The Assassin: When Derren Brown Turned an Innocent Man into a Shooter

Can you turn an innocent man into an assassin through hypnosis and mind control? That's been the stuff of thrillers and conspiracy theories for decades. British magician and mesmerist Derren Brown set out to test whether it was possible in his 2011 TV series The Experiments. In the episode "The Assassin".

The Assassin: When Derren Brown Turned an Innocent Man into a Shooter
Derren Brown in The Experiment: "The Assassin", Channel 4

Derren Brown has been producing mind experiments as reality TV since 2000. Many of them were notorious and controversial like the time he played Russian Roulette on live TV or manipulated four people into committing an armed robbery. Many of his shows are now available to stream on his official YouTube channel. You can now watch "The Assassin" in full.

Brown cites the case of Sirhan Sirhan's claim that he might have been mind-controlled to assassinate Robert Kennedy in 1968. There were claims that the CIA may have succeeded in developing mind control techniques to turn people into unwitting pawns and assassins. While an academic said this was impossible, Brown proceeded to prove it actually was. He started by demonstrating how people can be susceptible to hypnotic suggestion, then hypnotized four volunteers from his studio audience into throwing what they thought was acid into the face of a total stranger. Brown then picks one man from the audience he profiled to mold into a shooter. It takes weeks of conditioning, and the show walks the viewer through the mental conditioning and mesmerism that turns him into an assassin who can calmly shoot someone and then remember nothing about it, just like Sirhan Sirhan. And the target is none other than… comedian and national treasure Stephen Fry.

The Assassin: When Derren Brown Turned an Innocent Man into a Shooter
Derren Brown and The Experiment: "The Assassin", Channel Four

You might suspect that everything in the show was staged. Why does the theatre audience sit around calmly looking confused once Fry was shot rather than freak out and panic and run when there was a shooter in the theatre amongst them.  Was it was all one big put-on, an illusion since Brown is a magician who specialized in the art of mental manipulation and distraction? What the show does make us question is the notion of free will and whether the brain is a malleable machine that can be reprogrammed. It also throws up the question of who made Sirhan Sirhan shoot Kennedy. What Brown does is provoke a bunch of questions that will linger in the mind.

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About Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh is a filmmaker, screenwriter and novelist who just likes to writer. He wrote radio plays for the BBC Radio, “JLA: Age of Wonder” for DC Comics, “Blackshirt” for Moonstone Books, and “La Muse” for Big Head Press. Most recently, he wrote “Her Nightly Embrace”, “Her Beautiful Monster” and “Her Fugitive Heart”, a trilogy of novels featuring a British-Indian private eye published by Atria Books, a division Simon & Schuster.
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