An evening with Uri Geller is an evening well spent. Not because this self-proclaimed “mystifier” and supposed possessor of paranormal powers will provide any mysteries or evidence of paranormal powers, but because it is a demonstration of just how far blind ambition for fame and fortune can get you—especially if you are loose in the ethics department.
Fifty years after Uri Geller’s disastrous appearance on The Tonight Show, about 400 people—including me—braved the darkness of the Danish winter to watch him perform in a less-than-half-full Glass Hall at the Tivoli Gardens in central Copenhagen. The audience consisted mostly of people old enough to remember when he got his breakthrough in the early 1970s, though younger faces were also to be found.
From the very start, it became excruciatingly clear what the performance was all about: It wasn’t Geller’s usual embarrassingly amateurish selection of tricks, served with what seemed like a rather scatterbrained approach; instead it was a carefully constructed misdirection to keep our attention away from the real action. The goal appeared to be to demonstrate that Uri Geller loves Uri Geller. A lot. Rarely have I heard so much name-dropping of actors, musicians, celebrities, scientists, and politicians, all of whom, we were told, were gushingly impressed with him and his abilities. Gleefully, he pointed out that the CIA itself had agreed that he had demonstrated his powers. He even claimed that despite the devastating criticism he has received, particularly from skeptics, he is very grateful for the publicity their criticisms has brought him. Uri Geller absolutely loves skeptics!
The latter turned out to be less than true. While Geller hammered home the notion that it was crucial for success to have “positive thinking” and “an attitude of gratitude,” he does not take even the slightest criticism well. If he is not surrounded by unconditional, unquestioned adoration, his façade vanishes in a split-second, and he turns into a moping child. The shield of positive thinking is nothing but a thin veneer for the master himself. What does that say about the efficacy of the power of positive thinking?
After an hour’s worth of self-aggrandizing sermons peppered with inane magical tricks, the time had come for questions from the audience. Geller’s bubbly attitude became apprehensive and guarded. He assured us that we could ask him anything and he would not run away. That, also, turned out to be less than true.
When it was my turn, I asked him about his 2019 attempt to stop Brexit. Prime Minister Theresa May, being a remainer herself, was nevertheless determined to respect the result of the referendum and negotiate how Britain should leave the Union. Brexit continues to be an open sore in domestic politics in Britain, where remainers and leavers still battle whether it was a good or bad thing.
Enter Uri Geller. On This Morning, a British daytime television show, he declared his intention to make May stop Brexit. When prompted by one of the hosts, he admitted that “maybe it’s loosely unethical” but justified because he considered the referendum a farce and cared about Britain.
My question was: “Why do you—of all people—get to overrule a referendum? I mean, you have no democratic mandate. Isn’t that abuse of your paranormal powers?”
His response came with no hesitation:
Because I’m a genius. I know what makes people interested in interesting stories. Last year, I think I was thirteen times, maybe less, maybe more, on the cover of British newspapers. Because I know what people love reading. I have no press people. I have no managers. I have no agents. I have no image makers. Zero! I do everything, Theresa May, Brexit, let me come up with a great story. But I believe in my stories. I believe them. So, a lot of the stories you read about me are a combination of publicity and my belief system wanting to achieve that.
When I tried to intervene, he continued: “Okay, there you go, you are all from the skeptics, bless you, I’ll send you tomorrow a bouquet of flowers.”
There we have it: To Geller, the story about his powers seems more important than whether he has powers or not. It is all about getting Uri Geller in the press, and he will tell any story about himself to achieve it. He does not consider this an abuse of his paranormal powers.
And therein lies the rub.
This is someone who claims to possess real, scientifically verified paranormal powers—not merely to bend cutlery and start and stop clocks but to predict future events, spy for the intelligence community, and control the minds of leaders of state (and even to cause May to become prime minister in the first place).
While Geller has yet to convince the scientific and skeptical communities that he has these powers, he clearly has a lot of people believing that he does. He may overstate how many, but he has not become a rich man because only a few people believe in him. If some people believe that he can bend spoons (which, by the way, he must have access to beforehand), they may also be inclined to believe that he can control the minds of others.
The attempt at thwarting Brexit is not the only time Uri Geller has tried to meddle with high politics. In 2022, he declared that he would use his “mind power” to prevent Russian President Vladimir Putin from launching nuclear missiles against Britain.
Now, I suspect most readers of this article will not be convinced that Geller has these powers. But there is nevertheless reason to be concerned when we examine the various possibilities:
1) Uri Geller really does have paranormal powers.
As skeptics, we must be open to this possibility. But in that case, he puts himself above democracy to push through whatever decision he thinks is the right one. If Geller can make (his word) the prime minister of Great Britain set aside the will of the people as expressed in a referendum in a democratic nation, why bother with democracy at all? If he can stop nuclear destruction, why bother with a national defense? If he can destroy at will any nuclear weapon launched against Britain, it also means he can spot incoming missiles and choose to do nothing. Everything is within his power while the rest of us are helpless to stop him. That is a direct threat to democracies and national security.
2) Uri Geller does not have paranormal powers but believes that he does.
This is much more likely, given his behavior and argumentation. But in that case, we are dealing with an individual with dangerous beliefs who has convinced a lot (at least according to him) of people, some in high office, that he has powers that cannot be stopped. If enough people become convinced of a falsehood about how governments and nations are run, the risk of riots and insurgence is real, as the events on January 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C., showed us all.
3) Uri Geller does not have paranormal powers, and he knows he doesn’t.
This is most likely the case, as Geller has repeatedly been caught using simple magic tricks, a fact that he is well aware of. But in that case, he is building his reputation and business on deliberately undermining trust in democracy among those voters who believe that he has the powers. Because Geller wants to be famous and knows what to say to make that happen, this is gross manipulation of his believers.
In either case, Geller clearly sees himself as above everyone else. He admits to being unethical and appears to have a blatant disregard for the consequences of his claims. He acts as if he can be the autocratic king of all humanity if he so chooses. Given his arrogance toward his critics, this poses a real threat should he manage to get enough people on his side.
The believers will no doubt disregard these concerns due to their conviction that Uri Geller is the “real thing.” Skeptics know that it is an arduous task to convince believers with evidence. But if evidence does not convince, perhaps a few well-considered questions about ethics will make at least some believers think, if only a little.
Such a question would in this case be: If you believe that Uri Geller has paranormal powers, do you consider it ethical that he tries to make the British prime minister set aside the result of the Brexit referendum merely because he himself disagrees with it?