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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Sociopath alert: John-Roger Hinkins

Two days ago the NY Times ran an obituary for cult leader John-Roger, who died last week. I'd heard about him years ago, and got the distinct odor of sociopathy back then. But he hadn't been on the radar for a while, so I had forgotten about him. Seeing the obit reminded me of what he was all about.

The verdict of sociopathy won't come as any shock to those familiar with Hinkins. But there were so many familiar -- in his case, flamboyantly -- sociopathic patterns to his life that it's worth reviewing.

Hinkins was most famous as the founder of the Movement for Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA, pronounced, "Messiah"). Founding a cult is, if not a red flag for sociopathy, at the very least a yellowish-red flag. (Offhand, I can't think of a single cult leader who wasn't a sociopath.)

Hinkins' Messiah complex was evident from the other organizations he founded as well.

From Wikipedia:

In 1976, he founded Koh-e-nor University, later renamed the University of Santa Monica (USM), a private, unaccredited institution offering master's degrees in Spiritual Psychology and Consciousness, Health & Healing, and a doctoral degree in Spiritual Psychology. John Roger serve[d] as the chancellor of the University.

In 1977, Hinkins founded the Peace Theological Seminary & College of Philosophy (PTS) as an educational non-profit organization for MSIA students to undertake undergraduate workshops, courses and retreats, and also postgraduate programs. The school, which is ecumenical and non-denominational, offers a Master and Doctorate degree in Spiritual Science. Its headquarters is home to the Peace Awareness Labyrinth and Gardens. Hinkins received his doctorate in Spiritual Science from this organization, and is its President….

(What kind of person founds a college, and then awards himself a doctorate from it? One has to wonder about the impartiality of the professors who reviewed his thesis.)

In 1979, Hinkins founded the Heartfelt Foundation, a volunteer-driven, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to serving and assisting people in any form of need.

(The "Heartfelt Foundation?" If there's one thing that sociopaths don't do, it's feel with their hearts -- which, of course, is why they feel obliged to advertise that they do.) 

In 1982, Hinkins founded the Institute for Individual and World Peace (IIWP), a volunteer-driven 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to studying, identifying, and presenting the processes that lead to peace. IIWP owns and operates the Windermere Ranch, a 142-acre property in the Santa Ynez Mountains that is used to breed and train Arabian horses.

There's often grandiosity written right into the titles of the organizations that sociopaths found. The narcissism inherent in thinking that you are the one capable of raising people's "spiritual inner awareness," or in thinking that you are the man qualified to bring "individual and world peace" to humanity is not only apparent, but overwhelming. 

And spiritual inner awareness, philosophy, and inner peace are the kind of squishy topics that a glib sociopath can expound endlessly on. 

In his personal dealings, however, Hinkins demonstrated anything but inner peace. In the 1980's and 1990's, several disenchanted former members of Hinkins' cult began to expose the inner workings of the cult. (Disgruntled former associates tend to have a clearer view of cult leaders than do his current acolytes.) 

According to Wikipedia:

Dissidents in the organization say Hinkins employed covert listening devices at MSIA's Santa Monica headquarters to support his claim of possessing extrasensory perception. One disenchanted member claimed "What people thought was J-R's clairvoyance was just his cunning and deceitful information gathering."

(This sort of dishonest trickery is, of course, the province of sociopathic con men.)

Susan and Wendell Whitmore, who joined MSIA in the early '70s, finally decided to leave MSIA in 1983 after several male staff members confessed during an informal group discussion that Hinkins had used spiritual threats and promises to coerce them into having sex with him. The Whitmores claim that MSIA members had been led to believe that Hinkins had taken a vow of celibacy, and therefore did not question the series of attractive young men that stayed in his house. "He always had someone sleeping in his bedroom at night, supposedly to protect his body while he was out of it," says Whitmore. Former MSIA members charge that staffers who submitted to their leader's sexual advances were promoted to positions of authority and were praised by Hinkins for their spiritual qualities. Ex-MSIA member Victor Toso, said that although he was not homosexual, he consented to Hinkins's requests for sex because he feared being expelled from the MSIA staff. "Whenever we fell out of line, having another sexual encounter with him was sort of required to seal us back in the brotherhood," said Toso.

(Taking a public vow of celibacy is the type of thing a sociopath would do to prove that he is "pure of heart," and also that he is better than other people. Completely ignoring that vow is, of course, also sociopathic behavior. Thinking that you're fooling others when you're not is another sociopathic behavior pattern. Coercing others into having sex with you is yet another sociopathic specialty. And rewarding those who do have sex with you with positions of authority is also something you'd expect from a sociopath.) 

Wesley Whitmore, Wendell's twin brother and also former MSIA staffer, recalls that in "contrast to his public behavior, Hinkins in private was often angry, vindictive and bizarre, occasionally shouting that he was under attack from negative forces." He and his wife said that their devotion to Hinkins kept them from addressing these issues.

(The gap between one's public and private behavior is never wider than it is with a sociopath.)

According to Susan Whitmore, MSIA defectors hesitated to challenge Hinkins publicly even after leaving the movement "because we were made to be afraid." She claims that Hinkins would declare that people who questioned him had placed themselves "under the Kal (a devil-like spirit) power and its field of negativity, known as the Red Monk," and would essentially be warning that members who associated with defectors risked spiritual disaster. Whitmore alleges that one woman was told she had had a miscarriage because she had hugged one of the defectors.

(Witch doctor is the perfect occupation for a sociopath.)

The Whitmores also claim that after they left MSIA, their cars were vandalized, they received obscene letters accusing them of homosexuality, and phone calls in which threats were made on their lives. Similarly, Eve Cohen, the daughter of ex-MSIA ministers Matthew and Ellen Cohen, and at the time a teenager, received a letter graphically alleging that her father had had sexual acts with other men. The letter claimed to be from a friend of Eve's in Los Angeles.

(You don't have to be a sociopath to accuse others of what you yourself are guilty of, but sociopaths probably do this more than most. And actually sending a letter to the daughter of a former member does rise to a sociopathic level of vindictiveness. The usual sociopathic desire for control is quite apparent here as well.)

Religion academic and writer David C. Lane claims that in the fall of 1983, after he called Hinkins, who at that time he considered to be a friend, to get his response to the allegations of plagiarism, sexual manipulation, and charlatanism that had been raised by other friends, he was subjected to a series of threats, including several made against his life and the lives of his friends/informants. His home was subsequently ransacked and a number of his research files were stolen. He claims that documentary evidence implicates John-Roger with the robbery, as well as with implementing a smear campaign including threats against Lane and other of his critics. This included setting up a front organization called the "Coalition for Civil and Spiritual Rights", an act which was eventually traced directly back to Hinkins.

(Can you imagine yourself breaking into a home of someone who considers himself your friend, ransacking it, and stealing research files? No? That's because you're not a sociopath.)

John-Roger Hinkins. 
David Koresh. 
The Reverend Jim Jones. 
Charlie Manson.
L. Ron Hubbard. 
Warren Jeffs. 
Yahweh ben Yahweh (Hulon Mitchell). 

Messianic sociopaths all.


Anonymous said...

Another one to add to the list could be Werner Erhard (founder of Erhard Seminars Training -also known as est). His life story has many red flags indicating that he is a sociopath.


John Craig said...

Birdie --
Good point, he always gave off that odor as well. A former used car salesman who became a cult leader. Thank you.

Quartermain said...

Peter McWilliams, author of self help books such as "You Can't Afford the Luxury of Negative Thoughts" was a member of that cult.

He wrote a book detailing his time in it:

That's where I first heard of the guy.

John Craig said...

Allan --
Just took a look. Yes, nobody has a clearer view of a leader than a disenchanted follower. McWilliams now understands Hinkins perfectly.

There's nothing a sociopath won't stoop to, but telling a follower he can cure his AIDS if he'll only write books for him and turn over half the proceeds is pretty amazing. Only one kind of person would try to pull a con like that.

Anonymous said...

Philosophy is indeed the type of subject sociopaths pretend to have knowledge of. This is because most people haven't studied philosophy, it being considered by most as too obscure a subject to bother with, so sociopaths can gamble on feigning expertise in it. Cleckley observed this in the 1940s: he had a sociopath patient who pretended to have studied philosophy at university, but when Cleckley asked him about some philosophers and their theories, the sociopath hadn't a clue.

And "Heartfelt Foundation" sounds very sociopath-esque. It seems like sociopaths go OTT with the names and adjectives they choose. Do they even realise that it's overkill when they do it? I reckon that, like with Aspies, sociopaths aren't always aware of it when they're acting in ways most others wouldn't. The only difference is that with sociopaths, it isn't immediately obvious that they're not normal.

- Gethin

John Craig said...

Gethin --
You are, as always, right on target. Hadn't heard about that incident with Cleckley before, but it makes perfect sense.

And yes, it's always the overkill that gives away the sociopath's false emotionality, as with Bill Clinton's "I feel your pain" or his crocodile tears at the recitation of a numerical statistic on poverty.

I don't think that sociopaths do realize they're so over the top, I think that most of them feel they're "proving" what good people they are with that sort of maudlin fakery. Sociopaths always seem to think they're fooling others when they're not.

Anonymous said...

I had this man as my English teacher in 10th grade at Antelope Valley High School. He didn't teach much English, but would give us unusual tests. This was before his coma, in 1961 or 62. His interest was in our ways of thinking. He was addicted to a mentholated nose inhaler that he would use all the time when he was lecturing us. (This was pre-cocain of any kind, even before any marijuana was around). One time there was some kind of holiday that the school specifically said should not be celebrated with any kind of party at school (wish I could remember what it was ~ St. Patricks Day?) Anyway, he went to a lot of trouble to set up such a party. When the vice principal walked in, he put a paper plate with a slice of cake on it into the man's hand, then quietly closed the party down, instructing us to do so quickly, neatly and obediently. We liked him, so we did it that way. The Vice principal was impressed as we all went quietly back to our seats and he left. After he left Mr. Hinkins gave us a lecture about what had happened. He made a note that he had immediately given the man cake to involve him, then instructed us to clean up. Later on I realized that he probably had told the vice prin. he was conducting an experiment with us and would he come into the room. As I say, didn't learn much english, but he was an interesting guy. No harm done.