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30 June 2021
David Freeman was handed over to Anne Hamilton Byrne at the age of two, when he went to live with the other children at The Family’s Lake Eildon property. It took 12 years before he was rescued by the police, and given his freedom. At 15, he vowed not to tell anyone about his childhood in the notorious Victorian cult, and it was a promise he kept for 25 years.
14 & 21 April 2021
Gloriavale Christian Community has found itself in the New Zealand media headlines on multiple occasions. Its Australian founder, Neville Cooper – who later renamed himself Hopeful Christian – was jailed for sexual abuse, but community members believe that he was incarcerated for preaching the gospel.
18 March 2021
Violet Pryor told her followers that she was God. They gave up their money and possessions to keep her in comfort. David Ayliffe became one of her key 'Pillars'; a right-hand man. After her death, he became the leader of the cult she had created in Sydney, Australia.
17 February 2021
At 17, Remy Attig was keen to get away from his parents’ fracturing marriage, and ready for something to give his life purpose. The Master’s Commission discipleship training program seemed like just the thing to set him up for a life of travel and spreading the word of God.
20 January 2021
Lindy Jacomb was born into the Exclusive Brethren in Auckland, New Zealand, and was told there was no longer a place for her there in 2008. Her family cut off all communication with her and she was forced to start a new life at the age of 20, without any of the people she knew and loved.
16 December 2020
At 19, Shannon Bundock was ready to dedicate herself to the revolution, and wanted to change the world for the better. She helped found socialist organisation Fire This Time in Vancouver, Canada. More than five years later, she’d find herself flat broke and unable to make life decisions about the simplest things, like what to wear.
18 & 25 November 2020
Natasha Tiku wrote for Gawker in 2013, “Everyone is interested in doing fun things with their bodies. But the impulse to systematize, replicate, package, sell, and build an ideology around it is uniquely Silicon Valley.” She was writing about an organisation that was monetising the female orgasm. And they weren’t the only ones doing so.
14 October 2020
Laura McConnell was born into a fundamentalist Christian sect that claims it has no name. Former member Elizabeth Coleman told reporter Nathan Jolly: “It is of utmost importance to them that they do not have an official name or headquarters or centrally identifiable presence anywhere on earth.”
16 September 2020
Helen Zuman's memoir Mating in Captivity details her experiences joining Zendik Farm, a polyamorous commune in North Carolina with the motto ‘Stop Bitching, Start a Revolution’, which she came across in 1999. Helen stayed until 2004, but it wasn’t until the following year that she recognised she’d been in a cult.
22 July 2020
Journalist A.M. Gittlitz released his book I Want to Believe: Posadism, UFOs and Apocalypse Communism earlier this year. In it, he explores the fascinating world of the Posadists – a Latin American Trotskyist group who are best known today for their zany beliefs around extra-terrestrial and dolphin intelligence.
15 & 22 April 2020
The Children of God, later known as The Family, became notorious for their practise of “Flirty Fishing”. They believed in bringing up their children to have no inhibitions around sex, but their approach caused lasting trauma for many of those children.
18 March 2020
John Robert Stevens wrote when he was just 14 years old: “My joy must be in doing His will, in being His slave.” He was writing about Jesus Christ, but he could well have been writing to his future devotees as to how they should feel about himself.
12 February 2020
In 1996, journalist Madeleine Bunting wrote for The Guardian UK: “The controversy surrounding the NKT is shattering illusions that Buddhism was the one fail-safe religion.” Twenty years later, clinical psychologist Dr Michelle Haslam joined the NKT under that very same illusion – one that she now feels obliged to help truly shatter herself.
15 January 2020
Hare Krishnas are often seen as joyous, harmless people, dancing their way through the streets, chanting to bells in their colourful robes. But in one particular Australian offshoot, a young woman named Lina spoke to Let's Talk About Sects about her not-so-harmless experiences.
18 December 2019
WANTED: families to volunteer to live for six months in the Australian outback “to advance the frontiers of social science.” Be part of a cutting edge research project to test the ideal human environment... In a country known for a population that loves to travel, the write-ups appealed to plenty of adventurous spirits. Little did they know the reality of what they would be getting themselves into.
13 November 2019
Followers of The Move rejected mainstream society and headed into the wilderness in the 1970s, building isolated communities that were to set them up for the coming Apocalypse. Many ex-members would later tell stories of physical hardship, beatings, and worse, experienced in these communities. Move leader Sam Fife told devotees that should he ever die, they could consider it proof that he was a false prophet.
16 October 2019
Universal Medicine teaches that entities known as The Four Lords of Form rule over 9-foot-tall spirits that are all around us, and that most people have lived at least 2,300 lives before. Former student Matt Sutherland told Sunday Night journalist Matt Doran that he would describe Universal Medicine’s founder Serge Benhayon as “a human wrecking ball.”
18 September 2019
Edgar Bronfman Sr. once wrote a testimonial for a self-help course he'd taken: “If everyone were to go through this training, the world would be a much better and safer place to live.” 17 years later, the leadership of that very same self-help organisation would be on trial for charges including sex trafficking, forced labour, fraud, extortion and child pornography.
18 July 2019
On the 14 June 2019, news broke in Australia that many people had been waiting on for a number of years. That news was the death of Anne Hamilton-Byrne, founder of The Family. Sarah spoke with journalist Chris Johnston about the event.
17 April 2019
Chung Moo Quan positioned itself as the one true form of martial arts. Many who chose to take it up would come out the other end having lost thousands of dollars, personal relationships and career opportunities, and even their sense of self.
13 March 2019
The Order of the Solar Temple shares the history pages with Jonestown, the Branch Davidians and Heaven’s Gate. And in spite of the striking ideological differences between them, there were some similarities across all of these groups that ended in such undeniable tragedy.
13 February 2019
In spite of the fairly sensational nature of Alistah Laishkochav's lifestyle and crimes, his name is not well-known in Australia, and his polygamous cult gained the most media attention when a recent contestant on The Bachelor was outed by the press for her childhood involvement.
16 January 2019
Joy Kuo and her husband moved to Sydney from Taiwan in 2000, and in 2012 Joy attended the Mind, Body, Spirit Festival. There she came across a group that she would dedicate the next five years of her life to. Iphigenie Amoutzias had moved to New Zealand from Germany, and came across this group around the same time.
19 December 2018
Grace Adams and Poia Alpha are two sisters from New Zealand who joined the Branch Davidians along with their younger sister Rebecca. Poia left the sect in early 1990, and Grace in late 1991. Rebecca remained with the group at the compound in Waco, Texas, and perished in the fire of April 1993.
14 & 21 November 2018
A religious sect that started 50 years ago in Melbourne, Australia, has been highly secretive over the last few decades. The only way to find out about it was by talking to ex-members, who were brave enough to speak out for the first time about their experiences in this 2-part episode.
17 October 2018
In October of 2013, Freedom Charity received a call on their hotline. The woman on the other end said that her housemate had been held captive for 30 years. She and her comrades believed that an invisible machine would incinerate them if they tried to escape the man they called ‘Comrade Bala’ – who was the covert leader of the world, and, in fact, God himself.
19 September 2018
Synanon began as an addict support group that gathered in a grimy Californian flat in the late 1950s. It would grow to become a well-funded utopian society throughout the late ’60s and early ’70s, before declaring itself a religion in 1974. Its leader Charles Dederich is often credited with coining the phrase “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”
18 April 2018
This year marks the 25th anniversary of a shoot-out and subsequent siege at Mount Carmel in Texas. The events of a quarter century ago ended in a tragedy later to become known as the Waco Massacre.
22 March 2018
Let's Talk About Sects speaks with Sarah Hightower (referred to as Sarah Skibtower), a researcher who has invested the last 16 years of her life into understanding all she can about Aum Shinrikyo. Includes a correction from episode 3 of this podcast.
14 March 2018
William Kamm's sect, The Order of St Charbel, is rooted in Catholicism and based in the Nowra area of NSW. Kamm is best known for receiving messages from the Virgin Mary on the 13th of every month, and for his Royal House of David – which consisted of 84 "mystic wives" who would take the world forward with him after the coming Apocalypse.
14 February 2018
Cyrus Teed theorised that the Earth is hollow, and we all live on the inside surface of it. He formed a utopian communist community in Estero, Florida, and he and his followers were known as the Koreshan Unity.
17 January 2018
Universal Knowledge, previously known as Life Integration Programmes, offered courses that promised to help people realise their full potential. Carli McConkey says she lost 13 years of her life to the organisation, and last year published a book about her experiences called 'The Cult Effect'.
13 December 2017
Kenja is an Australian group whose name comes from its two founders – Ken and Jan. The organisation utilises a technique called 'Energy Conversion Mediation' that they say helps people with their "attached spirits". Sound familiar?
15 November 2017
Aum Shinrikyo, under the leadership of Shoko Asahara, committed shocking acts against the Japanese public when members released sarin gas into the Tokyo Metro at rush hour in March 1995. With tens of thousands of members, including scientists with the capability to manufacture multiple deadly chemicals, this was one of the most dangerous cults that has ever existed.
18 October 2017
The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God was a sect that looked to go back to the basics of the Bible. And while the cult asked its followers to adhere strictly to the Ten Commandments, its leadership would go on to spectacularly break the fifth commandment: Thou Shalt Not Kill.
20 September 2017
Anne Hamilton-Byrne led the most notorious Australian cult to date, The Family. Full of middle class doctors, lawyers, architects and nurses, she preached a mix of Christianity, Buddhism and spirituality, claiming herself to be the reincarnation of Christ. By the late '60s, she had fixed upon the idea of creating the perfect race of children to take the world forward after her predicted apocalypse.