I’ve written before about the work of Susan Gerbic and her team of “Guerilla Skeptics” because they do an incredible job of exposing the lies of “psychic mediums.” (The New York Times ran a lengthy article about their work in 2019.)
She recently did it again and, oh my goodness, it’s glorious.
The subject of her latest experiment was self-described medium Thomas John, one of those guys who claims he can connect with dead people based on his interactions with you. He’s been featured on the shows Seatbelt Psychic and The Thomas John Experience and was doing a live show in Las Vegas before the pandemic hit.
In other words, he’s made a lot of money selling the lie that he can talk to your dead relatives.
Why go after him now? Because in April, Thomas John held an event targeting children. For $400 a ticket, eight children (and their parents) could join a “Spirit Circle” over Zoom during which Thomas John would offer them a chance to connect with relatives who had “crossed over.” It’s one thing to con adults out of their money. But this was just bottom-of-the-barrel deception, going after some of the most vulnerable people in society.
In a writeup about the event for Skeptical Inquirer, Gerbic explains what Thomas John said to all eight children. He seemed to know which relatives they wanted to speak to, when they died, how they died, and what messages they had for the kids who missed them.
Here’s one example of how it played out (with a pseudonym for the child):
TJ [Thomas John] tells Edgar that he feels a father figure around him and asks if his father has died. Edgar responds, “Yep.” So TJ explains that his father is watching over him and is frustrated that he can’t connect to him as well as he would like. Apparently, Edgar’s father didn’t have a proper passing where he could have said goodbye to Edgar; it was more of a shocking or sudden thing. Edgar agrees to this statement.
TJ says that Edgar’s father is telling him about a memory flying a kite. He’s not sure if they were flying a kite together or if it is a metaphor or he’s seen Edgar flying a kite or what. The father is around Edgar a lot and is sending him signs with numbers or “certain things through numbers.” TJ says that he is getting the number eleven, and Edgar gets real excited and says eleven was his father’s favorite number.
You can tell how this sort of message could provide a kind of emotional catharsis for a lot of people. But obviously, those relatives aren’t actually sending a message; Thomas John is making it all up. Gerbic memorably calls guys like him “grief vampires” for that reason: They prey upon people’s grief for selfish reasons. Comforting people is important, sure, but doing so by lying to them is wildly unethical. Using their own dead loved ones in the process is even worse.
The only question is whether there’s a way to prove guys like Thomas John are using some sort of inside information rather than actually connecting with a spirit.
That’s where the brilliance of Susan Gerbic comes in.
Because what Thomas John didn’t know during that April session was that some of those eight children were part of Gerbic’s operation.
Their (real-life) parents played along. All of them were given fake names and backstories — which were subtly fed to Thomas John’s team in advance — and wouldn’t you know it, when it was their turn to talk to Thomas John himself, he spiritually stumbled upon… the fake stories they sent his way. (I had a chance to watch raw footage of the session and the acting on everyone’s end is just *chef’s kiss* all around.)
I don’t think I’m spoiling the story by telling you all this. The real story is the way Gerbic’s team made all this happen and how they set a perfect trap only to see Thomas John dive right into it. I began skimming Gerbic’s article only to find myself reading every word because it was just delicious the whole way through.
I wish all of this meant Thomas John couldn’t find work on TV or in Vegas, but as we know all too well, exposing lies doesn’t mean everyone will be receptive to it. As long as Thomas John and others like him can get people to cough up cash in exchange for hearing whatever they want to hear, these grief vampires will always find work.
But articles like these may at least help rescue some of those people who question whether guys like this have any real psychic power. They don’t. They’re lying. They lack any kind of moral compass. And they will, unfortunately, always be able to find gullible people to con.