A sizable number of Americans, 12 million or not, believe that reptilian beings control the government. Some go farther, and believe they themselves have had contact with alien lizards. Why they believe that isn't a political or scientific question. It's a human one.

At some point, conspiracy theorists joined their theories in the realm of things that sit on the fringe of American culture, shorthand jokes that trigger predictable responses. After the second of our (groundbreaking!) stories about this theory of reptilians, we got an email that shifted our perspective. "I'm 'UFOchick' from your article," its subject read, and with that, the story was no longer, lol, is Obama a lizard. It was: Why does this person think that he could be?

UFOChick, whose first name is Dana, doesn't. She believes in reptilians, and was writing not to take issue with the tone of the article (which was admittedly not sympathetic) but with a warning: young people, using our perfunctory-and-largely-made-up identifiers, might become convinced that they are reptilians. "This seems to be a trend with teenagers that is far from healthy," she wrote. "They become obsessed and paranoid and can accuse people with very little evidence of being a reptilian."

If Tumblr — the online shortcut to the teenage id — is any indicator, Dana's right about the trend. Searches for "reptilians" and "reptoids" (NSFW caution) turn up a number of images and posts about reptilian influence, GIFs of members of Congress displaying (Photoshopped) reptilian traits, theories (sincere or not) about reptilian symbols. "before i die," one post begins, "i hope to see with my own eyes hybrids walking without masks in the streets, accepted, non sinister, and equal." It doesn't take much to constitute a trend in an online community, so we'll say this counts.

For Dana, reptilianism isn't hip. It's personal. At her blog, she explains her experiences with reptilians and other alien lifeforms like "greys", who, in her words, "tortured" her physically and emotionally. At one point in 2009, she figured out how to fight back against creatures that, in her telling, manipulated her muscles under her skin and broke her bones, leaving scars.

That night I awoke in my energy body laying beside a reptilian Being on a bed with 2 greys mentally holding me down. I broke lose and attacked, I tried to kill the bastard with my bare hands, then I was back in my physcial body feeling the reptilian slam my energy body's head into a wall, I laughed and taunted him. Suddenly my energy body came back, I was whole, elated and triumphant.

In an email exchange with The Atlantic Wire, Dana explained the significance of the distinction between her energy and physical bodies. "The most common ways the Reptilians access humans," she wrote, "are through the dream state posing as a romantic/sexual partner or through drug or alcohol abuse which lowers the bodies energy vibration and allows access." Dana conflates reptilian control with demonic possession — suggesting that claims of the latter are, in fact, manifestations of the former. Those "dream state" interactions between reptilians and humans are benign, until either the human wants them to stop or the dreams beocome nightmares. "The end goal of the Reptilian is to inhabit and control the human's physical body for it's own use," Dana told us. They are "beings who wish to access our realm and cannot in their own bodies." There are no reptoids. There are just regular people under the control of reptile-like entities from elsewhere in the universe.

Dr. Susan Clancy studied post-traumatic stress disorder while earning her Ph.D. at Harvard University. She's written two books on the subject of belief in alien interaction, including Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens. In an email with The Atlantic Wire, she suggested that Dana's experiences with reptilians were similar to others that Clancy had interviewed.

In most cases the belief emerges as an explanation for unusual/disturbing symptoms/experiences. For example, episodes of "lost time" while driving, nose bleeds, bruises on body, sexual problems, loneliness, sleep paralysis and other sleep problems. People already familiar with widely available cultural scripts of alien abductions being to search for search for answers to their own "weird" experiences. The result? "I wonder if what I read/watched is what happened to me?"

The physical disturbances echo what Dana writes at her blog (which, too, is at times not safe for work). The connection between Clancy's work assessing PTSD and her engagement with believers in alien interaction is clear. She notes that those beliefs stem largely from the interpretation of the trauma, and therefore look slightly different.

Clancy describes how the details of the experiences change while maintaining some typical outline. "I think the details [of the belief] say a lot about the psychology of the individuals who get abducted (what they need/want)," she writes. "The plot largely maps on to the TV shows, books and movies that preexisted." Earlier this year, The New Yorker wrote about the "Truman Show delusion," in which people suffering from mental disorders map what they experience onto the plot of that movie. Clancy's point is that Truman Show delusions are just a more recent subset of long-standing behavior.

For what it's worth, Dana's experience — she "spend[s] a great deal of time working with people who contact me mostly via email about their reptilian interactions" — comports with that. "The signs of this possession," she says, "differ from person to person."

Clancy also suggests that the conflation of alien belief with religious overtones is common, as in Dana's description of reptilians having "had many names throughout history including Demons." Clancy: "Most people believe in God and there are no scientific data to support that belief either. Just substitute angels with aliens. Abductions could be a 21st century religious experience." Dana describes how reptilians take control of a human:

This may happen through manipulation, lies and false promises (thus the old idea of making a deal with the Devil) or through malevolent means which the human can only tolerate for so long before giving in (more like the typical cases of possession).

This evidence can be read as supportive of both those who believe in alien interaction and those who don't. You say it's a coping mechanism; I say I have scars from being hurt. This is how the belief thrives: evidence for its existence evolves to accommodate the belief, and not vice versa. Asked if one who believes in abduction or contact can be reasoned away from it, Clancy was direct. "You can argue someone away from a belief. Once they have actual memories you can't. I have tried (big mistake; 'fuck you' is often answer)."

The main problem? These people WANT to believe they were abducted by aliens. It's exciting. Sense of higher purpose, being special, larger meaning, etc. Hard to give that up in return for hard, cold, boring science. Who wants to accept they're vulnerable to memory distortion when they can believe instead they were chosen by superior beings?

Which, interestingly, was the point Dana was trying to make in her first email, with a twist. "Young people with low self esteem have always searched for a way to feel powerful. This is simply another way for them to express a false power without realizing it is not just make believe."

In the interest of fairness, we asked Clancy if she'd ever been at all convinced by any of the people she'd spoken with. "No."

My only weird experience was with sleep paralysis, while I was writing the book. In the middle of the night I found myself elevated, with a humming electrical force running through me and spinning like a rotary chicken. Although the words "simple hiccup in the sleep cycle" were running through my head and the same time I was thinking, Holy Shit, they really do exist. The experience was that powerful.

You say hiccup in the sleep cycle; Dana says reptilian interaction. The final argument is left to Occam.

The thesis of our original piece was that an (exaggerated) 12 million people think lizard people run the country. Dana and Clancy agreed: they don't. And they agreed that reptilian oversight was the least of our political problems. Both drew analogies between reptilian behavior and psycopathic behavior — which Clancy extended to our elected leaders. "Psychopaths (estimated 1% of population) are often described as having reptilian eyes (cold, expressionless, scary)," she noted. "So in that sense one could argue that some members of the government are reptilian-like."

Dana was more direct. "Those in government who make choices for the people they represent based on their own personal agenda should be noted and removed from office no matter if they are human or Reptilian." On this, we all agree.

Images: Top, AP. Illustrations from Tumblr: top, bottom.