It’s been a long time coming, but at last we have the definitive deconstruction of the UFO abduction industry.
Brewer begins with a brief outline on the dangers involved in attempted hypnotic recall of memories, citing examples where hypnotic regression of memories could be more accurately described as hypnotic manipulation of memories, and of perception. Many of these examples relate to military and intelligence operations, a topic covered more fully later in the book.
Moving on to discussing hypnotism in a ufological context, Brewer rightly praises the work of Jenny Randles and others in persuading BUFORA (British UFO Research Association) to abandon the use of such techniques in their investigations. He contrasts this with America, where hypnotic ‘retrieval’ and ‘enhanced memory’ techniques became standard practice for abduction researchers up to the present day. This has led to organisations like MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) losing credibility as serious research organisations.
Brewer examines the results of this uncritical acceptance of hypnotic regression, and the wider problem of ‘therapeutic ufology’ with a detailed discussion of one particular case involving the leading abduction promoter David Jacobs.
Jacobs got to learn about a woman known by the pseudonym ‘Emma Woods’, who had undergone a number of experiences thought to be suggestive of ‘alien abduction’. Between 2002 and 2007 Jacobs conducted a series of so-called hypnotic session with her by international telephone calls (Woods lived in “a nation in the Pacific region"), before Woods broke off the communication.
The content of these conversations is very disturbing. Jacobs tries to get Woods to accept the suggestion that she is suffering from multiple-personality disorder. He explains this by saying that ET’s can read Wood’s mind while they are abusing her, so by suggesting she has MPD they will believe that is the reason for Jacobs hypnotizing her, not to investigate her abduction experiences, because if the aliens realised that Jacobs was on the verge of revealing their evil world-domination plan they would have to kill him.
As Brewer puts it: “A man employed at the time as a Temple University history professor would have us believe that he literally considered himself in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with ET-human hybrids wishing to kill him, and the mental health and community status of Emma Woods were apparently expendable …”
"Just send me your underpants"
Among the suggestions that Jacobs made to Woods was that to avoid abuse by the hybrids she should wear a chastity belt, adding helpfully, “They have these sex shops ya know, and I went into one that specialised in bondage, dominance, a place that I frequented quite often”. In a later session Jacobs asks Woods to send him her used knickers: “just put ’em in a plastic bag, put ‘em in an envelope and send ‘em off to me … Just do it automatically, Do not even think about it, no fuss, no muss, and don’t think about it afterwards either”. Reading the further details of Jacobs’ communications with Emma it is hard to see these as the products of a rational mind.
Eventually Emma Woods realised the nature of what was happening to her and broke away from Jacobs, later making a complaint against his to Temple University, claiming that her treatment broke guidelines on research on human subjects. Amazingly, Temple rejected her complaint, saying that Jacobs’ activities involved collecting ‘oral history’ rather than undertaking scientific research.
Brewer suggests that "the day the music stopped" for the abduction bandwagon was when Carol Rainey began to publish her account of life in the Budd Hopkins’ abduction factory.
Rainey was a film-maker who first met Hopkins on the beach at Cape Cod in 1994. A year later she moved to New York with Hopkins, and in 1996 they were married. At this time Rainey began a film project recording the abduction experiences of Hopkins’ subjects. However this close-up view of Hopkins’ methods began to trouble her and she started to think that many of the ‘experiences’ she recorded were completely fictitious and grew out of Hopkins own working practices. The couple separated, and eventually divorced.
In an article published in Paratopia magazine in 2011, exposing the problems in Hopkins’ methods: ‘The priests of High Strangeness: Co-creation of the Alien Abduction Phenomenon'. People like Hopkins and Jacobs, she claimed, were simply using the abduction experience to reflect their own views back to them, and any aspect that didn’t do that would be ignored or changed.
One instance highlighted by Rainey was the experience of a woman known as ‘Dora’, who thought that she had been abused and raped by an alien hybrid. Rainey discovered a letter sent to Hopkins which revealed that ‘Dora’ was a very troubled individual. She had been repeatedly physically and sexually abused by both her father and her husband, and had spent some time in a women’s refuge.
Hopkins ignored recommendations that ‘Dora’ should receive therapy to cope with her problems, and continued to treat her as a victim of alien rape. Eventually, Dora’s stories, with Hopkins active encouragement, expanded into a huge conspiracy theory with government and military involvement, and dragging in the names of high-profile public figures such as Colin Powell and Ralph Nader.
As Rainey continued her expose of Hopkins’ methods, rather than supporting her and the vulnerable ‘abductees’ the US UFO ‘community’ with one or two honourable exceptions, turned against her, often in the most misogynistic manner, denouncing her as an embittered ex-wife, and refusing to answer her criticisms. It was this response which led to many ufologists distancing themselves from the US scene, and caused the eventual downfall of the UFO UpDates online discussion forum.
The dangers inherent in the use of hypnosis were also very apparent in the iconic Betty and Barney Hill case. Brewer demonstrates that the generally accepted time-line of the investigation of this incident hides some very real problems, not just about the details of the case itself, but also the manner in which it was investigated and reported.
The Hill case also brings into consideration the possible involvement of a number of US intelligence services in the UFO and abduction field. It is probable that as a mixed-race couple in the 1960s, both involved in liberal politics and campaigning, that some people in the intelligence community may already have been interested in their activities. Brewer asks the interesting question as to why the Hills decided, seemingly at very short notice, to make a hurried and not very relaxing trip to Montreal, and why Barney felt it necessary to take a gun with him across the US/Canadian border.
In the 1950s and afterwards, through projects like MKULTRA, elements in the US intelligence services became very interested in the possibilities of hypnosis and mind control, probably as a response to claims of Soviet ‘brainwashing’ in the Korean War and later. Brewer suggests that the Hill’s hypnotist Benjamin Simon may have been at least marginally connected with intelligence operatives in Boston. It seems likely that figures from intelligence agencies may have also been interested in the data produced through hypnosis by some of the leading characters in abduction research and the ways in which memories of alleged events can be created, removed or ‘enhanced’. Brewer notes with approval Mark Pilkington’s work investigating this area.
UFO research organisations themselves have been involved in dubious dealings in this field, one example being MUFON’s complicity in the selling of names and details of over a hundred individuals who have been investigated by MUFON affiliated ufologists to a research organisation with close military and intelligence links, as well as itself vigorously promoting the alien abduction scenario despite its claims to scientific objectivity.
This important book is a startling expose of a seamy side of UFO research, and it has a resonance beyond UFOs and abductions. Many of the criticisms made apply to a wide range of paranormal research by amateur and unqualified investigators. It is easy to forget, when surrounded by the paraphernalia of UFO research that the subjects being investigated are not vague lights in the sky, or indeed real aliens, but very real human beings and families, who are often in a fragile state. Although, as Brewer mentions, the major British UFO organisation at the time outlawed the use of hypnosis many years ago, there were, and are many investigators in this country who are straying into very dubious territory in their investigation, not only of UFO contact and abduction narratives, but also of poltergeists, ‘haunted houses’ and a wide range of other paranormal claims. -- John Rimmer