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The Washington Post

Anti-Cult Group Dismembered As Former Foes Buy Its Assets Network Forced Into Bankruptcy After Legal Battle

December 1, 1996, Front Page


Anti-Cult Group Dismembered

FRONT PAGE WASHINGTON POST
SUNDAY 1 DECEMBER 1996 page A1
Anti-Cult Group Dismembered
As Former Foes Buy Its Assets
Network Forced Into Bankruptcy After Legal Battle

By Laurie Goodstein
Wash Post staff writer

BARRINGTON, Ill.--For 20 years, the Cult
Awareness Network ran the nation's best-
known hot line for parents who grew distraught
when an unconventional religious group they
neither trusted nor understood suddenly won
the allegiance of their children.

From its offices here in a Chicago suburb, the
network (known as CAN) answered more than
350 telephone inquiries a week, counseled rela-
tives at conferences attended by thousands, and
gave news interviews to everyone from small-
town daily newspapers to "Nightline."
As CAN's influence rose, so did the ire of its
foes, who were furious at being depicted as dan-
gerous cults.

In particular, Church of Scientology members
fought CAN with a barrage of lawsuits. One
high-stakes suit, handled by a lawyer who has
frequently represented the church, succeeded,
and a jury ordered CAN to pay as much as $1.8
million. The group filed for bankruptcy.

Now CAN's assets are up for sale, and last
week its name, logo, Post Office box and tele-
phone number were finally sold to the highest
bidder: a Los Angeles lawyer named Steven L.
Hayes, who is a Scientologist. Hayes says he is
working with a group of people "united in their
distaste for CAN" who plan to reopen the group
so it "disseminates the truth about all religions."
"It kind of boggles the mind," said David Bar-
din, an attorney who has represented CAN in
Washington. "People will still pick up the CAN
name in a library book and call saying, 'My
daughter has joined the Church of Scientology.'
And your friendly CAN receptionist is someone
who works for Scientology."

It is a turn of events applauded by the Church
of Scientology, whose literature calls CAN "a
hate group in the tradition of the KKK and the
See CULT, A22, Col. 1

Page A22 cont:

neo-Nazis." The Rev. Heber
Jentzsch, president of the Church of
Scientology International, said in an
interview: "I just don't think a hate
organization has a right to operate in
america with impunity, and obvious-
ly the courts feel the same way."
Hostile takeovers are nothing new
in the corporate world, but this is an
exceptional tale of the hostile take-
over of a nonprofit organization. The
anti-cult advocacy group is gradually
being dismembered and absorbed by
its adversaries, who attorneys say
have deftly outmaneuvered CAN in
the courts.

CAN's fate also highlights the
crippled state of what was once a
prominent nationwide movement
that for years kept america's unor-
thodox religious groups on the de-
fensive. For years CAN's charges of
cult mind-control and brainwashing
helped shape the public's impres-
sions of groups like Scientology, the
Unification Church, the Hare Krish-
nas, Boston Church of Christ, Tran-
scendental Meditation and others.
But with each passing decade,
these religious groups have become
increasingly mainstream and even
institutionalized, opening new
houses of worship, buying universi-
ties and other properties, attending
interfaith events. Now it is the anti-
cult camp that no longer has an insti-
tution of its own.

Next up for auction could be 270
boxes of CAN files that former staff-
ers say are stuffed with confidential
information about current and for-
mer cult members, efforts to extri-
cate them and private testimonies of
anguish and abuse. Kendrick L.
Moxon, the lawyer who has fre-
quently represented Scientologists,
is actively pursuing a purchase of
these files, says the trustee handling
the bankruptcy.

"The fear [is] that this list of infor-
mation could be bought by the high-
est bidder," said Bob Grosswald, a
Long Island dental supply salesman
who contacted CAN when his son
joined the Church of Scientology,
~And could only be used to harass
people, to make people feel uncom-
fortable, and to further damage the
relationships people have to family
members still inside these cults.
How a court could even consider
selling such a thing is beyond me."
The modern anti-cult movement
was born in the 1960s when Ameri-
can youth were experimenting with
Eastern religions and alternative
spirituality. The Citizens Freedom
Foundation, CAN's predecessor, be-
came a nonprofit group in 1978, the
year that 9I.~ followers of the Rev.
Jim Jones died in a mass suicide at
the People's Temple compound in
Guyana. In 1986 the group changed
its name to CAN. The next year,
Cynthia Kisser, who had turned to
CAN when her younger sister joined
an obscure Bible-based group, was
named executive director

From its suite on the ground floor
of a Tudor style building it shared
with a few accountants, CAN took
telephone inquiries from around the
world about hundreds of controver-
sial groups. Every request for help,
whether from a relative or reporter,
a congressman or police officer, was
logged and filed. Aside from Satanic
groups, more callers asked about
Scientology than about any other
group, according to a 1992 tele-
phone log that CAN supplied to Con-
gressional Quarterly.

But CAN did not just supply infor-
mation. It also gave some parents.
references to self-styled "depro-
grammers," whom CAN maintained
were skilled at extricating devotees
from cults by systematically chal-
lenging cult teachings and undermin-
ing beliefs. But there were repeated
cases of deprogrammers convicted
for using force or other criminal
means to wrest their targets away
from the cults. The CAN board ar-
ticulated a policy advocating only "le-
gal methods" of deprogramming, but
the stigma of associating with crimi-
nals left CAN vulnerable to its de-
tractors.

The Scientology magazine Free-
dom last year devoted a special issue
to CAN, headlined: "The serpent of
hatred, intolerance, violence and
death." An inside story called CAN's
executive director Kisser "the moth-
er of the serpent" and purported to
expose her past as a topless dancer,
which she has denied. The magazine
highlighted alleged deprogramming
excesses and quoted scholars de-
fending new religions such as Scien-
tology. "The time has come to do
something about the Cult Awareness
Network and its anti-religious cru-
sade," Freedom concluded. "This or-
ganization has plagued the American
people for too long."
Beginning in 1991, CAN and its
local affiliates and staff were hit with
a series of lawsuits filed by several
dozen members of the Church of
Scientology and others. In one week
in 1992, Scientologists filed 12 suits
against CAN, Kisser said. 'Td open
the door, a process server would
hand me a suit, I'd say thank you,
close the door, fax it to the attor-
ney," said Kisser, a thin, intense
woman who speaks at a machine-gun
clip. "Then another knock would
come on the door. It was ridiculous."
Most of the suits were civil rights
claims, according to attorneys on
both sides. People who identified
themselves in the lawsuits as Scien-
tologists alleged that the group de-
nied them membership or participa-
tion in CAN conferences. Others
sued because CAN would not allow
them to volunteer in its national of-
fice here. Some self-identified Scien-
tologists sued after they attempted
to form local CAN chapters and use
the CAN letterhead, and the national
CAN office refused to recognize
them. Kisser said many of these
were "cookie-cutter lawsuits," in
which only the plaintiff's name was
changed.

Moxon, whose law firm filed many
of the suits against CAN, said: "What
would you do if you had a religious
belief and somebody was intentional-
ly trying to destroy your church and
destroy your belief and destroy your
family? I'm a lawyer. People hired
me to go to court and vindicate their
rights. What could they be expected
to do when there's somebody out
there who's bent on destroying
them?"

Many of these lawsuits were dis-
missed, but CAN was cannibalizing
its $300,000 annual budget to de-
fend itself, and the five-member
staff, only one of whom worked full
time, grew increasingly absorbed by
the litigation, Kisser said. What's
more, she said, CAN's insurance
carrier refused to renew its policy
because of all the lawsuits, and no
other insurer would agree to cover
the group.

CAN struck back in 1994 with a
counter-suit against the Church of
Scientology, 11 individual Scientolo-
gists and the Los Angeles law firm of
Bowles and Moxon. The group's
"malicious harassment" suit alleged
that the Church of Scientology or-
chestrated the filing of 45 unfounded
and frivolous lawsuits in an attempt
to drive CAN into bankruptcy.
CAN's suit was dismissed by the
Cook County Circuit Court, but an
appeal is pending in the Illinois Su-
preme Court.

The lawsuit that succeeded in
driving CAN into bankruptcy in-
volved an 18-year-old from Bellevue,
Wash., named Jason Scott. In 1991,
Scott's mother hired a "cult depro-
grammer" and two assistants in an
attempt to get him to renounce his
membership in the Life Tabernacle
Church, a Pentecostal group.
Scott alleged in the suit that he
was kidnapped for five days at a
beach house, handcuffed, gagged
with tape and forced to watch video-
tapes about religious cults. Scott
feigned conversion, and when his de-
programmers took him to a restau-
rant, he ran off and went to police. In
late 1993, the county prosecutor
brought charges against the depro-
grammer. who was acquitted.
But the case lived on in civil court.
The lawyer who took the case on
Scott's behalf was Moxon, a Sciento-
logist and a frequent attorney for the
church in high-profile cases, who has
been sued by CAN for allegedly fil-
ing malicious lawsuits.

This time, Scott sued not only the
deprogrammer and his two assis-
tants, but also CAN. Scott main-
tained the woman who referred his
mother to the deprogrammer did so
as a local CAN volunteer.

The Scott case essentially put the
anti-cult movement on trial. Testify-
ing for the prosecution, Anson
Shupe, a sociologist at Indiana-Pur-
due University, told the jury that
CAN's persecution of Scientology
was born of the same irrational big-
Tory that Americans earlier directed
toward Baptists, Methodists, Irish
Catholics, Jews and Mormons.
"Are you saying the anti-cult
movement is a cult?' Moxon asked.
"It has all aspects of it, yes," Shupe
replied.

A jury found all the defendants lia-
ble and awarded Scott more than $4
million in damages, CAN was or-
dered to pay as much as $1.8 mil-
lion; the group has appealed.
Paul Lawrence, an attorney for
CAN, acknowledges that Scott suf-
fered an "unfortunate" deprogram-
~ming attempt. But CAN "did not de-
serve to be swept up" in the case
because the volunteer who referred
Scott's mother to the deprogram-
mer did so without CAN's knowl-
edge, he said.

"It is extremely unusual for a non-
profit organization to be hit with pu-
nitive damages based on the actions
of a volunteer member," said Law-
rence, who is president of the Amer-
ican Civil Liberties Union in Wash-
ington state. "This is a dangerous
precedent for a wide range of non-
profit associations .... Most non-
profits have tens or thousands of
members out there acting in a way
that the nonprofits can't hope to
monitor."

Several nonprofit groups, includ-
in Mothers Against Drunk Driving,
have filed friend-of-the-court briefs
i~ the case.

In the meantime, CAN filed for'
Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in
October 1995, hoping to develop a
reorganization plan that would allow
it to keep operating while pursuing
the appeal. CAN's main creditor is
Jason Scott. Moxon, Scott's lawyer,
contested CAN's plan in bankruptcy
court, and the judge refused to ap-
prove it. In an attempt to protect its
assets, CAN filed for Chapter 7
bankruptcy last June, which meant
that it transferred control of its as-
sets to an independent trustee.
The trustee is Philip R. Martino, a
plain-speaking Chicago attorney.
"CAN doesn't exist," Martino said in
an interview. 'whatever power CAN
had is now mine."

The CAN Staffers were last in
their office here on June 22, when
Martino phoned to say he was com-
ing over. He brought a locksmith
who changed the locks. he told the
staff to take only their personal be-
longings and leave. Kisser took pho-
tographs of her son and her collec-
tion of turtle statues given to her
over the years by supporters as a re-
minder to "go slow and stick your
neck out." She was not allowed to
remove her nine appointment diar-
ies; Martino considered them CAN
assets.

Martino sold CAN's name and
logo, telephone number and P.O.
box--the essence of its identity--
along with CAN's office furniture
and computers (stripped of their
hard drives) for $20,000. CAN tried
to contest the sale, but dropped the
attempt this week after the judge re-
quired the group to post a $30,000
bond first. Martino says he put
CAN's name-brand assets on the
auction block only because Kisser
herself asked to buy them. Her high-
est bid was $19,000.

"I have an asset to sell. It's a
name," Martino said. "I sell it to the
highest bidder. What the bidder does
with it is not my concern. It can't be
my concern. Congress didn't make it
my concern. And if I made it my con-
cern, I would be rewriting the bank-
ruptcy law."

The attorney who bought CAN's
identity, Steven Hayes, said in an in-
terview that he represents a group
of several people he cannot name
without "permission." He said they
put up money of their own and mon-
ey "from this country and other plac-
es." Hayes said he is a Scientologist,
not an employee of the Church of
Scientology. Hayes also had sued
CAN in the early 1990s on behalf of
several Scientologists who wanted
to attend CAN's national confer-
ence, according to CAN attorneys.
Hays said his group intends to re-
vamp CAN so that "religions that
have been attacked in the past would
have an opportunity to at least show
what they believe the truth to be."
The anti-cult movement has now
turned to the Internet to share infor-
mation. A small meeting of anti-cult
activists gathered at a Newark hotel
earlier this month to discuss how
best to carry on the cause, but the
meeting was marred when a coterie
of Scientologists showed up uninvit-
ed, several participants say.
Cynthia Kisser is suing the
Church of Scientology for libel. She
says she was never a topless dancer.
Scientologist Jentzsch, for his
part, says that Kisser is "in the busi-
ness of spreading the bubonic
plague, and she feels bad that some-
one stopped her."
Little remains of CAN now but
600 feet worth of files.

CAN's trustee, Martino, says that
Moxon has already mentioned his in-
terest in bidding for those. Martino
said he won't sell the files until
names and personal information are
removed, a process that he esti-
mates will cost about $50,000, to be
paid by the buyer.

People who were heavily involved
with CAN could ask to have their
names removed, Martino said.
"Scientology. will pay anything to
get their hands on those files," said
Robert Vaughan Young, a former
Scientologist who served as a church
spokesman for 20 years before he
quit and became a church critic.
"We always figured that CAN was
the nexus for all the rest of the prob-
lems [Scientology had]," he said. "So
the idea of getting the files is similar
to the KGB being able to buy the
files of the CIA."

See CNN Article about Cult Awareness Network take over by Scientology

Below, a statement by Jim Beebe of CAN in Chicago [8 Feb 2002 ]

From: jimdbb@aol.com (JimDBB)
Newsgroups: alt.religion.scientology
Date: 08 Feb 2002 19:34:12 GMT

Randy Kretchmar is a Chicago area [ Scientology ] OSA-CCHR drone. In a recent email to me he
gloated over his role in the destruction of CAN ( Cult Awareness Network). In
his delusional mind he has prevented a 'holocaust.'

I quote:

"Jim Beebe:
CAN closed in 1996, It was June 20th, 1996, I believe. I still remember it
as one of the proudest days of my life. Several of the people for whom I have
the utmost admiration dedicated much time and personal effort to that result,
over a period of years."

"As far as I am concerned, the core ideas of the Cult Awareness Network and
other proponents of "cult mind control"/"coercive persuasion" bullshit were so
reminiscent of Nazism that by defeating CAN, I have contributed to preventing
another holocaust."

"It's a strange thing to actually destroy a group, even such as the Nazis or
CAN. One remains a bit attached to some of the individuals who, as
individuals, were always basically good people. "

Best regards,
Randy Kretchmar

I had to remind Randy that CAN consisted of five staff members, two guys and
three women and a handful of affiliates around the country...predominantly
middle aged women. Quite a dreadful 'holocaust' that he prevented.

His "It's a strange thing to actually destroy a group..... could have come
straight out of Adolph Hitler.

I will quote a former scientology associate of Randy's, the late Greg Bashaw...
"Scientology has destroyed my mind."

Jim Beebe


Watch the 60 Minutes episode about the takeover of CAN LINK


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