Roseanne Barr visited Toronto over the weekend to speak at a conference about CIA mind control.
“Do less, write more, and smoke a lot of pot.” This was Roseanne Barr’s parting puff of wisdom during a spirited, read-off-a-laptop lecture at a conference on mind control held this past Sunday. Organized by the independent Parkdale bookstore Conspiracy Culture and held at Trinity St. Paul’s United Church, the four-hour event demanded faith—and quite a bit of patience—but offered little in the way of backed-up fact. Instead, the evening ambled laboriously toward its patchy thesis: the government is controlling you; the media is in your mind; smoke weed every day.
The focus of the conference was MKUltra, an actual CIA program started in the 1950s to research methods of controlling human behaviour. It involved a series of undeniably disturbing tests on human subjects.
Also speaking at the event were Cathy O’Brien and Mark Phillips, two stars of the conspiracy scene who purport to have had first-hand experience with MKUltra. O’Brien has written two books about her three decades as a captive of Project Monarch, which she describes as an arm of MKUltra specializing in trauma-based mind control. Mark Phillips claims to be an ex-CIA operative who rescued O’Brien from her psychic captivity. But while MKUltra was a documented CIA initiative, there has so far been no corroborative information about Project Monarch.
Barr has been on the conspiracy circuit for a while. (This weekend, she opened with the same gag—about being “the first to speak truth in a church”—that she used while giving a lecture on mind control in Los Angeles in 2009.) She describes O’Brien and Phillips as good friends with whom she speaks frequently on the phone. Barr has been outspoken about her recovery from dissociative identity disorder—which she says she overcame through awareness of her surroundings and a willingness to speak her mind. She’s especially critical of the use of mind control in the media and Hollywood, a place later described by O’Brien as “the pit of hell.”
All of which speaks to the paradox inherent in Barr’s presence. Conspiracy Culture posters advertising the appearance of “television legend Roseanne Barr” leveraged the type of celebrity that the event’s speakers scorned. As she could produce no verified information, it was her status—as a famous comedian, sitcom star, and 2012 presidential candidate—that was effectively being called upon to legitimate O’Brien and Phillips’ claims.
Still, her talk was filled with the type of compelling abrasiveness that made her famous. “Positive thinking is what victims do,” she said, condemning New Age philosophies as “the same crap as old age”—then guiding the crowd through a breathing exercise straight out of yoga class. And while she criticized legal drugs as “the ones that keep [mind control] in place,” she touted marijuana as a gift from God.
Following Barr, Phillips spoke for almost an hour about his indoctrination into the CIA (his employee number was supposedly 008) and eventual defection after meeting O’Brien. Her speech, equally as long, offered a survey of a troubled life: O’Brien says that when she was a child, Gerald Ford convinced her father to sell her into Project Monarch, and that she was then subjected to decades of abuse. Eventually, she said, she worked directly under Dick Cheney. Neither speaker was able to offer many details about or proof of his or her experiences, and both repeatedly told the crowd that what they were saying was just “the tip of the iceberg” when it came to what had really happened in the CIA—and is still happening to this day.
During the Q&A, by which point they had grown a little weary, the speakers frequently urged question-askers to just look up the answers in O’Brien’s books, on sale in the lobby for $45.
Some of the broadest messages of the evening were sound: regarding politicians and the media with a critical eye is, of course, a good habit. And yet Barr, O’Brien, and Phillips were asking the crowd to take their stories at face value. Judging by the spontaneous applause and occasional standing ovations, many audience members did.