WASHINGTON -- Virginia "Ginni” Thomas, in the 1980s, had a moment when she realized that she was in a cult group and she wanted to be "deprogrammed." She said these decades-old comments, which were obtained by NBC News.
Thomas' involvement in Lifespring, a company that advertises training seminars that claim to unlock superhuman potential, made her wonder about her own personality. She became a fervent anti-cult crusader after her successful deprogramming, which was controversial. She was involved for many years with the largest anti-cult group in America, helping to set up workshops for congressional staffers, which helped them combat groups like Lifespring.
Thomas explained that when you leave a cult you have to find balance in your life. "And the other angle is to get a sense for yourself and what made you join that group. What are the open questions that remain unanswered?
Four people who were with Thomas during her anti-cult activism in the 1980s and 1990s stated that it was difficult to reconcile Thomas now. After spending years trying to expose cults these people found Thomas’s attempts to promote outrageous plans to overturn 2020 results, especially the text messages in which she mentioned false election conspiracies that originated from QAnon circles online, shocking. Both Democrats and Republicans have stated that QAnon supporters display cult-like behavior.
Rick Ross, an expert on cults who was a "deprogrammer" and a former "deprogrammer", said that Ginni Thomas was active in the late 1980s and early 1990s and then took a completely different path. He knew Thomas through their anticult activism. I admire her work in the '80s. She should be credited for that."
Thomas, Clarence Thomas' wife, is a prominent figure in conservative grassroots activism. Her repeated repetition of election conspiracies raised questions about her influence over her husband's judicial thinking. Multiple requests from NBC News for comment on this article were not answered. She also has not made public comments about her text messages.
Two conspiracy theories that Thomas referred to in the aftermath the 2020 election were promoted and embraced by QAnon followers. One theory is that Democrats and other election officials were being held and sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba while the votes were being counted.
Another claim is that Trump watermarked mail-in ballots to track voter fraud. This is both false and absurd. Despite this, QAnon supporters spread the claims online after November 3, and references are found in QAnon videos, social media posts, and message boards.
According to The Washington Post, CBS News, The New York Times, and other outlets, she sent text messages to Trump's former chief staff Mark Meadows, in which she stated that "ballot fraud conspirators" were being "arrest & detained right now & over the coming days & will be living on barges off GITMO where they will face military tribunals of sedition." NBC News has not seen the text messages.
She wrote, "Watermarked ballots from over 12 states were part of a massive Trump & Military White Hat sting operation in 12 crucial battleground states."
Peter Georgiades, a Pittsburgh-based lawyer, said, "I don’t know how anyone would go for that again," and was referring to the conspiracy theories Thomas mentioned in her text messages.
Georgiades met Thomas through their mutual involvement with the anti-cult movement. She spoke at an anti cult briefing for congressional personnel that Thomas organized in 1986.
"Here Ginni Thomas is sort of getting sucked back into the basically equivalent cult again," stated one participant in a 1988 anticult briefing for congressional personnel Thomas organized. He spoke anonymously out of fear of retribution.
Motivational training seminars were very popular in the 1980s.
Thomas, who was then known as her maiden name, Lamp, was a recent law student, and a descendant of a prominent Omaha Republican family. She had moved to Washington to work in the office for Rep. Hal Daub (R-Neb.), a friend of hers whose campaign she also ran. She first met Lifespring in Washington.
Lifespring, which is also known as NXIVM or "Sweat Lodge Guru James Arthur Ray"'s 2009 course that resulted in three deaths, are what experts call Large Group Awareness Trainings. These New Age self-help programs promise almost superhuman mental abilities, but only through complete submission.
Lifespring inductees were subject to grueling, multi-day sessions that saw them psychologically beaten down. Thomas, a Washington Post reporter in 1987, described one session where trainees were forced to change into bathing suits and then subjected to body shame.
Janice Haaken, psychologist, and Richard Adams, sociologist, wrote that the emphasis was on abandoning an undifferentiated unknowable other in an article published in Lifespring's academic journal. They witnessed a man suffer a psychotic breakdown during a training session in 1981 in Seattle. The organizers criticized him and concluded that the training had "essentially pathological" effects for anyone who participated.
According to a 1987 Washington Post article, several trainees were killed, including a 27 year-old model who received no medical attention for an asthma attack. This led to a $450,000 settlement. After a string of lawsuits, the group that claimed to have trained hundreds upon thousands of people was defunct in 1990.
Thomas admitted in interviews and speeches to anticult groups that she was sucked in. She even told the American Bar Association that she was brainwashed according to a 1991 Washington Times article. A close friend claimed that Thomas' involvement in Lifespring was "baffling" while Daub stated, "It was something that she had to get rid of."
In 1987, she explained to The Washington Post that she had mentally and emotionally become so involved with this group that it was threatening my relationships with my family and friends. "My best friend visited me, and I preached at her using the tough attitude they teach."
The Rev. Rodney Wilmoth, a member of Omaha's St. Paul United Methodist Church who kept in touch, said that Thomas "began to feel the organization had an cultlike mentality."
He said, "There's an innocence about her that you need to be cautious with." She was seeking spiritual growth and believed that those people would do right.
Thomas made the decision to leave Lifespring. But it wasn't easy. In 1985, Thomas was in touch to Kevin Garvey who was a former stockbroker and had turned full-time into a cult deprogrammer. According to interviews with anti-cult activists and Washington Post reporters, Garvey helped her to cut ties and move to another part of the country to lie low at one time.
According to video of the 1986 panel's remarks, she stated that she was in Lifespring, and she was what she considered to be "deprogrammed." She also said the experience was difficult because anti-cult members downplayed the trauma she experienced.
She can be seen sat next to a group of ex-cult members, who share their stories.
She said that all the things that brought me to Lifespring are still there. "And I suppose I struggle with not getting too involved in fighting the cult. But I know it's important."
Thomas had been working as an attorney at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and was involved in the anti-cult movement. He helped to organize at least two briefings on the dangers of cults for congressional staffers. The world of anti-cult activism wasn't without controversy.
A string of high-profile suicides and murders by cult members culminated in the 1978 Jonestown massacre. Self-trained "deprogrammers", who were trained in deprogramming, stepped in to save them. They believed that cultists had been converted by mind control or "on the spot hypnosis" as Ted Patrick, who was considered to be the "father of Deprogramming," stated. Therefore, they needed to be expelled.
Parents offered the services of deprogrammers to rescue their children. This sometimes meant "snatching" their children and keeping them under their control for days until they were "snatched" from their alleged trance.
A Washington state jury awarded nearly $5 million in damages to a Pentacostal member who was abducted by cult deprogrammers in 1991. He was held captive for five days before he accepted the deprogramming.
The ACLU warned that "deprogramming" was a fancy term for a variety kidnapping. A 1982 survey of more than 400 ex-cult members revealed that 40% of those who were "deprogrammed" had been forced to be "forcefully taken (kidnapped)".
Many deprogrammers became "exit counselors", referring to themselves as people who work with consenting individuals, similar to other drug and alcohol interventions. According to a survey of techniques used in deprogramming, Garvey was instrumental in Thomas' escape from Lifespring.
This criticism was front and center in Thomas' anti-cult work. She was a prominent member of the Cult Awareness Network. This group was accused of facilitating kidnappings, and forced "deprogramming" cult members. It connected concerned parents with deprogrammers.
Clarence Thomas was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1991 by critics from left-leaning Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Religious right activists also raised concerns about Thomas' wife's involvement with the anti-cult movement. It often targeted groups that other people considered legitimate religions. The distinctions between them were often blurred and subjective.
Thomas was the master of ceremonies at a Washington dinner that the Cult Awareness network hosted in 1989. Pat Ryan, a high-ranking official with the network, and the daughter and son of Rep. Leo Ryan (D-Calif.), described the backlash the group faced. (Clarence Thomas was then chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and was present as a distinguished guest.
Ryan stated that Ginni, Ryan, and another organizer had been "looking at the crap they've been putting about us and you start to think, 'Well? Are we OK?'" According to previously unreported audio, Ryan made remarks at the dinner, which NBC News heard.
Ryan said, according to the audio, "Am I in a legitimate group?" Is there truth to what they are saying about us?" We begin to question ourselves, and then we start exchanging stories with one another and asking each other, "Are we okay?" Do we do that?... But it is important that we continue to reinforce each other's rightness. We're David, they're Goaliath. We keep going."
After the revelation of Thomas’ text messages to Meadows in which she made wild assertions about a stolen election, and a secret plot to set it straight, her husband is being asked to withdraw from all cases involving 2020 and Jan. 6, 2021 attacks on the Capitol. Critics claim that any perception of a conflict in interest such as this could be grounds for recusal by any less powerful judge. In the meantime, Congress is considering whether to amend ethics requirements for court to respond to her texts.
Thomas spoke with The Washington Free Beacon March 23rd to say that she and her husband have their own careers and they also have their own ideas and opinions.
She added, "Clarence doesn’t discuss his work to me, and he doesn’t involve himself in my work."
Justice Thomas didn't respond to NBC News' request for comment.
There is much debate about QAnon's legitimacy as a cult and its usefulness. The QAnon conspiracy was born from anonymous messages board posts that claimed a man named "Q" had access to Trump and claims that Trump is secretly fighting a pedophile ring controlled by Democrats. On Jan. 6, 2021, a number of rioters were present at the Capitol wearing clothing and gear that included QAnon symbols and phrases. The conspiracy's adherents have been associated with several violent outbreaks and even deaths.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) called QAnon in March "a bizarre, dangerous cult." Federal prosecutors have labeled QAnon, the self-described QAnon" "shaman" in the Capitol riot case against Jacob Chansley. They also called QAnon a "group commonly referred to a cult."
However, most people agree that people believe in the alternate reality that Q was selling because it is better than the real and want to be part Q's secret, epic struggle against the forces that evil.
Ross stated that Ginni Thomas may feel Lifespring is something she can understand and break down, while QAnon is something completely different. "My impression of her is that she's a conservative political activist. She is also very anti-anyone from the left.
Ross stated, "You can't deprogram someone with deeply held beliefs, speaking as someone who's done over 500 cult intervention."
Thomas' activism shifted to another direction as anti-cult activism faded from the mainstream over the years.
"Some of her intervention team has remained in touch over the years," a person familiar with Thomas's work in the anti-cult sphere said to NBC News. He requested anonymity to discuss the matter. "But she reached progressively this level. For me, this is a huge leap."