If you’ve ever had an experience with a cult, Lola Blanc and Meagan Elizabeth want to hear about it.
The women have teamed up to launch a podcast titled “Trust Me,” which explores cases of “extreme belief and manipulation.” They offer a telephone number so that listeners can either voicemail or text their personal accounts. The women also speak to survivors, experts, as well as “former and current believers.” They’ve previously spoken to survivors of groups like NXIVM, Heaven’s Gate and the Children of God, among others.
Elizabeth told Fox News Digital she’s been stunned by the messages they’ve been receiving from callers.
“It’s one of the most interesting parts of what we’ve done,” she explained. “We ended up using one of the stories as a complete episode because that person left us a message, and we just kept talking to them. And it’s crazy how different everyone’s story is, and yet they’re so similar. … I’m constantly struck by how many people experience this and yet how strong and resilient they are. There’s been such a misconception about these kinds of people. But the truth is, the kinds of people who end up in cults are incredibly intelligent, curious, funny and super self-aware, just like anyone you would meet on the street.”
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“It can happen to anyone,” she added.
And the topic hits close to home. Elizabeth said she was raised in a secret religious sect called the “Two By Twos” that is also referred to as “The Truth” or “The Way.” Blanc said she and her mother fell prey to a self-proclaimed “prophet” from a Mormon offshoot group who manipulated them.
According to experts, there are thousands of cult groups. Psychologist Dr. Margaret Thaler Singer, author of “Cults in Our Midst,” once estimated that a whopping 10 million to 20 million Americans have been involved to some degree with cult-like organizations in the last 20 years.
Elizabeth explained that while many associate these extreme groups with the ‘60s and ‘70s, recruits are being made online.
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“We have found that it’s so easy now with the internet,” she said. “There are people out there who are getting a lot of money and loyalty from others in ways that aren’t healthy. … There’s just so much uneasiness in the world today that you want to look for answers. You want to look for different avenues where you don’t feel alone. But you need to be aware of the group’s intentions.”
Blanc noted that the tell-tale signs have been consistent among the numerous listeners who have either called in or emailed them.
“It seems like consistently cult leaders isolate people from their loved ones and prevent them from having an identity outside the group,” she said. “You also have that one who claims they know all the answers. You’ll have those that exploit their members financially but also psychologically and emotionally. You also start to lose your identity and sense of self outside the group. There seems to be no tolerance for questioning.”
“The lack of individuality is so big within these groups,” Elizabeth continued. “We shouldn’t all think the same things or do the same things. If you’re being asked to not be an individual, then you’re probably in a cult-like situation where somebody’s trying to control you. You shouldn’t find your sense of self in one person or one group. You shouldn’t rely on one person or one group to get all of your information in the world. And you shouldn’t rely on one person or one group to feel safe or right. You need more than one place to go for answers in your life.”
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The women do revisit infamous cases to see how they occurred and the lessons that can be learned today. Jonestown, led by the Rev. Jim Jones, comes to mind. The mass murders and suicides of hundreds in an agriculture commune in Guyana still horrify decades after it occurred in 1978.
There’s also the Manson family, which has sparked numerous books, films and documentaries. Charles Manson, the hippie cult leader who masterminded the gruesome murders of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and six others during the summer of 1969, passed away in 2017 after nearly a half-century in prison. The women, who interviewed a former Manson follower for “Trust Me,” said they were struck by how “normal” she is.
“In terms of people who are willing to share their stories with us, it tends to be more women,” said Blanc. “But I don’t believe it’s because more women get involved with cults. I think men join very different types of groups. We also found that women are more comfortable discussing what happened to them. But we’re learning that there’s a surprising amount of male survivors out there as well.”
Elizabeth and Blanc said they’ve wanted to create a space where listeners can share their stories without judgment.
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“We wanted people to find a place where they could feel less alone,” said Blanc. “It was really important for us to create a space where it’s humanized and normalized. I remember when I was looking for a podcast like this one, I couldn’t find anything. The ones I found were almost gawking at survivors. If you’ve been manipulated or abused in some way, you’re not broken. There’s nothing wrong with you. You were just manipulated by a bad person. And that’s one of the many things we wanted people to take from the show.”
“We also wanted to show how resilient these listeners are,” said Elizabeth. “When you’re first coming out of it, if it can feel like your life is over, and you’re never going to thrive again. We have found that’s not true. People can thrive after this.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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