The Men Who Stare at Goats
| Putting the psycho in|
|Men who stare at goats|
|By the powers of tinfoil|
The Men Who Stare at Goats (no relation to us) is a book (and later movie) about various paranormal woo and New Age ideas used by the US Army. It was released in 2004 and based on research done by the author, Jon Ronson, and documentary maker John Sergeant.
Woo in the military
Among the many claims revealed in the book was that the US military ran a project to kill the eponymous goats by staring at them. This was said to have taken place at Fort Bragg in a building known as the "Goat Lab", where de-bleated goats were routinely shot in order for Special Forces medics to train to respond to battlefield injury. Central to the New Age themes of these special projects is something known as the First Earth Battalion. The Battalion's "operations manual" was written by Lieutenant Colonel Jim Channon, who is also involved with those founding the Human Potential Movement — and many of the ideas are the same, but adapted for military purposes.
This project included trying to train soldiers to see "plant auras," whatever that means, and attempting to put together a corps of soldiers who would win battles by parachuting into enemy territory and walking calmly towards hostile soldiers while carrying "symbolic peace animals." While a lot of the First Earth Battalion mentality focused on mysticism, a "warrior monk" ethos and a few pacifistic ideas, it also described the use of every kind of psychic power known. As the project progressed, it degenerated from "psychic peace activists" to "kill enemies with our brains." Channon and company claimed to be able to "burst" clouds just by staring at them and eventually worked their way up to killing small rodents by staring them to death and finally moving on to goats.
Even though there is zero evidence that any of these psychic powers actually worked, like MKULTRA and related projects, there is evidence to suggest the people involved took them very seriously indeed. Much of the First Earth Battalion's manual can be found online and Channon explains that the original purpose was to get the military thinking "out of the box" for how to train front-line soldiers in a potential war with the Soviet Union, where being outnumbered and out-gunned would mean that traditional approaches (not least to keeping discipline and morale) would struggle.
The War on Terror
Among the New Age-inspired projects and psychic conspiracy research mentioned in the book are several anecdotes relating to the War on Terror and the use of psychological operations by the military. In these revelations, it is claimed that the incidents of prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib, and specifically the photographs involving Lynndie England, were staged by the CIA as a form of propaganda. This is the version of events also maintained by England herself after media interviews in 2004. Stories of odd forms of torture are also recounted in the book, viz., the stories where the theme songs of Sesame Street and Barney & Friends were used to torture those caught in Afghanistan and Iraq. While there is a claim that using these methods was a cover for some form of experimental subliminal messaging for use in interrogation, there is a more sinister reason suggested: that such incidents were set up to act as amusing anecdotes to desensitize the US population to the fact that the government was openly torturing people — the writers of the Sesame Street theme are on record joking about what royalties they can get from the situation and various newscasters have actually laughed on air about the situation.
Crazy Rulers of the World
Crazy Rulers of the World is a 2004 three-part documentary created for the British Channel 4 and written, directed and presented by Jon Ronson. It covers approximately the same material as the book. The three parts are "The Men Who Stare at Goats", "Funny Torture" and "Psychic Foot-Soldiers".
That movie with George Clooney
In November 2009, the movie version of the book, starring Ewan McGregor and George Clooney, was released. The film differs from Goats in that it introduces a linear plot — it is essentially a road movie — and tells the story of the First Earth Battalion in flashback form. Several of the real life characters from the book were split or changed for the film; Jim Channon was changed to Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) although some facts about Channon were merged into Lyn Cassady (Clooney) while Bob Wilton (McGregor) is loosely based around Jon Ronson himself — although the events of the film have little to do with Ronson's real life experiences or his research with John Sergeant into the New Age military.