The Stedman Auditorium buzzed softly with whispers of skepticism and wide-eyed curiosity.
Such is the typical attitude toward the Rhine Research Center, an institute tucked off of Erwin Road that is dedicated to the study of parapsychology. But the June 1 event differed from the usual lectures on parapsychology and tarot card reading sessions. For $150, audience members heard from government psychic spies about their use of extrasensory perception to aid government missions.
The Rhine Center used to be a facet of Duke’s campus. Established by Joseph B. Rhine in 1937, the Duke Parapsychology Labs researched the field of parapsychology, published the first Journal of Parapsychology and remained part of Duke until Rhine retired in 1962, after moving the Center off campus. Although the Rhine Center is no longer a part of Duke, it still exists right off of West Campus and continues to research parapsychology and publish the semi-annual Journal of Parapsychology.
John Kruth, executive director of the Rhine Research Center, enthusiastically greets audience members as they walk through the door. With a smile stretching ear-to-ear, he shows particular excitement about tonight’s event.
“What we’re talking about here are real government spies,” Kruth said. “We’re going to hear some old army stories… and just have a really great time.”
Although Kruth’s enthusiastic tone makes the event seem like a show, those giving the lecture consider it serious business. Edwin May and Joseph McMoneagle, the psychic spies, are there to emphasize the importance of ESP and why it needs further study.
May was the leader of Project Stargate, which refers to the government’s research and application of ESP. The government was primarily occupied with a form of ESP known as remote viewing—the ability to gather information about a particular target both in the present and future.
Although May serves as a leader and advocate for parapsychology, Kruth noted that the real talents rest with McMoneagle, who has been called “the most psychic man alive.” McMoneagle used remote viewing to retrieve information about the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
“We take this deadly seriously,” May said. “We have one hell of an interesting story with things never seen before, when we get arrested by big CIA guys out back, you’ll know why.”
The government put a lot of money into the research of parapsychology, May said, adding that $17 million was given to SRI International to gain more knowledge about the field. Additionally, May was given a $10 million grant from the army to “figure out how exactly this stuff works.”
“That’s really chump change, but it allowed us to still make progress,” May explained.
The project was given several top-secret names to avoid public disclosure of the government’s research, May said. The final name was Stargate, however original names include Gondola Wish, Fish Fry and Sun Streak.
May and McMoneagle were stationed in various, secret locations around the country, one of which was Fort Meade in Maryland. May noted that when he and McMoneagle first arrived, the road had been erased and none of the houses had numbers. Their location was so secret, that when a fellow staff member had a heart attack, it took 40 minutes for the ambulance to arrive.
“It was a real problem because no one knew where we were,” May said.
Engaged by the secret nature of the project, audience members collectively said “wow” after May divulged information about the budget, project names and secretive nature of Stargate. Still, the occasional “hmph” punctures silent points in the discussion, indicating audience skepticism.
May is aware of the skepticism surrounding ESP, but believes such incredulity stems from a lack of understanding of the project. He provides an anecdote about Melvin Schwartz, a Nobel Laureate for physics, who considered the field of parapsychology “complete B.S.” This led May to strike up an interesting deal: if Schwartz joined the Scientific Oversight Committee Partial Membership for Project Stargate and still found it lacked credibility then May would quit.
If Schwartz ended up believing in parapsychology, then he had to aid May in his quest to figure out how ESP worked.
“And he helped us to the day he died,” May said.
Because skepticism comes from a lack of understanding of parapsychology, May and McMoneagle have traveled the world giving lectures on ESP and its practical uses. They have gone to Moscow, Russia, Stockholm and, most recently, Durham, N.C.
McMoneagle said the army began recruiting remote viewers because it was rumored that the Soviet Union was using psychic spies. Because McMoneagle was known as a good problem solver, he was put in a room with several other army members who were being tested for psychic abilities. Of the 1,200 tested, only six were considered remote viewers, McMoneagle being one of them.
In this test, McMoneagle was given six opaque envelopes, each of which had a target—a person or place—inside. McMoneagle had no information about what the target was, but was asked to provide information of the target to the officers. On his first try, he got five out of six targets correct, he said.
McMoneagle would then go on to apply his skills. In one instance, McMoneagle was given an unknown target and asked for more information. The target was a base in the Soviet Union, which McMoneagle said was building a submarine. The officers were originally skeptical because the base was far away from shore, however, McMoneagle stated that the submarine did exist and would be launched in 114 days.
“The submarine was launched within seven days of my prediction,” he said.
Although Stargate had notable successes in providing information to the government, the project is no longer running with no future for a restart in sight, May said. The project ran from 1975 until 1995, and May stopped trying to revive it in 2007.
The government’s choice to discontinue the project is worrisome, McMoneagle said, adding that other countries may still be using psychic spies to gain information.
“If I can do it, there’s no reason bad people can’t do it,” he said. “Burying our heads in the sand and not studying it or researching it is exceedingly stupid.”