Two atheists just pulled off an incredible feat: They convinced a popular exorcist that one of them was possessed by demons. The exorcist then “cured” the man in front of a live audience… then broadcast the footage to the public as evidence of his powers.
Grab a drink. Take a seat. You’re going to enjoy this one.
The guy in the yellow shirt? That’s John Jacobs.
And in the first couple of seconds of that video, you see self-described exorcist Bob Larson shoving a Bible into John’s body. What’s most amazing is how Larson fell for his own powers — convinced he had rid John of his demons — and posted this footage online.
All of this took place several months ago, in August, when John and his friend Ryan Francis attended one of Larson’s free seminars in Romulus, Michigan, just outside of Detroit. They had attended an event with televangelist Peter Popoff a couple of years ago, but because phones weren’t allowed in the venue and their experience was no different than what you’d see on TV, there wasn’t much of a story to tell.
This time, they had a game plan. Kind of. They watched some of Larson’s videos ahead of time and found articles online suggesting that Larson often singled out people from the crowd who didn’t appear to participate in the prayers. He brought them onstage as if something was wrong with them. John and Ryan figured they could easily be flies on the wall at such an event. Maybe he’d choose one of them!
Ryan, who grew up in a Christian household, was more at home during the prayers and had little problem fitting in with everyone. John, however, wasn’t a believer growing up. So during the bulk of the two-hour seminar, he made eye contact with Larson but didn’t smile much. When praying, he’d bow his head without moving his lips. He wasn’t into it. He fidgeted. He seemed nervous. (He was nervous.)
Both guys listened as Larson made his pitch — essentially, that most Christian pastors aren’t doing enough to ward off demons. They can bring you to Jesus, sure, but they don’t go all the way. Larson wanted people to buy his books, take his classes, schedule private events, “graduate” as exorcists, and then continue spreading his methods. Think of it like LuLaRoe, except the scheme involves the Bible.
After Larson’s pitch — and just before a short break — Larson asked for the cameras to be turned off. He then told the crowd, very seriously, that he was about to do a live demonstration. If they stuck around, they could watch his methods in action. It was quiet. It was tense. Even John and Ryan thought about leaving at that moment… but they chatted during the break and decided to see what would happen.
They had no idea Larson would be picking John as his subject.
After the break and a brief Q&A session, the prayers picked up again. This time, John didn’t participate at all. He also stopped looking at Larson. It was around this time that a lady in front of them began to grunt and breathe heavily. Larson walked up to her, pulled out his large silver cross, and began talking to her… but then nothing came of it. She didn’t seem like the type of person who would do well on stage in front of that audience.
So Larson turned to John. He walked up to the guys and stared right into John’s eyes while laying the silver cross on John’s forehead. “A wave of cold sweat washed over me,” John told me last night.
What was Ryan doing this whole time? Stifling laughter. And Larson picked up on that, asking Ryan if he knew John. While some people in the crowd surely knew the two guys were friends, Ryan stuck with the lie they had agreed to earlier: He told Larson they just met at the event. (Ryan told me a lady sitting near them gave them the “stink eye” after that response, though she said nothing more about it.)
After briefly checking back with the woman in front of them, Larson returned to John and anointed his head with oil, drawing a cross on John’s forehead.
At this point, John realized he might actually be pulled on stage so he vowed to be fully honest with Larson… as much as he could be, anyway. His goal, after all, was to show people why they can’t trust televangelists or exorcists like Larson. If he was lying with his backstory, they might not trust him later on. If he was honest in answering questions, though, he could show people that it’s all a kind of mind trick, a mental hoax, a fraud. That meant fully participating in the experience to have the biggest impact, admitting he had been a sinner (he used to drink and smoke), and telling Larson he wasn’t a Christian.Got that? He wasn’t lying. He just wasn’t telling the whole truth.
And that’s what you see at the beginning of the video. Larson asks John if he wants to be a Christian, and John agrees. When Larson asks John why he has a demon within him, John brings up his mother’s Native American ancestry, knowing that Larson often exorcises people with Cherokee heritage.
The best part of the video, hands down, is when Larson speaks directly to the devil… and John, playing his part, responds in the demon’s voice:
LARSON: Who are you?
“POSSESSED” JOHN: Satan!
LARSON: Satan! I want more specifics! Did you get here through the ancestors?
“POSSESSED” JOHN: Unghhhhh….
LARSON: Yes or no?!
“POSSESSED” JOHN: Yes!
LARSON: How many generations?
“POSSESSED” JOHN: 10!
LARSON: 10?!… What happened 10 generations ago? What happened?!
“POSSESSED” JOHN: MURDER!
That is some fine acting right there.
John told me that it genuinely hurt when Larson hit him with a Bible. He embellished his reactions a bit, like a soccer player trying to draw a yellow card, but it wasn’t all acting. After spending about 20 minutes on the ground — which you don’t see in the video — Larson put the microphone in John’s face one last time, and John knew exactly what to say: “Praise Jesus.”
The audience gave him a standing ovation.
After the scene in the video ends, Larson also asked John if his wife was a Christian. He recalled saying, “No, but when I get home, we’re gonna have a long conversation.” And the audience stood up and cheered once again.
John and Ryan were stunned that the plan worked, and they wisely chose not to say another word to each other. Ryan walked out the door while John was ambushed by the audience, who couldn’t believe what they had seen. John kept up the act by giving out hugs and handshakes. He then walked out of the hotel conference room, met up with Ryan in their car (hoping no one would notice that the two “strangers” were heading away together), drove straight to a rest area along the highway, and debriefed while laughing their asses off.
I wondered if Larson knew they were just faking it. It’s like when you tell a lie and someone else agrees with it — you know they’re full of it because you’re full of it. But considering the video is still up on his YouTube channel, maybe he doesn’t. Not yet, at least. Like so many televangelists, it’s also possible he’s not even a con artist but rather someone who has convinced himself of his “powers.” I would love to see Larson’s reaction when he realizes two atheists beat him at his own game.
John and Ryan both told me they felt bad that their actions could further Larson’s supernatural business, but they also hoped that exposing it might lead others away from the whole exorcism idea. John told me, “I care about people,” and that he didn’t want to see anyone “pulled into this scam.” While his plan left him conflicted, he felt it might be the only way to reveal to the public that Larson’s videos aren’t legitimate. He’s living proof of it.
The guys went home that August night realizing they had pulled off something incredible, but they didn’t know if Larson would ever post the video. They checked his YouTube channel every two weeks, when Larson posts his exorcism videos, for their segment… only to be disappointed every time. But one day a couple of weeks ago, Ryan saw the alert and couldn’t believe it when their picture appeared as the thumbnail.
“John, John, they posted the video!” he told his friend. And then they downloaded copies of it. Just in case Larson realizes what he’s done…
If you’d like to hear this story from their point of view, they just filmed their own recollection of the night, which I’d urge you to check out:
(The post has been updated to note that Ryan is not seen in the featured image.)