Many experts have noted that not only has the number of groups called “cults” has grown substantially in the past twenty years, they have also gained considerable momentum and influence within the United States.

A featured presentation about destructive cults at the 2002 annual convention for the American Psychological Association (APA) drew this comment from its President Dr. Philip G. Zimbardo, “When some organizations that promote religious or self-growth agendas become rich enough to wield power to suppress media exposés, influence legal judgments or publicly defame psychology, how can they be challenged?”

Zimbardo observations were published within the APA’s Monitor.

Groups that have often been called “cults” such as Scientology and Rev. Moon’s Unification Church have in fact become “rich enough” to “wield the power” Zimbardo talks about. Within the United States and internationally these two “cults” alone control billions of dollars.

Scientology and the Unification Church have acquired political power that reaches all the way to the White House. This was demonstrated by Scientology’s unprecedented access during the Clinton Administration and the special relationship Rev. Moon has with the Bush Family.

It remains to be seen how Moon’s influence may impact the so-called “Faith Based Initiative” proposed by President George W. Bush, which would fund religious programs with government money.

Rev. Moon’s influence on Capital Hill cannot be denied. He has become part of its establishment, largely through control of the Washington Times. And Moon also courts religious and political leaders through banquets, celebrations and conferences, which are well attended.

Groups like Scientology and the Unification Church also have funded efforts to “suppress media” and “influence legal judgements.”

Scientology has arguably turned litigation into something of a religious rite.

Time Magazine published the cover story, “Scientology: The Cult of Greed,” and was promptly sued for $400 million dollars. Even though Scientology lost, the litigation cost Time millions of dollars and took years to resolve. This produced a substantial chilling effect within the media, which served to suppress stories about the controversial church in the United States.

Likewise, Scientology has made a point of going after its critics personally. This has included defamation, libel and personal injury. The net result is that many that might expose the group don’t—due it seems largely to fear.

The Unification Church has frequently funded efforts to “influence legal judgements.” Notably an ongoing campaign through academic surrogates to discredit research about cults.

Some years ago the APA itself became involved through the filing of a “friend of the court brief.” That brief effectively would have helped the Unification Church in its defense regarding a personal injury lawsuit filed by a former member. However, the brief was later withdrawn.

Dr. Dick Anthony was the psychologist largely responsible for that effort. Anthony continues to work for groups called “cults” and is paid $3,500 per day for his efforts. One of his employers is Scientology, which also recommends him, through a front organization called the “reformed Cult Awareness Network.”

Defenders of “cults” such as Anthony are anxious to disprove the “theory of mind control.”

However, Zimbardo has acknowledged the existence of mind control. He stated, “Mind control is the process by which individual or collective freedom of choice and action is compromised by agents or agencies that modify or distort perception, motivation, affect, cognition and/or behavioral outcomes.”

But how does this ultimately affect the general public?

In a survey done in 1980 by Zimbardo of more than 1,000 high school students in the San Francisco Bay area 54% reported a cult had attempted to recruit them and 40% said they had experienced multiple attempts.

Certainly on college campuses groups like the “International Church of Christ” (ICC), which has often been called a “cult,” are very active. The ICC has been banned by many colleges and universities, due largely to its aggressive recruitment practices.

And cults are not restricted exclusively to large metropolitan areas or schools. They are increasingly active in small towns and rural areas. In some situations groups called “cults” eventually exercise considerable influence within the small communities they inhabit.

A recent example is the “Fellowship of Friends,” which has been called a “cult.” The group led by Robert Burton has a troubled history in Yuba County, a rural area in California. Likewise the group known as the “Twelve Tribes” has moved into small towns in upstate New York.

The parallels between cults and terrorist groups cannot be ignored.

A charismatic and totalitarian leader who supposedly speaks for God dominates many terrorist groups, not unlike destructive cults.

What is the difference ultimately then, between suicide at Jonestown and the suicide bombers of al-Qaeda?

Each group had devoted followers willing to die for its cause. Jim Jones called this an act of “revolutionary suicide,” Osama bin-Laden said it was “Jihad.” But in the end the mindset is the same.

In the end the only practical difference between bin Laden and Jim Jones is the level of destruction wrought by their madness. The group dynamics that produce the tragedy are essentially the same.

Zimbardo concluded, “Understanding the dynamics and pervasiveness of situational power is essential to learning how to resist it and to weaken the dominance of the many agents of mind control who ply their trade daily on all of us behind many faces and fronts.”

It seems that “mind control” has become a modern mental health hazard. However, this illness unlike others, can potentially affect more than the personal lives of individuals.

This was first made clear through a horrific gas attack upon Tokyo’s subways by the cult Aum in 1995.

Today that realization is even more painful whenever we see the changed Manhattan skyline.

An excellent editorial appeared in the Edmonton Journal written by Paula Simons regarding the background history of a Canadian “cult” child abuse case.

Lucille Poulin, the leader of the “Four Winds Commune” was convicted on five counts of assault for beating children within her group. Her defense was essentially that “God” told her to do it. However, the court found that invoking the name of God did not protect Poulin’s behavior.

Perhaps more disturbing than Poulin’s destructive delusions is how long it took authorities to take action.

According to records beginning in 1995 social workers knew what was going on—so why did it take so long to stop Poulin? Apparently they tried to protect the children seven years ago, but were frustrated by a judge who turned them away. Later one child died from medical neglect.

Reviewing the pattern of missed opportunities in the Poulin case is not unlike the sad histories of other “cults” that have abused children.

Groups that have been called “cults” such as the “Twelve Tribes,” “Children of God” and the so-called “Krishna Consciousness” movement have all at one time been the focus of child abuse allegations. Yet over and over again, such groups often escape law enforcement.

Child abuse was eventually proven to be rampant within the Waco Davidian sect, but Texas Child Protection workers once gave David Koresh a pass. Later, the testimony of one of Koresh’s young victims before Congress made it chillingly clear how wrong they were.

Krishna is now the defendant in a class action lawsuit filed by its former children who allege horrific acts of physical and sexual abuse.

The “Twelve Tribes,” just like the Poulin group was investigated for child abuse, but a judge also stopped that process and returned more than a hundred children to the group’s Vermont compound. Years later its children have recounted their experiences of abuse.

Former childhood members of the “Children of God” have discussion/support groups to help each other heal and recover from the abuse they experienced. The group’s founder David Berg has been exposed as a pedophile who engaged in incest and preached a doctrine of sexually stimulating children beginning at the age of four.

Another Canadian group “Church of God Restoration” was also recently found guilty concerning the abuse of its children through brutal beatings. But many within the Canadian press seemed to defend the parental prerogative of group members to inflict such punishment. In another case involving the same church in California a child also died due to medical neglect.

“Cult leader” Dwight York now faces more than 200 criminal counts for sexually abusing and exploiting minor children in his group called the “Nuwaubians.” According to the charges filed against him that abuse was apparently ongoing for years.

Arthur Allen Jr., the leader of the group known as the “House of Prayer” just began serving his jail sentence for a child cruelty conviction. Allen actually made such abuse a spectacle by brutally beating children publicly before his flock.

The story of Lucille Poulin is hardly unique. And the blunders made by authorities that allowed her to continue unchecked for so long are not uncommon either. Sadly, within the bureaucratic maze and legal due process of North America many children within “cults” are victimized.

Authorities seem to be reluctant in dealing with abuse within religious groups. Such groups almost always claim that any interference regarding their behavior is somehow “religious persecution.”

The lot of children born or brought into destructive cults like so much baggage is a scandal. Who will protect them? As Paula Simons laments in her editorial for the Edmonton Journal, “So much unnecessary suffering. So many unanswered questions.”

Perhaps the precedents recently set by court cases in both Canada and the United States will help. But it seems that so often, it is too little or too late.

While some restaurants develop a “cult following” others are simply run by “cults.”

But food critic Betty Cooney doesn’t seem to care how her food gets to the table. If members of some “cultish group” suffer to serve her, it appears that’s not something Betty worries about, according to her article in the Queens Chronicle.

The “cultish group” restaurant Cooney reviewed is controlled by Guru Sri Chinmoy and is located in Flushing Queens.

But contrary to what Cooney concludes, Chinmoy is not simply the leader of “a cultish group that works for world peace and promotes health.” Chinmoy is instead directly responsible for hurting many people, according to former followers and affected families. And some women once involved within the group claim the supposedly celibate guru sexually abused them.

There are websites that discuss the bad behavior of Chinmoy that are easily accessible through the Internet. But did Ms. Cooney spend her time on such research before recommending his restaurant? Apparently not, the food maven seemed to be more concerned with the guru’s “incredible salads” and “delicious smoothies.”

Sri Chinmoy is not the only guru to staff a restaurant with devotees who work for free or very little pay.

The “Supreme Master Summa Ching Hai” has a chain of vegetarian restaurants and the “Twelve Tribes” have been in the food business since the 70s, first the group had delis and now they run coffee shops.

Starbucks may need to pay the minimum wage, but not the Twelve Tribes. However, a Boston food critic joked, “What I want is to stand in a place that makes a blueberry muffin this good. I nibble a corner and want to shout my lifelong devotion to their cause.”

One month before that reporter’s observations were published the Twelve Tribes was fined for child labor violations. But that didn’t seem to affect the tenor of his story either. Maybe Betty should call him and set up a lunch?

One California “cult” called the “Fellowship of Friends” runs a winery and their wine is sold by the glass for $10.00 at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco. The Ritz doesn’t appear to care either about the terms of cult labor. Their buyer sniffed, “There is value and quality and I never took into consideration anything else about them,” reported the Sacramento Bee.

Once upon a time years ago there were organized boycotts of lettuce and other produce to protest the substandard wages and working conditions afforded to migrant farm workers. However, today it seems few people care or are even interested about how “cults” may exploit their members.

One California wine buyer did say that he didn’t want to work with “a winery that has all that excess baggage.” But he appears to be an exception. Most people are more likely to agree with Betty Cooney who wrote, “Don’t let this stop you from trying their restaurant.”