It Happens

Or does it? When it comes to Landmark Education corporation, there's no meeting of the minds.

But then the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation revealed that of $7 million collected, only a little over $200,000 had gone to actual relief efforts. Landmark tried to claim that it and Erhard had little to do with the Hunger Project. But the Project's main office was right next door to a Landmark office--and the woman who ran the Project was a former top-level est trainer. She told the CBC that the Hunger Project had never intended to be a relief agency but rather a program to raise "people's consciousness" about the reality of hunger.

Still, the most damaging hit to Erhard's reputation came in a February 1991 60 Minutes expose in which one of Erhard's daughters claimed that her father had molested her and raped her sister, had beaten and kicked his son and had struck Ellen and encouraged a follower to choke her. At the same time, the Internal Revenue Service filed more than $21 million in liens against Erhard and est, charging tax fraud and evasion.

But by then, Erhard had already fled the country. For a reported $250,000, he sold the company, valued at $45 million in 1989, and the rights to use his "technology" to his former employees, now operating out of a San Francisco headquarters with satellite operations in other cities, including Englewood, Colorado.

The ten minutes of questioning for a would-be participant in The Forum begins with a request for name, address and credit-card number. "We're going to be best friends for a few minutes," says the perky woman doing the asking, whose favorite word appears to be "great." She adds that failure to answer these questions as fully and honestly as possible means Landmark cannot guarantee the results of The Forum.

The process actually takes more than ten minutes as she asks what the caller wants to get out of The Forum. Then there's a break, and she's replaced on the phone by a chatty male who asks a half-dozen questions related to the would-be participant's mental state.

"The Forum is for people who are well...have you in the past six months, or are you currently taking any prescriptions for mood-altering or chemical imbalances? No? Hey, great!

"Have you ever been hospitalized for a psychiatric problem? No? Hey, that's great.

"Have you ever been under the care of a psychiatrist and discontinued treatment against advice?" Another negative answer is, of course, great. But after asking a few unrelated questions, the man repeats the mental-health questions.

At last he's satisfied and pronounces the interview over. "That's great! Have a great week and a great seminar!"

The Forum weekend arrives. Participants, lugging little coolers full of the snacks they've been instructed to bring (only at dinner will there be time to leave the premises for a quick bite), are directed to a building in a remote Englewood business park by smiling attendants in orange vests.

After receiving name tags, which must be visible at all times, participants are sent to the seminar room. The hallways leading to it are bare, except for the occasional inspirational poster depicting momentous occasions such as the Gettysburg Address and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech.

The seminar room is even more sterile. Although there is plenty of room, the hard plastic chairs are lined up in neat rows with absolutely no space between them. There are just enough seats for the 140 people attending the seminar. At the back of the room are several tables; one holds the sound system, and serious-looking folks sit behind the others fiddling with papers.

In the front of the room are several chalkboards bearing neat, block-letter admonitions. One warns participants to be on time in the morning and following breaks: YOU MUST BE PRESENT IN THE ROOM, otherwise Landmark makes no guarantees about the results. Another notes that if participants have any needs that require they take medications on a regular basis or use the restroom frequently, they should inform someone sitting at the tables in the back of the room. DO IT NOW! the chalkboard warns.

Another message reminds participants that The Forum is for "WELL PEOPLEEYOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR MENTAL, EMOTIONAL, AND PHYSICAL WELL-BEING."

The seminar's leader later repeats this message, reading aloud from a notebook that Landmark is an "educational" organization and The Forum, which is for well people, should not be thought of as therapy for people who need professional psychological help.

Even so, the gathering soon resembles a large group-therapy session. During the initial question-and-answer period with the trainer, participants reveal their innermost secrets as they ask if The Forum will help them deal with marital problems, abuse, abandonment by fathers. Attendants rush up and down the aisles to provide microphones that can broadcast these confessions.

At one point in the morning, the trainer asks people who believe they were "pressured" to attend The Forum to stand. Half a dozen people do. "You will have to leave," she says. "I cannot do The Forum with you."

Immediately, one young woman starts sobbing. Under the trainer's probing, she reveals that her father, a graduate of The Forum, had been coaxing her to attend and even paid her tuition without telling her. There are apparently issues regarding his domineering influence, and once again, he was making decisions for her. "But now," she wails as 140-plus people look on, "I have to leave."

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