An unknown author who went under the name Muertos wrote a series of blogs about Desteni scam cult. Later he deleted all of his works to persue a more private life away from the anti-conspiracy circuit. I’m re-hosting here because I think they were important. I need to be clear that I do not agree with the author’s assertion that The Zeitgeist Movement nor The Venus Project is a cult.
Desteni: A Conspiracy Cult. (UPDATED!)
This blog, originally published May 6, 2011, was updated on May 14. Scroll to the end for the update.
If you’ve been a regular reader of my blog for a while you might be led to believe that the Zeitgeist Movement is the only cult out there that uses conspiracy theories as a recruitment tool. As much as I wish that was true, unfortunately it isn’t. I’m writing today for the first time on another and even more disturbing cult which has recently come to my attention: an organization called “Desteni.” And after having investigated this group for only a short time, let me tell you―if you think Zeitgeist is pretty far out there, you haven’t seen anything yet. Desteni makes the Zeitgeist Movement look like the Rotary Club.
Desteni was founded in 2007 by a South African named Bernard Poolman. While I will be researching Poolman’s background more fully, from what I’ve been able to gather so far he is evidently a former police officer, and he now runs a farm in rural South Africa. He communicates with the members of his group mostly through YouTube, where Poolman presents himself as some sort of bizarre horned creature. I won’t show it to you because I plan to place an audio/video version of this blog on YouTube, and it seems the Destenians are extremely aggressive about flagging critical YouTube videos with false DMCA claims―a practice not unlike the one occasionally utilized by more militant Zeitgeisters. Just trust me on this, Poolman’s avatar is like something out of an Umberto Eco novel.
Desteni seems to have something else in common with Zeitgeist. Poolman’s group advocates something called the “Equal Money System.” The exact nature of this is somewhat vague to me, but it appears to be a utopian idea aimed at guaranteeing everyone on earth a basic standard of living, and all sorts of benefits are supposed to result from the institution of this system―for example, war, poverty and greed will become a thing of the past. These are not unlike the promises supposed to come from Zeitgeist’s “Resource Based Economy.” In contrast with Zeitgeist, however, Poolman and Desteni advocate an entire elaborate system of New Age living. Poolman and his chief lieutenants cloak themselves in New Age rhetoric. For instance, there’s a lot of talk about “channeling,” a classic New Age concept. It gets a little scary when you realize who and what they’re channeling, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Also like Zeitgeist, Desteni’s ideology―to the extent it is coherent―is predicated on a worldview that depends heavily upon conspiracy theories. They just use different theories than Zeitgeisters do. A lot of Destenians seem to believe in theories similar to those advanced by world-class nutbar David Icke, who believes that the world is controlled by a race of reptilian shape-shifting aliens. The most visible spokesperson for Desteni, a woman named Sunette Spies—who has got to be one of the weirdest cult icons I’ve ever seen—frequently references reptilians in her bizarre videos. Additionally, on Desteni’s forums you can find frequent references to “reptilians,” and although they don’t hit it as hard as, say, the Zeitgeist Movement advances 9/11 Truth theories, it is clear that “reptilian” conspiracy theories are an important factor driving interest in the cult. (Example here). What’s problematic about these “reptilian” conspiracy theories―aside from the fact that they are totally divorced from reality―is that many observers of the conspiracy underground have pointed out that Icke’s theories are simply science-fiction redresses of “Jewish world conspiracy” theories popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially in Europe. These theories held that Jews were an elite cabal of bankers and politicians intent on taking over the world. Substitute shape-shifting reptilian aliens for Jews and you’ve got David Icke’s theories. The anti-semitic bent of reptilian conspiracy theories is very disturbing. Many Destenians also seem to be believers in the “Illuminati” and “New World Order” conspiracy theories.
It gets more disturbing when you realize who Poolman and his people claim to be channeling, if I may return to that concept. Given what I’ve said so far, if you had one guess as to who Poolman likes to channel, who would it be? Yup, you guessed it…Adolf Hitler. Yes, Desteni openly advocates the rehabilitation of Hitler’s public image, focusing on the occult aspects of Nazi ideology. Lots of other people, and a fair number of inanimate objects, have also evidently been channeled, everybody from L. Ron Hubbard to a gas pump. To date I’ve only seen a very few of these videos, but the ones I have seen are exactly as bizarre as you would imagine.
Behind the “Equal Money System” and the New Age rhetoric, however, Desteni appears to be what many cults are at their core―a business. The real purpose for the group’s existence seems to be as a tool of financial enrichment of its founder, Bernard Poolman. From Desteni’s website you’re encouraged to buy a number of books, videos and especially “self-improvement courses” in how to improve your life―exactly the same thing that Scientology sells, and makes millions of dollars a year at. Indeed the financial aspect of the cult, exemplified by something called the “Desteni I Process,” is very obviously a pyramid scheme. The website uses language like “Downline” and other terms borrowed wholesale from Amway, Quixtar and other pyramid and multi-level-marketing outfits. The price of participating in Desteni is steep. For starters you’ll be paying 200 Euros―almost 300 U.S. dollars a month, and the website clearly states that there is no refund available at any time. In addition to the pyramid scheme, another part of the scam seems to be to attract followers to visit Poolman on his farm in South Africa. Naturally, followers have to pay for this privilege. It is not know what actually goes on at this farm, but I’ve seen statements that Poolman encourages his followers to use Ecstasy while under his supervision.
What is most disturbing to me, aside from the anti-Semitic aspects of this group, is the behavior of the members on their forum. Evidently Desteni members are encouraged to post their deepest, darkest secrets on the forum and on the blogs and YouTube channels they’re heavily encouraged to create. This is part of a process called “self-forgiveness.” These confessions range the gambit, everything from sexual fantasies to involvement with gangs. In addition to subjecting their lives and even their thoughts to the dictates of Desteni orthodoxy, I believe these confessions are intended to give the group’s leader potential leverage over his followers. That these people, most of them young, are willing to post their darkest secrets online at their leader’s behest is a huge red flag.
There’s also an eerie sameness in the appearance of Desteni followers. Poolman encourages his members to shave their heads, for what reason I haven’t yet been able to fathom. Sure enough, the avatars of Desteni members on their web forum and their appearance in YouTube videos display an awful lot of shaved heads. Here is the cult leader controlling even the appearance and grooming of his followers.
I’ve also come across a lot of stories of Desteni members being encouraged to isolate themselves from family members and friends who are not in the group. This is very similar to Scientology’s practice of “disconnection.” In short, Desteni exhibits all the characteristics of a destructive and dangerous cult.
I’ve only just begun to investigate the Desteni phenomenon. This blog is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis of this cult, merely a statement of the features of it that have piqued my interest. Perhaps some of the things I’ve observed about this cult are wrong. Frankly, I hope they are, because this organization seems on the face of it like an especially pernicious group. The synthesis of conspiracy theories and a utopian ideology into a cult is nothing new―we saw that same pattern with the Zeitgeist Movement. Desteni, however, while being much smaller than Zeitgeist, seems to be far more extreme. How extreme are they? That’s one of the questions I hope to answer.
It’s likely I will be posting more blogs about Desteni as I continue my exploration of this very strange, but admittedly fascinating, conspiracy theorist cult.
Thanks for reading.
Update: May 14, 2011
This blog has caught the attention of the Destenians. There is now a topic open on their forum (click here) where its author, Darryl Thomas, promises to “deconstruct” my blog, one paragraph at a time, on an ongoing basis.
Here’s his rationale for doing so:
“Even the title betrays his hopeless, towering ignorance on the subject he opines on. That’s why I have to do this. I have to demolish the bogus thesis of “MUERTOS” in public, one paragraph at a time, once a day, every day, until we finally reach to the end of his tiresome, long-winded and insipid screed, by which time we will have torn to shreds all the point-by-point, all opinions made by “MUERTOS” and will have had a good laugh in the process.”
All I can say is that he’d better pick up the pace. I’m posting a second blog on Desteni this very afternoon, which is considerably longer than this one, so he’d better get cracking!
The Desteni Cult and Conspiracy Theories: Pandering to the Paranoid.
In this blog, I continue my investigation of the South Africa-based Internet cult known as Desteni. Specifically, in this blog I’ll examine the degree to which Desteni espouses conspiracy theory ideology and uses conspiracy theories as a tool to recruit new members. In my analysis I’ll examine six specific conspiracy theories as they relate to Desteni: reptilians; the “New World Order”; 9/11 Truth; HAARP; global warming denial; and anti-vaccination.
1. Reptilians (“Icketilians”)
The conspiracy theory that seems to unite the majority of Desteni cult members is belief in reptilians. I spoke about this in my last blog. The basic idea is that a race of reptilian extraterrestrials secretly controls the world and has guided most of human history. I refer to these creatures as “Icketilians” because this theory was popularized by notorious British conspiracist David Icke in the 1990s, who created the theory as a science-fiction redress of the old “Jewish world conspiracy” theories from the early 20th century, with reptilian aliens standing in for Jews. These are also called “interdimensional reptoids” because supposedly they come from another dimension. Despite the fact that the entire idea is offensive and ludicrous, and there’s never been a shred of evidence that these creatures actually exist, Desteni heavily promotes belief in reptilians. Here is Desteni leader Bernard Poolman ranting about “reptilian sleeper cells”:
“They have placed sleepers into play to challenge any group that may in any way challenge the reptilian control and the control of the New World Order and the elite. And they will then claim to be anti-New World Order, anti-elite and anti-Zionist and all those things, but in fact they are just organic robots that act within their predesigned objective to stop any group from bringing about equality and what is best for all because that would break the control of the reptilian mind control.”
Although we have here direct evidence of the cult’s leader warning his followers about evil reptilians trying to control peoples’ minds, Desteni does not endorse the work of David Icke wholesale. Here is Desteni spokesperson Sunette Spies espousing the cult’s views on Icketilians:
“I initially studied David Icke’s work, and was not satisfied with his presentation of [reptilians]. There was simply no proof. I mean, he suddenly made a big jump of assumption about Reptilians. And they were all bad.…So whether the Reptilians are all bad or good, or whether they are aliens or whatever they are, I’m really not interested.”
If you’re familiar with the Icketilians theory, you know that one of the favorite things that believers in this conspiracy theory like to do is to watch videos on YouTube of celebrities and politicians—who are all secretly reptilians merely pretending to be human—and seize upon things such as eye movements, bulging veins or flaws in the low-quality videos as supposed “proof” that the person being observed is actually an alien. Here is an example, taken from the Desteni forums, of a conspiracy theorist doing exactly that (the embedded links are the “proof” videos the conspiracy theorist is referring to:
“These are some videos that make me think they [reptilians] exist… I cannot get past this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0cxmBuIKO0)…his neck at 2:55, 4:00… his very quick eye movement. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eaaubr3nnHI)…slits throughout… :35 is a strange area… (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQVfQCpYocQ)…the woman… just the first minute of the video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFBcjII3QAE)…”
The response by a more seasoned Desteni member:
“It’s cool that you found Desteni through your interest in reptilians, but realize that this site is not about ‘theory’ on the reptilians but about a solution to this reality that is best for all. Within that the reptilians have shared perspectives through the portal which I suggest you check out if you havent already. You can search for them on youtube.”
The “portal” being referred to is an “interdimensional portal.” This is the portal through which Desteni members such as Sunette Spies claim to channel the spirits of various people and objects, including Hitler. This idea—minus the channeling—is borrowed from David Icke. In any event, it should be obvious from these examples that belief in reptilians is a key tenet of the Desteni cult, and that new members are attracted to the organization precisely because of this conspiracy theory.
Also notice another dynamic which is universal to cults that promote conspiracy theories: the cult itself is presented as the “cure” for the evils complained of by the conspiracy theorists—in this case, Desteni’s way of life is explicitly advanced as the “solution” to the reptilians. I’ll return to this point later.
2. Illuminati & “New World Order”
Closely related to the Icketilians is belief in the “Illuminati” and/or the “New World Order.” In terms of sheer numbers who believe in it, this may be the most popular conspiracy theory in the English-speaking world (and a fair amount of the non-English speaking world as well). The theory has almost as many variations as it has adherents, but the basic gist is that a secret cabal called the “Illuminati” is planning to enslave the planet under a totalitarian one-world government. Naturally this hasn’t happened yet, but conspiracy theorists insist that every action taken by almost any government or large corporation anywhere is a piece of the puzzle, and this grim totalitarian future, the “New World Order,” must be resisted by all means necessary. Huckster Alex Jones, the most popular mouthpiece of conspiracy theories currently in the United States, has made his career pushing this ridiculous theory despite the absence of a single shred of evidence that the Illuminati or the New World Order actually exist.
Needless to say, Destenians believe in this too. Once again we have pronouncements from the leader, Poolman, clearly stating that the New World Order exists. Here he is warning his followers that marijuana is a tool of the New World Order. And yes, as with reptilians, the Desteni cult is viewed as the cure—Poolman explicitly says (here) that his “Equal Money” system will end the Illuminati and forestall the New World Order.
Desteni followers internalize belief in this theory. Here is one follower expressing his fear of the Illuminati and their control:
“are we doomed to fall under this illuminati mind control or will we rise up and defend truth. Afterall is done, life will continue. Am i to remain obscure and declare freedom for myself?
Is part of the illuminati control to instill a feeling of undoubtable fear, and ultimate ruin unless one belongs to it[?]”
A more experienced member replies:
“There is nowhere to run to, Peter. The control is everywhere. The only thing you can do is to start working on yourself so you won’t be effected by it and by others. That’s why we offer the Structural Reesonance Alignment as a working tool to align self to be effective in this world.”
So far as I can tell, belief in some form of the Illuminati and the New World Order is universal within this cult. If anyone can provide me with example of a Destenian who does not believe in this conspiracy theory, please let me know.
3. 9/11 Truth
Surprisingly, although conspiracy theories alleging that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were some sort of “inside job” is the sina qua non of modern conspiracy thinking, Desteni doesn’t seem to hit “9/11 Truth” as hard as you might expect. They don’t seem to talk about it that much. Perhaps their belief that September 11 was an “inside job” is so axiomatic as to be accepted without discussion—which is rather alarming. Nevertheless, I did find evidence that Destenians are 9/11 Truthers. Bernard Poolman seems to be. In a forum post (here) Poolman recommends to his followers a book called Shell Game by Steve Alten. Shell Game is a novel that uses the 9/11 conspiracy theory as its starting premise. One wonders why Poolman would advocate that his followers read this book if he didn’t believe that 9/11 was an inside job.
Here is a quote from the Desteni forums which indicates followers believe in 9/11, and also illustrates how these conspiracy theories dovetail with each other in the minds of these paranoid people:
“After the demolition of the twin tower and the new project for the building there i came back to the excellent parts of [D]avid [Ic]ke’s research, because in this field I think he is on the right track.”
It should go without saying that David Icke, in addition to believing in interdimensional reptoids, also believes that September 11 was an “inside job.”
HAARP is a conspiracy theory whose believers think that a giant machine, built and controlled by the U.S. government, can manipulate weather patterns and cause earthquakes and natural disasters anywhere in the world at any time. HAARP takes its acronym from an actual U.S. government research project that—naturally—was not even close to what the conspiracy believers say it was, and didn’t work anyway. This doesn’t stop HAARP believers from pointing the finger at the U.S. government for every major natural disaster that occurs, such as this Destenian did after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti:
“Yes — I have seen some of the facts, and the Haiti earthquake does look like Haarp had something to do with it — but you must consider the fact that you/all contribute to the existence of Haarp technology in the first place. The world currently is f*cked! Ask yourself: how and where am I currently supporting such a catastrophic result like Haarp or the haitian earthquake?”
One wonders what “facts” this person saw, because none of them actually indicate that the Haitian earthquake was anything other than what it appeared to be. The notion that governments or secret societies can cause earthquakes is total science fiction, but the Destenians seem to believe it.
5. Global Warming Denial
Few conspiracy theorists believe that anthropogenic global warming is real, despite the undeniable scientific evidence that it is. Although global warming denial can take a non-conspiratorial form, the idea that anthropogenic global warming is a hoax or some sort of scam is very easily co-opted into various other conspiratorial mindsets. Destenians, as you might expect, love this conspiracy theory too. Here is Sunette Spies again—official dogma of the Desteni cult—directly asserting that global warming is a conspiracy:
“We have discovered that global warming is not caused due to natural causes, or even chemically induced causes such as pollution, but that global warming is actually a man-made manifestation in and of this world. There are devices that are being utilized of Tesla technology that manifest a magnifying glass formation in the atmosphere of this world over certain specific allocations in this world, which is causing the effect thereof as the ice melting.”
The theories of Nikola Tesla are favorites of conspiracy theorists. Tesla technology is often asserted as the mechanism behind the magical machines that conspiracy theorists believe in, such as HAARP, or some of the more extreme 9/11 Truthers who believe the World Trade Center towers were destroyed by secret beam weapons.
Here is another Destenian parroting global warming denial conspiracy theories:
“I know that “CO2 related global warming” is a scam being used for many agendas, and relates to the carbon taxes being planned for humans. To get this information I had to research and connect dots and sort through the conspiracy… yet does this behavior contribute to the power of the conspiracy itself and does it engender other conspiracies to exist?”
Gee, what do you think this Destenian believes about whether global warming denial engenders other supposed conspiracies? Conspiracy theories are like potato chips. You can’t eat just one. Usually you end up swallowing the whole bag.
The final example involves anti-vaccination rhetoric. Anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists—“anti-vaxxers,” for short—believe that vaccines are a sham created by drug companies and governments, usually either to make money for drug companies, or, in more extreme versions, to deliberately cause diseases either to kill people or to render them easier to control. Anti-vaxxer rhetoric is extremely dangerous because it directly results in the deaths of innocent people, usually children. It’s tragic and simple: parents fall for conspiracy theories about vaccines, then refuse to get their children vaccinated, and the children die of diseases that could be easily prevented. For example, a recent measles outbreak in Minneapolis has been tied to irrational fears about measles vaccines causing autism—a fear that is totally without scientific basis. The sad effects of anti-vaxx rhetoric are a prime examples of how conspiracy theories can hurt people.
It shouldn’t surprise you that Destenians buy into anti-vaxx theories. In this brief quote you’ll see not only evidence of anti-vaxx belief, but also New World Order and anti-Semitic “Jewish world conspiracy” theories:
“So…. the “elite” seem to be going through with population reduction and this is just the first step I am sure. I read an article dealing with the swine bullsh*t and it was said that this whole scheme originated out of new york city — David Rockefeller was mentioned as orchestrator, and obviously the JEWS had to be in on it too (Orthodox, jewish elite, own/run NYC). The public schools are now going to hold mandatory vaccanations….. my sister ‘fortunately’, is aware of the propaganda and will not allow jabbing… my brother, on the other hand, is of sheeple-type, and willing-lie shall comp-lie.”
The word “sheeple” is a conspiracy theorist buzzword, used to refer to those who do not believe in conspiracy theories and are supposedly duped by the powers-that-be. The anti-Semitic aspects of Desteni’s belief systems, clearly on display here, will be the subject of a future blog.
Why Does Desteni Use Conspiracy Theories?
These examples amply demonstrate that Desteni uses conspiracy theories very heavily in order to recruit and retain its members. This is not the only technique that the cult employs, but it’s clearly an important one; the virtually universal belief in conspiracy theories by Desteni members, from cult leader Bernard Poolman down to the rank-and-file who post on the forums, shows that conspiracy theories are one of the cornerstones of this organization’s belief system.
The question is worth asking: why would a cult rely on conspiracy theories to recruit and retain followers? I believe there are three main reasons.
First, conspiracy theories are very attractive to Internet-savvy young people who are interested in non-mainstream ideas. Years ago it used to be that conspiracy theorists were fringe geeks who traded newsletters by mail in a very loose-knit underground. With the Internet, belief in conspiracy theories has absolutely exploded, and the prevalence in these themes of distrust of government, media and other mainstream social institutions is tailor-made for disaffected and disillusioned young people—the key demographic of many cults.
Second, conspiracy theories attract people who think a certain way. All of these theories are profoundly illogical. In order to believe in nuttery like 9/11 Truth, HAARP or Icketilians, you must necessarily disregard common sense and logical thinking, and accept uncritically pieces of “evidence” that look and sound authoritative but are factually and rationally incorrect. These processes that conspiracy theories thrive in the absence of—critical thinking, rational inquiry, and insistence upon reliable evidence—are the exact same thought processes that would be required to recognize the characteristics of a destructive and manipulative cult. In short, conspiracy theories attract people who, by virtue of the way they think, are much more likely to fall for cults in the first place.
Third, as I stated earlier, cults that promote conspiracy theories universally advance themselves and their ideology as the “cure” or “solution” to the evils of these conspiratorial plots. If you’re outraged that the Illluminati is cooking the books on global warming, tearing down the World Trade Center or putting bad things in vaccines, well, you can fix all that by joining the cult and advancing its ideology. Desteni’s leader Bernard Poolman shamelessly and repeatedly emphasizes that Desteni is the answer to everything and will specifically end these conspiracies once and for all.
A Potential Objection to My Evidence
A potential criticism of this blog may be that some of the evidence I present for Desteni’s involvement with conspiracy theories comes from their web forum. Someone could claim that characterizing Desteni’s more or less “official” ideology by reference to what members say on their forum is unfair, or “guilt by association.” In Desteni’s case this criticism would be incorrect. The Desteni web forums are very heavily policed, and on the forum you can in fact find an explicit warning about expressing any form of opinion:
“WHAT HAPPENS IF I USE THIS FORUM TO EXPRESS MY OPINIONS?
YOU WILL BE BANNED! We have made it very clear that this forum is not there for people to express and validate their opinions. The Desteni forum is there for people who would like to discuss the DESTENI MATERIAL and share their Self-Honesty Processes within the DESTENI MATERIAL.”
If Desteni insists, therefore, that any opinions on their forum are verboten, and their forum contains numerous and repeated references to conspiracy theories, it stands to reason that the Destenians believe the conspiracy viewpoints expressed there are not opinions, but facts. Furthermore, the sheer volume of conspiracy material on Desteni’s blogs indicates that this is not a benign gathering of people who come together for some other reason, and some of them happen to believe in conspiracy theories independently of their Desteni connections. I believe I have amply demonstrated that, far from being incidental, conspiracy thinking lies at the very heart of Desteni’s belief system.
I will deal with other aspects of Destenian ideology in future blogs.
Thanks for reading.
Desteni’s Enemies List: An Inherent Contradiction.
So far I’ve posted two blogs about the strange South Africa-based conspiracy cult known as Desteni. After only two blogs, audio versions of which I posted on YouTube, I found my YouTube account listed in a topic on the Desteni forums entitled “Suggested Ban”. The purpose of this list is obvious: these are users who the Desteni cult wants banned from YouTube for criticizing them. Plain and simple, it’s an enemies list.
Desteni also has a Facebook enemies list. I’m not on it yet, but I expect I will be soon enough.
I was introduced to the phenomenon of conspiracy cults’ enemies lists last fall, when my name suddenly appeared on a similar list maintained by the Zeitgeist Movement. (It’s here). That list was largely the brainchild of former Zeitgeist spokesperson Neil Kiernan Stephenson, “VTV.” VTV and other Zeitgeist boosters consistently denied that it was an enemies list—according to them the reason for the list was to warn Zeitgeist members about people who would try to friend them on Facebook and steal their personal information. Not only did I never do this, but I’ve never once attempted to “friend” a Zeitgeister on Facebook at any time. My only crime against the Zeitgeist Movement was speaking out against them, pushing back against their conspiracy theories, their ideology and their reflexive attacks against anyone who criticizes them.
I’ve wound up on Desteni’s enemies list for doing far less than that. My residence on the Zeitgeist enemies list came almost eight months after I posted my first blog highlighting the primacy of conspiracy theory ideology to the Zeitgeist Movement. By contrast I’ve been publicly critical of Desteni for barely two weeks. Yet, not only is my YouTube channel listed on Desteni’s roster of users they want to try to ban, but I am the specific subject of a topic on the Desteni forums where prominent spokesperson Darryl Thomas has announced that he intends to refute one paragraph of my anti-Desteni blogs each day. The charge the Destenians level against me, predictably, is “hate speech.” I challenge anyone to find a single example of “hate speech” as that term is defined by any jurisdiction where “hate speech” is prohibited by law. It’s very clear that Desteni is totally and deliberately misunderstanding the concept of “hate speech” by construing it as encompassing any statement about their group that they don’t agree with.
At least I have good company. Desteni’s enemies list is literally hundreds of entries long and growing by the dozens every time it’s updated. As I stated in my first blog about them, they are extremely aggressive in trying to silence their critics. Unlike Zeitgeist, who cloaks their enemies list in paragraph after paragraph of bold-faced disclaimers about why it’s supposedly not an enemies list, Desteni makes no such attempts. They’re very forthright about going after their critics, going so far as to have a stickied topic on their forum with instructions to cult members about how to get people banned from YouTube.
There are two points I want to make about enemies lists. The first is that the very existence of these lists is wholly incompatible with the notion of friendly movements based on social justice that preach prescriptions for a better and more harmonious world—which both Zeitgeist and Desteni profess to do. Destenians supposedly value doing “what’s best for all” and insist that their program will help the entire earth enjoy newfound respect and the maximization of human potential. The very notion that a group with those professed goals would keep—much less make public—a list of enemies to be retaliated against for their viewpoints is totally inconsistent with the reasons these organizations say they exist. Simply put, any group preaching peace, love and a better world that also has an enemies list should be automatically suspect.
The second point is that enemies lists seem to be yet another hallmark of cults who seek to control what is said about them, and more importantly, what their own members hear. The paradigm example of a cult’s enemies list is Scientology’s practice of labeling detractors as “Suppressive Persons” or SP’s. Most SP’s are family members of current Scientology members who don’t support the group and are likely to encourage their loved ones to leave—hence Scientology’s doctrine of “Disconnection,” where a cult member is ordered to sever all ties to the SP. Naturally this practice is believed to inure to the benefit of the cult member, who will no longer receive negative feedback from the critic.
Exactly the same dynamic is at work in both Zeitgeist and Desteni. Zeitgeist’s enemies list is specifically promoted as being for the “protection” of cult members, with the transparent fiction of preventing evil trolls—the word Zeitgeist uses to refer to critics—from stealing members’ personal information. Much of Desteni’s advice to followers similarly seeks to minimize criticism—Destenians call it “backchat” and urge their followers not to pay attention to it, despite the obvious hypocrisy that they pay a great deal of attention to it. Desteni, however, also seems interested in lashing out at those non-members who criticize them. A common tactic is to pretend they’re “protecting copyrighted material,” which is why unfounded DMCA claims are a favorite tool of the Destenians to target materials, especially videos, that they don’t like.
Two weeks ago, I venture to say no one in Desteni had ever heard of me. The fact that I have been targeted so swiftly and vehemently is itself, I believe, a piece of evidence that tends to indicate the controlling and authoritarian nature of this group. I’m taking precautions to make sure my blogs and videos will be mirrored and continue to be available, in the event that Desteni pursues their threats to ban me. Should they decide to make an attempt to silence me, rest assured that that attempt will fail. In the meantime, it’s worth thinking about why a group that claims to be for the benefit of mankind goes on the attack so quickly and with such gusto. I propose that Desteni’s attack is inherent in the nature of its organization and ideology. This is a group that cannot permit dissent, and which profits from the effort to push back against dissenters. It’s easier to maintain cohesion within the group, after all, if its members can be united in the struggle against a common enemy.
Thanks for reading.
Deconstructing Desteni: A Critic Serves Me Word Salad.
As I mentioned in the update to my first blog about the conspiracy theory cult known as Desteni, I’ve recently attracted the negative attention of self-appointed Desteni spokesperson Darryl Thomas. On May 13, Darryl started a topic on the Desteni forums entitled “Deconstructing MUERTOS Every Day Project,” where he refutes my first Desteni blog paragraph by paragraph. He also started a WordPress blog with this same title where he copies-and-pastes the same text as in the topic on the Desteni forums.
Darryl writes a great many words, but it’s somewhat difficult to follow his main arguments because they aren’t very concise. Mostly he throws a lot of colorful pejoratives my way—vapid, insipid, tiresome, trifling, sloppy, etc.—but his main points are lost in the word salad. To the extent I can discern a few main themes, Darryl appears to be asserting the following:
- Desteni is not a cult.
- My comparison of Desteni to Zeitgeist is unfair because Desteni opposes Zeitgeist too.
- I have not investigated Desteni extensively and don’t know what I’m talking about.
- Desteni does not subscribe to conspiracy theories such as David Icke’s reptilians.
- I am a conspiracy theorist.
- Desteni does not advocate “channeling,” but rather an “Interdimensional Portal.”
- The Desteni I Process is not a multi-level-marketing pyramid scam.
- Adolf Hitler wasn’t such a bad guy.
If these arguments were coherently expressed, there might be grounds here for legitimate debate. Unfortunately, Darryl merely asserts these arguments as conclusions but doesn’t do much to flesh them out. For example, in denying that Desteni is a cult, Darryl tries to set up the argument by citing the Oxford Dictionary definition of a cult, which has four main points, but then goes off on a tangent about Zeitgeist and never gets around to explaining why Desteni doesn’t fit the definition. Similarly, when he claims I’m a conspiracy theorist, he just posits the accusation and moves on. (Incidentally, conspiracy theorists, who generally hate being called conspiracy theorists, will do anything to try to twist the definition of “conspiracy theorist” to fit whoever is criticizing them. For more on this issue, see this article and scroll down to point number 8).
A key point of Darryl’s responses seem to revolve around making distinctions between things I argue about Desteni and what he claims Desteni really is. The problem is that he never makes the distinctions clear. For example, Darryl says I’m wrong to claim that Desteni believes in conspiracy theories involving reptilian overlords similar to those advanced by David Icke, but he doesn’t establish why there’s any meaningful difference between David Icke’s imaginary reptilians and the imaginary reptilians that Desteni believes in. With regard to the “Interdimensional Portal,” Darryl doesn’t make clear what the difference is between this and “channeling”—the difference, if there is one at all, is totally semantic.
In short, there’s very little of any substance in Darryl’s responses. If I may go so far as to suggest a way to improve his supposed daily refutations of me, I would advise Darryl to start by making cogent, well-constructed arguments and sticking to the point. For example, if he wishes to argue that Desteni is not a cult, he should proceed point-by-point through a definition of what a cult is and demonstrate why Desteni does not meet those points. Incidentally, while there are many definitions of cults, I like the definition used by Operation Clambake which has five main points:
1. It uses psychological coercion to recruit, indoctrinate and retain its members.
2. It forms an elitist totalitarian society.
3. Its founder/leader is self-appointed, dogmatic, messianic, not accountable and has charisma.
4. It believes “the end justifies the means” in order to solicit funds and recruit people.
5. Its wealth does not benefit its members or society.
If Darryl wishes to argue that Desteni does not meet these five points, let him do so; or, conversely, if he wishes to challenge me to argue that these points do fit Desteni, that is an entirely reasonable basis for a rational debate. What he’s posted, however, falls far short of this standard.
Incidentally, I don’t believe Darryl is really that interested in “deconstructing” me “daily.” Not only has the “Deconstructing MUERTOS Daily” blog not been updated in five days, but he’s already moved on to “deconstructing” another Desteni critic in much the same rambling and incoherent manner. Darryl’s response is the classic conspiracy theorist form of pseudo-argumentation: meaningless generalizations, conclusory statements not backed up with argument, and lack of any logical coherent structure. While he probably will respond to this blog, I doubt that his response will be much different than what he’s already said.
Thanks for reading.
The Desteni I Process: Amway for Conspiracy Theorists.
This blog is a continuation of my investigation into the South Africa-based cult known as Desteni. This organization, which uses conspiracy theories like “reptilians” and the “New World Order” as one of their marketing tools, is somewhat unusual among conspiracy cults. While many cults are devised as money-making opportunities and even structured as business enterprises—Scientology, for example—Desteni is somewhat unique in that it advances itself and its ideology with a “multi-level-marketing” scheme. It is this specific aspect of the cult, which is called the “Desteni I Process,” that is the subject of this article.
What is Multi-Level-Marketing?
Before we begin, it’s important to understand what multi-level-marketing (“MLM”) is. It’s a somewhat questionable business model where a product or service is sold via a network of salespeople, often called distributors, who supposedly make money by selling the product or service and then collecting a cut of everything sold by the distributors they recruited. Does this sound to you like the definition of a pyramid scheme? It is.
Here’s an example to demonstrate how it works. Let’s say I run into you at a coffee shop and tell you about this great new soap I found. Acme SuperSoap®™ cleans everything. I can’t stop raving about it. I tell you I have a couple of bars in my car and I’m willing to sell them to you. You buy some for $1 apiece. The next day I call you up and tell you that in addition to the great product itself, I’m getting rich by recruiting others to sell Acme SuperSoap. You eagerly sign up, and you start selling Acme SuperSoap yourself. But you have to buy all the soap that you sell from me. I pocket 20 cents on every bar you buy from me. But I also collect a commission on bars you sell to your friends, which you have to buy from me first, and the bars that they sell to their friends, which they have to buy from you. Theoretically we both get rich as Acme SuperSoap takes the world by storm. If one of your friends who you recruited opens an Acme SuperSoap franchise in Beijing and manages to sell a single bar to every man, woman and child in China, we’re instant billionaires, and we live happily ever after.
The biggest MLM business in the world is Amway, which most people have heard of. They began in the 1950s selling—guess what?—soap. There are now thousands of MLM schemes out there. Some are legal, and some aren’t. But they all function pretty much the same. (Note: Desteni is not affiliated with Amway).
Why doesn’t MLM work?
The above example should illustrate to you why MLM doesn’t work in the real world: the model functions on the basis of infinite expansion, and there just aren’t enough potential recruits out there to result in big money for more than a very few—and very lucky—distributors. How many people do you personally know who would really be that interested in becoming a soap distributor? Even if the product you’re selling is reputable and a good product, because the MLM model emphasizes recruitment of distributors more than the selling of products, what money there is to be made doesn’t come from sales—unless of course you’re Amway or Acme, the ultimate source of all the products these eager distributors are trying to recruit each other to sell. Keep this point in mind because it’s crucial to understand the Desteni I Process.
These days MLM is everywhere. I will bet that virtually everybody who’s reading this blog right now has been hustled by a friend, acquaintance or total stranger trying to rope them into an MLM scheme. You might think that the ubiquity of these schemes means people are making big money at them. You’d be wrong. The vast majority of MLM participants, even in Amway, lose money on the scheme because they end up buying more of whatever products are being sold than they sell, and because they don’t end up recruiting many distributors. My dad has been in Amway for years, and he’s never made a dime. The main thing that keeps MLM schemes going is hope: hope of making money, of retiring with some big bank, and hope that is kept alive by motivational tapes, books and videos that themselves form the basis of a separate for-profit industry that clings to MLM schemes like pilotfish on a whale. This is certainly the case with Amway, where most of the money that’s being made comes from the sale of motivational materials by Amway distributors to other Amway distributors, trying to bolster their spirits and keep them participating in the scheme.
I have described MLM as a pyramid scheme, and it is. However, I’m not using the term “pyramid scheme” as being synonymous with “illegal pyramid scheme.” Whenever they are criticized for their MLM business model, for instance, devotees of Amway—who often behave eerily like Desteni or Zeitgeist members insofar as devotion to their faith is concerned—will proudly state, “We’re not a pyramid scheme. That’s been tested in court!” Well, actually what’s been tested is whether Amway is an illegal pyramid scheme. I think Amway is very spurious, but it is legal, as are other MLM schemes you may have heard of, such as Mary Kay, Prepaid Legal and others. They may be legal, but it doesn’t mean they’re not pyramid schemes, nor does it mean that they’re entirely on the up-and-up, as I will demonstrate here. (Not knowing the laws of South Africa, where I assume the Desteni I Process business is based, for purposes of this blog I assume that it is not technically illegal).
What Does Desteni Have To Do With This?
Desteni’s take on MLM is unusual. The MLM components themselves are extremely unsophisticated; it’s a very classic bare-bones verison of an MLM scheme. However, Desteni combines their MLM scheme with some of the more esoteric aspects of their cult, thus playing on a curious mixture of their followers’ spiritual, personal and financial motivations.
Here’s how it works. Step one is, you sign up for the “Desteni Self-Development and Leadership Course.” Supposedly this course takes you through Desteni’s indoctrination material on YouTube and Facebook and will show you how to “understand your inner world” and “peel off the layers of self-deception.” You’ll learn how to talk, think and act like a Destonian, and presumably at some point you’ll be asked to shave your head and you’ll be exposed to Desteni cult leader Bernard Poolman’s bizarre rants about reptilian conspiracies. Oh, did I mention this course will take you four years to get throughand will cost you €200 a month, in addition to your initial €100 registration fee? (Oh, I should say, right now Bernard’s running a special—if you sign up during July you can get a break and pay only €100 a month for the first twelve months. This is all on Desteni’s website. Yes, you read that right: the entire Desteni Self-Development and Leadership Course will cost you a total of €9700 over four years (€8500 at the sale price). At today’s exchange rate that’s a whopping $13,826 ($12,115 at the sale price). These calculations are from prices freely available on Desteni’s website.
Oh, one other thing: you can’t get a refund. The Desteni site is very clear that once you pay your money, it’s theirs. Refunds will not be granted for any purpose whatsoever. So if the Self-Development and Leadership Course isn’t working for you, you can quit, but you don’t get any portion of your money back.
So, once you’re on board to cough up nearly $14,000 to watch YouTube videos about Hitler and learn to masturbate without looking at porn, step two is, you begin recruiting others to get into the cult. According to Desteni’s website, you get paid €40 per bald head, per month, to whom you manage to sell the Desteni Self-Development and Leadership Course. Assuming your recruits are as eager to spread the word of Desteni as you are, they get their own €40 per head per month, and you get an additional kickback of €50 on the recruits-of-your-recruits. There are bonus rounds after that too. Indeed the Desteni website proudly trumpets that, if you recruit ten new Destenians, they in turn each recruit ten, and each of those ten themselves recruit ten more, you can supposedly earn €125,400 per month from Desteni. That’s the equivalent of making about $2.1 million a year. This idea—recruiting ten people who recruit ten more, who themselves recruit ten more after that—is the “mathematical equation” and the “mathematical certainty” of success that you will hear Destenians, and especially Bernard Poolman, refer to when they talk about the Desteni I Process.
But how realistic is this? Do you know ten people who believe in reptilian conspiracy theories, are interested in channeling Hitler and L. Ron Hubbard through an interdimensional portal and who aspire to drop Esctasy on a farm in South Africa? Even if you are (un)lucky enough to know one person who might fall for Desteni’s shtick, are they willing to be locked in to spending $14,000 over the next four years to join Poolman on his bizarre reptilian odyssey? As you can see from this, the chances of making even one successful sale are extremely remote. In order to even break even on what you’ll be spending on the Desteni self-improvement course you’ll need to have recruited at least five people who will go in it with you. The vast majority of Amway distributors aren’t even that successful, and Amway is selling soap, paper towels and things that people actually use in the real world, not reptilian conspiracy theories and strange masturbation techniques. I would hazard a guess that your chances of making a single cent of profit from the Desteni I Process are virtually nonexistent—unless your name happens to be Bernard Poolman.
Yeah, what about Poolman, anyway? Where is he in all of this? Every pyramid has an apex, and in Desteni, Poolman is clearly sitting right on top of it. He is not only the unquestioned leader of the Desteni cult, whose followers literally believe he can do no wrong, but he’s the one making the ultimate profit from every Desteni self-help course that gets sold. While we can’t know the inner financial workings of the Desteni business, it’s safe to surmise that it has very little overhead; the Destenians themselves do all the work by spreading the cult’s message through YouTube videos, Facebook and their ubiquitous blogs. At $14,000 for each course, with very little overhead and very few distributors with whom to share the percentage, my guess is that Poolman earns the lion’s share of every Euro, dollar and rand that goes to purchase anything Desteni-related, and the best part is that he doesn’t need a large base of followers to keep this income stream going. From his perspective—and his alone—Desteni would seem to be a very stable and profitable investment.
But Muertos, Isn’t This Just Your Opinion?
I can hear the recriminations of the Destenians right now: “This is just your opinion—you haven’t offered any proof that the Desteni I Process doesn’t work!” You need not take my word for it. My conclusions are based on a simple but reliable formula for evaluating MLM schemes developed by Dr. Jon M. Taylor of the Consumer Awareness Institute, who has conducted the most exhaustive examination to date of the economic structure of MLM schemes. Dr. Taylor’s website is a one-stop shop if you have any questions about MLM schemes. Based on his research, here are a few highlights from Dr. Taylor’s conclusions about the MLM structure in general:
“MLM programs (MLMs) typically sell “pills, potions, or lotions” or other products that have unique appeal and promise to deliver benefits not available elsewhere….One sees a strong sense of belonging, or an “us versus them” cultish mentality.
MLMs depend on unlimited recruitment of a network of endless chains of participants, and advancement up the levels in the program is only possible through recruitment of a pyramidal organization of participants, or “downline.”
As endless chains, MLMs assume infinite markets and virgin markets, neither of which exists in the real world. MLMs are therefore inherently flawed, unfair, deceptive, and profitable only for those at or near the top (top-level “upline”, or “TOPPs”, for top-of-the-pyramid promoters) – who are often the first ones to join.
Worldwide feedback suggests that MLMs are also extremely viral and predatory. MLMs quickly spread from state to state and often to vulnerable foreign markets.
MLMs typically finance their operations from purchases by participants who are incentivized to buy products to qualify for commissions and to advance to higher levels in the pyramid of participants. With the possible exception of some party plans, the majority of sales are typically to participants.”
Got all that? Cultish mentality. Those are Dr. Taylor’s words, not mine. Downline is a term you will find on the Desteni I Process website. The “TOPP” term used here perfectly describes Bernard Poolman. Vulnerable foreign markets—like South Africa. The majority of sales are typically to participants. We could have predicted that just by looking at the structure of Desteni.
Just to be sure I can back up my assumptions, I put the Desteni I Process to the test via the very handy 5-step evaluation of MLM schemes on Dr. Taylor’s website. This simple evaluation is designed as a tool for people who have been approached by MLM promoters to determine if they’re likely to make any money. Let’s go through the steps one by one:
[Red Flag # 1] “To build your business, are you required to recruit people into any kind of downline? Would you as a new recruit, by permitted and even encouraged to recruit other participants, who would in turn be encouraged to recruit still others, and they still more, etc. – from whom you could collect commissions and /or bonuses on what they buy or sell?”
In the case of the Desteni I Process, the answer is, absolutely yes. This is very explicit on the website.
[Red Flag # 2] “Advancement in the hierarchy of participants is not achieved by appointment, but by recruiting more and more participants into a downline, or pyramid of participants.”
Again, this describes Desteni exactly. The hierarchy is based totally on who recruits who. Desteni uses the term “downline” which is an MLM buzzword, and I have demonstrated here how Desteni is clearly a pyramid scheme.
[Red Flag # 3] “In order to “play the game,” or qualify for commissions and advancement, do participants have to buy a minimum amount of products or services, either at the outset or in ongoing purchases or monthly subscriptions?”
Clearly, yes. On the page that describes the Desteni I Process pricing, it makes clear that you can only get paid for your “downline” if you yourself have paid the fee for that month’s installment of the course (the €200 monthly fee). Again, no question that this describes Desteni.
[Red Flag # 4] “Does the company pay more in commissions and bonuses to upline participants than to the person making the sale?”
Yes. This is also made clear on Desteni’s website. Supposedly you get a €50 fee for each recruit that your recruits get into the cult—but your own recruits only get €40. That means there’s a €10 premium for recruiting new members who themselves will recruit others.
[Red Flag # 5] “Does the company pay overrides (commissions and bonuses) to distributors in a hierarchy of more than four levels?”
Examining Desteni’s website, it appears the answer to this is no. I counted four levels of distribution, not five. According to Dr. Taylor, five levels of distribution is a classic hallmark of an abusive MLM scheme. Desteni seems to have scraped by this one under the wire, so we’ll give them this.
Clicking “yes” on the first four red flags but not the fifth, here’s the result I received. After a huge red box that says “WARNING!”, there is this text:
“The compensation plan for this MLM company triggered 4 out of 5 red flags!
Extensive research reveals that with at least the first 4 of these five red flags in an MLM compensation plan, approximately 99% lose money….If you find all five (or even just the first four) of these red flags in a compensation plan, then the MLM program could be considered a recruiting MLM, or exploitive chain selling program (translation in many jurisdictions – “pyramid scheme”) in concept, structure, and effects. This would be true regardless of quality of products offered, type of compensation plan, company policy regarding recruiting, or any other efforts of company officials to make its program appear to be legitimate. The primary emphasis is on deriving income from recruitment, with insufficient incentives to sell products or services to the general public.”
Wait a minute…why is Desteni pushing a MLM scheme anyway? I thought they were working toward a future of economic equality with their “Equal Money System”!
Yes, it’s true—the very existence of Desteni’s MLM scheme is a contradiction. One of the marketing hooks of this cult is that they claim to be advocating for something called the “Equal Money System,” which is a basic guaranteed standard of living for all people on Earth. Naturally, everyone on Earth, once the Equal Money System, comes into being will be able to live the way millionaries do now. This is sort of a half-assed version of the already severely half-assed “resource based economy” that is pushed by another cult in the conspiracy theory business, the Zeitgeist Movement.
So what gives? Why, if Desteni wants to equalize the Earth economically, are they pushing a get-rich-quick scheme? Well, in classic cult doublespeak, Desteni leader Bernard Poolman claims that by making everyone rich through the Desteni I Process, Destenians will eventually use their money to buy political clout to change “the system” over to the Equal Money System. Curiously, there’s nothing about this on the Desteni I Process webpages; you have to drill into Poolman’s endless series of YouTube sermons in order to appreciate this point.
Astoundingly, I found one video by Poolman where he makes a claim that I guarantee you won’t hear from any other huckster of an MLM scheme. He says that the Desteni I Process will make you rich—but you’ll eventually have to give up your riches once Desteni’s Equal Money System is instituted. Yes, you heard that right. This MLM scheme will make you rich, but then you have to give it back.
It’s right here in this video. Poolman says:
“[If] you stick to the mathematical equation which you will be explained in detail you will become quite wealthy in the next ten years. That is quite a journey to walk. But remember by the time the Equal Money System is coming in to place, you will be required to give up your wealth. But be not afraid, because in the Equal Money System there will be wealth for everyone. There will not be a poor being on Earth, and the wealth that was was never wealth in fact, it was only used to manipulate systems, and we will use it to manipulate the system into equality.”
Astonishing. An MLM scheme that promises you will have to give up all the money it’s going to make for you. Somehow I doubt that Amway or Mary Kay will be adopting this approach any time soon. Then again, Amway and Mary Kay aren’t weird belief systems based on conspiracy theories and New Age concepts, either.
Putting this piece into the broader picture that is Desteni, what emerges very clearly is a larger pattern of misleading statements, psychological coercion and outright deception by a group that seems to have few scruples about the techniques it uses to attract new members. A cult that exerts such tight control over its followers, and bases its ideology on concepts as fringe as reptilian conspiracy theories and interdimensional portals, would be suspect by itself. But add to this a very misleading multi-level-marketing scheme which is virtually guaranteed not to make its participants money, and you have yet another reason to treat this organization with the skepticism and distrust that it so richly deserves.
Thanks for reading.
Anti-Hate Responses: Desteni’s Deceptive Groupthink Ritual. (UPDATED)
Posted on July 21, 2011
This blog continues my examination of Desteni, a cult that uses, among other things, conspiracy theories as a tool to attract and recruit new members. Desteni is a mostly Internet-based cult, and they have never been shy about taking on those who criticize them. Recently, however, Desteni’s tactics have changed. They are now engaging in a ritual that they call “Anti-Hate Responses.” Destonians characterize any criticism of their group or their ideology as “hate speech,” so the very term “Anti-Hate Responses” is carefully constructed as a thought-terminating device.
The “Anti-Hate” cycle works like this. A video on YouTube critical of the cult is selected as the target. Members then make videos responding to, and trashing, the target video and posting the links on a topic on the Desteni web forums. (I might add that the Desteni forums were recently made almost exclusively members-only, after an embarrassing incident where their forum was hit by a porn spammer. However, there is still one part of the forum, “Introduction to Desteni,” that is still public. The “Anti-Hate Responses” topics are posted in this publicly-viewable forum. What goes on behind this public forum is no longer visible to non-Desteni-affiliated Internet users).
What’s interesting about the “Anti-Hate Response” ritual is what’s missing from it. Due to the clampdown on Desteni’s web forum, the manner in which the target videos are selected—and by whom—is kept carefully out of sight. We know nothing about who is choosing these videos, why, and how the selections are communicated to Destonians. In fact, the forum topics laying out the responses rarely link the target video directly, and none are posted on YouTube as video responses directly to the target. To me this suggests the “Anti-Hate Response” procedure has some sort of top-down coordination. If the “Anti-Hate Response” phenomenon was spontaneous and user-initiated, most likely you’d see these responses popping up all over the place and being done in all sorts of different ways. That’s not the case. Indeed just by browsing the “Anti-Hate Response” section of the Desteni public forum, one gets the sense of a well-coordinated effort directed at churning out angry responses to critics in eerie lockstep with each other, which is the only way Destonians ever do anything.
Let’s look briefly at a case study. One video that was selected as a target was created by a YouTube user called “TonyAteJesus” and was posted as a video response to one of the many videos in which Desteni spokesperson Sunette Spies pretends to channel various spirits through an “Interdimensional Portal.” I picked this particular subject because the video TonyAteJesus was responding to is part of the conspiracist mythology of Desteni—it purportedly deals with the “Annunaki,” which Destenians believe were reptilian extraterrestrials who exerted a large impact on humanity in ancient times. Actually the Annunaki were gods believed in by the ancient Sumerians, but the identification of Annunaki as reptilian aliens in Desteni mythology intentionally dovetails with the widely-known views of British conspiracy theorist David Icke who maintains that the world is still secretly run by reptilian aliens (“reptoids”) who shape-shift into human form. It appears that many Destenians believe in the conspiracy theories of David Icke, or similar variants of these theories. Desteni cult leader Bernard Poolman obviously does, as he has warned Desteni members about “reptilian sleeper cells.”
In any event, in his video TonyAteJesus posits, quite reasonably, that Desteni’s interpretation of Sumerian mythology is completely false, and states that intellectuals who are knowledgeable about this subject would find Desteni’s take on it to be ridiculous. He also states that Ms. Spies is acting and there’s no such thing as an “interdimensional portal.” Interestingly, this video was posted almost three years ago and is the only video this user has ever made.
You can see three representative responses to this video. One user takes a philosophical approach, speaking about the “key to truly understand us.” Another Destonian goes after TonyAteJesus with both barrels blazing, flinging insults not only at him but at intellectuals in general, insisting that historical knowledge of Sumerian mythology is totally irrelevant. Another cult member obliquely reinforces the reptilian conspiracy theory by stating, “You are clinging to your constructed identity,” playing into the old conspiracy theorist trope that what we know to be reality is a false construct created by conspiratorial powers. She even employs two age-old catch phrases of conspiracy theorists, that being “why haven’t you proposed a solution?” (meaning a solution to all the world’s problems), and the ubiquitous “Wake up!”
All three responses, and the others I sampled, make the same claim that the creator of the target video doesn’t really understand Desteni and hasn’t researched it well enough. This is a very common tactic used against Desteni critics and one that appears in almost every “Anti-Hate Response” I watched in one form or another. The argument is silly because this cult has literally thousands of hours of YouTube videos out there, which altogether spin a dense web of often self-contradictory material. A person could spend a lifetime watching nothing but Desteni videos. If one chooses not to do that, he or she is vulnerable to attack by the cult for “not having researched it well enough.”
After sampling a broad range of “Anti-Hate Responses,” I believe that these videos are not really aimed at Desteni’s critics. Nor do I believe they are intended to sway fence-sitters or potential recruits to discredit voices warning them against getting involved with the cult. Instead, I suspect that at least one motivation behind the “Anti-Hate Response” ritual is to shore up Desteni members’ own beliefs about the cult, to reinforce the “us vs. them” mentality that Desteni is the only proper way to think and act, and to serve as a vehicle by which Desteni members can demonstrate, to themselves and each other, how devoted they really are to the group and its ideology.
In this sense the “Anti-Hate Responses” are a form of group-think, as well as a means of control by the Desteni higher-ups. We already know that Desteni encourages its members to confess publicly on the Internet everything they’ve ever done wrong in their lives, in the guise of “self-forgiveness.” Encouraging “Anti-Hate Responses” is merely another way for the cult to ensure that its members do what is expected of them. When prompted by a target video, they dutifully take to YouTube to sing the cult’s praises and trash its critics, thus demonstrating how well they’ve absorbed and internalized the teachings of the group, and how willing they are to let the world see it. That it does double duty as damage control and broadsides against the critics is merely a fringe benefit.
The more I investigate Desteni, the more astounded I am at the tremendous sway that this group and its leaders have over the members. Each aspect of the cult’s public persona, from the “Desteni I Process” financial scam to the skillful deployment of footsoldiers on YouTube to crush dissent against the group, seems to be carefully engineered to reinforce the cult’s authoritative and xenophobic structure. The “Anti-Hate Responses” are merely another facet of this same tendency, and one that seems particularly disingenuous. It’s not really about the critics at all. It’s about how far Destenonians will go to to appease their leaders.
Thanks for reading.
Update 20 August 2011
Desteni’s Anti-Hate Response ritual may be over. After clipping along briskly for six weeks at a couple of videos a day, the subforum on the Desteni website has not been updated since August 14, almost a week ago. Theoretically it could start up again any moment, but it appears that the Desteni higher-ups have more on their plate than just responding to critics: YouTube and now Vimeo have banned Desteni’s main channels from their sites.
Ironically, one of my vlogs was one of the final targets of the Anti-Hate Response machine. In this thread you can see the responses from four different Destonians to one of my blogs, which was about the fraudulent nature of Desteni’s multi-level marketing scam. The videos are quite boring and are absolutely chapter-and-verse from the cult playbook. As described in the case study I presented in the main blog, the points of criticism were all very general: I don’t understand Desteni, I reject the idea of oneness and equality, and I’m living in a false construct that I can’t break out of. Oh, yeah, and because I mentioned my father in my blog, I am lashing out at Desteni because I have a daddy complex.
My thesis in the original blog was that the Anti-Hate Response machine existed not to push back against critics, but to exert control over Destonians themselves and give them an easy way to show fealty to their leaders. I have no way of gauging how successful this effort was, but the monkey-see monkey-do mentality of Desteni cult members is easily observed, such as the dogged obedience with which they obeyed their leaders’ commands to spam YouTube for shutting down their channels.
Desteni Has Had a Bad Month. (UPDATED!)
This blog, originally published August 20, 2011, was updated on September 19, 2011. Scroll to the end for the update.
The month of August has not been kind to the conspiracy theorist cult known as Desteni. Indeed, while it’s probably too early to declare the impending extinction of this bizarre group, they are undoubtedly reeling from a series of recent disasters, one of which may well strike at the cult’s ability to reach new members.
On August 9, YouTube shut down several of Desteni’s main channels, including “DesteniProductions,” “BernardPoolman,” “DesteniMoney” and “DesteniProdDemons.” If you click these accounts (try one here) you’ll see that the stated reason for the closure of these accounts is repeated violations of community guidelines and/or copyright infringement. In other words, somebody at YouTube officially got wise to the cult’s spurious tactics. While we can’t know for sure, my surmise is that it was the promotion of the fraudulent multi-level marketing scheme known as the “Desteni I Process” which probably pushed them over the edge.
This move by YouTube is very possibly a stake in the heart for the cult, as YouTube is their main recruiting portal. While Desteni uses Facebook to a lesser extent to spread its message, its main strategy has always been to reel in the gullible via YouTube videos spouting their bizarre philosophy and promoting conspiracy theories. Indeed the use of YouTube to appeal to a conspiracy theorist demographic is no accident. Conspiracy theorists are uniquely attracted to YouTube, for reasons I explained in another blog on the SkepticProject site. [The link to that blog is temporarily down as the SkepticProject site upgrades–I will add it when it’s again available]. Furthermore, Desteni has always marketed itself using a uniquely visual interface. Blogs and even Facebook posts just don’t have the same visceral appeal.
The cult’s indignation at this move was palpable. In an “official statement,” the Desteni cult, mere hours after the channel closures, was already crafting its take on this event: it is (naturally) claiming this is censorship and an attempt to prevent Desteni’s pure message of equality from getting out. The statement read in part:
“We can only assume the real reason for this. One thing is certain – Desteni is hitting the nerve of some people and it’s hitting hard. It also shows the nature of the system we live in. I mean what we deal with in our material – self-forgiveness, self-perfection, establishing and Equal Money System for all. Points that everyone can benefit from, points that are best for all. Many people have been supported by this material and shared their results publicly. Yet, this is not recognized and even fought against. Shame.”
Desteni immediately launched a counter-strike, commanding its members to spam YouTube with a form email protesting the closure. Not surprisingly, the form email blames the whole thing on Desteni’s external enemies–the “haters” with whom the higher-ups in the cult seem bizarrely obsessed:
“Hereby we declare, as the individuals that have received the support and assistance from the material provided by these channels, our discontent and discomformity with the decision that youtube has taken based on the false-flagging done by people that have been opposing our stance in relation to world equality.”
Although there is some precedent for reversing YouTube channel closure decisions, it has now been 11 days since the closure and the hundreds of emails sent by dutiful Destonians seem to have come to nothing. None of the channels have been reinstated.
Desteni spokesperson Darryl Thomas, who I suspect (but do not know for sure) is #3 in the cult hierarchy after leader Bernard Poolman and New Age whack job Sunette Spies, took to his blog with an even more defiant statement denouncing the closure, as well as reinforcing the cult’s narrative that it’s all the fault of “haters.” For the record, Darryl once told me he “enjoys being in [my] head.” I wonder if I and other Desteni critics were not in his head as he fired off this seething invective:
“It is so unfortunate that these misled fools will one day realize after it is too late, that they stood on the wrong side of history. They have unwittingly – in their misguided zeal to stand against equality for all – unleashed demons that will return to devour them in madness and direct them to a fitting end. And the beautiful thing is they brought it on themselves. How fitting.
And to all the Haters, do not gloat so loudly. DesteniProductions is not dependent on YouTube for our continuance – Desteni has its own websites and forums, and so, still lives. And even though equality-speech is apparently strictly verboten on YouTube, Desteni finds this entire affair little more than a nuisance. The Desteni Material will soon be released as book and DVDs and the thousands of texts and videos will still be available on the Desteni website for anyone who wants to watch them.
I know it will sound strange to some people who believe that Desteni is defeated by this treacherous activity by YouTube, but we haven’t gone anywhere and in time, this alleged “setback” will turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to the Desteni Group.”
The closure of the cult’s YouTube channels was evidently enough to bring cult leader Bernard Poolman out of hiding on his South Africa ranch. Two days ago Poolman uploaded a video that is remarkably shrill even for him, urging followers to flag as inappropriate any video on YouTube that they don’t like for any reason–regardless of copyright or privacy status. The video is here, but as the video itself violates YouTube’s terms of service I doubt it will be up for very long; I’ll therefore link you to another blog that ran a story on the video. Essentially, Poolman is, in evident desperation, commanding his followers to create such havoc on YouTube through the flagging process that the video website giant will be brought to its knees. Somehow I don’t think this is likely.
The second blow to the cult fell just this morning. As you can see from Darryl’s defiant statement, the cult clearly did have plans to relocate to another web video service, though of course being denied access to the vast numbers of YouTube users must be galling. Desteni attempted to move over to Vimeo. Today, however, Vimeo suspended Desteni Productions’s account. Why? Because promotion of multi-level marketing schemes is not permitted on Vimeo.
In short, it seems that efforts to promote awareness of the fraudulent and destructive nature of the Desteni cult are finally bearing fruit. While we have no idea what’s next, I wonder if Facebook may be the next social network outfit to ban them. Facebook’s terms of service, like Vimeo’s, expressly forbid the promotion of MLM schemes, and Desteni watchdog bloggers are already spreading the word that Desteni violates Facebook’s guidelines.
It’s not inconceivable that in the near future Desteni may be reduced down to its own website and a much less-centralized structure of communication. Individual Desteni users are still as thick as fleas on YouTube, but the authoritarian coordination of their message seems to have already suffered a serious disruption. Their bizarre “Anti-Hate Response” ritual, for instance, has ground to a halt. [Scroll to the bottom of that blog for the update that discusses that issue]. Without central coordination from YouTube, marshaling the Destonians in the future is going to be a much tougher slog than before.
It almost goes without saying that this has nothing to do with Desteni’s message of “equality,” as much as Destonians would like to make it about that. Instead, it’s about the fact that Desteni is a fraud and has been using social networking tools to make money, possibly illegally but certainly spuriously, through a remarkably transparent pyramid scheme. It is certainly not against YouTube or Facebook’s terms of service to use their services to promote belief in conspiracy theories. And it’s ludicrous to believe that the owners of these services give a whit about messages of “equality.” They just don’t want to get tagged with advancing fraud and illegal activities, and rightly so.
I’ll continue to update the future developments regarding the Desteni cult on this blog. Thanks for reading.
Update 19 September 2011
Desteni spokesman Darryl Thomas really, really, really doesn’t like me. Largely in response to this article, he posted an entry on his blog that ranks as probably the single most vitriolic rebuttal ever directed at me.
For paragraph after paragraph Darryl screeched, raged, fumed, foamed, and made veiled threats about how sorry I will be someday that I ever chose to oppose Desteni. As to the recent actions by YouTube and Vimeo, he shouted “F*ck YouTube! F*ck Vimeo!” and insisted that their closure of Desteni’s accounts was the best thing that ever happened to the cult. And, as I pointed out in my second-to-last paragraph of the original blog, he tried to assert that the issue really is about YouTube, Vimeo and “Desteni haters” supposedly opposing Desteni’s message of “equality.” In short, his reaction was entirely consistent with how Desteni has chosen to deal with the August setbacks.
Darryl also asserted that I’m a white supremacist, a charge he made completely without evidence, which is not surprising since I am very obviously not a racist. In fact one of the reasons I oppose Desteni is because of its disturbing patina of racism, evident in their various pro-Hitler material and its association with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories such as “reptilians,” which are sci-fi stand-ins for Jews. The irony of a cult that looks up to Hitler charging its critics with racism is quite rich. (Ironically, there are some indications that Desteni is trying to cleanse the web of its pro-Hitler material. I guess Darryl didn’t get that memo).
Darryl is in quite an angry mood these days. I’m not the only person to face the wrath of his blistering invective; in addition to trashing me, he’s also tried to paint cult expert Rick Ross as a “cult leader” himself, and called another anti-Desteni blogger a “psychopath.” Indeed he seems to be on the verge of launching a comprehensive campaign against anyone that criticizes the group. Judging from the number of “likes” you see on his blog from folks with bald-shaved heads, the obedient Desteni cult members are lapping it up. I believe it’s safe to say that, despite Darryl’s defiant bluster, Destonians are deeply anxious about the recent setbacks and more afraid than ever that the growing wave of negative press about the group is having an effect.