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People Unlimited the History of an Arizona Cult, the CBJ Medicine Show, and Secret World of the Physically Immortal
Charles Paul Brown and his partners BernaDeane Brown (also his wife), and James Russell Strole
People Unlimited has a long history a cult in Arizona, I have had experience with them personally. Which is why I am writing this...
" People Unlimited supports progressive individuals in achieving infinite health, wealth and well being through the pursuit and practice of death free living. Inspiring events and incisive life coaching help people of all ages to grow and tap into their unlimited human potential. People Unlimited also serves as the hub for an informal but impassioned community of like-minded people. This community offers invaluable empathy and encouragement for those seeking to live without limitations. We invite you to experience the excitement, power and fun first hand, and to contact us about organizing an event in your area ." - from the People Unlimited business website.
As Phoenix Paganism examiner, it is important to look at groups that are part of the Phoenix, Arizona religious landscape - this is one that perhaps should be looked at more closely.
It is for the reader to judge for themselves.
It is always hard to tell what a group or movement is from the outside looking in. So to be fair to People Unlimited in this set of articles, videos from Youtube that promote their philosophy are being included. In essence the ideas they promote are not bad or new, they combine ideas that have been used in self empowerment, network marketing, new age, and neo-religious groups before their existence and since. In essence they are not preaching anything inherently bad, in fact their focus and energy to most is outwardly positive.
So this examiner encourages you to take a look at the People Unlimited Website and judge for yourself what they appear to be about. Some of you may want to contact them and pursue their organization personally, maybe even attend meetings.
People Unlimited is an old group under the same management so to speak and has been in an institution in Phoenix, Arizona ( but more specifically in a Scottsdale location these days ) for quite a long time.
People Unlimited has been known under other names, aka The Eternal Flame, People Forever, and CBJ ( being the first letters of its founders names ) - it is the brainchild of Charles Paul Brown and his partners BernaDeane Brown (also his wife), and James Russell Strole.
In 1960, Charles Paul Brown (now 76), the group founder, a former lounge singer and traveling salesman, met BernaDeane, now 74. She was a preacher's daughter. The two began traveling around the preaching immortality to anyone who would listen. In 1968, Strole, now 61, joined the circuit.
Here are a few public statements from meetings held by the three:
"I want to break the appointment with death in your body. We're the new heaven! ...Get off death row! I'm opening the prison doors for the cells and atoms of your body!" -Charles Paul Brown
"Quit buying into death. We're offering you the greatest freedom there has ever been on this planet." -James Russell Strole
"I don't care that there's no proof...The biggest cult on this planet is the cult of death, and I don't belong to it...It's impossible to live in a world that is programmed to die, and seek immortality." - BernaDeane Brown
This examiner attended three meetings of People Unlimited and these statements were indicative of what the message they preached was like. It was very supercharged and very orchestrated, and the crowd was going wild for the message.
This examiner even felt the surge of energy and was swept up in it.
The idea of Physical Immortality was potent, and these three were well rehearsed and trained speakers, especially BernaDeane. She was a masterful speaker, and carried her message with a fervor and energetic power that you rarely see in public or private speaking.
There is much going on under the surface of this group. They openly claim they are a religion, a sect, and a cult...but during their meetings also openly contradict this and claim that they are none of these.
They have been in Arizona off and on since its early days, due to the large population of retired and elderly persons in the Arizona area. They have an ever growing following, and are tirelessly working at making People Unlimited profitable....
Charles Paul Brown, BernaDeane Brown, and James Russell Strole
The biggest cult on this planet is the cult of death, and I don't belong to it...
Now continues a look at the Phoenix, Arizona based organization called People Unlimited. Now let us take a look at some of the controversy that has occurred with the group during its existence, once again trying to be fair and as unbiased as possible.
Both of these quotes are from the People Unlimited website.
" Charles Paul Brown, BernaDeane and James Strole have spoken on physical immortality in 23 countries across four continents. As a result, People Unlimited has become a focal point for an informal but impassioned community of like-minded people from around the world. Collectively, these exceptional people form an environment in which, for the first time, immortals can truly feel at home."
" People Unlimited Charities has been created to help save lives. We donate time and raise money to help feed and shelter people in the Phoenix area and around the world."
Although the media has been quiet these days, over a decade ago People Unlimited had much media attention, which caused them to reshift their focus, and to change their name both publicly and privately. Before going further it is important to express the opposing view of People Unlimited, which can be found by watching the videos offered at the Rick Ross website. This site looks out for cults and various fringe groups throughout the world and has much documentation on People Unlimited and its evolution.
This is a portion of the information made public by Victor Dricks of the Phoenix Gazettein an article published on January 27, 1994. Part of a series of media releases concerning the group, then known as the Eternal Flame :
" The Scottsdale-based organization, which claims 30,000 adherents in 18 countries, released financial records Wednesday. The effort was aimed at rebutting recent charges that millions of dollars were being collected from members, with the bulk going to its three founders, Charles Paul brown, BernaDeane Brown and James Russell Strole.
The charges were made recently in GQ and Elle magazines and the London Daily Telegraph, and on the ABC-TV news program "Day One" and the nationally syndicated television program "American Journal."
They are complete poppycock, the group's founders said during a news conference.
"We commissioned this audit voluntarily to dispel the rumors, innuendos and accusations formulated by those who are either uninformed or who have 'hidden agendas' which have been spread by a small segment of irresponsible press who were quick to provide exposure but slow to check the facts," said Flame Foundation general manager Art Bejerno.
An audit of the organization's 1992-93 year, prepared by accountant Gregory Longstrom of Curosh & Williams, shows the three founders received salaries totaling $431, 597. Strole was paid $164,616. The Browns, who are married, were paid $266,981. The three also divided a $52,000-a-year housing allowance (they live together), and enjoyed the use of a late model Cadillac and a Land Rover, putting their total compensation each to more than $150,000 last year.
Bejarno dismissed reports that his organization is a "money-making machine" that "sold" the promise of physical immortality to the gullible who paid $650 each to attend the group's annual convergence in Scottsdale in July. The founders' earnings are "delayed compensation" since they invested three decades of their time and money to develop the physical immortality movement before they received any compensation, Bejarno said..."
Here is some of what is said in response to these media representations of People Unlimited from their own website:
" At the time these attacks were made we had operated for many years as a non-profit religious foundation, first as The Eternal Flame, then as The Flame Foundation, and finally as People Forever International, when we were also known as CBJ. We believe this was one of the main reasons why we were vilified so vehemently - because, although we came from a religious background, we had no attachment to any particular religious doctrine and our message was completely different from that of the religious status quo.
Through the late 1980s and early 1990s we continued to move away from a religious expression, recognizing its limitations, and finally dissolved the religious foundation. In 1996 we incorporated People Unlimited Inc. as a profit-making, self-development and coaching business. Since then, we have limited our dealings with the media to "live" interviews only, so that what we say can't be taken out of context or edited by an unscrupulous reporter.
This is because we realize that pursuing an unlimited life and encouraging people to value themselves and each other above anything else, stimulates controversy and is against how most people are choosing to live. We happen to believe though, that this is where true freedom lies. And we feel passionately that everyone should be given the opportunity to at least consider the possibilities.
Whether you agree with that stance or not it's important to be aware that most of the information that is being circulated about us is by people who have never met us, talked to us or even attended one of our events. So they really have no idea who we are or what we're about.
We happen to believe that our record speaks for itself. In the nearly 40 years we have worked together, neither we, individually or collectively, nor any of the organizations we have been responsible for, have ever been sued or been the subject of any other type of legal action.
So, should you come across any derogatory information about us, we ask that you please check the source. Read their disclaimers: judge for yourself just how much value to place on what they present as fact. Just because something has been published does not make it true. It is our opinion that anyone who is not willing to stand by what they say or what they pass on, is an unreliable source."
Fair enough. It is this examiner trying to report fairly that this information is being printed here. In the final portion of this article, this examiner will give a more personal viewpoint and express what was experienced in the three People Unlimited gatherings which were personally attended in the Phoenix / Scottsdale, Arizona area this last year.
One reason CBJ's need to be together is that ....
Another issue that seemed cultish and problematic was the integration with the group, particularly CBJ the leaders themselves has been the actual practices involved with the acquisition of Physical Immortality as laid out by People Unlimited doctrine.
Here is a bit more information from Rick Ross, and an article by Cathryn Creno of the Arizona Republic, in July 28, 1993 :
Rick Ross, a Valley cult-deprogrammer who was a consultant for the FBI on the Branch Davidian standoff near Waco, Texas. Ross says he has a "thick file" of complaints about CBJ from relatives of members.
"They haven't found the Fountain of Youth, they've found the Fountain of Cash," Ross said. Ross called CBJ's cellular awakenings "a manipulation of trance and mind control.
""What it boils down to is you have to be with the group and touch members of the group to live forever. If you become disconnected, you will die," he said. Massey, who, like many other CBJ members, moved from England to Scottsdale to be closer to other immortality seekers, defended her behavior, however.
'Programmed to die'
"It's impossible to live in a world that is programmed to die," and seek immortality, she said.
One reason CBJ's need to be together is that immortality requires regular "cellular intercourse" with other immortals. This kind of intercourse does not involve nudity or sex - hugs, hand-holding or emotional intimacy suffice."In England, you just don't touch people," Massey explained. "but most people really need to be touched and loved and wanted. To me, having people who want me alive forever is more important than anything."
These are from notes made after attending three meetings of People Unlimited by Blake Hall :
" All three meetings had a divide and conquer aspect about them. They were dividing the sheep from the leaders for purposes of getting everyone oriented. You were not required to pay the admission fee, or if you joined the monthly dues of membership, in fact - you were not obligated to pay anything, but a tally was immediately started that you would later compensate the organization until paid in full. This seems strange...if you are going to be Physically Immortal, then apparently you will owe money to People Unlimited until the end of time, and are obligated to equally lengthy a debt. The friend that I attended three meetings with was in a very bad state of financial affairs currently, yet she felt obligated to privately apologize to her friends at People Unlimited for not being able to pay them her back debts, even though she was at the time unable to make her own house payments. It made me wonder how much money she had already given them, and if that had anything to do with her current financial status. But that I do not know for sure either way..."
" The third meeting was very inspirational, and I left with a lot of energy and excitement, but then I began to analyze what the other people around me were doing, especially ones that seemed very integrated with the group for some time. There were people there who were professionals giving all of their free time and money to this organization, there were poorer people and families becoming in debt to the organization and willingly. The fact is this group has all the earmarks of scam artists, cult worship, and is mobilizing with web streaming and an international audience. The meetings that followed just confirmed my feelings about People Unlimited more."
" They have the air of charlatans, and possibly the ability to evolve into something more sinister and possibly dangerous...In fact my main problem with CBJ and People Unlimited, is not that what they are preaching is so off base. In principle I believe much of what they are saying is absolutely true. But the facts are clear when you see how they conduct themselves. Like all cult leaders, they tell their followers that only through their contact with the group will anyone else be able to transcend their mortal coil. They are not only necessary for the group to transcend to a state of physical immortality. But all the world must have them do so, and we must be careful or they will take it away from all of us. For it is their gifts to the world,...Well you know what People Unlimited, especially BernaDeane. I will spend any free time of my life that some one will listen to me to prove you to be the snake oil sellers that you are, I see through you and I dare you to hurt anyone else. Period, don't you have enough wealth from all the people you have scammed over the years, do you just keep needing more and more like vampires? I am here and so are a lot of others like myself...We don't believe in you, all humans can raise their consciousness freely. We don't need suckers and liars like the likes of you to do so. I dare you to admit yourselves for the frauds you are. If you are as wise as you lead your little flocks to believe. I will be watching you..."
This is one lament opinion, but People Unlimited is alive and active in Phoenix, Arizona...and many people here may not realize that they have a history of problems and bad press.
Some of it deserving. Some perhaps not.
A cult perhaps, or just a modern medicine show?
Or who knows what as James, BernaDeane, and Charles the three voices of People Unlimited approach centennial years, and we see if they are truly Physically Immortal.
Or mortal after all. We shall see.