17 Mar 2011

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

Note from Perry Bulwer:  The first line of the article below states: "CULT LEADERS are the pied-pipers of America..."  How true.  I wonder if the writer is aware that one of the more notorious cult leaders, David Berg, who founded the Children of God, now called The Family International,  boasted of that very thing. In the early days of his cult, in the 1970s, he claimed to receive a prophecy indicating that the Pied Piper was one of his 'spirit helpers'. Yes, you read that right, Berg claimed a fictional character was talking to him and helping him lead his cult. At the following link you can read Berg's original 'prophecy' http://www.exfamily.org/pubs/ml/b4/ml0102.shtml   After that, Berg continued to write and speak of himself as a modern day Pied Piper who boasted of manipulating children to leave their families, which is what his cult did all over the world.  See the Related Articles links at the end of this post for more articles on that deceptive cult.

Philly.com - March 12, 2011

Cults are Jersey man's bread and butter


CULT LEADERS are the pied-pipers of America, leading the outcast, the despondent, and sometimes the highly intelligent off into the dark, isolated fringes of society.

And then there's Rick Alan Ross, poking around in that darkness with a flashlight.

From his eclectic office in a former cracker factory in Trenton, Ross, 58, runs the Rick A. Ross Institute, a nonprofit Internet archive on "destructive cults" and "controversial groups and movements."

Attorneys, universities and the media often go to Ross for explanations when seemingly benign groups go off the rails, and parents turn to him when their children fall under a cult's spell.

Ross got interested in cults when a group tried to recruit at his grandmother's nursing home.

"I've been quite active in China in recent years," said Ross, who launched his Web archive in 1996 and makes a living as a consultant, expert witness and speaker.

Next month, a computer hacker who unleashed a virus on Ross' website and several media websites will be sentenced in federal court in Camden. Ross will soon be traveling back to Arizona to testify in a case involving three people who died in a sweat lodge during a "spiritual warrior" event.

On a recent afternoon, Ross was on the phone with a reporter from an Oklahoma news station, after a member of the General Assembly Church of the First Born was arrested for failing to seek medical attention for her son before he died.

"There have been many children who have died, needlessly, in groups like this because a creator who leads the group demands that every member adhere to their belief system," Ross said.

It's not uncommon for someone with a television to get sucked in by cults and bizarre movements, at least for an hour or two, but Ross has been researching them since 1982, when someone messed with his grandmother. Ross said the Jewish Voice Broadcast, a fundamentalist group, had infiltrated his grandmother's nursing home looking to recruit elderly residents.

"They targeted Jews to convert them to Pentecostalism," he said.

Ross helped expose the group members working at the nursing home, and his life hasn't been the same since.

"It made me realize that there was a problem in my community," he said.

From there, Ross began appearing on panels and committees, mostly in the Jewish community in Arizona, but his involvement expanded in the late 1980s, when he became a private consultant and intervention specialist/deprogrammer.

He worked with some of David Koresh's Branch Davidian followers before the Waco, Texas, incident and says he has conducted approximately 500 interventions to clean out all the muck shoveled into brainwashed heads. Ross and other intervention specialists used to take part in forced interventions or deprogramming, but they no longer hold people against their will.

Exposing cults, hate groups and frauds has made Ross a target, too, and there's a whole website aimed at "exposing" him.

"There's not a month that goes by where I don't get some kind of physical threat," he said. "Every week, I receive legal threats."

The Church of Scientology has kept a close watch on Ross, he said, amassing nearly 200 pages on him in their files.

Lauded by celebrity adherents like Tom Cruise and John Travolta for its supposed healing ways, Scientology is routinely derided by critics like Ross and former members as being fraudulent, expensive, and possibly even dangerous.

Scientology, Ross said, has publicized his arrests for burglary and conspiracy to commit grand theft in the mid-1970s and his lack of any academic credentials. They even discovered he was medicated for a few months when he was 10.

"I've had Scientology attack me many times over the years," he said. "Did I make mistakes that I regret when I was 22 and 21 years old? Yes. I paid for them. I resolved them and I went on with my life. Whatever exists in your life they will dig up."

Scientology played a big part in a civil case that bankrupted him briefly in 1995, Ross said.

That case stems from the 1991 failed deprogramming of Jason Scott, 18, a member of the Life Tabernacle Church in Washington state. Scott, represented by a prominent Scientology attorney, sued Ross and was awarded millions. He and Scott eventually settled for a few thousand dollars, he said, and are now friends.

Ross' website details all the cults that shocked the world, the leaders who rode into the headlines on a wave of death like Charles Manson, Jim Jones and Koresh. The Westboro Baptist Church, of Topeka, Kan. - the folks who step on the hearts of the broken-hearted with their funeral protests - sits at the top of his most popular subsections. His archives on the church date from 1993, long before it was in the national spotlight.

Cults and religion are not the same, Ross stressed, but the lines between them aren't always clear. The followers of Osama bin Laden, for example, could certainly be described as cult-like, Ross said, but not Islam itself.

Cults are defined by one charismatic totalitarian who seeks to brainwash his followers, Ross said. It could be for sex, free labor, or money, but it could also be for some higher calling that requires everyone to commit suicide. There's usually no easy way out.

"What we see as crazy, they see as perfectly normal," he said.

Ross believes the Internet is the most powerful tool to drag charismatic and dangerous cult leaders into the light, but they'll always be able to fill their ranks, gathering in compounds, strip malls or one of the many nondescript churchs along any given roadway.

"The reality is the human mind is much more fragile than any of us would readily admit," he said. "It's unsettling to us to think how easily we could be had."

This article was found at:


The main difference between a religion and a cult is secrecy and total control of members lives

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

Apocalypticism is a simplistic but dangerous world view spreading rapidly like a toxic virus

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. Economic climate a breeding ground for cults

    Leesha McKenny, Sydney Morning Herald
    November 2, 2011

    Global fears of economic or environmental upheaval feed the growth of gurus and damaging cults that prey on the weak, a visiting French government expert has warned.

    Georges Fenech, president of France's Interministerial Mission for Monitoring and Combating Cultic Deviances, said it was working for greater international co-operation in dealing with sectarian abuses – with one in five French, or 12million people, affected in some way by a cult.

    "We're going through an age where there are numerous crisis, whether it's financial, climatic, pandemic, and these create favourable basis where the gurus can work for their own benefit," he said.

    The politician and former judge cited one instance where an Australian cult, the Order of St Charbel founded by the now-jailed "Little Pebble" William Kamm on the NSW South Coast, spread to France where members have since been imprisoned.

    "So that proves there are no borders for that kind of group and that's why it's so important to have this kind of exchange and common vision between countries," he said.

    The French government has a history of taking a strict line on monitoring what it considers negative “cultlike movements”. It has previously released a list of more than 170 groups deemed cults on the basis they met one or more of 10 characteristics.

    "Some of these organisations anyway are huge organisations, like the Church of Scientology and Jehovah's Witnesses, and of course these people are here [in Australia] as well."

    Mr Fenech said the French branch of the Church of Scientology, which the French government did not call a religion, will return to court this week to appeal its 2009 conviction on charges related to illegal pharmacology and organised fraud.

    But Australia was part of the Anglo Saxon world that had a very different approach – more of "a laissez faire attitude of tolerance towards all religion," he said.

    "In France we do respect all religions but at the same time we do not tolerate that under the aegis of some kind of church some types of behaviour take place, and we confront these."

    Mr Fenech said all religions had the potential to foster cultic deviances. His organisation had examined sub-cults established within the Catholic church.

    "We can't leave this problem to private initiative because the problem is too serious and too difficult. It's just too much for associations to deal with it," he said.

    Mr Fenech, who said he will address the federal Senate today, was invited to deliver the keynote presentation at a conference entitled "Cults in Australia: Facing the Realities" co-hosted by Liberal senator Sue Boyce and independent senator Nick Xenophon.

    Speakers also include 2010 Australian of the Year, Professor Patrick McGorry, and Tom Sackville, president of the European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Sects or Cults.

    Mr Xenophon said it was vital that Australia look at laws similar to those of France that provide protection for victims of mental manipulation.

    “Right now some cults and groups here in Australia are getting away with unacceptable conduct and this is partly because our laws have failed to recognise the way people are controlled and coerced," he said.

    There were about 3000 cults operating in Australia, Cult Information and Family Support NSW president Ros Hodgins said.

    "We are asking that parliamentarians support measures to address the abusive groups we know as cults that have no accountability and cause psychological harm," she said.

    "Australia has not yet taken these issues as seriously as other countries, especially Europe."


  2. Create special laws for cults: DPP,

    by Catherine Hockley, The Advertiser
    November 03, 2011

    SA's chief prosecutor Stephen Pallaras is calling for new laws to thwart the rise of cults across the nation.

    Mr Pallaras says a new approach by law-makers needs to address the "mental damage and mental harm" caused by cults.

    "Conventional laws have difficulty in coping with the injuries that are caused. What I'm interested in is finding a way to deal with the damage that the cults do," he said.

    His calls are backed by South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon, who invited Mr Pallaras to Canberra yesterday to meet the chief of the French Government's cult-busting agency, Miviludes.

    The DPP faced criticism earlier this year over its handling of the case involving those involved with the doomsday Adelaide-based cult, Agape Ministries.

    Mr Pallaras would not comment on that case, but said Australia could learn from the French approach to cults.

    "The sorts of mental damage and mental harm that we're hearing about from these people are not easily coped with by the laws we've got, not only in our state, but across Australia," he said.

    "And it may be that we've got to look at something like the French are doing to help us cope with that evil which is a social evil." Senator Xenophon said "the Agape Ministries debacle is proof our current laws don't work".

    "For the first time an Australian DPP has recognised the weaknesses in our laws when it comes to abuse within cults," he said.

    Senator Xenophon said the French "cult-busting laws work; they give protection to victims".

    Mr Pallaras says under Australian laws, prosecution is difficult.

    "They're (cults) not any harder to prosecute than anyone else if they commit conventional offences," he said.

    "The trouble is the evil they represent ... is much more difficult to address with conventional laws, so we've got to look at something a bit unconventional."

    Attorney-General John Rau yesterday agreed: "This is a very difficult area for prosecutors".

    But he warned: "Any government contemplating specific anti-cult legislation would need to tread carefully.

    "I am interested in discussing this issue with the DPP and hearing his ideas about a better approach to tackling their damaging behaviour," he said.


  3. Ohio Treatment Center Specializes In Spiritual Abuse From Cults

    by by 10TV.com Ohio November 17, 2011

    ALBANY, Ohio - The Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center, hidden away in rural southeastern Ohio, is one of only two residential treatment centers in the U.S. that helps victims of emotional and spiritual abuse from relationships and cults.

    Andie Redwine was born and raised in a doomsday cult. The Indiana woman wrote “Paradise Recovered,” a fictional movie based on her own experiences, 10TV’s Andrea Cambern reported.

    After escaping the cult as a teenager, Redwine was counseled at Wellspring.

    For 25 years, Wellspring has helped survivors of cults and abuse come to terms with what has happened to them.

    She wrote the screenplay in 2009 and interviewed 100 other survivors from 18 cults, Cambern reported.

    Although the messages among the cults were different, the control was the same.

    She says the cult she was in controlled how members dressed, who they married, even the music they heard.

    “We were allowed to listen to certain kinds of music but it had to be approved by headquarters,” Redwine said.

    According to Redwine, in some years, 30 percent of cult members’ pre-tax income was going to the group.

    “To this day, they were some of the finest people I’ve ever known,” Redwine said. “But they were duped by a swindler who really thought that he could make money.”

    Redwine said that the cult’s leader made predictions that did not come true.

    “He would make Jesus’ coming back on this date (and said) we all need to get ready,” Redwine said. “Jesus wouldn’t come back and then it would be our fault.”

    Tara Pennock, another cult survivor, said that she was in a cult for 2 ¼ years. She said that she escaped the cult with the help of her family, even though it was difficult leaving.

    “It’s even harder if you’re raised in the group because you’ve been isolated,” said Gregory Sammons, Wellspring’s interim executive director. “You’ve grown up in this group and you don’t know what normal is.”

    Sammons said that cult leaders use natural disasters as a way to convince followers that God is angry with them and to guilt them into behaving.

    “(They say) you’re going to hell. You’re going to get sick. You’re going to die,” Sammons said.

    "The member is sort of dangling over this chasm of hell by a silk thread,” Redwine said. “The cult leader is standing there with a razor blade, just waiting for you to screw up."

    At Wellspring, clients are not "deprogrammed." Instead, survivors voluntarily move in for two weeks of intensive counseling, Cambern reported.

    According to Sammons, many suffer from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, as if they had been through combat.

    “Before, I was really depressed and anxious,” Pennock said.

    Clients learn that it was not their fault that they were controlled. The staff teaches them how the control worked and helps survivors re-frame the way they see the world.

    "I feel emotionally so much better, really uplifted,” Pennock said. “I have hope for my future now."

    Redwine wrote the film to shine light on a dark corner.

    Treatment at Wellspring is expensive, Cambern reported. Redwine said that she is so grateful for what it did for her that she is donating a portion of the profits of her film to Wellspring so other survivors can get the help they need.

    The film is expected to play at the Gateway Theater near The Ohio State University campus in early 2012, Cambern reported.


  4. Drinking the Kool-Aid: A Survivor Remembers Jim Jones

    By Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, The Atlantic
    Nov 18 2011

    Teri Buford O'Shea fled Jonestown three weeks before all its inhabitants committed suicide. Here, she explains why the tragedy should be a cautionary tale for everyday people.

    On November 18, 1978, Jim Jones and more than 900 members of his People's Temple committed mass suicide in the jungle of Guyana. Since that time, the event has occupied a grotesque but fringy place in American history. Jones's followers are imagined as wide-eyed innocents, swallowing his outrageous teachings along with his cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. Teri Buford O'Shea remembers things quite differently.

    O'Shea was 19 years old when she joined the People's Temple in Redwood Valley, California. It was 1971, and O'Shea was homeless when a man pulled up alongside her in a van. He told her about the community where he lived -- a place, he said, where no one had to worry about food or housing. The leader was a visionary who was building a new future. O'Shea gladly took the ride. After all, she assumed, if she didn't like the People's Temple, she could always leave.

    Forty years later, O'Shea is just beginning to speak openly about her seven years with Jim Jones, first in California and then at his compound in Guyana. Her memories of Jonestown are complex. Its inhabitants, she says, were warm people who worked hard to build a utopian community. Jones himself was passionately committed to civil rights -- during the 1960s, he helped integrate churches, hospitals, restaurants, and movie theaters, and he personally adopted several children of color. (His only biological child, Stephan, had the middle name Gandhi.) The majority of the followers who died with him were African-American, and one third were children.

    As O'Shea tells it, Jones's idealism was a large part of what made him so lethal. He tapped into the zeitgeist of the late 1960s and 1970s, feeding on people's fears and promising to create a "rainbow family" where everyone would truly be equal. He was charismatic enough to lure hundreds of people to a South American jungle, where he cut off all their ties with the outside world.

    O'Shea, who escaped just three weeks before the massacre, recently published a collection of poems and photographs called Jonestown Lullaby. I spoke to her this morning about her memories of Jim Jones, including the mass suicide rehearsals he called White Nights. She described her dawning realization that Jones was going to kill her. And she explained why Jonestown should be remembered not as an American curiosity but a cautionary tale for everyday people. ...

    read the rest of the article at:


  5. Cult information charity faces Charity Commission curb after Scientology complaint

    After 25 years in operation, the Cult Information Centre fears it may no longer be able to work effectively

    by Lynne Wallis, The Guardian UK Friday 13 January 2012

    More than 160,000 charities in England and Wales are registered with the Charity Commission, thereby qualifying for charitable status and the tax relief and fundraising advantages that brings. So what happens when a registered charity is deemed to be in breach of the commission's stringent criteria? While the commission can't withdraw charitable status, it must investigate any alleged breach of the conditions of charitable status and ensure the charity is compliant.

    The Cult Information Centre (CIC) was granted education charity status in 1992 but has recently run into difficulties with the commission after complaints were received in 2007 that it is in breach of the rules governing status. Specifically, it is alleged that the CIC isn't neutral concerning its educational work, which means it could be deemed to be a campaigning or political organisation. A commission spokeswoman explained: "The problem is that the CIC's education work seems to be coming from a pre-conceived standpoint whereas, when we granted charitable status, we specified that any educational work needs to be objective and factual. There has been ongoing correspondence, and the charity's trustees have offered to conduct a review into the charity's work and practices."

    The CIC, set up 25 years ago, offers information on cults and new religious movements to the general public, including families who have lost relatives to such groups and former cult members trying make sense of what their experiences. Ian Haworth, who runs the charity, also gives talks to schools and other organisations on the psychological techniques cults use to recruit people and the threat that cults can pose to young lives; it is this educational element of the charity's work that has been under the spotlight.

    The commission has not revealed who is behind complaints, but an official let slip at a meeting attended by Haworth and some CIC trustees that it was the Church of Scientology. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, the commission has received complaints from numerous cults ever since the CIC was awarded charitable status, and Haworth is at a loss to understand why the commission is only now flexing its muscles. He likens the restrictions the commission is trying to impose to a drugs awareness charity being told it can still operate, as long as it never says drugs are bad.

    Haworth said: "We were awarded charitable status 20 years ago in spite of complaints from the Moonies, Scientology and the Hare Krishnas, which the commission was prepared then to override. Meanwhile, the commission continues to award charitable status to some very sinister and suspect groups whose contribution to the public good is arguable, and now the CIC is being told it can't operate effectively.

    "The commission has got it all so wrong, while the whole business has distracted us from our core work. Our website content is now problematic, and we can't fundraise properly or talk openly to the press about groups, which is particularly worrying given that the vast proportion of stories go untold because cults are so litigious.

    "An educational charity must, they say, be neutral, but how can we be neutral about the dangers of the coercive psychological techniques cults use to recruit?"

    continued in next comment:


  6. continued from previous comment:

    The commission suggests the CIC may have to "change its objects" which, in non-commission-speak, means it must maintain its status by using different qualifying criteria, ie, not claim to be an educational charity.

    The CIC argues vigorously that its work is beneficial to the public, and the thousands of people Haworth has helped over the 25 years would, he says, undoubtedly agree, but the charity will get into hotter water still if it doesn't toe the line on neutrality. The Church of Scientology was famously refused charitable status in 1996 on the grounds that any organisation claiming public benefit under the banner of "advancement of religion" must believe in a supreme being and/or worship to express its religious belief, neither of which is the case for Scientology. Had it made its claim on other grounds, it might have been successful.

    Since the 2006 Charities Act, the criteria under which organisations may apply has expanded hugely from the very narrow relief of poverty, advancement of education or religion, and a general "public-benefit" umbrella, to the advancement of anything from from amateur sports to human rights.

    The irony for the CIC is that many of the sorts of groups the charity has been warning young people about before they go off to university have themselves achieved charitable status. The world famous Unification movement, for example, more commonly known as the Moonies, has enjoyed charitable status since 1974. If the CIC is prevented from raising awareness about the dangers of cult recruitment, there is precious little else out there for concerned parents or others needing to find out about cults. One thing is certain: any forthcoming information resulting from contacting a cult group directly to find out what they are about would very definitely not be neutral.

    The CIC was the first port of call in 2003 for a teacher from Liverpool who can't be named for fear of reprisals from the group who recruited her son. She said: "The CIC are unique because they have a wealth of information and contacts at their fingertips. They put me in touch with an expert in the particular field our son was involved with, who swiftly identified the supposedly buddhist group our son had joined as fake. The CIC put us in touch with the charity Catalyst who gave us invaluable legal advice, and we used CIC literature to hand out to police and other concerned agencies – their book is brilliant, and it was the most efficient way to convey what had happened to our family. It was also very comforting to talk to someone who understood and didn't think we were crazy. The Charity Commission shouldn't stop the CIC doing this important work."


  7. The article in the previous comment was amended on 13 January 2012 after I placed it in this archive. The original article said that "an official [from the Charity Commission] let slip at a meeting attended by Haworth, and some CIC trustees that it was the Church of Scientology" which had made the complaint to the Charity Commission about the CIC. This is denied by the Charity Commission which has asked [The Guardian] to make clear that it is the commission's policy not to reveal the source of any complaint and that the complaint came from an individual who did not claim to be making the complaint on behalf of any one else or any other organisation.


  8. Cults watchdog faces danger of being shut down

    A charity that warns people of the dangers of cults is set to have its funding withdrawn

    Jamie Doward, The Observer UK Sunday 4 March 4, 2012

    Since he escaped from a brainwashing cult 34 years ago, Ian Haworth has survived character assassination, lawsuits, bankruptcy and death threats.

    But now the founder of the Cult Information Centre, which educates the public about the threats posed by pseudo-religious groups, finds himself under attack from an unexpected quarter. The Charity Commission is seeking to withdraw the centre's charitable status, a move that would in effect end its activities.

    "If that happened, donations from trusts – which are our lifeline – would evaporate. We wouldn't be able to afford our office and we would no longer be able to operate," said Haworth, who established the centre as a response to his experiences in a Toronto-based cult and to the Jonestown massacre of 1978 that saw 918 people die in a mass suicide in Guyana, South America.

    Set up as an educational charity, the centre – whose three trustees are anonymous owing to fear of reprisals – had an income of just over £40,000 last year. "Most people don't understand cults, so money is hard to come by," Haworth said. "We don't make any money. That's why there are not many people trying to get into this field. Now, if we don't know whether we are going to retain our charitable status, it makes life doubly hard."

    The problems started when a complaint was made to the commission about the centre's educational remit. Concerns were raised that the centre was failing to observe neutrality. A suggestion, made by the commission, for the centre to become a mental health charity was accepted, only for a further complaint to be made that has left its future in the balance.

    Haworth believes several cults have taken exception to the centre's website, which once carried links to other websites warning of the dangers of certain groups and which attracted visitors from around the world.

    The centre's closure would mark the end of 25 years' work, which has seen Haworth lecture in hundreds of schools, act as an expert witness in high-profile criminal trials, advise the police and raise awareness of cult-related issues in the media. The centre estimates that it receives some 4,000 inquiries a year.

    Haworth said the centre's work had attracted further interest after the 9/11 attacks, which prompted a focus on how religious leaders can radicalise followers into becoming terrorists. High-profile incidents involving cults – notably the sarin gas attack in Japan and the Waco siege in Texas – have also heightened awareness.

    Haworth was summoned to a meeting at the Charity Commission in the autumn of 2010, when he was informed that his organisation might lose its charitable status. "I thought, 'How can that be?' They'd got one complaint. I was gobsmacked. Our lawyer was stunned. I felt like jumping in the Thames to cool off."

    The centre has found itself under attack before. When it applied for charitable status, a number of cult-like organisations, some of which enjoyed charitable status, complained to the commission.

    continued in next comment...

  9. continued from previous comment:

    It is understood that this time the complaint has been made by an individual with close links to the Church of Scientology, the celebrity sect whose members include Hollywood stars Tom Cruise and John Travolta and which strenuously denies it is a cult. A Scientology spokesman denied that the complaint had been made by the church.

    Haworth was made bankrupt after he was pursued by a Canadian organisation in the mid-1990s. He has also been threatened verbally and via putative lawsuits from several cults. His organisation's address is kept secret for fear of being targeted by cult supporters.

    Haworth expressed concern that the UK was lagging behind other European countries in raising awareness. France has introduced a law to protect its citizens from cults and has a government-funded unit monitoring them. German children are educated about cults from an early age, while Spain has several organisations that track their development.

    A spokeswoman for the commission said its policy was not to discuss the identity of complainants and that it was in talks with the centre about its future. "The charity informed us in June 2011 that it would appoint an independent adviser to the trustees to review the charity's activities and suggested a framework for future activities to ensure these are exclusively educational and charitable," the spokeswoman said. "We await the results of this review."

    Haworth said he feared the closure of the centre could be just the beginning. "What happens to my colleagues in the field? To the counsellors working with cult victims? Are they next? People in Britain have died because they have been involved in cults."

    THE $1,500 LESSON

    It was the blonde who did for Ian Haworth. "I was single and walking in downtown Toronto and she was beautiful," Haworth recalled of the fateful day in 1978 when he was approached by a cult. "She asked if I was prepared to help with a survey and I said yes."

    Two minutes later the woman suggested that, judging by his answers, Haworth might be interested in joining a community group. "She said, 'Isn't it time you gave something back?'"

    Originally from a farming community in Lancashire, Haworth (below) thought Toronto had been good to him, so he agreed to go to a meeting at a hotel a week later. The blonde rang him daily to ensure he was still coming. The meeting, which Haworth paid $2 to attend, was joined by more than 100 people and was addressed by a charismatic woman who claimed to have beaten drug and alcohol addictions. By the end of the day, after being plied with food and drink, Haworth was persuaded to hand over $225 for a four-day course that he was promised would help him to stop smoking.

    The course started on a Thursday evening. "By Sunday, I had given them all the money I had – $1,500," Haworth said. "I went to work the next day and resigned. I considered myself one of the elite."

    It was only when a national newspaper exposed the cult on its front page that Haworth realised he had been brainwashed. He learnt later that he had been hypnotised 16 times over a four-day period.

    Haworth set up a group in Toronto, Council on Mind Abuse (Coma), to warn of the dangers of cults. Coma provided the model for the Cult Information Centre, which Haworth established when he returned to the UK.


  10. Universities learned the lesson of cult mischief, get proactive

    The Japan Times Thursday, May 31, 2012

    Kyodo - Toshiyuki Tachikake, an associate professor at Osaka University, pointed to a close-up picture of a man and asked his class of first-year students if they knew who the figure was. Only a few, perhaps about 30 percent, raised their hands.

    The person projected on the screen was Shoko Asahara, the infamous Aum Shinrikyo founder who is on death row for masterminding the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system and other crimes.

    The students' response reflects how memories of heinous incidents involving cults — even Aum, the worst of the lot — are gradually fading away and how the older generation has failed to educate young people about what happened.

    Tachikake's class in early May was part of a compulsory course on various aspects of college life for incoming students at Osaka University. While also covering problems such as alcohol and drugs, Tachikake and his colleagues devoted a significant portion of the course to the dangers of cults.

    "It's a university's social responsibility to prevent (students from being recruited into) cults," Tachikake says, while stressing that attention is paid to ensure freedom of religion.

    Osaka University, some of whose graduates were among the highly educated members of Aum involved in the sarin gas attack in Tokyo and another in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in 1994, is known for being one of the colleges that began tackling the issue of cults early on.

    But even though cults' recruiting efforts on university campuses made headlines in the past, many students today appear to be unaware of this danger.

    Even today, so-called religious groups continue to recruit students by initially identifying themselves as campus sports, music or volunteer clubs.

    "There are many camouflaged groups out there," said Tachikake. "The problem is that they do not follow the rules of communication and fail to disclose accurate information (about their activities)."

    At Taisho University, a Buddhist school in Tokyo, religious scholar Tatsuya Yumiyama told some 100 students in his introductory course on religion: "You're probably thinking only weirdos join cults. Well, you're wrong.

    "You may think that a 'sempai' (senior student) with high aspirations gives you a helping hand and prays for you, and with 100 percent good intent," said Yumiyama, a professor known for his research on Aum and expertise on the relationship between young people and religion. "But that is illegal soliciting."

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  11. continued from previous comment:

    To illustrate how often it is the most serious-minded students who fall prey to the repeated cycle of cult recruiting, he told the class of a case in which a university student joined a such a cult out of admiration for a sempai and ended up having to quit school.

    At the same time, Yumiyama stressed the importance of learning about true religion.

    He said many students told him after the class that they now realize how wrong they had been to think they would not be deceived by cult members.

    Kenji Kawashima, president of Keisen University, a Christian women's school in Tokyo, warns that cults have grown increasingly sophisticated in their recruiting tactics.

    For example, cultists passing themselves off as members of volleyball or other sports clubs will rent and host activities in gyms at public elementary schools to give their targets a false sense of security, Kawashima said.

    Also, as universities have stepped up measures against cults, recruiters have shifted to younger marks — high school students. Of particular interest are those preparing for their university entrance exams.

    Cult members typically approach such students as they cram for their tests in coffee shops and other public places, he said.

    Kawashima, a former pastor, said the shock from the Aum incidents prompted him to look into cult activity in Japan. He and others founded a nationwide network of universities to address the problem. It now numbers about 150 schools.

    He said his conviction that religious belief is important weighs heavily when he considers that students, aspiring to do good in society and thinking seriously about their futures, have been drawn into cults, where they have suffered both psychologically and financially.

    "I believe that had they not been taken into the cults, they would have been promising and talented members of society," he said. "It's a tough job, but one worth doing."


  12. Edmonton organization fights back against cult movement

    By Michael Gregory, Edmonton Journal September 2, 2012

    Nearly a decade ago, Carla Brown escaped the clutches of a religious cult that operated in a rural area near Fort McMurray.

    When she left, she closed a strange and troubling chapter of her life that had begun years earlier with her marriage to the group’s leader, a man whose followers trusted him with their lives.

    “I felt like I was going into a science fiction movie,” says Brown of her introduction to the group. “I was intrigued at how these people could be this little pocket in this normal culture.”

    Brown, a former music-video producer, had seven children with her husband before she decided to leave him and his group. Feeling trapped by her husband and her surroundings, she started sneaking away to a Fort McMurray Internet café where she researched cults and spiritual abuse, downloading information onto a floppy disk to keep with her.

    “I saw what happened behind scenes, how things were manipulated and people were abused, and abuse was hidden and illegal things went on,” Brown says.

    Brown is now director of the Edmonton Society Against Mind Abuse. The organization provides support for former cult members and for families who have lost a member to a group.

    The power of such groups to remove a person’s ability to make informed decisions is a common trait, says the University of Alberta’s Dr. Stephen Kent.

    An expert in new and alternative religions, Kent has discovered cultish characteristics in self-help organizations and pseudo-medical groups.

    They typically have a charismatic leader, usually someone with a personality disorder, Kent says. “The people confuse mental and personality disorders with spirituality — those groups can be quite dangerous.”

    There are about six cults operating in Edmonton, but the number is difficult to track because the groups tend to hide their identities.

    In the past, at least one group is known to have posed as a Bible study group on the city’s post-secondary campuses, blending into student movements, or having recruiters approach students at transit stations.

    “These people have studied the Bible through their own lenses but have done so very intensely so they can out-talk, and out-argue, most other people who have a far weaker basis,” says Kent, who has met with U of A’s campus security to discuss the problem.

    Kent is particularly concerned about international students who are not always immediately aware of the customs of their new home country. Some aren’t able to see signs that they are being approached by recruiters for a cult.
    The average age for people to join cults is between 18 and 25, when young people are at “a turning point in their life or are just curious about who this group is,” Kent says.

    There is a pattern of behaviour shared among groups that recruit and isolate their members, Kent says. “As potential members, groups usually treat recruits very kindly and they’re showered with affection and interest.”

    But the more isolated, radical and extreme, the more harm and abuse occurs.

    Brown says she knows some of the techniques that cults use to help isolate new members from their loved ones.

    “I have a stash of ‘goodbye’ letters,” she says. “The middle management of the cults coach these kids on how to write these letters. Once they cut off people then they almost get more privileges … (they get) connected in the inner circle.”

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    Christine is an Edmonton mother of four who asked that her last name be withheld for the privacy of her family. Two years ago, her 19-year-old son came home preaching about a cult-like church in north Edmonton he was attending with four of his closest friends.

    “That kind of shocked us that he was going to church let alone that he was involved in this group where they believe God is walking around as a 67-year-old Korean woman,” says Christine.

    Her son, the youngest in the non-religious family, tried to recruit other family members, and when that didn’t work he started to withdraw, his mother says. In a short time he sold all his personal belongings — his guitar, golf clubs, even a sentimental gift from his parents — and likely gave the proceeds to his church group, his mother says.

    “Everything he could sell he did sell — he sold his grad ring we gave to him — nothing meant anything to him anymore,” Christine said.

    Standing just over six feet, he dropped down to under 125 lbs., depriving himself of food until he was “disgustingly thin,” and staying up all night with friends.

    “The pastor would text them non-stop and was in constant contact with them,” says Christine, who has since learned that sleep deprivation is one of the ways cult groups try to gain control.

    Christine thinks her son got involved through a friend’s girlfriend who attended the University of Alberta. He has since moved out of his parents’ house and rarely makes an appearance at family gatherings.

    Christine says police couldn’t help her get her son away from the cult.

    She and her husband now meet monthly with Brown and four other sets of parents in a support group run by the Edmonton Society Against Mind Abuse. Brown coaches families on understanding the spectrum of harm found in cults. She teaches techniques parents can use to speak to family members who are in cults.

    Christine tries to communicate with her son, but finds it difficult.

    “Every day I text him, every day (I ask) ‘Do you want to meet for supper or do you want to go for lunch’ — every single day and I hear nothing for a month. Now to me, it’s just heart-wrenching.”

    When Christine does get a chance to see her son, he seems different from the laughing, high-spirited young man she used to know. He only talks about his church, and repeatedly calls his mother “spiritually draining” if she tries to bring up anything else, she says.

    But she remains hopeful that he may break away. His health is worsening because of his poor nutrition, and that may prompt him to leave, she says.

    “He ended up losing jobs because he just couldn’t function properly,” Christine says.

    There have been a few times that her son hasn’t gone to the church for a few months, but he slowly drifts back because of his social connections.

    “Those are all of his friends in there and he’s cut off contact with us. He just gets drawn back in it and that’s the cycle we’re at right now,” Christine says.

    “When this came up I was just so unprepared for it and it had never entered my mind as a mother,” she says. “How many other groups are out there taking over people’s minds and destroying families?”

    Brown can relate to the story about Christine’s son.

    Like many of the people she now counsels, she went 15 years barely speaking to her mother because she was told to
    “submit her mind to the group way of thinking.”

    “We were taught we were the light in this world and if our light went out the world would go to hell in a handbasket,” Brown says.

    “I did fight it and I did say ‘This doesn’t make any sense — I have no voice, I have no personality.’ ”


  14. Do All Cults, Like All Psychotherapies, Exploit the Placebo Effect?

    By John Horgan |Scientific American (blog) March 4, 2013

    I’m a child of the Sixties, so I’ve known lots of people over the years who’ve joined cults. One of the most popular was Transcendental Meditation, which the Indian-born guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi began marketing to westerners, notably the Beatles, a half century ago. TM is making a comeback, in large part because of the efforts of David Lynch, director of Eraser Head, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks and other creepy classics. Over the past eight years he has become a global evangelist for TM. According to a recent New York Times Magazine profile, Lynch believes that TM can yield “true inner happiness.”

    I have no doubt that for Lynch and many other practitioners, TM works; that is, it makes them feel better. “Better” can include anything from feeling calmer and less stressed to having a stronger sense of purpose, meaning and connection to other people and all of life.

    Of course, by this criterion Scientology, Catholicism, Mormonism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism, the Hare Krishna movement, Unification Church and every other cult works. (Some readers may prefer the term “religion” for some of these institutions, but I view religions as cults that have achieved respectability, in some cases by abandoning extreme tenets.) After all, numerous studies have found a correlation between health and religious faith.

    The question is, why do cults work? Why do they make adherents feel better? The obvious (to me) answer is that they harness the placebo effect, the tendency of our belief that something will benefit us to be self-fulfilling. Cults share many elements that seem designed to evoke potent placebo effects:

    *Specialness. Each cult usually insists on its uniqueness and superiority to all rivals. It offers not just a path to knowledge and happiness but The Path. The cult holds out the hope that diligent adherents can achieve special states of being, called salvation, enlightenment, getting clear, etc. Followers are often encouraged to persuade others to convert.

    *Supernatural Founder. Each cult insists that its founder—and sometimes its current leader–possesses revelatory knowledge and powers beyond those of ordinary mortals. This prophet, savior or guru is said to be infallible, enlightened, chosen by God, semi-divine or divine. Examples: Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Joseph Smith, L. Ron Hubbard, Reverend Moon, the Dalai Lama, the Pope, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

    *Rituals. Adherence to the cult often entails ritualized practices such as meditation, yoga, prayer, signing hymns to God, attending regular group services and so on.

    *Secrecy. Some cults bind adherents together with secret knowledge. When I lived in Denver in the 1970s, I had friends who joined a cult called Divine Light Mission, which taught members meditation techniques that they could not reveal to outsiders. Each TM practitioner is also given a unique, secret mantra to repeat during meditation. I once pestered two friends who had learned TM to reveal their secret mantras. One finally told me, and the other blurted out in dismay that he had been given the same mantra.

    *Money. We value what we pay for, so not surprisingly religions ask devotees to donate or tithe, and some, such as Scientology and TM, charge for spiritual training. Learning basic TM costs $1000, and advanced courses cost much more. In 2002, Lynch paid $1 million for an “Enlightenment Course” taught by Maharishi Yogi himself (who didn’t even teach in the flesh!). Sigmund Freud, who was no fool, insisted that payments were a crucial component of psychoanalysis. It’s a win-win situation for therapist and patient, guru and devotee.

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  15. Speaking of Freud and psychoanalysis, I’ve written about how different psychotherapies all produce roughly the same benefits, or lack thereof, an equivalence that has been dubbed “the Dodo effect.” The term refers to an Alice in Wonderland scene in which a dodo bird, after watching Alice and other characters run a race, announces, “Everyone has won, and all must have prizes!” The Dodo effect is consistent with the hypothesis that all psychotherapies harness the placebo effect. My guess is that the dodo effect applies to all cults as well as to all psychotherapies.

    Cults and psychotherapies are hardly alone in exploiting the placebo effect. In his new book The Placebo Effect in Clinical Practice, psychiatrist Walter Brown of Brown University writes that “the history of medical treatment is largely a chronicle of placebos. When subjected to scientific scrutiny, the overwhelming majority of treatments have turned out to be devoid of intrinsic therapeutic effectiveness; they derived their benefits from the placebo effect.”

    So here’s another question: What happens if you just practice one of a cult’s rituals—singing in a church choir, say, or eating peyote–without buying into all the claptrap about its supernatural specialness?

    Journalist Claire Hoffman, who wrote the Times Lynch profile, apparently falls into this category. She learned TM as a child and still meditates twice a day “to deal with anxiety and fatigue and to stave off occasional despair.” But she doesn’t buy Lynch’s claim that if we all embrace TM it will “change everything, for everyone.” She calls her practice “something very simple, like doing yoga or avoiding dairy.”

    Hoffman might get much stronger placebo effects if she had as much faith in TM as Lynch. The more you believe in the uniquely transformative power of your cult, the more you get out of it. The only price you have to pay is your rationality.

    About the Author: Every week, hockey-playing science writer John Horgan takes a puckish, provocative look at breaking science. A teacher at Stevens Institute of Technology, Horgan is the author of four books, including The End of Science (Addison Wesley, 1996) and The End of War (McSweeney's, 2012). Follow on Twitter @Horganism.



    Czestochowa, Polska - 13 June 2013 Sunday - Catholic Weekly

    Margita Kotas talks with Dariusz Pietrek – a founder and employee of the Silesian Information Centre, and a psychotherapist of the Psychotherapy Centre in Katowice and an employee of the Family Promotion Centre in Chorzów, about Sects and Psycho-manipulative groups

    MARGITA KOTAS: - Do you think people are resistant to being recruited by sects and their influence?

    DARIUSZ PIETREK: - No, but there are people who can feel on the basis of their experience and knowledge, that intentions of another man are not quite clear or not quite honest and then they can start a mechanism of safety. While when we look at the techniques of recruiting by sects as a techniques of manipulation, social influence, we must remember about one thing – indeed each of us can be manipulated, each of us can be deceived, each of us can be misled or fall a victim of a joke. We are only people, we are likely to be influenced.

    – So, I understand that even mature people cannot feel safe in contacts with sects. However, it seems that sects are interested mainly in young people and these are young people who often fall victims to sects…

    – That’s not true. Let’s start with what we understand by the word ‘sect’. And here, a kind of safety mechanism is switched off very often, it seems to people that a sect is a group of some strange, distorted people who have strange opinions and a kind of their master, guru, to whom they are subjected. However, this is a knowledge of the 90s of the last century. Today we must look at sects differently. There are various kinds of them: religious sects, economic, therapeutic or educational sects. For example, both a young man and a mature person or an elderly person, can be interested in a religious sect, who are suffering from the syndrome of emptiness and for this reason are looking for a new sense of life. Therapeutic sects are often the interest of elderly and ill people, who are extremely open. In their case we often deal with various groups which offer therapies, bio-energy-therapies, some courses of spiritual or personal development. So, it is seen clearly that the current offer of sects is addressed not only to young people. Young people simply enter various structures very quickly, because they still have very little experience, but in fact every man can be recruited to a sect.

    – How can we notice that our relative or our close person became an object of interest or has already become a victim of a sect?

    – Recruitment into a sect, entering a sect is a process. It is not that if somebody met somebody else and after one or two meetings he got into a sect. We often receive phone calls from people who are looking for their missing children, supposing that their child is in a sect. Then I ask about characteristic features of the child, which proved a process of his entering a group, for example, whether new literature appeared in his life, or whether he started reading the Bible suddenly, or whether he changed diet preferences, or if new people appeared among his acquaintances, friends, whether some talismans, figurines, music appeared, whether the child did not start practicing some new behaviors, meditation, whether he did not change the rhythm of his day, whether he leaves for some meetings and comes back agitated, excited and is able to speak only about one thing – about God, about the truth, salvation, damnation, starts using biblical verses or speak about experiences of masters of the Far East. These are elements which may prove increasing interest in and contact with a group which can be called a sect.

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  17. – Is there any way which allows us to protect ourselves from a sect?

    – It seems that knowledge about sects can protect us from them, but, have a look at a kind of regularity, please. At present, absolutely nobody is dealing with the issue of sects. I must say it with full responsibility – the state is not dealing with it, whereas the Catholic Church only to a little extent. Although I am open to this kind of a cooperation with the Church, during a year I am invited only for 5 – 6 meetings with the youth who are preparing for Confirmation, During the meetings I speak about the issues of sects and techniques of recruitment to sects. I often hear priests say: ‘but this problem does not exist any longer’. This problem ‘does not exist’ because media do not speak about it. They often take an action ‘sects’ only before vacations.

    And here, first of all, I would like to sensitize parents to the problem of sects. Parents should pay attention to where and with whom their children are going on holiday, they should find out whether a particular holiday camp or journey are registered, who organizes them, what day schedule is, whether an organizer meets all requirements of safety. It is important. There are often cases that various kinds of sects create allegedly safe associations and foundations. Whereas parents who are sending their children for holidays organized by such and such organizations or associations, often look only at a price, but not at what is going to happen to their child there.

    – If somebody has already been recruited to a sect, is it possible to take him away from it on one’s own or it is better to find a professional help?

    – I am a psychotherapist who works in the Psychotherapy Institute in Katowice and the fact that I decided to turn to psychotherapy was caused by an experience of meeting victims of sects, whom I did not know how to help. If somebody wants to help somebody to get away from a sect on his own, can do it in a wrong way by incompetence, for example, using a technique of depreciation, ridicule, which are completely ineffective in this case, but are even strengthening the belief of a person in a sect. It is not the way. I work within systemic therapy with a whole family, as it often happens that somebody enters a sect because he does not feel well in his family. In order to help this person return to his family, the scheme of the functioning of the family must be changed, because the family is whole where its members influence one another. Therefore, I suggest looking for specialists who are able to lead a family through the process of this return in professional and peaceful way. The process of freeing somebody from a sect is a very long and hard process. So, I suggest we should not act on our own. When we do not have a professional knowledge, we should look for specialists who can help us. A different thing is that there are fewer and fewer places where we can receive such help

    – so, the Silesian Information Centre about Sects is probably the only place in Poland, which has been dealing with psychotherapy of sect victims for three years. I must admit that it is very successful.

    Silesian Information Centre about Sects and Psycho-manipulative groups,
    1 Omańkowska St., 41-500 Chorzów. Helpline: +48 501-487-344; sekty_katowice@op.pl, www.sekty.cal.pl


  18. The Source Family a gripping look at a 1960s-era cult

    BY BILL ZWECKER Chicago Sun-Times Columnist June 14, 2013

    Over the years there have been numerous in-depth examinations of various American cults on the big and small screens. From the worlds of Jim Jones to the Branch Davidians to Charles Manson, filmmakers have frequently been intrigued by cults and what leads presumably sane — if easily impressionable — people to be attracted to the messianic leaders of these groups.

    However, in most cases, documentarians have not had access to the rich source material that directors Maria Demopoulos and Jodi Wille did for their intriguing “The Source Family.”

    Since many cults’ practices involve activities or beliefs alien to the mainstream world, their leaders and loyal acolytes do everything they can to distance themselves.While the Source Family commune and its leader Jim Baker (who came to call himself Father Yod, then later Father YaHoWha) did engage in controversial practices such as polygamy, underage marriage and denying medical treatment to members’ ailing children, “The Source Family” filmmakers got access to archival video and still photos, mainly kept by “Isis,” one of the group’s original members.

    Equally important were the large number of former commune members who granted interviews to the filmmakers.

    Baker/Father Yod looked like and acted the part of the quintessential hippie commune leader of the early 1970s. This charismatic guru had come from a background that included military service in World War II, training as a martial artist and an unhealthy dose of criminal activity, tempered by his discovery of Eastern mysticism and spirituality in Southern California.

    An interesting footnote is the revelation that Baker in 1969 launched what many consider Los Angeles’ first organic health food restaurant — called The Source. Frequented by the likes of Marlon Brando and John Lennon, the restaurant even can be seen in Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall.”

    Moving forward to 1971, Baker attracted a group of like-minded followers to his commune, which he named after the restaurant. The Source Family members adopted names like “Isis” or “Electricity Aquarian,” all symbolic of the hippie influences of the time.

    Yes, there was plenty of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll — and, in fact, the soundtrack for “The Source Family” consists of the commune’s music. (Today, those psychedelic recordings are highly prized by collectors.) Back in the day, when the Source restaurant was open, chart-topping groups like Earth Wind & Fire would come in and shell out $10 to buy albums in the back of the restaurant.

    After the group moved to Hawaii in 1974 and Father Yod died in a hang-gliding accident in 1975, The Source disbanded, having lost their spiritual leader who had come to be “married” to 13 female Source members.

    Anyone interested in the appeal of cults and the psychological lure of a charismatic leader will appreciate “The Source Family.”


  19. 750 sickened in Oregon restaurants as cult known as the Rajneeshees spread salmonella in town of The Dalles

    Salad-bar attack by followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was the largest act of bioterrorism on U.S. soil


    Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh breezed into rural Oregon in the early 1980s to spread love, enlightenment and, for those who did not believe, a little bit of salmonella.

    On Sept. 17, 1984, the Wasco County health department fielded what seemed a routine call, a case of food poisoning after dinner at a restaurant in the town of The Dalles. It was nothing out of the ordinary; from time to time some bacterium makes its way into someone’s salad.

    But this was different. The phones kept ringing with reports of people falling ill after eating in local restaurants. Within a week, the Centers for Disease Control pinpointed salmonella typhimurium. By then there were more than 750 cases in a town of 10,000.

    CDC sleuths determined that the mass poisoning was not the result of poor food handling, but a deliberate attack by an invading army, clad in red, that had set up a base in Oregon three years earlier. They were known as the Rajneeshees, followers of the charismatic spiritual leader from India.

    The man who would become known to the world as the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was born Chandra Mohan Jain in 1931, son of a cloth merchant from central India. When he was 7, the death of his grandfather traumatized him. As he grew up, he prided himself on never establishing attachments, which gave him the freedom to do whatever he wanted to anyone.

    While he was in college his behavior became so bizarre that his parents tried to get him psychiatric help. Instead, in 1953, he became enlightened and found his life’s work — guru.

    After graduating with a degree in philosophy, he traveled around the country, lecturing on religion and spiritualism. In 1960, a group of his admirers established the Life Awakening Center. He gave himself the honorific “Bhagwan,” which translates to “god,” and a cult was born.

    His first commune, in Pune, India, attracted 6,000 upper-crust worshipers. It fell apart in 1980 over tax evasion, drugs, smuggling and violence. Rajneesh vanished, surfacing in New York. In July 1981, his followers spent $6 million on 64,000 acres in Oregon.

    There, on a place formerly known as the Big Muddy ranch, the Baghwan built his American empire. It would eventually attract about 2,000 followers, dubbed “sannyasins,” all draped in the signature color of the cult — red — and wearing beaded necklaces with a picture pendant of their guru. Followers came from wealthy and elite circles, including Hollywood heavyweights and heiresses from such companies as Learjet and Baskin Robbins.

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  20. They paid generously for their path to fulfillment. The Bhagwan lived like a maharaja, with a fleet of 93 Rolls-Royces and piles of jewelry, mostly diamond-encrusted Rolex watches.

    He lived in seclusion, emerging every so often to ride in one of his cars, and spoke to only one person, his trusted aide Ma Anand Sheela, 31.

    There was meditation and prayer, but also lots of sex, drugs and money-making schemes, like a mail-order catalog offering Bhagwan pillowcases, bottle openers and guru tchotchkes.

    None of this was particularly disturbing to the few residents of Antelope, Ore., the nearest town. It was all live-and-let-live at the start. Then, the Rajneeshees started building — greenhouses, roads, dairy barns, malls, hotels, cafeterias and medical clinics. A city rose on the ranch, flying in the face of local laws designed to maintain the region for agriculture.

    Goodwill evaporated when the people of Antelope started seeing red at town council meetings, with cult members seeking seats in local government. Locals pushed back, with such desperate measures as the attempt to disincorporate Antelope when a Rajneeshee takeover seemed inevitable.

    To boost political clout, the commune started the Share-A-Home program, aimed, on the surface, at giving the homeless a place to live, offering bus tickets to Rancho Rajneeshee and room, board and beer, all free. The catch: The street people had to vote for the cult candidate.

    But it wasn’t enough for the Bhagwan’s followers to simply swing the vote. The Rajneeshees needed to destroy the competition. They declared germ warfare.

    First to fall ill were Wasco County executive William Hulse and commissioner Raymond Matthew. They were conducting a late-August inspection of the ranch when they got a flat tire. While waiting for repairs, they accepted some ice water. A few hours later, they were sick, wrote journalist Win McCormack in his compilation of Oregon Magazine stories, The Rajneesh Chronicles. Hulse ended up in the hospital with a nearly fatal case of salmonella.

    Those poisonings were a prelude to the salmonella-in-the-salad-bar attack, the largest act of bioterrorism on U.S. soil. That scheme was a practice run for a massive attempt to incapacitate Oregon voters by slipping bacteria into the water supply.

    The bugs were brewed in the laboratories of the Rajneesh Medical Corp., where scientists were attempting to develop, among other tools of mass persuasion, a more deadly strain of typhoid and an easily transmissible version of the AIDS virus.

    The Bhagwan insisted he had nothing to do with the litany of criminal activities going on at the ranch. He called Sheela a fascist, pinning the blame on her and her “gang.”

    Sheela fled the country and was tracked down in Germany. She was sentenced to 10 years, but served less than three, and was deported.

    The Bhagwan was also deported. He died in 1990, at 58, of heart disease.

    The commune collapsed. Today, the ranch is a Christian youth camp.


  21. Investigator for Accused Cult Won't Get Paid Yet

    By ROSE BOUBOUSHIAN, Courthouse News Service July 9, 2013

    (CN) - An investigator that had to pay "counter-cult deprogrammer" Rick Ross after it was tapped to investigate the disappearance of a NXIVM student must keep fighting for indemnification, a federal judge ruled.

    The legal battle between NXIVM and its former investigator, Interfor, is an offshoot of the group's nearly-10-year-old defamation complaint against Ross, a consultant and lecturer who specializes in exit counseling and deprogramming of cult members.

    NXIVM, an Albany, N.Y.-based organization started by Keith Raniere, purports to offer ethics training through Executive Success Programs (ESP). Pronounced "nexium," the group was also formerly known as First Principles Inc.

    In an August 2003 complaint, NXIVM claimed that Ross had called it a cult that was responsible for the disappearance of its former student, Kristin Snyder.

    Ross wrote on his website that 35-year-old Snyder had committed suicide as a result of her involvement with the organization.

    NXIVM also claims that Ross' articles disclosed its proprietary materials and trade secrets.

    It hired Interfor to privately investigate Snyder's disappearance and, ultimately, Ross himself. The organization agreed on Nov. 23, 2004, to indemnify Interfor for investigative costs, including attorney's fees.

    Ross eventually served a non-party subpoena on Interfor for investigation records, and Interfor ultimately settled the claim Ross brought against it for $25,000 in 2008.

    Although NXIVM at first covered the costs Interfor incurred while fighting to quash Ross' subpoena and defended against his counterclaims, Interfor said the payments stopped in February 2007.

    U.S. District Judge Dennis Cavanaugh refused to grant either the organization or its former investigator summary judgment on June 26.

    "The court finds that a genuine issue of material fact exists in whether Interfor's actions with regards to the Ross investigation were approved by NXIVM," the unpublished opinion states. "As the indemnity agreement is 'limited to that part of such investigation, or any part thereof, which was requested and/or agreed to by NXIVM/ESP or disclosed to NXIVM/ESP by Interfor without any objections thereto by NXIVM/ESP,' it is material to this summary judgment motion whether NXIVM objected to the work Interfor undertook on its behalf."

    The parties have "hotly disputed" whether NXIVM objected to Interfor's work, requested the Ross investigation, suggested the ex parte contact with Ross, or ratified Interfor's conduct, according to the ruling.

    It is also unclear whether Interfor raided Ross' garbage, delivered a report on Ross' activities or engaged in illegal activity, the judge found.

    NXIVM failed to convince the court that indemnity does not apply because it objected to "every single thing that Ross complains of against Interfor."

    "It is exceedingly clear to this court that summary judgment at this stage would be inappropriate," Cavanaugh wrote. "The issues the parties ask this court to dispose of turn exclusively on questions of fact. Thus both parties' motions must be denied."

    In March 2009, NXIVM sued Albany's Metroland Magazine for pegging it as a cult, and a Niagara Falls couple who hired Ross to deprogram their son.


  22. Children From Cults Face Later Problems

    The British Psychological Society July 12, 2013

    Children who grow up in religious cults face diffiulties not only during their childhood, but also after leaving the group.

    That is the conclusion of research being presented today, Friday 12 July 2013, by the Chartered Psychologist Jill Mytton at the Annual Conference of the Society’s Division of Counselling Psychology in Cardiff.


    In her research Jill Mytton worked with 262 adults (95 women and 167 men) who had lived in a religious group as children. Around 70 per cent of the sample lost their family on leaving, 27 per cent reported child sexual abuse and 68 per cent had found the experience of leaving traumatic.

    She asked them to complete a battery of psychological measures. The results showed that the average scores of the 264 partiticpants on these measures were significantly higher than the general population.

    Two other measurss – the Group Psychological Abuse Scale and the Extent of Group Identity Scale – were used to assess the group environment and the level of group involvement respectively, and cignificant correlations were found between them and all clinical measures. This may mean that the specifics of the group environment, coupled with how strongly the group identity is enmeshed with personal identity, are key factors in the causation of distress in this sample.

    Dr Mytton says:

    “Second-generation adult survivors of high-demand groups face particular difficulties, not only during their childhood, but also upon leaving the group, because they face assimilation into a culture that is not just alien to them but also one that they have been taught is wicked and to be hated.“


  23. Former Westboro Cult Member Raising Funds to Help Other Escapees

    by GINA MEEKS, Charisma News July 11, 2013

    An escapee of the Kansas-based group Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) has started a campaign to help ex-members of the cult start over after leaving.

    Lauren Drain escaped WBC five years ago, leaving behind her family—who disowned her—and everyone she knew to start over in an unfamiliar world.

    Now 27, Drain launched a GoFundMe campaign called “Help ex-WBS members start a new life” on Sunday. On the campaign’s webpage, she shares about the hardships she faced when she was 22. http://www.gofundme.com/Support-WBC-Escapees

    “When I was ostracized I was given a few hours to pack my life into a few suitcases, dropped off by my father at a motel and told to never return, never contact my siblings and that I was now disowned,” she writes. “Anyone that leaves or is kicked out is banished for life and all ties to your family, friends, community, life are severed and you are truly on your own.”

    Drain says only about 19 members of the cult have been able to escape in the past 10 years, and “many have struggled to find their way and start from near scratch. Often times the 'church' or family leaves the defector with little to no personal possessions and those who are able to plan an escape usually leave quickly with the bare minimums.”

    With more and more young WBC members leaving the group, Drain wants to set up a “safety net” for defectors to be able to get back on their feet. She is aiming to raise $20,000.

    “This is an opportunity for others to lend a hand and show your support for those willing to change,” she explains. “Together we can help ensure that those willing to escape but are too afraid to do so, know that there are countless people out there willing to help them, accept them, forgive them, guide them and offer up some sort of safety net for starting a new life outside of the cult.”

    Her three siblings—Taylor, 22; Bo, 11; and Faith, 9—remain “stranded” in WBC, “born into the cult or otherwise indoctrinated as children by their parents and their new community,” she writes.

    Drain has been a vocal critic of the group for last several years. She published a memoir, Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church, in March, and in February posed for a NOH8 campaign ad.


  24. T.A.C.O.s Anyone?

    By Roger E. Olson, Patheos (blog) August 10, 2013

    For 17 years I taught a course on America’s Cults and New Religions on the college level (and occasionally on the seminary level, too). I promoted the elective course to the student population as “Unsafe Sects.” For years I’ve thought about writing a book with that title.

    Have you ever wondered why you just don’t hear that much about “cults” in the secular or Christian media anymore? One reason is because “cult watchers” can be successfully sued for calling a specific group a cult. Another is because secular sociologists of religion (and some religious ones) have virtually abandoned the word because its use risks violence against religious groups that are non-traditional. In the popular mind “cult” evokes a fanatical religious group stockpiling weapons and abusing children, etc. So the word has virtually fallen out of use except for those few groups that are notoriously and universally known to be engaging in illegal activities (and most of them are underground).

    One thing I discovered when teaching the course (and talking about “cults and new religions”) in numerous churches) was a term coined by some sociologist of religion: “T.A.C.O.”–”Totalistic, Aberrational, Christian Organization.” I don’t recall who coined the term (if I ever knew). It was used in print by sociologists to describe a category of churches and sects.

    I think it’s time to resurrect it.

    Just in the past two to three years I’ve encountered a number of evangelical Christians whose lives have been very negatively impacted by churches (and sometimes networks of churches) who most people consider “evangelical” but fit the profile of a T.A.C.O. Somehow, many of these are able to fly under the radar, so to speak, and not be widely recognized as that. Many conservative evangelicals admire them for their dedication, intensity and outreach.

    There is, I judge, a fine line between a high-demand, intense religious group and a T.A.C.O. It’s easy for the former to slide into the latter and some groups are what I would call “TACO-ish” (rather than absolutely “a” T.A.C.O.”).

    Here’s an example from my own life experience. Some years ago my wife and I were members of a Baptist church that most people would consider mainstream evangelical. But dysfunction set in–beginning with the governing board. Because of my status as a church professional and researcher and teacher of cults and new religions (including T.A.C.O.s) I could see where that dysfunction was leading–toward totalizing control of the church by a small coterie of men whose motives I has reason to question. The board brought to the congregation seemingly innocent changes to the church’s by-laws that I saw could and probably would lead to some abusive behaviors. I stood up in church business meetings and pointed out where the process was leading and why the proposals were not appropriate. With very little effort I was able to sway the congregation to defeat the proposals. Then the governing board called me to meet with them. They asked me to stop speaking in church business meetings. I asked if I said anything unethical, abusive, heretical or manipulative. They said no, but…I was too strong an influence. They wanted to have their way and they knew without my voice they could.

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  25. Needless to say, my wife and I left that church. Soon after that the governing board manipulated the dismissal of the entire pastoral staff–including a single mom (Christian education director) and man with four children who had just moved his family a long distance to join the church’s staff as youth pastor. Their only reason was that they wanted the new pastor (not yet chosen) to have a “clean slate” meaning to be able to bring in his own people. During a particularly tense church business meeting (which my wife and I attended just before finally leaving the church) the governing board lined up before the congregation and threatened to resign en masse unless the congregation did their bidding–gave them the power to fire the whole church staff. The denomination’s executive minister was present and spoke. He told the congregation he could not in good conscience recommend anyone to become pastor of the church if they did this. Out of fear of offending their friends on the governing board and of having no leadership, the congregation voted to give the governing board the power to fire the entire pastoral staff.

    This was one personal brush with what I would consider semi-TACO-ish behavior in a “mainstream” evangelical congregation. It is not, I have come to believe, uncommon. My advice to people who experience this in their own congregations is “Run!” This kind of behavior, I believe, is not only unhealthy but also abusive.

    Recently I have read about and heard sad stories from former members of churches that most people in their communities (and sometimes far and wide) consider “evangelical.” In some cases the pastors are well-known authors and greatly admired for their intense dedication to, for example, “discipling” people. In ever case I’m referring to here, there is something I would consider “cultish” or at least “TACO-ish” about the church.

    What I think we need is an agency LIKE the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability to monitor and warn people away from “evangelical” churches and sects (including “networks” of congregations) that behave in aberrational, abusive ways. Being considered evangelical should not just be a matter of doctrine; a church with impeccable evangelical orthodoxy on paper might nevertheless be aberrational and abusive.

    So here are my suggestions for behaviors that should cause people to RUN from a congregation EVEN IF it is perfectly orthodox doctrinally and even though its reputation is evangelical:

    1) Condoning (including covering up) sexual abuse or sexual immorality of leaders within itself.

    2) Silencing honest and constructive dissent.

    3) Treating leaders as above normal ethical standards, above questioning.

    4) Implying that “true Christianity” belongs to it alone or churches in its network.

    5) Using intense methods of “discipleship training” that involve abuse of persons–including, but not limited to, teaching them they must absolutely lose their own individuality and sense of personal identity in order to become part of an “army” (or whatever) of Christ and using methods of sensory deprivation, brainwashing and/or abject obedience to human authority.

    6) Teaching (often by strong implication) that without the church, especially without the leaders, members lose their spiritual connection to God. (This happens in many, often subtle, ways. For example a church may claim that its “vision” of the kingdom of God is unique and to depart from it is to depart from God’s kingdom, etc.)

    continued below

  26. 7) Simply closing itself off from all outside criticism or accountability by implying to its members that the “whole world” outside the church is evil.

    8) Falling into magical, superstitious beliefs and practices such as “spiritual warfare” with an emphasis on destroying all of a certain kind of object because objects “shaped like that” are often inhabited by demons. (A few years ago some churches were teaching people that if they were having marital problems it was probably because they had owl-shaped objects in their homes. I was told by members of a church that having books about world religions or cults in my library would corrupt my spiritual life. A church held bonfires to burn records and books considered unholy. Etc., etc., etc.)

    9) The pastor literally owning the church lock, stock and barrel.

    I don’t think what I’m talking about can be properly understood without some examples. So here are some:

    A church in a small town in Louisiana (that I visited twice with a friend who was a student at a local college) was owned by the pastor. The pastor was very rich and uneducated. (He owned his own construction company.) He just decided to start his own church; there was no church board or business meetings. He handled all the money and paid the staff out of his own pocket, etc. The worship service began and, when well underway, the pastor and his wife entered to great applause. The pastor had an armed body guard near at all times. The pastor preached a gospel of prosperity–give to the church and its “ministries” and God will bless you financially and in other ways. Offerings were by people coming forward to put money in the offering plate on the “altar” with the pastor standing nearby. During one sermon the pastor began breaking and smashing small pieces of furniture–a vase, a picture, etc.–stomping on them and screaming God only knows what. Many congregants applauded.

    A church in the Rocky Mountains owns a “discipleship boot camp” that uses sensory deprivation and extreme physical hardship to “train” members to obey Christ and care nothing about comfort. The emphasis is that “true discipleship” is like war–a true disciple of Christ like a true soldier must obey without question and care nothing about his or her own safety or security or well-being.

    A church in Oklahoma condoned sexual harassment and sexual abuse among staff members.

    A church in Texas specializes in exorcisms (every Sunday evening) with every member sooner or later being exorcised of numerous demons–often with vomiting, writhing on the floor, screaming and pulling hair.

    A church in California teaches that its pastor has a direct connection to God and God says that the end of the world is coming soon with the U.S. government (rarely mentioned that explicitly) waging war on Christians so that church members must stockpile weapons and food and “get off the grid” by using wood burning heat and having their own sources of electricity (and, if possible, underground bunkers).

    Often such churches call themselves “evangelical” and somehow manage to convince evangelicals they are mainstream evangelical.

    The examples I’ve given are extreme, but there’s a continuum–from increasing unaccountable authority by church leaders to out-and-out cultishness. Church authority that is afraid of honest, constructive dissent and uses coercion to silence it is already on the way toward being a T.A.C.O.

    My advice is to RUN from such churches. And, if possible expose them as aberrational and abusive–even if their doctrines are perfectly orthodox by evangelical standards.


  27. Please warn your audience about another doomsday Hebrew group: Cradle of Hope Ministries. Prophet Tom Deckard heads it and he is pressuring his members to pay $5000 for a secure spot on his Caribbean island to avoid a coming apocolypse in America. Most people are selling cars and homes and any items they can to pay for this. Here are some websites: www.whoistomdeckard.com www.prophettomdeckard.com www.freedomfromthelaw.com


  28. Michelle Pfeiffer: The day I realised I was part of a cult

    Michelle Pfeiffer, the actress, has disclosed that she was once part of a “cult” which believed humans can exist without food or water.

    By Claire Duffin, The Telegraph UK November 2, 2013

    Pfeiffer, 55, whose films have included Dangerous Liaisons and Batman Returns, said she became involved with a “very controlling” couple when she was starting out in Hollywood.

    They believed in breatharianism – the ability to live without food and water – and put her on a diet “nobody can adhere to”.

    She was 'saved' when she was introduced to her first husband, Peter Horton, the actor. He had been cast in a film about the Moonies, the name given to followers of Rev Moon Sun-myung’s Unification Church. She said that while she was helping him with research “on this cult” she realised: “I was in one”.

    “We were talking with an ex-Moonie and he was describing the psychological manipulation and I just clicked,” she said in an interview for The Sunday Telegraph’s Stella magazine.

    Pfeiffer, who left home and moved to Los Angeles when she was 20 described, the couple as “kind of personal trainers”.

    “They worked with weights and put people on diets. Their thing was vegetarianism,” she said in the interview ahead of the release of her latest film, The Family.

    “They were very controlling. I wasn’t living with them but I was there a lot and they were always telling me I needed to come more. I had to pay for all the time I was there, so it was financially very draining.”

    “They believed that people in their highest state were breatharian,” she added.

    Followers of breatharianism believe food is unnecessary and sunlight can provide all the nourishment the body needs.

    However, the practice has attracted criticism and has been linked to several deaths, including that of Verity Linn, 49, who died a remote part of the Scottish Highlands in 1999 after apparently embarking on a period of fasting.

    Her diary mentioned the teachings of Jasmuheen, a self-proclaimed prophet from Australia also known as Ellen Greve, who preaches that people can draw nourishment from the “divine life force in the form of liquid light”.

    continued below

  29. In the interview, Pfeiffer, a strict vegan, also denied having plastic surgery, including Botox and fillers, but admitted she found ageing difficult and would “never say never”.

    “The loss of youth, the loss of beauty – it definitely plays havoc with your psyche,” she said.

    “There’s this transition from, 'Wow, she looks really young for her age,’ to, 'She looks great for her age.’ And there’s a big difference. I’m now at, 'She looks great for her age.’ There is certainly a mourning process to that.

    “I used to think I would never have surgery but it’s really hard to say never. I’m in the 'never say never’ camp now.

    Pfeiffer, who also appeared in The Fabulous Baker Boys, has two children with her husband, David Kelley, 57, a producer.

    He was the creator of Ally McBeal, the legal comedy drama, and rumours have suggested that Pfeiffer was the inspiration for the neurotic main character. She scotches such an idea: “No, that’s totally made up.”

    The couple met when they went bowling on a blind date in January 1993 while she was in the process of adopting a daughter, Claudia Rose, now 20, as a single parent.

    Two months later, she brought her daughter home, and within a year she and Kelley were married. Nine months after that, their son, John Henry, now 19, was born. She acknowledged the decision to adopt a child, initially on her own, had taken courage. “One thing I’m not short on is courage.”

    She added: “I’d been really desperate to start a family for a long time. And then I was 33 and I just thought 'You know, I don’t want to wait any more’.”

    Her first marriage, to Horton, had ended in 1988 and she then had relationships with John Malkovich, her co-star in Dangerous Liaisons, Fisher Stevens, an actor and producer, and Michael Keaton, with whom she starred in Batman Returns.

    She said that her desire to have children “was colouring my relationships. I was maybe hanging on to some that I shouldn’t have.”


  30. Cults In Our Midst: Patty Hearst And The Brainwashing Of America

    By Stella Morabito, The Federalist APRIL 15, 2014

    Exactly forty years ago Patricia Hearst stunned the nation when she turned up as a bank robber, a mere two months after she was kidnapped by the violent cult that called itself “The Symbionese Liberation Army.” Her astonishing transformation was documented by bank cameras on April 15, 1974.

    There she was — granddaughter of William Randolph “Citizen Kane” Hearst — wielding a sawed-off assault rifle and terrorizing people in a bank. She had recently announced in a taped SLA communique that she had voluntarily joined the SLA in its fight against the “fascist” United States. She took the nom de guerre “Tania,” in honor of a Che Guevara comrade. Before all that, she was just living the life of a 19-year-old college student, looking forward to getting married.

    We ought to take this moment to reflect on how little Americans really understand about the processes and techniques of brainwashing, also known as coercive persuasion or manipulative thought reform, and how they may relate to us today.

    Criminal or Victim of Brainwashing?

    While I followed the case in real time, I naturally wondered how much Patty Hearst had really changed her attitude and lifestyle. I was in awe of the Hearst legacy, having just watched Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, a required “lab” assignment for my Cinema class at the University of Southern California.

    Possibly, I supposed, after Hearst lived the insulated life of a rich girl, and then as a student at UC Berkeley, the SLA may have awakened her to some hard facts about income inequality, racism, and so forth. Maybe she felt guilty and wanted to make reparations by being a part of a revolution? Rebellious youth? It didn’t really add up, but I mulled this over as a young and diehard liberal is wont to do.

    And then I watched in awe footage of a horrendous firefight after the SLA was tracked down at a house in south central Los Angeles, just a couple of miles from where I lived at USC. It was one of the biggest shootouts in police history, with about 9000 rounds exchanged by LAPD and the frenzied, armed-to-the-teeth SLA members inside the house, which by the end was engulfed in flames. Miraculously, no police or bystanders were hurt in the crossfire, though all six suspects inside died.

    It turned out Patty Hearst wasn’t there. But, in spite of it all, she stuck with the SLA remnant, communicating her determination to continue fighting, and lived as a fugitive for 16 more months until her arrest in September 1975. After arrest, she publicly acted with defiance, calling out support to all of her “brothers and sisters” in the “revolution” and listed her occupation as “urban guerrilla.”

    Hearst describes in her book how her attorney, the renowned F. Lee Bailey, sloppily handled a defense based on brainwashing. The jury didn’t buy it, and neither did many Americans. Hearst was convicted of bank robbery and sentenced to 35 years in prison, a sentence soon reduced to seven years. According a California poll, 75 percent believed the sentence was “about right” or “too lenient.” I personally had some mixed feelings, but the brainwashing defense resonated with me. In any case, her sentence was commuted to two years by President Carter in 1978. And President Bill Clinton pardoned Hearst just before he left office in 2001.

    The Fundamental Transformation of Patty Hearst

    So that’s what it looked like to an impressionable, politically unseasoned contemporary. But what was going on in the background?

    Hearst’s 1983 book Every Secret Thing describes the kidnapping and the aftermath in meticulous, ghastly detail. Hearst also granted a fascinating interview with Larry King in 2002.

    continued below

  31. For several weeks, she was blindfolded, confined to a smelly closet, tormented, periodically raped, and subjected to a coarse Maoist style program of indoctrination and re-education. Her life depended on anticipating and meeting the demands of her captors. The leader Donald “Cinque” DeFreeze and the others propagandized and interrogated her constantly, explaining that “Amerikkka” was a racist and evil society, repeatedly calling her a privileged “bourgeoise bitch” and her father a “pig” of the “corporate fascist state.” But then her captors would let up a bit, offering food or tea—then continue more intensely with cruelty and degradation.

    This cycle—isolation, threats, and humiliation, punctuated by a little peace (reward) for compliance—broke down Hearst’s sense of self. As she later told Larry King, “Most of the time I was with them, my mind was going through doing exactly what I was supposed to do… I had no freewill.”

    The SLA members stimulated in her an overwhelming sense of dependency, which induced her finally to accept their version of reality, and put her past life out of her mind. Hearst eventually became such a reliable convert that she not only robbed banks with them, but did not consider escaping later, when she had many opportunities to do so.

    Many view the Patty Hearst case as a classic example of Stockholm Syndrome because of similarities between her bonds with the SLA and those of hostages who, just the year before in Stockholm, had sympathized with the bank robbers who held them, even defending their captors after they were released. Battered person syndrome is another explanation. A victim of domestic violence may stay in a relationship and take blame for the abuse, and then enter into a cycle of “learned helplessness” in which escape is not considered an option.

    Hearst told Larry King: “The thought of escaping from them later simply never entered my mind. I had become convinced that there was no possibility of escape… It simply never occurred to me.”

    Nor did she realize during the process that she was being so decisively manipulated. King asked her: “A brain-washed person doesn’t know from time element when they’re being brainwashed, do they?” Hearst responded: “No. No they don’t. … I was so far gone I had no clue how bad it was.”

    After her arrest, Hearst spent time with two psychiatrists widely known for their expertise on cults: Dr. Margaret Thaler Singer and Dr. Robert Jay Lifton. After just a couple of weeks of separation from the SLA, Hearst became free of what Lifton referred to as the accumulated “gunk” of thought reform, and recovered her self concept. She told King: “I had no freewill until I was separated from them for about two weeks. And then it suddenly began to dawn that they just weren’t there anymore. I could actually think my own thoughts.”

    The Transformation of America?

    You’d think the American public would be interested in learning a thing or two about how coercive persuasion works. In fact, you don’t need to be locked in a closet with a gun to your head to be vulnerable to coercive persuasion. Being isolated, dependent, and indoctrinated will suffice.

    So is it possible something even bigger is in the making? Other nations in history have seen overnight “transformations” in character. Why not us? In fact, can we be transformed en masse so that we all conform to more “beneficial” ways of living our lives, ways that are in accordance with those who dub themselves “choice architects?”

    Behavior modification has in fact gone mainstream, even though its tactics often seem a well-kept secret. Last year, the White House launched a “behavioral insights team” assigned with the task of “improving policies” through insights into human behavior. These insights into our behavior, please note, are not for us to understand for our own benefit, but for the government to use for us, as it sees fit.

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  32. We take as a given that political persuasion is part of public life. But likewise we take as a given that deliberate government manipulation of the populace using the techniques of unwitting or coercive persuasion represents a grave threat to our freedoms. If we wish to reduce our susceptibility to coercive influence, we must begin by understanding its processes and techniques.

    Key Features of Coercive Persuasion

    In her 1995 book Cults in our Midst, Margaret Thaler Singer (d. 2003) explores in detail the methods and processes of coercive persuasion. These methods are used not just by cult leaders, but by anyone who manipulates the behavior of others in order to promote a hidden agenda, often involving the consolidation of power. (By the way, some very telling experiments that reveal the vulnerability of our minds to manipulation and social influence include those of Stanley Milgram, now labelled controversial, and Solomon Asch.)

    According to Singer, the tactics of a thought reform program are organized to do three things: destabilize a person’s sense of self; get the person to alter his or her worldview and accept a new version of reality; and develop dependency in the person, turning him into a deployable agent for the controller or the agenda.

    Singer also lists six conditions that create an atmosphere conducive to coercive persuasion:

    · Keep the person unaware that there is an agenda to control or change the person and their thoughts
    · Control time and physical environment
    · Create a sense of powerlessness, fear, and dependency
    · Suppress old behavior and attitudes
    · Instill new behavior and attitudes
    · Put forth a closed system of logic.

    The atmosphere of coercion is reinforced by peer-modeled behavior. Basically, this means that in a room full of people who whisper, you will likely whisper too. Or if you are exposed to a slogan often enough, you will repeat it, even if you don’t understand what it means.

    Another feature of coercive persuasion, according to Robert Jay Lifton, is to promote a climate in which the agenda is seen as an elitist movement for those who are enlightened. Those who oppose the agenda are labeled as lesser beings.

    The universal human fear and pain of social isolation stands at the core of these methods. Consider that the SLA members did not just physically separate Patty Hearst from her friends and family. They made a point of mentally and emotionally separating her as well, by repeatedly labelling them as “bourgeoise” and “fascist.” In her mind, the only human bond possible was with her captors.

    Political Correctness is Coercive Persuasion (or “PC=CP”)

    The frightening realization is that these techniques work on mass audiences as well.

    We can see hints in the phenomenon we call “political correctness,” because it directs people to censor their speech and their behavior in order to line up behind politically correct agendas. In a sense, political correctness, though more subtle, is analogous to the dark closet in which Patty Hearst was isolated, blindfolded, and incessantly propagandized. It serves to silence us and create the conditions in which the arbiters of correctness can tear down the old world view and rebuild it in their image. We’re told being one of them is to be morally superior, on the right side of history. Those who oppose it are labeled, repeatedly and loudly: bigot, racist, homophobe.

    A sophisticated model of coercive persuasion is illustrated in Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler’s book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness. It explains how to use peer pressure and information access in order to influence others into adopting an agenda. Nudge serves simultaneously as a playbook for manipulators and an indoctrination manual for not-so-savvy recruits to the book’s power-centralizing agendas.

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  33. Cass Sunstein also outlined a model for “collective belief formation” –describing how implausible opinions can be manufactured through a system of social/reputational punishments and rewards – in a 1999 Stanford Law Review article about Availability Cascades. His co-author Timur Kuran, wrote a whole book about how “preference falsification” works.

    When we’re in a vulnerable state of isolation and subject to degradation, the brain’s defenses kick in, even if we sense we’re being manipulated. Self-doubts, rejection, and degradation cultivate the yearning for even the illusion of human acceptance. So when Larry King asked Patty Hearst if any of the SLA members were “likable,” she responded that being “treated well” usually means you “weren’t killed.” Translation for everyday life in a PC world: Being treated well usually means you’re not being socially shunned.

    When a captive of political correctness feels that there is no way out, quite often the only way to make it stop is to bond with the captors and try to fit in.

    “The Psychotechnology of Thought Reform is Not Going to Go Away”

    The seismic and manufactured public opinion “shift” on same sex marriage in the past several of years is a glaring example of how coercive persuasion works.
    As people become increasingly fearful of expressing a heretofore innocuous understanding of marriage as a man-woman institution, they silence themselves and
    thereby fuel the opposing agenda. The threat of isolation – labeling, shunning, and firings – is a powerful motivator because human survival is tied to it. For Exhibit A, see this article on one Eich, Brendan, of Mozilla.

    If we step back and take this all in, there should be no question that coercive persuasion can happen on a mass scale in America. Those pushing the agenda first cultivate a climate that creates social punishment for dissent and social rewards for compliance. Label anyone who disagrees as a bigot or a “hater,” a non-person. Reward those who agree with public accolades. Before you know it, even well-known old conservative pundits who fear becoming irrelevant sign on to it, and thus contribute to the juggernaut.

    In Cults in our Midst, Singer warned that cult techniques “should be studied and revealed so that citizens can be taught countermeasures in order to avoid being exploited by such groups.” She also cautioned: “The psychotechnology of thought reform is not going to go away… Education, information and vigilance are constantly needed if we are to keep us, and our minds, free.”

    Are we doing that? Hardly. In fact, it seems we may be using education and information to help keep our minds closed. Consider Common Core curriculum, which actually enforces conformity in education. (Maybe it should be dubbed “Common Cult?”) Speech codes on college campuses squash independent thought.

    As for information, the media in general has its agenda, as does Hollywood and academia. You’re not going to get objective information about the processes and techniques of brainwashing from them. Marketing in general has become ever more sophisticated, with ever more subtle forms of exploitative seduction.

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  34. Academia has even suppressed the whole idea of brainwashing as politically incorrect. Singer was appointed by the American Psychological Association to head up a task force on Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control (DIMPAC). But a funny thing happened on the way to approval. In 1987 the APA unexpectedly rejected the very DIMPAC report they requested. They urged it not be made public and criticized use of the term “brainwashing” as “not a recognized theoretical concept.”

    And what about vigilance? Well, without education and information, vigilance can’t root itself. Unfortunately, that means if you ask for information about brainwashing, chances are you’ll be told to kindly remove your tinfoil hat.

    The Key to Freedom: Education and Information by Individuals

    So the road ahead will be rough. But the forces controlling centralized education and information still do not control our one-on-one personal relationships and conversations. This is where our power lies, in what dissidents of the Soviet era called the “hidden sphere.” And that is the key to building a culture of awareness and rebuilding civil society.

    The irony of remaining silent about our beliefs when we are being abused is that we actually dig our own hole deeper. Every dissenter feels alone, perhaps even in a roomful of dissenters. Every fence sitter resigns himself to signing on with the perceived “majority.” And those who identify with the PC agenda become ever more hardened and intolerant of dissent. An interesting aside is that partnering with one person can have a huge effect in breaking down social conformity, as the Asch experiment noted: “When unanimity is punctured, the group’s power is greatly reduced.”

    While in jail, Patty Hearst requested books by Doris Lessing, a Marxist leaning feminist icon, who ended up later becoming a champion of personal freedom.

    Lessing said it this way:

    “We can stand in a room full of dear friends, knowing that nine-tenths of them, if the pack demands it, will become our enemies… But there is always the minority who do not, and it seems to me that our future, the future of everybody, depends on this minority. And that we should be thinking of ways to educate our children to strengthen this minority and not, as we mostly do now, to revere the pack… But if governments, if cultures, don’t encourage their production, then individuals and groups can and should.”

    How do we begin to do this? Perhaps the answer is very simple. Maybe it’s really all about reaching out and building happy personal relationships without expecting anything in return. Maybe it’s about letting others in your personal sphere — work, school, or neighborhood – know what you believe, especially those who like you and trust you. We each have the power to make more friends and reach out beyond our insulated circles to build real communities based on real trust (not fake communities built on self-censorship). We could get to know our neighbors, share some good laughs, and openly exchange ideas.

    By doing these things each individual breaches the walls of isolation built by power brokers, and cultivates a cascade of trust, goodwill, and civility for all.

    Stella Morabito blogs at www.stellamorabito.net


  35. From cults to homegrown terror: How Lorne Dawson found his academic calling

    By Janet Davison and Janet Thomson, CBC News Apr 16, 2014

    A very ordinary situation that arose early in his academic career ignited Lorne Dawson's interest in homegrown terrorism and how it can emerge from an otherwise ordinary life.

    After Dawson landed a post-doctoral fellowship in the sociology department at the University of Waterloo in southern Ontario, he had to teach a course.

    His work on the sociology of religion was "very theoretical," he says, and his supervisor told him, "That's great, Lorne, but you need to get some kind of concrete, empirical area that the theory can start to be applied to."

    So Dawson was offered the opportunity to teach a class on new religious movements, otherwise known as cults.

    His classes at Waterloo and McMaster University in Hamilton proved popular in the late 1980s and 1990s.

    "The cult scare was still going on," he says. "I think it had just kind of an exotic feel at the time."

    Dawson's interest in the topic grew, taking him into a broader study of apocalyptical and millennialist movements where the importance of charismatic leadership emerged as a significant factor.

    Then, as Dawson and a handful of other scholars sought to get a sense of the reasons behind what was happening within cults, his work caught the eye of federal public safety, security and intelligence officials.

    'Tricky question'

    He was eventually asked by the Canadian Centre for Security Studies to write an essay flowing from a presentation on charismatic authority and leadership, applying those issues to terrorism.

    "That became my first publication," says Dawson, who is now chair of Waterloo's department of sociology and legal studies, and co-director of the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society.

    Dawson doesn’t have an immediate answer when he ponders why he finds this field of study so fascinating.

    "It's a tricky question," he says. "I guess I've just always been intrigued by human nature."

    He says he's not religious, but when he studies these issues, he's gripped most by the roots of those who become involved.

    "Almost always the story is that you have very ordinary people doing very extraordinary or unusual things, and you consistently can find it has little or nothing to do with their intrinsic features. It's not because they're a certain kind of people," he says.

    "Consistently, it seems to be more about their experience and the process."

    When he considers that process, particularly for those who become radicalized, he offers up the comparison of a funnel.

    Sliding through

    Using that metaphor, he describes how certain individuals, who experience common elements of contemporary life with others of their age, can nonetheless slide through and end up embracing something like the jihadi narrative.

    "These are young people who are mainly men. They are remarkably ordinary," says Dawson. "They're pretty much like most other young people."

    But something happens along the way, and only a few end up on the path to radicalization.

    "With each layer of explanation, you're reducing the pool of potential candidates who could become a terrorist. So it's like a funnel. The funnel element is key because there are elements that are common to almost all people who radicalize that happen to be common to wide swaths of people in our population."

    Dawson sees several factors leading to radicalization. They include:

    -Globalization and the internet.
    -An immigrant background.
    -A quest for significance.
    -A willingness to take risk.
    -The role of a charismatic leader.

    There is often also a precipitating factor, such as the death of a parent or loss of a job.


  36. The call of the cult

    When news broke last year that a Malaysian woman had been held captive in London for three decades, we shook our heads in disbelief. But Sarah Andrews asks: could any one of us fall victim to a cult?

    By Sarah Andrews, ELLE Malaysia May 7 2014

    On a brisk October morning in London last year, Josephine Herivel, a 57-year-old Irish woman, called a charity hotline she had seen on television and appealed for help. Over the coming weeks, as Josephine’s hidden life was revealed, the story that emerged was both shocking and heartbreaking.

    For 30 years, Herivel had been kept captive in a flat in Brixton, London, along with two other women – 69-year-old Malaysian Siti Aishah Abdul Wahab and 30-year-old Briton Prem Davis, who was reportedly born into captivity. Just over a month after that phone call, a 73-year-old man, Aravindan Balakrishnan – also known as “Comrade Bala” – and his wife, Chanda Balakrishnan, were arrested on suspicion of slavery and forced labour.

    The Balakrishnans were ardent political activists who had been involved in Communism in the 1970s, before eventually starting their own separate Maoist-based movement. But for all the equality they championed in their leftist ideals, the Balakrishnans’ own supporters had become prisoners.

    British organisation Freedom Charity, whose number Herivel had seen on television, rescued the three women in a surprise joint operation with the police. The charity has since been helping them to begin healing from the incredible trauma they have suffered. “It was a very difficult period for them,” the charity’s founder, Aneeta Prem, told ELLE Malaysia from London. “And having freedom has been equally difficult.”

    Speaking to the British media after the women’s release, Prem said they had been living in “horrific” conditions. Commander Steve Rodhouse of Scotland Yard added that the women had been bound by “invisible handcuffs” and subject to emotional control during their 30 years of captivity.

    The Malaysian captive, Aishah, first went to the United Kingdom in 1968 as a scholarship student, but became so embroiled in political activities that she lost touch with her family. In an emotional reunion with her sister, Kamar Mautum, in London weeks after her release, Aishah could barely remember how to speak Malay and was unaware her mother had died 19 years earlier. Kamar also said in a video interview that family members had tried to look for her sister, but Aishah had refused all contact for the past 30 years.

    Closer to home, Maggie* shares her experiences with a Kuala Lumpur-based religious organisation, which she left seven months ago. “I joined in 2004 because we were told we could stay the way we were, while adopting the teachings into our life. But over time, more and more of our lives were taken away,” she says.

    “By the end, our daily activity was monitored on webcams. When we slept, how often we saw our families, and what we said on Facebook were all controlled. Close friends spied on each other. People were verbally abused and beaten. All of us lived in fear every day.”

    Most people question why anyone would willingly subject themselves to such misery for as long as Maggie or the women in London did. We wonder: why don’t they just leave? Words like “cult” and “slavery” get bandied about in such situations. But these terms are broad, sensationalist and not always helpful in understanding the experience.

    continued below

  37. And are we really sure we are so different from these women anyway? Whether we’re aware of it or not, we are involved in threatening power dynamics every day, albeit on a much smaller scale. Have you ever felt belittled in a relationship? Suffered a domineering boss at work? Been pressured into doing things you’re uncomfortable with by friends? All of us are capable of feeling oppressed, or of oppressing others in turn; perhaps the only difference is that we can summon the inner strength and self-confidence to stop the situation spiralling into something truly damaging in the long term.

    Nobody sets out wanting to lose her power, join a cult or marry a man who will beat her. But disempowerment isn’t a sudden event; it’s slow-growing, insidious and quiet. And those who are experiencing personal problems are more vulnerable to it. It’s easy to see how such people might join potentially dangerous groups if seeking support or answers.

    American psychologist and life coach Dr Patricia Millar, who works with such trauma victims, says young people are more likely to join cult-like groups because they’re trying to work out how they fit into the world, or they yearn to do something significant with their life.

    But more convincing than the cause and its ideals is the cult’s leader. Followers flocked to Charles Manson of the infamous Manson Family for his looks and charm, while James and Deborah Green, who founded the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps, drew people in with their larger-than-life presence and convincing rhetoric.
    Mike Kropveld, executive director of non-profit organisation Info Cult and board member of the International Cultic Studies Association, compares the recruitment process to a seduction. “You buy into [the group] and you think, ‘I’ve found what I’ve been looking for. This responds to everything I’ve been thinking about.’ You become enamoured with it.”

    Dr Millar reports being recruited into the Lafayette Morehouse, a counter-culture group, at age 17. “I was genuinely curious and cared about what the group was accomplishing. I felt that maybe I could be a part of something bigger than myself. I wanted to be in a relationship with other people.”
    Initially, the group meets the recruit’s needs and makes them feel like they’re making brave, independent choices. It makes them feel special, but it is also this sense of distinction that’s used to prevent them from leaving.

    “[The leader] creates a dynamic where you’re only a favourite as long as he says so,” says Dr Millar, who was counted among the “inner circle” but also suffered sexual exploitation and physical abuse while in the group. “Then you’re going to fall out of favour and you’re going to feel you have to strive to get back in favour.”

    Both Millar and Kropveld highlight the huge role that blame and guilt play in the cult/follower relationship. Over time, this creates feelings of discomfort or doubt in the follower, but within a closed structure, individuals are taught to think that any unhappiness is their own doing. Followers begin to deny self-interests, and channel personal power and decision-making to the larger body.

    There’s a basic need for survival within any social system, but, in cult-like groups, the requirement to stay within the fold is constantly raised. Members must go to further and further lengths to maintain their place among their peers.

    “We worked longer and longer hours, often more than 24 hours at a stretch,” says Maggie. “We had to take on more and more responsibilities to show that we cared about the organisation. We did everything from praying to fundraising and construction work to sitting in 15-hour meetings. If we complained, we were told we were being selfish.”

    continued below

  38. Throughout history cults have relied on extreme measures of control. Sexual abuse was rampant in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Children of God communities; forced mass suicides were imposed by sects such as Heaven’s Gate and Jim Jones’Peoples Temple; and physical attacks on the public formed the pinnacle of the ideologies of groups like Japan’s Aum Shinrikyo, which was behind the devastating sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.
    Each case is unique in its methods and activities, which is why internet lists of “cult warning signs” are largely unhelpful. Instead, Kropveld advocates examining how individuals function within the group. Every person’s experience will vary, depending on factors such as their external support system, their background, their beliefs and what they’re ultimately seeking.

    Some stay, even though they’re deeply miserable, because the cost of leaving is just too great. “You [may be] losing a group, a belief system. What are you going back to? Depending on who you are, how long you’ve been in, what your situation is, those costs can be higher or lower,” says Kropveld.

    Drawing on self-determination theories – which consider primarily a person’s internal motivations – Dr Millar highlights how important it is to listen to and trust our feelings.

    “If someone is in a situation that they’re finding unbearable and having thoughts that they cannot live like this, that’s their own feedback system. They’re giving themselves important information about what they need. If there’s a separation where you’ve lost yourself or you cannot say what the benefit is to me, then that’s a huge warning sign. You have to start to trust yourself,” she says.

    But reaching out to someone can be a monumental challenge. Abusers systematically isolate individuals from any external contact. Prem shares that the largest factor preventing people from contacting their charity for help sooner is that they’ve been so strongly “conditioned to believe that there isn’t anything else out there for them”.

    Sometimes, the greatest resistance to leaving a group comes from the victim themself. Trauma counsellors often advise that the best course of action is to simply leave the door open, wait for the day they are ready to walk through it, and support them. “Don’t pick an argument about the value of a practice with your daughter, because she’s committed to it,” says Dr Millar. “Speak to something in her that is non-threatening, that would motivate. Be in the flow of a positive experience and connection, while expressing your love for her.”

    When the situation gets unbearable, abuse victims are more likely to trust this neutral relationship to confide in.

    While we may not be locked in a London flat for decades, or ever believe we could be, as long as we’re interacting with people, we are open to myriad social influences and power plays. Herivel, Aishah and Davies would probably never have anticipated being victims of psychological abuse and slavery. They’re free now, but face a long road to recovery. There’s still the court case to battle through, which is currently underway.

    Prem says victims suffer from having their self-worth and morale “broken”. All the years of conditioning will have to be reversed and their identities rebuilt. Above all, the women will need to relearn who they are and trust that, in this power dynamic, it is their own instincts that will yield the most strength.

    These hotlines offer assistance and counselling to people in need.

    Women’s Aid Organisation
    03 7956 3488

    03 7956 8144

    Talian Nur


  39. From Scientology to self-help: Britain’s cult culture

    BY EMMA HEWITT, ISIS Magazine JUNE 9, 2014

    For most educated people the idea that they could be vulnerable to the promises of a cult seems laughable. But according to Ian Haworth, founder of the Cult Information Centre, Oxbridge students are among the most likely candidates for recruitment.‘It’s a common misconception that these groups target isolated or vulnerable members of society. Intelligent, well-educated and idealistic people are most susceptible to indoctrination.’ What’s more, the number of cults in the UK is higher than ever before. Haworth claims close to 1000 such groups are operating in the UK with well over 600,000 members – and they can take the form of anything from Scientology to a local yoga club.

    Haworth explains what actually constitutes a cult. He makes a distinction between two categories, religious and therapy cults, the former appearing to offer spiritual or political guidance, the latter focusing on self-help. But all cults, he says, have certain things in common. They constitute an elitist totalitarian society, centred around a bewitchingly charismatic leader. They believe the ends justify the means to recruit members and solicit funds. Their wealth does not benefit members, many of whom make extreme life changes; religious cult members often leave society’s work force. Finally, cults use psychological coercion to recruit, indoctrinate and retain members, sometimes with terrifying consequences.

    For Haworth, the campaign against cults has a personal dimension. In the Seventies, he was approached by an attractive young woman with a questionnaire, who invited him back to a meeting of the PSI Mind Development Institute. A four day ‘self-improvement’ course, during which Haworth believes he was hypnotized 16 times, convinced him to hand over every penny he owned. Soon after the group was exposed by a journalist, meaning Haworth managed to escape, but suffered eleven months of amnesia and depression in recovery. This experience prompted him to found the CIC, whose charitable status was questioned in 2012 after accusations of bias. Haworth believes these complaints came from a Scientologist. The CIC has managed to retain its status.

    Scientologists and Hare Krishnas often appear in the media in relation to ‘cult’ accusations, but in recent years shocking examples of financial and mental manipulation by less high-profile groups have also been reported. Lee Thompson, the leader of a sex cult who walked his girlfriend around on a dog leash, was jailed in 2010 for forcing one of his slaves to have sex with other men. Self-styled guru Michael Lyons was jailed in 2010 for multiple cases of rape, using his messianic status to take advantage of his young female followers. Judy Denton (or ‘Mata Yogananda Mahasaya Dharma’) deceptively coerced members of her Somerset-based Self Realization Meditation Healing Centre into giving her hundreds of thousands of pounds. Last month, Juliette D’Souza was tried for fraudulently taking money to send to a Shaman in the Amazon jungle with the promise he would heal followers.

    continued below

  40. Despite the media coverage of these stories, Haworth believes the vast majority of cult stories go unreported. ‘If you’re a cult member, you’re programmed to understand that all of the outside world is going to be against you, and especially the media and your family and friends, because they’re all full of ‘negative activity’. Afterwards, you don’t necessarily want to stick your hand up, because that doesn’t help on one’s CV – or in having any kind of credibility. Furthermore, the media itself is manipulated by cults due to fear of litigation. I was sued for thirteen-and-a-half years from early ’83 to ’96, and eventually bankrupted. There have been some hard-hitting stories that have never seen the light of day, because newspapers don’t dare upset organizations and potentially be sued from here to eternity.’

    But is the association of cults with extreme instances of abuse too simplistic? Amanda van Eck, Deputy Director of LSE’s Inform – Information Network Focus on Religious Movements – wants to encourage people to avoid snap judgements. She prefers the term ‘New Religious Movement’ or ‘NRM’ to ‘cult’. ‘“Cult,”’ she says, ‘is very imprecise. Essentially I think people understand a cult to be a small religion they don’t like, for whatever personal reasons. Rather than jumping to conclusions according to generalisations, we’d rather talk about what the issues are with each group individually. One might end up thinking, I need to avoid Scientologists and Hare Krishnas because they’re cults, and then get involved with something else that seems incomparable, which could be equally problematic.’

    There are other reasons to suspect the word ‘cult’ unhelpful, though on slightly different grounds to van Eck. Not only will its upkeep likely stigmatise the innocent, I think it will also detract from preventing the harmful, by mythologizing their existence. The idea that your new yoga class is run by ‘cult members’ trying to brainwash you is as believable as someone telling you The Da Vinci Code is a biography of Robert Langdon.

    Inform, largely managed by sociologists, though unsurprisingly patronised by influential religious figures, aims to use academic principles and statistics to provide ‘up-to-date and reliable information’ on NRMs. Van Eck’s perspective is in fact wider than so-called cults. Psychological manipulation is not exclusive to NRMs: peer pressure and coercion happen everywhere from boarding schools to boardrooms. Van Eck explains, ‘I’m worried that if you’re told cults ‘brainwash’, but as long as you’re not in a cult you’ll be fine, we will be less critical of the coercion methods we are exposed to in everything from advertising to the workplace.’

    For Haworth, however, this tentative attitude makes Inform ‘part of the problem. Nobody in my field deals with it because it’s loved by the very groups with which we are concerned. It pooh-poohs the notion of mind control and disregards, in my opinion, a lot of the clear evidence that’s out there.’ Inform is what Haworth describes as part of the ‘counter-counter-cult movement’. Its founder, he tells me, ‘spent a prolonged period of time with the Moonies in the 1980s, supposedly researching them – but how much time do you need to spend before you are influenced? Whatever the situation, they are giving a different message to the rest of us.’

    continued below

  41. One thing both Haworth and van Eck agree on is that NRMs are increasing and diversifying in the UK. This is for a number of reasons – travel is more widespread than ever, leading to what van Eck calls the ‘reverse mission’ phenomenon; established religions are both decreasing in overall control and occasionally experiencing revival; the ‘Big Society’ initiative gives religious groups more power, for example over free schools; and the UK’s unusually relaxed regulation of medical practice – unlike in France and Belgium – means anyone can diagnose and treat illnesses privately as a ‘healer’. This has spawned websites such as ‘Sarlo’s Guru Rating Service’ – a rather more tongue-in-cheek approach to the field of NRM studies. A recent addition to Sarlo’s UK listings is Satguru Sri Romana, of the Shiva Trust, that practise Hindu teachings. The Trust does a huge amount for charity – a recent crowd -funding initiative raised £31,000 for a vegan food truck which distributes free meals. I spoke to a member, a composed young man, about how he got involved.

    ‘I’d always been interested in changing the world and also my own process of spiritual enquiry and growth,’ he told me. Knowing ‘there was more to life than material existence…from my experience with Sri Romana, I felt like she was what I was looking for – that she radiated an amazing love I’d never experienced. She’s a divine incarnation, with no ego or struggles in the way you or I have. There was a small group that went through an intense process with her which culminated in the formation of the charity. It was amazing that simultaneously about a dozen people made an identical life choice – stopped their jobs or moved and sold their houses.’ Anyone can be involved as much or as little as they like with the Trust: ‘It’s open and loose and universal; kind of organic.’ He himself, however, is ‘a practising renunciate – the equivalent of a monk. So that means little contact with the world – I don’t have email, don’t have a phone.’ The group have met some prejudice, which seems to bemuse him. ‘It’s funny because people know very little about Hinduism, even though it’s the oldest world religion.
    Our director has experienced real bigotry from people who look down on the belief system. Everybody knows there are charlatans and fraudsters, but at the same time the true gurus are not dismissed because of their presence. It’s like saying there are no good politicians just because they are lots of bad ones. People dispute that sat gurus exist, or say that Romana is a cult leader, but everyone who’s met her has had a uniformly positive experience.’

    Haworth stresses he has no problem with any belief system; only how believers reached their views. He has identified a wide variety of tactics such as sleep and food deprivation, chanting, and isolation, used by cults to recruit members – but the most dangerous is hypnosis. Many groups ‘claim to practice meditation but don’t define what they mean by the term. They put people into a state of mind where they’re vulnerable to suggestion. With cults it’s a case of double deceit. One, you don’t agree to be hypnotized, and two, you are left with post-hypnotic suggestions that are in favour of the group and its leader. So you don’t choose and it’s not for your benefit.’

    continued below

  42. Clear definition of meditation, then, is crucial. A former student of St James’ School, which has in the past received some criticism concerning links to the School of Economic Science, and which provides students with the option to meditate, explains. ‘You have to be careful about the different types of meditation. One involves saying a mantra, which is completely internal, and that’s the type my school offered. It’s not repeated out loud so no-one can force you to do it. It’s not about getting rid of thoughts, just about being able to recognize and not be distracted by them – a way of focusing. For us, we could also just sit and read a book if we wanted. Group meditation – doing something where you have to follow a leader – is very different. There are some types I’d personally never be part of because it does feel a bit like hypnosis; like you don’t have complete control.’ For her, the practice was ‘very helpful. I was not a calm child and meditation can be a way of calming down without being punished or told off.’

    So how do we respect genuine and beneficial practices, while protecting against the harmful and fraudulent? In 2001, France introduced the About-Picard law, which made it easier to prosecute cults. In terms of legislation, the UK does less than other countries, which Haworth thinks is shocking – ‘we are hopelessly behind.’ Van Eck is less sure. ‘A law focusing on cults would get bogged down by definition. The existing laws could definitely use some more enforcement, though. If victims felt more comfortable about stepping forward, that would be good.’ She cites the Michael Lyons case. ‘Many of the women didn’t want to go to court. Because they said that while they didn’t consent, he was their guru, he had special powers.’ Taking action against NRMs in the courts, however, will always be a difficult process. Van Eck believes victims who feel, for example, that at the time they went through with a process thinking it would heal them, and now think they were sexually abused, are sadly always going to struggle to bring their case forward.

    Nevertheless it seems that increased regulation of voluntary organisations, though far from foolproof, would be beneficial. Haworth and van Eck concur that more supervision could help detect dangerous cults, but without the funds, staffing, or support, at the moment such a scheme would be impossible. What is clear is that Britain’s current system is proving receptive both to new fraud and new faith, and the numbers of NRMs will only continue to rise. For now, van Eck encourages us to remain both informed and open-minded. ‘Some beliefs are stigmatised, and others aren’t: but we all believe in something.’

    Some names have been omitted for personal reasons.


  43. Demons, doomsday, fear: My life living in a cult

    by Gen Kennedy | The Chronicle June 25, 2014

    A TOOWOOMBA mother says four years after leaving a Helidon religious sect, she and her children are still feeling the effects.

    Allison Nelson claims her 14-year involvement in the Magnificat Meal Movement, which is still operating in Helidon, left her without a support network and with issues of self-worth.

    She said several of her children who grew up in the environment are undergoing counselling as a result.

    The MMM, which Debra Burslem started in 1986 as a Catholic Church offshoot, has been widely described as a cult.

    However, its members say they are free to come and go as they please in a happy environment.

    Mrs Nelson lived with her family in the community, rather than living on the site of the church with the 'Slaves of the Eucharist' members, but visited the church on an almost daily basis for years after a family member asked her to join.

    "I was drawn to it, because it was all ridgy-didge Catholic Church stuff, but there was more active stuff," she said.

    "When you want to be in a group of people, you try your best to fit in, to do what they want you to do.

    "It was very controlling. There's a lot of demon fears.

    "First of all, you have to take a group of people and take everything away from them that they know, and then you have to alienate them against each other to a certain extent.

    "It's not about friends, we're here for service.

    "You are (encouraged to cut off ties), unless they have money."

    Mrs Nelson said after leaving the church four years ago, she was left without any friends outside the church.

    "We came out, and the kids and I had no one.

    "I used to spend hours and hours just crying in my room because I didn't know what to do.

    "Long-term, I find with my kids, the biggest thing is self-worth. It was very subtle."

    Mrs Nelson's 14-year-old daughter Gabrielle said school was difficult for her.

    "The other kids always thought I was a weirdo because I was in a weird cult.

    "I wasn't allowed to do anything with them or associate with them.

    "We were always considered to be the higher ones - we were God's chosen ones, that's what (Ms Burslem) would call us.

    "She said when doomsday hit, we'll be alright but everyone else will die."

    The Chronicle attempted to contact Debra Burslem through the MMM website for comment.

    She did not respond, but several current members defended the movement.

    "It's important to realise that everyone is free to come and go as they please - for those who have made their choice to leave do so of their own free will," Helidon resident and member Philomena Gilson wrote.

    "We are free to have our own lives, homes, cars, bank accounts etc.

    "It's our main focus to sing praises to God and to be happy."

    MMM Background

    · Founder Debra Burslem told followers she had visions from the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ.

    · The 'meal' in the name refers to the Eucharist.

    · Followers were told that Christ's Second Coming would occur in Helidon.

    · Debra Burslem has sold her Helidon property and now resides largely in the United States.


  44. Ex-psychotherapy sex commune leader permitted to practice again

    Lohud Journal News, September 6, 2014

    Inside the Cult: Saul Newton and the Sullivan Institute

    TARRYTOWN – A former leader of a 1970s psychotherapy cult who counseled patients to sever ties with their families, controlled access to their children and ordered them to have sex with her husband and each other has had her psychology license reinstated by the state.

    Helen Fogarty was once married to Saul Newton, the charismatic co-founder of the Sullivan Institute for Research in Psychoanalysis, a commune-like cult where many patients and therapists pooled their resources and lived together in apartments on Manhattan's Upper West Side during the 1970s and 1980s. The group espoused a communal lifestyle and rejected the idea of the nuclear family, claiming that monogamy was the "root of all misery." Artist Jackson Pollock was involved with the institute for a time, as were singer Judy Collins, writer Richard Price and others from the worlds of art and academia.

    Membership, which once numbered in the hundreds, declined in the 1980s, thanks in part to bad publicity it received when disaffected former members filed child custody lawsuits against what they described as the "psychotherapy cult." The institute's demise was widely reported by the New York Times and New York and People magazines.

    Fogarty, who lives in Tarrytown, paid a price for her involvement in the controversial institute, when the state revoked her license to practice psychology in 1997, roughly six years after she divorced Newton and left the group.

    Now, the 73-year-old Fogarty is getting another chance. The Journal News has confirmed that in July the state placed her on two years probation and restored her license with the condition that she only practice under supervision. And while officials who reviewed her petition for reinstatement were divided about whether it should be granted, Fogarty defended their final decision.

    "I'm a great clinician," she said during an interview at her condo. "I've been working with underprivileged children for years.... My whole life has progressed in so many positive ways."

    After the Institute

    Counseling at Graham Windham

    Since leaving the institute, Fogarty remarried and spent years counseling foster children at Graham Windham, a Hastings-on-Hudson facility for abused, neglected and delinquent children. She became active in church, advocated on behalf of people with lupus and even played Santa Claus at a community gathering.

    She applied to have her license reinstated in 2009, expressing remorse and hoping to take on more responsibility at Graham Windham. Fogarty said she was young and unsophisticated when she got involved with the institute and Newton – 36 years her senior – shortly after graduating from college. She left Graham Windham in 2012, before the state acted on her application. Although Fogarty now claims to have no interest in practicing again and is focused on being a grandmother, former cult members have mixed feelings about her having her professional standing restored.

    Amy Siskind, 60, of Brooklyn, grew up at the institute, which was founded by Newton in 1957, and said she was sexually abused there as a child. While not happy about the reinstatement, Siskind said it's unlikely that Fogarty will repeat her conduct.

    "I'm sure she's been a decent counselor in the work she's done," said Siskind, a sociologist, who wrote a book about the institute. "The remorsefulness, I doubt, frankly... I wouldn't want her for a therapist myself, to put it mildly."

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  45. Another former member, Jon Mack of Newfane, Vermont, was involved with the group for more than 20 years. He has some issues with the institute, he said, but saw no reason why Fogarty shouldn't be given a second chance.

    "Very few of us from that time, therapists and patients alike, have a legitimate claim to naiveté," he said in a statement. "We were — with the exception of the children of patients — consenting adults who knowingly, if not necessarily sensibly, reaped the benefits and paid the price of an unconventional life-style and practice of psychotherapy. Some clearly suffered more enduring harm than others, but the time has come long ago for people to go on with their lives — not forgetting the past, but learning from it and going ahead as best we can."

    Some aspects of those unconventional lifestyle and psychotherapy practices are described in more than 100 pages of disciplinary records obtained by The Journal News, which show that Fogarty routinely crossed ethical boundaries. Institute members were encouraged to have multiple sex partners and were required to get permission before having children. If a woman wanted a child, the papers say, more than one man was to participate in the process. Children born within the group were raised by patients/babysitters; parental visits were restricted.

    Her license revoked Fogarty found guilty

    The institute also operated The Fourth Wall Repertory Company, a political theater group in the East Village, used, in part, for recruiting. It's where former members said they gathered at night after working long hours as computer programmers, professors and childcare workers to support the institute financially. Many members were told what jobs to take to raise money for the institute.

    In revoking her license in 1997, a hearing panel of the state Board of Psychology found Fogarty guilty of "practicing the profession fraudulently, with gross negligence, with gross incompetence, with negligence on more than one occasion and with incompetence on more than one occasion."

    The panel found that Fogarty told her live-in babysitter, who was also her patient, to have sex with her husband. Although she objected because Newton was more than 70 years old, the babysitter complied. In a complaint she later filed with the state, the babysitter said she feared losing her job and housing and being kicked out of therapy.

    The state also found that Fogarty told a patient his mother hated him and was as "murderously violent as a concentration camp person;" that she had sex at an upstate farmhouse with someone she supervised; and that she billed insurance companies for therapy visits that never took place.

    When asking for reinstatement, Fogarty claimed she was naive after graduating from Brandeis University in 1963 and becoming a patient of Newton's. The two started a sexual relationship. Two years later, she moved into a "women only" apartment at the institute, completed graduate studies in clinical psychology at CUNY and a four-year-program at the institute. She had four children with Newton, who married and divorced six times and fathered 10 children before his death in 1991 at age 85.

    Asked about her ability to make ethical decisions during her time at the institute, Fogarty told The Journal News: "I was young. I was in my 20s and 30s. I don't know how mature and rational it was. At the time, it seemed fine."

    She denied ordering her babysitter to have sex with Newton, saying that "she made this up, that I told her to have sex with my husband. Do I dispute it? I totally dispute it. That's unthinkable... I was a therapist, she worked for me, that was the whole issue. She was babysitting one of my kids and asked if she could be in therapy with me."

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  46. She said she regrets the "double relationship" of having her live-in babysitter as a patient and did admit to some improper billing practices. Fogarty said she made no disparaging comments about the other patient's mother, but acknowledged having sex with someone she supervised.

    "Looking back on it, we were all crossing boundaries in that group," Fogarty said, adding that she didn't realize it until leaving the group. "That was a problem."

    Patients were drawn to the institute in the 1970s and 80s, she said, because it was a different era and people wanted to try something different.

    "There were a lot of communes, urban and rural," Fogarty said. "It was a big counterculture."

    License reinstated State split on second chance

    In asking that her license be reinstated, Fogarty said she worked to redeem herself professionally and personally after leaving the institute. She held several counseling jobs before taking a position as a senior psychologist at Graham Windham in 1995. Upon losing her license two years later, she continued to work there as a "senior clinician," offering advice on major decisions, including "suicide attempts." She said she was forthright when Graham Windham asked about her past. She learned about boundaries, she said, and refused to move her office to a patient cottage. Her lawyer noted that she took more than 200 hours in continuing education credits. She also also joined the Unitarian Church.

    Gerry Leventhal, vice president for Westchester Services at Graham Windham, said Fogarty did a "very good job... She was a good employee," he said.

    We have kids who bring a wide range of challenges with them. We rely on our staff to provide a lot of support and counseling to them."

    State officials who reviewed Fogarty's reinstatement application were split about whether she should get another chance. In fact, the Peer Committee, comprised of other psychologists, recommended unanimously that she be denied. The committee said she lacked independence, and only sought reinstatement at the suggestion of a therapist she was seeing.

    The Committee on the Professions disagreed, finding that she was remorseful and voting unanimously to recommend two years probation. She was placed on probation by the Board of Regents in April, followed in July by the reinstatement order from the state education commissioner. If she complies with probation, her license will be fully restored.

    "The story, if you want it, is about the incompetence of the hearing panel to judge this correctly," said Fogarty, adding that the Peer Committee didn't look at the facts.

    She said The Journal News coverage of her license reinstatement is "going to hurt me, undoubtedly" in the community, saying that she doesn't discuss her past with friends at church.

    Fogarty is one of 400 licensed professionals and 14 psychologists in New York state to have their licenses revoked during the past two decades, according to a review of records by the newspaper. Other psychologists have lost their credentials for possessing weapons, grand larceny, having sex with patients and other violations and crimes.

    Michael Bray, 69, of Somers, who left the institute after 12 years when it started to "take control of procreation and child rearing," hasn't talked to Fogarty in three decades, but believes in second chances. Most everyone there, he said, was a victim to some degree.

    "I believe in remorse and redemption and reeducation," he said. "I believe all those are possible... My general belief is people can have remorse for whatever they've done and they can change their thinking and their values over time."


  47. Inside the secret cult operating out of Murray Hill

    By Kate Briquelet, New York Post November 2, 2014

    It’s a secret society that claims that its followers descended from a “master Aryan race” on Atlantis and that ­humans once lived on the moon.

    Homosexuality is banned, corporal punishment encouraged and members atone for bad karma in past lives. Young women, denied higher education, are often married off to older men in the group, former members say.

    Some male devotees have ­undergone weapons training to prepare for the end of the world, which is coming soon.

    But this doomsday cult isn’t hidden away in some rural ­bunker — it operates out of a brownstone in Murray Hill.

    Every Thursday evening, dozens of congregants line up on East 35th Street for the group’s weekly meeting. Their leader of the flock, Tom Baer, 73, preaches from the center of the room, reading from pieces of paper. Members don’t have religious texts to follow along and aren’t allowed to take notes.

    In official documents, the 200-member, tax-exempt church is called Congregation for the Light. To members, it’s just “the Light.”

    The group has about 200 members in New York, and there are congregations in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, Baer and ex-followers say.

    “It’s the cult next door to every New Yorker, and no one even knows that it’s there,” said an ­exiled member.

    The former worshipper, a Manhattan woman who spoke on the condition of ­anonymity because she fears retribution, joined the group in 2003 while dating a man who was raised in it.

    “I totally wanted to know what was going on,” she said, adding that her boyfriend assured her it was “nothing creepy . . . just the basic tenets of all religions.”

    The deeper she got, the more skeptical she became.

    Baer spoke to her of battling evil people in lucid dreams and how cancer and other illnesses were the result of karma, not health habits, genetics or environment. She noted Baer’s repeated, odd mispronunciation of “awry” as ­“ow-ree.”

    The Light dates back to at least the 1960s and has met in Murray Hill since the ’70s, though members are taught that the church dates to the 19th century.
    Much of what the group believes is shrouded in secrecy, though former members say it has a lot to do with karma, reincarnation and the end of the human race.

    The former worshiper was shocked that attendance at weekly meetings was mandatory; absences for vacation or higher education were not excused. When she asked a fellow member if her teenage daughter would ­attend Harvard or Yale, the woman responded: “What are you talking about? She’ll go to a local community college. She has to attend Thursday-night meetings.”

    She was warned not to share the Light with others, and she kept her membership secret from her closest friends.

    “Everything is ambiguous,” she said. “And if you ask, you’re told, ‘You just don’t remember. You’ll remember when you’re supposed to . . . Try to control your dreams, and tonight you’ll remember a symbol.’ ”

    But she wouldn’t stop asking questions.

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  48. During a meeting at the end of the year, ­everyone was handed a white ­envelope — except for her. The next day, she joined her boyfriend, who had since become her fiancé, and his parents for dinner.

    The food wasn’t even served before her ­fiancé’s mother stood at the table and announced: “If you think you’re marrying him, you’re nuts. I remember you from 10,000 years ago, and you tried to bring down the Light.

    “We are launching a spiritual intervention to save his soul.” the would-be mother-in-law said.

    Shattered, the young woman was driven home and told never to speak to her fiancé again. Two months later, he was married off to a fellow Light member.

    The white envelopes had been invitations to a special meeting to sabotage her engagement to the man who brought her into the Light in the first place.

    “I felt like I was in a movie,” she recalled. “I didn’t realize the kind of power Tom [Baer] had. That the Light had.”

    Paul Arthur Miller was 18 when he found himself among a dozen young men in a secluded nook of the Adirondack Mountains. He had received instructions on what to pack for the three-day trip reserved only for elite members of the “Light Patrol.”

    The troop was led by two ­believers, ex-Army paratroopers who taught the youngsters how to track footprints, the basics of camping and other survival skills.

    He didn’t realize the training would include firing M14 automatic rifles into an abandoned junk heap or training in hand-to-hand combat in preparation for the apocalypse.

    “The belief is that Planet Earth will be ending soon and we would have to defend our people and safeguard our food and supplies,” recalled Miller, now a ­58-year-old West Village writer.

    “They changed the doomsday date at least twice,” he said. “We were told it was imminent, weeks or months. People in the cult wouldn’t have dental work done because they thought, ‘Why bother?’ ”

    Miller was born into the group and worked 17 years for Baer’s furniture company in Harrison, Westchester County, which employed many Light members. “I felt like a prisoner,” Miller said. “I felt like an indentured slave.”

    He stayed through the tenures of two Light leaders across 30 years — each with his own agendas and “personal beliefs.”

    Morris Kates, chairman during the 1960s and ’70s, taught Miller that once the world ended, people would be reincarnated on ­another planet called “Nay.” There, they would be one gender — and have no stomachs.

    Joseph Denton, Kates’ successor and a former Southern Baptist, tried banning the Internet and some TV.
    Baer took the reins when Denton died in 2001. He had married into the Light in the 1960s after hitching a ride with a West­chester-bound follower and meeting his future wife.

    Miller said the three leaders had one thing in common — they tried to erase his homosexuality, which they considered “a hangover from the Roman Empire.” He was ordered to date women in the Light.

    After one meeting, Kates cornered him and said, “Who is this guy who comes to stay with you on weekends? Is he a faggot?”

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  49. Miller was ordered to dump his boyfriend and to begin dating a woman in the Light. He saw her on and off for five years to keep up appearances

    Despite this, Miller said he was a favorite of Kates, who used to announce during weekly lectures, “Paul and I have been friends for thousands and thousands of lives.”

    The meetings would begin in the brownstone’s ground-floor auditorium around 7 p.m., when Kates announced, “Greetings, friends.”

    The teachings are rooted in 19th-century England, ex-followers and Baer say, where a husband and wife — known only as “the Wyeths” — woke from the same dream and wrote down the karmic tenets and symbols they remembered.

    “They don’t give you any sources. There’s no dogma you can reference. It’s just word of mouth,” an ex-member said. “You just believe what you’re told.”

    The Light chairman instructs followers to obsessively look for symbols in dreams and their everyday lives.

    Ex-members told The Post they couldn’t even have artwork or bric-a-brac in their homes unless it contained one of the signs, which include an “owl,” or watcher protecting Light members, and a cross with an “X,” the group’s greeting sign.

    “They’re brainwashed. They’re obsessed,” said Miller, who is writing a screenplay on his experience in the Light. Members aren’t allowed to associate with “know-nots,” the term for people who aren’t in the Light.

    “You were always told if you leave the Light, you’re subjected to evil . . . because you don’t have protection,” Miller said.

    Miller finally worked up the courage to leave the group in the 1990s. The last straw was a member spying on him as he dined with a male suitor.

    “How dare you be seen in a restaurant frequented by the Light with that blatant homosexual?” the member seethed.
    Miller left a letter in Denton’s mailbox notifying him he was done. His parents left six months later. “My dad [later] apologized for getting us into this thing,” he said.

    He is estranged from his three sisters, who are still in the group.

    “I didn’t start living until I left the Light,” Miller said. “I want people to know it’s OK to leave, to reclaim their independence of thought and pursue their own life dreams.”

    Another ex-follower, who requested anonymity, said he was booted from his home at age 15 because he questioned the teachings and refused to throw away his Black Sabbath records.

    “They believe in a master Aryan race . . . that lived on Atlantis,” he said, adding that black, red and yellow races existed, but a blue race was wiped out. “Once you get to a certain level, they start to tell you these things.

    “They think they are otherworldly,” he added. “They carry themselves like they’re robotic . . . they’re not of this earth, everything else is filth and [they] don’t want to associate.”

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  50. He endured brutal beatings by his parents, who he believes were instructed by Kates. “I had this reputation of being a bad kid when I wasn’t,” said the ex-member. “I was an abused kid.”

    His mother was told she was Kates’ daughter on Atlantis 10,000 years ago and believed she was a high priestess of the Light.

    “Everybody is brainwashed in this thing,” he said. “They’re conditioned to think and behave in a certain way, and it starts in childhood. Children are taught to fear.” The Light also teaches that children aren’t human until they reach the age of 13, he said.

    The Light’s solution to his sister’s rebelliousness was to marry her off to a church bachelor in his 40s. “She was a gorgeous 19-year-old, and they married her off to this schlub,” the ex-member said.

    He said he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder because of his upbringing in the group.

    “If they want to clear their name of suspicion, they need to start answering questions,” he said. “They should maybe have a sign out in front of their building if they’re listed as a church.”

    Another ex-member said he and his mother were forced to put money in a wooden box by the entrance before they jumped ship in the late ’70s.

    He remembers Kates announcing the group would incorporate as a church to get tax breaks. Shortly after, the member was kicked out for marrying a Catholic woman who refused to join the Light.

    “There was always so much turmoil when someone chose a partner from the outside world,” he said, adding that parents often married their children off to other members in the group.

    “It was not uncommon for girls as young as 18 marrying … men who were quite a bit older,” he said.

    The exiled follower said that it took many years for him to get over the experience and that he has never shared more than superficial details with his adult children.

    “It still stands out as the worst time of my entire life,” he said. “But I was . . . fortunate enough to have people still in my life that loved me and helped me through it.”

    Baer, a charming and sharply dressed man who uses a cane and believes he was an Apache in a past life, denies the group is a “cult.”

    “We’re not a religion. We’re what a church should be,” said the Ohio native. “The principles are to have a decent, sane and healthy life and to be responsible for our own actions.

    “You can’t do that in one life,” he added. “It’s impossible.”

    Baer denied that the group supports corporal punishment, but said, “If I want to spank my kids, it’s no one else’s business . . . Even Jesus said, ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child.’ But it’s not what you do first.”

    The preacher said that children aren’t indoctrinated until they are teens and that if a child dies before age 13 it’s because they committed suicide in a previous life.

    Congregation for the Light runs a nonprofit named after Kates, who died in the late 1970s. The foundation’s address is at a Brooklyn auto shop.

    The group’s revenues were $116,860 in 2012 and $338,429 in 2011, tax forms show. The documents reveal a vague accounting of expenses, which include $84,000 for “totally physically and mentally disabled, total care, assistance for nurses’ aides.”

    Baer, who lives on an upper floor of the Light’s brownstone, said the nonprofit gets 10 percent of its funds from donations and the rest from estates when members die. The group pays for members who are down on their luck and for their home care.

    “It’s not a cult. It’s not a scam,” Baer said. “You can come 3,000 times and you’re not going to have to pay a dime.”


  51. I was brainwashed by a cult How one woman escaped and rebuilt her life

    By LYNNE WALLIS, Daily Mail UK December 14, 2014

    At the age of 26, Alexandra Stein was drawn into a secretive political cult, which deprived her of all personal freedom, alienated her from friends and family – and even told her who to have a child with. She finally escaped aged 36 and rebuilt her life. Here she explains how it feels to be brainwashed and to have every aspect of your life controlled

    I wasn’t the kind of young woman to dream about marriage, but if I imagined a proposal, it definitely wasn’t in the form of a memo instructing me to get pregnant.

    That was what happened after I was recruited into the O, the bizarre political ‘organisation’ that dominated my life throughout the 80s. I received a message in the post from my husband-to-be – a former flatmate – telling me, ‘It is my understanding that we are to begin a PR (personal relationship) with the strategic aim of having a child.’

    I’ve always been a roamer. Born in South Africa to politically active parents, who moved to London in protest at the Apartheid regime, I washed up in Berkeley, San Francisco, at the age of 18, volunteering at a free clinic for the poor and living in a shared house.

    As a political idealist, I was craving involvement with an organised movement so, in 1980, I was intrigued when I met a man involved in the O. Initially he spoke quite secretively about the movement. I wanted to change the world – the fact that the O was ‘underground’ made it more appealing.

    I was introduced by a mailed memo (the only form of communication with the group’s leader, known as the PS, or programme secretary) and invited to Minneapolis where the O was based.

    I shared a house in a bleak part of town with two other members – Bruce and Ted. Instead of walls, there were divider screens between rooms, including bedrooms, and we had no privacy.

    There was none of the camaraderie or warmth I’d known with other activists, and we never met with more than five or six members at any one time. I found Bruce unpleasant, but I liked Ted, although we only ever talked about work – idle chitchat was discouraged.

    Everyone had code names – mine was Clare. Almost immediately, every aspect of my life was being governed by the O’s leader and his ‘cadres’ – from when I slept, to what I ate and who I spoke to. I joined the O believing it would turn us all into effective Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries, fighting capitalism and defending poor people’s rights, but it was not at all how I’d imagined it would be. Food was very basic and smoking and drinking were disapproved of. We never had any visitors and we weren’t allowed contact with friends or family. It all seemed rather joyless.

    I had an ‘assessment’ – the first of several – with a senior cadre, something everyone goes through during the six-week recruitment phase. I was ordered to tell my story, my family background, what drove me, what I worried about and feared. I was told to leave my bourgeois middle-class ways behind, stop thinking I had all the answers and focus on transforming myself. My achilles heel is that I had always feared I never stuck at anything – work, relationships, political affiliations. Unwittingly, this provided them with a very powerful tool of control.

    There was a separate phone code for each of us: three rings, a pause and one ring meant it was for Ted, and so on. We believed we were being watched by security forces (many left-wing groups were being observed, both in the US and the UK) – but later I realised that secrecy was a means of controlling us.

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  52. All the rules were laid down via memos from the PS, and it was understood that every instruction must be carried out to the letter. These missives were regarded with awe, and the orders within them were never questioned. The irony, as I saw it much later, was that while looking for a socialist utopia, I’d embraced a form of fascism.

    My first ‘assignment’ came via a memo instructing ‘Clare’ to start work in The Working Woman & Man’s Book Store, a lefty bookshop run by the O selling Marxist and Maoist literature. It was a public place but we still weren’t meant to tell anyone we worked there. The O had grown out of food cooperatives and credible politically active groups of the time. It still ran food coops – as well as a bakery, a crèche and a print shop.

    While in theory the O was intent on promoting equality, its true objective was the control and manipulation of its members by one man, the power-crazed former black rights activist Theo Smith, who later turned out to be the PS himself. I never met him but Smith was known to be charismatic and authoritarian; he drew us in, then controlled us. Any challenge was met with one of two responses: ‘work harder’ or ‘struggle with the practice’ – which I now know to be classic cult responses to challenges.

    I was working in a paid job packing in a factory as well as volunteering in the O bookshop, sleeping just four to five hours a night, permanently exhausted. Keeping us in units of two or three isolated us from developing meaningful friendships, and the secrecy meant we never knew what other units were doing, so we imagined incredibly important stuff was going on elsewhere. Sex and relationships were closely managed because intimacy can be threatening to a cult’s control of its members.

    On top of my two jobs, I had to cook, shop, do my laundry and write reports about my transformation into a good revolutionary. There was no time to stand back and take a reality check to see how illogical all this was. I began to feel ill under the strain – very disturbed, yet unable to think clearly. If I tried to explain to someone how I felt, they would just say, ‘Your bourgeois identity is being broken down. You have to transform yourself.’ The belief that I was striving for a fairer world kept me going.

    After six weeks at HQ, I was broken. I no longer knew what I believed. I had developed a dual personality, which is like having the real you smothered underneath a tarpaulin. The O kept me in my place by reminding me what I had told them during my assessment – that I couldn’t commit to things. Whenever I expressed a doubt about the O, these admissions were used to make me feel guilty and useless. I was told that as a middle-class woman I had a superior air about me, that I had to stop being intellectual. In other words: stop questioning. My life had become a miserable, dull existence; warmth, laughter and camaraderie had been replaced by rigid rules, systems and loneliness.

    In March 1982, two years after I first encountered the O, I received the memo telling me I was to start a relationship with Bruce. I was repulsed by him but fancied Ted, so I wrote back suggesting this as an alternative. It was approved, and Ted and I set up home together. The whole purpose of the relationship was to have children, but I had difficulty conceiving, so we adopted two babies, a boy and a girl. I trained as a machinist and a computer programmer, and the children were put in a nursery so I could work.

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  53. After we had been married for five years, I tried criticising the O to Ted, but he couldn’t go there. He knew that people were always snitching on others, and then ‘methods of correction’ would be handed out, such as being separated from your children. I was very unhappy at the way I was being forced to bring up my children – I was made to feel guilty if I let them enjoy playing with Ninja Turtles as only ‘structured development’ was allowed. This was one of the moments when I realised something was very wrong.

    Then I noticed that the hired hands at the bakery, where I was working, were being paid less than the minimum wage. How could this be when we were supposed to be committed to proper working conditions? I stopped working there in protest, and there was a hearing with five other people who formed a sort of judicial board. Ted was forbidden from speaking to me, even at home.

    It was as if a light had come on in my head. I broke the O’s secrecy rule by discussing doubts with a female member called Kris, and we began to realise the truth: this wasn’t a movement dedicated to equality – it was a façade, and we had been taken in. I gathered the strength to leave with the children, who were five and two, and took a flat in another part of town. It was incredibly hard. I had no friends and was cut off totally – my parents thought I had ‘settled down’ – so I felt abandoned.

    After I left, I discovered that Smith had served time in jail for killing a man living in one of his cult houses the year before I joined. It distressed me to know that I had given up ten years of my life striving for a fairer world but had ended up serving the ego of a psychopathic killer.

    Fear is the force that drives a cult, and it continues even after you leave. Every night for a year after leaving I would wake up shaking, convinced someone was going to come and shoot us. Smith sent a message saying that Ted had to keep the children, but I knew Ted didn’t want this. I threw down a challenge – if Ted kept the children I would tell the outside world everything I knew about the O. I ended up exposing them eventually, but it was an effective bargaining tool. I had a few abusive phone calls from Smith, and then nothing.

    Three months after I left, I discovered, through reading and talking to other former members, that the O was a cult. It operated in a way that is common to all cult groups – by controlling information, isolating members from the outside world and by using sleep deprivation, an overly busy schedule and no privacy. The O coerced people into abandoning their own beliefs, quashing all individuality and independent thinking. Real or imagined ‘sins’ were confessed so that boundaries of personal privacy were blurred. It all fitted.

    I felt so stupid. How could this have happened to me? People join cults because they think they have found something amazing, but these organisations are a means to control, often for financial or sexual gain, but sometimes simply for the sake of power alone, so that the leader or guru, many of whom have a personality disorder, has total control over his or her devotees.

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  54. I rebuilt my confidence through writing about cults, and began working on my book Inside Out, but I suffered from post-traumatic stress for years and I would have regular flashbacks to bad times. The experience had a serious impact on my ability to form relationships – I found it very hard to commit. I’m with someone now but we live separately.

    I returned to the UK seven years ago for family reasons and, equipped with a PhD from the University of Minnesota, became an associate lecturer in social psychology at Birkbeck University in London. I include cults and brainwashing in my teaching, and my children – one in the US, one in the UK – support me.
    Fortunately they were young when we left, and I don’t think they are scarred by their experience of the O. Ted came out a year after me, with my help, and he now works in banking. He has remarried and is a conservative family man; we are all on friendly terms.

    It is my view that parents need to alert their children to the dangers posed by cults, and universities need to know how cults recruit on campus. Students need to watch out for any group with a closed structure and a charismatic leader who tries to befriend them. Or any group with a single ‘truth’ at its heart. Isolation, engulfment and brainwashing will follow, and the result will be exploitation and control. I wish I’d been handed this basic information when I was a young idealist.

    Sadly, almost 25 years after I left my group, young people are still ignorant about cult recruitment, and we know that cults are on the rise. Most people think, ‘Ah yes, but it couldn’t happen to me,’ and this is where they are wrong. Cults are clever, and they use sophisticated techniques to reel people in. It’s psychological rape. You are not in your normal state of mind, you are exhausted, frightened and lonely, and when you do experience a moment of clarity you have no time and no one to reflect on it with. I was the brainy one in my family and they sucked me in. It can happen to anyone.


    • Your gut feeling tells you something is wrong. Trust it.
    • The group/guru has the total and only answer – they will make the revolution happen, etc.
    • Extreme and/or inappropriate friendliness or attention.
    • Not answering questions.
    • Strange language or jargon you can’t initially understand.
    • A hard sell for further commitment. If you resist, you’re selfish, bourgeois, etc.
    • Encouragement to cut ties with family or friends, unless you can recruit them.
    • Secrecy, inappropriate confidentiality.
    • Lack of privacy.
    • Challenges to your fundamental identity: your strengths are criticised as your weaknesses.
    • Once you’re in, pressure to stay.
    • The group leader is always right and no criticism is allowed.
    • Deception: what you thought you’d get on joining turns out to be something else.

    For more information, visit alexandrastein.com


  55. This Is How Cults Work

    by Daniel Dylan Wray VICE December 16, 2014

    Cults will always be associated with the big names. Your David Koreshes, your Jim Joneses, your Charlie Mansons—the guys you'll have seen hogging half the Netflix documentary section like they're the only megalomanic sociopaths to ever grace a fortified compound. But there are plenty of other, more humble, groups out there still suckering people in and fleecing them for all they're worth.

    Ian Haworth, an ex-cult member, has been running the UK-based ​Cult Information Centre since 1987. There, he and his team provide information, guidance, and assistance to those who want to leave a cult, those who have already left one, and to concerned friends and families. I caught up with him recently to get an insight into how a modern-day cult operates.

    VICE: Hi, Ian. How did you end up joining a cult yourself?

    ​Ian Haworth: I was doing some shopping one day [in Toronto] and met a lady who asked if I could help her with a survey. I agreed. She then told me I'd probably be interested in joining a community group she represented, saying "Isn't it time you considered giving something back to the community instead of taking from it all the time like most people do?" The meeting consisted of a talk, followed by a coffee break, followed by a film. When the break was called, people started to come into the room with all kinds of food. I'd paid $1.50 to attend, so I thought I'd get my money's worth.

    I then decided to go for a cigarette, when someone rushed over and said, "Oh, we didn't know you smoked. You can smoke out here, but have you ever thought about quitting?" About a month before this my doctor had told me I'd probably die by the time I was 40 if I didn't quit smoking, so she'd hit my area of interest. The course spanned four days and they guaranteed success. At the end of the course I'd given them all the money I had, decided to dedicate my life to them, and handed in my resignation at work.

    That was quick. How did you eventually end up leaving?

    ​I was a completely different person, but of course I didn't know that. Friends knew that, my roommate knew that. People were scared of me, people felt sorry for me, people had a variety of emotions but didn't know what to do. People at work were stunned that I'd handed in my notice because I was doing well. When I was working my final month, the group [PSI Mind Development Institution—now non-existent] were exposed in the media. I hadn't yet been programmed against the media, so I was open to media input. It reactivated my critical mind and I managed to leave. I then went through 11 months of pretty severe withdrawal.

    Do you believe intelligent, educated people are more likely to be recruited than people in turmoil or who may be considered unstable?

    ​ This idea of troubled people is the eternal myth. People want to imagine this is the case because they don't want to consider themselves as "vulnerable." I don't use the word vulnerable very often, but I'd argue that we're all vulnerable to the techniques used by these groups. The late Dr. John G Clark, who I quote a lot, said the safest people are the mentally ill.

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  56. The easiest people to recruit are ones with alert, questioning minds who want to debate issues with other people. You take a strong-willed, strong-minded person and put them into a cult environment and the techniques used will break a person down very, very quickly. The smarter, the healthier the mind, the quicker and easier you are to control. It's just one of these tragic realities.

    What have you found to be the primary motives for setting up and recruiting people into cults?

    ​ The common denominators would be people and money. Some may just enjoy the power they have over a mass of people; others may well be wanting, from the word go, to acquire financial benefits and amass great wealth; others may have other ambitions of taking over the world. Then there are some who may well actually believe they are God, or whatever. I think those are the ones who are quite often mentally ill, so there's quite a mix of leaders and they may well have slightly different motivations. But, again, the common denominators are people and money.

    You estimate that there are currently between 500 to 1,000 cults in the UK. Are they on the rise?

    ​ Yes. If someone is recruited into a cult, that person—among other things—is going to be going out to recruit other people. Either in a formal way or an informal way, they'll be obeying instructions from the group on how to do that. Or they'll simply do it because they've been radicalized, are on a high, singing their praises and can't wait to recruit. So, as each person recruits others, you'll get an exponential growth of that organization—and the same applies to all the others. Then you get power struggles and splits in some of the groups. You get other groups, from different parts of the world, setting up branches in the UK, so it's a phenomenon that is growing.

    Do you ever infiltrate cult meetings to acquire information?

    ​No, that would be foolish. We'd never recommend going to any meetings that cults have because the techniques they use work on anybody, including me.

    What usually triggers a member into wanting to leave a cult and to seek help from you?

    ​Because cults use mind control techniques to recruit people, a person's mind is controlled by the group. Therefore the person no longer has control or normal thought processes; they are impaired, and the person can no longer critically evaluate. You become someone else. What is common is that something reactivates the critical mind of the cult member. It could be something you see or hear that you're not supposed to see or hear within the group; it could be something that somebody—when you're out recruiting or soliciting funds—says to you. If you're programmed to understand that people are evil and will be hostile toward you, and then they're kind and gentle in dealing with you, that will upset the apple cart.

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  57. During this period, how active are the cults in trying to get members to return?

    ​It varies. If you consider what it's like to be in a cult, you're programmed to think that this group is the be-all and end-all, and that anyone leaving this group is going to suffer horribly. So you would see it as helpful, as a cult member, to try and contact somebody who is an ex-member and try to pull them back in. So it's not unusual for someone to be pursued.

    Are these techniques always psychological, or have you encountered any instances of violence or physical threats?

    ​I've dealt with people who have come out of cults and who have died. There was a case that was supposed to go before the courts—the government was looking at a particular group and possibly looking at removing its charitable status—and a key witness, who was an ex-member of the group, was found hanging from a lamppost. Some people say it was murder, other people say it was suicide. I don't know.

    One chap I spoke to in Canada had fled from an organization and was really shaken up badly. I normally just speak to people on the phone, but I offered to meet up with him. He was at university and had a lot of work to do because he was just about to start his exams, and I said, "Well, can I have somebody phone you once or twice a week while you're going through your exams, just to make sure you're OK?" He said fine, and that happened.

    After the exams were over he was found with his throat cut from ear to ear and, again, some said it was murder, some said it was suicide. The police said it was suicide. His family suggested it was murder. Perhaps you could say the family would, but his father was a doctor and said there wasn't enough blood at the site where his body was found for it to have been suicide.

    If cults are rising in the UK, what can be done to curb this? What preventative measures can be put in place?

    ​The sooner the government realizes what cults are all about, they will then realize how much more can be done to combat terrorism. Not just the terrorist groups that are operating abroad, but also those that are radicalizing people in this country. If we start to recognize what cults are about and apply it in this area then we can perhaps be a lot more effective in trying to help people who want to come back to this country from Syria, or wherever they've been to, and return to normal and then be great sources of information.

    Ex-members of cults are great sources of information. People who are perhaps captured as extremists can be counseled back to reality as well, so a lot can be done in that area. I think a lot needs to be done in terms of public education on this topic, but it all starts with the government recognizing what's going on. I think there needs to be an educational program in general to help British society become aware of how cults operate, what to watch out for and, therefore, avoid, and how to help current and former members to back to reality.


  58. Queensland mum speaks out against 'mind-controlling' religious cult

    9news.com.au January 08, 2015

    A Queensland mother who spent 14-years in a religious cult is now speaking out and warning others about the sect and the woman who runs it.

    Four years after escaping the Magnificat Meal Movement (MMM) which still operates out of Helidon in southeast Queensland, Alison Forden claims she has been left without a support network and with self-esteem issues.

    "I feel as if I was sucked in, chewed up and spat out basically," Ms Forden told A Current Affair.

    "I can't believe I went along with everything that was told to me and I actually didn't question it earlier."

    The MMM was founded in 1986 by Debra Geileskey, a woman who claims to see and hear Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

    Ms Forden joined the cult after a marriage break-up and admits she was "brainwashed". She lived in the group's commune and visited the church daily, while her mother paid rent to live on the actual site where she was closely monitored.

    The former cult member says members were also required to give up 10 percent of their income.

    "I had no connection with the outside world," Ms Forden said.

    "I was encouraged not to watch TV, not to read news, not to buy magazines. The media were all one-eyed, so you were discouraged from having anything to do with the media."

    According to Raphael Aron from Cult Counselling Australia, the psychological damage people suffer as a result of being involved in a cult is far greater than the financial loss.

    "If people feel a sense of submissiveness, a sense of obligation, a sense of belonging and also the fact that if they are going to leave they may end up in not a very good place, that's when I talk about not having the freedom to go," he told A Current Affair.

    Ms Forden says while the cult has cost her a lot it has also affected her children, who have no friends or outside support.

    She says cult members were ordered to shun the family after they quit the MMM.

    "You just get treated like you didn't want to be here so God must not want you."

    Founder Ms Geileskey is believed to still run MMM but is currently living overseas.

    "She is lying to a group of people, misleading them," Ms Forden said.

    "How many homes will be lost? How many marriages will be wrecked? How many people will have their lives destroyed?"


  59. Queensland MMM cult leader tracked down and confronted in Vanuatu

    9news.com.au February 16, 2015

    Queensland's notorious cult leader accused of being a fraud. Our international investigation into a woman who calls herself Princess, and tells followers she has a hotline to heaven. After battles with Australian authorities,

    A Queensland cult leader accused of fraud by former senior members has reportedly fled Australia.

    Debra Burslem, founder of the Magnificat Meal Movement (MMM), has been confronted by A Current Affair in Vanuatu after being accused of making money from her followers and using it to fund her lavish lifestyle.

    The MMM was founded in 1986 by Ms Burslem out of Helidon in southeast Queensland.

    The cult leader claims to see and hear Jesus and the virgin Mary.

    Reporter Chris Allen tracked down Ms Burslem and her son at a store in Vanuatu and asked her a number questions that mostly went unanswered.

    Former member Clare Birchley, who was Ms Burslem's right hand for 20 years, says during that time she never doubted the cult leader could hear God.

    "I believed her absolutely," Ms Birchley told A Current Affair.

    "Towards the end I was dubious because there always seemed to be a convenient message from our lady or Jesus towards the end, depending on what she was trying to engineer."

    Ms Birchley estimates over the 20 year period, Ms Burslem would have pocketed at least $20 million in other people's money.

    She claims there were a number of schemes put in place to make money, including the involvement of multi-level marketing companies to make her followers buy products where she reportedly took the cash.

    Cult members were also expected to pay 10 percent of their income to the cult, as well as invest in Global Bullion Services without knowing that the cult leader was pocketing a commission on every dollar.

    A bank account in the Bahamas received the commission through the scheme which went on for three years before it collapsed.

    Ms Birchley claims all the followers lost the money they invested.

    "She has burnt through life savings belonging to other people. She's burnt through their homes. She has chewed up decades of their lives," Ms Birchley said.

    The former member claims Ms Burslem built her Vanuatu property to avoid paying tax. She says at one point, the prophet owed $5 million in unpaid taxes and fines.

    Former member Eilish Gaffney moved from Ireland to Australia to become another follower of the cult.

    "I genuinely believed for 15 years, until the day I left, believed … that all the fund-raising and all the events we carried out, that this money was being saved for the building of a basilica because that was the reason we joined in the beginning," Ms Gaffney said.

    She says there are still people in Australia sending money to Ms Burslem, who is currently living in a home in Vanuatu protected by a blue gate, high walls and security cameras.

    Former members say servants and true believers are allowed inside, and charged $200 a night to stay when she holds retreats.

    "Going over on retreats, paying exorbitant prices to go and spend a weekend with her and the money being pocketed by her. It is such an abuse. It is shocking. These people take out loans to go on these retreats," Ms Gaffney said.


  60. Sect leader Debra Burslem convinced followers to give her millions

    by David Murray, The Courier-Mail FEBRUARY 22, 2015

    QUEENSLAND sect leader Debra Burslem told followers that God wanted her to have a new Mercedes and a luxury Spanish villa.

    The jetsetting Burslem also insisted she fly first class to have more room to pray and claimed to be the rightful heir to the British throne.

    Her extravagant lifestyle and outlandish claims have been revealed after several of her closest confidantes walked out of Burslem’s Magnificat Meal Movement in disgust.

    The movement, based at Helidon near Toowoomba, attracted worldwide attention when Burslem claimed to receive messages from Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

    Its inner workings have been a closely guarded secret but former followers have begun warning of Burslem’s dangerous hold on members.

    Clare Birchley spent almost 20 years in the movement and was once a true believer in Burslem’s claims but now says she is a charlatan. She estimates Burslem has raised $20 million through her followers since she first shot to prominence in the 1990s. Money-raising schemes in the movement are many and varied. Burslem:

    - Insisted followers give 10 per cent of wages and donate extra for God’s blessing;

    - Recruited followers to sell products for multi-level marketing companies such as Herbalife, Neways and Forever Living which would earn her commissions;

    - Convinced followers to invest $1.8 million in a failed gold bullion scheme.

    Burslem and her husband were broke when they moved to Toowoomba from Melbourne in the early 1990s and joined conservative Catholic prayer groups.

    Local Catholics set them up with somewhere to live, but Burslem put the church off-side with her claims about communicating with Jesus and Mary.

    Soon, the former primary school teacher was claiming she needed $45 million to build a basilica to honour the Virgin Mary. Ms Birchley says it never happened and believes it “never will”.

    Instead, Burslem spent $800,000 converting a dilapidated stable in the Spanish village of San Sebastian de Garabandal into a villa.

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  61. Burslem also bought expensive furniture for one of her properties in Helidon. She shipped a Mercedes ML320 SUV from the UK to Vanuatu, where she is now based.

    “In 2008 she started saying the key to the basilica was the Spanish stable. She said ‘God has said we are to rebuild the stable’.

    “She has purchased at least nine Mercedes’ since 2000. She says it’s a sign of mercy, that’s why she should be driving in them, because of the word mercy in Mercedes.

    “She insisted on flying first class, and if it wasn’t first it was business. She used to say she prayed better.

    “None of us accompanying her on those flights ever got to sit in first class. You would get to the end of the flight and she would send the air hostess to say ‘come on pack up my things’.”

    Followers called themselves the “slaves of the eucharist” and wore blue robes — until Burslem realised the outfits were affecting their Herbalife sales and told them to wear civilian clothes.

    Burslem fled to Vanuatu in 2007 after the tax office came calling with a $5.5 million bill. It is believed she negotiated a settlement to pay about $500,000.

    She is staying on a property surrounded by a giant wall with broken glass scattered over the top for security. Her former followers estimate she has spent $1 million renovating the property.

    Burslem declined to comment when Channel Nine’s A Current Affair confronted her in Vanuatu last week.

    Burslem has also been preaching that Ireland will sink beneath the waves and that the world will face a calamity in around 2017, former followers say.

    And Burslem’s dramatic claims do not stop at talking to Jesus and Mary.

    “She purports to be the real heir to the British throne,” Ms Birchley said.

    The movement has dwindled from thousands in the 1990s to about 400 including children today.

    “Money can be replaced. Life cannot. The people of the MMM are good people, sorely mistaken, bled dry of their independence and psychologically tricked.

    “They will need support one day as they begin to realise they have been used by a charlatan,” Ms Birchley said.


  62. Cult Members

    Aberrant But are They Insane?

    Courts generally don't accept pleas of not guilty by reason of insanity.

    by Michael Smith, North American Correspondent, MedPage Today May 17, 2015
    TORONTO -- Cult members who kill can be grandiose and delusional, controlling and violent. They can claim to communicate with God. They can claim to be God. But are they insane?

    From a medical point of view, the answer obviously varies from case to case (and some would argue that insanity is not a medical concept). But from a legal point of view the answer is "no," according to Brian Holoyda, MD, MPH, a psychiatric resident at the University of California Davis Health System.

    In general, courts and juries are not impressed with a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI), Holoyda said in an a presentation at the American Psychiatric Association (APA) annual meeting.

    In a review of several dramatic cases of cult behavior that ended in murder, Holoyda said, the bottom line was that an NGRI plea based on cult membership alone is bound to fail.

    The courts have held that joining a cult is voluntary, so that any act that follows from that choice is also a matter of free will and -- if it's criminal -- will be punished in the normal way, he explained.

    Psychiatrists called in to evaluate such cases need to be aware that just being in a cult isn't by itself evidence of legal insanity; evidence of other mental illness would be required to support an NGRI plea, he told MedPage Today.

    "Typically, cult members adhere to beliefs that most people outside of the organization would regard as unusual or bizarre," he said.

    For that reason, it's hard for outsiders to judge whether the beliefs of individual cultists are grounded in the teachings of the cult or are delusional.

    Psychiatrists seeking guidance in such cases will not find much in the standard texts. Holoyda noting that the DSM-IV-TR and the DSM-5 don't actually mention the issue.

    The earlier manual had a diagnosis called "shared delusional disorder," but made no specific mention of cults or religious beliefs.

    The category was removed for the DSM-5, but there remains something called delusional disorder, which again is "no clear help in determining whether or not cult beliefs are considered psychotic."

    "As many forensic researchers do when the DSM provides limited help, I turned to the law," Holoyda said.

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  63. As far back as 1944 the US Supreme Court ruled that freedom of religion includes the right to adhere to views that are "rank heresy to followers of orthodox faiths."

    But lower courts have still had to face the issue many times since. To investigate, Holoyda searched the LexisNexis database for cult-related murder cases that reached the appellate level.

    Of the 398 cases he found, there were seven unique cases of cult-related murder.

    Perhaps the most famous are the 1969 Manson Family murders, in which followers of charismatic convict/musician Charles Manson killed several people.

    Oddly, Holoyda said, no one charged in the slayings ever entered an NGRI plea.

    But had they done so, many other cases suggest, the courts would have wanted more than membership in the cult to accept it. Aside from murders and cults,
    the cases he presented share an important feature -- every NGRI plea failed, Holoyda noted.

    The pattern even held true in a 1985 case in Nebraska, in which a cult leader and his son were charged with murdering other cult members. The father, Michael Ryan, was sentenced to death although the defense argued he was a paranoid schizophrenic.

    Son Dennis -- just 15 at the time of the killings -- was also convicted, despite diagnoses of dependent personality disorder, shared paranoia, and shared psychotic disorder.

    The analysis makes perfect sense, commented Svetlana Milenkovic, MD, a Toronto psychiatrist who was not part of the study but who moderated the APA session at which it was presented.

    'I completely agree with the point of view of the courts," Milenkovic told MedPage Today.

    Killer cultists begin by taking control of other people, using drugs, violence and emotional and physical violence, she said, but that doesn't mean that people don't know right from wrong or that they can't control their behavior.

    Holoyda did not report external support for the analysis and made no relevant disclosures.

    Milenkovic made no relevant disclosures.
    Primary Source: American Psychiatric Association

    Source Reference: Holoyda B, et al. "Killer Cult Members and the Insanity Plea: Exploring the Line Between Belief and Delusion" APA 2015; Abstract 110.



    BY JESSE JAMES DECONTO, Religion Dispatches JUNE 16, 2015

    Mark Driscoll used Pacific Northwest aesthetics to kindle an audience for Mars Hill Church’s conservative, neo-Reformed dogma. Now, Seattle’s creative community is tamping him down with wet newspaper.

    Earlier this month, the city’s arts rag Seattle Weekly released a “Comic History of Northwest Cults,” counting the disgraced megachurch pastor as just the most recent in a long line of religious charlatans. Among SW’s wall of shame:

    § Franz Edmund Creffield’s “Brides of Christ” involved mostly young women and ended in adultery, murder—and the founder’s claim to have caused the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

    § Judith Zebra Knight founded the Ramtha School of Enlightenment and made millions, claiming to channel an ancient deity she says conquered the lost city of Atlantis.

    § Facing persecution on his Indian ashram for alleged prostitution, drug-smuggling and “free-love,” guru Baghwan Shree Rajneesh gathered thousands of followers to a headquarters in rural Oregon. Conflict with the natives yielded criminal charges against Rajneesh’s henchmen for wiretapping, arson, attempted murder and salmonella bioterrorism resulting in 751 cases of acute gastroenteritis.

    § Paul Erdman went on an acid trip, changed his name to Love Jesus and founded a patriarchal commune in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood, with him on top.

    § Rejected as a preacher by other churches, Donald Barnett founded the Community Chapel and Bible Training Center, where worship included a “dancing revelation” and “healing touch.” Older men would kiss and fondle younger women and even children.

    One man’s “cult” is another man’s treasure, but, offered the above examples, I’m not sure a 13,000-member megachurch belongs in the lineup. Driscoll was kicked out of the Acts 29 church-planting network he founded over his history of bullying and accusations of plagiarism and dishonest book promotion tactics.

    If anything, Driscoll’s cult was one of celebrity, and his sins were PG-rated corruption compared to Seattle Weekly’s sexy list. Over at getreligion.org Julia Duin suggests you can’t expect much nuanced religion coverage from the alternative newsweekly, which barely covers the subject. Driscoll might have had a cult-leader personality, but, as Duin says, what he was preaching was “hardly esoteric.” Driscoll’s is a prominent “New Calvinist” Gospel, popularized by Reformed Baptists like John Piper, Southern Baptists like Al Mohler and Presbyterian Church in America preachers like Tim Keller.

    Love him or hate him, but don’t confuse Driscoll with a religious innovator. That’s Driscoll’s wicked genius—to mask your great-grandfather’s us-and-them religion with an edgy façade. What made Driscoll stand out was his loud-mouth style, espousing traditional gender roles, for example, with the crassest of language. Like Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, Driscoll breaks prudish, churchy taboos and understands millennial culture. “Mars Hill members talk about sex, drink alcohol, get tattoos, and swear,” said Bitch magazine. “They listen to Fleet Foxes; they love Star Wars and graffiti art.” The Seattle Times said, “He drew pierced-and-tattooed congregants from Seattle to … Calvinist doctrine cloaked in indie-rock, big screens and a worn pair of Chuck Taylors.”

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  65. But none of this makes for the kind of epoch-shifting postmodern church that pop historians like Phyllis Tickle and Diana Butler Bass have described. In this “new kind” of Christianity, leaders like Bolz-Weber give their power away, while Driscoll clung fiercely to his fiefdom. Driscoll has sometimes been mislabeled as an “Emerging” or “Emergent” Christian. These labels are notoriously difficult to define, but exemplars like Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis and Bolz-Weber’s House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver operate on communal meaning-making rather than top-down authority. In that limited sense, Mars Hill might have been more like a cult than an “emerging” church, but then, so did just about every religious community you’ve encountered—because after the Enlightenment, we’ve all been taught to ground our beliefs on something solid and indubitable, and religious teaching is no exception.

    A slim-cut corduroy blazer or post-hardcore worship leader doesn’t make a truly new kind of church. Postmodern Christianity is nothing if not a tension of faith and doubt—a desolidification of authority—and no Seattle aesthetic can turn Mars-Hill-style rote memorization into Blue-Like-Jazz improvisation. One example: Many post-evangelicals flee to Emergent or mainline Protestant churches specifically in search of gender equality, while Driscoll has displayed infamous misogyny. Progressive Christians tend to ground their egalitarianism in the long trajectory of biblical narrative that seems to prophesy resurrection for all oppressed peoples. This move demands a creative attempt to see the big picture, whereas traditionalists like Driscoll find surety in those isolated proof texts that suggest a gender hierarchy. Former followers report feeling duped by the patriarchal theology hidden in Driscoll’s cool brand. One former Acts 29 member (who happens to play in my folk-rock band) called Driscoll’s legacy “fundamentalists in hipsters’ clothing.”

    Driscoll gathered thousands of converts in a highly secular city using hip, millennial delivery, but now some of Seattle’s cultural gatekeepers have looked through the disguise and seen nothing but a cult leader. Putting Driscoll on the list of Seattle’s “Predators and Prophets” might be more inflammatory than informative, but it goes to show that mismatching medium and message is playing with fire.


    Read the comic "Predators & Prophets: A Comic History of Pacific Northwest Cults" at the following link:


  66. Cult Attraction is Not a Problem of Logic

    By Alexandra Stein, Fair Observer July 21, 2015

    Alexandra Stein is an Associate Lecturer of Social Psychology at Birkbeck, University of London. She is a writer and educator specializing in the study of cults and ideological extremism. She is an ex-member of a political cult and has documented that experience in her book, "Inside Out." Stein offers prevention education programs and materials to help people understand how to identify and protect themselves from recruitment to cultic or extremist groups. More information is available at www.alexandrastein.com

    What are cults, and how do they work?

    Cults come in a great variety of forms: from the largely religious ones to terrorist groups that train suicide bombers; from right-wing to the ingrown “left” political groups that thrived in the 1970s and 1980s; and from get-rich-quick to personal growth groups. Although they are not all violent, they do share common features that enable them to exert extraordinary levels of control over their members.

    The mechanisms that drive these groups are not as mysterious as we may think. Seventy years of study has been done to understand them.

    Starting during the horrors of World War II and then Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong’s totalitarian regimes, scholars did groundbreaking work to try understand the forces that produced extreme obedience to charismatic leaders. This period saw, among others, Hannah Arendt’s great work, The Origins of Totalitarianism; Stanley Milgram’s extraordinary experiments where ordinary people administered seemingly excruciating electrical shocks to strangers; and Robert Jay Lifton’s insightful work on brainwashing, crystallized in his Eight Criteria for Thought Reform.

    Most recently, a new generation of scholars like myself have emerged who themselves have been victims of this process.

    Although some scholars dismiss the concepts understood by the terms “cult” and “brainwashing,” these organizations and processes of extreme control have not abated.


    Cultic or ideologically extremist groups are controlled by a leader or leadership group that is both charismatic and authoritarian. These leaders are psychopaths. Both charisma and authoritarianism are required as they are the source of the group’s central organizing dynamic of “love” and fear. Charisma alone is not sufficient.

    Nelson Mandela was charismatic but not authoritarian. Jim Jones was both. The dual nature of the leader’s personality—charisma and authoritarianism—is the fundamental dynamic in the group. The leader needs charisma to appeal to followers, but at the same time, the leader’s authoritarian nature leads to actions that generate a feeling of fear, terror or threat. This is a potent mix that leads to control of followers.


    The inner structure of a cult is closed, isolating and steeply hierarchical. At the top sits the leader, whose every whim must be obeyed. Followers must renounce ties to outsiders—unless they can be recruited or used in some way. Yet within the group itself, belying the stereotype of close “community” that exists within cults, followers are, in important ways, isolated from each other, allowed to communicate only within the narrow confines of the group’s belief system.

    The structure both isolates and engulfs. Followers are “pressed together” so tightly, as Arendt stated, that there is no privacy or personal space. The US Bible-based ATI cult is currently in the spotlight due to the fecund Duggar family, part of the Quiverfull movement. As with other cults, family relationships, sexuality and reproduction are tightly controlled in this movement, which is part of a powerful network of right-wing fundamentalists, with tentacles that reach into the highest echelons of the US government.

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  67. While close relationships in the group are closely controlled and monitored, on the other hand, if within-group relationships become too close, they will be broken up in order to prevent competing with the primary relationship to the leader or group as a whole. And woe betide the follower who expresses doubts, or worse, who leaves and criticizes the group—then, as for example with the Scientology disconnect policy—they are “fair game” for threats, intimidation and shunning. Or, as with many terrorist groups, the price of doubt is death.

    While the inner structure is rigid and closed, looser front groups often exist in cults for recruitment, funding and influence purposes. They are “transmission belts” between the inner world of the cult and the rest of the world.


    The closed structure is supported and represented by an exclusive belief system, also known as a total or extremist ideology. This all-encompassing belief system rejects all other points of view entirely, claiming to have the one truth that explains everything for all time. The structure of the ideology is arguably more important than any particular theological, political or other attributes.

    The single truth is a reflection of the single point of power and control of the leadership, and it often changes at the leader’s whim. Lyndon LaRouche’s political cult, currently recruiting on US campuses and now under suspicion for the death of a young man from London, is a good example of this. He veered from a leftist Trotskyist stance early in his career to the right-wing, anti-Semitic position he now holds as head of the Worldwide LaRouche Youth Movement.

    The cultic total ideology is also used to justify followers’ isolation, both from the outside world as well as from loved ones in the name of a higher commitment. Tim Guest quotes Bhagwan Rhajneesh, the leader of the cult he grew up in: “In a commune you will not be too attached to one family—there will be no family to be attached to.”

    The totalist ideology encourages separating thinking from feeling—either you shouldn’t think (“be in your heart centre only”) or shouldn’t feel (“feelings are subjective”). This separation of thinking from feeling—dissociation—results in derailing a person’s ability to evaluate their situation.

    However, you don’t get the whole ideology delivered all at once. There is a distinction between the seductive early propaganda fed to new recruits as opposed to the indoctrination—or brainwashing—process that happens later on.


    Coercive persuasion or brainwashing are used to isolate followers and control them through a combined dynamic of “love” and fear. These processes take place within the isolating cultic structure and can lead to group members following the group’s orders, even when it puts their own interests or even their lives at risk.

    Many isolating, weakening and influence strategies are used in this effort such as sleep deprivation, control of relationships, lack of privacy, control of information, diet and so on. Isolation, especially from very close relationships, as described above, is of particular importance.


    These controlling processes, set in motion by a psychopathic leader within an isolating structure that is clothed in an absolute ideology, result in exploited, deployable followers.

    Regardless of what the group may claim, the flow of resources in cultic groups moves upward to the leadership, typically in the form of money and other material assets, labor, sexual favors and uncritical obedience.

    The leader’s fundamental motivation, however, is that of seeking power and control over others. While resources flow up, orders and ideology flow down to the followers.

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  68. Not all followers need to be controlled entirely, as long as they contribute in some way. Many groups have peripheral members who give money, time or other resources through front organizations. However, when consolidated in the group, most followers may demonstrate uncritical obedience, regardless of their own survival needs.

    Islamic State (IS) suicide bombers are extreme and tragic cases of the utter loss of self-interest of these deployable agents, with, of course, terrible consequences for their victims. For example, we heard of 17-year-old Talha Asmal who died in a suicide bombing while fighting for IS, or news of the death of Thomas Evans, who was recruited by al-Shabab in 2011.

    Recruitment Strategies

    How do followers become controlled, and why don’t they just fight back or leave?

    Let’s dig into this process of brainwashing. But before this, it is important to realize that there are two rather separate (though overlapping) processes that occur. The recruitment or obtaining of followers gets a person into the range of influence of the group, where retaining members is about creating loyal, obedient followers.

    As Martha Crenshaw said, most people join terrorist groups by “accident, on their way to other goals.” The same can be said of most cult recruits, such as those recruited “off the street” or through friends and so forth.

    There are “seekers”—those who are looking to join something (though no-one seeks to join a cult) and press-ganging, as happens to child soldiers. Having the bad luck to have parents in the group and being born or raised in it, or being born in a totalitarian state such as North Korea.

    In the typical case of recruitment, the individual is recruited with an initially seductive come-on: attention, sometimes “love-bombing” and an appeal to some goal relevant to the recruit.

    For example, the so-called “personal growth” cults promise to make you a better person, more effective, more “conscious.” There are endless versions of these, many making liberal use of Scientology-like “technologies.” In this phase, basic human tendencies to conform to group norms, comply with requests and obey instructions are exploited. Social psychologists have long demonstrated the power over ordinary people that these forms of social influence wield. But these processes are not sufficient to explain the uncritical obedience found in cults.

    The process of retaining followers is really where the core of the brainwashing and control process takes place. While obtaining followers happens in a variety of ways, the retention process looks remarkably the same across diverse forms of cultic or extremist groups.

    My own analysis relies on attachment theory, which is closely related to trauma theory. This theory states that an evolutionary adaptation fundamental to humans is the drive to seek proximity to others (initially as infants to caregivers), in order to gain protection from threat, thus improving chances for survival.

    A child seeks its parent when ill, tired, frightened or in any other way under threat. The parent then functions as a safe haven for the child from whom they may gain protection and comfort. But once comforted, the child eventually wishes to explore its world again, and now the parent functions as a secure base, from which the child explores and to which they can return when protection and comfort is once again needed. Similar dynamics take place with adults in their very close relationships with spouses, partners or close friendships.

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  69. However, attachment relationships do not always function well. In particular, when the caregiver is not only the source of potential comfort, but is also the source of threat, a relationship of disorganized attachment results. Seeking comfort from the source of fear is a failing strategy: It not only brings the individual closer to the source of fear instead of escaping the threat, but it also fails to produce the required comfort, thus impeding a later exploration phase.

    The person freezes—like a deer in the headlights. They are in a situation termed “fright without solution.” This failing attachment strategy causes dissociation and disorientation regarding the relationship in question: The individual is in a state of trauma and can no longer think clearly about his or her condition. We often see this dynamic in relationships of controlling domestic violence, in child abuse or in the Stockholm Syndrome where kidnap or hostage victims identify with their captors.


    Within cultic groups, the isolation of followers from the outside world and from trusting relationships with others in the group leaves the group as the sole “safe haven” available to the follower.

    There are many yoga and meditation cults whose ex-members I have worked with. You start by attending a yoga class and end with having to constantly meditate on the person of the leader. In one case, devotees are instructed to breathe in the female leader’s “golden light” with each breath. This leader eventually replaces all other relationships.

    As involvement in the group increases, and outside involvements decrease, the group can then ramp up its demands. Part of this stage is also to induce fear or some other kind of threat. This can be fear of the outside world, fatigue, fear of some kind of apocalyptic event or any other form of threat.

    In certain religious cults, stories of a wrathful God serve this purpose, while in the Lord’s Resistance Army rape and physical terror are used. Sometimes, simple exhaustion or bullying that one is not working hard enough at one’s “development” may be the sources of threat.

    Once the follower is isolated, the arousal of fear causes them to turn to the group—their only remaining “safe haven”—to seek comfort and protection, even though it is the group itself that is causing the fear.

    There are two effects. Emotionally, a strong attachment bond develops to the safe haven of the group. But as the fear arousal continues and the follower never attains comfort, they continue seeking closeness—this is the emotional glue, and it operates at a physiological level. Cognitively, the disorganized or traumatic bond, which creates a state of “freezing,” means the follower can no longer think about his or her feelings regarding the fear-inducing relationship.

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  70. The followers disoriented thoughts are colonized by the group: The group unhooks the follower’s perception of experience from their ability to think about what is happening and can now insert their own ideology and orders. The follower may now become a deployable agent and, with their own survival needs no longer in play, they can carry out the group’s orders.

    It is in this context that those incomprehensible actions—such as suicide bombings—take place. As one former cult member told me, referring to her leader, “I remember feeling like I would take a bullet for Fred.”

    Breaking Away

    What can help to break the situation of “fright without solution” is alternate trusting or attachment relationships that allow an escape—a solution to the threat, which in turn allows the person to think clearly again, to reintegrate their thought processes. It is thus imperative that the cult prevents any such trusting relationships from developing.

    This is why we can predict that cults will systematically attempt to interfere in followers’ close relationships and prevent access to information that reflects the true nature of the traumatizing relationship.

    Numerous studies reject the idea that we can profile a typical recruit. And simply teaching “critical thinking,” the current idea popular in British universities—though a worthy goal in its own right—also isn’t sufficient. These are not problems of logic. They are problems of relationships: of grooming methods that result in recruits becoming isolated from their prior relationships, engulfed in the new isolating network and then subjected to high levels of arousal that create the trauma bond.

    What we need to teach young people is precisely and specifically about the methods employed by cultic groups. From the ways they exploit universal human responses to various forms of social influence, to the vulnerability we all share when placed in situations of isolation from healthy sources of support. We need to teach people to recognize the difference between healthy relationships and dangerous ones.

    We must create community-wide educational campaigns, similar to those currently in place about domestic abuse. The content of such campaigns should include warning signs of dangerous relationships—particularly regarding emotional and cognitive isolation.

    This work should be taking place in universities, schools, communities and training programs. Former cult members are an invaluable resource in this training effort.

    This problem, as we can clearly see, isn’t going away. Short-term solutions have not worked. We better get started now on an evidence-based, long-term, public health educational campaign that puts knowledge in the hands of all of us. As long as we remain ignorant, we all remain vulnerable.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


  71. Understanding religious cults can be complicated

    Ron Burks, Ph.D., TMH blogger Tallahassee Democrat July 31, 2015

    The word “cult” conjures images that range from religious regimentation and extremism to dancers around open fires and sacrificing chickens in the backyard. The popular show “The Following” portrays a group that spends most of its time murdering people and outsmarting the longsuffering detective. Real cults are far less entertaining, but they nonetheless, inflict lasting harm on their followers and their families.

    Cults are often formed because of a religious belief. One religious body may disagree with the beliefs of another and consider themselves a “cult.” Being disliked or having detractors does not mean a group is a cult. When drama and diatribe is stripped away, factors that distinguish between cults and various religious bodies, civic clubs or other social associations become clearer. The term “cult” must be used in a very narrow sense in any discussion on public health, and more specifically, mental health.

    It must be remembered that cults probably include some benefits or else no one would join. Most cults provide a unique form of belonging, closeness and a sense that one will never be alone again. Whether loved, feared or both, cult leaders provide a sense of peace, order and security. The atmosphere of a cult provides simple answers to complex life issues. There are usually special inspirational experiences that make members grateful to be apart. Cults also have the ability to increase the suggestibility of its members.

    In time, most members begin to surrender personal choice believing it to be in their own best interest. Questions are met with simplistic responses implying that further inquiry is insulting to the intelligence of the leader or the group in general.

    Restricted opportunity to make unaided choices usually impairs a sense of personal identity. Members forget who they are, or were. Cults usually create some form of separation from mainstream culture, whether it is psychological or physical. Members feel they only “fit in” with their group. Cults usually espouse an ultimate purpose that is in sync with the member’s morals or life goals.

    Deception and fraud are usually at the heart of any group that deserves the name cult. When exposed, the powerful psychological processes that held the member to the group are disrupted. The member sees through the deception and leaves. Then, the ex-member of a cult or partner in a cult-like relationship says: “I don’t know who I am or where I belong” and/or “My life has no purpose.” These factors often result in years of depression and aimlessness.

    Internet sites like icsahome.com, wellspringretreat.org, neirr.org and many others provide connections, information and opportunities for specific, formal residential treatment. There are resources for mental health professionals at icsahome.com who are attempting to treat ex-members. The Tallahassee Memorial Behavioral Health Center has treated many ex-members and offers a monthly support group. To learn more, please call 850-431-5105 or visit TMH.org.

    Ron Burks, Ph.D., LMHC, Tallahassee Memorial Behavioral Health Center.

    see the links to those advocacy groups at:


  72. Life after Doomsday

    Tracking cult activity from a Montreal storage locker


    WHEN MIKE KROPVELD was twenty-eight, he helped plan a mission to rescue his friend, a teacher named Benji Carroll, from an international cult. Kropveld remembers hosting a meeting with Carroll’s parents and several distraught friends in his cramped Montreal living room. “His parents bought Danishes, but nobody ate them,” he says. On a trip to Berkeley, California, Carroll was recruited by members of a branch of the Unification Church, a religious order popularly known as the Moonies. It was 1977, and thanks to the Manson Family and the People’s Temple, terms such as mind control and brainwashing had entered the lexicon. At the time, the Bay Area city was a hotbed for unconventional beliefs. “People called it Berzerkeley,” Kropveld says.

    Although Carroll had mostly lost contact with his Montreal community, he eventually agreed to meet his mother and sister at the San Francisco airport. They brought him to a nearby hotel, where a group of his closest friends ambushed him and held him captive in a house a few blocks away. Over two days, a professional “deprogrammer,” who also worked as an auto mechanic and antique dealer in the Bay Area, talked Carroll into returning to Montreal.

    Kropveld caught pneumonia shortly before the team’s departure and was unable to go along. It was probably for the best: earlier that year, he visited Carroll and wound up living on a Moonie commune for two weeks before extricating himself. “In retrospect, I don’t think they liked me very much,” he says. “I asked too many questions.”

    The group’s intervention for Carroll became local legend: journalist Josh Freed wrote a six-part Montreal Star series about it and soon began receiving calls from desperate people whose loved ones had joined cults. To field their requests, Kropveld and some friends founded the Cult Information Centre. Shortly thereafter, Kropveld established an organization called Cult Project, operating under the B’Nai Brith Hillel Foundation of Montreal. In 1990, that venture became Info-Cult/Info-Secte, a bilingual, non-profit counselling service and research archive, which Kropveld, now executive director, operates out of a second-floor office in the city’s Mile End neighbourhood. The group provides free information and advice about marginal religious orders, alternative psychological and therapeutic centres, pyramid schemes, militias, pseudoscience movements, conspiracy theorists, and occult communities.

    Kropveld, now a slender, bespectacled man in his sixties, met me last April at Info-Cult’s headquarters, wearing faded jeans hiked up and belted over a pink button-down. The space has the oppressive lighting of a morgue on a cop show, and it’s crammed with bookcases, boxes, and shipping crates. A few years ago, thieves broke in and stole Kropveld’s computer. They probably thought they were robbing a storage locker.

    His vast collection comprises documents—sacred texts, manifestos, court records—pertaining to more than 2,000 groups. During an afternoon of digging, I found a book on UFOs with aerial photographs of crop circles, a cheap grimoire of Satanic spells, and a ten-song vinyl LP called The Road to Freedom by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard (it includes two guest appearances from John Travolta). Info-Cult survives on meagre Quebec government funding, as well as donations from foundations and individuals, some who have used Kropveld’s services in the past. He gets most of his material by photocopying court documents, writing to academic publishers for review copies of books, and encouraging former cult members to donate whatever texts they haven’t yet thrown out or burned.

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  73. Kropveld deals with roughly 1000 clients every year each facing conundrums that range from trivial to grim. He recalls a restaurateur in the early ’90s who wondered if he should rent his dining room to the Raelians. “I told him to come here, read up on them, and decide for himself,” he says. He also assisted a former long-time member of the messianic Ant Hill Kids commune who was struggling to fill out her CV. The group’s long-bearded preacher, Roch “Moses” Thériault, made headlines in the late ’80s for presiding over ritual dismemberments at his Burnt River, Ontario, compound. “I said, you don’t want to lie on your resumé,” Kropveld says, “but you definitely don’t want to mention Thériault.” It occurred to him that Ant Hill disciples had supported themselves by selling baked goods to the local townspeople. “Write down that you worked in a bakery,” he told her.

    In his thirty-eight-year career, Kropveld has seen the membership rosters of seemingly robust movements, such as the Hare Krishnas or the Children of God, gradually erode from defections, and he’s discovered that, although cults are, by definition, estranged from society, they’re still susceptible to trends. The hippy communes of the ’60s and ’70s have given way to the self-help and wellness centres of today.

    Most significantly, his experiences have made him skeptical of the way we understand brainwashing. “We tend to think that it is this all-encompassing, powerful technique,” Kropveld says. “In reality, it doesn’t work like that. Even with the most dominant movements, you still get a large number of walk-aways.” He recalls a distraught couple whose teenage daughter joined a Bible-based group. In private, the daughter confessed to Kropveld that she planned to defect but hadn’t yet told her parents: she didn’t want them knowing they were right all along. “Two weeks later, the parents called me and said, ‘Thank you so much. You saved my daughter,’ ” Kropveld says. “But I didn’t do anything. She was already halfway out the door.”

    During the afternoon I spent combing through Kropveld’s library for oddities, he perched behind his computer, catching up on dozens of emails. For the most part, he says, open, non-judgmental communication will do more than a radical intervention like the one he planned in the ’70s. “There are a lot of apocalyptic or millenarian movements, but not many are what I’d call violent,” says Kropveld. We need to understand outsider belief systems, he argues, but we don’t often need to combat them—the freedom to choose one’s religious affiliation is a democratic right. “I’m not here to tell people what to do,” he says. “I’ll leave that to the cult leaders.”
    Simon Lewsen is copy editor for the Walrus Foundation. He has contributed to the Globe and Mail, Hazlitt, and The Walrus.Jenn Liv (jennliv.com) debuted Muahahaha at the 2014 Toronto Comic Arts Festival.


  74. How the Sundance Film Festival helped 'Holy Hell' filmmaker find his way back from a cult

    by Kenneth Turan Contact Reporter Los Angeles Times January 21, 2016

    The interview is over, the goodbyes have been said, but then Will Allen realizes he has one more thing he wants to say.

    "Do you know what Joseph Campbell wrote about the hero's journey?" he asks. "It's the return that's the hardest part, reintegrating into the world, but it's so important. The hero adds value by telling what he found, and that's the value I have right now, with this story, this film."

    Don't misunderstand. It's not that filmmaker Allen, an innately modest man further conditioned by years of doing service to others, necessarily thinks of himself in the heroic mold. It's just that the sense of mission that has sustained him through the four years it's taken to make "Holy Hell" is strong. And no wonder.

    Debuting Monday as part of Sundance's U.S. Documentary Competition, "Holy Hell" is Allen's first-person story of the 22 years he spent in a West Hollywood cult led by a charismatic "teacher" and promising enlightenment, an experience that started out euphoric and ended up divisive and sexually exploitative.

    Because "Holy Hell" is told largely via extensive footage Allen shot at the time, the film has the uncanny effect of showing us what a cult looks like from the inside, how appealing it can be to those seeking enlightenment, and with after-the-fact interviews how bitter the aftermath can feel if things fall apart.

    "I was with my teacher from 1985 to 2007, half my life, from age 22 to 44," says Allen, now 53. "I had to unlearn things when I entered it; we were told we had to reprogram bad ideas, and when I left, I had to unlearn everything I'd learned there."

    Alone among the more than 100 features described in the Sundance catalog, "Holy Hell" does not have a director or screenwriter listed. With Allen's teacher still active but in another state and with the film's producers feeling what Allen calls "concern about some people in the group," secrecy was deemed the wisest policy.

    Allen describes himself as "confused and burnt out" when he got out of film school in 1985. "I came back home to Newport Beach, I thought maybe I didn't want to make movies, I wanted to find myself, figure out who I was. I've always been fascinated by the philosophical, by spiritual concepts and questions like 'Who are we? Why are we here?'

    "Then my mother found out I was gay and kicked me out of the house. At that point, my sister invited to me to join a meditation group she'd been going to for nine months and was excited to introduce me to."

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  75. That group which eventually grew to more than 100 members and took the name Buddhafield, was led by a man named Michel whose palpable charisma, even in the Speedo swimsuits he favored, is visible in the footage Allen shot at the time. The film does not accuse the cult leader of any crime, and he is never confronted by members during the movie.

    "The teacher talked so elegantly, he was smart, funny, irreverent," the director recalls. "He made us feel we were OK as we were, and he offered the promise of enlightenment."

    Very visible on film, and a lure for Allen as well, was the warm community the devotees formed. But once Allen, at the teacher's command, was made part of the group's inner circle, things began to look different.

    "It was an emotionally tumultuous situation. The more I got around him, there was no pleasing this person," the filmmaker remembers. "There were no boundaries. He acted as our therapist as well as our guru. We were supposed to tell him everything." Eventually, Allen says, the teacher manipulated him into a sexual relationship as well, "a confusing thing which came with a lot of angst."

    The group left West Hollywood for Austin, Texas, in 1992, and things started to fall apart. "Gradually, everyone was finding out things, sexual manipulations, controlling relationships, saying he was healing people when he wasn't. It was like an office where everyone starts to talk about what the boss has been doing; all these details started coming out."

    People began leaving, and Allen did as well.

    After all those years in the group, Allen was faced with the question of "what to do I do with my life?"

    "It wasn't like I was going to be a manicurist," he said. "I was very unresolved, I wasn't at peace. It was like I had PTSD."

    A trip to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where he saw movies like Ira Sachs' "Keep the Lights On," provided the answer. "It energized me. I saw a community of people who are artists, whose films were so honest, and I felt, 'These are my people.' I was so thankful to see someone take their own life and put it up on-screen."

    Allen had periodically edited down what he had shot, but when he decided to leave the group, he said he didn't get out with all of his footage. "But at the time, I didn't care," he added. "I never thought I'd look at this again. I felt I had to move on."

    Once Allen sat down to begin making "Holy Hell," he had some 35 hours of edited footage to work with as well as interviews with more than a dozen other disaffected ex-cult members.

    "I never wanted to make a negative film where you wanted to take a shower. I felt I was the closest person to him, and I could tell a fair story," Allen says of his motivation.

    "People ask me, 'Do you regret it?' and I think that's such an unfair question. Would you regret a marriage that failed though you have children? The experience was not all about him, it was about the community. I didn't recognize that until I made the film."


  76. Cultsploitation and True Believers

    Being duped and blinded to the truth is no laughing matter. So why are we so obsessed with cults?

    by Alissa Wilkinson / Christianity Today APRIL 6, 2016

    Mild spoilers for the first episode of The Path and the first season of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt follow, along with extremely vague plot points for all seasons of The Americans, The People Vs. O.J. Simpson, and The Leftovers.

    Near the end of the pilot episode of Hulu’s The Path, Cal (Hugh Dancy) stands on a platform in front of a room full of people, followers of the Meyerist movement, his back to a brightly-lit screen. “This morning, I’m going to tell you the story of Plato’s cave,” he says to the eager crowd.

    Using overheads—for all the world like a sermon you might listen to any Sunday morning in America—he does just that. A group of people have been living in a cave all their lives, he says, watching shadows projected onto the wall by things that have been passing in front of a fire behind them. For the prisoners, the shadows of reality are reality. They’re all they know.

    But one day, in Cal’s telling, one guy goes outside and discovers that the shadows are actually just muddled visions of real things that are walking over a bridge. “There is a real, true world out there that his fellow prisoners, his friends—they don’t know,” he says. The man comes back ranting and raving, telling his fellow prisoners that what you think is real is not in fact real.

    As Cal tells this story with warmth and charisma, the Meyerists look up at him expectantly, smiling. They are grateful for their enlightened way of living, away from the prisoners of ignorance outside their movement.

    But there’s one face in the group—Eddie (Aaron Paul)—for whom the story has a totally different meaning. As the first episode has shown us, Eddie is having doubts about whether Meyerism is real at all. It might be his cave. He might be the prisoner. And then Cal asks the key questions.

    “What would the prisoners do?” he asks the crowd. “Would they, if they could, stone this man? Kill him, rather than have their reality destroyed?” As they nod along, he draws out the application questions: “What would you do? Would you choose to remain in your shackles? Would you choose to hold on to your pain and your suffering? Or would you dare to break free?”

    They cheer. He smiles. Then he delivers the sucker punch: “Would you dare to let me unchain you and lead you up, up out of the cave?” He benevolently looks at the group. Eddie looks back, eyebrow cocked.

    That one scene acts like cipher, helping to explain a growing trend in American pop culture: an exploding fixation on stories about cults. For those who’ve escaped them, cults are neither gripping entertainment nor a laughing matter. But that hasn’t stopped everyone else. To name just a few from just the last year: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Midnight Special, The Leftovers, The Americans, True Detective, The Path,Holy Hell, Going Clear, My Scientology Movie, Prophet’s Prey, the end of Mad Men—you can even argue that The People Vs. OJ Simpson is a cult story. (More on that in a moment.)

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  77. Cults look bizarre by nature to the outsider, and that can’t-look-away weirdness is part of the attraction. It’s telling that Scientology is the cult de jour—two documentaries have opened at major festivals about the strange religion (Going Clear and My Scientology Movie), and a few years ago, P.T. Anderson’s movie The Master starred a Philip Seymour Hoffman character with a suspicious resemblance to L Ron Hubbard. Scientology is expensive and arcane, abusive, secretive, and created by a science fiction novelist. Celebrities like Tom Cruise and John Travolta raise its profile, and audiences don’t feel bad about picking on them.

    All Scientology films also home in on the same question: how could people get suckered in? How do ordinary, interesting folks wind up spending their fortunes and decades of their lives in something that sounds bizarre to the outsider?

    The post-Rapture (kinda) drama The Leftovers is full of cults, all of which have sprung up after 3% of the world’s population disappeared, apparently at random. Some characters spend their time battling cults from within, while others stay outside and others just join up, finding rest for their weary souls in someone else telling them what to believe. The Path takes a similar tack, portraying those who join the Meyerists as broken and weary individuals in search of healing and enlightenment.

    The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt opened its first season with an introduction to our heroine, kidnapped as a teenager and imprisoned in an underground bunker by the leader of a bizarre doomsday cult for fifteen years. She is freed, and she moves to New York City. Capers ensue. The first season’s theme is that everyone has their own “bunker” to overcome—but by the finale, Kimmy must confront her former captor, in one of TV’s most fabulous cameos.

    In the first season, an episode skewered SoulCycle as a substitute cult, and that theme is revisited early in season 2 (which premieres April 15). No spoilers, but one episode centers around a character who can’t shake the cult—and doesn’t want to. She “needs” a cult to belong to. Her identity comes from the group, not any individual.

    Or consider The Americans, which has—from its start—been about faith and religion. It begins by probing its Cold War-era characters' faith in two competing, totalizing systems of belief: the ideology of the Soviets, and the competing blind patriotism of the FBI. As the show has gone on, it’s grown to encompass Christian faith, and, recently, the pop psychology cult of EST. The show handles all of these with a gravity that befits the characters’ own attitudes towards them; as Ruth Graham noted in Slate, “It’s easy to sneer at the opium of the people. But it’s far more interesting to ask why the masses are lighting up.”

    In Jeff Nichols’s sci-fi thriller Midnight Special, the characters escape a cult early on. When we meet them in the first scene, they’re fleeing for safety. But it’s wreaked havoc on their lives, causing them to doubt the world around them.

    Even Broad City, a raunchy little comedy about following the beat of your own zany drum, recently repainted
    SoulCycle (again!) and health-food coops as strange mini-cults.

    In their own way, each of these revisits the same question: Why do people join? Why would even native-born citizens trust their government enough to submit to terrible abuse and ethical horror in its service? Why would a smart man seasoned and proficient in deception join a pop psychology cult? What kind of trauma must a person have sustained to join the Guilty Remnant? Why is a “movement” based on “the light” and “the ladder” attractive to natural disaster victims or drug addicts? Why do gorgeous people with the world by the tail follow a weird, enigmatic, abusive leader? Or punish themselves (and their friends) with their devotion to CrossFit or grocery collectives?

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  78. And why do we care

    You could argue (maybe rightly) that beneath this obsession is a human longing for organized systems of belief, especially since Americans are less affiliated with institutional religion than ever before. And maybe so.

    But you get a better sense of the real motivator by observing the eyes of Robert Kardashian, the attorney played by David Schwimmer, on the terrific and just-concluded show The People vs. O.J. Simpson. If there was a cult of O.J.—even setting aside cultic devotion to celebrities, which the show portrays well—then its high priest is Kardashian (who also was a devout Christian, something highlighted with purpose and respect).

    Kardashian starts by defending Simpson with every fiber of his being, with blind love, even against evidence. But the camera shows us, repeatedly, the moment when doubt begins to flicker in his mind. It doesn’t take much. And when it breaks across him with too much strength to be ignored, the result is devastating.

    That same doubt is embedded in the scene at the beginning of The Path. Cal intends his listeners to see him as the way away from the darkness and into the light. Down in the audience, Eddie is starting to wonder if Meyerism itself isn’t the cave. It’s a loaded sermon, and the rest of the season spends itself on trying to sort out its implications.

    What if you believed in something with all your heart, enough to change your life for it—and then found out you were wrong? What if you thought you’d found the light, only to discover it was actually another cave?

    We have so many choices about what or who to believe in, today. From political candidates to religious systems to exercise regimens, we can have it all, and we can surround ourselves with friends and news sources and Twitter accounts and Instagram feeds that reinforce our beliefs while crowding out the others.

    Because of this, we cling all the more tightly to those whose lead we choose to follow—the cult of Bernie or Hillary or Donald or Ted, of Driscoll or Piper or Meyers or Keller—and sneer, demonize, or patronize those who believe in someone or something else. (Christians are no less guilty of this than anyone else—just look at how non-Christians are portrayed in the God’s Not Dead franchise.)

    But in our pop-culture cult fixation—our cult of cults, if you will—we see the resulting anxiety made manifest, right before our eyes. Again and again, we play out our fears about our own beliefs, our own choices. “Cultsploitation” is our way of trying to figure out what we’d do if we found out we were wrong, or how we can avoid getting sucked in, too.

    And yet, to believe and belong is a universal human desire; the trick and the virtue is in how we do it. So here’s something interesting: of the shows and films I’ve named (I won’t say which, so as not to ruin the surprise), several turn this proposition on its head. The cult’s system of belief turns out to be the correct one, the one that turns out to accurately describe the world, against all odds.

    Which perhaps reveals something else we’re wondering: what if we were to spend our lives laughing at one group of weird “others,” with their strange beliefs and practices—only to discover they were right all along?

    Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today’s chief film critic and an assistant professor of English and humanities at The King’s College in New York City. She is co-author, with Robert Joustra, of How to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the End of the World (Eerdmans, May 2016). She tweets @alissamarie.


  79. Cult leaders - What makes people like David Koresh so successful at getting people to follow them?

    By Léa Surugue, International Business Times UK April 19, 2016

    On 19 April 1993, David Koresh, leader of the destructive Branch Davidians cult, died after a 51-day FBI siege of the ranch he and his followers were occupying, near the town of Waco, Texas. Seventy-nine people, including children, also lost their life when the place was burnt down. The FBI had been suspecting the cult – a breakaway group from the Seventh-Day Adventist church – of hiding weapons on the compound, and sexually abusing many of its youngest members.

    This episode, known as the "Waco siege", remains one of the most dramatic manifestation of what can happen when a dangerous personality takes the leadership of a group, and converts its members to an extreme ideology (see box at the end for a full definition of a "cult").

    Twenty-three years on, David Koresh's name is still associated with one of the most destructive and criminal cult leaders in history. But a question remains: what was so special about Koresh that hundreds of people decided to follow him and gave up their lives for him?

    Who are cult leaders?

    The psychology of individuals like Koresh and the mechanisms by which draw followers in has fascinated sociologists and psychologists alike for many years.

    No cult leader has ever submitted to in-depth psychotherapy, so establishing a clinically-accurate psychological profile of these men and women proves a difficult task. Yet, listening to the testimonies of cult victims and studying the writings of cult leaders can provide an interesting – and sometimes chilling – insight into their minds.

    "The rejection of scrutiny is the first characteristic of a cult and of its leader. They do not like to be examined, and are convinced nothing is wrong with them. In their mind, it is the rest of the world who has a problem. In that context, the only thing you can do is analyse their behaviours by interviewing their victims. ", former FBI agent and human behaviour expert Joe Navarro told IBTimes UK.

    'Pathologically narcissistic'

    Based on their work with victims, most experts coincide in saying cult leaders share a number of psychological traits that are typical of a narcissistic personality disorder, as defined the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual, the leading psychology textbook reference in the US.

    "Obviously this does not mean that all narcissistic personalities will turn out to be cult leaders, nor that all leaders classify as narcissists, but there are clear indications that they do have characteristics in common," says Robert Pardon, director of the New England Institute of Religious Research.

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  80. In particular cult leaders believe they are unique beings. David Berg, the leader of the Family International (previously Children Of God), a cult still in existence, was known under the name Moses David. He was considered as a spiritual leader for his followers, a sort of prophet showing them the way.

    As a result of this "uniqueness", leaders think they are entitled to more privileges. Some of the Waco siege survivors alleged Koresh was the only man allowed to have sex with any of the girls in the group, including some as young as 11.

    These individuals lack empathy, but they have a strong need for admiration. "This pathological tendency to narcissism does not imply 'self-love'. Rather it means that these people overvalue themselves at the same times as they devalue others", Navarro says.

    Their certitude of being above everyone else exists only insofar as they are surrounded and adulated. "Cult leaders have no sense of who they are. They build their identity based on the admiration and the fear that people reflect back to them", Pardon explains.

    The 'charming predator'

    Cult leaders may also display antisocial personality disorder traits, which includes a form of psychopathy. Perhaps the most unsettling characteristic of cult leaders – which comes back over and over in victims' account – is that they are both charismatic and authoritarian. The cult leader is a sort of "charming predator", with an ability to draw people in.

    "The cult leader has a certain degree of interpersonal intelligence which pulls people into his orbit. While he is not able to reflect on his own psychological state, he understands the state of his victims, listens to them and uses it to control them", says Dr Alexandra Stein, who specialises in social psychology of ideological extremism, and is herself a former cult member.

    Once the victims are isolated from everyone they knew, the effort to charm them fades, replaced by a form of coercive control, where the leader shows signs of his authoritarian nature. Violence is rarely needed to control the followers, this combination of natural charisma and authoritarianism are enough. In that sense, Stein says totalitarian regimes were not unlike cults, and leaders like Hitler shared many characteristics with cult leaders.

    A mirror of the leader's personality

    Whether it is large organisation or a small group of individuals, the cult is often a reflect of the leader's personality. Cult leaders cultivate secrecy, a desire to isolate followers and have a constant tendency to lie. These practices are found at all levels of the organisation.

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  81. A sign welcomes visitors to what is left of the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas, March 14, 2000. The sign still stands as it was left after the final raid by federal agents on April 19, 1993. The cult cultivates secrecy and isolates its members.

    Stein herself never met the leader of the cult she was trapped in, but his presence and his destructive influence was felt nevertheless. His authoritarianism, his control and his sense of grandiosity ended being replicated by other individuals in the cult's hierarchy.

    "It is very hard to get a straight story from a cult leader because they lie a lot. On top of that they see people as dispensable, as either against them or with them. They see the world in terms of absolutes, and believe their ideology is the only answer to everything", she concludes. "Recognising this and understanding that these personality traits are the reason why a cult is the way it is is the first step to prevent people from joining it."

    What is a cult?

    What do we mean when we say "cult"?

    They are a lot of opinions on the matter. "Some people take the question really personally. Christianity was originally thought of as a cult", Joe Navarro points out. He however says that secrecy and reject of scrutiny are a good place to start defining what a cult is.

    Alexandra Stein has come up with a comprehensive definition, which includes a number of elements people should watch out for to make sure they are not being drawn in a cult. The personality of the leader is the place to start, as it can tell a lot about whether the group is dangerous or not. She says looking at whether the structure is very closed, isolating and hierarchical is the next step.

    The form of the ideology should also be considered to define a cult. If it is presented as the only answer to explain the universe, past and present, then it's worth considering the group as a cult.

    A process of "brain washing" or "coercive persuasion" is also typical of a cult. During this process, the leader sets up an environment wherethe only perceived safe place is the group, but paradoxically it is also the source of threat . "If a group or an individual tries to isolate you from all your previous relationships, you can start worrying", Stein says.

    Finally, she explains that what characterizes a cult is that as a result of this structure, ideology and process followers become highly dependent on the group and exploitable, they always acting in the interest of the cult, never in their own.

    In this article, the word cult was used for groups - religious or not - which display these different characteristics.


  82. On Isolation Anger And Avoiding The Kool-Aid

    What Life Is Like Leaving A Cult

    by Heather Snowden, Movie Pilot April 15th, 2016

    Despite their omnipresence within popular culture, it's the mystique of the cult that keeps us coming back for more. The stories of charismatic leaders, emotional manipulation and an ideological yet ultimately destructive ethos which so often results in all connections to the outside world being severed. Tales of rainbow families, Kool-Aid coated rims, faux "Nazi-style" torture chambers, and an eight-month pregnant Sharon Tate tied up and stabbed to death in her own home, continue to circulate and captivate.

    What's less discussed, however, is the sheer strength it takes to leave a cult; to escape not only with the fear of the consequences, should you be caught, but also of how you'll be accepted by friends and family upon returning to the outside world. If you make it out, feelings of relief, anger, confusion, isolation and insecurity — one would assume — are just the beginning. These intermingling emotions are captured in Sean Durkin's Martha Marcy May Marlene starring Elizabeth Olsen, with captivating effect.

    A lack of understanding from others — in this case Olsen's sister, Lucy, played by Sarah Paulson — is a reoccurring topic of turmoil for cult survivors. In an interview with Dazed & Confused, Natacha Tormey, who was born into The Family International (previously Children of God) — a group who believe Christians should live like the first disciples of Christ and that their female members should use sex as a recruitment tool — explained what life for her was like after she fled at the age of 18:

    "Life on the outside was so incredibly difficult. Like many other ex-members, I suffered severe depression and even considered suicide on a few occasions. It’s difficult to explain how isolated you feel when you leave a cult. You feel like you’ll never belong in normal society, like no one will ever understand you. I was also naïve, and the men I dated took advantage of that."

    For Tormey, the feeling of constantly skirting society is but a small price for the "happy place" she now finds herself in — a sentiment echoed by Brielle Decker who escaped from Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints at the age of 26 after four failed attempts. Previously one of Warren Jeffs's wives — who's now serving a life +20 year jail term for raping his child brides — Decker was ostracized by her biological family after she left the polyamorous cult. She told Dazed:

    "Even after I escaped, it was so hard. My family kept fighting to bring me back. I went to a domestic violence shelter in Salt Lake City, and they told my parents where I was. They were searching the roads for me in Salt Lake City. It took me two years until my paperwork was all done and I was finally free of them. My adoptive mum, Kristyn, literally rescued me by getting me taken off the missing persons list and fighting for me, even when I didn’t know it. I was so sick at first when I left; it took me months before I got clarity."

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  83. In books such as Jon Ronsons Them - Adventures with Extremists, and brilliant yet haunting documentaries like 2015's Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief and Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (2006), you're given insight into exactly how such captivation with ideological cult leaders turns captive, and the emotional abuse that traumatizes its members thereon.

    People's Temple survivor Teri Buford O'Shea escaped Jonestown just three weeks before Jim Jones and his 900 followers committed mass suicide in the jungle of Guyana in 1978. In an interview with The Atlantic in 2011, she described how Jones attracted the disenfranchised en masse, feeding the hearts of those desperately seeking salvation.

    "Most of [the members] were African-American, but there were also white people, Jewish people, people of Mexican descent. There were religious Christians and communists. If you wanted religion, Jim Jones could give it to you. If you wanted socialism, he could give it to you. If you were looking for a father figure, he'd be your father. He always homed in on what you needed and managed to bring you in emotionally."

    The image of Tom Cruise laughing like a man possessed in Going Clear has become something of a banner for the masses who are able to take a removed look towards cults as manic and unfathomable — but for survivors like Tormey, Decker and O'Shea, the dismissive nature in which society deals with cults can be almost as damaging as the cults themselves.

    When asked by The Atlantic how it feels to hear people casually use the phrase "drink the Kool-Aid," like US Weekly did in 2011 when they reported "a source" saying, "Kris is not drinking the Kardashian Kool-Aid, and it's causing major problems," O'Shea responded:

    "It makes me shudder. I know it's part of the culture now and I shouldn't be so sensitive to it. But Jonestown was an important part of American history, and it's been marginalized. We have to ask ourselves, why did 918 people leave this country and go with Jim Jones to Guyana? That's a big question. Why did this group feel they'd rather live in a jungle than in San Francisco, Oakland, Atlanta, wherever they were living?"

    That is the big question then, to get to the bottom of why individuals are attracted to cults in the first place, especially now so much information regarding the damage is so readily available — and, how we provide better support networks for those brave enough to escape.


  84. Helping cult victims - On the Record with Steve Guziec

    by KATRINA J.E. MILTON, The Mid Week News Sycamore, Illinois April 20, 2016

    Steve Guziec of Sycamore not only is a therapist and licensed professional counselor with Behavioral Health Providers P.C. in Sycamore, but he also is an expert on cults.

    Guziec was raised in a cult and left when he was 25 years old. Through therapy and counseling, he now helps cult victims regain their sense of identity after they have left their group.

    Behavioral Health Providers opened in Sycamore in November 2015. In the practice, Guziec helps victims from DeKalb County and throughout the state. He is the main referral source for the International Cultic Studies Association and other cultic recovery groups. He also runs a podcast, www.sunshineafterthefog.com, to help victims of cultic and coercive groups.

    Guziec explained that not all cults use pentagrams and animal sacrifices in the forest during the middle of the night. Current cults may seem glamorous, flashy and full of attractive young people from the outside. On the inside, members are emotionally, mentally and physically abused. If members of a cult attempt to leave, they are ostracized by their group, shunned and ignored as if they do not exist.

    Guziec met with MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton to discuss the dangers of cults, why people join them and how cults can- and do- exist in your neighborhood.

    Milton: What do you do as a therapist and counselor?

    Guziec: I am involved with psychotherapy, when people talk about their outlying problems. I also work with people who have left cults. I consider it life-coaching, centered around how to exist outside of the cult. Inside the cult, you have an identity, but outside of it, you have no identity. You have to learn how to do things, like get a job, insurance and a driver’s license.

    Milton: What do you do during your therapy sessions?

    Guziec: Whether it’s domestic violence or if you’re leaving a cult, my clients – we call them clients, not patients – were victimized. Abuse is abuse, and it’s not OK. During a session, we talk about feelings and analyze what’s going on. I try to get through the barriers the cult has built up. I ask them what do they want to be, and we talk about how to get there. It’s part of the healing process.

    Milton: How did you become a therapist for cult victims?

    Guziec: I was raised in a cult, until I was 25. When I left, I lost everything. I went through a divorce, lost my job and attempted suicide. I was in a coma for a day or two. I went to a psychologist who misdiagnosed me as bi-polar, and then I found a therapist. I started taking classes at Robert Morris University. One Saturday, talking to my world religions professor changed my life. He asked me why I didn’t work with people, and help people who have gone through similar experiences. That Saturday changed my life. Before, I was lost. I didn’t know who I was or what to do. I then realized what I had to do, what I wanted to do. I received my master’s degree from Benedictine University, and my undergrad from Robert Morris University. In the fall, I will be going back there to teach undergrad psychology.

    Milton: Why would a person join a cult?

    Guziec: Cults look for people who are at an emotional point in their lives, people who are in college or have recently had a death in their family. They look for highly educated people with high intelligence that are middle-aged or younger. College kids are prime candidates because they are young, intelligent, able-bodied and are willing to help people. Cults often actively pursue you, trying to get your interest. Then, they find your weaknesses and exploit them.

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  85. Milton - What is it like to join a cult

    Guziec: At first, it’s love bombing, an initial high. They give you constant praise, and you feel wonderful. Then, they say, “Join us, or we won’t continue this validation or praise.” Then, you start to make certain life changes, by dressing, eating or talking a certain way. There are small changes here and there, and soon you are dependent on the group. It’s a slow process. You are removed from your family, friends and familiar items. You lose your old identity and gain a cult identity, but not necessarily a new name. Some cults rename, but that was more popular in the 1970s. Now, cults have evolved and are more mainstream.

    Milton: What are negative aspects of joining a cult?

    Guziec: Your identity is all conditional. You have to eat how they eat or you are punished. It’s very authoritarian, “do this or else.” You are physically, mentally and emotionally abused. You want that praise and to feel good about yourself, and you will take the abuse to get it again. In a regular group, you have a healthy relationship. If you say you’ll leave the group, it’s not a big deal. In a cult, if you say you’ll leave, a big wall goes up. You’re then an outsider and are shunned. Outside of the group, you would not exist.

    Milton: Are there different types of cults?

    Guziec: There three different types of cults: religious, political and multi-level marketing businesses or corporate. Religious cults are not only satanic, all religious movements have them. Cults never say that they are a cult. It can be one-on-one domestic violence or a group of 20 to 30 people, 200 to 300 people or a huge international group.

    Milton: What happens when you question the group or consider leaving?

    Guziec: About 3 million people come out of cults every year, people that have been victimized. More than half a million people leave one of the largest mainstream cults every year. If you are born in the cult, when you leave, you lose your family. You’re considered a heretic or apostate. I remind people that you choose to leave the organization, not your family. I have them read “Boundaries” by Townsend and Cloud. Cults violate our boundaries and tell us who can come and go into our yard. We have to see how we define ourselves as individuals, how we define right and wrong.

    Milton: What happens when you leave a cult?

    Guziec: When you leave a cult, they say you lose your rights as a human. But you are still a son or daughter, sister or brother, and they’re still your family. I recommend sending a text instead of calling your family. For them to know that you have a healthy, productive life outside of the group challenges their dogma. They say that when you leave their group, all the positivity and happiness will go away. In the group, life is great, but outside of it, you’ll turn into a drug addict, alcoholic or become promiscuous. They think your success is not because of you, but because of the group. To them, you don’t have the right to be happy, or can’t be happy, without them.

    Milton: Why do you think it is important to help cult victims?

    Guziec: I like helping people. Our practice is the only one in the area offering this type of specific therapy. It’s a huge need, victims are largely misunderstood and they are often misdiagnosed. I understand a lot of what they’re going through, not having family or friends. Cults and cult victims are found throughout the US, even here in Sycamore, in our own community.


  86. Former cult videographer Will Allen takes us into Holy Hell

    CBC Radio May 20, 2016

    How do people get drawn into cults? And if it gets strange or scary, why don't they just leave?

    Filmmaker Will Allen has explored these questions firsthand. Today he joins Shad to discuss his revealing documentary Holy Hell. The film, built of footage shot by Allen while he was in the Buddhafield community, chronicles the 22 years he spent in the cult-like group under the leadership of a charismatic master named Michel.

    Allen describes how his initial impression of a "beautiful and loving" community gave way to a much more ominous situation, and how he finally gathered up the courage to leave.

    "We were dropping our egos. We were dropping our minds. And that included our critical thinking," says the filmmaker, thinking back to those times.

    "It never registered as abuse until later."

    WEB EXTRA | Watch the trailer for Holy Hell below.



  87. How to Tell If Someone You Know Is in a Cult

    By Alex Mierjeski, attn: MAY 21ST 2016

    Have a friend or family member who's been acting strange lately? Have they been making strange friends, cultivating rigid new beliefs, and hanging on the words of a beloved leader?

    Well, they could just be that they're following the 2016 election too closely.

    But, there's also a chance that they've joined a cult. If that's the case, cult specialist, author, and director of the Cult Education Institute Rick Ross, wants to help.

    ATTN: asked Ross to lay out some crucial warning signs to watch for if you suspect someone you know is involved with a dangerous cult — a distinction he said met three criteria. Ross highlighted the work of psychiatrist and author Robert Lifton, who, in a 1981 Harvard Mental Health Letter paper, determined that cults have:

    -- "A charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose their power."

    --"A process I call coercive persuasion or thought reform," (brainwashing).

    --"Economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie."

    Sound familiar? If so, here are some of the things that, according to Ross, could indicate an unhealthy blossoming relationship with a cult.

    1. Extreme obsessiveness with a group or leader

    If someone you know is becoming increasingly overwhelmed with a group or leader, it could be time to intervene. Especially, Ross warned, if that obsession is "to the exclusion of friends or family, and to the detriment of their employment, education," or other other facets of their life.

    2. Any criticism or questioning is characterized as persecution

    Ross explained that people who have trouble finding fault with their group — or take any outside questioning or criticism as persecution — might be in a little too deep. "We all know that if you belong to a gym, a club, a church — you can think of negative things about it," he said. "Not this constant singsong of total positivity."

    3. Reliance on the group or leader for value judgments and thoughts.

    Incessant "checking in" with, or having to "clear" outside activities with a person's group or leader is probably a bad sign. Watch for increasing dependency on or hyperactivity within the group, Ross said. "They don't think outside of the box, and the group determines the parameters of the box," he said.

    4. There is no legitimate reason to leave, and former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil

    People in cults have a hard time finding a good reason to leave, and often shunned for doing so. Ross said to be mindful of those who are wholly resistant to the idea of becoming detached from a group or leader — and who criticize those that do leave. "In a cult group, there is no legitimate reason to leave," Ross said.


  88. Holy Hell Offers an Intimate Study of Sun-Kissed Cult Life


    There's reason for skepticism when you hear that a new documentary plays like a thriller. That suggests that the filmmakers have favored suspense over documenting — that the specifics of real life will be arranged according to the logic of plotting rather than reportage. Will Allen's sunny gut-punch cult exposé Holy Hell plays like a thriller, all right, with a darkness edging slowly over its swimsuit revelry, but Allen never cheats in the interest of suspense. He simply shows us the beaming followers of a charismatic and Speedo'd Teacher in the throes of bliss — which then, as everyone ages, corrodes into disillusionment and finally disgust. It's like one of those time-lapse flowers in an old Disney nature film, except we see, over 100 minutes, a blooming in reverse — we see certainty die.

    For years, starting in the mid-1980s, Allen served as the official filmmaker of the Buddhafield, a band of beautiful California seekers who devoted their lives to the Teacher in hope of enlightenment and connection. The Teacher was a former dancer with six-pack abs, some hypnotic ability, impractical ideas about chastity, and sufficient radiance/chutzpah to get away with calling the model-like men and women who followed him "disciples." Allen spent decades in service behind the camera, and that footage, beatific yet terrifying, makes up much of the film: See the sun-kissed followers hug and tremble in the surf, the Teacher so buff and golden he could be the little man on top of sports trophies. (He was once an actor, onscreen for a couple of seconds in the final scene of Rosemary's Baby.)

    He talks about love, his voice flutey, and he leads everyone in sing-alongs on the subject. Sometimes he presses his forehead to a disciple's in a ritual that perverts the Buddhist Shakti — it's a transference of souls, we're told, and the lucky transferees flop about afterward as happy and useless as the lotus eaters. "We used to joke in the early days, 'If this is a cult, then it's a very good cult,' " a follower says in one of the intimate recent interviews.

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  89. All cults must seem like that at the start. Their power, of course, comes from teaching adherents that it's wrong ever to question anything — that the very act of questioning destroys the transcendence toward which everyone is striving. "You need to drop your mind," the Teacher's believers would say to any of their number who asked why, if sex corrupts their positive energy, their leader would demand they all be so good-looking, so fit, so barely clothed. Or why, privately, he urged some of them toward plastic surgery and demanded that one woman pretend to have cancer so that he could dazzle the rest by pretending to cure it. To doubt would kill his favor and make it less likely to be deemed ready to experience "The Knowing," the chance to feel the very "touch and taste" of God — to be, as the Teacher puts it, "drunk with the divine."

    Those believers recount their doubts now, in stunned disbelief. Some apologize for having sided with the Teacher when first hearing the worst of the accusations: that after private therapy sessions he had been sexually abusing the youngest of the men. One admits to defending the Teacher despite having been raped by him for years.

    Allen, too, was a victim of coerced sex. His interview subjects know his history, and he knows theirs, and that shared trauma heightens every emotion in the film. "I knew you intimately for 25 years and never knew that you were suffering," one says, right into Allen's camera. The film offers little in the way of journalistic context, neglecting specifics on the cult's size and finances. But this survivor's story offers something more rare: the chance to witness these people, years later, feeling their way through such a terrible history.

    Meanwhile, that vintage footage, shot for the cult, is a continual revelation. Here are the happy cultists, rehearsing for full-scale ballet performances only they will ever see. Here's a black-and-white study of the Teacher, bearing a carnation, launching into intense pirouettes. Here are trippy/arty film-school dissolves Allen put together back then to suggest, in his art, the spiritual connectives that he lived for. Here are many scenes of the disciples toiling on a compound, showcasing the sad truth of what they actually lived for. And here, as the Nineties wear on, are the Teacher's efforts to combat the erosions of age with makeup and surgery. But it's more than just time wearing him down. As the film nears its end, wickedness seems to have stained him.


  90. From Attraction to Action — How Young People Are Radicalized

    by Massoud Khodabandeh and Anne Khodabandeh, Middle East Strategy Consultants Huffington Post May 23, 2016

    In the search for ‘what makes young people vulnerable to radicalization’, there are many push pull factors we can consider: home life, culture, politics, religion, criminality, social ills and the very children themselves - what on earth is wrong with them?!

    A different approach is to focus instead on the actual process of radicalization. Who and what is it that changes an ordinary young person into a monster?

    When I left a terrorist organization twenty years ago, I discovered that the number of reasons why people got involved in my group was exactly equal to the number of members. In other words, we all took our individual paths into the group. But once inside, we were all subjected to the same controlling methodology, we were all subjected to abuse. And for those who managed to get out, we all suffered the same emotional and mental difficulties toward recovery.

    I also learned that this devastating and traumatizing experience was the same for people involved in other cultic groups and that academics and scientists have described and explained this process in detail. This is important because by understanding the harm that the process of radicalization does to its victims, we can recognize it as abuse. We can then better understand it, identify it and try to prevent it. We can give this abuse a specific name: cultic abuse.

    For most people the word cult conjures up weird religious groups which suck in vulnerable people. But sticking a label on groups does not explain the harm they do. Instead we can explain cultic abuse, like any other form of abuse, not from the point of view of the beliefs but by looking at their behaviours - what they actually do.

    To explain the very real harm that cultic abuse does we should begin by looking at the outcome. We know what grooming for child sexual exploitation (CSE) is for. We know what coercive control in domestic violence (DV) is for. What is cultic abuse for?

    The ultimate aim of any form of cultic abuse is to enslave so-called followers, to produce people who are: controllable, exploitable, deployable and disposable. Somebody who will act to order, even when that is against their own and their society’s best interests. Now we can see how this would be of interest to groups pursuing violent and criminal agendas. Interestingly, a defining feature of cultic abuse is the no exit principle. As a slave, you are not supposed to leave. There is no exit.

    Our next question is - who wants slaves and why?

    Terrorism and extremist violence doesn’t simply spring up on its own. The driving force behind this kind of behaviour will be a charismatic narcissist - it’s all about them! - they are self-appointed, unaccountable and totalitarian leaders and they are motivated by power, sex and money. Usually all three, but notice, religion is not one of them.

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  91. In order to recruit followers they begin by creating a deceptive recruiting script based on a genuine grievance which reflects their own personal philosophical concerns and which may appeal to a particular audience. The script essentially acts as bait to attract potential recruits to the cause. The ideas it expresses are exclusive - ‘you must believe this and nothing else for only we have the answers’ - and simplistic, with black and white thinking - ‘they are wrong, we are right, there is no room for questions’. This script is essentially fictitious. What matters is that you believe in it. This is what we on the outside refer to as a group’s ideology.

    Of course, getting people to fall for this dodgy script which aims only to enslave them requires the kind manipulative recruitment methods used in hard sales - foot in the door, soft sales, hard closure. Using their charismatic style to preach their ideology, such leaders will find other intuitive manipulative persuaders who can literally con people into believing. The kind of people who can sell snake oil and other miraculous cures to just about anyone. Thus the process begins with deceptive recruitment.

    Victims who have resisted or escaped radicalization often talk about the relentless nature of the assault on their minds and hearts. This is, of course, a deliberate act. Here’s why.
    Simply put, there is a world of difference between getting somebody to believe in extremist ideas and actually getting them to act on them. Getting ordinary people to take part in extremist violence requires them to make a radical break with their past values and beliefs and relationships. They must be isolated from their normal forms of support and stability and security - their family and friends - in order for the process of coercion to begin which will change their emotional and moral response to outrageous acts, which will literally ‘change their minds’.

    For this reason, cultic abuse involves the systematic and sustained application of recognized methods of psychological manipulation. Relentlessly swamping the victim with stress in this way supresses critical thinking. Once this is achieved, new beliefs can be indoctrinated into the unprotected mind of the victim.

    The success of cultic abuse rests on the end product - if the recruiter is successful and the radicalization has claimed its victim they can then be deployed according to the whims of the leader.

    The radicalized person will never recognize their own predicament. They sincerely believe their group and their relationships are righteous and no amount of logic will persuade them otherwise. They weren’t converted by logic so you can’t argue them out of it by logic.

    To our eyes, the overt horror of terrorism and extremist violence appears a crude instrument. But recruiters are involved in a highly sophisticated game of mind control which we ignore at our peril. If we don’t take seriously the methodology behind the bloodied images, then we will continue to allow our young people and even whole families to be deceptively stolen away from their normal lives and put on a conveyor belt toward death and destruction.


  92. We asked a cult deprogramming expert how to talk your friends out of voting for Donald Trump

    By David Matthews, Fusion June 7, 2016

    It’s no secret that Donald Trump has been using powerful tools of persuasion to swing voters to his side. It’s also no secret that the Trump campaign has amassed a zealous group of supporters, many of whom have sworn their allegiance to him despite a string of embarrassing revelations, racist gaffes, and violent incidents.

    If you’re like most Americans, you probably have friends or family members who support Trump, and plan to vote for him in November. And if you’ve tried to convince these people to change their allegiance, you know that it’s not easy. Arguing with Trump supporters generally doesn’t help. Neither does shaming or insulting them.

    Convincing a Trump supporter to back down from their views requires a tactical, professional approach. So I called a cult deprogramming expert, and asked him how to convince Trump supporters to change their minds.

    Rick Alan Ross runs the Cult Education Institute, a non-profit organization located in Trenton, New Jersey. Since 1982, he’s worked as a cult intervention specialist, conducting over 500 “interventions” (his preferred term for the cult deprogramming sessions he runs) on members of groups like Scientology and the Branch Davidians.

    The first thing Ross told me was that, technically, the Trump movement isn’t a cult. To qualify as a cult, you need a thought reform program (commonly referred to as “brainwashing,” though Ross doesn’t like that term) and a way of using coercive persuasion to “gain undue influence” over subjects and harm them. He compared the Trump movement to the Bernie Sanders campaign, and said that technically, these movements display elements of “cult followings,” rather than being true cults.

    “There’s a big difference between Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and Jim Jones, and Charlie Manson, and David Koresh, Shoko Asahara,” he told me.

    But he did say that some of the techniques that he’s used to deprogram cult members over the years could still apply to political figures with cult followings, like Trump.

    So if you’ve been wondering how to convince your Trump-supporting family and friends to change their minds before November, here’s a deprogrammer-approved guide.

    Approach the topic compassionately
    Ross’ anti-cult “interventions” typically begin with a request from a family member, who requests help deprogramming their loved one. During an intervention, which can take three or four days and is always a surprise, the cult member is isolated in a room along with concerned friends and family members, and guided through a series of conversations. (Ross says he “wouldn’t suggest something quite [as] drastic and formal” for Trump supporters, but he tells me that the general principles of intervention could still be helpful.)

    In the first part of the intervention, Ross says, he educates the subject about the traditional definition of a “destructive cult,” and tries to get them to see the ways in which their membership in a group has been harmful. Then, Ross attempts to explain the principles of thought reform, and how it operates in various group settings. Lastly, he asks the subject why they think their family is so concerned, and went so far as to stage an intervention.

    Framing an intervention as an act of personal care and compassion is important, Ross says. Otherwise, it’s just viewed as an ambush, and the subject starts off on the defensive. He tells me about a recent attempt at an intervention that lasted all of two minutes because the subject had been coached and felt persecuted, causing them to literally flee the room. One of the questions Ross asks subjects is: “What behavior have you exhibited, and what has happened to cause [your friends and family] to be so concerned that they brought me in?”

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  93. If you're trying to convince someone not to vote for Trump, in other words, you should start off compassionate, not angry.

    Give them information
    Part of a successful intervention, Ross says, is conveying new information to the subject, so they can make their own informed decision about staying with or leaving the group.

    During an intervention, Ross asks the subject what they know about the group and its leader. Does the leader have a criminal history? Has the leader been sued by former members for things like personal injury? Does the leader have assets like real estate holdings or investments derived from the group that you’re not aware of? Are there former members with similar grievances that you’re not aware of?

    “It’s not therapy, it’s not counseling. It’s education and sharing information,” Ross says.

    In the case of a Trump supporter, you could start off with emotionally charged issues close to his or her heart. If your Trump-supporting friend or family member is a woman who believes in reproductive health rights, explain that Trump supports defunding Planned Parenthood and holds lots of retrograde opinions about women. If it’s a friend whose house was once foreclosed on, perhaps show them a video of Trump saying he cheered for the housing collapse of 2008. If it’s a small business owner who employs immigrants, show them how disruptive Trump’s immigration policies would be to their work.

    Here’s a primer, with citations, of where Trump stands on the core issues. If your Trump supporter insists that the other candidates aren’t any better, you can show them these explanations of how Trump and Hillary Clinton compare on the issues, and how Trump and Bernie Sanders compare.

    Introduce divergent views
    Information alone can’t help a cult member escape, because cult experiences are emotional, not just intellectual. But changing the information intake of a person in an insular community can help them realize what they’re missing.

    To illustrate this, he tells me about how anti-North Korea activists have had their best successes by airdropping thumb drives and other media and information that show North Koreans what life is like in the outside world, often with Hollywood shows and movies. Rather than telling North Koreans that they’re being lied to, this technique allows North Koreans to see it for themselves.

    Ross says that for cult members, insular information bubbles “can create an alternate reality, an alternate universe, an echo chamber in which they only hear affirmation of their one world view, one mind set,” he says. “If you can control everything that goes into the mind, you can control the mind itself because the mind can only utilize what information it has coming in.”

    Establishing environmental control is a huge part of increasing the amount of information the subject sees, Ross says. So if your Trump-supporting friend only watches Fox News or listens to Mark Levin on the radio, try to convince him to watch some MSNBC or read the New York Times. E-mail her articles from websites she wouldn’t normally visit. Many Trump supporters likely have suspicions about mainstream media bias, so try sharing information that comes from non-mainstream sources, like Facebook groups or YouTube channels.

    “You can use the principles of deprogramming to challenge the basic assumptions of a particular political faction that’s devoted to a political leader, and the idea is to stimulate critical thinking and analytical thought and cause an individual to reflect rather than just say “YEAH!” all the time,” Ross says.

    Avoid loaded language
    One potential land mine is loaded language. According to Ross, cliches like “Dangerous Donald” and “Crooked Hillary” won’t work for the purposes of convincing someone to change their political beliefs.

    “Slogans and mantras shut down critical thinking,” he says.

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  94. Groups like cults use a principle called “dispensing of existence” to get their followers to reject dissenting views—it’s how Paul Haggisbecame persona non grata in the Church of Scientology after speaking out about its shady practices. But it’s the same thing done by political campaigns, which write off the views of detractors as unpatriotic or irrational.

    You don’t want to be written off. So when you’re talking to your Trump-supporting friends about their beliefs, use neutral language. Don’t call him a “birther” or a “misogynist,” since those are words typically used by people who don’t like Trump. If the person you’re talking to feels “othered” or attacked, they’ll shut down.

    Appeal to authority
    In his interventions, Ross relies heavily on works of academic scholarship, such as previous research concerning thought reformand the science of personality changes that lead people to cults. He also emphasizes how many years he’s been doing deprogramming, and how respected he is in the field. There’s a reason for this—when a cult member hears authoritative voices talking about the dangers of cult behavior, it carries more weight than hearing an amateur talk about it.

    To sway a Trump supporter, perhaps you’d begin by identifying people she respects, and seeing which of those people have spoken out in opposition to Trump. If the Trump supporter is a huge basketball fan, perhaps show him Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s open letter to Trump supporters. If she’s an avid “House of Cards” fan, consider showing her a video of Kevin Spacey blasting Trump’s policies.

    Celebrities alone probably won’t convince your friend or family member to give up on Trump. But endorsements matter, and sometimes, an admired public figure’s words can do more to change minds than a hundred policy papers.

    Untangle myths
    Cults use a principle that the Harvard psychologist Robert Jay Liftoncalled “sacred science”: they convince their members that the group’s teachings have produced real, measurable effects for other followers, and that if something goes wrong with an individual follower, that simply proves that they weren’t applying the principles correctly. In order to deprogram a cult member, you need to break that science down by pointing out mistakes and contradictions in the group’s ideology.

    Ross tells me that he’s used this technique during an intervention with a Scientologist. He pointed out that one of L. Ron Hubbard’s theories (that toxins reside in the fatty tissue indefinitely) was scientifically false, and that, therefore, Hubbard couldn’t have been right about everything. This revelation led to other revelations about things Hubbard might have been wrong about, and started breaking down the thought reform that the Scientologist had been subjected to.

    “It’s helpful to show, in the leader’s own words, how they’ve been misleading or said things that are disingenuous or even lies. That begins to shake the faith of a true believer,” Ross says.

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  95. Ross says the key to introducing more critical thinking is pointing out ambiguity and nuance, rather than challenging core beliefs directly. For a Trump supporter, this might mean showing them evidence that immigrants don’t actually commit more crimes than native-born Americans, or that you’re more likely to get shot by a toddler than a Muslim terrorist. It might mean fact-checking some incorrect assertions Trump has made about ISIS’ oil holdings in Libya, or gently correcting some misinformation he’s spread about Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

    Be respectful and loving, not smug and condescending
    Near the end of our conversation, Ross touched on an important part of the process of deprogramming: don’t underestimate the intelligence of the person you’re talking to.

    “The idea that just stupid people fall for this is just simply not true. I’ve deprogrammed five medical doctors. It can happen to anyone,” he said.

    Ross was talking about people who had gotten involved in cults, but it’s important in relation to Trump as well. Yes, a lot of Trump’s supporters are aggrieved white men, but there are a lot of other types of people supporting him. Maybe your Trump-supporting friend lost his manufacturing job when his company moved factories overseas. Maybe she was genuinely spooked by the terrorist attacks in Paris, and wants to elect someone who will keep America safe.

    Only by recognizing these motives as genuine, and treating people with respect—remember how slogans shut down critical thinking?—will you see success, according to Ross. In his experience, people who are successfully deprogrammed from cults are usually most persuaded when they see how concerned their families are, and how much they love them, along with learning things they did not know prior to the intervention.

    Personal affection is a strong motivator—in the end, the persuasiveness of the anti-Trump arguments you make to your loved one are likely to matter less than the fact that it’s you making them. So keep it civil, and you’re more likely to take a vote out of Trump’s column.


  96. Movie review - Mia Donovans Deprogrammed cracks cult appeal


    Directed by: Mia Donovan
    Running time: 85 minutes

    Cults don’t have much to do with most of our day-to-day lives. They make the headlines from time to time, but to the average person they don’t hold any relevance. So a documentary on cults could seem like a random choice. To Montrealer Mia Donovan, it was anything but.

    Donovan hadn’t seen her stepbrother Matthew in 20 years when she embarked on her second documentary, Deprogrammed, and decided to track him down. A rebellious teen with a penchant for heavy metal and all its trappings, Matthew was kidnapped by his father and a group of men and confined in a motel room for eight days to try to rid him of his evil ways.

    Leading Matthew’s captors was Ted Patrick, the pioneer of “deprogramming.” A former aide to governor Ronald Reagan, he became known as Black Lightning in the ’70s for the speed with which he would track cult members, pull them off the street and shake some sense into them.

    After reconnecting with the heavily tattooed, all-grown-up Matthew on a makeshift shooting range on a country road, Donovan goes on a search for Patrick and the many people he helped, and didn’t help (Matthew appears to fall in the latter category), over the past several decades.

    His methods were controversial. “In some cases, you have used physical force, coercion, deception, harassment to break a person and bring them back to ‘sanity,’ ” he is told in an archival news segment.

    It all sounds rather questionable, but things begin to click when Donovan takes us back to the early ’70s in California, where within the flower-power movement there emerged a preponderance of “Jesus-centred communes.”

    Through revealing footage of deprogramming attempts from the era, Donovan shows the extent to which some of these groups took hold of the minds and bodies of their members.

    Many ceased to think for themselves and could spout only the spoon-fed dogma of their leaders. Enter Patrick, who caught on to what was happening and conceived controversial methods to get beyond the robotic platitudes.

    It involved sequestering alleged victims and questioning their every presumption until they began to crack. And while it didn’t always work — Donovan gives voice to a few former deprogrammees who were more hurt than helped by the interventions — Patrick’s unconventional techniques paved the way for the cult deprogramming movement for years to come.

    Donovan’s film would have been interesting enough if it were just a history lesson, but it goes deeper, exploring the eerie disconnect that takes place when people hand over the reins of their brains to an outside force.


  97. Why I Dont Tell People I Was In A Cult

    By Lynn Beisner, pseudonym for a mother, a writer, and a feminist living somewhere East of the Mississippi.

    Role Reboot, May 22, 2013

    How can you tell someone the truth about your past when there’s a good chance they won’t believe you?

    I am part of a minority group that I call “People with a Big Story” for lack of a better term. People with Big Stories have two things in common. First, something has happened in their lives that is so outside the range of the ordinary that it seems unbelievable to most people. The second thing is that this unbelievable event impacts their lives so greatly that they cannot keep it private.

    For People with a Big Story, the most private and painful part of our lives, the stories we would want to share only with those we trust the most, cannot be hidden from people who know us. They are so big, so life-consuming that we cannot go beyond being an acquaintance, a casual friend, or a fuck-buddy without having to tell the story. It is like having only two clothing options: a nun’s habit or pasties and a g-string.

    For me, the Big Story is that I spent my childhood and most of my adolescence in an isolationist apocalyptic cult. To give you some perspective on the level of crazy: When I was a toddler, my mother started preparing me for the End Times. She would sit me on her lap facing her, cock her finger like a gun and place it against the downy curls at my temple and say: “Now when the soldiers break down our door and say to you, ‘Deny Jesus or I will kill your mother!’ What will you say?” I would have to dutifully answer that I would rather watch my mother get murdered than commit heresy. Then we would pray that if the situation were reversed, I would have the courage not to try my mother’s faith by begging for my life.

    What makes my sojourn in the cult different from other traumatic life events is that it created such a gaping hole in my personal history that I do not have a choice to keep it private. What makes it necessary for me to tell the Big Story is not the trauma of drills or the physical abuse that I survived. It is all that I missed.

    I am 44, and I have never danced and I have no lifelong friends. This is because growing up in a cult meant that I learned all of life’s basic lessons while in a bubble, completely cut off from the culture around me. I grew up without television, popular music, and without any of the books and stories most kids hear or read. I have never seen the Brady Bunch or Scooby Do, and I did not even know who the Beatles were until I was in my mid-20s.

    You cannot know me very well without having to know this. You would be surprised at how hard it is to go more than a few good conversations with a person that I like without hitting on a subject where an honest response would require knowledge of The Big Story. It may be something as simple as my companion saying, “I used to practice moonwalking in front of the mirror when I was a kid” and expecting me to reciprocate with a similar story.

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  98. Faced with such a seemingly innocuous remark, I have three choices: I can say, “I was raised in a cult so I would have gotten beaten within an inch of my life if I even looked like I might be dancing. And I never knew anything about Michael Jackson until I lived near his ranch as an adult.” Alternatively, I could lie or I could hedge—give some sort of a non-response response.

    Blurting out the complete truth is, at best, incredibly awkward. People are unsure how to respond, and most cannot help but question your veracity, your sanity, or both. I don’t even drop that bomb on a new therapist anymore. Too many have asked to talk to a relative to rule out the possibility of psychosis.

    The problem with hedging is that relationships are built on trust, and building trust requires that you demonstrate both trustworthiness and trusting behaviors. So over time, friends stop sharing confidences because I seem closed off or distant. If I outright lie, I run the very high risk of eventually being found out. And the only thing worse than being the weird woman who grew up in a cult is being the weird woman who has a cult secret in her past.

    It is as if Big Stories come with a tell-by-date. If you wait too long in the friendship, the Big Story becomes the All Encompassing Story. You then not only have to deal with the person’s reaction to the story, but also to the fact that you were dishonest or you were withholding in the relationship. I have often heard, “I trusted you enough to tell you x. But you felt you couldn’t trust me with something this big!?”

    No matter when or how you tell the Big Story, no relationship is ever the same thereafter. There is no going back. All too often, telling the Big Story makes people see me as a crazy-bomb just looking for a place to go off. I can easily become a charity friendship or something of a curiosity. Only the most mature and level-headed people are determined to get past the circus freak aspect and get to know me as a person.

    Big Stories are an enormous barrier to friendships and relationships of every kind. And people who have experienced them are stigmatized and marginalized in way that most people cannot imagine. As one of my friends says, “I learned quickly socializing is mostly people telling their stories. But the fastest way to ruin an entire party is for me to tell one of mine.” Even in activist groups where we might reasonably expect a safe space, our stories are often not welcome.

    To add another level of complication, people who have Big Stories almost never wind up living with a nuclear family behind a white picket fence on the corner of Normal Street and Respectable Lane. Normalcy is blown to bits with the event that creates the Big Story. After that, many of us either have no sense of what normal is or it feels utterly unattainable.

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  99. For years I had no sense of what most people considered normal. For example, I thought that the word damn and the c-word were equals on a social acceptability scale. For many more years, I felt so fundamentally fucked up that I didn’t think I deserved normalcy even if I by some miracle I achieved it.

    The result is that my life story is considered deeply “interesting,” a term I have come to loathe. But it is well deserved since I have been both ordained, and a guest at an orgy. I witnessed teenage girls being tortured in a group home. I have been a patient in a nursing home and hidden in a domestic violence shelter. I have also been a Senator’s aide and had Thanksgiving dinner with the CEO of one of the nation’s top ten corporations. If one of those interesting little tidbits comes out first, I fear that the Big Story will be just that much harder to believe, or that it will be the crazy straw that breaks the friendship’s back.

    The sad truth is that in most cases, being a person with a Big Story means being a person without community. There is no place where it is safe to be “out” as a liberated sex slave, rescued kidnapping victim, unwilling star of a political sex-scandal, former cult member, or an exonerated former death row inmate.

    Even when Oprah made Big Stories fashionable for a brief time, we were treated as the oddities, as one step removed from the tabloid tales of a woman who gives birth to an alien’s baby. Yes, it brought some awareness, but it also gave the impression that Big Stories are as incredibly rare as two-headed snakes, when we are probably as common as Type 1 Diabetes.

    Progressive communities are making significant progress in creating safe spaces for people of different ethnicities, body types, sexual orientations and gender identities. But we haven’t been very successful doing the same for people with Big Stories. We still haven’t really learned how to respect and even learn from people with Big Stories without making them objects of pity or folk legends.

    I will admit that even though I am a person with a Big Story, I don’t have a lot of answers. I don’t know how to make People with Big Stories feel welcome without making us feel on display or how to acknowledge the defining impact of such Big Stories without making it a person’s only identity. But what I want is for people in mainstream progressive communities to at least start listening to Big Stories. Perhaps in the listening we can learn how to be sensitive and welcoming to those who have them.


  100. Making Friends Is Tough After You Leave a Cult

    How Seven of Nine from ‘Star Trek Voyager’ spoke to my social dilemma.

    By Star Spider, March 26, 2019 VICE

    The other day I was sitting in my therapist’s office talking (more like crying) about a current problem I have in my life: making friends. I’m 36 years old, an age at which making friends is pretty tough as most people are crazy busy with life/relationships/mortgages/procreation.

    But the friend-making thing is especially hard for me given that I spent a large part of my 20s in a cult.

    Searching for an analogue, I likened my dilemma to that of the character Seven of Nine from Star Trek Voyager, and luckily my therapist knew what I was talking about. Seven of Nine is a Borg—a hive-like bunch of cyborg aliens that assimilate other species and make them part of their collective. When Seven gets rescued and deprogrammed from Borg mind-control she is faced with a unique set of challenges: how to live without the voice of the collective in her brain, how to not go around trying to assimilate everyone she meets and, most difficult of all, how to make friends when you’ve spent a large part of your life being so close to people they were literally inside your head. Now obviously I’m not an alien or a cyborg, but Seven’s struggles still speak to me on an all-too-real level.

    Back before I was assimilated, I thought I had friendship all figured out. In my teen years my friends helped define me, but they didn’t limit me. It was good to fit in, but I didn’t want to fit in too much, and I maintained my independence by keeping my relationships diverse and making sure I didn’t get sucked in too deep to any one group. In high school, my friendships were even more varied and I fell in and out of close relationships easily—sometimes because we just grew apart, and sometimes because crushes or sex got in the way. It was tumultuous, of course, adjusting to all those new hormonal experiences and testing out new social roles, but I still maintained a strong sense of individuality. I didn’t need my friends to tell me who I was.

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  101. All that changed when I met my future cult leaders. It seemed innocent enough in the beginning: they were just a cool couple I felt drawn to and wanted as my friends. At that time I was in my early 20s and friendships were getting a bit harder to make and maintain. I had a longing for a deeper connection than I had ever found in the past and, as the convenience of school friendships drifted away, I felt a pull to find something real and lasting. So when I met my new “friends” I was instantly smitten.

    They talked a big game: they had their own interesting views on science and spirituality, they were curious and charismatic, and most of all, they seemed absolutely in command of themselves—an appealing trait for someone like me who was still looking for my place in the world. I admired the way they could draw connections between very different religious practices, and present them all as one compelling worldview.

    On top of all that, best (or worst) of all, they adored me. In cult terminology, they love-bombed me—showered me with over-the-top affection and attention that led to a super-quick and seemingly meaningful connection. They told me they had never met anyone like me, and they helped me choose a new name and identity. They seduced me with their special rituals, meaningful adventures and games they invented for us to get to know each other. And, although all the rituals and games would soon turn into perverse manipulations, those early days seemed magical.

    In the words of the Borg: resistance was futile.

    My love for my cult leaders was so immediate and intense that I quickly began to adjust my definition of friendship. These amazing people wanted, and later demanded, to know every last thing about me, from what I ate for breakfast to recounting my private conversations in detail to sharing my secret kinks. They wanted to spend all their time with me, be completely loyal to me and, wait for it, they wanted to reveal all my faults to me so that I could become a better person. It started with a multimedia presentation, a PowerPoint (yup, a PowerPoint) they meticulously crafted to detail the ways I was a failure, an awful person, and needed to correct course. They were doing it for my benefit though! I was so honoured! They cared so much about me that they just wanted to make me better—the best I could be. And that’s what friends are for, right?

    After that, there was an erosion of my previous life. I was made to believe my old friends and my family were evil and didn’t want the best for me, and I was coerced into alienating them. I was drawn deeper into the spirituality my cult leaders were inventing. I was torn apart and built back up in their image, tormented by their constant attacks on my character and continuously scrambling to change so I could please them. I was subjected to rules about all aspects of my life (who I could fuck, what I should eat, and so on) that demanded my absolute compliance. I was even made to do “penance” when I was bad: often complicated rituals that were meant both to punish me and teach me how to be better in the future.

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  102. Unlike my teenage self who was strong and unique, I became part of a collective, living my life entirely for my leaders and subject to all of their commands. And, like Seven of Nine from Star Trek, I was never alone. I was never without the voices of my small collective in my head, telling me how to be. They guided (aka manipulated) me, held me up (aka tore me down) and defined my life in a way that was both horrible and yet somehow horribly fulfilling. I never wanted to be without them, and any suggestion of leaving them, or the ever-present threat of them leaving me, would cause me such anguish that I felt I might die if I couldn’t have them around me. And so my new, twisted idea of friendship was born.

    When I finally escaped around seven years later (a fitting number), I found myself broken and almost completely alone. By then I had fully alienated my friends and family and all I had left was my husband, who I had sucked into the cult for the last two and a half years before we managed to get out of it together. I was relieved to be free—it was liberating, yet terrifying. Without the voices of my cult leaders, my collective, in my head, how was I going to manage? Who was I going to be? Without the constant intrusive connection, the ever-present intensity and criticism, how was I supposed to understand what friendship looked like?

    To me, real friendship was now a distorted thing. A mindfuck of epic proportions. So what did I do? I didn’t make friends. Not for a very long time. Whenever I felt an inkling of a connection with someone, I wanted to latch on and demand the extreme loyalty and the never-ending togetherness I had lived with in the cult. I expected friendship to look like a loss of individuality, a merging of myself with the other.

    Only now, another seven years later (there’s that number again!) am I starting to really consider a new definition. I’m beginning to loosen my parameters on what a friendship should look like. I consider it growth that the last time I wanted someone’s number, I waited to see if a more natural connection would form instead of cornering them at a party, asking them to reveal their deepest darkest secrets to me, and then texting them fifteen times once we had been apart for five minutes. I guess that’s progress, but I can’t deny that the urges—and the underlying emptiness—are still there. And that leads me back to my therapist: crying on her couch, pulling Kleenex after Kleenex out of the box and trying to explain, through Borg Seven of Nine, how it feels to have to re-define friendship free from the ritualized insanity and mind-bending influence of the cult; free from the voices in my head that had controlled me for so long.

    “I don’t know how to be a real friend,” I told my therapist as I blew my snotty nose, embarrassed at my tears and the seemingly stupid simplicity of my predicament.

    And, as I sat there sobbing, my therapist looked at me for a moment and considered her next words. Then she said, bless her heart, “Why don’t we see how Seven of Nine makes friends, and then we can go from there.”

    Star Spider is a novelist based in Toronto. Her first book, Past Tense, was published by HarperCollins Canada. Follow her on Twitter.