The Experience: The Cultural Rise of Alien Abductions and Those Who Encounter Them

Former New York Times reporter Ralph Blumenthal explores the rise of the alien abduction phenomenon, and the people who experience it.

Don’t ask the Pentagon about aliens. Tracking UFOs flying hypersonic circles around F/A-18F Super Hornets is job enough without speculating on extraterrestrial origins or who (or what) could be behind the wheel.

The long-awaited June 25 “Preliminary Assessment” to Congress on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was silent on what these…things are — although it acknowledged they “probably do represent physical objects” and “clearly pose a safety of flight issue.” But the report pointedly avoided the question of whether they might be off-earth vehicles.

Yet some humans say they know what they know: We are not alone. 

They are called experiencers – a word that describes nothing – because their experiences seem so impossible to imagine: Encounters with non-human entities, which sometimes involve UFOs and sometimes do not. Kary Mullis, who shared the 1993 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, wrote of a night in Mendocino County, California, in 1985 where he encountered a glowing, talking raccoon who greeted him with “Good evening, doctor,” after which Mullis found himself the following day some distance away with no recollection of the intervening time or any memory of a spacecraft.

Ordinary people acknowledge these experiences. So do celebrities. The rapper Kendrick Lamar told the Howard Stern Show in 2017 that at age 6, he had seen a UFO fly by and was asked if he thought he’d been abducted by aliens. “I probably did,” he said. “That’s probably why I’m doing music right now. Who knows? They probably gave me the energy.” Earlier, he had told JoJo Wright’s radio show, “I’ve seen ghosts before, for sure. I’ve seen UFOs too. I’ll never forget that, and that was my encounter, and still to this day, I know there is something else out there.”

The singer Demi Lovato has referenced their own “experiments” as well, announcing in May that they were producing and starring in a forthcoming four-part UFO series, “Unidentified with Demi Lovato,” for the NBCUniversal streaming service Peacock; Episode 1 is scheduled to air on the 30th of September. “Demi is a true believer, and during this courageous adventure, [Demi] hopes to convince [their] friends, family, and [their] millions of followers that not only are there intelligent beings beyond Earth but that they are already here!” the announcement said. “Demi plans to learn enough about the extra-terrestrials through interviewing scientists, alien abductees, and [their] own experiments to initiate those close encounters and make peace with the aliens, and ultimately save ourselves.”

The rapper Lupe Fiasco told a Los Angeles radio station in 2012 of an “extra-worldly experience” at age 11 when he saw a black disc at his window and felt paralyzed, “surrounded by all this electricity.”





Representatives of Mr. Lamar and Ms. Lovato did not respond to numerous interview requests. A publicist for Mr. Fiasco said, “he’s passing on speaking about his experience.” Other stars with reported UFO encounters include Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards, and Tom DeLonge, who founded a study and entertainment group, To the Stars Academy of Arts & Science.

Jay Christopher King, a 42-year-old Jersey City artist who co-hosts an online support group of some 200 fellow experiencers, remembers his childhood fright at seeing a short grayish creature crouched in front of the family’s basement washing machine rummaging through the dirty laundry. More recently, he says, he has encountered spindly mantis-like beings that communicate telepathically in florid English — and Latin.

He knows it sounds crazy. “Now,” he says, “you’re diving into the deep end of the swimming pool.”

For Karin Austin, a 52-year-old former interior designer, construction project manager, and small business owner in Colorado working with an online group of fellow experiencers to advance Disclosure of secret UFO data, it was finding herself one night in her twenties far from her bed in a crowd of other humans in pajamas in a forest clearing near an abandoned roller coaster. There, she says, a tall skinny being presented her with a strange-looking little boy as her hybrid son.

Incredible, she agrees. But she’s convinced it happened, in some unknown dimension of reality, especially after finding a sketch of the same scene she remembers in a book by another experiencer. She has given up hope of being taken seriously. “People just think we’re…nut jobs.”

Other experiencers who also agreed to share their stories are participants in the support group co-hosted by Jay Christopher King and organized by Stuart Davis, an experiencer, artist, musician, and filmmaker in Boulder, Colorado, with a podcast “Aliens & Artists.” (Their accounts, below, have been condensed.)

Human encounters with gods, angels, fairies, ghosts, spirit animals, and other entities have been staples of folklore, religion, and myth since the dawn of recorded history, but space creatures quickly permeated mass culture with the postwar flying saucer boom. The lack of scientific evidence of extraterrestrial visitations did little to slow the avalanche of bestselling books and blockbuster movies.

Skeptics have laid the experiences to delusions, sleep paralysis, or other natural aberrant conditions.

Recent years, however, have brought growing physical confirmation by Navy ships and warplanes of unidentified flying objects, what the government now prefers to call unidentified aerial phenomena. In 2017, in The New York Times, we revealed that a secret Pentagon unit called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, or AATIP, was documenting their astounding aerodynamics while leaving aside questions of their origin, intelligent control, or occupants.




Yet UFOs and aliens remain inextricably linked in the public mind, especially after history’s first widely-publicized abduction case 60 years ago.

On the night of September 19th, 1961, Betty and Barney Hill were driving home through New Hampshire’s White Mountains when, as they later recounted in hazy recollections augmented in hypnotic regressions, they were overtaken by a flying disc and put aboard by gray humanoids with enlarged cat-like eyes and bulbous craniums. They recalled intrusive pseudo-medical exams before being released physically unharmed but deeply traumatized, unable to account for missing hours, stopped wristwatches, their strangely magnetized Chevy, badly scuffed shoes, and a torn dress.

A 2014 article in Scientific American, “Alien Abduction or ‘Accidental Awareness’?” cited studies by Britain’s Royal College of Anaesthetists and a Columbia University psychoanalyst, David V. Forrest, attributing abduction experiences like Barney Hill’s to hospital memories under anesthesia. It cited similarities between the accounts of intrusive probes by humanoid beings and operating room procedures, hypothesizing that Barney may have experienced a flashback to an earlier tonsillectomy, akin to recovered or sometimes false memories studied by PTSD researchers. Yet that would hardly explain Betty’s similar recollections or the bits of physical evidence — consistencies that deeply perplexed their psychiatrist, Benjamin Simon.

The phenomenon was next explored by two unlikely researchers, Budd Hopkins, an artist, and David Jacobs, a Temple University history professor. Both hypnotized their own experiencers and grew convinced that the recounted abductions were literal, occurring in our reality, by alien beings with an agenda hostile to humanity. Hopkins was particularly struck by the alleged missing time effetct that left experiencers mystified over lost hours and dimly recollected traumas.


Author and notable “Alien Abduction Researcher” Budd Hopkins in a hypnotic regression session with a man claiming to have been abducted by aliens. 2003. (Image Source: Wikicommons)


In 1990, a Harvard Medical School professor of psychiatry, John E. Mack, who had won a Pulitzer Prize for a psychobiography of T.E. Lawrence and written books on borderline psychiatric states and nightmares, met Hopkins and grew captivated by the accounts of stupefying interactions with alien beings told by seemingly ordinary people from all walks of life and even young children.

Defying ridicule, they usually reported seeing a UFO after which alien beings materialized, commonly in their bedrooms but also sometimes outdoors, in their cars, or in one case, a snowmobile. Immobilized, with companions rendered comatose, they recounted flights through walls or closed windows into craft for examination and frequently the extraction of eggs from women and sperm from men for the apparent breeding of hybrid offspring that the abductees might later meet.

Their aversion to publicity and absence of any evident psychopathology, the consistency of their accounts, and agonizing affect in relating their experiences, occasional witness corroboration, as well as certain physical evidence like unfamiliar scars and association with sighted UFOs convinced Mack that something unfathomable yet real had indeed happened to them. Many emerged with a heightened concern for the despoiled planet and a loving connection to the beings and all creation.

But Mack grew to differ with Hopkins and Jacobs that the experiences were clearly literal, happening in our reality. Instead, he came to think they seemed more likely liminal, something less than completely physical, or perhaps penetrations from another dimension. His evolving position angered some of his experiencers who feared abandonment.

Mack wrote two books documenting his case studies, “Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens” (1994) and the more nuanced “Passport to the Cosmos” (1999), appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show with some of his experiencers, met with the Dalai Lama, was written up widely in mainstream publications, and lectured extensively. Embarrassed by the publicity, Harvard convened a secret committee to investigate his practice but ultimately found no cause for discipline. He was run over and killed in London by a drunk driver in 2004, days before his 75th birthday.


Dr. John Mack (Image: Stuart Conway)


How many people have undergone, or may still be undergoing, alleged abduction experiences seems indeterminable. But online chatter and a profusion of experiencer support groups suggest that the phenomenon, whatever its nature and extent, is still out there, mysterious as ever.


Personal Accounts from Experiencers

Editorial Note: These phenomena, colloquially known as “alien abduction” or “alien contact” have not been adequately studied, and according to contemporary scientific understanding, are not a proven objective event. Due to the nature of these accounts and the related phenomena, they can not be verified by The Debrief’s editorial team. These unedited accounts have been included strictly for the sake of posterity at the request of the author.


Jay Christopher King. When I was about 6, we moved to a house in Indiana that had what people called haunted phenomena. The movers stacked up these huge book boxes, my father’s old textbooks and engineering manuals. The next morning we discovered they had all been rearranged in a checkerboard pattern. Once I woke up to see a little boy my age playing with my toys. We heard later that a boy had once killed himself in the basement.

Afterwards, in a different house, I was about 9 or 10, in bed. I look and there are two beings, four and a half feet tall, gray-like. One to my left was holding a chrome rod about 18 inches long. It started raising the rod device just as the other one started moving toward me. I passed out.

Two weeks after or a few days later — this is something you want to forget, not remember — I was walking up the stairs from my bedroom to the kitchen. The stairs had slats so I could see through to the laundry room. Bizarrely, one of the beings was in the laundry seeming to be rifling through the clothes that were in front of the washing machine. For the next year and I half I ran up and down the steps!

In my 20s, when I lived in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, sometimes there would be a hum and oddly the winter air would rush in almost as if a section of wall disappeared. The first time I saw a mantis I was confused because some grays are tall but mantis beings are even taller with a different body structure. At first I thought of them as grasshoppers. They have a different form of telepathic content.

The way you receive telepathy from a gray is more line by line, like receiving a telegram. Mantis beings have a much more elegant way of speaking. I also started picking up communication from a voice speaking in Latin. This entity was very interested in science and space. It made some criticism of us using fire and smoke to get off-planet and was strongly advocating for a device that seemed to involve plasma.

One evening in 2017, I had a feeling of being watched. A bizarre rectangular doorway developed on the wall. It looked like an amber and gray screen composed of pixels. A very large mantis stepped about halfway into the room, hunched over, about 6 feet tall, projecting through the portal. I spoke my mind. “Why tonight? Are you physically here?” It stepped further through, extended a long thin arm as it cocked its head looking at me. It reached its delicate fingers over the bedroom door and opened it further. That was its answer.

You don’t necessarily choose to be an experiencer, but I’m really hopeful for the experiencer community. We can work on this ourselves. We don’t need the vast world to validate this stuff. We have each other.


Karin Austin. I was born in St. Petersburg, Florida. When I was about 3, several beings woke me up from sleep; they were very friendly. I tried to call my mom in to show her, but watched them leave through my closed window before she made it into my room. Another time, I was playing outside with a bubble gum machine a friend of my mom’s had just given me as a gift. In a spliced-film kind of missing-time moment, I suddenly found myself running into the house without the bubble gum machine. We never found it.

Many years later, during a session with John [Mack], I easily recalled being outside playing with the bubble gum machine when a glowing object, egg shaped, appeared. Two gray beings with large black eyes emerged from it and asked me to go with them. They escorted me into a kind of shimmery room with curved walls, clinically white and misty. I found myself standing in front of a boy who was just a little older than me.

He had a being on either side of him. He spoke with a Scottish accent. The beings asked if I was willing to share my bubble gum machine with him. I agreed. He took it, they left, and I was returned home. I ran back to the house to tell my mom but instantly couldn’t remember what I wanted to share with her. Part of my memory was wiped.

Every experiencer will tell you when we share details like this, we know we sound insane.

Up to age 25 I would have said I was not an experiencer. But then, one night I “woke up” from a terrifying experience that didn’t quite fit the definition of a dream. I found myself at the edge of a forest clearing, standing alongside some 50 or so other human beings, all in various stages of night undress. I could see an old wooden roller coaster partially obstructed by trees.

Also present were a number of small-adult-size, skinny beings managing the gathering. I watched as one of the beings walked toward me. From a distance she looked like she could have been human and she had with her a shorter being who seemed to be a kid. As she stopped in front of me, I realized he didn’t look exactly human.

The taller being, apparently a caregiver of sorts, didn’t look entirely human either. In shock, it dawned on me I was interacting with some kind of alien-human hybrid life form. The adult caregiver kept pushing the boy, this hybrid, toward me. I kept pushing back, insisting there was a mistake. (I had had my tubes tied the previous year, after deciding not to have kids.) Finally, I understood she was telling me this child was mine.

I blacked out. The next second I was sitting straight up in my bed, severely dehydrated. I stumbled to the kitchen and drank an entire gallon of milk. I then found myself checking my body for marks. I recognized my behavior was strange. My fiancé thought it was a dream, but it felt real.

The next night, we were watching TV, and Whitley Streiber’s “Communion” came on. The movie showed two kids running down a path toward a flying saucer that was floating above a lake. The kids suddenly stopped and turned around. I instantly let out a scream and crawled up the back of the sofa, completely traumatized. They looked exactly like the hybrids I had seen just the night before in my “dream”!

Many years later after I met John [Mack], he was writing a foreword for Jim Sparks’s book [“The Keepers: An Alien Message for the Human Race”]. I happened to see an illustration that had been drawn for it. It showed the very same woods I had been in at the clearing, with a roller coaster in the background! Jim had obviously been present during the same encounter but was apparently in a different position in the woods.

When Laurel Chiten put her sizzle reel out for her documentary “Touched,” a guy from Canada reached out to Laurel and she put him in touch with me. He had been raised in Scotland. He talked about an incident that happened while playing in a forest as a kid.

He had been taken somewhere by two non-human beings into a white, misty room with curved walls, where he was introduced to a young girl who agreed to give him a bubble gum machine. Apparently, he later walked out of the woods without remembering how he got it. He told me he had kept it for a long time. Stunned, I asked if he still had it. He said he got rid of it when he moved overseas.


Robin Lassiter, 41, medical office manager in Grand Junction, Colo. I grew up with one older sister in southern Colorado. My parents were back-to-the-landers, hippies, and I grew up in the off-grid geodesic dome they built. Around 4, I have a memory of standing downstairs in the dome. I don’t know how I got down from my bedroom in the loft. A being was standing in front of me, an insectoid, with an exoskeleton. I called him Antman. I felt he was there to check on me. I didn’t tell anyone. I was so young, I didn’t realize it was unusual, but never forgot it.

Throughout my childhood I had vivid dreams and frequent out-of-body experiences. I had Armageddon dreams, dreams of war, explosions, the earth being destroyed and renewed, civilization coming back. I found the world very confusing and difficult to be in. I went to college, but dropped out. I had several years of drinking, drama, running from myself.

In my early 30s, I got sober and the anomalous experiences started again — sleep paralysis, waking with the bed shaking violently, and ultimately a life-changing out-of-body experience where I was surrounded by an overwhelming buzzing vibration and suspended in an intelligent, velvety darkness.

A being appeared and drew me towards a gateway. I knew that on the other side was where we go when we die. I became terrified and yanked myself back into my body. I had a vivid dream of four beings, joined together and surrounded by light, saying that they were there for me when I was ready. I called them the Four-Who-Are-One.

I started having dreams of colored orbs coming down from the sky. They began to teach me things, to tell me I needed to get ready for something, to help the planet. I gave away most of my possessions and moved into a yurt in southern Colorado to try to make my life as simple and connected to nature as possible. I continued to have out-of-body experiences and visitors, profound dreams and often saw U.F.O.s in the sky. It was really blissful.

After some time, I moved into an adobe house that was haunted. I started drinking heavily. I was depressed and had constant nightmares. I was on a path of self-destruction and in the depth of the darkness, I broke my ankle. As I fell, I saw the four light beings and they showered me with love, cradled my fall. Breaking my ankle that way stopped me in my tracks, and I was able to get sober again. I’ve now been sober for nearly five years.

After that, the anomalous experiences mostly stopped until the fall of 2019, right before Covid, when I broke the same ankle again, hiking. The sleep paralysis started up again, with messages that I needed to prepare for something, that I needed to help the planet. During hypnotic regression I was drawn into the cosmos and arrived on a different planet, standing before the Four-Who-Are-One.

I was afraid, until one of them pushed his face through the light and I recognized him as Antman. He told me that they are my guides, that I typically don’t incarnate on earth, but that I chose to come to work on a project. The project has to do with the earth shifting into a new paradigm, from evolution through suffering into creation and joy, to help end the cycle of self-destruction.

They told me I was in between two major blocks of my life and I needed to write a book to bridge the gap between them, that I would not be able to speak of these things until I wrote it. The experience deeply shook my reality, but after much resistance the book is nearly done.

My most recent experience was in January. I was meditating and felt the familiar pull of levitation. I was pulled high up into space, communicating with the Four. I found myself back in bed, my body heavy and strange. The light wouldn’t click on. I was in a honeycomb matrix that stretched out in every direction. The four beings emerged from where my bedroom wall should have been, and told me this matrix is what reality, this earth plane, hangs on.

They told me they were showing me a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the mechanics of reality. They said that it’s malleable and shifts in response to what I focus on, and I need to learn how to work with it.


Nadine Lalich, 69, retired paralegal in Albuquerque, and author of “Alien Experiences” and “Evolution.” I grew up in Michigan, south of Detroit. My grandparents were born in Croatia. My father was obsessed with astronomy. He told stories about flying, had disappearances. He said “they” would come back and take him off planet. My aunt Pat said men in black appeared to her at her door. I’ve seen several different species working together, small grays, tall whites, mantis beings, men in black. One was short statured with pointed ears, an elf figure.

At about 10, I walked into the living room and my parents and brother were slumped in front of the TV, unconscious. I could see the test pattern. There was somebody outside that came into the kitchen with me. We wouldn’t talk about this stuff. We weren’t that type of family. At 16, my boyfriend I drove to Metropark for an afternoon picnic. At dusk we saw this craft over our head. It jolted us. We followed it and lost time. We pulled over and fell asleep. He was never quite the same afterward. Later we married and divorced.

In 1991, on a camping trip to Sedona with my friend Pam, I woke up at 3 a.m. with rustling sounds outside the van. The door opened and I was blinded by the light. A long thin arm with three fingers and a thumb reached in. The next thing I knew I was standing at the back of the van paralyzed, with two small bald children on each side.

I felt myself levitate. I was going toward the light. An hour later I was dropped through the roof of the van. Boom! All my belongings were gone from the picnic table. I told Pam something terrible happened to me, I’ve got to go home.

For a few years I was in and out of denial. Thank goodness I began to record it in journals. I do believe some are physical entities who desire to eradicate hatred and violence within the human species. They may have eliminated it within themselves, or perhaps evolved without such intense emotion. They can show you your mind as a hologram projected into the air.

They showed me a picture of crafts coming, something that looks like a capsule burrowing down into the ground. And they showed me an area that looked like it was outside Las Vegas in the desert. You watched as it whirled in, scissor arms burrowing into the earth and telepathically suggested they had the capability to affect the neuro-processes of a whole city if they wanted to.

I no longer feel threatened. I’m not someone who believes they will take over our planet. They just don’t want us to expand our nuclear material. I do think some species are going to come into the open.

I have an innate trust in the infinite source that underlies all manifestation. It is an intelligent, powerful, and creative force that seeks to expand into the universe. Once you get through the fear, you realize, wait a minute! I’m still here. If they were going to take my life it would have happened by now. I have faith in the power that creates. Sometimes I call it “God” or the “Force.”




Ralph Blumenthal was a New York Times reporter from 1964-2009 and co-wrote the 2017 Times story that broke the news of a secret Pentagon unit investigating UFOs. His 2013 article in Vanity Fair Online, “Alien Nation: Have Humans Been Abducted by Extraterrestrials?”, about Harvard psychiatrist John Mack who risked his eminent career to study the alien abduction phenomenon, was a work-in-progress for his book, “The Believer: Alien Encounters, Hard Science, and the Passion of John Mack,” published March 15, 2021, by High Road Books of the University of New Mexico Press.