Drive-thru Deliverance

It's not called est anymore, but you can still be ridiculed into self-awareness in just one expensive weekend

Ofshe points out that brainwashing isn't always as scary as it sounds and it doesn't necessarily involve physical assault. He distinguishes four characteristics of coercive persuasion: the reliance on intense interpersonal and psychological attack, the use of an organized peer group, applying interpersonal pressure to promote conformity and the manipulation of the person's social environment.

In his report on the Landmark Forum, Raymond Fowler of the American Psychological Association states, "The relatively brief encounters in a pleasant environment that characterizes the Landmark Forum program could never effect such extreme and unwanted changes in personality and behavior as those attributed to the various forms of 'mind control.'"

When asked whether they use any brainwashing techniques, Kamin says "absolutely not." "I think that's about as libelous as you can get, and I think it would be very interesting if you print it," he says. "I'm not going to even respond; I think it's ridiculous. I think it's a ridiculous allegation."

Rick Ross, a Phoenix-based cult interventionist, receives numerous complaints about Landmark.
Rick Ross, a Phoenix-based cult interventionist, receives numerous complaints about Landmark.
Landmark Education's office building in central Phoenix holds "Forums" every six weeks.
Paolo Vescia
Landmark Education's office building in central Phoenix holds "Forums" every six weeks.

Kamin says he's shocked that anybody would even raise the question. "We will take very seriously anything that libels or slanders us. And I believe you will," he says. "And if you say I'm defensive, I want you to be clear that's an interpretation that may or may not damage my reputation personally. Because I'm not defensive."

But Ross questions whether coercive persuasion is what allows a group like Landmark to produce attitude and behavioral changes in people and convince them that their long-term participation in the group is essential to preserving that change.

"The problem is -- is it really making their lives better, and what is the long-term result?" Ross asks. "What I have seen is that they are very good at convincing people that their lives have been changed and they've had good results."

Ross gets letters from people who say he has no legitimate grounds to criticize Landmark because he hasn't been through the training himself. "I don't have to jump off the South Rim to know it's a bad idea," he responds.

Day three starts off with much of the same. Richard is still talking about how he has a great life, and we are pathetic, little people.

A woman confesses her story about incest, and Richard says there is no right and wrong. In some cultures, even incest is not considered taboo. Anyone who argues is cut off with a thought-terminating cliché -- "That's your racket," "That's why your life doesn't work."

Looking around the room, my eye falls on one young man, sitting with his arms folded, looking defiant. Over the break, Jerry and I go for a walk. "Are you cool?" he asks me. "Or are you one of them?"

Jerry was 15 when he first heard about Landmark. His father was involved in it and was trying to get the whole family involved. Dad brought the family to his completion meeting five years ago. "I thought it was the biggest crock of shit I'd ever heard of in my life," Jerry says. "Some of it made sense, but the people were just fake. You can tell fake people when you meet them."

Jerry says he finally wound up in this Landmark course after he was arrested for possession of a joint coming back from Nogales after spring break. A prosecutor agreed to let Jerry attend Landmark instead of going to rehab. Jerry, now 20, has requested anonymity because he wants there to be no record of the drug charge.

"We had pretty much agreed on rehab when my dad came out of left field with this Landmark thing," he says. "The DA said, 'What's Landmark?,' and I knew right then and there I was going. My dad is a good salesman."

If Jerry's father, 57-year-old Steven, is good at selling the idea of Landmark, it's because he believes in it. In the past five years, this salesman from the Northeast has spent a few thousand dollars on seminars, volunteered extensive amounts of time and created what he believes are positive changes in his life.

Now, when he talks, it's all Landmark speak.

"I looked at it from a global perspective," Steven says. "If people in the world can give up their rackets, they could be in communication with each other. People would understand that they're in their winning formula and would back off and give others space. I saw the planet moving up a level, and I saw that if my family, my wife, my mother, my sister, my aunt, my sons did it, they could have some freedom around the choices they make. They could have access to express themselves."

Steven hoped Landmark would be a positive opportunity for Jerry, and also felt that a precedent could be set in the criminal justice system. "I think Landmark Education could become part of the court system. Where kids who have minor brushes with the justice system go through Landmark Education not as a form of punishment, but as an option. I would hope the state of Arizona could look at that in a lot of situations. It's a new possibility."

Jerry tells me he has learned one important lesson from his Landmark experience thus far. "I went in with an open mind about what I could get out of it in terms of my life, and what I saw is that I need to wake up so that I don't become like these people," he says.

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