Claims in a lawsuit filed against cult specialist and court expert Rick Alan Ross and others were dismissed last month. United States Federal Judge Katharine S. Hayden ordered, “NXIVM’s claims against…Ross, the Ross Institute [now known as Cult Education Institute], [Dr. Paul] Martin, and Wellspring Retreat…dismissed in full.”

The legal action was filed against Ross by a relatively obscure self-help guru named Keith Raniere of Albany, New York who runs a group called NXIVM (pronounced nexium). Media coverage regarding Raniere has often focused on his wealthy followers, particularly Clare and Sara Bronfman, two heirs to the Seagram’s Liquor fortune of billionaire Edgar Bronfman Sr. The Bronfmans have apparently backed many of Raniere’s schemes and lawsuits.

Raniere, whose followers call him “Vanguard,” sought to silence criticism of his large group awareness training (LGAT) programs staged through his company NXIVM formerly known as “Executive Success Programs” (ESP). Through ESP/NXIVM Raniere trains participants to believe in a composite philosophy he calls “Rational Inquiry.” Raniere appears to have largely copied ideas for his LGAT from Scientology, Ayn Rand, Werner Erhard and Amway.

Keith Raniere

Keith Raniere

Raniere was once an Amway distributor and later put together his own multi-level marketing scheme called “Consumer Buyline,” which ultimately failed when legal restraints were placed on Raniere.

The lawsuit known as NXIVM v. Ross, was first filed in New York and later moved to New Jersey. The litigation dragged on for more than a decade through a series of legal maneuvers and stalling tactics managed by NXIVM through its successive attorneys. The lawsuit centered upon three reports. Two by a psychologist and another by a psychiatrist about the NXIVM programs. Raniere didn’t like what the doctors had to say and so he sued both of them, Ross, the Cult Education Institute (formerly known as the Ross Institute of New Jersey) and others after the reports were published by the institute online.

Psychologist Paul Martin wrote one report titled “A Critical Analysis of the Executive Success Programs Inc.” and another “Robert Jay Lifton’s eight criteria of thought reform as applied to the Executive Success Programs.

Psychiatrist John Hochman wrote a report titled “A Forensic Psychiatrist Evaluates ESP.

A family hurt by NXIVM commissioned the reports and was also sued. One family member who had gone through NXIVM training provided study notes regarding the programs, which largely formed the basis for the doctors’ criticism of the LGAT. Raniere included members of the family as codefendants in the lawsuit filed against Ross.

Raniere attempted to obtain an emergency court injunction to remove the reports from the Web. But the injunction was repeatedly denied including on appeal to the United States Supreme Court. The reports have never been removed from the Cult Education Institute database and have remained intact and online throughout the litigation.

Raniere claimed defamation, copyright and trade secret violations because the doctors quote the study notes to make specific points in their reports.

Judge Hayden evaluated the defendants’ argument that quotes from NXIVM’s study notes constituted “fair use.” In her opinion she concluded, “The Second Circuit held that this fourth factor ‘weigh[ed] heavily in defendants’ favor.’ NXIVM, 364 F.3d at 482. ‘It is plain that, as a general matter, criticisms of a seminar or organization cannot substitute for the seminar or organization itself or hijack its market.’ Id. The Court agrees, and finds that defendants’ use of NXIVM materials was limited and protected critical reporting under the fair use doctrine. Defendants did not attempt to use the copyrighted work for commercial profits, for unfair business advantage, or as an attempt to compete. Insofar as plaintiffs characterize the psychologists’ articles as an attempt to undermine NXIVM’s business, the Court notes there are First Amendment concerns to be reckoned with. ‘If criticisms on defendants’ websites kill the demand for plaintiffs’ service, that is the price that, under the First Amendment, must be paid in the open marketplace for ideas.’”

Keith Raniere lost another lawsuit recently when U.S. District Judge Barabra M.G. Lynn dismissed his claims against AT&T and Microsoft. Raniere sued based upon claims that he held certain patents, which the companies had violated. However, his apparently false testimony unraveled the case. Judge Lynn subsequently awarded attorney fees and costs to both defendants, AT&T $935,300 and Microsoft $202,000.

Clare Bronfman

Clare Bronfman

Raniere has spent millions of dollars in legal fees and costs on NXIVM v. Ross alone. But the money to pay for such frivolous litigation comes from his wealthy supporters such as Clare and Sara Bronfman, not his own pocket. The Albany Times-Union reported that NXIVM “has swallowed as much as $150 million of their fortune.”

Meanwhile throughout the long NXIVM v. Ross litigation that ended last month in dismissal of all claims against cult specialist Rick Alan Ross, Dr. Paul Martin and the Cult Education Institute they were represented pro bono by a number of lawyers. Beginning with Douglas Brooks of Massachusetts and Thomas Gleason of New York and later by Peter Skolnik, Michael Norwick and Thomas Dolan of Lowenstein Sandler in New Jersey. And there was additional help provided by both Public Citizen of Washington D.C. and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. Due to the dedication of these attorneys, law firms and public interest groups freedom of speech prevailed and a purported “cult” leader’s efforts to censor criticism backed by a billionaire’s daughters failed.

Note: Keith Raniere and NXIVM are mentioned within the book “Cults Inside Out: How People Get In and Can Get Out” by Rick Alan Ross. Raniere’s training scheme is cited within a chapter about LGATs (large group awareness training).

Falun Dafa, more commonly known as Falun Gong, is recruiting on Boston University (BU) campus. The group, which has been called a “cult,” has weekly meetings attached to the Marsh Chapel at BU.

The Falun Dafa Club announced at the BU website that it wants to teach “exercises,” but the group will also “study spiritual teachings.”

College students have historically been targeted by groups called “cults” as a vulnerable demographic over the years going back to the 1970s.

BU has a history of exposing cult recruitment on its campus going back to the 1980s. Dean Robert Thornberg once opposed a group called the International Church of Christ, which was banned from many college campuses. He said, “I refer to it as a destructive religious practice.” Thornberg said that ICOC was “banned” at BU beginning in 1989 and he noted that “a whole bunch of other colleges use [the BU] model.”

Dean Robert Thornberg

Dean Robert Thornberg

Often when cults recruit students it can negatively impact their studies. In a 1989 interview Thornberg explained, “We figure in 1989, at the high point here, 40 students dropped out entirely to follow them. Two guys were second year medical school students. They dropped out after four years of college and two years of med school.” He added, “An awful lot of kids were swept up by [the ICOC] and the results were almost always a disaster.”

An authoritarian leader named Kip McKean led the ICOC. McKean was extolled as “The one man God has used above us all.” One ICOC leader explained within the group’s official publication, “There is no greater discipler, disciple, brother, husband, father, leader, and friend than Kip McKean. Some say it is dangerous to respect any one man that much. I believe it is more dangerous not to.”

Master Li

The authoritarian leader of Falun Dafa is Li Hongzhi, known to his disciples as “Master Li.” Purportedly imbued with divine authority Li supposedly knows “the top secret of the universe.” He says, “No religion can save people” only the “almighty Fa,” which Li exclusively represents.

Falun Dafa exercises and meditation are an introduction into the world of Li Hongzhi and his idiosyncratic teachings, which revolve around Li’s often egocentric claims.

Li Hongzhi

Li Hongzhi

Li Hongzhi’s teaches his followers that only he can install an invisible spinning “falun,” which is a mystical “wheel of law” within their abdomens telekinetically. This is the key to salvation, and the basis for incredible health claims, such as a cure for diabetes and the ability to reverse aging.

Falun Dafa practitioners believe that whatever Li Hongzhi says is right is right and whatever he says is wrong is wrong. Master Li’s authority is absolute.

The absolute authoritarian role of Li Hongzhi has caused many researchers and academics familiar with cults to see Falun Dafa as a personality-driven group that fits the description of cult formation.

Hateful teachings

CultNews has reported about Li Hongzhi’s racist and homophobic teachings. Li has said that “mixed-race people [are] instruments of an alien plot to destroy humanity’s link to heaven.” And that interracial unions are somehow part of “a plot by evil extraterrestrials.”

Li Hongzhi has also claimed that a “black substance” accumulates in the body due to homosexuality, which causes bad health. He labeled the LGBT community “disgusting,” and stated one day the LGBT community will be “eliminated” by “the gods.”

What will BU do to protect its students from this hateful and homophobic “cult” recruiting on its campus?

Will students be informed?

Will BU educate its students about the dangers of cults?

A new voice in Marsh Chapel?

Marsh Chapel

Marsh Chapel

Dean Robert Thornberg died in 2013. He was once the Dean of Marsh Chapel at BU. Thornberg oversaw religious activities at BU and taught at its School of Theology. “For 23 years he was the voice of Marsh Chapel,” according his obituary in the Boston Globe.

Now Falun Dafa has announced it will be a weekly voice within the “Room of Robinson Chapel, Marsh Chapel, Boston University.”

Note: The book “Cults Inside Out: How People Get In and Can Get Out” has two chapters devoted to Falun Gong. One focuses on the history of the group and its leader and another about how an American family staged an intervention to get someone out.