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The Road Not Taken

Memoirs of Escaped 'Moonies'

By Erik J. Dahl and Candace Kaller

All of the stories were strikingly similar, whether the students were recruited in Boston, San Francisco, or elsewhere. All of them agreed that their recruitment was conducted under false pretenses and included "brain-washing." They all felt themselves losing their ability to objectively analyze the movement as they became more deeply involved in it. And they all soon realized that other members of the Unification Church, and other so-called "Moonies," would willingly die for Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

Somehow, these students' stories seemed to blend into one single experience whether their involvement with the Church occurred two years or 36 hours ago. Typically, they were approached during vacation or while they were taking a term off from school. One Harvard student explained, "They are looking for your weak points, and most people who are taking time off from school to find out what they want out of life are looking for answers. They want a direction, and the Church is determined to give them one."

The conversion process looks harmless on the surface. Joy '78-2 said that she was approached by a woman on the street, and they struck up a conversation. The woman was very friendly, andinvited her to the church's Beacon St. headquarters in Boston for dinner. "I had no idea that it (the church) was Moon. In fact, I remember saying to this woman that I had heard that there were Moonies around, and I was so glad I had not been approached by them. She did not really say much of anything. Anyway, when we got there we heard a lecture by Aidan Barry, who is a part time Divinity School student at Harvard and is also the director of Boston operations. We sang a lot of songs and laughed, and I had a good time. They wanted to have me come on a three day week-end retreat. I went that week-end, but I could not stay for the whole time. By the following week, I had pretty much decided not to go again, so I went to find my friend in the group to tell her. Somehow, the longer I was with her, the less I could say no to her. She said that since I had missed part of the last retreat, I should go again. That evening I found myself in a van headed to Marblehead. I stayed there for a few days, but I was kind of resentful since I hadn't really wanted to go to begin with, and I did not agree with all the lectures they were throwing at us. I disliked their repugnance for sexuality, and the fact that no matter how many times I asked they would not tell me who founded their movement. I also couldn't believe their ideas that mental illness and crime were caused by evil-spirit-men. They wanted me to go to New York for a week, but I would have had to quit my job, so I left the Marblehead retreat."

"During the next week, all I could think about was the group," she continued, "and I went there for dinner a few more times. Finally, I was thinking seriously about joining them, even though I still did not know it was Moon. But a friend found out that I was thinking about the group, and told me the whole story behind these 'friendly' people.

I went back one more time, and then it all started to make sense. I was really disappointed and confused. I had really wanted to believe in these people. Not only that, but in that short time of contact they had actually gotten me to believe that the person who had told me the real story about Moon was Satan, and that I would go to Hell if I did not join. I'm still disappointed. It would have been nice to find 'all the answers' and true happiness..."

Dr. John Clark, assistant professor of Clinical Psychology at Harvard Medical School and a well-known authority on the psychological aspects of religious conversion, said last week that the power of the Unification Church's conversion process is "so very, very great...it is frightening." He explained that the first step for the proselytizers is to gain access to their potential converts. In Joy's case, as in a large percentage of cases, this happens on the street. Clark said that Church members tend to concentrate on airports, bus stations, or student unions. They want to contact people who are in transition, who are unsure of themselves.

Once they have gained access to the person, they begin the second step of the conversion process. Using loud talking, lectures and singing, they apply heavy group pressure to conform, Clark said. This all takes place in a new environment with strangers. Individuals who find themselves in this kind of situation either tend to go into a trance-like state or become so bemused that they are on the edge of that state. When they reach this point, conversion is quite easy. In order to get potential converts to this stage, members must stir up the people brought in to a state of high emotional invovement, usually accomplishing this by establishing one-to-one relationships and putting the new person in a position where he does not want to betray a few-found friend. This high emotional involvement makes the person vulnerable, because it changes his feelings toward reality, Clark claimed.

Ex-Moonies all bear out Clark's theory. Eric '76 was approached while he was in San Francisco traveling during the summer before his senior year. He spent two weeks in Boonesville, Calif., on a farm run by the Unification Church. He was reluctant to return to school and a waiting senior thesis and afraid of what the future held after graduation. He said last week, that at the time he "wanted a simple answer to life." He found people at the "Creative Community Project," as the Unification Church called itself, very friendly. Once he was on the farm, "psychological tension built up," he said. "On the surface, all we did was play games like dodgeball, work on the farm and go to lectures. But I had a gut reaction that something was fishy, and about the fifth day that I was there I looked at a book that I wasn't supposed to and I found out that the group was really the Unification Church. But I did not want to admit that there was anything wrong with that because I was enjoying it so much. It was very Marxist in a way, because you become the mode of production. Only you are doing all of your work for God and Moon".

When Eric got out of the group (by calling a friend and asking him to come take him away) he said, "I was really fucked up. They do a lot of attacking your subconscious mind--if I had not had my friend come pick me up I would still be there now. For the first few days after I got out I was very disoriented, and I would wince every time I heard a dirty word. I was carrying a huge psychological burden, so I went into counseling. I was having recurrent nightmares for the next few months. One was that I was on the steps of Widener during graduation and my parents were on one side and the Moonies were on the other, and both were pulling me in opposite directions. In the end, though, I think I ended up being deprogrammed through counseling.

"The whole experience was weird for me because Boonesville was practically run by Ivy Leaguers. Also, at least one third of the people there were Jewish, which I am too by birth and which attracted me there in the first place. They really attack people at their most vulnerable points. I'm really glad I was strong enough to get out. It is sick and awful and I'd like to bash their faces in. I only wish I had the strength to do something like Ted Patrick (a well-known deprogrammer) does. Becoming a Moonies is like committing suicide--but then, some people commit suicide," Eric concluded.

Marion Storey '78-2 had a view of Boonesville from the outside. Two good friends of hers, whom she had known since the third grade, were attending the University of Colorado. The two were sisters and the oldest, Kathy, had taken a term off to travel in San Francisco and Berkeley. She got involved with the Creative Community Project, and her sister Sara got worried and went to visit her there. When she arrived, she also became caught up in Boonesville. Marion found out about this through their letters, and soon her friend Sara was trying to get her to come out and join her and Kathy in Boonesville.

Meanwhile their mother was worried about daughter Kathy, but did not even know that her younger daughter had also decided to join the Unification Church. She obtained the services of a deprogrammer from Ohio and got Storey to fly out with her to California. They were hoping that Storey would arrange a meeting outside the farm with her friends, so that they could put them through deprogramming. Their mother had gotten a legal writ giving her custody of her children for thirty days. They ended up meeting twice in Boonesville, however, since neither of the girls would consent to meet outside the farm. Storey said, "We would be talking to them, in philosophical discussions, and no matter what was said, they always came to the conclusion that they were right." Finally, at the second meeting, police came to put the girls into the custody of their mother.

Taking them to a nearby motel, the two sisters were kept in separate rooms while they were being deprogrammed. Storey said that the deprogramming really consisted of simply pointing out the inconsistencies in the Divine Principle, the "Bible" of the Unification Church, and having ex-cult members tell their experiences to the women. Storey remembered that the pair's logic was "amazing." "They had an answer for everything," she said.

They justify Moon's personal wealth by saying that Jesus only appealed to the poor, so Moon was trying to appeal to the rich to make up for this. They also rationalized 'divine deceit,' a practice of saying anything to potential converts in order to get them to join--lie to them, threaten them, do anything, since Moon's way is the right way and the only way to salvation.

"In the end, it all just came down to talking to them," Storey said. After three days in the motel, Kathy and Sara were amazed at what they had believed just a short time before. Storey said of the deprogramming, "It was more than just brainwashing people backwards. All that we asked was that they be able to stand back and ask themselves, 'Do I really believe in the whole thing?'"

Psychologist Clark maintained that the individual has a "right to believe what he or she wishes to believe," but he added that people can "reserve the right to criticize the actions which these beliefs cause. There is a difference between faith and belief and knowledge." Clark said the Constitution does not permit murder, even if part of a person's religious beliefs. He said that it is likewise unjustified to convert others who are unwilling or unknowing, simple because the prosyletizers "believe they are right." Clark also noted that the rapid change one goes through during the conversion process is detrimental to mental health.

There are many people who do not believe that the Unification Church practices any kind of brainwashing or is any different from other religions. Harvey Cox, Thorias Professor of Divinity at the Divinity School, feels that all religions that prosyletize "just try to persuade people that their view is the right view." He said he thinks "there is no doubt that the Unification Church is already blending into the religious atmosphere of the country. They will soon get tame and conventionalized." Cox compared the Unification Church to the Mormon Church, noting that the Mormons were also persecuted when they were founded--and that they also mix business and religion. "They own the state of Utah," he said, "but they are respectable and Moonies are not."

Insiders in the Unification Church vehemently disagree with Cox. One source said, "The Unification Church is different because of the degree to which they will go to achieve their goals. They have you as many ways as you can have a person. They have total control over you."

Other sources from inside concurred, adding that the only reason the Church was having trouble getting Harvard and MIT converts was that they had difficulty gaining initial access to them. One Ivy Leaguer, who recently got out of the church, said, "Once they get hold of a Harvard or MIT student, he will go just as fast as anyone else."

Steve, a Moon follower who had been "deprogrammed" only 36 hours before the time he was interviewed, agreed. He said last week that he felt confused and slightly sick at how close he had come to joining the "Family." He was still visibly agitated, and he admitted that it was very hard for him to look at his experiences clearly and talk about them. He said "you don't realize that you are going through a change--I didn't for 19 days with them. You can't see the change in yourself until you step back--and they don't give you a chance to do that. You don't get enough sleep and you are always under constant supervision. You have no real contact with the outside world. When I first came in contact with them I thought they were evil. I did not really believe in God, and I am a pretty cynical person. But I was looking for answers. And they really work on you--they tell you that if you hear the truth and leave, you will go to Hell. Not only that, but if you join, you can restore seven generations of ancestors to Heaven. It's like driving a bus--if you decide to kill yourself you still have to consider the others in the bus."

Steve continued, "If I hadn't gotten out now, in another couple of days I would have gone to live with them, and that would have been the end. And I never thought it could happen to me. But I was looking at things from their point of view, and it all made sense. They have everything carefully planned out."

He concluded, "Their goal is to take over the world--they'll never give up. They will all willingly die for their cause. When you are in the Family, you have no free will. You are totally controlled. I saw it happen to me. It no longer becomes a question of how intelligent a person is, because curiosity is fatal."

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