Landmark Education suffered perhaps its most humiliating legal defeat to date this week. A federal judge in New Jersey granted the controversial seminar-selling company’s motion to dismiss its own lawsuit filed in 2004 against one of its most visible critics, the Ross Institute of New Jersey (RI) sponsor of CultNews.

1970s photo of Werner Erhard creator of Landmark's 'technology'On December 21, 2005 Landmark Education announced its defeat publicly, though news about its legal meltdown was already being reported in the press.

The private for-profit company tried to spin its defeat into a strategic retreat.

Landmark stated in a press release that the motion to dismiss its own lawsuit was somehow due to a recent ruling by a New Jersey state court, claiming that this ruling “impacted Landmark Education’s claims against” RI making it “no longer feasible” to continue.

Landmark’s General Counsel Art Schreiber, as is his practice, once again was hiding the truth.

The ruling that Schreiber referred to actually “impacted” only a very small part of Landmark’s lawsuit regarding the RI message board.

An interesting twist in Landmark’s lawsuit was to assert the preposterous theory that the anonymous posts at the message board were actually all written by me through various contrived identities.

Through that ploy, Landmark hoped to discover the identities of those posting anonymously at the message board about its programs.

Lowenstein Sandler, a large and prestigious law firm representing RI pro bono, opposed that attempt vigorously and successfully.

It doesn’t take much imagination to guess what Landmark intended if it succeeded in obtaining the names of anonymous message board participants, despite its press release that proclaims the lawsuit supposedly “was not about stifling freedom of speech; we stand for people’s self-expression.”

It appears that “self-expression” to Landmark doesn’t include expressing criticism about its practices.

Landmark’s recent press release contained many distortions of the truth. In the near future, CultNews will have more to report about Landmark’s lawsuit and will offer a detailed review of why they really dropped it, which will include supporting documents, soon to be archived within the RI database.

Lowenstein Sandler’s attorneys led by Peter Skolnik uncovered a great deal of information about Landmark through its successful defense and CultNews will make that information available to the public.

The real reason Landmark dropped its lawsuit apparently was to avoid facing further discovery.

Landmark was thwarted in its effort to keep information revealed through discovery “confidential.” This meant that whatever information and material was disclosed or found through the lawsuit would be open to public scrutiny.

In its press release Landmark once again made a “straw man” argument about critics calling it a “cult.”

CultNews and RI have never called Landmark a “cult,” nor did the now deceased acclaimed cult expert and clinical psychologist Margaret Singer.

Landmark attempted to defile the dead doctor by resurrecting her as its unlikely defender, selectively quoting a statement she once made as a part of a legal settlement after they harassed her through a lawsuit.

While Singer never called Landmark a “cult,” she did call its owners and operatives “SOBs” and stated, “I do not endorse them — never have.”

The elderly psychologist and emeritus professor of UC Berkeley opted for a “settlement” rather than go forward with the seemingly endless and expensive litigation Landmark had launched against her.

But the statement she made represented no change in Singer’s position about the company or its seminars, which the psychologist dubbed “large group awareness training” (LGAT).

LGATs like Landmark have a deeply troubled history of complaints, bad press, personal injury claims and even links to murders and suicide.

Two Landmark participants have been linked to murders that some have speculated were caused in part by their seminar involvement, one in Minnesota and another in Oklahoma. And Landmark paid a substantial settlement rather than go to court with a woman raped and beaten by one of its staff in Dallas.

News reports that contain such critical information remain archived within the RI database and Landmark understandably doesn’t want this information so easily accessed through the Internet.

Also archived are press reports about the controversial — some would say notorious — Werner Erhard, a former used car salesman who supposedly invented Landmark’s “technology.” Erhard, whose given name is Jack Rosenberg, is the founder of Landmark’s forerunner EST (Erhard Seminars Training).

Erhard reportedly sold EST after scandal erupted about him in the press and on national television. His brother Harry Rosenberg now runs the company, which was renamed Landmark Education. They like changing names in that family.

Landmark doesn’t like being linked to EST even though it largely lionizes Erhard with rather “cult-like” devotion.

Landmark’s legal defeat must be both personally and professionally painful for its General Counsel and legal strategist Art Schreiber. Perhaps that’s why he attempted to bend the truth a bit within his press release.

For example Schreiber says, “At no time has Mr. Ross been willing… to take The Landmark Forum.”

That is a false statement.

I repeatedly agreed to take the weekend seminar course Landmark presents called the Forum.

However, under no circumstances would I agree to sign paperwork waiving the right to a trial by jury in the event of any personal injury, even though such a waiver is required from every Landmark course participant.

Landmark decided not to follow-up after that.

Landmark hoped through its lawsuit to coerce concessions from RI.

However, Landmark received no concessions whatsoever, regarding the material archived at the RI database, adding additional material suggested by Landmark or somehow changing the format or entries at the message board.

And all settlement offers made by Landmark to RI were rejected.

Therefore, Landmark had no choice but to go forward and face further unsealed discovery or give up their lawsuit.

Landmark chose to give up and packed it in through a motion to dismiss its lawsuit with prejudice, which means it cannot be filed again.

And so as T.S. Eliot once remarked “it ends not with bang, but a whimper.”

And in memory of Landmark’s past critics who endured its threats to sue and/or frivolous litigation this may provide some long overdue and meaningful closure.

Margaret Singer, who spent most of her professional life dedicated to helping cult victims endured Landmark’s harassment, deserves that.

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

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

The court found that Weed was “legally insane.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forbes Magazine dubbed Werner Erhard a “millionaire guru.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joan Holmes, President of “The Hunger Project” (THP), a nonprofit organization headquartered in New York City, was appointed last month to the “UN Millennium Project Hunger Task Force.”

Ms. Holmes and THP have an interesting historical background that includes connections to a purported “cult-like” group that allegedly “brainwashes” participants.

And recently THP has sought to purge that history from the Internet, perhaps in an effort to prepare the way for Holmes UN appointment.

A 1970s pop guru named Werner Erhard (once known as “Jack” Rosenberg) hatched The Hunger Project as a spin-off of Erhard Seminars Training (EST), which is now known as Landmark Education.

THP was actually launched at an EST board meeting.

Professor and scholar David Hoekema writing for the Christian Century Magazine in 1979 said THP was little more than “empty talk” essentially based upon Erhard’s much criticized teachings

Holmes who now claims UN status was once a devoted Erhard follower that eventually joined his EST staff.

“EST training altered everything for me,” Holmes gushed in 1975.

Erhard historically explained THP this way. “The Hunger Project is not about solutions. It’s not about fixing up the problem…[it’s] about creating a context…then we will know how to make the world work.”

Holmes appeared to echo her mentor’s mantra later saying, “The Hunger Project is about locating in the fabric of self the end of hunger and starvation…It is our sense that when that is done to any appreciable degree, that we can have an end of hunger.”

Werner Erhard left THP’s Board in 1990. However, the former encyclopedia and used car salesman who possessed no college degree left behind a legacy of “principles and abstractions” and perhaps most notably a “Source Document” for the organization.

Erhard’s ardent disciple Holmes soldiered on and arguably became part of the seminar guru’s legacy. And she is now able to further his philosophy through the UN.

Interestingly, the same task force that seated Holmes is co-chaired by her friend Professor M.S. Swaminathan, who is also “chairman emeritus of The Hunger Project’s Global Board of Directors.”

How convenient, could this mean that the professor was the impetus behind Ms. Holmes selection?

In a letter from the UN Task Force quoted by THP at its website Holmes is lauded for her “outstanding expertise and contribution to the field.”

But what substance is there behind this effusive praise?

According to its website THP’s goals are to identify “the conditions that give rise to the persistence of hunger.”

And the organization has “strategies to…transform these conditions,” which supposedly “restore and unleash the human spirit.”

But doesn’t this still sound like what Hoekema once called “empty talk”?

THP doesn’t mention the most obvious means of stopping hunger, which is providing food to the hungry.

The organization took in more than $6 million dollars during 2002 and reported spending “76.1%” on “programs,” “16.8%” on “administration” and “7.1%” on “fund-raising.”

“Where’s the beef?” Or for that matter any other item listed from a recognizable food group?

THP says, “The bottom line is simple – we invest in and empower people.”

But isn’t the “bottom line” on hunger feeding people? And wouldn’t an investment in some food actually help to “empower” the world’s starving population?

Again, THP sounds like a faddish flashback to 1970s EST inspired group thinking.

Searching through the organization’s website you won’t find a peer reviewed published scientific study cited offering proof of THP’s theories, theses or paradigm, just more lofty rhetoric.

But unless the UN counts rhetoric and vintage 1970s pop philosophy as a cure for world hunger, they may come up short based upon any contribution offered by Ms. Holmes and THP.

However, conversely THP certainly sees the contribution that the UN has made by conferring status and a title upon its president.

It “represents an important new opportunity for The Hunger Project to play a greater leadership role in the international development community,” boasts its website.

THP already has announced that the UN “Task Force visited one of [its] epicenters in Malawi last year, and has included Hunger Project field program leaders from India, Bangladesh and Uganda in their regional consultations.”

No doubt THP will also find the imprimatur of the UN handy for fund-raising.

Werner Erhard the grand creator behind THP is now reportedly comfortably retired and spending his time languishing luxuriously and well fed with his longtime girlfriend “Hanukkah” on the beaches of the Cayman Islands.

Don’t worry about Werner going hungry.

Now known as Werner Spits, Erhard has joined an eating club called Chaîne des Rotisseurs, which holds formal themed dinners several times a year. One eleven-course feast (roasted squab, peaches in chartreuse jelly) re-created the last dinner on the Titanic.

And old gurus need not fade away, they can live on through their devoted disciples, just ask Joan Holmes and the UN.

Note: CultNews phoned THP headquarters in Manhattan for comment. But its PR person had “nothing to say” and hung up.

The Hunger Project (THP), describes itself as “a strategic organization and global movement committed to the sustainable end of world hunger.” But it seems the group has added some interesting new strategies to its list of commitments lately.

THP has apparently decided to pursue a strategy of intimidation and threats to purge critical and/or historical information about it from the Internet.

What it seems THP doesn’t want the public to readily know is that it was initially launched by a controversial seminar guru named Werner Erhard (once known as John Paul “Jack” Rosenberg) through his organization called “est” (Erhard Seminars Training).

See “The Hunger Project: A Historical Background.”

Much of THP’s touted “framework of thinking,” worldview, working vocabulary and philosophy appears to come from the mind of the much-criticized Erhard and his “est” mindset. Not to mention the fact that staffers at THP historically often came from est, including current THP President Joan Holmes.

It seems that staffers at THP headquarters in Manhattan examined Google results and they didn’t like what they found.

Certain reports on the Internet traced the historical roots of THP, analyzed its “estian” connections and/or influence and shared a less than laudatory view of THP with fellow netizens.

Since the departure of Werner Erhard from THP’s board in 1990 and his subsequent sale of est to brother Harry Rosenberg and a group of employees in 1991, it seems that Erhard’s intellectual progeny want to disassociate from their controversial creator.

In fact, Est changed its name to Landmark Education, though it still features essentially the same so-called “technology” or seminar curriculum established by its founder, which includes the introductory course known as the Forum.

And THP, which is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization in the U.S., has evolved from its early beginnings to a burgeoning nonprofit organization that claims “40,000 volunteers” working “in partnership with 120 staff in 22 countries.”

But don’t expect any acknowledgement about Werner Erhard or est’s historic contribution to appear at THP’s website. Nothing whatsoever is there about this.

Now back to that Internet campaign.

Hunger Project attacks former volunteer

THP started sounding off early last year. Their first target was former THP volunteer Carol Giambalvo who had written a critique of the group in 1987 titled “The Hunger Project Inside Out” and posted it on her website.

“It has come to my attention that you are continuing to publish a web page about The Hunger Project based on your experience as a volunteer more than 20 years ago…remove the web page…and eliminate any other references to The Hunger Project in your professional materials,” THP Vice President John Coonrod wrote Giambalvo in a letter dated February 5, 2003.

But she didn’t do it.

“[THP] says the article is outdated and the usual rap about them not being affiliated with Landmark or Werner Erhard. Funny, I have had some inquiries lately where the person who is involved with Landmark is also involved with THP,” Giambalvo later commented.

She then posted Coonrod’s letter at the end of her report to offer readers an alternative viewpoint.

However, giving THP the last word didn’t satisfy the organization.

In April Giambalvo was shocked when AOL pulled the plug on her entire website.

“AOL determined that a complaint from THP was more important than their customers and they actually cut me off from service without notice yesterday,” she said on April 3, 2003.

Eventually AOL allowed Giambalvo’s site to return online, but only after she agreed to purge the offending THP report. AOL purportedly said she’d be “permanently shut out” if she did not delete the disputed material.

“Wonderful freedom of speech we have here in America…but not America On Line,” she lamented.

Giambalvo placed a note on her home page explaining that the material was gone. Someone subsequently posted her report at a newsgroup on Google.

THP’s “strategic” effort had paid off by squelching the report somewhat.

Attacking Christian Century articles

But there were two pesky previously published articles about THP that had appeared in Christian Century magazine during the 1970s that now drew the group’s ire and attention. Both were posted on the database at the Ross Institute (RI).

The offending articles were titled, “The Hunger Project and Est: Close Ties” and “The Hunger Project: You Can’t Eat Words.” The author was respected educator Dr. David Hoekema.

Hoekema had harsh words for THP. He described their program as “empty talk” and opined “If we want to work toward a solution to the problems of world hunger, we would do better to invest our time and money in relief programs [and] organizations engaged not just in talk, but in carefully chosen action.”

The first apparent shot in THP’s “strategic” effort to purge these articles from the Internet came in the Fall of 2003.

RI was contacted by the Executive Editor of Christian Century, who requested that “all Christian Century material” be removed, which only included the two Hoekema articles.

In October both articles were converted to news summaries within “fair use” standards.

Then came the next shot.

Carol Giambalvo’s pen pal John Coonrod surfaced. “I am writing to request your retraction of two articles published on your website,” he wrote in late October.

Coonrod tacitly acknowledged that “one of [THP’s] founders was Werner Erhard, the creator of the est training&But that Mr. Erhard severed any association with the Hunger Project back in 1990.” He concluded, “I request that you remove [the articles] from your site.”

But they were not removed; though a response was sent requesting that Mr. Coonrod be very specific about what allegedly “erroneous statements” were contained within the news summaries that quoted Hoekema and if any retraction had ever been run by the Christian Century.

After this exchange there was another, but Coonrod did not provide specifics and no published retraction was ever cited.

In November the THP VP wrote again offering details with much more clarity. He disagreed with “three central assertions” made historically by Hoekema. “(a) that [THP] does not take direct action to end hunger, (b) that [THP} is a scheme for divesting funds into private hands, and (c) that [THP] uses its resources to promote the agendas of private organizations.”

Mr. Coonrod then went on to attack specific statements that were once made by David Hoekema. But it should be understood that the scholar simply raised issues and asked serious questions, which offered a historical snapshot (1979) of THP’s early beginnings and the controversy that surrounded it.

“I repeat my request that you remove these articles and all references to our organization from your website,” Coonrod concluded. Echoing the demands he had previously made to Carol Giambalvo.

But the articles were not removed.

Threats of “litigation”

Now comes the attorneys.

“We are writing on behalf of our client The Hunger Project regarding the defamatory statements made in your…articles. Unless the articles are immediately removed from your website, we have been authorized by our client to take any steps necessary to protect its rights, including litigation,” wrote an attorney from a Manhattan firm.

The four page legal letter went on to rehash the grievances of THP and concluded, “Please notify us promptly with written assurances of the steps you are taking to comply with these demands on or before April 15, 2004” or “[we will] take any steps necessary to protect [THP’s] rights including commencing litigation.”

The net result is that the two news summaries were replaced with rewritten reports.

One is “The Hunger Project: A Historical Background,” which includes David Hoekema’s observations and opinions expressed in 1979. It also contains additional facts from other noted publications. This information was largely derived from Carol Giambalvo’s previously mentioned 1987 report. And also included is an updated section subtitled “The Hunger Project Today.”

The second news summary was replaced with this report titled “The Hunger Project attempts to purge criticism and history from the Internet.” And any pertinent quotations by David Hoekema contained in the news summary it replaced, were transferred to “The Hunger Project: A Historical Background” and duly noted.

Interestingly, such “strategic” efforts to suppress and/or purge information on the Internet have historically been undertaken by the Church of Scientology, which has often been called a “cult.”

However, The Hunger Project is not a “cult,” but rather “a strategic organization and global movement committed to the sustainable end of world hunger.”

NXIVM, a controversial organization called a “cult,” proposed a 67,000 square foot complex to be built in the town of Halfmoon near Albany, New York. But it seems that project may be effectively blocked reports the Albany Times-Union.

The Sartoga Count Planning Board has nixed NXIVM (pronounced Nexium) proposed building.

More than a hundred residents signed a petition saying they didn’t want NXIVM in their neighborhood.

The controversial organization’s titular head and self-proclaimed “Prefect” is Nancy Salzman, though the real power behind NXIVM seems to be Salzman’s “mentor” Keith Raniere, who students call “Vanguard.”

Troubled history

Keith Raniere has a troubled history. His previous business incarnations include a multi-level marketing scheme and vitamin/health food concerns. Both businesses failed.

Mr. Raniere’s multi-level marketing business called Consumer Buyline was labeled a “pyramid scheme” by New York Attorney General Robert Abrams and literally sued out of existence by several state attorney generals including New York, Pennsylvania and Arkansas.

Consumer Buyline left in its wake unpaid taxes, liens, judgments and many unhappy participants.

A class action lawsuit filed in Boston was apparently the final round for the company. Raniere agreed to pay $25,000 in a final settlement during 1992, which effectively restricted his business. At this time he claimed to be broke.

Lesson learned?

What did Keith Raniere learn from his past business experiences?

In an affidavit filed last month in Albany federal court Mr. Raniere states, “Throughout this process I had learned how people can cheat to win.” And he seems to think that the collapse of Consumer Buyline was somehow due to “political problems.”

New business

The man they call “Vanguard” today is described as a “scientist, mathematician, philosopher and entrepreneur.” And he is now selling something called “Rational Inquiry.” This is what NXIVM says is a “science based on [a]…belief.”

Learning this “science” in-depth includes 16 consecutive days of intensive training 12 hours a day. This comes to 192 hours of structured coaching classes. Students may then take additional intensives, courses and attend various events and classes.

Expert opinions

Forensic psychiatrist and noted cult expert John Hochman, who reviewed the NXIVM program warns, “Mind control represents indoctrination without informed consent. It relies on calculated strategies to mislead and to misinform. It particularly relies on emotional manipulation.”

Hochman concluded, [NXIVM] is a kingdom of sorts, ruled by a Vanguard, who writes his own dictionary of the English language, has his own moral code, and the ability to generate taxes on subjects by having them participate in his seminars.”

Psychologist Paul Martin whose work is focused upon the treatment of cult victims also reviewed the NXIVM programs and compared them to thought reform often called “brainwashing.”

Martin said, “ESP has characteristics that are consistent with the themes of thought reform.”

He also offered this observation within a separate critical analysis. “What then are some of the consequences of those subject to thought reform programs? [Robert J.] Lifton [author of Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism] observed certain clinical symptoms in the subjects he studied. For example: ‘borderline psychotic state, split identity, fear…'”

Martin adds, “There were first-hand reports of some becoming psychotic.”

At least three NXIVM students that attended its intensive programs subsequently sought psychiatric care. One of those students, while in the midst of a “Level 2 Intensive,” had a psychotic episode and was hospitalized in Albany.


In an effort to remove the reports written by Hochman and Martin from public view, Keith Raniere and his “mentored” associate Nancy Salzman have filed lawsuits in federal court against the good doctors, the Ross Institute and myself. They claim “trade secret” and “copyright” violations, because the doctors quote NXIVM material to substantiate points made within their reports.

This is the same legal strategy often employed by the notorious “cult” Scientology in numerous failed lawsuits filed against its own critics on the Internet.

In an interesting twist it appears that Nancy O’Meara, a well-known Scientology operative, has assisted Raniere and Salzman in their current litigation.

O’Meara wrote in an August email, “I am working on two cases right now where [Rick Ross] is being sued for copyright trademark violation.”

Whose model?

Raniere claims NXIVM courses are based upon “my model.” And NXIVM’s “12 Point Mission Statement” states its goal is to reach “an internal “state of clear.”

Ironically, this is precisely the same verbiage often used by Scientology to describe a goal of its training. Raniere also frequently uses the description “suppressive person,” more language commonly associated with Scientology.

Another apparent source for some of NXIVM’s language and principles seems to be Landmark Education, previously known as EST, a controversial company also engaged in the business of large group awareness training, courses and seminars.

Mr. Raniere also likes to quote Ayn Rand the author of Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead.

So whose model is NXIVM really based upon?

Is Keith Raniere guilty of trade secret and copyright violations?

Reported losses

NXIVM sought court ordered injunctions to either close down this website or remove the critical articles about its programs previously mentioned.

Last week a federal judge denied the injunctions .

Mr. Raniere claimed in a recent court affidavit, “We have even lost a 4 year veteran Principal Coach… Goldie Hawn cancelled her engagement…a billionaire network founder…has left…we are losing $10,000 a day in revenue and the problem is escalating.”

With his building plan blocked, the above claimed losses and a federal judge denying his court motions, is Keith Raniere on another losing streak?

Goldie Hawn has been hired to speak at an event sponsored by a group called a “cult.”

The actress is being paid by “NXIVM” (pronounced Nexium), formerly known as Executive Success Programs (ESP), to speak at its “Vanguard Week” celebration.

NXIVM was recently criticized by residents of Albany, New York and labeled a “cult.”

Ms. Hawn will speak about “the importance of seeking joy in one’s life,” reports MSNBC.

But what the star doesn’t know is she is actually featured entertainment for the group leader’s birthday party.

“Vanguard Week,” the event Hawn has been hired for is named for the NXIVM founder Keith Raniere, called “Vanguard” by his devoted students.

Raniere formerly ran a multi level marketing (MLM) scheme “Consumer Buyline,” which tanked after State Attorney Generals took action against it. The MLM was also the subject of a class action lawsuit.

Some years later Raniere started up ESP with the help of Nancy Salzman, a registered nurse.

ESP seems to borrow heavily upon the teachings, philosophy, seminar structure and/or terminology of Scientology, EST, Landmark Education, the Forum and Ayn Rand.

An ESP “Intensive” can cost thousands of dollars and take 10 hours a day for 16 consecutive days.

One clinical psychologist has compared ESP training to “thought reform,” often called “brainwashing.”

Complaints associated with ESP range from strained relationships, estranged families and at least one breakdown during an “intensive” that led to a hospital stay.

Hawn is not the first star to be seemingly used by a purported “cult” to promote an event.

Both Bill Cosby and Whitney Houston were once booked as entertainment for events associated with Rev. Moon’s Unification Church.

Scientology routinely uses celebrity members to promote its associated programs, such as Tom Cruise and his recent round of appearances related to “Applied Scholastics.”

Goldie Hawn is probably picking up a hefty honorarium for her professional appearance at Raniere’s birthday bash. But the Oscar winner, who first became widely known through the television show Laugh In, should realize that this is no joke.

Raniere and his group are using her name to promote NXIVM, a group that has allegedly hurt families and students.

Note: Goldie Hawn later cancelled the engagement.

America On Line (AOL) seems to have become “big brother.”

Not necessarily a kindly big brother to help Internet users, but more like what George Orwell calls “big brother” in his classic book 1984.

AOL shut down a long-standing educational website, because the webmaster didn’t remove certain historical information.

One article posted on cult watcher Carol Giambalvo’s website displeased someone important and AOL apparently concluded, much like the pigs on Orwell’s Animal Farm, “Some are more equal than others.”

The “more equal” apparently describes The Hunger Project (THP), an organization closely associated with Landmark Education. A controversial privately owned company, that stages a type of mass marathon training.

Landmark was previously known as Erhard Seminar Training (EST), founded by Werner Erhard. Their introductory weekend seminar is called the Forum.

Giambalvo, a former participant in both EST and THP wrote an article titled, The Hunger Project Inside Out.

But you won’t find it online anymore.


Giambalvo says it all started when, “The Hunger Project sent me a letter…asking me to remove it…[they said] the article [was] outdated.” The ex-ESTie says that she was given “the usual rap about them not being affiliated with Landmark programs or Werner Erhard.”

However, Christian Century exposed the historic ties between THP and EST in an article run in 1979.

And in fact, the Vice President at THP who sent the letter to Giambalvo, has ties to Landmark.

Giambalvo didn’t remove the offending piece. “I just put [their] letter at the end of [my] article so people could see their point of view,” she explains.

But that just wasn’t good enough.

As one of Orwell’s characters observed in 1984, “up to date…[means] any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was…scraped clean.”

When Giambalvo failed to comply THP complained to AOL and the Internet giant took immediate action. Giambalvo’s website was shut down without notice. And it was only restored after her “expression of opinion” was “scraped clean.”

Doesn’t this sound drastic for a media conglomerate, which includes journalism icon Time Magazine?

After all, Time is widely respected by cult watchers for its 1991 cover story “Scientology: The Cult of Greed.”

AOL it seems, should not be confused with its media partner.

Giambalvo concludes, “Wonderful freedom of speech we have here in America, but not America On Line!”

Has AOL become a corporate version of “big brother,” bent upon censorship to please the “more equal”?

Orwell summed this up neatly within 1984, “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”

Note: Giambalvo now advises that a copy of the material previously posted about THP at her website is “available by direct request.”

Follow up: Carol Giambalvo advises that AOL brought to her attention the “terms of service” she agreed to, “which basically gives them license to say something is objectionable and to remove it.” She also admits AOL might have sent her a disconnect warning, but “I may have deleted it because…I get so much junk mail on AOL.”

Seems like two good reasons not to be an AOL user, the potential for censorship and spam.

Landmark Education originated by Werner Erhard and once called Erhard Seminar Training (EST) has had a troubled history filled with lawsuits, bad press and serious allegations made by mental health professionals regarding its programs.

However, a press release posted on Business Wire this week gushes that the for-profit privately owned company is today “a worldwide leader in the training and development industry.”

That’s “human development” or what has been perhaps more precisely called “mass marathon training.”

Landmark presents many group seminars and courses beginning with the Forum.

Despite the controversy that has swirled around this group it seems that Werner Erhard, once known as a Jack Rosenberg, and his “technology” have not only survived, but prospered and grown bigger than ever.

So successful in fact that Landmark has now launched “Phase II” of their website expansion project.

Not only will Landmark recruit new customers for its controversial courses through the site; the company also envisions a kind of subculture for its graduates made possible through the Internet.

The release says, “Now…’Landmark Connect’…allows graduates of Landmark’s programs to meet each other…capitalize on job opportunities and find roommates.”

Taking courses together, working together and rooming together?

Doesn’t this sound just a little bit spooky?

Don’t expect multi-millionaire Erhard to hook up for a roommate anytime soon.

Werner is happily frolicking with his honey Hanukkah Spits on the beach in the Cayman Islands–as millions keep rolling in annually just as steadily as the tide.

Landmark Education, which runs a controversial large group awareness training (LGAT) program called the Forum, is encouraging its graduates to devote time to community service projects.

In the past the private for-profit company has generated many negative news stories, serious complaints and lawsuits, but now it seems to be looking for some good press.

Some Forum participants have linked breakdowns to the intense pressure, catharsis and stress within the long weekend seminars.

But despite that history the organization is reaching out within communities, perhaps to burnish its image or maybe to stimulate interest and enrollment in its courses.

Two such efforts recently popped up in local newspapers.

A Landmark devotee is staging community dances for seniors. She says it’s “one of her assignments from the Forum,” reports the New Jersey Express-Times.

Another Forum graduate started a quilting project. She said it is “a requirement for a self-expression and leadership class she is taking through the Landmark Education Corporation,” reports the Pioneer Press.

So the lucrative San Francisco based business founded by Werner Erhard and once called “EST” has apparently decided to become known for good deeds instead of controversy.

Well, maybe.

But it looks a bit contrived to be an expression of genuine altruism.

Why not help out community charities with much needed cash during these difficult times?

Landmark certainly seems to have plenty to spare, it takes in more than $50 million annually.