I wasn’t going to mention Nick Redfern’s recent article on Neil Armstrong and the “Men in Black,” mostly because it is beyond my area of interest, and also because it was remarkably light on content, even for Redfern. But I saw the piece pop up a few times on social media and across the internet, so it seems like I had best point out the article’s biggest and most glaring flaw.
Redfern’s article concerns astronaut Neil Armstrong’s FBI file, which Redfern himself admits is rather boring. One particular incident, he says, is interesting because he reads it as an encounter with the imaginary “Men in Black,” even though a prima facie reading of the text offers little to no support for such an interpretation. Let’s look at what Redfern says and then we can see why he is probably wrong. Let’s begin with the text of the FBI file, from a February 2, 1976 memorandum:
On January 29, 1976, Detective [REDACTED], Lebanon, Ohio advised that he had been contacted by several people working at the Lebanon Town Hall, including his mother. [Deleted] stated that on the previous day, two individuals, one a male Negro, the second a white male, had appeared at the Town Hall asking numerous questions about Neil Armstrong, the former astronaut, what his address was, how many children he had, where his children went to school, and inquired if he frequently ate at the Golden Lamb Restaurant and other personal question.
This is not exactly scintillating material. Subsequent documents in the file state that the above was collected by an Ohio police detective but was simply filed and ignored for a decade for being of little to no interest to the Bureau. It only survived to become of any interest because the FBI was asked in 1985 to put together a file on Armstrong for a potential presidential commission appointment, and as part of the vetting process they collected any information that they had. This was about it.
But in the eyes of Nick Redfern, this minor incident in which two people, apparently acting like tabloid reporters or private investigators, tried to do some research using public records, becomes a shocking invasion of Men in Black. Or not. Here is how he puts it:
Having read the relevant section of the file a couple of times, it wasn’t hard for me to notice the MIB-style aspects of the story. The two men were described as being “well-dressed,” which strongly suggests they were wearing suits. The reference to the mysterious pair being “in town just to take some photographs of the house as they were tourists,” strongly and eerily echoed the actions of the so-called “phantom photographers” of MIB lore and legend and which John Keel investigated in the 1960s and 1970s. Finally, the issue of the pair asking questions concerning “how many children” Armstrong had, and “where his children went to school,” very much reminded me of the actions of the MIB-linked “Phantom Social Workers” (PSW) and “Bogus Social Workers” (BSW) which I wrote about, here at Mysterious Universe, just recently.
That final “who knows” is a bit of an insult to readers, since it (a) implies that any sort of random speculation is valid and (b) the author is justified in making no further effort to investigate his own utterly groundless claims. Is Nick Redfern a lazy conspiracy-monger, or is this a strange and innocent lapse in judgment? Who knows?
But to get to the specific problem, I’m sure you noticed that that the “Negro” young man was wearing a necklace, one with a quarter-moon and star motif. The moon and star motif strongly implies that this was an Islamic symbol, which would seem out of sorts with a Man in Black as typically defined. But more importantly, how would anyone have seen the man’s necklace if he was wearing a suit and tie like a stereotypical Man in Black? For the necklace to be visible, he either had to be wearing it over the suit, which is itself strange, or his shirt was open, making it visible, as was the style among the “well-dressed” polyester patrol of the mid-1970s. You have to squint really hard to see Men in Black here.
Now, why would anyone be trying to collect dirt on Neil Armstrong in 1976? That’s a great question, and one Redfern would have been wise to look into. Armstrong had retired from NASA in 1971, two years after walking on the moon, and had kept a relatively low profile. Indeed, in late 1976 Birmingham Magazine ran an article entitled “Neil Armstrong, Where Are You?”, and this was only one of dozens of 1970s articles on the man dubbed “The Hermit of Cincinnati.” Others bore titles like “Armstrong Stays Alone in His Private Orbit” and “In Search of Neil Armstrong.” Starting around 1974, such articles had become fairly regular, according to standard biographies of Armstrong. This low profile alone might be enough to explain why some young fans—or especially some journalists like the ones writing these stories—might have wanted to go on an obsessive search for him and invade his privacy.
However, as 1976 began, Armstrong had started out on a new venture, joining the search for Erich von Däniken’s imaginary cave filled with alien gold in Ecuador. Because it was pretty much his only major venture into the public eye, this trip garnered international headlines and dealt von Däniken his biggest PR blow ever. I’m not sure of the exact timeline to know if Armstrong’s plans would have been known in January 1976, but the long and short of it is that had Redfern extended his cursory research beyond his own assumptions and fantasies, he might have found a much more plausible explanation for the facts he is otherwise at a loss to explain. Why didn’t he? As Redfern might say, “Who knows?”
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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