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.

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?

No.

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.”

Huh?

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 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.”

The largest settlement ever paid in the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses occurred this past October, but no news outlet has yet reported it.

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, which is the umbrella organization over 6 million Witnesses worldwide, paid the estate of Frances Coughlin $1.55 million dollars rather than let a jury decide the wrongful death lawsuit.

Frances Coughlin’s surviving family sued Jehovah’s Witnesses, also known as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, in State of Connecticut Superior Court at Milford (CV-00-0072183 S).

The principle defendant was a “Bethelite,” or full-time ministry worker, who drove recklessly in bad weather and killed Ms. Coughlin, a mother and grandmother, on October 8, 1998.

That Bethelite Jordon Johnson was traveling between “Bethel,” which has housing for its full-time workers in Patison, New Jersey and Brooklyn, New York, to a Witness Kingdom Hall he was assigned to in Derby, Connecticut.

Johnson was found guilty of vehicular manslaughter, but only served 30 days in jail and was sentenced to two years probation. Subsequently, he and Jehovah’s Witnesses faced a civil suit filed by Ms. Coughlin’s surviving family for damages.

Why was the Witness organization willing to pay more than $1.5 million dollars?

Apparently because a much larger issue of “agency” was at stake.

Agency is the word used to express a relationship between a principal party and its agent, through which the principal party projects its power and/or advances some purpose. And a principal party may be held liable for the actions of its agent.

Jehovah’s Witnesses contended that Jordan Johnson acted on his own and was not their agent at the time he caused the fatal car wreck.

But plaintiff’s counsel, Joel Faxon of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, claimed on his client’s behalf that Jordan Johnson was serving as a Bethelite and agent of the organization at the time and advancing their purpose, therefore Jehovah’s Witnesses was responsible for his actions.

Internal documents were obtained through the discovery process and testimony was given through depositions, which clarified and substantiated Faxon’s view.

I was retained as an expert witness and consultant for this case by the plaintiff’s counsel.

My role was to assist in the discovery process, provide research and generally help to form a basis for an understanding of how Jehovah’s Witnesses employ, use and control Bethelites and others within their organization. Ultimately, I would have also testified as an expert in court.

That testimony would have included explaining how the organizational dynamics, indoctrination and objectives of Jehovah’s Witnesses impact individual members and more specifically full-time workers such as Bethelite Jordan Johnson.

But on the first day of trial Jehovah’s Witnesses decided they didn’t want a jury to decide this case and instead $1.55 million was paid to the plaintiff.

The organization that claims it is waiting for the ever-eminent “end of the world” decided to settle in a pragmatic move to protect its long-term interests and more than $1 billion dollars of accumulated assets.

Again, why would the Witnesses do this if they actually believed they had no meaningful liability?

Certainly the cost to complete the case in court would be far less than $1.55 million dollars. Why not let the jury decide?

But the seemingly shrewd Witnesses realized that there was just too much at stake and didn’t want to risk a “guilty” verdict.

Currently the organization known as Jehovah’s Witnesses faces a growing number of lawsuits filed by former members who feel the organization has hurt them.

The personal injuries were allegedly caused by elders and others acting in accordance with the organization’s policies and doctrines, which include such matters as blood transfusions and sexual abuse.

Seemingly to protect its assets the Watchtower Society of Jehovah’s Witnesses and its many Kingdom Hall congregations have in recent years created a myriad of corporate entities to apparently contain liability.

That is, each corporation is seemingly only responsible for its own specific actions and not the action of others. Again, this appears to be a rather pragmatic legal approach to protect the assets amassed by Jehovah’s Witnesses over more than a century.

But what if Jehovah’s Witnesses are nevertheless responsible or liable for the actions of its agents, which would include elders and others throughout its vast network of districts and Kingdom Halls?

Well, now you can see why the check was likely cut for $1.55 million in the Coughlin case.

Jehovah’s Witnesses were apparently concerned about what legal precedent a jury might set that could ultimately affect other claims pending or potentially possible in the future against the organization.

Many people seem to think that Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society is focused on the end of the world and a coming kingdom. At least that’s the impression many have when its members come knocking at the door.

But through the Coughlin case a different view of the organization emerges, which looks more like a business protecting its worldly assets and focused on the bottom line.

In Pretoria South Africa an “occult expert” testified during the trial of an alleged “Satanist,” accused of subjecting children to sexual abuse and religious rituals.

During her testimony the expert witness told the court about her own past occult involvement and experiences, which included “astral projection.” She is now a “reborn Christian.”

The expert claimed that she could “sense negative vibrations on a crime scene or when meeting someone.” And said that upon meeting the man accused she felt “a cold tingle down her spine,” reports Africa.com.

The expert then pointed out that a Christian parent she met connected to the case created no such response.

It seems incredible that an “expert” in a criminal trial would be allowed to provide such subjective testimony.

Rather than offering the court meaningful insights based upon an objectively established expertise, this “expert” offers the court “vibrations” and a “cold tingle” to demonstrate her points.

Hopefully the judge and/or jury will reject such nonsense, which rather than reflecting expert opinion grounded upon facts, sounds like the bias and strange imaginings of a self-styled witch-hunter or exorcist.

The defendant should be tried based upon the physical evidence and/or through eyewitness accounts that prove his crimes objectively. Likewise, any expert opinion should fact-driven and relevant.

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.

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe this is because they pay him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

Michael Guillen, the so-called “independent journalist” recruited by Clonaid CEO and Raelian bishop Brigette Boisselier to verify her clone claims, turns out to be an old friend, reports the Boston Globe.

Guillen is a Ph.D. and former ABC science reporter for “Good Morning America.” He joined Boisselier at a recent news conference in Florida to announce his role as a supposedly objective expert, who would organize a “scientific team” to verify Clonaid’s claims.

However, in a recent interview Boisselier’s “spiritual leader” Rael (a.k.a Claude Vorilhon) said, ”I know he is very good friends with Dr. Boisselier. I think they communicated from the beginning. He was the first to make a positive interview about the project. I think that’s why she gave him priority.”

“Positive interview”? This appears to be Rael-speak for a “puff piece.”

Have Boisselier and the Raelians essentially stacked the deck?

Cult groups frequently recruit supposedly “independent experts,” that are often “friends,” to report about them and present papers. These academics have been called “cult apologists.”

Many “cult apologists” eventually cash in, either as expert witnesses defending destructive cults in court cases, or through future funding of book projects and “research.”

Bob Giles, curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard said Guillen “crossed a line of independence by appearing to be part of the team that is making the announcement.”

The former ABC reporter says he is “unpaid,” but is there some understanding between this self-described “free lance journalist” and the Raelians? If so, he certainly wouldn’t be the first Ph.D. recruited by a “cult” to provide cover and/or some “positive” spin.

Giles observed, ”It always raises ethical questions when a journalist works under the auspices of an organization such as this group.”

So far Guillen has not identified the supposed “world class experts” he expects to include on his “team” to verify Clonaid’s specious claims.

How will this verification be done? Supposedly by sending blood samples to “world class” DNA labs for testing. Guillen says he has already picked the “expert” to draw the blood, but some observers are skeptical and raising serious questions about the process and Guillen’s past performance.

Robert Park, author of a book on pseudo-science said, “How can they be sure that the samples really came from the mother and the child?”

A pathology professor at Washington University in St. Louis reiterated this point; “An absolutely neutral party has to obtain the samples. From point zero on, the arbitrator must be involved in the whole process. He or she must actually choose the laboratory that is going to do the analysis,” reports Knight Ridder Newspapers.

Giles inferred that without hard scientific evidence made public any alleged “verification” the journalist offers should not be taken too seriously.

Is Guillen simply preparing another “puff piece” for his “friends”? Is this another foray for the former ABC reporter into the realm of “Voodoo Science,” or is it a serious scientific inquiry to establish the facts?

Michael Guillen may have a Ph.D., but he has been “derided in Scientific circles for being overly fond of the paranormal,” reports Desert News.

Guillen’s past work is scrutinized within Park’s book, “Voodoo Science.” The author says the former science reporter has labeled astrology and psychokinesis “as open scientific questions, which they are not.”

It seems now that the real story emerging isn’t the “first human clone.” Increasingly it seems instead to be how Clonaid’s groundless claims became the focus of hard news coverage. Cloning may be part of Boisselier’s bizarre belief system, but why did a cable news network run her Raelian rant as “breaking news”?

CNN seems to have essentially given away 30 minutes of network time for a “cult” infomercial.

Rael must be pleased. What would that time have cost him if the “cult leader” had to pay for it? And there wasn’t even a disclaimer.

The so-called “press conference” seemed like little more than brazen self-promotion for the Raelians and their for-profit company Clonaid. And only those reporters approved by Boisselier were allowed to attend. Half of the media-representitives that came to cover the announcement at the Holiday Inn in Hollywood, Florida were “banned,” reports the Globe and Mail.

One couple has already stepped forward to call Clonaid “nothing more than a slick con,” after being taken for $500,000.00 by Boisselier who promised the parents a clone of their dead son, reports the Sunday Mail.

What’s next for CNN? Will they give a Unification Church spokesperson 30 minutes to announce that Rev. Moon’s mission has been confirmed in heaven? That story was run as paid ad in newspapers, not a news item.

CNN has lost credibility by providing a platform for the Raelians to make their claims without scientific evidence.

Who vetted this story?

The followers of Rael can be expected to uncritically accept whatever their leaders say, but what’s CNN’s excuse?

The announcement of the “first human clone” was clearly not a legitimate news story. Without peer-reviewed supporting proof first verified by the scientific community, all Boisselier’s statements amounted to was little more than prattle about her fanciful beliefs and “spiritual leader.”

And as for Boisselier, she is a major stockholder in Clonaid and stands to personally benefit from recent media exposure. The Clonaid CEO is also a member of the “Order of Angels” waiting to be a “hostess” for humanity’s space alien creators when they land on Earth, reports the Miami Herald.

How could someone like this be taken seriously as a credible source by a news network?

Obviously, CNN should have done the necessary research before giving Clonaid airtime. And by failing to do so CNN appears to be more like a supermarket tabloid than a cable news network.

What’s next on CNN, “Woman impregnated by outer space alien through artificial insemination gives birth”? Wait a minute, that’s Rael’s other story.

According to one religious scholar Oprah Winfrey has crossed the line from celebrity to religious icon.

Kathryn Lofton, speaking at an annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR) said the popular talk-show host has “rituals,” which she placed within specific categories such as “reading, writing and buying.”

Lofton says that Winfrey has created a belief system that is based upon “self-indulgence and relaxed reflection,” reports the Salt Lake City Tribune.

Huh?

This far-fetched analysis was apparently taken seriously amongst Lofton’s colleagues at their Salt Lake City conference.

However, members of the SSSR are less likely to accept any meaningful analysis about groups often called “cults.” In fact, they don’t like to use the “C” word. Instead, they prefer the “politically correct” label of “New Religious Movements” (“NRMs”).

It seems that many SSSR members have become little more than “cult apologists.”

SSSR member Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi appeared to express a minority opinion within the group when he lamented, “Leading scholars in the field decided to take a stand in the propaganda war over the legitimacy and reputation of certain NRMs and to work together with them in order to give them much needed public support.”

Beit-Hallahmi cited a memo made public that demonstrates such ongoing collaboration.

He also pointed out that prominent members of the SSSR such as David Bromley, Chairman of its Publication Committee and Eileen Barker have attended cult-subsidized conferences. Bromley has also been paid to testify in court on behalf of cults.

Other SSSR members have likewise offered themselves for hire as expert witnesses against claims of “brainwashing.”

The President Elect of the SSSR Rodney Stark, recipient of one of its “research awards,” has also received funding to attend “cult” conferences.

Gordon Melton, closely associated with the SSSR and linked through their website, once received an all expenses paid trip to Japan, courtesy of the infamous cult Aum.

Melton quickly concluded that the group was innocent of criminal wrongdoing and offered his analysis during press conferences in Japan, which was that Aum was likely the victim of discrimination and/or persecution.

However, it has since been proven through much physical evidence and court testimony, that Aum was responsible for the poison gas attack of Tokyo’s subways, which caused twelve deaths and sent thousands to the hospital. Many of Aum’s leaders are now in prison; some have been sentenced to death.

Perhaps Ms. Lofton should have looked to her own organization’s members as examples of “self-indulgence and relaxed reflection”?

Unlike the destructive cults some SSSR members have chosen to defend, Winfrey is a benign phenomenon, with a devoted following of fans. Oprah certainly hasn’t gassed anyone.