Satan is alive and well in the Pasadena Sheraton’s Magnolia Room.
Once the king of the Christian airwaves with his nationally syndicated radio show Talk Back With Bob Larson and his TV program In the Name of Satan, the holy warrior currently focuses his energies on casting out demons and raising DWJD (“Do What Jesus Did”) spiritual freedom teams. (“Not ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ but do what he did,” says Larson, on the difference between his DWJD and the more famous WWJD.)
Larson is thin and energetic; his strawberry-blond hair is slicked back, its color perfectly matched to his well-groomed beard and mustache. “Michael Jackson needs an exorcism, not the Nation of Islam,” begins Larson, in the sonorous tones of a veteran DJ. “Kobe Bryant’s got demons! The guy’s making 40 million bucks a year. Would you risk it all for five minutes of quickie sex in a hotel room?”
Suddenly, a woman violently shakes her head, mutters and storms out. Is she possessed? Is she a plant? I follow her to find out. “This is nutso,” she explains. “He’s not from the Lord. He needs a gossip column.”
Larson continues to work the crowd. He describes the fury of past exorcisms; once, in South Africa, a Ouija-board-toting kid threw Larson against a stage and broke his ribs.
Soon it will be exorcise time, but first Larson implores the audience to buy his audiocassettes, videos, pamphlets and books, items that expose the evils of vampire cults, yoga, marijuana, Mormonism and, of course, “The Truth About Harry Potter.” Tonight’s demonstration is free, but Larson hopes — even prays — to snare some paying converts for the next day’s 10 a.m. seminar.
Finally, Larson removes his blazer, showing that he’s ready to deliver some mortals from demonic bondage.
“Think about the earliest, deepest, most traumatic experience of your life,” instructs Larson. He offers to help anyone who’s been “molested, incested, raped, beaten, abused, unwanted and unloved.”
Just then, an elderly woman seated directly behind me screams, “I hate you, Bob! You’re a liar!” Her name is Faith. I know because she introduced herself to me earlier in the evening; she seemed so nice and non-demonic then. Now she looks like an aging, inbred crack whore with a gray mullet.
“Keep your eyes on me,” instructs Larson when people in the audience turn to look at Faith. “Don’t get distracted.”
“I’m gonna kill her, Bob,” Faith yells, presumably threatening to murder herself.
Though the old woman seems to be the most-likely-to-be-possessed attendee, Larson ignores her. After a few more outbursts, Bob walks up to Faith and seethes, “I’ll talk to you when I want to. You be quiet, or I’ll have you removed.”
It’s unclear whether Larson is speaking to Faith or her demon — either way, she/it shuts up.
Larson picks out a young lady named Patty from the audience and anoints her forehead with some kind of holy oil. He asks her to recall her most horrific memories. Patty says she was raped and her parents used to beat her with a baseball bat.
Larson shoves his face directly in front of hers and says, “I want you to look at me as if I was one of the men who raped you. What would you say?”
Unlike Linda Blair’s, Patty’s head doesn’t do a 360; she doesn’t vomit, nor does she ram a crucifix into her crotch. Instead, she begins to cry.
Larson backpedals and explains why a demon has yet to manifest itself. “The dominant emotion at times like this is just this shameful emotion of pain,” he says softly. “Tell you what: I’ll work with you more tomorrow. I’m so proud of this young lady for having the courage to be up here like this.” The audience applauds. The moment seems more Maury Povich than Mark of the Devil.
“Those of you who felt some stirring down inside you, maybe even resentment toward me, I want you to stand up,” commands Larson.
Heidi, a young, heavyset woman, with brown curly hair, rises.
Larson shoves his Bible into the small of Heidi’s back, causing her to produce hideous moans. Two DWJD team members rush to protect him.
Larson asks Heidi’s demon how long he has possessed her. “Since she was 5,” she howls, not unlike a dying dog. “A man did it to her.”
“What did he do to her?” Larson demands.
“You know what he did to her,” she replies, now sounding a bit like Freddy Krueger. “Don’t play games with me.”
“You don’t play games with me!” Bob retorts. “Do you want that sword in your back again? Tell me what he did to her.”
“He touched her,” Heidi replies nonchalantly.
The confrontation escalates. “Satan, do you have a right to be there? Answer the question! Yes or no?”
“Is she gonna let go of me?” she cackles, now resembling the Wicked Witch of the West.
Larson’s team members hold her arms, as Heidi’s body twists and contorts. Larson jabs his Bible-sword at Heidi’s chest and says, “I divide Heidi from you, Satan. Do you have a right to be there? Yes or no?” Heidi laughs satanically. Larson asks again: “YES OR NO?!”
“Okay, no,” Heidi says, intoning a bratty, Valley Girl.
“Who are you?” Bob demands.
Larson’s beady eyes light up. His demons rarely have ancient names like Belial and Beelzebub; they are more likely to have mundane monikers such as Murder, Hate, maybe even Parking Tickets.
“Distortion?” he asks. “What do you distort?”
“So you sexually abuse a little child, and it throws everything into distortion, doesn’t it? Who she is . . . what love is . . . what sex is.”
“Yes,” she whispers. “It’s all devised.”
“I bet you wish you hadn’t come here tonight.”
“She’s been praying for it all week,” answers Distortion. “She’s fasted two meals today. She never fasts.”
Even Larson finds the “self”-effacing entity a little goofy. “This demon ought to be on the Comedy Channel. This demon’s got personality, but it’s also arrogant and cocky.”
Larson orders Distortion to “go to the pit,” and Distortion quickly agrees.
“You’re lying,” says Larson. “Demons don’t agree that easily to go to the pit. Heidi, I wanna see you at 10 o’clock tomorrow.” The gauntlet has been thrown down, but the battle for Heidi’s soul will have to wait until Saturday’s seminar. What won’t wait is the pitch: “I’m going to pray that right here tonight someone will write a check for $7,000,” he tells the now freaked-out audience. (Hey, it doesn’t hurt to ask.) He’ll also accept $70, $140, $210 or $700.” Credit cards accepted.