[ot] cult influence and power, 1988-2018
Undiscussed Groomed for Male Slavery, One Victim of Many
gmkarl+brainwashingandfuckingupthehackerslaves at gmail.com
Fri Sep 23 15:55:08 PDT 2022
Chapter 8–Curing the Mind Control Virus
When most people begin to search for ways to release friends or
relatives from cults, they know little or nothing about mind control,
the characteristics of destructive cults, or how or where to begin.
Some may think the only available option is deprogramming. Yet
they have no idea that deprogramming involves forcible abduction of
the cult member, a process that is lengthy and coercive, along with a
price tag of 10-50 thousand dollars. I _do not_ recommend coercive
deprogramming, and know of no reputable person who currently practices
_Non-coercive_ ways to help now exist. I and others now use
therapeutic techniques that are well established in the mental health
profession, along with the latest, innovative approaches. Furthermore,
today almost all the professionals who help cult members break free
are themselves former members of mind control organizations. They are
more likely to understand what cult members are thinking and feeling,
and can share personal experiences and insight.
This chapter is a guide to interventions: how the process of
curing the mind control virus works. I’ve included three cases of
interventions I have conducted. The dialogues are reconstructed from
memory, but the stories themselves are faithful reflections of real
events. These case histories took place some years ago. Since then my
approach has evolved significantly, into the Strategic Interactive
Approach, which is what I use today. Nevertheless, many of the key
concepts, dilemmas and techniques that appear in these stories
continue to apply in the present day.
First, though, it’s important to give you some essential
background on deprogramming.
Because I myself was deprogrammed in 1976, I am very familiar with
its drawbacks. Back then, very few options were available to concerned
relatives and friends of cult members. Either people tried to keep in
contact with the member and hoped they would leave on their own, or
they hired a deprogrammer. Cult leaders saw deprogramming as a
terrible threat. They were losing many long-term, devoted members and
leaders because of it. And those people were talking to the media and
revealing details of the cults’ operations. Ex-members who had simply
walked away tended to be paralyzed with guilt and fear, and usually
kept their former cult involvement very quiet. But deprogrammees had
access to a support network that understood what they had been through
and gave them the strength and encouragement to speak out.
By the late 1970s, cult mind control had become intertwined in the
public eye with forcible deprogramming. This was partly the result of
public relations campaigns financed by some major cults to discredit
critics and divert the debate from the cults themselves. The
propaganda labeled deprogramming as “the greatest threat to religious
liberty of all time.” Deprogrammers were falsely portrayed as beating
and raping people to force them to recant their freely held religious
beliefs. Influenced by this campaign, at least one movie portrayed
deprogrammers as money-hungry thugs who were just as bad as cult
For the record, I know of _no_ instance of deprogramming (and I’ve
met hundreds of deprogrammees) that involved any beating, rape or
physical abuse. Furthermore, no family I have ever worked with would
allow anyone, including a deprogrammer, to harm a family member in any
way. Nevertheless, deprogramming is often emotionally traumatic, as
well as legally risky.
In a classic deprogramming scenario, a cult member would be
located and physically snatched off a street corner, pushed into a
waiting vehicle, and driven to a secret location, perhaps a motel
room. There the security team would guard the person for several days,
24 hours a day, while the deprogrammer, former cult members, and
family members presented information and argued with them. Windows
might be nailed shut or barricaded, because members had been known to
dive out of them to avoid the so-called “faith-breaking” process. The
member would sometimes be accompanied to the bathroom in an effort to
prevent suicide attempts. They might be held for many days, until they
snapped out of the cult’s mind control—or, as occurred in some cases,
pretended to do so.
In the small number of deprogrammings I participated in during
1976 and 1977, the cult member was usually confronted while visiting
home rather than grabbed off a sidewalk. Even so, when they were told
they couldn’t leave, they almost always reacted violently. In various
deprogrammings, I was punched, kicked, and spat on; had hot coffee
thrown in my face; and had tape recorders hurled at me. Indeed, if I
hadn’t had a cast on my leg during my own deprogramming from the
Moonies, I would have done something similar. Cult members are
indoctrinated to behave that way: to stay faithful to the group, no
At the beginning of a deprograming, the cult member often becomes
even more convinced that his family is the very embodiment of evil.
_After all_, the person thinks, _look at the extremes they have gone
to. I’ve been kidnapped, and now I’m going to be beaten, raped or
both_. In the aftermath of such situations, the cult member’s trauma,
anger, and resentment can take years to dissipate, even if the
deprogramming is successful.
I knew one woman who was deprogrammed from a short-term membership
in the Moonies. Then she rejoined the group for over a year and quit
on her own. It was as if, she told me later, she had to prove she
could do it by herself. Unfortunately, during her second stint in the
group, the Moonies paraded her around and used her to denounce
deprogramming, all over the United States.
It is terrifying to be held prisoner and fear that you are about
to be tortured or sexually abused. Remember, these are the experiences
that cult leaders tell members to expect in a deprogramming. As you
can imagine, good counseling in such a situation is difficult at best.
The member immediately clams up and chants, prays or meditates to shut
out any external influence. This thought-stopping may continue for
hours or days, before they see that they aren’t going to be tortured;
that the deprogrammers are caring, sensitive people; and that there
really are legitimate questions about their group involvement that
they should look at. Only then does the person start to respond.
After being part of a small number of interventions, I believed it
was imperative to find another approach. Legal, voluntary access to
the cult member was essential. Family and friends are the key. But
they need to become knowledgeable about cults and mind control, and
they need to be coached in how to communicate effectively with a cult
The Strategic Interactive Approach, the non-coercive approach I
have developed, accomplishes with finesse what deprogramming does with
force. However, family members and friends have to work together as a
team to plan and implement a strategy for influencing the cult member.
Although this approach—like any approach—will not work in every single
case, it has proved to be the best option possible.
This non-coercive approach requires excellent information in order
to succeed. The information gathering and dissemination begins with
the first phone call or meeting.
Let’s walk through one such story, from relatively early in my career.
The O’Brien Family and the International Church of Christ
In December 1987, Matthew O’Brien called me and expressed his
concern about his son George’s involvement with a group known as the
Boston Church of Christ. The church was also known as Multiplying
Ministries and the International Churches of Christ. (It should not be
confused with the mainline Church of Christ, or with the United Church
of Christ, an inheritor of the New England Congregational
tradition). He had heard of me from Buddy Martin, an evangelist
then with the Cape Cod Church of Christ (another mainline church), who
strongly denounced the authoritarian shepherding/discipleship cult
tactics used by the BCC. O’Brien told me he had grown more and
more worried about his son’s involvement. George had lost a great deal
of weight, was always exhausted, and had abandoned his plans to
graduate from a small liberal arts college in upstate New York. He was
also becoming progressively more incapable of making simple decisions.
He had to get his “discipleship” partner’s advice, before doing almost
O’Brien asked me about my own background, and whether I thought
this particular group was a destructive cult. I told him that I had
successfully counseled many dozens of people out of this particular
group. He was very happy to hear this.
The O’Briens wanted to know what makes a group a destructive cult,
and asked several probing questions about my own values and ethics. I
told them that encouraging a person to think for themselves was
paramount, and that I was always careful not to impose my own belief
system on a client. My role was to present information, to do
individual and family counseling as needed, and to facilitate family
We talked for about half an hour, and I agreed to mail them
information on my approach, as well as a background questionnaire and
photocopies of articles on Kip McKean’s Boston Church of Christ. I
also gave them phone numbers of some other families I had worked with.
I told them to answer the questions on my form as completely as
possible. The more information the family and friends could supply
about themselves, I said, the better.
Gathering written information from a family is always a good place
to start. It forces the family to think through a variety of issues
about themselves, the cult member, the cult member’s involvement in
the organization, and how they have responded to it, so far. It also
gives me a good starting point for person-to-person discussions.
It matters to me how much effort a family will make to do a
thorough job. Some families mostly provide one-line answers; on the
other hand, one family provided me with a 44-page, single-spaced
response. (Six to eight pages of responses is typical.) I’m
particularly concerned with the answers to these questions:
In the family, what are relationships like between siblings, and
between the cult member and the parents?
What kind of a person was the cult member before joining the group?
Did the member have many friends?
Did the member use drugs or alcohol?
Did the member have clear-cut life goals?
Did the member suffer any trauma or unusual stress during their
life; such as the death of a close friend or relative, or the divorce
of their parents, or a difficult move to a new city?
Did they have a well-formed religious, political or social value system?
The healthier a person’s family relationships and fully formed
sense of identity were before they were recruited by a cult, the
easier my job usually is.
In George’s case, I wanted to learn who he was before he joined
BCC and how he had changed, aside from weight loss and listlessness. I
wanted to know who in the family he was closest to. I wanted to know
his state of mind just before joining. I also wanted to know about his
education, interests and hobbies, work experience and religious
As in all my cases, I also wanted to know how long it took for him
to be recruited. Did he go straight in after being approached one
afternoon, or did it take months or years before he became fully
involved? What did he think he was joining? Does it bear any
similarity to the group he now belongs to? How long has he been a cult
member? Where has he been living—with other members, alone, or with
non-members? How does he spend his time? Has he ever expressed doubts
or difficulties about his membership?
Also, as in all my cases, I wanted to know how his family members
and friends have reacted. What have they said or done about his
membership of the group? What books or articles have the family read?
What professionals and other people have they contacted? I wanted to
know who was and who _was not_ willing to help rescue George.
Interestingly, a close sibling who may initially be unwilling to help
can often become the most important element in a successful case.
With the O’Brien family, I followed my usual procedures, which
look like this:
After studying the completed questionnaire, I talk again with the
family by phone. I ask more specific questions to round out the
picture and assess what to do next. In most cases, I also ask the
family to gather more information from other knowledgeable people—and,
sometimes, to obtain additional counseling. It’s very important during
this preparation period that the family meets and talks with others
who have had the same problem—especially others who have successfully
rescued a family member. It’s also good for the family to talk to
former members of the particular cult, to gain insight into their
loved one’s mindset.
Next I set up a meeting with as many family members and friends as
possible, often in the family home. Here I observe how the people
relate to each other. I spend a lot of time at this meeting teaching
about cults and mind control, and coaching people on the parts they
will need to play. It is crucial that people understand exactly what
the problem is and what they can (and can’t) do to help. I discuss
ways to connect with the cult member and persuade them to open up. We
also may begin discussing rescue strategy.
One thing I stress is that _everyone_ must pull together and look
at the rescue as a team effort. This takes the load off any one
person’s shoulders. It also guarantees that the cult member will be
influenced by as many supportive people as possible. I urge them to
contact other family members and friends and persuade them to help; to
study books, articles, and videos; and to make files/keep a record.
If I am contacted within the first few months of recruitment, the
prognosis for a successful exit within a year is extremely good. But
if the person has been in a cult for ten years or more when I am
contacted, it might be quite some time before a rescue can even be
That said, long-term members are by no means beyond hope. They
just require a lot of patience and continued effort. In fact, in many
ways it is easier to counsel someone out of a long-term membership,
because the person knows the harsh realities of life in the group—the
lies, the manipulations, the broken promises of cult leaders. In
contrast, a new member may still be walking on air, as part of the
The O’Briens told me that George had been involved for two and a
half years. He was living in an apartment with other believers. He was
still in contact with his mother and father, less so with his sister,
Naomi. His parents were not strongly religious. They objected to
George’s rigid belief in the group’s equally rigid interpretation of
the Bible. For his part, George had come to regard his parents’
attitudes as non-Christian. As in so many other families, his cult
membership had dredged up some angry and resentful feelings on both
sides. The family was deadlocked.
By the time George’s parents called me, they had long since
realized that an oppositional approach was going nowhere. George’s
father decided to try the opposite tack. He asked George if he could
attend a Bible study, and even went to a couple of BCC’s Sunday
services. Of course, George and his discipleship partners interpreted
his father’s attendance as a sign that God was moving in his father’s
life. Strategically, however, it was an important step in repairing
George’s relationship with his family.
O’Brien had explained to George that he wanted to learn more about
his son’s church because he loved his son and wanted to rebuild their
relationship. This was true, but O’Brien—and everyone in the
family—was also trying to learn as much as they could about the group.
To his credit, George never doubted his parents’ love for him—nor,
deep down, his love for them. But he had been taught that people were
either part of God—that is, members of BCC—or on the side of Satan.
George had no idea that his family was in touch with me or with Buddy
After many meetings and phone calls, the family and I began to
make plans. The issue of whether to be deceptive was, as always, both
important and thorny. The O’Briens had to come to terms with a variety
of options. Should they simply tell George what they had learned and
ask him to meet with Buddy and me? Ethically, that was what they
wanted to do. Yet they were dealing with a mind control cult. If they
told him they wanted him to meet people who would be critical of the
group, would he tell his superiors? Would they advise him to break off
contact with his family?
I encouraged the family to speak with several former BCC members
and ask them how a group member would likely respond to the
straightforward approach. Without exception, the ex-members told the
family that George would immediately consult his discipleship partner
for advice. From that moment on, the group would be forewarned, and
would do everything in its power to convince him to avoid any contact
with his family, since it was obviously being controlled by Satan’s
My preference is always to have someone ask the cult member if
they would be willing to hear a little of the other side of the story,
and see what reaction this elicits. However, such a request needs to
come from a sibling or a friend, rather than from a parent, so that it
seems much less threatening. If the cult member accepts the
opportunity, a place and time for meeting with former cult members
should be agreed upon, immediately. The person who asks for the
meeting must also directly raise the issue that if other group members
find out, they will try to convince the member to break their
agreement. They need to ask, “Will you fulfill your promise regardless
of group pressure?” If the cult member says yes, a verbal contract is
This type of open agreement works best with people who are not yet
fully indoctrinated, are having questions or doubts, or still trust
and are close to their families. But I felt that George was already
I asked if George had ever expressed any dissatisfaction or
disillusionment with the group. No, the O’Briens told me—absolutely
none. He was totally committed. He only trusted people within the
group. He was programmed to think that all others were “dead”—that is,
I advised George’s family that, while the decision was theirs,
there was only a small chance that they would get access to him if
they tried the open approach.
We decided to get George away from the group by inviting him to
his grandmother’s 86th birthday party, on Cape Cod. After the party on
Sunday night, his parents would find an excuse to stay overnight. They
would tell George that they would drive back to Boston in the morning.
The next morning, the family would tell him at the breakfast table
that they were very sorry they had not told him before, but that they
had arranged to spend the next three days with a Church of Christ
minister, a counselor, and a former BCC member.
I coached the family extensively on what to say and how best to
say it. I wanted them to make sure he didn’t immediately phone the
group, and to do their best to talk him out of simply running away.
They would need to reassure him that they were not trying to hurt him,
or take him away from God. All they wanted was for him to have access
to information about the Boston Church of Christ that he otherwise
would never hear. They would ask him to pray, and tell him they
trusted that his faith in the power of God was stronger than his fear
Once they explained all this, they would ask George to agree to a
three-day period of research, during which be would be free to come
and go, take as many breaks as he wanted and decide what topics he
wanted to concentrate on. During this time, he would agree to not be
in touch with any members of BCC. Most importantly, if he wanted to
let people in the group know that he wasn’t coming to services, he
would simply call, tell them he was away on important family business,
and would be out of touch for a few days.
Monday morning found me in a Cape Cod coffee shop with Buddy
Martin and Ellen, a former member I had counseled out of the Paris
branch of BCC the previous summer. We sat around a table and waited
for four hours. Meanwhile, the family was in their home, trying to
persuade George to agree to their terms. They called me half a dozen
times for support and advice. The family did everything I coached them
to do. But George was adamant. He would agree to nothing beyond
meeting the three of us for a few hours.
We decided to go ahead and do the best we could. Before we left
the coffee shop, a bunch of locals told us that we had just set a
record for sitting in one spot. I laughed and thought, _Boy, if they
only knew what was going on!_
George was flushed, angry and hostile when we walked in and met
him. We introduced ourselves, and he was most surprised to meet Buddy.
Here was a Bible-toting fundamentalist minister from a Church of
Christ. Naturally, he was also scared and confused. We tried our best
to make him as comfortable as possible, and to allow him some sense of
George asked to speak alone with each of us: first me, then Ellen,
then Buddy. We agreed.
Sitting alone with George, I tried to help him see that this
situation was an opportunity for him—to learn, to grow, and to prove
to his family that he wasn’t under mind control and knew what he was
George proved to be as indoctrinated as anyone from the Boston
Church of Christ that I had ever worked with. He was extremely
resistant to the idea that he might benefit from anything that was
Buddy Martin’s participation turned out to be the key. In his turn
alone with George, he began to cite specific Bible verses, and asked
George what he thought each meant. Since the BCC had programmed George
to believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, he could hardly
object to examining it. Slowly, one passage at a time, Buddy began to
show George that, although the group claimed to be following the
Bible, in fact they were taking passages out of context, and
deliberately ignoring other verses that affected their meaning. This
was the opening by which George began to admit the possibility that
the group might be less than perfect.
With that foothold established, George became willing to listen to
Ellen and me. I gave him some background on the cult’s leader, Kip
McKean, including his own recruitment and indoctrination by Chuck
Lucas into Crossroads, a cult in Gainesville, Florida, back in the
1970s. It was there that McKean likely learned to use the mind
control methods he now used. George had never heard of Crossroads. We
showed him a letter written by McKean in March 1986 to Crossroads
Church leaders, saying he “owed his very soul” to them. George
Then we produced a 1977 letter from the elders of the Memorial
Church of Christ in Houston, Texas, where McKean had been a minister.
The elders announced they were firing McKean because of his
With that as a starting point, we could begin discussing with
George the characteristics of destructive cults and mind control. In
this case, without the letters from McKean and the Memorial Church
elders as frames of reference, it would have been impossible to show
George what had happened to him.
Then I discussed with George the specific behavioral components of
mind control, making sure to explain Lifton’s eight criteria of
Chinese Communist thought reform. Next I described what it was like
for me inside the Moonies. Back then, many people had a negative view
of the Moonies (except Moonies themselves, of course), so telling my
own story usually helped to minimize any thought-stopping and
defensiveness. The parallels between groups become blatantly apparent,
and the person I’m speaking with usually makes a lot of connections
This information was very intense and troubling for George. He
needed to regulate the flow of what he was hearing. Every couple of
hours, he would stand up and announce that he needed to go for a walk
and pray. This happened several times each day over the three days.
At night I stayed at a nearby bed and breakfast where I was able
to rest and map out strategy. Each time George walked out the door, we
were never quite sure whether he would return. It would be easy for
him to stick his thumb out and hitchhike back to Boston, or phone the
cult for a ride. But to try to stop him would have ensured his lack of
trust in us thereafter.
But we were in this for the long haul. If he walked out now, the
family would simply have to continue giving him information each time
they saw or spoke with him. We had to trust that George wanted to do
the right thing.
At one point, George complained about the deception his parents
had used to get him to his grandmother’s house. They apologized
profusely. I asked him to put himself in their shoes and suggest any
other course of action they could have taken that would have been
effective. He could think of none. He knew that if he had received any
advance warning, he would have gone straight to his superiors and they
would have dissuaded him from making the trip.
George’s parents reminded him that he had turned down a previous
offer to meet former members and read critical information. He was
astonished; he didn’t even remember it. They reminded him that he had
met his cousin Sally a month earlier. At the O’Briens’ request, she
had made just such an offer, and George had turned her down cold. His
parents told him they felt they had no other choice.
During those three days, I was able to do a good deal of
counseling with the family on ways to communicate more effectively
with George—and with each other. I also helped them work on some of
their own issues and concerns, which were quite separate from their
son’s cult involvement. In this way, George could see that the whole
family was learning and growing together, and that his renewed family
involvement could be a stepping stone to developing closer
relationships with everyone.
After the three days were over, George was not willing to say that
he would never return to BCC. He did say that he wanted more time to
study and think about what he had learned. He also decided not to
return to his apartment, but to stay with his parents. There he would
read books and articles, watch videotapes of shows on cults, and
continue to speak and meet other former members.
Within a month, George declared to his family that he would never
return to the Boston Church of Christ. He had attended services and
Bible studies at the Burlington Church of Christ, one of the 18,000
mainline Churches of Christ, where he met some 65 other refugees from
the Boston group.
He now says he feels far happier than when he was in the cult, and
has a much better understanding of the Bible. Since leaving, he has
spent a good deal of time helping others understand the destructive
aspects of BCC.
Although George’s parents would probably prefer that he attend
their Unitarian church with them, they respect his right to choose his
own way. For years, after the intervention, his father attended a
weekly Bible study group with his son in order to learn and get closer
Wisely, the O’Briens were willing to intervene in George’s life
only to the point where he would be able to recognize and understand
the mind control practices of destructive cults. They did not want to
bring George under their own control, or simply try to make themselves
feel better. Their commitment was to help their son think for himself.
The Beliefs Underlying My Approach
Since cults lure people into what amounts to a psychological trap,
my job as a counselor is to show a cult member four things.
First, I demonstrate to them that they _are_ in a trap—a situation
where they are psychologically disabled and don’t feel able to leave.
Second, I show them that they didn’t originally choose to enter a trap.
Third, I point out that other people in other mind control groups
are also trapped.
Fourth, I tell the person that it is possible to escape from the trap.
While these four points might seem obvious to people outside a
cult, they are not immediately apparent to anyone under undue
influence. It often takes someone who has been caught in such a trap
to convey this message with the necessary strength and determination.
This is why former cult members, especially former cult leaders, are
usually the most effective people for assisting the exit process.
My approach rests on several core principles (or, if you like,
beliefs) about people:
One is that _people need and want to grow_. Life is ever changing,
and people inherently move in a direction that will support and
It is important that _people focus on the here and now_. What has
been done in the past is over. The focus should not be on what they
“did wrong” or “didn’t do,” but on what they can do _now_. The past is
useful only insofar as it provides information that may be valuable in
It is also my observation that _people will always choose what
they think is best for them at any given time_, based on their
experiences and the information they have.
It is equally clear to me that _each person is unique and each
situation is different_. Each person has a special way of
understanding and interacting with reality. Therefore, my approach is
totally client-centered. I adjust myself to fit each specific client’s
needs, and my client is always the cult member. I don’t expect them to
adapt to my needs or expectations. In my approach, the counselor’s job
is to understand the person thoroughly—what they value, what they
need, what they want, and how they think. I have to step inside their
head—in a way, to temporarily become them—in order to understand and
help them do what they want to do. My approach depends on having faith
that, deep down, even the most committed cult member wants out.
Lastly, _it’s essential to be family-centered_. When someone is
recruited into a destructive cult, everyone they know and love is
affected. In any successful effort to help them exit, family members
and friends are vital. They can be trained to be as effective as
possible whenever they communicate with the cult member, and they can
use personal and emotional leverage to gain the member’s cooperation.
This way of working demands a lot from the family. They must be
willing to learn new ways of communicating, and to deal with existing
troublesome issues. If there are any significant family problems, they
are best addressed—and, ideally, resolved—before any rescue strategy
When the focus is kept on the family, everyone changes. The cult
member becomes aware that positive things are occurring beyond the
cult’s involvement. Family members learn how to build rapport and
trust, and how to plant questions in the cult member’s mind. When
family members learn how to interact effectively, they do a great deal
to help the victim of mind control break away from the group. During
any rescue effort, this factor often becomes crucial.
A family’s love is a much stronger force than the conditional love
given by cult members and leaders. A healthy family’s love supports
one’s right to grow into an autonomous adult and make one’s own life
decisions. In contrast, a cult’s love attempts to keep a person a
dependent adolescent—and that love may well be withdrawn if the person
makes their own decisions or fails to follow the leader’s orders.
When I counsel a cult member, I never try to take the group away
from them—or to take them permanently away from the group. If I did,
they would only feel threatened, and rightly so. Instead, I always
look for ways for them to grow, by offering different perspectives and
possibilities. I help people to see choices they didn’t know existed,
then encourage them to do what they think is best for themselves.
Throughout this process, I also do whatever I can to let them feel in
As we have seen, mind control _never_ succeeds in fully erasing a
person’s authentic self. It merely imposes a dominating cult identity
that suppresses the real self. Cult indoctrination downloads a mind
control virus—a virus that can be cured. Once the virus is gone, a
person’s mental and emotional hardware can be repaired, and the
person’s real self can come forward once again and integrate the cult
experiences, hopefully in a healthy way.
As a Unification Church member, I thought that I had successfully
“died to myself.” I, the Moonie, thought that the old me was dead. Yet
the core me woke up again during my deprogramming. I was able to
eventually remember all the contradictions, conflicts, and broken
promises that I had experienced while I was a member. That realization
enabled me to leave. My authentic self had been there all along.
Successfully connecting with a person’s authentic identity is what
enables me to help someone walk away from a cult. If the core identity
is happy and content with cult involvement—a very rare
occurrence—there is little I can do. Such a person would not be under
undue influence; they would have genuinely chosen to be right where
But I almost never encounter such people. Families call me because
they observe something terrible happening. And I have discovered that
when someone in slavery is given a truly free choice, is able to
overcome the learned helplessness, they do not choose to stay
enslaved—not when they could be making decisions for their own life,
having normal relationships with other people, and pursuing their own
interests and dreams.
The Strategic Interactive Approach has some other distinctive
features. First, I focus on the _process_ of change. What this means
is that _how_ people come to change is more important than _what_ or
_why_ they change.
Since I believe that people are naturally interested in growing
and learning, my approach is also educational. I do a lot of
teaching—about psychology, communication, mind control issues, and
other destructive cults, as well as a great deal of material about the
particular group’s history, leadership and doctrinal contradictions.
When a cult member refuses to speak with people who can offer them
the other side of the story, or simply walks out of an intervention
and returns to the cult, all is not lost. Communication about key
issues has at least been opened. Often, the cult member feels badly
about how they treated their loved ones and agrees to talk at a future
date. It might take weeks or months for the family to re-establish a
relationship with the cult member—but an opening for communication
usually appears at a later time.
When rescue efforts fail, often it is because the timing was poor
or unlucky. Perhaps the cult member just came from an intensive
re-indoctrination experience, married someone in the group or received
a promotion. Naturally, the best time is when the person is in a down
period, but of course such periods are impossible to predict.
After a failed rescue effort, the family has two choices:
1) Back off, telling the cult member that when they want to look
at more information or talk to former group members, the family will
be happy to help.
2) Attempt to intervene further with the help of other people who
can approach the person in other contexts.
This second option is more complex and time-consuming. It means
trying to help the cult member without their knowing that the family
is trying to help them re-evaluate their group involvement. I need to
find a pretext to meet the cult member and find enough time with them
to do some good. This is never easy.
Someone observing the preparations for such an effort would be
reminded of the old television program or movie franchise starring
Scientologist Tom Cruise, _Mission: Impossible_. A team is assembled.
The target’s psychological profile is scrutinized for vulnerabilities,
interests, and patterns of behavior. A strategy is devised to meet
them and get them sufficiently involved for the mission to be carried
out. Ironically, in some ways these preparations parallel what cult
recruiters do to lure unsuspecting victims into their organizations.
Most notably, these rescue efforts involve an initial deception—the
very thing cults are famous for. However, I am not trying to make
someone into my follower; once my job of presenting information,
laying out alternatives, and counseling is accomplished, it is up to
the individual to make decisions for themselves.
This type of approach may be necessary, if a cult member’s
relationship with their family or friends has been severely damaged.
Such cases frequently involve long-term cult members whose families
long ago passed their limits of frustration and pain, and said or did
things that severed the relationship.
Margaret Rogers and The Children Of God/ The Family
Margaret Rogers was a member of Moses David Berg’s Children of God
cult (later renamed The Family) for ten years. During that time,
her two sisters and brother received only half a dozen letters from
her. Margaret, who then went by a name given to her in the cult,
traveled all over the world with this unusual group. She was married
to another member, and they had three children.
Her family generally did not even know how to contact Margaret,
except for one time when they were able to visit her in the
Philippines. During that visit, all the family members witnessed
moments when Margaret briefly returned to her authentic self. Her face
and demeanor relaxed, and she became the person they once knew. This
happened most often when her brother and sisters talked about memories
of childhood, or people and events back in their hometown.
Her family pleaded with her to take some time away from the group
and talk with former members. At first, Margaret showed a distinct
willingness to do this. She also badly needed food and rest, as well
as a thorough medical examination. The family didn’t mention it to
Margaret, but they knew the group was making her do “flirty
fishing”—using sex to recruit new members. In fact, Berg called his
female followers “Happy Hookers for Jesus.” This was a major way
the cult earned money as well as attracting male converts. Berg was a
pedophile who also encouraged sex among members and even with very
It was also clear to Margaret’s family that her husband was a
hard-core cult member who showed no such flashes of his former
identity. It was equally clear that he always made all decisions for
her. Margaret’s family returned home, glad to have seen her and her
children—and committed to trying to rescue her.
Her parents attended one of my communication workshops for family
members and asked me to help. They told me they wished they had had
the workshop’s guidance before their trip to the Philippines, or even
that they had taken me along. I told them to keep learning all they
could about the group: its buzzwords, lifestyle and beliefs. To this
end I put them in touch with several former members. I also encouraged
them to continue practicing the communication techniques I taught
them. Within a year, Margaret contacted them from Mexico and asked if
they could come to visit again.
I sat down with the Rogers family and discussed the options. How
could they get me to her, keep the husband away as long as possible,
and evoke a minimum of suspicion—all at the same time? We concluded
that the parents should not make the trip at all. They represented the
clearest threat to Margaret’s cult involvement. Instead, only her two
sisters and brother would go, for a week. I would go, too, posing as
her sister Lisa’s boyfriend.
We manufactured a story that Margaret’s father was under doctor’s
orders not to take such a trip—he had a problem with his heart. His
wife was unable to get time off from work and felt obliged to stay
close to home to help her husband, if necessary. Margaret’s brother
Bob called up his company’s branch office in Mexico City and talked
them into giving a job interview to Margaret’s husband, who, the
family knew, was looking for a way to earn some legitimate, steady
money. Bob convinced the husband to accept the offer of a job
interview. Bob would accompany him to Mexico City for a few days to
give us time alone with Margaret.
The plan was to assess Margaret’s state of mind and try to
convince her to come back to the United States, with her children. We
hoped that after the previous visit, she might be homesick. Also, if
she didn’t really love her husband, as we all suspected, we had a good
chance of success.
Everything started out smoothly. When we arrived, Margaret and her
husband showed little or no sign of anxiety. We all spent the first
day together. None of us indicated that we were bothered by Margaret’s
lifestyle. We went out to eat lots of good food, went shopping, bought
the whole family new clothes, and generally had a good time. Margaret
and her husband did not try to sell the group to us in any way.
Bob left with Margaret’s husband the next day, and we invited
Margaret to our hotel, where we took a room for her and the kids. We
volunteered to take the kids out, and recommended that she lie down
and catch up on some sleep in the meantime.
When we returned five hours later, she was still asleep. She was
obviously exhausted. When she got up, her face had a lot more color.
We ordered room service. It was clear that she was not used to eating
so well or to being served in such a nice hotel. She thoroughly
After dinner we started up a conversation. It began with talk of
pleasant childhood memories. Then her sisters started talking about
how they missed her, and how they felt robbed of the sister they loved
so much. Tears started to flow and people shared long hugs.
Then the discussion turned to the children and their future. Was
this the way Margaret had always envisioned raising a family? Was Tom
her vision of an ideal husband?
The time seemed ripe. “Hey, listen, Margaret,” said one of her
sisters. “How would you like to come back with us to Connecticut?”
“Oh my gosh, I’d love that!” Margaret answered excitedly. But then
she sank back into the couch and said, “Oh, I can’t do that.”
“Why not?” Lisa asked.
“Because I just can’t.”
I stepped in. “Is it because you believe God wouldn’t like it if you did?”
“Yes,” she said. “Besides, Tom would never do it, unless he was
told to by Elias.” Elias was their elder. This was the first time
Margaret had mentioned this aspect of the group to her sisters.
“What would you like to do?” I asked again.
“I don’t know. I don’t think I can,” she said with a tone of disgust.
I asked her, “What would happen if God told you to go back to Connecticut?”
“He would never do that,” she answered.
“But what if He did?” I pressed. “What if He told you in a loud
clear voice that His will was to take the children and go to
Connecticut for a few months? Would you be obedient?” My voice rose.
“Where is your commitment: to God or to the group?”
She thought about it for a while. Then she answered, “If God told
me to go to Connecticut, then I would go.”
“Even if your husband or another member told you to stay?” I asked
insistently. I was pushing it, but I wanted to see how far I could
“If God told me to go, I would go, even if others told me to
stay,” she declared.
_Very good_, I thought. Now for the next step. I asked her “How
would you know if God wanted you to go, if you don’t pray and ask Him
what He wants you to do? Have you ever asked God a question like this
“No, but I will tonight. But I don’t think He wants me to go to
“Oh, so you’re going to tell God what to answer,” I said. “Why
don’t you reach down to the bottom of your soul and pray without any
foregone conclusions about what God wants for you and your children?”
My voice was intense. “Pray fervently and clearly, putting your total
faith that what He wants will be what is right for you.”
Margaret asked me if I really believed in God that strongly. I
told her I did.
Then she asked me about my spiritual life. That gave me all the
opening I needed to launch into my experience in the Moonies—how I
came to believe that God was speaking through my leaders, and how I
couldn’t doubt, ask critical questions, or even leave the group. I
explained phobia indoctrination. I explained how I was finally able to
imagine a future for myself outside of the group only because I had
met so many former Moonies who were still good, very spiritual people
after they left.
Margaret listened attentively. I explained that I had come to
distrust my own inner voice when I was in the Moonies. I was taught to
believe that the voice was evil—when, in fact, I came to learn, it was
a direct link to God. I described how I had been controlled by fear
and guilt, and how in both the Moonies and the Children of God there
was complete control over the information we received. Both groups’
leaders saw themselves as God’s chosen One on Earth; both had absolute
authority; and both were extremely wealthy.
Then I asked her, “Do you believe that God gave people free will,
just so He could take it away through deception and mind control?
Think about it: do you believe in a God who wants His children to be
robots or, at the very best, slaves? If God wanted that, He never
would have given Adam and Eve free will. Isn’t it a huge
Margaret’s mouth hung open. Her eyes were wide as saucers. I gave
her a hug and excused myself. I announced that I was going for a walk;
that it would be good to take a break and reflect. She needed time to
absorb what I had said. I was confident that her sisters would help
her start working it through and deal with her feelings as they came
Later that night, I talked with her for a few more hours, mostly
trying to empower her. “You’ve got a good mind,” I told her. “You
should use it.” I told her I knew she had always been an ethical
person. Did she really believe that the ends justify the means? Was it
Christian to use sex to recruit people? She loved her family. Would
she let her fears be stronger than her love?
I also appealed to her maternal instinct. I asked how she felt
letting her children grow up in virtual poverty, with no formal
education, and with little or no medical attention. I knew that she
was aware of other members’ children who had died because they weren’t
allowed to see a doctor.
Before she went to bed, I reminded her to pray, and pray hard.
“Pray like you’ve never prayed before. Beseech God to show you the
way. Ask Him what _He_ wants you to do.”
That night we let the children sleep in her sister’s room, so she
could have an undisturbed night’s rest. The next morning Margaret told
us of incredible dreams, filled with symbols of great struggle and
turmoil. In one dream she was lost at night in a forest, not knowing
how to get out. In another she was alone in a small boat, being
bombarded by stormy ocean waves. The third dream was of wandering in a
field of wildflowers in the middle of a warm, sunny, Spring day.
Over breakfast I asked her if she was aware of God’s answer to her
question. She flashed a smile, which then turned into a frown. She got
up from the table and walked to the window. Then, after staring
outside for a while, she turned and said, “In my heart I think I
should go back to the States, but I don’t think I can.”
I felt as though a hundred-pound weight had just been lifted from
my chest, but I tried to show little excitement. Her sisters started
to cry. “What is stopping you?” I asked.
She sighed and thought for a long time. Then she said, “I’m afraid.”
Her sisters and I went over, and the four of us stood there in one
massive hug. “Don’t worry, “ I reassured her. “We’ll help you in every
way we can. Trust God.”
We acted as if that settled the matter. Now was the time to get moving.
Within two hours, we were on our way to the airport. We phoned
ahead to her parents and told them the good news. Margaret left a long
letter to Tom saying that we were on our way to the States, that she
wanted to be alone with the kids and her family for a few weeks, and
that she would contact him and let him know when he could come visit,
if he wanted to. She assured him that she had decided on this
voluntarily—that she had been very unhappy for a long time, and felt
that God wanted her to do it.
There were no problems at the airport, and we boarded without
incident. In situations like this an unexpected, crazy thing might
happen. But this time we were lucky. No cult members showed up at the
gate to haul Margaret away. On the plane ride home, I told Margaret
that I had a few friends who were former members of the Children of
God. But I decided that I wasn’t going to explain my role until a
couple of weeks had passed, so she would have time to stabilize.
When Margaret walked into her parents’ house for the first time in
ten years, she saw balloons and a huge WELCOME HOME! sign hanging from
the ceiling. The house was filled with relatives and friends. Tears
streamed down her face. She had forgotten how wonderful life had been
for her there.
She told me later that she felt like a prisoner of war who had
just been released from ten years of captivity. So many people had
grown up and changed. The neighborhood had changed a lot. And she was
totally unaware of the national and world events of the last decade.
She had plenty of catching up to do. Within a couple of days I
arranged for her to sit down with some former Children of God members.
I was lucky enough to locate someone she had known while in the group.
Margaret improved dramatically, day by day. She put on weight,
started to make jokes, and had color and expression in her face once
again. Her children adapted quickly and joyfully to their new life.
Arrangements were made later to help her husband, with the support of
No one can come out of a long-term experience like that without
emotional problems, and she was no exception. Not all cases, though,
are successful. Especially in the early years of my counseling work, I
took on several cases in which I was not able to help the person to
leave the cult. In retrospect, some cases had just too many factors
going against success, but I tried anyway. Some cases involved the
psychopathology of the individual in the group, or in family members
themselves. Other cases involved families who neglected to tell me
everything about their family history, while in others, there was
intentional sabotage by one of the family members.
Alan Brown and the Foundation for Human Understanding
Herbert and Julia Brown’s son Alan had been involved in Roy
Masters’ group, the Foundation for Human Understanding, for over two
years. Masters is a professional hypnotist who, in 1961, began one of
the first national radio talk shows called _How Your Mind Can Keep You
Well_. Masters is still doing radio and has even published a book.
One purpose of the show is to recruit new followers. Alan got
involved by listening one night, and sent in his money to order
Masters’ audiotapes on “meditation.” I’ve listened to these tapes
myself, and they are not about meditation. They are actually a
powerful hypnotic induction to Masters’ voice, causing listeners to
open up to Masters’ control.
Later, as I studied Masters, I learned that he had moved into the
“exorcism” business: discovering people in his audience who he claimed
were possessed and then liberating them—for a fee. His place of work
was normally a hotel ballroom packed with people. Unlike most of
my clients, the Browns had serious psychological problems.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that until I came to Michigan for a
rescue attempt with their son, shortly before he went away for a
one-month residential course, at Masters’ ranch in Oregon.
I knew something was seriously wrong when I walked in the door.
The family dog was virtually uncontrollable: jumping, barking and
running all over the furniture. The Browns apologized to me, but it
was evident that they were at their wits’ end. They were constantly
undermining each other’s authority with the dog: one would tell him to
go lie down, and then the other would encourage the dog to sit on his
lap. As a dog owner and lover, it was clear to me that they lacked
basic awareness. They knew nothing about dogs, or how to train them.
They did not understand how the dysfunction in their own lives had
negative consequences on their dog and on their child.
Later, when I met Alan, I observed an only child who was obviously
spoiled and overprotected. He was also slowly being driven crazy
because he was constantly receiving conflicting messages from his two
parents—messages they were unaware they were sending. One minute his
mother would praise him for mowing the lawn, and the next his father
would criticize him for taking two weeks to actually do it. The father
would tell Alan he should get a job; then his mother would tell him he
should wait a few more weeks.
It was obvious to me that Alan was desperately trying to get away
from his parents’ influence. He wanted to be independent, but he
didn’t know how to begin to do so. He wanted to prove to his parents
that he was capable, but his self-esteem was so low that he seemed to
be always on the verge of depression. I wasn’t surprised to learn Alan
had difficulties socially and had no friends outside of the Masters
In this case, the authentic Alan was not happy or successful. He
was miserable. From a counseling point of view, there was little from
the past that could be used for him to reconnect with his authentic
Despite the disturbing traits of Masters’ cult group, as long
as Alan’s parents continued their dysfunctional style of relating and
communicating with him, it seemed to me that staying in the group, at
least for the time being, was the better choice for him. At least the
group offered him an opportunity to socialize with other people, as
well as the hope that he would get better by following his “sinless”
savior, Roy Masters.
Clearly, understanding mind control and destructive cults was not
enough for Alan. He needed an alternative environment, and the whole
family needed a good deal of personal and family counseling.
Unfortunately, although his parents loved him, they were unwilling to
get the help they needed. They merely wanted me to get Alan out of the
cult, and that was all.
On top of that, the Browns didn’t want to invest the money
required in a good rehabilitation program for Alan. He absolutely
needed to have the experience of being somewhere healthy—not at home,
and not in the cult. Sadly, he didn’t get it.
My efforts were doomed from the start. Alan’s parents did not
understand cults and mind control thoroughly, nor were they willing to
examine their own behavior and take the necessary steps to change.
Meanwhile, Alan was getting too much from the cult—hope, attention,
and connection with people—to even consider giving it up.
Unfortunately, people like Alan rarely succeed within a cult, even
by its own standards. More often than not, they get pushed to their
limit, burn out, and either walk out or are kicked out. I hoped that
when that day came, Alan would remember some of the things he and I
I learned several valuable lessons from this case, back in 1980.
First, I learned that screening, meeting with, educating and properly
preparing the family is vital. If the family is not willing to invest
the necessary time, energy and money, I should not take the case.
Second, if the family isn’t willing to address its own problems and
make an effort to change and grow, it will undermine any rescue
effort, as well as the cult member’s potential exit and recovery.
Over the years, I have come to understand the critical variables
for success. I will only accept a case if I am sure it will be a
positive step for the cult member and their family, even if we cannot
rescue the cult member overnight.
In addition, I’ve learned that three full days of counseling is
necessary for success. The only people I have been unsuccessful with
went back to their cults without giving their families three full
days’ time, or were married or had family still in the group.
These are just three examples from the many hundreds of people I
have worked with since my exit from the Moonies. I’ve learned the
incredible lengths to which people will go for a cause they believe is
great and just. I have also learned that no one wants to sacrifice
their time, energy and dreams for a cause that is harmful and untrue.
Once the phobia against leaving is addressed, I can make contact with
the person’s true self and let them know what has been done to them.
At this point, they almost always choose to be free, because people
will choose what they believe is best for them.
It is also important for former cult members and their families
not to view everything that happened inside a mind control cult as
negative. Sometimes people learn important skills. Sometimes they meet
good people, who eventually also leave the group, and a good post-cult
relationship evolves. I always encourage people to _remember the good
and take it with them_ when they decide to leave.
Still, there is no question that belonging to a destructive cult
changes you forever. You realize how many things you’ve taken for
granted: family, friends, education, your ability to make decisions,
your individuality and your personal belief system.
Leaving a cult also affords a unique opportunity to sit “naked”
with yourself and analyze everything you ever knew or believed in.
Such a process can be liberating, and also quite terrifying. It is a
chance to start your life all over again.
Endnotes for Chapter 8
156. Alan MacRobert, “Uncovering the Cult Conspiracy,” Mother
Jones (Feb/March 1979, Vol. 4, No. 2), 8.
157. The names of the cult member and his family have been changed
to protect their identities.
158. For a complete listing of all of the groups affiliated with
the Boston Church of Christ, see the appendix of The Discipling
Dilemma by Flavil Yeakley (Nashville, Tennessee: Gospel Advocates,
159. Buddy Martin has put together information packets on the
Multiplying Ministries. Videotapes of his lectures are available
through the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston, Texas.
160. Daniel Terris, “Come, All Ye Faithful,” Boston Globe Magazine
(June 6, 1986).Linda Hervieux, “The Boston Church of Christ: Critics
Call It a Cult, but Members Maintain Their Church’s Legitimacy,” Muse
Magazine, Boston University (Feb 18, 1988).Gregory L. Sharp, “Mind
Control and ‘Crossroadism’,” Gospel Anchor (March 1987), 23.Jeanne
Pugh, “Fundamentalist Church Gathers Campus Converts… and Critics,”
St. Petersburg Times (July 21, 1979), 1.
161. Letter published in the Crossroads bulletin (March 16, 1987).
162. Letter from Memorial Church of Christ elders, (March 1977),
163. The names of the cult member and her family have been changed
to protect their identities.
164. See Deborah Berg Davis, The Children of God: The Inside Story
(Grand Rapids, Michigan: The Zondervan Publishing House, 1984).
165. Kathy Mehler, “Published Preachings: Even Prostitution Can
Attract Converts to Cults,” The Daily Illini (April 16, 1981).
166. The names of the cult member and his family have been changed
to protect their identities.
167. Larry Woods, “The Masters Movement, Puns I and II,” Turner
Broadcasting Systems, CNN (Jan 13, 1986).
168. Ray Richmond, “Masters–A Healer in Bluejeans?” Los Angeles
Times (Dec 1, 1985), 90.Paul Taublieb, “Masters’ Touch,” US Magazine
(April 23, 1984), 39-41.Lauren Kessler, “Roy Masters: ‘I Can Do No
Wrong’”, Northwest Magazine (Sept 4,1983).
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