Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Program by Gregg Hurwitz - parody of The Forum - or analysis of a cult leader?

The Program by Gregg Hurwitz, though a fictional work, is a very educational read, and an uncanny analysis of the potential dangers inherent in some forms of Large Group Awareness Training and the “Leaders” that teach these controversial courses.

But is this book a parody of Large Group Awareness Training in general, a poke at the totalitarian tactics used by cult leaders, or a specific spoof of the methodology used by Werner Erhard in his course The Forum, the “technology” of which was bought by his employees who then formed the company Landmark Education and the course The Landmark Forum ?

This book was previously analyzed in the post, Large Group Awareness Training in popular culture, but we’ll go into a more detailed analysis in this post. Incidentally, in a previous post The Invasion, “cultism” and Werner Erhard, we noted how two different reviews of the film The Invasion starring Nicole Kidman both discussed Werner Erhard - with one review referring to “self-help gurus“, and the other discussing “cultism“.

Nothing and Semantics

Prior to the prologue on page 1, The Program opens with a quote from Werner Erhard: “There are only two things in the world - nothing and semantics.” The choice of this particular quote by Gregg Hurwitz is interesting - it could simply refer to a form of existential philosophy, but more likely it is a subtle introduction to the high importance placed on semantics both by Werner Erhard and by “The Program”, the Large Group Awareness Training organization depicted in the book. Dr. Paul Martin, Director of the Wellspring Retreat, discusses the importance of “loaded language” in an article analyzing the controversial group Executive Success Programs, entitled: “Robert Jay Lifton’s eight criteria of thought reform as applied to the Executive Success Programs.” Dr. Martin’s introduction to the section analyzing Dr. Robert Jay Lifton’s criterion “Loading the language“, is actually a very good summary of the use of semantics in the book The Program. Dr. Martin writes: “The group develops a jargon in many ways unique to itself, often not understandable to outsiders. This jargon consists of numerous words and phases which the members understand (or think they do), but which really act to dull one’s ability to engage in critical thinking.”

A Fictional Psychologist and Real-World Harassment

In Chapter 24 of the book, on pages 175-180, U.S. Marshal Tim Rackley consults with a psychologist named Dr. Glen Bederman about the tactics used by “The Program” group, and Dr. Bederman educates Rackley about Large Group Awareness Training. Rackley had first met Dr. Bederman in Chapter 4, when he went to visit the psychologist at UCLA and met him after he finished teaching a college course on destructive cults. On pages 30-38, Dr. Bederman discusses some of the methodology used by these groups, including hypnosis, totalitiarian control, and harassment of critics. This harassment of an academic critical of destructive cults is eerily similar to that endured by former UC Berkeley professor, psychologist Dr. Margaret Thaler Singer. Obituaries in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle described some of the harassment Dr. Singer suffered at the hands of cult “operatives” over the years.

Dr. Singer was sued by Landmark Education, over a portion of the 1995 edition of her book Cults in Our Midst that dealt with Large Group Awareness Training. Dr. Singer later reached a settlement with Landmark Education, where she stated she did not believe the group was a cult or sect. However, in a later article on Landmark Education in the Phoenix New Times in 2000, Drive-thru Deliverance: It’s not called est anymore, but you can still be ridiculed into self-awareness in just one expensive weekend, Dr. Singer clarified some of her views on Landmark Education, stating: “I do not endorse them — never have.” Dr. Singer went on to state she would not comment on whether or not she believed the Landmark Forum uses coercive persuasion, because “the SOBs have already sued me once.” Dr. Singer also said “I’m afraid to tell you what I really think about them because I’m not covered by any lawyers like I was when I wrote my book,” but she did say that she would not recommend the group to anyone. Though the character Dr. Glen Bederman did not describe having been sued by an organization he criticized, he did cite instances of canceled hotel and airline reservations, and harassing phone calls after he had given expert-witness testimony in a case against a controversial group.

Controversial Groups and Movements

Though there are no direct references to Werner Erhard, Erhard Seminars Training, The Forum or Landmark Education after the initial quote in the prologue, the character Dr. Bederman does reference other similar types of Large Group Awareness Training groups in his consultation with U.S. Marshal Rackley. On page 176, Dr. Bederman remarks to Rackley: “He’s married two cult models, the psychotherapeutic cult and the self-improvement cult - think the Sullivanians meet Lifespring.” The Sullivanians are analyzed in the article Cultism and the Law, by Randy Frances Kandel, J.D., Ph.D., and an article in The Washington Post referred to the group as a “psychotherapeutic cult.” Lifespring was started by John Hanley, who with Werner Erhard had previously been an instructor at the controversial company Mind Dynamics. Werner Erhard went on to start Erhard Seminars Training in 1971, and John Hanley founded Lifespring in 1974. Some of the early development of both of these groups is discussed in the February 1993 Self Magazine article: White collar cults, they want your mind…, by Dirk Mathison. Landmark Education decided to sue Self Magazine and Dirk Mathison, in 1993, but reached a settlement in October 1994, and the lawsuit itself was later dismissed.

Hacked From the Inside

By far the most amusing and thought provoking scene in The Program takes place in Chapter 49, on pages 323-337. U.S. Marshal Tim Rackley, along with Dr. Glen Bederman and other operatives, register for “The Program” under fake names and proceed to question the motives and logic behind the methodology of cult leader T.D. Betters. Rackley and Dr. Bederman succeed in picking apart the hypocrisy and oxymoronic lessons inherent in “The Program” self-help course, and by the end of the chapter they have completely broken up the course - the participants no longer want to stay registered and they want their money back. Rackley states his reasoning for doing this in front of the group: “I’m here because I believe that this is a dangerous, unethical group that utilizes methods of mind control. I was told by my group leader that The Program was honest, forthcoming, and nonabusive. Well, they went Off Program with me, so I’m going Off Program with them and walking away.”

After this statement, the crowd of enrollees seated in the ballroom begin to shout out questions to the cult leader T.D. Betters, complain, and finally yell that they want their money back. When Tim Rackley confronts T.D. Betters and reveals his identity, Betters responds with an indignant retort: “TD gathered his arrogance about him like armor. ‘You think you’ve won something here?’ He gestured at the pandemonium below. ‘A hiccup. I can replenish my human resources with two weeks and a soapbox. And when I do, you’ll be sorry you ever tangled with me.’ “

Inspired by Cult Experiences

On the page on The Program on Gregg Hurwitz’s Web site, he explains his inspiration behind the book, stating: “A friend lost his sister into a cult and told me all about it. I found it fascinating.” Hurwitz also gives a few examples of the research he did in writing the book: “I went undercover into mind-control cults. I submitted to cult testing. I got ahold of bootleg copies of indoctrination tapes for various cults. I interviewed former cult victims. I studied the history of mind control."

So was “The Program” group in Gregg Hurwitz’s book The Program a parody of a particular controversial group, or form of Large Group Awareness Training, like Werner Erhard, Erhard Seminars Training, The Forum or Landmark Education, or a different group like The Sullivanians, or Lifespring - or was it just a dangerous group conjured up in Hurwitz’s mind, drawn on inspirations from many different types of organizations ?

Read the book and judge for yourself !

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Large Group Awareness Training in popular culture

Large Group Awareness Training has been depicted in fiction and popular culture virtually since the phenomenon began. Some fictional works take a humorous tack - poking fun at or spoofing various forms of large group awareness training. However, other representations of large group awareness training in fiction take a more sinister route, and compare the methodology to dangerous cults and destructive sects.

Below is a list of some of the more obvious examples of spoofs or mentions of various forms of large group awareness training in fictional works.

See also a similar list, at List of Bests - Large Group Awareness Training in fiction.

Semi-Tough - A film starring Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson, and Jill Clayburgh. In the film, all three characters end up attending a self-improvement seminar called Bismark Earthwalk Action Training, or B.E.A.T., led by charismatic leader Friedrich Bismark. Friedrich Bismark is played by Bert Convy. The film was based on the novel Semi-Tough, by Dan Jenkins. There are thinly veiled references to Werner Erhard's Erhard Seminars Training / EST throughout the movie. Friedrich Bismark enters the self-improvement seminar initially shouting: "Assholes. Assholes! You're all assholes every one of you. Your lives don't work!" At one time Werner Erhard owned a Mercedes-Benz with the license plate: "SO WUT", and in the film, Friedrich Bismark has a limosine with a license plate that reads: "BEAT IT."

Mork and Mindy - Episode 18, Season 1, titled: "Mork goes Erk." In this episode, the characters are encouraged by a friend to join ERK, a self-help program called Ellsworth Revitalization Konditioning. This is most likely a parody of Werner Erhard's Erhard Seminars Training / EST. David Letterman played the character Ellsworth, the leader of Ellsworth Revitalization Konditioning. Robert Goldman analyzed ERK and compared it with EST, in his article
Hegemony and Managed Critique in Prime-Time Television: A Critical Reading of "Mork and Mindy" that appeared in Theory and Society, 11 (May 1982): pp.363-388, Part 4. Goldman wrote: "Like est, ERK also endorses submission to the "humiliation and abuse" of the authoritarian leader as a legitimate therapeutic device for solving personal problems. Ellsworth is depicted as greedy, manipulative, hypocritical, and callous, whereas his followers are shown as indiscriminant consumers passively seeking commodified panaceas for their personal troubles. The episode carries a moment of middle-class moral indignation as it lays bare the deceitful and authoritarian features of this con-man's approach to problem-solving."

Howard the Duck - In magazine #4 in March 1980, the character "Werner Blowhard" is introduced, along with other members of the organization B.E.S.T., which stands for "Bozoes Eagerly Serving Tyrants." This is most likely a spoof on Werner Erhard, and the other members of B.E.S.T. were most probably parodies of charismatic leaders of other controversial groups of the time period.

Circle of Power - also known as Brainwash, Mystique, and The Naked Weekend, this film directed by Bobby Roth was based on the true story of a participant in Leadership Dynamics/Mind Dynamics, described in the book The Pit: A Group Encounter Defiled, written by Gene Church and Conrad D. Carnes.

The Spirit of '76 - In this film, a group of Americans from the future decide to time-travel back to 1776 and visit the period. However, they accidentally travel back in time to the year 1976. The time travellers still think they are in 1776, and decide to study the time period. A character named Heinz-57 played by Geoff Hoyle gets trapped in an encounter seminar called "Be, Inc. Seminars", that is most likely a spoof of Erhard Seminars Training / EST. Rob Reiner plays the leader of the encounter seminar attended by Heinz-57, a character named "Doctor Cash." Dr. Cash referes to Heinz-57 as "Heinz Asshole."

Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk, a graduate of "The Forum", today known as The Landmark Forum, is the author of the novel Fight Club upon which the 1999 movie was based. (Grigoriadis, Vanessa. "Pay Money, Be Happy: For thousands of new yorkers, happiness is a $375, three-day self-help Seminar. Welcome to EST: The Next Generation", New York Magazine, July 9, 2001.) In his review of the film Fight Club, Roger Ebert compared the character Tyler Durden to Werner Erhard, writing: "He's a bully--Werner Erhard plus S & M, a leather club operator without the decor." (Ebert, Roger. "Review, Fight Club)", Chicago Sun-Times, October 15, 1999.)

Death du jour - a novel by Kathy D. Reichs - in the novel a description of the methods used in large group awareness training is given, on page 311. A destructive cult used large group awareness training methods to lure participants into their group, then kept them beholden to the group through coercive methods.

Pressure Points - a novel by Larry Brooks, describes the experiences of three senior executives that must spend a week-long retreat at "The Seminar", in an isolated location in Northern California. The novel takes the reader through the first 60 hours of "The Seminar", until the story takes a turn involving suicide and sex games. The Seminar is at referred to in the book as both a business seminars, and a "middle-class cult", page 129. On page 77, a character in the book states that the programs developed by William Penn Patrick, Alexander Everett and Werner Erhard had common origins.

Six Feet Under - Episode 3 of season 2, "The Plan", first aired on HBO March 17, 2002. This episode is most likely a parody of The Landmark Forum, a course delivered by the for-profit, privately owned company Landmark Education. Actress Alice Krige plays the part of the controlling seminar leader, who teaches Ruth, Robbie and the other students of "The Plan" a new jargon using metaphors involved with building a house. The seminar leader singles out Ruth and berates her for "tiptoeing around her own house like she's afraid of waking someone up." The seminar leader encourages participants to use their time during the break from the course to go out to the waiting banks of phones, call their relatives, and tell them how they want to "rennovate their homes" together.

The Program - by Gregg Hurwitz, this novel is part of a series involving U.S. Marshal Tim Rackley. In this work, Rackley investigates a dangerous cult that uses a mixture of large group awareness training methods and love bombing and isolation of new members from their friends, to lure members into the group. The cult members are then kept in check through violence, by loyalists to a totalitarian cult leader. Incidentally, a quote is given from Werner Erhard, prior to the opening of the book's prologue. Large Group Awareness Training is explained to character Tim Rackley by a psychologist he consults, on page 176.

Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law - In the episode "Mufti Trouble," which aired October 2, 2006, the character Mentok the Mindtaker remarks to Harvey Birdman that he had once been an EST instructor, stating: "I was also a sex worker, a cossack, and an Est instructor for a summer in Marin."

Monday, September 10, 2007

Werner Erhard and his attorneys

Werner Erhard and his attorneys

A few past attorneys for Werner Erhard, and some key facts :

Harry Margolis
Set up structural system behind Erhard Seminars Training, was involved in setting up Werner Erhard and Associates (see Erhard v Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 1991)
Later, his tax evasion circular money movement schemes were referred to as "Margolis Schemes."
See court exhibits of the strange circular money movements or Margolis Schemes, applied to Werner Erhard personal money and businesses / tax shelters. Quoting Judge O'Scannlain of the United States Court of Appeals in the case Werner H. Erhard v Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 1994/1995 : "We are invited to follow the winding paths of circular money movements to determine whether they lead to transactions of economic substance for federal income tax purposes."

Art Schreiber
Was personal attorney for Werner Erhard, (see Erhard v Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 1991)
Werner Erhard and Associates - President and Registered Agent, (see Articles of Incorporation.)
According to Federal Election Commission, contributed to Werner Erhard's brother Nathan Rosenberg's unsuccessful campaign for Congress.
Landmark Education - General Counsel and Chairman of the Board of Directors, (see 2006, Landmark Labor Violation Investigations, Texas.)

Martin Leaf
Was personal attorney for Werner Erhard in suit against IRS, (see IRS settles lawsuit brought by Werner Erhard.)
1988 - According to Federal Election Commission, contributed to Werner Erhard's brother Nathan Rosenberg's unsuccessful campaign for Congress.
Sent letter on behalf of Landmark Education as their attorney, to American Family Foundation, AFF, precursor to the International Cultic Studies Foundation, ICSA. (see letter, April 10, 1997.)
Represented Landmark Education in lawsuit against the Cult Awareness Network. (see Landmark Education Settles Lawsuit with Cult Awareness Network.)

Walter Maksym
Was personal attorney for Werner Erhard, represented Werner Erhard in lawsuit against 20 defendants, including CBS News, 60 Minutes. (see Est Founder sues critics; suit names Mercury News writer.)
Under company, Breakthru Publishing or Walter Maksym Publishing involved in publishing book, 60 Minutes and the Assasination of Werner Erhard.
Executive Producer of Werner Erhard "infomercial" - Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard. (see IMDB, and The John Marshall Law School Briefcase, Fall 2006, Vol. 6, Issue 2, Page 8.)

See also prior post, Eagle Island Films and the Werner Erhard "documentary".

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Death of Stephen Burns

Stephen Burns was thirteen when he was stabbed to death by his mother, obstetrician Donna Marie Anderson, on February 24, 2002. There were several warning signs leading up to the death of Stephen Burns, which pointed out that Donna Marie Anderson was not mentally well.

According to an article in the Pioneer Press, 'Not woman we knew' :
"She recently had enrolled in a series of self-awareness sessions through Landmark Education Corp. , a self-improvement program based in San Francisco. Anderson participated in multiple sessions, but Landmark asked her not to participate anymore after employee Josh Watters overheard a conversation among participants in Landmark's Edina office.'They had just said that she had expressed that the medical community in Minneapolis is being run by the Mafia and that she had to get out of the state.' "

Cult News elaborates on the history of other incidents related to criminal acts by other individuals who had previously been involved in the Landmark Forum training, in the article: Alleged murderer and sniper linked to Landmark Education. This article discusses incidents of psychosis reported after Werner Erhard's est Training, and cites The New York Times article Reports of Psychosis After Erhard Course.

The details involving the events leading up to the death of Stephen Burns are described in the article cited above, 'Not woman we knew', and more information can also be found at the following articles. Feel free to read at your leisure to learn more background on this tragedy :

Cult News, Alleged murderer and sniper linked to Landmark Education, June 21, 2006

The Berkeley Daily Planet, Mom sentenced for fatally stabbing son, July 6, 2002

San Francisco Chronicle, 37 years for mom who killed son, July 6, 2002

San Francisco Chronicle, Slain boy's mother saw him as angel, March 10, 2002

The Berkeley Daily Planet, Psych review ordered of mother who killed son, March 6, 2002

The Stanford Daily, Former resident charged in stabbing, March 6, 2002

The Berkeley Daily Planet, Slain Burlingame boy called bright and giving, March 4, 2002

The Berkeley Daily Planet, Woman accused of killing son pleads guilty in court, March 2, 2002

Pioneer Press, 'Not woman we knew', March 1, 2002

San Francisco Chronicle, Mom accused of killing son demands to speak to press, February 28, 2002

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Chaser's War on Everything - The Secret

The Chaser's War on Everything - The Secret

And who said Scientology was the only quack belief Jamie Packer has time for? - quote from the show.

These guys are absolutely hysterical. I will have to check out some more of there stuff, I'm sure there are probably other videos that are relevant to this blog's various topics as well.

Note: This blog's previous posts on The Secret include Comedian Mark Day is a cult hit, "The Secret" - David Schirmer exposed, and of course, The Secret... Cult?.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Comedian Mark Day is a cult hit

I have caught a few of comedian Mark Day's videos on YouTube, and they are really funny. These videos on YouTube have a cult following, and many of his videos have been watched thousands or hundreds of thousands of times. His Web site is his MySpace page.

Here are some of the more poignant comedic posts from YouTube that relate to phenomenon involving Large Group Awareness Training, as well as other topics that have been previously discussed on this blog :

Secret secrets of THE SECRET revealed

Note : Previous posts on "The Secret" - "The Secret" - David Schirmer exposed, and The Secret... Cult?.

Having Tom Cruise's Babies

FYI, an update on Tom Cruise and his plans for his other children: NOW Magazine, Tom Cruise sends kids to Scientology summer camp, or invariably also see Bang! Showbiz.


See for more background BBC NEWS, Germany imposes ban on Tom Cruise, and Spiegel Online, CONTROVERSIAL CULT: German Parties Reject Bid to Ban Scientology.

Re: Mia the YouTube Editor

Beware, the "Cult Awareness Network" that Mark Day refers to in this last above video is now effectively controlled by the Church of Scientology. For more information, please see: 60 Minutes, December 28, 1987, CAN, the Cult Awareness Network (transcript), video here at XenuTV, CNN - Group that once criticized Scientologists now owned by one. Also see the Cult Awareness Network topic archive, from Cult News.

Hope you enjoyed these above videos. As you can see, Mark Day is both funny in an off-beat sort of way, but also informative about topics he clearly has researched and has some background info on.

Donald Rumsfeld - a Werner Erhard "disciple" ?

Donald Rumsfeld Known Unknowns

In a post from March 2005 entitled: IS DON RUMSFELD A WERNER ERHARD DISCIPLE? , blogger Cosmic Iguana wondered if this statement at a February 12, 2002 press briefing by Donald Rumsfeld sounded a bit ... odd.

"As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know."--
Feb. 12, 2002 news briefing

Hart Seely compiled some of the more amusing or even disturbing Donald Rumsfeld statements into poetry pieces, in Slate Magazine, in articles such as The poetry of D. H. Rumsfeld: Recent works by the Secretary of Defense. Here is a different site devoted to the subject with lyrics and clips: The Poetry of Donald Rumsfeld – Lyrics and Sound Clips. Hart Seely went on to compile some of these items into a book called Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Could it be that Donald Rumsfeld was a disciple of Werner Erhard or a devotee of the company Landmark Education's Landmark Forum training ? There is a long discussion about this in the comments section at the Cosmic Iguana post, IS DON RUMSFELD A WERNER ERHARD DISCIPLE? A message board thread from the Cult Education Forum section on Large Group Awareness Training provides some information on Landmark Education, which they call: "Accessing New Possibilities". Here is the info, which sounds almost verbatim like the Donald Rumsfeld blather above: "Standard educational methods enhance what you know and explore what you don’t know. Landmark Education gives you access to what you don’t even know that you don’t know." See message board thread on the topic, from the Cult Education Forum.

Incidentally, Landmark Education unsuccessfully sued cult expert Rick Ross in an attempt to learn the identity of anonymous posters on the Cult Education Forum message board. Cult News described the legal defeat of Landmark Education, in the article Landmark Education suffers humiliating legal defeat in New Jersey Federal Court. Attorneys Peter L. Skolnik and Michael A. Norwick also describe this litigation, in the Introduction to the Landmark Education litigation archive.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Intuition by Best Practice Moderator blocks questions re: XL Foundation, Landmark Education

Ecademy Suppress Free Speech claiming XL Foundation Business Partnership
Ecademy Facebook Officer Lawrence Perry Banned On Ecademy Website because of concerns over Ecademy links.
Released September 2, 2007.

This news is also at a different site, at:
Ecademy Facebook Officer Lawrence Perry Banned On Ecademy Website

According to the report: "Intuition by Best Practice Moderator blocks questions being asked about the XL Foundation, and their partner Landmark Education." The writer goes on to note: "I hold dual nationality with France, and as a French Citizen I am concerned that Landmark Education are not allowed to practice in France. Why are they then allowed to practice in the UK?"

It appears from this post that this user's ability to post writings were compromised by this group associated with Landmark Education.

For the background to the writer's question as to why Landmark Education are not allowed to practice in France, that is not entirely correct. This is explained in more detail by cult expert Rick Ross, in the Cult News article: "Why did Landmark Education leave France?".

Here is an index, to other Cult News articles on the subject of Landmark Education and the Landmark Forum, as well as some discussion and background on Werner Erhard, EST/Erhard Seminars Training, and Werner Erhard and Associates.