Listen to the latest episode:
13 September 2023
This San Francisco and NYC-based theatre troupe and Fourth Way school became one of the most secretive this podcast has looked into yet. Many members didn’t know each other’s jobs, marital status, or even surnames. They didn’t see each other outside of what they referred to as ‘the work’ and they didn’t tell anyone outside where it was they were going two nights a week.
23 August 2023
Andrew Pledger was raised in the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement, and after completing his homeschool education, attended Bob Jones University. He's the creator of the limited podcast Surviving Bob Jones University: A Christian Cult, which explores the school’s history, the psychology of fundamentalism, the criteria for cults, and survivors’ experiences.
16 August 2023
Sarah is a cult survivor, domestic violence survivor, and a survivor of trafficking and modern slavery. Now she uses her experiences to advocate for change. She is a fierce defender of the rights of others and is the founder of Survivor Connections, a resource she built alongside survivors for those who have experienced exploitation.
9 August 2023
Carol Merchasin heads up a practice covering sexual misconduct in religious, faith-based and spiritual communities at McAllister Olivarius. She previously spent many years as an employment lawyer and has also been a partner in the Philadelphia office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and director of Morgan Lewis Resources. Later in her career, she was asked to take her investigative background to look into sexual abuse within various Buddhist and yoga communities.
2 August 2023
Lisa Kendall spent the ages of 9-19 in The Move of God, Sam Fife's apocalyptic cult. Today, she devotes her time to working on policy changes that will help former cult members and children in high-demand organisations. For International Cult Awareness Month 2023, she updates us about her work with Counter Cult Coalition and the work of others in the counter-cult space.
14 June 2023
Screenwriter, actor and author Guinevere Turner recently released her memoir When the World Didn't End. In it, she recounts her childhood experiences growing up in The Lyman Family, and the abusive family situation she found herself in when she was pulled out of the cult.
3 May 2023
To understand more about the history of Gloriavale, you can listen to our 2-part episode about the group. Rosanna Overcomer recently celebrated 10 years out of Gloriavale, at the end of March 2023, and shares some of her story and the work she does now to help support others.
12 April 2023
Divine Madness Running Club boasted some spectacular results in ultramarathons and became known for their excellent support teams and low-impact style of running. But the Boulder, Colorado based group was also notorious for their strange ways, whereby members were expected to follow the directions of their teacher in all aspects of their lives.
15 March 2023
The 'Ascension Attitudes' were adapted from Transcendental Meditation by a man who called himself 'MSI'. When they didn't catch on, he started to claim they'd come from an ancient order of Himalayan monks, and that Jesus Christ himself had intended to bring them to the world.
8 March 2023
Matthew Klein’s story is featured on the podcast Inside the Tribe, and Matt sat down with LTAS for a chat about what he learned from his time in the Twelve Tribes, and what he thinks society could be doing about organisations like this.
15 February 2023
The BCF and its network of organisations across Australia have been the subject of a Four Corners investigation and a detailed book, speaking with former members who have numerous stories of families being torn apart as a result of their involvement. Author Morag Zwartz wrote that it “is every bit as pernicious and harmful as the Exclusive Brethren.”
18 January 2023
MOVE Philadelphia made headlines over confrontations with the authorities and an explosive device being dropped on their property. Many understood it as a Black liberation group who were the victims of a racist system. The latter is hardly debatable, but credible stories from former members suggest that MOVE was never really about Black liberation at all.
14 December 2022
A group in regional Queensland, Australia, has no name, meets in members' homes, and doesn't write anything down. This will sound familiar to those who have listened to the episode on the Two by Twos, aka The Truth. Bob Barlow's offshoot had just as many problems with allegations of crimes against children.
30 November 2022
Daniella Mestyanek Young was born into the Children of God, as was her mother before her. She left as a teenager and put herself through school and university, then decided to join the military. Her fantastic book Uncultured explores many of the parallels between the cult and the armed forces.
23 November 2022
Tim Elliott is an award-winning journalist and author who first wrote about the Twelve Tribes many years ago. His new podcast, Inside the Tribe, follows two families' experiences with the organisation. Tim had a chat with LTAS about what his investigations into the group found.
16 November 2022
The Logos Foundation's embrace of the Shepherding Movement led many to consider it incredibly cult-like, and certain facets of the religious right today can trace a direct lineage to its teachings. Founder Howard Carter’s hard-line approach to sinful behaviour would prove to be hypocrisy-ridden for almost the entire time his organisation existed.
9 November 2022
Anke Richter is an international journalist and author based in NZ. Over time she’s found herself covering more and more cults, to the point where she recently published her first book about the subject: ‘Cult Trip’. Anke is also a member and co-founder of FACT Aotearoa (Fight Against Conspiracy Theories).
2 November 2022
Kathleen Oh is a rare breed: a wellness coach who is cynical about wellness and the coaching industry. She works with clients across integration and psychedelics education. Over time, Kathleen realised that her own coaching may have involved undue influence, and that a lot of her perspectives were rooted in white privilege.
26 October 2022
Dr Janja Lalich is a world-renowned expert in cultic studies, who offers resources to help survivors of coercive groups as well as courses for therapists and social workers to improve their counselling services. She was once a member of a cult herself, and rose to a leadership rank. She's dedicated herself since to using her experiences to assist others.
19 October 2022
Noel Smyth & Fergus Grady's gripping exposé on New Zealand’s most infamous and secretive religious group, founded by Australian evangelist Neville Cooper, has quickly become New Zealand’s highest grossing local documentary.
12 October 2022
Twin Flames Universe promises devotees a path to ascension through finding their ultimate lover, and building a permanent, harmonious union. But former followers have accused the organisation of exploitative labour, encouraging people to stay in abusive relationships, and pressuring members to undergo gender reassignment.
5 October 2022
In early 2018, Avi started seeing a new psychologist. She'd experienced childhood trauma, and wanted to get some help with managing panic attacks. The registered psychologist she found seemed to be a great fit. But over time, she came to realise that her psychologist had been trying to groom her into a cult.
14 September 2022
Samael Aun Weor claimed that he had synthesised all of the world's religions into the one true path to spiritual development. Crucial to his religion was a sexual practice that involved couples never reaching orgasm. Lynn Short spent 17 years following his teachings, and even became a missionary.
27 July 2022
Sarah Edmondson and her husband Nippy spent 12 years in NXIVM, even meeting each other there. Today they make the fantastic podcast A Little Bit Culty, in which they speak with some incredible guests including other former cult members and experts in cult dynamics.
20 April 2022
Lisa Kendall spent the ages of 9-19 in The Move of God, Sam Fife's Apocalyptic cult that sent followers into the harsh wilderness to live off the land. For this bonus episode she speaks about her work with Counter Cult Coalition, the organisation she founded alongside spiritual abuse expert Kent Burtner.
8 December 2021
KwaSizabantu means “the place where people are helped” in Zulu. Former South African member Erika Bornman and former Australian member Daniel Schricker have a different opinion of what happens to people there.
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.