The Dark Side of Rev. Sun Myung Moon
Part 2, The NYU Freshman
By Robert Parry
July 28, 1997
One Mother's Tale: Moon & an NYU Freshman
Like many parents, Debbie Diglio was nervous when her only
son, John Stacey, went off to college. But John was a stable, high-achieving,
all-American young man who seemed the sort who might succeed in staying
out of trouble.
So when John left their home in central New Jersey and registered
at New York University in 1992, Debbie Diglio, a nurse by profession, hoped
for the best. But, then, shortly into his first semester, she said, "he
went away one weekend and vanished."
She first got a sense of trouble when she called his NYU room
with happy family news. "My sister had a baby and I called to tell
John," she recalled, still with a quaver in her voice. "His roommate
said he had gone away with a few new friends he had met."
The roommate remembered that the "new friends" were
from a group, known by the acronym, CARP, standing for the innocuous title,
Collegiate Association for the Research of Principles. After learning that
CARP was "a front group" for the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and the Unification
Church, Diglio and her husband, John's step-father, began a frantic search.
"I tried to call the church and they said they had no
idea who he was."
The Diglios feared the worst, that John would be drawn into
the controversial religious sect that has been accused by critics of "brainwashing"
impressionable young people into becoming robotic followers of Moon as a
new messiah. "When John did call," Debbie Diglio said, "I
knew immediately that he was in trouble."
So began a four-year nightmare for Debbie Diglio. Like thousands
of other parents in the past quarter century, she lost a child to the charismatic
South Korean who teaches that his movement is building a theocracy that
will rule the world. During those four years, Stacey almost completely severed
ties to his family and nearly drove his mother to a nervous breakdown.
Though the number of young Americans drawn to Moon appears
to be in sharp decline -- his total U.S. church membership is estimated
at less than 3,000 although church officials insist the figure is around
50,000 -- the story of John Stacey is a reminder that Moon's controversial
recruiting techniques continue.
When I interviewed John Stacey recently at a pizza restaurant
near his hometown of Piscataway, N.J., the thin, blonde, young man had an
edgy way about him, a look that was both vulnerable and cagey. He'd hold
my gaze for a minute and then quickly glance away.
But amid the clatter of plates and piped-in rock music, Stacey
seemed relaxed talking about his growing-up years as a prototypical Middle
American who came from a Baptist background and was close to his family.
He was a high school honor student, and when he left for NYU, he said, "my
mother was still making me peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches."
Stacey's life detoured when he encountered CARP members on
the street near NYU, at the edge of Manhattan's Greenwich Village. "They
gave me a survey and it turned out everything that I was interested in they
were interested in," he chuckled. The recruiters invited him to a lecture
which stressed positive themes: God, peace, patriotism.
Upset over a fight with his roommate, Stacey agreed to attend
a week-long CARP seminar supposedly on "youth decision-making"
at a compound located in Queens, N.Y. "They said it was not a religion,"
he recalled. "They invited me under false pretenses, away from my reference
points to another world, it seemed. ... I went there with the impression
that all the people there were students like me."
The "students" who surrounded him reinforced the
messages from the speakers, while leaders of the group flattered Stacey
and attended to his every need. "The seminar is completely rigged,"
Stacey told me. The other "students" turned out to be Unification
Church members who Stacey later learned were "very well trained"
in these recruitment methods.
"They gained my trust before I realized they were not
worthy of it," Stacey complained. "They used the same tactics
that the Chinese communists used. People don't recognize how dangerous it
is because they're using mind-control techniques without prior consent.
I didn't suspect that they had designs on me. ... It's like a Moonie factory.
They sort of clone people there."
Stacey was not held at the Queens compound by force. Rather,
he explained, the recruiters employed more subtle techniques of peer-group
pressure and isolation. "When I was at that seven-day seminar, I had
no idea my parents were trying to find me," he said. "For three
months, I never left that property. ... I had five people patrolling me."
A Very Delicate Time
When Stacey did contact his mother, she had received some counseling herself
in the methods of cults and knew that it was "a very delicate time
in the first few days of recruitment." Her choices were to "scare
him or go along with it. So I tried to scare him with [a story that] my
husband had a heart attack."
But Diglio said the Unification Church was savvy to the reactions
of desperate parents, too. "They called every hospital," she remembered,
and found out that Stacey's step-father had not been admitted for treatment.
Diglio saw her son slip farther from her reach.
"It was horrifying," Diglio told me. "I didn't
sleep. We didn't eat. I had people come out and speak to our extended family
[who wanted to know], how can John be so stupid?"
A year after John joined the church, Diglio said she was allowed
to visit him "in a Moonie house. It was horrible. I never had a moment
to speak to John alone. It was very creepy, very sad, because there are
so many young people there, all under Moon's influence."
She was shocked by the changes in her son. "John was
very different, very glazed over, trance-like. Did you ever see 'The Stepford
Wives'? It was so emotional to watch your only son to be taken and transformed.
I kept praying that he would come to his senses."
Inside the church, after his recruitment, Stacey took part
in the exhausting and humiliating routine of the "mobile fund-raising
teams" that travel by van from town to town selling flowers and other
cheap items. Under pressure to meet quotas and fearing harsh criticism if
they come up short, members would work feverishly for long hours, seven
days a week. They would live on McDonald hamburgers and other fast food.
Tired van drivers rushing the fundraising teams to new locations experienced
far more accidents than normal.
Some church members went to extremes, even going out in snow
storms, in sub-zero temperatures. "I know people who lived in a van
for 15 years," Stacey said. "They're very burnt out, these people.
... Fear and guilt are the driving force."
Hiding the Moon Connection
Stacey asserted that the key to the church's fund-raising -- like its recruitment
-- is deception. But church members justify the lies because they are serving
a larger good, the ascendance of Moon to a position of world dominance.
Stacey said, "there's no such thing as truth," outside of Moon's
religious teachings, known as The Divine Principle.
"The Divine Principle justifies murder," Stacey
stated matter-of-factly. "If you do it for Reverend Moon, it's good.
Good and evil are decided by motivation."
When out selling, the fund-raisers hid their links to Moon
and presented themselves as students raising money for some worthy cause.
Stacey said he broke that rule only once, when going door to door selling
wind chimes on an island off the coast of Alaska.
"I told everyone that I was doing this for Reverend Sun
Myung Moon," Stacey said. "I didn't make a penny. It was the only
time in four years that I was honest."
But with his intelligence, hard work and clean looks, Stacey
rose quickly through the church's ranks. He opened a CARP office in Portland,
Ore., and became a Pacific Northwest CARP leader based in Seattle. In his
capacity as a leader, it was his turn to become the recruiter, targeting
vulnerable young people and applying the same deceptive techniques that
had been employed on him.
"I convinced people to quit school and leave their families,"
he acknowledged. "Look, I was a con artist."
The fund-raising schemes also grew more sophisticated as the
church phased out the "mobile fund-raising teams" because of bad
publicity. Instead of roaming from city to city, local chapters sold gift
items at mall kiosks before Christmas. But always, Stacey said, there was
the deception and the certainty that the end -- advancing the cause of Moon's
church -- justified the means. Stacey's chapter made $80,000 last holiday
season, he said, by working a bait-and-switch tactic: the kiosk would display
a decorative light which looked stunning with a powerful halogen bulb. But
after the purchase, the customer was given a boxed lamp which contained
a "much cheaper" and dimmer bulb.
Eventually, according to Stacey, the deception and the deification of Moon
ate away at his commitment to the church. He also grew disturbed watching
the painful lives of longtime church members who joined in the 1970s. Then
there were gaudy promises of the church's worldwide ascendance and the evolution
of church members into perfect beings. Instead, the church has shrunk and
none of the members has attained the promised perfection.
"Twenty years later the church is getting smaller, it
seems," Stacey told me. "I see the church as very miserable people.
... There's a lot of suffering among the older members."
The rewards, both spiritual and worldly, have gone disproportionately
to Moon and his family, Stacey observed. "Reverend Moon is perfect
and his wife is perfect, his family is supposed to be perfect. But according
to church records, no one [else] had reached perfection."
Through the four years, Stacey had periodic contact with his
family. But he hid signs of his doubts. In September 1996, he flew to New
Jersey for his mother's birthday and stayed the weekend. Some family members
went out to lunch together. Stacey found himself defending Moon.
"When he got back [to the Pacific Northwest]," Debbie
Diglio recalled, "he wrote a nasty letter. He was visibly upset that
we were laughing at Moon."
Yet privately, Stacey's faith in Moon was breaking down. "When
I looked at the leaders, they were all con artists," Stacey concluded.
"Reverend Moon is training a race of very charming manipulators. ...
He's creating almost an elite force of people who are very charming but
Stacey also was offended by Moon's pretensions that he was
superior to Jesus and by Moon's attacks on Americans as "Satanic"
because of their belief in individualism. "I left because it was wrong,"
Stacey told me. "I was causing my family way too much pain. ... My
mother was about institutionalized. They'd cry and cry and cry and beg me
to come home."
Then, last January, Stacey called his mother and announced
that he was flying to New York. They met in Newark where she works. Only
then did he tell her that he was quitting the Unification Church.
"I almost died," Diglio said, "I could not
believe it. I thanked God. I was so happy and so frightened at the same
time. We just huddled as a family and cried our eyes out. It was so emotional.
For four years, it was an all-time low. The distress was so much. I wasn't
dealing at all with life. I thought I was losing my mind. I'd wake up at
night and cry hysterically."
When I spoke with Diglio several months after Stacey's return
home, his mother spoke with none of that passion. Her voice sounded drained,
the tone of a parent who is relieved that an ordeal with a child is over
but is sorry that the ordeal ever happened. Though glad that her son had
returned, Diglio no longer sees Stacey as the same bright-eyed young man
who left for college.
The four-year stint with the Unification Church had changed
his mannerisms. Though she was hopeful that he would get his life back together
-- he has decided to attend Rutgers -- she was often reminded of the four
lost years. His behavior is still a "little Moonie," Diglio said.
"He can't directly look you in the eye." ~
Robert Parry is a veteran investigative reporter, who broke
many of the Iran-contra stories in the 1980s for The Associated Press and
Newsweek. Robert Parry's latest book is Secrecy & Privilege: Rise
of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq. It can be purchased at
It's also available at
All information posted on this web site is
the opinion of the author and is provided for educational purposes only.
It is not to be construed as medical advice. Only a licensed medical doctor
can legally offer medical advice in the United States. Consult the healer
of your choice for medical care and advice.