Origins of the Men in Black Phenomenon

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Written By Tess Redman

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They wear many hats.

Men working for unknown organizations.

Men working for government agencies that deal in secrets and unusual activities.

Inhuman creatures who look like men but perform extraordinary acts.

And, most notoriously, the mysterious men who aid the government in hiding the existence of aliens and UFOs.

If you’re lucky enough to glimpse a UFO, you might also be unlucky enough to be visited by one of the so-called “Men in Black,” according to legend.

Encounters with the Men in Black

Take Harold Dahl for example. On June 27, 1947, Dahl was on Puget Sound with his son Charles and their dog when he saw six donut-shaped objects floating above the water. One of the objects plummeted, and debris hit Charles and the dog, injuring the former and ultimately killing the latter. Dahl took photos of the fallen object. He showed those photos to his supervisor, Fred Crisman, who went to Puget Sound and saw the object for himself, becoming a second witness.

A man in a black suit visited Dahl the morning after the incident. This man recited Dahl’s experiences the day before with absolute accuracy, then said, “What I have said is proof to you that I know a great deal more about this experience of yours than you will want to believe,” according to Gray Barker’s They Know Too Much About Flying Saucers (1956). The man warned Dahl not to talk about the sighting, or else.

Despite Dahl and Crisman later recounting their claims, the mythology behind the Men in Black has persisted, and other encounters feed the conspiracy.

Albert K Bender, the founder of the International Flying Saucer Bureau (IFSB), was also allegedly visited by men in black. Bender was a member of the Air Force; after he was honorably discharged, he and his parents moved to Bridgeport, Conneticut. Bender had what he called a “Chamber of Horrors” in his attic, containing items such as shrunken heads and original art. He was fascinated by the supernatural, which complimented his fascination with UFOs, leading him to found the IFSB in 1952. The organization gained global fame, with 600 members worldwide. The IFSB had a quarterly newsletter called Space Review that contained UFO sighting testimonies as well as theories. It was through Space Review that Bender orchestrated “C-Day,” a collective reading of a form letter written by himself by all the members of IFSB at 6 pm on March 15, 1953 as an attempt to communicate with alien life forms.

After starting IFSB, Bender began having disturbing experiences, such as a man with glowing eyes stalking him and a persistent foul odor from his attic. These experiences culminated in multiple visits from three men in black suits in July 1953 who demanded he stop his investigation into UFOs. Bender believed that these men were employed by an alien power. He eventually gave and ended the IFSB. Space Review’s last issue contained the following message: “The mystery of the flying saucers is no longer a mystery. The source is already known but any information about this is being withheld by orders from a higher source. We would like to print the full story in Space Review but because of the nature of the information we have been advised in the negative. We advise those engaged in saucer work to be very cautious.”

Albert Bender wrote an autobiography and moved to California, where he passed in 2016.

While the Men in Black remain in the realm of lore, the government’s involvement in UFO investigation is very real.

The Government’s History With UFOs

In the last couple decades, American politicians have been increasingly transparent in terms of research investigating UFOs, or UAPs (unidentified aerial phenomena), as government agents like to call them. A video leaked of navy pilots witnessing UFOs in 2017 facilitated the de-stigmatization of UFO fascination, but the government’s history with UFOs began much earlier.

The U.S. military first saw UFOs on July 23, 1952 above Pottstown, Pennsylvania. F-94 Starfire fighter jet pilots spotted a large, silver, pear-shaped object. The object did not appear to have any mechanism that would allow it flight. The pilots also saw two smaller objects orbiting the larger for a total of 30 minutes.

Two more UFOs were spotted by an Air Force captain that same year, four days earlier, in Elkins Park in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

Between 1947 and 1969, the U.S. military investigated over 12.6K UFO sightings worldwide as part of Project Blue Book. 701 of those cases remain unsolved[TR1] [TR2] .

The U.S. government is not alone in its dabbling in ufology. Canada, Denmark, Italy, and Sweden, and all had ufology programs sponsored by the countries’ governments, and France’s GEIPAN is still an active organization.

In 2008, U.S. Senator Harry Reid approved $22 million in funding to start a ufology research initiative called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, the existence of which was wasn’t made public until a decade later, when research documents from the program were leaked.

Another progression was made this year, when the Senate Intelligence Committee (headed by Senator Marco Rubio) called for a public report on UAPs. The report refers to UAPs as objects originating from Earth, which conflicts with their common association with the extraterrestrial.

Men in Black in Modern Culture

The Men in Black was cemented in American pop culture in 1997, when Men in Black was released, the first movie in an four-film franchise. The first three films starred Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as a sci-fi, buddy-cop duo; the latest movie in the series, Men in Black: International was released in 2019 and replaced the long-standing co-stars with Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson. An animated TV show targeted for kids premiered three months after the box office release of the first film and aired for four seasons, through 2001. Six video game spin-offs of the movie franchise have been released. Several books have been published on the subject of the Men in Black. They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers was mentioned earlier. Another famous title is The Real Men in Black by Nick Redfern. This book discusses Albert Bender; the MIB’s relation to Mothman, a phenomenon that haunted Point Pleasant, West Virginia in the ‘60s, and to the Loch Ness monster; and interviews with leading Men in Black researchers .


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