Is This a Cult?: Iris, Leisa, Chelsea

Broken Families

A woman who chooses not to be identified gives a glimpse of what it's like inside a group she says is being led by a man known as Golden Elk.

"The leader is named Clemente Suriano, and he likes to be called Golden Elk," she says. "At first, within the Golden Elk residence, everything seemed pretty normal. He would ask each one of us to assume a different name, to cut off all contact with our friends and family. The role that women played in Golden Elk's group was to serve him." The woman explains that the women in the group are not even allowed to use modern menstrual products. "I fear that these young men and women, they may be desperately wanting out," she says. 

Concerned moms Iris and Leisa and Leisa's daughter, Chelsea, say they worry about their family members who may be involved with Golden Elk and his group.

"My son, Elon, is 26," Iris says. "I think he's involved in a cult. Elon told me he was going to quit college so he could go do his vision quest. It's a spiritual quest. It's a sorting of your own life."

Iris stands in front of a house. "This is the house where Suriano lived. Elon hooked up with them to learn Lakota way, and they were sweating in the sweat lodge. This is the skewing: When you take a sacred way and then separate them from their family, to me, that is evil.

[AD]Iris remembers meeting her son for lunch in 2007. "It was very contrived. His eyes were almost glazed over. He looked at me directly and said, ‘You're not my mother.' ‘Well, who are your parents then?' He said, ‘Oh, the tree, the rock out there.' It's been three years now since he told me to forget about him. It would've been so beneficial for his younger brother to have his older brother as a mentor, and a friend and a brother. I'm angry at the years we've lost to that guy. I am hoping that the intelligence that I know he has will reach him. That's all I can think about day and night," Iris says tearfully.

Ashley, 27, has also cut off contact with her family. Ashley's older sister, Andrea, explains, "My sister, Ashley, moved to Colorado to go to college and moved in with me. She was very close to graduating. Things started changing when she started hanging out with her friend, Elon, and she started going to Golden Elk's house. I have met Golden Elk. He was very overbearing. The girls were not speaking for themselves. Golden Elk is an older man. I was kind of scared " for myself and for everyone who was in that room."

Andrea and Ashley's mother, Leisa, says, "One day, out of the blue, Ashley calls me and says, ‘I'm no longer in school. I'm going to be living with these people.' They moved from Colorado to New Mexico. Chelsea, her twin sister, and I went to visit. Ashley came, literally, flying up the driveway and escorted us away from the home. She said, ‘This is not a good time. You should've called first. You need to leave now.'"

Chelsea, Ashley's twin, grows emotional remembering that day. "There I am, her twin sister, standing right in front of her, and she just told me to leave. I hadn't seen her in so long," she says.

[AD]The next morning, Ashley called them. "She said, ‘You're not my sister,'" Chelsea says.

"She handed the phone to me, and she says, ‘Leisa, I don't consider you my mother,'" Leisa says. "It's awful to hear those words coming out of your child's mouth."

"I hope that I can see her again," Andrea says sadly.

"I'm scared of where she is and where she's going," Chelsea says tearfully. "I will always love my sister."

Chelsea tells Dr. Phil that she's sad her sister missed out on her wedding. "I've missed so much of her life, but she's missed so much of my life. I mean, we've been together from the womb! And just to see her totally separate herself, without reason, is devastating," she says.

Leisa says that despite the fact that it was Iris' son who introduced her daughter to Golden Elk, she holds no hard feelings toward Iris. "Out of everything ugly and bad, there comes something good, and right now, it's Iris and her family," she says with a smile.

[AD]"You believe this is a cult," Dr. Phil says.

"Absolutely," Leisa says.

Iris agrees.