Outrageous Betrayal: The Real Story of Werner Erhard from Est to Exile

In the first 50 results for his name on Youtube, Werner Erhard has zero critical videos.

During the 1990s, it felt like at least half the people I knew in Orthodox Judaism were doing Landmark Forum. That’s seems to have died down.

Washington Post:

Steven Pressman, a legal journalist, nicely recounts the bizarre tale, partly known already from muckraking magazine articles and a 1991 “60 Minutes” expose. Particularly good on Erhard’s Byzantine financial and legal affairs, he also conveys Erhard’s callous egomania and the nastiness of the est seminars, where “body catchers” and barf bags were available for people who fainted or vomited under the trainers’ brutal, foul-mouthed harangues. The strategy was to destroy participants’ sense of self-worth through techniques of deprivation and boot-camp intimidation and then encourage them to construct a new “self” free of the guilt and errors of the past. To demonstrate their transformation, “graduates” were pressured to recruit friends and associates for future est sessions.

Even in a field not noted for clarity of language, est-speak was exceptionally leaden and jargon-clogged. Erhard offered banalities and the thuggish tactics of the schoolyard bully as a path to personal renewal, and a million Americans ultimately responded, generating $430 million in revenue — eloquent testimony to the longing for meaning and authority in contemporary society. “I was trying to find the fastest way to God,” recalled one recruit. “Meditation was slow. Werner put things together in a way that went bing, bing, bing.”

Though Erhard briefly campaigned against world hunger as a recruitment gimmick, he preached essentially a narcissistic preoccupation with the self, devoid of social connectedness apart from the ersatz “community” of est enthusiasts.

Publishers Weekly: “Before he abandoned his wife and children, changed his name to Werner Erhard, moved to California and began promoting his self-awareness programs, known in the 1970s as est and later as the Forum, Jack Rosenberg was a car salesman in Philadelphia. Inspired by a self-help course called Mind Dynamics, by Napoleon Hill’s book, Think and Grow Rich , by Scientology and cybernetics, and advised by a skilled tax lawyer, Erhard launched est in 1971. And for 20 years he reigned as guru of the “human potential movement.” According to freelance journalist Pressman, the womanizing, charismatic and demanding Erhard collected tens of millions of dollars from 500,000 people who took his courses. Eventually lawsuits, desertions among his coterie and the rise of new New Age mind-improving programs ended Erhard’s empire and in 1991, owing millions to the IRS and others, he went into exile in Mexico. Pressman here cuts into him with surgical precision.”

Here are some highlights from this 1993 book:

* Not long after Janis Vivo’s suicide, Wachter considered filing a lawsuit claiming that Erhard and his network bore some responsibility for what happened. Instead, Wachter contacted Erhard’s San Francisco headquarters himself, saying he had spoken to an attorney but preferred to settle the matter privately. Wachter’s decision could not
have pleased Werner Erhard more. For years lawsuits had generated nothing but bad publicity for him and his work, even though no jury had ever found est or the Forum legally responsible for any injury. Courtroom fights just weren’t good business when it came to selling the wonders of personal transformation.

* Jack Rosenberg played around with the sounds of the German names mentioned in the pages of the magazine. And then it came to him. Werner Erhard. It sounded both powerful and exotic, a blending of scientific intellectualism and respected statesmanship. Werner Erhard. He definitely liked the sound of it, and injected another note of Aryan purity into the mixture by picking a good, solid German name: Hans. Werner Hans Erhard. Nobody back in Philadelphia, he thought to himself, would ever imagine that Jack Rosenberg would change his name to Werner Hans Erhard.

* He turned to the pregnant woman sitting beside him, the same woman with whom he had driven to the Newark, New Jersey, airport earlier that day to board a flight to escape to a new life. He asked her what she thought of the name he had picked out. She smiled and nodded in agreement and told him she had picked a new name for herself. Ellen Virginia Erhard was easy enough to pronounce and even had a bit of a poetic lilt to it. Of course, there’d be family back in Philadelphia looking for June Bryde as well as for Jack Rosenberg, so it was important to shed identities and pick up new ones once the plane landed in Indianapolis. A few hours later, when the plane touched ground, a new future lay ahead for Werner and Ellen Erhard.

* His fledgling success on the car lots only seemed to encourage Rosenberg’s increasing alienation from his family. Feeling flush with a little money in his pocket, he much preferred the bellicose carousing and womanizing favored by his fellow salesmen to the mundane domestic isolation that awaited him at home with his wife and growing family. It was a pattern that would be repeated over and over again long after Jack Rosenberg transformed himself Werner Erhard.

* Three years after their son Jack was born on September 5, 1935, Joe Rosenberg resolved one thorny family prob¬
lem by converting to Christianity. Though Jack continued to see his Jewish relatives, his own religious upbringing took place within the walls of the Clauson family church, the Church of the Holy Nativity in Germantown, where he was baptized John Paul Rosenberg in February 1945, at the age of nine.

* Unfortunately for Rosenberg, his wife, Pat, and his mother learned about his affair, which succeeded only in increasing his hostility toward both of them. Soon he had a new plan to get away from his family and Philadelphia. On March 29, 1960, he and June— who now knew about Rosenberg’s double life— drove the seventy miles that separated Philadelphia from Bel Air, Maryland, not far from the Pennsylvania border. That afternoon he and June applied for a Maryland marriage license under the names of Curt Wilhelm VonSavage and Celeste Marie Radell. On the application for the license, Rosenberg accurately listed his age as twenty-four and his occupation as that of a salesman. But VonSavage, he wrote, had been born in New Jersey and currently lived in the small New Jersey town of Phillipsburg. Three days later, on April 1, a Methodist minister in Bel Air united the covert couple in marriage. Jack Rosenberg had committed bigamy. Wedding vows completed, the couple returned to Philadelphia, where June Bryde quietly resumed her job at the real estate office while Rosenberg continued selling cars and living with Pat and the children in an apartment in Hatboro, a commuter town north of Philadelphia off the turnpike.

* More than a dozen years would pass before Rosenberg’s family would hear from him again. By the time they landed a
few hours later, Jack Rosenberg and June Bryde were ready to begin new lives as Werner and Ellen Erhard.

* He and Ellen also made arrangements with an attorney to give up the baby she was carrying for adoption immediately after the birth.

* Erhard was growing restless in St. Louis so the idea of moving on caught his fancy even though he did not even own a car. He solved that dilemma by packing Ellen and their meager belongings into a Buick Special that he had agreed to sell on consignment and simply taking off. Driving west in a stolen car without much money, the Erhards
often spent the night in the Buick. Once Ellen woke up to the jarring sounds of Erhard yelling and banging on the car. The heater had not been working correctly, which had angered him so much that he pounded furiously on the car until he managed to punch the heater right out. On other nights the couple would check into a motel, only to steal away early in the morning without paying the bill. Erhard also avoided arrest by periodically screwing on new license plates that he had taken from one of the car lots back in St. Louis.

* The apparently successful transformation from a Philadelphia car salesman named Jack Rosenberg to a San Francisco book salesman named Werner Erhard did not change the old Rosenberg habit of romancing women to whom he was not married. He usually preferred to hire attractive women for his book sales force, and he rarely hesitated to seduce those whom he found sexually appealing. Between work and his extramarital socializing, Erhard had little time to spend with Ellen and his children, often seeing them only for a few minutes late in the evening after one of his employees—often one of the women he was seeing—drove him home from San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge. On some evenings the night security officer who patrolled the grounds of the Cote d’Azur would see Erhard arriving home well past midnight in the company of women who enjoyed parking with him and talking for a while before he went inside.

* Later that night Erhard was arrested for battery and disturbing the peace by San Rafael sheriff’s deputies. The
battery charges were later dropped, leaving Erhard to pay a $44 fine and receive a sentence of six months’ probation. A year later, however, the conviction was formally set aside, leaving Erhard’s criminal record officially expunged.

* Beginning in 1971, Erhard started to amass his own personal fortune by telling at first hundreds, and then later
thousands, and then later still hundreds of thousands of people that there are no such things as “victims” in the world, whether they are people set upon by muggers in dark alleyways or hospital patients suffering from cancer and other debilitating diseases.

A particularly disturbing example occurred years later when, during an est session, Erhard set about convincing a Holocaust survivor and est participant that she— along with family members who had perished in a Nazi death camp— was “responsible” for her own predicament. Neither the Nazis nor Hitler, Erhard said later, created the woman’s “experience” of the concentration camp. They were only an illusion. The reality, said Erhard, was that she had created her Holocaust experience.

* Erhard, with his own record of seduction and sexual conquests, undoubtedly found in Hill’s motivational writing a rationale for his own sexual exploits. After all, sex— at least in the get-rich formula of Napoleon Hill— amounted to little more than part of a salesman’s arsenal of weapons in the ongoing battle to sell more, to be more productive, to be more successful.

* Like so many other American fads, however, L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics movement, which had shot so quickly to stratospheric heights, found itself on the descent after a matter of months. Word began to seep out that Hubbard was growing unyieldingly authoritarian, refusing to delegate power while growing increasingly suspicious of those
around him. There were rumors that he had beaten and mistreated his second wife, and it was later revealed that he married his second wife without informing her that he had not divorced his first wife, a strikingly eerie parallel to Werner Erhard’s bigamy. He started having affairs with women who worked on his staff or as volunteers. Adding
to the troubles were some severe cases of psychotic behavior suffered by a few individuals going through Dianetics auditing…

* By the mid-1960s Hubbard was again hearing the ominous sounds of footsteps marching after him. In October 1965 complaints about Scientology in Australia had prompted a blue-ribbon panel there to issue a scathing 173-page report that called the practice of Scientology a “serious threat to the community, medically, morally and socially, and its adherents sadly deluded and often mentally ill.”

The report also blasted the Hubbard Association of Scientologists International, which Hubbard had created in London in 1952, as “the world’s largest organization of unqualified persons engaged in the practice of dangerous techniques which masquerade as mental therapy.” The Australian government responded to the report in December by passing the Psychological Practices Act that effectively outlawed Scientology in that country. That legislative act, in turn, prompted calls within the House of Commons in Great Britain to probe the status of Scientology in that country. . In the United States, Internal Revenue Service agents began to investigate the legitimacy of Scien¬
tology’s tax-exempt status as a “church.”

* In July 1968 the British government declared Scientology to be “socially harmful” and imposed a ban on its students entering the United Kingdom. Within days the British home secretary announced that Hubbard had been classified as an “undesirable alien.”

While Hubbard cruised warm waters, Werner Erhard continued to study Scientology while subjecting his staff to Hubbard’s odd tenets and theories.

* Erhard’s Scientology course never got off the ground. For Erhard quickly realized that once his customers completed the course, they would have no further need for him. Werner Erhard wanted more: namely a program and a marketing plan that would keep his customers coming back again and again.

* Shortly after he reappeared in the lives of his children in Philadelphia, he made the startling announcement that he had little interest in being their father. Instead, he said, his role would be that of a “teacher.”

* Privately, Erhard had trouble remembering his children’s ages and spent little time with either his once-abandoned Philadelphia family or his second family being raised by Ellen Erhard in Marin County.

* But the illusory image of Werner Erhard as a transformed human being who joyfully embraced his once-abandoned family was only part of the facade he needed to project. Even before his reconciliation with his Philadelphia family, Erhard had been tiring of his role as a husband to Ellen and father to their three children. All during his days working for Parents and Grolier, Erhard kept up a steady stream of sexual affairs while spending little time at home with Ellen and the children. The pattern persisted once he started est. He began spending more frequent nights in San Francisco, sleeping in one of the apartments that some of his employees had rented in a fading threestory Victorian on Franklin Street in Pacific Heights, not far from the est office in North Beach. Gradually he began using part of the house as his own private office, leaving the rest of the staff to carry out the
business of making him famous back on Kearny Street.

* Others who had joined up with Erhard received their own lessons in surrendering authority to the imposing figure who, from the time that est started, always presented himself as the source of the material he was now selling to the public.

* During the first year or so of est, Erhard himself led all the est trainings, since he was the only one who had yet mastered the hours of materials he had stitched together from Scientology and Mind Dynamics and Dale Carnegie and Maxwell Maltz and a variety of other sources.

* Anytime someone got up to “share” something during the training, everyone else was instructed to acknowledge him or her with applause. It never took very long for est training sessions to take on the surreal dimensions of confusing logic. A stream of abusive epithets hurled at a skeptical participant always ended in a cheerful smile from the trainer and an enthusiastic round of applause from everyone else.

By the late afternoon of the first day, the est trainers always launched into another several hours’ worth of lectures revolving around one of est’s fundamental tenets. Taking responsibility for your life, in the world according to Werner Erhard, required people to accept the idea that they were equally responsible for everything that happened in their lives. From illness and disease to auto accidents and street muggings, Erhard and his trainers drummed into the heads of est participants that they alone caused all the incidents and episodes in their lives to occur. The est philosophy included no room for victims or excuses. Only when his customers accepted that, only when they realized that all people “create their own reality,” were they in a position to resolve problems plaguing their lives.

Nobody believed that more fervently than Werner Erhard himself. More than ten years before he created est, Jack Rosenberg had already created a new reality by shedding his past and pretending for years it had never even existed. Driven by an overpowering ambition for fame (and its accompanying riches), Erhard discovered in the myr¬
iad self-help, get-rich, human motivation textbooks and courses a formula that seemed to accommodate so conveniently his own personal psychodrama. It had worked for him. Surely it was something that
could work for others.

* Erhard, of course, had discovered no new miracle cure. Similar versions of the Truth Process already had surfaced in other self awareness methods, including gestalt therapy, primal scream therapy, and the auditing practice in Scientology. Even earlier, a British psychiatrist named William Sargant had studied various techniques involved in indoctrination and thought control, only to discover a longstanding strain of the very same method used in Erhard’s est training.

In his 1957 book, Battle for the Mind, Sargant described the technique as a “time-worn physiological trick which has been used, for better or worse, by generations of preachers and demagogues to soften up their listeners’ minds and help them take on desired patterns of belief and behavior.”

* In September 1976, a Berkeley sociologist named Theodore Roszak told Newsweek magazine that America in the mid-1970s was in the middle of “the biggest introspective binge any society in history has undergone.” Nowhere was that binge more evident than on the streets of San Francisco.

* Tom Wolfe acidly described the years as the “Me Decade” in a 1976 cover story for New York magazine that, not surprisingly, opened with a searing account of an est training, offered as a classic example of the self-obsessive nature of the times. Wolfe compared the new culture of “me-ism” to two earlier periods of religious awakening that had gripped the country, first in the middle of the eighteenth century and again in the early decades of the nineteenth century. But in the Me Decade, worshipers sought to tap not some distant and unseen spiritual force but rather the more immediate and potent, self-absorbed power of the individual. Wolfe concluded his lengthy essay:
“Where the Third Great Awakening will lead— who can presume to say? One only knows that the great religious waves
have a momentum all their own. Neither arguments nor policies nor acts of the legislature have been any match for
them in the past. And this one has the mightiest, holiest roll of all, the beat that goes . . . Me . . . Me . . . Me . . . Me. . . .”

Journalists such as Wolfe and others delighted in using Werner Erhard as an illuminating example of the narcissistic message so pervasive during the 1970s. The central, underlying message that Erhard had planted in the est training—the same mantra that his cloned trainers drummed endlessly into the minds of those streaming into
hotel ballrooms by the tens of thousands—was that reality centered in each individual sitting in each of those uncomfortable ballroom chairs. Each of you, Erhard and trainers repeated over and over again to every fresh set of customers, is ultimately and completely responsible for your own reality. Each of you is responsible for everything
that happens in your life.

* Although Erhard hardly created single-handedly the phenomenon and culture that defined the Me Decade, Peter Marin, writing in Harper’s in 1975, castigated Erhard as a living embodiment of the age’s “new narcissism.”

“Clearly Erhard has a genius— not only for the efficiency with which his program is organized and sold, but also for the accuracy with which he tells his audience what it wants to hear. It is the latter which binds them to him. The world is perfect, each of us is all-powerful, shame and guilt are merely arbitrary notions, truth is identical to belief, suffering is merely the result of imperfect consciousness— how like manna all of this must seem to hungry souls. For if we are each totally responsible for our fate, then all the others in the world are responsible for their fate, and if that is so, why should we worry about them?”

* By the mid-1970s Erhard had largely succeeded in building an enterprise that revolved, in almost every facet and detail, around the obligation to worship Werner. “I love you,” he signed off constantly in est-promoting messages that appeared in a new monthly magazine distributed to est graduates around the country. Along with a litany
of glowing testimonials about the power of est, the magazine usually included plenty of photographs of Erhard himself, always smiling, always showing off his handsome, almost boyish features. In person, as in his photographs, Erhard was always immaculately groomed and fashionably dressed. As he approached his fortieth birthday, Werner
Erhard gave every appearance of a man completely in charge.

* To the outside world, Erhard often appeared as a fuzzy-sounding though seemingly well-intentioned head of a popular self-awareness offshoot of the human potential movement. But inside the culture of est, he was becoming nothing less than the dictatorial general of a compliant army, whose sole job was to re-create the man in charge
and carry out his every whim.

* Although insistent that his walls be adorned with books, he rarely read any himself. “I gave up reading about ten
years ago,” he told an interviewer, almost pridefully, in 1974. “I have really gotten over having to read them. I love tables of contents. I can truly read a book from the table of contents, most of the time.”

* The est organization by the mid-1970s already had a name and a program in place for ensuring Erhard’s increasing influence on the world. It was called SOIP, which stood for Sphere of Influence People — and it included those who
needed to be courted and cajoled, wined and dined, treated to VIP est training sessions where they could “get it” without having to mingle with more ordinary people flocking into est trainings around the country.

* Werner Erhard “looks like someone I should keep my eye on,” San Francisco writer Leo Litwak wrote in an article about est that appeared in the Sunday magazine of the New York Times in 1976. “He goes all out for what he wants. My inclination was to close my heart and guard my pockets.”

Esalen founder Michael Murphy, in the same article, noticed two sides to the curious persona of Werner Erhard. “[There is the] rough cut, self-taught philosopher with a dazzling gift for philosophy,” said Murphy. “Where did he get it? He hasn’t read the texts. He has no academic background. And then there’s the super-salesman, the founder of an autocratic organization held in reverence by staff and graduates. The mixture is disconcerting.”

* Werner Erhard seemed to reserve his fiercest hostility for some of the women who were part of the est culture. Though the feminist movement in the United States roughly paralleled the rise of est, Erhard rarely hesitated to make demeaning remarks about women who worked for him. He would deride women as “snakes,” and insist that
men were the source of power, leaving women to fill subservient roles.

Once, when one of his aides walked into a meeting to let him know his next appointment was scheduled to begin in a few minutes, Erhard glanced at the busty woman and then chortled to others in the room, “Pretty good, a clock with tits.” At other times he tossed around crude remarks, telling one employee, for example, how nice she looked in
the “fuck-me shoes” she wore to work that day.

But his demeaning attitudes toward women did not stop with his verbal insults. Though he was insulated by a layer of protective personal aides, there have been persistent reports that Erhard allowed his quick and sometimes violent temper to spill over into physical abuse of women. Though he could be seductively charming, Erhard
also possessed a deep-seated resentment of women, the origins of which were likely to be found in his unsatisfying relations with the most prominent women in his life, including his mother and each of his two wives. Perhaps fearing personal intimacy in long-term relations, he resorted instead to a long-standing series of affairs. He also
preferred to hire for his various sales staffs attractive women, some of whom he seduced into utter obedience and total loyalty. Now, as the mystique of est conferred upon Erhard still more power over the lives of his most faithful followers, he carried his behavior and attitudes toward women to even more disturbing depths. On more than
one occasion, it became the task of one of his closest aides and confidants inside the Franklin House to be ready with an ice pack and some soothing words to treat a blackened eye and comfort another victim of Erhard’s demons. Werner Erhard’s seductive charm sometimes had a habit of giving way to the back of his hand.

* His self-assuring words about a contented family life masked a much different family portrait that was well hidden from public view. Long before est came into existence, Ellen Erhard had grown accustomed to playing the role of a dutiful wife, putting up with his absences from home and his womanizing habits. She compensated by devoting herself to maintaining a clean and comfortable home for herself and her children, realizing that her husband—with his expansive ego-driven ambitions—had little interest in sharing in that life with her. She contemplated divorce from time to time, but always backed away because of the anxious fear that leaving Werner Erhard might jeopardize her own ability to provide a secure home for herself and the children.

* Living inside the est culture, the young offspring of Werner Erhard hardly could escape the same strict demands and angry temper that often marked their father’s dealings toward his staff. During one social gathering at the Franklin House, Erhard stood in the corner of the elegant dining room talking to some of his children while others
milled around waiting for dinner to be served. Suddenly, and without any provocation, Erhard launched into a bombastic tirade aimed at his nine-year-old son, St. John, berating the frightened boy over a poor grade he had received in school. As others in the room watched in muted embarrassment or pretended not to notice, Erhard grabbed
St. John by the shoulders and shook him harshly, forcing the boy to fall to the ground.

“If you ever get grades like this again, I’ll break your leg with a baseball bat, and don’t think I’m kidding!” Erhard screamed, as he towered over the boy who could only look up at his father with terror in his eyes.

* The time had come for Erhard to complete his wife’s transformation. He walked over to her chair and slapped her across the face, and then, with greater force, he knocked her to the floor. No one in the room came to her aid as Erhard began kicking her—not the kind of kick that earlier had been delivered, but sharper blows that hurt her and had her begging for him to stop. Finally Erhard’s brother Harry and another assistant got up from their chairs and pulled Erhard away.

* Erhard remained adamant that she confess her transgression, that she “get off it.” Pushed out of her chair, she was ordered by Erhard to her knees while he continued to yell loudly and repeatedly at her to stop “withholding” from him. “You are having an affair!” Erhard screamed at his wife, who looked back at him with empty eyes but said nothing. “What do you think you’re hiding?”

Ellen remained mute on the ground, hoping, as she had done in vain during the previous session, that someone would come to her aid. But no one did. And when Erhard asked for a volunteer to “handle” Ellen, Bob Larzelere suddenly felt the time had come to demonstrate his complete loyalty and obedience to him and est’s principles of
transformation. This was the moment, thought the former Berkeley doctor. This is when I can prove to Werner Erhard that he can count on me, fully and without any doubt, to serve him. Larzelere got to his feet and approached Ellen, who was lying prone on the floor. He put his hands around her neck and began to squeeze. He meant only to frighten her, since that is what he assumed Erhard wanted him to do.

Applying enough pressure to bruise her neck without cutting off her supply of oxygen, Larzelere acted almost as if he were in a trance, a trance induced by his commitment, above all else, to win the love of Werner Erhard. Erhard’s children looked on in horror as they watched their mother’s face turn pale, as a little saliva dribbled out of the side of her mouth. Celeste, fourteen years old at the time, grabbed hold of nine-year-old St. John and turned his head away so that he would not have to see his mother endure such physical abuse. Clare, Erhard’s oldest daughter from his first marriage, also tried to shield some of the younger children from the ugly scene unfolding in front of them.

“Stop it!” Celeste finally shrieked at Larzelere, as she watched her mother slump on the floor. “You’re going to kill her!”

Until then, Erhard had remained in his chair, calm and without emotion, as he watched Larzelere choke Ellen. Only when his daughter screamed for Larzelere to stop did he turn to her with a cold stare and an angry outburst. “Sit down!” he snapped at her. “Or you’re going to get the same treatment.”*

The night Ellen Erhard was choked in front of her children marked the beginning of a year-long “rehabilitation” program that Erhard decreed for his wife…

* In March 1992 Erhard sued CBS for libel, alleging that, among other claims, a “60 Minutes” broadcast a year earlier “falsely publicized that Mr. Erhard launched into a jealous rage toward his ex-wife wherein he kicked her a number of times while she was on the floor” and “falsely publicized that Mr. Erhard assaulted her to such a degree that he was killing her by causing her to be hurt, choked, strangled, or punished and made to talk or confess.” However, Erhard subsequently dropped the suit without any decision on the merits of his claims.

* Erhard “has no original ideas, but he is sharp enough and glib enough to impress a lot of folks,” a reviewer wrote in the Los Angeles Times. As for Bartley, the Times said his “philosophical justification of est as a mishmash of totalitarianism, hucksterism and existentialism makes this book more a public relations product than an objective study.” Illustrating the frontpage Sunday review was a cartoon caricature of Erhard outfitted as a
slick used-car salesman pitching his dubious wares.

* The most serious allegations about Werner Erhard would not be found in publicity-minded interviews orchestrated by him and his aides. Instead, several years would pass before Deborah had the courage to state publicly that her father had sexually molested her when she was about sixteen years old, well before the pretty soft-faced girl
first sat down to talk about her famous father. She said it had happened only once, after which she tried to tuck it into the background so that she might yet have a loving relationship with her father. It was not to be. According to Deborah, Erhard, a few years later, coerced one of his older daughters— one of Deborah’s sisters, in her twenties — into having sexual intercourse with him in a hotel room they were sharing during one of his frequent out-of-town trips. Again, according to Deborah, the sexual abuse happened only once, but Deborah’s sister nonetheless was frightened and traumatized by the incident and she remained silent about it for years, afraid of what Erhard might do if she ever uttered a word to anyone. She recounted the ugly episode to Deborah only after Deborah told of her own abuse.

Still, the two girls did not immediately say anything to others in the family, not even to their mother, for fear that they simply would not be believed. But, Deborah says, Erhard’s older daughter made one solemn vow that she kept ever since. Never again, she swore to her sister, would she ever see her father alone.

According to Deborah, Werner Erhard’s daughters finally confronted their father with their accounts of his sexual abuse at a stormy, twelve-hour family meeting on board his Sausalito houseboat in the mid-1980s. With most of his family present, Erhard vehemently denied that he had ever raped his older daughter, although, Deborah says, her father admitted having sexual intercourse with her sister. What’s more, Erhard explained that the episode had been a “nurturing experience” for the young woman. Erhard has denied all allegations of sexual abuse.

The man who sermonized at est meetings about the special bond between parents and children made a mockery out of his words with his own behavior toward his children. Even with his younger daughters, he sometimes talked suggestively about sex, sitting around the table as he reached, almost playfully, for their breasts. “Oh, I wish I
could be the first to teach you guys,” he would tell his teenage daughters Adair and Celeste. “Wouldn’t that be great?”

Throughout est’s existence, Erhard had treated sex as simply another form of human behavior to be controlled and manipulated in ways that enhanced his own overpowering control over the lives of others who inhabited the est culture. Long before he ever started est, Werner Erhard— even when he was still Jack Rosenberg—used his powerful sexual appeal and charismatic energy with women to intensify their own sense of loyalty and devotion to him.

* Inside the emerging est culture, Erhard continued to view sex as an integral part of his obsessive demand that others around him pledge their devotion. He required staff members to divulge the most intimate details of their personal lives as part of a series of policies aimed at controlling their thoughts and behavior. A staff policy imposed in the mid-1970s instructed est staffers to “stay in communication” with Erhard about their personal relationships, particularly those of a sexual nature.

Although the policy was designed to proscribe sexual relations between staff members, exceptions were possible in cases in which Erhard was informed about existing affairs. These relationships could continue to include “fucking,” the staff was told, but only as long as the trysting staffers got their jobs done and showed no signs of “upsets.” The policy made it clear to the staff that Erhard would attribute declining job performance to the fact that “you are fucking whoever you fuck” and would ask the offending party to leave est.

Erhard generously added a “family policy” to the est rules governing sexual conduct, mindful of the occasional desire among married staff members to enjoy dalliances with other partners besides their spouse. The policy, which otherwise prohibited extramarital affairs, allowed such liaisons as long as Don Cox received a letter from
an est staffer’s wife or husband allowing their spouse “to fuck someone else.” The letter also had to include “guidelines” aimed at identifying those with whom the spouse could enjoy sexual intimacy.

* In the early years of est, Erhard had a habit of announcing strict rules proscribing sexual liaisons among staff members, only to drop them at particularly opportune times and reinstate them at a later date. While treating the staff to a weeklong Mexican cruise in 1974, Erhard abruptly lifted the sexual ban, delighting many along for the
trip. After the amorous week at sea, Erhard reimposed the no-sex rules back in San Francisco.

* No such self-reporting sexual rules applied to Erhard. Instead, he entrusted to his closest aides the confidential role of assisting in the steady, though usually clandestine, flow of women in and out of
his private black-painted bedroom on the second floor of the Franklin House. Sometimes his partners came from the ranks of celebrity est enthusiasts, including actress Cloris Leachman, with whom Erhard maintained a relationship for a few years. Otherwise, Erhard helped himself to the sexual favors offered to him by an assortment of attrac¬
tive staff members and est volunteers. A comely Franklin House assistant once confided to an est trainer that another Erhard aide “schedules Werner’s cock” and that she planned “to get on the schedule.”

For the most part, Erhard managed—with the help of his swornto-secrecy aides—to keep the details of his frequent trysts from other staff members. To them, as well as to the legions of Erhard followers around the country, he wanted to maintain the image of a devoted husband and father whose long hours away from his family represented a willing sacrifice to his passionate and consuming dedication to est’s goals of human transformation. Only when occasional evidence of his other extracurricular activities surfaced did staff members see, firsthand, another side of Werner Erhard.

* Swept up in the fervor of the discussion, one of the seminar leaders got to his feet with a serious look on his face. “The question in the room that nobody is asking,” the man told Erhard solemnly, “is ‘Are you the messiah?’ ”
The room grew silent as Erhard looked out to the curious faces of some of his most devoted disciples. After a few moments he replied, “No, I am who sent him.” Undoubtedly, there were many in the room who were sure they had just witnessed the ultimate transformation of a man; Werner Erhard wanted them to believe he was on par with God.

* “Werner Erhard is using the Hunger Project not only for self-aggrandizement but for promoting the for-profit corporation he funded, as well,” concluded Mother Jones magazine in December 1978, following a six-month investigation. “I have serious doubts about the social value of the Hunger Project,” one hunger expert in Washington told the magazine. “It’s probably collected more money in the name of hunger and done the least about
hunger than any group I can think of.” After threatening a libel suit against Mother Jones, est responded instead with a call for seminar participants to devote two minutes of “negative energy” on the magazine’s writers…

* Erhard was keenly aware that his own image as the creator of est and its transformational message required him to be viewed as a successful family man able to enjoy successful and fulfilling relationships. “Jack Rosenberg could botch a marriage,” he once told an interviewer, referring to his broken relationship with his first wife, Pat. “But Werner Erhard had to make it work.” The irony was that the est culture was filled with the victims of busted marriages, both among Erhard’s staff and among plenty of est graduates as well. Divorce was not an uncommon result of the training for many couples. In some cases the training caused husbands or wives to become aware of problems in their marriages. In other instances, est participants found themselves speaking a strange new language and preferring the company of like-minded others who spoke the same fuzzy jargon.

* the two psychiatrists said they had seen enough evidence to speculate that est’s “psychodynamic mechanisms” bore at least some responsibility for the psychotic episodes they had observed. “We are impressed,” they wrote, “that an authoritarian, confrontational, aggressive leadership style coupled with physiologic deprivation fosters an identification with the aggressor. The inability of this defense mechanism to contain overwhelming anxiety aroused by the process may lead to fusion with the leader, ego fragmentation and psychotic decompensation.” In plain English, Glass and Kirsch at least thought it likely that est could be terribly damaging to some of its participants.

* Erhard and others at est were anxious to refute Glass and Kirsch’s suggestions that est training might trigger psychotic outbreaks among some participants.

* As est’s popularity continued to spread across the country, psychiatrists and therapists began to encounter other cases of a seeming cause-and-effect between the training and psychotic behavior. “Most of the people I’ve seen at our clinic— and they come in after the training in fairly substantial numbers— have suffered reactions that range
from moderately bad to dreadful,” the executive director of New Tork City’s Lincoln Institute for Psychotherapy reported in 1978. “They are confused and jarred, and the same pattern — elation, depression, feelings of omnipotence followed by feelings of helplessness — are repeated over and over again.”

* Dr. Lloyd Moglen had seen and treated some apparent est casualties. One man from Fremont, California, imagined that he was God after taking the training. Another patient had shown up at Good Samaritan Hospital displaying signs of acute psychotic behavior and suicidal tendencies immediately after taking the est training. A year later the man walked out of a board-and-care facility in Santa Cruz at one in the morning and was struck and killed by a passing car while he aimlessly crossed the coastal highway which cut through the center of town. Over the years Moglen had begun to revise his initial feelings about est.

* Released from the hospital twenty-five days after she was first admitted, Bojorquez remained at home for the next four months, usually confined to bed and kept heavily sedated on tranquilizers. By early 1980 she felt well enough to take a part-time job; it would be more than a year before she returned to full-time work. In April 1980 a young San Jose attorney named David Rude filed a lawsuit against Werner Erhard and est, claiming that Evangeline Bojorquez’s hospitalization and emotional injuries resulted directly from her est training seven months earlier…

* Moglen, the onetime est enthusiast, bluntly blamed est for causing her psychiatric condition. “What est did was to break down Mrs. Bojorquez’s defenses and concept of reality,” he said in a court document. “Then they left her. They left her to put herself back together again. This she was unable to do.”

* One of Bojorquez’s lawyers, a Seattle attorney named Richard Stanislaw, challenged Simon during his deposition on the educational value of est.
“Are you aware of any educational setting where barf bags are available for the participants?” Stanislaw asked.
“No,” Simon replied.
“Are you aware of any other educational settings where people throw up in the normal course of their educational course?”
“Are you aware of any other educational institution where people go through cathartic reactions in the same or similar sense as you have observed people going through the est training?”
“Not directly,” replied the psychiatrist.

* Alarmed by the prospect of a rash of lawsuits, est officials as early as 1981 began to take steps aimed at reducing what they described as “severe emotional upsets” during est training sessions. Erhard’s trainers had observed dozens of incidents in which est participants exhibited strange and bizarre reactions to various portions
of the training. And while the official est policy was to discourage anyone from taking the training if they were already involved in psychotherapy, in many instances there was little emphasis placed on weeding out anyone who was intent on going through est.

* A few days after Irving Bernstein once led an est training in Miami, he got an anxious call from an est official in San Francisco whose job was to keep track of severe emotional upsets occurring around the country. He was calling to tell Bernstein about a woman who had just completed the Miami training and who had been found naked in a nearby playground by two policemen. When the officers approached her, all she could tell them was “Would you come to my posttraining with me? Would you come to my posttraining with me? Would you come to my posttraining with me?”
By the time Vangie Bojorquez settled her case against est, about a half-dozen lawsuits had been filed by others seeking similar damages for a variety of psychological injuries. All had either been dismissed in est’s favor or settled out of court for confidential sums.

* This time a man— a seemingly healthy twentysix-year-old at that— had dropped dead during a particularly stressful
portion of the est training. Far beyond causing a “severe emotional upset,” the man’s family now was claiming that Werner Erhard was responsible for the est-induced death of Jack Slee.

* Erhard now looked for other ways to win recognition and acceptance into the highest circles of San Francisco society. He tried repeatedly, for example, to win a coveted membership in the city’s blue-blood St. Francis Yacht Club, assigning teams of staff people to figure out a way to be invited to join. He was never successful. His bid for acceptance into society circles prompted Erhard to contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to organizations such as the opera and the symphony. Though the beneficiaries of his patronage certainly savored his largess, his aggressive and expensive campaign to win society status clashed with his public insistence that he had little interest in the rich spoils est had provided.

* Above all else, Erhard craved respectability and prestige, and not only among the fawning multitudes of est graduates who would soon be flocking into a warmed-over version of est called the Forum. While the Forum would serve as the bedrock of Erhard’s business, in the 1980s he also embarked on other ambitious efforts to bolster his
public image as a transformational guru intent on changing the face of society.

* In late 1984 NASA paid Transformational Technologies $45,000 for three sessions in which Erhard and others lectured forty-seven space agency officials on est-style management theories. “What surfaced,” a NASA official
later wrote in an estlike memo, “is the need for a whole new arena of mastery in management, one that comes to grips with the phenomena of the dance between an organization’s cultural capacity and the unfolding of program accomplishment. It’s not a problem that needs to be fixed. It’s an opportunity.”

In December 1988 several former employees of the DeKalb Farmers Market, a huge produce and seafood mart near Atlanta, claimed in a federal lawsuit that they had been forced from their jobs after protesting their coerced attendance at the Forum along with another similar training session put on by an Erhard-licensed franchise
firm in Florida…

* Michael Breard discovered there was little honor in the menial tasks he was ordered to perform in the service of
Werner Erhard. In the predawn darkness, he scrambled aboard the polished decks of the Canim, careful not to make any noises as he slipped stealthily into the boat’s small galley at around five in the morning. After putting on the coffee, Breard made his way into the bathroom, seeing to it that the room sparkled. Then Breard meticulously arranged Erhard’s toiletries, lining up his shampoo, dental floss, razor, and shaving cream so that nothing was out of place. Breard knew there was a price to pay if he overlooked any of the details. Even the slightest miscue had sometimes resulted in a torrent of shouted obscenities from Erhard himself, who would stand within inches of Breard while he vented his anger. So Breard made sure the colognes were lined up in perfect order and that the toothpaste was spread evenly across Erhard’s toothbrush. After finishing in the bathroom, Breard repaired to the boat’s small galley, inspecting the glass of orange juice for signs of too much pulp that displeased Erhard. Finally Breard was ready to pad softly into Erhard’s bedroom. Kneeling at the foot of the bed, he slipped his hands under the covers until they reached Erhard’s feet and began a gentle massage.

“Werner,” Breard whispered in a singsong voice, “it’s fivetwenty.” After more massaging and another five minutes passed, Breard’s chiming voice updated the time. “Werner, it’s five-twentyfive.” At five-thirty, Erhard arose to begin his day.

* “For so long, I wanted to have a father, for him to be there, to love me,” a solemn-voiced Adair told the journalist. “He said you were interviewing him, and he asked if I’d do this scenario. It’s sickening but I agreed. I would have done anything to have the relationship.” The whole episode on the Canirn had been scripted, plotted in
advance with Adair and two of Erhard’s aides. The morning of Kornbluth’s interview with Erhard, Adair and the aides had figured out the best subject that she could convincingly bring up after her on-cue entrance into Erhard’s study. Afterward, Adair had been offered a “reward” for her convincing performance— the honor of setting up
some of Erhard’s dinner parties.

* Scientology officials for years had been keeping files on Erhard’s est activities out of anger toward his generous use of Scientology material in the est training. L. Ron Hubbard himself had once decreed that his opponents could be “tricked, sued, lied to or destroyed” in order to protect Scientology’s shadowy reputation. Now
Erhard was alarmed by the news that a few Scientology-hired private investigators were snooping around the Bay Area, collecting critical information about him and apparently making efforts to spread it around.

* A few weeks later, on the evening of March 3, millions of television viewers across the country tuned their sets to CBS to watch another edition of “60 Minutes.” Each week the program began with short teasers— a few seconds of excerpts from each segment— so that viewers knew what to expect over the next hour. On that evening, the first teaser showed CBS correspondent Bob Simon describing his harrowing tale of captivity in Baghdad while covering the war against Iraq. Simon had just been freed, and the show had rearranged its schedule so that he could report on his experience.

A few seconds later Erhard’s face filled the screen, and he was heard briefly touting his est-flavored philosophy about making “the world work for everyone.” Then the scene switched to a woman named Dawn Damas, who once had been hired as a governess to take care of the Erhard children. “He beats his wife and he beats his children and he rapes a daughter, and then he goes and tells people how to have marvelous relationships,” Damas said solemnly. “I’m sorry. That’s what I have against Werner Erhard.”

All across America, thousands of est graduates, Forum participants, Erhard employees, and other faithful acolytes— not to mention countless others who may have remembered only vaguely the man with the strange-sounding name of Werner Erhard—watched as “60 Minutes” correspondent Ed Bradley related a dark story of Erhard’s past. The camera dramatically focused its gaze on a few of Erhard’s former followers such as Bob Larzelere, est’s onetime “well being director,” who had left in the late 1970s, and Wendy Drucker, the wife of former est executive Vincent Drucker, as they described their own harrowing accounts of life inside Erhard’s world.

Bradley then turned his attention to two of Erhard’s daughters by Ellen— Celeste and Adair—who choked back tears as they recounted the ugly stories of their father’s violent temper and relived the night their mother had been beaten and abused years earlier at the Franklin House.

“Does your mother know you’re talking to us?” Bradley asked Adair after informing viewers that Ellen’s divorce agreement prohibited her from telling her own side of the story of her relationship with Werner Erhard.

“Yeah,” Adair replied. “Before we left tonight, I talked to her and she’s just—you know, she said, T can’t thank you enough for doing this, for saying these things that need to be said.’ And I know that she wishes she could do the same.”

So far, the “60 Minutes” broadcast had not included anything about Erhard that had not already appeared in other stories. But Werner Erhard knew there was more to come. He knew the most damning charge against him was about to be made from another one of his daughters.

The screen pictured a well-dressed woman with a self-assured expression and the same penetrating eyes as her father. Deborah Rosenberg, the youngest of Erhard’s four children from his first marriage, had never spoken publicly about Werner Erhard since her wellorchestrated interview years earlier for a book about children of
celebrities. She had long since retreated into the shadows, preferring to live quietly in Honolulu with her husband and infant son while trying to put her father out of her mind. Now, the blond thirty-oneyear-old had a more solemn story to tell about what it was like to be the daughter of a man named Werner Erhard.

“I don’t have a problem saying that it happened,” Deborah told Bradley, choosing her words carefully. “I don’t like describing it, but I don’t have a problem admitting that he molested me.” Deborah then added that her father had forced sexual intercourse with one of her older sisters, a charge that Erhard vociferously denied in a portion of a taped interview played by Bradley on the air.

Deborah, however, offered a different version of her father’s response to the alleged incident during a family gathering aboard Erhard’s boat in the mid-1980’s.

“What he did say when I confronted him about it was that there had been sexual intercourse and that it had been a nurturing experience for my sister,” she said.

“He admitted it?” asked Bradley, an incredulous tone in his voice.

“He admitted there was sexual intercourse and that it was a nurturing experience,” she replied softly. “He said he did not rape her.”

* For Werner Erhard, the past had always been something to run away from, to render invisible by pretending that it barely even existed. Erhard and est for years advocated a convenient culture of amnesia, which certainly served the needs of so many thousands of his most loyal followers. In their zeal to discover the innocence of enlightenment, they savored his message of “completing” the past by casting it into a dark abyss. Many of Erhard’s followers also cheered est’s satirical rejection of traditional psychotherapy for similar reasons. Most forms of therapy have aimed for transformation by mining the individual’s past. Erhard’s own experiences in life were reflected in est’s formula for achieving transformation by avoiding the past.

* But now, on this night and on other nights to come, it was up to Laurel Scheaf and a few dozen other disciples of Werner Erhard who led the Forum to accept the applause they knew really belonged to him. They would continue to serve him as they always had—by imitating him, copying his gestures and his style, subtly planting in the mind of each new customer a rationale for the dark acts that Werner Erhard had been so publicly accused of. A rationale for the behavior of a man who humiliated his wife and had been accused of beating her and abusing his own children, while claiming to invent a worldchanging “technology” of personal transformation. Finally the demons had caught up with the man, and he no longer was able to accept the delicious applause that had once greeted his name wherever he
went. On a cool spring night in San Francisco, no one even wondered what ever happened to Werner Erhard.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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