliens believed to have been recovered from the desert outside of Roswell on July 5, 1947.
"If the government would at least acknowledge the truth of Roswell, it would move Ufology out of the nut case category and into the legitimate scientific realm," said Mr. Regimente, who spent the weekend at a UFO seminar in Richmond, Va., that attracted scientists and academics as well as those who say they have been abducted by aliens and taken aboard space ships for observation.
Last year's White House rally drew less than a dozen people, but such small beginnings suit leaders of "Operation Right to Know," who likened their mission to the Civil Rights marches by black Americans in the 1950s and 1960s.
"The Civil Rights movement started when one lady refused to give up her seat on a bus," said Ed Komarek, a Thomasville, Ga., real estate investor who co-founded "Operation Right to Know. "Just like back then, there's a lot of dissatisfaction. We want full disclosure."
Said Hal McKenzie, an organizer from Maryland: "This demonstration is more important than any demonstration ever held in Washington, D.C. This one affects everyone."
A big problem in being taken seriously, Mr. Komarek said, is supermarket tabloids with screaming headlines like, "Aliens Abduct Elvis from the Grave!"
And he chastised the mainstream media for being more interested in interviewing kooks who show up at UFO rallies in space costumes with silver antennae on their heads than filing Freedom of Information Act requests to find out why the government won't talk about Roswell and other incidents.
A flier circulated to the protesters advised pickets on how to deal with reporters, who nearly outnumbered the marchers.
"There may indeed be aliens walking through the walls of your bedroom," the hand-out said. "But no newspaper could print that without ridiculing you."
Mindy Gerber, a 35-year-old registered nurse from East Windsor, N.J., braves the ridicule.
"I'm an abductee, it's been going on throughout my life and will continue to go on," said Ms. Gerber, who said she has no conscious recall of the abductions but vaguely remembers the experiences through hypnosis.
"The aliens study certain people the way we might study animals in the wild. It's all kind of gray to me, I'm not very clear what I've learned except that there's a lot of stuff going on that we just don't know about."