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.

By Gina Catena

The TM Organization focuses upon FUNDRAISING for Pandits, while promising magic. Despite TM’s assertion, there is no evidence that Pandits’ impact global harmony. After years of fundraising for world peace through chanting Pandits, neither Maharishi’s Global Country of World Peace nor other TM nonprofits disclose finances related to these captive Indians.

orig_00036.jpgIn a recent TM Organization announcement, Raja (Dr.) John Hagelin encourages donations to support an 11-day national Yagya (prayer ceremony) to begin on September 19, 2012. The final date for payment for this particular yagya was to be September 13. For of a mere $1,250, a donor could designate someone to be named during the performance.

The message flatters donors for TM Pandits’ prayer ceremonies, “As a direct result of the generosity and vision of our donors, the Maharishi National Yagya program has grown into a powerful force for America.”

Hagelin credits the Pandits’ Yagyas with Iowa’s summer rains, and for redirecting this summer’s Hurricane Isaac :

“A few people have asked about Isaac. Originally forecast to be a Category 3 or 4 hurricane, it only reached Category 1. While the storm produced flooding in some of the most vulnerable areas, the City of New Orleans was largely spared.”

“The rain’s subsequent northward march provided welcome relief to some of the most drought-stricken areas of the country. When national invincibility is more firmly established, we can anticipate even greater protection against national disasters.”

Some True Believers continue to donate to these campaigns, otherwise why would the TM Movement continue to send such messages?

Deemed-scientific correlation between the Pandits and selective good news is as logical as Laurie’s (of TMFree) correlation that 99% of murderers begin their life drinking milk; thus milk leads to murdering.

Hagelin’s message continues, “We are on the verge of realizing Maharishi’s desire of 30 years. The generosity of our donors has brought us to this place. With your support, we will soon have the Super Radiance community we have worked so hard to build.”

Hagelin updates about plans to grow Pandit population  :

“  * 556 Pandits now have passports, and 541 have completed their visa applications.
   * The first phase of the kitchen expansion to accommodate the new Pandits has been completed, and the next phase is well underway.
   * More than 1/3 of the funds needed to bring all 556 Pandits to the U.S. has been raised.
   * The arrival of these Pandits will secure the daily Super Radiance numbers in Fairfield and Maharishi Vedic City at more than 2,000. Closing in on the Goal”

Another recent fundraising email from Stan Crowe earlier this summer declared,“a special 11-day National Yagya performance beginning on Guru Purnima, July 3. We chose this date to honor our beloved Maharishi on this most auspicious day, the day of the Guru. The Yagya will also coincide with America’s Independence Day, July 4.”

Having failed to create a permanent community of 2000 people practicing Maharishi’s TM-Sidhi program twice daily in MUM’s golden domes, In 2001 Maharishi decided to offer donors the opportunity to sponsor others to meditate for them. The sponsorship concept already existed on a smaller scale in the TM Movement. It used to be common practice for those with less funds to seek sponsorships, often arranged as tax deductible donations, to attend advanced TM courses. Wealthy TMers also often sponsored the celibate participants on the Purusha  or Mother Divine programs for tax deductions, personal glory, and good karma.

Since 1979′s first “World Peace Assembly” in Amherst Massachusetts, Maharishi and the TM Movement promoted the idea that a small percentage of the population could influence world peace, weather, crime and the economy through group meditation. This would create “The Maharishi Effect” to bring heaven on earth, or so Maharishi and the organization’s retroactive selective studies claimed.

As Sudarsha suggested in a private message, this goal is as scientific as shooting a blank wall, then drawing a target circle around the spot you hit.

The goal of changing the world was and is used to inspire, or pressure, TM-Sidhi practitioners to devote their lives and funds to Maharishi’s plans. This also feeds the narcissism of people who would believe their thoughts alone are powerful enough to influence government decisions and weather patterns.

Since that course in 1979 (Yes, I was there) Maharishi and his minions such as Bevan Morris, John Hagelin and others have long  threatened Maharishi’s followers with global warfare and other calamities unless a core group of at least 2000 people practiced Maharishi’s TM-Sidhi Program together twice daily.

For example, in 1979 Bevan Morris pulled me aside for a private audience in a small dark room, saying someone had reported me to him for not attending Program as prescribed. Bevan said that I personally would be responsible for bringing WWIII or economic collapse to the world because I did not fully participate in “Program” many hours daily. In response I said that motherhood and supporting my family took precedence over group meditations, that my family is my Program. I told Bevan that Maharishi did not have children, so he didn’t understand families. Bevan excused me, seemingly without officially black-listing me. Others tell similar stories of intimidation and threats for their non-participation in program, or if they requested permission to leave.

In the early 1980′s Maharishi claimed that donations to support participants on the celibate Purusha and Mother Divine programs would bring financial prosperity, health and speed enlightenment for donors. In fact, my (then)husband wanted us to tithe 10% of our income to support his former girlfriend on the Mother Divine course. They had attended and graduated together in 1981 from Maharishi International University. She was a sweet young woman, who vigilantly ‘put her attention’ on my husband’s business daily and wrote us newsy letters about Maharishi’s latest inspirations. The young woman’s prolonged meditations did not enhance our economic status. My (then) husband often blamed his business problems on the bad karma that I brought to his business because I did not attend “Program” (6-8 hours) daily. This was a prevalent community attitude at that time.


Per their own counts, the TM Movement repeatedly fails to realize the mystical 2000 meditator/Sidhas for twice-daily Program attendance. Other TMers must be making similar choices about responsibilities,  personal and family needs, thereby decreasing Program attendance.


To solve this problem, Maharishi came up with the  brilliant idea of raising funds to import professional meditators from India. This idea was proposed as early as November 2001.

Note : Maharishi’s idea is FUNDRAISING for Pandits, not to really improve the world through mystical practices.

In January 2002, after coming out of his annual silent retreat to begin the new year, Maharishi proposed that for a mere $250 Million, the world’s problems could be solved by establishing a permanent community with 10,000 Pandits. 

Maharishi’s fundraising scheme to support a group of meditating Pandits provided, then and now, a means for TM’s wealthy donors to assure spiritual good karma, enlightenment or entry to heaven by donating large sums of money for others meditate in their stead.

This is remarkably similar to the Medieval Catholicism when noblemen paid servants to make spiritual pilgrimages for them, thereby gleaning heavenly accolades for both the nobleman and the pauper who made the pilgrimage.

I doubt the Movement will attain the 2000 which they claim necessary for a Super Radiance effect. This dream is an eternal carrot-on-a-stick, never to be achieved. After all, the Movement would lose credibility with its followers if 2000 Pandits meditate twice daily, and the world inevitably continues with political travails, natural disasters, environmental carcinogens and economic vicissitudes.

Being a practical Guru, Maharishi established nonprofit corporations so that donors could receive tax deductions while profiting their Guru. Despite public perception, a “nonprofit” organization does not have to meet any ethical qualifications. The primary difference between a nonprofit corporation vs a for-profit is the stated purpose of the organization, how funds are dispersed and taxed. Nonprofits are allowed to generate revenue surpluses (er, that would be synonymous with profit’).

Using threats of global collapse to fear-monger for Pandit donations in October, 2003, a national conference call quoted (still living) Maharishi “‘The world would not completely end, there will be a few people left…You don’t know how fast the destruction is approaching. Do it, go fast… ‘Don’t wait until tomorrow when the whole thing collapses. If you don’t prevent this, don’t blame us.’”

In 2003, the Program “8000 Now” was created to fundraise for a Pandit program. Their website cleverly does not initially reveal their true intentions, until one clicks about on various links.

TMFree readers may enjoy videos on the  “National Yagya Program” website. Among highlights, see Raja Dr. John Hagelin explain how important it is to “engage the power of natural law at a very deep level” through the performance of Yagyas to help Japan after their tsunami and nuclear crisis. Japan’s Raja also reads aloud a letter of gratitude for Pandits he credits with helping Japan.. 

In his documentary film David Wants to FlyDavid Seiveking interviews Earl Kaplan. Earl admits that he is not proud of his former TM-alliance and donations exceeding $150million to Maharishi. Earl also says he asked Maharishi about the promised Pandits; despite Earl’s large donation for this purpose, none had been gathered together. Earl says that Maharishi told him “I don’t know if it will work.” In his former brainwashed state, Earl was shocked that his Guru had been recruiting for a cause that he was not sure would work. Earl, his twin brother David, and their wives then left the Movement.

5panditsupporters.jpegIn late October 2006, shortly after Howard Settle granted $600 per person monthly scholarship to hire pandits, up to one million dollars monthly, an initial group of Pandits arrived from India.  The Movement announced “A permanent group of 1,000 Maharishi Pandits has been established in America”. Photos here show TM Movement dignitaries  (note their requisite beige/gold themed suits) greeting Pandits at the airport, and chatting at the Pandits’ welcome dinner.

Ostensibly, there are plans to bring enough Pandits for a permanent group creating a global Maharishi Effect of world peace, balanced economy, wealth, good weather, lush agriculture, and enlightenment for all!4panditdinner.jpeg

The Pandits are hired to save the world by meditating en masse.

For obscure reasons, the Movement still fails to have the requisite number of Pandits together. Looks like stalling tactics to me, to keep donations flowing.

For those with special needs and the ability to make tax deductible donations, the Organization states Pandits can customize mystical Yagya ceremonies for special purposes. Even my late-father had purchased several custom Yagyas for himself.

Lacking foresight, when the first Pandits arrived to Iowa in autumn of 2006, they lacked proper clothing for Iowa’s subzero winters. Local meditators in Fairfield and Vedic City created a coat drive to garner winter wear so these thin Indian men could survive their first subzero winter. Many Pandits had arrived from India to the United States with only simple kurtas and shawls.

One year after their arrival, Maharishi approved the provision of winter coats in October 2007, for the Pandits. Separate fundraising efforts were conducted to purchase these coats, 

Interestingly, Vedic City has an identity crisis about their Pandits.

Official Vedic City maps, provided by The Raj Spa’s receptionist, do not identify the location of this fenced, guarded compound. Still, it’s easy enough to find. Just drive north in front of The Raj along Jasmine Ave., turn left, west, at 170th street at toward their touted luxury Rukmapura Park Hotel. The fenced Pandit compound is almost directly across 170th street from the hotel’s gravel driveway, conveniently outside the   official grid of Vedic City’s Master Plan, at the intersection of 170th Street and  “Invincible America Ave.” 

While not listed among Vedic City’s attractions, a small image of meditating Pandits appears in the upper banner of Vedic City’s website.

Vedic City wants tax benefits for the Pandits, according to a February 2011 story from Iowa’s Heartland Connection, channel 3 KTVO posted on February 17th “Can Census Make 1000 Iowans Disappear? ” 

Vedic City officials claim the US Census miscounted their residents, neglecting to include over one thousand residents of the pandit compound at 1675 Invincible America Drive. According to the 2001 Boundary and Annexation Survey file, the Pandit compound lies within Vedic City’s boundaries.
  
Are the Pandits actually Iowans as claimed by KTVO news? Are they legal residents of Vedic City, Iowa and the USA? Are they guests, or students? Only their US State Department Visas know for sure. 

As expected by anyone familiar with the TM Movement, Vedic City claims or disavows the Pandit presence according to what is most advantageous at any given moment. 

“Funnily enough” (one of Maharishi’s phrases), 2010 tax returns for only one fundraising arm for the pandit and yagya donations can be viewed here – 2010 Exempt Organization Tax Return “Brahmananda Saraswati Foundation”. And an overview of the financial status of Maharishi’s Global Country of World Peace can be viewed here.

Transcendental Meditation Organizations keep separate legal and financial structures. Readers can glean a glimmer of this global organization by clicking on a few links and drop down menus on this site for Maharishi’s Global Country or here for Peace Initiative Projects.

On a human note – One wonders if the fenced Pandits know their rights as foreign nationals within the United States. Human rights agencies queried in Chicago and elsewhere require a complaint filed by one of the Pandits themselves to initiate an investigation about unlawful restraint, confinement, or anything else. 

How would an imprisoned person, with neither English language fluency nor outside access, inquire for assistance or file a complaint?

Note: Gina Catena co-moderates a blog about TM Movement and TM recovery : TMFree.blogspot.com
Gina’s personal blog : comingtolifestories.com

By Gina Catena

Oprah Winfrey’s televised visit to Maharishi Vedic City’s [Transcendental Meditation (TM)] pandit compound provided an opportune excuse for a drive to the pandit compound during my recent visit to Fairfield, Iowa.

Oprah’s pandit visit is summarized in this short video clip.

As I drive north of Fairfield on Highway One, in less than one mile I follow the highway’s directional arrow left on Airport Rd toward Maharishi Vedic City.

dscn0605.JPGFollowing the arrow due west 2 miles on Airport Rd / 180th Street, I drive through open farmland and pass a few vedic houses, identifiable by uniform east facing entrances with strange roof ornaments, and Fairfield’s small airport where Fairfield’s TM-wealthy house private airplanes and a leer jet or two. Two miles west of Highway One’s turn off, I arrive at an empty country intersection for Jasmine Ave, the beginning of Vedic City.

Turning right, or north, onto Jasmine Ave I pass the turn to a few residences and the flagged Capital building for the Global Country of World Peace whose annual revenue, as a registered non profit agency, is in the range of $19 million,

And the entry sign for Maharishi Vedic Observatory, enhanced with bullet holes to document the sign’s dual purpose for both vedic marker and target practice.

I stop briefly at Vedic City’s central information desk in The Raj spa which features costly Maharishi Ayurvedic treatments (more about visiting the “Observatory” and “The Raj” in another essay).

Exiting the Raj’s tree-lined entry drive,I return to two-lane Jasmine Ave heading north as I pass farmland to my right and a few “Vedic” buildings on the left.

I turn left, or west, onto 170th Avenue’s country road along Vedic City’s perimeter. After passing a few Vedic housing developments that are evidently slow on sales, I arrive to the lauded luxury Rukmapura Park Hotel‘s gravel entry.

Almost directly across from the most elegant hotel of Fairfield or Vedic City lies the fenced “Invincible America Campus”, or pandit compound, with rows of white prefabricated buildings capped with golden ornaments, called kalashes, to maximize each building’s spiritual energy.

dscn0600.JPGAn uniformed visitor could possibly mistake the pandit compound for an agri-business, but not for long.

“Women are not allowed past that fence. Actually, no one is allowed unless they have special permission and an escort. You can stand at the edge of this fence to take photos.” The friendly guard informs me from the simple wooden guardshack at the entrance to Vedic City’s pandit compound only a few miles north of Jefferson County’s courthouse in Fairfield, Iowa.

The guard sits alone or with one other at the fenced compound’s gate, surrounded by otherwise open farmland and a large torquoise sky. Maybe the job is boring or perhaps he enjoys sitting in the quiet countryside and reading.

I’m relieved that the friendly guard in khakis, a light plaid shirt and clip-on security badge is happy to chat. I hope this essay does not jeopardize his employment.  

“Since I can’t enter, may I walk along that road between the fences, still outside the pandit compound?” I ask while pointing to the moat-like dirt road separating the compound from the parking lot where we stand. 

“Nope.” he responds. “Private property. You can take pictures from this parking lot fence.” He extends his arm indicating the fence encircling the small gravel parking area.

I retort with a smile, “But Oprah filmed inside.”

The guard laughs, “But you’re not Oprah.”

“True enough.” I wink and continue, “Maharishi always gave extra benies to the wealthy. It’s about public relations and donations. Too bad I don’t have a zoom lens.”

The guard observes from his small shack while I walk freely in the fenced gravel parking lot, clicking photos with my red point-and-shoot camera across double fences to the pandits.

Pandits play baseball on a seemingly unmarked grass field. 

Three Indians in white gauze kurtas notice me. They walk closer to sit under a tree near the fence, watching the guard talk with me. They remind me of captive animals in a zoo who had watched my children and me from behind fences. I wave. The pandits wave back.

Two beige former school buses parked beside the drive marked “Residents Only Private Drive” remind me of childrens’ summer camp transportation. The guard informs me that buses transport pandits for occasional special performances at Maharishi University’s Golden Domes or elsewhere, to return the same day.

Between snapping photos and chatting about the weather, I introduce myself.

“I just saw Oprah’s show and found this fascinating since I used to live here. I graduated from Fairfield High School 1975 as the first ‘Ru to graduate from Fairfield High, before MIU began their high school here.

(‘Ru is slang term awarded by Fairfield residents to the meditators who invaded their town in 1974, shortened from Iowa-accented GuRUuuu. MIU, Maharishi International University, later became MUM, or Maharishi University of Management)

Seeking commonality, the guard names some high school classmates from his graduating class a few years before mine.

After thinking a moment, I respond. “No, I don’t remember them. I only attended FHS for my senior year; that’s when we moved here. You and your friends were out of school by then, so I didn’t meet them. I remember Myron Gookin who is now Iowa’s local District Court judge. Myron was either our senior class president or the student body president. I think his family lived on North Main Street at the time, in a meticulous yellow house if I remember correctly. They moved to the other side of town after the ‘Rus took over that end of town. I arrived with the first group that came here with MIU from California. My mother was an MIU Student. I fell in love with Iowa, but the old Parsons campus was such a mess!”

“I remember.” he smiles and nods.

We laugh together while sharing memories of 1974′s awkward campus BBQ welcoming MIU’s arrival to Fairfield, when skinny vegetarian MIU students refused to eat barbequed pork donated by local farmers.

I add, “I always loved Iowa. My children were born here. My daughter attended Pence elementary school on the south side of town,” thereby implying that I was not a die-hard ‘Ru, since my own children attended a local public school rather than MSAE, Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment. “Eventually I couldn’t take it and moved away.”

The guard nods, then begins to open up. “There are 850 pandits here now. The Movement plans to have 1200 to keep the numbers here up for when dome numbers drop. They keep saying more will arrive soon,” referring to Maharishi’s plan for a specified number of (TM-Sidhi) Program participants for the ever-promised “Super Radiance effect”  that would magically create World Peace.

“There are 88 buildings now and expanding.” He points to one building with an orange and purple entry, “That’s their Durga, or temple. The white entrance by a larger building is the administrative building. The large gymnasium is in back. Another building is the meditation building. All their needs are provided for.”

He suddenly sounds scripted, “They meditate, have food, study and exercise time. They study Sanskrit and Vedic scriptures. You can see they’re playing baseball now.” He nods to the ball game before us, speaking as though this is normal. “A clinic will be coming to take care of their medical needs.” he adds.

“They visit local doctors and the hospital now?” I ask.

“Usually. But there’s a doctor who comes to see them out here sometimes.”

“Have there been cases of tuberculosis or other infectious diseases?”

“I wouldn’t know.” He shrugs.

“I’m in the medical field. It’s good they provide medical care. This is impressive.”

I wonder if the TM Organization is building a private clinic to avoid alerting public health authoritites, or if the clinic merely provides a cost-saving convenience.

We stand quietly looking at the compound and pandit baseball game for a few minutes in the Iowa sun. Not sure what to say next, “Where does the money come for all this?” I ask.

The guard shrugs, shaking his head,  “I’m not part of the Movement.”

He points to his left, behind the guard shack, past open fields to a few rows of distant rectangular yellow buildings.

“American pandit-types live there. I forgot what they’re called.”

“Purusha?” I ask,

“Yes. Purusha. Some Mother Divine women live near them. But most of the women are in New York or North Carolina.  Purusha men are sometimes allowed to attend pandit ceremonies. They once allowed a couple of Mother Divine women to attend a pandit ceremony, but apparently it became a scene. Women are too distracting for the pandits. So no more females.” After a moment, guard adds, “There’s no problem with Purusha men and Mother Divine woman living nearby. ”

“I wonder how the pandits controlled themselves when Oprah visited.” I say.

The guard laughs.

After taking my few photos, I thank the guard and drive away, wishing I had better planned my questions.

Stopping briefly along the side the compound to photograph the street sign for “Vedic America Drive”, one pandit approaches me.

A moat-like ditch filled with knee-high prickly weeds deters me from getting close enough to the fence to talk comfortably. I wish I wore different shoes.

I wave “Hello” to the lone pandit.

He returns my greeting.

“It’s a beautiful day!” I call to him from the roadside, standing beside my car.

“Yes” he agrees.

“How are you today?”

“Fine.”

“How long have you lived here?” 

“One hour,” he reponds while wobbling his head side to side, Indian style.

 I realize he does not understand. I speak more slowly.

“How many years you here?”

“Two years.”

“Are you happy?”

“Yes.” He wobbles his head.

“May I please take your photo?” I hold up my camera.

“No.” he turns to walk away from the fence, then quickly returns. “OK.”

I snap his photo while the guard watches us from his perch.

“I have to go now.” We wave good bye.

Note: Gina Catena co-moderates a blog about TM Movement and TM recovery : TMFree.blogspot.com
Gina’s personal blog : comingtolifestories.com

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  — Edmund Burke (1729-1797)

By Gina Catena

Young families and greying baby boomers chat outside popular restaurants on Fairfield’s town square, accustomed to ignoring the fact that 850 innocents are trapped in a gated, barb-wired compound outside their town.

vediccityhwy1.jpgTurning to my friend I said “Everything is calm and peaceful. Folks chat and bask in sunshine. Fairfield’s [Transcendental Meditation (TM)] community is more integrated and tolerant than in the past. But doesn’t anyone question the pandit compound? This reminds me of small town Nazi Germany, when citizens colluded to ignore prison camps only a few miles away.”

She responded with parroted remarks that I had heard elsewhere, “I don’t feel badly for the pandits. They’ve been paid. They’re sending money home to their families in India – as poor immigrants have done from time immemorial. In Indian culture it’s common for one member of a family to sacrifice their entire life to benefit the larger family.”

Her verbatim response echoed one of Maharishi’s favorite indoctrination methods – multiple repetitions of nonsense would eventually be accepted as truth.

She continued, “The Movement hired a private guard. The local sheriff didn’t feel comfortable recapturing escapees any more.” Her calm manner shocked me.

“They have a guard? Some escape? Where do they go?” I asked.

“Of course some escape!” She continued, “Some of those Indians came to see America. They are poor people who took this job. They’re not trained as holy men. They have a work contract to meditate and chant for a couple of years. Their families are supported in India while they are here. The escapees usually show up at a nearby farmhouse asking for help.”

“This is 21st century North America, not ancient India’s indentured servitude.” I responded. ”Everyone in town knows that a few miles away there are people locked inside a guarded compound surrounded by corn fields. In this country, only prisoners are so constrained. Can this be legal?”

“They have visas.” My friend shrugged.

“Who holds their passports? Do they know their rights?” I asked.

After brief hesitation, my friend responded “It’s not my business. I just quietly conduct my life here. I have my own problems.”

I let the conversation drop. My friend has her reasons. So does everyone else.

On Highway One, only two miles north of the entry to Maharishi University of Management, a highway sign points west, towards an otherwise innocuous side road directing to the TM Movement’s incorporated Vedic City, which is governed by mayor Raja Bob Wynne.

The highway sign fails to name the fenced compound, around the back side of Vedic City, that encloses over 800 Indian men. Yet, everyone in Fairfield, Iowa knows about the secluded pandit compound.

The Spiral of Silence Theory may explain why citizens of Jefferson County Iowa, including local attorneys, government and law enforcement officials, avoid public discussion of questionable legalities surrounding the forced containment and minimal compensation for these indentured “Pandits” from India.

How the Hidden has Power” and “Out of Sight Out of Mind – Making Silence Easy” provide further insight to the social milieu of such silent complacency.

Note: Gina Catena co-moderates a blog about TM Movement and TM recovery : TMFree.blogspot.com
Gina’s personal blog : comingtolifestories.com

August 28, 2012

By Cathleen A. Mann, PhD

Introduction

bookfreedom.jpgSteven Hassan’s latest book, Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults, and Beliefs, just released in summer, 2012, is the latest in what can be seen as a trilogy of sorts, starting with Combatting Mind Control in 1988 and then Releasing the Bonds in 2000.  A large portion of the material in his latest book is a verbatim repetition of material from Releasing the Bonds. In his most recent book, Hassan reports that his sister was the impetus to changing his “approach” in interaction away from interventions, an activity that Hassan has been involved in for over 30 years.  In the preface to this book, Hassan repeats the story of his introduction to and his exit from the Unification Church (Moonies) and how that exit helped him find his life work of education and liberation from “mind control cults”. 

However, it is notable that in this third book, Hassan has greatly expanded his target audience due to what he says is cult activity “increasing exponentially,” and the “rise of the Internet”.  Since Hassan maintains a substantial Internet presence through his Web site, www.freedomofmind.com, it could be argued that he has increased public sensitivity to cults, thereby magnifying the importance of his solutions, as well as providing a forum where he can extensively promote his own theories and agenda.

“Cults are on the rise” seems to be the theme of this latest book.  But there is no proof of this claim. Hassan offers no scientific study or survey with statistics to prove his theory. It may be that “cults are on a downward turn,” or perhaps “cults have stayed the same”. These possibilities may not help in the marketing and sale of books, but they are two equal possibilities. Of course none of these statements regarding the growth or decline of cults is based upon scientific evidence. Hassan’s theories are not genuinely informative in any factual sense. 

It seems to me that Hassan’s purpose at conflating cult numbers is to frighten people and provide him with a marketing tool to sell books, rather than genuinely seeing so many groups and/or relationships as somehow being “cult-like”. He certainly hasn’t proven otherwise in this book.

It’s interesting to note that Mr. Hassan has written the preface to his new book. In the preface he offers the usual anecdotes and testimonies to his success. Hassan defines both the problem and the cure as “cult like traits seen at every level of society.”   Postulating his theory about an overwhelming societal problem, Mr. Hassan then offers his own unique solution.

Defining terms

It is important to note that within his third book Hassan has added new ingredients to his definition of a cult.  He claims in the first chapter that a cult uses (1) authoritarian leadership, (2) deception, and (3) destructive mind control.  The title of his new book now mentions “beliefs,” but this is not in his definition.  It is troubling that a book supposedly written to educate the public about cults would even enter into the area of “beliefs,” when almost all cult educators and experts don’t focus on beliefs, but rather on harmful practices.  In fact, it is a myth that cults are solely defined by beliefs. After all, the First amendment or Establishment Clause of the US Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion, which includes the right to believe whatever you wish.  Hassan persists in using the term “destructive mind control,” which is not a term used in any legal setting and that has no real meaning.  Mind control seems quite ominous and rather sensational, but this term does nothing to further the discussion about the dynamics of cults and how they operate.  The research done in this area does not mention the term “mind control,” but uses terms such as “undue influence”, which express a more precise and exact meaning. 

Ultimate authority

Steve Hassan’s Twitter handle also can be seen as an interesting example of his problem with defining terms and labels. His Twitter handle is “cult expert”. Being qualified and 220px-steven_hassan_headshot_02.jpgaccepted in a court of law as an expert is typically meaningful proof of expertise. But Mr. Hassan has never provided expert testimony in a court of law.  What authority then, outside of Hassan himself, has officially recognized him as an expert concerning cults? For that matter has an authority officially recognized Hassan as an expert in anything? 

Steve Hassan’s latest book, just like the one before it, is self-published.  If Mr. Hassan were in fact “the #1 exit counselor,” surely he could find a publisher.  Having a publisher would bring in the much needed contribution of objective professional editing, and perhaps a peer review process, which might have made this a better and more credible book.

Starting with page 6, Hassan describes what he calls “common cult scenarios”.  These accounts may be the factual descriptions of actual cases or composites, but they read like the most sensational scenarios.  Hassan repeatedly places himself at the center of these brief case examples. He is the hero. He never fails to come up with just the right thing to say to successfully get through to a cult member.  Once again this fits a familiar pattern. Just like Hassan’s statement about the rise of cults, these scenarios appear self-serving and seem designed to elevate Mr. Hassan to a pedestal. Apparently, he is the one that can snap people out of a cult with just one or two artful remarks. He thus sets himself up as the ultimate authority on what to say and when to say it.  There is no mention of similarly artful things, which family members can say, even though the supposed purpose of this book is “helping loved ones” out of cults.  The definition of cult put forth by Mr. Hassan could be applied to many groups. He offers insufficient distinctions between what he considers a cult and what might be considered an ordinary group.  The message in this book seems to be that Steve Hassan has somehow become the final arbiter who will define such things for everyone.

Borrowing ideas

In Chapter 2, Hassan introduces Lifton’s eight criteria or psychological themes for thought reform, another term used to define “mind control,” even though Lifton never used the words mind control in his work.  Hassan also introduces Singer’s 6 criteria and brings in the social psychology construct of cognitive dissonance.  Even though Hassan names the origins of these ideas, nowhere in the body of his book within any chapter does he include properly cited references. In fact, the reader is told near the end of the book that a bibliography is not available, but rather can be found at Hassan’s Web site.  This is certainly not in keeping with any protocol of academic writing and seems like a device to minimize as much as possible the owners of the ideas that Hassan claims as his.  Not including such text references when you have depended upon the ideas of others might be considered something akin to plagiarism. 

This penchant that Steve Hassan has for borrowing upon the ideas of others without specifically cited attribution should be glaringly apparent to anyone familiar with Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP). According to Mr. Hassan’s first book Combatting Cult Mind Control; he has studied NLP extensively with its founders. He has also described how NLP and the writings of its predecessors influenced the development of his own cult intervention model. In Hassan’s latest book (p. 208-214) he discusses concepts and techniques that come from NLP such as Visual Kinesthetic Dissociation and the idea of representational systems. But he fails to cite their source. Hassan makes no mention of NLP whatsoever, nevertheless borrowing from it quite heavily. This is especially troubling, given that NLP remains highly controversial amongst people that study cults, particularly because it can be seen as a manipulative technique of persuasion. NLP also poses an ethical dilemma when used within the context of cult intervention work. The integrity of an intervention and for that matter the interventionist is compromised by the use of such deliberately deceptive techniques and manipulation.

 BITE model

On page 23, Hassan introduces what he describes as the powerful BITE (Behavior, Information, Thought and Emotional control) model, something that he seems to see as a superior definition of the manipulation involved within cults.  Much of the BITE model is borrowed material from a 30 year long tradition of social psychological research.  In reading the elements of the BITE model within Hassan’s current book, that model has now been greatly expanded from his previous two books. The BITE model he now proposes is so broad that it could be applied a very wide array of groups.  What is troubling is that Hassan has not provided any guidelines to separate out the groups, which might warrant the cult label and those that do not.  The BITE model, as now applied by Hassan, has become a kind of philosophic construct not grounded in facts, but rather theories, many of them borrowed from others.

Hassanology

This composite philosophical approach as now devised by Mr. Hassan might be called “Hassanology”. In the world of cults Hassanology essentially depicts Steve Hassan as the ultimate savior. He is a hammer, and there is an ever expanding list of groups to be seen as nails. As they say, “When you are a hammer everything looks like a nail”. Of course this might once again simply reflect a convenient marketing strategy.

Hassan, repeating themes from his previous two books, introduces on page 52, this idea of dual identities, i.e. a pre-cult identity and a cult identity.  There is no evidence of a cult identity v. a pre-cult identity.  It is not even established that human behavior works in this way. These are not constructs that are generally accepted in psychology or professional counseling.  These claims exist entirely within the confines “Hassanology”.  Again, the tone of Mr. Hassan’s book is that these beliefs are true, rather than just one person’s untested ideas. 

Another troubling claim is that Hassan believes that all cult members suffer from phobias (p.56).  Again, Hassan presents his idea as an absolute truth, ignoring the fact that there is no scientific theory and/or scientific evidence to back it up.  Hassan seems to think that his ideas on phobias mesh with his claim that all cults practice hypnosis. He doesn’t acknowledge any exceptions. According to Mr. Hassan all cults do these things.  It is true that many cults teach members that leaving the group is wrong or bad, but where are the scientific studies that conclusively demonstrate that this practice constitutes phobia indoctrination?

Strategic interaction Approach

In Chapter 3, Hassan re-introduces his intervention model, the Strategic interaction Approach (SIA).  He states that this model will “promote change and encourage growth in the family as well as in the cult member” (p. 36).  Mr. Hassan promotes this model as the preferred alternative to “old style” deprogramming and/or “exit counseling”.  However, what Hassan does not discuss here or for that matter in his two preceding books, is that his approach includes elements of counseling.  And there is nothing specifically mentioned about the cult member being counseled explicitly understanding that they are participating in counseling, i.e. informed consent.  In fact, it appears that Hassan does not see the need to offer his SIA counseling as a matter of choice, but instead uses the family dynamic as  tool to keep the cult member talking and then to spring his counseling upon them without informed consent.  All professional counseling requires such an understanding and explicit consent before it begins. Counseling, by its very nature, is persuasive and constitutes an unequal power dynamic.  A licensed professional counselor that does not know this can do harm to people. People must agree and be amenable to receiving counseling, regardless of what the setting or stated goal may be. The ends do not justify the means. This principle is often cited concerning the questionable behavior of cults, and should apply to those attempting to help cult members as well.

It is important at this juncture to point out that there is really nothing new or unique about the SIA approach.  It merely represents a reworking of family systems theory, with no credit given by Hassan to its pioneers, such as expert family systems practitioners Virginia Satir or the Milan Family System theorists. SIA relies heavily on the body of theory and practice within family systems. Hassan’s remarks about the superiority of the SIA over exit counseling within his books is a thinly disguised attempt to say his method is fundamentally more effective,  and therefore has better results.  However, nowhere does Hassan provide a base rate and/or any type or accepted statistical method defining his results or what constitutes a successful SIA type of family work with a cult member.  Yes, Hassan provides anecdotal evidence selectively through testimonials, but there is no way to check if these are legitimate or edited for content. These testimonials are always glowing and positive, which is one of the major drawbacks to using testimonials; it’s deceiving and engenders the idea that your work with cult members is superior, always successful, and has better outcomes than any other approach.  This is why professional organizations such as the APA (American Psychological Association) have discouraged reliance upon testimonials. In contrast, one of the defining characteristics of pseudoscience is an over reliance on such anecdotal evidence, rather than scientific study.

Is the SIA approach the best approach? What happens when a cult member does not have a family suitable for the SIA approach?  Is that situation ignored?  The SIA approach, as advertised, has the family doing the bulk of the work and seems to include both deception and emotional blackmail to make it work.  Current cult members are never told they are facing an intervention. They are not told they will be subjected to counseling. And they are in a situation where family members confront them with family issues and disappointments, often in a very emotional way, which may be used to persuade the cult member to leave the group.  

In Chapter 13, the last chapter in the book, Hassan conjures up possible solutions to the “cult problem”.  First, he suggests more involvement by the legal system. Apparently he doesn’t realize that the legal system is already actively involved in sorting through cult issues. Perhaps Mr. Hassan’s ignorance of this fact is because he has never testified in any legal proceeding.  Second, Hassan calls for action by mental health professionals to join the “cause,” and that they should be trained in his SIA approach.  However, such training would be of questionable value and essentially redundant, since SIA is merely family systems, which is quite familiar to mental health professionals.  In what appears to be a contradiction, he also states that people can use his book to develop their own approach, working with their family members themselves. Why then the need to gather a group of mental health professionals under Mr. Hassan’s guidance if families can do this independently? He seems to cotradict himself. 

Conclusion

In my opinion proper distinctions are not sufficiently made regarding what are actually Hassan’s purported ideas and the ideas he has copied from others, which have not been given proper attribution.  And providing a general bibliography on a Web site simply does not meet either the academic criteria or ethical responsibility regarding meaningful attribution. Although Hassan is obviously not bound by such academic codes of honor, borrowing the ideas of others without citing them has frequently resulted in the expulsion of students from graduate school programs. No reputable academic journal would accept or countenance such omissions.  Has Hassan fallen into an academic trap? Does he believe that what he learned from others years ago has somehow now been transformed into his own ideas? Is he somehow convinced that he now owns those ideas?  The citation of sources is always an academic requirement and should be an author’s ethical responsibility, regardless of how long ago someone might have been introduced to the material.

Mr. Hassan’s latest book gives the impression that he sees his methodology as the only way, but there is a woeful lack of objective evidence to prove his theories.  It’s curious that Hassan includes pages on how to battle his critics.  Isn’t it possible that other ideas might be valid?  At the very least, extraordinary claims should require extraordinary evidence. Or has Hassanology become an “absolute science”? 

It is interesting to note that on page 25 under the condition “thought control,” is listed the “[r]ejection of rational analysis, critical thinking and constructive criticism”.  This is an excellent point and one that should be followed by every cult critic, cult interventionist, professional counselor, or expert. This would include accepting criticism without becoming defensive and the ability to see and correct problems. Debate should be based upon rational analysis. A person working in the cult recovery or education field should endeavor to emulate these characteristics. It is incumbent upon him or her to model this behavior, as it is the rejection of such values that quite often forms the basis for criticizing the leaders and dynamics of cults.

Cathleen A. Mann has a doctorate in psychology and has been a licensed counselor in the state of Colorado since 1994. Dr. Mann has done research regarding cult formation and the recruiting and retention practices of high demand groups. She has been court qualified as an expert in 12 states.

Update: This review was quoted by a purported “cult” in an online video produced to examine and/or criticize Steven Hassan. Subsequently Hassan’s supporters contacted the author of the review and CultNews suggesting and/or requesting that this article be deleted. Read more about this in the following CultNews report. The Ross Institute does not recommend Steve Hassan see this disclaimer.

 

Introduction

I am writing this article as a previous member of the Order of Christ Sophia (OCS) and the Center of Light (COL).When I first encountered the OCS in 1999 I found it to be a supportive and empowering organization.Over time however, I feel that the nature of the group has changed dramatically and I would now describe it as extremely destructive and dangerous. I am gravely concerned for the welfare of anyone currently involved with or considering involvement with the group and it is my hope that what I describe here will bring clarity and insight to others.

Background

I was a “student” in the OCS for several years beginning in 1999 when the organization was first founded.I later trained for the ministry and functioned as a “deacon” for 2 years, a “priest” for 8 years and then a “shepherd” (the highest level of OCS training) for 2 years. I was also a member of the board of directors for 4 years.During my time with the group I had extensive contact with its leaders and became intimately acquainted with its internal dynamics and politics.Because of my familiarity with the OCS I feel that I am in a position to offer credible testimony about the nature of the organization.

Destructive and dangerous characteristics

The destructive and dangerous characteristics of the OCS.

The remainder of this article will describe the characteristics of the OCS that I found to be most destructive and dangerous.I will divide them into four categories and discuss them separately.The four categories are:

1) The leaders of the OCS have exhibited psychologically pathological behavior.

2) The leaders of the OCS have engaged in abusive and unethical practices.

3) The OCS has become an authoritarian and tyrannical organization that encourages loyalty to the leaders of the group rather than to God.

4) Group dynamics within the OCS have created an atmosphere where members come to accept, normalize and even positively reinterpret negative practices which eventually cause severe psychological and emotional trauma including the loss of personal autonomy and identity.

Psychologically pathological behavior

The leaders of the OCS have exhibited psychologically pathological behavior.

father_peter_bowes_photo.jpgThe OCS is led by Peter Bowes (photo left) and Clare Watts (photo lower right).Both have made claims that I feel to be delusional and have exhibited behavior that I feel represents psychosis.

Bowes has claimed the following: to be the reincarnation of St. Peter; to be the reincarnation of St. Francis of Assisi; to have been personally instructed by the Buddha; to have received the authority and responsibility for carrying on the mission of the Church of Jesus Christ directly from St. Paul; to possess the highest consciousness of any spiritual teacher alive; to be the most trustworthy person alive; to be the recipient of an Apostolic succession derived from Jesus Christ; that the OCS is the most spiritually evolved organization of all time; that the OCS represents the second coming of Christ; that the Apocalypse will occur within the lifetime of the present generation; that only 30% of the population will survive the Apocalypse; that the OCS will play a pivotal role in bringing the post-Apocalyptic human race into a new consciousness.

Watts has claimed the following: to be the reincarnation of St. Clare of Assisi; to possess the highest consciousness of any spiritual teacher alive; to be the recipient of an Apostolic succession derived from Jesus Christ; that the OCS is the most spiritually evolved organization of all time; that the OCS represents the second coming of Christ; that the Apocalypse will occur within the lifetime of the present generation; that only 30% of the population will survive the Apocalypse; that the OCS will play a pivotal role in bringing the post-Apocalyptic human race into a new consciousness.

Bowes and Watts have also asserted that they can hear the voice of God and accurately discern Gods will through a process they call “receiving guidance.”While they maintain that all people have the inherent ability to do this, they insist that their level of enlightenment affords them the ability to know God’s will with unrivaled clarity.Furthermore, they frequently use this alleged ability to proclaim the will of God for others.mother-clare-watts.jpg

When questioned about the validity of these claims, Bowes and Watts have maintained that they represent the truth.And when criticized for the unethical and abusive nature of the behaviors that will be described below, they have insisted that they are leaders of the highest integrity.Bowes and Watts are convinced that they are messengers sent from God, that their conduct is virtuous and that their actions are divinely guided.I feel that they have both exhibited signs of serious psychological pathology.

Abusive unethical practices

The leaders of the OCS have engaged in abusive and unethical practices.

Bowes and Watts have engaged in unethical and abusive practices with appalling regularity and have persistently defended the moral fortitude of their leadership. Bowes and Watts play a central role in the “spiritual instruction” of anyone who participates in the OCS.They proclaim themselves to be “Master Teachers” and consider all others to be their “students.”Both are trained psychotherapists and it is my opinion that they are able to use their professional expertise to exploit psychological wounds and engineer a dynamic where group members become insidiously disempowered and dependent.Initial interactions with Bowes and Watts are predominantly positive and serve to engender people into continued participation.With deeper involvement, members become progressively immersed in a group dynamic that distorts their perception of ethics and reality.It is within this dynamic that Bowes and Watts become psychologically manipulative and emotionally abusive.

Such behavior is usually hidden from the public eye and occurs in private sessions.However, there have been multiple occasions where Bowes and Watts have publically harassed a group member to the point that they were reduced to tears.To date, countless people have left the OCS feeling that they experienced severe emotional and psychological trauma.Many have reported feeling extremely anxious, hopelessly depressed and profoundly disconnected from themselves and God.Several senior ministers, including some who are currently involved in the group, have reported these same sentiments including being depressed to the point of contemplating suicide.

While Bowes and Watts publicly profess a philosophy of inclusiveness and egalitarianism, behind closed doors they promote an attitude of superiority and disrespect toward humanity.People outside the OCS are often described as animals, useless and a waste of space.Bowes and Watts also insist that Christianity represents the highest form of spirituality and commonly insult the practices and practitioners of other religions.On numerous occasions they have made glaringly anti-Semitic remarks.

Friendships outside of the OCS are discouraged.Ministers are instructed to view people as potential recruits rather than as equals.Ex-members have reported being relentlessly pressured to dissolve previously meaningful relationships.This practice is evidenced by the fact that most longstanding members do not have any close external friendships.Even friendships within the OCS suffer under the weight of Bowes and Watts.As members ascend in rank they are told to stop relating to lower ranking members as peers regardless of the depth of their previous association.Bowes and Watts also inject themselves into relationships in such a way that they become the directive parties.Because of this, relationships within the OCS are in a constant state of flux and lack the autonomy of otherwise healthy fellowship.

Bowes and Watts have taken a particularly antagonistic stance toward familial relationships and have been responsible for the widespread devastation and destruction of countless families. This antagonism has occurred on multiple levels.

Bowes and Watts have been consistently adversarial in regard to the nonparticipating spouses of group members.They have often told members that their spouses were losers, negative, dark or possessed by demons.These malignments, and the many that will be described below, have been unfounded.Bowes and Watts have also frequently instructed members to cease all sexual relations with their partners and warned that such intimacy would cause them to become contaminated.In various cases they have pressured members into divorce.

Bowes and Watts have also behaved abusively toward the children of group members.Several teenage children have reported feeling verbally abused and bullied by Bowes.In one instance, the mother of a teenage boy was told that her son was spiritually lost, didn’t have a spiritual bone in his body and was going to grow up to be a date rapist.There have been multiple instances where members have withdrawn their children from the group and specifically told Bowes and Watts not to contact them only to find that Bowes had:ignored their wishes, contacted their child, told them that their parents’ decision to withdraw them from the OCS was sad and invited them to come back when they were 18.

Bowes and Watts have brutally attacked the relationships of group members with their parents and immediate families.They assert that family bonds are primitive and shallow and that true love can only be found in the spiritual family of the OCS.They describe familial relationships as being unworthy of time and attention and dissuade members from having close relationships with their relatives.Such messaging is incessant and is delivered in both obvious and surreptitious ways.Bowes and Watts spend an inordinate amount of time casting childhood experiences in an exceedingly negative light.Members are commonly told that they were neglected or abused and parents are frequently described in unduly critical and demeaning ways.Bowes and Watts have routinely guided members into meditative states and asked them to relive their most painful childhood memories.In the midst of this emotional vulnerability they have made extremely manipulative comments that have inflamed past hurts and instigated repugnance toward a members’ childhood and parents.They have told members that:there was no love in their childhood, their parents didn’t love them, their parents hated them and that they only received table scraps of love.Bowes and Watts have regularly taken their hostility to the extreme of pressuring members to completely sever ties with their families.On several occasions where a members’ parent has died they have instructed them not to attend the funeral, citing the biblical quote of “let the dead bury the dead.”Separation from family has inarguably become a part of the very fabric of the OCS and the degree to which Bowes and Watts have attacked and devastated families cannot be overstated.Most ex-members have reported feeling emotionally manipulated to the point where they treated their families in unconscionable ways.

Bowes and Watts have also adopted unethical and abusive practices regarding marriages and partnerships existent within the OCS.Bowes and Watts often arrange marriages, claiming that God has guided them to do so.Once the couple is married, they play a central role in directing the marriage.Such direction consists of requiring that each member of the couple has a greater loyalty to Bowes, Watts and the OCS than to their spouse.Bowes and Watts have publically asked ministers what they would do if their partner left the organization and expected the minister to profess organizational allegiance.Bowes and Watts also routinely direct couples in matters of physical and sexual intimacy.Typically, a couple is instructed to sleep in separate rooms for a majority of nights and to be sexually intimate a maximum of once per month.Such governance is not left to the discretion of the couples who are instead expected to obey these instructions as if they came directly from God.Those who have questioned such policies have been chastised and accused of being sex addicts or of being loyal to their primitive desire natures.Ex-members have described feeling abused in regard to sexuality and made to feel ashamed of being physically attracted to their partners.Many have stated that the influence of Bowes and Watts on their marriages was catastrophic.

Bowes and Watts also control the amount of time couples spend together and with their children.Ministers are required to spend excessive amounts of time performing ministerial duties that require late nights and early mornings.As the vast majority of ministers also hold full time jobs, many are overworked, exhausted and lack the time for leisure, exercise, outside interests and socializing.Ministers who have voiced concern over excessive work requirements have been ridiculed and accused of being lazy.In the case of married ministers, partners have very little time to devote to each other or to their children.Ministers who are parenting are directed to spend more time with OCS duties than with their children.Several ex-member parents have reported being told that it was sufficient for them to spend 15 minutes of dedicated time with their child each day.Others have reported being told not to help their children with their homework because that was the responsibility of the child’s schoolteacher.There have even been cases where a surrogate parent was assigned to a ministers’ child and that child was told to consider the surrogate to be their new source of parenting.

In recent months, several well respected and high ranking ministers left the OCS and communicated to Bowes and Watts that they had become tyrannical and abusive and that the organization had become dangerous and destructive.While these ministers were the first to openly criticize Watts and Bowes en masse, they were certainly not the first to leave the organization.A noteworthy statistic is that over 50% of those who have ever been priests in the OCS have left the group and would describe it as negative.Despite this high defection rate, Bowes and Watts have continued to abdicate responsibility.Instead they have maintained that ex-members have resigned exclusively because of flaws of their own.Moreover, they have demonized departed ministers by publically declaring that they: were possessed by demons, were agents of darkness, were riddled with fear and pride, had turned their backs on Jesus and Mary, had betrayed God, had fallen from grace, had led God’s children astray or had thrown their lives away.In one case, Watts told a departing minister that her marriage was shrouded in darkness and that any children conceived in such a marriage would be children of darkness.

Despite the group having a Code of Ethics and Whistleblower Policy that requires a formal investigation of any allegations of misconduct, no such investigation has taken place.On the contrary, Bowes and Watts have deliberately attempted to suppress dissention and have blatantly lied about the ministers who resigned and their reasons for doing so.They have also actively dissuaded members from speaking to ex-ministers.Some who voiced the desire to do so were warned against being lured into temptation.A recent technique that was used to suppress dissent was that Bowes and Watts emailed so called apology letters to select ministers who had left the group and cc’d the majority of OCS members.The content of these emails was misleading.While they were called apologies, they actually implied that the ministers had left for benign reasons and greatly downplayed any wrongdoing on the part of Bowes and Watts.It is my opinion that these emails represented an attempt at subterfuge and damage control and that Bowes and Watts used the forum of an alleged apology to circulate their own explanation for the mass defection of ministers.To further their suppressive efforts, Bowes and Watts had the email addresses of the ex-ministers blocked so that they could neither send nor reply to emails from members with an OCS email address.

There have also been various instances of financial abuses and indiscretions within the OCS.Ministers are not paid for their duties and are required to allocate large amounts of time to the OCS.A high ranking minister might spend between 15 and 30 hours per week performing ministerial duties.Not only do ministers not receive any financial compensation but they are required to contribute 10% of their gross income to the OCS.Furthermore, in order to accommodate group services, many ministers have purchased larger homes than they would have otherwise required and financed the additional expenses without any assistance.Ministers are also expected to work at bi-annual spiritual retreats at the groups retreat center. Again, they are not compensated for their work at these retreats but rather are expected to purchase their own airfare and pay full price for their attendance as well as their children’s attendance.Many ex-ministers who could not afford such expenses or who had difficulty devoting large portions of time to the OCS have reported being reproached and/or threatened with demotion.

It is also noteworthy that while all other ministers are unpaid, Bowes and Watts are each awarded a full salary with health benefits.Furthermore, when Bowes and Watts travel to the different COL locations throughout the country it has become common practice for members to collect money for their expenses.

The OCS has also solicited money both from group members and the general public under the pretense of raising funds for a temple that they claim will be dedicated to world peace.Yet Bowes and Watts have no immediate plans to construct such a temple and have instead funneled money to other construction projects designed to increase revenue.

Bowes and Watts have also displayed favoritism towards ministers who contribute the most financially and materially.Their emotional abusiveness has been greatly lessened in cases where a minister was contributing large amounts of money, covering the cost of an OCS facility or performing a key service.Those who have not been as useful to the OCS have been treated with much greater cruelty.

Finally, Bowes and Watts have commonly engaged in behaviors which have breached the confidentiality of ex-members.They have publically revealed confidential information about ex-members and have spoken about this information and the members in markedly negative ways.

Authoritarian and tyrannical organization

The OCS has become an authoritarian and tyrannical organization that encourages loyalty to the leaders of the group rather than to God.

While the OCS claims that it intends to bring individuals into a closer relationship with themselves and with God, it is my opinion that involvement with the group instead causes people to become less dependent on themselves and God and increasingly dependent on Bowes and Watts.

When the OCS was first established, group members were encouraged to cultivate a personal relationship with God and to live their lives according to what they felt God was directing them to do.Over time, however, Bowes and Watts have slowly supplanted reliance on and dedication to God with reliance on and dedication to themselves.

One of the key ways that this is accomplished is through an obsessive devotion to the process that Bowes and Watts call “getting guidance.”While the principle of seeking Gods divine will through meditation can be found in the teachings of other religions and is not inherently suspect, Bowes and Watts have perverted it in a number of ways.First, they claim that they have an unparalleled ability to discern Gods will and that they can know what Gods will is for an individual with a greater clarity than the individual themself can.Second, they require that all ministers report the guidances they receive to them for final approval.Finally, because of the powerful group dynamic that I will describe below, I believe that most ministers are actually entering into a process of intuiting the will of Bowes and Watts rather than truly seeking the will of God.

Bowes and Watts have repeatedly advertised that when they are speaking it should be assumed that God is speaking.Accordingly, it is commonly accepted that what Bowes and Watts say is the pure and clear word of God.In cases where a minister receives a guidance that is different from that apparently received from Bowes and Watts, it is assumed that the minister is incorrect.Any claim to the contrary is viewed as arrogant and the minister is chastised for committing the sins of pride and disobedience.

There have been many examples where Bowes and Watts have used the principle of guidance to manipulate a group member.In one case, Bowes and Watts attempted to pressure a minister into leaving her spouse.This minister was one of the most senior members of the OCS and had been chosen as the groups’ successor.Yet when the minister reported that the guidance she was receiving was to be faithful to her husband, Bowes and Watts asserted that she was wrong, attacked her character and threatened her with demotion.Another senior minister was informed that God wanted him and his wife to have children.When the minister reported that the guidance he was receiving was that they should not have children, he was also told that he was wrong, his character was similarly impugned and he was also threatened with demotion.There have been many other cases where a minister who sought to follow their own guidance was castigated.And many ex-members have reported being pushed into actions such as disowning their family, selling or purchasing homes, defaulting on loans, quitting jobs, beginning new careers or donating large portions of money to the OCS.Unfortunately, this list is by no means exhaustive.

Another example of the culture of obedience to Bowes and Watts can be seen in the way ministers have been instructed to council group members.Bowes and Watts recently began teaching that ministers should tell students what to do and expect their instructions to be obeyed as if they were issued by God.Ministers are directed to avoid imparting the principles of meditation involved in getting personal guidance with the rationale that only Bowes and Watts should be offering such instruction.Other examples of the exaltation of Bowes and Watts are the recent adoption of a protocol that requires group members to stand when Bowes and Watts enter a room and a ritual which involves members circling and prostrating to them as they are seated in elevated and adorned chairs.

In recent years some ministers have begun to adopt the abusive and unethical practices of Bowes and Watts. Particularly concerning is the fact that this trend applies especially to the ministers who have been appointed to lead the groups’ youth program.Elements of abuse, coercion and manipulation are increasing in the program.Some children have reported feeling bullied and insulted.Others have felt pressured to become more deeply involved in the OCS.Several have been confused and scared by teachings they received about sexuality and dating.Additionally, many of the children have begun to experience the negative repercussions of placing their self-esteem, self-image and self-direction in the hands of the programs misguided leaders.

Also concerning is the fact that due to the group dynamic described below, many otherwise well-meaning ministers are unknowingly serving as integral components of the machinery that has been so destructive to so many. Not only are they suffering themselves but they are also actively recruiting people into a malignant environment.

In summary, it is my observation that Bowes and Watts have supplanted God as the gold standard for the truth and the source of direction in members’ lives and that they have replaced God as the object of worship and reverence.Consequently, while members may claim that they are attempting to follow and worship God, I feel that they have been deluded into following the will of Bowes and Watts and worshiping them.

Group dynamics

Group dynamics within the OCS have created an atmosphere where members come to accept, normalize and even positively reinterpret negative practices which eventually cause severe psychological and emotional trauma including the loss of personal autonomy and identity.

An examination of the psychological and sociological literature will unearth considerable controversy regarding the topics of “cults,” “brainwashing” and “mind control.”Despite this contention, several landmark studies have incontrovertibly demonstrated the power of group dynamics and have been widely accepted by the academic community.The first one, commonly called “The Milgram Experiment,” was conducted by Yale University Professor Stanley Milgram.It examined the phenomenon of obedience to authority and clearly demonstrated that the vast majority of people were willing to deliver high voltage electric shocks to others if an authority figure told them to do so, even when they thought they were causing significant pain and suffering.A second experiment, known as the “Stanford Prison Experiment” was conducted by Stanford University Professor Philip Zimbardo.This study illustrated the psychological effects of being assigned the role of a prisoner or guard and demonstrated that people were willing to either perpetrate or accept psychological and physical abuse when provided with a legitimizing ideology and a social structure that supported it.An internet search of these experiments will yield many good references.Those looking for a single source can find an excellent BBC documentary called “Five Steps to Tyranny.”It discusses these two studies as well as others.Part 1 of 7 can be found on YouTube at. I include these experiments to substantiate the fact that apart from any debate about the legitimacy of “brainwashing,” it is a scientifically accepted fact that people can be powerfully influenced by the currents of group dynamics.I believe that these phenomena are at work in the OCS. The OCS is an organization that initially presents well.A newcomer will typically first encounter the ministers at a Center of Light (COL) rather than Bowes and Watts.These ministers are sincere in their desire to help others and the entry level classes and services that they offer emphasize universally accepted spiritual teachings as well as the traditional virtues of Christianity.The atmosphere is welcoming and supportive and most members have predominantly positive initial experiences.It is not until a member becomes more deeply involved in the OCS that the negative characteristics of the group begin to emerge.Unfortunately, as members increase their participation they also become immersed in a group dynamic which gradually skews their concept of reality and makes it difficult for them to detect negativity.This group dynamic has various components which I will describe below.

One of the primary components of this group dynamic is that the OCS places a tremendous emphasis on the cultivation of a state of openness and receptivity.Lectures focus on the fallibility of rational thought and the importance of trust and faith.Meditative practices encourage letting go and opening the heart.Many rituals and services focus on surrender.These practices and beliefs engender a state of profound suggestibility in the newcomer.Such a cultivation of receptivity is not unique to the OCS.Many religions prescribe it as a means of union with the divine and many new OCS members do initially find it helpful.However, it also makes members susceptible to the negativity of the organization and serves as the initiatory event in the establishment of the very harmful group dynamic.

A second element of this group dynamic is that the OCS places extreme emphasis on the importance of the “spiritual teacher” and the “teacher-student relationship.”Although these concepts are somewhat foreign to westerners, they do appear in many eastern spiritual practices.In these eastern traditions, however, great care is taken to ensure that the student-teacher relationship is grounded in an inherent respect for the autonomy and empowerment of the student.While these foundational elements usually exist when an OCS member first begins working with an OCS minister, the student-teacher relationship becomes inevitably contaminated by undercurrents of manipulation as Bowes and Watts become involved.This contamination is insidious as Bowes and Watts escalate their involvement with group members slowly.

The first activity that is undertaken with a spiritual teacher is an intensive process of self-examination known as a “Life Retrospection.”In the early years of the OCS, ministers guided students through this exercise with impartiality and members experienced positive results.Over time however, the ulterior motives of Bowes and Watts have adulterated the process.Group members past relationships and experiences are now cast in an overly negative light.This also occurs in relation to their present relationships and experiences.In this way, their conception of who they were in the past and who they are in the present is negatively reframed and destabilized.Upon completion of the life retrospection the member is given a new name which they are told represents the person that they will become.This further divorces them from their past and present. With the past and the present destabilized and negatively reframed, the member becomes increasingly dependent on the future.Because the key to this future is held by the OCS, the member is lured more deeply into dependency.

Another aspect of the group dynamic is that members are maneuvered into spending enlarging amounts of time with the group.Upon completion of the life retrospection, a member is offered the possibility of becoming a “spiritual student.”Bowes and Watts exert considerable energy enticing members into such an arrangement and ministers are told to constantly advertise its benefits.Being a spiritual student requires a high level of participation in OCS activities.At a minimum, students are required to attend multiple classes each week, several early morning services, special events, all spiritual seminars and all bi-annual spiritual retreats.They are also obligated to perform spiritual exercises twice daily, to send detailed notes to their teacher weekly and to meet with them biweekly.This necessitates that the member spends vast amounts of time with the OCS and its teachings.Such immersion also results in a growing social isolation and a loss of external cues.In time the group member begins to accept the alternate reality of the OCS as their own.Parenthetically, students are also obligated to give 10% of their income to the OCS and failure to do so results in termination of their studentship.

The adulation of Bowes and Watts further enhances the encompassing power of the group dynamic.As part of this adulatory practice, Bowes and Watts have assumed the titles of “Father Peter” and “Mother Clare.”True to these titles, most ministers feel that Bowes and Watts are their new parents.They are subservient to them and assume the roles of faithfully obedient and trusting children.As a student progresses Bowes and Watts become increasingly involved in their training.And in the wake of the assault that is waged against parents and family, members similarly begin to conceive of Bowes and Watts as father and mother.This establishes a powerful and pervasive parent“child dynamic that further entangles members in the influence of Bowes and Watts.

The group dynamic is also strengthened by a system of reward and punishment.Compliance with OCS dogma and subservience to Bowes and Watts is rewarded with praise and promotion.Defiance is chastised.Because Bowes and Watts have established themselves not only as parent figures but also as the mouthpieces of God, such rewards and punishments carry significant weight.An economy is created where happiness and success are only possible through submission and subservience.

OCS dogma also asserts that the meaning of life is the attainment of a spiritual experience that Bowes and Watts call “Self-Realization.”Because it is commonly accepted that only Bowes and Watts can bring a member into such an experience, members are essentially dependent on their favor for spiritual fulfillment.As a result, members caught in the group dynamic do not have practical recourse to mistreatment.They not only come to accept and normalize abuse but often internalize it as being due to flaws of their own.Bowes and Watts perpetuate this by regularly castigating members for their doubt, fear and disobedience in situations where it is actually appropriate for a member to doubt, fear and disobey them.Over time members even begin to reframe the misconduct of Bowes and Watts as positive or loving.

Another element of the group dynamic is the exploitation of the sincerity of the student and the perversion of the tenets of Christianity.Within the OCS, great emphasis is placed on pursuit of the Christian virtues of faith, trust and hope.Once immersed in the group dynamic, however, it becomes difficult for members to identify the blurring of the line between faith/trust/hope in God as opposed to faith/trust/hope in a person such as Bowes or Watts.The same pattern holds for matters of obedience to God vs. obedience to a person.In time, the sincere striving of a group member is perverted by the group dynamic and the position of God eventually becomes usurped by that of Bowes and Watts.

As the group dynamic continues to take hold, members increasingly place their sense of self in the hands of Bowes and Watts.Their self-image, self-confidence and self-direction are gradually infiltrated and controlled.In time, members experience a loss of personal autonomy and identity.In addition, as their dependence on Bowes and Watts increases, so too does the amount of abuse and unethical council that they experience.Long term members are ultimately left with a fragmented identity and a brutally wounded psyche.Yet, having been so thoroughly blinded by the group dynamic, it is difficult for them to identify that the problem is the very organization that they have been devoted to.

Bowes and Watts also use fear and intimidation to prevent defection.They frequently state that those who leave the OCS lose all consciousness of God and suffer severe negative karmic consequences.They also employ threats of an impending Apocalypse and state that the best chance of survival is affiliation with the OCS.

A final element of the group dynamic is a phenomenon called “cognitive dissonance.”After prolonged membership most members have become emotionally invested in and attached to the group.This investment makes it difficult for them to accept that the group has become destructive.Much like the phenomenon of loyalty to the abuser that occurs in dysfunctional relationships, members who have been the most abused often display the strongest attachments to the group.Many members have also been pressured into actions for which they harbor deep subconscious regret.In these cases it can be difficult for members to consciously face such regrets.Whether driven by emotional attachment or subconscious regret, questions about the legitimacy of the group result in a cognitive dissonance which a member will attempt to resolve by the easiest possible means.For many the easiest means of resolution has been to stay in the group and defend its practices.

All of these elements establish and support a group dynamic which causes participants to accept, normalize and even positively reinterpret the groups’ negative practices.Members eventually experience severe psychological and emotional trauma and a loss of personal autonomy and identity.

In conclusion

The OCS has become a dangerous and destructive organization and has been the cause of widespread devastation to countless individuals as well as to their friends and families.I encourage anyone in the group to carefully reevaluate their participation in it and to seek professional help if needed.And I advise anyone considering involvement with the group to steer clear of it.

[Editor's note: Cultnews has received repeated complaints abut Perter Bowes and OCS, which are consistent with the observations and points made within this article]

Update: It appears that the organization has split into two school groups. The schools called the “Centers for Light” are led by Clare Watts and another group of schools now known as the “Ruach Center” is led by Peter Bowes. Both groups of associated schools can be accessed at the Order of Christ Sophia Web site under “schools”.