Make mention of the Men in Black to most people and doing so will likely provoke images of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. After all the trilogy of Men in Black movies were phenomenally successful and brought the subject to a huge, worldwide audience. Outside of Ufology, most people assume that the Men in Black were the creations of Hollywood. This, however, is very wide of the mark: in reality, the movies were based upon a short-lived comic book series that was created by Lowell Cunningham in 1990. Most important of all, the comic-books were based on real-life encounters with the MIB – which date back decades. As for those real MIB, they just might be skilled surfers of time. In the movies, the characters portrayed by Jones and Smith are known as J and K. There is a good reason for that: they are the initials of the late John Keel, who wrote the acclaimed book, The Mothman Prophecies and who spent a lot of time pursuing MIB encounters, and particularly so in the 1960s and 1970s. In that sense, the producers of the Men in Black movies and comic-books were paying homage to Keel. Now let’s get to the heart of the matter, namely, the real Men in Black; not those of Hollywood. Who are they? Where do they come from? What is their agenda? If there is one thing we can say for sure when it comes to the matter of the MIB, it’s that they are the ultimate Controllers – they threaten, intimidate and terrify those into silence who they visit. Let’s see how the mystery all began.
It was in the early 1950s that a man named Albert Bender created a UFO research group called the International Flying Saucer Bureau. The group was based out of Bender’s home town of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Bender was someone who quickly became enthused by the UFO phenomenon when it kicked off in earnest in the summer of 1947, with Kenneth Arnold’s acclaimed and now-legendary sighting of a squadron of UFOs over the Cascade Mountains. The world was changed and so was Albert Bender. As a result of the establishment of the IFSB, Albert Bender found himself inundated with letters, phone calls and inquiries from people wanting information on the UFO enigma. Bender was pleased to oblige and he created his very own newsletter – Space Review. It was a publication which was regularly filled with worldwide accounts of UFO activity, alien encounters, and sightings of flying saucers. And on the worldwide issue, it’s worth noting that so popular was Bender’s group and magazine, he found himself inundated with letters from all around the planet: communications poured in from the U.K., from Australia, from South America, and even a few from Russia.
Bender was on a definitive high: the little journal that he typed up from his attic room in the old house in which he lived, was suddenly a major part of Ufology. It’s most curious, then, that in the latter part of 1953, Bender quickly shot down the International Flying Saucer Bureau, and he ceased the publication of Space Review. Many of Bender’s followers suspected that something was wrong, as in very wrong. They were right on the money, as it happens. When Albert Bender brought his UFO-themed work to a hasty end, a few close friends approached him to find out what was wrong. After all, right up until the time of his decision to quit, he was riding high and had a planet-wide following. It didn’t get much better for Bender. So, his decision to walk away from all things saucer-shaped was a puzzle. One of those who wanted answers was Gray Barker. A resident of West Virginia and both a writer and a publisher who also had a deep interest in UFOs, Barker had subscribed to Space Review from its very first issue and had developed a good friendship and working relationship with Bender – which was an even bigger reason for Barker to question Bender’s decision.
At first, Albert Bender was reluctant to share with Gray Barker his reasons for backing away from the subject that had enthused him for so long, but he finally opened up. It turns out - Barker wrote in his 1956 book on the Bender affair, They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers – that Bender had been visited by a trio of men – all dressed in black – who warned him to not only keep away from the subject, but to completely drop the subject. As in forever. Somewhat of a nervous character at the best of times, Bender hardly needed telling once. Well, yes, actually, he did: despite having the fear of God put in him, Bender at first that what the Men in Black didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. So, despite the initial threat, Bender chose to soldier on. It was a big, big mistake. When the MIB realized that Bender had not followed their orders, they turned up the heat to an almost unbearable level. Finally, Bender got the message.
For Gray Barker - who recognized the dollar-value in the story of his friend – this was great news, in a strange way, at least. The scenario of a mysterious group of men in black suits terrorizing a rising UFO researcher would make for a great book, thought Barker – which it certainly did. Hence Barker’s 1956 book. The problem was that although Bender somewhat reluctantly let Barker to tell his story, Bender didn’t tell him the whole story. Bender described the three men being dressed in black suits and confirmed the threats, but that was about all he would say. As a result, Barker – quite understandably assumed that the Men in Black were from the government. He suspected they were from the FBI, the CIA, or the Air Force. Barker even mused on the possibility that the three men represented all of those agencies. When Barker’s book was published, it not only caught the attention of the UFO research community of the day: it also, for the very first time, brought the Men in Black to the attention of just about everyone involved in the UFO issue. A legend was born, a legend which continues. While Albert Bender certainly didn’t lie to Gray Barker, he most certainly did not share with him the full story. In fact, Bender had barely shared the bones of it. There was a good reason for that: the real story was far, far stranger than Barker could ever have imagined. Yes, he was visited by three men in black, but they were not of the kind that the U.S. Government of the day might have been expected to dispatch. Rather, they fell into the domain of the supernatural, the paranormal, and the occult.
According to Bender, late one night – after toiling away on his old typewriter in his attic environment – he suddenly started to feel sick. He was overwhelmed by nausea, dizziness, a sense that he might faint and, most curious of all, the room was filled with an odor of brimstone – or sulfur. Both odors are associated with paranormal activity and have been for centuries. Bender lay down on the bed, fearful that he might crash to the floor if he did not. In seconds, something terrifying happened: three shadowy, ghostly, spectral beings started to materialize through the walls of Bender’s room – yes, through the walls. They didn’t need to knock on the door and wait for it to be opened. The silhouette-like trio then started to change: their shadowy forms became more and more substantial and they finally took on the appearance of regular men. Apart, that is, for several, notable differences: their eyes shone brightly, like a piece of silver reflecting the sun. Their skin was pale and sickly-looking, and they were thin to the point of almost being cadaverous. They closely resembled the deadly vampires of old, which Bender loved to read about in his spare time.
Using telepathy, rather than the spoken word, the three men warned Bender that now was the time for him to leave the UFO issue alone – leave it and never return. Or else. When Bender began to shake with fear, the Men in Black realized that they had got their message across, and they duly departed the way they had first arrived – through the walls. For days, Bender was in a state of fear that bordered upon hysteria. Finally, though, he thought: why should I quit Ufology? After all, I’ve done so much work, I’m not going to stop now. So, Bender didn’t stop, he decided to take on the MIB and stand up to their threats. That was a very big mistake on the part of Bender. In the days ahead, Bender saw the MIB again. On one occasion, late on a Saturday night, Bender was sitting in his local cinema, watching a new movie, when one of the Men in Black materialized in the corner of the cinema – his blazing eyes focused on terrified Bender. He didn’t hang around and fled the place. On the way home, though, Bender was plagued by the sounds of footsteps behind him – which seemed to be disembodied, as no-one was in sight. In the further days ahead, the MIB returned to that old attic, which yet again caused Bender to fall seriously ill. Finally, after another week of all this terror and mayhem, Bender really was done. His time in Ufology was over. For the most part, anyway.
Albert Bender’s story, as it was told in the pages of Gray Barker’s 1956 book, They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers, was substantially correct – in the sense that it told of how Bender was visited, threatened and ultimately driven to leave Ufology. Through no fault of his own, though, Barker was unaware of the supernatural aspects of the story and assumed that Bender had become a victim of the U.S. Government. Finally, though, Bender came clean with Barker. Far from being disappointed, Barker was overjoyed, chiefly because he realized that he could spin the Bender saga into yet another book, which is exactly what happened. This time, though, Barker let Bender write the story himself, which he did. Yes, despite being warned away from the flying saucer issue by the Men in Black, Bender, somewhat reluctantly, reentered the scene and wrote his very own story: Flying Saucers and the Three Men, which Gray Barker eagerly published in 1962. Many people in Ufology were put off by the overly supernatural aspects of the story and, as a result, the book was relegated to the realm of obscurity for many years.
It’s interesting to know, though, that behind the scenes there was another group of men in black suits – and black fedoras –who were secretly following the Bender saga. It was none other than the FBI. In other words, although the FBI were not literally Bender’s MIB, the FBI certainly wanted to find out who they were. Thus, in a strange way, there were now two groups of MIB, both distinctly different: the supernatural ones encountered by Bender and the MIB of government officialdom. The provisions of the Freedom of Information Act have shown that both Albert Bender and Gray Barker had files opened on them. Those same files make it clear that none other than the legendary FBI boss, J. Edgar Hoover, ordered one of his special-agents to get hold of a copy of Gray Barker’s They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers. After promoting his book, Bender yet again walked away from the UFO issue. This time, it was for good. Bender died in March 2016, at the age of ninety-four, in California.