Image by John Garrison
As a young woman, Diane Benscoter had a burning idealism, and a desire for purpose.PLAYLIST
Archival: Satan is laughing at us. God simply cannot find his people, his champions here on Earth. His heart is once again grieved and astricken.
For this country! And in particular the Lord told me to lead the young people of America, the leaders of tomorrow, back to God.
That’s the very reason I am here. I don’t know why but God has chosen me, and to be a channel of God, and he revealed to me many hidden truths of the Bible.
And before all mankind, shout it out, we know we can build the kingdom of God here on Earth with our own hands. Today! Tomorrow may be too late!
Nick van der Kolk: From Radiotopia, you’re listening to Love and Radio. I’m Nick van der Kolk. Today’s episode, True Parents featuring Diane Benscoter.
Diane Benscoter: I was walking down the street. This van pulled up right next to me, back doors open and people jumped out, and they had boxes of bananas with flyers wrapped around them. They handed me a banana with a flier wrapped around it and were saying that there was this walk for World Peace. I really didn’t have time, and I was hungry, and thank them for the banana, stuffed the paper in my pocket, ate the banana, went off to meet my friend. But, I knew that I wanted to understand this world we lived in. I wanted to do something that would end war. I wanted to be part of a solution. And I was in a tiny little town in the middle of Nebraska. My lot in life was to marry the boy down the street and have like two or three kids and, you know make a really good casserole. And so, I was looking for the escape hatch.
I remembered I had that piece of paper in my pocket, and I pulled it out, and it said, “Walk for World Peace.” so I called the number on that flyer. I walked up to the door and knocked on the door and had my little suitcase with me. They opened the door and it was like being welcomed to Disneyland or something. They were so enthusiastic. “Oh, I’m so glad you came!” There was pastries and muffins, they were cooking in the kitchen and it smelled good. They were very very animated and excited and they had me sit down and, I want you to meet Lokesh, I want you to meet Lokesh. Lokesh came down the stairs. It was as if God was coming down the stairs. Lokesh was very charming. He was maybe 30 years old, and he was from India but spoke perfect English. He just seemed so intelligent. And he was a very good looking man.
This walk was a long way, and there were a lot of country roads and not a lot to look at, I mean it was just a lot of walking. I had brought a joint, and I snuck away and took a couple puffs off of it, but other than that there was constantly someone walking with me and asking me questions about my life. They were the kind of questions that no one bothered to ask me, that I was really hungry for someone to ask me. Whether I believed in God, what did I think about things like the war, how I saw my role, and telling me about this group they belonged to. That they were God’s chosen people, and that they were going to make a difference in the world.
At the end of the day, Lokesh would lecture to us. It starts with the ideal world that God wanted, and then the fall of man happened, so it goes into the fall of man. There’s the time tables of human history, and that walks you through all of history and how God has been working to get to the place where he could send his son, Jesus. Jesus was supposed to get married and have sinless children. That would be another opportunity to start the perfect race. But, people didn’t follow him. Instead they killed him before he could get married and have these perfect children. Huge setback for God’s will. Things like that happened throughout history, and it just, I thought well, hmm. The conclusion lecture would lead up to, okay, so, based on all this numerology, what this shows is when the Messiah should have come back on the Earth. It was shocking, because that meant he was on the Earth now. Lokesh said, “You all need to pray about this.” I didn’t need to pray about it, I realized that the Messiah was on the earth and I was gonna meet him. I made that decision on that day, that I was giving my life to God and the Messiah.
TV Host: This gentleman is traveling around the world calling for the establishment of one world religion and one church. At the age of sixteen, on Easter Sunday, you had a conversation with Jesus.
Archival: [Responding in another language]
Interpreter: Uh, yes he did.
TV Host: Now, there are, by my researches, twenty-seven working Messiahs roaming the world right now, and that doesn’t include John Lennon and Yoko. [Laugh] Oh, I get my Messiahs all mixed up. Are the other Messiahs fakes?
Interpreter: He never said he claimed himself he is the messiah, maybe you probably received it spiritually. [Crowd laughs].
TV Host: I don’t know if it comes over your television camera, but out of him shines the most enormous good nature, the most enormous goodwill, the most enormous affection, and I must tell you that during the break in the filming here, he sang the most charming song, I tell you, if this is the Messiah, I want, I want him something like this.
Diane: When I first came to realize that the Messiah was on the Earth, everything that I thought was sad or wrong in the world would be fixed. Not only that but, my life now had extraordinary meaning. I saw nothing but wonderful things happening and unfolding in the future. The heavens had opened up. I cried. These were my new true parents now.
Archival: You are the champion! You are called for the job!
Diane: And these were my new brothers and sisters.
Archival: Are you ready to become the crane wire?
Diane: For all of history, I would go down as a disciple, just like the disciples of Jesus.
Archival: The first time this world can recognize some hope.
Diane: In a couple of days I had gone from a lost soul to being a disciple of Christ.
Archival: We must invest our soul!
Diane: I felt so relieved. It’s, it’s, it’s unlike anything else. Anything I’ve ever experienced. The adrenaline, the righteousness, the cause. Something to fight for. There’s nothing I could do that would be more important than this. Nothing.
Archival: This evening, I’d like to ask you all to join with me in giving a very warm welcome did the founder of the Unification Church International. May I present the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. [Cheers].
Diane: I moved into the center. It was an interesting life. You slept on the floor. All of the sister slept in one room, and all of the brothers slept in another. There were certain rules that were spoken and unspoken. Men had to have their hair cut a certain way. Women should not dress provocatively at all. Drugs and alcohol, cigarettes, were absolutely prohibited. You pray before you start fundraising, you hold hands and pray. Always before you go to sleep you pray. There’s lots of praying. There was a prayer room where we would go, and you had to bow to a picture of Sun Myung Moon and his wife, head on the floor into a full bow and stand up and do that three times, and then you’d read this pledge to serve God and the True Parents. And at the end you’d say, this I pledge and swear, this I pledge and swear, this I pledge and swear.
Shortly after I had joined, one of the tasks I had to do was go get my stuff. They told me it was not safe to go back by myself because Satan would be very present, and so two people came with me that day to go get my stuff. When I went to the house, my roommate was staring at me saying what has happened to you, and I said, “I’m just here to get my stuff, and you can have the records.” That really shocked her because she knew how much I loved my music. And I said, “You have to hear these lectures, please come to these lectures,” and she said, “I don’t wanna come to any lectures.” I was shocked. I felt Satan was trying to invade, so I got a few things and left, and I remember leaving in tears. Even though I had been warned about Satan, I now realized how hard this would be.
Voiceover: A new globalism that does away with egoism must come forth. The new ideology, which the Unification Church brings is Godism, an absolute God-centered ideology. Only Godism, and no other, should govern this world. Amen.
Diane: The message, God’s message, God’s truth, the truth about the entire universe and the creation of the world, everything was manifested through Sun Myung Moon. Because Moon was the Messiah, whatever he liked is what we were supposed to like, down to little things like, one of his favorite foods were Big Macs, so when we would get together, we would all eat Big Macs, there’d be like hundreds of Big Macs. You know, it was True Father. I left him, he was the True Father, he was, he was the Messiah, and we loved him.
Voiceover: In your love relationship as husband and wife, do you want to just sit and look at one another and smile, or would you rather have a love relationship that is so tight, so sweet, so strong that you would become totally one like a rubber ball and roll around together?
Diane: Sex was to procreate, period.
Voiceover: Once you become totally one and begin rolling together like a round ball, when you roll too fast, you will shout and scream and God will hear you and come down and enjoy watching you.
Archival: We’re just about to begin the ceremony.
Diane: Moon would choose your mate for you.
Archival: Please put on your blessing shawls, and prepare for the blessing with a respectful heart.
Diane: They called it the blessing. The men are on one side of the room, and the women are in the other.
Archival: Rise and cross, please face the stage.
Diane: I mean, it’s Guinness Book of World Records kind of stuff. Thousand, you know or more.
Archival: I earnestly wish that all of you present here inherit the true love, true life, and true meaning of God and True Parents through this blessing ceremony, and establish peaceful and happy blessed families.
Diane: When the Messiah chooses your mate, then the children are born without original sin.
Archival: It is now time for the officiators to enter, the True Parents of humankind, and the King of Kings, the Reverend Doctor Sun Myung Moon, and Doctor Hak Ja Han Moon will now enter.
Diane: So Moon then would be in front, and he would look over the men and say “Stand up.” And then he’d look over and say, “Stand up, no, sit down. No, stand up. You two.” And sometimes they can’t even speak the same language. They had a chance to agree or disagree. No one disagrees. Because the Messiah has just chosen your mate for you. I was young when I joined. It was gonna be awhile before I probably got to be part of a blessing.
Newscaster: The house Judiciary has just approved its first article of impeachment against Nixon. The vote, twenty-seven to eleven.
Diane: We got in the van and drove to Washington DC where they were Moonies gathering from all over the country, and even all over the world. Planted ourself on the steps of the capitol. Our prayers were that the senators and congressmen would do the right thing and not impeach Nixon. As it turns out, Sun Myung Moon was very right-wing leaning.
Voiceover: Communism is rising.
Diane: And he was a fan of Nixon.
Voiceover: The menace of communism is everywhere.
Diane: In order to create the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, Sun Myung Moon needed to fight communism above all else.
Voiceover: It is not just America’s problem. It is the problem of religious people. It is the problem of God himself.
Diane: I remember sitting on those steps next to this older sister, somebody who’d been in the church for longer. I expressed to her that this was hard for me. I thought God would be against the war, and I thought that Nixon was corrupt. She put her arm around me, and explained to me that it was really important to trust God’s will. There was something in the way that she looked into my eyes and told me this and the lovingness that she had when she told me this. I just fell into trust in a much deeper way.
It was very clear in the doctrine that homosexuality was the very worst part of, that was like the most sinful thing that could happen.
Voiceover: Is the world around us a peaceful world centered upon God or is it all confused. This is what is called free sex. What is the meaning of lesbians and homosexuals? That is the place where all different dungs collect, we have to end that behavior. When this kind of dirty relationship is taking place between human beings, God cannot be happy. This is what the secular world is like. As the Lord of all Creation, are we sticking that kind of world? As human beings, we should mobilize our forty billion cells and clean up these dirty places. Would you women want this dirty, dung filled water to be poured over you? What about men? Do you want to be soaked in that kind of dirty water? Only Satan and dirty dung-eating dogs go after that.
Diane: I hadn’t been in the organization very long, less than a year, when I found myself in a bus station needing a ride back to the center for the night, but I didn’t have any money. And so I saw this guy who is kind of staring at me, and I went up to him and I ask him if he’d give me a ride, and he said sure. They took my bag and threw it in the trunk. I got in the back. There were two people in the front. And then one of the guys in the front passenger got in the backseat on one side, and the other guy got in the backseat on the other side, so I was surround, I had one on each side. They were both kinda starting to touch me and trying to kiss me and things, and I was, kept telling them the direction to go and that I was a disciple of Christ. I think I said it was a missionary. You know, I worked for God. Then I realized they were going the wrong direction. I kept trying to tell them which way to go, and they kept going further and further out of the city.
They got to a city dump and pulled me out of the car. I was so naive at that point, I always thought, you know if I was just nice to people they wouldn’t hurt me, so I was trying to be nice and trying to just talk them out of, trying to convince them to take me, to take me home. And then a fist hit my face. I remember praying for those guys during. There could be no worse that anyone could do on the planet than to harm, especially to rape a disciple of Christ. That was the very worst sin anyone could do, so I knew that those guys would be punished for eternity for what they were doing, and so I actually prayed for them.
I found my cl, torn up, ripped up, dirty, bloody clothes and put them on. And walked away from that dump as the sun was coming up after they had taken off. And it was, you know an old road with beat up houses and things. I went to one door and she looked outside and closed the window and didn’t answer the door. So I kept walking. And then some woman came by and pick up and saw me and slammed on her brakes and came back and give me a ride to a phone where I called Lokesh, who came to get me.
He took me to a place where we could talk, and the first question was, had they, had they, was their intercourse, had they come inside me, and I said, “No.” And so he said maybe I could be forgiven. He told me that this had happened because of my sin in the past, because I had done drugs, I had had sex. That’s why Satan was able to invade like that. He understood how God worked, and he knew how frightened I was that I had brought this on, and that I had done something that would be unforgivable. And then they took me home, they burned the clothes that I had been wearing. Moon was called, actually, to ask if I could be forgiven. After several days of basically bed rest, I got worried that I would be forgiven and then I could receive the blessing. When I got that news back, I was just so grateful. I felt like my sin was so great, and Satan had been able to invade in a way that maybe I would never be able to be forgiven, and so that forgiveness just made me feel like I had a very special relationship with God now.
I went to live with my brother. I didn’t really know how to be in the world, I didn’t know how to do anything, I didn’t know how to cook, I didn’t know how, what clothes to wear, I didn’t know what style, anything. And I had an agreement to take care of his little girl, my niece. That was part of the arrangement, and I also got into school.
I’m at Ron’s, at my brother’s house. Standing in the kitchen with my mom and dad, we were talking and this other car came down the driveway, down to where the house was, and I saw it coming and said who’s that, and she said they’re just some people that want to talk to you Diane.
Cults for kind of a new thing going on, and there were young people who were wanting to find an alternative like I was. Parents were at a loss of what to do, and so they were people that were called deprogrammers because what they would do is hold someone against their will, not in the sense of ropes and chains, but if someone was coming home from one of these groups for some reason to visit, then they’d planned this intervention of sorts. These ex-members of the group would come in and talk to them and try to convince them to leave. These deprogrammings would go on for days. I said fine. I’ll talk to them. My thought was that maybe I could bring them back into the fold. Then I would go back as a hero.
I remember she was kind of wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and she looked kind of sloppy to me or something, she looks like somebody who Satan had definitely invaded. The first thing I said was “How much are they paying you?” I hadn’t the idea that deprogrammers were evil, satanic people. The only reason they were doing this is to make money and to break people’s faith. She said, “They just agreed to buy me a couple pair of jeans.” I had a little more respect for Ellen at that moment. And that gave me more hope that maybe I could get her back in.
She went out to the car and brought in two big suitcases. They were full of books and CDs and a tape player. That felt a little intimidating to me, but I was still up for it. I was still thinking, okay, bring it on. As soon as we sat down and started talking, she said, you know the doctrine is full of holes, it doesn’t even make any sense, it’s not even right as far as the dates and the times, and the Bible is, is out of context. She would open up the suitcase and pull out this Bible, and she had the Divine principle book, and she had Master speaks, and I felt immediately like I wanted to phone a friend. I wish there was someone else here, I’m sure there’s someone that knows the principal better than me that could explain to her these things she’s pointing out, there must be an explanation, there must be an explanation. As a pile of facts that she was planning out got thicker and thicker, it became really difficult for me to hang in there. I remember feeling cold. Feeling like I needed a blanket. I could feel my body actually shaking. I actually went and got a blanket, wrapped myself in it as we were talking.
She brought out a book by Robert Lifton called thought reform and the psychology of totalism.
Archival: Totalism. Totalism is really the psychological equivalent of totalitarianism.
Diane: And in that book Robert lifton to find what brainwashing is.
Archival: These characteristics are present in cults.
Diane: So we went through those definitions one by one.
Archival: The control of all communication in the environment. A charismatic leader. Reject the personal experience in favor of the truth of the doctrine.
Diane: Doctrine over person. Loading the language.
Archival: Study the language very carefully.
Diane: With each one, she pointed out its likeness to life inside the Church.
Archival: The last and ultimate and dangerous principal is the dispensing of existence.
Diane: Anyone outside of our group is basically evil, we called them satanic.
Archival: Life unworthy of life.
Diane: As she was going through these points, I began to hear this little voice in the back of my head whisper, it started as a whisper. And that voice got louder and louder. “What if this is a lie?” Oh my God. This took place inside my brain. It was, it was all a lie. I honestly heard glass breaking around me. I honestly heard it.
All those years I had been in, I had missed so much music. My brother had a huge record collection. I remember looking over at his case of albums, and deciding I was going to listen to them all. And there was just this sense of, um, reclaiming myself in that moment, when I knew that I could just one by one pull those albums out and put them on the turntable, and I could listen to them and not have the filter of the doctrine to make me decide what I thought of.
There was a rehab house in Minneapolis for people leaving religious cults. It was a woman who had opened up her house for people to come and stay for maybe a month or two at a time when they first leave so they have a place to get a grip. Shortly after I had arrived at the rehab house is when Jonestown occurred.
Newscaster: good evening, here’s what’s happening, we’re interrupting our special broadcasting to bring you this–
Diane: I remember sitting in that living room with these people from different cults and watching that on the news.
Newscaster: What you’re about to see almost defies description, and some of you may not want to watch it.
Diane: Looking at those dead people.
Newscaster: The majority apparently died willingly at the urging of Jim Jones.
Diane: Laying there, who had poisons their babies.
Newscaster: Entire families took the poison together, laid down, some embracing.
Diane: I knew that I, had I just met Jim Jones and set of Sun Myung Moon, I would have, I could have been there.
It was a small circle of people that were in this deprogramming world. There’s nothing that has more credibility, much like in my deprogramming, I wouldn’t have listened to anybody but a former Moonie. So when there was a case for a Moonie, I would get a request to go along. I understood what had happened to me, I understood that I had been taken. Taken advantage of. If I could help another family free their loved one from what I had been freed from, I wanted to be able to help out. There was a sort of excitement about it because I was going to fly off to someplace with this team of people, with this mission to get this person out of a cult. It was frontline warrior kind of stuff. The family of course is really upset and worried and stressed out. They’ve been trying to solve this problem of their child being a whole new person. The person’s coming home for a wedding or a funeral or something, they say, “Oh, let’s go see Uncle Bob’s new house.” So, you go to Uncle Bob’s new house, and in Uncle Bob’s new house is myself and a couple of other deprogrammers, maybe some brothers and sisters, cousins, whatever, that have agreed to participate in this. The door closes, and it’s welcome to your deprogramming.
When you first start talking to someone, their answers are always pat answers. They’re what they’ve been taught, they always come from the doctrine. It isn’t that difficult to point out things within the doctrine that are just plain a logical or historically wrong, or scientifically completely false.
Interviewer: Can you give me a couple examples?
Diane: Well, in the Moonies, it was believed that God worked through parallels of human history, so there’s these timelines in which God had to like wait for a certain amount of time to pass before something could happen, and certain things had to happen historically before like the Messiah could come. The dates and time tables that they used to justify this were incorrect historically. And so, going through those things and pointing those out was one part of it. The thing that was the most powerful for me, and is often the most powerful is really deconstructing the concept of mental manipulation. You can’t help but see yourself and the organization in the description of these tactics. You understand, wow, I have been taken advantage of all these years of my life, sacrificing, and it, you know, it’s no fun to be in a group like this, it’s not fun. You work hard, you sacrifice, it’s really not a good life. But you do it because you believe. Oftentimes, during the program and there’s this moment where the person, including myself, has his aha moment. There’s a sense of devastation and freedom that happens in the same moment. And when it happens, it’s often emotional. It’s just hard for it not to be. It’s often celebratory.
I remember this one case in Ireland. After we realized that he had made the decision he did not want to go back, we went to the beach. He took off running. We just looked at each other because we’re not going to chase him down for one thing [laugh] he was in better shape than we were, and besides, what were we going to do, go jump him? I mean, it was just not going to happen. We saw him in the distance, and he stopped, and we eventually caught up with him. And he just, he was tearful. And he said, “I am free. I’m free.”
Interviewer: What was your, your success rate?
Diane: I couldn’t give you a number. But I would say that more times than not, they were successful. There were a number of them that were unsuccessful because the person kind of escaped. Went out the bathroom window kind of thing, and that’s the last we saw of them.
Interviewer: As far as sort of like the holding people against their will aspect of it, was that something that gave you pause?
Diane: The holding someone against their will part was something that I didn’t really frame in those words, what it, the way I framed it was that I knew that when you’re under the spell of a cult, completely under the direction of a doctrine that’s holding your mind captive, there’s no way that you’re going to have a rational conversation with someone that you believed to be satanic or evil. There was really no other way to put them in a situation where they could have some time to hear another perspective and to think about it. There was, there seemed no other solution. We wanted to create a sense of it being the family who was making the choice to not let them leave. Usually that is how it worked. But there were some cases where things didn’t go as planned.
We went to this house, a really beautiful nice house, kitchen was full of all kinds of food, there was plenty of room, the team was all there waiting. I had never been on a case like this where private investigators were hired. And they actually picked her up off the street and put her in a van, exchanged vehicles, brought her to the house. A good samaritan saw it happen, called the police. We knew we were hot, so we had to get her out of there. We got in the van and started driving. She was not speaking to us at that point, which was kind of good because when we got gas, she didn’t scream. Finally through connections we found a place we could go across the state line with her, an empty apartment in a tiny little town above a junk store. Somebody was supposed to stay awake and watch her. Next thing I knew I fell asleep, next thing I knew I was hearing, gotta get out of here, she’s gone. Downstairs there was a pickup, two of us got in there. We heard police circling, we didn’t think we had the key, but we found a key, turned the truck on, waited for the police to go by and just casually drove out of town. The guy I was with knew someone, they got us airplane tickets and we flew home.
Time went by. I had started a job, I was working a graveyard shift, and I was trying to sleep. There was a pounding on the door. At first they said, “Are you Diane Benscoter?” I said yes. They said they were from the FBI and I was under arrest for kidnapping. They really wanted a guilty plea. They didn’t want it to set a precedent that you could hold an adult against their will because you believed that their religious beliefs were extreme. I understand that and actually agree with it, but I did agree to this plea bargain because what they offered me was two years on supervised probation. I definitely hung up my deprogramming shoes. That was it, that was the last deprogramming.
Once I realized I’m not a follower of the Messiah because he’s not the Messiah, all these problems in the world still exist, and I don’t know who I am, I don’t know anything about myself, I think that whole in me got filled up with this new cause. When you first leave the group, especially people that don’t get counseling often cult jump. They just look for another form of extremism. And I think in a way, deprogramming kind of was that for me. I jumped from being in a cold to being in the anti-cult world. I felt righteous about what I was doing, and I felt like I had a purpose, and that I was doing something really important. That filled that void for me.
You really can’t hold someone against their will, that’s just not okay, it’s illegal and it should be. The reason that you have to be careful with this is, who makes that decision? What if for instance, what if somebody who believes that homosexuality is wrong locks their kid up to deprogram them from that? Why are you more right to try to deprogram your son or daughter from a religious cult? Where do you draw the line there? Who gets to say?
Interviewer: What fills that void now? You know, why don’t you need those things anymore?
Diane: I think I’m still that same person, that idealistic person. I still am looking for solutions to some of the problems in the world. The work that I do now with the nonprofit, building the nonprofit and trying to build programs that would help educate young people about how many manipulation works, and then also to create support and services for those who want to leave is a passion I have now. I still have that same idealism that I had when I was fourteen.
Snake oil is still so effective. It’s because we, big we, don’t understand how mental manipulation works. It can be from buying something that you really didn’t want, but you fell into the marketing, to strapping a bomb on your body and detonating it. There’s a huge spectrum there, but it isn’t common knowledge how this works, and that’s my ultimate goal. Make snake oil, the snake oil of mental manipulation common knowledge so that it is less effective.
Being an ex-Moonie is definitely part of my story for sure. But, I think the bigger story is how that works. The dotted lines between white supremacy and being in a religious cult, being in a gang. We need to understand how pliable are mines are, how easy it is to take advantage of the masses.
Nick: That’s it for Love and Radio. This episode was produced by Steven Jackson. Special thanks also to Mia Donovan. Love and Radio is produced by Steven Jackson and Julia DeWitt. We are a production of Radiotopia, whose executive producer is Julie Shapiro. Radiotopia is made possible thanks to the generous support of our listeners. Thank you. Thanks for listening.
Voiceover: Dirty dung-eating dogs. He was quite a poet.