Originating in the US, Landmark Education offers personal “transformation” workshops. Over several months, Marie Lemonnier went undercover to report on the brainwashing by this cult-like organization.
Two weeks after signing my contract with Landmark Education (LE), releasing the organization from all responsibility in the event of “physical or psychological damage or emotional problems,” here I am, a recruit of the Forum along with 80 other adults and a handful of teenagers. All await the fabulous “transformation” and access to “another world” that were promised. Like me, most have already attended an evening presentation by Landmark. The statement of Alain Roth, the manager of in France, still reverberates like an advertising slogan: “I promise to you something unique and extraordinary. You're at the edge of the diving board, ready to take this step. And the water is fine.” The cost of the dive: 395 euros, three and a half days, without a lifejacket. At the door to the hotel conference room, two volunteers pass out the required nametags. Throughout the program, we'll be required to return them each evening and retrieve them again each morning -- an effective way to detect absence or tardiness, and treat people like children. Inside, ten volunteer assistants play the role of security guards, ready to jump if you try to take notes, or a picture, or talk in English. The drapes, fully drawn, let in no natural light “so we won't be disturbed by passersby,” someone explains. In the middle of a broad stage are a podium and the chair of the director: the throne of Alain Roth, said to be “one of the 25 best group leaders in the world.”
He was a sales representative at Look Bicycle Company, a graduate of Haute Ecole de Commerce and a member of the psychology faculty. This 57-year-old leader is praised for having introduced Landmark "technology" in France.
1. Possibly Look Travel Agency, another French company called Look.
2. A top business management school
His presentation is perfectly polished. He jots down something on a pad in front of him. It's orchestrated to the exact minute and the precise spacing of chairs! "This," he announces with a satisfied air, "will be tough -- very tough." We're locked up for three days from 9 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. stuck on our chairs, with a half-hour break every three hours and only one meal break around 6 p.m. We're given assignments to do at night for the next day, and exercises during the breaks -- it's all calculated to put unrelenting pressure on the trainees, to limit their sleep, to reduce their mental capacities. After some anecdotes, the serious part begins: training in the Landmarkian language. To set a course of action is "to invent a possibility." To learn something about oneself is "to make an opening." Personal qualities become "major assets," defects are "inauthenticities," and barriers in life are "rackets"... Here comes a migraine.
Marc no longer even knows what the word "problem" means. Alain Roth addresses him on the microphone: "I'll give you an example. If you get cancer, do you have a problem?" Marc answers: "Er, no. I have cancer!" Gone! Marc has integrated the concept discussed a few minutes earlier: That "there are no problems, only things that happen." He did this so well that now he can no longer recognize a problem. It's useless to put forth the idea that this nonsense scrambles your thinking. Alain Roth won't hesitate to impose his truth: "I'm the leader. You need to be coachable!" Total surrender required.
But humor is Alain Roth's ultimate weapon. You wonder if you aren't in a cult? Anytime is a good occasion to joke about it. "Especially, when you go to dinner, don't forget to take off your name tag. If you don't, people will think that you're in a cult!"
A core part of Landmark technology is the grand moment of confession on a microphone. It's a public unloading that can suddenly turn into psychological rape if the coach decides to exert his authority by challenging someone. Today, the victim will be Danielle, a mother who talks about her problems with her daughter. The scene is chilling. “You claim that you love her, but you laugh or what? - Her, I love her” Roth barks louder: “You are an asshole! Really. I'm serious. You don't love her, you love yourself!” She cries. “Boo-hoo and you spend most of your time whining about yourself. Not a pretty picture!”
“But what can I do about that?” Danielle pleads.
“If you want to do something for your daughter, I don't know -- maybe commit suicide! No, this is not working. You're avoiding the hard part, inventing a trick so you can suffer. You've made sure of that for twenty years, so you can die in terrible agony. That way you can think better of yourself.” He continues the attack, Danielle goes back to her seat, sobbing. Anaesthetized, the group has just witnessed the beginning of the massacre. Stuck in passive complicity, the trainees will usually deny the assaults. “It is for his own good.” But Alain Roth chooses his scapegoats and his pets.
A young married man named Edgar looks like an ideal candidate. He's 25 years old, well built and wearing a white shirt, a manager at a humanitarian non-profit organization. He came here to gain self-confidence. His trauma: his father didn't defend him when he was sent home from school for “shooting off his mouth."
Someone is late. There's a half-hour sermon. Nobody protests that it was a short night. The rhythm intensifies. By noon, I can hardly remember my name. We're ordered to write a letter to a close relative asking them to forgive us. This opening of introspection moves me more than expected. I feel my defenses losing ground and return from the lapse a bit disturbed. The next exercise will get to me. Alain Roth asks us to close the eyes and imagine the two people on other side as being potentially dangerous. “Let fear enter your body, your breathing, your gut," he orders. "You are trying to escape, but there is nowhere to go.” Some people break. I hear tears and tremors around me.
I watch a teenager, 15 years old, blond, timid, with a slight stammer. Fixated, he absorbs the lesson, and then goes to the microphone to tell about the death of his mother and his sorrow. With amazing courage, he volunteers to do an exercise with someone else. Alain Roth has the delicacy to ask for “somebody not so much of an idiot that it will take hours, but not too intelligent either”! Romain says he is pleased he had the courage to express himself, thanks to the Forum.
Two months later, I meet him again. He is pale, depressed, a bit haggard. He tells me about feeling suicidal and having frequent nightmares since attending the Forum. This evening, his father accompanies him, concerned about what is happening with his son. His verdict: “It's obviously a cult. The methods they're using are dangerous.” Deconstruction of personality, brainwashing, psychological rape without follow-up, humiliation before a group: a Molotov cocktail designed to reduce a sensitive teenager to nothing. So, hammer home the message that “life is empty and meaningless” -- the core ideology of Landmark -- and you could have a good candidate for suicide. Alain Roth repeated that to us many, many times. After all, “Won't we all end up ten feet underground, with a dog coming by to piss on our grave?"
The confession game continuous. But on this last day, a sign continually reminds us that we need to register for the Advanced Course, on sale for 595 euros, reduced from 695. Alain Roth emphasizes the importance of signing up as the only to succeed at transformation. “To inspire others and get them to share your experience will let you affirm the person you've decided to become.” And then, “if you sincerely love your close relatives, could you let them miss out on this?
The Forum in Action: ten three-hour sessions. To fully assimilate the doctrines and apply them in life, Landmark offered us a ten-time reinforcement of the intensive training course. It's difficult to escape, considering the ongoing telephone harassment of about four calls per week.
Here's what I got. Firstly, irritation because of the pressure to recruit and sign up for more Landmark programs -- preferably those where you learn how to become a good recruiter (the ILP) or transform yourself into a “volunteer to do anything” for the company (Assistantship). Edgar, the pet, will soon get drawn into the program's spiral, setting up classes. In less than six months (joined by his wife, her father and numerous other close and distant relatives) he had have spent at least 1,500 euros plus four weekends in Amsterdam to take the enrollment course. “An example for everyone” according to his classmates.
Secondly, revulsion because of the indoctrination and intimidation of the participants. One day Francoise, 60 years old, dared to talk about having been sexually abused as a child. Martha, the trainer that day, retorted that “not all children get themselves abused.” Faced with an argument, Martha persisted: “Identity is formed at the age of two. We bring these things into our lives. It's the way of being you adopt that determines whether things happen to you or not.” The meeting began again, in silence.
The broadcast with Elise Lucet exposed the tax embezzlement of Landmark Education -- the abusive use of an army of volunteers. She reviewed the situation of ongoing "abuse of frailties and mental manipulation" as the kiss of death. The blow was fatal.
The organization met one evening a few days later; curiously, Alain Roth was absent. Arriving in New York, Sophie McLean, Landmark International's Director of Communications, answered questions from the staff, who were torn between concern and loyalty. To counter the charges of France 3, she distributed a denial that carefully avoided the most important points of the report. Why is the media so aggressive? Because "Landmark Education has a leading edge curriculum, so it is more likely than others to be misunderstood."
Labor inspectors showed up at Landmark offices, noted the exploitation of volunteers, and made a report of undeclared employment. The action accelerated; the vise was tightened.
The French branch of the movement had officially disbanded. Semi-officially, the leaders moved their operation to London and continued to recruit in France.
As a graduate association, a "dormant cell" was still communicating on the Internet, working secretly in France to enroll new recruits, trying to find a way to resurrect the organization under a new name.
Many trainees met at this time, almost a year after Landmark's demise. They still didn't acknowledge the charges brought against the company. They felt they had lost a "family" and expressed deep regrets that they couldn't continue "to bring transformation to people"
"The water's fine," Alain Roth had told us. But this water, as we discovered, was quite troubled.
Note: This article was translated from the original French.