He Can remember It For You Wholesale: Thoughts on Budd Hopkins’ ‘Witnessed’.

John Harney
Magonia 59, April 1997

The worrying thing about UFO abduction stories is not that people like Budd Hopkins insist that we should take them seriously – we do. Over the years a number of thoughtful articles on the subject have been published in Magonia. Martin Kottmeyer discussed the types of people who report such experiences and their possible subconscious motivations. (1) Kevin McClure expressed his concerns about the effects of the techniques and lines of questioning and speculations indulged in by investigators on children involved in abduction cases. (2)

John Rimmer wrote a book in which he showed, amongst other things, how UFO abduction experiences were related to similar, but more traditional, experiences and beliefs, (3) People certainly do have subjective experiences which often seem to involve being abducted by aliens, demons, fairies, or whatever. Such experiences can seem very real to the percipients. They therefore should be heard sympathetically, and if they suffer continuing distress it is perfectly reasonable that some suitably qualified person should attempt to alleviate it.

If Hopkins were advocating counselling or psychotherapy for people troubled in this way and sought to place the notion of abduction by aliens in flying saucers in its social and historical context then we could only applaud his efforts. However, as you all no doubt know, that is not his position at all. He insists that people are really being abducted by real aliens and token aboard real flying saucers.

Now if he were the sort of wild-eyed person who goes around spouting incoherent nonsense – you know, the sort of fellow who persecutes librarians or who comes and sits next to you in an almost-empty bus – then we could safely ignore him. But he is not like that at all. He is well educated, highly intelligent and can call on a wide circle of experts to help him with his investigations. He it was who introduced Dr John Mack to UFO abductions. (4) He has demonstrated, over the years, that he is capable of persuading other highly intelligent professional people that UFO abductions are a physical reality, as well as persuading many people, directly or indirectly, that they really have been and are being abducted. Thus he cannot be safely ignored.

It is therefore advisable to take a close look at his assertions, arguments and working methods, as they are presented in his latest book. The case he discusses caused a great deal of comment and controversy before the book was published, so it is advisable to look at some of the other publications on the subject also.

It is easy to get bogged down in the complexities of the story presented by Hopkins, and to be diverted by the mud-slinging between believers and sceptics which has appeared in various UFO journals, so I propose to concentrate on the two central issues. These are: Hopkins’ assertion that the abduction of Linda Cortile/Napolitano from her New York apartment was a physically real event, seen by independent witnesses; and the methods used by Hopkins to enable abductees to “remember” their experiences.

Anyone who had not read the book might assume that Linda contacted Hopkins and told him about being abducted from her bedroom by aliens and taken into a saucer, and that Hopkins then conducted a detailed investigation. But it was not like that. Linda wrote a letter to Hopkins, dated 26 April 1989, which expressed her anxieties about what are obviously not unusual sleep disturbances – waking up, or seeming to wake up, with the feeling that there is some other person present in the room, and not being able to move. The familiar ‘sleep paralysis’ routine.

Linda begins the letter by saying that she has never seen a UFO, but that she has read part of Hopkins’ book Intruders. She also said that she had consulted a doctor about a small bump on her nose and was told that it was cartilage caused by a surgical scar. She become even more worried about this as she insisted that she had never had any operation on her nose. (Not surprisingly, to anyone who has read any abduction stories, this bump on the nose, which Hopkins admitted was “almost invisible” soon become evidence of an alien implant.)

Only a few days after receiving the letter Hopkins interviewed her. He explains that he keeps his interviews informal initially, to put his subjects at ease. Only “when an atmosphere of calm and trust has been established” does he conduct more formal interviews, taking notes or using a tape recorder.

This is all very well, but it means that there is no record of what was said. When Linda first met Hopkins she was obviously aware of his obsession with UFOs and aliens, and it seems not unlikely that he took the opportunity to inform her in more detail of his ideas and theories. Only a few days passed before he conducted his first hypnotic regression session with her. This unearthed a memory of her seeing a strange bright figure or object on a roof outside her bedroom window one night when she was eight years old.

Now we come to the momentous events of 30 November 1989, Linda phoned Hopkins to tell him what happened to her earlier that morning and a meeting was arranged for 2 December during which she told him of being abducted through her window and up into a saucer where there was a table… But wait. Let us look at Linda’s own account of this event, which was published in MUFON UFO Journal. (5)

Linda describes how a “peculiar feeling” came over her as she prepared for bed. “There was a strong presence in the room. Steve [her husband] was snoring away, so it wasn’t him.” When Linda had these peculiar feelings previously she didn’t know what to make of them. But this time -

“I began to feel the familiar sensation of numbness that I’d felt periodically over my lifetime, creeping up slowly from my toes. Only this time, having known Budd and the abductees for some seven months, I knew what it meant.” (emphasis added)

She claims to have seen a strange being, but she does not describe it; she merely says: “…it was there, standing at the foot of my bed, staring at me!” She goes on to say that she remembered white fabric flowing up over her eyes and a sensation of something pounding on her back, then of falling into her bed. So, no abduction, despite having spent seven months being primed by Budd and his abductees.

When she retells this episode to Hopkins under hypnosis, the number of beings increases to four or five, but she still seems unable to describe them in any detail, despite prompting

B: [Budd] You said there were four or five. I don’t know what you mean... Four or five what?
L: [Linda] Four or five of those things… people.
B: What do they look like?
L: They’re short. They’re white and dark.
B: Are their clothes white? Is that what you mean?
L: They look like a lighter colour than the picture screen on my TV set.
B: What else do you notice about them?
L: [in a quavering voice] Their eyes. Very intense eyes.
B: What colour ore their eyes?
L: [Whispering] Blck. They shine. I can see a reflection in them

Of course, at this stage, Linda must have known what Budd was expecting and she does not disappoint him. She gives him a story of being taken through the window and into a hovering saucer. She doesn’t have too much difficulty with the details, as these have no doubt been supplied over the previous months by Hopkins and his associates. At this point I think it is legitimate to wonder what sort of account Linda would have given if neither she nor Hopkins had ever heard of UFO abductions and if Hopkins were obsessed with some other interpretation of the disturbing experiences which many people sometimes undergo when suffering from various kinds of sleep disturbances. (We are told that Linda is a chronic sufferer from insomnia, as well as these other problems.)

Take, for example, the case of Dr Arthur Guirdham, a British psychiatrist. One of Guirdham’s patients was a woman who suffered from nightmares. She eventually told him of her ‘memories’ of a previous life among the Cathars, a Christian sect in 13th-century France which was declared heretical and brutally stamped out by the Albigensian Crusade. It so happened that Guirdham already had a fascination with that particular historical episode, and under the influence of his patient he came to believe that he, too, had not only lived a previous life as a Cathar, but had also known his patient in that life. This obsession developed to a stage where he gathered about him a group of people who all claimed to have known one another and suffered together in 13th-century France, and who could help one another to ‘remember’ their dramatic experiences. (6)

Hopkins, though, is not only unwilling to consider other interpretations, conventional or otherwise; he insists that Linda’s story is true because the abduction was seen by independent witnesses. The whole book seems to hinge on this crucial point.

This is where Richard and Dan come in. The letter they wrote to Hopkins claiming to have seen a woman being token out of an apartment window near Brooklyn Bridge by three “ugly but smaller humanlike creatures” in “late November, 1989″ was postmarked 1 February 1991, some 14 months after the alleged event. Commentators have wondered why it took them so long to take action. The answer is fairly obvious; they had only recently learned the details of the story. If, as they claimed, they had noted which window the woman had emerged from, so could easily find out who she was, why did they wait 14 months before getting worked up to a great state of excitement about the incident?

Richard and Dan were allegedly accompanying another person, referred to as the “Third Man” when they had their amazing and unlikely experience, (It is widely believed that this person was Javier Perez de Cuellar and Hopkins refuses to confirm or deny this.) However, they were supposed to be independent witnesses, but it was revealed, in a letter purporting to be from Dan, that they also were abducted. It seems they were instantly transported to a beach where they were confronted by Linda and a group of Greys (the “Lady of the Sands” episode). Hopkins claims to have confirmed this story by subjecting Linda to another dose of hypnotic regression during which (of course) she managed to remember it.

So this left Hopkins without independent witnesses, but in November he received a letter from a woman, referring to an earlier letter which she had sent him in July, This he retrieved from his “box of unopened correspondence” (!). This woman claimed to have witnessed the abduction from her car on Brooklyn Bridge. Hopkins interviewed her but apparently without any hypnosis business, presumably because he didn’t want to find she had also been abducted and lose his only independent witness. Dr John Mack remarks: “This is, to my knowledge, the only documented case where an individual, who was not him or herself abducted, reported witnessing an abduction as it was actually taking place.” (7)
It is not true, however. Abductions are sometimes witnessed, in a sense, by others, but they are usually rather unspectacular. For instance, in a case investigated by BUFORA, described by Nigel Watson: “Mr L had no known psychiatric history. The psychiatrist thought that he had been experiencing hypnagogic hallucinations. This was partly based on the testimony of Mr L’s wife who was present during these alleged events, and confirmed that he appeared to be asleep during his ‘contacts”‘, (8)

If we take this idea to its logical conclusion,
then our whole world could be an illusion
created by the aliens

Hopkins has answers for those awkward persons who ask why only some people had their cars stopped near Brooklyn Bridge and witnessed the abduction whereas others either apparently saw nothing or remembered nothing. He tells us that the aliens control who sees what and who remembers what and when they remember it. Thus all apparent inconsistencies can be dealt with by attributing them to the amazing powers of the aliens.

It does not seem to occur to him that if we take this idea to its logical conclusion, then our whole world could be an illusion created by the aliens. They could also dictate what would or would not be published about them, whether credulous or critical.

Hopkins points out what will be obvious to most readers – the highly theatrical nature of the events described. He is referring to the abduction scene, but there are a number of others, mainly scenes involving Linda, Dan and/or Richard.

Hopkins wants us to believe that the theatricality is provided by the aliens, but others take the more plausible view that it is provided by the abductees, witnesses and investigators. George Hansen, Joseph Stefula and Richard Butler, in a paper circulated among ufologists a few years ago, likened the whole business to a kind of role-playing fantasy game. If we look at it that way, then we don’t have to go along with Hopkins’ assertion that either the story is literally true or that Linda has organised – and paid for – a gang of conspirators to to aid her in perpetrating an extremely elaborate hoax. Both of these alternatives are equally absurd, of course, but Hopkins thinks only the latter one is.

Hopkins was somewhat annoyed by this paper and he wrote a reply to it in which he devoted much space to character assassinations of the trio, with sideswipes at “such dubious personages as Philip Klass and James Moseley”. Apparently anyone who doesn’t go along with Hopkins’ absurd abduction theories, and says so bluntly, is a “fanatic”. (9)

The principal “fanatic” is Philip Klass. Hopkins obviously loathes him. He quotes him as saying to the media that abductees are “little nobodies, people seeking celebrity status” and that this had discouraged some of them from coming forward to tell the world about their traumatic experiences at the hands of the aliens. He also remarks; “Science can only be damaged by the present level of McCarthyite intimidation.” (10) Science? What do the activities and ludicrous speculations of Hopkins and the other abduction enthusiasts have to do with science?

What does Klass, this “… dinosaur in the evolution of public awareness” who “…bares his hatred for UFO witnesses ever more nakedly” (according to Hopkins), really think about the abductees? His views are set out clearly in his book on the subject, published in 1988, (11)

Klass is not concerned with criticising the witnesses, apart from a few of them who are obviously seeking money or notoriety, but with the techniques used by Hopkins and the other abduction investigators. He points out how they have ignored the opinions of professionals concerning the limitations of hypnosis as a method of establishing the truth about past experiences. He discusses their technique of repeatedly hypnotising UFO witnesses until they get the the abduction stories they are hoping for. He gives examples of abductees who later insist that they really did see a UFO but they have no good reason to believe that they were abducted.

Hopkins was particularly annoyed by Klass’s challenges to him that if he really believed that people were being abducted and had any reliable evidence to support these claims then he should inform the FBI. Klass and other sceptics continue to pose awkward questions whenever they get the opportunity.

One of the most disturbing features of the work of Hopkins and his followers is the tendency for children to get caught up in the fantasies. Hopkins seemingly makes no attempts to exclude them from his investigations in order to protect them from ideas and beliefs that could cause them alarm and distress. He is quick to seize any opportunity, Take the case of the nosebleeds, for example.

Nosebleeds? Yes, I’m afraid it’s all rather complicated; perhaps Hopkins thinks that if we are sufficiently bemused and baffled by the complexities we will give up trying to unravel the story and just accept what he reports at his own evaluation.

We are told that Linda woke up with a bad nosebleed in the early morning of 24 May 1992, and was soon joined by the other four persons present in the apartment; her husband, her sons Steven and Johnny, and Steven’s friend “Brian”, who all sat around the living room trying to stem the flow from their bleeding noses. The next day, Linda phoned Budd, who reassured her that “…this was no one’s fault, that if it was UFO-related it was outside her control.” According to Budd, this sort of thing is not unusual: it seems it was one of those things that abductees just have to learn to live with.

Ufologists should spread the word that the UFO abduction game, like certain other activities, is definitely
unsuitable for children

A few days later, Budd called Linda back to question her in more detail about the incident. He reports: “Since she said she still remembered virtually nothing but waking up with a bloody nose, I asked about Steve and her sons.” (emphasis added) She then handed the phone over to her six-year-old son Johnny.

Johnny ‘remembered’ the nosebleed incident all right, but of course Budd could not know what Linda had said to the others about the night in question, And there is no testimony on this incredible event from Linda’s husband Steve. It should be noted that there is very little mention of Steve in the book, One gets the impression that he thinks Linda is somewhat neurotic and that Budd is some sort of psychiatrist.

Budd went on to question Johnny about his dreams that night and found that he was dreaming about his imaginary sister, Naturally Budd seized on that and, to cut out the endless details, it developed that this girl was not imaginary after all, but Johnny was constantly being abducted by the Greys and brought to meet this girl, also an abductee.

I find it difficult to read such stuff without becoming nauseated. When I was a small child I suffered from nightmares, but my parents comforted me and reassured me that the monsters in them were not real and that they were only dreams. I believe that most children are treated in this way. Imagine the effects, then, of making it plain to children that not only are the dream-creatures real, but that there is no escape from them. Such an approach hardly seems therapeutic, to put it mildly, but this is the line taken by Hopkins and company. If they can persuade intelligent and more or less sane adults to believe such nonsense, the long-term effects on children hardly bear thinking about.

John Mack goes even further in this respect. Some of his subjects ‘remembered’ not only their abductions right back to early childhood but even in previous incarnations. Thus there is no escape from the Greys, even in death!

What is at issue here is not the sincerity and good intentions or otherwise of the abduction enthusiasts. It is the long-term effects of their work on the people they deal with.

The important question is: What can be done about it? Well, persons active in ufology can do a great deal. They should spread the word that the UFO abduction game, like certain other activities, is definitely unsuitable for children. Magazine editors should eschew the practice of giving fawning interviews to abductee researchers. A particularly sickening example appeared in MUFON UFO Journal where the interviewer of Hopkins takes the attitude of one sitting at the feet of a Master; there is not a single probing or critical question. (12) If abduction believers take part in UFO conferences they should be balanced by others who take a more rational and scientific view of these stories.

Sceptics are not always helpful in the fight against the irrational, ego-boosting activities of abduction enthusiasts. They tend to pursue trivialities, to criticise matters on which scepticism is inappropriate or meaningless, or to carefully dissect writings which were never meant to be taken literally. On the issue of abductions, they should focus on the main point, which is the harm being done to impressionable people by the likes of Hopkins, Mack and Jacobs, egged on by cheering crowds of supporters (most of them sufficiently educated and intelligent to know better) at UFO conferences.

However, until the abduction game results in some tragedy which gains widespread publicity, I doubt if anything much will happen.

  1. Kottmeyer, Martin. ‘Abduction: The boundary deficit hypothesis’, Magonia, 32, March 1988
  2. McClure, Kevin. ‘Bogeymen’. Magonia, 55, March 1998
  3. Rimmer, John. The Evidence for Alien Abductions, The Aquarian Press, 1984
  4. Mack, John E. Abductions: Human Encounters with Aliens, New York. Ballantine Books, 1995 (revised paperback edition). The dedication reads: “To Budd Hopkins, who led the way.”
  5. Cortile, Linda. ‘A light at the end of the tunnel’, MUFON UFO Journal, No. 302, June 1993
  6. Wilson, Ian. Mind out of Time?. London, Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1981, pp 35-48
  7. Mack, op. cit., p. 20
  8. Watson, Nigel. Portraits of Alien Encounters, London, Valis Books, 1990, p. 135
  9. Hopkins, Budd. ‘House of Cards: The Butler/Hansen/Stefula critique of the Cortile case’, International UFO Reporter, Vol. 18, No. 2, March/April 1993
  10. Hopkins, Budd. ‘Losing a battle while winning the war’, MUFON UFO Journal, No. 314, June 1994
  11. Klass, Philip J. UFO-Abductions. A Dangerous Game, New York, Prometheus Books, 1988
  12. Casteel, Sean. ‘Earwitness: An interview with Budd Hopkins’, MUFON UFO Journal, No. 341, September 1998

Witnessed, the True Story of the Brooklyn Bridge UFO Abductions is published in the USA by Pocket Books, and in the UK by Bloomsbury.