By Brian Birmingham

I am a former member of an abusive authoritarian group, or “cult.”

As a teenager I was placed, by my parents, in a “troubled teens” program,” which is now defunct. The program was not religious, but it did use behavioral modification techniques and employed coercive persuasion to gain undue influence over its participants. The stated objective was to mold us into adults that would stay sober and adhere to the program’s principles.

In my opinion this was a generally toxic and harmful program. It took me almost fifteen years to begin to recognize the harm that occurred there. This program included confrontational and humiliating pseudo-therapies. Instead of helping people the program hurt me and the other teens subjected to it.

As an adult in my 30s I read Steve Hassan’s book “Combatting Cult Mind Control.” At that time, I was involved in yet another authoritarian organization called a “cult” in Dallas, Texas. After leaving this group, known as the Trinity Foundation, in August of 2006, someone recommended Steve Hassan’s book to me.

This is when I learned about what Steve Hassan calls the BITE model of mind control.

Reading the book was helpful in processing what had happened to me. Subsequently, I experienced a period of intense self-examination and went through a recovery program at a place called Meadow Haven, in Lakeville, Massachusetts. While at Meadow Haven I unraveled the effects of the program for troubled teens as well as my other cultic experience. I was also diagnosed as being within the autism spectrum. I was finally diagnosed definitively with Asperger’s syndrome. Learning this helped me to better understand my life and introverted nature.

The combination of undiagnosed autism and the trauma of going through an abusive authoritarian group as a teen profoundly affected my life and made me vulnerable.

Steve Hassan

In July of 2010 I was introduced to Steve Hassan by a mutual friend at a conference about cults. At the time I lived in the Boston area not far from him. Steve gave me his business card and told me to contact him when I got back to Boston. I did and he offered me a job at Freedom of Mind (FOM). I became his research assistant, performing various tasks for FOM for almost three years. I quit in 2013, which ended my association with Steve Hassan.

Today, I see and understand Steve in a whole new light and want to share those insights. I feel that he often exploits fragile former cult members for his own personal benefit.

In the early stages of my recovery Steve’s BITE model introduced me to psychological concepts which I’d never known about before. The ideas in his first book “Combating Cult Mind Control” helped me realize, that contrary to what I’d believed about myself for so long, it was not so much a matter of what was wrong with me, but rather what was done to me that was wrong.

There are different types of cults. They are not all religious in nature.

Steve Hassan, through his work, taught me these things.

But I now know that Steve did not originate the ideas he wrote about. Instead, his BITE model is derivative and the relabeled ideas of others. Steve simply rebranded those ideas and he presents them essentially as his own without meaningful detailed attribution. This seems to me to be dishonest and deliberately misleading.

The BITE model is actually a composite of the work and original research of psychologist Margaret Singer, communication experts Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, and psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton.

Let me spell this out specifically.

B,” for behavior control, is based upon the work of Lifton and Singer, accomplished decades before Steve’s first book was published.

I,” for information control, is predicated upon what Conway and Siegelman first identified as “information disease” within their book “Snapping” published in 1978.

T,” for the control of thinking, is derived from Lifton’s book “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism” published in 1961.

E,” for emotional control, also is based upon the previous work of Conway and Siegelman in their book “Holy Terror” published in 1982.

Steve Hassan did not identify or originate these specific principles of understanding and identifying how authoritarian groups and leaders dominate and control people. He merely studied them, collected and copied them and then rebranded them for himself. Steve presents the BITE model as his own, but it is not his original thought, even though he attempts to pass it off as such to the public.

Steve is very good at marketing and sales and he’s managed to make a lot of money from his books, cult interventions and consulting work. He is certainly a wealthy man. But the BITE model, which he promotes as the foundation for his work was never really his own original work. Steve just cobbled it together as a marketing ploy based upon the work of others. And to claim otherwise is academically dishonest and inherently wrong.

The BITE model in my opinion is also deeply flawed, at least in the way Steve loosely applies it. For anyone with an agenda it is fairly easy to use it to indict almost any group or person you don’t like.

For example, someone who doesn’t like Christians could use the BITE model to indict Jesus by selectively going through the New Testament to prove that Jesus was a “cult leader.” Or use the BITE model to do the same thing with the words of Paul.

Moreover, a person with a political or social bias can use the BITE model to frame a politician as a “cult leader” or call a political party a “cult.”

And someone manipulating this same BITE model can then claim that all those who disagree with him are somehow the “victims” of “mind control.”

This can also be seen as an effective marketing scheme to sell your services to “deprogram” all those perceived “victims.”

In my opinion this turns “Freedom of Mind” fairly upside down into a state of mind based upon a selective worldview and specific ideas that conform to those of what Steve Hassan thinks is acceptable.

Steve Hassan in his book “The Cult of Trump” contends that Donald Trump supporters don’t REALLY like Donald Trump, but are somehow instead the victims of “thought reform techniques” employed by the former president. And anyone that isn’t being so manipulated must be a bad person with racist or anti-Semitic sentiments. Or perhaps they may be psychologically or intellectually impaired.

It is important to recognize that cult experts don’t universally endorse Steve’s notions about Donald Trump and his supporters. Robert Jay Lifton noted, “Trump is not totalistic like [Shoko Asahara] the leader of [the Japanese cult] Aum Shinrikyo.” Michael Langone, Executive Director of the International Cultic Studies Association stated, “I can understand why people don’t like Trump,” However, Langone concluded “But to jump from not liking Trump to Trump as cult leader, I think, is a bit of a leap.”

Steve seems to think it’s his job to straighten everyone out so that they truly have genuine “freedom of mind” (pages 7, and 216 “The Cult of Trump”).

But here is the problem. What really is “freedom of mind” according to Steve Hassan?

It seems to me that when someone has such freedom Steve surmises that they will then pretty much see and interact with the world just like he does.

In his book Steve implies that authentically liberated minds will see the world just like him.

Is Steve trying to clone himself and become some sort of guru determining what is the right and wrong way to think and feel?

Isn’t that the typical behavior of a “cult leader”?

On page 231 of his book Steve suggests that we might need a new set of commandments in addition to the original Ten Commandments.

Steve writes, “People consensually abide by rules for the common good. That is also true of our social behavior–the Ten Commandments were established thousands of years ago as a mechanism for helping people get along in groups. They were also established as a form of social control, with their focus on worshiping ‘the one true God’. What we may need now are commandments that guide our ethical behavior as citizens, regardless of race, creed, ethnicity, or sexual or religious preference.”

Who will write these new commandments?

Will Steve be our new Moses?

Will Steve’s new commandments replace or supplement the existing ones?

Don’t we have enough commandments already?

​Steve apparently wants something new that reflects his own worldview. All of this seems somewhat reminiscent of what Robert Jay Lifton calls a “Sacred Science.”

Lifton writes, “The totalist milieu maintains an aura of sacredness around its basic dogma, holding it out as an ultimate moral vision for the ordering of human existence. This sacredness is evident in the prohibition (whether or not explicit) against the questioning of basic assumptions, and in the reverence which is demanded for the originators of the Word, the present bearers of the Word, and the Word itself. While thus transcending ordinary concerns of logic, however, the milieu at the same time makes an exaggerated claim of airtight logic, of absolute ‘scientific’ precision. Thus, the ultimate moral vision becomes an ultimate science; and the man who dares to criticize it, or to harbor even unspoken alternative ideas, becomes not only immoral and irreverent, but also ‘unscientific.’ In this way, the philosopher kings of modern ideological totalism reinforce their authority by claiming to share in the rich and respected heritage of natural science.”

For most of 2005, I was in Baghdad serving as a medic in Operation Iraqi Freedom. As a medic, from time to time I was called upon to participate in patrols outside of our base perimeter. One day while patrolling, we had dismounted from our vehicles and were walking through a neighborhood. At one point, we stopped to take a rest. There was a group of young Iraqi boys playing soccer in a vacant lot across the street. The soccer ball was kicked into our midst. A little kid about ten or twelve years old asked our permission to retrieve the ball. We said yes, and then when he got the ball, I asked him if the people in his neighborhood liked the Americans. He said “No”. I asked, “Why not?” He said, “Because you’re all Jews” in a very matter-of-fact way, and ran off. All this child knew about America and the people who live there was what he learned from Saddam Hussein’s propaganda, and the anti-American, anti-Semitic culture in which he was raised. In a way, the boy lived in a type of bubble, from which he derived a distorted view of America and Americans.

Steve Hassan comes across as someone living in a bubble of his own. Just like the Iraqi kid I met in Baghdad, with his distorted view of America and Americans. Steve has his own ideological echo chamber that he inhabits and others that entertain alternative ideas and different views are summarily dismissed or labeled negatively.

“The Cult of Trump”​ also appears to dismiss or disregard that alternative ideas have a right to exist. This can be seen as a reflection of what Lifton calls the “dispensing of existence.”

Lifton writes, “Are not men presumptuous to appoint themselves the dispensers of human existence? Surely this is a flagrant expression of what the Greeks called hubris, of arrogant man making himself God. Yet one underlying assumption makes this arrogance mandatory: the conviction that there is just one path to true existence, just one valid mode of being, and that all others are perforce invalid and false. Totalists thus feel themselves compelled to destroy all possibilities of false existence as a means of furthering the great plan of true existence to which they are committed.”

Steve’s book raises some larger questions that need to be asked by its readers, which are applicable to everyone.

Is there such a thing as objective truth or must everything be based upon the bias of the believer?

Don’t we all need to be fact based and objective regardless of our political bias and world view and not allow our subjective sentiments cause us to negatively label others?

Isn’t hard objective evidence preferable to politicized characterizations like those within Steve’s often polemical book “The Cult of Trump”?

And finally, is it really useful to politicize the word “cult” turning it into a derisive pejorative label used to dismiss the existence of alternative political ideas?

In my opinion politicizing the word “cult” in this way serves no useful or factual purpose, but rather portrays a deeply distorted view of politics in America today.

Note: Brian Birmingham is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts in Boston with a BA in Psychology and Sociology. He is a native of Dallas, Texas and was once a member of the Trinity Foundation community. He later worked for Steven Hassan at Freedom of Mind.

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By Brian Birmingham

Following my interview with Sawyer, a former member of the Heaven’s Gate cult, I interviewed a man named Steven Hill, who is also a former member of Heaven’s Gate.

Steven Hill was the husband of Yvonne McCurdy-Hill (known as Dvvody in the group). Yvonne McCurdy-Hill and her husband joined Heaven’s Gate together in the fall of 1996. Steven Hill left the group after just one month. But the cult destroyed his family and scarred Hill’s life forever.

His wife Yvonne remained with the group and ultimately died with them. She was identified as one of the thirty-nine bodies found March of 1997 inside a Rancho Sante Fe mansion, which was the cult’s last home.

At the time of her death, Yvonne McCurdy-Hill was the most junior member of the group. She spent a little less than six months as a cult member.

There were two questions I wanted to ask Steven Hill.

First, could he corroborate what Sawyer said about minor children recruited and hidden by the group back in the 1970s.

Second, did he have any idea that the group was planning on dying together to make their “exit” to “The Next Level”? And if he DID know what they were planning, why didn’t he try to stop them?

Steven Hill’s answers to these questions is revealing.

He concurs that minor children were included within the group during the 1970s and that they were hidden. Hill totally corroborated Sawyer’s account.

Hill also said that while he was a member of Heaven’s Gate, he spent a lot of time reading in the group’s library. Apparently, cult leader Marshall Applewhite liked to collect any media reports about the group over the years. Hill saw old news clippings about Ti (aka Bonnie Nettles) and Do (aka Marshall Applewhite), which included magazine articles, old flyers advertising meetings the group held and various other media that Applewhite collected. It seems that every time the cult or its leaders were somehow mentioned in the news Marshall Applewhite added it to his archives. Within the group’s growing library were books about UFOs, channeling, and various other New Age-type topics. Hill specifically came across news articles that reported minor children ran away from home to join the cult and that they were subsequently hidden by the group from the authorities and their families.

Steven Hill and his wife left their newborn twin daughters behind with family when they abandoned their old lives to join the cult. Yvonne McCurdy-Hill was suffering from postpartum depression at the time she moved in with the group at Rancho Santa Fe. Hill was later asked to leave the group due to an illness. Mrs. Hill wanted to leave too. But she learned from her mother that her twins would never be returned to her custody. She ultimately concluded that without her children there was nothing meaningful left for her outside of the group.

Chuck Shramek then released the first image of the so-called “companion,” which was somehow supposedly trailing the Hale-Bopp comet, through Art Bell’s radio show.

Marshall Applewhite

When Applewhite learned about the “companion” he surmised that it was “marker,” a sign that he had been waiting for to begin the planning for the “exit,” which would take place four months later.

The deaths of the members of Heaven’s Gate were the largest mass suicide ever on United States soil.

Steven Hill was probably out of the group by the time the “companion” to the Hale-Bopp comet was widely known about publicly.

Hill said that he was monitoring the group’s website when he saw the “RED ALERT” warning, which began flashing in early 1997.

But he had no idea that the group was planning to die together.

Hill instead expected his wife to come home.

When Steven Hill learned about a mass suicide in California and realized that his wife was among the dead, his life was shattered.

And to this day Hill has no relationship whatsoever with the twin daughters, left behind when he and his wife joined the doomsday cult known as “Heaven’s Gate.”

By Brian Birmingham

In an effort to let Ole Anthony explain himself here is an excerpt from a “Primetime Live” interview he did with Dianne Sawyer November 21, 1991. Here Anthony discusses with Sawyer the problems he sees inherently with TV ministries.

Ole Anthony: “The longing of a man’s heart is for community, for a sense of being able to lay down his life for something important. That can’t happen with a television tube.”

Diane Sawyer: “But there are people who come forward and say, ‘I got a miracle because of, what, because of the money I gave, because I watched, I did get a miracle.’”

Ole: “Did you ever see ‘The Wizard of Oz?’ Dorothy got her heart’s desire, the tin man received his heart’s desire, the lion received his heart’s desire, and the Tin Man received his heart’s desire, even though the Wizard was a charlatan. Why? The God of the Universe was already resident within them, he just had to be let out!”

Diane Sawyer: “So, what do you say to the person sitting at home, watching?”

Ole: “Let’s open your eyes, and look at the need around you. Give to that need instead of to some faraway evangelist that’s talking you into playing a heavenly lottery, or a heavenly slot machine.”

Diane Sawyer: “And they’ll get those miracles they want?”

Ole Anthony

Ole (interrupting): -They’ll get all the miracles that are promised. They’ll get a hundredfold blessing returned unto them.”

That was Ole Anthony some thirty years ago. Ole Anthony died last week at the age 82.

It has been said that no bad person has all bad qualities, and no good person has all good qualities.

Everybody, all of us, has a mixture of what can be seen as perhaps saintly and conversely diabolical attributes.

And so, it was with Ole Anthony, founder and elder of the Trinity Foundation, of Dallas, Texas.

Trinity Foundation is best known for its work in monitoring and exposing various “televangelist” ministries. In doing so, Trinity Foundation and Ole Anthony probably did some good.

However, former members of Trinity Foundation have also spoken and written of a “dark side” to Ole Anthony and the Trinity Foundation. Trinity Foundation has been described by some as a “cult”.

Ole Anthony also lied extensively about his background. He has claimed that he was (before founding Trinity Foundation in 1972) a broadcaster, a spy, a wealthy industrialist, a political strategist and candidate. In fact, he was none of those things.

Trinity Foundation has been described by former members as employing a number of cult-like, abusive practices. For example, notorious “hot seat” confrontational group encounter sessions, which broke down members’ personal boundaries and fostered an atmosphere of fear and anxiety. Though this practice ended in the early 1990s.

Ole Anthony taught that everything in ones’ natural mind was an enemy of God, and that ones’ mind is actually the Antichrist. And according to Anthony unless one is living in community one cannot become free of one’s Antichrist nature.

If that is true, why then would anyone listen to Ole Anthony? After all, these ideas were all products of his own mind.

But Ole Anthony believed that he had discovered things, some spiritual truths, which other Christians had somehow missed for the last 2,000 years.

However, Ole Anthony was hardly an original thinker.

Many of the founders and leaders of controversial Bible-based groups, some called “cults,” believed that they too were totally unique and special.

Joseph Smith, founder of the LDS (Mormon) church taught that he was the latter-day prophet of “the restored Gospel.”

Gene Spriggs, founder of the so-called “Twelve Tribes” communities, taught that the Holy Spirit had been absent from the face of the Earth until he founded a truly authentic community.

Sun Myung Moon taught the same thing about his supposedly unique Unification church. Moon went so far as to claim to be the Second Coming of Christ.

There are so many examples of various Bible-based thinkers that taught, whether implicitly or explicitly, that they’d figured something out that nobody had every really understood before for 2,000 years.

Ole Anthony was yet another self-proclaimed latter-day prophet, and in many ways, not unlike Moon, Spriggs, and all the rest.

What then is the legacy of Ole Anthony?

Trinity Foundation served to highlight the excesses and frauds of various radio and TV preachers and their ministries. This served the public good.

But behind his good work, and largely unknown to the general public, Ole Anthony held an inordinate amount of power and control over the lives of his followers within the Trinity Foundation. He’d deny his disciples permission to marry. And he ruled through fear and intimidation. Anthony often punished those who would dare to question him or his authority.

Those who focus only on what Ole Anthony did through his well-publicized activities regarding unscrupulous evangelical ministries, may be unaware of the issues surrounding accountability concerning his own behavior, and the authoritarian way in which he ran Trinity Foundation.

For all of Ole Anthony’s preaching about accountability he himself was accountable to no one. And in many ways the personality-driven Trinity Foundation existed to support Anthony’s own pretentious posturing and narcissistic needs.

Note: Brian Birmingham is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts in Boston with a BA in Psychology and Sociology. He is a native of Dallas, Texas and was once a member of the Trinity Foundation community.

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By Brian Birmingham

On the evening of Monday, April 5, 2021 I had the opportunity of being able to interview, at length, a man called Sawyer. Sawyer is an original member of the notorious group that eventually came to be known as “Heaven’s Gate”.

Heaven’s Gate, led by Marshall Applewhite is remembered due to an Applewhite inspired mass suicide, which occurred in March of 1997. Thirty-nine members of the group, including its founder Applewhite, killed themselves in a supposed attempt to to ascend to a new state of being Applewhite called “The Next Level”.

The interview with Sawyer was over four and a half hours in length. Not much was discussed, that was not generally known to the public before. Sawyer remains a deeply committed follower, despite the group’s demise.

Sawyer

Sawyer spoke at length about how he met the group, his history with them, how he came to leave the group after eighteen years and everything in between.

But there is one thing about which Sawyer spoke, that as far as I know, has never been revealed to anyone before. That is, Sawyer describes certain minors, teenagers who he claims were knowingly allowed to camp with the group and according to him, were allowed “special contact” with their caregivers that remained outside of the group, in order to reassure those caregivers that their minor loved ones were safe.

Sawyer mentions one minor, that he says left foster care at the age of 16 to join the group. She left the group as an adult some years later.

Everyone else of legal age, other than the minor children, Sawyer says, was cut off from their families of origin, except for these minor children.

These children, who joined the group in the late 1970s were allowed to contact their families.

Sawyer also described how the group’s camps in the early years of its history, before they occupied a fixed residence, were designed to avoid detection and discourage surveillance. It seems that either from land or through aerial reconnaissance the group was effectively camouflaged to obscure recognition.

Marshall Applewhite

Sawyer said the Applewhite also ordered that guards be placed around the perimeter of the camp, so that the group could be easily alerted if anyone attempted approaching them. This would give them time to hide. Applewhite did not want an accurate count indicating the size of the group, to be successfully made.

I contacted another Heaven’s Gate survivor, Frank Lyford, to corroborate Sawyer’s account of minor children in Heaven’s Gate. Lyford neither confirmed nor denied what Sawyer had told me; Lyford did not reply to my message at all.

If what Sawyer said is true concerning the children, it certainly casts a new light on Applewhite and his followers. And it’s an even darker more sinister image of the group than ever before. It seems that recruiting and hiding kids, teenagers, was not a problem for Marshall Applewhite.

It seems that this part of the group’s dark history has never been exposed and revealed to the public before today.

The possibility that a doomsday suicide cult once recruited minor children is deeply disturbing.

By Brian Birmingham

Hey David, I know that you are online a lot and always interested in whatever attention that you receive. And there have been a couple of articles that have recently appeared about you and your followers here at CultNews.

You probably saw a recent report about how you borrowed or copied many of your ideas from other groups called “cults” like the Brethren founded by the late Jim Roberts. Jim didn’t appear to like you very much. Apparently, you were trying to poach some of his followers.

Well, if you do occasionally check out CultNews to see if you have gotten some attention maybe you will see this letter, which is now publicly posted.

David, you and I go way back. I’ve studied you and the group you created for almost twenty years now. These studies began shortly after 9/11, which is when I first met your devotee James on the street in Dallas. He was fund raising for you and handing out your “Liberator” comics.

At one point I even considered actually joining your group for a trial week in the Spring of 2002.

Dave McKay

However, your followers frightened me when I met them in person. They just seem so fanatically devoted to you David. But over the years I have continued to track your activities online and off. There are very few groups called “cults” as extreme and tightly controlled as your so-called “Jesus Christians.” For this reason I will keep watching your group as long as possible, or until it fades away and ceases to exist.

I want to warn people about you, your deceptive recruitment tactics and the various scams you run until you are gone.

In my opinion you are a modern-day Diotrophes (3 John 9-10) a false prophet and false teacher (1 Timothy 6:3-5). It seems to me that you are exactly the type of person Jesus warned Christians about in the New Testament.

Is there any good in you?

Is there anything that you have ever done that warrants positive recognition?

Sadly, it seems to me that the answer appears to be no. Despite your years of reading about Jesus’ teachings you don’t seem to have genuinely internalized any of them, nor do you really live them.

Must people feel sorry for someone like you who seems so lost?

No. I don’t think there is anything anyone needs to sympathize about concerning such a selfish life wasted on self-aggrandizing stunts and scams.

Anything that MIGHT have been a positive attribute, like your ability to be witty is spoiled. Because your wit is almost always poisonous sarcasm; it’s an expression of your incessant cruelty, and cannot be considered a good trait.

Thought admittedly you can actually be funny, but it’s so often humor at someone else’s expense, cutting and unkind.

David, you are a smart guy. But you have used your intelligence to hurt people. For example, you use your writing ability to beat down and bully others, in an apparent attempt to try to make them feel stupid and inferior. So, your intelligence doesn’t count as a positive quality, since you have used it to do evil.

David, you are quite creative, but that too is tainted. Because you use your creativity to deceive, lie and slander. You make up wild stories like a grifter to suck in your unsuspecting followers deeper into your abyss.

Even the kidney donation thing you came up with was a scam. You used it like a con man for media attention and now that the media is on to you, you’ve lost interest in helping people by promoting organ donations.

But you certainly can always find the time to bash the bereaved families of your followers whenever you can.

David, please understand I don’t wish any harm to come upon you or your devoted disciples.

In fact, I actually admire and respect what you and your followers claim that you stand for.

But the Bible warns that some people may “claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him (Titus 1:16). Jesus warned (Matthew 24:5) and “deceive many.” But Jesus said (Luke 21:8) “do not follow them.” You see David real Jesus Christians must be wary, and watch closely what would be teachers do, to see if their actions match their words.

All Christians want to be more like Jesus in thought, word, and deed.

Some of your studies online are noteworthy due to the ideals they teach.

However, it’s not enough to teach what Jesus said if you don’t follow-up by trying to live by His teachings. That’s the hard part David, it’s about obeying Jesus, which is exactly your problem. You talk the talk, but you don’t walk the walk, which makes you a hypocrite.

No doubt, if you bother to discuss this letter with anyone you will probably attack me personally. This has often been your response to criticism or claims of “persecution.” But false claims of persecution and personal attacks won’t change the facts. And it isn’t a meaningful response to the issues raised in this letter.

Frankly, in my opinion your followers are being deceived. And I think you know that. Deception is your trade David. That’s how you have supported yourself for many years. Taking advantage of others through deception.

You are a predator that quells the spirit and wounds the psyches of your victims.

So, what can someone expect as the net or end result of being involved with someone like you?

The people you dominate and manipulate all seem to eventually end up on the street hawking David McKay’s writings and fund raising.

Doesn’t that demonstrate your selflessness David?

Are you “forsaking all”, “trusting God” and not depending on money?

It seems to me that the focus of your group is to promote your words, while constantly fund raising to sustain you and your deception.

Well David, you’ve been doing this for a very long time, decade after decade, with a small, but deeply devoted sect of followers.

Maybe now it’s time for you to slow down and get right with God while you still have time?

It’s never too late to make things right with God if you earnestly seek Him in repentance.

And what about your adult children?

Isn’t it time to get things right with them too?

You are not getting any younger David; in a few years you will be 80.

Think about it. Or better yet pray about it. It is better for you to pray to God then to prey upon others.

By Brian Birmingham

Often when somebody exits an abusive group or relationship there’s an internal struggle in the person’s mind, in which one wonders about oneself, “How did I get involved in such a situation? Why did I stay involved for as long as I did? What’s wrong with me?”

Often, there is a lot of self-blame involved in leaving an abusive group or relationship.

It takes time for one to process such experiences. To figure out how and why it happened.

One of the most important things that a former member of an abusive authoritarian group, or “cult,” can realize, which will help in the recovery process, is that it’s not a question of “what is wrong with me?” But more pertinent and helpful, in terms of healing, is to question instead, “What was done to me while I was involved in the group, that made it so hard to leave for so long?”

This effectively reframes the recovery process from “What is wrong with me?” to “What was done to me?”

Once one comes to understand that there is an intentional planned process of coercive persuasion and thought reform involved and that the recruitment and indoctrination process was deceptive, then one is well on the way to genuine recovery regarding the pain inflicted by an abusive group or relationship.

Sinasta J. Colucci understands this very well. And this understanding is reflected in the pages of his book “Better Than a Turkish Prison: What I Learned from Life in a Religious Cult.”

As far as I know, this is the first book ever written by a former member of the religious, Bible-based cult called the “Twelve Tribes.” And since I have recently reported about the death of Twelve Tribes leader Elbert Eugene Spriggs and his followers, it seemed meaningful to review this book, even though it was published in 2018.

“Better Than a Turkish Prison” is the story of how one young man got swept up into the highly controlling world of the Twelve Tribes, and his eventual disillusionment with and defection from the cult.

It’s as if Colucci did not so much “join” the Twelve Tribes, as he just intended to visit the Stepping Stone Farm in Weaubleau, Missouri in 2004. However, that visit turned into nine years.

Colucci was assimilated or absorbed in a what can be seen as a “Borg-like” hive. The Borg are a fictional sinister predatory alien group that appear within the Star Trek series. They are a cybernetic “Collective” and their motto is “resistance is futile.” Much like the fictional victims of the Borg Colucci was historically absorbed by Twelve Tribes.

However, Colucci eventually broke free, along with a woman he met in the group, who he later married.

It’s been said that nobody joins a cult, they just postpone the decision to leave.

Sinasta Colucci is a striking example of this truth, which he vividly explains in his book. He describes occasions in which he noticed hypocrisies and double-standards in the group’s lifestyle. Times in which Twelve Tribes teachings were not consistent with the way they were living and doing business.

However, despite these contradictions Colucci writes very plainly that the main reason he stayed for so long was because he once believed that there were no viable options for survival outside of the group.

At no point throughout the book does Colucci describe himself as a victim of the Twelve Tribes. Nor as a victim of its leader Elbert Eugene Spriggs.

And at no point does he ask “What was wrong with me? Why did I join? Why did I stay as long as I did?”

What Colucci does instead, at least in this reader’s opinion, is explain what was done to him. He also goes into the circumstances of his life, just before he was recruited at the age of nineteen. What made him vulnerable.

This is a unique book written by a former member of the Twelve Tribes. And as a former member with almost a decade of direct experience Colucci gives the reader a very good and insightful look into what life is really like day-to-day in the Twelve Tribes for both men and women. The author also provides interesting and valuable details about the group’s theology and practices.

For example: the description of how the loaf is made for the Sabbath-night “breaking of bread.” And details about Ha-Emeq (Marsha Spriggs, Yoneq’s wife) and her “Shiners” was intriguing.

Also, especially interesting are the descriptions of Spriggs’ personal behavior in Hiddenite; how he complained about his corn not being sweet enough. And how he made fun of a woman for being overweight. These insider accounts show Spriggs to be the hypocrite that he was.

My only criticism of Colucci’s book is that the last fifty or seventy-five pages, of the approximately two-hundred-and-fifty-page book, are basically a treatise on the author’s atheism. It seems to me that Colucci went from a preachy Twelve Tribes member to a somewhat preachy atheist.

Perhaps Colucci thinks that his current choice of atheism reflects his progressive path of enlightenment?

Or maybe this reader/reviewer is a bit oversensitive about this.

All in all, though, “Better Than a Turkish Prison: What I Learned from Life in a Religious Cult” is a good read and I recommend this book.

By Brian Birmingham

I recently interviewed a former member of the Roberts group (aka The Brethren, “Garbage Eaters”).

The Roberts group, established and led by Jim Roberts, is known as one of the most controlled, restrictive and enigmatic groups in America. It’s members, nick named the “garbage eaters,” for their habit of scrounging for food in dumpsters.

The group members have wandered about North America, Central America, South America, Europe and Africa, fund raising and at times recruiting college students, who then would disappear for decades.

Known for their total isolation and nomadic lifestyle the families of members frequently searched in vain for their loved ones. Typically, there was little if any communication with family and old friends, which was strictly controlled by Roberts.

Since the death of Jim Roberts in 2015 the group has undergone several substantial changes in its leadership and practices according to the former member I interviewed.

Jim Roberts

First of all, the group is no longer led by one man, but instead is now run by a small council of “older brothers,” who were appointed by Roberts before he died.

These designated leaders are David Kurtz (known as “David” in the group), Jerry Williams (known as “Hatzair”), Jonathan Schmidt (known as “Johannon”) and Channon Lill (known as “Hopeful”).

Bart Wilcox (known as “Zephaniah”) was also originally one of the appointed elders, but it’s been reported that he married, and was replaced by Lill.

The group is apparently now relaxing some of its strict rules involving marriage, communications with family, as well communications with former members.

Today they’ve got no real base or headquarters, but are now reportedly in Flagstaff Arizona, Knoxville, Tennessee, Asheville, North Carolina and Denver, Colorado. These locations are apparently maintained more or less permanently.

The leaders or elders listed above have phone numbers and email addresses, and one of them is known to have a positive relationship with a former member with whom he is in contact.

However, even with all of these relatively major changes the group remains very secretive. And they do not want to be easily found.

There are certain things that are not known about their current practices.

For example: are there still so-called “bozo camps,” where supposedly troublesome members are assigned and sent to for punishment?

Does the group continue to abandon especially problematic members?

In the past problem members often would be sent to bozo camp only to find out that there was no one there, and that everyone there had left the location before the problem member arrived.

Does the Roberts group still do this?

What are their recruitment tactics like today?

There are many unknowns that remain about how the Roberts group is run today by its current elders/leaders.

It does seem that fewer people are joining the group and then disappearing, which greatly distressed families.

It also seems like there are fewer people leaving.

CultNews could not find out how many minor children are now part of the group.

The group is also aging.

Some of the men Jim Roberts hand picked as elders are now entering their seventies.

What will happen to the group as the older members begin to die?

Most personality-driven groups called “cults” wither and disintegrate after the establishing founder/leader is gone.

Perhaps the Roberts group too, will follow that pathway to ultiamate extinction.

Note: Researcher Brian Birmingham was the first to uncover the medical examiner’s report concerning the death of Jim Roberts.

By Brian Birmingham

Some basic background information for those readers who may be less familiar with the so-called “Jesus Christians” (JCs), led by American Dave McKay, who now lives in Melbourne, Australia.

The McKay group is more or less a watered-down version of the Roberts Group/Brethren, nick named the “garbage eaters” for their practice of scrounging food from dumpsters. The JCs, like the Roberts group founded and led by Jim Roberts (now deceased see Medical Examiner Report), is defined and controlled by its founder and leader Dave McKay.

Dave McKay

Though McKay and his followers seem a bit angrier and more resentful that the Roberts group.

Both groups see themselves as the epitome of First Century Christian disciples living minimally on the road, while sharing what they represent as the original teachings of Christianity.

Dave McKay’s craving for attention has put his group in the news at times. Most notably when he hatched a scheme to have his followers donate their kidneys to strangers. For a time, the JCs were called the “kidney cult.”

McKay himself was once a member of the notorious “Children of God” (COG) led by pedophile Moses David Berg (now deceased).

Moses David Berg

McKay has incorporated facets of COG and other teachings he copied to create what can be seen as a composite of cult beliefs, which are used by the JCs.

The net result is that in many ways the JCs are a cloned version of very early COG, with the wandering nomadic aspect of the Roberts Group thrown in and just a sprinkle of the Jesus Army (disbanded) for flavor and a dash of Heaven’s Gate-ish sci-fi (mass suicide all deceased) overtones thrown in for good measure.

If you are looking through a menu of groups called “cults” Dave McKay has concocted quite a stew. But his recipe isn’t very original.

The JCs are pretty much an Australian version of the Roberts group, with two major differences:

1. The McKay group uses the Internet. The JCs create and promote videos online and also actively recruits online. Whereas the Roberts group (again, as far as I know) never made the transition to online proselytizing.

2. The McKay group does not have a uniform, unlike the Roberts group, which has a very distinct style of dress.

Here is What most people don’t know. The similarities between the McKay and Roberts groups are not a mere coincidence. Dave McKay and his followers met Jim Roberts in Oregon, and even camped with the Roberts group for a while in Berkeley, California. This was around 1990.

But when Jim Roberts found out that Dave was in fact not a mere junior member of the group, which he represented himself to be, and instead the group’s leader, things got just a bit testy.

Jim Roberts

Roberts concluded that McKay was in fact attempting to infiltrate and poach his group. Subsequently, he told Dave McKay and his followers to leave the NE Ivy Street house, where they were all staying in Oregon at the time.

JC member Attilla Danko and a woman, who were in the USA at the time, met with two Roberts group members. One is named Jonathon Schmidt, who is still with the Roberts group to this day. Another Roberts group member named Thomas was also there in Berkeley at that time. Thomas has since left the Roberts group.

Eventually, McKay met face to face with Jim Roberts in Oregon. The two “cult leaders” apparently had a confrontation at the house on NE Ivy Street.

Thomas shared this information with CultNews about the Dave McKay and Jim Roberts’ meeting in Oregon.

Thomas was there and witnessed everything first hand.

This history demonstrates that the McKay group is simply a mishmash copied from other “cults” and that McKay has historically drifted through various groups, which he studied and then appropriated teachings from them as he saw fit. Making the JCs a highly eclectic and syncretistic group.

That meeting in Oregon must have been quite a scene. Two mutually exclusive “cult leaders” facing off, each wanting to be dominant top dog demanding obedience.

Of course, most of McKay’s followers today probably have no idea how Dave McKay manufactured his group’s identity and what groups and events contributed to its teachings.

It seems that the readers of CultNews now may know more about this group’s history than the so-called “Jesus Christians.”

But it’s not surprising that Dave McKay probably wants to keep his followers ignorant about all of this.

As the Bible says, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

And as some might also observe, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

But Dave McKay is an old dog that learned old tricks, which he copied from even older now deceased “cult leaders.”

Note: The Medical Examiner Report concerning Jim Roberts linked in this report was first obtained by Brian Birmingham to be archived online at the Cult Education Institute.

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By Brian Birmingham

Where is Benny Hinn and what is he doing now?

A cursory search for his name in the news online reveals that he has not been in the news lately. And a look at Benny Hinn Ministries’ website and Facebook page shows that he’s got no public events coming up in the foreseeable future.

In fact, Benny Hinn’s name has not been in the news much at all since September of 2019. This was about the time when Hinn announced to the world that he was rejecting the so-called “prosperity gospel” and would henceforward preach only historically established Christian doctrine.

Indeed, a reading of Benny Hinn Ministries’ website reflects an absence of any reference to prosperity theology, “seed faith” teaching or anything of the sort. Instead, there are only references to prayer, healing, deliverance, and like topics.

One thing that has not changed about Benny Hinn’s presentation, is his emphasis on miracles, and how they can (and do) happen all the time.

Benny Hinn

But where is the man many regard as the world’s greatest healer, when you really need him, during a pandemic?

While some evangelical churches and other houses of worship around the United States are ignoring Covid restrictions, Benny Hinn seems to be rather timid concerning his approach to serving the quarantined (and otherwise socially restricted) masses.

Where are the “Miracle Services” that he’s so famous for during this season of Coronavirus?

Benny Hinn does not appear at all enthusiastic about healing people from Covid these days.

Is he wary of becoming infected himself?

Maybe he has already been infected?

Hinn did suffer through heart attacks in 2015. And the past year may have been a bit rough regarding financial contributions.

But doesn’t Pastor Benny tell us that all manner of sickness and disease can be healed or cured through his ministry with God’s help?

Perhaps Benny Hinn now thinks that people must not rely upon him in any way, but instead heal themselves with God’s help alone.

If that’s the reason he has been so scarce lately, good on Benny for that!

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By Brian Birmingham

Q: You’ve seen a lot of changes take place in ISKCON (International Society of Krishna Consciousness) over the years, at least in North America. What are some of the biggest changes the institution has made, in your estimation? What things have not changed, or need changing?

A: I joined ISKCON in 1978, just when they instituted the zonal guru system. Under this system, eleven men were named to give initiation within their own zones. This was the biggest change I observed in ISKCON, and probably the biggest change in ISKCON’s short history. I remember being there when Ramesvara announced the plan to a packed Los Angeles temple room. It was unwelcome for most of the disciples of Srila Prabhupada. Some felt Prabhupada should be the only guru even though he was no longer present. They thought any future disciples should be connected to Prabhupada, even if someone else did the initiation ceremony. Others believed all Prabhupada disciples should become gurus and initiate their own disciples. Things split in that direction, because within ten years the GBC had named many more men to become gurus.

Nori Muster

One thing that has not changed is the place of women. As far as I know, ISKCON still has no women gurus, and they do not allow women to give the morning Bhagavatam classes or lead the morning kirtans. I like to believe they stopped arranged marriages, since I’ve spoken to ISKCON women who told me their assigned husbands beat and raped them. As far as the children, they did change the rules, so children are now allowed to live with their families. That’s one good change.

Q: If there was one thing that you would recommend that that the institution could and should change right away, then what would that one thing be?

A: It’s none of my business since I’ve left the organization. However, when I was a member, we tried to be more open about the truth in the ISKCON World Review. From 1986 to 1988 we published articles, interviews, and editorials on a variety of issues, including the guru reform movement, the gurukula, changes in the BBT, and the murder of Steven Bryant (Sulochan). However, it was the 1980s, and the organization was not ready for that. The GBC kept trying to make us stop writing about ISKCON’s problems. They wanted us to go back to printing only good news, so we resigned. If we had kept going, they probably would have found a way to fire us. However, I still believe sunlight is the best disinfectant, and wish the organization would be more open about airing their internal issues with their members, and the public. We just knew way too much in the PR office we were not allowed to talk about. It seemed awkward and unbalanced. Thanks to covering up the secrets, I left ISKCON with a load of guilt that took years to resolve.

Q: In other words, you’d recommend greatly enhanced levels of transparency and accountability, both within the organization itself as well as in its public-relations dealings? Do I understand you correctly?

A: Yes, I support transparency and accountability. Most of what I know about ISKCON these days is from what people tell me. Lots of people contact me after reading my book or finding my website. Some of the things people say make me think things are still a big mess in ISKCON. Let’s compare that to my undergraduate college. My college has a great reputation and always scores in the top ten public colleges. However, if my college had ongoing scandals and a bad reputation, I would feel embarrassed to tell people that’s where I got my degree. It’s the same for ISKCON. I spent ten and a half years in ISKCON and wish the organization would get it together so I could feel proud of them. I feel they’re still too secretive and defensive about their issues.

Q: What do you think about the ongoing “Hiduization” of ISKCON, and the emphasis placed (in recent years) placed upon outreach and evangelism to the Indian immigrant community? I thought that ISKCON is a non-sectarian spiritual society. Why are they identifying as “Hindus” now?

A: Over the years I watched ISKCON go downhill under white American leaders. About the time I left, 1988, I started to think Hindus could probably do a better job of running it. It is, after all, their religion. They grew up in the religion, while most of us grew up as Christians or Jews. As long as the Hindus are honest and treat everyone fairly, I’m all for it. I would hate to see the whole thing break down.

Srila Prabhupada

My other choice would be for the children of ISKCON to run it. However, most of them leave the organization when they grow up. Either way, actual Hindus or children who grew up in ISKCON, seem like the best options for cleaning it up and carrying on Srila Prabhupada’s legacy.

Q: Thank you for your time and help. I’m going to conclude this interview now.

Note: Nori Muster is the author of “Betrayal of the Spirit: My Life Behind the Headlines of the Hare Krishna Movement” (University of Illinois Press, 1997), “Cult Survivors Handbook: Seven Paths to an Authentic Life” (2010), and “Child of the Cult” (2012). She was an ISKCON member from 1978-1988, then earned her Master of Science degree at Western Oregon University in 1991 doing art therapy with juvenile sex offenders. She is currently a freelance writer and adjunct professor, based in Arizona. Muster also has a website for cultic studies information.