Sunday, September 26, 2010

If It Walks Like a Duck

Last Sunday, there was a massive "manhunt" in southern California for thirteen people (five adults and eight children) who had gone missing with a leader of a religious sect named Reyna Chicas. Two husbands feared they were planning a mass suicide and authorities were alerted.

Good for the authorities that they took the husbands' concerns seriously. One husband brought them his wife's purse which contained identifications, deeds to property, cell phone and letters indicating they were waiting for the end of the world. The Sheriff spokesman said the letters "read like a last will and testament, like goodbye letters."

Six months earlier, Chicas, a Salvadoran divorcee and mother of two, had planned to take followers out to the desert to await an earthquake or another apocalyptic event. One of the followers forewarned family members and the trip was aborted. That follower was subsequently ostracized.

When authorities finally found Chicas and her followers twenty-two hours after their disappearance, they were "comfortably gathered at a Palmdale area park" - adults were praying, children were playing on swings.

But when Chicas was brought in for questioning, they found her rambling and disorganized, giving a false name and stating she had no children. Her two children, a son, 15 and a daughter, 12, were taken into protective custody. Chicas was placed in 72 hour mandatory hold in a mental hospital, deemed unable to care for herself or others.

I'm trying to piece this story together. Chicas was described by a former friend as "simple - a doting mother who always had her children in tow." Friends said she was "not professional, not prepared," as if all cult leaders had to be slick snake oil salesmen. Not your typical cult leader, if there is one. Fifth grade education, four years divorced, increasingly religious, delusional and disorganized. Psychotic perhaps. Perhaps?!? She denied her own children. Prayed for God to take them to see their deceased relatives. Now THAT sounds like a cult leader.

Of course, one worries about the children and the letters they wrote, convinced that their mother was speaking for God and she was right. Are they with Daddy now? Or is Daddy the devil? Perhaps they're with well-meaning strangers who will try to convince them that Mama was crackers and they deserve to live a full life, that God, in fact, WANTS them to live a full life here on earth and do His work here until He decides to call them back home.

Wherever they are, and the other six children, from ages three to seventeen, my heart goes out to them. I'm glad the State caught up with Chicas, whom I think I can rightly dub a cult leader. She was a suicidal fanatic as well. But how are you going to convince the children of that? The children who love her and call her Mama. On the surface, everything looks harmless enough- playing in the park and praying. But anyone who's been in a cult knows that surfaces lie.

Still, I have hope for these children, as long as knowledgeable professionals are involved. They must be aware of Parental Alienation Syndrome in which one parent (ie a fanatical cultist) brainwashes the child against a noncustodial parent. Children can be brainwashed to be convinced that the whole society is evil and against them. Whole religions brainwash their children of this, but I'm getting off the point.

All I want to say is that I hope the lawyers and doctors and social workers and ministers, and especially the father, if he's still around, will continue to take these signs seriously. I hope that they will NOT FORGET the farewell letters these children wrote, even when they say they were "only kidding." If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck.


Anonymous said...

I agree. Something has got to be done in our society ,it is endangering to the children,I think to a point of abuse and neglect.

jeff said...

Well said Kristen!

I hope you and yours are doing well.

I enjoy your blog because you often share with us how you are doing with the things with which you've been considering lately and I hope this stuff about Wierwille and cults are good for you to consider too, because I enjoy reading your perspective.


Billy said...

Kristen gives an excellent detailed description of this case. If she were responsible for handling this case, between her experience in the Way, and as a mental health professional, I would trust her calls on how to handle things as much as anyone's.

I am not too fond of some generalizations, including specifically the use of this "If it walks like a duck.." phrase, because overuse of such a phrase (which Kristen doesn't do here) when the terminology of mass suicide comes in, lumps everything with Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple, as if each group is a clone of them. Such lumping produced the fear which led to my deprogramming years ago, an event which I do not view as favorable. This even given Kristen's account of the abuse she suffered, which i accept fully, and in fact would be willing to emphatically back up.

Ironically, I read a couple articles in my searches for information about Reyna Chicas and those with her, which illustrate other dangers of such a comparison. They referred to the group being found, and that "fears of mass suicide prove false". because they were found alive, weren't large, rich, and well organized like the P.T., and weren't flying off in isolation to some far off land like Jim Jones and his bunch did. None of these differences disprove in the least the suicide potential, given the details we know. But anyone who felt relieved after learning that this small group was found alive and well, because they are not exactly like the Peoples Temple after all, should stay on guard. In fact, I will not let up on following this case.

So, putting this in perspective, Kristen has earned the right to use whatever terminology she wants in her descriptions of what happened to her in the Way, and related topics such as she covers here. My descriptions are going to be different, if only because my times alone (and I had a couple) with V.P. Wierwille while I was in the 8th corps were, well, less eventful(among other things, I'm male), though as I mentioned in an earlier post, I did get a very minor taste of the Way Corps sexual attitude from a couple of others. I'm simply admitting I have my own bugs (called trigger words I guess) like most people. That's why Kristen's "telling her story as she lived it" description in "Losing the Way" was right for me.

Wondering what comes next said...

Thanks Kirsten,
It takes a long time and a lot of love and understanding to heal the wounds that kids receive in cults. At that time in their lives when they are looking for meaning in the world around them and their place in it, they are fed a distorted reality at their most receptive and impressionable time in their lives.
As adults, many of us have a point of reference, from the time before we joined our respective cults, to which we can look to restore our outlook on life and our sense of who we are and what we want for the rest of our lives....for our kids born into the cults we belonged to this point of reference simply does not exist.
Its a tough road for kids born into spiritually abusive, hyper authoritarian situations who now struggle to come to terms with real life.
Thanks for your comments