A former cult-bashing organization is now doing PR for some sects. Shortly after the Heaven's Gate mass suicide, the Cult Awareness Network, which has long battled cults, sent reporters a list of "experts" on the subject. One of them, J. Gordon Melton, is considered by many cult foes to be an apologist for the groups.
Melton, who has written extensively on cults and religions, has come out in defense of Aum, the Japanese cult linked to the gassing of a Tokyo subway in March that killed twelve people, and the Church of Scientology has asked him to testify in court on its behalf. What's more, Melton, whom CAN identified as "executive director, Institute for the Study of American Religions, University of Cali fornia, Santa Barbara," is not a professor at the school; he works in the library.
Why would CAN list someone known to be sympathetic to these groups? "We have a different philosophy here now," says Isadore Chait, CAN's new director. "We're an information source on religions." He adds that Melton has written "the authoritative book on religions in America."
Chait was appointed after CAN lost a recent lawsuit, went bankrupt, and saw its name, logo, and hot line bought by a Scientologist. "We figured this would happen," says a source. "The foxes are guarding the henhouse."