National cult-watcher warns San Francisco's mayor about "dangerous mind-control sect"

San Francisco Weekly/October 3, 2007

When a national cult-watcher has to beg San Francisco's mayor to stop luring young people into a dangerous mind-control sect, we have a problem.

"He's using his imprimatur of San Francisco, the mayor of San Francisco, to lend credibility to this cult. This means people may join Dahnhak when they otherwise wouldn't have," said Rick Ross, director of the Arizona based anti-cult group the Rick A. Ross Institute. "Mayor Newsom has admitted his personal peccadilloes in the past. But actually this is much more serious."

Dahnhak is a yoga and holistic health organization that promotes a technique called "brain respiration." Newsom recently honored the group's Korean leader with a proclamation declaring Sept. 7 "Ilchi Lee Day."

SF Weekly inquired about this bizarre apparent gaffe and scolded the mayor on the newspaper's blog. But I haven't heard back from the Newsom staffer in charge of proclamations, and there's no indication Newsom plans on correcting the error.

This hope-the-problem-just-goes-away attitude angers Ross, who spoke with us when we published the Web site item on the award. Ross says Newsom's error may become a dangerous act of will if the mayor refuses to rescind Lee's honor. San Francisco shouldn't be in the business of propping up dangerous mind-control cults, Ross says.

Lee is the Korean leader of Dahnhak, an organization that sells workshops through a chain that includes five Bay Area locations. Ross cites news stories and lawsuits from around the country that say Lee's organization lures victims into spending their savings on pricey classes and retreats a la Scientology, while sometimes shutting victims off from their families.

Last year SF Weekly's sister paper, the Village Voice, published a 3,600-word story describing how the family of one Lee follower filed a lawsuit complaining that their loved one was drugged prior to a grueling desert hike, then died after group members deprived her of medical care. Lee's representatives denied the allegations in the suit, which is in federal court. In keeping with a theme repeated in newspaper and television stories around the country, the Voice article cited various former Dahnhak members and cult experts saying Lee's group practices the sort of mind control and isolation typical of cultish groups. A group spokesman denied those allegations.

"People have suffered under Ilchi Lee," Ross said. "He's facing a wrongful death suit because a young woman died. She had her whole life ahead of her. I just don't see anything in Ilchi Lee's history that is worth declaring a day in his honor. I don't see anything in Newsom's recent history that suggest he'd suffer political damage from admitting he'd made a serious mistake."

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