Many years ago, I lived in Berkeley, California, a place everyone should visit for an extended stay at least once in their lives. Berkeley has the highest diversity of human thought of any spot I've ever been to. It also has the highest concentration of cults and crazies. Nowhere else compares to it. The locals who have lived there a long while are used to it, jaded, and tune it out, mostly. They are wise to the ways of cults and avoid them; cults are for the newbies and naive. At the time I lived there, I was a young newbie, though I like to think I wasn't all that naive.
Anyways, one day, while near the Cal (that's U.C. Berkeley) campus, I saw a rail-thin, older gentleman hand out fliers asking for volunteers. I took one, and he asked my name and number, writing it down on a clipboard -- that's a classic newbie mistake. He looked "legit", like a community service organizer; and I was thinking to myself: I haven't helped the community before, so should give it a try.
Later that day, maybe early night, I got a call, and was asked to come down to Oakland to see their office. I hopped on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) the next day, got off at the West Oakland stop (as I recall), and made my way to the address provided to me.
It was a little hole-in-the-wall place in an unkempt part of the city (Oakland). I went inside, and on the wall were signs saying things like "Power to the People!", and a big, red clinched fist. I was greeted by a woman named Alejandra (or Alehandra). She told me to sit down, and that she wanted to give me a brief education on what they were about. She pulled out a book filled with laminated pages with examples of labor organizing success, and corporate sins. She had a slight South or Central American accent (Mexican, I would guess), and gave off vibes of bright and shiny, and had well-combed straight black hair and perfect white teeth. If I had known of Dolores Huerta at the time:
I probably would have compared Alejandra's energy and intensity to hers. The presentation was mesmerizing, and when she showed anger at some mistreatment of workers, I instinctively scowled along with her. After it was over, she told me to come back in a day or two for "labor college".
I left, but felt it wasn't quite legit, though didn't guess it was a cult. I came back the next day with a more street-wise acquaintance of mine, and she ran him through "the laminated-page book", too; he thought it was perfectly legit. We didn't go to "labor college", though.
To satisfy my lingering doubts about the outfit, I looked them up on the web (which existed, but in a much more impoverished form compared to today, obviously), and found they were, indeed, a cult. Turned out they were a NATLFED cadre:
(An ironically-titled organization, as it sounds like the National Federation of Labor, a real and legit organization.)
The Federal Bureau of Investigation raided a law office and the NOC headquarters at 1107 Carroll Street in Crown Heights, Brooklyn on February 17, 1984 on tips that they "...had planned a series of violent acts ..." Kit Decious, Kathleen Paolo, and Daniel P. Foster, three other lawyers among the organization's cadre, were convicted of felony larceny and possession of forged documents relating to the 1984 departure of Mia Prior, a member of ten years; they were disbarred in New York following their convictions in the 1980s. Paolo's conviction was overturned on appeal.
The New York City Police Department raided the NOC again on November 11, 1996, on an anonymous complaint that children were being abused in the office. The police seized 49 antique firearms and $42,000 in cash, and arrested 35 people. Newspapers around the country briefly ran columns about the group. Two of the organizers, Susan Angus and Diane Garrett, were initially convicted of misdemeanor possession of weapons, but the appeals court overturned the convictions because the search was improperly conducted without a warrant. No evidence of child abuse was ever produced, and the press coverage died down rapidly.
Shortly after the 1996 raid in New York, an anonymously created website appeared by "an informal network of people" who were "frightened for the current members who are our children, siblings, former friends, and coworkers." This website condemned NATLFED, but also archived many news articles and other stories about them. The site, https://web.archive....n.com/xnatlfed/, disappeared from its original host in 2004 and is mirrored on the Wayback machine: http://users.rcn.com/xnatlfed/
I don't think the Oakland outfit was bad like that, just that it would be a large waste of time and lead to a distorted worldview that may never get repaired.
Anyways, my acquaintance refused to believe they were a cult. It took him few weeks to come around. In the meantime, I got many calls asking me when I would come visit them again. The incessant calling is also a common sign you are dealing with a cult, and I'd been through it before, with a religious cult.