The Program is a novel by author Gregg Hurwitz. Although it's fiction, The Program provides some great insight into abusive groups and destructive movements, as well as ways to social hack a Large Group Awareness Training.
In this case, social hack is used to refer to a method to literally disrupt and ideally completely destabilize the Large Group Awareness Training, from the inside out.
10 key ways to social hack a Large Group Awareness Training:
1) Act authoritatively. Destructive groups and abusive movements often model their staff and train their leadership after the one influential leader and founder of the group. They will not expect you yourself to also act in this manner. They often act authoritarian and totalitarian, as this is how these staff members are taught, to emulate and act like their leader and founder.
2) Bring a mental health professional as part of your social hacking group. Ideally this would be someone with a PhD in psychology or an M.D. with a specialty in psychiatry. This person would educate and brief the members of the social hacking team about tactics and methods of the group, and the dangers of getting in too deep into its thought patterns.
3) Bring an ex-member of the group in question. This ex-member should be someone intimately aware of the ways the group functions, and yet out for enough time to have fully gone through a period of cognitive dissonance and awakened back to a pattern to appropriately interact with society again.
4) Bring law enforcement or someone familiar with the law. This person will help brief the rest of the members of the social hacking team on their rights should staff from the destructive group or abusive movement falsely make claims about their actions during the seminar. This person would also be quite useful to conduct research into the possible criminal activities of the group and its founder and leader. This person should instruct all members of the social hacking team on ways to have fun disrupting and destabilizing the Large Group Awareness Training seminar, without doing anything illegal.
5) Don't follow group mentality. Refuse to stand when everyone else stands. Don't clap when everyone else claps. This will help you maintain your sense of self and independence throughout the attempts by the abusive group or destructive movement at influence and manipulation. If you are asked to explain yourself by a staff member of the abusive group, sample language from the book includes: "From what I've seen, I'm not sure if I like The Program yet. If I decide that I don't like what's going on here, I'm leaving. Thank you for having me here today." (Obviously replace "The Program" with the name of whatever destructive group or abusive movement's seminar you are attending.)
6) Politely interrupt the seminar with inquisitive questions. Make sure to be polite about this. Again, maintain a positive and happy attitude when doing this. Most likely other members of the seminar in the room full of 200 or so people will echo some of your concerns.
7) Assertively affirm your positive outlook on life. Wording suggested in the book by the fictional psychologist, character Dr. Glen Bederman is: "My Program is: I participate in activities that give me self-esteem, and I have the courage to decline to participate in those activities that do not." This frames your reason for attending in a positive way that simultaneously retains your own sense of self, independence, assertiveness, and self worth. It also signals to potential shills, dupes, and marks in the audience that they can similarly adopt your positive yet independent attitude and modus operandi while being in the seminar.
8) Maintain a positive and happy attitude. You are there to have a fun time. Act like it. Potential shills and suckers and marks will respond positively to you if you question the methods and tactics of the abusive group or destructive movement, while at the same time showing you are a happy and fulfilled person.
9) Bring a digital thermometer. Destructive groups and abusive movements will sometimes wildly alter the ambient temperature in the room where the seminar is conducted, in order to put attendees off balance. If you notice this pattern, politely but loudly question the staff on this, in front of the rest of the seminar participants so they can all hear your concerns.
10) Ask the staff loudly and politely if they are licensed to practice hypnosis. In the book, the fictional psychologist Dr. Glen Bederman asks: "Are you licensed to administer hypnosis in the state of California?" When the abusive group's leader "TD" responds: "We're not practicing hypnosis here. We're simply meditating.", Dr. Bederman loudly points out in earshot of the entire seminar: "Guided meditation is a form of hypnosis. Everyone in this room should know that."
There are plenty other helpful pointers to social hack a Large Group Awareness Training in this section of the book, and it's all there on pages 323-337.
Other educational takeaways from the book:
pages 256-263: Exit counseling with psychologist Dr. Glen Bederman; this fictional character created by the author Gregg Hurwitz is likely an amalgam of non-fiction psychologists and psychiatrists who have studied victims of abusive groups and destructive movements.
pages 270-272: The investigator meets with postal inspector Owen B. Rutherford; the author Gregg Hurwitz in the book's Acknowledgements section credits postal inspector Mike McCarthy for his research in this area. What's most interesting about this part of the book is the postal inspector character's statements about the crime of tampering with U.S. mail. The section of the book deals with an abusive group and destructive movement that takes away mail from its members that live on its controlled compound, a crime which is: "Most obviously a Title 18, Section 1708 -- theft or receipt of stolen mail matter, generally. But between theft, obstruction, and destruction, we could have over two hundred federal, criminal, and civil statutes."
Says the character postal inspector Owen B. Rutherford: "Do you know what a thirty-seven-cent stamp buys you? ... Not just delivery service. Oh, no. The thirty-seven cents buys you a fiduciary relationship with the United States Postal Service. We are custodians of private property. Namely: the mail. That private property belongs to the sender until it comes into the hands of the intended recipient. These jelly-spined bliss ninnies can't grant the right for their leader to destroy incoming mail before it comes into their actual possession -- it isn't their mail to relinquish. First-class mail must be delivered, forwarded, returned to sender, or sent to the mail-recovery center. Any other act is a violation of the rights of the sender. A violation further of the sanctity of the mail and -- make no mistake -- it is as such a felony in its own right."
This is all from The Program a novel by author Gregg Hurwitz. Check it out!
There have been some interesting articles lately over at the online site for The Arizona Daily Star, about Large Group Awareness Training. In addition, there are some very good articles at the paper itself. They are: November 3, 2009 – “Large Group Awareness Training”: A touchy label after the Sedona sweat-lodge deaths November 5, 2009 – Psychology prof calls “plagiarism” on author of 2005 study on personal-transformation seminars November 8, 2009 – ‘Transformation’ sessions claim high cost November 8, 2009 – It’s buyer beware for personal-transformation seminars November 10, 2009 – Is Landmark Forum an LGAT or not? And does it really matter? At this last one from November 10, there is an interesting statement given from Landmark Education. Let’s look at 2 issues from the Landmark Education statement. One, is the strange attempt by the Landmark Education representative to distance the company from the term “Large Group Awareness Training”, and the other is the ties of high-ranking executives that control Landmark Education to Werner Erhard and his prior company “est”. Deborah Beroset, Director of Public Relations, Landmark Education, said: “As I said during our conversation a bit ago, Landmark really has no place in a story about LGATs. To characterize Landmark Education as a LGAT would not only be inaccurate, it would also damage the reputation of the company, its programs, and the approximately 1.2 million customers who have participated in Landmark Education’s programs and derived value from them.” This statement seems quite odd – especially when this statement from Beroset is compared against writings of a highly-ranked executive within Landmark Education. Take a look at the paper “The Promise of Philosophy and the Landmark Forum”, Contemporary Philosophy, Vol. XXIII, No. 1 & 2, Jan/Feb & Mar/Apr 2001 Barbados Group Working Paper No. 01-01. Full cite is here, and the paper itself is here. One of the authors of this paper is a man named Steven Zaffron. Zaffron first became an executive for Werner Erhard and was an “est trainer” in Erhard’s company “Erhard Seminars Training” (Outrageous Betrayal by Steven Pressman, St. Martin’s Press: 1993, page 217). Currently, Zaffron serves the Landmark Education corporation as CEO of “Vanto Group”, formerly known as “Landmark Education Business Development”, and in addition, Zaffron has the highest-ranking “trainer” title in Landmark Education called “Landmark Forum Leader”. In this paper co-authored by Zaffron, the phrase “Large Group Awareness Training” is used multiple times in reference to Landmark Education. Example on page 52: “Dennison’s dissertation,7 which categorizes the Landmark Forum as a “large group awareness training” is a qualitative study based on interviews with Forum graduates. He also reports predominantly positive outcomes and in addition, briefly summarizes philosophical components of the Forum. The extensive research literature on “large group awareness training” published in the 1970s and 80s (summarized in Finkelstein, Wenegrat, and Yalom8) is framed in psychological more than philosophical terms, albeit there is some reference to the training as existential psychotherapy.” Two different academic treatises are cited as references in the paper co-authored by Zaffron (see page 59, endnotes 7 and 8, Dennison 1994 and Finkelstein 1982) – and both have the phrase “Large Group Awareness Training” in their titles. So, on the one hand you have Deborah Beroset, Director of Public Relations, Landmark Education, saying “To characterize Landmark Education as a LGAT would not only be inaccurate, it would also damage the reputation of the company…” and yet on the other hand – there is Steven Zaffron, former executive of Werner Erhard’s est, current CEO of Vanto Group (formerly Landmark Education Business Development), and current “Landmark Forum Leader”, readily using the term and referencing multiple academic papers that also use the term “Large Group Awareness Training”. Next, let’s look at another statement from Deborah Beroset, Director of Public Relations, Landmark Education, where she says: “I noticed your ProfNet query mentioned “est” as well as Landmark Education. Landmark Education is a different company (we were established in 1991), and The Landmark Forum is not the est program (the two programs differ in their focus, material, methodology, and delivery). The person who created est sold the founders of Landmark Education his intellectual property…” It is interesting to see this attempt to separate Landmark Education from what Beroset refers to as “The person who created est…”. Well, the person who created est was Werner Erhard. As already stated above, high-ranking Landmark Education executive Steven Zaffron, was previously an executive within Erhard’s est training, and an “est trainer” before he was a “Landmark Forum Leader”. Werner Erhard’s brother, Harry Rosenberg, is CEO of Landmark Education. Werner Erhard’s sister, Joan Rosenberg, is listed as a Director of Landmark Education. And last but not least, attorney Art Schreiber is Chairman of the Board of Landmark Education (also see list of directors) and and is also General Counsel of Landmark Education. Prior to his work at Landmark Education, Art Schreiber was General Counsel for “Werner Erhard and Associates” (“$5 Million Lawsuit Filed Against EST”, San Jose Mercury News, December 5, 1985, page 8A.) In addition, Art Schreiber also served as an attorney representing Werner Erhard (“$15 Million Suit Against Werner Erhard Is Dropped”, by Susan Sward, San Francisco Chronicle, October 26, 1985, page 2). So Werner Erhard’s brother is CEO of Landmark Education, his sister is a Director of Landmark Education, and his attorney is Chairman of the Board of Landmark Education. On a side note, BoingBoing.net has published a legal letter sent to the website from a Terry M. Giles, yet another attorney for Werner Erhard. Giles owns “Tekniko Licensing Corporation”. The company “Tekniko Licensing Corporation” is also a subsidiary of Landmark Education.
Even the guy’s username is wise. It is healthy to be a skeptik - it is wise to question and probe and educate oneself about these controversial types of Large Group Awareness Training organizations and companies.
In the US$3 million federal lawsuit filed in New York, Scott Glasgow is suing his former employer Growing Generations and its CEO Stuart Miller. Growing Generations maintains sperm banks and also arranges surrogacy for gay couples who wish to have children. The company has offices in New York and Los Angeles, and has done business with celebrities including actor B. D. Wong of Law & Order: SVU.
Glasgow was marketing director of Growing Generations, and claims he was fired in June 2007 after refusing to continue attending Landmark Education seminars. Glasgow is also suing for sexual harassment, and claims Miller came on to him in September 2006. He made approximately $100,000 per year as the company’s marketing director, and was the company’s only employee based out of New York City. The company’s main offices are in Los Angeles.
“I was shocked when I was fired. It took me months to right myself. I want them to stop imposing Landmark on the employees, and I want an apology,” said Glasgow in a statement in The Village Voice. Brent Pelton, one of Glasgow’s attorneys, stated that: “The Landmark philosophy is deeply ingrained in the culture of the company”. Glasgow said that the Landmark Education training courses were “opposite” to his Christian beliefs. According to Glasgow he was questioned by Miller in May 2007 after he walked out of a Landmark Education course, and was fired shortly thereafter. “We stand by the allegations contained in the complaint and we look forward to proving them at trial,” said Pelton in a statement to ABC News.
Ian Wallace, an attorney who represents Growing Generations, claimed that Glasgow wasn’t fired but walked away from his position. “Growing Generations and Mr. Miller are very confident that these claims will be dismissed ultimately, and there’s no factual basis for them whatsoever,” said Wallace in a statement to The Village Voice. Lawyers representing Growing Generations and Stuart Miller declined comment to The New York Post, and did not immediately return a message from ABC News.
In Glasgow’s complaint, entered into federal court record on April 18, he asserts that Landmark Education constitutes a “religion”, and “perceived their philosophy as a form of religion that contradicted his own personal beliefs”. He states that when he was promoted to Director of Marketing, he asked Miller if he could stop attending the Landmark sessions but was told that they were mandatory for all of the company’s executives and that Landmark is “very much the language of the company.” Glasgow said his performance at the company was assessed based on how he was “touching, moving and inspiring” others, a phrase from the Landmark philosophy, as opposed to his business accomplishments at the company. The complaint claims that the actions of Miller and Growing Generations violated Federal, New York State and New York City civil rights laws.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. deals with a separate plaintiff and company, but the plaintiff in the suit also claims that religious discrimination took place for allegedly being mandated to attend Landmark Education courses. Kenneth Goldman is suing the United States Democratic political action committee Twenty-First Century Democrats (also 21st Century Democrats) and its former executive director Kelly Young. Goldman was formerly the communications director of 21st Century Democrats.
According to Goldman’s complaint, three employees of 21st Century Democrats were fired after refusing to attend the Landmark Forum course. The complaint asserts that Landmark Education has “religious characteristics and theological implications” which influenced the mission of 21st Century Democrats and the way the organization conducted business. Goldman’s complaint states that in addition to himself, a training director and field director were also fired after they made it clear they would not attend the Landmark Forum.
Goldman says executive director Young infused Landmark Education jargon terms into staff meetings such as “create possibilities”, “create a new context”, and “enroll in possibilities”. He also claims that Young “urged” staff members to participate in Landmark Education events outside of the workplace, drove employees to and from Landmark functions, and used funds from 21st Century Democrats to pay for employees to attend those functions. Goldman’s complaint asserts that he was discriminated against in violation of the District of Columbia Human Rights Act.
In a statement in The Washington Times, the executive director of 21st Century Democrats, Mark Lotwis, called the lawsuit “frivolous” and said: “we’re going to defend our organization’s integrity”. Landmark Education spokeswoman Deborah Beroset said that the Landmark Forum “is in no way religious in nature and any claim to the contrary is simply absurd,” and stated: “While we are not a party to this lawsuit and have no firsthand knowledge of it, we can only assume that we are being used as a legal and political football to further the plaintiff”s own financial interests.”
The New York lawsuit was filed April 14, and is still in early filing stages. A conference with the federal court judge in the case has been scheduled for June 17. The Washington, D.C. suit began in November 2007, and entered mediation this past March. As of April 15 the parties in the case were due back to court on July 11 to update the court on the mediation process.
Landmark Education is descended from Erhard Seminars Training, also called “est”, which was founded by Werner Erhard. est began in 1971, and Erhard’s company Werner Erhard and Associates repackaged the course as “The Forum” in 1985. Associates of Erhard bought the license to his “technology” and incorporated Landmark Education in California in 1991.
This is not the first time employees have sued claiming mandatory attendance at “Forum” workshops violated their civil rights. In a lawsuit filed in December 1988 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, eight employees of DeKalb Farmers Market in Decatur, Georgia sued their employer claiming their religious freedom and civil rights were violated when they were allegedly coerced into attending “Forum” training sessions. “Many of these training programs, particularly at large corporations, claim to be purely psychological, aimed at improving productivity and morale and loyalty. But in fact they are religious,” said University of Denverreligious studies professor Carl Raschke in a statement to The Wall Street Journal.
The DeKalb Farmers Market employees were represented by lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union. Consulting Technologies Inc., an affiliate of Transformational Technologies Inc., was named as a party in the lawsuit. Transformational Technologies was founded by Werner Erhard, and was not named as a party in the suit. The “Forum” course that the employees claimed they were mandated to attend was developed by Werner Erhard and Associates. Employees said that they were fired or pressured to quit after they objected to the Forum courses.
The workers claimed that the Forum course contradicted with their religious beliefs. The plaintiffs in the suit included adherents of varying religious backgrounds, including Christianity and Hinduism. “The sessions put people into a hibernating state. They ask for total loyalty. It’s like brainwashing,” said Dong Shik Kim, one of the plaintiffs in the case. The plaintiffs said they lost their jobs after objecting to a “new age quasi-religious cult” which they said was developed by Werner Erhard.
The DeKalb Farmers Market denied the allegations, and an attorney for the company Edward D. Buckley III told The Wall Street Journal that employees were encouraged, not coerced, to attend the training sessions. According to The Wall Street Journal, The Forum said it would not sanction workers being coerced to attend its training sessions.
The parties in the DeKalb Farmers Market religious discrimination case came to a settlement in May 1989, and the case was dismissed with prejudice in June. The terms of the out-of-court settlement were not made public, but the employees’ attorney Amy Totenberg told The Wall Street Journal that the case “has made employers come to grips with the legitimate boundaries of employee training”.
According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers must “reasonably accommodate” their employees’ religious beliefs unless this creates “undue hardship”. In September 1988, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a policy-guidance notice which stated that New Age courses should be handled under Title VII of the Act. According to the Commission, employers must provide “reasonable accommodation” if an employee challenges a training course, unless this causes “undue hardship” for the company.
Landmark Education itself has come under scrutiny for its controversial labor practices. The company has been investigated by the United States Department of Labor in separate investigations originating out of California, Colorado, and Texas. Investigations focused on the heavy reliance of unpaid labor in the company’s workforce, which Landmark Education calls “assistants” and deems volunteers.
An investigation by the U.S. Dept. Labor based out of Colorado found that activities performed by Landmark Education’s “assistants” include: “office, clerical, telephone solicitation and enrollment, as well as greeting customers, setting up chairs, handling microphones during the seminars and making coffee. Additionally, a number of volunteers actually teach the courses and provide testimonials during and after the courses.” The Colorado investigation’s 1996 report found that “No records are kept of any hours worked by any employees.” According to a 1998 article in Metro Silicon Valley: “In the end the Department of Labor dropped the issue, leaving Landmark trumpeting about its volunteers’ choice in the matter.” Metro Silicon Valley reported that Landmark Education at the time employed 451 paid staff, and also utilized the services of 7,500 volunteers.
After an investigation into Landmark Education’s labor practices by the U.S. Dept. Labor’s offices out of California, the company was deemed to have overtime violations. According to the Department of Labor’s 2004 report on the investigation, back wages of $187,569.01 were found due to 45 employees. An investigation by the U.S. Dept. Labor in Texas which concluded in 2005 stated: “Minimum wage violation found. Volunteers (Assistants) are not paid any wages for hours worked while performing the major duties of the firm. The assistants set up rooms, call registrants, collect fees, keep stats of classroom data/participants, file, they also are answering phones, training and leading seminars.”
The Texas investigation also discovered an overtime violation. Landmark Education agreed to pay back wages for the overtime violation, but did not comply with the overtime violation found by the U.S. Dept. Labor for the “assistants”. Landmark Education denied that the “assistants” are employees, though the Department of Labor report concluded: “Interviews reveal that the employees are taking payments, registering clients, billing, training, recruiting, setting up locations, cleaning, and other duties that would have to be performed by staff if the assistants did not perform them.”
According to the 2004 investigative report by Pièces à Conviction in the “Voyage au pays des nouveaux gourous” program, Landmark Education was investigated by the French government in 1995. In the “Voyage au pays des nouveaux gourous” program volunteers were filmed through a hidden camera and shown performing duties for Landmark Education in France including manning phones, recruitment and financial work for the company, and one volunteer was shown cleaning a toilet.
Le Nouvel Observateur reported that after “Voyage au pays des nouveaux gourous” aired in France, labor inspectors investigated Landmark Education’s use of unpaid volunteers. According to Le Nouvel Observateur, one month after the labor investigation took place the French branch of the company had disbanded. A former “Introduction Leader” to the Landmark Forum, Lars Bergwik, has recently posted a series of videos to YouTube critical of the company and its practices. Bergwik appeared on a 2004 investigative journalism program on Sweden’s Channel 4, Kalla Fakta (Cold Facts). According to Bergwik, after the Kalla Fakta program on Landmark Education aired, “Landmark left Sweden”.