[ot] cult influence and power, 1988-2018
Undiscussed Groomed for Male Slavery, One Victim of Many
gmkarl+brainwashingandfuckingupthehackerslaves at gmail.com
Fri Sep 16 09:45:15 PDT 2022
Chapter 7–How to Protect Yourself and People You Care About
Nobody joins a cult. They just postpone the decision to leave.
I am frequently asked to help people who are involved with a group
I’ve not heard of before. Over the years I have had to develop a way
to evaluate a group and assess its negative impact.
Some organizations, I have found, may appear to be unorthodox or
even downright bizarre, but do not practice mind control, and are not
damaging to their members.
I have gotten dozens of calls from parents who didn’t like the
person their child was marrying, and accused them of practicing mind
control. In some cases the accusation turned out to be true; but in
many instances, I have simply refused to intervene or become involved.
People are entitled to make their own decisions, even bad ones, if
they are legally considered adults. While I am always interested in
working to enhance people’s opportunities for choice, perspective and
good communication, I do not take every case that is offered to me.
Many groups have certain potentially destructive aspects, but are
not inherently destructive. These groups fall into a gray zone—the
middle of the continuum presented in Chapter 3. For some individuals,
membership may have a destructive effect, while the organization as a
whole may not meet the significant criteria of a destructive cult.
How can we discern whether or not a group is a destructive cult?
What are the crucial elements that separate benign organizations from
dangerous ones? In this chapter I’ll discuss the general
characteristics of destructive cults in more detail, so you can
protect yourself and people you care about from their influence. I’ll
also answer some of the more frequently asked questions about cults.
In addition, I’ll include a list of questions you can use to begin
evaluating any group.
In examining and evaluating a group that I suspect of being a
destructive cult, I operate primarily in the realm of psychology, not
theology or ideology. My frames of reference are the influence
processes of mind control, hypnosis and group psychology. I look at
_what a group does rather than what it believes_ (or purports to
believe). I analyze how an organization and its members communicate
(or fail to communicate), rather than whether its principles,
political outlook or interpretation of the Bible is the _right_ one. I
see if the group wants to convert the cult member into _its_ own
belief system. My approach is to encourage the individual to sort
things out for themselves by researching and considering an array of
A person’s right to believe, however, does not grant them an
automatic license to act indiscriminately on those beliefs. If it did,
white supremacy groups would deport or kill every non-white person in
the country, and criminal satanic cults would openly murder people in
If a group believes it is all right to lie to non-members, in
order to advance its cause, and that lie undermines the principle of
informed consent and infringes on people’s constitutionally guaranteed
rights, it violates their freedom. Frederick Clarkson emphasized this
point by saying that “destructive religious cults are violating
people’s religious rights by using undue influence.” Likewise, if a
group hides behind First Amendment privileges, routinely violates its
members’ civil rights, and works to destroy democracy, then freedom is
not being supported. There must be equal protection of liberties under
the law. People have a right to be free from undue influence, both in
groups and as individuals.
Some people may think, _Why should I worry about all this? My
rights are violated by someone every day and there’s nothing I can do
about it._ While many factors in life are beyond our control, people
_should_ have some control when it comes to membership in a group. And
the truth is that there is quite a lot you can do. By preventing
others from violating your rights, you can keep them from harming you.
I’ll say much more about this later in this chapter, but let me offer
Suppose you meet someone whom you suspect is a recruiter for a
destructive cult. You might not have even given this person the time
of day, but, for some reason, you feel attracted to them. They keep
trying to persuade you to meet them at a certain place. You aren’t
really interested in the group, but are toying with the idea of coming
to know this person better. In a situation like this, there’s one
cardinal rule to follow: _Don’t give them your phone number, e-mail
address or snail mail address until you know more_. Hold back, even if
it’s hard to do so, because you might be on the verge of having your
privacy violated by a very organized group that will not give up
Many people eventually succumb to the social pressure. With your
address or phone number, group members can apply that pressure in a
very direct way. Once you become a member of a destructive cult, you
lose your right to privacy completely, and more serious damage can be
done to you later.
_Take their contact information instead!_ That way you are in control.
I became involved in exposing destructive cults, because of my own
experience, not because I believe that our government should restrict
new religious groups or legislate the beliefs of any specific group.
But every group can and should be held accountable for its _actions_.
And that includes _active_ deception.
Organizations that practice mind control have very specific
characteristics that undermine individual choice and liberty. These
involve _leadership_, _doctrine_ and _membership_. By examining these
three areas in any organization, you will quickly be able to determine
whether it is (or has the potential to become) a destructive cult.
Even though destructive groups cloak the true nature of their
organizations, a good starting point for information gathering and
assessment is _leadership_. Who is the leader of the group in
question? What is the leader’s life history? What kind of education,
training and occupation did they have before starting the group? One
cult group’s leader, Eugene Spriggs of Twelve Tribes, was a carnival
barker—he pitched sideshows to visitors. Another leader, Werner
Erhard of est and The Forum, sold used cars and, later,
encyclopedias. Another, Carl Stevens of The Bible Speaks, was a
bakery truck driver. Perhaps the most famous cult leader of all,
Ron Hubbard of Scientology, started as a writer of adventure stories
and pulp fiction. One well-known cult leader, Victor Paul
Weirwille of The Way International, received his Ph.D. in theology
from a mail-order degree mill. Hubbard’s ‘doctorate’ also came
from a diploma mill. I’m not suggesting that someone with a degree
from Yale Divinity School could never become a cult leader, or that
former bakery truck drivers aren’t to be trusted. But a leader’s
professional background can be useful in helping you see the full
picture of any group. Cult leaders usually make exaggerated
Contrary to public perception, not all cult leaders start a group
because they lust after money or political power. Even the Rev. Jim
Jones, who ordered the People’s Temple massacre in Jonestown, was once
a highly respected, ordained church minister who had a long history of
helping the poor. His original intentions were in fact quite
admirable. However, along the way, he reportedly started to use
amphetamines, presumably so he could work longer hours and care for
more people. He met others involved in fake faith healings and began
experimenting with these and other techniques to “fire up” his
congregation. As his power grew, he became more and more deranged.
Interestingly, many of today’s cult leaders were themselves once
victims of a mind control cult. Whenever a person is subjected to
mind control processes and leaves a group without understanding undue
influence, it is easy for them to take what they have learned and
practice it on others. Cults have methods to induce euphoria, and
these methods are passed on by defectors who create their own cults.
Clearly, not every former member starts his own cult, but certain
personalities are disposed to do so. It seems obvious that most cult
leaders are narcissists and might even be full-blown sociopaths or
psychopaths. Although many cult leaders demand material opulence, what
they require above all is attention and power. In fact, power can and
does become an extreme addiction. Over time, cult leaders develop a
need for more and more power. Three things make these people terribly
dangerous: 1) their psychological instability, 2) that they actually
believe their own propaganda and 3) that they surround themselves with
loyal devotees who are unlikely to disagree with them, so promote
their narcissism. They are not merely cunning con artists who
want to make money or sexually dominate their followers. Most
genuinely believe they are God, or the Messiah, or have gained
enlightenment. But, as Martin Gardner said, it is possible to be both
a crank and charlatan. Most cult leaders believe in their own
superiority, against all of the evidence, so they project certainty,
which is a highly desirable commodity at times of personal
Even more useful is knowledge of a leader’s criminal background
(or lack thereof). Has the group leader ever been arrested? If so,
what were the charges? Were there any convictions? For example: Sun
Myung Moon was allegedly arrested at least twice in Korea, though
there are conflicting reports as to the charges. In 1985, he
served 13 months in a United States federal prison for conspiracy to
commit income tax fraud. Joseph Smith was convicted of fraud
before he founded the Mormons. Ron Hubbard had convictions for check
fraud, leaving a baby unattended in a parked vehicle, and, later,
trying to obtain addictive barbiturate drugs by pretending to be a
It’s not hard to use any search engine to research someone’s
criminal background. Type in their name (inside quotation marks, as in
“Steve Hassan”) plus the word _arrest_. Do the same with the word
_convicted_, then with the word _crime_—and perhaps with the words
_scandal_, _fraud_ or _court_. Search many pages deep and not just the
first page of any search engine. If nothing turns up, you might want
to consider hiring a private investigator first—especially if you are
considering going to an isolated retreat or making a large donation.
Although a leader’s background does not necessarily indicate that
they are a huckster or a charlatan, where there is smoke there is
often fire. _Many_ leaders of destructive cults have questionable
By looking at the leader’s background, you can draw some general
conclusions about how much trust you can place in them. For example,
if someone is teaching a course on how to have a successful marriage,
the fact that they have been divorced several times is significant. If
a leader has a background of drug use and bizarre behavior, like Ron
Hubbard, then be cautious in listening to their claims of being able
to solve all of humanity’s problems. Sun Myung Moon repeatedly
said he was working toward world peace—keep in mind he owned an M-16
gun factory in Korea. Another important aspect of leadership
involves its organizational flow of power. Does the organization have
a structure with a true balance of power? Many destructive groups have
boards of directors, but typically they are puppets of the leader. The
true structure is that of a pyramid with the cult leader as omnipotent
head at the apex. Below the leader is a core of lieutenants who are
totally subservient. Below them are subsidiary leaders. The operating
structure allows for no checks and balances. The leader has absolute
power. Lord Acton said it well when he wrote, “Power tends to corrupt,
and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
If a leader has a questionable personal background, and their
organization is totally centralized and under their control, beware.
If, however, there are checks and balances built into the system,
power seems to be genuinely distributed among many levels, and the
leader is committed to meeting members’ needs and goals, you are
probably looking at a much healthier organization.
Not every destructive cult has a leader who is glorified to
outsiders, or who enjoys great personal wealth. Since many
contemporary cult leaders were themselves former cult members, they
may be acting out of nothing more than delusion, mental illness and a
drive for power. I have counseled people out of several groups whose
leaders were not in it for the money, but were simply addicted to
personal power. Many destructive Bible cults have leaders who are not
conspicuous consumers, and who appear to hold God and the Bible above
themselves as higher authorities; yet their interpretations of the
Bible and God’s will are used to manipulate and control people.
Since the United States Constitution protects people’s right to
believe whatever they wish to believe, close scrutiny of a group’s
particular doctrine is unwarranted and unnecessary. But beware of
groups with any belief system that is simplistic and makes all or
nothing categorizations—good/bad; black/white; us versus them. Beliefs
that claim things as facts, but actually have no evidence-based
research to support these claims.
Absolutely key are honesty and transparency. Any group’s beliefs
should be freely disclosed to any person who wants to join, before any
pressure to join is exerted.
Does the group’s doctrine claim publicly to be one thing when it
is in fact quite otherwise? Are there separate insider and outsider
For a group to have integrity, its members must truly believe what
it stands for (and says it stands for). However, destructive groups
change the “truth” to fit the needs of the situation because they
believe that the _ends justify the means_. Helping to “save” someone
is a rationalization used to justify deceit or manipulation.
Legitimate organizations don’t change their doctrine to deceive the
This is my main focus whenever I evaluate a group.
Membership has three components: _recruitment_, _group
maintenance_ and _freedom to leave_. The impact of group membership on
the individual, their identity, their relationships, and their goals
and interests is crucial.
The basic feature of most cult _*recruitment*_ is deception. This
includes outright lying, leaving out important information or
Destructive groups operate under the assumption that non-members
are too ignorant or unspiritual to recognize what is best for them.
They are blind to the truth, known only to the cult. Recruiters,
therefore, take it upon themselves to make decisions for the people
they recruit. When an individual’s critical faculties are intact
and fully functioning, information supplied by the destructive cult is
typically meager. Only when the individual’s critical functions are
worn down and less functional will the cult supply the next phase of
Most cult recruiters will deny that they are trying to recruit
anyone at all. When asked what they are doing, they normally say that
they just want to share something meaningful, and want people to make
up their own minds about it. Recruiters for multi-level marketing
groups and large group awareness trainings are typically told not to
disclose exactly what will happen in the program. That if they do,
they will “spoil” the person’s experience. Or that the person has to
_experience for themselves_ to know what it is all about. What they
also do not tell the prospective convert is that they may have a
recruitment quota to fill; they may feel like they are not honoring
their commitment if they don’t get a certain number of newbies to
attend a cult function. The practice of deception by destructive
cults often extends to the use of various front organizations. This
misleads and confuses potential recruits, and hides the real agenda of
the organization. Universal Peace Federation, CAUSA, C.A.R.P., Freedom
Leadership Foundation, the International Cultural Foundation, and many
others were all Moon organizations. Dianetics, the World
Institute of Scientology Enterprises (WISE), the Citizens’ Commission
on Human Rights (CCHR) and Narconon are fronts for Scientology.
The average citizen is not usually aware of these connections.
The recruiter wants to draw as much information as possible from
the potential convert, to determine the most effective way to bring
them into the group. An effective recruiter knows how to hone in on
potential weak spots (called ‘finding the ruin’ in Scientology). These
may involve a boyfriend or girlfriend, parents, family members, job,
or school; the death of a close friend or relative; a move to a new
town, and any other significant transition or dislocation. An
effective recruiter knows how to make the target comfortable, so more
willing to disclose highly personal and confidential information.
Meanwhile, the recruiter reveals as little as possible about
themselves and (especially) the group, unless it is absolutely
necessary. Most of the information comes from the person being
recruited. This unbalanced flow of information is always a signal that
something is wrong.
By far the most common impression potential recruits have is that
they are making a new friend. However, in the real world, friendships
take time to develop. Over time, each person shares more and more
personal information in a reciprocal manner, giving and taking in a
balanced way. There is also no hidden agenda.
Once a potential convert is invited to a cult function, there is a
great deal of pressure, both overt and subtle, to make a commitment as
soon as possible. Cult recruiters, like good con artists, move in
for the kill quickly, once they have sized up a person. It is not in
their best interest to encourage thoughtful reflection. In contrast,
legitimate groups do not lie to potential converts or pressure them
into making a quick commitment.
A destructive group will recruit new members through the use of
mind control techniques. Control of the individual’s experience is
essential in order to break them down, indoctrinate them, and build
them up again in the cult image. During cult recruitment, the person’s
identity framework makes a dramatic shift. During the indoctrination,
sometimes the person doesn’t contact family and friends for days or
weeks. When they eventually do, a radical personality change is
evident. The individual often changes his style of clothes and speech
patterns and behaves in an uncharacteristically distant manner. Often,
the person’s sense of humor is blunted. Previous interests, hobbies
and goals may be abandoned “because they are no longer important.”
This personality change does seem to wear off a bit over time, if
the individual doesn’t continue to contact the group or participate in
its activities. However, when the person maintains contact, the new
identity can and does grow ever stronger.
To family and friends, the person seems not only more distant, but
deceitful and evasive. Sometimes the person can be coaxed into
revealing what he now believes. Frequently, though, the new member
asks family members and friends to talk to older members or leaders,
because “they can explain it better.”
The most telltale sign of the work of a destructive cult is this
radical personality change. A person may have been politically liberal
before, but is now a staunch conservative. They may have loved rock
music but now think it is from the Devil. They may have been very
loving and close to their family, but now don’t trust them at all.
They may have been an atheist; now, suddenly, God means everything to
them. Time after time, I have heard family members say, “She’s a
different person now. We don’t know her anymore!”
People have been known to change their names, drop out of school
or work, donate their bank accounts and property, and move hundreds or
even thousands of miles away from home once they become involved.
However, the absence of these requirements doesn’t necessarily mean
that the group is not a destructive cult. Increasing numbers of groups
have deliberately avoided such practices for some time in order to
Each situation and each group should be considered individually in
terms of its impact on a person’s life. Recruitment is done
incrementally; in some cases, a person’s behavior changes over months,
although more typically it takes only days or weeks.
The _*maintenance of membership*_ is achieved by cult activities
deliberately designed to undermine the new member’s relationships with
family and friends. One way this is achieved is by having new members
recruit everyone they know. As long as friends and family are “raw
meat,” as Scientology refers to them, recruits have permission to
spend time with them and try to recruit them. But as soon as family
members and friends express their concerns and declare that they will
never join the group, cult leaders urge the new member to stop wasting
time on them. If a family member or friend is critical enough, the new
member will be instructed to “disconnect” from them. Mind-control
groups cannot tolerate opposition of any kind. Either people agree
with them and are seen as potential converts, or they are the enemy.
Once a person becomes a member, their sleep patterns often change
significantly. Sleep deprivation is a common strategy for keeping
people in line and in the fold. Anyone who has ever experienced
several sleepless nights, or had to stay up all night to work or
study, knows the difficulty of functioning normally without adequate
sleep. Many cult groups make sure that members have only three to five
hours of sleep each night. It’s not that they have a formal policy of
sleep deprivation; they simply make sure that the new member is so
overworked that they have little time to sleep. In many cults, leaders
are routinely praised for sleeping very little, and rank and file
members are belittled for sleeping too much. In time, members learn to
sleep a minimum amount and work for the group as much as possible.
Dietary changes also frequently occur during cult recruitment.
Some groups practice strict vegetarianism, but feed new members
excessive amounts of sugar to give them a high. Some groups encourage
long and frequent fasts, with little or no care given to the body
before and after. Some groups even make members forage in garbage cans
for their meals. Usually, drastic weight shifts occur. Although
most people lose weight during their cult membership, some become
What people eat, their attitude toward food and how they eat all
contribute to a person’s sense of self. If a member is made to feel
that they have to “die to themselves” and their human needs, they may
agree to fast a good deal of the time and deny themselves any pleasure
in eating. On the flip side, if a cult member is very unhappy from too
much work, not enough sleep, and not having their emotional needs met,
they may overeat. Contrary to public misconceptions, most mind control
cults do not systematically deprive members of decent food. If they
did so for long, the members’ bodies would break down and they would
not be able to work.
Destructive cults _are_ characterized, however, by doing little to
maintain their members’ good health in other ways. As we have seen,
psychosomatic illnesses abound in members, perhaps as a reflection of
their unconscious need for help and attention. Medical treatment is
minimal, and in some groups virtually absent; in still others it is
labeled as sinful.
In destructive cults, large amounts of time are spent in group
activities, with a minimum of time allowed for privacy or time with
friends and family. Little time is available for reading anything
other than cult material, or for learning anything other than cult
practices. Of course, members go out of their way to convince
outsiders that they are living a “normal” life. Yet, if you involve
cult members in a long discussion of current events, art or history,
it becomes evident that most are out of touch.
One of the most obvious signs of a person in a mind control group
is a lack of independent decision-making abilities. Even though cult
members may try to convince outsiders that they are autonomous, once
you probe beyond the surface it becomes obvious that they cannot make
important (or, sometimes, even minor) decisions without first asking
permission from superiors. This dependency is typical on all levels of
cult membership, except at the very top.
One mother of a cult member I knew was happy when she thought that
her son had decided to come home for Christmas. She was crestfallen
when her son said, “No, Mom, the yogi told me that my place was to be
with you over the holidays.” In fact, the only reason he was allowed
to come home was that she had never criticized the group, and had
often invited some of its members to dinner.
Family members are often told by cult members that they “will see”
if they can come home for important family events such as marriages,
funerals and birthdays. What this means is that they will ask their
leaders for permission.
In mind control groups, members have to ask permission to do many
things that most people take for granted. Imagine having to ask
permission of a priest to visit a sick relative. However, a member of
one of these groups who doesn’t ask permission, but simply does what
they feel is necessary, is typically seen as selfish, rebellious, and
antagonistic to “positive growth.” The more controlled a group is, the
less likely a member is to be allowed to attend a wedding, funeral or
any other outside activity.
Some cults maintain membership by controlling all social
relationships, telling members who they can or can’t date or marry.
Some of the most extreme groups tell members when they can and can’t
have sex, and what positions are acceptable. Some take members’
children away from them in order to allow the parents more time to
work and allow more thorough indoctrination of the kids.
Life in a destructive cult can vary a great deal. Some members
live together in an ashram, center or group house, while other members
may have their own living arrangements. Some members may have menial
jobs that demand little or no thinking (for instance, as janitors,
workers, cooks and cleaners); others may be engaged in quite demanding
work (recruiting, public relations, and operating cult businesses).
The Children of God actively encouraged its female members to become
prostitutes. These “Happy Hookers for Jesus” used sex to make money,
manipulate officials and gain converts. Some people have outside
jobs from nine to five, which force them to compartmentalize their
cultic thinking process. These people typically continue their jobs
once they join, because of the money, the prestige, and the
opportunities to recruit and influence. Such people are fortunate to
have time away from the group and extensive contact with non-members,
and the detrimental effects are minimized.
In the day-to-day lives of members of destructive cults, there is
often a wide variation in the degree to which they experience the BITE
model: behavior control, information control, thought control and
emotional control. Those persons who are forbidden to think “negative
thoughts” or have contact with critics or former members, even though
they may have outside jobs and live separately, may still be under
mind control, though perhaps not as highly controlled as someone who
is a full-time, completely devoted member.
The final criterion for judging a group is the members’ _*freedom
to leave*_. To put it simply, members of destructive cults are
psychological prisoners. As I have explained, destructive cults plant
phobias into members’ minds so that they fear ever leaving the group.
By doing this, they shut the door on free choice. People had the
freedom to join, but people don’t have the freedom to leave a
destructive group. In fact, in the eyes of a destructive cult, there
is no “legitimate” reason for a person to ever leave the group.
Legitimate groups treat people as adults, capable of determining
what is in their best interest. Although every organization wants to
retain its membership, legitimate groups never go to the extremes of
control through fear and guilt that destructive cults do.
Some of the most destructive cults actually try to hunt down and
silence former members—through violence, legal harassment,
intimidation, or blackmail. Paul Morantz, a lawyer who litigated
against the drug rehabilitation program (and mind control cult)
Synanon, was bitten by a rattlesnake placed in his mailbox by cult
members. Stephen Bryant, a former devotee of the Hare Krishnas,
was murdered—shot in the head by a group member, allegedly at the
instruction of one of the organization’s leaders. Bent Corydon, a
member of Scientology for 22 years, was subjected to extreme forms of
legal harassment for writing _L. Ron Hubbard—Messiah or Madman?_ a
critical biography of the group’s founder. Many critics of
Scientology have been litigated into bankruptcy. Jeannie Mills, a
former member of the Peoples Temple and an outspoken critic of Jim
Jones, was murdered by persons unknown, along with her husband and
children, after the massacre at Jonestown.
Needless to say, people should always retain the right to decide
for themselves whether to remain in a group. That freedom of choice
should not be taken away from a person who has decided to join any
Questions People Ask About Cults
One question I frequently hear is whether all destructive cults
are equally dangerous. The answer is no. Not every group is as
destructive as the Peoples Temple, ISIS or Boko Haram. Nor is every
group as deceptive as the Moon group or as demanding as Jehovah’s
Witnesses. Nevertheless, all mind control cults fall at the negative
end of the influence continuum.
Another question I am occasionally asked is whether destructive
cults can change over time in significant ways. The answer is yes.
Groups that use mind control may start off with extremely good
intentions, but end up manipulating their members and deceiving the
public. That was certainly the case in the Peoples Temple, which was
originally an inner-city ministry oriented toward helping the poor.
The tragedy is that the people whom the cult tried to help eventually
became the group’s victims, and then made victims of others.
Some cults simply fade away or disband. The Democratic Worker’s
Party of California decided to disband after its members became
extremely disillusioned with their leader. The Center for Feeling
Therapy disbanded when its leaders simply walked away one day, leaving
hundreds of confused and disoriented members. Another issue is
whether a particular destructive group is uniformly dangerous at every
one of its locations throughout the world. This may or may not be the
case. Despite the fact that many groups try to present an image of
being large, powerful, and monolithic, they are usually not totally
uniform. There can be major differences, depending on the local
leader’s personality, strictness, and style.
During my days in the Moonies, the lifestyles on the east and west
coasts differed significantly. In the east—primarily because Moon
lived there and oversaw operations personally—militaristic discipline
and control were extreme. Men and women were not permitted to hug,
kiss or hold hands unless they were married _and_ given permission. On
the west coast, where things were much looser, people did all these
things. However, recruiters on the west coast were more deceptive in
Because many destructive cults offer meditation or other possibly
therapeutic techniques that are claimed to have universally beneficial
results, another legitimate question is whether cults affect some
people more adversely than others? The answer is yes.
For example, a significant proportion of people simply do not
respond well to passive relaxation techniques, and suffer from
“relaxation induced anxiety.” Such a person recruited into an
organization like Transcendental Meditation (TM) might suffer
headaches, insomnia, increased anxiety and so forth. Since TM members
believe that their form of meditation is good for everybody, a person
who complains of negative effects may be told that they are simply
“unstressing” and should continue meditating. Unfortunately, ignoring
such problems may lead to serious health problems, nervous breakdowns
and even suicidal tendencies. Former TMers have complained of
tunnel vision and, after the “yogic flying” course, at least one
practitioner suffered a fractured coccyx.
Large group awareness training programs such as est (changed in
the 1980s to The Forum and later Landmark Education) and Lifespring
have been strongly criticized for their lack of professional
screening. As a result, several of these organizations have been the
subject of lawsuits by damaged participants.
Lastly, there is the consideration of a group’s size. Is a cult’s
destructiveness related to its size?
Not at all. I have seen one-on-one mind control relationships that
have been as destructive as some of the world’s most powerful and
toxic cults. In researching battered-person syndrome, I have found
many similarities and parallels with members of mind control
Some dysfunctional relationships, marriages, and families are
essentially mini-cults of a few people. I’ve learned that many
domestic abuse victims were forced into a nearly totally dependent
relationship, often kept away from family and friends who might be
critical of the controlling partner’s behavior. Some people were not
allowed to have access to money, to learn how to drive a car, or to
work outside the home. Whenever they tried to communicate their wants
or needs, they were beaten. They were made to feel that any problem in
their marriage was entirely their fault, and that if they only worked
harder to please their spouse, everything would be fine. These
people’s self-esteem became so low that they came to believe there was
no future for them without their partner. Some people had spouses who
planted phobias in their minds, so they could never leave the
marriage; in some cases, they were also told that they would be hunted
down and killed if they ever left. Some controllers threatened to kill
themselves if their victim ever left.
Asking Questions: The Key To Protecting Yourself
Learning to be an educated consumer can help save you time, energy
and money. In the case of destructive cults, being an educated
consumer can help protect your mind and possibly save your life.
Thorough online research is your best first option. However, if you
are ever approached by someone who tries to pry information out of you
or invites you to participate in a program, you can ask some very
specific questions which will help you avoid over 90% of cult
recruiters. Simply asking these assertively will help you deflect
recruiters, who will quickly realize that you are not a promising use
of their time.
_These questions work best if you ask them in a very direct yet
friendly manner, and demand very specific answers._
Although most cults use deception while recruiting, most cult
members don’t realize that they are lying to potential new members. By
asking these direct questions one after another, you can usually
discover that either 1) you are not being told a straight story, or 2)
the person doesn’t have the straight story to begin with.
For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses recruit by asking people if they
would like to study the Bible with them. But what they do not say is
that they use the New World Translation, published by the Watchtower,
which is not accepted by Biblical scholars outside the cult. Of
course, they have been told it is a better translation than all other
Because members have been trained to avoid thinking negatively
about the group, you will often receive vague generalities or
evasions. For example, “We’re just trying to help people to overcome
their problems,” or “We’re having a free dinner tonight to discuss
some of the world’s problems” or “We’re just getting together to study
the Word of God.” Evasive remarks, such as “I understand you’re
feeling skeptical. I was too, before I really came to _understand_,"
or “Is that what you _really_ want to know?” should also ring warning
Another common technique used by recruiters is changing the
subject. For example, when you ask a question about whether or not a
cult leader has a criminal background, you may hear a long monologue
about the persecution of the world’s great religious leaders. You may
be told that Socrates was accused of child molestation and Jesus being
accused of associating with prostitutes. Don’t get drawn into a debate
about Socrates or Jesus. You want a direct answer about the leader of
_this_ person’s group. If the recruiter doesn’t give a clear, concise,
direct answer, something is wrong.
And remember: you can always simply walk away.
Most of all, though, you will find that the best possible
advantage over a cult recruiter is the ability to ask him direct,
penetrating questions. The following are some that I have found to be
*How long have you (the recruiter) been involved with this group?
Are you trying to recruit me into any type of organization?*
First, this will help you find out very quickly who you are
dealing with. A person who has been involved in a destructive cult for
less than a year is usually very inexperienced and possibly less
likely to lie, and any lies they do tell are less likely to sound
Second, if the person has been involved for many years, you can
expect them to know and to be able give you concrete, specific answers
to all your follow-up questions. If they don’t, you can say, “You’ve
been a member for years and you don’t know the answer to such simple
When asked point blank about recruitment, the person may say, “No,
I’m not trying to recruit you into anything. I just like you and
wanted to share this with you. What you decide to do with the
information will be totally up to you.” Fine. Just keep this answer in
mind, because if the group is in fact a destructive cult, it will
eventually become obvious that you are being recruited. That means the
recruiter lied to you. If and when you realize this, be appropriately
annoyed and walk away.
*Can you tell me the names of all the other organizations that are
affiliated with your group?*
You are trying to uncover the names of front groups as well as the
principle group. A cult recruiter will usually be taken off guard by
this question and ask what you mean. Ask again; it’s a perfectly clear
and straightforward question. If the recruiter tells you they don’t
know, ask them to find out for you. Ask for their phone number—do not
give them yours, of course—and say that you will call them tomorrow
for the answer.
If the person tells you there are no other organizations, at some
later point you may discover that this was a lie. If and when you
realize this, be assertively annoyed and leave. Remember, cults like
to create front groups for popular causes. For example, both the
Moonies and Scientologists have front groups to presumably combat
*Who is the top leader? Tell me about their background and
qualifications. Do they have a criminal record?*
You may or may not get a straight answer to these questions. The
recruiter might use the name of the local sub-leader instead of the
person at the top. They also might not know anything about the
leader’s background or criminal record, because they may not know
themselves. You might then ask the person, “How could you have become
involved with a group without checking these things out first?”
Remember, a destructive cult will try to get your commitment
first, _before_ disclosing important information. A legitimate group
will always give information first, and ask for commitment later, only
when you feel ready.
*What does your group believe? Does it believe that the ends
justify the means? Is deception allowed in any circumstances?*
Most cult recruiters will not want to explain what they believe
right there on the spot. They are trained to use your curiosity to
bring you to hear a lecture, watch a video or attend a program. This
will give them a better chance of influencing you, because you will be
in their environment.
If the person is not willing to summarize the key points of the
group’s beliefs, right there and then, you can be sure they are hiding
If they say that they’re afraid you will misunderstand, if they
give you only a short description, ask for it anyway. _Any legitimate
group will be able to summarize its central beliefs._ Destructive
cults will not want to do so.
If you find out later that this description was a gross distortion
filled with inaccuracies, you have every right to be annoyed and
leave. The cult members will most assuredly try to convince you that
they _had_ to lie to you because you have been brainwashed by the
media against them, and you would have never listened if they told the
truth. Don’t buy this “ends justify the means” rationalization. No
legitimate organization needs to lie to people in order to help them.
*What are members expected to do once they join? Do I have to quit
school or work, or donate my money and property, or cut myself off
from family members and friends who might oppose my membership? What
did you do for a living before you joined the group, and what do you
do for a living now?*
If you are being approached by a destructive cult, the person you
meet may tell you that you will be expected to do little or nothing
once you join. However, this question will make most cult members very
uncomfortable and defensive. Watch the recruiter’s non-verbal reaction
carefully when you ask this question. Ask the person what they did
when they first met the group and what they are doing now.
*Is your group considered controversial by anyone? If other people
are critical of it, what are their main objections?*
These are nicely open-ended questions that allow you to probe just
how much the person knows or is willing to discuss. If you ask these
questions politely and with a smile, the person may say, “Oh, some
people think we’re a cult and that we’re all brainwashed. Isn’t that
silly? Do I look brainwashed?” To that question you might respond, “So
how are people supposed to look if they are brainwashed?” When I ask
that question, the person I’m speaking to usually becomes very
uncomfortable and, if I continue to probe, finds some excuse to leave.
*How do you feel about former members of your group? Have you ever
sat down to speak with a former member to find out why they left the
group? If not, why not? Does your group impose restrictions on
communicating with former members?*
This is one of the most revealing sets of questions you can ask.
Any legitimate organization would never discourage contact with former
members, particularly family and friends. Likewise, any legitimate
group would support a member’s right to leave, even though they might
not like it.
Destructive cults, on the other hand, do not accept any reason for
a person’s departure, no matter what it is. Likewise, cult groups make
sure to instill fear in members, insuring that they stay away from
critics and former members. Although you might hear some experienced
cult recruiters say, “Sure, some of my best friends have left,” when
you probe further and ask them for specifics, you may find out they
have been lying. I always pursue such a response with questions such
as “What specific reasons did they give for leaving?” and “Do they say
that they are happier now that they have left?” Again, the recruiter
is usually at a loss for words.
*What are the three things you like least about the group and its leader?*
I can’t remember how many times I have seen reporters and
television hosts ask cult members whether or not they were
brainwashed. The cult member usually smiles and says, “Of course not,
that’s ridiculous.” It is absurd, however, to expect an objective
answer from someone under mind control. A much better challenge for
such people would be, “Tell me three things that you don’t like about
the group or the leader.” If you get an opportunity to catch a cult
member off guard and ask that question, I suggest you watch their face
very carefully. The pupils in their eyes will dilate, and they will
act momentarily stunned. When they do answer, they will very likely
say that there is nothing they can think of that they don’t like. Cult
members will generally give some variation on that reply, because they
are simply not permitted to talk critically, particularly on
*What else would you rather do in life than be a member of the group?*
The answer is likely to be, “Nothing.”
*Did you take the time to talk with former members, and read
critical literature about the group, before you joined, in order to
make up your own mind? Is this something you’d be willing to do now?*
It’s possible that the person might call your bluff and answer “of
course” to the second question. This is fine. If they are in a
destructive cult, it’s probably a lie—but if the person does follow
through, they will be well on their way out of the group, and you will
have done them a favor.
If you make it through all the above questions and feel reasonably
comfortable that the person was being straight with you—and you’re
still genuinely interested in learning more about the group—I strongly
suggest you do two more things before attending any program: 1) ask
other members of the group the same questions, and see if you get
consistent answers, and 2) research the group intensively online.
Remember, though, that search engines can be manipulated, and
cults have been known to put up phony blogs and websites to give
disinformation to potential recruits.
If everything seems to look okay, go to the program with a trusted
friend who is both skeptical and assertive. This way you will have
someone you trust to discuss what you see and hear.
If the group is a destructive cult, at the program, members will
try to find some convenient way to separate you from your friend.
“Divide and conquer” is the rule. This may seem quite spontaneous and
benign, but it is neither. Typically, one cult member will start
talking to your friend, while another will question you. At first you
and your friend will be standing next to each other; within minutes
you will be several feet away; by the end of the evening you will be
at opposite ends of the room. Resist this. Stick together, and don’t
let anyone split you up. Demand to stay with your friend. If you are
pressured to conform, or are confronted by group leaders, simply walk
If you find yourself in an indoctrination session, stand up and
announce loudly that you don’t like being manipulated and controlled.
The louder you speak, the faster you will be escorted from the room.
Several other people might also jump at the opportunity to leave with
Don’t let your curiosity get the best of you. If you are highly
confident and assertive, and are comfortable challenging people
loudly, directly, firmly and to their faces, kudos to you! But if,
like most people, you don’t like conflict and confrontation, be wise.
Many people have been recruited into cults because they were
overconfident they could handle themselves in any situation. Curiosity
and overconfidence have been the downfall of many people, including
me. Placing yourself in a potentially dangerous situation just isn’t
worth the risk.
Chapter 7 Endnotes
128. Andrea Estes, “Cult Attracts Trouble in Travels: The
Ex-Carnival Barker Turned Church Apostate,’’ The Boston Herald (June
23, 1984).Mark Starr, “The Kingdom at Island Pond,” Newsweek (Nov 29,
1982).Joan Guberman, “Another Jonestown: The Kingdom at Island Pond,”
The Advisor (Feb/March 1983).
129. Mark Brewer, “We’re Gonna Tear You Down and Put You Back
Together,” Psychology Today (Aug 1975), 82.Richard Behar and Ralph
Kina, Jr., “The Winds of Werner: The IRS, The Order of Malta and a
Swiss Banker Have a Problem: A One—time Used Car Salesman from
Philadelphia,” Forbes (Nov 18, 1985).
130. Dianne Dumanoski, “The Gospel According to Stevens:
Evangelist Carl Stevens Started Out as a Bakery Driver. Now he’s a
shepherd in the Berkshires, with a flock of born-again Christians—and
newly acquired fields,” Boston Phoenix (May 24, 1977).
131. Robert Lindsey, “L. Ron Hubbard Dies of Stroke; Founder of
Church of Scientology,” The New York Times (Jan. 29, 1986).
132. Phil Garber, “The Way: Religious Sect a Center of
Controversy,” Daily Record (March 30, 1986).Wendy B. Ford, “Way
Seduction ‘Invisible,’” The Journal Herald (Jan 13, 1981).
133. Erhard, Da Free John, Paul Twitchell and Harvey Jackins were
all Scientologists, as was the leader of the UFO cult studied by Leon
Festinger. Over 200 cults have been started by ex-members of
Scientology, according to Jon Atack’s research.
134. See Ira Chaleff, The Courageous Follower, to understand how
followers can better limit a leader’s narcissism.
135. Robert Boettcher, Gifts of Deceit–Sun Myung Moon, Tongsun
Park and the Korean Scandal (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston,
1980), 35.Moonwebs, 50.
136. Lyda Phillips (UPI), “Rev. Moon Free After Year in Prison for
Tax Evasion,” The Boston Globe (July 5 , l985).
137. Bent Corydon and L. Ron Hubbard, Jr., L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah
or Mad-Man? (Secaucus, New Jersey: Lyle Stuart, 1987).Russell Miller,
Bare Faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard (Great Britain:
Penguin Books, 1987).Richard Behar, “The Prophet and Profits of
Scientology,” Forbes 400 (Oct 27, 1986), 314-315.“Penthouse Interview:
L. Ron Hubbard, Jr.” Penthouse (June 1983), 111, 174-175.
138. Fraser Report, 387.
139. Hubbard instructed his recruiters, ‘You tell him that he is
going to sign up right now and he is going to take it right now ...
One does not describe something, one commands something. You will find
that a lot of people are in a more or less hypnotic daze … and they
respond to direct commands in literature and ads. Hard Sell means
insistence that people buy.’ (HCO PL 26 September 1979, Issue III).
140. All Scientologists are considered ‘field staff members’ and
‘professional FSMs’ are given specific recruitment targets.
141. Ibid., 313, 316, 333-334.
142. Eugene H. Methvin, “Scientology: The Sickness Spreads,”
Readers Digest (Sept 1981), 5.“Penthouse Interview: L. Ron Hubbard,
Jr.” Penthouse (June 1983), 113.
143. “This technique is labeled ‘buy now’ in Scientology.”
144. Raw meat: ‘One who has never had Scientology processing.’
Hubbard, HCOB, Starting of Preclears (16 January 1968).
145. Rachel Martin, Escape: The True Story of a Young Woman Caught
In the Clutches of a Religious Cult (Denver, Colorado: Accent Books,
146. Deborah Berg Davis, The Children of God: The Inside Story
(Grand Rapids, Missouri: The Zondervan Publishing House, 1984).Herbert
J. Wallerstein, Final Report on the Activities of the Children of God
to Honorable Louis J. Lefkowitz, Attorney General of the State of New
York. Charity Frauds Bureau (Sept 30, 1974).Una McManus, Not for a
Million Dollars (Impact Books, 1980).
147. Steve Allen, Beloved Son: A Story of the Jesus Cults (New
York: Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1982), 192-193.
148. Lindsey Gruson, “Two Hare Krishna Aides Accused of Child
Molesting,” The New York Times (Feb 18, 1987).“Murders, Drug and Abuse
Charges Shake Krishnas,” Akron Beacon Journal (June 22, 1986).Eric
Harrison, “Crimes Among the Krishnas: The world wouldn’t listen to
Stephen Bryant’s charges against his religion’s leaders, until he was
murdered,” The Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine (April 15, 1987).John
Hubner and Lindsay Gruson, “Dial Om for Murder: The Hare Krishna
church, once brimming with youthful idealism, has became a haven for
drug traffickers, suspected child molesters—and killers,” The Rolling
Stone (April 9, 1987), 53.“Krishna Killer Ordered Extradited,” CAN
News (Sept-Oct 1987) from “Dreschner Ordered Extradited,” The
Intelligencer (Aug 14, 1987).“Hare Krishna Leader Reported to be
Linked to Murder of His Critic,” The New York Times (June 17, 1987),
149. “Scientology’s ‘Campaign of Harassment,” The Cult Observer
(Nov/Dec 1987) from “Scientologists In Dirty Campaign to Stop Book,”
The Sunday Times (London, Oct 18, 1987).“Scientologists Try to Block
Hubbard Biography,” The Cult Observer (July/Aug 1987), from “New
Hassle over Scientology Book,” The New York Post (Aug 4, 1987) and
“Lawsuits Surround Book on L. Ron Hubbard,” Publishers Weekly (Aug
150. Robert Lindsey, “Two Defectors from People’s Temple Slain in
California,” The New York Times (Feb 28, 1980), A 16.
151. Peter Siegel, Nancy Strohl, Laura Ingram, David Roche and
Jean Taylor, “Leninism as Cult: The Democratic Workers Party,”
Socialist Review, 58-85.
152. “Center for Feeling Therapy Founder Fights to Keep License,”
The Cult Observer (Jan/Feb 1987) from the Los Angeles Times (Sept 21,
1986).“Center for Feeling Therapy Psychologists Lose Licenses,” The
Cult Observer (Nov/Dec 1987) from “Psychologists In Feeling Therapy
Lose Licenses,” The Los Angeles Times (Sept 29, 1987).
153. Darrell Sifford, “Psychiatrist Probes the Effects of
Transcendental Meditation,” Philadelphia Inquirer (June 19, 1988).The
Various Implications Arising from the Practice of Transcendental
Meditation (Bensheim, Germany: Institute for Youth and Society), 80.
154. Marc Fisher, “I Cried Enough to Fill a Glass,” The Washington
Post Magazine (Oct 25 ,1987), 20.Alfrieda Slee, Administratrix to the
Estate of Jack Andrew Slee, vs. Werner Erhard, et al. Civil Action
#N-84-497- JAC, United States District Court for the District of
Connecticut.Evangeline Bojorquez vs. Werner Erhard, et al, Civil
Action #449177, Superior Court of the State of California in and for
the County of Santa Clara.Nancy Urgell vs. Werner Erhard and Werner
Erhard Associates, Civil Action#H-85-1025 PCD, United States District
Court, District of Connecticut.
155. Teresa Ramirez Boulette and Susan M. Anderson, “Mind Control
and the Battering of Women,” Community Mental Health Journal (Summer
1985, Vol. 21, No. 2).”
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