From Scientology to FLDS, expert claims governments are raiding nontraditional religious groups like never before

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Stuart Wright

Photo courtesy Stuart Wright

Stuart Wright, professor of sociology at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, and co-author of the forthcoming book Storming Zion: A Comparative Study of Government Raids on Religious Communities.

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Professor Stuart Wright has studied new and nontraditional religious movements (NRMs) for more than 30 years. Since the 1990s, he’s documented a surge in state raids on these groups. What’s going on?

  • Dan

    “overreaching raids where the evidence was flimsy or weak” Just from the Scientology perspective, the seizing of documents was long overdue and uncovered the largest infiltration of the US government in history, and the plot to frame or kill journalist Paulette Cooper. To this day Scientology imprisons it own members and conducts criminal operations around the world. Yet they enjoy protected legal status and tax exemptions because they call themselves a religion. Criminal activity is criminal, no matter what label you hide behind.

  • Bob

    You say MANY raids have been predicated on false reports, yet offer only one in this article – the case of Rozita Swinton and the FLDS. Rozita Swinson was never even a member and this strange case has been examined at length by other journalists, deservingly so. The Catholic Church has been raided several times over the sexual abuse claims, FLDS was raided (Swinson wasn’t the only person making allegations over time). You claim ex-members with “an axe to grind” aren’t the most reliable sources. That is what the groups who are the focus of attention always say, and are most often found to be lying. The “bitter apostate” claims were made by ALL of your examples. The issue is behavior. Where there is good evidence of criminal behavior as there is for Scientology in many areas, the Catholic Church and FLDS for sexual abuse (and other groups also deserving of such raids today), and the suicidal/violent groups, they MUST be raided to protect their own members and innocents. The “Bitter Apostates” are the best source of information, particularly when there are many of them with corroborating stories as is or was the case for Scientology, The Branch Davidians, the Catholic Church, and the FLDS. There is no issue of religious liberty here, these groups have violated the law repeatedly and certainly in the case of Scientology still do so today. The issue is CRIME and CRIMINALS masquerading and hiding behind religion. When credible information is found these groups should, have been, and will be raided. It will never be applied to ALL religious groups equally because the CRIME and CRIMINALITY isn’t spread amongst them equally.

  • Mark

    Don’t forget the director of the Church of Scientology of Seattle who was shot to death by a police officer during a raid in 1961.

  • Larry

    Members that flee these groups and than turn whistleblower are often the very best sources of information, and sometimes the ONLY reliable sources of information.

    That you would brand them as unreliable is pretty disturbing.

    Who should journalists speak with to find the true information?

  • Chuck Beatty

    I hope Mr. Wright at least reads the 3 recent books on Scientology, which include ample first person stories of illegal activities. Janet Reitman, Lawrence Wright and Hugh Urban. Janet is contributing editor of Rolling Stone, Lawrence Wright writes for the New Yorker Magazine, and Professor Hugh Urban is Socitiology Dept staff at Ohio State University.

    If Mr. Stuart Wright gives not citings of the relevant information in these 3 above recent authors’ works, I would say Mr. Stuart Wright is not doing his job!

    The ex Scientology ex member community, and still practicing Scientology spiritual practices community gave the above 3 authors a huge amount of their time and firsthand stories.

    I’ve spent hundreds of hours with NRM scholars and new NRM students, and frankly, the ex member community chat sites for Scientology, have years worth of raw information and leads, for serious NRM researchers, those truly wishing to do the work and ask the firsthand participants the blunt history questions about illegalities, or not, within Scientology, as relates to “raids” being overblown or not, in Scientology history!

    From this edited interview, I’m hoping Mr. Wright’s book is most well researched than the details on Scientology that were printed here!

    Chuck Beatty
    866-XSEAORG toll free advice to ex Sea Org members, Scientology movement, 1975-2003

  • Ken

    I understand your concerns Brian. All I ask is that you carefully consider that you weigh very carefully the deceptive and slick facade that can be presented to you in your research activities from cultic groups who hide under the religious banner.
    While I am a very strong proponent of freedom of thought and non-harmful action there is a need to be well aware that certain ideologies contain education and training to their adherents and use that manipulation while presenting themselves to the world at large and especially to ‘investigators’.
    Please consider using both the following educated views in your pulling back the truth.
    1) Psychologist Michael Langone, executive director of the International Cultic Studies Association, defines a destructive cult as “a highly manipulative group which exploits and sometimes physically and/or psychologically damages members and recruits.

    or if your prefer Mind control groups ( which I might add very much includes the mind control upon sincere investigators )

    2) Lifton investigated the thought-reform procedures used against American POWs returning from the Korean War while involved in their psychiatric evaluation.[3] Lifton’s 1961 book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of “Brainwashing” in China was a study of coercive techniques that he labelled thought reform or “brainwashing”, though he preferred the former term. Others have labelled it also as “mind control”. Lifton describes in detail eight methods which he says are used to change people’s minds without their agreement:
    Milieu Control – The control of information and communication.
    Mystical Manipulation – The manipulation of experiences that appear spontaneous but in fact were planned and orchestrated.
    Demand for Purity – The world is viewed as black and white and the members are constantly exhorted to conform to the ideology of the group and strive for perfection.
    Confession – Sins, as defined by the group, are to be confessed either to a personal monitor or publicly to the group.
    Sacred Science – The group’s doctrine or ideology is considered to be the ultimate Truth, beyond all questioning or dispute.
    Loading the Language – The group interprets or uses words and phrases in new ways so that often the outside world does not understand.
    Doctrine over person – The member’s personal experiences are subordinated to the sacred science and any contrary experiences must be denied or reinterpreted to fit the ideology of the group.
    Dispensing of existence – The group has the prerogative to decide who has the right to exist and who does not.
    The term thought-terminating cliché was popularized by Robert Lifton in this book.

    3) What is just now November 2013 being described as “invisible handcuffs” in the broad UK media

    That said, any effort to protect individual ( and I emphasize individual as that is the building block of civil ) and civil rights is strongly supported by myself.

    I personally have limited scope experience with NRM, however I can say having been in over a dozen scientology “churches’ the financial coercion is carried on out of view of the general public but is done frequently locked exits, phone calls to worldwide possible lenders, and manipulative threats (some quietly some in yelling mode) of lost spiritual eternity and extreme ad hominem such as being an evil oppressor of all mankind.
    And to Mark, I don’t believe I have heard of the 1961 police officer shooting of a Scientology Director. Could you possibly provide some more detailed reference while I try to locate the information?

  • Rick Argall

    Telling it straight. You rock Chuck! Thanks.

  • Rick Argall

    Scientology management by David Miscavige is totally criminal.
    The coverup criminal arm of Miscavige comes down through OSA legal and Dept 3. It infiltrates the organization through their Justice section which in reality is the Injustice section. The Office of Special Affairs (OSA) is really the Secret Serrvice SS. Parishioners are lead to believe that these people are ethical and the protectors of Scientology when in reality, they are there to cover up his crimes. It all looks totally rational and docile until something happens that gets their attention and then the parishioner finds real trouble for the first time.

  • Dan Spangler

    I wish there would have been more than a half dozen police officers on the raids while I was being hidden by the Apostles of Infinite Love. I was being hidden there despite a court order that awarded custody to my father back in the US. There was all manner of evidence that this was the case, yet only a few agents of La Securite Quebec would show up. The faithful adult members would quickly scurry us away into various hiding cubbies they had set up throughout the complex. Yes, there was brain washing, there was physical abuse, sexual abuse was rampant there but much more covert, children were exploited for many uses. At 8 years old, I was out in the woods clearing trees and brush from properties given to them by recruits so they could build mission houses. At 9 years old, I was put to use in the print shop while they were hiding me from my dad. At 13 years old, I was doing commercial type construction work from the ground up to several stories high. At 15 years old, after spending the winter in tents, I was back in the woods again, cutting down trees to build log cabins after the main building was burnt to the ground. There would be huge outcries if people heard of this going on in the normal world. In my opinion? Bring on the raids and bring them on 10 times as strong as they need to be. These cults need to be put out of business. I lost 8 years of my life to the Apostles, because they took advantage of my family back in the 60s, when the Catholic Church switched to Vatican II. That’s just my story. I had three cousins there. I had friends there, my cousins had friends there. Our friends had friends there. It needs to stop!!!

  • Scientology is not a religion. Anyone who researches what Scientology is will find that it is a criminal organization, nothing religious about it.

    Anyone who thinks Scientology is some how a religion has not done their homework. Look at the crook’s “Narconon” frauds. Most countries in the world have Scientology classified as organized crime, and Germany has stopped watching the criminal organization because Scientology has less than 20,000 victims world wide now.

  • Also Scientology’s “Operation Snow White” was never recended, it never ended, the Scientology criminals continue to commit massive espionage against governments.

  • Um no, no Scientology criminal was shot to death by any police officer anywhere in 1961. That never happened.

  • Plus they take documents with them, in the case of Scientology they have taken massive documentation amounts showing Scientology is a criminal organization.

  • Wright is not interested in actual research. he’s a paid public relations liar for Scientology, it looks like.

  • Rod Keller

    I rarely call people names. I’m not somebody who makes angry comments on web sites. This guy is a whore. Plain and simple, on the cult gravy train. It’s a shame that he wants to make money while people suffer.

  • Helene Boulanger

    I’ll have to agree with Dan Spangler’s comment. The Apostles of Infinite Love have destroyed many families and continue to do so. My families experience goes back to the 70’s but still affects us all today. Children should never be abused in any form. There is no healing. It is a constant nightmare running through your head. The only thing “holy” about these places is the “swiss cheese” brains behind them and the people who support this. Don’t be a swiss cheese. I am patiently waiting for the day this place gets raided again and eventually shut down so bring it on …and bring it on strong!!!

  • Suzanne Short ZumFelde

    I am the older sister of 3 siblings hidden in the Apistles of Infinite Love “cult ” in the 1970 and 1980’s. I am the cousin to Dan Spangler who told his story here. BIG Raids are necessary because of the children who are no longer protected by their parent (s). My mother turned my three young siblings over to the control of the ruthless so called leaders. Cousin Dan talks about his child labor situations. His mother had absolutely no say in what he did or where they took him. She, like my mother, were brain washed into believing it was God’s desire to have their children removed from their care. Under these circumstances raids could save children from their rapists and ” slave masters ” . Knowing the facts that young children have no say, no protection from sexual predictors and are at the whim of some perverts at any given time in these religious cults , authorities must raid until the children are found . Luckily , Cousin Dan and my siblings,( one by one) secretly and under great risk and peril ran away to save themselves from the hideous situations they were forced into as young children against their will.

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  • @Larry “Members that flee these groups and than turn whistleblower are often the very best sources of information, and sometimes the ONLY reliable sources of information. That you would brand them as unreliable is pretty disturbing.”

    I have experienced that personally. I am a survivor of the Children of God cult, now known as The Family International.

    I have a real problem with academics like Wright who discount the testimonies and evidence of former cult members. The academic field of cultic studies is completely divided between academics who discount, downplay or dismiss allegations of abuse in what they call New Religious Movements, and more honest academics who still use the word cult and who do not just ignore former members of cults as biased, but actually investigate and research their claims. They each even have their own academic journals: Nova Religio and Cultic Studies Review.

    One of those NRM academics, James Chancellor wrote a book called “Life in The Family: An Oral History of the Children of God”. The only problem with that oral history is that it only included the voices of cult members and leaders. No former member was interviewed for his so-called oral history and their perspectives were not included. So, I wrote an article for the Cultic Studies Review to rebut his article and report all the abuse issues he either ignored or downplayed.

    I first sent a draft copy to the editors of Nova Religio. They had three people review it first, and then rejected it. In the email informing they would not publish it, they mistakenly sent me the actual comments of three reviewers, which were not intended for my eyes. It was extremely revealing to see how they reacted to all the issues I presented in my article, basically dismissing me as completely biased and untrustworthy, without any seeming awareness that Chancellor’s book was entirely based on people completely biased and with very strong reasons to mislead him. After all, that group, like the Mormon and Catholic churches, has a doctrine that permits believers to lie to and deceive outsiders, including legal authorities. Yet Chancellor just swallowed their stories that everything was okay now and any abuses were things of the past.

    After that, I revised my article based on some of the criticisms of those reviewers, and with some additional editing help it was published in the Cultic Studies Review, which was my original intention as I had no illusion Nova Religio would publish it:

    By the way, Stephen Kent is an academic who does not dismiss survivor accounts. He’s written some excellent research articles on both the Children of God, fundamentalist Mormons and Scientology:

  • Another issue I have with these NRM academics is that they frequently appeal to religious freedom, yet completely ignore the religious freedom rights of the children in those groups.

    Wright says in this article: “I definitely think this is a religious liberty issue.”

    But he is certainly not talking about the religious liberty of the children, just their parents. The right to religious freedom obviously includes the right to be free from religion. That goes for children too. Denying children religious freedom when they are children, interferes with their future rights as adults. Children have a right to an open future, but that is denied them when they are indoctrinated in these fringe groups that often isolate their children from society, and abuse them spiritually, physically and intellectually.

    I think this denial of children’s rights is related to the fact that the US is the only country, along with the failed state of Somalia, not to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The parental rights and religious lobbies ensured that most Americans, including these NRM academics, seem oblivious to the fact that children have inherent rights of their own, including the right to believe or not. Perhaps that explains why Wright focuses on the rights of the parents, but ignores the rights of their children to be free from religion-related abuses of all kinds. He simply does not respect a child’s point of view:

    p.s. it sure would be nice if there was a way to follow these comment threads with email alerts like disqus.

  • Anonymous

    HAHAHA. All the Anti’s got trolled into making comments.

  • Anonymous

    Oh and some of them have “dossiers” on


  • Perry Bulwer

    Who is the real troll here? People using their real names to post comments or the person who remains anonymous, who obviously has no understanding of the meaning of religious freedom?

  • Mark J.

    The religiousfreedomwatch site is owned and operated by Scientology. “Controversial” sounds explicitly vague, considering it’s Scientology, “mean-spirited” and “aggressive” are probably accurate. Scientology has sown the whirlwind, by even persecuting FreeZone Scientologists, why should we be surprised or sympathetic.

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  • Nathan

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  • RickK

    Let’s hear it for religious freedom. I’m going to invent a religion where my buddies and I marry several women each,then raise a bunch of young daughters who we’ll educate from birth that their only role in life is to “Keep Sweet” and be obedient little sex slaves for us older men. Any young boys will be given only enough education to be construction and farm workers, and we’ll kick most of them out before they get old enough to bother the girls in our harems. And we’ll do all of this under the protection of U.S. Religious freedom.

    Oh,wait – someone already did his?

    What about the rights of women to be given more options in life than to churn out babies like a termite queen? What about the rights of children to get educations? What about the rights of girls not to be raped and beaten in the name of a made-up god?

    If your religion deprives your followers of the right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, go find another country in which to practice it. Seems like a simple enough rule.