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Vennie Kocsis
photo: Courtesy of Vennie Kocsis

Kocsis moved in with her grandmother in Tennessee after the cult excommunicated her family. She experienced total culture shock since she had no formal education or experience with the outside world.

"I mean, I never learned about slavery," she said. "So here I was, in the south with my grandmother, in deep segregation, and I couldn't wrap my mind around what racism was."

Kocsis struggled through adolescence, searching for ways to fit in with her peers. After studying fine arts in Tennessee, Kocsis moved the the Pacific Northwest.

Then, in 2007, her mother died, which forced Kocsis to think more critically about her trauma. She wrote and published her first book, "Cult Child," a memoir about her experience in The Move.

Today, she is an advocate for cult survivors, who she feels don't get enough support.

"There's 'exit counseling,' but at the price of what? These people have no money. They have to rely on the social services system, which they don't know how to use. There's no true support network for specifically cult members."

That's why Kocsis has chosen to offer support to cult survivors around the world. Although she still struggles with trauma-related issues, she remains steadfast in her commitment to helping others heal.

"Everybody's journey is different, but it was important for me to train my mind to seriously believe in nothing," she said. "That's a long process...[but] we don't live there anymore."

Janja Lalich

Janja Lalich photo
photo: Courtesy of Janja Lalich

In 1975, Lalich moved to California without many friends or connections.

"I was 30-years-old, I had already graduated from college with honors and lived in Europe for a while," she told Revelist. "I had just moved to San Francisco and so I was new in town. Through a friend of a friend, I met someone who was eventually the person who recruited me to the cult."

Lalich, a self-described feminist, got involved in a leftist study group. She didn't realize the group served as an interface — or "front group" — to recruit members without their knowledge. After spending some time with the group, Lalich became convinced that creating a Marxist-Leninist party would affect change in the US.

That party grew into a political cult called the Democratic Workers Party, led by a charismatic but draconian leader, Marlene Dixon.

"Once I joined, of course everything changed," Lalich said.

After being initiated into the party, Lalich quickly moved up the ranks and became part of Dixon's "inner circle." She worked 20 hour days, acting as a "foot soldier" for various local politicians.

"I had an extremely difficult life, she said. "No vacation, no sleep, bad food, and constant criticism. We spent most of our time criticizing each other and breaking people down."

Janja Lalich photo
photo: Courtesy of Janja Lalich

Members lived in a constant state of turmoil; verbal and emotional abuse were second nature. Important members who tried to leave the cult were tracked down, threatened, and even beaten. Sometimes, cult members would try to damage ex-members' reputations by telling their bosses at their jobs that they're pedophiles. 

"That’s what life was like under the belief that we were going to bring changes for the working class of America," Lalich said.

At a certain point, Lalich decided to leave the cult, but had no idea how. Marlene Dixon's erratic behavior had gotten worse; verbal and physical assault had become routine, which terrified Lalich.

Still, she felt "paralyzed."

"There were a number of times I wanted to leave, or I thought about escaping, but I absolutely couldn't figure it out," Lalich said. "I had lost many friends who weren't in the cult. Both my parents had died, and I had no contact with anyone else outside the cult."

"I was praying every day that I would die in a car accident; that was the only way I could see getting out."

Janja Lalich rummage sale
photo: Courtesy of Janja Lalich

Lalich's prayers were finally answered — but not how she expected.

"It was very unusual, but we finally had our revolution and the group kind of imploded," she said. "We expelled our cult leader and we dissolved the organization and everybody got out."

As for Marlene Dixon?

"She’s dead now, thank god," Lalich said.

In the decades since she left the DWP, Lalich has dedicated her life to educating others about cults: She founded the Center for Research on Influence and Control in addition to writing several books on the subject.

"We're used to responding to guilt and shame and love and fear, and these things that are normal in our everyday life," Lalich told Revelist. "[Cults] use basic manipulative techniques, and so we respond because it’s 'normal.'"

"The more bizarre it is, the longer it goes on, the more that bizarre behavior becomes normal."