The post below appeared in the comments section of the New York Times story by Vanessa Grigoriadis about the wonderful Vanguard of Clifton Park and his lovely NXIVM self-help group.
By David Clarkson
My high school teacher was in Nxium. He told us all about his experience – he started going when he was young and still dating the woman he would one day marry. She had joined for one reason or another and encouraged him to go.
At first it seemed harmless – just friendly people talking to you about your troubles, and helping you take control of your life. Even when people started calling him at all hours of the night, asking him to talk about his problems, he said it felt ok – these people seemed friendly and helpful, not malicious, and they were just trying to help him in sometimes socially awkward ways
He said he only realized he was in a cult when their dear leader came to visit, and his using the incorrect title when addressing a question to him caused the group to scream at him until they were blue in the face.
For him, leaving was easy, because he was never totally entranced by them, but merely tolerated them. He said it was harder to convince his wife, that he had to make a list of all the abnormal things they’d come to tolerate for her to believe him (the late night calls, unannounced visits, group shaming, and other subtle social controls)
I’m glad he told me. When I moved to New York, neighbors invited me to join a self help group, and I immediately recognized it was a cult. I don’t think I would have otherwise. Cults don’t look creepy – they look friendly, and they recruit you by instantly befriending you. Know that, and learn the signs, everyone!