Each semester, hundreds of students pass by a table set up in front of the D building in the quad, where supporters of Lyndon LaRouche try to interest students in their political agenda. For those who stop and agree to go to an off- campus meeting, they often find themselves entangled in a worldwide cult.
Philip Mullendore, chief of campus police, reported that they get complaints on regular basis from students about La Rouche recruits harassing them in the quad. Others complain of repeated phone calls, urging them to attend a meeting. Many students who attend those meetings end up dropping out of school and devoting their lives to LaRouche.
"We have documented several incidents of aggressive tactics by this group and we monitor them very closely," said Mullendore.
The mother of an 18-year-old student who was lured into the cult complained to campus police that the LaRouche group had taken over her son's life.
The LaRouche organization, which has thousands of members worldwide, are constantly recruiting young people to spread the groups philosophy and to raise money for the cause.
The group targets maladjusted, unhappy and confused young people who feel they don't belong. The organizers become their "friends" and give them a cause. They also give them meetings to attend so they feel a part of a group.
One PCC student, who recently broke the group's hold on his life, told the Courier in an exclusive interview about his experiences in the LaRouche organization from his recruitment on campus to his recent escape. The student, who will be referred to as Tom in the story, did not want his real name used. He said it's hard enough trying to "reclaim your life and friends" without everyone knowing you are a former cult member.
"I was going to PCC, and I was at the end of my second semester. In September of last year, I came across the LaRouche table in the quad. "Take a minute come over here." said an organizer as I passed his table. At first they say things that get you really excited about what they are talking about. They look for people like me who are pissed off and want to do something. They want people who are opinionated and who are looking for a place to fit in," said Tom, the 18-year-old who spent a year in the organization.
When I approached the table in quad, the woman I met said she had been recruiting for seven years. She started out by saying
"School is a bunch of bullshit and you should join the movement fulltime." While not all recruits say things like that, it is encouraged in order to make a connection with the young people.
"The thing that grabbed me was that she said, "School is a bunch of bullshit." He said I thought it was real interesting that there was a group of people at PCC at a political table telling students that school is bullshit," Tom said when he stopped to talk politics, he was looking for something other than the mainstream political thinkers. They got me to sign up for their paper, and I gave them some money. Then they said to come to a meeting, and I took a bunch of literature home." From what he read, he said it appeared that this group might just have the answers to all the worlds problems. "Then the phone calls started coming," he said.
"That's what they do. They call you every night, sometimes two times a night. If the people they are trying to recruit are being difficult, they harass them even more."
Tom said, it was not hard to get him to a meeting. He went and immediately started arguing with everything the members were saying. "Little did I know, that the more I argued the more they were brainwashing me," Tom said. He said the meetings seemed harmless. They were broken up into two parts. The first part was a political update, and the second part was a class where new recruits might hear about a health issue or be given a history lesson on the revolutionary war. However at the end of the class, they tie it all in to the current situation, and then to LaRouche politics."
One of the reasons there is so much recruitment now, is that the last time the organization recruited heavily was between 1967 through 1974, so most of the core members of the organization are in their 50s ."They need to recruit the next generation," said Tom.
Once you start listening, you'll hear over and over that LaRouche is the solution to every problem in the world. They'll ask, "Do you want children in Africa to starve?" Of course you don't, so they convince you that you have to come to a meeting. They repeatedly tell you if you don't come to the meeting, you must want the world to starve. So you go to the meeting," he said.
One of the hallmarks of the LaRouche organization is to turn you against your family, Tom said. They tell you that "family values are really immoral, they are only in place to keep you from getting political. They say that the baby-boomers are evil and are corrupted by the British neo-liberal banking establishment, but it's not their fault.
"The more you are around these people, the more they turn you against your parents and your friends. "They want you to try and recruit your friends. "What they tell you if your friends resist is they are" blocked," and you should just leave them behind. They are not worth it. They ask what's more important, your friends or the world?" Soon you see yourself as someone who can actually change the world and you really do see your friends and family as obstacles.
Tom moved out of his parent's house and moved to Glendale. The organization paid his rent, phone bill, and all his utilities. He also got $50 a week for food.
Once you alienate your family and let the group support you, you've got nowhere else to go, Tom said.
By this time Tom was really involved. It was his turn to bring in others.
"Another big thing I know happens on the PCC campus, is to get a student off the campus and to a meeting. Then the next day they have them working at a LaRouche table. It helps reinforce the beliefs, and gets the new recruit to more meetings." These meetings are the most important things in the world to the group. They say there is nothing better you can do with your time because that is where they manipulate you and teach you to manipulate others, he said.
Some of the people, who were recruited on campus, are now at the book table. The idea is that once you are in a position where you have to convince someone that LaRouche is the answer, in the process you convince yourself more and more." Tom said, they teach people to twist things in such a way that it makes them feel stupid for asking the question.
"I resisted working on campus for a long time. I did not want to go work a book table, but they finally got me out there. Soon as they got me out there, I was in!"
"My recruitment took about four months. "Although some people dropped out of school right away and joined in a matter of weeks."
Many students who become part of the organization never break away. "It is next to impossible to get out once they have you, Tom said. "They actually brainwash you."
"I cannot pinpoint when I was brainwashed, it just happened overtime. When you are there, you love it. It's like being high. You get an intellectual euphoria, because you feel in a position of ultimate power. You can prove anyone wrong on anything because you are equipped with these amazing manipulation techniques. You feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders and that you alone are saving it.
Everyday they reinforce what you are doing by always telling you that you are the best and you're doing a great job. You get the respect of people many times older than you. It's a high that blinds you to reality. What they do is feed your ego so much, you can't see anything else. It's comfortable; it's like a womb."
The organization has attracted the attention of the FBI, CIA and other government agencies. Because of the claims that members are brainwashed and forced to work for the group, the LaRouche organization is closely monitored.
"It is frightening the network they have as far as intelligence contacts. Contacts within governments, contacts within different news sources. Even people who oppose LaRouche say he has one of the best private intelligence agencies around, said Tom
He emphasized that LaRouche is not particularly dangerous on a worldwide level, "but on a personal level, such as manipulating your thoughts and your psyche, he is lethal,"
The student explained that "on any given week coming to PCC we could get three or four students to a meeting, and maybe one every two weeks would come and work a table with us."
"We have 20 youth organizers, and three or four came from PCC. That's a pretty big percentage considering they organize on 20-30 college campuses."
He said any student who goes to the table, shows any kind of interest, and gives them a phone number is guaranteed to get a lot of phone calls."
PCC is one of the prime locations to recruit along with Cal State Northridge and LACC.
Tom explained what finally got him to realize he was in a cult.
One day right after Sept.11, "I had a confrontation with a WWII veteran, and that conversation just about killed me. I put up a sign that said, "War doesn't make peace." He came up to me and said, "If you were a veteran, you would not put that sign up. Then he started to talk to me, and I just realized that I am fucking brainwashed and totally in a cult." It was at that point he started to think about how he was now thinking about the world. Leaders of the group told them not to watch TV news, particularly CNN. They said the WTC attacks "were just the governments way of taking the people's mind off the economy."
"On the following Sunday I did exactly what the organization told me what not to do. I watched CNN."
I realized then that I was not looking at this the right way at all. The organization was trying to take the deaths of 6000 people to boost LaRouche higher up on his pedestal and get more money."
"That night I called my parents and told them I wanted them to show up at my apartment with a moving van.
" I had to be gone before they knew I was going He said the big challenge in leaving is getting back your identity and coming in contact with all the friends you haven't called in months because you were told they were fascists." Tom is also receiving psychotherapy from a cult exit counselor.
"LaRouche is a big time cult, and it's really upsetting that a cult is legally able to recruit on a college campus as a non-profit political organization."
Tom warns everyone, not to try to challenge the group to prove they are wrong or that they are in a cult. Recruiters welcome these challenges and can turn these people around faster than anyone."
If you want to understand LaRouche, or how any cult works, read George Orwell's 1984. It's terrifying how much that book is LaRouche. Of course, the organization discourages members from reading the book."
"If you want to find out about LaRouche, do not talk to the people inside the organization. The ones you need to talk to are the people who have experienced LaRouche and have dealt with his organization before. People who have studied the organization for an extended period of time are the ones who can give current information. For example, if you want to find out about a movie, you don't ask the people who made the movie what they think about it.
Tom says his mission now is to educate students about the evils of the LaRouche group and the dangers of approaching a table. "I'm trying to redeem myself for recruiting students and ripping off little old ladies while I was with LaRouche," said Tom. Some older people donate their entire Social Security check to the cause hoping to make a difference in the world. "If I can get the word out and stop people from heading over to the tables then I've done my job. If I can save one student, then I've succeeded in my atonement."
Andrew Campa contributed to this article.