OVERVIEW: The 1970s Go to Chronology Overview

Werner Erhard

Werner Erhard

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Werner Erhard, a former car salesman, founded the Erhard Seminars Training program in 1971, offering long, intense courses designed to "rewire" people's consciousness. Erhard attended the controversial Mind Dynamics Institute training before he developed his own mass-therapy program of self-improvement. Faced with financial difficulties, Erhard sold est during the 1980s.
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Lifespring
Lifespring has proved to be one of the more enduring commercial self-help programs started in the '70s. John Hanley, who went through the same Mind Dynamics program as Erhard, founded it in 1974. Lifespring teaches that a person's "core" can be "actualized" through interpersonal exercises. Hundreds of thousands of people have paid money to take the courses, including the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
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Patricia Hearst

Patricia Hearst

Patricia Hearst Symbionese Liberation Army
The Symbionese Liberation Army kidnapped publishing heiress Patricia Hearst in 1974 in a case that raised issues similar to the Manson murders: How can seemingly intelligent people be persuaded to change so dramatically and commit acts of violence? After the leftist terrorist organization kidnapped Hearst and held her captive in a closet for nearly two months, she participated in a San Francisco bank robbery with her abductors. Her trial was a landmark in the debate over mind control. Defense lawyer F. Lee Bailey was the first to introduce psychiatric testimony in an American courtroom that a defendant had been influenced by pressures that some people considered "brainwashing." Hearst served nearly two years in prison.
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Children of God
This missionary fundamentalist group was founded by David Berg in the late 1960s and won young converts off college campuses throughout the 1970s. Members preached in the streets and held controversial sexual beliefs. Children of God attracted negative publicity for a practice dubbed "flirty fishing," in which members used sex to convert strangers. The group renounced the practice, but allegations persisted that members sexually abused children. Berg eventually dissolved his group and renamed it "The Family."
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Wierwille


The Way International
This Christian fundamentalist group, founded in the 1940s, was led by Victor Paul Wierwille (left), a former radio minister. It recruited young people and grew into one of the largest new religious groups in the United States, continuing to attract followers even after its leader died in 1985.
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People's Temple
In 1978, 914 followers of Jim Jones perished in a remote South American jungle after obeying orders from Jones to drink cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. Jones, who also killed himself, orchestrated the mass suicide hours after his followers murdered U.S. Rep Leo J. Ryan on a nearby airstrip. Ryan had been investigating the strange group called People's Temple. The mass deaths in Jonestown, Guyana, helped stigmatize "cults" by dramatizing the potential dangers of people blindly following charismatic leaders.
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Jim Jones
Jim Jones



Senate Hearings
At the end of the decade, U.S. Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) presided over a special inquiry into "the cult phenomenon" that focused chiefly on the Unification Church. The 1979 hearings also touched on other examples of what Dole termed "the new religions." Opponents of the movements saw the Senate panel as chance to spread their warning that the growth of "cults" was threatening traditional American values. Ted Patrick, who pioneered "deprogramming" as a way to persuade members to renounce the groups, testified that he tried to take "the lid" off the sealed brains of "victims."



Protestors States, Private Groups React
By the end of the decade, state governments and private groups across the United States were examining ways to educate the public. In 1980, Maryland's legislature joined those of New York, California and Illinois by considering a resolution to start a formal investigation into "cults." Del. Robin Ficker, R-Montgomery, compared the House hearing to the "Spanish inquisition." The Chicago-based Cult Awareness Network (right) became one many nonprofit groups battling fledgling religious movements. The network was sued by critics and dismembered in bankruptcy court in 1996. A Church of Scientology member bought its logo and name in the proceedings.



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