Daniella Mestyanek Young (@daniellamyoung) is a survivor of the religious Children of God cult, a US Army combat veteran, an extremely advanced knitter, and the author of Uncultured: A Memoir.
What We Discuss with Daniella Mestyanek Young:
- How the seemingly wholesome Children of God (later known by variations of “The Family”) religious group centered around love, faith, and Jesus — and packaged to appeal to impressionable countercultural hippie types of the day — veered into true cult territory under the direction of its leader, David Berg.
- How female followers of Children of God were encouraged to use their bodies and sexuality to gain converts and money in a practice known as “flirty flashing.”
- How child sexual abuse became a commonplace Children of God practice in an effort to raise “sexually liberated” children.
- What this cult and others do to cultivate credibility — and raise funds — among its followers and the outside world.
- The toll that life in a cult takes on those who are lucky enough to exit.
- And much more…
Like this show? Please leave us a review here — even one sentence helps! Consider including your Twitter handle so we can thank you personally!
Founded in 1968 ostensibly as a wholesome religious group centered around love, faith, and Jesus — and packaged to appeal to impressionable countercultural hippie types of the day — Children of God (later known by variations of “The Family”) veered into true cult territory under the direction of its leader, David Berg. In no time at all, female followers were encouraged to use their bodies and sexuality to gain converts and money in a practice known as “flirty flashing.” The cult also practiced forced polyamory and religious prostitution while aiming to raise “sexually liberated” children.
On this episode, we’re joined by Daniella Mestyanek Young, a survivor who managed to escape the cult in her teens after being born into it as detailed in her book Uncultured: A Memoir. Here, we’ll discuss the disturbing details of child sexual abuse that were encouraged by the cult’s leaders throughout its history, what this cult and others do to cultivate credibility among its followers and the outside world, how an organization with such well-documented transgressions manages to rake in millions of dollars every year even now, and the toll that life in a cult takes on those who are lucky enough to exit.
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
Please note that some of the links on this page (books, movies, music, etc.) lead to affiliate programs for which The Jordan Harbinger Show receives compensation. It’s just one of the ways we keep the lights on around here. Thank you for your support!
Sign up for Six-Minute Networking — our free networking and relationship development mini course — at jordanharbinger.com/course!
This Episode Is Sponsored By:
- US Bank: Apply at usbank.com/altitudego for 20,000 bonus points
- Athletic Greens: Visit athleticgreens.com/jordan for a free one-year supply of vitamin D and five free travel packs with your first purchase
- Scotts: Pick up a bag of Scotts Turf Builder today
- BetterHelp: Get 10% off your first month at betterhelp.com/jordan
Also, make sure to check out The Jordan Harbinger Show Episode 631: Amanda Catarzi | Overcoming Cult Life and Sex Trafficking!
Thanks, Daniella Mestyanek Young!
If you enjoyed this session with Daniella Mestyanek Young, let her know by clicking on the link below and sending her a quick shout out at Twitter:
Click here to thank Daniella Mestyanek Young at Twitter!
Click here to let Jordan know about your number one takeaway from this episode!
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources from This Episode:
- Uncultured: A Memoir by Daniella Mestyanek Young | Amazon
- Daniella Mestyanek Young | Website
- Daniella Mestyanek Young | TikTok
- Daniella Mestyanek Young | Twitter
- Daniella Mestyanek Young | Instagram
- Daniella Mestyanek Young | Facebook
- Daniella Mestyanek Young | LinkedIn
- Daniella Young: Lost in Transition | TED Talk
- The Family International | Wikipedia
- The Children of God: Joaquin Phoenix, Rose McGowan Among Former Members of This Notorious Cult | Esquire
- The Children Of God: 5 Disturbing Facts About The Infamous Sex Cult | Investigation Discovery
- David Berg and the Insane Teachings of His Children Of God Cult | ATI
- Thought-Terminating Cliché | RationalWiki
- Story of Davidito | XFamily
- Jonestown Massacre: 13 Things You Should Know | Rolling Stone
- What You Need to Know About the Manson Family Murders | Smithsonian Magazine
- 25 Years Ago, the Children of God’s Gospel of Free Love Outraged Critics. Under Fire from Deprogrammers and Child-Abuse Authorities, the Cult Virtually Disappeared. It’s Back — Calling Itself ‘The Family’ and Saying It Has Changed. But Former Members Are Skeptical. : A True Conversion? | Los Angeles Times
- Donald Trump Speaks at Moonies 9/11 Event, Praises Unification Church | Business Insider
- We Spent a Wild Weekend with the Gun-Worshipping Moonie Church That’s Trying to Go MAGA | Vice
- Steven Hassan | Combating Cult Mind Control Part One | Jordan Harbinger
- Steven Hassan | Combating Cult Mind Control Part Two | Jordan Harbinger
- Steven Hassan | The #iGotOut Guide to Quitting QAnon | Jordan Harbinger
- I Escaped the Children of God Cult and Ended Up in the Army | Rolling Stone
- ‘Waco: American Apocalypse’ Tragic True Story and Where Its Survivors Are Now | Esquire
- Deceivers Yet True | XFamily
- Women Talking | Prime Video
- Heaven’s Girl | XFamily
- James Cantor | Exploring the Complexities of Sexual Orientation | Jordan Harbinger
- Jan Broberg | The True Crime Story of a Young Girl Abducted | Jordan Harbinger
- Mo Letters | XFamily
- Eyes Wide Shut | Prime Video
- One Man Recalls Years in a Sex Cult in Forthcoming Book | Ottawa Magazine
- Kim Funeral, As North Koreans Wail and Mourn | AP
- Religious and Spiritual Responses to 9/11: Evidence from the Add Health Study | Social Spectrum Study
- She’s All That | Prime Video
- Chick-Fil-A is a Cult | Smosh
- Chick-fil-A Caught Trying to Pay Teen Workers With Food, Having Children Operate Dangerous Machinery | Law and Crime
- The Hippie Christian Cult That Encouraged Sex with Children Is Still Around Today | Timeline
823: Daniella Mestyanek Young | How to Disengage from a Lifelong Cult
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Before we start this show, I want to let you know it has some adult themes in it, so no kids in the car for this one. And if you leave the kids in the car and you still play the episode, don't blame me when they have nightmares.
[00:00:09] Special thanks to US Bank for sponsoring this episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:13] Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:16] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Cults become really popular in times of social confusion and when systems were coming down and people are looking for guidance and so globally, we saw it go, '60s and '70s was America's time of cult, '80s was Asia, and then '90s was Latin America. And the Children of God, The Family, another creepy name, they followed sort of that trajectory, just growing and growing in places that were friendly.
[00:00:48] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people. We have in-depth conversations with scientists, entrepreneurs, even the occasional war correspondent, arms dealer, neuroscientist, or hostage negotiator. And each episode turns our guest's wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better thinker.
[00:01:12] If you're new to the show or you want to tell your friends about the show, I suggest our episode starter packs is a great place to begin. These are collections of our favorite episodes organized by topic. That will help new listeners get a taste of everything that we do here on this show — topics like persuasion and influence, investing in financial crimes, abnormal psychology, negotiation, and communication, crime and cults, and more. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start or search for us in your Spotify app to get started. You can also use our AI chatbot on the website over at jordanharbinger.com/ai to make your very own playlist based on what the AI bot thinks you'll like.
[00:01:47] All right, taking it easy this week. No Thursday episodes. So don't panic. Nothing is wrong with your podcast player and no Skeptical Sunday. Again, letting everybody sleep in a little bit this week.
[00:01:56] Now, today's episode is about a woman who grew up in a pretty gross, is an understatement, sex cult called Children of God, and it's as creepy and as disgusting as it sounds. There's graphic sexual abuse, pedophilia discussed in this episode. Up to you, if you want to have the kids in the car for this one. It's a little spooky, but you know, maybe they'll actually learn about what kind of people do this. I don't know. Up to you, folks. Just giving you the old trigger warning or kid warning. This is a really interesting episode. She went through a whole lot. She came out the other side. She's an amazing and brave person, and I think the story's incredible. So here we go with Daniella Mestyanek Young.
[00:02:36] I've heard a lot about cults, and I've talked to a lot of cult survivors on this show, but I do have to say that the cult you grew up in might take the cake for the most messed up craziness and the destructive nature of its practices.
[00:02:50] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And I think maybe that's part of why we don't talk about it more.
[00:02:53] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:02:53] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Honestly, people get very, very uncomfortable when you start talking about beliefs that included, you know, religious prostitution and pedophilia for God. And even when I was trying to sell Uncultured, I had a lot of editors tell me, "We don't do Children of God because it's too hard for readers."
[00:03:13] Jordan Harbinger: Really?
[00:03:13] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And you know, it was an interesting parallel to, "We don't do books about women in the military because nobody reads them." And I was like, well—
[00:03:21] Jordan Harbinger: Have I got a book for you?
[00:03:23] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Yeah.
[00:03:23] Jordan Harbinger: It's about Children of God and women in the military. Your favorite combination of hard to read and not interesting enough to read according to you, right?
[00:03:32] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And I think it's bringing you behind those walls, right? We think we know what happens in cults. We think we know what happens to the daughters of America when they disappear behind the commune walls of the Department of Defense. But we are not actually getting those full stories very often.
[00:03:48] Jordan Harbinger: I did learn a lot from your book about both of those things. First of all, let's just back up to your childhood because that's kind of where we'll probably focus most of the show. Can you discuss the premise of the cult that you were in? I mean, you said pedophilia for God, and I think people were like, "Huh? Come again?" Because that phrase alone is pretty tough to swallow for I think most people. It's just like, you got to be exaggerating. I think that's where most people probably start when they hear this.
[00:04:13] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Yes. So it started in 1968, which to put in context, this was the time of the hippies, right? The free-love movement—
[00:04:23] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:04:24] Daniella Mestyanek Young: —and new religious movements were basically a dime a dozen people were getting all into them. And so our leader, David Berg, was already this failed preacher who came out of evangelical Christian tradition and kind of found his spot with his teenage children, recruiting hippies in California. And it started off love, faith, Jesus very supposedly wholesome, right? Very much with this revolutionary, you know, this is the prophet of God, we are living in the end of days, and we are on this mission to win the world for God. Over about a decade, it went from love, faith, Jesus, to using his female followers as religious prostitutes. So based on this person, Matthew, "I will make you fishers of men." They called themselves flirty fishing. They called themselves hookers for Christ.
[00:05:18] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:05:18] Daniella Mestyanek Young: It was very deliberate. You are going out and you are using your body and your sexuality to gain converts and to gain money. And he first started with this concept of sexual control. And I think it's exactly what evangelical purity does, which is try to control you and your sexuality—
[00:05:38] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:05:39] Daniella Mestyanek Young: —all through your life. And all he did was flip that and say, "Sex is love, love is God, and God loves everyone." And so the idea was free love. The result was forced polyamory, religious prostitution, and then when the kids came along, so my mother was one of the first children born into the cult. The kids got absorbed into this idea of raising sexually liberated children.
[00:06:07] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, God, there's so much to unpack and all of it is kind of gross. And I'm sure you don't mind me saying that, right? But—
[00:06:14] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Not at all.
[00:06:14] Jordan Harbinger: —I think religious prostitution, people are still probably like, "Okay, but what is it really?" So what is it really? Because it's just like, it sounds, which it's so hard to believe, and I was listening to the audiobook and I'm like, I got to rewind this. Did she actually just say that this is what was happening? Because there was a lot of stuff that was so unbelievable that I just wanted to make sure I heard it clearly. Because I'm often multitasking when I read. You know, I'm working on a car or something and I'm like, let me just, I got to, I got to rewind this. Did she say that you have to share your wife with other guys in the cults? Okay. That's kind of culty, not seemingly very Christian. And then it's like, but wait a minute, they are also literally prostituting themselves and this is how they generate revenue or something for the cults. I haven't read the Bible recently, but it's probably a stretch to find that in there.
[00:06:59] Daniella Mestyanek Young: You know, so the whole, I guess thing with cults is it, like, it hinges on your absolute belief in one concept, which in this case was that this man was the prophet of God. I think honestly, this is why they couldn't break me because I never believed in this concept.
[00:07:16] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:07:16] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And so I was just like my whole life these people are crazy. But once he is put his followers through this process of a decade of isolation and of self-sublimation, because the other big thing about cults is you are asked to sublimate yourself, right? Lower your individualism. Make sacrifices in order for the good of the group and the ultimate mission. At which point, anything you start becoming asked to do seems reasonable because you're doing it for this mission, for this purpose, right? The end justifies the means.
[00:07:52] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:07:53] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And so again, he walks his followers into it a little bit at a time. First, he sets his wife aside and takes a young wife and nobody says anything. Then he says, "Everyone needs to start sharing sexually with each other." And then, he says, "Well, what a great gift of love that the Lord has given us, right? These beautiful women and their beautiful bodies. And if this is God's way of bringing men and money into the group, then all the better."
[00:08:22] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:08:23] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And nobody ever called it religious prostitution. They called it their own thing. They gave it their own terminology, their own sort of thought-stopping cliche around it. And then, it just became part of the fabric of the group.
[00:08:38] Jordan Harbinger: And so thought-stopping cliche, the term might sound familiar from other cult episodes that we've done, which is when something seems entirely insane or out of line, a cult would know, wow, this person is going to run into this problem. Like your parents are going to try and get you out. They give you thought-stopping cliches in order to get you to drop logical thinking and just go into this sort of loop. And multi-level marketing companies or other sort of shady business ventures do it too, right? So when someone says, "Hey, you've spent a lot of money and you haven't made a lot of money, and I think you're being taken advantage of." It's like, "Oh, haters will say anything to get you out of the way of the success you're running into because they're jealous." There's this sort of program in there that's like, hey, when you run into this very obviously credible objection from people that you trust, go into this thought-stopping cliche.
[00:09:27] So when your husband says, "Maybe I don't want my wife to be a prostitute, because that was not something that we learned about at church, and also I really hate the feeling and she hates the feeling and we're all upset about it." Well, I assume the thought-stopping cliche was something like, "God's going to make you uncomfortable, but he's testing you. And this is just part of the, if you're not willing to share the love, that's something about you and not about the doctrine or the fact that your wife is on the streets generating revenue, it's a you problem. Right? It's not a problem with what we're doing. We're always right because I'm the prophet of God." It's got to be something along those lines. Right? I don't want to put words in your mouth, but that's kind of how I would handle it if I was a cult leader.
[00:10:02] Daniella Mestyanek Young: No, you pegged it exactly right. They precede the field with, "We have this big revelation. It's going to be really difficult," right?
[00:10:11] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:10:12] Daniella Mestyanek Young: We have this concept of the old church and the new church, right? We've left the old church and we are the new church of God. We are going to have new revelations. It's going to be hard for you. And they tell you that. And so, you know, one of the things I've noticed is as adults, we buy into our own programming. You become the first one who shuts down your own doubts, right? You say—
[00:10:36] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:10:36] Daniella Mestyanek Young: "Oh, I know. I'm just going through doubts because it's so hard to share my spouse," and then the rest of the community like—"
[00:10:43] Jordan Harbinger: Reinforces it.
[00:10:43] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Yes, yes, you're right. You just got to pray. We've all gone through this, right? And this feeling of being surrounded by people that look just like you, think just like you, and are confirming that the mission that you're on is correct. It's a really good feeling and people like that. And they will do a lot to go along with their groups.
[00:11:04] Jordan Harbinger: When the cult leader, was he your grandfather? Is that kind of how that worked?
[00:11:09] Daniella Mestyanek Young: No. So my great-grandmother, if you like, research the Children of God, you will find that they have this big commune out in Texas. It's always Texas.
[00:11:19] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:11:20] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And it's called the Soul Clinic. And everyone lived basically in near poverty and the prophet lived in a very nice house nearby. So my great-grandmother donated that house to him when her teenage daughter went off with my grandfather and joined the Children of God.
[00:11:39] Jordan Harbinger: Oof.
[00:11:39] Daniella Mestyanek Young: So there were actually parents that thought this was great, right? My troubled child has found religion and is doing good things, and my grandfather was one of the few college-educated people that joined. And so he quickly became kind of the CPA and in the finances, right at the prophet's right-hand side. So then, when my mother is 13 years old, she ends up in a group wedding through the prophet who's in his 70s.
[00:12:10] Jordan Harbinger: Ooh, wow.
[00:12:11] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And it's 14 girls that range from 14 to the age of three.
[00:12:16] Jordan Harbinger: No.
[00:12:16] Daniella Mestyanek Young: It includes the prophet's granddaughter, and the three-year-old's mother is the one running the ceremony. Like, to just give you a range of how it went from—
[00:12:27] Jordan Harbinger: What?
[00:12:28] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Oh, this good group of faith to 13 years later, 14 years later, these things are going on.
[00:12:34] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. When something like that happens, I just want people to sort of pause and think about this, because when you're in a cult, you have thought-stopping cliche as you're doing things you wouldn't normally do, imagine how far down the cult rabbit hole you have to be to be like, "This is fine. A three-year-old is marrying a 70-plus-year-old man, a bunch of teen girls that probably look, I mean, of course, still look just like children are marrying this old man. This is fine. This isn't weird." You have to be so far down the brainwashing, cult-thinking rabbit hole to not be like, "Okay. I'm drawing the line." Prostituting yourself or your wife is weird and out there, but when you're starting to condone and give your own kids to a pedophile, you've really got to be fully enrolled in. Like, you can't fake your way through that. Right? Most, 99 percent of people you'd think would draw the line somewhere before that and they didn't.
[00:13:34] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Yes. You would think And that is the thing I have come to find now with a lifetime of studying extremism, is that people really do think that there is one line and you will know before you cross it, and it isn't like that. Right? It is a series of incremental. This woman who ran the wedding ceremony, she was a Dallas cheerleader, she was a normal woman before she got associated with this, right? As a seeker, an idealist, so 50 years later she still can't see the problem, right? And this, this is the same woman. That you will read about in my book, in Children of God history, when the prophet decides to formalize his ideology about how we are going to sexually raise children, he uses his own stepson for this process to be documented. And she is the nanny, she is the woman that does this and writes this 762-page book, the Davidito book.
[00:14:35] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my gosh.
[00:14:36] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Which has been called the worst cult artifact of all times, which is this essentially manual on pedophilia for God. So kind of to your point of they really do, they go in so far, but it increments at a time. It's a little bit at a time and it's with so much ceremony. It's with so much ritual and it's with so many other good people right around you. That everything is reinforcing itself. And of course, for us children, right? So a year after this at 14, my mom gets pregnant from the man who works with her father who's older than her father. And you know, they're all the lieutenants of the prophet. And you know, that is with me, right? So when we start coming into this, my mom and me, like, we don't know anything different, right? So we are being programmed with this. And you go along with things because that's all you know.
[00:15:34] Jordan Harbinger: Because I think a lot of people are going, well wait a minute, you, what did your friends at school think? Or what did the other kids that you grew up around think? You had to know from watching tv that this wasn't normal? You just didn't have any of those influences.
[00:15:45] Daniella Mestyanek Young: None of it. So we grew up in really big communes. The one interaction that we had with the outside world is when we would be taken out to perform on the streets or to go to orphanages. I like to call it performing missionary work, right?
[00:16:03] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:16:03] Daniella Mestyanek Young: So we would go to an orphanage. We would hand out toys. We would take photos, and then we would use those photos to raise more money. You know, we would go out singing and dancing on the streets a lot in the '80s and '90s when the Children of God stopped with the sexual recruiting. They went headlong into the childhood entertainment business. And so many of us were these little kind of child-trafficked actors. You know, I call myself the little apocalypse Lindsay Lohan. And then we would sell these videos, millions and millions of them on the streets, around the world. And so that was our only interaction with the outside world. We did not go to school. We did not see doctors, except in the most emergencies. And we were very, very separated. The first time I would see live television on would be on 9/11 when I was 14 years old.
[00:16:57] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, wow. It's by the way, super creepy name. You know, you think Children of God, wow. This is going to be a creepy cult. And then you read about it and you're like, wow, I did not sign up for that level of creepiness. It's really extra. It's shocking that it's allowed to go on, right? I think what people are going, "Well, wait a minute, how is this even allowed to go on?" Well, it started in Texas. But you didn't grow up in Texas, right? You grew up, where did you grow up?
[00:17:21] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Right. So I was born in the Philippines and I grew up mostly in South America, Latin America, Brazil, and Mexico. So right around the mid-'70s when you've had Jonestown Massacre happen, you've had Charles Manson stuff go on, our prophet is starting to realize like, "Oh, I need to get my people out of the United States." And so he conveniently gets revelations from God, you know, that we need to be going into these developing nations and recruiting people and saving the world. And in many ways, on their part, this was really genius. Because now, you're going into countries where, you know, you're talking Brazil, right? The slums of Brazil, the slums of India. Like these are places where it's easy to recruit people into a better life. And even when they notice that things are really bad, in some ways it's still not as bad as what they came from. So they're going to continue to stay. And because we are growing up not in our home countries, with no knowledge of the legal system, no contact with the outside world. For my first six years in Brazil, I didn't even speak the language. You know, we really are very, very isolated and also hidden just in plain sight all over the world.
[00:18:39] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. So are there Brazilians joining the cult or is it like, Hey, we're going to move a bunch of white people out here Because they're isolated and the locals will just be like, yeah, it's a weird group of white people. They live behind this barbed wire fence. Who cares?
[00:18:50] Daniella Mestyanek Young: It was both. It was both. It was certainly, you know, mainly Americans moving, they spread to like, first went into Europe, but cults become really popular in times of social confusion and when systems were coming down and people are looking for guidance and so globally, we saw it go. '60s and '70s was America's time of cult, '80s was Asia, and the '90s was Latin America. And the Children of God, The Family, another creepy name, they followed sort of that trajectory, just growing and growing in places that were friendly.
[00:19:27] Jordan Harbinger: Huh. Why the '80s and Asia and the '90s in South America?
[00:19:31] Daniella Mestyanek Young: I think it just has to do with all the different political unrest and the things that were going on. Actually, that's a good question.
[00:19:39] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:19:39] Daniella Mestyanek Young: I know that part, but I've only really studied American cults.
[00:19:43] Jordan Harbinger: No, it makes sense because I'm curious, I'm thinking, okay, '80s in Asia, I know there was some financial upheaval, there was like an Asian market crash. I just don't know exactly when it was. I want to say early to mid-'80s. In '90s, I'm thinking, end of the Cold War, messed up Latin America a little bit more because all the creepy crappy governments, the United States was propping up and the Soviets were propping up. We didn't have any need to do that anymore. And the Soviets couldn't do that anymore. And it was like, oh, let's have a bunch of upheaval. And there was like the Sandinistas and there was the Sendero Luminoso in Peru and all these sort of terrorist organizations and Marxist organizations that were kicking up dust to put a nice euphemism on things. So maybe that's why.
[00:20:24] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Yeah, we would be right behind all of those political things. Like when the Iron Curtain fell and when communism was coming down, the USSR and all that stuff, we were always some of the first ones in the country. To the point that I was warning people to be on the lookout in Ukraine, right?
[00:20:40] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:20:40] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Like this Children of God is going to show up—
[00:20:43] Jordan Harbinger: Ooh.
[00:20:43] Daniella Mestyanek Young: —on the borders of these war-torn countries, right? Because this is where it's easy to sort of disappear people, right? To find people that are trying to leave. Whatever social system hasn't been looking for them or hasn't been working for them and fit into yours.
[00:20:58] Jordan Harbinger: I want to hear more about that because first of all, spoiler alert, the cult still exists, right? And it's all over the place. And you're thinking they're going to go to Ukraine because the system has fallen apart. And if you've got desperate refugees and you've got a place that says, "Hey, look, you can live in our barbed wire compound and the Russians can't get you and we're going to feed you and your kids are going to go to school." You just have to ignore the fact that you're going to have to prostitute your 14-year-old daughter to a bunch of old. It's probably tempting because your alternative might be to die of starvation or get attacked by enemy troops, essentially occupiers.
[00:21:32] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Exactly. Exactly. And part of how the Children of God supports themselves is by, again, performing charity work, performing public service. So I'm going to now in the US be telling people that, "Oh, my missionary group is over here doing all of this great work on the Ukrainian border." They're raising enough donations, like 90 percent of the money and donations that we ever brought in stayed with us.
[00:22:00] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:22:01] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And cults are always also out for political power, right? So the Children of God performed twice at the George H. W. Bush White House.
[00:22:09] Jordan Harbinger: Really? That's extra gross.
[00:22:11] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And not to mention, Donald Trump just spoke at the Moonies Convention last year, right? So it serves two purposes of getting them funding and disciples like on these war tone, political upheaval places. But it also helps them make connections into government and power.
[00:22:31] Jordan Harbinger: Right. So it's a credibility play to have the founder. I know the Moonies. We talked to former Moonie here on the show, Dr. Steven Hassam, who's a cult expert. You probably know him. They have like an arms factory. They're also a scary cult, right? Because they manufacture weapons legally in Korea, I think. And they sell them. And it's like, that's a powerful group. They can be a voting block, they're an arms dealer. And worst case, you can pay a president or a former president to come and speak at your organization for, I don't know, 300 grand. And then you take video and photos and you just make it look like you're friends with whatever president is hanging out. And wow, the cult leaders hanging out with Barack Obama, Donald Trump, George Bush, he must be a very important man. They don't know that you can just cut a freaking check to a speaking agency and have that guy roll in and not care slash not know. You would think they would vet a cult like this, but at the end of the day, if they don't tell you it's for Children of God and they say it's, "Oh, it's for this business organization. And the cult founder just happens to be there, and everybody who's a member happens to be in this cult, they're not going to dig that far. They just don't do that. They wait for the check to clear and they've booked the flight.
[00:23:34] Daniella Mestyanek Young: As far as vetting goes, right, I have a top-secret clearance and I grew up in an anti-American cult.
[00:23:40] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, well.
[00:23:41] Daniella Mestyanek Young: But that's not how you brief it, you know? I'm like, I put down what I needed to put down and I hope you're going to go get your Portuguese translators and go to Brazil and ask these people if you're really afraid. Right?
[00:23:55] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Wow.
[00:23:56] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And so there's a reason the first line of Uncultured is, the first rule of cults is you're never in a cult, you know? It took me two years after I was out of the cult watching a murder suicide on television, hearing Children of God cult over and over again for me to recognize. And most people just don't look that far. Right? And the pretty well-spoken children singing and dancing all in a row, like goes a long way to fool people about what is going on behind the walls and the closed doors.
[00:24:28] Jordan Harbinger: So even when you left the cult, you weren't thinking, I'm in a cult. You just thought you were in a weird church.
[00:24:33] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Yeah, it was. I mean, it was The Family, right? Your whole life growing up, we were The Family, we are the army of God. Everyone else is wrong. And the theory was if you were born in The Family, God has chosen you to grow up and to be a missionary. That's the only thing you were supposed to do for me actually, because I was so argumentative and so questioning. I would have usually older teenagers, so older kids born in the cult would like exasperatedly say to me, oh, you need to be a lawyer. So by the time, I was six years old, I was like, okay, I'm going to leave The Family. I'm going to be a lawyer. And you know, I was being abused pretty terribly at the age of six and seven and eight. And I was just like, I don't care if this is God or if I'm going to hell not being in The Family, hell's going to suck, but I'm not doing this.
[00:25:25] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:25:25] Daniella Mestyanek Young: So, yeah, to me, It wasn't that different than any teenager, I think, wanting to get out of home or wanting to leave their parents' church. It just encompassed our whole lives. And the way I briefed it to myself was just, I want to go to high school so I can go to college so I can be a lawyer, so I have to get out of here. And so it wasn't until I uprooted my whole life, got myself excommunicated two years later. And you know, the other part was not only did we not call ourselves a cult, we spent hours and hours and hours drilling on how to answer questions if we were a cult. You know, to the point that when I had this realization, oh, we grew up in a cult. My next thought was, well, that should be obvious. If you spend that much time talking about how you aren't a cult.
[00:26:16] Jordan Harbinger: Tell us about what kinds of questions you are being drilled on and what this was for. I mean, is this, is this like, "Okay, when the police eventually raided this commune, we need you to be like, 'No, of course, I've been to the doctor. Of course, I'm not sleeping with a 72-year-old man. I'm only 12.'" I mean, is that where are we going with this kind of training that you had?
[00:26:36] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Yes. That was exactly it. And actually, for listeners, the chapter three shows this, and it's published in Rolling Stone, a sample chapter. People can go check it out. And it was exactly right. So first of all, you have the concept of the persecution, right? The persecution is coming, it is out there, and we have proof because X, Y, Z, right? Which when I was a child was this compound in Argentina gets raided. And so after that, they're really coming. They really are what the prophet said, they really are out to get us. This is the same time Waco has just, you know, the Branch Davidians have erupted in Waco? So we are all terrified that they're going to decide we're a cult and come kill us all.
[00:27:21] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:27:21] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And we have this doctrine called Deceivers Yet True, which is literally, it's not okay to lie, but it is okay to lie for God to the outsiders. And there would be all of these examples from the Bible and from, you know, Christian history. It was a cartoon book that my stepfather illustrated.
[00:27:41] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my God.
[00:27:42] Daniella Mestyanek Young: That we would read and drill on. And kind of exactly what you said about the, the touching and the sexual abuse, but also very similar to what they say in the movie Women Talking, which is we didn't talk about what happened, so we didn't have language for it.
[00:27:59] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:27:59] Daniella Mestyanek Young: So in the Children of God, there was no such thing as sexual abuse because you were supposed to give your body to whoever wanted it. We had a comic called Heaven's Girl that literally trained us how to give our body to multiple attackers in the end times, right, anti-Christ soldiers. Training children and young teenagers about gang rape.
[00:28:23] Jordan Harbinger: Oof.
[00:28:24] Daniella Mestyanek Young: You know, it wasn't until way later on when they put this charter of rules and responsibilities that I even had the language for, oh, grown men are not supposed to have sex with young girls.
[00:28:36] Jordan Harbinger: The training that you got for relating to outsiders makes sense, right? And for the people who don't know what Waco Branch Dividian was, because you're maybe young or weren't watching the news, this was a cult in Waco, Texas. There was, of course, another prophet named David Koresh, or you know, self-proclaimed profit named David Koresh. They all lived in a compound, and I believe, I'm going off memory here, but they were stockpiling weapons, which is a great way to get attention from the FBI. And so they got attention, or the ATF and the FBI, and the FBI said, "All right, we're going to go in there and we're going to get the weapons." And the cult said, "Come and get it." And that wa then the FBI went in there and accidentally slash through gross incompetence, basically killed almost everybody who was in this house. They had let go of a bunch of women and children, but the FBI raided it. The place caught on fire and they all burned to death.
[00:29:25] My friend who works at the FBI was saying it's basically known as the worst sort of low point in the FBI because they bungled it so bad that they just ended up murdering all these people. And it was a complete accident. I mean the accident through negligence and incompetence and not knowing what the hell they were doing. And there's all this footage of like an FBI tank running into the side of the building and the place is on fire and there's people on the roof. It's just a huge, a huge mess.
[00:29:50] So using that as propaganda for your cult and saying, look, they're going to come and kill us. They did this on purpose, is kind of, I hate to say a stroke of genius because that's probably laying it on a bit too thick. But it really was a gift from the FBI to every cult out there that, "Look, all these lies we made up about how people are going to come after us, they turned out to be true. And here's the proof."
[00:30:10] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And it was perfect both siderism on our part. It was we are not a cult.
[00:30:16] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:30:16] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Waco was a cult. He said he was Jesus, right?
[00:30:20] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:30:21] Daniella Mestyanek Young: He clearly is messed up. Our guy doesn't say he's Jesus. Our guy says he's the prophet. Right? So we are not a cult, but look what America will do to you if they think you're a cult. And that is the other thing is that we were trained to hate America. We were trained that America was Babylon whore. It was going to be part of God's judgment. This is why we didn't live in America. Also, because it's much, much easier to leave your cult if you live in the country that you are from or nearby it, as I would find out later. So all of these things in my mind when I'm six, seven, eight years old is I want the cops to come to rescue me, but I don't want to be murdered, you know?
[00:31:05] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:31:05] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Don't want to be here. But also the outside world is evil. We aren't a cult, but we are like them, so we have to be careful.
[00:31:12] Jordan Harbinger: Ooh, the doublethink is very 1984.
[00:31:15] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Oh yeah.
[00:31:16] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Wow. Unfortunately, I think we do have to talk about the abuse because it's a big part of the cult, right? We talked about the sexually liberated children concept, which is gross, just even saying out loud, and it wasn't just sexual abuse, right? There was spanking babies as young as six months old, and there was a punishment culture. Can you speak to that a little bit?
[00:31:36] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Yes. So, you know, in this way I think it was very similar to many of the kind of strict evangelical churches that you have out there that are very into spare the rod, spoil the child. It's one of the primary doctrines. He says that babies should start being spanked at six months old, but we also don't have any limitations on spanking or hitting. So it just becomes sessions of beatings. We had a lot of group discipline, which of course, I would later also encounter in the army. Because group discipline is a great way to control people because you are creating fear and you're creating this dynamic of kind of North Korean prison camps.
[00:32:19] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:32:19] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Right? Like everyone's going to tell on everyone else. People don't want to be disciplined or people do, you know, you can get back at the group by getting everyone disciplined. So you also can never like bond and have good friends because of the discipline culture. And then, of course, we would get separated. So there would be a lot of isolation. There would be this thing called silence restriction where they would just tell you that you couldn't talk. A lot of times they would hang signs on you. I now have t-shirts that say, "Don't talk to me. I'm disrespectful."
[00:32:49] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:32:51] Daniella Mestyanek Young: But these are like signs that they would put on and you would go for a week and everyone in the commune essentially knew they were supposed to shun you.
[00:32:58] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:32:58] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And then, with the isolation, so there's a scene in Uncultured where I go there, where I take you into 10 hours in the basement with a pedophile, who, from the outside I have done something bad and I have been hauled away for discipline, and I emerged 10 hours later. And it's never talked about. Of course, you know what is happening on the inside is very, very serious, rape and abuse and beatings and neglect. But it's not talked about. But I know that everyone else goes through this. I know that even my own mother grew up in this and has been isolated. So I think everybody knows what is happening. And I think that this is, the raping is just another part of my punishment from God as the beating or the washing the mouth out with soap.
[00:33:54] Jordan Harbinger: How do you know that everybody else went through that? I mean, it was clear that they did, but if you didn't ever talk about it, did you just know that somebody was missing for a while and you're like, "Well, they're probably going through the same thing as me because they went in the basement with creepy Uncle Jerry."
[00:34:06] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Yes. And you know to come to find out everyone is, of course, not going through the same thing, right? And this is another way that survivors sometimes don't support each other. In the beginning, their sexuality stuff was very, very open. And then, at some point, actually when a 14-year-old got pregnant—
[00:34:25] Jordan Harbinger: Oh God.
[00:34:26] Daniella Mestyanek Young: —with me, they realized, "Oh, we can't have this evidence. So we're going to put rules in place." And this is when a lot of the survivors seem to believe that telling the pedophiles to stop raping the children worked. And I find it surprising that people believe that, of course, but that's where we were. It was this culture of you don't question the uncles, right? Anything the uncles do, they are the hand of God. And when you know someone has been separated and then, they come back, the last thing you want to do is ask them what happened. Because somebody else might tell on you, they might tell on you, or heaven forbid, I think you just have to face what happened. And again, we didn't have the words for that.
[00:35:13] Jordan Harbinger: So even you asking somebody else what happened would be considered you questioning the uncle's decision to do sadistic stuff to kids.
[00:35:21] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Oh, absolutely. And heaven forbid you ask someone what happened and then you react negatively. Because that would really be judgment, right?
[00:35:33] Jordan Harbinger: I see.
[00:35:34] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Something like rolling your eyes could get you isolated for days. So we absolutely walked on glass. It wasn't until decades later I feel like that we would all start talking about. And this was another really interesting parallel to my time in the military because I feel like it was the same thing. All of the women are going through the same mistreatment and the same kind of abuse, but we don't talk about it, that's the number one rule.
[00:36:05] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Daniella Mestyanek Young. We'll be right back.
[00:36:10] This episode is sponsored in part by Athletic Greens. Jen and I take AG1 by Athletic Greens. Every single morning we had a scoop of AG1 to a bottle of water and shake it up. We started taking AG1 because, well, we don't always have time to eat a balanced, perfectly nutritious meal. Some days I just eat a meat stick for lunch because it's all I got time for. I take my AG1 as a quick and easy way to make sure I'm getting all of the nutrients I need in a way that's easy for my body to absorb. AG1 is like all-in-one5 nutritional insurance. Each scoop has 75 vitamins, minerals, whole-food source, superfoods, probiotics, and adaptogens. 75 different things, you're not going to source that on your own. That would be weird, honestly. Plus no GMOs, no nasty chemicals, no artificial anything. Taste decent too. I've tried similar products. I usually have to like plug my nose and chug it or mix it in a smoothie. With AG1, the flavor is surprisingly good, which actually is quite convenient if you're traveling with it. You don't have to bring mixers, you don't have to dump it in something or just sort of choke it down. One scoop with water, decent enough by itself. It's time to reclaim your health and arm your immune system with convenient daily nutrition.
[00:37:11] Jen Harbinger: To make it easy, Athletic Greens is going to give you a free one-year supply of immune-supporting vitamin D and five free travel packs with your first purchase. All you have to do is visit athleticgreens.com/jordan. Again, that's athleticgreens.com/jordan to take ownership over your health and pick up the ultimate daily nutritional insurance.
[00:37:28] This episode is brought to you in part by US Bank. Seems like there's a credit card for everything these days, right? Food cards, cards for travel, cards for rare stamp collecting for me. I don't know what I'm going to be spending money on from one minute to the next, but wouldn't you know it? US Bank has a card for people like me. Check out the US Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card. With this card, you get up to five percent cash back on two categories that you choose every quarter. The great thing is the earning doesn't stop there. Even after you choose your first two earning categories, you also earn two percent back on one everyday category you choose each quarter. Gas stations and EV charging stations or grocery stores or restaurants, and you still earn one percent on everything else. Apply today at usbank.com/cashpluscard. All that already sounds good, but this card just keeps earning with a $200 rewards bonus after spending a thousand dollars in eligible purchases within the first 120 days of account opening. If you like choosing how your card earns, apply at usbank.com/cashpluscard. Limited time offer. The creditor and issuer of this card is US Bank National Association, pursuant to a license from Visas USA Inc. Some restrictions may apply.
[00:38:28] If you're wondering how we managed to book all these amazing folks for the show, it's always about the network and warm introductions and people recommending it. And I'm teaching you how to build your own network for free, whether you use it for business, personal reasons, whatever, over at jordanharbinger.com/course. The course is about improving your relationship-building skills, inspiring other people to want to develop a relationship with you. It's not cringey, it's not cheesy, it's not awkward. It's very easy and very practical. I want to make you a better connector, a better colleague, a better friend, in just a few minutes a day. And again, the course is free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. Many of the guests on the show subscribe and contribute to the course. So come join us, you'll be in smart company.
[00:39:08] Now back to Daniella Mestyanek Young.
[00:39:12] Some of the punishment that you described in the book, aside from, of course, I can't believe I'm saying this, aside from the child rape, some of the punishment was really sadistic. And it made me wonder, do you think the people that joined this cult were sociopathic pedophiles, or did they become that way when they joined the cult? Because I'm trying to figure out, it's like if you offer me to join a cult and have some power, I'm like, "Oh, that's kind of appealing," but if you're like, "And you get to rape kids," I'd be like, "Dude, I don't. What? Ew. Gross." So I would imagine these guys join because they get to do that with impunity. But I'm like, how did they advertise that? How do you find people that are going to be okay with that? And then you're like, "Hey, I got a secret. You can join this cult and do this all you want." I don't understand that. It's got to be part of the selling point to have these creeps join in the first place, right?
[00:40:04] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Yes and no, right? So what we know about rape is it's not about sex, it's about power.
[00:40:10] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:40:10] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Right? So men, primarily, they get attracted to these patriarchal, high controlling, abusive religions. I don't think they have to know what the version of what they're going to be allowed to do is. It's just they're going to be given control. They're going to be able to exercise their will over people. And I think, this is kind of what I call the difference between like the good uncles and the creepy uncles in the book. It's like there were some like Uncle Jerry, like my biological father who were known to like young girls, right? And then there were many, I think, who went along with it when it was the thing to do, and then when it wasn't the thing to do anymore, they were like, "Okay, great. Now, we can get back to loving God."
[00:41:03] Jordan Harbinger: I've done shows on pedophilia or in part on pedophilia, and one of the interesting paradoxes, I guess if you can call it that is, a lot of the guys, and it's usually guys that offend, that are engaged in sexual acts with children, they're not actually attracted to children. It's just because they have access to children and they are psychopaths or sociopaths or otherwise enjoy hurting other people. It has nothing to do in many, many ways with sexual attraction. There are adults, of course, who are attracted to kids and it's a disorder and many of them actually don't offend because they know it's bad. So a lot of the guys that do offend, they know that it's bad, that's what they like about it, and they couldn't care less if it's a child or an adult woman or whatever, they just don't care. It's about hurting somebody else.
[00:41:48] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Yes, and that's exactly the case. And one of the other things, like the concept that I set out to write about in this book is this group psychology concept that humans will do almost anything to fit in with groups that they've voluntarily chosen. And the Children of God had this very long-term, like six-month onboarding process, very similar to how long it takes you to become a qualified soldier in the army. You didn't get to know any of the creepy doctrines until you had already given up everything for six months. At that point, I think it becomes so much easier to justify things to go along with things. And for all of the adults, you know, they tell themselves I'm this good person. And I have a chapter in my next book called, there were good people in the sex cult too. Because even the ones that aren't the ones doing the actual abuses, they're reading the literature with all the naked children in it. They are seeing the things that are being done. They're seeing the children coming back out of the torture chambers. And they're not walking away. So like there definitely is a point where even the good people in really toxic environments are complicit, even though they might also be abused and coerced.
[00:43:14] Jordan Harbinger: Is there any element of blackmail? And I'm not trying to make this cult worse than it already is, but I would imagine, like, let's say I go and join some cult like this in South America and I'm like horrified at what's going on, and I realize that I'm complicit and I'm an accomplice to this horrible stuff that's going on. I almost would think maybe I can't leave because what if I fly back to America, is the cult going to be like, "Hey, this guy was around when all these bad things are happening, he's a criminal"? I mean, from a legal perspective, I have, I definitely have criminal liability as a result of being around that and not doing anything about it.
[00:43:49] Daniella Mestyanek Young: So yes, what you're saying, a little bit, right? So in '93, someone went on Larry King Live and had this discussion. He said like, "I didn't want to do this. They made me do it." And you know, he is talking about this 10-year-old girl that he was made to have sex with, who was the leader's daughter. And they did that to essentially have dirt on him.
[00:44:11] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:44:12] Daniella Mestyanek Young: The 10-year-old girl was my mother.
[00:44:13] Jordan Harbinger: My God.
[00:44:14] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And he's trying to explain this and he's trying to explain the coercive thinking. And you know, it stands out because Larry King just looks at him and he goes, "And you did it?"
[00:44:23] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:44:24] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And a few days later, this man took his life. And I think the much more real threat and the exit cost is not like legally you are going to be pursued, but it's just, you know, if you ever admit what it was really like and what was really done, nobody's ever going to accept you again. And that's really the worst punishment people can have. And that's what so many of us survivors even that grew up in it deal with. It's like we live, you know, for 10 years, I didn't say peep about it because I thought people would judge me so hard just from coming from that environment.
[00:45:03] Jordan Harbinger: How did the cult instill fear of the outside world? We talked a little bit about how they're going to persecute us, but what were some of the other lies maybe that you had in place before Waco? How do they keep you from seeing the doctor, for example? I mean, people need medical care. For God's sake, you have people having kids all the time.
[00:45:20] Daniella Mestyanek Young: I think the biggest way they instilled the fear was just by absolutely not allowing us access to any of it. It wasn't just like, "Oh, they're bad," right? So we feared sugar. So white sugar wasn't just bad for you, it was the literal anti-Christ. And we have a band member of Fleetwood Mac singing a song about how bad sugar is for you. So then, you go out in the outside world to perform to all these people, and you're seeing these evil system mites eating sugar and eating dessert in front of you, right? This will reinforce that what they're saying is true. You aren't allowed to see the doctor until it's a really, really extreme, horrible emergency. So the first time I'm taken to see the doctor, I have been bleeding for hours already. And so it is an extremely horrifying procedure, and so it reinforces to me, oh, doctors are evil.
[00:46:22] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:46:22] Daniella Mestyanek Young: He did allow them to see doctors for having babies, although we did have both, like a lot of babies at home. But I don't think they wanted to get too complicated. But also, we just had kids die a lot, as many cults do, just from neglect, medical neglect, and diseases that could have been prevented.
[00:46:41] Jordan Harbinger: How did the cult bring in money? Because it sounds like they weren't able to do enough of that.
[00:46:46] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Yeah, so nobody worked, quote-unquote, "nobody worked" for a legitimate company bringing in a salary. Everybody was expected to give a hundred percent of their time in labor to what we called living by faith, which just meant, "Go out and do it, and God will provide." So what that really looked like again was, you know, let's say like half of the commune was keeping the commune going, cooking, taking care of children, cleaning all of the things. And we, children were hugely part of that as well. And then the other half would be pounding the pavement, begging at stoplights for money, performing. Another thing in a lot of these developing nations is you'll have really big street markets. And so you have all kinds of food vendors with food that they need to get rid of by the end of the day. So it's the easiest thing to go by and get them to donate like almost bad food to your big giant missionary organization. So that was, you know, just the situation. And I would say I grew up from that context better than many of the children in the Children of God because we were in a leadership home that got money from the lower down home. So we were kind of like higher up on the MLM than a lot of people. And still there was just never enough food.
[00:48:05] Jordan Harbinger: I know you got in trouble at some point for asking if the Bible was true. Can you talk to us about that? because that's, that seems like one of the things that when you're on a cult, you should probably not do.
[00:48:15] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Yeah, I never got the memo of how to shut up. Yeah. So I'm about six years old and we're playing broken telephone with one of our older cult's kid teachers, like an 18-year-old that's in charge of us. And so we go through, you know, it starts with a Bible verse that everyone knows and I'm like, okay, "How can this get screwed up?" And then it goes through 10 children and it comes out completely ridiculous as happens with broken telephone. And so we had been taught that the Bible was handed down by word of mouth from Adam for 500 years until it got to Moses who then wrote it down, which is this very archaic, you know, evangelical train of thought. When we first learned to play broken telephone, I just kind of piped up with, "Well, then, how could the Bible possibly be true if it was handed down for 500 years?" Right?
[00:49:08] Jordan Harbinger: Right. And we can't even do it for 20 minutes. Right. That was your line of thinking. Yeah.
[00:49:12] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And that was basically just my logic brain saying, "Well, like if some of this may be translated funny or things got twisted." And again, in a cult like that is not the kind of thing you can say. And so that was what led to the aforementioned basement punishment and these are the kinds of things that would happen just all the time.
[00:49:34] Jordan Harbinger: Did you ever meet the cult leader, the grandpa figure, or was he kind of on the run? I couldn't really tell. It sounded like he was almost on the run at that point.
[00:49:43] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Yeah. So ever since the point in the '70s when the FBI was looking for him and he left the country, he never, he not only lived in hiding from his own followers, but we didn't even see his face. So he communicated with all of us through endless written letters called the Mo Letters, Moses, David. And he always had, over any picture, was a cartoon lion's head, that somebody like my dad would draw. I forget exactly why. Oh, it was the lion of Judah or something. And the first time most of us saw his face was after he died. Again, it was the reinforcing of the persecution. Right? He's so important. They're so out to get him. And one of the things that always made me feel really special was that my mom had lived with him and knew what he looked like and had even married him when she was a teenager.
[00:50:38] Jordan Harbinger: Where was he the whole time if he wasn't living with you in Brazil and they raided the Argentina place? Where was he?
[00:50:44] Daniella Mestyanek Young: So he was in the Philippines in the '80s, like '87 when I was born. He was nearby. I don't know here where he was in the meantime. At some point, they were in Mexico, and then the rumor is that he died of syphilis in Portugal.
[00:51:03] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, wow.
[00:51:03] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And that his wife, when he got really bad, just left him there with one of his concubines to just die in pain and just went off and didn't tell anyone in the group. So I kind of hope that's the way he died because it seems like justice.
[00:51:18] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Oh my gosh. How bizarre? It doesn't sound like he was exactly living it up. Because I sort of envisioned if you've got an international cult, you're doing it wrong, if you're not touring around and enjoying the fact that you've got homes in multiple countries. I mean, it seems like he should have figured that out. But I guess maybe the heat was up a little bit too high for cult grandpa.
[00:51:40] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Yeah, and definitely like in the Leadership Homes, there's always a cult inside the cult. Right? So in the—
[00:51:45] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:51:46] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Children of God, that was the Leadership Homes. In Scientology, this is the Sea Org, and the US Army, it's the special forces. But like the closer you get to the leader, like it always gets more serious and more extreme. But I feel like he definitely had this double life that he had to keep from most of the followers so that they would continue to sacrifice their lives and their children and send him all their money and live in poverty. And the other thing is just like nobody wins in power games. So like the patriarchy hurts women and children, but it hurts men too, you know? Or like if you're going to keep a slave in the basement, you're still also tied to that house and that basement. So I think at some point, like his organization also held him almost as much of a prisoner as it did to other people.
[00:52:38] Jordan Harbinger: Well, that's fascinating. I hadn't even thought about that. But you're right, the slave metaphor or in many cases, not metaphor, I guess, is really apt here. Some of the tales in the book are just so bizarre. Can you tell us about these weird oversexualized parties that you had? Because it's so odd to read about this and like the one hand, it's the Bible, but on the other hand, it's like something out of the movie, Eyes Wide Shut.
[00:53:00] Daniella Mestyanek Young: So first of all, it wasn't just the parties, right? Our entire life was oversexualized. And the reason they call it a sex cult was literally because sex was just our number one belief, right? So every poster that we had of angels flying around heaven, the angels were all either naked or in transparent white gowns with boobs hanging out. You know, some of the survivors will be like, "Well, I didn't sort of specifically get sexually abused." And they won't understand that like everything in our vicinity was that. So I show this party where there's adults walking around naked. So it's instead of like a Halloween party, it's a heaven party. We dress up like people in heaven. And there are games, right? But it would be musical chairs. But when the music stops, you have to lose clothes, you know? And the kids are just around involved in all of this. You know, they had this doctrine of loving Jesus, which was having sex with Jesus, which turned into like these big public orgies where they were all just making sex sounds and talking to Jesus, again, in the middle of the living room where everyone can kind of hear this and know this.
[00:54:18] Again, it's one of those things that people ask, "How does nobody stop and question this?"
[00:54:25] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:54:26] Daniella Mestyanek Young: But when that's what everybody's doing, you know, if you go to a nude beach in Europe and you're wearing clothes, you feel awkward. And so when everyone around you is naked and saying, "Jesus is love," and you know, saying that, "Uncle Jerry is the coolest thing," nobody's questioning it.
[00:54:45] Jordan Harbinger: And Uncle Jerry, this isn't just a random name that we made up. This is an actual guy. And he was, what, like a rock musician who had somehow joined the cult and he ended up with status because he had royalty checks coming in. So he had money. He sounds like a sadistic pedophile. Is that accurate?
[00:55:00] Daniella Mestyanek Young: In my opinion, yes. You know, I think he was one of those ones that you talk about, just like from birth or from a very young age, was a sociopath. Like he wasn't only a pedophile, he was very violent in a lot of ways. And yeah, we were supposed to be in this society where there was no such thing as money. There was no such thing as rank. Everyone was equal. Everyone was the same. But somehow the people that, you know, came in with a lot of money, always seemed to get whatever they wanted. And he was a very significant musician with royalty checks that would do very well for the Children of God for the rest of his life. And he's still there.
[00:55:44] Jordan Harbinger: He's still there? I was going to ask, where is this guy now? Is he alive still?
[00:55:48] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Yes. As far as I know, he's self-publishing his own book quite soon.
[00:55:52] Jordan Harbinger: I'm sure it's a fascinating read. I can't imagine, you thought getting your book published was tough. I would imagine self-publishing is the only way to go when you're a sadistic pedophile who runs a sex cult.
[00:56:06] This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Daniella Mestyanek Young. We'll be right back.
[00:56:11] This episode is sponsored in part by Scotts Turf Builder. Scotts Turf Builder makes lawn care easy. It gives your lawn the feeding it needs to thrive. Just put it down now and again next season to thicken your lawn, crowd out weeds, and keep it growing strong. Right now is the perfect time to feed and seed to build the perfect lawn for every season. When taking care of your lawn is this easy, enjoying your lawn is even easier. Pick up a bag of Scotts Turf Builder today. It's guaranteed or your money back. Feed your lawn, feed it.
[00:56:35] This episode is also sponsored by Better Help. If you're going through a tough time, I get it. Just know that you're not alone. I've been there for sure. Sometimes I feel like I'm still there sometimes, and therapy is still the best way to stay sane. I know that people are like, "Oh, there's nothing wrong with me. There doesn't have to be." You know the reason, there's nothing wrong with me because I go to therapy. Better Help is a great way to get your toes dipped into the waters of therapy. I don't love sitting on the couch. I like to have a more sort of free form thing. I like talking on the phone. I find it really easy and relaxing. I like to walk when I talk. Better Help is cool with that. You can do chat, you can do phone, you can do video sessions. You can really open up when you are in the comfort of your own home or outside. Therapy is really a vulnerable work and Better Help is not really intimidating at all. Better Help will also match you with a therapist tailored to your needs. Jen found her therapist in like 15 minutes, not even. They also understand you're not going to mesh with everyone. You can easily switch therapists whenever you want. I find that to be very useful. I went through a few initially when I first started looking for therapists. Some people I just thought were weird and other people I thought they weren't listening to me or they didn't get me, or they were just too unlike me or too like me. Just let Better Help support know if you want to switch. You don't have to notify the therapist yourself if you don't feel comfortable. Also, they got 94,000-plus reviews in the iPhone app. There's a lot of people using this. It's really a great way to try therapy and frankly, I think if you're thinking about it, you probably could use it.
[00:57:56] Jen Harbinger: If you want to live a more empowered life, therapy can get you there. Visit betterhelp.com/jordan to get 10 percent off your first month. That's better-H-E-L-P.com/jordan.
[00:58:07] Jordan Harbinger: If you'd like this episode of the show, please do what other smart and considerate listeners do, which is not only share the episode, but take a moment and support one of our sponsors. All of the deals, discount codes and ways to support the show are all in one place, jordanharbinger.com/deals. You can also search for any sponsor using the AI chatbot on the website as well. Again, over at jordanharbinger.com. Thanks for supporting those who support the show.
[00:58:29] Now for the rest of my conversation with Daniella Mestyanek Young.
[00:58:35] The founder eventually dies. And I want to know how this changes things, but the mourning of his passing kind of reminded me a bit of North Korea, right? Where the leaders die and people go wild with this exaggerated show of mourning because in part because other people are watching, but in part because they're so completely programmed and brainwashed. People always ask me, "The North Korean, oh, they're crying so hard because if they don't, they'll get in trouble." And I'm thinking they're crying so hard because they've been told their whole lives that this is actually a divine being that is responsible for their safety. They're actually really sad. It's real. It looks fake because nobody mourns like that. But you would if you thought your entire country was going to fall apart and everyone was going to die as a result of this man passing.
[00:59:19] Daniella Mestyanek Young: What you're saying is so true, right? And we see this in a lot of ways with cults. Like the thinking is twisted, but the phenomenon that people are going through is real, right?
[00:59:30] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:59:30] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Like when you chant in groups, you get into this hypnotic state, this suggestible state, like that feeling is real. It doesn't just happen in cults, but a cult can manipulate that, right? And so, you know, we called him grandpa, right? The adults that joined called him dad, and we children called him grandpa. That was the only thing we ever called him. And we were taught from birth that you didn't have your family, you had The Family. So exactly what you're saying, right? So we are ushered into this room. There's a giant easel with this giant picture of this like super creepy, old bearded white man that all of the aunties are just crying and wailing. And for us, it is a little bit like, well, we've lost the most important person in our family. We've lost our patriarch, we've lost the head of whatever. But I also think for the children, it was like, yeah, but we also didn't know him and—
[01:00:30] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:00:31] Daniella Mestyanek Young: You know, it was more like, how is this going to change now, right? What's going to happen? Is The Family going to be over?
[01:00:37] Jordan Harbinger: You did get, eventually, get uprooted. What happened there?
[01:00:41] Daniella Mestyanek Young: You know, so his wife takes over and she's her own kind of crazy who's been indoctrinated by this man since she was a young teenager. And I think in some ways she tried to make it better for the children. And then, in some ways, she just also standardized a lot of things that were horrible. But she decided, we're not going to have these giant communes anymore. I think maybe she didn't want the work of running 10,000 people in large brigades in a military fashion. And so it was, "Go out on your own, find three or four people that you can be in a home with, in a commune with, and go out and do your thing."
[01:01:21] And this is when we end up getting moved from the Leadership Home because my mom has had too many kids at this point, even though this is what you're supposed to be doing. This in a way became like a really good thing that happened to me because we got into a much smaller commune and we interacted more in the population, and this is when I remember I started learning Portuguese at 10 years old and I could speak. Before I was 11, and I remember thinking like, okay, I can do it now. You know, like I'm closer to my freedom because I can speak the language because I know where I am on a map because I go outside the walls more often than I did before.
[01:02:04] Jordan Harbinger: When did you know you wanted to leave the call? Because it sounds like that happened really early.
[01:02:09] Daniella Mestyanek Young: So when I was six, I was like, I'm not going to grow up and do this. I'm going to leave The Family. When I was 11, I started trying to make my plans, so that's when I actively was like, I need to get out of here. But because my whole family, including my grandparents, all my aunts and uncles, everyone are in the cult, I didn't have a lot of options and just thought I had to wait until 18. When I finally had my definite crack in the brainwashing moment was on 9/11. We've just come to the US for the first time. I'm 14 years old. I'm watching live news on television. First I have to understand what live news is because, of course, we've all been taught to hate the news and mistrust the media.
[01:02:56] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:02:56] Daniella Mestyanek Young: All the things that are going on in the country now. And you know, my people around me are praising God, right? This is God's promise judgment on America. This is what's been coming. This is what our prophet told us.
[01:03:08] Jordan Harbinger: Yikes.
[01:03:09] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And I'm just watching this horrible cartage and destruction and wondering to myself, you know, are we the bad guys here?
[01:03:16] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:03:16] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And I hear the term religious extremism as they're talking about the terrorists. And that was like a moment that just stood out to me as probably the first time I questioned not just is this for me, but like, is this actually bad? Are we actually not good people? And then, from there I was like, I'm done. And this became my 1.5-year campaign to get myself excommunicated. And this for me was really important before I turned 16. Because when you turned 16, you were now considered essentially old enough to get pregnant, right?
[01:03:57] Jordan Harbinger: Oof. Yeah.
[01:03:58] Daniella Mestyanek Young: An adult, and women didn't usually stay pregnant for very long, girls, I should say, stay unpregnant for very long once they turned 16.
[01:04:07] Jordan Harbinger: Unpregnant. Yeah.
[01:04:07] Daniella Mestyanek Young: So I was like, I need to get out of here. And I realized, you know, if they think they can save you, they will try and exorcisms are not fun. So you have to do the worst thing. So for me, this was literally climbing over the commune walls in the middle of the night and going and having sex with a boy that I had met in the outside world. Because they'd gone from being the religious prostitution cult to AIDS, close the doors because we all have sex with each other, the biggest sin is going outside.
[01:04:44] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, interesting.
[01:04:46] Daniella Mestyanek Young: So once I had done that, it was essentially, now you're untouchable. Now, we just need to get you out of here before you infect anyone else.
[01:04:54] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Literally, interesting. Wow. The irony is rich with them being so afraid of getting a disease. I mean, there's, ugh, where do you even start poking holes in the logic that is cult thinking, right? How did you end up going to the United States? Because it seems like that would be a radical change. There's no walls, there's no guards with automatic rifles. You can read the signs. You know, people are speaking English around you, that must have been insane.
[01:05:18] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Biggest culture shock I've ever had in my life. So we left Brazil. My mom wanted to get out of there and she kept insisting and we eventually left and we spent a few months in the US. And it really was that, Jordan, right? It was like the walls came down.
[01:05:34] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:05:34] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And I remember thinking over and over again, wow. In the eight months that we lived in a commune in the US, like, oh, this is why they don't want us in the US. Right? Like, you cannot be panhandling on the streets in the middle of the day. An American will walk up to you and say, "Why aren't you in school?"
[01:05:50] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[01:05:51] Daniella Mestyanek Young: That doesn't happen in Brazil. You know, people can't be walking around the commune half naked all the time when it's a house that you can see right into. And so the walls coming down, like you said, I can speak the language, all of this stuff. And so for most of us, when we left the cult, we just went back to wherever we had ties to, which for a lot of people was like the US, Australia, the UK. And I didn't have any of that, but I did have a stepfather with a daughter in Houston, Texas. I'd met her three times before and you know, she'd left the cult to about three years before 25-year-old living in Houston, trying to survive. And they were like, "Hey, do you want a 15-year-old?" And she said, "Sure."
[01:06:39] Jordan Harbinger: Who is they? The cult asked her if she wanted it, or the American authorities asked her?
[01:06:44] Daniella Mestyanek Young: No, my parents, you know, my dad.
[01:06:46] Jordan Harbinger: Your parents were like, "Hey, take your crazy sister who's causing trouble."
[01:06:50] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And this is kind of what we did, right? Her older sister had already taken the three younger sisters of my dad's and now it was her turn to take the next one. When my 16-year-old brother wanted to get out of home, he came and live with me for a while I was a lieutenant in the army. Like this was kind of what we did, how we tried to help each other, I guess.
[01:07:12] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[01:07:12] Daniella Mestyanek Young: This is life in high-control religions. Your parents just kick you out if you don't believe like them. And so I was, yeah, I was 15 years old, zero dollars for about three weeks. Went to enroll in high school. I had a social security card and a passport, and they were like, "So we can't enroll you because you don't exist."
[01:07:34] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:07:35] Daniella Mestyanek Young: But also, now that we know you exist, we need to see proof that you're in school somewhere in five days or else we need to call the cops.
[01:07:42] Jordan Harbinger: A little catch-22. You can't come to our school, but you need to be in school.
[01:07:47] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Right. It was a process. It took me about a month to get enrolled in school and then after that, I went to high school, I worked, I got through it all. And fortunately, I had a counselor like see me, identify I needed help, and really changed my life in many ways.
[01:08:07] Jordan Harbinger: But also tell me about your experience at an American high school after leaving a sex cult. That must have been freaking crazy because you're going to American High School and we're kind of a puritanical society despite what a lot of people might say. And you're going in there and the people sitting next to you in language arts class are just not ready for Daniella Mestyanek at all.
[01:08:30] Daniella Mestyanek Young: No. And neither was I ready for it, right? So I went from nothing, right? Being no schooled, living in a commune to 4,000 students in an inner city, Houston High school, right? So it was the only thing I know about school came from like She's All That, right? Or high school movies. And I remember I was worried about being bullied or not accepted but I was not prepared for it. So you're just completely ignored, right? And you just cannot make contact with anyone. To your point, everything I say is wrong. It's messed up, you know? I don't have any classmates that I knew of that are living on their own, working 40 hours a week, just coming from a sex cult. America is so Christian. It still surprises me to this day because we were taught that you all were fire-breathing agents of the end of the world and America is very Christian.
[01:09:25] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:09:26] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And my version of Christianity was, like you said, like nobody, you know, you come up with your parents or missionaries, but also at 16 you're having sex. People don't know what category to put you in.
[01:09:40] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Like so you're the devil, but we're doing all the things that you guys say is bad. But then also, no, yeah, like you can't add things together because you're, not only does the math not work, you're trying to add fruits and vegetables into it. It's like you can't make it work. There's no assembly of anything that's going to fit.
[01:09:58] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And you know for sure, the hardest thing is just one of the first questions people say is, "Where are you from?"
[01:10:04] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:10:05] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And it's still a hard thing for me in my life, right? Because I am—
[01:10:08] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[01:10:09] Daniella Mestyanek Young: —from this cult. Like I am not from anywhere. I grew up in Brazil, but I didn't have a normal Brazilian life. I don't know hardly anything about America at this point. I was relieved six years later to find out that all of America was not like Texas.
[01:10:25] Jordan Harbinger: Texas isn't that bad. I mean, I guess it might be if you're in like a crazy rural area where nobody ever leaves, you know, the hills have eyes kind of place, but I feel like people throw a lot of shade on Texas. I even do it and people write it and they're like, "You should come down here. It's not that bad." It's not. It is not like the rest of America. I'll give you that.
[01:10:41] Daniella Mestyanek Young: It's an interesting place. You know, so it's interesting to have this very like evangelical experience of everyone you're meeting or these evangelical Christians, but you've been told like these people are evil.
[01:10:55] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:10:56] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And you know, honestly, one of the beliefs I think that I absorbed the most from the cult and that I've had to fight the hardest at throughout these last 20 years is this idea that the outside world is evil. And writing Uncultured, for me, part of the process was kind of taking off all of this armor that I had put on and realizing probably didn't need most of it.
[01:11:17] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:11:18] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And that was the part I couldn't see through their lives, right? It was the nobody out there is going to love you, you're never going to belong anywhere. And when you try to integrate and try to be like, I'm here, I want to be this normal kid, and everyone treats you like you're really, really strange, you're like, oh, maybe they were right. Maybe I don't fit anywhere.
[01:11:41] Jordan Harbinger: Well, first of all, you didn't even have time to fit in anywhere. You said you had three or four jobs at once. What kind of jobs were you working during high school?
[01:11:48] Daniella Mestyanek Young: So, in high school I first got a job at Chick-Fil-A—
[01:11:51] Jordan Harbinger: Which is also somehow appropriate, right? because it's this, it's run by the evangelical crowd. Interesting choice.
[01:11:58] Daniella Mestyanek Young: It was one of the few places they would hire you before you were 16.
[01:12:02] Jordan Harbinger: Huh?
[01:12:02] Daniella Mestyanek Young: There's a lot of interesting things about Chick-Fil-A in control.
[01:12:05] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, I'm all ears. Wait, wait, wait, wait. Don't just jump ahead. What are you talking about? I want to hear about this.
[01:12:12] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Okay. So, you know, Chick-Fil-A is known to pay people better than any of their competitors.
[01:12:18] Jordan Harbinger: I heard about that. Yeah.
[01:12:19] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And in return, you are expected to always be smiling, to always say, "My pleasure," anytime someone says thank you. Basically, there's this whole code of ethics for working at Chick-Fil-A, right?
[01:12:34] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:12:34] Daniella Mestyanek Young: That is supposedly like this very strong culture. And I'm not necessarily saying it's bad, but it would result in things like my manager walking up to me and be like, "Why aren't you smiling today? We hired you because you have a pretty smile."
[01:12:49] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, wow.
[01:12:50] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And me being like, I don't know why I'm not smiling today, right? But this sort of attitude policing. Just last year when that story about how Chick-Fil-A was asking people to volunteer in return for free food. Did you hear this one?
[01:13:04] Jordan Harbinger: I did, but I don't remember what it was. Volunteer for what?
[01:13:07] Daniella Mestyanek Young: It was to volunteer to work at Chick-Fil-A, like handing out samples.
[01:13:11] Jordan Harbinger: Oh.
[01:13:11] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Or like advertising in return for food. Just like, we'll let you eat for free. And people were like, "Oh yeah, this is like a great thing that Chick-Fil-A is doing." And I was just like, I think Chick-Fil-A has their hand a lot further in the power and control games than an ordinary fast food place.
[01:13:32] Jordan Harbinger: That's interesting. And you saw that right away because you're like, "Hey, this reminds me of the cult that the literal cult that I grew up in has similar practices and they do these very specific things and nobody else is really seeing it because they don't. They didn't have the insane childhood that I did."
[01:13:48] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Yes. And not only did I see it right away, but I was good at it, right? And this is going to be the same thing in the military. Like I am good at being attitude policed and just smiling no matter how I feel like, and just saying my pleasure, even though I want to strangle you and doing all the things like the army's going to want you to do. So like to me, this was my basic skill. I could do this, I could fit in wherever. There was a law firm above the mall. And so I ended up getting hired by someone who knew me from Chick-Fil-A and was like, "You always have a great attitude. We're looking for data clerks." And so, you know, then I got paid eight or nine dollars an hour and went to high school in suits, which didn't make me more popular.
[01:14:30] Jordan Harbinger: Right. No, that's not a great way to fit in with the other kids is wearing a pants suit.
[01:14:33] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Yeah. And then, in college, I got really creative and started actually using things that the cult taught me so I could babysit for $10 an hour, but I could make balloon animals for $250 an hour at a child's party. And every once in a while, I bust them out at my own kids' party now. And people are always like, "How did you learn this?" And I'm like, "I was once a teenage carnival clown in Mexico in another life."
[01:15:01] Jordan Harbinger: As one does.
[01:15:01] Daniella Mestyanek Young: You know, I could sing, could dance, ended up teaching chess, right? I get trained on how to play chess in college and end up teaching kids chess that pays a lot of money. And of course, waiting tables, you know? So all the things.
[01:15:15] Jordan Harbinger: At what point did you start thinking, "Hey, maybe I should be a normal teenage girl?" Did that ever even happen? Or were you like, "Hey, that's never going to happen for me. Why bother?"
[01:15:23] Daniella Mestyanek Young: No, there was no point, and I specifically was not trying to be a normal teenage girl. So a lot of my peers and siblings who left the Children of God would kind of go wild, and I was very, very afraid. Looking back, now, I know it's because I have an addictive personality and I had a lot of trauma. I went into perfectionism instead, right? So I just have to work hard. I just have to make perfect grades, do all the right things, and kind of eventually my life's going to be good. Eventually, I'm going to outrun the trauma. Don't think about it. Don't talk about it. I didn't know how to be a normal teenage girl. I just liked being in school. You know, really once I got to college and I was able to major in reading books and writing about books, I was like, okay, this is lovely.
[01:16:15] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I remember you, you wrote in your book that books were kind of a forbidden thing in the cult. You just longed for books, which no kid generally does, or few kids generally do. I guess you would say.
[01:16:27] Daniella Mestyanek Young: You know, one of the things with my imposter syndrome was, so now I'm in college, I'm studying literature. Everyone around me has been reading whatever they can lay their hands on since they were three. And I have again, no sort of knowledge to build on except every literature class starts with the Bible.
[01:16:45] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[01:16:45] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And I was good at that, right? And it turns out like every story concept you could find in the Bible. And that we have been trained since birth on kind of micro analyzing sentences and making up things about them. So, you know, one of the things we would have to do in the cult was read all the dribble from this, quote-unquote, "prophet" and then write these reactions and responses about how it moved us, so basically spiritual journaling. I was good at that, right? And this was how I—
[01:17:20] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[01:17:20] Daniella Mestyanek Young: —passed a bunch of the tests I needed to pass in high school to get out of classes. I used to say in college, like when you don't know how to answer the question, you just write two more pages and the teacher forgets that you didn't answer the question.
[01:17:35] Jordan Harbinger: That's funny.
[01:17:36] Daniella Mestyanek Young: I was always surprised that this worked. But I think sometimes they would be like, "Well, you know, she writes this good, she's smart."
[01:17:43] Jordan Harbinger: That's funny. I was terrible at English class, which is interesting now because I read like two or three books a week. And back then, it's like, whose story is it? And I'm like, what do you mean? No, that's your whole prompt. And I'm like, I'm going to just fail this class now. But if you're used to reading into something where there is frankly nothing because it's the demented ramblings of an old pedophile, it's like, well, I got this. There's at least something to chew on here.
[01:18:05] There's a throwaway line in your book where you say you started burning yourself with cigarettes and you say, "Oh, well at least I felt something." I assume you had to work through that trauma in some way.
[01:18:17] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Yeah, still working through it. I say that I really connected with the term disassociation when readers told me that I described disassociation really well in my book. And I was like, oh, maybe that's the thing. You know, I did a lot of self-harming kinds of things, things that we would consider actually self-harming, and then things I think for me that were doing it to myself, right? So running and running your body until you pass out or until you have barely any weight on you can be just as much of a way of punishing yourself as other things that we would consider self-harm. And that was one of the things I think that I fell into, and I have had to work a lot now on staying in my body, staying with your emotions. When you go through this much, I think pain and trauma in your life, you survive it by going away, going out of your body. Most of us describe it in the same way, right? We're up in the ceiling watching feeling bad for this poor little girl. That was actually a big part of how I was able to write the book, is that it doesn't feel necessarily like it happened to me. It feels like it happened to this character in my life, because that is how I survived it. And so a big part of my work today is staying in your body, feeling the feelings being present. I know we all deal with that. Just constantly wanting to be busy.
[01:19:49] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I know we're running out of time here. The cult is still around. Where is it? Do you track this at all?
[01:19:55] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Um, okay, so in 2009, they kind of fell apart from the form they had had, and this was really the realization of the people running it, that all of their joiners were getting old and most of the children that they had tried to bring up as the new army of God were not sticking around. So they just kind of were like, "Hey, all that stuff we've told you forever about dropping out of the world, like psych, go put your kids in school and go," you know?
[01:20:26] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:20:26] Daniella Mestyanek Young: You have all these people, like my dad who's 70 now and has been working for them for, or my stepdad, has been working for them for his whole life, you know? And what is he going to? So most of the people that hadn't left yet, my parents had already left, but most of the people that hadn't left yet kind of had their awakenings then. And they were like, "Nah, we're just, we're going to go do our own thing." But there still is a core of about 1,500 members. My grandfather still runs the money. They still bring in about a million dollars a year.
[01:20:56] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[01:20:56] Daniella Mestyanek Young: It's an online thing. I think most of their active members are in Thailand and Brazil and places that are not, well, places that are still easier to hide cults in.
[01:21:06] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. And maybe have a weaker rule of law and or corruption because I'm guessing at some level, cops do knock and go, "Hey, what is this?" "Oh, we're definitely a bunch of white people doing sketchy stuff," and it's like, "If you want us to pretend we don't see this, you're going to have to pay a visit to the chief of police and maybe drop off a package every now and then."
[01:21:24] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Yeah. And also drop off some beautiful women.
[01:21:27] Jordan Harbinger: Oh gosh.
[01:21:28] Daniella Mestyanek Young: The religious prostitution at one point got turned off, but somehow all of the women that were in relationships with police and politicians got the special permission to keep those relationships going. So, like there was a woman in Rio who had eight kids with a man who was very high up in the federal police. And like had a wife, had his whole own life, and just had eight kids, but like donated probably 15 giant properties to the Children of God throughout Rio and different parts of Brazil, right? So lots of power, lots of connection. And certainly, in Brazil, they were very involved with trafficking and corruption in much more blatant ways than has ever really been talked about.
[01:22:16] Jordan Harbinger: How do they recruit now and how large is it? Do you have any idea?
[01:22:20] Daniella Mestyanek Young: I think now it's about 1,500 members. I don't honestly know that they are recruiting or what they are doing. I think they tried to just become this online church, "Please send us." Just the last of the people that can't really admit that's what it was. And then many, many of, like our parents and grandparents, just are still in whatever country they were in, just living on the economy, making balloons, doing their missionary work, or they've found other churches to fold up into, et cetera. Many people just are like, "Well, I can teach English and live in this country that's cheaper." And so that's what they do now.
[01:23:03] Jordan Harbinger: Does cult programming ever come out in your life now? Like do you ever see some weird influence from the cult childhood pop up and you're like, "Oh, that's the cult talking, or that's the cult making me think this way"?
[01:23:15] Daniella Mestyanek Young: A hundred percent. So I think, first of all, all of the reasons that I joined the army were probably the same reasons my grandfather joined the Children of God. I hate to be idle, right? I have to remind myself that it is okay to just like sometimes lie around and watch television. Like I always think I have to be productive and be doing something and be accomplishing something. That perfectionism, which is, of course, is the opposite of self-love, definitely is still in my life. And then something I've just recently realized is like, so it's 20 years exactly since I walked away from the cult and I've been searching for a mentor that will tell me, give me guidance, tell me exactly what I should do with my life. And I've only recently found out like, that's a cult leader.
[01:24:02] Jordan Harbinger: Oh yeah.
[01:24:03] Daniella Mestyanek Young: My kind of desire sometimes to find an expert or to not have to make my own choices like that is a cult programming thing. You know, it wasn't until I had written Uncultured, I was at Harvard studying social identity theory, group behavior theory, that I realized, "Oh, I never got to form a personal identity," right? Like that is what we're doing between the ages of one and six.
[01:24:29] Jordan Harbinger: You didn't forget. You weren't allowed to.
[01:24:31] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Right. I went cult to perfect student in college, to perfect soldier in the army, to finally, I feel like I'm developing my own personality along with my daughter, you know, and I say, for example, I love thrift stores because you have to go in and there's no messaging. Like in a mall, they're messaging you what you should be wearing. In a thrift store, you have to look at this and be like, "Do I love this or do I hate this?" I think one of the good things in my life is that losing everything you know at 15 has meant that I have to be very deliberate about every single thing in my life, because I don't have any models to go on. Everything I bring in every way we decide to raise our children, you know, anything, it's like I have to investigate it, I have to be open-minded, and then I have to go find people to like teach me the right ways to do things. And that's been kind of cool, like hard, but cool. And a good way to connect with people too.
[01:25:28] Jordan Harbinger: I assume your kids don't have any contact with anybody who's in your extended family because the family, they're still in the cult, right? Or have you been able to balance that somehow?
[01:25:40] Daniella Mestyanek Young: So, most of my family is not anymore.
[01:25:43] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[01:25:44] Daniella Mestyanek Young: And like I have a very good relationship with my mom. She and I both have kind of done decades of work, I feel like, on understanding what has happened. And my mom left about a decade after me, so I've been a bit of a mentor in that process for them. And I have 25 siblings. So some of them I talk to and—
[01:26:05] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[01:26:06] Daniella Mestyanek Young: —many of them don't want to have anything to do with me because they're not ready to have their background outed. So, you know, I think anytime you speak out about things that happened in your family, you're going to end up losing some family.
[01:26:22] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, well, especially this kind of stuff. Well, Daniella, you're a fascinating person. This is a really interesting conversation and I really appreciate how open you are about all this. I really enjoyed your book and thank you so much for coming on the show.
[01:26:34] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Thank you so much for having me. And to any of your listeners, I am on TikTok. We talk about cult stuff and where it shows up in the regular world all the time. So, @daniellamestyanekyoung on TikTok, would love to see you there. And yeah, check out the book. The New York Times says the audio is kind of good.
[01:26:51] Jordan Harbinger: Cult stuff showing up in the real world, can you give us an example of that, actually?
[01:26:55] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Yeah, so this will be a whole chapter of my next book, right? So every time a cult blows up on the news, there's always this skinny white woman who's right next to the cult leader, right? These are your Ghislaine Maxwell. These are your Allison Mack of NXIVM. Our cult had white woman that took over. And as, I'm thinking about this, right? And it's because she, her presence, the stereotype of the white woman, the pure white woman, and everything that entails, is kind of whitewashing the sins of the leader, right? So she's always there, she's always dedicated. Her skinniness is about self-sublimation. And that's exactly who you want next to you in a sex cult is that woman, right? She ran the marriage ceremony to the leader. You see this in regular organizations. I think I played this role unwittingly sometimes in the army of like, well, we can't be sexist because look, we have Captain Mestyanek up here, right?
[01:27:54] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:27:55] Daniella Mestyanek Young: So we see this woman, this stereotype in all these places around us.
[01:28:00] Another example would be, like you said about, or like we talked about earlier, about the chanting, right? So we think of cults and we think of chanting. If we know the research that shows that, it makes us susceptible chanting in groups, right? We see that in sports. We see that in political rallies. We see that in school when the children have to do the pledge. There's music that's like. And so this is what my next book is called, The Culting of America, and I'm looking at like all these different things about group behavior that I see in the cult, I see in the army. So I know they're sort of about programming and influence or power and control, but a group doesn't have to be a cult for it to be using these toxic methods of control or for it to be having these influences on you. And sometimes I think it's so comforting for people to be able to say, "Well, that's a cult, and my group is not." And, you know, that's not how bad stuff works.
[01:29:00] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Oh my gosh. Well, we'll have to have you come back for that. When is that out? Or you're still writing it, I assume?
[01:29:05] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Yes. Still writing it. So no, no dates on that, but everybody does seem interested, so hopefully soon.
[01:29:12] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, well, you know, cult stuff, cults of America, I mean, you're just, you're putting the pieces together in a way that's definitely really interesting. Thank you once again. And, we'll link to all of your work in the show notes so people can follow up.
[01:29:24] Daniella Mestyanek Young: Thanks so much, Jordan. This has been great.
[01:29:28] Jordan Harbinger: You're about to hear a preview of The Jordan Harbinger Show with Amanda Catarzi, who was raised in a cult and later sex and labor trafficked.
[01:29:36] Amanda Catarzi: The women were trained to be insanely submissive, like you could never say no to any man, and then the men were trained in a very military way. These people are well armed and well trained, and it's a whole group that thinks that the world is evil. And they need to repopulate the world with their people to bring the kingdom of God.
[01:29:57] When you turn 13 in that culture, you're an adult. So to be 13 years old, being courted by men twice my age, three times my age to see if I would make a good wife, it was just kind of outrageous.
[01:30:12] So I moved to California to go to school and I start training MMA and my trafficker was there. He was actually one of my boxing coaches. Then he's like, "You know, I like you." And so now we're dating. So this is my first adult relationship. He's. Twice my age at this point. And then he would always take me up to his cabin on the mountain, which was really far away from everybody else. No phone service, isolation. And it was on a Native American reservation. So whatever they wanted to do to me, they could. Oops, you accidentally got gang raped. That was very common of going to go train. And then all of a sudden, now that you've fought 12 rounds, now you're going to be right.
[01:30:55] A girl ran a red light and T-boned my truck. So I pull out my phone and I text my trafficker and I say, "Hey, I almost just died a car accident." And he said, "Is your face f*cked up?" And I'm like, "No." And he says, "Well, you're still f*ckable then." Something isn't right here. This isn't who I want to be. This isn't what I want. And it was like I was coming out of water. I had this moment of clarity and I knew something wasn't right and I knew this wasn't what I wanted and I knew I needed to act fast in order to get out of that situation because I knew it'd get sucked back in.
[01:31:33] Jordan Harbinger: To hear how she escaped her dire situation, check out episode 631 of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:31:41] Such a fascinating and horrifying tale. She mentioned that she got really good at reading body language and non-verbal communication because she used it to gauge the mentality or mood of the adults, which, of course, were around her abusing her at the time. I remember actually learning about this concept when I was younger because it was a guy who I worked who was really, really good at reading other people and reading body language, and I just thought it was so cool. And one day my boss, who worked with us later told me that he had developed those skills because he had a really abusive family, and so he was always hyper-vigilant. So he developed the superpower of being able to read other people in an almost uncanny way because his home life was so terrible. So, of course, I didn't think it was that cool of a superpower after that, it seemed really useful. But the cost of admission was just far too high.
[01:32:29] This cult, man, crazy. Couples had to share their wives. They had to have children with other men. Couples were separated if they had too many children with the same man, because they wanted to really spread it around. This is really 20/20 hindsight. This is how the cult keeps bonds between people weaker than the bond between the people and the cult, if that makes sense. You don't want people to pair up and go, "We should take our family and get out of here." You can't do that. If you got 15 kids with eight different dudes, getting everyone on the same page, moving around, it would just be impossible.
[01:33:00] Ugh, God, I can't even believe, I'm about to say this out loud, but the children were not allowed to wear panties to bed. An adult named Uncle Jerry would go check at night, literally panty checks on children. Again, ugh, I need to go brush my teeth for even saying that out loud. Really, really horrifying way to grow up.
[01:33:16] And Daniella mentioned as well that they had previous prophecies from the so-called prophet, this creepy old guy, that had not come true. And the cult had lost a lot of followers, but everybody else doubled down on their beliefs. And I just want to highlight how common this is in cults, especially apocalyptic cults, where prophecies, of course, never come to light, the world doesn't end. Some people leave, but the ones who stay, they end up committing even more to the cause because of cognitive dissonance, right? I couldn't have given up all my job, possessions, family members for something that's not true, so you recommit. And now that anybody who's skeptical has bounced, because it turned out to be a bunch of BS, you're now surrounded by other believers. The cost of being wrong was now too high, so they redouble and they recommit. Just a fascinating psychological study here that unfortunately took a lot of people down and created a lot of trauma in the process.
[01:34:06] Big thank you to Daniella Mestyanek Young. All links to Daniella's stuff will be in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com. You can also check out our AI chatbot to get anything from any episode of the show, Feedback Friday, interview stuff, promo codes. jordanharbinger.com/ai is where you can find it. And remember, no Thursday episode, no Skeptical Sunday. Take a little bit easier around here now that we come into spring. Transcripts are on the show notes. Videos are on YouTube. Advertisers, deals, discount codes, and ways to support this show, which we always appreciate. That's going to be at jordanharbinger.com/deals. Please consider supporting those who support the show. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on Twitter, on Instagram. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn.
[01:34:46] And I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage those relationships using the same software, systems, and tiny habits that I use every single day. That's our Six-Minute Networking course, and the course is free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. I want you to dig the well before you get thirsty and build relationships before you need them. Many of the guests on the show subscribe and contribute to the course. Come join us, you'll be in smart company.
[01:35:09] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is you share it with friends When you find something useful or interesting. If you know somebody who's into the cult stuff, definitely share this one with them. The greatest compliment you can give us is to share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.