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It Happens

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

"Landmark isn't a cult," he says. "I know, because I was in one."
Eight years ago Ted read a book that seemed to have an interesting take on life. After writing to an address in the back, he received an invitation to attend a weekend seminar. It turned out to be hosted by the Church Universal and Triumphant, a doomsday cult led by Elizabeth Prophet, whose headquarters are on a ranch near Livingston, Montana.

"They feed you information that is believable but slightly slanted," says Ted. "And prey on your ego, telling you how special you are, that you are one of the chosen. They really work on your need to be accepted and special."

What followed was what he describes as brainwashing: three sixteen-hour days of indoctrination with little sleep, food or breaks.

Ted stayed with the church for about six weeks and only broke away "when I realized they were trying to isolate me from the rest of humanity," he says. "They tell you that your family is screwed up, that your friends are screwed up--that they'll try to talk you out of being with them."

Ted, today a local musician and martial-arts teacher (he asked that his real name not be used), learned about Landmark a little more than a year ago. His older brother, "who has been a real dick his entire life," Ted recalls, "egotistical and arrogant," called from Boston to say he was participating in a program that had transformed his life. He wanted Ted to fly out for his graduation from The Forum.

"He was really coming from the heart and was a much nicer person," Ted says. "I wanted to know what had happened." He flew to Boston and was "overwhelmed" by what he heard from The Forum's participants.

"They had a passionate way of being," he recalls. "They were empowered, and I decided, 'Hey, I could use a little of that.'"

Ted enrolled in The Forum last May. The experience left him "mellower," he says. "I don't have to get mad if I don't want to. It's easier for me to forgive and accept others."

All 110 people in his session, Ted adds, had "significant breakthroughs...even if they had to go through a lot of different gyrations, including getting mad and huffy, to get there."

And the people who didn't "get it," he says, had "loser mentalities" to begin with.

That wasn't the problem for another Colorado man, Bob (who also asked that his real name not be used). After enrolling in The Forum, he "got it"--and then spent a year and a half living and breathing Landmark before getting out of it. Later, for a psychology class, Bob wrote about his experiences, starting with The Forum's introductory night:

"Every aspect that defines my goals as a maturing human being were in that room: The skills and confidence to better relate to people, getting past procrastination and taking action, defining my objectives and aggressively pursuing them. Successful doctors, attorneys, and teachers with wonderful, committed relationships in their lives, volunteering valuable time to share powerful information with me! It could begin now if I simply enrolled."

Bob compared an expert's psychological analysis of what occurred in Jonestown to his own Landmark experience: The analysis "discusses the gradual increase of discipline and dedication required to participate with the group and how, when that participation is deemed desirable, unusual or uncomfortable behaviors become accepted as normal. You were...warned that every thought (doubt, change of heart) and obstacle (scheduling, work, illness) would come up, that overcoming those obstacles, no matter what, were part of the process for transformation, and though the requests and recommendations (really rules and regulations) seem stringent, they were necessary to the process."

Participating in Landmark required submitting to the total control of communication, he wrote, "gradually turning conscious obedience into unconscious obedience... Latecomers were challenged at the door. If admitted, they were sometimes grilled or even humiliated by the leader. The course ran 15 or 16 hours each day with minimal breaks, plus substantial 'homework' which guaranteed that sleep-deprivation would factor in to your susceptibility at the end, when the push came to enroll yourself in the $700 course...and bring your friends to 'share' your transformation and have an opportunity to begin the process for themselves.

"The ultimate insight, the epiphany, the answer we were all working so hard to find, and was saved until the very end, was simply this: 'There is no answer. All these rules and conversations don't mean anything. And, it doesn't mean anything that it doesn't mean anything.'"

Nevertheless, Bob continued to participate, traveling to other cities, spending large sums of money and time, "being groomed in appearance and demeanor so that I, too, could lead flocks to the promised land...It was only when I noticed my business suffering, my scholastic production and success on the verge of diminishing, my own personal goals and needs being subjugated to those of the group, and my emotional well-being tied to how many potential enrollments I had working, that I began to break free."

he two groups for which the Chicago-based Cult Awareness Network receives the most inquiries--about 25 a month each--are Scientology and Landmark, says Cynthia Kisser, executive director of CAN. She's quick to note that not all of the calls are complaints--but then, Landmark has a $40 million suit pending against CAN and Kisser in the Illinois courts.

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