How to Become a Cult Leader (2023) s01e03 Episode Script

Reform Their Minds

The human mind.
Such a clever machine.
On the plus side,
it's what allows you
to follow this playbook
and chart your course
to cult leader glory.
But then there's independent thought,
which if left unchecked
amongst your flock,
can cause all you've built
to come crashing down.
If what you want
is to control your followers,
you need them
to not be thinking for themselves
'cause they may question
why you kept that woman locked in a room,
why you're having people
do sexual favors for you.
Cynics might
call it brainwashing,
but a good cult leader
knows the value of a sturdy education.
It's an indoctrination process
that's molding you into being the person
the cult wants you to be.
Take a lesson
from this strapping fellow.
Jaime Gomez,
leader of the 1980's sexiest cult,
The Buddhafield.
The Buddhafield was this New Age group
filled with actors, dancers, models,
these very artistic, beautiful people.
For over two decades,
Jaime dominated his followers' hearts,
minds, and bodies,
molding them to serve his every whim.
If you can stand naked
in front of your master,
you can stand naked in front of your God.
Follow Jaime's moves,
and you too can open
your flock's consciousness
to your divine presence,
and close them off to everything else.
To his more than 100 acolytes
in the Buddhafield cult,
Jaime Gomez, also known as Andreas,
was the ultimate truth.
It sounds gross to me now,
but I'd have given my life for him.
He convinced us
this is the only thing worth anything.
I loved him.
And I did,
I loved him all the way to the end.
But before you learn about
Jaime's mastery of mental manipulation,
let's get up to speed
on his first pirouettes
down the guru path.
He was born in Venezuela.
He came to Hollywood to be an actor
and a dancer and all of that,
and he was impressed with himself.
Hollywood, apparently,
wasn't impressed with him.
He failed
in being a professional dancer,
failed at being an actor.
Got into porn for a while, failed at that.
By the way, how bad
do you have to be to fail at porn?
As they say,
"If you can't do, teach."
He became an acting teacher eventually,
in Florida.
That's how
he started gathering people.
His acting classes
wound up being more spiritual.
We were right in the heart
of West Hollywood.
People were living the life,
a superficial life,
not caring about anything higher
than who your next suitor's gonna be
or what your next job is gonna be.
He capitalized on the superficiality
of everyday American life.
He said things that really spoke to me.
If you think of the past,
you can become miserable.
It felt like being a part of something
that was bigger than just myself.
"What we're doing is good
and we're in it to support the upliftment
of consciousness in the world."
Jaime told us
that he came across this guru,
and he was spontaneously enlightened
and then realized
he needed to become this leader
of other people
to raise their consciousness
and bring them to enlightenment.
But Jaime may have already
been dipping into the playbook
in these early days.
He never had a master.
He had a bag at his chair
with a whole bunch of books,
and he'd pull them out
and pull out these exercises.
He definitely was looking at other people
doing the cult leader thing
to figure out
how he was gonna pull it off.
Still, by the mid-'90s,
Jaime would have total dominion
over a growing legion of followers
whose only desire was to serve
their master's increasingly bizarre whims.
How can you follow this chiseled charlatan
and perfect this key chapter
of the playbook?
Here's the first step.
Your path to total control
starts by understanding
your target's desires.
We want to know
what the truth is in the world.
You're not joining a cult,
you're transforming yourself
into a happier person,
one more like
what you envision you could be.
But to fully take advantage
of that promise,
you need to lean in
to your calling without reservation.
Most cult leaders have something
about them that seems really special
that you are given
this very exclusive access to.
If it were available anywhere else,
I mean, why would you join?
For members of the Buddhafield,
what Jaime offered was a direct path
to the divine through meditation.
He was very ethereal.
He felt like he knew everything.
He talked like he knew everything,
and I was just a sponge.
He was saying that he was
"enveloped in God consciousness,"
and that through meditation,
we could become like him.
But some people aren't going
to believe in your exclusive offer
until they see it in action.
When Chris Johnston
first joins the Buddhafield at age 19,
he struggles to fit in.
Everybody said,
"I've seen the light. I got lost in it."
I felt like, "Something's wrong with me.
I'm not getting it."
Jaime knows just the fix.
He invites his disciple to receive
a direct transference of energy
from the master,
a process he calls "Shakti."
He was sitting on his throne and said,
"Close your eyes."
Then he just jams his thumb
into your forehead as hard as he can,
and he's touching my forehead
and I'm seeing light.
I saw light.
I saw light.
And I was like, "Oh my God."
"Holy shit.
This is like the real deal."
Then I was all in.
Much later,
Chris learned what divine power
Jaime used to conjure
his miraculous light.
He had a little tiny flashlight
that he was blinking on and off
in front of my eyes like this.
Months of hearing
about the light and Jaime's enlightenment,
you're primed to believe it
'cause everyone else's talking about it.
Shakti was just the appetizer.
The main course was called, "The Knowing."
So who wants to ask for The Knowing today?
The Knowing.
The Knowing
was the direct experience of God,
the Big G, and jeez,
who doesn't want that?
The Knowing consisted
of four particular meditation techniques.
It's the light and the music.
It's inner sound and the holy word,
and a transference of energy.
I did receive it.
To me, it was very potent.
It blew me away.
The real power of The Knowing
was its exclusivity.
There were people there
for years that never received it.
If you didn't get The Knowing this time,
it's like, "Okay, I wasn't ready."
It's like a triathlon.
"I wasn't ready, I couldn't compete."
"Gotta get more ready."
We kept preparing
for this experience to go deeper.
You could only comprehend
what it means to finally have God
be revealed to you in its purest form.
When you think
you're getting a bit of something,
you want more of that,
so you keep investing.
So it's part of the game, in a sense,
that the cult leader plays.
Offering a rare
and elusive promise
is a surefire method
for hooking people in.
Ready to get them
even deeper under your sway?
The playbook's next step
has some serious perks.
To keep your flock in line,
you can offer them a good time,
a meaningful time,
but never too much free time.
If you wanna hire a good worker,
hire a former cult member,
because they're used to working long hours
and very hard.
That's because on the path
to controlling your follower's minds,
you must also control their actions.
It is a psychological truth about humans
that the more time and effort
we put into something,
we become more invested emotionally.
It becomes harder to extricate ourselves.
When you can position
catering to your whims as key
to your follower's spiritual growth,
life can get pretty sweet.
In the Buddhafield,
they called this "service."
Service was a multitude of things.
There was service in a general way,
and there was service for the master,
and that was the highest you could do.
It was like a gift
to have service for him,
like "I'm doing
something special for God."
Part of it
was sort of jockeying for position.
And the closer you could be to the master,
the more you were revered
because you were in the presence of him.
So it started out taking his shoes off
and carrying his books,
next thing you know,
we're carrying his chair
and we're making new chairs.
He didn't lift a finger.
Thanks to his
followers' tireless efforts,
Jaime's life
is an endless series of pleasures.
It starts with his early morning routine,
including private time for meditation
or anything else he desires.
Followed by Jaime's first
massage of the day.
I learned how to do massage
so that I could do that service for him,
as did many other people.
Late morning would be spent
strolling through his gardens,
lovingly tended by his followers,
who also make him an all-organic lunch.
After several hours
giving private therapy sessions,
he'd get some exercise
another massage,
and a farm-to-table organic dinner.
And when it came time to turn in,
Jaime's followers took care of that too,
reading him bedtime stories
for up to three hours straight.
He was like an emperor.
We were constantly consumed
with activity,
which was part of his control.
And then
there was the financial side.
If he wanted a new car,
we would see who could donate for that.
If he needed
some landscaping for his garden,
well, there would be
a special collection for that.
That was called "service money."
You're doing service for the guru.
And that service can even take
some more unusual forms.
Jaime moved his group
from Hollywood to Austin, Texas,
and there,
the guru set his sights on a new ambition
the construction of a sacred space
for his favorite form
of spiritual practice.
He had been a founding dancer,
apparently, in the Oakland City Ballet.
That was his art form.
He wanted his own little ballet theater.
So his followers
start planning construction,
and footing the bill.
They break ground on a lot in West Austin
and build the theater from the ground up.
Jaime isn't shy about sharing his opinions
or ordering wholesale changes.
'Cause when it comes
to fulfilling the master's vision,
his followers' money is no object,
and no service is too great.
With his theater complete,
Jaime demanded
even greater acts of theatrical devotion.
Do the dance again and do it right.
I wasn't really a fan of ballets,
but he was,
so we all learned ballet.
It was a full-on production.
The only one
allowed to make mistakes is me.
We would take years. Like, years.
Top quality in terms of lighting,
the music, the costumes, the sets.
Finally, the show went on,
but it was a limited engagement.
We'd do the performance once, just once.
And we'd only perform
for an audience of people
that were in or affiliated with the group.
What a shame.
Now that you're dominating
your followers' time
and tapping in to their bank accounts,
you're probably feeling pretty good,
but your thought control operation's
still vulnerable.
How do you make sure
the wrong ideas don't seep in?
As a cult leader,
sometimes it's not enough
just getting people to think alike.
You need to take things even further.
Cults crush people's individuality
through visual appearance.
If everyone has to wear
the same kind of dress,
if everyone has to shave their head
or wear their hair the same way,
it truly is just another way
to turn off critical thinking
and to make us not question anything.
And if any follower sticks out,
hammer them into submission
like these masters of manipulation.
Members of the Manson family
were so conditioned
to following Charlie's example and orders
that when he carved an X
in his head in prison, they did the same.
Devotees of Charles Dederich's
drug rehab program turned cult, Synanon,
had such a distinctively uniform look,
George Lucas cast some group members
as extras in the first film he directed,
THX 1138.
While Heaven's Gate leader
Marshall Applewhite and his followers
wore monk-like robes
before trading them for matching jumpsuits
and sneakers
when they committed mass suicide.
When it came
to getting his followers on the same page,
Jaime started in the kitchen.
The biggest form of conformity
was our diet.
We weren't allowed to have dairy,
wheat, pork, beef.
No caffeine, no alcohol, no gluten even.
Course no sugar or honey.
And you would be ostracized
if you were caught eating chocolate,
God forbid.
And I would be appalled if someone
got parmesan cheese on their salad.
Jaime was even stricter
when it came
to controlling his group's look.
Only one standard of beauty would suffice.
He would try
to make people into his own image.
The boys had to shave their chest.
He didn't like hair
on the boys' chest.
If he didn't like what you wore,
you either change it
or face public ridicule.
If he didn't like your hair,
"Your hair looks bad like that,
grow it longer."
What's wrong
with expecting perfection?
Jaime himself set an outstanding example.
That was part of his teaching.
"Think like me, be like me."
He was super into himself,
his body, his health, nutrition.
He did everything like a robot.
He was very ritualistic with his habits.
When hard work
didn't do the trick,
there was always plan B.
He was definitely into plastic surgery.
He started having a lot of Botox,
and a lot of silicone implants,
and things like that.
And naturally,
he expects his disciples to keep up,
encouraging them to eliminate
any imperfections, no matter how small.
People got chin implants,
cheek implants,
stuff you put in your lips.
When it came
to the master's procedures,
he didn't wanna take any aesthetic risks,
so he reportedly asked select followers
to help him achieve his ideal look.
He would have people
try out certain things to see
what the procedure was,
what did it look like after you were done.
And I did see, actually,
a lot of beautiful people
go through these procedures.
What greater show of loyalty
then when someone's willing to go
the extra mile to help you look your best?
Of course, conformity's rewards
are more than skin deep.
Conformity and group behavior
are very powerful.
When everyone
is going along with the group,
it's very hard to be the one to speak out.
You lose your sense of self,
you lose your self-esteem,
and you take on this new identity,
which is the cult and the cult leader.
By reshaping your people
into your own image,
you've made great strides
towards reforming their entire existence.
But there's still a force
that can break your hold.
How do you keep this threat at bay?
There's only room
for one star in your followers' galaxy.
If you wanna last in this game,
make sure it's you.
It's important in a cult
to completely break down
someone's sense of identity
and reconstruct it from the ground up,
and that means destroying
any previously held bonds that they have
with anyone outside the cult.
As all the greats know,
if you're looking
to burn emotional bridges,
a little isolation goes a long way.
When Peoples Temple members
arrived in Guyana,
Jim Jones cut them off
from the outside world
by confiscating passports
and restricting communication
with friends and family back home.
Unification Church leader Sun Myung Moon
allegedly coaxed new recruits
into attending
remote indoctrination camps.
Many claim they were later forced to call
family members
and renounce their former lives.
While members of Warren Jeff's
Mormon Fundamentalist Sect
had to shun any relatives
who chose to leave the group
and swear to never speak to them again.
Jaime made sure his followers
had good reason to separate themselves
from the outside world,
including from loved ones.
We would refer to ourselves
as "holy company."
It was either holy company
or the world of the dead. Choose.
He not only encouraged us
to separate from our families,
but he actively helped us separate.
Most of us weren't allowed
to tell parents anything or friends
because he said they wouldn't understand.
But if that's not enough
to convince people to break ties,
there's always this technique.
He would often
publicly shame people.
"Maybe you're not serious
about enlightenment."
"Maybe you're not serious
about being a devotee."
To succeed with this tactic,
you need to be merciless.
That means no exceptions.
He wouldn't let me
be at my father's deathbed.
He said that I would
create karma if I went to see him
because I was so attached to him.
My relatives called,
"You're gonna regret this."
I go, "No, I won't.
I know what I'm doing."
I mean, I was that sure.
It's not just existing family
Jaime's worried about.
None of us that were there for a while
have any children.
He said,
"This is not what you're here to do."
"You're here to find out who you are.
That's why you came."
He didn't want children there
'cause it would take attention from him.
Everything was a distraction
to your enlightenment.
That was his excuse.
After cutting people off
from their most treasured connections,
obstacles to your total control
will fall one by one.
But beware,
a new problem
may be brewing under your nose
that will require you to unleash
one of the playbook's greatest hits.
Followers can be such needy creatures.
Once cut off from the world,
they could start
seeking comfort in each other,
and that can be bad news.
Although a cult provides community,
even within that community,
it's very important
to keep people divided.
The allegiance must be to the cult leader
and not to other members
or groups that form within the group.
Jaime had his own
trademark method
for keeping his people off balance.
He'd been perfecting it for years.
Back in Florida,
he made his living out of hypnotherapy.
That's when he was known
as Michel Rostand,
one of his first aliases.
Jaime played
everybody's therapist.
He started seeing me
in private therapy sessions
we called "cleansing,"
short for "karma cleansing."
The cleansing sessions
were very much the one-on-one bond.
It was special for people.
He could tell them anything he wanted.
He controlled most everything
from behind that door.
Like everything
with Jaime Gomez,
cleansing came with great ceremony.
You'd be sitting in a chair
and he'd be sitting in his chair,
which is his custom-made chair.
The lights are low.
They're on, but they're very low.
Jaime would begin
with relaxation exercises.
"Go down
the long flight of stairs."
"Ten, nine," etcetera, etcetera.
Once followers drop
their guard,
Jaime begins probing with questions
and records the answers.
Jaime identifies
all his disciples' weak spots,
from past traumas
to present day insecurities.
Whatever was bothering you,
you always took everything to him.
As the members clear
their minds,
Jaime gathers intelligence,
plus up to $100 per session per person.
But the true reward
is in holding all the cards.
Everybody was afraid
to be honest with each other
because you knew that
that person would go back to him.
You knew it.
Everybody was ratting each other out
for the guru's approval.
That's a lot of drama,
but it's all for a greater purpose.
People have to be divided
in order to be controlled.
By following this chapter,
your disciples should now be unmoored,
isolated, and entirely under your thumb.
But if you're not careful,
even the best systems
can still break down.
How do you fortify your
mind control program before it's too late?
As you go deeper
into your cult leader career,
some things do get easier.
Once you've reached a point
where your followers' minds
are basically mush,
then they're prime grounds
for feeding them
whatever you want to tell them.
But to maintain your power,
you can't let your guard down.
It just takes one person
to plant an idea that spreads.
Once people talk to each other,
that's when the truth starts to come out.
To snuff out this problem,
Jaime made sure
all information flowed through him.
Jaime was really good at triangulating
and giving certain pieces of information
to some people and not to others.
He was good at keeping things hidden.
Nobody knew what was going on
behind his closed door.
He even put in two doors
for his privacy and his protection.
And nobody asked because we never assumed
anything bad was going on.
But then one day in 2006,
a shocking email
arrives in every member's inbox.
It's from one of Buddhafield's
former high-ranking members
who recently left without explanation.
It contains a long list
of damning accusations against the guru,
claiming he lied about his past
and his metaphysical training.
It accuses him of tax evasion
and extreme emotional manipulation,
and being a serial sexual predator.
The group thought he was celibate
because that's how he portrayed himself.
The letter's accusations
send the Buddhafield into a tailspin.
Secrets that have been hidden for years
begin to be shared.
I was involved
in a sexual relationship with him.
For 20-some odd years this was going on
and we didn't know about this.
When I suggested I didn't
want to have sex with him anymore,
his answer was,
"Maybe you don't need to be here anymore."
"Maybe you've outgrown this."
Like being threatened
with excommunication.
I didn't wanna pay that price,
'cause what would I do, where would I go?
This is my path.
Others would soon
come forward as well.
He'd planned sex with me
years before he had it. He told me later.
It was not a healthy relationship,
it was him pleasing himself
and that was my service.
I was told to promise I'd never tell.
Days after the bombshell email,
Jaime summons his followers
and denies any wrongdoing.
But now that the floodgates have opened,
Jaime's hold begins to break.
Once we realized the depth of it,
it allowed us to talk about things
we weren't talking about before.
That was my line in the sand.
It was about manipulating
everybody around him,
and I said, "I'm done."
"I'm done."
After more than 20 years
of using the playbook to control minds
and fulfill his every desire,
Jaime's information firewall crumbled,
allowing followers to realize
he was playing them all along.
Nobody ever became enlightened.
Nobody ever graduated except for him.
We had about 120 members,
and within a six-month period,
the group just kind of fell apart.
If you're worried
your disciples will just move on
and forget you,
fear not.
They leave scars on you.
How do I trust myself
after believing him 100%?
A successful
mind control campaign
can earn you a long run as a cult leader.
But if you ultimately want
to notch more than just moral victories,
you need to promise something greater
than even your own divine wisdom
and show that you can deliver the goods.
I know the perfect teacher.
We are now so programmed
to so easily accept death,
but there are alternatives.
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