MOONWEBS – Journey into the Mind of a Cult
A gripping personal account
by Josh Freed
Award Winning Journalist
Dorset Publishing, Inc. 1980
❖ There were no photographs in the original book. All photos are additional material, as are the notes at the end of this page on the history of Sun Myung Moon and other details.
“This is a story about the new slavery, Jonestown-style, that abounds in post-Sixties America.
It is also about love and courage, the kind it takes to fly across the country and shell out a borrowed $10,000 in order to save a friend. It will make you cry. It will also make you ask questions. In the explosion of knowledge, of mind-control techniques —and the willingness to exploit them to any ends —we are all vulnerable.”
— Dawn MacDonald, Editor, City Woman Magazine
“This excellent book, by combining experience and theory, successfully adds an important dimension to the literature of cultic conversion.”
—John G. Clark, Jr., M.D., Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School.
Montreal journalist Josh Freed won Canada’s top journalism award for the first part of this story: an incredible account of a group of people and their efforts to save their friend Benji from the grasp of cult leader Sun Myung Moon. The story exposed Canadian readers to the Unification Church for the first time, and offered a frightening glimpse into the world of modern day cults— months before the Jonestown massacre had occurred.
Now, after two years of additional research and writing, Mr. Freed completes the story with MOONWEBS, a compelling real-life thriller that combines first class investigative journalism with a harrowing psychological voyage into the mind of a cult.
MOONWEBS gives a first hand description of the Moonies’ Boonville indoctrination camp, which the author himself visited; and it tells Benji Miller’s story of his own indoctrination—a powerful nightmarish account of a human mind taken apart then put back together at someone else’s direction.
It tells the thrilling, moving, sometimes funny story of a six week transcontinental odyssey to rescue a friend; a journey that culminates in a kidnap planned by more than 40 people and executed by four prominent doctors, two middle-aged parents, a Carolina mountain man, and a crew of other amateurs.
It describes the deprogramming of Benji Miller; a hair-raising eyewitness account of a virtual exorcism at the hands of the deprogrammer, the “Special Servant of Satan”.
It looks behind the mask of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and his growing political and financial empire.
Above all, MOONWEBS offers a serious, penetrating look at cult “brainwashing” techniques and their relationship to our society. It is the first book to go beyond the sensationalism that has thus far marked cult accounts, to look at what cults do to people…and how it can be undone.
About the Author
Josh Freed is a thirty-one year old journalist who has written about the people and politics of Montreal since 1970. He won a National Newspaper Award for the first part of this story, and a National Business Writing Award for an investigation of Olympic Games costs. He is currently teaching journalism and doing radio commentating on urban affairs.
Table of Contents
For my parents
This book would not have been possible without the efforts and action of countless people. Space and memory prevent me from thanking them all.
I received invaluable assistance with both the book and the original newspaper series from editor Mark Wilson, who has lived with this story almost as long as me. Cynthia Good, Larry Goldstein and the others at Dorset added lots of help, hours and patience to the brew, while Victor Dabby and Bryna Shatenstein have watched lovingly over the project and its author since its inception.
Sheila Fischman and Dawn Macdonald helped to have the book published. Sheila Arnopolous, Marc Raboy, Frieda Miller, my parents and many others suffered bravely through my early drafts. Expertise, ideas and support were provided by numerous people including John Clark, Margaret Singer, Daphne Greene, Mike Kropveld, Sheila Hodgins, Adi Gevins, Gary Scharff, Jay Jaffe and the Maxwells.
Benji was a constant, patient source of information and insight.
Above all, the book owes its existence to Benji’s family and dozens of other people in Montreal and San Francisco who took part in the events. Without their courage, dedication and generosity neither this story, nor my account of it, could have occurred.
The events recounted in this book took place in late 1977 and are factual. Part of the story was documented in a six-part newspaper series I wrote for the Montreal Star in early 1978, that brought the Unification Church into the Canadian public eye for the first time.
I decided to enlarge the account into a book because many extraordinary elements of the story remained to be told. As well, questions lingered in the minds of both the public and myself regarding the phenomenon of “brainwashing”.
The first part of this book chronicles the story told in the newspaper series, in greater depth and detail. It also includes the results of an extensive, up-to-date investigation into the financial and political empire of Rev. Sun Myung Moon.
The second part of the book looks more closely at the sudden personality transformation of Benji Miller and other Moonies, and tries to relate his experience to other forces in our society. The conclusions represent more than a year of reading, interviews and research on my part, but still only scratch the surface of this long-ignored subject.
Characters, events and conversations in the book have been re-created carefully from numerous interviews and extensive notes that I kept throughout the experience. The last name of Benji “Miller” has been changed to avoid the publicity that intruded on him and his family after the newspaper account. The name of the detective, “Mick Mazzoni”, has also been changed. All other names mentioned are real.
The book does not attempt to present “both sides” of the story, only events as they unfolded for Benji, me and others involved with us. I have interviewed numerous cult authorities and ex-members of the Unification Church—but not present members, as I did not want them to know this work was in progress. The Unification Church has used a variety of tactics against those who attempt to write about them.
Overall, this book is an attempt to come to grips with the most remarkable and thought-provoking experience of my life. I do not intend it as a call to outlaw the Unification Church or other cults; only as a small step in helping to understand such groups and the forces that create them.
Silently, the young man stood by the dark highway, watching two last stragglers make their way from the tiny roadside bar to a nearby car. As the headlights clicked on, he pressed a bouquet of flowers to his chest and approached hurriedly, forcing a smile onto his weary face.
“Hi! How’d you like to buy some beautiful, fresh roses?” he asked, thrusting the flowers toward the open window, though not so close as to make them easily visible. The man behind the wheel was drunk. He muttered a vile phrase and gunned his car out of the gravel lot, the taillights receding into surrounding blackness. The young man was left alone, holding his flowers in the quiet night.
Behind him, fields of tall grass stretched toward the horizon, shivering in the brisk wind. Motel lights blinked in the distance, and overhead a three-quarter moon was partially obscured by traces of mist. Dawn was not far away. The young man drew his thin cotton shirt to his neck, chilled not so much by the cold as by the sudden stillness.
Slowly, he became conscious of a dull pain that started in his blistered feet and extended up through his knees and thighs. Fatigue pressed down on his eyelids, making his whole body feel extremely heavy, and a wave of confusion and self-pity passed through his mind. He responded to the momentary lapse as though by instinct, forcing his body erect and his eyelids open again.
“Sleepy spirits,” he told himself, in silent warning. “Can’t let them get to me. Can’t! Mustn’t let negativity get a foothold…So much to do, so little time. Out spirits…OUT!”
To bolster himself, he focused all thought on the success of the day’s Mission. He had done well: rising with the others at seven a.m. to arrange his flowers, then stepping out into the streets of the small western town at nine, to meet the townspeople as they went to work. Throughout the long day he had raced through the streets, visiting every store in town, a great big heavenly smile stretched across his face for everyone to see. And people had understood, buying up his flowers by the dozen, bringing more than $400 over to Father.
There had been only one minor obstacle: the bouncer at the bar who had initially refused him entry. He had convinced the man easily enough by telling him that all flower profits went to ghetto children in a nearby city, an inconsequential deception in light of the urgency of his Mission: building a better world.
Now the young man became aware of another growing pain, this time in his stomach. He had eaten little during the day—a liquid fast until noon and a peanut butter and jam sandwich for supper—though he had weakened momentarily and bought a small chocolate bar for dessert. Tomorrow he would be stronger, he told himself in angry admonishment.
Looking up, he saw the lights of a car approaching through the mist, and seconds later a large blue van pulled up before him, its rear doors swinging open. He climbed aboard quickly and heaved a sigh of relief: back on the track with his brothers and sisters again!
Inside the van a familiar scene: two of his sisters were busy counting stacks of bills, stuffing them into a brimming canvas bag; a brother clipped the stems off dozens of flowers, trying to prolong their lives another day.
The group had travelled 1,000 miles in the four days since collecting their last flower shipment at the Airport.
Everyone in the van was smiling, and he joined them on the metal floor, emptying his pockets of bundles of five and ten dollar bills. He could feel the comforting shift of the gears beneath him as the van moved off toward its next destination, a hard three-hour drive; he would have to hurry if he hoped to catch some sleep before his own turn at the wheel in less than two hours.
For the next half hour he helped the others clean the van and count their day’s take—more than $2000 among the five of them. Then, without a word, everyone knelt, linked hands, and began to pray.
Eyes closed, the young man began his prayer mechanically, thanking Father for the sun and mountains and the chance he had been given to build a new life. At first his prayer came slowly, by rote—but as he continued, familiar feelings began to rush through him again.
With a growing sense of guilt, he recalled the many sins he had committed during the long day’s Mission, particularly his weakness at dinnertime in buying the chocolate bar. He had seen it lying on the counter of the grocery store and momentarily lost his resolve, buying it with Father’s very own money—money that was to have gone to the task of building the ideal world.
And as he dwelt on his sin and recalled the absolute urgency of the Mission, a violent sense of shame and anger began to flood over him. Tears welled in his eyes. At the same time, he became conscious of a growing sound—a rising drumbeat in the air around him—and he joined in instinctively with the others, beating his fists against the van’s walls, gently at first, then more and more powerfully as his remorse overcame him.
The world was so terrible and so was he. Father needed him so badly, yet he was still so weak.
He could feel his fists growing red and sore as they pounded more and more furiously at the side of the van, he could feel tears warm on his face, he could hear his own voice growing louder and louder until he was screaming at the very top of his lungs, joining in with the others, crying: “Get out, get out, get out Satan. Get out of my body, get out of my mind Satan, Satan, SATAN get OUT. GET OUT! GET OUT! OU-U-U-UUUTTTTTTTT!!!”
Outside, their muffled cries were all that could be heard for miles as the van sped across the silent plain.
The phone at my desk had been ringing for some time, though I’d been trying to ignore it. The evening was busy enough down at the newsroom without further problems: typewriters and telexes were clacking away, nervous editors were rushing about, and I had somehow got mired in an interview with a woman whose daughter had been banned from men’s hockey.
On the 14th ring I relented; whoever it was seemed determined to reach me. Reluctantly, I put the hockey mom on hold and moved to the other phone.
The caller was Janet, a good friend of mine, and her message was brief. At last she had heard from Mike, and the news was worse than anyone had expected: he wasn’t coming home either—the second friend we had lost in months, to an increasingly eerie chain of events. As Janet sketched the details of Mike’s call, my mind skipped backwards, trying to put things in some kind of perspective.
It had started four months earlier when our friend Benji, a young schoolteacher, had left for vacation on the west coast. According to plans, he had spent a week in Vancouver, then headed for California, where he had hoped to visit a cousin on some kind of “commune” near San Francisco. Benji had intended to stay only several days—but something had altered his plans.
Sporadic postcards soon began to extend Benji’s vacation, first by weeks and then indefinitely. His only phone call lasted barely a minute and explained little: he seemed remote from family and friends and vague about when, if ever, he planned to return. Instead, he rambled on in a distant tone about his cousin’s “fantastic project”—a communal farm where “honest, sincere people” and a remarkable set of “lectures” made for an “exciting new community”.
Benji’s language was unnerving and very unlike him, but he refused to elaborate by letter or phone; his last postcard said simply that if we wanted to understand the community better, we would have to visit California and “experience” it ourselves.
It was almost four months before one of our friends, Mike, was able to accept Benji’s offer. Mike was single and had two weeks off from his job at a home for disturbed children: he decided to spend it checking up on Benji. Janet drove him to the airport, where he had promised to phone her the very next day with a report on Benji. But ten days passed before Janet received her call—and the moment she answered, she knew something was wrong.
Mike’s voice had a strange flat quality, Janet said, almost as though he were reading from a script. For a few seconds she had thought it was a bad joke and forced a laugh—but then a mumbo-jumbo of words poured from the phone so uncannily like those of Benji’s original call, she could only stare at the receiver in disbelief.
“Incredible project. Fantastic people. Unbelievable revelations”. And the remarkable lectures, too complicated to explain.
“I know it’s hard for you to understand, Janet, but it can’t be described in words—you have to experience it,” Mike had blurted out with sudden feeling. “All I can say is that it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’m staying, Janet, I have to stay…and you have to trust me.”
She didn’t. Moments later she and her husband, Lenny, were dialing friends for help—including me.
All we had to go on was the name of the mysterious commune, which Benji had mentioned in an early postcard: the Creative Community Project, with headquarters in a “big house” somewhere on San Francisco’s Washington Street. I was the Montreal Star’s “authority” on fringe groups; I had investigated Silva Mind Control and several local psychics, and had recently done a feature on the chubby guru Maharaj Ji and a “Festival of Light” his organization had staged in Montreal. But I had never heard of the Creative Community Project, and none of my sources on the occult world were able to help.
That evening I called several Zen Buddhists, two well-known psychics, an expert on new religions at a local university, and a couple of Vancouver journalists I knew to be interested in communal groups—but no one knew a thing about the mysterious “project”. The files at the newspaper—usually helpful on everything from gumdrops to goblins—didn’t turn up a breadcrumb either. At two a.m. I called it a night and went home.
Next morning I scoured press clippings and began calling San Francisco,—but it wasn’t until mid-afternoon that I finally hit pay dirt. The Examiner’s cult expert, Carol Pogash, had just stepped in, and she knew who was behind the elusive project: a group called the “Moonies”.
At the time, the word struck only a faint chord in my memory. It was still months before the Guyana suicide would make cults a topic of household conversation, and whatever notoriety the Moonies had thus far earned in the U.S. had yet to cross the Canadian border. I recalled only a few vague details about a rich Korean named Moon who ran a quasi-military group of spaced-out youngsters. I had seen a picture of him in Time magazine—a zealot slashing the air with karate chops—but his group had seemed so outlandish that I hadn’t even read the entire story.
From Pogash I learned that “Moonies” was a media tag for the Unification Church, a large American cult with a “strange hold” on its young members. Pogash didn’t have time to elaborate, but she told me where to look and who to call for information. Before she hung up, she cautioned that we could probably pull Mike out if we hurried, but we had best forget about Benji. It seemed a peculiar thing to hear from an intelligent journalist—but several hours later I could understand her concern. By then I had gathered a file several inches thick on Sun Myung Moon, and if even part of it were true, Benji and Mike were in serious trouble.
▲ Hak-Ja Han, Sun Myung Moon and Won-pok Choi and two of his ‘wives’.
According to press reports, Moon was a self-appointed Messiah who combined politics, philosophy and religion in a mission to “conquer and subjugate the world”. While he lived in luxury, his young disciples led Spartan, self-sacrificing existences, forsaking everything from cigarettes and alcohol to sex. His North American following alone was said to number 30,000, many of whom were not even aware they were part of Moon’s empire.
More disturbing still, the Moonies were under attack from parents, media and ex-followers for “brainwashing” normal young people into “mental slaves”. Published reports on the organization read like science fiction.
Members were said to work up to 22 hours a day, reduced to “walking zombies” by exhaustion, protein deficiency and isolation from society. Some psychologists alleged that Moonies were “emotionally frozen,” the effects so traumatic that they had permanently dilated pupils. Women members were said to cease menstruating, men to become impotent and even stop growing facial hair.
“It’s a horrible, unimaginable process that turns people into robots,” said a middle-aged San Francisco pharmacist, named Neil Maxwell, whom we talked to by phone. His own step-daughter had spent five years in “the Church” before he had managed to extricate her, and he was convinced the group was a “menace to humanity”.
“I know you’ll have a hard time believing me, but when you meet your friends, you’ll understand. They won’t be the same people…they’ve cut the pipeline from their guts to their heads.”
Compared to the Moonies, the community our friends had left behind was, to say the least, loosely-knit. Benji and Mike had lived in an immigrant quarter around Montreal’s legendary “Main”, a hodge-podge of ramshackle three-storey dwellings and cluttered, colorful shops that house an assortment of immigrants, French Canadians and aging graduates of the Sixties.
The younger people in the district, including me, formed a community of our own, a mix of community workers, urban activists and unemployed, all somewhat attached to our tattered neighborhood. Still, we were a casual and disorganized bunch. Our only formal group activities were a weekly ball hockey game and a neighborhood food cooperative that was always forgetting to get its shopping done.
The night after Janet’s alert, about 25 people gathered at her house for an informal meeting, shaken and bewildered by the strange organization that had swallowed up our friends. Most of us had always assumed that cults were for lost souls and borderline psychotics—not apparently stable and intelligent people. No one could make sense of it, least of all me.
I had known Benji Miller for more than 15 years. He was my oldest friend: a rugged athletic fellow with a receding thatch of light red hair, a bushy beard and the even-keeled temperament of an old sea captain. Since graduating from McGill University with me eight years earlier, Benji had lived a somewhat itinerant life. He’d travelled in Europe for a year, worked with youngsters in Vancouver and Montreal, and spent a year in Africa co-ordinating a teen-age exchange program for the Canadian government.
It had been a free-wheeling lifestyle, but no one who knew him had been the least concerned. Benji was a solid, stable person with few apparent self-doubts and an inner strength that friends looked to during personal crises. A year previously he had returned to school to acquire a teaching diploma and finished near the top of his class. Teaching offers were already arriving in his mailbox when he left for his west coast vacation and his prospects for the coming year had seemed bright.
Benji just wasn’t the type to look for easy answers. To him, the cousin he had gone to visit in San Francisco had always been “a bit naive…a guy who likes to dive into spiritual stuff head over heels”.
I didn’t know Mike as well, but we had a number of friends in common. He’d spent the last four years working with mentally retarded children and adults, a job at which he excelled. He was know as a care-free, gregarious, funny guy with many friends and a steady girlfriend. Just before he’d left to see Benji, Mike had organized a successful union drive at his workplace. Both he and Benji had always been down-to-earth people; neither seemed the type even to visit, let alone get snared by, a messianic religious cult.
The evening’s meeting was a sombre affair for a lively group accustomed to gathering only for parties. As we sprawled about the lumpy chairs and fraying carpet of the old flat, people drifted in continuously, as though to an emergency clinic.
“Community organizer, junior college professor, doctor, legal aid lawyer, unemployed,” I scribbled into the first of many notebooks I would fill in the weeks that followed, recording the saga toward its uncertain end. “Average age-28-29. Average income—$12,000. Dress—corduroy pants, jean skirts and baggy sweaters.”
People had come to the meeting out of an instinctive concern, though few had much idea of what they faced. The nervous chatter at the start of the evening ended abruptly as we handed out the literature we had collected on Moon. The most disturbing information for most people was the secrecy of the Moon organization: it seemed likely the Unification Church employed numerous aliases that might have been used to deceive our friends.
No other explanation for their involvement really seemed possible, considering Benji and Mike’s long-time political and social values. Both were left-leaning humanists with liberal views on both political and social issues, while Moon seemed precisely the opposite. We had obtained a copy of a speech made by Moon during Watergate, in which he had defended Richard Nixon as an “archangel”. The speech reflected well the mystical, right-wing tone of Moon’s overall politics, while his stance on social issues—such as sex—was almost unimaginable.
“If someone comes and tries to kiss you, bite off his tongue,” Moon said in one address to his female followers. “You will be very famous…If a man is killed by biting, then at once the Unification Church will be famous all over the world. Afterwards, no man will attack a sister of the Unification Church.”
Moon even seemed to be anti-semitic, though Benji and Mike were both Jewish.
“By killing one man, Jesus, the Jewish people had to suffer for 2,000 years…During the Second World War, six million people were slaughtered to clean all the sins of the Jewish people from the time of Jesus.”
It was unthinkable that Mike or Benji could be aware of Moon’s doctrines, if they knew of Moon at all: his tenets flew in the face of everything they had always stood for. If they were to read some of Moon’s literature, surely both Montrealers would pack their bags and run.
We did not seriously discuss the possibility that our friends had somehow been “brainwashed”. The idea seemed too fantastic to merit open discussion. In all likelihood they had simply been duped into staying, caught up in some kind of communal group experience with little idea of who or what was behind it.
We didn’t really know what we could do to help, but all of us were agreed on one course of action: we would send someone to talk with Mike and Benji and warn them of what we knew about the Moon organization. This time however, we weren’t going to chance another “experience” like Mike’s. Something powerful was obviously at work, so we would send a delegation of people to make sure that everyone we sent came back. The choice was myself, Janet’s husband Lenny, and Marilyn, a long-time friend of Benji’s. As Janet put it:
“If it’s good enough to get all of you…write me a letter, because I’m coming too.”
We needed money to finance the trip, and the obvious source was Benji’s parents. They had been calling Janet ever since Mike had left for San Francisco, anxious for news of their missing son. But no one wanted to alarm them yet—the situation might be overblown and easily solved. We decided to keep our secret a while longer.
We took up a collection among ourselves, and were all surprised when it totalled some $5,000 in checks and pledges. At 1:30 a.m. the meeting dissolved and we wandered outside into the cool air, where we stood around in small groups exchanging some nervous soul-searching. How well did we really know our two missing friends…what had we missed? Was Benji discontent with the prospect of teaching? Was he anxious about looking for a new job? He wasn’t the sort of person to complain about his problems…but maybe some of us should have asked. And what about Mike? Was there something troubling him that none of us had seen?
Most of our questions came to dead ends. Sure Benji and Mike had their share of problems—but fewer than most people we knew, including many of us.
Over the next two days our plans progressed quickly as we booked flight, hotel and car for San Francisco. At the same time, we bolstered our growing arsenal of information on the Unification Church—and the more we learned, the worse we felt. More and more people we talked to warned us that we faced an uphill battle; many told us of alarming personality changes in friends and relatives, some of whom had been sent “underground”—never seen or heard from—for as long as two years. Whatever it was the Moonies did to people seemed to have a powerful and lasting effect.
We also learned of a method of pulling members out of the organization, carried out by specialists referred to as “deprogrammers”. But we didn’t know who these deprogrammers were, what they did or whether they were any better than the Moonies themselves. Apprehensive, we decided to keep doing things our own way and pushed ahead with our preparations.
The day before we were scheduled to leave, our plans took an unexpected turn when Janet received another late-night phone call from Mike. In a dry, business-like manner, he told Janet that he was returning home for exactly 48 hours to quit work and settle his affairs. Then he was returning to the Creative Community Project “for good”.
“People here say I shouldn’t go back to Canada, even for a visit. They say my foundation isn’t good enough,” he added suddenly in a quavering voice. “But I’m coming anyways. Pick me up!”
The following day, we burned up the phone lines to half a dozen cities, trying to prepare ourselves for Mike’s return. We spoke to ex-members, parents of current members and people who worked for “anti-cult” groups across the U.S. Person after person warned us that they never heard of friends or family successfully talking someone out of a cult like the Moonies. All insisted that there was only one way: deprogramming.
The word alone gave me chills, conjuring up pictures of electrodes and frontal lobotomies. The telephone voices assured us that it was just “a simple talk session”, but none of us was prepared to bring in strangers. And though everyone we spoke with was convinced that Benji would require a formal “deprogramming”, some were optimistic about Mike.
“Mike’s indoctrination might still be weak…Maybe you can do it yourself,” said the encouraging voice of the San Francisco pharmacist, Neil Maxwell. “A combination of love and good old common sense might just break their hold on him. Give him love and care…and no matter what happens, don’t give up.”
We decided to give it a try. Janet, Lenny and a third friend, a psychology teacher, agreed to form the “talk team”, while others in the neighborhood would stand by in case support was needed. Maxwell had warned us that Moonies often travel with “shadows”—fellow Moonies who accompany them at all times—so we formed a squad to deal with one if he arrived. We nicknamed it the “souvlaki squad”, after a Greek dish sold in the community. Its assignment: “take the shadow out for a souvlaki, whether he wants one or not.”
That night Janet and Lenny lay awake in bed with their two-year old son and mulled over Maxwell’s final warning: “When you see your friend, don’t be shocked if he doesn’t look like the same person. He probably won’t be the Mike you knew.”
When the three-person “talk team” met Mike at the airport next day, they were immediately jarred. Physically, he was himself, apart from a gaze that seemed to focus on a point ten feet beyond them. Emotionally however, he was squeezed dry of much of his normal personality, almost as though he had vacated his mind and someone else had moved in. Usually gregarious, Mike showed none of his characteristic vitality and humor; he spoke in a toneless, aloof manner and had apparently altered many of his former beliefs.
During the drive home, the longtime agnostic railed at his friends with a one-hour lecture about Satan, Messiahs and evil serpents. He was certain that “evil forces” ruled the earth, including his friends, while “good” existed only at the Creative Community Project.
“I hope you understand,” he said flatly in a near-alien vocabulary and a calm, reasoned voice, “I’ve been given a chance to help save the world…to redeem myself from evil.”
When they arrived home, Lenny went straight to the study and produced the stack of material we had collected on Moon, dropping it wordlessly before Mike with a thud. But Mike’s face remained impassive.
“Newspapers,” he smiled knowingly. “I know about them. They don’t know what they’re talking about…they’ve only got part of the whole picture.”
“But Mike, you’ve been reading them for years—” began Lenny.
“I’m sorry—you can’t possibly understand,” Mike broke in, with an air of detachment. “You haven’t been there…you have to experience it to understand.”
The next ten hours were the most frustrating of their lives. Mike apparently didn’t know he was in the Unification Church, although he said the organization had come up in one of the last lectures as having some “affiliation” with the Creative Community Project. But it hardly mattered. Mike wouldn’t listen to the first word anyone had to say and he believed them even less: he refused to so much as glance at the information we had gathered.
For hours his friends talked, shouted and cried at him, but they might as well have been speaking a foreign language. Mike was without emotion and impenetrable, practically catatonic but for the stream of repetitious garble about “evil forces” that flowed from his mouth like a tape recording.
“Mike’s still in there someplace…he’s got to be,” Janet repeated to herself all night, wanting to believe it. But at three a.m. when she phoned people in the waiting community with a progress report, all she could say was: “God…I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to get him out.”
At breakfast the debate continued, as a glimmer of expression began to crack the armor in Mike’s voice offering some hope to his wearying opponents. But then he decided to break off for the afternoon and trotted outside. As they anxiously watched Mike disappear down the stairs, all were tempted to call in the souvlaki squad and restrain him, but they decided he was free to make his own choice. The day was long and nerve-wracking.
At suppertime Mike was back, ambling into the house in more casual fashion and astonishing them with word that he “might” stay longer than the ordained two days. Then he dug into a plate of spareribs, eating with gusto for the first time since his return. By the end of the meal he had agreed to talk with an ex-Moonie in New York, a woman who had spent more than five years in Moon’s organization.
That phone call was the turning point. Over the telephone, the woman quickly convinced Mike that the Creative Community Project was part of Moon’s empire. Her tales of deception and greed, bolstered by first-hand experience, seemed to jolt Mike’s mind out of a deep freeze.
The phone call lasted only an hour, but everyone listening nearby could sense the whole idea turning around in Mike’s head like a large tanker slowly changing directions at sea.
“No…no…I don’t think I’ll be going back,” he said unexpectedly at the end of the call, as the others restrained cheers of relief. “It looks like I’ve got a lot of thinking to do.”
In the days that followed Mike steadily returned to his usual self, as though returning from a dream world. His story came out in dribs and drabs.
He had stayed in a camp in the country called Boonville, and knew nothing of Moon or the Unification Church, only an independent group called the Creative Community Project. The camp had been the most intense experience of his life, “crazy, but sincere.” Wild enthusiasm. Hundreds of “genuine” people. Strange, stimulating lectures. No time or space to be alone.
“I started out critically…a lot of things bothered me. At first they called me ‘Mr. Negativity’…but then I seemed to lose perspective. Everything seemed so real…so spontaneous…so honest.
“My own changes worried me…I kept meaning to leave, get time to think—but somehow they always convinced me to stay ‘one more day’. They’re very persuasive people.”
Close relationships developed quickly through intense personal conversations: days were emotionally draining and mentally exhausting. By the third day he felt like “an emotional tennis ball…so many ideas and questions…my mind was swimming I thought it would burst.”
On the morning of his fourth day in Boonville, Mike had woken up to perceive things with a “new clarity”. “My doubts were fading—somehow seemed very unimportant against the grand scheme of the Project. My family had friends seemed so far away…”
It was obvious he should stay in Boonville, and became more and more obvious each day—even though an urge to return home one last time gnawed inside him.
“I was told to forget you guys, forget everything I’d done. I almost did…but somehow I had to come back and explain. I’m just stubborn, I guess…and awfully lucky.”
Three days later Mike began to feel an anger that would continue to grow:
“Looking back I can’t believe what I let them get away with,” he told us, “They lied to me in so many ways, but more strangely…I can’t figure out why I bought the lies, why I didn’t ask questions the way I usually do. Something came over me, destroyed my critical thinking. I just wasn’t my normal self at all.
“I think I was brainwashed—that’s all I can call it—and Benji’s in a lot deeper than I ever was. If we don’t get him out of there soon…we’re never going to see him again.”
From the air, San Francisco seemed to twinkle at us like the jewels of a glamorous but deadly woman. Then our plane dipped and plunged toward the glimmering water below, coasting to a landing on a runway that jutted out like a giant pier into the sea.
I had convinced my newspaper editor to grant me a week to investigate Benji’s situation. Lenny could not make the trip, but I was accompanied by Marilyn, a lanky, energetic woman who was close to Benji, having lived next door to him for the year before he left. The two had become good friends, just kindling a romance at the time Benji left on holiday. We hoped he would be happy to see us again, regardless of his relationship with the Project.
Mike had given us a telephone number for Benji’s house on Washington Street, and we called from an airport phone booth. A sweet, female voice answered on the first ring, chirping “Creative Community Project”; she said Benji was out, but promised he would call our hotel room the moment he returned.
Soon, Marilyn and I were riding across the sprawling five miles of Bay Bridge into Berkeley, the area that would be home and headquarters for days to come. Known to many as Berzerkly, the legendary college town struck us as a jumble of “gourmet ice cream” parlours, hot bagel shops and outdoor hashpipe stands, populated by a sidewalk parade of eccentric characters and motorized wheelchairs.
But the hottest item for sale was undoubtedly salvation, as dozens of sidewalk spiritualists vied for our souls: Krishnites, bible-belters, foretellers of doom and gloom, and members of a variety of centers for “being”, “learning” and “loving”; even Otis, our middle-aged black cabbie, had to hurry home so he and his wife could catch their weekly EST session.
The most striking guru we met was the “Prophet of Hate”—an emaciated fellow with a bathing cap and a thin swatch of black material draped over his otherwise naked body—who balanced on one foot in the center of a water fountain.
“I hate you all…every one of you!!” he shouted to passersby from his odd pedestal, while a nearby guitarist played classical jazz in the background. “I used to love everyone…but it didn’t work…so now I hate instead. I hate you!…I HATE you all!!”
Several hours after our arrival, Marilyn and I checked into a room in a small Berkeley Hotel. We showered, and were just unpacking our bags, when we received a brief phone call from Benji. He sounded wary, and surprised to hear from us, but he was apparently pleased that we were in town. He said he could not speak to us then, as he was rushed and calling from a pay phone; nor could he see us that evening. But he promised to spend the following day giving us a tour of San Francisco—then cut the conversation short to rush to a “meeting”.
We spent our free evening with Neil Maxwell, the pharmacist who had been so helpful over the phone in advising us on Mike. The man proved equally amiable in the flesh: a portly, middle-aged fellow with a piece symbol on his belt and a chipmunk smile flashing between craggy features and a greying beard. He and his soft-spoken wife, Anne, lived in a cluttered bungalow in Berkeley that was a virtual way-station for those battling Moon; throughout our visit ex-Moonies came and went, and the phone rang regularly with appeals from parents of youngsters still in the cult.
The Maxwells spent several hours a day offering parents advice on Moon’s organization and the psychological impact it had upon its members. In return for their help, they asked for little—a $25 contribution for the “cause”, and even that was strictly voluntary. Yet their generosity was not difficult to understand, once we had heard their story.
The couple had seen their own daughter fall under Moon’s spell for almost five years, gradually losing contact with her entirely, until they had made the most difficult decision of their lives and dragged her out to be deprogrammed. They had never regretted the choice. For five days, the young woman had lain on their living room floor in the fetal position, rocking back and forth and refusing to speak or even open her eyes. Her parents had to carry her to the toilet. When their daughter finally agreed to discuss her involvement with Moon, a deprogrammer needed only two days to convince her to abandon the organization forever. More than two years had passed since the young woman had made her decision to leave; now she was happily settled in New York, completing graduate studies.
“The Moonies are very selective about the kids they take,” Maxwell explained to us, during a busy evening on the telephone. “They want them bright and well-educated, yet sensitive to outside pressure and logic. It’s best when they’re in periods of transition—from jobs, school or relationships. Everyone is in transition sometimes…and that’s when the Moonies like to strike.”
Maxwell had never been to the Boonville camp himself, but he was convinced it was a frightening “mind trap” that robbed bright, responsive young people of their entire emotional spectrum. Somehow, he explained, it locked people into a mental state that allowed “no personality development as long as they stay in…just like a deep freeze.”
Only one piece of information cheered our spirits: according to Maxwell, the deep freeze worked both ways. “If your friend was pretty much together when he went in, he’ll be pretty much together when he comes out. Don’t worry,” he added gently at the evening’s end. “See Benji a few times…build his trust in you as friends. Sooner or later you’ll get through to him.”
The advice was comforting, so we returned to our hotel room about two a.m. to get some sleep. But several hours later, an early morning phone call interrupted both our sleep and our plans.
“Something’s come up,” said a slow voice on the other end of the line, in a tone so bloodless I shivered. It was Benji. Before I could say a word in reply, I heard him recite the address of a restaurant, and instruct me to be there in half an hour. Then he hung up.
Soon afterwards, Marilyn and I were sitting in a tiny San Francisco coffee shop, staring at orange vinyl booths and a doughty waitress who demanded our order. We forced our way through several coffees and a string of donuts to keep the table, increasingly uncertain whether our friend would be there. It was more than an hour after our arrival when he finally appeared—though the pallid, expressionless figure that walked through the door bore almost no resemblance to the person we had known.
Benji’s beard had been shaved, his hair was closely cropped and his robust body had turned pale and emaciated; he appeared to have lost about 30 pounds. Yet far more disturbing was the look on his face, for his eyes had a flat and lifeless quality, and the smile that clung limply to his lips bore no apparent connection to the person beneath. His overall expression was so blank that he could have been lobotomized—and as I glanced at Marilyn, I could see she was as astounded as me.
Yet both of us had to suppress our shock, for Benji had not come alone. Three other people arrived with him—two of them holding his hands—and before we could say a word, they plumped down to join us at the tiny restaurant table. All, we soon discovered, were members of the Creative Community Project; and they identified themselves as Benji’s new “family”.
The most talkative of the three was Bethie, an effervescent yet earthy young woman of 28, who had black hair tied back in a pony tail and a radiant, piercing smile. “You look like a lot of my friends,” she told me almost immediately, staring warmly into my eyes. “I have the feeling that I’ve known you for a long time.”
Flanking Benji’s other side was Matthew, an earnest looking fellow with short blond hair and a drab 1960s sports jacket; he told us that he had been a forest ranger, before joining the “family” some five years earlier. At the far edge of the table sat Kristina, a silent but striking brunette in her late thirties who was introduced as a psychologist. She was a stern-looking matron, with intelligent eyes that scrutinized us closely, and she doled out regular smiles like a doctor offering medication. Throughout the meal, other family members also drifted in and out of the restaurant, stopping by to say hello.
Everyone we met seemed intelligent and likeable, though their conversation was always related to the goals and achievements of the Creative Community Project. Farms, houses, shops and clinics: they rattled off enough holdings to impress a banker. The group even had plans to build a free school, and “possibly” a university. Their “project” seemed to be a mix between a sixties-style commune and a modern land-development corporation; and it would have made for compelling discussion, if not for one increasingly alarming aspect.
Throughout the conversation, Benji took no part whatever, gazing silently across the room as though he were in some kind of trance. The warmth, wit and camaraderie I had known for 15 years were completely absent, and his hands were held almost continuously by at least one family member. He did not ask a single question about family or longtime friends, and when I brought them up, he didn’t seem remotely interested; all he would repeat were occasional wooden phrases like: “It’s—really great to see you. It—really—is.”
Bethie salted his eggs, put sugar in his coffee and even cut his food for him; if I asked him a question, she would answer it herself with a disarming smile as Benji stared off into space. Despite the stories we had heard, Marilyn and I could not believe our eyes. Frozen between utter disbelief and fear of giving ourselves away, we struggled simply to make eye contact with our distant friend.
A half hour into the encounter, Kristina smiled, then left, pausing outside to sketch a mysterious circle on the window for Bethie to see. Minutes later, Bethie interrupted the meeting to inform us that Benji would have to leave on a “family project”, and might be gone for several days. He nodded passively in assent.
“What project?” I asked him point-blank, stunned to realize that we might not see him again. We had hardly exchanged fifty words.
“Well…I’m not sure exactly…we have lots of projects everywhere,” he replied in a detached monotone, gazing slightly by me. “Maybe I’ll see you before you leave.”
Both Marilyn and I pressed him to spend more time with us; we would be in town for only one week, and who knew when we might see him again? It was an emotional appeal, and for a moment, Benji seemed to respond with warmth, looking directly at Marilyn for the first time since he had arrived. But Matthew whispered something in his ear, and his eyes became remote again.
“What I have to do is very important,” droned Benji. “More important than what I feel like doing. You’ll have to understand.”
Suddenly, Bethie announced that it was time to leave, and Benji instantly began to rise. As he did so, Marilyn broke in, visibly distraught: “Benji…we came 4000 miles especially to see you. You can’t just leave. What do you have to do thats so important, it can’t wait for a few more hours…what’s going on here?… Who are these people?”
Again our friend seemed to waver, his eyes searching Marilyn’s face as though trying to place someone he had not seen in years; but Bethie whispered something to Matthew, who quickly opened the restaurant door. Then she touched Benji’s arm lightly.
“Come on Benji, we gotta go,” Bethie smiled; and from the immediate shift in Benji’s expression, there was little doubt that our meeting was over.
“You’ll have to understand,” Benji droned again. “I’m sorry…I have a community responsibility. I have to go.”
Bethie and Matthew each took one of his arms and escorted him outside like an old man, leaving Marilyn and me speechless in the restaurant doorway. The whole encounter seemed impossible, unfathomable; I had known Benji for years, but this just wasn’t him. Some kind of overwhelming guilt or obligation seemed to be fencing him in like a cage—but what was it? And how had they gained such horrifying control?
Through the window, we could see the three of them piling into a waiting Volkswagen and we rushed out onto the busy sidewalk toward the car’s open window. Benji’s room would be empty while he was gone, I pointed out as I heard the car engine start; could I stay there until he returned?
Benji had never turned down a stranger, let alone a good friend, in his life—but now he could only look helplessly toward Bethie to see what he should do. She smiled, and recommended the Salvation Army around the block “for only five dollars”. Then she leaned out the car window, smiled cheerfully at me, and added:
“Come to the house on Washington Street for supper tonight. I’m expecting you.” As she spoke, their car pulled abruptly from the curb.
Two hours later, Marilyn and I knocked nervously at the door of a well-known San Francisco deprogrammer. We had phoned Neil Maxwell for help, and as a last resort, he had recommended we seek more qualified aid. We took his advice; although we still had no intention of “deprogramming” Benji, we badly needed clues to his new mentality if we were ever going to get through to him ourselves.
The deprogrammer was a swarthy Malaysian named Tony Gillard. He was tall and heavy, about 30 years old, with a handlebar moustache and a sinister appearance that contrasted oddly with soft, gentle manners. He was very sympathetic.
“Your friend is under a very sophisticated form of psychological control…made to feel guilty about everything in him that’s human,” he explained. “He’s been told that you’re evil, and he has to resist you. The more he feels attracted to you, the weaker he thinks he is. His whole world is ass-backward.
“I can’t explain it fully…but it all happens at Boonville,” he added, perceiving our confusion. “That’s where you really get messed up. Take my word for it, I used to be a Moonie too.”
Briefly, Tony told us his story. It was the first of many we would hear in San Francisco, and all would have a similar theme.
Before he met the Moonies, Tony had run a small but profitable cab company and owned an expensive condominium apartment. He had sold both and turned the money over to the Unification Church, upon joining the group.
His harrowing year in the Project was a dazed, surreal journey in which he was convinced to sacrifice food, sleep and health for Moon and his “Church”.
“I worked twenty hours a day, travelling from city to city raising money for Moon…eating the odd sandwich and getting weaker and sicker every day,” he recalled. He developed a skin rash that is common to many Moonies, but his superiors instructed him to ignore it, and infection set in. “It turned green with gangrene…but they told me it was the devil, and I believed them. I’d have believed anything they said in my state of mind.”
As the infection spread through his leg, Tony said, he became delirious, terrified of dying on one hand and breaking faith on the other. His sanity drifted away, and he tried to kill himself with an overdose of drugs—winding up instead in hospital, where he remained for several months. That was how the horrible voyage had ended two years previously; now, fully recovered, he was studying for an MA in psychology and working to deprogram others from the Church.
“Cool it,” he told us, after hearing the account of our breakfast with Benji. “Kristina and Bethie are very important people in the California Church…that means Benji must mean a lot to them. He’s probably being groomed as leadership material.”
Tony seemed sure that Benji was somewhere in the area, and he advised that we do our best to wait him out. In the meantime, he gave us more reading material on Moon, and cautioned us to stay on good terms with the rest of the Moonies until we managed to see Benji alone.
“Go to supper at the Moonies’ house, act friendly, and maybe they’ll bring him out of the closet in the hope of sucking you in too. Then you pull out your information, and spring the bear trap.”
The Creative Community Project’s house on Washington Street, in downtown San Francisco, was a four-storey manor housing 19 people in a labyrinth of rooms. I left my shoes at the door in a pile of hundreds and signed in with a smiling girl at the door.
“Hi…I’m Janice!” chirped a bouncy young woman as she grabbed my hand and hauled me into a vast dining room with little furniture. Almost 100 people were strewn about the floor, talking enthusiastically and munching on a murky carrot and cabbage stew; it lived up to Tony Gillard’s description of “something that looks like it came from the butt of a donkey.”
Most people there were “family” members, but a number were “recruits” like me. They had been picked up casually at the bus or train stations by members of the opposite sex, then invited to dinner for a look at an “interesting” project. Several carried suitcases or knapsacks.
Family members were clean-cut and neatly dressed, exuding a warmth that seemed sincere and open. Women were almost uniformly stocky, cheerful and energetic, with names like Muffy, Debby, and Poppy; the men subdued and strangely humorless, often bearing biblical names like Noah and Jeremiah. Some members seemed dazed, with dull eyes and a flat smile, particularly more recent members; those who did the talking however, were gregarious, articulate and likeable.
“Benji’s such a great guy,” I heard time and again. “You must be a real good guy too.” But no one seemed to be able to tell me where he was or when he would return.
Enthusiastic members recited the usual litany of “projects” they were involved in, ranging from farms and clinics to a carpet-cleaning business. “All that in just seven years …and we’ve got so much more planned for the future,” beamed Janice, giving my captive hand a gentle squeeze. “And wait till you see our farm! ”
Recruits were confined to the first floor of the house, though I prowled up the back stairs to see dozens of sleeping bags crammed into floorspace on the upper levels. The downstairs public portions of the house were spacious and well-equipped, including kitchen facilities suitable for a medium-size restaurant.
Dinner was followed by songs, music and pantomime skits. It was a funky, enjoyable show and ended with the whole crowd clapping hands and shouting a kind of self-mocking “Ya-a-ayyyy!”
Into the center of this cheer strode our matronly breakfast companion, Kristina, looking radiant and far more affable than earlier in the day. As she passed, my supper partner Janice reached out, closed her eyes and hugged Kristina’s leg, murmuring: “Oh Kristina! It’s so wonderful to see you again!” Kristina returned a perfunctory smile, mussed Janice’s hair and moved to the front of the room—where rows of chairs had been set up for the evening “lecture”. Silence immediately gripped the room, and Kristina began to speak.
“Most people have convinced themselves that the best they can do in life is to make sure they’re not too unhappy,” she explained. “Pretty soon, they start to believe that that’s what happiness really is…just not being unhappy.
“It’s called learning to compromise—the don’t-bug-me-man, I’m-happy-being-unhappy mentality.”
Kristina’s lecture mixed history, science and philosophy with a steady dose of psychology; ideas wheeled by so fast I could hardly recall them. One moment Kristina had a rose in her hand, casually yet humorously listing its intricate parts by their Latin names; the next, she was telling us a jived-up version of the Project’s favorite parable, the wise men and the elephant, to drive home the point that to “understand life, you’ve got to have the whole picture…not just a part of it.”
The lecture was silly but engaging. Kristina was remarkably persuasive, and she bounded around imitating everything from a rock to a hungry elephant, giving a spontaneous cover to what struck me as a carefully honed and polished lecture. I was sorry when the performance ended an hour later coming to an engaging close with a deliberately corny parable:
“Stephen comes home hungry, clutching his stomach, dr-a-gs himself into the kitchen…and there…is the roast beef. There are precisely three things he can do—
“First…he can eat-all-the-roast-beef-himself (she pantomimes stuffing a roast hurriedly down her throat).
“Second…he can cut a slab, and leave the rest for everyone else. Or third…he can make a huge, fantastic sandwich for everyone…the whole world…with (as she builds the invisible sandwich, layer by layer) ham, cheese, bananas, raspberries, avocados, jelly, chocolate cake, and…a cherry on the top. A FORTY FOOT SANDWICH…held together ingeniously…by the mayonnaise on the bottom of each slice.
“Because (voice rising) Stephen is conscientious of not only himself…but others around him. He wants to share. And that’s our philosophy here at the CCP. We want to share —not just with our friends, that’s not good enough— but with the whole world. And if you don’t believe me… look around you at what we’ve done, then come out to Boonville for a visit to our model community.
“Even the cows look happy there…it’s the greatest place on earth!”
Seconds later we were watching a slide show of Boonville Training Camp, where Mike had received his indoctrination. It looked lovely: a 650-acre retreat with grassy fields, quiet creeks, woods, sports, wholesome guys and pretty girls—an ideal vacation site for a traveller on his or her first trip to California.
As well, the farm offered a two-day “seminar” and a chance to see their “model community” at work. The cost was $18 for room and board; in exchange, we were promised the “most remarkable two days” of our lives. Moon and the Unification Church were never mentioned during the entire evening—only the Creative Community Project.
Buses were leaving for Boonville soon after, and Janice squeezed my hand and encouraged me to come, “for me”. I didn’t, as I was determined to stay in San Francisco until Benji reappeared—but some 30 family members and 8 recruits prepared to leave for the camp soon afterwards. Many of the recruits were students and vacationing young people from other countries, caught up by the unusual activities of the evening and looking for a stay in the country. Others, like Benji and Mike before them, had come to the house to visit friends in the family, and were going up to Boonville to see what their buddies were doing.
Coffee was served, and soon Bethie and a serious fellow named Bruce were applying the screws for me to go to Boonville as well. The seminar was “just beginning”; it was the “perfect time”, Bruce urged gently. “It’s good to go while you’re in the mood…it’s been our experience that later, people get lazy. What else do you really have to do?”
My dinner mate, Janice, went slightly overboard with her spiel, singing me a few bars of:
“We love you Jo-o-osh, Oh yes we do-ooo.
We don’t love anyone, as much as you-ooo.”
But she quickly wilted under an icy stare from Bethie, who seemed to know that such cornball antics were not the way to entice me to Boonville. Instead, Bethie took a more tactful approach; she suggested that if I were to go up to Boonville—“Who knows”—Benji “might” show up too.
I resisted her bait. I was determined to stay in San Francisco until Benji appeared rather than see him in Boonville surrounded by dozens of other Moonies. And underlying this reason for refusing the invitation was another: I was apprehensive about the effect the Boonville camp might have on me.
As I left Washington Street house a few minutes later, a full moon peered through the clouds like a watchful eye. It was the first full moon of late September, the Harvest Moon. In its light, other recruits from the house were already boarding a bus marked “Elephant Express”, their arms linked with Project members of the opposite sex.
Everyone looked as if they were heading for a fun weekend in the country, and I could see why. To the unsuspicious eye, the night’s performance might have seemed spontaneous, unusual and even enticing. I was thankful I had known of the Creative Community Project and its activities before I arrived.
Marilyn and I remained in San Francisco for two weeks, growing more frustrated each day. We called the family every day, but came no closer to seeing Benji; according to Bethie, he was “impossible to reach”; he would probably be back “in a matter of days” but there was “no way” of knowing for sure. In the meantime, she said, why didn’t we come and spend some time at Boonville?
Nor were we alone in our trials. We learned that eight sets of parents were also in town, trying to make contact with Moon-struck kids. Some were from Canada and the eastern U.S., others from as far away as Britain and Australia; yet all had stories that were carbon copies of our own. They were seeking, bright, well-educated and “normal” youngsters who had virtually cut off communications since visiting Boonville.
There was even a Canadian Cabinet Minister in town, attempting to retrieve his former executive assistant from the Moonies. The man was Norm Cafik, then Minister of State (Multiculturalism), and he was looking for a 21-year old whiz kid whom he described as “one of the brightest and most capable young people around Ottawa, a super guy, whom everybody liked and respected.”
The youngster had been on vacation from law school when he had been swallowed up by the California Project; and though the Minister had spent several months preparing himself for his “rescue trip” west, he had found his one encounter with his aide “the most traumatic experience of my life.”
“He wasn’t the person I had known,” a distraught Cafik told me in a phone conversation. “He was just a shell of his former self. I thought I could reach his intellect—but from what I could see the group treats intellect as the next thing to a criminal offence.”
Legally, there was not much that the Minister, or any of us could do. A recent California Court judgement involving the Moonies had ruled, on grounds of religious freedom, that parents had no right to intervene. If an adult did not wish to see his family again, there was nothing a parent could legally do.
Frustrated, many parents had turned to Neil Maxwell and others like him—a loose-knit coalition of people trying to battle Rev. Moon. We met several of them during our stay in California, a varied lot that included Maxwell, Tony Gillard and a young Protestant minister who had sensed “evil …smothering you like a blanket” the one time he visited the Moonie house.
Another opponent of the Moonies took a direct approach. He was a college student who had lost a close friend to the group several months earlier; now he frequently picketed Washington House with a sign warning: “GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER? THE POWERFUL SUN MYUNG MOON AND HIS CORPORATE EMPIRE.” It was an effective tactic scaring off many newcomers who did not know of the link between Moon and the Project—so effective that the Moonies re-scheduled their dinners to avoid the young man’s visits.
Without doubt the most dazzling opponent of Moon was Daphne Greene, a middle-aged housewife who was the virtual motor of California’s anti-Moon forces. A tall, articulate and commanding woman, she had lost two children to Moon in six months, prompting her to leave a post at the University of California to study Moon and his empire full-time.
Since that time, she had amassed a sea of data on Moon’s organization. In her spacious mountaintop home on the outskirts of San Francisco, filing cabinets brimmed and cupboards overflowed with information on Moon’s immense holdings; even the walls of her home were covered in winding flow charts of Moon’s maze of corporate ties. We learned from Mrs. Greene that the U.S. government had also launched an investigation into Moon’s murky political network. The investigating committee was headed by Rep. Donald Fraser, and a report was due in several months. But for Daphne Greene, the verdict was already in.
“Moon’s businesses change names and locations faster than a floating crap game,” she maintained. “It’s not a church, it’s a business operation, and the kids are just slaves who make it work.”
Mrs. Greene and the others offered information, guidance and sympathy to worried parents, but in the final analysis, there was little they could do to get unwilling children out of the cult. For some parents, this was simply not enough, and they took the law into their own hands. We heard dozens of stories about parents who had kidnapped their own children, in pandemonic scenes that resembled movie scenarios. One family had apparently driven into Boonville, grabbed their daughter and sped off toward the Canadian border, with a carload of Moonies close behind. An elderly mother had wrestled her teen-age son to the floor and poured out her feelings until he agreed to talk; and some parents had rented ex-marines, private police and even helicopters to stage dramatic rescues that led to days of forced deprogramming.
Many of these were amateur efforts with little assistance, others were slick affairs run by seasoned pros. Some deprogrammers ran a virtual business, charging thousands of dollars to kidnap and deprogram Moon-struck kids. The most well-known of these was a former boxer named Ted Patrick, who had grabbed and deprogrammed some 1500 youngsters from dozens of cults, and had already spent time in jail for kidnapping.
We met a young assistant of Patrick who was in town on a “Moonie case”. He carried an attache case full of plastic handcuffs and was well armed with mace. He spoke of “smacking ’em around to make ’em listen”, and offered us his services for a hefty fee.
Marilyn and I were repelled by this young man and his methods, but it was not hard to see why many parents might go along; the alternative seemed far worse. The two of us spent two weeks in San Francisco and exhausted a dozen strategies trying to see Benji; none had the slightest effect.
Local police wished us good luck, but were powerless to help. They said several other Moonies had disappeared in identical fashion, but the law gave them no right to intervene. U.S. immigration officials were equally sympathetic and equally ineffective: true, Benji was residing in the U.S. illegally, but it might take years to deport him—if we could locate him.
And the Canadian Consulate had nothing to add. “Our hands are tied,” was the official position, though one young consular official took us aside and told us: “If I were you, I’d buy wire cutters and binoculars, sneak into Boonville, grab your friend and head for Canada.”
As we entered our second week in San Francisco, we concocted even more elaborate schemes to see our friend. We distributed Benji’s photograph to San Francisco buddies and set up stake-outs outside several Moon homes; we sent mock recruits to dinner at Washington house to snoop around for signs of Benji. We even schemed with a sympathetic local doctor to have Marilyn hospitalized, in hopes that her feigned illness might draw Benji out. Nothing worked.
On our 13th day in town, Marilyn made a last desperate attempt. She stormed dramatically into Washington house and told several Moonies that she had stored Benji’s belongings at her home in Montreal—including an expensive stereo system. It was taking up much-needed space, she complained, and she had to consult Benji before she left San Francisco the following morning.
“If he can’t be bothered to at least make a phone call …then I’m tossing everything off the balcony,” she announced to the startled Moonies, then stomped out the door in a huff. It was our final gambit, and she hurried back to our hotel room to see if Benji would bite.
An hour later, the phone rang—but instead of Benji, it was Lenny in Montreal. Benji’s mother had just phoned him in confusion, to say her son had called her: something about picking up some of his belongings from Marilyn’s house. Did Lenny know where she could find Marilyn, or a key to her apartment?
We were stunned. The Moonies seemed to have all the bases covered; it had taken less than an hour for the supposedly incommunicado Benji to learn of Marilyn’s threat, then call his mother so she could call Lenny and Lenny call us. It was painfully clear that the “family” was going to keep Benji underground as long as we remained in San Francisco; and equally clear that we had reached a dead end.
After consulting with our friends in Montreal, we decided to scrub the mission and return to Montreal: we would have to tell Benji’s parents of their son’s predicament, and leave the next step up to them.
Before leaving San Francisco, I had a couple of things to do. I accepted Bethie’s invitation to visit the mysterious Boonville camp: apprehensive yet determined to see what had turned my lifelong friend into a total stranger. But first, I went to Daphne Greene’s files to find out all I could about Sun Myung Moon.
A gigantic crimson-carpeted gymnasium in Seoul, Korea, 1974. 1800 young grooms in dark suits kneel beside their 1800 respective brides, most of them complete strangers, dressed in identical white gowns. A chunky Korean in a gold and white robe and silver crown ascends to the pulpit and in a piercing voice pronounces them “Couples…Forever!!”
The White House, late 1973. President Nixon, besieged by Watergate, has virtually barricaded himself inside the Oval Office, as the press, public and much of Congress howl for his resignation. Outside his residence, 1500 neatly shorn young people line up in silence and on command, fall simultaneously to their knees. The same portly Korean steps forward and shrilly proclaims that “God must forgive the archangel Nixon… and bless America!
The Boston-Sheraton Hotel, November 1978. A gathering of 500 prestigious scientists from around the globe. The conference is chaired by atom bomb scientist and Nobel laureate Eugene Wigner, and is attended by other Nobel prize winners. To loud applause, Dr. Wigner introduces the founder and patron of the annual conference, who rises to address the assembly. It is the same man: Rev. Sun Myung Moon, Lord of the Second Advent, second Adam, One True Parent of the Universe.
As I left for Boonville during our second week in California, I was finally beginning to understand some of the forces behind the smiling faces of the Creative Community Project. I had spent a full day in Daphne Greene’s files and briefly interviewed a variety of ex-Moonies; I had learned a lot —though it would be months before a U.S. Congressional Committee studying the Unification Church would release its report, adding valuable pieces to the emerging puzzle of Rev. Moon.
That picture would show that the Creative Community Project, formidable as it looked to us in California, was only a drop in the ocean of Moon’s overall activities: a small recruiting arm for a political and industrial empire whose interests dot the globe.
What is this empire? Where did Sun Myung Moon come from, and how did he rise? And what use did his organization have for our friend Benji and thousands like him?
I did not know the answers to all of these questions when I left for Boonville that cloudy fall day—and perhaps it was just as well, since the added knowledge would only have unnerved me more. For apart from Moon’s psychological net and his murky political connections—which are separate tales in themselves—his religion is a giant multi-national corporation, whose ultimate goal is to control the world.
No exact figures exist for Rev. Moon’s fortune. Sources on the Congressional Committee put it at least $200 million, and possibly as high as a billion dollars. Moon’s interests are registered under more than 100 names, in dozens of countries, and their total extent may never be known.
The most visible tip of Moon’s financial empire is a real estate industry run by his right-hand man, Col. Bo Hi Pak—a former Korean military attache whom many believe to be the Rasputin behind the smiling Moon. The largest concentration of Unification Church property is in New York State, where it has played monopoly to the tune of about $30 million. Church purchases in New York City alone have included:
• Manhattan Center, a former 3000-seat opera house ($2 million).
• The Columbia University Club ($1.2 million).
• The New Yorker Hotel, a 42-storey, 2000-room hotel, ($5.6 million), used as the Church’s World Mission Center.
• The former Tiffany building ($2.4 million).
• A $1.5 million factory complex in Queens and a sprinkling of mansions and property across the city.
Outside New York City, Moon has also bought 410 acres of exclusive Tarrytown, land that is worth over $9 million. The property includes Barrytown, a former Christian Brothers seminary that is now the Church’s major east coast “training center”; another tract intended for a proposed Moon University; and East Garden, formerly the home of the Bronfman family and now the personal residence of Moon himself.
It is here on a sprawling country estate with two pools and a sauna, that the Messiah himself lives in imperial style, with his “holy” wife and nine “sinless” children. Ex-Moonie Judy Stanley lived at East Garden as a baby sitter several years ago; upon arriving, she was handed $16,000 in cash and told to go out and “buy some horses” for the kids.
“I went out shopping with a Japanese Church leader, and we got a black gelding and a few quarterhorses,” Judy recalls. “It was amazing…we spent the money as though we were buying toys.”
Moon’s playthings at East Garden include a 50-foot cabin cruiser that is said to be deliberately two feet longer than that of his neighbor, Laurence Rockefeller. Moon’s car is a custom-made Lincoln Continental and his wife’s a $20,000 Mercedes Benz, both gifts from members of the Unification Church. His eldest son drove a limousine when Judy Stanley was there; the younger ones tore about the estate on Honda motorcycles.
According to Judy and other ex-Moonies, the property is protected by a patrol of black-belt karate experts who communicate by walkie talkie. Particularly vivid in Judy’s memory are the exquisite Korean delicacies that she and other Moonies toiled all day to prepare for Father, sometimes rowing out to the middle of the river to serve him while he fished.
“The dishes were all etched in gold, the glasses were crystal and the cutlery was plated with gold,” she says. “We’d stand there in the middle of the river, feeding him delicacies and ginseng wine from one boat to the other, like some kind of ancient galley slaves.”
Moon’s children are well cared-for too. Several of them attend the exclusive Hackley School, and are somewhat rowdy for “perfect children”. Their former babysitter says that they frequently shouted at servants and threw roast beef on the floor if it was not cooked to perfection. The worst was Hyo Jin, 12 at the time, who had a habit of torturing squirrels by tying string to their tails and swinging them around his head. In 1977, he was reportedly expelled from Hackley School for shooting his BB gun at squirrels and the local groundskeeper.
The Church’s other major U.S. stronghold is California, where it goes under the name of the Creative Community Project (CCP). Its legal name is New Educational Development Systems Inc. [NEDS]. The California wing denied any affiliation with Moon as late as 1975, when a high-level spokesman claimed: “He (Moon) does not even know we exist.” The Fraser Committee, however, clearly linked the CCP to Moon’s organization.
The California group owns several large tracts of land including the 650-acre Boonville camp, another 300 acres called Camp K, and most recently a $660,000 golf club and resort known as Aetna Springs. They have been trying to open an “education and training seminar” at Aetna Springs since 1976 but were long stymied by a feisty small-town sheriff named Earl Randall, who claimed it would be built “over my dead body.”
“They’ve tried to woo me with cakes, flowers and ‘we love you truly’ memorabilia. They lied to me and conned me and told me they weren’t connected to the Unification Church,” said the balding cigar chomping sheriff. “But all they want to do is build another brainwashing center—and they’re not gonna get away with it while I’m around.” Randall has since been defeated in his bid for re-election as sheriff.
The California Church also owns a gamut of sprawling manors across San Francisco, including William Randolph Hearst’s mansion. Many of these houses are accorded tax-exempt status as religious institutions, though critics of the Church have managed to get others back on the tax rolls.
The Ponderosa of the West Coast family is West Eden, the $325,000 home of Mose (Martin) Durst, director of the West Coast Creative Community Project. Durst is an English professor at Laney College and joined the Church’s hierarchy after marrying Moon missionary Ooni Kim [Onni Yeon-Soo Lim]. Ex-Moonies who have visited the couple’s residence describe a magnificent manor with a park, an enclosed pool and a sauna. Four Church members act as servants, closets are stuffed with furs and silk dressing gowns, and a solid-gold replica of a Korean crown is said to adorn the living room.
Moon homes, centers and estates also dot other parts of the U.S., ranging from the $50,000 Windermere House in Seattle to a $500,000 home in Boston, and the Church continues to add to its property. In Canada, similar homes are springing up in several major cities, varying from a $100,000 home in Montreal to a more elaborate home in Toronto, priced at over $300,000. They also own a 95-acre estate in Rice Lake, Ontario, which was the residence of former Governor-General Georges Vanier.
Moon’s overall plans for the future are even more ambitious. He has instructed members to work so hard they bring in $30 million a month.
“Then we can buy Pan American Airlines…the Ford Motor Company…not to mention the Empire State Building.”
The money to finance these Church estates comes from amoeba-like business ventures flung out across the world. In Canada, Moonies sell cosmetics and candy door-to-door, in France they run a successful jewellery business, in England they publish a daily newspaper, and in Japan they own a variety of small manufacturing firms.
The stronghold of Moon’s empire is Korea, where five companies churn out everything from textiles and marble vases to ginseng tea and sophisticated machine tools. The most controversial of the Messiah’s Korean holding is a major weapons plant that was unearthed by the Fraser Committee. According to the committee, Moon’s Tong-Il Industries is the chief weapons supplier for Korea, producing M-16 rifles, Vulcan anti-aircraft guns and M-79 grenade launchers—peculiar products for a “Messiah of Peace”.
Moon’s Korean businesses are said to be worth some $15 million on paper but Congressional sources estimate that his secret weapons contract and world-wide success in marketing ginseng tea boost the value of his Korean investments to nearly $100 million. All Korean businesses are run by members of the Unification Church, who receive no or low wages and work long, unregulated hours. However, Moon has no labor problems; as Col. Bo Hi Pak explained to West coast journalist Andrew Ross:
“Rev. Moon has a different kind of management…the workers are happy to serve God and the Unification Church.”
Even Moon’s Korean investments are beginning to pale in comparison to the growing diversity of his U.S. empire—a decentralized network of enterprises that range from multimillion dollar corporations to tiny community stores. There are travel agencies, restaurants, printing firms, tea shops, cleaning companies and consulting firms; no sooner does one close down than others spring up—often under elaborate corporate names such as “The Center for Ethical Management (CEMP) or the New Hope Singers International.
There are also a variety of organizations whose sole purpose is to attract new members, often without revealing their links to the Unification Church. The Creative Community Project is one example, others are the Collegiate Association for the Research of Principles (CARP), the Church’s main recruiting wing on U.S. college campuses, and HARP, its high school wing. All told, Moon enterprises have operated under at least 50 names in the U.S., often in clandestine and probably illegal fashion. The Fraser Committee found evidence that Moon had “systematically violated” U.S. tax, immigration, currency, banking and other laws; they recommended setting up an inter-agency task force to investigate Moon’s empire further. A summary of some of Moon’s more interesting U.S. businesses follows:
International Press and Exchange Maintenance [IPEM]
IPEM, a potpourri of services operated by the western division of the Unification Church, work, for both government and private companies. They have won contracts to clean carpets in several U.S. federal buildings, including Air Force bases and the FBI offices in Sacramento; they also printed bus tokens for the San Francisco Municipal Railway.
They have done maintenance work for the Playboy Club, the Hyatt Regency Hotel and Best Western Hotels. They report to work promptly, crisply dressed in shirts and ties. This seems to impress their customers: their ads display a letter from a top official of Holiday Inn thanking them for their “high standards…fair prices…and over-all enthusiasm”.
Another West Coast venture, this popular restaurant bordering Berkeley is an excellent example of the way Moonie enterprises blend like chameleons into the communities they serve. Waterfalls gurgle down the restaurant walls, Moonie waiters flash perpetual smiles and a well-stocked bar buttresses the menu, despite the Church’s abhorrence of liquor.
“Welcome to the best Kosher restaurant in San Francisco” says the sign on the door. “The best Jewish deli in the West,” announces another, offering “real bagels, chopped liver, gefilte fish, blintzes, knishes, borscht, Jewish pickles and cheese cake like Lindy’s. Also serves weddings and Bar Mitzvahs.”
The spiel is effective. The restaurant is packed at lunchtime and recently expanded. Customers down smoked meat and cold beer, oblivious to the restaurant’s ownership; those who know about it ask: “Why shouldn’t the Moonies make a buck too?”
The answer is behind the scenes. Jeff Scales, a former Moonie who managed Aladdin’s for more than a year, has testified that the entire staff worked 80 hours a week; Scales himself worked more than a 110 hour week. Although the restaurant took in between $3000 and $4000 a week, according to Scales, all paychecks were signed back to the “management”.
Moon’s daily New York City newspaper lost between five and ten million dollars in its first two years of operation, but began to turn the corner during the 1978 New York newspaper strike. While employees at all the major papers walked off the job, the non-unionized Moonie paper boosted its circulation from 30,000 to 400,000, making News World the most widely read paper in New York City. According to the paper’s officials, circulation has levelled off at about 87,000 since the strike, but critics say it is no higher than 50,000.
The paper claims to be independent of the Church, but it consistently plugs Moon-related activities and attacks his enemies. It printed an article accusing Rep. Donald Fraser head of the committee investigating the Moonies, of being a “communist agent”.
Until 1978, the paper relied on a staff of some 150 Church members. But then, in a move that could hint at Moon’s overall business strategy for the future, the paper hired six veteran newsmen to improve its image. Among them was Harry J. Staphos, a roly-poly newsman who had been slogging behind the scenes at the New York Daily News for more than ten years; the Moonies offered to put Staphos’ byline on page one, and he leapt at the chance.
“Look, at the News I was on rewrite desk for life…but here I write my own ticket,” says Staphos candidly. “I do page one features all the time.”
While Moonie staff members receive no pay and eat peanut butter sandwiches every lunchtime, Staphos is well paid. “They asked me how much it would take to get me…I rattled off some crazy figures…and they said ‘sure’.
“But I figure I’m worth the price. Before I came, they didn’t get invited to anything…they were persona non grata. But since I joined, they get invited to everything…and all kinds of people are reading their paper. Now they’re legit.” The Church has other footholds in the media. They run a daily Paper in Tokyo called the Sekai Nippo, and have started another in London. In Washington, Church members distribute The Rising Tide, a glossy weekly newsletter delivered free to every congress member and aide on Capitol Hill; in Canada, they sell Our Canada, purportedly the organ of a group called Canadian Unity Freedom Foundation—in reality, another Moon front.
As well, the Church turns out hundreds of slick one-shot newspapers, magazines and newsletters with names like Good News, aimed at everyone from grade school and high school children to Jewish groups and immigrants.
Recently, the Church moved into the film business, founding a company called One Way Productions, with offices in Tokyo and Los Angeles. They turn out Moon-related PR documentaries and have reportedly invested 18 million dollars in “Oh Inchon”—Robin Moore’s tale of General MacArthur’s landing in Korea.
One of the Church’s latest and most serious enterprises is the fishing industry, where Moon is said to be prepared to spend $25 million. Typical of the Church’s approach was its entry into the sleepy, fishing village of Bayou La Battre, Louisiana, a town with a population of 2500 and a long history of fishing tied up in legendary shrimpers such as Clam Pie Annie and French Evelyn.
In 1977, a company called International Seafood swept into town, buying up some $6 million of boat-building businesses and choice waterfront land. Local snooping soon revealed that the company was owned by a parent group called International Oceanic Enterprises, which in turn was entirely controlled by the Unification Church.
A local group, Concerned Citizens of the South, has since formed to try to limit the Moonies’ presence in Bayou. But local small fishermen still watch the launching of huge tuna boats into their waters and worry that with a combination of capital, long working hours and free labour, the Moonies may eventually put them out of business. Others worry about the Moonies potential effect on the town’s young people, and even about the possibility that they will eventually control the town—which has only 750 registered voters.
In the meantime, the Church has spread its tentacles into other fishing towns as well. They have invested more than a million dollars in Norfolk, Virginia; spent $300,000 on a lobster packing plant in Gloucester, Massachusetts; launched boats in Long Island, New York, and recently announced the acquisition of a $3 million shrimp business in Kodiak, Alaska.
Church officials maintain that their fishing business is just part of their “spiritual activities”, because fishing is “a great test of the mind” and also a “religious experience” symbolic of fishing for the souls of men.
Diplomat National Bank
For a brief period in 1976, the Moon empire virtually controlled an American Bank, the Diplomat National based in Washington. Federal laws prevented anyone (or any group) from owning more than five per cent of a U.S. bank’s capital, but the Fraser Committee found that Moon and his associates disguised the source of their funds to try to take control of the bank.
The Fraser Committee said more than 53% of the bank’s capital was secretly held by persons affiliated with the Moon organization. The Committee concluded that the Church had tried to take control of the bank in order to move large amounts of money between Moon businesses and the countries in which they operated, without arousing the attention of neutral bank officials.
The Unification Church had the largest account in the Diplomat Bank, under the name United Church International; between late 1975 and early 1976, this account served as a clearinghouse for more than $7 million, quietly dispatched by Moon and Bo Hi Pak to a wide variety of church-related businesses and personal accounts.
Adverse newspaper publicity in the spring of 1976, interrupted the operation, and federal authorities soon forced Church members to divest their shares.
Remarkably, despite so many business ventures, the backbone of the Church’s cash flow has always been selling flowers on the street. Flower-peddling combines Moonie zeal with deceptive sales practices, referred to as “heavenly deception”, to bring in between $20 million and $50 million a year, according to former members.
From Flin Flon, Canada to the Florida Keys, troops of Moonies move about in Mobile Fundraising Teams (MFT), fervently button-holing customers in the streets of tiny towns and major cities. They frequently misrepresent themselves; ex-members have said that members routinely claimed to work for ghetto children, California migrant farm workers the B’nai Brith and dozens of other causes.
“Our bar sales would be flowers that were dead two days before,” writes ex-flower team leader Barbara Underwood. “We’d just wrap them up in green paper to disguise them. I made as much as $400 a day regularly, but I never felt I was doing enough.”
MFT is the most gruelling of all Moonie activities. Members sleep and eat little, and spend their nights driving to new towns or packaging flowers for the next day’s sales. “People would see us at 9 a.m., then they’d pass us at 6 p.m. and again at midnight—and they’d be impressed,” recalls one former Moonie who peddled flowers in northern Canada. “They’d say ‘poor kid’—and buy our flowers to help us out.”
Most Moonies bring in at least $100 a day, but figures as high as $400 are not uncommon. Females often do better; in Canada, two-person female teams have regularly brought in more than a $1000 a day. Recently, however, publicity in the news media has caught up with the flower-selling and reportedly hurt sales badly.
The flower-selling enterprise exemplifies the advantages the Unification Church gets from mixing religion and business. The money collected from church-related activities such as flower-selling is tax-exempt and the total proceeds are unaccountable and unknown.
Yet the Fraser Committee found that the pool of tax-free money was often used to help out Moon business interests that have nothing to do with the religious aspects of the Moon organization. For instance, when News World began, some $2 million in tax-free funds was lent to the paper by the Church to help keep it afloat—an enormous advantage that secular businesses do not have.
An even more important advantage in mixing business and religion into the same “family” is ready cheap labor. At the base of all Moon businesses is the tireless labor of the Moonies—dedicated “missionaries” who work as many as 22 hours a day for no pay and little food to bring in money for God.
Convinced that the Church hovers perpetually on the brink of bankruptcy, and that the money they earn is indispensable to building a “foundation” for a “better world”, they labor ceaselessly at all Moon enterprises: they have no unions, no regular hours and no rights, and they usually sign their paychecks back to the Church.
For their efforts, members receive meagre material returns: a piece of floor in a Moonie house, some secondhand clothes, a “heavenly haircut” and a diet ranging from vegetable stew at “home” to occasional MacDonald burgers on the road. Many of the Moon-related businesses run 24 hours a day, enabling them to provide quick, cheap service that draws rave notices from customers.
“With no labor costs and people willing to work 15 hours a day, you can undercut anyone,” says Jeff Scales, former manager of Aladdin’s. Scales says he once took about $20,000 from staff’s salaries to buy a metallic blue Mercedes as a gift for California leaders Mose and Ooni Durst.
“You must not sleep much, eat much, rest much,” Moon tells his members. “You must work day and night to make this great task a reality. You must move on right to the moment of death…eating, sleeping, resting…these are of no concern to me.”
Moon also tells members that they must resist “sleepy spirits”, and he boasts of driving across America at “115 miles an hour” with no sleep. It is not surprising that many ex-members report frequent and serious car accidents.
“We were in a lot of car accidents because people were so tired,” reports ex-Moonie Barbara Underwood. “Our car was totalled once. Another car had the front smashed in. They were always because somebody fell asleep.”
Disease is similarly regarded as a “weakness” to be overcome by mental discipline; many Moonies have been told to leave injuries, rashes and illnesses untreated because Satan was acting through them and had to be “fought off.” Even eating is viewed as a weakness that can be overcome; fasts are frequent despite the length of the working day. This gruelling lifestyle can have powerful effects on the psychological state of converts; one ex-member, Leslie Brown, recalled this experience she had while fund-raising:
“I had made a goal not to eat anything that day, but I had a good day (several hundred dollars) and someone offered me a little piece of chocolate which I ate…my legs became lead. I couldn’t speak to people. I was frozen in misery for 45 minutes…and as my whole body trembled—I still don’t believe it—a deep man’s voice came rumbling out of me and said:
‘LESLIE! You’ve made a base agreement with Satan. You can’t work with God anymore.’ ”
Sun Myung Moon
The Messiah who wields this remarkable power is a 60 year old Korean with a taste for blue business suits and disco shirts, and a speaking style known to drive casual spectators from the hall in droves. There is no evidence that he was ever ordained a minister.
The chunky evangelist first broke into the North American scene in 1971, when posters of his smiling face festooned drugstores, subways and newspapers across New York —heralding his arrival and inviting members of the public to their “re-birthday.” It was the start of a three-year cross country blitz touching every major city in the U.S., providing lavish dinners for thousands of prominent people in churches, business and politics and thrusting Moon into the headlines time and again. Yet despite his sudden appearance in the North American limelight, the making of the moneyed Messiah had begun many years before.
Moon was born into a struggling Presbyterian family on January 6, 1920 in a tiny village that is now part of North Korea. His name at birth was Yong Myung Moon, “Shining Sun Dragon”; when he began preaching in 1946 he changed it to the more imposing Sun Myung Moon, “Shining Sun and Moon”.
❖ Additional Information
The name Sun Myung Moon was given when he was born was Mun Yong Myong, 文龍明.
文 mun: word or literature; 龍 yong: dragon; 明 myong: bright
Moon officially changed his name in March 1953.
moon: moon; sun: sun; myung: bright
Mun Seon-myong 文鮮明 is how he is known in Korea.
文 mun: word or literature; 鮮 seon: Fresh or aquatic food; 明 myong: bright
However, the real reason Korean wannabe messiahs choose 鮮 is that it made up of two halves 魚 + 羊 which mean fish and caprid (goat family or sheep, the hanja has horns). Thus 鮮 hints at the icons of Christianity, the fish and the lamb.
Information on his childhood is sparse, although a Unification Church historian has him tracking weasels “across snow-covered Korean mountains all night long,” and catching “slippery eels with bare hands” by day. His parents were poor farmers, but put him through high school and later [a Technical High School associated with] Waseda University (See note below), where his interests were electricity and wrestling; in fact, he might have gone on to become an innocuous electrician but for the events of Easter Sunday, 1936.
According to Moon, he was deep in prayer on a mountaintop that day, when a blinding vision of Christ appeared and a powerful voice rumbled from the heavens: “I am Jesus who came 2000 years ago. Now you will complete what I began but was unable to finish.”
In the wake of this experience, Moon began to travel and gather a flock. During these early years he was married at least twice, and managed to get himself excommunicated from the Presbyterian Church and refused entry by the Korean National Council of Churches.
He was also arrested on several occasions for reasons that are disputed. Moon says it was for his anti-communism; other information, including Korean newspaper accounts of the time, suggest it may have been for peculiar sex practices.
In fact, Moon first came to prominence in Korea in 1955 when a scandal broke out at fashionable Ewha Women’s College [now University] over several girls and prominent female professors said to be involved in the “scandalous rites of the Unification Church.” Don Ranard, a top official for the U.S. State Department in Korea in the late 1950’s, says CIA files at the time were full of sexual allegations about Moon. “We were getting reports, calls and letters alleging that the Unification Church was a sexually-oriented mixing of people in orgy-type fashion, in which Moon was the tester of virginity for new members,” Ranard said in a telephone interview. Moon denies this. LINK to Investigation
“This was one of the first things that aroused our attention to him…he seemed to be a real Oriental Elmer Gantry.”
In 1947 (See note below) Moon was imprisoned by the Communists and spent three years in Heungnam Prison, until General MacArthur freed him in 1950—only hours before his execution, if one believes Church literature. The Church plays Moon’s entire ordeal to the hilt; it claims that at one point he lost so much blood that members thought he was dead and “began funeral preparations, but within three days he mysteriously revived—and although the blood was almost drained from his body…he immediately rose and began to preach out his powerful message, the Divine Principle.”
The Divine Principle. This is the theology that lies at the root of the Moonie philosophy: a complicated mixture of Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, fetishism, some Christianity, and traces of electrical engineering—all bound into a 536-page black book that resembles a Bible.
At the core of this theology is Moon’s interpretation of the “Fall of Man.” According to Moon, Adam and Eve were born sinless and meant to live in the Garden of Eden but Satan seduced Eve sexually and tainted her blood forever. Instead of confessing her crime, Eve then aggravated matters by having sex with Adam and bearing children.
Consequently, their descendants—the entire human race —are “fallen”, their bloodline poisoned by Satan for all time; thus nothing that a human being does—regardless of how well-intentioned, can possibly escape its evil roots. According to Moon, the arrival of Jesus gave man a second chance—but Jesus neglected to complete his mission; he failed to marry and have “pure” children, and before he could correct this oversight Satan acted through the Jews to kill him.
Moon’s Divine Principle says that a third Adam, the Lord of the Second Advent, will come from the East sometime in the 1920’s (the time of Moon’s own birth), and work to restore mankind. If all goes well, he will correct the state of the world, then marry and father “sinless children” who, along with Moon’s followers, will form a vanguard force to eliminate Satan and restore Heaven—not in some cloudy afterworld, but right here on earth.
This is the key to the behavior of the fully-indoctrinated Moonie. He believes that he is involved in a cataclysmic battle between the omnipresent forces of Evil and the tiny vanguard of Good; failure to succeed may mean the rule of Satan for thousands of years more, with nuclear obliteration likely to finish us off before we get another chance to correct things. This is why Moonies must work tirelessly, and why they must swear off “tainted sex” until Moon declares that they have become “sinless”.
At that point he chooses a mate for them and marries them off in mass weddings that he holds every few years. Moon married 1800 couples in Seoul in 1975; he is currently planning another giant affair for Boston sometime in 1980. He has already matched up 701 couples in expectation, many to mates they have never met.
[The] Divine Principle does not explicitly state that Moon is the Messiah, but it is an implicit truth for most longtime members. It is also accepted gospel that South Korea (Moon’s home) must be preserved at all costs—a belief that dovetails with the Church’s anti-communist, pro-South Korea political line. Following this logic, Satan’s main earthly face is communism, the anti-Christ; so Moon and his members must devote all their time and energy to battling the communist “devil” around the world. Many ex-members have said that they were prepared to die for Korea, and Moon suggested as much himself in a speech in Seoul in 1975:
“It is the world members of the Unification Church who believe Korea is their religious Fatherland and their holy land. For a faithful religious person, to invade this holy land is to invade his own body and home. This means that the world members of the Unification Church love Korea as their own physical bodies…they believe it is God’s will to protect their religious Fatherland to the last, to organize the Unification Crusade Army and to take part in the world as a supporting force to defend both Korea and the free world.”
Armed with his rather tortuous philosophy, Moon and a few disciples founded the Unification Church in 1954 under what is still its official name: the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity. But neither the movement nor its Messiah got very far until 1960-61, vintage years for Moon and his church.
First Moon married again, this time the ravishing eighteen-year-old Hak-Ja Han, who became “Mother of the Universe” and bore him the first of eleven “sinless children”. More importantly, May of 1961 saw a revolt by South Korea’s colonels—a political upheaval that altered the future of that country and the Moon Church.
The man who took control of South Korea was Col. Park Chung Hee, a ruthless dictator who curtailed democracy and suppressed every Christian religion in Korea except one—the Unification Church. In 1961, Moon’s Church claimed 32,000 members in Korea; by 1969 the figure reached 300,000. [Internal church documents reveal a figure of about 10,000 in Korea. See note below.] The Church now claims a half-million members world-wide; critics say there are no more than 200,000.
The U.S. branch of the Church began officially in 1961, when Col. Bo Hi Pak and a handful of Koreans set up a small organization with a membership mainly limited to religious eccentrics; it was this group that served as a base for Moon when he began his blitz of the U.S. in 1971.
There are many questions about where Moon obtained the approximately $8 million needed to finance his early American tours, since he was not personally wealthy at the time, and the Church’s American membership was far too small and impoverished to fund him. Observers speculate that the money came from either the Korean Government, or wealthy right-wing industrialists in Japan.
In any case, when Moon arrived in 1971, he furiously reorganized the U.S. Church, changing its structures and beginning a major recruiting drive. According to Gary Scharff, a top Moon instructor at the time, Moon single-handedly brought in the rigid indoctrination techniques that were first practised at the New York Barrytown center under the title of “100-day Training Program”.
“Moon gave us the specifics as soon as he arrived from Korea,” recalls Scharff. “The hours a day, the precision of activities, the discipline—we had to be up at 6 a.m. and in formation at 6:08 like the cadets. Moon developed the 100-day training program entirely on his own…he’s a very effective human manipulator.”
Moon’s heavy-handed methods were immediately effective at turning veteran Church members into disciplined zealots, but did not attract youth of the sixties generation. The Church required one more addition before it could begin its ascendancy in America: the arrival of Dr. Mose Durst, a west coast English teacher who coated Moon’s mind-bending indoctrination techniques with the sophisticated honey of 1960’s counterculture jargon. (See note below for an explanation of the origins of Boonville and the philosophy.)
Durst, a fuzzy-haired faculty member at California’s Laney College, married Church missionary Ooni Kim [‘Onni’ Yeon-Soo Lim in 1974], and became head of the Western organization. He soon helped introduce many of the features of today’s Boonville program: the deception, misrepresentation and progressive indoctrination that lures recruits into the Church step by step. Later they are often sent to complete their training at New York’s more military 100-day program.
Boonville quickly became the most effective recruiting center for the Church; for the first time, the Moonies began to attract large numbers of articulate, formerly stable college kids with no easily detectable personal problems. Other centers began to emulate Boonville’s approach, and by 1977 the Church claimed some 32,000 North American members —though critics say that figure was exaggerated.
There is no information on what percentage of the Church’s membership comes in through the Boonville port of entry; but it is unquestionably their most successful recruiting center, responsible for as much as two-thirds of the Church’s overall North American recruiting.
The Eastern branch of the Church runs most of Moon’s major business and public relations activity, but it is more straightforward (and less successful) in its recruitment approach. It periodically denounces the deception and trickery of its Western wing, just as Church officials deny any connection with many of its other financial and political subsidiaries. The easterners claim Boonville graduates are deprogrammed more easily and make less effective members; there are even rumors about an imminent split between the two branches.
But the fact remains that without the techniques introduced in California, the Church’s membership would never have soared; simply put, the Unification Church, as it is known today, would not exist. The Boonville experience lies at the heart of the Church’s power.
A seemingly endless gravel road halted abruptly at a high barbed-wire fence and a wooden sentry post. It was midnight, the end of a three-hour van ride from San Francisco, as headlights pierced the blackness, illuminating a sign reading “Boonville Ideal City Ranch.”
My stomach grew queasy. Everything I had heard about Boonville made me apprehensive, particularly the many stories of people whose personalities had changed here in only a few days. Even one graduate student studying the camp for academic purposes had succumbed, and the only reporter whose firsthand account I had read had collapsed vomiting and hallucinating on fleeing the camp after 48 hours.
I was so nervous I had left a signed statement with Marilyn asking her to retrieve me legally if I would not leave on my own, and my apprehension had increased when the Moonies required me to sign a form before leaving Washington House “releasing CCP project from all responsibility and liability in the seminar experience.”
Now as I stepped out of the van and padded through the wet grass, a light mist further cloaked the darkness, making vision nearly impossible. We were herded toward a shadowy metal structure and urged to bed down immediately.
“I’m gonna grab a cigarette outside,” mumbled one recruit, the spitting image of a young Jack Nicholson.
“Sorry. We prefer you don’t smoke,” replied a Moonie male, as he firmly motioned the newcomer toward the sleeping quarters. “Also we’d appreciate if you’d hit the sack right away. Tomorrow’s going to be a long, tiring day.”
Inside the barn-like structure, scraps of thin foam and a wooden floor awaited. Bodies were sprawled everywhere, lit by a dim lamp outside. A gentle rain was beginning to fall on the tin roof and the wind howled in the distance.
I curled up in the corner beside Jack Nicholson: he seemed an amiable fellow, and as the lights went out he whistled softly into the pitch dark and whispered a single word: “Bi-zarrrre!”
The night’s drizzle was just waning when I was roused from restless sleep by a chorus of robust voices: they were singing “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head.”
In seconds, bodies were leaping into their clothes and exuberant hands were hauling me from bed, into a circle of people gathering to sing wake-up songs.
“Good morning everyone!” boomed a clean-cut guitar player wearing a v-neck sweater and a wide toothpaste commercial smile. “How are you?”
“Ter-r-r-rific!” thundered dozens of smiling faces. Then my hands were clasped and the entire group burst into a 30-minute session of cheery tunes. It was seven a.m. on a wet Tuesday morning, and as I squinted through tired eyes, life at Boonville was roaring into gear.
Tucked into the gentle rolling forest of Mendocino County, some 120 miles north of San Francisco, the 650-acre camp was a large, pleasant site with simple accommodations. Long grassy field stretched from the main compound, consisting of a clump of trailers and a small home-made hanging bridge.
In the distance, the forest stood against a flat, grey horizon; an eight-foot barbed-wire fence circled the entire farm. Still, standing in the country air that morning, surrounded by warm, wholesome faces and vibrant singing, my original paranoia seemed far away and unfounded. The Moonies looked like friendly people—a bit straight perhaps, but tales of the camp seemed at least exaggerated.
The building we had slept in was a huge converted chicken coop affectionately dubbed the “Chicken Palace”. Women slept separately in a nearby trailer.
Bathrooms were modest wooden cabins labelled “brothers” and “sisters,” stocked with drugstore shelves of everything from shaving cream and dental floss to rows of collective toothbrushes. Inside a row of Moonies were busily applying razor blades to their fresh pink cheeks.
“Like to shave?” asked one, motioning toward my fuzzy beard. I quickly declined. Minutes later, another young Moonie took my hand and escorted me back to the Chicken Palace, where exercise period had just begun.
This lasted some 45 minutes, mixing stride jumps and jumping jacks with “wiggling our toenails” and “balancing elephants on our shoulders”. All activity was punctuated by endless clapping and cheering, particularly the “family cheer”, a seemingly innocent little chant called a “chooch” that required us to link arms and holler:
“Ch-ch-choo, ch-ch-choo, ch-ch-choo. Yea! Yea! POW!!”
Most recruits appeared to find the chooch a little silly, but went along with it out of politeness; it seemed rude to decline. Most of the recruits during my stay were male—a fairly normal-looking lot, easily distinguished from their Moonie hosts by their unkempt hair and scraggly looks. My own favourite was Keith, the “mountain man”—a sort of hippie Paul Bunyan to whom I took an instant liking. He said he came from a small Carolina town called “Loafers Glory”, wore a battered old stetson and had little to say to the yattering of the Moonies but “yup” and “nope”.
By now, each recruit had attracted a family member of the opposite sex, who encouraged us to participate. Mine was Bethie, who said she had promised Benji she’d be “adopting” me.
Unrelenting activity, enthusiastic chatter and hand-holding soon proved to be the most notable features of life with the Moonies. I was asked dozens of personal questions about myself and my friendship with Benji and prodded to sing and cheer continuously. When breakfast finally arrived 90 minutes after wake-up, I was as eager for a breather and some personal space as I was for the apple stew and coffee that was served. But meals, I soon found, were another link in a chain of totally structured activity that continued unbroken until day’s end.
“We have a custom during meals,” explained the ever-exuberant Bethie, our group leader. “We like to share something with each other. You know…just a little tidbit to help us get to know one another.”
“Sharing” required each person to divulge a bit about his or her life story and innermost feelings. It began gently enough during breakfast with small personal resumes, but as the day went on sharing became a virtual encounter session, with emotional confessions about everything from “selfishness” to former sexual activity. New recruits participated too, moved by the honesty of others. Under the circumstances it seemed uptight, even rude, not to offer a “bit of yourself”.
Fortunately, I had already learned from ex-Moonies that group leaders discussed our confessions in private, using them to zero in on our psychological weak spots and potential guilt feelings.
I gave my own prepared story, sticking fairly close to the truth because I knew Benji might have briefed them; however, sensing that doubt was valued, I added that I was on sabbatical to “appraise things”. I was beginning to have doubts about my “identity” as a journalist. After my confession, and each of the others, the Moonies politely applauded.
During the meal my food was seasoned, my coffee doused with cream and everything done for me but the positioning of the fork in my mouth. I found myself repeating the word “thanks” with monotonous regularity, and hating the increased sense of obligation to participate that came with it.
As well, my hands were being held and fondled as though they were communal property.
“It’s hard to be an unselfish person, to start thinking about the good of others before you think of yourself,” Bethie told the neat rows of “students” assembled at our first “lecture”. She stood at the blackboard for more than an hour, and the word “selfish” was repeated more than thirty times.
“It’s hard to sing when others feel like singing, or to hold someone’s clammy hand, just because they want you to,” she said with an understanding smile, as though reading our thoughts. “Nowadays people are used to doing their own thing.”
Like Kristina’s lecture at the house the talk was presented as a spontaneous “rap”, yet struck me as being meticulously prepared, weaving history, science, philosophy and psychology into a compelling appeal to build a “better world.”
It was absorbing, humorous, thought-provoking and confusing: ideas wheeled by like railway cars on a speeding train; far too quickly to examine critically. If my eyes wandered for even an instant, a helpful family member would prod me politely and say:
“Josh, try to listen. This part is very important.” It was not until the second day that I noticed a subtle but continual jockeying of seats to make sure that I and other recruits were always surrounded by such mindful family members.
Feelings were weak and intellectual discipline strong, we were told during that first lecture: we were to try and adapt to what at first seemed a weird and trying experience. Also we were asked to stay completely away from other new recruits, so as not to reinforce each other’s “negativity”.
“We’re trying to set up a model community here in Boonville, where people act according to their ideals, not just their feelings,” the lecture concluded. “It takes discipline at first, but try and see it as a two-day experiment in a different way of living, no matter how silly and foreign it may sometimes seem. Be strong—don’t just give up and head home…please.”
She need hardly have asked. We were 120 miles in the middle of who-knew-where, and they owned the only vehicle.
After each lecture, we met in small groups to discuss our reactions, but critical questions were skillfully circumvented by the leaders or simply put off with “Let’s not get hung up on that now. The lectures will deal with that later.” They never did.
Seconds later we would be lost in another dizzying stream of singing, hand-holding and the inevitable chooch:
“Ch-ch-choo, ch-ch-choo, ch-ch-choo. Yea! Yea! POW!!”
It was exhausting. My mind swam from ceaseless noise and activity, and there was never time to reflect or even daydream without someone immediately asking me what I was thinking about. Time began to stretch and distort like liquid oozing from a bottle, and I longed for a watch to see if it was ten o’clock or two.
“Coffee break!” announced Bethie suddenly, and I scrambled to my feet and headed outside for respite. I hadn’t taken three steps when a clammy hand came down on my shoulder and a voice asked: “So how do you like it so far, Josh?”
Turning I found myself inches from the flaccid face of Jim, a chubby fellow with Coke-bottle-bottom glasses and a limp smile common to many male Moonies—a dull, hollow look in the midst of apparent enthusiasm that reminds one of the androids that fetch Boris Karloff’s coffee in late-night horror movies.
“Well…uh…actually…” I stammered. “I haven’t really had time to think about it much yet…let me think on it some and I’ll talk to you about it later.”
“But Josh, what parts of the lecture did you want to think about?” he persevered.
“Look,” I said. “I’m sorry, but I need a bit of time to collect my thoughts. I’m going to take a quick walk.”
“Great!” he said, staring at me even more intently, with another disembodied smile, as he threw an arm around me. “I’ll come along too.”
I paused to collect my thoughts. I felt guilty at the thought of rejecting him again, but I knew I needed a moment alone. I stared at Jim as intently as I could, meeting his unnerving gaze head on.
“No!”, I declared, then turned and walked quickly away. I am an extrovert and do not ordinarily need much time alone, but I floated in those few seconds of solitude as though I had been released from a crippling weight. Seconds later, two women came rushing over bubbling “Josh! Josh! Josh!” as though I were a boyfriend they hadn’t seen in years.
“Boy Josh, you sure are an interesting character,” giggled one of them as she and her friend fished my unwilling hands from my pockets and fondled them. Minutes later, after a quick stop for two cups of black coffee, I was back in the lecture room again.
“They said Columbus was crazy—but 50 years later there was a settlement in North America,” explained Bethie, as several family members leapt up in seemingly spontaneous guerrilla theatre shouting: “You’re crazy Columbus—you’re nuts.”
“They said Orville Wright was crazy too—even his own mother thought he was weird—but today man has walked on the moon! So why is the idea of building an ideal world so crazy…today?”
Ideas were repeated in a variety of ways, hammering the message home with hypnotic effect, while skits and humour kept the atmosphere light. “Skepticism is negativity”, was the growing message, and negativity is what puts “a ceiling on our happiness and holds us back.”
“Remember those really special moments, those points of ecstasy…well, those are portholes into what happiness really is. At maturity you will feel that way all the time—no insecurities, no worries.”
It was a hip sermon. Doom and gloom statistics chugged forth like black smoke from a locomotive: 1.6 million kids run away every year, 1 in 100 of them is killed, 1 in 80 beaten; everyone is insecure and worried about their image; TV, promiscuity and drugs threaten the world; communism is a good idea turned horribly sour.
“It’s easy to pay $1000 to hear ‘I’m O.K., you’re O.K.’ Here you pay $18 to hear you’re selfish and greedy.”
Toynbee, Spengler, Einstein and Maslow; Mao, Buddha and Confucius were all invoked at one point or another, losing me in a haze of names and data. Much of the information seemed to be a logical outgrowth of concepts from the earlier lecture, but I still hadn’t absorbed that information and I found myself getting lost, mentally seasick in a churning flood of new ideas. Yet, no sooner did my eyes wander than a friendly poke would invoke my “discipline” again.
Nothing quite seemed to make sense anymore. All I knew for sure was that there still was not the slightest mention of the most important element of the group’s philosophy—the Reverend Sun Myung Moon.
By 3 o’clock of the same day I was worried. The ceaseless chanting and singing was echoing in my ears, the chooch as grating as a nail dragged across a blackboard. The sharing sessions were uncomfortably intimate. Even the handholding had become unbearable: some hands were sticky, some flaccid, some like sandpaper; others that fondled and squeezed me felt more like snakes than human beings.
The camp was proving a strange mix of boot camp, kindergarten and psychotherapy session, and it was getting to me. Some of the other recruits seemed at least as uncomfortable as I, but since they didn’t know what the group was or what they were up to, they blamed themselves for being too egotistic and tried harder to participate. The silence between new recruits was a blanket that muffled dissent and prevented people from comparing notes and reinforcing their doubts. Everyone was locked inside his own world, convinced he was the lone dissenter yet less and less sure he was right to dissent.
Some recruits were already caught up completely, absorbed by what seemed a remarkably sincere and idealistic, if odd experience. Only my original cynicism kept me consciously resisting, and even that was barely enough to get me through the afternoon’s “kickball game”.
The ride to the athletic field was pleasant enough, the rumble of the pick-up truck allowing me to steal a few moments of conversation with Keith, the mountain man. Tales of Loafers Glory; the annual Bug Frying Contest, the arm wrestling matches and the Loafers Glory Spud Eating Marathon gave me my first light moments on the farm. Keith had spent five years in the backwoods, “thinkin’ and drinkin’,” and six unfortunate months in jail for moon-shining; he could guarantee that his cell had been exactly 144 bricks long, 42 bricks wide and held together by 114 rivets.
“Wow…what a beautiful sunset!” broke in the loud, flat voice of a Moonie as he pointed west, and every head in the truck turned to watch. “Everyone look at the beautiful sunset.”
“Wow!” went forty voices, as one.
From the instant we arrived at the kickball field for what had been billed as our afternoon “break”, we began singing and cheering wildly, as teams were somehow arranged.
Arms drew me into a huddle, where our team captain Muffy interrupted the cheering to give an impassioned “pep talk.”
“We’re gonna beat them…we’re gonna beat them so bad they’re not gonna believe what hit them!” she enthused. “And why?”
“Because we LOVE them!”
Then a cheer began: “BOOT WITH LOVE! BOOT WITH LOVE! BOOT WITH LOVE!” The maddening refrain was repeated over and over without a second’s pause. Veteran Moonies exhorted recruits to keep up with the avalanche of noise: “BOOTWITHLOVE! BOOTWITHLOVE! BOOTWITHLOVE!”
“CATCH WITH LOVE! CATCH WITH LOVE! CATCH WITH LOVE!” shrieked the other team as the two cheers drowned each other into meaningless, deafening sound.
The chanting continued hypnotically, without let-up for two hours. It did not rise or fall with good or bad plays: it simply continued, like a television set accidentally left on at maximum volume.
“BOOTWITHLOVE! CATCHWITHLOVE! BOOTWITHLOVE!”
I lost my voice in fifteen minutes, but was cajoled into mouthing the words far longer. Other recruits chanted limply “Boot—Catch—Boot” trying to keep up. Comparisons with experiences like summer camp were futile. I spent much of my early life in camps, and the cheers during excited moments of play there have as much to do with the barrage of noise at Boonville as a playground resembles a battlefield. The experience was so disorienting that at times it seemed to me the field tilted in space, as though I were on board a plane.
As with so many other techniques at Boonville, the purpose of the mind-numbing chant was to keep us from “spacing out”, from finding seconds to daydream and possibly entertain “negative” or unproductive thoughts about life at the camp. For the same reason, when our bus lurched into the mud on the ride back from the game we did not stop to push it out, but filed off quickly, back to the routine of the camp, leaving the group leaders to solve the problem.
“I used to hate the noise at the kickball game,” one novice Moonie named Geno explained to me, as he tried to sell me on the virtues of the chant. “I used to hate everything about it. But now I see where its helped me very much. I hardly ever space out any more, not even for a second, and that means I can give one hundred per cent to the project, all the time…I’ve even learned to like the noise.”
Fortunately, an unplanned moment of relief from “one hundred per cent” was provided me halfway through the kickball game, when I got a base hit. As I rounded second base, the mind-numbing chant assaulting me from all sides, I found myself looking into the equally bewildered eyes of “Jack Nicholson”, whom I had not spoken to since arriving the previous night.
He shook his head numbly, and as I headed for third base his one-word commentary once again echoed reassuringly in my ears:
Even the dead hours of night were eventful at Boonville. All night long, bodies shifted mysteriously about the Chicken Palace, as vehicles spirited new people in and others away.
“Go to the barn!” someone would command in a whisper and more figures would shuffle away like ghouls to a graveyard. “The rest of you wait here.”
By morning about a third of the faces I had bedded down with had changed. When the strains of “Red Red Robin” came filtering through my light veil of sleep, I decided to make this my last day at Boonville.
The previous evening’s routine had ended much as it had begun with a barrage of singing, chanting and confession. Supper, like the previous meals, was a tasty combination of starches with hardly a grain of protein. Former camp cook Virginia Mabrey later told me the meals had been budgeted at 50 cents a day per person.
Dinner had been followed by self-generated entertainment, largely a collection of wholesome solo performances broken only by a raucous tune presented by Keith, a Loafers Glory favourite known as “A frog on a log in a bog in the fog”. It was greeted by tepid applause from the otherwise vociferous project members.
The evening closed with a new activity: an intense group prayer directed to “Heavenly Father”, which recruits were not asked to participate in, only “respect”.
“Even if you don’t believe in God, you can see the need for a central system of good values which are absolute, unchanging and eternal,” Bethie had explained to us to reduce our surprise at the prayer.
“We use the word God to identify the source of those powers. So in reality, prayer is just a conversation you have with yourself.”
Other religious terms had also come up during the lectures and been neutralized by their constant repetition. A “Messiah”, for instance, was “someone who understands the historical forces at work at a certain point in history, and focuses them toward a single goal—for instance Gandhi or Buddha or Mao.” The words “love” and “serve” had also become so interchangeable that I hardly noticed the difference any more. “A better world” seemed like a term I had used all my life.
Now, on the second day, I hardly had time to yawn before I was lugged from bed and back into the numbing routines of Moonie life. This second day, however, I was assigned a shadow, a pleasant enough fellow named Bruce who casually thudded along beside me wherever I went, even to the bathroom, talking nonstop.
Fortunately, by this time I had developed a number of small tricks to preserve my sanity—minute gestures that somehow helped me to maintain my sense of self. I found that I could avoid holding hands during singing if I grabbed one of the family song books and held it for my “brothers” and “sisters” to see, an unselfish gesture that kept one of my hands mercifully occupied for a precious half hour.
The unsettling stare of the Moonies could be beaten back by relentlessly returning it with seeming sincerity. Good eyes and reflexes helped me snatch salt, pepper and the like before five eager Moonies could do it for me. I even gained a bit of satisfaction during lectures by silently chanting silly little ditties like:
“You’ll never get me, you’ll see, you’ll see.
You’ll never get me, hee hee.”
In retrospect this seems ridiculous, but it is astonishing to recall how important these tricks seemed then, when I felt every fibre of my person being sucked into this anonymous collectivity. The overload of information and emotion made the pull of the group so strong that at times, inexplicably, I felt like giving in myself, despite what I knew. Maybe the Moonies were right: maybe I was too cynical, too blasé and negative. Maybe I should try letting myself “go with the flow” and see where it went. Wasn’t I always the “neutral” journalist—playing it safe from the sidelines?
But no sooner did I entertain such feelings than I conjured up Benji’s face at the restaurant—its blank, vacant features a beacon that warned me of the precipice at the end of the Moonie route. Something I had always taken for granted—the right to moments of private space inside my own head to sort things out—had proved far more important than I had ever imagined. Without those seconds of “spacing out”, my thoughts seemed to buffet each other like waves in a storm, flooding my mental processes and short-circuiting my normal thinking.
Several bright and apparently “normal” people who came up with me were clearly swayed by the group’s indoctrination techniques, shedding their critical faculties in the intense environment. Even stalwarts like “Nicholson” and Keith grew unusually silent and pensive during the urgency of the moving final lecture, late in the second full day.
Using time charts and various authorities as references, the lecturer traced historical periods of “darkness” and “light”, weaving an analysis that made the present seem like the culmination of history. Mankind’s history had peaked: technology could take man to the moon, education was nearly universal, transport connected even the remotest villages, communication systems linked the most foreign of people. Nuclear war hung like a sword on a thread over the entire dream. America was the Mecca of the world, San Francisco the Mecca of America—the starting point for the beats, the hippies, the anti-war movement, and now…
“Columbus knew he could cross the ocean…but what did they say?
“Ah…you’re nuts!” came the familiar refrain, and to my surprise several recruits—including “Nicholson”—had joined in.
“And they were right: he was nuts. Like our ancestors, the pioneers were nuts to think they could cross the Rocky Mountains. Imagine…THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS…it’s amazing! Why they must have been crazy.
“Well, there’s a new kind of craziness around—it’s called hope—and it’s going to change the world.”
The energy in the room was so high I could feel it pulsing through me, and I found even myself wanting to believe in this crazy sheer idealism. It was all so ridiculous, but after nearly forty-eight hours in this twilight reality, our egos battered by confusion, our minds numbed by information—anything seemed possible.
“It’s so simple,” whispered a pleasant dark-haired girl beside me who had been a member for several weeks, “So easy.” Others were hearing the lecture for their two-hundredth time, yet still found something “new” and “exciting” to garner from it.
Bethie asked everyone to join in a song and prayer, and I was amazed to find that the choice was “America, America,” sung with the intensity of Birchers—eyes closed, mouths wide open, tears dripping down cheeks. During the prayer that followed, every recruit in the room but Keith had his eyes closed too, and beside me, my shadow Bruce was praying feverishly.
As he did, a fly landed on his lower lip, then slowly crawled inside his mouth, disappearing from view for a full dozen seconds. Bruce did not flinch.
It was in the immediate wake of this “high” that the Moonies pressured recruits to stay “just” one more day.
“You owe it to yourself to give it a try. What else have you got to do that’s all that important? Are you too arrogant to even give it a try?” pressed older members in a spiel that mixed guilt with promise.
Keith was promised a job as a handyman on the farm; I a spot with a new newspaper they were starting up. I do not know what other recruits in my group were promised—but many ex-Moonies have testified that lying is routine at this point, as family members make use of personal information they have garnered during “sharing” sessions.
Disillusioned teachers are told they can work in the Project’s alternative school (non-existent); single people see the promise of an interesting sexual relationship (unfulfilled); shy people find a flood of intimate new friends (temporary).
“If you’re into rock music, they have a band; into health food, they have an organic farm,” Tony Gillard had warned me as I left San Francisco, “and if you’re into skateboarding down high mountains—they just happen to be doing that too. They’ll say anything to make you stay, anything!”
Despite the pressure and my own curiosity, I did not stay longer. Earlier conversations with former members had given me some idea of what lay ahead. Those who agreed to stay “another” day would be shunted aboard a virtual boxcar, with the route ahead as unflinching as railroad tracks; given my confusion after only two days at Boonville, I did not want to risk any more.
I knew that after another exhausting day at Boonville, recruits would be convinced to attend a five day seminar at Camp K another isolated Moonie location where “3000 years of history” would be explained by an “incredible” lecturer, and where the hints and tidbits recruits had so far been receiving would crystallize into a “blinding understanding of life.”
I knew that control techniques would be intensified too; further creating the environment of a giant Skinner box. Soon recruits would find themselves “jumping it” from bed instantly at morning wake-up; “clunking it” at night, when they would be expected to plunge into darkness moments after daily routine was over. Nothing would be forcing them to follow but peer pressure, the desire to avoid non-conformity when “ninety-nine people are doing one thing… and you’re doing another.”
I knew recruits would soon be singing louder, chanting harder, even sacrificing food and sleep to keep up with the example of those about them. Self-hypnotic techniques would be taught to them, supposedly to increase their concentration, in reality to further blot out the capacity for critical thought.
“Stop it…stop it…STOP IT!” recruits would learn to repeat silently, whenever “negative” thoughts intruded —the final step in eradicating “spacing out”, the first step in clearing the mind for a chain of apparent logic that would eventually alter their personalities completely.
I still did not know what that chain of logic was, or exactly how it affected people—but its intensity and effectiveness were held in awe by every former member I had spoken with. Somehow, reality would shift a few degrees. Isolation, dwindling sleep, little protein, constant confessions and no time to re-evaluate their circumstances would cause the recruits increasingly to lose perspective. They would never really decide to stay at the camp—they would defer indefinitely the decision to leave.
If they stayed long enough, the religious elements of the camp would sink in according to those with whom I had talked. Recruits would begin to feel special—in touch with some kind of “force”—and might even have religious dreams before dreaming stopped altogether in the later weeks. And when Rev. Moon’s name began to come up in lectures two weeks later, six weeks later, or whenever they were deemed “ready” for it, it would no longer seem to matter as much as it would have earlier.
Day by day, Moon would become more important, his ideas more present, until one day it would seem only natural—a sudden revelation, coming perhaps in a dream—to realize he was the Messiah, responsible for their new lives.
They would become Moonies.
Yet for all the power of Boonville’s indoctrination technique, I discovered that it could be interrupted in the early stages if the “program” was disturbed.
Late in my second full day at Boonville, I could see that several recruits, including “Jack Nicholson”, were being persuaded to stay longer. I decided to interfere; during discussion of the last lecture of the day, I asked Bethie in public just whom it was the group followed.
Bethie hesitated at first, mentioning Jesus, Buddha and the psychiatrist Maslow “among others, of course”; but finally she reluctantly, if honestly, allowed that some of their teachings “originated” with Reverend Moon. Then she quickly launched into a lecture that would normally have come two weeks later in the program, explaining that Moon was an “interesting” man who had been “unfairly persecuted.”
“All great men have been persecuted,” she reminded us with a smile, “so much so that I sometimes think people aren’t really worth listening to if they’re not persecuted…ha ha.”
Then, sensing the immediate negative response among new recruits, she backtracked, assuring us that the Project wasn’t really connected with Moon anyway; they only studied some of his teachings. But it was too late—the name of Sun Myung Moon, notorious on the West Coast, was out of the bag too soon, and the results were irreversible.
Soon after this disclosure Nicholson told Bethie he wanted to leave Boonville. Bethie argued with him for more than half an hour, but he was determined to go even if it meant hitchhiking back to San Francisco. As he passed me on the way out, he quietly drawled: “Thanks for that last question, pal…”
Accompanying him was a fellow who had been there for five days and was on the brink of signing up for a week-long session at Camp K. Now he refused steadfastly to stay any longer, maintaining that the connection with Moon made him feel he had some thinking to do. One after another in the hours that followed, other recruits left too, despite the pressuring, begging and cajoling of the Moonies. “Negativity” had found its way into Boonville, and nothing the Moonies could do would chase it away.
By the end of the day only Keith and I remained, and soon I was sprung by a pre-planned “emergency” call from Marilyn, notifying me that a close relative was ill. As I prepared to leave, Keith gave me a knowing wink and packed his rucksack to accompany me.
As the two of us marched toward the entry gate, all the Moonies lined up in neat rows to sing us a song, then Bethie hugged us warmly and begged us once more to remain and “give it a chance”.
I looked into her piercing blue eyes and her incandescent smile, then back at the rest of the Moonies waving, singing and smiling at us. For one crazy moment I felt inexplicably touched and attracted to them again.
Then I turned quickly, followed by Keith, and trudged down the dusty road, past the gate and the sentry post. By the time I reached a nearby highway, only one thought stuck firmly in my exhausted mind: if Benji had been through five months at Boonville, there was no telling what it had done to his mind and his feelings for friends like me.
The following notes are not part of Moonwebs, and can be skipped to maintain the momentum of Josh Freed’s narrative. They are primarily for the sake of historical accuracy. Much of this information has become more accessible since 1980, when Moonwebs was published.
page 38: Boat. Gerhard Peemoeller (one of Moon’s bodyguards at East Garden): “Father came to America December 18, 1971. He left everything behind in Korea. In 1974 Father bought the New Hope, a 48-foot Pace Maker for deep-sea fishing. Then he bought The Flying Phoenix for river fishing, which is a 24-foot Well Craft speedboat. It can go as fast as a car can go. He went on the Hudson River with it.”
From the book 40 years in America, 1959-1999.
According an article in the Palm Beach Daily News (November 14, 1976), Moon also had a 75 foot yacht. “Last winter, workers for the Rev. Sun Moon made inquiries about buying a Palm Beach estate, priced at over $1 million, for their leader. Rev. Moon, they said, would be coming up from Miami aboard his 75 foot yacht to inspect the property. But the owner refused to sell the estate to them.”
page 47: Sun Myung Moon: “Our motto this time is for each of the fundraising teams to earn $12,000.00 a month, a high goal….If I mobilize 1,000 members, each earning $10,000.00, then we will make three million dollars a month, which is a usable sum. I will train the fund-raising team to make at least $3,000.00. When I mobilize 10,000 members, it means $30 million in a month. Then we can buy Pan American Airlines, and the Empire State Building. We shall buy Ford Motor Company, not to speak of the Empire State Building. That’s possible. … In order for us to be able to do this would you prefer to sleep seven hours instead of six? (No.) We are used to sleeping, for instance, six hours. Would you prefer to sleep for seven hours or five hours? (Five.) Would you prefer to sleep four hours or five? (Four.) Would your prefer to go to work without sleeping? (Without sleeping.) I don’t want you to die so I will let you sleep barely enough to sustain your life.”
From MS-452, 9/22/74, Master Speaks, Where We Are Situated Now.
Tarrytown, New York, September 22, 1974
Some members were raped and some were murdered while fundraising. Others died in traffic accidents while on Mobile Fundraising Teams (MFT). There were financial goals to be met. When the Japanese began to take over MFT leadership in America, the pressure for results increased, the hours worked increased, and the number of accidents and deaths increased. Many members were only getting a few hours sleep. Sun Myung Moon: “A while back there were 82 traffic accidents reported in one month in our movement.” (Oct 3, 1976) So Moon knew about this. What action did he take? As far as is known, he did nothing.
My brother joined the Unification Church and was killed
Nineteen-year-old Atsushi Funaki was invited to the Unification Church through answering a questionnaire on the street in Japan. He graduated from school while living in a church community. He then went to the U.S. to fundraise. On May 10, 1992 he was selling roses on the street in East Philadelphia. Atsushi was beaten by two young black men with a baseball bat; they took his money, and left him for dead on the pavement. The police could not understand how the Unification Church could send a person to such a dangerous place on their own with money. The police said that they themselves only went to that area in pairs. They also wondered how a person with poor English could explain themselves to any attacker. He died a week after the attack. He was married but had never lived together with his wife. His brother, Hiroshi, reveals his ill-fated life and death in a Shūkan Bunshun magazine article. (Shūkan Bunshun 週刊文春 July 29, 1993) LINK
page 50: Moon did not go to Waseda University, though he frequently lied that he had, including to his first wife. In Tokyo, he went to a Technical High School affiliated with Waseda University for 30 months in 1941-43. His ‘fake graduation’ was debunked in 1974 in Japan by a major newspaper, Manichi, that investigated Moon’s assertions.
Research reveals Moon attended a Technical High School:
“Sun Myung Moon the early years, 1920-1953” book by Michael Breen (1997)
page 48: “In Tokyo, he [Moon] enrolled in the electrical engineering department of the technical high school.”
page 58: “Classes at the technical high school were in the evenings, between 6pm and 9:30pm, which left him [Moon] free during the daytime.”
page 170: “This point [free during the daytime] was made by Lee Hee-wook in an interview with the author. Lee was in Aum’s architecture class, and in the same lodgings as Moon for one year. Lee said many Korean students worked in offices during the day and could earn forty to fifty won a month.” LINK to the book HERE
However, the Japanese Unification Church / FFWPU later produced a fake graduation certificate and continued the lie in official publications. LINK
page 50: Moon’s Easter vision of Jesus on a mountain. Moon has given conflicting accounts and several different dates. It seems to be a fraud which he invented years after the claimed event. There are elements of other people’s testimonies in Moon’s story.
Professor Frederick Sontag went to Korea in September 1976 on a fact finding tour. He had also met Rev. Moon for a long interview. His book: ‘Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church’ was published in 1977.
page 78: “As nearly as I could determine from my tour in Korea, the story of humble origin, imprisonment, and suffering is substantially true. … It is interesting that his two cousins to whom I talked knew nothing of the ‘Easter revelation experience.’”
Further information here:
page 50: Jailed in 1947. These are the dates: Moon was jailed twice at around that time in North Korea, on August 11, 1946 and February 22, 1948.
In 1991 Ryo Hagiwara, who was fluent in Korean as well as Japanese, published 淫教のメシア • 文鮮明伝 The Life of Sun Myung Moon – the Messiah of a Perverted Sex Religion. This book was carefully researched and includes 96 photos and 65 pages of additional material from experts such as Dr. Myeong-hwan Tahk (19 pages) Professor Chin-hong Chong (26 pages) and Mr. Myung-hui Kim (male former Unification Church member, one of the 430 couples) (20 pages). Chung-hwa Pak’s descriptions of his time with Sun Myung Moon are in harmony with this book.
page 70: 最初の逮捕は一九四六年八月一一日。文鮮明は、混淫による社会秩序混乱容疑で大同保安署（警察署）に三ヵ月拘留されたのについで、一九四八年二月二二日、またも主婦・金鍾華さんとの強制結婚事件で内務署に逮捕された。……四月七日懲役五年の判決を受け、文は、興南刑務所に服役することになった。
金鍾華 = Kim Chong-hwa
興南 = Heungnam
Sun Myung Moon was first arrested by the security police on August 11, 1946. He was detained for three months at the Daedong police station. The charge was for causing social disorder, for alleged sexual immorality. (混淫 = “mixed dirty sex”).
On February 22, 1948 Sun Myung Moon was arrested for a second time by the Ministry of the Interior (Ministry of Home Affairs) for his coerced marriage with a housewife, Mrs Kim Chong-hwa. … On April 7 Moon was sentenced to five years in Heungnam prison.
LINK to further information about Hagiwara’s book in ENGLISH
LINK to further information about 淫教のメシア • 文鮮明伝 in JAPANESE
Los Angeles Times September 3, 2012
“Moon … problems with the North Korean government, which jailed him [in 1948] on charges of bigamy … He was freed in 1950. Moon’s first marriage, to Choe Sung-kil [Choi Seon-gil], ended in divorce in 1957. He had a son [Sung-jin] with her and another [Hee-jin] with Kim Myung-hee, who lived with Moon during the 1950s. In 1960 he married Han, then a young disciple.”
page 50: Execution. Only political prisoners were executed, Moon was there for bigamy – he was not a political prisoner. He was released by the prison guards, not by MacArthur’s forces who only arrived two days later. (ref. Michael Breen’s book Sun Myung Moon, the early years (1997) pages 111-112) LINK to the book HERE
page 53: “only Unification Church not suppressed” A least one significant christian church was not suppressed: The Yoido Full Gospel Church (Assemblies of God) of Rev Yonggi Cho. The Yoido FGC became the largest church in the world.
Documentation which clearly indicates President Park Chung-hee’s active support for Rev Cho’s church includes: History and theology of Korean pentecostalism (2003) by Ig-Jin Kim (see Section 7.2)
Also of note is “Park Chung-hee, gave orders to create a new Christian influence that would weaken progressive Christians who fought against his dictatorship.” in Korea Herald (November 2, 2016) by Ku Yae-rin, Student of international relations, Kyung Hee University, Seoul.
Moon’s Unification Church was one of the groups – from that time politics was key to the existence of the UC and the survival of Moon himself, in both Korea and the US.
Hyo-min Eu (a founder member of the UC) : “The main reason that people who had left the Unification Church and revealed the inner workings were subsequently imprisoned was because at the time there were connections between the Unification Church and the regime.
Please look back at the history of the Unification Church mass weddings. In answer to the question, “Why did the Unification Church stop pikareum?” I will just answer that Sun Myung Moon was ordered to “Do everything, but not that [pikareum]”.
The Unification Church mass weddings started in 1960. Although it was mentioned in the previous issue, the first wedding (held in 1960) and the second one (in 1961) are called ‘Holy Weddings’, and are clearly distinguished from the subsequent mass weddings.”
LINK Shūkan Post October 15, 1993, pages 212 to 215
page 53: Membership in Korea. 10,000 in Korea is a more accurate estimate.
A world total of about 200,000 is probably a generous estimate for the high-water mark of UC membership. See:
The Times (of London) April 3, 1978
“Founder of Unification Church better known in Korea as owner of weapons factories
From Peter Hazelhurst in Seoul and Diana Patt in Washington
… According to Professor Tak Myung Hwan [Tahk Myeong-hwan], of the Korea Theological Seminary and Director of the New Religious [Religions] Research Institute, the Moon seminary holds one year courses to train its “ministers”.
Professor Tak [Tahk], who is an authority on the Unification Church, says “In Korea the majority of Protestants shun the church. Moon only enjoys a large following overseas. His followers here are at most up to 10,000 persons, mainly poor unsophisticated people. Moon claims he has 360,000 supporters in Korea, but a former disciple who defected from the church confirms our figure.”
Professor Tak [Tahk] claims that Mr Moon has registered 936 churches in official Government reports on religious organizations. But an internal church magazine obtained by him lists the number of Moon churches in Korea at 172.”
page 54: Boonville was purchased in 1970 by Sang-Ik Choi, known as Papasan Choi. He and his wife, known as Mamasan, led the Re-Education Center which he had founded. Mamasan’s role in the community was significant.
His secular teachings, The Principles of Education, were the foundation for the teaching methods used in Oakland and Boonville by Dr. Mose Durst, Kristina Morrison Seher and the Creative Community Project team.
“Furthermore, the International Re-Education Foundation had owned some land in Boonville, California, sometimes known as [New] Ideal City Ranch, which it turned over in a simple transfer of title in 1974 to the Unification Church.” (page 111)
Rev. Sun Myung Moon (1978) by Chong Sun Kim. University Press of America
In this way Onni Durst inherited the Boonville property at around the time she was married to Mose Durst and made the leader of California (except Los Angeles) in December 1974 by Sun Myung Moon.
“Socialization techniques through which the UC members were able to influence” by Geri-Ann Galanti, Ph.D.