Men in Black
The term "Men in Black", or MIBs in UFO conspiracy theories circles, refers to alleged incidents of men dressed entirely in black claiming to be government agents, who attempt to harass or threaten UFO witnesses into silence. This phenomenon was initially and most frequently reported in the 1960s; it is contemporaneous with many other conspiracy theories. The probable origin of MIBs are the (existing) police forces that protect the NSA headquarters in Maryland, who wear black paramilitary uniforms. (However, the police at Fort Meade in 2002 wear completely normal uniforms.)
As the story goes, shortly after a (presumably credible) witness reports a UFO sighting, speaks to the media, or produces photographs, the witness is paid a visit. If not alone, two or more males, always in even numbers, always dressed almost entirely in black, arrive in a large black vehicle, typically a Cadillac. Their style of dress and make of vehicle is usually described as slightly out-of-date, perhaps by 10 years, and they are often noted as having odd mannerisms. Usually introducing themselves as agents of an undisclosed government agency, they flash convincing-looking badges and demand that the witness recant their story, or hand over anything like photographs, or physical evidence of a UFO. If the witness refuses or questions their credentials, they often subtly or not-so-subtly threaten the witness or their family with bodily harm.
While it is not known if these threats have ever been realized, resisters have reported subsequent encounters where they have been chased or roughed up by the "agents". Houses have allegedly been ransacked or burned down, in an attempt to destroy evidence or scare the witness into silence.
The actuality of the phenomenon is highly questionable. The depth of the conspiracy theory leads some to believe that their odd mannerisms and dress are due to the fact that they are aliens or alien-human hybrids, and that their job is to eliminate physical evidence of alien involvement on earth. Others believe that they are actual government agents who intentionally dress and act ridiculously, in an attempt to get UFO witnesses to discredit themselves if they ever report such an encounter. The belief does seem to have some slight basis in fact however, as on more than one occasion police have chased what some believe to have been MIB vehicles.
In Wales in the early 1900s there was a religious revival centered around thirty-eight-year-old Mary Jones. Though in some ways very different from modern UFO or MIB reports, this account is intriguing because it is perhaps the earliest account of spooky, black-clad figures explicitly associated with inexplicable lights reported in the skies.
Beyond the usual events associated with revivals, Jones was accompanied by "Mysterious Lights" in the night skies, which Evans reports were widely visible to many reputable witnesses and which "follow(ed), preced(ed), or accompanie(d) Mrs. Jones on her journeys."
Writer Breiah G. Evans asserted that he saw these aerial lights himself. Residents furthermore reported encounters with a number of "Dread Apparitions" associated with Jones' revival.
One of these dread apparitions has some similarities to later Men in Black accounts: "In the neighborhood dwells an exceptionally intelligent young woman of the peasant class, whose bedroom has been visited three nights in succession at midnight by a man dressed in black ... This figure has related a message to the girl, which, however, she is forbidden to relate."
Evans goes on to note that "a similar apparition was seen from different standpoints, but simultaneously" by two witnesses. One of the witnesses "startled (and) uttered an involuntary prayer. Immediately, one of Mrs. Jones 'Lights' appeared above, a white ray darting from which pierced the figure, which thereupon vanished."
It's worth noting, however, that these Welsh accounts also feature elements not typically featured in modern UFO or Men In Black accounts. For example, one of the "dread apparitions" was said to transform into "an enormous black dog".
Dr. Herbert Hopkins
A detailed men in black account comes from 1976, as related by Dr. Herbert Hopkins of Maine. In late 1975, two men¡ªDavid Stephens and Glen Gray¡ªhad reported an odd UFO encounter to several people, including Hopkins.
Some six months after speaking with Stephens and Gray, Hopkins took a telephone call at his home from a man who claimed to represent a UFO research group, and who had heard that Hopkins had spoken to the UFO witnesses. The man asked to interview Hopkins, who agreed to the request. Just moments later, the man knocked at the back door of Hopkins' home, and Hopkins let him in without asking his name. The man wore a clean, pressed black suit and white gloves and "looked like an undertaker", said Hopkins.
The man was pale and bald, also lacking eyelashes and eyebrows. His lips were bright red. In a dull, monotone voice, the man asked Hopkins about the tale related by Stephens and Gray. Hopkins began relating the account, then at one point, the man's gloved hand brushed against his face and smeared lipstick from his bright red mouth onto both the man's white gloves and his pale face.
This bizarre sight snapped Hopkins from the trance-like state he had been in since the man arrived, and Hopkins realized how profoundly strange the entire incident was. "Then came the threats," writes Dash. The man then made a coin that Hopkins held dematerialize, and then told him that "No one on this plane will ever see that coin again," seeming to suggest that the man had teleported the coin. (Dash, 162) The man then told Hopkins to destroy his notes and tape recordings of his meetings with Stephens and Gray, or Hopkins' own heart would disappear just as the coin had.
The man's voice slowed and he told Hopkins, "My energy is running low. Must leave now. Goodbye." (Ibid) The man then walked slowly and stiffly out the backdoor towards a bright light. Hopkins never saw the man again; Dash does not note if Hopkins did indeed destroy his notes regarding the UFO sighting.
Maury Island incident: The first MIB?
Arguably the first MIB report was made shortly after June 21, 1947. On that date, Seaman Harold Dahl claimed to have seen six UFOs near Maury Island (which is actually a peninsula of Vashon Island in Puget Sound, near Tacoma, Washington, USA). Dahl, his son, two other men, and Dahl's dog were on the boat. Dahl took a number of photographs of the UFOs, and reported that one UFO shed some type of hot slag onto his boat. The slag, he said, struck and killed his dog and injured his son.
The next morning, Dahl reported a man arrived at his home and invited him to breakfast at a nearby diner. Dahl accepted the invitation. He described the man as imposing, over six feet tall and muscular, and wearing a black suit. The man drove a new 1947 Buick, and Dahl assumed he was a military or government representative.
While the two men ate, Dahl claimed the man told him details of the UFO sighting, though Dahl had not related his account publicly. Furthermore, the man gave Dahl a nonspecific warning¡ªwhich Dahl took as a threat¡ªthat his family might be harmed if he related details of the sighting.
Some confusion and debate over Dahl's statements has occurred: Dahl would later claim the UFO sighting was a hoax, but he has also claimed the sighting was accurate but that he had claimed it was a hoax to avoid bringing harm to his family.
Bender and Barker
Alfred K. Bender seized on Dahl's story and printed it in his newsletter. In 1953, Bender claimed three men in black visited him and warned him to stop his UFO research. Bender's account was popularized in Gray Barker's 1956 book They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers.
Historian Mike Dash writes:
One of the first visits from the Men in Black occurred in 1953, when Albert K. Bender, director of the International Flying Saucer Bureau, the largest early UFO organization, was visited by three dark-suited men who, he said, first confided the 'solution' of the UFO mystery to him, then threatened him with prison if he told the secret to anyone else. Bender was so scared by the visit that he closed down his bureau and ceased all his active involvement in the world of ufology.
Bender's insistence that he was ordered quiet would become an important feature of UFO lore; the tale was initially spread by Bender's friend, writer Gray Barker. Clark writes that "Bender's 'silencing' obsessed Barker, who would go on to become a prominent writer, editor and publisher in the fringes of saucerdom." Barker speculated that the "silence group" might not be human, and advised UFO researchers to be cautious.
The 1998 issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine casts a different light on Barker. The issue featured John C. Sherwood's article "Gray Barker: My Friend, the Myth-Maker", which suggests that deliberate hoaxes were responsible for some early MIB stories. Sherwood says he was part of the hoax, and cites his own "youthful amorality" and an eagerness to see his fiction published, in that he wrote sensationalistic UFO accounts at Barker's request. Barker had earlier published one of Sherwood's tales, which Sherwood altered to give the fiction a "factual" veneer.
In a letter to Sherwood, Barker wrote that Saucer Scoop was printing a piece on Sherwood, calling it "a big deal on you, suggesting you really were hushed by the black men. I'll always be glad to print an article by you if you'll tell the real (or made up) story of how these strange forces made you quit. You might as well go out of saucers in the usual syndrome." The "usual syndrome" being warned to keep quiet by sinister men.
"By the mid-1950s," writes Clark, "the legend of the men in black had become fixed in the imaginations of ufology's more excitable followers.") Accounts of Men In Black have been reported since then and continue today.
So, just who-or what-are the Men in Black? Representatives of Shamballa? Government agents? Human/alien hybrid? Androids? We may never know...
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