Ex-Members of This Maoist Clique Say It Was a ‘Cult’

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The mysterious group found its way to Austin D. while he was working a dead-end job at a Pittsburgh Starbucks.

“I was feeling a little depressed and hopeless,” Austin told The Daily Beast. “I’d got out of undergrad with a lot of debt. I felt like the opportunities that I’d been taught were available, were not really available. I was still working the same minimum-wage job. My headspace was primed for someone who appeared to have all the answers.”

Then someone with answers appeared. While discussing the exploitation of Starbucks workers, a fellow barista recommended Austin join a group to study the writings of former Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong.

Austin’s first reaction was skepticism. “I was like, didn’t that guy murder a bunch of people?”

The coworker assured Austin that he was incorrect. (Up to 45 million people are believed to have died, most of starvation, under Mao’s Great Leap Forward plan.) It was the beginning of Austin’s years-long involvement in an organization that he and other former members now describe as a cult.

Austin, who requested to withhold his full last name for safety, is a former member of Red Guards, a multi-city Maoist group that made headlines in 2020 for its aggressive disruptions of other leftist organizations and candidates. Now, a year after the group’s 2022 implosion, former members like Austin say they were victims of a coercive club that dictated where members could work, whom they could date, where they could live, and how they could behave, while meting out draconian punishments on members who disobeyed.

At its top was a charismatic chairman named Jared Roark, whose guilty plea and imprisonment on gun charges in 2021 sent Red Guards into disarray. But after Roark’s release from prison this year, his former followers are trying to warn new potential recruits.

Content retrieved from: https://www.thedailybeast.com/ex-members-of-the-red-guards-maoist-clique-say-it-was-a-cult.

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