Has a cult come to Etna?

The Pioneer Press/March 21, 2001
By Daniel Webster

"They really need to be exposed," said a family member of one of the individuals in the program.

Etna, California? Allegations range from a maniacal con-scheme to a brainwashing cult. Campus California TG has moved in and is bringing with it the eyes of cult-watchdogs and national media from around the globe. Some wonder what our small community really has in its backyard.

Campus California is a training institute to equip students for volunteer work in Africa. It is part of a mega-worldwide network, estimated by European journalists in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The local leaders estimate that there are approximately a million people involved in the multitude of organizations.

With troubles brewing for the organization in Europe, it has begun to expand its reach into the United States, opening a facility in Massachusetts, Michigan and now Etna, California.

Campus California TG is part of an enormous network of non-profit organizations and for profit corporations. The volunteers at the local campus will go oversees to help with the work of Humana People to People, a humanitarian organization. It is also part of a group called Tvind, which was started by a group of hippies in 1970, on a mission to change the world.

Now, this labyrinth of organizations is amassing hundreds of millions of dollars under the direction of a mysterious and elusive founder by the name of Morgens Amdi Petersen.

"It is not one person that leads," said one of the local leaders Ruth Ford. Rather, it is a "federation" that leads the group.

"They really need to be exposed," a family member of one of the young individuals currently in the program in Etna told the Pioneer Press on Monday.

To protect the family and the teenager, the Pioneer Press has chosen to not release their names.

One of the tactics the group uses with its volunteers is to keep them away from their families and try to break that connection, the relative claims.

Ford denies that the group is a cult and told the Pioneer Press that the volunteers can leave at any time if they wish.

"If you call a group of people working together a cult, then we are a cult," Ford said.

Rick Ross, a cult expert from Phoenix, Arizona, told the Pioneer Press that he wouldn't go so far as to call Campus California, Humana People to People, or Tvind a cult, per se, but that there have been some serious allegations about the group and that he would not recommend involvement with the group under any circumstances.

Ross defines a cult according to its behavior, and not necessarily if it is a harmful group.

"When you see a destructive cult, there's a pivotal personality with no meaningful accountability," he said.

The people involved in such an organization become very submissive and the group begins to make their value judgements for them. Once there becomes circumstances of "undue influence," according to Ross, "that's when you're dealing with a destructive cult."

He recommends that one evaluate a suspicious organization and question whether the group is destructive by its behavior or actions and if they do harm to others.

European newspapers abound with allegations of abuse or neglect of its members while serving in Africa.

The individuals must pay to attend the school and then part of their "course" is to go out and do extensive fundraising.

According to Ford, the course costs a volunteer $4,050 per person. This comprises less than half of the cost for their 14 month stint with the group, including their trip to Africa. The rest of the money is raised through their fundraising initiatives.

Ford has been with the organization for three to four years, she said. She reassured the Pioneer Press on Monday that the group will not be soliciting funds locally. The team members will more than likely travel to Seattle, Wash. to raise funds.

They will, however, be looking for donations of items such as kitchen equipment, sports equipment, a van and building supplies. It appears that they are hopeful that the local community will help them.

The old Forest Service building, which was purchased for them and will be rented to them by an Delaware company called A.S. Properties, Ltd. is still in the midst of refurbishment. When the Pioneer Press visited the facilities on Monday, the leaders showed the plans as they were being prepared for the Siskiyou County Building Department.

Tomas Lindstrom, one of the leaders, praised Bob Fiock, the head of the county department for taking so much time with them in helping them understand the California Building Codes.

Fiock said that the plans and applications have not been filed yet with the county.

Because of this, the group is yet unable to live in the facility. They are renting two motel rooms across the street at Motel Etna, in which all 18 of them are staying and are seeking accommodations in local homes for the students.

One of the team members is Bobby Williamson, a 20 year old from Orange County, in Southern California.

He has been inspired by his trip to Africa and believes that the project gives hope. He spoke of his work educating those in the southern regions of Africa regarding AIDS.

"You can do so much going to another country," he said. The individuals joining up with the organization are coming from all over the place. The group runs ads in newspapers, hangs up fliers, and advertises on job sites on the internet, according to Ford.

Those who are coming to Etna seem to be young idealistic folks in their late teens and early 20s. They want to change the world. Some wonder if that may have been the original intent of the organization 30 years ago.

But now, the multi-millionaire leaders want to own the world and are using these impressionable young people to amass a fortune.

For those locally that may be asked to donate to their cause, Rick Ross, the cult expert, offered some advice.

"Before you give any money to a seeming charity, be sure that you know where your money goes," Ross cautions.

A producer from ABC's 20/20 has been contacting people in Etna and some involved with the organization, regarding a possible upcoming report.

Campus California's web site is www.cctg.org.

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