FBI Cult Doc - dialog with one of the authors ...
this email chat reflects only the personal views of the author
(not those of his co-authors or of any agency)

Lt. Rod Gregg = black text
Rev. Erlich = red text

To: "Rod Gregg"
Subject: Re: Response to your critique
From: Rev. Dennis L Erlich <informer@informer.org>
Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2001 08:14:44 -0800

Rod wrote me:

>Rev. Erlich,
>My co-authors and I "appreciate" your response to our article. ( I couldn't resist the tongue-in-cheek response to your "jibe" )

Heh. Good juan.

>Obviously, one can't cover every base when passing wisdom and insight through an editorial board. And though the audience is potentially national, the target audience was law enforcement.

Yea, I knew that. But I found your article on a
cult-apologist website being used as an example of how law
enforcement views cult critics as bigots.

>Our goal was to give a small or average police department some real guidance when they suddenly find themselves with a "cult" in their midst. In fact, violations of law are not negotiable and should be addressed as any other criminals would be. I believe that point was clear.

Well, I admit to being a bit dense, but it wasn't all that clear to me.

>However, the point of the article was that what you and I believe to be an emergent religion but does not display the violent characteristics of a cult such as Aum Shenrikyo could look very much like a "cult" to the chief of a 10-man department in southern Utah. We can't have law enforcement raiding Sunday service and arresting church members simply because public outcry demands the heathenous "cult" be dealt with because they don't fit any known parameters of judeo-christian religion. There is no point in inadvertantly throwing gas on a fire while you are trying to put it out.

Well, that's basically what I said in my forward. So we're on the same page here.

>The goal was to define what a cult is and what it is not.

Well, Rod, you accomplished at least the second half your objective. :)

>We, as a society tend to label things that we do not understand as malicious in nature. Fear breeds mistrust and panic. Knowledge is power and "informed" knowledge is what we avocated. If nothing else, we as a community must learn from our mistakes. To do otherwise would be an injustice to those who gave their lives to teach us.

We agree.

>Law enforcement in general, has always been its worst enemy.

Overreaction to the unknown is the second biggest danger, no doubt.

>We, the authors, acknowledge that cults exist and that there are some with malicious roots and have, historically been those that were not only dangerous to themselves, but to everyone around them.

I believe the article skimped on describing real cults. The dangerous, predatory ones. And how to deal with them. Not all cults are as open and honest about what they are doing as your Garland one.

>We also recognize that not all emergent religions are cults. And if we, as a law enforcement community, can recognize the difference, then society in general is better served by the properly informed police officers that were our target audience.

We agree.

>Dr. Lonnie Kliever once told me to imagine a religion that advocated eating God's body and drinking His blood during a ritualistic service with words that you couldn't understand... and how strange that must have seemed so many hundreds of years ago. Now, the largest organized religion on the planet, The Catholic Church.

Though sometimes bizarre and fascinating, I don't think that the belief systems of these questionable groups should be at issue with law enforcement. On the other hand "burning heretics" by harassing and depriving whistleblowers and critics of their civil rights I think should be.

>( A personal note. Thank you for pointing out the far-sightedness of the Garland Police Department.

Clearly you covered all the bases.

>We are very proud that our vision and insight kept what could have been a political fiasco from being anything but a planned and organized response to something that we couldn't understand. It was with the assistance of many others in law enforcement, religious scholars and those like yourself, that our model came to exist. )

And like I said, it's lucky you had the budget to pull it
off. Thanks for the thoughtful response, Rod.

Be well,

To: "Rod Gregg"
Subject: Re: Response to your critique
From: Rev. Dennis L Erlich <informer@informer.org>
Date: Thu, 22 Feb 2001 09:54:21 -0800

Rod responded:

>I'd be interested to know where the "cult-apologist" website was that
featured our article...

Oops, you've caught me overstating my position, and in fact, my true feelings. In this instance you are correct to use quotes around my hasty characterization. Please allow me to withdraw that comment. The site owner is a moderate former member who, as I have come to know him, would not apologize for any group's abusive behavior. He and I have actually become friends. But he was definitely using your text to show that the FBI has little respect for ex members and critics.

I prefer not refer you to directly to the specific site I referenced. But suffice it to say that if you put the words "law, enforcement, bulletin, cults" into a search engine you would have no trouble finding who has webbed your article.

I'm glad that you take the time to correspond regarding my comments, but I'm slightly worried that in the end (or maybe even from the git-go) you may regard my ministry as one of the (as you put it in the article) "organizations that may have an anticult bias." It is my experience that anti-cult groups have been very helpful to ex members by providing critical material they would have otherwise never have seen, despite the legal liabilities in doing so.

My ministry's work is mainly with ex members of what should probably be called "abusive, fanatical groups" rather than cults or NRMs.

>and I trust you aren't referring to the LEB.

No, I wasn't.

>Dennis, I appreciate your position and I believe that you appreciate ours.

I do. And I also realize this is a much more sensitive and explosively emotional issue than usual law enforcement concerns.

Much of what constitutes abuse or undue influence is really still in a legal gray-area, and no doubt even more so for law enforcement. And it is not really all that clear where tort law crosses into criminal in these matters.

Members of real cults voluntarily give over their mental locus of control and give up certain of their constitutional rights to follow the cult's indoctrination program. Then if the group uses coercive methods to systematically break the will of the "lemming," or of children, that is where law enforcement might be concerned.

My focus is mainly with the result of groups that exploit their members' vulnerability and gullibility. Those that prey on the weak, needy or down-trodden. Those that build a false public image front while behind the scenes they coerce their followers and harass anybody that speaks out about to their flaws.

>Your stance has more to do with the violent religions that are by every
>definition... cults.

Not just the violent ones and not just the religious ones.

Any group that uses bait-and-switch to lure kids off the street and into becoming slaves to some crusade or inner-circle.

>Unfortunately, in our research ( yes, there was >research.. )

Come on, Rod. I haven't been that critical of your work.

>we found a wide and divergent lack of consensus on the mere >definition.


>The real point was that if it is a dangerous cult, then laws >have been obviously broken and options are more clear.

Culpability in the kind of abuse I abhor can be argued in both civil and criminal law. So the rules are still kinda fuzzy wrt undue influence and voluntary servitude.

>It's when it's not so
>clear that the job is most difficult.

Yes. Precisely. There is no doubt that Law Enforcement has come a long way since Waco in understanding fanatics and how to deal with them. But from what was known at the time, I saw the outcome as inevitable from the start of that operation.

Still, I believe someone needed to knock on that door.

>The past has shown us that violent
>religious cults and bizarre religious movements can appear the same until
>you begin to strip away the layers. The average cop doesn't even know where
>to begin or who to ask for help.

Yes, those are the sad facts.

>They may turn to a "cult-apologist" out of
>ignorance and get into a much more dangerous position through inaction when
>swift action was necessary. And I trust you can see the reverse effects
>being equally dangerous.

We definitely understand each other here.

>We do have 1st, 4th and 5th Amendments Rights to protect on our end.. maybe
>some others. Our responsibility is sometimes to protect the very existence
>of those things we most despise.

That is highly commendable. I too support equal justice under the law.

>We signed up for it, we swore an oath to
>protect the child rapist from being murdered by the angry mob... and we
>would give our lives to protect someone that is so repugnant to us because
>we believe in something much more precious.

I share those ideals. And I have confidence that with a
fuller understanding of fanatical groups, less life need be

>Yes, there are flag-wavers
>amongst us who believe in a calling as high as yours.

Hey, just a minute here! I'm not sure this is a complement.
If I'm wavin' a flag, it's just a warning flag to people. "Steer
clear of abusive, fanatical groups."

>While I don't, myself, profess to be a scholar on religious issues or cults,
>I have had the opportunity during this event and since to confer with
>scholars such as Lonnie Kliever, Catherine Wessinger, Ian Reader and others
>who not only know religion, but understand it's many foundations and

>We may have, in fact, scrimped on describing the dangerous cults, but
>realize that historically, they are few and far between.

But they cause a lot of havoc. And I'm no expert but it
seems that our population is more and more suggestible and
subject to fanaticism. Fanatics eventually become
confrontational, especially if prodded by authority. It can
quickly become a mess of "biblical" proportions.

>The effort of
>describing both sides, the full story, is more than the LEB would allow us
>to write, though the article did get quite a large space.

Yes, and I'm fairly certain the bureau's investigative
approach to real, dangerous groups is not about to "go public."

>We couldn't
>replace volumes of books in a single article. More likely to create the
>interest and generate the birth of knowledge.

Stimulating thought!

>Generally, what we typically
>see are elaborate con-games and ego trips preying on a few "follower type"
>people with mostly disillusionment and financial loss being the real harm.
>We wanted to differentiate between scams and movements that have a
>predisposition to encourage the "lemmings" to the cliff ledge.

Understood completely. Having been one of those predisposed
lemmings myself, I believe it would behoove you to make the point that any group that becomes fanatical in its belief and totalitarian in its social structure is capable of ordering the lemmings over some line or edge.

>Yes, this
>does happen and when it does, its huge.

But the event can also creep up on the members. Little by little the pumped-up fanaticism can increase authoritarian domination. This is the seige-mentality of a real, dangerous cult: "Us against the Evil World."

>However, by creating the questions
>and providing some answers, the small town marshal will most likely call
>someone who heard something about an article... etc. And the help gets to
>where it needs to be.

Makes perfect sense to me. I see the logic in what you've presented both in the article and in our follow-up chat.

>( And I didn't understand this reference )
>On the other hand "burning heretics" by harassing and depriving
>whistleblowers and critics of their
>civil rights I think should be.

I was referring to this comment about how beliefs and practices of certain mainline religions might seem weird:

>>Dr. Lonnie Kliever once told me to imagine a religion that advocated eating
>God's body and drinking His blood during a ritualistic service with words
>that you couldn't understand... and how strange that must have seemed so
>many hundreds of years ago. Now, the largest organized religion on the
>planet, The Catholic Church.

And I was pointing out how certain of their practices, such as burning dissidents at the stake, would now be illegal. And that modern cults do similar actions today, only using different tools to destroy dissidents.

I guess you've once again caught me overstating my case. This time because of my own painful personal history. (available through any search engine) My point is that wealthy and exploitative groups can employ various forms quasi-legal psychological warfare and misuse the legal system to make it too dangerous for members and ex members to even report crimes they've witnessed or speak out about the group's true activities.

But it's not quite the same thing as burning heretics, I admit.

>And in reference to budget... The total cost to the City was about $100,000
>over the course of the event. Our police department alone has an annual
>budget of about $20 million. Our city is 210,000 population.

Not being an expert on Law Enforcement budgets, nor on the income base of your fair city, I don't know whether that was a burden on other police functions or not. If what your saying is that it didn't impact your budget significantly, then more power to you.

>Thanks for your comments.

Sure thing. It's nice that you're interested enough to listen to my misguided "flag-waving."

>If we ever decide to undertake such a task again,
>we'll try to cover the rest of the bases...

I couldn't ask for more. Thanks for the chat.
Sincerely, Dennis

To: "Rod Gregg"
Subject: a request
From: Rev. Dennis L Erlich <informer@informer.org>
Date: Sat, 24 Feb 2001 13:25:47 -0800

Rod wrote:

>Let me just say that I wasn't referring to you as a flag-waver... I was
>talking about cops that were. I meant it as there are "true-believers" that
>the badge is as high a calling as the ministry, but I guess I didn't say it

I suspected that might be your real meaning. The clarification is appreciated.

>And I do not think that you are one of "those" anti-cult fanatics that beats
>his chest and thumps his Bible in everyone's face... I got that right off.

I think it's important for recovering cultists to explore a lot of different ideas and find their own comfortable relationship with God ... or not.

>Simply that you chose to correspond and share ideas and listen to
>explanations from a different focus indicated that you were someone worth
>listening to.

Likewise, Rod.

>And you hit it right on the head when you mentioned that there are those
>"gray areas" between criminal and civil law where some of these groups fall.

Unfortunately equal justice under the law is just a bit "more equal" for those who can afford expensive lawyers to point out all the dazzling shades of gray. When people come out of cults they usually can't afford to protect their own rights if the group targets them for telling of their experiences. That's another time they count on law enforcement to take an interest.

>Partly because it's so closed that no one really knows what is going on...
>and that makes it harder on us.

My ministry has always encouraged those who have stories to tell to share their information widely. Sometimes, because the ex cultist may believe he submitted himself willingly to the abuse, the shame is such that he doesn't want to talk about what really went on inside.

Also cults have found many ways to discredit defectors, especially those that go to the authorities or speak out in public.

So if people want to know what's really going on inside these groups, it needs to be made safer for ex members to speak out.

>Not impossible.
>However, you must admit that there are some vicitms who aren't as victimized
>as others would believe.

We live in a litigious world. A certain small percentage of ex-members will overstate the damage so they have better negotiating leverage or just out of frustration. Others may exaggerate or outright lie about what happened to them. I admit I have seen that.

>They themselves are getting something out of the

It may not be something deep and mysterious. Maybe they just a lack something as simple as street smarts or have too much idealism. Still I suppose either way you are right; it was what they get from the group that hooks them and keeps them there taking the abuse.

>Kind of like an abusive marriage.

The group may also keep reinforcing the notion that there is no place on earth worth escaping to.

>It meets certain needs,
>but at a price that most people wouldn't pay...

Right. Giving control of one's life over to a higher calling or infallible authority isn't for everyone.

>I think some of them see the
>true nature of their lifes, yet it's better than where they were.. they have
>a sense of belonging and the world seems to make sense.

True. The group doctrine can provide a complete world view. Ideas outside that model are simply labeled the enemy lies and get filtered. There is a closing down of those parts of the personality and mental functions that conflict with the dogma.

Plus there's an intense feeling of family, mutual care and connection within the group. People who have left miss that the most, so it remains as one of the strongest hooks.

>Kind of like some homeless people... Yes, it's a hard life, but to them,
>it's preferrable to being in a structured mental institution or with a
>family that hates them... Better of the evils, as it were.

Yah, but the outside world isn't really the Evil Place that cults make it out to be. I mean, sure the argument can be made that it sucks, but so does being someone else's property. That's what people in cults are like. They've given themselves over to the group.

>I think we are on the same wavelength on most points... Perhaps you can help
>us get the word out through your contacts and website.

I would like to share this chat with some of the people interested in my ministry. And I think this dialog has been fruitful enough to put up on the website. Is that agreeable to you?

>Maybe you can clarify
>some of the points that we weren't clear on and carry the real message for

I'd be honored to. Let me know about putting it up on the website.

Thanks again, Dennis

The editor of the piece on cults responds to my comments on the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin.
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