Not every wannabe superstar evangelical preacher has the charisma of Jimmy Bakker or Oral Roberts. Minister Bob Larson, who sells himself as "the world's foremost expert on cults, the occult, and supernatural phenomenon," has a trick up his sleeve to attract potential audiences: Trot out three cute teenage girls, one of whom is your daughter, and bill them as experts in demon exorcism. This will attract enough attention to get people in the door so that you can run your community theater-level mass exorcism stunts. From there, you can sell your story—and thus your books, classes, and videos—about how Jesus chose you to battle Satan here on Earth.
Vice sent documentarian Charlet Duboc to follow Bob Larson, demon hunter, and his gimmicky entourage of three teenage girls on their tour through the Ukraine. What Duboc captures is troubling: Large groups of people come to these exorcism events, often because they are struggling with drug addiction or because they have long-term mental health problems, sometimes because they’ve been sexually abused. Larson and the girls blame all of these people's problems on demonic possession, and proceed to play-act exorcisms on members of the audience. We watch the girls press crosses to victims' foreheads as the victims writhe and scream, "demons" apparently escaping from their mouths. The possessed people are being watched intently by a crowd, which helps amplify the pressure on them to put on a very good performance. Obviously, they can't vomit pea soup on cue, but Linda Blair is clearly a muse for the proceedings. After it's all done, it's time for some pictures!
Obviously, demon possession isn't real and, as Duboc makes very clear in the video, the relief people feel after they endure an exorcism is nothing more than the placebo effect (likely a short-lived one at that). Still, the people that come to the exorcist and his teenage protégés have very real problems. It is hard not to worry that the "cure" offered by Larson is going to make things worse in the long run.
This is particularly true when it comes to the sexual assault victims. During an interview with Duboc, the girls spell out the evangelical theory of demon possession, which holds that demons get into you when you invite them. How? By using drugs, having unsanctioned sex, being sexually abused, or reading books about Harry Potter or vampires. But a huge chunk of the team's business is women who are struggling to recover from rape. The implication seems to be that rape victims somehow invited demons into their lives, or that somehow they are to blame for their own sufferings. Unsurprisingly, watching sexual abuse victims go through the exorcism performance—in which Larson yells at their demon, which is indistinguishable from him yelling at them—is one of hardest parts of the video to sit through.
As Michael Cuneo detailed in his 2001 book American Exorcism, the release of the movie The Exorcist in 1973 helped inspire the practice of mass demon expulsion amongst American evangelicals. Even Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal bragged in 1994 about conducting an exorcism on a college friend, and his pride was undiminished by the fact that, by his own recounting, they physically restrained the "possessed" woman against her will. As Duboc notes in her video, while demons may not exist, the desire for control that is expressed through crowning yourself an exorcist is all too real.
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