Whitley Strieber

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Whitley Strieber (1945–) is an author best known for his book Communion (1987) in which he alleged experiences with otherworldly entities. Strieber was a successful New York Times-bestselling author at the time Communion was published, leading to accusations that Strieber was engaged in a literary hoax. Strieber denied the charge, saying the book was nonfiction, and he appeared on numerous major media outlets in the late 1980s defending himself including Larry King Live, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Tom Snyder, and more.

Despite his career falling into decline after Communion, Strieber has never recanted. Indeed, Strieber doubled down, writing a series of weaker sequels to Communion in which he alleged wilder, less believable experiences. He became a regular guest on Coast to Coast AM in the mid-1990s, even taking over Art Bell's weekend show Dreamland in 2000. Since leaving his mainstream credibility behind, Strieber has associated himself personally — directly or indirectly — with all sorts of 'woo' topics including cattle mutilation, crop circles, the 'drones', the JFK assassination, the alleged Roswell event, and more.

Strieber's most recent book is The Afterlife Revolution (2017),[1] which he claims to have authored with his wife, Anne, following her death in 2015 thanks to telepathic communication.[2] He also claims to co-host his internet broadcast with her.

Communion[edit]

In 1987 the book Communion was published and caused a furor. Whitley Strieber was a best-selling and respected author of horror fiction. Two of his earliest (and strongest) novels, The Hunger and The Wolfen were commercial successes that were made into feature films. Because Strieber was a member of the New York literary world, it was unthinkable to some that in Communion he would publicly advocate for the existence of extraterrestrials. Many decided it was a literary hoax.

But the vividness of Strieber's writing in Communion combined with his willingness to go on television earnestly pleading for the reality of his experiences caused parts of the American public to wonder whether there wasn't some sort of truth to what Strieber was saying. Moreover, Strieber came across in the book and in his many interviews as sincere, intelligent, and articulate.

The Whitman Shooting[edit]

It turns out that Strieber's basic reliability is completely out the window — even without getting into matters of alien contact.

In his effort to be completely 'open' in Communion, Strieber wrote this in chapter four:

For years I have told of being present at the University of Texas when Charles Whitman went on his shooting spree from the tower in 1966. But I wasn't there. […]
For years I have explained my sudden departure by saying that I couldn't stand the place after the Charles Whitman sniper incident. The truth was, I could have remained after that incident. It was my secret terror that drove me away.[3]

In the book, Strieber suggests that he had matter-of-factly told friends — albeit falsely — that he'd been at the notorious Whitman shooting without ever quite knowing why. But as Heinrich Moltke points out in Problems with Strieber and The Key[4], Strieber gave at least two interviews in the early 1980s before Communion was published in which he described in graphic, disturbing detail the same event at which he later admitted he was not present. This excerpt is from one of those two accounts — a 1985 interview Strieber gave only a year before Communion was written:

I had just had a Coke. I was walking from the student union to the academic center, which was an open-shelf library near the Tower, when I heard a sharp bang that echoed off the University co-op across the street behind me. And the reason I am alive today is that I didn’t turn around. I thought it was coming from the Tower. Maybe I saw some movement out of the corner of my eye. All the people in front of me thought the sound came from the co-op in front of us, not the Tower behind.

The next thing I saw was a little boy on a bicycle coming toward me—his head just exploded. I didn't hear that one. I knew then that it was coming from the Tower. The other people all took cover that shielded them from the co-op, but left them exposed to the Tower. They were all killed, shot. I ran to a little retaining wall about three feet high which was near that base of the Tower building, about twenty yards from it. And I laid down there.

He shot two girls in the stomach right behind me, thirty feet away from me. And they were lying there in the grass, screaming, begging, pleading for help, trying to crawl along. One girl's legs wouldn't work. The other one was vomiting pieces of herself out of her mouth. And I could smell the blood and the odor of their stomachs, what was in their stomachs and their colons. The smell was horrible coming out of these poor kids, two young coeds. And he did that to get me and this other guy who was hiding behind this embankment to come out. I stayed there. I was sick with dread, watching them die, knowing that that gun was waiting. And the other guy suddenly went out and tried to pull one of them away and got shot in the head and killed. Whitman just shot the top of his head off.

I stayed right where I was for a long, long time—until I saw them, with my own eyes, bringing Whitman's body out. The ambulance men came up to me and said, 'You can come out now, he's dead.'

But I would not move until I saw him.[5]

According to public information about the Whitman shooting, the youngest male victim was Mark Gabour, age 16. Thus, no "little boy on a bicycle" had his head blown off that day. Moreover, in an interview with Strieber's mother in the late 1980s, Mary Strieber said that to her recollection, Strieber was in Austin but not on campus that day.[6][7] It's the sort of detail a mother would likely remember - whether her son's life was in danger.

Despite this, in his next book Transformation Strieber reversed his position in Communion, saying he had in fact been on campus that day and witnessed the shooting. The problems here are obvious. Less important in a way is whether Strieber was ever at the event (he probably wasn't), but how it is he can't tell.

Post-Communion[edit]

When Strieber was unable to physically produce his gray aliens after Communion, the public started to lose interest. Strieber rushed out a sequel to Communion the following year called Transformation: the Breakthrough in which the number and variety of strange experiences increased while their basic believability decreased. But the book didn't sell nearly as well.[8] Frustrated at the failure of the government and the cultural elites to embrace him as a sort of paradigm-shifting new thinker — and focal point of communication between human beings and the 'grays' — Strieber became increasingly bitter and morose, often nursing his wounded feelings in public interviews.

His next first-personal alien encounter book was Breakthrough in 1995, confusingly recycling the subtitle of his last book.

Things really went off the rails with Strieber's book The Secret School (1997) in which he wrote that he had recovered memories from childhood about a secret nighttime school out in the woods run by aliens that he and other neighborhood children went to. Strieber also recovered 'memories' of past lives in ancient Rome. According to Strieber, he had been a tutor to a young Octavian before he became emperor — and thanks to his great tutelage, Strieber was personally responsible for the Roman Empire lasting another four hundred years. Strieber also went back in time as a child to comfort Cicero just before the latter was to be executed.

The book is a hodgepodge of thin, likely imagined experiences mixed with interpretations of Strieber's that largely borrow from Gurdjieff and his own brand of mystical Catholicism. Strieber also relentlessly abuses the latest science news, seeing in every new theory or scientific conjecture proof of his latest imagined experience. As Kirkus Reviews put it in its review of The Secret School:

Strieber jumbles together scientific mysteries, facts, and factoids, unanswered questions of ancient history, the myth of Atlantis, New Age spirituality, and fears of a meteoric collision with Earth to support his wacky theories. UFOs and aliens are the least part of his story now. Having fallen victim, perhaps, to millennial madness, Strieber believes himself on a mission to save the world.[9]

One of the best and most laughable examples of Strieber stealing science news and reinventing it as prophecy is in The Secret School. Here Strieber imagines that he is in contact with his own past life in Atlantis, and describes special knowledge they had that we don't have today:

I go closer, I enter myself as I was then — and I find that it is a very troubled self. I am afraid. We are all dreadfully afraid. We have deep mines, and in them are detectors that tell us what is happening in the center of the Earth. I know that Earth's core is crystalline iron, not molten as we think in 1995. We understand how even the slightest blow to the planet's surface, correctly delivered, can cause this crystal to begin vibrating, and when it vibrates it creates movements in the mantle like waves in a storm. When struck, Earth behaves like a plastic. We use these detectors to tell us things about the Earth that our present age no longer understands.[10]

One doesn't have to look far to see where Strieber got the basis for this 'past-life vision'. In the New York Times the same year Strieber was writing The Secret School, an article appeared in the science section in which the same two main ideas were discussed: the Earth's core being a single giant crystal and the earth 'vibrating' when struck.[11] While in Strieber's misremembered appropriation, the Earth vibrates like 'plastic', in the Times article, it vibrates like wood. It's worth noting that this theory of the Earth's core as single giant crystal has been abandoned as unsupported by evidence.

Many of the 'brilliant' ideas in The Secret School would show up just a few years later in Strieber's self-published magnum opus, The Key. Except this time, they would be coming from an otherworldly all-knowing sage with Strieber pretending he had never heard any of the ideas before.

The Key[edit]

Neither a cynical liar nor a simple delusional psychotic, Whitley Strieber appears to be a confabulator who falls in love with and believes in his own stories. According to Moltke in Problems with Strieber and The Key,[12] Strieber's mystical accounts, predictions and prophecies, and so on, in the end all seem to have one thing in common: they subtly promote the idea of Whitley Strieber as an authority of world-historical importance.

The tendency is nowhere more apparent in his work than in The Key, a book self-published by Strieber in 2001, later published by Tarcher/Penguin in 2011 for a mainstream audience.

According to Strieber, a stranger showed up at his room at the Delta Chelsea hotel one night in 1998 when he was on a book tour in Toronto promoting the book, Confirmation. The man wouldn't give his name, but over the course of their conversation, told Strieber the secrets of life and death, made predictions about climate change, told him how psychic ability is possible, and more. The Key, written in late 2000 (nearly two years after the conversation supposedly took place), and reconstructed from what Strieber called a page of "squiggles", contained as its main section The Conversation, which Strieber has claimed is a transcription, nearly word for word, of what was said by the so-called 'Master of the Key'.

The problem is that The Conversation in countless places repeats opinions and speculations from Strieber's previous books and interviews, often verbatim. Except this time it was supposed to be 'fact' coming from an otherworldly source. So comfortable is Strieber with the gullibility of his readership, he even recycles high-sounding poetic language from previous books.[13] As the Master of the Key supposedly told Strieber in 1998:

Remember that the air is never so sweet, nor thy wife so comely, nor thy child so beautiful, as after the battle won. We depend upon our enemy for the sweetness of our lives. Love your enemy, for he is your best friend. Without the darkness, you would never know the glory of the firmament.[14]

This sounds suspiciously similar to what Strieber wrote himself in The Secret School (1997):

Without the terror, though, none of the rewards would come. There would be none of the sweetness, not to say the glory, of victory. […] So also does Christ's admonition to love one's enemy. There is an extraordinary benefit: the air after a battle won is sweet indeed.[15]

The same language can be found in Strieber’s earlier book Breakthrough (1995):

I saw the true meaning of “love thine enemies,” that the enemy makes the victory sweet as certainly as the light depends on the darkness to be seen. If there was no evil, good would be invisible […][16]

Finally, the same notion of loving your enemies because they offer the chance for victory was in Strieber's head as far back as his early novel The Hunger (1981):

Love your enemy, her father used to say, for without him you would never taste the flavor of victory.[17]

There are over fifty instances[18] where Strieber has his otherworldly 'Master of the Key' character present him with ideas and statements that Strieber himself had previously presented in interviews and in print, sometimes verbatim — all the while the 'Whitley' character in The Key acts totally astonished as if hearing it all for the first time. For example, in this 2001 book the 'Whitley' character declares that he'd never thought of the idea that 'God was a hologram'. Nevertheless, Strieber had been interviewed and featured in a book called The Holographic Universe, written by Strieber's friend, Michael Talbot. The interview with Strieber appears in the same chapter where the idea of 'God as hologram' gets discussed.[19]

The Key involves so much self-plagiarism, repackaging of known influences on Strieber (especially G. I. Gurdjieff), and misappropriation of science news (turned into prophecy) that the book is plainly an elaborate confabulation. Perhaps worse, the book seems to dwell on the unique importance of Whitley Strieber as a human being and Strieber's life, returning repeatedly to questions of his own soul, revisiting his childhood memories, claiming that some of these Master of the Key's statements were being given to humanity for the first time — from God to the world (of course, through the great Whitley Strieber).

So much focus is given to Strieber and his importance that it appears Strieber believes his fiction for personal psychological reasons. Indeed, Strieber has given countless interviews in which he describes in incredible detail his experience talking to the 'Master of the Key'. In these interviews, Strieber is emotional, gushing over the man's personal qualities, his kindness, his dignity, and so on. It is evident that Strieber actually believes his fantasy, and it's plain enough why he does: it has allowed Strieber to pull a fast one on the public by putting his own thoughts and speculations in the mouth of some non-human entity to make them 'true'; and second, when otherworldly beings like the 'Master of the Key' are deeply concerned with Whitley Strieber as a person and his special importance, it backhandedly shows the fans and himself how wonderful he is.

Whitley Strieber's basic formula[edit]

How to see through his bullshit[edit]

Whitley Strieber is, indeed, a unique case in the field of 'woo'. A once-highly successful author — and a talented one - in his best fiction, his words have an evocative quality that seems to directly recreate experiences for the reader. Part of the reason why Communion was such a success was that it was not just a laundry-list of two-dimensional fantasy claims like in usual alien contactee books. Rather, the descriptions of the enigmatic experiences are so vivid, and so bizarre they tend to suggest they are possibly true to those willing to believe. Moreover, Strieber himself is an intelligent man and extremely articulate, very adept at verbal argument and able to adopt a variety of different points of view in order to defend himself, making him sound sort of credible and hard to dismiss outright as a deluded person or a liar.

But as Moltke points out in Problems with Strieber and The Key, Strieber's flexibility and ongoing efforts to cover his own posterior during interviews leads to laughably ridiculous results. These are a sample of public statements by Strieber on whether or not he's religious. Often in his books (e.g. Communion) Strieber tries to pose as a non-religious secular mainstream thinker. This despite being involved in the Gurdjieff group, as well as being a lifelong Catholic heavily influenced by Catholic mysticism, and the same guy who named his biggest bestseller Communion (a.k.a. eucharist in Christianity). Here Strieber shows his willingness to be slippery when it comes to how religious he is:[20]

Non-believer Believer
I’m not really much of a believer. I am not a conventional Christian, but I am certainly a believer in the intelligence and compassionate insights of Jesus, and the meaning of his resurrection.
I'm very dubious about the idea of God personally. I suspect that’s why I feel as if God was staring me in the face every moment that I’m alive. I think it’s literally true.
If anything, I’m an atheist. So, if some time traveler came back with proof that Jesus had never existed, it wouldn't shake my faith at all. Nor does the corruption of Islam shake my faith in the word of God that sifts through the Koran like a sublime perfume. In fact, nothing shakes my faith. Nothing can. Faith is far deeper than belief, and the two should not be confused.
I'm about as religious as Christopher Hitchens. You know, I’m a very faithful person and I swear to you by the religion in which I believe that I did not.

Wildly contradictory postures like these are standard operating procedure for Strieber. He is, after all, the same writer who drops small caveats into his books about how he can never be sure he's separating imagination from reality, but then writes chapter after chapter of convincing, provocative novelistic prose about his experiences with ghosts, Grays, government conspiracies, and God. Strieber pays lip service to the idea his accounts should be 'kept in question', but presents them in such a way as to forcefully advocate for them, then re-tells the stories over the years as if they're all real.

Strieber's personal bullshit system takes the following form:

  • Writing. Strieber writes novelistic style accounts he claims are non-fiction, accounts of vividly written, evocative, and hard-to-explain experiences. Then he sprinkles in and around all these gripping first-person accounts all sorts of CYA caveats about how maybe it's all in his imagination, how strange experiences should always be 'kept in question', etc.
  • Speaking. Strieber takes to the airwaves, speaking always like an authoritative public intellectual. He goes out of his way to convince television viewers and radio listeners that he is absolutely earnest and sincere. He presents himself as being personally opposed to frauds, as a serious Catholic who loves his wife, etc. He is always calling on some institution (NASA, NSF, you name it) to start allocating funds for research into UFOs, etc. — as if Whitley Strieber were anybody that anybody listened to. After speaking authoritatively and getting part of the audience to take him seriously, Strieber transitions to bitching publicly about his mistreatment, his unfair marginalization from the literary and entertainment worlds, then turns darkly conspiratorial and suggests his books have been sabotaged by shadowy government types or even his own publishers (Strieber has even suggested US Air Force runs a social engineering program against him.[21]) He'll also mention in nearly every interview how he was 'raped' [22][23] by the aliens who did the rectal probe — to cash in on the cachet of rape victimhood and to earn sympathy for himself. At the same time, he'll insist his entire career was ruined by a single episode of South Park.[24]
  • Ripping off Gurdjieff. The better part of Strieber's own personal 'philosophical' system is taken nearly wholesale from others, especially G. I. Gurdjieff, and presented without attribution. It is well-known that Strieber was in the Gurdjieff group in New York City for 13 years.[25] During his time with the group, he absorbed all sorts of Gurdjieffian concepts related to meditation, attention, and higher dimensions. In his alien abduction mythos, these same ideas get churned out by Strieber as if they are his own — or worse — presented as if they're told to him by the "grays". In Strieber's book The Grays,[26] he reveals that gray aliens organize themselves into groups of three: positive-negative-and-reconciling triads. The only problem is that this triad is a major motif in Gurdjieff's writings. Further, in one of Gurdjieff's own books describing aliens on a distant world, they, too, were organized into the same triads. They were also outwardly sexless, just like Strieber's aliens.
  • Bottom line. Strieber appears to be an emotionally shaken man — and a narcissist. Every account of his purported otherworldly experiences seems to smuggle in self-serving statements about how unique he is, how the aliens are interested in him for his brain, how God read over his shoulder when he was a child, how the aliens want him to meditate so his soul will survive physical death. There's a high degree of fantasy about himself that's basically narcissistic. Even worse from an intellectual credibility point of view, the better part of Strieber's own personal 'philosophical' system is taken nearly wholesale from others, especially G. I. Gurdjieff, and presented without attribution. A similarly insane procedure frequently found in Strieber's work is when he reads some science news article, forgets about it, dreams it back up as a prophecy, puts it in his latest book, then cites the original article (the prophecy's actual origin) as proof of the prophecy. (See Moltke's paper[27] for countless examples.) Strieber's had every unbelievable experience possible. Otherworldly figures supposedly come directly to him, telling him "brand-new" ideas about life and the universe — which just so happen to validate what Strieber himself has already said. They even quote from his own past books. In the end, all of Strieber's supposed encounters just seem to highlight, you guessed it, Whitley Strieber.

Despite affecting an outward act of humility and sincerity, and publicly lamenting how he's been unfairly treated — saying his career was ruined by the pilot episode of South Park and not, for example, his involvement in the Heaven's Gate fiasco — Strieber seems to have remarkably little self-honesty. He's willing to plagiarize his own books and put past statements into the mouths of new fictitious beings. Perhaps the worst case of this involves his now-deceased wife, Anne Strieber. After the death of his wife in 2015, Strieber not only quickly commandeered her blog, restarting it with communications from 'Anne' in the afterlife[28] — messages which sound suspiciously like Whitley Strieber — he's now written a new book called The Afterlife Revolution, claiming to have co-authored it with Anne. Much of the content of the book is a (sometimes verbatim) rehash of Strieber's 2001 book The Key and is full of the usual Gurdjieffian/Catholic concepts that one finds in all of Strieber's books.

Strieber seems to be a special case of pathological liar. An intelligent, talented writer, he simply cannot help himself when it comes to spinning tales that connect him with every variety of woo. He passionately tries to convince the public of his confabulations so that, in turn, he can convince himself of them. Readers catch a glimpse of this in Communion, where Strieber lets slip his basic procedure. In the book, Strieber claims he saw a gray alien, which he wanted to deny, and believe instead was an owl. To convince himself he saw an owl, he sets out to convince others of it first:

But I wanted desperately to believe in that owl. I told my wife about it. She was polite, but commented about the absence of tracks. I really very much wanted to convince her of it, though. Even more, I wanted to convince myself. So intent was I on this that I telephoned a friend in California for the specific, yet unlikely, purpose of telling her about the barn owl at the window. (One)

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