Examples of intentional communities becoming mini-autocracies?
February 10, 2016 12:00 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone know any examples of intentional communities built off of ideals (e.g., kibbutzes, ashrams, communes, eco-villages, religious monasteries, etc.) where some individual(s) in charge got a little too powerful (or were too powerful to start out with) and turned the system into a self-serving, almost autocratic system?

The ideal examples would be those where I can then build a dataset of a certain kind of community (communes, kibbutzes, etc.). I would then identify those that were ideologically-consistent and those where the governance became a little autocratic, while also recording certain variables about the leaders or founders that are correlated with the transition from one to another (like whether the leaders' power was based on trust or resources or something). Thanks!

(also, if anyone knows studies that do something similar to this, I would be deeply appreciative of suggestions or references!)
posted by mrmanvir to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Mel Lyman and the Fort Hill community springs to mind.
posted by scruss at 12:12 PM on February 10, 2016

The Love Israel Family, in Seattle.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:12 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Rajneeshpuram and People's Temple come to mind. Although one could argue that these intentional communities were led by an autocrat to start with.
posted by Karaage at 12:15 PM on February 10, 2016

New Australia in Paraguay, a teetotal whites-only anarchist experiment led and destroyed by Billy Lane, a fascinating and pretty awful man.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 12:20 PM on February 10, 2016

The Westboro Baptist Church comes to mind.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:28 PM on February 10, 2016

A case can be made for the Skverer Rebbe. Here's a memoir from a guy who left. Here's the latest about one of his goons who torched a dissenter's house; here's another article about them. There's lots more on that site.

Also, don't forget the Branch Davidians.
posted by Melismata at 12:42 PM on February 10, 2016

Maybe look into The Farm (PDF) -- maybe not exactly the thing you were asking for but maybe useful. There's lots on the web about it -- I've linked to a much older article but there's a lot of more recent stuff that fills in the history after this article was written.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:47 PM on February 10, 2016

The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Mass., was an ashram led by Amrit Desai. After questionable leadership he moved on (ca. 1994) as described in link above. Thus, perhaps, an example of intentional community weathering moral and financial trainwreck, changing leader and finding a "mainstream" existence.
posted by xaryts at 1:06 PM on February 10, 2016

Jesus People USA
posted by phoenixy at 1:09 PM on February 10, 2016

The FLDS, perhaps? That's the fundamentalist church based mostly in Hilldale Utah/Colorado City Arizona that practices 'plural marriage' with very young girls and was run by Warren Jeffs. The FLDS began as a relatively-reasonable offshoot of the main Mormon church, but Warren Jeffs --- who in reality is probably still running it, from prison --- took it from a strict organization to a full dictatorship.
posted by easily confused at 1:12 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Um, all of them? Here's a list of utopian communities in the US. I visited the (former) Oneida community and learned about how John Noyes was the charismatic leader who held the community together and also started questionable practices like free love involving everybody, including children. I have read about other utopian communities that were similarly led by one or a small group of people.
posted by chickenmagazine at 1:19 PM on February 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

Lev Tahor. Nicknamed "The Jewish Taliban," their women and girls wear a full burka. They fled first to Canada, and now they're in Guatamala, where their leader Shlomo Helbrans I think is fighting extradition on various kidnapping and assault charges.
posted by Melismata at 1:36 PM on February 10, 2016

Heaven's Gate.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:26 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Jim Jones and the People's Temple.
posted by SemiSalt at 3:30 PM on February 10, 2016

I'm surprised to see The Farm mentioned. Can't link from phone, but Google for obituaries last year for Stephen Gaskin - he was well respected even in conservative Tennessee. My yoga teacher grew up there.
posted by mmiddle at 4:46 PM on February 10, 2016

The Findhorn foundation in Moray, Scotland.
posted by yoHighness at 5:48 PM on February 10, 2016

Look into Catholic convenant communities, as described here. These groups took on a lot of teaching from the (protestant) Shepherding Movement and the Discipleship Movement.

I was a member of such an originally Catholic group for 12 years, which under the influence of US Protestant missionaries themselves heavily influenced by the shepherding and discipleship movements turned into an authocratic fundamentalist sect. This was in fact after the Lauderdale Five disbanded and some of them retracted the shephering teachings. In our country shepherding only took off years after that retraction (which is still one of my pet peeves abot the whole thing: the protestant missionaries teaching the shepherding AFTER the retractions by the founders). The descriptions of practices in the article linked decribe the group I was in exactly (we were not officially affilated but they were considered our spiritual example to follow and we read their books and their leaders taught in our group).

A good and rather accurate history is found here and offers a lot of insight. However, the people behind that website are still practicing Christians and so the take is somewhat slanted and their goal is to prove the spiritual error which at times makes it hard to read. But I still appreciate the more fctual parts, of who influenced whom as they mirror my experience.

Memail me if you like.
posted by 15L06 at 1:53 AM on February 11, 2016

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