BARRINGTON, Ill. - Hostile takeovers are nothing new in the corporate world, but what happened to the Cult Awareness Network (CAN) is an exceptional tale of the hostile takeover of a nonprofit organization.
The anti-cult advocacy group is being dismembered and absorbed by its adversaries, who attorneys say have deftly outmaneuvered CAN in the courts.
CAN's fate highlights the crippled state of what was once a prominent movement that for years kept America's unorthodox religious groups on the defensive.
The modern anti-cult movement was born in the 1960s when American youth were experimenting with Eastern religions and alternative spirituality. The Citizens Freedom Foundation, CAN's predecessor, became a nonprofit group in 1978, the year that 913 followers of the Rev. Jim Jones died in a mass suicide at the People's Temple compound in Guyana.
In 1986 the group changed its name to CAN. The next year, Cynthia Kisser, who had turned to CAN when her younger sister joined an obscure Bible-based group, was named executive director.
For years CAN's charges of cult mind control and brainwashing helped shape the public's impressions of groups such as Scientology, the Unification Church, the Hare Krishnas, Boston Church of Christ and Transcendental Meditation.
But with each passing decade, these religious groups have become increasingly mainstream and even institutionalized - opening new houses of worship, buying universities and other properties, attending interfaith events.
Now it is the anti-cult camp that no longer has an institution of its own.
The movement has turned to the Internet to share information. Some anti-cult activists recently met at a Newark, N.J., hotel to discuss how to carry on the cause, but the meeting was marred when some Scientologists showed up uninvited.