The Sydney Morning Herald Saturday, September 22, 2001
They have lured hundreds of followers with their claims to treat cancer, cure drug addiction, break drought and perform other miracles. Ben Hills reports on Australia's fastest-growing cult.
Country boys don't cry, but you can see the tears welling up in Bill's brown eyes as he sits at a table in the barn that serves as an office, talking about the wife he has lost and their three young children left without a mother. "We were such a close family until they came along and started messing with her head," he says. "Now she doesn't want to have anything to do with me, and I'm flat out getting her to even visit the kids at weekends. She's been brainwashed." Until two years ago, this was a happy, churchgoing family living in the countryside not far from Brisbane.
Then Andrea* was introduced to a woman using the pseudonym Omni, a recruiter for a strange and secretive cult called Infinity - Forms of Yellow Remember. It began with meetings at a shop leased by the cult near the smart Twin Waters resort at Maroochydore, on Queensland's Sunshine Coast. Then, according to Bill, Andrea began bringing home plastic pill bottles of liquid with labels such as Elan Vital and Dolphins Under Orion which she drank and tried to persuade her children to take.
Finally, she came home with a large box of coloured phials of liquid, a "Stargate" box, for which she had paid $6,000. Bill says he tried to reason with her but by then the marriage had broken down and the couple filed for divorce, with Bill being awarded custody of the children and Andrea leaving home to live in one of the cult's communes. As part of the settlement, Bill gave Andrea more than $100,000 - but the day the money was transferred last year, she told him she handed it over to the cult, and is now drawing unemployment benefits.
When her husband, devastated, asked her why she had given it all away Andrea explained, "I don't need the money - they [Infinity] will look after me." Bill is not alone in his anguish.
...Raphael Aron, a Melbourne-based expert on cults, says it has between 300 and 400 members and is one of the fastest-growing and most pernicious of more than 400 cults he studied for his book Cults: Too Good to Be True (HarperCollins). From discussions with relatives of members, he says it uses "classic cult techniques of isolating people from friends and family and instilling unbounding faith in the message of the leader".
Consumer protection authorities in Queensland, NSW and Tasmania have condemned the cult - although none has yet taken any action against it. The NSW Fair Trading Minister, John Watkins, warns that Infinity's marketing of worthless cure-all potions is "a mean con trick aimed at the most vulnerable people in our society". And very profitable: the Herald has discovered that Infinity has amassed considerable wealth in the five years it has been operating.
In Queensland and NSW, cult leaders have bought at least seven properties worth in excess of $2 million on the proceeds of sales of its healing potions - actually small bottles of distilled water which it sells for up to $110 each.
The voice on the audio tape is nondescript, an Australian accent broken up occasionally by fits of understandable giggling. The two sides of the promotional tape, to the uninitiated a gobbledegook of God, Stephen Hawking, alchemy and claims of miraculous healing, are entitled The Blindness of the Clueless Rabbit and More Questions from Rin Tin Tin.
...This is the voice of Infinity's founder, a tubby, balding, bespectacled man born Gerald Hart Attrill in Hobart in 1941, but who in recent years has taken to comparing himself with God, adopted the name Jessa O' My Heart, and bestows equally odd pseudonyms on his followers. Thus we come across acolytes who call themselves Emerald Astroturf, Rondo Blue Brain Me and Elara Rainy Day Asteroid. Little is known about Attrill - apart from the fact that he graduated in arts with a major in psychology from the University of Tasmania in 1968, and once worked at a bakery - until he appears in the mid-1990s living on a commune on the outskirts of Tyalgum, a pretty, historic hamlet between Murwillumbah and the hippy haven of Nimbin, in northern NSW. Here he begins formulating his spiel, and in 1997 forms a company he registers as Infinity - Forms of Yellow Remember Pty Ltd.
...But the fraudulent healing claims being made for Infinity's highly priced products are. In its literature, and by way of testimonial on its Web site, the cult claims to be able to cure any condition, from HIV to alcoholism and broken bones. There are about 270 different potions offered for $US55 ($103) on the Web site, "empowered alchymeically by the most panagyric gnostic science of Hermes Trismigistus", with whimsical names such as Batman in Paris, Full of Holes at the OK Corral, Hallucinogenics Elixir, Hand of God, Chemical Warfare, Junkie Atheist, Knock-out Drops and Embalming Fluid. But there is nothing whimsical about the claims made for them. For instance, one writer describes himself as a doctor in charge of a nursing home and "530 terminal cancer patients" in Singapore. He says that he has been using Infinity's products on his patients, and writes in a testimonial that it is "the strongest and purest form of healing that exists, far surpassing any level of conventional medicine".
One devotee claims to have been cured of liver disease; another to have used the potions to treat children suffering from depression and anxiety. A bottle of the Harry Lime Theme is said to have cured a young boy of Lyme disease, and a man of 50 scheduled for open-heart surgery discovered that he did not need the operation after he drank a bottle of Iron Heart.
On the even wilder fringes, an expensive show horse is claimed to have been cured of a nervous condition after its owner (not the horse) drank a bottle of Radical Diagnosis, and Sirrah Delphi Lore of Texas wrote to say that after installing Infinity's $6,000 Saturn Bubbler (an array of coloured plastic tubes) heavy rain fell, breaking the drought on his ranch, and "also the aphids, which are usually horrific, are completely gone".
...Queensland's Fair Trading Minister, Merri Rose, says the cult is buying distilled water for $1 a litre, and selling it for $40 a bottle, a profit of 1,600 per cent.
A price list obtained from the centre at Byron Bay, where Infinity workers assemble the merchandise in a block leased on the local industrial estate, shows that the mark-ups are similarly extravagant on other products. A pendant called Excaliber, for instance, costs $55 but sells for $475 in Australia and $990 internationally, a mark-up of 1,800 per cent.
...Gloria Luz Nelson also sounds close to tears when I respond to her email with a telephone call to her home in Madison, Wisconsin. It has been nearly five years since she has been able to sit down and talk to her daughter, now aged 30 and one of Infinity's leaders, using the nom de plume of Clover Bright Heart.
Like Bill's, Nelson's family was close-knit and God-fearing, Gloria's husband a former Peace Corps worker. Ingrid was "an outgoing, intelligent young woman" with a degree in business administration when, in 1996, she came with her mother for a holiday in Cairns. Nelson returned to America, and Ingrid journeyed down the coast, eventually winding up at Byron Bay where she met an Infinity recruiter named Show Me Shower Seven Splits. She was inducted into the cult, and wrote an angry letter rejecting her parents - since then she has refused to acknowledge them, even when they tracked her down.
"The whole family is devastated by this," Nelson says. "It has been like losing a daughter. I know she's 30 now and should be able to make up her own mind, but I don't think she can see straight - I think they have brainwashed her."
...Says Raphael Aron: "Attrill's made a lot of money out of this and surrounded himself with all these female acolytes - he's having a great old time. I can't help thinking he giggles himself to sleep at night just thinking about it."
*Bill and Andrea are pseudonyms.
This is an extract from http://www.smh.com.au/news/0109/22/review/review6.html