This blog, originally published May 6, 2011, was updated on May 14. Scroll to the end for the update.
If you've been a regular reader of my blog for a while you might be led to believe that the Zeitgeist Movement is the only cult out there that uses conspiracy theories as a recruitment tool. As much as I wish that was true, unfortunately it isn't. I'm writing today for the first time on another and even more disturbing cult which has recently come to my attention: an organization called "Desteni." And after having investigated this group for only a short time, let me tell you―if you think Zeitgeist is pretty far out there, you haven't seen anything yet. Desteni makes the Zeitgeist Movement look like the Rotary Club.
Desteni was founded in 2007 by a South African named Bernard Poolman. While I will be researching Poolman's background more fully, from what I've been able to gather so far he is evidently a former police officer, and he now runs a farm in rural South Africa. He communicates with the members of his group mostly through YouTube, where Poolman presents himself as some sort of bizarre horned creature. I won't show it to you because I plan to place an audio/video version of this blog on YouTube, and it seems the Destenians are extremely aggressive about flagging critical YouTube videos with false DMCA claims―a practice not unlike the one occasionally utilized by more militant Zeitgeisters. Just trust me on this, Poolman's avatar is like something out of an Umberto Eco novel.
Desteni seems to have something else in common with Zeitgeist. Poolman's group advocates something called the "Equal Money System." The exact nature of this is somewhat vague to me, but it appears to be a utopian idea aimed at guaranteeing everyone on earth a basic standard of living, and all sorts of benefits are supposed to result from the institution of this system―for example, war, poverty and greed will become a thing of the past. These are not unlike the promises supposed to come from Zeitgeist's "Resource Based Economy." In contrast with Zeitgeist, however, Poolman and Desteni advocate an entire elaborate system of New Age living. Poolman and his chief lieutenants cloak themselves in New Age rhetoric. For instance, there's a lot of talk about "channeling," a classic New Age concept. It gets a little scary when you realize who and what they're channeling, but we'll get to that in a moment.
Also like Zeitgeist, Desteni's ideology―to the extent it is coherent―is predicated on a worldview that depends heavily upon conspiracy theories. They just use different theories than Zeitgeisters do. A lot of Destenians seem to believe in theories similar to those advanced by world-class nutbar David Icke, who believes that the world is controlled by a race of reptilian shape-shifting aliens. The most visible spokesperson for Desteni, a woman named Sunette Spies--who has got to be one of the weirdest cult icons I've ever seen--frequently references reptilians in her bizarre videos. Additionally, on Desteni's forums you can find frequent references to "reptilians," and although they don't hit it as hard as, say, the Zeitgeist Movement advances 9/11 Truth theories, it is clear that "reptilian" conspiracy theories are an important factor driving interest in the cult. (Example here)
. What's problematic about these "reptilian" conspiracy theories―aside from the fact that they are totally divorced from reality―is that many observers of the conspiracy underground have pointed out that Icke's theories are simply science-fiction redresses of "Jewish world conspiracy" theories popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially in Europe. These theories held that Jews were an elite cabal of bankers and politicians intent on taking over the world. Substitute shape-shifting reptilian aliens for Jews and you've got David Icke's theories. The anti-semitic bent of reptilian conspiracy theories is very disturbing. Many Destenians also seem to be believers in the "Illuminati" and "New World Order" conspiracy theories.
It gets more disturbing when you realize who Poolman and his people claim to be channeling, if I may return to that concept. Given what I've said so far, if you had one guess as to who Poolman likes to channel, who would it be? Yup, you guessed it...Adolf Hitler.(http://web.archive.org/web/20110611041830/http:
//desteni.co.za/a/hitler-part-1-experience-of-life-on-earth) Yes, Desteni openly advocates the rehabilitation of Hitler's public image, focusing on the occult aspects of Nazi ideology. Lots of other people, and a fair number of inanimate objects, have also evidently been channeled, everybody from L. Ron Hubbard to a gas pump. To date I've only seen a very few of these videos, but the ones I have seen are exactly as bizarre as you would imagine.
Behind the "Equal Money System" and the New Age rhetoric, however, Desteni appears to be what many cults are at their core―a business. The real purpose for the group's existence seems to be as a tool of financial enrichment of its founder, Bernard Poolman. From Desteni's website you're encouraged to buy a number of books, videos and especially "self-improvement courses" in how to improve your life―exactly the same thing that Scientology sells, and makes millions of dollars a year at. Indeed the financial aspect of the cult, exemplified by something called the "Desteni I Process," is very obviously a pyramid scheme.
The website uses language like "Downline" and other terms borrowed wholesale from Amway, Quixtar and other pyramid and multi-level-marketing outfits. The price of participating in Desteni is steep. For starters you'll be paying 200 Euros―almost 300 U.S. dollars a month, and the website clearly states that there is no refund available at any time.
In addition to the pyramid scheme, another part of the scam seems to be to attract followers to visit Poolman on his farm in South Africa. Naturally, followers have to pay for this privilege. It is not know what actually goes on at this farm, but I've seen statements that Poolman encourages his followers to use Ecstasy while under his supervision.
What is most disturbing to me, aside from the anti-Semitic aspects of this group, is the behavior of the members on their forum. Evidently Desteni members are encouraged to post their deepest, darkest secrets on the forum and on the blogs and YouTube channels they're heavily encouraged to create. This is part of a process called "self-forgiveness." These confessions range the gambit, everything from sexual fantasies to involvement with gangs. In addition to subjecting their lives and even their thoughts to the dictates of Desteni orthodoxy, I believe these confessions are intended to give the group's leader potential leverage over his followers. That these people, most of them young, are willing to post their darkest secrets online at their leader's behest is a huge red flag.
There's also an eerie sameness in the appearance of Desteni followers. Poolman encourages his members to shave their heads, for what reason I haven't yet been able to fathom. Sure enough, the avatars of Desteni members on their web forum and their appearance in YouTube videos display an awful lot of shaved heads. Here is the cult leader controlling even the appearance and grooming of his followers.
I've also come across a lot of stories of Desteni members being encouraged to isolate themselves from family members and friends who are not in the group. This is very similar to Scientology's practice of "disconnection." In short, Desteni exhibits all the characteristics of a destructive and dangerous cult.
I've only just begun to investigate the Desteni phenomenon. This blog is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis of this cult, merely a statement of the features of it that have piqued my interest. Perhaps some of the things I've observed about this cult are wrong. Frankly, I hope they are, because this organization seems on the face of it like an especially pernicious group. The synthesis of conspiracy theories and a utopian ideology into a cult is nothing new―we saw that same pattern with the Zeitgeist Movement. Desteni, however, while being much smaller than Zeitgeist, seems to be far more extreme. How extreme are they? That's one of the questions I hope to answer.
It's likely I will be posting more blogs about Desteni as I continue my exploration of this very strange, but admittedly fascinating, conspiracy theorist cult.
Thanks for reading.
Update: May 14, 2011
This blog has caught the attention of the Destenians. There is now a topic open on their forum where its author, Darryl Thomas, promises to "deconstruct" my blog, one paragraph at a time, on an ongoing basis. (http://deconstructingmuertosdaily.wordpress.com/)
Here's his rationale for doing so:
Even the title betrays his hopeless, towering ignorance on the subject he opines on. That's why I have to do this. I have to demolish the bogus thesis of "MUERTOS" in public, one paragraph at a time, once a day, every day, until we finally reach to the end of his tiresome, long-winded and insipid screed, by which time we will have torn to shreds all the point-by-point, all opinions made by "MUERTOS" and will have had a good laugh in the process.
All I can say is that he'd better pick up the pace. I'm posting a second blog on Desteni this very afternoon, which is considerably longer than this one, so he'd better get cracking!