In 2022, I was honored to have an enlightening discussion with Daniella Mestyanek Young shortly after the release of her acclaimed memoir Uncultured. In this conversation a year later, we delved into the intricacies of her early departure from the Children of God (COG) religious sex cult, her military journey as a former Army Captain in the Intelligence Corps, and the unsettling convergence of undue influence. Since our last exchange, Daniella earned her Master’s in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from the Harvard Extension School.
The Journey from the Children of God Cult to the Military
Our recent dialogue with Daniella navigated through her birth into the COG cult, her courageous escape at the age of 15, and the formidable challenge of dismantling ingrained cult patterns while forging her path into adulthood. We explored how the absence of a conventional role model during her formative years may have influenced her decision to join the military. As a third-generation cult COG survivor COG, (her grandfather and mother preceded her), Daniella hated being in this sex cult. Like all those exiting being born in an authoritarian cult, she did not understand what a “normal” childhood looked like. Now, with some distance, Daniella has the clarity that her cult-induced dedication played a significant role in her motivation to join and excel in the military.
Reflecting on her decision to enlist, she remarked, “I needed structure.” Graduating as class Valedictorian, Daniella possessed an unyielding drive to succeed at all costs. The military, she found, channeled her programming of devotion and dedication to a higher cause seamlessly. “I ran faster than 96% of male soldiers because I was willing to leave it all out there every single day because that’s what a cult asks you to do,” she shared.
Confronting Sexism, Sexual Violence, and Rape Culture
Our conversation further delved into the pervasive issues of sexism, sexual violence, and rape culture within the military—a topic often overlooked by many Americans. Initially unaware of these realities, Daniella was confronted with the stark division of expectations for men and women early on in boot camp. While her 280-pound male counterparts were ordered to hold their 50-pound duffel bags above their heads, Daniella, at around 100 pounds, was expected to do the same. Shockingly, she was warned to anticipate being raped as a potential aspect of her military career. As highlighted in our interview, a 2021 Women’s Warrior Initiative Report revealed alarming facts about Military Sexual Trauma (MST), emphasizing the pressing need for awareness and change. It stated:
“One of the top three challenges with transition women warriors identified was coping with mental health issues related to MST (25%). Through the Annual Warrior Survey, 44% of women warriors reported experiencing MST as a result of their service. This survey found that more warriors have had experiences often related to MST, with nearly 73% of women warriors reporting experiencing sexual assault or harassment while in the military. Sexual trauma was an ever-present issue that colored discussions on nearly every topic during the roundtables.”
Challenging Undue Influence and Rape Culture in the Military
Daniella and I discussed the challenges of the rigid military contract, the disparity between recruiting promises, and the reality faced during basic training. The notion that individuals could leave the military at the end of their active-duty obligation was far more complex, with options evolving through schooling, activation, deployment, stop loss, and even resignation accompanied by psychological operations aimed at retention.
Addressing the insular nature of military culture, Daniella highlighted the advice given to disregard the perspectives of those entering or leaving military life. She stated, “The second you say you’re getting out, it’s sit down in that corner and don’t infect other soldiers with your idea of freedom in the outside world.” In my BITE Model of Authoritarian Control, I elucidate how data is controlled through deception and the compartmentalization of information between outsider and insider doctrines.
While both Daniella and I acknowledged a growing emphasis on stopping military blind obedience, we agreed that there is room for improvement in historical and current mind control tactics employed in military service. Emphasizing the importance of diverse military leadership, Daniella shared a poignant anecdote about her keen observation in an Afghanistan village—a perspective overlooked by her male counterparts. This diversity, she believes, contributed to preventing a potential catastrophe and underscores the need for analytically diverse minds in military operations.
Anticipating Daniella’s ongoing success as a cult-aware author and speaker dedicated to enhancing society’s awareness of these critical issues, we concluded that, as individuals who have escaped cults, we possess a shared ability to recognize unhealthy influence. In many ways, we serve as antibodies to the pervasive disease of mind control afflicting the world. Daniella is now actively crafting her second book, The Culting of America. For those seeking to identify mind control techniques and understand Undue Influence, I encourage you to explore the Education section further at the Freedom of Mind Resource Center.
Mestyanek Young, D. (2022). Uncultured: A Memoir. MacMillan Publishers.
Group Behavior Gal (Daniella Mestyanek Young) on Instagram
The Group Behavior Gal on TikTok
“Women Warriors Initiative Report – Wounded Warrior Project.” Accessed 18 Dec. 2023.