The "testimonies" assembled in this volume are the result of a journey through the United States of America in spring 1978, a half year before the debacle in the jungles of Guyana. They are based, with one exception (Dr. Clark), on interviews which I conducted with sect experts in America. Having been personally affected in my family by one of these sects which are described in the USA as "destructive cults," I wanted to know how a young person who had gotten out of such a sect learned to manage his life again. Because some cults in America developed 10 years ahead of the cults here it was assumed that people over there also had a head start on the diagnosis and the therapy of the illness.
The problem is the following: the difficulties of the youth are in no way alleviated by having separated themselves psychically and mentally from a sect which fulfills the provisions of a "destructive cult" (whereby it makes no difference whether they came out on their own or were freed with the help of a third party). From past experience, psychiatrists, who are often turned to in such cases, can do little to help those involved or their families. As far as psychiatrists or psychologists carrying out verbal therapy, they lack familiarity with special cult problems or they dispute that there is any special problem at all. As far as the use of anti-psychotic pharmaceuticals go, most have an adverse effect in that they increase depression.
As I had heard, there were supposed to be "rehabilitation centers" in the United States where former members of destructive cults were obtaining
different kinds of special treatment and care from psychiatrists. The goal of my journey was to gather as much on-site experience as possible from these sites.
I found America - after an absence of 14 years - in a state of great spiritual and political uncertainty which was even threatening the foundation of institutions as sound as marriage and family. At the same time I was surprised - not astonishing, what with the widespread pessimism - to see the country deluged by a Christian revivalist movement. More than 30 million people were said to have gotten involved with this wave. The movement was taking place not only within the traditional churches, but even stronger outside of them.
With such a climate in the USA it was not surprising, then, that gurus, prophets, messiahs and more like them - ignored in times of peace - were finding a large following. There were said to be 3,000 and some new cults in the USA, most of them with a leader at the top who claimed to possess the absolute truth, who offered a similar recipe for the solution of all problems of humanity and who demanded, and achieved, absolute subjugation of his adherents.
Most of the cults are very small and harmless in their structure and effect. But a few have become very well-known. They have since become rich and powerful and have spread to Europe and other continents.
The interviews have taken on the character of testimony in that I have deleted my own questions and contributions because they are of subordinate meaning. Moreover the contributions are accompanied by
technical points of view and would have suffered if I had made an effort to maintain the personal style of speech of the interviewees.
Three contributions come from degreed academics, namely Dr. John Clark (Cambridge), Dr. Margaret Singer (Berkeley) and Dr. Marvin Galper (San Diego). The statement by Dr. Singer has already been published in the report from the convention in Hannover in February 1978 ("Neue Jugendreligionen", published by M. Mueller-Kueppers and F. Specht, Goetting 1979), but is based on an interview which she granted me in May 1978. The statement by Dr. Clark is not identical with the presentation which he gave at the Hannover convention. This statement, which Dr. Clark presented before a senatorial committee for the US State of Vermont, will be more understandable for the reader. Although it has already been printed in other places in the Federal Republic of Germany, it has been included in this series because it rounds things out technically.
The rest of the statements come from other sect experts. Kathy Mills (Minneapolis) , Neil Maxwell (Berkeley), Dr. George Swope (Valhalla N.Y.) and Joseph Alexander (Tucson, Arizona) have been or still are involved with rehabilitation. Michael Trauscht (Phoenix, Arizona) is the promoter of temporary conservatorship in American courts. Gary Scharff (Berkeley), as a former member, is very familiar with the inner structure of a destructive cult. Curt and Henrietta Crampton (Redondo Beach, Calif.) are parents who have been personally affected and are preeminently familiar with the cult scene on the west coast. Father LeBar (New York), whom I met by chance at the airport in Los Angeles, represents the Catholic Church in sect issues.
In the "rehabilitation" of former members of destructive cults there are - as I learned from my interviews - at least two different phases. If the member has broken the mental seal of the cult - through his own power or with the help of a third party - he finds himself in a transitory phase called a "floating period." In this phase the subject person needs intensive emotional and mental care. In the subsequent stage, he is perhaps adapting to social reality, but he still has problems which he has to work out in his mind (sometimes there are also psychiatric problems). In working out specific sect-related problems in this phase, a more or less casual care by an experienced person is sufficient, along with other "ex's," if possible.
One could view the first phase of rehabilitation as the "deprogramming" phase; that is the breaking of the sect members' seal with the sect through the assistance of a third person. Something which came up regularly during my interviews was the mention of an interesting phenomenon called "snapping," the breaking down of reality and the technique which leads to it.
My initial scepticism about deprogramming weakened after it became clear to me that it was nothing other than an intensive argumentative discussion (the main difficulty was that a "sealed" sect member would not hold such a discussion as long as he was controlled by the sect).
The reader of these testimonies will find that the interviewees who are involved with rehabilitation in the USA have opinions which differ on a few points, e.g., on the question of whether one should offer an "ex" a different religious belief as a substitute for the lost cult belief, and on the question of whether assuming an "unsealing" is the solution to psychiatric problems or vice versa. These and other problems resulting from this report will contribute - so I hope - to interested people in Germany getting involved with them in theory or in practice.
I accumulated other relevant experiences in the United States besides the interviews conducted with the sect experts. In Washington, it was my desire to become acquainted with which charges had been dropped and which personalities had been convicted by the government in regard to the cult phenomenon, and especially the legal problems involved. I met nobody in Washington who left any doubt as to his unfavorable opinion towards destructive cults. Of course I also learned that politicians are afraid to publicly tackle the problem. Their main consideration in doing so is not so much the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which contains the basic right of freedom of religion, as it is the extremely broad interpretation of this basic right by a powerful organization called the "American Civil Liberties Union" (ACLU). The ACLU is especially well-known because of its battle for racial equality for the colored people. Today, with the hesitation of the politicians and state institutions, it sometimes appears that a mafia would only need to hang the cloak of religion around its shoulders in order to pursue its non-religious goals unhindered by state regulations.
In Washington I had the opportunity to attend one of the press conferences held by an investigative committee of the U.S. Congress which was very much in the public eye. This committee was involved with the extra-political relationship between the USA and South Korea. Among the subjects of investigation was what role was being played by Mr. Moon, the "messiah" of the "Unification Church," and his organization. Moon had refused to acknowledge his obligation to appear as a witness before the committee by arguing that the basic right of religious freedom did not permit any investigation into the activities of religious communities or their supporters, and he had - allegedly - gone overseas. The result of the investigations, published in the fall of 1978, was a report which emphasized the legal transgressions of which Moon and his organization were guilty in the USA.
I was deeply impressed by the tough battle being fought by the parents' associations in the USA over their children's future, which was threatened by destructive cults. In Berkeley and Minneapolis I could attend meetings which the associations there had held on the occasion of my visit. At both meetings, five former cult members held the stage and reported on their experiences in the cults to which they had belonged. Several of them were noteworthy personalities. At the meeting in Minneapolis, I was asked about my opinion by journalists who were present. I tried to make it clear that we, perhaps, had it somewhat easier in Germany understanding the cult phenomenon, because we had our experiences with the Hitler era to compare it to. Totalitarian groups who would do away with basic rights if they were to obtain power in the state could not claim full protection
of democratic basic rights in Germany. Our Constitution, the Basic Law, even makes provisions for that. For us such groups have had their potential to develop blocked, particularly in regard to the path to political power. Destructive cults are totalitarian organizations which strive for - as is characteristic of these organizations - not only ideological and commercial power, but also political power.
It still remains for me, in closing, to express my appreciation to all those who have supported my work so faithfully, most of all to my American partners in discussion, but also to the Hauni Foundation in Hamburg-Bergedorf which supported me financially, as well as to the translators who empathized so well with the material which was partially foreign to them. I further thank the *Aktion für geistige und psychische Freiheit - Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Elterninitiativen e.V. in Bonn, which has undertaken the publication of my work. I hope that my work will be of assistance in countering the growing susceptibility of people, especially the young, to religious and political totalitarianism.
Bonn, January 1981
* Campaign for Intellectual and Psychic Freedom
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