By Rick Ross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Rick Alan Ross

During December I attended an international symposium concerning cultic studies in Shenzhen, China, which was sponsored by the Institute of australian pokies online Religious Studies of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. Academics and experts from around the world attended and presented papers.

The papers presented examined everything from the evolution of destructive cults, to the personality characteristics of certain cult members, cult social interaction and various cultic methodologies. My paper was titled “Cult Deprogramming: An examination of the intervention process.”

At the conclusion of the symposium I had the unique opportunity to personally visit with former cult members in China.

The two women I spoke with were once actively involved in Falun Gong.

Falun Gong was founded in China during 1992 by a man named Li Hongzhi, who now lives in the United States.

China officially banned Falun Gong in 1999, declaring it an ”evil cult.” This view of the group was strongly reinforced by a horrific event, which took place on Chinese New Year’s eve January 23, 2001. On this date a small group consisting of seven Falun Gong practitioners set themselves on fire at Tiananmen Square.

A 12-year-old girl and her mother died. A middle aged man Wang Jindong was hospitalized with severe burns. Ms. Liu Baorong sustained no burns. At the last minute she decided not to set herself on fire. Mr. Liu Yunfang also was not injured, but as an organizer of the self-immolation was sentenced to prison. The two women I would meet, Ms. Hao Huijun and her daughter Chen Guo, were hospitalized with extreme injuries.

The story of this tragedy has been reported by the press, both in China and through Western media outlets, such as Reuters. I have read news reports and watched a video produced by “New Tang Dynasty Television” (NTDTV), which is a media outlet essentially run by Falun Gong practitioners.

Falun Gong first denied that those involved in the suicide attempt were even practitioners.

Later Falun Gong promoted a bizarre conspiracy theory, which implied that the tragic event was somehow staged by the Chinese government in an effort to discredit the organization and its leader.

Rather than admit that its intense anti-government rhetoric may have contributed to the tragedy, Falun Gong chose instead to attempt assigning blame elsewhere. Li Hongzhi and his followers refused to accept any responsibility whatsoever.

After requesting to meet with the two women survivors I was told a meeting would be possible after the symposium.

Former Falun Gong practitioners Hao Huijun and her daughter Chen Guo live in Kaifeng, which is near the Henan provincial capital of Zhengzhou. Historically Kaifeng was the capital of China during the Song Dynasty and once the largest city in the world. Today its population is about 800,000.

The two women live modestly in a government welfare housing project. Their simple one-bedroom apartment includes a private bathroom and large common area with a kitchen. There is a bed placed near the kitchen for an attendant. The fire left them both women without hands and disabled. Their faces are obscured by extensive skin grafts, the result of multiple surgeries. They have no ears, noses or lips.  Chen Guo has the use of only one eye. But they can speak, walk and seem to be in stable physical condition.

There are no mirrors in the apartment.

When I arrived Hao Huijun bowed, unable to shake hands.

dsc_2596-resized.jpgAfter our introductions I asked Hao Huijun about her perspective today, what she feels now looking back on the time she spent in Falun Gong. Is there a message she wants to share with current practitioners, particularly those in North America?

“I’ll take this chance to tell the Falun Gong practitioners in Canada and the US to stop practicing,” she stated bluntly. “I suggest they stop practicing Falun Gong and get rid of it,” instructed the former schoolteacher of 28 years who remains well-spoken and articulate.

Influenced by her mother’s commitment Chen Guo (photo above right in red) followed the path of Falun Gong, which ultimately led her to that terrible day at Tiananmen Square. She was a highly accomplished music student and pretty 20-year-old woman at the time of the tragedy. Early in our discussion Chen Guo left the room, explaining that she didn’t feel well.

But in a 2002 interview Chen Guo told Reuters, “I hope those who still believe in this cult can be awakened and throw it away. I don’t want to see another victim like me.”

Her mother explained, “In July 1999 the Chinese Government and the Chinese laws banned Falun Gong. As a citizen, we should have abided by the laws and given up practicing Falun Gong from then on. But we were obsessed at that time. And the suicidal burning occurred later on. We really feel regretful. We all suffered a great deal, brought about by the obsession. So tell [the North American Falun Gong practitioners] to never be obsessed…”

Obsessed?

How could the teachings of Li Hongzhi encourage and/or result in obsessive behavior?

Describing her professional experience with Falun Gong, noted cult expert and clinical psychologist Margaret Singer said that Falun Gong practitioners will “actually say ‘Don’t Think. Just recite the Master’s teaching.’”

That is how groups called “cults” through their teachings and practices can compromise critical thinking, impair reason and rational thought. Hao Huijun appeared to understand this.

“Please pass my words to Falun Gong practitioners: They should use reason in action¦if you look at things in a rational way, you will know what you should do,” she said. “Reason is important. In one’s life, one should never go to extremes whatever you do. One should use reason to learn how to do things, and have a good understanding…”

“Extremes”?

How could the practices of Falun Gong cause people to “go to extremes”?

American communication researchers and cult experts Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman explain in their book Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change:

“Almost every major cult and cult-like group we came upon teaches some form of not thinking or ‘mind control’ as part of its regular program of activity. The process may take the form of repetitive prayer, chanting, speaking in tongues, self-hypnosis or diverse methods of meditation¦.Such techniques, when practiced in moderation, may yield real physical and mental health benefits¦.Prolonged stilling of the mind, however, may wear on the brain physically until it readjusts, suddenly and sharply, to its new condition of not thinking. When that happens, we have found, the brain’s information-processing capacities may be disrupted or enter a state of complete suspension¦disorientation, detachment¦hallucinations, delusions and, in extreme instances, total withdrawal.”

Over the years Hao Huijun (photo below) has apparently managed to sort through her experience in Falun Gong. She hopes that current practitioners in the group will do the same.

dsc_2632-resized.jpg“Falun Gong caused so many problems. Why did these problems happen? [Falun Gong practitioners] should think about it with reason, with their own senses, and in a dialectical way. When we look at things from a normal sense, without bias, and with reason, we will know what we should do,” she said.

When told about the conspiracy theories propagated by Falun Gong concerning the self-immolation tragedy at Tiananmen Square Hao Huijun responded thoughtfully, placing it within the context of her own experience within the group.

“I thought in a similar way,” she said. “But it’s time for those who are practicing Falun Gong to calm down and think reasonably…Why were we burning ourselves? It was not that the government forced us into suicide, although the rumors went so. This is not the truth.” She concluded, “Before we fully understood, we used the same arguments and same logic in regard to incidents caused by Falun Gong.”

I told Hao Huijun that I have received complaints from families in America that Falun Gong practitioners often refuse medical care and/or discontinue medications based upon their beliefs.

“They should consult a doctor and take medication,” she responded. “Tell them to see a doctor when their children fall ill. Don’t impose what you regard right on your children,” she said. “You can see the disastrous effect this caused my daughter. I really regret that now.”

The regret Hao Huijun feels must at times be overwhelming.

China has mandated a one child per family policy, which means that Chen Guo is her only child.

Hao Huijun’s regret includes living every day with her daughter and seeing the results of that past obsession with Falun Gong. Despite the reclamation of her reason, there is nothing she can do to change the face of this reality. An awful burden, but one that she seems to accept.

Still wanting to fulfill her role as a teacher Hao Huijun hopes that others might benefit by learning from her Falun Gong experience. She wants to share the knowledge that she and Chen Guo have acquired so painfully.

The following paper was presented by Rick Ross at the January 2009 International Forum on Cultic Studies sponsored by the the Centre for the Study of Destructive Cults in China and published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Introduction

My work in the area of cults, controversial groups and movements began in 1982 and has included professionally consulting with hundreds of affected families, mental health professionals, attorneys, clergy, law enforcement and the media.

I have been qualified and accepted as an expert witness across the United States in numerous court cases. This has included testimony given in United States federal courts.

My court testimony typically is focused upon the behavior of destructive groups, their persuasion techniques and the undue influence that such groups often gain over adherents.

I am the founder and Executive Director of the Ross Institute of New Jersey (RI).  RI is a nonprofit tax-exempt educational institution devoted to the study of destructive cults, controversial groups and movements.

Researchers and the media often use the Ross Institute Internet Archives as an informational resource. It contains thousands of documents and hundreds of subsections about various cults, groups, movements and related topics.

2009_01_09_1286.JPGEach year, through my work at RI, I respond to thousands of inquiries.

One subsection within the RI archives is devoted to Falun Dafa also known as Falun Gong and the teachings of its founder Li Hongzhi.

Falun Dafa, which was founded in 1992, is an idiosyncratic blend of beliefs and practices as assembled by its founder Li Hongzhi.  This includes Taoist and Buddhist references predicated upon a belief in extraterrestrials and practiced through a set of prescribed exercises and meditation techniques.

Before specifically discussing the cultic aspects of Falun Dafa, I would like to offer a working definition of a cult determined more by its behavior than by its beliefs.

Definition of a Cult

Noted psychiatrist and author Robert Jay Lifton developed the following definition of a cult. This definition is focused primarily upon three principal criteria and was first published in a paper titled “Cult Formation” in 1981 :

1. a charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose their power;
2. a process of coercive persuasion or thought reform;
3. economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.

Falun Dafa and Lifton’s three criteria 

  • A charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship.

Exclusive claims made by Li Hongzhi, which are implicitly accepted by Falun Dafa practitioners without exemption, are the defining principles of the group.

  • A charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship.

Exclusive claims made by Li Hongzhi, which are implicitly accepted by Falun Dafa practitioners without exemption, are the defining principles of the group.

For example, “Master Li” purportedly possesses supernatural powers.

Mr. Li claims to know “the top secret of the universe” and says “no religion can save people” but the “almighty Fa,” which he exclusively represents. He is therefore essentially the chosen savior of man. The biography in his book “Zhuan Falun” claims that he first recognized his special powers at the age of 8.

Li Hongzhi’s teachings also include the spinning “falun,” which is a mystical “wheel of law” that he claims to be able to insert into his disciples’ abdomens telekinetically.

Such fantastic and exclusive claims about a leader fit the classic profile of a personality-driven cult.

Falun Dafa followers, believe that Li Hongzhi is always right and they are not allowed to question the basic assumptions concerning his purported supernatural powers, teachings and/or opinions. His authority and infallibility appear to be absolute for the true believer, and therefore beyond what Falun Dafa followers consider reasonable doubt.

Examples of the intense devotion Li Hongzhi has effectively engendered among his followers include a television network and a newspaper called “The Epoch Times” both run by Falun Dafa adherents.  Devotees also maintain numerous Web sites and there are schools to perpetuate Mr. Li’s teachings. Frequent public demonstrations and events staged around the world also reflect the intense devotion of his followers.

While Li Hongzhi talks about “Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance,” neither he nor his followers actually demonstrate any tolerance concerning critical questions or inquiry. Within Falun Dafa Li’s followers are not allowed to question the basic assumptions of the group and criticism from outsiders is often characterized as “persecution.”

Persistent critics of Li Hongzhi and Falun Dafa have been repeatedly subjected to personal attacks, threats of litigation and frivolous lawsuits.

Li Hongzhi remains an absolute, authoritarian leader with little if any accountability, and there appears to be no limit to the scope of his personal power and influence within Falun Dafa.

  • a process of coercive persuasion or thought reform

Sociologist Richard J. Ofshe explains, “Coercive persuasion and thought reform are alternate names for programs of social influence capable of producing substantial behavior and attitude change through the use of coercive tactics, persuasion, and/or interpersonal and group-based influence manipulations.”

This is accomplished according to Ofshe by “intense interpersonal and psychological attack to destabilize an individual’s sense of self” and “to promote conformity” within the framework of “an organized peer group.”

Li Hongzhi through Falun Gong has promoted unreasonable fears about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions. He teaches his followers that the earth would have been destroyed, but he saved it. He also claims that “gods” will destroy those he disapproves of and that his followers must practice his prescribed program of “spiritual cultivation” or risk obliteration.

For Falun Gong followers, there is no legitimate reason to disagree with and/or leave the organization. Former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative, or even seen as “evil.” While they may appear to be free to leave they often fear the consequences.

Mr. Li asks his followers to continuously keep “cultivating” and go on and on “cultivating” until they reach “perfection,” something that no one can ever realistically hope to achieve as an ordinary man and woman within their lifetime. Such perfectionism is then supposedly deferred and only reachable in “other dimensions.”

Li Hongzhi’s program of coercive persuasion largely relies upon the cultivation not only of unreasonable fears but also prejudice, which ultimately serves to isolate and control his followers. “Master Li” manipulates the thinking and feelings of his followers to develop a certain seemingly predetermined and desired mindset.

In Mr. Li’s worldview mixed-race people are part of a plot, contrived by the evil extraterrestrials. “By mixing the races of humans, the aliens make humans cast off gods,” he told a gathering in Switzerland in 1998.

2009_01_09_12941.JPG“Mixed races” are supposedly excluded from the “truth” and “have lost their roots, as if nobody in the paradise will take care of them. They belong to nowhere, and no places would accept them¦the higher levels do not recognize such a human race.”

According to Mr. Li, the offspring of mixed race unions are therefore “intellectually incomplete” or “with an incomplete body.” In such cases, only he, Master Li, can help and “take care of it” (i.e., resolve the “incomplete” state).  However, that can be done only if “such a person wants to practice cultivation.”

Li Hongzhi also encourages hatred of homosexuals. He has said, “The disgusting homosexuality shows the dirty abnormal psychology of the gay who has lost his ability of reasoning at the present time,” Li Hongzhi wrote in Volume II of “Zhuan Falun,” or “Turning the Law Wheel,” which was translated into English in 1996.

In his talk in Switzerland, Li Hongzhi also stated that gay people would be “eliminated” by “the gods.” Asked in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1998 whether gays could practice Falun Gong, Mr. Li answered, “You can cultivate, but you must give up the bad conduct.”

Li Hongzhi’s disciples are taught to subordinate their own thoughts and feelings to the teachings of Falun Dafa. They essentially come to believe that “Master Li” has arranged everything and is their protection.

In describing her experience with Falun Dafa, cult expert and clinical psychologist Margaret Singer said that a practitioner will “actually say Don’t Think. Just recite the Master’s teaching.’ ”

Among Falun Dafa’s many questionable mind-altering practices, this command to “stop thinking” and continuously “recite the Master’s teaching,” when heeded, meets the main criterion of cult control American communication researchers and cult experts Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman describe in their book Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change:

Almost every major cult and cult-like group we came upon teaches some form of not thinking or “mind control” as part of its regular program of activity. The process may take the form of repetitive prayer, chanting, speaking in tongues, self-hypnosis or diverse methods of meditation¦.Such techniques, when practiced in moderation, may yield real physical and mental health benefits¦.Prolonged stilling of the mind, however, may wear on the brain physically until it readjusts, suddenly and sharply, to its new condition of not thinking. When that happens, we have found, the brain’s information-processing capacities may be disrupted or enter a state of complete suspension¦disorientation, detachment¦hallucinations, delusions and, in extreme instances, total withdrawal.

  • exploitation of group members by the leader

Former Falun Dafa followers, the families of devotees and others concerned often relate the same allegations of abuse, which reflect a similar pattern of grievances.

Mr. Li teaches his followers that illness is caused by the evil deeds of a sick person, in this life or a previous one. According to his teachings, modern medicine treats only the symptoms of a disease, and not its underlying spiritual cause, which can be cured only by practicing Falun Gong.

“The only way to find yourself comfortably free of illnesses,” Li Hongzhi writes in “Zhuan Falun,” “is through cultivation practice!”

The complaints I have received about Falun Dafa are most often directly related to teachings about “spiritual cultivation,” which may preclude seeing a doctor and/or taking prescribed medication.

As a result of such teachings some of Mr. Li’s followers have reportedly died due to medical neglect, while many others have needlessly exacerbated their medical conditions.

I have also received serious complaints within the United States regarding the damage done by Falun Dafa through family estrangement. This has particularly occurred when families question and/or are critical of Mr. Li and his teachings.

It should be noted that “Master Li” has apparently accumulated substantial assets through his work within Falun Dafa.

Mr. Li moved to United States in 1995. In 1998 he reportedly bought a house in New York for $293,500. Li Hongzhi purchased his second residence in New Jersey for $580,000 the following year. The value of the two residences today may easily exceed a million dollars.

Exchanges with Falun Dafa devotees

In the many email exchanges I have had with Falun Dafa members I have frequently focused on the following three areas:

Racism and homophobia: I have specifically asked Falun Dafa members how they regard Mr. Li’s racist teachings, which denigrate the children of interracial unions as “cross bred” and “incomplete.”

One Falun Dafa practitioner responded, “My understanding is that when gods created man, we were created to god’s image [sic], different races was created [sic] by gods of different races and when a child is born from a marriage of two people from different races it will be hard for the gods to trace the child’s origin and therefore hard to save.”

In defense of Li Hongzhi’s homophobic pronouncements one member remarked, “Actually all orthodox (upright) religions view this matter in the same way, Christianity included, it is very hard to reach heaven when practicing homosexuality.”

Medical Neglect: I have questioned Falun Dafa members regarding reports of medical neglect that have been tied to their beliefs.

One member responded concerning “Master Li’s” bizarre claim that elderly women would start menstruating again after practicing Falun Dafa. “Can you prove that elderly women who practice Falun Gong DON’T regain their menstrual periods? Have you ever considered the possibility that Li’s teachings in this regard are true? I know for a fact that they are true. I suggest you do more research on the subject before mocking these teachings,” the member responded.

Protests: Public protests appear to have become a pivotal function of Falun Dafa. The most horrific example was the 2001 self-immolation protest in China, which included adult members and minor children.

However, Falun Dafa members routinely deny any responsibility for this tragedy, which is somehow consigned to the category of a government “conspiracy,” despite the public statements made by the survivors.

One mother that survived the tragic event explained, “We wanted to show the government that Falun was good.” Her daughter observed, “I think Falun Gong has developed into a cult with anti-human and anti-society characteristics.”

The consistent pattern of my email exchanges is that Falun Dafa is always “good” and “Master Li” is never wrong, no matter how extreme or harmful the group behavior or hateful his teachings may be.

Margaret Singer succinctly summarized: “If you want a good description of a cult, all you have to do is read what [Falun Dafa followers] say they are.”

Notes:

Robert Jay Lifton, M.D., “Cult Formation,” The Harvard Mental Health Letter, February 1981.
Mark Jurkowitz, “Times for a change,” Boston Globe, May 31, 2005.
Richard J. Ofshe, Ph.D., “Coercive Persuasion and Attitude Change,” Encyclopedia of Sociology, Vol. 1. New York: Macmillan, 2001.
ibid.
Sarah Lubman, “A Chinese Battle on U.S. Soil,” San Jose Mercury News, December 23, 2001.
ibid.
Falun Gong Derided as Authoritarian Sect by Anti-Cult Experts,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 29, 2000.
Conway and Siegelman, Snapping, pp 153-154.
Peter Carlson, “For Whom the Gong Tolls,” Washington Post, February 27, 2000.
Paul Vallely and Clifford Coonan, “China’s Enemy Within: The Story of Falun Gong,” The Independent (UK), April 22, 2006.
Jeremy Page, “Survivors say China Falun Gong immolation real,” Reuters, April 4, 2002.

References

1. Hongzhi Li, Zhuan Falun (http://www.falundafa.org/book/eng/zfl_new.html).
2. Various articles posted on Falun Gong’s Web site, www.clearwisdom.net.
4. The late Professor Margaret Singer’s Live Interview on Falun Gong.
5. Margaret Singer, Cults In Our Midst: The Continuing Fight Against Their Hidden Menace. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996.
6. Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change, 2nd ed. New York: Stillpoint Press, 1995/2005.

Wang Wenyi, the woman who captured attention last week by shrieking on the White House lawn during Chinese President Hu Jintao’s speech, gained entrance to the highly secured area with an official press pass issued through the Epoch Timesreports The Statesman of India. 

Wang screaming at White HouseThe Epoch Times can be seen as little more than a front for Falun Gong, known as an ”evil cult” in China.

In its report The Statesman noted that the publication “tends to be remarkably sympathetic” to the controversial sect and ”generally provides a platform to preach Falun Gong’s beliefs.”

Supposed news reporter Wang shouted ”President Bush, stop him from persecuting the Falun Gong! Stop him from killing! Stop the torture and killings! Falun Dafa is good.”

Does that sound like a question from a journalist?

In an article within the Epoch Times Wang is more accurately identified as simply a “Falun Gong practitioner.”

John Nania editor in chief of the Epoch Times US editions, its Boston editor Martin Fox and the newspaper’s communications director Cindy Gu are all Falun Gong devotees and followers of its controversial leader Li Hongzhi, who lives in the United States.

Typical of Falun Gong and its substantial public relations machine, the Epoch Times quickly attempted to strategically spin some distance between itself and the woman whose shrieks at the White House were compared to the screams of a “banshee.”  

“Dr. Wang attended this event on Epoch Times press credentials,’’ an official spokesperson for the newspaper admitted in a statement today. “However, her actions¦ were her own. In protesting in this manner, she did not act on behalf of The Epoch Timesquoted the Chicago Tribune.

It seems whenever Hongzhi’s followers engage in fanatical behavior some sort of spin control takes place affording the man called “master” and his disciples plausible denial or at least a little wiggle room.

However, Wang’s hysterical outburst at the White House can be seen as little more than a carefully staged and scripted climax capping a culmination of stories she wrote run within the Epoch Times regarding Chinese labor camps and alleged “organ harvesting in China’s labor camps.”

Chinese officials have repeatedly characterized such sensational claims as “sheer lies.”

Falun Gong’s repeated claims about its followers being cremated after their organs were taken have included photos of a supposed crematorium. But this was later exposed as a window-paned boiler house with a brick chimney in a civilian-use facility in the Chinese city of Shenyang” reported Shanghai Daily

Western media often seems to give little scrutiny to the claims of human rights violations made by Falun Gong and its adherents, almost accepting them without question.

But despite such positive press it appears that Li Hongzhi and his followers want totally controlled coverage through their own newspaper and then stage contrived media events through ”reporters” like Wang.

Falun Gong often accuses China of spreading propaganda about its practices.

But apparently the Epoch Times and its staff hope to manufacture their own brand of propaganda in an attempt to manipulatie the media, such as this latest stunt on the White House lawn.

It appears that Li Hongzhi the leader of Falun Gong, a group Chinese officials refer to as an “evil cult,” may have become a millionaire since his exile in the United States.

'Master' and millionaire Li HongzhiHongzhi bought a house in New York shortly after arriving in US for $293,500 and then bought another home in New Jersey for $580,000 the next year. Together the two residences cost $873,000.00 reports The Independent of London. 

Given the substantial rise in real estate values across the United States and particularly in the New York/New Jersey area, it is probable that Hongzhi’s homes may have doubled in value.

This means Li Hongzhi has likely become a millionaire. 

Not bad for a former army musician and clerical worker, who seems to have done much better marketing religion than making music.

The British newspaper did not disclose if the homes were paid for in cash or financed through mortgages.

But even if the Falun Gong leader borrowed money, considering the timing and appreciation of his investments he is a wealthy man.

The Independent also reported that the so-called “Living Buddha” claims that he “can move himself anywhere by thought alone.” 

Does this mean Li travels from house to house through telepathy?

Hongzhi also has made grandiose claims such as his supernatural powers “averted a global comet catastrophe and the Third World War.”

What else would a responsible property owner and good neighbor do?

Less fantastic but perhaps a bit unsavory is how Hongzhi reportedly promotes an ”‘us and them’ feeling among his devoted followers.” And there is the less than “Buddha”-like and “unattractive beliefs he has about homosexuals and children of inter-racial marriages.”

CultNews has previously reported Hongzhi thinks that that gays are “disgusting” and somehow a “black substance” accumulates within the bodies of gay men. “Disgusting homosexuality shows the dirty abnormal psychology of the gay who has lost his ability of reasoning at the present time,” says Hongzhi. And one day he claims gays will be ’eliminated’’ by ’the gods.’’

Hongzhi also seems to be a racist. He has said that “mixed-race people¦[are] instruments of an alien plot to destroy humanity’s link to heaven.” And that these interracial unions are somehow part of “a plot by¦evil extraterrestrials.”

Falun Gong frequently gets press by staging publicity stunts. This week one of Hongzhi’s faithful shrieked like a “banshee” while Chinese President Hu Jintao of China stood with President Bush at the White House lawn during an official visit.

This month Hongzhi’s followers also claimed that the organs of Falun Gong believers are being harvested by the Chinese government at hospitals for profit. Government and medical officials vehemently denied these allegations as “sheer lies.”

Unlike the historic Buddha, millionaire Li Hongzhi lives in comfort while his humble disciples frequently make personal sacrifices and live meagerly.  

Falun Gong had something of a public relations meltdown in San Francisco this month. And despite its best efforts at spin control could not right its sinking ship within the Chinese American and gay communities in the Bay Area.

Master Li's followers demonstrating devotion to his cause It all started over a popular holiday event. The group, which has been labeled an “evil cult” in China, claimed it was experiencing discrimination because its devotees would not be allowed to march in the Chinese New Year parade.

However, parade officials saw things quite differently.

“We have strict rules: No political statements,” said Wayne Hu, president of San Francisco’s Chinese Chamber of Commerce, which runs the parade.

Falun Gong frequently uses whatever events it can to promote itself and increasingly Chinese American communities have decided to rebuff such efforts.

The group put pressure on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for a statement of support, but that effort seemingly backfired, ending in an empty resolution without mention of its avowed nemesis the Chinese government.

But this should come as no surprise to the followers of “Master Li Hongzhi,” the founder of Falun Gong, who has been repeatedly described as both “homophobic” and a “racist.”

The exiled leader of Falun Gong who now lives in New York teaches his followers that gays are “disgusting” and somehow a “black substance” accumulates within the bodies of gay men. “Disgusting homosexuality shows the dirty abnormal psychology of the gay who has lost his ability of reasoning at the present time,” says Hongzhi. And one day he claims gays will be ’eliminated’’ by ’the gods.’’

In the liberal and gay friendly city of San Francisco even an empty resolution of support for Falun Gong has angered many.

“What a disappointing vote. I have compassion for the practitioners but I think the supervisors have been duped by the master’s party line.” Thomas Brown told the Bay Area Reporter.

“I challenge any gay person in this city to get any Falun Gong practitioner to state they do not agree with their master’s belief. I have never heard them refute what he has said. There is deception here,” Brown said. “I think it is a vote that will come back to haunt some of the supervisors.”

Brown’s roommate, Samuel Luo, called the resolution “a huge disappointment” and warned that the group will use it “to recruit members. It makes it hard for people like me to get family members out of the cult.” Luo’s parents are involved with Falun Gong and he has expressed concern for how the group has affected their lives.

“I think it is great that the leadership in the Chinese community recognizes the homophobia of this group and I would support their efforts not to let them march,” said Thom Lynch, executive director of the LGBT Community Center

Interestingly, in a letter published by the San Francisco Sentinel Samuel Luo noted an apparent contradiction in Falun Gong’s battle for human rights. “Last year when the International Cultic Studies Association organized a program on the Falun Gong in which I was one of the presenters, the Falun Gong threatened the organization with a lawsuit and successfully suppressed our freedom of speech” he said.

It seems that Hongzhi’s followers have become adept at an old Scientology strategy. That is, filing what can be seen as harassment lawsuits against their perceived enemies. Lately this also included suing an Australian official for restricting their use of loudspeakers and banners outside a Chinese embassy reported the Sydney Morning Herald.

Apparently Falun Gong wants everyone to recognize its right to speak out loudly and boldly, but not the right of its critics like Luo to tell what they know in an organized public forum.

Falun Gong reportedly will be crashing the Chinese New Year parade in San Francisco, even though its members remain unwanted there reports Bloomberg News.

“They crashed the parade…[last year], and I am prepared for them to do this again this year,” Wayne Hu told the press.

Hongzhi’s followers don’t seem to care how much they upset Chinese Americans, gays or anyone else, as they pursue their master’s agenda.

Meanwhile North American Chinese communities just want to celebrate the coming New Year without political statements or “cult” entanglements.

L.A. Chung writing for the San Jose Mercury News said that Falun Gong “could espouse a doctrine based on loving fluffy kittens or for kicking Tibetan monks. I don’t think the group’s philosophies really matter to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.”

Li Hongzhi’s followers have now filed a legal action to stop San Francisco from using $77,000 in city money to support the parade, which has left local Chinese leaders fuming and the public perception that they are spoilers.

The San Francisco parade in Chinatown is the largest such celebration in North America and the Chinese community there is the second-largest in the U.S. followed by New York. Fallen Gong has caused similar problems in New York surrounding community events there.

The narrow focus of Falun Gong devotees upon their own self-serving agenda continues to alienate many Chinese Americans. And after this most recent fiasco it appears doubtful that the controversial group will regain any ground or goodwill it has lost in the Bay Area.

Some interesting responses were posted regarding recent articles about Falun Gong at CultNews.The fiery deaths and mutilations of Falun Gong protesters that set themselves on fire didn’t seem to raise any troubling questions to those still committed to Li Hongzhi and his “evil cult.”

Somehow the horrific spectacle in Tianamen Square was an indictment of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

According to some Falun Gong devotees it was all a conspiracy and the CCP faked it.

“I have direct experience with communist governments from other parts of the world and this is how they operate. They tell lies upon lies and will double cross their friends and kill them.” And concludes, “I am a scientist in some ways and I believe that anything is possible until proven.”

Chen Guo in her hospital bedHowever, that response directly contradicts a statement made by one of the survivors Chen Guo.

“We decided burning ourselves was the best way,” said Chen, who lost both hands. “It was totally due to our own will. We were not forced by anyone” she told the European news service Reuters.

“We wanted to strengthen the force of Falun Gong,” Chen explained while lying in a hospital bed in her hometown of Kaifeng.

Chen Guo now in her early twenties has a face that is a mass of skin grafts. She has neither a nose nor ears.

Nevertheless Hongzhi’s followers seem to believe whatever they are told through their own propaganda.

“The police in Tianamen Square, that day¦had cameras readied to take videos of the incident.”

It was all part of a conspiracy concocted by the CCP.

One devotee said, “the girl and her mother was reported to have NEVER practice Falun Gong.”

But Wang Jindong, the man that masterminded the self-immolations told Reuters, “As to whether I am a practitioner or not, it’s not for other people to say.”

Wang’s face is badly scarred and his fingers blackened from the fire that claimed two lives.

Falun Gong has distributed CDs that claim to unravel the CCP conspiracy.

Here is an interesting comment.

“I’m not sure why you repeatedly refer to Falun Gong as a cult. According to Margaret Singer [there are] Six Conditions for thought reform” says another citing each in an attempt to disprove anyone that might label the group “cult-like.” “Please do more unbiased research to find out the facts,” concludes this comment.

But this Falun Gong devotee must not have bothered to read the article just below the one he or she was commenting about.

That article “Why all the fuss about Falun Gong?” quoted Margaret Singer.

She said, “If you want a good description of a cult, all you have to do is read what they say they are,” Margaret Singer told the San Francisco Chronicle at a Seattle conference in 2000 explaining her expert opinion about the group.

Those remarks drew some harsh feedback.

“Regarding your quote from Margaret Singer, well, let me just say that this whole experience has made me lose any respect for people who claim to be cult experts,” said another one of Hongzhi’s angry disciples.

Chen agreed with Singer. “I think Falun Gong has developed into a cult with anti-human and anti-society characteristics,” she explained.

“I hope those who still believe in this cult can be awakened and throw it away,” she told Reuters. “I don’t want to see another victim like me,” She told Reuters.

Wang concluded, “I feel humiliated because of my stupidity and fanatical ideas.”

But rather than examine and carefully consider those “fanatical ideas” Falun Gong goes on blaming everyone else, especially the CCP.

“Please explain why you don’t have one single page on the biggest cult in the world today: the Chinese Communist Party?” asks one devotee.

“We are dealing with this CCP and its mass of slanderous propaganda that has been exported globally.”

'Master Li' centerstage in New YorkHongzhi and his followers are quite adept at slinging their own propaganda, which has been effectively transmitted globally, with the help of Western journalists.

It seems that many Westerners are willing to believe almost anything about the CCP, rather than consider Hongzhi’s influence over his followers and its consequences.

The endless attacks against the CCP by Falun Gong devotees don’t change Hongzhi’s racist rant, or his homophobic statements. And that response won’t put Cheng Guo back together; her life has been shattered forever and it will never be the same again.

Why can’t Falun Gong followers consider these things?

“They actually say Don’t Think.’ Just recite the master’s teaching,” observed Margaret Singer.

CultNews was soon strewn with comments from Falun Gong followers after an article appeared yesterday examining the racist and bigoted teachings of its founder and leader Li Hongzhi.

Li Hongzhi receives flowers from the faithful in New YorkInterestingly, the feedback received did not deny that Hongzhi made the disturbing statements quoted, but insisted that they were offered out of context and/or defended them.

One disciple of Hongzhi said, “My understanding is that when gods created man, we were created to god’s image, different races was created by gods of different races and when a child is born from a marriage of two people from different races it will be hard for the gods to trace the child’s origin and therefore hard to save.”

In defense of Hongzhi’s homophobia one member remarked, “Actually all orthodox (upright) religions view this matter in the same way, Christianity included, it is very hard to reach heaven when practicing homosexuality.”

Regarding “Master Li’s” bizarre claim that elderly women would start menstruating again after practicing his religion one member noted, “Can you prove that elderly women who practice Falun Gong DON”T regain their menstrual periods? Have you ever considered the possibility that Li’s teachings in this regard are true? I know for a fact that they are true. I suggest you do more research on the subject before mocking these teachings.”

However, no objective outside research was cited to support Hongzhi’s astounding claim and much like other groups called “cults” that make fantastic claims, the evidence offered is anecdotal stories and/or personal testimonials not corroborated by any scientific peer-reviewed and published studies.

CultNews has also received emails too from Falun Gong members and they frequently consist of the same statements recited over and over again. Much of this feedback emphasizes repeatedly that the sect is being “persecuted” by the Chinese government and that somehow this should ameliorate Li’s racist statements and bizarre claims of supposed supernatural powers.

What all this points up is that Li Hongzhi has a very well-organized network of Falun Gong followers that function like a well-oiled machine effectively handling his public relations and garnering publicity to promote Falun Gong, its agenda and attack “Master Li’s” perceived enemies.

The Epoch Times, a newspaper run by Hongzhi devotees, churns out article after article supporting him, denouncing the Chinese government and generally provides a platform to preach Falun Gong’s beliefs.

Falun Gong street protestAdditionally, there are the constant well-organized protests staged by Hongzhi’s devotees outside Chinese consulates and lately they have even taken to the streets staging dramas to gain attention in New York City.

One such performance came complete with fake blood dripping down a woman’s face and shocked Midtown businessmen as they walked down Sixth Avenue. A female Falun Gong member hung over a poll, while another, a man dressed up in a communist uniform pretended to hit her with a club and another woman lay down, acting as if she were dead reported the New York Sun.

Doesn’t all this reflect the type of fanaticism and devotion frequently associated with groups called “cults”?

One protest performance was a chilling tragedy. In January of 2001 five Falun Gong followers doused themselves with gasoline and set themselves ablaze in China’s Tiananmen Square to protest persecution by the Chinese government. Two died, including a 12-year-old child.

Girl disfigured by fiery protestOne young woman was horribly disfigured and badly crippled.

Again, this appears to be reminiscent of other groups called “cults” such as the Solar Temple suicide in Switzerland that ended in fire, the Jonestown mothers who killed their own children or the members of “Heaven’s Gate” that obediently committed suicide to fulfill the agenda of their leader Marshall Applewhite.

Hongzhi and his disciples claim that there are 70 million Falun Gong followers in China. This number has never been independently verified, but whatever number of adherents exists within China the sect has caused serious concern.

In 2002 the Chinese government blamed Falun Gong for the deaths of 1,900 people by suicide or refusing medical treatment.

Perhaps Western journalists should pay less attention to Hongzhi’s public relations machine and more to what he actually teaches and the consequences of his influence.

Falun Gong also known as Falun Dafa led by Chinese exile Li Hongzhi has been labeled an “evil cult” in China and it seems Chinese American communities have increasingly become concerned about its adherents activities in the US.

Hongzhi’s followers have caused problems repeatedly during holiday celebrations, apparently using every opportunity to pass out tracts and preach, which has annoyed others and violates the rules set for such events.

As the Chinese New Year drew near this year controversy surrounded the group’s participation in a parade in San Francisco as reported by the San Francisco Sentinel. 'Master Li' HongzhiAt a hearing held by the city’s Board of Supervisors both sides of the Falun Gong controversy spoke out and some of strange teachings of Li Hongzhi leaked out.

According to Falun Gong’s leader “elder women will regain the menstrual period because a cultivation practice of mind and body requires menses.” Hongzhi concludes, “Otherwise, how can they cultivate their bodies without it?”

Hongzhi’s teachings about homosexuality must disturb many in the Bay area, which includes a large gay community. Li says that a “black substance” accumulates in the body due to homosexuality that causes bad health. Hongzhi’s homophobia also goes beyond simply describing its link to a “black substance” he has also called gays “disgusting,” and prophesizes that one day they will be ’eliminated’’ by ’the gods.’’

Hongzhi also appears to be a racist.

He teaches his followers that “mixed-race people¦[are] instruments of an alien plot to destroy humanity’s link to heaven.” And that these interracial unions are somehow part of “a plot by¦evil extraterrestrials.”

More bizarre is that practitioners of Falun Gong believe that “Master Li” actually can “personally install’’ falun (a wheel of law) in their abdomens, can “levitate,” “become invisible” and knows the “top secret of the Universe.”

Hongzhi also changed his date of birth from July 7 to May 13, which is when Buddha was born, reported Asiaweek.

Sound like a personality-driven “cult”?

Margaret Singer, top cult expert, was critical of Falun Gong“If you want a good description of a cult, all you have to do is read what they say they are,” Margaret Singer told the San Francisco Chronicle at a Seattle conference in 2000. The psychologist, who was the most respected cult expert of the 20th Century observed, “They actually say ‘Don’t Think.’ Just recite the master’s teaching.”

Last month Steve Hassan a cult counselor from Boston told the Chronicle that Li’s followers are “told not to think negative thoughts, and are given fears if they consider any other reality” and that Hongzhi “comes very much out of the cult extreme, the authoritarian stereotype.”

David Clark, a Pennsylvania cult counselor sees Falun Gong’s human rights campaign as a “clever marketing mechanism.” “It is a way of gaining access to get people to join the cause,” he said.

“I consider myself a victim of the Falun Gong because my parents were hurt by it, and the harmony of our family has been seriously damaged,” a Chinese massage therapist who practices tui na, told the Chronicle in December.

An anti-Falun Gong Web site has been launched to expose “the false and contradictory claims of Li Hongzhi.”

For example, regarding health Hongzhi teaches “the root cause¦is karma…That’s the root cause of people’s health problems, it’s the chief source of them. Of course, there are two other forms. One of them is really, really small, high-density tiny beings. They’re something like a cluster of karma.”

This sounds similar to the Scientology belief in so-called “Body Thetans” or BTs, which that group’s founder L. Ron Hubbard claimed originated from outer space clustering on human beings and causing problems.

Such beliefs have allegedly led some Falun Gong devotees to neglect their health by not properly consulting doctors in a timely manner and/or seeking medical treatment and instead relying upon Hongzhi’s supposed powers and religious practices.

Li likewise seems to denigrate hospitals. He says that their “treatment methods are at ordinary people’s level while illness is beyond the ordinary,” He claims, “It’ll be years before today’s Western medicine catches up” with him and what he knows.

Chinese authorities have reported that hundreds of Li Hongzhi’s followers have died in Mainland China due to medical neglect.

So besides racism, homophobia and often-bizarre supernatural mumbo-jumbo it seems Falun Gong can become a health hazard.

It’s no wonder why the Chinese government sees Hongzhi as “evil” and Chinese Americans have become increasingly wary of his disciples participating in their community events.

Hongbao Zhang, 49, leader of the Zhong Gong movement, fled arrest in China during 2001 to eventual asylum in the United States claiming “religious persecution.”

However, Chinese officials said he was really an “evil cult leader” with a history of crimes against his followers including rape.

Zhang countered that such charges were “trumped up” as a device to suppress his “new religious movement.”

But now the “cult leader” is charged with violent crimes in the US.

It seems Zhang beat up and terrorized his maid. He is charged with five felonies including kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon and false imprisonment, reports Reuters.

The “cult leader” was released on $300,000.00 bail and is back at his “gated estate” within a pricey California neighborhood. He apparently has no problem raising cash.

Zhang evidently also had the resources to retain one of the most expensive lawyers in California. Robert Shapiro, of O.J. Simpson fame now represents him.

Interestingly, it seems Shapiro may be cultivating “cult leaders” as a lucrative new area for his law practice. The attorney previously represented Amdi Pederson, another alleged “cult leader” that faced criminal extradition proceedings.

It seems rather than being “persecuted,” as Zhang once claimed, he might just be exactly what the Chinese authorities have said all along, a criminal “cult leader.” And he is certainly living a life of luxury in the US, with a staff of servants in his “gated estate.”

Maybe human rights activists who so readily crusade for alleged “cult leaders” such as Li Hongzhi, the exiled leader of Falun Gong, should take a closer look before believing their claims and embracing their cause?