The workshop was held downtown at the Marriott and I arrived early. I took a seat in the back of the room which at that time was maybe 30 per cent full. Almost immediately, a young man sat down beside me. Although the room was fairly empty, he chose the seat right next to me. I thought it interesting that he gravitated to me. I introduced myself, we shook hands and exchanged pleasantries.
Now, I knew that this young man was troubled. He was twitchy, ill-at-ease and obviously distraught. Meaning no disrespect to the man, but he resembled a young Don Knotts and was the same bundle of nerves that Knotts brought to Barney Fife. He carried his own bible to the workshop and repeatedly rose to leave the room. Often he was ushered back in by one of Larson’s assistants who was familiar with the man and called him by name.
I knew that he would be one of the people who would “need an exorcism” in the course of the night. Having him next to me would put me into the action but I didn’t choose this spot, he did, so I stayed put.
The event started at 7 pm but Larson came in about 10 minutes early and started showing a videotape of his recent trip to Australia. It was a “short version” of a documentary which he assured the crowd was going to be seen in its full form on secular TV stations all across the country. The deal was almost signed, he said.
It may have been the short version but it went on for about 35 minutes, detailing not only his exorcisms in that country but also Larson having fun fighting rubber crocs, playing with his three daughters (4, 7 and 11…whom he brought up repeatedly) and climbing a high staircase to cure his fear of heights.
That was followed by Larson exhorting the audience to raise to their feet and “hug the people around you,” which spread to the whole room. Then there was the singing of a hymn and a quick prayer.
When that was over, Larson spent the next half hour talking about the missions he’s been on all around the world and the excitement he feels about going to Germany for the first time in the coming weeks. He believes that Germany is the key to unlocking the entire European continent for his ministry since they are a powerful and rich nation.
Larson gave a quick overview of what he does, listing the four important points of the evening. He didn’t have time to delve deeply into any of them but he held up the DVD’s he had for sale which would give people the instruction they needed to help not only themselves but also exorcise family members and friends.
He had the audience “insert their names” as he walked them through four pledges to essentially accept Jesus into their lives and renounce Satan. With that, he said we were protected.
I found the next phase interesting as he led the audience through what he expected of them as he started his exorcisms. He already had shown the crowd the tape so they could see how they were supposed to respond but he followed it with very clear instructions that they were to think of the worst thing that ever happened to them. Concentrate on that. Relive it. Remember how it felt when it was happening. Go to that dark recess inside of you and let it come out.
He said, “the majority of possessions come about through sexual abuse.” Clearly he wanted people to recall that abuse. In my opinion he was exploiting this very abuse for his own financial gain but at least I appreciated his suggestion that people should seek help from mental health specialists to deal with these traumas.
Most likely he was correct when he said “probably not one person in this room has seen a therapist” and suggested for many this would be an important step. Unfortunately, I think they may also need to see a therapist about the damage he has caused to their fragile psyches with his religious based scam.
And fragile he clearly thinks they are. He told them so. As he ran down the list of problems he felt many in the audience faced, including issues with their parents and physical or sexual abuse, he hit very hard on how many of them must feel themselves completely worthless. This clearly affected the young man sitting next to me who started to sob at this.
Larson spent at least ten minutes setting the stage for how he expected people to behave. Among other things, he said that we should be free to say anything we wanted to and not be embarrassed or afraid to look stupid or be judged for our comments.
After priming the crowd he started looking for his marks in the audience. He was scanning the crowd trying to find someone to get the ball rolling. He got off to a very slow start and after five or ten minutes was actually raising his voice at the crowd for not trying hard enough. “I don’t have all night,” he assured us and shouted again about how we had to think back to that horrible experience we’ve never talked about before. Relive it. C’mon people!
It was equally important that we all looked Larson in the eyes. Don’t pray with your eyes downward or cast upward to the sky. He needed to look into our eyes. I had no trouble doing that as I found it interesting watching how he was scanning the place, looking for someone “possessed.”
Mind you, the entire time, Don Knotts next to me was doing everything he could to get Larson’s attention, making loud coughing noises, spitting out words and virtually jumping out of his seat. Larson was avoiding him because he knew the kid was trouble.
Finally, he went to a woman in the second or third row and she was actually “possessed.” She was speaking about herself in the third person and saying “The girl must die!” Larson had a live one…or did he? Lorna (Larson found it impossible to remember her name) was doing everything she was supposed to but he got uncomfortable with her and tried to silence her. She was sobbing uncontrollably but Larson moved on to another woman in the row. Try as he might, he found it hard to concentrate with Lorna’s sobbing
Finally, Larson barked back at Lorna that he needed silence and if she couldn’t get herself together he was going to have her removed from the room. I found this unbelievably callous. Larson had a woman from his ministry try to shut Lorna up at her seat as he moved on.
He tried a couple other people farther back in the room with modest luck. No pay dirt yet. All the time, Don Knotts was drawing more and more attention to himself with his noises and thrashing until Larson must have felt he had to come over to him. Larson anointed him with some oil and the kid writhed in his seat, pressing himself onto my shoulder as two of Larson’s guys tried to keep the kid in his chair.
Having a close up view of Larson fighting a demon virtually in my lap, curiously had little effect on me. Being that close to evil surely must have put me in jeopardy but it was obvious to me that the only evil nearby was in Larson for exploiting this damaged and needy kid.
The boy wanted more attention but Larson wanted to get this over with fast. He did a quick laying of the bible on the kid’s head and cast the demon out then turned and walked away. Barely a cursory nod to the kid’s misfortunes. As Larson turned away, the kid was still clearly spouting his “satanic spiel” but Larson had his back to him as he proclaimed that the devil was gone and the kid was back to normal.
This was too much. I let out a small but audible laugh at the audacity of this man. This stopped Larson in his tracks and he swiveled around to glare at me. “Something funny?” he asked. “Yes, this whole thing,” I replied. Larson come over to me and got his face close to mine. Putting the mic to my face, he wanted to know more.
“You are such an immoral con man. You should be ashamed of what you are doing, exploiting these people for money.” There was a gasp from the crowd. They were clearly not on my side. They came to see “The Exorcist” as Larson proudly calls himself. They were believers.
I knew I wasn’t making any friends in the room but he asked for my comments. My plan was simply to come and watch but he asked for my involvement and he got it.
“Are you with him?” Larson indicated the young man next to me.
“No,” I continued. “It’s outrageous what you are doing. You whip these people into a frenzy, you reduce this woman (Lorna) to tears, she’s obviously distraught and then you threaten to kick her out of the room. How dare you?”
I’m not deaf. I heard some of the boos coming at me. Larson, too, knew he had the crowd on his side. He shook my hand and said he was always glad to have someone like me show up. Then as he walked away from me, he added “just another demon in the room.” This got him a good round of applause and produced another laugh from me. I’ve never been called a demon before.
We left it at that. Larson moved on and the kid, still seeking attention, was play acting loudly though few were listening. As Larson called me a demon, the kid threw his arm’s around me and, speaking as the devil in a throaty voice said, “I have another friend,” yet no one wanted to pay
attention to him.
My comments must have gotten to Larson, or at least he felt he needed to address them because now he moved back to the still sobbing Lorna and tried to comfort her. He asked if she was seeing anyone for mental health issues and she admitted she was schizophrenic but hadn’t been to see her doctor in a while. He urged her to get back into care. “You may still need an exorcism but you also need to take care of this.”
Again, I was grateful that at least he was advocating seeking treatment even if he was still bamboozling them. That’s more than Scientology can say.
The kid next to me continued to act up as Larson moved a few rows ahead to another man dealing with anger issues.. As Larson dealt with him, the still agitated kid next to me continued gyrating and speaking in his community theater devil voice.
I felt bad for him and put my arm around him to try to comfort him and tell him he was alright. That drew attention away from Larson who again asked if I was with the kid. I said no and Larson had the kid move across the way to one of his assistants who called him over by name.
This extra interaction with Larson caused him to threaten to bring security down to have me thrown out. I reminded him that just a little while earlier he told us to feel free to say anything at all in the room and we wouldn’t be judged. “I paid for this room!” he boomed at me several times. As I said, I wasn’t there to cause trouble. It just sprang up. I let him go on
with his act.
Finally he had found a man who was to became the main attraction. The man with the anger issues was a black minister who came with his wife. He was brought to the front of the room to role play his way through dealing with his childhood sexual abuse. The demon came charging out of him and he needed three big guys to hold him back so he wouldn’t throttle Larson. After ten minutes of being whacked around by Larson’s bible and having his head anointed, the guy was exhausted and came out of his trance wanting to know how long he’d been gone. He was ready now to go forth and minister free of Satan.
This was the huge win for Larson. Not only had the devil been chased out of a man but he was chased out of a preacher! Now was the time for the sale pitch. A quick reminder of just how important it was for Larson to go over to Germany to do exactly what they just witnessed with the added caveat that it wasn’t cheap. It was going to cost $50,000. They needed to raise that
in the next week.
On an easel at the front of the room, Larson suggested that for a $50 donation, they would get a DVD of the Australian documentary. For $100 they got a second DVD and for $150 they would get a third.
But hopefully they would be far more generous than that. He next wrote $5000 on the board. They got no extra trinkets but were told that this is what is really needed to perform these miracles. Or $10,000. “Why, just last week in Bakersfield,” he told us, “one person in the crowd single handily donated $25,000!” That’s what’s needed! If they had that, they’d be set. So please be generous.
As the donation envelopes were being handed out, I sat quietly knowing that these people were being duped. I’d seen his tax returns. I’d seen his divorce papers. I knew the money this guy was pulling in. I knew that even as he was telling these people that none of these donations were going to him, that “he was only making a $69,000 a year salary,” he was also giving himself a $10,000 a month expense account and that was just the tip of the iceberg.
I felt I really needed to share that with these people….but again, I didn’t come to create a scene and I knew they didn’t want to hear it anyway. They wanted to believe in this huckster.
Finally, he pulled out some big buckets and said that everyone should now reach into their pockets and pull out some more cash above and beyond the donations. Why? To pay for the room, he explained. That was too much. “But YOU paid for the room!” I shouted. My protest fell on deaf ears. What balls. He made such a big deal about how he paid for the room and now he wanted them to pay for it.
With this, the event was over. The assistants were called to the front to personally minister to anyone who needed personal prayers, with the admonishment to them to keep it brief and not take too much time with anyone.
Larson went to the front door and started shaking hands. I went up to him and shook his hand firmly so I would have a captive audience. I told him that I had seen his IRS tax forms and read his divorce papers and I knew how much money he was really making. I told him he should be ashamed of himself and asked how he was going to explain to his three daughters just what a
con man. he is.
“Leave this room,” he told me. “The room these people paid for? Don’t worry. I’m leaving.”