The family of a British student who died in mysterious circumstances a year ago after becoming involved with a “sinister” American political group are launching a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of cult-style organisations.
Today marks the first anniversary of the death of Jeremiah Duggan, 22, who died after being struck by traffic when he stumbled on to a road near Wiesbaden in Germany. He had been attending a meeting organised by followers of Lyndon LaRouche, an American economist and a Democratic presidential candidate who some have accused of running a dangerous cult.
German authorities ruled that Mr Duggan had committed suicide, but in November last year the north London coroner Dr William Dolman said that Mr Duggan had died “while in a state of terror”.
Dr Dolman, speaking after hearing a report by the Metropolitan Police which said that the LaRouche organisation appeared to be “a political cult with sinister and dangerous connections”, ruled that the facts did not justify the verdict arrived at by the German authorities. He said the case had many “unanswered questions”.
Mr Duggan had no previous suicidal tendencies. His family believe that when he died he was fleeing from unexplained dangers or was in such a state of fear that he was unaware of his actions.
They also believe that, as a Jew, he may have argued with supporters of LaRouche, who has been accused of holding anti-Semitic views.
Mr Duggan was studying in Paris when he encountered supporters of LaRouche selling the organisation’s newspaper on the street. He got into conversation with them because he sympathised with LaRouche’s views, which were strongly opposed to the then looming Iraq conflict.
When he died Mr Duggan had been attending a week-long meeting of the Schiller Institute, a LaRouche offshoot, which had been addressed by Mr LaRouche. Early on the morning of 27 March last year, Mr Duggan telephoned his girlfriend and his mother, telling them he was “frightened and in deep trouble”. Hours later, he was found dead on the dual carriageway.
His mother, Erica Duggan, a retired teacher from north London, yesterday called for warnings about cults to be more widely disseminated. “We would like to see the establishment of a Cult Awareness Week in the last week of March in memory of my son … and that schools and colleges warn young people and students about the need to be vigilant against organisations that prey upon them. Parents and children should be taught how to recognise the signs of cults.”
She added: “It was my ignorance in not knowing there were political as well as religious cults that prevented me giving my son the advice he sought when he asked me if I knew anything about Lyndon LaRouche.”
Mr Duggan’s parents, backed by their MP, Rudy Vis, have been calling on the Foreign Office to put pressure on the German authorities to reopen the case. On Thursday, they are due to meet Baroness Symons, a Foreign Office minister, to ask the Government to intervene.
On Monday the family’s proposal for a Cult Awareness Week will be discussed at a meeting in Marseilles of Fecris, an umbrella body of groups that monitor the activities of cults or cult-style organisations in Europe.
Ian Howarth, director of the British-based Cult Information Centre, said: “From everything I have heard and read about the LaRouche set-up, it is clear that we must be very concerned about their activities.”
Critics of Mr LaRouche argue that although he says that he runs a serious political party, he is in effect running a political cult. In 1995, the German government decreed that Mr LaRouche’s political organisation in Germany, the EAP, was in fact a political sect.
Mr LaRouche’s supporters, who are usually young, smart and well-organised, recruit among universities in the United States and Europe, selling his publications on campuses. His followers are organised into “cadres” and are expected to attend meetings and conferences revolving around lengthy addresses by Mr LaRouche. “Give me 1,000 youth leaders like these,” he told his LaRouche Youth Movement last year, “and I’ll take over the country.”
There have been claims of emotional and psychological manipulation of vulnerable young recruits, who are expected by the group to devote their lives to working for Mr LaRouche.
Mr LaRouche’s theories on economics tend to be dense and impenetrable, but frequently involve dire warnings of economic apocalypse unless all governments subscribe to his views. A candidate in this year’s presidential election – his eighth attempt – he is a strong critic of the Bush administration, although his views veered to the left once he left prison in 1994 after serving five years of a 15-year sentence for tax evasion and mail-fraud conspiracy. Previously, he was fervently right-wing, attacking liberals and environmentalists.
He is not active in Britain, although he does claim that the Royal Family is responsible for the growth in the international drugs trade.