How Does a Cult Leader “Hide in Plain Sight?”
Michael Guen (Leader of the Destructive Cult I was part of) was able to justify playing with our emotions that way because he made it seem it was all done for the sake of improving our character. He actually made it a part of his teaching in order to protect people from questioning his true motivations. Cult leaders often “hide in plain sight” in order to trick people into believing them. The way Michael did it was through making the teaching all about change. It basically gave him free reign to change his mind all the time and say that he was “just following spirit.” We followed him without question because we trusted that he was tapping into some higher spiritual power.
One of the things that I want to note is that a psychopath easily gets bored. He has a difficult time seeing any project through the end. Our goals would change all the time. In fact, when he first promoted The Women’s Gift, he stated that it would be an actual book and we would then be published authors. Most recently, he has not mentioned how the chapters will be published. Apparently, there was not enough material to create a book. In all of this, no one had ever signed any formal contract with him. He was basically stringing us along and we were expected to just “go with the flow” because our fearless leader was “practicing the art of change.”
Another way in which he hid in plain sight was through emphasizing that we were not in a cult. He had written in Chapter 12 of his book Way of the Saint that he had created “a frenzied cult” during the early days in Mill Valley. He wrote about how so much has changed, casting the illusion that he is no longer the leader of a cult. On page 317 in Way of the Saint he writes the following:
“I had endeavored to extend the classical master-disciple relationship to a larger population and ended up with a frenzied cult. During this process, I had matured as a man and discovered that I possessed a charisma that could entice people to join in around me. Personal hardships, however, had pointed out that possession of power, for me at least, does not justify using it to ensnare others.”
Michael Guen wanted us to believe that he had “reformed his character” in this regard. This was far from the case. Cult literature says that the psychopath cannot be reformed because they are incapable of remorse or empathy. It is impossible to believe that he had the ability to change so dramatically.
For example, in the Black Sash (like a Black Belt in Karate) testing he made it a point to say that we are not part of a cult in his opening speech. He did this specifically for the benefit of Karl being there, in order to calm down his suspicions and fears. In fact, Karl actually became more alarmed after hearing that because he realized the reason why Michael would make such a statement in front of the group. “This was certainly not meant to be for the group members” he told me later. He was convinced that the message was directed towards him.
In addition, Michael Guen frequently told us that “the age of the guru was ending” and that we would need experts in this day and age but there will be more “chiefs than Indians.” He was playing the role of the guru-expert right before our eyes. However, by saying out loud that he was not a guru, he was trying to prove himself innocent before anyone could point out his guilt. This again is good example what the cult literature calls “hiding in plain sight.”
He also hid his manipulative ways by saying that the goal of the work was to find our individuality and our “authentic voices.” He always would say that we needed to make our own decisions and take responsibility for our own lives. And we believed him. We did not realize that he was putting ideas in our minds. We were tricked to thinking that we had come up with those ideas on our own. Also, he emphasized that we needed to “open our higher hearts” to become individuals. Through speaking those words, he implied that he was already open. He manipulated our opinion of him and how we saw him.
Furthermore, he would frequently talk about the “Way of the Saint,” (his Book he wrote) implying that a saint actually has only one quality that is different from a criminal. The saint, he teaches, will not just try to pursue power for selfish means. Basically, he made this a part of his teaching to justify manipulating other people. On page 305 in his book Way of the Saint, he writes: “There are no saints that are not hoodlums.”
By implying that he always has another person’s best interest in mind, he is also automatically making people think that he is on the path of a saint. No one would question the basis of his integrity if he aligned himself with sainthood. In addition, I have witnessed myself and other members of the group defending Michael for his “crazy wisdom” that is not “black or white” when it comes to morality. This also gives him a free ticket for abusing power, as long as he can claim that he always had the “higher motives” in mind.
– Ruth –
Photo Credit: Chris JL via Flickr