May 13, 2019

Alleged New York sex cult leader disciplined followers -witness

Brendan Pierson
Joseph Ax
May 13, 2019

NEW YORK, May 13 (Reuters) - The leader of an alleged New York sex cult maintained strict discipline over his followers, forcing those who questioned his leadership to undergo training and excommunicating those who went against the group, a 12-year veteran said on Monday.

The longtime member, filmmaker Mark Vicente, resumed testifying at the criminal trial of Keith Raniere, whom federal prosecutors have accused of using his organization Nxivm to facilitate sex trafficking and child pornography.

Vicente previously told jurors in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn that Raniere's recruits came to view him as "some kind of god," thanks to a sales pitch that portrayed him as a genius of unparalleled insight.

Prosecutors say Raniere traded on that status to force female "slaves" to have sex with him, be branded with his initials and follow near-starvation diets. Women were required to submit "collateral," such as nude photos, that Raniere then used as blackmail to coerce their compliance, according to authorities.

Raniere's lawyer has argued at trial that Nxivm's members, including the "slaves" of a secretive inner sorority who submitted themselves to Raniere's sexual demands, joined voluntarily and were never forced to do anything against their will. Raniere faces life in prison if convicted.
Vicente, who became a self-described whistleblower after leaving the group in 2017, said the controlling atmosphere inside Nxivm successfully intimidated members.

"Many of us became very, very careful of the words we used," he said on Monday.
Once members attained a certain rank, they were expected to accept "feedback" from higher-ranking members - essentially negative criticism, Vicente said. Those who questioned Raniere in any way were accused of acting out of "pride" and required to undergo special training.

Vicente, who became the group's unofficial videographer, told jurors last week he was asked by the group's president, Nancy Salzman, to make videos showing Raniere in a positive light.

"I really would love it if Keith Raniere does not die a criminal in the eyes of the world," Salzman told Vicente, according to his testimony.

Nxivm, which started under another name in 1998 and is pronounced "Nexium," was based in Albany, New York, and operated self-improvement centers across North and Central America.

Five of Raniere's co-defendants, including Salzman, Seagram liquor heiress Clare Bronfman and former "Smallville" television actress Allison Mack, have pleaded guilty to related crimes.

The jury has already heard from one of Raniere's alleged "slaves," and prosecutors have said other victims will testify at trial. (Reporting by Brendan Pierson and Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone, James Dalgleish and Jonathan Oatis)

May 10, 2019

Mark Vicente: Within NXIVM, the word 'cult' doesn't exist

Mark Vicente
Los Angeles filmmaker testifying at criminal trial of Keith Raniere

Robert Gavin
Albany Times Union
May 9, 2019

NEW YORK — A former senior member of NXIVM broke down crying at the Keith Raniere trial Thursday, saying he was "bamboozled" while part of an organization he believes covered up "evil."

Mark Vicente, 53, needed to compose himself on the witness stand as he testified on the third day of Raniere's racketeering and sex trafficking trial in U.S. District Court.

"I'm as ashamed as I've ever been," Vicente, a Los Angeles filmmaker, testified.

He said many people joined NXIVM, a purported self-help organization based in Colonie, to better themselves or promote good in the world. They ended up being exploited.

"It's a fraud. It's a lie," Vicente said, choking up. "It's this well-intended veneer that covers horrible, incredible evil."

Vicente said when he first met Raniere, known within NXIVM as "Vanguard," the defendant suggested he move to Albany — an idea that didn't sit well.

"I said I had no desire to move to Albany. It was an ugly place," Vicente testified. "A lot of people wanted me to move there."

After joining NXIVM in 2005, Vicente rose through the ranks to eventually reach the level of "senior proctor."

Raniere, 58, faces a seven-count indictment that includes charges of sex trafficking, forced labor, wire fraud conspiracy and racketeering charges that include underlying alleged acts of extortion, identity theft, possession of child pornography, and sexual exploitation of a child.

Raniere, clad in a royal blue sweater over a dress shirt, watched the testimony of Vicente attentively with his head rested on interlocked hands. He took many notes while conferring with one of his attorneys, Marc Agnifilo. The defendant has been seated at the defense table between Agnifilo and Albany-based attorney Paul DerOhannesian II.

Vicente testified that it wasn't long after joining NXIVM, where he was recruited by President Nancy Salzman and then-financial officer Barbara Bouchey, that he became suspicious of the organization.

He said he approached Salzman, known as "Prefect" and the figurative mother of the organization, and made his thoughts known.

She quickly turned the tables.

"I said, 'I think you guys are up to something. I think there's something nefarious going on,'" Vicente testified. "She said, 'You just told me about yourself. You're the one with the nefarious intent. You're the one looking for evil.'"

He said he began to wonder if Salzman was right and if Raniere was, as he had been advertised, the most noble man in the world.

Salzman told him he was "disintegrated" and needed more NXIVM training, which he took.

Vicente explained that students in NXIVM could rise in rank through an educational hierarchy called "the striped path," which required students to hit benchmarks and take more classes, which cost as much as $20,000 for "intensive" sessions.

As the students progressed, they would be given sashes to wear to identify their status, once earned. Beginners wore white sashes; "provisional" coaches wore yellow; "proctors" wore orange; senior proctor wore green; blue for counselors and purple for senior counselors. Salzman wore a gold sash and Raniere wore a long white sash.

Vicente explained that certain sessions at NXIVM began with a routine: High-ranking members held their hands up while the rest of the room clapped. They would then bow to each other and exclaim, "We are committed to our success!"

"We would say, 'Thank you, Vanguard,' and begin the session," he said.

Vicente said he divulged his deepest personal secrets as part of a "Level 2" program in NXIVM, which was also called Executive Success Programs or ESP. He said the latter name was used more once negative media stories started coming out about NXIVM, much of it easy to find online.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Lesko asked Vicente how he feels about having shared his deepest, darkest secrets with NXIVM.

"I feel bamboozled," he replied. Vicente said he also feels vulnerable and stupid that he agreed to give up the information under the justification that ridding yourself of secrets was healthy.

It was a "horrible, twisted idea," he said. Vicente said he has no idea where his personal information currently resides.

Vicente said he also took what he though was an anonymous survey when he joined NXIVM. He learned many years later it posed the same questions used to find out if someone has a narcissistic personality disorder.

Vicente said he now believes NXIVM played with his moral compass.

NXIVM's curriculum, he testified, was hypocritical: It preached of speaking with honor and yet members would speak dishonorably of people when it suited the needs of the leadership.

Anyone who spoke out against Raniere was shunned and labeled "suppressive," Vicente said.

That included anyone who used the word "cult": Within NXIVM, members were told "the word doesn't exist," he testified.

"Anybody who uses the word is clearly suppressive as well," Vicente said.

Measles Outbreak: Opposition to Vaccine Extends Well Beyond Ultra-Orthodox Jews in N.Y.

New York Times
Sharon Otterman and Sean Piccoli
May 9, 2019

Noah Abdullah hasn’t immunized his 4-year-old son, Michael, saying that he’d read vaccines might be “no good” and that he’d “rather do natural things” to strengthen his child’s immune system.

“I need to see more information before I start shooting him up with stuff,” Mr. Abdullah said.

Donna Mosley said her 3-year-old grandson also did not have his vaccinations, though she wishes he did. His mother is afraid the shots could cause autism, she said, and his father’s Muslim beliefs have made him “totally against it.”

The two boys attend Sister Clara Muhammad Elementary School in Harlem, a small school where most children had a religious exemption to immunization in the last school year, according to city health department data.

As the measles outbreak deepens in New York City, health authorities have been focusing on schools affiliated with ultra-Orthodox Judaism, because those are the only city schools within which measles transmission has occurred so far. But immunization data, reported annually by every school to the state, suggests that reluctance to vaccinate in New York is much more widespread.

The majority of the dozens of New York City schools that had less than 90 percent of their children vaccinated for measles in the last school year were not ultra-Orthodox Jewish, according to the data, which is reported by the schools themselves.

Several were Muslim schools, while others were Bible-centered Christian academies. Some were schools that hew to nontraditional philosophies, including the Waldorf education movement, which tends to attract parents who favor alternative medical practices. Some served autistic or special-needs children.

Because the schools’ immunization data is self-reported in mid-December of each school year, it offers only a snapshot that can change as students are vaccinated. But the data can serve as a guide for finding pockets of vaccine reluctance that was borne out in interviews with parents.

Vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective against the spread of disease, and there is no evidence that they cause autism.

For now, the ban on unvaccinated children attending school in New York City applies only to children who attend Orthodox Jewish schools in the four most affected ZIP codes in and around Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the center of the outbreak.

There were 31 new cases in Williamsburg last week, bringing the total measles cases in the city since September to 466.

If the outbreak reaches beyond the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, as public health experts fear, other schools with low vaccination rates could also become hotbeds for the disease.

In a worrying sign, two cases of measles reported this week occurred in students with religious exemptions who attend public schools in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the city health commissioner, said Tuesday that both of the children had spent time in a part of Brooklyn with measles activity, and were not in school while they were contagious. She urged people to remain calm and get vaccinated.

Daniel Salmon, the director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Vaccine Safety, said that the clusters of parents who are refusing vaccines, in New York and elsewhere, were making him worry that the measles outbreak could turn into a measles epidemic.

“The story with measles for the past 20 years is that it starts among refusers, it spreads predominately among refusers, and along the way it picks off other kids,” he said. “Up until now, we have been able to put a stop to it. But I’m nervous. I’m afraid what happened in Europe is going to happen in the U.S.”

Sister Clara Muhammad in Harlem is part of an Islamic school system affiliated with Warith Deen Mohammed, who transformed the original Nation of Islam movement into an African-American-centered Sunni Muslim community in the 1970s.

The tiny school is on the upper two floors of the Malcolm Shabazz Mosque in Harlem, on a site where Malcolm X preached. Eleven students are enrolled this year, state data showed, and last year, two of the three enrolled students had religious exemptions.

Mr. Abdullah, 38, the parent at the school who is reluctant to immunize his 4-year-old son, Michael, said he was concerned about the measles outbreak and would seek out more advice.

“I was going to talk to his doctor at the next visit to find out what’s going on,” he said.

The modern-day Nation of Islam movement has been outspoken about its anti-vaccine beliefs, but less is known about patterns of vaccine refusal in Sister Clara Muhammad schools around the country. The school’s administration did not respond to a request for comment.

At Charles H. Churn Christian Academy, which operates out of a storefront in Brownsville, Brooklyn, 34 percent of its students had religious exemptions from vaccination in 2017-18, the state data showed. The school enrolls about 100 children from kindergarten to 12th grade.

The principal, Linda Hunt, stood in the doorway of the school the other day, with a group of young children seated at a small table behind her. She said both Muslim and Christian families had claimed religious exemptions.

“I believe everybody should be immunized, but you can’t make people if that’s their belief,” Ms. Hunt said.

The New York City health department said that, in general, it did not have the authority to challenge religious exemptions, which are legal under state law. An effort to curtail them is now stalled in Albany.

Some schools that reported very low vaccination rates in 2017-18 have now improved them, showing that city efforts to audit schools and promote enforcement can have an impact, the city health department said.

St. Brigid Catholic Academy in Bushwick had the lowest vaccination rate in Brooklyn in 2017-18, with only 51 percent of its students completely immunized.

Now, said the Diocese of Brooklyn, which oversees the school, 96.5 percent of the students at the school are fully vaccinated.

The database includes vaccination rates of 5,557 public and private schools in New York, including 715 private schools in New York City. Immunization data for the city’s public schools is reported directly to the city, which then sends it, grouped by borough, to the state.

On Monday afternoon at the New Amsterdam School, a small Waldorf school on Avenue B in the East Village, parents and children filed out of a gated walkway at dismissal past a hand-lettered chalkboard advertising an open house for fall enrollment.

Nationwide, schools associated with the Waldorf education movement have some of the lowest vaccination rates, public health experts said. While the movement does not take a formal position on vaccination, and has no religious affiliation, its philosophy tends to attract bohemian families.

A handful of parents outside New Amsterdam said they were surprised to learn the school’s religious exemption rate for immunizations was 35 percent in the 2017-18 school year — higher than they thought it would be.

Roughly 40 students were enrolled that year.

“It might be idealistic, but I guess we respect each other as a community enough to let people make their own choices,” said Amy Joyce, who has two children at the school, both fully vaccinated.

Two parents who said they had not vaccinated their children declined to give their names, citing privacy concerns.

One, a mother of a first grader, said that her choice had never been an issue at New Amsterdam.

“There is more of an open-mindedness about it, or just acceptance,” she said.

A father of two girls at the school said, “I’m not totally anti-vaccine, but I think giving it to kids at such young age when they haven’t really developed a strong enough microbiome on their own is detrimental to their health.”

He said that after noticing “significant personality changes” in his eldest daughter after her early vaccines, he stopped vaccinating her and did not vaccinate his younger daughter.

The Brooklyn Waldorf School, which enrolls about 200 children, is in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, near the measles outbreak in Williamsburg.

Twenty-four percent of the children had religious exemptions from immunizations last year. Last Friday, some parents expressed concern about the anti-vaccination views of fellow parents.

“It makes me angry that people are not following the doctor’s advice — and society’s,” said Maria Jarnit-Bjergsoe, 39, who is pregnant. She said that both of her sons at Waldorf were vaccinated. “It’s just putting other people in danger unnecessarily.”

Denese Giordano, the Brooklyn Waldorf School’s administrative director, said that if there were a case of measles at the school, “we would close the school that day and work in compliance with the Department of Health and any other regulatory agencies.”

For now, children with vaccine exemptions are permitted to attend.

“It’s not a matter of latitude,” Ms. Giordano said. “We follow health department guidelines.”

Sharon Otterman has been a reporter at The Times since 2008, primarily covering education and religion for Metro. She won a Polk Award for Justice Reporting in 2013 for her role in exposing a pattern of wrongful convictions in Brooklyn. @sharonNYT

A version of this article appears in print on May 10, 2019, on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Low-Vaccination Clusters Add to Measles Fears

Who's Watching the Kids?

This is a very informative and  high-quality documentary on the troubled teen industry.

Motion for mistrial denied in Nxivm founder’s sex trafficking case

Keith Raniere, center, depicted in a courtroom drawing with his lawyers
NY Post
Emily Saul and Lia Eustachewich 
May 8, 2019

A Brooklyn judge on [May 8, 2019] denied a motion for a mistrial in Nxivm founder Keith Raniere’s sex trafficking case.

The request from Marc Agnifilo, the lawyer representing the 58-year-old alleged sex cult leader, centered around witnesses in the trial testifying using only their first names.

He said the procedure makes it look as though Raniere is guilty.

“There was no sex trafficking, in my view,” Agnifilo said in court before jurors were called in for the day. “The problem we have now is I am being forced to adopt to the system. It is repugnant to my theory of the case.”

Several of Raniere’s alleged “slave” victims are expected to testify against him. Over the weekend, Brooklyn federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis ruled that only their first names would be used in court to protect their identities.

On [May 8, 2019], prosecutor Moira Penza noted “extreme privacy concerns” in the case.
“The nature of this case is so extreme and this is the heartland,” Penza said about the alleged slave witnesses. “[Raniere] should not be allowed to further humiliate these people.”

In denying Agnifilo’s motion, Garaufis said “any issue can be cured by a jury instruction.”

A hearing over the technicality came just before the trial’s first witness, Sylvie, returned to the stand to continue testimony. On Tuesday, the 32-year-old Briton gave jurors an in-depth look into how she was coaxed into joining Raniere’s exclusive harem of slaves.

May 9, 2019

Unpleasant meditation-related experiences in regular meditators: Prevalence, predictors, and conceptual considerations


So far, the large and expanding body of research on meditation has mostly focussed on the putative benefits of meditation on health and well-being. However, a growing number of reports indicate that psychologically unpleasant experiences can occur in the context of meditation practice. Very little is known about the prevalence and potential causes of these experiences. The aim of this study was to report the prevalence of particularly unpleasant meditation-related experiences in a large international sample of regular meditators, and to explore the association of these experiences with demographic characteristics, meditation practice, repetitive negative thinking, mindfulness, and self-compassion. Using a cross-sectional online survey, 1,232 regular meditators with at least two months of meditation experience (mean age = 44.8 years ± 13.8, 53.6% female) responded to one question about particularly unpleasant meditation-related experiences. A total of 315 participants (25.6%, 95% CI: 23.1 to 28.0) reported having had particularly unpleasant meditation-related experiences, which they thought may have been caused by their meditation practice. Logistic regression models indicated that unpleasant meditation-related experiences were less likely to occur in female participants and religious participants. Participants with higher levels of repetitive negative thinking, those who only engaged in deconstructive types of meditation (e.g., vipassana/insight meditation), and those who had attended a meditation retreat at any point in their life were more likely to report unpleasant meditation-related experiences. The high prevalence of particularly unpleasant meditation-related experiences reported here points to the importance of expanding the scientific conception of meditation beyond that of a (mental) health-promoting and self-regulating technique. We propose that understanding when these experiences are constitutive elements of meditative practice rather than merely negative effects could advance the field and, to that end, we conclude with an overview of methodological and conceptual considerations that could be used to inform future research.

Citation: Schlosser M, Sparby T, Vörös S, Jones R, Marchant NL (2019) Unpleasant meditation-related experiences in regular meditators: Prevalence, predictors, and conceptual considerations. PLoS ONE 14(5): e0216643. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0216643
Editor: Dusana Dorjee, Bangor University, UNITED KINGDOM
Received: August 24, 2018; Accepted: April 26, 2019; Published: May 9, 2019
Copyright: © 2019 Schlosser et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Data Availability: All data are available at the Open Science Framework:
Funding: The authors received no specific funding for this work.
Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Apr 30, 2019

Disengagement: Lessons From Cults And Sectarian Groups

Suzanne Newcombe
CREST (Centre For Research And Evidence on Security Treats)
21st May 2018

Suzanne Newcombe looks at cults and the reasons why people both leave and stay.

Violent extremist ideologies, particularly those associated with ‘Islamic terrorism’, cause the same kind of headline concern in the media that ‘cults’ did forty years ago. For example, the mass suicide-murder of 918 individuals in Jonestown, Guyana in November 1978, at the behest of a charismatic religious leader, shook public opinion in a similar way to current Islamic State-inspired atrocities.

As we see in some accounts of young people joining Islamic State, the assumption for cults was that the converts were blameless and in some way vulnerable. They were brainwashed into joining those groups. A cottage industry of ‘deprogrammers’ developed, which at times forcibly kidnapped the ‘brainwashed’ and implemented an enforced programme of ‘thought-reform’ through physical control and mental intimidation.

Eileen Barker’s seminal study of coverts to the Unification Church (often referred to as the Moonies after their founder-messiah figure Sun Yung Moon) proved that this popular model of understanding conversation to extreme groups was not backed up from evidence. What was needed was a more nuaunanced explanatory model to understand the factors for sudden turns towards extreme beliefs and behaviour.

Only a small proportion of cults ever engaged in violence, but many of those that didn’t might still be seen as extreme and extracting a high personal cost for membership. In this, we can see parallels between these groups and some terrorist movements. So, what we can learn from forty years of research into how people transition out of membership in high-demand religious groups?

Why do they leave?

People leaving extremist groups voluntarily is both frequent and normal – whilst membership figures often remain constant many high-demand groups have high rates of turn-over.

Sometimes a specific event that ‘goes too far’ triggers exiting. These kinds of events could relate to witnessing abuse, acknowledging hypocrisy between ideology and behaviour, or being asked to collude with or perpetrate an act that exceeds that person’s sense of morality. Sometimes the ideology itself suddenly appears illogical or untenable.

For other individuals there can be a slow drift out of the group. A seeping disillusionment with ideology or behavioural hypocrisy can drive incremental disengagement. Or the converse can happen: behavioural shifts precipitate disengagement and a looser affiliation to the general ideology follows.

Some individuals continue to hold an ambiguous middle-ground of affiliation for years, expressing sympathy with the group but also distancing themselves from certain activities and ideas. Sometimes these ‘marginal’ individuals can have an important role in criticising and critiquing the group’s worldview, influencing positive organisational change through time.

Why don’t they leave?

Of course, some never leave. This, despite what might appear to be obvious disconfirming evidences of the leader or belief system. What explains this behaviour? For some, exit costs are very high. They may have severed contact with friends and all social support outside the group. They may have given all financial assets to the group. They have been reliant on the group for employment, housing, and all social needs. There may also be a lingering mistrust of organisations which could help, based on years of antagonism towards ‘the system’.

In other cases, the main issue is a lack of basic knowledge of what structures and organisations might be able to support them, should they leave.

Helping people leave

The psychological cost of ‘losing face’ should not be underestimated. It is humiliating to admit you were wrong about major life decisions. This psychological barrier can keep some people affiliated even if they hold serious misgivings. Interventions which enable people to ‘opt out’ without serious loss of face or humiliation can help in this respect.

For example, many people join religious groups because they are idealistic. They genuinely want to make the world a better place. It can be helpful to redirect the positive motivations for joining the group, linking these ideals with less harmful groups.

Sympathetic friends or family can be a great help. Many find it easier to leave with another person or knowing they have a friend or relative who would welcome them into their home, at least for a time. People leaving groups need physical and psychological space to re-establish their identity and social networks. In the context of cults and sectarian groups, these are most often peer groups of other former members.

Beliefs are messy and complicated. The same individual may present their belief system differently in special social contexts. This is normal. Expressions of belief are both performative and contextual. It is important to take aspects of religious worldviews seriously and literally.

But it is also important to leave room for an individual’s interpretations to change. If an individual becomes defined by a specific presentation of the ideology, she may feel pushed to defend it. Commitment to a specific credo may become more rather than less extreme when it is challenged directly.

"While beliefs can certainly justify extreme behaviour, they do not necessarily lead to action."

It is far better to avoid backing people into conceptual corners or defining them by expressed beliefs. While beliefs can certainly justify extreme behaviour, they do not necessarily lead to action. It is important to separate out behaviour from beliefs. Behavioural indicators, including how ideas are expressed, are likely be more indicative of potential for violence, and danger to society, than the general ideological affiliation in itself.

Dr Suzanne Newcombe is a Lecturer in Religious Studies and a Research Fellow at Inform, based at the London School of Economics. Inform was founded in 1988 to empower decision-making and prevent the harm that can arise from misinformation about minority religions, sects, and related movements. It has 30 years experience in this field, acting as a bridge between academics, current and former members of cults, their friends and family, law enforcement, mainstream churches and government. Its database includes over 5,000 different groups and affiliated organisations.

This article appeared in issue 7 of CREST Security Review. You can read or download the original article here.

David G. Bromley. (Ed.). 1998. The politics of religious apostasy: The role of apostates in the transformation of religious movements. Westport CT, London: Praeger. Available at:
David G. Bromley. 2006. ‘Affiliation and disaffiliation careers in new religious movements’, in Eugene V. Gallagher and W. Michael Ashcraft (Eds.). Introduction to new and alternative religions in America. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press: pp. 42-64. Available at:
Stuart A. Wright. 2007. The dynamics of movement membership: Joining and leaving new religious movements, in David G. Bromley (Ed.) Teaching New Religions. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press: pp. 187-209. Available at:
As part of CREST’s commitment to open access research this article is available under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 licence. For more details on how you can use our content see here.

Apr 27, 2019

'My child left us to join a cult': Mother reveals son was brainwashed into thinking she abused him

In 2008 Barbara Weed's son Tom Bell abruptly left his family after listening to thousands of podcasts by the founder of Freedomain Radio Stefan Molyneux

The Mirror
August 20, 2015

A young teen who believed his parents had 'mistreated' him walked out on his family to join a cult.

Barbara Weed's son Tom Bell abandoned his family aged 18 in 2008 to join the Freedomain Radio, founded by Stefan Molyneux, and never looked back.

For his distraught mother, who has not seen her son for over six years, she has stopped looking for him but remains optimistic that he will one day return.

Speaking on the Channel 5 documentary Trapped in a Cult, Barbara said she discovered her son's letter disowning his family one day out of the blue.

It said: 'Dear family, I need to take an indefinite amount of time away from the family, so I've moved in with a friend. Please do not contact me. Tom.'

It was a distressing time for Barbara who believes her son is in a cult run by Stefan Molyneux, she thought the sounds of the Freedomain Radio were part of her son's homework until he left.

Speaking in the documentary she said Molyneux had told Tom that his family were 'abusing' him and that he needed to deFOO them - which meant getting rid of your family of origin.

Stefan Molyneux has in the past denied to the press that Freedomain Radio "is the furthest thing from a cult".

Secrets Of The Multi-Level Millionaires: Ellie Undercover

Ep 1/1

Saturday 27 April

From 10.00am

Journalist Ellie Flynn goes undercover to investigate a multi-billion pound online selling industry that mostly targets young women with the opportunity to earn big money.

The phenomenon known as ‘multi-level marketing’ is sweeping across social media as beautiful ‘influencers’ post job adverts offering the chance of six-figure incomes, cars and holidays in return for selling products online. More than 400,000 people in the UK are already signed up, and the industry has thousands of passionate supporters.

But as Ellie digs deeper into two companies, she uncovers a darker side behind these enticing Instagram posts and investigates accusations of illegal pyramid selling, systematic targeting of vulnerable people by recruiters and even brainwashing.

Travelling the length of the country, Ellie meets former sellers like young mum Vickie, who only made £20 after spending six months following the training at cosmetics company Nu Skin in the hope she could make enough money for her maternity leave. Ellie also meets Lindsay, who has a chronic illness and hoped selling for makeup company Younique would help her cover the bills while she struggled to find full-time work. Three years later, Lindsay is now in £3,000 of debt.

In search of answers and accountability from these billion-dollar companies, Ellie’s investigation takes her all the way to Utah, USA, and the heart of The Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - the Mormons - where many of these companies are based.

This film raises concerns about an industry which seems to have remained largely overlooked by regulators and mainstream media. Ellie’s investigation uncovers a serious gap in awareness about the potential risks of becoming involved, and a lack of transparency about the true earning success rate.

Apr 26, 2019

James Randy Carlos Channel Hoax

"Carlos" was the name of a 2,000-year-old spirit allegedly channeled by José Alvarez when he toured Australia in 1988.
Channeling was all the rage in Australia and an Australian television program contacted James Randi about finding someone who might show Australians that channeling was something doubtful.

Randi approached Alvarez, a performance artist and friend who had long toyed with the idea of creating such a character.

The rest, as they say, is history. Alvarez looked at videotapes of other people speaking in strange voices, pretending to be in touch with other worlds, and he picked it up right away.

Eventually he went to Australia, took the performance into the Sydney Opera House before a rapt audience there, all handling crystals and beads and whatnot, and with charmed looks on their faces, attracted and enthralled by this man onstage,
José Alvarez, doing the Spirit of Carlos that was claimed to be 2,000 years old. His performance was very convincing, and actually better than the "real" chanellers!

However, all of the material that he produced was spurious. In the press releases he invented magazines and newspapers, he invented towns and cities and radio stations and TV channels and whatnot, that didn't even exist.

He prepared videos of radio interviews and theater appearances that never happened. And just one phone call by the media back to the United States would have revealed the whole thing as a hoax. Even after it was all revealed on the Australian Sixty Minutes TV show, a week after the Opera House appearance, many continued to believe in "Carlos" and his uninspired messages. (Randi, personal correspondence.)

For Alvarez, the creation of the character "Carlos" was a performance/experiment to see how far he could take his creation, but his purpose was not to make people look foolish. He hoped to liberate them from a false belief.

However, the result of the performance seemed to demonstrate how easy it is to create a cult from scratch and how, even when the truth is revealed to them, some still refuse to accept it. The "Carlos" hoax also demonstrated how gullible and uncritical the mass media are when covering paranormal or supernatural topics. Rather than having an interest in exposing the truth, the members of the media were obsessed with "Carlos" the phenomenon and transformed his character from a hoax to a myth.

The character Alvarez had so arduously created was transmogrified by the press. The media didn't even need to do any research to have determined that "Carlos" was not genuine.

The biggest clue was handed to them on a silver platter:

  • "Carlos" performed for free. 
  • He offered crystals from Atlantis for sale, but took orders rather than cash. 
  • Every journalist should know that the first sign of an authentic fake guru is greed.

José Alvarez had hoaxed an entire continent with his art. But he had created something that the media and his audiences would take from him and recreate to suit their own needs. One lesson here has to be the magician's refrain: deception requires cooperation. Another lesson might be that the need to believe in something like a "Carlos" is so great in some people that we must despair of them ever being liberated.

Alvarez continues to travel the world performing "Carlos" in a malleable manifestation of his initial "incarnation." He appears on global network TV, and performs before large live audiences, engaging them in discussions regarding gurus and the dangers of passive acceptance of unquestioned belief. His goal? To bring people real enlightenment.

His ongoing exploration of the nature of belief, charisma, and power, and how they intersect, was featured at the 2002 Biennial Exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

Carlos hoax - The Skeptic's Dictionary -

Apr 23, 2019

Court papers detail creepy sex den allegedly used by Nxivm leader

Emily Saul
NY Post
April 23, 2019

Nxivm’s accused cult leader had sex with “slaves’’ in a pal’s home library — which included a bed elevated over a hot tub, according to new court papers.

The creepy digs were detailed in grand jury testimony from two women who said they had sexual relations with Keith Raniere in the second-floor study of a home at 8 Hale Drive in upstate Halfmoon. The house is owned by Nxivm co-founder Nancy Salzman.

“The bed was elevated, and a hot tub was underneath the bed,” a former Nxivm member, Mark Vicente, also testified, the papers say.

One of Raniere’s alleged slaves said she also had sex with the 58-year-old leader in the home of “Smallville” TV actress and high-ranking Nxivm member Allison Mack.

The library was where the feds found a hard drive containing child pornography and additional sexually explicit images of other Nxivm members, including bookkeeper Kathy Russell and accused DOS slave master, Lauren Salzman, prosecutors say.

Both women have since pleaded guilty for their role in the group, as has Mack.

Lawyers for Raniere are asking Brooklyn federal court Judge Nicholas Garaufis to bar jurors from hearing any evidence about the child porn.

They claim that a warrant was only issued for material relevant on or after Jan. 1, 2015 — and that the sexually explicit images of a then- 15-year-old were taken in 2005.

Raniere is accused of attempted sex trafficking, possession of child pornography, racketeering conspiracy and other charges.

ICSA: 8-session virtual event. Building Bridges: Leaving and Recovering from Cultic Groups and Relationships

Starts tomorrow!

ICSA: 8-session virtual event. Building Bridges: Leaving and Recovering from Cultic Groups and Relationships

Exit counselors Joseph Kelly and Patrick Ryan and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Rachel Bernstein will lead an 8-session ICSA virtual event.

The event will take place at 7:00 pm eastern time, beginning on April 24, 2019 and will continue weekly until June 12, 2019.

Topics discussed will include: Assessing a family’s unique situation; understanding why people join and leave groups; considering the nature of psychological manipulation and abuse; being accurate, objective, and up-to-date; looking at ethical issues; learning how to assess your situation; developing problem-solving skills; formulating a helping strategy; learning how to communicate more effectively with your loved one; learning new ways of coping.

The fee is $50 for the 8-session event, or $10 each for individual sessions.

More details.:

Apr 21, 2019

Charles Manson's youngest cult member. A Stockbridge-based author. 'The worst part was keeping this a secret.'

Heather Bellow

April 20, 2019

Berkshire Eagle

STOCKBRIDGE — Dianne Lake hid from the truth for 47 years.
Long ago, she had only told her husband and pastor that, starting at age 14, she had been one of "Charlie's girls" and the youngest member of Charles Manson's cult.
"And then I buried it," Lake said in an interview at The Red Lion Inn last week with co-author Deborah Herman, a Stockbridge-based literary agent and writer.

"I did not want to be associated with it," Lake said. "It was a big revelation to just admit to myself that, yeah, I really was a member of the Manson family, and I loved Charlie."

But years later, Lake, known in the Manson family as "Snake," would receive a divine nudge, she said. It was "an epiphany" that would have her writing her memories in longhand "in my PJs." And it led her to Herman, who, during law school, was obsessed with the Manson case down to its granular detail.

Lake and Herman, now best friends, talked about how they came together in 2016 to write "Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties."

Lake joined the California commune having landed under the spell of Manson, the charismatic leader who at one point envisioned himself as "the next Christ."

The cult quickly descended into madness and chaos after Manson led cult members on a path to murdering seven people in 1969, including actress Sharon Tate.

Lake, now 66 and still living in California, did not participate in the murders, but at age 16 was the key witness who helped put Manson and the others in prison. Manson, whose death sentence was commuted to life, died in 2017 at age 83.

Lake said she had lost much of her own spirit to the cult. After some time in jail, and at Patton State Hospital for protection and healing, she slowly would regain it and find her way back into herself. She eventually would expand her education, marry, have children and work as a special education teacher. And she later would try to understand what had happened to the child who found herself with a 33-year-old lover, a man who became the malevolent 1960s icon — the dark side of the hippy movement.

Pressed by fear of being outed, Lake eventually told her children of those days in Manson's commune, and of hiding out in Death Valley. 

But it took years, and the loss of her husband to cancer in 2012, to muster the courage to excavate the memories of Manson and earlier recollections of her parents' counterculture life that made her susceptible.

True crime and spirituality

Rewind to Herman's law school days at Ohio State University, where her passion for the true crime genre led her to also study literary journalism.

"I really wanted to be Truman Capote, only taller, and with a lower voice," said Herman, 60. "Ohio State was the target of many cults, and I was obsessed and fascinated with the Manson case."

And this would continue. Jeff Herman, her husband and partner at their Stockbridge literary agency, asked her, "Why are you obsessed with this darkness?

A week later, the couple received a "cold-call email" submission from Lake, who said she had never told her story. Looking back, Lake said she was looking for an agent "that believed in a higher power."

Jeff Herman held the email up.
"I will never doubt you," he told his wife.

"I thought, `This is what you've been waiting for,' " Deborah Herman said. "I knew it had the makings of a great book.

The grace would not stop there. Manson died about three weeks before the book's release. And both women say the spiritual world has had a hand in this "healing journey."

They both also say that evil forces overwhelmed Manson, whose early sexual abuse and abandonment rendered him the perfect vessel to make him sexually predatory, and coursing with sociopathic and narcissistic extremism.

"Charlie knew what you were afraid of, and could paint a scenario that would use all those insights to his advantage," she writes in "Member of the Family."

The short version of how Lake fell prey: Her parents decided to drop out of straight society. Her father traded the house for a trailer. Then the car broke down and the family of five wound up in a trailer park. 

Eventually Lake's parents would disappear emotionally into commune life in places like Hog Farm and Oracle in California in a retrofitted bread truck. They had given Lake freedom to explore. She was sexually active, yet at Hog Farm, she was considered dangerous "jailbait."

But that wasn't a problem on the Manson family's "magic bus," where all of Manson's other girls also embraced her.

"Charlie and the girls also made it okay for me to want to have sex," she writes in the book. "It seems so simple, yet it freed me from the confusion and shame I'd been experiencing since I was nine."

Manson gave Lake her first taste of love and belonging. And Lake said Manson was a "sweet lover and very gentle." She was made to feel like Manson's one and only special girl.

"... he made you believe there was no one else in the world. He also had the uncanny sensibility bestowed upon mystics, yet misused by sociopaths and con men, to know exactly what you needed."

Asked if she looks back on all this simply as sexual abuse, Lake says yes.

"I was not old enough to make those kinds of decisions," she said, adding that this '60s cultural revolution was "a pedophile's dream"

'Break from The Borg'

Her blue eyes shining under auburn bangs, Lake beams as she pulls up photos of she and her second husband at their wedding last summer in a German castle.

She is now able to hang on to the reality of her life and still recount the trauma of her youth, in which she was at the center of a drama that upended the narrative of the freewheeling '60s.

"The gun stores were running out of guns," Lake said of Hollywood after the murders. "It sent the whole hippie movement underground."

As Lake helped prosecutors, she started to find herself again. Even by simply stating her name in the courtroom.

"I am Dianne Lake. I'm 16, and I want my mommy."

"She cried," Herman said. "But she had gotten her identity back."

That, and simply creating, also helped: At Patton State Hospital, she would learn to crochet and play the flute. Herman said every one of these things, including religion, helped Lake.

"It's the break from The Borg," Herman said, referencing the single-hive mind in the "Star Trek" series. "In a cult, you become a widget."

Herman said the book isn't a "Manson book."

"It's about triumph over trauma," she said. "It's an Everywoman's story."

The book was a best-seller on Amazon when it first was released. It is now in paperback, after two hardcover printings.
It's also a cautionary tale about what leads to indoctrination, to perversion and the harm in staying silent, say Lake and Herman.

"Every single person has a secret, and every single person has shame and an inability to forgive," Herman said.Lake agrees.

"The worst part was keeping this a secret."
Heather Bellow can be reached at or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.,571072

Apr 20, 2019

Seagram’s liquor heiress Clare Bronfman pleads guilty in NXIVM cult prosecution, to pay $6 million forfeiture


Boston Herald 

April 20, 2019

Seagram’s liquor empire heiress Clare Bronfman pleaded guilty to federal charges Friday for her part in running the sordid NXIVM sex cult, becoming the latest top-echelon member to cut a deal rather than face a jury.

Bronfman, 40, spoke in an almost childlike whisper as she entered her pleas to two separate counts at a late afternoon hearing in Brooklyn Federal Court. She recounted growing up in a family of great wealth and generosity, and straying from those roots after joining the raunchy cult’s executive board.

“I was afforded a great gift by my grandfather and father,” she said as reporters strained to hear her words. “With the gift comes important, tremendous responsibility. It does not come with an ability to break the law; it comes with greater responsibility to uphold it.

“I failed to uphold the following laws set forth by this country, and for that I am truly sorry.”
Bronfman, wearing a beige cardigan and scarf, then pleaded guilty to conspiracy to conceal and hide illegal aliens for financial gain and to fraudulent use of identification — using the credit card and banking information of cult leader Keith Raniere’s dead ex-lover.

Raniere, the only one of the six NXIVM members indicted last year who has not pleaded guilty, is due in court Monday for the start of jury selection in his trial.
Bronfman, the daughter of the late billionaire philanthropist and former Seagram chairman Edgar Bronfman Sr., declined to speak with reporters afterward.

Her sentencing was set for July 25, with Bronfman likely facing a sentence of 21 to 27 months in prison and a $6 million forfeiture payment in lieu of surrendering the property used in the cult conspiracy count. She will also pay restitution of $96,605.23 to one of the cult’s victims.

Shortly after Bronfman’s hearing ended, co-defendant Kathy Russell — the cult’s longtime bookkeeper — arrived in the same courtroom and pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis. The 61-year-old appeared sad and ashamed as she admitted to a single count of visa fraud, with sentencing guidelines recommending 6 to 12 months for the crime.

“I know what I did is wrong,” the emotional Russell said after entering her plea. “I compromised my own principals, and I will have to live with that for the first of my life.”

Their pleas came 10 days after sobbing “Smallville” actress and co-defendant Allison Mack copped a plea to racketeering and conspiracy charges, including duping some women into believing the cult was actually a self-help group. Cult co-founder Nancy Salzman, known as the “Prefect,” and her daughter Lauren have also pleaded guilty to federal charges.

Bronfman — who was briefly represented by attorney Michael Avenatti before his federal indictment — was using a trust fund to foot the legal bill for her fellow cult members/co-defendants.

Her plea leaves charismatic NXIVM leader Raniere, 57, facing prosecution all by himself for heading the upstate New York sex cult where female members were blackmailed and branded with a symbol incorporating the initials “KR.”
It’s unclear if Bronfman will continue to cover Raniere’s tab when his trial kicks off next week.

Apr 19, 2019

Detention of St. Petersburg Church of Scientology leaders extended once more

April 19, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG, April 19 (RAPSI, Mikhail Telekhov) - The St. Petersburg City Court has again extended detention for the Church of Scientology of St. Petersburg leader Ivan Matsitsky and the religious group’s chief accountant Sakhib Aliyev charged with extremism and illegal business operations, Aliev’s defense attorney Yevgeny Smirnov has told RAPSI.

The ruling on the detention’s extension has been issued because the defendants have not finished reading case materials yet. According to the lawyer, the defendants refused to study case papers yet in October, but investigators insisted that the materials be delivered to the detention center.

As of today, they are held in detention for nearly two years.
In March 2018, searches were conducted at the premises of the Church of Scientology of St. Petersburg. The raids were directed to identifying more items and documents confirming the criminality of the religious organization leaders’ actions, the FSB press-service said.

According to investigators, from 2013 to 2016, the organization received over 276 million rubles (about $5 million) for rendering its services. However, the Church of Scientology of St. Petersburg has not been incorporated under the law, an FSB representative said in court earlier.

Three other defendants in the case are the organization’s executive director Galina Shurinova, chief of the official matters department Anastasia Terentyeva and her assistance Constance Yesaulkova. They have been placed under house arrest.

Dianetics and Scientology are a set of religious and philosophical ideas and practices that were put forth by L. Ron Hubbard in the US in the early 1950s.

The scientific community never recognized it as science.
A resolution passed in 1996 by the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, classified the Church of Scientology as a destructive religious organization.
The Moscow Regional Court ruled in 2012 that some of Hubbard’s books be included on the Federal List of Extremist Literature and prohibited from distribution in Russia.

Apr 17, 2019

NXIVM bookkeeper invoked Fifth dozens of times in grand jury

Kathy Russell had been asked about computer hacking and money laundering

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

ALBANY — A longtime bookkeeper for NXIVM invoked her right against self-incrimination dozens of times when she testified before a federal grand jury last year, refusing to answer questions about the secretive organization's leaders, her personal life and numerous alleged criminal acts.

The details of the testimony by Kathy L. Russell, 61, who has been associated with NXIVM since coming to the Capital Region from Alaska in 2002, were revealed in a court order unsealed this week in which a federal judge declined to dismiss her criminal case.

During her grand jury appearance last summer, Russell was asked by federal prosecutors about the hacking of computers of NXIVM's "perceived enemies," large amounts of cash coming across the U.S. border, alleged tax evasion and immigration fraud, the branding of women in a secret slave-master club, and NXIVM co-founder Keith Raniere's alleged sexual abuse of underage girls.

Russell was indicted a month after her grand jury appearance in a federal racketeering case that also charged Raniere; NXIVM president and co-founder Nancy Salzman; Salzman's daughter, Lauren; television actress Allison Mack; and Clare Bronfman, the organization's operations director and an heiress of the Seagram's liquor empire.

In the past month, Mack and the Salzmans have pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy and racketeering charges. Bronfman, Raniere and Russell are scheduled to go on trial May 7.

A court order unsealed this week that contains details of Russell's grand jury testimony confirms the breadth of the Justice Department's investigation and the alleged criminal enterprise run by its leaders, who for nearly two decades had avoided meaningful law enforcement scrutiny.

The judge analyzed Russell's grand jury testimony after her attorneys argued the case against her should be dismissed because federal prosecutors were aware of her alleged criminal conduct — and she was therefore a subject of the investigation — but did not tell her that when she testified before the panel. The judge rejected the motion.

Her attorneys said evidence used to support search warrants that were executed at various NXIVM-associated properties in March 2018 — after Raniere was taken into custody in Mexico — indicated the FBI was probing tax evasion and cash smuggling related to Russell's work within the organization.

During her grand jury appearance, prosecutors "engaged Russell in an extended conversation about whether she had ever asked Raniere about allegations that he had sexually abused minors or raped a particular woman," the judge wrote. "The government noted that it had evidence that Keith Raniere had had sex with underage girls."

Prosecutors also pressed Russell about the last time she had been to Canada; whether she had manufactured fake identification for someone; "and if she was 'aware of NXIVM ever paying to obtain passwords to somebody's email account' or 'to hack in somebody else's computer.'"

Later in the day, after Russell had testified before the grand jury for about two hours, she and her attorney at the time, William Fanciullo of Albany, met with FBI agents and federal prosecutors who offered Russell a plea agreement. Eight days later, Fanciullo rejected the offer.

On July 23 — about six weeks after she testified in the grand jury — Russell was indicted and arrested in Albany. She's charged with two criminal acts of identity theft as part of the alleged racketeering conspiracy.

The indictment accuses Russell of helping smuggle a woman through the Canadian border with fake identification, and helping install a "key-logger" device on the computer of a NXIVM accountant to obtain his email and passwords so that his emails could be secretly monitored.

When Russell appeared in U.S. District Court in Albany last July, Fanciullo told the judge his client had very little cash, a car worth about $8,000 and no assets. He said she lived in a Clifton Park apartment.


Apr 16, 2019

Fake pastors and false prophets rock churches in South Africa - BBC Africa

Mbulelo Mtshilibe
BBC News Africa
March 13, 2019

Rape and fraud scandals involving fake pastors have prompted calls for regulation of churches in South Africa.

There have been a number of high- profile cases in recent months involving disgraced pastors and self-proclaimed prophets. President Cyril Ramaphosa has even got involved, urging South Africans to come together to curb bogus pastors.

Victims of alleged sexual abuse have detailed their experiences to the BBC and criticised the invulnerability of so-called men of God who use their position of authority as a cover for abuse.

Video journalist: Christian Parkinson

Crown wraps up closing arguments in British Columbia child bride case

Vancouver sun


April 15, 2019


CRANBROOK, B.C. — The Crown wrapped up its case Monday against a former member of a fundamentalist sect who is charged with the alleged removal of a girl from Canada in 2004 to marry a man in the United States.

Special prosecutor Peter Wilson argued that the Crown doesn’t have to prove that sexual activity took place between the girl and the man she married.

“The Crown only has to prove that at some point during the unfolding of the events, that the accused intended or subjectively foresaw that (the girl) would be subject to sexual contact,” Wilson told a B.C. Supreme Court judge in Cranbrook.

James Oler is charged with removing the 15-year-old girl from Canada to marry a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which practises polygamy in Bountiful, B.C., and the United States.

He was acquitted in 2017 by a judge who was not convinced Oler did anything within Canada’s borders to arrange the girl’s transfer to the U.S. But the B.C. Court of Appeal agreed with the Crown that proof of wrongdoing in Canada was not necessary and ordered a new trial..

Wilson argued that Oler should have known the girl would be subject to sexual activity following her marriage based on the nature of church doctrine and the role of women in the faith.

Women do not have financial assets and need permission to travel or pursue post-secondary education, former church members told the trial. They were taught that their role within the religion was to be a celestial wife in polygamous marriages and to bear children.

The court has heard the 15-year-old girl’s marriage was documented by priesthood records kept by Warren Jeffs, the church’s president and prophet. The records were seized after U.S. law enforcement raided the Yearning for Zion ranch in Texas a decade ago.

One priesthood record describes a phone call that Jeffs made to Oler, allegedly asking him to bring the girl to the United States to be married.

Oler, who is self-represented, did not call any witnesses or mount a legal defence.

Joe Doyle, who is serving as a friend of the court to ensure a fair trial, will present his closing arguments on Tuesday.

(Cranbrook Daily Townsman)