Men in Black

A look at the mysterious government agents said to intimidate those who witness flying saucers.

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Aliens & UFOs, Conspiracies, Paranormal

Skeptoid #351
February 26, 2013
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe
 

Gray Barker
Gray Barker
Photo credit: Gray Barker Collection, Clarksburg-Harrison Public Library

They inspired a Hollywood blockbuster starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. They inspired recurring characters on The X-Files. They inspired a comic book series. They fly in black helicopters and patrol in unmarked black sedans. They're said to have harassed and threatened innocent citizens since the 1950s, and some believe they're driving around your neighborhood right now. If you speak out about a UFO experience, some say you can expect a terrifying visit from these strange, black-clad men who may or may not work for the government. They are the Men in Black.

Strange visits from government agents have long been a part of UFO folklore; many stories feature alleged military men poking around the locale where a UFO was spotted, or even cautioning witnesses to remain quiet. But that's only half of the Men in Black story. Those who appear at the front door of UFO witnesses late at night, and who intimidate, interrogate, and threaten them, are often described as having characteristics just a little bit outside the range of norm. Sometimes their skin is dark, sometimes unnaturally pale; sometimes their eyes are improbably colored, or their bodies devoid of hair; often their clothes and vehicles are reported as brand new and unused. Paranormal writer Robert Goerman has collected a number of such stories in his article Menace in Black:

Shearer managed a closer look at the face. There was no eyebrows or eyelashes, no signs of stubble. The caller acknowledged Shearer by name, and specified that they wanted to discuss his UFO sighting, giving exact date and time. Shearer was perplexed as to how they had gotten this information, but refused to let him in. Shearer asked to see some identification, but the visitor ignored him and repeatedly asked to come in. It was almost as if this character could only utter a limited selection of set phrases.

Two men in their twenties visited Richardson and questioned him briefly. They never identified themselves, and Richardson, to his own subsequent surprise, did not ask who they were. He noted that they left in a black 1953 Cadillac. The license number, when checked, had not yet been issued.

At 5:30 PM, there was a knock at the door. A representative of the "Missing Heirs Bureau" said that he was looking for an Edward Christiansen who had inherited a great deal of money. This investigator dressed in black and stood at least six-foot-six with an enormous frame, with thyroid eyes, dead white skin, and pipe-stem limbs. His shoes featured unusually thick rubber soles. Despite his size, the visitor spoke in a high "tinny" voice that issued in an emotionless monotone, in clipped phrases, "like a computer."

The inquisitor's too-short trousers had ridden up his skinny leg and... a thick green wire... came out of his sock and disappeared under his pants. The wire seemed to be indented into his leg at one point and was covered by a large brown spot... When the visitor left the house and reached the road, he gave a hand signal and a 1963 black Cadillac pulled alongside with its headlights out. The stranger climbed into the car and it drove off, its headlights still off.

Men in Black stories, though often told and retold, appear only as stories. Although many of the witnesses seem sincere enough, no Men in Black have ever been photographed, not even by remote security cameras, and none of the mysterious license plate numbers has ever been recorded. Of course, if they are as omniscient as the reports indicate, such beings would likely have the foreknowledge to avoid having their presence be documented. This makes the Men in Black phenomenon interesting, but it also puts the whole subject into the category of special pleading: By its very nature, no evidence can exist to support it. This leaves a skeptical investigation little to go on if we want to establish its validity.

But here at Skeptoid, we are not entirely without resources. By studying the secondary literature — basically, books that cite original accounts — we find that the first time the phrase "Men in Black" was used was in a 1956 nonfiction book called They Knew Too Much about Flying Saucers, by UFO writer Gray Barker (1925-1984). The book purports to tell the true, dramatic story of a UFOlogist who had been threatened by government agents telling him to stop researching and writing about UFOs. It's a startling book, and tells quite a gripping tale. Barker's book became the seminal source for the Men in Black corner of UFO mythology. Since its publication, it's been referenced by virtually every UFO author since who has discussed the subject. Moreover, to give a sense of Gray Barker's influence among UFOlogists, he's cited more than a dozen times in the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research's 1969 publication, UFOs and Related Subjects: An Annotated Bibliography.

Unfortunately, Barker was — if not an outright con artist — a wholesale fabricator. His entire writing career was a patchwork of invented stories and lies. In a series of articles in Skeptical Inquirer magazine, author John Sherwood confessed his lengthy history as an aspiring writer who got his start under the tutelage of Barker. Barker persistently encouraged him to make up and sensationalize his stories. Sherwood even caught Barker doing such things as making phone calls with a disguised voice to report made-up sightings of strange phenomena to honest paranormal researchers such as John Keel, all for the sake of creating a story. Barker did it consciously, even telling Sherwood outright that he "pretty much took all of UFOlogy as a joke." Sherwood wrote that Barker:

...hawked his books and magazines by embellishing stories and encouraging others to fabricate more. He launched hoaxes, joined others' deceptions, and manipulated people's beliefs.

As one example, in 1957, Barker and his friend Jim Moseley wrote a fraudulent letter from the US Department of State and sent it to George Adamski, a Polish immigrant who believed he'd been kidnapped by aliens. The letter assured Adamski that:

...the Department... encourage(s) your work and your communication of what you certainly believe should be told to the American public.

Adamski duly continued his public advocacy of UFOs, and flaunted the letter as evidence that the government confirmed their existence. Barker then wrote another book, Gray Barker's Book of Adamski, reporting the incident that he himself had created. Not content to stop there, Barker and Moseley made some hoax film footage in 1966 using a ceramic saucer held from a fishing pole, footage which he thenceforth sold.

And so, we'd be within reason to regard Gray Barker's genesis of the Men in Black in They Knew Too Much about Flying Saucers with a degree of skepticism. But Barker did tend to grow his fiction from the seeds of actual reports, and the Men in Black were no different. In this case, the seed came from one of his early publishers, a strange man named Albert K. Bender (1921-2002).

In 1952, Barker was an enthusiastic young writer, 27 years old and brimming with ideas. He found a publisher for some of his early stories in a periodical called Space Review, the newsletter of the grandiloquently-titled International Flying Saucer Bureau. This "bureau" consisted of one man, Albert Bender, by profession a factory timekeeper. Although in his thirties, Bender lived with his stepfather in a room he called his Chamber of Horrors, decorated with his own paintings of ghouls and skulls, and flavored by ambient sound effects from a phonograph. One of his chief inspirations had been the excitement of pulling dead bodies out of the water once when he'd been in the Air Force. He claimed Indian blood and a heritage of witchcraft, and relaxed by telling stories telepathically to people all around the world. And, in his spare time, Bender edited Space Review. Gray Barker targeted Bender and his Space Review early on as both a publishing outlet and as a source of material. By early 1953, Bender named Barker his chief investigator, and relied on him for nearly all of the content of Space Review.

Later that same year, a document called the Robertson Panel Report was released by the US Central Intelligence Agency detailing their conclusions from a special panel that had reviewed Project Blue Book to determine if UFO reports posed any potential threat to national security. The conclusion was that they did not. However, buried deep within the report was a reference to private UFO enthusiast groups:

The Panel took cognizance of the existence of such groups as the "Civilian Flying Saucer Investigators" (Los Angeles) and the "Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (Wisconsin). It was believed that such organizations should be watched because of their potentially great influence on mass thinking if widespread sightings should occur. The apparent irresponsibility and the possible use of such groups for subversive purposes should be kept in mind.

Bender obsessed over all such documents, and this one appears to have struck a nerve with his paranoia. In September he notified the Bridgeport Herald newspaper that he was closing his International Flying Saucer Bureau immediately, following a frightening visit. The paper reported:

Tip Skeptoid $2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

Bender said "three men wearing dark suits" came to his home, flashed credentials showing them to be representatives of the "higher authority", and asked him many questions about the IFSB... They told him "not roughly, but sternly and emphatically," to stop publishing flying saucer information.

Bender also claimed that a recent television psychic's prediction — that the US government would make an announcement about flying saucers on December 10, 1953 — was based on the writings of Nostradamus.

For the next nine years, Bender refused to give any further details of the three men. However he finally did break his silence in 1962, when Barker persuaded him to write (for Barker's own publishing house Saucerian Books) a detailed account of what happened. Bender called it Flying Saucers and the Three Men. The volume was, to put it mildly, bizarre. Bender claimed that he learned of the truth about flying saucers by astrally projecting himself to their secret underground base in Antarctica, populated by aliens of three genders. The visitation from the three men had been a psychic visitation. Albert Bender, in addition to being quite the eccentric, probably also suffered from a delusional disorder.

But little did Gray Barker care about that. The moment Bender had folded his enterprise, Barker wrote an entire book, They Knew Too Much about Flying Saucers, giving his own pulp-fiction version of Bender and his mysterious government agents — made up from whole cloth, since at that time Bender had still refused to give details. This history, upon which the entirety of today's Men in Black folklore was based, came from the imaginative fiction of Gray Barker, based wholly upon a single rambling report from a man who was probably mentally ill. It was truly a distasteful case of exploitation, but it worked for the legend. Sherwood wrote:

Barker's prose gave Bender's story sufficient credibility to sustain an urban legend: Strange aircraft are observed, but, after black-clad men step from their huge auto, the witnesses clam up.

Are strange, pale, half-alien Men in Black a reality? They were to the troubled mind of Albert Bender. But obviously, more corporeal government employees do exist, and at least in the days of Project Blue Book, did go out into the field to interview UFO witnesses. But it's noteworthy that not one of those witnesses ever reported being threatened or harassed in any way. The Men in Black remain merely a comic diversion for modern cinema-goers, a source of pulp-fiction for authors like Gray Barker and the many who have followed him, and sadly, as a source of all-too-real torment for those few, like Albert Bender, who suffer from paranoiac distress.

Brian Dunning

© 2013 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Barker, G. They Knew Too Much about Flying Saucers. New York: University Books, 1956.

Beckwith, E. "Don't Be Afraid, Darling; It's Bender." Bridgeport Sunday Herald. 25 May 1952, Newspaper: 21.

Bender, A. Flying Saucers and the Three Men. Clarksburg: Saucerian Books, 1962.

Catoe, L. UFOs and Related Subjects: An Annotated Bibliography; Volume 19, Issue 2. Washington, DC: Science and Technology Division, United States Air Force, Office of Scientific Research, 1969.

Goerman, R. "Menace in Black." Robert A. Goerman. Robert A. Goerman, 21 Feb. 2013. Web. 21 Feb. 2013. <http://robertgoerman.tripod.com/mib/>

Houchin, D. "Gray Roscoe Barker." The Gray Barker UFO Collection. Clarksburg-Harrison Public Library, 1 Dec. 2011. Web. 21 Feb. 2013. <http://clarksburglibrary.info/gbarker.html>

McCollum, L. "Mystery Visitors Halt Research; Saucerers Here Ordered to Quit." Bridgeport Sunday Herald. 22 Nov. 1953, Newspaper.

Sherwood, J. "Gray Barker's Book of Bunk: Mothman, Saucers, and MIB." Skeptical Inquirer. 1 May 2002, Volume 36, Number 3: 39-44.

Sherwood, J. "Gray Barker: My Friend, the Myth-Maker." Skeptical Inquirer. 1 Jan. 1998, Volume 22, Number 3: 37-39.

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "Men in Black." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 26 Feb 2013. Web. 17 Apr 2015. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4351>

Discuss!

10 most recent comments | Show all 78 comments

Gray Barker was one of the all-time great frauds and hoaxers in a UFO/paranormal scene full to standing-room only of them. What I love about him is his completely anarchic sense of humour - he didn't care what he said or who he fooled so long as he got a laugh out of it and made a few bucks, almost incidentally (read his friend and collaborator Sherwood's two articles on CSI for more fun details). It's a shame he didn't live into the whacky web era, he'd have been a perfect blogger. The problems only arise, of course, when anyone (John Keel for instance) takes absolutely anything Barker said seriously. You see, Barker's fabrications are self-evidently 'moonbeams from the lesser lunacy' to anyone with any critical faculties; but some people still take writers like Edward Ruppelt, John Keel and Aime Michel (all tainted by Barkerism) seriously, and that's serious delusion begins.

Rob Horne, Colombo, SL
June 24, 2013 2:05am

You'd think most would see that Rob.

As to Cales sleeping habits; I get that from a much longer podcast elsewhere.

Two posts skeptics on skeptoid can readily identify with.

Maudlin Donor, Greenacres by the sea Oz
September 19, 2013 8:57pm

"The MIBs are undoubtedly alien in origin. The weirdness seems to be part of their game......"

David, St.Albans England
February 26, 2013 2:08pm

I got real tired of those Men in Black following me everywhere and trying to 'intimidate' me, just because I saw something 'funny' in the sky.
I finally warned them that I'm One Of The Chosen and if they don't stop bothering me and watching me, I'm gonna call down Azathoth from the Outside and cast a Spell on them that'll turn their black clothes and cars to a yellow and purple checkerboard pattern.

At first they didn't believe me, and laughed at me, because they were too dumb to know who they were dealing with; so I also warned them that I own an original copy of The Necronomicon and I'm a minion of Cthulhu.
They stopped laughing, and let me alone after that.

They better remember what I told 'em!


_________________________

Ron, Calgary Alberta Canada
January 6, 2014 10:59am

MIB'S are very real as I experienced on April 28 2012! In 1972 I had a close encounter of the 3th kind in the Netherlands at night when hitchhiking from Arnhem (where I live) to Amsterdam, which had a tremendous impact on my life! After about a week when first having 2 mysterious but very clear visions, I flipped when I got a very terrible vision about mankind! I told about this vision to a facebook friend on April 26th (2012) and while doing that a small window popped up twice with the message if I really wanted to go on with my story! Which I did, thinking of the right of free speech! Then 2 days later when I left a health-food store (downtown Arnhem) with two heavy shopping-bags to cross the street towards my bike, halfways I looked to the right and I saw a black car with dark windows slowly approaching, then suddenly that car accelerated and I had to run for my life! In a flash I saw through an opened side-door window a man in a dark suit wearing sunglasses on his emotionless face! That car rushed along me at only a few cm! I was very upset for several days and even nearly one year later again I hardly escaped from a collision (on my bike) with a car not far from the first attempted murder under suspicious circumstances! So anyone or any debunker who will be doubtful about my story I take for granted, but I know very sure they exist and are not virtual! Only the three Man in Black movies are fantasies, although some advanced technical devices they use do exist!

Henny Vreeling, Arnhem
March 7, 2014 6:32pm

From the article:

"At 5:30 PM, there was a knock at the door. A representative of the "Missing Heirs Bureau" said that he was looking for an Edward Christiansen who had inherited a great deal of money."

Ahhh, I see...
So this is what Nigerians did before the Internet?

:-)

Dave

Quantum Dave, Denver, CO
April 29, 2014 3:04pm

For anyone who is interested a short list of MIB (and 3 WIB) encounters from the Magonia Blog:

http://pelicanist.blogspot.com.au/p/mib-encounters.html

What is most interesting (as the author of the list notes) is the fact that the majority of the reports take place in the US.

Graham, Australia
May 11, 2014 6:17am

Gray Barker may be a fraud and hoaxer but there are other reports of MIB besides Gray Barker. Someone should Google "Reed Thompson barrel ufo Milan Indiana" and read a very interesting account of Mr. Thompson's MIB experience. I became aware of this story through my wife who is from a town near Milan, IN.

William, Marion, IN
January 27, 2015 5:58pm

Where I'm from Men in Black are funeral directors.

Maid in Missouri, Gainesville Fl
January 29, 2015 5:02am

If one must, one can a list of sources: why hinge it all on Gray Barker? There have been numerous books and numerous cases of so-called MIB that leaves the question wide open. Some cases, apparently, have nothing to do with UFOs, but appear to be part of a much larger operation (or, operations) to control, experiment, and manipulate citizens, the populace and public opinion. MK/ULTRA, Psywar and Psyops are just a few areas and examples. We still can't say if the Bender case did not somehow connect, but history is filled with data, notwithstanding Skeptoid's "skeptoidism."

Steve Erdmann, St. Louis, Missouri
January 29, 2015 9:48am

Government agents are still giving people a hard time but to be fair even the ones that messed around with UFO crap were simply covering up skunk works projects. It has been estimated that over 50% of all UFOs were skunk works projects. There is absolutely no doubt that they got nasty with nosy people and still do.

Would your government lie to you? "If you like your health insurance you can keep your health insurance. If you like your Dr. you can keep your Dr." Then there is the Homeland Security guy that told Congress under oath on live TV that they weren't collecting any data on all Americans when he knew full well that they were.

You don't need to be paranoid to believe the Fed Gov tells lies and abuses its power. You are ill informed if you don't know it's a common occurrence.

Dwight E. Howell, Lawrenceburg TN
January 29, 2015 1:06pm

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