Beginning in the 1970s a company named "est" (Erhard Seminar Training) sold courses, which are now often called "large group awareness training" and/or "mass marathon training" for "self-improvement." This included an introductory course known as "The Forum."
Jack Rosenberg, a former used-car salesman, created Est with no formal education past high school.
In the 1960s Rosenberg left his wife and four children in Philadelphia, changed his name to "Werner Hans Erhard," moved to California and started another family.
Erhard was reportedly "the role model, the living example of what the est Training could do."
But CBS News reported allegations of incest, rape and spousal abuse made against Werner Erhard by his daughters and former employees.
Not long after the airing of this program Erhard sold his company reportedly to his employees and went into prolonged seclusion.
The for profit privately owned company, which still sells the Forum and other training courses, is now known as "Landmark Education" and headed by Werner Erhard's brother and sister.
What follows is a news summary that includes statements made by Erhard family members and insiders, which was broadcast by CBS "60 Minutes" March 3, 1991.
Dr. Bob Larzelere was the head of Erhard's counseling staff for seven years during the 1970s.
"I am god...he did say sometimes in staff meetings," Larzelere told CBS News.
Wendy Drucker was a top manager who worked closely with Erhard for nine years.
Drucker told CBS, "I would never have believed that I, could be a person who would wind up in a cult...And yet, certainly mind control was involved. And if that's what cults do, and they set up a leader to be bigger than anybody else, a god-like figure, I would say yes, that was true in the organization."
"We were told to surrender to him as 'source.' I think that's idolatry...This was not like, being an employee. This was like being, a servant, or a devotee," Drucker said.
Ms. Drucker confirmed Larzelere's statement and said that Erhard told "...the whole staff. At staff meetings...'I am the source...I am god."
An est brochure once featured a loving portrait of Erhard with his second wife, Ellen. The implication was that if Erhard could turn his life around, the Forum could turn your life around too.
In an interview with Larry King on CNN Erhard explained, "[Est is] a program of inquiry into the things that concern people on a very everyday basis. Like - breaking through the ordinary barriers that just go along with children and your relationship with your children at certain ages."
But did that program work for Werner Erhard?
Celeste Erhard, the est founder's eldest daughter from his second marriage didn't seem to think it did.
"I have been afraid, deeply afraid of my father my whole life. My whole life....he's a terrifying man, he can be very terrifying," she told CBS News anchor Ben Bradley.
Dawn Damas was the family's governess and is still a close friend. She told CBS News that she witnessed Erhard assault his son St. John, or "Sinjin" when the boy was twelve.
"He...went over to Sinjin and started to slap him and hit him, and picked him up and threw him on the ground and started to kick him - in front of everybody and nobody moved, everyone was paralyzed. Um, and then said to St. John: 'If you ever get grades like this again, I'll break both of your legs with a baseball bat.'"
Werner Erhard declined to talk to "60 Minutes," but he did speak to reporter John Hubner of the San Jose Mercury News, for an article in WEST, the paper's Sunday magazine. In an audiotaped interview, Erhard denied that he ever hit his son Sinjin.
"Never, ever, ever...Never, ever struck one of my children, not any one of them, ever," he said.
But Adair Erhard directly contradicted her father.
"My dad...freaked out, he pushed him back on the chair, he fell over. At this point you know my brother was so petrified he actually peed in his pants. Um, you know he's down on the floor, he's kicking him, he's hitting him."
CBS anchor Ben Bradley reported, "Sinjin, who is now twenty-three, didn't want to speak on camera, but he told us the beating did take place..."
Erhard's daughters also recounted how he and/or his est associates abused their mother.
"At one point someone picked up a statue and hit her over the head. Um, you know my dad constantly saying: "What aren't you saying, what aren't you saying?...he himself also got up and, while she was on the floor, and kicked her a number of times," Adair Erhard told CBS.
Erhard's daughters claimed that the assault on their mother Ellen Erhard continued for two nights.
Celeste Erhard said, "At one point, on the second night, I did stand up and say: 'Please, you're killing her, you're killing her.' I mean, my mother was blue, her face was blue, she had, like drool coming out of the side of her mouth. She was dying. She was, you know, suffocating. And all he said to me was: 'Sit down, or you'll get more of the same.' And that is a direct quote, I remember every word. And that's all he said. And I sat down."
Adair Erhard agreed with her sister's account, "She was strangled literally. She turned blue, there was spit running out of the side of her mouth..."
A consultant that worked for Erhard did the actual choking, according to Adair Erhard.
And Dr. Bob Larzelere admitted to CBS that he was that consultant.
Larzelere said,, "'Somebody's got to volunteer, to hurt Ellen, to punish her, and make her talk, and make her confess.' And nobody did, until I thought, oh my god, this is an opportunity for me, finally, to get Werner's total approval. Now I can be a real soldier for him, now I can make him, proud of me, now I can get him to smile at me. Now I won't have to be afraid of him anymore. So I volunteered."
He did it "to scare her into confessing" about alleged infidelities.
Lazelere said that Erhard "didn't try to stop [him]...at all."
Lazelere lamented, "It was a despicable thing to do. And it took me days to realize it. Afterward. When I began to let myself feel again. It was, my god, it was like a nightmare. That I could have, gone that far, with wanting to please, wanting to get approval from, wanting to get love from another human being, to do that."
Erhard's daughters also told CBS that their father wouldn't allow their mother to live with them for two years. Adair Erhard said that periodically Ellen Erhard was allowed to come into the house, but "like a maid" to "scrub the floors." And the daughters "had to watch this," but "weren't allowed to speak with her."
Adair Erhard explained, "You know, he, whatever he said, that she should do, she had to do. And that was part of the instructions. Yeah, you have to be a maid for your house...I wanted to - say something so bad, or just do something about it, and there's, it's just so petrified all the time and there's just no way I could be okay with myself to, to tell anybody or to do anything about what was going on."
In an audiotaped interview Erhard dismissed these accounts about his marital relationship.
"Essentially nonsense. Ellen was never a maid. Ellen was my wife, and I always treated her like my wife," he said.
Ellen Erhard divorced her husband and reportedly as part of the divorce settlement she cannot talk publicly about their marriage.
Adair Erhard told CBS that her mother was grateful though that she chose to speak out about her father's behavior and wished she could do the same.
Deborah Rosenberg is one of Erhard's daughters, from his first marriage. Ms. Rosenberg told CBS that her father "molested" her when she was sixteen. She also claimed that Erhard had abused her siblings with "pornography all the way to rape."
She told Ben Bradley, "I wasn't there. But I believe my sister when she says that my father raped her...forcibly had sexual intercourse with her."
Erhard said that the rape never happened in an audiotaped interview.
But Deborah Rosenberg told CBS that when she confronted her father about this claim he admitted, "There had been sexual intercourse, and that it had been a nurturing experience for my sister. He said that 'I did not rape her.'"
When Deborah Rosenberg repeated what her father said to her sister she said that her response to his explanation was that "it was not a nurturing experience for her. And she's had to have a lot of therapy about that" and it was not consensual.
Governess Dawn Damas told "60 Minutes" that Erhard's daughters told CBS "true things about their father that are terrible...he beats his wife, and he beats his children, and rapes a daughter - and then he goes and tells people how to have marvelous relationships. I'm sorry, that's what I have against Werner Erhard."
Celeste Erhard commented about her relationship with her father as an adult.
"I kept thinking - that he would be a father, I kept thinking that when he got older, he'd want children, and he'd want his daughters. I just, I, I really thought that. You know that maybe he'd get wiser with age and he'd regret what he'd done, but um, he didn't," she said.
Erhard's lawyers sent CBS affidavits from his sister and brother and from a few of his close associates disputing some of the stories from his children and denying that Erhard ever abused his wife.
Erhard stated, "There is only one appropriate response to these allegations, to heal and restore my family. And that is what I will do. To respond to the accusations at this time, would only further publicly exploit my family, and there has already been enough of that."
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