Friday, 14 January 2011 21:53

The Illusion of Michael Shermer

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Frank Cassano on Michael Shermer's own sleight of hand:  why one must be skeptical of the skeptic.

See also: Update: Shermer Takes the Message Wide

Before you read this article, I would ask that you first watch this short video. In it, magicians Penn and Teller demonstrate their “7 Principles of Sleight of Hand.” These techniques will help you better understand how disinformation campaigns work.

    1. Palm (To conceal an object in an apparently otherwise empty hand)
    2. Ditch (To discard an object)
    3. Steal (To secretly acquire a needed item)
    4. Load (To move an object into place)
    5. Simulation (To give the impress that something has happened when nothing has)
    6. Misdirection (To lead attention away from a secret move)
    7. Switch (To secretly exchange one object for another)


I: Avuncular Affection

A couple of years ago I came across a YouTube video whose mandate was ostensibly to demonstrate why people believe the things they do—particularly when the things they believe in may sound a bit wacky to the majority of us. Aptly enough, it was titled, “Why People Believe Strange Things”.

Actually, there was more than just one of these video presentations to choose from. Some are longer, some are shorter, and there are minor differences throughout. But the message contained therein remains essentially the same. They are all done in slide-presentation format and usually conducted in college auditoriums, up on the stage, with the lights down.

And they were hosted by one Michael Shermer.

By all appearances, Shermer is a skilled and gifted spokesperson. He’s intelligent, charming, appears friendly enough, and almost always has a smile on his face—the kind that says “you can trust me.” His speeches are interspersed with cute little jokes—many about politicians (those inept bumblers!)—which succeed in showing us what an “everyman” he is. Surely, the only reason he’s gone to all the trouble of hosting these presentations is to tell us something that’s designed to help us ... by showing us the error of our ways. We’re all indebted to you for that, Michael. We’re lost without you. Thanks for looking out for us.

In an alternate universe, Shermer could easily have functioned as the ideal pitchman for any company with a product to sell. It is not a stretch to say that he appears to be the personification of everybody’s favorite uncle. And, sure enough, by the time I finished watching his presentation ... he sure had me crying “Uncle!!!” alright.

Shermer usually starts off his presentations right at the bottom of the barrel—with a supermarket tabloid newspaper (complete with wacky headline about aliens and space invasions). He then proceeds to guide the audience—most of whom appear sincerely suspicious of various “official stories” they’ve been fed by governments (and the media) over the years—through a demonstration which is designed to show how easy it is for the brain to pick up the wrong signals when processing information. (You thought you were looking at a picture of someone’s butt crack? Wrong! It’s actually a picture of female breasts! Fooled ya! See how easily we can be tricked? See how unreliable our perceptions are? Oh, and don’t eat that potato chip ... it has Jesus Christ’s face on it!)

Those were my own examples ... but you get the picture.

Shermer goes on to mention the Beatles’ famous “Paul Is Dead” rumors and how the phrase, “turn me on dead man” can seemingly be heard if you play the song “Revolution #9” backwards. He then plays the Led Zeppelin song, “Stairway To Heaven,” backwards, which seemingly reveals a long satanic message. (It’s really getting hilarious now, eh, Michael? ) Well, this is getting so incredibly ridiculous and over the top that anybody with a half a brain and an ounce of common sense would be reduced to derisive laughter. And that’s exactly what unfolds—almost as if on cue. Audience members have been practically peeing on themselves ever since Shermer brought up those silly alien stories earlier on. But that Led Zeppelin example really takes that cake! To think that some people actually believe that stuff? Sheesh...are people ever gullible, or what!

And then somewhere along the way—between stories about aliens, UFO abductions, brain functions, satanic message in songs, and the like (and interspersed between all the derisive laughter)—Shermer quietly, without fanfare, slips in the JFK assassination and 9/11. (See Rule #6 in the Principles of Sleight of Hand: Misdirection. Followed by Rule #7: Switch.) He even tells the audience of the time when somebody in Dealey Plaza told him how President Kennedy was likely shot from a manhole cover. Can you believe these kooks—I mean, how ridiculous is that? (More laughter.) But Shermer, the pitchman, is not selling a product. He is selling a message. (Not exactly “ShamWow!” ... well, maybe just the “Sham” part.)

It was just recently reported on an internet site that Shermer will be producing a documentary about conspiracy theories for the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). So, this is a good time to ask: Who is Michael Shermer?

II: A Skeptic Skeptic

Shermer publishes Skeptic magazine. He is frequently called upon by major television networks and shows (such as Larry King Live) whenever they are in need of someone to “debunk” a popular “myth” or “conspiracy”—much the same way that Gary Mack is called upon by the cable networks whenever they are in need of an “expert” opinion about the JFK case.

There is yet another video which Shermer appears in where he admits during the Q&A session that he has done work with the History Channel. And can you guess which other noteworthy person also happens to share an intimate, working connection with Skeptic magazine?

James “The Amazing” Randi.

Throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s, Randi was a magician/illusionist of some fame. He could be seen escaping from a straightjacket while being dangled upside down over Niagara Falls. He even oversaw the special effects wizardry for one of Alice Cooper’s early tours. Most notably, he went on to found the James Randi Educational Foundation. This foundation has been active in debunking various claims of mind power, or ESP—even going so far as to offer a prize of $1,000,000 to anyone who can prove that they have psychic powers.

Even though many have tried, that million dollar prize has yet to be claimed. Randi’s most famous exposé was unquestionably Uri Geller—the man who claimed to be able to bend spoons using the power of his mind. (As it turns out, the spoons bend because they have been manipulated and softened to the consistency of near-putty well before the illusion is to be performed. At that point, all the “conjurer” needs to do is touch the spoon ever so slightly ... and it will eventually appear to bend.)

Randi should be applauded for his efforts and achievements at exposing such fakery and fraudulence in the paranormal world. But unfortunately for Randi, the JFK assassination case is not about spoon-bending, or ESP, or clairvoyance. Here, the prestidigitation is being perpetrated not by some charlatan wearing a swami hat, or some fortune teller rubbing her crystal ball while reciting mysterious incantations in an indiscernible tongue. Far from it. The flim-flammery emanates from those who destroy or subvert the evidence, those who alter or conceal the facts, those who intimidate witnesses into either changing their testimony or keeping their mouth shut altogether, and those who would prefer that the rest of us stopped asking so many pesky questions just because a sitting President of the United States happened to get his head blown off in 1963.

Randi was a talented escape artist and entertainer. He conquered handcuffs and straightjackets. It was often done with mirrors. Abraham Bolden was not so lucky. Bolden, the first African-American Secret Service Agent, exposed what became known as “The Chicago Plot” out of a sense of duty to his country. It was often done with mirrors. The Chicago Plot mirrored almost precisely what was to unfold in Dallas only a short time later. But Bolden would not be hailed or applauded for his astounding feats. Instead, Bolden was framed. He was jailed. He was confined to a mental institution.

Why—because he was some deranged serial killer? Or a spy who sold sensitive information to the Soviet Union? Or a child molestor? Or a tax cheat? Worse. Bolden apparently did something so heinous, low-down, underhanded, and disgusting that the powers-that-be deemed it unforgivable: he came forward to volunteer information about a plot to kill the President of the United States. Handcuffs and straightjackets indeed. Only for Bolden, this was no illusion. It was all too real.

I Googled “James ‘The Amazing’ Randi CIA” to see if he ever shared any connection with the dubious agency. There are indications that he has acted as a CIA consultant in the areas of mind control, magic, debunking, and disinformation. You decide.

I once emailed him my profound disappointment that he would ever stoop to aligning himself alongside any organization that promoted the Warren Commission fairy tale. I provided several examples which indicated how the official story is bogus, and how Oswald was framed. His response? He replied, simply: “Enjoy your convictions.”

What fueled that profound disappointment? Well, because I, too, am a skeptic, that’s why ... and I expected much better from Randi. I don’t believe in UFOs. I don’t believe in alien abductions. I don’t believe in ESP or clairvoyance. I don’t believe in the Moon Landing Hoax. I don’t believe that the Bermuda Triangle is supernatural or evil. I don’t believe in the power of prayer. I don’t believe that the world was created in seven days by an omniscient being.

I don’t believe in the 9/11 Commission.

I don’t believe in the Warren Commission.

For Shermer and Randi to mention the John F. Kennedy assassination in the same breath as aliens and UFOs is a massive insult to the memory of the man—and the office. It is an insult, as well, to those of us who have smelled a rat for 47 years now and would like to see the true culprits brought to justice and an open and equitable democratic system of government restored to the people.

Perhaps they should change the title of the magazine from Skeptic to Denier? One thing is for sure ... I’ve become a skeptic about Skeptic.

Because for these men—who like to preach how “science” and “reason” are everything— to not show skepticism towards what happened in Dallas, reveals in brutal starkness just what we’re up against here. Are we supposed to believe that a magazine devoted to analyzing factual data and separating it from “make believe” could not find a single shred of evidence pointing to a conspiracy? Not one shred? And that not only is there no such evidence reflective of a conspiracy ... but that the case belongs in the realm of alien abductions and UFOs, no less?

III: Into the Pig Pen

One of the most glaring outlets of disinformation in the JFK case has been the International Movie Data Base (IMDb) website. If you check out the listing of any movie ever made about the Kennedy case, you’ll run smack dab into a hovering horde of disinfo agents with colorful user names. But these wasps don’t just sting ... they also deceive. They are fully armed with a copy-and-paste campaign of deception, disinformation, and personal attacks—all designed to throw off any well-intentioned person who is simply looking to find out accurate, honest, and truthful information about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and other principle players involved in the case.

I’ve visited the site many times. And I must say that it’s akin to standing waist-deep in a rank, overflowing sewer in the searing heat of a hot summer’s day. It is never long before I inevitably get the irresistible urge to take a long, hot shower. None other than Dave Reitzes and David Von Pein can be found posting freely on the messageboards. But there is yet another poster who can be found haunting the site virtually 24/7. If you dare post anything that implies that JFK was killed as the direct result of a conspiracy, she will attack you—facts be damned.

Her username? ... “randimazing”

Hmm... that name sure sounds familiar, doesn’t it? What are the odds, you ask?

Let’s take a look at the score so far:

  • Shermer publishes Skeptic magazine.
  • Skeptic magazine is a very active participant in attempting to discredit JFK research.
  • James “The Amazing Randi” is also closely associated with Skeptic magazine.
  • One of the posters of out-and-out disinformation at the IMDb website possesses the username, “randimazing”.
  • Randi is a regular contributor to the Penn and Teller TV show, Bullshit. Both are shamelessly pro-WC.
  • Shermer has admitted to having had a working relationship with the History Channel.
  • Dave Reitzes emails articles by Shermer to people who believe in a JFK conspiracy.

In the following YouTube video, Shermer is shown being challenged and confronted by two different audience members during one of his slanted, biased, and agenda-laden presentations at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta. Shermer was in the process of denying the possibility that 9/11 was an orchestrated, inside job. However, when challenged by several people in the audience ... well, see for yourself how Shermer reacted.


A few days later, Shermer attempted to defend himself in the Scientific American magazine. But instead of showing us how his “attackers” were wrong, by laying out the reasons why their arguments were faulty, or in any way inaccurate, Shermer simply goes on to re-hash the same old schmaltz he feeds us in his cute little old slide presentations—about how the human mind has the inherent need to “connect the dots” in order to make sense of something that probably otherwise wouldn’t make sense.

It wasn't a defense at all. He didn't address a single point which Hall (the professor who challenges Shermer) brought up about 9/11. Maybe ... it's because Shermer doesn't know enough about the facts surrounding 9/11 to be able to provide a defense in the first place?

Ditto with the JFK assassination.

Ask yourself a few simple questions: Why was Shermer’s slide presentation originally produced? Why did it seem necessary? Who paid for it? Why did someone go to all of that expense, time, and effort? Are there really so many poor, misguided people out there who believe in alien abductions that it’s developed into that big of a problem in our society where it needs to be specifically addressed by a man who travels around the world equipped with an all-purpose slide presentation under his arm? I would hardly think so. Well, then, what is it?

Remember rules #6 and #7 in the 7 Principles of Sleight of Hand. Misdirection: To lead attention away from a secret move...and Switch: To secretly exchange one object for another.

(As discussed earlier, the irony here is that James “The Amazing” Randi is a well known contributor to Penn and Teller’s TV show called Bullshit. Both Randi, as well as Penn and Teller, reflect a decidedly pro-WC position. If you’ve never seen the P & T segment on the JFK assassination, you’d be stunned at what a shallow, dismissive, and predictable mishmash it is. The fact that P & T and Randi share a close association should no longer come as any surprise now that this article has proved how so many of those who live in the disinfo camp are clearly connected, tied, or whose efforts overlap in one way or another. But, hey, it’s not like P & T invented these deceptive magicians’ techniques— the techniques have been used for hundreds of years. They merely present them here in an entertaining— but, more importantly, short—fashion.)

IV: Conclusion

So why, Messers Shermer and Randi?

These little puppet shows you conduct are out there for one reason and one reason only. OK, two reasons.

  1. To discredit any and all research done in the JFK and 9/11 cases.
  2. And, further, to discredit the very notion that all may not be what it seems when it comes to “official government stories,” and that we should sheepishly and obediently accept everything we’re told.

Is that about right, Mr. Shermer?

Michael Shermer and his group are currently involved in producing a documentary about conspiracy theories. For Canadian television. But here’s the point I despair about: Who will make the documentary about the documentary makers? That’s the one I’d pay big money to see.

For whether it’s Shermer, or Randi, or Penn and Teller, or Dale Myers, or Vincent Bugliosi, or Gary Mack (and the list goes on ...), they seem to do a pretty good disappearing act whenever cornered on the subject. Heck, Dave von Pein and Dave Reitzes have made it abundantly clear that they remain unwilling (or unable) to ever show their faces in public to defend their positions. And John McAdams is perfectly content to fabricate facts during debates.

Yes, my friends ... it appears, that among the LN camp, that there is no “I” in “Team”.

(The hand is quicker than the “I”?)

Last modified on Monday, 31 October 2016 01:10
Frank Cassano

Frank has dabbled with writing all of his life – including songwriting, journalism, a book of humor, comedy bits for radio, and placing articles with several magazines. His interest in the JFK assassination was piqued in 2004 when he discovered BlackOp Radio. He is currently adapting one of his short stories into a novel. The story – called "A Player Cheats The House" – is loosely based on the JFK case.

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