“I Escaped a Cult”– Inside the Greens

In 1982, Maura, along with her husband and 12-year-old daughter Rebekah, moved to Sacramento to join a religious community that was then called Free Love Ministries, in what Maura says was a quest to find purpose in life. “God was calling us, and we needed to be obedient to God’s calling,” she recalls.

But Maura’s time in the group, which now goes by the name Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps ultimately turned into a nightmare for her. Her ordeal is depicted in the National Geographic TV program  I Escaped a Cult.

According to the group’s website,  its co-founder “General” James Green was born in 1945 in Kentucky, but as a teenager hitchhiked to California, where he “became entwined in a hippie lifestyle.” It was there that he met his wife Lila, who now goes by the name of “General” Deborah.  In the early 1970s, according to the website, the two joined a group called the Bear Tribe, which sought to emulate a traditional Native American lifestyle.  But while on hitchhiking on a trip to scout land for the group in Montana, James Green was picked up by a driver who talked with him about Christianity, and he and his wife “felt the drawing presence of Jesus.”  The couple moved back to Kentucky and joined a local church, but where disillusioned by what they saw as its corruption. Eventually, after doing missionary work in Central America and working in a Salvation Army shelter in Miami, in the early 1980s they went back to California, where they started Free Love Ministries.

According to their website, the Greens gave their new community a “paramilitary structure,” supposedly inspired by the Salvation Army. It was a rationale that appealed at the time to Maura. “We believed that we were God’s end day army, and we had the important message that we needed to spread to mankind and that is that they needed to repent and that people were evil,” she recalls in the program.

According to a 1984 Sacramento Bee article on the group (reprinted here), Free Love Ministries’ philosophy of “aggressive Christianity” attracted at least 50 members, many of whom lived in four communal houses called “the camp” and worked at a chain of framing shops owned by a member. The group’s daily radio program, The Battle Cry, exhorted listeners to prepare for a war against Satanic forces, whom the group said were behind everything from psychoanalysis and karate to fairy tales, and who even caused colds. (The rhetoric grew so extreme that a Sacramento religious radio station decided to stop broadcasting it, out of fear that the group was turning into a cult.)  The group’s tracts railed against a wide range of other religious groups, from Buddhists and Mormons to Scientology. At one point, members were directed to follow an elaborate 50-day fasting regimen, in which they spent 21 days consuming only bread and water and a week of only fruit juices. As a 1989 Portland Oregonian article detailed, the Greens and their followers took to wearing military-style khaki uniforms with brass name plates and arm patches, and to addressing one another by rank.

According to Maura, members of the group were trained to surrender their free will. “We were taught to push any thought from our mind that was not something that the Greens would want,” she says in the program.

Maura says and Rebekah worked from dawn to dusk in one of the picture framing stores controlled by the group. According to the documentary, members ended up giving most of their earnings back to the organization, to cover rent, food, and the required tithe of 10 percent.

Even so, Maura says she never considered leaving. “I was afraid that if I left I would go to hell,” she explains in the documentary.

But Maura’s problems worsened in 1987, when the group accused her of “spiritual adultery,” which she says meant that she had placed something above God in her life. That something was her family. “They said that I idolized my children,” she recalls.

As punishment, Maura says that she was exiled to a shed in the backyard of the group’s compound, where she was given nothing but peanut butter sandwiches to eat and forced to work long hours chopping wood and doing other chores as penance.  She was not allowed to have hot water to bathe. Her daughter Rebekah recalls: “They told us that we were not allowed to speak to her, that she was to wear a black scarf on her head and that we were to call her ‘Forsaken.'”

Eventually, after six months of such treatment, Maura was kicked out of the community completely. “I was told that there was no hope for me,” she recalls. “And so they put me out on the street with a box full of belongings.” Rebekah was compelled to sign a letter denouncing her mother, which was then notarized.

Maura finally decided to fight back, filing a lawsuit against the group over her alleged mistreatment. In addition to being imprisoned, she claimed in the suit that she was tricked into agreeing to divorce her husband and give up legal custody of the three young children they had while she was in the group. In March 1989, according to this Sacramento Bee article,  a judge awarded her a $1.02 million judgment, after the group’s members refused to appear in court to contest the suit.  As a result of the litigation, the group was evicted from its four houses in Sacramento, which were seized as part of the judgment. The McClatchy News Service reported that the houses–which were equipped with security cameras, iron gates and “safe rooms” in case of attack–were gutted by members before leaving.

(On its website, the group maintains that it was innocent of wrongdoing against Maura.  “This pathetic lie has been told and retold hundreds of times over the years by her and her fellow antagonists,” a letter from James Green on the website states.)

But the lawsuit didn’t put the group out of existence. In the mid-1990s, the group relocated first to Oregon and then to New Mexico, according to an article in the El Paso Times, reprinted here. In 2005, the Gallup Independent  reported that James Green was jailed briefly after an alleged altercation with two other men on the group’s farm in Cibola County. The newspaper reported that Green allegedly tried to cut the men with a sickle, and in turn was beaten with walking sticks.

I Escaped a Cult takes viewers on a journey to discover the courageous stories of four people who escaped the clutches of abuse, mind control, and fear in two dangerous religious cults. Watch tonight, Tuesday April 10th,  at 10P etpt and read more I Escaped a Cult Stories here.


  1. […] “I Escaped a Cult”– Inside the… Apr. 9, 2012 (0) Nat Geo TV Blogs » […]

  2. Joe
    April 11, 2012, 12:37 am

    All relegion is mind control. If your lucky the relegion you practice is a mild form of mind control. But make no mistake all relegion is mind control. Good Day, Joe.

  3. Amanda
    April 11, 2012, 1:05 am

    I was unable to keep from shedding tears while watching “I Escaped A Cult”. Hearing the story of the two year old boy being beaten by a nail spiked board while crying out to God was more than I could bear. Please tell me that this cult is being monitored due to the allegations of abuse!

  4. Chris Ballmer
    Ventura, CA
    April 11, 2012, 1:07 am

    WoW! I just watched my life again on this show. It reminded me of the drive for purpose which caused me to accept whatever someone else told me when I believed it was ‘for God’. I really, truly hope that Warren Jeffs has his balls ripped off and fed to him in jail by someone. As well as these Militant idiots who are so egocentric and sad people. This was painful but a good reminder for me to be grateful that I wasn’t led down an even darker path during my 13 years in my cult in Goleta.

  5. shme
    far away from the crazies out there
    April 12, 2012, 1:50 pm

    I was so stunned and shocked by this episode of NGeo. I knew cults were out there, but since I am not a member of one, I didn’t know how crazy and sad and pathetic it was to be a member. I am so glad Warren Jeffs is locked away until he’s too old to remember anything……in the meantime, I hope he is somebody’s girlfriend and taking it up the A** like he did to the little boys. He had 60 wives with pussies to screw with and he did this to little boys?? WTF? He confesses in jail that he is not a prophet? no shit sherlock!! your father wasn’t either, he was just a crazy shithead like U….and you just happened to take over when your father went off to hell……and for Lila or General Crapface, she cannot speak for God…..shame on her!! She has no proof of what she’s saying…..show me the proof biatch!! May all of these craphole cults be taken down one by one and stop the crazy leaders who brainwash others for their own fun and joy!! Get a real life people…..join a regular church that the public goes to and learn about God there, not on someone’s property that locks u away from the public forever and severely traumatizes you and your children. Whew….that felt good to vent!! U rock N Geo!!

  6. Incogneto
    April 15, 2012, 9:10 pm

    I was in a cult in Liberty Missouri. I am battling the repercussions of leaving my wife behind, and am fighting for the rescue of my children. Watching this show reminded me a lot of the mind control that went on.

  7. Julie
    April 16, 2012, 4:26 pm

    Dear People, I belonged to the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps. for 20 Years, I left the group in 2004, it is important for people to understand that this group has done a lot of damage to destroy families and lives that were a big part of their organization. I have one son who I raise in the organization and by the mercies of the Lord he is standing on his own feet, as so am I. But to all those out there that have suffered tremendous pain and hurt mentally and emotionally due to groups such as this, my prayers and heart goes out to you and your families. There is so much more to tell in regards to the ACMTC group, I hope the Maura’s story will enlighten the public, it is a chip of the iceberg, hopefully someday the group will come to it’s end. Julianna

  8. DB
    April 16, 2012, 10:56 pm

    I too was in a cult and was reminded of what was done to me. However, since I read books on the subject, I understood what happened and overcame it. There is life afterward and a happy one. As I said on the other thread, I wish the producers had talked to me so I could encourage those still suffering from the repercussions. You do heal and you can be happy.

  9. Annette Blanco
    Kalona, Iowa
    April 17, 2012, 1:53 am

    To all of you who were in cults, I am very sorry for your ordeal. I disagree with Joe “that all religion is mind control.” If what is being taught does not line up with the Word of God; the Bible, then don’t believe it! RUN the other way! If there is such cruelty as the Greens cult, report it to the authorities! Don’t be a pushover! If you have left a cult, get some counseling to help you overcome the abuse you suffered. My prayers are with you. I’m a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the LIFE, the TRUTH, and the WAY!

  10. Kaia
    April 17, 2012, 9:00 pm

    These people give us sensible Christians a bad name. In the true Christian religion you are meant to live by the bible but not in the way these people have. God is not about brain washing, he is about helping your fellow man and in doing so you make rewards in this life and in the next.

  11. Marcos
    April 22, 2012, 5:48 pm

    All religions are cults. It’s nothing but deception, fear, control, and preying on the weak. I greatly enjoyed this show, I hope Nat Geo follows up with more like it.

  12. billbrowntrucks
    April 24, 2012, 1:44 pm

    When I went to the ACMTC website, I happened to end up on the homepage and then the Px2 files. What I found there was shocking in light of what has been put out by National Geo. It seems you guys only took one side and named your scenario, “I escaped a Cult,” when Maura says herself, “the group put her out.” Aside from that, there a lot of facts there that should be looked at rather than getting on a “cult-hunt” instigated by two women. The facts I found on the Px2 files reduce completely the so-called escape story to a complete shambles. Also, it is evident that both sides have not been presented and that in an effort to demonize the group, N.G. has been reduced to the level of tabloid hysteria rather than factual data. Another point is that Rebekah the cry baby is confessing her own sins of child abuse, then blaming the Greens. Rather lopsided view of blame game mindset and lack of decent reporting.

  13. Julie
    May 3, 2012, 9:43 pm

    I made comment on the Px2 files on you tube in regards to what the videos were saying, My comments were based on what I know about ACMTC after being in the group for 20 years, The video is very manipulating and is full of untruths, the Green’s are portrayed as heroes when in fact they have many lives and many families. Anyhow when I made my comments I was blocked from being able to comment. Why are they so afraid to admit that they are guilty?

  14. NeverAgain
    May 4, 2012, 9:50 pm

    IMHO The Greens are fearmongers using fear & more fear to control, manipulate & USE human beings. For whatever reasons, narcissism perhaps, they need to try & crush the spirits of their fellow man to make themselves feel better.
    They deserve to be treated the way they have treated others & I hope their day of reckoning comes soon because it is obvious they have hurt & damaged other people.
    No good god is like the Greens teach if you ask me.

  15. Bro. Bob
    June 30, 2012, 3:11 pm

    Strange! Where’s is the rest of the family on this matter?

  16. cesar
    August 9, 2012, 12:08 am

    it is amazing to just see all this documentary and think why did the government allow this to happen!! its amazing.. these cults violate every single principle and right of the US constitution! and tons of instruments of human rights! I cant even think how these people are allowed to have this practices violating the rights of the people and principally children! these people need to go to jail and have at least prision for life! they are using religion to commit these abuses and nobody makes anything!!

  17. tom
    August 26, 2012, 10:04 pm

    my family was also in the cult of the hutterites. We turned our lives to Jesus, and they found out and gave us a choice, renounce Jesus or leave the Colony, so we packed our bags and left. with a car full of personal stuff and nothing else. If anyone one says that if ur not part of this church or u have to follow certain rules or ur going to hell, they are liers. All u need is to trust that what Jesus did on the cross is ur only salvation from our sin state. And nothing else. its a personal inward thing, not outward dos and donts and activitys. Just a simple choice

  18. Cheyenne Fire
    September 18, 2012, 8:17 pm

    I have great empathy and feel the deep pain and shame of these victims. Cults and handler know exactly how to choose their victims and woo and groom you. Sleep deprivation, severely strict 300 calorie a day food intake, and constant Bible study can make you doubt your own sanity and mind. By the time the sexual abuse and sadistic perversions begin you have lost the ability to feel anything expect stark terror and a constant assurance you are evil. These handlers are well educated, law enforcement, physicians as well as blue collar and military. Many are pastors of large churches, They laugh at you if you threaten to tell, They rough you up and forbid you be treated by a doctor except the doctors in their church.

    They have long ago made you surrender any legal identification and passport.Like a humble obedient child you sign over your legal power of attorney and with them controlling every aspect of your money, you can find like me 75 thousand dollars in debt in credit cards I did not even own. They preach God and obedience and satan and demonic possession is anything that goes against what they say God has told them

    I almost died in one in Ohio. A hell hole, a place where I was literally the personal slave in every way of a married pastor and I have the scars and stab wounds and marks to prove it. They rape much more than your body, they they shred your soul and rape the spirit within you. Perverting not only self worth or trust, but creating a life filled with never understanding God at all. I wait for the day Karma bites their unholy butt and then I will rejoice because then there will be no more innocent victims.

  19. Nat
    September 18, 2012, 11:46 pm

    Why?!!!! Is the FBI not doing anything about the Greens and other such cult groups? This should never happen on American soil! They need to be taken out! This is not religious freedom, it is child abuse and other such human rights atrocities! The FLDS shouldn’t exist after Warren Jeffs I hope someone in prison gives him what he deserves!

  20. Nat
    September 19, 2012, 12:03 am

    By the way, the women in the docmentary about the Greens are guilty of child abuse…there is no way, as a mother, if anyone told me to beat my children that I would. WTH, how could you commit these horrible acts against your own children! The Greens need to be taken down by federal law enforcement!

  21. Jonnie
    September 20, 2012, 10:58 pm

    I asked myself during and after this episode, how is this different from ANY religion? I mean, it’s all basically manipulating live people with their own wishes regarding their afterlife. Heaven=good. Hell=bad. God is the way to good. Now listen to me as I interpret God’s will to help you ensure your salvation. My answer was, many religions have the benefit of being a manipulation of good will toward other humans. But not all are like this, as we see people manipulated into murdering others as a direct path toward salvation. And then there are these really over the top cults.At least heavens gate expunged themselves without murdering anyone that didn’t believe as they did.

  22. Yerri j
    Rancho cucamonga ca
    September 24, 2012, 4:53 pm

    Please help my parents are still in a cult i along with a few friends escaped, how can i help my parents? I want to tell my story.

  23. Samantha
    Manitoba, Canada
    September 26, 2012, 10:30 am

    I was just a girl when my family moved to Sacramento from Manitoba. It’s taken YEARS to accept everything that happened in this place. I have a lot of questions, and anger towards those who decided it was in their power to decide how I was disciplined and where I slept, where I ate, and decided I had to dress in a red t shirt and black dress. My dad took me from this place, and consumed my mother for another 3 years. You talk of breaking families, you have no fu$&”!? Idea. I was 6 or so. You think I want to remember this in my 30’s?

  24. Nate
    December 13, 2012, 12:39 am

    I spent almost all of my childhood in this cult, got out when I turned 18. The person who donated his sperm to my mother (Steve AKA Phillip) is still in there. Yeah, they are a bunch of a$$ holes, and they certainly deserve to be dealt with. But what can be done? They continue to spread their hatred, and do their best to take advantage of gullible people, who are “searching”. I’m glad my mother did this show, she’s a strong person, and a great mother. The cult does their best to slander her, but anybody of sound mind can see right through their garbage.

  25. Jeebus
    December 14, 2012, 12:29 am

    It’s true, religions like Christianity encourage and are based on the same principles and indoctrination methods commonly used by Cults and the God of the bible has the exact character of a cult leader. He demands blind obedience, to have faith, to believe without evidence or irrespective of evidence to the contrary is deemed virtuous. When in reality, it is a terrible thing which encourages closemindedness and ignorance. Jesus also said that in order to be his disciple people must first hate their family, a classic cult technique. God demands to be loved above everything else or else you will be tortured in the afterlife. God can hear your thoughts. Trying to control your behavior through fear. The sexual repression, trying to repress who you are. Telling people they are born with sin and can only be saved if they follow the religion and that if they don’t they will be tortured forever. Heaps of the basic elements of most religions are classic cult mechanisms designed to encourage blind obedience to an ego-maniacal authority so that people can be manipulated and controlled.

  26. Kassure
    February 22, 2013, 4:40 pm

    These Cults come in the way of truth and end up in self destruction the persuasion becomes serving an ego more than a principal. The group then shifts from the uplift of the community to, what would you do to someone who was not guilty to get what you want…. Just because you decided to leave after you had been wronged. Mean while titling God’s name to it. I never was a believer in Mind control until I left this so called organization. There is no safe place with people who think like this every one to some degree is at risk. These aren’t religious people, They are a click of criminals …Think for a minute , God’s Attributes are not manipulation and Deception. Now you have past research of people who have conducted themselves in this manner during times in the past and History does not look well on them…. I feel for the families who were around this type of nonsense and did not no what the hell was going on. I am now doing my research and this is something that should be taught in schools of what to look out for.. This is more important then sex education. I am reaching out to one who have overcome so I can get stronger marshk80@yahoo.com

  27. Maura
    May 18, 2013, 8:03 am

    We were delighted that ye escaped the cults. Jesus is the only answer. Jesus offers unconditional love. Having. a personal relationship with Jesus is life changing. . Jesus has already healed all yer scars,.Please let Jesus bring ye into yer new Christian Families.We will be praying for ye.

  28. Donkey Stench
    June 4, 2013, 8:27 pm

    People like Lila Green & Warren Jeffs suffer from mental illness plain and simple. They’re not gods or representitives of Gods word. They’re just hustlers who look after number 1 at the expense of others. Imagine a fight between Polygamists and Scientologist?

  29. james
    June 7, 2013, 4:55 pm

    ppl lik them need to ask god forgiveness n stop mind other ppl business

  30. Shadow
    June 27, 2013, 9:44 am

    @Joe James 1:26-27
    If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. << That is true religion, according to the Scriptures sir. TRUE religion, is not about manipulation or "mind control" it is about human values, and edifying people. What the Greens do is a selfish power grab for their own ego-boost. Nothing to do with "helping" people.

  31. HM
    United States
    December 26, 2013, 6:18 pm

    My mother was recruited into this cult in the early 80s in Sacramento. At the time, I was about 9 years old. She uprooted myself and my sister, and moved us away from family and friends and we lost contact with everyone in our lives. The church was awful. I remember meetings that were held in the basement, and watching people scream/cry/pray in “tongues.” It was a traumatic experience. My mother would go on 30 day fasts because Jim and Lila told her to. Therefore, my sister (12 at the time) and I would essentially not eat much either. Everything they preached about was focused on demons, possession. At one point, I recall being forced to put all of my toys/dolls in a garbage can because they were “cursed.” Eventually my mother stopped attending church and disassociated with the members but continues to join small churches (I call them cults) that preach the same awful message. 30 years later, I am still affected by that time in my life.

  32. mike
    December 30, 2013, 8:35 pm

    im a late comer after seeing documentary ona&e and maybe better late than never.maura it seems is owed quite a sum of money and right now im in between jobs and could use an infusion of cash.my question to maura is if i could get the cult tomake good on their debt could i get1/2 the winnings

  33. Cody Knowlton
    April 10, 2014, 11:38 pm

    These guys are assholes i just want to beat the living crap out of them these people have suffered enough i want to find them and just blow up their house right now those poor people need to be treated right with respect

  34. Wendy
    June 17, 2014, 3:28 pm

    They harmed children…..perhaps they should tangle with some of us adults…. that seems more fair, doesn’t it?

  35. Zee
    June 21, 2014, 11:36 pm

    “The newspaper reported that Green allegedly tried to cut the men with a sickle, and in turn was beaten with walking sticks”

    LOL best line in this article

  36. susan killip
    United States
    June 22, 2014, 12:51 am

    Where’s Anonymous when you need them. These people (FLDS) have enclaves in Arizona and New Mexico. The adults involved should know better but the children are innocent.

  37. Shelly Lawson
    June 28, 2014, 5:42 pm

    I was in an existing cult called Life Changers International in Kaiserslautern, Germany. The leader called himself an Apostle. Women are now coming forward with stories of how the so-called bible leader put his nasty hands and body on them and took advantage of them. He has a nasty woman he calls a prophetess who in reality is his squeeze. Both of them are liars.

    It is people like this that need castration and feel every bit of the pain during the procedure.

  38. Cheryl
    Orange Co. CA
    July 1, 2014, 10:08 pm

    Blessings to all of you who survived and came out with your story. Devastating…a cult takes some truth and mixes it with a lie so it makes sense, and is palatable. These testimonies bring to light the importance of knowing the Savior and The Word so we have a strong foundation in God’s promises, and do not fall for anything that comes our way. We must not check our brains at the door when we enter a church. Walking into a church does not make you Christian any more than walking into a garage turns you into a car. It’s a personal relationship with Jesus [Gr. for “God with us”] that saves you. Church is religion–what man does for God; but Christianity is what God did for man–so it is not a religion, but relationship. We must stand guard that our emotions don’t carry us away to dark places lest we become like the perpetrators. That kind of disdain and bitterness is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to drop dead. God will have His say-so in the end–for us all. Pervert Warren Jeffs is serving 2 life sentences plus 20 yrs in penitentiary, and will never get out.

  39. Eric
    Sacramento, CA
    September 8, 2014, 7:56 am

    The Greens aren’t really bad people…yes, they are definitely out of touch with reality…but they are sincere in the fact that they believe that they are actually getting orders from God…I was a member for a year and a half…I really don’t hate any one of them…but yes, they are consumed with fear of Hell, the devil, and judgment from God…from what I can tell is that they where burn outs that really couldn’t fit in in the real world and they didn’t want to have to go out and find a job…so they just created their own utopia in a way…but Maura didn’t escape…she was kicked out…if Lila didn’t ostracize her…she and her entire family would still be living there…They didn’t deserve that 1.2 million dollar bill…they were just too uneducated to realize that all they had to do was show up and the case would have been thrown out or greatly reduced so both parties can continue with their lives…1.2 mil…really????

  40. concerned
    November 12, 2014, 2:03 am

    after hearing the story of the 2 year old being shut in a basement alone for a month and beaten with a nailed bored, UM WTF? Take these people down!!!

  41. Skwyrley
    New Orleans
    May 6, 2015, 10:51 pm

    Eric, the Greens are bad people. You may have left the cult physically but your mindset is stuck in their twisted ideology! Abusing children and taking advantage of misguided people isn’t “religious” it’s CRIMINAL ACTIVITY.

  42. Trapped in a Cult
    October 5, 2016, 10:54 am

    Cyberstalking a entire family 24/7 is mind control.

    Yeah, you’re a CULT.