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Negativity Shakes the Movement : On Eve of the First Integrity Day, Troubling Questions Prompt a Rift Among John-Roger Followers

Second of Two Parts

August 15, 1988|BOB SIPCHEN and DAVID JOHNSTON | Times Staff Writers

Susan O'Shaughnessy was one of the many who had stood up at the Integrity meeting to offer her support. "I didn't want to believe at that point," she said. But after the meeting she and her husband, Terry, spoke several times to the staff members who said they had been seduced by John-Roger. "Then I had no choice but to believe. . . . And I had to leave. I could not support a man who was hurting people--emotionally destroying people."

Other things began to click in her mind. "I realized that so much of what I thought was psychic power was good old electronics," she said, refering to revelations made to her (and reiterated to The Times) by initiate Michael Hesse, who said he had installed recording devices on the telephones at the Insight headquarters, and O'Shaughnessy's husband, Terry, whose service as an initiate had included extensive work on the wiring at Insight headquarters.

In the course of installing sound equipment, Terry O'Shaughnessy said, he and a co-worker would frequently work in the building's crawl spaces. "In every room in that building," he discovered very small microphones, "a quarter inch in diameter" and learned that they had been installed by members of John-Roger's personal staff, he said.

"They were placed inconspicuously, right up against the ceiling tiles; a couple were actually set in cracked corners of the tile," he said. Later, while in John-Roger's personal office working on equipment, he attempted to tune-in a microphone he'd placed in a training room, but pushed a wrong switch and found himself listening to staff members talking in another room, he said. "I got looking at it--it's a real nice switch arrangement where he had access to all those mikes."

Although few people saw the microphones O'Shaughnessy alleges he discovered, many say they saw, in retrospect, that John-Roger had many ways of finding out things about people, including what people revealed to him about themselves and others in letters and counseling sessions. "What people thought was clairvoyance was just J-R's cunning and deceitful information gathering," former staffer Wesley Whitmore said.

Insight facilitators report, for instance, that they knew when John-Roger was monitoring Insight Trainings, because the remote control video cameras connected to his private office would begin swiveling in the training room.

John-Roger said any suggestion that he has surreptitiously eavesdropped on rooms "is a lie." He said he can tape some rooms and he can tape phone conversations, but that he never has done so without informing the other party.

The Red Monk

To many people who left the movement, John-Roger's most blatant attempt at manipulation was his resurrection of the "Red Monk." Many former ministers and initiates report that people in the movement would run to the other side of the street or flee a supermarket when someone alleged to be infected with the Monk approached.

"The Red Monk . . . seemed to me to be a scare tactic to keep people from talking to each other," said David Welles, a chiropractor who worked at the John-Roger Foundation's holistic health center before leaving the movement in 1984.

As the Red Monk scare grew, several former members of MSIA, including former Insight facilitator Jack Canfield, the Whitmores and East Coast organizer Michael Bookbinder, said they were besieged with threatening phone calls and bizarre, harassing letters. They believe the calls and letters came from church insiders and, in some cases, John-Roger himself.

John-Roger denied that he has ever threatened anyone, adding that "I don't really care to impugn any of these people's character."

As they broke away from the movement and talked to each other--some attended informal rap sessions with a self-styled "cult transition" person--many began to see similarities between their experiences and those of people who had fled other cults.

With MISA's levels of initiation, its devotion to a single man and what some see as its secrecy and suspicion of outside information and the way it treats those who attempt to leave, and with Insight's graduated structure and, some would say, fanatical volunteer commitment, John-Roger's organizations seem to fit cult criteria, many former followers believe.

"Knowing what I know about how cults work, they make it hard to get in on a certain level, they make you jump through hoops, so that when you're in, you're more solidly in," said Georgia Noble, 40, of Santa Monica, who has gone on to develop, with her husband Jack Canfield, their own series of self-esteem seminars.

Like others who have left the group, Tris Roost, who was for a time coordinator for Insight trainings in the San Francisco area, believes that MSIA's spiritual exercises, in which initiates sometimes envision John-Roger while chanting, is a form of brainwashing. "When you meditate on the form of an earthly person, it gets confusing. . . . It becomes a form of control."

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