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.

Kurtz, Howard, “High Level Endorsements,” The Washington Post, September 7, 2003.

Fletcher, Betty, “Rev. Moon to serve jail time,” The Pantagraph, May 14, 1984.

Van Velzer, Ryan, “Immortality eludes People Unlimited founder,” The Arizona Republic, November 16, 2014.

Zhi Gang Sha, “Soul Healing Miracles,” Benbella Books Inc. official website,, (accessed April 7, 2015)

Forum, public message board, Cult Education Institute, Trenton, New Jersey,  June 07, 2008 — February 25, 2013.

Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change, 2nd ed. (New York: Stillpoint Press, 2005).

Singer, Margaret, Cults in Our Midst (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1996).

“Captive Minds: Hypnosis and Beyond,” Documentary, Directed by Pierre Lasry, Montreal: National Film Board of Canada, 1983,, (accessed April 7, 2015).

Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, Holy Terror: The Fundamentalist War on America’s Freedoms in Religion, Politics, and Our Private Lives (New York: Doubleday, 1982).

Robert Jay Lifton, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012).

Robert Jay Lifton, “Cult Formation,” Harvard Metal Health Letter, February 1981.

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.

, , ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ToTo pulls the curtain

Toto pulls the curtain

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

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

Could Tom Cruise or John Travolta be successfully deprogrammed?

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise

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

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

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

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

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

John Travolta

John Travolta

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

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

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

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

The four blocks are:

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

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

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

  1. a charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose their power;
  2. a process [Lifton calls] coercive persuasion or thought reform;
  3. economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.

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

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

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

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

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

How does Scientology do that?

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

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

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

L. Ron Hubbard

L. Ron Hubbard

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

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

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

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

Wizard of Oz

Wizard of Oz

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

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

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

(Written by Rick Alan Ross)

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

, , ,

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

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

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

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

Hein reciprocates by endorsing and promoting Hassan.

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

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

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

Hassan literally linked to Hein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update: Steven Hassan now also links to Anton Hein’s website through his Web page “The Truth About Steven Hassan.” Hassan recommends the fugitive sex offender as a “useful page” supplying information about “How to Select a Cult Expert.” Hein recommends Hassan.

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

, , , ,

Julaine Semanta Roy 85, the wife of Rama Behera later known as Rama Samanta Roy and then Avraham Cohen, died May 5th of this year. But her death was not reported until this month by The Shawano Leader.

Julaine Semanta Roy’s husband Rama Behera has historically been reported about by investigative journalists for many years. Behera has often been called a “cult” leader. He and his followers have been the subject of numerous media reports in Wisconsin and nationally. It seems that Rama Behera sought to escape his bad reputation by changing his name to Avraham Cohen and identifying himself as “Jewish.” Rama Behera moved to Maryland, where he became a member of Beth El Congregation in Baltimore.

The curious religious transformation of Rama Behera, who is of Indian descent, was the focus of a previous CultNews report some time ago. At that time Behera/Cohen was affiliated with Yeshivat Rambam, a Jewish day school in Baltimore, which has since closed.

The Shawano Leader reported that Behera/Cohen’s wife, like her husband, apparently went through a similar metamorphosis concerning her own identity. Born Julaine Smith, she became Julaine Semanta Roy and later was reportedly known as Sarah Steinberg and/or Sarah Cohen.

CultNews contacted Beth El Memorial Park cemetery in Randallstown, Maryland. Staff responding to the call confirmed that Behera/Cohen is a member of the Beth El Congregation and explained that though there is an Inter-faith section at the Beth El cemetery where non-Jews are buried, Julaine Semanta Roy was laid to rest in the Jewish portion of the graveyard.

rama3Behera/Cohen’s claim that he is somehow a Jew seems quite bizarre. The group Behera/Cohen led for decades was once called “The Disciples of the Lord Jesus,” which appears to make him a Christian. Past members of Behera/Cohen’s group say that he has a penchant for inconsistency. One former devotee told the press, “It doesn’t have to be logical, it doesn’t have to make sense; Rama [now known as Avraham Cohen] says so and that’s it.”

The choice of the names Avraham and Sarah Cohen by Rama Behera (photo left) the long-time “cult” leader is interesting. Apparently, continuing to see himself in grandiose terms, Behera chose the name Avraham (Abraham) the founder of Judaism and the corresponding name of Sarah the patriarch’s biblical spouse as the name for his own wife. The choice of the last name Cohen also has special significance. Cohen indicates a claim that a family are supposedly descendents of Aaron, the high priest and brother of Moses.

But is being a Jew just a claim anyone can make? Is it based upon name changes? Is this somehow enough to become officially recognized as Jewish? Maybe it’s enough for an old “cult” leader, but is it enough for Beth El Congregation and its cemetery?

CultNews contacted Senior Rabbi Steven Schwartz at Beth El to ask him how it is that Julaine Semanta Roy (aka Sarah Cohen) was allowed to be buried in the Jewish portion of the Beth El cemetery. CultNews asked Rabbi Schwartz very specifically that if to the best of his knowledge, Julaine Semanta Roy had undergone a ritual conversion per Jewish traditional law before being buried in the Beth El cemetery.

CultNews has received no response from Rabbi Schwartz.


You have seen them in movies and on TV, but cults are more prevalent than you think and they are armed with strategies that can “brainwash” and gain undue influence over even the most unlikely of candidates.

But how do individuals get involved with destructive cults in the first place, and what steps can be taken for those concerned to intervene “deprogram” and heal those who have been drawn into these damaging groups?

These questions and more are addressed in Cults Inside Out: How People Get In and Can Get Out, written with the help of current and former cult members, Ross demonstrates many of the tactics destructive cults use for control and manipulation—and, more importantly, some of the most effective methods he and other experts have used to reverse that programming.

As a result, readers will find themselves armed with a greater understanding of the nature of destructive cults and an improved ability to assess and deal with similar situations—either in their own lives or the lives of friends and family members.

From the Manson family to Heaven’s Gate, to multilevel marketing schemes, there are as many types of cults as there are leaders looking to control and manipulate.

Luckily the more people know and understand about these damaging groups, the less influential they will be–and Cults Inside Out exposes the inner workings of cults of all shapes and sizes.

About the author

For more than three decades, Rick Alan Ross has worked with current and former cult members, including participation in more than five hundred interventions. Along the way, he has learned the methods of these groups use to deceive and “brainwash” even the most unlikely individuals. Using real-life examples and first-hand accounts, this informative look at the world of destructive cults will arm readers with a greater understanding of the dangers of such cults–as well as providing valuable information about the intervention or “deprogramming” process.

Ross has consulted with the FBI, the BATF and other law enforcement agencies, as well as the governments of Israel and China on the topic of cults. Ross is a private consultant, lecturer and cult intervention specialist. He has been qualified and accepted as an expert court witness in eleven different states, including United States federal court. He has also worked as a professional analyst for CBS News, CBC of Canada, and Nippon and Asahi of Japan. He has appeared in thirteen documentaries and numerous network television interviews. Ross has been quoted by the media all over the world.

Rick Alan Ross is the founder of the Cult Education Institute, an online library and member of the American Library Association, whose database is one of the largest sources of information regarding cults on the Internet.

Comments about the book

“For any parent or family member searching for information about how to get a loved one out of a destructive cult, this book puts it all together — from the real nature of cults, to the right way to prepare for an intervention, to the actual experiences of a cult-buster who’s been at the head of his field for decades.”

–Tony Ortega, journalist and former Village Voice editor

index“Experts agree that thought reform is one of the greatest dangers to society and that the best defense is education. No person has done more to educate the public about its dangers then Rick Ross. When the media has needed explanations it has been Rick Ross providing the answers in simple easy to understand language. Now he has put it all into a book. Knowledge can be the best protection. And that’s the best reason to read this book.”

–Paul Morantz, author of “Escape: My Life Long War Against Cults”

“Rick Ross has provided us with a wealth of information in Cults Inside Out, which bears the fruits of his extensive knowledge and decades of experience in working with those who have been impacted by a destructive cult. His comprehensive review of the history from the 1970s to the present is much needed, given that many young people today are unaware of events that were headlines when they occurred, such as Jonestown and how they came about. There are many audiences for this book: people with loved ones in cults, former cult members, helping professionals looking to educate themselves, people working in the legal system, educators and others. This book also provides excellent guidelines for people who have decided to intervene with a cult-involved loved one and are seeking help. Ross presents his own approach in great detail, which is honest, educational, non-forcible and non-coercive – the opposite of what destructive cults do. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in learning more about cults and how to help others or themselves to become or remain free of undue influence.”

–Monica Pignotti, PhD

“In his masterful new book, Cults Inside Out, Rick Ross has delivered an exceptional and critically needed resource. He has gathered together in one comprehensive volume detailed, documented information about the diverse and growing number of controlling persons and groups preying on individuals, families and communities in the United States and worldwide. He brings to this impressive body of information his own expertise and first-hand experience spanning three decades helping victimized families. If you want to educate yourself, inoculate your family, and equip your loved ones with understanding and awareness about how predatory people and groups can steal their minds, their hearts, and their lives, read Cults Inside Out. Then make a gift of it to a friend.”

—Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, authors of

Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change

By Rick Alan Ross

A Jordanian online publication Al Bawaba recently ran an article titled “UK girl’s family fears Internet brainwashing.” The report proposed that “powerful jihadists are ‘brainwashing’ British teenagers through the internet.”

The aunt of one such teenage recruit said that her niece “was [radicalized] online after spending increasing amounts of time on her laptop and smart phone” communicating with ISIS members. She claims, “They can brainwash these children or 15 or 19-year-olds to leave their own home…it can happen to anyone.” Her niece may have been recruited through a so-called “jihadi dating site.”

The Mirror reported that in response to such recruitment efforts the British “Home Office has closed down 30,000 terrorist-linked websites in just nine months.” Through such websites “the internet is increasingly being hijacked by terrorist [organizations] to seduce Britons into going to war.”

yusra-hussienDestructive cults were pioneers on the World Wide Web and have used it effectively for promotional and recruitment purposes. An early example was the group known as “Heaven’s Gate,” which launched its own now notorious website almost twenty years ago. Other cults have learned to use the Internet as an effective tool. It is not surprising that ISIS likewise sees the Internet as a useful resource, which can now potentially reach virtually anyone anywhere through the access provided by an array of various electronic devices.

According to a report featured by Singapore’s Today, “Many of the youngest girls are lured with promises of humanitarian work. It is only once in Syria that they discover their fate: forced marriage to a fighter, strict adherence to Islamic law, a life under surveillance and little hope of returning home, say parents, relatives and radicalization experts.”

Again, this is not unlike the process of recruitment used by destructive cults, which frequently rely upon the old ploy of “bait and switch” to lure new members. Cults typically appeal to the naive idealism of potential recruits, wrapping themselves in the guise of positive social change, civic betterment, environmental awareness and most commonly some supposed religious or spiritual purpose.

Reportedly, “many women being radicalized hail from moderate Muslim households. But volunteers have also come from atheist, Catholic and Jewish households, both rich and poor, urban and rural.” Dounia Bouzar, a French anthropologist charged with the task of de-radicalizing such jihadists explained, “Recruiters have refined their methods to such a degree where they can take in people who are doing fine.” Bouzar stated, “Some are contacted on Facebook, others were chatted up on dating sites. Others met a friend who became a sort of guru.” Additionally, “Some of the women ‘thought they were in love’ after being groomed by men over the web or telephone.”

Destructive cults have been able to recruit almost anyone regardless of education, family background, religion or social status. ISIS follows a familiar pattern well-established by destructive cults who frequently target unaware and vulnerable young people, often on college campuses. Some cultists have also been drawn in through a romantic interest. Like jihadists, well-known cults use the social media to contact, influence and mentor potential new members.

According to news reports the guru of ISIS is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who assumed power over the group in early 2007. Whether or not ISIS fits the personality-driven terrorist model of al-Qaeda remains to be seen. The influence and control exerted over the group by al-Baghdadi as a cultlike charismatic leader, has not been firmly established.

Hans-Georg Maassen, head of Germany’s domestic intelligence, says “The romance of jihad is very pronounced in propaganda and used by women to recruit other women. According to authorities recent radicalized recruits included 400 from Germany, 1,000 from France and 85 from Sweden. Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert at Sweden’s National Defence College observed, “There is almost an obsession with paradise and the afterlife, which makes it like a death cult. Death matters more than life.” In the United States FBI Director James Comey reported to CBS’ “60 Minutes” he is monitoring “dozens of Americans” that have left the US to join ISIS or other terrorist groups.

After being mentored by their Internet gurus the new recruits are embedded and isolated within training camps, which are totally controlled environments. Communication is limited and when members do communicate with their families it may be scripted or coached. In a BBC News online video interview the father of one young ISIS recruit said, “‘my son believes it because it is brainwashing.” The father advised that “other people” could be heard controlling his son’s conversation and coaching him during Skype calls. Again, the control of communication seemingly mandated by ISIS is eerily similar to destructive cults.

Bad behavior by ISIS, not unlike excuses offered by destructive cults, is often rationalized  by the apology that essentially the “end justifies the means.”

A former member of ISIS interviewed by CNN discussed the process of her recruitment into the organization. A college educated teacher she reportedly was “drawn to the eloquence of a Tunisian whom she met online. Taken with his manners, she grew to trust him over time and he gradually lured her” with assurances “that the group was not what people thought, that it was not a terrorist organization.” The former ISIS member said the recruiter told her “‘we are going to properly implement Islam. Right now we are in a state of war, a phase where we need to control the country, so we have to be harsh.'”

Once fully embedded within the group the new recruit was told by her female commander, “‘Wake up, take care of yourself. You are walking, but you don’t know where you are going.'” Within this strange new environment the former school teacher turned ISIS member told CNN, “At the start, I was happy with my job. I felt that I had authority in the streets. But then I started to get scared, scared of my situation. I even started to be afraid of myself.”

Much like a cult member the teacher’s true personality came into conflict with the pseudo-personality imposed upon her by ISIS. She said, “I am not like this. I have a degree in education. I shouldn’t be like this. What happened to me? What happened in my mind that brought me here?” Ultimately the daily brutality of her new life shocked the young woman into again thinking independently for herself. She reflected, “The foreign fighters are very brutal with women, even the ones they marry,” she said. “There were cases where the wife had to be taken to the emergency ward because of the violence, the sexual violence.” She reacted honestly to the horror with reason, “I said enough. After all that I had already seen and all the times I stayed silent, telling myself, ‘We’re at war, then it will all be rectified.'” Finally she decided, “I have to leave.”

Once outside the confines of the “death cult” the young woman was more fully able to analyze her former situation. No longer was she subjected to the stern authoritarian discipline and stringent controls exercised over her daily life. This type of milieu control is historically the hallmark of destructive cults.

Today the former ISIS devotee is still trying to sort through her experience. “How did we allow them to come in? How did we allow them to rule us?” She claims, “There is a weakness in us.” but warns, “I don’t want anyone else to be duped by them. Too many girls think they are the right Islam.” Working through what seems like a cult recovery the former school teacher says, “It has to be gradual, so that I don’t become someone else. I am afraid of becoming someone else. Someone who swings, as a reaction in the other direction, after I was so entrenched in religion, that I reject religion completely.”

Monica Uriarte proposed her own prescription to immunize the public regarding jihadist recruiters online at Carbonated. She explains  “How to Stop Disillusioned Teens from Joining ISIS.” Uriarte says, “The answer lies in education. Muslim American and European Muslim communities need to educate their youth.”

But educate them about what?

In my opinion the key to such useful education is a better understanding of the dynamics of destructive cults, their recruitment tactics and how they employ a synthesis of coercive persuasion and influence techniques to trick and control people.

Thought provoking analysis is also offered by journalist Tom Gaisford writing for The Independent. In an article titled, “How should we respond to the murder of Alan Henning at the hands of Isis?” Gaisford says, “Extremists operate in a vacuum, free from self-criticism. Proof of this is their self-portrayal as anything but: they see themselves as enlightened moderates, driven to violence by necessity – heroes, effectively. This, it would seems, is how they are able to justify their conduct to themselves (whatever it is and whomsoever it affects).”

Again, this is not unlike historical cult leaders such as Charles Manson, Jim Jones, David Koresh, Shoko Asahara or notably Osama bin Laden. All apparent psychopaths who saw themselves in heroic terms as global game changers. The idea that they could be wrong was unthinkable to them and their followers. Whatever they did could somehow be justified within the framework of their grandiose game of global enlightenment, revelation, purification and/or annihilation.

Gaisford calls the philosophy of such leaders “circular nonsense.” He further observes, that “the language of [dehumanization] and destruction [within Jihadis groups like ISIS] is alarmingly reminiscent of the very darkest chapters in our world history.” Again, this seems to allude to cultic environments, such as Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia and the authoritarian dynasty that now dominates North Korea.

Gaisford elaborates, “The key to [neutralizing] extremism is more likely to lie in harnessing and disseminating information about the how it takes hold in the first place. The process is known colloquially as ‘[radicalization]’ or “brainwashing” (depending on the context), though a more helpful term for it is ‘mind control’.”

Gaisford then explains what can be seen as the first step in cult recruitment. “Essentially, it relies on our inherent tendency to interpret information in a way that confirms our biases: its practitioners play to what we want to hear, to lead us unwittingly away from reality, simultaneously undermining the confidence and critical capacity we require to ‘return home’.” He concludes that jihadist recruiters, “though potentially deluded themselves, the likelihood is that controllers deceive their controlees knowingly, for their own personal benefit. To that extent, they are not in fact extremists but deeply cynical, critically attuned egoists.”

Again, just like destructive cults and their leaders have proven to be over and over again.

By Rick Ross

In a recent opinion/editorial New York Times piece titled “The Cult Deficit” columnist Ross Douthat stated, “the cult phenomenon feels increasingly antique, like lava lamps and bell bottoms.” He concluded, “Spiritual gurus still flourish in our era, of course, but they are generally comforting, vapid, safe — a Joel Osteen rather than a Jim Jones, a Deepak Chopra rather than a David Koresh.”

Interestingly, Deepak Chopra was a disciple of Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who was often called a “cult leader.” Maharishi was the founder of Transcendental Meditation (TM), a group frequently included on cult lists and still quite active amidst allegations of abuse.

Douthat doesn’t seem to care much about destructive cults or the damage they do. He laments that the Branch Davidians were “mistreated and misjudged.” Apparently the columnist hasn’t bothered to do much research as he has ignored the facts reported in the press about the Davidians and as established through the congressional record, the Danforth Report and submitted through court proceedings. Suffice to say that despite anti-government conspiracy theories David Koresh was one of the most vicious cult leaders in modern history. He was a deeply disturbed man that sexually preyed upon children and stockpiled weapons for the purpose of a violent end.

Journalist Tony Ortega at Raw Story points out that “The same week the US goes to war with one, NYT’s Douthat asks, where are the cults?” Ortega recognizes that many terrorist groups today are little more than personality-driven cults, such as al-Qaeda once was under the influence of Osama bin Laden. History is strewn with examples of the destruction wrought by totalitarian cults from the Nazis led by Adolf Hitler to the family dynasty that continues to dominate and control North Korea.

Not surprisingly following up Douthat doesn’t quote Ortega’s response, but instead prefers “Reason Magazine,” a Libertarian leaning publication that essentially agrees with him. Calling a column written by Peter Suderman a “very interesting response” Dauthat again ignores the facts and reiterates his opinion, as supposedly supported by a “religious historian” and venture capitalist. Suderman doesn’t dispute Douthat’s claim that cults are in decline, but rather uses it as a hook for his own spin about the “rise of subcultures.”

However, despite all the liberal or Libertarian posturing performed by these pundits the cult phenomenon has actually expanded around the world.

Unlike the United States, other countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East have taken steps to respond to cults both through regulation and law enforcement. For example, in Japan and Germany cults have been closely monitored and in China some have been outlawed. Recently in Israel cult leader Goel Ratzon was convicted of sex crimes. Ratzon’s criminal conviction followed a lengthy government investigation and raid by law enforcement.

In addition to malevolent cult movements that have captivated nations the old familiar groups called “cults” that Douthat thinks have faded away actually are still around such as Scientology, the Unification Church, Hare Krishnas, Divine Light Mission, International Church of Christ, and Est (the Forum), although they may now use new names to avoid easy recognition.

In fact the United States has become something of a destination point and haven for groups called “cults.”

Dahn Yoga, led by Ilchee Lee, which started in South Korea, later set up shop in Arizona and now has a following across America.

Another recent arrival is the World Mission Society Church of God led by Zhang Gil-Jah, known to her devotees as “Mother God.” Not long ago Zhang opened her first church in New Jersey. Since then the group has grown rapidly across the US and Canada. Mother has even rented space in Manhattan not far from the New York Times.

Exiled “evil cult” leader Li Hongzhi, founder of Falun Gong, had to leave China, but found refuge in New York. According to researchers Li now has a flock of about !0,000 followers in North America. He claims to channel miraculous healing powers, which has allegedly led to medical neglect and death. The group has regular parades and demonstrations in NYC, Apparently Mr. Dauthat missed that.

Just as there will always be con men running schemes to take people’s money, there will always be destructive cult leaders exploiting the vulnerabilities of humanity. For con men and cult leaders it’s a business and it seems to be quite profitable. When Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard died in 1986 his estate totaled hundreds of millions of dollars. Today, Scientology reportedly has a billion dollars in cash and vast real estate holdings. When Maharishi Mahesh Yogi died he left behind a spiritual empire valued in billions. Rev. Moon, the founder of the Unification Church, likewise left behind a hefty financial legacy, which is now managed by his children. Whenever there is cash and assets someone will step in to take over. And in the United States cults can operate with relative impunity as an unregulated industry.

No one knows exactly how many cult members there are in the United States. But almost every day I learn of a new group or organization that seems to fit the core criteria, which forms the nucleus for most definitions of a destructive cult. These core criteria were established by Robert Jay Lifton back in the 1980s. Rather than focusing on what a group believes Lifton’s criteria focus on the structure, dynamics and behavior of a group.

First, the single and most salient feature of a destructive cult is that it is personality-driven and animated by a living, charismatic and totalitarian leader. It is that leader who is the defining element and driving force of the group. Whatever the leader says is right is right and whatever the leader says is wrong is wrong. He or she determines the relative morality of the group and its core identity.

Second, the group engages in a process of thought reform to break people down and then redevelop them according to a predetermined mindset, which includes a diminished ability to think critically and/or independently. This is accomplished through a synthesis of coercive persuasion and influence techniques, relentlessly focused on individuals subjected to the group process.

Finally, the third criteria, is that the group does harm. This may vary from group to group as some groups are more harmful than others. One groups may simply exploit its members financially or through free labor, while others may make much more intense demands such as sexual favors, medical neglect or even criminal acts.

Whatever the group may present as its facade, be it religion, politics, exercise, martial arts, business scheme or philosophy, it is the structure, dynamics and behavior of the group that sets it apart and aligns it with the core criteria, which forms the nucleus for a definition of a destructive cult.

For those who would attempt to diminish the power of persuasion used by cults we have only to look at the pattern of behavior within such groups. Why would people act against their own interests, but instead consistently behave in the best interest of the cult leader? Why would cult members allow their children to die due to medical neglect or surrender them for sexual abuse? The most compelling explanation for such otherwise improbable behavior is that cult victims are under undue influence and therefore unable to think for themselves independently.

The dirty little secret about cults and their bag of tricks, is that we are all vulnerable to coercive persuasion and influence techniques. And this is particularly true when we are at a vulnerable time in our lives. This might include a period of grief, financial instability, isolation or some other personal setback. It is at these times that cults can more easily and deceptively recruit people. No one intentionally joins a cult. Instead, people are tricked by cults, through deceptive recruitment practices and a gradual indoctrination process that doesn’t immediately fully disclose the group’s expectations and agenda.

If people were not vulnerable to persuasion and influence techniques there would be no advertising or political propaganda. Every person approached isn’t taken in by cult recruitment tactics, just as everyone doesn’t buy a product promoted by slick advertising. The question is not why don’t cults recruit everyone, but rather how do they recruit people and why do those people often stay to their determent.

Instead of denial and fanciful claims about the decline of cults our best response regarding such groups is education and increased awareness. Understanding the basic warning signs of a potentially unsafe group is a good start. And utilizing the Web to find information about specific groups before becoming more deeply involved is always a good idea. More information helps people make more informed choices. Ignorance may lead to devastating consequences.

As Tony Ortega concluded, “As long as the media remains in the dark about destructive cults and the way they work, we’ll continue to get bewildering statements about ISIS, and ignorant columns from the New York Times.”