FYI:w00f: Worth reading... (fwd)

Eugene Leitl (
Sat, 29 Mar 1997 18:27:05 +0100 (MET)

Do we qualify yet?

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sat, 29 Mar 1997 09:55:14 -0700 (MST)
From: Ryan R. Snyder <>
Subject: w00f: Worth reading...

This article is light background on Cults using the WWW. It's worth
reading and includes more info on the weirdos who recently killed
themselves. I've discovered that I have a videotape they sent me a couple
years ago when they called themselves Total Overcomers Anonymous. I must
say that the video is either the product of a disturbed mind or a very
stupid joke. It's called "Beyond Human - The Last Call." If anyone's
interested I'll type in the text on the front and back of the case for
you. Anyway, here's the article:

Cybercults earn money, recruit on Web

It was advertised as a meeting on "UFOs, SPACE ALIENS, and their final
fight for Earth's Spoils."

But many of 30 young people crowded into the suburban Birmingham, Ala.,
library meeting room on April 9, 1994, were

The speakers quickly veered away from ET and into a New Age mix of
reincarnation, spiritual evolution and a Gospel where
Jesus was "the Captain" and God was "the Chief of Chiefs."

Still, the three women and one man, pleasant and neatly dressed, made an
impression on a few teen-agers.

"They said, 'You may feel this speaks to you or rings a bell with you.
This probably means you are one of these people waiting
to go to the next level,' " recalls Bob Waldrep of the Watchman
Fellowship, a Christian ministry that tracks cults.

Waldrep remembers two or three teens staying to talk with the speakers.
He also remembers a chilling part of their talk.

"They said to step out of the human kingdom to the next level you have to
put away everything, family, possessions -
everything," Waldrep says.

Almost exactly four years later, 39 members of the same cult did give up
everything, committing a mass suicide that their
Internet Web site said would allow their souls to be scooped up by a
spacecraft trailing the Hale-Bopp comet.

The deaths apparently end the odyssey of the little-known group that
started as a desert commune in the 1970s and evolved
into a cybertech cult whose bodies were found near banks of computers in
a posh mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.

It is this evolution that troubles cult watchers.

The group used the World Wide Web for both its business, called Higher
Source, and its Web page, Heaven's Gate, which
was used to snag new recruits. It used buzzwords designed to catch
browsers whose interest ranged from UFOs and
conspiracies to the spiritual and religious.

The Rancho Santa Fe group is not the only cult in cyberspace.

"Cults are using the Internet for a number of different purposes - to
recruit, to support themselves, and as apologists," says
John Knapp, executive director of a Burke, N.Y. group that
follows exploitative psychological techniques that
appear on the World Wide Web.

Steve Hassan, a Boston-based cult expert who has counseled former members
and their families for 20 years, says the
Internet is a simmering cauldron of cult activity.

"There are newsgroups about different cults, there are webpages put up by
different cults. Aum Shinrikyo (the Japanese cult
that attacked the Tokyo subway with poison gas in 1995) recruited on the
Web and produced animated videotapes," he says.
"I've heard of some people who have been recruited on the Web, but no one
knows the numbers."

Arnold Chanon Bloch, a Los Angeles psychotherapist who has worked with
scores of cult members and their families, says,
"If the theology is carefully laid out in print, it's going to have an
appeal to people who are experiencing a spiritual void or
unresolved psychological pain."

Lure of the message

There is little information about how many members actually were
recruited that way by the Rancho Santa Fe cult. But Bloch
says there are times in our lives when we all could be susceptible to the
lure of a cult's comforting philosophy.

"A time of personal crisis, the loss of loved one, a medical problem,
they can lead us all to ask questions that are hard to
answer," he says. "For people who are less socially integrated, I would
say the Internet could be another pathway for groups
trying to recruit new membership."

According to information garnered from the group's own leaflets,
newspaper ads and its Heaven's Gate Web site, the cult
began as a commune in the mid-1970s and developed a cosmology drawn from
Eastern and Western religions, New Age
philosophies, UFO rumors and Star Trek wistfulness.

The cult sought new devotees, first by the traditional means of meetings
and word of mouth and then by a growing use of

On May 27, 1993, the group, calling itself Total Overcomers Anonymous,
took out a $29,911 three-quarter-page ad on the

In January 1994, according to its Web site text, "we sold all of our
worldly possessions except for a few cars and changes of
clothing and set out cross country holding free public meetings from
coast to coast for nine months . . ."

It was during that tour that Waldrep saw the group in Birmingham. The
members called themselves Sawyer, Even, Millie and
Nora. They said their leaders were Do and Ti, although they said names
were as unimportant as the temporary bodies our
spirits inhabit.

"They were pleasant, healthy, good-looking people who used UFOs as a way
to draw people to the meeting, but the real lure
was to offer a way of filling the spiritual vacuum in the audience,"
Waldrep says.

But when the face-to-face recruitment ended, the group sought other

In September 1995 it surfaced on line as "Undercover 'Jesus' " and "ET
Presently Incarnate."

On its Web site the group members recounted how the verbal attacks and
ridicule they received on their 1994 tour "was the
signal to us to begin our preparations to return 'home.' "

The effect of the group's presence on the Internet remains unknown. But
Waldrep, Bloch and the others familiar with cults say
their philosophies would hit the mark among the right audience.

And, they say, a glitzy Web site gains a credibility among browsers.

"I think people in general are willing and eager to accept what they see
on the World Wide Web," says Larry Rosen, a
psychologist at California State University at Dominguez Hills. "It looks
so professional, and you can easily slide from a Nobel
Prize winner's Web site to a Web site that can be created by anybody."

David Greenfield, a West Hartford, Conn. psychologist who works with
computer addicts, says part of the Internet's power is
that groups can present bizarre messages in a mainstream way.

Recruiting followers on the Internet is more efficient because the cults
"will reach a lot of disenfranchised people with it."
Computer communication requires no social skills, he says, and is for
many users an isolated activity.

"I'm not saying that everybody that hangs out on the Net all day long is
a loser, but I am saying that if you hang out on the
Internet all day long, you will be a loser."

As officials struggle with the task of identifying the victims in Rancho
Santa Fe, Waldrep worries about the uncounted number
of devotees to this or other cults who may be out there looking for

"It saddens me that people are out there looking for something to fufill
their lives and instead of finding that fufillment they find
something that leads to their deaths," says Waldrep.

By Fred Bayles and Patrick O'Driscoll, USA TODAY
Contributing: Leslie Miller

Ryan R. Snyder     Internet Specialist
"When the law is on your side, argue the law. When the facts are on your 
side, argue the facts. When neither the facts nor the law are on your 
side, holler." -Senator Albert Gore, Jr.