Peter Popoff is the televangelist whose methods were famously debunked decades ago by James Randi… but Popoff never let those pesky details get in the way of coaxing people out of their money.
Skeptics have been on his tale for a while now, picking up where Randi left off, but whether they’re documenting the letters he sends them or speaking with a former employee who admitted the “miracle water” was just bought from Costco, none of it got much traction beyond the usual circles.
Maybe that’ll change with Mark Oppenheimer‘s piece about Popoff published in the latest issue of GQ.
… maybe he realized that today, more than ever, we are primed for what he has to sell. After all, in an age when a TV tycoon can win the White House, vowing to build walls and move markets with sheer chutzpah, there’s opportunity for a clever fellow who knows that people running on pure faith fall easily in love with big promises.
In case you were curious, there’s good money in convincing people you hold the secrets to happiness:
According to publicly available IRS forms, by 2003, Popoff’s new organization was netting over $9 million a year and Popoff was paying himself and his wife a combined salary of more than half a million dollars a year; their son, daughter, and son-in-law were each netting over a hundred grand. Three years later, revenues for Popoff’s ministry were just over $35 million. And according to a document related to his purchase of a Bentley in January 2009, Peter listed his monthly income at $100,000. The couple’s 7,300-square-foot house, purchased for $4.5 million in 2007, sits in a gated community in Bradbury, California, and is owned by his church. As a parsonage, it is tax-free.
Oppenheimer spoke with the former employee who said the “miracle water” was hardly miraculous and did some digging of his own to discover another interesting tidbit about the water supply.
Perhaps most surprisingly, Popoff and his children (who will inherit his business) agreed to meet with Oppenheimer for an interview. As if that would silence the skeptics…
It’s all a fascinating account of a man whose life’s work has been convincing people everything will be okay — or that it can be, if only they cough up a good bit of cash.
Practically anyone with charisma could do it, too, if only those damn ethics didn’t get in the way…
Be sure to read the full piece here.
(Cue the obligatory link to John Oliver‘s brilliant segment on televangelists. Portions of this article were published earlier)