The Men Who Stare at Goats

This article is about a book and accompanying TV series. For the movie based on the book, see The Men Who Stare at Goats (film).
The Men Who Stare at Goats
Author Jon Ronson
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Publisher Picador
Simon & Schuster
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 277 (first edition, hardback)
ISBN 978-0-330-37547-4
OCLC 56653467

The Men Who Stare at Goats (2004) is a book by Jon Ronson concerning the U.S. Army's exploration of New Age concepts and the potential military applications of the paranormal. The title refers to attempts to kill goats by staring at them. The book is companion to a three-part TV series broadcast in Britain on Channel 4Crazy Rulers of the World (2004)—the first episode of which is also entitled "The Men Who Stare at Goats". The same title was used a third time for a loose feature film adaptation in 2009.


Book synopsis

The book's first five chapters examine the efforts of a handful of U.S. Army officers in the late 1970s and early '80s to exploit paranormal phenomena, New Age philosophy, and elements of the human potential movement to enhance U.S. military intelligence and operations. These include the First Earth Battalion Operations Manual (1979) and a "psychic spy unit" established by Army intelligence at Fort Meade, Maryland, in the late '70s. (This was the Stargate Project,[1][2][3][4] which the book never mentions by name.) Ronson is put on the historical trail of the "men who stare at goats"—Special Forces soldiers who supposedly experimented with psychic powers against de-bleated goats at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, at the now-decommissioned "Goat Lab" medical training facility. He examines, and dispenses with, several candidates for the legendary "master sergeant" who was reported to have killed a goat simply by staring at it back in the day. In the middle third of the book (Chapters 6-11), the author leaps to the present day—i.e., 2004, just after the Abu Ghraib abuse revelations—and attempts to make connections between the earlier (now terminated, and mostly discredited) military programs and the abuses resulting from the post-9/11 War on Terror (Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, psyops in Iraq, etc.). This includes the use of the children's song "Barney & Friends" on Iraqi prisoners-of-war. A purported linking element is the alleged use of music and subliminal messaging at the 1993 Waco siege and other FBI operations. Another is the private business "franchises" and consultancies that retired members of the "psychic unit" later pursued as civilians. A connection is also proposed between these "privatized" psychics and the mass-suicide of members of the Heaven's Gate cult in 1997. The final section of the book (Chapters 13-16) leaps backward to the 1950s and attempts to connect the Army psychic program, and later interrogation techniques, with the CIA's MK-ULTRA "mind control" research program and the notorious death of Army researcher Frank Olson in 1953. Ronson spends time with Olson's son Eric as he attempts to uncover the mystery of his father's death. The narrative ends with the suggestion that the "psychic warriors" are now back in business working for the U.S. military again, possibly in support of assassinations.

Interviewed by Ronson

Discussed in depth


Ronson's book was met with mostly positive, often glowing, reviews: the Boston Globe opined that it is "a hilarious and unsettling book.... Ronson comes off as an unusual cross between Comedy Central's Jon Stewart and The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh." The New York Times' Janet Maslin stated that "Ronson sets up his book perfectly. It moves with wry, precise agility from crackpot to crackpot in its search for the essence of this early New Age creativity....".

Some critics, however, were skeptical of what they considered Ronson's shaky logic and some of his bolder assertions. Alex Heard's review in U-T San Diego was subtitled "Goats tries hard to link psychic-spy projects from the past to today's events, and mostly fails". In many instances, he wrote, "...there isn't a link. Instead there's a progression of occurrences that don't connect in a meaningful way. The result is a strange new blend: Conspiracy theory meets Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.... You're left feeling like you've been told a shaggy-goat story."[5]

Television series

The 2004 series Crazy Rulers of the World was aired in three parts:

It was broadcast in Britain on Channel 4.

Feature film adaptation

A fictionalized feature film version of the book was released in 2009 under the same name. Grant Heslov directed from a script by Peter Straughan.[6] The movie is set in Iraq, but was filmed in Comerío Street, Bayamón, Puerto Rico and at the New Mexico Military Institute. The story centers on "Bob Wilton" (Ewan McGregor)—the Ronson stand-in—a desperate reporter who stumbles upon the story of a lifetime. He meets "Lyn Cassady" (George Clooney)—a composite character—who claims to be a former secret U.S. military psychic soldier re-activated post-9/11. Jeff Bridges plays "Bill Django"—clearly a version of Jim Channon—the founder of the psychic soldier program and Lyn's mentor. Kevin Spacey plays "Larry Hooper"—a wholly fictional character—who is a former psychic soldier now running a rogue PsyOps unit in Iraq.[7] The film is prefaced with a title card stating "More of this is true than you would believe". The DVD release of The Men Who Stare at Goats includes a bonus documentary featuring Ronson and many of the people who feature prominently in his book.

Coinciding with the release of the feature film in 2009, John Sergeant, the producer of the TV series Crazy Rulers of the World, accused Ronson of "airbrushing him out of the story". While Ronson dedicated his book to Sergeant and included an afterword commending his research and guidance, the feature film did not mention his contributions.[8][9]


  1. Heard, Alex (10 April 2010), "Close your eyes and remote view this review", Union-Tribune San Diego, Union-Tribune Publishing Co. [Book review of The Men Who Stare at Goats]: “This so-called "remote viewing" operation continued for years, and came to be known as Star Gate.”
  2. Clarke, David (2014), Britain's X-traordinary Files, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, pg 112.: “The existence of the Star Gate project was not officially acknowledged until 1995... then became the subject of investigations by journalists Jon Ronson [etc]...Ronson’s 2004 book, The Men Who Stare at Goats, was subsequently adapted into a 2009 movie...”
  3. Shermer, Michael (November 2009), “Staring at Men Who Stare at Goats” @”...the U.S. Army had invested $20 million in a highly secret psychic spy program called Star Gate .... In The Men Who Stare at Goats Jon Ronson tells the story of this program, how it started, the bizarre twists and turns it took, and how its legacy carries on today.”
  4. Krippner, Stanley and Harris L. Friedman (2010), Debating Psychic Experience: Human Potential Or Human Illusion?, Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger/Greenwood Publishing Group, pg 154: “The story of Stargate was recently featured in a film based on the book The Men Who Stare at Goats, by British investigative journalist Jon Ronson (2004)”.
  5. Heard, Op. cit.
  6. Geoff Boucher (November 1, 2009). "Jeff Bridges, psychic warrior". LA Times.
  7. "These are The Men Who Stare at Goats". September 12, 2008. Retrieved 2010-03-29.
  8. Sergeant, John (2009-12-01). "How My Involvement with The Men Who Stare at Goats Was Erased Entirely". Retrieved 2010-03-29.
  9. Akbar, Arifa (2009-11-03). "Clooney caught in crossfire as war breaks out over latest film – News, Films". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2010-03-29.
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