The person who owns the infamous Skinwalker Ranch, a supposedly haunted UFO hotspot in Utah, has decided to come out of the shadows.
Twenty-two stories up in a striking glass building in downtown Salt Lake City, I sat down with Brandon Fugal, a Utah-based real estate mogul and tech investor. Overlooking the city’s skyline, the 46-year-old business leader pointed out Utah’s most famous landmarks: Temple Square, the global headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormons, and only two blocks north of it, Utah’s State Capitol Building. Surrounding these thrones of Church and State, two ideals that are not totally separate in Utah, were half a dozen commercial buildings and skyscrapers that Fugal has represented. Fugal was cofounder and owner of Coldwell Banker Commercial Advisors before it merged with Colliers International. His name seems connected with nearly every commercial real estate deal in the Intermountain West. He is also a tech investor, venture capitalist and entrepreneur.
“You can ask me anything, and I’ll tell you the truth,” he said, turning away from the window. He sat down at a long table. I immediately asked him the question I had been waiting to ask since I boarded my flight to Utah.
“Why the hell did you buy Skinwalker Ranch? Are you crazy?” I asked.
He burst out laughing. “Maybe a little?”
The ranch, a 512 acre property in Utah’s Uintah Basin, is known for being a hotspot of UFO sightings and paranormal stories. In 2016, aerospace billionaire Robert Bigelow sold the ranch to Fugal, though his identity has remained a secret until now.
In November, Fugal invited me to see the ranch, which he has overhauled with new sensors and cameras designed to detect UFOs or other abnormalities. At the time, he would only allow me to come if I promised to keep him anonymous in that initial story, however, he has since agreed for his identity to be revealed for the purpose of this interview.
“Why does someone like you buy something like Skinwalker Ranch?,” I asked.
“You’re right. It is strange. Skinwalker Ranch, as a project, is so unconventional and so outside of my normal course of business and really, frankly, anyone's normal course of business, that it presents a whole new problem set,” he said. “I’ve lost some sleep over it. I worry about what some of my clients and colleagues will think. It’s controversial. That is why I’ve waited so long and stayed out of the spotlight.”
Fugal said that he knew he could not keep his ownership of the ranch secret forever. After all, it is one of the most scientifically studied paranormal hotspots on the planet. He recognizes that given the high profile nature and notoriety of the place, he would have to eventually engage with the press and the public.
Recently, the ranch was the subject of a broader Defense Intelligence Agency study, known as the Advanced Aerospace Weapons System Applications Program or AAWSAP. According to an article in The New York Times, in 2007, a Defense Intelligence Agency official visited the ranch, and a short time later, met with Senator Harry Reid of Nevada. “Mr. Reid said he met with [DIA] agency officials shortly after his meeting with Mr. Bigelow and learned that they wanted to start a research program on UFOs.” Bigelow was given a government contract and his company received $22 million to study and generate reports on exotic science, UFOs, and other anomalous phenomena. The strange events on the ranch, as well as other locations bearing purported paranormal anomalies, were involved in the study. AAWSAP was cancelled after two years and, in 2011, Bigelow’s government funding ran out.
Fugal is a science fiction geek. He has a large movie memorabilia collection, complete with the shot-up jacket Arnold Schwarzenegger wore in The Terminator and the black robe Marlon Brando wore in Superman The Movie when he sentenced General Zod to an eternity in Krypton’s interdimensional prison system. He told me that he’s always had a nerdy passion for science, and while his real estate empire and brokerage operations are firmly rooted to the ground with cement and bricks, he is always daydreaming about future possibilities in technology and physics.
Fugal’s journey to Skinwalker Ranch began in 2010. He and several other investors launched a project focused on testing gravitational physics theories involving exotic propulsion and renewable energy. In really simple terms, it was an attempt to create a gravitational reduction device that could produce clean energy. Fugal admits it was a shot in the dark.
“It was a challenging time. Admittedly, we were all governed by this childlike wonder. We were filled with excitement and gut-wrenching frustration at every turn,” Fugal said.
“To be blunt, there were issues concerning the original partner involved with the project. None of us anticipated the emotional or technical difficulties involved," he added. "We made changes to the team, forged ahead, but in the end, we all knew it was a big risk. Not every bet pays off.”
Fugal continued to invest in and launch other technology companies. From various software ventures to most recently a company that has developed a shoebox-sized high-performance liquid chromatograph that enables immediate analysis of various liquids such as blood.
“It’s James Bond/Mission Impossible tech,” Fugal explained with a grin.
Though Fugal’s pursuit of breakthroughs in advanced physics was not a success, there was a silver lining. Several scientists who were brought in to consult on the project, namely Dr. Hal Puthoff and Dr. Christopher Green, were also involved in Bigelow’s DIA project. They became friends. Even after the project was shut down in 2014, Fugal stayed in touch with these scientists.
“They wanted to introduce me to Mr. Bigelow because of the positive experience we had working together and asked if I would be willing to potentially entertain meeting with Mr. Bigelow regarding the ranch,” Fugal stated. “I had heard of the ranch but I never really thought about it until they proposed the idea.”
Fugal traveled to Las Vegas to meet with Bigelow and they spent a day together talking about various topics, from Bigelow’s personal interest in the paranormal to their entrepreneurial projects to space exploration.
“It was an absolute honor to meet Mr. Bigelow,” Fugal said. “Say what you want about his beliefs and his practices, he is a very intriguing fellow. I consider him a friend, and Bigelow Aerospace reminded me of a James Bond villain lair. Very cool.”
The sale was arranged, Fugal flew in on his private helicopter and assessed the property, and purchased Skinwalker Ranch following months of legal negotiations. Fugal believes that he was the ideal successor. With a background in commercial real estate development and a passion for science, he also lives and works in Utah.
“The important scientific mission aside, the ranch provides an escape for me from my daily work,” Fugal said.
Fugal participated in The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch, a History channel documentary that will premiere March 31. He declined to say how much he paid for the ranch. The following is a Q&A I had with him, it has been edited for length and clarity:
Motherboard: Are you susceptible to magical thinking?
Fugal: History has long forgotten the names of the men and women who told the Wright brothers that they would never build a working airplane. We do remember the two men who suffered from magical thinking however. Necessity is the mother of invention, but sometimes crazy ideas also play their part.
Do you think you will make history?
We are all judged by it in the end. I honestly don’t know, but I do believe this project has significant scientific value.
Do you believe in aliens?
[Laughs] Science and discovery are what drive me. It's not money. It's not that I'm obsessed with UFOs or little green men or cattle mutilations or shape-shifting demonic entities. I have no idea if aliens exist. You’d have to ask them.
People have speculated that you are trying to develop a ‘paranormal retreat’ or a tourist destination.
Really? That isn’t going to happen. The ranch isn’t some place for ghost hunters to get their jollies. It's a serious scientific endeavor that requires patience and humility, and I have committed significant resources dedicated to discovering the truth of what is really happening. What a silly idea.
There is zero intention to monetize it in any way, although we do have traditional ranching activities such as raising cattle.
And the upcoming History TV show? Is there a financial stake in it for you?
I have yet to personally take a penny related to my involvement with the show. The show is primarily a vehicle to inform the public regarding the reality of what we are monitoring and recording on the ranch. I believe it is the greatest science project of our time. I want to be clear. The ranch has been hidden from the public for a long time. The TV show presents an opportunity to allow the public some access and view of what is truly occurring there. I can’t just open the gates. That would be irresponsible.
How about the local indigenous groups? Have they been involved in the process?
We have been working closely with the Native American elders since acquiring the property, as well as reaching out to tribal leaders in the spirit of friendship and collaboration. We are focused on science, but there may be historical and cultural aspects related to the property that we will need to carefully consider and study in the future. One of our full-time caretakers is a credentialed and published anthropologist, which I think underscores the fact that we are committed to the history of the property and area. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the land and the tribes that surround it.
What do you think it is? Have you had any strange experiences on the ranch itself?
I have no idea. Perhaps it's an intelligence from another reality or dimension. Perhaps it is some unknown natural phenomenon. I’m open to many possibilities. My personal beliefs here don’t really matter. What does the data say? That is all that matters. Currently, we have evidence for anomalous injuries, footage of anomalous aerial phenomena, transient EMF and a whole array of other bizarre things. As for your second question, a shockingly high number of people who I consider ‘normal’ have had UFO sightings on the property and they do not broadcast it. I have had some very credible and highly respected people tell me their stories. Many of those individuals have been with others who all simultaneously saw an aerial anomaly. That is all I can say about that.
Did Bigelow give you any data or evidence from his investigations? Do you intend to release the evidence you collect?
[Fugal explained that absolutely no transfer of data or information was involved with the sale of the ranch. Bigelow has yet to make his findings public. As for my team, my scientists] will be working on releasing reports and information on a peer reviewed basis in the future. You know, in order for something to be properly understood from a scientific perspective, it has to be characterized physically. You have to have repeatable results. It can't be anecdotal. It can't be random. There have to be physical laws that govern it, and right now, what we're doing is trying to gain a better understanding or a new understanding relative to the physical laws that are being challenged right now.
It’s strange. You literally buy land and build on it. Your career is heavily vested in developing buildings and building roots. Buying a ranch with so many stories about UFOs and monsters seems like the opposite of that.
One of the things I love most regarding the commercial real estate business is the privilege of seeing a tangible manifestation of my labor. To be able to see the results of the work and to put fingerprints on the literal landscape. In my line of work, you have to produce and execute precise physical results in order to succeed.
Fugal, like many in Utah, was born into the Mormon church and considers himself spiritual. I considered the possibility that the Skinwalker Ranch project was a personal quest for him; a quest for validation or for God. Don’t we all have the tendency to explore and seek out the unknown? Perhaps this was Fugal’s Bildungsroman, his journey into the unknown to seek adventure and, in some strange way, knowledge.
Looking over his shoulder, twenty-two stories up, my thoughts returned to downtown Salt Lake City, the skyscrapers and buildings Fugal has built his career around, and the massive church that loomed over the city. I wondered if he was truly driven by all the steel and bricks entrenched in the dirt that he was responsible for, or if his true passion and purpose was on a curious little ranch just on the other side of Utah’s mountain range.