Exclusive FACTNet Interview With Margaret Singer : Part II
(Margaret Singer continues her discussion of the Bo Peepers, now known as Heaven's Gate or Higher Source, and goes on to explain some of the characteristics of a cult and what needs to happen to prevent tragedies like Heaven's Gate.)
Now my notes jump to September 1983, when a mother whose son was in the Bo Peepers called me. She said there were about ten parents coming to meet in Berkeley, and she wondered if I would meet with them. She had heard me talking on the radio about cults, saying that parents of cult members should try to talk to their kids and not haggle them and so forth.
I met with those parents, and what I found amazing was that these people were willing to talk about the fact that they thought their offspring were in a cult, but they kept saying to me, "But they don't look like anyone who's been brainwashed." As much as I tried, I couldn't get them to see that people don't suddenly acquire purple dots on their face once they've been brainwashed. It is a mental state.
I know that around that time -- in about 1983 -- the Bo and Peep people had some meetings up in Tilden Park near Berkeley, and they also met down on the peninsula south of San Francisco. Then the only time I heard about Bo and Peep was at meetings where I'd get together with lots of ex-cult members, and that was how I learned that they became the "Him and Her," and "The Two," and "Te and Do."
He was a former music teacher in Houston, you see, hence do, re, mi, fa, so, la -- te, do. So you see the loony-tunes property in a lot of this thinking.
The woman died of cancer, I think, in 1985 as far as I know. Then over the years I would hear about this group at meetings of ex-cultists. They'd say, "Hey, have you heard about the Bo Peepers, this UFO cult?" At one point I was told that they were all living together, that they were no longer living separately, and that they were down in Texas.
Now, looking at my notes I see that in 1995 I had a young man call me who told me he had left the group. He said he had been out on the road for years and years. Bo and Peep -- actually Te and Do at that point -- sent their followers out in little groups to get menial jobs like being busboys and carpenters' helpers. They were to stay in phone contact with Te and Do, and send money from their menial jobs. Te and Do still had not been told by the space ship when it was coming.
They always told their followers, "We can get the messages from the space ship. You guys are not pure enough, you're not advanced enough. You're going to have to stay there."
Or they'd send them on to a new place. At different times I heard that their followers were in Oregon; Sedona, Arizona; Laramie, Wyoming; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Colorado, up in the mountains.
Across time I have had some parents call me, always unaware of whether the group was all together or if they just met once in a while and were still living scattered. But this man who contacted me in 1995 was the last time I was in touch with someone who was actually in the cult.
Many people have been asking me, "In what ways does this group resemble other cults?" It resembles other cults in a number of ways.
They self-proclaimed that they they were very special persons, and that if you followed them you would be transported to outer space on a UFO. So the modus operandi of the cult is there.
Another characteristic of a cult is that they erase your identity. These people were blunt about it.
They also had a dress code -- all black. They were told to wear dark baggy clothes, shirts were to be buttoned up to the neck, and men and women were all to have short hair. So uniformity of dress and plainness of dress was emphasized the way it is in a number of cults.
Then of course, separating them totally from their families is something that nearly all cults do. They taught their followers an entire cosmology of how the world works. And they instilled a tremendous degree of fear and guilt.
The three big operative words are 1) Dependency, 2) Fear, and 3) Guilt. By the time people become aware of how dependent they are on the cult they have been cut off from everything. They have broken ties with their family, so they're dependent on staying with the group and the cult leader. Additionally, by that point they've been indoctrinated to be afraid of some terrible thing that will happen to them if they leave the group, and they're made to fee horribly guilty that their nearest and dearest will be harmed if they leave the cult.
I think what needs to be done is that we've got to have a tremendous education program to keep people from being so gullible, or so trusting, that they buy into these things.
Secondly, I think we have to combat the anti-scientific, anti-rational, anti-reasoning attitudes that have become so prominent in our society. For example, people around here in California are saying that magic touch, any kind of potions, wearing crystals, getting in sweat baths -- all of that is equivalent to western medicine. Nobody is speaking up and saying, "This is not alternative medicine. This is anti-sicence. It is the promotion of quackery."
Most importantly, people must understand that these thirty-nine people who died did not have freedom of choice. If any good can come out of such a tragedy, it will be that more of the public will become aware, when their children or relatives totally split off from the family and join some group, that it may not be total freedom of choice. They may well have been unduly and improperly influenced. The person may have been deceptively recruited into the group, and after a while they will become so dependent on that group that there is no return.
Furthermore, the type of cult a group becomes hinges almost solely on the personality and the fantasies of the cult leader. There have been other cult leaders who have had long-term fantasies about suicide. Jim Jones [People's Temple] talked for years and years about suicide. He called it "passing over." Bo and Peep talked all along about being transported, about how death was not to be feared. David Koresh said repeatedly that life was going to end with a fiery ending like in the Book of Revelations. Luc Juret [Solar Temple] used his knowledge of ecology to make his followers fearful that the air and water was going to run out and that they should commit suicide now, after giving all their property to him and another man. He told them they should have a ceremonial death and then all meet up on the star Sirius.
There was a woman called Beloved Mother in Korea. She took thirty or more followers with her when she committed suicide. There was another woman, a cult leader in Thailand, who did the same thing. Another one was going to have a hundred and forty-four thousand people meet in Kiev where a ball of fire was going to arrive, and she would be transported to heaven on it, and somehow these thousands of others would rise up behind her. But the day it was to happen, only sixty people showed up and the police arrested her. She is now in jail, somewhere in the Ukraine.
(For the most complete and well researched overview of the cult problem, please read Dr. Singer's seminal work on the subject, Cults In Our Midst, published by Jossey-Bass. The book can be ordered directly from the Jossey-Bass web page.)