Leah Remini’s new book is out “Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology.” And once gain people struggle to understand why anyone would join something as seemingly outlandish as Scientology. But the fact is that no one knowingly makes such a choice. Certainly not before the Web and social media made Scientology’s secrets so easily accessible. When Leah Remini entered Scientology as a child she simply believed what Scientology told her and what her mother encouraged her to accept.

That’s how “normal” people get tricked and trapped into groups called “cults” like Scientology. No one truly enters such an authoritarian high demand group with fully informed consent.  Groups like Scientology deliberately withhold their secrets and refuse to let potential recruits fully understand how the group actually works, what it is really all about and what its ultimate demands might be. Remini reportedly gave millions of dollars to Scientology, but was only allowed to learn what Scientology was willing to share step-by-step per a price list.

There have been many young people brought into Scientology through family ties like Remini. This list includes the rocker Beck, actor Danny Masterson and Elvis’s daughter Lisa Marie Presley. People are often introduced to groups called “cults” by someone they trust.

It has been stated or implied that somehow the victims of Scientology are to blame in some way for their own victimization. They supposedly had “blind faith.” a personality flaw, deficiency or lack of judgement that ultimately led to their demise. Nothing could be further from the truth. And anyone who seriously researchers in any depth the process of Scientology’s recruitment and retention tactics can easily see this.

The initial TRs (training routines) in Scientology amount to little more than breaking people down, engendering dependency and submission rather than promoting some deeper understanding of anything to improve and empower people. As Scientologists move through this training and courses their dependency upon the organization is intentionally nurtured and grows until the typical Scientologist finds it difficult to make independent value judgements or critically think outside of Scientology’s closed system. That system becomes a kind of box of containment or mental prison.51228S+Y3TL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_ (1)

Every Scientologist learns an internal group vocabulary of loaded language established by Scientology founder and former science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, which is filled with thought terminating clichés. This manipulative verbiage is an excellent example of what author George Orwell called “doublespeak” in his book “1984.” Scientology’s founder and its current leader David Miscavige could easily fulfill the role of Orwell’s character “Big Brother.”  Scientology knowingly produces what can be seen as “blind faith” by confining and blinding people within its own alternate reality. Scientologists can essentially become mindless pawns manipulated by L. Ron Hubbard’s system and replicated to embrace his worldview.

Scientology’s organizational glue, which holds its adherents rigidly in place, is its ongoing check and countercheck system of enforcement that is implemented through a multi-layered organizational machine as conceived and constructed by L. Ron Hubbard. This operational machine includes key components such as auditing (enforced confession with the help of an e-meter that measures nervous tension ) coupled with the formation of files composed of personal information obtained through the auditing process and other sources such as “knowledge reports” from Scientologists (e.g. spouses, family, friends within Scientology). All of this ongoing policing is done by dedicated Scientologists performing their relegated roles within the Hubbard machine. This includes designated twins in training routines, auditors, course supervisors and ethics officers.

There is a kind of bullying and intimidation known as “handling” that goes on in Scientology.  Having people handled is part of the policing process within Scientology and it is used to keep people under control. There are also substantial exit costs involved if a Scientologist considers leaving, which further reinforces control and silences dissent or critical questions. The exit costs of leaving Scientology can include the probability of being declared a PTS (potential trouble source) or worse an SP (suppressive person). Subsequently, the former Scientologist can be disconnected from family, friends and business associates. Instead of taking the risk of being so marked many Scientologists suffer in silence, suppressing their doubts and negative feelings about the organization. Some that cannot suppress their feelings sufficiently may find themselves facing a punitive process, which might ultimately put them in RPF (Rehabilitation Project Force) as punishment. Reportedly RPF can be a horrible experience that includes what can be seen as slave labor, personal humiliation, general degradation and at times brutal physical violence. These factors keep many Scientologists silent and trapped for many years.

Scientologists ultimately become bound by what Scientology calls its “technology” or its “tech,” which is essentially the L. Ron Hubbard proscribed way of being, thinking and feeling about everything.

The idea that anyone really chooses Scientology knowingly and stays happily without some level of coercion is simply a myth perpetuated by ignorance. It does not reflect detailed research and analysis about the deceptive recruitment and indoctrination process used by Scientology. Groups like Scientology are often quite deliberately deceptive and use coercive persuasion and influence techniques to gain advantage over people and control them.

scientologyThe Machiavellian way in which Hubbard designed the interlocking mechanisms of his Scientology machine represents whatever real “genius” the former science fiction writer possessed.

People placing blame on Scientology’s victims frequently say they should have noticed “red flags” or “warning signs” when they went through their recruitment and indoctrination process. Somehow common sense should have saved them.

But these notions again reflect a basic ignorance of how Scientology and other groups called “cults” really work. There are no red flags that are evident to people who have had their critical thinking and ability to make independent value judgements deliberately shut down by a group like Scientology. The training, auditing, courses and policing done within the organization effectively blinds people so that they cannot see the warning signs and their common sense is strategically short circuited by the group’s coercive persuasion tactics.

Individual accountability is only possible if people have the ability to genuinely reflect and critically evaluate a situation free of undue influence. People in groups called “cults” don’t truly regain their individual autonomy until after they leave the group and have effectively unplugged themselves from the system and exited the box that held them. After leaving the group environment and its control of information and communication former members can then begin an independent process of sorting through and unraveling their experience.

We are all vulnerable to persuasion. If this were not true there would be no advertising, political propaganda or money paid for celebrity endorsements. It’s wrong to blame or shame people for simply being human. We are all vulnerable to deception and manipulation. By accepting this reality we can better understand and recognize the tricks and traps used by destructive cults.

Groups called “cults” can be seen as a confidence game. But unlike the typical con man who moves on after his scam has succeeded–the cult leader keeps conning and exploiting the same people indefinitely.

Specifically focused education about the recruitment and retention tactics of groups called “cults” is a crucial factor in avoiding their con game.

Knowledge about coercive persuasion, influence techniques and corresponding behavior modification began decades ago through the research and published work of MIT professor Edgar Schein (1961), Harvard University instructor, researcher and medical doctor Robert Jay Lifton (1961) and UC Berkeley professor and clinical psychologist Margaret Singer (research and published work 1953-2001). Later, authors and communication experts Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman (“Snapping” 1978, “Holy Terror” 1982), ASU professor of psychology Robert Cialdini (“Influence” 1984) and sociologists Richard Ofshe (research and published work 1974-2000), Benjamin Zablocki (research and published work 1971-2001) and others significantly added to this growing body of research.

To better understand how the basic building blocks of coercive persuasion, thought reform and influence techniques work together to gain undue influence see the following:

“Cult Formation,” by Robert Jay Lifton, MD

“Thought Reform and Psychology of Totalism,” by Robert Jay Lifton, MD

“Coercive Persuasion and Attitude Change,” By Richard Ofshe, PhD

Six Basic Principles of Influence, from the book “Influence” by Robert Cialdini, PhD

Thought Reform Programs and the Production of Psychiatric Casualties,” by Margaret Singer, PhD

Chart demonstrating distinctions between various forms of persuasion (education, advertising, propaganda, indoctrination and thought reform), by Margaret Singer, PhD

A list of persuasion techniques by Margaret Singer, PhD

Edgar Schein’s seminal book “Coercive Persuasion : A Socio-psychological Analysis of the ‘Brainwashing’ of American Civilian Prisoners by the Chinese Communists” (1961) and Conway and Siegelman’s classic “Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change” (1978) explain how people can be tricked and trapped through coercive persuasion and communication tactics.

Schein (1961) and Lifton (1961) established the foundation of coercive persuasion or thought reform and how it is used to shape and mold a predetermined and preferred mindset. Singer (research and published work 1953-2001) and Ofshe (research and published work 1974-2000) extensively explained how coercive persuasion and behavior modification worked within the process of cult indoctrination. Conway and Siegelman identified what they called “information disease” (1978), which is accomplished through the control of information and communication. They further described the role of “emotional control” in schemes of coercive persuasion within their second book “Holy Terror” (1982). Taken together this body of work explains how behavior modification, information control, thought reform and emotional control can function in tandem together  as strategic tools used by authoritarian high demand groups called “cults” to effectively break people down and shape their consciousness for the purpose of exploitation through undue influence.

In his book (1961) about coercive persuasion Edgar Schein described this process in three basic stages, which he calls “unfreezing,” “changing” and then “refreezing” the person subjected to this process.

Scientology promises many things and presents itself in various forms, such as drug rehabilitation, study technology and other incarnations. Whatever works to draw people into the system Hubbard devised to break them down, force them to change and ultimately freeze them within his system. This process has hurt many people.

The key to freedom from Scientology is understanding and unraveling Hubbard’s system of control and breaking out of his machine.

Reading the writings of the previously listed authors can make a huge difference in the recovery process of any former member of a purported cult like Scientology. It allows the ex-member the ability to identify and unravel the specific programming done by the group, which has affected their thinking and feelings. Education is the key that unlocks the box.

My book “Cults Inside Out: How People Get In and Can Get Out” (2014) includes a detailed history of modern cults beginning with Charles Manson to groups called “cults” today. There are two chapters devoted exclusively to Scientology. One about the history of Scientology and another about a successful family intervention to get a 27-year member out of the group. The book explains what is commonly called “cult brainwashing” and identifies the nucleus for a definition of a destructive cult. My book is a synthesis of properly attributed and footnoted research regarding the coercive persuasion and influence techniques used by destructive cults to gain undue influence. There are more than 1,200 footnotes and an 18-page bibliography, which can help the reader delve more deeply into various aspects of the cult phenomenon. This is an important issue today as the world faces the violence of what President Obama has called an “apocalyptic cult” known as ISIS. Destructive cults have become a global concern.

What Scientology does has been done by many other groups called “cults” over the decades and it’s important to contextualize Scientology within that history.

Leah Remini has heroically managed to unplug herself from the L. Ron Hubbard machine. She has effectively left the box that once contained her and courageously shared her story to help others find their voice and follow in her footsteps. Remini can now communicate in her own words instead of the stilted verbiage once imposed upon her by Scientology. Remini is not being handled by Scientology and no longer needs to suppress her independent thinking. She is free to live her life without the fetters of Hubbard’s technology. Remini is also fortunate that she has managed to leave Scientology with her family intact.

Most former Scientologists to some extent and at some point beat themselves up over their past. They can be quite hard and self-critical about their time in Scientology. It serves no useful purpose and only compounds their pain to blame them or somehow imply that were in some way complicit in their own victimization.

In my opinion L. Ron Hubbard’s innate ability as a master manipulator was his real skill. Hubbard’s conception and construction of a relatively complex multi-layered control system to break people and keep them in silent submission was his ultimate achievement and the fact that this machine is still running today is Hubbard’s lasting legacy. The evil genius of this machine is that each of its individual parts is composed of people under the influence of Hubbard’s mindset dutifully performing their function to enforce Scientology control. The “brainwashed” unknowingly perpetuating Hubbard’s brand of “brainwashing.”

The Cult Education Institute has one of the largest archives of information about Scientology on the Web. This online database, which is a nonprofit public library, was initially launched in 1996 and continues to be added to and updated on an ongoing basis.

Hubbard made many claims. But apparently in the end Scientology was unable to save him from himself. He reportedly died isolated, medicated, estranged from family members and seemingly terrified of perceived dark forces.  Ironically the life of L. Ron Hubbard ultimately disproved his self-improvement theories.

Again, it is vitally important not to shame or blame the victims of groups like Scientology. We must not indict them with accusations of “blind faith,” but rather question who systematically blinded them and endeavor to comprehend how this process was accomplished. Shame and blame must not become am impediment that former cult members are forced to overcome.  No one who has endured a group like Scientology deserves such recrimination and treatment as they go through what is often a painful and challenging process of recovery.

, , ,

You have seen them in movies and on TV, but cults are more prevalent than you think and they are armed with strategies that can “brainwash” and gain undue influence over even the most unlikely of candidates.

But how do individuals get involved with destructive cults in the first place, and what steps can be taken for those concerned to intervene “deprogram” and heal those who have been drawn into these damaging groups?

These questions and more are addressed in Cults Inside Out: How People Get In and Can Get Out, written with the help of current and former cult members, Ross demonstrates many of the tactics destructive cults use for control and manipulation—and, more importantly, some of the most effective methods he and other experts have used to reverse that programming.

As a result, readers will find themselves armed with a greater understanding of the nature of destructive cults and an improved ability to assess and deal with similar situations—either in their own lives or the lives of friends and family members.

From the Manson family to Heaven’s Gate, to multilevel marketing schemes, there are as many types of cults as there are leaders looking to control and manipulate.

Luckily the more people know and understand about these damaging groups, the less influential they will be–and Cults Inside Out exposes the inner workings of cults of all shapes and sizes.

About the author

For more than three decades, Rick Alan Ross has worked with current and former cult members, including participation in more than five hundred interventions. Along the way, he has learned the methods of these groups use to deceive and “brainwash” even the most unlikely individuals. Using real-life examples and first-hand accounts, this informative look at the world of destructive cults will arm readers with a greater understanding of the dangers of such cults–as well as providing valuable information about the intervention or “deprogramming” process.

Ross has consulted with the FBI, the BATF and other law enforcement agencies, as well as the governments of Israel and China on the topic of cults. Ross is a private consultant, lecturer and cult intervention specialist. He has been qualified and accepted as an expert court witness in eleven different states, including United States federal court. He has also worked as a professional analyst for CBS News, CBC of Canada, and Nippon and Asahi of Japan. He has appeared in thirteen documentaries and numerous network television interviews. Ross has been quoted by the media all over the world.

Rick Alan Ross is the founder of the Cult Education Institute, an online library and member of the American Library Association, whose database is one of the largest sources of information regarding cults on the Internet.

Comments about the book

“For any parent or family member searching for information about how to get a loved one out of a destructive cult, this book puts it all together — from the real nature of cults, to the right way to prepare for an intervention, to the actual experiences of a cult-buster who’s been at the head of his field for decades.”

–Tony Ortega, journalist and former Village Voice editor

index“Experts agree that thought reform is one of the greatest dangers to society and that the best defense is education. No person has done more to educate the public about its dangers then Rick Ross. When the media has needed explanations it has been Rick Ross providing the answers in simple easy to understand language. Now he has put it all into a book. Knowledge can be the best protection. And that’s the best reason to read this book.”

–Paul Morantz, author of “Escape: My Life Long War Against Cults”

“Rick Ross has provided us with a wealth of information in Cults Inside Out, which bears the fruits of his extensive knowledge and decades of experience in working with those who have been impacted by a destructive cult. His comprehensive review of the history from the 1970s to the present is much needed, given that many young people today are unaware of events that were headlines when they occurred, such as Jonestown and how they came about. There are many audiences for this book: people with loved ones in cults, former cult members, helping professionals looking to educate themselves, people working in the legal system, educators and others. This book also provides excellent guidelines for people who have decided to intervene with a cult-involved loved one and are seeking help. Ross presents his own approach in great detail, which is honest, educational, non-forcible and non-coercive – the opposite of what destructive cults do. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in learning more about cults and how to help others or themselves to become or remain free of undue influence.”

–Monica Pignotti, PhD

“In his masterful new book, Cults Inside Out, Rick Ross has delivered an exceptional and critically needed resource. He has gathered together in one comprehensive volume detailed, documented information about the diverse and growing number of controlling persons and groups preying on individuals, families and communities in the United States and worldwide. He brings to this impressive body of information his own expertise and first-hand experience spanning three decades helping victimized families. If you want to educate yourself, inoculate your family, and equip your loved ones with understanding and awareness about how predatory people and groups can steal their minds, their hearts, and their lives, read Cults Inside Out. Then make a gift of it to a friend.”

—Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, authors of

Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change

By Rick Alan Ross

A Jordanian online publication Al Bawaba recently ran an article titled “UK girl’s family fears Internet brainwashing.” The report proposed that “powerful jihadists are ‘brainwashing’ British teenagers through the internet.”

The aunt of one such teenage recruit said that her niece “was [radicalized] online after spending increasing amounts of time on her laptop and smart phone” communicating with ISIS members. She claims, “They can brainwash these children or 15 or 19-year-olds to leave their own home…it can happen to anyone.” Her niece may have been recruited through a so-called “jihadi dating site.”

The Mirror reported that in response to such recruitment efforts the British “Home Office has closed down 30,000 terrorist-linked websites in just nine months.” Through such websites “the internet is increasingly being hijacked by terrorist [organizations] to seduce Britons into going to war.”

yusra-hussienDestructive cults were pioneers on the World Wide Web and have used it effectively for promotional and recruitment purposes. An early example was the group known as “Heaven’s Gate,” which launched its own now notorious website almost twenty years ago. Other cults have learned to use the Internet as an effective tool. It is not surprising that ISIS likewise sees the Internet as a useful resource, which can now potentially reach virtually anyone anywhere through the access provided by an array of various electronic devices.

According to a report featured by Singapore’s Today, “Many of the youngest girls are lured with promises of humanitarian work. It is only once in Syria that they discover their fate: forced marriage to a fighter, strict adherence to Islamic law, a life under surveillance and little hope of returning home, say parents, relatives and radicalization experts.”

Again, this is not unlike the process of recruitment used by destructive cults, which frequently rely upon the old ploy of “bait and switch” to lure new members. Cults typically appeal to the naive idealism of potential recruits, wrapping themselves in the guise of positive social change, civic betterment, environmental awareness and most commonly some supposed religious or spiritual purpose.

Reportedly, “many women being radicalized hail from moderate Muslim households. But volunteers have also come from atheist, Catholic and Jewish households, both rich and poor, urban and rural.” Dounia Bouzar, a French anthropologist charged with the task of de-radicalizing such jihadists explained, “Recruiters have refined their methods to such a degree where they can take in people who are doing fine.” Bouzar stated, “Some are contacted on Facebook, others were chatted up on dating sites. Others met a friend who became a sort of guru.” Additionally, “Some of the women ‘thought they were in love’ after being groomed by men over the web or telephone.”

Destructive cults have been able to recruit almost anyone regardless of education, family background, religion or social status. ISIS follows a familiar pattern well-established by destructive cults who frequently target unaware and vulnerable young people, often on college campuses. Some cultists have also been drawn in through a romantic interest. Like jihadists, well-known cults use the social media to contact, influence and mentor potential new members.

According to news reports the guru of ISIS is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who assumed power over the group in early 2007. Whether or not ISIS fits the personality-driven terrorist model of al-Qaeda remains to be seen. The influence and control exerted over the group by al-Baghdadi as a cultlike charismatic leader, has not been firmly established.

Hans-Georg Maassen, head of Germany’s domestic intelligence, says “The romance of jihad is very pronounced in propaganda and used by women to recruit other women. According to authorities recent radicalized recruits included 400 from Germany, 1,000 from France and 85 from Sweden. Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert at Sweden’s National Defence College observed, “There is almost an obsession with paradise and the afterlife, which makes it like a death cult. Death matters more than life.” In the United States FBI Director James Comey reported to CBS’ “60 Minutes” he is monitoring “dozens of Americans” that have left the US to join ISIS or other terrorist groups.

After being mentored by their Internet gurus the new recruits are embedded and isolated within training camps, which are totally controlled environments. Communication is limited and when members do communicate with their families it may be scripted or coached. In a BBC News online video interview the father of one young ISIS recruit said, “‘my son believes it because it is brainwashing.” The father advised that “other people” could be heard controlling his son’s conversation and coaching him during Skype calls. Again, the control of communication seemingly mandated by ISIS is eerily similar to destructive cults.

Bad behavior by ISIS, not unlike excuses offered by destructive cults, is often rationalized  by the apology that essentially the “end justifies the means.”

A former member of ISIS interviewed by CNN discussed the process of her recruitment into the organization. A college educated teacher she reportedly was “drawn to the eloquence of a Tunisian whom she met online. Taken with his manners, she grew to trust him over time and he gradually lured her” with assurances “that the group was not what people thought, that it was not a terrorist organization.” The former ISIS member said the recruiter told her “‘we are going to properly implement Islam. Right now we are in a state of war, a phase where we need to control the country, so we have to be harsh.’”

Once fully embedded within the group the new recruit was told by her female commander, “‘Wake up, take care of yourself. You are walking, but you don’t know where you are going.’” Within this strange new environment the former school teacher turned ISIS member told CNN, “At the start, I was happy with my job. I felt that I had authority in the streets. But then I started to get scared, scared of my situation. I even started to be afraid of myself.”

Much like a cult member the teacher’s true personality came into conflict with the pseudo-personality imposed upon her by ISIS. She said, “I am not like this. I have a degree in education. I shouldn’t be like this. What happened to me? What happened in my mind that brought me here?” Ultimately the daily brutality of her new life shocked the young woman into again thinking independently for herself. She reflected, “The foreign fighters are very brutal with women, even the ones they marry,” she said. “There were cases where the wife had to be taken to the emergency ward because of the violence, the sexual violence.” She reacted honestly to the horror with reason, “I said enough. After all that I had already seen and all the times I stayed silent, telling myself, ‘We’re at war, then it will all be rectified.’” Finally she decided, “I have to leave.”

Once outside the confines of the “death cult” the young woman was more fully able to analyze her former situation. No longer was she subjected to the stern authoritarian discipline and stringent controls exercised over her daily life. This type of milieu control is historically the hallmark of destructive cults.

Today the former ISIS devotee is still trying to sort through her experience. “How did we allow them to come in? How did we allow them to rule us?” She claims, “There is a weakness in us.” but warns, “I don’t want anyone else to be duped by them. Too many girls think they are the right Islam.” Working through what seems like a cult recovery the former school teacher says, “It has to be gradual, so that I don’t become someone else. I am afraid of becoming someone else. Someone who swings, as a reaction in the other direction, after I was so entrenched in religion, that I reject religion completely.”

Monica Uriarte proposed her own prescription to immunize the public regarding jihadist recruiters online at Carbonated. She explains  “How to Stop Disillusioned Teens from Joining ISIS.” Uriarte says, “The answer lies in education. Muslim American and European Muslim communities need to educate their youth.”

But educate them about what?

In my opinion the key to such useful education is a better understanding of the dynamics of destructive cults, their recruitment tactics and how they employ a synthesis of coercive persuasion and influence techniques to trick and control people.

Thought provoking analysis is also offered by journalist Tom Gaisford writing for The Independent. In an article titled, “How should we respond to the murder of Alan Henning at the hands of Isis?” Gaisford says, “Extremists operate in a vacuum, free from self-criticism. Proof of this is their self-portrayal as anything but: they see themselves as enlightened moderates, driven to violence by necessity – heroes, effectively. This, it would seems, is how they are able to justify their conduct to themselves (whatever it is and whomsoever it affects).”

Again, this is not unlike historical cult leaders such as Charles Manson, Jim Jones, David Koresh, Shoko Asahara or notably Osama bin Laden. All apparent psychopaths who saw themselves in heroic terms as global game changers. The idea that they could be wrong was unthinkable to them and their followers. Whatever they did could somehow be justified within the framework of their grandiose game of global enlightenment, revelation, purification and/or annihilation.

Gaisford calls the philosophy of such leaders “circular nonsense.” He further observes, that “the language of [dehumanization] and destruction [within Jihadis groups like ISIS] is alarmingly reminiscent of the very darkest chapters in our world history.” Again, this seems to allude to cultic environments, such as Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia and the authoritarian dynasty that now dominates North Korea.

Gaisford elaborates, “The key to [neutralizing] extremism is more likely to lie in harnessing and disseminating information about the how it takes hold in the first place. The process is known colloquially as ‘[radicalization]‘ or “brainwashing” (depending on the context), though a more helpful term for it is ‘mind control’.”

Gaisford then explains what can be seen as the first step in cult recruitment. “Essentially, it relies on our inherent tendency to interpret information in a way that confirms our biases: its practitioners play to what we want to hear, to lead us unwittingly away from reality, simultaneously undermining the confidence and critical capacity we require to ‘return home’.” He concludes that jihadist recruiters, “though potentially deluded themselves, the likelihood is that controllers deceive their controlees knowingly, for their own personal benefit. To that extent, they are not in fact extremists but deeply cynical, critically attuned egoists.”

Again, just like destructive cults and their leaders have proven to be over and over again.

By Rick Ross

In a recent opinion/editorial New York Times piece titled “The Cult Deficit” columnist Ross Douthat stated, “the cult phenomenon feels increasingly antique, like lava lamps and bell bottoms.” He concluded, “Spiritual gurus still flourish in our era, of course, but they are generally comforting, vapid, safe — a Joel Osteen rather than a Jim Jones, a Deepak Chopra rather than a David Koresh.”

Interestingly, Deepak Chopra was a disciple of Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who was often called a “cult leader.” Maharishi was the founder of Transcendental Meditation (TM), a group frequently included on cult lists and still quite active amidst allegations of abuse.

Douthat doesn’t seem to care much about destructive cults or the damage they do. He laments that the Branch Davidians were “mistreated and misjudged.” Apparently the columnist hasn’t bothered to do much research as he has ignored the facts reported in the press about the Davidians and as established through the congressional record, the Danforth Report and submitted through court proceedings. Suffice to say that despite anti-government conspiracy theories David Koresh was one of the most vicious cult leaders in modern history. He was a deeply disturbed man that sexually preyed upon children and stockpiled weapons for the purpose of a violent end.

Journalist Tony Ortega at Raw Story points out that “The same week the US goes to war with one, NYT’s Douthat asks, where are the cults?” Ortega recognizes that many terrorist groups today are little more than personality-driven cults, such as al-Qaeda once was under the influence of Osama bin Laden. History is strewn with examples of the destruction wrought by totalitarian cults from the Nazis led by Adolf Hitler to the family dynasty that continues to dominate and control North Korea.

Not surprisingly following up Douthat doesn’t quote Ortega’s response, but instead prefers “Reason Magazine,” a Libertarian leaning publication that essentially agrees with him. Calling a column written by Peter Suderman a “very interesting response” Dauthat again ignores the facts and reiterates his opinion, as supposedly supported by a “religious historian” and venture capitalist. Suderman doesn’t dispute Douthat’s claim that cults are in decline, but rather uses it as a hook for his own spin about the “rise of subcultures.”

However, despite all the liberal or Libertarian posturing performed by these pundits the cult phenomenon has actually expanded around the world.

Unlike the United States, other countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East have taken steps to respond to cults both through regulation and law enforcement. For example, in Japan and Germany cults have been closely monitored and in China some have been outlawed. Recently in Israel cult leader Goel Ratzon was convicted of sex crimes. Ratzon’s criminal conviction followed a lengthy government investigation and raid by law enforcement.

In addition to malevolent cult movements that have captivated nations the old familiar groups called “cults” that Douthat thinks have faded away actually are still around such as Scientology, the Unification Church, Hare Krishnas, Divine Light Mission, International Church of Christ, and Est (the Forum), although they may now use new names to avoid easy recognition.

In fact the United States has become something of a destination point and haven for groups called “cults.”

Dahn Yoga, led by Ilchee Lee, which started in South Korea, later set up shop in Arizona and now has a following across America.

Another recent arrival is the World Mission Society Church of God led by Zhang Gil-Jah, known to her devotees as “Mother God.” Not long ago Zhang opened her first church in New Jersey. Since then the group has grown rapidly across the US and Canada. Mother has even rented space in Manhattan not far from the New York Times.

Exiled “evil cult” leader Li Hongzhi, founder of Falun Gong, had to leave China, but found refuge in New York. According to researchers Li now has a flock of about !0,000 followers in North America. He claims to channel miraculous healing powers, which has allegedly led to medical neglect and death. The group has regular parades and demonstrations in NYC, Apparently Mr. Dauthat missed that.

Just as there will always be con men running schemes to take people’s money, there will always be destructive cult leaders exploiting the vulnerabilities of humanity. For con men and cult leaders it’s a business and it seems to be quite profitable. When Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard died in 1986 his estate totaled hundreds of millions of dollars. Today, Scientology reportedly has a billion dollars in cash and vast real estate holdings. When Maharishi Mahesh Yogi died he left behind a spiritual empire valued in billions. Rev. Moon, the founder of the Unification Church, likewise left behind a hefty financial legacy, which is now managed by his children. Whenever there is cash and assets someone will step in to take over. And in the United States cults can operate with relative impunity as an unregulated industry.

No one knows exactly how many cult members there are in the United States. But almost every day I learn of a new group or organization that seems to fit the core criteria, which forms the nucleus for most definitions of a destructive cult. These core criteria were established by Robert Jay Lifton back in the 1980s. Rather than focusing on what a group believes Lifton’s criteria focus on the structure, dynamics and behavior of a group.

First, the single and most salient feature of a destructive cult is that it is personality-driven and animated by a living, charismatic and totalitarian leader. It is that leader who is the defining element and driving force of the group. Whatever the leader says is right is right and whatever the leader says is wrong is wrong. He or she determines the relative morality of the group and its core identity.

Second, the group engages in a process of thought reform to break people down and then redevelop them according to a predetermined mindset, which includes a diminished ability to think critically and/or independently. This is accomplished through a synthesis of coercive persuasion and influence techniques, relentlessly focused on individuals subjected to the group process.

Finally, the third criteria, is that the group does harm. This may vary from group to group as some groups are more harmful than others. One groups may simply exploit its members financially or through free labor, while others may make much more intense demands such as sexual favors, medical neglect or even criminal acts.

Whatever the group may present as its facade, be it religion, politics, exercise, martial arts, business scheme or philosophy, it is the structure, dynamics and behavior of the group that sets it apart and aligns it with the core criteria, which forms the nucleus for a definition of a destructive cult.

For those who would attempt to diminish the power of persuasion used by cults we have only to look at the pattern of behavior within such groups. Why would people act against their own interests, but instead consistently behave in the best interest of the cult leader? Why would cult members allow their children to die due to medical neglect or surrender them for sexual abuse? The most compelling explanation for such otherwise improbable behavior is that cult victims are under undue influence and therefore unable to think for themselves independently.

The dirty little secret about cults and their bag of tricks, is that we are all vulnerable to coercive persuasion and influence techniques. And this is particularly true when we are at a vulnerable time in our lives. This might include a period of grief, financial instability, isolation or some other personal setback. It is at these times that cults can more easily and deceptively recruit people. No one intentionally joins a cult. Instead, people are tricked by cults, through deceptive recruitment practices and a gradual indoctrination process that doesn’t immediately fully disclose the group’s expectations and agenda.

If people were not vulnerable to persuasion and influence techniques there would be no advertising or political propaganda. Every person approached isn’t taken in by cult recruitment tactics, just as everyone doesn’t buy a product promoted by slick advertising. The question is not why don’t cults recruit everyone, but rather how do they recruit people and why do those people often stay to their determent.

Instead of denial and fanciful claims about the decline of cults our best response regarding such groups is education and increased awareness. Understanding the basic warning signs of a potentially unsafe group is a good start. And utilizing the Web to find information about specific groups before becoming more deeply involved is always a good idea. More information helps people make more informed choices. Ignorance may lead to devastating consequences.

As Tony Ortega concluded, “As long as the media remains in the dark about destructive cults and the way they work, we’ll continue to get bewildering statements about ISIS, and ignorant columns from the New York Times.”

Indonesia has been “deprogramming” terrorists successfully, and such efforts have yielded meaningful results, as formerly “brainwashed” fanatics provide helpful inside information about their organizations.

Some “civil libertarians” insist upon labeling this process “torture.”

However, deprogramming typically consists of discussion between the designated “deprogrammer” and the “brainwashed” member of a “cult” or as reported within Indonesia a radical Islamic group linked to terrorist attacks.

Australian Minister Downer considering 'deprogramming' as tool against terrorismIndonesia has used a former member to do its deprogramming of convicted terrorists. The man is also a Moslem cleric and has effectively turned extremists to a more moderate faith. Subsequently, those turned have reportedly provided information on terrorist operations to authorities.

The same deprogramming process has been used in Singapore, the United Kingdom, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. And the Australian government is currently considering using deprogramming tactics too reports The Age.

“In many parts of the world, in Europe, in the Middle East and certainly in Indonesia, those governments have made an attempt to persuade extremists and terrorists who’ve been held in prison to change their point of view and to understand that it’s not the Islamic way to kill, it’s not the Islamic way to murder. And in some cases that process has been successful. It’s something that we will give thought to,” said Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

The word “deprogramming” was demonized by groups called “cults” in the United Stated beginning in the 1970s as part of an ongoing propaganda campaign to end the practice. Groups called “cults” such as the Unification Church led by Rev. Sun Myung Moon lost many members through such interventions.

Cults despised deprogramming because it worked.

Seemingly in response to the cult propaganda campaign new terms and descriptions were coined to describe essentially the same practice such as “exit-counseling,” “thought reform consultation,” ”strategic intervention therapy” and “cult intervention.

Psychologist Margaret Singer, the preeminent cult expert of the 20th Century, defined “deprogramming” as simply “providing members with information about the cult and showing them how their own decision-making power had been taken away from them.”

Noted psychiatrist and author Robert Jay Lifton defined the process often used to compromise “decision-making power” as “thought reform.” His lauded book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism became a seminal classic and the guide used by deprogrammers to define and determine “cult brainwashing” techniques.

The first cult deprogrammer was Ted Patrick, often called “Black Lightening” by the cults he opposed.

Some of those deprogrammed during the 1970s and later subsequently became deprogrammers themselves. 

Osama bin 'brainwasher'?Now the families of terrorists, such as the followers Osama bin Laden, say their loved ones are also the victims of “brainwashing” and thus became terrorist pawns. An article recounting such stories and reviewing the parallels that can be seen between terrorist training and thought reform has been archived for some time at Cult Education.com.

It is interesting to observe that Islamic countries are now largely leading the way in an effort to effectively adapt deprogramming as a response to terrorist indoctrination. 

Waleed Kadous, spokesman for the Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network, does not oppose deprogramming if it’s voluntary.

“It’s important to highlight that already many respected scholars in the Muslim community are informally deconstructing terrorism and condemning terrorism to their congregations” reported Al Jazeera.

Understanding the process of thought reform and how to unravel its effects is an important step in the fight against global terrorism. Rather than simply blaming culture, religion or politics for the increase of terrorist attacks this response recognizes the reality that almost every nation or region around the world has been affected by “cult brainwashing” and related tragedies.

As deprogrammers have proven in the past and as they are proving within Islamic nations like Indonesia today, those programmed by radical and extremist groups can be helped and that destructive mindset unraveled

According to an obscure guru some call a “cult leader” living in Jamaica Queens, New York, saying his name can get you to a “very good higher world.” This sage advice and other supposed gems can be found in the book titled “The Wisdom of Sri Chinmoy” reports the Queens Chronicle.

Here is another example of the guru’s so-called “wisdom.”

Guru Sri Chinmoy writes, “A young wife was terribly afraid of staying alone at night, so the Master said to the husband…I shall take care of her. That night she saw the Master in a corner of the room, not the Master’s physical body but his luminous subtle body.”

Hmmm.

'Sleazy' Sri Chinmoy once guru to Carlos SantanaChinmoy claims to be celibate, but persistent allegations have arisen that his “physical body” has wandered about a bit and it’s not so “subtle.” The guru apparently has a penchant for pursuing sexual favors from his female followers.

The New York Post once named him “‘Sleazy’ Sri.”

The now 74-year-old guru still has about 2,000 seriously committed followers. A core group composed of some of his most devoted believers has clustered around his house in Queens. They are known for frequently working long and hard hours at the guru’s businesses, at times for little more than subsistence wages.

New York businesses associated with Sri Chinmoy include the Smile of the Beyond luncheonette in Jamaica Queens and the Oneness-Fountain-Heart restaurant in Flushing.

Chinmoy has a long history of staging self-serving publicity stunts, which include everything from “Peace Runs” to his followers performing feats in their guru’s name to get him into the Guinness Book of World Records.

One devotee Ashrita Furman has held more than 86 Guinness records for such feats as pogo stick jumping, juggling while running 50 miles and playing the most games of hopscotch.

Last year Chinmoy had his faithful gather more than 1,000 roses to commemorate his 73rd birthday, no doubt hoping to set another record.

The guru teaches that overcoming ego is a spiritual goal, but apparently this doesn’t include his own, which requires constant feeding.

Such staged theater took a dark turn when one of his disciples died apparently practicing a trick to please the guru.

In his latest book of “wisdom” Sri Chinmoy holds forth on the topics of “belief,” “doubt” and “worry.”

But Chinmoy doesn’t have much to “worry” about with all his followers taking such good care of him. He lives a life of relative ease often leaving New York in the winter for balmy weather elsewhere.

Beyond “belief” though are Chinmoy’s persistent claims that he can reportedly lift 7,064 pounds with his right arm and 7,040 with his left.

More amazing than this claim is that his followers don’t seem to “doubt” such preposterous nonsense.

Anyone interested enough to scrutinize the guru’s weightlifting will find out that he relies more upon machines to do the job for him rather than his muscles. But like so many devices used by this guru it seemingly serves to pumps up his ego.

“If one enters secret domains where the inherent powers of the cosmic realities exist, one can get the capacity to do anything,” says Sri Chinmoy.

But it’s hard to understand how the followers of this bizarre man continue to devote their lives to his various schemes and scams—is there some “cosmic” reason they seem willing “to do anything”?

Some say that Chinmoy’s “inherent powers” are a form of “brainwashing.” And that this is accomplished in part through a form of self-hypnosis, which renders them more suggestible and compliant, achieved through what the guru calls “meditation.” Then there is also the so-called “cult” lifestyle, largely dependent upon living within what can be seen as a controlled environment dominated and defined by Chinmoy.

Maybe his disciples have bought into the proposition that their rewards from the guru won’t be realized in this world, but rather in the next one?

In his book Chinmoy appears to cultivates this notion telling readers that as a teenager he followed his sister’s soul “for about three hours in the world of death.”

The guru also says he was once busy “fighting with three death forces that wanted to snatch away three of my close disciples…”

Hmmm.

Would those “forces” be families, old friends or maybe actually an attack of doubt and/or critical thinking?

Chinmoy wants readers to know that his “teaching is not a kind of miracle-mongering.” Instead, his “business is to help the aspirant to reach God.”

Perhaps it is a “business.”

Famed musician Carlos Santana followed Sri Chinmoy for almost a decade and then left that “business” behind him.

“This shit is not for me–I don’t care how enlightening it is,” he told Rolling Stone.

Maybe that’s a mantra that might help Sri Chinmoy’s disciples “reach God.” According to Deborah Santana, it didn’t hurt her life, or her husband’s life to get away from “Chinmoy’s controlling ways.”

The “Battered Woman Syndrome” often cited in court and by helping professionals assisting those victimized within abusive and controlling relationships parallels many of the same features identified within destructive cults.

In this sense abusive and controlling relationships, though seemingly romantic, can be seen as a type of “cult” with a dictatorial leader, usually a man, dominating a single follower as his victim.

This has been called the “cultic relationship” and/or a “one-on-one cult.”

Over the years cult intervention professionals have been called upon to apply the same expertise developed to free cult victims as an approach to free those caught within the web of abusive controlling relationships.

The Ross Institute of New Jersey has recently released an educational DVD/video titled In the Name of Love: Abusive Controlling Relationships, which shares the body of knowledge developed around this subject in an easy to follow format.

This educational tool makes an otherwise often confusing situation more easily understood.

The DVD/video offers a synthesis of what is known about brainwashing and how this process directly applies to both the Battered Woman Syndrome and most specifically to the dynamics and personalities most often involved in abusive controlling relationships.

In the Name of Love also recounts personal stories, such as the experience of singer Tina Turner and the tragic circumstances that led up to the death of Nicole Brown Simpson. Such compelling examples are helpful to better understand the personal cost, internal turmoil and dangers of such relationships.

What are the warning signs?

What can someone concerned do?

What type of individual fits the profile of an abuser?

Why don’t those abused leave a bad relationship?

These and other important questions are answered within the DVD.

Darla Boughton the manager for a popular forum related to this subject says, “This DVD is a magnificent breakthrough–a must-have for every classroom, women’s shelter, and abuse Web sites everywhere.”

Much too often society blames the victim rather than attempting to understand the disturbing dynamics within abusive controlling relationships.

One third of American women reportedly have been abused under such circumstances, and millions more are potentially at risk.

The old adage “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts” may be useful to Tsunami survivors receiving attention from some specious sects and groups called “cults.”

Just like in the movie Troy something sinister and/or self-serving can be concealed in a “gift horse,” and it’s probably not Brad Pitt.

In recent days a growing array of controversial religious organizations, gurus and self-styled healers have launched efforts for Tsunami relief, but who are they really focused upon helping?

Do their programs reflect a genuine desire to assist the victims of the most horrific catastrophe of the 21st Century, or are they just there to play the disaster for publicity and possibly some new recruits?

South African Scientologists are using church branches as drop-off points for clothes and other goods targeted for relief reports IOL.

And Scientologists flying in from all over.

Scientology has sent volunteers from Australia to identify bodies reported the AAP.

English Scientologists and even a voluteer from Utah funded by an anonymous businessman are being flown in to somehow help reports Surrey On Line and the and the Salt Lake Tribune.

Scientology volunteers are known for their bright yellow jackets emblazoned with “Scientology Volunteer Ministers” worn when doing their charitable chores.

Scientology says that over 200 “volunteer ministers” are helping in tsunami-hit countries.

In a strange twist Scientology has trained Tibetan monks to help tsunami survivors through so-called “touch assists,” which seems to be Scientology’s version of the popular Pentecostal practice known as “laying on of hands” for healing. Scientology volunteers and the Buddhist monks using their method will touch survivors to help heal their trauma reports the AFP.

Another controversial group concerned about the trauma of tsunami survivors is the “Gentle Wind Project.” This organization is sending its so-called “trauma cards” to Sumatra, which supposedly have “the ability to forgive and [help users] move forward in life” according to one testimonial featured on the group’s Web site. But critics have dismissed the cards as “quackery” and a doctor warned that groups pushing such products often find “people who are desperate…and then take advantage of them.”

Madonna’s much-hyped “Kabbalah Centre” is shipping 10,000 bottles of its touted “Kabbalah Water,” which the pop diva seems to believe has spiritual properties reported MSNBC.

Wouldn’t regular bottled tap water be just as effective and much cheaper? But then that couldn’t afford a photo op with glitzy “Kabbalah Centre” labeling would it?

And then there is the so-called “Art of Living” organization led by a former associate of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi “Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.” He has dispatched his disciples to teach tsunami victims “yoga” and “meditation.”

Hey Sri Sri how about funding some conventional classrooms for children rather than pushing your “yoga”?

Another pitch comes from Guru Sri Chinmoy of New York. His followers are collecting for something called “The Oneness-Heart-Tears and Smiles” organization and say they are now “engaged in an urgent global effort to bring desperately needed relief to the survivors.”

But Chinmoy, who has been embroiled in sex scandals and called a sleazy swami,” doesn’t seem to fit the “world harmony leader” title claimed at the group’s fund-raising Web site.

Mata” the hugging mama guru has reportedly laid down some hard cash reported one news service.

But will she want a photo op hugging her check like “Summa Ching Hai” when she dropped some dough on the Red Cross for September 11th victims?

Meanwhile hate preacher Fred Phelps from Kansas wants everyone to know that he is “thankful” God killed Swedish citizens through this particular disaster, something about their collective sexual sins reported Raw Print.

Is that Fred smiling over there for the cameras with his “God Hates Fags” sign?

Who will land next with the next wave of volunteers?

Maybe some Falun Gongers will show up to teach exercise classes and pass out flyers, or will it be Sai baba the guru philanthropist and alleged pedophile?

Nothing new about such activities by specious groups after a disaster except the size and depth of this terrible tragedy.

Scientology volunteers were seen at Ground Zero not long after the Twin Towers collapsed. And John Travolta seemed anxious for his photo-op when he visited the site.

Then Tom Cruise launched the Scientology-linked “Downtown Medical,” located in lower Manhattan, which provided the so-called “purification rundown” for the detoxification of FDNY firemen and others that worked at Ground Zero.

People are the most vulnerable to undue influence and recruitment efforts by groups called “cults” when experiencing a personal crisis, loss and/or going through a difficult transition. When people are isolated from family, friends, their community and familiar support systems they are likely to be weakened and more susceptible.

Sound like Tsunami victims?

Meanwhile mainstream religious and relief organizations and government agencies are focused upon providing practical help to the massive numbers of survivors such as potable not magical water, medical care and the restoration of basic services through the rebuilding of infrastructure.

CNN reports that this is the largest humanitarian effort in recorded history.

Let’s hope that that these practical efforts reach the tsunami victims before any so-called “cults” exploit their vulnerabilities or use them as backdrops for some photo-op.

On December 12, 2001 Jason Weed murdered Oklahoma mailman Robert Jenkins. He shot Jenkins in the back while the mailman was performing his job as a postal carrier.

Mr. Jenkins wife and a stepdaughter survive the 30-year-old US Postal Service employee.

The court found that Weed was “legally insane.”

However, according to the court claim made against Landmark (Been v. Weed), “Weed was free of abnormal psychological manifestations(s) and/or disorder(s) prior to his attending the Defendant Landmark’s classes.”

Moreover, the plaintiff claims that through Landmark Education classes Weed “was subjected to extreme emotional and psychological stress which caused his mental disorders, and which resulted in the death of” Robert Jenkins.

The lawsuit further states that “Landmark knew, because of their prior experiences, that this type of disorder…was a likely and foreseeable result of attendance of their classes.”

The plaintiff’s attorneys specifically cite a “screening process and tests” used by Landmark “to eliminate person[s] who were likely to develop mental disorders as a result of their seminars.”

Mark Kamin, a Landmark spokesman explained to Pioneer Press in Minnesota more than two years ago that Landmark participants must pass a screening process devised by a board of psychiatrists, including a series of questions aimed at assessing mental stability.

Kamin said, “We have a requirement that people must be emotionally stable at that time to participate in our programs.”

At the time the Landmark spokesman was responding to the horrific murder of a 13-year-old boy stabbed to death by his mother, an obstetrician who had also attended Landmark courses.

Dr. Donna Anderson was later found “not guilty” by reason of insanity under California State Law, but received a 36-year prison sentence.

Anderson was allegedly kicked out of the Forum for acting psychotic.

But in the current litigation filed against Landmark the for-profit privately held company is accused of “grossly negligent, willful, wanton, and intentional and/or…reckless disregard and/or indifference” regarding the safety of the man murdered by the former Forum participant.

The large group awareness training (LGAT) seminar known as the Forum, derives from one first offered by Erhard Seminar Training (EST).

Werner Erhard (AKA “Jack” Rosenberg), a used car and encyclopedia salesman with a high school education, created the “technology” now used in the Forum. But after repeated bad press and lawsuits Erhard sold the company in 1991.

EST then became Landmark Education, which is run by Erhard’s brother Harry Rosenberg.

LGATs also known as mass marathon trainings that focus upon “human potential” have a troubled history and at times have been the focus of personal injury lawsuits.

An article that appeared within the New York Times (1977) reported serious psychiatric disturbances associated with the programs presented by EST.

Three psychiatrists wrote on this subject for the American Journal of Psychiatry (see abstracts). One told the Times, “There’s enough possibility of a real connection between EST and psychotic breaks to cause us to want to alert psychiatrists and psychologists.”

Lawyers for the plaintiff in Been v. Weed were far more explicit about the connection between Landmark and the death of Robert Jenkins.

The plaintiff’s attorneys claim, “Landmark, its agents and employees, by engaging in the practice of psychology without a license or adequate training …focus extreme emotional distress and psychological distress on persons who attend the seminar…engaging in ultrahazadous activity and [therefore] are…a direct cause of harm.”

“Even though the percent of those that attend, who develop mental disorders resulting in homicide, is small…Landmark has failed to eliminate the risk even by the exercise of what they claim to be reasonable care,” the lawyers added in their court filing.

The conclusion of the plaintiff’s legal summary is chilling, “Due to the risk involved to attendees and the general public, the Defendant Landmark’s inability to eliminate the risk or moderate the degree of harm to attendees, it is not appropriate to conduct the seminars in any location where the attendees have an opportunity to harm other human beings.”

The scope of Landmark’s reach has far surpassed the range obtained during the days of Erhard’s EST Empire.

Landmark Education has 58 offices in 26 countries and 125,000 people reportedly participate in its programs annually, according to the organization’s website. Programs are offered in more than 140 cities and businesses such as Microsoft and Reebok have paid and/or reimbursed employees to take its courses.

Note: Landmark Education is currently suing the Ross Institute of New Jersey (RI) specifically alleging “product disparagement,” through the information made available at the RI database.

Landmark Education, a privately owned for-profit company that sells controversial large group awareness training programs to the public, has sued the Rick A. Ross Institute (RRI) for more than one million dollars.

The lawsuit was filed in New Jersey and is currently moving forward within the court of federal Judge John Lifland (Civil Action No. 04-3022 (JCL)).

RRI is a non-profit tax-exempted charity devoted to providing educational information to the public about destructive cults, controversial groups and movements through the Internet.

RRI is one of the largest single resources regarding this subject area on the worldwide web today. More than 15,000 individual unique users visit its database daily. And the RRI Open Forum message board has more than 1,300 registered members.

The lawsuit recently filed by Landmark Education claims that information posted through the RRI archives about the private for-profit company constitutes “product disparagement” and represents “interference with [its] ongoing business relations.”

Landmark Education is certainly a big business; it has 58 offices in 26 countries. And boasts that “more than 125,000″ people participate in its programs annually, which represents millions of dollars in profits for its owners each year.

This litigation appears to be an effort by Landmark to purge critical information about the company from the Internet.

RRI has archived articles, documents and personal testimonies about Landmark, which features a course called “The Forum,” that was earlier offered by a previous incarnation of this business enterprise known as Erhard Seminar Training or “EST.”

The titular head of Landmark Education today is Harry Rosenberg, but it was his brother “Werner Erhard” previously known as Jack Rosenberg, a high school graduate and former used car and encyclopedia salesman, who created the seminar “technology” touted by the company.

EST, something of a craze in the 1970s, drew endorsements from celebrities such as sitcom star Valerie Harper (“Rhoda”) and singer John Denver.

Forbes Magazine dubbed Werner Erhard a “millionaire guru.”

But the programs Mr. Erhard devised were soon associated with and/or linked to “psychiatric disturbances” and “psychosis.” Amidst extensive and unfavorable media coverage he sold EST in 1991 to employees, who then formed the current company Landmark Education.

Landmark then agreed to pay substantial annual licensing fees to Werner Erhard for his so-called “technology.”

No peer reviewed scientific study has ever been published by an objective scientific or professional journal to substantiate that the programs offered by Landmark Education produce any meaningful measured results, though what can be seen as its “mass marathon training” remains controversial.

New Jersey attorney Peter L. Skolnik of the law firm Lowenstien Sandler located in Roseland, New Jersey has agreed to represent RRI pro-bono.

An answer to the Landmark lawsuit was filed on September 20, 2004.

Other lawsuits involving RRI include litigation filed by another seminar selling company in New York named NXIVM (not to be confused with the “purple pill” Nexium used to quell acid reflux).

NXIVM, also known as “Executive Success Programs” (ESP), after two losses in court hopes to appeal before the US Supreme Court. Like Landmark, NXIVM seeks to purge critical information about its business from the Internet.

RRI is represented pro-bono regarding the NXIVM case by Massachusetts attorney Douglas Brooks of the law firm Gilman & Pastor and Tom Gleason of the law firm Gleason, Dunn, Walsh & O’Shea, in Albany, New York.

Public Citizen, a nonprofit, advocacy organization with 160,000 members nationwide, is assisting Mr. Brooks and Mr. Gleason regarding the possible NXIVM appeal pending before the US Supreme Court.

In another interesting case a group called “The Gentle Wind Project” located in Kittery, Maine, which hawks “healing cards” for “suggested donations” allegedly based upon plans from outer space, sued RRI for stating it is a “rather odd group” and for providing a link to a website critical of the organization.

RRI is also represented pro-bono concerning this action by attorney Douglas Brooks and local counsel William Leete of the law firm Leete & Lemieux in Portland, Maine.

Despite legal threats and later lawsuits filed by Landmark, NXIVM and The Gentle Wind Project, RRI has refused to be intimidated and continues to provide historical, analytical and/or critical information about these groups and other controversial organizations to the general public through its Internet database.

I have previously personally withstood frivolous litigation regarding my professional comments and/or providing website information in other notable lawsuits.

The “Church of Immortal Consciousness” founded by Steven and Trina Kemp sued me in 1995.

Judy Hammond of “Pure Bride Ministries” sued me for $15 million dollars in 2001.

The Kemp lawsuit ended after an appeal to the US Supreme Court failed and I was awarded costs. Arizona attorneys Paul Eckstein and Daniel Barr of the law firm Brown & Bain represented me pro-bono in that case.

The Hammond lawsuit likewise ended in a dismissal only months after its filing. Florida attorney Robert Rivas represented me pro-bono.

RRI is listed immediately after Landmark’s own commercial website on Google and has prominent positions regarding searches for information abut NXIVM and The Gentle Wind Project.

In this “Information Age” the pubic increasingly has turned to the Internet for background about people, companies, organizations and movements.

The word “Google” has become a verb and is synonymous with this process—as Internet users frequently say, you can “Google” someone or something as a quick way to obtain whatever information is readily available.

Landmark Education, despite its name, seems intent upon making sure that essentially only self-serving promotional advertising and/or propaganda largely appears on the Internet about the company and its courses.

Landmark apparently hopes that it can somehow control its published history, either through legal threats and/or what can be seen as frivolous litigation.

However, instead the Landmark Education lawsuit is likely to become another landmark for freedom of information on the Internet.

Note: Cult expert Steven Hassan was also sued by the Gentle Wind Project. However, he was dropped from the suit after a negotiated settlement, which included him deleting all material and references to the group from his website.