By Rick Alan Ross

A Jordanian online publication Al Bawaba recently ran an article titled “UK girl’s family fears Internet brainwashing.” The report proposed that “powerful jihadists are ‘brainwashing’ British teenagers through the internet.”

The aunt of one such teenage recruit said that her niece “was [radicalized] online after spending increasing amounts of time on her laptop and smart phone” communicating with ISIS members. She claims, “They can brainwash these children or 15 or 19-year-olds to leave their own home…it can happen to anyone.” Her niece may have been recruited through a so-called “jihadi dating site.”

The Mirror reported that in response to such recruitment efforts the British “Home Office has closed down 30,000 terrorist-linked websites in just nine months.” Through such websites “the internet is increasingly being hijacked by terrorist [organizations] to seduce Britons into going to war.”

yusra-hussienDestructive cults were pioneers on the World Wide Web and have used it effectively for promotional and recruitment purposes. An early example was the group known as “Heaven’s Gate,” which launched its own now notorious website almost twenty years ago. Other cults have learned to use the Internet as an effective tool. It is not surprising that ISIS likewise sees the Internet as a useful resource, which can now potentially reach virtually anyone anywhere through the access provided by an array of various electronic devices.

According to a report featured by Singapore’s Today, “Many of the youngest girls are lured with promises of humanitarian work. It is only once in Syria that they discover their fate: forced marriage to a fighter, strict adherence to Islamic law, a life under surveillance and little hope of returning home, say parents, relatives and radicalization experts.”

Again, this is not unlike the process of recruitment used by destructive cults, which frequently rely upon the old ploy of “bait and switch” to lure new members. Cults typically appeal to the naive idealism of potential recruits, wrapping themselves in the guise of positive social change, civic betterment, environmental awareness and most commonly some supposed religious or spiritual purpose.

Reportedly, “many women being radicalized hail from moderate Muslim households. But volunteers have also come from atheist, Catholic and Jewish households, both rich and poor, urban and rural.” Dounia Bouzar, a French anthropologist charged with the task of de-radicalizing such jihadists explained, “Recruiters have refined their methods to such a degree where they can take in people who are doing fine.” Bouzar stated, “Some are contacted on Facebook, others were chatted up on dating sites. Others met a friend who became a sort of guru.” Additionally, “Some of the women ‘thought they were in love’ after being groomed by men over the web or telephone.”

Destructive cults have been able to recruit almost anyone regardless of education, family background, religion or social status. ISIS follows a familiar pattern well-established by destructive cults who frequently target unaware and vulnerable young people, often on college campuses. Some cultists have also been drawn in through a romantic interest. Like jihadists, well-known cults use the social media to contact, influence and mentor potential new members.

According to news reports the guru of ISIS is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who assumed power over the group in early 2007. Whether or not ISIS fits the personality-driven terrorist model of al-Qaeda remains to be seen. The influence and control exerted over the group by al-Baghdadi as a cultlike charismatic leader, has not been firmly established.

Hans-Georg Maassen, head of Germany’s domestic intelligence, says “The romance of jihad is very pronounced in propaganda and used by women to recruit other women. According to authorities recent radicalized recruits included 400 from Germany, 1,000 from France and 85 from Sweden. Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert at Sweden’s National Defence College observed, “There is almost an obsession with paradise and the afterlife, which makes it like a death cult. Death matters more than life.” In the United States FBI Director James Comey reported to CBS’ “60 Minutes” he is monitoring “dozens of Americans” that have left the US to join ISIS or other terrorist groups.

After being mentored by their Internet gurus the new recruits are embedded and isolated within training camps, which are totally controlled environments. Communication is limited and when members do communicate with their families it may be scripted or coached. In a BBC News online video interview the father of one young ISIS recruit said, “‘my son believes it because it is brainwashing.” The father advised that “other people” could be heard controlling his son’s conversation and coaching him during Skype calls. Again, the control of communication seemingly mandated by ISIS is eerily similar to destructive cults.

Bad behavior by ISIS, not unlike excuses offered by destructive cults, is often rationalized  by the apology that essentially the “end justifies the means.”

A former member of ISIS interviewed by CNN discussed the process of her recruitment into the organization. A college educated teacher she reportedly was “drawn to the eloquence of a Tunisian whom she met online. Taken with his manners, she grew to trust him over time and he gradually lured her” with assurances “that the group was not what people thought, that it was not a terrorist organization.” The former ISIS member said the recruiter told her “‘we are going to properly implement Islam. Right now we are in a state of war, a phase where we need to control the country, so we have to be harsh.’”

Once fully embedded within the group the new recruit was told by her female commander, “‘Wake up, take care of yourself. You are walking, but you don’t know where you are going.’” Within this strange new environment the former school teacher turned ISIS member told CNN, “At the start, I was happy with my job. I felt that I had authority in the streets. But then I started to get scared, scared of my situation. I even started to be afraid of myself.”

Much like a cult member the teacher’s true personality came into conflict with the pseudo-personality imposed upon her by ISIS. She said, “I am not like this. I have a degree in education. I shouldn’t be like this. What happened to me? What happened in my mind that brought me here?” Ultimately the daily brutality of her new life shocked the young woman into again thinking independently for herself. She reflected, “The foreign fighters are very brutal with women, even the ones they marry,” she said. “There were cases where the wife had to be taken to the emergency ward because of the violence, the sexual violence.” She reacted honestly to the horror with reason, “I said enough. After all that I had already seen and all the times I stayed silent, telling myself, ‘We’re at war, then it will all be rectified.’” Finally she decided, “I have to leave.”

Once outside the confines of the “death cult” the young woman was more fully able to analyze her former situation. No longer was she subjected to the stern authoritarian discipline and stringent controls exercised over her daily life. This type of milieu control is historically the hallmark of destructive cults.

Today the former ISIS devotee is still trying to sort through her experience. “How did we allow them to come in? How did we allow them to rule us?” She claims, “There is a weakness in us.” but warns, “I don’t want anyone else to be duped by them. Too many girls think they are the right Islam.” Working through what seems like a cult recovery the former school teacher says, “It has to be gradual, so that I don’t become someone else. I am afraid of becoming someone else. Someone who swings, as a reaction in the other direction, after I was so entrenched in religion, that I reject religion completely.”

Monica Uriarte proposed her own prescription to immunize the public regarding jihadist recruiters online at Carbonated. She explains  “How to Stop Disillusioned Teens from Joining ISIS.” Uriarte says, “The answer lies in education. Muslim American and European Muslim communities need to educate their youth.”

But educate them about what?

In my opinion the key to such useful education is a better understanding of the dynamics of destructive cults, their recruitment tactics and how they employ a synthesis of coercive persuasion and influence techniques to trick and control people.

Thought provoking analysis is also offered by journalist Tom Gaisford writing for The Independent. In an article titled, “How should we respond to the murder of Alan Henning at the hands of Isis?” Gaisford says, “Extremists operate in a vacuum, free from self-criticism. Proof of this is their self-portrayal as anything but: they see themselves as enlightened moderates, driven to violence by necessity – heroes, effectively. This, it would seems, is how they are able to justify their conduct to themselves (whatever it is and whomsoever it affects).”

Again, this is not unlike historical cult leaders such as Charles Manson, Jim Jones, David Koresh, Shoko Asahara or notably Osama bin Laden. All apparent psychopaths who saw themselves in heroic terms as global game changers. The idea that they could be wrong was unthinkable to them and their followers. Whatever they did could somehow be justified within the framework of their grandiose game of global enlightenment, revelation, purification and/or annihilation.

Gaisford calls the philosophy of such leaders “circular nonsense.” He further observes, that “the language of [dehumanization] and destruction [within Jihadis groups like ISIS] is alarmingly reminiscent of the very darkest chapters in our world history.” Again, this seems to allude to cultic environments, such as Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia and the authoritarian dynasty that now dominates North Korea.

Gaisford elaborates, “The key to [neutralizing] extremism is more likely to lie in harnessing and disseminating information about the how it takes hold in the first place. The process is known colloquially as ‘[radicalization]‘ or “brainwashing” (depending on the context), though a more helpful term for it is ‘mind control’.”

Gaisford then explains what can be seen as the first step in cult recruitment. “Essentially, it relies on our inherent tendency to interpret information in a way that confirms our biases: its practitioners play to what we want to hear, to lead us unwittingly away from reality, simultaneously undermining the confidence and critical capacity we require to ‘return home’.” He concludes that jihadist recruiters, “though potentially deluded themselves, the likelihood is that controllers deceive their controlees knowingly, for their own personal benefit. To that extent, they are not in fact extremists but deeply cynical, critically attuned egoists.”

Again, just like destructive cults and their leaders have proven to be over and over again.

By Rick Ross

In a recent opinion/editorial New York Times piece titled “The Cult Deficit” columnist Ross Douthat stated, “the cult phenomenon feels increasingly antique, like lava lamps and bell bottoms.” He concluded, “Spiritual gurus still flourish in our era, of course, but they are generally comforting, vapid, safe — a Joel Osteen rather than a Jim Jones, a Deepak Chopra rather than a David Koresh.”

Interestingly, Deepak Chopra was a disciple of Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who was often called a “cult leader.” Maharishi was the founder of Transcendental Meditation (TM), a group frequently included on cult lists and still quite active amidst allegations of abuse.

Douthat doesn’t seem to care much about destructive cults or the damage they do. He laments that the Branch Davidians were “mistreated and misjudged.” Apparently the columnist hasn’t bothered to do much research as he has ignored the facts reported in the press about the Davidians and as established through the congressional record, the Danforth Report and submitted through court proceedings. Suffice to say that despite anti-government conspiracy theories David Koresh was one of the most vicious cult leaders in modern history. He was a deeply disturbed man that sexually preyed upon children and stockpiled weapons for the purpose of a violent end.

Journalist Tony Ortega at Raw Story points out that “The same week the US goes to war with one, NYT’s Douthat asks, where are the cults?” Ortega recognizes that many terrorist groups today are little more than personality-driven cults, such as al-Qaeda once was under the influence of Osama bin Laden. History is strewn with examples of the destruction wrought by totalitarian cults from the Nazis led by Adolf Hitler to the family dynasty that continues to dominate and control North Korea.

Not surprisingly following up Douthat doesn’t quote Ortega’s response, but instead prefers “Reason Magazine,” a Libertarian leaning publication that essentially agrees with him. Calling a column written by Peter Suderman a “very interesting response” Dauthat again ignores the facts and reiterates his opinion, as supposedly supported by a “religious historian” and venture capitalist. Suderman doesn’t dispute Douthat’s claim that cults are in decline, but rather uses it as a hook for his own spin about the “rise of subcultures.”

However, despite all the liberal or Libertarian posturing performed by these pundits the cult phenomenon has actually expanded around the world.

Unlike the United States, other countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East have taken steps to respond to cults both through regulation and law enforcement. For example, in Japan and Germany cults have been closely monitored and in China some have been outlawed. Recently in Israel cult leader Goel Ratzon was convicted of sex crimes. Ratzon’s criminal conviction followed a lengthy government investigation and raid by law enforcement.

In addition to malevolent cult movements that have captivated nations the old familiar groups called “cults” that Douthat thinks have faded away actually are still around such as Scientology, the Unification Church, Hare Krishnas, Divine Light Mission, International Church of Christ, and Est (the Forum), although they may now use new names to avoid easy recognition.

In fact the United States has become something of a destination point and haven for groups called “cults.”

Dahn Yoga, led by Ilchee Lee, which started in South Korea, later set up shop in Arizona and now has a following across America.

Another recent arrival is the World Mission Society Church of God led by Zhang Gil-Jah, known to her devotees as “Mother God.” Not long ago Zhang opened her first church in New Jersey. Since then the group has grown rapidly across the US and Canada. Mother has even rented space in Manhattan not far from the New York Times.

Exiled “evil cult” leader Li Hongzhi, founder of Falun Gong, had to leave China, but found refuge in New York. According to researchers Li now has a flock of about !0,000 followers in North America. He claims to channel miraculous healing powers, which has allegedly led to medical neglect and death. The group has regular parades and demonstrations in NYC, Apparently Mr. Dauthat missed that.

Just as there will always be con men running schemes to take people’s money, there will always be destructive cult leaders exploiting the vulnerabilities of humanity. For con men and cult leaders it’s a business and it seems to be quite profitable. When Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard died in 1986 his estate totaled hundreds of millions of dollars. Today, Scientology reportedly has a billion dollars in cash and vast real estate holdings. When Maharishi Mahesh Yogi died he left behind a spiritual empire valued in billions. Rev. Moon, the founder of the Unification Church, likewise left behind a hefty financial legacy, which is now managed by his children. Whenever there is cash and assets someone will step in to take over. And in the United States cults can operate with relative impunity as an unregulated industry.

No one knows exactly how many cult members there are in the United States. But almost every day I learn of a new group or organization that seems to fit the core criteria, which forms the nucleus for most definitions of a destructive cult. These core criteria were established by Robert Jay Lifton back in the 1980s. Rather than focusing on what a group believes Lifton’s criteria focus on the structure, dynamics and behavior of a group.

First, the single and most salient feature of a destructive cult is that it is personality-driven and animated by a living, charismatic and totalitarian leader. It is that leader who is the defining element and driving force of the group. Whatever the leader says is right is right and whatever the leader says is wrong is wrong. He or she determines the relative morality of the group and its core identity.

Second, the group engages in a process of thought reform to break people down and then redevelop them according to a predetermined mindset, which includes a diminished ability to think critically and/or independently. This is accomplished through a synthesis of coercive persuasion and influence techniques, relentlessly focused on individuals subjected to the group process.

Finally, the third criteria, is that the group does harm. This may vary from group to group as some groups are more harmful than others. One groups may simply exploit its members financially or through free labor, while others may make much more intense demands such as sexual favors, medical neglect or even criminal acts.

Whatever the group may present as its facade, be it religion, politics, exercise, martial arts, business scheme or philosophy, it is the structure, dynamics and behavior of the group that sets it apart and aligns it with the core criteria, which forms the nucleus for a definition of a destructive cult.

For those who would attempt to diminish the power of persuasion used by cults we have only to look at the pattern of behavior within such groups. Why would people act against their own interests, but instead consistently behave in the best interest of the cult leader? Why would cult members allow their children to die due to medical neglect or surrender them for sexual abuse? The most compelling explanation for such otherwise improbable behavior is that cult victims are under undue influence and therefore unable to think for themselves independently.

The dirty little secret about cults and their bag of tricks, is that we are all vulnerable to coercive persuasion and influence techniques. And this is particularly true when we are at a vulnerable time in our lives. This might include a period of grief, financial instability, isolation or some other personal setback. It is at these times that cults can more easily and deceptively recruit people. No one intentionally joins a cult. Instead, people are tricked by cults, through deceptive recruitment practices and a gradual indoctrination process that doesn’t immediately fully disclose the group’s expectations and agenda.

If people were not vulnerable to persuasion and influence techniques there would be no advertising or political propaganda. Every person approached isn’t taken in by cult recruitment tactics, just as everyone doesn’t buy a product promoted by slick advertising. The question is not why don’t cults recruit everyone, but rather how do they recruit people and why do those people often stay to their determent.

Instead of denial and fanciful claims about the decline of cults our best response regarding such groups is education and increased awareness. Understanding the basic warning signs of a potentially unsafe group is a good start. And utilizing the Web to find information about specific groups before becoming more deeply involved is always a good idea. More information helps people make more informed choices. Ignorance may lead to devastating consequences.

As Tony Ortega concluded, “As long as the media remains in the dark about destructive cults and the way they work, we’ll continue to get bewildering statements about ISIS, and ignorant columns from the New York Times.”

By Mallory Miller

Austin, Texas — Sophomore college student Sabrina Smith was recruited at University of Texas to join a Korean Christian group often called a “cult” under the impression it was just an innocent bible study. Stephanie Hsu, a member of the group, ‘Jesus Morning Star,’ grabbed Smith’s attention as she was walking across campus to class in April 2013. Hsu asked her if she’d be interested in doing a one-on-one bible study.

“I was already a part of a group bible study, but I thought it would be cool to learn the bible more closely one-on-one,” said Smith. “She got my information, emailed me and then we got started.”

Smith, who joined the bible study in April 2013, was simply trying to find a new way to seek God. However, she quit five months later after discovering she was being indoctrinated to believe that ex-fugitive criminal Jeong Myung-seok (aka Joshua Jung, Joshua Lee and Pastor Joshua), who’s also portrayed in the media as “heaven’s rapist,” is the second living messiah on Earth.

Jeong Myeong-seok is the founder of Jesus Morning Star religious organization, also known as Global Association of Culture and Peace, JMS, Setsuri, the Bright Smile Movement, and Providence Gospel. His followers call him “Seonseng Nim,” the Korean word for “teacher.” Jesus Morning Star has spread globally, predominantly through university recruitment at campuses such as the University of Tokyo, Kyoto University, Osaka University, and National Taiwan University. There are 240 branches of the church in Korea alone with over 150,000 followers.

Myeong-seok, a former member of the Unification Church founded by now deceased Rev. Sun Myung Moon, started the JMS group in the 1970s based upon some of the teachings of the Unification Church, such as its purification rituals. However, in JMS the purification rituals require women to have sex with the “second messiah,” whom Myeong-seok claims to be, in order to enter heaven and to purify themselves from the original sin which cast Eve out from the Garden of Paradise

“They don’t make those teachings public of course, but the signs are all there,” said Peter Daley, a cult watcher, who spends time spreading awareness about JMS and other controversial Asian groups called “cults” through the Internet.

Myeong-seok was officially charged with rape in 2001, after leaving South Korea in 1999. He left South Korea after it was broadcast on national television that he had committed the crime of rape. This was also reported by newspapers in Asia. He was arrested in Hong Kong in 2003, but fled again after an extradition hearing. Myeong-seok was finally caught and jailed with a 10-year sentence in February 2009. He is still serving his sentence currently in South Korea. Since his arrest was publicized more than 100 women have claimed they were raped or sexually abused by Myeong-seok during purification rituals.

JMS was particularly mindful of the way they lured Smith into the bible study. They started it out by teaching her interpretations of parables in the bible.

“It was something I was used to because I am a member of a Christian nondenominational church,” said Smith. “Each bible lesson was really insightful. They explained parables with logical interpretations.”

In Texas as Sabrina Smith advanced deeper into the bible study, her JMS teacher Stephanie Hsu discretely introduced the JMS peculiar practices to Smith. She convinced Smith to wake up to pray and listen to proverbs written by Myeong-seok every morning at 4:00 AM, referred to as the “spiritual hour.” Hsu also used guilt as a tool to get Smith to follow JMS. According to Smith, Hsu would say things like, “God will not listen to you if you don’t pray at this hour.”

Smith did wake up and pray as Hsu instructed, but she didn’t stay with the practice long because “towards the end it all started getting really fishy,” she said.

There were indicators that convinced Smith that JMS was a “cult” organization. Hsu instructed Smith that she must keep the early Morning Prayer practice a secret. Hsu invited Smith to model in JMS fashion shows, also telling the young woman that she could write personal letters to their “teacher” and offered to bring Smith to Asia as long as she didn’t tell her parents.

Smith’s gut instinct told her something wasn’t right, so she began to research on the organization. Soon she came across Daley’s website jmscult.com and contacted him for more information about the cult. Shortly after finding that site, she told Hsu she would not continue the bible study.

Daley recalled his first introduction to the JMS cult when he was living in South Korea. One of his friends invited him to go hiking in Wolmyong Dong, the “spiritual” base of the JMS cult.

Daley accepted the invitation only to find himself stuck at an all-night festival at Wolmyong Dong.

“I remember being struck by the fact that well over 80 percent of the 2,000 strong crowd were female university students,” said Daley. “Furthermore, the leader’s brother was constantly surrounded by an entourage of women that looked like they had just stepped out of a fashion magazine.”

Followers at the festival asked Daley throughout the night if he was studying the bible and if he knew “Seonseng Nim.” Daley, assuming this character would be present at the festival, asked around to get more information about him. He received replies like “he’s evangelizing in America” and “God called him to preach to the world and he’s in Asia spreading the Gospel.”

“The Beatlemania-like response from all those young girls and models when the face of the absent Jeong was shown on a giant screen at 1:00 AM was proof enough to me that this was at the very least some kind of personality cult,” said Daley.

Many followers to this day refuse to admit Myeong-seok committed the crimes he is in jail for or try to somehow justify his conviction and incarceration.

“Jesus was persecuted too,” said Karen Liu, a current member of the JMS cult who has been seen recruiting at Santa Clara University campus.

“If Jeong isn’t a serial rapist who is using religion as a tool and cloak to rape, then he sure created an organization that makes him look like one,” says Peter Daley.

With Myeong-seok in jail, female members are safe for now from potential rape by “the teacher;” however, “the emotional damage involvement in such a high-pressure group even for a short time should not be ignored or underestimated,” Daley said.

Update: SBS2 Australia recently broadcast a report about the Jeong group featuring former members, which is now online at YouTube.

By Gina Catena

ABC’s KTVO-TV in Iowa March 11, 2014 reported on a “Pandit Riot” that took place at the gate to Vedic City’s pandit compound after TM officials arrived with sheriff support at 0600. They planned to remove one of the compound’s leaders for unspecified disciplinary action and possible return to India.

According to the televised report, dozens of the Indian men who receive $50 monthly stipend (with $150 presumably sent to families in India) surrounded the sheriff’s vehicle, threw rocks and broke a squad car light. The sheriff called for other law reinforcements from Wapello County for support.

The Global Country of World Peace or Vedic City authorities must have suspected some unrest to justify requesting sheriff support to escort this pandit leader away.

The pandits protested their leader’s departure. Law enforcement officials could not understand words that were shouted in Hindi. News reports do not mention any attempt by law enforcement to understand the pandits.

News reports do not address (lack of) a Hindi interpreter. There is no mention if the shouting men were later provided an objective interpreter or offered impartial legal representation.

Credit goes to the sheriff who avoided escalating an altercation by successfully backing his vehicle away through the unarmed crowd. The sheriff’s office did not press charges since no one knows who assaulted the vehicle. Vedic City agreed to cover costs for the sheriff’s auto repairs.

The sheriff expressed incredulity that these men “held no respect for the law” when they mobbed his vehicle.

The pandits were escorted back inside their square mile of fenced compound.

TMFree previously posted concerns about the pandits’ captivity in a previous three part series that can be read by clicking here.

The recent “riot” might be a desperate attempt by these caged men to communicate to the outside world.

One woman interviewed for the televised report stated that these pandits WANT to stay impounded together, rather than return to their family squalor in India. However, if the pandits want to stay impounded, why did 163 of them escape within the last year? Their absence was not reported by the sponsoring TM organization that holds their passports.

Al Jazeera’s review of January 27, 2104 “Indian Vedic students go ‘missing’ in the US” can be read by clicking here.

Vedi City’s pandit situation resembles this animated United Nations’ video about modern human slavery.

These young pandits receive slave wages of room and board plus $50 / month. $150 per pandit is supposedly sent to their families in India. They may spend their $50 at small store in their compound. They rarely leave the compound. Their “job” is to inspire donations from TM True Believers for mystical chants that TM leaders promise will assure good weather, economic prosperity and world peace. For video clips, click here.

If these men want greater rights, they could be desperate enough to vie for attention from law enforcement.

Raja John Hagelin, Maharishi’s Raja of North America (aka Dr. John Hagelin in the films “What the Bleep Do We Know” and “The Secret”) Bill Goldstein, spokesman of The Global Country of World Peace, and John Revolinski, an administrator for the pandit campus, said the majority of these pandits began living in TM’s pandit compounds as children. This sounds suspiciously like child trafficking.  See “Students inquire about pandits during forum” by clicking here.

Revolinski referred to the pandits’ group dynamics. He did not discuss the group dynamics of the larger community which colluded to keep these men inside a fenced compound.

Some reports state the pandits have R-1 Visas. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Web Site defines R-1 visas here.  A key excerpt below:

“An R-1 is a foreign national who is coming to the United States temporarily to be employed at least part time (average of at least 20 hours per week) by a non-profit religious organization in the United States (or an organization which is affiliated with the religious denomination in the United States) to work as a minister or in a religious vocation or occupation…To qualify, the foreign national must have been a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least 2 years immediately before the filing of the petition.”

Forgive our confusion. For decades the TM Movement stated they are a non-religious organization. The TM Movement used this non-religious argument to infiltrate public schools and the American Veteran’s administration through the David Lynch Foundation.

Yet, the pandits received visas to work for an “organization which is affiliated with the religious denomination in the United States.”

TMFree addressed religious aspects of TM many times, for example “Is it a religion, or a dessert topping?”  and “Still “not a religion”: Video of puja, the religious ritual central to TM Initiation”.

Vedic City issued a TM-speak statement on March 11, 2014 which can be read here, and stated that :

“A very harmonious meeting was held with the entire Pandit group immediately after the incident to discuss what transpired. An internal review of the situation is being conducted with an aim to avoid any such repeat incidents in the future.”

No investigator had contact with the pandits. Will an outsider speak directly to these men?

How can law enforcement assist the containment of voiceless innocents inside an isolated compound?

Some reports said these men were promised an education and job training. Does chanting for a net of $50 monthly equal a career?

Pandits are human beings whose concerns should be heard. These are not the mute Orca whales whose captivity in San Diego SeaWorld garners press attention through animal activists.

An objective legal investigation into this should be initiated by people outside of Jefferson County, Iowa. Authorities of southeast Iowa already demonstrated both lack of objectivity and collusion with Vedic City through seven years of silence about these men confined to one square mile in a cornfield.

The pandits may have learned that drama attracts attention after fire fighters responded to a small fire in a pandit mobile home on November 8 2013, as reported here.

Another fire on March 3, 2014 was reported here.

If these men are desperately calling for help, they might be succeeding.

The Cult Education Institute (CEI) formerly known as the Ross Institute of New Jersey, has launched a completely redeveloped modern database.

The CEI archives includes more than 36,000 articles and documents in an online library organized through hundreds of subsections by group or topic of interest. There is also a virtual library listing relevant books in association with Amazon.com and one of the largest link collections now online about groups called “cults.”

The CEI site was first launched in 1996 and has grown from a modest website to one of the largest archives about destructive cults, controversial groups and movements accessible through the Internet.

There are also other sites online included under the CEI umbrella such as the Cult News Network, Cult News and the CEI message board. Taken together the CEI Web presence offers the general public a free interactive resource for research and study, which broadly encourages the sharing and networking of information for those concerned about cults and related topics of interest.

CEI is a nonprofit educational charity and a member of both the American Library Association and the New Jersey Library Association.

 

The Rick A. Ross Institute for the Study of Destructive Cults, Controversial Groups, and Movements has officially changed its name to The Cult Education Institute for the Study of Destructive Cults, Controversial Groups and Movements.

The new domain name entry point and gateway to the Internet archives of the institute is now culteducation.com.

The Cult Education Institute archives is a library of information about destructive cults, controversial groups and movements, which was initially launched in 1996 and has continued to be under construction and expansion for the past 17 years.

The public message board attached to the The Cult Education Institute is now accessible through the domain name culteducation.com. More than 100,000 entries from the former members of destructive cults, controversial groups and movements and others concerned has accumulated at the board over the past decade. The message board content continues to grow daily and it serves as a free speech zone for those who wish to share their insights and concerns about the topics listed.

The blog Cult News will continue with the same domain name cultnews.com.

The Cult News Network, a link sharing site for networking breaking news stories about cults and related topics, will also continue using the same domain name cultnews.net.

A new Web site design for The Cult Education Institute is now being developed and will reflect many improvements. All the same documents, news reports and information will continue to be archived within The Cult Education Institute library.

During development the old site will remain intact, which includes all the accumulated information and material and the attached message board, but it will only be accessible through the new domain name entry point of culteducation.com.

The general email address for the site will also change from info@rickross.com to info@culteducation.com.

Likewise the email address for Rick Ross will change from rickross@rickross.com to rickross@culteducation.com

The Cult Education Institute is an educational nonprofit corporation with 501 (c) (3) charitable status granted by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of the United States and is also an institutional member of both the New Jersey Library Association and the American Library Association.

The domain name rickross.com is now for sale at the GoDaddy Auction Domain Name Aftermarket Web site.

de6f437ee1dda7161652cdaefd82d04d.jpgrickross.com was originally purchased in 1996 and is owned by well-known cult expert and intervention specialist Rick Ross (photo above right). The Web site known as rickross.com was launched in 1996 and is a primary resource on the World Wide Web for information about destructive cults, controversial groups and movements. In 2001 the site officially became known as the Rick A. Ross Institute for Study of Destructive Cults, Controversial Groups and Movements (RI) and was granted nonprofit, tax-exempt 501 (c) (3) charitable status by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of the United States.

RI is devoted to public education and is an institutional member of the New Jersey Library Association.

rickross.com today is the gateway to a vast archive that has been under continuous construction for 17 years. This ever expanding online library includes thousands of individual documents, articles, reports and studies divided into hundreds of subsections by topic such as Scientology, Landmark Education and “brainwashing.”

A wealth of information is contained within the public message board attached to the RI Web site, which has more than 100,000 entries. The posts at this open forum board include comments from former cult members, affected families and others concerned.

Alexa, the Web information company, currently ranks the RI Web site 73,703 globally and 24,316 in the United States on World Wide Web based upon its traffic. More than 3,000 Web sites link to RI according to Alexa.

After some consideration RI has decided that the domain name entry point of the Web site will be changed. Due to this decision rickross.com is now for sale. Also included and conveyed to the purchaser of rickross.com will be four additional domains; rickross.net, rickross.org, rick-ross.net and rick-ross.org.

Note: The sale of the domain name rickross.com is for the domain name only and does not include any portion or part of the Web site archives. Everything within the Web site archives will remain intact and nothing will change. This includes the main archives and message board contents. The buyer of the domain name rickross.com will only purchase and have access to the domain name and nothing else. What is now known as rickross.com will become culteducation.com. This will be a domain name change and nothing more. This will of course involve a change in all relevant link addresses within the archives and message board and this will temporarily affect search results as the various search engines note the change in link addresses.Eventually all the contents of the Web site archives and message board entries will once again become evident and appear within searches with the new domain name prefix.

Cult interventionist and professional counselor Steven Hassan is the focus of a recently released video produced by the World Missionary Society Church of God (WMSCOG). The online video is critical of Hassan and it quotes both a CultNews critique of his latest book and comments posted at the message board within the Ross Institute of New Jersey (RI) Web site.

Hassan runs a for-profit corporation called “Freedom of Mind” and is a licensed counselor in Massachusetts.  Apparently WMSCOG sees Hassan as an adversary largely due to his intervention activities and ties to some former members of WMSCOG.

220px-steven_hassan_headshot_02.jpgFans of Steven Hassan have frantically contacted the author of the book review and RI to share their dismay. They are concerned that criticism of Hassan is accessible through the Internet, which can therefore potentially be quoted by anyone.

However, despite the dismay and demands nothing will be deleted or censored at this blog or within the RI database. No one is above criticism and simply because a purported “cult” has quoted critical material doesn’t mean that information must be purged from the Web.

Apparently Hassan’s fans also have a history of “information control” at Wikipedia.

Steve Hassan warns about what he calls “mind control the BITE model.” Ironically, the “I” in BITE stands for an effort to control information.

RI has a history of protecting critical information about groups and/or leaders and has repeatedly resisted attempts to censor its database.  Five frivolous lawsuits have been filed against RI and/or Rick Ross in various harassment efforts. Nothing has ever been taken down as a result of such litigation. All the lawsuits were dismissed, though some claims are still pending regarding a single lawsuit associated with a group called NXIVM (pronounced nexium).

Former cult deprogrammer Steve Hassan has a long history of borrowing upon the ideas of others for his writings without proper attribution and charging exorbitant fees for his services. In recent years his fees have ranged from $2,500.00 to $5,000.00 per day. He also promotes “team” interventions, which consists of former cult members and other professionals assisting him before, during and/or after an intervention effort. The other team members charge additional fees and expenses. All of this means that hiring Mr. Hassan can be a very expensive proposition. Some families have mortgaged their homes and/or raided 401k retirement accounts to pay the bill.

RI has received repeated complaints about Mr. Hassan. Families have said that his approach has failed and/or produced questionable results at great expense.  

CultNews and the Ross Institute certainly do not endorse or support in any way, shape or form WMSCOG. But as the old adage goes “even a broken clock is right twice a day.” In this context WMSCOG has correctly quoted the cited material, which raises meaningful questions concerning Steve Hassan’s books, methodology and fees.

RI does not endorse or recommend Steven Hassan and does not list his books through the reading list at its database.

WMSCOG is included as a controversial group within the RI database.

WMSCOG certainly bears more than a faint resemblance to another Korean organization known as the Unification Church founded by Rev. Sun Myung Moon, which has been called a “cult.” Interestingly, instead of a male “messiah” WMSCOG has a female leader they often call “mother,” who seems to wield dictatorial power over the group with little if any meaningful accountability. Rev. Moon who occupied a similar position of authority was often called “father” by his followers.

RI has received many complaints about WMSCOG from families, former members and others concerned. Many of the “warning signs” attributed to a potentially unsafe group or leader appear to apply to WMSCOG.

 Update: The Ross Institute  does not recommend Steve Hassan see this disclaimer.

By Linda Rogers

The family of a 27-year-old British Army officer who died of cancer in November (2012) have called for an investigation into the brainwashing tactics of a group who claimed they could cure her cancer.  Leaders of Innersound, who have a clinic in London and are recognized as a cult by UK experts,  dissuaded Naima Mohamed from having the chemotherapy that could have saved her life. Innersound ‘masters’ claimed she would recover from their meditation and therapy alone,  and that chemotherapy was poison. 

The Sandhurst-trained officer rejected chemotherapy and all other NHS treatments in January 2011. She handed over more than £15k to Innersound, but then the cancer spread to her sternum and lungs. Naima was told  in July last year by hospital doctors her family persuaded her to see that she had around two years to live, but she died in a hospice near her family in Poole just four months later. 

Naima’s Moroccan-born father Ben Mohamed, 68, wept as he told last week “Naima was totally under the spell of those so called masters, and she kept saying they knew how to cure her, that she would be OK.  There needs to be an investigation into what they are doing. They are telling very sick people they can cure them and it’s just rubbish.  It’s just a shame my daughter didn’t realize this sooner, when she could have had life saving treatment. They made her believe chemotherapy was poison that would harm her body not cure it.  At the end of her life Naima said to me ‘I’m so sorry dad. I was wrong’.  Something needs to happen to stop them doing this to others.” Naima’s distraught mother Saida has been staying with relatives in France since the funeral on 18th November. 

Naima’s grandfather Thomas Philips, a British man who was in the Navy said “I too would like to see an investigation.  Naima kept taking me to the clinic, convinced their massages would cure my arthritis and heart trouble.  They encourage clients to bring relatives for treatments.  It wasn’t magical or miraculous, just expensive massage,  and  Naima was very struck with them.  I suppose she was brainwashed, but it was hard to reach that conclusion there as the masters all seemed so genuine and kind.  Naima kept saying ‘they are taking the badness out of me granddad, and you have to believe it.’” Mr Philips says Innersound were ‘bleeding Naima dry’ and she often asked him for loans to pay for her treatments. 

master_oh.jpgThe Innersound Foundation, just off Harley Street and formerly known as Ki Health, told Naima that their Master Oh (photo left) had cured himself of cancer and said he could cure hers. The enrobed South Korean leader said she would recover through ‘ancestral healing’ which gets rid of ancestors’ ‘bad energy’ to heal their troubled successors living in the present. 

A 32 year old management consultant who was seeing Innersound masters at the same time as Naima for bowel disease, who can’t be named in this article for legal reasons, has pledged to sign an affidavit to swear by what he witnessed.  He said ” I saw masters tell Naima she didn’t need chemotherapy.  Master Oh said he had cured himself of stomach cancer, and that  he would help to cure her.  Another master claimed she was healed of breast cancer, and Naima could be healed too. Master Oh also told many others in my presence he could cure them of  different illnesses.”

Anti-cult expert Graham Baldwin, who runs the Catalyst charity which helps victims of cults and their families, said “This group prey on vulnerable, desperate people to abuse them financially and mentally.  Any organization which suggest  a girl with cancer should stop chemotherapy is not doing what could be expected of any charity.  Innersound are never going to improve anyone’s chances of recovering from a terminal illness.  They should lose their charitable status, and police need to investigate them under the 1939 Cancer Act which forbids false claims for cancer cures.”

Naima, who grew up in Winchester,  paid £9,000 for ancestral healing and parted with another £7,000 for other oriental therapies including meditation, chanting and to pay for for elaborate ceremonies.  Patients are made to belch and hiss in the belief this will get rid of the ‘bad energy’ that is making them sick. 

Naima originally contacted Innersound for spiritual enlightenment after hearing about them from a fellow soldier, and was diagnosed with breast cancer the following year. Her close friend Dulcie Fernandez said   “Naima is very sorry that she ever went to Innersound and she would want it known that their treatments don’t work.”

I met Naima at her lodgings in London in July.  She said  “I was given the firm impression by the masters that chemotherapy wasn’t going to work for me.  They told me this, and they seemed so knowledgeable, so genuine and compassionate I believed them.  I’m a soldier, a professional, and I am not a gullible person, but they influenced me at a time when I was highly vulnerable, promising me life-saving things I desperately wanted to believe. I wish now that I hadn’t.” 

Cult expert lawyer Claire Kirby helped Naima last year get a £12k refund from Innersound, who say they repaid the money out of compassion and accept no liability for Naima’s  then failing heath.

Kirby claimed Innersound used ‘undue influence’ to extract monies, by befriending Naima and winning her confidence.  In a letter to them she says “…(our client) was encouraged to trust and revere the masters and to believe in the teachings of Innersound including that the treatments and trainings had an excellent success rate of getting people with cancer better again.  Master Oh stated that our client did not need chemotherapy,  and that if she committed herself to the program could heal herself of cancer.’ 

Innersound’s therapies use techniques derived from those used by a South Korean couple jailed in 2000 for conning their followers out of £44 million.  Mo Haeng Yong and Park Gui Dal were imprisoned in Seoul for 8 and  5 years respectively. Innersound deny associations with the couple, although they  have visited them in the UK. 

Ki Health were forced to change their name to Innersound after being exposed by a British newspaper in 2008. They now are alls using the name Qi Wellness. Frequent name-changing is routine among cults who want to distance themselves from negative publicity and law enforcement.  The UK anti-cult movement is lobbying the Charity Commission for it to withdraw Innersound’s charitable status.

It appears that purported Albany, New York “cult” leader Keith Raniere (photo below), known to his followers as “Vanguard”, may be re-branding his business again.

628×471.jpgRaniere, a failed multi-level marketing guru, now runs a large group awareness training (LGAT) company. First his business was called Executive Success Programs (ESP), then NXIVM (pronounced nexium) and now it seems the latest name being used is “Ethilogia“.

The Ethilogia Web site claims it’s “the path of the ethicist” and teaches “value based decision making”.

However, in a 2003 article titled “Cult of Personality” Forbes Magazine described Keith Raniere as the “world’s strangest executive coach” and quoted one of his former clients who labeled his company a “cult”.

This year reporter James Odato of the Albany Times-Union won an Associated Press award for his investigative series “Secrets of NXIVM” exposing the seamy side of Raniere’s life and business.

The Ehtilogia Web site states, “At the core of this course of study is a patent-pending technology called Rational Inquiry”. This “technology” is described as a process of “emotional training” that affects “decision making” accomplished through “inner breakthroughs”, which are “like working out in an “emotional” gym.” The site says, “Achievements are possible because the very foundation of a person’s human experience”one’s belief system”will be completed and integrated.”

Interestingly, what the new Ethilogia Web site doesn’t mention is Keith Raniere, despite the fact that he is the creator of Rational Inquiry. At Raniere’s personal Web site associated with NXIVM he is credited as the “creator” of the Rational Inquiry as well as proclaimed a “Scientist, mathematician, philosopher, entrepreneur, educator, inventor and author”. It was apparently in his role as “philosopher” that Raniere put together the belief system Rational Inquiry, which is the basis for both NXIVM and Ethilogia.

The Albany Times Union reported, “Many of the terms within NXIVM are similar to those in the Church of Scientology, a religious movement that has been called a cult ” a label the Church of Scientology denies. As with Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, Raniere’s ideas are labeled ‘technology.’ Those who are seen as disloyal to the group are dubbed ‘suppressives’ and students move up a ladder of coursework meant to make them more successful in life and work. Long, involved sessions of guidance are called ‘intensives.’” It was also reported that Raniere’s “interest in philosophy traces to author Ayn Rand, particularly from her novel ‘Atlas Shrugged’.”

But despite what seems like Mr. Raniere’s substantial borrowings from other sources the Ethilogia Web site nevertheless says that Rational Inquiry is “a unique, patent-pending technology and body of knowledge”.

Browsing through the Ethilogia Web site you will see photographs of famous folks with corresponding stories and/or quotes. The list of featured historic icons includes Steve Jobs, Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Neil Armstrong, Oprah Winfrey and Olympian Wilma Rudolph. None of these people were ever actually students of Rational Inquiry or Keith Raniere. And other than Oprah Winfrey, all of these iconic figures are dead and therefore must remain silent concerning the questionable use and association of their name and image to promote Mr. Raniere’s latest business scheme.

The “team” of “coaches” touted by Ethilogia is rather telling and includes names with ties to NXIVM such as Melissa Rodriguez, Ivan Lucas, Danny Trumann and Phillip Lamport.

According to its Web site Ethilogia “is a practical emotional training program that provides the foundation necessary to acquire and build the skills for success.”

However, if you take the time to Google either NXIVM and/or Keith Raniere you will quickly understand why neither name appears at the new Web site. Raniere and NXIVM have a deeply troubled history of bad press, complaints and litigation.

Respected psychologist and court expert Paul Martin wrote two papers explaining his concerns about Raniere’s brand of executive training. Click here to read Martin’s comparison of that training to the criteria used to determine if a “thought reform” program is in use. Thought reform is more commonly called “brainwashing”. Click here to read Martin’s critical analysis of Raniere’s ESP program.

Some people that have attended Raniere’s training programs have found it less than a “success” and sought subsequent psychiatric help. Forbes reported, “After sleepless nights and 17-hour days of workshops, a 28-year-old woman from a prominent Mexican family says she began to have hallucinations and had a mental breakdown at her hotel near Albany. She went to a hospital and required psychiatric treatment. Her psychiatrist, Carlos Rueda, says in the last three years he has treated two others who have taken the class; one had a psychotic episode.”

Kristin Snyder, a young woman that attended ESP programs, walked out of a training session and committed suicide. Snyder left a note that said, “I attended a course called Executive Success Programs based out of Anchorage, AK, and Albany, NY. I was brainwashed and my emotional center of the brain was killed/turned off. I still have feeling in my external skin, but my internal organs are rotting. Please contact my parents … if you find me or this note. I am sorry life; I didn’t know I was already dead. May we persist into the future.” Click here to read the news report regarding the Snyder suicide.

Keith Raniere may use various names for his business concerns, but the game always appears to be the same.