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Large Group Awareness Training Truth
Exposing truth about large group awareness training & human potential seminars.
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Friday, May 23, 2008

A controversial development training course called “Landmark Forum” is cited in religious discrimination lawsuits in United States federal courts in New York and Washington, D.C. The seminars are run by a San Francisco, California-based for-profit training company called Landmark Education. The company evolved from Erhard Seminars Training “est”, and has faced criticism regarding its techniques and its use of unpaid labor. The sperm bank and surrogacy company Los Angeles-based Growing Generations is named as a defendant in the New York lawsuit, and the Democratic political action committee Twenty-First Century Democrats is a defendant in the Washington, D.C. case.

In separate lawsuits filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, New York, and in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in Washington, D.C., former employees are suing their employers for monetary damages and claiming religious discrimination after their employers allegedly mandated that they attend courses at Landmark Education.

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 Denver religious 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.

In October 2006, Landmark Education took legal action against Google, YouTube, the Internet Archive and a website owner in Queensland, Australia in attempts to remove criticism of its products from the Internet. The company sought a subpoena under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in an attempt to discover the identity of an anonymous critic who uploaded a 2004 French documentary of the Landmark Forum to the Internet. “Voyage au pays des nouveaux gourous” (Voyage to the Land of the New Gurus) was produced by Pièces à Conviction, a French investigative journalism news program. The Electronic Frontier Foundation represented the anonymous critic and the Internet Archive, and Landmark withdrew its subpoena in November 2006 in exchange for a promise from the anonymous critic not to repost the video.

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”.

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Lars Bergwik was an “Introduction Leader” to the Landmark Forum course at Landmark Education. He is now speaking out publicly against Landmark Education in video posts on YouTube.

I think his videos speak best for themselves so I will just say go watch them. If you don’t have much time, just watch the first one.

Here are his videos about Landmark (there are seven so far):

Landmark Education Lars Bergwik part 1

Landmark Education Lars Bergwik Video part 2

Landmark Education - Lars Bergwik on Randy McNamara - FL

Landmark Education - Lars talks part one

Landmark Education - Lars talks part two

Landmark education -Lars talks part three

Landmark Eduction - Lars talks part four

Some links:

Discussion thread about it at Cult Education Forum

Discussion thread about it at alt.fan.landmark

Blog post at The Macho Response: Go, Lars, Go!!!

Why did Landmark Education Leave France? - Cult News

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Thursday, April 3, 2008

Australia’s Department of Defence spent thousands of dollars on controversial development seminars, Australian media reported Wednesday. The seminars are run by a San Francisco, California-based training company called Landmark Education. The company evolved from Erhard Seminars Training “est”, and has faced criticism regarding its techniques and its use of unpaid labor.

Australia’s Defence Minister Warren Snowdon said that the government is in the process of reviewing Defence Department expenditures on career development. “We’re in the process now of doing an audit, completely unrelated with anything to do with Landmark, which is being undertaken into learning and development to make sure that they meet our needs. … We have to be very sure that the courses that people do undertake are relevant, appropriate and indeed in line with what community expectations might be,” said Snowdon in an appearance on ABC Radio.

The Australian and Australia’s ABC News reported that Landmark Education had been listed in France as a “possible cult” in the mid 1990s. When asked about this on ABC Radio, a spokeswoman for the company in the United States, Deborah Beroset, responded: “What happened in France was that a commission established by the French parliament issued a report in which they listed almost 200 organisations as being possible cults … We were never contacted. We were inappropriately included in that list”.

In a program which aired Wednesday, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio program AM reported that Australia’s Defence Department spent at least AUD12,270 of taxpayer funds to send government employees to Landmark Education courses. According to AM, the Defence Department said it does not appear that further funds have been sent to Landmark Education since 2004.

In a statement released by the Defence Department, the government stated: “A search of Defence records does not indicate exactly how many individuals attended courses with this training provider, however it is believed it was a small number of individuals. … Defence has been unable to determine individual reasons for why groups within Defence choose this training provider.”

AM also reported that the use of unpaid labor by Landmark Education “has attracted the attention of the US and French governments,” and that some individuals in the mental health field have accused the company of brainwashing. When asked about the allegations by mental health experts that Landmark Education’s techniques amounted to brainwashing, Deborah Beroset responded: “Well, there is absolutely no credence to that whatsoever.”

In a March 9 article in the Herald Sun, Peter Rolfe reported that taxpayer money was used to send at least 37 police and government staff from Victoria, Australia to seminars run by Landmark Education. Police and Emergency Services Minister Bob Cameron said that “Decisions on the appropriateness of staff attending courses by Landmark Education are made by individual managers who remain best-placed to assess the development needs of their staff,” but State Liberal MP Murray Thompson told the Herald Sun that the funds should have been put towards fighting crime. Apple Inc., Reebok and Mercedes-Benz have sent employees to Landmark Education seminars, according to a spokeswoman for Landmark.

In October 2006, Landmark Education took legal action against Google, YouTube, the Internet Archive and a website owner in Queensland, Australia in attempts to remove criticism of its products from the Internet. The company sought a subpoena under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in an attempt to discover the identity of an anonymous critic who uploaded a 2004 French documentary of the Landmark Forum to the Internet. “Voyage au pays des nouveaux gourous” (Voyage to the Land of the New Gurus) was produced by Pièces à Conviction, a French investigative journalism news program. The Electronic Frontier Foundation represented the anonymous critic and the Internet Archive, and Landmark withdrew its subpoena in November 2006 in exchange for a promise from the anonymous critic not to repost the video.

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.

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Some Large Group Awareness Training related news, information and postings:

Related to our prior post, Mankind Project or Dancing Naked With Other Men While Beating Cooked Chickens, in a post “Article raises questions about New Warriors Adventure” - Professor of Psychology Dr. Warren Throckmorton cites strange practices by the group including: Blindfolded walking tours in the nude; People blowing sage smoke in his face while 50 or so naked men danced around candles; Men sitting naked in a circle discussing their sexual histories while passing a wooden dildo called “The Cock”; and of course, Naked men beating cooked chickens with a hammer.

Landmark Forum and the Red Flags” is an amusing, humorous satirical parody play discussing what the writer refers to as the “Formicans”, and a character’s research through both direct experience and (wisely so) also through research on the internet about this fictional parody group.

The Cult News Network provides a link to an “Ongoing legal complaint re: Werner Erhard on Wikipedia ?” The issue is also discussed at the Cult Education Forum, under the topic: “Large Group Awareness Training, ‘Human Potential’

Echidne of the Snakes has an interesting piece called “A Guest Post on the Mankind Project.” The writer cites the Houston Press article, “Naked Men: The Mankind Project and Michael Scinto.” However, the most interesting quote from the Echidne of the Snakes post, would probably be a warning about secrecy related to Large Group Awareness Training organizations: Secrecy can be a good thing, but insisting on secrecy on this level should make us worried.”

The Post of Athens, Ohio in an article called “Conquering coercion” has some very valuable information about coercive groups, and provides a list of “Warning Signs for College Students”. In its research for the piece, The Post consulted with psychologist Dr. Paul Martin, director of the Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center. Dr. Martin was influenced by the work of Harvard-trained psychiatrist Dr. Robert Lifton, who wrote about the Eight Criteria for Thought Reform.

Dr. Doni Whitsett discussed deceptive mind control techniques and tactics often used by “destructive groups”, in an article in the Daily Trojan. Dr. Whitsett gave some advice to parents of potential victims of these deceptive practices: “Don’t be discouraged by resistance … Kids will remember your questions when they begin to doubt. Question, but don’t give advice.” This is very good advice, because through questioning and asking good points and probing into the background of some of these deceptive groups, the parents can begin to restimulate the rational skepticism of their child that may have been laying dormant as a result of harmful tactics they may have experienced.

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On October 24, 2007,  the Daily Orange, a student newspaper in Syracuse, New York, posted an article entitled: “Drinking the Kool Aid: Cults target college students in recruitment.”  This article discussed the presence of cults on the Syracuse University campus, and also gave information from cult expert Carol Giambalvo, a member of the board of directors for the International Cultic Studies Association, and Syracuse University dean of Hendricks Chapel, Thomas Wolfe.  Giambalvo stated that cults can masquerade as activist, self-improvement and religious groups.

If you go to the Web page where this article was located, you can no longer read the article on “Drinking the Kool Aid.”  Instead a notice is displayed from the editor, stating that the Daily Orange removed the body of the article because it contained “libel,” and they apologized to “the parties involved.”  Unfortunately, we do not know specifically what the allegation of libel was regarding, and what group made the allegation of libel, or even what groups were specifically analyzed in the article itself.  It is certainly possible that one of the groups mentioned in the article contacted the paper and alleged a cry of “libel,” in order to get critical information quickly taken off of the internet.  It is also possible that the Daily Orange editor, with no external provocation, chose to censor their own article without any actual threats or complaints from any outside group.  At the moment, that key fact is not publicly known.  But the censorship itself did occur.

The comments section below the notice from the editor is still active, and the readers have made eight interesting key comments about the censorship of the article.  One commenter posted a quick and funny note one hour after the censorship“Quick….to the lawyers.  Truth be damned.”  Others have hazarded guesses about which group may have complained resulting in the censorship of the Daily Orange.  We will not make guesses ourselves about that, and instead allow you to read the comments at their site and discuss and rationalize for yourselves what may have provoked this censorship

Interestingly enough and of direct relation to our site’s title, the eighth and last commenter below the censored article discussed Large Group Awareness Training, and also spoke positively of his experiences with the group Landmark Forum.  Was Landmark Forum discussed in the censored Daily Orange article?  Well, we do not know for sure, because the article is removed, but it is interesting that others are commenting about it, both positively and negatively, in the comments section below the article.  However, Landmark Forum has been referred to by academics as a form of Large Group Awareness Training.  One such recent reference would be:

Rubinstein, Gidi.  “Characteristics of participants in the Forum, psychotherapy clients, and control participants: A comparative study”, Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, (2005) 78, 481-492. The British Psychological Society. 

The article is a very interesting read.  Whether or not Landmark Education was mentioned in the article aside, it is most intriguing to note that they have acted in the past to attempt to remove critical information on the internet, and have explained this by claiming that such critical information is “libel.”  Attorneys Skolnik and Norwick of firm Lowenstein Sandler PC have written an excellent article summarizing some of this history, called: “Introduction to the Landmark Education litigation archive“.  They explain that they created this Landmark Education litigation archive so that future attorneys defending clients critical of Landmark Forum and accused of libel do not have to go through and spend as much time researching Landmark Education’s history of litigation as Skolnik and Norwick did.  More recently, Landmark Education attempted to get the video known as “Voyage to the Land of the New Gurus” removed from the internet.  More about that at: “Landmark Education wants to make French news report a “forbidden video” on the Net.”  The Web site Chilling Effects, which documents usage of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act to remove material from the internet, as well as other forms of censorship on the net, has posted a copy of a letter sent by Landmark Education attorneys to a Web site, asking them to remove the “Voyage to the Land of the New Gurus” video and associated transcript from their site, called the Cult Awareness and Information Centre, which is based in Australia.  Oddly enough, Chilling Effects decided to title the page where they host this letter from Landmark Education lawyers very similarly to the currently censored article from the Daily Orange.  The page at Chilling Effects is titled: Who is bringing the Kool Aid?

As a caveat to the potential “lawyers” as the first commentator we spoke of above alluded to - we will make this statement here:  Please note carefully - It is not our job on this site to characterize any group as a “cult” or to say that any group is not a “cult.”  You can find information on “cults” at other Web sites, some of which we have discussed in the past as references, including the respected International Cultic Studies Association mentioned above, that publishes the peer reviewed journal, the Cultic Studies Review.  Our interest in these posts is to educate the reader about Large Group Awareness Trainings, and their history, background, methodology and tactics.  Therefore, we will not get into trying to parse which groups are widely considered “cults” and which are not, but rather will instead discuss and explain groups that are widely considered to be Large Group Awareness Trainings.  We will leave the cult identification and discussion, to the experts.

Related links:

Discussion about the censored Daily Orange article is going on at the Cult Education Forum, under the topic Large Group Awareness Training, “Human Potential” .

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The controversial group known as Mankind Project and also known as New Warrior Training Adventure has gotten some interesting online exposure lately. 

A little background - Mark Roggeman, an exit-counselor for individuals trapped in cults,  writes at the Haven Ministries site : “MKP [Mankind Project] history comes through a long line of Human Potential Movements that began in the 1960’s.”  Roggeman cites Mind Dynamics, and the book The Pit: A Group Encounter Defiled  for some background on the Human Potential Movement.  He goes on to cite some controversial groups that influenced this movement as well as Mankind Project, such as Lifespring, Werner Erhard, Erhard Seminars Training (Roggeman puts it that this group has “transformed itself into the Landmark Forum.”), Justin Sterling and Sterling Institute of Relationship.  More at Roggeman’s article, aptly titled The Mankind Project.  Also check out Roggeman’s article, Oh Man, What Kind of Project Is This?

If you really want to learn a whole lot more about some of the more interesting and somewhat controversial practices of the group, check out this long discussion thread at the Cult Education Forum.  As of last check, the message board thread is over 52 pages long !

Oh, and the satirical poke, humorous take for the title of this post?  Yeah, that wasn’t just something the writer of this post made up - according to the Houston Press, men do really dance naked while beating cooked chickens at some of these Mankind Project events !

But the truth is not funny, and not satirical, unfortunately.  For more on this, read the sad, sad story, of Michael Scinto.

 Recent articles on Mankind Project :

Ronnie Earle, Travis Co. (TX) DA, Dances Naked With Other Men While Beating Cooked Chickens, Red State

Cover Story: The ManKind Project, Houston Press, October 4, 2007

Naked Men: The ManKind Project and Michael Scinto, Houston Press, October 4, 2007 - “The organization was supposed to make him a better man. Instead, his parents say, it made him a dead one.”

For more background and resources :

The Mankind Project, article at Haven Ministries site, written by Mark Roggeman - “Mark Roggeman has been involved in outreach to those affected by cults and other high demand groups for a period of thirty years.”

Mankind Project / New Warrior Training Adventure, information and archived articles, at the Rick A. Ross Institute for the Study of Destructive Cults, Controversial Groups and Movements

Oh Man, What Kind of Project Is This?“, by Mark Roggeman, Midwest Outreach 12 (1), Pages 8-10.

Discussion groups and message boards :

Discussion thread on Mankind Project, Cult Education Forum, begun with the emotional plea:  “Anyone with any information regarding this group, please I beg you to post it here. It is horrifying what these men and women go through. Any feedback is appreciated.”

ex_mkp · ex_mkp-Freedom from ManKind Project cult, Yahoo! Group, mentioned in the Houston Press article, Naked Men: The ManKind Project and Michael Scinto - “This group is for help and support of men and their families who have had problems with the ManKind Project or NWTA New Warrior Training Adventure “ 

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The controversial “training” group known as NXIVM, formerly known as Executive Success Programs (ESP), has been getting a lot of coverage in the press lately related to financial ties to various New York State politicians.  Increasingly, headlines in the press and media have referred to the group as a ‘cult’, and cult expert Rick Ross, in a 2003 article, compared the NXIVM teachings to: “an amalgamated version of belief systems like Scientology, EST and Landmark Education.”

Here are some of the more recent media and press articles, from September and October 2007 :

 Political connections take to the air, September 14, 2007
Albany Times Union reports on mysterious flights funded by NXIVM for New York State Republican party members.

HILLARY’S $30000 FANS ARE HER ‘CULT’ FOLLOWING, October 1, 2007
New York Post - “A purported pyramid-scheme operator who was run out of Arkansas when Bill Clinton was governor has reinvented himself as the head of an upstate group accused of being a “cult” - and his devotees have pumped thousands into Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential run.”

NXIVM’S VEXING EFFECT ON BELIEVERS, October 1, 2007
New York Post - “Keith Raniere, leader of an Albany-based organization called NXIVM (pronounced nex-e-um), has built a lucrative empire with his Executive Success Programs.   NXIVM, run by Raniere, 47, and President Nancy Salzman, a 52-year-old registered nurse, claims to pull in at least $4 million a year. Big-name devotees like Seagram heiresses Clare and Sara Bronfman back Raniere - and “The Family,” as insiders call the group - despite his checkered past. “

BILL GOLF PAL’S ‘CULT’ COURSE, October 2, 2007
New York Post - “A longtime friend and golfing buddy of Bill Clinton’s is a student of the controversial cult-like upstate group whose members recently poured thousands into Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign coffers, The Post has learned.  Richard Mays - an Arkansas lawyer who was one of Bill Clinton’s biggest presidential campaign fund-raisers - is listed on the class roster of NXIVM, the bizarre Albany-based group.”

Tax Hike to End the War?, October 2, 2007
FOX News - “Federal records indicate Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign has received about $30,000 from devotees of a man who was run out of Arkansas when Bill Clinton was governor after being accused of operating a $30 million pyramid scheme.”

TOP GOPERS ‘CULT’ FAVORITES, October 3, 2007
New York Post - “Disgraced GOP operative Roger Stone acted as a middleman between a cult-like upstate group and powerful Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, The Post has learned.  Stone was hired by Albany-based executive-training group NXIVM in early 2006, according to sources.”

Spitzer’s Loudmouth Rhetoric: Not Loudmouth-y Enough?, October 3, 2007
Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine - “The governor, who called his detractors “fearmongers” and “demagogues” at Fordham, can now add “evil cultists” to the mix: Today’s Post coughs up a cryptic item about Roger Stone, the GOP operative accused of making threatening phone calls to Spitzer’s family. Stone was allegedly a liaison between Joe Bruno and NXIVM, a secretive, cultlike “executive training group.” Oooh!”

All About NXIVM, the Cultlike Organization With Ties to Albany, October 4, 2007
Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine
The headline says it all in this one.  Great article, this controversial group is really getting some good exposure from investigative journalists.

More NXIVM / Executive Success Programs updates at Cult News, and also at The Rick A. Ross Institute for the Study of Destructive Cults, Controversial Groups and Movements.

 

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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 ! 
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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.

1977
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."

1979
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."

1980
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.

1983
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.

1990
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."

1996
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.)

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.

2001
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.

2002
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.

2004
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.

2006
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." 

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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".

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