I met Ken Langley in October 2017, while touring the Extraterrestrial Highway in Nevada, with photographer Myles Pritchard.
There’s plenty of alien stuff at the Little A’le’Inn, off the Extraterrestrial Highway in Rachel, Nevada. In the shop, which doubles as the bar, restaurant and reception, there are green alien-head mugs, knitted alien quilts, UFO model kits and Area 51 number plates. Just outside, there’s an alien figure, the size of a small child, holding a sign saying “Earthlings Welcome”, and next to that a retro-futuristic rocket contraption with flickering, multicoloured lights.
The Little A’le’Inn, which has been run by the charming Pat Travis-Laudenklos since 1988, is a fun and friendly, if decidedly basic, place. If the aliens were ever to visit, they might question the decor and the comfort of the beds in Earthly hotel rooms.
But what we’re really after are proper alien stories, maybe a conspiracy or two about the nearby Area 51, which is still the most secretive air force base in America. And for that, everyone says exactly the same thing: Speak to Ken, the inn’s chef, who sometimes refers to himself as Agent 0051.
So, just after 9pm, Kenneth Langley is done with his shift and ready to talk. He’s wearing a Chicago Cubs hat and an Area 51 apron and has a slightly unnerving, challenging intensity about him. When Myles says that he lives in Australia, Ken says that he’s a tribal member of the Maori but, it’s okay, he doesn’t want a fight. Myles seems bemused.
In a sign of how the next few hours are going to go, Ken says that he recently spent six hours talking to a Chicago radio station, telling “half a century of stories”. By midnight, we’ll have heard an almost uninterrupted monologue covering everything from gravity manipulation to cloaking technology, Debussy, CIA surveillance and Elon Musk’s 40th birthday. We’ll be so spun out that we’ll fail to ask about the time Ken was abducted by aliens.
To attempt to paraphrase Ken’s account of his life, before we get onto the mind-bending stuff… First off, he comes from good stock. Go a few generations back and you’ll find Samuel Pierpont Langley, an aviation pioneer, early writer on climate change, and inventor of the bolometer, a game-changing device that measures infrared radiation waves. On another side of the family tree you’ll find Elwood Haynes, an Indiana gas magnate who designed one of the first cars in America and became a notable prohibitionist.
Ken says he left home at 17 and walked away from an inheritance built up by his industrialist family. The implication is that it was big. At one point, he says that he was honourably discharged from the Air Force after his mother “turned me in”.
Ken started cooking in 1974 and was, in his own words, “the hottest chef in Atlanta for two decades”. He was a private chef, who would cook in the mansions and on the tropical islands of billionaires. “At 28, I was the guy in the wifebeater and the Bermuda shorts, stepping out of the gold Learjet.”
Being a chef allowed this intense, hyper-intelligent man all kinds of access. He cooked for the governors of Nevada and Georgia, for Lockheed-Martin, and for Elon Musk’s 40th birthday. He has cooked, he says, “for every branch of the military and intelligence services” – and once made a NASA scientist cry when he played him Debussy on the piano. When he moved to Nevada, he was the best chef in Nevada, too.
So, how did he end up in Rachel, Nevada, cooking a menu of omelettes, Galaxy Wraps, Alien Burgers and chilli dogs (everywhere in the desert seems to do chilli dogs)? A menu which sits on two small laminated pages, and which Pat the owner refuses to change, because the guests like it that way.
The answer, of course, is that Ken was sent to Rachel by a Native American Zuni shaman. He was in New Mexico, having escaped Atlanta for a five-year journey of discovery in his motorhome. He’d smoked some really good weed, which he thinks may have been Afghan Kush (“it was the only weed that’s ever made me see colours”) and had some dinner.
After dinner, one of the Zuni Indians had brought him a red feather, which in Zuni culture meant he had a message from the shaman. “So, I drove 20 miles, and when I got there, the shaman told to me to go back to the motor home and look at my atlas. He said that, wherever my finger landed, my destiny would be there. When I put my finger on the atlas, it was on Rachel. So that was that – I smoked a joint, had some dinner and was sent here by a shaman.”
That was 2007, and he’s been here ever since, working 35-hour weeks at the Little A’le’Inn and buying a property just up the road eight years ago. After chatting outside the inn for a while, we follow him the mile or so up the dark Extraterrestrial Highway to his single-story house, alone by the roadside. With its baby grand piano by the door, and plush leather sofas, it’s fussy and immaculate – more “Frasier” than “desert hideaway”.
How Ken became Rachel’s conspiracy theorist-in-chief, and resident alien expert, is something I never quite get to the bottom of. In the house, there are CIA mugs, glasses and pens around the place. Ken says he’s never been paid by the agency, but he knows people who work for it: both family members and friends. His niece, he says, works in U.S. Military Intelligence and has a higher security clearance than the President (this is perhaps the most comforting thing we hear all night).
And Ken understands stuff in a way that most people don’t. About quantum physics, gravity manipulation, cloaking technology, vibrational frequencies. He has countless stories about things that he’s seen in the sky: planes doing 90-degree turns at high-speed; “false stars” that appear and disappear; tiny craft that “look like something from Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, as well as a “mothership hovering in the mountains”, which his sister saw through high-definition binoculars.
In perhaps his spookiest story, he says that one night he saw three or four planes circling. “They were dissected by a huge single beam of white light, and then suddenly they all disappeared,” he recalls. “There were little flickers of light afterwards, which was some kind of energy discharge.”
It should be noted that Ken isn’t the only person who sees things in the skies around Area 51 – round here, seeing weird stuff in the sky is almost quotidian, and just about everyone we meet has a good sky story.
Earlier in the day, we’d met Malcolm Harris, whose brother George owns the Alien Research Center shop down the highway, and who had grown up feeling the ground shake from atomic tests in the desert. He’d shown us a photo he’d taken of a perfectly rectangular cloud that “must have been a thousand feet long”. One of the regulars at the bar at the Little A’le’Inn had told us about recently seeing a bright light darting about the sky at strange angles – “making Z shapes and other formations” – then disappearing.
Even in Pioneertown, a few days earlier and some 300 miles south, one of the locals had shown us a video on his phone of what looked like a formation of silver squares, dancing and swooping in the sky like birds above the desert. In the middle of one swoop, they all disappeared completely. “What the actual fuck?” read his caption.
You only have to creep close to the back gate of Area 51, with its intimidating warnings, to know that the base is still very much active – and as secretive as ever. Ken tells us that AI robots man the perimeter fence. “Cross the line,” he says, “and you’re going to jail.”
There’s still remarkably little on-record fact about what goes on there – but according to historian Chris Pocock, quoted in Popular Mechanics magazine, it’s most likely “classified aircraft, more exotic forms of radio communication, directed energy weapons, and lasers.”
According to Ken, the technology at Area 51 is “centuries ahead of what we think. When we were playing Pong in the 1970s, they were building the stealth bomber. And that gap has only widened with supercomputers and advances in quantum physics.” He starts talking about cloaking technology. “Using vibrations, they can essentially evaporate the whole craft, removing it from the visible light spectrum,” he says.
Ken regularly drops into conversation little nuggets like “quantum entanglement”, which he says opens up the possibility of teleportation. NASA, he says in another non-sequitur, are working on a warp drive, meaning time travel could be possible. “If you’ve seen it in a sci-fi movie, they can do it,” he says.
If you’ve seen it in a sci-fi movie, they can do it
After a long day of desert driving, a double whiskey and a few tokes of a spliff, it’s hard to keep up. Ken talks in a fast mumble, and assumes that other people can tune in to his particular frequency. He says that someone, somewhere, will be listening in to our conversation right now – “Rachel is the safest, most watched place on Earth,” he says. “They can see you, hear you, and they know what your body temperature is right now.” I wonder to myself if the spooks understand Ken better than I can.
But those spooks certainly won’t know the whole picture; the whole big conspiracy, whose endpoint no one really knows. “Only a small handful of people know what’s really going on,” says Ken, who won’t be drawn on specific sources. “Most people at Area 51 work on very specific, technical things. The bigger picture is usually well above their pay-grade.”
The question of “What is all this for?” is a knotty one. Ken says the U.S. Air Force plans to have“total domination” of the world’s airspace by 2025, referring in part to this report, which is heavy on the references to Star Trek and Brilliant Force. Either way, it’s fairly straightforward logic that America would want to have the future of warfare and surveillance before anyone else.
In other interviews he’s gone further, mentioning the Blue Beam Project, a classic conspiracy theory that NASA are planning to use technology to create a new Second Coming, possibly projecting images of the messiah of choice into the sky. Though you suspect even Ken thinks that’s a stretch.
It’s all intellectually wild enough that I don’t even think to ask about actual aliens – the little guys who are so much part of the communal imagination round the Extraterrestrial Highway, which was created in 1996 in the wake of the Independence Day movie, which featured Rachel, Nevada.
So, later, I listen to Ken’s interview with sos-radio.com, the Chicago conspiracy theory site and podcast which he had referred to. In it, he says: “I’ve heard rumour that just over the hill [in Area 51] there’s a large-nosed grey alien, a small-nosed grey, an orange, a blue, a reptilian and a humanoid. I can also tell you there are angels, demons… the battle’s going to be for your soul.”
In the SOS Radio interview, Ken also claims to have been abducted by aliens as a child. “I have memories, whether or not those memories have been manipulated,” he says… “Memories of being on a vessel, of tests being run. The last time I remember, which could be a manipulated memory or a dream, was the first time I ever saw the taller ones [aliens]. I think the more demure ones were not successfully wiping my memory… so they called in the taller ones to help with the memory wipe.
“I asked them: What are you doing? Why me? What’s up? I was a little bit older before I had the vocabulary to express it in terms that someone could understand. But what was explained to me was: they were studying my brain.”
He suggests, slightly later in the interview, that the aliens could have put planted an implant on his body. “I had something removed from my right leg, and it confused the surgeon. He thought it was just going to be a little biomass, but it was a hard nodule with a three-inch filament running down my leg. He didn’t know what it was… it was like an oval seed, and he didn’t know what it was made of, nor the filament.”
Throughout our “interview”, in Ken’s living room in the dark night, I struggle to get an answer to why he’s who he is. He’s gay, and Christian, and claims to have an IQ of 160, though his “sociopathic” brother has an IQ of 165. He says in the SOS interview: “Am I smart because they [the aliens] were messing with me? Or were they messing with me because I’m smart?”
Am I smart because the aliens were messing with me? Or were they messing with me because I’m smart?
His family life, it seems fair to say, has been complicated. But I can’t seem to ask the questions that really unlock him, and tell me who he is beneath the quantum physics, the brains and the big ideas. He has a habit of answering questions with questions, or using them as a springboard to a bigger, more challenging idea. Mostly, I’m tired, and my brain hurts.
Soon, it’s time to go. We trundle back to the Little A’le’Inn, where the aliens are kitsch and unthreatening, and unlikely to scan my brain. At this stage, I’m not sure they’d find much anyway.
The next day, we have a very nice breakfast of bacon and eggs with home fries and toast, and chat to the friendly staff at The Little A’le’Inn, who are somewhat anxious that their chef represents himself, rather than the guest house. Theirs is a very different type of alien tourism, and really it’s all just a bit of fun – the aliens that are on mugs and t-shirts, in other words.
I don’t know quite what to make of Ken. It’s possible he could have been partly messing with a journalist and photographer on a jolly jaunt up the alien highway; flouting his intellectual superiority, having fun, enjoying the audience. Certainly, some of his ideas are hard to get on board with – from the alien abduction to Project Blue Beam. It would be all too easy to dismiss him as just another conspiracy theorist with a wild imagination.
But, then, I have no way to disprove any of what he says – and much of it is beyond credible. Too many people here have seen disappearing aircraft or craft moving at strange angles for the accounts to be plausibly denied. And it makes sense that if they were putting a man on the Moon in the 1960s, and unveiling the stealth bomber in the 80s, that there’s some mind-bending stuff happening in Area 51. By a child’s logic, all that secrecy – which has largely survived the Internet unscathed – must be hiding some pretty serious stuff.
And it is conceivable that, as Ken says, what’s happening “over the hill” goes beyond anything we can currently imagine. Perhaps the so-called conspiracy theorists are simply the ones thinking seriously about what that might be. And perhaps Ken really is more than that, anyway. “People don’t look up,” he had said the night before. “And, when they do, they see lights and keep on going. They can’t even conceive the questions they should be asking.”