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Australian Doomsday Cult Survivor Warns Of Red Flags To Watch For

A cult doomsday survivor is warning others about the red flags she missed after being recruited in Sydney when she was 21.

Carli McConkey spent 13 years working for nothing, even enduring medical sterilisation while part of a doomsday cult called Universal Knowledge in Australia.

She is now an advocate for people drawn into these groups.

It was an interest in New Age philosophy which drew her in, she tells Jesse Mulligan.

"I'd just finished university and I went to a Mind Body Spirit festival in Sydney, it was back in the mid-90s, when New Age was a big deal."

She had a psychic reading from an individual who turned out to be a cult member, she said.

"She told me about this course called the Next Evolutionary Step, it was just, she said, just a weekend workshop. And you'll be given all the tools that you need to help you reach your potential, lower stress, build better relationships and better health."

A seminar at a Sydney hotel all seemed above board, she said.

"The leader was there at the front, very charismatic, and gave a great spiel."

She wound up doing the first course and was gradually drawn in, she said.

"We were told that there were 17 other programmes, and that we needed to keep going to evolve and work through our emotions.

"It was based on cleansing your cellular memory from this lifetime, other past lifetimes and your ancestors. And that was the tool they were telling you that would help you evolve."

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At this stage, she did not see any red flags, she told Jesse Mulligan.

"Every cult is going to have a different pull and a different aetiology. But definitely at the end of that programme, because of the all of the sensory overload, we were screaming and shouting on that programme to release emotions. And I think just at the end, you're in such a de-settled space, and you're told that to keep going and improve, you need to do more courses."

It can and does happen to anyone, she said.

"I was 21, but a lot of people are adults, a lot of people that get drawn into cults are doctors, lawyers, you name it; it can happen to anyone, unfortunately, if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Things intensified when she was on a course where things became abusive, she said.

"It was called The Final Step. We met at Queensland University and for about five hours, we had our ID taken off us, our watches, our wallets, we were verbally abused, we were told we weren't allowed to go to the toilet unless they told us we could.

"Then after about five hours, we were walked onto a blacked-out bus. And we were taken to an isolated property, we didn't know where we were. And we were basically there for eight days and seven nights.

"We were sleep deprived, we believe we only slept for around two hours per night."

Group think and mind control were the tools used to keep the cult members pliant, she said.

"It's all under the premise of, for that one, it was moving through your fears. If you can do this, then you'll set the benchmark for the rest of your life. But it was actually, calculatingly, a course that used all of the mind control techniques to fully indoctrinate us."

She became further embroiled when she started working as the leader's personal assistant, she said.

"I was in her close sphere, I was working personally with her as a personal assistant, I also worked on her property doing property maintenance, she had a 100-acre property in northern New South Wales, north of Byron Bay."

She also became debt-bonded to the leader.

"It brings in these slavery-type crimes as well, I had to pay off this $70,000 debt to her at $500 a week. I had to keep doing that. So, I was still in thrall to her and stayed with her for all that time.

"And, of course, any cult, it's going to have its good times as well as bad otherwise, you wouldn't stay there. Unfortunately, you know, the majority of it is bad."

She eventually escaped the cult with her three children, and said people with family and friends in similar situations should allow time for them to heal.

"They have been through something that you probably will never be able to understand. And most of them will have complex, post-traumatic stress disorder, complex being that they had stressful events over a prolonged period of time.

"And it's important, no matter what the cult member's done, they might have lied, tried to get money out of you, been a really horrible person, but that was the cult leader moulding their personality."

There were things to watch out for to avoid getting involved in cults in the first place, McConkey said.

"If a stranger love-bombs you, seems really positive and happy and they're inviting you somewhere, it's hard, because people want to make friends and you want to trust people. But the warning signs would be if they invite you somewhere, and they keep inviting you, and then it turns into once a week, to twice a week, to three times a week, to once a day."

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