Long-time “cult apologist” James Lewis has produced another book defending destructive cults.

But a review dismissed his work as “inflammatory” with “generalizations, and simplistic explanations,” reports YellowBrix.com.

For example, Lewis claims that those who criticize cults are “applying the cult stereotype to every religious group that strikes one as strange or different.”

Cult apologists he says are actually “defenders of the rights of minority religions.”

Following what seems to have become a Lewis standard regarding research, much of the material within the book “has been vetted by the groups themselves,” reports the reviewer.

An interesting example of Lewis acting as one of the “defenders of the rights of minority religions” took place in 1995.

The apologist flew to Japan as one of the “defenders” of the now infamous cult Aum. He claimed that the group was a victims of “persecution.”

Lewis was accompanied by two other well known “defenders of…minority religions,” Gordon Melton and James Fisher. And the trio’s travel expenses were paid for completely by the cult.

After spending only days in Japan Lewis quickly concluded that Aum could not have produced the poison gas used in the Tokyo subway attack, which sent thousands to hospitals and killed 12.

He came to this startling conclusion by examining material provided to him by Aum leaders. No doubt that material “had been vetted” first by Aum.

This essentially typifies the quality of “scholarship” and/or “research,” which has become a Lewis standard.

Needless to say the apologist’s conclusions regarding Aum have been proven totally false.

Overwhelming evidence has substantiated without question, that not only did Aum produce the poison gas used for the subway attack, the cult was also working on an array of other weapons of mass destruction.

Numerous criminal convictions of Aum members have since taken place.

Lewis, rather than representing objective scholarship, seems to be more of an academic cult collaborator, who produces opinions largely subject to a sponsor’s approval.

He has also worked closely with the Church of Scientology, which has recommended him as a “religious resource.”

A Japanese reporter said Shoko Asahara’s conduct was impulsive and that the Aum cult leader seemed to disregard “the consequences of his actions,” reports The Japan Times.

But this should come as no great revelation.

Destructive cult leaders most often appear to fit the profile of a sociopath, devoid of conscience. And mental health experts have also frequently found such leaders are “psychopaths.”

The “brainwashing” of Aum members was also described.

This process included sleep deprivation and apparent trance induction through “acetic training.” At times hallucinogenic drugs were used.

According to the reporter, “If [Aum members] felt their actions were wrong, they would automatically shake off such misgivings, thinking: ‘This is training to rid me of doubt. The order cannot be wrong, because only Asahara sees the whole picture.’ ”

The net result was essentially total obedience achieved through an organized process of specific training to suppress critical thinking.

Moreover, after giving up their former lives and property, most Aum members had little to go back to if they seriously considered the possibility of leaving.

Many destructive cults around the world use virtually the same process of isolation, intensive training and indoctrination to make their members submissive and easy to manipulate.

Despite the fact that many Aum devotees were highly educated and from good families, they were still vulnerable to such techniques of coercive persuasion.

A destructive cult is most often defined by its dependence upon a living leader that controls and defines its purpose. His or her personality is the pivotal element and focus of the group.

Leading cult expert and author Margaret Singer said within her book Cults in Our Midst, “In most cases, there is one person, typically the founder at the top…decision making centers in him or her.”

However, the “one person” that defined Aum of Japan is now gone and isolated from his followers.

As a direct result Aum devotees appear to be “flailing” in a “vacuum,” reports The Japan Times.

Shoko Asahara, imprisoned pending final sentencing for his poison gas attack upon Tokyo’s subways, cannot direct his followers who are “starving for direct messages.” And “die-hard members are wondering whether there is any point in preserving the group.”

This current dilemma amongst Aum devotees reflects that rather than creating a “new religion,” Asahara actually brought forth a cult dependent and based upon his personality. And it is apparently not a viable religious belief system that can sustain itself independently without him.

Robert Jay Lifton, author of Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism wrote a paper titled Cult Formation. He noted that despite a destructive cult’s claims it is really “a charismatic leader” that defines such a group. That person “increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose their power.”

One Japanese devotee put it this way, “Everything tied to Aum, including its religious goals, doctrines, training programs and organizational structures, is based on Asahara’s presence as leader.”

An old analogy comes to mind.

A destructive cult without its leader can be seen much like “a chicken with its head cut off.”

“Flailing,” but ultimately collapsing in a heap without its head.

Asahara won’t be coming back. It appears almost certain that the cult leader will be sentenced to death and hang for his crimes–ending his life “flailing” himself.

The Waco Tribune Herald concluded its nine-part series today with an article entitled, “Prophesying about Waco.”

The newspaper was seemingly taking a swing at foretelling the future, but not in any biblical sense. The article focused on the future of Waco, in an effort to burnish the image of the Texas town.

Baylor University is spending more than a $100 million dollars to expand its presence in Waco and some civic leaders hope that President George W. Bush might decide to build his presidential library there.

The series explored the town and its mood more than it delved into the facts about the Branch Davidians, at times it read like a brochure put out by the Waco Chamber of Commerce.

Ten years ago things were quite different.

Waco Tribune reporters Darlene McCormick and Mark Englund, who are no longer on staff at the newspaper, dug deep to produce an in-depth investigative series titled “The Sinful Messiah.”

If not for politics the two journalists might have picked up a Pulitzer.

That was then, and this is now.

Hard reporting seems to be the last thing anyone wants in Waco these days. What the Texas town is intent upon, is distancing itself from the cult led by David Koresh.

One civic booster even went so far as to point out that the cult standoff “happened outside of Waco.” And then offered these prophetic words, “I think we’ve got about as bright a future as we ever had.”


A Baylor professor chimed in, “Time has a wonderful way of curing things…My guess is that as time passes, the name ‘Waco’ – so indelibly marked in the minds of most Americans for a time [regarding the cult standoff] – will begin to fade.”

Well, Baylor certainly hopes so.

But the Waco Davidian tragedy was the second longest standoff in American history. And it is highly unlikely that it will “fade” anytime soon, despite the “prophesying.”

In fact it seems like some folks in Waco would rather ignore history altogether.

The paper appeared anxious not to anger anti-government conspiracy types. In a seeming bow to the fringe it reported a fire of “much-debated origin” ended the lives of the Davidians.

However, this ignores the facts as established by two congressional inquiries, an independent investigation and the verdict of both judge and jury in a civil trial.

The overwhelming evidence has conclusively proven that Koresh ordered the fire set.

In the final paragraphs of the recent Tribune series Baylor sociologist Larry Lyon offered his evaluation of the standoff’s enduring legacy.

He claimed, “It no longer means religious fanaticism. Now it’s a place where the government overreached.”

Perhaps this thinking is popular in Waco, essentially blaming the tragedy on outsiders. But the professor must be in an academic isolation tank.

Maybe he thinks the mass suicide at Jonestown was also the government’s fault, for not requiring that all Kool-Aide packages state, “Do not mix with cyanide.”

Kerri Jewell was only a child a decade ago, but her memory is more deeply etched that the professor’s. This is because she once lived in the cult compound.

Jewell said in a recent interview, “At some point we were going to have to die for him [David Koresh]. I didn’t expect to live past 12.”

Due to a bitter custody fight Kerri Jewell was not in the compound at the time of the standoff. Her mother was and she died in the fire.

ABC reported Davidian kids were taught “there were only two types of people: ‘good’ people who were inside the cult, and ‘bad’ people who were everyone else.”

Some Davidians still around Waco make it clear they feel the same. One told the Tribune there was still hope for the town though.

Clive Doyle said, “I believe God wants to save Waco, and I believe God works every day to change the minds of the people in Waco.”


Another Davidian put it less tactfully, “When David [Koresh] comes back, there’s going to be an earthquake so bad that Lake Waco, the shore, is going to drop 15 feet. When it does that, there’s going to be a flood here like you never seen.”

Now there’s some old time “prophesying.”

Waco will continue to be largely remembered as the place where a destructive cult chose to end its days.

And contrary to what Lyon concludes, Waco and other cult tragedies since, have proven the government rather than worrying about “overreaching,” often must take decisive action.

In 1995 Aum gassed Tokyo’s subways, sending thousands to hospitals and killing twelve. Next came the Solar Temple suicide in Switzerland, which initially claimed the lives of 74.

Americans were shocked in 1997 when 39 “Heaven’s Gate” cult members committed mass-suicide near San Diego. And the government had no interest in the group.

Criminal arrests and prosecutions in recent years, reflect law enforcement’s growing reach into the world of groups called “cults.”

A few examples include the Nuwaubians and House of Prayer in Georgia, the Church of God Restoration in Canada and California, the R.G. Stair’s Overcomers Ministry in North Carolina, the General Assembly Church of the First Born in Colorado and Polygamist groups in Utah and Arizona.

Since anti-government extremist Timothy McVeigh bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City murdering 168, with “Remember Waco” as his battle cry, the FBI has busted and put away many so-called “militia” members for weapons violations.

It is doubtful that Koresh would be able to stockpile illegal weapons today as easily as he did in 1992-93.

The FBI has learned to identify and deal with fanatics more effectively. The Freeman standoff in Montana, which ended peacefully, proved this.

But the Freemen were not the Davidians, with a leader comparable to Koresh. It is doubtful that the Waco standoff could have ended any way, other than the one chosen by the cult leader.

In the final analysis this is the greatest lesson of Waco.

Destructive cult leaders are often psychopaths capable of horrific acts. Cult followers frequently abdicate any meaningful autonomy in favor of total dependence upon their leaders. And they then rely upon the judgement of someone else that may be mad.

This can be a formula for disaster. Waco is proof of that.

Japanese cult leader Chizuo Matsumoto, known as Shoko Asahara, once led thousands who hung on his every word.

But now the leader previously known for rambling rants, sits silent in a Tokyo courtroom, as he faces murder charges for the 1995 poison gas attack on the city’s subways.

Why won’t Asahara speak?

The trial of the guru has gone on for seven years, is he bored? Some speculate this might be a legal strategy, reports Asahi.

More likely the former cult leader doesn’t enjoy being in a situation that he doesn’t control.

Matsumoto has already been indicted on 27 murder counts and the outcome of this long trial seems certain.

Asahara will likely hang in accordance with Japanese law and the wishes of families that he victimized.

In another related story an Aum devotee just released from prison flew to Moscow in an attempt to rally the faithful remnant there, reports News24.

That devotee Fumihiro Joyu claims he has “lost faith” in his jailed guru, because Asahara’s prophecies failed regarding the end of the world.

But that disappointment did not persuade Joyu to dissolve the group. After all, the cult business is often quite lucrative.

The Japanese government sitll considers Aum a threat, reports the BBC.

It wouldn’t be prophetic to predict the end for Asahara now. Despite his silence Chizuo Matsumoto will be executed and find his ultimate fulfillment at the end of a rope.

Another “cult apologist” has surfaced through the news coverage of Elizabeth Smart.

Nancy Ammerman of the Hartford Institute for Religious Research previously has spoken about the Branch Davidians.

In 1993 Ammerman claimed within a published report that the FBI was negligent because they didn’t listen to her fellow apologists James Tabor and Phillip Arnold. Both men have been recommended as “religious resources” by the Church of Scientology, which has often been called a “cult.”

Ammerman’s work regarding the Davidian standoff was lauded by Scientology through a full-page article within its own “Freedom Magazine.” And she has admitted that “various political and lobbying groups” influenced her view of that cult tragedy.

The professor’s report about the FBI was later included in a book titled “Armageddon in Waco,” which also contains the work of scholars historically associated with and/or supported by groups called “cults.”

Ammerman observed that “If [Elizabeth Smart] was a devout religious person, and [her captor] wanted to play on those religious sentiments, it’s plausible, just plausible, that she could have understood this to be some sort of religious experience,” reports the Palm Beach Post.

Is a violent kidnapping, rape and imprisonment now somehow to be categorized within the realm of “religious experience”?

Here it seems Ammerman is avoiding the “B” word (“brainwashing“), in an attempt to offer some sort of alternative “religious” explanation.

But isn’t there a more obvious and plausible understanding, which is more consistent with the established facts?

Elizabeth was initially isolated for months. This began when the 14-year-old girl was first held in a boarded up hole at a relatively remote campsite. This is not unlike what happened to cult kidnap victim Patty Hearst in 1974, when she was first confined within a closet by the Symbionese Liberation Army.

Elizabeth like Hearst was brutally raped, terrorized and effectively cut off from the outside world. This made Mitchell’s process of coercive persuasion not only possible, but also enabled its eventual success. Mitchell then simply solidified his undue influence.

Elizabeth became “Augustine.” And though she had numerous opportunities to escape and/or identify herself to authorities, she did not do so. Instead, for months “Augustine” passively followed her captors, Mitchell and/or Barzee.

Her actions cannot simply be explained away by her “religious experience,” or written off as just the effects of trauma and the “Stockholm Syndrome.”

Ammerman also said, “I suppose he also could have played off of a child’s desire to be obedient to an adult.”

This is a common sense observation almost anyone might make about adult authority.

But attempting to explain Mitchell’s undue influence over the child by linking it to her religious background sounds a bit like “victim bashing.”

Such a conclusion seemingly supposes that if Elizabeth and/or her family were not Mormons, Mitchell an excommunicated Mormon, might not have been so successful.

However, Mitchell’s bizarre religious “Manifesto,” an odd hodge-podge of beliefs taken from many sources, has little meaningful similarity to the Mormon Church Elizabeth attended.

Mitchell may have claimed to be a “prophet,” but Elizabeth must have known through her religious training, that the only prophets accepted by Mormons are those that are acknowledged by their church.

Accordingly, despite Mitchell’s claims, only the current church president could be seen by Elizabeth as a living prophet today.

In actuality Elizabeth’s “religious experience” can be seen more readily as an obstacle for Mitchell to overcome, rather than a common premise or bond that empowered him.

Again, Patty Hearst like Elizabeth Smart had no apparent common bond with her captors. Hearst was not a campus radical and/or left wing political activist. And the Hearst family were conservative and Republican.

But Patricia Hearst nevertheless, due to the process she was subjected to through her confinement, isolation and treatment, succumbed to her captors and became “Tania,” a revolutionary Marxist.

A cursory review of other cult victims in groups like Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple, Solar Temple, Aum of Japan and “Heaven’s Gate,” demonstrates a diversity of backgrounds and frequently that personal histories are not in harmony with the cult’s beliefs.

Any attempt to simplistically categorize cult victims seems more like denial than serious examination.

Such claims as, their common “religious” background and/or religious devotion, made the victim vulnerable, appears to surmise that this somehow can’t be done effectively or as easily to secular or less devout people.

And let’s not forget that Elizabeth was abducted not recruited.

Research indicates that almost anyone may succumb to the extreme environmental control and pressures imposed by someone like Mitchell, and almost certainly a 14-year-old child held prisoner.

Perhaps rather than engaging in specious and/or simplistic explanations, Ammerman should have explored the unique circumstances, but common characteristics that define destructive cult indoctrination, often described as “thought reform.”

Japanese cult leader Shoko Asahara, once the head of Aum, the group responsible for the 1995 poison gas attack upon Tokyo’s subway system, is still on trial.

Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, has been sitting in court for almost seven years, reports Kyodo News Service.

Japanese justice grinds very slowly, but finely.

But now the man once revered as a virtual god and whose bath water was sold to followers refuses to speak.

Asahara who can barely see has chosen to also become mute, refusing to cooperate even with his attorneys. It seems the man who once spoke endlessly now thinks by not responding he is somehow in control.


Delusion dies hard. And Asahara’s variety of megalomania, relatively common amongst cult leaders, seems irrepressible.

However, whether Asahara deigns to speak or not the overwhelming evidence and testimony presented by prosecutors speaks for itself.

Asahara will be convicted and then probably sentenced to death.

Harvard Professor of Psychology Richard J. McNally recently presented definitive research, which demonstrated that emotional trauma, can come from imagined experiences, such as UFO abductions.

McNally seems to think such claims are actually only “false memories” produced largely through “the power of emotional belief.”

But apparently another academic at Harvard thinks otherwise.

John E. Mack, a professor at Harvard Medical School runs “The Center for Psychology and Social Change” and his spokesperson disputed McNally’s results, reported the Harvard Crimson.

Instead Mack’s man announced that “a spiritual reality…exists apart from the material and the non-material.” He added, “McNally assumes that the alien encounters are just beliefs…but that’s not clear-cut.”


Of course Mack’s center cited no objective evidence to substantiate its statements.

In 1995 Mack was warned about his questionable research. The professor was told it was “affecting the academic standards of the Medical School.” Harvard’s affiliation with the Mack center was subsequently withdrawn.

The editor of the New England Journal of Medicine said John Mack’s approach to research is rather to “only gone through the motions.” He quipped, “If I were dean, I might have said to him, ‘John, for God’s sake, take a look at what you’re doing, you’re making a fool of yourself.'”

So it seems that the ranks of “true believers,” who accept without meaningful proof such strange imaginings as UFO abductions, are not only naïve, uneducated, unsophisticated folks or X-Files fans.

At least one believer, who apparently thinks the “truth is out there,” is a tenured faculty member of Harvard Medical School.

Incredibly, four million Americans now believe they were once abducted by beings from outer space.

And these alleged kidnap victims share a “common recipe,” reports the BBC.

Researchers say people that make such claims typically have a similar profile of “pre-existing new-age beliefs…bio-energetic therapies, past lives, astral projection, tarot cards” and very often suffered “episodes of apparent sleep paralysis accompanied by hallucinations.”

Many then saw therapists who “would frequently suggest alien abduction as a cause–an explanation.”

Of course there is no objective evidence to prove such claims.

But nevertheless, these anecdotal stories have become the premise for urban legends, television programs and a fixture within American pop culture.

You then might ask, “What is a ‘UFO researche’ then'”? This may seem like something of an oxymoron?


Because UFO enthusiasts appear to be simply “true believers” and not really concerned with science, other than science fiction.

And alien beings from outer space have become principle players that animate their belief system, which is based upon subjective stories about strange encounters, alleged cover-ups and abductions, rather than scientific facts.

But those who believe, truly believe.

Researcher and Harvard Professor Richard McNally noted the “power of emotional belief” within his presentation before the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

McNally said, “If you genuinely believe you’ve been traumatized and recall these memories, you’ll show the same psycho-physiologic emotional reactions as people who really have been traumatized.”

This conclusion may also explain “faith healers,” though repeatedly proven to be frauds, still produce apparent results through those that believe they have been “healed.” They too “genuinely believe,” regardless of the absence of any objective physical evidence.

Likewise, millions of true believers around the world follow cult leaders that claim some supernatural power, but actually rely upon the same “emotional power” McNally has identified.

This is certainly a “common recipe” within most cults.

J. Gordon Melton in apparently now promoting the seventh edition of his book called the “Encyclopedia of American Religions.”

But don’t expect to see any meaningful critical analysis or fact-driven revelations within this tome. Instead the part-time teacher and library worker at the University of California in Santa Barbara, basically reiterates whatever religious groups tell him.

For example, you won’t read that space aliens from another planet are the actual basis for Scientology’s theology.

In a short study by Melton about Scientology he again fails to even mention the premise that forms the basis for its entire belief system.


Because Scientology didn’t tell Mr. Melton that and they don’t want this information discussed within his published work.

Is this beginning to sound a bit specious for a supposed scholar?

Melton’s encyclopedia retails for $310.00, which may partly explain its ranking on Amazon.com at well below 500,000.

However, Mr. Melton and his book got some good press recently in an article by Richard Ostling, carried by Associated Press.

What Ostling doesn’t mention is the more sordid side of the author’s work. Melton has often been called a “cult apologist.”

In fact Mr. Melton refuses to use the term “cult.” Instead he prefers to call groups like Scientology, “The Family” and Ramtha, “new religions” or “new religious movements” (NRMs).

Maybe this is because they pay him.

Melton often works for groups called “cults,” either through cult-funded “research projects,” books or as an expert witness.

J.Z. Knight, who leads the Ramtha group, hired him to write the book for her titled Finding Enlightenment: Ramtha’s School of Ancient Wisdom.

Scientology has recommended Melton as a resource. And after the Cult Awareness Network was bankrupted by that group’s litigation and its name was bought by a Scientologist, Gordon Melton became a “religious resource” recommended by the “new Cult Awareness Network.”

Mr. Melton seems eager to help “cults” whenever he can.

He once flew to Japan to defend the cult Aum, right after it released poison gas within Tokyo’s subway system. While thousands of victims were being rushed to hospitals Mr. Melton flew in, all of his expenses were paid for by the criminal cult.

For a “scholar” Gordon Melton often seems indifferent concerning historical facts.

Jim Jones was responsible for the cult mass murder-suicide of more than 900 people in Jonestown November 18, 1978. However, Mr. Melton said, “This wasn’t a cult. This was a respectable, mainline Christian group.”

Melton has earned a reputation for largely ignoring and/or discounting the testimony of former cult members.

Professor Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi of the University of Haifa noted, “In every single case since the Jonestown tragedy, statements by ex-members turned out to be more accurate than those of apologists and NRM researchers…It is indeed baffling…the strange, deafening, silence of [such scholars]…a thorny issue…like the dog that didn’t bark… should make us curious, if not outright suspicious.”

Is Gordon Melton such a silent scholar, or perhaps even a “silent partner”? After all he is often paid by cults.

Melton was prominently mentioned within a confidential memo written and distributed by Jeffery Hadden. This memo has been cited as a kind of “smoking gun,” regarding the tacit cooperation of like-minded “cult apologists.”

Within that memo the now deceased Hadden cited Melton’s importance and willingness to cooperate in an organized effort, which would hopefully be funded by “cults,” to essentially quell criticism about them.

Hadden said, “We recognize that Gordon Melton’s Institute is singularly the most important information resource in the US, and we feel that any new organization would need to work closely with him.”

Ostling’s article carried by the AP cites Melton’s “nonpartisan objectivity,” but can anyone who objectively reviews his actual professional history really conclude that J. Gordon Melton is nonpartisan?