- After being honored as "UFOlogist of the Year"
at this year's National UFO Conference, horror novelist turned contactee
Whitley Strieber took advantage of the spotlight to berate unbelievers
and captivate an audience of UFO faithful.
- Strieber, who rarely makes public appearances,
accepted the commemorative plaque from conference chairman Jim
Moseley on Saturday night. In particular, Moseley -- a veteran of a
half-century in the UFO field -- praised Strieber's role in bringing UFO
phenomena to a new generation of readers.
- Strieber had earned the honor -- the highest and only
award given out by the National
UFO Conference, or NUFOC -- "for bringing the UFO enigma to the
public awareness and expanding public understanding of the Gray aliens
-- such as it is -- in a tremendously enhanced way," Moseley said.
- Previous winners of the award, which is bestowed annually
at the national conference, include such luminaries as J. Allan Hynek,
John Keel and Jenny Randles.
- Strieber received the praise with a mixture of gratitude
toward the UFO community and rancor toward cultural forces that have abandoned
the phenomena of flying saucers and alien abduction stories to the scientific
- He noted that the last such honor he had received was
a Caldecott award in 1985, and that his career had swerved quite far from
the "awards track" soon thereafter as he suffered the experiences
that would later become the book Communion.
- Describing the UFOlogical field as "rejected knowledge,"
he lulled a crowd of more than 200 people -- many of whom had come to the
conference solely to see him, and had ignored other speakers -- with the
nuanced vowels and punched delivery of his recent radio training with UFO-radio
kingpin Art Bell, on whose syndicated "Dreamland" program he
now serves as permanent guest host.
- Rejected knowledge
- "I am a missionary for rejected knowledge,"
he said. "Our interest marks us as a little less well-educated a
little more primitive."
- "I've gone beyond the edge. I've received 300,000
letters from people with similar experiences" of being contacted,
abducted and manipulated by alien "visitors," he said. "Somebody's
having a close encounter right now. Somebody's seeing a UFO right now,
in this very area. Somebody's getting abducted."
- Strieber likened the fact that these encounters rarely
reach the media mainstream except as objects of derision to a society-wide
act of "denial."
- "We are a culture in denial," he told the spellbound
housewives, retirees and teenagers who thronged the crowd. "There
is no place to fit this in the socio-emotional construct (but) the silence
is becoming a desperate one. Something's going on here."
- The seminal abduction case
- More than any UFO encounter in the last four decades,
Strieber's experience with the uncanny visitors that lurk behind the impassive
masks of the now-ubiquitous "Gray aliens" has transformed the
way we think about aliens and flying saucers, what they are and what they
want from us.
- With his 1985 work Communion, Strieber began an increasingly
hermetic literary journey into mythic autobiography, relating his UFO experiences
-- often harrowing, grotesque or just plain inexplicable -- to an audience
that multiplied with each best-selling volume.
- Taken together, the books blend existing alien lore with
new wrinkles of degradation and longing for the security of metaphysical
truth to paint an epic canvas of the alien as capricious, dimension-traveling
scientist-trickster, slipping into windows late at night to play with the
monstrous toys of human lives.
- The image of the alien abductor became one of the enduring
myths of the already apocalyptic 1990s, and Strieber insists that it's
- "The French have what they consider incontrovertible
evidence of something unknown in the atmosphere flying around," he
told his San Antonio audience. "There's no question the United States
keeps something secret about this. I think it's the biggest secret they're
keeping, and it's something wrong."
- Once again, he narrated the 1985 encounter with the alien
that had at first caused him to doubt his sanity, then launched into a
videotape presentation of evidence accumulated since then.
- "Why Do We Deny It?"
- The presentation, titled "Why Do We Deny It?",
began with footage that may have looked almost commonplace to an audience
hungry for the spectacle and bloodletting of one more alien autopsy, one
more story of sexual experimentation from beyond.
- A glowing sphere lopes across the night sky over Camarillo,
CA, on Thanksgiving, 1998. With a long rigid projection fixed at a skewed
angle and tipped with a smaller spherical projection, it is unlikely to
be a weather balloon. It teases the camera, then explodes in a blast of
- Space shuttle video taken aboard STS-80 in 1986 reveals
a bright, comet-like flash leaping from the ground near Sao Paulo into
space. Later, lights and flares dance in the sky over the Amazon during
a thunderstorm. None of these phenomena, Strieber said, have been identified..
- A will-o-the-wisp wanders through the streets of a Latin
American city in a rooftop video allegedly taken by a 9-year-old boy. "Is
this a flock of geese?" Strieber asked the crowd. "I always liked
- A glowing shape in the dark that Strieber said was an
alien captured on film in someone's backyard turns, then hunches away from
- In an urban medical facility, a doctor digs into an ear
that Strieber identified as his own in search of an implant left there
by persons unknown. The object retreats from the doctor's tools, forcing
the attempt to remove it to end in failure and disbelief.
- After this, there was nothing left but for the screen
to go black. Whether we buy into Strieber's rather sketchily introduced
"evidence" or not, it certainly made for good theater -- the
audience clearly bought into the rhythm, flash and mystery of the presentation.
The question of whether they were watching a tent-revival miracle or a
reel of saucer porn seemed somehow beside the point.
- Where It Ends Up
- At the end, right before the fans rose up to share a
few words with the primal abductee and perhaps get an autograph or see
the implant scar, Strieber explained the structure of the film.
- "It starts at a distance," he said, with the
lights in the sky that simply float without connection to human beings
or anything else -- this is their power and their chief allure.
- Then, the camera pulls in closer and closer, into the
streets and backyards and doctors' offices we know.
- "Closer to you, because that's where this ends up,"
Strieber said, adding that it should come as no surprise that the aliens
now seem fascinated with the inner workings of human bodies.
- "If we went to another planet and found another
intelligent species," he said, "what would be our highest level
of interest? Us, unless there's a higher intelligence on this planet."
- Hall of mirrors
- That said, it's interesting that Strieber's tour from
the cosmic to the personal -- perhaps unconsciously, perhaps deliberately
-- mirrored the history of UFO contact in this century.
- Like Strieber's aliens, the UFO story began with sightings
from afar, fleeting glimpses of distant ships and glowing objects in the
sky. In the 1940s and early 1950s, researchers paid little heed to stories
of landings, and not even the Air Force would consider reports of abductions
as valid cases.
- Then, as the years wore on and the body of UFO literature
grew, the saucers themselves receded to the background of the stories,
to be replaced first by landings, then by sightings of the actual aliens
themselves -- the proximity of our encounters narrowed as we became accustomed
to the aliens (or they became bored with us).
- In time, witnesses became bold enough to engage the aliens
-- which we had previously only watched from behind trees and rocks --
in increasingly extensive conversation.
- And then the reports of humans being brought aboard UFOs
for experimentation or picked out for long-term manipulation began to gather
momentum. Simultaneously, the "alien autopsy" ascended to glory
as the most visceral evidence that we are not alone in the universe.
- To sum up his opinion on the aliens' motivations for
toying with humans in increasingly intimate ways, Strieber said the UFO
entities were most likely trying to preserve the novelty of an encounter
with another intelligent race -- humanity -- as long as possible.
- "If aliens were to come to this planet, they would
be extremely secretive," he said. "Any race with the power to
travel on such a scale would of necessity be completely knowledgeable.
They would be searching the cosmos for the new, and the newest experience
imaginable would be that provided by other intelligence."
- No matter what the aliens are -- social constructs of
millennial angst, uncanny visitors from elsewhere, extraterrestrials --
our relationship works both ways.
- Who is experimenting on whom? Who is growing bored with