Tide Hop, Feb. 1980

Tide Hop, Feb. 1980

Photo Illustration / Kylie Cowden

Rebecca Rakowitz

Hello dear readers. After a brief week’s hiatus, Tide Hop is back in action! This week we turn the dial back 37 years to the Feb. 27, 1980 edition of The Crimson White. It is not every day that Tide Hop looks at just one story from a past issue, but it is also not every day that a student tells her story about joining a cult.

“She was an above-average high school student in a wealthy section of Birmingham. She is blond and attractive. She comes from an upper-middle class family. She was a Moonie for 14 months,” read the lede of the front page story, “University student describes experiences with Moonies.”

Sarah Elaine Dollar, a senior majoring in American Studies, had been sharing her experience as a former member of the Unification Church – a cult also known as The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of the World for Christianity or “the Moonies” – with different campus groups and was even set to speak at a campus symposium entitled “Cults on Campus.”

Started in South Korea in 1954 by Rev. Sun Yung Moon, – a self-ordained minister and self-proclaimed messiah – the Moonies operated under the basic theocracy that all religions and races should be united, Dollar explained. 

“All cuts have three basic characteristics in common,” Dollar said. “One, their beliefs are absolute; two, they operate through totalitarian government; and three, obedience is required.”

The cult was a multi-million dollar industry for which Dollar would raise hundreds of dollars a day, and for which some people would raise hundreds of thousands of dollars a day. The money was then sent to the cult’s central headquarters and put into business enterprises throughout the U.S. and Europe.

“And what’s more, the Moonies are making huge profits,” Dollar said. “In essence, they use slave labor. They pay their members with a paycheck, but the members in turn endorse the checks and send them back to headquarters. The paychecks are simply a way to keep the IRS happy.”

Dollar was an Auburn student at the time she was recruited. She planned a summer break trip to California to visit friends, and before she left her sister warned her about “all kinds of groups” that are “out there.” She even showed her a magazine article about a girl who had to be kidnapped from the Moonies and “reprogrammed” by her parents.

“I told her not to worry, not about me,” Dollar said. “Because first of all, someone would have to be crazy to join something like that.”

Dollar went on to explain that while in a Berkeley art museum, she was approached by two male students who invited her to have dinner with them. A bit suspicious, Dollar asked them directly if they were involved with the Moonies, but they (untruthfully) declined.

Feeling she had a lot in common with the two, Dollar decided to go to the dinner. 

Dollar likened the dinner to Greek rush, saying she was “love bombed” – made to feel good about herself and welcome. At the dinner, Dollar signed up for a weekend workshop which was in actuality a retreat on a 700-acre farm in Booneville, California.

“We were completely isolated – no telephone, no radios, no magazines. We were sensorially bombarded,” Dollar said. “ Your whole day is planned…filled with lectures, songs. There is never a free moment so you can gather your thoughts. And if you have any doubts they already have all the answers. They build your trust, and the indoctrination process has begun.”

Little did she know, that the indoctrination process would lead to a “brainwashing” that would then lead to a 14-month involvement with the Moonies.

“First they assert that if you can make a person behave the way you want them to, they will think the way you want them to,” Dollar said. “Secondly, they believe that a sudden drastic change in environment leads to drastic changes in behavior.

According to Dollar, she was “robbed” of her ability to make her own decisions. She was completely dependent on the group.

“You cant feel it happening,” she said. “It’s like carbon monoxide. You can’t see it or smell it, but its lethal.”

Similarly to the magazine article that her sister showed her before she left for California, Dollar had to be “kidnapped and deprogrammed” by her parents.

When Dollar didn’t come home for classes in September, her parents started to worry. When she didn’t come home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, they started to investigate. They read up on cults and found an organization for parents of Moonies.

At that point, Dollar had been moved to Columbus, Ohio where she was a recruiter at The Ohio State University. Her parents came to visit, earned the trust of the group, and were allowed to bring Dollar home to visit her sick grandmother. 

It was on that trip home that her family worked to deprogram her, an experience that Dollar described as “shattering.”

“We had been taught that deprogrammers were satanic,” Dollar said. “We were told that they would torture and rape us. I’ve known people who slit their wrists or drank cleaning fluid to keep from being deprogrammed. They told us all kinds of horror stories. They told us were responsible for the salvation of our descendants…[and] if we disobeyed, [that] our children would be born with birth defects.”

During her seven-day deprogramming with her parents, she was given the opportunity to examine the cult critically. She then attended a rehabilitation program in Minneapolis for another six weeks.

Dollar said it was not easy giving up her cult beliefs. She had been so well indoctrinated and really believed Moon was the Messiah. 

“I had given up everything to the organization,” Dollar said. “I had given up my entire being to them.”