“There’s something about the fact that he’s still out there doing all of this, and people still believe in him. This man still gets people sitting in an audience, looking up at him… believing that what he says is just so wonderful...” – Dawn Damas (1991)
DropBox link (if YouTube is intimidated into removing it…):
For an organisation that preaches freedom, they spend a lot of time trying to restrict it…
“Repeatedly, Landmark has brought litigation against its public critics -- quite transparently for the improper purpose of harassing and intimidating them. It is not the recovery of financial losses that Landmark seeks; rather, Landmark uses litigation to send a message to its critics that anyone attacking Landmark’s practices does so at the risk of an expensive and burdensome lawsuit” (Skolnik & Norwick, 2006).
“In an effort to suppress this unfavourable dialogue about the company, Landmark, like Erhard before it, has repeatedly used litigation and threats of litigation as an improper tool to silence its vocal public critics. This type of lawsuit -- typically accusing the defendant of defamation and related torts -- is known in various American jurisdictions as a SLAPP suit: i.e., a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation; a lawsuit brought not for its merits, but for the specific purpose of silencing a vocal critic, often one who is unlikely to have the financial resources to defend himself” (Skolnik & Norwick, 2006).
People/organisations that have been sued/silenced include (I will provide a brief summary in red, suitable for inclusion with me narrating, and then the detail for referencing purposes):
1. Ellen Erhard (1988)
• As a condition of their 1988 divorce settlement, Ellen Erhard was not allowed to talk about her marriage to Werner Erhard with anyone, especially members of the press (Self, 1992).
• “Numerous newspaper articles have reported that a condition of their 1988 divorce settlement was that she could not talk about their marriage with anyone, especially members of the press” (Self, 1992, p. 15).
2. 60 Minutes (and others)
• On March 3 1992, Werner Erhard sued CBS and 60 Minutes producers David Gelber, Douglas Hamilton, and Donald Hewitt, alleging defamation of character, interference with prospective economic advantage, invasion of privacy, and conspiracy. The lawsuit was later withdrawn, with the right to reinstate it if a settlement was not reached (Self, 1992). The lawsuit was not reinstated but, according to Snider (2003), the 60 Minutes segment was made unavailable by CBS for “legal or copyright reasons”.
• “On March 3, 1992, Attorney Walter Maksym filed a multimillion dollar lawsuit in Chicago on behalf of Werner Erhard against CBS, 60 Minutes producers David Gelber, Douglas Hamilton, and Donald Hewitt (…) alleging defamation of character, interference with prospective economic advantage, invasion of privacy, and conspiracy. In an effort to provide an opportunity for the defendants to settle with Erhard, Maksym non-suited the case on May 29, 1992. ‘A non-suit allows the plaintiff to voluntarily dismiss a case and maintain the right to reinstate it within one year,’ explained Maksym. ‘If they choose to not work out a settlement, we will reinstate the suit’” (Self, 1992, p. 149).
• “Werner Erhard sued CBS News over the 60 Minutes broadcast, in a lawsuit filed in 1992. Werner Erhard later filed to dismiss his own lawsuit, and paid $100 checks to each of the defendants to cover their filing fees in the case” (IMDb, 2020).
• Suzanne Snider's article in The Believer in its May 2003 issue wrote: "The 60 Minutes segment was filled with so many factual discrepancies that the transcript was made unavailable with this disclaimer: 'This segment has been deleted at the request of CBS News for legal or copyright reasons'" (Snider, 2003).
3. The Cult Awareness Network and its director Cynthia Kisser (1994)
• In 1994 Landmark sued the Cult Awareness Network and its director, Cynthia Kisser. Attorney’s Peter Skolnik and Michael Norwick say of this lawsuit, which was settled in 1998, “We have good cause to believe that Ms. Kisser’s confidential settlement agreement with Landmark prevents her from speaking about Landmark at all anymore” (Skolnik & Norwick, 2006).
• “The Cult Awareness Network, which was in bankruptcy court when it settled with Landmark, and its director Cynthia Kisser, who reportedly had little personal income to mount her own defense against Landmark, settled under circumstances similar to those involving Dr. Singer. We have good cause to believe that Ms. Kisser’s confidential settlement agreement with Landmark prevents her from speaking about Landmark at all anymore” (Skolnik & Norwick, 2006).
4. Dr Margaret Singer (1996)
• In 1996 Landmark sued Dr. Margaret Singer and the co-author of Cults in Our Midst, Dr. Janja Lalich, for between $5 and $10 million. As part of the settlement agreement, Dr. Singer was required to publicly state that Landmark is not a cult (Schreiber, 1999; Skolnik & Norwick, 2006).
• Lawsuit: “Margaret Singer and Janja Lalich, filed in 1996, Landmark sued for $5 to $10 Million with wide-ranging allegations (similar to those made against Ross) about false statements concerning (1) Landmark’s use of bullying and humiliation techniques; (2) Landmark’s subjecting participants to authoritarian control; (3) Landmark’s discouragement of bathroom breaks during the Forum; (4) Landmark’s verbal and emotional abuse of participants; and (5) the fact that Landmark’s programs are physically, mentally and emotionally stressful, are potentially very dangerous, and can result in mental problems. Landmark generally ended up settling these cases without any financial recovery, but instead by extracting some relatively innocuous statement by the defendants that they do not believe or have no knowledge that Landmark is a ‘cult’” (Skolnik & Norwick, 2006).
• As part of her settlement, she was forced to publicly state that Landmark was not a cult: “I do not believe that either Landmark Education or the Landmark Forum is a cult or sect or meets the definition of a cult or sect” – Dr Margaret Singer (Schreiber, 1999).
5. Steven Pressman (1998)
• In 1998 Landmark brought legal action against journalist Steven Pressman, and spent months attempting to force him to reveal the identities of his confidential sources. The action against Pressman was dropped after the Cult Awareness Network litigation was settled (Skolnik & Norwick, 2006).
• “In still another action, brought in 1998 against Werner Erhard biographer, Steven Pressman, Landmark spent months attempting to compel Pressman to respond to deposition questions aimed at obtaining the confidential sources he used for research on his book, Outrageous Betrayal” (Skolnik & Norwick, 2006).
• “The action against Pressman was dropped after the Cult Awareness Network litigation was settled” (Skolnik & Norwick, 2006).
6. Rick Ross (2004)
• On June 25 2004 Landmark and its related companies sued Rick Ross, founder of www.culteducation.com, which allowed users to anonymously discuss their experiences of various controversial groups. According to Skolnik and Norwick (2006), although the negative posts were clearly by visitors to the site, “Landmark’s complaint made the baseless accusation that these statements were actually authored by Rick Ross under false pseudonyms”. On January 7 2005, Landmark attempted file a motion to uncover the identities of the anonymous posters and, as part of the lawsuit, offered Ross a settlement which would have required that he post pro-Landmark material on his site. On April 1 2005 Landmark filed a motion to dismiss its own lawsuit against Ross.
• “As was reported here nearly a year-and-a-half ago, Landmark and its related companies sued Ross on June 25, 2004, based upon allegedly disparaging statements made about Landmark on www.culteducation.com. In its complaint, Landmark charged that allegedly false and disparaging comments made on Ross’s website and statements made by Ross to the media constituted, among other things, product disparagement, tortious interference, consumer fraud and unfair competition. Although much of the material complained about by Landmark consisted of visitor comments, personal stories and bulletin board messages written by users of the website, Landmark’s complaint made the baseless accusation that these statements were actually authored by Rick Ross under false pseudonyms” (Skolnik & Norwick, 2006).
• “On January 7, 2005, Landmark wrote a letter to the federal Magistrate Judge assigned to the case, the Hon. Mark Falk, U.S.M.J., to seek permission to file a motion to uncover the identities of the users who wrote the allegedly disparaging comments about Landmark. In response to this serious threat to the free speech and privacy rights of the anonymous users of this website, the internet civil liberties group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation with the support of Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, sought to participate in the case as amicus curiae, in order to argue against such intrusive discovery tactics. Following the exchange of letters, the Court made clear that it was not likely to grant Landmark’s motion to unmask the identities of the anonymous users of this website, and Landmark subsequently backed down on pressing its motion” (Skolnik & Norwick, 2006).
• “After Landmark’s litigation objectives had been largely thwarted, and after Ross refused to agree to a face-saving settlement proposal made by Landmark that would have required Ross to post pro-Landmark materials on his website, Landmark sought Ross’s consent to a voluntary walk-away dismissal. Landmark sought such consent because soon after a lawsuit is commenced in Federal Court, unless the parties mutually agree to dismiss it, the litigation can be terminated only by order of the court, and upon such terms and conditions as the court deems proper. As a matter of principle, and in hope of urging the Court to place conditions upon Landmark’s dismissal of its own lawsuit, Ross refused to stipulate to Landmark’s proposed walk-away dismissal. Landmark’s April 1, 2005 letter and exhibits to the Court seeking leave to file a motion to dismiss its own lawsuit are included in this archive” (Skolnik & Norwick, 2006).
7. YouTube, Google and other sites that hosted the French documentary (2006)
• In 2006, Landmark began sending threatening cease and desist letters to online service providers which hosted the revealing 2004 French investigative journalism program on Landmark. Subpoenas were sent to Google Video, YouTube and the Internet Archive demanding to know the identity of the uploader(s). According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the protection of free speech, these subpoenas were intended to harass, as they held no legal merit. In a settlement reached November 29 2006 Landmark agreed to withdraw the subpoena to Google and end its quest to pierce the anonymity of the video’s poster. Landmark has also withdrawn its subpoena to the Internet Archive (EFF, 2006).
According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit organisation dedicated to the protection of free speech:
“The documentary is critical of the Landmark program and includes hidden camera footage from inside a Landmark Forum event in France as well as within the Landmark offices in France. It also includes a panel discussion with the host and interviews with a variety of people regarding whether or not Landmark is a cult. According to Landmark the ‘broadcasting of this program had disastrous consequences and resulted in considerable damage to Landmark Education’s subsidiary operating in France’” (EFF, 2006).
They went on to state:
“The video was posted on several websites including the Internet Archive YouTube and Google. In October 2006 Landmark started to send threatening cease and desist letters to online service providers who hosted the material…” (EFF, 2006).
According to the EFF, Landmark claimed the program revealed copyrighted material and “then issued subpoenas pursuant to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act which allows users to identify alleged infringers even without filing a lawsuit. Subpoenas were sent to Google Video, YouTube and the Internet Archive demanding to know the identity of the uploader (s)”. These subpoenas, according to the EFF, were intended to harass, as they held no legal merit:
“A review of the video makes it clear that the documentary does not contain a copy of the leader manual referenced in Landmark’s letters. Rather it is a news documentary critical of the Landmark organization in France. Moreover, even if Landmark’s copyrighted works were visible in the documentary any such limited and transformative use of a copyrighted work for purpose of criticism commentary and news reporting is self-evidently fair use and therefore non-infringing. Landmark is not seeking to identify those who originally made the documentary since it already knows who made it. Nor are the subpoenas based upon the defamation claims Landmark’s letter asserts – DMCA subpoenas are only authorized to identify alleged infringers of the sender’s copyright. They are not however designed to allow content users to identify their critics as Landmark is attempting to do here” (EFF, 2006).
Numerous websites have been “asked” by Landmark to remove it because it reveals their copyrighted “technology” and because it is claimed that the footage is presented out of context. In an update the EFF provided the following:
“In a settlement reached November 29 2006 Landmark agreed to withdraw the subpoena to Google and end its quest to pierce the anonymity of the video’s poster. Landmark has also withdrawn its subpoena to the Internet Archive” (EFF, 2006).
The anonymous poster, like Singer and others, acknowledged the stress caused by the legal action:
“‘Landmark’s legal threats took an emotional toll,’ said the anonymous poster, known as ‘John Doe’ in the settlement. ‘When I found out that my identity might be revealed based on a bogus copyright claim, I was really worried that Landmark might try to retaliate against me’” (EFF, 2006).
60_13:38 Deborah Rosenberg (Pimental) is one of Werner Erhard’s daughters from his first marriage…
60_13:56 I don’t have a problem admitting that he molested me.
60_14:03 Has your father ever sexually abused any of your siblings?
60_14:23 I wasn’t there, but I believe my sister when she says my father raped her.
[We have to acknowledge the apparent retractions of the statements made by all of Erhard’s daughters (not just Deborah Rosenberg), but I think it’s fair that we point out how these retractions occurred, as it speaks to the way that Erhard/Landmark spins information and shuts people up [“silencing critics”].
Most Erhard/Landmark supporters believe that all of his daughters retracted their statements. This shows how little they weigh strong evidence that he was a monster (footage of three of his children making horrendous accusations on national television… and claims by two of his other children off-camera) against weak evidence that he was not (four words in a magazine seven years later that provide no detail about these apparent retractions).
In terms of providing Erhard’s side of the story we may, for example, show footage of Deborah Rosenberg accusing her father of molesting her and raping her sister, and then present the “retractions” as follows:
“It should be noted that in 1992 a book was written by Forum graduate, Jane Self Ph.D. (Self, 1992), which stated that Erhard’s daughters Celeste and Adair (from his second marriage) retracted the claims they had made on 60 Minutes…
… That their father was a frightening man, who was physically and emotionally abusive to them, to their brother St. John, and to their mother…
Self’s book also confirmed that Deborah Rosenberg and the sister who claimed Erhard raped her had not retracted their accusations at the time her book was published…
According to a Time Magazine article, published six years after the 60 minutes episode, the horrific claim made by Deborah Rosenberg on national television… that she was molested by Erhard, and the even more disturbing claim made by her sister… that she was raped by Erhard, were also retracted…
… seven years later
… with the following four words
… at the end of this sentence
… in parentheses
“Then, after two decades and two divorces, the self-help messiah vanished amid reports of tax fraud (which proved false and won him $200,000 from the IRS) and allegations of incest (which were later recanted)” (Faltermayer, 1998).
Further details of these supposed retractions cannot be found, and this Time Magazine article is cited in a 2015 New York Times article in which Erhard is interviewed (Haldeman, 2015), and listed on www.wernererhard.com (Friendsofwernererhard, 2018) as the earliest evidence that these claims were retracted. Considering the allegations, this is not great evidence to refute them.
(From what I’ve found so far, there has not been a retraction of the statements made by anyone that I have included from the 60 Minutes episode – Wendy Drucker, Dr Bob Larzelere, Deborah Rosenberg, or Erhard’s governess, Dawn Damas. These statements do, however, explain why Palahniuk may have reconsidered his support for this organisation, and therefore are important from an artistic perspective, to explain the metaphor.
The magazine “The Believer” (Snider, 2003) stated that “the ‘60 Minutes’ segment was riddled with so many discrepancies that CBS deleted it from its public archives”. In reality, 60 Minutes was sued by Erhard, the lawsuit was “dropped” and after that CBS removed the episode from its archives “for legal or copyright reasons” (Snider, 2003). This actually just adds to the comment about Erhard and Landmark using litigation to silence critics… and feeds into “don’t talk about fight club”).