The cults we hear about are the ones that explode or implode, not the ones chugging along quietly long after their Rolling Stone cover story moment. Guinevere Turner has fond memories of the Lyman Family, but also unsettling ones, too, incidents and patterns far over the line of abuse. To relate them makes her want to apologize. My Childhood in a Cult.
Today, as a fifty-year-old screenwriter, I’m drawn to the stories of cults and their behavior. My next film, “Charlie Says,” focusses on the women who killed for Charles Manson and the time they spent in a prison isolation unit. One thing I wanted to show was how keeping these women in that unit trapped them for years in the echo chamber of Manson’s manipulations. I’ve always been struck by the sensationalist and reductive way that sixties and seventies cults are portrayed in the media. In a nation fixated on individualism, cults and communes are easy objects of disdain—and perhaps envy. Their members are breaking the rules, discarding the sacred nuclear family. It’s libertarianism plus sex and drugs, and it’s wrong, but do tell me more.
The truth is far more complex, though no less insidious. As individuals, how well are we positioned to say which systems of belief are right or wrong?
Further reading: I've bookmarked "The Lyman Family’s Holy Siege of America", the 1971 Rolling Stone article that did not make them famous. Read the rest
Qanon is an unbelievably stupid conspiracy theory whose underlying bullshittery is mathematically provable, and whose primary proponents are pallsy with the President, and whose adherents include mass-murderers whose crimes are linked to their belief in the Qanon conspiracy.
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Jenny Odell is an artist and critic whose Bureau of Suspended Objects report on dropshipping (previously) was a fascinating dive into the weird, scammy world of crapgadgets and farcically poorly made fashion items sold through a network of "influencers" and turnkey ecommerce tool.
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"The Devil Next Door," A&E's six-part documentary series on the alleged abuses at the Word of Faith Fellowship Church in North Carolina was scheduled to premiere Tuesday night at 10:00 PM EST. But at the last minute, the network yanked the series from its schedule. A spokesperson from A&E said producers were working on additional reporting but did not set a future broadcast date.
On Twitter, a lawyer for the church accused A&E of paying some of the participants in series.
A&E has run into this problem before. In 2016, their documentary series "Escaping the KKK" was canceled before it aired after it was discovered producers had paid some of the participants.
The Word of Faith Fellowship Church was the subject of an investigation by the Associated Press, who called the church a cult. It was founded in 1979 by Jane Whaley, a former math teacher who considers herself to be a prophet. Allegations of physical and emotional abuse have been made by dozens of former members.
(via Washington Post)(Photo: WLOS) Read the rest
On November 18, 1978, more than nine hundred members of the Peoples Temple, under the guidance of cult leader Rev. Jim Jones, killed themselves or were murdered in the jungles of Guyana. Five years before the mass suicide-murder though, Jones was a pillar of the San Francisco community, hobnobbing with government officials and other big-shots while leading his adoring congregation in religious, social, and political activism. It was during those sunny days that Jones and the Peoples Temple released "He's Able," a soulful gospel album featuring the congregation's choir, band, and of course their fearless leader. Rolling Stone's David Chiu shares the history of this private press LP that took on a whole new life after its creators' tragic deaths:
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In a way, the Temple choir and the band were a microcosm of the church: a group of performers of different races, age groups and social backgrounds who came together to advance progressive and social causes, such as helping the underprivileged. “These are voices that no longer are here,” says Leslie Wagner-Wilson, a former Temple choir member, of the album. “And they were singing because they had hope. They had a hope for a better world.”..
Jim Jones himself appeared on the record, singing lead on the hymnal “Down From His Glory,” a reworking of the Neapolitan song “O Sole Mio.” (Listen below.) “He came in with a couple of his guards that were with him,” (music director James) Beam recalls of that particular session with Jones. “Everybody in the recording studio that worked there looked at this guy and went, ‘Whoa, what’s going on with this?’ He had his sunglasses on at 12 at night.
Music of Mind Control with Micah is a weekly radio program on WFMU that bills itself as an "exploration into the musical output of religious cults, new religious movements, and individuals of a spiritually inspired and divine nature." In between songs (most of which are very listenable) the host provides information about the different cults from around the world whose music is featured on the show.
WFMU has good smartphone apps that let you listen to all of their different weekly shows. Read the rest
Since its launch in 1999, Neopets has enjoyed a pretty colorful history. The game offers users the ability to create a virtual pet to take on adventures and, using virtual and real-world currency, feed and trick out their digital pets with swag, homes and other online sundries. It was originally aimed at kids, but grew a cult-following of oldsters, too.
Oh, and it used to be run by Scientologists.
According to The Outline, the company that originally owned the Neopets brand employed business practices deeply rooted in Scientology. Up until the point where NeoPets was sold to Viacom in 2005, Neopet's CEO and practicing Scientologist Doug Dohring rocked L. Ron Hubbard’s Org Board business model in order to keep things running smoothly – provided you considered turning your employees against one another smooth.
From The Outline:
The information currently made public about Org Board is vague — introductory workshops are required to learn more about it. The business model contains seven divisions: Communications, Dissemination (sales/marketing), Treasury, Production, Qualifications (quality control), Public (public relations), and, most important to the system, Executive. The symbiotic divisions are arranged to create a “cycle of production” that parallels the church’s “cycle of action,” which Scientology.org describes as “revealing what underlies the continuous cycle of creation, survival and destruction—a cycle that seems inevitable in life, but which is only an apparency.” It is also made up of seven stages.
As part of putting Org Board into play, employees are called upon to spy on the work practices of other employees. Read the rest
I’ve always been intrigued by cults. The idea that someone would be willing to give up everything: their wealth, family connections, personality or livelihood, to be a part of something presumably greater, something more all-consuming than religion, fascinated me. I knew, at some point, I’d want to write about it. I didn’t get the chance until I started my fourth crime novel, Blackout
, which hits in May from Polis Books—the latest in a Miami crime series featuring recovering alcoholic private investigator Pete Fernandez.
Charles Manson, the mass murderer and musician, is reportedly close to death at a California hospital. USA Today:
The 83-year-old inmate, serving multiple life sentences at a prison in Corcoran, Calif., has struggled with gastrointestinal problems and been shuttled back and forth to hospitals in recent years. TMZ reports that he was brought to a Bakersfield hospital three days ago and is facing life-threatening ailments.
Manson was denied parole in 2012, at his twelfth hearing, and is not scheduled for another until 2027. Here's his most recent mugshot, from August. Read the rest
When Alabama GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore was accused of sexually molesting children as young as 14, his fellow hardcore evangelicals shrugged at the scandal -- it was "common knowledge" that Moore had a fondness for young teens.
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Uganda is so poor that few can afford medical care, giving it one of the lowest life-expectancies on the planet -- this toxic combination made the country ripe for infiltration by Tiens, a Chinese Multi-Level-Marketing "nutritional supplements" cult whose members set up fake medical clinics that diagnose fake ailments and proscribe fake medicines, then rope patients into becoming cult recruiters who convince their friends to sign up for the cult. Read the rest
After his awkward endorsement of pedophilia disqualified Milo Yiannopoulos to be the hard right's token gay pal, CPAC needed a new speaker to fill his slot their conference, and the guy they chose was Jikido 'Jay' Aeba, a member of the notorious Japanese "Happy Science" cult, who helped the religion extrude a tendril into the political realm by founding the Happiness Realization Party. Read the rest
Lee Jae-yong is nominally "vice-chairman" of Samsung, but his father, Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee, is considered to be a mere figurehead, with Lee Jae-yong as the true boss of the company. Read the rest
Everybody knows that North Korea is a failed state basket-case full of starving people and multigenerational concentration camps, but South Korea is hardly the model of good governance: from the long-serving leader who stole $200M and gave it to his kids (who now live happily in America off his nest-egg) to those long-ago days of 1988 when the government kidnapped homeless people and developmentally delayed people and put them into forced labor camps -- some of which still operate today. Read the rest
After a recent update on the surviving members of the Heaven's Gate cult and their ongoing maintenance of its now-fashionably anachronistic website, (previously) I checked again and found that the Heaven's Gate "Away Team" patches are finally available again for purchase.
The only pair of Nike Decades currently on offer, though, is from someone on eBay who wants $6,600 for a pair. Read the rest
Robert Carlson, the archbishop of St Louis, MO, has circulated a two-page letter to his flock in which he raises the question, "Can I still buy Girl Scout cookies?" Read the rest
Be sure to read Adrian Chen's gripping profile of former Westboro Baptist Church twitterer Megan Phelps-Roper, who left the church after coming to realize the futility of its hate gospel.
On December 20, 2009, Phelps-Roper was in the basement of her house, for a church function, when she checked Twitter on her phone and saw that Brittany Murphy, the thirty-two-year-old actress, had died. When she read the tweet aloud, other church members reacted with glee, celebrating another righteous judgment from God… But Phelps-Roper had loved Murphy in “Clueless,” and she felt an unexpected pang—not quite sadness, but something close—over her death. As she continued scrolling through Twitter, she saw that it was full of people mourning Murphy. The contrast between the grief on Twitter and the buoyant mood in the basement unsettled her. She couldn’t bring herself to post a tweet thanking God for Murphy’s death.
If you're been wondering why Westboro's been kind of boring lately, it turns out that there was a coup of sorts within the church: day-to-day troll in chief Shirley Phelps-Roper (Megan's mother) was denounced, and a bunch of stodgy old men took over. Since then, women have been marginalized within the church and it has lost much of its media savvy.
Read Adrian's piece to the last sentence: there is an absolutely amazing ending to the life and mind of the church's founder, Fred Phelps.
[Image, top: Megan Phelps-Roper. Photoshopped from an image by KATY GRANNAN for NEW YORKER] Read the rest