By Brian Birmingham

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (also known as ISKCON, or colloquially as “the Hare Krishnas”) was founded in New York City in 1966, by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. In its heyday in the late 1960s and early 1970s, ISKCON was one of the most recognized new religious movements introduced to the United States. ISKCON enjoyed some positive attention in the media. George Harrison of the Beatles was one of the most noteworthy of the celebrities who helped to promote ISKCON.

History of scandal

As it grew in the US, ISKCON became increasingly controversial and was one of most notorious groups called “cults” drawing increasing attention based upon the behavior of its leadership and devotees. At times families tried to rescue their loved ones through interventions with cult deprogrammers.

ISKCON devotees

ISKCON was likewise plagued by scandal. This included its most influential leader in the 1980s. Ultimately that leader Swami Bhaktipada (aka Keith Gordon Ham) was criminally charged. Ham was one of the first Hare Krishna disciples in the United States and he ruled over the largest Hare Krishna community in the country near Moundsville, West Virginia. Ham eventually pleaded guilty to racketeering, fraud and conspiracy to commit murder. But he ended up only serving 8 years in prison.

ISKCON moved on to more scandal, which involved child abuse that took place within ISKCON boarding schools in the United States and India.

The reportedly horrific physicals and sexual abuse began in the 1970s and continued through the 1980s. A class-action lawsuit was filed in Dallas, Texas on behalf of the victims in 2001. ISKCON subsequently sought refuge in Federal Bankruptcy Court, which ultimately forced the adult children to accept a greatly reduced settlement.

ISKCON claimed it would implement sweeping changes to ensure that no such abuse would ever occur again.

Changes

One of the most important changes is that ISKCON temples became independent and autonomous legal entities. This insulated ISKCON regarding legal liability. So certain temples today are not officially “ISKCON” temples, but rather only ISKCON-affiliated. Under this arrangement, if a temple is sued for misconduct or abuse, the larger organization ISKCON itself theoretically cannot be held liable, leaving liable only the local temple and its leadership.

In Dallas, Texas the local leadership does business as the “Texas Krishnas, Inc.” This supposedly means that Dallas temple is wholly independent and not an ISKCON temple at all.

ISKCON has made a tremendous effort at public relations to burnish its tainted image. In the past twenty years, the organization has become adept at PR. Anuttama das, is now ISKCON’s “Minister of Communications” and he has done his best to soften the media perception of ISKCON and persuade the general public that ISKCON has changed, and for the better.

ISKCON has apparently curtailed most of its questionable activities.

But has it essentially changed, at least at the local level in Dallas, Texas?

Recent events prove that the answer to this question is “no.”

Abuse in Dallas

It has come to light the families of several students in the Dallas Hare Krishna school were interviewed by ISKCON’s “Child Protection Office,” which revealed that their children were being abused by a certain teacher there.

Dallas Krishna temple

The mother of one abused boy has written about abuses in the school on her Facebook page. She describes physical, psychological, and emotional abuse that her son endured. The boy was forced to urinate and defecate on himself, and was humiliated by the teacher in front of his classmates. The teacher would ridicule the boy, denigrating him and encouraging his classmates to do the same.

Investigation

Quotes from an ISKCON mother’s Facebook page as follows:

“The ISKCON Child Protection Office investigated this abusive teacher, and found her guilty of child abuse. She was removed from her position and is not teaching in the school today. However, at every step of the investigation the Dallas temple management, headed by the temple president, blocked the investigation by telling school administrators and others to lie, and by threatening families in various ways. After the Child Protection Office made their decision regarding the abusive teacher, the Dallas temple management further tried to undermine their judgment by threatening legal action against that office, in an effort to have their judgment and decision reversed.”

The only way that this family found resolution in their situation, was to physically move and leave Dallas entirely.

They’d been banned from the Dallas temple, and told that their services at the Dallas temple were no longer required.

Accountability

The leadership of the Dallas Hare Krishna temple is no more accountable or transparent than they were in 1972. And the abuse within the local Hare Krishna school in Dallas is still apparently going on as the hierarchy of this temple chose to side with the teacher, not the students and their families.

Despite all of the public relations efforts of Anuttama das and whatever he might say to sway the media, the Hare Krishnas, at least in Dallas, have not substantially changed, it seems, very much at all.

Note: Brian Birmingham is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts in Boston with a BA in Psychology and Sociology. He is a native of Dallas.

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By Rick Alan Ross

ABC GMA3 hosted leaders of a purported “cult” and asked them to dispense marital advice on what a show segment called “Faith Friday.”

Michael and Monica Berg, leaders of the so-called “Kabbalah Centre” were touted as “spiritual thought leader[s]” by ABC News presenters Amy Robach and T.J. Holmes. The Kabbalah Centre couple were even asked, “What is the key to a loving and lasting relationship”?

But Michael Berg’s background is hardly the basis for marriage counseling.

Philip and Karen Berg

The Kabbalah Centre, which was founded by Michael Berg’s father insurance salesman/rabbi Philip Berg (aka Fievel Gruberger) and his mother Karen Berg, has no meaningful history as part of the organized Jewish community. And credible Kabbalah scholars both in the US and Israel have sharply criticized its unorthodox practices, such as selling supposedly miraculous Kabbalah Water and claiming that somehow scanning the pages of the Zohar without being able to read the text imbues the believer with special energy, protection and/or power.

CultNews has received complaints about Michael Berg’s parents (now deceased), the Kabbalah Centre, its teachers and specifically concerning both Michael Berg and his brother Yehuda, found guilty of sexual misconduct with a Kabbalah Centre student, a scandal that pushed Yehuda Berg into the background, behind his brother Michael.

Michael and Monica Berg

The Kabbalah Centre is essentially the Berg family business and with wealthy patrons like Madonna and Donna Karan the Bergs became rich, despite the fact that the Kabbalah Centre is a tax-exempted religious nonprofit, which was investigated by the IRS. Nevertheless the Berg family greatly benefitted from the enterprise and now Michael Berg and his wife Monica run the organization from New York, though it has many other branches, such as Boca Raton, Los Angeles and London, seemingly targeting wealthy enclaves where people have more money to spend.

This video explains how the Kabbalah Centre and the Bergs manipulate their students and followers.

CultNews has received very specific complaints about how the Bergs and their teachers influence students/followers regarding their personal relationships, discouraging them from marrying or staying with someone that they see as an impediment and/or threat to their control. So rather than being a source of credible advice to couples the Kabbalah Centre has historically torn people apart, including estranging family members, if they ask too many critical questions.

How is it that ABC News did not know this and allowed the Bergs to use the GMA3 program platform to promote themselves, their podcast and teachings?

Is there someone associated with this news show that is a fan of the Bergs and the Kabbalah Centre?

Or is it possible that the GMA3 staff just didn’t bother to do an online search for more information about the controversial couple?

If someone at GMA3 had done some meaningful research they would have found that the Kabbalah Centre has a deeply troubled history of bad press, complaints, scandals and personal injury lawsuits. A number of news organizations have released very critical reports about the Bergs and their business.

Did GMA3 somehow miss that?

The Cult Education Institute has a historical archive that reflects criticism of the Bergs and the Kabbalah Centre within the United States and internationally, including Israel.

Michael Berg was asked by one of his GMA3 hosts to offer closing remarks to inspire us all. Berg then ruminated about the importance of realizing your potential and that the possibilities are “limitless.”

Well, Michael Berg certainly does seem to have limitless possibilities for self-promotion, paid for and supported through the spiritual empire he inherited.

But when a news program hosts purported “cult” leaders it’s more likely that those leaders will conspire rather than inspire, and that’s why it’s best to ask tougher questions, rather than pitching them flattering softballs.

By Paddy McEvoy

First allow me to explain my interest in this question. I had been teaching in England, in state schools, for over 20 years, before moving over to Steiner/Waldorf education. It was in the 1980s. The National Curriculum was being drawn up at the time. I was Acting Deputy Head in a multi-ethnic London primary school and had serious reservations about nearly every aspect of the new National Curriculum that was being proposed. I was confronted with the dilemma of how to square in my conscience the selling to parents of a Curriculum I didn’t believe in, if I were to take the next professional step and move up the career ladder to a Headship.

I had read some of Steiner’s writings, and although puzzled by some of the more inaccessible (outlandish?) of the ‘esoteric/spiritual’ theories, I was impressed by the Steiner schools I visited. I decided to attend the two year Waldorf Training Seminar at Steiner House in London, on Saturdays. It was a fascinating course – in some ways it felt like a step backwards, being clearly out of sync with the race and gender debates which were raging in the London Borough of Brent where I taught. In other ways, it felt like a mighty leap forward, so engaging were some elements of the course, and so refreshing was the well-thought-out curriculum which underpinned the Waldorf schools’ programme.

Steiner himself (1861 to 1925), was an Austrian mystic and esotericist, who started out as a Theosophist but broke with them on the question of whether Krishnamurti was the new Maitreya or World Teacher, and founded his own Anthroposophical movement. He started his first school at the Waldorf cigarette factory in Stuttgart in 1919.

Rudolf Steiner

I eventually left the state sector to teach at a Steiner school. It didn’t take long before I began to have difficulties with Anthroposophy and some Anthroposophists. I heard some truly weird things being said by dyed-in-the-wool Anthropops. (That’s how they chummily referred to each other. When I referred to the fact that the teachers should call themselves Philanthroposophists, because of the derisory wages they were on, the joke fell flat. At a conference I attended, the schools were referred to as modern mystery centres. I said I agreed with the mystery bit, as it was a mystery how they stayed open, so minimal were the salaries.). One high up in the movement, a science teacher, told me, quoting Steiner, that the heart wasn’t a pump, that it wasn’t responsible for the blood-flow around the body. Another said that Britain floated on the surface of the sea! Yet another that the ‘elementals’ were responsible for the bad behaviour of the children in her class! One described himself as an alchemist. It was expected that Anthropop ‘doctrine’ be accepted as holy writ, of sorts. One other such novel notion was that there were two, not one, Jesus children, that the two Bible genealogies in Matthew and Luke were about different children!

I became increasingly unpopular with some of the more cultic members of the Anthropop movement for vigorously pushing the idea that Steiner education should be state funded, naively believing that Anthroposophy could be somehow detached, certainly played-down, to the point of non-existence, from the educational work of the schools. I was considered an Ahrimanic influence – (Ahriman being a Zoroastrian evil force/demon).

The more I found out about Steiner’s extraordinary writings, the more I felt myself having major reservations about him, and them. But what to do, enmeshed, as I and my family were, in something that would be awkward to extricate myself from? I was teaching History in the Upper School. Steiner had a unique take on the origins of the planet and the evolution of human civilisation, which one was expected to adhere to in one’s teaching – to follow the ‘indications’. One heard a lot about Steiner’s ‘indications’, (as if they were optional). (They were as ‘optional’ as was the doctrine of transubstantiation in Catholic schools, another maze which I had earlier in my life extricated myself from.) Steiner traced the course of the development of modern human civilisation from Ancient India, to Persia/Babylon, to Egypt, to Greece, to Rome and forward to modern Aryan Europe, the pinnacle of human endeavour! Any informed history curriculum should be deeply anchored in the ancient past, but to contextualise the evolution of civilisation as Steiner did sits very uncomfortably with the spirit of free enquiry which should obtain in any school, which above all should be a non-prescriptive place of learning. He had some very uncomfortable things to say about the role of Judaism in history, and about the black races, which no modern Anthropop would be prepared to defend (I hope), among other surreal theories. But Steiner was no friend of the Nazis, nor they of him.

But was Steiner a ‘racist’? We think of ugly hate-crime when we think of racism. I would seriously doubt if he was motivated by any such base inclinations. I feel that the hierarchical way in which he ordered his universes of higher and lower worlds, inevitably and logically involve some ‘beings’ being at the top and some at the bottom, some on the up and some on the slide. And it must be remembered that all this cosmic guesstimation was tied up with notions of karma and reincarnation. The prevailing ideologies of his time, it must be remembered, were not egalitarian.

Waldorf School Ghent, NY

To pluck one quote about race from a library of books and lectures written by Steiner is to risk leaving oneself open to the charge of bias. (But with quotes such as the following on the record it is hard to gainsay such criticisms: – On the one hand there is the black race, which is the most earthly. When this race goes toward the West, it dies out. Then there is the yellow race, in the middle between the earth and the cosmos. When this race goes toward the East, it turns brown, it attaches itself too much to the cosmos and dies out. The white race is the race of the future, the race that works creatively on the spirit. (Rudolf Steiner, Farbe und Menschenrassen”, lecture in Dornach March 3, 1923, in Steiner, Vom Leben des Menschen und der Erde, Dornach 1993, p. 67). I have heard Anthroposophists try, unconvincingly, to make sense of such outlandish stuff. Trying to have an in-depth conversation with one of his more dedicated followers on such touchy matters has a ‘Don’t mention the war’ feel to it, so in denial are they. It would be far better for them to summarily denounce such off-the-radar nonsense. Instead of being in denial, Anthroposophy needs to learn to be able to answer critics head on about the spiritual skeletons in the Anthroposophical cupboard. Steiner did speak more of his hopes for humankind, than of negatives, it must be said. What I do know is that the teachers/people connected with Steiner schools, despite such patently absurd, offensive, statements as the one above, and others, lurking in the background, are no more racist or sexist, than any cross-section of teachers one would find in any other educational establishment. Quite the opposite in fact. However, I did find the motivations of some parents for having their children in Steiner schools very problematic.

The question of the state recognition and funding of Steiner education has come under the spotlight recently. There are voices being raised challenging such recognition in Britain and Ireland. In Ireland, a Steiner National School in Co Galway has recently received official confirmation amid controversy that certain of Steiner’s attitudes and theories lie uneasily beside modern, more rational/science-based understandings of life.

The bigger and more serious question is: ‘Under which heading should Steiner schools be classified?’ The fact that they are not obviously, visibly denominational should not deter educational authorities from looking more closely at the philosophy which underpins the practice in the schools.

Anthroposophy is not openly ‘taught’, it runs through every aspect of Steiner school life like an X-ray, its influence being omnipresent. Study-groups, a staple of Anthropop life, constantly peruse his writings, both in the schools, and in the wider Steiner community. When I first heard about etheric, astral and other, higher ‘bodies’, and the four temperaments, I looked upon these theories as quaint, even poetic ways of describing the growth of the individual. When I actually had to work with people who seriously believed these things, I became alarmed. That alarm grew when I became aware of what they thought of me for not believing these, to me, absurd, postulations. All had to be taken on trust. Why? Because The Master said it, so it must be right. (Echoes of North Korea…Margaret Thatcher ‘Not one of us’?) We were once discussing the poor literacy of certain children when a teacher ventured the jaw-dropping opinion that we should relax about literacy. Why? Because we were not really educating the person for this incarnation but the next! (Some of these people were of the view that handicapped people, homosexuals, etc., were such because of misdeeds in previous incarnations! Ask those who run Camphill communities.)

So, can Steiner schools be thought-of as ‘faith’ schools? In these times when there is a concerted attempt to uncouple education from the engine of religion to which it has been shackled for too long, the question as to whether Steiner schools come under ‘faith’ or ‘secular’ is one that must be faced-up to. For a school movement permeated by Steiner’s esoteric/occult teachings to claim to be humanist or secular is, in my view, disingenuous. For parents to turn a blind eye to the permeation of the curriculum with Steiner’s thinking is also ‘convenient’. This issue, of the classification of Steiner schools, is one which must be tackled by those disbursing public funds. Are they ‘faith’ schools, or not?I’m afraid they are. To be creating new faith schools in the modern age, as is happening in Britain, is to be swimming against the tide of history. There are a lot of positives associated with Steiner schools, such as being non-selective and comprehensive – aspects which should be universal to all schools.

Catholic schools require to know if their teachers are practising the religion, as do other faith groups who run schools. Parents of children in Steiner schools, likewise, should know which of the teachers belong to the Anthroposophical Society, or to the 1st Class of that Society – a higher echelon than ordinary membership. (And if they are members, why?) (I was a member of the Society for some years, a fairly innocuous, if self-important body. I was invited to be a member of the 1st Class, but when I enquired as to what went on in meetings, the invitation was quietly dropped. One leading Anthropop suggested, patronisingly, that, in her opinion, I mightn’t be ‘ready’.) Parents should know of visits from the upper strata of Anthroposophy at Dornach in Switzerland, and should enquire as to the true purpose of such visits. It is hard to escape the view that schools are under some scrutiny as to whether they are ‘carrying the Anthroposophical torch’ authentically. Whatever such purposes might be, they are a far cry from the mundane, but vital business of improving children’s literacy and numeracy, among other tasks. The agendas of such visitations should be readily accessible, not that there is anything necessarily amiss about them, just to let parents know the full story – to be on the level. They should certainly know of any part played by such things as Anthroposophical Medicine, or bio-dynamic gardening, or of the Christian Community etc., – influences which vary from school to school. With regard to medicine, I found a strong propensity among the teachers to disapprove of immunisations and vaccinations, the idea being that it strengthened the spiritual/physical bodies to be left to fight off childhood diseases. This has become a hot topic in these Covid times.

The atmosphere in Steiner schools is generally charming, eschewing the overweening competitiveness too prevalent in ‘state’ education. The pastel colours found in the Lower schools are beautiful. Who wouldn’t want their children educated in such obviously nurturing, beguiling environments? (Having one’s child with the same teacher for eight years can be more problematic, particularly if there is a personality clash, or the teacher is not up to the task, a reality all too common. Teacher recruitment, training and qualifications, and retention can be very patchy.) Much of the educational practice is imported from mainland Europe, from Germany and Holland in particular, with their enlightened emphasis on kindergarten education prior to embarking on formal schooling, practices which are slowly being adopted in the mainstream.

Would/could Steiner/Waldorf schools function without Anthroposophy? If the Anthroposophy could be removed, what would remain? When faith schools are phased out, as I believe they will be… and who knows, maybe sooner rather than later, which path will the Steiner schools take, shut-down or reform? What schools in Britain and Ireland urgently need: are more Educate Together schools in Ireland; more Integrated/secular schools in Northern Ireland; and more ‘faith-free’ schools in England, Wales and Scotland.

But racism? I believe there is a growing gulf between some of Steiner’s more outlandish notions and the attitudes of teachers in Waldorf schools, which they need to address. Whatever one considers of Steiner’s thought-provoking contribution to a wide canvas of knowledge – to political thought, to architecture, to medicine, to mathematics… – to affix the crude label ‘racist’ to his towering contribution, or to the good, if naïve people in the Steiner movement is surely to oversimplify and misrepresent things. Some ex-Steiner teachers I have met have said they didn’t quite know what they were getting involved with. Many ex-students have some hairy tales to tell. As to his delvings into the ‘Akashic records’, whose ‘findings’ so impress many of his followers, that is another very problematic area in this sceptical age.

The term ‘racist’ is an unsatisfactory label in describing the convoluted snakes-and-ladders nature of the ‘cosmic’ thinking of that genius Rudolf Steiner. But serious questions remain to be asked and answered.

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By Rick Alan Ross

Recently a video from the 1980s of Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, was released online. It features Thomas talking about her involvement in a cultic seminar-selling company called Lifespring, which was eventually sued out of existence. Thomas was one of the many victims of Lifespring.

Ginni and Clarence Thomas

The video shows Ginni Thomas as a young woman painfully recounting her experience with Lifespring in a support group for ex-members of cults. Thomas talks about her personal struggle to move on with her life.

Former cult member and author Steven Hassan apparently facilitated this support group and somehow had access to the 36-year-old video. He released the video on Twitter proclaiming, “I knew Ginni Thomas. Ginni Thomas was in a cult (the large group awareness training cult, Lifespring). Here she is in 1989 [actually 1986] speaking at an event I hosted for former members. Until today, almost NO one has seen this video.”

After releasing the video Hassan later speculated, “Sadly, the people who helped deprogram Ginni were also apparently involved in right-wing causes. As is the case with SO many former members, she was overly susceptible and went from one cult to another (The Cult of Trump),” [sic].

Thomas was reportedly “deprogrammed” by respected exit-counselor Kevin Garvey. Garvey, who passed away some years ago, never influenced Thomas to change her political views. Quoted in the Washington Post he simply said, “I got a phone call from her asking for help,” Garvey then met with Ginni Thomas (1984) for eight hours at a diner in Georgetown. And he “left feeling satisfied that the young woman would be all right.”

Kevin Garvey had no interest in Thomas’ political beliefs and consistent with his professional ethics, only focused on her concerns about Lifespring, and nothing else. And it must be noted that Steven Hassan has a troubled professional history of client complaints and was admonished by his licensing board for misconduct.

By way of historical background, Ginni Thomas grew up in Nebraska raised by Republican parents. Thomas herself is a lifelong Republican and supporter of conservative causes. Her politics were not changed either by Lifespring or her process of leaving Lifespring.

Before marrying Clarence Thomas (1987) and becoming involved in Lifespring, Ginni Thomas graduated law school (1983) and worked in Washington D.C. for Nebraska Republican Congressman Hal Daub (1981-1983). Later, she consistently continued her conservative commitment, which included opposing equal pay for women and later (2000) working at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank.

Many people disagree with Ginni Thomas’ politics, but that’s no excuse for using her pain and suffering through Lifespring to excoriate her.

Ginni Thomas’ was deceptively preyed upon and victimized by a destructive cult-like organization. This must not be used to shame or blame her in any way. A former cult member like Steven Hassan who says he empathizes with cult victims knows this. What is shameful is trading on Ginni Thomas’ personal history and suffering, shared intimately at a support group, and using it as “click bait” for self-promotion, because she is now trending in the news. And doing so is not only a betrayal of Ms. Thomas’ trust, but more importantly an ethical breach for any helping professional that claims to care about cult victims.

What is the message this video release sends about a notable public figure or anyone else for that matter, coming forward to share their personal experience?

Does it discourage or encourage others to come forward like Ginni Thomas?

Ginni Thomas wanted to help people. She said in the video, “I want to expose Lifespring, I want to keep other people from going through that experience.”

Is this the way we want to respond to someone who has suffered through such an experience and wanted to help others?

Does the release of this video encourage cult victims to come forward, either in an effort to help others and/or seeking solace and understanding through a support group, with people who can share about similar situations?

There is currently far too much politicizing of the word “cult.”

Today factions on the political right and left use the word “cult” as an invective to denigrate and demonize political opponents.

Now, with total disregard of the historical facts, Ginni Thomas is being shamed publicly and branded as “brainwashed,” despite the fact that her political beliefs were neither changed by Lifespring, nor by leaving Lifespring.

Finally, it may be sensational and garner attention, but Thomas’ sad experience with a cult-like group, before her marriage to Clarence Thomas, must not be politicized and cannot ethically be used as an indictment.

Exploiting the painful “cult” experience of Ginni Thomas is wrong.

Note: Destructive cults have been similarly defined by cult experts historically over the years. Frequently these definitions intersect on three primary core characteristics that form the nucleus for the definition of a destructive cult. These three criteria were first established by psychiatrist and author Robert Jay Lifton when he published his findings (1981) at Harvard University in a paper titled “Cult Formation.” These three core characteristics are (1) The single most salient feature of a destructive cult is an absolute authoritarian and totalitarian leader, often charismatic, who becomes an object of worship and is the defining element and driving force of the group. (2) The leader and group use coercive persuasion and thought reform techniques to gain undue influence over group members. (3) Having gained undue influence the leader and group manipulate the members to exploit them and do harm. This varies by degree from group to group, with some groups being much more destructive than others.

By Brian Birmingham

The Moorish Science Temple of America is this country’s first and oldest so-called “Black nationalist” organization, as well as this country’s first and oldest “Black Muslim” organization. It was founded in Newark, New Jersey in 1913, by a man named Noble Drew Ali.

Noble Drew Ali called himself God’s prophet, and he presented a book which he said was given to him by an Egyptian high priest. This book is called the Circle Seven Koran. Ali said that he was the reincarnation of Jesus, as well as Buddha, Confucius, and Muhammad. He also claimed that the Black nationalist and separatist Marcus Garvey was his John the Baptist, the person who “prepared the way” for him.

This description of Marcus Garvey is stated within Chapter 48:1-3 of the Circle Seven Koran, which is the holy book of the Moorish Science Temple of America.

Noble Drew Ali apparently took some of the ideas and teachings of Marcus Garvey and others to create a religion and write religious texts. Ali then presented himself as God’s prophet to the United States of America.

Noble Drew Ali is an important American historical figure. He was the first leader of a Black nationalist group in American history.

Noble Drew Ali

Ali played the pivotal role in establishing the Moorish Science Temple of America. And without Ali there would never could have been an Elijah Muhammad, the Nation of Islam or a Louis Farrakhan.

The Nation of Islam is essentially a splinter group that broke away from the Moorish Science Temple of America in 1930, after the death of Noble Drew Ali in 1929.

Frank Cherry first started to preach an early version of what are now called the “Black Hebrew” beliefs in the late 19th Century. But it was Noble Drew Ali who first explained that Islam was the true religion of the “Asiatic,” which is a word he used instead of “Black” or “Negro” regarding African Americans.

This Summer I interviewed Sheikh Ra Saadi El, who is the Supreme Grand Sheikh and Chief of Ministers for the Moorish Science Temple of America. He is the leader and Executive Ruler of a Moorish American group, which is descended directly from Noble Drew Ali’s Moorish Science Temple.

More about Sheikh Ra Saadi El can be found here.

The complete interview is here.

We talked about Rise of the Moors, a group that was in the news in recent months. Rise of the Moors claims to be related to the historical Moorish Science Temple and also seems to borrow its ideas in part from the notorious Nuwaubians.

Within the context of my interview with Sheikh Ra Saadi El we discussed the general history, belief and practices of the Moorish Science Temple and the teachings of Noble Drew Ali.

Noble Drew Ali was the first person to preach that “Black people” are not “Black,” but rather Moorish, the descendants of the Moors and therefore are “Moorish” by nationality.

It seems to me that in religious and sociological terms, the Moorish Science Temple of America, with its lineage going back to Noble Drew Ali, has evolved into an Islamic sect, rather than simply staying an idiosyncratic personality cult, defined by its founder.

The Moorish Science Temple does have its own unique prophet Noble Drew Ali and book, Circle Seven Koran, its own prayers, rituals, Holy Days, mode of dress, dietary restrictions, style of worship and other religious trappings. But unlike many other Black Muslim groups, it is not a racist or an identity supremacist organization.

In its early days, the Moorish Science Temple fit two of the core characteristics described by Dr. Robert Jay Lifton is his paper published at Harvard titled “Cult Formation.”

Lifton wrote, “Certain psychological themes which recur in these various historical contexts also arise in the study of cults. Cults can be identified by three characteristics:

1. a charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose their power;

2. a process I call coercive persuasion or thought reform.”

But the third characteristic cited by Lifton necessary for a cult to be considered destructive is evidence that there has been “economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.”

Based upon what I have learned neither Noble Drew Ali or the Moorish Science Temple have hurt or exploited people within their sphere of influence. Perhaps the organization might be considered a benign cult. It did come into being through a charismatic leader that arguably became and object of worship based upon his particular religious claims and there was intense indoctrination that may have led to undue influence regarding the recruitment and retention of members. But Ali and the movement he began have never used that influence to exploit or abuse anyone.

I could not find any record of harm done to anyone by Noble Drew Ali, the Moorish Science Temple, or even allegations of abuse or exploitation.

In fact, the Moorish Science Temple of America has nothing whatsoever to do with extremist groups like “Rise of the Moors,” the so-called “Nuwaubian Nation of Moors,” or any other groups that use the name “Moors,” which are known to promote racist or supremacist ideology. And as an institution, or more properly a movement of historically linked institutions, as there are three Moorish American groups claiming to be historically descended from Noble Drew Ali’s original organization, they have virtually no history of bad press, major scandal, or public reports of abuse or exploitation.

Regardless of whether one believes that Noble Drew Ali was a prophet of God or not, no one can deny that he was and is one of the most important religious leaders of the 20th century, who left behind a legacy of peaceful practice.

Note: Brian Birmingham is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts in Boston with a BA in Psychology and Sociology. He is a native of Dallas.

Brian Birmingham interviews Jitarth Jadeja

BB: How long were you involved?

JJ: I was a full fledged QAnon believer from January 2018 to June 2019, so 1.5 years.

BB: Why did you stop?

JJ: There’s no single answer to this. First of all, my circumstances changed, I was diagnosed and received medication for Bipolar-2 which in combination with my ADHD treatment shifted my mindset. This was followed by a reduction in my social isolation because of my chaotic mental state.

This then led me to question a few things I had previously accepted without consideration. But it was also inconsistencies within Q’s own rules that they had set out. It started with a piece by Mike Rothschild discussing the sealed indictments Q touted. Which snowballed into eventually coming across a video debunking the last and most significant Q proof I had which was the ‘tip top tippy top shape’ phrase used by Donald Trump.

BB: Did you believe in other things labeled conspiracy theories before QAnon? What were those other conspiracy theories?

JJ: When I found Q I was deep into a conspiracy rabbit hole. That fall really started with Trump’s election and spiraled quickly into Pizza-gate and interdimensional aliens amongst many others.

BB: What do you think now about those conspiracy theories?

JJ: I hate conspiracies. I don’t even want to discuss them; I can’t stand any of them and looking back they’re so idiotic and complicated with bigger more grandiose conspiracies needed to explain initial conspiracies. I hate that.

BB: What drew you into the world of conspiracy theories?

JJ: I needed to feel special, I wanted answers, I wanted to mean something, be significant in some way, to know that despite being a consummate failure in every aspect of my life from career, education and relationships, that there was still some way I could not feel like someone on the lowest rung of the social hierarchy that I was.

BB: Do you think there is a type of person drawn to conspiracy theories?

JJ: I don’t know, I don’t think so, there’s correlation factors like say mental health or social isolation but these are correlations. The overwhelming majority of people with mental health issues don’t fall into QAnon. Ditto with social isolation. Just because they were factors for me doesn’t mean they would be for anyone else so it’s not possible to build an archetype of such a person with any certainty.

BB: Do you think Info Wars and Alex Jones is a scam?

JJ: No. I think he genuinely believes in what he says. He’s even been correct about a few things such as Bohemian Grove [sic]. And even his products that he sells, maybe it’s just placebo but they do work as advertised so no I don’t think it’s a grift. I think he’s connecting dots and making assumptions where he shouldn’t.

No one is more indoctrinated than the indoctrinator.

BB: Have you lost money through believing in conspiracy theories?

JJ: Not really but then I never had money to begin with or I’m sure I would have. I lost time, which is something you can’t buy.

BB: How do you think believing in conspiracy theories hurts people?

JJ: I think when you perceive the world that is so juxtaposed to the one that others see, not slightly, not a small shift, but almost completely opposite it changes your behavior and your actions. That is the real damage of such conspiracy theories, it’s not the beliefs really, it’s the behavioral change that occurs.

BB: What advice would you give to people caught up in conspiracy theories right now? What do you think they must consider? Why?

JJ: You must always genuinely consider the fact that you could be wrong. If you are sure you’re not wrong, then you have a problem.

BB: What advice would you give to someone that has a family member or friend caught up in conspiracy theories?

JJ: I wouldn’t know, it depends on the person, their actions and behaviors. Some I would say to focus on their change as a person and remind them that their beliefs are not an excuse to behave badly towards others.

To others I would say distract them, get them a hobby, find a way to get them to spend less time-consuming conspiracy related media.

And to others I would say run, run as far as you can, as quickly as you can, the person you knew is dead, they are gone and they are never coming back.

BB: Do you think QAnon will ever end? Will it go on indefinitely?

JJ: Everything ends, of course it will end. As long as Trump is around and in the picture it won’t though and before it ends, ironically there will almost be a personal reckoning, a “great awakening” of a different kind that will need to be grappled with. There will be fallout, people will get hurt, people will hurt themselves, hurt others, that cannot be stopped. We’ve crossed the Rubicon, there’s too many people in it now.

BB: Why do you think people often hop from one conspiracy theory to another?

JJ: It’s almost like a drug, the first time you read something that makes your head explode released a massive amount of dopamine. It’s like people keep needing that hit, that mind blowing effect and keep looking for it with other conspiracies. But at the same time, they need a bigger and bigger hit so they find bigger and bigger conspiracies.

BB: Do you think that you are done with the world of conspiracy theories? Why?

JJ: 100%

I hate them, I hate them all, from Epstein to UFOs, I don’t care, I don’t want to talk about it, I don’t want to know about it, I don’t want anything to do with it.

BB: Did believing in conspiracy theories make you happy? Did it make you sad? Anxious and paranoid?

JJ: It made me all of that and more. It gave me hope that somehow, we could build a better future for all of humanity of we just ousted the bad guys. It also made me sad that people couldn’t see the truth I could. I was agitated, anxious, paranoid, aggressive and almost manic in my behaviors. I couldn’t talk about anything else to anyone, it was like being possessed.

BB: Is it healthy to believe in conspiracy theories or can it lead to extreme paranoia and anxiety?

JJ: I don’t know what that means to “be healthy,” I don’t think you can proscribe such a description to a belief. Beliefs are irrelevant, it’s the behavior that changes that is either healthy or unhealthy. You can believe anything you want but it’s your actions that come after which is what does damage. Why does one person who believes the same thing as another, not behave in the same way? End

Note: Jitarth Jadeja is a former follower of QAnon who now speaks out against the movement. Brian Birmingham is a cult researcher and graduate of the University of Massachusetts in Boston with a BA in Psychology and Sociology.

By Brian Birmingham

I once knew an older gentleman who lived near Mobile, Alabama. He called himself a “Christian” and he refused to read or study from any Bible other than a King James Version. He was retired, and he studied the Bible every day for hours. He was friendly and generous. We became Bible study partners and friends.

After weeks of study together, he began to share some of his personal beliefs and opinions.

That’s when it became evident that he was a racist.

But all of his racism was justified through interpretations of the King James Bible.

“Everything” he said was somehow explicitly spelled out and justified biblically, he claimed.

First there is the “Curse of Cain” (Genesis 4:15), which he interpreted as a premise for black slavery and servitude. Then he claimed that Acts 17:26 laid the foundation for biblically mandated segregation. He later told me that that Jeremiah 23:25 was the basis for denouncing Martin Luther King, Jr. as a “false prophet.”

He rejected all my arguments and insisted that “God” had commanded that the races must live separately and that black people specifically must be subservient to white people.

Within the world of “cults” these same racist sentiments are expressed by certain groups, who also insist that such pronouncements are solely based upon “God’s Word” in the Bible.

There is a group called “Twelve Tribes,” founded by Eugene Delbert Spriggs, that preaches Biblical justifications for holding racist beliefs. But Spriggs simply copied his teachings from other racists.

We often call groups that harbor such sentiments “White Supremacists.”

Now on the other hand what many don’t know is that there are also Black Supremacists.

The Ku Klux Klan marching on parade.

Black Supremacists often manipulate the bible too, much like the Ku Klux Klan and my old white racist friend from Alabama. The only difference is, which race is considered preeminent.

For example, the so-called “Black Hebrews” or “Black Israelite” movement, which includes “Israelites United in Christ” (IUIC) led by Nathaniel Ray of New York, also known as “Nathanyel Ben Israel.”

The IUIC represents just one faction, within the larger context of Black Hebrew or Black Israelite movement. But in many ways the IUIC is not unlike the Klan concerning their insistence upon ordained racial superiority.

By the way, the IUIC is hardly original. Just like the Twelve Tribes its beliefs are largely derived from earlier groups such as the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK), which is arguably even more militant.

Would Martin Luther King be considered a “false prophet” by such groups due to his philosophy of non-violence and peaceful resistance?

Years after my studies with the man from Alabama I came across a street preacher on a sunny Spring Day in downtown Dallas. He was accompanied by several supporters. The preacher blasted his message through a bullhorn, while his companions passed out flyers to pedestrians. They wore dark, tunic-like uniforms. Some had headpieces and they all carried Bibles. They were Black Israelites.

I stopped to listen and read one of their flyers. It was published by Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK). The message was hardcore Black Supremacist doctrine. All about how African Americans, and other people of color, are the true descendants of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. How Christianity is a “false religion” and white people are “devils.”

Hate speech is still free speech in America. And the ISUPK preacher shared a racist and anti-Semitic message based upon a twisted interpretation of the Bible.

Were they so different from the Klan or the White Supremist Christian Identity Movement or any other supposedly Bible-based hate group?

Scripture twisting, after all, is characteristically done by both.

Black Israelites preaching

FYI — The Anti-Defamation League provides a very good history of ISUPK and related groups on its website, in an article titled “Extremist Sects Within the Black Hebrew Israelite Movement.” It explains how the ISUPK and IUIC have the same ideological roots, beginning with a preacher named Frank Cherry.

I stood and listened to that street preacher, which apparently drew his attention. He said, “If you are truly sorry for all the evil done by white people, bow down and kiss my boot.” He explained, “Talk is cheap and action speaks louder than words. Humble yourself before this descendent of slaves that your ancestors tormented and exploited. Kiss my boot.”

So, I did it.

All the Black Israelites clapped as I rose to my feet and shook the hand of the preacher, who seemed genuinely surprised.

I was interested in his reaction and how my act of contrition might affect him.

Would this change his opinion of me or about white people?

“I didn’t think you would do it,” he said.

And then he put his arm around my shoulder like a friend.

Then he said, “After the race war, which is coming, I will make sure that you are a well-treated slave.”

We talked for a while after that, but he never really changed his mind about me or white people. There was nothing I could do or say to persuade him. He was just
as rigid as my old white Bible study partner.

Today there are many hate groups online recruiting new members. Some have been banned on social media, while others have not.

YouTube has policies concerning hate speech.

However, groups like the IUIC, led by Nathaniel Ray, operate with impunity, using social media to spread hate, recruit and raise money. The IUIC is on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tiktok and uses the app Clubhouse.

Nathaniel Ray IUIC

See the IUIC YouTube channel and the many indoctrination videos available there. For example, the one titled, “Let’s talk Israel United in Christ” by IUIC founder Nathaniel Ray. Ray explicitly calls whites and Jews the “Devil” at the 14-minute mark.

Ray provides a very concise explanation of the basic beliefs of the IUIC. He says that European Jews are “Edomites” and are themselves the “Devil.”

I have no regrets about my brief encounter with the ISUPK or boot kissing. It helped bring some clarity about the nature of all hate groups and how rigidly they hold onto their hate, whether someone kisses their boot or whatever.

When someone has hate in their heart it’s hard to change them. They see the world in black and white, “us vs. them.” And this distinction isn’t about race, it’s about the dichotomy and limits of their thinking and the rigidity of their mindset.

Note: Brian Birmingham is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts in Boston with a BA in Psychology and Sociology. He is a native of Dallas.

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By Brian Birmingham

A group called “Rise of the Moors,” founded by Jahmal Latimer, received quite a bit of media attention recently. On July 3rd Latimer led ten followers on a march through Wakefield, Massachusetts. The group was heavily armed.

After a standoff with local police, which lasted for several hours, Latimer and his men were all arrested.

The entire incident was livestreamed by Latimer on his YouTube channel, which is now blocked.

Was this all just a publicity stunt to garner attention and gain subscribers on YouTube?

Maybe.

So, who or what is the “Rise of the Moors” and what do they believe?

Jahmal Latimer

A closer look at the group reveals that Jahmal Latimer is hardly an original thinker. In fact, Rise of the Moors appears to be a combination of ideas primarily lifted from two sources.

First, the Moorish Science Temple of America, founded by Noble Drew Ali in 1913.

Second, the so-called “Sovereign Citizen Movement,” which is a disparate and loosely organized conglomeration of anti-government extremists, typified by the likes of Kent Hovind.

The Moorish Science Temple is historically significant. It is the first Black Muslim movement in the United States. Notably Wallace Fard Muhammad, who is responsible for the formation of the Nation of Islam, was once a member of the Moorish Science Temple. It was the first group to promote the idea of Black Nationalism. The idea that African-Americans must begin to build their own physical nation according to Marcus Garvey. At its most extreme Black Nationalism contends that African-Americans are not actually citizens of the United States and therefore not subject to its laws and taxes.

When Jahmal Latimer livestreamed part of his group’s confrontation with Massachusetts police on YouTube he claimed that he had done nothing wrong. Latimer said the police need not be alarmed by the presence of several heavily armed men dressed in tactical gear marching along the side of the highway. At five minutes and thirty seconds into this video, which is titled “Peaceful,” he says that he took a vow as a Marine, to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Latimer then goes on to define “enemy” as any person who would go against the rulings of Federal Courts regarding laws passed by Congress. Latimer then invokes the Second Amendment and precedents supposedly set by certain cases decided by the Supreme Court, to substantiate his claim that the group is doing nothing wrong in possessing weapons and ammunition.

But upon further analysis Jahmal Latimer’s claims make little if any sense.

He claims to be a sovereign citizen of a Moorish Nation, which is not subject to United States law or authority.

So, on one hand Latimer invokes his duty as a veteran to support and defend the Constitution, but on the other hand he claims that he is a sovereign citizen and member of a Moorish nation and therefore not subject to United States law.

Jahmal Latimer is trying to hold two conflicting set of beliefs simultaneously.

Latimer can’t have it both ways, and the thought process he exhibits in his video is incoherent, muddled and ultimately at best delusional.

Rise of the Moors does not now seem intent upon violence.

Latimer and his followers did not fire their weapons to resist arrest and no one was injured.

The group’s teachings seem to be a type of “stew’” cooked up by Latimer including ingredients derived from Moorish Science, Sovereign Citizen ideology, brought to a simmer as some sort of poorly conceived “militia.” There is also a whiff of the Black Hebrew movement present, despite the Moors label Latimer has chosen.

Jahmal Latimer, like many “cult leaders” today, concocted the recipe for his stew by copying the ideas of others.

For example, cult leader Keith Raniere, who copied Scientology, Ayn Rand, Amway and Landmark Education to come up with NXIVM.

Is Rise of the Moors a potent threat, or even a threat at all?

Maybe not.

Instead, this may be about a deeply delusional man with a desperate need for attention?

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By Brian Birmingham

Slate recently reported about Steve Hassan’s “crusade” against what he calls the “Cult of Trump.”

However, the article at times calls into question Hassan’s claims and expertise concerning his determination of what exactly constitutes a “cult.” It also states, “some wonder if he’s gone too far.”

Slate concludes that Hassan, who is a former “Moonie” or follower of Rev. Moon’s Unification Church, was once on a mission to save the world for Reverend Moon. But now it appears, after leaving the Moonies through deprogramming he has now switched to a new crusade.

Almost half a century has passed since Hassan’s exit from the Moon cult, but he is still on a mission to save the world.

This time instead of saving the world for Reverend Moon in the name of “world peace and unification” Hassan is on much more personal self-promotional mission of his own. His crusade now is to deliver “Freedom of Mind” to those unfortunates victimized by Donald Trump.

Slate reports that “self-promotion leaks into his sermons. He sometimes sounds as eager to publicize himself (‘I scratch my head why everyone who cares hasn’t read The Cult of Trump book?’ he tweeted recently in response to a CNN segment on Trump and the Republican Party).”

Steve Hassan

According to Steve Hassan apparently almost anyone that doesn’t see things according to his political and social perspective must be a “victim” of “undue influence” and in need of “deprogramming.” Then they will be persuaded to see the world properly per his point of view.

Please keep in mind that Slate is one of the most liberal media outlets in America and certainly no friend of Donald Trump.

Even though the Slate piece was respectful, it was not always exactly complimentary concerning Steve Hassan and his work.

Slate reported that “Hassan’s definition of cult-like behavior can seem particularly wide-ranging.” For example, he seems to imply that British royal family might be a bit like a cult. Referring to the royal family’s treatment of Meghan Markle, Hassan wrote on his blog, “Any organization willing to maintain its public image by sacrificing the well-being of its members relies on many of the same psychological theories and tactics used by authoritarian cults.”

Does this mean that Steve Hassan thinks Queen Elizabeth II is a “cult leader” and the royal family might be a family cult?

If so, why?

If not, why not?

It seems Hassan is projecting and seeking validation from others.

Even his “mentor,” attorney and expert witness Alan Scheflin, doesn’t appear to take Steve’s perspective very seriously.

Scheflin told Slate, “I would say that Steve has a tendency in some ways to see everything as undue influence because he’s primed to see it that way. I feel that he’s still the victim of the cult. I think that one of the things that happens when you come out of a cult is you have tremendous distrust. You have to become the center of your own universe,” Scheflin concluded.

Interestingly, Alan Scheflin, who Steve has worked with and who he says mentored him, also did not think Hassan would make a good expert witness in court.

“I don’t know that’s the best forum for Steve,” Scheflin said. “I see him as a media person,” he concluded.

Apparently, Hassan has aspirations to be a recognized court expert, but Scheflin seems to think he should stick with the role of a talking head on TV.

Steve Hassan did testify once decades ago in a Boston custody battle (Kendall v. Kendall 1996).

However, according the court record, “the judge specifically stated that she did not rely on Dr. Hassan’s testimony in making her ruling.”

The Slate article also seemingly categorizes Steve Hassan as something of an “ambulance chaser” pursuing clients.

QAnon Shaman

Slate reports, “Hassan hopes to establish his BITE model as a way of evaluating undue influence in the legal system. He thinks he could be an expert witness for the defense of some of the [January 6th] insurrectionists, particularly given that one of the lawyers compared the insurrectionists to ‘followers of Jim Jones’ while another referred to Trump as a ‘cult leader.’ Hassan said he offered on Twitter a few months ago to talk with Jacob Chansley, the insurrectionist known for wearing a fur helmet and horns, but did not receive a reply.”

So, Steve tried to hook up with so-called “QAnon Shaman”?

In many ways Steve Hassan operates like a cult leader himself. He inhabits a solipsistic cognitive universe in which his decidedly liberal bias and political opinions become repeatedly confused with objective reality. Those that reject him may be labeled victims of “mind control.”

Apparently, Steve is now a type of self-styled guru, leading his flock of “Freedom of Mind” supporters or what can be seen as a “cult following.”

The late Dr. Cathleen Mann, who testified successfully in numerous proceedings across the United States as a judicially qualified court forensic expert called Steve Hassan’s teachings simply “Hassanology.”

Specifically Mann wrote, “This composite philosophical approach as now devised by Mr. Hassan might be called ‘Hassanology’. In the world of cults Hassanology essentially depicts Steve Hassan as the ultimate savior. He is a hammer, and there is an ever-expanding list of groups to be seen as nails. As they say, ‘When you are a hammer everything looks like a nail.’ Of course, this might once again simply reflect a convenient marketing strategy.”

Note: Brian Birmingham is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts in Boston with a BA in Psychology and Sociology. He is a native of Dallas, Texas and was once a member of the Trinity Foundation community. He later worked for Steven Hassan at Freedom of Mind.

By Brian Birmingham

I am a former member of an abusive authoritarian group, or “cult.”

As a teenager I was placed, by my parents, in a “troubled teens” program,” which is now defunct. The program was not religious, but it did use behavioral modification techniques and employed coercive persuasion to gain undue influence over its participants. The stated objective was to mold us into adults that would stay sober and adhere to the program’s principles.

In my opinion this was a generally toxic and harmful program. It took me almost fifteen years to begin to recognize the harm that occurred there. This program included confrontational and humiliating pseudo-therapies. Instead of helping people the program hurt me and the other teens subjected to it.

As an adult in my 30s I read Steve Hassan’s book “Combatting Cult Mind Control.” At that time, I was involved in yet another authoritarian organization called a “cult” in Dallas, Texas. After leaving this group, known as the Trinity Foundation, in August of 2006, someone recommended Steve Hassan’s book to me.

This is when I learned about what Steve Hassan calls the BITE model of mind control.

Reading the book was helpful in processing what had happened to me. Subsequently, I experienced a period of intense self-examination and went through a recovery program at a place called Meadow Haven, in Lakeville, Massachusetts. While at Meadow Haven I unraveled the effects of the program for troubled teens as well as my other cultic experience. I was also diagnosed as being within the autism spectrum. I was finally diagnosed definitively with Asperger’s syndrome. Learning this helped me to better understand my life and introverted nature.

The combination of undiagnosed autism and the trauma of going through an abusive authoritarian group as a teen profoundly affected my life and made me vulnerable.

Steve Hassan

In July of 2010 I was introduced to Steve Hassan by a mutual friend at a conference about cults. At the time I lived in the Boston area not far from him. Steve gave me his business card and told me to contact him when I got back to Boston. I did and he offered me a job at Freedom of Mind (FOM). I became his research assistant, performing various tasks for FOM for almost three years. I quit in 2013, which ended my association with Steve Hassan.

Today, I see and understand Steve in a whole new light and want to share those insights. I feel that he often exploits fragile former cult members for his own personal benefit.

In the early stages of my recovery Steve’s BITE model introduced me to psychological concepts which I’d never known about before. The ideas in his first book “Combating Cult Mind Control” helped me realize, that contrary to what I’d believed about myself for so long, it was not so much a matter of what was wrong with me, but rather what was done to me that was wrong.

There are different types of cults. They are not all religious in nature.

Steve Hassan, through his work, taught me these things.

But I now know that Steve did not originate the ideas he wrote about. Instead, his BITE model is derivative and the relabeled ideas of others. Steve simply rebranded those ideas and he presents them essentially as his own without meaningful detailed attribution. This seems to me to be dishonest and deliberately misleading.

The BITE model is actually a composite of the work and original research of psychologist Margaret Singer, communication experts Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, and psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton.

Let me spell this out specifically.

B,” for behavior control, is based upon the work of Lifton and Singer, accomplished decades before Steve’s first book was published.

I,” for information control, is predicated upon what Conway and Siegelman first identified as “information disease” within their book “Snapping” published in 1978.

T,” for the control of thinking, is derived from Lifton’s book “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism” published in 1961.

E,” for emotional control, also is based upon the previous work of Conway and Siegelman in their book “Holy Terror” published in 1982.

Steve Hassan did not identify or originate these specific principles of understanding and identifying how authoritarian groups and leaders dominate and control people. He merely studied them, collected and copied them and then rebranded them for himself. Steve presents the BITE model as his own, but it is not his original thought, even though he attempts to pass it off as such to the public.

Steve is very good at marketing and sales and he’s managed to make a lot of money from his books, cult interventions and consulting work. He is certainly a wealthy man. But the BITE model, which he promotes as the foundation for his work was never really his own original work. Steve just cobbled it together as a marketing ploy based upon the work of others. And to claim otherwise is academically dishonest and inherently wrong.

The BITE model in my opinion is also deeply flawed, at least in the way Steve loosely applies it. For anyone with an agenda it is fairly easy to use it to indict almost any group or person you don’t like.

For example, someone who doesn’t like Christians could use the BITE model to indict Jesus by selectively going through the New Testament to prove that Jesus was a “cult leader.” Or use the BITE model to do the same thing with the words of Paul.

Moreover, a person with a political or social bias can use the BITE model to frame a politician as a “cult leader” or call a political party a “cult.”

And someone manipulating this same BITE model can then claim that all those who disagree with him are somehow the “victims” of “mind control.”

This can also be seen as an effective marketing scheme to sell your services to “deprogram” all those perceived “victims.”

In my opinion this turns “Freedom of Mind” fairly upside down into a state of mind based upon a selective worldview and specific ideas that conform to those of what Steve Hassan thinks is acceptable.

Steve Hassan in his book “The Cult of Trump” contends that Donald Trump supporters don’t REALLY like Donald Trump, but are somehow instead the victims of “thought reform techniques” employed by the former president. And anyone that isn’t being so manipulated must be a bad person with racist or anti-Semitic sentiments. Or perhaps they may be psychologically or intellectually impaired.

It is important to recognize that cult experts don’t universally endorse Steve’s notions about Donald Trump and his supporters. Robert Jay Lifton noted, “Trump is not totalistic like [Shoko Asahara] the leader of [the Japanese cult] Aum Shinrikyo.” Michael Langone, Executive Director of the International Cultic Studies Association stated, “I can understand why people don’t like Trump,” However, Langone concluded “But to jump from not liking Trump to Trump as cult leader, I think, is a bit of a leap.”

Steve seems to think it’s his job to straighten everyone out so that they truly have genuine “freedom of mind” (pages 7, and 216 “The Cult of Trump”).

But here is the problem. What really is “freedom of mind” according to Steve Hassan?

It seems to me that when someone has such freedom Steve surmises that they will then pretty much see and interact with the world just like he does.

In his book Steve implies that authentically liberated minds will see the world just like him.

Is Steve trying to clone himself and become some sort of guru determining what is the right and wrong way to think and feel?

Isn’t that the typical behavior of a “cult leader”?

On page 231 of his book Steve suggests that we might need a new set of commandments in addition to the original Ten Commandments.

Steve writes, “People consensually abide by rules for the common good. That is also true of our social behavior–the Ten Commandments were established thousands of years ago as a mechanism for helping people get along in groups. They were also established as a form of social control, with their focus on worshiping ‘the one true God’. What we may need now are commandments that guide our ethical behavior as citizens, regardless of race, creed, ethnicity, or sexual or religious preference.”

Who will write these new commandments?

Will Steve be our new Moses?

Will Steve’s new commandments replace or supplement the existing ones?

Don’t we have enough commandments already?

​Steve apparently wants something new that reflects his own worldview. All of this seems somewhat reminiscent of what Robert Jay Lifton calls a “Sacred Science.”

Lifton writes, “The totalist milieu maintains an aura of sacredness around its basic dogma, holding it out as an ultimate moral vision for the ordering of human existence. This sacredness is evident in the prohibition (whether or not explicit) against the questioning of basic assumptions, and in the reverence which is demanded for the originators of the Word, the present bearers of the Word, and the Word itself. While thus transcending ordinary concerns of logic, however, the milieu at the same time makes an exaggerated claim of airtight logic, of absolute ‘scientific’ precision. Thus, the ultimate moral vision becomes an ultimate science; and the man who dares to criticize it, or to harbor even unspoken alternative ideas, becomes not only immoral and irreverent, but also ‘unscientific.’ In this way, the philosopher kings of modern ideological totalism reinforce their authority by claiming to share in the rich and respected heritage of natural science.”

For most of 2005, I was in Baghdad serving as a medic in Operation Iraqi Freedom. As a medic, from time to time I was called upon to participate in patrols outside of our base perimeter. One day while patrolling, we had dismounted from our vehicles and were walking through a neighborhood. At one point, we stopped to take a rest. There was a group of young Iraqi boys playing soccer in a vacant lot across the street. The soccer ball was kicked into our midst. A little kid about ten or twelve years old asked our permission to retrieve the ball. We said yes, and then when he got the ball, I asked him if the people in his neighborhood liked the Americans. He said “No”. I asked, “Why not?” He said, “Because you’re all Jews” in a very matter-of-fact way, and ran off. All this child knew about America and the people who live there was what he learned from Saddam Hussein’s propaganda, and the anti-American, anti-Semitic culture in which he was raised. In a way, the boy lived in a type of bubble, from which he derived a distorted view of America and Americans.

Steve Hassan comes across as someone living in a bubble of his own. Just like the Iraqi kid I met in Baghdad, with his distorted view of America and Americans. Steve has his own ideological echo chamber that he inhabits and others that entertain alternative ideas and different views are summarily dismissed or labeled negatively.

“The Cult of Trump”​ also appears to dismiss or disregard that alternative ideas have a right to exist. This can be seen as a reflection of what Lifton calls the “dispensing of existence.”

Lifton writes, “Are not men presumptuous to appoint themselves the dispensers of human existence? Surely this is a flagrant expression of what the Greeks called hubris, of arrogant man making himself God. Yet one underlying assumption makes this arrogance mandatory: the conviction that there is just one path to true existence, just one valid mode of being, and that all others are perforce invalid and false. Totalists thus feel themselves compelled to destroy all possibilities of false existence as a means of furthering the great plan of true existence to which they are committed.”

Steve’s book raises some larger questions that need to be asked by its readers, which are applicable to everyone.

Is there such a thing as objective truth or must everything be based upon the bias of the believer?

Don’t we all need to be fact based and objective regardless of our political bias and world view and not allow our subjective sentiments cause us to negatively label others?

Isn’t hard objective evidence preferable to politicized characterizations like those within Steve’s often polemical book “The Cult of Trump”?

And finally, is it really useful to politicize the word “cult” turning it into a derisive pejorative label used to dismiss the existence of alternative political ideas?

In my opinion politicizing the word “cult” in this way serves no useful or factual purpose, but rather portrays a deeply distorted view of politics in America today.

Note: Brian Birmingham is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts in Boston with a BA in Psychology and Sociology. He is a native of Dallas, Texas and was once a member of the Trinity Foundation community. He later worked for Steven Hassan at Freedom of Mind.

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