5 Nov 2010

Cult survivor reveals deceptive recruiting tactics used by Scientology and similar cults

NOTE BY PERRY BULWER: Although this story is about the Scientology cult, the illegal, immoral, unethical tactics it exposes are similar to those used by other cults such as the Moonies or The Family International, formerly known as the Children of God. To highlight just one example referred to in this article - the use of front agencies that operate under different names in order to conceal their true identity from authorities and an unsuspecting public. The Children of God tried changing their name several times, eventually deciding on The Family International, in a futile effort to distance themselves from a very sordid past. They've taken it one step further by setting up each individual commune scattered around the world under different names. See this cult's various front names listed here.


The Village Voice Blogs: Running Scared - New York August 17, 2009

Scientology Escapee Tells Skeptics' Group How Its Done

by Candice M. Giove

Gathered in a room at the New York Public Library Jefferson Market Branch at the Avenue of the Americas and West 10th Street a group listening to an ex-Scientologist evaluated their traits.

Bright? Of course. Curious about the world around me? Sure. Idealistic? Sometimes. Like being the recipient of a compliment? Who doesn't? Take risks? From time to time.

So when Paul Grosswald, a former Scientologist-turned-anti-cult-lecturer, instructed those who checked off at least three of the nine general statements on a handout to raise their hands, everyone's digits reached towards the ceiling.

"You are exactly the type of people that cult recruiters are looking for," he said -- which, of course, elicited a peal of laughter since New York City Skeptics, a group of local critical thinkers, was hosting the event last Saturday.

Intellectual or not, Grosswald believes that anyone could be susceptible to cult recruitment. Stereotypes play less of a role in a cult catch than a recruiter striking during one of life's trying times. A book for Scientology recruiters he brought along instructed those in the field to find a person's "ruin." It included a chart of common problems and Scientology courses, films and books as remedies.

"Nobody leads a charmed life," he said. "We all go through points in our life when we're vulnerable."

In 1989 the Church of Scientology took advantage of Grosswald's teenage troubles. Lured in by a personality evaluation, Grosswald dedicated six months of his life to the cult and dropped out of college to join the Sea Organization. His quick-acting parents intervened before he embedded further into the group.

After his departure from Scientology and now with decades of hindsight, Grosswald spends time speaking out against their practices and those of other cults that perform mind control to keep members believing. During his short time as a Scientologist, Grosswald said they swayed his thinking through hypnotic activities like auditing.

The Church of Scientology, and other cults like the Unification Church, he said, conquered thoughts in the ways psychiatrist Robert Jay Laftin's outlined in his book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A study of brainwashing in China. Laftin's "Eight Marks of a Mind-Control Cult" include placing people in the organization's environment, creating mystical illusions, demanding purity, making people confess, implanting the idea that their way of thinking is superior, communicating with jargon, making the mission more important than any individual, and establishing the idea that outsiders have no right to exist.

Grosswald hopes that spreading this knowledge will prevent people from getting suckered into joining dangerous cult groups. His tell-tale signs may be helpful, since nobody would approach you on the street asking if you wanted to join their cult. Recruitment is much more subtle.

The former Scientologist moved from behind his podium and placed a chair next to it. He released an accordion of printer paper containing the names of global front agencies for the Moonies. The paper unfurled many feet below him. "This is to give you an idea of how sophisticated it is," he said. "If I gave you the Scientology list it would be just as long."

The L. Ron Hubbard Dianetics Foundation hooked Grosswald twenty years ago, while he was a sophomore at Hoftra University on Long Island. Vexed by a lack of major and an angst-ridden romance, the young Grosswald decided to fill out a lengthy questionnaire titled "Are you curious about yourself?" which had been handed to him on Times Square. He was called in to hear the results of his analysis.

The analysis concluded that he had girl problems, he lacked a life path, and that he was socially awkward. "I came out of there feeling like, wow, that was the most incredible personality analysis ever," he said. "They know everything about me!"

He now compares their analysis to James Randi's horoscope experiment, in which people made the same general horoscopes fit their personal situations. In Randi's test everyone received the exact same predictions and everyone believed that it zeroed in on their lives.

But after receiving his personality test result, the possibility of setting himself straight seemed worth the $95 fee for the Hubbard Dianetics Seminar.

Grosswald first learned auditing, which he said, is a form of hypnosis. "People have a lot of misunderstandings about what that means," he said. "I think people assume hypnosis is when you swing a watch in front of somebody's face and put them into a deep sleep and then they act like a chicken on stage."

But during auditing, critical thinking skills slip away, he said, leaving a person in a trance-like state where they become susceptible to suggestion. "I never fell asleep or lost consciousness so I never realized that this was actually what was going on," he said.

The Church of Scientology employs other techniques to shut down thought. Grosswald said they practice "training routines" - which seem like a sinister spin on childhood staring contests. A supervisor intently watches at an underling and barks "flunk!" at the subject's slightest move. Then the exercise begins all over. By the time Grosswald left, he could sit with an impenetrable stare for three hours.

In another exercise called "bull-baiting," a supervisor shouts at a Scientologist, sometimes using things ripped from the records of their auditing sessions, to elicit reaction. Again, the subject learns to turn the mind off and sits with a blank expression.

The Church also wrested control of his mind through word-clearing exercises. (The organization has its own dictionary.) They also force adherents to display their understanding of words and ideas much the way kindergarteners do by making them arrange paper clips, clay and other objects to illustrate concepts.

They prevent members from learning information about beliefs upfront, Grosswald said. The story of Xenu only comes after a Scientologist invested years and hundreds of thousands of dollars into the organization. So by the time many reach the OTIII level - where the Sci-Fi population control tale is revealed - some people commit suicide or walk away, he said. But some realize they've put too much into it to stop and continue onto the next level, he added.

"At the point where you see body Thetans crawling on your arms, you're psychotic," he said.

Grosswald did not make it that far along the Bridge to Total Freedom.

After being involved for months in the organization, an incredibly attractive southern belle and a friend from the Church convinced him after five hours of emotional torture to quit school and join the Sea Organization. He signed a billion-year contract and moved into a compound on West 48th Street.

"My parents went ballistic," he said.

While in their service he earned $35 a week, working 14 hours for six days scrubbing toilets. Sea Organization officials then made him an offer to move to California.

His parents remained persistent and phoned the Church of Scientology demanding to see him. According to Grosswald, his father ultimately wound up threatening organization leader John Carmichael in Scientology jargon. "He said, 'If I don't see my son by Wednesday you're fair game."

The Church of Scientology permitted Grosswald a 45 minute outing. His parents, his aunt and his best friend, however, kept him in a car speeding along the Long Island Expressway to a hotel where exit counselors were waiting.

Those counselors put many, many questions in his head. Then they handed him the story of Xenu. As his parents recall his face whitened. The Church convinced him that reading those materials prematurely would cause death.

Back at the Church, Grosswald spilled the evening's events to Carmichael. He also told him that his father warned, "For every person you recruit, we're going to keep ten people out."

The Church of Scientology deemed Grosswald a security threat and threw him out. "They couldn't have me running around telling people about Xenu," he said.

It took him about a year to recover his cult exit. He went back to school, finished his degree and went on to earn a law degree -- magna cum laude -- from Brooklyn Law School.

He would love to take on the Church of Scientology in the courts, but with a three-year statute of limitation most victims of brainwashing aren't ready to take action at that point.

"I'm dying for someone to bring me a case," he said.

This article was found at:



Exposing the abuses and frauds of cults makes advocate a target for regular legal and physical threats

Video interview by Steve Hassan of top ex-Scientologist at international cult conference in New York

Video of former 30 year Scientologist discussing Jett Travolta based on her personal experiences of medical abuse

Cult exit counsellor gives speech, "Psychology of Mind Control Over Abducted Children", at Amber Alert symposium

Cult Recovery

Cult researcher reveals emotional cost of separation

Interview with psychologist Jill Mytton about religious abuse [VIDEO]

Cult Survivors: Was Membership Your Choice? [video]

How Cults Rewire The Brain [video]

Conquering coercion: Wellspring Retreat helps former cult members recover

Recovery workshop for people born or raised in cults

Sects and sex abuse: battle of the apocalyptic sex cults

Family Radio apocalyptic cult says the Bible guarantees Jesus will return on May 21, 2011

Apocalyptic cult leader dies, doomsday predictions never materialized

Confused California cult leader just the latest false prophet to endanger followers with apocalyptic fever

Apocalyptic Arizona cult controls members, competes with Scientology for weirdest sci-fi cult

Russian sex cult leader "from the star Sirius" charged with rape, sexual abuse and human rights violations

Novel Faiths Find Followers Among Russia's Disillusioned

Waiting for Armageddon

Sect members dig tunnel, await apocalypse in Central Russia

Cult leader seeks to free children, official says

Second group of cult followers awaits apocalypse in Penza, Russia

Sects and sex abuse: battle of the apocalyptic sex cults

Cult survivors reveal deranged mind of messianic leader of Australian cult Zion Full Ministry

Self-proclaimed prophets: Phillip Garrido, David Berg and Joseph Smith

The Making of a Twisted Sexual Theology: Q+A on "Jesus Freaks"

Enslaved by the cult of sex...for 25 years

UK survivor confirms mother's fears about abusive cult The Family International that tried to recruit her teen daughter

Fugitive leaders of The Family International found hiding in Mexico after former members sought psychological help

Family International a.k.a. Children of God: Once dismissed as 'sex cult,' tiny church launches image makeover


  1. Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Inside the Secret World of Cults

    by LUKE MCKENNA, Bullet Magazine CULTURE / SPRING 2012 March 02nd, 2012

    Across the world, millions of everyday people subscribe to the teachings of magnetic cult leaders, many of whom spread the gospels extolling the virtues of incest, child abuse, and rape. Luke McKenna meets some of the victims who eventually escaped-and one cult enthusiast who's just getting started.

    Peter Frouman was only 10 years old when, on December 31, 1985, in a small, run-down house in Corrientes, Argentina, he sat naked among 25 members of the Children of God, waiting to become a man. He watched as a candle and a worn-out green T-shirt, a totem meant to represent truth, were passed from person to person, each of them unclothed and confessing their sins to the group. It was the first time Peter had been invited to take part in the adults-only ritual, his first taste of the sect's twisted take on coming of age. He could barely contain himself.

    Children of God, the apocalyptic sex cult that famously raised Rose McGowan and River Phoenix, is just one of countless high-intensity religious factions hiding in the shadows of conventional society. Rise International, a nonprofit organization that specializes in helping children raised in "restrictive, isolated, or high-demand communities," puts the global population living as part of these groups in the millions. In America alone, there are said to be more than 3,000 functioning cults, ranging from the quaint and quirky to possibly destructive, each with its own rites and rituals to mark transitions from passive observer to active participant, outsider to insider, and youth to adult.

    "The idea was to break me down with nudity and confessions," Frouman, now 36, says of that fateful night in Argentina. When it finally came time for him to wear the T-shirt, which was steeped in sin and reeking of sweat, the young boy admitted to pride and independence-vices, according to COG. "I considered it an honor to be allowed to participate considering I was still 10 years old," Frouman says of a time when he didn't know life any other way. "I have never forgotten this warm moment from my childhood."

    Frouman currently runs xFamily.org, a Wikipedia-like online resource that documents the lives and experiences of former child members of COG, since renamed The Family International, which has had up to 35,000 members pass through colonies in 15 countries. Formed in California in the 1960s, the cult and its deceased founder, David Berg, capitalized on the blossoming hippie movement with its promises of spiritual revolution and sexual freedom. Beneath the group's quiet, communal exterior, however, hid a particularly bawdy brand of evangelical Christianity.

    Alongside entries about Family music and art, xFamily carries graphic descriptions of pedophilia, incest, and violent beatings. Frouman watched while sexual boundaries were abandoned within immediate families. Once members reached the age of consent, considered to be 12 years old until well into the 1980s, they were encouraged to share their bodies with the group, imagining they were having sex with Jesus as they did it. (Males were instructed to visualize themselves as females while engaging with the Lord, since homosexuality was a no-no.) Young women were prostituted, luring outsiders into the group via the bedroom, a practice that became colloquially known as Flirty Fishing or FFing. Christian notions of sexual guilt and repression were bent over and defiled. This was sex for salvation.

    continued in next comment...

  2. continued from previous comment:

    The Family, whose numbers have sagged dramatically over the past decade, was forced to publicly sanitize its teachings after a series of raids, investigations, and testimonies by escapees exposed the cult's more sordid practices. Most communes have been disbanded and members are now permitted to make decisions for themselves. But these changes came too late for Frouman, who escaped the cult around the time of his 14th birthday, after he'd already endured years of sexual and mental abuse.

    Months after Frouman's New Year's Eve awakening, the boy's virginity was put to a Family vote. It was decided that a 28-year-old mother of five, who was visiting from Brazil, would deflower him. The encounter took place in a darkened room, next to the woman's sleeping children and the boy's own mother. "At the time it seemed fairly normal to me," says Frouman, who had seen kids younger than him with adults older than she was.

    Juliana Buhring, who also grew up in COG, works with Rise International to help children escape similar cults. "All these groups have almost identical dogmas or ways of operating," she says. Charismatic cult leaders are deified, their ideas treated as gospel, while the outside world and nonmembers are portrayed as evil and dangerous. "Cults are naturally secretive, so society at large has no idea," Buhring says. "But there is a very large group of ex-cult kids who all struggle with the same problem: trying to reformulate an identity outside what they believed, or what they felt, or how they thought about things."

    Donna Collins was the first Western child to be born into the Unification Church, an international Christian sect headed by charismatic Korean businessman Sun Myung Moon. A "blessed child," as she was labeled, Collins became a powerful, white poster child for the predominantly Asian religion, which seeks to unite all religions under Moon. They said she'd been born without sin. They said she was perfect.

    Moon, the self-anointed Second Coming of Christ, separated Collins from her family when she was 11 years old, moving her from home to home. Her travels took her to Korea, where she studied the language and UC teachings at the church's Little Angels School. Collins was instructed to devote herself entirely to God, Moon, and the UC. "There weren't a lot of boundaries," says Collins, who, as an 8-year- old girl, doled out relationship advice to followers who would also confess to her intimate details about their sex lives. "They would come and say, 'My marriage isn't working, what do I do?' In one case, I remember telling a man, 'I don't think you'll ever be happy with your wife-she's not a very nice person."

    Collins, who left the church in her early 20s, was always skeptical of the Moonies, as Unificationists are unhappily known to the outside world. "I saw through the church from a very young age, but I also wanted to be a good Moonie, and to be loved and accepted like any other person," she says. "It took me a very long time to leave because I was afraid. It was all I knew."

    While the young Collins was struggling with questions about her faith and her leader, he was matching her peers-some as young as 16-for marriage. Unificationists believe that Moon has divine insight into their spiritual compatibility, and so they submit to his decisions with the understanding that they are, quite literally, matches made in heaven. Early on, there was talk of Collins being betrothed to one of Moon's supposedly sacred sons, perhaps in one of the giant ceremonies that join masses of Moonies in a single afternoon. The biggest even in the West, at which Moon blessed 2,075 couples, took place in New York's Madison Square Garden in July 1982; some ceremonies blessed as many as 30,000 couples.)

    continued in next comment...

  3. continued from previous comment:

    The ritual, which participants consider to be as much a commitment to Moon as it is to each other, is a vital part of growing up in the church. Ahead of the ceremony, couples strike each other with sticks to rid themselves of sin, before vowing to live their lives for others and to create a family that contributes to world peace. A commitment to "sexual purity" precedes a "separation period," where couples are directed to go without sex for 40 days following the ceremony. You can sweep the rose petals off the bed -there's nothing hot about a honey-Moonie.

    Collins observed the dissolution of many Unificationist marriages, but she says some do prosper. Either way, she doesn't fault the followers. She says that unlike their leader, the Unificationists who support Moon's religious and business empire, which was valued at more than $100 million at its peak in the late '90s, are some of the kindest people she has met. "They're very idealistic," she says. "They genuinely want the world to be a better place."

    According to the International Cultic Studies Association, the majority of people who devote themselves to these fringe groups are as well-adjusted as they are educated; most of them come from stable families and have college degrees, a statistic that's not lost on many sects, such as Scientology, whose disciples notoriously target university campuses. The UC even went so far as to make a formal investment in Connecticut's University of Bridgeport in 1992. (The institute regained financial independence in 2003, but a number of Moonies still hold administrative positions there, and followers are urged to attend the school to be educated among their own kind.)

    Leaders want people who are intelligent enough to contribute to the group and, in the future, to win over the minds of others. Curious youths, living away from home and searching for answers in those tender years, are ripe for the plucking. It's Cult Recruitment 101.

    Daniel Maldonado was first introduced to Rael, leader of the Raelian Movement, as a teenager growing up in the grimy housing projects of New York's Upper West Side. The atheistic extraterrestrial sect, which believes that every prophet from Moses to Mohammed was a visitor from a superior alien race called Elohim, first attracted the boy because it filled in so many of the mystic gaps in his Catholic education.

    Raelians argue that Elohim, through science, created life on Earth about 25,000 years ago. The group believes in using similar technology to revolutionize the human existence, including cloning for immortality and the betterment of mankind. The science behind the teachings fit with Maldonado's own rigorous education about the universe, physics, and humanity. "Little by little, it all added up to the Raelian philosophy," he says.

    Elohim officially acknowledged Maldonado, now 21, on a sunny autumn day in New York last year, at an intimate gathering in a gay support center downtown. The date, December 13, was significant: It marked the anniversary of Rael's first encounter with the extraterrestrial race at a volcano in France in 1973. The 4-foot-tall green creatures reportedly told the sportswriter and racecar driver, then named Claude Vorilhon, that he must change his name to Rael and prepare the world for their imminent return. So far he has reached roughly 55,000 people, according to the group's own estimates.

    continued in next comment...

  4. continued from previous comment:

    Ten Raelians watched as a trained bishop, or "guide," baptized Maldonado and another convert in a ceremony called "the transmission of the cellular plan." At exactly 3pm, when the Elohim were said to have their antennae facing the east coast of the United States, the regional leader dipped his hands into a plastic bowl of water and placed them on the front and back of Maldonado's head, which then became a conductor to beam the boy's unique genetic code to the all-seeing beings above. "Elohim has recognized you," the guide whispered, leaning in for a charged hug from the newest member of the group.

    After the ceremony, the endearing assortment of New Age sensualists and Trekkie types discussed "paradism," their belief that in the near future a new class of clones and robots will perform all labor. According to Raelians, not only will this harmonize society, but it will also leave plenty of time for some of their more hedonistic pursuits, such as the Cosmic Orgasm, a kind of sexual nirvana achieved through meditation and erotic massage, and Go Topless Day, which is exactly what it sounds like. Nothing is taboo, so long as all parties are satisfied-and Raelians strive for universal satisfaction.

    "It wasn't no normal day," Maldonado says of the baptism, which could only happen once he was deemed mature enough to choose the religion for himself, and to sign an Act of Apostasy renouncing all others. "I've been thinking a little different, a little less selfish, like I need to fix things."

    Maldonado's situation is different than most in that his group membership was voluntary. "People who join cults can go home to their families and friends, and live like they did before," says Collins, who was born into the UC. "Those of us who grew up in cults, we had no other life. When I left, there were none of these online support groups. You were out on our own, you would lose the majority of your friends, and the cult would often demonize you."

    At first, Collins relied on a handful of friends she met while attending an independent college. It wasn't until she married outside of the church, in a Methodist ceremony to a man she loved, that the fallen Moonie truly found herself. It was the first step toward creating her very own stable family. "And there was no beating the sins out of each other," she says, laughing.

    Buhring, of COG, spent her formative years away from her parents, surrounded by sex. After a childhood of enduring the worst kinds of adult encounters, she discovered what it really meant to be a grown-up in the simple splendor of outside life: opening a bank account, renting an apartment, savoring a warm cup of coffee alone in a cafe, free from the regimented schedule of the cult that stole her innocence. "I felt this incredible sense of maturity and freedom," Buhring says of the first year following her willful excommunication. "It's like being blind your whole life, and suddenly you see. At first you don't understand what it is you are seeing, but as you start to understand, the beauty of it all becomes overwhelming. You can sit for hours and just smile, taking it all in. That, I think, was my coming of age. That's when I finally became an adult."