Sunday, January 22, 2023

Rabbits and Roe and reproductive rights


There's a perversely poetic symmetry in the fact January 22, 2023 marked both the beginning of the Year of the Rabbit* -- that universal symbol of fertility and prolific reproduction -- and the would-be 50th anniversary of Roe versus Wade, the United States Supreme Court ruling that revolutionized women's reproductive rights by effectively legalizing abortion throughout the U.S.

Roe, though widely celebrated by women's rights advocates, was consistently fought from its earliest days, a fight that grew
fiercer and more violent over the decades. Arguably, anti-abortion terrorism even helped fuel the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol. Even so, many of us clung to the increasingly thin hope that Roe would survive at least to the half-century mark. But when SCOTUS overturned Roe on June 24, 2022, that hope was dashed. And this weekend has been filled with marches and demonstrations that both celebrated and protested Roe's demise.

The anti-choice factions, whom I prefer to call the forced-birth fascists, have been exploiting the 50th anniversary of Roe not only to gloat, but also to double down on their commitment to ending abortion in America altogether, with
"fetal personhood" being a key obsession. Pro-choice advocates, on the other hand, declare that the fight for reproductive freedom is far from over.

Still, there's no doubt that it is going to be a fight, and in so many ways it seems like we are right back at square one. In
an opinion piece in The Guardian, US columnist Moira Donegan wrote:

In contrast to its political controversy, abortion in the Roe era was – as it is now – aggressively common. Approximately one in four American women will have an abortion at some point in the course of their reproductive lives.

The figure lends credence to the pro-choice assertion that everyone loves someone who had an abortion – and the accompanying quip that if you think you don’t know a woman who has had an abortion, you really just don’t know any women who trust you enough to tell you. But part of the legacy of Roe is not just that these women you know and love have been able to have freer, healthier, more volitional lives, but also that their abortions, for many of them, are not worth confessing. For most, abortions were not tragedies to be whispered about, or life-altering moments of shame, but banalities, choices to which they were unquestionably entitled, and from which they could move unconflictedly on. But Roe is gone. Now, for many women, these choices are crimes.

Donegan mused about how Roe opened a door for women to lives of greater dignity and self-determination, even though there were numerous flies in the ointment almost from the beginning.

This, at least, was the aspiration that Roe came to stand for: women’s freedom, their independence, their acceptance as equals in the American project. Of course, it never quite did work out that way: the Hyde amendment, which banned Medicaid funding for abortions, was passed just three years after Roe, in 1976, and effectively excluded poor women from Roe’s promise. Black women faced the dual barriers of moral judgement and eugenicist legacy – for them, often neither the choice to abort nor the choice to parent were fully free. Members of the anti-choice movement, assisted by a judiciary that became increasingly willing to do their bidding, were inventive and sadistically persistent in chipping away at abortion access, making it more expensive, more onerous, and more stigmatized than other kinds of medical care...

In an opinion piece on, journalist and journalist professor Claudia Dreifus reflects on the awfulness of life before Roe. She had first-hand experience.

In my college circle, one routinely heard the most horrific stories: operations in motel rooms, surgeries without anesthesia, abortionists who’d raped women seeking their services. Strange as it seems today: this was common. I had a friend who developed a pelvic infection after a back-alley abortion; she was rendered infertile.

I found myself pregnant in 1964. I was 19. At first, I tried to self-abort. I failed. A friend of my mother’s connected me with a doctor in Pennsylvania.

On the way there, I felt terrified. What if he wasn’t a genuine physician? Would I contract an infection like my friend did? The thought that I might die kept repeating itself. As I drove through the bleak January landscape of rural Pennsylvania, I thought “Whatever the risks, you must do this. There’s no turning back.”

I’d drawn the lucky card. He turned out to be a real physician. I had the operation under anesthesia and with proper medication. He provided abortions because he believed in it, never charging more than $100. His community protected him....

But Dreifus' happy-ending story was more the exception than the rule. Horror stories abound.

One of those horror stories was immortalized in the
April 1973 issue of Ms. Magazine, in a cover article titled, "Never Again," written by journalist and advocate Roberta Brandes Gratz. The lead photo in the piece shows a nude and bloodied woman, sprawled face down on the floor of a motel room following an illegal septic abortion in 1964. That photo has haunted me, and apparently millions of other people, for decades. It became a graphic symbol of the pro-choice movement.**

Like many millions of other women, I had a safe and legal abortion in the Roe era, in a clinical setting. I was very young, and for many reasons, having a child would have been a disaster both for me and for the child. My procedure occurred during the earlier years of Roe, when widespread anti-abortion demonstrations and violence were still in the future. So I did not have to face a gamut of screaming protestors, or be escorted into the clinic by an armed guard, or go through a metal detector, or communicate to the receptionist through bullet-proof glass.

Yet the procedure was emotionally wrenching for me, as it is for most people who, for one reason or another, have to make this decision. I rode an emotional rollercoaster of fear and doubt and sadness, punctuated heavily by an overwhelming feeling of relief. My nights were marked by a series of vivid dreams, both before and after the procedure. I vowed that I would never again get into a situation where an abortion was necessary. I kept that vow through the years, and in case you're wondering, I had no regrets then, nor do I now, that I chose to end my pregnancy.

It saddens and angers me that regressive forces have worked so hard, and continue to work so hard, to deny other pregnant people the same rights I had so many years ago. But it is encouraging to know that in the highest levels of government there is an ongoing effort to restore and preserve reproductive rights. For instance, there's the official
Statement from President Joe Biden on the 50th Anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Decision:

Today, instead of commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, we are acknowledging that last year, the Supreme Court took away a constitutional right from the American people.
Since the Supreme Court’s decision, Americans, time and time again, have made their voices heard:  women should be able to make these deeply personal decisions free from political interference. Yet, Republicans in Congress and across the country continue to push for a national abortion ban, to criminalize doctors and nurses, and to make contraception harder to access. It’s dangerous, extreme, and out of touch. 
I’ll continue to fight to protect a woman’s right to choose. Congress must restore the protections of Roe v. Wade in federal law – it’s the only way we can fully secure a woman’s right to choose in every state.

In keeping with this statement, Vice President Kamala Harris announced President Biden's new memorandum ensuring safe access to medication abortion, and helping to safeguard patient and provider safety and security.

Of course, that's just a presidential memorandum, issued by a president for whom the forced-birth fascists, many of whom are MAGAs, have no respect, and it's a pretty safe bet that they will do everything they can to get around it. But... it's something. And it shows that we have not and will not give in to those who would force a ten-year-old to bear the child of her rapist, or a woman with a dead fetus or an ectopic pregnancy to just grin and bear it.

In the Year of the Rabbit and beyond, reproductive rights, or lack thereof, will remain front and center in political battles all across the United States, and for that matter,
in numerous other countries across the globe. We shouldn't expect the issue to go away any time soon. For abortion became a political issue decades ago, and as I've said a few times on this blog, in politix, as in Scamworld, there are no neat and tidy endings. If you want to join the fight for choice and progress, here's a Google link to some resources.

* Note: It is the Year of the Rabbit everywhere except in in Vietnam, which stubbornly insists that this Lunar New Year ushers in the Year of the Cat.

** The April 1973 Ms. article also features a dramatic illustration by the late artist
Miriam Wosk. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I took the liberty of snapping a pic of the page in my copy of this issue, as I did the first page. No infringement of copyright is intended.

Friday, December 30, 2022

Serial scammer Kevin Trudeau: fighting to stay out of prison with yet another scam

Serial scammer Kevin Trudeau (aka KT, aka Katie on this Whirled), whom we most recently visited on this November 2022 post (updated in early December), is still fighting to keep from being thrown back into prison. Earlier this month, according to Chuck Goudie and the gang of investigators at Chicago's ABC7 News, Trudeau promised the court that he really, really will pay the remainder of the fine he still owes the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for his repeated violation of consent orders in which he'd promised to stop lying to consumers about the contents of his wacko diet book, The Weight Loss Cure "They" Don't Want You To Know About. (That was for the civil contempt part of the case; he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for criminal contempt charges related to the same book.) More specifically, he says that he'll pay the fine as soon as the government will tell him exactly how much he owes, which is the same thing he's been saying for at least the past several weeks, if not years.

But if you believe that promise, then you probably also believed that #NeverWasMyPresident
Donald John Trump really, really was going to release his income tax returns just as soon as the IRS finished their (nonexistent) comprehensive audit. In fact, if you still believe anything that comes out of the putrid pie hole of either Trump or Trudeau -- two turds of a feather -- you're setting yourself up for a yuuge disappointment when (if) you eventually emerge from your daze. Please get some professional help. I can only do so much on this blog.

In a recent federal court filing, Trudeau asked for more time to obtain the answer to the burning question of how much he still owes the government. (In fairness, he did reportedly try to find this out back in early 2020, when he was still confined at Federal sleepaway camp, but I was never able to learn whether or not his efforts were successful.) And while U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman, who has been presiding over Trudeau's civil case for many years, could have thrown him back in the clink following his last court hearing, the judge chose to let Trudeau stay free-ish for now. I say free-ish because, darn it, Katie still isn't allowed to travel the world to help humanity the way he's longing to do; instead, he has to stay in the Chicago area on a pretty short leash, legally speaking. Oh, why do such bad things happen to such good people?

A foundational principle of
Trudeau's decades-old scampire is his claim that the U.S. government is pure evil and that he is a long-suffering hero/martyr who is being punished merely for telling the truth about that evil. One of his current claims in this vein is that the government actually owes him money, according to the ABC7 report cited above (and here's that link again):

Trudeau actually thinks the government may owe him money, even though the FTC has just filed a 347 page report in court with a very detailed breakout and balance sheet. Trudeau gave his take during questioning in a deposition by government attorneys last Friday. At one point, he told government agents there's a possibility they owe him 400-thousand dollars in expense money.

Sure, Kev. Whatever you say.

I still don't have links to share to any of the relevant court documents regarding the most recent activities, but when/if I do obtain those links, I'll share them here. In any case, it appears that not knowing exactly how much he owes the government isn't the only obstacle standing in the way of Trudeau paying his fine. He claims that he still needs to actually raise the money to do so, and towards that end, he is poised to make his
BIGGEST Announcement...Ever!

Katie made the first big announcement of this Big Announcement via
his December 21, 2022 Telegram message on The Official Kevin Trudeau Fan Club Channel. He claimed that he actually hadn't planned to make this Big Announcement until many, many years in the future, if at all, his original idea being to make the information accessible only to the very highest ranking members of his mega-scam GIN (the Global Information Network).

The reason for the exclusivity, he splained, is that the information is just too powerful, and potentially too dangerous, to be released to the general public. So incredibly powerful is the info, Kevin claimed, that even though it was known to Think and Grow Rich author Napoleon Hill --
an old-school scammer who's still worshiped and mythologized by scammers in the modern era -- Hill never released it to the public. According to Kevin, Hill testified about these principles at a Chamber of Commerce meeting way back when, and although Hill's testimony was supposedly recorded, it was never transferred to audiocassette because the audio was of such horrendous quality.

Which means, apparently, that we will all have to take lying liar Kevin Trudeau's word that the audio even exists.

The explosive information in question is something that Katie calls the Money Processes, of which there are thirty. In his Telegram message, Trudeau claimed that the Processes were part of the "training" that he went through back in the early 1970s and the 1980s. Now, since he was born in 1963, he would have been, at most, 11 years old in the early 1970s. Then again, he has often bragged about what a prodigy he was. I guess you'll just have to take that on faith too.

At any rate, the bottom line is that these Money Processes are much too mighty for the average schlub. Nevertheless, Kevin is now going to make them available to every one of those schlubs, including you and me, simply because the FTC wants the money that they claim Kevin owes them, and if he doesn't pony up, he'll be thrown back into the clink. So really, he has no choice.

Trudeau also claimed in his Telegram message that numerous elite, mega-successful business tycoons around the world have offered him millions and millions and millions of dollars to form an exclusive company with them, meaning that he could have easily earned the money to pay the fine that way. But, goodness, if he signed an exclusive deal with any of them, he would be restricted from doing all of his books and trainings and one-on-one consulting and Zoom calls and frauduct peddling and stuff like that, so he just cannot do it, because he wants to stay true to his mission of helping the world by teaching all of us schlubs how to achieve the life of our dreams.

And because he now needs to raise a bunch of money quick, we're in luck. If you tune into his Zoom call at 1:00 EST on December 31, 2022, you will get to listen to his Big Announcement, which will not only offer you information about the Money Processes, but about other "opportunities" (or flopportunities, as my pal Salty Droid used to say) as well. The Big Announcement will last an hour to an hour and a half, but presumably it will not actually include the training itself, which will cost money, which, as Katie has explained, he needs in order to pay the FTC and remain a free-ish man.

At one point towards the end of his Telegram spiel, Trudeau said that his teaching about the Money Processes will remove all of your blocks against money -- that it will be like removing a dark cloud from your brain. I wonder if this dark cloud is anything at all like the brain cloud that Joe Banks was supposedly suffering in one of my favorite movies, Joe Versus The Volcano. Be that as it may, we have Katie's solemn assurance about his Big Announcement: "This is a wonderful blessing for you."

Bless his grifting little heart.

Several folks who are ex-Trudeau loyalists/insiders, and who in their former lives put an enormous amount of time, effort, and emotional energy into supporting his scampire, have contacted me about this Big Announcement. Fortunately, they've learned their lessons about Katie's endless capacity for bullshit, and not one of them was even mildly tempted to get sucked back into the grift funnel, despite having given over a major part of their lives to Trudeau in the past. In their own way, they all said they are profoundly relieved to be away from the cult, and that it's painfully obvious to them that this latest Big Announcement is just more of the same old same old. I applaud these folks for finally seeing the light.

Unfortunately there are vast numbers of other marks and potential marks who are still vulnerable, and I know that nothing I write here will change the minds of those who are truly determined to be led by the nose into the Katie cult. But I'll keep on trying.

Meanwhile, I'm taking the rest of the year off from blogging -- that is, unless something really big comes up tomorrow, the last day of 2022. I hope all of you have a safe and happy New Year's Eve/Day, and I'll see you next year.


Sunday, November 20, 2022

Serial scammer Kevin Trudeau is in trouble again (or still)

This post has been updated.

Well, that sure didn't take long.

I know this will come as no big surprise to anyone who has been even marginally keeping up with the saga of serial scammer
Kevin Trudeau, who was recently released from federal prison after serving about eight years of a ten-year sentence, but... he's in trouble again. Or rather, he's still in trouble over a matter that never actually went away: the millions of dollars that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says he still owes on a nearly $40 million judgment from years ago; and the FTC's belief -- which I happen to share -- that he has untold wealth hidden offshore.

On Thursday, November 17, Trudeau (aka KT, aka Katie on this Whirled) appeared in court before Judge Robert Gettleman, as reported in various Chicago-area media, such as
ABC-TV Channel 7 (reporting by investigative reporter Chuck Goudie), and the Chicago Sun-Times (by CST wire reporter David Struett). He's due back in court on November 30, and has an FTC deposition on December 9. I'll try to retrieve some documents from PACER and share them with you.

Apart from the big question about possible (probable) hidden wealth, both the ABC7 and Chicago Sun-Times piece report that Trudeau appeared to have violated his order to notify the court when he was released from prison. From the Sun-Times:

Prosecutors said Trudeau had ignored the order. “I think they wanted this to go away,” FTC lawyer Jonathan Cohen told the judge.

Trudeau’s lawyer, Giel Stein, said it was a “misunderstanding” and apologized. “He’s deeply regretful he did not show up at the end of his home confinement,” Stein said.

But I'm not buying it, especially since Katie took the time and trouble to actually write a letter to Judge Gettleman back in January of 2020, seeking clarification about what he needed to do, and what would be allowed to do, once he was released. I wrote about that here; that post also contains screen shots of the original judgment/sentencing document that outlined the restrictions Trudeau would face upon release. Even if he never received a direct answer from the judge, the matter would still have to have been on his mind. My guess is that he just blew it off, figuring he could get away with it.

As for the issue of hidden wealth, apparently there's new evidence. From the Chicago Sun-Times again:

At issue are two boxes of new evidence provided to the FTC by Trudeau’s now-ex-wife. The government wants to use those documents in Trudeau’s upcoming deposition, but the defense lawyers asked to review them for possible violations of attorney-client privilege. The judge ordered that attorneys on both sides review the documents and report back to him.

Prosecutors also allege Trudeau hid millions of dollars overseas and plans to flee there. The new evidence comes from information from Trudeau’s ex-wife’s testimony in their divorce proceedings, prosecutors said.

I imagine those divorce proceedings were... very interesting. From what I've heard, Katie's ex is well rid of him.

According to the news reports, Kevin really wants to start traveling the world for "business." But for now, he's grounded in the Chicago area. Oh, dear, if only he could just jump on
that big luxury cruise ship he's been dreaming about, and sail away... Except, of course, the ship doesn't exist yet.

Kevin bites back
Naturally, Katie had something to say about his latest troubles, and he said it on the
Kevin Trudeau Fan Club Telegram Channel on November 18, the day after his court appearance. Here's the direct link, if you have 15-plus minutes to waste.

If you'd rather not waste your time, I'll recap it for you here. Kevin spends the first part of his message 'splaining why it makes no logical sense for him not to have paid that $37 million years ago if he'd had the dough, thus avoiding a prison sentence. He repeatedly says that he didn't then and doesn't now have the money, and laments that it is impossible to prove a negative, so what's a poor boy to do?

Now, if you were just listening to this without the benefit of knowing Trudeau's past history, that would all sound quite reasonable. But in the years prior to his trial and conviction, he had
a notorious history of claiming to be poor, while he still continued to spend lavishly on himself. It's not unreasonable for the government to believe he still has money somewhere, since he repeatedly lied about it before. While it's true that the government seized as many of his assets as they could manage to get, the question that they asked back in 2013 and 2014 has never gone away: was there more? Investigators believed then and still believe that there is more, and I think they are right.

What also sounds more than reasonable, on the surface, is Trudeau's claim that it "makes no logical sense" for him to have not paid the big fine when first ordered to do so, or at least when the threats to lock him up began, thus avoiding what ultimately turned out to be a years-long prison sentence. Again, however, you have to look at the past, and here I don't have specific links because so many of them have apparently been wiped from the Web. You'll just have to trust my long-term memory.

For I do recall the defiance that Trudeau expressed on many occasions, starting back when the fine was considerably smaller than nearly 40 mil. Even as he was telling authorities that he didn't have the money to pay up, he was also telling his followers, via videos and on his radio show and more than likely at live events too, that he was refusing to pay on principle, mostly having to do with fighting government tyranny and so forth. He was, he repeatedly assured his followers, being a brave fighter not only for his own First Amendment rights, but for the 1Arights of all of us. Meanwhile, he continued to enrich himself from his various scams and schemes.

As well, he repeatedly violated consent orders that he had signed with the FTC, which only increased penalties and his own legal jeopardy. Subsequently, when called by the gov on one violation or another, he would always claim innocence, saying that he absolutely, positively had no intention of violating anything, and that he was doing his level best to cooperate fully. That was his losing argument in his criminal trial, in fact. Yet all the while he was playing the innocent, he continued with his defiance act, using it to burnish his hero/martyr narrative. He kept this up until there was no turning back. As they like to say on social media these days,

As the Telegram spiel continues he spends some time in motivational master mode, offering advice on how to handle adversity and gabbing about how the special training he offers can help anyone do just that. He also, as per usual, takes a few moments to peddle some of the overpriced frauducts that he sells through the Kevin Trudeau Fan Club website and Facebook page.

But the main purpose of the message -- and once again, this will probably come as no shock -- is to beg for money, and he mentions the link to the donation site a couple of times. Katie warns that his lawyer bills could possibly rack up to millions of dollars. Frankly, I'm surprised any lawyer took on his case, after he reportedly stiffed so many previous attorneys, but perhaps it's possible that the attorney named in the news stories, Giel Stein, is working pro bono, which, if that's the case, would negate the claim about millions of bucks in legal fees.

If you follow the embedded link in the previous sentence, you'll notice that some of Mr. Stein's listed accomplishments include defending big pharmaceutical companies, big insurance companies, and government agencies, so... maybe not the best choice for a lawyer for a defendant who's been loudly speaking out against all of the above for decades? That should be interesting.

In any case, legal fees are pretty far down on the list of
the Official Kevin Trudeau Fan Club's list of what your donations will be used for.

Your Contributions made to The Official Kevin Trudeau Fan Club ( therefore will be used to pay for these things and more (this is just a partial list of possible uses):

  • a place for Kevin to live and all his living expenses (utilities etc)
  • furnishings for Kevin’s residence
  • food
  • nutritional supplements
  • computers; cell phones; internet services; mobile phone service
  • personal care items
  • medical and all other insurances
  • dental care, haircuts, eye care (contacts and glasses)
  • car; insurance; petrol (gas); parking; maintenance
  • clothes
  • travel: transportation, hotels, meals 
  • lawyers and other professional services
  • subscriptions
  • secretaries, assistants, transcribers, researchers, social media managers, booking agents, drivers, security, etc.
  • and many other possible uses of the funds donated

Trudeau wraps up his Telegram message with his usual spiel about bad things happening to good people, and assures his fans, "Suffering is an option I choose not to take."

Of course. His go-to option is grifting, though over the years he has proven time and time again that he's not above playing the suffering victim in efforts to get leniency from the courts or to manipulate people into giving him money.

They've heard it all before
I think the prosecutors and Judge Gettleman are too smart to fall for Kevin Trudeau's excuses. And good for the ex for handing over that evidence. But if I were the investigators, I would also be scrutinizing the "success club" that Kevin founded back in 2009, the Global Information Network, or GIN. Back when Trudeau was officially running it, GIN was a huge scam that sucked millions of dollars out of thousands of rubes (see the link in the previous sentence for a capsule history of the scam), but technically GIN was not the reason he was charged, tried, convicted, and locked up. Even so, to this day a number of former GIN members would love to see Kevin Trudeau be held accountable for GIN; absent charges/trial/conviction/incarceration, they would simply like have their money back. That will almost certain never happen.

By the way, I've made this point and shared this link several times previously, but it bears repeating that Jason "Salty Droid" Jones strongly disagreed with the prosecutors' assertion back in 2014 that a ten-year sentence was sufficient because, according to them, no one who bought Trudeau's weight loss book was financially ruined. They may not have been ruined by the purchase alone, but for many that book, like Trudeau's numerous other loss leaders, was a gateway drug that did lead to financial and/or emotional ruin. But that's a whole other story.

Under court order,
GIN was sold in May 2014 to a group of Trudeau's close buddies, and though ownership has shifted since then, to my knowledge it is still owned by pals of his, chiropractors Dr. Tom and Dr. Ted Morter, and career huckster Blaine Athorn. Reportedly Kevin is not legally allowed to be benefiting financially at all from that enterprise. My understanding is that he's not even supposed to be calling the shots, though I suspect that he's been "shadow running" it for some time now, perhaps in violation of the terms of his probation.

At any rate I think it would be wise for the investigators to look into GIN's finances -- if that's possible -- to find out if, for instance, the proceeds from the club's live events, and from some of their other income sources, are being funneled to Kevin through the official donation site or other more hidden outlets.

The inevitable recap of the larger issues
I've discussed these issues at some length in previous posts, so this is mainly for the benefit of new visitors. First off, whether Kevin Trudeau should be locked up again, if he fails to satisfy the government's and the court's demands, is a larger question that I do actually believe is pertinent, and some who are new here may be surprised that I'm not firmly in the lock-him-up camp. I've said many times before that in general, I don't believe nonviolent criminals should be locked up (those who incite violence, such as
Donald Trump and numerous other republican politicians who are directly responsible for the violent January 6, 2021 insurrection, are another story, however).

Regarding Trudeau, the blunt truth is that being imprisoned never stopped him from scamming. Moreover, locking him up now almost certainly won't lead to the recovery of hidden assets. It would be punitive, and perhaps would be poetic justice or karma, if you believe in such things. And locking him up could limit his huckstering activities, but again... it won't keep him from grifting, either directly or through his loyal proxies. The bottom line is that the government would probably be no closer to reaching its stated goals of retrieving the money still owed, presumably so the remaining refunds to those who bought Trudeau's wacko diet book, The Weight Loss Cure "They" Don't Want You To Know About, can be issued. I discuss the incarceration issue in
a January 2022 post, under the subhead, "Did prison change Kevin Trudeau?"

In other words, I recognize that there are nuances to this story, as there are to most stories. But the gist of it is that Kevin Trudeau is, has always been, and almost certainly always will be a scammer -- and my opinion on that issue is anything but nuanced.

Secondly, some may be asking why this obvious crook is even still important in the larger scheme of things. Isn't he so... yesterday? Rather than re-invent the wheel, I'll just direct you to
the aforementioned January 2022 post again (under the subhead, "Why this still matters, after all these years"). Here's a snippet: major reason that I think Kevin Trudeau is still important, apart from my concern that he has spent decades cheating people out of their hard-earned money, is that he is flagrantly symptomatic of a nearly out-of-control trend of misinformation/conspiranoia crapitalism.

Of course Trudeau was in many respects far ahead of the curve, since he has been trading in "information that 'They' don't want you to know" for decades. Most of that "information" has consisted of misinformation, distortions, exaggerations, lies, repackaged selfish-help/McSpirituality content, or, in some cases, cherry-picked data about issues that have been addressed by far more responsible consumer advocates, whistleblowers, and muckrakers. But the nebulously evil "They" were the perfect scapegoat for Trudeau's marketing strategies...

And as I wrote at the end of that post, "Caveat emptor."

Stay tuned for further reports.

Update, December 6, 2022: Jason Meisner at the Chicago Tribune reported on Trudeau's November 30 hearing. The government is still considering "coercive incarceration" (which has never worked in the past to get Trudeau to cough up the dough, but whatever).

At a hearing Wednesday, [FTC attorney] Cohen revealed newly discovered emails that he said show Trudeau was seeking to ship and store 300 pounds of gold bars and other precious metals in Switzerland in 2013, the same time he was crying poor to the court.

The FTC has also learned that around the same time, Trudeau hired two law firms in Switzerland to research what impact pending lawsuits in the U.S. would have in Switzerland as well as the logistics of legally changing your name in that country, Cohen said.

Of course, Trudeau is once again stalling for time.

Trudeau’s attorney, Giel Stein, accused the FTC of jumping the gun, saying Trudeau “is acutely aware of the consequences here” and only wants to know how much he still owes so he can figure out how to begin repaying it.

Stein also said it made no sense to put Trudeau in jail before he’s given the chance to answer questions under oath about his assets at a deposition, which is scheduled for Dec. 9.

Judge Robert Gettleman, though clearly fed up with Trudeau's lies and his stall tactics, declined to incarcerate Trudeau immediately, setting a December 15 hearing to sort things out. Meanwhile, Trudeau's lawyer, Giel Stein, says he wants to question Trudeau's ex-wife under oath about “eight suitcases of materials that (she) absconded with” from Trudeau’s storage facility in Zurich, Switzerland. Sounds like the defense is trying to blame the ex for Trudeau's crimes.

More updates to come.

Monday, November 07, 2022

Vote. Just vote.

Tomorrow, November 8, is the big day when US voters who haven't voted early make their trek to the polls for the midterm elections. At stake is nothing less than the future of American democracy. I'm nervous to the point of losing sleep about that future, as, I suspect, are millions of other folks, not least among them former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, who, in a November 6 opinion piece in The Guardian, wrote:

Today I’m not particularly worried about Republicans’ policy preferences. Today I’m worried about the survival of our democracy.

I’m worried that a
majority of Republican candidates are telling voters, without any basis in fact, that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.

I’m worried that if elected, many of these Republicans will make it harder to conduct elections in the future, allow or encourage endless audits of election results, and even refuse to sign off on them.

I’m worried that Republicans have been spending millions to recruit partisan poll workers and watchers in the upcoming election, who could disrupt the counting process or raise false claims about it. (Michigan Republican secretary of state candidate Kristina Karamo rose to prominence as a Detroit poll watcher who made false claims about election fraud.)

I’m worried that thousands of Trump supporters have been calling their local election offices requesting all kinds of public records, often using suspiciously similar wording, leading officials to believe this is a coordinated effort to prevent them from holding an election.

I’m worried that violent thugs are on the prowl, and that Republican leaders – starting with Trump – have been quietly encouraging them.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that republican policies and platforms aren't concerning. To the contrary, there's plenty to worry about, including but certainly not limited to the republicans' determination to annihilate health care coverage, benefits, and protections for millions of Americans; the reckless and dangerous forced-birth movement that is pushing the country towards an all-out abortion ban; the party's stubborn climate change denialism; and a relentless culture-war mentality that threatens to reverse important and hard-gained civil rights.

But overshadowing all of these issues is the GQP's fundamental threat to democracy.

The new owner of Twitter,
Moscow Musk, has a take on the midterms that, to put it mildly, differs from Dr. Reich's and mine. Despite a previous declaration that Twitter should be politically neutral (a tweet for which he was roundly and soundly trolled, mostly for his hypocrisy), today he tweeted that he wants all of you "independent-minded voters" out there to vote for a republican Congress. Why? Well, it's because, according to his expert political analysis, "shared power curbs the worst excesses of both parties" -- and since "the Presidency is Democratic," rethuglicans will provide a much-needed balance.

As absurd as Musk's advice is
in light of American politix in the age of Trump, it's hardly shocking, and it's certainly nothing new for him. Nikki McCann Ramirez wrote today in a piece for Rolling Stone:

Musk’s overtures to right-wingers are not a new development. He announced that he had voted Republican for the first time earlier this year, tweeting that he had “voted for Mayra Flores – first time I ever voted Republican,” and predicting a “Massive red wave in 2022.” Musk also recently moved from California to Texas, posturing the change as the “last straw” regarding California’s Covid restrictions.

Flores has
aligned herself with the QAnon conspiracy theory, and scores of the Republican candidates Musk wants his followers to vote for on Tuesday have peddled lies about the 2020 election. His push to put the party in control of Congress seems to be at odds with his vision for the future of the platform he now owns. “Twitter needs to become by far the most accurate source of information about the world,” he tweeted Sunday night. “That’s our mission.”

Even though Musk has felt compelled to 'splain on Twitter that he is an independent, mind you, and that until recently he always voted Democratic, you have to wonder what took him so long to find his new home, politically speaking. After all, it's the republicans who famously hate regulations and laws that rein in big businesses. It's the repubs whose primary mission is to help billionaires and big corporations avoid paying taxes (which is why Elon picked up his toys and moved to Texas). In addition, repubs overall seem to be pretty tolerant of grifters and scammers (professional courtesy, perhaps?), and they're the party of greed. No doubt about it: Elon and the Red Menace are a match made in purgatory.

Musk or no Musk, the rethuglican party is rapidly becoming the new American Fascist party, fueled by "The Big Lie" about the 2020 election. Here is voting rights expert
Marc Elias, writing for the Democracy Docket site in October:

Republican election deniers, vote suppressors, “Big Lie” advocates and their political and legal enablers spread misinformation about elections because they believe that without public confidence, elections are easier to overturn and the results are easier to ignore. Denying the truth about the 2020 election does not just allow past grievances to fester. It lays the groundwork for Republicans to seize power in the future...

...The GOP no longer presents voter suppression and election subversion with a wink and a nod. It enthusiastically embraces these anti-democratic tactics. There are no dog whistles left in the GOP; they have been replaced by blaring sirens of authoritarianism.

No matter which party prevails tomorrow, we're in for a rough ride leading up to, and beyond, 2024. This November 4 piece in the Harvard Gazette -- in which three scholars of government and politics share their views about the future of American politics and democracy -- is worth a read. One of the interviewees, Professor of Government and Sociology Theda Skocpol, summed up what many of us are feeling:

We’re in a very serious crisis, in my opinion, the most serious since the coming of the Civil War. The reason for that is there are a lot of levers that, if pulled together and combined with violence and threats of violence, make it possible for minority authoritarians who feel threatened to change the regime — really change the system — in de facto and quasi-legal ways. I point to the fact that a minority of the country — particularly those living outside of metropolitan and more racially and ethnically diverse areas — do feel profoundly threatened by the changes that have occurred in American society. They can obstruct things or even control court appointments through the Senate with a third or less of the American population. Gerrymandering is now an art and, combined with the Republican sweeps of state legislatures in 2010, allows anti-majoritarianism there, and the federal courts have really bowed out of defending any kind of voting rights and access, and, probably worse than that, may be on the verge of strengthening the hand of minority authoritarians. Combine all that with the fact that people are now threatening violence at the local election workers that most Americans take for granted and that most Americans, I think, choose between two parties according to current economic conditions. They don’t perceive the threat, and they won’t perceive it until it’s too late.

That's exactly right. Candidates from both major political parties have been gabbing nonstop about "kitchen table issues," purported to be the matters that voters really care about. Generally these are the issues that affect them directly on a day to day basis, and, yes, they usually are economic issues. It would appear that in this election cycle, the republicans are scoring the most points by pounding their fists on that proverbial kitchen table as they scream about record-breaking inflation and high gas prices and soaring food prices and, for good measure, rising crime and shaky border security. It's all framed in a spurious blame-the-Dems narrative, of course, with inflation and high gas prices being the most popular bogus GQP talking points.

But you want to know what my husband Ron Kaye and I talk about the most at our actual kitchen table? Sure, we're concerned about higher costs, as is nearly everyone we know, but what we talk about the most at our table is the growing threat to democracy in America, courtesy of the GQP's love affair with right-wing authoritarianism (as demonstrated by, among other things, their yuuuge crush on Hungary's Viktor Orban). We're also worried about the global expansion of authoritarianism. And I seriously doubt that we are the only ones who are deeply concerned about these matters, and who feel that President Biden was spot-on in his warnings about MAGApublicans.

Ron and I voted last week -- not that our votes will do a lot of good in our deeply toxic red state of Texas, aka Gilead. Texas, unfortunately, has become a leader in the headlong race to an illiberal dystopia. But we continue to vote anyway, because we still have hopes for the future of our state and the country.

And if you're eligible (and registered),
I hope you vote too.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Moscow Musk and the "new" Technocracy

Q: So this is why Musk seemingly “overpaid” for Twitter? He and his backers want to use it as a tool of information warfare, to kill off the dollar and help usher in Putin’s “multipolar world?”

A: Yes, that’s why they “overpaid” for Twitter. Because the end goals have nothing to do with Twitter or its ad model by itself. It’s merely a means to an end. Musk is likely to join forces with Trump’s Truth Social and Kanye West’s Parler to try to control much of the information space. And they’ve got the threat of Putin’s nukes to force the issue.
~ Investigative journalist Dave Troy,
explaining Elon Musk's true motives for buying Twitter

Fourteen years ago, just ahead of the 2008 US presidential election and in the midst of a terrible global financial crisis, I published a post about the Technocracy movement, and I facetiously suggested Technocracy as a possible bailout plan for the modern day, or at least as a basis for the New-Wage scams I used to write about so much. In light of recent developments, perhaps it's time to drag that old post out again.

Technocracy had its roots in the years immediately following World War I, but didn't really come to fruition until the Great Depression, when folks were desperate for solutions to their financial misery. In essence, Technocracy proposed the control of society by an elite corps of technical experts, who would determine what was best for everyone else. Everyone would be taken care of, and all of their needs met, through the application of sound scientific and engineering principles. Yet Technocrats weren't motivated by altruism, morality, or ethics, and they scoffed at the idea of democracy. And although their stated goals included equality and fairness (by their definition of fairness, anyway), they were disturbingly elitist.
At its core Technocracy, like the various forms of autocracy also scorned by Technocrats, was still about power and control in the hands of a few.

Technocracy was a raging fad among many elites and elite wannabes during the lean Depression years and even into World War II, but its star dimmed considerably in the prosperous years after the war. But Technocracy never really went away. In fact it could easily be said -- and it actually has been said -- that egomaniacal multibillionaire
Elon Musk, the wealthiest man on the planet, is a Technocrat.

It would seem to run in the family. Musk's grandfather,
Joshua Haldeman, was very big in the Technocracy movement in Canada back in the day. From a November 2021 piece on the Business Live site:

Believing that science and technology could cure all ills, Haldeman campaigned for the capitalist monetary infrastructure to be replaced by a new universal currency, based on a unit of heat, to be known as the erg. The technocrats even wanted an end to prices, in the view that scientists could handle distribution within society far better than the market.

Such concepts seemed dangerous to the Canadian government, which banned the movement over its opposition to World War 2. The belief system faded away with the growth of prosperity after the war. But similar ideas are inspiring the current excitement over meme stocks, cryptocurrency and the man who now calls himself “Technoking”.

To [Harvard University historian Jill] Lepore, Musk’s ideology seems to flow from these outlandish — and outmoded — views. In Lepore’s words, his ambition is an “extravagant, extreme” even “extraterrestrial capitalism, driven by fantasies that come from science fiction”.

Professor Lepore's theory is that Musk's stated mission to colonize Mars is a reflection of Technocratic philosophy. That makes sense. What also makes sense is the notion that Musk's recent takeover of a popular social media platform is rooted in Technocratic philosophy, among other related motives that are even more disturbing.

"The bird is freed" (and even if it crashes into a window, Musk will probably get fatter on the splatter)
As almost everyone must surely know by now,
Elon Musk's deal to buy Twitter finally went through this past week. This was a hotly discussed and debated topic for many months, and I even tackled it on this Whirled, though in a broader context than the basic will-he-or-won't-he-go-through-with-it debate.

Not surprisingly, the right wingnuts and conspiranoids and hatemongers have been giddy with delight since Musk liberated the bird: they are rolling over and wetting themselves praising their Overlord as they celebrate the "return of free speech" and the "end of wokeness" on Twitter. Many have expressed their great joy by reportedly flooding the forum with the N-word, just because, like naughty kindergartners, they can. The Neo-Nazis and their ilk seem to be having a field day too.

Many others, not so happy, are just waiting for Twitter to fail, and are taking great gulps from their chilled bottles of schadenfreude because they believe Musk made a laughably horrible deal, paying far more for Twitter than it is worth. Many are also vowing to leave Twitter, perhaps migrating to Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey's nascent Bluesky forum, as if that'll show Elon.

I'm holding off on the schadenfreude myself, because I think Musk is invested in a long game that has little to do with the success or failure of Twitter, by conventional standards of success and failure (e.g., ad revenue and whatnot). And I plan to stay on Twitter -- after all, I'm pretty much of a nobody there anyway, and everyone just leaves me alone. I certainly have no plans to hop onto Bluesky. That would only be helping the dude who played a key role in Musk's deal to take Twitter private, and who happens to be good friends with Musk rather than his rival: Jack Dorsey.

Everyone who is at all concerned about Twitter, the future of actual free speech (online and off), and especially about the future of democracy, should read investigative journalist Dave Troy's October 29, 2022 piece on Medium, 'No, Elon and Jack are not “competitors.” They’re collaborating.' Troy explains that he has followed Twitter closely since its inception, and has had a chance to talk in depth about technical topics with Jack Dorsey and the company's other founders over the years. Accordingly, he has views that differ from the "well-intentioned but poorly-informed commentary and analysis" that we've seen all over the media.

To those who think Musk's purchase of Twitter is crazy because he's sure to lose tons of money, Troy counters that Musk and his backers have far broader goals than making a profit.

The goals are more ideological in nature. Musk and his backers believe that the global geopolitical arena was being warped by too much “woke” ideology and censorship, and wanted to fix that by first restoring voices that had previously been silenced —and then implementing technical and algorithmic solutions that allow each user to get the experience they want. They think this can “solve” the problems that people cite about social media content. Making money, they figure, will come from the secondary effects of enabling “free speech” and the possibility of building other services like payments and replacing government on top of such an app. Plus the company’s social graph data is a goldmine for other businesses that may wish to benefit from detailed knowledge of the makeup of society.

And that's where the Technocracy angle comes in, where Twitter is concerned. Dave Troy believes it's completely naive to think that there is a technical solution to harmful content, which is likely to lead to more radicalization and cultish behavior.

...they are being willfully ignorant of the harmful side effects of content. It is a kind of tech fundamentalist solutionism that posits that for any difficult problem, there must be a technical solution. Many sociologists and cultural scholars would argue differently.

But the Technocracy aspect goes far beyond Twitter, and out into the further reaches of Space. Troy points out that back in April of this year, Dorsey wrote:

In principle, I don’t believe anyone should own or run Twitter. It wants to be a public good at a protocol level, not a company. Solving for the problem of it being a company however, Elon is the singular solution I trust. I trust his mission to extend the light of consciousness.

Wow. That sounds pretty spiritual, especially for a sociopathic ego-tripper like Musk -- although, come to think of it, this blog is littered with posts about sociopathic ego-trippers who talk a good game about "light" and "consciousness" (this guy and this guy, for instance), so never mind. In any case, Troy explains what Dorsey really meant by "the light of consciousness."

This is a reference to “longtermism,” the heavily marketed philosophy being promoted by Musk and his friend William MacAskill that asserts the only thing that matters is humanity’s future in space, and that the only goal of the living is to maximize the number of future humans alive, as well as the number of artificial intelligence instances that could possibly exist in the future. This mandate is most often used to brush aside calls for improving conditions and alleviating suffering among the living here on Earth now. Because, the theory goes, giving a poor person a blanket isn’t likely to be as useful for the future of humanity as building a rocket to Mars. Longtermism is heavily influenced by “Russian Cosmism” and is also directly adjacent to “Effective Altruism.” Musk’s stated mission, which he intends to fulfill in his lifetime, is to “make humanity a multiplanetary species.” The anti-democratic urge in longtermism is rooted in the belief that “mob rule” will lead to nuclear annihilation; we should, Musk thinks, be guided by “wiser” minds — like his and Putin’s apparently.

What it all seems to boil down to is that Elon Musk is a Technocrat of the worst sort, putting all of his faith in technological solutions to everything, but caring far less about applying those solutions to the suffering masses on Earth today than to future generations of multiplanetary humans. And making him an even worse sort of Technocrat -- and human being -- is his malignant narcissism. All of his grandiose plans and pronouncements seem to be chiefly a means of drawing attention to himself, enabling him to suck all the oxygen out of the room, much like another malignant narcissist we know of promised, in so many words, to do years ago. (That guy has fulfilled his promise, or rather his threat, many times over, of course.)

In any case, Elon's Mars thing is in the future. Meanwhile back on Earth, in the present day, Moscow Musk is cozying up to Vlad and the MAGAs and other foul characters.

Musk also seems pretty interested in helping advance Putin’s “multipolar world order,” which is why he plays footsie with QAnon and MAGA accounts, and pals around with Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. “How are things going in Bakhmut?,” Musk asked Medvedev.

Nice guy.

Troy ends with a warning to all of us:

Ultimately what we are dealing with is the fact that social engineering through control of the information environment is an inevitable reality—the only question is who has the means and moral authority to do it.

If democracy-minded people don’t seize control of the information environment, powerful sociopathic autocrats will do so instead. We leave a power vacuum open at our peril, and at the moment, Musk and Putin are the ones with the most will to fill it.

Again, I urge you to read Troy's entire piece on Medium. Here's that link again. Read it. And don't forget to vote, if you're eligible and registered.


Saturday, October 08, 2022

13 years after James Arthur Ray's deadly sweat lodge, cults are still a danger

Today, October 8, 2022, is the 13th anniversary of the day that sociopathic New-Wage/McSpirituality guru/cult leader James Arthur Ray killed two of his followers: Kirby Brown and James Shore, and set in motion the death, nine days later, of a third follower, Liz Neuman. The instrument of their deaths was a fake and utterly reckless "sweat lodge" ceremony in Sedona, Arizona, that also injured dozens of other participants. The phony sweat lodge was the "final challenge" at Ray's pricey "Spiritual Warrior" workshop.

Ray, who had shot to fame following his appearance in the simplistic and crassly materialistic New-Wage moviemercial The Secret, was convicted of negligent homicide for the three deaths in Sedona -- and consequently served less than two years in an Arizona state prison -- but he was never criminally charged in the death of yet another follower, Colleen Conaway, at a San Diego Ray event a couple of months before Sedona.

Every year since October 8, 2009, I've commemorated the horror in Sedona on this blog, and this year is no exception. But this year, I'm going to inject some politics into my annual observation, because, unfortunately, cults and cultishness have slithered their way into American (right-wing) politics, and I don't think the threat that they represent can be overstated.

In a way, this is a tale of two Virginias, and I only hope that the Virginia I greatly admire will not be insulted by appearing in the same blog post as the "other" Virginia, for whom I have nothing but contempt. Let's get that "other" V out of the way first.

Virginia Thomas: there and back again -- from cult member, to anti-cult crusader, back to cult member
Today Virginia "Ginni" Thomas is best known as the
conspiracy-mongering -- and possibly seditious -- wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence "Long Dong Silver" Thomas. But not everyone is aware that Ginni was once a member of a cult, and at some point became aware that it was a cult, and underwent "deprogramming," after which she became an anti-cult crusader for years.

The cult with which Ginni, then known by her maiden name of Virginia Lamp, was involved was a
Large Group Awareness Training (LGAT): the now-defunct Lifespring, a product of the "human potential movement" that began in the late 1960s and came to fruition in the 70s and 80s. Lifespring was founded by several colleagues of Werner Erhard, the perpetrator of the even more infamous Erhard Seminars Training, or est (which later became The Forum, which later became Landmark Forum, which later became Landmark Education, which is now Landmark Worldwide).

NBC News was one of several media outlets covering Ginni's journey there and back again. A
June 14, 2022 article on the NBC News web site offers a brief summary of what Lifespring was and did (and in the process, I couldn't help but notice, mentions Ray's "sweat lodge").

Lifespring, like NXIVM and “Sweat Lodge Guru” James Arthur Ray’s course that led to three deaths in 2009, are what some experts call Large Group Awareness Trainings, New Age self-help programs that paradoxically promise to deliver almost superhuman mental abilities that can be achieved only through total submission.

Lifespring put inductees through grueling multiday “educational” sessions where they were psychologically broken down. In a 1987
Washington Post exposé of the group, Thomas gave an interview describing one session in which trainees were made to strip down to bathing suits and subjected to body shaming.

“The emphasis was upon abandonment to an undifferentiated, unknowable other,” psychologist Janice Haaken and sociologist Richard Adams wrote in
an academic journal article on Lifespring. They participated in a 1981 training in Seattle where they witnessed a man have a psychotic break while organizers berated him, concluding that the impact of the training “was essentially pathological” for even the people who enjoyed the experience.

Several trainees died, including a 27-year-old model who was refused medical attention during an asthma attack, leading to a $450,000 settlement with her family,
according to a 1987 article in The Washington Post. The group, which claimed to have trained hundreds of thousands, went defunct in the 1990s after a series of lawsuits.

Following Ginni Lamp's realization that Lifespring was a destructive cult, and her escape/deprogramming, she became a force for good -- for a while, anyway. From the NBC piece cited above:

“When you come away from a cult, you’ve got to find a balance in your life as far as getting involved with fighting the cult or exposing it,” Thomas told attendees at a 1986 Cult Awareness Network panel in Kansas City, Missouri. “And kind of the other angle is getting a sense of yourself and what was it that made you get into that group. And what open questions are there that still need to be answered.”

It’s difficult to reconcile Thomas then and now, four people who worked with her at the height of her anti-cult activism through the late 1980s said in interviews. After she spent years trying to expose cults, these people found Thomas’ efforts to promote outlandish plans to overturn the 2020 results, particularly
the text messages and emails in which she referenced false election conspiracies that originated in QAnon circles on the internet, surprising. Democrats and Republicans alike have said QAnon supporters exhibit cult-like behavior.

“Ginni Thomas was out there active in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and then she really went a different path,” said Rick Ross, a prominent expert on cults and a former “deprogrammer” who knew Thomas through their anti-cult activism. “I admire the work she did back in the ‘80s. And she should be given credit for that.”

No disrespect intended to Rick Ross, whose work I've long supported, and I've always been willing to give credit where credit is due, but isn't there a point at which today's awful deeds cancel out yesterday's good ones? In any case, at the risk of overstating the obvious, Ginni Thomas née Lamp is in an even worse cult now -- not just QAnon in particular, as noted by various media outlets that have explored her curious journey, but the Trumpcult in general. Ginni loves her Trump, and apparently the love is returned.

While Ginni Thomas is a high-profile example, her story isn't all that unusual; for many folks, susceptibility to cults and manipulation is apparently a lifelong condition, somewhat like traditional recovery circles claim is the case with alcoholism and other drug addictions. In
my previous post, and in a different though related context, I quoted myself quoting my pal Jason "Salty Droid" Jones, but I think another quotation of a quotation of a quotation is in order here.

...None of this is really surprising.... As my pal Salty Droid has both documented on his blog and has mentioned in private correspondence, quitting one manipulative scam or scammer doesn't cure one of the thinking pattern errors that got them sucked in in the first place. "Manipulation causes susceptibility to manipulation as a side effect," sez Salty.

Indeed. A July 24, 2022 piece on the Business Insider site not only suggests that Ginni Thomas has "fallen back into old habits" but also offers some insight from cult expert Steven Hassan, himself a former cult member who worked with Ginni back in her anti-cult activism days. Hassan said he actually wasn't surprised by Ginni's apparent infatuation with QAnon.

"Ginni Thomas was in a cult, and anyone who has ever been in a cult is vulnerable to another cult if they haven't properly counseled and done their homework," Hassan said...

..."I haven't called [Ginni Thomas] stupid or crazy, which the media does, because I know that she's been unduly influenced into these beliefs. She's a very intelligent, educated person, but her brain has been hacked," [Hassan] claimed. 

With all due respect to Steven Hassan, while Ginni is almost certainly not stupid, she is, in my unprofessional opinion, bat-crap crazy.

she's far from the only American who believes in QAnon's batty conspiracy narratives. A PRRI Report from February of this year revealed that nearly one in five Americans in general, and one in four republicans in particular, still believe in QAnon conspiracy theories. And Americans who most trust far-right "news" are nearly five times more likely to be QAnon believers than those who lean towards mainstream news media. It would be all be merely humorous, were it not for the fact that this deep toxic ocean of irrationality threatens to drown American democracy.

So you really can't talk about cults in general without injecting a little bit of politix in the mix.

Virginia Brown: turning profound grief into a force for good
Now we come to the Virginia I admire: Virginia "Ginny" Brown, mother of one of James Arthur Ray's death lodge victims, Kirby Brown.

The families and friends of the four people killed by Ray have all learned to cope with their losses in their own ways. One of the ways that Kirby Brown's family chose was to found a nonprofit organization,
SEEK Safely to help educate the public, hold self-help leaders accountable, and hopefully avoid more deaths and injuries at the hands of reckless gurus.

Given the context of this post, I should probably emphasize that SEEK Safely is not a partisan political organization, the only connection with politics being
an ongoing campaign for responsible legislation to rein in the self-help industry. Nor, contrary to what some might expect, is the organization anti-self-help. Rather, its message and mission center around empowerment, in the best sense of that egregiously overused word, i.e., by helping people make informed decisions when choosing to go the self-help-seminar route. I urge you to visit the SEEK Safely site, which is continually expanding. You will find a wealth of useful information, as well as opportunities to get involved if you're so inclined.

Yet another way the Brown family found to come to terms with Kirby's death, while helping many other people who are dealing with profound loss and pain, was through the 2020 memoir,
This Sweet Life: How We Lived After Kirby Died, by Ginny and her younger daughter Jean. It is truly a lovely and haunting book, which I read shortly after it came out and have yet to keep my commitment to fully review here -- but never mind my own negligence; I urge you to read the book.

Before I wrap this up I also want to make the distinction between self-help cults (or cultlike organizations) and the whole QAnon/Trumpcult phenomenon, particularly regarding their respective followers. I think that many if not most of the people who get sucked in, to the point of harm, by charismatic self-help gurus have good intentions themselves, despite the malevolent intentions of the "leaders" they look up to, and that their original motivation for becoming involved is simply to improve their lives in some way. (This of course applies to those who get involved voluntarily and not because they were required to do so by employers or coerced by loved ones.) Many LGAT attendees are highly educated, high-achieving, even adventurous souls who like to challenge themselves and be challenged. Even Ginni Lamp Thomas, who was highly educated when she got into Lifespring, was reportedly drawn to the LGAT by a desire to improve her life.

QAnon, on the other hand, attracts a wide range of fringe "thinkers" and nutcakes, many of whom aren't the sharpest tools in the shed, and it's also a convenient weapon wielded by power-hungry cynics who don't actually believe the wackadoodle conspiracy theories pushed by Q but are all too happy to exploit the gullibility of those who do believe. Unlike many LGATs, and for that matter the Trumpcult, QAnon doesn't have a single specific high-profile cult leader at the helm, but the conspiranoid narratives pushed by Q advocates are in many ways more destructive than anything any LGAT guru could wreak. And the Trumpcult, which is fed by and feeds into the Q cult, poses an even greater danger than Q alone.

That said, it would be a mistake to underestimate the danger of self-help cults led by malignant narcissists. Like James Arthur Ray, for instance.

For Ray, the daze of the four- and five-figure live events such as the Spiritual Warrior travesty that culminated in the death lodge would seem to be over, and that's a good thing. Though he has been struggling to make a comeback since his release from prison, framing the whole Sedona thing as a super-major trial and tribulation for him, his audience has shriveled like the balls of a long-time steroid user.

Today Ray merrily tweeted about something he calls "Steps to the Economy of Mind #5," which is apparently part of his "Modern Alchemy" shtick. He advises, "ONLY put things in your mind that cause YOU to improve." Spoken like a true narcissist. He didn't even mention the death lodge anniversary, not that I would expect him to, since putting that thought in his mind and out in the Twitterverse would most likely not cause him -- or his bottom line -- to improve, at least not by his definition of improvement. In any case, today's tweet, like most of his nuggets of wisdumb on Twitter, has earned very few likes, and zero responses so far. Even so, James Arthur Ray still has a fan base, and as long as he is in the business, he remains a danger, no matter how minor that danger may seem at the moment.

The takeaway: Whether it's a McSpirituality/selfish-help cult or a far-right political one, cults remain a threat. Do what you can to protect yourself and those you care about from their influence. (And make sure you're registered to vote, if you're eligible.)

And... never forget.

Related musings from the Whirled archives: