This seems like a really great idea, and great people are joining. I just wonder what kind of checks and balances are in place to prevent this community from becoming warped and turned away from it’s original intent?
Occasionally someone on Facebook refers to our project as a “cult”. Honestly, this comment gets rather tiresome to hear. Here’s an info-graphic I created to help people understand the difference between a co-op, a cult, and the OSR Land Co-op. Hope it is helpful! 🙂
OSR becoming a compound for a cult was the first concern my MIL had when we talked to her about the operation. I was a bit unnerved by the emphasis on having “like-minded” neighbors at first, too, in case that was code for “follows whatever a charismatic leader declares.” There are, indeed, polygamist groups in Juab county, where the Utah OSR community will be. And then there’s the Lori Vallow/Chad Daybell business in Rexburg – they were very into preparing for a potential societal collapse, etc., too. But as far as culthood, here is a site I found helpful: https://culteducation.com/warningsigns.html
My experience so far has been that independence and critical thinking are encouraged, people who have left the group are not vilified, I’ve never been encouraged to isolate myself from friends and family in favor of the group, and Philip and other board members exhibit no delusions of godhood nor have a hard time admitting failings. No one even *tries* to make decisions for me. Hope that’s helpful.
Great question! With all the craziness going on the in world right now, this is particularly relevant.
Here are my personal thoughts (and not an official declaration of the board of directors or its chairman, Larry Jones):
1. Strongest preventative: “Toss the rascals out”.
The Utah OSR Land Co-op is a non-profit agricultural cooperative organized under Title 3 of the Utah Code. As such, it must follow its own bylaws (which by the way were drafted by our extremely experienced agricultural co-op attorney, Randon Wilson). Those bylaws state that any board member can be removed if they lose a recall vote triggered by a small percentage of shareholders calling for it. So, if any board member starts making moves towards consolidating power, hiding expenses, demonizing those who don’t support his/her changes, they can be replaced in a matter of days.
2. The stabilizing influence of the many.
With 250 families, there’s a stabilizing influence of the majority. So far, among the 40 shareholder who have joined to this point, I’ve seen very little “lock and load” or “We’re all gonna die!” mentality… in fact, none. Those who have joined are more interested in the benefits of living a self-reliant lifestyle than anything else. Are they also concerned about distancing their families from all the craziness going on in the country, sure! But the top reasons they’ve reported for wanting to join were for health reasons (clean food, air & water), wanting to be less dependent on society for providing their life-sustaining needs, and wanting to give their kids a better environment to grow up in.
3. The stabilizing influence of the few.
Typically, cults revolved around a single religious world-view. Since this is Utah, the majority of the residents are going to end up being members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). However, there are (even on the board of directors) non-LDS shareholders. And they already have demonstrated a willingness to be a stabilizing influence. It’s always good to have someone around to call you out if you start getting too far afield.
4. Cults require a charismatic leader who seeks power, gain, and/or glory. I spent months driving to and from our public presentations several times a week every week with Philip Gleason, the founder of “Operation Self-Reliance” (OSR). Is he perfect? No. But I have never heard him say anything that would suggest he’s in this project for personal gain, to amass power over others, or to glorify himself. (If he were in this for the money, he certainly wouldn’t have set it up as a cooperative!) That being said, could he be tempted in the future? Sure. However, preventatives #1 above would allow us to toss him overboard if the need arises.
Besides, as soon the Riverbed Ranch community can be self-governing, Philip has plans to launch OSR communities elsewhere. Tough to control a group of people when you’re not there every day.
5. The LDS Church’s method of choosing local leaders is also a deterrent. As mentioned, the majority of the shareholders in the Utah co-op will be members of the LDS faith. The quickest way NOT to be chosen as the local leader is to advertise that you want to be asked. The regional leader (called a Stake President) interviews all the eligible “priesthood holders” and prayerfully selects the one he believes the Lord wants to lead the local congregation. Hard for a wanna-be cult leader to get around that. In fact, that Stake President (who resides in Delta, 50 miles away) actually visited the Riverbed Ranch a few weeks back. He was admittedly skeptical at first, apparently sharing your concern. Once we explained what all we were doing he relaxed and asked, “So, where do you want us to build your chapel?”.
Also, once all 250 families have moved in, it is likely that there will be two LDS congregations which would make it even harder for one individual in one congregation to bamboozle a majority in his congregation as well as the one to which he does not belong.
6. The Self-Reliant aren’t easily misled – It takes a group of people willing to be led for a cult leader to rise up. The people joining our co-op are very independent, self-reliant, willing-to-buck-the-system types who, I suspect, would be quick to put some wanna-be cult leader in his place.