Schenzhen International Symposium on Cultic Studies 2010

Published by the Institute of Religious Studies Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences

By Rick Alan Ross

My work regarding cult deprogramming began in 1982. At that time I was deeply concerned about a group that had infiltrated a nursing home where my 82-year-old grandmother was a resident. The group had specifically asked its members to seek jobs as paid professional staff at the nursing home, with the ulterior motive of targeting residents for recruitment.

My grandmother made me aware of this situation. And working with the executive director of the nursing home we identified the group members on staff, who were subsequently terminated. This personal experience initiated me in the world of radical religious groups and cults. I then became an anti-cult community activist and organizer.

During this period I was appointed to two national committees and later asked to join the professional staff of a social service agency in Phoenix, Arizona. At the agency it was not uncommon for parents to bring an adult child, typically a college student, to my office for consultation regarding involvement in a radical group or cult.

I would work with the families often in conjunction with our staff psychologist and/or caseworkers, in an effort to extricate the individual from any further cult involvement. Little did I know at the time that this process of intervention was called “cult deprogramming”.

During the 1980s I was involved in about 100 interventions regarding cult-like groups. Families would find me through the previously mentioned social service agency, a community educational Bureau that also employed me or were referred by local clergy, educators and community leaders.

During this period I worked largely within the Jewish community, though increasingly through related conferences and professional exchanges, I became of aware of a network of anti-cult activists and helping professionals throughout the United States. It was through my interaction with others doing essentially the same work that I later learned the type of intervention work that I was doing, was known as cult deprogramming.

Margaret Singer often cited as a leading brainwashing and cult expert [I] defined cult deprogramming as “providing members with information about the cult and showing them how their own decision-making power had been taken away from them.”

Over the years that basic process of sharing information and demonstrating to cult members how the power of persuasion may have compromised their critical and independent thinking, has been refined continuously and improved. In fact, the name “cult deprogramming” itself has become something of a politically incorrect term. Today most professionals engaged in cult intervention work prefer other labels to describe their work. For example, “exit counseling,” “thought reform consultation,” or “strategic intervention therapy.” 

Many believe that cult deprogramming can only be applied correctly to involuntary cult interventions.

However, the simple distilled definition provided by Singer remains the most salient and basic understanding of the process of bringing people out of destructive cults through intervention.

Involuntary deprogramming with adults is no longer done within the United States.

The only involuntary interventions that continue concerning cults within North America is done regarding minor children, under the direct supervision of their custodial parent.  Legal concerns have precluded anything else, though for a relatively brief time during the 1970s through a court provision known as conservatorship, involuntary deprogramming did occur legally with adults.

In 1986 I began working privately. That is, working as a private consultant and cult intervention specialist. Over the past 24 years I have been involved in hundreds of intervention efforts. My work has taken me throughout the United States, and to Canada, Italy, Sweden, England, Ireland and Israel.

I have continually developed and refined my intervention approach. The basic foundation as defined by Singer remains the same, but the details of that process has evolved, especially in consideration of improved information technology that has become available, such as the easy access to information through the Internet.

In the 1980s and early 1990s information was provided to cult members during interventions through books, videos and direct interaction with former members.

Today the process of providing information has been directly affected primarily by the advent of the Internet, related streaming video, teleconferencing, DVDs and other technologies. These advancements have made the gathering, organizing and presentation of information for the purpose of an intervention much easier.

My own preparation, presentation and communication approach has been honed and refined over the years.

My hope in presenting this paper is that I can share with you the basic structure and content of my approach in concise language. By sharing my approach with you we can hopefully better understand and further the development of cult intervention work.

Preparation

The first step in the process of any intervention is preparation.

After a family, spouse or someone concerned contacts me requesting an intervention I must evaluate the situation and assemble a file.

This file includes an intake questionnaire [II] which is composed of about 50 questions. These questions relate specifically to the individual cult members background, history of involvement and specific concerns regarding the immediate situation.

Additionally, I will also collect information for my file, which is specifically about the group and/or leader in question.

Most often a series of phone consultations will follow.

Then there will be a sit down meeting, which typically takes place the day before the intervention begins.

In this process of preparation the family identifies who would be most effective for participation at the intervention. That is, which family members and/or friends have the most respect, admiration and emotional hold on the cult-involved individual.

One net result of the preparation process is to specifically determine what people would be best suited as members of the intervention team.

After identifying and assembling the team, here is what is usually discussed at the final preparation meeting:

  • What are the rules of engagement?
  • What are the boundaries and parameters of participation?
  • What roles will each family member or friend play?
  • What should they say or not say?
  • How will the intervention process begin, proceed and ultimately end?

The basic role of each family member and friend can best be summarized as largely focused upon two primary objectives.

These objectives are:

  1. Essentially anchor the cult involved individual. That is, to keep them from leaving, by helping to create an atmosphere of support premised upon historical trust and understanding. Simply put, the cult member will not stay involved in the intervention process for my sake, as I am a total stranger. But the cult member will stay out of respect for their family, friends and others concerned. This is vitally important because any intervention done with an adult is on a voluntary basis and therefore dependent upon their consent and ongoing cooperation. In the preparation process possible scenarios and/or potential situations are discussed. For example, the individual may become angry, get up and begin to leave. How should that be handled? Who would be most effective in persuading him or her not to leave and to stay?
  2. The family and friends also are there to provide first-hand eyewitness testimony. That is, what have they seen and observed regarding the cult-involved person’s recent behavior, which has caused them concern? At various times during an intervention a cult member may engage in denial. Since I have not directly witnessed what has occurred, I rely upon the family and friends present to share their experience to counteract any effort to obscure or deny the historical facts surrounding the situation.

We also must discuss and define our roles.

What is the role of the intervention specialist?

When is it appropriate and effective for family and friends to interject their opinions, testimony and concern?

I typically will advise the family to allow me the role of presenting the main body of information, leading and/or facilitating the discussion.

The Intervention

An average cult intervention takes 3 to 4 days, not including travel or preparation.

This means approximately 24 to 32 working hours spread out at eight hours per day not including breaks.

The more time I have, the more likely it is that the cult member will leave the group.

About 75% of my interventions have ended in success. That is, the individual that was the focus of the intervention decided to leave the cult by the conclusion of the intervention process.

Most of my failures have occurred within the first day or 24 hours of the intervention.

Very few cult members I have worked with for 3 to 4 days chose to continue with the group. Ultimately what this means is that the more time that I have the more likely it is that the intervention will be successful.

An intervention is an ongoing dialog or discussion. During such a discussion everyone present offers their impressions, observations and opinions. My role is to lead and facilitate that ongoing discussion, often directing and focusing attention on specific points.

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

These blocks of discussion preferably can be discussed in the order that follows, but this sequence may be rearranged during the intervention, due to the interest and focus of the cult-involved individual.

The four blocks of discussion are:

  1. What is the definition of a destructive cult?
  2. How does the process of coercive persuasion or thought reform really work?
  3. What is the history of the group and/or leader that has drawn concern?
  4. What are the family’s concerns?

First block of Discussion: Defining a destructive cult

The discussion specifically about the definition of a destructive cult is premised upon a definition provided by psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton. Lifton’s definition [III] is precise and objective, based upon the behavior of the group rather than its beliefs.

Lifton states that “Cults can be identified by three 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 I call coercive persuasion or thought reform;
  3. economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.”

The first criterion is that the group can be seen as essentially personality-driven. That is, defined by a living and totalitarian leader. He or she is the focus of the group and its driving force. Whatever he or she says is right is right and whatever he or she says is wrong is wrong. Members of the group therefore ultimately abdicate their ability to make many value judgments of their own in deference to the leader.

Within the intervention examples or profiles are given specifically of historical cult leaders and their personal power.

For example, well-known cult figures can be cited such as Jim Jones [IV], David Koresh [V], Shoko Asahara [V] and Charles Manson [VII]. The purpose is to establish a common thread and historical basis of understanding who and/or what constitutes a destructive cult leader.

Documentary DVDs may also be viewed, which report the history of particular cult leaders.

Conversation then is about how the particular group and/or leader, being discussed as the focus of the intervention, may in some way parallel the established definition and the historical examples given.

The discussion might then focus upon what if any meaningful accountability exists, which limits or checks the leader’s power?

Are there explicit boundaries regarding his or her influence?

Is the leader ever wrong?

Can the leader be meaningfully questioned or contradicted?

If the leader can in fact be questioned, contradicted and wrong, what are some specific examples?

At this point some simple observation might be made about the issue of thought reform, such as a pattern of behavior that demonstrates a lack of independent and individual thinking.

A perspective might also be posited that members of the group can be seen consistently doing things that are not in their own best interest, but that are consistently in the best interests of the group. 

The final criterion is that the group does harm and is therefore can be sees as a destructive cult.

The destructive nature of groups varies by degree depending upon the group.

Some groups may be more destructive than others.

The discussion here focuses upon what specific harm the group in question has done.

At this point documentation may be produced to establish a pattern of grievances and harm historically done as evidenced by previously published news reports, court documents and other sources.

Additionally, family members and others concerned attending the intervention may offer their perspectives.

Again parallels may be drawn between well-established historical cults and the group being discussed.

Second Block of Discussion: How does the process of coercive persuasion or thought reform work?

The discussion of coercive persuasion and thought reform techniques is based upon the writings of Robert Jay Lifton [VIII], psychologist Margaret Singer [IX], sociologist Richard Ofshe [X] and professor of psychology Robert Cialdini [XI]. The writings of these experts form a basis for discussion.

In Ofshe’s paper Coercive Persuasion and Attitude Change he offers four key factors that distinguish coercive persuasion from other training and socialization schemes.

1.      The reliance on intense interpersonal and psychological attack to destabilize an individual sense of self to promote compliance.

2.      The use of an organized peer group.

3.      Applying interpersonal pressure to promote conformity.

4.      The manipulation of the totality of the person’s social environment to stabilize behavior once modified.

These basic group factors can then be layered upon and expanded within the discussion. Also examined is Lifton’s eight criteria as outlined within his book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, which are used to establish the presence of a thought reform program.

1.      “Milieu control,” which Ofshe describes as the control of the environment and communication.

2.      “Mystical manipulation,” which Ofshe explains as emotional and behavioral manipulation done through the guise of group beliefs and practices.

3.      “The demand for purity,” or what Ofshe describes as demands for absolute conformity to behavior as prescribed and derived from the group ideology.

4.      “The cult of confession,” what Ofshe sees as the obsessive demands for personal and group confession, which ultimately render individual members completely vulnerable, transparent and without a sense of individual privacy.

5.      “The sacred science,” which Ofshe explains as agreement that the group ideology is absolutely perfect, faultless, or what Lifton calls its ultimate vision for the ordering of all human existence.

6.      “Loading the language,” explained by Ofshe as the manipulation of language often characterized by thought terminating clichés, which substitute for critical and analytical thought.

7.      “Doctrine over person,” further described by Ofshe as the reinterpretation of human experience and emotion as seen through the lens and according to the terms of group doctrine.

8.      “The dispensing of existence,” which Ofshe sees as the classification of those not sharing the group’s beliefs as inferior and not worthy of respect.

Distinctions are then must be made between the process of coercive persuasion or thought reform and other forms of persuasion such as education, advertising, propaganda and indoctrination.

Margaret singer provided a chart [XII] in which these distinct forms of persuasions are delineated as expressed in categories such as focus of body of knowledge, direction and degree of exchange, ability to change, structure of persuasion, type of relationship, deceptiveness, breadth of learning, tolerance and methodology.

It is important to discuss these distinctions in order to clarify that thought reform is a unique and separate category of persuasion, which unlike other forms of persuasion, can be seen as both coercive and deliberately deceptive.

In her chart Singer also expanded upon the three stages coercive persuasion as defined by Edgar Schein, an author and expert concerning persuasion techniques. Schein, a professor at MIT, outlined the process of coercive persuasion in three simple steps.

1.      “Unfreezing,” or what Singer describes as “the destabilizing of a person’s sense of self. This process includes “keeping the person unaware of what is going on and the changes taking place. Controlling the person’s time and if possible their physical environment. Creating a sense of powerless covert fear and dependency. And suppressing much of the person’s old behavior and attitudes.”

2.      “Changing,” or what Singer explains as “getting the person to drastically reinterpret his or her life’s history and radically alter his or her worldview and accept a new version of reality and causality.”

3.      “Refreezing,” or as Singer says, “Put forth a closed system of logic; allow no real input or criticism.” Ultimately this culminates in what Singer describes as a person frozen or “dependent upon the organization¦a deployable agent.”

Documentary DVDs may also be shown at this juncture in the intervention process to demonstrate these specific coercive persuasion techniques in action.

These DVDs might include news reports regarding destructive cults, which demonstrate their internal behavior. And also research regarding the suggestible states that can be achieved through hypnosis, trance induction, meditation, yoga, chanting and various repeated physical exercises.

How can such states of suggestibility be manipulated through guided imagery, indirect directives, peer pressure, modeling behavior and emotional manipulation?

The discussion then focuses upon how these criteria and coercive persuasion techniques are expressed by the group in question.

Those participating in the intervention offer their insights and perspectives about how the group demonstrates these criteria.

A review of more general influence techniques is also discussed.

This discussion is premised upon the writings of Robert Cialdini, author of the book Influence. In his book Cialdini, who is a professor of psychology at Arizona State University, offers what he calls the “six principles of influence” which are:

1.      “The rule of reciprocity,” which requires that one person tries to repay what another person has provided. Singer explains that this rule can be twisted by cults. That is, the cult provides a sense of security, salvation, well-being and love, but expects its devotees to repay this through absolute obedience and compliance.

2.      “Commitment and consistency,” expressed by the desire to appear consistent through words, beliefs, and attitudes and deeds, which is valued by society. Singer explains that a cult can turn this rule around and make members feel guilty whenever they fall short regarding their consistent performance of duties and obligations through commitments made to the group.

3.      “Social proof,” a means used to determine what is correct by observing what others around us believe is correct. Within a cult environment Singer explains that “if you look around in the group, you will see people behaving in particular ways. You imitate what you see and assume that such behavior is proper, good, and expected.” Singer further explains that this rule can be used within a cult environment to stimulate compliance. “If you look around in the group, you will see people behaving in particular ways. You imitate what you see and assume that such behavior is proper, good, and expected.”

4.      “Liking,” people prefer to say yes to individuals they know and like. But as Singer explains new initiates within a cult group may be the target of seemingly unconditional love, which is frequently called “love bombing.” This makes members feel wanted and loved, and pushes them to like the people in the group. They then feel that since they like and/or love these people they should comply with their concerns, suggestions and be obedient.

5.      “Authority,” there is strong pressure within society for compliance when requested by an authority figure. Singer explains that this tendency to respect authority can easily be applied to a cult leader that claims superior knowledge, power, and a special mission. Members accept the cult leader as an ultimate authority.

6.      “Scarcity,” people assign more value to opportunities when they appear less available. Singer says if cult members are told that without the group they will miss out on living life without stress; miss out on attaining cosmic awareness and bliss; miss out on changing the world, gaining the ability to travel back in time; or whatever the group offers that is tailored to seem essential. The group may also may exemplify this rule by claiming exclusivity, i.e. no other group exists that can offer the same and/or equal path of fulfillment.

The discussion once again focuses on how the cult specifically being discussed exemplifies these principles or rules of influence.

At this juncture there may be a review of group literature through which examples can be seen. Participants attending the intervention may also offer their first-hand experiences dealing with the group and its leaders, which exemplify these points.

Third block of discussion: What is the specific history of the group or leader?

At this point the specific group that has drawn concern is examined.

What is its unique and particular history?

What is the background and personal history of its leader or leaders?

The objective at this point in the intervention process is to review the history of the group and also to focus upon and discuss whatever might have been hidden by the group and/or its leader from members.

What events have occurred that might have been falsely interpreted or propagandized by the group?

This process is of often currently made easier by the accessibility of information through the Internet.

Whatever file concerning the group and/or leader, which has been developed, will now be discussed.

Various press clippings, historical papers, court documents and televised news reports and/or documentaries may be reviewed that are specifically about the group and/or leader at this point.

The back-and-forth discussion at this juncture increasingly focuses on how the family views the history of the group and the specific involvement of the individual. Those present at the intervention may add additional important first-hand information about what they feel is noteworthy about the group.

This process offers the cult member a unique opportunity to evaluate and critically examine the group and its history outside of what is most likely a largely controlled environment. Possibly for the first time the cult member has an outside frame of reference, and feedback from different perspectives not controlled by the group.

Fourth block of discussion: what are the family’s specific concerns?

At this juncture family members and those concerned express why they feel it was important to stage the intervention and have the discussion.

They explain in detail, based upon their first-hand observations, why involvement with the group seems to them problematic or even potentially unsafe and/or dangerous.

For example, areas of concern might include the financial demands made by the group, diminishing and strained communication, increasing isolation, substandard living conditions, medical neglect, illegal behavior, sexual abuse, child abuse and neglect, present or potential violence and/or seemingly apparent psychological and emotional instability.

Each participant in the intervention at this point offers their personal perspective.

Anecdotal examples explain how these concerns have become evident.

This this is often the most volatile, difficult and emotional phase of the intervention.

My role through this process is to focus attention on how the group may have caused and/or exacerbated personal problems and situations.

For example, the intervention may have been prompted by a particular crisis brought about through cult involvement. This could be a pending separation or divorce, personal bankruptcy, serious but untreated illness and/or some type of pending or anticipated cult-related legal situation.

Case examples

What follows are some specific case examples of recent interventions within the United States and Canada.

This includes two cases that were successful, one that had mixed results and another, which ended in failure.

The [T] Institute

I was retained by a husband concerned about his wife’s involvement in a Neo-Eastern group called the “[T] Institute” located in […], California.

The couple had been married for more than 10 years with two children ages seven and nine.

The 39-year-old wife had been involved in the group for approximately 2 years. She had a master’s degree and had worked in the private sector as a marketing executive. However, in order to raise their two children she had given up employment to become a full-time homemaker. This ultimately caused the wife to experience a lowered sense of self-esteem and blurred her individual identity.

Initially, encouraged by a friend, she attended yoga classes at the [T] Institute. Her motivation was physical fitness, through regular exercise. She did not initially understand that [T] was a religious group.

But as the classes continued it became apparent that the group was not simply a place to exercise, but rather a group with the spiritual leader and particular belief system. The members of the group demonstrated extreme deference and devotion to their guru [Mr. R.], also known as “[D.S.].”

[Mr. R.] maintained a compound in Thailand in addition to his [T] facilities in California.

The wife’s involvement had continually escalated until it caused conflict within the home.

The young children were neglected due to her ever-increasing commitment and schedule at the Institute.

Ultimately, after many heated arguments the couple separated.

The wife moved out of the family home and took an apartment within a building occupied by [T] members.

After being retained I coached the husband to stop arguing about his wife’s involvement with the Institute, apologize for any angry confrontations they may have had and to filter his future conversations, eliminating anything negative.

After he did this for weeks the friction diminished and their relationship became increasingly friendly.

The couple remained separated, but agreed to take a family vacation in Hawaii for Christmas.

Upon their return from Hawaii the husband urgently requested for me to fly to California and undertake the intervention.

His wife had advised him that on January 1st she would be moving into a more controlled setting within group housing.

I promptly flew to California to begin my work.

Upon my arrival I met with the husband and his wife’s family members, which were included on the team for the intervention. This included both his wife’s parents and her brother.

I coached the family what to say and not to say regarding the parameters of their participation.

The family was encouraged to offer first-hand observations regarding their concerns, but not to be argumentative, accusatory or needlessly confrontational.

We also discussed who had the most emotional pull, to keep the wife from leaving. We discussed and rehearsed how to handle any sudden effort by the wife to abruptly cut off the intervention and leave.

I also reviewed with the family our main blocks of conversation, which we would go through during the days ahead. They asked questions about our schedule, breaks, food and what to do during the intervening evenings between each day of the intervention.

Our preparation process took several hours, the day before the intervention began.

A plan was set in place, which involved the husband requesting that his wife come to their home to watch the children while he attended a business meeting.

But when she arrived at the family home her parents, brother and I were all waiting and the children were being cared for by relatives at another location.

Immediately the wife recognized that this was a type of family intervention. She reacted angrily and initially refused to participate, running back into the garage. The wife was followed immediately by her parents. Prepared from the day before, they pleaded with her to return and talk things out. After about 30 minutes she came back.

At this point the husband introduced me as a consultant retained to facilitate the meeting and offer expert input. The wife asked me questions about my background, experience and the ultimate goal of the meeting.

I explained that the purpose of the intervention was to share information in an effort to present alternative perspectives, opinions and to explain concerns.

It was emphatically stated by everyone present that the final decision to separate, divorce and/or continue with the group was hers to make. We expressed hope that part of her decision-making process would include the consideration of relevant research, our sharing of information and discussion.

I talked about my many years of experience dealing with controversial groups and movements similar to the [T] Institute. And I pointed out that I had reviewed materials produced by the Institute and its leader regarding its history, structure, practices and purpose. I concluded by telling the wife that an organization with nothing to hide has no reason to fear examination.

At this point the wife agreed to stay and participate.

During the first day of the intervention we discussed an array of subjects which included portions of each of the four blocks of discussion previously outlined.

We touched upon the definition of a cult, the process of thought reform, talked about the history of the group and what concerns the family had.

We spent a full eight hours devoted to discussion and review on the first day.

At the conclusion of the first day I asked the wife to meet with us the following day. I also asked her to refrain from having contact in any way, shape, or form with anyone associated with the [T]. This specifically included e-mail, text messaging phone calls and/or communication of any kind. I explained that the many hours of her training at the Institute had been uninterrupted. And that our discussion on balance would also not be interrupted by [T].

The family expressed concern that her response to the information presented be her own thoughts and spontaneous, without any coaching or input from the group.

Once again there was an emotional outburst. The wife became angry and attacked her parents and husband, accusing them of interfering in her life and attempting to control her.

At this point the brother stood up and expressed his feelings. He stated that this situation was so important to him that he had given up time with his wife and children, driving many hours to attend the intervention. This immediately impressed upon the wife the importance of the family’s concerns again.

She then agreed to continue the discussion the following morning, without communication or interference from the group and to stay at the family home overnight.

As the husband drove me to my hotel we went over instructions given during the previous day of preparation. That is, that no one should talk about the group and/or related topics until we gathered together the next day. This must be done to avoid an argument, which might explode without me there.

The following morning we resumed our discussion. During this day we focused on the definition of a cult much more and in-depth. Our conversation frequently focused on examples of cult-like behavior, dynamics, structure and how this was paralleled by the [T] Institute and its leader Mr. R. Building upon these guidelines we also reviewed the group’s published literature and some e-mail communication between members, which had been obtained by the husband.

We watched a documentary DVD with historical footage about an assortment of well-known cults, which included the commentary of former members.

This concluded the second day.

At the end of our second day the wife seemed curious, asked questions and was neither angry nor argumentative about the intervention.

She agreed to meet again for third day without any difficulty.

On the third day we discussed in-depth the thought reform process of coercive persuasion.

This discussion included going over research material previously cited by Lifton, Singer, Ofshe, Schein and Cialdini, which served as a basis for talking points.

Again, there were frequent comparisons made regarding the similarities of [T]’s internal behavior and practices as parallel examples concerning the techniques being examined.

Towards the end of the third day we watched another documentary DVD, which was specifically focused on psychological and emotional manipulation. This included trance induction and related meditation techniques, hypnosis and the use of indirect directives. As altered states of consciousness are a primary focus of [T] Institute, we discussed the suggestibility and vulnerability of individuals while experiencing such altered states of consciousness.

At the conclusion of the third day the wife appeared intensely interested in, though also deeply disturbed by, the information we had covered. She was much more at ease with her family and particularly her husband.

There was no hesitation regarding an agreement to meet for a fourth day.

On the fourth day we discussed in-depth the history of the [T] Institute and its leader [Mr. R.]. We reviewed corporate documents, disclosure statements, real estate records and finally personal e-mail communications between [Mr. R.] and his followers, which the husband had obtained.

A pattern of exploitation began to emerge.

The organization purportedly had a charitable purpose and supposedly sought to improve the human condition. However, it was apparent that the guru lived a life of ease and luxury at the expense of his followers. This was made evident by the documentation, living arrangements at the group compound in Thailand and also through the persistent and personal demands made by [Mr. R.] through e-mails. All of this hardly reflected an “egoless” or “enlightened” being, but rather a selfish opportunist.

We watched additional DVDs illustrating the behavior of an array of cult leaders.

Repeatedly the family interjected their observations about the group and its influence upon the wife’s life.

Near the conclusion of the fourth day the wife was very quiet and finally began to cry.

She asked her family for their forgiveness concerning her “stupidity.”

At this point I interjected that it was impossible for her to realistically evaluate the group given the deceptive way in which she had been recruited and manipulated. And that her harsh self-judgment seemed misplaced.

What about the group and its leader?

What responsibility did they have regarding the negative consequences of their influence?

Didn’t they deserve at least some of, if not most of the blame?

We later discussed follow-up counseling and the various resources available in California for her continuing recovery.

The conclusion was a very emotional, but happy one, for everyone there.

The husband-and-wife reconciled. She had no further contact with the group and/or group involvement in any way.

The wife subsequently contacted me regarding concerns about the group potentially bothering her and/or her family.

[T] Call of God

A 30-year-old website developer, project manager and married mother with two children, ages six and two, became involved with an online religious group known as the “[T] Call of God.”

The group included about 20 to 30 active members connected entirely through the Internet.

The leader of the group, [S.T.R.], claims that he receives revelation directly from God. These revelations are then transmitted in the form of “letters from God” released through and published by [Mr. R.].

The group communicates almost entirely online using teleconferencing, frequent e-mails and website message boards.

Members are located throughout the United States, Canada and Australia.

[Mr. R.] himself runs the organization from his home in the state of […].

Contributions to the [T] Call of God are made primarily through the Internet.

The young mother living in Canada had been a member for two years before her husband and family contacted me. At this point she had recently told her parents and brother that she would no longer communicate with them due to her beliefs.

Her 10-year marriage was also becoming increasingly strained, though she still lived with her husband.

I was retained by the parents for the intervention, which was also supported by the young woman’s husband.

The preparation day meeting included all the family members together. Just as in the previous case preparation time was used to explain and discuss the parameters of our respective roles and what might be reasonably expected.

The following day the young woman arrived at her parent’s home for a special visit, ostensibly to share her beliefs and explain her commitment.

My presence was as usual a complete surprise.

She also did not expect her brother, sister-in-law and husband to be present.

All phones and Internet access within the family’s home had been disconnected.

After several hours of conversation the young woman became visibly agitated and protested that this was an “attack” upon her beliefs. I assured her that no one present wished to criticize her Christian faith, but rather the behavior of the group and its leader.

She calmed down.

At the end of the first day of discussion, which totaled approximately 8 hours, the young woman agreed to sleep over at her family’s home, turn off her cell phone and give it to her mother. We also asked that she make no effort to communicate with or contact anyone associated with the group. She agreed to these terms at the urging of her family and husband.

We spent an entire day discussing the definition of a cult, historical cults and how many cults are supposedly “bible-based.” Aspects of bible-based cults were then outlined in parallel to the [T] Call of God.

For example, David Koresh and the Waco Davidians was discussed, as Koresh had historically claimed special revelations from God.

Jim Jones had a penchant for twisting scriptures and using them to manipulate his followers. We talked about Jonestown and the so-called “Davidians” that followed Koresh in some detail.

The next day was spent examining thought reform and coercive persuasion techniques, but specifically as they might be used within the context of bible-based cults.

Documentary DVDs about the Waco Davidians and Jonestown were viewed and discussed.

We also discussed how a lack of financial transparency and accountability is typical within such groups. That is, how no one but the leader actually knows where the money ultimately goes.

A private investigator’s report commissioned by the family was then reviewed.

The report included a listing of [Mr. R.]’s real estate holdings, some corporate referenced records and his recently declared income, which was substantial. All of this information directly contradicted what [Mr. R.] had been telling the group and his repeated claims that he was not motivated by money.

Finally, on the last day each member of the family shared his or her specific concerns regarding the group and how it had affected the young woman’s behavior.

Her parents expressed profound sorrow concerning her recent decision to stop communicating with them. They explained that regardless of her beliefs, they would always love her and could not understand why she had decided to cut them off.

Her brother talked about the many months that had gone by without any word from her and how he missed her.

In conclusion, the husband explained how her commitment to the group seemed to supersede any other practical consideration, including both her marriage and the care of their children.

During the final two days the young woman increasingly asked critical questions.

On the third day she began to divulge unknown inside and critical information about the group. She talked about others in the group with strained marriages that had neglected their children. The young woman also disclosed that one extremely devoted member was ultimately forced to declare bankruptcy, which she suspected was due in part to excessive contributions made to the group.

These disclosures offered evidence that the group influence and control was fading.

In the end the young woman’s primary concern was how to warn others not to become involved with the group.

We discussed sharing information through the Ross Institute message board and the possibility of contacting others in the early stages of group involvement.

The young woman totally terminated her involvement with the [T] Call of God.

Falun Gong

A 36-year-old married mother with four young children all under the age of 10 became involved with Falun Gong through a close friend.

Initially, she saw the group as an opportunity to exercise and become physically fit.

However, step-by-step the organization manipulated her mind and progressively influenced her personally held religious beliefs.

The young mother came from an ultra-Orthodox Jewish background. Her entire family was devoutly committed to a well-known Hasidic Jewish sect. Their observance included strict dietary rules, observance of the Sabbath and stringent guidelines concerning dress and appropriate relationships between men and women.

Her husband and family were shocked when they discovered her commitment to Falun Gong, which they correctly viewed as a contradiction of the family’s long-held traditions and cherished religious beliefs.

I arrived at the preparation meeting on a Thursday morning. Our meeting took place at her brother’s home where the family had agreed to meet for the Sabbath, which begins at sunset on Friday and concludes at sunset on Saturday.

Orthodox Jews that observe the Sabbath are prohibited from using any electrical appliances or electronic devices, during the Sabbath. Using any form of transportation is likewise prohibited.  We had agreed that the best time for staging the intervention would be at a private home on the Sabbath due to the stringent rules, which would inherently preclude any outside communication with members of Falun Gong.

The preparation meeting was attended by the young woman’s parents, her husband and brother. The parents had flown in from […] and the intervention took place in […].

Everyone present was deeply concerned that if her involvement with Falun Gong continued, a divorce and child custody battle was inevitable.

On Friday I arrived at the brother’s home just before sunset.

I was introduced by the family as an outside expert and consultant. We all sat down in a comfortable den and began our discussion.

I further outlined my background and the purpose for our meeting.

She plaintively asked her family why this meeting was necessary, considering that Falun Gong was a “harmless” and “benign” group?

Each family member individually explained their concerns.

Her parents said that there was a tradition of Orthodox Jewish religious observance within their family and they could not understand why their daughter had apparently rejected this and abdicated her role of an Orthodox Jewish mother.

Her brother expressed similar dismay concerning her choices. He said that for many years his sister had been an inspiration concerning his own involvement in Orthodox Judaism.

The husband was the most pointed, emphatically and flatly stating that they had a Jewish wedding and had made a mutual commitment “before God” to raise a Jewish family and honor “God’s Commandments.” He concluded that she had broken those vows and ignored her promises.

Repeatedly the wife assured everyone that Falun Gong was not a religious choice but rather a exercise practice, which did not contradict her religious beliefs.

She also claimed that there had always been problems in her marriage and then broke down in tears.

The family contradicted her claim and said that though no marriage was perfect, her marriage appeared to have been reasonably happy, until her deepening involvement with the Falun Gong.

[…]

At the conclusion of the first evening we agreed to meet the following day.

There was little need to solicit a commitment to cease communication with the group, due to the rules regulating the Sabbath regarding phones and/or any electronic communication. And everything in the house had been shut down.

The following morning our discussion centered upon the definition of a cult and whether or not Falun Gong fit that description.

We talked about the role of “Master Li,” his supernatural claims and the way in which his personality defined the group.

We also discussed the meditation practices of Falun Gong and the process of trance induction.

Did Falun Gong encourage suggestible altered states of consciousness?

Could some of the group’s exercises be seen as self-hypnosis?

How could any subjective results achieved through Falun Gong based upon a member’s feelings be objectively measured?

Other than anecdotal stories wase there any scientifically measurable results produced by Falun Gong?

How could Li Hongzhi substantiate his supernatural claims?

These points were discussed throughout the day and well into the afternoon.

As sundown approached the young woman pointed out that the supernatural claims made within the context of Judaism could likewise not be proven.

Did the miracles mentioned in the bible really occur?

Did Moses part the Red Sea?

What about Noah’s Ark?

What accounts within the bible were actually proven and historical?

I then asked the young woman if she meant to imply that the supernatural claims made by Falun Gong were to be understood as religious claims based upon faith.

She didn’t readily respond.

I pursued the point and asked specifically if she meant to say that Li Hongzhi’s claims were religious claims. And if they were religious claims, then how could she could she practically hold two religious belief systems simultaneously?

We also discussed the racist statements made by Mr. Li.

Part of her explanation given concerning Li’s racist remarks included a cosmology of many gods assigned to various races. 

I pointed out the problem of holding two belief systems simultaneously, especially when they directly contradicted each other. That is, on one hand Judaism is monotheistic, but Falun Gong is not.

How could she hold two such conflicting belief systems simultaneously?

I also asked her if it was appropriate for Falun Gong to deliberately deceive her in the recruitment process, by withholding and/or obscuring the fact that they are a religious belief system and not simply an exercise practice? Didn’t she deserve to know all the facts before becoming more involved?

As the sun set she seemed to have reached an impasse.

The young woman insisted that somehow her involvement with Falun Gong was possible without any conflict.

She then promised her husband and family that her children would be raised in a “Jewish home.”

I then reiterated that monotheism was the single most important feature of Judaism and therefore the basis for a Jewish home. And how could she reconcile this with the teachings of Master Li?

There are was a kind of meltdown.

At this point the young woman refused to talk further and said that our discussion must be concluded.

Ultimately everyone agreed to honor her wishes and end the intervention, but with the understanding that the couple would participate in professional marriage counseling.

The young woman also agreed to completely terminate her involvement with Falun Gong and/or anyone associated with the group. Subsequently though her actions seemed to indicate that this promise was not fully kept.

The Kabbalah Centre

A Jewish family […] decided after [many] years of committed membership to terminate their involvement with a controversial group known as the “Kabbalah Centre.

This organization is led by Rabbi Philip Berg, his wife Karen and their sons Michael and Yehuda Berg.

The Kabbalah Centre is not officially recognized by the leadership of the organized Jewish community, nor is it generally considered very credible within the larger community of Kabbalistic scholars.

Instead, the Kabbalah Centre has frequently been referred to as a “cult.”

The father and mother had raised their […] children within the group. When they left, their […] youngest teenage children readily left the group with them. However, their [oldest child] refused to leave. She insisted that the parents were wrong to separate from the organization.

I was retained for an intervention focused on exiting the [adult] daughter from the group.

We met numerous times for preparation meetings.

Finally we gathered for the last preparation meeting in […] the day before the intervention was scheduled to begin. Those present were the parents, an aunt and uncle from […] and a former member of the Kabbalah Centre […].

Within our meeting we determined that the daughter would be most sympathetic to her uncle.

Both parents had numerous arguments for more than a year with their daughter concerning her continuing involvement with the group.

But her uncle had never been critical of the Kabbalah Centre.

We specifically discussed the importance of blocking communication with the group and its subsequent influence for the time we spent together, which had proven to be a problem regarding her behavior before.

It was hoped that the daughter would share a room with her aunt at the […] hotel where the intervention was being staged.

Her parents would be in a room on the same floor.

Shortly after the intervention began the following morning the young woman burst into a rage. She was furious with her parents for not warning her in advance about the meeting.  I explained that this was my decision due to concerns about the Kabbalah Centre’s ongoing influence and potential interference.

She found this very difficult to accept and stormed out of the room.

Her uncle followed her into the hall and eventually persuaded her to come back into the room and sit down.

A former member of the Kabbalah Centre […] shared her experiences. She was once a staffer, though her pay was little more than room and board, without any meaningful fixed benefits, such as health insurance.

The former member explained how staffers like her were exploited by the leaders. She also offered an insider’s view of the harsh treatment often endured through the extremely authoritarian leadership style of the Bergs.

We discussed the definition of a cult and how the Kabbalah Centre can be seen to fit the specific criteria.

The discussion that followed, focused on thought reform and coercive persuasion techniques.

At times both parents and the former member would offer their personal recollections about the Kabbalah Centre and specific experiences, which I then copared to coercive techniques of persuasion.

Throughout the day as the discussion continued there were periodic emotional outbursts, and the daughter would once again leave the room in a fit of rage.

Her uncle would quickly follow her out, talk to her at length in the hall, and ultimately they would return to the room together again.

This happened about three times.

Finally, after eight hours of discussion punctuated by these periodic outbursts we concluded the first day.

But the daughter refused to stay with her aunt or anyone else at the hotel.

She eventually agreed to stay at her uncle’s home in […].

We all agreed to begin again the following morning. And the daughter specifically agreed to have no communication of any kind with the Kabbalah Centre during the interim.

However, the next morning she was gone.

Her uncle had left her alone at his home, when he took his two children to school.

Apparently, shortly after he left she contacted the Kabbalah Centre and then ran away.

Subsequently, for several months, the daughter moved out of her family home, refused to meet with parents and lived instead with a member of the Kabbalah Centre.

Today the daughter continues to be a member of the Kabbalah Centre despite her family’s concerns, though communication with her has resumed and greatly improved.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this basic explanation of my intervention/deprogramming approach has been helpful in gaining a better understanding of the process.

Deprogramming in its various forms has essentially endured for more than 30 years within the United States as the single most effective organized approach used to break through cult programming through an intervention process.

As you can see from the case vignettes offered this process is difficult and not always successful.

It is my hope that by working together, comparing approaches, sharing our collective knowledge and relevant information, we can better serve the many individuals and families adversely affected by destructive cults.

End Notes:

[I] “Margaret Singer, a leading brainwashing expert, dies at 82” the New York Times December 7, 2003 by Anahad O’Connor

[II] Intake Questionnaire located at http://www.culteducation.com/intervention.html

[III] “Cult Formation” the Harvard Mental Health Letter February 1981 by Robert Jay Lifton

[IV] Ross Institute bio located at http://www.culteducation.com/jonestown.html

[V] Ross Institute bio located at http://.culteducation.com/waco.html

[VI] Ross Institute bio located at http://www.culteducation.com/asahara.html

[VII] Ross Institute bio located at http://www.culteducation.com/manson.html

[VIII] “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism” by Robert Jay Lifton University of North Carolina press 1961

[IX] “Cults in Our MidstJossey-Bass Publishers 1995

[XI] “Coercive Persuasion and Attitude Change” Encyclopedia of Sociology Volume 1, Macmillan publishing Company, New York

[XII] “InfluenceRobert B. Cialdini, Ph.D. Quill, NY, 1984 Revised 1993

[XIII] “Cults in Our Midst” Chapter 3 located within the Ross Institute archives at http://www.culteducation.com/cults-in-our-midst2.html

The Ross Institute of New Jersey (RI) has been a pioneer regarding free speech on the Internet and has faced legal challenges over the years, which have set significant precedents.

But before discussing the specific lawsuits filed against RI by controversial groups, some general historical background seems appropriate, to better understand the inception, purpose and function of RI (sponsor of CultNews) and its Internet archives.

Background

In 1995 I (Rick Ross photo below left) launched the Web site, culteducation.com. This was initially a personal effort to share collected files with the general public gathered about controversial groups and movements, some that have been rick_new11.jpgcalled “cults.”

That Web site grew and evolved to become one of the largest and most comprehensive online sources of information about destructive cults, controversial groups and movements on the Internet.

Today RI contains thousands of articles and documents organized within hundreds of individual group and subject subsections.

RI also features a virtual library with hundreds of books made available online through Amazon.com and a public message board that contains the personal comments and recollections of thousands of people affected by controversial groups and movements.

Thousands of individual unique users visit the site daily.

RI is an educational nonprofit corporation recognized by the United States government as a tax-exempted charity.

The advisory board of RI includes noted cult experts in the United States, such as Ford Greene, a California attorney specializing in cult-related litigation, as well as Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, co-authors of the books Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change. Psychologist Margaret Singer, one of the most well-known cult experts of the 20th Century and author of Cults in Our Midst, was an advisory board member until her death.

RI functions as an online library and an institutional member of New Jersey Library Association (NJLA). Established in 1890, the NJLA is the oldest and largest library organization in the state of New Jersey.

RI is a collection of Web sites, which includes this blog, Cult News Network a links sharing page featuring breaking news stories about cults, controversial groups, movements and CultEducation.com featuring educational DVDs and a virtual library. The “Open Forum” or public message board, which now contains more than 75,000 individual entries in its database.

There is also a “Links” page with hundreds of hyper-links to other relevant resources available on the Internet.

This array of resources provides a multi-layered approach to the subject of cults, controversial groups and movements and related topics. A combination of recent news, personal first-hand accounts and growing permanent archives composed of in-depth articles, research papers and court documents.

The basis for inclusion within the archives is as follows:

1.      A group, movement or leader has become noteworthy by generating interest either through news coverage and/or through an individual/family situation.

2.      A subject, which generates a number of press accounts and/or court documents, may then become an individual subsection within the archives with related material made readily accessible there.

3.      A subsection on the Links page might also be added with listed links to Web sites elsewhere on the Internet with additional information specifically about the subject, which has drawn concern.

4.      A subsection may be added about the subject on the Books page if there are books readily available about the group, topic or leader online.

Some groups such as Scientology, the Unification Church and Falun Gong have large individual subsections, while other groups may only be briefly mentioned and/or have a small subsection that contains a very limited amount of material.

However, the mention and/or inclusion of a group or leader within the archive does not necessarily define that group as a “cult” and/or an individual mentioned as either destructive and/or harmful. Instead, such inclusion simply reflects, that archived articles and/or research about the group/leader is available.

A disclaimer explaining this explicitly is linked throughout the Internet archives from every page.

Nevertheless RI has been subjected to ongoing harassment through frivolous lawsuits filed in an apparent attempt to eliminate from the Internet whatever criticism may be contained within its substantial database.

The lawsuits filed against RI over the past few years afford a window into the world of groups called “cults,” operating within the United States.

Lawsuits

There have been five lawsuits filed against me personally and/or RI.

This type of lawsuit, typically accusing me and/or the institute of defamation and related torts, is known in various American jurisdictions as a SLAPP suit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) brought to court not for its merits, but for the specific purpose of silencing a critic, often one who may not have the financial resources for a defense.

Church of Immortal Consciousness

picphp.jpegThe Church of Immortal Consciousness” located in Arizona is led by Steven and Trina Kamp (photo right). Ms. Kamp claims that she is “an unconscious trance medium” and that a spirit speaks exclusively through her body. This spirit, which imbues Ms. Kamp with special authority over her followers, is known as “Dr. Duran” and the doctor’s “spiritual teaching and communication” define the group and form its basis of belief.

I have received very serious complaints over the years from former members of this group, alleging that the Kamps controlled, exploited and hurt them. In 1995 during a lecture at Arizona State University and also through a local television news interview in Phoenix, I identified the Church of Immortal Consciousness as a “destructive cult.”

The Kamps promptly filed a lawsuit against me for “defamation” claiming damages. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit in 1999. I was awarded taxable costs. And a subsequent appeal by the church was denied.

One of the largest law firms in Arizona at the time, Brown & Bain, represented me throughout the Church of Immortal Consciousness litigation at no charge “pro bono.” My specific attorneys at Brown & Bain were Paul Eckstein and Daniel Barr.

Pro bono publico (shortened to pro bono) is a Latin phrase meaning “for the public good.” The term is generally used to describe professional work undertaken voluntarily and without payment as a public service.

Pure Bride Ministries

“Pure Bride Ministries” is an independent Pentecostal group in Florida led by the Rev. Judy Hammond. Ms. Hammond has no accountability through any denomination and/or significant oversight through a governing body. Rev. Hammond holds herself out as the ultimate spiritual authority for her relatively small flock of believers.

During the 1990s I received and reviewed numerous complaints about the group and was retained to evaluate Pure Bride Ministries for the purpose of a custody hearing in court. This involved a married couple purportedly estranged by the influence of Rev. Hammond.

Ultimately, my client, the husband, was awarded custody of his minor children.

Pure Brides Ministry was initially listed at culteducation.com within a section titled “Other Groups,” on file, but without material archived and available online at the Web site.

Judy Hammond filed a SLAPP suit against me in 2001. Rev. Hammond asked the court to award her $15 million dollars in libel damages. But after six months the pastor decided to drop the action, apparently concerned about the costs of the litigation.

Again, RI was represented pro bono, this time by prominent Florida attorney Robert Rivas, who later became a member of the Ross Institute’s advisory board.

Subsequent to the press exposure related to the litigation Ms. Hammond and her followers left Florida.

NXIVM

A company called “Executive Success Programs” (ESP) now known as NXIVM (pronounced nexium) led by Keith Raniere in Albany, New York, filed a lawsuit against the Ross Institute in 2003.

NXIVM sells self-improvement courses, including a 16-day “Intensive,” which has been compared to thought reform commonly called “brainwashing.”

As reported by Forbes magazine, three NXIVM participants required psychiatric treatment after attending its courses, one was hospitalized.

In 2004 a devotee of the group committed suicide. Her suicide note read in part, “I attended a course called Executive Success Programs based out of Anchorage, AK, and Albany, NY. I was brainwashed and my emotional center of the brain was killed/turned off. I still have feeling in my external skin, but my internal organs are rotting. Please contact my parents … if you find me or this note. I am sorry life; I didn’t know I was already dead.”

RI published three critical professional reports regarding NXIVM training, one by a forensic psychiatrist John Hochman of Los Angeles and two by clinical psychologist Paul Martin of Ohio, one analyzing the company generally and another about how the criteria of thought reform might potentially be relevant to ESP/NXIVM training. 

Both the psychologist and psychiatrist quoted sections of a NXIVM course manual for the purpose of reviewing the techniques used by the company in its training.

NXIVM alleged copyright infringement amongst other claims, insisting that the doctors had no right to quote its materials and that the reports misled readers into thinking of the Executive Success program as a “cult.”

NXIVM filed for emergency relief through an injunction, requesting that the offending reports be immediately removed from the Internet archives.

A New York federal court denied the motion for preliminary injunctive relief made by NXIVM on the grounds that the quotations used by the doctors in their critiques of the course constituted what is called “fair use.”

In 2004 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed that ruling on appeal and the United States Supreme Court refused to review the case. The decision read, “in order to do the research and analysis necessary to support their critical commentary, it was reasonably necessary for defendants to quote liberally from NXIVM’s manual.”

NXIVM then filed an amended complaint, parts of which the court dismissed; litigation in this matter currently continues as of this year.

During the course of this litigation it was discovered that NXIVM hired a private investigation company, which illegally obtained my personal banking and private phone records. RI then filed a counter-suit against both the investigation firm and NXIVM.

RI has received pro bono legal assistance in the NXIVM case from attorneys Douglas M. Brooks of Massachusetts, Thomas F. Gleason of New York, Peter Skolnik, Michael Norwick and Tom Dolan of the New Jersey law firm of Lowenstein Sandler, Public Citizen of Washington D.C. and the Berkman Center of Harvard University.

The NXIVM court decisions as cited by law journals effectively expanded free speech through the Internet by establishing new legal precedents.

Attorney Douglas Brooks subsequently became a member of RI’s advisory board.

c0201033029.jpgInterestingly, the exiled Dalai Lama of Tibet has supported both NXIVM and its founder Keith Raniere. In a personal appearance in Albany, New York the religious leader awarded Raniere a scarf (photo above) of honor along with two of his disciples, both heiresses to the Seagram Liquor fortune.

The Albany Times-Union reported that NXIVM devotees traveled to India to visit the Dalai Lama, in an effort to convince him to come to Albany as their “honored guest.”  A spokesperson for the religious leader told the press that the Dalai Lama’s commitment “to supporting the expression of worthy ideals” prompted him to agree to an appearance in Albany.” When questioned about any financial incentive connected to the visit the Dalai Lama’s spokesperson said that whatever money was received would be “used for charitable and other purposes as per His Holiness’ guidance.”

This is not the first time that the Dalai Lama has supported a purported “cult” leader.

Chizuo Matsumoto known to his followers as “Shoko Asahara” founder of Aum, the Japanese cult responsible for gassing the Tokyo subway system in 1995 reportedly donated $1.2 million dollars to the religious leader and subsequently seemed to be rewarded through several high-level meetings and photo opportunities with the Dalai Lama.

Gentle Wind Project

gentlewind.jpgThe “Gentle Wind Project,” led by John and Mary Miller (photo right) of Kittery, Maine, sued RI in 2004.

The Millers claimed within paid advertising that they had created special “instruments,” which represent “a new technology that employs scientific principles from classical acupuncture and Tibetan medicine¦designed to offer home users and health care professionals a user-friendly, drug-free option that may produce relaxation and cleansing of the acupuncture meridian system.”

Former members of Gentle Wind “alleged in postings to a Web site that the organization was involved in group sex, mind control, extortion, child neglect and misappropriation of funds” as reported by the Portsmouth Herald.

RI included a link at its “Links” page the former members’ Web site.

When RI refused to remove that link per Gentle Wind’s demands the group filed a lawsuit. This suit was dismissed later the same year.

But as a direct result of the press attention the group received related to the litigation filed against former members, RI and others the Attorney General of Maine began an investigation.

The attorney general ultimately filed suit against Gentle Wind Project, alleging 13 violations of the state’s Unfair Trade Practices Act.

“The instruments were sold to consumers via (Gentle Wind’s) Web site and through seminars’ for requested donations’ of often hundreds or thousands of dollars,” read a statement from the attorney general’s office. “The research that (the group) claimed to have done on the instruments does not support their alleged benefits.”

John and Mary Miller were found liable and paid civil penalties of $20,000 and agreed to pay $30,000 to the attorney general’s office for the cost of the investigation and attorney’s fees.

Gentle Wind’s assets were promptly liquidated to pay creditors and victims.

Massachusetts attorney Douglas Brooks assisted by local counsel William H. Leete Jr. of Portland, Maine represented the Ross Institute pro bono in this litigation.

Landmark Education

In 2004 Landmark Education, another private for-profit company similar to NXIVM, which sells self-improvement seminars, filed a lawsuit against RI for “product disparagement.”

Landmark claimed damages of $1 million dollars. 

This company has historically been widely and publicly criticized by many former participants, researchers and the press for using methods that are described as “bullying,” “harassing,” “destructive,” and “potentially dangerous.”

est2.jpgLandmark Education, originally known as EST (Erhard Seminars Training) during the 1970s, initiates its participants through a weekend seminar known as the Forum. Werner Erhard (also known as “Jack” Rosenberg photo left) created the Forum.  Erhard’s sister and brother now run the company, which has branches throughout the United States and around the world.

Landmark purportedly has “58 offices in 28 countries” including both Singapore and Bangkok.

In 1977 an article in the New York Times reported about persons that “developed severe disturbance” after taking EST seminars. Psychiatrists, writing for the American Journal of Psychiatry initially reported these cases. Those examined “developed psychotic reactions, some of them life-threatening, at the time or soon after the training.”

Many persons have also complained that Landmark uses inappropriately aggressive recruiting techniques, and intimidates participants who wish to leave the program. 

RI has received such complaints and critical news articles have been archived as well as negative comments about Landmark, EST and the Forum posted by users of the institute’s public message board.

In an effort to suppress such unfavorable information, Landmark has historically used litigation and threats of litigation as a tool to silence its critics. 

Landmark apparently sued RI largely because the search engine, Google, which ranks web sites by popularity, lists the RI archives on the first page of search results for “Landmark Education.” Thus, anyone seeking information about Landmark’s programs could easily access both the information provided at the company’s Web site, as well as the critical information archived by the Ross Institute.

After Landmark’s legal effort to uncover the identities of those posting critical comments anonymously about its practices on the message board was rebuffed by a federal judge, the company learned that all discovery made through the lawsuit by the defendant about its past litigation and settlements might potentially become part of the court public record.

Landmark subsequently sought to dismiss its own lawsuit.

Landmark’s motion to dismiss was granted on December 27, 2005.

Lawyers Peter L. Skolnik and Michael A. Norwick of the law firm Lowenstein Sandler in Roseland, New Jersey represented the Ross Institute pro bono regarding this litigation.

As can be seen from this list of litigation free speech in the United States can potentially become quite expensive.

However, with the help of dedicated pro bono attorneys over the years RI has prevailed, expanded its archives and legal precedents regarding free speech on the Internet.

The Albany Times-Union reports that a former high-ranking member of NXIVM says  “the cult-like group” is little more than “a place for its leader [Keith Raniere] to explore opportunities for sex and gambling money.”

bronfman2.jpgFormer NXIVM follower Susan Dones states in court documents that Keith Raniere (photo above), known to his devotees as “Vanguard,” uses the supposed self-help group  to help himself  to “students … who might fit into [his] profile of sexual conquest and who might be willing to ‘give’ [him] money to feed his gambling problem.”

A New York blogger has all the court documents neatly linked here.

Court records in California corroborate that Raniere is “a man with many girlfriends and a gambling compulsion.”

Dones the “whistle blower” says, “I was informed and believe that Raniere/Vanguard was having sexual relationships with multiple women, sometimes with more than one of them at the same time (many of these women were told that they were the chosen one; several of them were members of NXIVM’s executive board which is a per se conflict of interest and all them had to keep their relationship with Raniere a secret from the NXIVM community because it was feared that many members were not ‘evolved enough’ to be able to deal with this information).”

“Evolved enough”?

Is that a Vanguard-speak euphemism for “brainwashed”?

At least one psychologist seemed to say as much in his report about “Executive Success Programs,” the evolving process concocted by Keith Raniere.

Dones goes on to reportedly state that NXIVM leaders can do no wrong as they seek to teach ways to become “unified” — “whole and complete with no attachments to the outside world.”

But doesn’t this jargon read more like an internal contrived language about isolating and manipulating people through some bogus self-serving ideology?

Purportedly Raniere, NXIVM and friends are now shelling out about $1 million per month on a mountain of litigation, which includes suing former members and an assortment of perceived enemies (on the list is The Ross Institute of New Jersey sponsor of CultNews).

According to numerous reports ( e.g. Macleans Magazine) Raniere’s penchant for gambling has thus far cost two heiresses to the Seagrams liquor fortune about $100 million dollars and counting.

The hemorrhaging of cash continues as Vanguard pours other people’s money into the coffers of local attorney Stephen Coffey of Albany and the law firm of Latham & Watkins (attorney Robert D. Crockett) in California.

Canada’s Globe and Mail (October 19, 2010) recently reported “Falun Gong wins legal fight to protest outside Chinese consulate.”

inreuterscom.jpegSpecifically, an appeals court in British Columbia overturned a lower court ruling made last year regarding the removal of a “rudimentary hut” the group maintained around-the-clock outside a Chinese consulate for seven years.

However, the court also allowed the city of Vancouver six months to redraft its sidewalk bylaw. During that time, Falun Gong will remain under a court injunction, preventing its members from rebuilding their protest hut.

Not much of a victory for the controversial group.

But a local Falun Gong follower said, “In China, you don’t have freedom of speech or basic human rights. But here, it’s Canada, and we think we should be able to express our rights.”

However, ironically Falun Gong doesn’t seem to think that others have the right to “freedom of speech.”

Samuel Luo of San Francisco, who ran a Web site critical of Falun Gong, sought help from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2005 after his domain provider received a letter demanding that they reveal his identity and contact information.

Falun Gong labeled Luo’s Web site “defamatory” and “highly immoral,” and accused him of “endorsing the inhumane treatment and killing of Falun Gong practitioners.”

Their legal argument was couched in the claim that Luo had somehow infringed on Falun Gong’s trademark by using its name on his Web site.

The ACLU stated that this “clearly did not violate trademark law.”

Luo told the press, “They want to shut me down just because I criticize them.”

Later in 2005, Mr. Luo was scheduled to be a speaker at a conference of the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) in Spain.

However, ICSA officials told Luo his presentation had been canceled after a lawyer representing Falun Gong threatened to sue them (“Falun Gong activists make appealsSan Gabriel Valley Tribune December 29, 2007 By Dan Abendschein).

How do these actions exemplify the values of “truth,” “benevolence” and “forbearance” extolled by Falun Gong?

Like Scientology, another group that has been called a “cult,” Falun Gong has become litigious, filing lawsuits against its perceived enemies and almost anyone that dares to criticize and/or seemingly obstruct its actions.

Falun Gong was denied participation in San Francisco’s Chinese New Year Parade, they sued (“Falun Gong dispute hangs over S.F. Chinese parade” San Francisco Chronicle January 30, 2006 by Vanessa Hua).

Nevertheless, exclusion from the parade was upheld by the California Supreme Court (“State top court OKs excluding Falun GongSan Francisco Chronicle August 22, 2008 by Bob Egelko).

In 2007 Falun Gong sought to enter a float in the Pasadena, California “Rose Bowl” through the “Caltech Falun Gong club,” which was rejected (“Rose Parade caught up in Chinese politics” Daily Bulletin July 9, 2007 by Kenneth Todd Ruiz).

Later the group was refused a permit to stage its own protest march before the iconic parade (“Falun Gong members to sue Pasadena leadersSan Gabriel Valley Tribune January 3, 2008 by Kenneth Todd Ruiz).

It’s easy to understand why Chinese community leaders have often resisted Falun Gong’s participation in local events.

During 2008 Falun Gong launched a parade in New York City after an earthquake in China killed more than 60,000 people. Devotees displayed banners and placards that read “Only Without the Communist Party There Will Be a New China” and “Earthquake Cover Up Cost Lives.”

Reportedly Falun Gong members were also discouraging donations and spreading rumors that the Chinese government would steal the money.

When the Falun Gong parade finally marched through the Chinatown district in Manhattan its members were booed. Some spectators gave the thumbs-down sign while chanting a derisive oath in Chinese. Water bottles were also thrown at some of the marchers

The recent Globe and Mail article reported, “the People’s Republic of China…has jailed, tortured and executed many [Falun Gong] followers, according to human rights groups.”

The Epoch Times, which is published by Falun Gong devotees, once reported that a hospital, in Shenyang City functioned as a death camp, claiming that thousands of Falun Gong prisoners were murdered and their body parts were then harvested.

Former Canadian Liberal MP David Kilgour said that he was convinced that these allegations were true.

During 2006 Kilgour and a lawyer named David Matas undertook an investigation and issued a report supporting such claims, which drew media attention.

However, the U.S. Congressional Research Service concluded that the Kilgour-Matas report “did not bring forth new or independently-obtained testimony and [relied] largely upon the making of logical inferences.”

Harry Wu, a prominent US-based campaigner for human rights in China expressed skepticism concerning Falun Gong’s claims, despite his dislike and distrust of the Chinese government.

Wu said, “I tried several times to see the witnesses, but [Falun Gong] said no.” He further explained. “Even today, I don’t know their names.” Wu told the press that his investigators were never able to corroborate the claims of forced organ removals (“Harry Wu questions Falun Gong’s claims about organ transplantsAsia News August 9, 2006).

One Canadian journalist, Glen McGregor, openly expressed skepticism about the Kilgour-Matas report (“Inside China’s crematorium’” published by The Ottawa Citizen November 24, 2007).

McGregor wrote that there is tremendous political pressure placed upon Western journalists to accept such stories as fact, or potentially be labeled as a “Holocaust denier.”

Falun Gong largely relies upon negative historical stereotypes of the Chinese Communist government and concerns about China’s growing global influence to gain sympathy and garner attention within the United States, Canada and other Western countries.

Falun Gong’s credibility regarding its claims about “death camps” largely rests upon this premise. That is, that those who distrust and/or harbor negative feelings about China should be sympathetic and believe Falun Gong.

falun.jpgLi Hongzhi, the founder of Falun Gong (photo right) has claimed that he possesses supernatural powers and knows “the top secret of the universe” and that “no religion can save people” but the “almighty Fa,” which he correctly and exclusively represents (“For Whom the Gong TollsThe Washington Post February 27, 2000 by Peter Carlson).

Li also teaches his followers racist beliefs.

Master Li says that “mixed races” are excluded from the “truth” and “have lost their roots…They belong to nowhere, and no places would accept them¦the higher levels do not recognize such a human race.”

Apparently this would include the current President of the United States and his children.

But thankfully according to Li even though the Obamas are purportedly “intellectually incomplete,” he can “take care of it.” That is, if the President and his family begin practicing Falun Gong and “cultivate” in accordance with his teachings.

Li Hongzhi also encourages the hatred of homosexuals.

He has said, “The disgusting homosexuality shows the dirty abnormal psychology of the gay who has lost his ability of reasoning at the present time,” Li Hongzhi wrote this in Volume II of “Zhuan Falun,” or “Turning the Law Wheel,” which was translated into English during 1996.

In one talk in Switzerland Li said, gay men and women will ultimately be “eliminated” by “the gods.”

250 Falun Gong devotees from Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa sued Les Presses Chinoises for defamation, claiming the newspaper produced “hate literature” against them by running a report, which was critical of the group.  After a long court battle an appellate court in Montreal refused to award damages (Cultic Studies Review Vol.: 07 No.: 03 2009).

But not a single Falun Gong devotee in the United States, Canada or Europe has ever spoken out against the hate speech or hate literature of Master Li. Instead, if this issue is brought up, they will attempt to change the subject to “human rights” violations regarding Falun Gong members in China.

But what about the human rights of everyone else?

Some newspapers have at times reported about the hateful teachings of Li Hongzhi often ignored by journalists.

A reporter for the San Jose Mercury News noted, “Li gets more extreme when he expounds on his teachings to followers in his numerous talks, some of which have not been translated, and in the second volume of his book, which is no longer available in English” (“A Chinese Battle on U.S. SoilSan Jose Mercury News December 23, 2001 by Sarah Lubman).

When that same California reporter confronted local politicians who had supported Falun Gong and/or its founder with his homophobic and racist statements, they appeared embarrassed.

California Congressional Representatives Anna Eshoo, Zoe Lofgren and Pete Stark joined 41 other lawmakers and signed an official letter praising Li for promoting the “highest humanitarian values” and recommended him for a Nobel Peace Prize.

When the reporter asked the California Congressional representatives whether they knew about Li’s views on homosexuals and race before they signed the letter, all three said no.

“Obviously I wouldn’t recommend to the Nobel Institute someone who’s anti-gay, because that’s a human right,” Eshoo said. She subsequently rescinded her nomination, writing to the Nobel Institute, “Mr. Li has made statements that are offensive to me and are counter to many of my core beliefs.”

Stark pleaded plausible ignorance. He said, “If Mr. Li holds views, which promote intolerance of any kind, I was not aware of it.”

Lofgren also subsequently conceded that Li was not Nobel Prize material.

That same year Falun Gong was denied participation in San Francisco’s Chinese New Year Parade (“Falun Gong dispute hangs over S.F. Chinese paradeSan Francisco Chronicle January 30, 2006 by Vanessa Hua).

The “cult” sued yet again.

But its exclusion from the event was upheld by the California Supreme Court (“State top court OKs excluding Falun GongSan Francisco Chronicle August 22, 2008 by Bob Egelko).

To date perhaps the most chilling example of the destructiveness of Falun Gong is the horrific event, which occurred in Beijing during January of 2001.

Five Falun Gong followers set themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square, reportedly to protest persecution by the Chinese government.

falunvictim.jpgTwo died, including a 12-year-old child. A young woman was also horribly disfigured and crippled for the rest of her life.

“We wanted to strengthen the force of Falun Gong,” said Chen Guo (photo left), when interviewed in her home town of Kaifeng. Her face now a mass of grafted skin with no nose and no ears (“Survivors say China Falun Gong immolations realReuters April 4, 2002 by Jeremy Page).

Extreme devotion expressed by “cult” members willing to die for their leader, has been demonstrated historically by such tragic events as the mass suicide at Jonestown in Guyana, the Solar Temple deaths in Switzerland and the group suicide of “Heaven’s Gate” in California.

But when Falun Gong was asked to explain the horrible self-immolation that took place in  Tiananmen Square, the group completely ignored its significance and assumed no responsibility whatsoever.

First, Falun Gong claimed that those involved were not practicing members.

Later, Falun Gong attempted to spin a story based upon an elaborate conspiracy theory.

When Canadian journalist Glen McGregor questioned what happened in Tiananmen Square Falun Gong devotees “dumped a pile of printed material in [his] lap and insisted [that he] watch a video that they claimed proved the self-immolation of Falun Gong in Tiananmen Square was a conspiracy orchestrated by the Chinese government to discredit Falun Gong.”

CultNews likewise received the same material.

This level of denial is often understood within the framework of what is called “cognitive dissonance.”

Cognitive dissonance is defined as the discomfort caused by holding conflicting ideas at the same time. The theory concludes that people need to reduce this dissonance and do so, by either abandoning certain previously held beliefs, through denial, some form of justification or simply blaming someone or something else for whatever has caused the conflict (“A Theory of Cognitive DissonanceStanford, Stanford University Press 1957 by L. Festinger).

This can be seen through Falun Gong’s denials concerning the self-immolation in Tiananmen Square.

That is, Li Hongzhi’s followers believe “Falun Gong is good,” but suicide and killing children is bad, therefore the dissonance must be resolved by blaming the Chinese government.

But what the tragedy in Tiananmen Square demonstrates instead, is that Falun Gong is potentially unsafe and can be seen as a destructive “cult.”

ht_raisley_100923_mn.jpgBruce Raisley (photo left), the “computer programmer” who was convicted in federal court this past week for launching DDOS attacks against the Ross Institute Web sites, made the FBI’s “Top Ten” list.

According to a press release posted yesterday Raisley ranked number “7”on the “FBI’s Top Ten News Stories of the Week Ending September 24, 2010.”

The FBI released an account of Raisley’s rise and demise titled, “Hacker Convicted of Unleashing a Virus and Attacking Media Outlets.

The FBI reported, “The jury returned a guilty verdict against Bruce Raisley, 49, of Kansas City, Missouri”formerly of Monaca, Pennsylvania”following a six-day trial before United States District Judge Robert B. Kugler in Camden. Raisley was convicted of the count charged in the Indictment on which he was tried: launching a malicious computer program designed to attack computers and Internet Web sites, causing damages.”

CultNews previously reported about Bruce Raisley last year when he was first arrested.

The U.S. Attorney stated: “Raisley’s …attacks on computer systems were misdirected vengeance. It is unacceptable when a personal vendetta turns into criminal behavior, and we will track down cyber criminals who launch such malicious attacks.”

Raisley’ conviction carries a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, as well as restitution to the victims of his offense.

Sentencing is currently scheduled for January 7, 2010.

By Jim Bergin, M.A., Gentle Wind Project Cult former member

A book review

gentlewind.jpgHere they go again “ “Caught in the Act of Helping: How a government official destroyed 23 years of effort aimed at producing revolutionary, new stress relief technology” by Mary Miller (aka Moe Miller, Claudia Panuthos, Mary Elizabeth Carreiro, etc. (photo right) of Gentle Wind Project (GWP): aka GW Retreat, Brothers & Sisters of the Spirit World, Family Systems Research Group,  FSRG-I Ching Systems, and on and on) is a sadly predictable diatribe whose only redeeming value is as a pitiful example of cult post-apocalyptic strategy, whereby cult leaders display typical delusions of persecution and distorted reality when they are exposed and “caught in the act of manipulating.”

These delusory responses, as expressed in Miller’s book, arise due to the inevitable conflicts the cult has with reality.  When cults, such as GWP, are exposed by former followers, as well as prosecuted by the justice system, the group and leaders must devise strategies to recreate their prevarications.  Typically, these self-induced perceptions are ones of being surrounded by “peril” whereby the proclaimed enemy seeks to destroy the cult’s and its hapless followers’ path to “save the planet.”  The cult, as usual, attempts to evade all blame, deflecting it to the outside world, as cited on every page of Miller’s missive.

In Miller’s duplicitous fantasy, where anyone with critical views of the cult, and those who don’t perform like Miller’s cult followers, are defamed, GWP and its leaders, the Miller “family” (Tubby, Moe, and the other females living with them), are portrayed as the “poor” victims who only want “to save the world,” but are thwarted when their deceptive dealings are exposed by multiple legal difficulties: one recklessly initiated by the cult leaders themselves; the other by government legal authorities responding to complaints from victims of GWP.  Miller blames the first “assault” on a married couple, Jim Bergin and Judy Garvey (using pseudonyms “Bernie” and “Grady” in her book) “ two former GWP Cult followers and one time so-called GWP Board members (now conveniently cast as having some sort of fictional “catastrophic mental illness,” according to the dissembling author) “ and several international cult watchers and well known cult educators (including Rick Ross, Steve Hassan, and others) who posted Bergin and Garvey’s exposes of seventeen years as GWP followers on their own websites. (In the real world Bergin, Garvey, and the others were defendants, over several years, in federal and state courts, from frivolous lawsuits unwisely concocted against them by the Millers and their GWP Cult).  Bergin and Garvey were assisted in their successful landmark defense “ which in the book Miller fantasizes as a conspiracy “ by Jerrol Crouter, Esq.,  the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University (see Gentle Wind Case Summary http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/node/1322), and experts with a specialty in cults, Dr. Arthur Dole and Dr. Cathleen Mann.

GWP’s second set of legal problems “ about which the author vainly attempts to transform the Millers from snake oil hustlers to victims throughout tedious pages of indefensible libelous misrepresentations, in the reviewer’s opinion “ came from Maine’s Assistant Attorney General, Carolyn Silsby, Esq., with whom the Millers and GWP subsequently signed a Consent Decree on August 14, 2006 pleading to lesser charges of deceptive practices and misuse of funds, and were summarily told to pack up GWP’s bags of expensive “healing” hockey pucks and obtuse laminated computer-designed cards, return all funds illegally obtained, and leave the state.

Unfortunately, the obsessive disinformation, that continues for 451 pages, doesn’t end there:  Bergin and Garvey are defamed by Miller as somehow able to influence not only Maine’s Attorney General, but national and international media; Federal Judge Gene Carter, who ruled against the Millers in their frivolous federal lawsuit against Bergin and Garvey; Governor John Baldacci; cult recovery experts worldwide; and former GWP followers. Miller’s irrational conspiracy theory goes on ad nauseum maligning anyone outside her convoluted interpretation of reality.  The Millers even condemn their own high priced attorneys. Top government officials are accused of surreptitiously sleeping with each other; Federal Judge Carter is said to be influenced by Maine’s Governor Baldacci, and it only gets worse for those who take the plunge into this circular narcissistic rant.  Miller goes so far as to misappropriate the work of Dr. Robert Jay Lifton “ Distinguished Professor Emeritus, CUNY, Harvard Medical School, contributor to Cultic Studies Review, and past keynote speaker at the International Cultic Studies Association Conference “ on GWP’s behalf.  Anyone familiar with Lifton’s work on brainwashing might find this humorous, if it wasn’t so embarrassingly outrageous and an insult to Lifton.

Many will have sympathy for those long-term followers still trapped in this Alice in Wonderland GWP-hole.  Now morphed back in business under yet another name, this time in Massachusetts, the Millers are up to the usual old scams (see www.life-insights.com).  Mary “Moe” Miller might be seen sporting a new “research” Volvo Cross Country, and John “Tubby” Miller with now-limited success, reportedly attempting his same lurid “energy work” tricks on a former generous female follower/benefactor, and “ if history repeats itself “ on others (see Wind of Changes, www.windofchanges.org).

In sum, this book is a spurious and malevolent attempt to rewrite reality and obfuscate this group’s illegal activities in the eyes of the Millers’ unwitting followers. Researchers into cult behavior and delusions, and legal authorities needing a better understanding of how these groups function, would find this poorly edited trumped-up apologia pro vita sua vanity publication a repetitive and obsessed example of a typical cult strategy to reframe perception, but hardly worthy of the time or price tag.

The lady doth protest too much, methinks – William Shakespeare

Copyright © 2010 Jim Bergin

By Gina Catena

k-press-sml.jpgKalindi La Gourasana (her name should be sung), a.k.a. Carol Seidman (photo left) deemed Voice of God for the Miracle of Love cult allegedly passed away on April 18th, 2010 from disseminated intravascular coagulation as complication from renal failure.  She was in her early fifties.

As reported in Kalindi’s online obituary in the Denver Post, “Kalindi was the founder of Miracle of Love Church, creator of the Miracle of Love Seminar, and spiritual leader of the Path to Ultimate Freedom. She came into this life to help thousands of people reestablish their loving relationship with God, and for those who desire it, to break the cycle of birth and death and return Home to God.”

Kalindi’s only daughter, Maha, invited her mother’s followers to participate in a 12-day period of “dedication of celebration of our beloved master Kalindi G.”

Kalindi La Gourasana, previously known by her given name of Carol Seidman, was the widow of the Lord Gourasana whose given name was David Swanson. Swanson as Lord Gouarsana claimed to be an incarnation of God.  Kalindi assumed leadership of the Miracle of Love in 1995 upon the passing of Swanson/ Lord Gourasana.  After her husband’s death, Kalindi claimed to be God’s voice on Earth, speaking for MOL’s Lord Gourasana.

The greatest legacy of Kalindi & Gourasana, is their establishment of the “Miracle of Love Church” (MOL). This cult group has undergone many name changes, and relocations of their central headquarters. Current names include “Miracle of Love Seminar,”  “Twenty First Century Transformation Center,” and “The Seminar.”  Locations are throughout the world.  The largest centers currently seem to be in Colorado, North Carolina and Munich.

An entry level MOL member begins by attending their workshop called “The Seminar” (formerly “The Intensive”) The Seminar is a classic Large Group Awareness Training program using known methods to psychologically break down participants through long hours, emotional public confessionals, strict diet control and strict social control.  This combination over several days or longer changes brain chemistry to render participants more impressionable. A neurochemical high results at the end of this Intensive, similar to a “runner’s high.”  Participants are led to believe that this high is the experience of God and unconditional love, granted them by Kalindi.

Graduates of the Seminar often report they feel reborn, replenished, high, transformed, and newly dedicated to breaking attachments in order to focus upon pursuit of God and “Breaking free” from deemed pain of Earth life.

“Breaking free” in pursuit of God, according to MOL teachings, requires following MOL’s strict lifestyle mandates, including donating ample time and money to their mission.

Insider sources have told stories of Kalindi’s abuse to her inner core of followers, including dictating marriages, divorces and child conceptions. Her extravagant personal habits allegedly included spending over $100,000 annually on her wardrobe by some reports, and an increasing dependency upon chemical substances.

In the early days of MOL, Kalindi often played the dominatrix goddess, ostensibly to break her followers free of preconceived ideas of love and attachment.  Using the lure of freely expressed love without attachments, valued MOL recruits and donors were often rewarded with unconditionally loving partners in gratitude for their devotion to Kalindi’s deemed path to God and ultimate freedom.

Reputedly, MOL’s new figurehead leaders will include Kalindi’s grown daughter, Maha, Racole Tackett and The Lady, amongst others.

Racole Tackett is a therapist and expounded as a spiritual master in MOL.  She is known for using such phrases as “What is about you that makes you feel that way?” to break her clients down, doubt their emotions, and turn increasingly toward MOL directives.

The Lady, another MOL “Master”, plays their example of unconditional love and acceptance, doting upon those who perhaps miss having an idealized mother figure.

Maha Swanson is the beautiful youthful voice, and heir apparent as the only daughter of MOL’s Voice of God.

The Miracle of Love is offering extensive support to their global membership, using their leader’s death to further accentuate group bonding.  MOL’s memorial activities are centralized at their Denver and Munich centers.  Other MOL centers globally are undoubtedly lending their support through this challenging time.

Time will tell how the Miracle of Love transforms itself, its message and marketing for new recruits in the absence of Kalindi’s orchestrations.

With Kalindi’s passing, many MOL members may be mourning the loss of their living godhead.

Others may begin to doubt their spiritual directives, since their Lord Gourasana had promised that Kalindi would have a long life.

Those who choose to leave the MOL now may find themselves in a moment of crises and self-doubt.
A yahoo support group specifically designed for former MOL members and loved ones of MOL members can be accessed by clicking here.

Critical information about MOL may be found through the following links:

Miracle of Love by Jill Kramer, Pacific Sun March 2006

My Life with Miracle of Love (part 1 of 7)

A Warning on Miracle of Love

Miracle of Love, a critical response

The Ross Institute Internet Archives subsection on Miracle of Love

Miracle of Love and cult tactics?

May the MOL members who awaken from their manipulations find appropriate recovery resources and inner freedom. May they learn to stand without a charismatic cult leader directing their thoughts, relationships and behaviors.  The loss of directives from Kalindi La Gourasana and her surviving minions will catalyze their greatest rebirth.

For more Kalindi information:

Podcast of Kalindi can be viewed here

YouTube clips of Kalindi can be viewed here

Note: I am personally indebted to Ms. Carol Seidman in the guise of Kalindi La Gourasana.  My last relationship painfully ended a number of years ago, partially due to the intense devotion of my former partner to Miracle of Love’s teachings and methods.  Thanks to Ms. Seidman’s brilliant orchestrations, I was not only spared what would have been a difficult partnership, but I was fully awakened to the mess of my own cult upbringing in the Transcendental Meditation Movement, led by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  Thanks to Ms. Seidman, I belatedly obtained appropriate cult recovery therapy and resources. For that, she has my eternal gratitude. May she rest in peace.

Copyright © 2010 Gina Catena

alley220×298.jpgIs Kirstie Alley (photo left) attempting to somehow promote the “cult” Scientology through her new diet plan?

Roger Friedman raised this question and now comes the push back from the former sitcom star.

She says his insinuations are “bullshit.”

But it looks like Alley isn’t exactly being completely honest herself.

If you take a peek at her Web site “Organic Liaison,” the diet program in part appears to be predicated upon the theories of L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology.

In his book “Clear Body, Clear Mind” Hubbard posits the theory that toxins can stay “in the tissues and mainly the fatty tissues of the body.” He further explains that “chemical poisons and toxins, preservatives, pesticides etc, as well as medical drugs and the long list of heavy street drugs…can lodge in the tissues and remain in the body for years” potentially causing “unpredictable trips.”

This very same theory seems to be promoted within Alley’s weight loss program.

The “Organic Liaison” Web site states, “toxic substances get in the way between your body and the natural digestive process that breaks down fat. Preservatives additives, hydrogenated oils, nitrates and other toxic substances put stress on your organs…Your body cannot process those substances and thus stores them as FAT.”

Apparently reiterating Hubbard’s mantra Alley summarizes, “toxins end up stored in the fat area of your body.”

Of course her diet program can supposedly purge a participant’s toxins through “Rescue Me,” which is “a special formula that helps…gently cleanse the body, taking the ‘toxic’ out and putting the healthy in.” The diet supplement contains “organic ingredients, including nutrients, essential vitamins and minerals, natural herbs, fiber and antioxidants.”

But as the “Organic Liaison” Web site admits, “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration” (FDA).

Hubbard’s theories have historically been packaged and repackaged within a myriad of programs pitched by Scientologists. This has included everything from “Detox” clinics touted by Tom Cruise to the Narconon drug rehab program, which Kirstie Alley says saved her life.

Hubbard’s toxin talk boils down to what Scientology calls the “Purification Rundown,” which allegedly is the cure for whatever toxins trouble you.  The rundown is a regimen that reportedly includes a “vitamin cocktail.”

However, Hubbard’s pseudo-scientific theories have been widely disputed and described as “false.”

Stephen M. Pittel, Ph.D., a forensic psychologist and a toxicology expert based in California with more than 30 years of experience, dismissed Hubbard’s teachings as “a total myth.”

And Narconon specifically has been criticized and scrutinized concerning its programs within California’s public schools.

Steven Heilig, director of health and education for the San Francisco Medical Society wrote in his report that Narconon “often exemplifies the outdated, non-evidence based and sometimes factually inaccurate approach.”

Kirstie Alley has acted as an official spokesperson for Narconon.

soram.jpgAlley claims that she has assembled a world class team of experts to help her with Organic Liaison, including Dr. Soram Khalsa (photo right), the Medical Director for the “East-West Medical Research Institute.” Soram is a vitamin D enthusiast and coincidentally has his own purported “cult” connection. The M.D. was a student of Yogi Bhajan, the controversial guru of a group called 3HO.

Kirstie Alley may have faith that Scientology is her savior, capable of clearing and/or cleansing the planet, but peddling Hubbard’s quaint and questionable theories to those struggling with weight problems doesn’t seem that helpful.

By Joe Szimhart

Let us pretend that one day, say this day February 27, 2010, that a man was looking on line for something interesting to listen to. He finds a podcast interview on youtube.com with a psychologist, John Breeding, PhD, conducted by Stefan Molyneux (photo below), founder and director of a b510991678_41963116678_2683.jpg web enterprise at www.freedomainradio.com (FDR). The interview lasts nearly 54 minutes and its topic is “On the Myth of ADHD and antidepressants.” At first blush the man sees Molyneux, a balding man with close-cropped hair, a pleasant face and wearing a dark shirt fill the left side the screen. Molyneux is apparently parked in front of his computer attending to production by himself and sipping from a large cup now and then. On the right side of the screen is an image of Dr Breeding intermittently replaced by the FDR logo. So for over 50 minutes one sees Molyneux in his Canadian office location talking full face and taking sips from a mug whereas Breeding is on audio from Texas.

Breeding like Molyneux appears to promote a private agenda as an activist. Breeding is in the anti-psychiatry camp. Molyneux is known for his anarcho-capitalist’ utopian views. Breeding argues and even preaches that there is “no incontrovertible scientific evidence” to support medications that treat so-called brain diseases like ADHD, schizophrenia or mood disorders. Breeding sees a “conspiracy” in the pharmaceutical industry aligned with psychiatrists to create treatments or cures for diseases that have no biological or scientific basis. Molyneux praises Breeding as one of those “voices in the wilderness” who we should heed if we are to become truly “moral” beings. Breeding runs his own maverick enterprises through www.wildestcolts.com where he promotes his ideas, services and books.

“Interesting,” says the man to himself. Now curious, he searches for more background on the two men featured on the podcast. Molyneux, he discovers, is a self-starter who runs an Internet business through freedomainradio.com that features podcasts, forums and call-in sessions for people interested in Molyneux’s libertarian views. The site also serves up a kind of therapy that Molyneux, supported by his social worker wife, offers. Many if not most podcasts feature the damaging influence of corrupt families and abusive parents. A core feature of Molyneux’s influence is to free oneself from abusive family and friends”in his way of thinking all parents were and are abusers. Molyneux calls breaking away a Defoo which is new-speak for Departing your Family Of Origin. It means ending all contact thus ending all alleged intellectual and emotional contamination.

dr-john-breeding.jpgAs for Breeding (photo right), the man finds little if any significant support for the psychologist’s work in the scientific community. “Hmm,” he thinks. “The man talks big about science yet where is his science?” Of the many recommended links on Dr Breeding’s website the man finds at least two linked to the Church of Scientology that in turn endorses Breeding and his anti-psychiatry’ ideas. “Aha!” he thinks, “Now we are getting somewhere. This picture is clearing up”no pun intended.” Looking further into anti-psychiatry, the man finds another site called antipsychiatry.org but that site explicitly states: “No Scientologists, please” or anyone associated with Scientology’s Citizens’ Commission on Human Rights need apply to volunteer to help The Antipsychiatry Coalition. “There appears to be dissention among anti-psychiatry groups,” he notes. Breeding calls CCHR an awesome organization’ according to libertytothecaptives.net which calls Breeding’s organization Texans for Safe Education a Scientology Front Group.’ But libertytothecaptives.net is one of those King James Bible, fundamentalist sites. “Consider the source,” he cautions. “Front group may be overdoing it.” The man finds articles by Dr Breeding featured on Scientology’s freedommag.org site. “Bedmates, for sure.”

On Breeding’s wildestcolts.com site the man finds an excerpt from The Necessity of Madness and Unproductivity: Psychiatric Oppression or Human Transformation (Breeding, 2007). It appears indicative of Breeding’s thought process: “We may have instituted child labor laws, but look at the modern alternative. Ritalin, a drug known to produce repetitive, stereotypical behavior in animals, is being foisted on millions of our school-age children with the hope of enforcing classroom docility, compliance and productivity.” He observes that both Breeding and Molyneux care about children.

Further down the page he finds this odd revelation from Breeding: “Unproductivity (sic) is necessary to step out of the rules of productivity and move into forgiveness. This reflects a more general principle about the nature of beliefs and caroline_sitting2.jpghuman development. Carolyn Myss (photo left), medical intuitive and best-selling author, begins her tape series, Energy Anatomy’, with the provocative assertion that madness is an absolutely essential stage in the attainment of spiritual maturity. The reason for this¦is that we are all necessarily, inevitably and thoroughly initiated into the beliefs of our tribe, or culture, from the time of our conception onwards. These beliefs thoroughly impregnate our body and our psyche, largely at a non-verbal level. We are all tribal members, loyal to tribal law, way before we even begin to approach the idea, much less the experience, of becoming an individual.”

“Wow, what a mouthful! No wonder Molyneux likes Breeding. They both break out in an anti-establishment rash over the same things. A lot to chew on there,” says the man. “But do I have to get crazy before I can be free? And how crazy?”

Well, let me help with the chewing. Let’s work backwards. Carolyn Myss, a self-proclaimed medical intuitive’ is basically a slick psychic practitioner operating under a quacky euphemism (myss.com). Myss’s books have sold well and she does appear as a speaker at New Age and comparable human potential conferences. Myss has created a veritable industry out of her quasi-astrology like Archetype Readings and her Carolyn Myss Educational Institute (CMED) that promotes various workshops called Sacred Contract, Defy Gravity and Entering the Castle. After two years training, one can become an Archetype Counselor under CMED. The counselors help “individuals to transform and empower their lives through the study of the wisdom and mystical traditions, through learning to navigate the vast resources of the archetypal realm, and through understanding the mysteries of healing and the nature of the soul” (myss.com).

Breeding promotes a world of irrational manipulation when he endorses Myss. Who in their right mind is going to believe that Myss truly understands “the mysteries of healing and the nature of the soul?” One wonders why Breeding so vehemently opposes mainstream psychiatry as “oppressive” and “unscientific.” If anything is unscientific it is Myss’s CMED and not Prozac or Ritalin or the application thereof by sensible, sensitive doctors. In my work as a “cult specialist” I have come to see a large red flag waving when idiosyncratic healers like Breeding preach against psychiatry as “unscientific.” I also work in a mental hospital and am amply aware of the shortcomings of treatment but that has a lot to do with the non-compliant behaviors of patients and complexities of diagnosis. The science behind medications like Ritalin is rigorous to say the least. Properly applied medication is evidently and at times miraculously effective.

So, why does Stefan Molyneux of FDR praise Breeding so? During the podcast Molyneux offered only compliments and no sharp, provocative criticisms of what stands at best to be speculative, reactionary psychology on Breeding’s part. Molyneux the atheist could hardly endorse the Myss-like spirituality favored by Breeding. Not unlike but more eloquent than Breeding, Molyneux talks wittily, spews fact, quotes quotable authors and spouts philosophy as well as any common preacher who can tap-dance through his scriptures. An unwary seeker may be mightily impressed with the smooth delivery of a man who wants to reform the world with his cry for emancipation from the oppressive masters of State, religion, establishment schools, and cultures of origin. Molyneux praises Breeding because he also diverts attention from glaring personal flaws by attacking paper dragons.

Many have taken up the FDR banner. Molyneux touts the anarcho-libertarian truths his mostly youthful followers want to hear but to live those truths they soon learn about cutting off the influences that purportedly fetter them (the Defoo process mentioned above). In the wake of Molyneux’s preaching against “abusive” families and all matter of societal norms as corrupt are parents and old friends who grieve the total loss of a relationship to FDR devotees they still cherish.

Some followers have moved in with one another while most interact through cyber cells. An FDR devotee today might be psychologically locked in a FDR collective as a “Philosopher-King.” To gain that rank he or she pays $50 a month or more to Molyneux for the podcast privilege of therapy-like interaction with their guru. The guru appears to be on a track to secure a private, radicalized human-development industry not unlike Myss has. This is not to say that Molyneux even knows who Myss is, much less agrees at all with the content of her preaching. This is not about content. This is about manipulated behavior within a certain context. Perhaps he’s seeking to create a crew of Philosopher-Kings who will function much like the Archetype Counselors who feed recruits and fees into the relatively lucrative Carolyn Myss enterprises. Anything is possible when freedom is the goal but the questions remain: Freedom from what? Freedom to do what?

I am reminded here of something Friedrich Nietzsche wrote:

Do you presume yourself to be free? If so, then I want you to tell me what is your ruling idea, and not that you have broken free of some fetter. Are you the kind of man who ought to be unfettered? For there are many who cast off their final value when they cast away their chains.”Thus Spoke Zarathustra

For more information see:

Stefan Molyneux Revealed
Molyneux Cult Watch
Ancaps Anachro-Capitalists Cult Watch

esp72.jpgAn Albany Times-Union front-page story featured the fantastic financial failures of Keith Raniere (photo left), leader of a purported “cult” near Albany, New York known as NXIVM (pronounced Nexium like the purple antacid pill).

It seems some of Raniere’s devotees became the bank for his business schemes, which culminated in fantastic losses.

Perhaps those investors may prefer the antacid pill now to further financial advice from NXIVM, also known as “Executive Success Programs.”

Raniere, a former multi-level marketing guru that saw his previous business Consumer Buyline go bust, has reportedly blown through about $100 million dollars of other people’s money.

That is, funds primarily provided by two heirs to the Bronfman/Seagram fortune, Sara and Clare Bronfman.

According to the Times-Union report Raniere lost “$65 million” through commodities speculation, “26 million” in failed California real estate deals and spent millions more in legal fees.

But Mr. Raniere, known as “Vanguard” to his faithful followers, apparently attempts to deflect any meaningful personal responsibility by blaming his failures on former business associates, the “negative thoughts” of others and “outside forces.”

NXIVM’s latest lawyer Robert D. Crockett of the Los Angeles law firm of Latham & Watkins, acknowledged Raniere’s “heavy losses,” but attempted to spin their significance.

“We’re talking about people [Sara and Clare Bronfman] who have hundreds of millions of dollars to invest in speculative and non-speculative ventures, ” Crockett said.

But isn’t it also reasonable to surmise that Raniere, who claims that “The Guinness Book of World Records” has listed him for his supposedly high IQ, is just plain stupid?

CultNews has been told that the Bronfman sisters may have another hundred million or so to blow before they go broke.

But how long will that hold out given the burn rate of Mr. Raniere?

Vanguard, who is described in the recent press article as both a “compulsive gambler” and “crazy,” seems to be repeating past mistakes.

Consumer Buyline, Raniere’s last major business enterprise, tanked after numerous lawsuits and substantial legal fees overwhelmed it.

Is history simply repeating itself?

It has been said that those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.

barbara-bouchey_tn.jpgIf the Bronfmans go broke they will likely be able to fall back upon forgiving family resources.

But at least one purported victim of Raniere’s financial schemes isn’t so forgiving.

Not an heiress Barbara Bouchey (photo right) worked for years to accumulate her assets. She then reportedly lost $1.7 million betting on Raniere.

Ms. Bouchey wants her money back.

Editor’s Note: Included in the millions of dollars Keith Raniere has wasted of other people’s money is what he has spent on hopeless lawsuits to harass his critics and perceived enemies. This includes years of extended litigation against the Ross Institute of New Jersey, sponsor of CultNews. Perhaps Raniere’s only significant achievement may be an effective expansion of the First Amendment through an appellate ruling in this litigation, i.e. regarding freedom of speech and fair use, versus the power of a confidentiality agreement. Hardly the result that Mr. Raniere wanted, but nevertheless significant. It seems as if lawyers are the most likely professionals to make money off Raniere. Meanwhile the Ross Institute is deeply grateful to the many attorneys that have provided pro bono legal assistance. This has included Douglas M. Brooks, Thomas F. Gleason and Public Citizen, who handled the litigation while it remained in New York and Peter Skolnik, Michael Norwick and Tom Dolan of the law firm of Lowenstein Sandler, along with assistance from the Berkman Center of Harvard University, which has handled the litigation since its transfer from New York to New Jersey federal court.