Why we can’t stop watching TV shows about Cults

Why We Can’t Stop Watching TV Shows About Cults

Long after the communal living experiments of the ’60s and ’70s, America is still dreaming about dropping out.

June/July 2015

facilitated by infosecte@qc.aibn.com

In her bi-weekly column, Social Anxiety, Emilie Friedlander peeks underneath the artifacts of contemporary culture to question what it all really means.

“Home” is probably the happiest song that’s ever made me cry. I first heard it on the original soundtrack for The Source Family, a 2012, Marie Demopolos and Jodi Wille-directed documentary about the legendary 1970s communal living experiment by the same name, founded by L.A. health food restaurant tycoon Jim Baker, bka Father Yod. Originally released on All or Nothing at All—the fourth and final album by Father Yod and the Spirit of ’76, one of the rock & roll-loving community’s many house bands—it’s just some acoustic guitar strumming and a little playground melody, sung in a smiling tenor by a male band member whose name I’ve never been able to track down. He’s singing about the gentle rhythms of life on the commune, a world so green and sun-dappled and welcoming that even though you’ve never been there, you’ll probably feel a little homesick for it: We’ve got a nice little place we can go/ Where everything flows, and everything goes/ Take a deep breath/ Don’t you just know, it’s home.

The singer continues with a list of the many wonderful things you’ll have when you drop out of modern Western society and join the Source Family, things that can be surprisingly hard to come by for a young person in 2015, even in a city purported to “have it all”: We’ve got pure water, air, and sun, simple food, room to run/ All for love and love for all. I like to listen to “Home” on headphones while walking along the Brooklyn waterfront in the summer; it lets me indulge in a “back to the land” fantasy whenever life in New York is feeling a little too money and ego-driven, a little too cruel and impossibly fast-paced. It suggests the possibility of doing away with the things that don’t matter, and having the things that do matter available to all, simply for the very reason that everybody deserves them: food, shelter, community, spiritual development. More than anything else, though, “Home” is just a comforting song to hear, real-life proof that there are other possible worlds than the one that is getting you down.

Of course, when it comes to my years-long Source Family obsession, the word “fantasy” is key. The community dispersed about a decade before I was born, and though former member Isis Aquarian remembered it quite fondly when I interviewed her for this magazine, it was, for all intents and purposes, a cult, run by a man who took 14 wives, declared himself to be God, and denied sick community members access to traditional medical care. The Source Family lived primarily on revenue from Sunset Strip vegetarian restaurant The Source, and when they eventually sold the place and moved to Hawaii, they found themselves unwelcome there, haunted by the specter of failed experiments past: “Because when we left LA,” Aquarian recalled to me,” nobody gave us an opportunity to start another restaurant or get grounding anywhere. When we came to Hawaii, they thought we were somewhat like the Manson family. They just weren’t ready for who we were, and we never even thought that anybody would think that about us because we’d lived in L.A. for so long—we were like the darlings of L.A. […] That basically started [Father Yod’s] journey—all he really wanted to do was find some land where we could live by ourselves and be self-sufficient, but that just didn’t work out.”

The trope of the power-hungry, pathologically narcissistic cult leader—one who enacts the same evils and exploitations as the mainstream society to which he’s offering his followers an escape—is one that American history presents us time and time again. And yet, if the shows we consume on television are any indication, we seem to be increasingly obsessed with cults these days. Recently, Velvet Goldmine and Safe director Todd Haynes announced that he was working on a TV mini-series on Father Yod and Source Family, dramatizing some of the real-life events chronicled in the Demopoulos and Wille documentary. Just yesterday, absurdist comedy duo Tim and Eric announced their new book, Zone Theory: 7 East Steps To Achieve A Perfect Life, trolling American new age self-help culture with a promotional video that drew an awful lot on the garish ‘90s aesthetics and nonsense-word lingo of Scientology—which also happens to be the subject of 2015’s Going Clear, the most-watched HBO documentary of the past ten years. Then there’s Tina Fey’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which derives its comic premise from the question of what would happen if somebody locked in an underground bunker for fifteen years—held captive by an evil doomsday sect leader played by a characteristically smooth-talking John Hamm—was forced to navigate the confusing ins and outs of work and dating in present-day, post-internet New York city. Speaking of John Hamm, Mad Men had its very own cult moment last year, when fans speculated as to whether Roger Sterling’s daughter had gone and joined a kind of upstate New York version of the Mansons.

And speaking of the Mansons, I’ve spent the past few days trying to slog through Aquarius, the new NBC series that piqued my interest after flooding New York’s subways with an image of David Duchovny sporting a pair of rainbow-colored shades (stream it in full here). Duchovny plays a gruff Los Angeles police officer, tasked with tracking down a 16-year-old girl, Emma, who runs away from her lawyer father and alcoholic housewife mother to join the Manson family after discovering her boyfriend cheating on her at a party. Initially, it’s some well-chosen words from Manson that convince Emma to walk out on her comfortable but stifling bourgeois life: catching her outside the house where the party is being held, he gestures toward a glittering Los Angeles freeway in the distance, and tells her exactly the sort of things that a lost, misunderstood teenager would want to hear: “I know a lot of things about you,” he says. “I know how much it hurts—like your whole body, your soul, screaming to be heard. Nobody’s there listening.” He continues, and the screen cuts back to an image of the highway, as though we are meant to understand it as a symbol for the capitalist America she’s about to escape: “You see, when that snake comes to eat everything up, do you know what will save you? Do you think daddy will save you? Or that boyfriend of yours? No. You’ll survive with me. With us. You see, the snake eats the world. We eat the snake. I’ll show you how, then nothing will ever hurt again.” As he speaks, Emma tears up, as though it’s dawning on her that she never truly felt “understood” before that moment.

Of course, , as with many American cult stories, things aren’t exactly as they appear: despite his arresting words and delicate way around acoustic guitar (he was, somewhat disturbingly, a talented musician in his own right), Manson turns out to be a serial rapist, murderer, blackmailer, pimp, and petty crook, with a penchant for using his followers’ bodies to further his own agenda. The woman who Emma catches her boyfriend receiving oral sex from at the party is actually one such female cult member, ordered by Manson to distract the young man from Emma so that Manson can home in on his prey. Further thickening the plot, Emma’s buttoned-up attorney father, Ken, is revealed early on to be none other than Manson’s own lawyer—and, by the third episode, also a former lover of Manson’s. Though the one may seem to represent an “alternative” to the other, Manson’s social experiment and the rhetorical “snake” of 1960s corporate America are literally “in bed” together—not just hopelessly entwined, but governed by the same, tyrannical logic.

Full disclosure: I’m having a hard time getting through Aquarius without falling asleep mid-episode; its plot is way too convoluted, and its acting too flat, to hold my interest for very long, and I keep having to rewind through certain passages to keep track of who is saying what. Still, I think the very existence of a series about Manson on mainstream TV says something about where we’re at as a society: over half a century removed from the failed utopian experiments of the ‘60s and ‘70s, we’re still endlessly fascinated by the idea of dropping out, and that’s probably because dropping out feels less possible than it ever has. We’ve simply seen too many examples of utopianism gone awry, and too many instances of the American counter-cultural impulse being swallowed up by the marketplace and sold back to us.

When we watch a TV show like Aquarius, we’re transported back to a time before people necessarily “knew better” than to think that other worlds, and other homes, were possible; even in watching Manson’s most sinister moments, we experience the vicarious thrill of living life completely according to one’s own, made-up rules—of breaking with consensus reality as we know it, of starting with utopian intentions and going way too far.

Still, as Alex Frank recently pointed out on this website, the enduring impact of the flower-power era on the present is best encapsulated, not by the looming possibility of a rupture, but by the final, haunting scene of Mad Men: Don Draper goes to find himself at coastal California commune, and mid-meditation, has a vision for how to leverage hippie culture’s peace-and-love ethos to sell Coca Cola. It’s an outcome I think of often whenever I’m walking around my neighborhood on weekend afternoons, marveling at the way in which Greenpoint can sometimes feel like the low-key Laurel Canyon of Brooklyn, with its endless yoga studios and juice bars and new age community centers offering reiki training classes and new age speed dating events. There’s even a vegan restaurant there that sort of reminds me of the Source—it’s called the Jungle Café, and from what I have heard, its owned and operated by an experimental live-in community and shamanic institute called the Golden Drum, self-described as “a cultural center created for the healing, transformation, the expansion of consciousness of humanity.”

Maybe there are some people—even in a city like New York—who are actually creating and living out their own real-world alternatives. For the greater majority of us, though, new age ideas—like watching shows about the ‘60s and ‘70s on streaming TV—have become something we turn to when we want to escape for a little while. Taking up tarot, or meditation, or past life regression can feel like dropping out of society for a moment; imagining the existence of other worlds in order to make our existence in this one just a little more bearable.
Back when I interviewed Isis Aquarian, I asked her about the foundation of Father Yod’s belief system. “We took from everything,” she said. “We took from every religion. We took from past lives. We took from the mystery teachings. We took from the yogis. We took from the Buddha. We took from whatever made sense and worked to us and distilled it into our own uniqueness.” That pick-and-choose, take-what-you-like-and-leave-the-rest eclecticism remains a core facet of new age culture; it’s an idea I’d say that I adhere to in my own spiritual life, only I can’t help noticing how perfectly it dovetails with our behavior as 21st century consumers. We express our view of the world—and even our desire to drop out of it—with the objects and experiences that we choose to spend our money on. But when escape becomes something that you buy, it ceases to be a real escape. Maybe it ensnares us even further in the world that we’re escaping.

Still, the idea of dropping out is knotted so tightly into the fabric of American culture that I doubt that it’ll be going anywhere anytime soon; in fact, I think we need it to survive, even if that just means carving out a little bit of calm, or a little bit of green, in the midst of a daily commute. Recently, I stumbled upon a website for a mysterious “research clinic”/art collective called the Institute For New Feeling. It’s run by artists Scott Andrew, Agnes Colt, and Nina Sarnelle, and seems to specialize in co-opting the modalities of contemporary self-help and new age culture—trust falls, guided meditations, clairvoyant readings, experimental “wellness treatments”—to remedy problems specific to life in the internet age.

According to an article on ArtHopper, during a recent book launch event at SPACES in Cleveland, on-site offerings from the IfNf included a “Cure For Loneliness” by artist Lenka Clayton, inviting spectators to fill their pockets with pieces of paper bearing the handwritten names of their friends, as an antidote to our current landscape of digital-based interaction. Another—“Treatment for Hyperactive Electronic Response Syndrome,” by Luke Loeffler—involves receiving a string of spontaneous text messages that you are supposed to resist the compulsion to look at. The idea being that it will help remedy our “instant, habitual response to electronic notifications” and the “loss of productivity” and “increasing need for affirmation” that staying connected engenders. I need to go to the next Institute For New Feeling event and experience these new-fangled remedies for myself, but they feel like a reminder that our capacity to imagine other worlds, and new feelings, doesn’t necessary need to be a retro-gazing one: as we speed into an uncertain, technology-saturated future, it may be the thing we need to hold onto if we’re going to hold on to ourselves.


Priest who Abused Girls at Catholic High School in Bartimore

This riveting article is a detailed account of how former alumnae of Keogh High School in Baltimore remembered their abuse at the hands of Fr. Maskell, their counselor, how they tried to bring him to justice, collusion of Church and Police and their personal self-healing.


How you get sucked into a Cult and do horrible things

On Friday, April 17, 2015 9:43 AM, Info-Secte <infosecte@qc.aibn.com> wrote:

FRIDAY, APR 17, 2015

Secrets of the Scientologists: Why people do horrible things for belief

“Going Clear” gives a glimpse into how indoctrination really works. A 20th century tragedy reveals even more.




“My goal wasn’t to write an exposé, it was simply to understand Scientology.”

So says Lawrence Wright at the beginning of HBO’s blockbuster documentary “Going Clear.” The film, which Wright adapted from his bestselling book of the same name, describes Scientology as a criminal cult that harasses former members who become critical of the church; physically and emotionally tortures some current ones; and once strong-armed the IRS into granting it tax-exempt status as a recognized religion. Beneath the sensational and harrowing stories, however, “Going Clear” amounts to a study of belief more broadly — of “why people believe one idea rather than another,” as Wright puts it.

One by one, former church members recount their involvement in the Church with a mix of shame, puzzlement and resignation. “I was really stupid,” says Academy Award-winner Paul Haggis, one of Scientology’s most famous apostates. “I was part of this for 30 years before I spoke out. […] Why didn’t I do it earlier?” Others are even more self-critical: “Maybe my entire life has been a lie,” says Spanky Taylor, an ex-Scientologist who alleged that, as a pregnant mother, she was held in a “prison camp” and punished with grueling physical labor for objecting to the way the church “denied medical treatment to her boss.” Their embarrassment about their pasts becomes even easier to understand when Wright describes the church’s creation myth: A galactic overlord Xenu expelled hordes of people to a prison planet (Earth) 75 million years ago, dropped them into volcanoes, then dispersed their spirits (or “thetans”) with nuclear bombs. These spirits still possess humans to this day, and Scientologists expend a great deal of energy and money trying to exorcise them.

But “Going Clear” avoids the trap of incredulity. Those interviewed for the film, while eccentric, are accomplished, well spoken and, most of all, sincere. Parallel to their stories of abuse and warped belief are understandable explanations of their choices: Haggis explains that as a young man, worried about his relationships and anxious to get his start as a documentary filmmaker, he was partially seduced by Scientology’s reputation for advancing careers, and was comforted by their undogmatic facade. Indeed, the Church’s website still boasts that “[u]nlike religions with Judeo-Christian origins […] Scientology does not ask individuals to accept anything on faith alone.” As a curious and hopeful 21-year-old, he contributed a modest $50 to begin his training. Like many of those interviewed for “Going Clear,” he says that Scientology more resembled a self-help organization at first glance.

But, while there seems to be an unbridgeable gap between self-help and alien exorcisms, Scientology’s rigid, diagrammatic structure provides a clue to how one idea can lead to the other. According to the documentary, after signing up, a Scientologist embarks on something called “The Bridge,” a step-by-step course of spiritual advancement, through which one could eventually achieve a “Clear” state of mind. (“Every step to ‘Clear’ had a price tag,” notes the film’s narrator.) Along “The Bridge,” Scientologists attend compulsory and successive “auditing” sessions, which Wright describes resembling a sci-fi version of Freudian therapy. Scientologists discuss the most intimate details of their lives during auditing, details which the church records diligently — and can later allegedly use for blackmail. It’s only after years of training, after they have told the church every private fact about themselves, that Scientologists hear about Xenu and humankind’s alien origins. Unsurprisingly, even after many years, Haggis and others still found the creation myth hard to stomach. Haggis even wondered if it was an “insanity test.”

Curiously, none of those interviewed in the film exited Scientology at that junction. As Haggis put it, “you have already paid for the next [session],” your social life centered around the church, and, besides, you weren’t required to believe it. “If you were told [about Xenu the galactic overlord] on day one,” wonders the journalist Tony Ortega, “how many people would join?” He describes the Scientologist strategy as a “bait and switch.” But Scientology has perfected something more nuanced–a technique that separates the process of investing in belief from that of belief itself: By the time Scientologists are told about the creation myth, they have many persuasive emotional reasons to believe in it, or rather, to try to believe it.

In Philip Gourevich’s study of the Rwandan genocide, “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families,” he describes another case where acts proceed beliefs. When the Hutu Power movement led mass killings of ethnic Tutsis in the mid-’90s, the true measure of allegiance was not belief, but action. “Everyone was called to hunt the enemy,” says Theodore Nyilinkwara, a survivor interviewed for the book. If a Hutu was reluctant, the militias required him to attend massacres, then, later, to kill a Tutsi. “So this person who is not a killer is made to do it,” says Nyilinkwara. “And the next day it’s become a game for him. You don’t need to keep punishing him.” Once a person has killed for an idea, their ethical opinion of themselves relies on embracing that idea. Vicious, conspiratorial state radio broadcasts spoke of outlandish Tutsi plots against the Hutus that people readily believed because they partially justified the violence.

In the language of the Mafia, says Gourevitch, “a person who has become invested in the logic and practices of the gang is said to be owned by it.” When Jason Beghe, an actor and ex-Scientologist featured in “Going Clear,” describes the strange sensation of self-policing — “the best traps are when you get a guy to keep himself in jail” — he sounds remarkably like Nyilinkwara. Once a person has acted on a belief, they don’t need to be continually pressured. Ex-Scientologists who alleged that they were placed in “The Hole,” a holding facility in California where upper-level church members were held and beaten, found themselves actually fighting to stay there. If the FBI came to rescue them from what some described as a “prison camp,”  says one of the captives, Tom De Vocht, they would have responded: “We’re doing this voluntarily. We like living in these conditions.”

The technique is so effective that it appears to be at work on L. Ron Hubbard himself, the science fiction writer and founder of Scientology. According to his ex-wife Sara Northrup, he once cynically claimed that “the only way to make any real money was to start a religion.” But as his power over others grew, she says, “he began to believe that he was a savior, that he really was this god figure.” Over time, “he degenerated into a really paranoid and terrifying person.” “If he were just a fraud,” adds Wright, “at some point he would have just taken the money and run.” Marty Rathbun, a former high-ranking Scientologist, says that the current leader David Miscavige “has to believe because, if he looks at it rationally and sees that it is as I say, it will destroy him.” “He’s done a lot worse than I’ve done,” he adds.

Scientology’s persuasiveness is not in the logic of its beliefs but in its ability to control behavior. People believe in Xenu and thetans because it becomes exceedingly difficult not to in light of all they have committed to the church. At the close of “Going Clear,” Haggis reflects on his time within Scientology: “We lock up a portion of our own mind. We willingly put cuffs on. We willingly avoid things that could cause us pain if we just looked.” Each time Marty Rathbun is confronted with his past, he keeps “dying deaths. I don’t know how many more deaths I have left.”

Peter Finocchiaro is the deputy editor of Salon. Follow him on Twitter @PLFino.



Schismatic Catholic Bishops: St. Pius X Society, “Resistance” and Pope Francis

Rogue Catholic bishops plan to grow schismatic challenge to Rome

Pope Francis attitude, in contrast to Benedict XVI, seems to be to ignore them…



(Reuters) – Two renegade Catholic bishops plan to consecrate a new generation of bishops to spread their ultra-traditionalist movement called “The Resistance” in defiance of the Vatican, one of them said at a remote monastery in Brazil.

French Bishop Jean-Michel Faure, himself consecrated only two weeks ago by the Holocaust-denying British Bishop Richard Williamson, said the new group rejected Pope Francis and what it called his “new religion” and would not engage in a dialogue with Rome until the Vatican turned back the clock.

Williamson and Faure, who were both excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church when the former made the latter a bishop without Vatican approval, are ex-members of a larger dissenting group that has been a thorn in Rome’s side for years.

Their splinter movement is tiny – Faure did not give an estimate of followers – but the fact they plan to consecrate bishops is important because it means their schism can continue as a rebel form of Catholicism.

“We follow the popes of the past, not the current one,” Faure, 73, told reporters on Saturday at Santa Cruz Monastery in Nova Friburgo, in the mountain jungle 140 km (87 miles) inland from Rio de Janeiro.

“It is likely that in maybe one or two years we will have more consecrations,” he said, adding there were already two candidates to be promoted to bishop’s rank.

The monastery had said Williamson would ordain a priest there at the weekend but he was not seen by reporters, and clergy said it was impossible to talk to him. Faure ordained the priest himself.

Asked what the new group called itself, Faure said: “I think we can call ourselves Roman Catholic first, secondly St Pius X, and now … the Resistance.”


The Society of St Pius X (SSPX) is a larger ultra-traditionalist group that was excommunicated in 1988 when its founder consecrated four new bishops, including Williamson, despite warnings from the Vatican not to do so.

It rejected the modernizing reforms of the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council and stuck with Catholicism’s old Latin Mass after the Church switched to simpler liturgy in local languages.

Former Pope Benedict readmitted the four SSPX bishops to the Catholic fold in 2009, but the SSPX soon expelled Williamson because of an uproar over his Holocaust denial.

In contrast to Benedict, Pope Francis pays little attention to the SSPX ultra-traditionalists, who claim to have a million followers around the world and a growing number of new priests at a time that Rome faces priest shortages. Their remaining three bishops have no official status in the Catholic Church.

Faure said the Resistance group would not engage in dialogue with Rome, as the SSPX has done. “We resist capitulation, we resist conciliation of St Pius X with Rome,” he said.

Faure said he was not sure what it would take for Rome to return to its old traditions but conflict could be a catalyst.

“If there is another World War … maybe the Church will go back to the way it was before,” he said.

The prior of the monastery, Thomas Aquinas, explained the split simply: “The Pope is less Catholic than us.”

Under Catholic law, Williamson and Faure are excommunicated from the Church but remain validly consecrated bishops. That means they can ordain priests into their schismatic group and claim to be Catholic, albeit without Vatican approval.

By contrast, women supposedly made priests by dissident Catholic bishops are not validly ordained because Catholic law reserves the priesthood only for men.

(Reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer; Editing by Tom Heneghan and Richard Chang)


Makers of Scientology Documentary Call on Tom Cruise and John Travolta to Address ‘Abuses’

Makers of Scientology Documentary Call on Tom Cruise and John Travolta to Address ‘Abuses’

People Magazine




The makers of one of Sundance’s most buzzed-about films are putting the heat on John Travolta and Tom Cruise. 

At a TimesTalk panel on Monday to discuss the controversial documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, director Alex Gibney was joined by writer Lawrence Wright, who wrote the 2013 book the film is based on, and two well-known critics of Scientology featured in the film: former church member Paul Haggis (the writer/director of Crash) and Mike Rinder, a former head of Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs. 

Scientology has slammed the documentary as “dishonest” and based on accounts by “admitted liars and professional anti-Scientologists.” In a statement to PEOPLE on Tuesday, the Church blasts the film as “propaganda” and says it has “long fought against the kind of bigotry and religious hatred that Mr. Gibney and [Wright] aim to incite.” 

Moderator Logan Hill first brought up the film’s depiction of Scientology’s most famous members, saying, “I was struck by the film’s focus on Travolta and Cruise. It seemed designed to and really put specific pressure on Travolta and Cruise to either reform or apostatize.” 

Director Gibney explained why they were included in the documentary. 

“The fact is they are the front of the church. They are the reason a lot of people join, particularly Tom Cruise now. They have a recruiting power that’s enormous. To put in the film the fact that they are abusing the power they have by not talking out about the church or not even exploring the abuses I thought was absolutely necessary. Otherwise, you have a lot of innocent people that are tumbling into the church on that account.” 

The Church calls claims that Travolta and Cruise are used to recruit members – or hold any special recruiting power – “ridiculous”. 

“Certainly Mr. Cruise and Mr. Travolta are prominent Scientologists but that is due to their prominence as celebrities and their professional accomplishments,” the Church spokesperson tells PEOPLE. “They hold no position within the Church. They are parishioners who like other parishioners are busy with their careers and families. This is no different than other religions who have prominent members.” 

Gibney went on to discuss Cruise’s relationship with Scientology, including what the documentary claims is the church’s involvement in his marriage with Nicole Kidman. 

“[Scientology leader] David Miscavige was terrified that he was losing control of Tom Cruise because Tom Cruise is the greatest rainmaker for Scientology. Miscavige was afraid that Nicole Kidman was slowly taking Tom away from the church, so there was a concerted effort to get him back.” 

The Church spokesperson calls this assertion “utterly ludicrous” and “insulting” to Miscavige. 

Pulitzer Prize winner Wright urged that intervention by Travolta and Cruise is the only way to curb what he calls Scientology’s abuse of power. 

“The reason we are calling out Cruise and Travolta is they have the capacity, the power, to change it. There are only two ways that you can address the abuses that are going on in Scientology. One is to re-examine the tax exemption. But some of those celebrity megaphones, if they were turned around in the other direction they could make a difference. They should make a difference. I’d like to see Tom Cruise stand up and say it’s time for David Miscavige to answer his accusers.” 

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief airs at 8pm on March 29 on HBO. 

You can watch the TimesTalk below, and read Scientology’s full response on its website.