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Landmark Education

In the late 1990s, a close relative of mine was experiencing marital problems. He'd separated from his wife and was living away from home for a while, and during that time he mentioned to me that his wife was going to begin a "counseling" course on her own called "Landmark." It took some pondering on my part to realize that "Landmark" was none other than the Landmark Forum, a.k.a. The Forum, Landmark Education, a.k.a. est – the famous 1970s psychotherapy fad founded by Werner Erhard that was known among anti-cultists as the biggest and most notorious cult since Scientology.

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, my relatives learned the truth about Landmark, and she broke away from it after only paying the initial $300 for their famous introductory "seminar." Today they're happily married – though when she began speaking out about Landmark, her parents began getting calls from the group asking them to make her shut up.

est was similar to Eckankar in that it was an amalgamation of several popular, successful methods; but while Eckankar was a religious hodge-podge, est was a hybrid of several "training" and mental therapy methods ranging from Zen Buddhism to Dianetics. When it became popular, Erhard found himself accused of everything from running a cult to tax evasion, wife-beating, and even incest (though Landmark takes great pains to make its own claim that his daughter was coerced into these accusations). Claiming persecution by the Church of Scientology , he sold EST to his brother, Harry Rosenberg and left the United States an extended tour of the world. est has since been re-organized into the more formal-sounding Landmark Forum, which distances itself from Erhard in order to avoid controversy – but the cult accusations continue.

Unlike the organized resistance to Scientology, Transcendental Meditation, and other therapy cults, there doesn't seem to be a single major web site to go to if you want all of the juicy dirt on Erhard and Landmark. The most referenced Web site with critical statements about Landmark is Inside the Landmark Forum. The center of much of the controversy can still be found at the newsgroup The Rick Ross Institute maintains a series of useful but negative articles on est and Landmark that are useful for anyone who finds themselves going through what my relatives did.

To the surprise of many kook-watchers, it appears that Landmark has recently begun following in Scientology's footsteps. After maintaining a relatively low profile online (at least when compared to other high-attention cults), Landmark is throwing legal threats left and right against Web sites that have posted links to a video called Inside the Landmark Forum (no relation, apparently, to the Web site of the same name). What's more, they've already sued Google Video over this video. It's another one of those "inside information" videos (like the recent movie The Bridge) that offers a look on what it's really like in the organization, using a lot of hidden-camera footage that shows things Landmark really doesn't want you to see.

Oops. Sorry, Landmark, but this is the 21st century now. At least Scientology learned its lesson – sort of – ten years ago. Now, apparently, it's your turn.