Larry Zilliox, Jr.
Finding information on cultic groups can be challenging. These groups take many forms. Some are nothing more than a loose knit group of like-minded individuals, while others may be corporations, nonprofit organization, or religious groups.
The first step in any investigation is to gather and organize the information you already have. Begin by gathering all the information you have and then discreetly contacting those you know who may have additional information. Contact friends, relatives, anyone you can think of who knows the member of the group, but be careful not to set off needless “alarm bells” in your loved one. In the initial stage of your investigation collect as much original source material as possible, including any books, pamphlets, audiotapes, or tracts put out by the group.
For some groups the sale of books and audiotapes is a main source of funding. Audiotapes can be useful in identifying the true nature of a group and its beliefs. Pamphlets can be found in the library, grocery store bulletin board, or handed out at shows and fairs. If you find a group member handing them out on the street, you can gather information by talking to the person handing out the literature. The best approach is to show some interest, but not too much belief in the message. Most group members are used to people treating them like they are odd. If you show up suddenly and swallow what they say hook, line, and sinker, they will think you are odd or the police, depending on the level of paranoia the group exhibits. Don’t give them your real name even if they ask for it.
Review the pamphlets with a fine tooth comb. Look for references to other groups or enemies. Whom do they hate? Contact this group and you may find a wealth of information. Examine how well the group’s material is printed: desktop publishing or old typewriter, offset printed or copied at the library. These things will help you determine how well funded a group may be, if it is funded at all. If it is possible to order back issues of the group’s newsletter, get as many issues as possible. You may see a change in the quality of content and printing that could indicate the group has progressed from a small, individually run, poorly funded group into a larger better funded one. The pamphlet may show an address or phone number that can be checked out. If the group lists addresses for affiliates in other states, these may be checked out to determine if they are run out of actual offices or someone’s home. This can be important in establishing links between different organizations.
The overwhelming majority of cultic groups today are nonprofit organizations. The Internal Revenue Service grants nonprofit status and investigates wrongdoing. Exempt organizations are required to file yearly tax returns known as an IRS Form 990. Copies of these returns are available to the public. Your request for these should be sent to the Internal Revenue Service, Ogden Service Center, P.O. Box 8941, Stop 6716, Ogden, UT 84409-8941.
If you locate property the group uses to house members, you can try contacting the local police to ask if they have ever been called to the house for any complaints. They may have responded because neighbors felt the group was up to no good or a parent of another member showed up and had to be removed from the property by the police. If the police confirm that other parents or relatives have been to the property, ask for their names. If the police don’t want to give you names, ask if they will contact the other persons with your name and phone number. Such individuals may be valuable resources.
Ascertain the location or locations of the group. It may be one or more, but more specifically, try to locate the headquarters, if possible. Visually inspect the group members, paying attention to their age, type of clothing, their health, etc. Visit neighbors in the area and find out who will talk. Try and get information about the group’s activities, schedules, and so on. Are the grounds and building(s) well kept? Such observations may help you better understand your loved one’s perceptions of the group.
If you are not in a position to monitor the group visually, try and find out information from local groups, such as churches, police, schools, health clinics, Chambers of Commerce. Try to find names of ex-members you may contact.
The Internet has become an invaluable tool for today’s investigator. The cult’s original source material will usually indicate if the group has a web page. Check the web page to identify leaders and the doctrine of the group.
Newsgroups are topical forums that allow many people to post messages about things that interest them. You can find Newsgroups about mind control, extremists groups, and recovery from cults.
Google archives messages from Newsgroups. Once you locate all of the messages posted by a group member, click on a message and then click on the member’s E-mail address and you will get a complete breakdown of all the messages by Newsgroup. You will be able to see how many messages the member posts to each different Newsgroup. By examining the number of posts in the different Newsgroups, you may be able to determine what is important to the group member. It can also help you spot instances where the group may be trying to infiltrate other groups or attract like-minded individuals to their own causes.
Consider the following web sites as starting points for your research:
The following books will teach you investigative techniques and strategies for learning more about the group you are investigating.
King, Dennis. Get The Facts on Anyone, 2nd Ed., Prentice Hall, 1995
Lesko, Matthew. Lesko’s Info Power III, Visible Ink Press, 1996. (This is a great all-in-one directory. It is also available on disk or CD-Rom)
Weinberg, Steve. The Reporter’s Handbook: An Investigators Guide to Documents and Techniques, Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. 3rd Ed. 1996.
Levy, Steve. NetSpy: How You Can Access The Facts and Cover Your Tracks Using The Internet and Online Services, Wolf New Media, 1996.
Investigator’s Guide to Sources of Information, Office of Special Investigations, General Account Office, 1997. (Order free from GAO. Call 202-512-6000. Stock #OSI-97-2.) The text of this manual is available online at the GAO web site.
From: Zilliox, Larry & Kahaner, Larry. How To Investigate Destructive Cults and Underground Groups. An Investigator’s Manual. Kane Associates International, Inc., 1990