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Courtesy Instagram / @bentinhomassaro

Spiritual guru or creepy cult leader? The strange story of Bentinho Massaro

The controversial preacher wants to establish an ‘enlightened civilisation by 2035’, but former followers call him ‘a predator hiding in the mask of a messiah’

Yesterday (February 21), three ex-members of an alleged “abusive cult” led by the self-proclaimed “spiritual teacher” Bentinho Massaro posted a series of statements on Instagram, each sharing how they became followers and finally broke free. Despite reportedly signing NDAs for $100,000 or more, they said that they wanted to expose a pattern of “psychological and spiritual warfare” within Massaro’s following, in the hope that he will be brought to justice.

The trio – yoga and meditation teacher Jade Alectra, artist Keilan McNeil, and Jacqueline Graham – also shared their respective experiences with the so-called cult in statements on a joint website titled The Mirror Effect.

In blog posts on the site, McNeil describes helping grow Bentinho’s company, Trinfinity Academy – a partnership that would end with “extreme emotional, psychological, mental, physical, and financial damage” – while Graham describes an awakening that came after more than a year in an “abusive relationship” with Bentinho, prompted by the NXIVM documentary The Vow. Alectra, meanwhile, directs readers to a recent episode of the podcast A Little Bit Culty, in which she details what it’s actually like to date the cult leader, who she describes as: “A predator, hiding in the mask of a messiah.”

Prior to becoming a charismatic cult leader, Massaro was born in Amsterdam, and apparently discovered his interest in spirituality aged 10, after his parents passed along the books they were reading in their own investigation of self-help and spirituality. In his teenage years, he sought enlightenment via various teachers, but by 25 he had decided to move to America and broadcast his own views as an algorithm-friendly preacher.

The recent revelations, however, aren’t the first time that the millennial guru has sparked controversy with his plans to “ignite global awakening” and “establish an enlightened civilization ready for interstellar absorption” by 2035. In the past, several publications have dug beneath the glossy online image that he crafted throughout his twenties, with coverage picking up in the wake of an alleged suicide at one of his 12-day Sedona retreats in 2017.

As the story broke on social media, critics also began referring to him as “Steve Jobs meets Jim Jones”, in reference to the preacher who led a mass murder-suicide in his Guyana commmune in 1978.

Press coverage that exposed troubling details about Massaro’s meetings and manipulation of attendees in Arizona eventually prompted him to leave the US for his native Holland, according to a 2018 Truly profile (which also sees him claim he can change the weather at will). There, he continued to hold week-long residential retreats. “It’s about giving up everything you have,” he said in the promotional materials – this included between €899 and €1699 in cold, hard cash.

Now though, Massaro has largely retreated from in-person events, though he continues to share teachings via social media. Like Wild Wild Country’s Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and Ma Anand Sheela before him, he also seems to enjoy flexing the wealth he’s “earned” from his followers.

Just as he preaches about purifying the self in YouTube seminars, and shares spiritual teachings via Telegram (all for the low, low price of $199 per month!), he uses Instagram to project a Jack Dorsey-esque image of success. Spanning various exotic locales, some photos show him meditating in loose-fitting gym clothes, and others see him puffing on a cigar in a three-piece suit, all accompanied by pseudo-spiritual inspirational captions.

Of course, Alectra, McNeil, and Graham’s Instagram posts tell a very different story, with the former followers scratching his face out of their own group photos. “He is a walking dementor and I am standing up and sharing the truth because too many are abused and stuck behind the fear, the bullying that occurs in cults, and their literal gag orders students are given before they even know what will happen to them,” writes Alectra, going on to suggest that the spiritual community has allowed such abuse to flourish.

“Over the course of the years it became increasingly and eventually blaringly obvious that Bentinho Massaro’s intention is to not actually help the planet or others – but it is to use his ‘mission’ or ‘organisation’ to get what he wants, which is only women, money, and power,” adds McNeil, who says that he and Massaro came to think of each other as best friends.

“I want you all to know that the psychological and spiritual warfare that takes place behind closed doors and within Bentinho Massaro’s community is extremely dark and dangerous. People are giving up their free will under the guise of ‘transcending their egos’ and Bentinho Massaro is exploiting them in every way that he can as a result.”

Dazed reached out to Bentinho Massaro for comment but have yet to hear any response