Nov 25, 2013

This man could have been a terrorist; instead he rehabilitates them

West Australian Today
November 18, 2013

Noor Huda Ismail's roommate at boarding school went on to play a vital role in the 2002 Bali bombings- and had things been slightly different for Mr Ismail, he too could have been a terrorist.
The difference between him and his friend who goes by the name Mubarok, was that he had a different frame of reference and experiences according to Mr Ismail who will be in Perth this week to speak at a conference on extremism.
Fadlullah Hasan who is known by most as Mubarok is now serving a life sentence for helping transport explosives to Bali which were later used in the bombings at the Sari Club and Paddy's Bar where 202 people, including 88 Australians, died.
Mr Ismail now works with terrorists to reincorporate them into society as productive members of their communities.
He is set to talk about his work at Curtin University's Countering Violent Extremism Symposium 2013 which will be held on November 21 and 22.

Mr Ismail said the thought that he could have taken a path to extremism was "very scary." "I think if I didn't have enough critical thinking... I could've gone and fought in Afghanistan." 

While the schools he attended as a primary and secondary student are now known for harbouring radical views, he said he was not aware of this at the time and his parents did not realise. 

"You cannot tell from looking at it from the outside," Mr Ismail said.

After graduation, Mubarok went to Pakistan for further education, an opportunity Mr Ismail also almost took up.

Instead, Mr Ismail remained in Indonesia to study and Mubarok's further education in Pakistan ended up taking him down the a path that involved military training.

Mr Ismail went on to work as a journalist and while working in this field covered the 2002 Bali bombings.

"Working as a journalist [covering the Bali bombing] I saw lots of dead people," he said.

"I thought 'what type of person has the ability to do this?'

"Two months later I saw it was my roommate from school."
Mr Ismail described this as "a turning point" in his life. He said it was that revelation that motivated him to travel the world learning about what drives
terrorism in different countries.

Mr Ismail said it was about a person's experiences and what they had been exposed to. "That's what I love about my mum, she encouraged me to ask questions and don't take it for granted," he said.

"Part of the reason people become extremists is because of their narrow mindedness, they do not have critical thinking skills, they take for granted what teachers say is true, what is written in books, without questioning anything. 

"My friend, he was very narrow minded, while I was exposed to a more secular way of thinking."

Mr Ismail said not everyone understood what he was doing by working with former terrorists. 

"Some people think I'm trying to revive their network," he said.

Mr Ismail said the program he has put together as part of his work, which has so far seen 10 former terrorists graduate from it, required compassion.
"You have to win their heart and their trust," he said.

"I visit them in jail and talk to them to understand what they did and why, but it is important to note that understanding is different from supporting.

"After you win their heart, you give them a skill."

Those involved have spent time working in the hospitality industry. 

"Then you work on ideology, the work in the cafe helps question that," Mr Ismail said.

"I want to change their ideology through introducing them with different types of people from different backgrounds.
"You have to negotiate and serve in the restaurant, it's not just handing out food, you have to talk with them."
He said in many cases, those he worked with had never interacted with people from different backgrounds before spending time working in hospitality.
Mr Ismail said once the participants in his program began progressing they were invited to bring their friends along who also then can benefit from similar types of exposure.
He said people needed to realise where people with extreme views were coming from in order to counter them.
"We need to have a broader understanding, rather than just- this is a lunatic guy blowing things up, I've never met a mentally ill terrorist, they are not necessarily insane."
Mr Ismail is the founding director of the Institute for International Peace Building, a Jakarta-based think tank focusing on regional conflict and security.
He will speak at CVE 2013, which is Australia's first national and international dialogue on countering violent extremism. 

Nov 23, 2013

Yoido Full Gospel Church elders make explosive allegations of massive corruption

Senior pastor David Yonggi Cho accused of siphoning off millions in church funds; his camp denies the allegations
Nov. 15, 2013

The Hankyoreh
By Cho Yeon-hyun, religion correspondent

30 elders from Yoido Full Gospel Church, the world’s largest megachurch, held a press conference at the Korea Ecumenical Building in Seoul’s Jongno district on Nov. 14 to allege that senior pastor David Yonggi Cho and his family funneled off hundreds of billions of won from church donations.

The sheer scale of the amounts alleged by the elders to have been misappropriated is beyond the imagination. The elders made public a report from an investigation into three alleged improprieties by Cho made by a special investigation committee and ethics committee formed within the church last year. This time around, the allegations came from members of a group called the Prayer Meeting for Correcting the Church, including elders Kim Dae-jin and Kim Seok-kyun.

First, they claim that Cho returned only 64.3 billion won (US$60.2 million) of the 163.3 billion won (US$152.9 million) he borrowed from the church while building the CCMM Building between 1992 and 1998, when he was chairman of the church‘s Mission Society. The remaining 99 billion won (US$92.7 million), they say, was never returned.

By the elders’ account, construction payments of 28.5 billion won (US$26.7 million) and 16.6 billion won (US$15.5 million) were made at the time to Next Media Corporation and Facility Management Korea, companies managed by Cho’s eldest son Hee-jun.

It is also being claimed that Cho’s third son Seung-jae’s International Club Management Group bought three floors of the building from the church for 29.5 billion won (US$27.6 million) and sold them back three years later for 37.2 billion won (US$34.8 million) - pocketing the difference of 7.7 billion won (US$7.2 million).

In addition to allegedly appropriating 34.2 billion won (US$32 million) in Kukmin Ilbo newspaper lifetime reader memberships from 50,000 people for stock investments, Cho Hee-jun was also accused by the elders of making off with a total of 240 billion won (US$224.7 million) in assets related to the church.

They also claimed that David Cho’s wife Kim Sung-hae, president of Hansei University, has yet to account for 10.5 billion won (US$9.8 million) paid by the church as support for Bethesda Christian University, an institution she runs in the US. The elders also view US real estate purchased by the university for around US$15 million as having been bought with church money.
In total, the elders are accusing the Chos of embezzling as much as US$500 million or more in church money.

Associates of David Yonggi Cho insisted he had “no connection with any direct exchanges of money.”

Kim Sung-hae’s camp said the details of the Bethesda Christian University situation would be brought to light by prosecutors, who are currently investigating, but added that the elders’ claims were “merely allegations, not facts, and not worth responding to each one.”

The most explosive part of the allegations is the sheer amount of money supposedly received by David Yonggi Cho. The elders claim he received a severance payment of 20 billion won (US$18.7 million) when he stepped down as head pastor in 2008 - and that even that was decided without their knowledge or any voting by major church decision-making bodies. They also said no information was available on the whereabouts of 12 billion won (US$11.2 million) a year paid between 2004 and 2008 - 60 billion won in total - for “special missionary expenses.”

The elders gave a yearly total of 100 billion to 120 billion won (US$93.6-112.3 million) in donations received by the church. This would mean the annual amount taken in by the headquarters dropped by almost half from about 200 billion won a year when Cho spun off the Jisungjun center in downtown Seoul around the time he handed over senior pastor duties to Lee Young-hoon in 2008. Nevertheless, it remains the largest amount received in donations by any religious body in South Korea.

The elders also claim that Cho continued controlling the church even after his “retirement” by making decisions as “governor” - to the point where his successor Lee had difficulty exercising his authority on appointments and finances.

One of the former elders at the press conference, Ha Sang-ok, previously admitted to taking part in giving 1.5 billion won (US$1.4 million) while collecting the book “Madame Butterfly in Paris” from a female vocalist in France named Jeong who anonymously wrote the account about an affair with Cho.

“A sect leader might violate the commandments and do as he wishes, but a pastor cannot do that,” Ha said. “Over the past 14 years, I have met with Rev. Cho many times to try to persuade him to repent and return to being a great pastor, but the corruption has continued. That‘s why I had no choice but to disclose it to the outside world.”

The elders also made public a statement allegedly made by Cho saying he would give Jeong 1.5 billion won in exchange for her making no future mention of their extramarital relationship, along with copies of receipts for the two transactions totaling 3 billion won.

The church’s public relations office said the claims were “a personal matter that the church has no comment on.”

Lee Won-gun, an elder who functions as Cho’s “chief of staff,” said Cho is “unconcerned with money, to the point where I’ve never once seen him talk about giving money or not giving money to somebody.”
“There will be a response from this side after looking at the elders’ claims,” Lee added.

Cho is currently on trial for alleged causing 15.7 billion won (US$14.7 million) in damages to the church by instructing it to buy 250,000 shares of his eldest son’s stocks at a rate four times market value.

During the press conference, a physical altercation occurred when a number of Cho’s supporters attempted to rush the platform at the press conference and accused the elders of “insulting” the pastor.

Nov 13, 2013

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi visits New Delhi to attend Vedic conference

Right from the time that he attracted the attention of such noteworthies as the Beatles and Mia Farrow, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi has become the symhol of oriental mysticism and life-style to the awed Westerner. Recently, the yogi arrived with several thousand disciples from their headquarters at Seelisburg to attend a Vedic conference in New Delhi. 

INDIA TODAY reports on the event which caused quite a stir and drew many a curious eye.

S. Mitra
India Today
November 30, 2013

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi: Skill in selling packaged spiritualism

It was a carnival, a Marwari wedding, a Kumbh Mela and a political campaign in the USA - all rolled into one. From the moment His Holiness the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi arrived at Palam Airport, New Delhi, on November 5 by an Air-India Boeing 747 - followed by his 3,470 disciples from all over the world - the religious capital of the 2.5 million-strong "transcendental meditation" (TM) enthusiasts shifted to Delhi from the international headquarters at Seelisburg in the cool shadow of the Swiss Alps.

The Express Building on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, the venue of the TM jamboree, was converted overnight from a newspaper office to something like the transit lounge of a busy international airport. Cymbals clanged, bells pealed, and Vedic hymns were chanted every morning and evening as the huge TM congregation sat cross-legged before the Maharishi in the large air-conditioned hall of the newly-constructed building.

The lecture session over, the crowd milled around in the spacious lobby where huge no-smoking signs were posted. At the gates, a tight security cordon kept oglers out. Grim-faced whites belonging to the Maharishi's praetorian guards waited at the gate of the guest enclosure, checking the identity of each person entering the sanctum sanctorum where the holy man lived. Under a shamiana erected nearby, gigantic pots boiled all day long to cook the vegetarian community meals.

The Guru in deep thought: Consciousness as a 'holistic projection of the activity of all the neurons and all the cells'

And, pacing up and down the corridor, was the figure of Ramnath Goenka, 71, the old patriarch of the Express empire, the host to the Maharishi's world conference on Vedic science, and the newest convert to the cult of transcendental meditation. The conference, which is being attended only by those who have gone through the Maharishi's "TM-Sidhi" programme, is said to be the first of its kind.

The TM-Sidhi programme is an advanced course for those who have mastered the TM techniques. The Maharishi has 14,000 TM-Sidhi experts among his 2.5 million TM-trained disciples. The Sidhi experts, or Siddhas (derived from the Sanskrit word siddhi, meaning "achievement") are all urbane, taciturn young men and women in their 30s who have austere habits and who claim to practise levitation during the TM session.

Says Goenka, who began his levitation lessons last fortnight under the Maharishi: "I see these 3,000 people flying in the air every morning and evening right here, in Express Building. I don't require any other proof, nor do I have any doubt that I too will be able to fly in a month or so." However, even repeated requests could not persuade Goenka to throw open the flying sessions to the press.

Build-up: The conference on Vedic Science, for which the delegates are spending I over Rs 10 crore-including price of air I tickets-is a unique combination of hard-selling and spiritualism. The ostensible aim of the conference is to discuss the philosophy of the Vedas in the light of the findings of modern science. It is accompanied by an amazing build-up of a personality cult around the Maharishi. Clad in a silk dhoti. his salt-and-pepper beard hugging his chest, the holy man steps out of his heavily guarded living room only twice a day. As he hurries down the corridor with its plush wall-to-wall carpets, the guards form a ring around him, and the hallway resounds with a choric incantation of "Om". His path is strewn with broken petals of marigold. While walking down, he showers on onlookers smiles which may be variously read 'as amused, contemptuous and blank. The smile breaks out into an infectious, schoolboyish giggle as he settles down for a bath in the open, with two aides scrubbing his back.

He begins his sessions seated on a raised pedestal and often in full glare of video cameras. He utters "Jai Gurudev" and the crowd cheers him in Sanskrit with a pronounced Yankee twang. Their greetings mean: "I bow down to him who breaths out the Veda and creates the universe from it, remaining uninvolved. And who is the cherished shrine of pilgrimage for all the streams of knowledge." 

Investment Blitz: On another plane, the conference is being used as a massive springboard for the Maharishi's globe-girdling empire (net worth: over Rs 100 crore) to launch a colossal investment blitz in India, putting to shade the achievements of so many other competing godmen. The immediate plan of the Maharishi, as Goenka admitted in a forthright interview, is to set up a "Vedic university" in Delhi at a mind-boggling cost of Rs 22 crore.

After overtures made to the private owners of a five-star hotel in New Delhi for outright purchase of the building drew a blank, the financial whiz-kids in the Maharishi outfit are now planning to acquire a plot of Delhi Development Authority land It will be fitted out with a residential complex for international students, a series of modern laboratories, computer facilities and, possibly, a landing strip for the half a dozen executive jets owned by the Maharishi European Research University (MERU) at Seelisburg.

The university will largely cater to the international crowd, and will even teach Ayurveda, the ancient medical science of India. "It'll be," as one of the Maharishi's aides says, "a synthesis of the Vedas and the computer, a unique mix of academic disciplines." Goenka echoes: "India is going to be put back on the map of world education after a few thousand years. The university will be respected just as Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard are respected."

The university is perhaps the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and the size of the actual investment planned in India may be five times more. The plan. about which the Maharishi's inner circle is tight-lipped, includes setting up TM centres in all state capitals, expanding the Maharishi Institute of Creative Intelligence at Rishikesh, and erecting a huge Vedic study centre on a recently acquired 150-acre plot of land at New Okhla industrial Development Area (NOIDA) in the trans-Jamuna belt. The Indian investment plans of the Maharishi work out as the single largest inward remittance ever made by any Indian earning abroad.

The Past: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, by far the biggest tycoon of the Karma-Cola circuit, comes from Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh. In the best tradition of Indian godmen, he too tries to fudge the details of his early years, or purbashram, as the jargon goes. But various sources in Allahabad identify him as one J.N. Srivastava, the eldest son of a local schoolteacher, who had a none-too-distinguished career as a B.Sc student in a local college.

Those who knew him aver that he graduated sometime in the early '40s, and calculate his age as between 60 and 65. Peter Wur-burton, his suave, Cambridge-educated press secretary, affirms: "The Maharishi read physics in Allahabad University." However, the only mark of scientific training that the Maharishi seems to carry is his capacity to rattle off, in measured bursts, jargon of physical and biological sciences during his lecture sessions. Example: "Awareness does not produce entropy. It does not produce disorder," or "What consciousness is, is a holistic projection of the activity of all the neurons and all the cells." A scientific abracadabra, in short.

During the Second World War, probably in 1943, Srivastava (or, the Maharishi) gave up his studies and moved up to Jyoti Math, north of Rishikesh, where His Divinity Swami Brahmananda Saraswati Bhagwan Jagadguru Shankarcharya ruled the roost. Brahmananda was attracted to Srivastava even though he was a Kayastha, and not a Brahmin. He made him his secretary in 1950.

Srivastava's skill in managing large funds and in selling packaged spiritualism was evident from the day he took over as Brahmananda's secretary. Reportedly by his single-handed efforts, an aura was created around Brahmananda and the myth went round the country's spiritual grapevines that the swami could produce wads of currency notes from nowhere.

For the assembled crowds at Jyoti Math, the newly-appointed secretary would put a strict ban on all kinds of offerings, including cash. This only deepened the mystery of the currency notes. However, Brahmananda died in 1954, and the grapevines were again agog with reports of a large sum disappearing from Jyoti Math's coffers, the contents of which were not known.

Greener Pastures: Srivastava gave up the subsequent succession struggle at Jyoti Math largely because he, being a Kayastha, would not even be considered for appointment as Shankaracharya. The young science graduate from Allahabad surfaced back as late as 1957, this time in full regalia as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and as the founder of the Spiritual Regeneration Movement. The Madras show was a damp squib and it forced the Maharishi to seek a greener pasture, this time in California.

For the Maharishi, the West was not won easily. In 1959, he held the first international conference on his method of spiritual exercise, by then known as transcendental meditation, at Sequoia National Park, USA. He wove back into India a couple of years later, and went back to Europe in 1963. By that time four lads from Liverpool had hit it big as the 'Beatles' and had sung their way into the heart of the long-haired freaked-out Woodstock generation.

The Maharishi met the Beatles around 1964. Soon afterwards, together with Ravi Shankar, the sitar player, a unique packaging formula for music, orientalism and exotic life-style emerged in Europe. It swept the USA in the wake of the Woodstock Festival, to which the Maharishi lent his magnificent presence.

However, unlike Ravi Shankar, whose popularity faded away with the end of the Beatles era, the Maharishi did not have to look back after Woodstock. In fact, he changed his slot quickly and assumed leadership of the new worldwide fad for "cleanliness" as opposed to the culture of the junkies, the pot-addicts and the pushers.

Transcendental Meditation: The '70s opened new horizons for the Maharishi's "science of creative intelligence", with Stanford University in California introducing a course in it. The basic idea is simple: by forcing the mind to concentrate on a mantra, the inherent disorderliness gives way to a relaxed condition, a state of "alert restfulness".

The keyword of TM is concentration. The reduction in the levels of stress, as brought about by TM, can also be achieved through hypnosis. Says Dhirendra Nath Ganguly, who practises Pavlovian hypnotherapy in Calcutta: "Meditation may be just another way of bringing the mind to a state where it can receive suggestions."

However, the US Government, reeling under an unprecedented wave of drug abuses, saw its only ray of hope in TM. It was prescribed for the US Army soon, and many states recommended it for prisoners. In 1970, the scientific folklore around TM began mushrooming for the first time, with the famous US journal. Science, publishing a paper on it. Largely through the Maharishi's spell-binding marketing skill.

TM acquired a unique respectability. Brian Josephson the British Nobel Prize-winning physicist, was drawn into the fold. Various universities began accepting PhD. theses on TM, and a number of state governments in the USA made official proclamations supporting "the science of creative intelligence".

The TM community today has 2.5 million members, not to speak of the 18,000 trained teachers. In the USA, a TM client normally pays 200 dollar (Rs 1,600) for a course of seven sessions. There are 2,000 centres spread over 140 countries in which TM lessons are given. For the advanced course, or the TM-Sidhi programme, the fees are much higher. Says Goenka: "I am sure they charge something around 7,000 US dollars (Rs 56,000) for a month-long Sidhi course". The Maharishi's avowed universalism is more evident in spiritual matters than in temporal.

In the "World Government of Creative Intelligence", inaugurated by him in 1976, the list of executive administrators is dominated by the Srivastava clan. There are five Srivastavas, including a woman, Kirti Srivastava, directly involved in the running of the world-wide TM empire. Inside sources hint that the Srivastavas are really the Maharishi's four nephews and a niece.

"This is a remarkable coincidence." said a retired Supreme Court judge who had arbitrated in a number of temple disputes, "because spiritual, attainment is normally not known to be a family trait." However, repeated queries regarding the identity of the Srivastavas elicited only one reply from the Maharishi's camp: "He does not like to discuss his past life".

Incredible Claims: The Maharishi claims that his Sidhi programme is a spin-off from the writings of the Hindu philosopher, Patanjali, which claim that supernatural feats, such as flying in the air, are within the realm of possibility. "It's not our fault if modern science cannot explain the TM-Sidhi programme. On the other hand, it's a failure of modern science if it cannot explain the programme", he repeats in his lectures.

Some of the claims made recently in New Delhi by the Maharishi's outfit are mind-boggling. Says Wurburton: "We have noticed that whenever a TM-Sidhi programme is launched anywhere in the world, a peaceful effect is felt on the political scene. And even when the square root of one per cent of the total population of a country practises TM-Sidhi, it can still have a profound impact on the society."

The Maharishi's aides claim that within three months of practising TM-Sidhi in the tiny state of Rhode Island there was a 44 per cent drop in "all the negative indicators". Wurburton announces the Maharishi's "desire" to keep a TM-Sidhi programme going round the year in India, and hopes that it will bring down the negative indicators in India too, "including the rising prices and the trouble in Assam".

He claims with a straight face that within weeks of starting the programme in New Delhi, the Chinese Government announced its intention to solve the border problem with India across the table. "Is that not a clear sign that the programme's effect is being felt", he asks with a quizzical smile. Then he emphatically adds that it is only the TM-Sidhi programme that remote-controlled Mrs Gandhi's "positive action" of convening a session of the National Integration Council.

The present Indian operation of the Maharishi is a certain indicator that the headquarters of his international operations will shift to India from Seelisburg where meru is currently situated by the side of the picturesque Lucerne Lake. Such a shift, the spiritual bliss apart, would attract at least one lakh foreigners to India every year, resulting in annual foreign exchange earning of about Rs 10 crore.

The well-known Indians who are currently being drawn towards him include, apart from Goenka, V.R. Krishna Iyer, a retired judge of Supreme Court, and a member of the Union Cabinet whose name is a closely-guarded secret. Says Iyer: "Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is going to bring infinite good to the country" Om Shanii Om.

Nov 11, 2013

The Life Of A Cult Investigator

Here and Now
Robin Young
November 1, 2013

A private investigator from San Francisco is being remembered for his unusual life. His obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle reads, in part:

David Sullivan dropped out of high school to manage a rock band in Mexico City and hung out on a Sioux reservation with a medicine man named Crow Dog. He built military radar in Gaddhafi’s Libya and stared down a notorious Brazilian drug lord in the slums of Rio. And he castrated bulls in Bolivia. He was perhaps more well-known as a San Francisco private investigator with an expertise in infiltrating cults.

David Sullivan died suddenly last month, just a day after a profile about him was published in Harper’s. The author of the profile, as well as a former colleague of Sullivan’s, join Here & Now’s Robin Young.

Here is how David Sullivan's recent obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle starts: David Sullivan dropped out of high school to manage a rock band in Mexico City ,and hung out on a Sioux reservation with a medicine man named Crow Dog. He built military radar in Gadhafi's Libya, stared down a notorious Brazilian drug lord in the slums of Rio. He was perhaps more well-known as a San Francisco private investigator with an expertise in infiltrating cults.
We had contacted David Sullivan last month about a profile on him in Harper's, in which he described cult leaders he'd exposed. We wanted to learn more about the modern-day world of cults. And then he died the day after publication. Nathaniel Rich authored that article, and joins us from WWNO in New Orleans. Nathaniel, this had to be a shock.

NATHANIEL RICH: It was a big shock. I talked to him a week before he died, and I was emailing with him the day he died.

YOUNG: Well, it was reportedly a recurrence of cancer. But are there people who doubt that? He dealt with some shady characters, and he told you a lot in your article.

RICH: Well, he would be the first to say that he felt threatened by a wide array of different, nefarious groups and organizations - many of them cults. But I don't think there's any real suspicion that there was foul play. He was very sick, had been sick for a long time. He wasn't sick that moment, which is why it was such a shock; he had recovered from cancer a couple times. But I think it was something probably related to entering treatment again.

YOUNG: So you think it was probably just his health, but you say that the article, the fact that he had spoken to you about these things, much of it for the first time, it wore on him.

RICH: It did, deeply. He was very reluctant to speak publicly about any of these things because he had been threatened. He'd been in car chases, and he was dealing with some organizations that are extremely powerful. He had some especially rough dealings, I know, with scientology. He had real reason to believe that he was in physical danger, and so talking about these things was difficult from that end, too.

But he got to a point where he was past worrying about repercussions, and he wanted to make sure that the stories got out there.

YOUNG: Well, tell us more about him, raised in Boulder, Colorado, in the '60s, when the city was a hotbed of cults. You say he was deeply spiritual but not religious. We read in the comments section in Harper's a remembrance from a Catholic school friend of his. When he was six years old, David Sullivan apparently walked out of religion class because he said I don't want to belong to this religion because he had just been told that the unbaptized and family dogs would not go to heaven.

So a critical thinker, even at six. What drew him to his cult work?
RICH: He did have a real spiritual yearning, and one of the things that was most amazing to me about spending all the time with him for this piece is that it had persisted despite him having seen every single con artist and scam job over his professional career.

But he was also extremely sophisticated and savvy and understood how people can manipulate other people and take advantage of that kind of yearning for something greater, for higher knowledge. And so it infuriated him whenever he encountered a charlatan posing as a religious leader, and he made it - he took it personally.

YOUNG: Well, he worked with Margaret Singer(ph), who you describe as the doyenne of cult scholarship, and apparently learned from her how to infiltrate cults and not be taken in. What did she tell him? How did he do that?
RICH: Well, it was a lot of training. He trained with therapists. He knew exactly what types of psychological tactics are used by cult leaders, and in fact many of them, I learned in researching the piece, are taken from things like Maoist struggle sessions and certain strategies used in the military: People are broken down and then built back up, typically.

But it's still - it's easier said than done to withstand a brainwashing session, especially when you're deprived of protein, deprived of sleep, put in a locked place without windows for days at a time, and there were definitely points, one of which I write about the piece, where he reached a kind of breaking thought and thought he wouldn't be able to make it.

YOUNG: Well, let's talk about this. This involved a group of people who were facing murder charges, and they'd all gone through something called impact trainings in Salt Lake City in 2001. They split off, formed their own group. A lawyer hired David Sullivan to infiltrate the impact training so that he could get information so that he could help deprogram the lawyer's client, a woman who'd fallen in with the killers, so that she could possibly testify against them.
What happened when he got inside this impact training?

RICH: There was a man that you had to call the trainer, who led the trainings. And almost immediately he started to psychologically abuse every trainee. And he would tell them that they were responsible for all the misfortunes in their lives. If they were victims of sexual abuse, he would say, well, you seduced the person who raped you.

People with physical deformities, he said that they brought that, the deformity, onto themselves. And it was very difficult for David, who is an extremely compassionate person, to not step in and stop this abuse. But he knew that if he did, he would jeopardize his entire case because he had to be there to go through the process to enter the cult in order to know how to rescue this other woman.

But he made it through, and he ultimately, after weeks of corresponding and meeting with the woman in the trial, he was able to make her understand that her spiritual leader was not a divinity but actually was a psychopath who had made her murder a bunch of innocent people.
YOUNG: Nathaniel Rich on late cult infiltrator David Sullivan.


YOUNG: It's HERE AND NOW, and we're speaking with writer Nathaniel Rich, who profiled cult infiltrator David Sullivan for this month's Harper's. Sullivan worked for families trying to deprogram loved ones and lawyers often risking their own reputations to go up against the powerful law firms that protect large cults.

Sullivan died just the day after publication of the profile from a recurrence of cancer, but before that he'd shared incredible insight into the new face of American cults, not just religious and self-help groups who berate new recruits and deprive them of protein so they can't think, but, say, sexual healing cults. Nathaniel, tell us about Swami Sebastian(ph). Now, people in Marin County, California, might have seen his flyers for the Mother Divine Love Foundation.
RICH: This was a guy who had set up at a juice store, and it was a kind of sex cult. he was attracting a lot of young women. And he impregnated one of the women whose family was David's client. That was a case where there was no getting the woman out of the cult, and David himself couldn't infiltrate it because he wasn't a young, nubile woman.

And so what he had to do was take down the entire cult. And the way he did that was by uncovering the swami's real name, and it turned out he was a kind of drug dealer, con man from the East Coast. He unmasked him and basically sicced a bunch of mobsters who were after him from South Carolina. David called the swami and told him they were on their way, and the swami vanished, and his client was rescued as a result.

YOUNG: Ingenious, and you read it, and you think oh, that's going to be such a great movie, you know, the story of this life. But so sad that he's not doing it anymore. What are you hearing from maybe people he saved, people who knew him? What are you hearing?

RICH: Well, it is very sad, especially because he was about to start writing his memoir. He felt like he didn't want to die without telling these stories and talking about the dangers of cults, which is I think underestimated today, and people tend to associated them with a kind of '60s fad, but they persist in different forms.

YOUNG: Yeah, beware of therapists who you contact over the phone and tell you that you will only be healed when you send them naked pictures of yourself.
RICH: Yeah, or beware therapists like the one he found in California that told her male patients that they were really women trapped in the bodies of men, and they needed to have sex-change operations, and they only realized what they had done after they had had the surgery.

YOUNG: And as you read this, you think how could they do this, how could they think that they need a sex change, how could they send the naked picture of themselves. And what was his conclusion?

RICH: That it could happen to anybody and that in fact that people who are most victimized by cults tend to be highly educated, well-off, often attractive young people. You know, you're sort of useless to a cult if you don't have something to provide to them, and the things that a cult leader is usually after is money or sex.

There are cults that he investigated that were filled with prosperous business people who felt like they needed something more in their life. It wasn't enough to be, you know, a billionaire. They wanted to find some spiritual meaning.
YOUNG: Well, in fact we talked to another cult deprogrammer, Steve Hassan, who said that this is one of the new tracks that cults are going on. They infiltrate corporations, and then corporations start sending their people to these so-called retreats, and you profile a woman who went to this impact trainings in Colorado and told David Sullivan my boss sent me here. He said I have to attend this training, and I can't take it anymore, that it's...

RICH: It's very common, yeah. You see that - he saw that a lot. And so you might worry that your career is in jeopardy if you don't go. But cults sort of mirror what's happening in the culture at any given time, and so a lot of the cults that he investigated now are not these sort of old-fashioned ones like (unintelligible) Scientology or the Moonies, they're things that take the form of, you know, green businesses or yoga studios.

YOUNG: Juice stores.

RICH: Or juice stores, yeah, or health companies.

YOUNG: That's Nathanial Rich, author of the Harper's profile of cult infiltrator David Sullivan. It's titled "The Man Who Saves You From Yourself." David Sullivan died suddenly just the day after the piece was published. He was 62. And as people are saying in their comments to you, Nathaniel, he was a one of a kind.

RICH: He was. I've never met anyone like him. He was just a vivid, intelligent, caring person.

YOUNG: Thanks so much.

RICH: Thank you.

YOUNG: And for a coda, we mentioned that David Sullivan was mentored by the doyenne of cult expertise Margaret Singer, who died in 2003. Well, David also, in turn, mentored others. A private investigator, Jennifer Stalvey, often worked with David Sullivan. She has a few thoughts. And Jennifer, you infiltrated some of the sex cults that David was investigating.

JENNIFER STALVEY: Yes, there were cults that required a female presence, and those were the cults that I would infiltrate.

YOUNG: Well this, as we've heard, can be dangerous work. What did you learn from David about allowing yourself to go into a cult without being recruited?
STALVEY: You're prepared. You learn as much about the techniques that are used before you go in. Once you understand what techniques they're going to be using, then you are prepared. We did undercover work together. Occasionally we would be a married couple. We would be a brother and sister. We would be two strangers. And we had different - two sets of eyes on the same situation.
YOUNG: In many ways you were acting with him.

STALVEY: Yes, he helped me understand Jen, you're a brilliant liar.


STALVEY: And in the private investigation world, we have a professional term for that, called pretext.

YOUNG: Did you ever see the moment when he did convince someone that they were on the wrong path?

STALVEY: No, what he helped me with, and probably the largest learning experience for myself and the most important work of going undercover, is the moment when you're leaving. You know going into it, the likelihood of being successful before your assignment is over is unlikely. However, you make a huge exit, and you plant logic and reason in someone's mind that they may be able to draw on six months or a year later.

And so we would - we spoke about that in my experiences of going undercover.
YOUNG: In other words sometimes the idea wasn't what you could do when you went in but the seeds of doubt that you could plant in someone's mind as you left.

STALVEY: Yes, we would brainstorm which five strong points are going to reach their mind the hardest and fastest. And you make it exciting, emotional and strong. And you leave, and it's very upsetting.

YOUNG: What does his death mean for families who are hoping to find their loved ones in these groups?

STALVEY: His death is a huge loss. There are very few people willing to do this work. You're not able to talk about it with your own family and friends. It's hidden. It's generally not even paid well. It's truly for a passion and a love of the work. And our work was for litigation purposes generally, so you had a handful of attorneys who were even willing to take the risk to have their own reputations ruined, and undercover work is similar. It's - there's not many people willing to do it.

YOUNG: So it's a small world.

STALVEY: Yes, a small world.

YOUNG: Well Jennifer, sorry for the major loss, the big loss in that small world of cult infiltration and investigation. And thanks for speaking to us about your former colleague David Sullivan.

STALVEY: You're welcome. We'll miss him. And hopefully with his circle of friends that are writers and filmmakers, I'm hoping the creatives who have heard many of his stories will document those, I hope.

YOUNG: OK, well, here's another story. Another cult leader David Sullivan tracked down, a psychologist, Dr. James Nivette, who was well-respected in Monterrey, California, but turned out if his own patients wouldn't have sex with him, he'd have them committed. He's now serving time. If you have stories about David Sullivan you'd like to share, please do. Transcript provided by NPR.

Nov 5, 2013


Patrick Frye
November 5, 2013

The Breatharianism cult is a mysterious “religion.” Some might question whether Breatharianism is real as a religion. But why does it’s leader Jasmuheen advocate living without food or water?

As previously reported by The Inquisitr, Michelle Pfeiffer recently admitted she was a Breatharian in her early 20’s.

Leader of the cult of Breatharianism, Jasmuheen, claims to be an “Ambassador of Peace, International lecturer, author and leading researcher into pranic living”. But what about this no food and water bit? What is the justification for telling spiritual seekers to go without? According to Jasmuheen’s website, the reasons are laid out:

“A breatharian is said to be someone who never eats or drinks as they can exist on cosmic micro-food. These people exist but are rarely public unless it is their service to be so. However there are also now many people who can choose to be nourished directly from prana and no longer need to take physical food yet most of these people – like myself – still choose to drink for various reasons.”
Aside from the interesting claims the Breatharianism cult makes, what is the real story and why is anyone even paying attention to Jasmuheen? Unfortunately, this sort of thing could cause damage on many levels. For one, those with eating disorders may find this sort of promise intriguing, creating a dangerous enabling situation.

Jasmuheen’s blatant theft of Eastern spiritual principles is also a source of potential ire in many religious communities. A video explaining the principles of Breatharianism is all over the charts, with flashing images of several Judaic religions, before diving into the virtues of “inedia”, Latin for fasting and a Catholic purification practice. This apparently core concept is related to multiple religions traditions, ending the mish mash by claiming members can subsist on prana, a Hindu concept of life force, or alternatively sunlight, an Ayurvedic source of prana. “Inediates”, supposedly able to sustain themselves of sunlight, make up Breatharianism.

But this concept does actually have a precedence in other religions. A fasting lifestyle in Catholicism claims that certain saints were able to survive for extended periods of time without any food or water other than the Eucharist. But the goal was never to subsist entirely without.

In reality, the Breatharianism cult has produced no apparent good, and a good deal of harm. In 1999, Breatharian Verity was up for that year’s Darwin Award. Verity was attending a 21 day “cleansing” in the Scottish Highlands with cult leader Jasmuheen. She had no food or drink for seven days, followed by another 14 days with nothing but sips of water. The goal, of course, was to master the art of “pranic feeding,” surviving on inhaled carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen. She died from hypothermia and dehydration, aggravated by lack of food. Verity had claimed to have mastered “pranic feeding” by feeding on “liquid air” since 1993, with the occasional herbal tea and chocolate biscuit, naturally.

Breatharianism’s Jasmuheen said that her death was not due to physical need, rather a failure to satisfy spiritual needs brought about by a battle with her own ego. Others might argue she earned that Darwin Award, unfortunately.

But it’s exactly this kind of thing that most would agree is dangerous. Three followers have died in direct relation to Jasmuheen’s “seminars” and another related directly to Breatharian teachings. Jasmuheen of course denies any wrongdoing, and places the blame on followers:

“If you haven’t found the light that will nourish you, you may have the intention to become a breatharian, but in fact you may be putting yourself through food deprivation. There is one known case where a person died when trying to become a breatharian.”

So what do you think, ready to live on some sunlight with the Breatharianism cult? Sunbathing is fun and all, but I think I’ll stick to solids myself…

Charting the Information Field: Cult‐Watching Groups and the Construction of Images of New Religious Movements

Eileen Barker

This chapter presents an exercise in the practical application of the sociology of knowledge, the key question being the variety of often-conflicting descriptions that are publicly available on the content and nature of new religions. Various types of perspectives about the movements are delineated with an discussion of “where they are coming from” — that is, what are the underlying interests concerning the movements that motivate the members of different categories of “cult-watching groups” — how the methodology they employ results in their selecting certain aspects of the movements' beliefs, practices, and organization (and ignoring other aspects) in the construction of their images of the movements.

From Teaching New Religious Movements, David G. BromleyPublished to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

ISBN-13: 9780195177299