On the Scientology Flagship Apollo our only link to the outside world was the Orders of the Day which contained ship business and news flashes from around the world. In 1974 there was a blurb that the Christian cult leader, Jim Jones, had moved his followers to Guyana to escape persecution in the United States. In 1978 I heard that he and 912 followers drank poisoned fruit punch to escape the evils of this world and committed suicide. Also, 221 children were killed at Jones’ orders by followers who injected poison directly into their mouths. He accomplished this by selling his suffering savior message and an end of the world vision to the point of suicide and murder. At the time I thought, “Boy, how sad, look what being in a cult can do to you…..” I had no idea that I was in a similar boat, so to speak. Although Scientology does not order suicide, it has similar cult components. It uses mind control, persuasion, enforcement and a doomsday fervor to raise funds. Per reports the International Association of Scientologists (IAS) has amassed a billion dollars by playing on true believers’ fears that Scientology is the last-gasp hope for mankind and that the end is near.
The common components of a destructive cult:
- They all have a charismatic unerring leader who claims to be the messiah or a savior with secrets to the universe. The leader of a cult is an unquestioned authority who proclaims a sacred science, or a direct line to God that only he can reveal when the time is right. (They have usually changed their name; have shady and difficult pasts with crimes for which they could be arrested for or criminal records.)
- They take over the follower’s assets to greater or lesser degree.
- They use an end time’s scenario to instill fear to control and to justify destructive acts. Doomsday myths are also used to create a “donate now” mentality to bilk millions out of followers.
- They disband the family unit. In some cults the leader takes all the women, making followers feel powerless. They control births by ordering staff to have abortions to keep their positions. Also it is common to split up marriages overtly or covertly by sending a spouse to a far off outpost.
- They change the follower’s name or identity. This has a few purposes: one is to try and wipe out their past connections and self perception. The new name does not usually sound like a normal name in today’s society, however the name does sound like other names within the group. The idea is to make the group the family and void the believer’s real one. In Scientology identity denial is done by only referring to staff members by his post title, not his/her name.
- Planting seeds of immorality or sundry beliefs directly or indirectly to make it seem it is the member’s choice to do what he/she does. An example would be telling a son or daughter to disconnect from their parents by leading them to believe it is their own choice; but if they don’t disconnect they face expulsion.
- If an end of times scenario does not occur as scheduled or promised attainments do not occur, members are blamed for lack of faith, misapplication, or some other plausible justification is used.
- Black and white thinking is taught along with the group’s own codified language which creates a wall between believers and the rest of the world. Anyone not in the know is considered to be dim witted. It creates a sense of elitism.
- Indoctrination and separation of children from their families to ensure undying loyalty to the leader and group’s future. Cult leaders consider children blank slates where they can write anything in that they want.
10. If the group or individual does not produce what the leader wants the secrets of the universe or from God are withheld and will not be revealed. (See number 1). This is used to obtain more money and control the member’s motivation while at the same time keeping them in line with a reward if they produce good works. In Scientology it is the releasing of new OT levels or “Super Power.”
Destructive cults to use as comparisons:
When talking to a true believer you cannot attack the group or leader directly, but can enlighten by sharing information about other groups and leaders. Sooner or later the cult member will see comparisons in his/her own life and start thinking about his own dire situation and loss of freedom.
The Yoga Guru: The “god of energy”, leader of Dahn Yoga (Dahn means energy in Korean). Ilchi Lee (real name Seung Henn Lee) was born in South Korea in 1954. Like most cult leaders he is charismatic, charming, and greedy. He abandoned his family, and committed civil crimes. He spent time behind bars for breaking real estate laws in 1993; he is hounded by lawsuits. Lee has been accused of wrongful death, sexual harassment, and wage and labor law violations*. Seizing upon the world’s fitness craze he has fashioned a new cult which is a weird hybrid of new age energy concepts such as “brain respiration,” Yoga, Buddhism, and Sun Myung Moon’s business doctrines.
He insists that he is his follower’s real father. His mind control techniques are perhaps the most overt I have heard of. His recruits are taught mantras from the beginning that destroys their past identity, family, loyalties, and other aspirations. “My past was all illusion…My family was all illusion….” When the recruit first walks into a Dahn yoga class he might think it nothing more than a high energy yoga class with camaraderie. But soon, after weekend retreats that cost $8000, classes in the mountains and mounting debt, they find out it is something very different.
Lee was a poor student who found movement helped him focus. Lee had a revelation on a religious trek. After fasting for 21 days without food or water he realized that he was composed of cosmic energy. He later claimed to be the center of all energy. He changed his name to Ilchi which means “pointing the way.” He began teaching classes combining his loosely formed theology about energy and movement. He soon had a small but devoted following who contributed time and money. He had a keen eye for marketing from the beginning, selling cosmic gold painted porcelain turtles for $4000 each that he claimed harnessed energy. He had visions of expansions which really took off when he enlisted ex-Moonie top exec, Hwa Young Moon. They brought his energy religion to the United States. Lee found the mystical hotbed of Sedona, Arizona to be perfect for his movement and by adding the word Yoga to his theories about the brain he hit gold, literally. The young were recruited from campuses and while they lived communally, Lee became a multi-millionaire.
Per Lee, vision is first of the three most valuable things in life. Vision is composed of two things per former members: one is to make money and the other is bringing in new members. Lee has said, “You have to go crazy about two things. One is, you have to go crazy about your members. And second, you have to be crazy about money.”
Dahn practices include holding your breath until nearly drowning, exercising until frenzied, screaming repeatedly, “I love you , Ilchi Lee,” carrying heavy backpacks full of rocks up mountains (this exercise caused the death of Julia Siverls) and drinking toilet water to show devotion to Lee. Lee overtly disaffects members from laudable goals, family and friends. There is direct dispelling of attachments by mental programming; “My attachment to becoming a teacher is not me, it’s just my information. By acknowledging it, I’m letting go of it.” Another example, “My attachment to my family is not me, it’s just my information. By acknowledging it, I am letting go of it.” Anything contra-cult is labeled as “information,” i.e. meaningless clutter. By reframing the newfound science of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to remap and heal, Lee’s Brain Clubs reverse the intent of mental improvement for devious devotion to himself and the cult.
Dahn masters, teachers, and staff are encouraged to live communally. The pressure to make money every month is tremendous. Recruits are picked by the teacher’s intuition on how well they will bring in other recruits and money. The carrot for all the hard work and sleeplessness with little to eat is to meet Lee and receive your soul name. For his part, Lee lives in luxury, is not peaceful, and is obsessed with money. Like Est’s Werner Erhard and L. Ron Hubbard did, he stepped down at the titular head of his organization, but controls every move nonetheless. In Dahn and other cults, former members who leave are tormented with implanted phobias and for deserting the cause. Dahn “Soul warriors” decry ex-members for not saving the planet from annihilation. Members who leave cults are usually faced with depression, psychosomatics, guilt, and shame as they look back in hindsight at their perceived stupidity and gullibility. (Some information from: “The Yoga Cult” by Sabrina Rubin Erderly, Rolling Stone Magazine, 2/18/10)
Strong City is the Idaho cult run by Michael Travesser, formerly Wayne Bent, who is a defector from 7th Day Adventist Church. He claims to be the Messiah. He has a small band of true believers. Like most “Cookie Cutter Messiahs” (see book, “Captive Hearts, Captive Minds” by Madeleine Landau Tobias and Janja Lalich) he had a troubled past, failed marriages, sexual abuse, and is a sociopath.
He heard a divine message that he was the chosen one and claims that two women who left their family and husbands through no instruction from him were his witnesses. He claims that God “commanded” them to have sex with him despite their being married. When the husbands protested they were told to direct their misery to God. Like the slain cult leader, David Koresh, only Michael can sleep with women in the group. By doing this he has taken away power from the men and the women. He planted seeds in his daily writings about lying naked with God. Since his believers consider him God this suggestion lead the women to lay with Michael to receive the “golden moment.” Two of which were his own daughters.
A requirement to join his cult is to turn over all of your assets. He altered a Biblical reference from the New Testament where Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21) Obviously, there is quite a difference between giving to the poor and giving to Michael.
When one joins his cult his or her name is changed and Michael becomes their father no matter how old they are. This strips the follower of their own identity, their past, and of family ties; it also makes them children. As children they are commanded biblically to honor their father and are easily controlled.
He claimed October 31st, 2007 as the day the world would end and he would be taken to heaven. When it did not happen as announced, he was regal in his divine knowledge that “God has changed his mind.” His followers were elated it did not happen because they could then spend more time with their beloved messiah. In Jonestown and Marshall Applewhite’s group they couldn’t wait for a divine death so they committed suicide to free themselves of their earthly existences. Travesser now resides in a New Mexico State Prison for sexual assault on minors. He was arrested in 2006 and convicted December 15, 2008.
The Japanese Guru: Shoko Asahara was born Chizuo Matsumoto ,on March 2, 1955. He is founder of the controversial Japenese religious group Aum Shinrikyo. Asahara has been convicted of masterminding the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway and several other crimes. He instilled the fear of nuclear war in his believers to aggressively push forward his spiritual practices and end times doctrines. He convinced his followers to kill to force the end.
Shoko Asahara was born poor partially sighted. In the school for the blind he reportedly bullied other children because he was bigger and not completely blind. He failed to obtain admission to Tokyo University in 1981. Asahara was convicted of practicing pharmacy without a license. In 1987 Asahara returned from a one year visit to India and Tibetan monasteries where he claimed to be a student of the Dalai Lama and have visions from Buddha. He claimed that he was given a commission from the Dalai Lama to bring real Buddhism to Japan. The Dalai Lama denied this and cautioned people to be wary of him and his claim of supernatural powers. (Ref: http://www.american-buddha.com/shokoasahara.htm)
He explained to his disciples that he had attained his ultimate goal: enlightenment. After his vision he began his missionary quest to “…save other people at the sacrifice of my own self…I am to walk the same path as Buddha.” His closest disciples offered him money and the charismatic Asahara organized an intensive yoga seminar that attracted many people. That same year Shoko Asahara officially changed his name, and applied for government registration of the group Aum Shinrikyo. The doctrine of is based on original Buddhist scriptures. Like other cults esoteric “truths” are withheld until different advanced steps are finished.
On March 20, 1995 at the orders of Asahara, members of Aum attacked the Tokyo Subway System with invisible nerve gas. Thirteen people died, and thousands more suffered from after-effects. His facilities were raided, and the court issued an order for Shoko Asahara’s arrest. Shoko Asahara faced 27 murder counts in 13 separate indictments. During the trials, some of the disciples testified against Asahara, and he was found guilty. He and eleven followers were sentenced to death by hanging on February 27, 2004. Asahara appealed the sentence by pleading insanity, but the appeal was denied. He has not been put to death yet.
When you tell stories about other cults, let the believer draw their own conclusions and hopefully they will see the similarities between their own groups. At some point they will see their group’s hypocrisy and cruelty when hearing about different groups where they do not have emotional attachments and a vested interest.
It is a good idea to do a complete study of different cults to see how they compare. One of the peculiarities you will find amongst ex-members of various and sundry cults is that they universally have the same psychic and mental debilitating symptoms. This is true even if the cults are at opposite end of the ideological specturm; for example, a Christian cult compared to a satanic cult. It is because the leaders of various cults behave the same and share a common pathology. Therefore, their members are subjected to similar abuses and human rights violations. Individual psyches react much the same to identical or similar stimuli. Much like post war veterans who have flashbacks, nightmares, suicidal ideation and other crippling problems; ex-cult members react the same to the war that they were involved in. Their similar treatment at the hands of the cult make the effect of their post-cult traumas nearly all the same. It takes the care of an exit counselor, particularly an ex-member, to unwind these maladies. Counseling by an ex-member ensures understanding and an inherent compassion for what the former believer has been through.