Women branded with permanent flesh scars. People living in complete isolation with every aspect of their lives monitored and controlled. Fake religions where passing the collection plate actually means donating all personal assets. Are these examples of the darkness in the Middle Ages or behind the curtain of a totalitarian country? No, these situations are occurring in the USA in 2020.
Difficult to Spot
How did we get here? There have always been con artists, who ignore the fundamental values of honesty, transparency, and consideration for others in the name of a quick buck and personal gain. Often, these charlatans are easy to notice, such as the smooth talking door-to-door salesman, who will not take no for an answer. Yet, there are many more, who are much more difficult to see since they are disguised as self-help gurus or new age leaders seeking only to help someone find their human potential.
In the beginning, everything is glorious similar to a new love affair. At that point, the charlatan finds their mark or money source. Behind their ultra smiles and unlimited willingness to help, their carefully defined brainwashing techniques often begin. The compliments become cruel criticism, volunteer assistance leads to forced labor, and the financial fees or donations become much larger. Months turn into years or even decades and the brainwashing goes full circle.
Attack the Accuser
When family, friends, or legal authorities question or inquire, the cult leaders go into defense mode with arguments of free enterprise, freedom of religion or simply the freedom to live as one chooses. Then, the process of attacking the attacker begins, such as Scientology's Fair Game Policy of stalking and harassing any person who criticizes their phony religion or Synanon leaving a rattlesnake in the mailbox of an attorney, which happened to Paul Morantz.
The Center Foundation years ago featured a series of counseling groups that were ranked in order of performance. Yet, beyond expressing emotions in a supportive setting, leaders engaged in belittling people over their personal weight, physically assaulting members who were slow to accept the feedback, and telling other people where they could work, who they could date or whether they could keep unborn babies.
Tough to Fight
Law enforcement is often in a pickle. With pressure to keep the streets of our cities and towns free from more obvious thieves, they often ignore the danger of cults until the threat is overwhelming. When conflict between the local townspeople in rural Oregon escalated with the followers of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, sheriffs determined that the cult group had more firepower at their ranch than law enforcement from the entire state of Oregon combined – so much for enlightenment.
In the USA, we often focus our attention on the supply side of misdeeds rather than the demand. Of course, we need to criminally prosecute and civilly sue the leaders of these cult groups for their crimes. However, charlatans will always exist since they originate within flaws of the human heart. What about the demand side? As long as there is a market for illegal drugs in the USA, there will always be suppliers ready to fill the consumer desire.
We need to stop looking for human fulfillment at the hands of con artists, who are only interested in a quick buck and power over a loyal and needy flock. Human growth comes from our family, friends, community, and spiritual connection in religions with a time-tested history of ethical behavior. There are certainly issues in mainstream religions. However, many of those problems are getting resolved.
Keith Raniere, David Miscavidge, and Richard Corriere are not prophets. Instead, they are enterprising men who trade the false promise of human growth for their own financial gain and power. Let's start by looking close to home and see the glorious nuggets of personal fulfillment all around us. Isn't the smile from serving food at a homeless shelter or taking a walk in nature worth more than turning your personal freedom over to a con artist? I think you know the answer.