How do you know you’re in a cult?  It isn’t like they have a sign on the door that announces it: The Sweet Sunshine Cult of Destruction!  Cherry Tree Cult and Fellowship!  Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood Cult!  Usually, there’s a charismatic leader and friendly followers eager to love bomb you the minute you arrive.  There’s so much love, so many hugs, exchanges of pleasantries, and maybe coffee and appetizers that one can easily believe this new group can easily become your new family.  There’s just one catch:  They believe in a doctrine you might be skeptical about.  But, they already know you’re doubtful, and tell you that’s ok.  They were doubtful once, but then the miracle happened.  Sure, some left the group and many died as a result, but it wasn’t the group’s fault.  Those who haven’t died say nasty things about the group, but that’s because they’re bitter and resentful and don’t have the peace and serenity the group gives to those who surrender.  And one must SURRENDER because it’s actually a cult, and cults use words like SURRENDER.

Don't Think.
Don’t Think.

The trouble with Alcoholics Anonymous is anyone who’s anyone can walk in through the door, and that person may be troubled with problems other than alcohol.  It can be mental health issues, a past history of abuse, or a past experience in a different cult.  It’s easier to program a person who’s already fanatical and quick to latch on to a new cult promising Utopia.

How fanatical is the language of AA?  This is from page 62 of the Big Book: So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so. Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! God makes that possible. And there often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without His aid. Many of us had moral and philosophical convictions galore, but we could not live up to them even though we would have liked to. Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We had to have God’s help.

AA members must give up previous moral and philosophical convictions and entirely get rid of one’s self.  Surrender!  Obey!  Compliance!  Oh my!  The scary part is when a mentally ill fanatical personality is immersed in cult-culture, their rebellion can become deadly.  It’s one thing to be critical of a cult and another thing to take the criticism to a level of physical retaliation.  However, how doesn’t AA’s loaded language that selfishness kills and only God can save us contribute to damaging psychological thought processes?  How can AA simultaneously ask a member to stop playing God and also develop a God consciousness where one has direct contact with God and knows God’s will for themselves and perhaps everyone else around them?  Are they not still playing God, if not at least becoming God’s vessel on Earth where if God tells them to do something they’ll do it?

Don't Drink, Pray, Go to Meetings
Don’t Drink, Pray, Go to Meetings

In October, A 33 year old man posted a blog titled “Is my Dad in a Cult?  Even Worse, Is It Satanic?”  Within the blog he included a video urging his dad to examine the teachings of his preacher.  He writes of truth and natural law being unchanging.  He notes that the preacher relies on “anonymous testimony, he doesn’t even respect his audience enough to provide a name.”  Sounds eerily like the written testimonials in the back of the AA Big Book.  The Pastor’s name?  Bill, naturally.  The blogger writes that Pastor Bill uses a “classic hypnotist style” in his “bag of tricks.”   Think of AA slogans: Repetition.  Another connection to AA would be Pastor Bill’s insistence to act, not think, as the blogger writes, “because knowledge and understanding before acting requires a whole lotta work and fortunately is totally unnecessary.”  He accuses the pastor of being a Satanist “keeping fundamental knowledge from you with the express purpose of controlling your mind and keeping you unaware of the Truth of your own sovereignty.”  Sounds a lot like AA and rehabs keeping information about naltrexone, SMART Recovery, and harm reduction away from the people they claim to treat with the best possible services available.


Turn Your Will and Your Life Over to the Care of AA
Turn Your Will and Your Life Over to the Care of AA

The blogger wants to convince his father that he is enslaved by a cult ran by Pastor Bill: He’s keeping you unbalanced by having you try to completely identify with the spiritual while subconsciously tying you to the physical world and getting you to disown your own capacity for coming to true understanding and knowing. —This man preaches nothing about true understanding. He feeds your laziness with an opportunity to externalize all of your power. He offers no real wisdom, and it is clear he is hiding it intentionally with intent to confuse and profit in the material world.

What happens next is pure mayhem.  This blogger is Noah Jacob Harpham from Colorado Springs, Colorado.  He attended AA meetings and had a sponsor.  His blog indicates both his parents for at least 10 years had subjected the family to a “cult,” and the mother had also written a book about “unique challenges and spiritual conundrums Christians face” in recovery, a biography that mentions her son’s addiction as well.   Was a cult partly to blame for Harpham killing three people on a daylight shooting spree on very same street he lived on, eventually being killed himself by the police.

Restored to Sanity?
Restored to Sanity?

The evidence of Harpham’s family’s involvement in a cult and his subsequent involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous indicate he was mentally tormented by not one cult, but two.  Tragically, and unforgivably, his tortured mind turned murderous when he selfishly took the lives of three innocent individuals—2 of which were women who lived in a sobriety house on the street.  One can say these were random shootings, however, it’s fair to speculate the entire street he lived on became emblematic of his hatred for all things cultish.

We can choose to brush off Harpham’s words as the musings of a madman, when in actuality the mad part was when he took a gun onto the street in broad daylight and murdered people for reasons unknown.  All we can do is speculate.  This isn’t the first time an AA member has snapped and murdered others.  Unlike other support groups that provide strength and the courage to survive hardships, disease and cancer, in AA members are encouraged to attend or else they will die.  There are steps, suggestions, promises, traditions, prayers, slogans, books, pamphlets, memos, guidelines, handbooks, manuals, chairpersons, treasurers, secretaries, GSRs, committees, conferences, trustees, board members, paid employees, legal departments, and more.  This from a supposedly simple program!

You have 3% increased likelihood of dying receiving AA treatment than you have doing any other method- including cold turkey.
You have 3% increased likelihood of dying receiving AA treatment than you have doing any other method- including cold turkey.

In AA, if a member molests a child, they may be told it’s their alcoholism causing it, and not be reported to authorities.  If someone sexually harasses you, they’ll just be told to knock it off it they’re told anything at all, and you will have to put up with it or find a different meeting where it very well could happen again.  There is no HR department to make sure consequences are clearly defined and carried out.  There are no safety or personal conduct policies or policies against sexual harassment.  This from a supposedly spiritual program!

Admittedly, I know little about the Bethel Church in Redding where Bill and Brenda Johnson are pastors.  Bill teaches his congregation that Jesus performed miracles as a man who was close to God, not as God, which means humans are able to perform miracles as well if they get right with God.  In AA they’d say, “Don’t quit before the miracle happens.”  Although Bill doesn’t go so far as to say Jesus was not God, his teachings are described as confusing and misleading.  He claims to speak for Jesus.  In AA they call that “god consciousness.”  Hell, AA even claims they have no leaders and that God is their ultimate authority.  Does God know AA assigned her/him/it this authority?  Or does this mean God designed and speaks through AA?

Or Else?
Or Else?

In a side by side comparison, Bethel Church is non-denominational church whereas AA is a spiritual organization not a church.  Bethel has an estimated 8,000 members and AA claims at least 2 million members.  And with Harpham’s murders, there is now a link between AA and Bethel that we cannot ignore.  If a cult can distort the thinking of an average sane person, how does it distort the thinking of the mentally ill with violent tendencies?  People who escape a cult have a healthy amount of anger to direct towards those who harmed them, but what about people who seek murderous revenge because of cults?

I thoroughly understand some reading this will be outraged I call AA a cult since AA itself denies this, however, I arrived at this conclusion because of my prior involvement and experience within AA.  This is my solid opinion and one day in the future history books may refer to AA as:  “A medically-endorsed spiritual organization that operated in the 1900s and a good portion of the 2000s which has fallen out of favor due to its lack of efficacy and ex-members’ reports of abuse.  AA is now widely perceived to be a cult.”

8 thoughts on “Mayhem, Cults and AA Meetings: The Colorado Springs AA Murderer

    1. Thanks SHJim, appreciate your comment and noticing also, as I did, how ‘spot on’ it is to connect the cult-dots in this story.

  1. Juliet your theory makes absolute sense to me. The thing you said that I found most compelling was about the repetition in the AA Big Book. When my worst ever sponsor was using the BB to walk me through the steps (the only right way to do it, of course) he mentioned the repetition by pointing out that Bill was really trying to drive his concepts home. And my thinking was so foggy at the time I could not see how mundane and unconvincing this is. No explanations given for how the miracle works, no real reasons need be given given for anything because “you must or you will surely die.” And to drive home the sale is an empty promise of Utopia for what amounts to complete utter and blind compliance. Even if you have to “fake it ’till you make it.”
    And if this shooter endured even half of the psychological and emotional abuse I was at the receiving end of in Alcoholics Anonymous, and given his propensity to violence, I can understand exactly how it happened.
    I dare say the shooter was told to stop taking his psych meds in AA, assuming he indeed was on meds prior. Mental Illness and Alcoholics Anonymous don’t mix. I believe that what you wrote here is so dead on accurate that I find it scary. AA really should come with a warning.

    1. Thanks Jason! AA thrives on repetition, not just with book readings but the slogans (many slogans are framed and posted around the meetings for emphasis)…. And there is never an explanation for “how it works” even in the chapter “How It Works.” Just follow the process blindly and it will “rarely” fail. That’s not really showing how any of it works, naturally, because it doesn’t work. Glad you mentioned that, because if he was supposed to be medicated it’s possible his sponsor or others told him to stop taking it, or he heard what I’d heard at meetings: “You’re not sober if you’re taking meds.” Or: “All I need is AA, I don’t need Prozac anymore because I have God and these steps.” You hear so many contrary opinions on medications in AA it’s nearly impossible to know what to do in order for AA “to work” correctly for you. (What about that AA-medication pamphlet? Oh, many just ignore that thing if they even bother to have that around at a meeting!) AA really does need a warning on it! Can’t agree with you more!

  2. Many cling to the first 164 pages so tight they can’t embrace the ones they love. That’s not spirituality, that’s idolatry and covetousness. For me, the meetings seemed too religious in nature, with opening and closing prayer, call to alter in the form of a “burning desire”, witnessing by members of the absolution of sin by working a ”spiritual” program religiously. The big book and the supporting material allow forgiveness through redemptive works, not through the sacrifice made on the cross. Failure to follow this “simple program” results in eternal damnation of depravity. The book is a story, treated and interpreted as a holy writ by the members, not to be altered or questioned because it’s understood to be divinely inspired by channeling a sainted Christian spirit. You make no friends, no lasting relationships and a spiritual death from exclusion, if you dare to question or leave. Independent courts affirm it, the only ones not acknowledging it are the members. After a while you look around and think, why would I take advice from these people?

    1. Thanks for your comment!! I can’t agree more, the Big Book’s “sacred” 164 pages are worshiped as the infallible word of God. The minute one realizes their advice is limited only AA — no proof, not science, no evidence, no other programs or methods seemingly exist!- that is the minute to run – not walk- as fast as you can to the exit doors.

  3. I think the solution is for you all to get together over a bottle of wine and really discuss these issues in depth. I’m sure that’ll straighten out your thinking.

    1. I think the solution for AA members is to get together, open the Big Book, and see with their own eyes, objectively, how misleading the book is. How sexist it is. How it promotes treating others badly. How it damages people psychologically and promotes violence. I’ve yet to meet a humble, spiritually fit person from AA. They seem to develop severe sarcasm and bullying tendencies. Are these the results of AA? Become a jerk but at least you’re a sober jerk?

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