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‘They become re-wired, a different person’: Inside the fight to deprogram Love Has Won cult members

The death of leader Amy Carlson led to a fracturing and rebranding of the cult that survivors and family members of devotees fear will allow it to continue, writes Justin Vallejo

Thursday 10 June 2021 16:52 BST
“Mother God” Amy Carlson
“Mother God” Amy Carlson (Love Has Won supplied by Rising Above )
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Three days after Ariane Whitten’s husband answered the calling of Mother God, he was found naked and alone wandering the mountains of Colorado in a dehydrated stupor gazing at the Sun in search of light codes.

He’s one of the lucky ones.

With cactus needles tearing apart his feet and, likely, drugs deluding his mind, he had escaped the Love Has Won cult long enough for his brother to swoop in and take him home to the wife and two children he left in Mississippi to be with Amy Carlson in the fifth-dimensional planetary ascension.

"We were fortunate that he got kicked out because there are so many members that have been there for years," Ms Whitten told The Independent.

"He didn’t have the right energy, he wouldn’t stop talking. How they phrased it was he was in a shroom cloud on the wrong side of the mountain. Jason Castillo, ‘Father God’, said he had three days to fight the darkness."

Almost a year later, the decaying body of the cult leader, Amy Carlson, was found as police descended on the Love Has Won headquarters in a discovery that has exposed the group’s inner workings and led to a fracturing of its various factions and leadership.

Ms Whitten hopes it will lead to more followers escaping like her husband, who The Independent has chosen not to name due to the family’s fear of retaliation from the group.

Amy “Mother God” Carlson and Jason “Father God” Castillo (Love Has Won supplied by Rising Above )

He still carries a lot of shame and feels stupid and embarrassed for screwing up. But he’s lucky to be alive and while he speaks about it rarely, he feels sad others haven’t had the opportunity to get out, Ms Whitten said.

In the 11 months between leaving his wife and kids on 19 May, 2020, and Ms Carlson’s body being found in a shrine decorated by Christmas lights on 28 April, 2021, a dedicated group has been working to expose and bring down the cult that has divided its followers from their families.

The Whitten family escaped relatively unscathed beyond the $15,000 to $20,000 severance of Ms Whitten’s husband, donated to Love Has Won, and the lasting psychological scars he continues to carry. He lost his six-figure job as a maintenance supervisor at a high-tech glass company after missing shifts to follow Love Has Won teachings during the height of the Covid pandemic last year.

It could have been much worse if not for a last-ditch strategy of those who loved him – his wife, mother, sister and brother – desperately working to blunt the impact of Ms Carlson’s gravitational pull.

Before he flew to Colorado, his family received power of attorney, listed the house for sale, and moved his daughter, five, and son, seven, to family in Ohio to avoid indoctrination. Ms Whitten began considering divorce proceedings to avoid further debt from her husband’s donations, and they attempted but failed to place him in a psychiatric hold.

They engaged an expert in dismantling indoctrination, Rick Ross from The Cult Institute, to coach them on slowly bringing their husband’s mind home over a six-month "reprogramming" long after his physical person returned.

After the Colorado rescue, Ms Whitten’s husband was cared for by his brother and sister, who "played a game" to slowly bringing him back to reality.

Amy Carlson seen around 19 March 2021 (Love Has Won supplied by Rising Above )

"He would say ‘he saved the planet’, and his sister would say, ‘yeah you did, everything’s great’. They continued that for two weeks to make sure we got him home," Ms Whitten said.

"He kept staring into the Sun, Sun Gazing in search of light codes, that was burning his eyes, especially in the Colorado Sun. By playing this game we were able to tell him, ‘Oh, Mother God said you don’t have to do that anymore. We can use these special glasses she sent through’."

Eventually, on advice from cult experts, they were completely honest about what had happened and why. It was a scary night for a family unsure how he would react. It took half a year to slowly dismantle each piece of the programming he once believed.

“Ok, maybe Amy wasn’t God. And he recognised that and said that," Ms Whitten said.

Once they had dismantled one belief, they would move on to the next.

"But he still would believe in light codes. He still would believe in Schumann resonances. He still would believe there’s an underground paedophile ring running the country from QAnon. And it was slowly getting him to kind of dismantle each of those components. At the time it was an extremely lonely journey."

While they were out, more remained in. Estimates of group members range from 25 to 30 at their various properties and about 50 to 60 loyal followers contributing online.

The Whitten family could have cut their losses and focused on healing but Ms Whitten and her husband’s sister, Amanda Ray, began trying to expose the inner workings of the group in an effort to engage the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, and local Sheriff offices and police departments in Colorado, Hawaii and California – wherever members attempted to establish a foothold.

They linked up with another family member of a long-time cult follower to help a support group called Rising Above Love Has Won. One of the group’s founders, whose family member remains an active follower of Love Has Won after three years, spoke to The Independent on condition of anonymity and will be referred to by the pseudonym of Sheena.

While another group called Love Has Won Exposed existed previously to illustrate the most shocking elements of the cult, Rising Above set about helping followers get out of it with a support network providing any resources needed: clothing, plane tickets, meals, hotel rooms or counselling.

Sheena and Rising Above have been tracking the movements, live streams, and insider tips and reports for more than three years in the hope of spurring authorities to act. Their efforts led to Love Has Won fleeing Hawaii in September 2020 after the community in Kauai was informed of the cult setting up in their neighbourhood, leading to several protests and acts of vandalism near the property.

Since the discovery of Ms Whitten’s husband in the mountains of Colorado began peeling back the onion of Love Has Won in the national media, much of the group’s background, history, belief systems, teachings, and eccentric nature of "Mother God" Amy Carlson, plus the discovery of her mummified body, has been widely reported.

They have been featured on Dr Phil, an in-depth documentary was produced by VICE, and the group itself publishes hours and hours of live streams on YouTube. The Independent has described Ms Carlson’s 500 reincarnations, New Age spiritual belief systems and miscellaneous oddities.

Read More: The life of Love Has Won cult leader ‘Mother God’

But what happened in the weeks leading up to the discovery of her body, as well as where she died, how she died, who knew or didn’t know she had died, remain obscured by the fog of conflicting or incomplete accounts.

This is what is known: seven members were taken into custody and charged after the decaying body of Ms Carlson, 45, was discovered in the group’s Colorado headquarters in Casada Park, near Crestone. (Known as the "Moffat Shack" to those keeping tabs on the group.)

They are currently going through the court system, with Christopher Royer appearing most recently on 27 May to challenge a search warrant on his cell phone (he got it back before investigators could download the content).

Next to appear will be Jason Castillo, known as "Father God", on 9 June, followed by Ryan Kramer, Obdulia Franco Gonzales, Sarah Rudolph, and Karin Raymond on 16 June. John Robertson will appear on 26 June.

They are facing various counts of abuse of a corpse, tampering with deceased human remains, false imprisonment and child abuse.

The child abuse charges related to children living at the home when the body was discovered. They were taken into the custody of Child Protective Services. A spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Human Services said they could not comment about, or confirm, any cases.

Saguache County Coroner Tom Petty told The Independent the autopsy had not yet been completed to determine Ms Carlson’s cause of death. He previously told The Daily Beast her body was extremely thin and it was possible she was taking colloidal silver, but that nothing indicated foul play.

While Saguache County Sheriff Captain Ken Wilson was previously quoted as saying Ms Carlson’s body had been dead for several weeks to a month, Sheriff Deputy Randall told The Independent there had since been a "gag order" placed on the case meaning they could no longer discuss it.

Police found the body on the night of 28 April, executing a search warrant close to midnight that continued into the early morning of 29 April.

Much of what is known about the discovery of her body comes from the Saguache County Sheriffs Office’s “probable cause statement in support of warrantless arrest”, obtained by The Independent, that is based on the testimony of Love Has Won member Miguel Lamboy, otherwise known to the group as "Archangel Michael Silver".

Amy Carlson with Miguel Lamboy, “Archangel Michael” (Love Has Won supplied by Rising Above )

Mr Lamboy owns the residence where the body was found at 4 Alcedo Ct, Crestone, which he bought for $63,000 on 11 December, 2020, according to property reports.

According to the statement written by Saguache County corporal Steven Hansen, Mr Lamboy told police of Ms Carlson’s death after visiting the Moffat home earlier in the day on 28 April.

"Mr Lamboy stated that Ms Carlson’s skin appeared to be grey in colour and her eyes were glazed over or missing. Mr Lamboy stated that it was obvious that Ms Carlson was dead because her eyes were missing. Mr Lamboy stated that the body appeared to be mummified with Ms Carlson’s teeth exposed through the lips. Mr Lamboy stated that Ms Carlson was wrapped in a cloth," the statement said.

Police executed a search warrant at the house at 11.30pm local time on 28 April, where they found the "mummified remains" with "what appears to be glitter type makeup around the eyes. The mummified remains were decorated with Christmas lights. The mummified remains appeared to be set up in some type of Shrine".

According to the statement, Mr Lamboy told police he believed the body had been transported to the residence from California in a Nissan Rogue SUV.

It is in California where the Rising Above collective of Sheena, Ms Whitten and her sister-in-law, Ms Ray, had been following Ms Carlson’s dramatic deterioration dating back to mid-2020 after the group had left Hawaii.

"The last person from outside the cult who saw her alive is the owner of the cabin they were renting that we asked to do a wellness check on her on 10 April," Sheena said. "He said goodbye to her. She looked like she was dying."

A shrine to “Mother God” Amy Carlson (Love Has Won supplied by Rising Above )

Sheena said photos began circulating on 14 April among Love Has Won of Ms Carlson in an unconscious state, with members saying privately that their leader’s vessel was not sustaining.

After watching public live streams of Love Has Won members saying Ms Carlson was having difficulty breathing and that her eyes were rolling back into her head, Sheena says the Rising Above group began anxiously calling police and ambulance to send a wellness check to the California property on 16 April.

The husband of Ms Whitten had escaped the cult a year earlier but his sister, who is a nurse, remained concerned for the cult leader’s continued deterioration they saw in photos and live streams.

"She called five different places. We had tried to send wellness checks out multiple times in the last year but kept being told they can’t enter the home," Sheena said.

They were told that police and an ambulance went to the property but left after two group members said Ms Carlson wasn’t there. Sheena said that after Ms Ray called authorities asking how they could simply believe what they were told and then leave, police replied that they could not find Ms Carlson despite searching the house.

While Shasta County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to a request for comment, its public information officer Tim Mapes previously confirmed to Mt Shasta News that a report was made regarding Ms Carlson in early April, but that there was not enough evidence to warrant a welfare check. The News reported the group was “asked to leave” roughly around that period because too many people were living in their RV.

Photos of Ms Carlson appearing deceased began circulating among Love Has Won members on 17 April, Sheena said.

In the aftermath of Ms Carlson’s death, the discovery of her body, and charges filed against seven members, the cult appears to have splintered into multiple groups.

While Mr Lamboy reported the body to police and was not arrested, he has since reportedly disappeared and a defence attorney for one of the accused alleged in court that he had taken the group’s money and left, according to The Denver Post.

Mr Lamboy did not respond to a request for comment when The Independent attempted to reach him through the newly-formed Gaia’s Crystal Schools. Translating the teachings of Love Has Won into its “crystal school” curriculum had been one of the group’s main fundraising avenues.

According to the articles of incorporation for the non-profit, Mr Lamboy filed Gaia’s Crystal Schools Inc with the Colorado Secretary of State on 23 April – five days before he reported the body of Ms Carlson to police.

The articles name Mr Lamboy as a director along with other Love Has Won members residing at his Moffatt residence, Doreen Smith and Leticia Gamboa. The group is also connected to "Mother Nature Natural Essentials".

Another Love Has Won faction formed Mother Earth’s Crystal Schools under Lauryn Suarez and Ashley Peluso, along with about eight other members and most of the 40-50 online followers. They’re also connected to 5D Full Disclosure and New Earth Healing Essential.

Member Jeri-Lee Svenson said the group agreed to be interviewed for this story but later cancelled.

Lauryn Suarez and Ashley Peluso appear on a live stream in front of a banner of Amy Carlson after her death ( Love Has Won supplied by Rising Above )

"Father God" Jason Castillo and a smaller handful of members form the new group called Joy Rains. The group did not immediately respond to a request for an interview.

The different factions splintered after one group began following “Mother-Father God” – described as the essence of Ms Carlson combined with the physical vessel of Mr Castillo – while the other group remained dedicated to “Mother God” alone.

The original group’s website has gone offline and the branding has been shifting into the different forms of its competing factions.

After tracking the group for years to support ex-members and engage authorities, Sheena hopes its fracturing will loosen their grip and allow devotees – including her family member – to return home.

"They’ve been in there for over three years, it’s been very, very hard for our family," Sheena said.

They had a brief window of opportunity two years in when the family member tried to leave, but Sheena said they returned to Love Has Won after being guilt-tripped for returning to "Earth Family" not "fulfilling their contract" with Mother God.

"We tried to talk to them and stuff, but they do their job of brainwashing well," Sheena said. "Apparently we all have contracts with Mother God whether we know it or not."

The best thing Sheena and her family can do now, based on their advice from cult experts, is to wait, keep an open line of communication, let them know they’re loved no matter what, and that they can always come home.

"But you can’t say that. You can’t let them think that’s what you’re doing or they will get defensive. You can only imply that by letting you know you miss them," Sheena said.

"The cult encourages them not to have contact with their family and friends, and they just become a completely re-wired, different person. I don’t know how they’ll go back to being a normal person."

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