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Starting Out in Mainstream America – a Valuable Resource

Leaving an abusive cult or relationship is difficult enough, but for those who were born or raised in a totalist environment, the transition into “mainstream” culture can be daunting. The regular “life maintenance” tasks most of us take for granted – opening a checking account, finding work or a place to live, or simply fitting into the culture – can be overwhelming and seem even impossible for someone who has grown up inside the world of a high-control group.

Livia Bardin, M.S.W., a clinical social worker who has engaged with cult victims and their families for more than fifteen years, in partnership with ICSA, has created Starting Out in Mainstream America, a free, online guide providing practical solutions for people with needs like:

  • getting a driver’s license
  • finding a place to live
  • finding a job or job training
  • getting health care
  • finding your way around the legal system

and information about broader concepts like

  • Abuse and neglect
  • Communications skills
  • Relationships
  • Parenting skills
  • Aspects of mainstream culture like music, movies, and sports

For all these issues and more, Starting Out in Mainstream America is a valuable resource with a wealth of helpful information. Be sure to check it out, as well as the other sites listed in our resource section.


Terror, Love, and Brainwashing – Chris Shelton Interviews Alex Stein

Alexandra Stein is only a few minutes into her harrowing story when she pauses with a smile. “I know a lot of people listening to this are undoubtedly going to think: ‘well, why did you go along with it?’” she says. “And after I got out, that was the question I had: why did I go along with it?”

For this plucky intellectual, fighting for the rights of humanity was second nature. How, then, did she find herself involved with a group which took away her rights and turned her into a virtual slave? In this revealing interview with her fellow Open Minds Advisory Board member Chris Shelton, Alex Stein not only answers the perennial question: “how do people become involved in such groups?”, she also details the way predatory groups and individuals use our own normal psychology – and our natural instinct for human connection – to subvert the will of others.

Using the Attachment Theory pioneered by such thinkers as Bowlby, Stein shows how any of us, at the right time, could fall into the trap of a cultic group or relationship. Even those of us who have read her excellent book, Terror, Love and Brainwashing, will find this interview illuminating and thought-provoking.

What do you think about this interview? Do you agree? Have you read Alex’s book? Do you have a story about being recruited into a cult that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!

Hercules and the Monster

Hercules, travelling along in between his famous trials, came across a foul-looking creature the size of a small rat, blocking his path, snapping and spitting at all who passed by. The demigod raised his club and gave the creature a sharp crack upon its ugly, shriveled head. Instead of falling injured, the creature spat flame, shaking with rage and swelling up to the size of a large dog.

Undaunted, the famous hero swung his club again, only to find himself facing a monster twice his size, a giant hulk of twisted flesh and bone, spitting bile and making the surrounding countryside tremble with its deafening roars.

He raised his club again, preparing for an epic battle, when his sister Athena appeared at his side. “Lower your club, brother,” she told him gently.

Hercules lowered his weapon, watching in amazement as the creature grew smaller again.

“What is it?” he asked, his brow wrinkling.

The Goddess of Wisdom smiled gently. “It is Spite; the more you battle with it, the larger and stronger it grows. If we leave it behind, it will no longer trouble us.”

Spite is often used in abusive groups and relationships – and can even become their identifying feature. Inciting rage by provoking indignation at some perceived wrong can countermand all our critical thinking, leading us to act without engaging our intelligence.

Rage, however, is not limited to predatory people and groups: those of us who work to expose and end the systematic human rights violations caused by undue influence are often indignant – and rightly so – at the abuses we see around us. Too often, what we see is maddening, the stories we hear terrifying. Our indignation can even become a defining point when we ask ourselves why we have chosen this path.

Historically, righteous indignation has provided valuable fire to act against such injustices as slavery, intolerance, poverty, sexism and war. However, we must remember, while we are travelling along upon our Herculean task, not to allow our indignation to become poisoned by Spite, and let our anger turn us against each other, or, worse, those who need our help the most, the people still caught in the grasp of a high-control group or relationship.

While it is important to stand against predation and undue influence wherever we find it, we must not descend into attacking people, instead of opposing abuse. It is not only possible, but necessary, to expose and work to end injustice, without giving in to Spite, as those who invoke it or act on it rarely have anyone’s best interests in mind. If we fight just to fight, then no one can ever truly win.

Editor's Note: While we at OMF value all free expression of opinion, the views expressed by our contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OMF, its board members, or trustees.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree?  Have you read Spike’s dystopian novel?Do you have a story about Spite that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!


Surviving and Thriving: Hoyt Richards on the BBC

Hoyt Richard - Advisory Board Member, Award-Winning Filmmaker, Writer, Actor - Los Angeles, California, USA

Our Advisory Board member Hoyt Richards knows he will never be boring at cocktail parties. “I can drop the cult bomb,” he reflects with a laugh in this recent BBC interview. Widely credited as the first male “supermodel,” the Princeton-educated writer and actor strongly contradicts the myth that only unintelligent or emotionally “needy” people can be recruited into destructive cults. “People think you’re not that bright, or naive, or that you’ve got some sort of dysfunction going on at home … all those things are inaccurate,” he affirms. “The brighter you are, the more easy you are to be manipulated.”

Addressing the question of how anyone could “buy in” to some of the “crazier” beliefs which seem to crop up in many high-control groups, Richards reflects on the parable of the frog in the pot on the stovetop: the bizarre, destructive elements are not introduced right away, but come as part of a slow process of indoctrination. “The more sensitive and more fantastical … information comes kind of as a reward for you hanging around long enough to find out the secret truths of what’s going on.”

This insightful conversation takes on many of the myths of what a destructive group looks like, reminding us how anyone can be seduced into a predatory situation. Richards ends on a positive note: “it doesn’t have to be a bad thing … the silver lining can be the lessons learned and re-building relationships in a way that actually end up becoming stronger.”

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about a surviving and thriving after high-pressure group that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 


In Praise of – Barbara Anderson Uncensored

Barbara Anderson is an outspoken critic of groups that attempt to silence victims or parents of victims from reporting child sexual abuse to the authorities.

But she was an unlikely candidate for that role for most of her life, having invested her time in a pseudo-religious group, which had unduly influenced her to believe that their policies were Bible-based and inspired by God: that father knows best.

However, after working ten years at world headquarters for Jehovah’s Witnesses, she discovered the group was not governed by an all-wise God, as she’d been led to believe. While working in the Writing Department, something terrible happened and she experienced a crisis of conscience, which would change her life forever.

Her inspirational story makes Barbara Anderson Uncensored a must-read. But, the book is much more than that. While she compellingly narrates her life story, author Jon Atack and Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed., psychotherapist, take us behind the scenes to give us their insights and unprecedented commentary on the mind manipulation techniques Barbara was subjected to while still a Jehovah’s Witness.

Barbara’s ultimate valor in the face of an epic David vs Goliath battle to protect children against the policies of an international organization demonstrates how the efforts of one person, who stands up for right, truly can affect change. Detroit artist Carl Wilson’s colorful imagery of Barbara says it all:

This book was made possible due to a grant/gift from the Open Minds Foundation. All royalties from the book will be used to safeguard young people, ages 5 to 35, from undue/predatory influence.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read Barbara Anderson Uncensored ? Do you have a story about standing up for the right thing that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!


IndoctriNation Episode One: Rachel Bernstein Talks With Patricia Ryan

Our friend and advisory board member Rachel Bernstein kicks off her own new podcast, IndoctriNation, in a big way: her guest is Patricia Ryan, the daughter of congressman Leo Ryan, who was murdered at the start of the Jonestown massacre in Guyana.

Rachel and Patricia discuss not only what happened at Jonestown, but also compare notes on their work in the counter-cult movement, with a fascinating look back at early harassment from members of Scientology and that group’s takeover of the Cult Awareness Network. Their talk also covers how high-control groups indoctrinate their members through guilt and phobia induction, how (and why) destructive cults keep their members isolated from the outside world, and the importance of the work of those committed individuals who help people out of abusive relationships and groups.

Rachel’s goal for IndoctriNation is: “to empower our listeners to protect themselves and those they love from predators, toxic personalities, and destructive organizations.” We know she is off to a great start with this engaging and informative interview!

Revitalizing the Desire to Help

The desire to help is a significant motivation for most members of authoritarian cult groups. They may want to save people so they can go to heaven, or create a heaven on earth; they may sincerely believe they can make others rich, healthy or wise – but their intention is genuine. The leaders may be cynical predators, but the followers are usually motivated to help.

After leaving an authoritarian group, it is a let-down to find that not only are the leadership’s intentions corrupt, but that you are now in a world that seems to lack high purpose or ideals. You may have spent years trying to lead people to a better life, only to find that your efforts were in vain.

Some former members become demotivated. They can even suffer from chronic fatigue disorder, depression, or other mental and physical maladies resulting from trauma; a lack of clear purpose in life only makes the problem worse.

The best way to overcome these difficulties is to find motivation again: it is vital to find a genuinely good cause, something you feel passionate about. There is a unique feeling of satisfaction in helping others overcome – or even avoid – the trauma you experienced.

If you want to protect others from the lures of human predators, and save them from the disappointments you have suffered, the Open Minds Foundation may be the right cause for you.

At Open Minds, we offer preventative medicine to proof people against destructive groups and relationships. As the old saying goes, we believe that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You can help by tweeting about us, by linking us to your Facebook page, or by making a monthly donation. We’re also happy to receive blog posts and ideas to improve our website or our outreach program.

So, we may not usher in the Kingdom of Heaven or ‘Clear the planet’, but we can help the next generation to be far less susceptible to manipulation, and that is a worthy cause indeed!

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read Jon’s new book? Do you have a story about the desire to help that you’d like to share? Would you like to help Open Minds help others? We’d love to hear from you! 

A Rude Awakening: Dissociation Under the Grip of a Predator

Editor’s Note: This story, although true, is admittedly on the unconventional side of what we would normally offer; this example of dissociation, although extreme, serves nonetheless as a textbook portrayal of the phenomenon. For all those who do not understand why those in the grips of an abuser don’t “simply walk away,” for all those who cannot fathom how a parent could abandon a child, for all those who are unable to comprehend how a young idealist can go from spiritual seeker to suicide bomber, we present this illustration of just how far those under the grips of undue influence can lose their own identity. Not all cult members dissociate, but it is a common enough happenstance, even in much more conventional settings than the one presented here.


I huddle beneath the threadbare blanket, trying to convince myself that I do not hear the voice of my tormentor, the man who, just last night, as a “spiritual lesson,” gave me the bruises now spreading over my shoulders and upper arms.

“Sophia!” Nightmare calls again, his voice directly above me now. A rough hand shakes my shoulder. “Sophia,” he snarls, the cruel fingers tightening on my bruised flesh, “do not pretend to be asleep, Wife. Awake and face the consequences of thou actions.”

The arrogance in his voice, combined with the stilted, high-school theater delivery of his words and the misuse of ‘thou,’ is enough to flip a tiny switch in me, and I decide to go into hiding, in the only way I can. In a futile to escape the inevitable humiliation, I will dissociate from my physical sensations and retreat into my inner world.

If I try hard enough, I can almost believe it’s actually happening: I imagine myself surrounded by a cool, prismatic shell of pure crystalline ice, with the filigree gold setting just visible beyond. In my mind’s eye, my husband is just an indistinct blur behind the safe walls of the diamond in my wedding ring; when I am inside this stone, he can do me no harm.

I convince myself I do not feel his fingers squeezing harder. In my Empire-cut sanctuary, the violent jostling of my shoulder is just a gentle rocking. There is a slap to the top of an uninhabited head; clumsy enough to be passed off as a ‘slip of the hand,’ but hard enough to make me wince, although I am not there.

I am not there, no, not there at all. Absolutely not squeezing my eyes shut harder, and certainly not tensing my muscles, I imagine the prison of diamond grow harder around me. I am safe in protective custody.

“Sophia! I can tell you’re faking it! Awake, stupid girl, and attentive me.”

Attentive me?!? It’s all I can do not to burst out laughing. This idiot is the incarnation of Poseidon, Lord of the Oceans?

“Are you laughing at me, Wife? I shalt teach thou verily to laugh.” Another slap to the head, and the rising swell of anger in my mind festers and solidifies. The involuntary curve of my laugh becomes a sneer; like shrugging on a coat, I slip into another set of mannerisms, a different vocabulary of facial expressions, an internal shift of posture from prey to predator. The shivering body curled into a fetal position becomes the crouch of a tigress ready to spring, the sneer widens into a snarl, the helpless trembling becomes quivering rage.

I open my eyes: the glint that shines there is not mine. “Yes, I was laughing at you,” I tell the slovenly boy before me, my voice much deeper than my normal tone (but it is not my voice; I am not me, I am still within the diamond upon my finger, and I cannot hear what is going on so very, very far away). “I was laughing at you because you still mistake your daughter for your wife.”

The expression of blank incomprehension eventually shapes into a simpering play of compassion; his voice softens, the line of his mouth forms the parody of a warm smile. “Pumpkin?”

My eyes darken and I hear the voice fill with scorn, as my body raises itself up into a sitting position on the grimy ‘twin’ mattress we sleep on in this shoddy upstairs room. “Not that daughter.”

If I was really me, I would enjoy the look of confusion on Nightmare’s face as he rummages in his tiny brain for the names we’ve given to our future children, who exist, potentially, in an alternate universe, waiting for us to get our marriage “back on track.” As it is, our youngest imaginary daughter smirks openly at her father’s stupidity; they “have will never once” get along, as our leader Sequoia so charmingly puts it.

Finally, he manages to pull a name from his cannabis-clouded skull. “Malice,” he sighs. “Where is your mother?”

“Where is your self-control?” The Demigoddess of Revenge asks sharply. “I’ve only been in this body five minutes and I can feel the bruises you’ve given her. And less than half of them are from what apparently passes for sex with you. Just what ‘spiritual lesson’ were you teaching her this time?”

“That’s between thou mother and I,” he proclaims stiffly, drawing himself up haughtily, all five foot four inches of scrawny, filthy, couch-surfing drifter covered in threadbare clothes from the clearance racks of Hot Topic (by way of Goodwill). Malice sums up her feelings for her father in one disdainful glance, and, theatrically looking around for where her mother hid the last pack of cigarettes, retrieves them and lights one up.

“It’s ‘thy mother and me,’” she says on the exhale. “If you’re going to insist on using archaic language, at least get the right usage. And get your modern grammar right, too.”

“And what wouldst thy know,” he snaps, “about grammar?”

“Enough to know that it’s ‘wouldst thou know.’ It’s not just one or the other; you have to know which to use when, kind of like forks at a formal dinner, if anyone invited you to any formal dinners.”

“We are the Lord of Atlantis. And what wouldst thou know about grammar, then? Thee is not a denzien of this time and place.”

Malice rolls her eyes. “‘Thou art not a denizen,’ Father, not ‘denzien.’ And if you’d be troubled to rack your aged brain a bit, you’d remember the formal dinners in Atlantis involve slaves carrying vomit buckets and people throwing chicken bones across the table. In any case, the grammar expertise is in Mom’s memory engrams – four years of hard grammar, university level. So just give it up and talk like a normal person from your century.”

Nightmare’s eyes blaze dangerously, and I realize he thinks he’s caught me in a trap. “I thought we got rid of all the engrams from that body’s ego.”

I puff casually on the cigarette, thinking quickly as I take a long drag. But I am not here – I am still in the diamond, safe and so far away ….

But still, a daughter must do what she can to protect her mother. Malice, Demigoddess of Revenge, laughs derisively. “Not the informational ones,” she says lightly, even breezily. “I mean, how would you expect Mom to remember how to drive a car or do her mundane job? or even how to digest her food?”

With a sinking heart, I can see that Nightmare has seized on a fault he can use against me. My husband’s eyes glint menacingly. “Still, we might have to do some exploratory surgery again to see that there’s no emotional attachments to these engrams.” He does his best to look calculating and intelligent, but only captures calculating and brutal.

The walls of my diamond refuge shimmer, and I feel Malice’s confident façade crumbling. Great Mother, I can’t do this …

She’s gone; I’ve lost Malice, but still I dare not venture from my mineral fortress. Instead, I go with weakness; rage is replaced with anxiety, the insouciant smile melts into a trembling lower lip, and the rebellious gleam in the eye becomes a helpless, silent plea for mercy.

The Demigoddess of Sea-Foam gazes helplessly up at her father, her whole posture and manner begging to be nurtured and protected. For some reason, our ‘oldest’ daughter manifests far younger than the adult personas of our other future offspring: Effervescia, my husband’s favorite child, is always barely out of toddler-hood, her voice wispy, ethereal.

“Daddy,” she whispers, “why do you have to hurt Mommy?”

Once again, Nightmare’s stony glare grows soft. Only years later will I wonder who it was he thought he was protecting in this strange playacting dance of ours. But now, only the smallest shadow of my original self is present to squirm at the twisted caricature of a concerned parent that sits down by my side and wraps his arm round a pair of shoulders still bearing bruises from his fists; the rest of me is far away, and yet literally at my fingertips. But still, an icy layer of super-hardened carbon, protected by a gleaming web of gold filigree, protects me from the poisonous murmurings of this horrible, horrible man.

“Now, Pumpkin,” he coos in a sickly-sweet voice, “if Mommy is malfunctioning, I’ll need to –”

“She isn’t malfunctioning!” the child screams, hysterical tears burning to sudden life in her eyes. “You’ve been hitting her!” The rage is spent as rapidly as it arose, and once more Effervescia crumples into a tiny ball, shrinking away from her father’s frightening embrace. “You’ve been hitting her,” she repeats in a tiny, far-off voice. “And you’re not supposed to hit her.”

Nightmare’s voice grows angry again, as he repeats his constant refrain when challenged on anything: “We’re supposed to work in tandem.” Only later, when I leaned the term thought-stopping phrase, would I understand just how he was always able to shut me down; even if I had snapped back to “myself” to argue the point, it would now be about the definition of working in tandem, rather than a discussion about his inability to keep his temper. And working in tandem inevitably meant that I must do as I was told.

Instead, I give the imaginary child free rein to plow through the whole mess, allowing myself to dissolve into a vapor of tears, my cries of protest growing ever more incoherent until they trail away into sad little hiccups of bubbling froth. Like water draining out of a tub, I envision the spirit of Sea-Foam leaving my body, spiraling away, back into the realm of unrealized potential from whence she came. Again I focus on the hard shell around me, and envision it becoming my outer body, growing to fill the space where once there was vulnerable flesh. But like the diamond on my finger, this body is harder than anything in the room, even my husband’s voice as he realizes that the favorite daughter is gone and only his wife’s hated body remains, the body he despises, the body which, he tells me constantly, disgusts him so much that sometimes he is forced to abuse it, if only to push its odious presence further from him – he loves his wife, but the body she has chosen for this lifetime simply repulses him.

That body does not feel anything now, not when Nightmare shakes the bruised shoulder roughly again and again, not even when he “accidentally” kicks a shin as he gets up from the mattress with an angry, simian grunt. The sound of heavy footsteps across the creaking floorboards does not register; a body made of diamond cannot hear.

And yet I manage to hear what the pathetic headbanger I’ve been married off to would call a ‘Pythonian shot,’ as he turns and delivers a final threat.

“I know you can hear me in that ring of yours, Sophia,” he growls. “If you’re not out in the kitchen to make breakfast for us in five minutes, I’ll send Pain in to wake you up.” There’s a sickening pause. “Remember, Brother Pain doesn’t mind hurting … children,” my husband finishes with a dark chuckle. Even though I am not there to hear him, I can envision his sneering face. “I’ll leave you to work it out,” he says, and closes the door softly behind him.

Years later, I learned that disassociation is a normal reaction to bullying in destructive relationships – those who are abused retreat into an imaginary world until the predator’s attention moves away. Back then, I just thought I was either a gifted “channeler,” or just going insane, depending on how much I believed the fantasy world our leader kept spinning around us.

How much did I really believe all of this? Over two decades later, I honestly don’t know, and the point is moot, anyway: back in that grubby apartment surrounded by the cornfields of northwest Ohio, we were ensnared in the net of a narcissistic leader who made us pawns in his megalomania, promoting himself as the “Magnus of the Eon,” who would utter the magickal spell to bring the world into a New Age – to disobey him was to risk catastrophe for the entire Cosmos. Even spelling “magickal” without the “k” could have dire consequences.

Now I can see that I had been cowed into subservience, skilfully manipulated into believing the crazy scripts of this narcissist. It might seem hard to believe that I was taken in by such insane fantasies, but I know through my work that the grip of undue influence is worldwide and pervasive, and that millions of people in all strata of life are currently living under the spell of exploitative persuasion – from coercive control in the household, through pseudo-religious cults and on to whole nations – like North Korea – all of them caught up in the fantasy of a narcissistic predator.

As a final note, although it was hard for me to dredge up these unpleasant memories of long ago, they are a valuable reminder of how much I have survived and how far I have come. I know, because I’ve lived it, that we humans are amazingly resilient creatures, and although we can be ensnared in a net of undue influence set for us by a narcissistic predator, we are also able survive, to escape, to help others out of the trap, and ultimately, to flourish.

Editor's Note: While we at OMF value all free expression of opinion, the views expressed by our contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OMF, its board members, or trustees.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about dissociation that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 

Saving a Thousand Lives a Year: Reforming Watchtower’s Policy on Blood – Part Two

Editor's Note: This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Saving a Thousand Lives a Year

The Watchtower strikes back

To counter the mounting criticism concerning internal judicial action for those who disagreed with the policy, the Watchtower “reformed” its policy, so that no one would be disfellowshipped by a judicial committee. This “procedural change” tried to put the blame for shunning entirely on the individual JW who chose to save his or her life (or the life of their child) instead of supporting the Watchtower’s irrational policy.

Now the the Watchtower announced that there would be no judicial committees formed if a JW accepted a blood product that the the Watchtower had forbidden. Rather, if the elders learned that a forbidden blood product was used, and two of the elders deemed the person not sincerely repentant, an announcement would be made to the congregation that the person had “disassociated” themselves: “They did it to themselves!” The reality was that nothing changed other than the words used to describe the policy. The person would be shunned and still worthy of spiritual and social death, but they had a “free choice”.

Indeed, under this new arrangement, individual rights for a JW were eliminated, as there is no appeal process for one who unilaterally “disassociates” themself. So, in thruth, the Watchtower ratcheted up the pressure on any JW who dared think for themself or make a free and informed choice regarding their medical care.

This “procedural change” was an attempt to deflect criticism that the Watchtower had perjured itself before the European Commission, and that disfellowshipping was a form of coercion used to inhibit free choice, thereby nullifying the presence of “informed consent”. It may have also served to reduce their legal liability in cases where death or disability occurred through observing Watchtower policy.

By this time, confused Hospital Liaison Committee (HLC) members, elders and congregation publishers were regularly contacting the Watchtower for clarification. Advocates for Jehovah’s Witness Reform on Blood (AJWRB) had cranked up enough pressure and media coverage that it became impossible to maintain two public standards, so after trying to calm the storm in the media, the Watchtower officially notified all HLC committees of the change in the disfellowshipping procedure.

In typical Orwellian fashion, note how the Watchtower explains “nothing has changed”. This, despite the fact they are no longer forming judicial committees, or formally disfellowshipping members. This is the sad reality of how the Watchtower spins, manipulates, and plays games with people’s lives.

I have come to believe that the Watchtower behavior is best understood in terms of a corporation seeking to protect its best interests and reputation. Preserve capital, limit liability, and deny responsibility at all cost.

Not exactly the picture that comes to mind when one thinks of “God’s organization” or the principle of Isaiah 32:2: “Each one will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.” Simply stated, the the Watchtower could care less about how many JW’s have to die for it to save face.

A Watchtower bombshell and watershed event

While the Watchtower’s posturing may have alleviated some of the concerns about its double standard with respect to Bulgaria at the European Commission on Human Rights, it did nothing to deflect the mounting criticism and inquiries related to the Watchtower’s irrational blood fraction policy.

In the June 15, 2000 issue of the the Watchtower, the groundwork for the most meaningful reforms in forty years was made. This issue reported that fractions of any of the primary components of blood are acceptable. In one fell swoop, JW’s could now, in good conscience, use not only plasma proteins, but also all blood fractions of red cells, white cells and platelets. This landmark change gave the green light to 100% use of blood – as long as it was in fractionated form.

blood fraction charts The Watchtower had taken a beating in the medical journals, and in an extensive debate that followed online in the discussion section of the British Medical Journal between Advocates for Jehovah’s Witness Reform on Blood (AJWRB) members and Watchtower representatives. The Watchtower simply had no answers as to why all components of plasma were permitted, yet everything else was banned. As the pressure mounted in 2000, it became obvious they would have to respond.

The momentum for change was clearly in place, and reports suggested that some governing body members wanted to make the issue a matter of conscience, and move on. The Watchtower even went so far as to print a new advance directive that would have permitted the use of stored autologous blood (that is, the person’s own blood, as opposed to “allogenic” blood – blood from someone else). Here is a copy of the document, and the key word was no allogeneic… or “no blood transfusions from another person”:

Allowing Witnesses to store their own blood would have been another major reform, and one that Ray Franz had felt was very reasonable. It appears it was only weeks away from being a reality, but then the Watchtower suddenly recalled all the new advance directives shortly after September 11, 2001. It has long been rumored that one of the more coercive members of the governing body influenced the others to believe the “great tribulation” was breaking out, and there would be no need to do anything further, as there was no time left for humanity.

What did the new blood fraction policy accomplish?

What did this latest blood fraction policy accomplish? It served to deflect the criticism they were receiving regarding the inconsistency of the plasma component policy, and it opened the door for the use of the largest single component of blood – hemoglobin, which is unique in its ability to carry oxygen. Too little of it, and anemia and death follow.

Watchtower leaders had the perfect opportunity to let go of their deeply flawed policy. Instead, they opted to go “all in” on Hemopure and Polyheme, hoping these experimental hemoglobin solutions would enable them to both save face and stop the mounting death toll. How did their huge gamble work out?

In the 17 intervening years, Polyheme has been abandoned and Hemopure is approved for use in just one country – South Africa – due to the HIV issues there. These blood products ended up having too many side effects to obtain FDA approval. However, Hemopure is still available under the FDA’s expanded access program and has been used under special circumstances on JW’s in the United States and Australia.

The current state of affairs

Pressure from AJWRB and the medical community has forced the Watchtower policy makers to be more forthcoming in educating JW’s regarding their options with the use of blood products. However, far too many JW’s continue to labor under the weight of misinformation that the Watchtower continues to publish on the risks of blood, and the efficacy of “non-blood alternatives”. While elective bloodless surgery has come a long way, it is not a panacea. The simple truth is there are no effective alternatives in many situations that JW’s face. Massive trauma, complications of childbirth, blood disorders like leukemia, as well as side effects of chemotherapy frequently require the use of red cells, white cells and platelets. When doctors are unable to prescribe them – avoidable death or serious disability often result.

A personal crisis for me and AJWRB

By 2006, I was struggling to deal with very serious health issues for my son, as well as for myself. Nine years of burning the candle at both ends had left me exhausted, and I took a step back from Advocates for Jehovah’s Witness Reform on Blood (AJWRB). We had strong leadership in place, with the website under the care of a Witness who had served as a Hospital Liaison Committee (HLC) member for many years. So, I felt confident the AJWRB website would continue to serve as an important resource for Witnesses and the medical professionals who treat them.

Around 2010 or 2011, this Witness lost touch with me and slowly began to burn out. He recognized the importance of keeping AJWRB resources available, so he asked Randy Watters, a well-known ex-JW, to take over management of the site.

Randy decided to take the site in a slightly different direction, and hired a former JW to do some “retooling”. Almost immediately they began having problems, and I let Randy, who I had known since 1997, know about my concerns. A year later, Randy was also burning out and asked me to take the site back, which I did in 2012.

A new leadership team was selected and we began updating the site, adding a time-line, and so on. Thankfully, all the original files were still available for us to work with. We briefly hosted it on a server owned by Biblical Research & Commentary – one of the very early ex-JW groups that formed after Ray Franz left Bethel.

One of the issues our team grappled with was how to incorporate Advocates for Jehovah’s Witness Reform on Blood (AJWRB) and create a structure to insure that the information on the site would continue to be available after we were dead and gone. In 2013, I learned about Advocates for Awareness of Watchtower Abuses (aawa.co) and asked two of their members, John Hoyle and Richard “Dick” Kelly, if they could help us.

After working a year with John, a website designer, and Dick, a businessman and writer, we had developed a mutual respect and admiration for each other, so the leadership teams of AJWRB and AAWA agreed to join forces. On February 7, 2014, AJWRB officially became part of AAWA, which is a 501 (C) (3) charity.

A new era in my battle to save lives

Today in 2017, the disheartening truth is that, despite the progress that has been made, there are still an estimated 1,200 or more Jehovah’s Witnesses dying annually because of the current blood policy. The vast majority of these deaths are not considered newsworthy and hence slip under the radar. For the sake of comparison, the annual death toll of Witnesses who refuse life-saving blood is greater than the Jonestown massacre on November 18, 1978 in Guyana that claimed 918 lives. All of the Watchtower’s equivocation has only managed to kick the can down the road. In the time since the the Watchtower finally permitted all blood fractions in 2000, it is likely that there have been 20,000 additional victims – more than 22 Jonestown Massacres.

the Watchtower has made the tragic mistake of supporting a policy they believed was handed down to the governing body from God; a policy with little, if any, scriptural merit. It is a policy that children are groomed to support from infancy – even if it means their young lives must end as martyrs for a purely organizational policy that has been in a perpetual state of change since its inception in 1945. This Watchtower policy is a clear example of predatory psychological manipulation of its members.

Watchtower leaders are neither insightful or compassionate. They have no special knowledge or communication with God; nor do they have medical or scientific expertise. The Watchtower’s opposition to higher education ensures this. Even worse, they don’t appear to care about or have any compassion for their members. As a result, the Watchtower is not a safe place to be. This is precisely why the vast majority of the elders and Hospital Liaison Committee (HLC) members who started Advocates for Jehovah’s Witness Reform on Blood (AJWRB) are no longer active Witnesses. None of us could justify continuing to expose our families to this kind of risk and undue influence, or condone what is happening to others.

The Watchtower’s blood policy has gradually come to be seen by most of the world for what it is. The internal and external pressure will continue to increase through a variety of factors, not least of which is withering financial support. Eventually, governments will become involved and enforce new coercive control laws. Insiders will leak documents, lawyers will win massive judgments, and the Watchtower will have no option but to let this deadly prohibition go like previous bans on vaccines, organ transplants, blood serum, clotting factors, albumin, hemoglobin, and so on.

This is my sincere belief, and I will continue to work for that day. Whether it will come in my lifetime, I have no idea. Reforms have happened before, they will likely happen again. In the meantime, we continue to help reform the thinking of individual Jehovah’s Witnesses and their physicians – saving as many lives as possible. If you would like to learn more, or help reform Watchtower’s policy on blood transfusions and save lives, please visit our websites:

http://ajwrb.org/, https://www.facebook.com/ajwrb/, http://aawa.co/ or http://openmindsfoundation.org/.

Editor's Note: While we at OMF value all free expression of opinion, the views expressed by our contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OMF, its board members, or trustees.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about Watchtower’s blood policy that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 

Here are the complete documents from which the above snippets were excerpted:




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