While leafing through the classifieds in a progressive monthly magazine, I came upon an ad for an organization that purported to encourage men to "seek the warrior within" in a community of men.
The ad sounded warm and fuzzy . It sounded like a good thing—men finding a deeper part to themselves. Even the name, The ManKind Project, had an emphasis on Kind. As I read, the word "initiation" leaped out. Initiation? Images of Fraternities encouraging wannabees to drink three shots of whiskey and then a shot of drain cleaner (true story) came to mind…my curiosity was piqued.
So, I Googled The ManKind Project (MKP for short). Page after page of chapters all throughout the U.S. popped up, and I clicked on the main page of the organization. It had pictures of the officers of the organization, but no names, no phone numbers, no contact information. This was odd.
As I studied the webpages of the MKP, I learned that their main project was to encourage men away from their mothers' feminine energy and towards their own masculine energy. This was done through weekend initiations, called Large Group Awareness Training Weekends. What the heck did that mean? Information for the weekend facilitators of these NWTA events gave the following information on the initiations: they were to be kept secret:
Secret Male Ritual
Empowering Intent: To hold sacred and honor what we have shared as
men. New Brothers choose to hold the secrets of our work to empower
the men who will follow.
Energy Embodied: Cherish this work and invite the same from these
1. Read or memorize verbatim "Secret Male Ritual" definitions below:
Commit: To give in charge or trust; deliver for safekeeping; to bind
as by a promise; to pledge; to entrust.
Promise: An oral or written agreement to do or not do something.
Trust: a firm belief in the honesty, integrity, or reliability of
Confidential: Told in confidence, imparted in secret, entrusted with
private or secret matters.
Secret: Kept from public knowledge or from the knowledge of certain
2. Present briefly in discussion style:
For years, generations, thousands of years, men's initiations have
always been secret.
All of the processes we do are secret.
It doesn't work to share it with others.
Especially women, they wouldn't understand men's ritual.
If you want a man friend to share this, don't tell him what happens
here for obvious reasons. Share what happened for you, but not the
processes or exercises.
Give examples: "We had some discussions, played some games, but more
important I learned some stuff about my feelings about my
Do not flaunt the secrecy. Don't use the word "secret". Share the
fruit, but keep the tree in secret.
Secrecy can be a good thing, but insisting on secrecy on this level should make us worried. Predators use the power of secrets with little kids -- because it works -- think of all the sexually abused Catholic children who were silent for years. Could it be that the same principles are at work here? From the wife of a former MKP member, posted at a cult education forum:
This is one way MKP starts creating emotional abuse in heterosexual relationships, and is one way that MKP starts creating a "separation" of husband and wife.
Another post at a cult education forum tells us how much these weekends are scripted for the facilitators:
Empowering Intent: Initiates surrender some more of the
security of their outside world.
Begin stripping initiates of personal items.
Energy Embodied: Direct and matter-of fact.
___ Zip lock bags
___ 3x5 cards
Preparation: Make a list of contraband items (see #1 below) in
Post list on wall where it can be easily seen by initiates.
1. Memorize and state clearly to each initiate as he steps
forward, "Put all jewelry, keys, money, electrical devices,
sacred objects, tobacco, weapons, drugs, time pieces, and food
in this bag."
Note: Some centers have the man put all medications,
prescription and over the counter, in a separate baggie. This
bag gets another 3x5 card with the man's number in red.
Note: Some centers treat tobacco as a medicine and put it in
this second bag too.
Hand him the bag(s).
2. If initiate says anything, repeat #1.
3. Write initiate's number on 3x5" card ? put in bag ? seal
bag. Hand bag to initiate. He will carry bag into contraband
4. Say "Stand over there" and point to the spot or "See that
man" point to an escort.
Note: sacred objects has been added to cover wedding rings,
crosses, medicine pouches, etc.
Why would one take away someone's wedding ring? To perhaps remove any reference to the vows to cleave unto one another and forsake all others?
What about removing timepieces? One way to disorient someone is to remove all reference to time. A man who attended one of these weekends stated that the participants were forced to sit in a darkened room for hours. They couldn't see the sun or moon, so they had no reference to the time of day. They had their timepieces removed at this point and were disoriented and thrown off-balance.
The participants were fed only oranges and granola for the first 24 hours—pretty much a starvation diet—and then they were fed a feast. This sounds like another disorienting technique.
More from the manual for the weekend:
Empowering Intention: Taking initiate away from worldly
attachments by removing his personal stuff.
Initiates feel the descent.
Energy Embodied: Clear and direct, like a blank mirror.
___ Paper bags
___ 3x5 cards
Note: Besides separating men from identity items this process
also increases physical safety by removing any weapons and
drugs from easy access.
1. Positions: One man ("table man") dumps stuff if needed and
alternates with hard questions. Second man ("pat down man")
takes notes on accountability issues of attitude and
contraband, and does the pat down when table man calls for it.
Third man ("side man") observes initiates for issues and
pushes verbally. The three position usually rotate after each
initiate. Escort stays close to initiate.
"Put your stuff on this table."
"Take everything out."
Note: Dump the stuff for the man only as a last resort. Give
him a chance to dump it himself. Dump it for him only if he is
too slow. Do not invade unnecessarily.
3. What to confiscate:
Anything he will not need; any reading material, all
toiletries except his tooth brush and toothpaste. Take
virtually everything except his clothing and bedding.
Note: If medicines look vital (prescription medications) ask
"Do you need this?" and if he says yes don't confiscate it. If
he says no or hesitates confiscate it and say: "Will you ask
staff if you need this."
When he says yes put it in his bag.
At this point, the initiate has been disoriented and made to feel intimidated by these aggressive strangers. Can you feel the empowerment?
The facilitators' manual continues:
Anything on Table # 2 list: If we find a piece of this
contraband ask a series of closed ended questions requiring
yes/no answers. This requires the initiate to acknowledge the
"Is this a (name of item)?" Yes or No
"Were you told to leave (type of contraband) at the other
table?" Yes or No
"Did you follow instruction?" Yes or No
Example with specific details:
"Is this banana/knife/radio?" Yes or No
"Is this food/weapon/electrical device?" Yes or No
"Were you told to leave food/weapons/electrical devices at the
other table?" Yes or No
"Did you follow the instructions?" No or No
If he answers "I forgot I had it." he has not answered the
question. Restate it "Yes or no, is this food?" This process
lets a man call himself of his failure to follow directions
and be accountable for his actions.
This also sets him up for the Accountability process.
(Don't expect him to be too happy about it, though.)
Again, the intiate is questioned in an aggressive manner by strangers whom he has been led to believe are there to help him find deeper meaning to life. The process just might break down a man's sense of self-worth and his ability to make decisions on his own.
More on the intimidation of the weekend:
5. The Pat Down: Table leader says; "For your safety and ours
we are going to pat you down. Do you understand?"
When initiate acknowledges with a "yes" or a positive nod tell
him; "Put you hands on the table and take a step back."
Pat down man says; "I'm going to touch you now." and proceeds
to pat him down.
If something is found acknowledge it with him, "What is
this?". When he names it, put it in the bag.
Note: The pat-down is partially an intimidation process and a
highly practical because we do not want to risk any weapons
coming into the training.
6. Notes: Make careful notes of serious confiscated items and
men with extremely resistant attitudes for accountability team
and future reference.
7. Bags: Put each man's plastic bag and all other confiscated
items in numbered paper bag and make sure bags get to Bagman
Note that the instructions acknowledge that the process is meant to intimidate these men.
The MKP orchestrates even the car rides into the MKP weekend. One poster noted that MKP told him who he was going to ride with. The man who rides with someone won't have a ride home. The man who is the designated driver will feel obligated to stay because others are depending on him.
And what happens during the initiation weekend, from the point of view of men who have undergone the initiation? One poster writes about it on a support site:
Initiates are to "summon up the Warrior energy...summon up a Shadow, that which you repress, hide, deny...Embrace your shadow and draw its energy...Everything that was forbidden and repressed is now brought to light. "
Virtually all conversation with new initiates is carefully scripted down to what seems like the last detail.
There are seemingly endless check lists that leaders use to ask for "registration, tuition forms, confidential questionnaires, money" and "special arrangements."
All this can be seen as a kind of group therapy experience, but without the proper professional oversight through licensed counselors or psychologists, which is an often stated problem that makes LGATs potentially unsafe.
Exercise after exercise is very detailed and rehearsed. Nothing appears spontaneous, no matter what the initiates may think.
Ultimately the process may intentionally be designed to "snap you right out of that other world in a flash...Nothing makes sense here...only to feel."
Recently Houston Press published a very critical view of the events that the initiates underwent, too:
On an isolated 11-acre compound down a winding, country dirt road 110 miles north of Houston, Scinto watched as the leader of the men's group instructed him and nearly 40 other strangers in the room. Put one foot on the carpet. Make sure to keep that foot on the carpet at all times. The leader then began grilling them about who makes them mad.
"They provoked the men into a rage," wrote Scinto in a letter to the Madison County Sheriff's Office. "They were telling 1 man fuck you, you are worthless.'"
Scinto felt nauseous and told a staff member he needed to leave.
When Scinto had arrived the day before, men dressed in dark clothes, faces painted black, stripped him and his fellow initiates of their keys, wallets, cell phones and watches. Now, wanting to go home, Scinto demanded his keys and his wallet back. Not that keys would help at this point anyway. After all, he didn't have his truck with him; Scinto had been driven up Interstate 45 from Houston, through the rural town of Madisonville and over to the training compound located on the grassy ranchlands of North Zulch. All the men were carpooled because they were told there was not enough space for everyone to park.
Outside and away from the other men now, the group leader sat next to Scinto.
"He told me that if I left," wrote Scinto, "I would be causing harm to the other participants. I told him that I did not care. I told him to get my stuff so that I could leave. He said that if I left they would kill...(I was) convinced that if I ran they would catch me. At this point I feared for my life."
Scinto could see no other avenue but to stay. He committed suicide a few weeks after his experience and his parents are suing the ManKind Project for wrongful death.
The ManKind Project asks men to write out detailed information about their personal lives, including their vulnerabilities, or things they have done that they are ashamed of. This is supposed to be about healing the past but it could also produce information to the leaders of MKP. Such information could stop men from speaking about any abuse they might believe they experienced.
The ManKind Project also has spinoffs: Women Within International and a secretive group called Boys to Men--where adult men "mentor" young boys. The parents are kept in the dark about what happens on those weekends. The boys are instructed not to tell their parents about the weekend.
Compare the techniques of the MKP initiation weekends to brainwashing. Dr. Philip Zimbardo, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, has this to say about the latter technique:
...according to Zimbardo, and the expert manipulator leaves people "unaware of [the manipulator's] influence" (Cunningham, 1984). In order to influence or brainwash people, the following methods work best: isolate them in new surroundings apart from old friends or reference-points, provide them with instant acceptance from a seemingly loving group, keep them away from competing or critical ideas, provide an authority figure that everyone seems to acknowledge as having some special skill or awareness, provide a philosophy that seems logical and appears to answer all or the most important questions in life, structure all or most activities so that there is little time for privacy or independent action or thought, provide a sense of "us" versus "them," promise instant or imminent solutions to deep or long-term problems, and employ covert or disguised hypnotic techniques. Motivation is an important issue. A subject's motivation can range from loneliness and mild depression to being at a point of transition in life; from searching for spirituality, altruistic relationships or deeper meaning to impatience with or resistance to "conventional" religious or psychotherapeutic routes of discovery (Clark, Langone, Schecter, & Daly, 1981; Cunningham, 1984; Schwartz & Kaslow, 1982).
Organizations such as ManKind Project that hide under the cover of being "nonprofit", and that try to intimidate attendees from speaking about their experience (unless, of course, they say it's a positive experience), deserve much closer scrutiny and federal/local oversight. A person can easily be broadsided by the promise of the triple play of spirituality, friendship, and empowerment, and as we all know, those who would use their power over another in those situations can lead to tragic results. Jim Jones' poison kool-aid is just one of them.
NOTE: The quotes concerning the facilitators' manual can be found here.
By Boogie Check
Many, many thanks to "Ginah", who helped greatly.