Cults! The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly with Jesse Stone

Posted on November 1, 2023 by

Cults! The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly with Jesse Stone

Inside Community Podcast — Ep. 022

Cults get a pretty bad reputation in the mainstream world, but are they really evil? Or just misunderstood? Jesse Stone, co-host of the ⁠Cults I’d Join⁠ podcast comes on the show to shed some light on the upside of cults while giving us some helpful advice on what to look out for if manipulation just isn’t for you.

In this episode

  • Cults, community, and personal experience. (0:03)
  • Cults and their definitions. (6:26)
  • Different types of cults, including religious, political, and human potential cults. (13:13)
  • Cults and group think with a focus on MLMs and personal growth. (18:42)
  • The dangers of extremism in spiritual and ideological beliefs. (24:24)
  • Cults and their characteristics. (28:13)
  • Worker-owned cooperatives and potential exploitation. (34:12)
  • Cults, autonomy, and resources. (40:09)
  • Cults, exploitation, and personal boundaries. (46:34)
  • Cults, leadership, and hierarchy. (52:00)
  • Joining cults and setting boundaries. (1:00:09)
  • Cults and their appeal, with a focus on personal experience. (1:05:36)
  • Cults, boundaries, and community dynamics. (1:10:03)
  • Cults and intentional communities. (1:15:50)
  • Christian cults and unusual experiences. (1:21:26)

About Jesse Stone

Down in the Ozarks, Jesse Stone lives and loves with her young son Solace, two dogs, and two cats. Jesse is an artist, writer, and maker, and has lived her life immersed in the wide variety of subcultures. Sharing these experiences through art and storytelling is her passion. Her latest venture is the new podcast “Cults I’d Join” with co-host Ameran Link, now rounding out its first year.

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If you want to learn more about cults and how to create one or any aspect of community, check out the Inside Community Podcast sponsor, ⁠⁠⁠The Foundation for Intentional Community⁠⁠⁠. FIC is an incredible resource center with weekly events, online courses, classified advertisements, and lots of free educational materials. Podcast listeners get 20% off in ⁠⁠⁠⁠FIC Bookstore ⁠⁠⁠⁠with code INSIDE20 and 30% off ⁠⁠⁠⁠FIC courses⁠⁠⁠⁠ with code INSIDE30. You can learn more about FIC and access transcripts at ⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠.

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Show Notes

Cults I’d Join Podcast

Super Awesome Inside Community Jingle by FIC board member Dave Booda

ICP theme by Rebecca Mesritz

Thanks from Rebecca, your podcast host

Episode Transcript

Jesse Stone 0:03
cults do a great job of helping us frame up life. Life is chaotic and unpredictable and scary and hard. And it gives us a framework to put it all into categories, whatever the categories of that cult, right? Whether it’s all going to be fixed with essential oils, or it’s all going to be fixed by Abraham Hicks telling you how to fix it or whatever it is, right your guru, like telling you the right yoga poses. But you line it up in the in the little boxes that this group tells you to put them in, and it makes sense of your life. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Rebecca Mesritz 0:42
Hello, friends, and welcome back to the inside community podcast. I’m your host, Rebecca mezzotints. If you lived in any community for any amount of time, I’m sure at some point a well meaning friend or family member from the outside world has wondered, are you actually a member of a cult? There’s something about being a group of people that chooses to live together outside of the normal single family home that seems strangely isolating to the mainstream. Meanwhile, if you live in a community living in a single family home in the mainstream seems strangely isolating, but is still a good question. There are lots of different kinds of cults out there religious, political, some are very well meaning and some not so much. If you’ve spent a lot of time on podcasts, or listen to or watch any true crime shows, certainly you’ve seen things come up around the Nexium cult or the Manson family, or oh shows group, the Rajneesh ease or countless other infamous groups. But are cults bad? Or do they have something to teach intentional communities? Well, my guest today has a unique perspective on this because she’s actually a big fan of cults when they’re not harmful, and CO hosts an incredible podcast, where she dives deep into all different types of cults, breaks them apart and investigates what really makes them work. She’s gonna come and be with us today and talk about the pros and cons of cults and what to look out for when you’re a part of a community. And you might be just a little concerned that you’re becoming like a cult. We’re going to hear from our sponsors and then come back for an introduction to my conversation with Jesse Stone.

Rebecca Mesritz 2:26
coho us is the hub of the cohousing movement, convening individuals and organizations with a shared vision for intentional community living. expert led courses and forums on the cohousing Institute, provide the skills and expertise to build and sustain your community available both live and on demand. Join coho us for the commons a monthly gathering space for the cohousing curious the 10th of every month at 10am Mountain learn For more than 50 years communitarians community seekers and cooperative culture activists have been sharing their stories and helpful community resources and communities magazine. Over the course of the magazine’s history communities has published essays and articles from community all stars future thinkers and wisdom keepers on virtually every topic related to forming, maintaining living in an even leaving community. You can gain access to all back issues in digital form. Plus receive current print or digital issues by subscribing now at Jenn hyphen A complete Article Index, community index and issue theme list are all available online to help you find the inspiration you’re looking for. Down in the Ozarks Jesse Stone lives and loves with her young son Salas, two dogs and two cats. Jessie is an artist, writer and maker and has lived her life immersed in the wide variety of subcultures. sharing these experiences through her art and storytelling is her passion. Her latest venture is the new podcast cults I join with co host Amarin link now rounding out its first here. Jesse Stone welcome to the Inside community podcast. Thanks for being on.

Jesse Stone 4:28
Thank you so much for having me and for making this wonderful podcast in general. Yeah, well

Rebecca Mesritz 4:33
we have a shared love of community and, and an interest in in the weirder aspects of it, I think the possible murder aspects. I love to start my interviews asking my guests to tell me a little bit about their community or their community experience. So So where what what is your relationship to this wild world?

Jesse Stone 4:57
Yeah, okay, so I’ll try to be concise so I grew up in like an end of the world. Church, I now know that people would call our church fundamentalist. So fundamentalist Christian end of the world, no TV, no social security number, all those things. And you can I talk a lot about it on my podcast, so you can hear more about it there. But so I grew up in that were a lot of plain blue dresses. And then I ended up just out of high school. So my family left that church, that’s a whole thing. And then my parents kind of went mainstream and I, but, you know, my parents basically joined a cult as adults, and then, like, did it for a while, and they were like, well, that was crazy. We’re up. But like my siblings, and I were raised in it. So we weren’t kidding about, like the theology of our church and our community experience. Like, it was like a dip in the pool for my parents, but it was like our formative years. So when they left, I really missed the community. And so when I was a teenager, I was my mom had gone to the farm. I’m sure you’re familiar with the farm bee farm in Tennessee. She had gone there to have me so we had all the old farm books from that time, and we were saying one day at the kitchen table, like Oh, I wish I wish that there were still communes. This isn’t like the late 90s I wish there were still communes like the farm, that would be so nice. I wish they still existed. Because it’s also before the internet, you know, and as we’re seeing this, we’re literally sharing a jar of east wind, peanut butter, which is used to in this part of the Federation of egalitarian communities and, and it happens to be like 100 miles from my house, which, you know, so like, we’re like bemoaning the communes don’t exist anymore. And then I’m like, I think, I think here’s one because the label is like, we’re worker owned cooperative, you can come live with, it was like, I think, on this peanut butter is actually a commune. And so ultimately, like long story short, I ended up moving to east wind when I was 19. I went to a rainbow gathering first talked to people at the eastern kitchen, they’re ended up at east wind. I don’t name east wind in my own podcast only because like, they didn’t ask me to I didn’t ask them to, you know, they, they had a they were featured once in National Geographic years ago, which is something all the prisons subscribed. And so they got like, a massive influx of prisoners wanting to come because it was like free drugs and free love. And there was a naked girl in the article and like, yeah, when I got out of prison, this is where I’m going. So anyway, I it’s not a secret that I lived to do. So and it’s a it’s just something I don’t outloud say on my own podcast, because I’m not trying to give them promotion that they definitely didn’t ask me to give them. So all that said, east wind was my intro into a secular community. And I really went in looking for another religious cult, and I was constantly disappointed that they like, they wouldn’t like have any communal songs or have an identical tattoo or wear the same outfits. And I was always like, you guys, let’s all just know one song and they were like, no. But from Eastern die, I joined the Amish row while I tried the 12 tribes i i got very into the FEC. You know, for anyone who doesn’t know, that’s the Federation of egalitarian communities. So within the communities movement, the FEC has a pretty large chunk of communities in which we income share and our members can kind of cycle around to the different communes in our network really easily. So I’ve I’ve spent time at Twin Oaks and acorn and sand hill and dancing rabbit and places like that. And by virtue of that I’ve I’ve run into and because I like joining cults, I’ve I’ve been some others as well, but that’s my kind of commune history. And right now, I live in the Ozarks of southern Missouri. That’s where I’m from. And now I have a kid with some dude here, so kind of stuck here. But I live in a little 100 year old cottage and have the best boy in the world. And I run a farmers market and have a podcast, so I’m pretty happy. So that was maybe longer than you needed.

Rebecca Mesritz 9:23
But there you go. Well, I mean, the reason that I asked you here is because obviously I enjoy your podcast. First and foremost, the cult Thank you join podcast is is great. One of my friends, actually the co director, Kim at the fic shared it with me, she’s like, this is really cool. We should talk to these girls. And partially because I know a lot of the communities slash cults that you’re talking about. There’s some that Yeah, it’s so fun and then just to hear sort of like the inner work gangs and the details about them has been really interesting for me. And also as a communitarian to see the places where cults are like communities, they’re just sort of, you know, extra. They’re in different ways. Yeah, sometimes sometimes some really unfortunate ways, sometimes some really amazing, cool ways. So, you know, I’d really, yeah, I’d love to get into you know, maybe even what communities could learn from from cults. But let’s come back to that. And first of all, start with what makes a cult,

Jesse Stone 10:34
a cult. So I wrote down your questions, and I wrote down my answers, and this one is obviously kind of the crux of my whole show, right? Because who am I to say what a cult is? Who Are any of us, right? And so I looked at the actual definition first, and I thought this was really interesting, because the definition and like the Oxford Dictionary is a small religious group. That’s the first thing it says it’s a small religious group, which I thought was really telling, right, because if it were a big religious group, we wouldn’t call it a cult. We call it like the baptist church up the street. Right. So I think often people get labeled a cult, simply by virtue of being small, then it says, not a part of the larger mainstream. Again, it like it. There’s so much room for interpretation, but it’s small, it’s religious, it’s not a part of the larger mainstream. And its beliefs are considered by others to be extreme and or dangerous. So that’s the definition. But here’s why I thought that was really interesting. Because what’s a cult? Well, we all have a different definition of what that is. Right? And I think a cult is only a cult, when other people call it that, generally speaking, by which I mean, like we did a whole episode on on the podcast about the garden in Tennessee, which is like, the most stereotypical little starting out hippie commune, you could go to any, any little starting out hippie commune on any Wheel of Time, and it would pretty much be exactly what the garden is, right? Like, they’re just figuring out what the rules are, what they’re not, who’s gonna live there, what their thing is, and it’s great, and it’s a nice little commune, but it’s called The Tick Tock cult, and it got its own episode on vice because they they got some fame on tick tock, everybody exploded and said they were a cult, simply by virtue of them being small and outside the mainstream. They’re not even religious, right? And then everyone said, they were a cult, and they like, got the law called on them. They got their kids checked out by CPS, like they got all this trouble for a quote being a cult. So like, they’re not even religious in any way. They’re fully secular, small community, but they’re small, they’re outside the mainstream. Their beliefs are, quote, extreme in that they want to live together and share. Right? And so they were labeled a cult. So I just think, I think a cult is what whatever people label as a cult. But, you know, really briefly, they’re they’re generally harmful and have a leader. Those are what you want to stay away.

Unknown Speaker 13:11
Yeah. Yeah, yeah, i

Rebecca Mesritz 13:13
The other thing that I’m wondering I, for the listeners, I sent Jessie the other day, this link to this woman on Tik Tok. She’s at Julie, the systems gal. And she’s got a whole thing right now looking at this, what she calls a baby cult. This organization, phase two, I think is what it’s called phase two, which is like this kind of idea of, you know, you create your own reality. We’re living in a simulation, you know, kind of combining abundance mindset and a lot of these sort of like New Age, sort of hippie and I don’t say that new age and hippie as a disparaging thing, I just say that as that’s where I associate these kind of, you know, you can manifest your own reality and don’t be a slave to the system kind of thing. Anyway, this woman, Julie has been creating a bunch of content about this baby cult. And part of what I thought was interesting about how she was looking at it was this, this element of separating people, like it’s not just outside of the mainstream, but it almost necessarily separates like in order to be a member, you have to pull away from the mainstream and pull people from families, communities religion person.

Jesse Stone 14:34
Yes. Because that you’re right. That’s the whole point. Like is to say, I am separate from you, right? Because otherwise, you just again, you go to the baptist church up the street, but like, anybody who wants to be fervent in any of their beliefs, political, spiritual, whatever. If you’re going to be fervent in your beliefs, you have to step back and go, I am separate from you. You’re the world I’m not the world.

Unknown Speaker 15:02
Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Rebecca Mesritz 15:03
So what what, what are some of the different kinds of cults? I mean, you’re talking about religious cults, but I mean, they can’t all be religious, or are they? I mean, you’ve talked about the Manson family. And I feel like the Manson family didn’t seem all that religious to me, although I don’t really know that much about, about them. And as Do you can stop

Jesse Stone 15:22
right now and do Manson trivia if you want cuz I can answer anything. No, absolutely not. And I wrote a little list here of just like off the top of my head, different kinds of bolts that are pretty typical. Certainly, there are religious cults. And I want to say, like you said, about the new age, I’m not using called as a derogatory term, either. And, in fact, most of the groups I talk about, I don’t consider to be called, I wouldn’t. It’s considered such a derogatory term. And it can get people in so much trouble if they get that label slapped on them, that I wouldn’t seriously call people a cult until they’re genuinely talking about like group suicide or poisoning the water, you know, like, it would take me up there to, for me to derogatorily call you a cult. Yeah. But in a looser sense, you know, we’re talking about this as a generality. And I don’t mean it as a slam to lots of groups. So there will be lots of groups that I cover. Who, who I mean, I don’t want to hear somebody cover east wind under something called called side join. But and if I were listening to it, I’d be like, How dare you? You You don’t live there, you know. And so I don’t want to do that to other people, either. And so I’m sorry, I will come back into this. But let me just pause to say this. When I started this podcast, I didn’t go and listen to any other podcasts about cults, because I didn’t want to unintentionally be vamping anybody else’s style or thing. And so I was probably the whole first season and before I went then and looked at like, who else was in my genre, and that’s when I learned that I’m the only like, pro cold person. Like everybody else is like cold spooky, look how weird they are. And I’m like, so then you get these bologna pants and you get to wear them. So we are not looking for the same things in life, me and the other people in the genre. So to say, coming back to the different kinds of of what people would call cults, right, so there’s the religious obviously, there’s the political right certainly, like you could call Q anon a political cold you could, but you can always you can go all the way out and say the army has a cold, right? They all dress the same, they have an extremely strict hierarchy. You know, like you certainly lose friends when you join the army. Like it’s not hard to label lots of cohesive groups a cult, right. So but there are political cults. There are certainly racist cults, right there’s Christian identity, there’s the Aryan Nation. There’s a clan the clan would count as as a religious cult. They talk about some matching outfits right? One size fits all all pale people I guess for the clamp. Yeah, the proud boys whose idiot leader just got sentenced to prison because he’s dumb. Right So that’s those are all all racist calls. You’ve got the human potential cults and those are the ones you were kind of just referencing the like, you know, abundance thinking and and manifestation thinking Nexium would fall into the human potential cults, right. What I didn’t list sex cults, but I guess Nexium would fall into six belts as well. You got MLA, you did

Rebecca Mesritz 18:33
you didn’t want on on your own the Oh, yeah. The one touch Yeah, yeah, one touch.

Jesse Stone 18:41
Right. I mean, like,

Rebecca Mesritz 18:43
that’s different, though. Because it doesn’t I mean, I don’t know. Not that there’s not like group houses. But a lot of times I think about when I think about a call, I think about, to me, it seems like a residential, but maybe it doesn’t need to be a residential community that lives together like even the Klan. It’s like, no, they’re all members of this organization. That definitely is extreme, definitely as harmful definitely has some severe ideologies. But they are still involved in the mainstream, they are among us, you know, so it’s sort of like one of those interesting, like, are you still a part of the mainstream or have you fully turned into pulling away?

Jesse Stone 19:29
So I would say a couple of things about that. I would say number one, I mean, yes, living communally is certainly like in the top five of ways to spot a cold, right? But you don’t think you have to although in one touch, they did live communally. It just didn’t seem like they did because that wasn’t the part of their group that they promoted. But they they did live communally. And in fact, like they forced bed sharing, which is real culty shouldn’t do that. But what was I gonna say? Oh, So I think let me see if I can wear this right? I think that if you are in a group, and that your allegiance to that group of people or that ideology supersedes the rest of your actions in life, your relationships with your family, your friends, the way you treat people, whether or not it’s harmful to you or the people around you, if if your allegiance to that group or that thinking supersedes the rest of how you live your life. I think you’re in a cult whether or not you live with the other people. And I would also add that, you know, the clans a good example, because certainly they’re among us. And yet, I would wager that the clan doesn’t, I would wager that those people think of themselves as not in the world. Right, like I would guess they think of themselves as separate. Of course, they think of themselves as separate, they go burn crosses on people’s lungs, right? They separate themselves mentally. That’s how they’re able to do that to people. And I think that that’s, you know, certainly a lot of the Nexium people some live communally with each other, and some did not. Right, but they still got branded, you know, because their mind and energy was devoted. It was all in and they cut off their families, you know, so you can live amongst the world and not think of yourself as a part of the world we covered. The finders in our first was like one of our first episodes. And strangely, it’s people’s number one favorite. It’s so when they always mentioned to me, but the Finders are out in Culpeper, Virginia, near Twin Oaks. And they, they considered themselves to they have a leader. And the leader said that all of life was a game. And so then he would just change the rules of the game sometimes. And so these people had like nerd jobs like computer jobs in DC, right. And they made money for the community in which was squared, full time jobs. But they considered themselves to be spies for their game they were playing. So you would never know that they were there just like you at your dorky computer job, you know, working 40 hours a week, but to them, they’re spies and they’re following a Game Master and they can leave whenever they want. Just quickly the others you know, there’s new age there’s MLMs right? If you’re if you’re spending your whole family’s income on on your MLM you’ve you’ve noticed yourself over to the side of cold, right? There’s the actual magic cold side people are

Rebecca Mesritz 22:36
gonna hate people or people are gonna love slash hate to hear. or somebody’s Well, I, I have so many friends who are involved in ABA and MLMs and human potential, like there’s a lot of people who are who’ve done landmark or have been a part of those kind of even Tony Robbins, you know, like, I wouldn’t call Tony Robbins a cult, but who are so fervent in their desire to grow and be better as people that then they it does seem like it takes over a lot of their reality in some way. So I guess dancing with MLMs. You know,

Jesse Stone 23:17
that’s 100% the case. And but again, that’s why I really want to be clear. I’m not using Colt derogatorily. And I’m being light with the word. You know, so like, Please don’t take offense if you’re a young living salesman, and we did cover let Young Living as one of our quote colds, right? Because like, I also like frankincense, there’s nothing wrong with it. You know, and I have have a great time. And Tony Robbins seems like he’s got some great ideas. Are you in a part of a group think? Sure. I’m not suggesting it’s bad. I’m interested in the sociology of each group, how they are interested in each other, how they close in with each other affects their behavior and their sociology that like, what’s it like inside of this group? For a day in the life, that’s what I’m really interested in. And so, you know, my show is called cults. I joined because I would join any of these little culty cults, but, you know, you’re really into Abraham Hicks. I might call you a cult for purposes of talking about how you within your group work with each other. But I like Abraham Hicks. I don’t know. Totally.

Rebecca Mesritz 24:24
I love Abraham. Yeah. Yeah. Great downloads for me. Yeah. All right.

Jesse Stone 24:28
Got me through some tough times. Seriously, seriously, I

Rebecca Mesritz 24:33
yeah, really, really helped me make some sense of some major things in my life. And I think that’s one of the interesting things about I mean, you kind of touched on it earlier is that there? Are these these elements of truth? I mean, I think

Unknown Speaker 24:45
it’s for any

Rebecca Mesritz 24:49
while I’ll rewind to say, a lot of what’s come out in the media, especially over the last, you know, 10 years or so, since since our Trump was in office really was how more extreme ideologies see themselves in our being and then and then grow and, and frequently they have these kernels of truth, that feel very real and very irrefutable. And then I think in the worst of those circumstances, they get sort of extrapolated, and then well, this means this, and this means this, and this means this, and then all of a sudden, you’re kind of like, wait, the center is now 100 yards that way, how did that happen? Like, why are you believing all these amazing things that maybe I wouldn’t have necessarily believed when I first started on this journey. So because now I have the secret information. I know I have, oh, now I have the information that nobody else knows. So that’s so true.

Jesse Stone 25:51
And it’s so you know, listen, when I grew up in the cult I grew up in, I loved feeling like that special. I loved thinking, like, only we know the truth, like we’re literally God’s chosen, it’s a war. And we know, we have the weapons, you know, like, that makes you feel really important, which is why like adult men go by used fatigues and start their own militias, because they still like feeling that important, right? Like you. And that’s an extreme example, but we all want with adults do a great job of helping us frame up life. Life is chaotic, and unpredictable, and scary and hard. And it gives us a framework to put it all into categories, whatever the categories of that cult, right? Whether it’s all going to be fixed with essential oils, or it’s all going to be fixed by Abraham Hicks telling you how to fix it or whatever it is, right, your guru, like telling you the right yoga poses. But you line it up in the in the little boxes that this group tells you to put them in, and it makes sense of your life. And there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s, we need that. And I’ve got you know, as a person who grew up in a Christian ideology, I don’t mind to use Christian ideology today to go ahead and plug my life into those Christian boxes. It’s, it’s what I’m, it’s the knowledge I’m steeped in, and I’ll just find it useful. I have outgrown the belief that my spiritual upbringing is any more wisdom filled than anybody else’s in the world. But I’ll just go ahead and use the framework because it’s just as useful as the other 50,000 religious frameworks. Um, so I think, you know, but what you just said is like, you get five steps in and it’s really helpful, you’re at a great church, you’re in a great yoga group, you’re in a great MLM, whatever it is that you’re a part of, but yet, then somebody somewhere is always going to take it to the extreme. Right? And, and if you slide down that path with them, now you’ve set yourself up to be a member of what people would call a cult. Even if there’s just two of you, if you’re, if you’re now making bad choices for yourself or others, which lots of people do.

Unknown Speaker 28:12
Yeah, yeah.

Rebecca Mesritz 28:13
Well, I mean, so let’s dig, dig down a little bit here. Because you talked about sort of the sociology and I wanted to ask you about your, your, quote, unquote, favorite cults, but I’d love to have a little bit more of a picture painted, particularly around a cult that is residential, you know, one that people live in, and, like, what makes what is that? Like, what, what is that life? What is that? Like? What would one person expect from your classic? Typical? Definitely a cult? Possibly not? Possibly not in a nice way? Like really? Like, what are the things that we’re really looking for when we’re when we’re thinking like, Oh, this is a cult like we should be, we shouldn’t have our, our sensors up. Because I think for a lot of people who listen to this show, you know, what I’ll say this at at the Emerald Village, my last community. People would wonder if we were a cult, very regularly, always people, people who were not connected to the communities movement. And we had a little joke that we were actually 50% Less hippie than people thought we were because we were still sure all of us were still very much involved in the outside world. It was just this was how we chose to live and raise our children and create safety around us insecurity around us. But it wasn’t because we were pulling away. And we had some shared ideologies, but it wasn’t like, Yeah, we didn’t share a

Jesse Stone 29:41
religious and secular community. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Rebecca Mesritz 29:44
So So when, when people are joining a community or wanting to join a community, people who are listening to this podcast or even wanting to start a community, how can they what should they be aware of as they’re moving through? And what’s it a good example of of a of like, this is class

Unknown Speaker 30:00
ASIC cult

Jesse Stone 30:02
check. If you’re looking for a cult such as myself, what you really want is like, so what you said, in the beginning of this conversation, defining yourself as separate from the world, I think that’s actually the number one thing you’re looking for when you go to join a call, I really do, like you want to say, out of rebellion or out of self protection, or out of whatever it is, you want to clearly define yourself as separate from the world. I mean, even we, as girls, go get bangs if we need a change in our life, because we want to outwardly make a sign that says, I’ve made a change, right? Do you see these beings, something has changed in my life? See that I’ve dyed my hair, something has changed in my life. And so I think when people are joining a cult, they’re looking for that kind of group, they’re looking for something that says, you know, what did the Manson family do? They carved x’s into their foreheads to Sam X out of your world, right? So when you’re looking to join a group like that, you want something that says, I’m out, right, you want a clean break from the rest of your life. And so when you’re looking for that, a cult saying you should cut off your family is usually like something you’re pretty down for, right? Like, because if you’re joining a culty group, you want a dramatic change, you want it to be all consuming. And maybe that’s another good definition for cult, it’s all consuming. Like you just said in your secular community, you have lots of ties to the outside world. You have jobs out there, you have people out there, it’s not weird to have your mom over, you know, but a cult is all consuming. There is not an outside world, there’s just the people inside you don’t talk to your outside people very much you don’t keep close relationships. You don’t have an outside money source, you probably don’t have a private vehicle or private possessions.

Unknown Speaker 31:58
You know, so and so.

Jesse Stone 32:02
When you’re looking for that kind of group you want, you want the clothes to say I’m I’m separate, right? You want the we all wear black. We all wear smocks. We all cover our heads. We all braid our hair. We all shave our heads, whatever it is, we all do it. So we’re all visibly one thing, and not all the rest of you. We look like we look right. I liked when I lived with the Amish and I would go into town and everybody could see exactly where I lived just by looking at my clothes. I liked that that preceded me. I did not like when I lived at East when and I would go well, if I went to our small local town people still knew. We work as our legs aren’t shaved. But we did not matching outfits. And I really hated that. Um, yeah, so. So a stereotypical cold, you want communal meals, you want the perception those people are your family, not your co inhabitants, right? They’re your family. They’re taking the place of your original family. So you want shared meals, you want a matching aesthetic, you want shared lingo, which all groups have, the Army has it communes, habit, churches, habits, schools have it but a shared lingo inside of a cult is another way to separate you from the outside and make you feel really tied to those people that you have your inside jokes. Only you get it, you have a language that nobody else understands. And so those are the things so a day in a cult, well, you’ve had three communal meals together, you’ve worked with other people, you feel really integrated with the other people, you believe that you’re working for a greater purpose. And so work doesn’t feel like work, it feels like you’re pulling for a team. Those are the those are the nice things about being an adult.

Rebecca Mesritz 33:50
Hey there communitarians I hope you are enjoying this conversation with Jesse Stone. We’re gonna have a few words from our sponsors, and then be right back. And I hope you stay to the very end, because Jesse has some amazing and hilarious stories that she’s going to share at the end of the show. So stick around.

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Rebecca Mesritz 35:53
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Rebecca Mesritz 36:53
Yeah, it’s like you can see how how quickly it becomes like the double edged sword where abuse of power and yes, some of those things. It’s like, oh, yeah, you’re working for a greater purpose. You’re also free labor. You’re also Yeah,

Jesse Stone 37:09
you know. Right now I’m getting ready to cover in cults. I joined the Hutterites which are a communal version of the Amish. So they’re Anabaptist same religion as Amish but they live communally rather than separately. So the Hutterites it’s a worker owned cooperative, same as the FEC. They’re all worker owned cooperatives, right. So when you live within a worker owned cooperative, you don’t have private, personal, personal, private belongings. You don’t have your own car, you don’t have a fancy bike that nobody else has you dress from the communal closet, which is called commie clothes in FEC terms. But you know, in Hutterite communities very similar to worker uncooperative, you don’t have a private income, you get a small stipend for like, whatever your little personal luxuries are chocolate, movie, little things like that. But 95% of your labor of 100% of your labor goes to the community and the community’s money. And then the community has stronger buying power like their Walmart, they get everybody health insurance, they have communal cars that they upkeep, communal meals, they give you clothes, they send you to the doctor, this is true in secular FEC communities and the Hutterites but I say that to say, ah, Hutterites have hit, they’ve been hit with some lawsuits because people in the middle of their adulthood who were born and raised in the community want to leave, they have no resources to live with. They’ve worked their whole lives, but they don’t have any savings. This would be the same if you grew up in a secular FEC community. And so the Hutterites are like, Okay, well, you’re welcome to leave, but good luck to you. You know, and same for FEC. We were saying, you know, you’re free labor. I, when you live in the community, you’re being paid for your labor, you have every need met. But when you walk out, whether you’re in a cult or secular community, if you’re income sharing, are you owed something, or are you not because you got to go to the doctor, you got you. All your needs are met all of them. It’s wonderful. It’s a high level of, of well being in life. But when you walk out, there’s nothing right? So is there labor being exploited? I don’t know. I never felt my labor was being exploited in community, but I chose I didn’t grow up in it.

Unknown Speaker 39:32
But all my bills were paid.

Jesse Stone 39:35
So I don’t know. I don’t know it. So yet again, comes the question of the cult. If you live in the 12 tribes, you work in all of their businesses, you would leave with nothing, right? Most people would agree that 12 tribes is a cult. There are a large network of Messianic communities all over the world, but also interchange their members and change their names and kind of cut off their families. Most people would agree that they’re called, but and most people will complain that they’re exploiting their workers labor. I don’t know. I mean, I live out here, all of my income that I make goes to just living. It’s no different than in a community, except I have a safety net and community. Yeah,

Rebecca Mesritz 40:21
yeah. Yeah, I think it comes back to that, like that piece around autonomy, which is, right, you know, you in, in the default world, you have a savings account, and you get to decide how you want to spend that money, you get to decide if you want to go on a trip to Paris, or you get to decide if you want to move to another part of the world or have a different experience. Whereas inside of a cult, or even possibly some of these egalitarian communities, you don’t have the same access to those freedoms, those abilities. And that’s absolutely true. Unless the community decides that you get to do something, you don’t get to do that thing. No, that’s outside.

Jesse Stone 41:04
And again, you get like, your small stipend, you know, so you could save your Smalls. But let’s say when I lived at East End in the late 90s, I worked 40 hours a week and I got $65 A month.

Rebecca Mesritz 41:19
You better not start drinking. Or like, I don’t know, having a chocolate.

Jesse Stone 41:26
Yeah, that’s it everyone’s money went to was those two things. Mine went to my long distance bills, because that was before cellphones, but it’s a higher stipend now. But it’s it’s comparable. With inflation. It’s comparable. You know, but you don’t. If I wanted to see a therapist, I’d see a therapist, if I wanted a professional massage, I’d get them to professional massage. If I wanted to jump in a car, jump in a car, you know, technically I had more access to resources, living monastic like that than I do out here trying to make enough money to live myself. Right? Right, you know, so I don’t have a savings account now, either. Because I just don’t have that kind of money. But you know, and slight praise for the FEC. When you leave the FEC, you can petition the community to give you a small leaving fund to help you get started, but it’s a popularity contest, whether people vote to give you leaving money or not. It’s not it’s not expected that you would get that.

Rebecca Mesritz 42:22
Yeah. And I also wonder about, I mean, it’s one thing to be raised, and that if you were joining as an adult, and you had like a nest egg set aside, before going in, you know, I would think another thing that would make something in my mind culty would be if you would be expected to give up your nest egg, you know, I think and when you talk about genetically like a nun or someone like that, like when they join the church, they give, you know, all that all your resources. I think the same was 12 tribes actually, was the deacon? Yes, it’s like you’re expected. Yeah, anything that you have goes to that community. Now. There’s not your safety net. If it doesn’t work out is gone.

Jesse Stone 43:03
It’s gone? No, no, that’s 100% True. And I will say, again, in praise of the FEC, they simply ask that you suspend your outside resources, right. So they don’t ask you to give them to you to them ever, but you don’t access them. And I like that, because the whole point is that we’re trying to be egalitarian. And my experience in community was that I was a poor kid and FEC communities are mostly stocked ponds of rich kids. And so I did not like, you know, rich kids still have a million invisible resources. If they want to go to Europe, their parents will buy them a ticket to Europe, so they can live in a monastic lifestyle. And still, they have invisible resources. If you’re poor, your resources are visible, they’re your shitty car, or they’re your, you know, like little stack of money that you have for your good bike, you know, and, and then you’re expected to live equally even though they have vastly more racist sources than you they’re just not visible.

Unknown Speaker 44:02
Which is to say

Jesse Stone 44:06
the FEC does not ask you, because it’s not occult does not ask you for your resources. But they do ask that you freeze them so that people can attempt to live in an equal way. How successful that is with rich kids living there is debatable, but they’re doing their best for a egalitarian ism. And I, I like that. But yes, if you went to the old tribes, if you went to zentech Farm, who again, I would call a matriarchal cult, but isn’t religious, or their religious, their religion is being as endemic, right? They take all your resources when you walk in the door, my ex boyfriend from Syndic lived there for I think more than 10 years, was in their band made them 10s of 1000s of dollars. And when he left, they gave him a pocketful of change and kept his dog. They made them Just now walk off the property. Oh, wow, they kept everything they keep everything. And that’s, that’s a real red flag.

Rebecca Mesritz 45:09
Well, I want to I want to get into the other half of the question about, you know, like some of the the bads, the like the more challenging aspects like the red flags, I guess, with with cults,

Jesse Stone 45:24
the nice things about cults are shared meals, groups and songs and sayings that that you have in common, which I already said, but those are things that feel so good and connected. Generally, colds have really good food, which is you know, those are reasons to stay. Those are lovely things when, you know, the 12 tribes recruits at like fish lots and stuff and Rebo gatherings, and they have like a really cool bus and it’s full of their good food. And people always say like, oh, that’s a cult, don’t get on the bus. Don’t get on the bus. And I’m like, the bus is where the tofu sandwiches are. You should definitely get on the bus. They’re not kidnapping you like. Yeah, no, you should get on the bus. They have hibiscus tea in there. So I don’t like none of these groups, most colts will let you leave. It’s a rare cold that actually won’t let you leave. But um, you know, but But it becomes hard to leave. When you are getting such fundamental needs met as feeling like you have a family and having a language that other people don’t speak and having clothes that define you a certain way and make you feel really special and good about yourself. It’s hard to let those things go. When you go into kind of the darker parts of cults, yes, they are actively exploiting your labor, right? They are pushing you to work unreasonable amounts of time or in unsafe conditions, or they’re literally if your children of God like forcing you into prostitution, like there, there are ways that they can exploit your labor that isn’t debatable, you know, we can debate whether work rich income shared, you know, working communities are exploitative, but you can’t debate if your cult leader says that you have to be a prostitute to support the community and to bring in male members right like that’s an the Manson family did that right? That’s how they always had a place to stay right that they got kicked out of the Beach Boys house because they kept giving. They kept giving the beach boy they were staying with gonorrhea. Out of the Beach Boys.

Unknown Speaker 47:34
I didn’t know about that.

Jesse Stone 47:36
I still love them. But yeah, they definitely did that. That’s definitely I think it was delivered. I think it was Brian Wilson that they lived with. Anyway, gosh. Yeah, they would go dumpster diving and his Rolls Royce. And it was also fun. And so fairy tale and so so just spontaneous. But yeah, gonorrhea, not fun and spontaneous. So it’s puts it into the fun. If you’re, you know, obviously, a lot of cults end up having some kind of weird sex thing, right? Like Nexium is a freakin self help group. And yet, if you follow it all the way to the end, you’re getting branded, and sexually assaulted by your friends and your leader. It’s just a self help group. It’s an MLM. Right? So like there, the dark side comes. And I said this later on, you know, like it sounds cliche, but really what you want to do when you’re in a group like that is listen to your actual gut. Because it makes you nauseous when people start pushing your boundaries in unhealthy ways. Right you physically if somebody can’t if you keep saying I have a personal bubble, and somebody physically keeps reaching past it anyway, it makes you uncomfortable until they break you down. If people keep trying to exploit your labor or they keep taking all the money in your bank account or they separate your children from you, you know these are great ways to go like hey, this makes me actually not physically feel good. That should be assigned to me that that this you know, but the the ideology if you’re growing if you’re joining an unhealthy group grabs your brain because the ideology is anytime you’re feeling uncomfortable, that’s your worldly self that you’re supposed to kill. Right if you’re in the F LDS right, the fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints where there’s polygamous marriage, which I grew up around polygamous marriage I, I like the model of it, but in a group like that, where it is super culty and unhealthy, right, the whole point of polygamous marriage to them is that you are supposed to, it makes you it is your salvation to get over your jealousy and your difficulty with sharing your husband that is your salvation. Right. And so then, the point is, I think the fundament point of any cult is telling you don’t listen to your gut. Listen to us instead. Right? If you feel jealous of your partner, being with another person, kill that self, that part of yourself because that’s your world they self talking and your salvation is in not listening. Oh, you you feel attached to your kids. That’s your worldly self. Right? So, once you get if you can stay in the sweet spot of a cult, like, I spent a lot of time in the 12 tribes, but I didn’t join the 12 tribes, right. So like, I stayed in the tofu sandwich bubble, which is a great place to be I got the cool clothes, I got, like this beautiful setup. And it was awesome. Because I never went past tofu sandwiches into like, you know, changing your name. Changing my name, I would have loved it to change my name. But you have to get married to do that. So I definitely wasn’t going to go that far. But right, you want to change your name because their names are noticeably different. They’re very heavily Hebrew names. Right? So your cider? Yeah. Not even I mean, like meva ser, you know, like, way on out there, like, you know, so as long as I’m Jesse, which is even a biblical name. I’m not. Nobody’s under the illusion that I’m all the way in. Right, right, you know, but I can’t get all the way until I get married. Well, now I’m really locked in. Yeah, right now I’m following the rules. And the number one criticism of the 12 tribes is that they abused their kids. Now I’m having kids in the community because I wanted the right name. Now I’m, I’m no longer at the tofu sandwich level. If you can stay in the sweet pot spot. A cult can be really fun. And some cults managed to stay in the sweet spot. But power corrupts. And if you give one person too much power, most of the time you get Keith Ranieri

Rebecca Mesritz 52:00
at the end of the day, and I wanted to ask you about that about about God, there’s so many there’s so many paths to follow, I want to ask you about cult leader and ask you about the sweet spot. So let’s I want let’s I’m gonna bookmark I’m going to bookmark the sweet spot. And let’s talk about cult leaders. And that aspect of this like, does a does a cult need to have a leader? Because a lot of times I just assumed that they do I think about Osho and his like crazy, right? And Sherman sidekick that was kind of running the show for a while. And I mean, obviously Charles Manson, you know. But did they all have a leader like that? Because I really associate when I think about cults, and I think about them in the negative context, I almost always it’s really about an abuse of power or manipulation, which is what you were just talking about is like convincing people to bypass their own good sense or their own moral compass for the belief that their good sense and moral compass is somehow rooted in evil or sin or worldly values. And so the the idea of like the charismatic leader as the one who’s kind of guiding and showing the way just seems part and parcel for what a cult is.

Jesse Stone 53:21
Yeah, me. Um, I totally agree with you. And I think when we have a cult pictured in our head, it almost always is the Manson family, right? Because they’re so damn photogenic. And so we, you know, we picture or we picture the people’s temple with Jim Jones, right? Or, you know, certainly there are these very famous look, a cult gets famous, usually by doing something devastating trouble, right? You’re, you’re a member of the Branch Davidians in our government slaughters your whole community and you’re all the women and children right or you you join Jonestown, which I definitely would have joined it looked like so much fun. And they’re in California just go into a cool, extremely diverse and open minded and progressive church, right? Like, notably diverse for the time, and then all of a sudden, like they move you to fucking Guyana. And then they murder you, right? Like that wasn’t even a group suicide, those people were murdered in the jungle. And so that’s how people get there are tons of cults everywhere that aren’t ending and mass suicide and so we don’t or the government killing them and so we don’t they don’t make the radar but so the ones that do have always had a charismatic leader, and so certainly a that’s how we picture it, but be Yeah, that’s that’s definitely the most dangerous, scary halt. So as you were saying that I was trying to think, because that is my picture of a bad cold to is, you know, has a leader certainly has a hierarchy, you know, when I was living in the FEC, which is specifically non hierarchical By design, like there’s not even a person’s name on the land, the land is held in trust by the communities at large. And if a community disbands, it goes back to the larger organization. There’s no end stop person that gets the money, or the land there is not one, right. And so that is a nice safety feature, I think, for communities not wanting to be culty, right? There’s no way to scoop up the money or the resources. If you structure yourself with no hierarchy. Now, does someone have to manage ordering the food in the kitchen? Yes, but they don’t get paid more for it, they don’t get more clout for it. And so all that person is doing is taking on more responsibility than they have to. And so then you’re not power hungry. You’re just volunteering to do a job that somebody needs to do. So. So I always think of a cult as primarily having, as you said, a hierarchy. Because without a hierarchy, I think you escaped most of the dangers of sliding down into a bad position. So yes, I think most of the time, I think I think it needs a hierarchy and perhaps a single leader to be a notoriously bad cult, but I was trying to think of examples of cults that don’t have that. And I did think of one it’s actually Oh, yeah, they have a very strict hierarchy. And they don’t have a singular leader, but they do have a singular founder, who they consider to be the ultimate one guy, right? Okay. I’m not their God, but they’re their highly revered founder. So the way that we as Americans might go, Well, the Constitution meant this, this was the into intention, they would go well, David meant this. See, and I think that’s children of God is like that. Most groups. So you don’t necessarily have to have a charismatic one person. But you do have your one focal point person. I mean, even the farm, who is not a cult, as Steven Gaskin. Right, everybody followed Steven Gaskin out like that. Nobody was there not to follow Stephen Gaskin. Right. Like, he’s the one that wrote all the books. He’s the one that did all the things, we can all argue that his wife is actually cooler and more powerful. And we’d be right. But you know, they’re not a cult, but they still have a charismatic leader doesn’t hurt to have one, they get a lot done.

Rebecca Mesritz 57:25
Are there any residential, like live in cults that you can think of that have had no leader? Like? No, I mean, it just just didn’t seem

Jesse Stone 57:37
so like a communal group that doesn’t have an express leader? I don’t. I mean, I probably could, if I looked around, I can’t think of one off the top of my head. I will say this though, the culty group that I grew up in, I’ll say this actually, we had a leader, a clearly defined leader, brother Bill. And But brother Bill believed in a 12 Elder system, because it says in the Bible that no one person should ever be in charge of anything, because it’s too much just through their lens, right. So there should always be like an elder system. 12 tribes has an older system. Many groups have an older system. So brother Bill was our leader, but he led by keeping the elder system in place and the 12 Elders made the decisions as a group, which kind of kept us on an even keel. Right. Yeah. You know, because the CSA that was our our neighbor community had like, a 30 day standoff with the feds, right, because they didn’t have a 12 Elders system, that one crazy person at the top making ridiculous decisions, and by the way, that he was a sovereign citizen and didn’t pay his mortgage. And that’s why they had a standoff. But my church had a leader, but he didn’t send out decrees, which is why he was well loved. When he and so we went along happily for many years, even though we were like end of the world militia, crazy people to we didn’t do anything extra crazy, because we had these 12 Elders kind of like, just, you know, trying to keep us balanced as we went along. When brother Bill died, the 12 Elders each wanted to be the only leader of the church. There was so much infighting that one person took over the church stood up and read a list of all the families who like didn’t want his leadership wouldn’t explicitly obey everything he said, told them they can leave the community, my family was on that list. And now he is leader of that group. So so we lived communally in houses the church owned and then this will end and our leader died. And we got up up power hungry Leaguer leader, and it disbanded the group as we know it. So you know, So we lived without, we kind of had a leader but kind of didn’t. And it was okay. But having a leader really ruined it. Yeah, I

Rebecca Mesritz 1:00:09
just think it’s so it’s so interesting. I hope that people who are listening to this can hear the places where there’s like, okay, these are some of the red flags, you know, are you? Is there an extreme hierarchy, not that a hierarchy is necessarily an evil thing, but is there, you know, a overly charismatic leader who might be asking you to do things that you’re not comfortable with? Who’s asking you to

Unknown Speaker 1:00:37
do override your

Rebecca Mesritz 1:00:39
good sense and own moral compass? Are you being asked to separate yourself, in an extreme way from your outside connections from your family, from your financial resource? You know, are you being asked to change your appearance, like some of these things that could be could be seen as kind of the cool parts, but also could be real indicators. If you if you don’t want to join a cult, maybe you do want to, some of those things seem really exciting and appealing to you. But if you’re not interested in joining a call, and you go somewhere, and everybody’s wearing the same thing, maybe you should take note. I do want to talk a little bit about about the sweet spots, because I do feel like I mean, you know, I It’s one of the things I really enjoy about how you talked in your episode about the 12 tribes because I feel the same way about them. I’m like, they’ve got great food they’ve got no I don’t say problem. They’ve got like kind of these awesome homespun clothes for anybody that has never interacted with 12 tribes are all over the place. They’ve got little restaurants called the yellow Deli. And it’s like, it’s like dining in a tree house with these yummy lamb sandwiches. And Mata they don’t drink coffee. They just remember they’re like, Yeah, super hot day.

Jesse Stone 1:01:56
They are, like

Rebecca Mesritz 1:01:58
homemade bread, like delicious, homemade bread, and they’re the sweetest. They’re such sweet. They’re so

Jesse Stone 1:02:06
wonderful. Listen behind closed doors, they’re still sweet. They’re just wonderful. I loved it. There’s so much and that’s you know, I advocate for people join all the codes you want, just stay at the tofu sandwich level, right? Like, if look, this is the same thing I tell people about possibly working in the sex work industry, right, totally opposite like wing of the world. But I did work in a club for the gentleman for a long time. And that can be a great job too. Or it could be like a life working horrible job. And I would always tell people, and I would tell the same thing to people looking to like check out the more culty side of the communities movement. If you trust that you have strong boundaries, and a strong sense of self, you should absolutely go stay at the 12 tribes. And whatever the Rajneesh sees are doing now and like you know, all of these crazy cool things because there’s so there is so much beauty in them. People don’t join these groups, because they’re feeding you low protein gruel and taking over your mind, they join them because there’s genuine love, there’s great food, there’s so much joy. It does feel good to work for yourself and your community as opposed to some corporation that means nothing to you. You know, it when you work in community, you never look at the clock, you’re not worried about, you know, getting off your shift, because you’re still at your house, you’re still with your friends. It’s so much more organic to your life, right? So if you trust yourself enough to know that you have a strong sense of yourself and your boundaries, so that as you can go as far into the Amish or the 12 tribes, or whoever your Zdenek farm or whatever it is that as you want to go. And you trust yourself. When somebody says, now you’re going to sleep with Bob and you go, Bob’s not my jam, pick someone else. Like, if you trust yourself to get up to that and not sleep with Bob, no matter how much the leader is like, but we like Bob, and you’re like, Bob isn’t for me. If if you are the leader says you know, I think it’d be a great time for you to give us your car and you go, I’m sorry, that’s my car, like whatever it is, if you trust yourself to get up to it, and draw the line and walk away if needed. You know, I’ve lived in a lot of culty setups where I might or working in the sex industry, certainly where my boundary was pushed, and I just was able to go like, Oh, nothing, so I don’t want to do that. And, honestly, 80% of the time, they’ve been like, oh, okay, like, they very rarely does somebody actually try to force you into anything. So you could actually get pretty far into a cold and still keep your ideals intact and but you have to Trust your boundaries. And if you don’t think you can trust your boundaries, you shouldn’t go near those places, because that’s how you will lose yourself. That’s how you’ll shut off your family. That’s how you’ll lose resources on the outside world and not be able to leave when you want to. That’s how you get into those situations is when you don’t trust your boundaries. So if you feel comfortable staying at the tofu sandwich level, and you know, you can trust yourself, then there’s so much beauty to be shared in going into communal groups, who are extremely communal the way that our faculty groups are. It’s, I’ve it’s nothing but enriching to me, and I love it. Which is why I made a podcast about it. But again, like if you don’t trust yourself, then you need to protect yourself and be in a place that’s safe. And I’ll say this other last thing about it, which is, it’s my strong belief. And I think I say this in the podcasts a lot. But I strongly believe that probably nobody, or almost nobody would just choose to join some of these more negative cults. I don’t think anybody is like, you know, it sounds good to me is skinheads like I really like their, you know, weird suspenders and their shaved has, I really liked how they street fight a lot. Like, I don’t think that people are like, this sounds great. I think that people are lonely, they’re smart enough to see that the mainstream system doesn’t work for most people a definitely isn’t gonna work for them. And they bump into whatever group they bump into when they’re in that space. And if it’s the Nazis, or it’s the Rajneesh cheese, or it’s whoever or to Jonestown, it doesn’t matter who it is, if a group a cohesive group that you and you want a cohesive group, a group cohesive group says to you, we’ll take you in, we think you’re great. We think you’re as smart as we are not like the rest of these dummies, you just go. And so to me, probably the biggest message I would want to get out in my own show, is that all these groups are so beautiful, but hey, you can get all those needs met in a secular community setting. You can get all those needs met. Yes, I had to beg people at East wind to get matching tattoos with me, and they wouldn’t do it. But you know what? I taught him a couple songs. So you, you know, but hey, I got my communal meals, I got my bike nights around the fire circles, I got my deep close friendships, because I live with people and you can’t not be close when you live with them. You know, I just I truly believe we probably wouldn’t have the massive movement of racist youth that we have today. If those kids on their path could have bumped into the FTC or even the 12 tribes, before they bumped into some like asshole racist kid up the street. I think that you’re looking for something, you take the first group that will take you and and and then you want to be strong and loyal. Yeah, you know. And that’s, that’s that cult thing. Again, that always tells you any thought that you have that isn’t in line with us is the devil or it’s the world and you’ve got to kill that off. Avoid that mindset. Avoid twisting it to where the outside world at any contrary thought that you have to the group is the outside world getting in, if you can avoid that mindset. And I still have that from my church growing up, I still feel extreme guilt taking my son trick or treating, even though I completely understand that it’s fine. Right? But then my brain is like, yeah, that’s what Satan wants you to think. Right? Like, no, we’re dressing up as Ninja Turtles we’re going out. So I get that, but But now I’ve learned to go ahead and go trick or treating anyway. Right? I’m gonna live my life. Even if I can’t get the voice that I learned from the cold out of my head. I’m still going to take the steps to live my healthiest life. And so yeah, I just really believe I that people in harmful groups, or even if you live in a group, I think is lovely like the 12 tribes but it has become unhealthy for you. Because your husband is abusive and they don’t stop him or whatever it is. You want out for whatever reason you want out you want a TV, whatever it is. If if you’ve come to a place in a group, where you don’t want to be there anymore, but you can’t stand the thought of missing community. There is community fully accessible to you without the bad parts. Now humans can be dicks anywhere but not without the control. You can have freedom and community it’s just fully accessible. Oh, yeah.

Rebecca Mesritz 1:10:03
Oh, yeah, I just I see the like, the the trap of I mean, whatever the extremist group is I’ve heard a lot around kids being radicalized like radical Islamic, you know, cults are, you know, who are basically, they’re lonely, they’re feeling separate. They’re feeling disconnected from the people around them, which is I mean, that’s, I mean, we’re living in a time of a pandemic of loneliness. And it’s, yeah, it’s talked about on all on all platforms and all media is that people feel lonely, they feel stuck, they realize that this game that we’re playing isn’t really working, and they’re looking for something else. And it’s very easy for those people to fall victim of extremist ideologies. Because they I seem to offer a lot of solutions. So I love this sort of word of caution around Yeah, knowing oneself well enough to know like, What is your motivation for wanting to be involved in in a community? And are you aren’t? What are you so desperate for that love and connection and real human? And both human contact and meaning making in your life, that you’d be willing to sacrifice your own? Spirit, your own beliefs in order to have that with people?

Jesse Stone 1:11:28
And I love I love that. That’s just the definition of joining. Yeah, any any religious community, certainly. But even perhaps a secular community, because you do give up a lot of autonomy, even just joining a secular community, often, especially income sharing, income sharing is an extreme form of communal living. You don’t have to go that far. But yeah, you can you can meet those needs without the hierarchy and the danger of getting lost in something. And yeah, like you said, even even if you’re going into a group who, maybe on the outside, you can go, oh, this does seem like a cult, but I’m gonna go ahead and dive in. It’s not necessarily bad. You just should define your boundaries, on your way in.

Rebecca Mesritz 1:12:17
I mean, and I think that’s true, even in, in any community. I think it’s, I mean, I’m I happen to be a fairly well boundary person. But I also one of my very traditional words of wisdom to people who would, who would be new into our community was like, you’re going to need to really get some strong boundaries, because communities frequently. You know, they are places where you could just pour all of your lifeforce, and the community will take everything that you have to give. And people would often come in and just like, give and give and give, either from a sense of real belief in what the mission was, or also a desire to belong, or a desire to fit in, or a desire not to disappoint or a desire to do the thing, the best that they can, or whatever the thing was, and it’s like, you have to be able to say, I can work this many hours a week towards this project, and then I have to work on myself, I have to be able to rest I have to be able to I call it helium hand for anybody, like if that watches later that sort of like, I’ll do that.

Jesse Stone 1:13:30
Like, no, it’s really funny.

Rebecca Mesritz 1:13:34
You have to be able to say, No, you’re not a person that can say no, you really need to start cultivating your know, before you join any kind of, you know, group or community or cult, or organization, because a lot of a lot of places will take everything you have and kind of, you know, you can become a victim very easily in that, in that reality. So

Jesse Stone 1:13:55
true. And, you know, maybe we should talk for a second about green flags, right? Because I know like, like the first when I went when I moved to East when as a 19 year old, I had left my car at home and kind of given away a lot of my stuff, because it was my intention never to come back to community. And when I got there, I said something about that. And one of the older people on the farm said to me, they were like really shocked and they were like, Who told you to give your stuff away? You absolutely should not do that. Like, you don’t know that you want to stay here. You should not give up your outside resources. You should not throw yourself into something you don’t know enough about this place. Like that’s not a good decision making skill for you don’t do that. And I think that’s a really good green flag. Right? Like what you were just saying about telling incoming people strengthen your boundaries. I will tell you this, nobody at the 12 tribes ever suggested I strengthen my boundaries. would never hear that. If that got whispered to me, somebody would hear it and read that person out. You’d you’d never hear that If that is a red flag, I think a good green flag is people saying to you, Hey, what’s your boundaries? Hey, don’t give your car away. You don’t know where you’re at yet? Like, you know, I think I think that’s a good green flag that tells you the people there are not intending to take advantage of you. Yeah. Well, let’s,

Rebecca Mesritz 1:15:20
I mean, I want to start to wind our conversation down. But I’d love to sort of get your opinion on what the big takeaways. I mean, I love the talk about the green flag, like what are the things that communities in general could learn from cults, like the larger communities movement could learn from cults? You know, where are the places this like, this makes this thing awesome. Like, we should do this more, aside from your matching tattoo idea.

Jesse Stone 1:15:50
I stand by that.

Jesse Stone 1:15:57
You know, here’s okay. I do think that the communities movement overall, is so hyper focused kind of on not being a cult, right, because they’re always getting accused of that. And that’s not what they’re in it for, that they sort of back farther away from that aesthetic or, or look than they need to. For example, when I went to visit the 12 tribes, the first time I stayed the night there, the little bed that they had set up for me had a little welcome basket on it. And it had like, Oh, just a bag of like granola and a little bag of like dried fruits and to some tea. And then like a little note that said, like, we’re so glad you’re here, you’re a valuable person, you know, like, and I lived at east wind at the time and was in charge of memberships. So I was in charge of breeding the new people. And I realized, like, why am I not putting a welcome basket on the bed of every new person that comes in? What a lovely kind, community flavored gesture, right? So I definitely stole that from the 12 tribes and started doing it, why wouldn’t I do that, but, you know, I, in secular community, they’re so focused on process and function and not looking like a cult, that they give up a lot of those, like, things that are very, very nice about a culty group, like the matching tattoos, or like, or like knowing some songs, you know, at Twin Oaks, people know, some songs that are all the same song and it’s very nice. Each one is not down for it. But um, you know, I think, I think what can they learn from,

Jesse Stone 1:17:36
from more culty scenes?

Jesse Stone 1:17:40
It’s tough, because most communes are actually, to my experience, tell me if you’ve seen this differently, I find that most communes are almost maxed out their population most of the time. Do you find that to be true?

Rebecca Mesritz 1:17:55
He mean, they have as many members as they can take.

Jesse Stone 1:17:57
Yeah, we’re, yeah, like, there aren’t many more extra bedrooms or resources.

Unknown Speaker 1:18:02
I think that that was

Rebecca Mesritz 1:18:03
definitely the case with my community. But then I also know other communities that are like, just, we just need some more people, you know, Oh, okay. Yeah, we’re, I mean, we haven’t really put it out publicly here with what we’re doing here. But we’re definitely like we could really use some more people to be come and be a part of this because we’re, you know, you need to know our bodies but

Jesse Stone 1:18:27
right, so, um, you know, cults recruit, cults recruit, generally speaking, I mean, the Amish don’t, but that’s about the only one like they recruit the communities movement. For what I’ve seen, I’m so glad this podcast exists for exactly that reason. But generally speaking, the communities movement does not recruit and I don’t think that they should, like go on a full frontal offensive, but I went when I lived in community, I loved it so much, I would keep our pamphlets with me and just hand them to people I thought looked cool if I was out in the world somewhere, because I just loved it so much, and exactly what I said earlier like, I feel like so many people are thirsty for it. I would just wanted people to know it was an option. And I don’t think hardly anyone knows. I see joke memes all the time on social media that are like, Hey, we should all like buy land and start a commune ha ha and it’s like, yeah, oh, yeah, just open the shirt. He’s directory and like, but you don’t even need to because like 1000 Other people have already done that and you can just move there like so I would like to see the community’s movement or if I were saying what they could learn from the more culty side of things I think it would be nice for them to dialogue with the mainstream more because the mainstream a doesn’t know that they exist and be cannot differentiate them from cults, which is how the garden gets the cops called on them. So I would love to see a more mainstream push, not necessarily for people to come live there, but for people to understand what the possibilities are for them. And it’s odd because most people in the communities movement will tell you, their biggest activism is showing a living example of being outside of capitalism. And yet nobody sees them. Yeah. Who’s not tuned into this? I think, rather idiosyncratic movement. So I think, you know, maybe have a slightly more global view, like these cults, you know, 12 tribes did when they got raided by the Feds and their kids got taken away. They immediately bought a building on Main Street in every town they lived in. Because they were like, Oh, we look like a cult. Let us put a front door that people can walk right through. Right. And I’d love to see the community’s movement have have more access just for information. Yeah, love just for maybe some tours.

Unknown Speaker 1:20:49
Yeah, that’s great.

Rebecca Mesritz 1:20:51
That’s great. Well, this has been awesome. Thank you so much. I don’t know if there’s any like final little juicy tidbits you want to throw in? Are there things you want to you want to add? I know, I’d kind of said, you know, do you have any last most entertaining stories or just things you did leave here with? Um,

Jesse Stone 1:21:12
I wrote down a few short stories. You want to hear a couple?

Rebecca Mesritz 1:21:16
i Yeah, at least just one would be great. Your favorite one would be great. Let’s let’s do it. Okay.

Jesse Stone 1:21:20
All right. Let’s see. I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you two, because one is really short, and they kind of juxtapose each other. So in the church that I grew up in, which was called House of Prayer, like I said, they were a very end of the world. So I was at this potluck when I was younger, I was a kid and all the women were talking doing womanly things. And and what they were doing was cleaning their husbands weapon caches. So they were like in their dresses, like cleaning all the guns and like making sure they’re oiled and clean and not mildewy from being stored under the stairs. So they were giving and they were giving like their best secret recipes for like mildew on weapons, right, because all their weapons are hidden. And so they’re doing this and but it’s very cozy. It’s very homey. There’s like literally handmade bread next to us. And we were very closed often watch TV or anything. And so one of one of the women said something about Prairie Home Companion, the radio show on NPR with Garrison Keillor and they said, oh, oh, blah blah blahs. Funny thing on Prairie Home Companion. And another woman said, Oh, I live for Prairie Home Companion. And then everyone froze for a second. And she goes I mean, I live for Jesus but I really love her.

Unknown Speaker 1:22:36
That’s awesome. That’s great.

Jesse Stone 1:22:40
That’s probably my favorite, healthy childhood memory from my church. And then I had one that was from one of the FEC communities that I was staying in. Um, we have visitors come through all the time, and they often don’t know how to conform to our social norms right away and sometimes it really stands out. So in this community, I was staying in FEC communities always have like a big what’s called a DE board, which is just everybody tacking up notes of whatever everybody needs to know. Like there’s we’re there’s a canoe trip tomorrow we’re harvesting carrots at 10 in the morning, like, so people know what’s going on, they can go plug in wherever they want to. And there’s a lot of public nudity in in our communities. And so this visitor guy wrote a big letter that said, I would like for the women who don’t have perky breasts to like wear bras and shirts, because I think it’s really gross, and it grosses me out. So like if you have little perky breasts, that’s totally fine with me. Me random guy who just got here, but if you have like gross saggy or old breasts, I would prefer that to go ahead and just put on a bra and a shirt. So as not to be gross. Oh,

Rebecca Mesritz 1:23:52

Unknown Speaker 1:23:55
God, and what happened so

Jesse Stone 1:23:58
well, pretty immediately, like a small army was dispatched to go find that guy and be like, Hey, buddy, it’s not gonna work out for you here. And they found him hiding in the corn patch because I guess he got word that people were looking for him. But we’re nonviolent in our bylaws. Nobody’s gonna hurt him but they were gonna be like, let us give you a ride off this farm right now. And so they found him

Rebecca Mesritz 1:24:19
they all motorboat at him with their big ol saggy chin. Okay, so that just the

Jesse Stone 1:24:26
that was essentially so literally all the women took their shirts off and them and their kids went to find this guy. He was cowering in the cornfield. They were like, Hey, get out. It’s not gonna work out here for you, which is not our process. But this guy, you know, the writing was on the wall. So what he did rather than leave was cross our boundary line and sit on the other side just off the property. Like whoever else is like a field that was on the other side of our property line and he camped there for like two weeks and was convinced that and then we felt bad for us. So we were like, Do you want some food? We Write your symbols on Yeah. And he was like, Oh, you’re all trying to kill me. So I don’t even know where he finally wandered away to. But in the result of that was that the women were very much topless. I kind of aggressively for like the next couple of weeks. And then somebody kept making dairy free everything as a joke. So those are some of the fun things you can look forward to,

Unknown Speaker 1:25:26
if you live in. Oh, that’s

Rebecca Mesritz 1:25:28
so good. I love that so much.

Jesse Stone 1:25:32
Oh, hang on. Last one. Very last one, how I knew I needed to leave a comment that I was living in. I was really unhappy. And remember, I came from a Christian cult and I had not been out of it that long. And so some guy there when completely crazy thought that he’d met God that that he was God’s prophet. Like this came out of nowhere. He had been like the community accountant and was an atheist. And then all of a sudden, he was like, I’ve seen God done it. So he came to me and he was like, yeah, hey, God told me to poison the lunch. Because all these people are sinners, except for you. So he told me to tell you not to eat the lunch, but like everybody else has to go. And I was so unhappy at the time. I was like, All right, thanks.

Unknown Speaker 1:26:16
Let’s just didn’t eat lunch.

Jesse Stone 1:26:27
Oh, oh, my gosh, too much. You can edit it out. But those are. Those are

Unknown Speaker 1:26:32
what happened to him. What happened? He left to do

Jesse Stone 1:26:36
a working vacation at another community. A bear attacked his tent. And then he just walked away on foot. And we never heard from him again.

Unknown Speaker 1:26:44
Whoa, yeah. Oh, my gosh, there’s

Rebecca Mesritz 1:26:51
there’s some kooky folks out there. It’s

Speaker 4 1:26:56
interesting things about community is that it like in order to really want to,

Rebecca Mesritz 1:27:03
in order to be so committed to the fact that like the mainstream default world doesn’t work. You have to be like, I’m gonna do something different. And like, yes, to be that person, you either have to have a huge amount of internal fortitude or a huge amount of crazy.

Jesse Stone 1:27:19
There’s Well, that’s exactly it. Yes. Yeah. mix of both is usually the recipe.

Rebecca Mesritz 1:27:28
Oh, my gosh, well, Jesse Stone, thank you so much for sharing your your insights on cults and your very entertaining cult stories. And it’s just been such a pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you so much.

Jesse Stone 1:27:42
I love your podcast. And thank you so much for having me. It’s really fun.

Rebecca Mesritz 1:27:51
Are you ready to go join a cult now? Or do you have some good ideas about the tips and tricks of cults that you can integrate into your community? I’d love to hear about how this episode landed for you. Please reach out to me on Instagram and Facebook at inside community podcast. You can also find a transcript and show notes, as well as coupon codes for fic courses and the bookstore at And while you’re there, why don’t you take a minute and hit that donate button. That is how we keep the show going. It’s through your support and the support of people like you who just love this content, and want to hear more and get more and see more. So thank you, thank you, thank you to all the people who have donated. It just means so much to all of us. And thanks also to the people who do reach out to me on social media. I love hearing from you. They’re a big thank you to my guest Jesse Stone. You can find her podcast wherever you listen to podcasts. And in case you missed it, it’s called cults I’d join co hosted with her buddy Amarin link. Jesse wanted me to give a special shout out to Devin Sproul, who wrote and created the theme song for their show and it’s also a very cool community Lanie I hope this episode has been meaningful to you and helpful on your community journey. So much gratitude to you for being here in this conversation. And I look forward to next time. Thanks.

Dave Booda 1:29:19
Who left the dishes in the shared kitchen sink? Who helps Johnny when is too much to drink? How do we find new way for everyone to agree that since Can you it’s a podcast y’all

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The Inside Community Podcast brings folks along for an inside look at all of the beautiful and messy realities of creating and sustaining a community. We provide useful and inspiring content to support people on their quest for resilience, sustainability, and connection.

Meet Your Host

Inside Community Podcast host Rebecca Mesritz is a community builder living in Williams, Oregon.  In 2011, Rebecca co-founded the Emerald Village (EVO) in North County San Diego, California.  During her ten years with EVO, she supported and led numerous programs and initiatives including implementation and training of the community in Sociocracy, establishment of the Animal Husbandry program, leadership of the Land Circle, hosting numerous internal and external community events, and participation in the Human Relations Circle which holds the relational, spiritual and emotional container for their work. 

In June of 2021, with the blessing of EVO, Rebecca and 3 other co-founders relocated to begin a new, mission- driven community and learning center housed on 160 acres of forest and farmland.  Rebecca is passionate about communal living and sees intentional community as a tool for both personal and cultural transformation. In addition to her work in this field, she also holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from San Diego State University and creates functional, public, and interactive art in metal, wood, and pretty much any other material she can get her hands on. She is a mother, a wife, an educator, a nurturer of gardens, an epicurean lover of sustainable wholesome food, and a cultivator of compassion and beauty.

The Inside Community Podcast is sponsored by the Foundation for Intentional Community (FIC). Reach out if you are interested in sponsorship or advertisement opportunities on the podcast.

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