The story by David Gauvey Herbert in Esquire is in most respects about what its critics label a cult. If the Waco Branch Davidians were a 10 on the cult spectrum, this group—called Ganas—was more like a 5 or 6, renowned cult expert Rick Alan Ross tells Herbert. Members under the charismatic leader Mildred Gordon established themselves in a Staten Island neighborhood in 1980. The story details the commune's growth, centered on "a novel sense of community, personal growth, and lots of sex." Most members were in their 20s, three decades younger than Gordon, who provided them with constant assessments about all aspects of their lives through "feedback learning." The story centers on young adherent Jeff Gross, who helped Gordon establish the group and is now at age 67 trying to make sense of why he did so, and why he stayed for so long.
"Jeff remains baffled by his own life story," writes Herbert. And it's quite a story: In 2006, he was shot multiple times on Ganas property, and while he identified the shooter as a vengeful former member of the group, she was acquitted at trial. The story runs through all that history but zeroes in on what compelled Gross to follow the now-deceased Gordon and ultimately sink what he estimates to be $400,000 into the group. Gross himself won't describe Ganas as a cult, though he acknowledges experiencing "cultlike things." Gross, writes Herbert, has been "locked in a prison of self-doubt and indecision" for nearly all his life. "What separated Jeff from the man who won’t leave a bad marriage or a soul-killing job was the bad luck to have met (Gordon)." Read the full story, which ends on a hopeful note for Gross' future. (Read more Longform stories.)