May 28, 2022

Message from ICSA's President - May Letter

Dear ICSA Colleagues and Friends,

Every season brings change, and spring in the Tennessee Valley, surrounded by the Smoky Mountains, is one of my favorite times. The rainbow colors of flowers, greens of trees, and warm, starlit evenings signal new beginnings and always give me a reason to hope. I find myself with a long list of hopeful wishes on this day.  

Our organization has such a diverse group of people with varying perspectives, needs, feelings, expectations, goals, beliefs, and desires. Despite our differences, we share common ground. We recognize that the exploitative manipulation found in cultic groups and relationships is unethical and morally wrong, that those adversely affected by cultic dynamics deserve and need help, that researchers who study the phenomenon must be encouraged and supported, and that society at large must continually be educated about cults and cultic dynamics. 

I hope we all can be safe, healthy, happy, supported, and free to pursue our dreams. As we work together, may we learn from each other and develop stronger bonds of cooperation.
ICSA is in what I will call a new “spring.” There has been discussion among our supporters of how we can and need to change to meet today’s and tomorrow’s world.  We have listened.  The Board of Directors recently completed a thorough revision of our Bylaws.  You can see our new Bylaws here.  We are now embarked on making the ensuing organizational changes.  We are updating our policies and procedures to ensure that they are consistent and clear. As we move forward, I will be communicating these changes so that you can gain a clear understanding of how our organization works and how you might want to be involved. 

Change can be bittersweet: The Board of Directors of ICSA has announced the retirement of Executive Director Michael Langone, effective July 31, 2022. Michael was present at the beginning of ICSA, and has led this organization for more than 41 years. His legacy is significant. We will soon post a detailed job description for a new executive director. And with gratitude and sadness, we announce the departure of Ashlen Hilliard, Director of Events. We are thankful for her contributions to ICSA and its mission. We wish her well in her future endeavors.
Our online conference on June 24-26, 2022 will feature workshops and presentations on a wide variety of subjects, with speakers of diverse backgrounds from many countries. To view the agenda and register, visit the conference page.

We are planning a variety of webinars for fall/spring 2022-23, about which I will share details later in the summer. 

Finally, ICSA has published a new book, Wounded Faith: Understanding and Healing from Spiritual Abuse, which is available on Amazon in print ($14.99) and Kindle ($9.99) editions. If you have read the book, you might consider writing a brief review on Amazon.

I appreciate your support in every form – as a donor, volunteer, member, or friend. I look forward to more opportunities to engage as we embrace this season of change.



*|International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA)|*
PO Box 2265
Bonita Springs, FL 34133   USA

ICSA POSITION ANNOUNCEMENT - JOB TITLE: Executive Director, International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA)


JOB TITLE:  Executive Director, International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA)

AVAILABLE:  August 1, 2022

SUBMIT:  Vita, references, and letter of introduction to ICSA Search Committee, c/o Debby Schriver (


Founded in 1979, ICSA is a global network of people concerned about psychological manipulation and abuse in cultic and other high-control environments. ICSA is tax-exempt, supports civil liberties, and is not affiliated with any religious or commercial organizations. ICSA is unique in how it brings together former group members, families, helping professionals and researchers.  ICSA's mission is to provide information, education, and help to those adversely affected by or interested in cultic and other high-control groups and relationships. 

ICSA fulfills its mission by applying research and professional perspectives to:
•    Help former members of cultic and other high-control environments;
•    Provide guidance and support to families of people involved in high-control environments;
•    Educate the public about psychological manipulation and the harmful effects of high-control environments;
•    Encourage, support, and conduct research to advance understanding of psychological manipulation and high-control environments;
•    Support helping professionals interested in this area.

1)   Organization Development:  Works with board and staff to ensure that the mission is fulfilled through strategic planning, programs, membership cultivation, and community outreach.

•    Work with the Board of Directors to develop strategic plans to ensure that ICSA can successfully fulfill its mission into the future.

•    Responsible for implementation of ICSA’s programs that carry out the organization’s mission.

•    Actively engage and energize ICSA volunteers, board members, committees, and funders so as to enhance ICSA’s mission.

•    Establish and maintain employment and administrative policies and procedures for all functions and for the day-to-day operation of the nonprofit.

•    Work with the Board of Directors for the hiring and retention of competent, qualified staff.

•    Prioritize projects, programs, and tasks on a daily basis.

•    Identify needs and delegate projects/tasks to appropriate staff or volunteers.

•    Establish and supervise volunteer committees as needed to further programs.

•    Communicate clearly with staff/volunteers, providing direction and feedback when needed.

•    Ensure effective systems to track progress and regularly evaluate program components to measure successes that can be effectively communicated to the board, funders, and other constituents.  
2)   Financial Performance and Viability:   Develops resources sufficient to ensure the financial health of the organization.

•    Responsible for fundraising, membership development, and developing other revenues necessary to support ICSA’s mission.

•    Work with Finance Committee to ensure the fiscal integrity of ICSA, which includes submission to the Board of a proposed annual budget and reporting to the Board on accountants’ quarterly financial statements.

•    Under Finance Committee’s supervision, responsible for reviewing, approving, and signing all notes, agreements, and other instruments made and entered into and on behalf of the organization.
3)  Board Governance:  Works with Board in order to fulfill the organization mission.

•    Responsible for leading ICSA with integrity, in a manner that supports and guides the organization’s mission as defined by the Board of Directors.

•    Responsible for communicating effectively with the Board and providing, in a timely and accurate manner, all information necessary for the Board to function properly and to make informed decisions.

•    Report to and work closely with the Board in policy decisions, fundraising, and to increase the overall visibility of the organization.

•    Serve as ex-officio member of standing and ad hoc committees. 

•    Seek and build board involvement with direction for all goals and activities. 

•    Bachelor’s degree or equivalent.

•    High level strategic thinking and planning. Ability to envision and convey the organization’s strategic future to the staff, board, volunteers, and donors.

•    Ability to effectively communicate the organization’s mission to donors, staff, volunteers, and the overall community.

•    Demonstrated ability to supervise, coordinate, and collaborate with staff and volunteers.

•    Ability to relate to individuals and organizations, including funders, partner agencies, media, staff, and volunteers.

•    Solid organizational abilities, including prioritizing, planning, delegating, program development, and task facilitation.

•    Strong financial management skills, including budget preparation, analysis, decision making, and reporting.

•    Strong written and oral communication skills.

•    Strong public speaking ability.

•    Strong work ethic with a high degree of energy and initiative.

International Cultic Studies Association, Inc.
PO Box 2265
Bonita Springs, FL 34133

May 23, 2022

ICSA Annual Conference Workshops: Working with Born and Raised-in Former Cult Members (for mental health professionals)

Jackie Johnson, DSW, LCSW-R
Sunday, June 26, 2022

Working with born and raised-in former cult members presents significant and unique issues in terms of recovery work when compared to former members who joined cults as independent and autonomous adults. This talk goes into depth about the numerous and specific challenges that former cult members who were either born into or raised in the group face when doing recovery work. The talk addresses and supports mental health professionals who specialize in recovery work or those who want to learn more about working with born and raised-in former cult members.

Jackie Johnson, DSW, LCSW-R, is a licensed clinical social worker with a certification in forensic social work. She obtained her master’s degree from Columbia University and her doctoral degree from the University of Tennessee. Dr. Johnson is a SGA survivor, having spent 43 years with Jehovah’s Witnesses. In her private practice, Dr. Johnson focuses on assisting indoctrinated individuals find freedom from cultic and other high-demand groups and process the trauma they experienced while being involved in systems of control or coercive groups and relationships. Her research interests include the epistemology of women and how cultic, coercive, and misogynistic experiences influence the cognitive development of women. Dr. Johnson can be reached at You can learn more about Dr. Johnson at her website,

May 19, 2022

In Mexico, a decade of images shows Mennonites' traditions frozen in time

In Mexico, a decade of images shows Mennonites' traditions frozen in time
Jose Luis Gonzalez and Cassandra Garrison

May 19, 2022

ASCENCION, Mexico, May 19 (Reuters) - The Mennonite community in Chihuahua, Mexico, can trace its roots as far back as a century ago, when the first such settlers came seeking ideal farming land, isolation from the outside world and the preservation of their religion.

Here, their way of life is simple, with virtually no use of electricity or the internet. The community supports itself through its centuries-old tradition of farming: corn, chili peppers, cotton, onions.

But life can be difficult for them as modern technology creeps closer to their doorstep. It's not as easy to maintain their isolation as it was a hundred years ago.

From low water reserves due to drought worsened by climate change to the rising cost of diesel to run farming pumps, the community has its own set of challenges as it seeks to thrive and grow.

For the last 100 years, Mexico has been home to Mennonite farmers, who migrated from Canada, where many still live.

Descendants of 16th-century Protestant Anabaptist radicals from Germany, the Low Countries and Switzerland, Mennonites rejected military service and the concept of a church hierarchy, suffering years of persecution and making them reliant on the patronage of rulers eager to exploit their belief that agriculture and faith are intertwined.

The community of El Sabinal - Spanish for "The Juniper" - was founded nearly 30 years ago in the dry, desert-like terrain of Chihuahua in northern Mexico. Today, Mennonite farmers have transformed it into fruitful farmland, often using antique farm equipment. They live in simple brick houses they build themselves, usually consisting of one open room.

As the Mennonites expanded their farmland in drought-prone Chihuahua, where they have several communities, the demand for water increased. Over the years, they have faced allegations of sinking illegal wells from local farmers who complain the government gives them preferential treatment.

"It is very expensive to pump diesel here. There is still water, but they have to sink more wells," said Guillermo Andres, a Mennonite who arrived in El Sabinal as a teenager. His devout family eschews the use of electricity and pumps well water using diesel fuel, an increasingly costly practice.

The Mennonites' native language is typically Plautdietsch, a unique blend of Low German, Prussian dialects and Dutch. Many Mennonites, especially men who interact with local laborers, also speak Spanish.

From schools to general stores, almost everything the Mennonites need they have built for themselves within the confines of their own communities.

Mennonites generally finish school by the age of 12. Boys and girls sit separately in classrooms, just as men and women do in church pews on Sundays.

It is not uncommon to see a child younger than 10 operating a tractor or driving a horse-drawn buggy on the white, dusty roads within the community.

These blue-eyed, blond-haired people marry young and focus on expanding their families. Many farmers said they had more than 10 children.

In this way, they practice their religion through their everyday life. Men tend to the fields while women maintain the gardens at home and care for the children.

The Mennonites' interaction with the outside world is mostly restricted to their relationships with local people who work for them as laborers in the community or to trips into town to buy goods.

"The traditions are living quietly in a neighborhood without trucks, without rubber tires, without electricity," Andres said. "Our traditions come from Russia, from Russia to Canada and from Canada to Mexico.

"I don't know about it (technology); that's how I was born and that's how I've been all my life; that's how I like to continue," he added.

Reporting by Jose Luis Gonzalez in Chihuahua and Cassandra Garrison in Mexico City; editing by Jonathan Oatis

Our Site Was Hacked

Our website was hacked between 12:30 am and 4:30 am. lastnight. Most of our posts were replaced with "other" content.

We were able to restore the content earler today.

Russia (or other bad actors) if youre listening, I can see you from my window.

May 16, 2022

International Cultic Studies Association Announces Retirement of Executive Director

 The Board of Directors of International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) hereby announces that Michael Langone, after more than 40 years of service to ICSA, is retiring as Executive Director on July 31, 2022.  We will soon send an announcement on the search process to hire his successor. Michael, who will be available in a consultative role after the new executive director is hired, has guided us through many years of challenges and successes. The following are his reflections on his upcoming retirement.

Though I turned 75 last fall, I am not retiring because of ill health. My health is good, and statistics say that I should have productive years ahead of me. I remain supportive of and supported by the Board of Directors. However, as the old Frank Sinatra song says, I am in “the September of my years.”  I want to devote the autumn of my life to personal pursuits, especially writing projects. I have been thinking about retirement for a long time. 

Nobody alive has been as closely connected to ICSA for as long as I have. I was there at ICSA’s inception in 1979. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had stumbled into a career. I have seen ICSA’s ups and downs. I was there when we were excited about the future and when we thought for sure that we would go under. 

ICSA was founded as a professional organization that aimed to research the cult phenomenon, educate the public, and help its victims – a mission that we have pursued since our founding. In its early years, the organization was fortunate to have been led by dedicated persons who shared ICSA’s founding vision: Kay Barney, Jack Clark, Guy Ford, and Herb Rosedale. See the ICSA history page.

In the 1980s, ICSA consisted of a small staff and several dozen volunteers who were mainly helping professionals, clergy, educators, researchers, parents, and former cult members. This early group was diverse. They had different socio-economic backgrounds, professional disciplines, religious perspectives, and political affiliations. What united them was a moral outrage about how some cultic groups mistreated and exploited their members.  Dr. John Clark called the cult phenomenon “an impermissible experiment.” He said that cults were using techniques of behavioral change and control that no ethical researcher would be allowed to use. In short, what held ICSA’s diverse group together – and still holds us together – was a belief that “people shouldn’t be treated like that.” That proposition has unified us over the years and made us seek always to avoid the exploitative manipulation and closed-mindedness that characterize harmful cults. Thus, ICSA has always tried to be respectful and open to people with diverse, even conflicting, views.

In its early years, most people who approached ICSA for information or assistance were families concerned about a cult-involved loved one. As the years passed more and more former cult members sought help and became involved as volunteers. By the end of the 1980s, ICSA’s leadership realized, thanks in large part to the tireless efforts of former cult member Carol Giambalvo, that former members were vital to the future of this movement. We formalized this then radical notion under the rubric of Project Recovery. My edited book, Recovery from Cults (1993), was a vital achievement of Project Recovery. But the book was only a tangible product of a broad effort.

The 1990s was an energetic decade. Several important research studies were conducted. We did important educational work under the leadership of Marcia Rudin. ICSA changed to a membership structure, which fortified the ties binding its supporters and volunteers. Former members became more active. ICSA established important relationships with cult education organizations in other countries. We began the annual international conference that continues to this day. And we began to talk about what made ICSA unique, namely, that the organization somehow brought together in a coherent way four important constituencies: former members, families, helping professionals, and researchers.  The disciplined diversity of interests, needs, and perspectives of these four constituencies interacting with each other has brought breadth and depth to ICSA.

Before his death in 2003, Herb Rosedale, who had been ICSA’s president and legal advisor for many years, was a larger-than-life presence within the ICSA world. I estimate that he gave at least two million dollars in pro bono legal assistance to former members, families, professionals, writers, and researchers. He was idealistic, yet he understood and was comfortable in the world of money and power. His moral compass kept ICSA pointed in the right direction. His practical wisdom kept us tied to reality. His death in November of 2003 was a crisis.

Since I had worked so closely with Herb, I felt obligated after his death to do what I could to preserve his legacy. Herb’s leadership style rested on informality, creativity, and dynamism. This worked when Herb was at the helm. But I knew that ICSA would have to change after he died. So, I talked with people who had been active in ICSA for many years, and we formed a revitalized Board of Directors, with Alan Scheflin as the first president to succeed Herb. Since that time, the Board has been at the helm, even as its membership has changed. The Board now has its fifth president since Herb’s death, Debby Schriver.  Steve Eichel, Lorna Goldberg, Phil Elberg, and Alan preceded her.  Under Debby’s leadership, ICSA is undergoing a governance review that aims to prepare the organization for the next 40 years. 

The smoothness with which these leadership changes have occurred bodes well for the future. 

Though I stumbled into a career in 1979 (my life plan never included anything related to “cult”), that career has been gratifying. I have learned so much about how humans do – as well as how they ought to – relate to other persons. I have had the privilege of working with so many good people: Christians and Jews (from liberal to orthodox in both religions – clergy and laypersons), agnostics, atheists, republicans, democrats, libertarians, socialists, therapists (from all theoretical perspectives), researchers, lawyers, writers, journalists, educators, businesspersons, family members, former members, and so many others whose lives were affected by cults. I salute you all! 

And I trust that you – the more than 5000 individuals who receive ICSA’s emails - will preserve ICSA’s legacy so that future generations will benefit from what we have collectively learned as we pondered and acted on the moral proposition that “people shouldn’t be treated like that.” 

International Cultic Studies Association, Inc.
PO Box 2265
Bonita Springs, FL 34133

CultNEWS101 Articles: 5/16/2022 (Hillsong, Scientology, Mormons)

Hillsong, Scientology, Mormons

"Hillsong megachurch pastors Josh and Leona Kimes have stepped down from their position as leaders of the Australian institution's Hillsong branch, the couple wrote on social media this week. 

The announcement comes days after a leaked internal investigation alleged that Leona was once repeatedly punched in the face "with a closed fist" by scandalized ex-pastor Carl Lentz's wife, Laura. The incident reportedly occurred one night in 2016, when Laura caught Carl and Leona canoodling on a couch in the home of former NBA player Tyson Chandler. 

'It was never in our plans to ever leave Hillsong Church," Josh Kimes captioned a Monday Instagram post. "It's been home for 22yrs of my life. It's where I've pastored for the last 16yrs.'"

"The California Supreme Court has denied the Church of Scientology's petition to review "religious arbitration," thereby restoring a lawsuit filed by Danny Masterson's accusers against the church.

It was another loss for the religious institution, which previously argued its case to the California Court of Appeal, claiming the court misstepped when allowing members the "sweeping and unbounded" right to leave the church.

On January 20, however, it was shut down and determined that church members cannot be bound to a perpetual agreement to resolve disputes before a religious arbitration panel after the members have left the faith."
Despite excellent performances and production values, Hulu's 'Banner' left me with the same wary bewilderment I felt after reading Jon Krakauer's book.

"Under the Banner of Heaven," a new Hulu miniseries with an all-star cast that debuts Thursday (April 28), may not make many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints happy. But then again, neither did Jon Krakauer's 2003 bestseller on which the seven-episode show is based.

The miniseries closely tracks Krakauer's account of the gruesome 1984 murders of 24-year-old Brenda Lafferty, played by Daisy Edgar-Jones of "Normal People," and her 15-month-old daughter near Salt Lake City, Utah. Like the book, it explores the underworld of Mormon fundamentalism and polygamy, following the descent of a family of brothers into madness, misogyny and violent religious extremism."

News, Education, Intervention, Recovery to help families and friends understand and effectively respond to the complexity of a loved one's cult involvement. assists group members and their families make the sometimes difficult transition from coercion to renewed individual choice. news, links, resources.




Instagram resources about cults, cultic groups, abusive relationships, movements, religions, political organizations and related topics.

Selection of articles for CultNEWS101 does not mean that Patrick Ryan or Joseph Kelly agree with the content. We provide information from many points of view in order to promote dialogue.

Please forward articles that you think we should add to

Doomsday Cult Mom Lori Vallow Daybell Appears in Court

Law and Crime Network
April 20, 2022

During an arraignment hearing on Tuesday, an Idaho judge entered a not-guilty plea for "doomsday cult mom" Lori Vallow Daybell. Vallow Daybell refused to enter a plea of her own, prompting the judge to enter a not guilty plea on her behalf. Her arraignment was delayed for months while she underwent treatment at a mental health facility to deem if she was competent to stand trial. Last week the judge stated that Vallow Daybell was competent to stand trial, prompting the case to go forward. Currently, Vallow Daybell faces charges including the murder of her two children and conspiring the murder her former husband.

May 11, 2022

Orthodox Christian churches are drawing in far-right American converts

Odette Yousef 
May 10, 20225:30 AM ET

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a Christmas liturgy at the Transfiguration Cathedral in St. Petersburg early on Jan. 7, 2020. In the U.S., Orthodox Christianity is a relatively small faith tradition, but in recent years, it has expanded to new regions. Some new converts are using the religion to spread white nationalist views.
Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

When Sarah Riccardi-Swartz moved from New York City to a small Appalachian town in West Virginia in the fall of 2017, she was searching for an answer to a puzzling question. Why had a group of conservative American Christians converted to Russian Orthodoxy?

"It's typically an immigrant faith, so I was really interested in that experience and why it spoke to converts," said Riccardi-Swartz, a postdoctoral fellow in the Recovering Truth project at Arizona State University.

Riccardi-Swartz's study focused on a community of mostly former evangelical Christians and Catholics who had joined the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). The West Virginia location, in addition to having a church parish, was also home to the largest English-speaking Russian Orthodox monastery in the world.

Over a year of doing research, Riccardi-Swartz learned that many of these converts had grown disillusioned with social and demographic change in the United States. In ROCOR, they felt they had found a church that has remained the same, regardless of place, time and politics. But Riccardi-Swartz also found strong strains of nativism, white nationalism and pro-authoritarianism, evidenced by strong admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin as "king-like figure"

"For many of them, Putin becomes this sort of king-like figure in their narratives," she said. "They see themselves as oppressed by democracy because democracy is really diversity. And they look to Putin because democracy isn't really, as we see right now, an option [in Russia]."

She recently published a book based on her research that's titled Between Heaven and Russia: Religious Conversion and Political Apostasy in Appalachia.

The case study that Riccardi-Swartz provides adds detail and color to a trend that a handful of historians and journalists have documented for nearly a decade. In publications mostly targeted toward an Orthodox Christian audience, they have raised the alarm about a growing nativist element within the church. Despite Orthodoxy's relatively small imprint in the U.S., they warn that, unchecked, these adherents could fundamentally alter the faith tradition in the United States. They also warn that these individuals are evangelizing hate in the name of Orthodoxy in ways that could attract more who share those views.

"It's an immigrant faith. It's now being sort of colonized by these converts in many respects," said Riccardi-Swartz. "They're vocal in their parishes. They're vocal online. They're very digitally savvy and very connected to other far-right actors in the United States and across the globe. And that's really changing the faith."

Orthodoxy's changing footprint in America

Despite centuries of presence in North America, starting in what we now know as Alaska, the Orthodox church in the U.S. is still relatively small. Alexei Krindatch, a sociologist of religion who focuses on Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches in the U.S., estimates that active adherents make up about 0.4% of the population. Within that, nearly two dozen branches are divided between what's known as Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy. They include Greek, Coptic, Ethiopian, Armenian and more.

Eastern Orthodox churches, which include ROCOR, flourished in the U.S. starting at the turn of the 20th century, when migrants flocked to major industrial hubs like New York, Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland for jobs. Over time, these churches concentrated in the Northeast and West Coast. But more recently, the size and location of Eastern Orthodox churches in the U.S. has changed. According to Krindatch, who conducts censuses of Orthodoxy in the U.S., parishes declined in size between 2010 and 2020.

"This is in line with American mainline religion, [where] everyone is shrinking in size except nondenominational churches," Krindatch said. But ROCOR, which Krindatch estimated in 2020 to have roughly 24,000 adherents, experienced a striking shift. While the number of ROCOR adherents declined by 14%, Krindatch found that the number of parishes grew by 15%.

"So what it means [is], we have more parishes, but which are smaller in size. And if you look at the geography, those parishes were planted not in traditional lands of Orthodoxy," said Krindatch. The growth occurred in less populated areas of the Upper Midwest and Southern states, places with fewer direct links to Russia.

"So for me, those are a bunch of new ROCOR communities which are founded by convert clergy or by convert members," Krindatch said.

Aram Sarkisian, a postdoctoral teaching fellow at Northwestern University's Department of History, said this new growth from converts has helped some branches of Orthodoxy offset a decline in multigenerational families in the church. Sarkisian said these converts often find their way to Orthodoxy because they seek a haven for what they consider to be the most important cultural issues of the day.

"They're drawn to what they believe to be conservative views on things like LGBTQ rights, gender equality. Abortion is a really big issue for these folks, the culture wars issues, really," Sarkisian said. "And so they leave other faith traditions that they don't believe to be as stringent about those issues anymore."

Sarkisian said he began to see white nationalist and nativist views surface within Orthodox spaces online just around the time that these shifts began taking place.

"I first started noticing this around 2010, 2011 on Orthodox blogs, where I started to see language and rhetoric that was subtly racist and was subtly engaging in what we would now know as the alt-right," Sarkisian said. "They bring it with them into the church because they see Orthodoxy as amenable to these goals, to these viewpoints."

Orthodoxy and the Unite the Right rally

Perhaps the most well known among Orthodox converts who worked within alt-right circles was Matthew Heimbach. He had established the Traditionalist Worker Party, which helped organize a deadly gathering of neo-Nazis and white nationalists at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017. But years before that, Heimbach's activities had already created waves within some Orthodox circles.

In 2014, he was excommunicated from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America shortly after he had been accepted into it. During his brief time there, Heimbach's activities with other Orthodox converts on a college campus in Indiana drew scrutiny. In explaining the decision to cut Heimbach off from the church, the priest who had brought him into the church explained, "I did not understand at that time that he held nationalistic, segregationist views." Heimbach went on to join another branch of Orthodoxy.

"And then after that all happened, basically, the bishops said, 'OK, it's all done. There is nothing to talk about anymore and nothing here to see,' " said Inga Leonova, the founder and editor of The Wheel, a journal on Orthodoxy and culture.

Leonova, a member of the Orthodox Church in America, said she began following the trend of extremists joining Orthodoxy when she became aware of Heimbach's campus activities. When she writes about the topic, she said she receives threats from within the Orthodox community. Still, she has felt that silence on the issue has caused greater harm. In the wake of the Unite the Right rally, she said that bishops across Orthodox jurisdictions ignored calls to condemn the event and the rise of extremist ideologies in the church.

"I think that there must be a presence of a certain amount of aloofness and the lack of desire to engage with these topics because there is an Orthodox story that Orthodoxy and politics don't mix," she said.

But Leonova said this is fiction. An Orthodox Church in America priest from Ohio was briefly suspended after he was seen in a video wearing his cassock on Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, 2021, after he attended the Stop the Steal rally in Washington, D.C. And Leonova said other clergy members, themselves American converts to the faith, have signaled their political viewpoints on their social media pages and personal blogs.

"There is a significant number of clergy whose social media profiles sport Confederate flags and support of the Southern cause," she said.

ROCOR's media-makers

Those who have followed the influx of extremists into American Orthodoxy agree that those individuals are fringe within the church and are mostly concentrated in newly founded ROCOR parishes. But they also warn that it would be foolish to ignore them. Of particular concern are the ways in which these individuals are networking with outside extremist groups and broadcasting their ideologies in the name of Orthodoxy.

"I do actually think it's growing," said George Demacopoulos, a professor and the director of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University. "I don't think these people are necessarily changing the minds of people already in the church, but I do think they are bringing others culturally or politically like them into the church."

In a viral social media clip pulled from a far-right internet talk show on the eve of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Lauren Witzke of Delaware praised Russia as a "Christian nationalist nation." Witzke is studying to convert to ROCOR.

"I identify more with Russian — with Putin's Christian values — than I do with Joe Biden," Witzke said in the video. She declined to speak with NPR for this story.

Sarkisian said Witzke's view typifies those of far-right converts to ROCOR, who have been receptive to Kremlin propaganda portraying Putin as a pious defender of Orthodoxy and traditional values. He said Putin also represents to them an appealing style of authoritarian leadership that challenges pluralism and liberal democracy in the United States.

"They are anti-democratic by nature," Sarkisian said. "They are a part of these larger networks on the American far right, like Nicholas Fuentes and his America Firsters. They connect into these nodes that are challenging the very fabric of American democracy."

Witzke, a MAGA supporter who ran on an anti-immigration platform in 2020, has appeared on Orthodox podcasts, where she has identified herself as aligned with the white nationalist America First movement. She also, at one time, seemed to support QAnon conspiracy theories but has since renounced QAnon. The media ecosystem she has participated in, a network of American converts to ROCOR who produce podcasts and live video chats online, presents a highly politicized interpretation of Orthodoxy to the world and one that many believe offers a distorted view of the church.

"This is how people are finding Orthodoxy now. They're finding Orthodoxy through these YouTube shows. They're finding it through these podcasts. They're finding it through these blogs," said Sarkisian. "They're being radicalized by these folks on the internet, and that's really dangerous."

The channels revolve around themes of antisemitism, contempt for women's and LGBTQ rights, xenophobia and support of white nationalists, including some who've been convicted of violent hate crimes. At times, clergy within ROCOR and other Orthodox branches have joined these online discussions, which may lend the appearance of sanctioning those views.

Some longtime ROCOR faithful have found these views bewildering, given the church's history. Lena Zezulin, whose parents were among the founding members of a parish in Long Island, N.Y., said that the community was always inclusive of non-Christian Russian immigrants living among it and proud of its immigrant roots.

"We had Muslims in the community," she recalled. "My summer camp had Buddhists in the community. So those people were kind of lovingly absorbed into the group because they all came over [to the U.S.] together."

She said that the congregation and clergy also welcomed her African American husband when they married roughly 40 years ago. But over time, their children started to encounter racism in the church. Zezulin said it tracked with the church's expansion to new regions of the U.S., where it was drawing new conservative converts. Zezulin said she believes tolerance for these views may explain why extremists with xenophobic and nativist views have been joining.

"It's outrageous, given that we came here as refugees and were accepted," she said. "I think it's racism based."

Lena Zezulin and her husband, Christopher Foreman, were married in a ROCOR parish in Roslindale, Mass., in 1980. Zezulin says that at the time, the church welcomed her husband.
Lena Zezulin
Russia's war in Ukraine
In general, those who have raised concern about racism and extremists' participation within the church say the issue has largely been left to parish priests to address — or not to address. NPR reached out to Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary near Jordanville, N.Y., ROCOR's theological training institution, for comment on a number of questions, including how clergy are advised to handle the airing of antisemitic or nativist views by parishioners. Representatives declined to answer questions.

Most recently, Russia's war in Ukraine has prompted painful reflection among some faithful. The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, gave religious cover to the war. He claimed that the invasion of Ukraine is necessary to protect Orthodox Ukrainians from Western influence — namely, gay pride parades. Zezulin left her longtime ROCOR community and has started attending an Orthodox Church in America parish because her priest would not condemn the invasion.

"You know, somebody just said we should stand and pray for both sides. Well, were the Brits supposed to pray for Hitler and Churchill at the same time?" she said.

If anything, said Sarkisian, the war has exposed just how Putin has used the Russian Orthodox Church to further his country's influence.

"It is definitely an arm of soft diplomacy, and ROCOR is a really important part of that," Sarkisian said. "Putin is really interested in the church for its purposes for amplifying a particular aspect of Russian history politically, religiously, culturally."

May 9, 2022

Is Putin Dangerous Because he's Isolated? | A lesson from Cult Psychology

Scott Carney
May 9, 2022

"It's lonely at the top of any power structure, and Vladimir Putin has the classic psychotic symptoms of a cult leader. The old saying "absolute power corrupts absolutely" suggests that power is what makes despots go off the rails--but that doesn't quite capture why absolute power has that effect. It all comes down to isolation.

Once someone discovers they are "enlightened" or that they understand the ultimate nature of reality, or God--they no longer have anyone that they can look to as an equal. They have no peers, and no one to turn to for an objective opinion about what is happening around them. This is why cults go off the rails.

In this week's video I draw on the work of the psychologists Diana Alstad and Joel Kramer, who wrote the book "The Guru Papers," to explain how cult leaders go through different stages in their descent into madness--starting usually with a message of universal love, and ultimately towards violence. When I first read it six or seven years ago I knew that they were describing the exact phenomenon I was writing about when I was reporting the story of Geshe Michael Roach and Lama Christie McNally at Diamond Mountain for what became my book "The Enlightenment Trap".

Well, the same cult-like isolation happens in government's too. Absolute power isolates a leader so that they have no peers and thus no way to make sense of the world outside of their own mind. Putin is so powerful that no person, general, book or authority can influence his decision making. As long as he holds the reins of power in Russia, we're all potentially victims of his madness."

May 2, 2022

Judge Refuses To Dismiss Case Against Leader Of Megachurch

City News Service
May 2, 2022

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A judge refused today to dismiss sex-related charges against the leader of a Mexico-based evangelical megachurch who is awaiting trial in connection with crimes allegedly committed in Southern California.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Stephen A. Marcus agreed that the California Attorney General's Office should have turned over some evidence to Naason Joaquin Garcia's attorneys before an August 2020 hearing in which he was ordered to stand trial, but found that the defense had ``not met the materiality requirement'' for the case to be dismissed.

Garcia -- the 52-year-old leader of La Luz del Mundo or Light of the World -- has been behind bars since June 2019.

He is awaiting trial June 6 in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.

In a statement posted on Twitter, the church said it has ``complete confidence that the time will come when the innocence'' of Garcia ``will be proven in a court of law.''

``Truth shines in the darkness and lies can never extinguish it,'' the church said in the statement, in which it indicated that it was ``surprised that the judge did not dismiss the case today.''

Garcia's attorneys have indicated that they plan to appeal the ruling, according to the statement.

Garcia was ordered in August 2020 to stand trial on 23 felony counts, including forcible rape of a minor, forcible oral copulation of a person under 18, unlawful sexual intercourse, lewd act on a child, extortion, conspiracy and possession of child pornography.

Co-defendant Susana Oaxaca, 27, is charged with one felony count each of forcible oral copulation of a person under 18 and oral copulation of a person under 18. She is free on bond.

A third defendant, Alondra Ocampo, 39, pleaded guilty to four counts and is awaiting sentencing.

The three were initially charged in June 2019, but a state appeals court panel ordered the case to be dismissed in April 2020.

The appellate court panel found that Garcia did not waive his right to a timely hearing to determine if there was sufficient evidence to require him to stand trial and that the hearing was not held within that time.

The Attorney General's Office subsequently refiled the case, which alleges that the crimes occurred in Southern California between June 2015 and June 2019.

Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen found sufficient evidence in August 2020 to allow the case against Garcia and Oaxaca to proceed to trial.

State prosecutors alleged in the complaint that Ocampo told a group of minor girls that they were going against God if they went against any desires or wishes of ``the Apostle'' -- Garcia.

The Guadalajara-based Pentecostal sect has branches in 50 nations and claims more than a million members worldwide.

Scientology accused of child trafficking, forced labour of Australians

Ben Schneiders
The Sydney Morning Herald
April 29, 2022

Three Australian residents have accused Scientology of child trafficking, covering up multiple sexual assaults, forced labour and other abuses in a significant legal claim lodged in a Florida court overnight.

The plaintiffs, Australian Gawain Baxter and residents Laura Baxter and Valeska Paris, are seeking significant “compensatory and punitive damages” against Scientology leader David Miscavige and five Church-related organisations for alleged human trafficking.

The three were part of Scientology’s “Sea Org” and “Cadet Org” entities that involved them signing billion-year contracts to provide free or cheap labour to Scientology. The lawsuit alleges that their pay was sometimes withheld or set at a maximum of $US50 per week.

They say they endured years of emotional, physical and psychological abuse, in particular while spending more than a decade aboard Scientology’s Freewinds cruise ship in the Caribbean in what the lawsuit described as “a world filled with abuse, violence, intimidation and fear”.

One of the plaintiffs alleged they were confined to a hot engine room for days after being accused of “monopolising” the attention of a prominent celebrity who had their birthday on the ship in 2004, and who is believed to be actor Tom Cruise. There is no suggestion Cruise was aware of the plaintiff’s situation.

The case, brought by leading US plaintiff law firms, alleges the free labour on the cruise ship allowed Scientology leader Miscavige to “maintain a facade of legitimacy, a luxurious lifestyle … and influence over members including celebrities”.

Scientology was founded by US science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s and has long attracted celebrities including Elisabeth Moss, John Travolta and Cruise. Some former adherents have accused it of being a dangerous money-focused cult. Scientology has been approached for comment.

The 86-page legal claim from US law firms Kohn, Swift & Graf, Preti Flaherty and Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, details allegations of how children as young as six years old were separated from their parents who relinquished custody to the “Cadet Org” and later “Sea Org”, with family visits limited to once a week.


While public members of Scientology can live in their homes, members of “Orgs” work as indentured labour both on sea and on land, the lawsuit alleges. They accumulate large debts from their time in the Orgs, which is then held over them if they ever leave.

Gawain Baxter was raised a Scientologist and in 1982, at only a few weeks old, his family moved from Australia to Scientology’s Flag Base in Clearwater Florida. He became a Cadet Org member at six while living in a dormitory with 100 other children.

By the age of 10 he saw his parents for only three hours a week and received very little education while labouring five to 10 hours unpaid a day including food preparation, landscaping and garbage removal, he alleges.

He says he was regularly verbally and physically abused by adults connected to Scientology and subject as a teenager to explicit questions about his sexual experiences by adult Sea Org leaders.

While living on the Freewinds – which never docks in US ports or territorial waters – he had his passport confiscated and worked 16 to 24 hours a day in unsafe working conditions, he alleges. That included repainting pipes, cleaning the ship decks and cleaning fuel tanks without safety equipment. He claims after working with blue asbestos and concrete dust he later coughed up blood.

“To this day, there are completely defenceless minors being mistreated by Scientology leadership. Just as I was, they are isolated from family and have no way to protect themselves,” Baxter said in a statement. “Scientology must be held accountable for the human rights abuses and trauma it has inflicted without a shred of remorse.”

Baxter and co-plaintiff Laura Baxter, who married, were later able to leave Freewinds after they came up with a plan to get pregnant to escape. They were told to terminate the pregnancy but refused and were later let off the boat after weeks of punishment and isolation, the lawsuit alleges.

In 2004 Laura Baxter alleges she was punished and confined to a hot engine room on the ship for three days, only allowed to leave for short periods at a time, after being accused of “monopolising” the attention of a celebrity during their birthday celebrations. Tom Cruise had a party for his 42nd birthday on Freewinds in 2004.

The other plaintiff, Valeska Paris, who now lives in Australia, had parents who were Sea Org members and was brought up as a Scientologist. By six years old she was in the Cadet Org and over more than a decade was sexually assaulted on multiple occasions as a minor, she claims.

She alleged the physical and sexual abuse was commonplace in the Cadet Org, and she had witnessed an adult Sea Org member masturbate on a boy’s bed. She said she was reprimanded for reporting the behaviour.

Paris alleged a senior Sea Org member rubbed his erect penis against her genitals. She said she had to relive her sexual assaults with adult male interrogators and was punished for reporting them and forced, on one occasion, to do the laundry of her alleged abuser.

Paris said she was a personal assistant to Miscavige and worked 16-hour days as a 15-year-old and was “sleep-deprived, poorly fed and constantly verbally abused by adult supervisors”.

She said she became suicidal and eventually ended up doing forced labour at a Scientology site in Australia and had her passport confiscated. Scientology has been accused of running a “penal colony” at a western Sydney site.

“Scientology is a system that is designed to perpetuate fear, and I continue to struggle with the trauma. No person – child or adult – should have to go through the daily abuse and manipulation I faced,” said Paris.

The lawsuit describes how Org members have to self-report deviant thoughts and behaviour during repeated interrogations, material that is then later used against them.

“Scientology cannot be allowed to continue exploiting the labour of its members and inflicting emotional and physical abuse without facing justice,” said Ted Leopold, a lawyer for the plaintiffs from Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll.

A 2021 investigation by The Age and Sydney Morning Herald uncovered some of the most detailed financial information available anywhere in the world on Scientology. It found it had shifted tens of millions of dollars into Australia, which has become an international haven and makes tax-free profits with minimal scrutiny.

Ben Schneiders is an investigative journalist at The Age with a focus on workplace issues, politics, business and corruption. A Walkley award winner, he is a four-time winner of the Industrial Relations reporting award. Connect via Twitter, Facebook or email.

CultNEWS101 Articles: 5/2/2022 (Conspiracy Theories, Aum Shinrikyo, Japan)

Conspiracy Theories, Aum Shinrikyo, Japan

Conspiracists are omnidirectionally beefing over a theory that starts with the claim COVID is connected to snake venom and only gets more out there.

"The world of COVID deniers is, more or less, a marketplace, where a variety of ambitious hucksters loudly rattle their wares and hope someone, somewhere, will take them home. This can be challenging, since the COVID- and vaccine-skeptical have often promoted uniquely unpalatable advice on how to deal with the ongoing pandemic. They've advised their followers, for instance, to take up an antiquated faux cure-all that can turn you permanently blue, or else drink bleach, or your own urine, or choke down an anti-parasitic with no proven effectiveness against COVID. Even when the advice isn't overtly bad, it can be contorted and hard to follow, as anyone who's followed along with fringe medical groups and complicated theories about 5G technology knows. But at last, something has come along that even some of the most diehard conspiracy peddlers can't swallow. That something is snake venom. 

A faux documentary is quickly circulating throughout the conspiracy-verse, claiming to be an exposé revealing that COVID and COVID vaccines are derived from snake venom. More specifically, the theory claims that king cobra venom is being pumped into the water supply to sicken and envenomate us and imbue us with Satanic, anti-human DNA. Meanwhile, the government is suppressing monoclonal antibodies, which are really anti-venoms that could end the pandemic. (Even this extremely general summary lends the theory a level of coherence that it does not actually possess). The documentary, titled Watch the Water, was produced by a far-right podcaster and COVID conspiracy theorist named Stew Peters. The sole expert cited is a retired chiropractor named Bryan Ardis, who claims to have discovered this dastardly plan, which he ultimately pins on Dr. Anthony Fauci and, of course, the Pope. "I actually think the Roman Catholic church and Pope Francis is over this entire thing," Ardis told one interviewer. 'I think he's manipulating and controlling the entire narrative.'"
"A large study published in the journal Political Psychology suggests that the link between conspiracy belief and religiosity is rooted in cognitive similarities between the two beliefs. The overall findings suggest that people with higher conspiracy beliefs also tend to be more religious, and this is likely driven by overlapping ideological and political worldviews.

Scholars have noted the similarities between religion and features of conspiracy theories, but the nature of this overlap is uncertain. Some researchers have suggested that the two beliefs fulfill similar psychological needs, such as morality, belonging, and sense of control. Others suggest that the beliefs share cognitive styles, with both alluding to invisible forces at play and offering "anomalies as explanatory starting points."

"Several similarities have been noted between religiosity and conspiracy theory beliefs: Both suggest that there is more in the world than is visible, both promise to address similar needs like to understand the world, and both tend to speak to similar political orientations. But it was unclear what these parallels mean empirically for their relationship. They could either serve as surrogates or as complements for each other," explained study author Marius Frenken, a doctoral research assistant at the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz."
"A former senior member of the Aum Shinrikyo cult was released from a central Japan prison Tuesday, having served a nine-year term for his involvement in three cases related to the group, people familiar with the situation said.

Makoto Hirata, 57, turned himself in to police in 2011 after nearly 17 years on the run. In 2014, he was given the nine-year jail term for his involvement in the abduction and confinement of a Tokyo notary clerk as well as the bombing of a condominium and the firebombing of an Aum facility in the capital in 1995.

The sentence was finalized after the Supreme Court rejected Hirata's appeal in 2016.

The bombing of the condominium and firebombing of the Aum facility in March 1995 — which took place on the eve of the cult's sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system — were aimed at impeding a police investigation into the religious group."

News, Education, Intervention, Recovery to help families and friends understand and effectively respond to the complexity of a loved one's cult involvement. assists group members and their families make the sometimes difficult transition from coercion to renewed individual choice. news, links, resources.




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