Joe Szimhart & CultAware - New Niche for Psychopaths


FOTCM Member
This morning I received an email from a forum member who wrote:

This afternoon my sister had me and my mother over for brunch. After we ate a man named Joseph Szimhart came to my sister's apt. and introduced himself as someone who helps families discuss family members who are involved in groups who the families are concerned about.

So, basically, my sister and my mother did some research (and possibly spoke to [my estranged wife]) and arranged this little "intervention" which took all afternoon.

There is certainly a lot of backstory to this, including the fact that the member has recently separated from his wife who has severe mental health issues which have seriously affected his health, but that can be talked about later. For the moment, I'm just interested in this guy Joe Szimhart and CultAware which appear to me to be a somewhat criminal organization. I'd like to find out as much as possible about them in the event the forum member needs to take legal action against them including obtaining a restraining order.

Here's what I have found so far:
Cult activity and formation are complex social and relational phenomena with long and deep roots in human behavior and history.

Systems and rituals of devotion directed at gods, persons, ideas or objects have influenced families, tribes, religions, and political movements for fun, for good, and for ill.

On this site you will find definitions, opinion, research, links, essays, book reviews, information regarding intervention and help with recovery from abusive relationship and cultic activity.

quote from an essay:

"In a sense, cults create a transcendent experience that “stops time” for the follower who feels the aura of a final answer to life’s questions. Thereby, “the original exploratory impulse” that got them there freezes. All that remains is to deflect criticism and doubt and to stay in orbit around the perceived savior or guru."

The more constricted the orbit, the more potential for harm due to the absolute devotion invested in a controversial person, idea or object.


new book review: Violence and New Religious Movements edited by James R Lewis, 2011. go to book review on menu.

On youtube: see Joe Szimhart interview with ex-member of Ramtha cult a day after a successful 1990 intervention:



Recovery from Addictions Model Applied to Cult Intervention by Joseph Szimhart

in ICSA Today

Then, shades of Psychopathy expert/puzzling person, Thomas Sheridan, we see a photo of the guy with this caption:

Art Career update:

As of 2011 Joseph Szimhart was accepted as a studio artist at Goggleworks in Reading PA.

Next there is this website that has begun to expose this criminal network:

CultAware Unzipped

A new religious vilification group formed in Sydney Australia in late 1992. Its tentative name, CultAware , was among several put forward by a small number of members at this first meeting. The fledgling organization was made up of an odd but predictable assortment of people dedicated to the edicts of America's deprogramming industry as embodied in the then Cult Awareness Network (CAN) .

Supporters of CultAware at its inception included deprogrammers, a couple of psychiatrists, satanic ritual abuse theorists, some former members of religious groups, a software salesman and his wife.

Deprogramming in Australia

Over the past two decades New Religious Movements in Australia and persons who are members of these religions have been the target of hate campaigns, harassment, coercion and at times kidnap and unlawful restraint.

Deprogramming in Australia has had the support of a small number of anti cult groups over the years which spring up from time to time. Most of these groups fade away. Some remain to become good examples of organized bigotry.

Largely deprogrammers have come into Australia from the USA charging enormous fees and expenses to kidnap, falsely imprison and generally abuse a targeted person's rights to religious freedom and belief; not to mention endangering their physical and emotional well being. Often family and personal relationships are destroyed by deprogrammers and their agents.

Deprogramming as a practice was developed in the USA by several mental health professionals and anti religious extremists; as for example Margaret Singer. Although the justifying theory on which deprogramming was developed has since been discredited it still finds popularity with some in Australia.

In 1996 some three years after deprogramming reportedly ceased , four deprogrammers entered Australia from overseas to attempt a forced intervention or deprogramming of a young man in Ipswich Queensland. Deprogramming is still current despite statements to the contrary.

Known cases of either deprogramming or exit counselling attempts can be reported to Victims of CultAware. (Any known criminal act should be reported as soon as possible to the police in the locality where the incident occurred.)

Reported cases of deprogramming attempts by CultAware members and associates are being catalogued on this site and can be viewed here.

We learn here that there may be a connection with criminal Zionist and associate of Black Magician Vincent Bridges, Rick Ross.

The Anti-Cult Movement
The Cult Awareness Network (CAN)

The "Old" Cult Awareness Network (CAN ™) - prior to 1996-JUN-22:

The "old" Cult Awareness Network was perhaps the world's largest and most successful anti-cult organization. They had a staff of four and a network of volunteers. CAN described themselves as "a national, tax-exempt non-profit educational organization, dedicated to promoting public awareness of the harmful effects of mind control." CAN stated that they only dealt with "unethical or illegal practices" by cults; they claimed that they did not judge a group's "doctrine or belief". They operated a support group for former cult members, called Focus. CAN estimated that "five million people...have been seriously affected by what they estimated to be more than 2,500 destructive cults."

In 1996, they offered for sale a number of anti-cult books and videos. They also sold information packets for US $18.00 on:
Specific Groups:
Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT)
International Church of Christ
Jehovah's Witnesses
Church of Scientology)
Transcendental Meditation (TM)
Unification Church
The Way International

Child Abuse in Cults
Cults on College Campuses
New Age
New Age in Business

By 1995, they maintained files "on a total of 1505 groups." A sampling includes the following organizations:
the Amish,
Anti-Reformation League;
Roman Catholics,
Campus Crusade for Christ,
the board game Dungeons and Dragons,
the Democratic Workers Party,
the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana (America’s largest Protestant congregation),
the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International,
The Grateful Dead,
the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship,
the International Workers Party;
the Ku Klux Klan,
Lutherans, Mormons,
Shirley MacLaine,
the National Association of Evangelicals,
the Oklahoma City bombings,
Opus Dei,
the Order of the Solar Temple,
Peoples Temple,
Promise Keepers,
PTL Club,
the Rockford Institute,
the Rutherford Institute,
the Rajneeshees,
Soka Gakkai,
Teen magazine,
Transcendental Meditation,
Toronto Blessing;
the United Pentecostal Church,
the Worldwide Church of God,
the Wycliffe Bible Society,
Women Aglow and Youth for Christ."

Some of the religious organizations that they targeted are simply high intensity religious groups which expect a major commitment from their followers (e.g. Jehovah's Witnesses and the Unification Church). Only the Order of the Solar Temple and Peoples Temple were destructive, doomsday religious cults.

There seems to have been a dark side to CAN. They were dragged into legal difficulties over the kidnapping and abusive deprogramming of Jason Scott. Jason was at the time a member of the Life Tabernacle Church. The congregation is affiliated with the United Pentecostal Church International.

In 1995-SEP, CAN, Rick Ross and two others were found guilty of conspiracy to violate the civil right to freedom of religion of Jason Scott.

Ross was ordered to pay more than $3 million in damages; CAN was ordered to pay in excess of $1 million.

Ross had been involved in hundreds of interventions with members of various religious groups over a 15-year period. He estimates that in about 20 cases, an intervention involved an adult held against their will. Scott was one of these: after an allegedly violent, brutal kidnapping, he was forcibly confined for five days. Ross attempted to get Scott to abandon his church's beliefs. According to a 1998-APR-8 decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals:

"Kathy Tonkin withdrew from the Life Tabernacle Church, convinced that it had a destructive effect on her six children. Three of Tonkin's sons refused to join her. Tonkin contacted Shirley Landa, a 'contact' person for appellant Cult Awareness Network (CAN). A CAN "contact" is an unpaid volunteer who is available to speak to members of the public on behalf of CAN. CAN operates nationally through a network of contacts and affiliates, and has only four paid staff members.

Landa referred Tonkin to Rick Ross, a person who conducted involuntary 'deprogramming' of people who had become involved with religious cults. Landa was aware that Ross engaged in involuntary deprogramming because she had seen him do so on the television program '48 Hours.' Ross was known to, and received referrals from, other CAN members as well. Tonkin hired Ross to deprogram her three sons.

Ross "successfully" deprogrammed Tonkin's two minor sons. Tonkin, Ross, and Landa knew that it would be difficult to deprogram Tonkin's eldest son, appellee Jason Scott, because he was over 18. Landa advised Tonkin that although there were legal problems involved, the only way to deprogram Scott was to abduct him and let Ross do his work. With the aid of two confederates, Ross abducted Scott and held him captive for five days. Scott feigned acceptance of Ross' deprogramming and escaped." 3

Ross charged about $3,000 for the kidnapping. (Some foes of CAN claimed $25,000, but that number appears to be fictitious.) Jason settled his claim against Rick Ross for $5,000 and 200 hours of Ross' time. Scott is now reunited with his family. Rick Ross was charged separately with the unlawful imprisonment of Jason. The jury acquitted him. 4

The Life Tabernacle Church certainly does have some non-traditional beliefs, and appears to require strict discipline from its members. In her testimony, Kathy Tonkin (Jason's mother) testified and wrote in an affidavit about suspected sexual abuse with a minor child by a church member, extreme authoritarianism, undue influence, and family estrangement. 5

The crippling damage award, plus a large number of additional civil cases brought against it by the Church of Scientology International drove CAN into bankruptcy. Their office closed on 1996-JUN-21. They expressed concern on their web page that their records and cult archives may get into the wrong hands, that the information might be destroyed and that their donors, supporters and callers might be harassed.

The "Old CAN" subsequently suffered a series of legal defeats:

Their 1998-APR-8 request to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld the 1995 ruling. The court ordered the old CAN to pay Jason Scott $875,000 in actual damages and $1 million in punitive damages plus interest, dating from 1995.

The court found that a CAN agent in Washington state made referrals for what they called "involuntary deprogramming" in which a person is held against their will and an attempt is made to alter their religious beliefs. The court found that "CAN members routinely referred people to deprogrammers."

The court held that "under Washington law and 42 U.S .C. § 1985(3), referral of a parent to a 'deprogrammer' by an anti-cult group's volunteer 'contact' person is sufficient to establish vicarious liability to an involuntarily 'deprogrammed' child." 3

On 1998-JUL-30, the United States 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the bankruptcy court sale of the CAN name, hotline telephone number and other assets. 6,7

The old CAN's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court also failed. Their lawyers commented: "A decision [by the Court of Appeals] that silences the message of an advocacy organization has serious nationwide consequences.'' Jason Scott's lawyers said that the old CAN's arguments were "factually and legally without merit.'' On 1999-MAR-22, the U.S. Supreme Court took no action, thus allowing the Appeal Court decision to stand. 8

An analysis of data from the old CAN's files was presented at the meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion on 2000-OCT-21. 1 The paper revealed fascinating details about CAN's internal workings and their close interactions with coercive deprogrammers. There are allegations of financial kickback from deprogrammers to CAN. There are also allegations of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and illegal drug use during some deprogramming sessions.

The "New" Cult Awareness Network (CAN ™) - after 1996-OCT-22:

On 1996-OCT-23, in an ironic twist, some of CAN assets were sold in bankruptcy court to the highest bidder, Steven L. Hayes, of the law firm "Bowles & Hayes". This included rights to their name, logo, Post Office box and hot-line phone number. The CAN files and library resources were not included in the purchase. Hayes had collected money from a coalition of religious freedom advocates, among the most active of which were a number of Scientologists. Hayes, himself a member of the Church of Scientology, said he was working with a group who are "united in their distaste for CAN." All of the $20,000 that he used to purchase the rights came from private donations; none came from the Church of Scientology.

Hayes licensed the CAN™ name to a new corporation which was registered in California in 1997-JAN. It is called "Foundation for Religious Freedom" and is run by a multi-faith Board of Directors. The initial chairperson is Dr. George Robertson, a Baptist minister from Maryland Bible Collect. Their goals are to attack religious bigotry and promote respect for individual religious freedom. They have established a Web site 9 and operate a "hot line" (1-800-556-3055) for anyone worried about involvement a religious group. They have available a list of over 50 religious scholars and religious freedom advocates who act as referrals for the new CAN.

Since the verdict against the old CAN by the district court was originally announced, the numbers of kidnappings and attempts at deprogramming in the US have dropped sharply. Scott's attorney, Kendrick Moxon, commented: "This decision is a milestone for religious and civil rights in America and the end of an era of anti-religious fanaticism." Dr. George Robertson said, "We applaud this decision as the death blow to a former reign of religious terrorism, fueled by lies, fear and bigotry. We feel religious liberty is America's most important freedom." He also said, "Having now helped over 6,000 callers we are extremely pleased to continue our work repairing the damage of the old CAN. We provide people with factual information and reconcile families. The old CAN only fomented disharmony."

References cited above:

Anson Shupe & Susan Darnell, "CAN, We hardly knew ye: Sex, drugs, deprogrammers' kickbacks, and corporate crime in the (old) Cult Awareness Network." Reprinted at:
Rick Ross, personal E-mail 1997-JAN-12
The CAN/Ross/Scott decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on 1988-APR-8 is at: and at:
Rick Ross has a personal web page containing "over 270 articles, letters, and book excerpts." See:
An affidavit of Katherine L. Tonkin dated 1994-DEC-12 concerning her family's experiences with the Life Tabernacle Church can be read at:
A copy of the CAN decision of 1998-JUL-30 is on-line at:
"CAN Legal Status Continues," by CENSUR is a review of recent developments involving the "old" and "new" Cult Awareness Networks at:
Reuters, "Supreme Court denies appeal by anti-cult group," 1999-MAR-22
The new Cult Awareness Network as reorganized by the "Foundation for Religious Freedom" has a Web site at: The "old" Cult Awareness Network (CAN) had a home page at: <> This link has been dead for some time. Someone has placed a copy of that site at:

Copyright © 1996 to 2001 incl. and 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2004-MAR-31
Author: B.A. Robinson

The West Australian, Sat 27 Mar 1993

Restraining order against 'consultant'

A Sydney Scientologist has sought a restraining order against one of two American "consultants" who visited WA to counsel a woman out of the ET Earth Mission sect.

The order was sought in a Sydney court by Sarah Harrison, 19, who said she feared Patrick Ryan, of Philadelphia would try to "deprogram" her against her will.

Mr Ryan, who went to Sydney from Perth, received the summons at his hotel room at 4.30pm on Tuesday last week.

He was booked to fly to America the next morning.

On legal advice, he had someone else attend the hearing to explain his non-appearance and the case was adjourned to April 28.

Church of Scientology community liaison officer Carmen Harris said in Perth yesterday that Ms Harrison did not want to be deprogrammed out of her religious affiliation.

She had told the court she needed the restraining order to ensure Mr Ryan did not "assault, intimidate, harass, threaten, molest or otherwise interfere with her".

Ms Harris alleged that Mr Ryan had previously been involved in at least two "involuntary deprogrammings" and that his colleague, Joe Szimhart, had admitted involvement in forced abductions and deprogramming attempts.

Mr Szimhart was awaiting trial on a charge relating to the kidnapping of a woman in Idaho, she said.

Ms Harrison has reportedly said she wants the case to proceed, even if she was not deprogrammed, because: "These guys should not be allowed to come into the country to try to rip families off, take their money and play on parents' fears."

Mr Ryan said he had been in Australia to counsel people caught in an extraterrestrial sect and had not approached Ms Harrison.

People in his work were known in the US as deprogrammers, exit counsellors or cult busters, but he saw himself as an educator.

He educated people on cults in general and the nature of influence and hypnosis.

There was no point drugging people or using sleep deprivation to break links with cults.

"Quite the contrary. If someone wants to sleep or rest it's best to let them do that. The idea is to stimulate the intellect and their thinking processes," he said.

"I only work with people who agree to talk to me. It's not worth doing it any other way."

Mr Szimhart confirmed that he would stand trial in Idaho on April 5 on a charge of having aided and abetted the kidnapping of a mother-of-four caught up in the Church Universal and Triumphant, a religious sect which believes in the teachings of ascended masters.

He would defend the case.

"I was the last to arrive at the scene, where the woman's mother and sister were present," he said.

"The woman agreed to talk and to listen for several days, after which I went home."

Mr Szimhart said the mother and sister were arrested two days later. He was one of three deprogrammers also charged, though not one of those who abducted the woman.

The woman had since dropped the charges against her mother and sister, but everyone else remained charged.

He had stopped participating in coercive holding two years ago, having found it unnecessary.
Members of Cult Awareness Network (CAN), responding to the widespread public concern over planned kidnappings in the Du Pont trial, have publicly apologized to all victims of CAN-related “deprogrammings” and declared their determination to bring reforms to the organization.

The reformers, who number over 288 CAN members from around the country say they are shocked at the support and encouragement given to criminal deprogrammers by CAN executives. In their public statement, they warn that “deprogramming involves violent kidnapping, physical and mental brutalisation, brainwashing, denial of food and sleep, enforced drugging and sexual abuse to force another to abandon deeply held beliefs.”

In the ongoing criminal trial, E. Newbold Smith, Don Moore, Galen Kelly and Bob Point are accused of plotting to abduct Smith’s 36-year-old son Lewis du Pont Smith, and his wife. The plan was lure the son away using a woman, kidnap him and then “deprogram” him away from involvement with the Lyndon Larouche organization.

A secret tape played in court by the prosecution has linked the alleged conspirators with Cult Awareness Network. In one tape, defendant Moore admitted that he was working for CAN.

Cynthia Kisser, CAN’s national director, has publicly stated that defendant E. Newbold Smith is a member of CAN. A third defendant, Galen Kelly, was CAN’s security officer and was employed by them during the period he committed several recent kidnappings and helped to plan the Du Pont one.

In their public statement, the CAN reform members state that “No man or woman has the right to deprive another of liberty and then seek, through harassment and brutality, to enforce his repudiation of deeply held beliefs. Therefore, to those whose mental and/or physical health has been destroyed by hired thugs called deprogrammers, who pocket thousands of dollars in exchange for wrecking, often forever, the lives of innocent people and their families, we express our profound regret.”

The statement concludes with a determination to “to reform Cult Awareness Network so that it disavows criminal actions, dismisses from its staff all those who continue to support deprogramming, and embarks on its lawful program to educate the public on their religious rights and responsibilities.”

The California Superior Court in Los Angeles yesterday found that ei? (eight?) of the reformers, who are also members of the Church of Scientology, had “acted as a catalyst in changing the unlawful conduct of defendants (CAN).” Spokesman for the reform group, Glenn Barton said today, “Cult Awareness Network has already come under investigation by the FBI for its connections to the deprogrammings.”

“Five-time convicted felon Ted Patrick, the founder of deprogramming had a profound influence on CAN. Currently deprogrammer Joe Szimhart is awaiting trial in connnection with a kidnapping in ??ise, (Boise?) Idaho. During the Network have keen arrested for their violations of the law. These include Szimhart, Randall Burkey, Mary Alice Chrnalogar and Karen Reinhardt. This kidnapping-for-profit ring is actively supported and encouraged by Cult Awareness Network executives.”
Barton said the reformers are prepared to use the the media, the co? and the public to bring about Meaningful refom of CAN.

Sampler of Deprogramming Cases

(Documented in Shupe, Moxon, and Darnell, 2001)

1.JAMES BOLAND was raised a Roman Catholic. In 1982 he switched to become a Baptist, then eventually to Pentecostalism, a charismatic form of Protestantism. His unhappy parents sent him first to talk to a Catholic priest, then to a psychiatrist. According to Boland’s notarized testimony: "My father thought that I must have been being controlled by someone to have turned against the Catholic Church." Boland’s parents then sent him to Anne Greek of the Positive Action Center in Portland, Oregon, a group with ties to deprogrammers and both CFF and CAN. Greek met with Boland and (again) also a Catholic priest. Boland was adamant about remaining Protestant. Then things turned coercive. Boland was abducted by deprogrammers and Greek, accompanied by violent restraint and a bloody nose to Boland. Then came the typical ACM mind control harangue. Boland frequently told her and the others that he felt they were using against him the very tactics they accused the "cults" of using. Ms. Greek and others all replied that this confinement was different because they were the "good guys."

Eventually the deprogrammers were at a loss as to how to undermine Boland’s refusal to rejoin the Roman Catholic Church and decided he was not in fact a victim of mind control. Rather, they concluded that he had rejected the church because he once had been sexually molested by a priest. Boland denied this fall-back excuse for having been physically traumatized and imprisoned.

2. In the early 1980s deprogrammer TED PATRICK was almost hired by a Cincinnati couple, Marita and William Riethmuller, to deprogram their 20 year-old daughter Stephanie whom they feared was being influenced into becoming a lesbian by a female apartment roommate. Patrick turned the parents down because he was already on probation for a kidnapping conviction in Arizona. Stephanie’s eventual deprogrammers kidnapped her and then raped her over several days. One, James Roe, was charged with five counts of sexual assault. One of us at the time contacted a Cincinnati journalist about details concerning the alleged rapes. He replied that the proceedings were bizarre: that the judge had sealed the court transcripts but that there were known semen samples from the deprogrammer.

3. KAREN LEVER, aged 33 years, self-supporting for six years and president of Sunyata Systems, Inc., a computer consulting company in Redmond, Washington was returning to Seattle from southern California where she had been holding business meetings in late May, 1990. (She had had appointments with a data processing manager at Paramount Studios and a bank vice-president.)

At the Seattle airport’s parking lot, as she was loading her luggage into her car, three men grabbed her and shoved her into a van. She recalled: "One man sat on me and clamped his hand over my mouth to prevent me from screaming as we passed through the airport parking pay booth. I could hardly breathe. My face was cut in several places."

Her parents had hired the deprogrammers, afraid she was in danger of falling under the influence of the Rama Seminars held periodically by Dr. Frederick Lenz. The head deprogrammer was Joe Szimhart, the same one who had led the abduction/assault on 39 year-old Laverne Collins Macchio (the subject of case #4).

Ms. Lever was guarded 24 hours a day, with no privacy at a remote location. Even the bathroom door was nailed open. She was constantly confronted with a barrage of the ACM mind control message and (however illogical on the deprogrammers’ part) repeatedly shown tapes of Charles Manson’s group. She spent eight days of captivity with no fresh air or exercise. She refused to take a shower because she was not allowed privacy. When she stated her concerns about missing her business meetings and being unable to check her messages and return any business calls, her captors told that deprogramming was far more important than success in her business. Altogether over seven deprogrammers monitored her. One of them told her that each participant in the deprogramming carried enough cash to escape by airplane in the event police were notified. Things in the deprogramming eventually went sour, however. Finally the frustrated deprogrammers returned her to her car at the Seattle airport. She called the Seattle police and was told she had grounds to press charges for kidnapping and false imprisonment. (A parenthetical note: Ms. Level later saw a newsletter from the AFF with an article about the group honoring one of her female deprogrammers.)

4.LAVERNE COLLINS MACCHIO, 39 years-old, belonged to the Church Universal and Triumphant, a Montana-based New Age mystic communal group. The Church U & T is several decades old and numbers several thousand members worldwide. It preaches a spiritual message put together from world religions as allegedly revealed by various spirit guides, or "ascended masters," including Jesus Christ. During the 1980s the church’s critics feared that it was obsessed with a last-days’ nuclear war, that it was stockpiling weapons, and that it might imitate Jonestown in a murder-suicide feast.

On November 20, 1991, at 8:30 P.M., Collins Macchio was violently abducted from her Boise, Idaho house. She had just settled her four young boys in bed and changed into her nightgown. Then the doorbell rang.

Peering through the front door peephole she saw a person who appeared to be a pizza delivery man. Earlier than evening she had ordered a pizza for dinner, but now she assumed the store had made a mistake by delivering a duplicate. She opened the door, she debated with the apparent delivery man that she had not ordered a second pizza, he showed her a forged receipt, then he abruptly grabbed her arm and pulled her towards a van at the curb. According to court documents, "...Collins Macchio yelled to her children to call the police. Collins Macchio’s son Roy tried to call the police but was unable to because the deprogrammers had disconnected Collins Macchio’s phone service." In front of her terrified children Laverne Collins Macchio was dragged out into the street and forced into a van by two men she did not know. She was thrown face-down on the floor, both men on top of her, with their hands over her mouth. Later court records showed she had bruises on her mouth, an arm, and a leg from her abductors’ rough treatment.

The deprogrammers drove Collins Macchio to a remote cabin, dragged her inside, and informed her that her mother had hired them to prevent her from taking her children to a Church Universal and Triumphant shelter in Montana. (It turned out that Collins Macchio had no such intention; however, she had been contemplating a family move to Bozeman, Montana, almost ninety miles from Church U & T headquarters.)

At the cabin they were joined by a woman and another man. Then, the next day (with continued rough restraint) they took her to a motel. Here a second woman appeared, ostensibly to counsel her about her dangerous religious affiliation. Then it was another night drive to another motel, always with her face pinned down on the floor of the van so that she had no sense of where in Boise she was.

Each day she was grilled about her religious beliefs in mocking terms, with only brief chances for meals or restroom breaks. Harangued, nervous for her safety and for her children, worn thin, and embittered that a middle-aged woman in the contemporary United States was being imprisoned for her religious beliefs by vigilantes, she still resisted.

Then, on November 26, she was moved to yet another motel, continually resisting.

By November 27 the pseudo-therapists let her go. Collins Macchio went to the police, several of the deprogrammers (including Joe Szimhart) fled the state and only returned after government agents tracked them down in New Mexico, the kidnapping defendants tried to claim in court a "necessity" to abduct her for her own good, and they won an acquittal in a lower court. The prosecution appealed. Eventually the deprogrammers agreed to plead guilty to the felony of second degree kidnapping after the Idaho Supreme Court overturned the acquittal. That was five years after Collins Macchio had been kidnapped in front of her children.

5. TED PATRICK, a poorly educated and often unemployed but self-styled "community worker" in San Diego, California coined the term "deprogramming" in 1971. Over the next three decades he was lionized by families and ACM groups dedicated to opposing NRMs as a hero and humanitarian seeking only "to liberate minds" from authoritarian cultic control.

In 1990 a Mennonite couple, Bob and Sue Miller, put Patrick in contact with an Amish husband in rural LaGrange County, Indiana. (Two of us live in the region and followed the ensuing folly.) The husband’s name was Ezra Miller, aged 36, and he was concerned that his wife, Elma, was straying from the Old Order Amish faith. She had begun attending meetings of a "splinter" discussion group of Amish that took up, among other scandalous matters, whether there was a biblical basis for not operating gas-combustion-driven machinery. Shortly before Thanksgiving, 1990 Ezra paid Patrick between $10,000 and $15,000 (one estimate was $25,000) in cash to abduct Elma and deprogram her back into the Old Order Amish world view opposing modern entanglements such as automobiles and electric generators. So in late November, 1990 Patrick, along with the Miller couple and Ezra Miller’s brother, abducted both Elma and her 9 year-old daughter Annie and transported them variously through Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois.

Patrick, the original deprogrammer, was at this time in his sixties and showing that such abduction was a younger man’s game. Annie was put screaming in a farmhouse basement, distracting Elma upstairs, who was not in the perfect mood to be argued to about her religious beliefs. Moreover, Patrick let Elma go to the toilet by herself -- a colossal mistake for a seasoned deprogrammer -- and she crawled out a bathroom window, hiked cross-country across two fields, and jumped a fence before using a farmer’s phone to call police. Realizing the deprogramming had turned into a fiasco, Patrick fled the scene back to California.

There were several unusual outcomes.

First, Amish husband and wife reconciled. Ezra was apparently sensitized to the sincerity of his wife’s beliefs, she was touched by his devotion to her, and Patrick -- who returned to his home in San Diego as soon as Elma had escaped -- declared to Fort Wayne newspaper journalists that he was keeping the money. Deprogrammers don’t give receipts, and Ezra was out as much as $25,000. And Indiana Amish stay out of courts.

Second, prosecutors in LaGrange County dropped the case since the abductees declined to press charges.

Third, the case was the first in the history of the modern ACM where a deprogrammer actually attempted to force someone, or reprogram her, back into a minority religion (the Boland case excepted).

6. During the early 1990s KATHY TONKIN and her three sons -- Jason, Thysen, and Matthew -- as well as three younger children, attended the Life Tabernacle Church, a Seattle, Washington branch of the United Pentecostal Church International (an evangelical Christian faith). Following an upset with a business partner who was also a Life Tabernacle member, Tonkin reversed many of her religious views and began to withdraw from the congregation, encouraging her sons to do the same. Her three sons, Thysen (16) and Matthew (13), and Jason (18), disagreed and insisted on remaining in the church. As a result, Tonkin ejected the two youngest sons from her home. Matthew went to live with his grandmother (who also lived in the Seattle area). Thysen moved in with another family from the church.

Meanwhile, Jason remained and tried to manage some truce between his mother and the church community he loved. Eventually he failed. His mother ejected him as well from the household, and he too went to live with his grandmother.

This dispute sent in motion a far-reaching chain of events.

Tonkin contacted the local Cult Awareness Network "contact person," Shirley Landa, through a local hotline (Landa had been a co-founder of CAN.) and then through Landa came into contact with a deprogrammer. Although no one at CAN had ever heard of the Life Tabernacle Church, the alleged "expert" to whom Tonkin was referred was a self-styled "Bible-based cult" expert, a manifestly hostile person toward conservative Christianity, and a former convicted jewel thief named Rick Ross. (Ross, a vigorous self-promoter and entrepreneur, had played a significant role in poisoning the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearm’s opinion of David Koresh’s Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. Indeed, he well may have inspired in part the BATF’s ill-conceived raid on the group’s rural compound.)

Deprogrammer Ross, with absolutely no formal training in counseling or psychology and who admitted he knew nothing about the Life Tabernacle Church, was heartily endorsed by Landa as successful at getting persons to leave religions. So Tonkin the mother was put in touch with Ross by phone and retained him to deprogram her three sons.

Ross assembled a "security team" of two, the three traveled from Arizona to Seattle, and they locked the two younger boys in their grandmother’s basement. Tonkin and Ross agreed that the young boys should be abducted first because the third son, Jason, was a legal adult, physically large and athletic and made what one of them called "a more complicated legal situation."

After several days both boys were harangued into renouncing their Pentecostal beliefs. Then the deprogrammers went for Jason.

Ross upped his deprogramming fee, he told Tonkin, because of the risk of legal prosecution. He also added "muscle" to the operation in the form of a karate black belt expert. When Jason returned to his grandmother’s home one evening, they were waiting in the house. They jumped him, wrestled him to the ground, and dragged him into a waiting van, its windows covered by towels taped over to hide what went on inside.

Jason kicked violently to get free, but they restrained him effectively: one man held his torso, another his legs, another his head and shoulders. They handcuffed his wrists, tied his ankles with rope, and gagged him from ear to ear with duct tape. He was finally thrown onto his stomach, his hands crushed beneath him while one of the deprogrammers, weighing 300 pounds, sat on his back. Meanwhile, Jason’s back, legs, and upper body were bruised and sore from being dragged across floors, stairs, and a cement patio into the van.

The deprogrammers drove some hours to an ocean-side cottage. There Jason’s ankle restraints were loosened just enough to permit to walk into the isolated house, with one of his captors holding a nylon strap as a "leash" and another with a tight grip on his handcuffs. By now both his hands were numb from the cuffs’ pressure.

First he was led upstairs, taken into a bathroom, and dumped into a shower stall. He could hear them preparing another room where he was eventually taken.

He could see they had made a prison. Thick nylon straps had been riveted in place over windows in a mesh-like pattern to prevent escape. The room had two doors, but each was guarded. As added insurance against escape. they took Jason’s shoes and installed motion detectors in the room.

Initially Jason demanded that he be permitted to leave and asked Ross if he was going to try to change his mind against his religion, Ross responded, "Yeah, that’s what I’m paid to do." Scott threatened with criminal prosecution but was laughed at. Ross bluntly told him, "You’re not going anywhere and if you give me any problems I’m going to handcuff you to the bed frame, and it’s going to be more uncomfortable than the ride over here."

Then began five days that were non-stop personal degradation and belittling of his beliefs, his girlfriend, and his pastor. Ironically, Ross, who was Jewish, would wax long into the night on the errors of conservative Protestantism and Christianity. When Jason was finally permitted to sleep a guard slept in front of each of the room’s two doors to prevent escape. When Jason went to the bathroom at least two of the deprogrammers accompanied him. Worse, given the poor, greasy food he was fed, he developed nausea and diarrhea on top of multiple bruises and scratches, not to mention psychological trauma, from his violent abduction.

And so it went for almost a week. Ross would argue with Jason daily about religious matters, refuse to allow him to respond, and tap or hit him in the head to emphasize points, Jason meanwhile restrained or closely guarded to discourage resistance. He was told in the coldest words that he would not be set free until the deprogramming was concluded, which in practical terms meant he had to renounce the Pentecostal faith and agree to leave the Life Tabernacle Church.

Jason held up resistance despite the anxiety, sense of helpless isolation, and physical illness and injuries. However, he overheard several deprogrammers talking about how they planned to send him to a so-called "rehabilitation" facility in a remote area of rural Ohio, called Wellspring, after he was deprogrammed. Wellspring often treated coercively deprogrammed religious followers and was operated by CAN board member psychologist Paul Martin. (Among the items eventually seized by police after Jason’s escape were plane tickets to Wellspring.) Jason decided to play along and hoped to fool the deprogrammers.

Jason began to feign acquiescence in the hope that his captors would become careless and give him an opportunity to escape. By January 22, Jason thus convinced his captors that he was ready to renounce his faith, appearing to break down in tears and remorse. He remained cooperative with Ross and the other deprogrammers, still hoping to escape. He spent the last day forced to watch videos on New Age religions and "channeling," subjects which have nothing to do with Pentecostalism.

Jason’s ploy succeeded. Pleased at the deprogramming’s evident success, Ross suggested that they all go out to a celebration dinner at a restaurant in a nearby town. At his earliest opportunity once in the establishment, Jason excused himself to go to the men’s room. And as a prime example of deprogrammer arrogance and credulity, Ross let him go–alone. Jason literally ran out the front door of the restaurant and called the police from a telephone across the street. They came, Ross and company were arrested, Jason was free, and the incident ultimately had profound fallout for CAN.

Further to an affidavit I signed on January 10, 1992, this statement gives some details pertaining to the deprogrammers involved in the kidnapping and attempted deprogramming of myself in September 1991.
The ringleader was Joe (though he called himself by the name "Peter"). He is an ex-member of the Church Universal and Triumphant, is tall (height approx. 6 feet) has dark hair, aged late thirties/early fourties and is of slight to normal build. I sighted a ADA County Jail photograph of Joseph Szimhart on April 18, 1993 and I testify that he is the deprogrammer referred to here.

Joe travelled to Australia from the United States with Pat (who called himself "Tom"). Pat is an ex-member of TM (Transcendental Meditation). He is of normal height (approx. 5'9") and build, has a receding hairline and is around the same age as Joe. I sighted several photographs of Pat Ryan in April 1993 and saw him recently in Sydney outside a courtroom in the Downing Court building and I testify that this is the deprogrammer referred to here.

The third American involved used the pseudonym "Sara". She is an ex-member of The Way International, being deprogrammed out of this group by her parents. She has a Southern American accent and indeed back in 1991 she was based in Texas but was thinking to move up to Boston since most of her cases involved members of the Boston Church of Christ. She expressed interest in returning to Australia to "counsel" members of the affiliated Churches of Christ here. "Sara" was slightly overweight and had blond hair. I recently sighted a photo of Mary Chrnaloger who appeared in court in America together with Joe Szimhart concerning the illegal restraint and deprogramming of a mother of four children. While the quality of the photo was not good the features of this woman are consistent with those of "Sara". She came to Australia for my case about a week before I was kidnapped (ie end of August 1991) to help set up the house where I was held against my will and to glean information from my mother about myself and my family relationships. She left Australia on Saturday, September 14, 1991.

The British deprogrammer was Jane Allison (who called herself "Liz"), an ex-Unification Church member, as mentioned (sic) my earlier statement. In 1991, she and her mother had a strong connection with an "anticult" organization based in the U.K. called F.A.I.R. and it was through this connection that she became involved in my illegal restraint. She arrived in Australia a day or two before my kidnapping and left on Friday September 20, 1991.

There was an Australian man involved in my kidnapping and deprogramming who called himself "Ron". He is an ex-Scientologist, is quite short (approx. 5'6") and his age is about early fifties. I have seen quite old photos of Cyril Vosper and I believe him to be the same person as "Ron" though I would like to see a recent photo to be absolutely sure.

Finally, there was an Australian lady involved who called herself "Sylvia". She was about in her late fourties and is a teacher by profession.

"Sara", Jane, "Ron" and "Sylvia" were physically present during my abduction from my parents' home on September 6, 1991. Jane told me of how she had prevented one person in a similar situation from escaping because of her abilities in martial arts. This was an implied threat to myself not to resist being taken away. When I first entered my parents' house, she was hiding in one part of the house, and "Ron" and "Sylvia" were hiding in the other side of the house, in case I made a dash through the house to escape. The four of them accompanied me in the back of a van with blackened-out windows, two positioned either side at the back of the front seat. They asked me to lie down in the middle of the back of the van en route to the rented holiday home in Mornington where I was illegally restrained for nine days.

Every night during my stay there, I was guarded by my mother who slept in the same room with me on the floor, by Jane who slept on the floor just outside my bedroom in the ensuite area, and then for the first four days by "Ron" who slept the other side of the ensuite door which led out to the rest of the house. This door had been fitted with a hook and eye lock expressly for the time of my stay.

Joe Szimhart and Pat Ryan were on stand-by to receive a call on Friday night to come to Australia. They arrived on Sunday September 6, 1991 and left late evening Saturday September 14, 1991.

For the first 8 days of my captivity in this house, I was never left alone except for about an hour every morning while I was getting up. Even then my bedroom and ensuite area was always watched by at least one of the deprogrammers. Most of the "counselling" took place in the main living room of the house which had a whole wall of windows and one door out onto a courtyard. There was always at least one deprogrammer between me and this door out onto the courtyard at all times. Usually Joe Szimhart, Pat Ryan, Jane Allison and "Sara" were in this room with me. The first counselling sessions were actually held in my bedroom which had the windows boarded up (the adjoining bathroom also had its window boarded up). However on Saturday September 7, 1991, the day after I arrived, I ran from this bedroom saying I did not want to hear anything that they wanted to tell me and that I just wanted to talk to my family (this is the reason I had come from Sydney to Melbourne the day before). "Sara" called out to "Ron" who ran to the door leading out to the courtyard in case I tried to escape.

During the period of my illegal restraint in this house, my mother had a visit from Mrs. Joan McClelland who recently co-founded with her husband the "Cultaware" group in New South Wales. My mother later explained that Joan McClelland had been the one to put her in touch with the Cult Awareness Network (CAN) in the United States. It was through this connection provided by Joan McClelland that my parents came to organise my illegal restraint and unsought-for "provision of information and resources for 'affected' individuals" - the professed aims of "Cultaware" - for a five figure sum.

I am writing this statement some time after the episode in question because of the recent increase in "cult education" which in my case was not voluntarily sought-for. Individuals with connections to the Cult Awareness Network in the U.S. and the F.A.I.R. group in the U.K. have entered Australia recently, expressly for involuntarily "exit counselling" as described above.

CAN, We Hardly Knew Ye: Sex, Drugs, Deprogrammers’ Kickbacks, and Corporate Crime in the (old) Cult Awareness Network

by Anson Shupe, Susan E. Darnell

A paper presented at the 2000 meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Houston, Texas. October 21.

CESNUR’s NOTE: As usual, the opinions of this paper are those of the authors and are not necessarily endorsed by CESNUR or its directors. This paper was presented at the SSSR annual meeting 2000, one of the most important scholarly meetings in the world in the field of sociology of religion, and generated a crucial discussion on important topics; we believe that it is appropriate to make it available to a wider public. The reader with some experience in this field would, of course, know that Anson Shupe is one of the most well-known sociologists of religion in the United States. Susan E. Darnell manages a multimillion dollar credit union and is an expert in financial records. We will publish additional documents as soon as they will become available. In order to read the endnotes, click on their reference numbers. In order to access the enclosed documents, click on the sentence referring to them.

AUTHORS’ CAVEAT: This conference paper presents controversial evidence that is only part of a larger scholarly work on the subject. Assertions and conclusions made here rely on contained as well as uncited evidence not currently archived for many scholars. Eventually such data will be. For obvious reasons of length this work-in-progress does not refer to all existing data in its endnotes.

On October 23, 1996 at 9:30 AM the Cult Awareness Network (CAN), a Chicago-based national anticult organization claiming to be purely a tax-exempt informational clearinghouse on new religions, closed its doors amid bankruptcy proceedings and its assets were auctioned off [see Document 1: Sale of CAN name]. The precipitating, but not lone, event that hastened its demise was a civil suit brought against both CAN and a trio of coercive deprogrammers who unsuccessfully tried to remove a legal adult, Mr. Jason Scott, from a United Pentecostal congregation. Scott was violently abducted, physically abused, and forcibly detained at a remote Washington State location for almost a week. While CAN was meanwhile suffering many other lawsuits for alleged deprivation of the civil rights of members of minority religions, the Scott case became its Waterloo.

The jury was quite clear in its decision [see Document 2] to award compensatory and punitive damages to Scott. [1] CAN’s primary activity, this case and others have revealed, was to provide false and/or inflammatory opinion in the guise of "information" about minority religions to the media and other inquires. All or virtually all such "information" was derogatory, consistent with CAN’s goals of "educating" the public that various new religious movements (NRMs) are "destructive cults," that all of the members thereof are "cult victims," are "brainwashed," and are therefore at risk, possibly needing "rescue." The jury’s decision, under the definitions provided in Washington law, was that CAN was truly an organized hate campaign. CAN described its activities in a euphemistic manner to make its activities seem less outrageous from a civil liberties perspective. The reason CAN ever became involved in the Scott lawsuit was that, consistent with its organizational pattern, it served as a conduit for referrals to coercive deprogrammers (later termed by CAN "exit counselors") who would, for a fee, abduct and during detention harangue family members into religious apostasy.

In a curt note to the defendants who tried to appeal the verdict [Document 3], including self-proclaimed Bible-based "cult expert" Rick Ross, who had thoroughly botched the Jason Scott deprogramming, United States District Judge John C. Coughenour concluded:

Finally, the court notes each of the defendants’ seeming incapability of appreciating the maliciousness of their conduct towards Mr. Scott. Rather, throughout the entire course of this litigation, they have attempted to portray themselves as victims of Mr. Scott’s counsel’s alleged agenda. Thus, the large award given by the jury against both CAN and Mr. Ross seems reasonably necessary to enforce the jury’s determination on the oppressiveness of the defendants’ actions and deter similar conduct in the future. [2]

In this paper we do not rehash the Scott case, which was entangled in legal minutiae and appeals, nor do we chronicle the last days of CAN as it struggled frantically with a bankruptcy court to prevent its records and files from becoming public [see Document 4]. Instead, based primarily on the latter sources we present new evidence that CAN indeed illustrated the three levels of malfeasance recognized by criminologists:

street crime -- direct, physical tactics of assaulting others (or their property) for personal gain.
white collar crime -- insiders misappropriating or stealing from the organization’s resources for their own enrichment.
corporate crime -- performance of illegal, harmful criminal behavior as standard operating policy for administrators.

The second two levels are known in sociology as types of elite deviance [3], and that constitutes the thrust of our argument: CAN was a corporate criminal scheme involving (at times in its referred deprogrammings) illegal drug usage, conspiring to violate civil liberties, and sexual assault/harassment in the name of "counseling."

Our purpose is to shed new light on a highly visible, late twentieth century counter social movement with ostensibly humanitarian intentions, to extend sociological/historical understanding of the cult-anticult controversy that has preoccupied the attention of many scholars, and to encourage criminologists’ further interest in matters usually taken up by sociologists of religion.


One of us (Shupe) has followed the anticult movement (ACM) since the mid-1970s (its literature, its leadership, its various organizational structures), backtracked through interviews and documents to its inception and founders in the early 1970s, and monitored its development both in the United States and abroad. He has analyzed the ACM repeatedly during the past quarter century and even solicited self-analyses of their participation by ACM activists. [4]

One of us (Darnell) manages a multimillion dollar credit union and has the necessary acumen to decipher organizational financial records (ledgers, disbursements, audits, etc.). This expertise became important when in the late 1990s we obtained, following a purchase from CAN’s bankruptcy trustee [see Document 5], access to approximately 400 boxes of records once owned by CAN. Of these, 32 boxes include CAN’s financial records, from canceled checks to deposit slips to internal and external audits. While we have substantial evidence that some records were deliberately destroyed before the court seized the documents, enough remain to point to financial irregularities in CAN [see also Document 6: Samples of redacted Board minutes].

These are the sources of the generalizations presented here, with select endnotes following our text. A more extensive analysis is underway and is planned for publication [5]. (See Appendix D)

A Brief Overview of the Anticult Movement

And the Emergence of CAN

Elsewhere one of us has presented a detailed historical/organizational analysis of the ACM up to the end of the 1970s. [6] The chronicle is basically one of regional grassroots "mom-and-pop" groups’ struggles to (1) acquire sufficient financial stability to allow them to spread their message of "destructive cults" subverting American society, (2) maintain a shifting membership base together long enough to lobby, publicize, and mobilize opposition to NRMs, and (3) establish a national unified organizational prominence with political clout. There were a number of false (i.e., unsuccessful) starts, but by the mid-1980s there were two prominent national-level groups -- the Cult Awareness Network and the American Family Foundation. [7] In the beginning (i.e., the early 1970s) most ACM groups’ membership consisted of senior family members distraught at their offsprings’/junior relatives’ deviant religious choices. Over time, however, the mantle of ACM activism and leadership passed to degreed behavioral science moral entrepreneurs who made ACM involvement an important, and sometimes lucrative, part of their careers. [8]

The extent to which either CAN or its "sister" social movement organization, the American Family Foundation, have been "hate groups" as defined either by Washington state law or by the racial/ethnic criteria in sociology is open to debate. [9] [see also Document 7: sample of CAN’s literature] (AFF began in the late 1970s as a local chapter of CAN.) Certainly both ACM groups have presented slanted, stereotypical images and language that has inflamed persons to perform extreme actions. Certainly also both CAN and AFF have at least promoted a professional veneer which, at the popular level, appears more scientific than hateful. This apparent "normalization" of their ire against NRMs is a modern trend for hate groups, according to one author:

...the hate movement in the United States has taken on a new, modern face. The strength of the contemporary hate movement is grounded in its ability to repackage its message in ways that make it more palatable, and in its ability to exploit the points of intersection between itself and prevailing ideological canons. In short, the hate movement is attempting to move itself into the mainstream of United States culture and politics. [10]

So it was for CAN until its bankruptcy in 1996. CAN was a literal offshoot of the earlier tax-exempt Citizens Freedom Foundation - Information Services [see Document 8], itself another development from the even earlier Citizens Freedom Foundation (CFF) which was at one time the nation’s largest ACM group. CAN proclaimed itself to be an informational clearing house for facts about NRMs. At the same time it was aggressive in promoting a "mind control" model of NRM membership though its representatives (at least publicly) righteously denied any involvement in coercive deprogrammings. In the remainder of this paper we turn to evidence (in admittedly abbreviated conference paper form) suggesting a rather different evaluation of CAN’s operations and purposes.

The Transition from CFF to CAN

Deprogramming (referring to the pseudo-therapy in which the member of an unpopular or controversial religion is abducted, involuntarily detained, and repeatedly demeaned/harangued/harassed/threatened by individuals, usually paid by that person’s family, until that person recants the faith system) has become a term in popular culture. Recently, given the unsavory reputations of many deprogrammers [see Document 9; see also Document 10 on Ted Patrick’s criminal conviction, and Document 11 on Rick Ross and his criminal convictions], they have adopted new euphemisms for their roles, such as "interventionists" and "exit counselors." Unfortunately these terms muddy the water. Such terms may legitimately apply to voluntary discussions among NRM members and their families guided by a trained counselor or simply become a linguistic dodge used by coercive deprogrammers. But the presupposition is still there in the new terminology: the purpose of the activity is to "exit" members from their associations in non-approved religions and which affiliations call for intervention, exit, or deprogramming, not tolerance or acceptance.

Examples of deprogramming, some given national attention and others more local, are legion. We certainly do not have the space here to provide legal, media, and anecdotal-narrative data on even a modest fraction of such cases. However, to give readers a flavor of several well known cases, we provide a sampler of six deprogrammings in Appendix A.

It is worth examining several pieces of information on CAN’s predecessor, CFF, and the brief period of CFF’s transition into CAN since any changes made were plainly cosmetic and, more importantly, CAN continued CFF corporate crime policy of facilitating and even encouraging street crime (coercive deprogrammings).

CFF and CFF-IS had close but at times ambivalent relations to deprogrammers. Early CFF brochures [see Document 12] admired the coercive practice as a necessary, even heroic evil and endorsed it: later CFF and CAN disassociated the organizations from deprogramming at least on paper. Both groups, however, served as conduits for referrals to deprogrammers.

Kent E. Vaughn, a member of the CFF board of directors from 1983-84 and certainly no "cult apologist" (having two adult daughters involved with The Way International), recalls gaining a definite sense that CFF (shortly before it became CAN in the mid-1980s) had a Janus-like public persona very different from its real operations [see Document 13]. He was made particularly uneasy by deprogrammers’ regular contact with CFF officers:

I was involved in many discussions with other board members about the name change [to CAN]. I believe the general consensus of the board was to change the name to avoid negative references to the organization caused by the arrest of deprogrammers, such as Ted Patrick. Patrick had been affiliated with CFF since it was first started. [11]

One of those CFF officers was Shirley Landa, CFF president, who participated in a deprogramming.

Vaughn found his fellow board members turned deaf ears to his unease, and he began to feel cut off from the decisions made by the organizational leadership. He was disturbed by CFF’s apparent right-wing partisanship and the casual, even irresponsible spending of scarce monies. He also made the board itself uneasy [see Document 13] when he brought up the subject of some sort of ethical rein to hold deprogrammers accountable:

At the July 16-17, 1984 New York City board meeting, I got the subject of ethics in counseling put on the agenda. Although I was not fully appraised of CFF-CAN’s activities, I had heard and seen enough to realize that CFF-CAN was connected to involuntary deprogrammers, and that this issue need to be dealt with. I began the discussion by talking about deprogrammers who were taking large amounts of money from the families of cult members, and using violent methods to accomplish the deprogrammings. I told the board that I felt this was very wrong and that we needed to do something about it. After I completed my comments, only I --- H ---- made a comment that supported my position. The rest of the board remained silent. I was aware of deprogrammings, both voluntary and involuntary, that were taking place across the country. I knew the other board members were also aware of these matters. As far as I was aware, there were never any "official" discussions about these issues at prior board meetings. This upset me greatly, and I felt it was a further indicator that there were things going on within the board that I did not know of. [12]

Vaughn also observed the familiarity with which known coercive deprogrammers "made the rounds" of CFF-CAN conventions, speaking and advertising their services:

I recall that on several occasions at our annual conferences, would see persons who I knew were active involuntary deprogrammers meeting in small groups with other board members and affiliates. These meetings usually took place during the breaks at the conferences, and were often held at a corner table in the lounge at whatever hotel were using. It appeared to me that these activities were deprogrammings of some type being planned. I concluded that the rest of the board members chose to ignore this activity, or pretend that it wasn’t happening, because it was a legally and ethically sensitive issue. [13]

Vaughn persisted in raising such issues, was warned by a CFF-CAN member that his membership on the board was really a "set up" (his words), and was advised by this person: "After several discussions, she warned me that my life could be in danger if I continued to pursue my investigations into the activities of the board." [14] This warning was given to him twice.

After serving a year and a half of his two-year term on CFF’s board, Vaughn resigned in frustration: "I concluded that anyone who went against the ‘inner clique’ agreements within CAN would be shunned or ostracized." [15]

In fact, as early as 1980 CFF-IS was troubled internally by its relationship to deprogrammers. Wrote former executive director John Sweeney to several ACM activists:

Scarcely a week goes by without some parent calling and complaining about a deprogrammer. They did not counsel. They did not show up. They overcharged. etc. etc. etc. CFF-IS is an educational foundation. We try to help parents and still educate the public. Deprogramming is not one of our services. Yet we all realize that we are involved in this area of great concern to our members. So like it or not, a problem with deprogramming is a CFF-IS problem. [16] [see Document 14]

That problem continued. Sweeney was dissuaded by CFF’s lawyer (who must have had some idea of how rapaciously some deprogrammers were behaving) from pursuing an ethical code of behavior for deprogrammers. Sweeney got no further on this count that did Vaughn several years later. The CFF board also rejected the idea. However, Sweeney reports he was greatly disturbed by what he styled (his words) "Quick Pay" methods and maintained that CFF "should not support the money grabbing, amateur kooks that claim to want to help parents but end up ripping them off for thousands of dollars." [17]

On April 29, 1980 Sweeney wrote to another ACM activist:

We have to continue to stress pre-education as the best antidote to destructive cults. We cannot get in bed with the deprogrammers UNLESS we control the actions of these deprogrammers. [18]

Sweeney once had a plan to ride herd on the deprogrammers’ worst excesses and simultaneously gain legitimacy for the practice. He wanted to establish an accredited deprogramming facility accepted in both legal and medical worlds, "a facility so renowned that no judge would hesitate issuing an order to have a cultist remanded to that center for a number of weeks. ...At least we would make deprogramming and rehab so legitimate that Blue Cross would pick up the bulk of the tab." [19] Jokingly, he wrote in a letter to a CFF friend named Allan (n.d.):

On the surface CFF is not involved in deprogramming. Yet if you eliminated every CFF member who had been involved in deprogramming or rehab or rescue work you and I would be the only CFF members left."

Finally, like Vaughn, Sweeney quit CFF in disgust. Recalling the circumstances of his resignation, he made mention of another disturbing pattern in CFF-endorsed activities: "Many deprogrammers had sex with their victims and used drugs during the deprogrammings." [20] (More on these actions later.)

Corporate Crime as CAN Policy

The remainder of this paper examines several areas of CAN practice and policies, based on testimonies of its own operatives as well as other sources, to support the contention that CAN regularly and knowingly participated in criminal activities.

Regular Referrals of Inquiries to Coercive Deprogrammers

Much has been made in depositions and court appearances by CAN officials that the organization in no way promoted coercive deprogrammings. Pious denials and rather apparent dodging of the issue seem to have been the standard strategy when confronted under oath by attorneys suspecting otherwise. Consider, for example, the circumlocution provided by Cynthia Kisser, last executive director of CAN, in a 1994 deposition while being questioned:

Q.Have you, in the context of your work for CAN, haven’t you met with and worked with persons that were convicted of crimes?

A.Not that I recall, no.

Q.Rick Ross? [Ross is a convicted jewel thief and violent deprogrammer.]

A.I never met him in my capacity as any kind of a CAN person.

Q.You’ve never talked to Rick Ross in your capacity as Executive Director of CAN?

A.I have talked to him as opposed to meet with him in my function as a CAN official. There is a major difference here in the shading of the words which ---

Q.?Well ---?

A.--- which I detect in your question, counselor.

Q.No, there isn’t a major difference. The major difference is a semantic attempt to evade answering the question.

Mr. Beal [Kisser’s attorney]: Mr. Moxon, if you will ask straightforward and simple questions --- Mr. Moxon: What I want is for her to give a straightforward and simple answer. What’s happening here is gross evasion.

Mr. Beal: That’s absolutely untrue.

Mr. Moxon: What we’re going to do is seek our costs and fees from this waste of time and destruction of the court’s time. The witness has been doing it throughout this deposition.

[The deposition continued after attorneys’ discussion.]

Mr. Beal: Be our guest.

Q.Have you ever communicated with Rick Ross in the context of your position as the Executive Director of CAN?

A:Yes, I have communicated with Mr. Rick Ross in my capacity as a CAN employee, yes.

Q.What other persons who have been convicted of crimes have you communicated with in the context of your position at CAN

[Kisser then continued to meander around such questions but finally and grudgingly admitted she had communicated with ex-con Rick Ross and Galen Kelly (a private investigator-turned coercive deprogrammer) and that they had been frequent attenders at annual CAN conventions.]

Q.Are you saying you never associated with persons who have been convicted of crimes?

A.Taken "association" in the broadest term, no that is not what I am saying. The broadest possible construction of it, yes. I’m quite sure that I have.

Q.You have done so in your role as Executive Director of CAN, right?

[The attorney then went on to read to Kisser a Who’s Who list of coercive deprogrammers and she responded affirmatively to having dealt with each of them, such as Mark Blocksom, Newbold Smith, Donald Moore, Robert Points, Rick Ross, Galen Kelly, Joe Szimhart, Mary Alice Chrnalogar, Robert Brandyberry, Jerry Flanagan, Joey DeSanctis, and Cliff Daniels.] [21] [see Document 15]

Kisser’s reticence in acknowledging that CAN served as an active referral agency for professional deprogrammers is perhaps not surprising but certainly disingenuous. For example, in deprogrammer Rick Ross’s own self-promoting resume [Document 16] mailed out to various prospective client sources, Ross offers a blurb of praise from her as follows:

He is very knowledgeable about cults. His name is among the half dozen best deprogrammers in the country. [22]

Consider another example of defining away the coercion of deprogramming and denial under oath by Priscilla Coates, former executive director of the Citizens Freedom Foundation and former head of the Cult Awareness Network, Los Angeles affiliate:

Q.What is involuntary deprogramming as you understand it?

A.To the best of my understanding, when the family decides that there is no other way to talk to the person but by keeping them at a location until they have heard the correct information about the group.

Q.Through the use of force?


Q.How do you keep someone against their will without force?

A.You lock the door. [23]

Below are other representative data on a CAN-deprogramming connection:

Rick Ross, writing to Priscilla Coates in 1988 [Document 17/18], referred to deprogramming referrals from CAN helping to underwrite the costs of writing a book. He estimated that it was necessary for him to complete about two more exit counseling cases that year to support his project. He said a couple of cases right then would be helpful. He asked if she knew of anything. He remarked that Cynthia Kisser in Chicago had given him a couple of referrals but they did not come through. They were just ambivalent families who really couldn’t make up their minds, he said in disgust. [24]

A private investigator who interviewed deprogrammer Robert Brandyberry by telephone reports:

Brandyberry admitted he was a former "deprogrammer" who had worked very closely as a deprogrammer with the Cult Awareness Network (CAN) between 1980 and 1989. Brandyberry stated that during this time, he also provided CAN with educational materials, gave lectures at CAN meetings, and volunteered his time for CAN related projects.

Brandyberry stated that he deprogrammed approximately five hundred persons between 1980 and 1989. Of these deprogrammings he conducted approximately one hundred fifty illegally. Specifically, Brandyberry stated that it was necessary for him to kidnap and falsely imprison these deprogramming victims during their "involuntary deprogrammings."

Brandyberry also stated that of these approximately one hundred fifty kidnappings and false imprisonments, CAN officials had directly referred him to about seventy-five to eight-five percent of the persons who had paid him money to conduct these illegal deprogrammings.

Brandyberry stated that CAN’s referral policy for illegal deprogramming was very common knowledge by the employees in the national offices of the Cult Awareness Network during the entire time he was a deprogrammer. [25] [see Document 19]

Dr. Lowell D. Streiker, an author and counselor with a PhD. in religion from Princeton University, is the founder and former director of the Freedom Counseling Center in Burlingame, California. The FCC is a non-profit organization that counsels families with members in non-traditional religions.

Dr. Streiker is no knee-jerk "cult apologist" nor is he an "anti-cult apologist." He is, however, familiar with the CAN-deprogramming connection:

In my years as a counselor, I have become well acquainted with the so-called "anti-cult" network, which is a loose-knit confederation of parents’ groups, deprogrammers, dissatisfied former group members, cult-concerned mental health professionals, attorneys, and evangelical religious propagandists.

A major element in the anti-cult network is the "Cult Awareness Network" (C.A.N.)... The official policy of the national CAN on deprogramming states that CAN is opposed to kidnapping. Yet CAN executive directors and presidents have regularly referred numbers of the public to individuals known as "deprogrammers." ...As a counselor of families disturbed by so-called cults and an opponent of forcible deprogrammings, I could estimate that eighty percent of all deprogrammings that have been reported to me were set up by CAN national headquarters, or its chapters. Approximately two-thirds of those actively involved in CAN are vehemently in favor of coercive deprogramming and most of them have used the services of such big name deprogrammers as Ted Patrick, Joe Alexander, Jr., Galen Kelly, Cliff Daniels, Mark Blocksom, and Joe Szimhart.

In his sworn statement [Document 20] Streiker provides a number of examples of CAN-arranged deprogrammings of which he is personally aware. His conclusion:

I’ve become very disgusted with CAN, having personally had to clean up the wreckage that was left by their deprogrammers which went sour over the years. Seven highly distraught and depressed deprogramming victims have [even] been referred to me by various CAN members. [26]

In a sworn statement [Document 21] retired deprogrammer Mark Blocksom affirmed:

I became very active in my deprogramming activities during the early 1980s. The standard method by which referrals for involuntary deprogramming was via phone calls to the "good old boy" network (CFF, and later, CAN members or affiliates), who would then refer the called to a non-CFF/non-CAN person (usually a family member of a prior successful case), who would then call me and arrange the deprogramming. This "cut out" system was created to insulate CFF/CAN from legal liabilities.

It was an "unwritten" guideline that the deprogrammers did not ever directly affiliate themselves with CFF or CAN for reason of legal repercussions if a deprogramming failed/or received some bad press coverage . ...On at least two occasions, I used the farm house of Priscilla Coates in upstate New York as a safe house to complete the deprogramming. At this time, Coates was the Executive Director of CFF/CAN . ... Cynthia Kisser, who is now the national director of CAN, assisted me on at least 2 kidnapping type deprogrammings involving members of The Way International.

Both Kisser and Coates were involved in giving me referrals for involuntary deprogrammings prior to the actual formation of CAN, while the organization was still more "loose-knit," operating as CFF. They were both in my opinion fully aware that the parents they sent to me as referrals were planning to have their children/family member kidnapped or unlawfully detained.

Many of us in the deprogramming field would frequently attend the CFF/CAN conferences and conventions, both regional and national. At these conventions we would speak to parents and other attendees, for the purpose of soliciting deprogramming business, or at least making our availability known in anti-cult circles. Many of us involved in deprogramming were actually guest speakers, or served on discussion panels where deprogramming was discussed. I was a speaker on "exit counseling" at the 1985 CAN convention. This was a play on words, as it was well known that most of my deprogrammings were involuntary.

Kisser never took any actions to dissuade me from continuing kidnapping type deprogrammings. She was aware that I specialized in that type of deprogramming, and it was tacitly understood that if she referred a case to me, that a kidnapping could, and probably would occur. I believe that CAN maintained a referral list of deprogrammers, and I was on the list. [27]

Even Joe Szimhart, a prolific coercive deprogrammer in the 1990s, who once described himself at a national sociological meeting as merely a part time counselor and artist, publicly admitted that most of the several dozen deprogrammings he had performed were the result of CAN referrals. [28]

Finally, as one more piece of evidence illustrating the CAN deprogramming referral connection, Marty Butz, a staff member at CAN during the early 1990s, under oath estimated he had personally made approximately 400 -500 deprogramming referrals for persons who called CAN [see Document 22]. And he referred one NRM member who called CAN pretending to be ignorant of a given NRM but inquiring about it to a woman who said she could provide a list of deprogrammers (including the "classic rescuers": Joe Szimhart, Dave Clark, Randall Burkey, Steve Hassan, Rick Ross, and Carol Giambalvo) and their expected fees ($2,000 - $10,000) [29]

In short, based on a triangulation of sources there is little room for conjecture that deprogramming referrals were part of regular CAN policy, and, since many of these abductions were patently illegal and potentially harmful, CAN was therefore a hub of street crime involvement.

Indiscriminate Labeling/Publicizing NRMs and Other Groups as Destructive Cults

It is now known that when Kathy Tonkin, mother of three United Pentecostal sons for whom she sought deprogrammings, contacted CAN (see Case 6, Appendix A) [see Document 23], neither the ultimate chief deprogrammer ("Bible-based expert") Rick Ross nor anyone at CAN had ever heard of the Tabernacle Life Church. This turned out to be a matter of irrelevance since CAN cast an enormously wide net to monitor possible "cults" and in entrepreneurial fashion assumed most groups inquired about were ones justifying "interventions" for families. The array of alleged "cults" expanded exponentially as the ACM and CAN continued into the 1990s. J. Gordon Melton, director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion, estimates that while the ACM was mostly concerned with about fifteen NRM -- and of those, only five consistently over the year -- as many as 75 to 100 received some attention. [30]

In fact, the array demonstrated an increasing inclusiveness over the years. As deprogrammed ex-Unificationist Gary M. Scharf told two journalists in a post-Jonestown interview, trying to draw an analogy between the Unification Church and the Peoples Temple for suicide potential: "Whenever you’re dealing with religious categories like resurrection and birth, you begin to blur categories between life and death." [31] Such reasoning expanded considerably the number of groups of which to keep track. It bred distrust and guaranteed a growth industry of anticultists in the American religious marketplace. Traditional groups, such as the Christian Scientists and Mormons, over which evangelical counter-cult watchers had fretted for years, were of course invited to sit at the secular anticultists’ table of lists. So were variations of the Buddhist, Islamic, and Hindu world religions.

The game of identifying cults took on the nature of a binge, and at times ranged from the silly to the absurd. Momentum only increased from the 1970s into the 1990s. For example, taking his own home-spun wisdom to heart (i.e., "The Bible will drive you crazy if you take it literally"), deprogrammer Ted Patrick went on in a free-wheeling Playboy interview [see Document 24] to claim that evangelist Ruth Carter Stapleton, president Jimmy Carter’s sister, was "one of the biggest cult leaders in the nation," albeit a "good cult leader." The Rev. Billy Graham was thrown in for good measure. [32]

The net kept widening. Observed two sociologists: "At the end of the decade of the 1970s ‘there were even indications that the ACM might take on television evangelists as well." [33] Then came an alleged satanic underground network, and even quasi-religious corporations, such as Amway and Mary Kay, were accused of exhibiting cultic tendencies. [34]

There seemed to have been an unspoken agreement among ACM participants, exemplified by CAN, to wit: "I’ll consider your group a cult if you’ll do the same for mine." Deprogrammers’ parallel understanding seemed to be: "Any group referred to us, or disturbing to someone, requires intervention." The result was an open season on not just NRMs but on any organization that smacked of enthusiastically accepted discipline, self-mastery, self-improvement, self-refection, and deeply held spiritual beliefs.

But the net widened still. By the mid-1990s, the high point of CAN, files were kept on a total of 1505 groups: from Amway, the Amish, and the Anti-Reformation League; to chiropractic, Roman Catholics, and Campus Crusade for Christ; from the makers of the board game Dungeons and Dragons to the Democratic Workers Party; to the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana (America’s largest Protestant congregation) and the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International to the San Francisco rock band The Grateful Dead; on to the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship and the International Workers Party; to Klanwatch, the Ku Klux Klan, Lutherans, Mormons, Shirley MacLaine and the National Association of Evangelicals; on to the Oklahoma City bombings and Opus Dei; then to the Order of the Solar Temple, Protestants, Peoples Temple, Promise Keepers, and Jim/Tammy Faye Bakkers’ PTL Club; to the Rockford Institute, the Rutherford Institute, and the Rajneeshees; to Soka Gakkai, Scientology, and Santeria; to Teen magazine, Transcendental Meditation, and the charismatic Toronto Blessing; to Urantia and the United Pentecostal Church; from the Worldwide Church of God and the Wycliffe Bible Society to Women Aglow and Youth for Christ. (See Appendix B.) [See also Document 25]

If, as religious historian Philip Jenkins argues eloquently in Mystics and Messiahs. "Extreme and bizarre religious ideas are so commonplace in American history that it is difficult to speak of them as fringe at all," and that the existence of NRMs is a "persistent theme of American religion," then CAN was oblivious to this fact. [35] In reality, CAN was informed by few if any knowledgeable historical, sociological, theological, or psychological experts

Slanted information on NRMs was CAN dissemination policy. Several deposed testimonies from CAN leaders illustrate this tendency. For example, CAN employee Marty Butz revealed:

A.People do contact CAN with their concerns.

Q.And you give them derogatory information about cults, correct?

A.I don’t think "derogatory" is a fair term.

Q.Well, isn’t it a CAN practice to only give derogatory information and not positive information about groups that you consider to be cults?

A.We give a lot of information that’s responsive to the concerns of the individuals.

Q.Well, see, that doesn’t answer my question. My question is: Isn’t it a CAN policy to give derogatory information and specifically not to give positive information about groups that CAN deems cults?

A.Our focus deals with the critical or controversial aspects of these organizations that people have concerns about.

Q.Well, you never provide positive information. You don’t ever seek out positive information to give people about groups you consider to be cults.

[Butz admitted this was true after some verbal meandering.] [36] [see Document 26]

CAN’s Cynthia Kisser (in tortuous prose) [see Document 27] admitted that CAN’s policy was to never disseminate information in requested mailed packets about any NRM that could be considered non-threatening or non-destructive:

It’s a general policy for any packet, not necessarily just [on] Scientology... that the information in the packet is information other than that which is provided by the groups [themselves], since that information presumably is readily available to anybody from the group itself. And so the purpose of this is to provide information that’s in the public domain but not already published by the group, you know. [37]

Kisser’s and CAN’s approach in defining "cults" was laissez-faire, which is to say that they let any inquiries from distraught/worried family members define what was a "destructive cult," broadening their definitional umbrella. There was no hesitation about establishing "balance" in CAN information, even if the standards seem inconsistent in the same breath, according to the former President of CAN’s Board of Directors:

Most of the information that we receive about groups - actually if we do receive information that has positive information about that group, as well as negative, we don’t try to withhold the positive information... But we don’t endeavor to balance the positive with the negative... I think that our purpose is to collect information that’s been written about an organization. There is plenty of --- as counsel said, there’s plenty of positive information that usually people have seen on the organization. They haven’t had access to a balanced view of it. And it’s our job to provide information that gives [a] more critical view of the group. [38] [see Document 28]

CAN’s indiscriminate approach to defining and acting against NRMs can be illustrated twice. We provide anecdotal evidence of the rather cavalier attempts to identify "destructive cults" and/or their practices.

First, in a deposition by CAN’s executive director Cynthia Kisser in which she attempts to deal with the implications of an inclusive definition of cult:

Q.What’s your definition of cult?

A.Just of a cult?


A.It’s -- a cult is an organization --an organization can be large or small; size is not the determinant -- that has expressive devotion to a leader, principle or idea.

Q.Is the Catholic Church a cult?

A.Under that broad definition, yes.

Q.Is the Democratic Party a cult?

A.Under this definition of cult above, yes. [39] [see Document 29]

Second, in an unpublished manuscript draft deprogrammer Rick Ross interprets charismatic glossolalia as an alleged link to "mind control":

It seems obvious that the "gift" of tongues is a facet of fundamentalist mind control. It is dehabilitating [sic–there is no such word.] and have [sic] severe side effects. Disassociative behavior and premature senility have become repeated symptoms. [40]

The most interesting aspect of Ross’ interpretation is that he has little clue as to the difference between a fundamentalist Christian and a charismatic Christian. Likewise, Cynthia Kisser agreed about glossolalia in analyzing the Christian sect called The Way International: "The Way’s practice of speaking in tongues" is "classic hypnosis." [41] But then these sorts of confusions and misunderstandings were mere nuances of little import to deprogrammers and ultimately to CAN.

Use of Sexual Abuse and Illegal Drugs by Deprogrammers During "Rescues"

Coercive deprogrammers’ use of illegal drugs and sexual tactics involved during their confinement of adult citizens has never been discussed in the mainline social science literature on the ACM. [42] If anything, the notorious Riethmuller deprogramming-sexual assault case (Appendix A, Case No. 2) [43] has been seen as an anomaly. By several sources of evidence, however, including both notarized anecdotes and depositional material, we maintain that sexual deviance and drug use were an ancillary, but not infrequent, accompaniment of numerous coercive deprogrammings.

Previously in this paper we cited former CFF executive director John Sweeney as complaining about non-accountable, free-wheeling deprogrammers: "Many deprogrammers had sex with their victims and used drugs during the deprogrammings." Focusing on an illustrative (but admittedly truncated) set of cases here (an expanded set to be presented elsewhere–see endnote No. 7), we find empirical support for a similar pattern of abuse continuing from CFF into the CAN organization and tolerance of it at the highest echelons.

Drug use here means consumption/ingestion during the course of a coercive deprogramming of illegal substances (ex., cocaine) and alcohol. Sexual tactics refer to two types: (1) forced sexual intercourse, or rape (of men and women); and (2) sexual demeaning or intimidation of a person or refusal to permit reasonable hygienic care. Since sometimes the drug use and sexual abuse occurred together, we make no attempt to separate them out in the following illustrative testimonies:

Jennifer Jacobs swore in a legal declaration [see Document 30] that in 1987 at the start of her deprogramming she was unwillfully abducted by three men who "smelled of sweat and alcohol." During her eleven-day confinement she relates how

throughout the time of my captivity [former deprogrammer Mark] Blocksom and the other security guards used cocaine heavily. The cocaine made Blocksom become enraged and violent. More than once, the other men had to physically restrain him to keep him from beating me up. [Deprogrammer Joe] Szimhart saw them using cocaine but did not appear to object. [44]

Forbidding privacy for personal hygienic and elimination needs appears to have been standard deprogramming practices for many men and women:

In Appendix A, Case No. 3 [see also Document 31], Karen Lever testified under oath that during eight days’ confinement she decided to refuse to take a shower because she was not allowed privacy from the continuous stares of her male abductors. Jason Scott (Appendix A, Case No. 6) appears to have been deliberately fed poor, greasy food that caused him to develop stomach cramps and diarrhea, but two of the male deprogrammers insisted on accompanying him each time to the nailed-open bathroom [see Document 32]. This humiliating violation of privacy is often encountered in deprogramming survivor accounts. Arthur Roselle, a former member of the Unification Church and now a respected member of the banking industry, told in a sworn declaration of his treatment by deprogrammer Steve Hassan:

During the first three days, I was always escorted to the bathroom while my hands were still bound and tied. I was not washed or shaved. With help I was able to urinate in a pot. Due to the embarrassment of being watched at all times, I did not allow myself to defecate. [45] [see Document 33]

Another of deprogrammer-turned-"exit counselor" Steve Hassan’s "clients" was Claire Kelley, who was confined to one room in a New Hampshire log cabin for three days. A guard was placed outside the bedroom door to prevent her escape, and a guard inside the room at all times escorted her to the bathroom. [46] [see Document 34]

During the five-day abortive coercive deprogramming of Henry Kuegel, a member of the Church Universal and Triumphant, deprogrammers Mary Alice Chrnalogar, Galen Kelly, and Rory Ingalls (among others present) displayed the usual "commode insensitivity" and mocked Kuegel’s sexuality:

Food didn’t sit well. One of the guards followed me to the open air bathroom... Once [his girlfriend] and Rory came down [to the basement where he was kept] and decided to mock my church’s belief in celibacy before marriage. Rubbing the girlfriend’s arm, Rory contemptuously declared, "In the Church, you men don’t have genitals!" [47] [see Document 35]

An admittedly gross but illustrative example of demeaning sexual callousness that can only be labeled deliberately harassing occurred in the deprogramming fiasco involving Debra Dobkowski [see Document 36]. Succinctly described: in 1992 former Loudin County (VA) sheriff’s deputy Daniel L. Moore, Phil and Michele Bruschansky, and private investigator Galen Kelly were hired by Washington, DC. resident Beth Bruckert’s parents to abduct and deprogram her because she was allegedly a member of the apocalyptic, eastern mystic Circle of Friends cult. [48] However, they abducted the wrong woman, Bruckert’s roomate Debra Dobkowski. Dobkowski recalls:

As the two men walked towards me [in a parking lot outside her place of employment late at night], the stocky one started to talk as if to ask me a question. I immediately went to slam the hatch to the car and run to get in the car . ...They both grabbed me and threw me to the hood of the car. The taller one had hold of my legs, which he spread wide apart, at this point I thought I was going to be raped. I felt his crouch [sic] up against mine . ...I had been thrown into the van, through a side sliding door. In addition to the two men, there were two women in the van . ... I screamed not to touch me, let me sit myself, to get hands off me. [49]

There were the usual promises of gentle treatment in exchange for cooperation:

[During the drive to Bruckert’s parents’ home] I indicated that that very evening, I had just gotten my period, that I had not had tampons with me and so I was a bloody mess and the longer time went by the bloodier and messier I would become. Kelly indicated that he could not do anything about that. He motioned to the woman in the back. She said she had tampons in her car at the place where we were going and she would get me some when we arrived.

They arrived at the Bruckert residence and the mother informed them they had abducted the wrong woman. Meanwhile, while the confused deprogrammers debated what to do, Dobkowski recalls:

One more time I requested tampons so I could address the bloody mess problem. Kelly allowed the woman in the back to get me some tampons. She left the van for about five to ten minutes and then returned with about 5-6 slender tampons. I begged them at this point to let me out but Kelly would not allow me to leave the van to use the tampons. We then proceeded to start to drive again. I was told they were driving me back to where they had picked me up.

A young woman mistakenly abducted by vigilante pseudo-therapists, faced with the indignity of having to sit for hours in her own menses -- this street crime had one more element. When the deprogrammers abruptly pushed out Ms. Dobkowski into the empty parking lot after two o-‘clock in the morning, she checked her two handbags which the deprogrammers had initially taken from her and found they had stolen about $175 in cash.

Anecdotes of inebriated "counselors" and "guards," some holding down their female "clients" by the thighs under their dresses, whispering threats and/or assurances, lips to ears, and so forth, became legion. Sexual assault and harassment became commonplace under CAN. Dr. Lowell D. Streiker, counselor and author cited earlier, recalled:

One of the deprogrammers that CAN frequently referred members of the public to was Cliff Daniels... I have personal knowledge of Cliff Daniels’ violent deprogrammings. In 1981 I consulted with a client named Dorothy Mitchell, who had family members in the River of Life Ministry. In the course of counseling Ms. Mitchell, I had the occasion to speak to Daniels, who was involved in deprogrammings at this time with other members of the River of Life Ministry. Daniels volunteered to me the information that he had used illegal drugs while involved in deprogrammings and that he had had sex with one of his deprogramming victims. [50] [see Document 37]

Other female deprogrammees told Streiker that Daniels had tried "repeatedly and persistently, to seduce them." It was apparent that Daniels tried to use sexual intercourse as a "test" to see whether the women were completely "out of the cult." [Streiker’s words.] If the women continued to resist his advances, he accused them of not really having been deprogrammed. [51] A male, Jason Scott (Appendix A, Case No. 6) only had to feign a change of attitudes to dupe his male deprogrammers; some women, it appears, had to go the more extreme route to ultimately accomplish the same end. We do not list here other anecdotes traveling within the ACM subculture of male rapes and homosexual deprogramming behavior.

Ultimately, individual anecdotes of maverick deprogrammers are one thing. The CAN "home office"’s posture toward use of sex and related tactics in deprogrammings is another. In CAN’s case this attitude appears to have been a pragmatic one, indeed. In a deposition, CAN’s final executive director Cynthia Kisser was directly asked about sex in deprogrammings by an attorney. She provided a telling response:

Q.That’s all I am asking simply… You don’t consider sexual assault during deprogramming to be sexual perversion, is that right?

A.That is not my understanding of what sexual perversion is, no.

Q.Would you consider it sexual perversion for a deprogrammer who was hired to change the belief of someone who is alleged to be a lesbian to do so by showing her how a quote, "a real man does it," would you consider that to be sexual perversion?

A.Well, if they are having regular intercourse, man to woman, then it can’t be perversion. It might be rape, assault or something else, but it doesn’t sound like perversion to me.

Q.Rape isn’t perversion to you?

A.Rape is a criminal act, but perversion means something different than just a criminal act.

Q.Ms. Kisser, do you consider rape to be a sexual perversion or not?

A.As I understand sexual perversion, that would not fit the definition of sexual perversion.
[52] [see Document 38]

Thus, a helpless man or woman detained against his/her will who had been sexually assaulted in whatever manner had not experienced any sort of perverse act according to CAN’s head. Trained sex therapists who use surrogate partners in legitimate therapy for clients with sexual dysfunctions are controversial, still relatively rare, but at least professionally accountable. The less-than-accountable deprogrammers and exit counselors, almost none of whom has ever had former credentials in any accredited therapeutic practice, found a blind eye turned toward their "rescue" methodologies in the "insider" subculture of CAN.

Deprogrammer Kickbacks and Money-Laundering: The Inner Sanctum of NARDEC

Journalist Nora Hamerman, in writing about the Dobkowski deprogramming fiasco, referred to CAN as "a clearinghouse for kidnap-for-hire rings." This is an apt description. There was a corporate crime basis for CAN’s continuance and funding, as we suggested earlier. [53]

Various background informant sources speak to a deprogrammer kickback/money laundering scheme by which deprogrammers received continued referrals from CAN in exchange for "repayments" or donations (i.e., commissions) funneled back to national CAN headquarters. In one newspaper article former deprogrammer Jonathon Nordquist "alleges that with each referral to a deprogrammer, a ‘kick-back’ is sent to CAN in the form of a ‘donation’ to ensure that the referrals continue." [54] If so, such claims would establish a financial symbiosis between CAN and coercive deprogrammers. John M. Sweeney, Jr., past head of CFF as it turned into CAN during the early-to-mid 1980s, recounting how deprogrammers charged thousands of dollars per case, testified:

Because of the large amounts of money they make due to referrals received from CFF members, deprogrammers usually kick-back money to the CFF member who gave the referral... The kick-backs would either be in cash or would be in the form of a tax deductible "donation" to the CFF . ...Adrian Greek, who was the national chairman of CFF at the time that I was its national director, had an adult daughter in the Unification Church. Mr. Greek was very cheap and didn’t want to pay money to have a deprogramming. He then attempted to get a deprogrammer to deprogram his daughter in exchange for Mr. Greek’s future referrals of clients to the deprogrammer. [55]

Deprogrammer Mark Blocksom (endnote 27) alludes indirectly to this reciprocity, and deprogrammer Rick Ross (endnote 24) seems to assume it. CAN’s last executive director, Cynthia Kisser, in her weave-and-dodge responses under legal examination, is vague but suggestive of such a corporate policy:

Q.Whether CAN National during the period of 1987 to 1989 to your knowledge received donations, pleads, or funds of any sort from deprogrammers?

A.I would say given the definition I gave of deprogramming, yes, they very well could have.

Q.To your knowledge from 1987 to 1989 have any families who to your knowledge hired deprogrammers subsequent to referrals from CAN made any donations to CAN National?

A.I would have no way of knowing on a first name basis, if that was their reason for giving.

Q.So, to your knowledge some families have given, but you don’t know what their reasons were?

A.Thousands of people have given. I don’t know what their reason may have been.

Q.Well, to your knowledge have families who in fact hired deprogrammers and made that known to you, made donations to CAN?

A.I don’t know if specifically between ‘87 and ‘89 there were families who had hired deprogrammers who did also give money to CAN during that time period. I just do not know. It’s possible they could have. [56] [see Document 39]

The attorney was chipping away at the possibility that deprogrammers "discounted" the price of a deprogramming if the families (not the deprogrammers) made the donation directly to CAN. That this practice existed appears likely. Notes on donor index cards for NARDEC contributions (see below on NARDEC) in CAN desk rolodex files comment frequently on donors’ family members’ present or past membership in NRMs (e.g., COG, CUT, UC,HK, BCC, Alamo) and sometimes if the deprogrammings referred were successful or unsuccessful (and conducted by which deprogrammer -see CAN Box 249 "Rolodexes). However, a more direct answer can be found in other testimony and in CAN records themselves. In a deposition CAN staff member Marty Butz, who admitted to have made around 500 deprogramming referrals, was asked in a deposition:

Q.Have any of the people that you made referrals to for deprogramming since you’ve been in CAN made any donations to CAN, any monetary donations?

A.I know that [deprogrammer] Carol Giambalvo has been a Nardeck [sic] member. That’s the only extent of my knowledge of any contributions going CAN’s way.

Q.What does "Nardeck" mean?

A.I don’t know. I don’t know what Nardeck represents.

Q.Nardeck members are people that make substantial monetary contributions to CAN isn’t that correct?

A.Yes. [Butz suddenly remembers.]

Q.There’s a–that’s kind of the select people that are the primary financial supporters of CAN?

A.I believe what it is is a commitment for three years donating a thousand dollars.

Q.A year?

A.I can’t say that’s where CAN’s primary support comes from.

Q.How much money has Miss Giambalvo donated to CAN since you’ve been involved in CAN?

A.I have no idea.

Q.At least $3,000?

A.If she’s been a Nardeck member more than once, quite possibly more than $3,000

Q.She’s the person you’ve made the largest number of deprogramming referrals to, correct?

A. Yes. [57] [see Document 40]

The court recorder had the subgroup of CAN spelled incorrectly: not Nardeck, but rather NARDEC: National Resource Development and Economic Council. This was the heart of deprogrammers’ money-laundering operation and a key area of financial support for CAN. Its referral-in-exchange-for-a-kickback-of-deprogramming-fees is why CAN deprogrammer Rick Ross, in a "slump time" for business after having "paid his dues" to NARDEC, wrote CAN activist Priscilla Coates in a huff:

Have not received one really solid referral, C.A.N. included. I don’t know why. Perhaps summer, "turf" issues, or lack of desire to deal with fundamentalists. Phil and Annie have called from N.Y. and Annette is trying, but some parents are so cheap they prefer to let their kids "bang the Bible" than pay. [58]

Ex-CAN executive director Cynthia Kisser acknowledged the existence of NARDEC deprogrammer contributions in a deposition:

Q. Do you know of any donations that have been made to CAN by deprogrammers?

A. Let me just take a minute to look at some of the people that you’ve identified as deprogrammers to let me answer that question. Yes.

Q. Who?

A. Steve Hassan, Carol Giambalvo, and … Randall Burkey. [59]

Formed in the mid-1980s, by 1987 NARDEC had become institutionalized as a special unit within CAN. Ronald M. Loomis, CAN president, wrote in a June 26, 1987 form letter to all CAN affiliates and newsletter subscribers:

We are grateful to those of you who responded to our appeal for contributions with the February meeting. The number of persons who have become members of the National Resource and Development Council (NaRDeC) by pledging $1,000 per year for three years continues to grow, but we need that level of commitment from many more persons. Based on your generous support in 1986, we determined that we could afford to commit ourselves to the full time salary of an Executive Director for the future. A letter from our Finance and Development Chair ...together with a pledge card, is [sic] enclosed. It will be a real challenge for us to continue in 1987 what we did in 1986. Please do what you can to sustain that effort. Remember that we cannot expect anyone to support the cult awareness effort unless we provide the first level of support. [60] [Italics ours.]

Apparently deprogrammers (renaming themselves "exit counselors") understood the message. Under the NARDEC aegis they began to organize within CAN. In the Preliminary Program of the Portland, Oregon 1987 annual CAN conference there was scheduled a Wednesday, October 19 special evening meeting for exit counselors (and added below that announcement: "will not post on hotel meeting sign or brochure.") On Saturday, October 22 at the same convention there was also a special NARDEC breakfast. [61] NARDEC also had special 7:30 AM breakfast meetings at the 1989 CAN annual conference (program noted: "NARDEC members only") and at the 1990 annual CAN conference NARDEC members met in conjunction with the CAN Advisory Board [see Document 41]. Referring back to earlier sections of this paper where CAN officials tried to distance themselves on paper and in legal testimonies that CAN in no way encouraged deprogrammings, an examination of real CAN activities belies that claim. It would appear that "exit counselors," formerly deprogrammers, were invited (literally) to sit at the CAN table.

Of course, not all contributions to CAN and NARDEC were from deprogrammers or persons who favored vigilante actions over educational goals. CAN donors each received Identification numbers and were listed/enumerated in files. An inspection of such lists would include, for example, a July 25, 1988 contribution of $2,000 from the Grainger Foundation to a more modest July 21, 1995 contribution of $35 from evangelical Christian (counter-cult) sociologist Ronald Enroth (ID# 912). However, many were from known deprogrammers (and their sympathizers), such as Carol Giambalvo, Paul Engel, Janja Lalich, and David Clark.

Inspection of NARDEC contributions by month for 1998-95 shows a fairly stable pattern: yearly totals averaged between $40,000 and $54,000, always strongest in January (around $7,000 for that month) and then leveling off to less than $4,000 per month. (NARDEC’s contribution to total CAN revenues was about one-third.) However, it appears likely that under-the-table deprogrammer referral kick-backs made up a substantial proportion of NARDEC funds. (NARDEC had its own CAN account number, 4080, as opposed to the general fund, 4000, or CAN’s mail order "bookstore" selling tracts, tapes, and books, 4020.) Apparently some deprogrammers did not use this traceable account for "donations." Examining monthly NARDEC contributions for the 1990s, for example, they rarely approached the reported monthly total contributions in CAN and never approached the reported annual totals. Cash receipts for April, 1992, for instance, show a total that month of one $1000 contribution. October, 1992 shows the same. In other words, NARDEC fund totals in any given year cannot be explained by cash receipts or recorded individual contributions (which, as numerous boxes of rather tediously studied files show, were quite meticulously detailed).
End of article:

In fact, many recorded NARDEC contributions were in "nickel-and-dime" modest amounts: $30, $50, or $150. Some donations to CAN were even split between other funds and NARDEC; for example, $50 donated by an individual in 1993, $30 to go to NARDEC and $20 into CAN’s general fund. Such are the minutiae of the CAN files. There were some perennial NARDEC stalwarts who were family relatives of present or previous NRM members (and some deprogrammers). But NARDEC had a serious problem if it is assumed all monies taken in are reflected in the books eventually shown outside auditors.

There were many donors who welched on their pledges, decreasing overt NARDEC revenues: in 1992, 59 persons pledged $1000 or more, but 26 reneged; in 1993, 30 persons pledged the $1000 minimum but 14 reneged; in 1994 23 of 27 persons reneged; and in 1995, 38 of 50 persons reneged. True, towards the waning days of CAN there was a strong, last-ditch resurgence of giving to help. January 1996 checks (from a very small, "select" group of persons) of $1000 to NARDEC totaled around $10,675. But by then CAN was struggling amid many lawsuits, having lost the Jason Scott deprogramming civil suit, and squandered an insurance settlement thereof [see Document 42] on pointless litigation -- much of which it ultimately lost or conceded.

So where did NARDEC make up the difference if recorded dollar totals do not square with meticulous, computerized receipt statements?

Two separate rolodex lists of NARDEC donors and general contacts in media, law, industry, and social sciences (marked "Major Gifts and NARDEC: comments to be included when required") include a Who’s Who of dozens of coercive deprogrammers’ names, telephone numbers, and addresses. We suggest a triangulation of evidence from: (1) deprogrammers’ testimonies; (2) former CFF/CAN officials’ testimonies; (3) the obvious accounting lacunae in CAN financial records; and (4) the "cash-only" nature of deprogramming fees. (Deprogrammers typically didn’t take credit cards or provide receipts. So complained families who felt taken advantage of by expensive, ineffective deprogramming interventions.) [see Document 43] Our opinion and conclusion is that systematic records of the kick-backs that went on in CAN’s offices during its last days were never kept in the first place, or destroyed. The shoddy bookkeeping of CAN, and the likelihood of white collar crime committed by certain CAN leaders, to which we now turn, are part of the NARDEC story.

Evidence of Mismanagement of CAN Finances and Violation of Fiduciary Responsibility

CAN president Ronald M. Loomis was especially pleased in Spring, 1987 when an executive director search committee recommended Cynthia S. Kisser of Woodstock, Illinois after six months of deliberations and interviews. He wrote effusively to the CAN affiliates and newsletter subscribers about her business credentials (aside from her academic credentials):

Her professional background includes four years as a business manager with responsibility for general ledger, payroll records, tax reports, monthly billing and company financial matters. She has supervised staffs, set up computer operations and resolved hardware and software matters... She has taught Business Communication for a community college. [62] [see Document 44]

Yet, problems that had plagued the top levels of CFF-as-it-turned-into-CAN continued. Recall that Kent E. Vaughn, CFF Board of Directors member 1982-84 came to the disturbing conclusion that there was an "inner board" of CAN with an agenda beyond CAN’s public pronouncements (see endnote 11). In 1981 earlier national director of CFFI-IS, John M. Sweeney, Jr. saw economic problems in the board’s behavior. While he resigned for a number of reasons, including CFF’s rejection of a deprogrammer’s ethics code while simultaneously heavily involved in often illegal, coercive, expensive, and often ineffective "rescues," he was also unhappy that the group had failed to reimburse him on occasion and considered a collection suit against CFF-IS. However, his final complaint was that something untoward was occurring in CFF’s management of money, yet met a stonewall of silence when he called for an inspection of these issues. He voiced his frustrations:

Why has the CFF-IS Board done all in its power to prevent an audit of the corporate books? Why has over $20,000 worth of donations been buried in an interest bearing CD account (did the Board approve this action?) or in a checking account? Why wasn’t this donation money stipulated for use in anti-cult projects? Why was money freed up so easily to finance an all expense paid trip to Dallas for the Board for an unnecessary meeting yet legitimate bills could not or would not be paid on time? I have records of threatened phone cut-off and late payment notices due to C---’s inefficient method. To protect my reputation and credit rating the WATS and SPRINT have been disconnected because they are in my name. [63]

Ironically, CAN had the same troubles during its existence and demise in 1996. For example, when CAN executive director Kisser came into office in 1987, she appears to have made some radical changes in CAN financial management. In essence she consolidated its finances, with minimal executive office accountability to members. According to one informant knowledgeable about the group:

...Kisser changed the financial lines of the Cult Awareness Network. Kisser demanded that all Cult Awareness Network chapters send all of the donations they received, including uncancelled checks, to her at the national office in Illinois. Kisser then cashed the checks, kept the amount of money that she wanted and then mailed the remaining money to the affiliated chapters as she saw fit. [64]

Ex-deprogrammer Jonathon Nordquist, having met Kisser at a CAN convention, remembers:

Shortly after, [Mary] Krone told me that once Kisser fully learned how to do her new job, that Krone would no longer be working at the national offices... Additionally, I recall an incident that occurred while I was riding in an elevator during the [CAN] convention in Pittsburgh. Also present in the elevator were Mary Krone, Krone’s son, John, Cynthia Kisser and Rachel Andres. Mary Krone was talking about the finances of the Cult Awareness Network when Kisser stated to her: "If the cults ever get a hold of our books we’d be in trouble." [65] [see Document 45]

Having expended its insurance money on fruitless appeals of the Jason Scott/Rick Ross/CAN deprogramming case that awarded Scott over $4 million, and wasted funds on other lawsuits, as its income decreased CAN began to default on its phone bills (all the while continuing to pay director Cynthia Kisser $3000 per month plus lesser amounts to CAN staff).

There are several implications:

All not-for-profit organizations are required to follow standard ethical and legal protocol particularly with respect to financial management. Complete detailed records must be consistently maintained, then supported by both internal and external audits to ensure both accuracy and propriety. The operations and cash flow must conform to generally accepted accounting standards. A painstakingly extensive review of the allegedly complete court-ordered financial records of CAN confirms blatant impropriety. CAN was classified as 501 (c) (3), a not-for-profit, tax exempt organization with the Internal Revenue Service. To qualify and comply, certain measures of practice and accounting are required; the organization is accountable by Federal law. The organizational test is a mandate that specific conditions be met and maintained for tax exempt qualification according to the IRS code. To qualify for 501 (c) (3) status the organization must be formed exclusively for literary and scientific purposes; the manner of operation must be described in detail. Furthermore, the articles of the organization must appropriately limit the organization’s purpose, regulate the allocation of contributions, and foster the best interests of the people. CAN’s admitted affiliation with deprogrammers as confirmed in the Scott trial, among other places, appears to conflict with the IRS limited purpose constraint as well as in the express powers clause [7.8.2] 3.3.4 (02-231999), Express Powers that Cause Failure of Organizational Test. [66]

An organization does not meet the organizational test if its articles expressly empower it:

To have objectives and to engage in activities which characterize it as an "action organization" (Reg. 1.501(c)(3)-1 (b)(3)(iii));

To carry on any other activities (unless they are insubstantial) which are not in furtherance of one or more exempt purposes (Reg. 1.501(c)(3)1(b)(1)(i)(a)). [67]

By affiliation, CAN cast at minimum a shadow on these two IRS provisions. We would maintain that given the records and documented activity of this organization, CAN acted in multiple violations of its IRS classification.

One initial and standing concern is that of missing or duplicated documents. The general condition of the financial records is deplorable. Documents are not in chronological order or in keeping with standard bookkeeping practice, making tracking a monumental feat. There are substantial gaps and pertinent items, statements, canceled checks, audits, and so forth are missing. The list is significant. There are no itemized journals or ledgers of income or expenditures (standard accrual accounting), merely sporadic incomplete lists. The financial records are highly questionable and are at best professionally sloppy.

Cash flow is abundantly problematic and highly critical. In mere illustration, a petty cash withdrawal of $1,500 was observed. The established, acceptable norm for an organization of this size would be to maintain a generous $300 fund in total. Of greater concern, a. review of cash receipts reflects numerous and substantial checks issued by CAN (National) to CAN itself with no indication or record of who received said funds, nor of the generating purpose. To illustrate [see Document 46], a $12,000 check issued 3/25/94 by CAN to CAN lists an account category #4250 for which there is no correlating account description. The canceled check #184 is not present among those in that series, nor is it ever listed as an expenditure. Interestingly, similar documentation and lack of canceled checks occurs with numerous other like entries.

Or another example: on 1 /19/95 two (2) checks (#5876 and #5877) were issued to J. Gordon Melton and Anson Shupe, respectively, for $600 each [see Document 47]. Given their extensive study in this field, both men are known critics of CAN and would certainly not be on its payroll (i.e., certainly not "anti-cult apologists"). This time period ties in to the Lippmann/Scientology lawsuit against CAN with neither party involved party beyond personal academic interest and neither party deposed by CAN as part of the lawsuit. (Depositional checks to professionals are rarely made out before depositions are taken.) Neither scholar when questioned has any knowledge of the existence of these checks. The checks were then processed as stop payments. Melton’s the same day, Shupe’s not until April, yet the funds ($1,200) were never reentered into the CAN account to offset the would-be stop payments. Both checks were physically located, reflecting stop payments, yet the bookkeeping does not appropriately correlate. Uncannily, these particular entries were discovered by Shupe personally while examining financial data in the CAN boxes. Why were bogus checks issued, who retained the $1,200, and more importantly, how many other orchestrated entries lie within the records of CAN and to whose financial gain?

Moreover, while not unheard of, not-for-profit CAN maintained a steady and healthy separate account with the Merrill Lynch firm housing an extremely active money market account with no correlating income relationship as well as certificates of deposit averaging $40,000, far exceeding the standard required reserve. Despite these investments, letters and audits indicate financial distress. According to records, CAN was unable to pay concurrent Sprint network telephone bills, netting numerous final disconnect notices. These concerns led to a recommendation issued by Virginia Hulet, CAN Treasurer (resigned October, 1989) asking that all Sprint credit cards be returned. From whom? Phone records indicate substantial use by deprogrammers of CAN phone lines, calling from CAN’s national office. We ask again, was this careless mismanagement or diverted attention?

In 1987 Cynthia Kisser, CAN’s Executive Director, directed all chapters funds to be generated directly to the National Office. While there was noted Board objection, this practice was implemented, allowing the National complete control of funds with minimal accountability.

Peat Marwick (KPMG), a respected Certified Public Accounting firm, was procured by CAN to conduct its annual audits. Auditing correspondence consistently expressed numerous concerns regarding the need for improved accounting principles, further suggesting accrual accounting [see Document 48]. They cited concern with the lack of internal audits indicating, neglect of Auditing Standards No. 50 as previously posed. In the face of rising litigation expenses no allotments were made to accommodate this clear necessity appropriately. Finally on June 1, 1994 a letter signed by KPMG Peat Marwick expressed serious concern regarding CAN’s solvency. In a letter dated June 8, 1995 KPMG indicated an imbalance between the general ledger and the bank reconciliations that had existed since July, 1994. In a final communication KPMG elected to withdraw its affiliation with CAN in the face of growing financial concerns. [See Document 49]

Countless fringe questions arise when analyzing the CAN boxes: why do CAN records contain an inordinate amount of letters of dispute (i.e., a $26,228.76 disputed Conference balance with the Crown Plaza Hotel in White Plains, NY, November, 1995); why were multiple financial accounts simultaneously active (i.e., 4/9/96 when Cynthia Kisser requested NBD Bank of Skokie to transfer remaining funds to an account titled Cult Awareness Network Corp aka CAN D.I.P); why would an organization of good intent be faced with fiercely escalating litigation (i.e., in 1994 there were 51 lawsuits in various states of settlement as presented to KPMG for completion of ‘94 audit): and finally why did Cynthia Kisser and several staff members continue to receive their salaries (Kisser $1500 every two weeks) beyond the filing of bankruptcy? More importantly, what became of CAN’s final funds in the midst of dissolution?

These examples serve only as a small segment of a greater deluge of seeming impropriety currently under scrutiny within the CAN. financial records. Two outside veteran auditors when questioned regarding potential innocent explanations for these issues stated that this appears to be a case of "money laundering" or of "looting the assets" (their words). Again we ask, is this a case of atrocious bookkeeping or instead calculated misappropriation? Neither option is acceptable per auditing and IRS protocol.

We have evidence of substantial malfeasance throughout the documents purportedly representing the complete fiscal records of this organization. The "why" remains yet to be addressed, the leaders and trustees are yet to be held accountable. This preliminary finding is just that: a highlighted report of what we believe to be a much darker indication than that of poor record-keeping. A Brownie troop with a naive, inexperienced leader might maintain such records and be accused of poor bookkeeping. For an organization with the capital, the influence, and the magnitude of CAN, such explanations are inexcusable and suspect.

At the time of this presentation the exploration of CAN documents continues as additional discoveries unfold. Are these findings the results of gross negligence or of something much more untoward? Our final assessment will appear in a book currently in progress.


This paper, like its larger book-length project, is part of a work in progress. Thus we continue to find new evidence of CAN’s criminal involvement the further we delve into the files of the former CAN, despite evidence that toward the end Cynthia Kisser and/or CAN operatives deliberately shredded/destroyed important files dealing with CAN’s telephone calls and likely selected cancelled checks. [68] And in this paper we have dealt only with CAN, not its sister ACM organization, the American Family Foundation, though we will be examining that group in the future. (To illustrate the close ties and interlocking directorates of CAN and AFF, see Appendix C.)

In summation, we offer five reasonable propositions about the operations and philosophy of America’s formerly most activist anti-cult organization:

Proposition 1: Despite public claims otherwise, CAN had as its operating corporate policy the routine referrals of inquirers to coercive deprogrammers. As has been shown, this proposition is supported by a variety of sources: testimonies of deprogrammers, testimonies of CFF-CAN officials, CAN records, and Federal Bureau of Investigation wiretap surveillance.

Regarding the last source, fairly recently we became aware of the fact that the FBI, learning of certain deprogrammers conspiring toward, among other things, the kidnapping of a young heir to the DuPont estate who had become involved in Lyndon LaRouche’s organization, and learning of those deprogrammers’ involvement with CAN, in 1992 conducted wire-taps of CAN telephone conversations and certain deprogrammers’ telephone conversations. FBI Special Agent Daniel Murphy presented an affidavit dated July 19, 1992 [see Document 50] to the U. S. Federal Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in which he stated:

As a result of my personal participation in this investigation, my knowledge of reports made to me by other FBI agents .... there is probable cause to believe that Donald Moore, Galen Kelly, Edgar N. [Newbold] Smith, and others unknown, have been, or continuing to, and will be committing offenses against the United States including conspiracy, in violation of 1816.U.S.C., Section 371, and kidnapping, in violation of 18 U.S.C., Section 1201. There is probable cause to believe that communications concerning said offenses will be obtained through the interception of wire communications, authorization for which is herein applied. [69]

The transcripts of over half a dozen reels of tape reveal coercive deprogrammers in frequent (and casual) contact with CAN and CAN’s executive director, Cynthia Kisser, on how to harass the LaRouche organization and simultaneously protect themselves legally from prosecution after the deprogramming. Such transcripts may be one logical reason that Cynthia Kisser had thousands of CAN phone sheets destroyed around the 1992-93 period. For brief examples:

Edgar Newbold Smith calls former deputy sheriff-turned-deprogrammer Donald Moore about suing his own son, Lewis duPont Smith, duPont fortune heir and a follower of Lyndon LaRouche:

But the only problem with suing Lewis, having CAN sue Lewis, is that they know that we contributed to CAN [Italics ours.] So you’re going to get the biggest bunch of goddamn bunch of squawk going on down there involving us .... Now maybe one of the things you ought to talk to Cynthia about is why not include Lewis in your depositions? [70]

Or: Moore’s answering machine for 7/15/92:

This is Cynthia Kisser for Don Moore. I’m in Chicago. My number is 312/267/7777.

Or this conversation in early August, 1992:

Donald Moore: Hello.

Cynthia Kisser: Hi. Is Don Moore there?

Moore: Yes.

Kisser: Hi, Don. It’s Cynthia.

Moore: How are you doing,?

Kisser: Good. Good. Um, listen, um, I still have not talked to um---

Moore: Galen? [Galen Kelly, once head of security for CAN conferences and convicted of kidnapping in the Dubkowski case.]

Kisser: Yes.

Moore: That is, uh, you are not alone in that effort.

Kisser: Okay. Now do you think that Newbold is at his office today or at his home?

Moore: He should be at his home today. And I talked to him less than an hour ago.

Kisser: Yea. I want to give him a try. Thanks. [71]

Or a call from deprogrammer Moore to CAN headquarters in Chicago:

Moore:?Yes, this is Don Moore calling from Virginia. Is Cynthia Kisser there?

Female voice: No, she’s on a week’s vacation.

Moore: Ouch.

Female voice: And, uh, her assistant though comes in at nine o’clock and it’s ten to nine. Maybe she can help you?

Moore: All right, well, uh, I, basically I don’t need help as far as that goes. I’m one of the folks that work for her as far as the LaRouche case goes. [72]

On one of the FBI tapes is captured a conversation between Kisser and later convicted Donald Moore on July 15, 1992. Moore was retained by Newbold Smith to work with former private investigator-turned deprogrammer Galen Kelly on the abduction of Smith’s son. On the tape, Kisser informs Moore that she has filed her suit against [various Scientologists] and states:

Kisser: I think the timing is right for me to go back and try -- even if I’m not going to hear from Galen, to go back and approach Newbold … To talk to him a little bit now that I’ve got the suit filed. I want to get him a copy of it. I want to talk to him about it. I want to, uh, talk about it. [73]

The point of these sample bits of conversation is that (1) the FBI was very aware of CAN’s involvement in coercive abductions and (2) CAN’s highest echelon was engaged in corporate criminality, coordinating legal strategies with deprogrammers. Destruction of CAN’s phone sheets permanently removed written notes and comments that we know contained details of CAN-deprogramming conversations:

The phone sheets contain the caller’s name, address, number, subject of call, information provided to the caller, and notes regarding the call . ...The sheets are used for the sending out of materials and tabulation of statistical information about. calls... [Ms. Kisser] affirmed that use of phone sheets was a standard office procedure... Kisser estimated that CAN received from 60,000 to 80,000 phone inquiries and 20,000 to 40,000 mail inquiries from 1987 to 1993, Between 53,000 and 56,000 total phone and mail sheets were created during 1991, 1992, and 1993, most of which are phone sheets. Thus, subtracting the 15,000 that remained in existence in March of 1994, at least 38,000 phone and mail sheets have been destroyed... [74]

Rolodex files from the desks of CAN officials and staff members (Box 249 labeled "Rolodexes"), however, were not destroyed and also reveal CAN’s familiar connection to deprogrammers. Along the names, addresses, telephone numbers, and business cards of attorneys, American Family Foundation officials, Xerox repair men, sympathizers like comedian Steve Allen and actor Mike Farrell, and others, are entries (apparently for referrals) for deprogrammers like Ted Patrick, Joe Szimhart, Newbold Smith, Gary Scharff, Rick Ross, Galen Kelly, Shirley Landa, Ann Greek, Carol Giambalvo, Wendy Ford, Randall Burkey, and David Clark, among others. We will return to the record destruction issue below.

Proposition 2: CAN was a money-laundering scheme in that coercive deprogrammers were expected to "kick-back" or donate, directly or indirectly, portions of their fees charged families to CAN in exchange for continued referrals. The testimonies of various CFF-CAN officials, deprogrammers, and circumstantial CAN records (i.e., the NARDEC contributions from deprogrammers and the irregular movements of cash within CAN) strongly point to this conclusion. In this sense CAN conforms to a judgment rendered by Franklin H. Littell, president of the Philadelphia Center on the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights:

CAN and its staffers encourage distraught parents to take actions that further alienate young people. CAN conspires to destroy the liberties of individuals and groups that have religious [beliefs] and worldviews different from the rest of us. It deserves to be put in the dock with the individuals the FBI has exposed and the courts are now trying for criminal activity. [75]

Proposition 3: Despite public claims only to be concerned with the behaviors of so-called "destructive cults," CAN as a purported hate group indiscriminately labeled and publicized various NRMs and non-NRM organizations, with mainstream as well as non-mainstream beliefs, as dangerous and cultic. This conclusion is almost embarrassing for us to indicate: only a intellectually indefensible worldview would throw the Rockford Institute, the National Democratic Party, the Unification Church, Roman Catholics, and Amway into the same "hopper" with the "religious cults" CAN was supposed to monitor and oppose. On the other hand, from the standpoint of financial entrepreneurship, it is understandable that the umbrella definition of "destructive cults" would be extremely inclusive.

Proposition 4: Uses of sexual/physical harassment and even forced sexual intercourse as well as legal/illegal drug use were not rare occurrences during coercive deprogrammings. Too many sources corroborate and triangulate this conclusion, from victims’ testimonies to those of CFF-CAN officials and non-CAN individuals. All this was occurring during the time between the late 1980s and early 1990s when deprogrammers met at CAN conferences and attempted to professionalize and change their identities into "exit counselors." (See Shupe and Darnell, 2001 for an extended discussion of this professionalization campaign.)

Proposition 5: There were sufficient irregularities in the handling of CAN finances and cash flows to suggest that some CAN officials may have enriched themselves in unknown quantities at the expense of the CAN organization and its mission without members’ general knowledge. The CAN financial documents are grossly problematic in numerous ways. Direct examination of the records as released by CAN pose the following non-inclusive concerns: tax exempt violations, incomplete and inappropriately duplicated records, pertinent required items missing, unaccounted fund appropriations, an improper petty cash allotment, contribution discrepancies, a questionable reserve and CDs, unacceptable accounting and management of funds, and auditor findings resulting in termination of association.

This analysis is preliminary; indeed, it is a constant course of discovery. Each question poses more. Our preliminary findings of these staggering discrepancies, combined with the clear affiliation to deprogrammers, points to a cash flow from deprogrammings. Are the gaping omissions in the financial records a cover-up? The systematic destruction of selective pertinent financial records seems to indicate a pointed attempt at eliminating potentially incriminating evidence. In the final days of CAN’s existence, why were Kisser and other anti-cultists so frantic to purchase the CAN records, as evidenced in the bidding for such which occurred during the bankruptcy sale of goods hearing 10/23/96? [76] [see Document 51]

A final burning question rests in the reason behind the bomb threats made towards the final shipment of the CAN documents once procured, en route to a secure storage site. Such drastic measures only serve to arouse curiosity and to stimulate this investigative study.

Our final conclusion is that a reasonable description of CAN, as it existed 1986-1995, views it as a criminal organization playing on hate and fear themes, organized against new religious movements (and other groups) in large part for profit to certain actors, and hypocritical and deceptive in its public persona.


In a 1990 newspaper article, Joseph Szimhart, deprogrammer in the
Cult Awareness Network
stable of hired kidnappers, boasted of having
conducted some 25 deprogrammings. Szimhart admitted to getting most of
his referrals directly through CAN, and was usually accompanied by
deprogrammers Joe Kelly and Patrick Ryan, both linked with the
organization for many years.

Szimhart was arrested in 1991 following the failed kidnapping and
deprogramming of an adult woman, Laverne Collins Macchio, a member of
the Church Universal and Triumphant, and again in January 1992 on
charges of aiding and abetting another kidnapping.

He worked with CAN member and psychiatrist Louis Jolyon West in teh
kidnapping and attempted deprogramming of Viscount Reidhaven, eldest son
of Britain's Earl of Seafield. The attempt, for which the Earl paid
hundreds of thousands of dollars to Szimhart and West, failed.
My, my, my. So our group member really has grounds for not only obtaining a restraining order against these sick cultic anti-cult people, but even against his family if they pursue this line.

We agree that many of the organizations listed as cults, are questionable and may use tactics that we consider violations of free will, but on the other hand, people are entitled to pursue their own ideas and philosophies without being labeled "deviant." We may write articles about these things and publish what WE think or observe, but never, ever, under any circumstance do we consider coercive tactics to be acceptable.

Yes, the "Work" is a particular path and it can be difficult, but it is a chosen path and people are entitled to their choices as long as they don't harm anyone else.

It sounds suspiciously like these 'people' have been brain washed by a cult to believe they at war, and so anything goes. Very, very disturbing.
I saw my old cult in one of the lists, and in its earlier form it deserved to be there, but this phony "deprogramming" has nothing to do with helping people. Recovery is a personal process; for me it took about 10 years. Fortunately, the Web became available to me early on in the process -- at home -- and the message boards from ex-members along with the general (not cult-specific) recovery websites proved very helpful. A single comment (not from an ex-member) on one message board led me to recognize the "authoritarian" element in the cult, and what nonsense it was.

The most helpful thing was the fact that the cult itself started to break up while I was doing this. At the end, however, I had to battle the programming directly in my mind, to the point of intentionally thinking and doing things that were "forbidden." It comes easily now. :)
According to him, Gurdjieff was a cult leader, good company ;) :


Theater has many possibilities and a theater has many approaches to design and function. One way to define a cult is a theater gone awry, as a stage without exits with a director that retains godlike attributes in the eyes of the characters. Totalist cult theater is reality reversed forever: The endless preparation for the stage is the pinnacle of life with the promise of ultimate self-transformation in the process to achieve an absolute goal. In the cult leader's view, the audiences [the non-theater people] are mere automatons with deep psychological flaws acting out society's roles. All people not on stage and not under the direction of the leader are mired in illusion.

The infamous cult personality George I. Gurdjieff (1877-1949) is a prime example of such a leader.

G used the "theater of all possibilities" as a forum for indoctrination for his devotees. G believed that men and women are mere "machines" or are "asleep" unless they awaken through his esoteric shock tactics. He approached his students with a relentless attack upon their self-concepts and egos. G taught that we are born without a soul, we have to create one to achieve immortality, and if we do not we will be "eaten" by the "moon." Of course, G talked in metaphors but he wanted his students to believe that his odd language indicated a hyper-reality that he had both contacted and somehow embodied. He taught by the way of the "sly man"--read into that anything you want, but I read "con-artist." For more information, read The Harmonious Circle by James Webb.(1987).

Gurdjieff taught dance movements and engaged members in "role playing." G used any means possible to get into a devotee's head ostensibly to purge maladaptive features and raise consciousness. By any means includes financial, sexual, physical, emotional, and goal manipulation. To get to the best in life you have to purge the worst in yourself--the leader is the man who both names the highest goal, labels your worst attributes, and then gets you to believe that he has the remedies to bring you to perfection. All you need do is submit and justify your presence. Whether you are smart and willful or shy and compliant does not matter--all your traits can be used against you once you take the first step. That first step is to come to trust the initial feelings and positive results of an encounter with the leader and his group. Once inside the orbit of someone "charming and witty" with a narcissistic and pathological need to feel important, one is vulnerable to a series of manipulations that are done "for your own good." Every one that criticizes you for belonging to such a "theater" cult is "all f#*d up" and "needs to go to therapy." All critics, especially those who love you outside the cult, suffer a dispensing of their existence. You cut them off.

He probably intentionally fails to recognize that even people who never met G but heard of his philosophy, they would stalk him and have to convince him to take them within his group sometimes. Nobody was ever kidnapped, drugged, abused, like this guy does, to join G. And if anybody ever wanted to leave G, they could just walk away. Szimhart doesn't seem to even know what a cult is. These people who hired him were ripped off.
Alana said:
According to him, Gurdjieff was a cult leader, good company ;) :

Considering that his former organization, the CAN, classified as cults such eclectic things as:
Roman Catholics, Shirley MacLaine, protestants, The Grateful Dead (?!), chiropractic, Dungeons and Dragons, or the Democratic Workers Party, among a whole bunch of others, we notice that they have a very broad definition of "cult", that can encompasses about anything and everything, from political parties (hmm) to chess clubs to fans of metal to… insert whatever group of more than 1 person here. Actually, even the name "group" - like, a gathering of people sharing common interests or tastes - is now suspect. These cultic 'anti-cults" are nutzoids. :nuts:
Adaryn said:
Alana said:
According to him, Gurdjieff was a cult leader, good company ;) :

Considering that his former organization, the CAN, classified as cults such eclectic things as:
Roman Catholics, Shirley MacLaine, protestants, The Grateful Dead (?!), chiropractic, Dungeons and Dragons, or the Democratic Workers Party, among a whole bunch of others, we notice that they have a very broad definition of "cult", that can encompasses about anything and everything, from political parties (hmm) to chess clubs to fans of metal to… insert whatever group of more than 1 person here. Actually, even the name "group" - like, a gathering of people sharing common interests or tastes - is now suspect. These cultic 'anti-cults" are nutzoids. :nuts:

I see. Just like the MIVILUDicrous :evil:
Adaryn said:
Alana said:
According to him, Gurdjieff was a cult leader, good company ;) :

Considering that his former organization, the CAN, classified as cults such eclectic things as:
Roman Catholics, Shirley MacLaine, protestants, The Grateful Dead (?!), chiropractic, Dungeons and Dragons, or the Democratic Workers Party, among a whole bunch of others, we notice that they have a very broad definition of "cult", that can encompasses about anything and everything, from political parties (hmm) to chess clubs to fans of metal to… insert whatever group of more than 1 person here. Actually, even the name "group" - like, a gathering of people sharing common interests or tastes - is now suspect. These cultic 'anti-cults" are nutzoids. :nuts:

They could even be labelled as a cult by their own definition! I guess you never know who's willing to pay money to have someone kidnapped and tortured due to their affiliations, so they like to cast a net as far and wide as possible. :mad:
He's cleaned up his public speel since he almost got convicted of kidnapping, but this was on his website in 1999


What Does a Thought Reform Consultant Do?

Thought Reform Consultants (TRC) educate their clients about how thought reform and mind manipulation techniques might be used in controversial groups, sects, cult activity, therapies or relationships that concern them. Although abusive psychological and social interaction are major themes in a thought reform milieu, a TRC is primarily an educator within an interactive environment, not a therapist, counselor, minister, or sociologist. Usually this interaction takes place in preparation for and during an intervention arranged by concerned family members.

Ethical Standards for TRC are available by clicking on this site
on Carol Giambalvo's Home Page

Interventions occur after a concerned party has determined that:

Someone they love is involved in a deceptive, manipulative or otherwise abusive relationship.
The concerned party discovers that this relationship has Cultlike characteristics.
The concerned party believes that the person they love would want to be away from the controversial influence if they had new information about the group, the leader, or the influence techniques that might be undermining his or her critical awareness.
Socially problematic Cultlike characteristics include behaviors such as:

1. Compliance with a group
2. Dependance on a leader
3. Avoiding dissent
4. Devaluing outsiders

(see Arthur J. Deikman, 1990: Beacon Press). The more extreme these behaviors, the more potential for abuse exists in the group activity.

Cult activity refers to any devotional or ritualistic attention to a person, doctrine or object. Most religions have cult activity, or a cult, that is central to devotional activity.

The term "CULT" in perspective: Christianity in its various forms has the cult of devotion to Jesus Christ. Catholics have the cult of the Eucharist during which they receive the "body and blood" of Jesus. In ancient Judaism they had the cult of the Ark of the Covenant. Some Asian religions have the cult of ancestor worship. Vampires practice the cult of drinking blood. Northwest Native Americans have the cult of totem animals. Labelling something a cult tells us very little about the morality or ethics of the person or group that supports such cult activity.

If cult participants follow the four patterns suggested above, they become vulnerable to thought reform and mind control.
Thought reform (see "What is Thought Reform") occurs when the psychological environment of someone is manipulated to engineer and sustain a change in personality, goals, and attitudes that conform with a group agenda. Mind control occurs when the participant in a thought reform environment has internalized the suggestions and adopted the behaviors to the point where they "police" their thoughts and their actions according to group agendas (see Suggested Readings, Lifton, 1961, 1989). If these agendas are hidden agendas the deception can undermine a group member’s ability to question or criticize. If the group member is privy to the hidden agenda, the "secret" controls their loyalty and ability to communicate with outsiders.

The TRC helps the client understand hidden agendas of the leader or group as well as how the group manipulates intelligence, emotions, behaviors, and information (see Hassan, 1988). The TRC also helps the client to dispell phobias induced during group participation. Often these phobias (irrational fear of occult powers, demons, sickness, accident, insanity, or other personal, social, or environmental catastrophe) linger even though the member has broken with the group in question. Real threats of harm can be countered by real actions like police protection, personal vigilance, or prosecution.

Exit Counseling: A Practioner's View
by Joe Szimhart

What has come to be called "exit counseling" grew out of formalized attempts to talk someone out of their devotion to a controversial group, ritual, person or lifestyle. While interventions are not new (e.g., both St.Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis of Assisi met with parental intervention to stop them from their religious paths) the relative explosion of new religious movements, experimental mass therapies, and cult activity since the 1960s has been met with new social resistance. People who knew and loved someone under the influence of such groups noted disturbing personality changes, as if the person were under a spell or "programmed." They noted that the person had been wrongly informed and manipulated to change personality or to conform to a group will.

Attempts to reverse cultic influence came to be known as "deprogramming" by the mid 1970s. At first, interventions were non-coercive, meaning that cultists were not held against their will. As this approach often failed, many families opted to abduct or hold the cultist to get them to listen to ex-members and unlicensed specialists who came to be known as deprogrammers. Deprogramming often worked very well but when it did not expensive legal reprisals could ensue. Cultists sometimes reported abusive treatment by deprogrammers. These stories were (and are) naturally exaggerated by cult managers to better control members who might visit their families and meet a deprogrammer (see Propaganda). In any case, many deprogrammers would not tolerate coercion during interventions.

To distinguish the non-coercive approaches, some specialists adopted the label of "exit counselor" by the mid 1980s. This approach emphasizes education and dialogue about the true history and nature of the group and compares it with similar groups. It also addresses the nature of thought reform, mind control, and influence techniques like hypnosis. Some exit counselors incorporate family therapy into their sessions. Some do not consider their profession to be counseling and call themselves "thought reform consultants" or "cult information specialists." I prefer the latter designation and I see myself more as an educator and communicator.

Most of the exit counselors I know were "cult" members at one time. Some of them specialize in exiting members from the group they left. Others, like myself ( I had been a member of the Church Universal and Triumphant from 1979-80) have exited people from dozens of different groups

When I work with an assistant, it is often an ex-member of the group in question but just as often it could be with another exit counselor. The team approach seems to work best in most cases. The intervention team usually includes two to four concerned family members and two exit counselors. There are no hard rules as to numbers but one on one sessions are unusual because at least one concerned party must be present to arrange for and introduce the exit counselor.

Successful interventions can last from several hours to more than a
week, the norm being three to four days of "marathon" (6 to 14 hour) discussions. In exit counseling the length of each session is controlled by the "cultist." I do not relish long days of dialogue but when the person I am counseling wants to go on, I do. I have often seen the veil of deceit lift from a cultist who then "uncorks," like one awakened from a dream, and then pours out the questions one after the other for hours on end. When that happens it is not appropriate to say relax now, mate -- we can talk about it in the morning! If an intervention is successful, exit counselors may suggest follow-up therapists, ex-members to call, books to read, and rehab facilities if needed. The recovery period depends on the person. Research suggests that persons who have had appropriate exit counseling do far better, quicker than "walk-aways" who go it alone. See Snapping Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman (1995).

The downside of my field of cult specialists is that we are not
licensed as such, nor are we regulated save by reputation. Some unscrupulous deprogrammers and specialists may have taken advantage of vulnerable families. Some may have taken on cases when they cannot handle the information adequately and resort to emotional attacks to try to "break" a cultist. Harsh tactics almost always backfire. The cultist can fake deconversion long enough to end an intervention, and then return to the group even months later. I have experienced this in past years. Since 1992 I no longer work with families who would coerce the cultist in any way although I had on occasion in past years. I subscribe to Ethical Standards for Thought Reform Consultants that emphasize legality and respect (see "Ethics..." in Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 13, No. 1, 1996). In any case, the choice to leave a group has to be reasonable and free to last and not solely emotional or religious. The choice needs to be grounded in a reality the cultist can begin to trust and use for the rest of his or her life no matter what spiritual path he or she chooses.

My advice to anyone seeking the services of an exit counselor is to
interview several and check their reputations as thoroughly as you can. Interventions can be very expensive depending on whom you hire, but be wary of free helpers too. If someone you know is truly under a form of mind control, just having a session with a minister or therapist will rarely bear much fruit, unless, of course, they are trained in the dynamics of group influence and can handle the information about the group beliefs in depth. Experienced exit counselors cannot guarantee success in any case -- my impression is that 50 to 75% of their cases work out well. I have exited hundreds of people since the early 1980s and my success rate is in that range also. The keys to success are in the adequate preparation of the family and realistic projections.

Cultwatch Editorial Note:
Joe Szimhart is a man of the highest ethics whose work is the antithesis of coercive persuasion and fanaticism. Joe has visited Australia, on a number of occasions, as an exit counsellor and is exceptionally well respected in his field.
One Australian who left a group after a voluntary exit counselling [sic] with Joe has written: "An opportunity to change, like the one offered to me, does not come
around very often; but deep down I knew it for the chance that it was. I held my breath and grasped the nettle. It stung like crazy, that tiger's tail, but I hung on - with just a little help from friends - and managed to reclaim my life. I'm just glad to be here, alive and well; and I hope that my experience will help somebody else, sometime." [By a former member of Extra Terrestrial Earth Mission]

If you explore the web for information about cult awareness groups, exit counselors or deprogrammers you will most likely find propaganda against them all. For example, typing my name (szimhart) into a search engine might bring you to the “CAN Reform Group” under If that is your only exposure to me or anyone else it attempts to discredit, you may be sorely duped. You also may run across the Freedom Magazine published by Scientology to discredit its critics. For an open discussion of the controversy surrounding Scientology find alt.religion.scientology, or go to Marina's Manor: Scientology.

Propaganda, like advertising, has a strange effect on people who absorb it uninformed: They tend to believe some of it if it “seems” credible. The spin doctors in our political machines use these same techniques to confuse and bend public opinion. They do it because it works, because most, even “skeptical” persons do not critically examine information that forms their opinions. Different people view controversial issues from differing perspectives. It pays to look at a few perspectives before coming to a position if not a conclusion about anything.

CAN used to stand for a legitimate citizens advocacy group called the Cult Awareness Network. Since July of 1996 CAN was dissolved due to a successful Scientology supported lawsuit (the only successful one of 50 against CAN brought by the church that L. Ron Hubbard built). But Scientology managed to “purchase” the CAN logo and phone number (312 267-777) before the young man, Jason Scott, who Scientology “helped” to sue CAN and a deprogrammer, fired his Scientology lawyer, Ken Moxon. For more about the pseudoCAN event read The Washington Post December 1, 1996 “Anti-Cult Group Dismembered As Former Foes Buy Its Assets.” Also go to The Jason Scott reversal is very interesting because he has hired a new law firm, one that has successfully sued Scientology in the past (see Phoenix New Times 12/24/96 “What’s $2.995 Million Between Former Enemies? Stunning settlement frees cult deprogrammer Rick Ross from almost all of $3 Million judgment). But, remember, if you call “CAN” now at the end of 1996, you probably get “Scientology.” Supporters of the old-CAN may be reorganizing under new names.

For another opinion about my trial in Idaho over a failed deprogramming you can read about the case and my response at

I was acquitted by a jury of all charges in 1993.

To better understand how propaganda works check out Age of Propaganda by Pratkanis & Aronson, 1992 (W.H. Freeman)

Joseph P. Szimhart - Consultant
Pottstown, PA 19464
(610) 326-2322
Except where noted, entire contents Copyright ©1996,98 Joseph P. Szimhart
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