“No more Gotos! No more Gotos! No more Gotos!” I shouted in front of around seventy people as I held up the poster I had made with those words and a picture of a nearly starved Toru Goto of Japan sitting in a wheelchair.
My wife and I and a couple of friends were protesting a TED event taking place at the Wells Fargo Pavilion in downtown Sacramento, California. TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), whose slogan is “Ideas Worth Spreading”, holds and supports conferences worldwide. According to their mission statement they “…believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately the world.”
Despite the proclamation on their website that “TED is not a place for partisan slams and one-sided arguments”, it appears that in the area of new religious movements they are in fact one-sided, partisan and extremely bigoted. This is especially apparent in their promotion of former Unification Church member and “deprogramming” advocate Diane Benscoter and her scurrilous presentation, How Cults Rewire the Brain.
Benscoter opens her talk by showing a slide of herself and others as they are getting ready to begin a peace walk and to encourage people to attend a speech to be given by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. She says, “What I didn’t know though, was most of those people standing there with me were Moonies.”
(Note: The nickname “Moonies” is a term that New York City’s Commission on Human Rights describes as a pejorative that evokes intolerance and hatred…and is no longer used by most major news agencies when commenting about Unification Church members.)
In her book, Shoes of a Servant, Benscoter, when referring to a flyer she had been given before she joined in the march writes: “It read: ‘Walk for World Peace. Please join us for a 3-day walk to hear Reverend Sun Myung Moon speak in Des Moines, Iowa.’ This and the slide of her standing near a huge sign with a picture of Reverend Moon and another sign that reads, “Hear Rev. Moon”, and she still doesn’t know she’s with the “Moonies”? However, in Benscoter’s defense, according to her book, she was often abusing drugs and smoking pot which may explain her tunnel vision.
Benscoter continues: “The top picture is a group of Moonies that have been blessed by their messiah. Their mates were chosen for them. The bottom picture is Hitler youth. This is the leg of a suicide bomber.”
First of all, it’s a pretty good chance that many, if not most, of those people taking part in the mass wedding ceremony were not members of the Unification Church and in fact consisted of people from many different faiths, and their mates were not chosen for them. Even if they were, so what?
Oh, and that cheer, where everyone’s raising their hands? That’s a customary Korean cheer that’s probably been taking place for centuries. Hitler Youth? Yeah, right!
However, Benscoter’s comparing me and my church to Hitler Youth, Jim Jones and suicide bombers, and her insulting pseudo-scientific theory about our brains being infected is not what motivated me to protest a TED event. I’ve heard it all before, ad nauseam. But, for an organization as respected as TED to promote and elevate someone associated with forcible incarceration and coerced de-conversion is personal.
In Auckland, New Zealand, August of 1983, my wife was kidnapped by “deprogrammer” goons who came from America and held her against her will while they attempted to harass, harangue, bully and manipulate her into recanting her chosen religion. She, however, did not give up her faith, but escaped from her captors and is now enjoying her life as an outstanding wife, mother, business owner and community activist.
Perhaps the most egregious and downright sinister aspect of TED’s support of “deprogramming” lies in its potential to influence and legitimize the practice in locations where religious freedom is not protected by law and forced de-conversions still take place. For example, it would not be hard to imagine Chinese government officials viewing Benscoter’s presentation for advice on how to attack Falun Gong, a Buddhist religious practice of self-cultivation, founded in China by Li Hongshi. Already the government-controlled press has attempted to depict Falun Gong as a “cult of evil” which engages in mind control. Sound familiar?
Thousands of Falun Gong followers have reportedly been arrested by the Chinese government and have been forced into “reeducation camps” to remove the “wrong thinking” from their minds. (Perhaps Deprogrammer Diane and her fellow henchmen from the now-bankrupt Cult Awareness Network should see if the Chinese government is hiring.)
When I copied and pasted the URL for Benscoter’s TED presentation and performed a Google search, many of the results that came up had Chinese characters and other foreign languages in their headings. So it appears that TED ideas are indeed spreading globally, no matter how bigoted and jaundiced.
I also checked out some of the websites and blogs promoting Benscoter’s hate speech and her book; and I kept seeing words like: harrowing, disturbing, appalling and evil, when describing her time in the Unification Church when her “…mind was lost to mind controlling manipulators in a powerful cult.”* However, after reading her book and many of the blog posts, I just couldn’t seem to find anything that even came close to be terribly appalling, disturbing or evil. However I did find one post that highlighted, “She fasted and prayed for Nixon”. Now that’s scary.
If someone really wants to read about a harrowing and evil experience, I suggest they read Toru Goto’s testimony about his imprisonment and torture at the hands of relatives and “deprogrammers” for over twelve years in Japan.
When I decided to protest the TED event in Sacramento I had no intention of speaking in front of that crowd. I simply wanted to hand out some fliers and display my placard, and also to get some ideas for future protests. As I walked with my wife towards the Well Fargo Pavilion, I held her hand tightly and looked at the image of an emaciated Mr. Goto taped to my poster. I remembered English statesman, Edmund Burke’s quote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” I also thought back to the time over thirty years ago to when I had no idea where my wife was, except that she was being held against her will and that people like Diane Benscoter were trying to force her to think and act in the way they deemed appropriate. I guess I was just moved by the spirit when I walked into the pavilion courtyard.
“No more Gotos! No more Gotos! No more Gotos!” I shouted, and then declared that TED supports forced kidnapping and de-conversion. “Stop the hate speech!”
As I started to give out fliers, much to my surprise nearly everyone, especially the younger people, took them. However, my wife and friends and I were promptly escorted out of the courtyard by security. Again to my surprise, several young people followed us to find out what we were protesting and to get more information. All of them were sympathetic and supportive of our cause.
So TED, how about letting my wife, Mr. Goto, or someone else who survived incarceration and forced faith-breaking attempts, tell their side of the story?
*Quoted from Philip Zimbardo, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus Stanford University on the back of Benscoter’s book, “The Shoes of a Servant”.