Someone sent this article to me recently: Is There a Difference Between a Cult and a Brand?
This is the sort of positioning scientology, and Miscavige in particular, absolutely HATE.
Scientology is put into the same category as Heaven’s Gate, NXIVM, Rajneesh etc. and compared to Tupperware, Amway and Mary Kay… It notes that these MLMs use the same model that L. Ron Hubbard did: selling increasingly expensive courses and “technologies.”
It also mentions “the ever-growing library of documentaries about Scientology.”
It’s a growing problem for scientology. As much as they try to get themselves “into the mainstream,” they are drifting further into the positioning of harmful cult.
These are the paragraphs from the article that mention scientology specifically.
I was surprised an extraterrestrial-worshiping group that ended in mass suicide also offered graphic design services, but maybe I shouldn’t have been. Cults are infamously image-obsessed, whether it’s Heaven’s Gate’s Star Trek-inspired iconography or Scientology’s use of celebrity spokespeople. They need to be savvy marketers to attract new followers. Cults, in this way, are just like brands, built around developing a coherent identity, complete with codes, imagery, and language that paint a clear worldview and ideology. (Nowhere is this more obvious than on social media, where the dominant action is to follow.) Nearly every cult uses the methods of branding to gain followers and every brand — whether they admit it or not — strives for a cult-like audience.
Cults are having a moment right now. Heaven’s Gate is just one in a recent run of documentaries on groups with questionable beliefs (I’ve devoured them all). There was The Vow and Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult, a pair of docu-series about the sex cult made famous after Smallville star Allison Mack was exposed as a high-ranking member; The Way Down, about a Christian-inspired weight loss group based in a wealthy Nashville suburb; and Wild Wild Country, about the Eastern-influenced religious group in Oregon; not to mention the ever-growing library of documentaries about Scientology.
These distinctions have always been blurry but it wasn’t until the late 70s and 80s that the overlap of cult and brand became apparent, primarily through the rise of multi-level marketing programs, in many ways the original social networks. Though these programs — companies like Tupperware, Anyway, and Mary Kay — had been around for decades, it was during this era that many started to incorporate spiritual, self-empowerment language, mostly around ideas of being your own boss and unlocking social and spiritual freedoms. Incidentally, this is the same model Scientology, which was founded in the 50s by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, uses: selling increasingly expensive courses and “technologies.” NXIVM, the sex-cult founded by Keith Raniere, was a multi-level marketing program that also sold “technologies” promising to help followers become better leaders and professionals; these so-called “Executive Success Programs” went horribly wrong; culminating in branding their logo inside women’s legs.
By the 90s and early 2000s, it wasn’t multi-level marketing programs that felt the most like cults. Instead, it was fitness brands and gyms such as SoulCycle and CrossFit, which gained popularity using similar self-empowerment language. “It’s a space to come as you are and celebrate who you are,” reads a current headline on SoulCycle’s website, “to emerge feeling stronger and inspired.” One could easily swap this marketing language with a headline from Scientology’s website — “You can rise!” — and no one would know the difference. Today, it’s not uncommon to see modern brands of all types using similar language, employing aspirational campaigns, featuring heavy usage of self-empowerment language, glossy imagery, and clean logos to sell us not just a product but an entire lifestyle. Goop, perhaps, is the epitome of this trend, but you can see it in everything from shaving companies to sneakers to new foods.
The key to building a strong brand is coining new terms and phrases, and rebranding old ideas as something novel. In her book, Montell notes that many cults do this too. For a cult, the act of inventing new words and phrases creates an internal language and sense of community, a subtle way to begin separating members from families and friends who aren’t also part of the group. The members of Heaven’s Gate referred to their bodies as “vehicles”, for example, and Scientology created new terms like “going clear” to mean taking control of your own thoughts. Brands, too, are experts at phrase coinage, whether it’s the lengthy list of acronyms CrossFit followers use or Warby Parker’s human names for frames. You know a brand has transcended its product when a name becomes a verb (think about ‘googling’ or ‘ubering’). No one, perhaps, is better at this than Apple, from calling its tech support the “Genius Bar” to renaming high-resolution screen technology “Liquid Retina.” (In fact, Steve Jobs’ famous keynotes could be read as a religious gathering — a charismatic leader presiding over his flock. Of course one of the most popular Apple blogs is called… Cult of Mac.)
I have (very recently) been enjoying your blog.
I am new to the blog, but thanks to the work you and Leah have done to generate widespread knowledge of cults, I have taken an interest in the subject. Having never been involved in a cult, I find the subject fascinating, particularly when people talk about what their mindset was at various points during their time in the various cults.
I think more should be discussed about the cult I almost found myself falling into, the Law of Attraction. It has been branded many different ways…The Secret, Think and Grow Rich, Tony Robbins, Joe Vitale, etc., etc., etc.
I started following Joe Vitale. I had read some Tony Robbins when I was younger, but Joe Vitale really caught my attention. I enjoyed his writing style. But then I noticed a pattern that Tony Robbins had followed when I was reading his stuff, too.
The marketing of the next book is always “Law of Attraction hasn’t worked for you? My new book will tell you all about the one element you’re missing, and how to use it to take your life to the next level” or some similar B.S.
Inevitably, it is just a new way to say “be grateful for what you have, and what you visualize will come to you” in a whole new group of words they can sell in a new book. Oh, and by the way…that new book always offers a “coupon” for 10% off the next $10,000 weekend seminar….because you have to “invest in yourself”.
When I looked into Joe Vitale further, I found it very interesting that one of his first books was called “Hypnotic Writing”; no wonder I found the writing of a master of “hypnotic writing” so engaging.
I don’t know if you’ve ever written a blog about the similarities and parallels to Scientology in this subject, Mike, but if you never have it might be something you want to look into a little bit and write a blog on; maybe you could “hypnotically” write it.
Dwarf Vader says
Scientology can’t be compared to cults described here and others. It’s essentially an organised crime racket with religious corporation status.
This is also true for political parties, especially in the US. Both the Dems and Republicans rely on their bases, purposely whipping up division to have something to run on – and to fundraise. This distracts people from the depressing reality that both parties serve big business (and the military industrial complex) and don’t give a sht about any one. The system itself is rigged.
Western governments and the establishment media have used an array of nefarious techniques to control narratives and neutralise enemies for decades – both domestically and abroad. Those who are critical of “the current thing” are typically smeared/”cancelled.” Those who expose them are eventually neutralised (Assange).
I left one cult only to find I was in a much larger and arguably more nefarious one the whole damn time. It’s incredibly disappointing.
Brands tap into some of the same psychological factors or instincts as cults. It’s no coincidence that there’s often a lot of overlap between MLMs and fundamentalist religion or cults, as Lily’s recent writing has attested to.
Gender identity seems to be having “a moment” as the article mentions. “Find out who you really are”
GenderBenders or CrossDress could be brand names.
Jane Standen-Bolton says
What a weirdly unpleasant comment to find amongst a generally incredibly caring, thoughtful group of people who comment here. 40/50 years ago that’s exactly the sort of thing the hate mongers would have said about lesbian or gay people to try to belittle and ridicule them. Given one of the most iconic trans people alive today was on board the Apollo with Ron and has gone on to lead the most incredible life, serving as something of an ‘auntie’ to those younger who are bravely stepping out and, not finding out who they are, but being able to be who they already know they are in most cases, I think we can treat trans people with a little more respect, eh?
As an aside, I hope Kate’s doing OK, she’s such an amazing character. I hope Jessica gets to see her dad (Kate’s term, I’m not misgendering her) at least once more.
Jane – I agree. I meant it to be funny and maybe generate some conversation. Stupid comment on my part.
Also, “Gender Bender” was literally the title of a hilarious Futurama episode. (Bender is the name of a robot.)
What happened to the podcast? :(. I hope Scientology did not silence them .
I assume it takes a lot of scheduling and work to produce a podcast. Leah is currently hosting a popular game show. Mike and Leah are taking a well deserved break.
This A equals A of Scientology to the brands and other cults, is LRH’s fault.
The Marketing Series by LRH pretty much conclusively proves LRH is at fault for this.
Miscavige is just doing what LRH has ordered in LRH policy.
RTC on top it all, is to enforce all the standard product of the “church”.
LRH is the scoundrel and Miscavige is chief executor of LRH’s “orthodox” policies for the “business” of the movement.
Prof Stephen Kent nailed it all in the early 1990s in papers he wrote.
S Moore says
Great article, for the most part. But quoting Reza Aslan as authoritative on cults without recognizing his Scientology apologetics seems misplaced.
Mike Rinder says
Dave Voigts says
Karen De La Carriere shared on the Scientology and the Aftermath Facebook page. I’ll paste my comment below. I discuss the Janet Reitman ’embedding’ story.
Awesome find. Thanks for sharing.
I clicked through Mike’s blog and saw that the source article mentioned a docuseries titled ‘The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin.” It’s available on HBOmax. I’ve got that queued up now.
Also, I’m a former naval officer and I do outreach for everyday people who are attacked with the weapons system that causes the Havana Syndrome symptoms. This weapons system can act as a tool to torture someone from a distance like it did in the Havana Syndrome cases, but it can also be used to give someone a ‘spiritual experience’ as it was originally funded to combat Islamic fundamentalist extremism.
Sadly, creeps like Harvey Weinstein or the Church of Scientology can source the tech through the types of private intelligence firms named in Ronan Farrow’s articles on the Harvey Weinstein case “Harvey Weinstein’s Army of Spies” and “A Private Mossad for Hire.” It could be used in ‘Fair Game,’ but it could also be used to enthrall unsuspecting cult initiates to the cult and trick them into believing they have some sort of special power. There’s an entire criminal racket based on this scheme and I guess that the operating costs would be astronomical or straight-up funded by a nation-state(s).
So, for my part, I learned just a little bit about the crime and I was trying to figure out the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the crime’s mechanics – or if it was even real. I read a couple articles that mentioned Scientology chasing people down who had escaped. The story that got me interested was the one that mentioned chasing one of the members from one continent to another – I think it was from South Africa to the US. That seemed super crazy to me so I started looking into Scientology and I came across a Sea Org website.
Now at the time, I think I was a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, and I was totally baffled by this Sea Org website. ‘Why were these people dressed up in Navy uniforms,?” “Is this some sort of stolen valor thing,?” “Since the US is now at war, does this group think that they are also at war in some sort of weird delusion?” So I started to look into it as a possible source for this type of contract stalking.
I had quite a bit of luck using the internet comments section. I found that TV shows, media, and movie studios were surprisingly responsive to fan feedback (That’s an entirely different story and it’s also one of the sources of contract stalking as the Harvey Weinstein case proved out). So, I looked into writing Rolling Stone Magazine because they had written a not-so-favorable article with one of their reporters who embedded with US military forces in OEF/OIF.
I always tried to make the suggestion a little bit jokey and use hyperbole because I had no way to know who were the actual offenders in these contract stalking schemes and people who weren’t involved at all. Really what I was trying to do was to get one of these groups to come after me, so that I could learn their process directly and that would make it so-much-more easy to find the victims and work on setting them free. Plus, it’s a way to set a common theme to my efforts and it’s funny, so when people repeat the dumb idea it helps the idea travel farther – which helps the victims have a better chance of being recognized and freed from their perpetrators.
Also, I knew of the weapons system that causes the Havana Syndrome symptoms, and I figured that anyone targeted in this manner was totally fluffed – there’s just no way that anyone would believe them when they tried to explain the crime. So, I needed to improvise some means to render help to these victims. So, in one of my efforts, I wrote Rolling Stone and suggested that one of their reporters ’embed’ (heh heh) with Scientology.
If you watch season 1 episode 9 of Scientology and the Aftermath, the Rolling Stone editor Janet Reitman describes how that dumb ’embedding’ concept played out. Seems that it was a triumph of an effort and it confirmed my suspicions about Scientology’s involvement in contract stalking schemes.
So, part of my process was to try to come up with ideas that were similar or complimentary. I knew that the criminals would try to discredit me so I tried to tailor my activities such that proving one instance of sending in a suggestion or comment would subsequently prove another instance and then another instance and so on until my credibility was restored. At that point, I imagined I’d have footing to help expose the entire racketeering scheme.
The point I’m driving to is that if you want to do something about this contract stalking by Scn and others, then you might be able to ask Janet Reitman about the comment that was sent in to Rolling Stone. If we could get that comment or a couple of people to describe how the story was assigned in the first place, then that’s one avenue towards pushing this story into the public sphere.
Here’s the link to the latest 60 Minutes segment on the Havana Syndrome. It’s on their YouTube channel. Also, Congress just approved six-figure compensation for the victims. That story was in the news a couple of weeks ago.
There’s a photograph of Harvey Weinstein with Jeffery Epstein.
Weinstein is wearing a tuxedo. Epstein is wearing the dress white uniform of Navy Commander. As a former member of the Armed Forces of the United States I can say that a uniform is NEVER worn outside without a cover. (A cover is commonly known as a hat.)
Sorry but I think the guy above is practicing writing a detective story. It goes back and forth between Havana Syndrome and scientology “contract stalking” and he says the “weapon system” can be used to produce a “spiritual experience.” Huh?
I read some of your commentary on your website and it’s interesting but I’m currently on a bit of data overload on current news events. Lol
How does the Havana Syndrome weapon system work? Focused microwaves that can’t be detected by electronics? Infrasound that can’t be picked up by microphones?
Dave Voigts says
It’s something closer to what you would see in shows like Black Cube or Altered Carbon. It’s a wireless human-machine interface. Elon Musk is working on something similar in a company called Neuralink. Billions of dollars have gone into these types of projects. Notably through the US Brain Initiative and the European Human Brain Project.
If you want a historical look at this topic, I recommend Stephen Kinzer’s book ‘Poisoner in Chief’ or a clip titled ‘Remote Control Man’ from the show ‘Dark Matters: Twisted But True’.
This is a crime that has to be solved first through normal detective work, and then once the stalking portion of the crime is revealed, the use of the weapons can be verified. However, that will take some public outreach because the case will have to punch through some serious public corruption.
Now that’s an interesting little blip right at the end.
“… the religious scholar Reza Aslan said that the oldest joke about cults is that “cult + time = religion”, meaning if you give a cult enough time, it’ll eventually be accepted as a religion.”
I wonder how much time it takes, because Scn is going on 70 years and is further from being taken seriously as a religion than ever before.
If you list out the totalitarian backfiring regulations in Scientology, and then watch as they erode away, then from Scientology cult to Scientology spiritual therapy/exorcism practice Scientology likely will go.
If you look at how some freezoners have already dispensed with the harshest totalitarian control over one another as practicing auditors/exorcists, that’s also the “right” direction away from cult totalitarian controls in official Scientology.
Squirreling is normal. Totalitarian abuses enforcing stuff that the Scientologists truly don’t wish to do, is cult criteria.
Once the cult criteria lesson, and the list is really Robert Jay Lifton’s list of criteria that make up the “totalistic” group.
He’s been bandied about for all the years I’ve been out of official Scientology, as the authority of what essentially makes up a “totalistic” group that gets abusive and overwhelms the choices of the members.
Freezoners and squirrels who alter Scientology exorcism and the pseudo-therapy commands of Hubbard’s, if you ask me, they have started in the right direction away from official Scientology’s cutishness.
The raw truth is Scientology isn’t working, it’s not producing OT people who have regained any supernatural “theta” soul powers at all. It’s all delusion on their part, their supernatural powers they believe they’ve gained from doing the Hubbard pseudo-therapy and exorcism. It’s more like a club and those happy in the club share their happiness is all, with what they do in Scientology. So many people are abused though by Scientology and all that abuse is on Hubbard for the regulations Hubbard demands of the Scientologists. Hubbard’s regulations cause Scientology’s cultishness.
Religions (even Islam) evolve. Cults don’t evolve.
The Muggletonians lasted for 3 centuries and never were considered more than a sect or cult. Plus plenty of cults, even relatively large ones, die out without ever making any transition to a more legitimate religion.
Some cults do gain acceptance, typically because they moderate their more extreme beliefs, and develop more benign governance and organizational culture. Scientology seems almost inherently incapable of either.
Damn what a great article!
Hubbard made a big deal out of marketing His brand right from the beginning and I doubt that that wasn’t deliberate. He later wrote His Marketing Series and had a Dept. of Promotion and Marketing in His Org Board too. Plus He labelled His competition as either “squirrels “ or “psychs” and heavily vilified them in a constant campaign to His followers.
I well remember getting a phone call from a “someone “ who was never “in” around 2013 who opened the conversation with “Paul, we’ve smashed their brand “ referring to getting the Kult onto the agenda for the Senate Inquiry that I and other exes appeared at. It was a major shift in how the Kult was perceived here in Oz and followed a campaign that exposed $cientology as ruthless as the ones it ran on us and others who spoke up. “We” ran ours on a volunteer basis and relied heavily on the truth. You all know how the Kult “handles” theirs – it’s so predictable to the point I could accurately guess what it said to investigative reporters about me. I’ve dropped a few jaws doing that and then explaining that the Kult member are just following their Sacred Scriptures and MUST say that.
Nice find, Mike. Yet another blow to the brand. Please continue.
Fred G. Haseney says
When I joined Scientology in May 1977 (and even more so when I joined the Sea Org a few months later), I turned my back on the world. For the next 37 years, I saw my family twice. I rarely called them or wrote home. My “holidays” were not Christmas, Easter, etc; I celebrated, instead, the birthdays of L. Ron Hubbard, of Dianetics. By choice, I never voted in any election. I didn’t read the newspaper. I didn’t watch much TV. I never watched the news. I rarely listened to the news, and if I did, I did so only for the weather report.
I never knew anything about Heaven’s Gate or what other cults were like. I guess Hubbard/Miscavige didn’t want us to know about such things. Even if I had, I probably wouldn’t be looking at or identifying the similarities between Scientology and Heaven’s Gate as I’m doing now.
In the section “Community Video” at the Internet Archive are a few videos featuring members of HG. A couple of other videos feature “Do,” their leader or spiritual guide. It’s eerie watching the interviews because those members are probably no longer alive. Some of what is shared reminds me of Scientology. One member spoke of leaving this planet by means of a space ship. In 1977-78, a Sea Org member told me something like that, that we had originally arrived on Earth in such vehicles. One of those vehicles, my friend said, is in or under the Rock of Gibraltar, with others scattered strategically worldwide.
“Do,” their leader, reminds me of a Star Trek character — more than one, actually — from the original series. He sounds like Hubbard: he truly believes what he is saying. The group members and “Do” speak about being part of “The Chosen.” Hubbard referred to Sea Org members as the top 10% of the planet. HG refers to their physical bodies as “the vehicle”; Scientologists refer to their physical bodies as “meat bodies” or “MEST bodies.”
HG dreams of being elevated to a higher spiritual level; Scientology has Clear and the OT Levels as well as Homo Novis.
A friend of mine who had been in Scientology almost as long as I had been in warned me a few months ago to prepare, basically, for the end of the world. The End has not come to fruition. HG warned that Earth would soon be “recycled.”
As I watched one particular video, an interview of half a dozen members, I couldn’t help but ask myself: “What aren’t they talking about? What aren’t they sharing?” The interviewer asked each member to describe their life before Heaven’s Gate, their initial decision to join, and what it has been like since. Their answers could have been my answers if questioned about my association with Scientology. When the interviewer commented on how “genderless” each member appeared — similar hair cuts, unassuming clothes — I couldn’t help but reflect on my time in the Sea Org as well as my observation of Sea Org members since, people who often appear so much alike physically: similar haicuts, unassumingly clothes, almost genderless.
Zee Moo says
$cientology has a brand that is slightly lower on the desirable meter than Ebola coated Kiddie porn. You can’t rescue a brand like that.
Mat Pesch says
I remember being at Flag and looking at some glossy promotion for a luxury car and I pointed out that they used the same buttons as Scientology. “Feel free” “Rise to new heights” “Achieve your dreams”
“Lead the way” “Have less stress” “Feel the power!” Scientology is absolutely a business and it uses all the surveys, positioning and sales techniques other big companies use to attract customers and MONEY. It’s good to see that society is properly positioning Scientology against the many others dangerous and exposed cults.
Anne Hill says
That’s right, Mat. It was ALL ABOUT branding. And we were good at it. But all the good ones are gone now — and most are actively speaking out to expose the abuses of Scientology. Nyah-nyah.
A brand doesn’t harass people. In my opinion the majority of the opposition Scientology gets is due to their of harassment of critics.
Mat Pesch says
Under Hubbards direction, critics were always harassed and dealt with strongly. When Miscavige took over and as he gained more control and religious legal protection he really unleashed the evil and hate that is his nature. The harassment and flat out urge to destroy peoples lives broadened out to even the most dedicated, active, Sea Org members. Miscavige actively worked to destroy everyone in site, their lives, their families, etc. Everything was taken to extremes against both friend and foe. Evil can only be pushed so far before good people push back, no matter the potential cost. I think the tearing up of families was the final straw that really turned the tide and has been bringing down the house around Miscaviges ears.
I’ve seen one or two reports of the C of S allowing a sea org member being allowed to make a good roads, fair weather outreach to disconnected family members but I don’t have a reference. Maybe it was a trial program. As I recall he was reassuring his family he was doing okay and happy but some follow up comments suggested he might be fishing around to see if he had an inheritance coming his way. At any rate too little too late.
Mat Pesch says
Scientology doesn’t do anything unless it is in their best interest. If a Sea Org member is supervised to send out an approved communication to someone they were otherwise made to disconnect from, then it has some advantage for Scientology. An example is some concerned family member is going to the press and/or police to say that a Sea Org member is being hurt and held against their will. Scientology might have that person send a letter saying they are doing well, they are not in danger or being held against their will and please don’t create problems for their fantastic life.
Brands don’t attack people who change their minds. Cults do….
I agree. Scientology makes its own enemies. If they didn’t excommunicate people for questioning, didn’t practice Fair Gaming, and didn’t make their members disconnect just because their friends or relatives wanted to leave the church, they may not be in the big decline they are in now, and they certainly wouldn’t be thought of as an evil cult as they are now. They bring it all on themselves.
Totally correct Cindy, totally.
And they will never confront the fact that they did it to themselves so will eventually wither away. Hope we see it soon.
Yes, hope it comes soon.
It appears that they’re digging their own hole.