Reza Aslan’s series “Believer” on CNN ran an episode about Scientology last night. And as expected it was misleading and a disappointment to almost any serious Scientology watcher. CNN has done some great work exposing the bad behavior of Scientology, but Aslan let CNN down by providing half-truths and misleading information to its viewers.

Aslan started out by admitting he has been called an “apologist” when it comes to Scientology and perhaps other “new religions” referred to as “cults.”

CultNews noted in a previous report that an online CNN article promoting the Aslan’s Scientology show featured two academics, David Bromley and J. Gordon Melton, used by Scientology as “religious resources.” Both of these “scholars” have been called “cult apologists.”

In the show last night Aslan featured an interview with yet another apparent apologist Donald Westerbrook, Lecturer, Center for the Study of Religion, University of California, Los Angeles, who offered no meaningful criticism of Scientology, but rather whatever explanations the controversial church had provided. Westbrook has said, “I suspect that Scientology’s theology, practices, and marketing will continue to provide promising case studies for understanding contemporary intersection points between science and religion.”

Reza Aslan

Aslan flippantly dismissed Lawrence Wright and his book “Going Clear” about Scientology by challenging the author to criticize Jesus.

But according to the New Testament Jesus didn’t collect fees from his disciples and unlike L. Ron Hubbard didn’t leave this earth a wealthy man. Jesus was poor and sought nothing in any material sense. Hubbard arguably designed Scientology as a business to make money. Scientology and its founder have historically been described differently than Jesus. “The organization clearly is schizophrenic and paranoid, and this bizarre combination seems to be reflective of its founder LRH,” wrote California Superior Court Judge Paul Breckenridge during a top Scientology defector’s court suit against the church. “The evidence portrays a man who has been virtually a pathological liar when it comes to his history, background and achievements,”

When Aslan describes what is called Scientology’s “tech” he failed to include how expensive it is or what the fees are charged by “independent Scientologists” who have now gone into business separated from the original organization. Aslan compares Scientology to McDonalds in a dispute with former franchise holders over its “secret sauce.” It’s actually Jack in The Box that has a secret sauce, but never mind, this mistake stating the facts is minor when compared to the mountain of misleading information Aslan lays out during the show.

Aslan compares the Protestant Reformation to Scientology independents withering away in tiny enclaves. But the defections of Scientologists has little to do with doctrine and more to do with the bad behavior of the organization under the dictatorial rule of David Miscavige. And as Aslan should know, unlike Miscavige, the Pope is elected.

What viewers see throughout the episode is aging Scientologists clinging onto to an imaginary Hubbard that belies the reality of history and his genuine biography. Independent Scientologists can be seen as an example of cognitive dissonance, not a serious and substantial movement for reformation. The comparison made by Aslan is laughable if not pathetic and doesn’t reflect any serious historical research or scholarship.

Even in Aslan’s happy compliance when he submits to an auditing (spiritual counseling) session there is no meaningful explanation of what is actually happening. That is, an interrogation of someone with the aid of a machine called an e-meter. What Aslan fails to disclose is that “Hubbard was granted a US patent in 1966 for a ‘device for measuring and indicating changes in resistance of a living body,’ but the original electropsychometer was developed in the 1950s by psychoanalyst Volney G. Mathison.” And that “since a 1963 US food and drug administration edict, Scientology can no longer refer to E-meters as having any medical use: they are now ‘religious artifacts’.”

Aslan correctly states that the e-meter can be seen as part of a “lie detector.” So auditing within Scientology might be more accurately portrayed as a form of coercive persuasion aided by a machine to intimidate the subject.

Independent Scientologist and auditor Randy then puts Aslan through a training routine (TR) within Scientology known as Bullbaiting (TR 0 Bullbait). In this routine the subject is baited to have an emotional response to confrontational conversation, such as insults. Randy throws a few softballs and Aslan does the same in their exchange. It would have interesting to watch Randy’s reaction if Aslan has thrown him a few curve balls, such as all that according to the coroner’s report when Hubbard died his “blood contained traces of Hydroxyzine, also known as Vistaril,” a psychotropic drug prescribed by psychiatrists for anxiety. Did Scientology’s “tech” fail its founder? Aslan doesn’t touch upon this historical fact, which might really upset Randy.

Aslan concludes that Scientology is not unlike the Roman Catholic Church that has had its share of clergy abuse scandals. However, this comparison doesn’t take into account that the Catholic Church has paid out more than $1 billion dollars in compensation to the victims of sexual abuse and changed its policies to address this issue. Meanwhile Scientology has paid out relatively little to its victims and has not significantly changed the policies that hurt them. Likewise, unlike Pope Benedict IX, David Miscavige has not stepped down for an early retirement, but rather remains fully in charge of Scientology.

Reza Aslan may have proven that he has a bright future as an apologist for “new religious movements” (NRM) called “cults,” following in the footsteps of Bromley and Melton, but as a supposed intellectual inquirer he falls flat in his show about Scientology. What Aslan proves instead is that he is not an objective student of history when it comes to Scientology.

Note: The Cult Education Institute (CEI) has one of the largest historical archives online about Scientology. It represents more than 20 years of work and research and covers everything Scientology, from real estate holdings to Scientology’s damaging policy of “disconnection.” CEI founder Rick Alan Ross, author of the book “Cults Inside Out” and a court qualified expert on Scientology, explains within an educational video how Scientology manipulates and controls people.

Update: Reza Aslan’s show “Believer” was later cancelled by CNN.

Recently the Cult Education Institute (sponsor of CultNews) received a very serious complaint about Steven Hassan, a cult specialist and licensed mental health professional based in Boston, Massachusetts. Hassan is also the president, treasurer, secretary and director of a for-profit corporation called “Freedom of Mind.” The complaint concerned the fees and questionable conduct of Steve Hassan concerning the counseling he provided to a former cult member.

Hassan charged thousands of dollars for his services draining the former cult member’s savings.

Steven Hassan’s former client said that Hassan’s counseling was worse than his bill. The former client characterized Hassan’s counseling as debilitating and damaging. The former cult member stated, “I did feel traumatized both during and after my therapy with [Steve Hassan].” Hassan’s former client subsequently sought and received professional help to recover from the counseling. The former cult member noted that “other professionals in the field” who were subsequently consulted described Steve Hassan’s counseling “as both unprofessional and potentially dangerous.”

Steven Hassan

Steven Hassan

Steve Hassan has a long history of complaints, including complaints filed with his licensing board.

On April 20, 2012 Hassan was officially notified by the Board of Registration of Allied Mental Health Professionals in Massachusetts that he was facing an official complaint filed by a former client against him. The board advised Hassan in an Order to Show Cause, that he might have his license as a mental health professional revoked or suspended.

The Massachusetts licensing board decided to forward the complaint for prosecution (In the matter of Steven A. Hassan Docket No. MH-12-014).

In June 2011 Hassan was served with three subpoenas and he retained an attorney to respond to those subpoenas. Hassan’s attorney then wrote a letter to the individual that served him, which contained the names of two former clients. Subsequently Hassan posted the letter publicly at his website “Freedom of Mind” and also used both Facebook and Twitter to further share the contents of the letter.

According to Hassan’s licensing board he violated ethical provisions of both the American Mental Health Counselors Association and the American Counseling Association (ACA). Specifically regarding “client confidentiality” and the expectation that “no information will be released without the client’s permission and written consent.”

Hassan’s licensing board also cited an ACA ethical code violation of “failing to respect the dignity and promote the welfare of clients.”

The Massachusetts licensing board concluded that Hassan’s conduct constituted “unprofessional conduct and conduct that undermines public confidence in the integrity of the profession.”

Attorney Jessica Uhing-Luedde was the prosecuting counsel for the Division of Professional Licensure. And a court proceedings later took place in Boston, Massachusetts.

On November 16, 2012 the Board of Registration of Allied Mental Health and Human Service Professionals in Massachusetts officially notified Steve Hassan that the complaint filed against him by a former client, which was forwarded for prosecution, was dismissed without prejudice.

It must be noted that when a complaint is dismissed without prejudice, unlike a dismissal with prejudice which is final, the complaint may not be dismissed forever and can potentially be reopened.

Within its official notification of dismissal the licensing board felt it was necessary to “remind [Steve Hassan] of the rules and regulations that govern all licensed mental health counselors in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

The board specifically focused on “the limitations of social media and the importance of maintaining confidentiality.” The board told Hassan that he must “monitor any posts on social media websites to ensure that patient confidentiality is never compromised.” And that “the responsibility for maintaining patient confidentiality always falls upon the mental health counselor.”

The board admonished Hassan, “All licensed mental health counselors are expected to adhere to these standards and failure to do so may result in disciplinary action against your license.”

It would seem, based upon the prosecution of the complaint and admonishments by his licensing board that Steve Hassan narrowly escaped disciplinary action.

CultNews learned that another complaint was filed against Steve Hassan with his licensing board more recently. However, this complaint was dropped and not prosecuted.

The Cult Education Institute has had a disclaimer posted concerning Steve Hassan since May of 2013. This disclaimer notes the numerous complaints received about Hassan.

From time to time the Cult Education Institute receives complaints and reports of other concerns expressed about cult intervention practitioners. The institute makes every effort to follow up on those reports and relay them to the individuals involved for their response. Steve Hassan is the only deprogrammer/exit-counselor about whom CEI has received numerous and consistent complaints over a period of years involving matters of cult intervention methods, fees, and professional ethics.

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It appears that noted religious studies scholar Reza Aslan has become of a spin-doctor for Scientology. The best-selling author of three books and professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside will host a series on CNN titled “Believer” to premiere Sunday March 5th.

Here is what the public intellectual had to say to UCR Today about the controversial organization Scientology, which has frequently been called a “cult” by its critics.

“People know about Scientology, but they don’t really know what Scientologists actually believe or do. What I wanted to do was shed light on that aspect of it, including auditing. … I had the opportunity to visit Scientology groups around the world and to really focus on what makes this a successful, and perhaps the most successful, new American religion of the 20th century.”

Reza Aslan

Reza Aslan

What Scientology does has been widely reported for decades including the Time Magazine cover story “Scientology: Cult of Greed,” to more recent accounts such as the book “Going Clear” by Pulitzer Prize winning author Lawrence Wright and the documentary “Going Clear” by Alex Gibney. Historically, Scientology has frequently been accused of exploiting its members and in some cases brutal treatment through its Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF). Apparently Professor Aslan spent little if any meaningful time studying such historical information.

Instead Aslan says, “Scientology is a very secretive religion, a religion that, in their view, has not had a fair shake from the media.”

Aslan then talks about “being audited” and that he “went through four or five hours” and it “was an extraordinary experience.”

Aslan appears clueless about how Scientology’s auditing, confessionals, done with the aid of an e-meter machine, which can be seen as a crude lie detector, is used by Scientology as leverage to manipulate its members. Moreover, notes taken during the auditing process by a Scientology auditor are routinely passed along and become part of person’s permanent file within Scientology. And such files have allegedly been used to intimidate Scientologists and denigrate former Scientologists.

Has Reza Aslan become an apologist for Scientology?

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Claims in a lawsuit filed against cult specialist and court expert Rick Alan Ross and others were dismissed last month. United States Federal Judge Katharine S. Hayden ordered, “NXIVM’s claims against…Ross, the Ross Institute [now known as Cult Education Institute], [Dr. Paul] Martin, and Wellspring Retreat…dismissed in full.”

The legal action was filed against Ross by a relatively obscure self-help guru named Keith Raniere of Albany, New York who runs a group called NXIVM (pronounced nexium). Media coverage regarding Raniere has often focused on his wealthy followers, particularly Clare and Sara Bronfman, two heirs to the Seagram’s Liquor fortune of billionaire Edgar Bronfman Sr. The Bronfmans have apparently backed many of Raniere’s schemes and lawsuits.

Raniere, whose followers call him “Vanguard,” sought to silence criticism of his large group awareness training (LGAT) programs staged through his company NXIVM formerly known as “Executive Success Programs” (ESP). Through ESP/NXIVM Raniere trains participants to believe in a composite philosophy he calls “Rational Inquiry.” Raniere appears to have largely copied ideas for his LGAT from Scientology, Ayn Rand, Werner Erhard and Amway.

Keith Raniere

Keith Raniere

Raniere was once an Amway distributor and later put together his own multi-level marketing scheme called “Consumer Buyline,” which ultimately failed when legal restraints were placed on Raniere.

The lawsuit known as NXIVM v. Ross, was first filed in New York and later moved to New Jersey. The litigation dragged on for more than a decade through a series of legal maneuvers and stalling tactics managed by NXIVM through its successive attorneys. The lawsuit centered upon three reports. Two by a psychologist and another by a psychiatrist about the NXIVM programs. Raniere didn’t like what the doctors had to say and so he sued both of them, Ross, the Cult Education Institute (formerly known as the Ross Institute of New Jersey) and others after the reports were published by the institute online.

Psychologist Paul Martin wrote one report titled “A Critical Analysis of the Executive Success Programs Inc.” and another “Robert Jay Lifton’s eight criteria of thought reform as applied to the Executive Success Programs.

Psychiatrist John Hochman wrote a report titled “A Forensic Psychiatrist Evaluates ESP.

A family hurt by NXIVM commissioned the reports and was also sued. One family member who had gone through NXIVM training provided study notes regarding the programs, which largely formed the basis for the doctors’ criticism of the LGAT. Raniere included members of the family as codefendants in the lawsuit filed against Ross.

Raniere attempted to obtain an emergency court injunction to remove the reports from the Web. But the injunction was repeatedly denied including on appeal to the United States Supreme Court. The reports have never been removed from the Cult Education Institute database and have remained intact and online throughout the litigation.

Raniere claimed defamation, copyright and trade secret violations because the doctors quote the study notes to make specific points in their reports.

Judge Hayden evaluated the defendants’ argument that quotes from NXIVM’s study notes constituted “fair use.” In her opinion she concluded, “The Second Circuit held that this fourth factor ‘weigh[ed] heavily in defendants’ favor.’ NXIVM, 364 F.3d at 482. ‘It is plain that, as a general matter, criticisms of a seminar or organization cannot substitute for the seminar or organization itself or hijack its market.’ Id. The Court agrees, and finds that defendants’ use of NXIVM materials was limited and protected critical reporting under the fair use doctrine. Defendants did not attempt to use the copyrighted work for commercial profits, for unfair business advantage, or as an attempt to compete. Insofar as plaintiffs characterize the psychologists’ articles as an attempt to undermine NXIVM’s business, the Court notes there are First Amendment concerns to be reckoned with. ‘If criticisms on defendants’ websites kill the demand for plaintiffs’ service, that is the price that, under the First Amendment, must be paid in the open marketplace for ideas.'”

Keith Raniere lost another lawsuit recently when U.S. District Judge Barabra M.G. Lynn dismissed his claims against AT&T and Microsoft. Raniere sued based upon claims that he held certain patents, which the companies had violated. However, his apparently false testimony unraveled the case. Judge Lynn subsequently awarded attorney fees and costs to both defendants, AT&T $935,300 and Microsoft $202,000.

Clare Bronfman

Clare Bronfman

Raniere has spent millions of dollars in legal fees and costs on NXIVM v. Ross alone. But the money to pay for such frivolous litigation comes from his wealthy supporters such as Clare and Sara Bronfman, not his own pocket. The Albany Times-Union reported that NXIVM “has swallowed as much as $150 million of their fortune.”

Meanwhile throughout the long NXIVM v. Ross litigation that ended last month in dismissal of all claims against cult specialist Rick Alan Ross, Dr. Paul Martin and the Cult Education Institute they were represented pro bono by a number of lawyers. Beginning with Douglas Brooks of Massachusetts and Thomas Gleason of New York and later by Peter Skolnik, Michael Norwick and Thomas Dolan of Lowenstein Sandler in New Jersey. And there was additional help provided by both Public Citizen of Washington D.C. and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. Due to the dedication of these attorneys, law firms and public interest groups freedom of speech prevailed and a purported “cult” leader’s efforts to censor criticism backed by a billionaire’s daughters failed.

Note: Keith Raniere and NXIVM are mentioned within the book “Cults Inside Out: How People Get In and Can Get Out” by Rick Alan Ross. Raniere’s training scheme is cited within a chapter about LGATs (large group awareness training).

Falun Dafa, more commonly known as Falun Gong, is recruiting on Boston University (BU) campus. The group, which has been called a “cult,” has weekly meetings attached to the Marsh Chapel at BU.

The Falun Dafa Club announced at the BU website that it wants to teach “exercises,” but the group will also “study spiritual teachings.”

College students have historically been targeted by groups called “cults” as a vulnerable demographic over the years going back to the 1970s.

BU has a history of exposing cult recruitment on its campus going back to the 1980s. Dean Robert Thornberg once opposed a group called the International Church of Christ, which was banned from many college campuses. He said, “I refer to it as a destructive religious practice.” Thornberg said that ICOC was “banned” at BU beginning in 1989 and he noted that “a whole bunch of other colleges use [the BU] model.”

Dean Robert Thornberg

Dean Robert Thornberg

Often when cults recruit students it can negatively impact their studies. In a 1989 interview Thornberg explained, “We figure in 1989, at the high point here, 40 students dropped out entirely to follow them. Two guys were second year medical school students. They dropped out after four years of college and two years of med school.” He added, “An awful lot of kids were swept up by [the ICOC] and the results were almost always a disaster.”

An authoritarian leader named Kip McKean led the ICOC. McKean was extolled as “The one man God has used above us all.” One ICOC leader explained within the group’s official publication, “There is no greater discipler, disciple, brother, husband, father, leader, and friend than Kip McKean. Some say it is dangerous to respect any one man that much. I believe it is more dangerous not to.”

Master Li

The authoritarian leader of Falun Dafa is Li Hongzhi, known to his disciples as “Master Li.” Purportedly imbued with divine authority Li supposedly knows “the top secret of the universe.” He says, “No religion can save people” only the “almighty Fa,” which Li exclusively represents.

Falun Dafa exercises and meditation are an introduction into the world of Li Hongzhi and his idiosyncratic teachings, which revolve around Li’s often egocentric claims.

Li Hongzhi

Li Hongzhi

Li Hongzhi’s teaches his followers that only he can install an invisible spinning “falun,” which is a mystical “wheel of law” within their abdomens telekinetically. This is the key to salvation, and the basis for incredible health claims, such as a cure for diabetes and the ability to reverse aging.

Falun Dafa practitioners believe that whatever Li Hongzhi says is right is right and whatever he says is wrong is wrong. Master Li’s authority is absolute.

The absolute authoritarian role of Li Hongzhi has caused many researchers and academics familiar with cults to see Falun Dafa as a personality-driven group that fits the description of cult formation.

Hateful teachings

CultNews has reported about Li Hongzhi’s racist and homophobic teachings. Li has said that “mixed-race people [are] instruments of an alien plot to destroy humanity’s link to heaven.” And that interracial unions are somehow part of “a plot by evil extraterrestrials.”

Li Hongzhi has also claimed that a “black substance” accumulates in the body due to homosexuality, which causes bad health. He labeled the LGBT community “disgusting,” and stated one day the LGBT community will be “eliminated” by “the gods.”

What will BU do to protect its students from this hateful and homophobic “cult” recruiting on its campus?

Will students be informed?

Will BU educate its students about the dangers of cults?

A new voice in Marsh Chapel?

Marsh Chapel

Marsh Chapel

Dean Robert Thornberg died in 2013. He was once the Dean of Marsh Chapel at BU. Thornberg oversaw religious activities at BU and taught at its School of Theology. “For 23 years he was the voice of Marsh Chapel,” according his obituary in the Boston Globe.

Now Falun Dafa has announced it will be a weekly voice within the “Room of Robinson Chapel, Marsh Chapel, Boston University.”

Note: The book “Cults Inside Out: How People Get In and Can Get Out” has two chapters devoted to Falun Gong. One focuses on the history of the group and its leader and another about how an American family staged an intervention to get someone out.

Children are dying of medical neglect needlessly while the Idaho State legislature dithers doing nothing to protect them.

The Idaho Statesman recently reported that five children died directly due to medical neglect because their parents belong to religious groups that don’t believe in modern medicine.

But rather than being prosecuted for manslaughter parents in Idaho are instead protected by a religious exemption.

Religious groups such as General Assembly of the First Born and Followers of Christ implicitly expect adherents to refuse medical care.

But does religious liberty preclude the right of child to live and somehow negate the responsibility of a parent to facilitate proper care? Certainly such needless deaths fit well within the realm of child abuse of the worst sort.

Parents have been charged, convicted criminally and sentenced to prison terms in other states for what apparently is considered a religious right in Idaho.

The Child Fatality Review Team annual report covered 2013 and now brings the total number of deaths to 10 since 2011 in Idaho.

All five dead children added to the list recently were infants.

Causes of death included birth-related complications and according to authorities they all could have been saved with proper medical care.

Why won’t Idaho protect helpless babies?

Well, Idaho Governor Butch Otter says that state lawmakers have agreed to at least talk about it, but so far there is no schedule even set for the promised discussion.

While the lawmakers look for an opening on their calendars children continue to suffer and die needlessly in Idaho.

Other states have removed religious exemptions regarding the medical care for minor children such as South Dakota, Oregon and Colorado.

When will Idaho act? How many more deaths will it take to convince legislators that changing the law is necessary?

Former White House director of public liaison Linda Chavez says, “As I have for the past few years, I will be emceeing an event that brings together tens of thousands of opponents of the Iranian regime…”

But does Ms. Chavez know that the “convener of the Paris conference” she will emcee is a purported “cult” leader once officially recognized by the US as a terrorist?

The event convener is Maryam Rajavi, wife of notorious “cult” leader Massoud Rajavi (rumored to be dead). The couple is known for their authoritarian control of the so-called “People’s Mujahedeen” (MEK), which was once listed by the United States State Department as a “terrorist organization.” That is, until 2012 when it was decided that the MEK be dropped from the list.

However, Mila Johns of the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism told Wired, “The delisting of the MEK, following a well-funded political lobby campaign, creates the dangerous impression that it is possible for terrorist organizations to buy their way off the [terrorism] list.”

Maryam Rajavi

Maryam Rajavi

In a 2004 New York Times Magazine reported about the “cult-like behavior” of the MEK. Journalist Elizabeth Rubin wrote, “Every morning and night, the [MEK] kids, beginning as young as 1 and 2, had to stand before a poster of Massoud and Maryam, salute them and shout praises to them,” One former member told Rubin that the group was little more than a “husband-and-wife cult” that subjected its adherents to enforced celibacy and public confessions of sexual desires. Rubin reported that not unlike some of the most extreme cults MEK members were often extremely isolated within a compound where there was little if any access to “newspapers or radio or television” and that all devotees knew was whatever Mr. and Mrs.Rajavi “fed them.”

In a recent interview a former Rajavi follower Masoud Banisadr said that “In MEK, we were not even allowed to think of our children and their well-being.” He further explained, “You have to teach your children: instead of loving you, love the leader.” Banisadr is the author of the book Destructive and Terrorist Cults: A New Kind of Slavery.

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez

Why would Linda Chavez want to align herself with such a notorious group? Is it possible she is clueless and doesn’t know the group’s history and how the MEK has hurt and/or horribly exploited people?

Or is Ms. Chavez simply picking up a paycheck?

Four years ago the BBC reported that “the going rate for a pro-MEK speech seems to be $20,000 (£12,500).”

How much might the purported “cult” be willing to pay for a prominent emcee to imbue its event with a patina of authority?

Is Linda Chavez cashing in on her past status as the highest-ranking woman in President Ronald Reagan’s White House? Or is she trying to look important after the embarrassment of not being confirmed as President George W. Bush pick for Secretary of Labor?

Why would someone like Ms. Chavez want to help a “husband-and-wife cult” once listed as a terrorist organization?

Cult leader Jim Roberts is dead. He died in Denver during December according to an official coroner’s report obtained by a member of the Cult Education Institute (CEI) message board. Roberts ruled with absolute authority over his small flock of followers, which probably never numbered much more than a hundred core members.

The relatively obscure group often drew attention because of its bizarre behavior. Known as both “The Brethren” and “The Brothers and Sisters” the group was also frequently called the “garbage eaters” due to its practice of feeding from garbage dumpsters. The nomadic cult recruited on college campuses and was the subject of news reports when students that joined suddenly vanished.

Roberts, a former Marine, known to his followers as “The Elder” or “Brother Evangelist,” lived a very secretive life and was rarely photographed. In 1998 an ABC News crew, led by journalist Dianne Sawyer, managed to confront him. Roberts subsequently refused to answer questions and quickly ran away.

Jim Roberts

Jim Roberts

Roberts was pronounced dead on December 6, 2015 at 6:59 AM. The likely cause of death was cancer. Cult members identified the body and claimed that Jim Roberts had not seen a doctor in 40 years.  Upon his death Roberts, who was 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighed 105 pounds and was clothed in a green T-shirt, khaki trousers and an adult diaper. Authorities obtained fingerprints and digital photographs.

Followers in the Roberts group often “suffered health problems” that could have been cured through modern medicine. Instead at times they died due to medical neglect. One reportedly passed away from pneumonia.

The Roberts group claimed to be based upon the bible, but was known for encouraging its members to terminate contact with family with and old friends. Members then wandered from place to place under Roberts’s guidance fund raising and attempting to persuade people to join the group. Cult members lived largely from charity and whatever food they could find, much like homeless people. One former member explained that Roberts “weaseled his way into control until next thing you knew he was running every aspect of your life.” Another former member described Roberts as a “paranoid megalomaniac.”

CEI has maintained a subsection about the Brethren led by Jim Roberts since the 1990s. Many complaints over the years came from families desperately trying to locate lost loved ones submerged in the group that remained isolated and dominated by Roberts. Hopefully, now that Jim Roberts is dead some of those families will find their lost loved ones through restored communication. However, it is likely that long-time Roberts loyalists, influenced by the cult leader’s teachings, will try to maintain the group mindset and to some extent its historic pattern of behavior.

Note: There is a website run by parents of members of the Jim Roberts group. Many are still searching for their children.

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As people become more aware of the bad behavior of Scientology through press reports, books and documentaries, some families and individuals directly affected by the organization may be asking, “How do I get someone out?”

Moreover, former members of Scientology struggling to unravel what they perceive as its embedded programming may be wondering, “How do I get rid of that leftover stuff?”

The answer can be summed up in one word — EDUCATION.

Rather than simply dismissing Scientologists as examples of “blind faith,” it’s far more useful understanding how they were blinded.

One of the largest online archives with a trove of historical articles, reports and documents about Scientology is the Cult Education Institute.

Psychologist Margaret Singer was stalked and harassed for decades by Scientology and other groups called “cults” due to her expertise and understanding of cultic manipulation. She wrote about an educational process proven to be quite helpful to current and former cult members. Singer explained, “Deprogramming is, providing members with information about the cult and showing them how their own decision making power had been taken away from them.”

An illustration of the process of deprogramming can be pictured by the action of the little dog Toto in the movie “Wizard of Oz.” In the climactic scene of the film classic Toto pulls back the curtain and exposes the man and machinations, behind the facade that is the mystical “Great Oz.” It is through this exposure that Dorothy and her companions realize they have been tricked and manipulated. They are then freed from their former fears about Oz.

ToTo pulls the curtain

Toto pulls the curtain

Today people can pull back the curtain on groups called “cults” like Scientology through research and study, which is made easier by the Web and information technology.

My recently published book “Cults Inside Out: How People Get In and Can Get Out” is a synthesis of this specific research from the fields of sociology and psychology that includes substantial historical information. All of this material is carefully footnoted and attributed.  There is also a very detailed, up-to-date and precise explanation of how deprogramming actually works illustrated vividly through case vignettes used as working examples. This book is based upon my more than 30 years of experience exploring the world of cults and facilitating hundreds of interventions to get people out of destructive cults. The book is being published in Mandarin for the Chinese market. The English version is now available on Amazon.com. Included are two chapters about Scientology. One about Scientology itself and another specifically detailing the deprogramming of a man who spent 27 years in the organization, but left through a family intervention.

Could Tom Cruise or John Travolta be successfully deprogrammed?

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise

Sadly this seems unlikely, because both of these movie stars have no one to get them out.

Deprogramming a current member of Scientology would depend upon the concern and support of family and friends.

Tom Cruise’s three ex-wives, Mimi Rogers, Nicole Kidman and Katie Holmes, apparently have left Scientology. But it’s doubtful that any of them or Cruise’s family, who are Scientologists, would help to get him out.

John Travolta is a pitiful example of someone that seems too afraid to leave. It appears that Scientology knows most if not all of his secrets, which they accumulated by providing him with spiritual counseling services called “auditing.” Kelly Preston, Travolta’s wife, is a deeply devoted Scientologist. And John Travolta’s extended family seems unwilling and/or unable to do anything about his involvement with the group no matter how much bad press the purported “cult” receives.

Scientology can be very nasty when it comes to its treatment of ex-members, even Hollywood’s elite, just ask Paul Haggis, who was ostracized by his Scientology friends when he left.

John Travolta

John Travolta

But if John Travolta and Tom Cruise genuinely wanted to unravel the Scientology programming instilled in them through endless courses, training routines and auditing sessions, it could be done through the educational process known as deprogramming.

Cult interventions are done with the help of family of friends, much like an intervention to address concerns about drug or alcohol abuse.

What occurs in such an intervention is essentially a dialog or discussion. During this discussion those present offer their sincere impressions, first-hand observations and opinions about the group or leader that has drawn concern. My role during such an intervention is to facilitate and often lead the discussion to focus attention on specific points.

There are four basic blocks or areas of discussion essential for the completion of a potentially successful intervention.

The four blocks are:

  1. What is the nucleus for the definition of a destructive cult?
  2. How does the process of coercive persuasion or thought reform used to gain undue influence really work?
  3. What is the frequently hidden history of the group and/or leader that has drawn concern?
  4. What are the concerns of family or friends?

The nucleus for the definition of a destructive cult was identified by psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton in a paper published at Harvard University titled “Cult Formation.

Lifton says that cults can be identified by three primary characteristics:

  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 [Lifton calls] coercive persuasion or thought reform;
  3. economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.

Rather than focusing on what the group believes an effective intervention instead must focus on how the group is structured and behaves.

That is, if it is structured like a destructive cult and behaves like a destructive cult, it may be a destructive cult.

For example, does Scientology acknowledge that its charismatic founder L. Ron Hubbard made mistakes? Do Scientologists today feel free to discuss the mistakes made by their current leader David Miscavige? If so, what mistakes specifically made by these men do Scientologists feel free to discuss?  Did Hubbard become an object of worship? Does David Miscavige today occupy the position of an absolute dictator? If this is not true what are the limits of Miscavige’s power over Scientology staff and what boundaries exist to limit his authority within Scientology?

Does Scientology practice thought reform or coercive persuasion to gain undue influence over its members?

This can be seen by comparing Scientology training, polices, practices, behavior and group dynamics to eight criteria that define a thought reform program as outlined by Robert Jay Lifton in his seminal book “Thought Reform and Psychology of Totalism.” Essentially, Lifton explained that if a group can substantially control whatever information and impressions enter into a person’s mind the group can largely control the individual. This includes the control of information, group behavior, emotional manipulation and ultimately the restriction of critical thinking.

How does Scientology do that?

This can be seen in part through the auditing process, which solicits confession, encourages suggestibility and engenders dependency upon the auditor and the organization to make value judgments, either directly or indirectly.  It is also evident in the control over personal associations accomplished by declaring someone a “Suppressive Person” (SP) and the practice of disconnection, which is cutting people off that Scientology has labeled as an SP. The label of SP itself can be seen as what Lifton calls “loaded language” used to inhibit critical thinking and restrict reflection?

Finally, does Scientology hurt people? The evidence mounting through personal injury lawsuits, bad press and now documentaries, is that Scientology has apparently hurt many people.

In a Scientology intervention it is important to examine the mythology that revolves around L. Ron Hubbard.

L. Ron Hubbard

L. Ron Hubbard

Hubbard often greatly exaggerated his accomplishments and Scientology has a penchant for spinning fanciful stories about him. In fact, Hubbard had a deeply troubled life filled with family turmoil and it seems mental illness. Reportedly he took an anti-anxiety drug Hydroxyzine (Vistaril); his assistants reportedly said that this was “only one of many psychiatric and pain medications Hubbard ingested over the years.”

This can be a curtain puller or reality check for many Scientologists. That is, the historical facts about the wizard of Scientology. According to a coroner’s report, Hubbard ingested drugs prohibited by the religion he created.

Would Tom Cruise take Vistaril? Would he recommend it to a friend suffering from stress and/or anxiety?

If the pseudo-science of Scientology calls its “technology” couldn’t clear its founder’s mind and save him from seeming insanity how can Scientology (per its mantra) “clear the planet”?

Wizard of Oz

Wizard of Oz

The book “Cults Inside Out” goes into all of this in far greater depth and detail chapter after chapter, explaining how groups called “cults” use deception and mind games to manipulate and control people.  The book can serve as an educational self-help guide to pull back the curtain on any cult scheme. It can assist concerned families to help loved ones out of a cultic situation. And it can also help cult victims sort through and clear the residue of cult involvement, which often can impede recovery from cults.

To my critics who have often called me a “dog feeding on my own vomit,” my hope is to be a dog like Toto. That is, by sharing the relevant research and my many years of experience through the book I might pull back the curtain a bit and contribute to the growing awareness about destructive cults. Margaret Singer once told me that the principle difference between a cult leader and a con man is that a con man typically runs his scam and moves on, but a cult leader may essentially run the same scam on many of the same people indefinitely.

Knowledge through specific education about destructive cults and how they work is the key to freedom from their undue influence and exploitation.

(Written by Rick Alan Ross)

Note: At the time I wrote the book Cults Inside Out: How People Get In and Can Get Out I had facilitated approximately 500 cult interventions. More than 70% on an average annually left the cult at the conclusion such intervention efforts. My book is the product of more than three decades of experience. I have also been qualified and testified as an expert witness regarding groups called “cults” (e.g. Scientology) in about 20 court proceedings across the United States, including United States Federal Court after a Daubert hearing.

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Cult watcher Steve Hassan is specifically recommending and promoting a fugitive sex offender through his Freedom of Mind website. Hassan recommends through numerous links, the website of convicted pedophile and wanted fugitive Anton Hein.

CultNews has previously reported about Anton Hein, who is a self-proclaimed expert and supposed lay minister. Hein runs a website called “Apologetics Index.”

Anton Hein pleaded guilty to sex charges in the United States that involved lewd behavior with his niece, a 13-year-old child. He served jail time in California before he was released on extended supervised probation. Hein violated his probation by leaving the US. He now lives in Amsterdam. A fugitive warrant has been issued and remains currently in effect for the immediate arrest of Anton Hein.

Hein now apparently makes a living from a combination of Dutch welfare benefits and revenue from online Google ads featured at his “counter-cult” website. Steve Hassan helps him by including numerous links to Hein’s site and apparent endorsements naming Hein as a credible resource.

Hein reciprocates by endorsing and promoting Hassan.

Anton Hein runs a group of websites including www.cultexperts.org, www.cultfaq, and he also controls religion news Twitter feed.

220px-steven_hassan_headshot_02Steve Hassan (photo left) says he is opposed to sexual abuse and is a supporter of the Child-Friendly Faith Project. Hassan states at his website that this is “focused on ending child abuse and neglect within religion affiliated groups by educating the public.” Hassan also is currently involved in an effort to end sexual exploitation through human trafficking.

However, Steve Hassan states, “I recommend subscribing to the free Religion News report, compiled by Anton Hein Apologetics Index.” And at the top of one page Hassan posts, “Click here to read a review of Releasing the Bonds on the Apologetics Index!”

Hassan literally linked to Hein

antonhein2How can Hassan on one hand be opposed to sexual abuse and exploitation and then on the other hand recommend a sexual predator convicted for abusing a child?

Hassan features links to Anton Hein’s website Apologetics Index at numerous pages within his site Freedom of Mind concerning various groups of interest such as the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, where he recommends Hein (1996 photo right) as a resource.

Steve Hassan features links to Hein’s website on no less than 38 pages at Freedom of Mind.

There is a connection bettween Hassan and Hein. That is, they each promote the others interests. Hassan promotes Hein by recommending him as a resource and providing links to his site, while Hein reciprocates by promoting Hassan.

It is understandable that someone like Anton Hein, seeking recognition and validation, would want to associate himself with professionals. This might appear to imbue him with an aura of credibility.

How can Steve Hassan credibly be fighting against the sexual abuse of children and the victims of human trafficking, while simultaneously promoting a convicted sexual predator?

Isn’t this just a bit inconsistent, hypocritical and/or unethical?

CultNews contacted Steve Hassan’s office by email and phone for comment. His office advised that Mr. Hassan was not immediately available to comment on this article.

Note: Some years ago upon discovering the fugitive status and detailed criminal record of Anton Hein the Cult Education Institute (CEI), formerly known as the Ross Institute of New Jersey, purged any links to Anton Hein’s website from its database. Since that time CEI and CultNews has endeavored to make Hein’s background more publicly known. This has been done through the CEI archives and CultNews reports. Anyone involved in cultic studies can readily discover Hein’s criminal history of child sexual abuse and know about his current fugitive status.

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