Director Osgood Perkins is slated to direct the new film, “Incident at Fort Bragg,” which will tell the story of the very real Irish Priest Malachi Martin that conducted a government-sanctioned exorcism of a young soldier on the North Carolina base. While Martin, and his career as an exorcist, are both entirely real, the incident this movie is based on is much harder to pin down.
By now, we all know what it means when a movie says that it’s “based on a true story.” More often than not, it means that we’re in for a blatant exaggeration (or outright fabrication) of events surrounding one or two real people, with the excuse that the truth wouldn’t make for as quite an engaging a movie. While this is true for all genres of films, few are more guilty of departing from evidence-based fact that “true stories” about the supernatural. From “The Amityville Horror” to the recent slew of “Conjuring” movies, it usually only takes an internet connection and ten minutes of googling to start poking holes in the stories we see on screen — but that’s where this mysterious Fort Bragg incident may set itself apart (or to be honest… may not).
Attempts to contact Fort Bragg’s Religious Services representatives and other public affairs contacts, regarding the possibility that Uncle Sam called in an exorcist for one of his soldiers, doesn’t produce any noteworthy results (unless you count “no comment” as noteworthy). While this certainly isn’t a ringing endorsement, it also doesn’t dismiss the idea outright. Martin himself also never mentioned conducting any exorcisms on a U.S. military installation, despite writing a number of books on the subject that have drawn both public interest and even the approval of scholarly theologians. Harvard theologian Harvey Cox, for instance, called Martin’s book “Hostage to the Devil” “the most authoritative and convincing” look into the world of demonology published to date (back in 1976 anyway).
“Martin is above all serious,” a Newsweek review of “Hostage to the Devil” read at the time. “He is not speaking about madness, about illusions or the irrational, but about the real beyond all reason. … He presents exorcism as … a titanic clash of wills that threatens the lives, the sanity, even the souls of all attending.”
Martin, who was ordained 1954 and worked in the Vatican for eight years before leaving for America, reportedly conducted or assisted in a series of 11 exorcisms, over the span of about a decade, in the U.S. Five of these exorcisms were discussed in his books at length, but the basis for the upcoming movie — an exorcism on Fort Bragg — was not among those mentioned. If Martin really was called in over an incident with a U.S. soldier, it stands to reason that he may have been asked to keep his involvement a secret.
The Bragg story was instead relayed to the film’s producers by Robert A. Marro Jr., a longtime friend of Martin’s and former agent of the CIA — at least according to Marro and a number of outlets that have taken him at his word. Marro has shown his former CIA identification to journalists in the past, but the agency isn’t in the business of confirming these sorts of things.
“The government can train you to do all kinds of things, but for the things that are in the world that we cannot see, they don’t train you for that,” Marro says in a Netflix documentary that shares a name with Martin’s book, “Hostage to the Devil.” According to the London Times, Marro saw the script for the new movie, but was unhappy with it — and he has since claimed that he can’t speak to the press regarding the incident because of a contract that he signed. That suggests that, even if the case were true, it likely didn’t happen the way the film presents it.
Reportedly, Marro assisted Martin in some exorcisms (potentially including the one this new movie is based on), and the producers were able to corroborate elements of Marro’s story with another of Martin’s close friends, though the second friend claimed only to have been told about the incident by Martin and had no first-hand knowledge of it.
Whether Marro was a CIA agent or not, he does have a history of making claims that tie the U.S. government to the supernatural, including a story about possessed special forces soldiers exhibiting superhuman strength and speaking in ancient languages.
There is no evidence to support the idea that a soldier on Fort Bragg needed Martin’s help expelling a demon from his body; but to be fair, there’s no evidence yet available to prove that it didn’t happen either. But when it comes to Hollywood, that’s never really mattered anyway. Let’s not forget that “The Blair Witch Project” was marketed as a “true story” as well.
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