How to Become a Cult Leader (2023) s01e06 Episode Script

Become Immortal

The playbook's given
nearly all the tools
to become an A-list cult leader.
Hope you paid attention,
because it's time for your final lesson
on how to avoid most charismatic gurus'
unfortunate endings.
Don't let these odds bring you down.
You can chart a different path,
then preserve your group for generations
by following the eternal father himself,
Sun Myung Moon,
a legendary spiritual leader
whose global appeal and staying power
set a standard
few have been able to match.
Moon made that bridge between politics,
money, and religion.
That was like a trifecta.
Let Moon show you
how to turn your handcrafted following
into a global powerhouse
built to last forever.
Thank you.
Over six decades,
Reverend Sun Myung Moon
built his Unification Church,
often referred to as the Moonies,
into a mass movement
that's still influential today,
more than a decade
after the leader's death.
Of all the new religions
that emerged in the '70s,
you'd have to consider
the Unification Church
as being the most successful.
They've proven
they can sustain themselves.
If you wanna learn how
to set up your group for the long haul,
it'll help to know
some key things about Moon himself.
The official story of how
the Unification Church was founded
was that when he was 15 or 16,
Moon was up in the mountains
in Korea on Easter Sunday praying,
and Jesus appeared to him and said,
"I came and I failed
to fulfill my mission."
"I need you to fulfill it for God."
Moon refused at first.
He was like, "No, I can't."
Jesus was like, "Please take my mission."
"You're the chosen one."
And he's like, "I'll do it."
These are stories we heard growing up.
The Unification Church
had an active membership
in Japan and Korea.
Japan was a place
where you could make money.
The strategy was to gain economic power.
I'm half Japanese.
Values like loyalty and honor
are very strong in Japan,
so I think Moon exploited those things.
During the '70s,
Moon came to the United States
and started to try to gain following.
He settled in Tarrytown, New York,
a suburb north of New York City.
I call it Ground Zero
of the Unification Church,
where a lot of church families lived.
It was the age of cults in America.
Hippies from the '60s searching for truth,
and searching for love,
and searching for a better way.
His membership thrived,
and they posed
as a New Age Christian church
when really it's like
this ultra conservative organization.
That's how
Moon got his foothold.
But how did this ambitious evangelist
make it to the top
of the spiritual mountain?
It started with some sleight of hand.
One of the distinguishing markers
of a cult is rampant deception
from start to finish.
If these groups were advertising
what they're really about,
what the ideology really is,
nobody would join.
And it's slowly over time
that a little bit more is asked of you
and a little bit more control
is taken over your life.
That's why you need to offer
potential followers a new truth,
like these crafty leaders did.
The political cult run
by eight-time presidential candidate
Lyndon LaRouche went by names
like the Schiller Institute
and the Fusion Energy Foundation
to hide its connection
to the controversial leader,
whose claims included
that Jews formed the Ku Klux Klan
and the Bush family worked with the Nazis.
Charles Dederich started his cult,
Synanon, as a drug rehab program.
He eventually forced followers
to sign over all their money
and refused to let them leave.
Things went south after he tried to kill
an ex-member's lawyer with a rattlesnake.
Followers of Australian cult leader
Anne Hamilton-Byrne
thought they were part
of a peaceful yoga group,
except for the few
who knew she was grooming
her illegally adopted children
to become a master race.
While the Unification Church's status
as a cult is in dispute,
Moon knew his messianic mission
could be a tough sell at first,
so he reportedly made
hiding the ball a team sport.
One of the things
we were often taught when proselytizing
was to not reveal we were members
of the Unification Church or Moonies
because if they knew,
they'd be less receptive.
You could call it lying,
but the Moonies preferred
"heavenly deception."
The underlying principle
of "heavenly deception"
is you can say anything
as long as it's for the church's purposes,
for God's purposes.
When people said, "Who are you with?"
You could say, "CARP."
"The College Association
for the Research of Principles."
Or, "I'm with the IOWC,
the International One World Crusade,"
because those are great powerful names
that aren't the Unification Church.
While the church denies
using deceptive recruiting practices,
here's how young
Diane Benscoter got sucked in.
It was the early '70s.
I was 17, walking down the street,
someone handed me a banana
with a flyer wrapped around.
It said, "Walk for world peace.
150-mile walk from Omaha to Des Moines."
The march is sponsored
by the One World Crusade.
As an aspiring journalist,
Diane smells a story.
A few days later,
Diane tags along for their five-day march
across the Midwest
and quickly starts making friends.
During this walk,
there'd always be two people
that would really be interested
in my life walking with me.
They wanted to know what I cared about,
what I wanted to do with my life.
No one had given me
that kind of attention maybe ever.
Diane is being love bombed,
the Moonies' favorite technique
for seducing unsuspecting recruits,
even skeptical journalists like Diane.
It was really nice to have someone
care so much about what I thought.
The group marches non-stop,
sleeping just a few hours per night.
We'd stay in church basements
along the way.
It was exhausting.
Every evening,
the group listens for hours
to lectures drawn from a book
called The Divine Principle.
Its author?
Sun Myung Moon.
The Divine Principle explains
that God's plan was for Jesus
to get married and sire sinless children,
but Jesus had failed,
so God sent another messiah
who had been born in Korea in the 1920s.
We all had these epiphanies
that the messiah was Moon.
"Oh my God."
And we all break into tears.
They were saying,
the reason you came to this
was because God led you here.
Without realizing it,
Diane was becoming fully indoctrinated
into the Unification Church.
All that's left
is to meet the messiah himself.
All the members were crying,
and they ran and fell down at his feet
and kissed his shoes.
It was like
this beautiful scene of adoration.
And with that, she's hooked.
Moon's methods of indoctrination
in the early years
were extremely effective.
Thousands of young people
have joined the Unification Church,
which began in Korea.
A number of people were convinced.
This is what they want to do,
that Moon was the Second Coming,
Moon was the messiah.
I believe he's a prophet
in a similar position to John the Baptist
to prepare the way
for the Second Coming of Christ.
Playbook-inspired misdirection
will help lure people in,
but maintaining your movement
for the long haul
is going to take something more tangible.
If you wanna build your group to last,
faith will only get you so far.
You'll also need
cold hard cash.
There was a definite
business aspect of the Unification Church.
We were told we needed to raise money
in order to create
a Kingdom of Heaven on Earth
because that's where the power was.
To consolidate
this Earthly power,
Moon invested in everything under the sun,
from Ginseng tea,
to M79 grenade launchers.
Hotels, universities, dance troupes,
golf courses,
even chinchilla farms.
But perhaps the most influential
enterprise was this one,
True World Foods,
which brought
the gift of sushi to American shores.
Tastes divine.
True World Foods claims
it's the number one supplier of sushi
to American restaurants,
which is a bummer 'cause I like sushi
Me too.
and every time I eat it, I think,
"I might have given
more money to the church."
But if you don't want
the tax man biting into your profits,
you're going to want to hire
some clever accountants.
A lot of groups
will declare themselves a religion
so that they don't have to pay taxes.
It apparently is very easy
to become a religion in America.
According to former members,
Moon had yet one more trick
to maximize his bottom line.
I worked sometimes 18 hours a day,
seven days a week for no pay.
My mom spent most of her time
in the church running nurseries.
I don't think she ever got paid.
But just because your followers
are tightening their belts
doesn't mean you have to.
Moon had a huge estate.
They had bodyguards
to be protected for God.
They wanted for nothing.
His children wanted for nothing ever.
He had boats,
he had yachts, he had it all,
and we were lucky to give it to him.
Of course money,
even lots of money, isn't everything.
To achieve immortality
as a spiritual leader,
you'll need to raise your profile.
When it's time for your coming out party,
make your movement the main event.
How do you prove
your theology's appeal to the world?
Write a mission statement?
Go on talk shows?
No. You pack a stadium like a rock star.
The big leaders know
how to put on a show.
They'll have lighting, they'll have music,
they'll have a huge audience
of people applauding.
You need to generate an experience
that feels heightened,
and feels spiritual, and feels special.
Say what you will
about Reverend Moon,
the guy had flair.
There was a lot of emphasis
in the Unification Church
for these big events.
They raised Moon's profile
such that everyone's attention
was drawn to him.
He really wanted mass adoration.
There was nothing small about him.
He spoke
at Madison Square Garden in 1974.
He spoke at Yankee Stadium
on July 1st, 1976.
Later that year, Moon staged
an event at the Washington Monument,
but where Moon made
his biggest splash was with these.
The Reverend Moon
produced a number of mass weddings
as a demonstration
of his influence and his power.
Long live the true parents!
Of course,
that's not the official reason.
The goal of the messiah
was to create a perfect society of people
free of original sin.
It was a way to cleanse
the original sin with which you were born
and bring the world back to God.
In the summer of 1982,
Lisa's mom gratefully received this honor.
The best seats at Madison Square Garden
were at my mother's wedding.
Lisa's mother, Mimi,
a member of Moon's church for eight years.
Her engagement had been set
in a blessing ceremony
three years earlier.
Moon would literally
pick your spouse in a huge room.
A brother would stand up
and go through the sisters
and pick someone
to match with that person.
Lisa's mom had been divorced,
which in the eyes of the Moonies
made her damaged goods.
Moon had her stand up,
and he said something like,
"Who'd be willing to take her on?"
And a man whom I will call Phil
stood up and said, "I will,"
and that's how they were matched together.
Moon gives
the newly promised couples
only a few minutes together
before he directs everyone
to return to their missions.
They saw each other once or twice
until it came time for the wedding itself.
When the wedding day arrives,
the ceremony lasts for hours.
When my mom got married,
it was 2,074 couples there.
I remember sitting there,
and just the throngs
of the sea of black and white,
looking for my mom, never finding her.
Moon's followers
may be doing it for God,
but Moon is doing it for the cameras.
The world takes note.
Moon got more notoriety
from mass weddings than anything
because there'd never been
anything like this before.
It's all performance.
Mass weddings,
show of strength, it's all PR.
Long live!
Moon's mass weddings
did something even better
for his eternal goals,
because what comes
after love and marriage?
Nothing like pitter-patter
of little followers' feet to ensure
your movement's continued success.
Moon understood this so well
that he baked it into his core theology.
Moon placed his own kids,
who the Moonies called The True Children,
at the top
of the Unification Church power pyramid.
They were the children of the messiah,
so they got away
with anything and everything.
After that came
The Blessed Children,
born to couples
matched by the True Father.
If you're born into the church,
you are free of original sin,
so we were treated
as like these special children.
Then there were kids
whose parents' marriages
weren't blessed by Moon,
so they still had original sin.
As for everyone else
The rest of the world
is inhabited by Satan.
When you see things that way,
who wouldn't want to be blessed?
I believe it was used
to coerce us to stay in the church.
They're like,
"If you have sex with someone
outside of that pure blood group,
you're not pure anymore,
and thousands of years
of spiritual preparation
to bring the messiah
in order to purify our blood
is ruined and you're going to hell."
So a lot of pressure.
And just to be sure
The Blessed Kids didn't go astray,
Moon provided a refresher course
called Camp Sunrise.
Camp Sunrise was kind of like
the Bible Camp of the Unification Church.
It was for second generation kids.
Camp Sunrise offers a slate
of wholesome activities.
We had things like swimming,
All under the watchful eye
of True Father.
Every morning before breakfast,
the whole camp
meets for bonding exercises.
We had to do unity jumping jacks.
You had to count your jumping jacks,
skip a number.
If anyone forgot to skip a number,
we had to start all over again.
We couldn't eat until we got it right.
Next, eight hours of lectures
on church theology.
People would see
who was falling asleep
and come wake them up
by poking them with a stick.
There was also movie time.
We would watch these videos
about how church members
literally got kidnapped off the street
and thrown into a van to get deprogrammed.
Deprogrammers were the boogeymen
for us growing up.
The rest of the day was spent
learning the perils of premarital sex
and preparing for their own
blessed marriages to come.
Definitely a lot less fun than canoeing.
It was to keep us believing in the church,
and it gave us these fun
childhood experiences
mixed with a lot of indoctrination.
What better way to protect
your investment in your group's future?
But before you can cash in
you need to stay on top
of problems in the present.
We love our children.
They're beautiful.
They've been the subject
of a strenuous brainwashing exercise
by Moon and his people.
Thanks to the playbook,
you won't have to face
these obstacles alone.
With millions in the bank
and multiple generations
of followers under your sway,
you'd surely become
the envy of your peers,
but you still have to expect
some landmines in your path.
Most cult leaders,
they're narcissists and megalomaniacs.
They don't believe they have to follow
the rules and laws of a society
like everyone else does,
so a lot of things may be going on
which they're hoping won't get found out.
That's why it's good
to have powerful allies like Moon did.
He knew how to engender
a feeling of trustworthiness in people.
He knew who to meet
and who to shake hands with,
who to have his picture taken with,
and he was particularly successful
in courting members
of the conservative establishment
in the US.
In the battle against communism,
Reverend Sun Myung Moon
has launched a crusade on a global scale
to bring about the total defeat
of this godless empire of evil.
It was easy for people
on the right to align with him
because he was expressing
kind of the same ideals
that they would have about anti-communism,
freedom of religion.
He was able to make a lot of inroads
because of his own political beliefs.
But Moon was about to discover
the limits of his current relationship.
Reverend Moon faces
an 18-month prison sentence
for failing to pay income taxes
on the interest from large sums
of church funds
held in his personal bank accounts.
Moon denied any wrongdoing,
and others agreed.
Seems to me that IRS and the government
have overstepped their boundaries
in terms of separation
of church and state.
After spending
13 months in prison,
Moon decided to put
even more of his money to work
to make sure his friends
knew he was on their side.
They created this
world peace organization, got into the UN.
Moon also launched
an influential conservative newspaper,
The Washington Times.
When I think of The Washington Times,
I think of a publication that has brought
much-needed balance
to the way
Washington is covered these days.
Many people didn't even know
that Moon had started that newspaper
and that Moon organization people
were running the newspaper.
Moon's investments
gave him influence and,
more importantly, protection.
You can even say he went mainstream.
There's very few Republican presidents
who haven't spoken at a church event,
been paid to speak at a church event.
But on his path to immortality,
Moon still had to overcome
the most stubborn obstacle of all.
Not if you follow
the playbook one last time.
It's the end of the road for us all,
even successful cults
and their frustratingly mortal leaders.
Very few groups are able to
sustain themselves after a leader dies.
But Moon had a multistep plan
to stake his claim for immortality,
starting in one of his favorite buildings,
the US Capital.
On a cool Tuesday evening,
guests arrive
at the Dirksen Senate Office Building
for an event called
The Ambassadors for Peace Awards.
It begins as a standard affair
honoring religious leaders'
community contributions.
But as the ceremony stretches on,
the speeches begin teeing up
the evening's guests of honor,
Sun Myung Moon and his wife, Hak Ja Han.
Two members of Congress
present the couple with royal attire,
bestowing Moon with the title,
"The King of Peace."
Moon declares himself humanity's savior
and creator of the Kingdom of Heaven
for all eternity.
Doing that
was making the statement,
getting it validated
in Congress by Congress people.
That's a huge thing.
But to really make
Moon's claims stick,
he needed something much more concrete,
a succession plan.
Having a succession plan
with individuals who would be popular
to the rest of the membership
is important because the leader
will eventually die.
Moon's strategy,
like proper royalty,
was to keep power in the family,
grooming his wife, Hak Ja Han,
and youngest son, Hyung Jin,
also known as Sean,
to continue his legacy postmortem.
But how will the plan hold up
when the rubber hits the road?
True Father,
thank you
for your unparalleled investment.
After Reverend Moon died,
it just became Game of Thrones.
Everyone was claiming
to be the one to take over.
When the dust settled,
Moon's legacy was carried on,
not by a single heir,
but by, appropriately enough, a trinity.
Hak Ja Han emerged
as the church's main spiritual leader.
The Moons' oldest living son, Preston,
started the nonprofit
Unification Church International,
while youngest son Sean
broke off from the church
and began his own unique congregation.
They're called
the Rod of Iron Ministries.
The Rod of Iron was written about
in the Book of Revelation in the Bible,
and they interpreted that
as their AR-15 rifles.
Sean Moon believes his father,
Sun Myung Moon, was the messiah,
and that he's a representative
of Sun Myung Moon.
And when it comes
to political influence
Father, we're so grateful
for the Second Amendment.
Sean is a chip off the old block.
Now that's a legacy to be proud of.
With this playbook as your guide,
you've learned
how to build your foundation,
grow your flock,
control minds,
offer salvation,
protect your image,
and now, how to endure forever.
Long live the true parents!
Now's the perfect time to start a cult.
People are yearning for meaning.
The world is getting crazy.
We are all looking for reprieve
from the chaos of our everyday lives.
With the emergence
of social media,
you don't have to be able to manipulate
a person to gain incredible power,
you simply have to manipulate
an algorithm.
That's a lot easier to do.
After all you've witnessed,
you might think
the cult leader life isn't for you.
Just remember,
in this world,
you're either the predator or the prey.
To those of you that think
that you never could have been in a cult,
you're the kind of person
that they're waiting for.
So, which way do you wanna go?
It's all a play, isn't it?
Now that's the truth.
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