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.

Maria Demopoulos and Jodi Wille directed a documentary about a cult called the Source Family, led by Jim Baker, who called himself “Father Yod.” Baker’s followers worked at one of “America’s first vegetarian restaurants” in Los Angeles, which produced cash flow for the group that lived communally in Hollywood Hills. The essentially one-sided documentary presents Source Family as fringy and somewhat bizarre, but not sinister. The filmmakers apparently decided to depict Baker as an eccentric, but benign leader.

However, there is a blog online with first-hand account from a former Source Family member that paints an entirely different and dark picture of both Baker and his group. The blog “Life In The Source Family” recounts the often painful experiences of people that actually lived through and endured Baker’s authoritarian rule during the 1970s.

In a recent blog installment titled “My Own Moral Outrage” a former member of Source Family recounts, “Jim Baker’s own attitude and belief towards the women.” It seems Baker “decided as the group’s head honcho how women’s bodies would be utilized in his cult/group.” And Baker “never once asked what any of [his followers] wanted. He just expected everyone to obey his directives, along with instructing the women on what their roles or duties were to be; which was to be of service to the men.” Baker even referred to some of the women as his “milk cows.”

The blogger says, “It was not until ‘the family’ ended and we all dispersed and went our own separate ways that many former ‘source family’ members were able to deprogram themselves and look back critically and objectively at what we had been made to do/coerced to do while in ‘the source family.'”

Jim Baker aka "Father Yod"

Jim Baker aka “Father Yod”

So what about the rather rosy role of counter-culture trailblazer that Demopoulos and Wille seem to depict of Baker in their documentary?

“It is deceptive for those who continue to present only the window dressing of The Source Family to make it look appealing and to be viewed in a favorable light by the public leaving out entirely the fact that Jim Baker expected men and women to perform a sexual ritual, which caused more harm than good and that was the equivalent of a physical and psychological abuse of power,” states the morally outraged blogger.

The ex-member concludes, “The Source Family was a travesty of women’s rights and the rights of children to receive medical treatment; especially when it was available. It is time that people felt a moral outrage about men who think/believe that they should be the ones to decide what happens to a woman’s body or to the bodies of their own children.”

The Cult Education Institute (CEI) online library has archived articles about Source Family and its leader Baker. But these news reports and reviews largely reflect coverage of the documentary directed by Maria Demopoulos and Jodi Wille. In order to provide better balance the Source Family page within the CEI database now includes a prominently displayed link to “Life in the Source Family.”

Jim Baker is dead and like most cults when the leader dies the group often withers away and dissipates.

But there are many people that were hurt and scarred by Jim Baker and their stories should be known, not just the misleading hipster/vegan counter-culture narrative promoted by the Demopoulos and Wille documentary.

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Self-styled “counter-cult” crusader Anton Hein runs websites from Amsterdam in the Netherlands that are supposedly devoted to enlightening people about groups he calls “cults.” Hein preaches his particular brand of religion and leads a so-called “house church,” though he is not an ordained minister or recognized as an authority about anything. His main website where he sells advertising is called “Apologetics Index” and he also runs several other sites related to the subject of cults and/or religion.

Hein has cultivated quite a following on Twitter, where he has thousands of followers. But what most people don’t know about Anton Hein is that he is fugitive sex offender with a felony warrant issued for his immediate arrest in the United States.

Hein was charged and convicted for “the crime of LEWD ACT UPON A CHILD.” Hein sexually abused his 13-year-old niece.

Since his conviction, despite ultimately admitting his guilt in court, Hein now claims he was somehow really innocent. In a long rambling apology at his website Hein attacks the credibility of his victim rather than admitting his own sin, which according to Christianity, is a sign of true repentance. Hein instead lists the alleged sins of his niece.

Anton Hein (Police file photo  19940

Anton Willem Hein (Sex Offender file photo 1994)

Cult News recently received the official court records regarding Anton Hein’s criminal case. These documents are now posted online, which include Hein’s Declaration (plea agreement), Criminal Minute Order, felony complaint and the final Pronouncement of Judgement.

Hein says, “The lewd act I plead guilty to is applying sperm-killing cream at the request and insistence of my niece, after she had had intercourse with a boy.” Hein states that his niece subsequently “developed a vaginal infection.” And that “at the hospital the doctor determined there were scratches.” The doctor then reported the situation. The authorities responded to the doctor’s report by arresting and prosecuting Anton Hein. Apparently the doctor, police and prosecutor didn’t believe Hein’s “sperm-killing” story.

After reviewing the documents an interesting discrepancy became evident between Anton Hein’s public statements and his criminal record. Hein says there was only one incident, which led to his criminal conviction. However, the felony complaint lists two criminal counts. The first count occurred “on and between March 14, 1994 and March 20, 1994” and the second “on and between March 20, 1994 and June 14, 1994.”

So it seems, according to the court record, Anton Hein sexually abused his niece more than once and repeatedly committed a “lewd act upon a child.” Something Hein doesn’t admit in his long apology. Instead, he says there was only one incident, which was somehow misunderstood, that led to sex charges being filed against him.

Cult News asked Anton Hein to explain this contradiction for clarification, but received no response.

It should be noted that since his felony conviction, time served and registration in California as a sex offender Hein violated the terms of his release. There is currently a felony warrant issued for his immediate arrest if he ever attempts to reenter the United States. The warrant is listed under Anton Willem Hein at the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s website.

Note: Anton Hein was contacted by CultNews to explain why he failed to mention that there are two child sexual abuse incidents in his criminal record. CultNews received no response.

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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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Leah Remini’s new book is out “Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology.” And once gain people struggle to understand why anyone would join something as seemingly outlandish as Scientology. But the fact is that no one knowingly makes such a choice. Certainly not before the Web and social media made Scientology’s secrets so easily accessible. When Leah Remini entered Scientology as a child she simply believed what Scientology told her and what her mother encouraged her to accept.

That’s how “normal” people get tricked and trapped into groups called “cults” like Scientology. No one truly enters such an authoritarian high demand group with fully informed consent.  Groups like Scientology deliberately withhold their secrets and refuse to let potential recruits fully understand how the group actually works, what it is really all about and what its ultimate demands might be. Remini reportedly gave millions of dollars to Scientology, but was only allowed to learn what Scientology was willing to share step-by-step per a price list.

There have been many young people brought into Scientology through family ties like Remini. This list includes the rocker Beck, actor Danny Masterson and Elvis’s daughter Lisa Marie Presley. People are often introduced to groups called “cults” by someone they trust.

It has been stated or implied that somehow the victims of Scientology are to blame in some way for their own victimization. They supposedly had “blind faith.” a personality flaw, deficiency or lack of judgement that ultimately led to their demise. Nothing could be further from the truth. And anyone who seriously researchers in any depth the process of Scientology’s recruitment and retention tactics can easily see this.

The initial TRs (training routines) in Scientology amount to little more than breaking people down, engendering dependency and submission rather than promoting some deeper understanding of anything to improve and empower people. As Scientologists move through this training and courses their dependency upon the organization is intentionally nurtured and grows until the typical Scientologist finds it difficult to make independent value judgements or critically think outside of Scientology’s closed system. That system becomes a kind of box of containment or mental prison.51228S+Y3TL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_ (1)

Every Scientologist learns an internal group vocabulary of loaded language established by Scientology founder and former science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, which is filled with thought terminating clichés. This manipulative verbiage is an excellent example of what author George Orwell called “doublespeak” in his book “1984.” Scientology’s founder and its current leader David Miscavige could easily fulfill the role of Orwell’s character “Big Brother.”  Scientology knowingly produces what can be seen as “blind faith” by confining and blinding people within its own alternate reality. Scientologists can essentially become mindless pawns manipulated by L. Ron Hubbard’s system and replicated to embrace his worldview.

Scientology’s organizational glue, which holds its adherents rigidly in place, is its ongoing check and countercheck system of enforcement that is implemented through a multi-layered organizational machine as conceived and constructed by L. Ron Hubbard. This operational machine includes key components such as auditing (enforced confession with the help of an e-meter that measures nervous tension ) coupled with the formation of files composed of personal information obtained through the auditing process and other sources such as “knowledge reports” from Scientologists (e.g. spouses, family, friends within Scientology). All of this ongoing policing is done by dedicated Scientologists performing their relegated roles within the Hubbard machine. This includes designated twins in training routines, auditors, course supervisors and ethics officers.

There is a kind of bullying and intimidation known as “handling” that goes on in Scientology.  Having people handled is part of the policing process within Scientology and it is used to keep people under control. There are also substantial exit costs involved if a Scientologist considers leaving, which further reinforces control and silences dissent or critical questions. The exit costs of leaving Scientology can include the probability of being declared a PTS (potential trouble source) or worse an SP (suppressive person). Subsequently, the former Scientologist can be disconnected from family, friends and business associates. Instead of taking the risk of being so marked many Scientologists suffer in silence, suppressing their doubts and negative feelings about the organization. Some that cannot suppress their feelings sufficiently may find themselves facing a punitive process, which might ultimately put them in RPF (Rehabilitation Project Force) as punishment. Reportedly RPF can be a horrible experience that includes what can be seen as slave labor, personal humiliation, general degradation and at times brutal physical violence. These factors keep many Scientologists silent and trapped for many years.

Scientologists ultimately become bound by what Scientology calls its “technology” or its “tech,” which is essentially the L. Ron Hubbard proscribed way of being, thinking and feeling about everything.

The idea that anyone really chooses Scientology knowingly and stays happily without some level of coercion is simply a myth perpetuated by ignorance. It does not reflect detailed research and analysis about the deceptive recruitment and indoctrination process used by Scientology. Groups like Scientology are often quite deliberately deceptive and use coercive persuasion and influence techniques to gain advantage over people and control them.

scientologyThe Machiavellian way in which Hubbard designed the interlocking mechanisms of his Scientology machine represents whatever real “genius” the former science fiction writer possessed.

People placing blame on Scientology’s victims frequently say they should have noticed “red flags” or “warning signs” when they went through their recruitment and indoctrination process. Somehow common sense should have saved them.

But these notions again reflect a basic ignorance of how Scientology and other groups called “cults” really work. There are no red flags that are evident to people who have had their critical thinking and ability to make independent value judgements deliberately shut down by a group like Scientology. The training, auditing, courses and policing done within the organization effectively blinds people so that they cannot see the warning signs and their common sense is strategically short circuited by the group’s coercive persuasion tactics.

Individual accountability is only possible if people have the ability to genuinely reflect and critically evaluate a situation free of undue influence. People in groups called “cults” don’t truly regain their individual autonomy until after they leave the group and have effectively unplugged themselves from the system and exited the box that held them. After leaving the group environment and its control of information and communication former members can then begin an independent process of sorting through and unraveling their experience.

We are all vulnerable to persuasion. If this were not true there would be no advertising, political propaganda or money paid for celebrity endorsements. It’s wrong to blame or shame people for simply being human. We are all vulnerable to deception and manipulation. By accepting this reality we can better understand and recognize the tricks and traps used by destructive cults.

Groups called “cults” can be seen as a confidence game. But unlike the typical con man who moves on after his scam has succeeded–the cult leader keeps conning and exploiting the same people indefinitely.

Specifically focused education about the recruitment and retention tactics of groups called “cults” is a crucial factor in avoiding their con game.

Knowledge about coercive persuasion, influence techniques and corresponding behavior modification began decades ago through the research and published work of MIT professor Edgar Schein (1961), Harvard University instructor, researcher and medical doctor Robert Jay Lifton (1961) and UC Berkeley professor and clinical psychologist Margaret Singer (research and published work 1953-2001). Later, authors and communication experts Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman (“Snapping” 1978, “Holy Terror” 1982), ASU professor of psychology Robert Cialdini (“Influence” 1984) and sociologists Richard Ofshe (research and published work 1974-2000), Benjamin Zablocki (research and published work 1971-2001) and others significantly added to this growing body of research.

To better understand how the basic building blocks of coercive persuasion, thought reform and influence techniques work together to gain undue influence see the following:

“Cult Formation,” by Robert Jay Lifton, MD

“Thought Reform and Psychology of Totalism,” by Robert Jay Lifton, MD

“Coercive Persuasion and Attitude Change,” By Richard Ofshe, PhD

Six Basic Principles of Influence, from the book “Influence” by Robert Cialdini, PhD

Thought Reform Programs and the Production of Psychiatric Casualties,” by Margaret Singer, PhD

Chart demonstrating distinctions between various forms of persuasion (education, advertising, propaganda, indoctrination and thought reform), by Margaret Singer, PhD

A list of persuasion techniques by Margaret Singer, PhD

Edgar Schein’s seminal book “Coercive Persuasion : A Socio-psychological Analysis of the ‘Brainwashing’ of American Civilian Prisoners by the Chinese Communists” (1961) and Conway and Siegelman’s classic “Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change” (1978) explain how people can be tricked and trapped through coercive persuasion and communication tactics.

Schein (1961) and Lifton (1961) established the foundation of coercive persuasion or thought reform and how it is used to shape and mold a predetermined and preferred mindset. Singer (research and published work 1953-2001) and Ofshe (research and published work 1974-2000) extensively explained how coercive persuasion and behavior modification worked within the process of cult indoctrination. Conway and Siegelman identified what they called “information disease” (1978), which is accomplished through the control of information and communication. They further described the role of “emotional control” in schemes of coercive persuasion within their second book “Holy Terror” (1982). Taken together this body of work explains how behavior modification, information control, thought reform and emotional control can function in tandem together  as strategic tools used by authoritarian high demand groups called “cults” to effectively break people down and shape their consciousness for the purpose of exploitation through undue influence.

In his book (1961) about coercive persuasion Edgar Schein described this process in three basic stages, which he calls “unfreezing,” “changing” and then “refreezing” the person subjected to this process.

Scientology promises many things and presents itself in various forms, such as drug rehabilitation, study technology and other incarnations. Whatever works to draw people into the system Hubbard devised to break them down, force them to change and ultimately freeze them within his system. This process has hurt many people.

The key to freedom from Scientology is understanding and unraveling Hubbard’s system of control and breaking out of his machine.

Reading the writings of the previously listed authors can make a huge difference in the recovery process of any former member of a purported cult like Scientology. It allows the ex-member the ability to identify and unravel the specific programming done by the group, which has affected their thinking and feelings. Education is the key that unlocks the box.

My book “Cults Inside Out: How People Get In and Can Get Out” (2014) includes a detailed history of modern cults beginning with Charles Manson to groups called “cults” today. There are two chapters devoted exclusively to Scientology. One about the history of Scientology and another about a successful family intervention to get a 27-year member out of the group. The book explains what is commonly called “cult brainwashing” and identifies the nucleus for a definition of a destructive cult. My book is a synthesis of properly attributed and footnoted research regarding the coercive persuasion and influence techniques used by destructive cults to gain undue influence. There are more than 1,200 footnotes and an 18-page bibliography, which can help the reader delve more deeply into various aspects of the cult phenomenon. This is an important issue today as the world faces the violence of what President Obama has called an “apocalyptic cult” known as ISIS. Destructive cults have become a global concern.

What Scientology does has been done by many other groups called “cults” over the decades and it’s important to contextualize Scientology within that history.

Leah Remini has heroically managed to unplug herself from the L. Ron Hubbard machine. She has effectively left the box that once contained her and courageously shared her story to help others find their voice and follow in her footsteps. Remini can now communicate in her own words instead of the stilted verbiage once imposed upon her by Scientology. Remini is not being handled by Scientology and no longer needs to suppress her independent thinking. She is free to live her life without the fetters of Hubbard’s technology. Remini is also fortunate that she has managed to leave Scientology with her family intact.

Most former Scientologists to some extent and at some point beat themselves up over their past. They can be quite hard and self-critical about their time in Scientology. It serves no useful purpose and only compounds their pain to blame them or somehow imply that were in some way complicit in their own victimization.

In my opinion L. Ron Hubbard’s innate ability as a master manipulator was his real skill. Hubbard’s conception and construction of a relatively complex multi-layered control system to break people and keep them in silent submission was his ultimate achievement and the fact that this machine is still running today is Hubbard’s lasting legacy. The evil genius of this machine is that each of its individual parts is composed of people under the influence of Hubbard’s mindset dutifully performing their function to enforce Scientology control. The “brainwashed” unknowingly perpetuating Hubbard’s brand of “brainwashing.”

The Cult Education Institute has one of the largest archives of information about Scientology on the Web. This online database, which is a nonprofit public library, was initially launched in 1996 and continues to be added to and updated on an ongoing basis.

Hubbard made many claims. But apparently in the end Scientology was unable to save him from himself. He reportedly died isolated, medicated, estranged from family members and seemingly terrified of perceived dark forces.  Ironically the life of L. Ron Hubbard ultimately disproved his self-improvement theories.

Again, it is vitally important not to shame or blame the victims of groups like Scientology. We must not indict them with accusations of “blind faith,” but rather question who systematically blinded them and endeavor to comprehend how this process was accomplished. Shame and blame must not become am impediment that former cult members are forced to overcome.  No one who has endured a group like Scientology deserves such recrimination and treatment as they go through what is often a painful and challenging process of recovery.

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Kim Davis apparently has become a Christian martyr to some Evangelicals, including former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee and United States Senator Ted Cruz. Both men are Southern Baptists seeking the office of President of the United States.

However, what Huckabee and Cruz don\’t know about the Kentucky county clerk recently jailed for her stand against gay marriage is that she believes that all Christians that don\’t subscribe to her sect\’s specific beliefs will be denied salvation and apparently spend eternity in hell.

Davis belongs to the Solid Rock Apostolic Church in Morehead, Kentucky. Solid Rock is a member of Apostolic Pentecostal Churches and Ministries and is listed at its directory for Kentucky.

The Apostolic Church website lists \”60 questions on the Godhead,\” which specifically deny the existence of the trinity as believed by the overwhelming majority of Christians, including Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz.

The Apostolic Church website also explains \”Why We Baptize in Jesus\’ Name,\” which excludes the efficacy of any other baptism formula, such as those done in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit., which represents what Apostolic Churches consider the false doctrine of the trinity. This \”formula of baptism\” is essential for salvation. As the Apostolic Churches website states, \”Out basic and fundamental doctrine shall be the Bible standard of full salvation, which is the absolute essentiality of repentance, baptism in water by immersion in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit, with the initial sign of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit gives utterance.\”


The Apostolic Church further concludes, \”We believe the Bible teaches that the above statement to be essential and not subsequent to salvation.\”

What this means is that anyone, including Evangelicals like Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz, are required to meet these requirements or they have no salvation and will apparently be condemned to hell. According to Kim Davis\’ beliefs the pastor and former governor of Arkansas and the United States senator must renounce their false beliefs about the trinity and be re-baptized only in the name of Jesus and thus become true believers. Anything less is unacceptable to God according to Davis and her church.


The formula Huckabee and Cruz must follow for their redemption according to Ms. Davis\’ beliefs is reiterated as \”The Apostles\’ Doctrine at the official church association website. It states, \”Water baptism is an essential part of New Testament salvation and not merely a symbolic ritual.\” And nothing less than the strict formula as proscribed by Kim Davis\’ church will fulfill this requirement. The Apostolic Church website says, \”The name in which baptism is administered is vitally important, and this name is Jesus.\” This formula for baptism has often been called the \”Jesus Name Only Baptism,\” by members of the United Pentecostal Church International, which is the most prominent denomination of Pentecostals that subscribe to this doctrine. The Assemblies of God, which is the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world today, believes in the trinity and has no such baptismal requirements.

The United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) and some other Pentecostal splinter groups, which seems to include the Apostolic Pentecostal Churches and Ministries that lists Kim Davis\’ Solid Rock Apostolic Church, also subscribe to what is often called the \”Holiness Standards.\” That is, a strict code of dress and grooming. The holiness standards includes rules about such things as the length of woman\’s dress, wearing makeup, certain jewelry and hair length. Kim Davis\’ appearance seems to suggest that her church encourages its members to follow such holiness standards, similar to those mandated for women by the UPCI.

So what do Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz and the other Evangelicals supporting Kim Davis know about all of this? Does the newly anointed martyr for religious freedom really believe in religious freedom? Or is Kim Davis only posing as a mainstream Evangelical when she is really from a fringe Pentecostal group that condemns Christians who disagree with its doctrine?


Will Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz and other Evangelical supporters of Ms. Davis follow her example and go to an Apostolic Church to be re-baptized to insure their salvation?

Probably not.

Would Ms. Davis recognize Pastor Huckabee and Senator Cruz\’ existing baptisms as valid, despite the fact that they did not follow the Apostolic Church formula?

Probably not.

Does Ms. Davis and her church really believe in freedom of faith for Evangelicals? Or is the country clerk caught up in a form of religious legalism that doesn\’t recognize the salvation of her fellow Christians?

It seems that despite receiving their support Kim Davis believes that Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz, along with the vast majority of Evangelicals, are condemned to hell unless they repent and are baptized according to the \”formula\” Ms. Davis accepts.

Update: It seems that Pope Francis now also endorses Kim Davis. But does Pope Francis know that she believes he is damned to hell? According to Kim Davis and her church Pope Francis must repent concerning his false belief in the trinity and be re-baptized in Jesus name only to receive salvation. Reportedly, Pope Francis is praying for Kim Davis.

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Dr. & Master Zhi Gang Sha claims, “The purpose of life is to serve. I have committed my life to this purpose. Service is my life mission” (Zhi Gang Sha, Soul Mind Body Science System, Preface xiii, 2014).

But Sha’s critics say he “uses brainwashing” and bilks people out of money through his books and other paid services, “expensive karma cleansing” and through pricey retreats they call “brainwashing camps.”

What is the truth about Dr. & Master Zhi Gang Sha?

Medical Doctor

At his website Dr. & Master Zhi Gang Sha claims that he is “an M.D. in conventional modern medicine…” However, nowhere on the website is there any mention of what school he specifically attended, where he graduated and from which he received a medical degree.

This in sharp contrast to three well-known medical doctors that combine conventional modern medicine with alternative healing methods.

Dr. Andrew Weil, an advocate of holistic medicine, received his A.B. degree in biology from Harvard, an M.D. from Harvard Medical School and did his medical internship at Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco, later working for the National Institute of Mental Health.

Often controversial, but popular Dr. Mehmet Cengiz Oz, TV host and health guru, is a board certified Thoracic Cardiovascular surgeon.

Dr. Deepak Chopra, who was once closely associated with a purported “cult leader” Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, is a cardiologist with an interest in alternative medicine that graduated from All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi and moved on to become chief of medicine at New England Memorial Hospital (now called the Boston Regional Medical Center).

All three of these doctors have medical degrees that can be easily be verified, but not “Dr. Sha.”

The Source

Sha bookIn his book “Soul Mind Body Science System” Master Sha explains his beliefs, theories and practices in great detail. He claims that he can “create “The Source Field,” which he says is capable of healing people. Sha claims (see Preface xviii), “I am the servant, vehicle, and channel of The Source. The Source has given me the honor and authority to connect with The Source in order to create The Source Field.”

Master Sha further claims (see Preface xxiii) that he has been “chosen” to offer “Divine and Tao Soul Downloads.” Sha says (see Preface xxii), “A preprogrammed Tao Soul Download is permanently stored within this book.”

Such exclusive seemingly self-aggrandizing claims are often associated with people called “cult leaders.”

For example, cult leader David Koresh claimed that an angel from heaven explained to him the meaning of the Seven Seals in the Book of Revelation. And that he alone knew how to open the seals, which would usher in the Day of Judgment. Koresh died with many of his followers in a fire, at the conclusion of a 51-day standoff with federal law enforcement. In the end there was no day of judgment for anyone other than Koresh, who was later proven to be guilty of sexually abusing children.

The single most salient feature of many destructive cults is their authoritarian and personality-driven nature. That is, usually a single individual dictates over a group of followers and makes special claims about his or her authority. Whatever the leader says is right is right and what whatever the leader says is wrong is wrong. The leader becomes the master, while followers in large part are urged to essentially abdicate their ability to make independent value judgements of their own.

Heavenly team

Master Sha has released many books and he states (see page 67), “All eleven of [his] books share profound soul secrets, wisdom, knowledge, and practical techniques to transform all life.” But Master Sha doesn’t simply write a book like other authors, he flows a book. Sha explains, “When I flow a book, a Heaven’s Team is also above me to guide and assist me.” His team supposedly includes (see page 68), “Gautama Buddha,” “Maitreya (the buddha of the future’),” “Yuan Shi Tian Zun (one of the three top saints in the traditional Taoist pantheon),” “Jesus,” “Mother Mary,” “St. Germaine,” “Albert Einstein,” “Sir Isaac Newton” and “Eight other renowned scientists in history are also above [his] head.”

How can anyone that believes in Master Sha question his authority? Questioning Sha, according to him, would be tantamount to questioning Buddha, Jesus or Albert Einstein, not to mention the other unnamed scientists who guide him.

Similarly, purported “cult” leader Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, also invoked heavenly authority. According to Moon no less than 36 late presidents — “from the vantage point of heaven” endorsed him as “the Messiah.” However, Moon was convicted of tax fraud, served prison time and was apparently a sinful messiah.

Sha claims that every sentence in his book is divinely handed down. He states (see page 69), “We [Sha and his followers] can hear Heaven’s writing team, as well as guidance from the saints, the Divine and Tao. After flowing one sentence, the next sentence is ready for us. Sentence after sentence flows out. When one paragraph is done, we can then hear the next paragraph clearly. Then, that next paragraph flows out.”

Beware critics, before you review a book by Master Sha, consider the karmic consequences, and don’t anger “Heaven’s writing team.”

Sha also has received from The Source “profound inspiration” to create special “I Ching practices for healing, rejuvenation, longevity, and immortality.” According to Sha (see page 100) making yet another exclusive claim, “This is the first time in history that I Ching power has been brought for these applications.” Sha says (see pages 108, 112) that he is engaged in a dialog with “the Divine.” He asks and the Divine answers him “immediately,” seemingly no matter how cosmically complicated the question might be. And not unlike the leaders of groups called “cults” Sha claims that his teachings are the best. He concludes (see page 116), “I cannot emphasize enough my deepest insight in my spiritual awareness, which is the highest sacred wisdom, knowledge, philosophy, principle, and practice in the Wu World and You World.”

Secret to immortality

Sha also claims to “know one sentence secrets.” He says (see page 75), “How do I know one-sentence secrets? Remember, there is a Heaven’s Team above my head. I also have a Jin Dan download…They then borrow my mouth and flow out a new one-sentence secret.” Sha thus serves as the mouthpiece for Heaven.

How important are Sha’s secrets? He claims (see page 126) to have a “one-sentence secret for the cause of all sickness and the solution for healing all sicknesses…”

What is the essence of his big secret?

Sha summarizes (see page 156), “If you are searching for rejuvenation, longevity, and, most especially, immortality, you have to remove desires for fame, money, power, control and much more, because these desires will dramatically affect your rejuvenation and longevity journey.”

Again, this is not unlike a purported “cult” leader named Charles Brown, founder of the Eternal Flame, later known as “People Forever” and “People Unlimited.” Brown claimed that he had discovered the secret for eternal life and could literally stop aging through something he called “cellular awakening.” Like Sha, Brown said he had received revelation and that only through him and his process could others receive the gift of immortality. However, Brown aged and died, despite his fantastic claims.


Sha says the key to immortality is to give up striving for status and wealth. He states (see page 156), “If you are searching for rejuvenation, longevity, and, most especially, immortality, you have to remove desires for fame, money, power, control and much more, because these desires will dramatically affect your rejuvenation and longevity journey. There is no way you can reach immortality if you hold these kinds of desires, dreams, and attachments.”

No way?

Then why does Master Sha have a “business team” (see page 259) and appear to be so concerned about money?

Benbella Books Inc. of Dallas, Texas is the publisher of Sha’s latest book.  Benbella promotes Sha as the author of a “USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestseller.”

But is Sha really a legitimate best-selling author or does he manipulate his followers to artificially inflate his book sales?

It has been alleged that Zhi Gang Sha stages “book campaigns” to conflate his book sales by obtaining individual commitments from his followers to make large purchases, for example one follower might make a commitment to spend $1,500 to $2,000 on books during a specified period of time either through an online bookseller or through some other retail outlet.

The Cult Education Institute maintains an online public message board, which is a source of complaints about the business practices and behavior of Master Sha.

One critic explains, “A book release is timed usually to coincide with one of his retreats. At the retreat, besides charging exorbitant fees for useless downloads, in exchange for some of the highest priced downloads he gets his followers to buy large numbers of the book to primarily give away to others. In this way, Sha manipulates the best seller list to try to convince book buyers that he’s on the level. It’s dishonest, to say the least – he is lying to his followers as well as the public” (Cult Education Institute public message board January 28, 2013).

Apparently Sha is quite adroit at organizing such book campaigns amongst his followers. “Master Sha is a best seller because he is the best at getting his followers to spend money they don’t have on books that no one wants, so he can have the stature of a best-selling author,” says one critic (Cult Education Institute public message board Jun 8, 2008). Another critic adds, “All those who have talked about the book campaigns and reviews are telling the truth” (Cult Education Institute public message board Mar 6, 2009).

The net effect of Sha’s financial demands can be devastating. One critic concludes, “The book campaigns are 100% true, the expensive karma clearings, the downloads, the endless marketing. I could go on and on. I didn’t leave the cult until I was bankrupt, lost my business and home and was cut off from my family. I lost everything” (Cult Education Institute public message board Jul 31, 2011).

One critic further explains some of Sha’s money schemes, “All of the downloads were very expensive, and after a while it was clear that what cost $1,000 yesterday was now available for $100 today, because, after all, the Divine was now downloading a newer and higher version of it. There were a number of people I knew personally who hid from their spouses the thousands of dollars they spent on downloads” (Cult Education Institute public message board January 28, 2009).

“I went to a seminar with Master Sha in Europe. And I was totally shocked. He is so greedy and manipulative. Scares the s… out of people by telling them that they will die if they don´t clear karma with him! I spent almost 3,000 Euros on Karma Cleansing that weekend and other Downloads and when I think of that now I also feel a little bit embarrassed,” says one European critic (Cult Education Institute public message board October 23, 2012).

There is also special divine calligraphy made available through Sha for a price to his followers. One follower explains (see page 240), “This calligraphy will be everywhere. It is accelerating Mother Earth’s transition. People have to get this fast. Everything is speeding up. This is the plan. There is no other answer.” Another says (see page. 243), “I also felt that the calligraphies created by Master Sha are all holy doctrines, created one by one on by one, and they have a bigger message.”

Chanting and visualization

But what is it exactly that Sha does to help people?

Can he actually heal anyone?

One critic states, “During the time that I was part of the cult, I did not see any healing that could be documented and I did not heal from the aliments that I suffered from. Master Sha would tell us of his healings, some of his students would attest to the healings, but there was never any documented evidence” (Cult Education Institute public message board January 28, 2009).

Sha claims (see Preface xxv), “Where you put your mind, using creative visualization, is where you receive benefits for healing, rejuvenation, and transformation of relationships and finances.” He calls this “Mind Power,” which is dependent upon “Sound Power,” summarized as “what you chant is what you become.”

Master Sha repeats this over and over and over again throughout his book. “What you chant is what you become” and “Practice, Practice, Practices” to “Transform, Transform, Transform.”

This transformation is apparently accomplished through endless hours of chanting and meditation. Sha prescribes such chants (see p. 22-25) that must be repeated aloud and/or recited silently.

Practitioners are also told to visualize a “golden light ball.” The origin of the golden light ball is interesting. Sha explains (see page 67), “I received a Jin Dan, a golden light ball [original emphasis] from The Source.”

This technique of visualization has been called “guided imagery” by experts and can be seen as psychological manipulation to assist in trance induction for the purpose of making someone more suggestible. Psychologist Margaret Singer wrote, “A considerable number of different guided-imagery techniques are used by cult leaders and trainers to remove followers from their normal frames of reference.” And that this can be seen as “trance” or “hypnosis” and “When this method is used in a cultic environment, it becomes a form of psychological manipulation and coercion because the cult leader implants suggestions aimed at his own agenda while the person is in a vulnerable state.”

Sha explains how his visualization and chanting techniques become a cure-all for virtually anything. If there is a specific ailment, for example a bad back, Sha’s devotees are instructed (see page 28) to “chant repeatedly: Soul Order heal my back” for certain time periods. This chanting can last for hours or more. Sha repeatedly throughout his book incessantly instructs his followers to chant (see pages 79, 120, 121, 123, 127-129, 133,-137,  144-151,  160-164, 174-184, 188, 190, 202-208, 214-229, 246-247, 251, 253-254) daily.

Sha says (see page 79), “I emphasize again: practice, practice, practice. We cannot practice enough.” Chanting appears to be Sha’s solution for virtually everything. Sha states (page 169) concerning one of his many formulas, “We cannot chant this mantra enough.” And then advises to “chant nonstop” and that “the more you chant the Grand Scientific Formula, the more benefits you can receive.”

Chanting is the solution according to Sha. One example (see page 201), “To chant this Divine Soul Song is to self-clear negative karma.” Sha says (see page 209), “You cannot chant it enough.”

Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman describe in their book Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change:

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

Psychologist Margaret Singer who counseled many former cult members warned about the negative consequences of excessive meditation. Singer said this might include a range of impairments, some of which remain after many years out of the cultic group such as anxiety attacks, memory difficulties, long term emotional flatness and visual hallucinations. Singer explained, “Meditation, in itself, is not good or bad. But when a venal person wants to sell you courses and persuade you to turn over your life to him, you must beware.”

A seminal and excellent documentary, Directed by Pierre Lasry, Montreal: National Film Board of Canada, 1983  “Captive Minds: Hypnosis and Beyond,” can now be seen online. The film examines the vulnerability, malleable nature and suggestibility of the human mind. The documentary looks at various examples of trance induction through religious rituals, chanting, meditation, training and hypnosis, as seen within an array of situations, venues and groups.

Mind control

There seems to be a pattern of manipulation within Sha’s teachings that can be seen as form of mind control to gain undue influence. For example, there are thoughts, which are labeled “wrong thoughts” Sha suggests (See pages 80-82), “That unpleasant though is not from your mind. It is another soul that affected you.” And he offers a “formula,” which consists of chanting and visualization, to purge wrong thoughts from the mind.

Sha elaborates (see page 209) on the net results of the incessant chanting he insists upon. “Many people want to chant. Many people want to meditate. Many people cannot do it for a long period of time. Some people chant for a few minutes and stop. Some people could lose hope and think chanting and meditation are not for them. Some people want to empty their minds. They may have difficulty emptying their minds in meditation. They could become frustrated.”

Sha seems to be urging his devotees to exceed the limits of what Conway, Siegelman and Singer might consider reasonable, to reach his stated goal, which is apparently the “emptying [of] their minds.”

What is the effect of all this emptying?

How does it ultimately affect the thinking of Master Sha’s devoted followers?

One says (see page 189), “As we were chanting it seemed as if all of our bodies were doing a cultivation process. As we were pulling the light and energy from the planets, stars, galaxies, and universe…My body turned into golden light.” And all this light is attributed directly to Master Sha. Another devotee tells Sha (see page 189), “When you started to chant with us, it was amazing. When you opened your mouth, the words became golden, went out into the universe, and came back to us. We received blessings beyond words.”

This would seem to parallel and reflect the net result of excessive chanting and meditation, which is the delusions and hallucinations described by Conway, Siegelman and Singer.

There is also evidently an element of emotional control as well in Master Sha’s teachings. He says (see page 36), “The heart is more crucial than the mind in determining the degree of consciousness one has…Reality depends on one’s soul, heart, mind and body.”

Here Sha seems to be referring to the “heart” as the figurative center of emotion and feeling. In their book Holy Terror Conway and Siegelman explain how ritualized instructions tied to specific beliefs, writings and images can be manipulated to suppress a person’s bedrock emotional responses and everyday feelings in a systematic effort to promote obedience and compliance.

One of Sha’s critics says, “Dr Sha uses brainwashing methods to keep those attending retreats constantly busy from early morning to late at night with little or no time to eat and little time to sleep. There is no real time for them to contact family members or the outside world,” says one critic (Cult Education Institute public message board November 07, 2008). Another critic elaborates, “His retreats are run like a brainwashing camp. The participants get up early, run all day with little food, time to do anything, but attend meetings and go till late at night…People who attend these Soul Enlightenment Retreats come home totally brainwashed in the dialogue of the cult, Sha’s divine nature and stories of amazing healings” (Cult Education Institute public message board November 05, 2009).

Sleep deprivation and control over the environment and communication are the hallmarks of cultic manipulation and thought reform. Robert Jay Lifton, who wrote the book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, describes this as “milieu control.”  Lifton wrote, “The most basic feature of the thought reform environment, the psychological current upon which all else depends, is the control of human communication. Through this milieu control the totalist environment seeks to establish domain over not only the individual’s communication with the outside (all that he sees and hears, reads or writes, experiences, and expresses), but also – in its penetration of his inner life – over what we may speak of as his communication with himself. It creates an atmosphere uncomfortably reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984.”

Charismatic leader


Zhi Gang Sha

Lifton also wrote about the three most basic principle characteristics of a destructive cult in his paper “Cult Formation,” published at Harvard University. He explains that perhaps the most pivotal feature of a cult is “a charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship…”

The central importance and significance of Master Sha is emphasized in his book and echoed within it by follower after follower. One participant at a retreat states (see page 191), “The first thing I saw was that Master Sha was creating a Jin Dan for the readers of this book. He started by calling the light of Mother Earth. Then Master Sha called Heaven’s light. I saw Heaven opening. I saw the golden light from Heaven coming…Next, Master Sha called the Tao light. Tao light came and enveloped the [Jing Qi Shen] of Mother Earth’s golden light and Heaven’s golden light.”

Sha apprarently is not only heaven’s mouth, he is also the chosen vessel and vehicle of The Source. He seems to be the impetus for everything.

Has Master Sha created a personality-driven “cult”?

One devoted follower seems (see page 231) to have found the ultimate chant, which is simply chanting the name “Master Sha,” which is recommended by Sha. The devotee says, “I said I needed a tool to break through. Master Sha said, ‘Chant Master Sha.’ The mortar started to crumble away. The more I chanted, the more it started to recede above me…Master Sha and the golden light all around…what Master Sha has created today…”

The key ingredient always seems to be Master Sha as the essential element required for everything.

Another follower exclaims (see page 231), “Thank you Master Sha for this priceless treasure…” Another states (see page 234), “We are in a time warp with Master Sha. There is no time, no space–just this incredible place.”

Master Sha is rather specific about his singular status and special importance. Sha states (see page 65), “In July 2003 I (Master Sha) was chosen as a divine servant, vehicle, and channel. I was given the divine honor and authority to offer Karma Cleansing. I have created more than thirty Divine Channels who offer Divine Karma Cleansing services. Together, my Divine Channels and I have created nearly six thousand Divine Healing Hands Soul Healers around the world.”

Sha appears to be the sole means of validation. Only through him the “divine servant, vehicle and channel” can his followers become “Divine Channels.”

One critic states, “His meetings are like a tent revival with people claiming miraculous [healing]. Members swoon and clap.” “Supposedly he sends blessings through the air. Cult members have jars of water that are energized with healing power for physical or psychological benefit,” says the same critic. But, “There is no [meaningful] follow up to see if the healing [is] genuine” (Cult Education Institute public message board November 07, 2008).

People are healed because they subjectively feel they are through their group experience and because Sha says so, speaking as a divine authority.

“If you have an ailment, Dr. Sha may ‘download’ a new organ for you by grasping the top of your head with his hand and putting on quite a show as he grunts and shakes, although he also does this remotely to [thousands] at a time, without having to touch anyone at all. Some days he may download a whole system like ‘Divine Digestive System,’ other days it may be just an organ like ‘Divine Liver,'” says another critic (Cult Education Institute public message board February 21, 2009).

“He’s here for one thing: to make money from others suffering. He’s very skilled at mind control and has a number of people, his followers, under the delusion that he’s a being more powerful than God,” summarizes a critic (Cult Education Institute public message board January 27, 2013). While another critic warns, “It just seems to me that they are frauds not only morally but also under civil law – Practicing Medicine Without a License – you cannot claim medical cures” (Cult Education Institute public message board March 05, 2009).

But sadly it seems Sha’s influence can potentially produce negative changes in his followers.

One critic observed, “What I personally experienced was the transformation of good people into competitive, lying, and hurtful fanatical members who would do anything to be special and gain Sha’s favor…even if that meant lying or slandering another student to block or harm their soul journey. The issues regarding money are well documented in previous postings. I saw many spend their life savings and deny their families so that they could progress on their soul journey with expensive downloads, webcasts, and retreats,” says one critic (Cult Education Institute public message board July 31, 2011). The same critic concludes, “There is a fanatical air that seems to be promoted with great zeal.”

Who and what is “Dr. & Master Zhi Gang Sha?

Is Zhi Gang Sha a real medical doctor with an M.D. from an accredited and well recognized institution, or merely a poser and charlatan?

Is he a “faith healer” following in the footsteps of controversial Pentecostal preacher Benny Hinn? Or is Sha a sinister “cult leader” manipulating people through “brainwashing” so he can financially bilk them?

Is Zhi Gang Sha a legitimate “best-selling” author or a master of manipulation?


Zhi Gang, Sha, Soul Mind Body Science System: Grand Unification Theory and Practice for Healing, Rejuvenation, Longevity, and Immortality. BenBella Books, 2014.

Dr. & Master Zhi Gang Sha official website,, (accessed April 7, 2015).

About Dr. & Master Zhi Gang Sha, Dr. Zhi Gang Sha official website,, (accessed April 7, 2015)

Weil, Andrew, Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, University of Arizona website,, (accessed April 7, 2015).

Mehmet C. Oz, MD, FACS, Physicians Profile, Columbia University Medical Center official website,, (accessed April 7, 2015).

Chopra, Deepak, website,, (accessed April 7, 2015).

Moreton, Cole, “Waco siege 20 years on: the survivor’s tale,” The Telegraph, March 24, 2013.

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About the Author: Rick Alan Ross is the author of the book Cults Inside Out: How People Get In and Can Get Out and executive director of the Cult Education Institute of New Jersey. Ross has been qualified as an expert and testified in numerous court proceedings across the United States, including United States Federal Court.

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