Jun 29, 2022

Coercive Control Research Study Opens!

Coercive Control Research Study
Coercive Control Research Study Opens!

[Kate Amber] is excited and THRILLED to announce her MSc dissertation research study is open for participation!

"If you care about reducing, preventing and/or intervening in coercive control, domestic abuse or cults, this research presents a great opportunity to expand your own knowledge, as well as help forward research that may eventually transform policies and practices in the real world.

Please share these flyers within the groups that qualify and that you feel could benefit.

Include the live link whenever possible, please: https://bit.ly/3OJpkHs

Jun 28, 2022

Dublin councillor appears in Scientology videos but tells people not to get involved in ‘cult’


"I would tell anyone not to get involved. It's a cult to me. It's always going to be a cult and I'd never get involved in it,"


Alan Sherry

Sunday World

June 28, 2022


A FINE GAEL politician who has appeared in promotional videos made by Scientologists praising their volunteers' work in Dublin says he thinks they're a cult, and he will ask them to never use him in their videos again.


Councillor Brian Lawlor, who lives close to the Scientology Community Centre in Firhouse, south Dublin, had been a vocal critic of the controversial group since learning they were establishing a presence in the area in 2017.

However, over the past couple of years he has appeared in a number of videos made by Scientologists about their work in the area, including painting projects in the community for a local football club and a community garden.

He even appeared in pictures wearing a Scientology Community Centre Volunteer hi-viz jacket.

Cllr Lawlor also sponsored a children's art competition run by the Scientologists, which took place at the Church's Community Centre in June, and featured prominently in a 45-minute video made by the group for World Nature Conservation Day last year.

In total, he appeared in multiple video and pictures in ten separate posts on the group's Facebook page over the past two years where they regularly thanked him for his support and for initiating projects they became involved in.

The Sunday World spoke to Cllr Lawlor last week to ask him if he now supported the controversial group despite his opposition to them in the past.

He said he did not, and he believed they were a cult and will tell them not to use him in any more promotional videos or posts in the future.

"I would tell anyone not to get involved. It's a cult to me. It's always going to be a cult and I'd never get involved in it," he said.

He said he would ask the Scientologists to remove the videos of him and ask them not to post any further promos.

"I want them [the videos] removed. It's a cult to me. I will say don't ever use me again and I don't want to be associated with them."

Taoiseach Micheal Martin previously described Scientology as a cult when the centre was opening in 2017.

He said: "These types of cults can be very damaging to people, particularly to young people. The best way forward needs to be examined, it may not be legislated. I think ultimately in situations like this it is about education."

Scientology deny they are a cult and describe themselves as a religion. They have invested millions in Ireland over the last few years but there were only 87 people who described themselves as Scientologists in the 2016 census and the figures for this year's census are to be published soon.

Cllr Lawlor acknowledged that by appearing in videos and posts on their page it could look to others like he was endorsing the group, but he said that was not the case.

He said he first spoke to them in relation to the Dodder Linear Park, part of which went through Scientology property, and they resolved issues in relation to the land.

"That was the first point [of contact] and they had my number," he said.

He then arranged for Scientologists to help paint a wheelchair accessible garden in Firhouse. Videos show the volunteers in Scientology hi-viz jackets carrying out painting work.

Cllr Lawlor opens the video name checking the Scientologists, who carried out the painting and praising their work.

Scientologist Asia Kuzman then goes on to thank Cllr Lawlor for "leading such a brilliant community initiative".

Cllr Lawlor told the Sunday World he asked the Scientologists to get involved as they offered to do it for free when other painters were quoting €900 to carry out the work.

"They got a quote for €900 to do the mural and the church [of Scientology] cleaned the park and they had a painter and I said do you want to pay €900 or use one of the girls? [from Scientology] They saved €900."

He said he is also working with Scientologists in relation to a pitch they have on their land. "They have a GAA pitch there as well now. They're looking for two local clubs to come in and possibly build an astro pitch in it. I'm working on that myself."

He also helped arrange for Scientologists to paint murals on containers for local football club Firhouse Carmel FC.

Once again, he appeared in a promotional video made by Scientologists about the project and praised their work while they thanked him for getting them involved.

A week later he appeared in a Scientology video for World Nature Conservation Day and last month sponsored a Scientology children's art competition which took place in the centre for kids and their families.

Critics of Scientology say the group uses such events to gain good PR and tries to get politicians and other well-known people involved to lend credibility.

In a statement to the Sunday World, a spokesperson for the Church of Scientology & Community Centre said: "Over 600 community groups and charities, in addition to many artists, community leaders and local representatives, have collaborated with the Church of Scientology & Community Centre since our opening in October 2017.

"To date, we have held weekly community events and activities welcoming some 160,000 guests. This is in addition to delivering 4,200 Scientology Life Improvement courses to outstanding feedback.

"Cllr. Brian Lawlor is very actively engaged with all in his constituency. He is one of thousands of individuals who have worked with us and is very aware of the work we have done in the local area."

The spokesperson added that "the only thing we are interested in is helping people on both a personal and community level."

Scientologists also hosted as fundraising night for Ukraine last Friday week which was attended by the Ukrainian ambassador to Ireland, Larysa Gerasko.

The event raised around €5,200 for the Candle of Grace charity and featured well-known Ukrainian and Eastern European acts. While the night mostly revolved around the acts, a Scientologist did give a speech to the crowd to claim the Church of Scientology was heavily involved in human rights.

"For decades our churches across the world have been educating others on human rights and have been helping to make those a reality," they told the crowd.

Lily Luzan from charitable organisation Candle of Grace said she had no involvement in Scientology and was unaware of their operation.

"As far as I know they only hosted. They gave the premises. I don't even have a clue who they are and what they do. We were invited and we just came."



Joseph Kelly, recipient of the International Cultic Studies Association 2022"Lifetime Achievement Award"

Congratulations Joseph Kelly, recipient of the 
International Cultic Studies Association 2022
"Lifetime Achievement Award"

The Lifetime Achievement Award: "honors individuals who have, to an exceptional degree, embodied in their work ICSA’s values of openness, courtesy, and dialogue, and who have made academic and/or other exceptional contributions to the field of cultic studies."

About Joseph Kelly:

Joseph F. Kelly, a graduate of Temple University (focus in religion), has been a cult intervention specialist (thought reform consultant/exit counselor,mediator) since 1989.  He spent 14 years in two different eastern meditation groups (TM, International Society of Divine Love). He is a co-author of “Ethical Standards for Thought Reform Consultants,” published in ICSA’s Cultic Studies Journal, and contributed a chapter to Captive Hearts, Captive Minds. He was (2010-2014) the News Desk Editor of ICSA Today. 
Mr. Kelly has also facilitated ICSA workshops for ex-members and families (1996-2018) and has lectured extensively on cult-related topics:
Some of the topics include:

Inner Experience and Conversion,

After the Cult "Coping with Trance States; Hypnosis and Trance",

Coping with Triggers,

Mental-Health Issues in Cult-Related Interventions,

Leaving and Recovering from Cultic Groups and Relationships,

Communicating with Cult Members 

Restoring Family Connections,

Helping Families Address a Loved One’s Group Involvement,

Among the issues discussed are:

The ethics of an intervention,

Assessing a family situation 

Determining whether an intervention is appropriate,

Family preparation,

The phases and dynamics of an intervention,

Alternatives to interventions
Issues confronted after an intervention,

Workshop for Loved Ones: "How to Help a Loved One Affected by a Cult",

What Can Families Do?, Family members concerned about a loved one‘s cult involvement or its aftereffects need to learn how to assess their situations more effectively and how to evaluate strategic options.

A Mediation Approach to Exit Counseling,

From Deprogramming to Thought Reform Consultation,

Can Cultic Groups Change? The Case of ISKCON 
Evolution and Variation Within a Movement: The Case of ISKCON ,

Jehovah’s Witnesses, Former Members and Families 

"Cultic Group Intervention: Exploring internal experiences in Yoga, Qigong and Transcendental Meditation",

Inside Out — One Group, One Fugitive Swami: Three Different Experiences,

Lectures/workshops - Universities, Countries:

1999, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN

2004, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta (Canada)

2005, Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, Madrid, (Spain)

2007, University Club, Brussels, (Belgium) 

2008, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 

2009, Geneva, Switzerland 

2010, Istituto Madonna del Carmine “Il Carmelo”, Via Doganale 1 Ciampino, Roma, (Italy) 

2011, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, (Spain)

2012, Montreal, Canada

2013, London School of Economics 

2014 University of Southern California 

2015, Stockholm, Sweden

2015, Beijing Union University, Beijing, China

2017, Bordeaux France

2018, Rotterdam, Netherlands, RAN EXIT Academy – “Exit Work With Families and Current Members, Exit ‘Lessons from adjacent fields Cults

2018, Philadelphia, PA – “Building Bridges: Leaving and Recovering from Cultic Groups and Relationships: A Workshop for Families”​, “Family Workshop: Understanding Group Involvement Through the Lens of Culture”, “Cult Exit Counseling: Implications for Families and Professionals”, “Panel: So We Thought We Could Fly”

2018, Philadelphia, PA – Domestic Abuse and Coercive Control – Lessons From Across Diverse Areas of Practice, “Cult Exit Counseling: Implications for Families and Professionals”

2018, Hartford, CT – 2018, Hartford, CT – “What Can You Do When a Loved One is Involved in an Abusive Situation?”, “ICSA History Collection Interview of Clark, Kelly, Ryan”

2019, Santa Fe, NM – “Cultic Dynamics and Psychics”, “Building Relationships and Communicating with the Cult Involved”, “Coping With Triggers”, “How to Understand a Person’s Involvement in a Cultic Group or Relationship”, 
2019, New York , NY – “Building Bridges; Leaving and Recovering From Cultic Groups and Relationships”

2019, Manchester, UK – “Building Bridges; Leaving and Recovering from Cultic Groups and Relationships: A Workshop for Families”, “TM’s Shadow Side Out – One Group, One Guru: Five Different Experiences”, “Open Discussion for Former Members: First-Generation

2020, Online – “Why People Join, Stay and Leave Groups, A Cult Model”, “Building Bridges: Improving Communication Across Worldviews, How to Stay Connected with A Cult Involved Loved One”

2020, Online – “MIND FIXERS: The History of Mass Therapy With its Roots in Mind Dynamics Institute, Misuse of Zen Insights, and Hyping the Positive Thinking of New Thought Religion”,
Building Bridges; Leaving and Recovering from Cultic Groups and Relationships: A Workshop for Families”

2020, Online – “Building Bridges: Leaving and Recovering From Cultic Groups and Relationships” (ten-session series)

2020, Philadelphia, PA – “Building Relationships and Communicating with the Cult Involved”, “A History of Large Group Awareness Trainings”

Awards Ceremony: 


Jun 27, 2022

Missing the point about the murder of women


Nicky Falkof
Mail & Guardian
June 22, 2022

One warm Saturday evening in October 2011, a group of eight friends, a mixture of male and female, white, black and coloured, aged between 15 and 23, walked up a small hill behind a swimming pool in the suburb of Linmeyer in the south of Johannesburg. They went equipped to spend the night drinking, smoking marijuana and chatting around a campfire, as they usually did on weekends. But this was not a normal weekend.

Hours later the majority of the group had fled, while two of them stumbled and crawled back to town: Kirsty Theologo, 18, most of her body covered in third and fourth degree burns, somehow assisting Bronwyn Grammar, then 16, her arms and body burned from trying to roll her friend in the sand and douse the flames that were covering her. Soon after, her brother found Kirsty in the kitchen of their home, so heavily burned that she was barely recognisable. She was rushed to hospital where she lapsed into a coma. The fire had severely damaged her lungs and upper body and she died days later.

A story began emerging almost immediately of a planned attack in which the other members of the group soaked Kirsty with petrol, set her on fire and left her to burn to death. Lurid details including a bloody ritual, five-pointed stars drawn on the ground and the desecration of a bible led to a swift diagnosis by press and police that this was a ‘Satanist murder’, a phrase that has a long resonance in South Africa. Six people were arrested: five male, the oldest of them 21, and one 15-year-old female.

The Theologo murder shocked South Africa, garnering a comparatively large amount of press coverage for a country with a high rate of violence against women. Journalists, editors, religious leaders and politicians flocked to report and comment on Kirsty’s brutal fate.

Hers was far from the only story of “satanic” killing to appear in the South African press in recent years. In the summer of February 2014, just days after some of the accused had been jailed for Kirsty’s murder, a man working in the veld near Dobsonville in Soweto, Johannesburg, stumbled across the mutilated bodies of two local teenage girls. Best friends Thandeka Moganetsi, 15, and Chwayita Rathazayo, 16, had been missing since the previous day.

The girls, both pupils at nearby George Khoza Secondary School, were found metres apart, still wearing their school uniforms, with open wounds on their backs and cuts on their hands and necks. Three razor blades and a black candle were found near the bodies, once again leading to a quick diagnosis of Satanism from the press, police and parents.

Distraught friends told tales about satanic cults operating within the school that may have “sacrificed” the girls. Two teenage boys, pupils at the same school, were quickly arrested. Religious and political leaders descended on Dobsonville to decry the scourge of Satanism in schools. Once again, these killings received an unusual amount of media and public attention in a nation that often glosses over public violence.

The press narratives that surrounded the deaths of Thandeka Moganetsi, Chwayita Rathazayo and Kirsty Theologo were not just examples of news sensationalism. While there were undoubtedly features of the events of both nights that could be described as satanic, the media’s overdetermined focus on these elements of the murders meant that they were defined as a bizarre and unusual occult crimes rather than as part of South Africa’s ongoing epidemic of gender-based violence.

In repeating moral panic tropes around Satanism to the exclusion of all other potential contributing factors, newspaper reporting on these cases disregarded the disturbing truth that violence in South Africa is usually structural and often gendered. The focus on Satanism also allowed newspapers to avoid considering the forms of these murders, which, in their echo of late apartheid violence, recall historical trauma. Within the reporting, anxieties about the alleged threat of Satanism displaced knowledge of how male violence and the residue of apartheid atrocities shape contemporary life, especially for the poor.

Elements of these murders that could be defined as occult, ritualistic or satanic were descriptive rather than fundamental. They tell us as much as other explanations offered for violence against women in contemporary South Africa: punishment for sexual or gender “misconduct”, as in cases of corrective rape; jealousy, as in domestic violence; the influence of drugs and alcohol, as in many random acts of extreme violence that happen to women.

Any one of these causes could have been brought to bear without changing the base facts of the murders. Media claims that these killers were working under the influence of supernatural evil are just one of many ways to understand violence. Nonetheless media outlets failed to consider any meaning to the murders other than Satanism, a diagnosis that they, hand in hand with police, had imposed. In valorising Satanism as the only possible motivation for what was done to these girls, the South African press in effect legitimised its own claims.

In these cases, the spectacular violence of a Satanist act almost entirely erased the possibility of more “normal” (equally brutal but less sensational) violence against women. The deaths of Moganetsi, Theologo and Rathazayo were made exceptional, categorised alongside other Satanist murders but never discussed in context of the rates of death of South African women or of other acts of violence perpetrated against them.

Unlike in the case of Anene Booysen, whose killing was clearly sexualised, responses to these murders almost entirely avoided talking about them as instances of the rage and aggression meted out so frequently on the bodies of South African women by South African men. The spectacularisation of Satanist murders allowed the media to sidestep the disturbing awareness that, in fact, the greatest monsters are not monstrous at all: they are human, familiar, part of our communities and our worlds.

The deaths of Chwayita Rathazayo, Kirsty Theologo and Thandeka Moganetsi were individual tragedies, appalling crimes and symptoms of a larger condition. They reveal the continuation of the embedded structural violence that has wounded South Africa since the start of the colonial project. The press’ incapacity to see past the screening fiction of Satanism recalls the way in which apartheid-era realities were deferred by privileged white people who claimed not to know about the violence and injustice surrounding them.

Like the many South African women whose murders go unreported and unnoticed, Theologo, Rathazayo and Moganetsi are victims of this willed blindness, this refusal to know and concurrently to act against both the structural causes of violence and those pathological modes of gender that work out their rage, despair and fear on the always-available bodies of women.

This is an edited extract from the book Worrier State: Risk, anxiety and moral panic in South Africa, published by Wits University Press.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.

Nicky Falkof is a senior lecturer in the Media Studies department at Wits.


Mission of Malice: My Exodus from KwaSizabantu

Mission of Malice: My Exodus from KwaSizabantu
In the 1980s, Erika Bornman’s family joins, and ultimately moves, to KwaSizabantu, a Christian mission based in KwaZulu-Natal, which is touted as a nirvana, founded on egalitarian values. But something sinister lurks beneath ‘the place where people are helped’. Life at KwaSizabantu is hard. Christianity is used to justify harsh punishments and congregants are forced to repent for their sins. Threats of physical violence ensure adherence to stringent rules. Parents are pitted against children. Friendships are discouraged. Isolated and alone, Erika lives in constant fear of eternal damnation. At 16, her grooming at the hands of a senior mission counsellor begins. For the next five years, KwaSizabantu wages emotional, psychological, and sexual warfare on her, until finally she manages to break free and escape at the age of 21. Escaping a restrictive religious community is difficult, but rehabilitation into ‘normal’ life after a decade of ritual humiliation, brainwashing, and abuse is much more painful, as Erika soon discovers. She cannot ignore her knowledge of the grievous human-rights abuses being committed at KwaSizabantu, and so she embarks on a quest to expose the atrocities.

Mission of Malice – My Exodus from KwaSizabantu chronicles Erika’s journey from a fearful young girl to a fierce activist determined to do whatever it takes to save future generations and find personal redemption and self-acceptance.

The Making of a Moonie.

Simon Shaw

Documentary about Professor Eileen Barker & her 1984 text 'The Making of a Moonie: Brainwashing or Choice?'

CultNEWS101 Articles: 6/27/2022

" ... Read the "literature" about Shoemaker (Leaving Nityananda, Richard Read's pieces in the Oregonian, testimonials of abuse).

Over and over, he tells his victims, "if you leave me. you will go crazy, be in a mental institution, and never stop the cycle of death and rebirth….. again, classic traumatizing narcissistic cult leader behavior.

That is why so many cult members can't leave, can't denounce their leader. They are terrified of what will happen to them on "the outside". So they stay and accept more and more abuse.
Keep in mind that many "students" of Shoemaker's have been taken out of his "ashrams" feet first!"

Rachel Bernstein: 
Join Rachel on Zoom, Sunday, July 17th at 3:00 PM PST to hear about her new 3-part webinar series. 
Rachel Bernstein, Educator, Therapist, Cult Specialist and Host of the IndoctriNation Podcast, will be announcing two 3-part live webinars.   

Each session in the series will be one-hour long:  *45 minute presentation *15 minutes for Q&A.  

The 1st 3-part webinar series will provide techniques for support, recovery, and healing for people who were in cults, or manipulative relationships.  

The 2nd 3-part webinar series will be for the families and friends of those who have loved ones affected by cults and manipulative relationships who want to know what to do and how to help, and who need support for themselves, as well.  

Zoom link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/3678063940 Meeting ID: 367 806 3940 

News, Education, Intervention, Recovery



Intervention101.com to help families and friends understand and effectively respond to the complexity of a loved one's cult involvement.

CultRecovery101.com assists group members and their families make the sometimes difficult transition from coercion to renewed individual choice.

CultNEWS101.com news, links, resources.





Cults101.org 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 cultintervention@gmail.com.

Will La Luz Del Mundo persist with leader behind bars?

It’s incredibly difficult to leave a religious organization that’s given followers a worldview that says, ‘we are God’s chosen,’ experts note.

Alejandra Molina
Religion News Service
June 22, 2022

LOS ANGELES (RNS) — As La Luz del Mundo leader Naasón Joaquín García was sentenced to nearly 17 years for sexually abusing young female followers, Jack Freeman — a spokesman and minister for the church — remained steadfast in his support for García as God’s elected.

“Even if the whole world would come against me, I would still declare with my faith. I am a Child of God and a believer of Apostle (Naason) Joaquin!” Freeman said on Twitter a day after García’s sentencing.

La Luz del Mundo leaders continue to maintain García’s innocence, even after he was called “evil,” a “monster” and the “Antichrist” in his sentencing by five young women he was charged with sexually abusing. The women urged the judge to impose a longer sentence than the 16 years and eight months he received.

His followers believe the claims of abuse are fabricated and his guilty plea is the result of a fraudulent justice system. García abruptly pleaded guilty just before his long-awaited trial was to start.

Church leaders have noted that their congregations continue to grow in the U.S., where a new house of worship was just inaugurated in Waukegan, Illinois, and as new members were baptized in a ceremony in Pachuca, a city in the Mexican state of Hidalgo.

In the church’s official statement, leaders say García, who goes by the title of apostle, is on a “path that God has placed in front of him for a reason, as he did for Apostle Paul.”

“The Apostle will continue ministering to the church,” they said.

Church leaders are going to reach for whatever biblical analogy they can to justify the situation, said Arlene Sánchez-Walsh, a professor of religious studies at Azusa Pacific University. “Because that shores up the true believers’ idea that this is a persecution,” she added.

“The church is going to say that they are persecuted, like the historic Christian church has been, tying their persecution complex to the biblical idea of persecuted leaders in jail, like Peter and Paul,” said Sánchez-Walsh, author of “Latino Pentecostal Identity: Evangelical Faith, Self, and Society.”

Sánchez-Walsh said the church could continue to move forward despite García’s imprisonment. If a church has a substantial base of true believers and money, “it has enough to keep going for as long as they want,” she said.

As well, she noted, there’s just too much to lose in leaving a belief system in which followers have invested “a lot of time, money and emotional currency.”

“That’s incredibly difficult to do for any organization, particularly a religious organization that’s given you a worldview that says, ‘We are God’s chosen. We are led by God’s apostle. We are the true church,” Sánchez-Walsh added.

Headquartered in the Catholic stronghold of Guadalajara, Mexico, the tightknit Mexico-based Pentecostal movement claims 5 million worldwide followers. La Luz del Mundo temples are across the United States, with several in Southern California, predominantly in working-class Latino communities such as East Los Angeles, Huntington Park and San Bernardino.

La Luz del Mundo was founded in 1926 by García’s grandfather, Eusebio Joaquín González. The church rejects the concept of the Trinity and teaches that Jesus is God’s son and church leaders, like García, his father and grandfather, are his apostles.

In 2020, an ex-member sued the church and more than a dozen of its leaders, alleging decades of abuse at the hands of the group’s leaders. García’s father was the subject of child sex abuse allegations in 1997, but authorities in Mexico never filed criminal charges.

Followers of La Luz del Mundo don’t celebrate Christmas or Easter, but they do recognize the birthdays of García and the other apostles.

As a former pastor of La Luz del Mundo, Sergio Meza said he understands why congregants would choose to remain in the church.

Meza was labeled as no longer “being of God” when he left his pastoral position years ago in about 1986, and he said if church members decide to leave, “they have to be willing to lose their entire family, their husbands and wives, their children and parents — everyone.”

“As soon as you start to question, you are seen as the enemy of the apostle and of the church,” said Meza, 72, of Los Angeles.

Meza served as pastor in churches in East LA; in San Antonio and Houston; in Ensenada in Baja California; and in various parts of Mexico. Pastors are reassigned every two or three years, he said, causing his family to move often. He said he made no money as pastor and sold food on the street to make ends meet.

He left the church for good in about 2000. Aside from his wife, children and grandchildren, he said he has no other family, considering that many of his nephews and cousins still remain in La Luz del Mundo. His family’s involvement in the church spans five generations, with his mother, a former Catholic, joining in 1950.

“I understand that leaving is not easy,” he said.

La Luz del Mundo leaders have not answered questions as to how García will minister from behind bars, but García has been reported as addressing his followers through letters he wrote as he awaited trial from his jail cell. In one letter, according to the BBC News, García wrote that he was fulfilling a “divine mission” by preaching to fellow prisoners.

“God’s plan is perfect, even though it is not always pleasant,” he said in the message read out at the 2019 Holy Supper gathering in Guadalajara.

Daniel Ramírez, a Claremont Graduate University associate professor of religion, said the letters García sends to congregations “are received like the epistles of Paul in the New Testament.”

“A lot of his epistles were sent by Paul from Roman jail, so the faithful receive it in that genre of apostolic exhortation,” said Ramírez, author of “Migrating Faith: Pentecostalism in the United States and Mexico in the Twentieth Century.”

“No matter where the letter was read, whether Chicago, Atlanta or elsewhere, it was received with great emotion, great joy, as word from God’s apostle on earth,” Ramírez added.

Ramírez said it’s not completely clear how García’s imprisonment could ultimately affect the state of the church, but he did note “an explosion of dissent of former Luz del Mundo members and victims, who have now been able to use this moment to expose everything.”

He said this may be an opportunity for ex-members to reach out to their loved ones who remain inside. “It may stymie future growth,” Ramírez said.

Ramírez noted some distinct differences from decades ago, when church membership grew after Mexican authorities failed to bring criminal charges against García’s father when he was accused of child sex abuse.

La Luz del Mundo’s followers saw those accusations as proof of discrimination against them by Mexico’s Catholic majority, who often refer to them derogatorily as a sect or cult. Ramírez said the group’s leaders have in the past used setbacks to their advantage.

Now, Ramírez said, it’ll be interesting to see how the younger generations, including those born in the U.S., react to these developments. They’re social-media savvy, Ramírez said, and “they can run around any kind of barriers of information.”

To Raquel Guerra, who grew up attending a La Luz del Mundo church in San Antonio, Texas, the majority of church members “are good people.”

“They just put their faith in the wrong person,” said Guerra, who blames the church leadership for “falsifying and twisting everything.”

Raquel Guerra at a pastor’s home in Santa Maria, California, on the day of her baptism in 1993. A photograph of Samuel Joaquín Flores, father of Naasón Joaquín García, hangs above her. Photo courtesy of Raquel Guerra

She said many don’t believe the claims of abuse, partly because the women alleging the abuse are listed as Jane Does in court documents. While Guerra recognizes their names aren’t listed in order to protect them, she said others may not grasp that. Some simply think such claims are fabricated, she said. Still, Guerra said there are those who say that, even if Garcia is responsible for abuse, “we cannot judge him.”

To some, Guerra said, leaders like Garcia “are able to experience pleasure of all kinds because they’re sent by God.”

While Guerra said she didn’t directly see any sexual abuse while she was a part of the church, she became more aware of stories of abuse after leaving the church and connecting with other ex-members.

She left La Luz del Mundo at around age 19 because she was pregnant and in a relationship with a man who wasn’t part of the church. An insular community, the church frowned on relationships with outsiders, Guerra said. She recalls church leaders saying the child was a product of sin.

Guerra still has family in the church who have “received her with open arms, even knowing that they consider me an apostate.”

“There are still some good members out there who practice love instead of hatred as his doctrine teaches,” Guerra said.


Major international award for Erika Bornman, author of Mission of malice


Erika Bornman, Izak de Vries Interviews



Erika Bornman is the author of Mission of malice, published by Penguin Random House. She has just been awarded the Dianne Casoni Award. It is an international award which aims to promote and reward written work which addresses one or more aspects of cultic phenomena or which deals with the various areas of intervention in cultic environments. The award was presented during the International Cultic Studies Association’s annual conference.

Izak de Vries spoke to her.

After this weekend, you can add “award-winning author” to your bio. Congratulations on winning the Diane Casoni Award. How does that feel?

I’m blown away and I feel so honoured. When I left KwaSizabantu back in 1993, there was very little support available to survivors of cultic and coercive groups. It was pre-internet days, too, so I was on my own and really struggled. Books saved me, however.

Today, it is wonderful to have an entire community who are creating resources – books and podcasts, documentaries – to help people heal from what they’ve experienced (and hopefully help stop others from joining high-control churches and groups).

Reading books that other survivors have written helped me so much to realise that I’m not crazy, I’m not evil. I’m not bad. This stuff has happened to others as well. And I am so unbelievably grateful that I’ve been able to publish my account of what happened to me and, in so doing, hopefully help aid understanding and healing in other people.

Getting this award from an organisation dedicated to raising awareness and helping survivors of cults is a singular honour.

Your title refers to KwaSizabantu (KSB), the mission where you grew up. Yet the book is full of humour, often at your expense. It is about the bumpy road you have walked to becoming human. Do you not relive the trauma every time you have to write and speak about the past again?

In many ways, yes. Though it gets easier with every retelling. It’s extremely hard the first time I speak about a certain incident, and then as I work through those emotions, it becomes easier to tell that part of my story. Therapy really helps – I would recommend anyone who has gone through trauma to find a trauma-informed therapist. (I’m lucky that my medical aid pays for 15 sessions a year for me.)

In order to survive, I basically had to pack up my entire past in boxes, seal them tightly and put them up in the attic. And that allowed me to survive, because in those first few years after leaving KSB, I was focused only on survival, and I couldn’t look at or deal with what had happened to me.

It took me almost three years to realise fully that what I had experienced and witnessed was abuse. Then, the more I became myself, the easier it became to go up into that dusty attic and occasionally open a box.

To write this book, I had to march up the stairs into that attic, bring down every damn box to the lounge and open them one by one, delving into their decades-old content. And I asked other survivors to do the same with their own attics full of boxes.

For two years, I sat and wept in my lounge for myself and for all the others who shared their stories with me. I’m surprised I still have any tears left.

Something I realised in therapy that helped me tremendously is that the shame I had owned for close to four decades belonged to them, not me. The shame of wetting my bed as a 10-year-old. The shame of being defiled by my religious counsellor. The shame of my mother disowning me. The shame of never being good enough. And now I can tell the stories with empathy for the little girl I was, but without the accompanying shame I felt for so many decades. That makes it a lot easier.

Also, I’m so happy you spotted the humour in the book! I’m such a Pollyanna, always seeing the bright side and the funny side. While a deep vein of sadness runs through me, I no longer tap into it as many times a day as before.

A number of investigations are underway into KSB. One is through the Rights Commission for Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities. Many others who, like you, have escaped, regularly contribute to the website KSB-alert. Your story was the impetus for a huge investigation by News24 that has led to the publication of Exodus: Uncovering a cult in KwaZulu-Natal. What would you say if people were to say: “That’s enough now. Grow up and move on with your life”?

Gosh, I’ve heard variations of that phrase so often in the past three decades. “Leave the past in the past.” I genuinely envy people who say things like that, because chances are good that they have never had traumatic experiences that shaped the rest of their lives. (Or they’re so deep in denial about their past that they’re projecting their need not to go up into their attic onto me.)

I absolutely can let go of the past, move on with my life. And I would, but for one stark fact: my past is still the present for the children growing up there.

Erlo Stegen, the founder who is on his deathbed now, always preached that you have to “shape” the spirit of a child by the age of three. In my day, they did that through instilling fear and punishment – beating young children, for example. They might not be beating children in the open anymore, but you will never convince me they’ve stopped tormenting children, turning them into obedient little beings with no will of their own.

My past is the terrifying reality for many children as you read these words. So, no, I’m not going to leave my past behind until it is no longer their present – or their future.

If I may quote from my book:

This desire to have people move on is typical of abusers. They want their victims to let it go already. No. We will not be moving on any time soon. And do you know why? Because without genuine remorse, without reparations to victims and without a stated intention to change behaviour, they will do it again when given the chance. Abusers stop abusing when under scrutiny. When the scrutiny goes away, they pick right up where they left off. And therefore the scrutiny cannot be lifted until they have been held fully accountable. Until they have publicly acknowledged how they abused people and how they covered up that abuse. How they knowingly allowed abusers to live among them, or quietly asked them to leave without protecting the most innocent among them.

You can tell I feel quite strongly about this, eh?

The book starts with a powerful metaphor. You’re asked to make a fruit salad, but you don’t know how. That fruit salad moment is such an amazing metaphor that I have wondered whether it really happened?

Oh, it happened exactly as described! In my twenties, especially, I had so many other fruit salad moments. Even today, my first instinct is to run and hide when faced with an entirely new situation. I don’t, of course, at least not often. So many other ex-members have written to me and told me about their fruit salad moments – including this reviewer who wrote about my book on LitNet. We all have them.

An-Mari do Carmo writes about this in her brilliant novel Toe als groen was, based on her experiences at KSB. She describes herself as a puzzle piece that has landed in the wrong box. (See the LitNet interview with Ami here.)

Many South African children have grown up in church communities where rules and discipline are more important than love. Many people of your age, men and women, had to be virgins when they got married, had to wear their hair in a certain manner, or weren’t allowed to wear clothes that weren’t approved. You speak very openly about these things, and then you focus on your own journey to a new life. Thousands of people would therefore identify, even though they weren’t at KSB, or am I missing the point?

You’ve hit the nail right on the head there. My experience may have been more extreme, but I think that many people can identify with the emotions and the sentiments of what I experienced. I’m thinking particularly of people from the LGBTQ+ community who have been scorned or even shunned by their families for being different, for not conforming to their norms. Or people who choose to “live in sin” and not marry, or get a divorce, or even people who choose not to have children when their family and their community and their church all have such high expectations and a particular mould you need to fit into.

My book resonates with people whose parents are more concerned about conformity than their children’s happiness. And then, of course, there’s my brief marriage to a man who used coercive control to mould me into the perfect obedient wife. Many women – and men – can identify with that aspect of my story, and how my very strict childhood, having to earn the approval and the love of the people who cared for me, actually primed me for abuse in my adult relationships.

Trauma in a school hostel is something that many South African children can identify with, even though everybody’s story is different. Did you ever speak to your dad about how bad it was?

No. And that is something I deeply regret. I asked my brother this question when I was writing my book, and he also said he never had. My sister and I don’t communicate, so I can’t ask her.

My silence had two sides to it. The first is that I had been indoctrinated to believe that KwaSizabantu was God’s will personified, so everything that happened there was God’s will. Also, I was never allowed to question my parents’ decisions, and since they left us there, I believed that they sanctioned everything that happened to us.

On the other hand, I also understood that my dad certainly would have been distressed had he known exactly how everything affected me and how full of fear I was.


People who grow up in total isolation from the outside world often behave as though they are immigrants in their own country when they enter the big wide world. Did you find that your time in England was better because you were among other immigrants?

Oh, wow. Yes, definitely. I was kind of out of place, but everybody else was, too, except, of course, for the British people. So, yes, what an astute observation. I recently listened to a podcast where the listener commented that it was as though they had to learn an entirely new language after leaving a cult, the language of the world. And that is so very true for me, too. I don’t think it’s possible to describe how unbelievably alien I felt. I didn’t belong and was sure I would never belong. I despaired often in the beginning that I would never figure it out. And lay awake at night, fearing that through my ignorance, there would always be some kind of misstep in every situation. That would show everybody else that I was a fraud. An imposter. And I shouldn’t be here at all.

As a much younger child, you did have some insight into life outside the mission. For example, you write about a visit to your parents in Europe as a rather positive experience. Did you sometimes, later on, begin to doubt your own memories of an existence outside the boundaries of your little world at KSB?

The outside world did become very unreal very quickly. Also, I’d hear on a daily basis how evil and bad the world was, and how absolutely fortunate I was to be given the opportunity to know what God really wants from us, and to “walk in the light”. And they would preach about people who had turned their backs on God (ie KSB) and the horrible ends they had met as a result. Struck by lightning. Died in a car crash. And they all had ended up in hell, of course. Hell was something very, very real to me. So, I ended up fearing the outside world while yearning for it. I had to keep my yearning a secret, though. I don’t find that particular mental torment easy to describe at all.

Réney Warrington wrote an entire novel, October, as a document for her sisters’ children, whom she loves terribly but whom she is not allowed to see. I see similarities with your sister’s children. Am I right?

Oh, man, my nieces. The third one, the youngest one, hadn’t even been born when my brother-in-law and my sister forbade me to have anything to do with them because they had to protect their children from Satan. (I’m evil because I chose to leave.) Words cannot express how intense my sadness is around my nieces. And the pain I feel for them – they know no other world.

In January this year, one got married. The other got engaged recently and is set to marry, too. Both marrying complete strangers. The first time they’re alone with their husbands is on the wedding night.

And think of the mindfuck when you’ve been taught your whole life that lust and sex are something to shun, and now it’s not only allowed, but you’re instructed to submit to your husband any time he wants it. My whole being rebels at the thought of what that first night might be like. And every subsequent night. But I’m projecting, of course.

While everything I do is for the children there, I fear that I can no longer save my nieces. But you know what? I can maybe save their as yet unborn children.

Let’s talk about sex. You write very openly about how you had to develop agency in sexual relationships. At times, it’s damn funny, like when you started blowing at the request for a blow job, but sometimes also sad – a beautiful, sexy young woman who does not know who she is and therefore does not dare to be herself. Suppose one of your sister’s children escapes and comes to stay with you, what will you teach her about sex?

If she’s anything like me, sex will be the last thing on her mind. But her ignorance will make her easy prey. Before I say anything to her about sex, I will discuss boundaries. I will have to teach her what personal boundaries are. Because, like me, hers would have been demolished as a child, and everything about her upbringing would have taught her that she is nothing. So, I can guarantee that she would have no concept of herself as being worthy of protection. She would have been taught to look out for others, especially men, at her own expense.

I will teach her how to say no. Especially to men. I will tell her that despite what she’s been told, she is not responsible for their actions, for their thoughts, for their desires.

I will show her that she can trust herself. And listen to that inner voice that she has had to silence. I’ll start easy. I’ll ask her, “Would you like brown bread or white? Pasta or rice?” And I’ll keep asking her until she can make the decision for herself, and not the decision that she thinks I want her to make.

And then, and only then, will I speak to her about sex (if she wants to). I will tell her that it is something beautiful and enjoyable and lovely and often quite funny, too. And that it’s okay to feel and have all those things. And then I’ll tell her about some of my experiences. And I’ll say to her that if she wants to avoid some of the pitfalls of her aunt, I recommend she takes it really, really slow, and that her first priority is to be comfortable in herself before she embarks on any kind of relationship with anybody. I’ll teach her a trick I learned, the body compass, that helps you to tune into your body for guidance when you’re in doubt. I will tell her that sex is not shameful, but that it is always her decision and her choice to do anything at all. She is in charge. She decides.

Many of our Afrikaans readers are familiar with Chanette Paul’s novel, Marilyn. It, too, is blatant about how women are oppressed when sex education is not honest and freely available. Her fictional character’s journey is rather similar to yours. Many people, especially men, say that sex education leads to immorality. What is your response to that?

Sex education does not lead to immorality! I feel very strongly about this! If I may quote from my book again?

Here’s the thing. Parents who think they are protecting their girl children by not teaching them about sex are actually leaving them wide open to exploitation. These parents, and they’re mostly super-religious people, teach their daughter that purity is the ideal state. Her understanding of what purity entails will vary depending on what they allow her to know. They also teach their daughter that she is inferior to men. They may not think that this is what they’re teaching her, but they are. Trust me on this.

She learns about her inferiority from watching her mother interact with her father. She learns it in their religious institution. She learns it from seeing how much more freedom boys have than girls. If she’s Christian, she learns it when female characters from the Bible are decried from the pulpit. Chances are, she has no agency over her body, and she’s not at liberty to decide what she wears.

Her purity is the prize. This is a message she hears repeatedly.

As long as she remains in their home with little or no access to the outside world and outside influences, her parents can probably keep her pure. Their aim is her purity and not her happiness, of course. They simply want to keep her pure until the day she marries.

What happens to her after she marries is not their concern – she’s allowed to be defiled by her husband, after all. Because it’s a union sanctioned by God, suddenly all the impurity is stripped from the act, and she’ll have to get with the programme. But she still has no agency and must submit to him whenever he wants her. Consent is not a concept here.

Her purity is the prize. She has to keep it at all costs. And yet she’ll constantly come up against men who want to take that prize from her. And men are her superiors, she has to give in to them in every other aspect in her life. Bow to their wisdom. Serve them first. Make sure they are happy. See the problem here?

Teaching young girls that they have agency over their own bodies is essential. And placing the onus on them to stay pure until marriage is just plain stupid. You cannot teach a girl that men are in control and also expect her to remain pure. Because there are men who do not want her to remain pure, I can guarantee you that. And, unless you lock that young girl up until she gets married, how will you protect her?

You protect her by educating her. You protect her by enabling her to make the right choices. You protect her by giving her rights and teaching her that she owns those rights.

Until hours before his death, your father was still extremely excited about his dream of a raceless society that could supposedly be created during the apartheid years, only to find that his dream was not what KSB’s leaders had in mind. What do you think your father would have done for you and the rest of the family had he stayed alive?

I have wondered about this so often. In my daydreams, he puts us in the car and he drives away and he finds a job as a teacher. He was such a brilliant teacher.

For many years, I actually felt quite responsible for my dad’s death, as crazy as that might sound. Here’s something I wrote more than two decades ago about this very thing:


how could you do that to me daddy
I was your poplap
your sunshine child

yet you left me in the very heart of darkness itself
when you chose life
and I?

I protected you
from the knowledge of what they had done to me

but the day you died
I knew it was me
who had killed you with my silence

I don’t blame myself anymore, of course. But it’s still a very, very sore, sensitive point. And it’s something I’m never going to know: had I told him, what would have happened? Would he have protected me, protected us, and taken us away from there? Or would he have somehow found a way to justify it all? And that’s a road I don’t want to walk down. My dad’s my hero. I don’t want to think that he might have willingly allowed us to endure abuse. So, I don’t really know where to go with that and simply tend not to ponder it too often.

I don’t think my mother would have left, and they would have probably divorced. In my daydream, I was given a choice, and I chose to be with my dad. The only time KSB is okay with divorce is when the one spouse leaves and there are children involved. KSB helps the spouse who remains to make it extremely difficult for the spouse who has left, to see their children. And this is still happening today, by the way; there are cases happening as I write this, where the husband who has left is kept from seeing his children.

Ag, man, now I’m crying. But I’m not scared of tears, and I never apologise for them either. Never. And whenever I’m with someone and they start crying and then say, “Sorry,” I tell them that I don’t believe that anyone ever needs to apologise for their tears. Whoever caused those tears is the one who should be begging forgiveness instead.

Jy was jou pa se kurkproppie. Your dad often referred to you as being like a piece of cork that would always resurface, no matter what. It is such a lovely metaphor. I think your dad would burst with pride had he been able to see you today – a prize-winning author, nogal! Look at yourself in a mirror. Who do you see when a 50-year-old kurkproppie stares back at you?

Whew, it’s so hard to let go of being so hard on myself. When I look in the mirror, I still see somebody who could do better. But I also look at myself and I’m so unbelievably proud of what I’ve done. Because I do believe that all this hardship I’ve gone through, writing this book, will mean just a little less hardship for someone else.

I turned 50 a week before my book was released. And I realised that for the first time in my life, I actually like myself. I like Erika. I’m still working on loving Erika. Baby steps.

KwaSizabantu. It is a lovely Zulu word. Kwa (the place), siza (to help), bantu (people). The place which helps people. For many good reasons, you are critical of the present leadership of KSB. Let’s play a game. Make a wish and place you yourself in charge of KSB. We give you carte blanche to use the land, all the money, the school, the factory selling bottled water, all and everything of it, as you wish. What would Erika Bornman do if she were to be given the opportunity to run the place that is supposed to help people?

Oh, from your mouth to God’s ears (yes, the God I don’t believe exists!).

Let’s take the school first. The first thing I would do is suspend all the teachers. Every single one of them. The second thing I would do is gather all the children and tell them they can do whatever they want with their hair. Black children there have to shave their heads; they are not allowed braids or anything else. I’ll tell them they can wear jeans if they like. And I’ll give them age-appropriate access to content: firstly online, but I’ll also buy them TVs and subscriptions to various streaming services – again, age-appropriate ones.

I would stop Radio Khwezi from broadcasting, but pay all staff while they’re suspended.
Secondly, I would put a stop to the profits of aQuellé and the farming operations being funnelled directly into KwaSizabantu’s coffers and direct them into a trust. I’d also immediately triple all the salaries of the many workers who are on minimum wage and give them all a huge bonus (except possibly the managers).

Then I would appoint an enquiry consisting of social workers, psychologists and lawyers to do a comprehensive audit of everyone who has ever lived there and left – thousands of people, and all over the world. People who left or were forced to leave – many of those left with absolutely nothing. Children who had their schooling curtailed because there were stupid infractions of stupid rules. Workers who were fired. Workers who retired without a cent to their names.

The panel would evaluate every single case and establish the harm that has been done, then decide on a reparation amount. Even the people who are active members there now (and, in my view, doing more harm than good) also deserve recompense. Even if some of them should be in prison, again in my opinion. Two things can be true at the same time.

Then I would give past and current workers shares in the many business ventures.

I would completely divorce the businesses from the church. The workers who are keen can get whatever training they require to come back and run operations – until then, experts will keep the businesses going.

I would not remove children from their parents necessarily, but I would have experts speak to every single child there to ensure their safety; these experts would have to understand indoctrination. And I would put cameras in every single home that has children, so that the parents know they’re being monitored – for their words and actions. (Not sure what to do about bathrooms, but possibly have a camera trained on the door with strict instructions that parents may not enter the bathroom with their child. That wouldn’t work for the little ones and babies, of course, so experts would have to weigh in on how we could make sure each and every child is protected from harm.)

And then I would bring in someone like advocate Gerrie Nel and have him put together a prosecuting team to work alongside the panel of reparations experts. They would be tasked to build cases against every single alleged perpetrator of abuse who is still alive – bearing in mind that many of the people who are adults there now were once children there. Not all children who are abused grow up to be abusers (case in point: me!), but there has to be some leniency for the coercive control they experienced from birth. Dr Janja Lalich calls it bounded choice (do read her book by that name – and every other book she’s written).

As for the church, and seeing that I’m the one with carte blanche, I would close it and then speak to the community surrounding the compound, who mostly live in poverty, what they would like to see happening with the church facilities. Turn it into a huge sport centre for youth, or something.

And then, on the seventh day, I would rest. And I’d be able to sleep better than I have ever slept, because I would know that each child there is now as safe as I can possibly make them be.

See also:

Mission of malice by Erika Bornman: A reader impression

Toe als groen was deur An-Mari do Carmo – resensie en onderhoud