Report — From the November 2013 issue

The Man Who Saves You from Yourself

Going undercover with a cult infiltrator

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She introduced herself as Stella Zrnic, a twenty-four-year-old Croatian immigrant who had recently moved to San Francisco. She knew nobody in America and hoped that Dr. Kurt Robinson might help her.[*] She had found Dr. Robinson’s email address on a website that offered dream interpretation. In the About Me section of the site, Dr. Robinson had written: “I am a true subconscious communicator.”

[*] Some names and identifying characteristics have been changed to protect the innocent and those not yet charged with crimes.

“I’m writing to you because of the dreams and nightmares that I cannot get rid of,” Stella began her letter.

Dr. Robinson responded immediately. “Give me a call,” he wrote, providing a private phone number. “I can help you.”

Soon they were talking on the phone every day. Dr. Robinson’s voice was cheerful, friendly. He didn’t sound like any therapist Stella had ever met.

“It was brave of you to move to a strange country without knowing anybody. You are very nice, and very smart. But I worry about you.”

“You do?”

“Of course I do,” said Dr. Robinson. “You’re too young to be so unhappy, to be contemplating suicide.”

He asked about her dreams.

“I have nightmares where someone is chasing me,” she said.

Dr. Robinson didn’t seem particularly interested in that. She tried again.

“I had a dream about my mother having sex with my boss.”

“Describe it for me.” After she did, he said, “Describe it again — in more detail. I want to see how your mind works.”

He told her to read his book, which was available on his website. It was confusing, and terribly written, but she persisted because he kept asking her about it. He was thrilled when she told him that she’d enjoyed it.

“Have you been in any serious romantic relationships?”

“I was seeing someone in Croatia. But we’ve been growing apart since I moved to America.”

“How old were you the first time you had sex?”

“Sixteen.”

“Was it a positive experience for you?”

He mentioned that he led a psychology workshop at his home in Orange County, California. He hinted that his students lived with him.

“They want to learn how to be happy,” he said. “I’m here to help them.”

“Can I visit your workshop?”

“I can cure people from a distance. My soul can travel outside of my body.”

She pressed, but Dr. Robinson demurred. There were no openings available, and a long wait list. Besides, she wasn’t mature enough. If they continued to speak regularly, however, she might yet prove herself.

“It’s just that I miss my family,” she said. “And my old friends.”

“But you don’t need them anymore. We’ll be your family. We’ll be your friends. Do you trust me?”

“Yes. I think so.”

“I need to be certain,” he said.

“How will you be certain?”

“Do you have a camera?”

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is the author of the novels The Mayor’s Tongue and Odds Against Tomorrow. His last article for Harper’s Magazine, “Opportunity Knocks,” appeared in the January 2013 issue.

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