Thanks to the reader who sent us the link to this completely engrossing podcast from the U.S.-based NPR radio programme, “This American Life”. It’s an hour long but well worth the time, in our opinion.
We found that the episode, titled “Chip in My Brain”, resonated with our experiences of “true believer” troofers of the hyper-religious variety.
It tells the story of Cody, a young boy from Texas whose private basketball trainer began to induct him—without his parents’ knowledge—into the world of fundamentalist/evangelical Christianity, the Rapture, the Illuminati, brain-altering RFID chips, and more.
The story begins innocently enough, with Cody, a nine-year-old boy who’s less interested in sports than in playing World of Warcraft online. His parents, hoping to boost his interest in basketball, hired AJ, a 6’6″ basketball trainer to come and teach Cody on the old basketball court behind their house.
AJ and Cody quickly developed a friendship, and soon Cody had become basket-ball mad, playing every chance he got.
Narrator: AJ would sometimes pick Cody up from middle school. Cody started to listen to the music AJ listened to. Young MC, “Bust a Move” was a favorite. When Cody went out clothes shopping with his mom, he picked out clothes that looked like things AJ would wear—simple, solid color T-shirts. Cody fell in love with basketball. And he kind of fell in love with AJ.
Cody: I would hug him and tell him I loved him, yeah. I mean, I would jump up, and he was holding me in the air, or whatever, yeah, and tell him I loved him, yeah. I would get sad when he left. I was shy. But once I got to know people, I got very attached to them.
AJ and Cody continued playing basketball together for several years; word got around, and other parents hired him to coach their kids as well.
Then, when Cody was about 14 years old, it all came crashing down. Cody’s mother, Drew says,
At that point, I was driving Cody to school. And I don’t remember why. But I dropped him off. And just as I’m getting ready to leave, my friend whips into the spot next to me. And so I put my window down. She put her window down.
And she’s sobbing. She’s not even the tearing up kind of person. And she handed me– she said, oh my god, oh my god. You need to see what AJ has done. I found some transcripts with my son. Here they are.
And I read them. And it was as if my entire body went numb. It’s still really hard to talk about.
While it seemed nothing physical was going on between Cody’s friend and AJ, the transcripts were disturbing. They seemed to be talking about something of a religious nature, but not in the usual sense. Cody’s mother raced home and found her son’s Skype app open on his computer. The narrator sums up what she found there:
It starts with standard evangelical beliefs about the rapture, the end of days, when a select group of people will suddenly disappear from the Earth to go live with God. And everyone else is going to be left to suffer. Who will be saved, and who will be left behind?
Well, the devil is trying to capture as many souls as he can. And here’s where the sci-fi stuff comes in. The devil is operating through a powerful and secret society called the Illuminati. The Illuminati have built a self-programming supercomputer somewhere in Belgium called “The Beast.”
At some point, the Illuminati is going to try to control people by implanting a computer ID chip, an RFID chip, in everyone’s hands or foreheads. This chip, it said, is what the Bible has been prophesying, the mark of the beast, a high-tech version of 666. If you get an RFID chip implanted, well, you are definitely not getting saved.
In the transcripts, AJ and Cody go back and forth about RFID chips a bunch. At one point, AJ writes, “It’s here. This coming up year, it will be mandatory for all armed forces, followed by medical field, then everyone else. What it does to the body is inhuman.”
Cody, “What do they do to your body?” AJ, “You lose mind control. Why do you think I took time to study the mind with you?” Cody, “How does it do that?” AJ, “Oh, [BLEEP], here we go. Are you sure? You want to know the truth?” Cody, “Yes, I do.” Then the Skype log indicates AJ called him to talk. …
AJ writes, “For now, rest. I have so much more to show you. But you have class tomorrow.” In some places, the conversation seems very middle school, except they’re texting about the apocalypse. And one of them is 36 years old.
Like this time AJ is talking about how he’s preparing to assist other followers of the Lord. And Cody compares the whole thing to a movie. Cody, “So it’s like you’re that guy from The Matrix who rescues Neo and takes him to the refuge underground.”
AJ, “You must be talking about Morpheus.” Cody, “Yes, that guy.” AJ, “How do you know I’m not Neo?” Cody, “But Neo never goes and rescues people from the Matrix.” AJ, “But he does show them the truth.”
It turns out that AJ had not only been inducting Cody into Conspiraloon Training 101, but he’d been driving a wedge between Cody and his parents—telling him that his parents were on “the other side”, and that if they tried to insert an RFID chip in him, he should immediately call Child Protective Services and say he was being abused.
Cody describes how AJ began affect him:
We were in my garage. And that’s where we had some workout equipment at the time. And he just turned so serious suddenly. He’s telling me, “Cody, the things in your World of Warcraft game—these demons, these warlocks—all these things, they’re real. And they’re all around us all the time. And it’s not good that you play that game, because when you play that game, these things, they can come into you. And those things come from hell. It’s a spiritual war going on around us all the time. You just can’t see it. Only some people can see it. I can see it”.
I just remember I—it was truly terrifying.
And then sometimes he would pause in the middle of the session, just look into the field in the distance, and then smile, and then keep going in the session, and like….as if he’d seen something. He would say like when he was talking to my mom, he could see the devil behind her smiling. And he would tell me this about other clients he had too. “This other client, his dad’s part of the Illuminati. And the demons are flocked at his house”.
And when he went there, the demons would scream and run. And they hated it when they went there. And he told me, as soon as that family fired him, he saw the kid that he was working with age 10 years in one day and start getting sick and depressed all the time, because the demons were finally able to flock to that kid and attack him, because he wasn’t there to protect him anymore.
AJ told Cody that once he was “spiritually sound”—like him—he’d be able to see the things AJ saw.
Every second was not normal. It was—I would walk around school. And I would think, all these idiots, they don’t see what’s really going on. The world’s ending so soon. I would spend my off periods walking around the school looking for the Illuminati symbols AJ told me are around St. Stephen’s. I would spend my offs researching articles he showed me about how my dad’s ham radio is proof that he’s part of the Illuminati and that he’s listening in on people’s conversations using his antennas.
Asked whether he ever questioned what AJ was telling him, Cody said,
I think for me, at the time, it was so scary that I wouldn’t allow myself to question. I can’t explain like how—the way it was real to me. It was like I’m in this real battle that’s happening everywhere. I know something that nobody else knows. I’m special. And God had chosen me.
Yeah, it’s like you’re put in this fantasy world. It’s like—it’s hard to explain the way it built you up but simultaneously broke you down. I mean, but it was also this part of you—it just builds you up, like you are this person. And he did it in such a way—it just was so real to me.
That sense of specialness, of being chosen, of having secret, special knowledge that no one else can understand is all too familiar to those of us who’ve encountered “true believer” conspiracy fanatics. And the flip side of that belief that one has special knowledge is the belief that no one else—not your parents, not your best friends—could truly see things the way you see them.
The podcast describes the process of turning Cody, a smart, sensitive, somewhat anxious boy, into a paranoid, terrified troofer who was convinced that his parents were part of an evil plot, and that the Illuminati would be coming after him to insert an RFID chip and control his brain…and the long, arduous process of “deprogramming” that he had to go through to recover.
It’s a fascinating yet frightening programme, which describes in detail what the “mind control” of conspiracy belief can do to a susceptible person.