Jun 29, 2021

Why Do We Believe in Cults? Hint: It’s Not Brainwashing


Amanda Montell
Published Jun. 27, 2021

Cultish groups are an all-out American obsession. All any of my friends could talk about the week I started writing this book was the 2019 folk horror film Midsommar, about a fictional murderous Dionysian cult in Sweden characterized by psychedelic-fueled sex rituals and human sacrifices. And all anyone was talking about as I edited the book in 2020 were The Vow and Seduced, dueling docuseries about NXIVM, the self-help scam turned sex-trafficking ring. The well of cult-inspired art and intrigue is bottomless. When it comes to gurus and their groupies, we just can’t seem to look away.

I once heard a psychologist explain that rubbernecking results from a very real physiological response: You see an auto accident, or any disaster—or even just news of a disaster, like a headline—and your brain’s amygdala, which controls emotions, memory, and survival tactics, starts firing signals to your problem-solving frontal cortex to try to figure out whether this event is a direct danger to you. You enter fight-or-flight mode, even if you’re just sitting there.

The reason millions of us binge cult documentaries or go down rabbit holes researching groups from Jonestown to QAnon is not that there’s some twisted voyeur inside us all that’s inexplicably attracted to darkness. It’s because we’re still hunting for a satisfying answer to the question of what causes seemingly “normal” people to join—and, more important, stay in—fanatical fringe groups with extreme ideologies. We’re scanning for threats, on some level wondering, is everyone susceptible to cultish influence? Could it happen to you? Could it happen to me? And if so, how?

Our culture tends to provide pretty flimsy answers to questions of cult influence, mostly having to do with vague talk of “brainwashing.” Why did all those people die in Jonestown? “They drank the Kool-Aid!” Why don’t abused polygamist sister wives get the hell out of Dodge as soon as they can? “They’re mind controlled!” Simple as that.

But it’s actually not that simple. In fact, brainwashing is a metaphorical, pseudoscientific concept that the majority of psychologists I interviewed denounce. (First, “brainwashing” disregards people’s very real ability to think for themselves. And second, it presents an untestable hypothesis. You can’t prove that brainwashing doesn’t exist. The minute you say someone is “brainwashed,” the conversation ends there.) Truer answers to the question of cult influence can only arrive when you ask the right questions: What techniques do charismatic leaders use to exploit people’s fundamental needs for community and meaning? How do they cultivate that kind of power?

The answer, as it turns out, is not some freaky mind-bending wizardry that happens on a remote commune where everyone dons flower crowns and dances in the sun. (That’s called Coachella ... which, one could argue, is its own kind of “cult.”) The real answer all comes down to words.

“Language is a leader’s charisma. It’s what empowers them to create a mini universe—a system of values and truths—and then compel their followers to heed its rules.”
From the crafty redefinition of existing words (and the invention of new ones) to thought-terminating clichés, powerful euphemisms, secret codes, renamings, loaded buzzwords, chants and mantras, “speaking in tongues,” forced silence, even hashtags, language is the key means by which all degrees of cultlike influence occur. Exploitative spiritual gurus know this, but so do pyramid schemers, politicians, CEOs of start-ups, online conspiracy theorists, workout instructors, even social media influencers.

In both positive ways and shadowy ones, “cult language” is, in fact, something we hear and are swayed by every single day. Our speech in regular life—at work, in Spin class, on Instagram—is evidence of our varying degrees of “cult” membership. You just have to know what to listen for. Indeed, while we’re distracted by the Manson Family’s peculiar outfits and other flashy “cult” iconography, what we wind up missing is the fact that one of the biggest factors in getting people to a point of extreme devotion, and keeping them there, is something we cannot see.

Language is a leader’s charisma. It’s what empowers them to create a mini universe—a system of values and truths—and then compel their followers to heed its rules. In 1945, the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty wrote that language is human beings’ element just as “water is the element of fish.” “Without language, there are no beliefs, ideology, or religion,” John E. Joseph, a professor of applied linguistics at the University of Edinburgh, wrote to me from Scotland. “These concepts require a language as a condition of their existence.” Without language, there are no “cults.”

Certainly, you can hold beliefs without explicitly articulating them, and it’s also true that if followers do not want on any level to buy into their leaders’ messages, no collection of words could force them into it. But with a glimmer of willingness, language can do so much to squash independent thinking, obscure truths, encourage confirmation bias, and emotionally charge experiences such that no other way of life seems possible. The way a person communicates can tell us a lot about who they’ve been associating with, who they’ve been influenced by. How far their allegiance goes.

The motives behind culty-sounding language are not always crooked. Sometimes they’re quite healthy: boosting solidarity or rallying people around a humanitarian mission. One of my best friends works for a cancer nonprofit and brings back amusing stories of the love-bomb-y buzzwords and quasi-religious mantras they repeat to keep fund-raisers hyped: “Someday is today”; “This is our Week of Winning.” “It reminds me of the way multilevel marketing people talk,” she tells me (referencing culty direct sales companies like Mary Kay and Amway). “It’s cultlike, but for a good cause. And hey, it works.”

Whether wicked or well-intentioned, language “provides a culture of shared understanding,” said Eileen Barker, a sociologist who studies new religious movements at the London School of Economics. But wherever there are fanatically worshipped leaders and belief-bound cliques, some level of psychological pressure is at play. This could be as quotidian as your average case of FOMO, or as treacherous as being coerced to commit violent crimes. “Quite frankly, the language is everything,” one ex-Scientologist told me in a hushed tone during an interview. “It’s what insulates you. It makes you feel special, like you’re in the know, because you have this other language to communicate with.”

“Like everything in life, there is no good cult/bad cult binary; cult influence falls on a spectrum.”
What do I mean exactly when I use “cult” to describe all these groups? As it turns out, coming up with one conclusive definition for this word is tricky at best. There’s a reason for the semantic murkiness. It’s connected to the fact that the fascinating etymology of “cult” corresponds precisely to our society’s ever-changing relationship to spirituality, community, meaning, and identity—a relationship that’s gotten rather… weird. Language change is always reflective of social change, and over the decades, as our sources of connection and existential purpose have shifted due to phenomena like social media and withdrawal from traditional institutions (mainstream religion, government, healthcare), we’ve seen the rise of more alternative subgroups—some dangerous, some not so much. “Cult” has evolved to describe them all. In modern discourse, someone could apply the word “cult” to a new religion, a group of online radicals, a start-up, and a makeup brand all in the same breath.

Like everything in life, there is no good cult/bad cult binary; cult influence falls on a spectrum. Steven Hassan, a mental health counselor, author of The Cult of Trump, and one of the country’s foremost cult experts, has described an influence continuum representing groups from healthy and constructive to unhealthy and destructive. It is to qualify this wide gamut of cultlike communities that we’ve come up with colloquial modifiers like “cult-followed,” “culty,” and (indeed) “cultish.”

The language followers use—including me, including you—can offer clues, revealing how cultish we really are.

Courtesy Amanda Montell
From the book CULTISH by Amanda Montell. Copyright © 2021 by Amanda Montell. Published by Harper Wave, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.


Jun 27, 2021

Allison Mack: Read Her Full Statement as Sentencing Looms in NXIVM Sex Cult Case

Allison Mack: Read Her Full Statement as Sentencing Looms in NXIVM Sex Cult Case
Cynthia Littleton

Jun 26, 2021

Allison Mack offered a series of apologies in her statement to the federal judge who will decide her fate on June 30 when she is set to be sentenced after pleading guilty to racketeering and conspiracy charges in connection with the NXIVM sex cult case.

“I have experienced overwhelming shame as I have worked to accept and understand all that went on and all that I chose,” Mack wrote.

The “Smallville” star’s comments were included with more than a half-dozen letters from friends and family members to U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis testifying to Mack’s transformation since breaking with NXIVM mastermind Keith Raniere following her arrest in April 2018. Raniere was sentenced in October to 120 years in prison on racketeering and sex trafficking charges.

Mack pleaded guilty in April 2019. Prosecutors asked the judge for leniency given Mack’s cooperation in the case, which included providing a crucial audio recording that documented Raniere’s cruel schemes.

The jaw-dropping details of the psychological manipulation that Raniere masterminded by encouraging his followers to participate in “master” and “slave” relationships — among other bizarre mind games disguised as self-help efforts — has become a cottage industry for documentary and unscripted content. HBO fielded last year’s multi-part docu series “The Vow,” which has a second season on the way. Starz’s “Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult” told the story of another Hollywood family wrapped up in NXIVM, actor Catherine Oxenberg and her daughter India.

Here is Mack’s full statement:

To those who have been harmed by my actions,

To this date, it has been over three years since I last communicated with most of you. This period of isolation has been the most devastating, but transformative time of my life. Because of the court’s decision to allow me to remain on home-confinement, I have had the opportunity to be alone with my thoughts in the most supportive and loving environment. Such an opportunity has offered me the time and strength I needed to confront the darkest parts of
myself and come to terms with the pain my actions have inflicted on so many people I love, which is the reason for this letter. It is now of paramount importance to me to say, from the bottom of my heart, I am so sorry. I threw myself into the teachings of Keith Raniere with everything I had. I believed, whole-heartedly, that his mentorship was leading me to a better, more enlightened version of myself. I devoted my loyalty, my resources, and, ultimately, my life to him. This was the biggest mistake and greatest regret of my life.

I am sorry to those of you that I brought into Nxivm. I am sorry I ever exposed you to the nefarious and emotionally abusive schemes of a twisted man. I am sorry that I encouraged you to use your resources to participate in something that was ultimately so ugly. I do not take lightly the responsibility I have in the lives of those I love and I feel a heavy weight of guilt for having misused your trust, leading you down a negative path. I am sorry to those of you whom I spoke to in a harsh or hurtful way. At the time, I believed I was helping. I believed in tough love and
thought it was the path to personal empowerment. I was so confused. I never want to be someone who is considered mean, but those aspects of my humanity have been revealed in all of this; it has been devastating to reconcile.

I have experienced overwhelming shame as I have worked to accept and understand all that went on and all that I chose. There were times I was not sure I would make it through this alive, the pain was so crippling. That said, I know that coming out the other side, I am a better, kinder woman because of this. I know I cannot heal the pain my betrayal has caused to you and your loved ones, but I can promise you that your hurt has not gone unseen and acknowledging this has changed me to my core.

I also want to apologize to all the friends and loved ones I have hurt throughout this process who were not involved in Nxivm. I know many of you fought hard to show me the truth about Nxivm and Keith, but I didn’t listen. I pushed you away and silenced myself toward you when you were trying to save my life. I am sorry I was so stubborn. I am sorry I was blind to your care and deaf to your pleas. I wish with everything in me that I had chosen differently, but I
cannot change the past. I lied to you, again and again, in order to protect the delusion I was so deeply committed to believing. I know that the sacred trust I broke cannot be reinstated without forgiveness and a significant passage of time. While I desperately miss my friends, I understand if you choose not to invest in a future that includes me. However, I hope you will accept this sincere apology and know that I will hold all of you close to my heart for the rest of my life, even if we never speak again.

The list of those harmed by the collateral damage of my destructive choices continues to grow as I become more and more aware of how my choices have affected those around me. I am grateful that I have made it through this process alive and that I was stopped when I was. I have the court, my family, my therapist, and a few amazing friends to thank for this. Please know that I am dedicated to spending my life working to mend the hearts I broke and continuing to transform myself into a more loving and compassionate woman. Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I hope it offers at least a little bit of peace and closure as this horrific chapter comes to an end.



Jun 26, 2021

Ask Judge for No Jail Time in NXIVM Case, Claiming She Has ‘Turned Her Life Around

Cynthia Littleton, Ellise Shafer
June 26, 2021

Allison Mack and her attorneys have asked a federal judge to forgo jail time for her crimes in connection with Keith Raniere and the NXIVM sex cult case, saying that her life has been “turned around” after reconnecting with her family and pursuing studies at University of California at Berkeley.

Mack’s sentencing memo emphasizes that the former “Smallville” star has fully renounced her belief in Raniere. She has been under house arrest at her family home in Orange County for more than three years and is “earnestly dedicated to her rehabilitation,” the memo states.

Prosecutors last week asked U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis for leniency on sentencing given guidelines that call for a sentence of 14 to 17 years.

Since her arrest in April 2018, Mack, 38, has worked for a catering business, obtained an associate’s degree from an unnamed community college and she has enrolled to pursue a bachelor’s degree at UC Berkeley.

As such, Mack “therefore respectfully asks the Court to permit her to continue down this path of growth and reform by imposing a sentence without incarceration, and which would permit her to continue her academic studies.”

In a letter to the judge that was filed with the sentencing documents, Mack apologized for her actions.

“It is now of paramount importance for me to say, from the bottom of my heart, I am so sorry,” Mack’s letter states. “I threw myself into the teachings of Keith Raniere with everything I had. I believed, whole-heartedly, that his mentorship was leading me to a better, more enlightened version of myself. I devoted my loyalty, my resources, and, ultimately, my life to him. This was the biggest mistake and regret of my life.”

Multiple character reference letters were also filed to the judge, though the authors’ names were redacted. The memo offers details of Mack’s indoctrination to Raniere, who was known to manipulate his female followers into serving as “slaves” as part of his supposed self-help program. Federal prosecutors have described NXIVM as a multi-level marketing scheme with a sinister side that involved Mack helping to organize a group of women into a sex cult that revolved around Raniere. Some participants even submitted to being mutilating through human branding of a symbol that incorporated Raniere’s initials.

“Her brainwashing complete, Ms. Mack acquiesced in Raniere’s sick fantasies and, to her unending regret, became a ‘master’ as well as Raniere’s ‘slave.’ The fact that Raniere was able to turn Ms. Mack into an agent of trauma is appalling, but consistent with the structure and function of cults like NXIVM,” the memo states.

Large portions of the sentencing memo are redacted. The 42-page report also details Mack’s efforts to help prosecutors following her arrest. The memo states it took Mack a few months to emerge from Raniere’s grip.

“Now that the blinders of the NXIVM cult have been removed, Ms. Mack recognizes that her actions were abhorrent. The Allison Mack of today barely recognizes who she was during those dark times,” the memo states.

Mac eventually told prosecutors “everything she knew” about Raniere and others charged with NXIVM-related crimes. In addition to Raniere, several others connected to NXIVM were convicted of racketeering and other charges, including Seagram Co. heiress Clare Bronfman who was sentenced to 81 months in October. Raniere was sentenced to 120 years in prison at the same time following his conviction sex trafficking, conspiracy and racketeering charges.

The sentencing memo also included a number of letters testifying to the changes Mack has made in her life and the remorse she feels for her actions. The list includes a detailed letter from her mother, Mindy Mack, as well as letters from her older brother and younger sister, friends and teachers at the unnamed community colleges that she has attended via Zoom.

According to her mother’s letter, Mack earned an associate’s degree in spring 2020 with a 4.0 grade point average. She’s since attended classes at UC Berkeley and is scheduled to graduate in Spring 2022 with a double major in Rhetoric and Psychology. She has also worked an average of five to 10 hours a week for a catering company, something her mother called “a marvelous experience” for her daughter, who has been working as an actor and model since she was four. Mack’s father, Jonathan, was a professional opera singer.

“Coming from a background in show business, Allison had always been the one being served. In her catering position she was now the one serving, giving her an entirely new perspective,” Mindy Mack wrote. The sentencing memo, on the other hand, characterizes Mindy Mack as the instigator of her daughter’s performing career: After describing the Mack family as “tight-knit” and the kind that frequently went on camping trips. But when Allison was 4, “this trajectory changed when Ms. Mack’s mother began to involve Ms. Mack in the child acting and modeling industry,” states the memo penned by Allison Mack attorneys William McGovern and Sean Buckley of Kobre & Kim.

The letters from family and friends also emphasize the severity of Raniere’s grip on the Mack, who frightened her family with extreme weight loss and her lack of ties to her siblings and parents during her 12 years with NXIVM. During her house arrest period, Allison Mack has worked to repair her relationships with her family. “As my son observed, We’ve had Hollywood Allison and NXIVM Allison and now we finally have Our Allison back!” Mindy Mack wrote.

Mack’s attorneys also detail how the young woman was a breadwinner for her family at a young age, paying tuition for her siblings and other family bills by the time she was a regular on the long-running CW drama “Smallville,” which ran from 2001-2011. Mack first came into contact with Raniere through the Executive Success Program self-help seminars that his followers offered in Vancouver, where “Smallville” was shot.

“In 2016 she came to our house telling us she was on day 7 of a 10 day cleanse and ate absolutely nothing. She was almost in a daze the whole time,” her brother, Shannon, wrote to the judge.

Younger sister Robyn told Garaufis that her middle sibling was a changed person.

“I often reflect on her arrest as a blessing in disguise: never in my life have I felt so deeply immersed in sisterhood as I do now. She is an invaluable member of our family, and is unafraid to speak truth when we need to hear it. Her indomitable thirst for responsible, honest, compassionate living permeates every interaction she has and every challenge she undertakes. Allison strives for a softer, kinder, more accountable lifestyle,” she wrote.

Allison Mack Asks for Zero Jail Time in NXIVM Sex Cult Case; Says She's Suffered Enough from Keith 'Raniere's Lies and Manipulations'

Law & crime
June 26th, 2021

Former “Smallville” actress and NXIVM sex cult member Allison Mack is asking for zero jail time after pleading guilty to two federal charges connected to her activities with the now-fractured group. That’s according to a sentencing memorandum her defense attorneys filed in federal court late Friday — a document which reads like a thesaurus of insults hurled in copious quantities toward former NXIVM leader Keith Raniere and which contains a letter to NXIVM’s victims penned by Mack herself.

Mack, who pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy, “provided substantial assistance to the government” in cases against certain co-defendants, federal prosecutors wrote in a recent sentencing memorandum of their own. The government, therefore, is seeking a sentence “below” the standard 168 to 210 months (14 to 17.5 years) Mack would normally face.

Mack’s attorneys followed on Friday by asking for a “sentence without incarceration” that would allow their client to “continue her academic studies” and “continue down [a] path of growth and reform” in her post-NXIVM life.

The defense motion kicks off in a manner which calls Mack’s criminal case an “intervention” by her own victims and by federal prosecutors:

Because of the intervention by the victims of Nxivm and DOS, law enforcement, and this Court, in the last three years Allison Mack has turned her life around and earnestly dedicated herself to rehabilitation, renunciation of Keith Raniere and those who supported him, and making amends. She is now well on her way to once again being a productive member of society. Since being freed from the twisting influence of Raniere, Ms. Mack has re-devoted herself to pursuing a positive and constructive life, centered around the three pillars of family, education, and healing.

Raniere, the group’s leader, was sentenced to 120 years in prison — effectively a life sentence for the 60-year-old disgraced guru — while Seagrams liquor heiress and admitted collaborator Clare Bronfman was separately sentenced to serve six years and nine months. Other mid-level members of the group have also admitted guilt in their own various criminal cases.

Mack’s sentencing memorandum does not speak kindly of Raniere:

The primary, and most important, factor in her rehabilitation has been her family. Where once Raniere commanded Ms. Mack’s complete devotion and fealty to the exclusion of all others, Ms. Mack has now reintegrated into the life of her family, seeking out and offering support in a way that would have been unthinkable three years ago. Ms. Mack has recognized that if she is ever to fully return to herself, her family has an integral role to play, and she has turned those sentiments into action.

The digs at Raniere continue later on in the document:

None of these things can justify Ms. Mack’s past actions, or erase the harm done to the victims. Ms. Mack will justifiably live with the resulting scorn and guilt for the rest of her life. However, having been finally removed from Raniere’s grip by these very proceedings and the unwavering support of her family and friends that they have engendered, Ms. Mack has regained the clarity she had lost as a member of Nxivm—clarity to see past Raniere’s lies and manipulations, and to understand the incalculable harm caused by the group she was a part of. That is why she pled guilty and worked to assist the Government in its prosecution of Raniere and others, and it is why she will appear before the Court for sentencing at peace with whatever sentence the Court imposes to atone for the wrongs in which she participated.

However, the memorandum speaks glowingly of Mack’s efforts to secure a college education:

Ms. Mack has also pursued an academic path previously set aside in service of her acting career, by obtaining an associate’s degree at a community college in California, graduating with a 4.0 grade point average. As her professors describe, Ms. Mack has been a model student who not only excels personally but elevates the students around her. And Ms. Mack recently enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program at the University of California, Berkeley to continue her studies. At the same time, she has been working as a caterer (pandemic and other restrictions permitting), and in the future looks towards continuing her education to become a contributing member of society. Ms. Mack has undertaken these pursuits because, here too, she recognizes that education and work are necessary to her ongoing recovery under the supervision of this Court.

“Ms. Mack has come to recognize the pain her actions have caused and she has learned how to channel her remorse and grief into positive actions — most notably her reinforced devotion to family and education,” the memorandum continues.

It also speaks rather negatively of Mack’s career path as an actress and model — a path the document says Mack’s mother established for her from a young age. (Her father was a professional opera singer.)

“It is no secret that the life of a child performer can involve experiences, and create stresses, that impact development,” the document reads. It asserts that Mack saw her family only “intermittently” during the filming of “Smallville,“ but significant portions of the document are blacked out and thus obscure many details of her life.

“Despite the material and professional success that Ms. Mack had achieved in her acting career, Ms. Mack was plagued by feelings of hollowness and a lack of purpose,” the memorandum says.

According to the document, Mack became involved with NXIVM while still part of the “Smallville” cast. When the show ended, she moved to New York City, then to the Albany, N.Y. area where Raniere lived and NXIVM was headquartered.

“However, Ms. Mack’s family soon began to see troubling changes,” the memorandum asserts. “As related by her brother . . . Ms. Mack appeared physically depleted by her lifestyle in Nxivm. This only became more pronounced as time went on.”

Her brother related the following story — which is now contained in the sentencing recommendation:

In 2016, she came to our house for Thanksgiving dinner claiming that she was on day 7 of a ten day cleanse and ate absolutely nothing. She was almost in a daze the whole time. She would often absent herself to have a phone or video call with her “people” in New York. While she acted caring and loving, it was clear that she was in an unhealthy situation that was taking a toll on her.

Here, Mack’s attorneys again blame Raniere as the more culpable culprit, citing many details from a pre-sentence investigation report:

By 2016, there was a very specific reason for Ms. Mack’s deteriorating condition. The prior year, Raniere had created an organization called “Dominus Obsequious Sororium,” or DOS for short, which is bastardized Latin intended to mean “Master of the Obedient Female Companions.” DOS was comprised of female members, except for Raniere (whose involvement was to remain secret from Nxivm and anyone outside of the original group of DOS members he recruited), who constructed the organization to his own specifications to create modern-day harem for himself. The system created by Raniere set up so-called “masters” and so- called “slaves” recruited to join the organization.

[Part of the conclusion of the paragraph is blacked out in the public docket, but the description continues.]

At its conception, Ms. Mack (wrongly) understood DOS to be an organization designed to empower women. As more people became involved in DOS, however, Raniere’s demands and directives to his “slaves” increased and became depraved and sadistic. One of those directives was for initiates to provide an ever-increasing amount of “collateral” to DOS, in the form of compromising photos, videos, or written confessions (both true and false) of damaging facts. This “collateral” was meant to demonstrate an initiate’s commitment to the organization. Ms. Mack herself was compelled to provide collateral to Raniere, thus handing Raniere a cudgel that could be wielded to keep her in line. Upon Ms. Mack’s delivery of collateral, Raniere had thus obtained control over Ms. Mack, and used that control to impose his will on her and others in DOS.

“Her brainwashing complete, Ms. Mack acquiesced in Raniere’s sick fantasies and, to her unending regret, became a ‘master’ as well as Raniere’s ‘slave,'” the document continues. “The fact that Raniere was able to turn Ms. Mack into an agent of trauma is appalling, but consistent with the structure and function of cults like Nxivm.”

Again, Mack’s attorneys turned up the heat on Raniere — all while expressing regret over what occurred:

In pleading guilty in this matter, Ms. Mack acknowledged the wrongs and trauma inflicted on Jane Does 5 and 8 which resulted from her involvement with Raniere, whether through Nxivm, DOS, or both. The activities that Ms. Mack was involved in are set forth at length in the PSR and the Government’s sentencing submission, they were described at the trial of Raniere; Ms. Mack does not dispute or reprise them here.1 Now that the blinders of the Nxivm cult have been removed, Ms. Mack recognizes that her actions were abhorrent. The Allison Mack of today barely recognizes who she was during those dark times.

Mack’s attorneys say she perceives her arrest on April 20, 2018 in Brooklyn as “the best thing that could have happened to her at that time.”

“Ms. Mack told the government everything she knew about Raniere, his co-conspirators, and the organization he had created,” the memorandum says.

A friend provided these words to describe what Mack’s attorneys call her “transformation” into a a person who “does not recognize the Allison Mack of three years ago”:

She has fought tenaciously for all of this. I have watched her sit in the sorrow and experience the waves of pain over all the things she cannot change. I have held her hand as she has wept in remorse, realizing her disillusionment with Keith [Raniere] and all that she participated in.

The memorandum also favorably describes Mack’s divorce from Nicki Clyne, a NXIVM and DOS member “whom [Mack] married at Raniere’s request in order to obtain a favorable immigration status for Ms. Clyne.”

Again, from the memorandum:

The marriage represents another example of the now-incomprehensible lack of judgment Ms. Mack displayed during her time in DOS, and another action about which she is deeply remorseful. In addition to rectifying the fraud, Ms. Mack felt strongly about severing ties with Ms. Clyne because of Ms. Clyne’s continued outspoken support for Mr. Raniere, who Ms. Mack whole-heartedly rejects.

The core argument in favor of zero jail time concludes as such — again while bashing Raniere:

For more than a decade, Ms. Mack put her trust in a depraved manipulator, and let herself be indoctrinated. Ms. Mack knows that she has committed grave wrongs as part of her association with Raniere. She will be forever remorseful for her failings during that dark time. However, as set forth above, the arc of Ms. Mack’s life is now trending in a positive direction, towards truth, healing, education, and family. As a result, we respectfully submit that the Allison Mack standing before the Court at her sentencing hearing should receive a sentence that accounts for the progress she has made in charting this new path.

What follows in the document is a cross-section of the laws and cases which govern sentencing proceedings in criminal matters. Therein, Mack’s attorneys argue, in part, that a prison term is not necessary to support the aims and goals of federal sentencing law because — to quote Mack’s mother — the defendant “was hounded and publicly humiliated by the media” and the “shame she felt was crushing her soul.” That, Mack’s attorneys say, “has already inflicted grievous punishment,” and a prison term — according to them — is therefore not necessary.

They go on with this chain of thought in slightly more detail:

Even for those in the population who could be deterred, the punishment already meted out to Ms. Mack — arrest by the FBI, home confinement with severe restrictions on communication with the outside world, a felony conviction, public humiliation, stalking paparazzi, a reputation in tatters, a career in ruins, and physical and emotional scars from her twelve years serving Raniere — already provides all the deterrent necessary.

Attached to the memorandum is a letter from Mack herself addressed to “those who have been harmed by my actions.” The beginning paragraph focuses on Mack’s description of her own “isolation” and purported transformation after confronting the “darkest parts” of herself and the “pain my actions have inflicted on so many people.”

It continues:

I threw myself into the teachings of Keith Rainire with everything I had. I believed, whole-heartedly, that his mentorship was leading me to a better, more enlightened version of myself. I devoted my loyalty, my resources, and, ultimately, my life to him. This was the biggest mistake and greatest regret of my life.

I am sorry to those of you that I brought into Nxivm. I am sorry I ever exposed you to the nefarious and emotionally abusive schemes of a twisted man. I am sorry that I encouraged you to use your resources to participate in something that was ultimately so ugly. I do not take lightly the responsibility I have in the lives of those I love and I feel a heavy weight of guilt for having misused your trust, leading you down a negative path. I am sorry to those of you whom I spoke to in a harsh or hurtful way. At the time, I believed I was helping. I believed in tough love and thought it was the path to personal empowerment. I was so confused. I never want to be someone who is considered mean, but those aspects of my humanity have been revealed in all of this; it has been devastating to reconcile.

Mack will be sentenced Wednesday, June 30.

Read the full memorandum and exhibits below:

[images via YouTube screengrab/Investigation Discovery]


Jun 25, 2021

United States Supreme Court issued a decision denying the Petition for Certiorari submitted by Hyung Jin (Sean) Moon

NEW YORK, June 23, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Family Federation for World Peace and Unification USA, commonly referred to as the ‘Unification Church’, is grateful that Hyung Jin Sean Moon’s misguided efforts to use litigation to make himself leader of Family Federation for World Peace and Unification International have come to an end.

On June 14, 2021, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision denying the Petition for Certiorari submitted by Hyung Jin (Sean) Moon. In this petition, Sean Moon argued once again that he had been appointed by the late Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon as the leader of Family Federation for World Peace and Unification International. Monday’s order by the U.S. Supreme Court brings finality to the dismissal of Sean Moon’s claims to take leadership of Family Federation for World Peace and Unification through the U.S. court system.

On February 22, 2019, Hyung Jin (Sean) Moon filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York against Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity (aka Family Federation for World Peace and Unification USA), and the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification International (both commonly referred to as the Unification Church), and additional individual defendants. This claim was dismissed in its entirety by Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald of the United States District Court on December 19, 2019. The dismissal was then unanimously affirmed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on November 5, 2020.

We at Family Federation USA pray every day for Sean Moon and his followers that they will soon put their guns down and “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” (Isaiah 2:4) As such, we will continue in our peaceful efforts to bring reconciliation and unity within all levels of society as envisioned by Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon and the late Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon.

Family Fed USA
Nancy Jubb

Irving Street Rep
Ron Lucas

SOURCE Family Federation for World Peace and Unification

Jun 24, 2021

Kenneth Kaunda, giant of African nationalism, passes at 97

Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Kenneth Kaunda
Lisa Vives
June 24, 2021
International Centre for Investigative Reporting

ONE of the giants of 20th century African nationalism, Kenneth Kaunda, former president of Zambia was to many, the gentle giant who pioneered African socialism.

The ‘patriarch of African independence’ passed away June 17 at a military hospital in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka. He was 97.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta eulogised him for bravely hosting various liberation groups and he received international kudos for bowing out peacefully after losing an election.

But as there are two sides to every coin, Kaunda was also the authoritarian, who introduced a one-party state. He cut a supply-side deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and he planned to give huge tracts of farmland to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi after he promised to create a ‘heaven on earth.’

The revolutionary, who gave sanctuary to liberation movements, was also a friend of US presidents, recalled Gavin Evans, writing for The Conversation, a newsletter of university scholars and researchers

In a final coup de grace, the government that succeeded him placed him under house arrest after alleging a coup attempt; then declared him stateless when he planned to run in the 1996 election.

He survived an assassination attempt in 1997, getting grazed by a bullet. One of his sons, Wezi, was shot dead outside their home in 1999.

The 1986 AIDS death of another son, Masuzgo, motivated him to campaign around HIV issues far earlier than most, and he stepped this up over the next two decades.

In the obituaries that proliferated after his death, Kaunda was described as an impassioned orator who could bring an audience to its feet and to tears; a schoolteacher who quoted Lincoln and Gandhi; and a physically striking man who brushed his hair to stand at attention so that it added inches to his six-foot-tall stature.

Kenneth David Kaunda was born in Chinsali, Northern Zambia, on Oct. 24 1924. Like many of his generation of African liberation leaders, he came from a family of the mission-educated middle class. He was the youngest among eight children. His father was a Presbyterian missionary-teacher and his mother was the first qualified African woman teacher in the country.

He became a head teacher before his 21st birthday, teaching in the former Tanganyika (Tanzania), where he became a lifelong admirer of future president Julius Nyerere, whose ‘Ujamaa’ brand of African socialism he tried to follow.

As the leader of the United National Independence Party (UNIP)), he travelled to America and met Martin Luther King. Inspired by King and Mahatma Gandhi, he launched the ‘Cha-cha-cha’ civil disobedience campaign.

Although his government became increasingly autocratic and intolerant of dissent, Kaunda will go down in history as a relatively benign autocrat who avoided the levels of repression and corruption of so many other one-party rulers.

World Intellectual Property Organization published three reverse domain name hijacking decisions today.


Here’s the third RDNH of the day

Black background with white numbers 1 2 and 3 with red x through them

World Intellectual Property Organization published three reverse domain name hijacking decisions today.

When it rains, it pours, and today that means we have three reverse domain name hijacking (RDNH) cases to report.

Earlier today, I wrote about reverse domain name hijacking findings for Koibox.com and Machani.com.

The third case is for WWTM.org.

Maharishi Foundation USA, Inc is the guilty party in this case. It has a U.S. trademark for TM, which is short for its Transcendental Meditation technique. It uses the domain TM.org.

Working With The Mind, a community interest company in the UK, uses WWTM.org for its site. The organization helps people with mindfulness, including mindfulness programs for prisons and people impacted by COVID-19.

One of the Complainant’s arguments was that WWTM.org is a typo of WWW.TM.org, but the panelist didn’t buy that.

World Intellectual Property Organization panelist John Swinson took issue with how Maharishi Foundation USA, Inc presented its case.

In finding RDNH, called attention to this statement by Maharishi Foundation:

“Clearly, Respondent selected and used the Disputed Domain Name solely to attract consumers to its website by trading on the fame of the TM trademark; such use can not confer any proprietary rights in Complainant’s trademark to the Respondent.

Furthermore, nothing on the Respondent’s website suggests any proper use of the TM acronym or a good faith basis for adopting the WWTM name. Respondent does not state anywhere on his sites what TM, alone, or in combination with WWTM means.”

Swinson disagreed:

Based on the evidence presented in the Complaint, it is certainly not clear to the Panel that the Respondent selected the disputed domain name solely to trade on the fame of the TM trademark.

Further, it is clear to the Panel that, even on a cursory review of the Respondent’s website, the disputed name is an acronym for “Working With The Mind”. The Respondent’s website uses the name “Working With The Mind” in many places, including in the title. Prior to filing the Complainant, the Complainant and the Respondent communicated by email. The Respondent in this correspondence stated to the Complainant’s attorney: “You and the Foundation you represent can read more about WWTM on our website at wwtm.org.” The Complainant had no reasonable basis to assert in the Complaint that nothing on the Respondent’s website suggests any proper use for adopting the WWTM name.

The Complainant was legally represented. The Complainant promotes techniques to improve calmness, clarity of mind and happiness. The Respondent is a small social enterprise with limited funds and is self-represented, and it is reasonable for the Panel to conclude that the Complainant was aware of this before filing the Complainant.

Shuttleworth & Ingersoll P.L.C. represented the Complainant. The Respondent represented himself.

1 in 5 young adult Mormons in the US are gay, lesbian or bisexual

1 in 5 young adult Mormons in the US are gay, lesbian or bisexual
So far, Gen Z Mormons look like millennials in their sexual orientation, only more so, according to the largest dataset we’ve ever had about Latter-day Saints in America.

Jana Riess
Religion News Service
June 21, 2021

(RNS) — More than a fifth of Generation Z Mormons do not self-identify as heterosexual, according to a major national study. One in 10 are bisexual.

The Nationscape dataset, which canvassed more than 318,000 Americans on a rolling basis in 2019 and 2020, had 3,881 self-identified members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the survey. This makes it one of the largest studies of Mormons ever fielded in the United States.

One of the most valuable aspects of the data is what it can tell us about the basic demographics of the Mormon population, including gender, race, geography and sexual orientation.

Not surprisingly, there is more sexual diversity among younger Latter-day Saints than older ones. As shown below, while 94% of boomers said they were heterosexual, just 77% of Generation Z did. (This analysis borrows Pew’s cutoff dates for the generations, which uses 1997 as the first birth year of Gen Z. Only adult Gen Zers over the age of 18 were eligible for the study.)

So, 23% of Gen Zers who identify as LDS say they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or other. And nearly as many (19%) of millennials did as well. It’s notable this finding is nearly double the 10% that Benjamin Knoll and I found among millennials in the 2016 Next Mormons Survey (which broke down into 7% bisexual, 2% gay or lesbian and 1% “other”).

Let’s unpack the Nationscape study’s finding of 23% a bit more. Within Gen Z, the major outliers compared with other generations of Mormons were the categories of bisexual and “other.”

Gen Z Mormons (n=523)

Millennial Mormons (n=1362)

Gen X Mormons (n=973)

Boomer/Silent Mormons (n=1023 combined)
















Prefer not to say










We think three points are worth making here.

First, generationally, sexual diversity is high among Gen Z Mormons because it’s high among Gen Z as a whole. In terms of sexual orientation, Nationscape’s Gen Z Mormons look a lot like non-Mormons their same age:

Gen Z Mormons

Gen Z non-Mormons










Prefer not to say






So Gen Z Mormons, like their counterparts around the nation, are more likely to identify as queer. According to Pew’s recent study of Gen Z, they seem more comfortable with gender fluidity and same-sex marriage than any other generation, though millennials come close.

Gen Zers are also more likely to feel fine reporting their sexual orientation on a survey. Fewer than 1% chose the “prefer not to say” option in the Nationscape study, compared with 2% to 4% of the members of older generations who did not want to answer the question. The atmosphere today for acknowledging a nonheterosexual identity is far more hospitable than it was even a decade ago, and many Gen Zers don’t personally remember a time when they could be fired from a job for being LGBTQ+.

The second point is that Gen Z Mormons currently show more sexual diversity than older generations of Latter-day Saints because, frankly, some of them are statistically likely to leave the church but have not yet done so.

The Gen Z respondents in the Nationscape study were 18 to 22 at the time of the survey. According to our own research in “The Next Mormons,” the median age for leaving the church is around 19. In other words, there is still some settling and sorting yet to happen here. We are by no means saying all of these queer-identifying young adult Mormons are going to exit the church, of course — only that statistically, more will likely do so than their heterosexual peers.

It’s not surprising that it’s harder for queer folk to stay. The church has made a point for years of fighting same-sex marriage, condemning nontraditional families as “counterfeit” and preventing church members who are in a same-sex relationship from attending the temple, holding certain callings or exercising the priesthood. While there have been important steps toward compassion and understanding in the last few years, that damage still runs deep.

So the percentage of queer Gen Z Mormons will probably not be as high as 23% in future studies. That won’t be because these people will have magically become heterosexual as they get older. It will be because they will have ceased to be Mormon and will drop out of the pool of respondents who currently identify as members of the church. As well, some heterosexuals will likely continue to switch in to the religion through conversion, possibly enough to change the ratio going forward.

Finally, one surprising aspect of the study is related to race and geography. Nationscape’s data suggests that among Mormons, some racial and ethnic minorities were more likely to also be sexual minorities.

Among all Americans, heterosexuality was 87% for Hispanics and 90% for Blacks, but among Mormons it was 71% for Hispanics and 74% for Blacks. It’s a statistically significant difference because the sample size is big enough that this isn’t just a random sampling error. Still, it’s not clear why Black and Hispanic Mormons are less likely to be heterosexual than their non-LDS counterparts.

Incidentally, the Nationscape study showed a double-digit difference between Mormons who lived in Utah (94% heterosexual) and those who did not (83% heterosexual). This echoes and widens a smaller, 4-point difference we found in the 2016 NMS regarding the sexual orientation of Mormons in Utah versus Mormons elsewhere.

We speculate this is the result of self-selection, in that red-state Utah may just be a more challenging place for sexual minorities to live, at least outside of Salt Lake City.

Includes data analysis by Benjamin Knoll.


Mankind Foundation: Websites

  • The Mankind Foundation official Web site: https://mankindproject.org/
  • Women Within International Web site (associated with Mankind Project): https://www.womanwithin.org/
  • Boys to Men Web site (associated with Mankind Project): https://boystomen.org/

Jun 22, 2021

ICSA Conference 2021 Montreal Virtual - Workshops

ICSA Conference 2021 Montreal Virtual - Workshops

Conference Workshops (July 1-4)
Conference (July 1-3)

The upcoming online annual conference of the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA), organized jointly with its Montreal partners Info-Cult and the Association québécoise Plaidoyer-Victimes, will feature, among numerous sessions, two workshops that will be simultaneously interpreted from English into French. They are the Mental Health and Research Workshops. You can find out more about the conference and how to register at: https://icsaconferenceannual.lpages.co/icsa-annual-conference/ and below about the about the 2 workshops:

Mental Health Workshop

Part 1: Working with First-Generation (Linda-Dubrow Marshall, Richard Turner, Ashley McLean)
This workshop will focus on how mental health professionals can best address working with first-generation former members. Ashley McLean will discuss the difficulties associated with the treatment of former members of pseudo therapeutic cults based on her research and personal experiences as a former member. Richard Turner will discuss his perspective about mental health issues and how to best help first-generation former members to recover, including pathways and barriers to recovery, based on both personal and professional experience. Dr. Linda Dubrow-Marshall will then discuss general principles for how mental health professionals can best facilitate the recovery of first-generation former members based on an appreciation of individual differences amongst common sequelae of the experience of being in an abusive group and the need for flexibility in helping people to recover.

Part 2: Working with Born-or-Raised (Lorna Goldberg, Jacqueline Johnson)
This workshop will provide mental health professionals with a basic knowledge of some typical SGA/MGA reactions to leaving a cult and address how the therapist might intervene. Character issues developed in the cult will be described, such as the incorporation of the cult’s pressure to look “good” and perform to perfection. Along with this, the development of a harsh conscience will be examined. Additionally, it will be considered that, as a result of a childhood filled with trauma from abuse and/or neglect, a large number of clients display the effects of complex post-traumatic stress disorder. The therapist’s role is to help clients move towards self-awareness by gaining an understanding of how their cult childhood impacts on present thoughts and behavior. Symptoms of complex post-traumatic stress (e.g. emotional dysregulation and dissociation) will be addressed and clients will be helped by examining precipitating events along looking at alternative possibilities and grounding techniques. As a result of this examination, the therapist helps clients access inner beliefs and emotions. Therefore, clients begin to move from expression of emotion somatically or through action (sometimes self-destructive) to expression of emotion through language. Clients’ assumptions that stem from cult life also will be explored as part of the therapy process; and, thus, clients gain an understanding of whether or not these assumptions have more to do with the past than the present. At times, these assumptions are directed at the therapist and the therapist will be open in her examination of whether or not clients’ reactions were elicited by her behavior. The goal is to allow clients to gain more control over present life and gain access to a larger repertoire of reactions. Post-cult family relationships also will be addressed. Case examples will be provided throughout the workshop. Time will be allotted for questions and the discussion of case material.

Research Workshop

Research Workshop (Rod Dubrow- Marshall; Carmen Almendros; Marie-Andrée Pelland; Cyndi Matthews)
The Research Workshop will focus on key areas of research currently taking place on cults and extremist groups and related areas of coercion (intimate partner violence, trafficking and gangs). Researchers will be able to discuss the challenges they may be facing or may have faced in proposing new research projects in these areas, including getting institutional approval (IRB or ethics committee), finding participants, clarifying aspects of research design and getting support from faculty. Experienced researchers will be on hand to answer questions and all those present will be able to share their ideas on current and future research including possibilities for collaboration. In previous years researchers have found this pre-conference workshop a helpful way to progress their thinking and plans and as a way to develop networks to advance their research. The workshop will also discuss specific proposals concerning the establishment of an online researchers' forum and the development of the journal and other conduits for research outputs (including conferences in different regions/countries).


What Should I Think About..?

Dr. Janja Lalich, Cult Researcher
June 20, 2021

Ep 45. Dr. Janja Lalich, Cult Researcher

One of the most influential researchers into cults, Dr Lalich has experienced the phenomena of cults both from the inside, as a member and then as a researcher. She is Professor Emerita of Sociology at California State University, an author and educator and speaks eloquently and compassionately about the experience of being a member of a high control group.

We enjoyed a wonderful interview with Dr. Lalich in which she talks about the Bounded Choice model and her book Leaving Utopia specifically about "born-ins" - a particular area of interest to this podcast. We talk about the particular difficulties for those born into groups, the added challenges for members of fundamentalist religious cults who are LGBTQ+, homeschooling, how society should deal with coercive groups and much more.


Sex cult cutie Allison Mack provided evidence that sunk twisted guru

Brad Hunter
Calgary Herald
Jun 22, 2021

Smallville star turned sex cult “slave master” flipped on guru Keith Raniere by providing the feds with an audio recording of his discussing branding members, according to Variety.

Mack — who was at the centre of the NXIVM sex cult — cooperated with federal authorities in their sex probe of Raniere.

In a sentencing memo filed Monday, prosecutors asked Judge Nicholas Garaufis to give Mack, 38, a reduced sentence as reward for her cooperation.

“Although Mack could have provided even more substantial assistance had she made the decision to cooperate earlier, Mack provided significant, detailed and highly corroborated information which assisted the government in its prosecution,” prosecutors said in the memo obtained by Variety.

She is slated to be sentenced on June 30.

Mack pleaded guilty in April to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy charges that included extortion and forced labour. More serious sex trafficking charges were dropped.

Superman’s one-time pal admitted to being a major player in the cult’s super-secret DOS slave-master group. Some of the so-called sex slaves were branded like cattle with Raniere’s initials.

During his long reign as cult leader, followers were frequently blackmailed into having sex with him and others like Mack. The cult held onto highly-incriminating material, including raunchy photos and confessions.

But to save herself, she gave the feds the audiotape where Raniere used about branding the women.

“Do you think the person who’s being branded should be completely nude and sort of held to the table like a, sort of almost like a sacrifice?” Raniere asks in the recording.

“And the person should ask to be branded,” he adds. “Should say, ‘Please brand me, it would be an honour,’ or something like that. ‘An honour I want to wear for the rest of my life,’ I don’t know … And they should probably say that before they’re held down, so it doesn’t seem like they are being coerced.”

He is currently serving 120 years in federal prison.



Jun 21, 2021

Featured presentations at the upcoming ICSA Annual Conference July 1-3!

Psychosocial Factors That Make us Vulnerable to Buddhist Cultic Groups: 'McMindfulness', The Happiness Trap, Deception and Hidden Abuse
How to Appeal to the Reconfigured Conscious of ex-cult Members (Henk Stoker)

Panel Part 1: Children in Sectarian Religions and the Relative “Success” of State Interventions (Susan Palmer; Marie-Eve Melanson; Mateus Grillo)

Psychosocial Factors That Make us Vulnerable to Buddhist Cultic Groups: 'McMindfulness', The Happiness Trap, Deception and Hidden Abuse (Michelle Haslam)

Research Workshop - Part 1 / Atelier de recherche - première partie (Rod Dubrow-Marshall, Carmen Almendros, Marie-Andrée Pelland and Cyndi Matthews)

Social Contagion in Groups and Society (Joseph Kelly; Patrick Ryan)

Panel Part 2: Children in Sectarian Religions and the Relative “Success” of State Interventions (Susan Palmer; Marie-Eve Melanson; Mateus Grillo)

How In-depth Knowledge of Techniques Used by Dating Violence Perpetrators Could Help the Support System of Someone Involved in a Cult to Intervene (Louisa Stoker-Braun)

Research Workshop - Part 2  / Atelier de recherche - deuxième partie (Rod Dubrow-Marshall, Carmen Almendros, Marie-Andrée Pelland and Cyndi Matthews)

For more information and registration: https://icsaconferenceannual.lpages.co/icsa-annual-conference/

Jun 20, 2021

My Love Affair with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi! The Untold Story!


Coffee Talk with ADIKA LIVE!
May 26, 2021

Author, Judith Bourque - Robes of Silk Feet of Clay: The True Story of a Love Affair With Beatles Guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Order the prizewinning audiobook here and receive a link to all of the printed book's photos: www.robesofsilkfeetofclay.com

In this book Judith Bourque describes the unexpected love affair that developed with Maharishi when she went to India as a young woman to become a teacher of Transcendental Meditation.  

As of member of Maharishi's inner circle, she then traveled with him around the world for two years. When she eventually discovered that he was also intimate with other young women and she decided to leave him and the TM movement forever.  She also shares the methods and means that took her from fear and disillusionment back to forgiveness and gratitude.

​Featured presentation​s​ at the upcoming ICSA Annual Conference July 1-3!


​Featured presentation​s​ at the upcoming ICSA Annual Conference July 1-3!
From Deprogramming to the Intervention 101 Approach: The Evolution of Cult Interventions (Rachel Bernstein; Joseph Kelly; Patrick Ryan)​

Panel Part 1: Coercive Control and Persuasion in Relationships and Groups – Intersections and Understandings (Rod Dubrow-Marshall; Andrea Silverstone; Carrie McManus; Linda Dubrow-Marshall)

The Life Cycle of Cult Involvement (Arthur Buchman)

Questions et enjeux sur un procès de dérive sectaire devant la Cour d'assises (Maleine Picotin-Gueye)

Exploring Fundamentalist Religion and Childhood: One Lived Experience of the Impact on Mental Health and Wellbeing (Gill Harvey)

Panel Part 2: Coercive Control and Persuasion in Relationships and Groups – Intersections and Understandings (Rod Dubrow-Marshall; Andrea Silverstone; Carrie McManus; Linda Dubrow-Marshall)

Radicalization in Quebec: Conspiracy theories and passionate involvement (French to English Interpretation of Table ronde : Au sujet de la radicalisation au Québec: théories du complot et engagement passionnel : Mathieu Colin; Solange Lefebvre ; Maria Mourani ; Marie-Andrée Pelland)

Le modèle de la bergerie - Un outil destiné au criminaliste pour appréhender la dangerosité objective d'un groupe religieux minoritai

For more information and registration: https://icsaconferenceannual.lpages.co/icsa-annual-conference/

Jun 16, 2021

Searching for Psychic Ann: One Man's Fight Against a Shadowy Group of Grifters

Dallas Observer
JUNE 16, 2021

Elie was just looking for guidance. Last April, the California resident was trudging through a rough patch. The COVID-19 pandemic had closed down much of the country, he was reeling from a difficult breakup and he had recently been laid off twice. He soon came across an Instagram post that caught his eye. The account, @psychicuniverse1111, boasted of being a prominent spiritual advisor and psychic medium.

The posts advertised 10-minute readings for $10 and a flat $35 rate for a “full twin flame reading,” a process in which a supposed psychic communicates with a spirit. A twin flame, according to psychic lore, isn’t just a soul mate. The concept refers to the notion that your soul is split in two upon creation. The person with the other half is your twin flame, they say.

Elie decided to reach out, and when “Psychic Ann” replied, she told him she could speak that same evening. During that first conversation, Elie told Psychic Ann about his breakup and his ex-girlfriend.

The $35-rate was standard for a run-of-the-mill psychic reading, but the conversations between the two escalated quickly. Over the next few months, $35 turned into $90,000 and led to a tangled web of psychic networks and a desperate search for answers. Now, Elie and his lawyer, Paul Green, have filed a lawsuit against the psychic and a shadowy Texas network they say defrauded the man. (Elie agreed to an interview on the condition we don't publish his full name.)

Psychic Ann told Elie that getting him back on path to fixing his relationship would require a lot of work. She told him “negativity was the culprit.” She needed to perform an assortment of rituals and spiritual prayers, she insisted. The cost of these rituals and prayers was $5,500.

It was a steep price, but Psychic Ann struck him as a legit. He wondered if she might have real psychic abilities. After all, she knew that his ex-girlfriend had started dating someone else, a fact he had only recently learned from friends. "They just immediately reeled me in and played on my emotions," he told me. “I was completely consumed by this.”

Plus, she offered a money-back guarantee: Elie would receive a full refund if he wasn’t reunited with his ex within 10 days, she promised. Elie sent the money across multiple mobile payment apps. Two of those payments went to someone named Sonya Adams, according to the lawsuit.

"They just immediately reeled me in and played on my emotions." – Elie

The 10 days came and went, but Elie remained single. But instead of returning the $5,500, Psychic Ann and a business associate named Samantha told Elie they felt more work was required. Starting the next week, they would set up three daily “prayers” to try to remedy the situation.

The fraud and extortion only continued from that point onward, according to the lawsuit. Psychic Ann insisted that Elie needed to spend $25,000 on a “precious stone” from a church on which he should meditate. If he didn’t, she said, his mother would soon have terminal cancer. They also told Elie to not let anyone know about their supposed work to save his mother; if he didn't keep it a secret, the treatment wouldn't work. Fearing the worst, Elie rushed to a bank.

Psychic Ann and Samantha saw an opening to push for more, the lawsuit alleges. While he was on the way to the bank, they told him he actually needed two stones, a purchase that would run him $55,000. Sure, it was a lot of money, but it was the only way he could save his mother. On top of that, there would still be enough leftover energy to win back his girlfriend.

Ignoring the request also came with a price, they said. His ex-girlfriend would shack up with another man. Worse still, her new partner would abuse her and impregnate her against her will. Not to worry, they said: the $55,000 was only a deposit, and the sum would be returned to him once the work was completed. In the meantime, though, he needed to wire transfer the money to a bank account under the name of Dillion Evans.

"Every day they would fill me with this hope that I was going to get back with my girlfriend and that my family’s health was going to be OK and [would say], ‘We just need some more money so we can get another crystal so we can pray for this and pray for that,’ and they had me for way longer than I would’ve liked and they took everything I had," he told me.


Elie didn’t know it yet, but psychic scams are common, according to Amy Nofziger, director of fraud programs for the AARP, an interest group that focuses on issues facing people older than 50. Before the COVID-19 pandemic closed down much of the country and saw a rise in mental health issues, AARP would usually receive a single complaint about psychic scams every four months on their helpline. Now, they’re fielding one or two calls a week from people who have been swindled by self-described psychics.

Meanwhile, the FBI says more people are reporting these types of fraud cases to their Internet Complaint Center, or IC3. "Although IC3 does not see many of these types of complaints, there has been a slight uptick in reporting this year," the bureau said in a statement to AARP. "Most of the complainants reporting these scams have not been victimized, but are being vigilant in reporting potential frauds they see on social media networks or receive via email."

Complaints reported to AARP include a 54-year-old Canadian woman who gave a psychic $24,000 after being promised to be reconnected with a loved one. Another woman, a 72-year-old in Seattle, handed $20,000 over to a psychic who said they could gather information about a new relationship. The list goes on, one grift after another, the number of people conned piling up.

In recent years, I’ve received a handful of tips about similar stories in North Texas, but most times, the victims are too embarrassed to speak on the record. Sometimes, they still fear the psychic’s abilities and don’t want them to know they spoke with a reporter.

At one point, someone from New York reached out to me saying they’d been conned out of more than $2,800 by a psychic they believed was based in North Texas. They tried to cut ties, but the psychic would call from different numbers, harassing the client and threatening to contact family members to tell them they were hired to cast spells on them.


Back in California, Elie was already $60,000 in the hole. But Psychic Ann made him feel like a VIP. She gave him an exclusive phone line to contact her, made time to speak to him multiple times each day and even coached him on what to text his ex-girlfriend.

Eventually, Elie reconnected with his girlfriend. The lawsuit says it happened “through no doing of Psychic Ann,” but his relationship with the clairvoyant didn’t end there. Psychic Ann and her partners had nothing to offer by way of mending Elie’s love life, so they shifted the focus back to his mother’s impending illness. He sent another cashier’s check, but it was the last.

Elie became confident about his mother’s health. With everything fine and well, he wanted his deposits back.

That’s when Psychic Ann and the others started to go dark. Reaching them became more and more difficult. When he did manage it, they promised they were close to sealing the energy. They only needed a little more time.

According to the lawsuit, the deflections and delays and promises went on until July, when the reality hit Elie: He’d been scammed. “At that point I knew it was all bullshit," he said. "I was just in shock."


Bob Nygaard, a 59-year-old who lives in South Florida, has seen it all before. As a private investigator, he’s made a career out of hunting down fraudulent psychics. Over the years, he’s helped victims collect millions of dollars in damages.

One night in 2008, Nygaard headed to happy hour at a bar and grill in Boca Raton. It was the pickup spot, Nygaard told me, and there he was sitting across from two attractive, single women, a doctor and a nurse. He sipped a Bacardi and Coke, telling the women old war stories from his days working as a transit police officer in New York City.

One of his stories piqued the women’s interest. He told them about a band of five men known as the Parks Brothers in New York. The group had carried out a spate of home improvement scams targeting the elderly, along with other swindles across the country.

“I said that one of the types of crimes that I really took an interest in was con artists,” Nygaard recalled. “I really like to match wits with con artists and cause them to be arrested.”

The trio exchanged phone numbers and left the bar a little later that night. Not having struck gold at the pickup spot, Nygaard didn’t initially think much of his interaction with the women. Ten minutes after he left, though, his phone rang. It was the doctor. She asked if he could meet her at a gas station on the corner. “I didn’t know if she wanted to hook up or what the story was,” he said.

At the gas station, the doctor explained she wanted to tell him something she had been too embarrassed to mention in front of her coworker. A self-described psychic had ripped her off, taking $12,000. Even she couldn’t believe someone of her intelligence could fall for something like this, Nygaard said.

Nygaard closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. He thought on it, and then asked, “Was there a name? Marks?” Shocked, the doctor looked at him and said, “Yes it was. It’s Gina Marks.” She asked how he could have possibly known the name. Joking, Nygaard said, “I’m psychic.”

Nygaard’s work on the Marks case, which ultimately led to her arrest, garnered him a lot of attention from the press. It was as if floodgates had been opened, he said, and they haven’t closed since. His phone rings constantly and his email inbox is full of inquiries from people just like the doctor.

When the conned come to Nygaard, they generally feel just as helpless as they did when confronting their psychic.

Though some of the criminals he deals with are run-of-the-mill con artists, Nygaard said many are connected to a larger network of Romani-American organized crime. He stresses not everyone from this background is a fraudster. It is just a trend he has observed after years of his work.

“When people gave their money to Bernie Madoff, did he put a gun to their head? If they’re right, and I’m wrong, they ought to let him go.” – Bob Nygaard, private investigator

More often than not, the hardest part of pursuing cases like this is getting law enforcement and prosecutors to take them seriously. The judge in Nygaard’s Marks case said he questioned the mental makeup of the victims and that the crimes were unsophisticated and more like “a family tradition.”

“Therein lies the problem,” Nygaard said. “Law enforcement traditionally doesn’t view self-proclaimed physics and the criminal enterprises of which they are a part as being on the same par or level as traditional organized crime.”

The scammed are being financially destroyed, he said. Most police look at psychic fraud as a joke, turning away people who report it. Police who attempt to take on the cases are often met with reluctant prosecutors worried about ruining their track record. Victims are usually told no crime has been committed because they willingly gave away their money.

“When people gave their money to Bernie Madoff, did he put a gun to their head?” Nygaard asked. “If they’re right, and I’m wrong, they ought to let him go.”

Nygaard and victims of such fraud are still waiting for law enforcement to take them seriously. It's gotten better in some places, Nygaard said. In others, cops, prosecutors and judges are just as clueless as ever.


Elie may have been wise to the con artistry, but there was still a lot he didn’t know about Psychic Ann. For one, she went by many names: Dorothy Marks, Dorothy Leath, Kathleen Marks and Kathy Leath, to name a few. (It wasn’t the same Marks that Nygaard had worked on. Marks is a common name among such swindlers, as is Evans.)

That first night they spoke, though, Elie only knew that he was talking to Psychic Ann. Psychic Ann, whatever her real name, was also connected to multiple businesses.

As he dug further, Elie found what’s described in the lawsuit as an enterprise of named and unnamed individuals who, for years, committed, promoted and managed fraud and extortion.

According to the lawsuit, the enterprise has an identifiable structure, with each person fulfilling a specific role. It consisted of a referral network to funnel potential victims to different organizations and psychics, people who engage with the client to set up payments, and others who maintain the bank accounts under different names across multiple states.

In the lawsuit, Elie said he wants all of his money back. Under federal anti-racketeering laws, the lawsuit says, Elie is entitled to $270,000 and payment of his attorney’ fees.

I tried phoning the people named in the lawsuit. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t have a lot of luck.

The lawsuit alleges individuals named Dillion Evans, Rita Evans, Valerie Williams and Sonya Adams are involved. It includes the business entities Psychic Universe, Psychic Love Center, Twin Flame Universe, Best Texas Psychic Reader and Psychic Readings by Francine. Most of them trace back to a Dillion or Rita Evans.

Williams and Adams didn’t respond to requests for comment. When I first called Francine, who is actually Rita Evans, she hung up. The second time, she snapped, “Don’t bother me,” and then the phone line clicked dead. She didn’t have any publicly available email address, so I messaged her Facebook page. She never responded.

I rang a phone number listed for Dillion Evans, but he didn’t answer. I texted and asked to speak to him about the allegations. When he called, I told him about the lawsuit, how he was named in it, and how it alleges that he’s tied to psychic services in Texas also named in the lawsuit. He was quick to point out that he didn’t live in Texas. “So why would I be a psychic reader in Texas?” he asked.

I explained that a lot of this allegedly took place through social media and that he wouldn’t have to live in Texas to be involved. He replied, “So, what are you after here? You lookin’ for some money? A little news piece?”

It wasn’t money I was looking for, I told him. Rather, I wanted to give him the opportunity to comment on allegations. “You’re going to have to find a different Dillion Evans,” he said. “Sorry, bud.” Then, he hung up. I texted again, but he didn’t respond.

“There are lots of victims that have reached out to me,” Elie told me in one email. “It's a sad situation that needs to be put on the FBI's radar.”


Paul Green and his client have slammed up against similar roadblocks, the way Green tells it. “We’ve talked to folks who said ‘Well, look, if someone wants to go to a psychic, whether it’s a form of entertainment or it’s something they truly believe, they should be able to spend their money the way they want to.’ And I agree,” Green said. What makes it different here are the lies that were being told to entice Elie to fork over the cash.

Before taking on Elie’s case, Green had only heard vague stories about these types of fraud. He never took them all that seriously. “My initial thought had always been ‘Well, that was dumb. You shouldn’t have done that,’” Green said.

“My initial thought had always been ‘Well, that was dumb. You shouldn’t have done that.’” – Paul Green, lawyer

But Elie came to Green equipped with a trove of information. He'd hired private investigators that gave him access to extra resources, like criminal databases. When he approached Green, he already had an idea of what was going on and who was involved. “When we made contact with each other, he was ahead of the game,” Green said. “He was doing research himself. Being the victim, he quickly decided ‘I need to do something about this. I need to protect myself.’”

Green said, “On the surface, when you say ‘We’re suing an alleged psychic because they siphoned X amount of dollars,’ folks get a smile on their face like ‘Are you kidding?’ But when you dive deep into [the question] ‘Well, how did they obtain all that money?’ I think folks are quick to be more understanding.”

Part of what makes these cases so difficult, Green explained, is how common they have become. After all, there are an unknown number of networks like this out there; Elie had stumbled upon only one of them, but he and Green discovered more like them while researching for the lawsuit. They don’t have a full flow chart of who’s doing what, but they say they know that people have different, distinct roles in this network. “It is being operated like a business,” Green said. “The problem is the type of business that it is.”

It’s still too early to tell how far the network reaches, but they think the people they’re dealing with are based in Texas. Either way, they’re reaching across state lines for their victims through social media. “Social media knows no boundaries in terms of states, so they are trying to contact and defraud whomever they can,” Green explained. “It doesn’t matter where the individual is from.”

In the past, people who know the psychic and mediumship industry told me that psychics who won’t use their full, real names should raise a red flag. If a psychic uses a stage name, they generally have something to hide, Angela Lusk, a local psychic, said in 2018.

Another red flag, Lusk explained, was when an alleged psychic starts trying to extend the duration of a reading to coax more money out of a client. “If they give you a definitive price, for a definitive service, then you can guarantee to some degree that you’re dealing with someone who’s not trying to sucker you,” she said.

Named American Psychic and Medium Magazine’s Man of the Year in 2017, John Cappello said to watch out for psychics who ask clients to come back frequently for additional information. “If they keep trying to use you as a piggy bank, that’s wrong,” Cappello said.

As far as Elie’s lawsuit goes, the people named in the filing have submitted several motions to the courts that would see the complaint dismissed altogether. “It’s been painfully slow,” Green said. “We are at a position where essentially if we don’t start getting responses we are going to have to seek the court's help in ordering these individuals to start producing documents.“

In the meantime, Elie and Green are still just trying to piece it all together. “We feel as though we’ve been gaining puzzle pieces, which is nice,” Green said. “Now, it’s just a matter of figuring out where they go on the board.”

Elie wants justice, but he also wants to send a warning to others. “It was a very traumatic experience," he said. "I continue to feel the financial and emotional ramifications, and I want nothing more than to alert other people so other victims don’t fall into the same scam that I did."