Apparently “cult apologists” are concerned about the Elizabeth Smart case. They seem to feel a need to dismiss any claims that the kidnap victim was “brainwashed.”

Veteran cult defenders James Richardson, H. Newton Malony and Nancy Ammerman, have all been quoted concerning the case.

Dick Anthony, another “cult apologist,” more recently weighed in.

The mainstream media apparently overlooked Anthony, who describes himself as a “forensic psychologist,” so he found another outlet for his opinions.

His commentary about Elizabeth Smart is now posted on the website CESNUR (“Center for Studies on New Religons”), run by Massimo Introvigne.

Introvigne is an interesting character and reportedly connected to a group that has been called a “cult.” The organization is named “Tradition, Family and Property” (TFP). Not surprisingly, Introvigne seems to be personally offended by the “C” word (“cult”) and the “B” word (“brainwashing”).

Within his treatise Anthony laments how the “proponents of brainwashing theory” are misleading the public by “asserting that Elizabeth Smart was brainwashed.”

According to Anthony that “theory” was “formulated by the American CIA as a propaganda device.”

Hmmm, was Elizabeth then somehow the most recent victim of a CIA conspiracy?


Anthony speculates that due to Elizabeth’s “strict Mormon upbringing…[she] may actually have been predisposed to accepting the stern religious authority of the self-appointed prophet Brian David Mitchell.”

Does this mean the Mormon Church and/or her family not only somehow predisposed Elizabeth to embrace the bizarre beliefs of others without question, but also to not seek help or identify herself to authorities when kidnapped?

Anthony seems to think so.

He says, “Such offbeat theological worldviews allegedly primarily attract conversions from rebellious young persons from Mormon backgrounds.”

Despite his self-proclaimed title of “forensic psychologist,” Anthony doesn’t offer any factual “forensic” evidence. And he doesn’t really explain Elizabeth’s strange behavior. Instead, everything is attributed to her “totalistic personality,” which was apparently just waiting to be Mitchell’s next “conversion.”

The good doctor is less kind to 70s cult kidnap victim Patricia Hearst.

Anthony says, “There is good reason to think that her involvement in SLA [Symbionese Liberation Army] crimes was based upon a real conversion.”

He does admit Hearst was exposed to “indoctrination.”

But just like Elizabeth, Anthony claims the then 19-year-old Patty Hearst’s capitulation to her captors, was all about “the interaction of her pre-existing totalistic personality.”

Anthony gets a bit nasty bashing Hearst as a “rebellious” teenager who “…took psychedelic drugs” and was “dualistically divided between corrupt mainstream people and good counter-culture people and down-trodden minorities.”

Uh huh.

He concludes, “Hearst fit the profile of an ‘individual totalist’ prone to seeking for a totalitarian counter-cultural worldview.”


Apparently, the SLA really didn’t need to violently abduct Hearst at gunpoint from her college campus or imprison the girl for months in a closet and brutally beat her. She was ready to accept their beliefs willingly, and all they needed to do was proselytize a bit to produce a “real conversion.”

Likewise, Elizabeth Smart’s kidnapping, months of confinement and her assault, did not contribute to her “brainwashing”—it’s that old “totalistic personality” ready for a “real conversion” once again.

In his latest foray in the realm of “forensic psychology” Anthony cites the “research” of a relatively small group of academics that share his views about “cults.”

He mentions the work of Stuart Wright, “Jim” James Richardson, Eileen Barker, H. Newton Maloney, Anson Shupe, David Bromley and Gordon Melton and of course his sponsor Massimo Introvigne.

However, all these “academics” are within the world of “cult apologists.”

In fact, Bromley, Melton, Maloney, Richardson and Wright have all been recommended as “religious resources” by the Church of Scientology.

Melton and Barker were funded by “cults” to produce books.

Anson Shupe was paid hefty fees by Scientology lawyers to become their “expert witness” about the “anti-cult movement.”

Benjamin Zablocki, Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University put it succinctly when he said, “The sociology of religion can no longer avoid the unpleasant ethical question of how to deal with the large sums of money being pumped into the field by the religious groups being studied… This is an issue that is slowly but surely building toward a public scandal. I do think there needs to be some more public accounting of where the money is coming from and what safeguards have been taken to assure that this money is not interfering with scientific objectivity.”

This brings us back to Dick Anthony.

Last year Anthony made $21,000.00 consulting on one civil case alone, without even appearing in court.

That case involved a wrongful death claim filed against Jehovah’s Witnesses and a “Bethelite” (full-time ministry worker) named Jordon Johnson in Connecticut, by John J. Coughlin, Jr., Administrator of the Estate of his mother Frances S. Coughlin .

Johnson killed Francis Coughlin in an automobile accident and was criminally convicted for manslaughter.

The Coughlin family sued both Johnson and the organization that controlled him, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, commonly called Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Dick Anthony was hired by the Watchtower Society as an “expert,” to assist them in their defense. And in the process was deposed under oath on October 11, 2002.

The man, who prides himself as a “scholar” and “academic” actually admitted that he hasn’t worked within an institution of higher learning (i.e. a university or college) for more than twenty years.

So how does Dick Anthony support himself?

He is “self-employed.” The name of his business is simply, “Dick Anthony, Ph.D.”

What does Dick Anthony Ph.D. do?

Dr. Anthony explains, “Probably two-thirds of my time to three-quarters of my time is spent writing for publication, and probably a quarter of my time to a third of my time is involved with participating in legal cases.”

Anthony’s writings are most often connected to defending “cults,” attacking the so-called “anti-cult movement” and/or the “proponents of the brainwashing theory.”

His work on “legal cases,” is as an “expert” hired by “cults,” or somehow as a “expert witness” in a related area of interest.

What this admission by Anthony means, is that he can easily be seen as a full-time professional “cult apologist,” who has no other means of meaningful income.

How much does he get paid?

Anthony stated for the record, “My fee for reviewing materials in my office is $350 an hour. And my fee for work outside my office is a flat fee of $3,500 a day plus expenses.”

Anthony admitted that he collected “$21,000” on the Coughlin/Watchtower Society case alone. And that was without even appearing in court.

For his deposition of only a few hours, he was paid “$3,500.”

Who else besides Jehovah’s Witnesses is willing to pay such substantial fees?

Anthony listed some of his clients for the record. That list included the “Unification Church, the Hare Krishna movement…The Way International [and] Church of Scientology.”

All of these groups have been called “cults.”

But Dr. Anthony doesn’t like the “C” word, he prefers “nontraditional religions.”

On his list of “nontraditional religions” are the Branch Davidians, Unification Church and he says, “In the United States, the Catholic Church, well it’s definitely the largest nontraditional religion.”

Dr. Anthony belongs to a “nontraditional religion” himself.

Explaining his own background Anthony stated, “I’m a follower of Meher Baba” and a member of the “Meher Baba Lovers of Northern California.”

According to Jeffrey Hadden, a fellow “cult apologist” who is now deceased, Meher Baba and his followers believe that he was the “God incarnate” and the Avatar of the ‘dark or iron’ age, also called the Kali Yuga.”

Baba died in 1969. Gordon Melton says, “By loving Baba, Baba lovers can learn to love others. In the highest, most intense, state of love, Divine Love, the distinction between the lover and the beloved ceases and one attains union with God.”

Sound like a personality-driven group that would be perceived by many as a “cult”? Anthony would of course prefer the description “nontraditional religion.”

The good doctor calls himself a “forensic psychologist,” which supposedly means the application of medical facts to legal problems.

So what facts does Dick Anthony apply to resolve the legal cases he is paid to testify and/or consult about?

When asked what specific research he relied upon regarding the Coughlin case against Jehovah’s Witnesses Anthony replied that he would largely rely upon “a range of materials provided me by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Did Dick Anthony have any experience as a psychologist helping Witnesses, “None as far as I know,” he said.

Anthony also openly admitted he had done no formal research or published any paper about Jehovah’s Witnesses.

So what facts or direct working experience would be applied or used as the basis for rendering his expert opinion?

Anthony said he would base his opinion largely on a “general knowledge of the sociology and psychology of religion.”

When pressed repeatedly during the deposition for something more specific and scientific Anthony cited, “The research of Rodney Stark…generally considered to be probably the leading expert on sects and cults.”

Stark like Anthony has received money from “cults” and has often been called an “apologist.” He is not “generally considered” a “leading expert” on the subject cited either.

Anthony later said he would rely on an article by his old friend “James Richardson [though he couldn’t remember the title]…and…several articles by Catherine Wah [correct name actually Carolyn Wah].”

Carolyn Wah was the in-house attorney assigned to defend Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Coughlin case and a long-time “Bethelite” herself, working full-time at Watchtower headquarters.

Interestingly, it was Richardson who Anthony later admitted had referred him to the Witnesses for the job.

During his deposition Dick Anthony cited other legal cases he was working on at the time.

He claimed to be “a witness for the prosecution” in the criminal case against Winnfred Wright. Anthony said some of Wright’s followers were “claiming that they are innocent because they were brainwashed.”

This criminal case involved the starvation death of a 19-month-old boy.

Described as a “cult” by Associated Press, Anthony called the criminally destructive group a “little family.”

Apparently the judge didn’t agree with Anthony’s expert opinion. He ordered one of Wright’s followers released for “cult deprogramming” so she could “enter a treatment clinic for former cult members,” reported the Marin News.

Wright received the maximum sentence allowed.

Anthony also said he was advising “the Church of Scientology in Ireland…in Dublin.”

This is clearly a reference to a lawsuit filed against Scientology by Mary Johnson, a former Irish member who alleged “psychological and psychiatric injuries.” Anthony said, “I’ve had a number of conversations with [Scientology] about that.”

But despite those “conversations” Scientology decided pay off Johnson. And costs alone ran them more than a million.

And what about the Coughlin case?

After paying Anthony $21,000 in fees and on the first day of trial, the Jehovah’s Witnesses opted to settle too. They cut a check to the plaintiff for more than $1.5 million dollars. This was historically the largest settlement ever paid by the organization, which has been around for more than a century.

It seems Dr. Anthony doesn’t have a very good track record in the recent legal cases he has consulted on.

Perhaps Anthony himself explained this best during his deposition when he said, “It is the nature of pseudo-science…to pretend to certainty in interpreting situations where such certainty cannot possibly be based upon scientific knowledge. Such false claims of certain knowledge in the absence of a clear factual foundation for that knowledge are more characteristic of totalistic ideology than of genuine science.”

Indeed. So who really has a “totalistic personality” after all?

Dick Anthony seems not only a “pretend[er],” but as can be seen through the Coughlin case, he actually offers no directly applicable “scientific knowledge” or “clear factual foundation” to form his opinions.

Instead of applying medical facts and/or “genuine science” to resolve legal problems, this “forensic psychologist” seems to offer only “pseudo-science,” in an effort to please the “nontraditional religions,” who are paying clients and represent his predominant source of income.

Despite Anthony’s repeated failures he is still being paid $3,500 per day, which is not bad, or is it?

Note: Copies of the Dick Anthony deposition are available for an $18.00 tax-deductible donation to The Ross Institute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another well known “cult apologist” has surfaced in news coverage of the Elizabeth Smart abduction.

Rodney Stark, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington, was quoted in the Desert News.

Though Stark’s comments within the Desert News article are general observations, he has a long history of working closely with groups called “cults” and they frequently cite his writings.

The academic has defended such organizations as the Unification Church of Rev. Moon and testified as an expert witness regarding the “Local Church.” Critics have called both of these groups “cults”.

Stark was included amongst a list of scholars that have received money and/or expenses from “cults” in connection with research, court testimony and/or “cult” sponsored conferences, within an article titled “Brainwashed! Scholars of Cults Accuse Each Other of Bad Faith.”

It looks like some “cult apologists” are trying to soften coverage of the Smart case. Two that recently popped up in related articles are James Richardson, quoted in the New York Times and H. Newton Malony commenting within the Los Angeles Times.

Both Richardson and Malony have been recommended by the Church of Scientology repeatedly as “religious resources” and/or “experts.”

In 1997 during heated media coverage of the “Heaven’s Gate” mass-suicide, both professors were promoted in a press release from the so-called new “Cult Awareness Network,” an organization that essentially now acts as a front for Scientology and other groups called “cults.”

Malony said today in the LA Times that Elizabeth Smart’s strange behavior during her captivity might be attributed to “religious conversion” and “that adolescence is the time when the experience is most likely to happen.”

Does Malony really think that such an adolescent change of faith begins at knifepoint and continues in captivity?

The professor of religious studies at Fuller Theological Seminary is probably more interested in blunting or negating any critical discussion about cult indoctrination. And this theologian has historically made it clear that he doesn’t appreciate talk about the role of “brainwashing” in that “conversion” process.

LA Times reporter Benedict Carey seems to stretch credulity when he writes that somehow the “pressures of adolescence and personality development” may explain Elizabeth Smart’s behavior.

Is this reporter somehow blaming the victim?

James Richardson cryptically commented within a NY Times piece today that Elizabeth was kept “under horrendous conditions, kidnapped and held in captivity. We still don’t know the extent of the physical coercion.”

Here Richardson appears to be saying that “captivity” and/or “physical coercion” is necessary for “brainwashing.”

Again, this would negate or blunt comparisons to the indoctrination process used by many “cults,” which most often does not include holding members prisoner or the use of physical force.

The LA Times article is titled “Specialists in the psychology of abuse and persuasion say survival, not mind control, could explain the girl’s behavior.

However, Malony’s expertise is really in theology and Richard Hecht who is also quoted by the Times is actually a religious studies professor at UC Santa Barbara and not a “specialist in the psychology of abuse and persuasion.”

Interestingly, Gordon Melton, perhaps the most popular “cult apologist,” is also closely associated with UC Santa Barbara.

Hecht says that “brainwashing,” as an explanation for Elizabeth Smart’s behavior, is “far too simplistic.”

But many of the simple facts cited within the LA Times article are actually common features of a thought reform program, popularly called “brainwashing.”

For example, Hecht cites Elizabeth’s “loss of any context and connection with the outside world.”

This is what Robert Jay Lifton, noted psychiatrist and recognized expert in the psychology of persuasion, calls “mileu control” or control of the environment. And this is the foundational element of any thought reform program.

Carey notes that Smart “lost many of the things and people that reinforced her budding identity.”

This simply reiterates the need people have for accurate feedback from others, which cults frequently eliminate through isolation and control of the environment.

Carey then adds, “It appears she had very little say in even the smallest decisions while captive, such as what she wore and what she ate.” He concludes, “Denied any autonomy, even a resilient human nature may begin to make compromises.”

Such “compromises” is what Lifton includes within a mindset he describes as the “psychology of the pawn.”

Lifton writes, “Unable to escape from forces more powerful than himself, he subordinates everything to adapting himself to them.”

This is often accomplished by subjecting virtually every aspect of daily life, such as what is worn, eaten or “even the smallest decisions,” to the doctrine of the group.

Lifton includes this within his criteria “doctrine over person” and the “demand for purity.”

He says, “The good and the pure are of course those ideas, feelings, and actions which are consistent with the totalist ideology and policy.” And add this becomes evident in the subject by “the continual shift between experience itself and the highly abstract interpretation of such experience — between genuine feelings and spurious cataloguing of feelings.”

Fear also is a factor.

Carey says “fear and disorientation,” were factors that must have driven Elizabeth to an “attachment to the adults who had control over her well-being.”

This is what cult experts have often called “learned dependency.”

Margaret Singer clinical psychologist and an expert in the process of “brainwashing” explains cults, “Create a sense of powerlessness, covert fear, and dependency.”

This is one of Singer’s “six conditions” for a thought reform program.

Ultimately the LA Times reporter admits, “The effect of Mitchell’s religious pretensions cannot be ignored”

However, Carey claims “conversion” requires “fellow believers to teach values and rituals, as well as exert social pressure.”

Is it possible that Carey and his experts cannot recognize that Elizabeth was virtually suffocated by the “social pressure” of “believers” Mitchell and Barzee, who taught the girl their “values and rituals”?

Singer also discusses this aspect of cult indoctrination within the context of “Instill[ing] new behavior and attitudes.” And that cults “put forth a closed system of logic; allow no real input or criticism.”

And this was certainly observed by numerous eyewitnesses, including the police officers that ultimately dealt with the odd trio.

It is the effective influence of that program, which essentially explains Elizabeth’s silence, submission, and seemingly strange behavior.

Repeatedly witnesses have reported that she was within situations where help was readily accessible, but the girl said and did nothing to alert anyone.

Thought reform also explains Elizabeth’s reluctance to identify herself and her evasiveness when questioned by police. It may also be the reason she gave them the name “Augustine,” possibly a new identity instilled by Mitchell.

Again and again the facts support that Elizabeth Smart was subjected to a type of thought reform program or “brainwashing” process, directed apparently instinctually by her captor Brian Mitchell.

When major news stories about cult “brainwashing” are reported it is important to discuss the facts intelligently, rather than attempt to disguise or dismiss them and engage in some form of denial.

The LA Times reporter ended his story stating, “Assuming she was ‘brainwashed’ allows the family to gloss over the emotions that must have tormented her, emotions that Elizabeth must come to terms with eventually, experts say.”

But besides verging on “victim bashing,” such a conclusion ignores the obvious.

Elizabeth Smart will eventually need to sort through what happened during those nine months of captivity.

Patty Hearst, once a cult kidnap victim said, “I had a psychologist [Margaret Singer] who was incredibly good. I realized…you don’t have to think the things that they’ve been telling you think. You don’t have to participate in the disciplining of your mind to not have thoughts that they disapprove of. You do really remarkable and frightening things to yourself when you’re under the control of people like this.”

Based upon her own painful experience Hearst has advice for the Smart family. She says Elizabeth will “need a really good psychologist who can also work with the family.”

But let’s hope the Smarts find help from professionals who are recognized “specialists in the psychology of abuse and persuasion,” rather than apologists or generalists that might “gloss over” what really happened.

Catherine Wessinger, a religious studies professor that has been called a “cult apologist,” offers her analysis of another so-called “new religious movement.”

This time it’s David Koresh’s Branch Davidians.

It seems Wessinger can be depended upon for an apology no matter how bizarre and/or destructive the cult.

Today in the Waco Tribune-Herald’s second installment of its nine part series about the Branch Davidians she once again offers her unique spin on a cult’s demise.

What does Wessinger make out of the Davidian cult tragedy?

Well, she says it was largely about “the militarization of law enforcement and the problems … and abuse that arise from such militarization.”


Apparently this college professor doesn’t wish to acknowledge the implications of a purported “psychopath” leading a cult group.

Wessinger admits, “I’m not trained in psychology so I don’t articulate those opinions…I’m sure he [Koresh] had some psychological issues.”

What an understatement.

Wessinger offers her usual apologetic spin. She has previously attempted to explain away cult tragedies such as Heaven’s Gate and Jonestown.

Wessinger once said, “If Jones and his community had succeeded in creating their Promised Land, they would still be here. But due to the attacks and investigations they endured, they opted for the Gnostic view that devalued this world.”

Again, no meaningful blame is placed upon the deeply disturbed cult leader and the inherent destructive dynamics of his control over the group.

Apparently almost any cult and/or cult leader’s behavior may be largely excused according to Wessinger’s reasoning under the general heading of “persecution.”

The professor’s new book is titled “Millennialism, Persecution and Violence: Historical Cases (Religion and Politics).”

Wessinger’s conclusions about the Branch Davidians within this context come as no surprise.

The supposed scholar says, “Koresh would have emerged from the compound peacefully, as promised, once he completed his work inside interpreting the Seven Seals in the Book of Revelation. To have come out earlier, she says, “might have compromised Koresh’s need to conform to strict biblical prophecy.”

Obviously such a conclusion strains credulity and ignores the facts.

Koresh broke the law, failed to comply with a warrant, murdered federal officers and then refused to surrender for 51 days, despite the repeated pleas and guarantees of law enforcement. In the end he chose instead to kill himself and all his followers within the compound.

The cult leader’s behavior had little if anything to do with “biblical prophecy” and his “work” was really more about criminal violations of gun laws and sexual abuse than the “Book of Revelation.”

However, “apologists” like Wessinger apparently ignore such facts in favor of speculation based upon specious, but supposedly “politically correct” views, instead of reality.

Ten years ago the Waco Tribune-Herald began a three-part series called “The Sinful Messiah” about a then obscure cult known as the Branch-Davidians led by Vernon Howell, later known to the world as David Koresh.

The first part of that series appeared February 23, 1993, the same day the BATF came to the cult compound to serve a warrant.

But rather than cooperate with authorities Koresh chose to arm his followers for resistance. The ensuing gun battle ended with four federal agents and five Davidians dead. Many more were wounded.

The 51-day standoff that followed tragically concluded in a horrific fire ordered by Koresh, which consumed the lives of his remaining followers, including their children.

Beginning Sunday the Waco Tribune-Herald launched a new series. This time it will not cover the “Sinful Messiah,” but examine the legacy of the historical event that forever changed Waco.

How did it affect the town in Texas, the nation, society and those involved? What lessons were learned from this tragedy of cult devotion to a purported “psychopath“?

Interestingly, Stuart Wright a long-time cult apologist who has been recommended as a resource by the Church of Scientology was quoted within the first Tribune-Herald installment.

Wright testified before congress regarding the standoff and used that opportunity to essentially advance his own agenda concerning the supposed “persecution” of cults.

Wright seems dissatisfied with the results of two congressional investigations, a civil suit and the independent Danforth inquiry. Though millions have been spent to document the facts about the standoff he cryptically said, “I’m not sure the evidence was ever looked at in an objective light.”

Wright edited his own version of events titled “Armageddon in Waco.” This book is a collection of writings largely from other like-minded cult apologists such as David Bromley, James Richardson, Anson Shupe, James Lewis, Anthony Robbins and Edward Gaffney.

One entry within the book is by Nancy Ammerman, once lauded in a full-page article within Scientology’s “Freedom Magazine.”

Many of these academics have received cash from groups called “cults.” This includes grants for “research,” payments for court testimony and/or expenses for trips and conferences.

The objectivity and observations of such specious scholars should be suspect.

Benjamin Zablocki, Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University said, “The sociology of religion can no longer avoid the unpleasant ethical question of how to deal with the large sums of money being pumped into the field by the religious groups being studied…in the form of subvention of research expenses, subvention of publications, opportunities to sponsor and attend conferences, or direct fees for services, this money is not insignificant…This is an issue that is slowly but surely building toward a public scandal.

The physical evidence and facts now well established about the Branch-Davidian standoff failed to support the opinions of cult apologists or anti-government conspiracy theorists.

Instead, the only “persecution” that took place was the way David Koresh treated his followers, frequently targeting women and children for sexual abuse.

And the “Armageddon” that ultimately occurred outside Waco was the creation of a criminal cult leader, conceived in his twisted mind as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe this is because they pay him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeffrey Hadden 66, who taught religious studies at the University of Virginia, died this past Sunday of cancer, reports Associated Press.

The AP says the professor’s “work promoted religious tolerance.”

However, Hadden can instead easily be seen as a “cult apologist” who focused much of his energy in later life on defending groups called “cults.”

Hadden worked closely with Rev. Moon’s Unification Church and was recommended as an expert by Scientology.

However, Hadden insisted that such groups not be called “cults,” but instead “new religious movements.”

A confidential memo written by Hadden during 1989 and later made public revealed a network of academics, scholars and related operatives who sought to neutralize and/or discredit criticism of cults. Hadden hoped that these efforts might be funded by “cult” organizations.

Academics like Hadden, became increasingly controversial and some scholars saw them as a source for potential “public scandal.”

Rutgers Professor of Sociology Benjamin Zablocki said, “The sociology of religion can no longer avoid the unpleasant ethical question of how to deal with the large sums of money being pumped into the field by the religious groups being studied…in the form of subvention of research expenses, subvention of publications, opportunities to sponsor and attend conferences, or direct fees for services, this money is not insignificant, and its influence on research findings and positions taken on scholarly disputes is largely unknown. This is an issue that is slowly but surely building toward a public scandal.”

Jeffrey Hadden was the recipient of such “sums of money.” One example is his defense of Scientology as a paid expert in court.

Hadden’s website, which the AP refers to as a “comprehensive” resource about “religious movements,” was actually a part of the professor’s ongoing effort to defend “cults” and discredit their critics.

The AP claims Hadden believed in “tolerance and freedom,” but he was often intolerant of former cult members that exposed abuses and his confidential memo does not seem to encourage freedom of expression, at least not for those who disagreed with his views.

During the 90s as acts of cult violence, scandal, suicide and/or abuse became more commonplace, Hadden’s apologies rang hollow. And subsequently his importance and influence as an objective serious scholar waned.

In the end, though some “cults” may lament the loss of a friend and defender, much of Jeffrey Hadden’s work as an academic scholar seems suspect.

First the Raelians hand picked Michael Guillen as their “expert” to coordinate DNA testing, which would supposedly prove their cloning claims. Later, Guillen was exposed as Clonaid CEO and Raelian bishop Brigette Boisselier’s “friend.”

Skeptics see Guillen as largely an apologist for paranormal claims. He received a “Pigasus” award (“when pigs fly”) from noted debunker James Randi.

Have the Raelians found another friendly “expert”?

Newsweek recently quoted Susan Palmer, a professor at Dawson College in Montreal and the author of a forthcoming book on the Raelians, in an article about the “cult” called “Spaced Out.”

Palmer described Claude Vorilhon or “Rael,” founder and leader of the Raelians, as a ” a playboy and a sportsman and a social satirist.” And she characterized the group as “benign.”

Palmer is also the author of an article which appeared in the Montreal Gazette titled “No sects – please we’re French.” She essentially attacked the French effort to identify and monitor destructive cults. Palmer prefers the politically correct term “new religious movements” (NRMs).

According to Palmer the “Moonies,” Scientologists, Hare Krishnas and of course the Raelians, are all NRMs. She likes to take her college students on “field trips” to the Hare Krishna temple and to witness Raelian baptisms.

Palmer admits, “If I were a French sociologist…I would be out of a job. I would be called a ‘cult lover.'”

Palmer also has defended an anti-Semitic cult group called the “Twelve Tribes,” which was fined for child labor violations in New York and has been the focus of frequent allegations regarding child abuse.

Professor Palmer appears to be more of a cult apologist than an objective observer or “expert.”

Serious questions have been raised about the research of academics like Palmer.

Benjamin Zablocki a professor of sociology at Rutgers University lamented, “The sociology of religion can no longer avoid the unpleasant ethical question of how to deal with the large sums of money being pumped into the field by the religious groups being studied…in the form of subvention of research expenses, subvention of publications, opportunities to sponsor and attend conferences, or direct fees for services, this money is not insignificant, and its influence on research findings and positions taken on scholarly disputes is largely unknown. This is an issue that is slowly but surely building toward a public scandal.”

How has Professor Palmer’s Raelian research and coming book been funded and/or supported? And what fees, money, expenses and/or sponsorships has she received from groups called “cults”?

Maybe James Randi should consider Susan Palmer for a “Pigasus”?

Some religious scholars don’t like the word “cult” and prefer the more politically correct term “new religious movements” (NRMs), reports ABC News.

ABC said such scholars say “just because a belief system is young doesn’t make it wrong.”

This category of “new religions,” according to the quoted scholars, includes the Raelians and Scientology.

Gordon Melton, director of the “Institute for the Study of American Religions” offered comments for the ABC piece, as did religious studies Professor Frank Flinn.

However, both men have a history of working closely with “cults.” And they can be seen as “cult apologists.”

Flinn has defended Scientology in court.

In one affidavit the professor submitted he stated, “It is my opinion that the spiritual disciplines and practices…of the Church of Scientology are not only not unusual or even strange but characteristic of religion itself when compared with religious practices known around the world. Contrary to the generally second-hand opinions of outsiders and to the claims of disaffected members, whose motives are suspect.”

However, compare Flinn’s “second-hand” analysis to Time Magazine’s “Scientology: The Cult of Greed.”

First-hand accounts from former members are routinely dismissed as “suspect” by academics like Flinn.

But Benjamin Beit-Halami, Professor of Psychology at Haifa University said in his paper “Integrity and Suspicion in the Research of New Religious Movements,” “Statements by ex-members turned out to be more accurate than those of apologists and NRM researchers.”

And given Scientology’s sordid history in court and criminal indictments how could Flinn characterize it as “not unusual or even strange”?

Benjamin Zablocki, Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University concluded, “The sociology of religion can no longer avoid the unpleasant ethical question of how to deal with the large sums of money being pumped into the field by the religious groups being studied…in the form of subvention of research expenses, subvention of publications, opportunities to sponsor and attend conferences, or direct fees for services, this money is not insignificant…This is an issue that is slowly but surely building toward a public scandal.”

Gordon Melton and Frank Flinn have both been the recipients of such funding and fees paid by groups called “cults.”

Melton once flew to Japan to defend Aum, the cult that gassed Tokyo subways killing 12 and sending thousands to hospitals. Aum paid for all of his expenses. Melton’s defense of Aum in retrospect now appears to be part of building “scandal,” referred to by Zablocki.

Gordon Melton comes highly recommended by the Church of Scientology along with other “scholars” that are often referred to as “cult apologists.” He has made a career largely from defending “cults.”

Cult apology has become a substantial source of supplemental income for some academics. Such “religious scholars” and/or “forensic psychologists” work on paid reports or appear as expert witnesses for “new religious movements.”

Perhaps it is actually people like Flinn whose “motives are suspect.”