Just when you thought your government couldn't get any more bizarre, a British journalist's book shines a light on some really odd research, conducted by really odd people, at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville. In other places, too, but Fayetteville appears to have played a very significant role in the recruitment of military nut cases, er, excuse me, "psychic spies" -- all of which, naturally, is being paid for with your taxes.
Author Jon Ronson's book originally came out in 2004 as an accompaniment to his British documentary The Crazy Rulers of the World, and has now been re-released in advance of the debut later this year of a movie version with George Clooney and Ewan McGregor.
The book begins, "This is a true story," and introduces readers to one General Bert Stubblebine, who is repeatedly "confounded by his continual failure to walk through his wall." It's funny until you remember it's for real. And then the book gets weirder.
Ronson reveals that a secret wing of the U.S. military, called the First Earth Battalion, was started in 1979 in order to create "Warrior Monks." These were to be soldiers who could become invisible, read minds, walk through walls, foretell the future, and even kill animals just by staring at them.
One of the code names for part of this insane endeavor was The Stargate Project (no relation to the TV show), which was set up by the government to look into the military applications of "psychic spying." The projects were active until 1995 when they were largely shut down. But then came George W. Bush and the "war on terror," and the goofiness was cranked up again.
After Ronson talked to a former psychic spy who told him he'd been reactivated following 9-11, he began to investigate the Army's otherworldly sorties. He meets one ex-Army employee who says he killed a goat and a hamster by staring at them for a long time; this man, too, was "reactivated" and sent to the Middle East. Other sources tell Ronson the U.S. military has sent "psychic assassins" to Iraq and other countries to hunt down al-Qaeda members. Eventually, Ronson finds out that some of the First Earth Batallion's past ideas inspired weird torture methods that were used in Iraq, such as subjecting prisoners to Barney the Dinosaur's "I Love You, You Love Me" song for 24 hours.
The characters in Ronson's well-written, colorful book are strange, and get stranger as the book goes on, each weirder than the last. The author himself moves from states of disbelief and amazement, to curiosity, and dry humor. As the revelations become more outlandish, the line between reality and bizarre comedy starts to blur and the book becomes more and more unsettling. Once the details of the Army's past experiments start showing up in Iraq, Ronson's book could send a chill up your spine.