Nonprofit accused of cult activity

KITTERY, Maine – Former clients of a local nonprofit, The Gentle Wind Project, have alleged in postings to a Web site that the organization was involved in group sex, mind control, extortion, child neglect and misappropriation of funds.

Correction

The following is a ‘Letter to the Editor’ published in the Postmouth Herald on July 24, 2004. It is a response to the accompanying article.

‘Cult activity’ article missed the mark

To the Editor:

We wish to correct some misinformation in the article headlined “Nonprofit accused of cult activity” (Portsmouth Herald, July 23). In our personal stories on www.windofchanges.org we do not allege “child neglect, extortion, or misappropriation of funds” by Gentle Wind Project. This information actually comes from Gentle Wind, who claim in their lawsuit that this is what we said. They are using what some might call a “straw man argument” – turning words around and then arguing against the new statement.

Unfortunately, the reporter for this story took her information from the Gentle Wind Web sites or sources rather than quoting from our stories.

In addition, Garvey was briefly part of the GWP group sexual activity in the early years of her involvement with the group only, not up until four years ago. This is completely inaccurate and does not reflect our personal stories or our conversation with the reporter.

The information presented about Gentle Wind Project in the Portsmouth Herald article sounds more like an infomercial for Gentle Wind products as opposed to investigative reporting. If you wish to provide accuracy for your readers, we would suggest further research into: costs (“donations”) for Gentle Wind’s so-called “healing” instruments; real data – outside of Gentle Wind-created data – showing efficacy of their products based on objective scientific studies; personal stories from victims and donors who have lost large sums of their personal income in the purchases of GWP products; and a discussion of the unsubstantiated claims made by GW. All of this is already available on www.windofchanges.org.

Thank you for printing this statement so that the inaccuracies in your article can be corrected.

Jim Bergin and Judy Garvey

Blue Hill, Maine

In response, Project officials have filed a suit in Maine�s U.S. District Court against those clients, calling their claims “wild, scurrilous and utterly unfounded.” The suit indicates the allegations have damaged the Project�s reputation and its ability to recruit clients.

Judy Garvey, of Blue Hill, Maine, said she is named in the suit because of online postings by herself and her husband, James Bergin, describing their 17-year affiliation with Gentle Wind. The postings claim the nonprofit engaged in the actions listed above, although Garvey said she and her husband never alleged group sex was rampant throughout the organization, although it was part of her personal experience.

Garvey said she and Bergin have had to take a second mortgage on their home to defend themselves against the suit, but will continue to tell their stories at www.windofchanges.org.

Gentle Wind spokesman, Mary Miller, said she could not comment on the details of the lawsuit.

Gentle Wind, located on Prince Avenue for the past 18 years, is asking for a jury trial and financial compensation. It describes itself as “dedicated to education and research aimed at alleviating human suffering and trauma,” through what it calls “healing instruments.”

An online article written by Miller, a Durham resident, displays photographs of those healing instruments. One appears as three tuning forks and is labeled a “Puck-Puck,” another is a palm-held unit called “the healing puck,” while a third is a diagram said to provide healing power to those who hold it for just several minutes.

Miller said she is aware Gentle Wind�s approach sounds a bit far-fetched.

“I know, but we really have good research evidence that shows the technology works well for some people – not all people,” she said. “We�re not New Age wackos.”

In an effort to offset claims it is a cult, the Gentle Wind lawsuit said the organization does not have members, only staff. The nonprofit does not sell these instruments, said Miller, but does accept donations.

Miller�s article says her group believes “each person lives inside a non-physical, energetic field that extends 8 to 10 feet high, 4 to 6 feet wide,” that few humans can observe this field and that it can be damaged when people are injured emotionally, physically or mentally. When this field is damaged, it can attract further injury, the organization claims.

Gentle Wind claims its healing tools repair that damage and that it has 20 years of research to back its claims. Testimonials provided to the Herald claim the healing instruments alleviate “lifelong pain,” enhance the ability to forgive; assist with smoking and drinking cessation, offer a “feeling of inner peace,” reduce blood pressure and quell pains associated with arthritis, neck trauma, migraines, ulcers, chronic fatigue and a host of other ills.

Gentle Wind also conducts seminars, one of which is scheduled for Aug. 6-8, at the Portsmouth Courtyard Marriott. It is open to “instrument keepers only.”

Along with Garvey and her husband, Steve Gamble and Ivan Fraser, of the United Kingdom; Allan Hassan, of Somerville, Mass.; and Rick Ross, of New Jersey, are named as defendants in the Gentle Wind suit. Garvey said neither she nor her husband knows any of the others named as defendants.

Gentle Wind alleges Garvey, a former volunteer, smeared the nonprofit by publishing the online report alleging “sexual rituals were primarily used to enforce the power and control of the cult leader over participants.”

The 33-page online posting by Garvey�s husband describes the healing tools as modern day “snake oil.” He also says the group manipulated his family and recruited his wife into sexual situations until they separated from Gentle Wind four years ago.

The Maine Attorney General�s Consumer Division is seeking any pertinent information about Gentle Wind. The division can be reached at (207)626-8591

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