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In UFO conspiracy theories, the term Men in Black (MIBs), also known as Men in Gray, are alleged to be men dressed in black suits claiming to be government agents who attempt to harass or threaten UFO witnesses into silence.

"All MIB are not necessarily garbed in dark suits," writes Jerome Clark. "The term is a generic one, used to refer to any unusual, threatening or strangely behaved individual whose appearance on the scene can be linked in some fashion with a UFO sighting." (Clark, 317–18)

The phenomenon was initially and most frequently reported in the 1950s and 1960s; it is contemporaneous with many other conspiracy theories.


There are various types of MIB encounters, but they typically follow a pattern: after a presumably credible witness reports or witnesses a UFO sighting, the witness is visited by a man or men who are often dressed in black suits, lending the reports their name. The men suggest—or the witnesses assume—that they are government agents, and often flash convincing-looking badges and demand that the witness recant their story or hand over photographs or physical evidence of a UFO. If the witness refuses or questions their credentials, they often subtly or overtly threaten the witness or their family with bodily harm or other hardship.

The men are often reported driving large, late-model cars, typically Cadillacs; in rare cases, they are reportedly seen in black helicopters.

While it is not known if these threats have ever been realized, there are largely unsubstantiated reports of hardships and harassment leveled against those who resist. The number of claimants of MIB encounters is unknown, and might be rather small. Chevon Wallace writes that "Some of those who write about UFO's and other strange phenomena rather casually mention 'countless' cases where people have been visited by Men In Black. In reality these 'countless cases' are difficult to pin down. In fact, there really seems to be a rather small number of MIB cases where there are any details available at all."[1]

Appearance & Behavior

Some MIB are described as essentially normal in appearance, but others are said to be quite strange, whether in appearance or behavior. John Keel thought that many MIB were of an "Asian" appearance, though he also thought this description was inadequate, and hinted that some MIB might not be human.

Witnesses sometimes describe MIB behavior as often odd, or belligerent and threatening, and are often noticeably unfamiliar with everyday common courtesies and civil behavior. They are also recalled as often speaking in archaic or obscure forms of slang English, or using odd sentence construction and grammar, as if English were not their first language.

Some have also claimed on a tv show[citation needed] that some MIB agent's skin seemed to be semi-transparent.

Early accounts

Similarities between Men In Black accounts and earlier tales have been noted by folklorist Thomas E. Bullard, who argues that Men In Black "step into the shoes vacated by angels and demons ... modified to reflect extraterrestrial rather than supernatural employment but clearly functionaries in the same mold ... Even high gods like Odin ... sometimes disguised themselves and roamed the earth to dispense justice or stir up strife ... The devil of folklore sometimes rides in a black carriage, the nearest thing to a Cadillac." (Clark, 323)

While Bullard and others have simply noted the similarities and differences, some ufologists, such as John Keel, have argued there are explicit connections between older and more recent accounts of black-clad figures; that the demons of old and the men in black of today are one and the same.

Jerome Clark cites William Woods’s 1973 work "A History of the Devil", which notes, "sometimes the devil wears green or gray, but mostly he is dressed in black, and always in the fashions of the day." (Clark, 312)

Woods relates an account from Norway in 1730. A thirteen-year-old girl told investigators that some years earlier she had accompanied her grandmother on a trip to meet the devil. On their way they met "three men dressed in black, whom the grandmother referred to as 'grandfather's boys.' Once they arrived and met the devil, grandmother called him 'grandfather.'" (ibid)

Mary Jones

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" (Evans, 114) 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." (Evans, 119) 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. (Evans, 114)

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, 117-118)

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." (Evans, 118)

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". (Evans, 117)

Modern accounts

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—which Dahl took as a threat—that 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 that "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." (Dash, 161)

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." (Clark, 312) 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 differnet 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 blackmen. 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."[2] 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." (Clark, 315) Accounts of Men In Black have been reported since then and continue today.

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—David Stephens and Glen Gray—had 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. (Dash, 161)

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 (sic) 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.

Peter Rojcewicz

Peter Rojcewicz reported a detailed Men In Black account which occurred while he was researching his Ph. D. thesis in folklore. Like some other MIB reports, this one has been interpreted as having its origins not in physical reality, but in an altered state of consciousness.

One afternoon in November 1980, Rojcewicz was in the library of the University of Pennsylvania, seated at a table near a large window. "Without any sound to indicate that someone was approaching me from behind," said Rojcewicz , "I noticed from the corner of my eye what I supposed was a man’s black pant leg. He was wearing rather worn black leather shoes." (Clark, 320)

A tall, slender man with deep-set eyes and a dark complexion stood by the table. After gazing out the window for a moment, the man sat near Rojcewicz. His suit was somewhat dingy and oversized, hanging loosely on his slim frame. With a slight "European" accent, the man asked what Rojcewicz was doing; he replied that he was researching similarities between UFO accounts and earlier tales from various folklore traditions. This instigated a brief conversation about UFOs.

The man asked if Rojcewicz thought that UFOs were real. Rojcewicz replied that he was less interested in the physical reality of UFOs than he was in studying UFO accounts and stories from the perspective of a folklorist.

The man suddenly became angry, shouting, "Flying Saucers are the most important fact of the century, and you’re not interested?" Rojcewicz feared that the man was a "lunatic" and tried to "calm him," after which the man became silent. The man then stood, placed his hand on Rojcewicz's shoulder and said something like, "Go well in your purpose." (Clark, 320)

Moments later Rojcewicz grew frightened and anxious as he became aware of how profoundly strange the brief encounter had been. "I got up," he wrote, "walked two steps in the direction he had left in, and returned to my seat. Got up again. I was highly excited and walked around to the stacks at the reference desk and nobody was behind the desk. In fact, I could see no one at all in the library. I’ve gone to graduate school, and I’ve never been in a library when there wasn’t somebody there! No one was even at the information desk across the room. I was close to panicking and went quickly back to my desk. I sat down and tried to calm myself. In about an hour I rose to leave the library. There were two librarians behind each of the two desks!" (Clark, 320)

Official interest

Clark cites an official response to MIB reports which suggests that U.S. government officials gave some credence to accounts of harassment of UFO witnesses by persons claiming to be government officials. In 1967 United States Air Force Colonel George P. Freeman is quoted as saying, "We have checked a number of these cases ... By posing as Air Force officials and government agents they are committing a federal offense. We sure would like to catch one." (Clark, 321)

A classified U.S. Air Force memorandum from 1960 also reinforces the fact that there was high-level interest in reports of impostors: "Information, not verfied, has reached Hq USAF that persons pretending to represent the Air Force or other Defense establishments have contacted citizens who have sighted unidentified flying objects. In one reported case an individual in civilian clothes, who represented himself as member of NORAD, demanded and received photos belonging to a private citizen. In another, a person in an Air Force uniform approached local police and other citizens who had sighted a UFO, assembled them in a school room, and told them that they should not talk to anyone about the sighting. All military and civlian personnel and particularly Information Officers and UFO Investigating Officers who hear of such reports should immediately notify their local OSI offices." (Randles and Hough, 160)

The report of the Condon Committee devotes some eighteen pages to a UFO sighting case from 1965, in which the witness, Rex Heflin, claimed to have been visited by two men who said they were NORAD officials. Heflin, described as an California Department of Transportation “on duty Traffic Investigator” in Santa Ana, California, took three clear photographs of a “metallic looking disk” (and a fourth photograph of what Heflin said was its exhaust plumes) on August 3 1965.

Heflin made multiple copies of the photos and tried to interest government officials or the mass media. He met with limited interest from officials, but the Condon Report does state, however, that popular interest was piqued and "most of Santa Anna was saturated with the UFO pictures." (Condon, 446)

On the evening of September 22, Heflin reported that "two men, claiming to be from NORAD, arrived at the witnesses' home and asked to borrow the original Polaroid prints. The witness turned the photos over to them. These three original Polaroid prints have never been returned." (Condon, 449) NORAD denied that any of their employees had ever visited Heflin, at least in any official capacity.

Citing inconsistencies in Heflin's story, the Committee noting that the alleged "'NORAD Episode' ... is open to serious question," but they also added that "Indications are that if the two visitors did in fact exist, they were probably impostors." (Condon, 450)

Ultimately, the Committee offered a somewhat inconsistent appraisal of the Heflin case, describing it overall as "inconclusive" and Heflin's story as "internally inconsistent," (Condon, 437) but also noting that "this case is still held to be of exceptional interest because it is so well documented." (Condon, 454)


The actuality of Men in Black has been the subject of debate. No incontrovertible evidence has been presented in favor of MIB's reality. Furthermore, testimony of supposed witnesses is typically the only evidence presented in alleged MIB encounters, and eyewitness testimony--however compelling it might seem--can be notoriously unreliable, and is therefore nearly always open to doubt. Indeed, the involvement of MIB is often used as an excuse for lack of evidence.

On the other hand, as noted in Col. Freeman's statement quoted above, the U.S. Air Force seemed interested in the phenomenon, and seemed to accept some reports as genuine, or at least as intriguing.

The depth of the conspiracy theory leads some to believe that the MIB's 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.

Possible explanations

Men In Black accounts often feature "High Strangeness" or the Oz Factor (the latter term coined by ufologist Jenny Randles). Both terms are used to describe a strange sensation of "otherness", or of a dreamlike dissociation that accompanies some UFO reports. Such reports have led to speculation that Men In Black accounts are not part of any objective reality, but are rather best explained by altered states of consciousness, such as fantasy-prone personalities, sleep paralysis, hypnagogic states and the like.

In support of this hypothesis, Dash cites research by ufologist Nigel Watson, which suggests that many Men In Black witnesses "are often undergoing some sort of mental upheaval at the time of their encounter." (Dash, 162) Furthermore, Dash also cites work by folklorist Peter Rojcewicz "who himself encountered a possible MIB in his university library after entering what appears to have been an altered state of consciousness." (Dash, 416) See above for an account of Rojcewicz’s encounter.

Rojcewicz noted that many men in black accounts parallel tales of people encountering the devil: Neither men in black nor the devil are quite human, and witnesses often discover this fact midway through an encounter. The meaning of this parallel has been the subject of debate.

Although the phenomenon was initially and most frequently reported in the 1950s and 1960s, some researchers—John Keel and others—have suggested similarities between MIB reports and earlier demonic accounts.

Jerome Clark writes that "In Keel’s view, MIB are a ubiquitous presence in human history," involved with the likes of such pivotal figures as Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon, Julius Caesar and Malcom X. (Clark, 316) Keel also argues that "The huge Warren Report contains multiple pieces of sworn testimony describing MIB-type men in the vicinity of Dealey Plaza" in the confusion following the Assassination of John F. Kennedy. (Keel, 114)

More prosaically, Clark cites William L. Moore, who asserts that "the Men in Black are really government people in disguise ... members of a rather bizarre unit of Air Force Intelligence known currently as the Air Force Special Activities Center (AFSAC) ... As of 1991, the AFSAC, headquartered in Fort Belvoir, Virginia," and "under the operational authority of Air Force Intelligence Command centered at Kelly Air Force Base in Texas." (Clark, 321–22) Curiously, Moore also reports that AFSAC was inspired by the tales of men in black from the 1950s, and had nothing to do with those early accounts.

Though there were certainly earlier accounts, Clark credits John Keel with disseminating the idea of ominous men in black to a wider audience beyond ufology, and with inventing the term and its abbreviated form of "MIB". (Clark, 315) Keel’s paperback books sold well and certainly helped spread the idea of sinister men in black; Keel claims to have been followed or threatened by men in black on several occasions.

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