Hot off the press: Aliens stuck a needle in my brain!
And one of them asked: What can we do to help you stop screaming?


Heads up, non-believers!
UFOria's back

Monday, April 6, 1987
Page A10

By Curt Suplee
Washington Post

UFO (circled) spotted over suburban Chicago in 1975. Three non-fiction accounts of contacts coming out this year.

THEY'RE HERE. Again. After a 10-year lull in public interest about UFOs, 1987 looks to be the Year of the Saucer - if not a whole cabinetful of cosmological crockery. According to Leading Susceptibility Indicators, we're in for a deluge of UFOria that'll make the Galveston flood look like a bathtub ring:

Three reputable publishers - Random House, Morrow and Atlantic Monthly Press - are releasing major non-fiction accounts of humans contacted, abducted or tortured by extraterrestrials.

Popular infatuation with the UFO sighted by a Japan Air Lines pilot in November has grown sky-high - forcing the Federal Aviation Administration into the mail-order business. To meet the ravening demand, the agency is now selling information packages at $194.30 each containing tapes of the crew, statements by air controllers, the pilot's drawings and color photographs of radar images.

"Our membership has gone up 10 percent in the past two months," says Walt Andrus, international director of the 1,500-member Mutual UFO Network, "and our mail has doubled. People are realizing that there is something to this after all."

"It's been building for quite a while," says Bruce Maccabee, a Navy research physicist and chairman of the Washington-based Fund for UFO Research. And the new books, he believes, will provoke an outcry for more information" from a galvanized public. "The negativists haven't realized what's going on yet."

Mass curiosity about paranormal freakery has hit its apogee. "Channelers" - a new species of medium purporting to lease their larynxes to astral spirits - are being taken seriously outside the tabloids. Citizens now know more about Shirley MacLaine's multiple past lives than Franklin Roosevelt's one. Oral Roberts reports horn-to-horn combat with Satan himself. Bookstores and newsstands are doing a fierce business in supernatural subjects from auras to crystals.

The sour malaise and doomsday anxiety seeping across the nation are the sort that, in the past, have proved propitious for cosmic omens in general and airborne dinnerware in particular. (Two weeks ago, a puny 20-second flare over New York and Connecticut resulted in hundreds of phone calls.) Add the darkling shambles of the Reagan regime (maybe they'll skip that "Take-Me-to-Your-Leader" stuff this time), and who knows what demons will rise from the baleful psychic murk?

One thing's for sure: They will be nothing like the winsome critters we claimed to see in the '50s.

WHITLEY STRIEBER, best known as a novelist (Warday, The Hunger, The Wolfen) was the first out of the UFOlogical gate this year with Communion.

"E.T." it ain't. The gruesome "true story" of how Strieber and his family were repeatedly tormented by creatures he calls The Visitors includes such delectable interludes as needles stuck into the brain ("What can we do," a female alien inquires, "to help you stop screaming?"), a sort of anal rape with a metering device, a thin probe shoved through the nostril to the temporal lobe and other manifestations of what Strieber assumes is a form of interspecies research. With his son haunted by night terrors and his marriage crumbling, Strieber - hoping for mere madness - turned to neurology, psychiatry and hypnosis. Still the horrors persisted, obliging him finally to regard The Visitors as somehow real, even to find a grudging empathy for their purposes.

He says he wasn't keen to write the book until he met several similarly afflicted persons through Budd Hopkins (a leading investigator of abduction claims and the author of another saucer-season volume, detailed below) and saw the "human suffering". Publishers were equally reluctant: Of the 13 houses to which he submitted the manuscript, five "turned it down with contempt and a number rejected it as a favor to me - with the recommendation that I never ever publish it" lest his reputation be ruined. But four houses felt otherwise, and the bidding finally reached $1 million for hard-cover, soft-cover and other rights. It may have been a bargain: Communion has made it into the top 10 on the New York Times non-fiction best-seller list

Strieber, who says he has continued to have visitations since writing the story, is not too surprised by the success, since in December The Visitors told me they would help me with the book." He's even founded a company to make a movie version. But what if the creatures should be displeased? "Well," Strieber says, "if the visitors are real and completely separate (from our own minds), and I were to sell this to somebody they didn't like, I'd be in more trouble than I can imagine." After that: a book on how the experience affected his wife and 8-year-old son.

It would be easy to dismiss Strieber as a guilt-sodden wacko who concocted his nightmare avengers from obsessive apocalyptic fears (Warday and Nature's End concern nuclear holocaust and environmental devastation, respectively) combined with remorse at his father's death. And by his own account, he's a bit odd: "I remember being terrified as a little boy by an appearance of Mr. Peanut." But he preempts much criticism by his obstinate skepticism. Even after psychoanalysis, hypnotic therapy and a CAT scan found him sane and healthy, Strieber does not, finally, insist that The Visitors exist independently of his family's experience of them, and his book ends in a plea for further research.

It can't come too soon for the agonized subjects Budd Hopkins describes in Intruders. Hopkins, a successful New York artist with works in the Corcoran and Hirshhorn museums here, has spent the past 12 years studying 132 persons who claim to have been abducted by aliens, employing psychiatrists, psychologists and lie-detector experts to prescreen his subjects.

In Intruders, he recounts the experiences - often revealed through hypnosis - of more than a dozen victims and their relatives. Despite wide divergence in region, age, sex and social class, the subjects share an alarming similarity: Members of the same family "seem to have been systematically abducted, at varying times and locations" for anatomical examination.

There are accounts of sperm and ova ripped from their donors, tubes inserted and withdrawn while victims lie there like laboratory meat, babies artificially birthed and stolen. The stories are so alike in pattern and detail, writes Hopkins, 55, that they reveal "a central purpose behind the abduction phenomenon" - namely, "a genetically focused study of particular bloodlines." A hideous notion, "but I have the case material and I'm stuck with it."

The book's credibility chiefly depends on the assumption that so many people could not be lying in such eerily identical ways when they have nothing to gain except public humiliation. (And pain. Listening to his subjects, Hopkins says, "I'd match them tear for tear.") He purposely withheld from the book certain of the victims' key recollections (such as the alien writing they saw) as a benchmark for subsequent stories.

Without physical evidence, he concedes, "There's no smoking gun. But we're gonna find it one of these days." And face a saucerload of angry aliens whose cover is blown? "The weird thing is," says Hopkins, "I don't even think they care. They work covertly according to their own pattern."

He first got interested in the subject in 1964. He thought he saw a UFO on Cape Cod, and when he mentioned it later at a party, people began regaling him with their own sightings. "I realized," Hopkins says, "that there was kind of an underground of people who had kept it to themselves."

In 1975 he wrote up an account of a mass sighting in New Jersey for The Village Voice. The piece was reprinted in Cosmopolitan and suddenly Hopkins was a name to be reckoned with. He began collecting stories of people who had lost hours or days out of their lives to abductions. In 1981, it became his first book, Missing Time. And there'll be another after Intruders, though he concedes that "you have to ipso facto be crazy" to believe in his thesis. "But if this is true, then it's the biggest story there is."

Gary Kinder agrees. His book, Light Years, reexamines the notorious case of Eduard Meier, a Swiss laborer who in the late '70s convinced thousands that he was in constant contact with an amiable outfit from the Pleiades. Meier amassed hundreds of photographs of the aliens' saucers, thousands of pages of notes on their science and moral lore (ostensibly conveyed to him by Semjase, a comely Pleiadean about 330 years old), and yards of film of UFO manoeuvres. For months, fans, reporters and film crews flocked to hear the one-armed, self-educated Meier sermonize; no one, however, actually saw his mentors. Then, in 1980, it all came apart. Several UFOlogists, after more or less research, declared his photos bogus, his story a fraud.

The case is "unadulterated hogwash," says Walt Andrus from MUFON's Seguin, Tex., headquarters. "An absolute hoax," says Sherman J. Larsen, director of the Center for UFO Studies in Glenview, Ill. Andrus and several other UFOlogists were so worried that a resurrection of the case would open their pursuit to ridicule that - without reading the book - they implored the publisher to dump it.

"I'm catching so much hell," says Kinder, 40, an Idaho lawyer-turned-writer who came across the subject while on the promo trail for his last book, Victim, the 1983 account of a Utah murder. The original investigators in the Meier case (who hold the copyright to much of the film, tape recordings and other primary materials) were looking for someone to write a book on the subject. After seeing the films and photos in the fall of 1983, Kinder was hooked.

Three years, a modest advance and $30,000 in expenses later, he has turned up a number of name-brand scientists, technical experts and eyewitnesses who stipulate that Meier's films, metal samples and recorded saucer sounds whatever they are - are no simple hoax. (Research chemist Marcel Vogel, a 27-year veteran of IBM and holder of numerous patents, examined a metal specimen Meier allegedly got from the aliens. Though he wouldn't say it was extraterrestrial, he confirmed that "with any technology that I know of, we could not achieve this on this planet.") By the end of the narrative, the colorful case becomes plausible, if not convincing. Though "the truth of the Meier contacts will never be known," Kinder says, "I thought the field fascinating. There really is something flying around out there. I'm convinced of that."

It's still a minority opinion in the science establishment. Astronomer-exobiologist Carl Sagan, who regards the search for intelligent life in the universe as "exceedingly important," thinks the odds against its landing here are, well, astronomical: Even assuming that our galaxy contains 1 million advanced civilizations, each one would have to send 10,000 missions a year just to find us among the billions of possible venues. And to believe that earthlings deserve special notice invokes what might be called Sagan's Paradox: If there are enough advanced cultures out there to make finding Earth remotely probable, "then the development of our sort of civilization must be pretty common," he writes. "And if we're not pretty common then there aren't going to be many civilizations advanced enough to send visitors."

Philip Klass of Washington, contributing avionics editor of Aviation Week & Space Technology, dean of UFO debunkers, says he was expecting the spate of new books: "Since the mid-'60s, the UFO movement has grown so desperate to sustain momentum that they have embraced such tales of abduction."

Assuming that the stories are merely the products of disturbed minds, a pattern so consistent and so geographically widespread suggests a definable mental illness. Yet apparently there is no such syndrome in psychiatric literature. "Of course," says Dr. Harvey Ruben, public affairs chairman of the American Psychiatric Association, "there are all sorts of people with delusions who are suggestible" that is, who tend to mimic symptoms they hear about. "We see that in mass hysteria, in psychological epidemics." A film such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind might provide that prototype, as could an episode receiving lavish press attention.

THE FIRST highly publicized abduction case in modern memory was the 1961 case of Betty and Barney Hill, a New Hampshire couple who were driving through a forlorn rural stretch when they saw a flashing object and subsequently "lost" several hours. Five months later, Betty's recurring nightmares became intolerable and she went to a Boston psychiatrist. Under hypnosis, the couple recalled that short, big-eyed humanoids took them aboard a spaceship. During a prolonged examination, a device was placed on Barney's groin; Betty endured a pregnancy test featuring a needle stuck into her navel. Numerous accounts of the incident appeared in the press, and a book and TV movie followed.

If such events actually happened, Klass wonders, "Why has not a single one of them ever reported the abduction to the FBI?" Moreover, "We Americans love to collect souvenirs. But not a single one of these 100 or 200 alleged abductees has brought back a physical souvenir" or even the explanation of a new scientific fact. "There's not a single piece of physical evidence." In addition, says Paul Kurtz, a philosophy professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo and spokesman for the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), "of the so-called UFO sightings, none has been shown to be extraterrestrial in origin. Yet still the human imagination soars. It's a quasi-religious phenomenon, the transcendental temptation, looking skyward for semidivine intelligent beings." He's coined the term paralienoid for those with irrational fears that E.T.s are after them, he's worried that the new books "will bring all sorts of nuts and kooks out of the wood work" - thus distracting attention from the few intriguingly unexplained cases he calls "true UFOs" or "TRUFOs." The general public, he says, "isn't going to know what to make of it, since there are so many hoaxes."

This mystery object was seen hovering over Victoria in 1975.

NORTH AMERICANS like to think of themselves as a hard-headed, pragmatic people - heirs to the rugged yeoman pluck that subdued a hostile continent. In fact, we are a nation of astrology-ridden, palm-reading, evolution-baiting, Stephen King-reading, Bigfoot-sighting, born-again superstitionists who spend half our time at lotto and the other half at horror movies. ("These days," says Strieber, "I'm often the only skeptic in the room.")

The January-February issue of American Health cites surveys by Andrew Greeley and associates at the University of Chicago indicating that "more Americans report paranormal experiences now than in the '70s." To wit: 42 percent of adults say they have had contact with the dead (up from 27 per cent in 1973); 67 per cent have experienced ESP or deja vu (58 per cent in 1973); and 31 per cent have experienced clairvoyance (versus only 24 percent in '73). Gallup polls show that, as of 1985, 43 per cent of those surveyed said they had had an unusual spiritual experience. In 1981, 23 per cent said they believed in reincarnation.

As for UFOs, the most recent Gallup Poll was taken in 1978. At that time, 57 per cent said they believed UFOs were real and 9 per cent said they had personally seen something they thought was a UFO. Last June, the U.S. National Science Foundation released the results of a nation-wide survey that found that 43 per cent of adults surveyed agreed that "It is likely that some of the unidentified flying objects that have been reported are really space vehicles from other civilizations." The NSF saw dismaying evidence of scientific illiteracy; book publishers may see a market.

EVERY YEAR 1,000 or more reports reach the appropriate organization. From 1947 to 1969, it was the Air Force, which in 1959 issued a directive to all commands stating that "investigations and analysis of UFOs are directly related to the Air Force's responsibility for the defense of the United States." But 10 years later, following a still-controversial study, the Air Force dumped the project completely, citing insufficient evidence.

Much of the Air Force material has been released to the public, but many UFOlogists believe that the government is still concealing information and/or physical evidence. Their doubts date from the same auspicious year as the Arnold sighting. In mid-'47, something crashed in the New Mexico desert and was obtained by the Air Force, which at first announced that it was "a flying disc," but subsequently put out word that the wreckage was merely a weather balloon and radar reflector. Many UFOlogists were dubious, and dark rumors circulated that the recovered material contained miraculous lightweight metals and the remains of insectlike pilots.

The rumors will doubtless be rekindled this year, though it is ghastly to imagine how an already dispirited nation would take the revelation that some GAO warehouse was full of space-stiffs and saucer parts.

"I can understand the rationale of a government cover-up," says Budd Hopkins. "The "whole economy - stocks, bonds, mortgages, capital investment - is based on the idea that 20 years from now, things are gonna be pretty much the same."

But if the feds announced tomorrow that aliens had arrived, "I'd rather be in the liquor business than the real-estate business."

A young boy took this picture of object resembling a flying saucer in Malaga, Spain in 1984.



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