SAPPORO -- The Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, more commonly known by its former name the Unification Church, is in the spotlight again over its deceptive tactics after it was revealed that the family of the man accused of murdering former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had gone bankrupt due to a series of huge donations to the religious group.
Masaki Gouro, 79, a lawyer belonging to the Sapporo Bar Association who has engaged in efforts to offer relief measures to victims of the Unification Church for over 30 years, held an online lecture through Aug. 24 and explained the problematic tactics of the group, based on interviews with former followers.
The Unification Church employs a method of subjecting people to a terrifying experience of a simulated hell through the group's videos and films in order to make them believe that superstitions are reality. Victims are tricked into thinking that their loved ones who passed away are suffering in hell, and are talked into making donations that are supposedly necessary as part of prayers for the spirits of the deceased. Thinking that it is a small price to pay if it means the matter can be resolved, victims end up donating money repeatedly until they become bankrupt. Even if they are condemned by family or friends, victims think that while those around them may not understand it now, they will later once they enter the spiritual world in their afterlife. Gouro has worked with former followers like these for many years.
Gouro's efforts to provide relief measures for victims began in 1987 after he handled a case involving the Unification Church. After this, he battled the religious group in court in lawsuits on behalf of about 80 plaintiffs who were victims. From experience, he is very familiar with the group's tactics and the victims' psychological state. He said, "While there are small changes in tactics, the method's essence has not changed for 30 years, in that it indoctrinates people that the Unification Church's teachings are the truth."
According to Gouro's interviews with former followers who joined the Unification Church between the 1980s and the 2010s, the group tells followers that if they cannot introduce three new members, they "will not be saved." They are driven to run around desperately to gain members, and proceed with recruitment activities while closely contacting senior officials of the group.
Factors such as whether the person has savings of 1 million yen (about $7,300) or more, whether they are obedient, and whether they are religious apparently become important when selecting potential members. "The purpose is to get them to donate, so people who have no money are not approached. However, even if they have small savings, young people and others who are convenient to use as manpower are invited to join," the lawyer said. Furthermore, people who have a strong tendency to question things are avoided as they are troubling to handle. Gouro explained, "The group also tends to stay away from people who do not believe in the existence of spiritual realms after death, as well as fortunetelling and the power of things that cannot be seen."
Gouro mentioned the case of the mother of Tetsuya Yamagami, the suspect in the shooting attack on former Prime Minister Abe, who was sent to prosecutors on suspicion of murder. The lawyer pointed out that "the Unification Church also deems the death of a loved one as an important aspect for recruiting members." The death of a loved one leaves a deep emotional wound, apparently creating an opportunity for them to become attached to a religion. During the recruitment process, victims are told, "Your life is 80% luck and 20% effort," and are apparently made to believe this by relating it with the death of a loved one, which cannot be controlled through effort. Gouro commented, "The group attacks with the cunning method of explaining that fortune has an absolute influence and making victims react and think 'Maybe that's true.'"
Unification Church members also apparently tell people they recruit that "the cause of misfortune has to do with ancestral karma." Victims are deceived into thinking that when evil ancestors work as evil spirits, this leads to accidents, injuries and illness. They are told, "You will be unlucky family-wise, and have many worries about children and divorce, which will lead to an unlucky life." The group's members will then appeal to the victim's sense of duty and responsibility by saying, "You are the main person who must change the fortune of this family."
Gouro said that the group is well-informed about how to stir people's imagination without using threatening words and control their decision-making by provoking anxiety. He said, "Anxiety is the most powerful emotion for controlling decision-making. When someone is shaken, they become incapable of acting rationally." The lawyer warned, "It is necessary to construct a barrier by knowing your weaknesses and fears that you can't help reacting to."
(Japanese original by Yutaka Yamada, Hokkaido News Department)