Thomas John Flanagan

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Thomas John
Thomas John closeup.jpg
Born
Thomas John Flanagan

(1984-07-08) July 8, 1984 (age 35)[1]
NationalityAmerican
Other namesLady Vera Parker[1]
OccupationSelf-described Psychic medium
Websitewww.mediumthomas.com

Thomas John Flanagan, known professionally as Thomas John, is a former Chicago drag queen,[3] who claims to be a psychic medium with paranormal abilities. He has been called the "Manhattan Medium" and stars in the reality TV show, Seatbelt Psychic. An investigation by Susan Gerbic determined that the riders in this show were hired actors,[4] and in 2019 it was revealed by a New York Times report that a sting operation found John was using information acquired from audience Facebook accounts during group readings.[5][6][7]

In 2009, John was arrested and pleaded guilty to felony fraud for posting fake apartment ads on Craigslist and stealing the security deposits from renters.[8]

Drag queen career[edit]

Prior to becoming a medium, John performed in drag around Chicago under the name Lady Vera Parker.[1][3]

John is an official promoter of the 2019 Miss Gay New York America pageant, which uses the slogan "Where Boys Are Boys and Female Impersonation is an Art", and is scheduled to be held on March 19, 2019.[9]

Mediumship[edit]

Thomas John on stage in 2017

John first started working professionally as a medium in his mid-20s, and now divides his work between New York City and Los Angeles. He counts among his clients Julianne Moore, Jennifer Lopez, Stevie Nicks, Goldie Hawn, and Courteney Cox.[10]

Despite the scientific skeptic consensus that mediumship is a con,[11][12] several media organizations have credulously promoted John, claiming he has paranormal powers,[13] including Vogue magazine,[10] The Hollywood Reporter,[14] SF Weekly,[15] WJBK,[16] and WPIX.[17] In a 2019 television segment on Last Week Tonight, John Oliver criticized the media for promoting TV psychics such as John, because this exposure convinces viewers that psychic powers are real, and so enable neighborhood psychics to prey on grieving families. Oliver said "...when psychic abilities are presented as authentic, it emboldens a vast underworld of unscrupulous vultures, more than happy to make money by offering an open line to the afterlife, as well as many other bullshit services."[18][19][20]

In a June 2019 Skeptical Inquirer article titled I'm Speechless! Thomas John Reads KJBK Fox2 Derek Kevrea, Susan Gerbic reported on an appearance by John on a daytime TV show where he gave a reading to staff meteorologist, Derek Kevrea, and claimed to deliver messages from his dead relative. Kevra's feedback was that what John told him was accurate. In a Facebook video, Kevra later said "I'm speechless … Thomas John communicated with my grandpa … He said he is proud of you … it's a miracle I held it together." In her article, Gerbic reported that with a little research she discovered the information provided was available from social media and other sources available to John.[21] Regarding Kevrea's proclamation, Gerbic says:

It isn't the sitter’s fault when this kind of thing happens... Caught up in the moment, especially when your coworkers are sitting right there saying that this is real, it’s easy to see how someone might believe all this. Plus, this is live morning TV, everything needs to be happy and fun. He needs to play along.[21]

Seatbelt Psychic[edit]

Lifetime produced a reality TV show starring John called Seatbelt Psychic. This show began its run on July 11, 2018, and stars John as a ride-share driver who surprises “unsuspecting” passengers when he delivers messages from their deceased relatives. It is produced by Zeb Newman, Ryan Simpkins, Sarah Happel, Emma Conway, Brie Miranda Bryant, and Ben Winston.[17][14][22]

John's alleged psychic abilities in the context of the show have been challenged by Susan Gerbic, a skeptical activist and fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, who discovered that John's passengers are actually actors, several of which are documented in IMDb. Gerbic concluded that the riders were likely hired to ride with John, but were probably not acting when talking with him. She concluded that the details about their lives mentioned by John were easily found on social media sources, and likely fed to John, making the readings actually hot readings. One rider, Wendy Westmoreland, played a character on Stalked by a Doctor, a TV show also produced by Lifetime.[4][23]

Operation Pizza Roll[edit]

"Susanna Wilson" (Susan Gerbic) and "Mark Wilson" (Mark Edward) undercover, with unsuspecting John after their 2017 reading

In March 2017, John was caught doing a hot reading in a sting operation named "Operation Pizza Roll" which was planned and implemented by Susan Gerbic and mentalist Mark Edward. The unmarried couple Gerbic and Edward attended John's show using aliases, and were "read" as a married couple Susanna and Mark Wilson by John. During the entire reading, John failed to determine the actual identities of Gerbic and Edward, or that they were being deceptive during his reading. All personal information he gave them matched what was on their falsified Facebook accounts, rather than being about their actual lives, and John pretended he was getting this information from Gerbic and Edward's supposedly dead—but actually nonexistent—relatives.[6][24][25]

As Jack Hitt reported in The New York Times:

"Over the course of the reading, John comfortably laid down the specifics of Susanna Wilson’s life — he named “Andy” and amazingly knew him to be her twin. He knew that she and her brother grew up in Michigan and that his girlfriend was Maria. He knew about Susanna’s father-in-law and how he died."[5]

These details were from the falsified Facebook accounts for the pair which were prepared by a group of skeptics in advance of the reading, and Gerbic and Edward were not aware of the specific information in these accounts.[7] This blinding was done in order to avoid John later being able to claim he obtained the false information by reading Gerbic and Edward's minds.[6][24][25]

In her report, Gerbic also revealed that during an after-show private event, John disclosed in a group setting that at least one of the people in the audience which he did a reading about was actually his own student.[6][23][24]

When Hitt reached out to John for comment, John insisted that he did not use Facebook, saying "I do remember her [Gerbic] coming to an event... I recognized her because she was there with that other guy who wrote that book." He also told Hitt that "I have my eyes closed for an hour and a half when I'm doing readings. If she spoke up during that period of time, I don't remember that." John also argued that the entire experiment wasn’t really scientific enough, saying "For Susan to come to a reading and get a two-minute reading and say, well, 'I made a fake post about my dog, Buddy, and my father who died,' it’s really not any sort of scientific testing of psychic powers." He added, "First off, someone will have to be a scientist to do a scientific experiment, not someone who used to be a photographer at Sears."[5]

When asked whether psychics would change their behavior now that they knew her methods, Gerbic said "I hope they see Gerbics in their audience every time they look out and wonder if we might be there." [26]

Operation Pizza Roll was summarized by Claus Larsen on SkepticReport.com in an article titled Is Thomas John a real psychic? Not a ghost of a chance!, which also included an interview of Gerbic about the sting and its aftermath.[27]

In a June 2019 Skeptical Inquirer article titled Thomas John Revisited, Gerbic reported on the aftermath of the sting. This including a report of a "Facebook Live" stream, where John attempted to prove his paranormal powers to fans following the sting revelation by doing what was claimed to be a "scientifically controlled reading" of a supposed stranger. Gerbic dissected the performance, giving details as to why it was the opposite of scientifically controlled, and described how once again Facebook information could easily have been accessed, despite assurances otherwise. "One of my team members gave me a list of all the hits that Thomas John got during the reading... and then my team member gave me screenshots of [the sitter's] Facebook page where she posts things that are the same as what Thomas John told her." Also, despite John's claims that "NO I do not Google people. NO I do not research people. NO I do not go onto people’s obituaries. I do not go onto Ancestry.com." Gerbic's article includes screenshots of John's monitor captured during the live steam. These pictures contain saved reading lists from past Google searches, including searches for specific individuals as well as for intelius.com, a website which states that it is "a confidential way to find people so you can reconnect or just get more info on a person. People Search reports can include phone numbers, address history, age & date of birth, relatives, and more. Find a person you’re curious about — search today!"[28]

In an August 2019, Gerbic followed-up Thomas John Revisited with another article, Three Parents Reveal The Truth About Psychic Thomas John, which covered the aftermath of her sting operation. The article investigates a video uploaded by John on March 24, shortly after The New York Times sting article was published, in which John reads "three grieving women", and claims the results validate his paranormal powers. In her article, Gerbic does a point-by-point analysis of these readings, and offers evidence that the items claimed to have been "impossible" for John to know without supernatural help, were easily available online.[29] Gerbic's conclusion included:

...when you make testable claims—as these grieving mothers did—that the information that TJ gave them is not located anywhere on the internet, then I hope you will think twice. This "unfindable" information was found and presented here, and it can be found by anyone in just a few minutes of online searching. It’s even quicker if you have an account on a website such as intellius.com—something we know TJ has because it was bookmarked on his computer.[29]

Felony fraud conviction and other legal problems[edit]

On June 30, 2009 John was arrested and charged with two offences, of theft and theft by deception. It was alleged that he advertised and collected rent on properties that he did not own. He was found guilty on both counts, and sentenced to probation on July 2, 2009.[30][8]

The Daily News article reported that John was being sued by a California-based public relations firm, ZTPR, because he hadn't paid their bill. John had hired ZTPR to repair his public relations image after the Daily News uncovered and reported on his fraud conviction. According to court papers, ZTPR "completed all the services of helping him build and exaggerate in the press his public profile as a believable psychic medium". Slattery reported that John "told The News he's worked out a settlement with ZTPR, but... ZTPR president Zack Teperman said the matter was still being reviewed by the company's lawyers."[8]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Never Argue with a Dead Person: True and Unbelievable Stories from the Other Side[31]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Shaff, Jay (6 July 2009). "Lady Vera Parker arrested and jailed". chicago.gopride.com. Go Pride. Archived from the original on 2 July 2018. Retrieved 2 July 2018.}
  2. ^ "Famous psychic, John Thomas,scandal that rocked the media world and Paranormal world". Paranormal Herald Magazine. 11 September 2015. Archived from the original on 30 June 2018. Retrieved 30 June 2018.
  3. ^ a b Slattery, Denis (25 July 2015). "'Manhattan Medium' Thomas John has celeb clientele — and shady past as scammer and drag queen". NYdailynews.com. NY Daily News. Archived from the original on 29 June 2018. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  4. ^ a b Gerbic, Susan (February 21, 2019). "Buckle Up - Seatbelt Psychic". Center for Inquiry. Archived from the original on February 23, 2019. Retrieved February 23, 2019.
  5. ^ a b c Hitt, Jack (February 26, 2019). "Inside the Secret Sting Operations to Expose Celebrity Psychics". New York Times. Archived from the original on February 26, 2019. Retrieved February 26, 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d Gerbic, Susan (February 21, 2019). "Operation Pizza Roll- Thomas John". Archived from the original on February 23, 2019. Retrieved February 23, 2019.
  7. ^ a b Garza, Frida (27 February 2019). "Of Course Psychics Are Reading Your Facebook Page". Jezebel.com. Jezebel. Archived from the original on 28 February 2019. Retrieved 28 February 2019.
  8. ^ a b c Slattery, Denis (23 March 2016). "Manhattan psychic who ran Craigslist scam sued for owing money to PR firm hired to fix his image". nydailynews.com. NY Daily News. Archived from the original on 29 June 2018. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  9. ^ "Miss Gay New York America (A Standard Regional Preliminary)". Missgayamerica.com. Archived from the original on 16 January 2019. Retrieved 16 January 2019.
  10. ^ a b Anderson, Kristin (15 October 2016). "How a Celebrity Psychic Turned One Proud Skeptic Into a Believer". Vogue.com. Vogue. Archived from the original on 29 June 2018. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  11. ^ Propatier, Stephen. "Susan Gerbic: Vampire Slayer". Skeptoid.com. Skeptoid Media. Archived from the original on 9 September 2017. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  12. ^ Swiss, Jamy Ian. "Jamy Ian Swiss - In Pursuit of Psychics: For Good Reason". Youtube.com. James Randi Foundation. Archived from the original on 14 June 2014. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  13. ^ Pevos, Edward (16 November 2017). "We can't explain our encounter with psychic medium Thomas John: See for yourself". Mlive.com. Michigan Live. Archived from the original on 30 June 2018. Retrieved 30 June 2018.
  14. ^ a b Gardner, Chris (22 June 2018). "'Seatbelt Psychic' Thomas John on New Lifetime Show: "Skeptics are Definitely Welcome"". hollywoodreporter.com. Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 30 June 2018. Retrieved 30 June 2018.
  15. ^ Quick, Quentin (29 June 2018). "Celebrity Medium Thomas John Breaks on Through (To the Other Side)". SFweekly.com. SF Weekly. Archived from the original on 29 June 2018. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  16. ^ "Psychic medium Thomas John returns for show in West Bloomfield April 12". Fox2detroit.com. Fox News. 12 April 2018. Archived from the original on 30 June 2018. Retrieved 30 June 2018.
  17. ^ a b Ramos, Andrew (28 June 2018). "Renowned medium Thomas John spooks ride-share passengers in 'Seatbelt Psychic'". pix11.com/. PIX 11. Archived from the original on 28 June 2018. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  18. ^ Horton, Adrian (February 25, 2019). "John Oliver on psychics: 'A vast underworld of unscrupulous vultures'". The Guardian. Archived from the original on February 25, 2019. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
  19. ^ Mehta, Hemant (25 February 2019). "John Oliver Exposed the Media's Complicity in Promoting Psychic "Mediums"". Friendlyatheist.patheos.com. Patheos. Archived from the original on 26 February 2019. Retrieved 25 February 2019.
  20. ^ "Psychics: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)". Youtube. LastWeekTonight. Archived from the original on 25 February 2019. Retrieved 25 February 2019.
  21. ^ a b Gerbic, Susan (26 June 2019). "I'm Speechless! Thomas John Reads KJBK Fox2 Derek Kevrea". skepticalinquirer.org. CFI. Archived from the original on 29 June 2019. Retrieved 29 June 2019.
  22. ^ Blanton, Kayla (July 11, 2019). "How Do You Get On 'Seatbelt Psychic'? The Contestants On Lifetime's Reality Series Get A Reading In Addition To Their Ride". Bustle. Archived from the original on January 23, 2019. Retrieved January 23, 2019.
  23. ^ a b Mehta, Hemant (23 February 2019). "Skeptics Set a Trap and a So-Called "Celebrity Medium" Fell for the Hoax". Friendlyatheist.patheos.com. Patheos. Archived from the original on 24 February 2019. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  24. ^ a b c Westbrook, Thomas (28 February 2019). "Thomas John (The Seatbelt Psychic) - Busted for Cheating!". Youtube.com. Holy Koolaid. Retrieved 1 March 2019.
  25. ^ a b Javier Leiva (2 July 2019). "The Psychic Grief Vampires" (Podcast). Pretend Radio. Retrieved 3 July 2019.
  26. ^ Hemant, Mehta. "An Inside Look at How the Guerrilla Skeptics Expose Famous "Psychic Mediums"". friendlyatheist.patheos.com. Patheos. Archived from the original on 2019-02-27. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  27. ^ Larsen, Claus. "Is Thomas John a real psychic? Not a ghost of a chance!". Skepticreport.com. Skeptic Report. Archived from the original on 2 July 2019. Retrieved 2 July 2019.
  28. ^ Gerbic, Susan (4 June 2019). "Thomas John Revisited". Skeptical Inquirer. CFI. Archived from the original on 7 June 2019. Retrieved 7 June 2019.
  29. ^ a b Gerbic, Susan (28 August 2019). "Three Parents Reveal The Truth About Psychic Thomas John". Skepticalinquirer.org. CFI. Archived from the original on 28 August 2019. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  30. ^ Shaff, Jay (9 July 2009). "Drag Queen Lady Vera Parker Arrested In Chicago". On Top Magazine. Archived from the original on 24 January 2019. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  31. ^ John, Thomas (25 February 2015). Never Argue with a Dead Person: True and Unbelievable Stories from the Other Side. Hampton Roads Publishing. ISBN 978-1571747242. Archived from the original on 22 September 2016. Retrieved 2 July 2018.}

External links[edit]