Some journalists write hard-hitting news stories about destructive cults, which have often led to further action. They expose wrongdoing and the authorities often follow-up through criminal prosecution or some other enforcement action.

However, there are those reporters who seem to be more interested in presenting a pretty picture for their community, than exposing the truth about cults.

Three recent stories about well-known groups often called “cults,” expose what looks like a penchant for puff pieces. This is a term used to describe uncritical articles that are more positive spin and/or froth than substance.

In such puffery reporters largely let the “cult” tell the story, without asking anything really tough, or follow-up questions.

Here are some recent examples that seem to fit into the category of “puff piece” if not cult apology.

A recent story written about the notorious group “Ananda Marga,” which has been accused of violent crimes, child abuse and linked to suicide, described members as “covered in a life of peace.”

The journalist did ask a member about the “C” word (cult) though.

A devotee answered evasively, “You won’t lose your mind and be brainwashed.” And according to another member they are “not a religion.”


I guess that resolves everything, well at least the reporter seems to think so at the Kingston Jamaica Gleaner.

However, P.R. Sarkar the founder and “God-Man” of Ananda Marga who died in 1990 did some time in an Indian prison. And that government felt he was important enough to publish a book about his group titled, Ananda Marga: Soiling the Saffron Robe.

This was not a “puff piece” and Sarkar comes off as little more than a “sociopath,” hardly “covered in a life of peace.” And not apparently respected by Hindus.

The next journalist to offer up what amounts to cult apologies works in Ithaca, New York. This time the group is the “Twelve Tribes,” a racist anti-Semitic “cult” led by Elbert Eugene Spriggs, a former carnival barker.

The Twelve Tribes has a horrific history of child abuse, terrible custody battles, kidnappings and harsh exploitation, which rivals some of the worst “cults” in America.

In numerous news reports former members have spoken out about the abuse they endured under Spriggs harsh totalitarian rule.

But the leader they now call “Yoneq” lives in luxury, travelling between his homes in France, the United States and South America.

Forget about all this.

The reporter for the Ithaca Times says the Twelve Tribes are a “unorthodox religious group…that worships Jesus.”

Right. Didn’t Jim Jones make that claim?

“And they have now chosen Ithaca as their newest community,” the reporter happily adds.

The upstate New York journalist then essentially dismisses virtually every allegation against the Twelve Tribes offering readers instead their version of events.

No former member is quoted, no other opinions offered except, “Much of the content found on the Web can be described as derogatory.”

Is this in-depth journalism?

The article reads almost like an infomercial with a plug for the group’s website at the end.

Such positive spin for “cults” in not limited to America. “Down under” an Australian journalist seems to be plugging away for Scientology.

This Sydney Morning Herald reporter tells us the story of Hindu boy named Raja who found happiness at the Athena School in Sydney run by Scientologists.

There is nothing said about the troubled history of this controversial church, that Time Magazine named the “Cult of Greed.”

Instead readers are regaled with how happy the little boy is at his new school, which teaches from text originated by L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology’s founder.

This Australian article puffs on almost like an ad campaign, complete with a price quote per school term and a mention for a booklet by Hubbard called The Way to Happiness.

However, Lisa McPherson didn’t seem to find her “way to happiness” and instead died after a breakdown, while under the care of her friends at Scientology.

Somehow the Sydney reporter didn’t bother to include that little titbit.

Certainly these articles will not be nominated for Pulitzers.

Instead of reflecting professional journalism at its best these reporters seem be treading down a different path.

They didn’t do their research and/or chose to ignore it.

Their motto appears to be; Make nice, be happy and ignore reality.

Maybe that is “The Way to Happiness”?

But cults have a nasty way of getting headlines, through bad behavior and shattered lives. And eventually that cannot be ignored, even in Ithaca, Kingston or Sydney.

Groups commonly called “cults” like Scientology and Falun Gong like to have holidays. Specifically, days set aside to celebrate their leader’s birthday, their organization or some other special interest they may have.

Don’t blame the “cults” for trying. It’s free advertising, doesn’t hurt their recruitment efforts, not to mention a dose of ego gratification.

But one local mayor has had enough of this nonsense.

Steve Berman, the mayor of Gilbert, Arizona, recently turned down an “L. Ron Hubbard Day” and rejected a proposed “Falun Dafa month.”

No doubt some will claim it’s “religious bigotry,” but Berman feels sectarian interests are inappropriate themes for a city to celebrate, reports the Arizona Republic.

Sadly, there are still quite a few politicians that are either taken in by such proposals or cave in with a little pressure.

It’s nice to know there is at least one town where due diligence has taken precedence over expediency.

Scientology is now apparently using the continuing crisis in the Middle East and calls for peace in the region as a new excuse for another front organization.

The so-called “Association for Peace and Understanding in the Middle East” (APUME) seems to be little more than another ploy to promote Scientology.

On its website APUME says, “We are volunteers —American, Palestinian and Israeli” with offices in “Florida” and “Los Angeles,” two bastions of activity for Scientology.

How does APUME advance the cause of peace?

This is supposedly accomplished through the distribution of booklets. And their featured publication is titled The Way to Happiness by Scientology’s founder L. Ron Hubbard.

APUME says it has handed out more than a million of these booklets in Hebrew and Arabic and hung up “thousands” of promotional “posters.”

It seems if all the Israelis and Palestinians would just embrace Hubbard’s philosophy everything would be alright.

APUME claims it is “not a religious group and does not have a religious agenda.”


APUME says you too can help bring peace to the Middle East by giving them money to produce and distribute more booklets.

They advise, “Every dollar that you donate buys one copy of The Way to Happiness booklet for an Israeli family and one for a Palestinian family.”

How about that, two for one.

However, APUME looks like a Scientology gimmick to get the public to pitch in for one more of its self-promotional schemes.

Robert Vaughn Young was once a high ranking and trusted member of the Church of Scientology and served the organization faithfully for more than 20 years before leaving.

He once explained, “About 18 of those years was spent in or senior to Dept. 20 (now called the Office the Special Affairs or OSA), the section that deals with the ‘enemies’ of the organization, which comes to mean anyone who disagrees with or criticizes any aspect of Scientology, Hubbard or ‘management.”’

Ironically, after leaving Scientology Young became one of its most effective critics and “enemies.”

Young unraveled some of the spin any myths, which surrounded the organization. And who could better do it than a former insider and spin-doctor from its public relations department.

That work against Scientology concluded in 1999 when Young was diagnosed with terminal cancer. His final battle ended on June 15th.

Young held a masters degree in Philosophy and once taught for the University of California Davis.

Robert Vaughn Young will no doubt be vilified by Scientology as perhaps a traitor and/or “suppresive person” within its mythology.

But Young will be remembered by those who continue his fight against the “Cult of Greed” as a hero.

Noted attorney and anti-cult activist Ford Green of San Anselmo, California has been nominated for a Trial Lawyers for Public Justice Foundation’s Lawyer of the Year award. The award is “given to the lawyer or lawyers who make the greatest contribution to the public interest by trying or settling a precedent-setting case,” reports the Alameda Times-Star.

Winners will be announced July 22nd at the foundation’s 21st annual awards dinner in San Francisco.

Green was nominated along with three other California attorneys for his work regarding a 22-year legal battle to collect a multi-million dollar personal injury judgement awarded to Lawrence Wollersheim against the Church of Scientology.

This is certainly not the first precedent-setting case for Green.

The prominent lawyer litigated and won the landmark appellate court decision, Molko v. Holy Spirit Association (1988) 46 Cal.3d 1092.

In this decision the California Supreme Court held that the First Amendment does not bar civil causes of action for fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress and restitution when a cult uses deception, which subsequently leads to an unsuspecting individual’s exposure to thought reform techniques that cause suffering and damages.

In 1998 Greene also won a $1.6 million jury verdict in Bertolucci v. Ananda against The Church of Self Realization led by Swami Kiyananda in California for fraud, coercion and sexual exploitation.

Ford Green is an Advisory Board member of The Ross Institute.

It looks like Boston banker Bob Minton is nearing the end of his personal saga with Scientology and may be finally moving on.

A Scientology lawyer apparently said as much at a recent conference, according to long-time anti-Scientology activist Gerry Armstrong.

The lawyer claimed that Scientology is preparing to file “a dismissal with prejudice” regarding litigation against Minton and his now defunct “Lisa McPherson Trust.”

Once an avowed activist against the controversial group Minton ultimately seemed to switch sides.

The banker appeared repeatedly in court to essentially help Scientology attack the lawyer representing the Lisa McPherson estate in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the organization.

However, Minton’s concerted effort to discredit and remove his former professional friend from the case was essentially a failure. The lawsuit his testimony might have derailed is now set for trial next month.

Rumors abound about Minton’s sudden shift.

Many believe Scientology “got something” on their former nemesis to “flip him.”

Whatever the reason for Minton’s seemingly erratic behavior, his relatively short-lived crusade against Scientology apparently is ending “not with a bang, but a whimper.”

One of the approaches used at times to “deprogram” cult members is an examination of the leader’s claims within a broader historical context.

For example, David Koresh claimed he was “The Lamb of God,” but within its biblical context did this claim make any sense?

Christian scholars readily recognize that Jesus is “The Lamb of God” according to the New Testament.

But cult leaders often program their followers through distortions and twists of religious scriptures.

Unraveling such a cult program may often include working with a clergy person or someone knowledgeable about the scriptures that have been used to empower the leader and exercise control.

It seems the government of Saudi Arabia understands this principle. They have decided to do their own form of “deprogramming,” in an effort to solicit information from incarcerated terrorists and apparent followers of Osama bin Laden.

Islamic clerics are now working with prisoners to point out how far they may have strayed from basic Moslem teachings. By untwisting the Koran they hope to eventually “deprogram” the terrorists who might then provide helpful information, reports Newsday.

The FBI is observing this approach apparently with some interest.

One Saudi official stated, “It can be effective.”

Though a Saudi professor of religious studies observed that some of the terrorists “have been brainwashed to a point of no return.”

A man tells his followers he is “divine,” takes their money and works them while living in luxury.

Sound familiar?

It could be almost any “cult story” in recent years, from the Rev. Moon, who controls billions through his Unification Church, to a relatively obscure little “God-man” called “Adi Da” in Northern California.

But this story is about “Father Divine” who died in 1965.

Born George Baker in Baltimore the man later known as “Divine” is gone, but a legacy still exists and is administered by his widow “Mother Divine,” born Edna Rose Ritchings and now almost 80, reports Associated Press.

Mother Divine has liquidated some of her late husband’s accumulated assets. A hotel here, an old Mission Church there, but she has the grand mansion and still sets a place for “Divine” at the dining room table.

Long before reports of “cults” saturated the media in the late 70s. And decades previous to the popular stereotype of the rich guru bilking brainwashed devotees, there was “Father Divine.”

He figuratively and quite literally worked his followers and amassed a fortune beginning in the 1930s during the Great Depression. This was no easy feat and largely accomplished by “convincing people he was God.” And it seems whatever “God” wanted, he got.

Divine called his message “Practical Christianity,” but others often saw it as little more than a confidence game, through which the preacher took his followers for practically everything they had.

Almost forty years have passed since Divine’s death, but there is still a remnant of true believers. Many of the faithful are past retirement age and invested their entire lives in the movement he created. They cling to the claims and memories of their departed leader.

As for the Widow Divine, she sits on the considerable investments made by her late husband, which apparently still produce “Divine” dividends.

This saga is proof that personality-driven “cults” have long been an enduring part of American history. And looking ahead they are likely to continue as a segment of the American scene for the foreseeable future.

Any “cult” leader’s legacy can live on, at least as long as his assets hold out.

Increasingly, more and more Americans are engaging in the practice of Yoga.

Men now make up 23% of the 15 million yoga enthusiasts within the US. “They’re in it for the exercise and the physical benefits—hold the chanting and the New Age vibes,” reports Newsweek.

But beware. Some groups called “cults” use yoga as a means of recruiting new members and exercise is not all they are teaching.

Some yoga groups and teachers are essentially interested in proselytizing. And if you are not interested in their beliefs, their yoga classes are probably not for you.

Controversial organizations such as 3HO and Integral Yoga International (IYI) may practice “yoga,” but they also promote a student/guru arrangement and religious belief system with an authoritarian figure at the top.

A plethora of neo-eastern gurus and “New Age” types are hoping to cash in on the yoga craze.

Health and diet “guru” Dr. Dean Ornish says “he has found evidence that yoga can help fight cardiovascular disease” and this may be true. But Ornish himself is a long-time follower of IYI and its recently deceased Swami Satchidananda.

So it seems that there may be more to the diet doctor’s regime than meets the eye.

Newsweek appears to have carefully avoided endorsing any particular yoga school or teacher, which is wise. But others in their enthusiasm regarding this pop craze have been less prudent.

Supermodel Christy Turlington’s yoga book praises many groups, which have been referred to less glowingly as “cults.”

Donna Karan once promoted IYI within Vanity Fair magazine, without apparently doing much of a background check.

Don’t make Donna’s mistake.

Researching a yoga school or class before enrolling is certainly wise. Most are perfectly safe places to exercise and get in shape, but some are worrisome.

“Check first, enroll later,” might be a good motto.

A quick rule of thumb might also be, if you see some guru’s picture on the wall, or religious statues in the entrance area or practice room, something more than yoga might be lurking within the instruction.

Newsweek says, “There’s a yoga bonus: the way it sharpens your mental game…the meditative breathing calms their nerves and hones their focus.”

Maybe so, but meditation can also render practitioners more suggestible. And it’s important to understand just who you are becoming suggestible to and within what type of environment.

A group with a hidden agenda can use meditation to download its program.

Again, the overwhelming majority of yoga schools and classes are benign, healthy and likely to be beneficial to their students.

The point is to be an informed consumer.

In an effort to establish meaningful criteria for judging yoga teachers the California Yoga Teachers Association has established a Code of Ethics.

This code can be a useful tool in gauging the behavior of yoga teachers, how they treat their pupils and conduct classes.

Some sex offenders have all the luck.

This week Utah’s parole board decided to let a convicted sex criminal out without continued supervision, reports Associated Press.

This means that David Ortell Kingston, convicted of felony incest with a minor, will have no one to report to and leaves prison a free man without strings attached.

Why would Utah officials trust this felon and former predator?

Well, Kingston is an important man. He does the books for a polygamist clan that controls a reported multi-state business empire worth $150 million. And besides he promised not to do it again.

Officials said Kingston was a “model prisoner,” but of course there are no minor girls to prey upon in prison.

The conduct of polygamist groups regarding child abuse of minor girls is a long-running scandal.

There are an estimated 50,000 polygamists living under the absolute rule of several family clans in the United States, Canada and Mexico, most notably in Utah and Arizona.

Mormons in Utah at times seem ambivalent about polygamy. This may be because many are themselves the descendents of polygamists. Both the religion’s founder Joseph Smith and its famous pioneer leader Brigham Young had many wives.

But the practice of polygamy was abandoned by the Mormon Church officially in 1890, though this occurred only after some pressure was exerted by the federal government.

Once again it seems continued public scrutiny and pressure is needed if Utah and Arizona authorities are to remain vigilant regarding the plight and protection of polygamist children.