The X-Files and Men in Black
Although The X-Files primarily used the mysterious dark-clad entities for comic relief, threads of their real-world activities are still intertwined within its narratives. “Since the Fifties, people who have had close encounters have reported subsequent visits by these unearthly Men in Black,” FBI Agent Fox Mulder explains in the episode “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space.” While there is indeed plenty of humor in the installment, the scenes depicting Men in Black directly mirror similar encounters outside the fictional realm of The X-Files nonetheless.
In his book The Real Men In Black: Evidence, Famous Cases, and True Stories of These Mysterious Men and their Connection to UFO Phenomena (New Page Books, 2011), Nick Redfern traces the roots of the Men in Black while likewise reciting numerous stories about their alleged appearances. “For years, the Men In Black have been elusive, predatory, fear-inducing figures, hovering with disturbing regularity upon the enigmatic fringes of the UFO subject, nurturing their own unique brand of terror and intimidation,” Redfern writes. “Like true specters from the outer edge, the MIB appear from the murky darkness, and roam the countryside provoking carnage, chaos, paranoia, and fear in their wake, before returning to that same shrouded realm from which they originally oozed.”
One particular encounter described within the pages of The Real Men in Black occurred during the 1970s and not only serves as the prototype for other appearances in the real world but those seen in “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” as well. In September 1976, Dr. Herbert Hopkins of Orchard Beach, Maine, performed hypnotic regression therapy on a patient who had allegedly been abducted by aliens the year before. Shortly after the session, Hopkins received a phone call from someone claiming to be a member of the fictitious New Jersey UFO Research Organization. “He invited the man over, right then and there,” Nick Redfern explains. “This in itself was very curious and totally illogical, Hopkins later realized, as he did not even think to ask the man’s name. Also, the Hopkins’ home had been broken into on two occasions, which made his actions even more puzzling and reckless.”
In The X-Files episode “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” meanwhile, utility worker Roky Crickenson of Klass County, Washington, has a similar experience after witnessing two teenagers being abducted by aliens. Crickenson spent the next 48 hours committing his memory of the abduction into a self-penned manifesto, and it was during this writing marathon that his garage door suddenly opened and a dark automobile drove through the entrance.
“Normally if two strangers drive into my garage, I tell them to get the hell off the property,” Crickenson tells Fox Mulder and his FBI counterpart Dana Scully. “But this time I didn’t. It was like I was in a trance or something.”
Author Nick Redfern writes that “the preferred mode of dress of these sinister characters is a black suit, black Fedora or Homburg-style hat, black sunglasses, black necktie, black socks, black shoes, and a crisp, shining, white shirt,” and the Men in Black who visited Roky Crickenson were dressed in a similar fashion. “No other object has been misidentified as a flying saucer more often than the planet Venus,” one of them tells Crickenson. “You probably thought you saw something up in the sky other than Venus, but I assure you—it was Venus.”
Although Crickenson protests, the Man in Black continues. “Your scientists have yet to discover how neural networks create self-consciousness, let alone how the human brain processes two-dimensional retinal images into the three-dimensional phenomenon known as perception. Yet you somehow brazenly declare ‘seeing is believing’? Mister Crickenson, your scientific illiteracy makes me shudder, and I wouldn’t flaunt your ignorance by telling anyone that you saw anything last night other than the planet Venus, because if you do, you’re a dead man.”
The Man in Black who arrived in Orchard Beach during September 1976 was more theatric, but no less emphatic, in his warning to Dr. Herbert Hopkins. He first instructed Hopkins to remove a coin from his pocket. As the doctor watched in disbelief, the coin turned blue, became blurry and eventually vaporized altogether. “This strange character then suddenly made a less-than-veiled threat to Hopkins,” Nick Redfern continues in The Real Men in Black. “He told the doctor that Barney Hill—the husband of famed 1961 alien abductee Betty Hill—had died because he had no heart, just as Hopkins now no longer had the coin.”
Nick Redfern credits three individuals with fully establishing the mythology of the Men in Black in the real world—Albert Bender, Gray Barker and John Keel. Bender, who founded the first worldwide organization for UFO investigators, experienced the earliest recorded visitation by the mysterious dark-clad personas in 1952. Anonymous phone calls, sudden appearances of Men in Black in his bedroom and even sharp physical pain in his cranial area eventually forced Bender to abruptly end his research into UFOs.
One of Albert Bender’s protégés, Gray Barker, published a book in 1956 entitled They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers that more fully expanded upon Albert Bender’s experiences and serves as the blueprint for all future encounters with the Men in Black. Journalist John Keel—most infamous for his account of the Mothman that terrorized Point Pleasant, West Virginia, in 1966—likewise assisted in bringing the Men in Black further into the vernacular of contemporary society.
Although Nick Redfern is a firm believer in the existence of Men in Black, he still acknowledges that much of the mythology may have been based on fantasy rather than reality. Albert Bender, for instance, suffered from both mental and physical ailments that may have influenced his perception of the events that led to his abandonment of UFO research. As for Gray Barker and John Keel, they were more storytellers than historians and many of their narratives could have been embellished as well.
“Those cases he wrote about did happen, but they have been misconstrued, sometimes deliberately, in order to make it a good story,” UFOologist Allen Greenfield says of Gray Barker. “Gray could tell a great story by using his imagination, but still based on the facts. The truth is in his stories, but it’s the way he presented it—as stories—that a lot of people don’t always get.”
The centerpiece of The X-Files episode “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” pertains to fictitious author Jose Chung’s research into a possible alien abduction for a “non-fiction science fiction” novel he intends to write. Just like Gray Barker and John Keel, Chung is a storyteller, something he makes clear to Dana Scully at the outset of the installment. “How can I possibly do that?” Chung rhetorically responds when asked to simply report the truth. “I spent three months in Klass County and everybody there has a different version of what truly happened. Truth is as subjective as reality.”
The statement is as much a reflection of The X-Files as it is for the real-world investigations into the Men in Black. Jose Chung’s From Outer Space—as the eventual book is entitled—may not have been a straightforward historical account of the events in Klass County any more than the writings of Gray Barker and John Keel, but the truth is no doubt contained within its pages nonetheless.