Ex-cult Member Speaks Out - UK Cults (Part I)

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“We were hypnotised sixteen times in the four day course and we didn’t know what it was.”

When we think of cults, we often think of alien worshipping, drug fuelled hippy communes or brainwashed ‘religious’ devotees eagerly waiting for the apocalypse. Although these types of cults do exist, does this view often leave us missing the point of what a real cult is and the negative effect they can have on our lives?

Is it the assumption that only the emotionally or mentally vulnerable are susceptible to high-demand groups that ultimately leads individuals to their downfall?

So what separates the socially acceptable and respectable support groups from the dangerous, drug induced, megalomaniac or manipulative cults?

In a genuine interest to identify and explore the inner workings of cults and their modern day operations,  I caught up with Ian Haworth, an ex-cult member.

Ian’s ability to turn his traumatic experience into a knowledge sharing hub led to the inception of the UK-based Cult Information Centre (CIC). Since 1987, CIC has been offering advice and support to ex cult members, affected families, people who want to leave cults or any person or organisation that wants information on controversial groups.

Ian, how did you end up being part of a cult?

I was in the city centre in Toronto doing some shopping when an attractive lady approached me and asked me if I had the time to do a survey. I obliged. As soon as I completed it, she said my answers made me sound like the kind of person who would be interested in joining a group she represented. When I hesitated, she said, "Isn't it time you give back to the community instead of taking from it all the time like most people do?". Her direct approach made me ponder and I attended the introductory meeting which consisted of a talk, coffee break, followed by a film.

During the break, I decided to go for a cigarette, that’s when they got me. Someone approached me and directed me towards the smoking area and gently threw in the eternal question, ‘have you ever thought about quitting’. Coincidently just around that time my doctor warned me about my smoking habits and suggested that if I didn’t quit, I would die by 40, so the thought of quitting was almost in built.

So the short version is, after that meeting, I went on a weekend course to quit smoking and by Sunday evening, I had given them all my money, dedicated my life to serving the group and resigned from my job.

Did this particular group start off as a self-help group?

No. During the introductory meeting, the speaker was narrating her life story, how she got a doctorate and a responsible position in society, but shortly after she became an alcoholic. The speaker said she struggled with her alcohol problem and finally when she got rid of her alcohol addiction, she ended up becoming a drug addict. She made her life sound like it was going from bad to worse and I couldn’t relate to any of it.

At the end of the speech she finally she got involved in PSI Mind Development Institute Ltd. and got rid of  all of her drug related problems. In hindsight there was a good possibility that she she was lying to us. I have not seen any evidence that she was ever an alcoholic or a drug addict and I don’t want people to think you have to be any of those to be a part of this group.

These groups prey on your deep thoughts and there is a lot of psychological coercion tactics at play to keep you hooked and faithful to the group

In hindsight do you feel they used a set routine to full recruit you?

Yes. In this group, they would get us to write ten milestones.  You have to mention major events in your life. So if they needed to put some extra pressure on you they can start to talk about ‘why your brother committed suicide’ or ‘why your mom and dad got divorced’ and how it must have been your fault. The techniques they use are very powerful. I mean we were hypnotised sixteen times in the four day course and we didn’t know what it was.

We were told that we were learning how to meditate but that’s a common lie. Lots of groups tell you, ‘we are going to show you how to meditate’ and it may well be a hypnotic procedure or some other trance inducing technique they have employed.  

Tell us more about your frame of mind while you were in the cult?

I was on a high. I thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread.  I couldn’t wait to recruit all and sundry, including the people living in the apartment complex and a close friend of mine.

That’s interesting, so what happened and what prompted you to leave?

My friend who lived in the neighbouring building was worried sick about me. She knew something was wrong, but she didn’t know what it was. I mentioned this group (PSI Mind Development Institute Ltd - now non-existent) to her and she said she read about them in one of the national newspapers, where an entire page was dedicated to condemning the group.

This happened at a time when I was serving my work’s notice.

So one day, she phoned me and told me the group I was in is mentioned in the paper and she worded it in a way where it sounded positive. So it made me think, ‘Oh she is interested in this group and I’m going to get her to do an introductory meeting’.  I thought this was a positive article, so I couldn’t wait to read it. Since it was the early days in the group and I hadn’t  been programmed against the media, so I was open to any media input. But when I read the news, I fell apart at the seams.

It was able to revive my critical thinking and mind and I managed to leave, but it took me eleven months to fully recover. In that time, I decided to do something about it and started a first charity of its kind called Council on Mind Abuse (COMA) which was created to educate and spread awareness about mind control in Canada. I ran it for eight years , until I came back to England in 1987 and founded the CIC.

Is it easy to leave a cult and how often do the ex-members get pursued by cults?

It is never easy.  When you are part of a cult you are mentally programmed to be faithful and leaving the group can go horribly wrong, as it has for many people. I have dealt with people who have come out of cults and then died. There have been cases of many cults with charitable statuses who have harboured murders and child abuse. So it is never easy to leave  a cult and it not unusual for the ex-member to be pursued into coming back.

What would you say is the goal of these kinds of groups or cults. What are they aiming for?

The group members would say it is about peace, love, brotherhood and making the world a better place but really we are talking about the motives of the leader.

The leader is the only one who is not under anyone’s control. He would also say that it’s all about love, peace and brotherhood, but the leader of the group I was in had property and money in the Cayman Islands, that might say something about him. I could be  speculating here but maybe he enjoyed the power he had over other people. The more people joined the group the more money there was. What they use it for, varies from group to group.

You mentioned that in the present there are at least 1000 cults in the UK. Is this growing exponentially.

Yes. When someone joins a cult, they get the person to start working almost immediately. People who join cults are on a high or radicalised and can’t wait to get as many people to join the movement, just like I wanted to. So when one person joins, they then go on to bring more people. When the group grows, eventually some begin to you have ego clashes, conflicts and go on to form other groups in different regions and around the world, causing a significant rise in cults all around the world.

This interview is a Part I of a III part series. Part II (Read here) covers detailed information about the cult recruitment process, followed by III which gives information about the techniques to identify cults and avoid psychological coercion or manipulation techniques.

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