Mar 4, 2017

Peter Popoff, the Born-Again Scoundrel

Peter Popoff
Peter Popoff
MARK OPPENHEIMER
GQ
February 28, 2017

Once, Peter Popoff was a magical, mystical man of God—a giant among '80s televangelists. And Lord, was he rich! But he was also an enormous fraud who was ruined in scandal. Ah, but here in America, time absolves all that. And if a fellow is clever enough, he can remake his kingdom and amass quite a fortune. For the Lord worketh in mysterious ways.

He came to me when I least expected. I was in a hotel bed, enrobed in terry cloth, my teeth brushed, my hand aloft holding the remote. This was a year ago, and the soft glow of cable TV was the room's only light. I was flitting between channels when I happened upon BET. There I saw an old white man preaching to an audience of elderly black people. And as I wondered what on earth this pasty alter kocker was doing on black TV, it came to me: I had seen this man before.

It had been years, and he had changed some: a few more wrinkles, a little hitch in his gait, the hair a bit more aggressively black. But it was him. Peter Popoff was back. And he was as mesmerizing as ever.

Sitting on a stage, in an upholstered chair, Popoff implored his television audience to call an 800 number so that he could send them a secret “faith tool” that God had recently given him as he was “praying about the four red moons of this year of Jubilee.” If that wasn't incentive enough, there was more reason to reach for the phone. On the screen, below Popoff, flashed the message “Call now for your free miracle spring water.”
As if to answer the very question that occurred to me—what does one do with miracle spring water?—Popoff explained that good times were ahead, very good times. “I can see God leading people into new homes, new automobiles!… God gives supernatural debt cancellation!… And I'd like to send you the miracle spring water.”

The show cut to video of Popoff working a room of sick, elderly African-Americans. “Is that your cane?” he asked an old woman. “I believe God has given you a divine chiropractic treatment! Amen! Hallelujah! Amen in Jesus's name! You can walk now without the cane. Take a few steps and make the Devil mad!”

The woman stood up, with his help, started shaking her hands, and then, as the organ and drum picked up the tempo, started shaking her hands faster. She never took very many steps, but she vibrated with energy. Popoff yanked her cane away and tossed it up onstage. The scene dissolved to a woman sharing a bit of testimony with Popoff and the crowd. “I took your holy water and put it in my son's shoes,” she said. “I put it in his bed, I put it on his pillow, and my son joined the church and he got saved and he's still in church—and then I got $3,800 and new furniture.”

Such blessings! The prevailing sentiment in the room was Thanks be to God—but also Thanks be to Peter Popoff. He was hugging people, punching the air with them. Everyone had a story: Addictions had disappeared. Appliances had been delivered. All proof of the miracle water's efficacy. And getting off crutches, that was big, too—this is why people needed Popoff's healing touch. “You know where that pain went?” Popoff cried after one healing. “I'll tell you where that pain went. It went back to the pits of hell!”

Staring at the TV, I was transfixed. This was vintage stuff—a sort of resurrection, if you will. Like so many televangelists, Popoff had his heyday in the 1980s, back when preaching on TV was big business—and plenty mainstream. The flamboyant, seemingly pious preachers who solicited cash for enormous, if dubious, ministries were household names. But one by one, they fell to disgrace: Jim Bakker paid off a woman who'd accused him of rape; Jimmy Swaggart was caught with a prostitute at a roadside motel. But none were humiliated quite as publicly as Popoff.

Popoff had been the best at what he did—the boldest and baddest, the most don't-give-a-damn cheesy. He dared you to doubt him, which helped insulate him from charges that he was a fraud. With a promise to heal the sick, Popoff convened huge crowds, where he relied on a shtick that involved calling out the name and ailment of someone in the audience he had never met, as if God had just vouchsafed him the information. “I'm looking for an Ada Mae, and I know that she has kidney problems! Where are you, Ada Mae?”—that sort of thing. (Steve Martin borrowed this bit of Popoff's routine for his 1992 flick Leap of Faith, and Chevy Chase had fun at Popoff's expense in Fletch Lives.)

But a key component of his act eventually spelled his downfall. In 1986, a team of freelance debunkers, including the magician James Randi, took a radio scanner to a Popoff revival, where they overheard Popoff 's wife, Liz, feeding him names and illnesses. Apparently, plants in the audience would chat people up or get them to jot down details, then feed their information to Liz, who passed it on to her husband through an earpiece. Listening through the gizmo in his ear, Popoff would call out to the crowd as if he possessed the omniscience of the Lord.

Randi's tape of the ruse made its way to The Tonight Show, where Johnny Carson—who harbored great disdain for charlatans—exposed Popoff 's technique. The Tonight Show exposé made national news, and in 1987 the Peter Popoff Evangelistic Association filed for bankruptcy. He seemed done for.

Popoff had been the boldest and baddest of televangelists—the most don't-give-a-damn cheesy.

Yet here he was, all these years later, peddling miracle water and his own healing touch to an audience of African-Americans who seemed not to have gotten the memo that he was a mountebank. It appeared to me that Popoff was exploiting more than just American forgetfulness. He was tapping into something far more powerful: our desire to get something for nothing.

Right alongside our Puritan work ethic and entrepreneurial drive runs our instinctive love for the lottery. And in modern Christianity, this yearning for the jackpot has given rise to what's known as the prosperity gospel—the magical thinking that if we give a few bucks, close our eyes, and pray real hard, riches and blessings will be ours. It's the tradition of Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, and all the other TV preachers who rose up to take the place of the vanquished buffoons from the 1980s.

He may have once been branded a charlatan, but Popoff could probably see that we never stopped making space in our hearts for a guy like him—a guy who knows what we want to believe. In fact, maybe he realized that today, more than ever, we are primed for what he has to sell. After all, in an age when a TV tycoon can win the White House, vowing to build walls and move markets with sheer chutzpah, there's opportunity for a clever fellow who knows that people running on pure faith fall easily in love with big promises.

What I didn't yet know was the full extent of what the old preacher had gotten himself up to. I wasn't aware yet of the ski vacations or his affinity for tennis or how much he adored his Bentley. I didn't know how it was all funded through a tax-exempt ministry that reaches its flock via live events and a blizzard of mailings, expertly crafted to separate poor people from their money. I had no idea that peddling miracles was, these days, as lucrative as ever.

When I got home, I began devouring episodes of the new Popoff show. I signed up for his mailing list. Almost immediately the letters began to come. The envelopes also included the miracle water or one of various worthless, made-in-China gewgaws: “revelation stones”; red strings that resemble the Kabbalah bracelets Madonna used to wear; and “baruch wallets,” flimsy silver lamé pouches with a slit at the top, in which I was encouraged to insert money to mail back to Popoff. And, of course, everything came with requests for more money: “REMEMBER YOU MUST SOW THE LARGEST BILL YOU HAVE OR THE LARGEST CHECK YOU CAN WRITE.”

I only grew more curious. Why, I wondered, were so many people willing to trust a “prophet” of God who needed an earpiece, and why would they trust his advice on prosperity even after his own financial house had collapsed? I called and sent e-mails to Popoff's organization, People United for Christ, but nobody got back to me. I decided that I'd settle for a glimpse of one of his public crusades, maybe see some people get healed, but I discovered that they weren't advertised. I heard from a veteran Popoff-watcher that the best way to get to one of his shows was to give money—then, if he was planning an event near where you lived, he'd send you a ticket. So I asked friends in ten locales spread across the country to give $10 to Popoff, then sit back and wait for tickets.

I fed my curiosity in the meantime with the broad outline of Popoff's story. I knew he'd been born in 1946 in Germany, where his father, an ethnic Bulgarian, was an evangelical pastor. The family had fled the Communists in 1950, eventually settling in Montclair, California. Popoff was homeschooled after the eighth grade, so he could travel and preach with his father. After graduating from college, Popoff married his wife, Liz, and they embarked on an itinerant life, preaching the Pentecostal gospel across the country. They moved into radio, then television.

In his extracurricular life, Popoff came to see himself, in those Cold War years, as a kind of Christian 007, sneaking Bibles into Communist lands. A photograph in his 1980 memoir, Behind Curtains of Darkness a New Fire Is Blazing, shows Popoff in front of a boat, hair flowing like a Bee Gee's, two Bibles fanned in his left hand. The caption reads: “Peter prepares to drop Bibles into the Black Sea off Istanbul, Turkey. Wrapped in Styrofoam for buoyancy and waterproofing, the Bibles eventually washed up on Communist shores.”

The book makes the claim that Peter was “smuggling thousands of Bibles” into China, and that in Eastern Europe, people would walk 150 miles to hear him preach. Border guards who could have had him arrested let him pass because “they were hungry to know about God.” In 1982 the AP reported on Popoff's use of helium balloons to deliver Bibles and gospel pamphlets from Finland into the Soviet Union.
Religious enthusiasm, as with boy bands, reality TV, and other aspects of pop culture, cycles in and out. After the bankruptcy, Popoff, like some of his fellow Pentecostal preachers, receded somewhat from view. Before long, however, he'd rebranded his ministry as People United for Christ, and he'd reconsidered his audience—this time focusing on African-Americans. “His message hasn't changed,” The Washington Post noted in 1998, “but the audience he is aiming for has.”

The pivot has allowed Popoff to slip from the shadow of his old scandal and, in the years since, quietly rebuild his empire. According to publicly available IRS forms, by 2003, Popoff 's new organization was netting over $9 million a year and Popoff was paying himself and his wife a combined salary of more than half a million dollars a year; their son, daughter, and son-in-law were each netting over a hundred grand. Three years later, revenues for Popoff's ministry were just over $35 million. And according to a document related to his purchase of a Bentley in January 2009, Peter listed his monthly income at $100,000. The couple's 7,300-square-foot house, purchased for $4.5 million in 2007, sits in a gated community in Bradbury, California, and is owned by his church. As a parsonage, it is tax-free.

The actual ministry, though, has been something of a mystery. On paper, Popoff's new outfit hadn't technically been a church—that's because it never had a physical house of worship—but instead functioned as a religious non-profit. But in 2006, it reorganized and aligned itself with a small ministry called Word for the World, which operated out of a tiny storefront church in Farmers Branch, Texas. The apparent oddity of the merger was raised with Popoff in a 2011 deposition when he was asked why an international TV ministry based in California might merge with a minuscule church outside of Dallas. “Our board of directors,” Popoff said, “felt it was in the best interests.” Popoff didn't mention another possible benefit: With this new status, his ministry would no longer be required to disclose its annual income or its salaries to the IRS.

A few months ago, I flew to Texas and tried to visit Word for the World on a Sunday morning, hoping to catch a rousing Pentecostal service. I was surprised when the address for the church I had found online took me to a storefront in an industrial park. The parking lot was deserted, and the building was locked. There was no church sign outside—and certainly no sign of a church inside. Squinting through a window, past venetian blinds, I glimpsed a carpeted foyer, and beyond that, an empty room. This didn't look like a house of worship; it looked like a mailing address. Later, Popoff's people would tell me that the church had recently moved and it was going by a new name now, too. Its new address was just down the road, I discovered, in a strip mall.

If I wasn't going to see a service, I still wanted to visit Popoff's office. His organization, People United for Christ, keeps its headquarters in a suite of white buildings in an industrial section of Upland, California, an hour's drive inland from Los Angeles.

I had expected to be rebuffed. “When they see any media come by, it's a total lockdown on the facility,” I had been told by Crystal Sanchez, age 33, who used to work at Popoff's headquarters. I had found Sanchez after reading The Real Truth Behind People United for Christ, the e-book detailing her time there that she self-published in 2013. “There are cameras surrounding both buildings. If news vans come by, the receptionist or security guy, whoever sees it first, she notified all the top people, letting them know the building is on lockdown.”

Popoff's employees are on guard for more than just the media. Sometimes, Sanchez said, those taken in by Popoff's message would breach security. “This lady came in, and everyone said she was nuts,” Sanchez told me. “She'd sold all her belongings. She had come to talk to Peter.” Popoff didn't come out to meet her; nor did any of his employees.

Sanchez said that when she took the job as a “donation processor,” she thought she might gain new skills while serving God, too. But she soon began to worry that she wasn't really working for a church. “I knew about televangelists,” Sanchez said. “I knew there had been scams. But I had never heard about him before.” Sanchez said that the buildings were essentially big processing centers for cash, checks, and valuables. On her second day on the job, opening envelopes, she counted about $30,000 in donations—in a room filled with about 20 other women doing the same job. “When ‘partners’ wouldn't donate so much money, they would cut back on staff,” Sanchez said. When times were good, they would ramp up.

The workload depended on what Popoff was saying on his paid television spots. “The real clincher,” Sanchez said, “was when they started asking for all your gold, your trinkets, your heirlooms. And tubs and tubs of gold and stones came in. They would take the stones out, take the gold to be resold.” Anything that wasn't valuable was shredded. “It was a shame how many shred bins were full to the rim with prayer requests awaiting to be destroyed and never seen again,” Sanchez wrote.

Sanchez, who quit in early 2012, was one of two ex-employees who spoke with me. The other, somebody higher up, told me that the distribution of the “miracle spring water” was subcontracted to a packaging plant in Cedar Grove, New Jersey. So one day I took the Garden State Parkway to have a look at Unit Pack, a family-run firm that specializes in packaging those little samples of shampoo, pharmaceuticals, and the like. I met the very friendly father and two sons who owned the place, and they confirmed for me that they do business with Popoff, but they didn't say much more.

And then, on my way out, I got even closer to the truth. I was walking out toward my car when I saw a guy pulling down the metal door at a loading dock on the side of the building. He looked 30-ish and was wearing a Cowboys baseball cap and a greasy Unit Pack jumper. Two rings through his lower lip framed his broad smile. We started talking. He said he was the only guy in receiving—if it came to Unit Pack, it came to him. I asked about Popoff.

“What troubles you?” Popoff asked. I held up my broken finger. He touched it and le t loose a loud stream of glossolalia, speaking in tongues, as Pentecostals do. “Shabalalalalalalala!”

“Yeah, we do him,” the man said. “We go through Poland Spring.”

“The Popoff water is Poland Spring?” I asked.

“Yeah, they deliver it right here,” he said. “Paul is the guy who does the deliveries. Once or twice a month he comes. For Peter Popoff, we do 35 gallon-size jugs at a time, once or twice a month. One time they came with 130 gallon-size jugs.”

And then he said something mysterious, maybe even beautiful. I still can't decide. Popoff, he said, sends his own pre-blessed water, in a 16-ounce bottle, to add to all the jugs of Poland Spring. So that every little package of water contains a few molecules of holiness.

“I'm the one who pours the blessed water into the drums,” said the man with the lip rings. “I measure it out and add it into the drums.”

Was it possible, I wondered, that Popoff believes in his own powers, just a little? Did he fear God just enough to gesture toward authenticity, so that if he was ever questioned at the pearly gates about the millions of dollars of other people's gold and silver and Social Security money, he could say that in every New Jersey-packed packet of holy water there was a minuscule amount of blessing? I didn't know it then, but I would soon get to ask Popoff in person.

Late last November, my nationwide dragnet for tickets to see Popoff snagged something. One of the friends I'd cajoled into donating got a text message inviting her to an event in Washington, D.C. That's how I found myself, two days later, hustling into the Marriott Wardman Park for a 7 p.m. show. As it happens, I'd broken my left pinkie a month earlier, so my hand was in a splint. I looked like the real deal: a man in need of supernatural healing.

The conference room was packed with a thousand people, maybe two thousand. In this crowd, I was very white, very young, and very male. Some of the ladies had walkers or wheelchairs, some were healthy enough to dance in the aisles to the gospel music playing over loudspeakers. Hired men in suits passed out slips, telling us to jot down the ailments for which we needed intercession.

When Peter Popoff finally emerged, he gave a short sermon, but his heart wasn't in it. No matter: He knew that we weren't there for his preaching. He descended into the crowd, trailing an entourage of security men, his son, and a camera crew. People reached out to touch him, their hands seeming to plead, “Help me.” He picked people out and asked what was wrong. Arthritis, they said. Or kidney problems, a bum ticker, thyroid. Every kind of sickness. He spent two or three minutes with each hopeful worshipper, leaning in to whisper, and then—what they'd come for, what they needed—touching them.

Popoff is of the same generation as Bruce Springsteen, and he clearly shares the Boss's compulsion to never let an audience down. He worked the aisles for two hours that night, back and forth, until finally he was in my section. Before I knew it, he was upon me. The lights of his camera crew were blinding, but here he was, choosing me.

“What troubles you?” he asked. I held up my broken finger. He touched it, and then he let loose a loud stream of glossolalia, speaking in tongues, as Pentecostals do. “Shabalalalalalalala!” he cried. I wiggled my pinkie—which I had been able to do, anyway—and he shouted, “You are healed!” and gave me a long, tight hug. It felt good, as hugs do.

And then came something I didn't expect: love from the crowd, people rubbing me on my back after I sat down, touching me, giving me high fives, saying, “Praise the Lord!” It felt so good that even if my pinkie had been causing excruciating pain, or even if I'd had a far worse condition, something that in my heart I'd known was incurable, I'm sure that, for the moment, I would not have noticed.

The night that I was healed and hugged by Peter Popoff, I saw no sign that he was using an earpiece. If he had any plants in the audience, he didn't make good use of them. As he approached each of us, he asked what ailed us—he didn't pretend to know. And we in the audience were eager to believe in his powers. The earpiece, I realized, was always an unnecessary gimmick. Popoff is better than he knows.

I sensed the same ambivalence when I met Larry Skelton. He was introduced to Popoff when Popoff was only 15; Skelton was the organist in Popoff's father's road show, then in Popoff's, off and on, from 1965 to 1990. Skelton didn't return my calls, so one Sunday, I staked out his house in Mesquite, a hard-luck Dallas exurb. At about half past noon, he and his wife pulled into the driveway, back from church, I figured. Skelton invited me in, with an air of resignation. His wife eyed me warily.

Skelton wanted to make it clear, before we talked about his friend Popoff, that faith healing was real. “I've seen people with a short leg that had, for a while, a six-inch buildup on one of their shoes,” said Skelton, who's 80, ten years older than Popoff. “You could see, there was no fakery to it. All of a sudden, that leg began to grow out to the same size as the other.”

I asked if Popoff was the real deal. He thought for a moment, then replied that, yes, Popoff was the real deal. But I'd noticed his hesitation, and he could tell that I'd noticed, so he explained.

“When you're praying for the sick, it's through the Holy Spirit, and there's some times that it works freely, and then there are other times when the Spirit's just not there,” Skelton said. On the days when the Holy Spirit didn't show up freely, you had to help it along; after all, you still needed to pass the hat. “You're in that auditorium, and you had to pay for that sucker. In advance.”

The day after I talked with Skelton, he called me and asked if I could include one last sentiment, and I said I would. This is what he said: “That mess he got into, that was 30 years ago. He went bankrupt, he lost everything he had, he had to start over. And ever since then, I know, I personally know, that he is by the book and careful. Auditors come in every year. He wants it that way, so there is no question about where the money goes. And that's the gospel truth.”

In December, Popoff's daughter, Amy Cardiff, called me. She had first responded to my pestering a few months earlier, but I never expected that the Popoffs would consent to an interview. And yet, they did. On December 21, Peter Popoff welcomed me into his office, where we were joined by Amy and Nick, the two children who work in the ministry (another son, Alexander, is in the military). He didn't recognize me from the time he healed my finger in Washington (not that I expected he would). For an hour and a half, he answered my questions—about miracle spring water, James Randi, bankruptcy, his tennis game, the Holy Spirit.

Popoff wore a natty suit and a tie knotted to the strangulation point. He moves slowly, but not frailly—more like a muscular man managing his own physique. And the hair truly is something, shiny and monochrome like an action figure's. When I asked how I could have hair like his when I got older, he quoted Exodus: “ ‘I am the Lord thy God that heals thee!’ That's the promise that God gave to Israel. If you can take that by faith, you'll live a life of increase.” And great hair.

Popoff talked about everything, without a trace of defensiveness. According to him, declaring bankruptcy was a mistake, the misguided suggestion of lawyers. In reality, he said, the exposé on The Tonight Show barely hurt his finances. The incoming monthly take “went down by a third for three months; the fourth month it stabilized, and the fifth month it started growing again,” Popoff said. “By the end of that year, we were back to where we were.” He said that they never went off the air, never stopped doing live shows.

He had an answer for everything, or almost everything. When I inquired about the college scholarships and Ukrainian orphanages that, according to their mailings, the ministry funded, he said he'd get back to me with the addresses of the orphanages (he never did) and the details about how much the scholarships were worth (ditto). They did not want to comment on Crystal Sanchez's allegations in her e-book.

But when I asked about the earpiece, Popoff was happy to talk. “We were taping television! And I venture to say anyone doing TV programs...” He trailed off, as if he were saying something so obvious it didn't bear finishing.

I mentioned his $4.5 million house. “It's now worth 10 million!” he said. “So I made the ministry $5 million!”

“It wasn't always like this,” Amy interrupted to say. “When I was born, we traveled in a trailer.”

Popoff seemed to be truly enjoying my company, but his children were uncomfortable. The family business is theirs to inherit, and both told me that they have “the gift” and could take over someday. Meanwhile, as chief administrative officer (Amy) and executive vice president (Nick), they prosper alongside him. They wouldn't tell me what they earn, but Nick enjoyed telling me about the Clydesdale horses he keeps.

“We are a prosperity ministry that preaches prosperity,” Nick added. “We preach financial blessings. God has prospered us.” The good life they lead is proof of their powers. If they weren't noticeably rich, what authority would they have to promise riches to others?

At this point, I had a sense of déjà vu, a flashback to other scandal-plagued gurus I'd interviewed, like the New Age teacher and ex-rabbi Marc Gafni, who had been accused of plagiarism, serial dishonesty, and sexual misconduct with a 13-year-old (his excuse was that she'd been 14), or the Zen master Eido Shimano, who'd been seducing and emotionally abusing his female students for decades. In each case, I was shocked that they'd agreed to be interviewed, until I realized, as I sat with them, that they didn't think they had anything to hide. They're like Jack Nicholson's Colonel Jessup in A Few Good Men—they want to say it. They want to take the stand. Their lawyers and friends can tell them to shut up, but that makes them look guilty, and they don't feel guilty.

Peter Popoff inhabits both hemispheres of our national brain, the Puritan and the magician. He believes in divine magic-but not at the expense of the work ethic.

As I sat with the gregarious, affable Popoff, I understood: He believes he is helping people. If you accept, as Pentecostal Christians do, that God performs miracles, on the body, soul, and bank account, then his ministry offers a series of fair exchanges between him and his audience. They give money; he sends them trinkets. They make him rich, pray with the trinkets, and maybe get rich, too. He touches them and they feel better.

And if they don't feel better? Well, there are no guarantees. “There's nothing magical about them,” he said about the spring water, the baruch wallet, and all the stuff I'd gotten in the mail. “They are simply points of contact”—they help people focus their prayer. God decides what prayers to answer.

I took a bathroom break in Popoff's private lavatory, right off his office. The walls were covered with little inspirational notes. Next to the sink: “But I am trusting you, O Lord, saying, ‘You are my God!’ My future is in your hands.—Psalm 31:14–15.” Below that, on a sticky note: “Whatever you touch will prosper and succeed. You will lend and not borrow.” (That one's from Joel Osteen.) Then, next to the toilet paper, an 8½-by-11 printout listing the family's goals for 2015—Peter's, Liz's, Nick's, Amy's. Peter's list included more crusades, “Book some fun trips including Italy, Skiing, and Lake Tahoe,” and, at number five, “Tax Exemption in Canada.” It was an astonishing précis of the prosperity gospel. Get converts, get time on the slopes, get a tax exemption.

But here's the thing about Peter and Liz Popoff and their kids: They could have all their ski trips and Bentleys and Clydesdale horses without ever working another day in their lives. Yet here they are, hitting mildewy, ticky-tacky hotel ballrooms and convention centers in a dozen cities every year, as if the salvation of the world depended on it. This septuagenarian clocks the hours of a junior lawyer trying to make partner. Which complicates any theory that he is trying to get something for nothing. He's trying to get something, all right—millions of something, in fact—but not for nothing. He works hard for his money.

Peter Popoff is the all-American faith healer because he inhabits both hemispheres of our national brain, the Puritan and the magician. He believes in divine magic—to enrich you, to heal you, or just to entertain you—but not at the expense of the work ethic. He'll do the work, all right, and your part is just suspending disbelief and sending him a check to show that you mean it. He gets rich, you get hope.

It's hard to escape the parallels with another baby boomer, a man born just two weeks before Popoff in the summer of '46, just before the United States entered its long, hopeful postwar expansion. Both men went into the family business, suffered reversals, went bankrupt, seemed destined to be TV-rerun laughingstocks. One became president, the other just became rich. Both seem to be running cons, but both have followers who either don't notice or don't care. Both men have produced nothing, except, for their followers, fervent certainty that they can produce anything. And say what you will about the trust people have in them— it hasn't come easy. “I've been working for 50 years,” Popoff told me. “It's not something I snapped my fingers and it magically appeared. It's been a long and winding road!”

Mark Oppenheimer is the editor-at-large at Tablet magazine. This is his first article for GQ.

http://www.gq.com/story/peter-popoff-born-again-scoundrel?mbid=social_cp_fb_tny
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