A History and analysis of the Sharon Gans group, also known as "The Work"

March 2002

By former members of the Gans schools

Edited by Rick Ross


History of the Group
Beliefs, Structure and Practices
Is this Gans group a Cult?
Recruitment Techniques
Does Sharon Gans "Brainwash" People?
Mystical Manipulation
The Demand for Purity
Cult of Confession
Sacred Science
Loading the Language
Doctrine over Person
The Dispensing of Existence
How much does the Gans group cost?
The wealth of Sharon Gans

History of the group

Teachers at the Gans schools never discuss the history of the group, and students who ask are often intimidated into never asking again. What is known is that Alex Horn established a group in northern California with his wife. Interestingly, one of Alex Horn's early students was supposedly Robert Burton who later created the "Fellowship of Friends," a group, which has often been called a "cult" and has a sordid history of sex scandals, bad press and lawsuits.

Alex Horn later left his wife and established a new group with his new wife Sharon Gans in San Francisco. Sharon Gans is a one-time actress who was featured in the film "Slaughterhouse Five." Sharon and Alex called their new group "The Theatre of All Possibilities" and "Everyman Inc." They held classes, recruited heavily and used the group as a vehicle for producing Alex Horn's plays, which often starred Ms. Gans.

The new group proved to be a lucrative moneymaker for the Horns. Members provided free labor and were convinced that to do so was a privilege. The Horn's students worked on productions, acted in them, sold tickets on the streets, built sets, prepared and served dinners and provided whatever they could. According to some members whose allegations were later quoted in the press, Alex Horn abused his students both physically and verbally. And Sharon Gans-Horn was known to berate members to keep them in line.

The Horns controlled a substantial income from their students, which was often in cash. But after the San Francisco Chronicle ran a story exposing the group in 1978, they seemed to disappear from the Bay area virtually overnight. Sharon and Alex left California and apparently stayed at their ranch in Montana.

Eventually the group once again formed in New York City, except for one prominent follower Robert Klein who started a satellite school in Boston under the direction Sharon Gans and Alex Horn.

The New York group met regularly in people's homes and eventually began renting a meeting space on Broadway in lower Manhattan. Students were also invited to participate in retreats at the Falls Creek Ranch in Condon, Montana where there was more intensive instruction and numerous construction projects.

About 1986 a second group was formed in New York and recruiting efforts were stepped up. Alex Horn's behavior was a problem though and during the late 80s he was effectively removed as the group's leader through a kind of coup. By the end of 1988 Sharon Gans had sole control of the organization both in New York and Boston. Though Alex Horn retained a handful of students in Manhattan. Sharon Gans remains in control to this day.

Members refer to the Gans led group as "The Work" or simply "school." The group has recently incorporated under the name of "Odyssey Study Group." Ms. Gans and/or her students have operated under many names, which also include "Good Omen Inc.," "Everyman Inc.," "Davail Inc.," "Hudson Valley Artist's Foundation," "Fountain Ridge," "New York Playwrights Association" and "Falls Creek Ranch."

A local retreat was created at a property on Croton Falls Road in Mahopac, New York just down the road from Sharon and Alex's country estate. Many students went to this property one weekend a month beginning about 1989 and continuing until about 1999. But when that location seemed to be getting too much attention from local residents the group purchased a property in Pawling, New York, with money from wealthier members. This became known as the "Hudson Valley Artist's Foundation" and "Fountain Ridge or Bridge."

Beginning in the 90s Sharon Gans installed her son as a teacher. He had been raised in the group and was a student on and off since his graduation from college. He also led New York classes within the "school" as well as occasionally teaching in Boston and traveling monthly to Copenhagen, where a Gans devotee had started a new group.

But Sharon Gans son's position as a leader and her heir apparent abruptly ended during the summer of 2000. He openly renounced her as his teacher in a class he taught composed of younger students. This incident was quickly hushed up and contained, so that other students, grouped in various classes or cells, would not know the actual circumstances regarding his departure from the group. This included a seemingly frantic effort to exercise "damage control," which often included late meetings early into the morning. Ultimately, Sharon's estranged son was not heard from again and according to the rules, students were not to contact and/or speak with him as a former member.

Beliefs, Structure and Practices

The group calls itself a "school" and is supposedly devoted to the "Fourth Way," which is a tradition defined by the philosophy of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff (1866?-1949) and contained within the writings of Piotr Demianovich Ouspensky (1878-1947). Gurdjieff's basic teaching is that people live in waking sleep and that transcendence from this sleeping state requires a specific inner work, which is practiced in private quiet conditions, and in the midst of life with others. This inner work will supposedly lead to otherwise inaccessible levels of awareness and/or possibilities for personal development.

G. I. Gurdjieff

Ouspensky, who once lived in the United States, organized this philosophy into a system. He taught the philosophy in classes beginning in the 1920s until his death. His former students posthumously published notes of his meetings. Once such book is titled "The Fourth Way: A Record of Talks and Answers to Questions based on the Teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff."

The Sharon Gans group claims to base its teachings upon the "Fourth Way" tradition and to follow its philosophy. And Ms. Gans instruction is supposedly based largely upon this philosophic tradition.

The classes of the group are held in unmarked and essentially secret locations in New York City and Boston, with retreat complexes in Pawling, New York and near Condon, Montana.

If someone is being recruited to become a member of the Gans group, they are likely be told that the group has no name and is simply a group of friends in search of meaning, or a "group of like-minded people going in the same direction," "a school of inner development," or "a school of inquiry into the truth."

Sharon Gans is regarded and treated by group members as a more "conscious being." She is often referred to reverentially and called "S," "our Friend" or simply "Sharon." Her decisions, wishes, commands and whims are rarely questioned and members often ask for her help or guidance with almost any personal decision of consequence involving work, relationships and family life. Everyone in the school is essentially expected to follow her directions, or "to work on themselves," "grow their beings" and "grow their understanding" based largely upon her definitions of these terms and interpretation of their meanings, without objection.

Over the years, Sharon Gans has elevated a number of her most devoted followers to the rank of "teacher." This means members should demonstrate deference to them. This cadre of core teachers run the numerous classes and activities on her behalf both in New York and Boston.

Sharon Gans directs her devoted followers largely by phone from her Manhattan apartment or another one of her residences. Over the course of a year, Sharon will preside over a given class about 20-25 times for about two hours. At other times, her cadre of teachers, under her strict supervision, will also teach classes.

Classes run year round, two evenings a week, for about 4 hours a session. In addition, the organization runs weekend retreats, which group members are expected to attend at least once per month.

D. Ouspensky

Retreats sometimes meet even more frequently, when Sharon Gans decides to intensify the group's work. This may involve building projects to improve the retreat properties. Most of the structures at the retreat properties, as well as the infrastructure, were built by students as part of supposed efforts to "work on themselves." This was often under intense deadline pressure and frequently through long hours in what might be seen as unsafe conditions.

Members generally pay the organization for retreats. It is often considered part of the "spiritual" lesson to go beyond perceived limits of physical and emotional endurance. Many members have broken down under these conditions, and their subsequent rehabilitation by the group seems to engender greater control and attachment.

There are now three groups of students that comprise the school in New York. Classes are held in a loft space above a fabric store on Broadway, in lower Manhattan.

For members, attendance is mandatory and punctuality is strongly recommended.

Blacks and gays are not allowed to join the group. Sharon Gans provides an elaborate "esoteric" explanation for these restrictions. If someone indicates a gay personal history, they are expected to indicate a desire to change their sexual preference, or they will not be accepted as a student in the group.

Is this Gans group a cult?

The Gans group goes to great lengths to deny that it is a cult. New recruits and members who have dared to use the "C" word are criticized for even thinking that the group could be a cult. Instead, the group calls itself a "school" and likens itself to other "schools" throughout history responsible for some of mankind's greatest achievements. For example they might say, "Pythagoras had a school, similarly governed by a rule of silence." The Gothic cathedrals were built by a "school." Shakespeare was even part of a "school." And all the names within sections of the bible that say "so-and-so beget so-and so" are actually the names of "schools." Johann Sebastian Bach was the product of a "school" and so was Frank L. Baum, author of the Wizard of Oz. People in Sharon Gans group are simply supposed to be part of a "school" and within the context of this historic tradition. They certainly don't see themselves in any way as members of a "cult."

One working definition of a cult was composed by Louis Jolyon West, M.D. and Michael Langone, Ph.D. West (now deceased) headed the psychiatry department and Neuropsychiatric Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles for 20 years and was a highly regarded cult expert. Langone, a psychologist, is the director of the American Family Foundation. West and Langone define a cult as follows:

"A cult is a group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea or thing and employing unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control (e.g. isolation from former friends and family, debilitation, use of special methods to heighten suggestibility and subservience, powerful group pressures, information management, suspension of individuality or critical judgement, promotion of total dependency on the group and fear of leaving it, etc) designed to advance the goals of the group's leaders to the actual or possible detriment of members, their families, or the community." (West & Langone, 1986).

In the Gans group it would not be possible for someone in the group to bring up such a working definition in class and then use it as the starting point for a rational, open inquiry into the difference between the "school" and a cult.

Similarly, it would be impossible to have an open dialogue about manipulative techniques, which might take into account the following three "Ds" of cultic manipulation as identified by Margaret Singer, Ph.D. noted author, cult expert and Professor Emeritus of the University of California, Berkeley.

      1. Deception

        Recruits brought into the Gans group are essentially duped to believe that the group is benevolent and will enrich their lives. For example, by somehow advancing their spirituality or increasing their self-esteem and/or sense of security. As a result of this deception and the systematic use of highly manipulative techniques of influence, recruits come to commit themselves to the group's proscribed ways of thinking, feeling and acting; in other words, they become members or converts. There is also deception in the recruitment process, which will be described later.

      2. Dependency

        By gradually isolating members from outside influences, establishing unrealistically high and guilt-inducing expectations, punishing any expressions of "negativity" and denigrating independent, critical thinking, the group causes members to become extremely dependent upon the group's compliance-oriented expressions of love and support.

      1. Dread

        Once a state of dependency is firmly established, the group's control over a member's thoughts, feelings and behavior is strengthened by a growing dread of losing the group's psychological support, regardless of how much the member must comply with the leader's increasingly debilitating demands.

According to a consensus of well-recognized cult experts, here are some primary methods through which a cult might succeed in ensnaring otherwise intelligent, creative, sensitive and thoughtful individuals. It seems that these same methods are used by the Sharon Gans group.Control of the environment and communication within the environment.

  • Group pressure and the denigration of independent, critical thinking
  • Indoctrination into a belief system, often through endless repetition and special vocabularies, which often depict the world outside the group to be threatening, evil and/or in error.
  • An insistence that members become distressed, which is often induced by the group, but can be relieved by conforming to the group's dictates and/or agenda.
  • Physical and psychological debilitation through sleep deprivation.
  • Inducing dissociative states through the misuse of exercises in which attention is narrowed, suggestibility heightened and individual thought weakened.
  • Unpredictable alternation of harshness/threats and leniency/love in order to effect compliance with the leader's wishes.
  • Isolation from social supports such as old friends, family and business associates.
  • Pressured public confessions.
  • Manipulation of the fear members have of leaving the group, so that they come to believe they will "lose everything" or that something bad will happen to them if they choose to leave.

Recruitment Techniques

Since the operations of the group are essentially a secret, the recruitment of new members is accomplished through the special efforts of the group's members. Maintaining secrecy seems to be of paramount importance, so the recruitment process of new members involves the creation of elaborate ruses designed to earn the trust of potential recruits. Recruitment is a five-step process, as "transmitted" or laid out by Sharon Gans. All recruiters typically follow this process and are supervised by their "teachers." The process involves "making friends" with strangers through a series of five meetings of ever-increasing intimacy that culminate in a special invitation to join the group. If the potential recruit is interested, he or she must undergo one and/or sometime two interviews with one or more "teachers," before finally being given entrance.

Immediately disqualified, as candidates are blacks, gays, journalists and/or anyone with a close connection to law enforcement, the military or intelligence services. Sharon Gans and her trusted teachers offer elaborate esoteric explanations for these restrictions, which group members sheepishly accept and hypocritically defend.

Recruiters most often keep an active list of at least 10 potential recruits at all times. They may do this by going to public events, bars, diners, concerts, museums, bookstores, lectures, the theater and yoga classes. Anywhere where they can strike up conversations with potential targets. The goal of such conversation is to create a "connection" and get a phone number.

The person that is met then can go on the recruiters list. At weekly recruiting meetings, recruiters report about their work. Promising recruits are discussed, and suggestions are made as to how to implement the next step in the recruitment process. Additionally, recruiters work in teams and/or with partners, and spend many hours each week on the phone in what are called "flash meetings" to "create energy" and organize their lives so that they can "make their aim" for the week.

This "line of work" as it is called, may become the defining activity of the recruiter's existence as they are pressured to find new "students." This may easily occupy 20 hours a week; over and above other time devoted to various group activities. Recruitment also requires the expenditure of personal money to cover transportation, babysitting fees, and the cost of participating in events around the city that recruiters would not otherwise attend.

The rest of the five-step meeting process, which takes place, usually at meals, is as follows:

  • Second meeting

Recruiters gear the conversation toward the potential recruit and find out the facts of that person's life. Age, marital status, how much money they make, composition of their family, where they grew up, profession, etc. This is done while revealing nothing in return. Recruiters all have a service number they provide to potential recruits that is typically answered only by a recording, which does not divulge their last name, place of residence or employment.

  • Third meeting

Recruiters take the conversation into more personal territory. They work to discover a potential recruit's personal "ache" or disappointments in life. During this third meeting, another recruiter may "pass through" seemingly spontaneously and/or as if by accident.

  • Fourth meeting

Recruiters propound one of the basic tenets of the school and see how the potential recruit receives it. This tenet states that all that is good and true in human history has been guided by the invisible work of esoteric "schools," which have been sustained by the "conscious" work of "conscious" people. Recruiters then give examples of such invisible "school" work; and may cite Pythagoras, Plato, Shakespeare, Moses, Buddha, or even Jesus. They are then claimed as conscious beings that are the products of the most successful "schools" in history.

The most skillful recruiters are able to give plausibility to the work of "schools" in history and then effectively bridge such conversation to the crucial question, which is the "aim" of the fourth meeting; "If there is such a school in existence today, would you be interested in studying there?" An answer in the affirmative leads to the fifth meeting.

  • Fifth meeting

Now the recruiter will tell the potential recruit about the existence of an "esoteric school" or a "school of inner development" that is open by invitation only. Recruits are told there is a "tuition" that is arranged on an individual basis with the "teachers," and are then told about three rules, which they must agree to, which are silence, no drugs and no exchanging phone numbers or dating people in the group, for awhile anyway. If the potential recruit is still interested in the school, an interview with a teacher is then arranged.

By this time, the potential recruit is convinced that he or she has stumbled upon an exclusive and miraculous answer to their prayers, and led to believe that the teacher(s) they will be meeting have special, spiritual accomplishments. If the potential recruit is at a minimum sufficiently deferential at their interview, willing to suspend disbelief, abide by the rules, commit to going to eight consecutive classes and work with someone who will be assigned to them called a "sustainer," he or she is then admitted to "conduct an experiment." That is, eight consecutive classes over a four week period.

There was a period of many years in which this process yielded not a single new "student." But nevertheless this intensive work was maintained relentlessly, 12 months a year, with the possible exceptions of Thanksgiving and Christmas. This enormous expenditure of energy on something that appeared so unprofitable and unrewarding is hard to explain. Unless it is understood what the recruiters forced themselves to believe. That is, that they were being given the opportunity to engage in a "line of work" for the good of "school" that was the most difficult and spiritually valuable form of "work on oneself" available.

In recent years, in order to help the recruiting effort, the group has been mounting a periodic lecture series at the New York Film Academy. This series is entitled "Yearning for Meaning in Our Lives," through this series members of the group give lectures with a spiritual bent on esoteric topics. This might include discussions about pyramids, the Kabbalah, Celtic mythology etc.

Potential recruits are invited to the lecture series, which is the focus of yet another "line of work." Not only are the lectures themselves the center for refining recruits, but lecturers are prepared to handle tough and hostile questions. And they also will attempt to solicit further interest from unsuspecting audience members.

Everyone in the group is often told to put up flyers all over New York City to help fill the lecture hall for the series. Because the group wants to maintain anonymity, it does not openly advertise.

It is a rather simple matter to be dropped as a potential recruit. For example, if a potential recruit insists upon getting a direct phone number and/or verifying a recruiter's last name, they will be dropped. Typically this is avoided by recruiters, who instead offer to meet someone at their workplace, apartment etc. Recruiters often will have scripted answers ready for troubling questions, as they are well trained. But their insistence upon anonymity often puts off potential recruits and/or raises suspicion.

Does Sharon Gans "brainwash" people?

A valuable study that may help answer this question is the work of Robert Jay Lifton. His seminal book "Thought Reform and Psychology of Totalism" first published in 1961, is a study of Chinese thought-reform, popularly known as "brainwashing." The criteria he established are widely used as a basis to examine the techniques of control often used by a wide array of extremist and/or totalist groups. Lifton distinguished eight characteristics that are the hallmark of totalist organizations, regardless of their political, philosophic, religious or even supposedly therapeutic content. For whatever the ideological content of a totalist group's beliefs, they may espouse anything from Christianity to Buddhism, left wing or right-wing politics, the intention of totalist groups, is most often the same. That is, to create obedient and pliable members who will sacrifice their freedom, their time and their money to do the will of their leaders.

Is the Sharon Gans organization a totalist organization, which uses thought reform techniques as described by Lifton?

What follows, is a summary of Lifton's eight characteristics and how they each might apply to Gans group.

  • Milieu Control

Lifton states, "The most basic feature of the thought reform environment, the psychological current upon which all else depends, is the control of human communication. Through this milieu control the totalist environment seeks to establish dominion over not only the individual's communication with the outside (all that he sees and hears, reads or writes, experiences and expresses), but also - in its penetration of his inner life - over what we may speak of as his communication with himself&In order to be the engineers of the human soul, they must first bring it under full observational control."

The Gans group seems to exercise "Milieu Control" as follows:

  • Typically, no member of the group may speak to anyone outside of the group regarding the content of the ideas, the classes, or any personal interactions that have taken place within the group. Members are in particular asked not to discuss any of the group ideas with family members who are not members of the "school," unless they are somehow involved in a recruitment effort with that person. Books used in the classes are most often covered and/or hidden when not in use.
  • Group members themselves are not allowed to speak with each other about the ideas or about each someone's life, outside of their weekly meetings or without a "teacher" present, unless they are give permission.
  • Persons outside the group are often described as "asleep in life" and therefore unable to hear and/or comprehend the ideas and lives of group members. This characterization tends to isolate members through their lack of meaningful personal associations and communication with all those who are "asleep."
  • Vacations are discouraged, except around the rare occasions when classes do not meet. That is, one week around Christmas, and one week in the summer. Unexplained absences are frowned upon.
  • Members that break these rules and speak of the group to outsiders are often disciplined and/or expelled.
  • According to the rules once a member leaves the group he or she is shunned and virtually any meaningful communication or contact is usually cut off. Members are typically not allowed to speak and/or associate with former members.

Mystical Manipulation

Lifton states, "The inevitable next step after milieu control is extensive personal manipulation. This manipulation assumes a no-holds-barred character, and uses every possible device at the milieu's command, no matter how bizarre or painful. Initiated from above, it seeks to provoke specific patterns of behavior and emotion in such a way that these will appear to have arisen spontaneously."

The Gans group seems to exercise "Mystical Manipulation" as follows:

  • Every new student is given a "sustainer," who becomes the new member's special friend. Unbeknownst to the new member, the sustainer's task is to compile detailed weekly reports on his new "essence friend" and to deliver these to the "teachers." Thus, new students are continually amazed at the apparent personal secrets that the "teachers" seem to have divined through the use of their supposed superior consciousness. However, most often the teachers are actually only working from notes supplied to them about new members through "sustainers."
  • Older students also acquire special friends from amongst the senior students and the assistant teachers. The job of these special friends, too, is often to useful information to leaders.
  • At the direction of "teachers," students are often put through elaborate schemes to demonstrate supposedly "higher states of consciousness." to some other student and/or potential recruit. For example, students engaged in an recruitment effort may orchestrate a seemingly chance meeting where another student seems to drop in spontaneously, but this is really a staged performance. This manipulated meeting is then used to impart some insight about the new recruit, which is then again attributed to "higher states of consciousness." The recruit is unaware that the drop in has been prepped regarding their background and personal situation and is speaking from notes rather than "consciousness."

The Demand for Purity

Lifton states, "The Philosophical assumption underlying this demand is that absolute purity is attainable, and that anything done to anyone in the name of the purity is ultimately moral. In actual practice, however, no one is really expected to achieve such perfection. Nor can this paradox be dismissed as merely a means of establishing a high standard to which all can aspire. Thought reform bears witness to its more malignant consequences: for by defining and manipulating the criteria of purity, and then by conducting an all-out war upon impurity, the ideological totalists create a narrow world of guilt and shame. This is perpetuated by an ethos of continuous reform, a demand that one strive permanently and painfully for something which not only does not exist but is in fact alien to the human condition."

The Gans group seems to exercise the "Demand for Purity" as follows:

  • The world is divided into those who are "asleep," which is most of humanity and those who are awake or striving to awaken, which are essentially the members of the "school." The asleep are not awake and fully realized and therefore when they die they will be dissolved. Only the elect, the members of the group, have the possibility of immortality.
  • Students and even teachers are continually berated with the idea that they are "asleep," "in life" and/or "filled with negativity." Such assessments often occur when people question the desires or statements of Sharon Gans. Group members may be denigrated or humiliated at almost any time and told they are not pure enough to reach the next rung on the ladder of consciousness.
  • The group espouses a ladder of mankind, which denotes higher levels of purity. This includes Man Numbers One Two and Three, who are all "asleep" and not really human, to Man Number Four , Five, Six, Seven, and Eight, who show varying degrees of consciousness and superiority. Jesus is said to have been a Man Number Eight. Sharon Gans suggests that she herself is a Number Six and that Gurdjieff and Ouspensky were likewise people of much higher consciousness.
  • The chief technique of intimidation is for the group leader to reveal some intimate detail of weakness or guilt that a member has revealed in confidence to a sustainer or some other special friend. This is evidence of a personal failure regarding purity and may be anything from a childhood betrayal, an act of bullying to an unsavory personal habit like picking one's nose. No item of behavior is exempt from criticism.

Cult of Confession

Lifton states, "Closely related to the demand for absolute purity is an obsession with personal confession. Confession is carried beyond its ordinary religious, legal and therapeutic expressions to the point of becoming a cult in itself. There is the demand that one confess to crimes one had not committed, to sinfulness that is artificially induced, in the name of a cure that is arbitrarily imposed."

The Gans group seems to exercise the "Cult of Confession" as follows:

  • Well-indoctrinated members who accidentally or in a moment of "weakness" reveal secrets of the group, often come tearfully forward to confess what they have "leaked" and may beg for forgiveness and/or accept punishment.
  • Members are required to keep a journal of daily "self-observations" and these are often read publicly in class. These "observations" may seem chosen, or made up, to reveal what a member thinks is his or her weakness.
  • Any member who fails to reveal their difficulties, their weaknesses or their faults before the whole group for criticism and reform is referred to as a "leach" or "parasite." Such a person is told, "Others are asking for help, why not you"?
  • Under the guise of working on a project, members are kept awake for 24-hour periods and made to do hard physical work frequently resulting in a breaking point. When a member does break down, she or he is told that they have revealed their "being weaknesses" just in time. They are then admonished to "work on" these weaknesses.

Sacred Science

Lifton states, "The totalist milieu maintains an aura of sacredness around its basic dogma, holding it out as an ultimate moral vision for the ordering of human existence. This sacredness is evident in the prohibition (whether or not explicit) against the questioning of basic assumptions, and in the reverence which is demanded for the originators of the Word, the present bearers of the Word, and the Word itself. While thus transcending ordinary concerns of logic, however, the milieu at the same time makes an exaggerated claim of airtight logic, of absolute 'scientific' precision. Thus the ultimate moral vision becomes an ultimate science; and the man who dares to criticize it, or to harbor even unspoken alternative ideas, becomes not only immoral and irreverent, but also 'unscientific.'"

The Gans group seems to exercise a "Sacred Science" as follows:

  • "Modern science" itself is frequently chastised and ridiculed for failing to see what the group sees. It is frequently referred to as "pseudo-science." That is, the group's belief system is instead a more precise and absolute body of knowledge, which people should follow rather than this "pseudo-science."
  • Interestingly, a respected teacher in the past also wrote an entire book showing that modern science in fact supports the teachings of the group, which ultimately proved that the group's views somehow possessed "absolute 'scientific' precision."
  • The group's teachings are said to be truly "objective," while all other ways of thinking, including democracy, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, are described as "subjective and flawed."
  • The group favors esoteric diagrams that require sacred geometry to unpack. The enneagram, a figure of linear geometrical figures inserted in a circle, is said to contain all possible knowledge. Of course, only the group's historic leaders and current leaders are said to be capable of interpreting this diagram properly.

Loading the Language

Lifton states, "The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-terminating cliché. The most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed."

The Gans group seems to be "Loading the Language" as follows:

  • Phrases like "inner evolution," "balanced man," "man asleep." "self-remembering," "self-observation," "negativity," "higher centers." and the like are supposed to encompass virtually all the possibilities of human thought. About fifty phrases seem to be used to describe almost any human situation.
  • Refusal to use this phraseology is referred to as an example of "negativity" or "being asleep."
  • The oldest members often scarcely seem to speak any other phrases, and may lapse into silence if addressed in other terms.

Doctrine over Person

Lifton States, "This sterile language reflects the characteristic feature of ideological totalism: the subordination of human experience to the claims of doctrine. This primacy of doctrine over experience is evident in the continual shift between experience itself and the highly abstract interpretation of such experience - between genuine feelings and spurious cataloguing of feelings."

The Gans group seems to exercise "Doctrine over Person" as follows:

  • Anyone who rejects the group's loaded language is said to be suffering from personal difficulties and to have "fallen asleep." Such a person is often expelled from the group and people are admonished never again to speak to him or her, because to do so might somehow jeopardize that person's chance of ever awakening again.
  • From time to time, members develop serious illnesses, some of them appear to be induced by the stresses of group membership and/or simply getting sick. If a member were in ill favor with the leader, it might be suggested that the illness was a result of their negativity. If a member were in good favor, it may be suggested that the illness was a test, both for the individual and for the will of the group, all of whose members would be instructed to pray for that person.
  • People who reported bad things in their life, such as loss of a boyfriend or girlfriend, loss of a job, sickness of a parent, conflict with friends, may be told that they should expect nothing else "in life," because everyone there "is asleep." People who report good things in their life, getting a good job, getting engaged, resolving a conflict with friends, are expected to credit the group's advice and guidance regarding achieving these ends.

The Dispensing of Existence

Lifton states, "The totalist environment draws a sharp line between those whose right to existence can be recognized, and those who possess no such right...The totalist environment - even when it does not resort to physical abuse - thus stimulates in everyone a fear of extinction or annihilation. A person can overcome this fear and find 'confirmation,' not in his individual relationships, but only from the fount of all existence, the totalist Organization."

The Gans group seems to exercise "Dispensing of Existence" as follows:

  • When a member leaves the group, all members are instructed never to speak to him or her again.
  • A person "asleep in life" is not worth much more consideration than a domestic animal. Such a person, according to the group, is incapable of authentic thought or feeling.
  • A person leaving the group is told that they essentially now have ceased to exist. The mild form of this is that they have "given up the struggle and are content to be asleep." A more extreme expression would be that they have abandoned the true way and will "die like a dog in the gutter."
  • The greatest fear of the majority of longtime members and the greatest weapon in the hands of Sharon Gans, seems to be that at some point she may tell them to leave. And then all their privileges and friends, they are told, would be lost.

How much does the Gans group cost?

The Gans group has between 150 and 200 members, between its two main locations in New York and Boston. Each member is charged a monthly tuition of $200-400 dollars a month, which amounts to $2,400-4,800 annually. New recruits often pay $400 a month. Tuition alone comes to more than $700,000 collected by the group annually.

This income is apparently controlled by Sharon Gans. Little if any of this money seems to cover any expenses associated with the functioning of the group, as other fees are assessed separately to cover such costs.

Each New York member pays an additional $85 a month "maintenance" fee to cover the cost of renting the space where classes meet. That amounts to an additional $1,020 collected from each member annually. The maintenance fee collected from the members easily yields more than $125,000. But the annual rental fee for the meeting space is about $70,000.

Members who participate in the retreats (and that comprises the majority of members) pay additional fees. Those who go to monthly retreats at the recently purchased complex at Pawling, New York pay about $200 a month for that privilege. Individually, this is an additional $2,400 a year, plus an additional $20 a weekend for a "transportation fee," that curiously doesn't seem to go to actual vehicle owners and/or drivers.

Those who go to the annual summer retreats at the complex in Montana pay $60-80 a month during the year to cover its property taxes, plus about $800 per person to participate in the ten-day long retreat. Of course that does not include roundtrip airfare (about $650 coach), plus about $75 each from many members to cover the First Class roundtrip airfare for Sharon Gans. Individually, that is an additional $2,245 a year.

In recent years, every group member "contributes" $5 a month to a "retirement" fund for Sharon Gans, and another $60 a year fee for a storage space used to hold theatrical sets and props.

Many of the group members are "strongly encouraged" to take acting classes from a friend of Sharon Gans in Manhattan. This costs $200 a month.

A writing class taught by yet another friend of Sharon Gans costs $100 a month.

A yoga retreat, once again given by someone with connections to the group's teachers, cost $400 to $900.

There are also required contributions for special classes such as the Christmas class and occasionally "classes outside of class" such as square dances organized in Croton Falls, New York.

It is unknown if Sharon Gans or her "teachers" receive any financial consideration for such referrals. And the group has no published independently audited financial statement, which is distributed to all its members showing how the money is used and what payments are made to Sharon Gans and/or her family members, associates and friends through salaries and expenses.

Add this all up and you can see that a single student could easily be paying out $6,000 to $10,000 a year in disposable income. This does not include other expenses such as taxis, babysitters, money spent recruiting, and all kinds of incidental donations made in response to frequent requests.

Furthermore, students who work on special projects called "lines of work" are rarely reimbursed for their expenses, whether it is photocopying something for teachers or other students, or entertaining potential recruits by buying meals at coffee shops for special motivational meetings.

For many students, this represents the limit of their financial capability. Because the bulk of a member's free time is also consumed by the demands of special lines of work, retreats, sustaining, and recruiting efforts. The group can potentially consume a member's life.

In a short while, a new recruit becomes a valuable asset, providing not only a steady source of income, but also a source of free labor, available at virtually any time for any purpose for their supposed spiritual development.

In addition, Sharon Gans receives very significant contributions of cash and stocks from wealthy individuals who have become part of the group. Their wealth is often derived from large family inheritances and trust funds. These wealthy individuals often acquire special status. They may be given special attention and praise. Such treatment can be seen as a tool used to cement their loyalty.

The wealth of Sharon Gans

The wealth that has accumulated over the last 25 to 30 years through the functioning of the Gans group has provided Sharon Gans with a number of homes and retreat facilities, which she often uses as personal residences. These properties all appear to be ultimately controlled by Ms. Gans through a myriad of family members, friends, and/or corporate entities. In New York City, she resides in a large residence that was once two apartments in an expensive Manhattan neighborhood. These apartments were purchased by her friend Robert Klein. He is Sharon Gans second in command, and runs the "school" in Boston.

Sharon's legal residence is on Fifth Avenue, in a rent-controlled apartment where her friend the drama teacher now sublets.

In Croton Falls/Mahopac, Sharon Gans keeps a country estate titled to her daughter, Ilsa Kulko Kaye. There is a Tudor house, with an in-ground pool, and also separate guest cottages spread out over its grounds.

In Kalispell, Montana, Sharon Gans has another home. This property was also purchased by Robert Klein.

In Greenwich Village/Soho Ilsa Kulko Kaye, the daughter of Sharon Gans, lives in a four bedroom, three bath, 3,000 square foot townhouse. It has a garden, huge chef's kitchen, terrace and master bedroom suite with private terrace. The townhouse has been completely remodeled and includes central air. This home is titled to Ms. Kulko and her husband and is valued at about four million dollars. It has a mortgage note of only $300,000. Recently the townhouse was offered as a rental for $20,000 per month. It is unclear what interest Sharon Gans may have in this valuable property.

Near Condon, Montana is Sharon Gans ranch. This property includes 122 acres and has a main house, a guest house, seven residential log cabins, horse corrals, tack house, pool house with heated pool and sauna, tennis court, basketball court, and a new structure under construction by group members that will serve as a meeting and dining space. The ranch is deeded to the Davail Inc., a name composed through a combination of the Gans children's names, David and Ilsa.

Other than the multi-million dollar residence in Greenwich/Soho none of the apparent Gans-controlled properties appear to be encumbered by a mortgage.

Also linked to Ms. Gans is the retreat property and complex in Pawling, New York, which is built on the site of a former Boy Scout Camp. Officially, this property is now part of a non-profit group called the Hudson Valley Artists Foundation. The officers of this foundation are all group members. The retreat complex was financed and built by group members over the past four years, and designed to be a place where "teachers" are trained.

Public tax records reveal that group members have donated more than a million dollars to the Hudson Valley Artists Foundation.

The same records value the land at the retreat complex at $196,000, the buildings at $240,000, and the equipment at $3,913. There is also an item entitled "construction-in-progress" valued at $771,267. Much of this construction is done by unpaid group members as part of their "spiritual training."

Based only upon real estate holdings she appears to control, Sharon Gans is apparently a multi-millionaire. It is unknown what holdings she has in cash, stocks, bonds or other investments. It also remains unknown what part of the group's substantial income derived from tuition, fees and other payments she uses for herself on a monthly basis.


Copyright © 2002 Rick Ross.

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