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.

Chinmoy Kumar Ghose, called “Sri Chinmoy” by his devoted followers, has made something of a career through publicity stunts. His favorite appears to be phony power lifting that he uses to attract attention and feed his seemingly insatiable ego.

The latest newspaper to be sucked in by the guru’s antics is the New York Times.

In a long piece today titled “They’re Not Heavy; They’re His People,” NY Times reporter Cory Kilgannon gave the guru enough space to make him blush, perhaps for the sake of humor.

However, though the NY Times correctly reported that the guru’s group has been called a “brainwashing cult,” it gave much more attention to his self-serving public relations ploy than the people he hurt.

Readers were regaled with a long list of celebrities that Chinmoy has lifted in the past, which reportedly includes Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Muhammad Ali, Jesse Jackson, Eddie Murphy, Susan Sarandon, Roberta Flack, Yoko Ono, Sting, Richard Gere, Sid Caeser, 20 assorted Nobel laureates, sumo wrestlers and a headhunter from Borneo.

Actor Jeff Goldblum was the latest celeb slated for the 70-something guru to hold up for a photo op.

It all sounds like fodder for a good laugh. That is, unless you know the details of sexual abuse allegations that have spun around “Sleazy Sri” as reported by the New York Post.

Nothing was mentioned in the NY Times article about this.

According to former Chinmoy devotees the guru is not only posing as a celibate, he’s also is a bit kinky.

Chinmoy apparently likes to watch but not always weightlifting events.

He also reportedly has paid for at least one of his female follower/sex partners to have an abortion.

This is hardly the stuff of humor.

CultNews recently exposed a misleading brochure produced by “NXIVM” (pronounced nexium, like the acid relief medication), a group that has been called a “cult.”

NXIVM is the brainchild of Keith Raniere, but its titular head is his devoted disciple Nancy Salzman.

The NXIVM brochure stated, “Nancy Salzman (highlighted in this year’s O magazine), one of the world’s top trainers in the field of human potential.”

Readers might conclude that Salzman was “highlighted” in O Oprah Magazine for her touted training expertise.

However, O magazine’s spokesperson set the record straight regarding the carefully crafted blurb within NXIVM’s promotional literature.

The O Oprah Magazine Spokesperson clarified, “Nancy Salzman appeared in a June 2003 O, The Oprah Magazine ‘real woman’ fashion story. The story simply listed Ms. Salzman’s title and occupation along with her style preferences. It did not elaborate on her business any further.”

Oprah Winfrey is well known for her interest in self-improvement, but neither the talk-show host nor her magazine in any way endorsed or specifically promoted NXIVM, Salzman’s claimed expertise or Executive Success Programs.

As reported by CultNews an apparent effort to mislead was far worse regarding the Forbes article titled “Cult of Personality“.

Nancy Salzman quoted herself gushing about her mentor within the brochure, but apparently tried to pass it off as a positive review about Raniere from Forbes. The quote is attributed within the NXIVM literature as simply, “As mentioned in Forbes magazine.”

This would be like a motion picture studio taking out an ad to promote a film that says, “New York Times: ‘sensational’ ‘genius.'”

But placed in proper context the quotes actually read, “The movie’s producer called the film ‘sensational’ and said the director’s work was ‘genius.'”

Raniere and Salzman seem to have a penchant for grandiose self-promotion.

Salzman according to her brochure bio has logged “over 20 years of intensive study and practice in the fields of healthcare, human potential, and human empowerment.”

However, Nancy is simply a nurse that has attended many mass marathon training seminars similar to those offered by NXIVM and she has studied various communication and persuasion techniques.

Salzman is not a licensed mental health professional.

Raniere’s brochure bio reads “scientist, mathematician, philosopher and entrepreneur” with the “highest IQ” recorded in 1989.

But despite such titles Raniere like Salzman has no degree in psychology, is not a licensed mental health professional and in fact does not posses a post-graduate diploma.

Medical Doctor and psychiatrist Carlos Rueda is a licensed mental health professional and he has treated three former NXIVM students.

Rueda told the Albany Times-Union, “NXIVM leaders weren’t prepared or certified to deal with the potential psychological problems that can surface during the training.”

It has been reported that one breakdown linked to NXIVM ended at a hospital, while another lead to a tragic suicide.

No doubt amongst NXIVM’s devoted disciples and within its rather insular world of classes and programs Raniere (known as “Vanguard”) and Salzman (known as “Prefect”) are legendary.

But in the real world the controversial duo appears to have garnered attention as little more than “cult” leaders, with perhaps some fashion sense.

Note: Forbes was contacted for comment, but has not responded officially.

Madonna’s production company Maverick Films is prepping a feature based upon a “prison experiment” conducted by a Stanford University professor in 1971 reports Reuters.

Professor Philip Zimbardo, past president of the American Psychological Association (APA), conducted “The Prison Experiment” to demonstrate the dynamics of social influence between guards and prisoners.

However, that behavioral research project was shut down in less than a week due to its unsettling and potentially dangerous results.

Two years ago when German filmmakers released “Das Experiment,” based upon the same Stanford project as an allegory for the rise of Nazism, Zimbardo was not pleased. He reportedly had a credit removed from the film acknowledging his work.

Can it be that the doctor has found a more suitable match in Madonna?

Zimbardo has compared the dynamics of influence demonstrated by his experiment to the sort of control techniques utilized by cults.

Ironically, the 1980s pop diva is perhaps the most ardent devotee of a group called the “Kaballah Centre,” led by religious guru Philip Berg, which has often been called a “cult.”

After the tragic “Heaven’s Gate” suicide in 1997 the Stanford professor wrote:

“A remarkable thing about cult mind control is that it’s so ordinary in the tactics and strategies of social influence employed. They are variants of well-known social psychological principles of compliance, conformity, persuasion, dissonance, reactance, framing, emotional manipulation, and others that are used on all of us daily to entice us: to buy, to try, to donate, to vote, to join, to change, to believe, to love, to hate the enemy…Cult mind control is not different in kind from these everyday varieties, but in its greater intensity, persistence, duration, and scope.”

Is it possible that by producing this feature about Zimbardo’s work Madonna might have an epiphany about the undue influence at times alleged regarding the group that she considers the source of her “spiritual awakening”?

Could exposure to information about the prison experiment offer the pop icon a vehicle to “deprogram” her from “cult mind control”?

Probably not.

The former “Material Girl’s” latest foray into feature films, like her recent children’s books, may be just another extension of the seemingly slavish devotion she displays to her mentor and his teachings.

And wouldn’t it be a supreme irony if Zimbardo’s historic work, as an acknowledged cult expert, was somehow used by a purported “cult” to convey its message?

Note: Maverick Films, owned by Madonna, may simply have a producing arrangement on this project. But let’s hope the diva at least watches the film and gets its message. Wake up Madonna!

Karen Robidoux was found not guilty of second-degree murder, in the 1999 death of her infant child this week, reported the Taunton Gazette.

The Massachusetts mother was accused of starving her baby son Samuel to death.

Robidoux’s husband Jacques was convicted for Samuel’s murder in 2002 and is now serving a life sentence.

But the mother’s attorney, Joseph Krowski, offered the defense that cult “brainwashing” coerced Karen Robidoux’s behavior

The attorney argued that his client was victimized, abused and ultimately controlled by an obscure religious sect led by her father-in-law Roland Robidoux called “The Body.”

“There were two victims here, Karen and Samuel,” Robidoux’s older sister told the press.

And after seven hours of deliberation the jury agreed with the defense and its witnesses, acquitting the “cult” mom of murder, but finding her guilty of misdemeanor assault and battery.

“Because a child died, it may be an unpopular verdict, but we felt Karen Robidoux’s intent was not to kill her baby,” the jury foreman told the Boston Herald.

He later added, “I do believe she was psychologically held prisoner,” and concluded “she has suffered enough” reported NBC News.

Private journals kept by a “cult” member were made public after the verdict and they offered further proof of Roland Robidoux’s total control over his followers reported the Boston Herald.

“Dad [Roland Robidoux] feels that the end is coming soon…Our prayers should not be for Samuel to be healed but for God’s purposes to be fulfilled…What can we do for Samuel? Nothing…God is the master. We are his servants,” wrote the “cult” member.

The mother of four was sentenced to time served and walked out of the Bristol courthouse a free woman reported the Boston Globe.

“I’m just glad the nightmare door is shut,” she told reporters on the courthouse steps.

“It was a trail-blazing case that will affect all cult cases nationally. It’s now been proven what can happen when someone is brainwashed,” said nationally known forensic pathologist Dr. Millard Bass.

In Virginia late last year another jury came to a similar conclusion regarding the sentencing of “D.C. sniper” Lee Malvo. His lawyers also claimed their client was “brainwashed.”

The teenager’s defense team contended that he was dominated and controlled by his mentor John Mohammed.

Mohammed was sentenced to death, but Malvo was sent to prison for life.

In a noteworthy child custody case in North Carolina this fall a judge ruled that the Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF) exerted “complete control over the mind, body and spirit of its members, both adults and children.”

WOFF led by Jane Whaley has been called a “cult.”

The Carolina judge concluded, “The environment created at WOFF has an adverse effect on the health, safety and welfare of children,” and he subsequently ordered them to be removed from the group.

In a tacit acknowledgement of cult “brainwashing” another judge in California granted the release last year of a woman charged with the death of her small child to receive “deprogramming.”

Later that same judge sentenced the cult leader to 16 years in prison, while charges were dismissed against two of his followers.

The mother charged received an eleven-year sentence and told the court, “Mind control is a reality.”

CultNews reported that professional cult apologist Dick Anthony was involved in both the California and Carolina cases. Anthony is a psychologist and well paid for his work, but he failed his clients abysmally.

Judging from the prosecution’s arguments in the Robidoux case, they apparently were receiving input from someone like Anthony.

But the Robidoux verdict may be the most colossal setback for cults and their apologists to date. And will likely be cited in the future as proof of “brainwashing.”

Overall, 2003 was possibly the worst year ever for cults and their apologists.

They even attempted fruitlessly to dismiss the “brainwashing” of kidnap victim Elizabeth Smart.

But brainwashing has become understandable to the public after Jonestown, Waco and the “Heaven’s Gate” suicides. It is no longer the mystery it once was when Charles Manson and his followers entered the California judicial system.

Europeans likewise came to acutely understand the cult brainwashing phenomenon through the Solar Temple suicides in Switzerland. And the Japanese were forced to confront this reality by the cult Aum, when it attacked Tokyo’s subways.

Joseph Kibwetere sent shockwaves through Africa when he led hundreds of his followers to death in Uganda shortly after the Millenium, once again demonstrating the power of cult mind control.

And isn’t “brainwashing” something Osama bin Laden has used to transform his followers into tools of terror?

Cults and their apologists will have increasing difficulty convincing anyone that “brainwashing” is only a “theory.”

The Robidoux verdict is evidence of that.

Madonna and Kate Capshaw, the wife of director Steven Speilberg, have both sent their kids to programs at the Kaballah Centre.

Ms. Capshaw has been a student at the LA Center, and Madonna supports the London branch and is the organization’s most ardent and notable booster.

But what kind of education do kids receive through the controversial group, that some critics have called a “cult”?

This week the Kaballah Centre School of New York City held an “open house” and one neighborhood mom that attended told CultNews all about it.

“I am concerned about children being indoctrinated beginning at two years of age,” she said.

According to the Manhattan parent kids at the Kaballah Centre “are taught to share their food with each other.”

This is called “sharing and caring.”

And visitors at the open house were told that other private schools are “mean” by comparison.

Of course this school is not just about learning the basics, it’s about “spirituality.”

Madonna and Karen Berg, wife of the center’s founder, jointly launched a program called “Spirituality for Kids,” which is closely linked to the former “Material Girl’s” children’s books.

Visitors to the NYC school learned that “Kaballah means to share and to change.” And unlike other schools they have no time-outs.

Instead, students are taught to confront and convert the offender, who may simply be having a “bad day.”

Parents were informed that at home children may be individuals, but at this school they learn to think as a “group.” For example, children may bring a toy from home, but they must share it with others.

Students even do a project that involves the “72 names of God,” and learn about how to reconfigure those names for “healing.”

But can kindergarten kids really fathom this stuff?

One lesson at the center teaches unity using the much-touted amulet of Berg’s faithful, the red string, now worn by recent convert Britney Spears to ward off the “evil eye.”

In this lesson the teacher holds a long red string and the children say words that “stop unity.” Each time such a bad word is said the teacher cuts the string.

This leads into a discussion about how unity can be destroyed.

Hey, doesn’t this sound a little like what some might call “brainwashing“?

Children enrolled at the center are given their very own red string bracelet just like Madonna and Britney. It is a symbol “of love, safety and care,” though some might observe it also reinforces group identity.

The NYC Kaballah teacher is from Israel and she instructs children on how to “manage life in an easier way.”

But sharing your lunch and memorizing God’s 72 names might just be a little tough.

Starting at the age of 2 Kaballah kids are allotted 13 minutes daily, for religious study in Hebrew.

Two-year-olds also learn how to “scan the Zohar.”

Such scanning is based upon Berg’s teaching that by simply running your eyes over the religious text, even though you don’t know how to read the language, you are somehow imbued with “spiritual” benefits.

However, rabbis and Jewish scholars have ridiculed such claims.

Steven Speilberg is known for his ability to direct fantasy films, such as Indiana Jones and ET, but doesn’t he want his kids to know the difference between make believe and reality?

As for Madonna, she seems to have regressed into a state of child-like devotion and dependence upon her long-time guru Berg.

Maybe the fading pop diva thinks he helps her to “manage” middle age “life in an easier way.”

However, parents should know that sending their children to the Kaballah Centre means more than simply day care or receiving an education.

The NYC center also has plans for a summer camp this year.

But it looks like the school and summer program are more about indoctrinating kids into what can be seen as “Bergism,” rather than simply education and recreation.

An apparent suicide took place almost one year ago directly linked to Executive Success Programs now known as NXIVM, a privately owned for-profit company that has been called a “cult.”

Kristin Marie Snyder was in the midst of her second 16-day “intensive” program through NXIVM in Alaska when she apparently took her own life on February 6, 2003.

Ms. Snyder had just turned 35.

The young woman was initially reported as missing, her truck was found abandoned at Millers Landing in Seward.

A note was found in the truck that said:

“I attended a course called Executive Success Programs [also known as] NXIVM based out of Anchorage, [Alaska] [and] Albany, [New York]. I was brainwashed [and] my emotional center of the brain was killed/turned off. I still have feeling in my external skin but my internal organs are rotting. Please contact my parents…if you find me or this note. I am sorry…I didn’t know I was already dead. May we persist into the future…No need to search for my body.”

An old kayak was missing from the landing and it is believed that Kristin drowned herself.

Authorities searched the waters for five days, but never recovered her body or the boat. The water in Resurrection Bay is glacier fed and extremely deep, it is doubtful that Kristin will ever be recovered.

Last month an application for a death certificate was submitted to Alaska authorities.

Kristin Snyder was an attractive young woman with a loving family and many friends. She was a self-employed environmental consultant, member of the Nordic Ski Patrol and an avid outdoorswoman. And according to her family had never experienced any psychiatric or emotional disorders.

A close friend, who attended the same ESP intensive, told CultNews that Kristin had discussed suicide several times that week and was implicit about her intention to kill herself the day she disappeared.

The same friend advised that this was reported repeatedly to NXIVM leaders, but their assessment was that the distressed young woman was merely attempting to manipulate people for attention.

No meaningful help was sought from a mental health professional and no referral made.

New York psychiatrist Carlos Rueda told Forbes Magazine and the Albany Times Union last year that he has treated three NXIVM students, one who experienced a psychotic episode and required hospitalization.

“I think that the stress and the way the courses are structured may make people who have a tendency to have a psychotic disorder have an acute episode,” Rueda said.

And the psychiatrist warned that NXIVM leaders weren’t prepared or certified to deal with the potential psychological problems that can surface during the training.

Carlos Rueda is the Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Our Lady of Mercy Hospital in New York City and an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College in Valhalla, Westchester County.

Two other highly respected mental health professionals have also been critical of NXIVM and the potential consequences of participating in its programs.

Forensic psychiatrist John Hochman an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA wrote that NXIVM is “a kingdom…with psychological borders – influencing how…subjects spend their time, socialize, and think. Increasing involvement serves to…distance participants from their relationships in a manner that is slow and subtle, and thus not at all obvious to them.”

Clinical psychologist Paul Martin wrote two reports regarding NXIVM. He is the director of Wellspring Retreat, a licensed mental health facility for the rehabilitation of former cult members.

Martin recently testified as an expert witness on “cult brainwashing” in the trial of Lee Malvo, the so-called “D.C. sniper.” In his report about NXIVM the noted psychologist specifically compared “Robert Jay Lifton’s eight criteria of thought reform as applied to the Executive Success Programs.

Lifton, a renowned psychiatrist and Harvard Medical School professor, is the author of the seminal book Thought Reform and Psychology of Totalism.

“ESP has characteristics that are consistent with the themes of thought reform [often called ‘brainwashing’] Martin stated within a “A Critical Analysis of the Executive Success Programs.”

Some of the consequences the psychologist cited that might occur as a result of such a thought reform program are a “borderline psychotic state, split identity, fear, confusion, feeling…lonely and an inability to distinguish the real from the unreal.”

Martin also noted that thought reform victims might experience relief through “suicide.”

Kristin Snyder’s parents told CultNews, “We had serious concerns about her involvement with the group and about personality changes that we sensed in her after her first exposure to ESP…We attempted to dissuade her from attending again, but to no avail.”

Kristin lived in Anchorage, thousands of miles from her concerned family.

The Snyders researched NXIVM more in-depth recently through the Internet.

Kristin’s mother wrote, “We only recently became aware of your website, but from the beginning we were aware that controversy surrounded ESP. I wish we had known more a year ago when my husband and I were so terribly concerned about our daughter.”

Sadly, such in-depth analysis of NXIVM by mental health experts only began to appear publicly after Kristin Snyder’s untimely death.

In what seems to be an effort to suppress such information NXIVM filed lawsuits against doctors Hochman, Martin and the Ross Institute for publishing the cited reports on the Internet.

However, the judge denied NXIVM’s request for an injunction.

“Our hearts are broken, but we are also enraged that a group like this can legally peddle such destructive propaganda in America,” says Mrs. Snyder.

“Kris was a lovely and gifted young woman who loved life and had never before had any emotional instability, but her descent into mental illness was rapid and we believe that it was a direct result of the manipulation of her mind by…’Vanguard’ and his doctrine,” the Snyder family concluded.

“Vanguard” is the self-proclaimed title Keith Raniere, the creator of Executive Success Programs, has chosen for himself.

When asked about NXIVM causalities Raniere told the Schenectady Sunday Gazette that the number of people who have gripes with the program, he estimates at 1 percent, are disproportionately reported in comparison with the 99 percent who had a positive experience.

Such self-serving spin offers no solace to the Snyders.

A purported “cult leader” in Oregon has literally gone to the dogs.

Whitewind Weaver, formerly Whitewind Swan Fisher, formerly Susan Kilbourne Musemeci, has had a long dry spell in the “cult” business.

Even though the self-proclaimed “shaman” who set up “Friends Landing” outside Springfield, Oregon still has a few diehard followers, they apparently aren’t enough to keep things going.

The fading “spiritual teacher” has had problems paying her bills and generally making a go of it as a guru.

Ms. Weaver has had her share of image problems too.

Parents have complained publicly that the founder of Friends Landing “brainwashes” students through her “Spherical Reality” programs. And that her “Dream Camps” ultimately led to personal nightmares for some families.

The extra-large “shaman” who was once “morbidly obese,” shed mega-pounds through stomach surgery, but that makeover didn’t seem to help much.

So it was time for another business, or at least a sideline to pay the bills.

The “shaman” has become a dog breeder, though zoning at the Friends Landing property is restricted to farming.

The group has a history of zoning problems.

This would-be guru is now selling Boxers and has launched a website,

Whitewind, now supposedly a doggie maven, has even come up with her very own special training called the “Witness Socialization Program” (WSP).

Could this be “brainwashing” for Boxers?

According to her website “WSP…is a proprietary method of training that insures you a seriously trained puppy.”

The guru/dog trainer is assisted in this new endeavor by “the greatest little teacher since doggie school began; Ruby,” her trusty Chihuahua.

Well it seems that Whitewind believes, if first you don’t succeed try, try again, but with dogs.

Ms. Whitewind (Susan Kilbourne Musemeci Swan Fisher) Weaver may have the distinction of being the founder of the first canine “cult compound.”

Maybe someone should call animal protection?