Totalitarian sects and freedom of conscience
The renowned German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, once said about Russia, that while other countries border on each other, Russia borders with God. At the Russian border, he continued, there is another strange characteristic: many of those that cross it turn into stone. Even though this stone could be a gem, it nonetheless is not suited for food.
These terms can also be used in the concept of freedom of conscience. Undoubtedly they present inalienable elements of a democratic society. But the law about freedom of conscience, which is in effect in Russia today, is suited only for countries that are well-informed about religion to a high level. The level of religious information in our country, unfortunately, could be called catastrophically low. And with this as a backdrop the existing law gives freedom of action to groups that by and large infringe upon the rights of our countrymen.
We begin with the infringement on the right to information. If a group believes that during recruitment one may conceal from potential new members some of the truth about itself, and outright lie about it, then it is violating the constitutional right of a person's freedom to obtain information. And without freedom of information, nobody can make a free choice. According to the law, even a label on a jar is supposed to describe its contents. In the same way, is activity by an organization permitted, which by means of intricate psychological manipulation, combines deceit and hypnosis to make people betray themselves? By law they prosecute cheats and frauds, who gain people's confidence and defraud them of money and valuables. Why should groups remain unpunished that deprive people not only of material valuables (incidentally, without which nobody gets into sects), but also of their own personalities? We step forward against denominational anonymity. Members of any religious organization who propagate their teachings are obliged from the very beginning to state it honestly, without embellishment or omission, furthermore they are obligated to explain what place their group occupies in the many-colored palette of religious organizations. It is impermissible and illegal for "new" sects to identify themselves with traditional world religions. A group that practices a secret doctrine and different steps of initiation in doctrine does not in principle fall under the norms accepted in a democratic society, and the people who they invited to join them obviously do not obtain complete information about that organization of which they are members. To that same end, conventional wisdom teaches that the rules of joining need to comply with the right to freedom of choice. But they have different degrees of truth: one for external, one for internal, still another for deeper internal, and so on without end. This is approximately the same thing as the notorious different degrees of freshness for sturgeon.
If a group, which uses the law on freedom of conscience, violates the civil and human rights of its members everyday, it ought not to freely function in a democratic society. The law needs to provide equal protection for citizen's freedom. And an individual citizen and society on the whole have the right to be free from importunate influence of totalitarian sects in their obviously unscrupulous advertisements.
Thus the word is spoken. Sects are called totalitarian sects or destructive cults if they violate the rights of their members and cause them harm through use of certain methods, which are called "consciousness control." "Sects" are not a new phenomenon. As long as mankind has existed, so have sects, which consist of groups of fanatics that follow some charismatic leaders. But in the 20th century something new appeared among them - systematic use of modern psychological processes that are directed at neutralizing human will and controlling their thoughts, feelings and behavior.
Excerpt from an interview given by Alexander Dvorkin to the newspaper "Vera" (Syktyvkar)
Before anything else it's necessary to understand that not a single person has joined a totalitarian sect, they were BROUGHT IN there. They were brought in by unscrupulous advertising, by concealment of information and by lies.
Imagine you're a young person, you awake one fine morning and think, "For some reason I've never been a sectarian. Let me go there ..." Not really, sounds ludicrous, doesn't it? Obviously it's an unbelievable situation.
Or consider a situation which is more lifelike. A student is walking on the street of his town. Let's say it's the city of Voronezh. Two people of his age approach him and say, "Hello! We're from a sect! You're coming with us! You'll like it a lot in our sect!" And they say further, "You're what, studying at a university? Well take that and, excuse me, you may as well throw that out. Our sect does not encourage studying in college... And you have a girl? Well, you can forget her. No fiancees. We are the ones who decide who and when you marry... and, of course, if you marry. We also determine whether you have children. And when they are growing up we think about whether you and your wife raise them or if it would be better to give the kiddies to our sectarian family, which can raise them better into our sectarian belief." Our hypothetical student, of course, will have his doubts and see it's a serious situation, and what would his mom and dad say? But his new friends just routinely explain to him, "You have parents? Well, excuse us, but we have one parent -- our sect, it is mother and father to all of us. But this is essential, they are not real, they are satanic parents who wish only misfortune upon you... And in general we plan after three days for you to come with us to the city of Khabarovsk. And on the streets of Khabarovsk you will ask people for money. The norm is three thousand rubles a day. And see that you get it. But you'll have a serious problem. The living conditions for our sect in Khabarovsk are -- different. We have a one-room apartment for 28 people to live in; you'll sleep on the floor but there's a shortage of sleeping bags. It's tough to sleep but we don't sleep that much. We have a light breakfast and many of us are in poor health. We wake up early, we study the words of our True Father and pray to him afterwards, then out to the street to collect money. And look, get the minimum sum required, but of course, the more, the better..."
What I just described are the real circumstances of the adepts' lives of one of the more well-known totalitarian sects. And there's much more to it than that. That was only a small part of the big picture.
If a sect really told all this to people who they were recruiting, well they wouldn't be putting on any pretense at all. But neither would sects get any bigger because nobody would join.
On that same matter, how does a totalitarian sect recruit?
For example, they simply invite you to a fine, young company, where it will be pleasant and cheerful, a regular get-together. They might invite you to join a group that studies eastern philosophy, oriental martial arts, to take a sociological course that helps you better to know yourself, the environment, or attain success in life or in a group that studies the Bible. They offer health improvement with all kinds of doctors or invite you to work at a new, interesting, high-paying job. They have a great number of other lures, for any circumstance and for any type of person... Every fisherman knows that different types of fish need different bait, some take a worm, others a lure, while others go for a bread ball.
Often the ones who go for the bait are people with emotional problems, or people who are undergoing a stressful circumstance. The loss of a relative, travel to another city and loneliness, the transition from school life to the grown-up work world... There may be nothing horrible or tragic in the stressful circumstance itself, we all go through them. But during this time a person is more susceptible to suggestion.
The opinion has gotten around that sectarian labor contractors need to start zombifying people at the first meeting, and if that's not so, it means they fear nothing, in which case everything happens differently. It starts with that word, "zombifying," which is not too scientific a term. Scholars talk about methods of consciousness control. Concerning street recruiters, they operate by suggestion and are not supposed to get involved. They have a different, but no less important task, to use any pretext to get you to a sect gathering. If they succeed in doing that, half the work is done. So, in the environment of a public rally, their victims can fall under such psychological pressure from which it is extremely difficult to return. Methods of consciousness control are adapted to the situation.
In order to understand how this happens, it's necessary to keep in mind that people are social creatures and are very dependent upon their environment. For example, there is a standard psychological test that is conducted in many countries and which always has one and the same result. A group of ten people are shown two pieces of paper, white and black, and then are asked, one at a time, which color they see. In the course of this, the 10th and last person to be asked does not know that the other nine have an arrangement: to say after the fifteenth time that the white paper is black and the black, white. Most interesting that the last person, who does not know about the arrangement, repeated what the others said, that white is black. Not a single person risked saying something different. When faced with the facts, he usually makes an excuse about why he said that: he might say the light was bad, or the paper was switched so many times that it was easy to forget which color was last, etc.
This is the first psychological law that sectarians use. The second, which is no less effective, consists of the following: the one who controls the conduct of a person also controls his feelings. More simply speaking, if a person is made to behave in a strange way, then he will at first feel uncomfortable. But before long his mentality, in self-defense, will itself eliminate the discomfort, steering the way the person thinks under this strange behavior. In addition, in justifying his new behavior, the person quickly starts to think in the new way. This is the way sects quickly change people into new converts.
At the end of the 1970s, American psychologist Philipp Zimbardo conducted this sort of experiment. He assembled a control group of 20 students from Harvard University. He divided it in two - one team was supposed to represent prisoners and the other, supervisors. Something like a prison cell was built, where over the course of three weeks one team was supposed to "sit" and the other, to guard them. However, this experiment was cut short after only five days, because it started to be a danger for the lives and health of the participants. Their masks grew on them, and they took their roles too seriously. The prisoners started to plan an escape and took hostages; the guards started to apply force, even including torture. Suddenly things got too serious. This made the young people assume new roles and think differently, they justified cruelty, which they would never have allowed before.
And now imagine that a young person falls into a tightly knit group of sectarians who behave in a certain way, but at the same time they do everything possible to "charm" the novice. Perhaps he does not soon start to tune into their behavior and perhaps, but, quite imperceptible to him, has nothing moved within his personality? Toward the same hard, clear-cut planned schedule of life in this sect, so that not a head is raised and thinks, "Where am I, what am I involved in?" And with time these thoughts disappear from one's head altogether... It's up to the person to be a shield for the use of behavioral stereotypes: and here, instead of a living person we run into a "homo secticum," with glassy eyes, robotic behavior and not susceptible to critical information.
Besides that, a number of totalitarian cults also use hypnotic influence, which should not be forgotten, either.
Coming back to recruitment methods, the Jehovists, for example, prefer to walk through apartment buildings and chat with people in a household setting. What do they get? I'll give an obvious example. In our Center of St. Irinaeus of Lyon, at least once a week we get a call for one or another reason, "Hello, we are Orthodox Christians, but the Jehovahs Witnesses visit us, they're always walking around. What can we do so that they don't visit so much?" Very simple, we answer, tell them they are violating the inviolability of your home, and once they have been given notice, tell them, if anyone from their organization bothers you again, then you will send for the police and call in the district prosecutor." And each time we get one and the same reaction: "We cannot respond to the Jehovists like that." "Why?" we ask, already knowing the answer: "Because they are too polite."
There is one psychological mechanism that is called the "law of mutual exchange." It works very simply: if we get a gift from somebody, then we automatically feel an obligation to this person and we think of how we can do something in return. We have been rendered a service and we sense discomfort during the time this service is not returned. Even simple politeness and kindness make the likelihood of negative response from us more problematic. We rush down the street, we have no time, and there a recruiter approaches and starts to speak kindly with us; right away it's hard to break it off, we start to mumble and excuse ourselves... But imagine a young person who is still back in the Stone Age about these things. He arrives and is learning a new city, he lives in a dormitory where he has no friends, and he is lonely. And then a "friend" appears, who offers him cordial company, where everybody is strong for him, they are good, and intelligent... They make no demands of him, only praise. The young person is carried away with euphoria, it seems to him that he has finally found the friends he's been dreaming of his whole life, who love and cherish him. He is more than ready to accept anything they tell him. In this matter the sectarians are only using their usual method, which the Moonies call "love bombing." It's hard to resist. Unfortunately, up to that point this hasn't been taken into consideration.
Our country is traditionally multi-denominational: throughout its entire course of history, people who believe in different religions have lived side by side with each other, with respect they regard the right of their neighbors to believe what they want; they have defined their religious affiliation freely and conscientiously. This is the right that totalitarian sects seek to deprive a person of.
For example, the Society of Krishna Consciousness aims to establish firm control over the mass media and advocates implementing a caste system. The Society's theory stipulates that in the event of its coming to power, there will be austere punishment for all those who disagree with their ideology.
Another totalitarian sect, Scientology, defines ethics as the elimination of all ideas contradictory to Scientology, and once that goal is achieved, to eliminate altogether all non-Scientology ideas. It's difficult to call such a definition of ethics compatible with equal rights for all and with freedom of conscience.
Totalitarian sects are constructed around a totalitarian leader. The word "religion" means a "connection, the connection of the person with the personal God." In totalitarian sects the worship of God is actually replaced by worship of a "godlike" leader or of the organization he created. Everything begins with the personality of the leader and everything ends with him.
For the past 10-12 years in our country, a number of organization have made their appearance and have systematically violated the rights of its members and critics, resorting to various types of abuses with the goal of being able to better organize for themselves the possibility to think and act in a manner befitting a responsible adult citizen. These organizations single-mindedly undermine the physical and mental health of their members, quietly replace their self-consciousness, and break their relationships to friends and relatives.
A person who has gotten into a totalitarian sect is constantly subjected to coercion: from being beaten and raped to exhausting, hard work for 15-18 hours a day, without necessary food or enough sleep. In other words, sect members are converted into slaves, and deprived of not only financial, but personal and public resources that are essential for leaving the group that, on its part, does everything possible to keep people, as long as they still might be of use. When they get sick or their productivity suddenly drops, they are unceremoniously tossed out into the street.
We have talked a lot about brain drain, meaning the departure of talented specialists for overseas. But there's another brain drain, which is on the inside and thus much more dangerous. Sectarians hunt for talented, energetic, intelligent young men and women, the nation's best, the future of our country. How many of them have already forsaken science, manufacture, family and the sphere of normal human relations altogether in order to give themselves entirely to one or another "guru" or "messiah." I'll give just a small example. A promise is made a the Munist service every Sunday, the first day of every month and at each of the Munist festivals. Sect members perform three full bows to the ground (face on the ground) before the altar, which has a portrait of the Korean businessman, and they repeat an oath of loyalty to God, to the "true" father - Mun, and to the "true" country - Korea. After this can they consider themselves real citizens of their country?
We can speak about Protestant production and business ethics, we can speak about Roman Catholic orders of charity, we can speak about Orthodox living and family traditions. Traditional Christian denominations are constructive and their members strive to bring benefit to society, the country and to people. What constructive work does a capable member of a totalitarian sect do, outside of begging on the street for many hours, but only for the sect? Between members of any traditional denomination and society a constant mutual exchange is in process, but at the same time a destructive sect not only removes young people from society, but it constantly saps it as well to its own account while giving nothing in return. A typical example of such behavior in an organism is a cancerous tumor.
And like cancerous cells begin impetuous growth in a weakened, diseased organism, totalitarian sects use organizational and structural weaknesses in a young democratic government to get established and forcefully bind their own system of values only with that which can free a people from political totalitarianism.
The goal of all totalitarian sects is not only to recruit unsuspecting young people, but to come to power. They do not aspire to immediate gain; they invest in the means, they increase their influence and prepare to take power. Therefore they do not burden themselves with attempts at managing the masses, but they recruit leadership cadres for a future era.
This strategy was clearly and unequivocally proclaimed by Mun in January 1990: "During the fall of the Roman empire Christians inherited government posts of various sorts... I clearly see that if our members, besides the moral perfection which they attained by following Reverend Mun, attain professional maturity too, our possibilities in Eastern Europe will be unlimited. Someone needs to inherit the state posts of the disintegrated Communist empire, and the leaders presently there are extremely inadequate. So that we ought to look at the 90s with hope."
Totalitarian sects do not have anything in common with Christianity, and the use by them of Christian symbols and terminology, to the point of calling themselves "churches," is, for us, not just sacrilegious: we see in this one more deliberate effort to make the image of their organizations more acceptable for public opinion and to mislead sincere, church-going people.
For a secular state, the destructiveness or totalism of sects is not defined by their beliefs, but by their methods of action. If someone would like to believe that Mr. Mun is the messiah or that it is by the will of the late Mr. Hubbard that the planet turns, then this, in accordance to the legislation, is their personal business. However, a citizen should be protected from the influence of those who use unconscientious advertising or conceal information to make them believe Mun is the messiah or that Hubbard is the lord of the universe. What route does a group use to recruit new members? What is happening with people who are now in a sect? In getting the answers to these question, one can see whether a group upholds the right of the person himself to choose in what he wants to believe. If fraud, hypnosis, codes and other means of controlling consciousness are used for recruitment of new members and in subsequent guidance, then it is obvious that those very rights of a person have been violated in the most brazen manner.
So as all totalitarian sects consider that the end justifies the means, they all put their own personal interests above the law. They all have a peculiar "double moral" and a "double standard." If they order their members to think the product they deliver is "fair" and "just," they do not then stop at lying, stealing or cheating people, they resort to controlling the consciousness of colleagues or, finally, defamation of government personnel and public figures who offer them resistance, and even physically remove people (or a group of people) they find objectionable. In essence, we are dealing with Mafia-like structures, bound with an iron discipline and unquestioning obedience to leadership.
Sects, in the most fundamental way, violate the civil rights of those they try to convert. They convert people who don't suspect a thing into slaves. Experience shows that people who have gotten into a sect will be inflicted with serious harm. Broken families, impaired health, money and property taken away and lost, and, when people finally leave the sect, then problems, which they are far from being in a position to solve, arise in learning how to be independent in life again.
On the average, a person who finds the power within himself to break from the sect, needs two years for full rehabilitation and return to normal life. Some sects have more serious consequences than others, in regards to which this is not directly related to the number of hours spent in ritual activities or programming procedures. Practical experience reveals that the most difficult of all to recover from is Scientology, although it requires of its adherents less time than, for example, the Krishnas or Munists. Krishnas spend, on the average, 70 hours a week on ritual and community prayer, Munists 53 hours, but Scientologists a mere 43. However, for the recovery of a departing Krishna takes an average of 11 months, former Munists take 16 months, but Scientologists average 25.5 months. But then "recovery" is only a relative term: they live with long-term consequences for many more years. One counselor, who worked with many former sect members, said that, in his opinion, nobody could ever recover from the consequences of Scientology.
Judging from everything, the consequences of the devastation to individuals and society from our domestic "homegrowns," like "Bogorodichniy center," and "White brotherhood," Vissarion's "Church of the Last Testament" and "Radasteya," is fully comparable with Scientology.
Totalitarian sects are lethal. It's sufficient to recall the hundreds of deaths with which ended the stories of the sects of Jim Jones, David Koresh, or, more recently (2000), the mass murder of more than a thousand cultists in Uganda. This is how the moment of history, needed by the leader of any totalitarian sect, can end up. We are, after all, dealing with an unquestioningly obedient army of slaves for whom nothing is impossible. But what can be said about the unhappy fate of the children who are born to parents in sects! To the point, more than a third of the victims of Jones and Koresh were children. Did they have a choice whether they lived or did away with themselves?
Recalling the "White brotherhood," the organizers of this monstrous experiment, whoever they were, decided to end it bloodlessly. For them it was enough to verify the force of their power. Now they have the opportunity to pick their own time ...
In 2000 in Avenkii in the city of Turi an Orthodox clergyman, Hieromonk Grigoriy, perished a martyr at the hands of a Krishna. This was 21 March, in the Lenten fast, in the night of the vernal equinox. The Krishna knocked at the hieromonk's door of his room near the church. The man opened the door and received several stabs to the chest. When the clergyman fell, the fanatic cut off his head with the folding knife. As experts have determined, at the time of decapitation the clergyman was still alive. Tears flowed down the father's cheeks, and the Krishna said to him, "Why are you crying? And still a believer..." Then he carried the head around the central lectern, so that a circle of blood was left on the floor, brought it to the altar and laid it on the communion table. The table was covered with the martyr's blood. When the Krishna was arrested the following day, he said that he had not committed the murder, it was done by the hands of Krishna. The motive for the murder: the clergyman was an objective threat in that he reminded people about their sins and urged them to confess.
Almost at once an impressive delegation of domestic Krishnas flew into Turi from Moscow to immediately disavow being compromised by the co-religionist. Other murderers had been recognized as irresponsible and put in private medical establishments. The religious aspect of the incident was found to be entirely outside the brackets of the process. The vision of the Krishna, the mystic experience of the Krishna-fanatic, his ritual conduct - all this was reduced to superfluous mental disturbance. And the sect that gave birth to the monster was to have had nothing to do with it.
One may recall that during the entire history of the Soviet Union not a single member of the Communist party was ever convicted. How would that look? When a communist committed a crime, he was expelled from the Party right away - and judged as a non-Party man. Astonishing how similar this is to sectarians.
Here is another example: in early 2002 in the USA, Jehovahs Witness parents hammered their 12-year-old daughter to death. The fanatic father explained afterward that he was putting a "Biblical principle" into life: spare the rod and spoil the child. To be sure, instead of a rod he used a one-and-a-half meter piece of 2.5 centimeter cable. What's the difference? Although he himself stated that he acted with his wife in accordance with Biblical law and traditional belief, the "Jehovahs Witnesses" sect itself was again found to be in the picture.
In the very beginning of the Perestroika era, one well-known Orthodox clergyman said that now people would turn to the West in the hope of drinking from a pure well, however many got confused and instead of that, surged forward toward the sewage pipes. Alas, this is still the case today. Almost all totalitarian sects have a long history of legal violations, court hearings, spectacular scandals and ruin. Don't let other people's mistakes be repeated. What we have now is seizing the opportunity for tension and conflict-prone, explosive situations. We will not add another one to them - fraught with conflict on a religious basis with very unpredictable consequences.
Ten control questions
We all have gotten used to living under new market conditions. The market reigns in many areas of our lives, including, alas, the religious. A vast torrent of religious information came crashing down on us, at times of a purely commercial character. Over and over we are confronted with a choice. I think, at the present time it's unlikely that a person has been at a loss when it comes to finding missionaries, teachers, preachers, new religions, doctrines or philosophical systems. A great number of religious groups and organizations have been appearing in our cities. Some of them we knew about before only through hearsay; many of them we had not heard of before at all. And each proclaims themselves to be the most authoritative bearer of truth by which we can be saved and help overcome all our problems and attain unprecedented success.
How do you know how true these promises are?
How do you know whether the person who has approached you belongs to a totalitarian sect (destructive cult)?
How do you know you are not an object of recruitment, that they are not luring you into the organization which you would never enter if you had complete information about it.
I first want to say that everything stated below does not apply to the traditional religions in your region, the fruit of whose work you can see in the culture and history of our country. This relates only to the religious doctrines and theories you didn't know about before. I'm appealing most of all to people who have not yet made their religious choice: please, be careful. It is untrue that the Orthodox Church is combating those of other faith or fears competition. It is only broadcasting that if we are part of a "religious market," then we will be competent consumers. Each person, after all, in seriously regarding the purchase of items, directs attention to their quality and is wary of fakes. But, in purchasing a low-quality item, you only lose money. In dealing with spiritual fakes, you risk much more: all your possessions, your environment, career, family, health, and eventually even your whole existence.
So if you are approached by someone who invites you to go to a lesson or a seminar, promises you interesting work in a foreign company with high pay or invites you to bring a new educational course into your school (institute, or business), we advise you to ask this person 10 specific questions, which will help to sift out up to 90% of all sect recruiters. It's best of all if you pose these questions in a calm, non-aggressive tone, while still giving the person to understand that you will not be content to be brushed off, but you expect direct and candid answers.
You should be aware that all totalitarian sects, to one or another degree, use fraud during recruitment. Far from all sectarians, however, realize that they are leading a person astray when they are trying to get a new member for their organization. Therefore, in posing these questions, you can spot either the recruiter concealing part of the truth from you, or he does not have complete information himself.
It's most likely that sectarians will try to throw you off with: an evasive answer, "positions in general," or attempts to change the topic of the conversation. So if you hear something like "We are just trying to help people solve their problems," or "We are just inviting you to an interesting seminar where issues that all bother all mankind will be discussed," or "We are just planning a discussion of the word of God," or even, "We just want treat you to a free vegetarian supper," you are fully justified in being on your guard. If the answers are accompanied with evasive rebukes of the type, "I understand your skeptical attitude towards us, I used to be that way myself before I finally came to the true understanding," or "Really are you actually interested in that?" - these are also red flags.
Another method sectarians often use is to change the topic of conversation. For example, if you ask, whether a sect founder has ever been the subject of criminal investigation, for an answer you might get a lengthy monologue about how all great religious figures of the world have undergone pursuit and persecution. They might give you the example of Socrates, who was convicted for corrupting young people, or talk about Jesus being condemned for befriending whores and riffraff, and so forth. In this situation you should be polite, but unflinchingly cut your interlocutor short and tell him that at the given moment you do not intend to start a discussion about Christ or Socrates - you want to get a straight answer about the leader of his group.
If a recruiter evades giving a clear, direct and specific answer, you can be assured that he wants to conceal something from you.
And remember that you always have an argument in reserve not a single recruiter can object to: you can always leave or, conversely, ask him to immediately leave your apartment or office.
There is one more rule you absolutely ought to make for yourself: never give your address or telephone number to someone you suspect of sect membership. If you have any doubt, but would like to get more information before making your final decision, ask him to give you an address and telephone number at which further contact can occur at your initiative.
Remember, you need to control the situation!
Do not permit anyone to put pressure on you for the purpose of making you give out personal information about yourself; take the example of the modest girl who never gave her address and telephone number out the first time she meets a guy, without finding out a little more about him. Better to wait a little than give out your phone number and have no peace at day and unbidden sickly sweet persistent intrusions at night.
If you manage to ask these questions in the required tone of voice, without aggression or covert taunts, they can make sectarians think. This is quite a bit in itself: imagine, a person sees his membership in a sect in a different light and takes his first step towards leaving it.
REMEMBER THAT THE PERSON STANDING BEFORE YOU IS, ABOVE ALL, A VICTIM, AND THAT HE REQUIRES SYMPATHY AND LENIENCY.
So, here are 10 questions to ask:
1. How long have you been a member of this group?
It's important for you to know from the very start who you are dealing with. A person who joined the totalitarian sect less than a year ago us usually still very inexperienced. There's less probability that he'll resort to lying, but in any case he will not be able to tell lies as convincingly as an experienced recruiter. If the one talking to you had been a member of the group for many years, demand very specific answers to all your questions. If he still tries to dodge the questions, you can always show an interest in how it came about that he has been in the group all these years and still hasn't managed to get the answers himself.
2. Do you want to recruit me for any organization?
Most often the recruiter will answer like this, "No, I just like you and I want to give you information about our teachings (methods, organization, group of friends). Anything else depends on you: would you like to take advantage of it or not." Splendid. Remember this answer, because if your interlocutor represents a totalitarian sect, he will all the same not be able to resort to methods of recruitment and pressure, and then will himself recall the time that he lied to you and you can remind him of this and politely, but firmly ask him to leave you in peace.
3. Can you list the names of all the other organizations that are connected with your group?
In posing this question you are attempting to find out whether your interlocutor is a member of a totalitarian sect that is already known to you. Nearly all sects of that type create a number of front groups around themselves in order not to scare off potential members. For example:
The "Church of Christ" often operates as a study group or an
association for studying biblical literature;
"The Family" sect (same as the "Children of God") presents itself as the "Union of independent Christian missionary association";
"The Local Church" of the Li Witnesses (or just "Church in NN") distributes its literature in the form of an independent publication called "Living Stream";
"Living water," "New life," "Living spring," "Word of truth," "Church of the new generation," "Church of the testament," "Living faith," "Word of life," or even "Church - Embassy of God" - these are the sort of pretentious names local offices of the occult neo-charismatic "Movement of faith" (it's also "Theology of prosperity") give themselves;
"Dianetics," "Narconon," "Criminon," "Hubbard college" etc. are all different names for the so-called "Church of Scientology";
"Foundation of 21st cent. Mary," "Church of the Transfigured Mother of God," "Ecumenical Marian Church," "Orthodox Church of the Enduring Mother of God," are all self-appellations of the "Bogorodichny Center."
But the Munists ("The Association of the Holy Spirit for World Unification of Christianity" is the official name) have the most front organizations. A list of them fills a thick brochure. They include the "International foundation for education," the "International religious foundation," the "International association for studying the principle - CARP," the "International Women's Foundation for World Peace," the "Academy of professors for world peace," and many, many others.
Patiently repeat the question: is your interlocutor in an organization or connected with a group, or has he been? If your interlocutor says that he doesn't know, ask him to find this out from his colleagues and write down the names of the organizations on a piece of paper. And you will call him tomorrow.
If the recruiter replies that there are no organizations like that, but you find out later that he lied to you, that is another good reason to ask this. If you don't ask this question, you risk not finding out that you've been lied to.
4. What's the name of the founder, or if he's deceased, the supreme leader of your group.
Try here, too, to get a complete and true answer to your question. Don't exclude the possibility that the recruiter will make an effort not to tell you the name of the current group leader, because his name might be odious enough. As a screen your interlocutor can cite the name of the leader of the sect office in your region, city or in Russia. Demand to hear the full family name of the current leader of the sect. Perhaps, if you hear it, everything will immediately become clear for you and you will not want to continue this dialogue.
5. Tell about the last leader of the organization, about the education he received. Does he have a clean record? Was he held accountable in court? If yes, then for what?
It's important to know whether the leader was what he pretended to be. For example, not long ago the founder of "Herbal Life" died from an overdose. Mark Hughes did not have either medical or pharmaceutical training. Vissarion (Sergei Torop), a self-proclaimed "Christ," used to work as a police officer and was dismissed for drunkenness. Even the first Mormon, Joseph Smith, began his spiritual career with spiritism and divining; the religious father of Jehovism, Charles Tayes Russel, a store clerk at age 11, afterwards became "famous" for financial machinations, amorality, and perjury (in which he was caught repeatedly). Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of Krishnaism, until his retirement and declaration that the material world was an illusion, was a successful businessman; and the "divine teacher" (he was also the "spirit of truth"), Seko Asahara, the head of the "Aum Shinrikyo" sect, began as a machine operator in the pharmaceutical field, and then founded a chain of cheap snack bars in Japan. Kenneth Haigin, the spiritual father of the neo-Pentecostal "Theology of enlightenment" who named it a "true Christian movement," was seriously involved in occult practices. Well, and it would be impossible not to mention the founder of Scientology, the "genius of all time and nations," L. Ron Hubbard, who did not finish a single higher educational institution, failed anything he started, was mixed up in a series of very unscrupulous financial machinations and, until he invented "Dianetics," barely made ends meet by churning out low-grade science fiction for pulp magazines.
There is still the important question about the criminal past of the sect founder. For example, the founder of the "Unification Church," South Korean businessman San Myung Mun was twice called to account in Korea (according to some information, for bigamy and sexual perversion). In 1985 he was sentenced to 13 months in federal prison in the US for violating the tax laws.
Naturally, just having a scandalous past does not automatically mean the head of a sect is a swindler or a charlatan, but, as a rule, where there's smoke there's a fire. In most cases, it's strange how quickly the reputation of the leader of destructive cults gets damaged.
In studying the lifestyles and pasts of sect leaders, you can draw certain conclusions about the degree of trust you are prepared to put in him. For instance, if a sect suggests you take a course about how to learn to build successful and effective relations with people, it would be useful for you to know that its chief has been divorced three times. If the sect founder took drugs and was well-known for his extremely peculiar conduct and lifestyle, such as L. Ron Hubbard, for example, it's worth pondering whether he is really able, as he says, to resolve all mankind's problems. If you knew that the ardent advocate of "divine love," the founder of "The Family" sect, David Berg, as he got older, hid from the world that he was assembling a harem of young girls around him, and collected blatantly obscene video material from the members of his sect, it's worth considering what exactly this "prophet" calls "love." When San Myung Mun declares that all his activity is directed at strengthening peace throughout the world, this is an appropriate time to recall that his movement owns a factory in Korea that manufactures M-16 rifles, and in the USA, a factory for the production of small, but very powerful revolvers and automatics for street warfare.
Of course, it's possible that your interlocutor does not know anything about the past of his group leader, in so far as he himself did not ask that question of the recruiter when he was recruited into the sect. At that point ask, "How are you able to dedicate your entire life to this person, without knowing about him?" Remember, any destructive cult tries to recruit a person before he receives significant information about that organization and about its leader, but any beneficial organization first lays out complete information about itself and suggests that the person become a member only after he himself recognizes that he is ready to do so.
6. What does your group believe in? Does it believe that the end justifies the means? Are there circumstances under which a person is useful if he is tricked?
The majority of recruiters probably won't begin to discuss sect doctrine with you right on the spot. They were instructed to stimulate curiosity and a love of knowledge to get you carried away: listen to a lecture, watch a movie, take part in a seminar. They know that there, on their territory, they will have a much better chance and a greater ability to put you under sect influence.
If, in answer to your question, the person refuses to tell you the basic position of the group's beliefs, assert that he is hiding something from you. He can tell you that he is afraid about how you would not understand him correctly, or how you would form false ideas about the group from imperfections in his brief statement. Nonetheless, insist on getting an answer. Any worthy religious organization can briefly state its basic beliefs. But a totalitarian sect is not at all interested in doing that, not without giving you the proper preparation it gives all its members, which includes material "for internal use."
If the recruiter plain won't tell you about the sect's doctrine, do not let him get you off his back only by using evaluative words: "good," "sublime," "upright," "true Christianity," etc. All this in only an ordinary attempt to snow you and change the topic. Ask him to be specific.
If after some time you find out that the description offered to you is in itself a substantial distortion and flawed, you are fully morally justified in sending the person who is speaking to you home. Cultists make every effort to persuade you that you were tricked (not told the entire truth) because you are under the influence of certain of your perceptions of the mass media, and that if they told you everything right away, you would not listen to them. Don't get caught up in this argument, because it means only one thing: the organization recruiting you believes that the end justifies the means. No worthy organization would resort to lying to help people.
7. If I join your organization, how will I need to change my life? Will I have to give up my studies or work, to give you my savings and my property and give up contact with my friends and relatives if the speak out against my decision?
If your interlocutor is a member of a totalitarian sect, he will very quickly tell you that nothing or practically nothing will be demanded of you and that you can continue on with the aspects of your life as before, and even get everything you wanted right away. However, this question will be very unpleasant for the majority of sectarians and immediately put them on the defensive. Therefore, in asking this question, carefully observe the reaction of the recruiter. After his response, ask what he himself was doing before he joined the sect and what he is doing now. Permit yourself to express doubt if he self-attests to having a rare talent or being a student at a prestigious college. Again ask if members of his organization are allowed to lie.
If it is suggested to you that you enroll in a free program, it would be helpful to find out more precisely whether it was really free, or after the first, introductory course you would have to pay on an advancing scale. If you are dealing with an operation that works on too profitable conditions, they will start you off with the introductory fee (pass the paid preparatory course, then a "special" price is paid for the first part of the service, etc.) Remember that in any pyramid scheme, the only ones that profit are those at the top.
8. Is your organization's activity considered to be objectionable? If someone speaks out against your organization, what arguments do they use?
This question shows you how well your interlocutor is informed or how prepared he is for open dialogue. If you ask it civilly and with a friendly smile, as if this was not inconceivable, you can often hear in the answer, "You know, there are strange people who call us a totalitarian sect. They say that we're all brainwashed and call us zombies. Can you imagine? Here I am, for example, do I really look like a brainwashed zombie?" To this one can ask the opposing question, "But how do you suppose a brainwashed zombie would look? How do they act?" Probably your interlocutor will feel rather uncomfortable, and if you insist on a response, he will quickly seek to find a proper pretext and move away.
9. What do you think about former members of your organization? Have you ever had a chance to talk seriously with former members and found out the reasons they left the organization? If not, why? Does your organization really not allow you to associate with people who've left it?
With the reaction to this question you can find out a great deal. Not a single worthy organization would ever forbid its members to maintain contact with people who've left them. Any worthy organization treats a person's freedoms with respect, including the right to leave it. As sorry it would be for them for making that decision, it would never stop them from doing it. But this is impossible to say about destructive cults. For them, any member who leaves is a fierce enemy, betrayer and traitor. All sects instill fear in their members regarding those who leave, and do everything possible to keep them away from those who criticize the organization, even more so from former members. Adepts of the "Jehovahs Witness" sect, for example, are forbidden even to greet people who have been expelled from the organization.
Although some experienced recruits can answer your questions with, "Yes, of course, some of my closest friends have left us," try asking them to tell you about this in more detail, and watch them lie again. It is appropriate to ask, "What reasons did they give as a basis for their decision to leave your organization?" and "Well, now that they've left you, are they better off than before?" It is improbable that the recruiter will be able to answer this question intelligibly.
10. Name three things you don't like about this organization and about its upper management.
We know many Orthodox who are openly critical of their Church and its hierarchy. We know Catholics that criticize the Pope, and Protestants who speak out very harshly about their churches. This can be looked at in a number of ways, but it's a fact. But would you hear one sectarian openly expressing even moderately critical thoughts about the founder of his group, about its management or about the group itself?
Many times in answer to this question, I've seen cultists, whose organizations practice consciousness control, smile widely and say, "Stop that, of course not." But this is exactly the same as an insane person who never sees himself as being ineffective, or an alcoholic who passionately denies his dependence on spirits. If a person sees his illness, then he's taken the first step on the road to recovery.
The best way to show a person that he is a drug addict is to tell him to try to refrain from taking drugs for several days. The best way to test and find out whether a person is under the influence of consciousness control is to check to see if he has retained the ability of looking at his surroundings in a critical way.
Watch the sectarian closely when you ask him the proposed question. He might hesitate for several moments and look dumbfounded. If he nonetheless gathers his thoughts for the reply, it's unlikely that he will be able to tell you anything specific. This is "natural" too, because sectarians are forbidden not only to express, but even to think, critical remarks about their organization or its leader.
What to do afterwards
If you have asked these questions, have not observed anything wrong in the replies of the person you've asked, and you still want to get addition information about his organization, take a few more precautionary measures before making the final decision. Meet with other members of the organization, ask them the same questions and check how much the answers you get coincide with each other. If the answers are very different, ask your interlocutor about the reasons for this and watch what he says to you.
Before you consent to take part in some sort of organizational event, try to find something else out about it. If it calls itself Christian, get interested in what representatives of the Christian faith traditional in your region think about them. If they're Muslim, ask the Muslims, or Buddhists if they're Buddhist, and so forth. If the organization asserts that its founder managed to consolidate the doctrines of all existing religions within its own teachings, please, be particularly careful! As many thousands of years of religious thinking show, such an artificial "merger" leads only to further division and isolation. It's no accident, either, that all the founders of the most evil totalitarian sects of the 20th century, starting with Lenin and Hitler and ending with Mun and Rajnesh, have declared that they finally managed to find the magical formula for universal unity.
If you don't manage to find anything out about the organization and it, as before, seems to merit your attention, take a friend you trust with you to its gathering (event). That way you'll have someone with whom to exchange impressions about what you see and hear. Really, many destructive cults use divide-and-conquer as their main principle; those are the ones who will be trying to separate you from each other. Probably this will seem spontaneous: somebody begins a conversation with your friend, but meanwhile another person asks you a question, and after a few minutes you both end up at different ends of the room. Some sects state at the very beginning that, according to seminar rules, all participants need to do assigned tasks in pairs, but with someone they don't know. Do not agree to this, demand that you not be separated from your friend. If you are compelled to submit, simply leave.
If in the proceedings of the event you feel that they're making you accept the opinion of the majority more so than your own opinion, or submit to one stereotype of conduct that you don't like - in other words, the process of control has begun - immediately stand up and explain that you don't like being manipulated or attempts to control your consciousness. The more loudly you explain this, the more quickly you'll be escorted from the room. And who knows? Several other people might take advantage of the opportunity and go along with you.
If all this happens at a seminar overseas that you attended at the invitation of one or another organization, don't be embarrassed. Don't feel obliged to anyone. If nothing else, if the organization paid your ticket and your expenses, it has a greater interest in you than you have in it. Remember that in inviting you they took on themselves the obligation before the local authorities to support you and provide you with medical help up to the end of your stay in that country. I assure you, the possibility of you suddenly turning up in an unfamiliar foreign city on the street without money for substinence and a return ticket is practically non-existent. If, contrary to all expectations, this happens anyway, go to the nearest police station and report that, out of ignorance, you were a guest of an organization that applied psychological pressure to you and declined to fulfill their obligation before the immigration authorities. And remember that no receipt that the organization could have had you sign before your departure from Russia relieves them of their obligation for your stay abroad. So you have nothing to be afraid of.
The main thing is to show reasonable caution. Do not give in to curiosity to the detriment of common sense. Too many people are drawn into sects by excessive self-confidence. They were convinced that they could keep themselves under control in any situation and not fall under someone else's influence. Like people who start smoking ("I could always quit, if I want"), or become alcoholics or drug addicts. Sad to say, uncontrollable curiosity and excessive self-confidence have brought very many people to a tragic end. Don't give in to this temptation.
(Material used in developing this text came from Steven Hassan's book, "Combating Cult Mind Control," Rochester, Vermont, 1990.)
Totalitarian sects are authoritarian, ideocratic groups who manipulate their members and exploit them, not infrequently causing them psychological, financial and physical harm. The leadership of totalitarian sects conceal their goals behind a mask of religion, religious politics, psychotherapy, health care, education, scientific information, culture and other recognized authority.
The leadership of totalitarian sects have superhuman status; in general all the groups put themselves above society and family and in counterposition to them. Typical for sectarians is a black-white worldview ("us - them," "clean - dirty," "saved - lost," "elite - docile" etc.) without half-tones. The sectarian mentality is propagated especially in times of economic or social crisis and can lead to intolerance and extremism.
From the presentations of totalitarian sects about themselves and about them bieng the exclusive media of absolute good, emerges their devotion to the principle that "the end justifies the means": they consider anything that benefits the sect to be moral. Therefore totalitarian sects easily resort to deceit, omission and importunate propaganda to attract new members.
Members of totalitarian sects are bound to unquestioning obedience to their deified leadership. Questions, doubt and dissatisfaction are eradicated or even punished. To suppress doubt with regard to the group and its leader their class of psychic narcotic is employed to stunt reason and, at the same time, to evoke a kind of euphoria and dependence (mechanical repetition of a prayer or incantation, practices involving ecstasy or meditation, denunciation of individual "guilty" members in the presence of the assembly and so forth).
Totalitarian sects grasp for other unethical methods of control over all aspects of the lives and personalities of the adepts. Methods of manipulating people can be extremely effective and lead to a condition of steadfast dependence on the manipulators. These methods are founded on two basic principles:
1. A sudden sharp change of environment can make a person especially receptive to external influence and promote a strong, deep change in his worldview, system of values and beliefs.
2. If you can make a person conduct himself in a way you would like, you can make him believe in what you would like.
The group can control its members for a long time using:
Isolation. The management of a group encourage relations and co-residency only with other members of the group, and often make this a requirement. If you are physically separated from society and the environment you're accustomed to, you can lose your own concepts of reality.
Social peer pressure. If they use your inherent sense of belonging to the social continuum, you might start to suppress your doubts about the ideas of the group, or oppose that which you would have expressed under difference circumstances.
Guilt. They suggest an absolutely negative assessment of pre-sectarian life and cultivate a sense of guilt for the impossibility to adequately show appreciation to the group for salvation from the "sins" of the past.
Fear. Loyalty to the group and subjection to its rules and ideology can be reached by means of intimidation through negative spiritual and physical consequences for breaking these rules, especially for leaving the group.
Love bombing. The feeling of belonging to the sect as if it were all one family can be artificially created by frequent hugging, kissing, touching and incessant adulation.
Intensive indoctrination. You are required to continuously study sect publications and to look at and listen to its recorded materials. In neither case are critical materials allowed, neither generally speaking, are non-sect sources of information.
Deindividualization. If you don't have time left over for yourself, if it's impossible for you to be alone, you can lose the ability to think objectively or to assess a situation "from the other side" or "in perspective."
Tiredness and exhaustion. If you don't get the necessary rest and nutrition, you can lose the ability to adequately perceive the environment and be particularly prone to influence, especially if during this you are in a new, or new to you, situation and you are given conflicting information.
Installation of distrust toward rational thinking. As a result you lose the ability to critically assess the ideology and practices of the group.
Control of language. Introduction of new dictionaries and/or change of meaning for commonly used words leads to thought reformation.
Control of sexual relations. The instructions of the group can vary: from a full prohibition to sexual relations or appointment of a spouse to instructions to perform perverted acts, engage in prostitution or have group sex. Any form of surveillance in the most intimate sphere of human life serves as an effective means of subjugation.
A result of the aggregate actions and acceptance of control by members of totalitarian sects is suppression of the real personality and its replacement by a boilerplate script of behavior, speech, emotion and thought - a manipulated quasi-personality.
In their full orientation to the leader of the totalitarian sect, the members imitate him in every way. If the head of the sect has a tendency to crime or perversion, or suffers from psychic disorders, then the mechanism of psychological induction goes to work, a singular infection of the sectarian vice and psychic pathology of the founder. It's characteristic of a totalitarian group to treat humankind as an instrument or means for attaining the ideological, commercial or pathological goals of the leader, whereas for healthy, constructive, religious and social organizations, each person represents the goal, but not the means.
Above all, keep the peace. Yes, your family has gone through a painful ordeal, but nothing irreparable has happened. The majority of people who've gotten into sects get out of them sooner or later. But how quickly your loved one gets out and what shape he will be in when he gets out depends in large part on you and on the other members of his family.
In any case be amply prepared for a long-term effort. If your loved one cannot be helped in the first several weeks after having been initially introduced to the sect, his return to non-sect life will take an effort by the entire family over the course of at least several months, if not years. But for this each person should know well how to conduct himself.
After the original "recognition," do not try to dissuade your loved one; that would only make your relationship worse. You've already realized for certain that attempts to explain to your loved one about the absurdity of the sect's dogma are useless, and that chiding his behavior will lead only to scandal and strained relations. You should know that totalitarian sects, as a rule, are interested in splitting the new adept off from his non-sectarian environment: then all information he gets will come from the sect, and his circle of acquaintances will stop there too. Such a state of affairs creates the ideal conditions for controlling the adept's consciousness. In order to provoke a split, sectarian "teachers" declare in advance that the new victim used to be, let's say, "possessed by the devil" or was too attached to "this evil world" and therefore his former acquaintances will do everything possible to make the new convert "leave the path of salvation," abandon the newly found 'true family'," renounce liberating knowledge, etc. So your emotional reaction will only play into the hands of the sect and serve as one more confirmation of the truth of his new belief.
But, on the other hand, and it's not impossible in this case to pretend you've changed your mind and end up liking the changes that are happening with your loved one: this is either reinforce him in his devotion to the sect, or he will spot your lie and finally lose any trust he had in you. Talk over the following proposal with him: you will not criticize his "group" (the word "sect", of course, will upset your loved one, so that it's better to try to avoid it); he will not engage in propaganda at home and will not try to get other family members to join. However, you can gently turn your loved one's attention to the obvious contradictions in his conduct and statement, but yet not make him explain these contradictions: your objective is to distract him from the sect.
To build a strategy of conduct, it should be understood that your loved one is in the psychological dependence upon a group, in which connection his own personality has been suppressed and replaced with a boilerplate script of sectarian behavior, emotion and thought. Your problem is to preserve even a minimal contact with his suppressed original personality. Regard him with patience and sympathy, while understanding that people have transitory personality disturbances, but in no case give him money - this would be the same as giving a drug addict for drugs: any money he gets is all the same, it immediately gets passed to the sect.
Try to direct yourself to a constructive solution to the problem, be pleasant and frank in dialogue. Show by your conduct that you recognize your loved one is really on a quest and that he's made a choice, rightly or wrongly, and that now your path is a different one from his. Plan to accentuate more warmth and affection than rational support in talks with your loved one. Try in general to bring up moments in his past life, when he was happy. Remember joyful episodes of your former life, when you were aware of being a single family, when you went somewhere together, the business you were involved with together, the plans and dreams that you had with each other. Of course you don't need to do this artificially. Operate intuitively, being flexible in love and compassion. And in time with any luck you'll see how the original familiar personality of your loved one shines through the detached "zombified" robot he's turned into.
This sort of tactic has two goals. The first is to maintain an emotional "thread of Ariadne," by which, in the event of a crisis in the internal relations of the group or a reevaluation of his part in the sect, he can find his way out of its psychological labyrinth. Secondly, he will perceive you not as an enemy nor as a target of recruitment, which could assist you in convincing your loved one to meet with specialists, especially those, such as a psychologist or a well-informed sectologist, that are familiar with the problems of psychological force in thought reform, or to have family consultations. The thing about that is that, as a rule, people who have been attracted to totalitarian sects have emotional problems (of the sort that can arise in anybody in times of psychological stress). So help for the victim often begins with the discovery and removal of the source of these problems, which would be the job of a psychologist.
Understanding the essence of the psychology of totalitarian sectarianism is possible for those familiar with Steven Hassan's book, "Releasing the Bonds" (2000). Besides that, it's worth reading a series published by the "Journal of Practical Psychology" (Moscow) at the end of the '90s. Numbers 1-2 of "Sdvoenniy" magazine of 2000 are entirely dedicated to this theme. One can get initial information on the web pages of psychologist Evgenie Volkov. The link to those can be found on the pages of the Center of St. Irenaeus of Lyon (http://iriney.vinchi.ru). Learn the content of these publications, since consultation of the victim with a psychologist presumes, to great measure, possession of the theory of freedom from psychological manipulation by one of his family members. It's best if the entire family participates in the process of helping the person. For that, though, everything needs to be organized correctly, once again this should be by a specialist in psychology.
Study the dictionary of "your" sect and its doctrine so that you understand well what your loved one is talking about. Get in contact with those who've had the same misfortune happen to them, and also with former members of totalitarian sects, responsible government officials, journalists, employees of law enforcement agencies and lawyers. Besides that, you should collect all the information about the sect you can, but don't let him know about that so as not to irritate him. Copy and write down everything you can, assemble an archive and a library. Perhaps it wouldn't be a bad idea to maintain a daily or weekly diary. Any alternative to the sectarian information might be of use in intervention. Critical information should not be dished out a little at a time, it won't have more effect that way.
In the ideal process of exiting a totalitarian sect through external influence a large number of people will be involved, first a psychologist, a family member working with him, and also a sectologist, (a "specialist in the facts"; it could be this and the psychologist are the same), and former members of the sect. Their task is to check the critical thinking of the sectarian and to put him in a position of choice, but this time it will be informed, which is to say, free. Besides that, the relatives and friends of the victim, together with the psychologist, should help him unload the victim's psychological dependence on the sect, and give him true love and sympathy instead of a sect surrogate. Get in touch with Orthodox catechist, a clergyman if that is desirable, who offers (but not imposes) a true religious and worldview alternative.
The majority of people who've left a totalitarian sect require psychological rehabilitation. The thing is that a person who leaves a totalitarian sect still has the same emotional (now neglected) problem that the sectarian recruiter took advantage of. Besides that, many of them leave the cult with a so-called post-traumatic stress disorder. So help for him can come only from a professional psychologist who is well versed in the subject area.
Spiritual rehabilitation for victims of totalitarian sectarianism includes work with a priest-confessor and emotional support from the community of the faithful. Gradually a person learns personal contact with God (the possibility of doing this outside the sect is usually denied by its leaders) and gets familiar with an inexhaustible good source of church tradition, if in leaving a sect a person rids himself of former sectarians and helps specialists in their efforts to reduce sect strength.
It's impossible to forget about the social rehabilitation of former members of totalitarian sects, who often find themselves on the fringes of society without a place to live and without work, and having lost their former skills, without an independent life. It's basically necessary to help a person start to live in society all over again. Sometimes this can't be managed without a lawyer or a social worker.
Unfortunately there are presently no really good programs for rehabilitating victims of totalitarian sects operating either in Russia or in any of the states of the former USSR. Everybody still goes to the center nearest to them that is involved with the problems of totalitarian sects (see list at end). So they do their best to help you.
Don't despair. Pray for your loved one in the sect. Let St. Monika the Just be an example for you; she was the mother of blessed Augustine, the bishop of Hippo. This Orthodox priest, the greatest theologian in the West, lived in the 5th century and until his conversion to Christianity he was in the Manichean sect for many years. All those years his mother did not stop praying to God for him, and the mother's prayers were answered.
We tried to describe the typical situations that people find themselves in when dealing with a destructive sect, and asked a lawyer for comment. - Ed.
My underage child went into a sect. He goes to their "services," reads literature, they're constantly calling him, etc.
Item 5 of article 3 of the federal law "On freedom of conscience and on religious associations" prohibits luring minors into religious organizations without the consent of their parents or their substitute. If you did not give your consent, write a statement for your state prosecutor's office, according to where you live, and, in parallel, according to where it happened, let the juvenile office of the police department know.
My husband went into a sect. He's giving them things from our apartment and money (stipends, pension).
According to article 34 of the RF family code, property acquired by a spouse during a marriage, is common. Considered part of that is the income of each spouse from employment and business activities, pensions, allowances and other financial payments, personal belongs and real estate, securities, shares, deposits and shares in capital commercial organizations, and also "any other property independent of whether it was acquired on behalf of the spouse or it was acquired for someone with the spouse's money." As relates to article 35 of the Family Code, the use and disposal of property should be realized only with mutual consent of husband and wife. Therefore transactions with common property that are carried out only by one of the spouses without notification or consent on the part of the other spouse is considered illegal and can be abrogated through the court.
My wife goes to a sect and, despite my negative attitude, brings our underage child with her. The child said repeatedly that he's not interested. But my wife said her interests are more important.
Article 38 of the RF Constitution gives equal right for raising and upkeep of the children to both parents. With regard to item 2 article 65 of the Family Code, such questions need to be resolved by the father and mother only through mutual consent. At the same time the article notes especially that "parental rights cannot be realized in contradiction to the interests of the children." Consequently, sending a child to a religious organization can happen only in the event he wants this himself and that the decision about this has been made in agreement with his parents. In the event there is a conflict of opinion on this account, the Family Code recommends approaching the solution to the dispute in the organ of wardship and guardianship or in the court.
The Jehovahs Witnesses are constantly making the rounds in our apartment building. I've told them several times that I practice a different religion (atheism, I don't want to talk with them), but they continue to walk by and try to start conversations and often put their leaflets in our mail box.
Unfortunately the legislation does not prohibit being involved with this type of religious agitation. The only way it can be stopped is by putting a code lock on the building's external doors. Ask the organization that does the maintenance on your building about this. If you mention the "Jehovahs Witnesses" tracking in more dirt, using the already dilapidated elevator, cluttering up the place and creating a fire hazard with their leaflets, then it's possible they might find a place in the budget by which such a lock can be mounted.
A family of sectarians who hold religious gatherings in their apartment camp out regularly in our apartment building entrance.
Item 2 article 16 of the law "On freedom of conscience and on religious associations" permits divine services and other religious rites and ceremonies to be conducted in living quarters. This is the rule cited regularly by sectarians. However article 10 of the currently operating RSFSR Residential Code says they are obliged to observe the regulations of use by building inhabitants and the regulations of community life. The latter were asserted by resolution of the RSFSR Council of Ministers No. 415 on 25 September 1985 and requires tenants of rooms or apartments not to engage in activity "that creates excessive sound or vibration", and maintain silence in the period from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. So if a so-called "home group" of 10-15 people gathers in an apartment, for example, and engages in collective singing with loud preaching, this sort of activity violates the regulations. The other unpleasant nuances of this sort of neighborhood should also be addressed. For instance, during the daily mass assemblies by the sectarians at one or another apartment the entrance gets dirty fast, there is increased risk of the fire regulations being violated, and also the sanitary standards that are a violation of article 142, which requires that apartment tenants "ensure the safety of living quarters, carefully carry trash to the sanitary-disposal area, observe the regulations of building support maintenance and fire regulations, observe cleanliness and order in the entrance, elevators, in stairwells and in other places of common use." Besides that, it has been observed that a landlord's apartment was set up for a religious assembly, and they often give their guests the number for the code lock at the building's entrance doors, which increases the danger of intrusion by unauthorized people. Taking that into consideration, the sectarians need to be asked to stop using the apartment for an assembly area. If refused, a complaint should be filed with the residence-maintenance organization that is responsible for the condition of the entrance, or a petition should be filed in court.
I often walk down X street (through a passage at a subway station, etc.). There sectarians sell there books from a street stand."
A street location for vendors, including those who sell different literature, is usually arranged with the local agency for self-employment in accordance with article 4 of the federal law "On general principles of an organization of local self-employment." As a rule, sectarians do not coordinate with that office. Therefore, sometimes it's enough to file a complaint with the local authorities to put an end to the distribution of such literature.
Sectarians hand out invitations to their meetings on the street.
There is nothing that can be done directly about that. However, take a look at the invitation being handed out by the sectarians. Item 8 article 8 of the law "On freedom of conscience and on religious associations" requires that religious organizations indicate their full designation during fulfillment of activity. That prohibits so-called denominational anonymity. However, the name of the religious organization is not usually shown on leaflets: they just report the time and the place for a "discussion about God." And this alone is a basis for filing a statement with the public prosecutor about a violation of the law by a specific organization.
Sectarians have come into the educational institutions, there they conduct discussions and rites. The institution's management supports them, and among the teachers are also members of this sect who draw children into religion. Sometime religious material is given out right there in the building.
The issue of separation of Church from schools has been clearly established in point 5 article 1 of the RF law "On education," where it says that in state and municipal educational institutions, activity by religious organizations is not permitted. Point 2 article 2 of the same law once again makes a requirement to preserve the secular character of education. An analogous position is also supported in item 2 article 4 of the federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations." It requires uniform performance in all state and municipal educational systems: pre-school educational establishments (kindergartens), middle schools, extended education establishments, institutions of professional-technical education, and institutions of higher education. So propaganda activity of the sectarians themselves, teachers in the educational institutions who are sympathetic to them, as well as the distribution there of religious material is illegal. To prevent such activity it's necessary to lodge a complaint in the local education administrative organ and to make a statement to the public prosecutor according to where the educational institution is located.
The management of a business (company) has joined a sect and is making all the employees go to its meetings and read religious literature.
According to item 2 article 30 of the RF Constitution, "No one may be compelled to join or stay in any sort of association." In the agreement or contract between you and the administration of the business (company), it does not say that your employment will be dependent on your relationship to religion. Therefore, if management insists on you joining a sect, go to the local office of federal labor monitoring or to the public prosecutor, according to where the business (company) is located.
Opinion of Evgeniy Mukhtarov, chairman of the social
center of "Civil Security,"
secretary of the Council on realization of state religious studies experts for the territory of Yaroslavsky Oblast.
In November 1978 the entire world was shocked to learn of the dreadful end of the "Peoples Temple" sect headed by Jim Jones. In a ghastly sequence of pictures published in the mainstream mass media were depicted the bodies of men, women and children in unnatural poses lying in a clearing in the middle of a tropical forest. Lifeless bodies. 912 people in all. They believed in their leader and followed him into the jungle of Guyana, where they began construction of the ideal city, which was named after the leader of the sect, Jonestown, but then they obeyed his order to commit suicide by drinking poison, or to a lesser degree by not resisting too much when shot in the back of the head. Nobody asked the opinion of the children: the poisonous solution was injected into the mouths of infants with droppers. The children trustingly drank the sweet drinks their mothers offered to them in disposable paper cups. They drank so that in several seconds they shook in convulsions from an awful pain that split their insides, and then it stopped forever.
So the world saw with its own eyes the mortal danger that emanates from totalitarian sects. And before then parents and loved ones of newly converted members of new religious movements complained that sects "brainwashed" members of their family and changed them to the point of being unrecognizable. Publications about the criminal activities of a number of new sects and about the flagrant human rights violations that happened in them had already been released. The first parliamentary investigations had already been conducted into the activities of one or another sect that caused anxiety for the country's society and government. The first court cases had already been heard, both started by the sectarians and initiated against them.
But all this was abstract enough and could be perceived with distrust or skepticism. Now we have seen with our own eyes that sects kill. Pictures of the victims of Jonestown are in the same ranks as the photographs from the GULAGs or from Auschwitz and the photographs of the "killing fields" of Cambodian dictator-murderer Pol Pot.
It's interesting that domestic agitation-propaganda, which intuitively associated the "Peoples Temple" sect with Soviet communism, published a series of articles about the "socialist commune" of the progressive figure Jim Jones, who, they say, wanted to emigrate to the USSR, for which he was horribly destroyed by GRU agents. After all the religious-sectarian nature of Marxism-Leninism has been written about often enough.
Jim Jones himself, who, in the construction of his "true Christianity," used many elements of Marxism together with occult practices and scraps of eastern religion and promises to his sect followers of Paradise on earth and eternal bliss in heaven, could not contrive anything better than the GULAGs themselves with the distinguishing characteristics we are so familiar with.
It all began in Minneapolis, and then continued in San Francisco, where Jones' "evangelistic group" was greatly admired by various liberal Protestants for its "social" tendency and its attitude toward the poor and indigent stratum of society. Even the left-wing government of the city at first supported the "Peoples Temple" and granted its leader a responsible social position.
Only after several years had passed did rumors leak to the outside about the establishment of rigorous control over the believers in the Jones sect, about the financial exactions, the deification of the leader, the brutal punishment, sexual violence and other violations of human rights. Fraught with scandal, Jones announced a new divinely inspired solution - everyone had to leave this morally depraved city and go to Latin America, to Guyana, where, in the beautiful, warm climate, in the primal forest, in the fresh air, a long way from the filth, depravity, racism and social injustice of the American cities, the true believers would build themselves a Paradise on earth. The majority of the believers, who were intoxicated and intimidated by their god-like leader, followed him.
At that time Jones had already openly proclaimed himself to be the reincarnation of Christ, Buddha, the prophet Wahhab (founder of Wahabism), Lenin and the Most Omnipotent God (naturally he did not consider Christ to be God, but a great social reformer). At meetings sect adepts danced, sang simple verses in unison and drove themselves to ecstasy:
I have to tell you how Jim Jones changed my life.
I used to be divided,
I was filled with despair.
But the prophet arrived,
and he delivered me.
[ ... ]
I know that he is God the Almighty, God the Almighty, God the Almighty, God!
The "Almighty God" began by marking off the site for the construction of the ideal city with barbed wire and setting up towers on the perimeter with guards armed to the teeth. He called them "angels" and warned, "If anyone wants to leave Paradise on earth, my angels will take of them." Now in the impenetrable jungle, surrounded by armed "angels," he had 100% control over his adherents.
The work day under a scorching tropical sun and in the suffocating humidity of the malarial district lasted twelve hours under watch by those very guards and under the hysterical screaming of Jones played in a recording over the loudspeakers. The people lived in barracks in double and triple bunk beds. Married couples (if they were allowed to live together) were separated off from the others with blankets as curtains. They were fed rice with sauce from bullion cubes and flour, and on special days they received some beans. This went on while Jones had tens of millions of dollars in foreign bank accounts in money he got from his followers, who were obliged to give him all their belongings, and then work for him for free.
Jim Jones himself lived in a separate structure built especially for him, he ate sweets, he slept in and had sex with people his sect provided him with, both female and male. At the end of the work day he consumed a fair amount of alcohol, went outside and started a prayer meeting that could go on until two or three in the morning. The members of his sect had to rise with the sun. Naturally this did not apply to Jones himself.
Cruel punishment, which often included a physical beating or torture, was customary for the most trivial infringement of the rules. Even children were not exempt from torture that was administered as punishment, for instance, they were lowered down a well until they began to choke. After the punishment was over the half-dead people had to scream out long and loud, turned to Jim Jones, "Thank you, Father!"
All contact with the outside world was strictly controlled. Correspondence was opened and inspected, and the few visitors, if they were admitted into Jonestown at all, were not for an instant without an escort. But all the same, news about the true condition of things leaked to the outside. Many refused to believe it (we recall how long the West refused to believe in the reality of the Stalinist Gulag). But all the same an inspection team finally arrived in Jonestown from the USA, composed of journalists and advocates, led by congressman Leo Ryan.
At first the members of the group were very pleased with what they saw. Tidily swept streets, amiable people who were competing with each to show how very content they were with their lives, a modest but nourishing lunch, (for such an occasion Jones saw fit to splurge on good food), a splendid children's concert and the genuine enthusiasm of all the people they met. Congressman Leo Ryan was simply outraged at the slanderers who had written all sorts of horror stories about such a fine commune. It wasn't until late at night when he was getting ready for bed that he found in his shack several notes that described real life in Jonestown. There were several more people who availed themselves of darkness to steal into his hut and tell him things that kept him from being able to sleep. In the morning he asked Jones to assemble the people. "Who would like to go with me?," asked Leo Ryan. "Don't be afraid, I'm here and nothing will happen to you." One person stepped forward. Behind him was another, and still another, and another ...
"Get us out of here," implored the entire crowd, "We can't stay here, we'll die, they'll kill us." There were many more people than could fit on Ryan's two jets. He picked the sickest, put the names of the rest on a list and promised to return for them. But the congressman picked too many to fit on two small jets parked several kilometers from Jonestown. Nonetheless they all made for the air strip.
This had struck a nerve for Jones. In hysteria he sent out a team after the "traitors." The jets had not yet taken off, Leo Ryan was sitting with the refugees, he tried to find a place for everyone. The group in pursuit immediately opened fire. Ryan and several journalists were killed, but the pilots were still able to get the jets in the air under fire. Jones saw that it was all over for him, and he summoned the people to the main square of the settlement named after him, and proclaimed that one last act of faith that would being everyone salvation from the attacking agents of capitalism, racism and world evil. Everyone needed to drink the "elixir of life" and sink into sweet slumber. "To die in a revolutionary suicide means to live forever," he screamed in a breaking voice over the loudspeaker. This scene had already repeated itself many times: Jones summoned people in an alarm, warmed up to his sermon, appealed to them to stay loyal to him until the end and to drink what was offered. They were poured a solution of a sweet drink of a pretty color, "Kool Aid," and people drank it, ready to die. Then Jones announced that this was only a test, and everyone meekly drifted back to their barracks.
This time nobody knew if this was another one of those exercises. People lined up in silence to wait for their drink, which armed guards handed out in little cups. It wasn't until the first people began to fall to the ground, writhing and screaming from the intense pain - a symptom characteristic of potassium cyanide - that everyone understood the exercise had finally made the crossover into reality. If a person showed indecisiveness, he had the poison injected into his mouth with a syringe or was shot in the head. Only a few people managed to hide or escape. Jones and the guards were the last ones to commit suicide. According to certain information, Jones tried to hide but was shot by his guards.
When a detachment of Marines showed up at the site of the tragedy the next day, it was already too late: in a clearing strewn with corpses wafted the sickening sweet smell of decomposing corpses... The autopsies revealed that no less than 700 of the 912 deceased were killed and only the remainder had taken their lives "voluntarily." 276 victims of "Almighty God" Jones were children. Many of them were not identified and were buried in communal graves.
This was the first widely known case in the modern world to demonstrate the deadliness of religious totalitarianism. Unfortunately, the first was not also the last, not by a long shot...
In 1993 the world became acquainted with the name of a hitherto little known Texas town of Waco, where the leader of an Adventist sect of the "Branch Davidian" doctrine, David Koresh (born Vernon Wayne Howell) blew up of the headquarters of his group, along with himself and all his followers.
The leader of this sect, which had splintered off from Adventism, was a dictator. There the adepts ate little and slept little, gave all their personal property to the organization, worked for it and took part in endless Bible lessons taught by "charismatic" David Koresh, who claimed to be the ultimate prophet and messiah. He was a bankrupt rock musician, in his youth he dreamed of stellar fame on stage, but was not to be recognized in this area, so he preached a quick inevitable end to the world. In view of the approaching apocalypse Koresh declared that all the female members of the sect, beginning with the youngest, would be his property, without regard for whose wife or daughter they were. Every night he chose a new playmate for himself, sometimes 10-12 years of age.
The ranch where the sect was located was guarded by armed "soldiers of the Lord," so that none of the brothers and sisters would yield to temptation and not renounce their salvation. All the same some of them managed to escape, and finally the American law enforcement agencies arrived at the ranch and demanded the surrender of illegal arms. For an answer they received gunfire. Several police officers were killed. This started a regular siege at the sect center, which finally led to the fiery apocalypse for the sectarians themselves. David Koresh had prophesied too long to his followers, and the prophesy had to come true. Of course, this insolvent messiah did not want to leave by himself. When the fires burned out, his charred body was extracted from the ruins. Along with him nearly a hundred people were killed in the fire, no less than 25 of them children.
In 1994 a new mass suicide/murder of sectarians occurred. At the time this was a respectable ecological organization called "Solar Temple," led by the honorable and impressive Swiss man, Luc Jouret. Luc was a favorite at the ladies club, which invited him to give a lecture about global pollution, healthy modes of life and about the advantages of vegetarian food. There were few who suspected that within the amorphous ecological organization was a tough core of fanatical "devotees" who expected an early end to the world with horror. In contrast to the previous two sects, who were involved mainly in recruitng among the lower levels of society or among restless youth, the majority of the members of "Solar Temple" were representatives of highly paid professions. They did not live permanently in a single commune, but the thread that connected them to Luc Jouret was nonetheless extremely strong. Although they didn't live in an exotic location, like Guyana, they all were more isolated from the outside world, which, in their perception, would perish in fire in the near future.
Luc Jouret eventually made the decision: they also had to die in fire to obtain a blissful existence in other worlds. Jouret revealed that the fateful voyage would be executed with the help of ritualistic suicide, which would lead people to regenerate in a certain place under the name of Sirius. Now the only thing that remained was to receive a sign from above.
The signal was given the day before the winter solstice of 1994. On that day, 53 people of the sect (including Jouret himself) committed mass murder and suicide in two Swiss villages in Fribourg and Valais cantons, and also in a ski resort in the Canadian province of Quebec. No less than ten of those killed were children. The death of the sectarians was accompanied by a gloomy ritual, during which the sectarians took drugs and fell down unconscious. Then plastic bags were put over their heads and they were killed with shots from a pistol. Some were shot 9 times for certainty. After this the bodies were ritually cremated.
After a year, in December 1995, on the day of the winter solstice, 16 sectarians, including several children, departed this life in a remote forest glade in the French Alps. The ritual was repeated down to the minutest detail. When they were discovered, the charred bodies of the deceased were found arranged in the form of a star, feet toward the center, the remains blackened by fire. In March 1997, the day of the spring equinox, five more members of the "Solar Temple" committed group suicide in the province of Quebec.
As of today the number of this sect's victims is 74 people, 48 of whom were shot. The Swiss police have not ruled out the possibility of more suicides.
By 1995 everybody knew that a totalitarian sect could bring its adepts to mass suicide. That sects could kill their members as a punitive measure, as a deterrent or to silence them was also known. The public also knew that sects were increasingly taking tougher measures - up to and including physical eradication - against their enemies.
Despite this an incident connected with the name of "Aum Shinrikyo" presented the world with a new facet of totalitarian sectarianism. Led by a half blind guru and backed by the Dalai Lama and the highest officials of the Russian government, this "peace-loving Buddhist organization" has secured itself a place in history as the organizer of the first civil terrorism operation undertaken by religious leaders.
Sect founder Seko Asahara (born Chizuo Matsumoto) began his career as a manipulator with elements of megalomania. Even as a child he went to a school for the blind (the future guru was blind in one eye and the other had only 20% vision). Asahara teased the children with poorer vision than he and exploited their helplessness. He announced that he was going to be the prime minister. When he grew up he started off in financial speculation. After he went bankrupt several times, he decided to try his hand at politics. Suffering a crushing defeat in the parliamentary election, Asaha finally found himself in the realm of religion. The dangerously explosive mixture he developed from elements of Buddhism, pseudoscience and apocalyptic scenarios fetched him 40,000 adepts in Japan, Russia and other countries and many billions of dollars. Members of the sect, after giving their great guru all their savings, still needed to pay for every new course that brought them knowledge of the "Supreme Truth of Aum" and ultimate enlightenment. People's money gave them the opportunity to drink a little water in which the guru had taken a bath, or that had a drop of his blood or sperm.
In their daily practice of faith Aum held a ritual, the components of which wore a helmet with electrodes attached to the head (it needed to be worn and not removed for many days and nights), were required to dose of "truth serum" and barbiturates, but also methods similar to those of Jim Jones, of Charles Mansen (the head of a sect of a satanic persuasion, which committed bloody ritual murder - A.D.) and of the Mafia were used. Although the financial structure of Aum resembles that of the "keirettsu" (corporate family), under whose control was 37 companies in different countries with capital in excess of a billion dollars, it was also involved in illegal speculation in real estate and counterfeit insurance policies, manipulations in the field of medicine, racketeering, kidnapping and murder. Several people the sect considered their enemies were brutally killed on Asahara's orders, and their bodies concealed.
In their constantly guarded headquarters, which was located at the foot of Mt. Fujiyama, the sectarians experimented awkwardly and ineffectively with bacteria that would spread the Siberian plague, botulism and other deadly epidemic diseases. They dispersed bacteria near the Japanese parliament, the imperial palace and the American base in Yokosuka. Due, however, to lack of scientific and practical training, the sectarians' agent of the disease died and no harm was caused.
Finally the Aumians learned about the nerve-paralysis gas, Sarin, which was developed in Nazi Germany. Taking advantage of his connection to the Russian upper level circles, Asahara, who at that time had already notified his soldiers on the Russian special operations base, found a way of acquiring the formula for producing Sarin and of getting a military jet to disperse the gas over Tokyo. This idea consisted of destroying all of the central part of Japan, the beginning of the way Asahara had prophesied the Apocalypse, and then the "great guru" would mount the emperor's throne and would install the government of "Aum Shinrikyo" over all Japan, then over the entire world. The sect actively prepared for the future event and even created a shadow government for a swift ascent to power.
After they produced the Sarin, the sectarians decided to test it on people. The first test was carried out in June 1994 in the open air in the outskirts of the city of Matsumoto; it took the lives of seven people and left hundreds sick. Then the police did not detect those guilty. The next time the gas was used in a Tokyo subway in March 1995, 12 people died and more than 5,500 became ill. It was only through a stroke of luck that the number of victims did not turn out to be significantly higher.
After these incidents the police quickly came across Asahara's trail. All the sect's management were arrested, and its property confiscated. The legal proceedings are in process to this day. Many sectarians have been found to be accessories and received lengthy terms. Asahara is conducting himself in a challenging and destructive manner, has refused to cooperate in court, to confess to or regret anything. "Aum Shinrikyo," however, has already recovered from the initial shock and has again begun to grow and spread. At the end of 1997 the sect had 26 centers in Japan that cumulatively house no less than 500 people. There are almost another 5,000 sect members that continue to live independently. The sect's financial power has very quickly regenerated.
In Russia, back when the activity of the Aumians was still "legal," they managed to start many front companies and now operate through them. The "Aum" Internet page in the Russian language (which by the way is formulated very expertly and attractively) is staggering in size. The sect has settlements in several villages in central Russia; they've bought land there and are building their "monasteries." At any moment the sect could burst out of the cellar to the surface and begin operating openly, so that a repeat gas attack is not ruled out. This supposition was corroborated by a recent event: in 2001 a group of "Aum Shinrikyo" soldiers were arrested in Vladivostock as they were preparing to conduct a mass terrorist operation in Japan for the purpose of liberating their adored "teacher" from prison.
It could be that the most frightful occurrence of the cult practice of suicide happen in spring 1997. That's when the police were called to a luxurious mansion, the Rancho Santa Fe, in an elite suburb of the southern California city of San Diego, where they found 39 corpses. These had been men and women of ages 26 to 72. Each of them were neatly laid out on their beds with arms at their sides. Each was dressed in a black jersey, black trousers and in brand-new black Nike sports shoes. Over the head of each had been put a plastic bag, and the upper part of the bodies' faces were covered with a purple scarf. Next to each bed was a bag neatly packed with travel gear, and in the pockets of each body was a five dollar bill and some quarters. Those that wore glasses had laid them beside themselves on the bed. An examination of the corpses showed that 6 of the male member of the sect had been surgically castrated.
All of these people who lived in the commune were top-notch programmers; many of them worked on the Internet and were involved with developing computer web pages. They had their own web page, which was called the same as they called themselves, "Heaven's Gate." On it they had many letters about UFOs, about the probably early destruction of Earth, about extraterrestrial civilizations whose task it was to save our world, and about other themes their guru and teacher was interested in. That was sect founder and UFO ideologist Marshall Applegate, who the sectarians called Do. "You want to get to heaven? I was sent to carry out this mission." "Who's on your side? Do you want to keep moving to the next level or do you prefer to be turned into dust?" "I am desperately trying to help you out of here." These were the sort of questions and offers Applegate made to potential converts on his web pages.
Way back before that time, Marshall Applegate taught music, but then he was expelled from the university for homosexual encounters with his students. In 1970 he found himself in a psychiatric hospital with hallucinations. He was seeing "sexual demons" and heard all sorts of voices. Applegate was convinced that he was experiencing an attempt to leave his own body. In the hospital he met the nurse Bonnie Lou Nettles, who later became his platonic wife. They called themselves Do and Ti (Si), asserting, of course, that names did not have any significance. The two of them worked out a complicated theory about life on Earth and about getting from here to another world. They thought of themselves as newcomers from another world who resembled people only in appearance. They had come here in a spaceship from the "next superhuman level," from the Heavenly Kingdom. Their mission consisted of bringing as large a number of people back "home" as they could.
Do and Ti steadily published articles about their visions in various UFO magazines. Both of them were very well traveled and conducted conferences on UFOs, the ecological crises, etc. They came into contact with the most diverse people and tried to recruit them. Those who wished to ascend with them to heaven had to disown everything that attached them to life on earth. Among other things, this included castration (the first to be castrated was Applegate - by all appearances, he made this decision because his conscience bothered him about his homosexuality, but we've already seen such people are not fond of going it alone) and an extraordinarily ascetic way of life, the rules for which were worked out by Do himself.
The rules of the sect went like this: all money earned, and this was considerable, was put at Applegate's bidding. Everyone had to lead a most Spartan life - all 39 people lived in a luxurious mansion with an enormous yard and pool, with several people in each room, they slept in one - and double bunkbeds, women and men separated. The food was strictly vegetarian, basically fruit juice and cereal. Nobody used the pool, and it was without water. Nobody rested in the shade of the trees in the yard. The sectarians almost never went out during the day.
Sect members worked on computers for many hours, night and day - they had to make money. They stayed up to two or three in the morning, at which point everybody went into the yard, looked at the stars and spotting incoming UFOs. (The neighbors recalled that sometimes at night they saw the entire group in the yard, staring intently at the stars in the sky.) In the morning they breakfasted on juice and water, after which no food was usually taken until late evening. Now and then, on a holiday, Applegate permitted the sectarians some sort of indulgence - a slice of vegetarian pizza. Sometimes the sectarians treated their neighbors to very tasty homemade cookies and pastry, of which, however, they themselves never partook. After supper, Applegate's students scoured the Internet, searching for remarks about the appearance of cosmic newcomers.
The sectarians thought of themselves as "cybermonks" and "cybernuns," they dressed absolutely identically - stressing sexlessness - in baggy pants or overalls. Their hair was cut short - crew-cuts. In Applegate's opinion, sex was terribly evil, and everything possible should be done to eradicate the possibility of any sexual impulse in a person. There was supposed to be nothing that externally distinguished men from women or women from men. And actually, in the photographs of the dead celestial brothers and sisters, it is often impossible to tell with certainty which they are - male or female. Having avoided the light of day, the sectarians were extremely pale. They often referred to Applegate as the "pale god."
The Heavens-gaters believed that creatures who lived in cyberspace were liberated from their bodies. Even their souls did not belong to them, but were sent into their bodies as "senior members from the next superhuman level." They considered the physical body to be a container or a ship in which people only lived temporarily. The sectarians called themselves "body invaders," because their "souls" could, at any time, move into them and seize their physical body. Applegate himself believed that his new soul moved into his body in 1975. On the whole, the doctrine they worked out for reincarnation had no connection with a new birth.
Like the managers, the sect's rank-and-file members thought of themselves as representatives of an extraterrestrial civilization who were sent to Earth in the capacity of teachers and educators of humanity. But in spite of this, Do and Ti believed that they had already been to Earth before in the early Christian era. They had supposedly left their reserve of energy there so they could use it now - the next period of their earthly lives. "Naturally," Applegate identified himself with Christ, who had again been sent to earth. "Nobody will approach My father or get to the Kingdom of Heaven unless it be through Me," wrote Applegate about himself, beginning personal pronouns with capital letters. The mythology of the "Heaven's Gate" he worked out was a shattering mix of neo-Hindu ideas and popular agnosticism, combined with concepts of UFOs - typical post-modern eclectic in the spirit of the "New Age" movement.
Members of "Heaven's Gate" believed that the world that we know today was approaching the end of a long cycle of development. They expected the destruction of Earth and its conversion for the second utilization. Humanity would perish together with its planet. The sole chance to avoid such an end was to listen to representatives of extraterrestrial civilization (Applegate) and "leave" with them. Without contact to them all would be lost.
Applegate's suicide note was typical of his message, "We profited from the next Superhuman Level from a remote cosmic country, and now we have left the bodies we carried to return to the world from which we come. Our mission is complete." It another of his messages it read, "We live in the end of an Age or in the end of another civilization... in trying times... Our cumulative choice in the time of our stay here defines a court decision."
Members of "Heaven's Gate" aspired to leave this world, but not to revive it. They wanted to leave earthly life behind them, and not save it. The sectarians saw many signals that the time was coming. For example, in 1994 on the streets of Los Angeles, several of them distributed leaflets with announcements about the early end to earthly civilization. By a quirk of fate, a couple of days later the city was shook by an earthquake. Several hours after the earthquake began the sectarians were back on the streets again. This time their leaflets said, "We warned you!!!"
Applegate's mind began to revolve around an unexpected early demise after 1985, when a good friend of Ti's died from cancer. As a hypochondriac, he decided that he had a fatal disease. He didn't want to go away by himself - his cosmic command had to follow him. The only thing left was to await a sign from those flying above in a space ship.
When the Haley-Bopp comet was approaching the planet and became visible from earth, some Internet jokester wrote that a huge spaceship was hidden in its tail. The Heavens-gaters took note of this report and reported it to their leader. Applegate unhesitatingly said, "It's time! Finally the hour we've been waiting for is here." The announcement appeared on the Internet pages of the sect, "We are happy that our Senior Member on an Evolutionary Superhuman Level clearly gave us to understand that the approaching Haley-Bopp comet is the sign we've been waiting for ... We are happy and ready to leave this world and fly together with Ti's company."
The day before the assigned day, sect members jumped into several minibuses and made for the nearest movie theater, where their favorite movie was playing, "The Empire Strikes Back" (the second part of the popular "Star Wars" hit space series). Having seen the movie for the 48th time, the sectarians took off for the pizzeria, where they arranged a feast; each person ordered themselves a whole vegetarian pizza. (Later, when officials recalled seeing 39 absolutely equally unhealthy pale people in baggy overalls, they decided that this was a group of mortally ill people from some oncology hospital.) Having eaten, each member of "Heaven's Gate" paid 7 dollars and 39 cents (tip included) and took their place in the minibus.
Upon returning to their magnificent villa, the sectarians began the ritual of "flying to another planet." Each of them wrote a farewell letter on the Internet and recorded their last statement on videotape. On videotape the Heavens-gaters looked very pleasant and even joked (really, if these jokes seemed funny to anyone, it was only to themselves).
They departed in parties of fifteen people. Each drank a helping of sweet cream that had dissolved barbiturates (a strong soporific) in it and washed it down with vodka, to give it greater effect. Then the galactic travelers lay down in their beds. When they fell asleep, their brothers put a plastic bag over their heads and covered them with a silk scarf.
On the following day, another fifteen people "took off." After 24 hours another seven. The last two finished themselves off on the fourth day and were probably already suffocating with the putrid smell, left without bags on their heads. There was nobody to put them on ...
A terrible record for number of adepts killed was made in 2000 in the small town of Kanungu, 320 kilometers from Campal, the capital of Uganda. There was talk of a totalitarian sect that split off from the Roman Catholic Church, the "Movement for the revival of the Ten Commandments of God."
The founder of the Ugandan sectarian murderers was former prostitute Kredonia Mverinda, who announced in 1989 that while in a trance on a sacred mountain, she received an order from the Virgin Mary to be her messenger. Shortly thereafter, Mverinda discovered two of her first followers: Joseph Kibvetere, a wealthy landowner and unsuccessful politician and Dominik Katapibabo, a Roman Catholic clergyman who was possessed with bitterness. This trio was able to attract a hundred adepts, who resettled on Kibvetere's farm.
As became known afterwards, several years prior to that Kibvetere was under observation in a psychiatric hospital located in the country's capital. According to the doctors. their former patient showed the classic symptoms of manic depression and megalomania. He still stopped going to the hospital before long. The country's authorities, in registering the sect as a non-governmental organization, asserted that they were not aware of the mental disorder of its management.
People who had survived the shock of ethnic cleansing and the AIDS epidemic were quick to join a sect that promised to forever rid them of all difficulty and tragedy. Mverinda preached in the Kataribabo Roman Catholic Church that God's patience was approaching an end, the world was nearing its destruction and only those in their movement, called "For the revival of the ten commandments of God," would be saved from destruction.
Membership in the movement meant unquestioning obedience to the leader and long hours in prayer. Although sect members formally stayed Roman Catholic, they submitted utterly to Kredonia Mverinda and even moved away from their own children who were kept separate from the adults in a dilapidated barn. Many of them were seriously ill and suffered from malnutrition.
Bishop John Baptist Kabuki accused the leaders of the sect of heresy and declared them anathema. In response, they declared Bishop Kabuki anathema, and Mverinda proclaimed Kibvetere the new bishop. Kibvetere moved into an apartment with Mverinda, so as "to receive heavenly visitors together with her." When Teresa, the wife of the "bishop," accused him of conjugal infidelity, Mverinda viciously beat her and burnt all her possessions. Teresa and her son ended up leaving the sect.
After this incident, Mverinda declared that all her followers had to leave the farm and move to Kanungu, "New Jerusalem," which had been chosen for them by "God and Jesus." At the same time, in 1993, Kibvetere's money dried up. Adepts were supposed to give back to the sect all their belongings, and money from sales which had been used to sustain the sect. At night the sect members had to pray in a self-made church by the name of "house of the Virgin Mary." Prayers went on all night without interruption. A group of guards, who were called "God's blessed," maintained discipline with cruel beatings.
Mverinda first declared that the end of the world would come about 9 May 1994. Then the end of the world was pushed back to 25 May, and from that point the date was regularly postponed. The Roman Catholic priest Paul, former member of the sect, now asserted that the organization was led by Satan and he summoned people to leave. He finally fled the sect with seventy members. Over time other adepts began to worry. Since the end of the world had not yet begun, the question arose about returning the money they had donated. However the adepts relied too much on the leaders to leave the sect.
It was declared that the end of the world would come on January 1, 2000. When nothing happened this time, either, complaints began being openly expressed. Kredonia managed to the quell the dissatisfaction by stating an absolutely certain and definitive date - 17 March 2000. Any of the donated belongings that could be sold was sold, and the rest burned. The entire building was declared a shrine. An absolute fast was declared, as well as uninterrupted prayer in church, because everybody who was not praying when the end of the world came would be destroyed along with the non-believers.
Young Peter Ahimbesnibve, who did not have the strength to endure the hunger, slipped out of the building and saw how "God's blessed" were nailing the church windows shut. Shortly after that an intense explosion was heard, but not even that could muffle the horrible wails and screams. Nearly a hundred gallons of gasoline, which the sect leaders had called "fuel for a trip to heaven," was burning. More than 500 members of the sect died there.
The original theory about mass suicide was rejected when the police made one horrible discovery after another: six bodies slain with axes in Mverinda's home, 81 bodies in a mass grave and 47 buried on the property at Kataribabo. Those victims were strangled with their own rosaries.
Neighbors said that the sectarians had put up a high fence around their property. They saw how the buses filled with people drove up to the gate at dawn and the passengers disappeared behind the high fence. The neighbors felt a certain uneasiness because the number of people arriving exceeded the number of people leaving.
A hundred other corpses were discovered on property belonging to the sect. Hardly any were left alive. Kibvetere's son supposed that his father died with the rest. Regarding Kredonia Mverinda, it was thought she was still alive. Soon after the catastrophe she was seen driving her own car to the north. If that is so, then she escaped with all the money she could carry with her.
There is one more aspect to this frightening story: the sect's victims, who were so fiercely exploited in their lives and who died in such a dreadful manner, were also deceived after they died. Their bodies were tossed in a mass grave and buried without prayers as bodies of heretics and suicides.
So we examined six altogether different totalitarian sects. One of them came from liberal Protestantism, another from radical Adventism, the third from a Marian Roman Catholic group. The "Solar Temple" had occult-ecological roots and "Aum Shinrikyo" neo-Buddhist.
Concerning the ideological base of "Heaven's Gate" we said only that it is similar to a sect, such as Scientology, which is based on the belief of spirit-"thetans," having fallen into the trap of physical bodies, need to be liberated from them. The spaceship is also an integral part of Scientology belief. Today in many countries of the world, Scientology has been accused of fraud on a particularly large scale, in driving people to psychotic breakdown, suicide, and even the deaths of its members. Incidentally, many of the members of "Heaven's Gate" had previously tried their hand at Scientology.
Members of the "Family" sect (formerly known as "Children of God"), which is known to have abused children and to be lecherous, also are waiting the arrival of an enormous spaceship. This aspect of their belief is reflected in many of the sect's posters and flyers, as well as in their texts for internal use.
Totalitarian sects can be very diverse, nevertheless they have characteristics in common. For example, they have no regard for either the lives of their members of the lives of other people. Violence in sects has become customary and a common occurrence. In the second half of 1988, We learned of the self-immolation of members of an Apocalyptic messianic sect in Korea and about the deaths by beatings, inflicted by instruction of the leader, of members of a neo-Pentecostal charismatic sect in Brazil. 1999 began with a report about violence and murder in a neo-Pentecostal sect in the Yakutsk city of Aldan. And this leads to the most sorrowful reflection: who will be next? What ordinary "inspired spirit," having gotten tangled up in his own contradictions, would want a "slam of the door loudly" on his fans?
Will this be the "Church of the Last Testament" under the false Christ, Vissarion, even further removed in the Siberian taiga than the "People's Temple" was in the jungle? Or would it be the "Bogorodichnyi center," whose leader, "the last prophet," Johann Bereslavskiy (who published a photograph of Kredonia Mverinda on the cover of his periodical with a number of other "divine figures"), like the "prophet" David Koresh, quite often talked of a fiery end to the world? Will it be members of the "Society for Krishna Consciousness," which routinely survives crisis and splintering, which has a group of members that have already spoken about their willingness to commit collective suicide? Will it be the Munists, whose "messiah" finally began to realize that his life is approaching an end and he could "move to the spirit world" without doing what he promised - be recognized everywhere as Lord of heaven and earth?
Today nobody can answer these questions. We can only pray that a new tragedy does not occur, that people come to their senses and smash the vile shackles that connect them to the leaders of totalitarian sects, and once again find their lost individuality, dignity and freedom. And we can warn people who have not yet made their religious choice about the mortal dangers of totalitarian sectarianism and about what awaits them on the other side of the shiny covers of sect advertising brochures and the sickly sweet smiles of sectarian recruiters. This is the task the book at hand is dedicated to.
Summary document of the International scientific-practical conference "Totalitarian sects - threat of the 21st century," held in Nizhny Novgorod 23-25 April 2001
We, the participants of the international scientific-practical conference "Totalitarian sects - threat of the 21st century," express urgent concern about the activities of totalitarian sects (destructive cults), which are disposed to: unlimited expansion, infliction of irreparable harm to human health, violating fundamental human rights, and creating a threat to family, society and state.
We deem that the state should be interested in protection and prosperity for traditional, cultural religions and in rendering them aid and support.
The experience of Russia has shown that a country in which the spirituality of ethical monotheism is eradicated, is exposed to the threat of developing the most primitive heathen superstition and practices, originating from both within and from abroad. We bitterly recognize that these groups of people who are deserting Christ in western countries today carry on the propagation of their pseudo-Christian, neo-heathen and occult doctrines in Russia. Along with that we should note that many occult, neo-heathen and totalitarian movements have risen in Russia.
Totalitarian sects are clearly defined as separate authoritarian organizations whose leader strive for power over their adherents and for their exploitation, who conceal their intentions under religious, political-religious, psychotherapeutic, health, educational, scientific-informational, cultural, or other type of screens.
Totalitarian sects resort to fraud, suppressing information and importunate propaganda to attract new members, employ censorship of information, persecuting their members, they resort to other unethical means of control over individuals, to psychological pressure, intimidation and other forms of keeping members in the organization. Thus, totalitarian sects violate the human right to freedom of an informed choice of worldview and lifestyle.
Besides that, the sectarian character of one or another association permits a person to be denied all accumulated culture by which he could have set his personal bounds.
At the present time, totalitarian sects (destructive cults) are actively attempting to infiltrate and settle in organs of education, health care, state administration, production and commerce. In doing this they often change names and mimic others, resort to denominational anonymity and pseudonyms, they often operate under the cover of the front organizations they create, not advertising the fact and not concealing their connections to the cult.
We appeal to the mass media to warn citizen of the threat of destructive cults. We believe that teachers in schools and institutions of higher education need to have a working knowledge of the existence and activities of totalitarian sects.
We think that the legislation of our country on the freedom of conscience and religious operations so far has not been effective enough. Traditional religions are not in need of the government's protection from totalitarian sects, rather it is the citizens of Russia who are in need. We come forward with an initiative about introducing an amendment or an addition to the legislation of the Russian Federation, or about passing new legislation on the direct activity with the goal of strictly controlling, restricting or even forbidding the operations of totalitarian sects (destructive cults) and groups that have fallen under their influence. The legislative experiences of European countries, like France, Belgium, Germany and Austria can be used in doing this.
We emphasize that, in speaking about totalitarian sects (destructive cults), we do not have new religious movements in mind, but we are talking about groups who ideology and practice is dangerous to individuals and society. We, the participants of the conference, are citizens of diverse countries, people of various nationalities and convictions, who profess different religions and belong to different Christian denominations, we are united in one thing: the threat, which arises from totalitarian sects, needs to be surmounted, for that it is necessary to unify the efforts of government, culture-oriented religion and civil society. We express the hope that the 21st century will not become the century of pseudo-religious totalitarianism, but the century of freedom of speech, belief and practice of religion.
The most well-known and dangerous of contemporary destructive cults are as follows:
"Church of Scientology" and other Hubbardist organizations (Dianetics centers, "Narconon," "Criminon," etc.), the "Jehovahs Witnesses," the "Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints" (Mormons), "Unification Church" and other Munist organizations ("Federation of Families for World Peace," CARP, etc.), "Society for Krishna Consciousness" and other neo-Krishna mission in the West, "Transcendental Meditation" and other Mahareesh organizations, "Ananda Marga," "Sahaja Yoga," the Shri Chimnoy cult, "Brachma Kumaris," the Sati Sai Babi cult, 3 NO, Osho Rajneesh cult, "Aum Shinrikyo," "Soka Gokkai," "Falun Gung," "Family" ("Children of God") "Church of Christ" (so-called Boston movement), the Witness Lee "Pomstnaya" (Local) church, "Movement of Faith" (neo-Pentecostal, includes sect like "Church of the New Generation," "Word of Life," "Church of the Testament," "Living Faith," "Living Water," "Church on the Rock," "New Life," "Rosa," "Blagodat," "Gorshechnika," "Church of the Love of Christ," various "full Gospel churches," etc.), "Brotherhood of the Violet Flame," "New Acropolis," Koslov's "Sinton," "Church of the Enduring Mother of God" ("Bogorodichnyi Center"), "White Brotherhood," "Revniteli istinnogo blagochestiya" (Peter's sect), "Church of the Last Testament" (Vissarion sect), Porfiriya Ivanov's cult, "Anastasia" cult, "Shkola Shchetinin," Evgeniy Berezikov's sect, "Radasteya," Stolbun's sect, "Tetrad," Tolgat Akbashev's sect, "Strana Anura," Olga Asaulyak's sect, "Shkola Lkhasy" (A. Chervonenko's sect), "Zolotov Academy of Frontal Problems," "Troyanova Tropa," "K bogoderzhaviyu" (retired general Petrov's sect), pseudo-tantric sects of Lapin and Rudnev, "Astral Karate," "Reiki," OTO, "Landmark International Education - Forum" (formerly EST - Werner Erchard seminars), "Life-Spring," "World center of interrelations" (Bill Ridler's "Violet"), various commercial cults and many others.
We testify about the anti-Christian and destructive character of different cults, which have arisen from the basic movements of "New Era" ("New Age"), theosophy, anthroposophy, movement of the adherents of the Rerikh family, astrology and UFO cults, neo-heathen and nativist cults, witchcraft, sorcery, neo-shamanism, Luciferists and satanism.
We speak of impermissible imposition on school and college students of occult-magic and amoral ideas and practices in the form of different kinds of pseudo-scientific disciplines (valeology, "Basic vital functions in educational space," different pseudo-psychological lessons, etc.). Moreover, a school cannot be a site for propagation of pseudo-religious sectarian doctrine.
Passed unanimously 25 May 2001 by the participants of the Conference, with representation from Germany, Denmark, Canada, Cyprus, China, Russia and France, and 22 dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Contact info for Moscow, Novosibirsk, Tver, Yekaterinburg, Ufa, Minsk, Zaporozhe (Ukraine) abbreviated in the English translation as follows: Source: Center for Religious Research, Russian Orthodox Church.