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: https://goo.gl/EMhp2z
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: https://goo.gl/EagLR2
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: https://goo.gl/2a283o
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 - Skepdic.com

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.: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1H45q7ppkl09mJPdN43IWoeNsX9B4tnJ22ndIGsyFHMc/edit

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 hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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)



Doctor Accused Of Branding Women For NXIVM Sex Cult Being Investigated

CBS New York
April 13, 2019

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — There are disturbing new details in the case of an alleged upstate Next York sex cult.

State health officials are now looking into a doctor whom they say branded women for the so-called NXIVM group.

Legal documents show the state is asking women to answer questions about a Dr. Danielle Roberts. The papers containing the revelations stem from a legal fight pitting New York’s Department of Health against the women they say have refused to cooperate with the investigation into Dr. Roberts.

Officials say Roberts branded several women with the initials of Keith Raniere, the one-time leader of the group. On Monday, television actress Allison Mack pleaded guilty to charges she helped recruit and manipulate women to serve Raniere against their will.

Officials launched the inquiry into suspected professional misconduct by Roberts in response to a 2017 complaint alleging “the physician participated in the initiation ceremony for a secret society, which involved the branding of female initiates with a cautery pen without anesthesia and under duress,” according to a ruling last year by Acting Supreme Court Justice Kimberly O’Connor.

The judge allowed the administrative investigation to go forward, rejecting arguments by lawyers for eight women — identified only as “Jane Does” — that they could defy subpoenas demanding answers because “the branding was a voluntary free expression of personal beliefs that they engaged in as a manifestation of their right to private association.”

Roberts hasn’t been charged with a crime. But the court documents made clear she is under investigation on suspicion of violating state standards for doctors by branding several women with the symbols representing the initials of Keith Raniere, the onetime leader of the group called NXIVM.

Email messages seeking comment were left Friday with lawyers representing Roberts and the women, who haven’t been identified. Health officials declined to comment on the status of her case.

Details of the inquiry surfaced as Raniere nears trial on charges he used his cult-like organization to form a subgroup of sex slaves at his command. The legal dispute also demonstrates the sharp divide between followers who have refused to betray someone known within NXIVM as “Vanguard” and those who have admitted to enabling his alleged dark side.

Mack, best known for her role as a young Superman’s close friend on the series “Smallville,” admitted she obtained compromising information and images of two unidentified women — called “collateral” within the group — that she threatened to make public if they didn’t perform “so-called acts of love.”

Another woman charged in the alleged conspiracy, Lauren Salzman, admitted in a guilty plea that she held a woman from Mexico hostage in an upstate home for more than two years under threat of having her deported “if she did not complete labor requested by myself and others.”

Raniere is due to go on trial early next month with heiress Clare Bronfman, a NXIVM benefactor who is a daughter of the late billionaire Seagram chairman Edgar Bronfman Sr., and another group member, Kathy Russell. All have pleaded not guilty and denied the charges.


Why Are There Religious Exemptions for Vaccines?

In Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a distrust of immunization has a long history among the ultra-Orthodox.CreditCreditJohn Taggart for The New York Times
Ginia Bellafante
New York Times
April 12, 2019

This week the City of New York declared a public health emergency because of a measles outbreak that had been escalating since the fall in ultra-Orthodox communities in Brooklyn and finally reached the point of crisis. In December the Health Department had made an effort to contain the disease, ordering yeshivas and child care centers in affected neighborhoods to keep all unvaccinated children from going to school or day care. Then, in January, at least one yeshiva in Williamsburg ignored the mandate. This failure of compliance led to an eruption of dozens of new cases.

Like well-off bohemians who might send their children to Waldorf schools, where an anti-vaccination culture is baked in the warm ovens of so many sprouted-wheat snacks, many among the ultra-Orthodox resist the incursions of modernity. A distrust of immunization had long ago taken hold in some sectors of the Hasidic community, but this year various religious neighborhoods in Brooklyn were hit with a propaganda campaign meant to breed even more skepticism and fear.

As it happens, 2019 is turning out to be a record year for measles outbreaks, with 465 cases reported in 19 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A vast majority of these have occurred in Brooklyn and in counties in upstate New York and New Jersey with substantial ultra-Orthodox populations. Approximately 115 cases, though, have been discovered in Michigan and Washington, among the 17 states in the country where it is possible to seek a “personal belief” exemption from otherwise mandatory vaccines for school-aged children, meaning that immunization essentially violates your parenting philosophy as if it were Fortnite or a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos.

Where there are no such vague clauses in vaccination law, there are typically exemptions available to those who claim that they oppose vaccination on religious grounds; 47 states have these, including New York. They are problematic for a number of reasons. First, there is virtually no canonical basis for vaccine avoidance among the world’s major religions, most of which came into being before Edward Jenner developed the first widely used vaccine, against smallpox, at the end of the 18th century. Rabbis since then have repeatedly stressed the importance of protecting children through vaccination. Regardless, religious waivers provide cover to those who resist vaccines simply because they chose to question established science.

Last month, for example, when the Rockland County Health Department in upstate New York was sued by parents of unvaccinated children at a local Waldorf school who were barred from attending during a measles outbreak in the area — Rockland County is also home to a large ultra-Orthodox community — the district attorney, Thomas Humbach, pointed out these dubious religious objections. At the time he said that he expected several of the exemptions granted at the school to be challenged as insincere.

A few years ago after a measles outbreak linked to Disneyland, California got rid of its belief exemptions, leaving no parent able to excuse a child from certain shots because of hippie misconceptions or arguments about religious necessity. In November a study looking at the effects of the legislation found immunization rates of children entering kindergarten in California to have reached a near all-time high.

And yet despite that, there is not overwhelming political will to implement similar legislation elsewhere. Although there is a bill in the New York State Legislature right now that if passed would end religious exemptions for vaccines, it became clear what it was up against this week. As soon as Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city would issue violations and possibly fines to individuals living in certain parts of Brooklyn who refused to vaccinate, Gov. Andrew Cuomo weighed in to say that he found the move “legally questionable.”

Ultra-Orthodox communities provide a voting bloc just as reliable as evangelical Christians, who in some cases also question the wisdom of immunizing children. Last month, Rand Paul, the Republican senator from Kentucky, himself a physician, criticized mandatory vaccines as “not consistent with the American story.” And yet the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled such mandates to be constitutional.

Certainly an opposition to vaccines is quite consistent with the American story, however. In 1855, Massachusetts became the first state in the country to make smallpox vaccination mandatory for public schoolchildren. By the early 1890s, a pamphlet titled “Vaccination Is the Curse of Childhood” was circulating in Boston, advising parents to find doctors who would proclaim that their children were “unfit for vaccination.” Around the country, parents were faking vaccine scars or keeping their children from school or wiping vaccines from their arms as soon as they were administered.

These parents, not unlike parents fighting vaccination efforts today, were responding to a time of dramatic change in industry and technology. They weren’t bound to God; they were scared of the revolution.

Email bigcity@nytimes.com. Follow Ginia Bellafante on Twitter: @GiniaNYT

A version of this article appears in print on April 14, 2019, on Page MB3 of the New York edition with the headline: Why Should Religion Be a Bar to Vaccines?.


The Third Wave was the name given by history teacher Ron Jones to an experimental recreation of Nazi Germany which he conducted with high school students

Israeli Educational Television

"The experiment took place at Cubberley High School in Palo Alto, California, during one week in 1969. Jones, unable to explain to his students why the German citizens (particularly non-Nazis) allowed the Nazi Party to exterminate millions of Jews and other so-called 'undesirables', decided to show them instead. Jones writes that he started with simple things like classroom discipline, and managed to meld his history class into a group with a supreme sense of purpose and no small amount of cliquishness. Jones named the movement "The Third Wave," after the common wisdom that the third in a series of ocean waves is always the strongest, and claimed its members would revolutionize the world. The experiment allegedly took on a life of its own, with students from all over the school joining in.

Podcast — Meet a RAN practitioner #2 — Eric Poinsot, project coordinator

RAN (Radicalisation Awareness Network)
March 5, 2019

Eric Poinsot is a prevention of radicalization project coordinator in Strasbourg, France. 
Learn how he tackles radicalization in his work.

RAN Policy & Practice (Paris): Optimizing Triple P (Police, Prison & Probation)

RAN (Radicalisation Awareness Network)
February 20, 2019

"Police, prison and probation services are known as the Triple-P. All three work in tandem when dealing with radicalized and terrorist offenders before, during and after imprisonment.

Coordination between police, prison and probation services is paramount. Especially today when Member States are dealing with an increasing number of offenders being released from prison after serving sentences for terrorism-related crimes.

There are also detainees imprisoned for non-terrorist offences who might become radicalized in prison and then released.

The RAN Policy and Practice event in Paris on 22 November 2018 focused on how to enhance cooperation frameworks within, between and beyond the triple-P organisations to deal effectively with radicalized and terrorist offenders."

Apr 11, 2019

Aum Shinrikyo spinoff group Aleph ordered to pay ¥1.03 bil to victims

Japan Today

Apr. 11, 2019

The Tokyo District Court has ordered Aleph, a spinoff group of the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo, to pay over one billion yen in compensation to victims of the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin attack that killed 13 people and injured thousands, as well as victims of other crimes committed by cult members in the 1980s and 1990s.

Shizue Takahashi, 72, who lost her husband in the March 20, 1995 sarin gas attack, told a press conference Wednesday: “I hope that Aleph adheres to the court’s ruling and begins proceeding with the payments. People are still suffering the effects of their crimes.”

The victims group filed a damages suit after Aleph failed to pay 1.03 billion yen in compensation as ordered by the court in 2009, Fuji TV reported. The court ordered Aleph to pay this amount in full and cease stalling. 

Last July, the Justice Ministry ordered the execution of all 13 cult members on death row, including Shoko Asahara, Aum Shinrikyo’s founder and the mastermind behind the sarin attack. The doomsday cult renamed itself to Aleph in February 2010.


With lawsuit settled, Scientology-linked company will operate small rehab at Trout Run

Frederick News-Post 


Mar 30, 2019

Frederick County has settled a long-running lawsuit with a Church of Scientology-linked real estate company over plans to build a controversial drug rehabilitation center on Catoctin Mountain.

Frederick County Circuit Court approved a joint motion March 20 to dismiss the case of Social Betterment Properties International v. Frederick County over the former’s plans for the Trout Run property, a 40-acre site near Thurmont. SBPI is now moving forward with plans for an eight-bed rehabilitation home based on Scientology teachings that would operate within the property’s long-standing zoning restrictions.

The settlement agreement reached between SBPI and the county allows the company to “do what it’s been allowed or permitted to do all along, and nothing more,” county spokeswoman Vivian Laxton said in an email Wednesday.

SBPI brought the suit over a 2015 Frederick County Council decision to deny a historic designation and zoning exemption for the Trout Run property on Catoctin Mountain. SBPI had purchased the 40-acre property in 2013 with the intention that the Scientology-based Narconon International rehabilitation program would open a 16-bed center there.

That use was not approved under Trout Run’s resource conservation zoning and would have required the council to add the property to the county’s Register of Historic Places. Although the Frederick County Historic Preservation Commission recommended the designation, the council voted against it following a wave of public concern expressed during hearings.

According to a history of Trout Run, gates were installed on the county road that runs through the property to create a private area for President Herbert Hoover to fish. At one of a number of public hearings in 2015 related to the request to get the designation added, SBPI argued that, among other things, the site was a “rare surviving example of an early twentieth-century private recreational camp.”

Under the settlement agreement, Trout Run still doesn’t have the historic designation or any of the accompanying zoning exemptions.

SBPI still plans for the Narconon program to operate at Trout Run, just on a smaller scale, according to attorney Bruce Dean.

“My client, in the spirit of partnership with local government, has chosen to move forward with the operation of an eight-bed residential drug rehabilitation facility that will be operated by the Narconon organization,” Dean said Friday.

Narconon is controversial for its approach to substance abuse treatment, which prohibits medically assisted treatment and psychiatric services in favor of aerobic exercise and long periods in a sauna.

Former program staff and participants have called Narconon ineffective at best and traumatic and deadly at worst. At least four clients of the 200-bed Narconon facility in Arrowhead, Oklahoma, have died since 2009, according to The Oklahoman.

Narconon, meanwhile, sees its service as a part of the solution to the ongoing national opioid addiction crisis.

“We are pleased that we were able to come to an accommodation with Frederick County that will allow the proposed residential drug rehabilitation facility at Trout Run to contribute to the vital work of saving lives and repairing families,” Dean said.

Court proceedings in the litigation against the county have been relatively inactive since 2016. Frederick County Circuit Court judges approved a dozen extensions of SBPI’s deadline to file a memorandum of support for their legal challenge to the county’s decision. In November, Judge Julia Martz-Fisher stayed the litigation to allow the settlement talks to continue.


Apr 10, 2019

Elisabeth Moss on Her Relationship with Scientology: 'You Can't Take Away' My Right to 'Believe'

Elisabeth Moss
Dave Quinn 
April 10, 2019

Elisabeth Moss is standing by her involvement with the Church of Scientology, no matter what criticism might come her way.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Daily Beast published on Monday, the Emmy winner, 36, spoke out about the church — stressing that those curious about Scientology “educate themselves for themselves and form their own opinions, as I did.”

Asked whether the tenets of Scientology as being at odds with the feminist themes or roles Moss has had on shows such as The West Wing, Mad Men, and The Handmaid’s Tale, she said she maintains strong core beliefs in freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

“It’s a complicated thing because the things that I believe in, I can only speak to my personal experience and my personal beliefs,” Moss said. “One of the things I believe in is freedom of speech. I believe we as humans should be able to critique things. I believe in freedom of the press. I believe in people being able to speak their own opinions. I don’t ever want to take that away from anybody, because that actually is very important to me.”

She went on to compare any censorship of one’s beliefs to Gilead, the totalitarian society ruled by a fictional fundamentalist regime in Handmaid’s.

“People should be allowed to talk about what they want to talk about and believe what they want to believe and you can’t take that away — and when you start to take that away, when you start to say ‘you can’t think that,’ ‘you can’t believe that,’ ‘you can’t say that,’ then you get into trouble,” Moss added. “Then you get into Gilead.”

“Whatever happens, I’m never going to take away your right to talk about something or believe something, and you can’t take away mine,” Moss stressed.

Moss also responded to a question about the church’s founder L. Ron Hubbard’s alleged anti-LGBTQ beliefs.

“[That’s] not where I stand,” Moss told The Daily Beast. “It’s like, it’s a lot to get into and unpack that I can’t do. But that is not my bag. I am obviously a huge feminist and huge supporter of the LGBTQ community and believe so strongly — I can’t even tell you — in people being able to do what they want to do, to love who they want to love, to be the person that they want to be — whoever that is.”

“To me, it’s a huge reason why I love doing [The Handmaid’s Tale],” Moss continued. “That’s all I can say. I can’t speak to what other people believe, I can’t speak to what other people’s experiences have been. That’s where I stand and the only place I can speak from is my own.”

The Daily Beast‘s interview was one of the rare times Moss has spoken out about Scientology. She told the outlet that she stays silent about it because “it’s so hard to unpack in a sound bite or an interview.”

“I choose to express myself in my work and my art. I don’t choose to express myself about it in interviews. I don’t choose to talk about not just religion, but my personal life — who I’m dating and that kind of thing,” she said.

“The things that I believe in personally, for me, The Handmaid’s Tale, and the ability to do something that is artistically fulfilling but is also personally fulfilling, I’ve never had that,” she also said. “The Handmaid’s Tale lines up so perfectly parallel with my own beliefs in freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the things that this country was actually built on.”

Moss was introduced to Scientology through her family. She said in a 2012 interview with The Telegraph that she made a conscious decision to embrace it.

“It’s not the same thing as going to church on Sunday,” she said. “It’s self-applied. It involves reading — you have to make a choice.”

“Some people say that yoga really helps them to feel centered,” she said of what drew her to the religious system. “And some people feel that being vegan is something that makes them more of themselves. Or Kaballah. Or there’s Buddhism or whatever. I mean, I think that for me it’s one thing that has helped me at times, and it’s kind of as simple as that.”

In recent years, she has rarely spoken publicly on the topic, telling The Guardian in 2016 that everyone has the right to their own privacy.

“It is weird for me to be put in the position where I am like, ‘No, I can’t. I don’t really want to talk about this,’ ” she admitted. “You feel kind of like, I am a nice person who likes to talk about stuff. I also get the curiosity. I get the fascination. I become fascinated with things that are none of my business as well. I am just fascinated when someone breaks up with somebody. I want to know all about it. I am very interested in what people are wearing, and all of that kind of thing, but you have a right to your privacy.”


Apr 8, 2019

Trial of NXIVM leader Keith Raniere begins, 'Smallville' actress pleads guilty

April 8, 2019

NEW YORK -- With jury selection beginning at the federal case against a cult-like upstate New York group, TV actress Allison Mack pleaded guilty Monday to charges she manipulated women into becoming sex slaves for the group's spiritual leader. 

Mack, 36, wept as she admitted her crimes and apologized to the women who prosecutors say were exploited by Keith Raniere and the purported self-help group called NXIVM. 

"I believed Keith Raniere's intentions were to help people, and I was wrong," Mack told a judge in federal court in Brooklyn as she pleaded guilty to racketeering charges. 

Mack is best known for her role as a young Superman's close friend on the series "Smallville." 

After months of reflection since her arrest, "I know I can and will be a better person," Mack said. Her sentencing was set for Sept. 11. 

The plea means Mack will avoid going to trial with Raniere, wealthy heiress Clare Bronfman and another member of Raniere's inner circle, Kathy Russell. All have pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing. 

Potential jurors were expected to begin filling out questionnaires Monday. Opening statements are scheduled for April 29. 

The question of whom jurors would see seated at the defense table that day had remained an open in wake of new allegations that Raniere exploited a teenage girl. His co-defendants have since sought separate trials and engaged in plea negotiations. 

Court papers allege NXIVM formed a secret society of women who were branded with Raniere's initials and forced to have sex with him. Defense attorneys have insisted any relationship between Raniere and the alleged victims, including an unidentified actress and other women expected to testify against him at trial, was consensual. 

On Monday, Mack said that at Raniere's direction, she obtained compromising information and images of two unidentified women - called "collateral" within the group - that she threatened to make public if they didn't perform "so-called acts of love." 

The jury questionnaire covers several topics, including asking candidates for their opinions about "rich individuals" and people who "engage in relationships with multiple sexual partners" and whether they "believe that people under the age of 17 should be able to consent to sex with adults." 


Allison Mack pleads guilty to racketeering charges in NXIVM case

Tyler McCarthy
Fox News
April 8, 2019

Former "Smallville" actress Allison Mack pleaded guilty in a Brooklyn federal court Monday to racketeering charges in relation to the cultlike group NXIVM.

Mack entered her plea shortly before jury selection was scheduled to start.

The trial was expected to detail sensational allegations that the group recruited sex slaves for its spiritual leader, Keith Raniere.
Prosecutors accused Mack of helping Raniere recruit women to a secret sub-society within the group.

Mack is best known for her long-running role on the superhero TV show about the early days of Clark Kent’s life. However, it was reported that she was heavily involved in the NXIVM organization shortly after authorities began making arrests. Mack allegedly got involved with the group when she was unhappy with her acting career. She reportedly rose in the ranks to become a key player in its activities, which allegedly included branding its members and finding sex slaves for Raniere.

The defense says the women were never abused.

Authorities say the women were branded by a surgical tool with a symbol that resembled Raniere's initials. Mack has said in an interview that the group emphasized self-discipline and self-empowerment and she likened the branding to getting a tattoo, but cooler.

Mack is said to have been living in upstate New York with alleged cult leader Raniere until he reportedly fled to Mexico in November. She was seen running after him when he was apprehended in Mexico in March.

Two other women charged in the case, former NXIVM executive Nancy Salzman and her daughter, Lauren, have already pleaded guilty.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



Margaret T. Singer, Ph.D., Emeritus Prof. of Psychology, Univ. of CA, Berkeley


In a thought reform program: the self concept is destabilized the group/leaders attack one's evaluation of self SELF.

Two Elements in one's self-concept:

Peripheral Sense: adequacy of public & judgmental aspects, social status, role performance, conformity to social norms.

Central Sense of Self: adequacy of intimate life, confidence in perception of reality, relations w/family, goals, sexual experiences, traumatic life events, religious beliefs, basic consciousness and emotional control.

When you attack a person's self-concept, aversive emotional arousal is created.


1. CONTROL OVER TIME Especially thinking time. Use techniques to get a person to think about:

the group,
beliefs of the group as much of their waking time as possible.

Get people away from normal support systems for a period of time.

Provide models of behavior (cult members).

Use in-group language
Use of songs, games, stories the person is unfamiliar with or they are modified so that they're unfamiliar.

New people tend to want to be like others (acceptance, feeling part of a group).


Manipulate: social rewards intellectual rewards.

REWARDS: support positive self-concept for conformity to new thought system.

PUNISHMENTS: attack person's self-concept for non-conformity.

Effects of behavioral modification (reward/ punishment):


1. accept a particular world view,

2. procedures for peer monitoring w/feedback to group,

3. psychological, social & material sanctions to influence the target's behavior.

When there is control of external feedback, the group becomes the only source -- there are no reality checks.

BEHAVIORS REWARDED: participation, conformity to ideas/behavior, zeal, personal changes.

BEHAVIORS PUNISHED: criticalness, independent thinking, non-conformity to ideas/behavior.

PUNISHMENTS: peer/group criticism, withdrawal of support/affection, isolation, negative feedback.


Confusion, disorientation, psychological disturbances.

Manipulate experience: altered states of consciousness (trance) hypnosis,

Hypnosis: speaking patterns guided imagery pacing of voice to breathing patterns parables, stories with imbedded messages repetition boredom stop paying attention to distractions, focus inwardly to what's going on inside you the use of one's voice to get people's attention focused.

Chanting, Meditation:
Teach thought-stopping techniques Work them up emotionally to a negative state: re-experience past painful events recall negative actions/sin in past life

Then rescue them from negative emotion by giving them a new way to live.


Models will demonstrate new behavior

Conformity: dress, language, behavior.

Using group language will eventually still the thinking mind .


No complaints from the floor.

Pyramid shaped operation with leader at the top.

Top leaders must maintain absolute control/authority.

Persons in charge must have verbal ways of never losing.

Anyone who questions is made to think there is something inherently wrong with them to even question.

Phobia induction: something bad will happen if you leave the group if you leave this group, you're leaving God.

Guilt manipulation.


You can't be thought reformed with full capacity, informed consent.

You don't know the agenda of the group at the beginning or the full content of the ideology.

THOUGHT REFORM SYSTEM: Coordinated programs of coercive influence and behavior control.

Use of pop psychology techniques found in sensitivity training and encounters groups.

2nd Generation Thought Reform Systems (attacks on central elements of self):

1. enlist recruit's cooperation, offer something they want (personal growth, salvation, etc.).

2. obtain psychological dominace by making the target's continuing relations contingent upon continuing membership.

3. use seduction by developing bonds and encouraging targets to believe the group can provide something.

4. develop dependency by direct social pressure to influence a decision that the group has special power or knowledge or can solve a problem; the people in the group are made to seem interested in what is best for the target -- then they "up the commitment level".

5. shift the target's social and emotional attachments to individuals who have already accepted high commitment and are conforming to the behavior WHILE decreasing the target's outside relationships.

6. increase the CHANGES in the target's: income employment personal friends/social life finances sexuality.


7. the community standards become the ONLY standards available for self-evaluation.

CULTS AND CULTIC RELATIONSHIPS CULT - the political and power STRUCTURE of a group CULTIC RELATIONSHIP - those relationships in which a person intentionally induces others to become totally or nearly totally dependent on him/her for almost all major life decisions and inculcates in these followers a belief that he has some special talent, gift or knowledge.


Further references:

Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism. Robert J. Lifton, M.D., University of N.C., Chapel Hill, 1989 Chapter 22

"Attacks on Peripheral versus Central Elements of Self and the Impact of Thought Reforming Techniques" Richard Ofshe and Margaret T. Singer, The Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 3 #1, Spring/Summer 1986; ICSA

"The Utilization of Hypnotic Techniques in Religious Conversion" Jesse S. Miller, The Cultic Studies Journal,Vol. 3 #2, Fall/Winter 1986

Recovery from Cults. ed. Michael Langone, Ph.D., W.W. Norton, 1994


Chapel Hill, 1989


Any ideology -- that is, any set of emotionally-charged convictions about men and his relationship to the natural or supernatural world -- may be carried by its adherents in a totalistic direction. But this is most likely to occur with those ideologies which are most sweeping in their content and most ambitious or messianic in their claim, whether a religious or political organization. And where totalism exists, a religion, or a political movement becomes little more than an exclusive cult.

Here you will find a set of criteria, eight psychological themes against which any environment may be judged. In combination, they create an atmosphere which may temporarily energize or exhilarate, but which at the same time pose the gravest of human threats.

1. MILIEU CONTROL the most basic feature is the control of human communication within and environment if the control is extremely intense, it becomes internalized control -- an attempt to manage an individual's inner communication control over all a person sees, hears, reads, writes (information control) creates conflicts in respect to individual autonomy groups express this in several ways: Group process, isolation from other people, psychological pressure, geographical distance or unavailable transportation, sometimes physical pressure often a sequence of events, such as seminars, lectures, group encounters, which become increasingly intense and increasingly isolated, making it extremely difficult-- both physically and psychologically--for one to leave. sets up a sense of antagonism with the outside world; it's us against them closely connected to the process of individual change (of personality)

2. MYSTICAL MANIPULATION (Planned spontaneity) extensive personal manipulation seeks to promote specific patterns of behavior and emotion in such a way that it appears to have arisen spontaneously from within the environment, while it actually has been orchestrated totalist leaders claim to be agents chosen by God, history, or some supernatural force, to carry out the mystical imperative the "principles" (God-centered or otherwise) can be put forcibly and claimed exclusively, so that the cult and its beliefs become the only true path to salvation (or enlightenment) the individual then develops the psychology of the pawn, and participates actively in the manipulation of others the leader who becomes the center of the mystical manipulation (or the person in whose name it is done) can be sometimes more real than an abstract god and therefore attractive to cult members legitimizes the deception used to recruit new members and/or raise funds, and the deception used on the "outside world"

3. THE DEMAND FOR PURITY the world becomes sharply divided into the pure and the impure, the absolutely good (the group/ideology) and the absolutely evil (everything outside the group) one must continually change or conform to the group "norm" tendencies towards guilt and shame are used as emotional levers for the group's controlling and manipulative influences once a person has experienced the totalist polarization of good/evil (black/white thinking), he has great difficulty in regaining a more balanced inner sensitivity to the complexities of human morality the radical separation of pure/impure is both within the environment (the group) and the individual ties in with the process of confession -- one must confess when one is not conforming

4. CONFESSION cultic confession is carried beyond its ordinary religious, legal and therapeutic expressions to the point of becoming a cult in itself sessions in which one confesses to one's sin are accompanied by patterns of criticism and self-criticism, generally transpiring within small groups with an active and dynamic thrust toward personal change is an act of symbolic self-surrender makes it virtually impossible to attain a reasonable balance between worth and humility a young person confessing to various sins of pre-cultic existence can both believe in those sins and be covering over other ideas and feelings that s/he is either unaware of or reluctant to discuss often a person will confess to lesser sins while holding on to other secrets (often criticisms/questions/doubts about the group/leaders that may cause them not to advance to a leadership position) "the more I accuse myself, the more I have a right to judge you"

5. SACRED SCIENCE the totalist milieu maintains an aura of sacredness around its basic doctrine or ideology, holding it as an ultimate moral vision for the ordering of human existence questioning or criticizing those basic assumptions is prohibited a reverence is demanded for the ideology/doctrine, the originators of the ideology/doctrine, the present bearers of the ideology/doctrine offers considerable security to young people because it greatly simplifies the world and answers a contemporary need to combine a sacred set of dogmatic principles with a claim to a science embodying the truth about human behavior and human psychology

6. LOADING THE LANGUAGE the language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-terminating cliche (thought-stoppers) repetitiously centered on all-encompassing jargon "the language of non-thought" words are given new meanings -- the outside world does not use the words or phrases in the same way -- it becomes a "group" word or phrase

7. DOCTRINE OVER PERSON every issue in one's life can be reduced to a single set of principles that have an inner coherence to the point that one can claim the experience of truth and feel it the pattern of doctrine over person occurs when there is a conflict between what one feels oneself experiencing and what the doctrine or ideology says one should experience if one questions the beliefs of the group or the leaders of the group, one is made to feel that there is something inherently wrong with them to even question -- it is always "turned around" on them and the questioner/criticizer is questioned rather than the questions answered directly the underlying assumption is that doctrine/ideology is ultimately more valid, true and real than any aspect of actual human character or human experience and one must subject one's experience to that "truth" the experience of contradiction can be immediately associated with guilt one is made to feel that doubts are reflections of one's own evil when doubt arises, conflicts become intense

8. DISPENSING OF EXISTENCE since the group has an absolute or totalist vision of truth, those who are not in the group are bound up in evil, are not enlightened, are not saved, and do not have the right to exist "being verses nothingness" impediments to legitimate being must be pushed away or destroyed one outside the group may always receive their right of existence by joining the group fear manipulation -- if one leaves this group, one leaves God or loses their transformation, for something bad will happen to them the group is the "elite", outsiders are "of the world", "evil", "unenlightened", etc.