Updated November 6, 2019
Ford Greene to a follower of Sun Myung Moon:
“You think you’re learning to love – but actually you’re learning to hate! Hate sex, hate your family, hate yourself – all in the name of loving. What kind of love is that?”
Marin Independence Journal
Sunday, January 9, 2005
Ford Greene: Attorney at odds
By Tad Whitaker, IJ reporter
San Anselmo resident Ford Greene sounds like a typical Marin County lawyer, what with his outspoken liberalism, scruffy hair and a white Porsche in the garage. But this self-described “cult buster” is anything but that.
Greene was in the spotlight recently for posting a large political sign on the side of his office building along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, where commuters are faced with messages against the Iraq war and President Bush, among other things. At one point, he flew the American flag upside-down.
The high-profile public expressions, and the town of San Anselmo’s efforts to stop them, have resulted in a lengthy lawsuit that continues to this day.
But the furor surrounding the sign doesn’t compare with what’s been stirred up in Greene’s professional life: He has been prosecuted for kidnapping in Colorado and has won a landmark case before the California Supreme Court against the Unification Church that enabled former followers to sue for damages. Greene says he has de-programmed more than 100 followers —often called Moonies— of the church, which was founded in 1954 by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.
Those professional chops made Greene one of six finalists for the honor of Trial Lawyer of Year in 2003 by the organization Trial Lawyers for Public Justice. But his drive stems from an experience many people would try to forget.
“I was a Moonie slave,” he says. “The Moonies’ nickname for me is a special servant of Satan.”
Greene’s “cult-busting” and colorful past, however, have turned him into a lightning rod for criticism for the organizations he targets. …
Greene grew up the oldest of four privileged children who were raised around San Anselmo and Ross. The nuclear family expanded when two cousins needed a home after their mother died of cancer.
Greene’s father was a successful corporate lawyer who attended Yale University with former New York Sen. James L. Buckley, who became the young Greene’s godfather. His mother served as chairwoman of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and was on an advisory commission for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Greene attended Ross School before being sent to The Thatcher School in Ojai, near Ventura, for high school. But he ran away during his freshman year in 1969 and came home.
“I wanted to be a hippie at Redwood with my friends,” he says.
Greene says he “terrorized” his parents while attending Redwood and ultimately graduated from Woodside Priory in Portola Valley. He briefly attended college in Southern California but left, depressed over a difficult romantic relationship.
Back in Marin, Greene bucked hay, milked cows and unclogged sewers at Straus Family Creamery before taking a backpacking trip in which he climbed 16 14,000-foot peaks in three months. At about that time, his sister Catherine, 18, disappeared.
The year was 1974 and the Rev. Moon was expanding his Unification Church in the United States. Moon, who is from South Korea, was a wealthy but controversial figure accused of brainwashing young people to support his religious organization by selling flowers among other items.
Catherine —the second youngest child and closest in nature to Greene— had joined the Unification Church and gone to a camp called New Ideal City Ranch, outside Boonville in Mendocino County. When she finally called her family, Greene says she had changed.
“It sounded like her loyalties were being split,” he says. “She sounded torn up.”
Greene traveled to the Boonville camp a few days later to confront Catherine, but it was difficult; she was surrounded by Moonies at all times. A church leader invited Greene to return the following weekend for a training session.
Greene drove home, still depressed and, he recalls, even suicidal because of a difficult relationship with his father. He decided to hear Moon speak in person at the San Francisco Opera House. Greene recalls that Moon sounded Hitler-like, “but there was a calmness afterward, and that appealed to me.”
Greene went to the training camp with two friends, but he says they were separated and escorted everywhere —including the bathroom— by at least one church member, a process he says the Moonies called love bombing. Joined by new recruits from all over the Bay Area, he attended a group session at which he explained that he’d come to rescue his sister. But then everyone turned toward him and began singing about how much they loved him.
“Holding hands and singing with 200 people felt really good to me,” he recalls. “My programming had begun.”
Greene’s friends left the camp after the weekend, but he stayed behind to listen to lectures, singing groups and discussions about personal experiences. Although images of Hitler Youth kept popping into his mind, he says church leaders poured on the love when he confronted them about the program —a strategy that helped reinforce the power structure and created self-doubt. After all, says Greene bluntly, “You’re being an a–hole to someone who’s being nice to you.”
Still unable to fully believe what he was being told —that Moon was the second coming of Christ— Greene went to a nearby creek to pray. But later that afternoon, Greene says he received an affirmation from God.
Faith begins wavering
Greene moved back to the Bay Area to live in Unification Church dorm houses in Berkeley and San Francisco, where members were expected to share toothbrushes stored in a bucket and hand over the keys to their cars. He took a job at a church-owned gas station on Market Street and, when his faith wavered, he returned to the ranch for re-education.
The re-education periods reinforced a belief that anyone against the church was Satan, he says, but it also gave him some perspective on what was happening. He remembers seeing new recruits arrive with doubts but eventually snapping under the pressure, turning their minds over to the church. It provided him with a guilty pleasure that they, too, had been unable to resist.
“That bothered me a lot,” he recalls.
It took Greene three attempts to leave the church before he was successful. In July 1975, he drove his BMW back to his parents’ house in Ross and began working with his mother, who was an outspoken critic of the Unification Church and supporter of deprogramming.
“She was a one-woman clearinghouse,” he says.
Testifying before Senate
At the request of his godfather, he testified about cults at a U.S. Senate subcommittee in 1976. On that day, he says, about 50 Unification members —wearing matching blue suits with red flowers in the lapels— walked into the Senate chambers to listen.
“It was hairy,” he says.
Greene says he never worked with a deprogrammer. Using therapy, he deprogrammed himself. “It was an experience that hurt me but I was able to overcome,” he says.
Throughout his time in the Unification Church, Greene says he rarely saw Catherine. While he was working at the church-owned gas station, he says the church put her youthful good looks to work as part of a team that traveled the country raising money and bringing in new recruits.
“She could make a $1,000 a day selling flowers,” he says.
From 1976 to ’78, Greene says he deprogrammed Moonies, including the Prince of Tahiti with the cooperation of the royal family. He was even mentioned in journalist Josh Freed’s book “Moonwebs.”
One of his biggest failures, however, was an attempt to deprogram his own sister.
Greene set up a plan, using his mother as bait, to capture Catherine. Handcuffed and blindfolded, Catherine was taken by family members to a boarded-up house in Lucas Valley. But deprogramming his own sister proved harder than deprogramming strangers, with whom he could be tougher, he says.
He eventually let Catherine go after she intentionally cut her hand and had to be hospitalized. By then, Moonies were picketing his father’s law office in San Francisco and pressing the Marin County District Attorney to file kidnapping charges against the family.
No charges were ever brought against the family, but Catherine returned to the church and filed a $5.2 million lawsuit against Greene, his parents and others who helped with the abduction.
“It was horrible,” he says. “The experience is that they’re dead but you can’t put them in the ground.”
In 1977, Greene says he was hired by Colorado authorities to kidnap and deprogram a man who tried to sign over the family farm to the Unification Church. Greene worked with police officers and private investigators, but was arrested and prosecuted for kidnapping after the man ran away and returned to the church. He successfully fought the kidnapping charge because he was acting under a court order.
Off to law school
Although he never earned a bachelor’s degree, Greene was enrolled in the New College of California Law School in 1978. During that time he started getting death threats, but he was determined to go after Moon.
“This man is no different than Adolf Hitler and, as an American, I had to do something,” he says. “To play in that arena, you had to be a lawyer and I went to law school.”
After passing the California State Bar exam, Greene worked as a criminal defense attorney with San Anselmo attorney Carl Shapiro, who had developed a reputation for working with families to reclaim family members who joined cults.
With Shapiro’s help, Greene argued and won a case in 1988 before the California Supreme Court that opened the door for former Moonies to sue the Unification Church for damages and, he says, “put cult-busting on the legal map.”
In 1989, Greene says he sued the Church of Scientology on behalf of the church’s head of worldwide security and his wife. In 2002, Greene celebrated his biggest victory against Scientology, when he and two other lawyers received an $8.7 million judgment in another case.
For Greene, religious organizations must be held accountable for any socially destructive conduct that exploits the best in people. “In my book there isn’t anything worse than that,” he says. …
Reached at a Unification Church site, Catherine —who was married [to a Japanese man] during a mass wedding of 1,275 couples [in Korea in January 1989] and is now Catherine Ono— says although Greene may continue thinking she’s brainwashed and not in control of her mind, she still cares for her brother. “To me it’s like, come on,” she says. “That’s old.”
Ono, who remains a Unification Church member, lives in Somerville, Mass., with her husband and their two daughters. The couple will celebrate their 16th wedding anniversary next week.
Ono says she didn’t see her family between 1977 and ’83 because she feared they would try to kidnap her again. She says she [then] began seeing them…
Although Ford says it was good to see her last summer, he can’t relate to her because her entire world view is defined by Moon’s ideology.
“Catherine thinks I’m Satanic at the core,” he says.
Ford Greene’s website: http://www.fordgreene.com/about.html
Ford Greene, Attorney and Moonie De-Programmer, on the Death of Rev. Moon
Podcast by Peter B. Collins from September 2012
Ford Greene, an expert on religious cults including Scientology and the Unification Church [now known as the Family Federation for World Peace], returns to talk about the death of Rev. Moon. Greene, once a Moonie himself, talks about the impact of Rev. Moon’s death. We touch on my podcast with Archbishop Stallings in early September, and the spin he put on the cult behaviors of Moon and his followers. Greene has deprogrammed many Moonies, and sued the church on behalf of former members. His own sister remains a member of the church. We talk about the CIA connections of Moon and his underlings, Moon’s role in right wing politics in the US, including his operation of the Washington Times. Greene also speculates about the future of the business empire and Moon’s brainwashed followers. …
A man who claimed to be the messiah passed away on September 3rd . We are going to talk about Reverend Moon with Ford Greene in just a moment. …
Peter B. Collins: Ford Greene is a man who has been wrangling with cults since the 1970s. I first talked to him, as I recall, in 1976. He is an attorney here in California and he also serves on the town council of San Anselmo here in Marin County. Ford, it is always a pleasure to see you. Thanks for joining me today.
Ford: Thanks for having me back, Peter.
Peter: Well, I reached out to you over the Labor Day weekend when the news broke about Reverend Moon’s death. You were away camping up near Lake Tahoe and so I waited a little while. I think the official period of mourning in South Korea has ended and I don’t know exactly what a Moonie does in a funeral rite. Do you have any idea? Do they cremate Rev. Moon? Is there a mausoleum; is there some shrine that the Unification Church has built to him there?
Ford: I really don’t know. Like you say I was camping in the Sierras when the event took place. I haven’t followed it. It would be extraordinary because, according to the Moon ideology, Moon was the Messiah, was better than Jesus, and, I don’t think, he was really expected to the die.
Peter: Well, I was waiting three days – and you roll away the stone, right?
Ford: Yeah, accordingly to the myth, sure. I think in a more real world sense what he leaves behind is a multi-faceted international corporate conglomerate that’s got its fingers in everything from international fishing, to arms production, to media, to support for far right fascism.
Peter: Now as you listed them, I was thinking, yeah, Pat Robertson. I mean, they have some of the same investments, some of the same extreme political ideology.
Ford: Certainly they have that. I think Moon was probably more extreme than Robertson. And I think his investments were more far flung than Robertson’s. Also he had been at it for a lot longer period of time. So just because God dies doesn’t mean that his secular organization – and that was really what he was involved in. He would label himself as sectarian in order to take advantage of, certainly of First Amendment protections in this country, and similar protections available in other countries in the world, but his pursuits were strictly business.
Peter: Were you ever able to discover in the many law suits that you waged against the Unification Church, who owns all that stuff. Is the Moon family, is it kind of like the Mormons where it is allied business interests but the church doesn’t directly own Bonneville Broadcasting, for example. What’s the structure?
Ford: Well the structure is really the typical kind of structure for cult organizations. It is that there’s ostensible independence between various corporate entities, but really what the drill is, is that the leader exercises substantial control over all of them because there is only one person who is God, or one person who has got the hotline to God, and so irrespective of ostensible corporate niceties, the actual flow of power goes from Moon directly down. And that was the finding that a Congressional subcommittee made in 1978. And based on my knowledge and experience it hasn’t changed since then. So it doesn’t really matter. The primary organization that controls various enterprises worldwide is called the Unification Church International (UCI). It is just like Scientology. There is a constellation of corporate entities that’s probably in the hundreds.
Peter: Now in the coverage after Moon’s death, did you notice as I did, that I saw no actual references to the word cult. They kind of sanitized and scrubbed up his history. They did refer to his conviction and stretch in a US penitentiary and there were references to his ownership of the Washington Times newspaper, but it seems that that paper still remains so influential that they were able to scrub his obituaries, and many other news organizations followed suit.
Ford: Well, that unfortunately is the case with the media in general in this country – is that it really doesn’t operate as the fourth estate. It doesn’t really fulfill its constitutional role of providing accurate information to the electorate. It’s corporately controlled and often times that means the path of least resistance is what’s taken. There were alternative press accounts, most notably from Fred Clarkson at Talk to Action LINK that was more accurate, or things that were published on Robert Parry’s Consortiumnews.com, but in terms of the mainstream press, the label ‘cult’ has been excised for decades when it comes to the Moon organization, in the same way as it is as to the Scientology organization.
Peter: In the days following his death I received a flurry of press releases mostly related to a subscription I have to the Washington Times news alerts. I like to keep track of what they’re raving about at any given moment. As a result of that I got a missive from Archbishops Stallings [see below for further information on Stallings] who describes himself as a catholic, not Roman Catholic, a self-styled catholic Bishop based in Washington, DC. He’s a staunch defender of Moon’s and quite a spin artist. I will just refer to it if people want to look up the podcast; it’s from early September at peterbcollins.com. It was really interesting to go toe-to-toe with him, Ford, because, for example when I mentioned brainwashing and Dr. Margaret Singer and the coercive persuasion that was present, particularly at the ranch in Boonville, he just said, “Well, you know all religions brainwash people”. He said, “I used to be a Catholic,” and as a recovering Catholic myself he had me right there. Then I said, well what about the stadium weddings? I said, people who barely knew each other, if at all, were just assigned partners. And he said, “Well, I got married by Rev Moon in a stadium in 2004 and I’m really happy”. And so every negative issue that I referenced about Moon, he was he was wound up and ready to spin, and I don’t know if you’ve ever encountered him before, but he is a very articulate African-American, who is just in the tank for the Unification Church.
Ford: Well, he is probably in the tank because the tank that he is in has probably become quite well funded after his affiliation with the Unification Church. I know that the Moonies have focused now for decades on black religious leaders and funded them in exchange for getting the PR representation of the sort that you have just described. A good response is certainly, “Well, Gee all religions brainwash.” But that is just a glib response. When you really look at what the techniques of brainwashing are, and what the consequences of brainwashing are, meaning the type of control that can lead to either suicide or homicide as it has in many cases, of course most notable being Jonestown in 1978. Then it is a little bit different. Although certainly you can go back to the Spanish Inquisition and the types of absolute beliefs that were inculcated into sectarian Catholic minds there had a consequence of employing torture and all kinds of just really horrendous practices on people who were non-believers. But the communist Chinese form of brainwashing, which is what Moon really has used for decades, that’s a lot different from the colloquial use of the term to describe a set of beliefs as to which somebody disagrees. And spin masters for the Moon church and for other cults know that. Part of their charge is to mainstream a cult and is to make the organization not seem as strange as it really is. So if you don’t have a good grasp of what the subject matter is, as in any situation when you’re dealing with a psycho-politician, you are going to get cooked because you don’t have the detail and you don’t have the facts to confront them and put them on the spot.
Peter: Now your own experience started in 1974 when you joined the Unification Church, and your sister did as well, and you decided to leave and it wasn’t easy. How did you become deprogrammed? What did it take? Is it like detox from drugs or …
Ford: No, it’s err, well in a way sure. Getting out of the environment where there is the constant reinforcement that Moon is the messiah…
Peter: True Parents
Ford: Yeah, that’s what they call them. …that the individual comes from a Satanically tainted blood lineage and therefore any questions you have with respect to the orders that you get, and accepting the messianic assertions of Moon, are evidence of your spiritual defectiveness – being out of that atmosphere, sure that helps. But the game is not over there because those absolute type ideas are deeply inculcated into one’s psyche, and generally inculcated along the lines that they came in in the first place. And those lines generally have to do with whatever the psychological weaknesses were of the person who was indoctrinated. So the deprogramming part of it isn’t just being taken out of the soup. It’s confronting how one has been cooked in the soup, and reasserting one’s own independence and ability to think independently. Add two and two and come up with four, rather than come up with five as the training gets you to do [when you are] inside an ideologically remolding regime like what the Moonies do.
Peter: Now you have participated in, or led, the deprogramming of many individuals who left the Unification Church. Is there a routine process or, as you said, do you have to learn about people’s own psychological make-up in order understand what their attraction and bond was to the coercive persuasion.
Ford: It is both. There again, language is so important because it is not an attraction and it is not really a bond. It’s submission to fear. It’s a submission to intimidation. The idea, in a vacuum, that you are dealing with somebody who’s got absolute authority of goodness, of God, of love, of moral character, and you are on the other end of the spectrum. You are coming from Satan, coming from defectiveness. When you take that context over time, the depth of the psychological intimidation that can result is really huge and that’s why in the brainwashing process it’s necessary to remove points of reference, to remove prior relationships, to remove prior relationships with one’s own ideas and one’s own thinking and replace those with what the cult wants you to do. So, to answer your question, is there a regular protocol when it comes to deprogramming, yes and no. Because all persons who have been programmed have been programmed according to a certain structure and there is a consistency in terms of what their lifestyle has been; how they have been bullied and intimidated; how they have been scared, and how they have submitted. So in that regard, yeah, there is a consistency. But in terms of how personally what it is that’s made them submit, whether or not they had a childhood of sexual abuse, and the real reason they became involved with the cult was because the cult promised to be able to help them heal from the consequences of that. Then those more personal factors come into play too. So you’ve really got to play it by ear and go where the getting’s good based on one’s judgement in the moment.
Peter: And, if it’s not too personal, is your sister still a member of the church?
Ford: Yup, she is.
Peter: And is there a family dynamic, or are you just estranged?
Ford: No, we were estranged for a long time, particularly after we kidnapped her and she tried to commit suicide rather than be deprogrammed. That was in 1977. That was a long time ago. But she is a part of our family. Her name is Catherine, with a ‘C,’ and her daughters, my nieces, are as well. When it comes to Moon ideology, we don’t talk about it. There is no point in talking about it because all it’s going to do is raise a bunch of grief that is not going to have any sort of resolution. And so like a lot of other things in life, you make your connections where you can find them and to the extent that you can.
Peter: Ford, one of the things that I hope we will learn about, some time in the future, is the connection between Moon, the Korean Central Intelligence Agency and the US CIA. Because when he first came to a political awareness in the United States, or to political participation, he kind of parachuted in at the very last minute of the Nixon impeachment process and argued in favor of the embattled president. He then went on to start the Washington Times which has been a reliable megaphone for the most extreme of right-wing and Republican politics in this country. And because of Colonel Bo Hi Pak, who was an officer in the KCIA, I have long suspected that there is much more there than what is on the surface. Your comment on that?
Ford: Well, the Moon organization was well in position prior to its campaign to ‘forgive, love and unite’ behind Richard Nixon. I think it was in 1974, or maybe it was later. It was a long time ago.
Peter: I think it was actually early ’75. I actually covered the whole Watergate episode in great detail. I had an all-night talk show in Chicago. I always praise Richard Nixon because he gave me the wherewith-all to become number one in the ratings. One day I was called into the office and the suits said, “Peter, what the hell are you doing?” And I said, ‘Oh we’re talking about Nixon every night,’ and they pulled out this binder and said, “Well, you are number one in the ratings and we don’t understand that.” (laughs) So I always have a little bit of a soft spot for Nixon because of that.
Ford: Yeah, yeah, because he gave you a good launching pad. Certainly the involvement of the Moon organization helps that. It is interesting when you go back and look at the historic underpinnings of the Moon organization. Among the persons present included a guy named Ryoichi Sasagawa who was the brain behind the kamikaze [suicide] pilots in Japan [that flew in WWII] and then Sasagawa went on to hold a position in the yakuza, in organized crime in Japan. Another yakuza guy who was also at the core of the beginning of the Unification Church was named Yoshio Kodama. And so the blending of the Moon organization and the yakuza was then expanded globally, first by means of what was called the Asian People’s Anti-Communist League, which then bloomed into the World Anti-Communist League. In the context of WACL, of the World Anti-Communist League, there were a lot of fascists from all the world that were ostensibly united by a hatred of communism, but whose objective really was to develop as much power as possible on an ad-hoc basis. One of the ways that it really came to the fore was in terms of taking positions [aiding] the Contras in the 1980s in Central America. Moon was involved intimately in that, intimately in providing funding, and in raising money and in supporting Oliver North and the leader in that was a US general named John Singlaub.
Peter: Excuse me, there was no implication on the Iran part of the Iran-Contra [affair] with Rev. Moon?
Peter: Because that was just a weapons deal that was used to fund Contra operations.
Peter: The weapons part, but then there was also, remember, the cocaine part. So there were a lot of moving pieces all of which were aimed at subverting the Boland Amendment which prohibited the US participation in all of that. It is just interesting to see how the Moon organization developed from having links with the Korean Central Intelligence Agency to organized crime in Japan to far right fascist organizations and then all of that gets rolled up and used to support far right fascism in the United States via the Washington Times and via other mechanisms that the Moonies employed to do that.
Peter: Archbishop Stallings and other apologists for Moon essentially claim that first of all the term Messiah is overblown; that he was a Messiah and not the Messiah. Also that the implications of his politics really were just a virulent anti-communism and they try to give them credit for bringing down the Soviet Union, and I can see no nexus there.
Ford: I don’t think there is any nexus. But those posturings are just more BS, because Moon’s writings very, very clearly state that the separation between church and state is what Satan likes the most. That the objective in starting the Washington Times and in influencing American politicians was to take over and control American democracy, because America was the strongest country and the one that provided, by means of the liberties protected via the First Amendment, the most access for the Unification Church. So really again it is like with anybody who’s a big bullshitter you look when the words don’t match the deeds you’ll look at the deeds and follow the actions and do your interpretations from there. And one of the things that is very interesting about Moon is, like Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf put the world on notice what his plans were early on before he did it, Moon did the same thing in Master Speaks. He detailed out how it was he was going to go about, to whatever extent he could accomplish, influencing, if not taking over, various American institutions and then went right ahead and did exactly what he said he was going to do. So, I’d like to see Stallings adequately respond to some direct confrontations using Moon’s speeches called Master Speaks and see what he would have to say there.
Peter: Yeah, that would be very interesting. So with the passing of the True Parent, and Stallings opened up with that when I talked to him – and just got me going. What do you see, they’ve passed the legacy on to a son, and will he run the businesses; will he become a spiritual figure? How do you see this playing out?
Ford: There is more than one son. They are fighting over the moving parts. Who comes out on top is going to be pretty fun to watch, and it is by no means a done deal. You’ve got an empire that is worth a lot of money, and where there is a lot of power. You’ve got heirs apparent fighting over control.
VIDEO: Stallings declares Moon “is a messiah, a god”
Just to go back for one moment with Stallings talking about the meaning of the word messiah, it is sort of “Oh, Gee, I guess we are all messiahs.” (laughter) And personally that is the point that I prefer. But when you’re in an organization that places all power, all influence, all spiritual authority in the person of one living human being, and then specifically remove any sort of authority from other people, that kind of objectification is what helps set up what Robert Jay Lifton characterized as an atrocity producing situation where you’ve got complete objectification on one side and you are you’ve got the total exercise of power on the other side. More often than not what happens in that context is the expression of sadism that’s inherent in just about every human being. And so the use and utility of the term messiah assumes much broader meaning than the watered-down version that it sounds like Stallings tried to promote.
Peter: He even went back to the Greek, spinning it up saying, “Here’s the real meaning of the term”. Well, Ford, what do you see as the bottom line here in the United States? Has the Unification Church lost any momentum, or was the church really just a front for the business empire that continues essentially unrestrained?
Ford: I think the church was really a front for the business empire, and that empire continues its momentum, but also continues to expand. Part of the agenda of the Moon organization was the co-opting of black religious institutions in America. I’m sure that stuff continues on. Just because the Messiah dies, which is kind of an oxymoron, but who knows. Because the leader dies doesn’t mean that magically the brainwashing or the control and the domination over the membership disappears. What I would expect to see, at some point, is some sort of channeler to come into position who asserts that he or she is receiving directives from Moon, from God, and then that in turn will be used as the point of reference by which the rank-and-file membership will be controlled.
Peter: Always a pleasure, Ford Greene. Thanks for joining me.
Ford: Alright, thanks.
Pacific Sun March 31, 1989
Marin’s Ex-Moonie Cult Buster
Attorney Ford Greene has won several landmark court battles against religious cults.
By Greg Cahill
I’ve always been one of those upper-class white boys that mothers talk about with concern — if not horror — at bridge parties,” says Ford Greene with a hearty laugh. “Yeah, you could say I was an ‘aimless scion’ of sorts. I came from a blue-chip family and grew up in Ross.
“But all I ever wanted to do was get my tail to the South Seas.”
Greene never did make it to his tropical paradise. Instead he dropped out of an exclusive men’s college in 1974, and, suffering from “terminal low self-esteem,” took a detour through the Unification Church. After eight months as a Moonie and considerable soul-searching, Greene walked out of the cult’s Boonville ranch and a year later launched his career as a cult deprogrammer. His life as a Moonie, and subsequent battle to remove his sister Catherine from the grasp of the Unification Church, were big news more than a decade ago in the local press. (She was recently wed [to a Japanese man] in a mass-marriage Moonie ceremony in South Korea.) Greene’s own exploits as a deprogrammer were chronicled in Josh Freed’s 1980 book Moonwebs and inspired the 1981 Canadian-made feature film Ticket to Heaven.
More recently, this ex-Moonie turned cult-busting attorney has proved himself a forceful legal adversary, winning several landmark court battles against religious cults. In a recent case in Denver (People vs. Whelan and Brandyberry), Greene successfully defended two deprogrammers charged with kidnapping a woman who had joined the cult. Using a rare “choice of evils” defense, he said the deprogrammers had been forced to capture the woman to save her from brainwashing. And in October of 1988 the California Supreme Court ruled, based largely on arguments filed by Greene, that two former Moonies can sue the Unification Church on charges of deception and brainwashing because freedom of religion does not protect fraudulent recruiting. The case is now on appeal, awaiting word on whether the U.S. Supreme Court will review the state high court decision. That ruling, Molko vs. Holy Spirit Association (aka the Unification Church), sent a shock wave throughout the religious community, which feared that the milestone decision could have profound implications for religious converts to mainstream religions. It was the first such ruling by a high court in any state.
Greene’s courtroom successes have landed him in the middle of a heated debate centered on the protection of religious freedom under the First Amendment. It’s a debate that’s produced some strange bedfellows. The National Council of Churches (NCC), an organization representing 32 church denominations and a longtime critic of the Moonies, set aside its theological differences with the cult and filed written arguments with the court supporting the Unification Church. Kathleen Purcell, a lawyer for the American Baptist Churches and the NCC, called the ruling “a real blow to both free exercise of religion and the separation of church and state.”
TO ACCUSATIONS THAT he is anti-religion, Greene says vehemently, “That’s horse shit! I’m not anti-religion at all but I am against the licentious abuse of the extraordinary privileges accorded to organizations that claim to be religious. The religionists should toe the line like everybody else and should be held accountable like everybody else.” …
Greene — that’s Aylsworth Crawford Greene III — works out of a converted Victorian-era building in San Anselmo. A Marin native, he comes from a family with an impressive legal background. His father, Aylsworth Crawford Greene Jr., is a senior partner at McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen, a San Francisco firm his grandfather helped found; and his godfather, former U.S. Senator James L. Buckley, sits on the District of Columbia U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal. Greene, 36, says he chose law in order to fight groups he says are coercive, dishonest and dangerous. Admitted to law school in 1977 without a college degree, he graduated as class valedictorian. He credits his mentor, San Anselmo criminal defense attorney Carl Shapiro, with instilling in him a sense of pride in the legal profession.
“I learned from Carl that lawyers can be honest, ethical and honorable and will work their ass off for a principle or a client in which they believe, sometimes without even getting paid for it,” he says. “And I learned that the law is an exciting venue for creative self-expression.”
Perched on a rickety chair amidst the clutter of a partially renovated kitchen, Greene recently talked to the Pacific Sun about cults, First Amendment rights, and fears that the Molko ruling will undermine religious liberty.
You’ve been accused by attorneys for the Unification Church of acting out of a “venomous hatred” for the Moonies and being more than just an advocate in cases against cults.
Right. I’m an “interested party.” (laughs) I’m an “ideologue.” I’m not so sure that’s such a bad thing. Certainly, I have a conflict of interest in regards to judging myself on that notion but I think I represent a point of view that has a factual basis and first-hand experience [with cults] that makes me extraordinarily effective.
These guys know that and the only way they can fight me is through character assassination. Let them have at it. There’s one thing that’s completely invulnerable to cult deceit, manipulation and domination and that’s human character. Yet those guys use the tremendous resources they have at their disposal to characterize me as being so helplessly biased that I’m an “ideological cesspool.”
My response to that is, “Let’s debate. In public. In plain view. You and me.”
Your work in the Molko case has ruffled quite a few feathers.
One of my primary concerns about the work that I do is that a sensitive enough distinction is drawn so as to [let the law] differentiate between what is legitimate and bona fide practice of religion and what is the abuse of religious liberty. These pimps who call themselves religious leaders have gotten away, literally, with murder. I’m an American, and I respect the democracy that I’m a part of and I’ll be damned if I’ll allow some group that claims to be religious engage in conduct that’s as anti-religious as it can be with impunity and without scrutiny simply because they say, “Well, since we’re a religion you can’t touch us!”
I say, “Bullshit! You just watch.”
That, of course, opens a constitutional can of worms. After all, the Rastafarians often refer to the pope as a pimp. Where do you draw the line?
No problem. That “can of worms” can be dealt with intelligently by drawing a line between belief and conduct. Belief is, and should be, given absolute constitutional protection. You can’t touch it. Practices that are engaged in the name of that belief, however, should be subject to restrictions like everything else. It’s like if you believe that child sacrifice is something that’s good and helpful to people and is a central tenet of a religion, then there’s complete latitude to hold that belief. And no court or jury has the constitutional authority to question the validity of that belief.
But when the belief is translated into practice, were the government impotent to put any restraint on it then … what otherwise would be criminal conduct would be immunized because it’s called religion.
Yet the notion that juries should make decisions in matters of personal religious conscience makes some folks nervous.
If nobody has the authority to access and evaluate the claimed practice of religion, then the practice of religion is without restraint — without accountability. That won’t wash in a democracy. Democratically speaking, it’s an illegitimate argument because it puts more power in the religious pot than it does in the state pot. And that eliminates any kind of checks or balances between church and state.
Your critics say the concept of “brainwashing” is just a clever, pop-scientific device you use to bias jurors against new religions.
It’s a position of the pro-cult apologists that it is impossible to have a strategy of “thought reform” without the use of force or threat of force. And that position was rejected by the court in the Molko ruling, which said that conceptually it is possible that brainwashing is effective and real by virtue of different elements of environmental and psychological control — [control that results] from the imposition of “thought reform” techniques without the knowledge or consent of the individual targeted for reform.
Another argument is that without a dear violation of the penal code, there’s no evidence of criminal intent.
Right. That’s what I refer to in short form as the gun-to-the-head theory. The opposition asserts there is no such thing as coercion in the absence of a gun to the head. Anybody who’s alive and has a brain knows there are all kinds of coercion; you don’t have to have somebody beaten in order to gain their trust or to get access to their inner strengths and weaknesses and then manipulate and redefine those. The ultimate end that is achieved creates a redefinition not only of the person’s value system but also of the meaning of the very language that person uses to describe reality to themselves.
You walked away from the Moonies of your own free will. Why shouldn’t others be afforded the same choice of conscience without need for deprogramming?
I’d like to think that everybody has the ability to come to that realization but I don’t really believe it. If that were true we’d see it more. When you look around today’s society, independence is a value and trait that’s in short supply. Independent, critical thinking and the ability and willingness to stand up and face the herd and say “no” is rare. What is common is to stand up and face the herd and say, “Oh shit!” and turn around and get in line. It’s the absence of values like self-reliance and independence that opens young people up for exploitation.
Religion has taken a lot of knocks lately with the Hare Krishna murders and the televangelist sex scandals. If the Molko ruling hinges on conduct and not belief, then what do the churches have to fear?
They don’t! But the problem is a lot of those guys are dirty as hell. They know that if the clear eye of the law starts to scrutinize them, they’ll be held accountable for stuff that, God knows, they want kept in the dark. They really don’t have anything to fear provided they’re morally responsible. But the haven provided by the extraordinary protections accorded to the free exercise of religion has become a popular gathering place for those who would perpetrate schemes which otherwise they could not do … in the light of day.
Sure [this constitutional issue] is an extremely sensitive and profound proposition with very long-ranging and broad implications. But simply because it’s a difficult proposition is not reason enough to say it should not be engaged.
One attorney for the National Council of Churches called the Molko ruling “a huge setback” for religious freedom, and told the Pacific Sun that churches cannot withstand huge lawsuits like the one that recently saw a $30 million settlement against the Church of Scientology.
Churches that engage in morally reprehensible behavior . . . should be brought down. And the tort system is the mechanism that’s traditionally represented the little person, the person who has been abused by some institution bigger than him.
Do you find it unusual that the mainline churches are siding with the cults on this issue?
I think we’re just going through a stage of development — or demise — in our culture where these traditional party lines mean less and that there are other issues that cut across ideological affiliations to a gut level.
What does that tell us about society?
I think it says a lot of people are asleep and society is in bad shape because people don’t really care. We’re definitely not getting any stronger. For instance, I don’t know how much longer we’re going to have our rights to free speech. It’s certainly suffered tremendous erosion in the past 20 to 30 years. And that’s not good. If we don’t have free speech, then what we’re left with is censorship and the call to assassinate Salman Rushdie. And that’s the same game the cults play.
Could Molko, in fact, have adverse repercussions for churches, allowing the legal system to be used to persecute people for their legitimate religious convictions?
I don’t think the likelihood of that is very great. But certainly the possibility exists. I mean, any system is only as good as the people who wield it. Our democracy is only as good as those who call the shots and those that make the machinery of democracy work.
On the other side of the fence, with the way that phony religions are using the First Amendment to abuse people’s rights, it’s certainly possible that phony lawyers could use their right to sue bogus religions to attack good ones.
Isn’t that a legitimate concern?
Too bad. There’s nothing so intrinsically sacrosanct about religion that it can justify absolute immunity for criminal behavior. Sorry guys. We had a Jonestown. We’ve got Jim and Tammy Bakker milking people’s needs, their idealism, their desire for something better so that the Bakkers can have an air-conditioned dog house! That’s a bunch of crap. There’s a cost of living in a democracy and religion has to bear its fair share. If bearing that price is a risk so that bona fide groups are going to be subject to some trouble, then they should be big enough to say, “Well, we believe enough in what we do and realize there are some problems so, tough as it is, we welcome the extra weight!”
You obviously disagree that the Molko ruling has thrown religious liberty back to the Dark Ages.
Or how about back to the Spanish Inquisition? (laughs) No. It’s just the opposite. But the best way to resolve that question is through public debate. I welcome it. But my critics are afraid because they know if there is free competition in the marketplace of ideas that they will eat shit. They don’t want people to see the two sides in juxtaposition and be able to make up their own minds because they know I’ll kick their ass. And I will. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again.
Legal holy wars
“The whole world is in my hand and I will conquer and subjugate the world … We must have an automatic theocracy to rule the world.”
— Rev. Sun Myung Moon
“The mainline religions may or may not agree with any particular new religion’s theology,’’ says Robin Johansen, an attorney who filed an argument with the California Supreme Court in the Molko case on behalf of the National Council of Churches and in support of the Unification Church. “After all, history has shown us time and time again that religions seldom agree — that’s the whole idea!
“But they’ve learned to put theology aside and look at the dangers to them from a legal system that would allow these kinds of tort actions to go forward. It’s a trend in the law that’s dangerous. And the fact that the courts are ruling in favor of the Ford Greenes of the world is very dangerous.”
Indeed, the new religions seem to have met their match in the nation’s courtrooms. In recent years, the leaders and high-ranking officials of several cults have been accused or convicted of serious crimes, and former cult members have won huge settlements against the organizations:
□ Moon is now in seclusion at his luxurious mansion in Tarrytown, New York, after serving time for tax evasion and obstruction of justice. His political influence continues to be felt all the way to Capitol Hill, where several U.S. senators reportedly have accepted honoraria to attend anti-communist seminars sponsored by the Unification Church.
□ In their book Monkey on a Stick (Harcourt, Brace, 1988), journalists John Hubner and Lindsey Gruson described graphically the trail of death, drugs and child molestation within the International Society for Krishna Consciousness that followed in the wake of a violent power struggle after the death of the cult’s founder, Indian guru Prabhupada. Krishna enforcer Thomas Dresher is now serving a life sentence with no possibility of parole for the murder of Chuck St. Denis, a drug dealing devotee who refused to turn over his wife’s inheritance to the church. Now in the West Virginia State Penitentiary, he is awaiting extradition to California for trial on murder-for-hire charges in the 1986 death of renegade devotee Steve Bryant.
“One reason we’re in such big trouble in this country is that society suffers from a malaise of lack of accountability,” says cult-busting attorney Ford Greene. “But is the public doing anything about what they don’t like in society? The fault [for the cults] lies all the way around.”
George Augustus Stallings Jr. (born March 17, 1948) is the founder of the Imani Temple African-American Catholic Congregation. He served as a Roman Catholic priest from 1974 to 1989. In 1990, he made a public break with the Roman Catholic Church on The Phil Donahue Show, and was excommunicated that year. …
Wishing to serve as a Catholic priest, he attended St. Pius X Seminary in Kentucky and received a B.A. degree in philosophy in 1970. Sent by his bishop to the Pontifical North American College in Rome, he earned three degrees from the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas between 1970 and 1975: the Bachelor of Sacred Theology (S.T.B.), a master’s degree in pastoral theology and a Licentiate of Sacred Theology (S.T.L.).
Stallings was ordained a priest in 1974. His first assignment was as an associate pastor at Our Lady of Peace Church, Washington, D.C. In 1976, at the age of 28 years and just two years after ordination as a priest, he was named a pastor of St. Teresa of Avila parish in Washington. He was the pastor of this church for 14 years. During Stallings’ pastorate, the parish become known for its integration of African-American culture and gospel music in the Mass.
In 1985, Stallings secretly bought a private home in Anacostia in violation of an archdiocese rule requiring priests to live in the parish rectory. It was later alleged in a Washington Post story that Stallings had misused parish funds to renovate his Anacostia house. In 1988, he was transferred to a new position as a diocesan evangelist. …
In January 1990, Stallings announced on The Phil Donahue Show that he was breaking with papal authority and giving up Catholic teaching on abortion, contraception, homosexuality, and divorce. Stallings announced he was leaving to found a new ministry, the Imani Temple African American Catholic Congregation. He stated that he left because the Catholic Church did not serve the African American community or recognize talent. James Cardinal Hickey, Archbishop of Washington, excommunicated him and any Catholics remaining in the Imani Temple. Critics claimed that Stallings had lived extravagantly and that Hickey had ordered him to seek psychiatric treatment.
Stallings was ordained a bishop in May 1990 by Richard Bridges, a bishop of the Independent Old Catholic Church, a denomination not in communion with Rome, and was given the title of archbishop in 1991 by the same group.
In 1989, The Washington Post reported that a former altar boy at St. Teresa of Avila Church accused Stallings of sexual misconduct over a period of several months in 1977. Stallings said “I am innocent,” declining to answer questions. In a follow-up series of three articles in 1990, Post reporters Bill Dedman and Laura Sessions Stepp reported that concerns about Stallings’ association with teenage boys had helped lead to his split with the Roman Catholic Church. Stallings’s former pastoral assistant, who was 22 at the time, spoke publicly about having a two-year sexual relationship with him.
In 2009 the archdiocese reached a $125,000 settlement with Gamal Awad, who said he was sexually abused at 14 by Stallings and a seminarian.
In the year 2001, Stallings married Sayomi Kamimoto, a native of Okinawa, Japan, in a ceremony presided over by Sun Myung Moon, the founder of the Unification Church. Members of the Imani Temple were so upset by the sudden announcement of the upcoming wedding that some left after services in protest of his “close affiliation with and adoption of doctrine of the Unification Church.” In addition, followers of the Imani faith have expressed offense over Stallings’ recent comments on black women.
In 2004 he was a key organizer for an event in which Moon was crowned with a “crown of peace”. The event was attended by a number of members of the U.S. Congress, a number of whom said that they were misled. It was held at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, the use of which requires a senator’s approval. As to who gave such access, Stallings said the matter was “shrouded in mystery”.
Stallings was national co-president of the American Clergy Leadership Conference, an affiliate of Moon’s Unification Church and active in efforts to widen Moon’s influence among black clergy. He regained attention in 2006 due to his association with excommunicated Roman Catholic archbishop Emmanuel Milingo and his group Married Priests Now!. Milingo consecrated Stallings and three other independent Catholic bishops conditionally in a ceremony in September of that year. Stallings is also active in the “Middle East Peace Initiative”, which promotes conflict resolution between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims.
Ford Greene joined the Unification Church in Boonville.
He is featured in the book, Moonwebs. This was made into an award-winning movie, Ticket to Heaven
Attorney and cult expert
A conversation with Paul Morantz – presented by the University of California College of Law
“… The issue is anti-abuse. For example in a bona fide religion the number one thing is, how do we help our flock? And in a destructive cult, the number one situation is how can the flock serve the leader? …”
34:45 “Well first of all brainwashing can happen naturally; brainwashing is part of human nature, but how much totalism might exist in various groups can be a matter of degree. I call it the art of convincing someone to take on a new set of beliefs, and at the same time believe that you have taken on those beliefs voluntarily. … If you have been conned, pretty quickly you know you have been conned. If you have been conned into a new set of beliefs and you join, until you wake up and realize you have been conned, you are going to be a member forever.
… What brainwashing really is, is you have a person immersed into a population of true believers and you have him play with these people, sing songs with these people, attend lectures with these people, and less powerful, or less involved is the charismatic leader, as it is all the people telling the person, “I used to be just like you, but now I have seen the light and I am so happy and I am so wonderful,” and the person starts to think, could I become like him. And so it is basically a group persuasion.”
The whole video is 55 minutes long.