The Men Who Stare at Goats
Simon & Schuster
|Media type||Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
|Pages||277 (first edition, hardback)|
"Men who stare at goats" refers to U.S. soldiers who supposedly experimented with psychic powers against goats at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The book describes programs such as "Project Jedi", an effort to "create a new breed of supersoldier", as well as "Project Stargate", described as a "Cold War project intended to close the "psi gap" (the psychic equivalent of a missile gap) between the United States and Soviet Union". These included the proposed formation of the First Earth Battalion that would function as "warrior monks" whose weapons would emit "discordant sounds" to incapacitate an enemy. According to Ronson, such concepts were adopted by the FBI during the siege of Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas and later by the U.S. military at Abu Ghraib Prison and Guantanamo Bay.
The book first (Chapters 1-5) examines the efforts of a handful of U.S. Army officers in the late 1970s and early '80s to exploit paranormal phenomena, New Age philosophy, and elements of the human potential movement to enhance U.S. military intelligence and operations. These include the First Earth Battalion Operations Manual (1979) and a "psychic spy unit" established by Army intelligence at Fort Meade, Maryland, in the late '70s. (This was the Stargate Project, although Ronson never refers to it by name.) Ronson is put on the historical trail of the "men who stare at goats" — Special Forces soldiers who supposedly experimented with psychic powers against de-bleated goats at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, at the now-decommissioned "Goat Lab" training facility. He examines, and dispenses with, several candidates for the legendary "master sergeant" who was reported to have killed a goat simply by staring at it back in the day. In the middle third of the book (Chapters 6-11), the author leaps to the present day — i.e., 2004, just after the Abu Ghraib abuse revelations — and attempts to make connections between the earlier (now terminated, and mostly discredited) military programs and the abuses resulting from the post-9/11 War on Terror (Abu Ghraib, Guantanomo Bay, psyops in Iraq, etc.). This includes the use of the children's song "Barney & Friends" on Iraqi prisoners-of-war. A purported linking element is the alleged use of music and subliminal messaging at the 1993 Waco siege and other FBI operations. Another is the private business "franchises" and consultancies that retired members of the "psychic unit" later pursued as civilians. A connection is also proposed between these "privatized" psychics and the mass-suicide of members of the Heaven's Gate cult in 1997. The final section of the book (Chapters 13-16) leaps backward to the 1950s and attempts to connect the Army psychic program, and later interrogation techniques, with the CIA's MK-ULTRA "mind control" research program and the notorious death of Army researcher Frank Olson in 1953. Ronson spends time with Olson's son Eric as he attempts to uncover the mystery of his dad's death. The narrative ends with the suggestion that the "psychic warriors" are now back in business working for the U.S. military again, possibly in support of assassinations.
Interviewed by Ronson:
- Glenn B. Wheaton, retired U.S. Army Special Forces sergeant; psychic and remote viewer; set Ronson on the trail of the "men who stare at goats"
- Albert Stubblebine, retired Army major general; career military intelligence officer; proponent of psychic warfare, levitation, spoon-bending and walking through walls
- Jim Channon, retired Army lieutenant colonel; author of the First Earth Battalion Operations Manual; New Age guru and consultant
- John B. Alexander, retired Army colonel; proponent of non-lethal weapons and of military applications of the paranormal; introduced Channon's book to Stubblebine
- Frederick Holmes "Skip" Atwater, retired Army lieutenant; Gen. Stubblebine's "psychic headhunter"; later president of the Monroe Institute
- James V. Hardt, research psychologist and expert on the electrophysiological basis of spiritual states; assisted the "men who stare at goats"
- Steven Halpern, New Age musician consulted by the Army on how to deploy music as a weapon or for mind-control
- Guy Savelli, martial artist and psychic; recruited to work with U.S. Special Forces by Col. Alexander; purportedly "downed" a goat and killed a hamster with his mind alone
- Pete Brusso, martial artist and psychic; inventor/marketer of a personal self-defense weapon ("the Predator"); Savelli's rival for U.S. military contract work
- Uri Geller, spoon-bending Israeli celebrity psychic; self-described consultant to the U.S. military
- Prof. Courtney Brown, Emory University political scientist and paranormal proponent; allegedly barred from the Art Bell radio show after inspiring the Heaven's Gate mass suicide
- Christopher Cerf, Sesame Street songwriter; song appropriated by U.S. Army PsyOps soldiers in Iraq
- Jamal al-Harith, Jamaican-British convert to Islam; subjected to musical weirdness as GTMO prisoner
- Edward ("Ed") A. Dames, retired Army major, intelligence officer and psychic; frequent guest on the Art Bell radio show; known as "Dr Doom"
- Lyn Buchanan, retired Army intelligence NCO and psychic; unlike several of his colleagues, did not go on to develop a civilian "psychic franchise"
- Eric Olson, son of Frank Olson; lifelong activist to uncover cause of his father's mysterious death
- Bob Ricks, American law enforcement official; incident commander at 1993 Waco siege
- Norman Cournoyer, Ft. Detrick colleague of Frank Olson; confirmed to Frank's son Eric that, in his view, his father's death was a CIA murder
Discussed in depth:
- Michael Echanis, self-styled "soldier of fortune" and psychic martial artist; "pin up" icon for Special Forces groupies; died in a 1978 accident in Nicaragua
- Gen. Manuel Noriega, superstitious dictator of Panama; exploited sorcery and witchcraft to wield power; nemesis of Gen. Stubblebine
- Joseph McMoneagle, retired Army NCO and chief warrant officer; intelligence officer and psychic; now runs a remote viewing business
- Art Bell, late night radio host and proponent of all manner of paranormality and conspiracies; mentor to Ed Dames
- Tony Robbins, self-help guru and firewalker; mentor to Gen. Stubblebine
- Frank Burns, retired Army colonel and Internet pioneer; purportedly coined (with Channon) the Army's '80s recruiting slogan "Be All That You Can Be"
- Igor Smirnov, Russian psychiatrist; mind-control and thought projection expert; consulted by FBI during the 1993 Waco siege
- Frank Olson, American bacteriologist and Army bio-weaponeer; died in 1953 in tragic CIA misadventure
- Sidney Gottlieb, American chemist and CIA spymaster; dosed Frank Olson with LSD days before his death
- "Dr. Bucha", U.S. Army scientist who, in the 1950s, investigated tactical uses of helicopter flicker vertigo; may be an urban legend as no one knows his first name
- David Koresh, American leader of the Branch Davidians religious sect; subjected to musical weirdness and finally killed during 1993 Waco siege
Channel 4 television documentary
"The Men Who Stare at Goats" was also Part 1 of a three-part TV series broadcast in Britain in 2004 on Channel 4 entitled Crazy Rulers of the World which explored "the apparent madness at the heart of U.S. military intelligence". Topics included psychological operations, the First Earth Battalion, Project MKULTRA, and Frank Olson.
The book parallels and is a companion to all three parts, each about one hour long. They were...
- Part 1: "The Men Who Stare at Goats"
- Part 2: "Funny Torture"
- Part 3: "The Psychic"
Feature film adaptation
A fictionalized feature film version of the book was released in 2009 under the same name. Grant Heslov directed from a script by Peter Straughan. The movie is set in Iraq, but was filmed in Comerío Street, Bayamón, Puerto Rico and at the New Mexico Military Institute. The story centers on "Bob Wilton" (Ewan McGregor) — the Ronson stand-in — a desperate reporter who stumbles upon the story of a lifetime. He meets "Lyn Cassady" (George Clooney) — a composite character — who claims to be a former secret U.S. military psychic soldier re-activated post-9/11. Jeff Bridges plays "Bill Django" — clearly a version of Jim Channon — the founder of the psychic soldier program and Lyn's mentor. Kevin Spacey plays "Larry Hooper" — a wholly fictional character — who is a former psychic soldier now running a prison camp in Iraq. The film is prefaced with a title card stating "More of this is true than you would believe". The DVD release of The Men Who Stare at Goats includes a bonus documentary featuring Ronson and many of the people who figure prominently in his book.
Coinciding with the release of the feature film in 2009, John Sergeant, the producer of the TV series Crazy Rulers of the World, accused Ronson of "airbrushing him out of the story". While Ronson dedicated his book to Sergeant and included an afterword commending his research and guidance, the feature film did not mention his contributions.
- "George Clooney's Men Who Stare at Goats 'based on real US army experiments'". The Daily Telegraph. Oct 23, 2009. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
- Michael Shermer (24 May 2011). The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths. Henry Holt and Company. pp. 94–. ISBN 978-1-4299-7261-1.
- Adams, Tim (November 20, 2004). "Acting the giddy goat: Jon Ronson's The Men Who Stare at Goats is an inspired study of America's war on terror, says Tim Adams". The Guardian/Observer. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
- Maslin, Janet (April 7, 2005). "Books of the Times: The Men Who Stare At Goats". New York Times. Retrieved 9 April 2015.
- "Publisher Site". Jonronson.com. Retrieved 2010-03-29.
- Fischer, Russ. "The Real Documentary That Inspired The Men Who Stare at Goats". slashfilm.com. Retrieved 9 April 2015.
- Geoff Boucher (November 1, 2009). "Jeff Bridges, psychic warrior". LA Times.
- "These are The Men Who Stare at Goats". ComingSoon.net. September 12, 2008. Retrieved 2010-03-29.
- Sergeant, John (2009-12-01). "How My Involvement with The Men Who Stare at Goats Was Erased Entirely". Huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2010-03-29.
- Akbar, Arifa (2009-11-03). "Clooney caught in crossfire as war breaks out over latest film – News, Films". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2010-03-29.
- The Men Who Stare at Goats at the Internet Movie Database
- "The Crazy Rulers of the World" at the Internet Movie Database
- PDF of original First Earth Battalion manual