Report — From the November 2013 issue

The Man Who Saves You from Yourself

Going undercover with a cult infiltrator

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Nobody ever joins a cult. One joins a nonprofit group that promotes green technology, animal rights, or transcendental meditation. One joins a yoga class or an entrepreneurial workshop. One begins practicing an Eastern religion that preaches peace and forbearance. The first rule of recruitment, writes Margaret Singer, the doyenne of cult scholarship, is that a recruit must never suspect he or she is being recruited. The second rule is that the cult must monopolize the recruit’s time. Therefore, in order to have any chance of rescuing a new acolyte, it is critical to act quickly. The problem is that family and friends, much like the new cult member, are often slow to admit the severity of the situation. “Clients usually don’t come to me until their daughter is already to-the-tits brainwashed,” says David Sullivan, a private investigator in San Francisco who specializes in cults. “By that point the success rate is very low.”

Sullivan became fascinated with cults in the late Sixties, while attending Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado. It was a golden age for religious fringe groups, and Boulder was one of the nation’s most fertile recruiting centers, as it is today. (There are now, according to conservative estimates, 2 million adults involved in cults in America.) “You couldn’t walk five steps without being approached by someone asking whether you’d like to go to a Buddhist meeting,” says John Stark, a high school friend of Sullivan’s. Representatives from Jews for Jesus and the Moonies set up information booths in the student union at the University of Colorado, a few miles down the road from Fairview High. Sullivan engaged the hawkers, accepted the pamphlets, attended every meditation circle, prayer circle, shamanic circle. When the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi led a mass meditation session at the university, Sullivan was there, watching from the back of the lecture hall.

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  • http://sonyamherrera.blogspot.com/ Sonya Herrera

    Excuse me, but Gerhard’s paintings are amazing. Nice use of “Starman” on the cover.

    I’ll start reading the article now.

  • http://sonyamherrera.blogspot.com/ Sonya Herrera

    What a mixed ending!

  • Johnathan Shatto

    When does a new issue (e.g. the November 2013 issue) become available on news stands?

    • http://harpers.org/ Harper’s Magazine

      The scheduled date is the Tuesday a week and a half from its going online, but in most places it’s available sometime in the week after the online date. And in New York some newsstands put it up almost simultaneously with the online date.

      • LilMoby

        I am attempting to read the November issue through my library & Zinio. It is not available yet.

  • jigglepuss

    I discovered the shocking truth about TM – Transcendental Meditation. Check it out!! http://www.truthabouttm.org/truth/IndividualEffects/IsTMaCult/index.cfm

  • Robert

    I thought this article was pretty interesting.

  • Jim Feeley

    Well this is weird (and sad) timing:

    David Sullivan, PI who infiltrated cults, dies
    By Jill Tucker
    Published 5:35 pm, Thursday, October 24, 2013

    http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/David-Sullivan-PI-who-infiltrated-cults-dies-4924222.php

  • s

    the shocking truth about TM(Transcendental Meditation)! check it out http://www.truthabouttm.org/truth/IndividualEffects/IsTMaCult/index.cfm

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