44: The Men Who Stare at Goats

Who doesn’t love a good conspiracy theory? We’ve got a doozy this week as we compare history with The Men Who Stare at Goats.

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Transcript

Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

The movie begins on a close shot of Stephen Lang’s character, Brigadier General Dean Hopgood, staring at the wall. There’s not much explanation as to why he’s staring, but he sure is staring very intently.

Then, he informs his secretary he’ll be going to the next room and charges the wall. As you might expect, when his head hits the wall, much pain ensues.

After this, in the movie, there’s some text on screen that says more of this is true than you would believe.

 

That may be true, although from the onset it’s worth pointing out that we don’t know exactly how much of this story is true. I’ve made this blanket disclaimer for a few of the other stories we’ve covered in this series, but it’s just as applicable here.

Anytime you’re dealing with a story involving governments, military, and especially programs that were, at the time, top secret—there’s a lot of room for the unknown.

For our story today, we’re dealing with all three. The government, military, and top secret experiments.

So how do we know any of this at all? Well, the CIA released hundreds of thousands of previously classified documents under Executive Order 12958 from former President Bill Clinton.

Still, despite so many files being declassified, we obviously don’t know how many files were lost. Or still kept secret.

With that disclaimer out of the way, the truth is that there was no Brigadier General Dean Hopgood. Instead, Stephen Lang’s character in the film is based on a very real person named Major General Albert Stubblebine.

From the reports of those who knew the real Major General Stubblebine, Stephen Lang’s version of Brigadier General Hopgood in the movie is extremely over-the-top and played up for comedic effect.

Although, there were reports of Major General Stubblebine trying to walk—not run—through a wall. It didn’t work, so he didn’t try it again.

After this little opening sequence, we’re introduced to a few more characters in the film. There’s Bob Wilton, who’s played by Ewan McGregor, and Gus Lacey, who’s played by Stephen Root. According to the movie, it’s Gus who convinced Bob to look into a psychic spy initiative he was a part of.

Like the name change for Stephen Lang’s character, General Hopgood, these characters were also changed. In fact, most of the character’s names in the film were changed.

We already learned that Stephen Lang’s character, Brigadier General Dean Hopgood, was an over-the-top version of Major General Albert Stubblebine.

Ewan McGregor’s character, the reporter from Ann Arbor named Bob Wilton, was also made up. Although some have speculated he might be loosely based on the writer of the book that the movie is based on, Jon Ronson.

Then there’s George Clooney’s character, Lyn Cassady. In the end credits of the film, the movie says Lyn Cassady is based on a real person named Sergeant Glenn Wheaton. While that’s true, many have also speculated the character of Lyn Cassady is also based on a few other people.

They were Lyn Buchanan, who was the inspiration for Lyn Cassady’s first name, another remote viewer named Joseph McMoneagle, as well as some elements from a man named Guy Savelli.

Like the movie says during the end credits, Jeff Bridge’s character, Bill Django, is mostly based on a man named Jim Channon. Very loosely based.

In fact, that’s a common theme. Even when characters in the film are based on real people, they’re very loosely based.

Perhaps the reason for this is because many of the events are also loosely based on real events. But then, I guess that’s what you get when you’re trying to tell a story based on a top secret military experiment. It’s next to impossible to get all of the details exactly as they were, so the blanks must be filled in somehow.

Back in the movie, Ewan McGregor’s character, Bob Wilton, meets up with George Clooney’s character, Lyn Cassady, while he’s on assignment in Iraq in 2003. While Bob had planned on covering the war in Iraq, he comes across a much better story from Lyn.

All of this is made up. In fact, most of the storyline is made up for the movie. So while we won’t really be able to look at a side-by-side comparison, we can point out some of the things that likely inspired the events we see in the movie.

Let’s start with the entire premise of the film.

There most certainly was a remote viewing program in the United States Army. Although it wasn’t the single, secret initiative at Fort Bragg called Project Jedi, like George Clooney’s character of Lyn Cassady claims.

In truth, there were a number of projects for both psychic functions and remote viewing experiments, with some of them being based out of Fort Bragg in North Carolina while there were others based out of Fort Meade in Maryland. That’s about 350 miles, or 560 kilometers, north of Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

The name Project Jedi was used by filmmakers as a blanket name, but some of the real names for the experiments sounded just like what we now know of as science fiction.

According to some reports, these experiments started at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in Menlo Park, California in 1971. While there’s been a lot of debate about why these experiments began, one of the more popular theories is the one explained in the movie—that the U.S. government believed the Soviet Union was spending money on such experiments. With the Cold War tensions growing, if the U.S. government thought the Soviet Union was pouring money into it, the U.S. government should do the same.

Or that’s the theory, at least.

Later, in 1972, the CIA offered a contract to the men at the SRI. By this point the SRI team had grown slightly, to include Ingo Swann, who started the experiments the year before, along with Harold Puthoff and Russell Targ.

Others would join in later, but those three were the primary people from the early days.

About this time is when the SRI began looking into psychics, such as the now-international celebrity psychic Uri Geller.

Many critics have claimed Uri was a fraud, but that’s not really the point of our discussion. For the purposes of our story, enough people believed Uri was the real deal to raise the eyebrow of the Department of Defense. When they asked for a professional opinion on the validity of the research, they turned to someone who thought Uri Geller was a fraud. That would be a professor at the University of Oregon named Ray Hyman.

As a result, the men at the SRI lost their government funding in 1975. In 1977 the researchers at SRI, Russel Targ and Harold Puthoff, published a book called Mind-Reach: Scientists Look at Psychic Abilities.

Was the book enough to spark new interest in the idea of remote viewing? We don’t know. But we do know the government wasn’t done with the idea.

In 1977, a new group was formed inside the Army to look specifically into the applications of remote viewing for the military. This was the first official military program, and it was code named Gondola Wish.

Why Gondola Wish? We may never know the true reason, but as best as we can tell the name came about in the way many experimental projects do, by simply combining two random words.

The Gondola Wish project focused mostly on two men, named F. Holmes Atwater and Murray Watt. As is often the case in the military, both men had nicknames. Murray’s nickname was “Scotty” and F. Holmes’ nickname was “Skip.”

If you remember, in the movie, George Clooney introduces himself to Ewan McGregor’s character as “Skip” at first. That name was a reference to F. Holmes Atwater, who was one of the first men in the Army’s remote viewing program.

Gondola Wish lasted for a couple years, from 1977 to 1979. Then, more men were recruited and brought into a newly named project called Grill Flame.

Both F. Holmes and Murray were in Grill Flame along with eight other men, one of those being Joseph McMoneagle. If you remember, parts of George Clooney’s character are based on Joseph. 

Another member of the Grill Flame project was a man named Mel Riley. In the movie, when George Clooney and Ewan McGregor’s characters meet, Lyn Cassady makes a passing mention of a remote viewer named Mel Landau. There is no Mel Landau, but this Mel is likely a nod to the real person, Mel Riley.

Grill Flame lasted from 1979 to 1983. Then there was Center Lane, which lasted from 1983 to 1985. After Grill Flame, Mel Riley left the project as did Murray Watt.

But F. Holmes, “Skip”, stayed on, as did Joseph McMoneagle. There were some new men brought onto the project, too. One of these was Lyn Buchanan, who joined the project in 1984.

Then came Dragoon Absorb, the code name for the experiments between 1985 and 1986. Both Lyn and F. Holmes were still a part of the experiments at this point.

Since the fictional Lyn Cassady says he was a part of a secret project in the 1980s to create a super soldier, he’s most likely referring to the project that came after Dragoon Absorb.

In 1986, the Dragoon Absorb project ended and was folded into a new project called Sun Streak. While we’ve already learned this was not the first time a project was renamed due to personnel change or some other change in the project, this time it was both personnel change and a change in the project’s goal. At some point in 1985, the government decided to split the remote viewing experiments, something that happened in 1986 when Sun Streak started.

Project Sun Streak was purely military, while remote viewing strictly for scientific research was carried on separately. To give you an idea of how much the government weighed into the military applications of remote viewing compared to the scientific research, there were 14 men involved in project Sun Streak. This included Lyn Buchanan, F. Holmes “Skip” Atwater and coming back for a second tour—the only person to do so—Mel Riley.

Meanwhile, there were only two men who were devoted to the scientific side, Gary Langford and Joseph McMoneagle.

It’s pretty obvious the government’s priorities were heavily on the military side.

Oh, and when I say there were 14 men in one program and two men on the scientific side, that doesn’t mean those were the only people involved. That’s just the number of people who were assigned to the program. For lack of a better way of putting it, they were the ones being experimented on. No doubt there were countless doctors, scientists and other people involved in the research, though.

With all of these names it can get confusing. So what of the name Lyn Cassady mentions in the movie? Project Jedi?

According to the real Glenn Wheaton, there was actually a Project Jedi. It wasn’t the overall name of the various remote viewing experiments like Gondola Wish or Sun Streak, but rather it was the name of a project within those projects.

Glenn recalled many years later that Project Jedi was specifically to study what the Army referred to as paranormal powers.

This project started after Glenn witnessed something else we see in the movie—a goat dying just by someone staring at it.

In the movie, it’s George Clooney’s character of Lyn Cassady who stares at a goat so intensely that the goat perishes. 

According to the real Glenn Wheaton, though, he wasn’t the one who killed the goat with his mind. But he was there to witness it.

Glenn recalled the event as happening on a typical day of training like any other. After their morning ritual of jogging about ten or so miles to start the day, Glenn and the rest of his team, the 5th Special Forces of the Green Berets, went to meet with their trainer, a man named Mike Echanis.

In the movie, the fictional character based on Mike Echanis is Ben Echmeyer, who’s portrayed in the film by Morse Bicknell.

Anyway, Mike was a master at hand-to-hand combat. As a part of his training the Berets, it was common for Mike to use an area they affectionally called the Bear Pit. By Glenn’s recollection, the Bear Pit was about ten feet deep, about 60 to 80 feet wide and filled with sand.

On this particular day, though, Mike Echanis wasn’t alone in the pit when Glenn and the rest of the Green Berets showed up for training. Along with Mike in the pit was a goat.

Like the movie shows, the U.S. Army’s use of goats for training purposes was very true. They’d use them to help train soldiers to do everything from fix wounds to how to kill and prepare the meat.

Anyway, according to Glenn it was Mike who stared at the goat. Without touching the animal, he focused on the goat so intently that, after a few moments, it started to bleat and cry. But Mike didn’t let up. He kept staring.

The goat dropped to its knees and they could see blood coming out of its nose. Then, only a few seconds later, the goat’s mouth began to froth something Glenn referred to as red suds. Finally, the goat fell and died. 

After this event, Glenn said the military decided to look into whether or not this was a one-time event. Could Mike Echanis really kill animals with his mind? Could anyone do it?

That was the basis for Project Jedi.

Just to put this into perspective, Project Jedi was the name of a top secret project inside of a top secret project. And there were very few people involved in this project-ception, so hopefully I don’t have to say we need to take all of this with a grain of salt.

But then again, we know for sure that the government was involved in psychic remote viewing experiments for military applications. So maybe they had a good reason for spending millions of dollars over the span of decades on these experiments.

Although Project Jedi started, as Glenn claimed, after Mike Echanis killed the goat with his mind, the timeline in the movie would’ve been a bit off. Remember earlier when George Clooney’s version of Lyn Cassady says this happened in the 1980s?

Well, sadly, Mike Echanis died at the age of 27 on a mission in Nicaragua on September 8th, 1978. However, we know from documentation that he was responsible for developing a hand-to-hand training course for the soldiers at Fort Bragg in December of 1975.

And according to Glenn’s recollection, the events in the Bear Pit happened in the dead of winter. So maybe it was in 1975 that this happened instead of the 1980s like the movie claims. We don’t know, but it sure is fascinating.

Back in the movie, another major character that plays a role in the film is Jeff Daniels’ portrayal of Bill Django. We already learned that the character of Bill Django is very loosely based on a man named Jim Channon. 

The real Jim Channon was interviewed several times by Jon Ronson, the author of the book The Men Who Stare at Goats on which the movie is based. The character in the movie is a very laid back person with some rather extreme views.

That seems to fit with what we know about Jim Channon. While Jim’s name didn’t come up as a member of Gondola Wish, Grill Flame, Center Land, Dragoon Absorb or Sun Streak, he was in the U.S. Army for two decades from 1962 to 1982.

During this time, and more specifically toward the end of his military career, he began to work on what he referred to as the First Earth Battalion. In 1979, he published an operations manual for the Battalion, something he claims helped him be given the command of the Battalion when he presented it to military officers.

 Is this true? We don’t really know. All we have is Jim’s word, and it probably doesn’t help that he’s fluctuated on his side of the story. By this, I mean on separate occasions, Jim claimed high ranking officers in the U.S. military gave him command of the First Earth Battalion in Kentucky in 1979 and that it happened in 1983 in Kansas.

As far-fetched as his claims may sound, again it’s worth noting that he’s not the only one to seems to have found some validity in them. When he retired from the U.S. Army, Jim Channon found work as a consultant to globally respected companies like AT&T and Whirlpool. But he wasn’t a typical business consultant, he was something Fortune magazine referred to as the business world’s first corporate shaman.

Back in the movie, the final plot point occurs when Kevin Spacey’s character, Larry Hooper, leaves the Army program in favor of going private. The implied storyline here seems to be that Larry’s trying to make a buck off the government by commercializing the experiments.

While Larry Hooper is a fictitious character, like the other characters we’ve learned about so far, he’s based on someone who is real. In this case, Larry’s storyline in the movie is probably closest to a man name Ed Dames.

Ed joined the Center Lane project in 1984, but only lasted for a few months.

As a little side note here, in the movie Kevin Spacey’s character, Larry Hooper, mentions the name of his company as P.S.I.C., or Psychic Systems International Corp.

In 1989, the real Ed Dames would help found a company called PSI TECH that does exactly what Larry Hooper’s company seems to do in the film—commercialize remote viewing.

Interestingly, if you go to PSI TECH’s website at psitech.net, you’ll find a testimonial from none other than Major General Albert Stubblebine. According to the site, he used to be the Chairman of the Board at PSI TECH.

In the movie, things come to an end as both Lyn Cassady and Bill Django ride a helicopter off into the sunset, never to be heard from again. Meanwhile, Bob Wilton returns to Michigan to write up the whole story.

As with most of the storyline in the film, this is made up. But perhaps just as fascinating is how the real remote viewing projects came to an end.

After Ed Dames left the Sun Streak project and started his own commercial company, like the movie implies when we see a bunch of people from the military project joining Kevin Spacey’s character’s company, Ed had managed to bring some of those from the military program along with him.

These included General Albert Stubblebine along with Colonel John Alexander as board members. Lyn Buchanan and Mel Riley, along with a few other long-time remote viewers named David Morehouse and Paul Smith were all contracted by Ed’s company.

With so many leaving the military to start a private practice, the military feared the project details might leak. So in 1990, the project known as Sun Streak came to an end. Project Sun Streak was followed by a project that would end up being the name synonymous with the entire program.

Project Star Gate began in 1990 after a man name Dale Graff took over as the head of the project at Fort Meade. Both Lyn Buchanan and Mel Riley were still involved on the military side, while Joseph McMoneagle was involved on the purely scientific side.

Along with Lyn, Mel and Joe were Paul Smith, Gabrielle Pettingell, David Morehouse, Ken Bell and people we only know as Greg S., Angela D., and Robin D.

As recently as June 30th, 1995, the Star Gate remote viewing program officially moved from the Department of Defense to the CIA, who immediately canceled it.

We’d likely never know about any of this if it weren’t for one of the men who started it at the Stanford Research Institute. In 1995, the same year the CIA shut down the program, Russell Targ submitted an official Freedom of Information Act to get the documents surrounding the entire Star Gate project released.

As a result, and as part of a release that included over 420,000 documents, about 12,000 of those documents were from the decades of remote viewing studies done by the military.

To this day, there are countless people who have poured over those documents as well as the accounts of people who were there. Many of those people are still alive. 

Joseph McMoneagle has offered numerous interviews about his experiences after leaving the military, including some with The Men Who Stare at Goats author Jon Ronson. Although those interviews were for Jon’s documentary called Crazy Rulers of the World.

Lyn Buchanan left the remote viewing program in 1992 and founded a company called P.S.I., which stands for Problems > Solutions > Innovations. It’s a company he still runs today, and you can learn more about his company over at crviewer.com.

As for Glenn Wheaton, after retiring from the military, he started a non-profit organization in his home state of Hawaii called the Hawaii Remote Viewer’s Guild. Through his non-profit, Glenn offers free advice and consultation for civilians like you and I to improve mental focus. You can learn more about his organization and even grab a PDF copy of the original The Men Who Stare at Goats script that he has hosted on his site over at hrvg.org.

As for the rest of the men who were involved in the remote viewing program for the U.S. government, most of them have gone their separate ways. Many have, like Joe, Glenn and Lyn, continued remote viewing in some form or fashion, though. For example, Guy Savelli has had his stories published in numerous scientific papers as he’s made a living as a martial arts teacher focusing on the mental and spiritual side of the martial arts.

If you remember, Guy Savelli was one of the men who went into the character of Lyn Cassady. He’s the one who influenced the Dim Mak. That’s the “Touch of Death” that George Clooney’s character claims to be able to do—something Guy Savelli also claims to be able to do.

Jim Channon, the man who influenced Jeff Bridge’s character of Bill Django, is also still alive. When he was interviewed by Jon Ronson for his Crazy Rules of the World documentary, Jim claimed to still be consulting for the military elite, such as the Chief of Staff of the Army at the time. Oh, and he also made sure to mention he’s still officially the commander of the First Earth Battalion.

 Regardless of where you fall on how real the concept of remote viewing may be, no one can deny that, for a period of over two decades, the U.S. military took it seriously enough to dedicate an incredible amount of time, resources and people to its study.

So I can’t help but wonder…in 1995, we found out about a top secret program that the government had funded for over two decades. What other top secret, government projects are happening right now that we won’t know about for decades, if ever.

It doesn’t matter if you believe remote viewing and psychic powers to be true or not. After all, your belief in the experiments doesn’t stop one fact from being true: The U.S. government has spent millions of taxpayer dollars on programs like these.

Keep that in mind as you file your taxes. Maybe in a couple decades you and I will finally be able to learn exactly what the taxes we’re paying today are going to help fund.

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