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'Exorcists' Tried to Purge the NSA of Its Demons in Manhattan This Weekend

“Watching us, watching them, watching us.”

In Greek lore, a "gorgon" is a monster so hideous that it is dangerous, even deadly, to look upon it. In New York City's lore, the AT&T Long Lines building in lower Manhattan is a brutalist skyscraper so ugly one assumes something malevolent must be happening inside.

On April 15, about a dozen people in aluminum foil hats tried to shrink this building using exorcism rites and flip phones.

Organized by musician Eli Smith and Noah Harley, editor of the self-published newspaper The Quiet American, along with friends and fellow performance artists, the ritual was inspired by The Intercept's reporting on NSA spy site TITANPOINTE. Supposedly housed within two stories of the AT&T Long Lines building, the site is thought to be one of the most important National Security Agency surveillance locations in the US. As the story broke in November 2016, it was rapidly buried by the presidential elections.


Could Monty-Python-meets- Spaceballs street theatre defeat the all-seeing gorgon of the NSA? They sure as hell gave it an earnest shot. They burned sage, rang bells, clanged cymbals chanted incantations, and cast a salt circle. An ostrich egg was smashed in sacrifice to the Assyrian and Babylonian fertility goddess Ishtar. All this, in attempt to trigger "a massive spiritual data hemorrhage that will release the banal facts of our lives back into their proper home—the ether—and expel the demons of fear and suspicion from the temple," the organizers wrote in a call to participate.

Image: Samantha Cole

Passers-by paused to take photos while the street exorcists invited them to join a group chant directed at the building: "In the name of what runs wild and free within us like the ancient rushing waters of this continent, return to the manifold origins of your crevices."

They then called for the small, gathering crowd to turn and face the behemoth, and point their cell phones (or tiny mirrors handed out to the audience) at the skyscraper to create a "positive feedback loop." Somehow, this would destabilize and the shrink the building by two stories—the two that the NSA purportedly inhabits—and cast out any data-privacy demons therein. "Watching us, watching them, watching us, watching them," went the mantra.

Folk musician Peter Stampfel wrapped the ritual in a rendition of "NSA Man."

"We wanted to have fun, we wanted to make fun of the NSA, satirize the NSA," Smith told me after the exorcism. "They're such a malevolent force… It was cathartic."

New Yorkers Barbara Good and Judith Drasner came specifically to participate after seeing the event appear in their Facebook feeds. Was I surprised to see a "couple of old broads" out here, they asked? "This is important," Good said. "It was nice to see," Drasner added. "People need to know this stuff."

But did the ritual work? "I don't know if it worked," Harley said, glancing up the windowless facade. "We still have to measure it."