I’ve been trying to find this film for over a year now. Unfortunately there are no entries for it on Amazon, Ebay, or Google Shopping. I don’t think it’s ever aired in the US either. I finally managed to obtain a grainy copy which someone in the UK recorded on to their personal PAL dvr. It’s low quality but I can watch it on my computer and so I’ve finally gotten to see this documentary. I really hope this eventually gets released in the US, especially since a lot of British documentaries with a lot less interest get released out here.
The movie, The Men Who Stare At Goats, is a fictional story but it’s based on facts about the US military and intelligence agencies which were uncovered by Jon Ronson and John Sergeant. Ronson authored a book detailing his research, also titled The Men Who Stare At Goats, and he and Sergeant produced the documentary film The Crazy Rulers of the World based upon the same research. The book and documentary were later used as inspiration for the George Clooney/Ewan McGregor film, and in fact the real life counterparts of several characters and events are seen in the documentary.
The documentary aired in the BBC and was split into three episodes of about fifty minutes with each episode exploring a different theme. The documentary featured Ronson as the presenter and interviewer who sometimes interacts with his subjects in a semi-gonzo style which is common among modern documentary films. As the name suggests, the documentary is meant to be critical of the Bush administration which, at the time of its release, was continuing to allow these unorthodox techniques to be used in military use and intelligence gathering. However the attacks against the Bush administration are rather weak and thankfully few in number. It seems as if Ronson’s original intent was to attack the Bush administration with this documentary, however during the course of his research he became more convinced about the effectiveness of the techniques being employed, which restricted his ability to attack the Bush administration for continuing to use them.
Episode 1: The Men Who Stare At Goats
The first documentary explores where these New Age military programs originated and how they came to be so embraced by several different parts of the US military. However in the course of this research Ronson hears about a special forces soldier who is rumored to have once stopped the heart of a goat by staring at it, and the episode then becomes focused on finding out as much information as possible about this soldier and determining if this even really happened or if it is just a rumor.
The origins of the New Age military program trace back to a document known as the New Earth Battalion Field Manual which was written by Lt. Colonel Jim Channon who was portrayed by Jeff Bridges in the Men Who Stare at Goats. Unlike the movie though Channon never led a New Age based division of soldiers, although he was offered such an opportunity and turned it down. While serving in Vietnam Channon noticed that many of his soldiers in combat were intentionally firing high and missing the enemy. Channon believed that people who were attracted to US military service were typically noble and heroic individuals who lacked cunning, and that this was a major factor in the US’s defeat in Vietnam. Post-Vietnam Channon spent several years studying the California New Age movement in an effort to figure out a way to develop a better and more cunning soldier.
The documentary also explores how Channon’s New Age philosophies and theories came to be so well embraced by so many high ranking individuals within the US military. It has a lot to do with the psychological impact of the loss in Vietnam and I found the whole explanation to be fascinating. The entire New Earth Battalion Field Manual, once a classified military document, is now available to the general public. I’ve seen some reviewers claim that the book was a failure since the manual seems geared towards New Agers and Channon never took into account his target audience while writing it, and that typical military officers would not take the book seriously. This episode shows how completely ignorant about the military and full of crap those reviewers are as it shows how great of an influence Channon’s field manual had on the military and explores why so many officers were so quick to embrace it.
The best parts of the episode though are the interviews, the best being the two interviews that were done with New Earth Battalion soldier and martial artist Peter Brusso. At one point Brusso manages to psychically project fear into Ronson when he asks Ronson to strangle him. Brusso is a large man, a martial artist, and military soldier so its only natural that anyone would be intimidated and a bit afraid if asked to attack him. However Ronson is ridiculously scared, even after several reassurances from Brusso, and after having had attacks demonstrated on him by Brusso in a previous interview. After Ronson finally does strangle Brusso, Brusso just taps him on the upper chest sending energy through his body and causing him to tumble on to the floor. It’s a very cool video taped demonstration of energy manipulation by a man who has mastered it for combat situations.
Brusso is also the inventor of the predator. This is that weird weapon that Clooney uses on McGregor at one point in the movie. However despite what is implied by both the documentary and the movie, the predator is actually a series of similar weapons which work in a similar way all developed by Brusso (I learned all this from Brusso’s website where he sells these things, and I so want some of these now). The predator is actually used by deployed US soldiers, and it was developed to take advantage of both pressure points and the chakras in order to quickly debilitate and inflict the most amount of pain upon its victim. It’s also such an odd weapon that it isn’t covered by most existing weapon laws, so at least right now people are free to carry this thing wherever they want. Brusso is filmed giving some real life demonstrations of the weapon both on military soldiers and Ronson.
Episode 2: Funny Torture
I didn’t care much for this episode, and based on the subject matter I don’t really think it will be of much interest to practitioners. The episode deals with the military’s use of music for torture, interrogation, and to modify behavior. The episode was initially inspired by a news article that reported that Iraqi detainees were being forced to listen to Barney the Purple Dinosaur songs repeatedly as an interrogation method.
The episode traces the origins of the musical techniques being used by the US military, and once again this leads back to Jim Channon and research he did for his New Earth Battalion Field Manual. They then show how the technology was first employed against the Branch Dividians in Waco, and how it is now being used both in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.
The episode also tries to draw a connection between the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and these unorthodox and experimental forms of interrogation. This is mostly speculation with the only evidence of a connection being that one of the soldiers convicted of the torture claimed to have been acting under orders from superior officers within the Fort Bragg psi-ops division, which is a New Earth Battalion influenced division of the military and also the division of the military which is responsible for these music experiments.
The episode of course uses these new forms of musical ‘torture’ as an attack against the Bush administration and US military for using them, but it’s really hard to get behind an attack like that. I can sympathize with the Iraqi detainees who were forced to listen to Matchbox 20 at normal volume over and over again, but at the same time I’ve worked in a retail store and I know exactly how horrible this sort of torture is. The whole point of these interrogation methods is that they’re trying to develop ways to get the information while not inflicting any physical pain or lasting emotional or physical trauma. At some point these coercive techniques have to cease to be inhumane, and once we’re employing a technique that will not physically hurt someone or result in any lasting emotional or physical effect, I wonder why is this something that is inhumane to use against an enemy captive? It seems to me like this is the perfect compromise where the military is able to get the intelligence information it needs in order to do its job, protect the nation, and keep soldiers as safe as possible, and meanwhile although the enemy may have been made discomfortable and mentally manipulated, no physical or lasting psychological harm was done to them.
The major failing of this episode though is that they never figure out what exactly the military is doing with these songs. It’s discovered that it can’t be sleep deprivation, at least not entirely, which was suspected in Waco. Although theories are offered up regarding subliminal messages and mind control, exactly what is currently being attempted in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay is never discovered.
The one really interesting part about this episode though is that it briefly looks at the development of the development of non-lethal weapons for military and law enforcement use, and once again this is traced back to those influenced by Channon’s field manual. Demonstrations are shown of several exotic non-lethal weapons, those demonstrations are just really cool.
Episode 3: Psychic Footsoldiers
The third episode deals mostly with the remote viewers which are currently being used by several US federal agencies, including the FBI and CIA. I was really hoping this episode would be as good as the first, but unfortunately it failed, and this was largely due to who Ronson chose to focus on.
Although Ronson interviews several remote viewers that have worked for the US government, he focuses on Prudence Calabrese and Ed Dames. Calabrese was mentored by Courtney Brown who in turn was mentored by Dames. All three of them are a bunch of twits largely concerned with remote viewing aliens and involved with Art Bell, and its really the focus on these three which ruins the episode.
Dames was actually trained by the US military in a now defunct program to create inhouse remote viewers. Following the closure of the program Dames left the military and then broke his military confidentiality about the activities of the New Earth Battalion in order to gain publicity around himself and sell courses he taught on remote viewing. This may be the reason he jumped onto the alien bandwagon, especially considering the fact that Art Bell was one of his early promoters. Dames is not well regarded by other members of his military program and the New Earth Battalion and is seen as something of a traitor for exposing secret military information in order to promote himself.
Although the US government doesn’t currently employ inhouse psychics, since 9-11 individual agents have been authorized to hire psychics and remote viewers in order to gain intelligence. Prudence Calabrese is one of these psychics employed by the FBI, and she honestly has no right receiving tax payer money for her services and the only reason the FBI probably chose her is because of her connection to Dames. The incorrect remote viewing predictions of Calabrese and her mentor Brown were partially responsible for the Heaven’s Gate mass suicide, and other psychics Ronson interviewed warned him against Calabrese or assuming that she was a representation of all of them.
And Ronson did interview some other remote viewers, including one which was very well-regarded by all of the other government employed viewers he spoke to, and who had implied that he once managed to accurately remote view what the trigger mechanism on a Chinese nuclear device looked like. If I could have seen a demonstration of that man remote viewing, this would be a much more glowing review.
Instead the only demonstration we get is from Calabrese. Calabrese is tasked to remote view the answer to a question Ronson secretly wrote down which regarded the suspected suicide of a CIA scientist due to being experimented on with LSD against his will. It does seem as if Calabrese accurately answers the question, however Ronson’s later investigations reveal that the LSD had no effect at all on the scientist in question, and he was instead murdered by CIA members because he was planning to go public about the illegal and lethal torture he had been involved with in Europe.
Watching Calabrese’s demonstration and keeping a close eye on what is happening, Calabrese doesn’t develop the information herself but is actually getting some information from Ronson. Since the complete demonstration from beginning to end isn’t shown, it’s unclear how much information Calabrese gained from Ronson. It also isn’t clear if Calabrese was using cold techniques that Ronson just happened to be overly susceptible and oblivious to, or if Ronson was intentionally trying to lead Calabrese in order to get a successful demonstration for his documentary. It does seem as if it might be the later though, since when Ronson is leading Calabrese she seems to be trying to stop him and disagree with him. This may be a tactic which is employed to make the reading seem like less of a cold read, but it’s also very likely that Calabrese was trying really hard to make sure that her video taped demonstration didn’t look like a cold read to potential clients.
Another section of the film deals with project MKUltra and specifically a CIA scientist who mysteriously committed suicide one day. During CIA investigations following the Watergate scandal it was determined that the scientist was secretly given LSD without his knowledge and the suicide was then believed to have been a result of this bad trip.
This fits really well with the documentary’s themes of mind control and unorthodox experiments that end up going too far. However after investigating what happened it’s revealed that the LSD had no effect on the scientist, and his death had nothing to do with LSD and mind control experiments conducted by the CIA in the 50s. Instead he was involved in illegal torture in Europe, and was murdered by other CIA operatives because he was most likely about to go public with this information. It’s an interesting story, and probably worthy of its own documentary, however once the LSD and mind control angles are removed it no longer really fits the theme of this documentary, and was probably only included because the research was already done and Ronson inadvertently tied this story into his material on Calabrese.
The rest of the film focuses a lot on Calabrese and her claims that she has been threatened and now fears for her life after talking with Ronson. Calabrese’s confession about her involvement in the Heaven’s Gate suicides is treated as some major revelation and secret when its not. Calabrese’s involvement is fairly well known and easily verified, and although other psychics didn’t outright inform Ronson of this, they did everything in their power to help him make the connection. One psychic mentioned a scandal he didn’t want to talk about concerning Calabrese, that it had something to do with the Hale Bopp comet, and that she had, for publicity, been photographed wearing a Star Trek uniform. Does it take a genius reporter to get that information from someone and think that maybe they should try to research any connection Calabrese may have to Heaven’s Gate? Even as I watched the interview I thought, this has to have something to do with Heaven’s Gate, and I’m far from being a genius reporter.
A couple good interviews aside, the episode fails to provide anything of real substance for a magical practitioner. Once again I really would have liked to have seen a remote viewing session with one of the better remote viewers rather than just seeing the Calabrese session. In fact I could’ve done without the whole Calabrese story. Concentrating so heavily on this one bad apple that wormed her way into the system somehow takes the focus away from what really interested me about this episode, the remote viewing being done for the US government.