The Anti-Cult Movement (ACM)
RECENT ACTIVITY: AMERICA & EUROPE
Topics covered by this essay:
Thirty nine members of the Heaven's Gate
religious group in San Diego County, CA in late 1997-MAR committed group
suicide. The media exhibited a feeding
frenzy for even the smallest scrap of news about the group. Various TV networks even
interviewed two employees of a local car wash used by the members, and some waiters at a
restaurant frequented by the group.
"Cult experts" came out of the woodwork in droves, some promoting religious
intolerance against a wide spectrum of new emerging religions. The media appears to have
accepted at face-value each person who came forward, claiming to be an expert in this
area. As a result, the public's fear about widespread dangerous cults increased greatly.
Each "expert" had his or her own theory; many were mutually exclusive:
||Keith Andrew Kovacs of DAWN, Inc. circulated a posting on the Internet which claimed
that the suicide was really a mass-murder - "just the latest slaughter of peaceful
people by a government frantically trying to conclude plans to implement a police state
here in the US." His theory is that the Heaven's Gate group were highly skilled
hackers and cryptography crackers who broke into computers of highly secure military and
government sites and thereby learned about high tech weapons, devices, and implants which
had been developed by US intelligence agencies. They then wrote an interactive computer
game called Cyberpunk, using the names and correct descriptions of the various
devices. Fearful that news of the new devices would be publicized, the FBI raided their
commune, confiscated the computer programs, killed the members and made it look like a
group suicide. Kovacs predicts that the Federal Government will propose new "legislation
to protect families from the menace of cults that can invade the home and drive people to
commit suicide or even murder their own parents."
This rumor is not based on
fact. The Cyberpunk game was written by Steve Jackson Games in Austin, TX. The
employees there are role-playing game authors, not hackers or cryptography specialists.
||Dr. Carl Raschke of the University of Denver seemed to believe that there are
many cults from different religious backgrounds who had coordinated a series of mass
suicides. They were to start at the spring equinox on 1997-MAR-20, accelerate at the time
of the Buddha's birthday on MAY-22, and cease around the summer solstice JUN-21.
No such mass suicides followed.
||Some conspiracy theorists promoted the concept that the Heaven's Gate suicide was
orchestrated by the CIA, as part of its continuing mind-control programs.
||Hal Mansfield, of the Religious Movements Resource Center in Fort Collins, CO
indicated that millennialism has spawned many New Age groups, ranging from UFO
enthusiasts to survivalists and Neo-Christians. He stated that some estimate there are 2.5
million adherents within these groups.
||On MAR-28, Gina Smith, an Internet specialist on Good Morning America attempted
to link Heaven's Gate with Satanism, Neo-Paganism,
and the Unification Church -- three unrelated
religious traditions. The implication was that all are
dangerous, both to society and to their own membership. She pulled up the World Pagan Network home
page and mentioned that Paganism is something that parents
should watch out for (i.e. protect their children from). No explanation was given
why Pagans are dangerous. She later apologized on her computer radio program for
misrepresenting Pagans. She felt that Good Morning America would not permit her
to apologize on their TV program.
||The New York Post for 1997-MAR-31 contained an article titled "Freudian
Sect - Experts: Cult's road to suicide was driven by sexual torment." The concept
that a spiritual group would be driven to suicide by sexual frustration does seem a bit of
||According to a Zondervan News Service posting of 1997-APR-3, Billy Graham referred to Heaven's
Gate during a press conference in San Antonio where he launched his South Texas
Crusade. Usually, Dr. Graham promotes tolerance towards other Christian groups. This time
he seems to have demonized mind-control groups. He said: "These
sects and cults are worldwide. Cults are made up of people who are fanatically following a
leader who lead them astray. I believe that in back of it all is the Devil, who has his
plans and counterfeits of Jesus Christ."
The media has been using strange terminology when referring to the mass suicide group:
"Techno Pagan" is one. "Techno" is a valid descriptor,
because the Heaven's Gate group financed itself by writing high quality web pages. But
"Pagan" is in no way accurate; the group is basically Christian, onto which UFO
beliefs were grafted.
This essay continues below.
The Anti-Cult Movement (ACM) in North America appears to be in decline, for a
||Public awareness of high-profile, criminal deprogramming efforts by some
||Rejection by professional mental health organizations and much of the public of the danger of
mind control and brainwashing by small religious groups.
||Lack of acceptance of ACM beliefs by the government.
However, many media reporters and the public generally still appear to believe in
widespread, dangerous "cults." One activities was:
||1998-MAY-21: An impressive victory was achieved by the ACM in Maryland.
They had mounted a successful stealth campaign which resulted in the creation of a "Task
force to Study the Effects of Cult Activities on Public Senior Higher Educational
Institutions." The resolution which created the task force commented that "college
students who become involved with cults undergo personality changes, suffer academically
and financially, are alienated from their families and friends, and are robbed of the very
things universities were designed to encourage." The resolution does not
define the term "cult"; it does not identify any particular organization as a
"cult." The task force was formed to "...study the effects of cult activities on
the University of Maryland System, St. Mary's College, and Morgan State University..."
1 The law requires the task force to "communicate
with and obtain information from cult awareness organizations, former cult members,
college administrators, campus security personnel, campus ministers, families of cult
members and other interested parties..." It does not direct the task force to
collect any information from existing members of NRMs, from NRMs themselves, from civil
liberty groups, or from academics specializing in NRMs.
The Appropriations Committee conducted hearings on the Maryland House Joint
Resolution 22. They heard from 9 witnesses: 8 identified themselves as proponent of
the bill; the 9th said that they were both a proponent of the bill, and also took no
position. (Quite an difficult task). Those opposed to the bill did not learn of its
existence until it had passed the lower House and was two days away from being passed in
the Senate. It passed in a flurry of other bills as the session closed. The final vote was
110-9 by the House and 38-7 by the Senate. It was signed into law by the Governor on
1998-MAY-21. The International Coalition for Religious Freedom reported in its
1999-APR report that: "no civil libertarians or scholars of new religious
movements have been named" to the task force. 2,3
||Europe: The ACM appears to be alive and healthy in Europe,
where it is accepted and promoted by by some European governments. For
||Austria: This country has had a three-tiered religious structure. A few
religions are recognized as "state recognized religions;" they receive
free broadcast time, government funding and tax exemptions. At a lower status are those
religious groups which have "legal recognition." They can own property,
have a bank account in their name etc. New religious groups have no recognition and
essentially no rights. To obtain recognition, they have to prove that they have at
least 300 members and must wait for 6 months after applying. Non-religious groups in
Austria are only required to wait 0 to 6 weeks. "Legal status may be denied to
religious communities by the Federal Minister of Education and Cultural Affairs if it
deems that youth will be adversely affected by it, that psychological methods are used
improperly to disseminate religious beliefs, or in the interest of public security, public
order, health, or morality." 4
||France: Their federal government is attacking
religious minorities via the tax system. Prime victims are the Jehovah's
Witnesses and a small Evangelical Pentecostal church. They have prepared a list of
suspect religious groups.
||Germany: There appears to be a concerted attack
on the Church of Scientology by political groups, and by
governments at the local, state and federal level. Germany's Interior Minister, Manfred
Kanther, announced in early 1997-JUN that "All means available to the state"
will be used to monitor Scientology's 30,000 members in that country, because the
government believes that the church is a threat to democracy. Counterintelligence agents
will be used.
||Russia: Recent legislation that severely curtails religious expression in Russia was passed in that country. It was
motivated largely by the public's fear of dangerous "cults". The Japanese
Buddhist/Christian destructive cult, Aum Shinri Kyo, had
established a local office in Russia. But otherwise, that fear appears groundless.
Anti-cult feeling among the public appears to exist independently of any hard evidence to
support it. The largest New Religious Movements have memberships totaling only a few
thousand. Yet, the public perceived them much larger than this. No religious group in
Russia has ever been convicted of activities of which the ACM accuses them: mind control,
stealing member's property, kidnapping people, being a threat to the state, etc.
Particularly alarming is the linkage between the ACM and state governments. Religious
repression will probably grow within some countries in Europe in the near future. We expect that the panic
will finally collapse, perhaps by 2010 CE, from lack of any evidence that religious groups
pose a significant danger to individuals or to the state.
In referring to the 1998 CAN/Ross/Scott decision by the US 9th Circuit
Court of Appeals, 5 Dr. Massimo Introvigne, managing director of
commented that the decision "is another crucial blow to the credibility and the
very existence of an organized anti-cult movement in the U.S. Its effects will sooner or
later be felt also in Europe". (CENSUR is the Center for Studies on New
Religions. It "was established in 1988 by a group of religious scholars from
leading universities in Europe and the Americas.") 6
||China: The anti-cult movement is perhaps strongest in this
country. The government has historical reasons for their fear. China has
had a history of religious and spiritual uprisings that had catastrophic
effects on the country, including deaths of tens of millions of people.
The government has organized its own Catholic church independently of
Rome. It has also organized its own generic Protestant church. It expects
that all Christians will belong to one of these groups. Meanwhile, they
have relentlessly suppressed independent, non-registered religious and
spiritual groups, recently including the
Dafa -- a spiritually-based exercise and belief system. The government appears to
fear any national group that is capable of organizing its followers into direct
The Chinese government has adopted much of the terminology of the Western anti-cult
movement. The official Xinhua News Agency issued a report on
"cults" in the United States. 7 It quoted
Berkley psychology professor Margaret Singer, one of the few remaining
psychologists who supports the claims of the anti-cult movement. She died in
report discusses "spiritual poisoning." Cults are
said to "not obey the law, they upset social order, and they
create a menace to freedom of religion and social stability. Under the
pretense of religion, kindness, and being non-political, they
participate in political activities. Some of them even practice
criminal activities such as tax evasion, fraud, drug dealing,
smuggling, assassination, and kidnapping."
According to the Falun Dafa Information Center, the Chinese
government has detained over 100,000 persons for the "crime" of practicing
Falun Dafa. Over 20,000
have been sent to labor camps without trial. "Chinese President Jiang
Zemin has called this the 'golden age of human rights' in China, but this
'golden age' has resulted in the deaths of over 1,600 innocent citizens
who practice falun Gong...millions have been devastated by this
persecution. This is state terrorism." 8
In defiance of the law
which prohibits independent churches, Gong Shengliang organized the South China
Church, a fundamentalist Protestant denomination. The government has banned the church as
a "cult." He was convicted on charges including "using
a cult to undermine the enforcement of the law," and has been sentenced to
death. A second church leader, Li Ying, a niece of Shengliang was given a
death sentence suspended for two years.
More details are online about
the situation in China and in
"House Joint Resolution 22" at: http://mlis.state.md.us/1998rs/billfile/hj0022.htm
Dan Fefferman, "Will Maryland lead U.S. into European-style
'Sectophobia'?" Religious Freedom Report, Vol. 2, #1, 1999-APR.
"International Coalition for Religious Freedom's report on Maryland Task
Force to Study the Effects of Cult Activities on Public Senior Higher Education
Institutions," at: http://www.religiousfreedom.com/tskfrce/tfrcindex.htm
Alex Colvin, "New Austrian Legislation Creates Formula for
Discrimination" a Religious Freedom Report by the ICRT (International
Coalition for Religious Freedom) at: http://www.religiousfreedom.com/nwslttr/Austria.htm
The CAN/Ross/Scott decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on 1988-APR-8 is at: http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/Senate/3803/wpage03.html
and at: http://www.cesnur.org/Scott.htm
CENSUR's home page is at: http://www.cesnur.org/
An essay describing the mandate and goals of CENSUR is at: http://www.cesnur.org/whatisit.htm
Hu Xiaomin, "Xinhua reports on cults in the United States,"
Beijing Xinhua Domestic Service.
" 'Golden Age of Human Rights' in China leaves four more tortured
to death by Chinese authorities," Falun Dafa Information Center,
2001-DEC-20. Their web site is at
Copyright © 1996 to 2001 incl. and 2004 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2004-MAR-30
Author: B.A. Robinson