Sep 19, 2023

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The NXIVM Extravaganza | Moira Kim Penza, Robert Gavin, and Vanessa Grigoriadis

Hey Listener, you asked for a greatest hits medley of all our NXIVM related guests in one or two meaty episodes.And hear ye, hear ye we have delivered. This is our second NXIVM extravaganza, and we hope you dig it. We’ll be back soon with all new episodes, and until then you can always hang out with us on Patreon at patreon.com/alittlebitculty if you can’t get enough of our culty, culty content. But now…let’s dig into the main course shall we?

Keith Raniere’s trial was at the center of The Vow Season 2 – and this episode is taking you even further into the courtroom circus.

We’re featuring insights from three people who had as close a look as one could get.

First, you’ll hear from Moira Kim Penza – the prosecutor who brought Keith Raniere to justice. Her accomplishments are mighty: Like Keith’s conviction on all counts including racketeering and sex trafficking and a brisk 120 year sentence. Moira’s groundbreaking approach to the case has been credited with paving the way for other sex trafficking prosecutions against powerful individuals. In other words: She’s a total badass. In this episode, Moira sits down with Sarah and Nippy to talk about what it’s like to take on a world-class dirtbag (our wording, not hers) and what really chaps her ass about NXIVM’s Voldemort. More about today’s guest: Moira is now in private practice as a litigator, and a partner at Wilkinson Stekloff. Crain’s New York business named her in the 40 under 40 list, she’s been ranked as one of Bloomberg Law’s 40 under 40, and her legal analysis has been featured in The NY Times, CNN, ABC, NPR and Daily Beast.

Next you’ll hear from Robert Gavin. Robert has been a news reporter for 28 years, having also worked for two years as an editor. Originally from Staten Island, Gavin began his career by covering the New York City police and fire departments, the NYS Capitol, State and Federal Courts, various murder trials, and cases involving terrorism, the mafia, street gangs, and political corruption. And eventually, Robert’s role in the NXIVM trials and their coverage would play a crucial part in bringing down Keith Raniere.

Finally, you’ll hear from Vanessa Grigoriadis, who is an award-winning longform journalist and podcaster, having published profiles on the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, Lady Gaga, and Arianna Huffington. So how did she get tied up in NXIVM’s bullshit while also reporting on the cult? Well, the short answer is: anyone and everyone is susceptible to coercive control and persuasion, even members of the press. The long answer? Well, you’ll just have to listen to find out.

Without further adieu. Here’s our NXIVM medley part two.

Episode available since September 18, 2023


Sep 15, 2023

Esoterica



Robots are pouring drinks in Vegas. As AI grows, the city's workers brace for change

Walk any direction in Las Vegas and it's easy to find machines doing human work.

Check-in kiosks have replaced people at the front desk of hotels. Text-bots now make restaurant recommendations instead of a concierge. Robots can serve food, and behind the bar, machines are pouring out drinks.

Automation and technology replacing jobs has long been a conversation in Nevada's most populated city. Studies show that between 38% to 65% of jobs there could be automated by 2035.

With the use of artificial intelligence on the rise, the economy of this city --which relies on tourism and hospitality — is at an inflection point, as companies look to technology to reduce labor costs.


Sep 12, 2023

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The NXIVM Extravaganza | Ft. Mark Vicente, India Oxenberg, Susan Done, and Karen Unterreiner

Well hello there, A Little Bit Culty listener. How’d your summer go? What’s the haps? This is actually our out of office greeting talking to you, because we’re away from the studio right now investigating some kickass episodes for our new season. But we didn’t want to leave you hanging…so we went through the archives to make you a veritable Dairy Queen Blizzard of culty goodness from some of our fan favorites. We’ll be back soon with all new episodes, but until then you can also find us each week on Patreon where we’re serving up fresh episodes and content on the regular. So today’s episode is…well…in our wheelhouse. If you’re a listener of this particular show, you’re already familiar with NXIVM – but on today’s episode we are taking a closer look at the cult featured in the HBO series, The Vow, starring yours truly. (Whose got four thumbs and once helped bring NXIVM down? THESE GUYS). Joining us are 4 people who understand the inner workings of NXIVM better than almost anyone else.

First up is Mark Vicente. He’s The Vow’s Stone cold silver fox, a film-maker turned whistleblower, and an internationally renowned sweetheart. He’s the guy who originally recruited me, and the guy who raised hell to help bring it all down. Also, he’s the lucky husband of the one and only Bonnie Piesse, aka, Bonfire.

Next is India Oxenberg, who went through hell and back in NXIVM’s darkest chapter: DOS. From forced starvation, and sleep deprivation, to multiple forms of mental and sexual abuse, to a devastating years-long separation from her family. God damn we’re glad she got out and that she’s THRIVING now. .

Ater India, we’ve got Susan Dones….The one-woman wrecking crew who served as her own legal representation in a series of court battles after she left the organization. Susan was way ahead of the curve on calling bullshit Keith Raniere and his flying monkeys. She also paid dearly for it.

And finally, is Karen Unterreiner, who at only 18-years-old, became romantically intertwined with Keith Raniere. Over the next 40 years, she’d go on to become a top level NXIVM trainer, a key figure of the Executive Success Programs’ leadership committee, and an overseer of administration (bookkeeping) and IT. Which is all to say: There is much tea to spill. So much tea. So if you’re sick of hearing us talk about NXIVM, you better turn around now. You’ve been warned. Everybody else? Let’s rock.

Episode available since September 11, 2023


Sep 5, 2023

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Scientology SUCKS | Ft. Leah Remini, Mike Rinder, and Jon Atack

We’re back with another greatest hits mashup this week, pulled together from the Little Bit Culty archives for your late listening pleasure because…well…we can’t quit you - not even for a short late summer, early fall hiatus. Can you believe some shows go on hiatus? LAMMMMMME! Not us. Breaks are for babies.

For real though, while we’re working on fresh batches of cult-busting brand new episodes, we wanted to stir that proverbial pot a little more by revisiting one of our favorite culty topics….Scientology.

AKA, the brainchild of L. Ron.

You know it, you loathe it, or…maybe you just mock it. To be fair, unless you’re a Scientologist, they think you’re pretty silly too. So it’s all even-stevens We are diving deep into the Danger Zone in this episode – featuring 3 top guns who have taken on the Impossible Mission of exposing Scientology – which we all know can be Risky Business. Ok, enough Tom Cruise puns – let’s introduce A Few Good Men – and a super badass woman – who you’ll hear from on today’s show. First up is the patron saint of cult-busting, Leah Remini, who’s book Troublemaker chronicles her remarkable journey toward emotional and spiritual freedom from Scientology, both for herself and for her family. Next is Mike RInder. Having spent his youth doing things like, for example, swabbing the decks of L. Ron Hubbard’s yacht, Rinder eventually made it into the elite sect of Scientology known as the Sea Organization, eventually becoming Scientology’s International Spokesperson and the head of its Office of Special Affairs. Then, he escaped and became a fearless and outspoken ex-member. Last is Jon Atack – one of the only court-appointed expert witnesses on Scientology, and his book: Let’s Sell These People a Piece of Blue Sky, about the early history of the church, is cited by academics all over the world. Jon was a ‘public’ Scientologist for nine years, trained as a counselor, and even did the secret ‘OT’ levels, but ditched it when he discovered appalling, aggressive behavior towards members. In addition to his work podcasting as a Scientology mythbuster and using his Instagram account to help educate people on overcoming things like manipulation, destructive cults, and abusive relationships, he’s written several novels, including Voodoo Child (Slight Return), inspired by the life and downfall of Jimi Hendrix.

Without further ado…please enjoy this Scientology Sucks, Sorry Not Sorry, A Little Bit Culty Medley.

Episode available since September 04, 2023


Aug 29, 2023

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Culty Fan Favorites | Ft. Amanda Montell, Evan Rachel Wood, and Eckhart Tolle

If you’re a cult member, you hate them… but if you’re a fan of A Little Bit Culty, you can’thelp but love the three cult-busting guests we are featuring on today’s episode.

First up is the Amanda Montell, a writer, language scholar, and the author of two critically acclaimed books: Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism and Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language (HarperWave). Her books have earned praise from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and others, and Amanda is currently developing Wordslut for television with FX Studios. Amanda's writing has been featured in Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue, Refinery29, and Who What Wear, where she formerly served as the Features & Beauty Editor. She is also the creator and co-host of the comedy-cult podcast, Sounds Like A Cult.

Next is actor, activist, and epic badass Evan Rachel Wood whose impressive AF resume also includes: “Most likely to be hideously trolled by the Marilyn Manson stans of the world.” If you’ve seen the HBO Max mini-series Phoenix Rising which chronicles her fight to break away from the rocker formerly known as Brian Warner, you’ve already seen the culty wafting offa that dude like a bad cologne. We caught up with Evan to talk about her journey to hell and back, how she’s doing now, and why she won’t ever stop blowing the whistle on complete fuckery. As a note to our listeners, and our lawyers, Mr. Manson has repeatedly denied multiple sexual assault allegations from multiple women and is currently suing Evan for defamation over the accusations, claiming it’s all part of an elaborate organized attack. Please note that conversations like the one you’re about to hear can be traumatizing for abuse survivors. Listen to this episode with caution, and if you or anyone you know needs support, see our site for free resources. Also please note that we love Evan Rachel Wood and believe her without reservation. Sorry, not fucking sorry Manson Stans.

Finally - and perhaps most controversially – is Ekhart Tolle – who is widely recognized as one of the most inspiring spiritual leaders in the world. His international bestsellers have been translated into 52 languages. And we can’t verify this, but he might be one of the MOST quoted and/or misquoted contemporary spiritual gurus ever. Also, for the record, our listeners had a LOVE/HATE reaction to this guest. Can’t please everybody!

Episode available since August 28, 2023


Aug 22, 2023

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When the World Didn’t End: Guinevere Turner’s Cult Memoir (Part 2)

Here’s Part 2 of our conversation with Guinevere Turner whose memoir When the World Didn’t End is drawn from fastidiously kept childhood diaries written while she was raised in a cult. If you haven’t listened to Part 1, back up and listen. In Part 2, Turner shares what it was like to return to “normal” life, how her story became a thriller, and what’s helpful, not-so-helpful, and just plain weird about life post-cult.

Please note, this series includes details of underage sexual abuse. Listener discretion is strongly advised. If you, or someone who know, is a survivor of sexual assault, abuse, grooming, child abuse, or human trafficking, RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline offers support at 800.656.HOPE (4673).

Note:

Guinevere Turner is an acclaimed writer, director, and actor who’s worked in film and TV since her 1994 debut film Go Fish, which she wrote, produced, and starred in. She teamed up with director Mary Harron to write the films American Psycho; The Notorious Bettie Page; and the 2019 film Charlie Says. She was a writer, story editor, and played Gabby Deveaux on Showtime’s The L Word. She’s written and directed seven short films, two of which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. She can be seen in film roles including The Watermelon Woman, Chasing Amy, and American Psycho. Guinevere has taught screenwriting at Sarah Lawrence College, Columbia University, University of Georgia, UCLA and NYU.

Episode available since August 21, 2023


Aug 15, 2023

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When the World Didn’t End: Guinevere Turner’s Cult Memoir (Part 1)

Guinevere Turner recently published a memoir about being raised in a cult, being kicked out, and finding her way in the world. Her book When the World Didn’t End dives deep into her experience drawn from fastidiously kept diaries. Here on A Little Bit Culty Turner shares some off-the-cuff stories. We chat about writing craft. And Turner brings up questions about our collective obsession with the cultiverse.

Please note, this series includes details of underage sexual abuse. Listener discretion is strongly advised. If you, or someone who know, is a survivor of sexual assault, abuse, grooming, child abuse, or human trafficking, RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline offers support at 800.656.HOPE (4673).

Note:

Guinevere Turner is an acclaimed writer, director, and actor who’s worked in film and TV since her 1994 debut film Go Fish, which she wrote, produced, and starred in. She teamed up with director Mary Harron to write the films American Psycho; The Notorious Bettie Page; and the 2019 film Charlie Says. She was a writer, story editor, and played Gabby Deveaux on Showtime’s The L Word. She’s written and directed seven short films, two of which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. She can be seen in film roles including The Watermelon Woman, Chasing Amy, and American Psycho. Guinevere has taught screenwriting at Sarah Lawrence College, Columbia University, University of Georgia, UCLA and NYU.

Episode available since August 14, 2023


Aug 9, 2023

Esoterica



Pastor alarmed after Trump-loving congregants deride Jesus' teachings as 'weak'

Evangelical Christian leader Russell Moore revealed this week that many evangelical pastors have become alarmed that their Trump-loving congregants have become so militant that they are even rejecting the teachings of Jesus Christ.

In an interview with NPR, Moore said that multiple pastors had told him disturbing stories about their congregants being upset when they read from the famous "Sermon on the Mount" in which Christ espoused the principles of forgiveness and mercy as central to Christian doctrine.

"Multiple pastors tell me, essentially, the same story about quoting the Sermon on the Mount, parenthetically, in their preaching — 'turn the other cheek' — [and] to have someone come up after to say, 'Where did you get those liberal talking points?'" Moore revealed. "And what was alarming to me is that in most of these scenarios, when the pastor would say, 'I'm literally quoting Jesus Christ,' the response would not be, 'I apologize.' The response would be, 'Yes, but that doesn't work anymore. That's weak.'"

. . .

"When we get to the point where the teachings of Jesus himself are seen as subversive to us, then we're in a crisis," he said.


Aug 8, 2023

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In Pursuit of Love: Rebecca Bender’s Journey from Trafficked to Triumphant

Rebecca Bender grew up in a small town, played varsity sports, made high school honor roll, and would have started college early except she got pregnant. She was a little ostracized. And a lot lonely. Then she fell in love — kind of. She followed her knight in shining armor to Las Vegas only to be sold among three human traffickers.

She was branded, thrown in jail, and hospitalized, her face broken in five different places. But she wasn’t kidnapped. And there was no duct tape involved.

Now, Rebecca Bender is a mentor/survivor/expert flipping the script on who leads the fight to eradicate human trafficking. She’s blazing trails with the largest online school in the world for survivors. And, as an internationally recognized subject matter expert, she’s equipped the FBI, Homeland Security, and the US Department of Justice to spot this stuff before it gets any worse.

Episode available since August 07, 2023


Aug 1, 2023

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Breaking Character: Ex-Acting Students Speak Up (Part 2)

Last week, Alberta Mayne Bligh, Brooke Henderson, and Erin Boyes dove into what attracted them to Michèle Lonsdale-Smith’s acting classes – the good, the bad, and the messy. Our three guests are ex-students, each with their own thriving careers in film, theater, television, directing, development and even art therapy. And they are among the 26 ex-students who recently spoke up about their experience under the tutelage of Lonsdale-Smith in a revelatory story published in The Cut. If you missed Part 1, go back and take a listen. Now, in Part 2, they share their tipping points: when they realized that they were in a toxic relationship and how it ended.

Please note, this series includes details of sexual abuse. Listener discretion is strongly advised. If you, or someone who know, is a survivor of sexual assault, abuse, grooming, child abuse, or human trafficking, RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline offers support at 800.656.HOPE (4673).

Episode available since July 31, 2023


Jul 25, 2023

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Breaking Character: Ex-Acting Students Speak Up (Part 1)

Alberta Mayne Bligh, Brooke Henderson, and Erin Boyes are among the 26 ex-students who recently spoke up about their experience under the acting tutelage of Michèle Lonsdale-Smith in a revelatory story published in The Cut. Lonsdale Smith is, by many accounts, a dogmatic leader who claims her techniques help actors tell the truth about their unresolved human motivations and make the world a better place. But what happens when details of your personal life are put on stage? What if your teacher fat shames you? Makes personal accusations, belittles, and berates you? You know, for the sake of deepening your craft or – culty red flag – self-improvement?

Our three guests today are ex-students of culty acting classes, each with their own thriving careers in film, theater, television, directing, development and even art therapy. In the first of this two-part series, we dive into what attracted these acting students to Lonsdale Smith and what happened – the good, the bad, and the messy.

Please note, this series includes details of sexual abuse. Listener discretion is strongly advised. If you, or someone who know, is a survivor of sexual assault, abuse, grooming, child abuse, or human trafficking, RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline offers support at 800.656.HOPE (4673).

Episode available since July 24, 2023


Jul 23, 2023

Esoterica



The Sun is defying forecasts

The Sun's activity is defying forecasts and highlighting how difficult it is to predict the machinations of Earth's nearest star.

Why it matters: Space weather, which is largely driven by the Sun, can shorten the lifespans of satellites, cause radio blackouts and, in extreme solar storms, bring down power grids.

. . .

  • Sunspots — dark areas on the face of the Sun — can spit out major solar flares that sometimes come with coronal mass ejections (CMEs), bursts of electrically charged plasma that can interfere with satellites, electrical grids and supercharge the auroras.
  • If coronal holes — cooler spots in the Sun's atmosphere — rotate into the view of Earth, they can send extremely fast solar winds into our part of space, warping Earth's magnetic fields in the process.

Yes, but: The Sun is extremely complicated and even after decades of study, researchers don't understand exactly how it works.


Jul 18, 2023

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Bursting the bubble: Morgan Tyler on Leaving the Church

In the age of social media, many of us are aware that choices are increasingly made for us by algorithms—which is unfortunately not a reference to Vice President Al Gore’s dancing abilities.

But even if we are living in our own little bubbles, it doesn’t quite match the extremities of, let’s say, someone who was raised within a radically nondenominational Christian sect, wherein music, media, beliefs, and friends were all hand selected by a group of men who decided they were pastors and wanted an ironclad grip on their families and followers.

Such was unfortunately the case for Morgan Hayley, now 32-years-old and far from her beginnings in Louisville, Kentucky. The oldest of seven siblings, Hayley managed to escape her marriage and the Church to live her life as an out-and-proud lesbian while still maintaining a real (albeit heavily strained) relationship with some of her family. In doing so, she learned that perhaps her family’s belief that life is about sacrifice and being miserable means you’re doing something right is NOT the most fun way to live life!

Now, it’s safe to say Morgan is making all her decisions for herself as a prominent fitness and yoga instructor, and is much happier for it.

Episode available since July 17, 2023


Jul 16, 2023

Nature vs. Man


In what some are calling the "feel-good story of the year," killer whales — obviously sick of being cheap entertainment for Sea World voyeurs — seem to have declared war on yachts.

The boat in question is an intensely fancy Bali 4.8 catamaran-style sailboat run by the charter management company Catamaran Guru. Boasting six bedrooms and six bathrooms, the boat is nicer than most people’s homes. But orcas don’t care about your supersized interior or onboard ice maker—orcas care about their home, and other orcas.

. . .

An eerie portend of things to come, humanity! I particularly like when the orca returned for the last little bit of rudder and surfaced briefly as if to say “ha ha, who’s got the rudder now!”

Researchers believe a whale nicknamed Gladis was traumatized by an illegal fishing boat and is seeking her revenge by instructing other young orcas in how to attack rudders. The attacks are disabling boats traversing through the Strait of Gibraltar, which connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic, with Spain on one side and Morocco on the other. While the attacks began in 2020, there have been 20 such attacks in the last month alone.

But the orca vs. man fracas is not an isolated example of a roiling collision of interests. Nature, it seems, is sick of our shit, and she's fighting back.


Jul 11, 2023

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Behind the “Reality:” Jessica Willis Fisher on her Childhood Abuse

While in their youth, Jessica Willis Fisher and her eleven siblings were thrust into the spotlight for being the perfect musical family. Having achieved nation-wide fame on America’s Got Talent, the Willis Fishers scored their own reality show in 2015, letting cameras into their pristine and heavily Christian home to document the daily lives of a happy, smiley family trying to make it in the famously non-toxic (just kidding) entertainment biz. So when allegations of child abuse and molestation broke out against the family’s patriarch, Toby Willis, Americans and onlookers across the globe were in disbelief. How could this family, which had been put on a pedestal and idolized extensively as “picture perfect,” possess such insanely disturbing secrets?

Because the world is fucked up, hellooo! But our listeners already knew that.

On today’s episode, Jessica joins us to discuss her story, as well as parallels she sees between her family and others that shared the reality show spotlight. She’s begun releasing new music again as a form of healing—you can check out her album Brand New Day here. You can also read her memoir, Unspeakable: Surviving My Childhood and Finding My Voice, here.

Please note, this series includes details of sexual abuse. Listener discretion is strongly advised. If you, or someone who know, is a survivor of sexual assault, abuse, grooming, child abuse, or human trafficking, RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline offers support at 800.656.HOPE (4673).

Episode available since July 10, 2023


Jul 4, 2023

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Subversive Science: Isabella Constantino on NXIVM’s Tourettes Study (Part 2)

Of the many subplots within the NXIVM story, one of the most unusual (and that says a lot) was the cult’s dance with Tourettes Syndrome and research surrounding it. TS for short, the syndrome involves involuntary tics and has no known cure.

On today’s episode, which is a continuation from last week, our guest Isabella Constantino discusses the final punctuation to her time with NXIVM after being brought in hoping that they cult could help with her TS—a claim NXIVM was boasting about without a ton of empirical scientific evidence to back it. This time, we’re focusing more on Constantino’s departure and the half-decade she’s spent recovering her “sense of self” and navigating life post-NXIVM.

. . .

Please note, this series includes details of sexual abuse. Listener discretion is strongly advised. If you, or someone who know, is a survivor of sexual assault, abuse, grooming, child abuse, or human trafficking, RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline offers support at 800.656.HOPE (4673).

Episode available since July 03, 2023


Jun 26, 2023

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Subversive Science: Isabella Constantino on NXIVM’s Tourettes Study (Part 1)

NXIVM’s timeline unfolds like a (horror) film with its own subplots. One of the cult’s best known smaller mythologies was its ability to cure Tourette's Syndrome, which is a condition in the nervous system that causes tics like sudden and uncontrollable movements or vocal outbursts. It should be noted that while there are certainly various treatments for managing TS, there is still no known cure.

This explains why today’s guest, Isabella Constantino, was attracted to NXIVM and the extraordinary results they were boasting about with their TS study. Ultimately, Constantino wound up postponing her last semester of college and moving to Albany in order to engrain herself in the study and to pursue personal growth, both of which she did for a total of three years before finally escaping. Now, she’s spent half a decade recovering her “sense of self” and navigating life post-NXIVM.

But how did NXIVM actually approach this “scientific” study, and what abusive methods did they apply from their typical conditioning in order to combat Tourette’s? Lastly, did any of their techniques actually help with TS, and if so, at what cost?

Episode available since June 26, 2023


Jun 25, 2023

Esoterica



UFO Bombshell: U.S. Intelligence Whistleblower Says Feds Have 'Intact' Craft

A whistleblower who served in the U.S. military and in several intelligence roles says the federal government has multiple craft of “non-human” origin ― and has been working overtime to cover it up.

“These are retrieving non-human origin technical vehicles, call it spacecraft if you will, non-human exotic origin vehicles that have either landed or crashed,” David Grusch told NewsNation on Monday evening.

In some cases, agents found more than just vehicles.

“Well, naturally, when you recover something that’s either landed or crashed, sometimes you encounter dead pilots and, believe it or not, as fantastical as that sounds, it’s true,” he said.

Earlier in the day, The Debrief reported that Grusch has told both Congress and the U.S. Inspector General that this information was illegally withheld from lawmakers, who have recently held hearings on UFO activity.


Jun 20, 2023

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Shiny Happy Wife: Tia Levings On Christian Fundamentalism (Part 2)

If you didn’t listen to part 1 of this double whammy—stop, drop, and scroll down (or up, depending) because you’ll be lost without the context.

On this continuation, we hear more from author Tia Levings about her experiences with Christian Fundamentalism, and more specifically how she got out of a situation that was “a little bit culty,” to say the least. We also dip back into the Duggar family and the recent documentary uncovering the less-than-perfect reality hidden by a shiny, happy front. The story is, unfortunately, far more common than you might think.

You can learn more about Tia’s own story in her forthcoming memoir, ‘A Well-Trained Wife,’ which will be released in August of 2024.

Episode available since June 19, 2023


Jun 13, 2023

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Shiny Happy Wife: Tia Levings on Christian Fundamentalism (Part 1)

Just as roses have thorns, so too do pristine, seemingly blemish-free families have their own dark sides. For example, we have the Duggar family and their show 19 and Counting, which broadcasted the daily lives of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their army of children between 2008 and 2015 to millions of viewers around the world. Now, a new documentary on the family called Shiny Happy People, according to TIME, “includes testimonies from daughter Jill (Duggar) Dillard, her husband Derick Dillard, niece Amy (Duggar) King, as well as several former IBLP members, reveals that the family and larger religious group was dealing with allegations of sex abuse, child abuse and financial mistreatment.”

Our guest today, author Tia Levings, spoke in this documentary based on her experiences as a thought leader on abuse within Christian Fundamentalism, but also a survivor of such abuse herself. Having grown up in a Southern Baptist Megachurch, Levings gets into how she slowly but surely slipped into a high-control group (read: cult) wherein men are considered accountable for their wives before God, and therefore must lead and discipline them.

Her memoir, A Well-Trained Wife, will be released in August of 2024.

Episode available since June 12, 2023


Jun 6, 2023

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I Was a Child Bride: Dr. Tamara MC on the Language of Manipulation (Part 2)

In part two of our conversation with Dr. Tamara MC, we get into everything that happened after she was married in a secret wedding ceremony, including attending the 8th grade (she was only 12-years-old) and keeping her religious life a secret from the rest of the world.

As a reminder (and don’t forget to listen to part one if you haven’t), Dr. Tamara MC’s father introduced her to a highly abusive religious cult in which, above all else, men controlled every aspect of womens’ lives, including their bodies. They were mercilessly overworked, underfed, and treated as second class citizens to…peacocks.

Now, Tamara has earned a Ph. D. in Applied Linguistics, specifically studying how language can be used to manipulate vulnerable populations. She advocates against gender-based violence and has written prolifically about the nightmarish experiences that punctuated her youth, d0ing as much as she humanly can to prevent this from happening as frequently in the future.

Episode available since June 05, 2023


May 31, 2023

Esoterica



When Satan Club went to school: What’s behind the group that created controversy in Chesapeake

The Satanic Temple was ready to pick a fight — lots of fights, actually, and it got them — in Illinois, in Pennsylvania and in Chesapeake.

. . .

Eventually, after the ACLU of Virginia took on the issue, the club held its first meeting in February and has continued to gather monthly since.

. . .

“Because of their actions, people who normally talk about the importance of religious freedom, some of them have said, ‘Actually, I don’t like religious freedom, if religious freedom means satanists can do this kind of stuff.’”

“This small group has kind of been able to punch above its weight in forcing these kinds of questions on people.”


May 30, 2023

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I Was a Child Bride: Dr. Tamara MC on the Language of Manipulation (Part 1)

When she was only 12-years-old, Dr. Tamara MC had a secret wedding ceremony in the middle of the night. Shrouded in pitch black and with no one present but her new husband, a much older man who could supposedly guide her to the kingdoms of knowledge and heaven, this night further cemented Tamara’s place in a highly abusive religious cult. Above all else, men wielding black leather whips forced females to surrender their “nafs”—the Arabic word for “self.” As she put it in an article for Mother Well Mag, the girls in that cult “didn’t know where [their] bodies stopped and the perpetrators' bodies began.”

Now, Tamara has earned a Ph. D. in Applied Linguistics, specifically studying how language can be used to manipulate vulnerable populations. She advocates against gender-based violence and has written prolifically about the nightmarish experiences that punctuated her youth, d0ing as much as she humanly can to prevent this from happening as frequently in the future.

Episode available since May 29, 2023


May 23, 2023

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The Lumerian Sisters: Jennings Brown on Liana Shanti

Another day, another wellness guru preaching enlightenment on social media. Total snooze, right?! Unless said guru begins telling her followers to cut ties with their “family cults'' in order to save their children from a ruling class of evil reptilian creatures, the likes of which are responsible for creating the COVID-19 “scandemic” as a Luciferian tool to harvest innocent souls…that might spice things up a bit. Or a shit ton.

Such has been the case with Liana Shanti, a nymph-like online persona who’s amassed thousands of predominantly female followers on Instagram, a platform she uses to share beliefs such as the one where the US government is going to put unvaccinated children into concentration camps, or that Florida is the only safe space and thus all her followers should move there.

Suffice to say, Shanti’s story is…truly a wild one. And luckily for us, we get to hear about it from none other than Jennings Brown, an investigative journalist and podcast/documentary producer who previously joined us to discuss The Teal Swan. This time, he’s on ALBC to explain the woman hiding behind Shanti’s online persona, her recent legal woes, and just how damaging her teachings have been to numerous families that now stand divided.

Episode available since May 22, 2023


May 18, 2023

Esoterica



Lori Vallow: US doomsday cult mum guilty of murdering children, rival

[I]n 2017, family and friends said Vallow's demeanour changed as she began reading the books by Chad Daybell, a religious author whose fictional books focused on the apocalypse were loosely drawn from the beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The two eventually met sometime in 2018 and began recording a religious podcast together.

At the time, both were married. But together, Vallow and Mr Daybell's views veered towards the extreme, the prosecutor said.

The two deemed people either "light" or "dark" spirits and called those who had been taken over by evil spirits "zombies".

The only way to free someone's soul from the darkness, the couple said, was to kill them.


May 16, 2023

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Murder, Faith & End Times: Leah Sottile on Lori Vallow & Chad Daybell

f you still manage to read the news, good job. You’ve then no doubt heard that “Doomsday Mom” Lori Vallow was just convicted of murdering her 16-year-old daughter Tylee and seven-year-old son J.J. This judgment will be an end to this harrowing yet enthralling story, which turned 49-year-old mom and Mormon, Lori Vallow into an international media fixture, seemingly entangled in a web of infanticide, zombies, escapes to Hawaii, and a trail of mysterious deaths that remain suspicious as hell.

On today’s episode, we’re joined by freelance journalist and author Leah Sottile, whose book When the Moon Turns to Blood: Lori Vallow, Chad Daybell, and a Story of Murder, Faith, and End Times, illuminates the story of the former beauty queen and her grave-digger turned doomsday novelist slash extremist douchebag husband, Chad. Take a listen to learn more as Sottile breaks the case down, explaining how Vallow’s tale is just symptomatic of something larger.

Episode available since May 15, 2023


May 9, 2023

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‘Uncultured:’ Daniella Mestyanek Young on COG and the US Military (Pt. 2)

Today’s episode is Sponsored by BetterHelp. We’re back for part 2 of our interview with Daniella Mestyanek Young, the badass author of Uncultured: a Memoir. In her book, Young gets into the nitty gritty of growing up in the Children of God cult, now known as “The Family International,” with their horrifying pedophilic practice called “Law of Love.” In part 2, we dive deeper into Young’s time as a Captain in the US Army—a role that threw Young back into the trenches of misogynist and coercive abuse resembling the neglect she survived in her childhood.

How did military personnel respond to Young’s whistleblowing? What did she endure during her hazing as a new soldier? And why did another captain tell her she’d “probably get raped” on a certain military deployment?

Episode available since May 08, 2023


May 2, 2023

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‘Uncultured:’ Daniella Mestyanek Young on COG and the US Military (Pt. 1)

If hell is real, there is perhaps no circle of it as harrowing nor vile as the experience of growing up in the Children of God cult. Still active under the name “The Family International,” the group is known for being a real-life manifestation of the shittiest of shitty macabre practices, such as child sexual abuse involving their “Law of Love,”—a mandate for females of all ages to show Jesus their love by letting men straight up rape them.

One would hope that growing up in COG would be the last coercive, abusive, and negligent experience for today’s guest, Daniella Mestyanek Young, who is an American author, keynote speaker, and previous Captain in the US Army. One would also hope for ponies and rainbows and a bigger tax return this year but HEY, life’s no cake walk. On today’s episode, Young discusses her book Uncultured: a Memoir, wherein she details her cult-riddled childhood and how, shockingly, the US Army reflected comparable practices.

But how? Take a listen to part 1 of our interview with Daniella, with part 2 coming out next week.

Episode available since May 01, 2023


Apr 25, 2023

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Into Quicksand: Kate Amber on How Cults Pull You In

Landmark Worldwide is a corporation that offers personal and professional development programs with a total of over 2.4 million (!) past participants in 21 countries. Yikes on bikes—that sounds a bit like NXIVM on steroids. Well, while Landmark isn’t technically a cult, it certainly is “A Little Bit Culty”, with no shortage of spirit-stomping coercive control and intimidation in order to create “A world that works for everyone by 2020.” Wait, is that how 2020 went and we’re just misremembering it?!

Today’s guest, Kate Amber, survived Landmark and went on to become a badass expert on violence and abuse prevention after receiving her education from UPenn and the University of Salford. She’s also gone on to create the PsychoSocial Quicksand Model™—take a listen to learn all about it, as well as the time she challenged a Landmark leader, and how she eventually got out, even if she didn’t 100% want to (at the time).

Oh, and would you believe she has a Keith Raniere overlap? What a small, culty little world we live in.

Episode available since April 24, 2023


Apr 18, 2023

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Hey, Hun: Emily Lynn Paulson on MLMs and Other Lies

Imagine this: an invitation comes your way to join a group of friends, mostly moms (and let’s assume you are one). Primary activities involve drinking lots of wine, relishing in sisterhood and female empowerment, and best of all, making loads of money. It’s enticing as hell, which explains why Multi Level Marketing groups (MLMs) remain ubiquitous today.

What could go wrong? A shit ton! Hence why our guest today, author and mother Emily Lynn Paulson, believes that all MLMs—which form a $180 billion industry—are cults. Oh, but they’re not just your average cults, because lobbyists and politicians are fighting hard to keep the legal pyramid schemes not only intact, but growing throughout American suburbia (and beyond) like wildfire.

In this episode, we discuss how to not get caught up in the flames.

Episode available since April 17, 2023


Apr 12, 2023

Esoterica



‘Headed off the charts’: world’s ocean surface temperature hits record high

The temperature of the world’s ocean surface has hit an all-time high since satellite records began, leading to marine heatwaves around the globe, according to US government data.

Climate scientists said preliminary data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) showed the average temperature at the ocean’s surface has been at 21.1C since the start of April – beating the previous high of 21C set in 2016.

“The current trajectory looks like it’s headed off the charts, smashing previous records,” said Prof Matthew England, a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales.

. . .

Current observations show moderate to strong marine heatwaves in several regions, including the southern Indian Ocean, the south Atlantic, off north-west Africa, around New Zealand, off the north-east of Australia and the west of Central America.


Apr 11, 2023

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Your Turn to Listen: Gwenith Kikkawa and Kevin Alexander on Resilience

You know the old adage; person A joins an organization, person B joins the same organization, persons A and B learn organization is a cult and, after getting married, decide to escape. Wait, is that not normal? Well, thankfully Sarah and Nippy aren’t the only ones who’ve experienced this. Gwenith Kikkawa (they/them) and Kevin Alexander (they/them) are multiple-cult survivors, meaning they’ve experienced culty horrors not just once (like a great majority of our guests), but numerous times. Now, the couple has channeled their experiences into art via playwriting, songwriting, and more, narrowing in on how one can reclaim identity after traumatic coercive thought control over several years.

#IGotOut - The Musical will be featured at the igotout.org produced Story Jam (taking place on October 21st, 2023) as the grand finale performance. The event as a whole is meant to provide a platform for #IGOTOUT stories from all sorts of survivors and advocates.

The venue, The Improv Shop in St. Louis offers an intimate, comedy club atmosphere and tickets will be limited and sold on a first come, first serve basis. Use this link to subscribe and to have the first option on tickets.

This event is a collaboration with the RetreatCon, taking place on the same weekend with the local non-profit Tears of Eden.

Episode available since April 10, 2023


Apr 4, 2023

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Leading Nowhere: Jordan Harbinger on Self-Help Hell

Today’s guest, Jordan Harbinger, went from Wall Street lawyer to interview talk-show host. Turns out he’s been pretty damn good at both careers, with some even calling him “The Larry Kind of Podcasting.” On The Jordan Harbinger Show, he’s now spent 14 years deconstructing the most successful people in the world and asking them how they got to where they are. Inevitably (to us) but unexpectedly (to Jordan), one thing that’s come up a lot on the show? Cults, especially self-help cults, and the absolute ubiquity of coercive control across the United States. In fact, he even experienced some seminars that were A Little Bit Culty himself.

Episode available since April 03, 2023


Mar 28, 2023

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Press Replay: Robert Gavin on the NXIVM Trials

The press has been perhaps the most crucial third party for world happenings since, well, whenever the press was invented. While there is of course no shortage of fake news out there, the main goal of the press is to keep society honest, investigating everything from corrupt governments to those cute little cliques we like to call cults.

Robert Gavin has been a news reporter for 28 years, having also worked for two years as an editor. Originally from Staten Island, Gavin began his career by covering the New York City police and fire departments, the NYS Capitol, State and Federal Courts, various murder trials, and cases involving terrorism, the mafia, street gangs, and political corruption. And eventually, Robert’s role in the NXIVM trials and their coverage would play a crucial part in bringing down Keith Raniere, which we’re sure you saw on HBO’s “The Vow.” On today’s episode, we talk to Gavin about his time covering the cult, as well as the aftermath.

Please note, this series includes details of sexual abuse. Listener discretion is strongly advised. If you, or someone who know, is a survivor of sexual assault, abuse, grooming, child abuse, or human trafficking, RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline offers support at 800.656.HOPE (4673).

Episode available since March 27, 2023


Mar 21, 2023

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Sinner or Saint: Will Retherford on Navigating Religious Waters

There’s certainly no shortage of groups that are A Little Bit Culty. That said, there are some major differences between cults and organized religions, and it’s worth remembering that not ALL religion is bad, per se.

Our very own producer and editor, Will Retherford of Citizens of Sound, grew up in the Evangelical Church, specifically the Word of Faith movement, and even ventured off to countless missionary campaigns across the globe to spread the good word. He became a worship leader, was on his way to become a priest, and was committed to all things Jesus Christ until he realized that, perhaps, his entire life was built around something he wasn’t sure he actually believed in.

In today’s episode, Will discusses his time in the church, navigating through toxic groups, leaders and doctrine, his deconstruction, and how he feels about religion today.

Episode available since March 20, 2023


Mar 16, 2023

Esoterica



John Paul II Allegedly Knew About Priestly Sexual Abuse While Archbishop In Poland

St. John Paul II knew about sexual abuse of children by priests under his authority and sought to conceal it when he was an archbishop in his native Poland, a television news report has alleged.

In a story that aired late Monday, Polish channel TVN24 named three priests whom the future pope then known as Archbishop Karol Wojtyla had moved among parishes or sent to a cloister during the 1970s, including one who was sent to Austria, after they were accused of abusing minors.

Two of the priests, Eugeniusz Surgent and Jozef Loranc, eventually served short prison terms for the abuse, TVN24 said its 2 and 1/2 year-long investigation found. Wojtyla served as archbishop of Krakow from 1964 to 1978, when he became Pope John Paul II. He died in 2005 and was declared a saint in 2014 following a fast-tracked process.

. . .

The findings will gradually lead to a “deconstruction of the image of John Paul II that we have been using so far,” Dominican friar Paweł Gużyński said Tuesday on TVN24, noting that some people may not be prepared to cope with the new facts.


Mar 15, 2023

From Deep End to Deepfake: Inside Teal Swan's Marketing Machine


Fake News
Rising Prices and the Shrinking Tribe
Breathtaking Cruelty

When Teal Bosworth Scott Swan got her long-sought break into "mainstream" media coverage, it did not go well. Her quest for fame brought her infamy instead. By the fall of 2019, attention from the BBC had cost her the Teal Tribe group on Facebook and a number of YouTube videos, as both platforms cracked down on her suicide-friendly messaging. It was against this backdrop that teal presented another example of her bizarre understanding of how news media (or what she calls "mediums") operate. In this video, she explains the following to her credulous followers:

[O]nce you get to a certain level of fame, let's say that there's a little under the carpet contract that occurs, though not in writing, it's understood in the business that once you get big enough to be of interest to people, what they will do is they'll write a negative article about you. At which point you are then welcome to spend a large amount of money to pay them to do a positive one. After which they will do a negative one, after which you will pay them again, to do a positive one.

In the real world, most of us know that news coverage and advertising sales (or any other form of payment) are separate functions, and that their separation is crucial to the reputation of any news organization. One need look no further than the unfolding scandal at Fox News, with Rupert Murdoch's confession that Mike Lindell bought his way into guest spots on Fox with ad buys. Murdoch's admission that the decision to let an obviously unhinged pillow magnate on the air "is not red or blue, it is green," is scandalous precisely because news coverage isn't meant to be pay-to-play. Trust in news organizations, and the viability of their business model, is dependent on the expectation that they cannot be bought.

Mar 14, 2023

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Stop the Presses: Vanessa Grigoriadis on NXIVM (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of our interview with Vanessa Grigoriadis, an award-winning longform journalist and podcaster who has published profiles on the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, Lady Gaga, and Arianna Huffington. So how did she get tied up in NXIVM’s bullshit while also reporting on the cult? Well, the short answer is: anyone and everyone is susceptible to coercive control and persuasion, even members of the press. The long answer? Well, you’ll just have to listen to find out.

You can listen to Vanessa’s podcast Infamous here.

Please note, this series includes details of sexual abuse. Listener discretion is strongly advised. If you, or someone who know, is a survivor of sexual assault, abuse, grooming, child abuse, or human trafficking, RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline offers support at 800.656.HOPE (4673).

Episode available since March 13, 2023


Mar 7, 2023

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A Little Bit Culty


Stop the Presses: Vanessa Grigoriadis on NXIVM (Part 1)

Vanessa Grigoriadis is an award-winning longform journalist and podcaster, having published profiles on the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, Lady Gaga, and Arianna Huffington. So how did she get tied up in NXIVM’s bullshit while also reporting on the cult? Well, the short answer is: anyone and everyone is susceptible to coercive control and persuasion, even members of the press. The long answer? Well, you’ll just have to listen to find out.

Make sure to catch the end of our conversation next week, when we drop part 2!

You can listen to Vanessa’s podcast Infamous here.

Please note, this series includes details of sexual abuse. Listener discretion is strongly advised. If you, or someone who know, is a survivor of sexual assault, abuse, grooming, child abuse, or human trafficking, RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline offers support at 800.656.HOPE (4673).

Episode available since March 06, 2023


Feb 28, 2023

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A Little Bit Culty


Stolen Youth Continued: Zachary Heinzerling on Larry Ray’s Cult

If you haven’t heard of the Sarah Lawrence Sex Cult, it is perhaps time to get out from under that rock you’re living under. Also, you should listen to our last episode with Daniel Levin, for which this episode is part two! But essentially, after being released from prison, Ray moved into his daughter’s student residence just 30 minutes north of Manhattan and began terrorizing her friends through physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. This lasted a shocking ten years before Ray was finally arrested and held accountable for his wrongdoings.

Our guest today is Zachary Heinzerling, the director behind the Hulu docuseries “Stolen Youth,” which depicts the cult’s bizarre development with real footage (which is, by the way, not for the faint of heart).

Watch STOLEN YOUTH on Hulu.

Please note, this series includes details of sexual abuse. Listener discretion is strongly advised. If you, or someone who know, is a survivor of sexual assault, abuse, grooming, child abuse, or human trafficking, RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline offers support at 800.656.HOPE (4673).

Episode available since February 27, 2023


Feb 27, 2023

Esoterica

Frank Pavone


Inside the Unholy Sex Scandal Rocking Trump’s Ex-Adviser

Frank Pavone, a defrocked priest who was formerly a Catholic adviser to Donald Trump, is engulfed in a sex scandal that is rocking the anti-abortion movement.

. . .

Now, at least four different women have accused Pavone of sexual misconduct according to reporting by The Pillar. Pavone and Priests for Life have strongly denied the accusations.

The women, some of whom gave their accounts anonymously, accuse Pavone of inappropriate behavior in the workplace, ranging from unwanted sexual advances, non-consensual touching, grooming and lewd suggestions.

. . .

“Priests for Life had an excellent sexual harassment policy on the books. But they had no human resource department and their sexual-harassment committee reported to, and was headed by, Frank Pavone. So it was neither safe nor independent,” [Father Stephen] Imbarrato says. “I went directly to the board and demanded a safe and confidential, independent sexual harassment committee that reported to the board directly.”


Feb 21, 2023

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Stolen Youth: Daniel Levin on Larry Ray’s Cult

If you haven’t heard of the Sarah Lawrence Sex Cult, it is perhaps time to get out from under that rock you’re living under. After being released from prison, Ray moved into his daughter’s student residence just 30 minutes north of Manhattan and began terrorizing her friends through physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. This lasted a shocking ten years before Ray was finally arrested and held accountable for his wrongdoings.

Our guest today, Daniel Levin, was one of Ray’s victims, and has survived to tell the tale on Hulu’s recent “Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence” docuseries. Today, we’re breaking down exactly what happened, as well as how Levin is healing. Don’t forget to tune in next week, when we’ll be speaking with the director of “Stolen Youth,” Zachary Heinzerling.

You can learn more about Daniel Levin and his writing, which includes his memoir about Larry Ray, Slonim Woods 9, here.

Please note, this series includes details of sexual abuse. Listener discretion is strongly advised. If you, or someone who know, is a survivor of sexual assault, abuse, grooming, child abuse, or human trafficking, RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline offers support at 800.656.HOPE (4673).

Episode available since February 20, 2023


Feb 13, 2023

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Darkness Unveiled: Sochil Martin Exposes LA Luz Del Mundo

Around the same time as Jeffrey Epstein’s infamous arrest, another billionaire was going to court for similar appalling crimes. Naasón Joaquín García, the ongoing leader of the Light of the World non-traditional La Luz Del Mundo (LLDM) church is currently serving a maximum of 16 years and 8 months in prison for the sexual abuse of minors. The self-proclaimed “Apostle of God” was eventually denied bail after setting that bail at $50 million, which according to the California Attorney General, was the highest ever imposed on an individual by the Los Angeles County. The denial came about because prosecutors feared his extremely loyal followers might actually raise the cash.

We spoke to Sochil Martin who was born into the LLDM and broke away from it after a lifetime of abuse. The outspoken survivor and whistleblower shares her experience–from being raised in church’s clutches and ultimately fleeing, to helping federal agents bring García to justice, and how she’s healing now.

Please note, this series includes details of sexual abuse. Listener discretion is strongly advised. If you, or someone who know, is a survivor of sexual assault, abuse, grooming, child abuse, or human trafficking, RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline offers support at 800.656.HOPE (4673).

Episode available since February 13, 2023


Feb 7, 2023

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A Little Bit Culty


The Antidote: Diane Benscoter on Getting Victims Out

It was the early ‘70s and life was weird. War was still going on in Vietnam, and those back in the US of A were struggling with political, societal, and economic changes. One day, Diane Benscoter passed a van where some strangers were giving out bananas. She grabbed a snack and avoided making conversation with the van people. Shortly after, she was on a five-day trek from Omaha to Des Moines with those banana enthusiasts, who were in fact Sun Myung Moon enthusiasts. Next thing you know, Diane’s cut off all of her hair, done some fasting, and has dedicated five years to selling candy and flowers while devoted to the second coming of Christ.

You can read all about this in her memoir, linked out below. But on today's episode, we’re focusing on Diane’s organization, Antidote, which helps people escape from cults, or to get their loved ones out of cults and extremist mentalities such as those shared by QAnon. Having experienced cult life herself, Diane knows that convincing someone that everything they hold true in their life is a vicious lie can be next to impossible. That’s why she became a master at it.

Episode available since February 06, 2023


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