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An Interview with Dr. Margaret Thaler Singer

The following is the transcript of an interview with the late Dr. Margaret Thaler Singer, the former President of American Psychological Association.

Journalist: Doctor Singer, I know you've been engaged in the study of cult issues, especially psychological issues, and you've talked with relatives of, and over thousands of cult members?

Singer: Thousands of, I'v talked with.... I stopped counting when I got to 5000 former cult members and their families, so did.

J: And you talked with…

S: I began talking with cult members who had left cults and their families back in the very early 1960's. So then for forty years, I've been working with people and their families captured by cults.

J: So according to your experience, what strikes you most when you are talking with them?

S: With the parents…

J: With the relatives and the ex-members?

S: With the relatives of and ex-members of U.S. people who got anti-cults. The parents are so shocked that some one has been able to take her son or daughter away from them, get them, so they don't connect with them any more, and they talked in jargon. That's the usual sort of thing. And the parents are grief, they are sad. Their young man, and sometimes, it's not young people, but sometimes peoples' husbands and wives, get seduced and tricked into joining cults. [And see] Part of the work I've done along is to try to show people here in the United States that cults don't go out and recruit openly, most cult recruiting is very deceptive, in which you don't know when you join brand a cult that it's a cult you think it is new international living group.

J: It seems it's not like that.

S: It doesn't seem like what it ends up beings. So that for forty years, I've been pointing out that I've learned that the recruiting in the cults tends to be deceptive. Once he got into the cult, they have developed more organized, I think, the destructive sort reform programs. So just a few years back, I started getting calls. To today, I'd been called by 75 mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters of people who have got into Falun Gong. I have read all the literatures, I being able to find, of translations of Li Zongzhi's stuff. I haven't talked with anyone that's left the cult. But the parents, what they described to me, is, first of all, they are shocked, that someone from a Chinese family would break away from hundreds and hundreds years of family affiliation to go so against the grain of their cultural background. Then the second thing that these mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters have told me. [Only three of the 75 family said,] when I asked them, is your brother or your father whoever [, oh,] Chinese or honkies. Only three of them are honkies. 72 to all the 75 were Chinese. The brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers told me the first concern was that the son or daughter had just disappeared, didn't talk to them when they called on the phone, and didn't come home to visit, and was really strange and pushing them off, which was so against Chinese traditions.

J: Yes.

S: From my readings and from what these people have told me, Li Hongzhi just took all the little excises, TaiJi exercises and the breathing, and new sources sort of a front piece to lure people in.

J: Right.

S: Then, he takes them down to the garden paths reputed, to believing every thing he tells them and they can not differ from it. I don't know how many months ago it was, that family started calling me, because they've seen me on television in the San Francisco area a lot, talking about cults, about mind controlling, brain washing, various kinds of scams and trickeries, because at that area I've been studying on how people influence and trick one another. So, Chinese families got very concerned. Up to now, (there were) 75 different families, because I haven't seen them having called me before. They say no, this is our first call. It will be mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, who are telling me that one member of their family has been recruited into Falun Gong. They are either on the western coast, very near San Francisco because we have a very large Chinese popular community there. Some of them have been calling from up in the Boston area, because they got my phone number from relatives in San Francisco. They have seen me on the TV, talking about how to help people get out the cults. What the parents and brothers and sisters of the Falung Gong members are concerned about is: first, their saying is so against thousands of years of Chinese tradition. To drop your family, to just don't be your family. Once he get with Falun Gong, they are gone, the young adult or the person just abandons their family because the Falun Gong people replace their real family. Then secondly, these family members say, our brother, our sister doesn't talk with us any more. He lectures at us. He has memorized speeches of Li Hongzhi, that he just recites. If we visit him or if we call him on the phone, he just recites. They say, we can't communicate with our family members, he just lectures at us. Then, the third thing that they are very worrying about is that Li Hongzhi tells his followers to stop taking medicine. Some of these family members have said that their brother or sister have some very chronic diseases like diabetes, where he should be taken his insulin or other diseases were they should be taken their medicine. They are very afraid that their relatives just get die, because they've read and gained at the internet and see how many people have died in China that being followers of Li Hongzhi. They are very concern, because these relatives say, I want to go to China, and be with the Falun Gong people in China. Their parents and brothers and sisters say to me "we are very afraid that they will go and they will do some illegal in China and they will get put in jail and shot, who knows what". They want to know how to get their relatives out, with them along, about how to lure them back out again, and so on. But we just don't have enough people. There are not too many of us that read all the stuff that's been translated into English what Li Hongzhi has said.

J: According to your experience, what kinds of harms have been done to these members?

S: They've been separated from their family. They have been told not to take their medicine. They used to be like you and I, regular people, who rationally thought about stuff. Once they get with Falun Gong, their family says, they don't rationally reason any more. They just recite, learn phrases. They have lost their ability to be independent reasoners. Some of these people, the relatives say, have lost their job skills, because they put so much time in with their for long Falun Gong friends.

J: Do you think Falun Gong, as a cult or religion in America, would develop in the way that they proceeding now?

S: I think that Falun Gong surely meet the criteria of being a cult by American or world standards. The leader has people instead of, you know, worshiping God or abstract principles, they worship him. They believe he is the all powerful person. And they've drop centuries of religion in China to follow this man. So that he is a self-appointed person who says, as cult leaders do all around the world, "Follow me, I know the one way. Follow me, give up everything. Come with me." Then he gave such control over them. They stop thinking for themselves. No matter China is a huge country compared to say here in the US, or compared to little European countries. In any country, you want citizens who think, citizens who reason, citizens who learn what the technical skills are for survival in the modern world. So that these people who have join Falun Gong, their families are so concern. The families are so afraid. I say to them, would you give me your name and number so I can put you in touch with journalism because it would be so helpful for Chinese, honkies, any kind of people here in the US, to get a true picture of who Li Hongzhi is, how is who raise, the propaganda that they put out, They say, oh, we can think for us. You know. It's just as stopped at every cult leader here in the US tells his followers to believe. It started by the self-appointed leader. He has told jarl's diction in control over their behavior, their conduct, their thinking.

J: Right, why generally the American people are more concerned about the treatment of Falun Gong by the Chinese government rather than the harm and the influence of these thinking of the normal people?

S: I think the American public has not read the material that the few of us have. They see in the international press, that you get off of the web and find what do the Chinese people know about Falun Gong. What happens to Falun Gong followers? Here in the US, people get, as we say, real turned on about religious freedom.

I just have not seen that Falun Gong is a religious freedom issue. I think it was the guy who was very clever, very bright, very manipulative. He set himself up to sell enough tapes, books and writings, and he got himself overheard in the US, where he is away from the Chinese government and from people that is manipulating over there. He is living up here in New York somewhere. That looks very suspicious. But you see, I think the average reader here in the United States of the news papers or the watchers of TV think that it is religious persecution. I've read and I'm being on the programs in Europe with two Chinese scholars who live here in the US, who read in Chinese and English both, what the Falun Gong people putting on. They read the Chinese press and the translations. I don't see it as a religious freedom issue at all. But you see, as long as the American public doesn't understand the real details of Falun Gong, they will think that it is if here in the United States someone was picking on, a regular baddish church in downtown Auckland, a regular catholic church in San Francisco. From what I read that is not the situation. I try to explain to people. They think I must be out of my mind. I say, no, no, I've been studying how people self-appoint, cheat people into joining them, and then given him money and promoting wealth and power. If he's going to study cult, that what's you want to gain wealth and power.

J: Right

S: I studied at this point 5000 different cults.

J: Are you optimistic that the cults will be controlled and will be supervised do little in the coming 21 century?

S: I just don't know, I think the Chinese government has to get a lot better of public relations over here, real good stuff into our press and TV, so that it makes Falun Gong visible as these years, one more of them, thousands of cults.


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