Jason Beghe is an actor, a Brooklyn tough-guy known for his starring role in the gritty G.I. Jane. In 2008, after fifteen years as a Scientology poster boy, Beghe left the cult and released an interview (embedded below) chronicling his descent into and exodus from L. Ron Hubbard’s bizarre universe.
Beghe’s recruitment, life as a celebrity spokesman, and ultimate rejection of the cult are riveting, particularly for someone like myself who spent nearly thirty years in a cultic religious organization. I was stunned because, even though the doctrines and practices of our respective organizations are so different, I identified perfectly with the mental processes Beghe described. I also believed in a completely irrational worldview and ignored blatant contradictions.
Experts believe people join and remain in cults for similar motives regardless of variations in cult lifestyles and teaching. Harder to find in scholarly research is an explanation of how or why people in wildly differing cults exhibit such similar mental and emotional symptoms.
A potential answer is found in “Confessions of a Coward,” a brilliant article by PJ Media columnist David P. Goldman. Published by First Things, the piece reveals that the scathing political and economic commentaries by “Spengler” actually flowed from Goldman’s eloquent pen. Confiding the story of his return to the practice of Judaism, Goldman admits that from 1976-1986 a compulsion to escape his Jewish identity and find post-1960s structure left him vulnerable to the overtures of the cult leader Lyndon LaRouche.
The Vietnam War, the crisis in race relations, and the cracks in the economic structure of the 1970s persuaded us that we had to do something and that indifference was morally inexcusable. And that is where LaRouche had us. His intellectual method resembled the old tale about stone soup: Having announced that he had the inside track on the hidden knowledge that underlay Western civilization (one of his essays was titled The Secrets Known Only to the Inner Elites,) he attracted a small parade of intellectual orphans, whom he then put to elaborating the details.
The first time I read Goldman’s description of LaRouches’s “soup,” my blood froze:
LaRouche claimed to trace a tradition of secret knowledge across the ages…in LaRouche’s Manichean view of the world, a conspiracy had suppressed the truth in the service of evil oligarchs…the Rockefellers, and the Trilateral Commission all figured variously in this grand conspiracy against LaRouche’s supposed intellectual antecedents. Jewish banking families kept popping up in LaRouche’s accounts of the evil forces.
The worldview promoted by the organization in which I spent my youth mirrors LaRouche’s, but it was not the content that gripped me. What truly leaped off the screen of Goldman’s Confessions was a clue about how cults produce this profound psychological effect that can grab even the brightest of minds into a “cult syndrome.” Goldman exposes what happens when when the “Gnostic Mind” meets reality:
You might think—you should think—that this (LaRouche’s Antisemitism) would have sent us running for the exits. But, Godless and faithless, we were all possessed by a fear of being Jewish, and LaRouche offered us a rock to hide under. In a Carto-influenced article LaRouche later tried to suppress, he put the number of Jewish dead at around 1.5 million. I knew about all this, and I looked the other way. LaRouche took my quantitative study and combined it with the paranoid musings of other researchers into a book, Dope, Inc., that had unmistakable anti-Semitic overtones. I knew about this, too, and again I looked the other way.