The Men Who Stare at Goats (2004) by Jon Ronson is a bizarre tale about the completely weird and sometimes disturbing attempts to use the paranormal by the US military and US intelligence services. The book gets its name from attempts to kill goats by staring at them.
The books starts with attempts by Albert Stubblebine to walk through walls. Remarkably, these attempts were not successful. The strange development of The First Earth Battalion is then documented. The various psychic groups that the US military has employed to try and find the location of terrorists and others are described and lampooned. It’s all to crazy to believe and yet quite plausible.
The experience of Vietnam and the failure to win ‘hearts and minds’ there coupled with the New Age movement and the use of martial arts morphed into these completely weird attempts to use psychic powers to stop people’s hearts and to sense their thoughts and other weirdness is documented with bemusing clarity.
According to Ronson there were some developments that came out of these programs in nonlethal weapons including hardening foam that have been tried but have largely failed. Attempts at subliminal messaging may have also happened.
Incredibly martial arts experts who were involved in some of these programs did wind up in contact with two of the September 11 bombers. Ronson believes that while researching the book at one point someone thought he may also be a terrorist.
The book goes on to allege that various ‘psychic soldiers’ were reactivated in the war on terror and that various techniques they developed may have been tried at the Waco siege and at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. It’s disturbingly plausible.
Towards the end the book oddly veers toward the MK-ULTRA program where the CIA experimented with the surreptitious administration of drugs and other techniques that was illegal. The book makes the allegation that Frank Olson was killed rather than committed suicide from the results of LSD induced psychosis.
The book is odd and a little unsatisfying. In parts it is hilarious but in parts it appears to be an unhinged conspiracy theory. It’s a fun read overall.