Just in time for Halloween, our colleagues over at the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) have enlisted a (rather modest) zombie horde to carry a serious consumer protection message: if psychics who accept money for communicating with the dead cannot actually do so, then they are taking unfair advantage of the bereaved. Led by JREF President D.J. Grothe, these volunteers carried the JREF’s Million Dollar Challenge to alleged spirit medium James Van Praagh.
Uncouth as zombies are known to be, Grothe and JREF Communications Director Sadie Crabtree assured me that this particular group of undead Americans excelled in politeness. Van Praagh’s event was not disrupted, and the group left when requested to do so.
“All of our volunteers were determined not to disrupt the event; we just wanted to get James Van Praagh to come out and talk to us, or to capture on video the fact that he’s hiding from our Million Dollar Challenge,” Grothe told me. “We stuck to the publicly accessible area and we left when we were asked. We didn’t do the action to disrupt an event, but to highlight the offense to reason and conscience that these stage mediums cause when they take advantage of people suffering from loss.”
This planning highlights two key ingredients of a successful protest stunt (as I’ve discussed previously): agreeing in advance on rules of engagement, and designing that engagement to keep the protester on the moral high ground. In this case, as Grothe explains, “Everyone was clear from the outset that we wouldn’t engage with any audience members, and we deliberately arrived outside after most people had already been seated. The ones who saw us were mostly just confused by the costumes, and the ones who got it seemed to understand that we weren’t there to make fun of them, but to confront Van Praagh.”
Video and JREF press release below. (A Picasa photo gallery is available here.)
Video: Zombies bring challenge to celebrity ‘psychic medium’
Dodging questions, James Van Praagh won’t even talk to dead people about JREF’s Million Dollar Challenge
Laguna Beach, Calif.—James Van Praagh has made himself rich by claiming he talks to the dead on daytime TV and at pricey ticketed seances—but he wouldn’t talk at all when ‘the dead’ actually turned up at his $100-a-head seminar to ask why he won’t prove his psychic powers.
A video released today by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) shows a small horde of costumed ‘zombies,’ carrying signs reading “Van Praaaaaaagh” and “talk to us, we won’t bite,” shambling up to the building where Van Praagh’s “Spirit Circle” was set to begin, and asking to speak with him. Led by JREF President D.J. Grothe, the groups asks why Van Praagh is dodging questions about whether he’ll accept the Foundation’s million-dollar challenge to prove his claimed psychic medium abilities. Van Praagh’s representatives first promise to get someone to talk with the group, but instead have the group kicked out by security.
Van Praagh has refused to answer emails and certified letters about the JREF’s challenge, and has refused to comment to the media.
JREF representatives say they’ve seen nothing that distinguishes Van Praagh’s performances from common psychological tricks traditionally used by magicians and phony psychics.
“If James Van Praagh is making his living by faking psychic powers and pretending to speak to people’s deceased family members, that’s truly shameful,” said D.J. Grothe, JREF president and a former professional magician. “That’s why we put a million dollars on the line and gave him the opportunity to prove he can really talk to dead people.”
“It seems that when James Van Praagh is asked to prove his ‘psychic’ powers, even dead people get the silent treatment.”
This release and further info is available from the JREF, here.
a WordPress rating system