Creffield and Milieu Control

Milieu control is where a leader of a cult--or what Dr. Lifton calls a totalistic environment--controls all that his followers "sees and hears, reads and writes, experiences and expresses." By controlling all communication--both external and internal--cult leaders who claim to have the "truth" do what they can to insure that this is the only "truth" their followers are exposed to.

"Milieu control is maintained and expressed by intense group process," Lifton writes, "continuous psychological pressure, and isolation by geographical distance, unavailability of transportation, or even physical restraint. Often the group creates an increasingly intense sequence of events such as seminars, lectures and encounters which makes leaving extremely difficult, both physically and psychologically."

Franz Edmund Creffield achieved milieu control over his flock by physically isolating them at a camp on Smith Island, a small, uninhabited island three miles from Corvallis. There he held marathon length services, twelve hours if it was a short service, twenty-four hours if it was a typical service.

He later emotionally isolated his flock by having them shun everyone who was not a member of his church. Under his guidance wives refused to so much as shake hands with their husbands because Creffield had ordered them to not touch anyone--even their husbands--who had "relations with the wicked world."

If someone in the flock questioned Creffield, Creffield would announce that God had told him that this individual should also be shunned. And shunned they were.

In situations such as this Lifton says an individual "is deprived of the combination of external information and inner reflection which anyone requires to test the realities of his environment and to maintain a measure of identity separate from it. Instead, he is called upon to make an absolute polarization of the real [what the cult leader says is the truth] and the unreal [everything else]."


An excerpt from Chapter Four of Holy Rollers
in which Creffield banishes members of his flock from Smith Islandin order to maintain Milieu Control

Florence SeeleyIf a woman refused [to obey Creffield, or Joshua as he now called himself]? Joshua immediately denounced her and declared she was "carnal and of the Devil." And all of God's Anointed knew what happened to such.

"All the company labored in vain to pray old Nick out of him," the Corvallis Times once reported. "Salvation by that method was finally given up, and Prophet Creffield took the lad out into a private tent to "whip the devil" out of him, as the sect styles the process. Ed Sharp, who has since backslidden, raised the flap of the tent to see how the two were making it, so the story goes, and the apostle and his patient saw the act. In the dim light they took Ed for the devil and both took after him. Ed ran his best, but was overtaken according to the account, and given such a beating that he appeared in town next day with two black eyes."

Ed Sharp wasn't the only one to backslide. Burgess Starr told his brother, Clarence, that he too was beginning to have doubts about Joshua [as Creffield now called himself]. Up until now he had believed in Joshua's teachings, had remained true to the tenets of the church, but now he didn't know. Some of Joshua's actions seemed to border on the criminal. Truthfully, Burgess wasn't sure whether Joshua--Creffield--really was an apostle.

Creffield couldn't risk dissent. He announced that God had revealed to him that Burgess was "insincere" in his faith and he should be shunned. And it wasn't just Burgess who was insincere in his faith. All of the men in the camp--all but himself, Frank Hurt, Lee Campbell, and Sampson Levins--were insincere in their faith and should be shunned. Anyone who was not a believer should be shunned.

And so Burgess, Clarence, and all the other men in camp were shunned. And not just by Creffield, but by the whole flock! Even their wives shunned them.

Have they all lost their minds? Just like that, on the say-so of some religious fanatic, kith and kin, people who've known us all our lives, now believe we're "infidels"?

In a sense, yes, everybody had gone mad. For weeks on end, engaging in prayer services practically every waking moment--frenetic sessions that would exhaust circus acrobats--all the while living off of little more than peaches stolen from a nearby orchard, no one in camp had the energy to resist. It was easier to just go along with whatever Joshua dictated--no matter how outrageous.

Joshua tells them to shun kith and kin and they shun kith and kin. Joshua was God's elect, and they were God's Anointed. It was either holiness or Hell, and they were opting for holiness--and holiness was whatever Joshua told them holiness was.

"When he placed his hands on their heads they were absolutely in his power and did anything he told them," a despondent Burgess said. "He abused them and called them names, but they never resented it, and had he told them to jump in the river they would not have hesitated a moment, but plunged in."

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