Some say that certain animal rights groups have crossed the line from activism to “cult like” behavior. And former members have claimed that they were subjected to an extreme process of indoctrination.

Now a family in Ohio says their teenage daughter was “brainwashed” by radical animal rights activists, reports WCPO TV in Cincinnati.

The teen first hooked up with the extremists on-line at home through the Internet. Subsequently she descended into an increasingly obsessive and fanatical state of mind, her parents said.

Ultimately the girl left home with an unknown companion.

It is disturbing to think that such extreme and often criminal groups, frequently linked to violence, are now recruiting minor children.

Apparently parent’s rights and the values of families don’t count much to some of these so-called “animal rights” activists.

The New York Times seemingly strains to be “politically correct” when it comes to the “C” word. The “paper of record” doesn’t seem to like the word “cult” and prefers to say “sect.”

However, Times reporter Daniel Wakin may have taken this apparent doctrine of correctness a bit further. Yesterday in his article “Followers of Falun Gong in Public Relations Battle,” he decided not only to call Falun Gong a “spiritual movement,” but also to ignore or neglect researching the more negative aspects of the group.

The Times reporter described the teachings of Li Hongzhi, Falun Gong’s founder, as simply “slow-motion exercises, meditation and…healing theories.” But what Wakin neglected to report is that Hongzhi also specifically teaches racism and promotes homophobia.

Maybe Wakin is just too lazy to utilize the Internet and do his homework. Though after an earlier omission by the Times about the widely reported sexual abuse allegations concerning another “cult” leader, it does make you wonder.

Is this just part of a predetermined pattern that is now somehow a Times policy? Does the newspaper essentially often publish puff pieces about “cults,” or at least mute the more negative aspects about many of these “new religions”?

It seems that the “paper of record” needs to evaluate its priorities. Is it more “politically correct” to be deferential and sensitive to the feelings of “cults,” or is it more important and correct to expose racism, bigotry and sexual abuse wherever it is?

Swami Satchidananda was once a popular guru with a flock of notable fans. His historic admirers included singer-songwriter Carole King, actors Jeff Goldblum and Laura Dern, diet Doctor Dean Ornish and artist Peter Max.

However, some say that Satchidananda created a “cult,” and scandal seemed to plague the controversial leader until his death earlier this year.

The ashram community in Virginia left behind by Satchidananda is called “Yogaville.”

The heirs to the guru’s legacy decided to file an action against a family, for using Internet domain names as a means to share critical information about the guru and his group on the Worldwide Web.

The Chengs, who lost family member Catherine to “Yogaville” three years ago, want to warn others about the perils of the controversial group, which they consider a “destructive cult.” So the New York family bought up domain names such as “” and “Integral” to help people find an archive with critical information about the group.

The Satchidananda ashram then responded first with threats and later with a legal complaint, apparently designed to suppress the family’s efforts. The group hoped to ultimately confiscate the disputed domain names.

Yogaville claimed the Chengs somehow were using the domain names for an “illegitimate purpose” and invoked trademark protection.

However, the National Arbitration Forum didn’t see it that way.

In a unanimous decision the forum denied all of Yogaville’s claims and concluded, “It is crystal clear that Respondent is using the disputed domain names for legitimate noncommercial or fair use.”

One panelist of the National Arbitration Forum said he would have found Yogaville guilty of “Reverse Domain Name Hijacking,” if the Chengs had counter-claimed. He described the ashram’s purchase of various and similar domain names as a “bad faith effort to use the Policy as a crude club to suppress legitimate, protected, First Amendment speech.”

This resounding “slap down” victory for the Chengs sets an important precedent regarding free expression on the Internet.

Thanks to the complete failure of Yogaville’s complaint, other groups and/or organizations will now find such claims of trademark infringement an increasingly difficult strategy to employ as a scheme to block easy access to critical information on the Internet.

Winnfred Wright, the leader of what has been called a “family cult” cut a deal in his murder case, reports the Contra Costa Times.

The “cult” leader and two of his female followers have plea bargained their murder and manslaughter charges down to “child endangerment and neglect.”

A 19-month-old boy died within the group from starvation.

It was reported that they “could get prison time,” which means it might be possible for Wright to just walk away with probation after admitting responsibility in a child’s death.

There are still 13 children in what is called “The Family” led by Winnfred Wright. What will be their fate if the “cult” leader who caused one child’s death is allowed to return and run his group once again?

Plea-bargains for killing children are not so easy in Massachusetts.

Jacques Robidoux, member of the “cult” called “The Body” and the father of a child who died from starvation, was sentenced to life in prison for murdering his son. His wife is now awaiting her trial on murder charges, which begins next month.

Apparently, the California courts are more lenient with baby killers.

Hate groups hope to exploit problems in Maine

Somalia once ravaged by war and famine was the focus of American intervention, first by President Bush Sr. and later by Bill Clinton. One result of that humanitarian effort was an influx of refugees searching for a better life in the United States.

Many Somalians eventually migrated to Lewiston, Maine and have apparently strained the social service network there.

Now hate groups such as the National Alliance and World Church of the Creator have descended upon Maine hoping to exploit whatever tensions exist, reports the Associated Press.

The National Alliance in particular seems desperate to prove itself viable as a purveyor of hate since the death of its founder William Pierce. The group littered Lewiston with handouts.

Matt Hale’s World Church of the Creator plans a rally in the town next month.

America once hosted the immigrant ancestors of these hate mongers, but they have little respect for that tradition, especially if those in need now are not white.

Ironically, the activities of such groups in Lewiston only serve to remind New Englanders about the ugliness of hate. Maybe in this sense the National Alliance serves some purpose.

The United States has always been a melting pot of people from different lands. Let’s hope the pot gets hot enough to one-day burn off the likes of Hale.

An atheist in Utah says, “They don’t own this state anymore…they are only one voice among many now.”

The “they” this Salt Lake City resident is referring to is the Mormon Church. But it looks like that assessment of the political landscape is wrong.

A dispute over the exercise of free speech on a downton city block in Salt Lake has demonstrated the schism between the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) and “non-Mormons” in Utah, reports the Salt Lake City Tribune.

LDS wants protest silenced on the block it bought from the city, but the courts ruled it couldn’t do that.

Never mind.

Now the Mormon Church has effectively done its own end run around the legal system by creating political pressure to change the rules of the game. And it looks like the mayor is playing ball, or at least willing to craft a compromise to please the powerful church.

Mayor Rocky Anderson has come up with what he calls “time, place, manner” rules for the disputed city block. But the city council may reject his plan and simply follow the dictates of the LDS instead.

The Mormon Church is used to having its way in Utah. Almost every elected leader in the state is an active member of the LDS. Mayor Anderson is a “non-practicing Mormon.” And some church members apparently feel that by not following the wishes of LDS Anderson might be an “anti-Christ.”

“They seem to want to scapegoat me and portray me as being in opposition to their religion,” Anderson said.

It appears that the LDS, which believes it’s the “one true church,” wants to remain the one ultimate power in Utah. And it is unlikely that Mayor Anderson or anyone else can change that truth.

Supposed “spiritualists” or “mediums” like John Edward of the cable show “Crossing Over” and James Van Praagh claim they can communicate with the dead.

However, they actually seem to be little more than clever tricksters and showmen.

But that doesn’t stop television producers from promoting their claims without any meaningful critical balance.

Van Praagh even generated a TV mini series starring Ted Danson and now also has his own syndicated show titled “Beyond”.

What the two men really appear to be good at is something called “cold,” “warm” and/or “hot” readings, reports the New Zealand Herald.

What this means is that rather than communicating with the dead, pros like Edward are clever questioners and most often initially offer rather general answers that would apply to almost anyone. This doesn’t require any special “gift.”

Edward and Van Praagh employ a Q and A process that solicits enough detailed information from a respondent to produce a “warmer” and/or “hot” reading with more specific answers. It’s dubious entertainment, but nothing supernatural.

Both men know there is big bucks doing such work.

Edward has parlayed his act into a lucrative cable deal and now so has Van Praagh. They both also do private readings, which provides additional income.

It’s sad to see people seemingly exploited by what critical analysis could readily expose as little more than a sideshow or “con.”

However, people want to believe. It comforts those that want closure or contact with a loved one who is gone. Edward and Van Praagh largely tell individuals and the audience what they want to hear, which makes them feel good.

But have the networks that promote these shows “crossed over” the line ethically?

What meaningful critical balance do they offer viewers regarding these supernatural shows, which are essentially presented as fact?

It is very rare to see the same networks that feature these spiritualists, offer any substantial skeptical inquiry concerning their claims, even though Edward and Van Praagh can easily be debunked.

But of course, why do that when it would only hurt ratings?

New York Times reporter Kate Bates wrote a telling piece about the Manhattan yoga scene titled “Yoga, Unlike Fashion, Is Deep. Right?

Bates discusses in part controversial yoga guru Eddie Stern.

Stern has a studio in lower Manhattan and has taught Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and Christy Turlington. He has his critics though. Classes at the Broom St. studio are tough, structured and what Bates calls “boot camp yoga.”

The NY Times writer offered some interesting observations. She refers to yoga as “a spiritual discipline…not known for logical rigor.” And says this “secretive, exclusive ritual” has a “whole change-your-life fervor…where you feel that a new identity can be precipitated.”

Wait a minute, this sounds like religion. Whatever happened to just being focused on shedding pounds and making muscle, instead of some “spiritual” “ritual” to “change your life”?

But Bates says, “the doctrines of yoga might be aimed at the conquest of the self.”


And “the practice of getting there” is suffused with a “feeling of belonging, of believing for a moment that you are fresh and new and recreated.”


This exercise practice seems to have another agenda. Is it about getting in shape, or reshaping your mind?

Warning. If you are not interested in consciousness raising regarding some new “spiritual” awareness, but instead just want to raise a good sweat, maybe the local gym is a better choice than some yoga classes.

It appears that many yoga enthusiasts are gathering around gurus and learning more than healthy exercise.

A multi level marketing (MLM) scheme called “Trek Alliance,” the brainchild of Kale Flagg and Rich Von, has been shut down by order of the United States Federal Trade Commission.

On December 6, 2002 the United States Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit alleging deceptive marketing practices against Trek, subsequently a federal judge issued a Temporary Restraining Order and appointed a receiver to control the company’s frozen assets.

But the first action actually taken against Trek was last December, when the State of Wisconsin filed a complaint alleging “misrepresentations and other unlawful practices.”

Flagg and Von were formerly associated with Equinox, another MLM founded by their mentor Bill Gouldd. Equinox was closed and later liquidated through federal action.

Now any visitors to the Trek website will see an announcement posted by Robb Evans, its Temporary Receiver. Evans was the receiver who liquidated Gouldd’s Equinox.

Many complaints were generated by Trek and some were posted at my website as either personal stories or visitor comments within a designated archive.

Trek typically preyed upon young urban professionals or recent college graduates looking for work.

Trek often cold called people who posted their resumes on Internet websites such as, and/or The company also placed misleading ads for job opportunities in local newspapers.

Their usual pitch was that job interviews were taking place and appointments were available. People who came in would then be subjected to an elaborate recruitment effort to pull them into the MLM. And instead of being offered a salary, they would be asked to buy “starter kits.”

Trek gained an increasingly bad reputation, so they used an array of different names such as “Majestic Enterprise” in Minnesota, “Bay State Marketing Group” in Massachusetts, “Liberty Alliance” in Pennsylvania, “Bay Street Marketing” in Florida, “Chesapeake Group” in Maryland, “Carolina Marketing” in North Carolina, “Midwest Alliance” in Indiana, “Dynamics International” in Illinois, “Pacific Alliance” in California and “Mountain Edge Alliance” in Arizona.

Largely due to the effectiveness of the Internet through websites like MLM Survivor, the Rip Off Report and my own Rick, potential victims of Trek were able to access information quickly before becoming involved. This helped many people avoid being taken in and exploited by the MLM.

Some former Trek associates were virtually wiped out financially. It was not uncommon for the MLM’s victims to run up their credit cards and seek loans to fund their participation in Trek, putting them deeply in debt.

Trek, like many other MLM schemes popular in the United States and around the world, seems to sell “dreams.” Specifically, “get rich quick” dreams. And within the group environment Trek created some felt that dream was promoted through a kind of “cult like” “brainwashing,” which apparently was Trek’s real business.

MLMs represent an unregulated industry with a troubled history and anyone considering involvement should understand that. Trek and Equinox are cautionary examples.

MLMs may provide money for those at the top, but it seems that too often little if any meaningful income flows to the distributors below and/or near the bottom.

Before becoming involved in any MLM, due diligence is important. And that process of examination should include an understanding of “What’s Wrong With MLMs.”

As always, “Let the buyer beware.”

The Mormon Church has a rather odd practice of baptizing the dead.

They believe that by placing faithful members as stand-ins for the deceased they can offer the dead a last chance to receive salvation.

According to a researcher Hitler is listed as a completed baptism, as is Stalin and Ghengis Khan, reports Associated Press.

But not only do the bad need baptism according to Mormons, so do the good. Buddha and the Catholic Saint Joan of Arc are listed along with Anne Frank, a victim of Hitler’s Holocaust.

Sound crazy?

Well according to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) their baptism is the only way to reach the “Celestial Kingdom,” which is according to Mormonism, the best neighborhood in heaven.

Two lower and seemingly less “heavenly” neighborhoods are also available, they say.

So Mormons gather genealogy information to identify which dead need their help to get to a better place in the hereafter. This is the primary motivation behind their vast genealogical archives.

However, some folks just don’t appreciate this gesture and apparently feel it’s rather patronizing if not insulting.

Jews in particular have repeatedly told Mormons not to include their ancestors or brethren on such lists. And the Mormons promised not to, or so they said.

Now it appears LDS may have broken its promise.

The concept that such baptisms are necessary comes from the Mormon belief that the LDS is the only “true church” and thus the exclusive organization that can provide salvation on the earth. According to Mormons, other faiths don’t have a valid “priesthood” and therefore their rituals don’t count.

Many theologians might consider this a bit presumptuous and evidence of ethnocentric triumphalism.

Jews seem to feel it’s offensive, disrespectful and simply want to be left alone.