Vallée of Mystery

Of all the big names in UFOlogy in the late 20th Century, Jacques Vallée might be the most interesting. A physicist and computer scientist by training, he believed that there was some form of physical reality behind UFOs, but was reluctant to jump to the conclusion that they were necessarily nuts-and-bolts spacecraft from other worlds. In the late 1960s, his classic Passport To Magonia aired his personal theory that if there was any truth to stories of extraterrestrial visitors at all, they seemed more consistent with visits from other dimensions than from distant space – and that the phenomenon had direct parallels with folkloric encounters with angels, fairies and similar.

1979’s Messengers of Deception came about after Vallée decided to turn his attention from the witnessed aerial phenomena themselves to the people who claim to have witnessed them – and, in particular, those who insist they have met the occupants of interplanetary craft. His initial reason for doing so was a hypothesis that UFOs are a real physical phenomenon which has psychological or neurological effects on witnesses, and so by looking to said witnesses it might be possible to find evidence of this.

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Communion or Concoction?

It has become an iconic alien abduction story. Horror author Whitley Strieber (whose early hits included Wolfen and The Hunger) and his family split their time between their apartment in New York City and their out-of-town holiday home… which in true horror style is an honest to goodness cabin in the woods. Surprise guests arrive in the form of little grey UFOnauts who take away Strieber in the middle of the night, mess with his head, and stimulate his prostate a bit with a fancy vibrator. Under hypnotic regression, Strieber remembers all this and comes to the conclusion that this has been happening all his life – that he, his father before him, and his son after him are a line of abductees, destined to be taught important spiritual information and lovingly pegged by a big-eyed ancient space goddess. At the end of the book, he sits down and thinks about triangles for a while.

Communion was, for a time, the book on alien abduction. During that brief cultural space when alien abductions were a red-hot subject, Communion ended up becoming such a widely-cited text on the subject – the book people waved around to try and persuade sceptical audiences of the reality of the phenomenon, and the book which many abductees claimed resonated so closely with them.

It’s rather odd that it has that status, considering how absolutely bizarre the book gets in some of its aspects, particularly towards the end. I can only assume that most readers got through the early descriptions of abduction experiences – undeniably creepy and haunting that they are – and perhaps a few of the hypnosis sections in the middle of the book before their attention wavered and they sort of gave up. Or possibly it’s the case that, as is very frequent in this field, people cherry-picked: they took the bits which supported their personal visions and theories about the abduction experience onboard as fact, whilst writing off bits which didn’t fit as Strieber filtering the information through his own worldview.

Strieber’s worldview is certainly eccentric; contrary to many of the claims people make about Communion, and the narrative he tries to frame, he is far from a rationalist, materialist sceptic at the start of the story. He claims to not have much interest in UFOlogy, but as we shall see, he has a deep interest in a number of esoteric subjects and philosophies – more than you’d really expect from a James Randi-style atheist materialist – and it is not only possible but likely that his whole abduction schtick is an exercise in working with these ideas.

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Not Secret, Just Ignored; Not Suppressed, Just Obnoxious

Published books have always been the mere tip of the iceberg when it comes to the conspiracy theory scene, which has historically thrived more on rumour, hastily-photocopied pamphlets and cheaply self-published samizdat. The creation of the Internet has only made this all the more true. Whereas stumbling across hastily-scrawled essays which no reputable publisher would touch (whether they’re afraid of the libel laws or simply don’t want to publish illucid nonsense) used to be a matter of browsing the right second-hand bookshop at the right time, now anyone and everyone has all the platforms they want to publish whatever they like, and by golly they do exactly that.

That being the case, Secret & Suppressed is fascinating less because of any of the merits of its contents – indeed, some of the stuff in here is outright terrible – and more because of it capturing a particular point in time. Published in 1993 by Feral House, Secret & Suppressed was a collection of essays compiled from various sources by conspiracy theorist Jim Keith, who was in a position to do this thanks to his contacts made as editor of underground zine Dharma Combat. Though in effect the idea wasn’t enormously original – it’s basically a more conspiracy-focused version of Apocalypse Culture, edited by Feral House head honcho Adam Parfrey – I think it’s notable simply because 1993 was right towards the end of an era when a book like this represented a worthwhile endeavour.

The Internet was just about a thing at this point in time, with newsgroups and BBSs and gopher sites and the like storing a range of text files on various conspiracy-adjacent subjects, but it had not yet become ubiquitous. These days, anyone writing a piece like those featured here is likely to plaster it all over the Internet for free, rather than offering it up for a book like this. Secret and Suppressed came out in that narrow band of time when the Internet was accessible enough to aid Jim Keith in his research and help Feral House reach a wider audience, but still obscure enough that it hadn’t completely changed the conspiracy theory landscape.

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Pickin’ Up Truth Vibrations, Part 2: The Truth Shall Set Robots Free

The story so far: David Icke, at a point in his career when his undeniable public speaking skills and widespread national fame could have helped him make the Green Party a major force in UK politics, instead casts that all aside, declares that he is a Son of the Godhead, parades himself and his (briefly polyamorous) family around in turquoise tracksuits, makes an ass of himself in a string of media interviews and attempts to fix the energy matrix of Earth.

A media shitstorm predictably ensues; what also ensues is a persistent failure of Icke’s various prophecies to come to pass, save for a few on the “broken clock’s right twice a day” principle. Icke becomes a national laughing stock. His polyamorous arrangement crumbles, with his ex-partner taking her story to the tabloids and Icke writing a mean-spirited hit piece on her in his autobiography. The radical transformation of the world Icke promised stubbornly refuses to manifest.

Lesser minds than Icke’s would, under such circumstances, come to the conclusion that they may have made some poor decisions. Icke, however, is wise enough to know why it’s all gone so badly wrong.

It’s all the fault of the dastardly Illuminati.

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Military Monsters In Alien Costumes

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Biographical details on Martin Cannon are sparse, but some details of his life can be inferred from his online writing. Whilst the field of conspiracy theory is often skewed to the political right, there’s no monopoly on the field and Cannon had little use for right-wing scaremongering about harmless occult eccentrics, and was eager to call out racist, homophobic, and other abuses by those in power such as COINTELPRO. His primary concern seems to have been authoritarian abuses by government forces, particularly in relation to scandals such as MKULTRA, and he was quick to point out links between fringe groups and political extremists, or the bigoted motivations of less-than-ethical psychiatric researchers of yesteryear.

What seems to have most characterised his work, however, was his willingness to go against the grain even within the contrarian world of conspiracy speculation. This is most evident in his most substantial publication – the monograph The Controllers, widely available online, which like Project Beta manages to hit a Very Specific Level of Scepticism.

Cannon’s theory is as follows: alien abduction is not a thing, but at least a portion of alien abductees have actually experienced something real. Specifically, they’ve been subjected to dubious mind control experiments by the government, with their recollections of alien abduction (either directly recalled or recovered via hypnosis) being implanted memories intended to cover up the awful truth.

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All My Friends Know the Pale Rider…

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Milton William Cooper basically told the same story ever since he made his first big public splash in 1988. The story went like this: as part of an accomplished military career which saw him serving in Vietnam, Cooper eventually found his way into the Office of Naval Intelligence, in a post under Admiral Clarey. Bored out of his skull and frustrated with the massive discrepancies between the stories he saw Nixon and Kissinger telling the American people on the news and the activities he knew to be going on in Southeast Asia as part of the overspill of Vietnam into Cambodia and Laos, he eventually started peeking at top secret documents which, whilst not strictly intended for his eyes, happened to be in the filing cabinets in his office. These documents revealed a hidden story of astonishing conspiracy against the American Republic and the wholesale subversion of its Constitution.

The problem was that what Cooper claimed was actually in those documents kept changing. When he first started making his claims, they were generally in support of the Majestic-12 conspiracy theory and the documents received by UFO researchers Jamie Shandera, William Moore and Stanton Friedman. Then, when the credibility of those documents started looking shaky, Cooper claimed that the documents he’d seen in the Navy substantiated this – that the leaked documents were part of a damage limitation plan by the real Majestic-12 to send potential investigators down blind alleys should they get too close – but he stuck with his claims of UFO conspiracies and secret pacts with hostile alien races, claiming that he’d seen in the filing cabinets copies of the legendary O.H. Krill papers (named after the alleged alien ambassador to Earth).

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An Influential Delusion

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Mike Jay’s recently-reissued The Influencing Machine (previously known as The Air Loom Gang, known in the US as A Visionary Madness) is difficult to categorise. For the most part, it is centred on the incredible figure of James Tilly Matthews, perhaps the most famous of the many inmates of the Royal Bethlehem Hospital from back in the bad old “Bedlam” days. Matthews is notable mostly because he was the subject of Illustrations of Madness, an account by Bedlam’s resident apothecary John Haslam of Matthews’ case. Illustrations vividly describes Matthews’ delusions concerning the Air Loom, a mind control device operating on magnetic and pneumatic principles operated by a sinister gang populated by such colourful characters as The Middleman, Bill the King, and the Glove Woman.

The account remains regularly cited in psychological and psychiatric literature for two reasons: firstly, it is one of the first academic accounts of a case which could, if you squint at it in the right light, be something along the lines of what we call paranoid schizophrenia in the modern day. Secondly, it is the earliest known instance of a delusional patient claiming that their behaviour is being controlled by what is these days referred to as an “influencing machine” – rather than being possessed or controlled by demons or angels or other supernatural agents, Matthews seems to have been one of the first people in modern history to believe that they were under the control of a scientific device. Mind control implants and rays operated by intelligence agencies, the military, secret societies, or aliens are now widely cited; you can find plenty of people claiming to be victims of such things, many of whom aren’t confined to mental hospitals.

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