''Cult fighters in center of raging storm'' regarding the Cult Awareness Network.
Expansion of CompuServe Religion Forum message
Sb: #Cult Awareness Network
Fm: Don Tyler 75775,473
The Sunday 20 March Chicago Tribune carried an article headlined "Cult fighters
in center of raging storm" regarding the Cult Awareness Network. It was the
column-one story in the city section, under a local political headline but with
a large (4x8) color photo of a concerned-looking Cynthia Kisser, exec. dir. of
the CAN. Behind her are (squinting at fuzzy newsphoto) a bulletin board with a
poster for a "Human Aura" conference, leaflets for Eckankar and NSA (?),
Insight magazine (?), all flagged with post-it comments. "There are so many
cults now, they are less visible, but more prolific, like the threads in a
tapestry," she is quoted in the caption.
CULT FIGHTERS IN CENTER OF RAGING STORM
By Wes Smith
Behind an unmarked door, three women work in a two-room office in a Chicago
suburb. Mail is retrieved from an anonymous post office box. The telephone
is listed to another address.
In spite of the secretive nature of this place, the phone rings
frequently, more than 2,000 times a year. The callers often speak with
* A mother from a Southern state says her daughter has suddenly decided to
quit medical school and leave the country to join a group "that knows the
* A Chicago secretary seeks information on a business management firm that
she believes is linked to the Scientology movement.
* A social worker in Ohio asks for literature on Satanism. A child under
his care has exhibited signs of involvement.
* A detective with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police asks for any
information available on a suspicious-sounding "humanitarian group" that is
trying to buy a large parcel of land in his area.
The callers have dialed 312-267-7777 -- the number to the national
headquarters of the Cult Awareness Network, a low-profile and nonprofit
organization that gathers information on "destructive" cults, those that
allegedly employ mind control techniques, coercion and unethical or illegal
The nearly 10-year-old network serves as a warehouse of information for
people who often fear what they might learn when they call, according to
Cynthia Kisser, executive director. It has 50 affiliates in 25 states and
its files contain profiles, membership lists and even tax returns of more
than 1,000 cults and suspected cults.
Kisser said she regrets the melodrama of the network's undisclosed
address, untraceable phone and unmarked door, but her small volunteer
organization is not without its ardent detractors.
The Unification Church of Rev. Sun Myung Moon has accused the Cult
Awareness Network of "spreading fear."
John T. Biermans, national spokesman for the Unification Church, said the
Cult Awareness Network has unfairly labeled the church as a cult based on
rumors and testimony from former church members.
"You wouldn't want your ex-wife telling people about you, would you? If
you rely on these people for information, then you are missing something. To
assume they have all the information is simply unfair," Biermans said.
The Unification Church has been joined by the American Civil Liberties
Union and the National Council of Churches in campaigning against the
network's ongoing efforts to create a National Cult Awareness Week by
The ACLU, the Unification Church and others believe the Cult Awareness
Network treads on the constitutional rights of freedom of religion and
speech, their spokesman said.
But those who support the network say it provides a valuable service in
tracking the activities of religious, political, self-help and commercial
The Cult Awareness Network was formed from disparate groups around the
nation following the Jonestown tragedy of Rev. Jim Jones' People's Temple in
Guyana. Those groups, composed mostly of the families of cult members or
former cult members themselves, now make up a national network with
affiliates in Denmark, England, France, Germany, Israel, Australia and New
"When Jonestown happened, the independent groups said it was the ultimate
realization of the potential threat of dangerous cults," Kisser said.
Funded by donations -- it operated on a $100,000 budget last year -- the
Cult Awareness Network serves as an information center for the families of
cult members, law enforcement agencies, the news media and anyone else
seeking information on cult activities, Kisser said.
The network does not, as members of the Unification Church and other
critics charge, get involved in the abduction and deprogramming of cult
members, nor is it anti-Christian, she said.
Kisser did acknowledge, however, that the network's list of experts on
various cults does include individuals who have been involved in
deprogramming and that families have sometimes learned of those services
after being referred by the network.
Chicago Gang Crimes Detective Jerry Simandl, who specializes in crimes
involving ritualistic groups, has spoken in seminars sponsored by the
network and has investigated cases referred by the group.
"We have worked very closely with them in education people on ritualistic
criminal activity, and I have found them to be very dedicated people," he
said of the Cult Awareness Network.
Criticism of the network has reached a fever pitch in Washington, D.C., in
recent weeks as Cult Awareness supporters have lobbied congressmen to
support its resolution recognizing the Nov. 18 anniversary of the 1978
Jonestown murder-suicide of 913 followers of Jim Jones and declaring a
National Cult Awareness Week on Nov. 13-19, 1988.
The ACLU sent letters protesting the resolution to every congressman last
week and several experts scheduled to speak at a Cult Awareness Network
informational session for legislative aides this weekend received threats,
Barry W. Lynn, legislative counsel with the ACLU in Washington, as led
that group's opposition. Lynn said the ACLU has found itself in interesting
company in fighting the resolution.
"I've been getting calls from Scientologists, witches and the Unification
Church -- all seeking to derail this issue," he said.
The ACLU opposes the resolution on the grounds that Congress is forbidden
by the Constitution from restricting religious freedoms, Lynn said.
U.,S. Rep. Tom Lantos (D., Calif.) sponsored the resolution in October to
create the Cult Awareness Week in order to publicize the danger of cults
and their increasing numbers, a spokesman said.
The date was selected to commemorate the Jonestown massacre in which
Lantos' predecessor, Rep. Leo J. Ryan, was shot to death and 930 other --
most of them members of Jones' People's Temple cult -- also died from
shooting or poisoning.
The resolution needs 268 signatures -- half the membership of Congress --
to win approval. So far only 40 signatures have been obtained. The effort
has been thwarted by a deluge of protests to congressmen from organizations
opposed to it, according to Kisser.
Network members have claimed that some of those opposing groups are
"fronts" for cults. The Unification Church, in particular, has made many
inroads into politics by hosting programs under names not linked to it, and
it allots a large amount of money to candidates, Kisser said.
Last August, a lobbying group that persuaded some Chicago-area politicians
and civic leaders to become active members was discovered, to the
embarrassment of those politicans and civic leaders, to be an arm of the
That group, the American Constitution Committee, is an offshoot of CAUSA
International, which was founded by Rev. Moon to fight communism and revive
moral standards through church unity, according to Michael Jenkins, regional
director of the American Constitution Committee.
Some of the letters sent to congressmen criticizing the Cult Awareness
Network were written on the letterhead of a group called the "Voice of
Freedom." Telephone callers condemning the resolution have identified
themselves as members of the "Coalition for Religious Freedom." Both groups
are suspected to be fronts for larger cults. Kisser said.
"They have sent letters with all kinds of outlandish statements claiming
that the network is an 'anti-religious hate group- and that it has engaged
in physical attacks against Roman Catholics, Baptists, Episcopalians,
Mormons, and others," said Patrica Ryan, a Washington lobbyist and member of
the Cult Awareness Network.
Ryan, 34, speaks from the heart when she talks about the dangers of cults.
She is the daughter of the late Rep. Ryan who was shot as he attempted to
help a cult member escape.
Another family member, Shannon Ryan, 36, joined Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh's
cult in Oregon in 1980 before he was ordered out of the U.S. in 1985.
Shannon Ryan lives in San Diego but still follows the group's teachings,
her sister said.
"I've been hit as much as anybody by dangerous cults, sort of a
double-whammy," said Patrician Ryan, who has been described by members of
the Unification Church as "a fanatic."
"When my father went to Guyana to help the families of his constituents,
there was no source of information like the network," she said. "We are
trying to make Congress aware that there is still a cult problem in this
Cults prey successfully on all kinds of people, not just the spiritually
or emotionally weak, Kisser said.
"People don't realize how often they come into contact with cults in their
daily lives," Kisser said. "There are so many cults now, they are less
visible, but more prolific, like the threads in a tapestry."
Cult members are lured to the web under the pretense of learning more
about the Bible, losing weight or helping humanity, and then fall prey to
mind-control techniques, Kisser said.
"We are not a nation of lost sheep, but people are vulnerable. These
techniques prey on our needs for approval, our need for food, or our sex
Cults use those needs to establish control of their member,s to wipe out
their previous lives and make them dependent on the cult, she said. They
employ methods learned in prisoner-of-war camps in World War II, in research
done for Josef Stalin by Ivan Pavlov and techniques developed by the Chinese
Communists in their thought-control schools, Kisser said.
"We don't see torture used to gain control anymore, it is now all soft
music and velvet gloves -- techniques that can be learned at the local
library," she said. "Jim Jones had an excellent library on mind control at
his Jonestown home."