isolation and disconnection from family

Many cults expressly forbid its members from being in contact with friends and family outside the fold. The most widely-known example is the Church of Scientology’s Disconnection Policy where members are forced to sever ties with anyone the church deems antagonistic or an enemy.  This is enforced to reduce the threat of its members encountering dissenting opinions against their faith and the organization.

WCG (Worldwide Church of God) had similar policies during the height of its power. Church members who left the fold were seen as “doomed to the Lake of Fire” for “knowing the truth but rejecting it.” Ex-members were seen as irredeemable and therefore their friends and family in the church were instructed to shun them.

PCG (Philadelphia Church of God) has an active “no contact” policy, where any friends, family members and especially those in other COG cults are seen as interlopers and bad influences. The followers of Gerald Flurry are infamous for falling silent after joining PCG and often are not heard from again for years.

This is a sword that cuts two ways, as PCG’s intolerance of “Satanic influences,” meaning outsiders, often leads to witch hunts against perceived dissenters.

These policies cause cults to remain small, isolated and intolerant communities with members disconnected from their external support networks.”

http://silenced.co/2012/01/cultspotting-6-is-your-church-isolationist/

 

persecution and isolation

Persecution Complex

The International Cult Studies Association (ICSA) outlines ways to identify and characterize a cult, and speaks at length about isolationism and its effects on members.

Many cults have instilled an active persecution complex in the minds of their members. They have been trained to believe the world hates, fears and misunderstands them. This often results in cults isolating themselves from the outside world. The leader cultivates, and the cult maintains, a sense of “outside” persecution.

Herbert W. Armstrong taught WCG would be persecuted, and even set dates for when that persecution would begin relating to his 1975 apocalyptic predictions. Armstrong and his acolytes kept Chruch of God members frightened and constantly looking toward an impending crackdown on their church, similar to the massacre in Waco, Texas in 1993 when their spiritual cousins the Branch Davidians were besieged by federal agents.

Incidents such as these and the constant drumbeat that “secular, godless liberals” are destroying society creates a cohesion of fear where members band together and tend to socialize internally to the exclusion of the outside world. Members are taught to believe everything that happens in the world they disagree with is an affront to their beliefs and values, and thus a direct threat to their community.

This also takes the form of “mean world syndrome,” a term coined by communications professor George Gerber to describe the ways people believe the world is more dangerous than it actually is, based on mass media portrayals. Cults tend to feed upon this phenomenon by convincing their members the world is a harsh and dangerous place that will erode their values. People outside the cult are viewed as “sinners,” bad influences who will drag them down and threaten their salvation or enlightenment.

This paranoia only fuels cult isolationism.”

from Silenced. Cult Spotting

understanding mind control

I got a lot out of this book—Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves, by a leading cult counselor, Steve Hassan.

Below are Hassen’s outlines delineating his BITE model which evolved out of Leon Festinger’s theory of  cognitive dissonance. As an ex-cult member, I whole-heartedly appreciate Hassan for his research, his publications, his talks—-all his work that helps us to understand how mind control works. We’d do well to teach our kids about this subject—to give them this tool of awareness. Someday they may need it.

IMG_5141IMG_5149 IMG_5157 IMG_5163 IMG_5165Yes, I mark my books up a lot. It’s how I learn. And yes, EVERY category of this model–behavior Control, Information Control, Thought Control and Emotional Control—are true of the cult I came out of, true of ACMTC, and what’s highlighted with red pencil is particularly spot on!

Thank you Steven Hassan for this great tool for understanding!

a typical day in ACMTC (1980’s)

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The alarm sounds at 4:50 AM, which leaves me 10 minutes to use the bathroom, wake up Nate, don my khaki uniform, and run a brush through my tangled hair before tightening it into a bun. I rebuke the voice in my head that curses the early rising, because I know where it comes from.

“Get behind me Satan, in the name of Jesus Christ!”

Everyone in the camp is inside the sanctuary by 5 AM. No one’s ever late, and we meet seven days a week. This morning we stand at ease with our legs apart and our hands folded behind our backs. The air feels heavy. General Lila’s behind the pulpit.

“God’s bringing us into a new dispensation, and there’s going to be so much for us to do that we’ll have no time for sleep… .”

The sanctuary’s quiet. God’s word is in the air, we can all feel it in our bones.

“I say unto thee this day my children that I the Lord thy God am thy Father. I say unto thee this day that it is I the Lord God who bore thee unto myself, and I say that I bore thee to be a great people unto me… .”

Her prophecies are often long and redundant and I lose her sometimes, and I struggle to grab ahold of the usual flurry of their wrath. Even God’s exhortations sometimes sound mad.

 “I say unto this day my children, weary not, for I the Lord thy God shall sustain thee, I say that I the Lord god shall give thee rest, that ye shall find thy rest in Me… .”  

The meeting’s over at 6:15 and we all return to our respective barracks to get ready for our day. I hardly ever see Steve anymore. He’s always over at the Citadel with the Greens. At 7 AM everyone goes to mess hall for breakfast. Steve doesn’t even eat with me and the children anymore. He sits with the Generals.

On Mondays I watch the camp children, ages 6 and under, mine and everyone else’s. Today’s Tuesday and I travel up HWY 50 to where I single-handedly man our one-man Art Shop in the beautiful little mountain town of Placerville. It’s a lovely scenic drive up there, about 45 minutes from Sacramento, and I love it. It’s like a get-away.

Sometimes Nate’s allowed to go with me and we hang out together in the shop working. I love it when that happens. Today he goes with me, and at lunch time we put a sign on the door saying, “back in a few minutes,” and we sneak off and we get a frozen yogurt across the street, and then we come right back, eating our yogurt along the way. Nobody will see us. This is Placerville.

Driving home we practice our multiplication tables. I’m teaching him, and he’s reminding me.

Steve and I pulled our children out of public schools when the Greens said we had to, and now they’re schooled for about 3 hours a day, about 3 or 4 days a week by Alberto who dropped out of University his sophomore year to come join us at Fort Freedom. The kids spend more time working at the Art Shops than they do in classroom.

Quite honestly, General Deborah intimidates me. I avoid getting too near her, especially if it’s just me and her. I honor her, but only because I’m afraid not to, if that makes any sense. She’s never shown any liking for me, not as she does for some of the younger women, the ones who don’t question, the ones with more zeal. But Steve is mesmerized by her.

Honestly, it feels awfully sick, this relationship between her and him. He’s enamored by General Lila, and it doesn’t settle well with me.  To me it’s obvious, not only that he’s attracted to her, but that she really likes his attention.

“I rebuke my thoughts in the name of Christ. Get behind me Satan!”

Right now my head’s buried in the sand. It has been for some time. I feel no joy in life anymore, and I don’t see happy faces on my children. I rarely do parenting right, according to General Lila and Steve. I’m too “sympathetic, I’m not spanking them hard enough,  we’re raising soldiers here, not sissies, and God’s not a God of emotion and sentimentality!”

I’m ordered to pull Simon’s pants down and beat him with a leather belt if he misbehaves in a meeting, i.e. if he shuffles around in his chair too much. Children are to be seen, not heard. They sit for hours a day in cold metal chairs, no books, no paper or pencil or color crayons to occupy their minds. They are supposed to be little soldiers.

Before Lilly and Simon were potty trained, Steve made me beat them on their bare butts with one of his leather belts whenever they pooped their pants. General Lila claims her two kids were both potty trained by age 6 months.

I’m so sorry God’s like this. He’s a God of love, but His love is so far above our own understanding of love. As mere mortals we can’t understand the depth of God’s love. A verse from Psalms resounds over and over in my head, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

I’ve no one to talk to about this, about my fears, my doubts. Not even Iantha. Dear, sweet Iantha—given away in marriage at age 17, and afterwards sent off with her husband Mike to Malawi Africa.

When we first moved to Sacramento to join with the Greens, Iantha and I stood up together against a decision Steve and Jim made regarding her. We held hands, and we walked up to Steve who stood next to Jim, and I said, “no, you’re not going to do this my daughter.” But they did anyway.

I can’t just pick up one of the phones around here and call someone. Who could I call? My mom? I was ordered to have nothing to do with her or my dad years ago, in the beginning, even before I was made to throw my wedding ring down the gutter.

Honestly, I’m miserable inside. If only I hadn’t answered all those letters we received from Jim and Lila years back, the one’s that came in envelopes with teepees and buffaloes drawn on them. Steve never picked up pen nor pencil to reply to Jim or Lila. I’m the one who responded. I’m the one who kept the communication open.

I’m not me anymore. My children are not themselves either, and they’re not mine. We’ve control over nothing. Everything we do, we do by command of Generals Jim or Lila Green.

I try really hard to believe, but doubt is an evil stronghold in my life, that’s what Steve says. It’s hard to believe things that don’t feel right to me, things that make no common sense, or go against my mother’s heart. I feel helpless to protect my own children.

We listen to no radio, no television, and we read no newspapers. Everything we hear comes from within Fort Freedom. The world is evil, and we renounce it. Everything we do we do together. We eat together, work together, worship together, fight demons together. We talk alike, we look alike, we wear the same clothes, we eat the same foods, and we don’t even choose what it is that we eat. We’ve no friends, no family outside of ACMTC. Our old family, our old friends—they’re not elected by God. We are. We’re his chosen. It’s supposed to be a blessing, but it feels like a curse.

Nate and I are  home from Placerville at 5:30, and our evening meeting starts at 6:00 PM. I’ve just enough time to greet my younger children, take a shower, and throw a load of clothes in the wash.

Tonight’s meeting only lasts an hour. Sometimes it can go on for two or more. I’ve time to throw clothes in the dryer and tidy things up a bit before mess hall at 7:30.

After mess hall General Jim asks me to answer some camp mail, and I do so, but he doesn’t like the way I address the envelopes, and he tells me to do it over again. “Too close to the bottom.” he says. “The address should go straight dead in the center.” I feel stupid. I’ve addressed envelopes all my life.

It’s 9:30PM, my children are tucked in bed, but I can’t go to bed yet. Who am I to go to bed before my husband, before Captain Schmierer? I fold laundry, I iron our uniforms—our khakis, our camouflages, our greens, our red T shirts, our black and white art shop attire.

By eleven o’clock Steve’s back from the Citadel and he climbs into our sleeping bag on the floor. We don’t have beds, because we’re missionaries. We all sleep in sleeping bags on hardwood floors. Steve doesn’t even notice I’ve stayed awake for him. He doesn’t even acknowledge that I am here.

The alarm sounds at 1 AM. It’s our barrack’s hour to get up for an hour for prayer and guard duty. I rebuke the first thought about needing sleep, and I wake up Nate, and we all head over to the sanctuary in the quiet of the early morning to pray. Sometimes we walk around outside rebuking evil spirits just to stay awake.

After an hour the alarm sounds again, and we return back to our barracks and into our hard beds, and I reset the alarm again for 5 AM so we can start all over again—in three more hours.

primary control mechanisms of cults

Sensory deprivation (especially sleep); the severing of all familiar social support systems (old friends, family, former church ties); removal to a highly structured environment where all aspects of one’s life are controlled; indoctrination by a exclusivistic group possessing “the truth;” limited access to outside stimulation; diminished ability to think for oneself; the use of fear and intimidation—these are the ties that bind the spirit and cripple the mind.

The lure of the Cults, by Ronald Enroth

Generals Jim and Deborah Green employ all of these methods!   

“spirit of motherhood”

My son Nate (9) and daughter Lilly (4) are sick.

It’s morning and Nate’s face is flushed, he’s hot to the touch, feels awful, it’s obvious he’s sick. Steve makes him work anyway. I see the misery and the deep hurt in Nate’s face. Does his dad even care? Does he even love him anymore? I sorrow for him, and I’m really pissed off at Steve.

Later in the day Lilly’s temperature is high, she’s burning up and weak. Steve comes into Barracks 1 where we live, and I tell him we need to take her to a doctor. He says nothing, leaves the house and climbs the stairs to the citadel where Jim and Lila Green live.

When he returns he tells me I have a “spirit of motherhood,” that I put my children before god, and that’s why Lilly is so sick. “You better prostrate yourself on the floor beside her, and pray throughout the night, begging for god’s mercy, or he is going to take her life,” he says. “That’s what General Lila told me.”

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Nate and Lilly

what’s a family to do?

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“Cults capitalize on the human need for association, for belonging, for family. Many…which are communal in style actually become surrogate families for their members. Leaders are sometimes referred to as ‘spiritual parents’ or ‘parents in the Lord.’ So strong is the influence of the cult that a member’s natural parents are usually relegated to an inferior status, sometimes totally rejected.

“In a publication of the Body of Christ, a small aberrant Christian group in southern CA, members are told, ‘be prepared to switch your loyalty from your natural family to God’s family…all that we have known and experienced as a natural family has to die. Those blood ties are filty rags unto God.’

“The severing of all ties with one’s family is an integral part of the process of psychological kidnaping which new members often undergo. If parents and other family members can be cast into the role of a agents of Satan or viewed as representatives of the corrupt old order, the young recruit is even more effectively bonded to the cult. At best, parents are tolerated and pitied, at worst, scorned and abandoned.

“Mothers who are members of the River of Life Ministry are told that undue attachment to children can be spiritually harmful. One former member reports that she was physically restrained from comforting and consoling her son after he had been inured in a fall. She was told that she had a ‘spirit of motherhood,” which was an evil spirit in the eyes of the group.  Marie Kolasinski of the Body of Christ movement warns.’ God is going to take away every idol from the land. If your children are our idol, He’s going to take them from you.

“The diabolical undercutting of the God-ordained instituion of the family is one of the most tragic by-products of the emergence of extremist cults.”

Ronald Enroth, the Lure of the Cults

hallmarks of a cult

“The cultic pattern downplays the mind...cultic religion often deprecates individuality; the person is submerged in a sea of uniformity in which individual identity is sacrificed to the goals of the group. An ex-member of Faith Tabernacle describes it as total annihilation of the self in order to become a robot for the leader.

The attempt to extinguish individuality is another example of not-so-subtle move to consolidate control. Submission, total obedience, subjection—these are the hallmarks of cultism. In the cults, submission becomes a value and end in itself.”

Christians must become aware of those who demand unquestioned loyalty and seek to control the private lives of people in their charge. A good shepherd leads, but does not control. He is a resource for the truth seeker, but not the ultimate source of truth.

Finally, the very cult groups which claim they are targets of persecution and are in danger of losing their first amendment guarantees of religious liberty are guilty of limiting freedom of speech and stifling dissent.” 

The Lure of the Cultss by Ronald Enroth, professor of sociology at Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA

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she blames the US government for the Jonestown massacre?

A glimpse of Leslie’s story. Purchase full episode from itunes $2.99). Escaping Evil; My Life in a Cult; Espisode one. Biography Channel, 2013

Jim Jone’s last call to obedience and the ultimate sacrifice on tape. Warning: Graphic pictures at end. Biography Channel, Escaping Evil; my life in a cult, episode 1.

“General” Deborah’s interpretation of the Jonestown massacre.

old media clips (1980’s)

My California attorney and the late Dr. Walter Martin