You may know Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as the "men in black" from the ’90s and 2000s film franchise of the same name, but were there real men in black? Discover the conspiracy theory that that inspired the comic book series and movies of the same name.
In popular culture, men in black (MIB) are United States federal government agents who wear black suits and prevent UFO witnesses from sharing evidence related to their encounters. MIB don't necessarily wear dark suits and work for the government — the term "men in black" can refer to any mysterious figures who appear after UFO sightings.
Some people believe that the mysterious men in black are actually aliens in disguise.
A Brief History of the Men in Black
While some contactees offer a rosy picture of UFO phenomena, other saucer enthusiasts believe sinister forces oppose the Space Brothers' benevolent mission. Some of these are extraterrestrial and others terrestrial, and they work together to thwart the emergence of the truth.
Among the early victims of this evil "Silence Group" was Albert K. Bender of Bridgeport, Connecticut. In 1952 Bender formed the International Flying Saucer Bureau (IFSB), which met with immediate success, but he shut it down the next year under mysterious circumstances.
In due course Bender confided that three men in black had imparted to him the terrifying answer to the UFO mystery and turned his life into a nightmare. He would say no more. Three years later an IFSB associate, Gray Barker, wrote a book about the episode; the title perfectly captured the paranoia abroad in UFO-land: "They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers."
Through the "Bender mystery" the legend of the men in black came into the world — even though, as Barker observed, a man in black had played a villainous role in the Maury Island Incident (read more about the Maury Island Incident). According to Barker, the MIB were ranging as far afield as Australia and New Zealand, scaring still more UFO buffs into silence.
By the late 1980s MIB tales had become sufficiently ubiquitous that "The Journal of American Folklore" took note of them in a long article. Just who the MIB were remained unclear. To saucerians enamored with conspiracy theories, they were enforcers for the Silence Group, associated with international banking interests that sought to stifle the technological advances and moral reforms the Space Brothers wanted to bestow on Earthlings.
To others, they were alien beings — perhaps, some speculated, Richard Sharpe Shaver's deros. In 1962 Bender came down on the side of the alien school. Breaking his nine-year silence in "Flying Saucers and the Three Men," which he insisted was not a science-fiction novel, Bender revealed that the men in black who drove him out of ufology were monsters from the planet Kazik.
Even Barker, the book's publisher and a relentless Bender promoter, remarked privately and out of customers' hearing, that maybe it had all been a "dream."
Fear of the MIB was generated in part by worries about the possibly hostile motives of UFOs. A popular early book, "Flying Saucers on the Attack" by Harold T. Wilkins (1954), fretted that a "Cosmic General Staff could even now be plotting a real-life war of the worlds. But next to demonologist-ufologist John A. Keel, author of "UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse" (1970) and other writings, Wilkins sounded like an optimist.
In Keel's rendering UFO intelligences are not simply extraterrestrials but "ultraterrestrials"-entities from unimaginable other dimensions of reality. Worse, they definitely do not like us at all.
Human beings, Keel thunders, are "like ants, trying to view reality with very limited perceptive equipment. . . . We are biochemical robots helplessly controlled by forces that can scramble our brains, destroy our memories and use us in any way they see fit. They have been doing it to us forever."
Men in Black in Popular Culture
In 1990, Lowell Cunningham authored a comic book series called "The Men in Black," inspired by the MIB conspiracy theories. In the comic, the MIB investigate aliens and other paranormal activity, keeping their activities secret by wiping the memories of — or murdering — witnesses.
The 1997 film adaptation starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones was much more comedic and lighthearted than the comics. Its success led to three additional MIB films, with the latest released in 2019.
More UFO Hoaxes
Find out how other tricksters told tales about the U.S. government and UFOs: