The story of James Randi exposing Peter Popoff, the faith healer fraud and con artist (that’s exactly the section in which Wikipedia appropriately placed him!), is now legendary. So when we were approached by a secret source who had gotten 4 invitation only tickets to an event in Toronto, we jumped at the chance to put all our effort into following in the footsteps of The Amazing Randi!
Coached by Randi himself in an exclusive teleconference with an eager and excited half a dozen members of the Centre for Inquiry team, we discussed the use of hidden cameras, how to maximize the effect of passing out critical thinking literature, and what to expect from Popoff supporters who would attemp to acquire information from the audience in advance of the show. Randi engaged with us for a half hour, during much of which he was somewhow simultaneously driving through the streets in rush hour.
As advised, we arrived early to ensure we sat near the front of the room for “Positioning you for harvest”, as the event was named. I wonder if that name was actually a clue that Popoff was giving, unable to help himself from an inside joke, for the audience was literally being positioned for the harvesting of their hard earned money. In fact, Popoff had them stand in rows, almost like a field of corn, while he whisked around the room blowing the devil out of everyone’s face.
Popoff engaged in his classic laying on of hands “healings”, hosted testimonials which were a surreal blend of miracle cures, family reconciliations and spontaneous increases in bank account balances! The night’s climax involved him requesting large sums of money, namely $1000 from each audience member, to benefit from his divine intervention. We actually captured footage of him asking for attendees to put “their best seed” into envelopes he passed out, as well as close up of a sick man being turned away by security staff for appearing too ill to be credibly cured.
Popoff disappeared in a cloud of dust (not literally unfortunately) at the end of the night but we did approach his assistant Lee to find out why destitute people would need to hand a millionaire money to benefit from his benevolence, which earned the response that I was a “lunatic”. Other members of our team then followed up by asking how much money the Popoffs had made that night, which resulted in the rather ironic response from Popoff’s organist, who had provided music during the healings, that we should “die of cancer”. That’s quite a clever system. Popoff’s organist curses us with cancer, and then Popoff charges us to cure it!