The best wheeze ever

Micah J Murray tells us what it was like growing up in Bill Gothard’s homeschool cult.

I remember saying, more seriously than joking, “If this is brainwashing, it feels good to be brain clean.”

But as I spiraled closer and closer to to the center, the realization began to sink in. The jokes became real.

“Cult-like”, sure. I’d call it that. Authoritarian, legalistic, overbearing. But not a real cult.

The worst thing about brainwashing is that you can’t see it for what it is. You never think you’re in a cult when you’re in a cult.

Now Gothard is in the news because – surprise surprise – there are allegations of abuse. What a coincidence: it turns out that an organization run by One Big Man may have been funneling fresh young bodies into the happy hands of that One Big Man. Who knew that Big Men liked to exploit their power to get juicy young bodies to play with?

People ask me what I think about it. What can you say? I grew up in a cult led by an alleged sexual predator.

Do I believe the allegations? Absolutely.

During my two years working at the Cult center after highschool, I saw a system of absolute authoritarianism – designed to protect “leaders” and silence “rebellion”. I saw an organization built on the “special insights” and the idiosyncratic whims of an old man with way too much money and power.

They say that he groomed young women, selected the vulnerable and the hurting, told them it was God’s will for them to come work for him. They say that he made them feel special. That say he took advantage of their naivety – naivety instilled through the teachings and culture he created.

I believe these stories, because I saw the edges.

When we were at the Training Center, we joked about Gothard’s “harem”. We all knew there was a certain physical “type” of woman that he liked to be close to him, working for him.

I saw him pick out young women who were obviously vulnerable and hurting – but also very attractive. I heard him promise them they’d be right at the center of the next big thing he was planning. Those plans never came to pass, but I saw the girls come and go.

Amazing, isn’t it? A brand new thing under the sun? Charismatic dude in charge of a cult turns out to be a goat with a stable of fragile young girls – well knock me down with a 2 by 4.

How did we wind up here, the tens of thousands who were fooled, deceived, led astray? The thousands that still are?

I can tell you how I did: I was raised in it. It was the only world I ever knew. It was my normal.

And it was a “normal” that was protected with principles that taught us not to question authority. They taught us that being different from everybody else meant we were morally superior, that we were “special”. They taught us that if the system didn’t work for us, it was because we weren’t trying hard enough.

It’s such a good wheeze. All Mr Big has to do is preach the usual authoritarian principles that go along with fanatical monotheism, and hey presto, he can fuck any girl he wants to with total impunity. Hello Warren Jeffs, hello David Koresh, hello Jim Jones, hello Shlomo Helbrans.


  1. Gordon Willis says

    vulnerable and the hurting

    Please lock him up for ever and ever and throw away the key. “Fanatical monotheism”? No, it’s just the ordinary kind. There’s always an authority, and it definitely isn’t “God”.

  2. says

    Having first encountered Gothard’s teachings at church in the early 70s (fortunately it wasn’t a dominant opinion among the leadership), I’m not a bit surprised to see this sort of thing coming out now. In fact, I wasn’t surprised all the way back in 1981 when Bill’s brother was caught seducing ministry secretaries. Anyone who tells you to outsource your conscience to them is someone you should run-not-walk away from.

    And a perhaps minor point: I’ve been following this story since it broke, including the personal accounts at Recovering Grace, and AFAIK there are no allegations that Bill Gothard actually had sex with any of the young women, though he did get pretty damn creepy, and emotionally dominant.

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