"A large room full of 'Gold Tags'"

January 2001
By a Forum Graduation attendee

I had a recent experience with the Forum myself. A close friend told me a while back that he was taking some self improvement classes and I noticed some positive changes in his life. He told me that the classes were offered by Landmark Education.

Later, I received an email telling me that he'd signed up for the "advanced" class and would be gone for the weekend. He told me that this class ran from 10 AM until Midnight for three days in a row. I was sure that this was a typo and that it must be 10 PM to Midnight or something like that. He asked if I wanted to come with him on his last night and I agreed, but said that I couldn't sign up because I was already taking computer classes in the evening.

On the drive to the class he called the group "The Forum" and that was when the first red flag went up for me. Several years earlier I worked with a woman that was involved with a group called "The Forum" and she became increasingly obnoxious through her constant evaluation of everyone's behavior and repeated invitations to come to a session. But I still wasn't sure if this was the same group.

We arrived at a building and were ushered into a large room full of "Gold Tags"--people with "gold tags" are leaders. The others in the room are either completing their course or are newcomers -- each is identified through a different tag. Our newcomers tags had a number, which told us what room we were assigned to for later. I was asked to fill out a form before receiving my tag, which I realized later was identical to a registration form.

We sat through an initial speech by the moderator and then several testimonies. One was by someone who had been abandoned by his mother and he told how The Forum had turned his life around and helped him to reconcile with her. It really tugged on our heartstrings. Others testimonials were from a psychotherapist and an Episcopal priest. I later began to wonder whether some of this was staged. It seemed suspicious that someone who had a sad sad story and two authority figures would be picked at random.

Then the moderator told us when the next classes were and a second big red flag went up. The classes really did run from 10 AM to Midnight for three days in a row--plus a fourth class after a one day break. I began to wonder if that was meant to tire people to the point where they couldn't think critically about what was going on.

Our leader went over a few concepts that struck me as odd too. One concept was trying to get rid of the critical inner voice inside us. He said that it was baggage from the past, which kept us from reaching our full potential. But I know from experience that your inner voice can keep you out of harm. He also touched upon the idea of "coaching," which sounded a bit like brainwashing to me.

We were given a break. At this point we were supposed to talk to the friend who brought us. Mine put on a disarming grin and kept going on about what a great guy I am and how much he would like me to sign up for the class. He said he couldn't describe how much it had changed his life and that I could only understand that if I tried it myself.

Finally it was time to break up and newcomers were ushered into the other rooms. The first half of this part of the evening consisted of another testimonial from the group leader (who wore a gold tag). He then asked newcomers to think of something in our lives that we wanted to change. Then we were supposed to imagine going through the Forum and what it would be like if this were all fixed after. Later, we were given another chance to register and the group took a break. That's when I looked around and realized that half the people in the group were "Gold Tags." Everyone went up to the table to sign up except me. I just stood by my chair watching.

One after another the "Gold Tags" approached me and asked, "Do you see any potential for your life through this?" I answered that I liked some of the ideas presented, but wanted to think about it for a while and get back to them. Then I was asked, "Who brought you?" and "Don't you see any positive changes in his life?" Yes, I had, but I still insisted that I wanted to think about it for a while. I was then told I had "trust issues," which they could help me with. They advised to bring these issues up in the latter half of the class.

After being approached by three "Gold Tags" and seeing a fourth on the way, I headed for the bathroom and stood in a stall until the break was over.

When the group reassembled we were taken through an exercise. The leader kept looking over at me to get me to participate, but I had shut down and wouldn't say a word. I just counted the minutes until the end of the night.

I had already agreed to go with my friend to a dinner after the class. I told him what had happened while we were driving to the restaurant and he was surprised. He wasn't aware of the recruitment techniques they were using. At that point I was very angry with him for not checking out who these people were before signing me up and putting me through such an uncomfortable night.

There were a couple things that occurred at the restaurant, which also bothered me. My friend kept calling one of the other group members "Mom" and he was very very uncomfortable when someone asked me if I had registered and I told them "No."

My friend has been reevaluating whether he wants to continue being involved with Landmark after my experience and I have been sharing more of what I have learned about them through the Internet. In my opinion Landmark is filling people's minds with psychobabel, manipulating their emotions for money and then encouraging them to bring in others--so that they can make more money out of more people.

Copyright © 2000 Rick Ross.

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