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Title Heaven's Gate - Releasing The Bonds - Chapter 1
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Heaven's Gate - Releasing The Bonds Chapter 1 We Have a Problem (Chapter 1 of Steven Hassans Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves. FOM Press, 2000, Copyrighted, all rights reserved. Permission to use or reprint must be granted in writing.) Too often, destructive cults go unnoticed until it is too late to help. On March 26, 1997, the bodies of 39 men and women, all dressed alike and draped in purple shrouds, were found throughout a million-dollar mansion in San Diego, California. In the weeks that followed, we would hear the disturbing story of the Heavens Gate cult how several members had castrated themselves as part of the groups purification process; how its leader, 66-year-old Marshall Applewhite, made his followers believe that the willful exit of the body would mark their graduation to a higher spiritual plane; and how all active members had committed suicide so that a UFO trailing the comet Hale-Bopp could transport the group to distant space, or the Kingdom of God. The Heavens Gate tragedy was one of the largest and most visible mass suicides on U.S. soil, and the event left most of us wondering, How could this have happened? Why would anyone do such a thing? Some people looked to the groups belief system for answers. Many pointed to their widely publicized Internet web site, where members left a collective suicide note entitled Exit Press Release. According to the statement, members of Heavens Gate were not causing their own premature deaths, but rather leaving behind their physical containers in order to reach the Next Evolutionary Level. While an investigation of such beliefs is certainly valuable, an understanding of the suicides is incomplete until we look at the groups behavior. The philosophical orientations of destructive cults vary widely, but their methods are strikingly similar. By examining the conduct of cults like Heavens Gate, we can see how individuals are aggressively and deceptively recruited, indoctrinated with a new set of beliefs, and made dependent on the leader and the group through the use of mind control. The Story of Gail Maeder Alice and Robert Maeder did not recognize their daughter when they first saw the infamous Heavens Gate farewell video, which was broadcast two days after the discovery of the mass suicide in Rancho Santa Fe. Like the other members of the cult, Gail had cropped her hair short and the bags under her vacant eyes made her look much older than her 27 years. She had pretty much broken off contact with her family in 1994, when, shortly after a breakup with her boyfriend, she was recruited into a group. Unlike many families, Gails parents quickly realized that she was in a cult, and began researching cult tactics and mind control techniques. They learned that cults often attract people during transitional stages in their lives and use their vulnerability to manipulate them. They also learned that though Applewhite claimed to allow free choice in the group, the conduct of each member was controlled by an extensive list of Major Offenses and Lesser Offenses, which included Having likes or dislikes, Breaking any instruction or procedure knowingly, Taking any action without using my check partner, and Trusting my own judgment or using my own mind. Ultimately, Gail trusted Applewhites judgement with devastating consequences. After the tragedy, I met Alice and Robert at a cult awareness conference. They told me that reading my book, Combatting Cult Mind Control, had been a lifesaver in that it helped them understand what happened to Gail. I winced. I wished that it had saved their daughters life. It is my sincerest hope that this book will be a true lifesaver for other cult members. As a spiritual searcher, Gail fit the profile of a typical cult recruit. Other members were less obvious targets. Many held steady jobs before making the decision to follow Applewhite. Among the 39 dead were a bus driver, a computer trainer, an environmentalist, a car salesman, a nurse, a paralegal, a medical assistant, a homemaker, and a local TV personality. Although situational and psychological variables can make a person more vulnerable to cult recruiters, anyone who is unaware of mind control tactics can become a target of a destructive cult. WHAT IS A DESTRUCTIVE CULT? There are many different types of destructive cults, and the diversity of cult beliefs and practices sometimes makes it hard for family members and friends to decide whether their loved one is in trouble or not. Although there are still groups whose followers cut their hair short and wear identical clothing, like the members of Heavens Gate, this is by no means the case with most modern-day cult groups. Today, for example, many cults require their members to wear business suits so that they blend in with their environment. All cult members may not look alike, but I have found that destructive cults follow specific behavior patterns that set them apart from other groups. By learning to identify these patterns, you will be better qualified to determine if someone you care about is actually involved with a cult. A group should not be considered a cult merely because of its unorthodox beliefs or practices. Instead, destructive cults are distinguished by their use of deception and mind control techniques to undermine a persons free will and make him dependent on the groups leader. Authoritarian Leadership In essence, a destructive cult is an authoritarian group that is headed by a person or group of people that has near-complete control. Charismatic cult leaders often make extreme claims of divine or otherworldly power to exercise influence over their members. Many legitimate religions have had powerful figures that have inspired enormous dedication in people. Being a powerful leader is not inherently wrong, though it carries a high potential for abuse. A group becomes destructive when its leader actively uses such power to deceive members and to rob them of their individuality and free will. For example, I was told to surrender my free will (viewed as Satanic) to Gods representative, Moon, and his sub-leaders. Marshall Applewhite told followers that an alien entity was speaking through him, and used this message to justify his absolute control over their lives. Leaders of numerous groups including the Twelve Tribes, International Churches of Christ, and Jehovahs Witnesses claim it is Gods will that members follow them. Deception Destructive cults also use deception to recruit new members. When I was first approached by Moonie recruiters, they told me they were part of the One World Crusade, which I later learned was one of many front groups for the Unification Church. They claimed to be students who were involved with a small community of young people struggling to overcome cultural barriers. It was not until much later that I found out what the group was actually about, what its members really believed, and what would be expected of me. What makes this all so insidious is that members often speak and act with the greatest sincerity because they have been subjected to the same mind control techniques that they use to recruit others. Destructive Mind Control Finally, destructive cults use mind control techniques to keep members dependent and obedient. You will learn the specific criteria that define mind control in Chapter 2 but, generally speaking, cult mind control can be understood as a system of influence that is designed to disrupt a persons authentic identity and replace it with a new identity. By immersing people in a tightly controlled, high-pressure social environment, destructive cults gain control of their members behavior, thoughts, emotions, and access to information. They take over their minds. Mind control can be packaged in different forms and, today, groups in many areas of society are using various combinations of destructive mind control techniques. The four main types of cults are religious cults, political cults, therapy/large group awareness training cults, and commercial cults. Understanding how each type of cult operates will help you assess your own situation, and will provide a frame of reference for future discussions of other types of groups. THE FOUR MAIN TYPES OF CULTS Religious or Spiritual Groups What ties these groups together is their focus on religious dogma or spiritual practices. In many Bible-oriented groups (Jewish, Christian, Muslim), leaders claim to be a Messiah, Prophet, or Apostle. In some, an elite group of several people the governing body claim to know the real meaning of Scripture. In groups based on an eastern religion (Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, Sufi), leaders claim to be enlightened avatars, gurus, rinpoches, Perfect Masters, or reincarnations of various enlightened masters from the past. For example, in the early 1980s, a man named Frederick Lenz started a Buddhist computer cult with a credo of money, status, fame, and greed all of which are antithetical to Buddhist beliefs. He called himself Atmananda, and later, Zen Master Rama, and finally, just Rama, proclaiming that he had been an enlightened master in many other lifetimes. In Pagan and neo-Pagan cults, leaders claim to be masters of the occult witches and warlocks. Other cults use a hodgepodge of religious teaching. Some cult leaders claim that they can channel powerful entities from other dimensions. One housewife claimed to channel a 35,000-year-old spirit from the continent of Atlantis. Many cults are the elaborate inventions of their leaders, like Roy Masters Foundation for Human Understanding. A former stage hypnotist and diamond cutter, Roy Masters started a national radio show called How Your Mind Can Keep You Well and sold audio tapes which he claimed could teach people a new form of meditation. When I listened to these tapes, it became clear that Masters was actually using powerful hypnotic techniques to indoctrinate his listeners. Later, he began to tell his followers that he was a sinless messiah, and held seminars in which he would stage exorcisms by hypnotizing people to believe that demons were leaving their bodies. Although most cult leaders claim to be of the spiritual realm, we can see their true colors when we examine how much emphasis leaders place on the material world their luxurious lifestyles, millions of dollars of real estate, extensive business enterprises, and so on. Political Groups These groups are often easily identified as dictatorships: brutal, repressive regimes that imprison or kill critics and dissidents. They control the press, prevent free assembly and elections, and lack the necessary checks and balances to prevent abuses of power. In retrospect, the former Soviet Union may best be understood as a political cult. Other political cults include terrorist groups that resort to the killing of innocent citizens to promote their cause. Suicide bombers are often members of these extremist political groups. When you hear about a suicide bombing in the Middle East, for instance, you may wonder how someone could give his life in order to kill others. My research on mind control can easily explain the methods. Such fanatical acts are frequently the result of destructive mind control. I have met and counseled members of smaller, political cults in the United States. These groups are typically small and operate numerous front organizations. They claim to champion human rights and social justice and yet their activities are on such a small scale that they have no chance of having any real social impact. One woman I met joined a social service agency at her college professors suggestion. She was not allowed to visit home for almost seventeen years. The group leader claimed to be a great revolutionary. After his death, his legacy was a cult of a few hundred people and a small stockpile of rifles and handguns. Therapy / Large Group Awareness Training Groups Unethical therapists can become the leaders of cults when they make their patients dependent on them, rather than empowering them to become functional and independent. Such therapists who cross ethical boundaries often take advantage of clients, isolating them from friends and family, having them turn over bank accounts, perhaps even taking sexual advantage. Therapy cults can include a single therapist and his clients or a collection of therapists who not only run workshops and group therapy sessions, but also purchase property where members may live together. Even well meaning therapists may impose their value system on patients in a way that is unethical. For example, some therapists believe that most, if not all, adult problems have been caused by childhood sexual abuse. In sessions, patients are encouraged, and may even be persuaded, to uncover memories of childhood sexual abuse, or even Satanic cult involvement, that never actually occurred. Some vulnerable patients have been led to believe that they were abused as children, and families have been shattered as a consequence. These therapists are clearly acting below the standard of care required of mental health professionals. While the statistics on child abuse are shockingly high, and while it is clear that childhood sexual abuse can have a devastating impact on individuals as they grow up, there is no evidence to suggest that all, or even the large majority, of adult problems have been caused by childhood sexual abuse. On the other hand, scientific evidence does show that memories of childhood abuse can be repressed in some people. Finding out whether this is the case requires a delicacy and skill on the part of the therapist that cannot exist when the therapist believes that everyone is abused, and that the purpose of therapy is to find that abuse. Leaders of large group awareness training programs may not even hold a degree in psychology or counseling. Yet they conduct workshops and seminars and charge hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of dollars to provide psychological insight and enlightenment, usually in a hotel meeting-room environment. These groups use many of the basic mind control techniques to create a peak experience for participants not surprising since many business cult leaders were once members of other mind control cults. Some customers are manipulated into signing up for more expensive, advanced courses where they become deeply enmeshed in the group. Once committed to the group, members are told to either recruit friends, relatives, and coworkers, or cut them off entirely if they are critical of the members involvement. These groups have caused untold cases of nervous breakdowns, broken marriages, and business failures, not to mention some well-documented suicides and deaths by reckless accidents. The people who run these groups often have questionable backgrounds and few or no credentials. If you are ever pressured to attend a weekend workshop for several hundred dollars, ask the person to describe in detail what takes place. If the response is, I cant tell you, or I dont want to spoil the experience for you, then my advice is to respond with a determined, No, thank you! Commercial Groups These cults play upon the fantasy of great wealth and power to lure people into an almost slavish devotion. Many are pyramid-shaped, multi-level marketing organizations in which members deceptively recruit people, who in turn recruit others, so they can supposedly make a percentage of the new recruits income. These groups claim to raise self-esteem but former members have told me they felt worse the longer they were part of the organization. Top members pressured them to buy motivational audiocassettes and videotapes and attend regular pep rallies which they promised would enhance performance. Some said that they spent so much money, and got so deep in debt, that they had to declare bankruptcy. Major legitimate businesses have unwittingly hired consultants to train their employees. The result can be an infiltration by a cult group into the company. Believers within the company pressure other employees to attend cult programs. If they refuse, they are fired or demoted. Several companies, including a computer company, were taken over in this manner, and eventually went bankrupt. Although most cults fall into one of these categories, there are countless other types of cults, from computer cults to science fiction and New Age cults. The approach of the Millennium has spawned many new space-related and UFO cults. Throughout the world, people are stressed out, sleep-deprived, and disillusioned with existing political, social, and religious institutions. They are hungry for hope. Charismatic cult leaders with delusions of grandeur or an appetite for power and money are eager to take advantage of this situation by recruiting and indoctrinating people into a form of mental slavery. WHO IS IMPACTED BY CULTS? Letters, telephone calls, e-mails, and faxes come to me from all over the world. Some are from former cult members of groups I had never heard of. Most are from desperate people who have read Combatting Cult Mind Control and want to know more about how to help a loved one leave a cult. People often assume the calls are from parents trying to rescue a child who is eighteen to twenty-four years old. Many are, but most are concerned with people who are in their thirties to late fifties. Nor are the calls only from parents. I have heard from family members of all kinds children trying to rescue parents, wives trying to rescue husbands, brothers trying to rescue sisters, boyfriends trying to rescue girlfriends, and vice versa. I have even worked with a boss trying to rescue an employee, a coach trying to rescue a team member, and a clergyman trying to rescue a member of his congregation. What I have learned is that anyone and any relationship can be impacted by cult involvement. All of us are affected by cults. Mothers, fathers, children, brothers, sisters, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, stepmothers, stepfathers, stepsisters, stepbrothers, wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends, lovers, friends, neighbors, employers, employees, coworkers, coaches, clergy, religious leaders, teachers, therapists, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, guidance counselors, doctors, lawyers, law enforcement officials, former members, politicians, governments, concerned citizens, taxpayers� I wish I could tell you that everyone who comes to me follows through. The fact is, people may discover that their loved one is in a cult but feel reluctant, powerless, or even afraid to help. Many different issues block people from actively getting involved with helping someone leave a destructive cult, as we will discuss in Chapter 5. Reading this book and informing yourself about cults and mind control is the first step toward overcoming such barriers and freeing your loved one. As long as your loved one is alive, I encourage you to do everything within your power to try to rescue them now because there is nothing we can do when it is too late. COMMON CULT SCENARIOS To give you an idea of how people begin to deal with the vast array of cult situations, I have included a sampling of the urgent and desperate stories families have recently shared with me. Again, names and identifying features of clients have been changed to protect their privacy. I have highlighted passages to emphasize the most important concepts in discussing mind control situations. We will return to these themes at the end of the chapter. Case One: Son in Bible cult Mother: Our eighteen-year-old son Jeffrey is a college freshman. A few months ago, he told us he was going to Bible studies. Naturally, we were very pleased. Now we are not so sure. He rails on and on how all the other churches are dead and unspiritual, except the one he joined, of course. He wants to quit school and work full time bringing people into his group. Jeff always wanted to be a doctor ever since he was a child. We are so upset. We just dont know what to do. SH: Tell me more. Whats the name of the group he is involved with? Mother: We dont know. SH: Could be one of Kip McKeans International Churches of Christ. I get a lot of calls about that group. To make an assessment, well need to know the name of the group and the leader. Father: I did ask him once who was the leader and he said Jesus Christ. SH: Thats very common. Ask your son, Who founded it as a legal entity? and Who is the local leader? and Who is the worldwide leader? Did he give you any literature? That might give us some information. Father: When he does talk to us, hes spouting memorized verses from the Bible. He says he wants to save us, but weve always considered ourselves to be good Christians. Mother: I dont recognize my own bright, warm, loving son. Father: He has turned into a fanatic! Steve, something is very wrong here. We talked with our minister. He said he heard you give a very informative lecture on The Shepherding/Discipleship Movement. He thought you might be able to help us. SH: These Bible groups distinguish themselves from more mainstream, orthodox churches by demanding a one-over-one discipling relationship. Each member is assigned to another member who controls and supervises all aspects of their life-studies, relationships, finances everything! Mother: What should we do? SH: Ill send you my Background Information Form (see end of this chapter). Fill it out and well talk again soon. Note: This international group should not be confused with the mainstream Church of Christ, or the United Church of Christ. McKeans group was started in 1979 in Lexington, Massachusetts. Case Two: Brother in one-on-one destructive relationship Alice: Steve, I feel totally frustrated with my brother, Peter. We are both in our mid-twenties. Since we were little, weve always been very close but not any more. Not since he got involved with Patty. I think his life has been in a downward spiral ever since. SH: What makes you say that? Alice: He has turned his back on all his friends. Hes about to lose his job as a mechanic because he has become unreliable at work. Some days he doesnt even show up. He refuses to talk to our parents. SH: Why is that? Alice: He said hes tired of the family always complaining about his relationship with that woman. SH: Tell me more about Patty. Alice: Patty is a divorcee ten years older than Peter. She runs his life. I know he has tried to get away from her, but then she threatens to kill herself. I think its psychological blackmail. Recently, she has been threatening to kill him first before she takes her own life. Im at my wits end. Ive tried to get my parents to do something, but they take it all too personally. They feel hurt and rejected. All they manage to do is argue about Peter and Patty and whose fault it is. I was driving home from work when I heard you being interviewed on the radio. On this program, you were talking about one-on-one relationships that followed the same destructive mind control patterns as cults that had hundreds of members. SH: One-on-one relationships that are based on manipulation, deception, dependency and isolation can be very destructive. Alice: Is there any hope for my brother? SH: The fact that you are willing to help and are seeking professional advice shows me there is reason to hope. We need to find the time to sit down, so you can fill me in on all of the details. Then, we can formulate a plan. Case Three: Father controlled by mystic Eric: I did a computer search under cults on the World Wide Web to see if I could find information. Thats how I found your Web page. Steven, our mother died two years ago and it has affected our father tremendously. Hes a devout Catholic who has fallen under the spell of a forty-five year old mystic. She goes by the name of Mandy, and claims to have the power of prophecy. Carol: My brother and I are very concerned. This Mandy is ruining our relationship with our father. SH: Tell me more. Have you been able to find out any information about this woman? Eric: Yes. We hired a private investigator to dig up the truth about Mandys past. The P.I. found a lot of damaging information. This woman was once arrested for prostitution. From interviews with people in her past, theres evidence that shes a pathological liar. Carol: When we presented this evidence to Dad, we thought it would certainly be enough to wake him up from this nightmare. But he refused to face the facts. SH: What happened? Eric: Since then, Mandy has been giving threatening prophecies to him that Carol and I would die horrible deaths if we continue to interfere. She tells him that if he donates more money to her phony charity, then God would be appeased. SH: Has he given her any gifts or money? Carol: He gives her large sums of money. He is spending more and more time with her and her other followers. SH: Have you been able to locate any others who were hurt by her? Eric: Yes. In fact, one man, Roger, used to be a close friend of Dads before Mandy ever showed up. We spoke with him, and hes willing to help, although we dont think our father would speak with him right now. SH: Since your father is a devout Catholic, have you tried to speak with your priest? Carol: Yes. But it seems the Church is reluctant to get involved. SH: It sounds like Mandy has a lot of control over your father. How does the rest of your family feel about your fathers involvement? Eric: Everyone is upset. We have a lot of resources in this family, but we just dont know what to do. SH: Have everyone read my book and lets set up a time when we can meet. Case Four: Fiancee in secret cult breaks engagement Rebecca: I was reading an article in the Boston Globe about another cult group, and it set my mind to wondering. Your name was mentioned in that article, so I thought I would give you a call. My ex-fiancée George and I have been going together for five years. I love George. We are planning to get married or at least we were. SH: What happened? Rebecca: George is always busy on Tuesday and Thursday nights. He also goes away one weekend a month. He wont tell me where hes going. He calls them important classes, but they seem to be secret meetings. His secrecy is driving me crazy. How can I spend the rest of my life with a man who has this mysterious other life? I gave him an ultimatum: Tell me where you are going and what you are doing, or else! SH: What did he say? Rebecca: He didnt say anything. He broke off our relationship. (Crying) Was it my fault? What was I supposed to think? What could I do? Please excuse me Im very upset. SH: Tuesday and Thursday night, eh? I think I counseled someone from that group last year. He was in the group for over ten years. I wonder if he knows George? I bet you he does. Rebecca: I still love George. I want to help him. SH: Would you want to help him even if he doesnt return to you? Rebecca: Yes. I love him. It would feel good if at least I tried to wake him up. SH: Well, I think I can help. Ill call the fellow I helped and see if he is willing to speak with you. Case Five: Daughter in cult rejects family Father: This whole mess started a month ago when our daughter Debbie was approached on the street and asked to do a free personality test. Mother: Then they invited her inside to watch a free movie that starred her idol, John Travolta. Apparently, it was a recruitment film for Scientology. How can a person be such a successful actor while being in a cult? SH: Thats a good question. There are two distinct parts to this group. Wealthy people spend their money for all of the auditing, courses, and training. They only see the glamorous side. People who dont have hundreds of thousands of dollars may wind up going into massive debt or join staff and work for a pittance each month. You know, a cult member is like an actor who has been given a role. But unlike actors, cult members actually come to believe the role is reality. With this particular group, they believe that people can develop godlike powers, like telepathy or telekinesis. Did you ever see the movie Phenomenon? Travoltas character can learn a new language in twenty minutes and move paper clips by pointing his finger. James Randi, the magician, has offered a one million dollar reward for anyone who can demonstrate that they have powers like these. No one has ever succeeded under the watchful eye of a professional magician. Mother: When she told us what happened, I got hysterical! I said, Dont you know this group is a cult? She just stared back at me and said, Youre wrong! If Johns in it, this group cant be bad! SH: Actors and actresses are human beings. Their lives may be very functional in certain areas and dysfunctional in others. Everyone is vulnerable to cult mind control. Mother: She figured if this group has done so much for the movie star, shed give it a try. SH: The leaders of destructive cults dont treat everyone the same way. Celebrities typically have a very different experience from rank-and-file members. The rich and famous do not experience the same level of exploitation as the rank and file. They perform valuable public relations activities for their groups and typically give large sums of money. Father: I tried the rational approach with Debbie. I told her the founder of this group was an aging science fiction writer with no religious or psychological credentials. Mother: But all that matters to her is that her movie star hero is a member. SH: Just because people are wealthy, famous, or successful in their work doesnt mean that they havent been influenced by a destructive mind control cult. Mother: She has moved into the groups headquarters. She doesnt want to see us. When we call and ask to speak with her, they say she isnt around. Were really frightened. Father: Shes an adult. I cant bear watching her withdraw money from her trust fund to pay for these so-called courses. What should we do? SH: I can promise you that the group will extract as much money as they can from her, so Id advise contacting your attorney immediately. Its going to be a major project, but you can help Debbie. The sooner you learn about destructive mind control techniques, cults, goal oriented communication and Strategic Interaction Therapy, the faster you will be able to make a positive difference in her life. Case Six: Former member wants to help those still in group Susan: Last month I got out of a psychotherapy group that was very cultish. The leader was an unlicensed psychologist. I wound up spending fifteen years under his complete control. I moved into a group-owned apartment, and my husband had followed me into the group. I also recruited two of my closest friends. The Doctor convinced me that my husband and I were incompatible, and we got divorced. This psychologist controlled my behavior, my thoughts and my emotions. I was completely under his influence. Eventually, he wanted to have sex with me as well as the other women in the group. When he offered me drugs it was too much. I escaped, but my friends and my ex-husband are still in the group. SH: Did the psychologist make people cut off family members if they refused to pay for their therapy? Susan: Exactly. The Doctor told us that all of our problems were caused by our parents and family members. We believed that if they really cared about us, they would take financial responsibility for our healing. When families refused to pay, he said it was proof that they didnt love us. Or so we thought. SH: Ive encountered these blame-the-family-and-make-them-pay groups before. Susan: Of course, no one got healed. We just became more and more dependent on the group. Now, I cant go on with my life until I rescue my friends and ex-husband who are still trapped. SH: Its quite natural for you to be concerned about those you leave behind. My first piece of advice is to first spend some time focusing on yourself! Learn about cults and mind control and get the proper counseling to help you be strong. Susan: With all due respect, Mr. Hassan, I was abused by psychotherapy and I think its the last thing in the world that I need. SH: You were abused by an unethical therapist in what sounds like a mind control cult that used therapy as its front. If you were in a religious cult, you might have the same aversion to anything religious. Ethical counseling respects a persons individuality and seeks to give tools and perspectives that empower a person. The goal is to help people to stand on their own two feet and function in their life. Cults want people to be isolated and dependent. Help yourself first, and then you can be most effective helping the others. Susan: I just cant deal with the idea of sitting down with any therapist right now. I want to rescue my friends. SH: I understand your feelings. Have you read any books or seen any videotapes that helped explain cult mind control patterns? Susan: I read your book. Thats why Im contacting you. SH: Have you tried to contact your friends families yet? Susan: Im sure I could get in touch with them. Should I give them a call? We havent talked in a long time. SH: I suggest taking things one step at a time. Are you open to meeting with some people who were once in a cult? Susan: Why? SH: Because I think it would be valuable for you to deepen your understanding about the universal patterns of mind control. It will also help give you emotional support by speaking with people who will more readily understand what you have been through. Also, they can share some videotapes about cult mind control issues. Get stronger first, and then help your friends. Case Seven: Born in a cult Matthew: Steve, Im thirty-three years old. I ran away from home when I was fifteen. I couldnt stand my parents oppressive religious demands. I wanted to live more like my school friends. I wanted to play games. I wanted to celebrate Christmas. I wanted somebody to make me a birthday party. Even more important, I wanted the freedom to learn and read without threats and punishment. I thought to myself, If God is such a tyrant, I want no part of God. SH: Sounds like you were raised in the Jehovahs Witnesses . Matthew: Precisely. When I was old enough, I enlisted in the Marines. My parents were horrified, because it is expressly forbidden to be in the military if you are a Witness. Over the years, Ive had very little contact with my family because the Watchtower Society labeled me an apostate. My family members and friends were told they would be in sin if they talked with me. SH: Are you in contact with anyone in your family? Matthew: Yes. In the past couple of years, my sister, Ruth, has been willing to talk and meet with me albeit secretly. I think shes on the fence. She knows there are major problems with the Witnesses, but shes afraid to do anything. She loves me, though, and I love her. Ive read your book and I want your help to rescue my family. SH: Spiritually, where are you now? Matthew: Ive come around to a belief in God and have spent some time reading the Bible. SH: You might know the group has its own version of the Bible which isnt very accurate the New World translation. Theologians have ridiculed it, saying it has hundreds of errors. Members, though, believe its superior to all other translations a big deception. Have you read Randy Watters books? Hes a former elder at JW headquarters, Bethel, in Brooklyn. The highest ranking defector is Ray Franz. He has written two books about the group. He was a former governing body leader and a member for sixty years. Matthew: Really? Sixty years and he left! SH: You have some reading to do. I want you to have a clear understanding of what the issues are: the history of the JWs, the contradictions within their own doctrine, the Biblical problems, as well as the mind control and cult issues. Matthew: Im willing to do all of that. Do you think theres hope? SH: Yes. You might not be able to help everyone to leave the group, but you can set the process in motion. You said your sister Ruth would be most receptive, so lets plan some Strategic Interactions with her first. There are plenty of former members who will offer you support and help. Case Eight: College student joins UFO cult and disappears Adam: Our twenty-seven year old son is involved with a UFO group. We have no idea where he is. We havent heard from him in five years. SH: Most cults dont want the member to maintain contact with family and friends, unless they can be recruited or solicited for money. In some cases, the cult member refuses to respond to letters and phone calls. In other cases, the family doesnt even know where their loved one is. You are not alone. There are many other families in your situation. Adam: I guess we are asking, Can you get someone out of a cult when you have lost contact? SH: Yes. Of course, one of the necessary steps is to eventually reestablish contact. But each case is unique, and a customized strategy should be put into place in order to have success. It also depends on the resources within your grasp. One client, a District Attorney, had loaned his car to his son. The young man drove off with other cult members, leaving no forwarding address. The father filed a report that his car had been stolen. Police found the son in Texas. They also found marijuana in the car. He asked the police to hold his son until he could fly down there. The father was able to speak with the Judge and arrange for his son to be released on bail to his custody. I was called in to counsel his son. It was a creative solution to the problem. In the Rama (Frederick Lenz) computer cult, members were told to use post office boxes and voice mail and never to let their family know where they were living. Many cults move the members around the country, and the world, so family and friends lose track of them. There are things you can do even if you dont know where your loved one is. I say, Do the best you can with the resources you have. Here are just a few things you can do now: Put out missing person flyers Do a search on the Internet Hire a reputable Private Investigator Network with counter-cult organizations Network with former members of the group Network with the families of other members Adam: How do you go about finding a former member? SH: I will see if any of my sources can be of help. You can also make inquiries. We might also be able to get the media interested in doing a story. They have a lot of resources. If we cant locate a former member of this group, then well try to find a former member of a similar group. There are literally thousands of former members willing to reach out to help those still imprisoned in cults. Do you have access to a computer? Adam: Sure. SH: First, set up an e-mail alias so your identity can be protected. Learn to use different Internet search engines. There are some sites that do meta-searches, like Metacrawler, Dogpile, or AskJeeves which automatically search multiple engines for you. There are also many different newsgroups. I have a list of resource links on my Web page. Your sons group may even have a web page. You know, Heavens Gate, the group whose members committed suicide in March 1997, told their members to cut off contact from their families and friends. But they had a web page they even had a web business. Members could have been located easily since they lived communally. I have been asked What could the family, relatives and friends have done to keep in contact with members of Heavens Gate? My first strategy would be to help locate ex-members, especially recent defectors of the group. I would recommend counseling those people first. The investment of time and money to do this really can make a difference. Some of them might be willing to help give information and perhaps even contact their friends in the group. Families of cult members could pool their resources to do this. Another strategy would be to locate and contact people at the businesses that employed the cult members and ask them to help. Id start by spending a day or two training trustworthy people and suggesting ways that these colleagues could communicate effectively with the members of the cult on behalf of family and friends. Also, if the group does have a for-profit business, you could even set up a situation where someone is contacting the group to hire them thereby gaining access. Step by step thats the approach. The group your son is in publishes books and tapes because it wants to recruit new members, right? Adam: Yes. SH: Thats another avenue to explore. My Strategic Interaction Approach encourages resourcefulness. There is a great deal of preparatory work to do. We will plan how to interact strategically. You may be amazed to learn how many ways there are to reconnect seemingly lost relationships. Flexibility and teamwork will dramatically improve your chances of getting back in touch with your loved one. Note: Be careful! For many years, the non-profit Cult Awareness Network (CAN) was a grass roots organization which provided information and support to those in need. In 1996, the Cult Awareness Network (CAN) name, logo, and phone number was purchased by a member of the Church of Scientology in federal bankruptcy court. CAN is now manned by cult members or their defenders who do not believe that mind control cults even exist. When an unsuspecting family member or friend calls CAN, they will not get the help they need. Unfortunately, CANs confidential files were turned over to Scientology. The good news is that a new organization, the Leo J. Ryan Foundation, was established in February 1999, with its headquarters in Connecticut. The Foundation intends to fill the void left by the purchase of CAN. Meanwhile, the American Family Foundation continues its mission of helping to raise cult awareness through its own programs and publications. Their contact information can be found in the appendix of this book. Case Nine: Employer recruiting for cult I met Diane at a dinner party held by a mutual friend. When she found out I was an expert on deceptive mind control groups, she had a lot of questions to ask me. Diane: My employer and mentor, Mary, told me its vital that I spend the next two weekends at a Transformational Seminar. Two beautiful fall weekends in a stuffy hotel ballroom. What could they possibly say that would hold my interest? Mary keeps repeating, Youre going to love it! I guarantee it will change your life for the better. What do you think, Steve? SH: A Transformational Seminar may have certain characteristics of a destructive mind control business cult. Diane: I dont have the extra $500 to cover the fee, but I have no choice. I dont want to offend my boss. I cant afford to lose my job! SH: Going unprepared to one of these workshops is unwise. Im afraid that you are not adequately prepared to resist the recruitment and indoctrination procedures that would be directed against you. I can share with you the tools and resources you need to educate yourself. There are a lot of good articles about this group on the Internet. I can put you in touch with some former members. Then well figure out your best options. Unfortunately, you might need to find another job. Case Ten: Wife joins cult and takes children with her Dan: Im trying to get prepared for a bitter custody battle. I am determined I dont want my children to be infected by the bizarre practices of this guru cult my wife got herself into. Ive read your book, and I want to ask you if you would be an expert witness for me. SH: How long have you been married? Dan: Nineteen years. SH: How many children do you have? Dan: Three. Two girls, twelve and fourteen, and a seventeen-year-old son. SH: Do you love your wife? Dan: Interesting that you should ask. I do. I still love her very much. After reading your book, I now know she has been the target of destructive mind control. SH: Then you should probably work to rescue her. Are you pressing for divorce, or is she? Dan: She is. As far as I can figure out, her guru wants to get his hands on our property and savings. SH: What does your wifes family think of the involvement? Dan: I havent talked with them for several months. At first, when she got involved with the guru, they were horrified. Then my wife started telling them lies about our marriage. She told them that I was abusive and controlling. SH: Were you? Dan: I have a strong personality, but I was never abusive. This whole thing is a nightmare. SH: Long-term relationships are usually pretty complicated anyway. When you factor in a guru and mind control, then things get immeasurably more complicated and difficult. But I believe if you take it step by step, we will figure out how you will be able to build greater rapport and trust with your wife and children. Have you ever written her a love poem or a love letter? Maybe you can tell her that youve changed your mind and dont want a divorce. That you love her and you want to go with her to see a marriage counselor. In the meantime, I think you will definitely want to try to approach her family and get them involved. Ideally, they should be the ones to initiate a Strategic Intervention, sidestepping the marital issues. But dont do anything yet. I need a lot more details before we arrive at a workable, long-term strategy. These ten cases are just a small sampling of the people I have assisted in the past years. At first, many of the people Ive helped were not sure whether their loved one was actually in a destructive mind control situation. If you read carefully, however, you can see underlying themes which tie all of these stories together. COMMON CHARACTERISTICS OF A MIND CONTROL ENVIRONMENT Exclusivity/isolation manipulation, deception, dependency and isolation all the other churches are dead and unspiritual demanding a one-over-one discipling relationship has turned his back on all his friends. spending more and more time with her secret meetings moved into the groups headquarters the cult member refuses to respond to letters and phone calls the family doesnt even know where their loved one is Abuse of power psychological blackmail threatening prophecies gives her large sums of money the group will extract as much money as it can her guru wants to get his hands on our property and savings he wanted to have sex with me Creation of the cult identity I dont recognize my own bright, warm, loving son. controlled my behavior, my thoughts and my emotions a cult member is like an actor/ they actually come to believe the role is reality If more than one of these characteristics sound familiar, there is a good chance that the group in question is a destructive cult. The chapters that follow will give you more specific criteria for evaluating the destructive potential of a group.Many people feel overwhelmed and hopeless when they first realize that their loved one is in a cult. But I have found that once friends and family understand the Strategic Interaction Approach, this sense of helplessness is often replaced by confidence and hope for the cult members future. IMPORTANT ASPECTS OF THE STRATEGIC INTERACTION APPROACH Real love is stronger than conditional love The fact that you are willing to help and are seeking professional advice shows me there is reason to hope. I love him Preparatory work: learning to think and act strategically The sooner you learn about destructive mind control techniques, cults, goal-oriented communication and Strategic Interaction Therapy, the faster you will be able to make a positive difference in her life. Learn about cults and mind control and get the proper counseling Get a clear understanding of what the issues are Goal-oriented communication build greater rapport and trust Step by step thats the approach Resourcefulness Flexibility and teamwork approach her family and get them involved how many ways there are to reconnect seemingly lost relationships each case is unique, and a customized strategy should be put into place The task of helping someone leave a destructive cult is more manageable when concerned friends and family work as a team to prepare themselves and plan a workable strategy. This strategy will be based on love, respect, resourcefulness, and, most importantly, a clear understanding of destructive mind control. The following information form can be used by friends and family to assess their own resources and plan a course of action. Taking the time to think about your situation and writing down all your thoughts and feelings can be a therapeutic experience, and will help you relate your experiences to the information in this book. (Chapter 1 of Steven Hassans Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves. FOM Press, 2000, Copyrighted, all rights reserved. Permission to use or reprint must be granted in writing.)