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635: Chip in My Brain

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Prologue

Ira Glass

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. I think the thing that gets to me the most about the story that we're doing today is I feel for the parents in this story.

Like when you're a parent, at some point you're in the situation where your kid is having experiences and friendships with people that are completely out of your reach, right? You don't know what's really happening between them. You don't really know what's going through your kid's head. You're powerless.

The parents in the story today, they thought they were close to their son, who was doing really well in school. Things seemed fine. Anyway, it's our whole hour today, a story we call Chip in My Brain. David Kestenbaum tells what happened, which begins with basketball.

Act One: Believing

David Kestenbaum

It would probably be wrong to say that Cody Treybig loved basketball at the beginning. It would definitely be wrong to say he was good at it. He wasn't at all. He was good at World of Warcraft though, the video game.

Cody Treybig

Sometimes I still almost cry thinking about the first time I walked into Stormwind, the capital human city. And the music changes. And you see this beautiful, huge castle. And you're walking in, and it's like-- it's just really-- it's amazing.

David Kestenbaum

Cody says he wasn't exactly avoiding physical activity. The game was just super fun. He and his friends would all log on, go on adventures together. As someone who used to play a lot of video games, it felt like bad etiquette not to ask who his online character was.

Cody told me-- and knowing him a little bit now, this seems entirely appropriate-- he was a paladin, which is a holy knight who can fight. But also, he's nice. He casts healing spells when his co-adventurers get hurt. Cody eventually built them up to level 60, as high as you can go.

Cody Treybig

I was just really proud of having [? 6/8 ?] of Lightforge gear, which was nothing. But--

David Kestenbaum

All of which is just to say that sports were not Cody's top priority. In gym class when they'd have to run laps, he'd always be at the back. Basketball somehow though, he kind of liked. His dad had played when he was growing up. So early on, in third grade, Cody found himself on this local youth league team.

Cody Treybig

I was not very athletic at all. I remember being at basketball games with my friend Daniel. And we'd be talking about World of Warcraft while the game was going on on the bench.

Drew Treybig

OK. Well, from Mom's perspective, I thought he was adorable.

David Kestenbaum

That's Mom, Drew Treybig. And here's Dad, Jimmy Treybig.

Jimmy Treybig

He wasn't real aggressive.

Drew Treybig

He's in the middle of the court, watching everybody run back and forth.

Jimmy Treybig

And if he got the ball and someone wanted it, he'd just give it to them.

Drew Treybig

He would just so sweetly hand it off to another player. I didn't really have a problem with that, to be honest, at that age. He was little. I thought, this is my dear, sweet boy. And he'll get it. He'll get it eventually. But it bothered him, after a while, that the boys were making fun of him.

David Kestenbaum

Drew describes herself as a kind of helicopter mom, which seems right. While I was there talking to Cody, she kept momming us. Are you guys hungry? How about a smoothie? I'm going to get one.

Drew says the whole family is kind of kooky. Whenever someone was leaving, they'd be sure to say I love you, to the other person. And I don't mean leaving the house, just like leaving the room. Cody's dad, Jimmy, says he had a hard time getting his father to say I love you. So this is their fix.

The Treybigs live in Texas in the outskirts of Austin. Jimmy was an early tech entrepreneur. He founded a company that made the computers that ran ATM machines. So they had a nice house on a big piece of land. There were cows around, but no neighbors you could walk to, which Jimmy told me he regretted.

As it happened, there was an old basketball court out behind the house. So they decided to get Cody some lessons. Like instead of a piano teacher or something, get him a basketball teacher. His dad found someone through the local youth league, a guy named AJ. Cody is in third grade at the time.

Cody Treybig

So I remember the first meeting. He came in the front door. And he was just very friendly, is what I remember feeling at the time, tall, 6 foot 6".

And I think I probably asked him, oh my god, can you dunk? And he's like, oh yeah, I can dunk. He said they used to call him "Springs" was his nickname because he dunked a lot.

David Kestenbaum

What did you think of the fact that he was black? Was that like a cool thing for you?

Cody Treybig

Yeah, I think it was a cool thing for me. I mean, when you're that young, you don't really understand race that much. But you probably-- you look at the NBA, and it's mostly African Americans. So I think it was a cool thing for me.

David Kestenbaum

So that first day, AJ walks in. They all hang out by the front door. Cody is shy, but AJ gets right down on his level. The two of them go out to the basketball court, talking the whole way. When they get there, Cody can't really even do a layup.

And AJ is like, OK, we can fix this. Let's do some basics. He teaches Cody this drill where you stand just to the side of the basket, try to bank it in off this magic spot. Then you get the rebound, go to the other side, and do it again, back and forth, back and forth.

Cody Treybig

And he would put his hand through the hoop and act like a little monster, a dragon or something, squiggle his fingers around like, feed the monster. Feed the monster. [CHUCKLES] So I thought that was pretty fun.

David Kestenbaum

AJ works with Cody two days a week, then three days a week. Sometimes other kids come over so they can all train together. And it's great. Mom would bring out snacks for everyone. Or if other kids weren't around, Mom or Dad would get drafted.

Drew Treybig

We would stand there and pretend to be a player on the other team so that they could-- or he told us to try to move into them, or try to steal the ball, or you know. So we could kind of be silly doing that too, right?

David Kestenbaum

Was that fun?

Drew Treybig

Yeah. Yeah. It was really fun-- but not on the hot days. I'd say, AJ, I don't want to do this. It's too hot. [LAUGHS]

David Kestenbaum

Word spreads around town about this great basketball trainer. Other parents hire him. But AJ and Cody, they have something kind of special. They just click, and they have this way of being around each other that seems sweet.

When AJ was working with Cody, they would trash talk on the court, which I always thought of as involving a lot of swearing. But AJ taught Cody this really hilarious kind of trash talking-- just messing with someone, asking weird, random questions in the middle of the game. Hey, what did you have for breakfast?

Cody Treybig

He would act like my mom sometimes. He would talk in my mom's voice and be like, OK, Cody, make the shot. Time to make the shot. Let's go. Let's get in there and try hard. [LAUGHS] And that would obviously crack me up, and it would be hard to focus.

David Kestenbaum

Cody played constantly. If the family went on a trip, he would deflate a basketball, stick it in the suitcase, then re-inflate it after they arrived. When you're a kid, you want there to be something that you're special at, or even just a little good at.

Because as a kid, you start off being terrible at everything. That is the definition of being a kid. So when you meet someone who helps you get good at something, it can feel amazing. Cody remembers this one afternoon-- maybe fourth grade, on the court out back-- where it all just felt perfect.

Cody Treybig

We were just doing jump shots. And I was making like all of them, like never done-- making all of them. And one of my brother's friends had come to hang out with my brother. And he was up at the top watching us. And I noticed that. And I was like-- to me, he was older and cool.

And I was making them. And he could see I was making them. And I had just this pride, just like it's something I loved, the shooting. And I was doing good at it. And I just remember feeling like I was, yeah, floating on air. It was really nice.

David Kestenbaum

And AJ was there?

Cody Treybig

Yeah. He was coaching me. He was rebounding and giving me the passes.

David Kestenbaum

The next year, Cody got the MVP award for the school team. In some ways, AJ was like a big kid himself. Drew says he often seemed more comfortable with kids than adults. And as Cody gets older, he and AJ really start to become friends. After his games, Cody would always call AJ to tell him how it went.

Cody Treybig

Which kind of drove my parents nuts, actually, because they wanted to talk to me after the game in the car. And I would be talking to AJ on the phone the whole way home, [CHUCKLES] which just shows how close we were.

David Kestenbaum

AJ would sometimes pick Cody up from middle school. Cody started to listen to the music AJ listened to. Young MC, "Bust a Move" was a favorite. When Cody went out clothes shopping with his mom, he picked out clothes that looked like things AJ would wear-- simple, solid color T-shirts. Cody fell in love with basketball. And he kind of fell in love with AJ.

Cody Treybig

I would hug him and tell him I loved him, yeah. I mean, I would jump up, and he was holding me in the air, or whatever, yeah, and tell him I loved him, yeah. I would get sad when he left. I was shy. But once I got to know people, I got very attached to them.

David Kestenbaum

There's something Cody wrote about AJ that sums up how he felt and also weirdly foreshadows what was to come. It's from early on, a school assignment to write about your hero. I had Cody read from it.

Cody Treybig

"Some people in fourth grade might have picked their heroes because they're national celebrities. But I picked mine because he has made me a better person."

David Kestenbaum

Cody runs through how they met the way a fourth grader would.

Cody Treybig

"Ding dong goes our doorbell. [CHUCKLES] He was here. I closed my eyes and hoped. Then the door opened. 'Hey, Cody,' he said with happiness. 'Hi, AJ,' I replied."

David Kestenbaum

The essay ends with an interview, Cody asking AJ what seemed like innocuous questions. Where did you grow up? What was your favorite subject in school? And then these two questions.

Cody Treybig

What values do you think are important? And he says, "Communication and 'Thy shalt not have any gods before me,' and, 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'" Did you have a hero in your life? "Yes, Christ."

David Kestenbaum

Is it hard to get back in the mind of yourself writing this, when you wrote this?

Cody Treybig

It's very hard, because now I know kind of what was going on. And so it's pretty sad, I think.

David Kestenbaum

Fast forward to the morning of February 7, 2012. Cody's in ninth grade. He and AJ have been hanging out for six years. Here's Drew, Cody's mom.

Drew Treybig

At that point, I was driving Cody to school. And I don't remember why. But I dropped him off. And just as I'm getting ready to leave, my friend whips into the spot next to me. And so I put my window down. She put her window down.

And she's sobbing. She's not even the tearing up kind of person. And she handed me-- she said, oh my god, oh my god. You need to see what AJ has done. I found some transcripts with my son. Here they are.

David Kestenbaum

They were instant messages between the woman's son, Lucas, and AJ. AJ had been coaching Lucas too. And they'd been typing back and forth over Skype. Lucas's mom had printed them out.

Drew Treybig

And I read them. And it was as if my entire body went numb. It's still really hard to talk about. [CRYING]

David Kestenbaum

There didn't seem to be anything physical going on. The messages were about religion, but not any religion that Drew was familiar with-- stuff from the Bible, but also things that were definitely not in the Bible. Some of it seemed really out there and scary.

Drew Treybig

I knew I had to get home. And she told me-- she said, go home right away. You've got to check Cody's Skype transcripts. And I'm an Apple person. I really don't know anything about the PC, the Skyping, and the keyboard even. I mean, everything seems different. So I say to her, I don't know if I'm going to be able to do it.

I couldn't get home fast enough, because I knew in my heart it was going to be terrible. I got home. Nobody was here. And I went to Cody's room, and his Skype log was up. So he must have been on it that morning right before school.

David Kestenbaum

She sits there at Cody's desk and starts to read. Cody and AJ had been messaging and Skyping, sometimes late into the night, and clearly trying to hide it from her. The first pages are from some night when she'd been threatening to take his phone away.

Cody writes to AJ, "How do I communicate with you without technology"" AJ, "Please turn off everything and remain calm as possible. This is just for tonight." Cody, "Should I give them my phone if they ask for it?" AJ, "Delete everything and give it to them." She keeps reading, and it gets even stranger.

Drew Treybig

Rapture, Illuminati, there were references to all these things, biblical or religious, that I was just astounded by.

David Kestenbaum

It was like Cody and AJ were living in this other world. And it was vast-- some mix of science fiction and stuff inspired by the Bible, particularly the Book of Revelations. At the time, Drew couldn't piece it all together. But as best as I can tell, this is the basic outline of it.

It starts with standard evangelical beliefs about the rapture, the end of days, when a select group of people will suddenly disappear from the Earth to go live with God. And everyone else is going to be left to suffer. Who will be saved, and who will be left behind?

Well, the devil is trying to capture as many souls as he can. And here's where the sci-fi stuff comes in. The devil is operating through a powerful and secret society called the Illuminati. The Illuminati have built a self-programming supercomputer somewhere in Belgium called "The Beast."

At some point, the Illuminati is going to try to control people by implanting a computer ID chip, an RFID chip, in everyone's hands or foreheads. This chip, it said, is what the Bible has been prophesying, the mark of the beast, a high-tech version of 666. If you get an RFID chip implanted, well, you are definitely not getting saved.

In the transcripts, AJ and Cody go back and forth about RFID chips a bunch. At one point, AJ writes, "It's here. This coming up year, it will be mandatory for all armed forces, followed by medical field, then everyone else. What it does to the body is inhuman."

Cody, "What do they do to your body?" AJ, "You lose mind control. Why do you think I took time to study the mind with you?" Cody, "How does it do that?" AJ, "Oh, [BLEEP], here we go. Are you sure? You want to know the truth?" Cody, "Yes, I do." Then the Skype log indicates AJ called him to talk.

Drew Treybig

You could see how he was manipulating by reading it. "Yes, there's more. But I guess if you're not ready to hear it--" I mean, you could see him, how he would reel a child in.

David Kestenbaum

AJ writes, "For now, rest. I have so much more to show you. But you have class tomorrow." In some places, the conversation seems very middle school, except they're texting about the apocalypse. And one of them is 36 years old.

Like this time AJ is talking about how he's preparing to assist other followers of the Lord. And Cody compares the whole thing to a movie. Cody, "So it's like you're that guy from The Matrix who rescues Neo and takes him to the refuge underground."

AJ, "You must be talking about Morpheus." Cody, "Yes, that guy." AJ, "How do you know I'm not Neo?" Cody, "But Neo never goes and rescues people from the Matrix." AJ, "But he does show them the truth."

The most alarming part for Drew reading this is that AJ seems to be trying to slowly separate Cody from his family, to drive a wedge between her and her son. At one point, AJ is telling Cody that his parents are influenced by, quote, "the other side."

Drew Treybig

One of the first things I had read that popped up was him telling Cody to call CPS.

David Kestenbaum

Child Protective Services?

Drew Treybig

Yeah, Child Protective-- and to fake that we were abusing him.

David Kestenbaum

Cody had been asking AJ what he should do if his parents tried to make him get an RFID chip implanted. AJ writes, "CPS, one phone call, 911. You can easily claim abuse, which is not a lie because they would be forcing you into hell. Tell CPS nothing about the chip. Stress potential harm to your body and yelling." Drew reads this and worries that Cody is about to run off with AJ.

Drew Treybig

You can just see in this sweet, little, innocent Cody saying things like, well, I think I have some money in a savings account. And then, because AJ is telling him we're going-- he and Cody are going to need a lot of money.

David Kestenbaum

Drew calls Jimmy, her husband, who rushes home.

Jimmy Treybig

I was really afraid. And it was obviously-- it had been going on a very long time.

David Kestenbaum

The Skype transcripts only went back a month. But they eventually learned from Cody that he and AJ had been having conversations like this for years-- right there in the house, right under their noses. Drew and Jimmy call the police, but it's unclear if there's anything they can charge AJ with.

They decide for sure they need to cut off all contact with AJ, which they worry will upset Cody. They don't know how much of all this religious stuff he really believes. But they know he loves AJ. They need time to figure things out. So they just leave Cody at school for the rest of the day. He's going to classes, doesn't know any of this is happening.

They call a friend who's a lawyer, and they make a plan. When the school day is over, Drew will pick up Cody and also his friend Lucas, who had been messaging with AJ. She'll pretend like everything's normal. But she'll take them directly to the lawyer's office, where Jimmy and the other kid's parents will be.

Cody Treybig

Last period of the day, last class, I had off period, no class. And I was texting AJ about something I had seen on the internet. And I think he replied. And it was a normal day.

And my mom-- my friend Lucas and I were hanging out before my mom came and picked me up. And I think we had a basketball session that day with AJ planned. And my mom said, oh, I'm going to drive both of you guys to our house to play.

Drew Treybig

They were so happy that day when they got in the car. And all I'm thinking is, oh my god, it's just in a couple of minutes when I have to turn left. It's all I kept thinking about. It's just going to all come crashing down. And I don't know if I'm strong enough to do this, because I'm still barely keeping it together.

Cody Treybig

So that was fine. It was normal. And we were going home. And instead of turning right, we turn left. And Lucas and I were, what's going on? Why are we turning left? And my mom wouldn't answer us. And we could tell something was weird.

So immediately, Lucas and I are like, what is going on? My mind immediately turned to, oh my god, maybe my parents are taking me somewhere to implant the RFID chip in me. So I'm starting to think about how are we going to get out of this car.

Drew Treybig

The other little boy almost jumped out of the car. And I had to beg him to just please not jump out of the car. They had done nothing wrong. They weren't in trouble. They were going to be OK. But I couldn't tell them. For 20 minutes, that's all I kept saying.

Cody Treybig

We were texting AJ like, what's going on? Do you know what's going on? We were kind of frantic. She took us to, I guess, our family lawyer at the time's office and sat us down. And they informed us that they had found Lucas's Skype transcripts with AJ.

And that prompted my parents to look at my computer. And they found my Skype transcripts with AJ and that they were going to fire him. I wouldn't be allowed to see him anymore and that he wasn't allowed to talk to us anymore.

So I mean it-- my world blew up. My world blew up. It was-- I don't know how else to put it. My world just blew up.

David Kestenbaum

Looking at Cody, though, Drew couldn't tell what was going on with him. He didn't cry. He didn't yell. When they got home, she says she tried to talk to him about all this, but he wouldn't talk. They got him a therapist right away.

The lawyer told AJ he was fired and to stay away from the Treybigs. The family sent the school a photo of AJ, told them to watch out for him. AJ sent an email to the Treybigs' lawyer, threatening to sue them if they said bad things about him.

Cody had been a high honors student. But the next day, he got a 24 on a test. After school, he'd go to his room, stay in there, and go to sleep.

In the mornings, his parents would break down. They'd say, please just come home to us today. Don't run away with him. Of course, one of the weird things about this whole situation is that before this, Cody had seemed totally normal around the house, just his regular self.

When I first heard this story, I honestly didn't know what to think. It seemed incredible that all this could be going on and that no one would notice. How did this happen? And why did AJ do it? The Treybigs thought he was grooming Cody for years in some evil plan to control him and pull him away from the family. But maybe AJ was just a devoted religious guy with unconventional beliefs.

We reached out to AJ, who declined multiple interview requests. Then just before we went to air, he did finally agree to talk. So we have some tape of him, which you'll hear later. He has a different version of most of this.

But here is the story from Cody and his family's perspective. Those years where life in the Treybig household felt totally ordinary, here's what Cody says was actually going on. Cody says the first time he and AJ talked about religion was back in the sixth grade. AJ had been coaching him for a few years. And this one day, AJ starts talking about that video game that Cody loved, World of Warcraft.

Cody Treybig

We were in my garage. And that's where we had some workout equipment at the time. And he just turned so serious suddenly. He's telling me, Cody, the things in your World of Warcraft game-- these demons, these warlocks--

Cody Treybig

--all these things, they're real. And they're all around us all the time. And it's not good that you play that game, because when you play that game, these things, they can come into you.

And those things come from hell. It's a spiritual war going on around us all the time. You just can't see it. Only some people can see it. I can see it. I just remember I-- it was truly terrifying.

David Kestenbaum

How did he seem?

Cody Treybig

He seemed compassionate, like he was looking out for me, telling me this information that I needed to hear. And he's saying, that's why you need to stop playing that game. That's why you need to start reading the Bible.

That's why you need to go to church. That's why you need to start praying. That's why you need to start understanding these things, and thinking about these things, and maturing. So to me, it was like he was protecting me from these terrible things.

David Kestenbaum

As for how this could all stay secret, this first conversation didn't. When other kids came over to play basketball that day, Cody disappeared into the house. He started to cry. And he told his mom.

Drew Treybig

Cody tells me, there's a computer in the sky that's going to kill me. I'm like, what? What are you talking about?

David Kestenbaum

Drew says people have asked her now why she didn't fire AJ on that day. She says she tries to be open-minded about religion. People believe all kinds of things. AJ seemed like a good guy. So when Cody tells his mom, we've got to cancel World of Warcraft, she's like, no, we don't.

Drew Treybig

Cody's telling me that I never told him that the game was evil. And why was I allowing him to play an evil game? Well, I remember almost laughing about that.

I'm like, Cody, you love this game. This is so silly. It's not evil. It's just a game. And I'm going to go talk to AJ because this is ridiculous.

David Kestenbaum

Drew says she went out to talk to AJ, who was coaching the other boys. She said, what did you tell Cody? He's really upset.

Drew Treybig

Oh, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to upset him. He misunderstood me. I won't ever do it again. I'm so sorry.

And I explained to him-- I said, well, we're going to have a problem if you do that again. You're hired to be a basketball coach. So do you think that you can not talk about those things? And he assured me that he could.

David Kestenbaum

Pretty much immediately, they did talk about religion again. And this was a moment, if you rewind the tape, when things might have all gone differently. Cody could have believed his mom that all this stuff was ridiculous. But instead, he wondered why his mom didn't want him to learn about this stuff.

He adored AJ. And the stuff AJ was saying, if it was true, it seemed really important. Like it's hard to think of anything that could be more urgent. Cody canceled his World of Warcraft account and stopped playing. And he says, after that day, their basketball sessions started changing.

AJ told Cody he wasn't really there to teach him basketball. That didn't really matter. He said he was sent there because he, AJ, was one of the chosen. And Cody was special.

Cody Treybig

He would either just start and say that God had instructed him that it was time that he shares this new thing with me. Or he would just start the whole thing off by just sighing and going, [SIGHS HEAVILY], they have eyes, but they can't see. They have ears, but they can't hear. You know, if only they knew, if only they knew.

And I would be like, what? And he would make it such a challenge for me to get that information out of him. He would be like, you're not ready. You're not ready.

David Kestenbaum

It was like a story being revealed in many chapters about this whole world around them that was invisible to most people. If you only knew who I am, AJ would say. AJ said he could see demons gathering around the house. But when he came over, they'd flee because they were afraid of him. AJ said he sometimes saw demons around the basketball court while they were playing.

Cody Treybig

And then sometimes he would pause in the middle of the session, just look into the field in the distance, and then smile, and then keep going in the session, and like--

David Kestenbaum

As if he'd seen something?

Cody Treybig

--as if he'd seen something. He would say like when he was talking to my mom, he could see the devil behind her smiling. And he would tell me this about other clients he had too. This other client, his dad's part of the Illuminati. And the demons are flocked at his house.

And when he went there, the demons would scream and run. And they hated it when they went there. And he told me, as soon as that family fired him, he saw the kid that he was working with age 10 years in one day and start getting sick and depressed all the time, because the demons were finally able to flock to that kid and attack him, because he wasn't there to protect him anymore.

David Kestenbaum

Cody's dad's office had a particularly bad feel about it, AJ said. There was a statue of a snake in it. He said that was a sign of the Illuminati. As it happened, that's where Cody and I were doing this interview.

The snake was there on the table. It's just one of those corporate "we did it" kind of things from the sales team at his dad's company. But in Cody's mind, everything around him started to have a double, deeper meaning to it.

Cody Treybig

There's a Bohemian Grove in California where the Illuminati worship a 40-foot statue of an owl. And Cody, why do you think your dad takes two-week trips to California? Where do you think he's going? Do you really think he has business for two weeks there? Who has business for two weeks? That's not normal.

David Kestenbaum

Is there really a 40-foot statue of an owl in California?

Cody Treybig

[LAUGHS] I don't know. I really-- I don't know.

David Kestenbaum

There is a giant owl. Bohemian Grove is this enclave for the rich and powerful. Presidents have been there. But Cody's dad says he's never been. The things AJ said were hard to disprove, especially if you're in sixth grade.

AJ said he could see people talking about him when he wasn't there, that he could see people's dreams, sometimes read their thoughts. And those demons around the house, he said, they're spreading. That one was particularly alarming.

David Kestenbaum

When you were playing basketball, did you imagine like little demons all around that you couldn't see?

Cody Treybig

Yes. It was horrible for me, because by seventh and eighth grade, he started talking to me about the rapture and how the rapture could happen at any second. And to me, in my mind, he said, once you're spiritually sound, once your soul is good, you'll see the things I see.

So I was waiting for the day when I could see the demons. And so I would go to the court sometimes and just look and just, why can't I see it? Why can't I see it? Please, God, show me. Am I not doing enough?

David Kestenbaum

There was an urgency to the whole thing. AJ said there were signs the rapture might happen during the upcoming Olympics, which meant the Illuminati were going to be trying to implant everyone with RFID chips. There was very little time left.

David Kestenbaum

How do you have that going on in your head, and then you get up in the morning, eat breakfast with the family, chat about whatever they're joking about, and then go to school, and--

Cody Treybig

Every second was not normal. It was-- I would walk around school. And I would think, all these idiots, they don't see what's really going on. The world's ending so soon. I would spend my off periods walking around the school looking for the Illuminati symbols AJ told me are around St. Stephen's. I would spend my offs researching articles he showed me about how my dad's ham radio is proof that he's part of the Illuminati and that he's listening in on people's conversations using his antennas.

David Kestenbaum

Was there any part of you that questioned it, that was like, that doesn't sound like that's possible?

Cody Treybig

I think for me, at the time, it was so scary that I wouldn't allow myself to question. I can't explain like how-- the way it was real to me. It was like I'm in this real battle that's happening everywhere. I know something that nobody else knows. I'm special. And God had chosen me.

Yeah, it's like you're put in this fantasy world. It's like-- it's hard to explain the way it built you up but simultaneously broke you down. I mean, but it was also this part of you-- it just builds you up, like you are this person. And he did it in such a way-- it just was so real to me.

David Kestenbaum

It's funny. I feel like it's at a time where you're forming your worldview as a kid. You know what I mean? And like someone snuck this really messed up version of it into you.

Cody Treybig

Yeah.

David Kestenbaum

I talked to some other kids who were around at the time. They said AJ talked to them about this stuff too. One of them told me he sees himself as a skeptical person, but he still found himself wondering. Maybe AJ knows something.

AJ would call him on his cell phone during school and say something like, are you in a secure location? It was scary, but also kind of exciting, like you were a secret agent. But Cody was the one AJ spent the most time with, and he believed it all.

His friends told me they had no idea. In his head, it was like Cody was living inside a movie. And as it turns out, it is an actual movie from 1972 called The Rapture.

That's where this whole story about a supercomputer called "The Beast," in Belgium, connected to people being marked with numbers-- that's where it comes from. I wasn't able to get a copy of the film. But we were able to find an LP which has a radio drama version of it in the style of War of the Worlds.

Man 1

The computer will assign each citizen of the world a number for use for all buying and all selling. We're setting it up so that every person will be tattooed with an invisible mark. I've already had my number tattooed on my hand and forehead.

Man 2

That's amazing.

David Kestenbaum

I tracked down the screenwriter, a Christian author named Joe Musser. He said some of the promotional material for the movie was in the form of fictional news stories, which some people thought were real. They got passed around in churches and even published in one Christian magazine.

He wrote in to say, hey, you messed up. This isn't true. But it was too late. 40-something years later, the idea of a supercomputer in Belgium called "The Beast," it's still around.

Cody says he would wake up in the morning and check CNN to see if the rapture had happened, because for sure, it would be on the news. The things AJ said were terrifying, but the only safe place was with AJ. So instead of running away, he'd go back to him.

Cody Treybig

My own thoughts weren't safe. I had this tic where I was so afraid that I would say "I hate God" in my head that if I-- I had to talk constantly in my head. I had to say the phrase, I love God so much. God is so amazing. I love him so much. Like I'm-- I love God. I love God.

And that would be every waking hour of my day. I would have to say that constantly throughout in my head, or else I was afraid I would let the phrase "I hate God" out. And then I would be-- I would go to hell forever. I wasn't even safe with my own self.

David Kestenbaum

Cody hid all this from his parents for three years. And just like in basketball, how you had codes so your teammates knew what play you were running, he and AJ had one too.

Cody Treybig

He might say, even in front of my parents or something, hey, I was talking to my friend John the other day. And he told me he had 12 points and 4 rebounds in a game. And I knew that meant go read in the Bible, John, chapter 12, or whatever, verse 4.

David Kestenbaum

Cody's mom says she did notice Cody was more interested in religion. He would pester her to let him talk to AJ about religion. She said no. At some point, Cody asked to get baptized. His mom worried that might mean that AJ was still talking to Cody about religion, which he'd promised not to do.

But Cody insisted, no, no, this is just something I want to do. So they said OK. Drew says, in retrospect, of course, all this looks very different.

Drew Treybig

I feel like, as a mom, how could I not know? This little boy thought he was going to die every day, every minute of every day. I mean, how could I have not known that?

David Kestenbaum

I mean, it's like Cody's been living in this world that is not the real world. But you were also living in this world that was not the real world because this was going on, and you didn't know it.

Drew Treybig

Right. Right. The specialists and the psychiatrists and all, they'll tell you that you have to forgive yourself. I guess I just don't. I think my focus is just still on Cody.

David Kestenbaum

I talked to some experts about cults and brainwashing. And when I told them this story, they reacted the way doctors do when someone comes in with what they think is an unusual set of symptoms but that the doctor's seen a hundred times.

There's no official definition of a cult. But they all said, yeah, that sounds like one. Cults often promise the key to understanding the whole world. Followers are pressured to keep everything secret. The whole thing gets built up gradually, so it becomes hard to back out without admitting you were wrong the whole time.

At the top of it all is a charismatic leader. I asked if cult leaders knew they were cult leaders. The answer, sometimes. These experts told me perfectly healthy people with no history of mental illness fall into cults.

Part of what makes the whole thing work is that the leader introduces something to be afraid of, while also providing the solution to that fear, which creates this really strong bond. That technique, of course, is used in lots of places-- advertising, political campaigns. Here it's just all turned up to 10.

Cody's dad told me that this experience helped him understand those stories in the news about parents who wake up one day to discover one of their kids has disappeared and gone off to join ISIS. The one thing the experts told me felt unusual about this case to them is that it seemed to be what they called a one-on-one cult-- one leader, one follower. Those can be particularly hard to undo. In a very real way, it was as if someone had implanted a chip in Cody's brain.

Ira Glass

David Kestenbaum. Coming up, Cody's parents try to get the chip out of Cody's brain, which, as you might expect, is really hard. That's in a minute, from Chicago Public Radio, when our program continues.

Act Two: Unbelieving

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today's program, Chip in My Brain. In the first half of today's show, if you're just tuning in, we heard how Cody Treybig got all kinds of sci-fi religious beliefs from his basketball coach. In this half of the show, his parents try to get him to unbelieve that stuff. Again, here's David Kestenbaum.

David Kestenbaum

Cody says in the initial therapy sessions, actually for most of the first year, part of him was super angry. Like, why do I have to go to a therapist? There's nothing wrong with me. The problem is with you.

He'd have these tantrums. His mom, Drew, would watch him hole up in his room for hours, and she'd just have to wait. Sometimes she'd say, please, please, talk to me. But Cody would just explode. Why can't I be with AJ? Can't we all just sit down with him and work this out?

Instead of getting better, there were just these reminders of how deep in this world he was. Like this one day took Drew totally by surprise. They were preparing to go on a special family trip they had planned ages ago.

They were going to go to London for the Olympics which, remember, was the very event AJ had said might mark the end of days, when the rapture could happen, which meant the Illuminati were going to be trying to implant everybody with RFID chips. Drew didn't know any of that at the time. But the morning they were getting ready to go, Cody would not get out of bed.

Drew Treybig

So I got-- I laid down next to him. And I put my arms around him. And I said, Cody, we really need to leave for the airport.

I said, let's just throw some clothes on you. Your suitcase is packed. Let's just go. And he told me he couldn't in just the weakest voice, almost like he'd given up. He said, Mom, I can't because I'm going to get killed.

David Kestenbaum

Drew and her husband Jimmy told me they both felt like, OK, here is a moment where we can show him, prove to him, that none of this is real. Just come to the Olympics. You'll see.

Drew Treybig

But he wouldn't go. He couldn't do it.

Jimmy Treybig

The fact that Cody thought we were going to die if we went there, that was a hard thing to understand. So I mean, no matter what the logic was, mentally, there was something that it didn't matter how we talked. So afterwards, you would have conversations like that about many different things that you couldn't really understand.

David Kestenbaum

How do you convince someone that their whole worldview is wrong? Cody's therapist's take was that you couldn't. Cody was going to have to decide for himself. Maybe if you could take away the fear and the anxiety, it would allow his mental immune system, for lack of a better word, to function. Cody would start to examine the idea of a supercomputer in Belgium and the Illuminati and think it all through for himself.

Back then, lots of things were triggering a kind of terror in Cody. If he'd trip on something or miss foul shots, well, AJ had told him that was a sign the devil was close by. The therapist gave Cody ways to calm himself down when he felt that panic coming-- breathing exercises, simple facts to focus on. I'm around people who love me.

One counselor who has handled cases like this put it in this way that really stuck with me. He said, you have to help the fly find its way out of the bottle, the idea being that a fly in a bottle doesn't know it's in a bottle because the walls are transparent. But if you can get it to see the bottle, it can find its way out. The fly in a bottle is a reference to something Wittgenstein wrote, and he was talking about philosophers. But whatever, I found it useful.

Cody's therapist never told Cody that what he believed was wrong. He just asked questions, tried to create a place where Cody felt safe to talk about these things and to think about them. Cody did start to question things.

Instead of reading about RFID chips and the Illuminati, Cody started reading debates between atheists and religious scholars online. He grew to love Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. But unbelieving something is hard.

Cody Treybig

You don't want to give up that special thing that you're a part of. It was really hard for me to get back to normalcy in life and recognizing that this is all there is to it-- it's just life, and you make your own meaning-- to get to the point where I realized that there wasn't this special thing that I was a part of. It was just made up.

David Kestenbaum

Over time, it seemed to be working. Cody started having these moments where he would feel at peace, little islands of normalcy where he wouldn't have crazy thoughts. Cody remembers driving home after this one therapy session.

Cody Treybig

For that one car ride, I was happy. I was happy. And I just wanted it to last forever. And I thought maybe it would. And of course, once you start to think, oh, I'm happy, and then I hope it doesn't go away. And then you start to scare yourself. And then it's over.

David Kestenbaum

Cody says his sophomore year, he was still deep in the world that AJ had described. Junior and senior year, he was probably half in, half out. Like if you asked him if he believed in the Illuminati, he would say no. But it was like some deep part of him still did. He kept having these intense episodes of panic and anxiety.

One of Cody's friends told me that Cody wouldn't talk about how deeply he'd been affected and how this stuff was still with him. But they could tell he was having a hard time. We tried to help him, one said. But what did we know? We were 18 years old.

Cody had to take a medical leave from high school. Then he went back, finished. He applied to college, got in. And Cody thought, if I can do this, if I can go to college and get through that, it'll be like a certificate of sanity, a sign that I'm going to be OK.

It was just two hours from home. His mom told him, call anytime. I can get in a car, and I'll be there in just two hours. Things seemed to be going OK for a while. But she knew he was struggling. And then she got a call.

I can't do it anymore, he said. I can't do it. She drove to get him, went to his dorm room, which is when she saw how he'd been living. Cody had mentioned to her that he had raised his bed, which she thought meant that he'd converted it into a loft or something to make more space. But that wasn't it. He'd raised it a tiny bit and was sleeping under it in this little space.

Drew Treybig

When I walked in there, and I saw how my son had been sleeping for months and months and months-- there were maybe inches from-- I mean I don't even know how he could have slid under there. The space was so small from the ground to the bottom of the bed.

Drew Treybig

And I realized that was a hiding spot. He wasn't sleeping. He was hiding. Like that was his version of a-- I mean, he was literally hiding. And that's where he was living.

And I remember thinking when I saw that-- I mean, I said, Cody, this is where you've been sleeping? And he said, yeah, Mom. And I didn't want him to see me get upset, so I walked out of his room. And I broke down because I thought, we're going to-- he's not going to make it. We're going to lose him. And I don't mean figuratively. We are going to literally lose this kid. We are going to lose him.

David Kestenbaum

Cody later said he had thought about killing himself. It seemed like it might be the only way to make this stop. Cody and his mom drove home together. It had been four years at this point-- four years of, as Cody puts it, trying to fix his own brain.

Sometime after Cody moves home, his parents tell him there's something they need to talk to him about. They're pretty sure it's a bad idea. But they feel like they have to tell him, because if he wants to do it, he needs to decide soon.

It involved the court, and not a basketball one. They told Cody if he wanted to, he could try to sue AJ. It was a long shot. The law doesn't have a good way to deal with cases like this.

After all, no one was kidnapped. No money was stolen. Cody says nothing physical ever happened. All they'd done was talk. and in fact, talk about religion, which is specifically protected in this country. It's in the Constitution.

Cody's parents had done some research. And the best route seemed to be to sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The legal description of what they would have to show was daunting. The conduct had to be, quote, "So outrageous in character and so extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community."

If Cody chose to do it, the whole thing could take years. Cody would have to be in a courtroom with AJ. He would have to relive the whole thing in detail in public, while an opposing attorney tried to derail him. In the end, he might lose. Or put another way, AJ might win. And there wasn't much time to think about it.

Drew Treybig

Cody's birthday was coming in just a couple of weeks. And the statute of limitations was going to run out. So he would need to decide within the next two, two and a half weeks before his birthday.

David Kestenbaum

Cody thought about it. And one day before his birthday, he filed the paperwork to go ahead. There was over a year of legal wrangling. But this past September, it went to trial. I was there for the beginning of it.

Cody had all kinds of worries leading up to it. What if he had made all this up? He said that actually crossed his mind. Or what if, when he told all this to the jury, they thought there was something wrong with him instead of AJ?

Cody had panic attacks in the days before the trial. It was like he'd slid backward. But he took the stand in front of the jury.

Cody Treybig

The first day, I can remember so vividly. We were in my weight room. And--

David Kestenbaum

Cody's lawyer said this was a case of, quote, "The secret manipulation and isolation of a young boy." He called what happened psychological torture. I looked at the jury, but they were impossible to read. They sat there totally expressionless. Cody was on the stand for over seven hours. But then his part was done.

Clerk

Would you state your name for the record, sir?

Aj Lawrence

Arthur Lawrence, Jr.

Clerk

And do you go by AJ?

Aj Lawrence

Yes.

David Kestenbaum

And here, finally, is AJ. He was neatly dressed, carrying a Bible, and yes, tall, barely fit in the witness stand.

Aj Lawrence

My lower back is killing me. It's tightening up, and I apologize for that.

Woman

If you need more space, we can move those two notebooks. And that little table will fold down, if that's helpful.

Aj Lawrence

Well, I meant this entire wooden thing.

OK, OK, I can't remove all of that.

[LAUGHTER]

Attorney 1

How tall are you, sir?

Aj Lawrence

6' 6".

Attorney 1

OK. Mr. Lawrence, have you ever been convicted of a felony?

Aj Lawrence

No.

Attorney 1

Have you ever been convicted of a misdemeanor?

Aj Lawrence

No.

David Kestenbaum

That's AJ's attorney there. He asked AJ how he'd grown up.

Aj Lawrence

I had great parents. Mom and Dad raised me the old-fashioned way, respect elders. Yes, sir. No, sir. Yes, ma'am. No, ma'am. Private, preparatory, Christian education, a pretty cool life.

Attorney

OK.

David Kestenbaum

AJ went to college for a bit. He said he'd tried out for the NBA's developmental league but didn't make it. So he became an athletic trainer, often teaching kids. He said families loved him. They were really happy with his work, including Cody's family.

Aj Lawrence

It went fantastic. I was a little bit shocked of Cody's ability to get things quickly and understand them, especially his vocabulary, wow.

Attorney 1

How were his basketball skills when you started with him?

Aj Lawrence

He could dribble. I think when I first saw him, the first assessment I did with him, it was-- he dribbled like-- the most he was able to dribble consecutively was like three dribbles. He was not good.

David Kestenbaum

And, of course, his lawyer asked about his religious beliefs.

Attorney 1

When did you first learn about the rapture and the tribulation?

Aj Lawrence

Sorry, I got emotional there. I just remember Miss Ward. I really loved that teacher. She introduced me to that in central assembly in the sixth grade.

David Kestenbaum

About the same age Cody was when AJ started talking to him about religion. One of the big questions I had going into the trial was whether AJ had actually believed all the religious stuff he'd told Cody. One possibility was that AJ would just say, yes, we talked about the rapture, the Illuminati, RFID chips. All that stuff is real. I was trying to save him.

Cody pointed out that if AJ really did believe it all, why wouldn't he just testify to that in court? But that is not what AJ said. Cody's lawyer asked AJ about the Illuminati. AJ said, yes, he had discussed the Illuminati with Cody, but not as a secret society that ran the world.

Aj Lawrence

I discussed it in a context that I do believe that there are fraternities, sororities that will cling together and assist others. And that possibly could be a society that he sees on the internet, known as the Illuminati.

David Kestenbaum

Of course, in his Skype messages, AJ said something very different. He really seemed to believe in the Illuminati. He wrote, quote, "The Illuminati will kill you if you don't do as you're told. Give the system problems, and you die or live with their mark."

Cody's lawyer also asked about RFID chips. Over Skype, AJ had told Cody the chips cause you to lose mind control, quote, "It's imperative that you know what this chip does!!!" - three exclamation points.

But on the stand, AJ downplayed that, didn't say the chips were the mark of the beast. He talked about them like they were just some new technology he'd read about online.

Aj Lawrence

I had found a link online. I believe it was done out of the University of North Carolina. And also, there was another link out of Alberta, Canada, I believe, that said there's biometric technology. It's here. It'll store your information, et cetera, et cetera, and all your stuff.

Attorney 2

Would you be surprised if this was interpreted as something different than that by a 14-year-old boy?

Aj Lawrence

After all this, [CHUCKLES] I'm not surprised now.

Attorney 2

I take it, by the way you're laughing about this, that you think it's funny that this was taken very seriously by Cody at the impressionable age you were communicating with him?

Aj Lawrence

No. What-- I do take this very seriously. I mean, this is a court of law. What I'm implying, Counsel, is before, I didn't really think nothing of this, this Skype or anything, that it can escalate to this level because this--

David Kestenbaum

Where Cody said they had talked about religion for years, AJ said their conversations had been minimal, a matter of hours total. He said when they did talk about religion, it was because Cody had asked.

Attorney 3

Do you feel like you owe any apologies for the communications you had with Cody about the subject of this lawsuit?

Aj Lawrence

Let's go ahead and just jump to the end of everything. I pondered on this. And I'm looking at all of this and the jury and everybody here, Counsel. And I really wish I could turn back the hands of time and taken Mr. And Mrs. Treybig, Cody to church a lot more so that they can see and they can understand that there are a lot of others in this world. There are a lot of other Christians that share my same views and opinions about the Bible. So then they wouldn't classify me or label me as being a mean or evil person.

David Kestenbaum

This all took place in an old courtroom in Austin. I was struck by the smallness of it. There was basically no one in the audience. Very few witnesses took the stand-- Cody, his parents, his therapist, and AJ. The main piece of physical evidence was those Skype transcripts, 25 pages long.

This is the system we've come up with for settling disputes between people. We get a bunch of strangers together, the jury, who just have to decide what they think happened and how bad it was. Cody's lawyer, in his closing statement, said they weren't asking for a specific amount of money in damages. But he said Cody's therapist fees had totaled over $76,000. And the jury could add whatever they thought was appropriate for mental anguish.

AJ's attorney, in his closing statement, said no one could know for sure why Cody was so strongly affected. Thousands or millions of Americans share AJ's religious beliefs, he said. Why don't we have mental hospitals filled with kids who are terrified of the rapture?

The jury, still totally expressionless, recessed on Friday to deliberate. Was what happened beyond all possible bounds of decency? Was it atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community? That evening, I got this voicemail from Cody.

Cody Treybig

Hey, David. This is Cody. And [SIGHS] wow, we won. The jury came back unanimous. And I'm just so happy. I want to sing. I want to shout. I want to dance.

I'm just-- for so long, he was this mythical figure in my life that I couldn't touch. [SIGHS HEAVILY] It's amazing. And I'm the happiest I've ever been in my life. And that's all I can say.

David Kestenbaum

There is one thing Cody did not mention in that message-- the amount of the judgment. The jury awarded Cody just $4 in damages, basically the minimum-- $1 for medical care, $1 for mental anguish, et cetera, which seemed weird. They agreed that AJ had done this thing that was beyond all possible bounds of decency. But when it came time to put a dollar figure on that, their answer was $4.

We talked to five members of the jury after the trial. So I can tell you what happened. The presiding juror who they picked to lead the discussion, and who happens to be a judge in real life, told me they started with a quick vote to see where everyone stood.

Seven jurors were yeses, ready to hold AJ liable. Three were undecided, and two were nos. So they debated and read through the Skype transcripts. And they took another vote, 10 yeses, two undecideds, both of them men.

The presiding juror told me two things seemed to win over the last two. One was the mothers on the jury, who just kind of went to town. And the other was this idea of awarding just $4 in damages. And everyone liked that idea.

For some, it was a way to acknowledge that maybe AJ hadn't known the harm he was causing. Legally, they only had to determine that his behavior had been reckless, not necessarily intentional. It seemed to some of the jurors that AJ actually believed the stuff about RFID chips and all that.

But for a lot of the jurors, the $4 was a way to help Cody put this behind him. Cody's family didn't need any money. And they figured, if they picked a large dollar amount, yes, that would punish AJ. But he probably wouldn't be able to pay it, which would just drag this whole thing out, more legal stuff. Maybe AJ would appeal. And everyone would have to go through this whole thing again.

So $4. I'm not sure that's how the jury was supposed to think about things, but it's what they did. After the trial, some of the jurors hugged Cody or came over to talk. One told me he also tried to find AJ to say good luck. But he'd already left.

I usually think of courts as deciding who goes to prison or how much money someone owes someone else. Here, it was doing something much more basic, just saying who was right, deciding for the record what actually happened. As I said, after the trial, AJ did finally agree to talk to us.

Aj Lawrence

Hey, David.

David Kestenbaum

Is this AJ?

Aj Lawrence

This is he.

David Kestenbaum

The thing I was most interested in was, what was it all about? Why did he say all that stuff to Cody? But in our conversation, AJ basically denied saying those things. He said Cody made it all up or exaggerated.

He told me he stood by everything he said in court, 100%. And he's planning to appeal the ruling. So I took a different approach. Forget about what he said or didn't say to Cody. Did he believe those things? Somehow in court, no one had asked him that simple question.

David Kestenbaum

So can I ask you about RFID chips? In court, it seemed like you were saying you viewed RFID chips as just some new piece of technology to store data about you and that you'd sent Cody a link to some news story.

But then in the Skype transcripts, Cody writes, "What do they do to your body?" And you write, "You lose mind control." And also, you have this whole discussion with him about what to do if his parents make him get an RFID chip implanted. So which is it? Do you think RFID chips are just little computer chips or you think they're the mark of the beast that the Illuminati want to implant in everyone?

Aj Lawrence

How familiar are you with radio frequency? If you're in broadcasting, you should know quite a bit. [CHUCKLES] Right? [LAUGHING]

David Kestenbaum

Tell me something about radio frequencies. Tell me something that's useful here about radio frequencies.

Aj Lawrence

Well, the thing about it is you're interviewing me. I'm not interviewing you. I'm not here to educate you about radio frequency.

David Kestenbaum

No, I'm just asking a question. You seemed to say that there's something important I should know about radio frequencies that would help me understand this, so--

Aj Lawrence

Well, let's start off with what they are. Radio frequency identification is what it is, OK? You have a credit card probably in your pocket. And it has a chip in it.

David Kestenbaum

Yeah. So is that all you think it is? Do you think it's the mark of the beast also? And that it's something the Illuminati want to implant in everybody and will control your mind, do you believe that?

Aj Lawrence

Well, first of all, in a court of law, that's-- I would object to that. It's called compounding, OK?

David Kestenbaum

Well, do you--

Aj Lawrence

So if you're going to ask me a question--

David Kestenbaum

OK.

Aj Lawrence

--I mean, ask me a specific one. Don't put words in my mouth and don't lead me.

David Kestenbaum

OK. Do you believe--

Aj Lawrence

I really wish you wouldn't do that.

David Kestenbaum

Do you believe RFID chips are, or could be, the mark of the beast?

Aj Lawrence

I believe that it could be a potential prequel to the mark of the beast based upon what it says, what it states, in scripture.

David Kestenbaum

I told AJ what the experts told me, that this seemed like a one-on-one cult. He said he's not part of any cult.

David Kestenbaum

How do you feel about Cody now?

Aj Lawrence

Elaborate.

David Kestenbaum

I don't know. I mean, are you angry at him?

Aj Lawrence

I feel sorry for him. I feel sorry for him. I really do. I'm really disappointed. I'm sad. But you know what? Life is about choices. So on Judgment Day, he'll have to stand before the father. And that's-- vengeance is that of the father.

David Kestenbaum

If you ask me what I make of all this after listening to four days of testimony, reading through the trial documents, interviewing the family and other kids and AJ for two hours, I think AJ believes all the stuff he told Cody. I found someone who knew AJ before all this, who said he talked about RFID chips and the Illuminati all the time, with enthusiasm.

I think the appeal for AJ is the same as it was for Cody. It's a story he is at the center of. I think he's learned how to present it in a way that draws people in. And Cody was a sweet kid who adored AJ.

I went to visit Cody after the trial. It did seem like the court case had put some final piece of this thing behind him. It was like Cody had gotten over his fear of the rapture and the Illuminati. But he still had a much more ordinary fear. He was afraid of a person. But in court, AJ did not seem supernatural. He seemed very human.

Cody Treybig

You look at him, and you say, you're just a guy. You're just a person.

David Kestenbaum

Is part of why this was so powerful for you that you lived for so long with this totally other version of how the world was. And here's the time where you've finally decided what is real. And now you've shown it to a bunch of other people in this very setting where we are supposed to decide what is real and what happened. And they said yes.

Cody Treybig

That's exactly it. You look back, and you just can't believe that the things you're saying actually happened. It's crazy stuff to me now. It's crazy stuff. And that it happened to you, it's weird.

David Kestenbaum

I think those are the words of a fly finally looking at the bottle from the outside.

Ira Glass

David Kestenbaum, he's one of the producers of our show.

[MUSIC - "CULT OF PERSONALITY" BY LIVING COLOR]

Credits

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by Neil Drumming. Our staff includes Ben Calhoun, Zoe Chace, Dana Chivvis, Sean Cole, Kimberly Henderson, David Kestenbaum, Miki Meek, Alvin Melathe, Jonathan Menjivar, BA Parker, Lilly Sullivan, Christopher Swetala, Matt Tierney, and Diane Wu. Our senior producer is Brian Reed. Our managing editor is Susan Burton.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Today is the last day for our production fellow BA Parker. She came here from her job as a film professor. She leaves a radio producer and essayist. We all look forward to having her stories here on the radio show very soon.

A special announcement, our brand new, newly-designed website is at thisamericanlife.org, with lots of new features. We also have a brand new app. Our app is available for both iPhone and Android. Whitney Dangerfield, Julie Whitaker, and Seth Lind on our staff made all that happen.

This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks, as always, to our program's cofounder, Mr. Tony Malatia. You know, he always gets so sad when he sees a garden gnome.

Cody Treybig

They have eyes, but they can't see. They have ears, but they can't hear.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.