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As the recent shooting of Ganas leader Jeff Gross at the group’s Staten Island compound revealed, fringy organizations and secret societies are not just for the hinterlands—our sophisticated city’s got them too. But are they harmless brotherhoods or Jonestowns in the making? TONY considers the contenders with a field guide to New York cults, communes and collectives.


KOOL-AID POTENTIAL

GROUP

NAME: Opus Dei

FOUNDER: Josemara Escriv (deceased)

CREDO: From its $47 million Lexington Avenue HQ, this Roman Catholic sect preaches the “universal call to holiness,” with some members advocating lay celibacy and self-flagellation.

While Escriv was linked to the Franco regime in Spain, long-standing accusations against Opus Dei—including corruption, elitism and influence peddling—were embodied by the villainous albino monk Silas in Dan Brown’s best-seller The Da Vinci Code.

BAD PUBLICITY

While Escriv was linked to the Franco regime in Spain, long-standing accusations against Opus Dei—including corruption, elitism and influence peddling—were embodied by the villainous albino monk Silas in Dan Brown’s best-seller The Da Vinci Code.


KOOL-AID POTENTIAL

GROUP

NAME: Odyssey Study Group (a.k.a. the Work)

FOUNDERS: Sharon Gans and Alex Horn

CREDO: OSG teaches that most people live in a “waking sleep” and can be roused only through intensive internal evaluation. Their activities include theatrical and film productions.

BAD PUBLICITY

Having narrated OSG’s short “Artists and Orphans” in 2001, Rosie O’Donnell blasted the group in Page Six after learning that they didn’t admit gays or African-Americans. “What is my luck that of all the theater groups in the world, the one I pick would be a cult?”


KOOL-AID POTENTIAL

GROUP

NAME: New Alliance Party

FOUNDER: Fred Newman

CREDO: Newman’s “Social Therapy” posits that negative emotions are the result of social and political marginalization and can be overcome via theater and political activism.

BAD PUBLICITY

In 2005, Newman proteg Lenora Fulani was expelled from the New York Independence Party for calling Jews “mass murderers.” The same year, Newman stirred up controversy by allegedly defending therapists’ right to sleep with their patients.


KOOL-AID POTENTIAL

GROUP

NAME:National Labor Federation

Founder: Gino Perente (deceased)

CREDO: Now run by former disciple Margaret Ribar, NATLFED espouses a Marxist-Leninist philosophy and advocates organizing the working poor into “mutual benefit associations.”

BAD PUBLICITY

A year after Perente’s death in 1995, police arrested 35 NATLFED members when they discovered 16 pistols, 26 rifles, five shotguns, two machine guns and floor plans to the 67th Precinct police station stashed in the group’s Crown Heights headquarters.

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