Cult News from Rick Ross, Cult Expert and Intervention Specialist
Not all groups called either "cults" or "cult-like" are harmful (Click for full text)
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:: June 14, 2003 ::
Scientology apparently letting Boston banker off the hook

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."

[Posted by Rick Ross at 09:54 AM][Link]
:: June 13, 2003 ::
Saudis "deprogramming" terrorists

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."

[Posted by Rick Ross at 03:22 PM][Link]
"God" leaves behind "Divine" dividends

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.

[Posted by Rick Ross at 02:42 PM][Link]
Yoga: Are your school and teacher safe?

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.

[Posted by Rick Ross at 10:21 AM][Link]
:: June 12, 2003 ::
Utah parole board gives polygamist sex criminal free pass

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.

[Posted by Rick Ross at 12:33 PM][Link]
Wrongful death lawsuit against Scientology may finally go to trial

A wrongful death lawsuit filed against the Church of Scientology in Florida, but tied up through seemingly endless court actions may finally go to trial.

The controversial church is being sued for the wrongful death of one of its own.

In 1995 a 36-year-old Scientologist named Lisa McPherson apparently snapped and had a breakdown. But rather than take the hysterical woman to a hospital for treatment, Scientologists instead opted to move her to a facility they controlled.

Scientology essentially teaches that the mental health profession is evil and has long opposed both psychiatrists and the use of psychiatric drugs.

For seventeen days after her breakdown McPherson remained under Scientology's care. And at the end of that period she was dead.

McPherson's family sued Scientology in February of 1997.

Scientology's apparent strategy to date has been to keep the lawsuit tied up in endless legal wrangling. It seems their latest ploy was to claim they could not get a fair trial in Clearwater, Florida, due to public opinion against them.

However, somewhat surprisingly they recently abandoned their request for a change of venue, clearing the way for a trial in four weeks, reports the Palm Beach Post.

Critics claim that Scientology abuses the judicial system to wear down and punish its perceived enemies through endless litigation. Founder L. Ron Hubbard literally taught this device to his followers as virtually an article of faith.

Historically, Scientology has been sued many times. But the church often settle cases by paying off plaintiffs. Such plaintiffs are typically asked to sign a "gag order" as part of the settlement agreement, which limits their ability to speak about the organization in the future.

Such settlement agreements can be seen as an effective way to silence critics and control information.

Scientology has apparently made substantial settlement offers, hoping to make the McPherson case go away. But it appears thus far the plaintiff is unwilling to sign off on anything that might limit their freedom of speech.

Now that the trial date is near settlement offers from Scientology, which some say is worth billions, will likely rise prodigiously.

Will the McPherson estate take the money and end the matter?

Or will this case go to trial and offer the public a penetrating look within Scientology perhaps never before fully presented in a courtroom?

[Posted by Rick Ross at 11:20 AM][Link]
:: June 11, 2003 ::
Will Martha Stewart's "cult" stay faithful?

Organizations or groups that are personality-driven and/or essentially defined by the personality of a charismatic leader, have often been called "cults."

However, not all cults are destructive and many over the centuries have been relatively benign.

It seems some American corporations can be seen as consumer "cults," often driven and/or defined by their founder's personality.

The saga of the corporate Multi-media Empire wrought by Martha Stewart appears to be one example.

This commercial kingdom is so identified and defined by its creator, it is called "Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc."

But Martha's empire has lost half its value, since the stature of its leader began to crumble.

Would Stewart's cult following stay loyal to the brand without the presence of her personality?

Martha Stewart is an "extreme case of this corporate cult of personality," reports the Boston Globe.

But there are other personality-driven enterprises such as Oprah Winfey's synergistic media holdings, which continue to thrive.

Rosie O'Donnell seemed to be embarking on the path of Oprah, until "coming out" became more important to the talk show host than being in the money.

What will be Martha Stewart's corporate legacy if she is killed in court?

Will her magazine fold, like George did, not long after founder John F. Kennedy Jr. died?

Most cults end or slowly whither away after the leader dies or self-destructs.

There is no "Family" without Charles Manson. And groups like Synanon, Aum and the Nuwaubians faded after their leaders were prosecuted.

But it seems that if there are significant assets and an ample cash flow "cults" can continue after a founder dies.

Witness how Scientology soldiers on undaunted by L. Ron Hubbard's death in the 80s. Its celebrity faithful like John Travolta and Tom Cruise have not lost faith and keep paying for Hubbard's "technology."

The die-hard followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh still watch his videos long after their leader's demise. And they gather to honor him at the still active ashram he started in India.

But after Herbert Armstrong died his Worldwide Church of God struggled to establish a new identity. And it shrank as adherents exited. It seems without Armstrong there was no lasting loyalty.

Which historical "cult" example will Stewart's "corporate cult of personality" parallel?

Will there be consumer fealty for "Martha Stewart Living," if Martha is living in prison?

Her fans might move on to a less controversial and/or embattled "domestic diva."

Martha Stewart may have taught Americans that simplicity is timeless, but it seems probable that her cult following will dwindle if she does any time.

[Posted by Rick Ross at 12:15 PM][Link]
Pop psychologist explores "cults" and "mind control"

Joyce Brothers, Ph.D. has been a regular on television and within newspapers for many years. She graduated from Cornell in 1947 and received her doctorate in psychology in 1955. "Baby boomers" have literally grown up with her advice

Still syndicated as a columnist Brothers dispenses advice on an array of subjects.

This week she has tackled "cults," "brainwashing" and "mind control" in two of her columns.

Her first piece on Monday assured the concerned grandmother of a Marine that "cult brainwashing" is not the same as "torture and brainwashing" used on prisoners of war (POWs). Brothers' comments were featured within the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

However, her commentary is actually somewhat misleading.

Psychiatrist, author and researcher Robert Jay Lifton revealed in his seminal book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, that civilians incarcerated by North Korean Communists during the Korean Conflict, subjected to "thought reform," often called "brainwashing," were temporarily transformed without the use of "torture."

Likewise, imminent clinical psychologist and author Margaret Singer discovered the same, through her examination and research regarding military prisoners, while working for Walter Reed Hospital.

In other words, what Lifton and Singer found, is that there is no significant difference between what was done to POWs and the techniques employed by destructive "cults" through their thought reform programs.

Today Brothers lays out for readers the basics regarding "mind control," within the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

The good doctor posits a couple of rather controversial points worth mentioning.

She said, "If the captors happen to be of the same religion as their captives…their task of mind control might be somewhat easier."

Actually, this is a bit too simplistic.

For example, "cults" composed largely of former Roman Catholics, are actually most often schismatic groups that may have begun within a mainstream church and then were drawn away by a charismatic leader and later excommunicated, such as Christ Covenant Community.

Another example would be polygamist groups with many former mainline Mormons as members, such as "The True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days" ("TLC"), which simply recruited within a state that, is overwhelmingly made up of Mormons.

Brothers also says, "The best targets for brainwashing are…upper and middle economic classes."

But this can be seen as a direct result of cult recruitment efforts often focused at college and university campuses, where "upper and middles class" students are ubiquitous.

Both of these observations by Brothers can be seen as a kind of "victim bashing."

That is, if the cult victim were not "religious" or "middle class" they would not be as vulnerable.

However, when psychiatrist John Clark of Harvard researched the issue of some demographic group's special vulnerability to cult influence, he found no evidence to support such a theory.

Instead, Clark discovered this vulnerability to be widespread and that no special class or group was immune or predisposed to be taken in by cults.

Of course there are times when everyone is more vulnerable to suggestion, such as college students away from home and family for the first time in a new environment, people that are depressed and/or under extreme stress. And there is always the obvious vulnerability of a subject during a hypnotic trance, which might also include certain forms of meditation.

It seems there are no easy answers when attempting to understand whom destructive cults and leaders victimize.

Perhaps the only meaningful immunity that can be achieved is through specific education and increased awareness about destructive "cults," their dynamics and the techniques they may employ to recruit, indoctrinate and retain members.

[Posted by Rick Ross at 10:25 AM][Link]
:: June 10, 2003 ::
Religious "cults" offering workshops as business training?

A fertile new ground for "cults" and/or "cult like" groups seems to be business training through seminars, courses and/or workshops.

What could be more profitable than marketing a group's beliefs and spiritual solutions, with the spin that they somehow have a profitable business application?

An apparent example popped up in a Phoenix newspaper this week in the form of a "workshop" called “The Invincible Salesperson,” offered by a controversial organization named 3HO led by Yogi Bhajan.

3HO didn't clearly identify itself within the business blurb.

The "Darshan Khalsa workshop" includes "six private consultations" for only $345, according to The Phoenix Republic calendar.

However, 3HO and its guru are more readily known for yoga, meditation and wearing white. And their past pupils have been busted by the FTC for fraud, not to mention the criminal enterprise of drug running.

Never mind.

It seems that some groups called "cults" feel marketing their beliefs as a business course is good for their "bottom line."

A similar spin has been used by Scientology, though a closely related enterprise called Sterling Management, which essentially touts its founder L. Ron Hubbard's teachings as a "technology" with applications for business.

But all these courses and seminars ultimately appear to lead participants to the same conclusion.

That is, the sponsoring group's religious beliefs and practices are a means to improve business.

What's wrong with that?

Well, this isn't exactly "business" training, but more like proselytizing and religious indoctrination accomplished through the facade of business training.

However, salvation to a for a business and/or a professional isn't really based upon subjective beliefs, but rather the objective reality of making money.

[Posted by Rick Ross at 12:54 PM][Link]
Church of the holy high?

A man who runs a church from his home in Washington claims that growing marijuana is somehow a religious right and apparently smoking it a rite of his religion too, reports Associated Press.

Rev. Lee Phillips of Auburn, Washington told authorities, "This house is a church," and added "People come to us for what we offer them."

But it seems what the good reverend offers is an opportunity to get high on more than spirituality.

Police raided the Phillips home and found more than 200 marijuana plants under cultivation.

Though Mrs. Phillips has a doctor's note, which supposedly allows her to use the controlled substance, it clearly doesn't entitle the couple to grow and share a crop with others.

Phillips calls his church "The Center for Healing and Spiritual Renewal" and claims that "cannabis brings us closer to God."

But this church's "sacramental medicine" and apparent article of faith is illegal.

The street value of the plants seized was set at about $200,000 according to authorities. And police contend that the "church" was simply engaged in "selling dope."

Some might think that anything done in name of religion should be a protected right and that a believer's sacrament is his own business.

However, when a believer's business is an illegal one, religious rights grant no special immunity.

Instead, whether it’s the illegal cultivation of a prohibited cash crop, sale of a controlled substance, medical neglect or child abuse, religious rights don't include any behavior in the name of God.

Perhaps Rev. Phillips should have realized that sewing his seeds, would likely lead to a police raid rather than a "holy harvest."

[Posted by Rick Ross at 11:34 AM][Link]
:: June 09, 2003 ::
Troubled history haunts "cult" in Florida

The Church of Scientology has a deeply troubled history, especially in Florida. And this may pose a problem for the organization regarding potential jurors in a coming wrongful death civil case.

Floridians commonly call the controversial church a "cult," "scam," "strange" and associate its behavior with "brainwashing."

Scientology counters such criticism with accusations of "religious bigotry" and "hate mongering."

However, one editorial recently said "residents…are well informed…have good memories" and simply have not forgotten "years of shenanigans," opined the St. Petersburg Times.

"Bigotry" and "hate mongering" is essentially the typical label Scientology applies to almost any public criticism.

Such claims were once made against Time Magazine, regarding its 1991 cover story "Scientology: The Cult of Greed."

Likewise, Germany's close scrutiny of the organization has garnered them the inferred title of "Nazis," from Scientologists eager to dismiss them.

But maybe "what goes around, comes around" and Scientology is now "reaping what it has sown."

After decades of bullying its critics and some say abusing many of its members, its history appears to have come back around full circle to haunt the house that L. Ron Hubbard built.

Sadly for Scientologists a recent effort to burnish their image and promote positive spin doesn't seem to have made much of a difference. Even after using celebrity spokespeople such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Lisa Marie Presley.

It seems unlikely that Scientology will find any venue in Florida where people don't know about the bad behavior of the "cult" that prefers to be called a "church."

Could there be an isolated swamp somewhere in the Florida wetlands, where no one knows about Scientology?

But you can't call up alligators for jury duty, or can you?

[Posted by Rick Ross at 05:22 PM][Link]
:: June 08, 2003 ::
School for troubled teens closed amidst charges of abuse

A school supposedly devoted to helping troubled teens was closed in Costa Rica by the government amidst allegations of "severe physical and mental abuse," reports the National Post.

Such schools often locate their facilities outside the United States to avoid regulation, but most of their students come from the United States and Canada.

Desperate parents, often persuaded through school run seminars, send their kids at great expense hoping for a touted turn-around in behavior.

Minor children are often brought in by force and may even be sedated with drugs to subdue them during their initial entry.

Former students have described such schools as virtual "prisons" where they were bullied, humiliated and at times physically abused.

Some critics say such facilities often employ extreme environmental control and coercive persuasion techniques not unlike destructive cults to "brainwash" participants.

Lawsuits and even criminal charges have swirled around what many call the "teen boot camp" industry.

[Posted by Rick Ross at 10:18 AM][Link]
Is the Mexican president influenced by a controversial "right wing" Catholic sect?

A controversial conservative Catholic organization called the Legionaries of Christ founded by a Mexican priest accused of sexual misconduct, appears to have some influence over the family of the President of Mexico , reports Newsweek.

The second wife of President Vicente Fox has historic ties to the group and two of his children have attended its schools.

Former members allege the group is excessively authoritarian and abusively controlling.

The Legionaries of Christ control 10 universities and 154 private schools.

Critics claim the group often seizes control of such institutions in what can be seen as a somewhat hostile take over process, purging those who don't hold to their strict view of Catholicism and harsh style of governance.

There have been repeated and serious complaints within the United States by lay Catholics, priests and educators regarding the organization.

[Posted by Rick Ross at 09:57 AM][Link]

DISCLAIMER: This news page is about groups, organizations or movements, which may have been "cults" and/or "cult-like" in some way, shape or form. But not all groups called either "cults" or "cult-like" are harmful. Instead, they may be benign and generally defined as simply people intensely devoted to a person, place or thing. Therefore, the discussion or mention of a group, organization or person on this page, is not necessarily meant pejoratively.
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