Albert K Bender: The Meme That Will Not Die
Photo 93310508 © Mark Wilson | Dreamstime.com
In a previous post about MIB, I discussed a bit about Al Bender. That inspired me to reread his account, encouraged and prefaced by Gray Barker, published in 1962, Flying Saucers and the Three Men.
Albert K Bender was born in 1921. He served in WWII and at the time of his reported experiences (1952-1953) he lived in Bridgeport, CT in a large family home with his stepfather. His mother had apparently passed and he moved back into the upper rooms of the house after his return home from military service.
By his own account, Bender was something of a prankster. He would invite his friends to bring their girlfriends over to his place, which he had lavishly decorated with paintings and misc. items depicting his favorite horror characters—Dracula, The Mummy, etc. The boys would watch monster movies and scare the women if they could.
Bender also harbored some interest in the occult and certainly in paranormal topics. He recounts that members of his own family had paranormal stories of their own which had been shared with him during his childhood. It’s also useful to remember that Bridgeport, CT has a paranormal reputation of its own.
Of course, he was completely fascinated with UFOs and had collected a huge and at this remove probably enviable stash of newspaper clippings about UFO reports from all over the United States and beyond.
What the outside world knew at first was this:
In 1952, Bender and a few of his similarly minded buddies decided to create what amounted to a UFO report clearing house, which they called the International Flying Saucers Bureau.
The plan was to provide a mechanism whereby any and all interested parties, for a small membership fee, could send in reports they’d received, from whatever part of the country/world they resided. The newsletter would publish summaries of these reports.
Additionally, each issue would feature relevant articles about topics and issues that would be of interest to UFO enthusiasts. A flyer advertising the IFSB was sent out to individuals and media outlets in April of 1952, and according to Bender, the organization was a big hit, arguably the first civilian international UFO organization of its kind, before NICAP, APRO, NUFORC, CUFOS or MUFON.
At the peak of its membership, in its first 9 months of operation, IFSB boasted members such as Frank Scully, Gray Barker, Meade Layne and James Mosely, and had encouraged the organization of IFSB chapters in the UK and Australia (principally because the exchange rates in the early 1950s made the collection of membership fees difficult).
Even George Adamski wrote letters to the editorial board and were published.
There was much excitement and everything seemed to be going well. Then suddenly, in March of 1953, Bender pulled the plug on the entire project, and announced that there would be only one more publication and then the organization was disbanding.
Although he had shared his plans with other principal organizing members, he had not gone into great deal to explain why he was shuttering an apparently (no obviously) successful enterprise so quickly and without warning.
All Bender would share is that he had been visited by three men and told, under threat of his health and life, to shut down the organization because he was too close to the truth.
This upset and confused the entire membership. Many didn’t believe and thought that he had been operating a scam, although all subscription monies were returned to the membership.
In 1956, Gray Barker wrote and published his account of what had happened to Bender and entitled it They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers. True to Barker’s form, the book was based some on what Bender had been able to tell him, some rumor and conjecture, and a bit of “other stuff” from various sources.
Barker hints darkly that shadowy government forces are somehow responsible for Bender giving up his pursuit of the “flying saucer” mystery.
Barker pestered Bender to complete the account that he had started with They Knew but Al had explained that the Three Men had not yet given him leave to do so. He had to wait until they gave him clearance.
That was literally all the public knew about the matter for about nine years, during which Bender steadfastly refused to share anything further about why he had shuttered the IFSB.
Nine years later Bender agreed to write down his own version of the experiences and events which led him to abandoning his UFO research. Barker, of course, was eager to publish it. In 1962 the world was introduced to Bender’s account with Flying Saucers and the Three Men with an intro by Barker.
Of course, the book was controversial immediately. For Bender’s part, he did very few public events surrounding the book’s release and avoided the media as much as possible.
Soon after the book was published, Bender left the public stage permanently and lived a relatively bland and normal life, apparently happily married, until his death in 2016.
To my knowledge, after the few public events given in relation to the publishing of Flying Saucers and the Three Men, Bender refused to discuss his experiences recounted in the book and went on to other interests.
New Saucerian Press republished Flying Saucers and the Three Men in 2014 so I was finally able to get a copy and read it for myself. It is a very strange tale—but remains absolutely essential to understanding aspects of the social “meme” that developed around the idea of the MIB.
Paranormal researcher Riley Crabb put together an incomplete critical summary of the book for the now defunct journal Borderland Science so I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow account of the book. I’ll just touch on some salient points that stick out to me.
First, is Bender’s description of himself: a prankster, kind of geeky, obsessed with monster movies, Science Fiction, and the “things that go bump in the night” school of occultism and paranormal story.
Bender had been introduced to the idea of UFOs, or Flying Saucers as he called them (as indeed they were called—he remembers when the term was coined) by newspaper reports (he had a pile of clippings) and the writings of Charles Fort.
Basically, Bender was an obsessed nerd for the weird and in a different generation would probably have been the leading Dungeon Master of a large D&D gaming mob.
Then, long story short, in 1952, as mentioned previously, Bender and a couple of friends decided to start an international UFO group, did some planning, put together a contact list and media kit (that’s what we’d call it now) and sent out the word.
Also as mentioned, the organization and its newsletter got lots of attention.
According to Bender, there were some strange precursors to the reported events that forced him to give up his research. There was the FBI agent who showed interest in an interview and a couple of strange bouts of dizziness, headaches and seeming changes of consciousness as well as an odd blue light that would periodically shine underneath the door of unused rooms or the attic where he lived.
It's unclear to the critical reader whether Bender saw these kinds of events as precursors at the time, or if he tries to reassemble his memories in light of what occurred later on. In narrative terms he seems to be foreshadowing, but who knows, he might have thought of these experiences differently when writing this retrospective.
Bender also reports that there were some strange things that happened at the headquarters of the Australian branch of the Bureau. There were several reports of strange men in vehicles surveilling the place from 3a-sunrise.
These reports occurred at approximately the same time that the investigators there were pursuing a line of inquiry linking a UFO wave of sightings in their area with similar reports coming out of Antarctica.
Obviously, there was a question in everyone’s mind about whether the strange men and the surveillance were connected to this inquiry, the details of which were being discussed in the organization’s newsletter.
By his own account, Bender was partially the “cause” of initial dissension in the IFSB. He and a number of Bureau officials wanted to hold a “World Contact Day” exercise in which all international members who wanted to participate would meditate and “send” a telepathic message at the same time (once adjusted for time zones) on March 15, 1953, at 6p EST.
The members who wanted to do this, following Bender’s lead, would send a message that would start out this way:
“Calling occupants of interplanetary craft! Calling occupants of interplanetary craft that have been observing planet Earth. We of IFSB wish to make contact with you. We are your friends and would like you to make an appearance on Earth………Please come in peace and help us with our Earthly problems. Give us some sign that you have received our message. Be responsible for creating a miracle here on our planet to wake up the ignorant ones to reality.”
Each “sender” was to repeat this three time.
I’m sure some of you will recognize that this plea, prayer, invocation, is the basis for the lyrics of the seventies song first recorded by the band Klaatu and then later covered by the Carpenters "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft,” (1978) which enjoyed a strange notoriety because the latter version is actually well produced, expertly performed and quite a meme dropper, given its release during the same time period as the blockbuster film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).
Interestingly, in a song-writing agreement posted online by the surviving members of Klaatu, the claim is made that the lyrics are completely original with them.
Reading Bender’s account, which predates the song lyrics by almost 2 decades, it’s clear what the actual source of the text would have to be. There’s nobody to sue the members of Klaatu, however, so, oh well.
And thus the meme generating begins. Keep in mind the mid-1970s is also the time period of Bo and Peep’s group, HIM (and other iterations), founded by Marshall Herff Applewhite and Bonnie Lu Trousdale.
This is the religious organization that later became known as Heaven’s Gate and that committed mass suicide in 1997. Jacques Vallee wrote extensively about Bo and Peep in his 1979 publication: Messengers of Deception: UFO Contacts and Cults.
We sometimes forget that the mid and late seventies were a gold mine of neo-extraterrestrial inspired materials from the publishing of JJ Hurtak’s Book of Knowledge: Keys of Enoch, the widening popularity of Buckminster Fuller’s work, and the mainstream publication of the Seth Material
More examples of UFO themes can be found in the following popular songs (this is not an exhaustive list). “Come Sail Away” by Styx (1977) (accidentally named as the band Journey in the tape--based on an actual UFO sighting by the lyricist).
“Children of the Sun” by Billy Thorpe (1979) (based on an Inca origination story which claims that the ruling classes-called Inca had extraterrestrial origins).
Even the patti smith song “Birdland” (1975) on her classic debut album Horses, is based on the autobiographical account of Wilhelm Reich’s obsession with UFOs as parasitical entities as detailed by his son Peter Reich in the excellent A Book of Dreams, the book that further inspired Kate Bush’s hit song “Cloudbusting.”
“Fire of Unknown Origin” (1981) Blue Oyster Cult with lyrics based on a poem by patti smith actually tells the story of UFO abduction.
And for further digging, for meme-sters who like cultural archaeology, the name Klaatu comes from the 1951 film (which Bender had to have seen), The Day the Earth Stood Still (perhaps the basis for the invocation’s plea for a world miracle?).
In the film, Klaatu, who is protected by Gort, a robotic policeman, security guard and enforcer, comes to Earth in order to warn humanity to change our violent ways, otherwise we will never be permitted to venture into space, and in fact, will be destroyed.
In order to demonstrate his power, Klaatu stops all electricity across the planet (except in places where to do so would endanger life). This is interpreted as an act of war and Klaatu is shot by American (of course) military forces.
Gort rescues the Klaatu’s body and brings him back to life. The main woman protagonist, who has, of course, fallen in love with the alien, only survives being killed by Gort by uttering the words “Klaatu barada nikto,” a formula that Klaatu had given her to use if anything happened to him.
Many people recognize the formula “Klaatu barada nikto” as the invocation that the character Ash Williams is to use (he flubs it) to subdue the evil magic of the Necronomicon the Evil Dead franchise.
Many others will recognize the plotline of the Day The Earth Stood Still from the song "Science Fiction Double Feature" from the Rocky Horror Picture Show that references Michael Rennie, who played Klaatu in the original movie or from the not so great remake in 2008 starring Keanu Reeves as the alien warner.
Bringing us back to Bender…
It's not known who wrote this plea for contact. Two of the most important officials in the Bureau resigned in disgust and would have nothing to do with the organization before the telepathic contact was even attempted.
In any case, enough of the leadership and membership regarded the attempt positively that Bender went ahead and tried it on the aforesaid date and time.
Apparently, that’s all it took. Again, long story short—Bender describes an almost immediate effect to his telepathic attempt.
He saw flashing blue lights, along with the smell of rotten eggs and felt like he was floating—almost an out of body experience. His temples started to throb terribly and he heard a voice tell him that he was going to be given future messages, that he had been “chosen” for contact.
That was just the beginning.
Over the course of several months, three “men” or beings would appear in Bender’s living quarters to warn him against continuing his investigations. They looked vaguely like humans, except that their eyes glowed and they seemed to float above the ground.
The hats they wore were more like Homburg style than Fedoras—although most of us wouldn’t know the difference now. Fedoras came more into style later on.
Riley Crabb’s account gives the run down, but in essence, the “men” said that their people came from a different world. They used the word planet when referring to Earth-and were harvesting something from our oceans which was in short supply on their world.
They were afraid that the efforts of the IFSB would expose them to the world, particularly given the nature of Bender’s obsession with finding the answer to the Flying Saucer mystery.
They periodically took Bender on little trips (abducting him), first to a purported space ship and then to an underground base that seemed to be on Earth. Later it was implied that the base was in Antarctica.
Eventually, Bender met a being who seemed to be a “leader” and who gave him more information about the world the aliens came from. On that world, all the beings “are of one race” so there is little conflict.
They believe in the great central Source from which all things come, and are only troubled when a periodic “darkness” covers their world and causes many to be “taken away.”
According to the “aliens” there are three sexes on their world which are necessary for full reproduction. The eggs, which are produced by the females, are taken and stored to hatch only after this great periodic darkness passes, whereby they can replenish their numbers.
At one point Bender believed that he was shown their true form, for they took humans from time to time in order to disguise themselves.
According to him, their true nature was hideous and reminded him of the Flatwoods Monster, which, of course, was a well-known cryptid report from 1952 and which had been investigated by Gray Barker, a Bureau member.
The “beings” enforced their hold over Bender through the use of what looked like a metal coin that suddenly appeared in a safe box in which Bender kept private materials. The coin would glow when “they” were near, and he could summon them by holding the “coin” and mentally requesting their presence.
If Bender strayed from his promise to protect the secret of their presence, he would be afflicted with sickening headaches that were completely debilitating. He tried several times to “lose” or misplace the coin, but it always reappeared back in its place.
The “men” told him that when he noticed that the coin had disappeared, he could then tell his story, because they would have completed their mission on our world and would be gone.
For a little while Bender continued with the IFSB as they investigated various UFO waves (as they were called then), in the U.S., the UK and in Australia.
Bender met Betty, whom he would marry, as a result of numerous Bureau exchanges between the American and UK branches, during this same time period, so it’s not like his life was simply consumed with misery.
At some point in their exchanges, the “men” insisted that Bender close the Bureau because their work was endangering the secret. So, Bender told his compatriots that’s what he was doing and to announce it to the membership.
Rumors ran rampant: Bender was accused of stealing funds (which he had not—he’d returned all monies collected), of being more interested in his girlfriend, and many more things.
Through it all, Bender maintained his silence until, according to him in this account, about 9 years later, the coin disappeared and he could finally tell the “whole story.”
According to Bender, when he finally was able to tell his story, some of his last remaining friends from the IFSB days were so disgusted they broke off all contact. It’s safe to say that many people didn’t believe him.
Gray Barker continued to refer to Bender’s story in many subsequent writings, (the last written in 1984). That he mined and milked the story for all it was worth was part of his milieu, and he clearly exaggerated elements of the story in a manner that would keep it alive.
By contrast, in the few public outings that Bender gave surrounding the book in 1962, others were suitably impressed with his demeanor and sincerity.
He has certainly never varied in his story, once told, and after that brief public interlude, left the UFO field for good and forever.
So, what is one to make of this tale? Riley Crabb regards it as a cautionary account of psychic attack and possession.
He does admit that there are some psy-ops elements in Bender’s story and cites the Haine’s report which admits that intelligence services were involved in “hoaxing” various elements of UFO experience and/or story for a number of reasons.
This, of course, is something that both John Keel and Jacques Vallee discuss in various of their publications.
The notion that Bender’s story is rooted in an intelligence psyops action is the basis for the MIB (four in total, 1997, 2002, 2012, 2019) comedy movie franchise and for the character of the Smoking Man in the X-Files.
Others have opined that Bender just “got tired” of having to deal with the complexities of his project, which had, admittedly, been quite successful, and wanted to spend more time with his girlfriend Betty and settle down.
Or, maybe he had a series of really bad nightmares due to his obsessive nature and scared himself.
And once he started writing, how might he have been influenced by Barker’s previous book about his own story?
Given the effort and time that Bender seems to have put into the IFSB, it seems reasonable, to me, to conclude that something happened to him, or he had the experience of something happening to him.
Whatever Bender’s truth might have been, it is also true that, even before Bender’s description of them, perhaps bolstered by the tall tales perpetuated by Gray Barker, the experience and appearance of MIB by individuals who actually don’t know about Bender’s Three Men is real, and has been documented numerous times.
Nick Redfern has continued to collect these accounts and even individuals who don’t have anything to do with UFOs, in terms of interest or experience, have had strange sightings and/or encounters with beings who look very similar (see one of my most recent posts).
So, either Bender’s aliens haven’t left after all, or something else entirely is going on (I generally vote the latter—although both could be true).
Flying Saucers and the Three Men is really one of the strangest, most unsettling books I’ve ever read, not because I “believe” Bender unreservedly, but because he had everything to lose and gained nothing by writing it.
There is no way to “tell” whether it’s literally true—and he knew that. If nothing at all had happened, there would have been no reason for him to even write the book. He knew that and wrote it anyway, and let it stand.
And this generator of a thousand stories is still with us today.