Un-Cultured | 

‘Children of God’ sex cult survivor says her mum had to secretly teach her to read

‘People who join cults or some of these extreme groups as adults, are buying into their own brainwashing in a way’

Neil FetherstonhaughSunday World

Daniella Mestyanek Young was just 15-years-of age when she managed to escape a notorious sex cult called the Children of God.

Founded by David Berg in 1968, it became notorious from allegations of sexual and physical abuse, before it was later renamed as The Family of Love, which was eventually shortened to The Family.

At the peak of its popularity, The Family had thousands of members including a number of children who would go on to become famous actors – including River and Joaquin Phoenix and Rose McGowan .

The self-styled religious movement "foretold the coming of a dictator called the anti-Christ, the rise of a brutal One World Government and its eventual overthrow by Jesus Christ, in the Second Coming".

Joaquin Phoenix in Walk The Line (2005)

After finally breaking free, Mestyanek Young ran away to Texas, where she enrolled in a Houston high school before going to college and eventually joining the US military.

There she excelled, starting out a new career as an intelligence officer, before she realising that her new life in the Army bore some of the same familiarities to the cult she had left behind.

She recalls her astonishing story in a new memoir entitled Uncultured, which she spoke to us about from her home near Washington DC, where she now lives.

Even though she was born into the cult as the daughter of high-ranking members, she sensed, even as a child, that something was not quite right.

“I have never felt that I was a cult member,” she says. “I feel like I was a cult prisoner for 15 years.

"But I think, for me, I really started to become aware when I was just three years old,” she recalls.

“One of my first memories is when we were in a giant commune in Peru and I’m with my mom, who's a teenager, she's only 18, and she already has two kids by now.

“She comes and sneaks me out of the group nap time so that she can teach me to read herself.

"She shows me that reading is amazing because reading is how we get ideas.

"She tells me how the only thing you need in the world is for someone to teach you how to read because you can teach yourself everything else after that.

“When I look back to when I was just three years of age, I see how I got this love of books and this love of learning because it was my connection to my mom who I didn't get to see more than usually one hour a day.

“And then the next 12 years proceeded to be extremely illogical where we didn't learn, books were banned, information was suppressed and that just never made sense to me.

“People who join cults or some of these extreme groups as adults, are buying into their own brainwashing in a way.

"The group norms shut down the questioning.

“But, when you are a kid that is born into these groups, you start to question, no matter what.

"Children question, that is what happens and then they split into two categories, the ones that just keep questioning and pushing against the walls and the ones that just sort of put their heads down and go along with it.

“I actually think it's maybe impossible to turn children into true believers in quite the same way as the adults that join.”

Explaining why people join a cult as an adult when there is such awareness of their sinister operations, Daniella explained: “One of the misconceptions we have about cults is that people are dumb or poor or desperate or for some other reason are drawn to them.

The book Uncultured

“I always like to remind people that a Harvard-educated lawyer died at the standoff in Waco.

“Scholars have found only one thing that makes people likely to join a cult. And that is because they are a seeker.

"This is really important, because I think we're going through a time of ‘culting’ right now, especially in America.

"We see cults pop up during times of social chaos and confusion when we're realising systems don't work.

“People are then literally seeking for new ways of being and new systems of operating.

"And that's why we saw cults get really big in the US in the 1960’s and 1970’s before shifting over to Asia and the 1980’s and into Latin America in the 1990’s.

“And that was also the trajectory of my family. It’s as if they are dissatisfied with the world and they're searching for something new.

"They then find this way of living that seems to fit their life. It reinforces them and gives them this mission a sense of community and love.

“And you see this in places like the military, the workplace and even gyms where they become these toxic control cults which are in some ways like religions.

“So, people are not unknowingly getting into cults. They are actively seeking something in their lives, something that is missing and usually it is around these drivers like motivation and community and purpose.”

She adds: “I experienced this in the military, where your life is the military. You have very little going on outside of that.

"They control you, but they also give you a purpose, a structure and a community from day one.

Mug shot of David Koresh


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