Tom Cruise has engaged in what looks increasingly like a well-organized media blitz to promote Scientology’s teachings, or as he might say Hubbard “Study Tech.”

The movie star has been holding forth fervently lately about his deliverance from dyslexia. The actor’s recovery wasn’t a “mission impossible,” because Scientology’s founder L. Ron Hubbard apparently came up with a cure for almost anything, including reading disabilities.

Well, at least Hubbard said he did.

In a revelation that might become a script for another “movie of the week,” the middle-aged actor confessed that he was once a “functional illiterate.”

However, the former “Top Gun” offered no objective verifiable evidence, or scientifically peer-reviewed proof. Instead, it was just essentially an anecdotal story that consisted of his personal testimony.

Was this testimonial staged within a tent revival for a traveling faith healer?


It was recounted uncritically within a “five page spread” published by People Magazine, harshly critiqued yesterday by Fox News.

People did another glossy celebrity puff piece, but this one included a virtual infomercial for the star’s latest Scientology related crusade.

Cruise is a “founding board member” of the Hollywood Education Literacy Project (HELP), an effort to supposedly eradicate illiteracy through Hubbard “technology.”

Fox took People to task for being “so desperate to get a Cruise interview that they didn’t mind shilling for [Scientology].

So what else is new?

Scientology celebrities do this all the time and media outlets often cooperate.

The controversial organization has a stable of well-known actors and Hollywood types that they can easily trot out to promote one program after another through rather contrived personal appearances.

And some in the media appear anxious to get that face time, no matter what harm the touted program, product or cause might potentially do to others.

John Travolta likes to recruit celebs for Scientology, Kirstie Alley promotes Narconon, while lesser lights such as Juliette Lewis and Anne Archer do talk shows to knock certain prescription drugs and by inference the mental health profession.

Some publications and TV shows don’t seem to care; it’s good for circulation and ratings.

Celebrity-driven mags know that Scientology has been called a “cult.” And it’s easy to access information about the litany of lawsuits filed against it by former members for personal injuries. The organization is currently in court regarding a wrongful death suit.

Never mind. The effusive puff pieces keep coming and look more like infomercials than balanced reporting.

One expert quoted by Fox said that HELP “is no more a secular learning methodology than wine and communion wafers are a Sunday morning snack.” He added that the program promotes “acceptance of L. Ron Hubbard as authority figure” and does “much to soften [participants] up for future recruitment into Scientology itself.”

But don’t expect any detailed disclosure about this from Scientology or meaningfully balanced reporting on this subject within the pages of People. All you are likely to see is photo of Tom Cruise grinning over a personal endorsement.

And the Cruise/Scientology/HELP bandwagon gained momentum this week. The star’s story made it onto the Associated Press wire in an abbreviated version. Then Cruise and his cause rolled through the wire services like a wave washing over the US and breaking around the world.

Scientology has done it again.

There simply is no “cult” in the world today with the experience and resources to play the media as effectively through a revolving cast of celebrity proxies.

One year after her abduction Elizabeth Smart continues to recover from her ordeal, reports the Desert News

Her father said, “It’s like we’re fully re-engaged, as much as that can be done,” and added, “Elizabeth is doing great.”

The Smart family sought the advice of another kidnap “cult” victim Patty Hearst, to better understand the problems posed within the recovery process.

An apparent roving lunatic and sexual predator kidnapped Elizabeth. That self-proclaimed “prophet” Brian David Mitchell and his accomplice/wife, Wanda Barzee, remain in jail awaiting trial.

The Smart family hopes to avoid subjecting Elizabeth to the personal pain of having to recount her horrific experience as a court witness.

The Smart case once again brought to public attention the power of “brainwashing.”

For nine months the teenager traveled with the deranged duo that abducted her, seemingly cooperating with them and taking on their mindset.

As the story unfolded subsequent to Elizabeth’s rescue it became clear that Mitchell isolated and terrorized the girl for two months before beginning their travels.

During that time as an act of self-preservation and a byproduct of controlled influence Elizabeth largely lost her sense of identity and assumed a new “cult-like” persona.

Returned to the security of her family that cultic identity quickly crumbled and the girl resumed her former life.

This fall Elizabeth plans to attend her regular school and once again will be amongst old friends and classmates.

However, as the Smart family and Elizabeth know, their life will never really be the same again.

The family of Elizabeth Smart has spoken with another cult kidnap victim Patricia Hearst in an effort to better understand how to handle certain issues with the fragile girl, reports the New York Times.

Elizabeth’s grandfather told reporters that her father has spoken with Hearst who advised not to press the 15-year-old about the details of the nine months she spent with self-proclaimed “prophet” Brian Mitchell.

Speaking for the family the grandfather said, “I’m going to let her tell me those stories at her own pace. We won’t try to rush it.”

It seems that Elizabeth is doing well back at home. 14 years as a member of the loving and tightly knit Salt Lake City family by far outweighs the 9 months she spent with Mitchell.

But the family has noticed that at times Elizabeth appears distracted, with something on her mind.

The Smarts say they still don’t know “the evil things that were done to her.”

Immediately after her abduction Elizabeth was kept isolated from the outside world. She spent two months alone with Mitchell and Barzee at a canyon campsite. Subsequently, the girl was moved to another isolated spot and lived with her captors in a “teepee.”

This largely parallels Patty Hearst’s early months of confinement after her abduction. Then a 19-year-old college student, Hearst was broken down and “brainwashed” by a political cult called the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA).

It took Hearst time to heal after more than a year spent within a cult. She was found and arrested along with SLA members after a bank robbery. Fortunately, Elizabeth doesn’t face the legal complications Hearst endured.

Perhaps Patricia Hearst, more than anyone else, can empathize and clearly understand how Elizabeth feels right now.

Hopefully, the Smart family will continue to consult Hearst and seek her insights. And it might help Elizabeth better understand her own experience and the recovery process, if some day she actually met with Hearst.

Elizabeth Smart was not simply a victim of the “Stockholm syndrome,” which draws its name from a 1973 hostage situation related to a bank robbery in Sweden. At that time robbers held hostages for several days and their prisoners developed a seemingly strange affinity for their captors.

Instead, Smart who was abducted by force, controlled and isolated by her captor Brian Mitchell, also known as “David Emmanuel Isaiah,” was apparently “brainwashed.” And her father recently used that word to explain his daughter’s behavior.

More information emerged yesterday during news conferences and through various reports, which support that conclusion.

Brainwashing” is the word often used to describe a process more precisely called “thought reform.”

When initially questioned by police Elizabeth Smart identified herself as “Augustine” and seemingly attempted to frustrate the efforts of officers to help her.

Eventually Elizabeth broke down and admitted her real identity. But why did she not do so immediately? Police also said she spoke in a prosaic biblical language.

Other witnesses supposedly saw Smart at a “party” with her captor Mitchell and his wife Wanda Barzee. Elizabeth stood silently behind her captor submissively, robed in what some have called a “berka.”

Asked why the women wore these garments and were veiled Micthell reportedly said, “To protect them from the sins of the world.”

However, it appears the kidnapper actually wanted to hold Elizabeth within a “world” of his own creation.

Another witness said, “She didn’t seem like she was kidnapped. She acted like she was part of the family,” reports Associated Press.

One Salt Lake City resident told reporters he provided shelter for Mitchell, Barzee and Elizabeth for several days and that the girl never expressed fear, tried to escape, call police or sought his help.

How did Mitchell, a self-proclaimed “prophet” and supposed messenger of God change the 14-year-old Salt Lake City teenager into his willing follower?

Thought Reform, often called “brainwashing,” depends upon control of the environment. And certainly Mitchell controlled Elizabeth’s completely. He also isolated the teenager from her familiar support system of family, friends, school and church.

After gaining environmental control Mitchell then effectively could filter all information flowing to Elizabeth. She became dependent upon him to interpret everything, from her daily surroundings and situation to the bible and perhaps even the meaning of life.

The teenager then had no outside frame of reference or accurate feedback from others to oppose Mitchell’s growing influence.

Step-by-step this control led to the undue influence witnessed by those recently interviewed. Elizabeth gradually seemed to assume a cult identity, which may have included the new name “Augustine.”

What can the family do now?

Elizabeth Smart’s happy reunion with her family is proof that her authentic personality, developed through 14 years of nurturing within her home and community, is by far more powerful than whatever cult identity Mitchell may have imposed upon the girl.

Now the family instinctually seems to understand what Elizabeth needs immediately, which is unconditional love, acceptance and sense a safety.

Elizabeth’s father Ed Smart is now carefully avoiding any painful confrontation with his daughter about what happened during her nine months with Mitchell. He said, “What is going to come out is going to come out, I don’t have it in me to try and make this harder for her than it is.”

He acknowledged though that Elizabeth seems changed by her experience and sees her now as “a young woman.”

The Smarts will no doubt soon seek professional help to assist them in their daughter’s recovery process. This may include mental health professionals, their church and others familiar with the cult phenomenon.

Polygamists in Utah have made many Mormons in that state increasingly familiar with the kind of control and undue influence young girls suffer from in cult-like groups. Some teenagers in recent years have fled polygamy and their abusers were arrested and sent to prison.

Intense indoctrination, control and resulting unreasonable fears are apparent amongst the victims of polygamists, much like the “brainwashing” that may have overcome Elizabeth Smart.

Patricia Hearst spoke about her own kidnapping ordeal in 1974 on CNN News. She was abducted and later “brainwashed” by a political cult called the Symbionese Liberation Army.

Hearst said, “You’ve, in a way, given up, you’ve absorbed the new identity they’ve given you. You’re surviving — you’re not even doing that – you’re just living while everything else is going on around you.”

Steven Stayner was abducted at the age 7 by a sexual predator and held for several years. He explained, “When I disappeared, Steve Stayner died and Dennis Parnell was born — the name I went by — and then it’s kind of like going back again to switch from Dennis Parnell back to Steve Stayner again.”

Has “Augustine” switched back to Elizabeth Smart?

It seems so, but the girl who is now a “young woman” may take years to fully sort through and recover from her ordeal and it is unlikely that her life will ever really be the same again.

In an unusual twist two cult members in California have requested “deprogramming,” reports the Marin News.

Both women were followers of Winifred Wright, a leader that once controlled four women and their twelve children in a type of family cult located in a house near San Francisco.

The women and children endured reportedly horrific abuse. One child died from complications brought about by rickets, an illness that is a direct result of malnutrition.

Wright and two of the mothers were found guilty of criminal charges in court. Sentencing will take place later this month.

But the two women convicted now want treatment at Wellspring Retreat, a noted rehabilitation center for former cult members.

Wellspring does not actually “deprogram” cult members, but rather offers a focused program for recovery in a residential setting. The retreat is a licensed mental health facility in Ohio.

It is sad that these women and/or their families did not seek help earlier. Perhaps intervention long ago might have effectively ended the abuse and avoided a needless death.

But like so many cults, the Wright Family only received meaningful attention and intervention after a terrible tragedy.

In a tacit acknowledgement that the women were “brainwashed” by Wright, the judge has already granted one mother temporary release to attend Wellspring.

On December 28, 2002 the Dallas Morning News published a review of the book Nothing is Impossible by Christopher Reeve. The actor and director, now widely known for his efforts to promote spinal cord injury research, wrote his latest book about coping with paralysis and ongoing recovery.

The newspaper review by Richard Dickey stated, “Reeve credits both Scientology and extensive physical therapy for his overall improvement.”

That was a false statement.

CultNews first broke the story that Christopher Reeve actually was critical of Scientology within his new book.

When contacted Mr. Dickey did not explain his review, but eventually admitted he was wrong.

This week on Tuesday February 4th a correction was run as follows:

“A review of the book Nothing is Impossible by Christopher Reeve that ran on Page 6G on Dec. 28th, 2002, incorrectly said that Reeve praised Scientology for part of his recovery process after an accident that left him paralyzed. Reeve wrote that his personal experience with the Church of Scientology was unfulfilling and short lived.”

The book by Reeve is inspirational. But not only regarding the actor’s heroic struggle with paralysis. It is also inspiring to learn about his spiritual quest, which is strikingly different from many Hollywood types.

Reeve’s inquiry has not been driven by narcissism, nor is it neat or easily settled. He offers no simple solution or convenient epiphany. Instead Reeve is a man whose commitment to truth supercedes self-serving answers.

He chronicles decades of a spiritual journey that includes many interesting, often peculiar groups. And his piercing critical analysis is illuminating.

Unlike Tom Cruise, John Travolta and other stars enamored with Scientology, Reeve relatively quickly recognized apparent methods of manipulation used by the organization to recruit and retain members.

Maybe the star of Superman doesn’t really have x-ray vision, but it seems he saw through Scientology.

The controversial “Word of Faith Fellowship” (WOFF), which has been called a “cult,” led by Jane Whaley is now being sued by a former member claiming personal injuries, reports The Herald-Journal.

The former member now plaintiff Holly Hamrick said, “I can’t sit back and be quiet when I see abuse going on. A lot of people didn’t see Waco coming or Jonestown…”

The embattled group is already engaged in a bitter legal battle with another former member who wants her minor children back.

The WOFF apparently thinks its religious prerogatives trump a custodial parent’s rights.

Whaley and her followers have withheld the minors from their mother who left WOFF months ago. After receiving help at a cult recovery center called “Wellspring Retreat,” she came back for her four children.

Abuse claims by the alleged victims of WOFF seem to be gathering momentum. Are Whaley’s glory days of power passing in Spindale, North Carolina?

For years the purported “cult leader” has been something of a big fish in a small pond. But it looks like Whaley’s pond is either drying up or becoming increasingly difficult for her to swim in.

Not content to simply be a movie star, Tom Cruise once again used his celebrity to promote Scientology’s agenda by essentially attacking the mental health profession during an interview, reports The Age.

The devout Scientologist star was interviewed while filming a movie in Australia. Cruise said, “Today in America I know they are so quick to put children on drugs because they are not learning well.” An apparent reference to medications like Ritalin, which are prescribed for children with disabilities.

Cruise was supposedly “helped” regarding his own learning disability through Scientology’s “technology.” However, no objective scientific study has been peer-reviewed and published that substantiates Scientology’s so-called “study tech.”

Instead, the controversial church, which has been called a “cult,” relies upon stars like Cruise that use their celebrity as a vehicle to tout the tech through anecdotal stories.

Kirstie Alley offers similar testimonials regarding her recovery from drug addiction through Narconon, a program based upon Scientology teachings.

Interestingly, Cruise’s former wife Nicole Kidman’s father is a psychologist. But the mental health profession is often maligned by Scientology, which sees itself as the true path to mental health.

It is rumored that Scientology may have been a factor in the Cruise-Kidman divorce. Kidman is a Catholic.

Perhaps Tom Cruise is still “not learning well.” At 40 he has two failed marriages and is apparently planning a third to actress Penelope Cruz, another Catholic.

Jehovah’s Witness parents in South Africa would have allowed their baby to die if not for a doctor’s actions and the ruling of a judge, reports South Africa’s Sunday Times.

Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse blood transfusion for themselves and their children due to a policy proscribed by their Governing Body. This is based upon an idiosyncratic Witness understanding of scripture. Specifically, “Old Testament” injunctions regarding the “eating of blood” more commonly understood as dietary law.

However, increasingly the courts are interceding to save the lives of children threatened by extreme and dangerous religious beliefs. Many children have previously died due to medical neglect in such groups as Christian Science, Church of God Restoration, End Time Ministries and General Assembly Church of the First Born.

In some of these churches parents were charged criminally due to medical neglect and some were convicted and sentenced for manslaughter.

The Witness parents in Johannesburg, South Africa seemed relieved that the judge ultimately ordered the blood transfusion that saved their child’s life.

The baby’s mother hugged the treating doctor who initiated the action after the ruling. The father later said, “We thank God for placing our child in the care of such capable medical people and hope for a speedy and uncomplicated medical recovery.”

Their baby is now stable and doing well.

This is one Witness story about a near death medical emergency with a happy ending. But many others have ended in tragedy.

It is a scandal how many children needlessly die due to medical neglect as a direct result of the teachings of certain extreme religious groups.

Parents may believe whatever they wish, but a child’s right to life must supercede such freedom of religious expression.

Andrew Parker 23 murdered his 22-year-old brother and then killed himself, according to Morning Call. The older brother had battled depression for some time.

Both brothers were raised within a notorious “sex cult” now called “The Family,” but formerly known as the “Children of God.” The group was founded by pedophile “Moses” David Berg. The boy’s parents met within the group and still appear to be active members.

The “Children of God” has been the subject of much bad press for its strange sexual practices that included fund-raising through “flirty fishing,” which many saw as simply prostitution and the sexualizing of children at an early age. The group published tracts preaching such concepts.

Actor River Phoenix, nominated for an Oscar for his role in the film “Running on Empty,” was also raised within the group. Phoenix once said he lost his virginity at age four. He later died at 23, the result of a drug overdose.

Former members, especially those raised within the “Children of God,” often seem to struggle with emotionally and psychologically debilitating side effects. Some former members say it takes years to overcome the residual post-traumatic stress and depression caused by the group. Many have turned to drugs; especially young people with a history in the organization.

Who knows what demons drove Andrew Parker? Were he and his brother two more casualties of the “Children of God”?