Category Archives: cults

Was Discovery Communications Complicit In Covering Up A Crime? Inquiring Minds ….

I first wrote about the Quiverfull movement waaay back in 2009. I called it a cult, and it is a cult, a creepy pedophilia cult (if you aren’t familiar with this group or its beliefs, Gawker has a handy dandy rundown under the headline “Quiverfull of Shit.”)

I’m not the least bit surprised to learn that Josh Duggar has admitted to sexually molesting children as they slept — some of them his own sisters. I’m not the least bit surprised to learn that one of the leaders of this movement, Bill Gothard, has himself been accused of sex-based offenses.

What I do find interesting is that it’s become increasingly clear that The Learning Channel/Discovery Communications knew of Josh Duggar’s sex offenses years before the first show of the reality series aired, while the Duggars were starring in specials on sister network Discovery Health. And, despite knowing this information, they still signed the family to star in their own reality show, falsely promoted the family as some kind of wholesome Christian novelty, misrepresented the family to the public, and profited from it. They lied to their advertisers and they lied to their viewers. How is this not fraud?

According to the police report published by InTouch, the investigation was sparked when someone tipped off an Oprah Winfrey staffer in 2006, in advance of a taping by the family on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Here’s how it all went down:

The Duggars told police that at the time Josh was accused of, and admitting to, these sexual acts, “a family friend aware of what had happened had written down in a letter what he knew of [redacted, Josh’s] actions…That letter had been placed in a book and had subsequently been forgotten about. Just recently [in 2006] the book had been loaned to someone else with the letter in it and another person discovered the letter.

The Duggars refused to tell police who wrote the letter and who found it.

When the family was scheduled to appear on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show in 2006, an email was sent to the show warning them about the alleged molestation. The email was written by a 61-year-old female who is not identified.

Harpo Studios faxed the letter to the Department of Human Services hotline. The report was then opened for investigation, leading to the investigation by Springdale police.

When police asked Jim Bob to bring Josh in for an interview in 2006, he attempted to hire a lawyer and refused to produce his son for questioning. At least two lawyers refused to take his case. “Det. Hignite received a voice mail from Mr. Duggar stating that [redacted] had hired an attorney and would not be coming in for an interview.”

Oprah Winfrey has been very open about her own history of being a survivor of child sexual abuse. So good for her and her staffers for starting this whole ball rolling. And shame on everyone who subsequently covered it up: the Arkansas state trooper who let Josh Duggar off the hook and two years later was himself jailed for child pornography, and most especially Discovery Communications. Because it defies belief that TLC and Discovery didn’t know about this — indeed, after the Oprah cancellation, the internet was on fire with rumors about Josh Duggar’s sexual offenses. At the very least, Discovery Health would have wanted to know about the abrupt and last-minute Oprah cancellation.

This needs to be investigated. The FCC needs to look into this. If a basic-cable network is covering up crimes against children and then promoting a pedophilia cult into the popular culture, they are not acting in the public interest. This is far worse than Bono saying an award is “fucking awesome” or Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction. These are real crimes, and it appears the network not only knew about it, but ignored it so they could promote this creepy, far-from-wholesome family for their own financial gain.



Filed under cults, culture wars, media, religion

Hate Isn’t Dead But Fred Phelps Is

Good riddance to a despicable person.

I know we’ll be hearing the usual, “if you can’t saying anything nice …” mealy-mouthed pablum on hearing that Fred Phelps has finally left this earth, but I say, screw that. He was an evil person. He caused so much pain and suffering, not just to LGBT people but to his fellow Christians, to the families of our soldiers, even to his own family. Using gays as a scapegoat for every tragic event that hit the headlines, from Whitney Houston’s death to plane crashes to 9/11, all these fools ended up doing was uniting the nation against them. Again, good riddance.

He was not a Christian and please, stop calling his organization a “Baptist church.” It wasn’t. He presided over an abusive religious cult that operated as a hate group. His wasn’t the only one, there are plenty similar organizations in this country (here’s one), Westboro was just more adept than others at gathering headlines. Phelps probably had something horrible happen to him when he was a child that made him that way, who knows, but guess what, lots of people suffer similar tragedies and don’t end up like this.

When a cult leader dies the cult tends to dissolve into the breeze. I don’t know if that will happen in this case because it seems a Phelps daughter long ago picked up the protest mantle. But one can hope the day of the hate-headline is over.

From the memory hole:


Filed under cults, culture wars, religion

Leaving The Cult

Following the exit of people like Libby Phelps-Alvarez, two women have left the cult known as the Westboro Baptist Church; one, Meghan Phelps-Roper, was in charge of the group’s “social media.” From this interview she gave to gay Christian author Jeff Chu, social media played a big part in her release from the cult’s ideological grip:

Her departure has hurt them already—she knew it would—yet there was no way she could stay. “My doubts started with a conversation I had with David Abitbol,” she says. Megan met David, an Israeli web developer who’s part of the team behind the blog Jewlicious, on Twitter. “I would ask him questions about Judaism, and he would ask me questions about church doctrine. One day, he asked a specific question about one of our signs—‘Death Penalty for Fags’—and I was arguing for the church’s position, that it was a Levitical punishment and as completely appropriate now as it was then. He said, ‘But Jesus said’—and I thought it was funny he was quoting Jesus—‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ And then he connected it to another member of the church who had done something that, according to the Old Testament, was also punishable by death. I realized that if the death penalty was instituted for any sin, you completely cut off the opportunity to repent. And that’s what Jesus was talking about.

I’m always fascinated by cults, cult-like groups, and those belief systems which offer their members certainty, but only so long as no one looks outside the bubble at opposing views. It seems like a very delicate balance to strike: “our belief system is the One True Way to salvation/prosperity/greatness/ whatever but by all means, don’t look at any other alternatives because that would be Wrong.”

In particular I’m curious about the precipitating events which cause people to suddenly “wake up” — the thing that penetrates the shield of indoctrination and pops that bubble. For Meghan Phelps-Roper it was a Jewish person pointing out the error of WBC’s devotion to one passage of Leviticus and blindness to the rest. For Paul Haggis, it was reading Scientology’s Tommy Davis lie to the press about the church’s disconnection policy, a church-ordered shunning of “suppressives,” since the Haggises had been forced to do this to members of their own family who had left Scientology. Vyckie Garrison left the Quiverfull movement when one of her kids attempted suicide, and she realized the promise of perfect Christian family life was a hoax.

I know several Mormons who broke from the church-induced fog after realizing that nothing in the Book of Mormon is archeologically accurate: horses, oxen, goats, cattle, barley and wheat were all introduced to the New World after Columbus’ arrival, though they are mentioned several times in the Book of Mormon. That got them wondering why, for instance, you can go to Israel and visit places named in the Old Testament and archaeologists are still uncovering shards of antiquity in that part of the world, but nothing from the Book of Mormon has been uncovered in America.

It seems like the precipitating event is always something comparatively small or inconsequential; I mean, Paul Haggis, really? The whole Xenu thing didn’t get you but church officials lying to the St. Petersburg newspaper did? But I get it, I do. It’s easy to believe the fantastical thing, it’s the mundane day-to-day stuff that trips people up.

These aren’t epiphanies, they’re drops of reality that boink a person on the head at just the right time, causing them to have one of those “hey, wait a minute” moments. In America’s political world, I’m convinced Hurricane Katrina was just such a moment, it was a bucket-load of reality that hit millions of people square in the face and showed that government really isn’t the enemy, small government really doesn’t work, and Republican government really doesn’t function. That started it and the right-wing bubble kept getting hit with more bunker-busting reality bombs: the real estate bubble bursting, the economic collapse, Republican Senators embracing TARP, Alan Greenspan’s mea culpa, and on, and on.

Another important reality bomb was the last presidential election. This one hit people waaay inside the bubble, the Kool-aid drinkers who really, truly believed the polls were skewed and Fox News was the only unbiased media source. The election results proved every one of their experts wrong, and Fox is now scrambling to regain its credibility.

Conservatives are frantically at work at their rebranding effort, though if columns like this RedState piece are any indication, they still seem to think the problem is not their failed ideas but their failed image. Here’s an actual screenshot from that story:


In other words, don’t change the thing that needs to be changed. Awesome! Enjoy repeating this process over and over again then, because these reality bombs will keep falling.

Leaving cults is scary because you really do feel alone. You can’t cross over to the other side, which has been your sworn enemy for so long. But you can’t go back to that old way of thinking, either.

I suspect Karl Rove is trying to offer a life raft to those folks who feel disillusioned and abandoned by the failures of conservatism these past few years. Problem is, he’s so associated with those failures that I don’t think anyone wants to climb aboard with him.


Filed under cults, GLBT, religion

Goodnight, Moon

Cult leader, convicted felon, Washington Times owner and all around wackadoodle Rev. Sun Myung Moon died last week. Moon was perhaps most famous in the culture at large for staging mass weddings, but he was a bigot and a con man who called himself Messiah, preached that gays were “dung-eating dogs,” called Communism “the religion of the devil,” claimed to be a proponent of world peace while profiting off of numerous arms businesses, and tore thousands of families apart while waving a pro-family banner. So I’m not going to shed any tears over his passing.

Former Unification Church member Steve Hassan, who went on to write numerous books about cults and cult-indoctrination methods, wrote about his experience with the Moonies here. I’ve also read Nansook Moon’s expose on her life inside the abusive Moon family, In The Shadow Of The Moons. It’s a fascinating read and I recommend it highly.

Less known is how Moon cultivated long and deep ties to the Republican Party — Moon’s anti-communist, anti-gay, pro-military and pro-family BS made the two natural allies. I always found his connection to conservative Christian leaders especially ironic, since the Unification Church preached that Moon was the “true Messiah,” sent to complete the mission Jesus failed at when he went and got himself crucified. That big dummy! Any real Christian, especially the literalists in the evangelical world, would have found such thoughts abhorrent. But the ability of some right-wing Christians to compromise their faith in the interest of their politics no longer surprises me.

During the Bush years I observed how the messages and activities coming from the Republican Party corresponded with cult thought control techniques (something I touched on in this post last year), to the point where I wondered if somehow the Unification Church’s cult techniques hadn’t been adopted by the GOP and performed on the American population as a whole. I still think there’s something to that.

In more recent years, the Unification Church tried making inroads into Democratic Party circles — primarily socially-conservative African Americans. Illinois Rep. Danny K. Davis was one of several Moon allies in the Democratic Party. But Moon’s most influential connections were always in the GOP and included Presidents Nixon, Ford and both Bushes.

What follows is a list of creepy stories about Rev. Moon and his empire. Truth really is stranger than fiction.

1- A Coronation At The Dirksen Senate Office Building

Back in 2004, Rev. Moon was crowned — literally — in a ceremony presided over by members of the U.S. Congress in a special ceremony at the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Those presiding over the ceremony included Sen. Lindsay Graham, Rep. Curt Weldon, Rep. Danny Davis and, yes, Tennessee’s own Harold Ford Jr. It was a deeply creepy event that raised more than a few eyebrows, such that Rep. Curt Weldon claimed not to have been in attendance, until pictures of him at the event surfaced.

People have mostly forgotten about this weird event, but here’s a copy of the invitation. Go to the link for more gory details.

2- “Moonie, Mooonie, Moonie, Moonie, Moonie!”

A battle over leadership of the Jefferson County Republican Party in Louisville, Ky., ended in name-calling and alleged fisticuffs as one person accused the other of being a Moonie:

Both men said Lawlor used the term “Moonie” several more times. Lawlor said that is when Hayes “bopped me” in his left arm. It caused a bruise and left his arm sore for several days, Lawlor said. Hayes, however, said he only tried to grab Lawlor’s arm to get his attention. Hayes said: “I asked him how come you didn’t do the right thing, and he said, `It’s because you’re a Moonie and I don’t want to work with you.’ Then, he started saying, `Moonie, Moonie, Moonie, Moonie, Moonie.'” Lawlor recalled saying only “Moonie, Moonie, Moonie.” Hayes said he believes Lawlor, who serves on the party’s nominations committee, blocked his candidacy because of his religion. That violates his constitutional rights, Hayes said.

Well alrighty then.

3- Everytime you eat sushi a Moonie gets its wings

Okay, this one isn’t political, but the Unification Church’s massive business empire includes a company called True World Foods which has cornered the American sushi market — and also threatened FDA inspectors.

4- Mooning Over Bush

Is Neil Bush a Moonie? Is Pappy? Who the hell knows, but in the waning years of the Bush Administration there was a conspiracy theory going around that Bush was going to evade a war crimes trial by hiding out in Paraguay. That was a specious claim, but it stemmed from the very real report that the Bush family had purchased a massive tract of land in Paraguay adjacent to a spread owned by the Unification Church. Fueling those rumors: the fact that Neil Bush traveled to Paraguay on behalf of Moon. Barbara and Bush Sr. spoke to Moonie groups around Asia and South America too, and were paid handsomely for it (most of my links on that last bit have since expired but you can Google it if you want).

5- Saving Liberty University

In 1995 the Unification Church saved Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University from bankruptcy with a $3.5 million donation, funneled through Moonie front groups the Christian Heritage Foundation and the Women’s Federation for World Peace. There was also a $400,000 loan, made through News World Communications, the Unification Church organization which owns the Washington Times. Falwell claimed to not know of the money’s cult-group ties, but those claims have been debunked. Falwell spoke at several Moon front group events, too.

Frederick Clarkson posted a more comprehensive look at the creepy controversial cult leader in this post.


Filed under cults, religion

Ye Shall Know Them By Their Fruits

Today’s WTF moment comes courtesy of the Mormon Church, which apparently owns a for-profit, unregulated online gun dealership: was criticised by the Mayor’s office for running classified adverts which allow individuals to buy and sell handguns and other firearms without proper background checks and no questions asked.

The site is owned by Deseret Media, the for-profit arm of the Church of the Latter Day Saints – also known as the Mormons – which has come to prominence recently as a result of the presidential run of member Mitt Romney.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a lead campaigner for the regulation of firearms which cause carnage on the streets of New York and across the country, recording an advert aired during Sunday’s Super Bowl calling for greater gun control.

A source who worked on his investigation into online gun sales said: “One would think that a church would feel a special obligation to make sure that they weren’t fuelling a black market for a particularly deadly form of commerce.”

Yes. One would think. But then, one would be wrong. Obligation, shmobligation. Profits are what matters! And if the church profits from death, violence and mayhem? What does the Bible have to say about that?

At a time when Protestant denominations like the Presbyterian Church-USA wrestle with divesting themselves of investments in companies profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestine, I am absolutely stunned that a major denomination actually profits from unregulated gun sales. This is astonishing.

Reminds me of a scene from that awesome 1981 indie movie, “Ticket To Heaven,” based on the Moonies, when a cult depgrogrammer asks the main character, “Why does Heavenly Father need a munitions factory?”

Why indeed. Next time one of those Mormon mishie kids comes knocking on my door I think I’ll ask them. By the way, if you haven’t seen “Ticket To Heaven,” it’s a great film. Here’s a clip:


Filed under Christianity, cults, gun control, gun violence

The Message Behind The Madness

I know, I know: we all got a good laugh yesterday at conservatives calling the Muppets some kind of nefarious liberal indoctrination plot. Ha ha, what maroons, I get it.

We’ve seen different versions of this same smear hundreds of times over the years. Barney, SpongeBob Squarepants, the Teletubbies and PBS’ Buster have all been part of the “gay agenda.” The blockbuster film “Avatar” was liberal tree-hugging propaganda. Wall-E was more liberal brainwashing. Bill O’Reilly went on an entire anti-Hollywood tirade in 2007 for what he called “terrorist propaganda films” like “Redacted.”

Same as it ever was. Lather, rinse, repeat. It’s funny, but it’s not.

Remember what’s behind all of this fearmongering about “liberal Hollywood.” These constant smears have a purpose. It’s intended to undermine what conservatives view as a major source of liberals’ support and influence: their supposed control of the entertainment media. And it’s also designed to make people mistrust the media in general. It’s a way the conservative cult maintains control of its audience.

Controlling the flow of information is how cults operate. Psychologist Dr. Robert J. Lifton’s “Thought Reform And The Psychology Of Totalism” is the classic textbook on this subject; decades old, it remains the gold standard on the topic. His “eight criteria for thought reform” (Lifton hated the word “mind control,” which he thought was misleading and erroneous), are as follows:

1.Milieu Control. This involves the control of information and communication both within the environment and, ultimately, within the individual, resulting in a significant degree of isolation from society at large.

2. Mystical Manipulation. The manipulation of experiences that appears spontaneous but is, in fact, planned and orchestrated by the group or its leaders in order to demonstrate divine authority, spiritual advancement, or some exceptional talent or insight that sets the leader and/or group apart from humanity, and that allows reinterpretation of historical events, scripture, and other experiences.

3. Demand for Purity. The world is viewed as black and white and the members are constantly exhorted to conform to the ideology of the group and strive for perfection. The induction of guilt and/or shame is a powerful control device used here.

4. Confession. Sins, as defined by the group, are to be confessed either to a personal monitor or publicly to the group. There is no confidentiality; members’ “sins,” “attitudes,” and “faults” are discussed and exploited by the leaders.

5. Sacred Science. The group’s doctrine or ideology is considered to be the ultimate Truth, beyond all questioning or dispute. Truth is not to be found outside the group. The leader, as the spokesperson for God or for all humanity, is likewise above criticism.

6. Loading the Language. The group interprets or uses words and phrases in new ways so that often the outside world does not understand. This jargon consists of thought-terminating clichés, which serve to alter members’ thought processes to conform to the group’s way of thinking.

7. Doctrine over person. Member’s personal experiences are subordinated to the sacred science and any contrary experiences must be denied or reinterpreted to fit the ideology of the group.

8. Dispensing of existence. The group has the prerogative to decide who has the right to exist and who does not. This is usually not literal but means that those in the outside world are not saved, unenlightened, unconscious and they must be converted to the group’s ideology. If they do not join the group or are critical of the group, then they must be rejected by the members. Thus, the outside world loses all credibility. In conjunction, should any member leave the group, he or she must be rejected also.

I read Lifton’s book years ago when researching a fiction project. The conservative movement and the modern Tea Party in particular have a lot in common with a cult. While liberals bemoan Democrats’ inability to stay on message, remain unified ideologically, and control its Blue Dog and Progressive caucuses (remember: Dennis Kucinich voted against the healthcare bill, too), Republicans remain robotically on message. Under the guidance of strategists like Frank Luntz, they are adept at “loading the language” and manipulating the truth. The demand for ideological purity has resulted in such hilarity as Newt Gingrich running away from his recent global climate change stance and Mitt Romney running away from … well, everything.

So yes, we can laugh at the Muppets being liberal indoctrination and Hollywood movies being “terrorist propaganda.” But let’s not lose sight of what this tactic is all about.


Filed under cults, Media, Republican Party

There’s A Cult In The Quiver

Whew. This is gonna be a long one, folks.

Over at Salon I just read about Vyckie Garrison Bennett, a former member of the Quiverfull movement.

Surely by now everyone has heard of Quiverfull, but if not, here’s some background from the Salon piece:

In 1985, homeschooling leader Mary Pride wrote a foundational text for Quiverfull, “The Way Home: Beyond Feminism, Back to Reality.” The book argued that family planning is a slippery slope, creating a “contraceptive mentality” that leads to abortion, and that feminism is incompatible with Christianity. As an antidote, Pride told Christians to reject women’s liberation in exchange for the principles of submissive wifehood and prolific stay-at-home motherhood. The core ideology was a direct contradiction of Roe v. Wade: Women’s bodies and lives did not belong to them, but to God and his plans for Christian revival.

For those women who have left the movement–and some still in it–the Quiverfull lifestyle is grueling,

one of unceasing labor and exhaustion — a near-constant cycle of pregnancy, childbirth and the care of small children — for the women at its center.

I never thought God meant us to have families of eight or 10 or 12, otherwise we’d have litters, like Newscoma’s puppies. God wouldn’t have intelligently designed the human female body to do things like suppress ovulation while breastfeeding. And the notion that Christians can “out-breed” the enemy just doesn’t make any sense; if God gave everyone free will, then square parents are just as likely to have round children as square ones. You just can’t assume your kids are going to grow up to be Fundie true believers.

But that’s just me.

Garrison’s story is compelling because she was one of the leading voices in Quiverfull; under her married name Bennett she wrote articles in movement publications (you can read some here at the Nebraska Family Times). Her family was even named the Nebraska Family Council’s “Family of the Year” in 2003. But behind the facade, the “Godly family” and perfect “Proverbs 31 wife” was crumbling.

Garrison finally left the movement (and her husband) when her eldest daughter attempted suicide. As she observed acidly on her blog:

“I could have kids in the psych ward for a lot less effort.”


Equally tragic is the story of Garrison’s fellow Quiverfull apostate, Laura, who blogged her story of being the daughter of a lesbian-feminist couple turned “Proverbs 31 wife.” This strong-willed and independent-minded woman found her way into the movement through a boyfriend who eventually became her husband. Because her parents were lebsians, Laura was instructed to shun them, to “protect her children from them” — their own grandparents.

These stories are not just tragic, they are huge red flags to me. Removing individuals from their support structure — family and friends — and replacing that support with a new one; separating the world into those who have privileged access to an exclusive truth and those who do not; placing a group’s doctrine over and above an individual’s experience; use of overly-simplified, cliche-ridden language and slogans; use of “sacred science” — the idea that if something works for so many in the group it has the authority of “science”; and a cult of confession where one’s testimony is told so often it becomes a well-rehearsed script outlining how lost and sinful the individual was before finding salvation in the group: these are all classic hallmarks of a cult. For those interested, noted researcher Robert J. Lifton warned of this way back in 1981.

I was raised in Los Angeles in the ‘70s and well remember the stories of abusive cults and equally abusive cult “deprogrammers.” When I was a kid you couldn’t walk through Westwood Village (our version of the shopping mall back then) without being accosted by Moonies, Jews for Jesus, Hare Krishnas (we called them “hairless Krishnas” because of their shaved heads), Synanon and est adherents, you name it.

I well remember front-page stories about Scientologists infiltrating the FBI and members of Synanon placing a rattlesnake in the mailbox of an attorney representing an ex-member of the group.

Since then we’ve stopped talking about cults and thought-control techniques in this country. It’s almost become a quaint vestige of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, as if the cult movement is something we don’t need to worry about anymore. And cults thrive under this kind of ignorance.

Cults are everywhere around us, disguised as religions, self-help groups, economic groups and even political groups. Anyone is susceptible to the lure of a cult–anyone. You don’t have to be from a “certain kind of family” or a typical “lost soul” to be susceptible. You don’t have to live on a compound in the countryside to be in a cult. Any group that demands the subjection of individual will and personal identity to group will and group identity is a cult. Any group that does not allow followers to question the group’s belief system should be approached with caution.

Let’s quit pretending that cults are something from our past. Our country is going through hard times, people are searching for answers to questions which may have none. Absolutism and certainty are seductive, but most of the time they are false concepts. It goes against human nature to be comfortable with the gray, to be content with flux and instability, and this is why cults thrive. But cults destroy families; left to their own devices, they can give rise to massive totalitarian movements. History proves this.

It’s time we got comfortable with the words “cult” and “thought control” again. We live in a mass-media age, and the tools of exploitation have expanded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

I’m not meaning to knock religion here, and not all religions are cults. Stories like Vyckie Garrison’s are warnings of a larger problem at play. As the country splinters ever further into ideological sub-groups, isolated and insulated through technology, we put ourselves at risk.

Make of that what you will.

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Filed under Christian Right, cults, culture wars, feminism, religious fundamentalism