Radhia Gleis never meant to join a cult—in fact, she didn't even know she was part of one until decades after she had joined—and she's still picking up the pieces that her departure left behind.
Although it was Buddhafield, a movement that has been called a cult by a host of ex-followers, that brought Gleis to the Hill Country, the group's Austin presence has diminished to almost nothing. After over two decades in the group, Gleis revealed it all in her first-place PenCraft award-winning book, "The Followers, 'Holy Hell' and the Disciples of Narcissistic Leaders" in which she talks about the dangers of groupthink and the impact that spending years in the Buddhafield cult had on her.
Gleis now works as a clinical nutritionist and is working on healing through her art. (radiagleis.com)
From a "well-to-do" family in California, Gleis was learning how to make cocktails for wealthy dinner guests shortly after she learned how to walk. She grew up emotionally distant from her parents and only brother; Gleis vividly remembered being called "dopey" by her father, consistently forgotten by her mother and held at knifepoint by her brother.
Needless to say, Gleis grew up without secure connections. On top of that, she grew up in the 1960s and '70s during mass cultural upheaval, the free love movement and obsession with Eastern religions.
"There were these desires to expand your thinking, expand your consciousness as opposed to the 'Leave it to Beaver' kind of paradigm," Gleis told Austonia. "There was a rebellion, a schism in the culture."
She had become interested in the idea of nirvana when she was in high school, so when a friend told her about spirituality sessions with a beautiful woman named Malila who claimed to have experienced God directly, her interest was piqued.
Her experiences with Malila threw her into the spiritual realm. Gleis met Jaime Gomez, the would-be leader of the Buddhafield cult who went by many names, in the early 1980s through a friend of Malila's in California. Gomez, a native of Venezuela, was known to often wear only eyeliner and a speedo in his prime and when Gleis met him, he was clad only in a golden tan, skin-tight jeans and a small vest.
The Shakti scam
Gomez originally began guiding members through an independent spiritual journey but flags were raised when he began to see himself as a godlike figure. (WRA Productions LLC)
Her initiation was subtle—it started as just a group of friends who followed Gomez, a young yogi with a small but growing following, to learn techniques of "The Knowing" that he possessed. Members were initiated via "shakti," a godly transfer of power that opened your third eye. Members would "pranam," or deeply bow to show respect, to God during the first four years of Gleis' time with Gomez.
The initiation started as a relationship between the individual and their "divine birthright" through God.
"Generations were trying to get Shakti from him, they were trying to get his energy," Gleis said. "He was like, 'Whatever you experience in your initiation is between you and God, it has nothing to do with me.'"
Things started to change at the next initiation when Gomez had new members pranam to him and connect to his love, not the divine love they had come seeking.
"He would say, 'Well, Radhia, some people, not you, need a living person they can touch and see and talk to, I am just being that for them,'" Gleis said. "So he considered himself now a living deity like Jesus or Krishna or Buddha."
Although she did not support the pranam to Gomez, the shift was harrowing. While Gomez was a "skilled sociopath," Gleis said, he was also her friend and she was his close adviser; he knew all of her' hopes, dreams, fears and how to keep her around.
"If you go to Disneyland, it's a fantasy, but you're willing to forgo your disbelief for the fun, for the ride," Gleis said. "But what if you don't know it's fake? What if all your friends and all your family are in on it? And the one person that you revere the most is creating the illusion?"
It would take years for Gleis to learn Gomez was secretly taking advantage of members in the group.
The domino effect
Life inside Buddhafield's compound was well-documented by Will Allen, who made the documentary "Holy Hell" years after leaving. (WRA Productions LLC)
The Buddhafield waltzed into Austin from West Hollywood in the late '90s after accusations against Gomez came out, Gleis would later learn. She found out that later that multiple members alleged that Gomez sexually abused them, and it was a pattern of his to jump ship and change his name once people started speaking out.
There were a few reasons the group chose Austin: their new home had to be in a warm climate, near a body of water, full of rich culture and jobs.
Having been in the cult for over a decade, the Austin move had triggered a need to build a life outside Buddhafield for Gleis. The connections she made outside the "family" she had made for herself led her to visit the home of an injured member of Buddhafield, where she says she was greeted by two men who told her tales of Gomez's transgressions.
Tales of Gomez attempting to hypnotize male members of the group into removing their clothes, which Gomez would deny, and his penchant for using the AIDS crisis to scare members into silence came to light. It was a feat in and of itself to tell a single soul about the things the victims had experienced, let alone make formal charges.
Among the victims was Will Allen, who released the documentary "Holy Hell," made from hours of his own original footage, in 2016 to detail his experiences.
The women in the group were untouched to Gleis' knowledge and some of the victims took years to gain the courage to speak out.
"Now it was like dominoes, it was like this was our #MeToo movement. When this guy came out, now all of a sudden, I'm getting phone calls because the rumors spread," Gleis said. "It was very heartbreaking—I started hearing all these stories of what (Gomez) had done and all the secrets that all of these men had been holding, these traumas that they had been holding in for years."
That was her line in the sand—so, at 55 years old, Gleis left Buddhafield, "alone and forsaken." And she has learned a good deal about herself since then—she works as a clinical nutritionist but left all of her friends behind, with no one to fall on but herself.
It has been 15 years since her departure—15 years to ponder how she was manipulated into that place. Gleis often compares those two decades of her life to Trumpism, where Gomez had tapped into her preconceived notions and led her to believe what she wanted to believe.
As someone who grew up not knowing love, it made sense to jump headfirst into the sense of community and protection that Buddhafield offered.
"We have to be careful when we use words like 'brainwashed.' We went willingly. Jaime didn't torture us. He didn't brainwash us," Gleis said. "All he did as a narcissist—he figured out what we were all thinking about and he became that for us. When you pranam to him, which we did, then he becomes bolder. That's what a sociopath does."
Gleis details her story of what led her in and out of Buddhafield in her book, "The Followers." Gomez and certain members who are still connected to Buddhafield have moved on to Hawai'i, but Gleis remains in Austin and is currently working on a children's novella.
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Tesla has officially moved its headquarters from Silicon Valley to its under-construction Gigafactory in southeast Travis County.
In October, CEO Elon Musk had announced plans to uproot the HQ from California during a company shareholder meeting. The company’s filing with U.S. securities regulators on Wednesday locked down the move.
It’s unclear whether the 10,000 employees in Palo Alto will be required to move. An analyst told the Associated Press that while many may be given the option of staying, up to 50% could make the move with some motivated by a lower cost of living in Austin.
“It’s tough for people to afford houses, and people have to come in from far away… there’s a limit to how big you can scale in the Bay Area,” Musk had previously said. Regardless of the HQ move, the company plans to increase production at its California plant.
The HQ swap is the latest development on Giga Texas, the approximately 1,700-acre factory that Tesla received at least $14.7 million in tax breaks for. The factory is on track to start production of its Model Y vehicles by year’s end.
Musk has hinted at making the move for some time. Last year, while California health officials were concerned with the spread of COVID-19, Tesla’s push to reopen the factory in Fremont set off a spat. During an earnings call in April 2020, he’d described the state’s health orders as “fascist.” Recently, Musk relocated his own residence from Los Angeles to Texas, bringing almost each one of his companies along with him, including the Boring Company, Neuralink and his foundation.
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At the cutting edge of tech, music and business are many successful leaders who not too long ago weren't old enough to drive or vote.
These wunderkinds were honored in Forbes' prestigious "30 under 30" lists, which highlights hundreds of top young entrepreneurs in categories from social media to science, in the 2022 rendition of the list on Wednesday. Some of the Class of '22 were as young as 14, while the average honoree was around 28 years old. Ten of these burgeoning business moguls were from Austin, which has seen such distinguished 30 under 30 alumni as former UT basketball player Kevin Durant get top spots on the 10-year-old list.
Here's a look at the 10 Austinites who made the cut:
Science—Celine Halioua, Loyal founder, 27
Celine Halioua, founder of Loyal and #ForbesUnder30 honoree, discusses how she created a company which helps prevent undue aging and cancer in dogs, and whose research could also potentially help humans. https://t.co/rfbFS4dq72 pic.twitter.com/3MaBGnE4Eb— Forbes (@Forbes) December 1, 2021
Earning the top spot in the science category was Celine Halioua, a former University of Texas student and founder of biotech company Cellular Longevity. The company, normally called Loyal, was founded by Halioua in 2019 and aims at finding compounds that can prevent undue aging and cancer in dogs, something that Halioua hopes will one day translate into human benefits.
As the frontrunner for the Science category's Class of '22, Halioua earned a photoshoot and video interview. Like many others on the list, Halioua's youth may give her an edge up in creating new ideas and technologies.
"It's been very fun learning how to modernize an old industry," Halioua said in the interview.
Halioua, who grew up in Austin around 15 cats, rescue dogs and even pet squirrels, said her company looks to extend the lifespan of dogs, but more broadly she hopes to combat the issue of "not having free will," an opinion she formed when talking to brain cancer patients at a neuro-oncology clinic at 18.
She also said creating anti-aging medicines for dogs can be a "proving ground" for creating the first explicit anti-aging drug cleared for humans because veterinary medicines are much more likely to be approved.
There's never been a drug approved for aging for any species, dog or human," Halioua said. "My core goal in life is to get the first drug approved."
The Bay Area-based company is pre-revenue, but it's already generated over $38 million in venture capital and has its first anti-aging drug poised to reach clinical trials next year.
Science—William Gilpin, UT Austin professor, 29
Is chaos actually hard to predict? For NeurIPS this year I made a database of 131 known strange attractors, and trained state-of-the-art forecasting models on each one, to try to figure this out (1/N):— William Gilpin (@wgilpin0) October 12, 2021
Dataset + Code: https://t.co/EpK4ZfWTEF pic.twitter.com/ehvPCBhDm3
University of Texas' incoming physics professor William Gilpin knows how to find beauty—and practicality—in chaos.
Using "chaos theory to understand biological complexity," Gilpin, who was inspired by ocean waves and fluids, has revolutionized a machine learning technique for neuroscience recordings.
"Is chaos really hard to predict?" Gilpin asks in a recent viral Tweet, as he showcases his methods that have helped analyze fitness trackers and predict prices of stocks and ponds.
Sports—Megan Lindon, Austin FC marketer, 29
Ever seen Austin FC's signature Verde Van rolling around town? The mobile one-stop shop for Austin FC merchandise is the brainchild of Lindon, the senior manager of marketing who helped make the team the top-selling hub for merch across the MLS in its first year.
Lindon oversaw brand campaigns and retail partnerships, such as its jersey sponsor YETI, for the new team. Although she might not be responsible for all the hype, it's tough to tell whether Austin FC would be as recognizable nationwide without Lindon's efforts.
Really thrilled to be named a part of @Forbes 30 Under 30 Games Class of 2022, alongside some other very young talented esports folks — @scump, @onfireScarlett, and @TSMWalter, to name a few.https://t.co/3v2Wqq8hz1— Jacob Wolf (@JacobWolf) December 1, 2021
Move over, sports commentators—esports reporting is entering its golden era, and the self-proclaimed "world leader" in esports coverage is based in Austin with Jacob Wolf at the helm.
At 24, Wolf, the company's chief reporter, has already been compared to "ESPN's NBA news king Adrian Wojnarowski," according to the Forbes report. He's also won the Esports Awards Journalist of the Year title in 2018 and has been nominated five times, leads the company's news team with hard-hitting investigative pieces and has founded a production company that will co-produce a podcast set to release in 2022.
Wolf sits on the list now, but he was criticized by a Forbes reporter in the past for having "zero corner" in the esports market—a notion that was quickly shut down by Wolf and longtime esports fans alike.
Manufacturing & Industry—Topher Haddad and Winston Tri, Albedo co-founders
Good Morning Twitter! This year for Thanksgiving we've made some 10cm synthetic imagery. Let us know what you think. pic.twitter.com/MPmh93tctW— Albedo (@Albedo) November 24, 2021
"The next generation of Earth observation is coming soon," satellite imagery company Albedo's website boldly reads over a crystal-clear aerial view of an alpine forest.
Two under-30 entrepreneurs—Topher Haddad and Winston Tri—set out to create commercially-available satellite imagery that has nine times better resolution than what's out now. From that, Austin-based Albedo was born.
After raising $10 million in a seed round by Initialized Capital, the company is gearing up to launch its first satellites in 2023.
Venture Capital—Brandon Allen and Marcus Stroud, TXV Partners co-founders
Austin can't have its startup-savvy culture without its venture capitalists, something Princeton graduates Brandon Allen and Marcus Stroud know all too well.
Now 27 and 28, the former Princeton roommates formed TXV Partners in 2019 and haven't looked back since, investing over $20 million into businesses including fitness app Future Fit and the similarly-named fitness startup Future as well as Data.World, Oura, Kambr and Trax. The duo, which has since tacked on another partner, has been focused on local businesses for years and will continue to do so as they boost Texas' best exercise startups.
Retail and eCommerce—Benjamin Smith, Disco founder, 28
Everything is better in a set. 🎁 — Disco™ (@letsDiscoskin) November 27, 2021
If you're not shopping our biggest sale of the year, you're missing out. Get 30% off site-wide + free shipping on all orders. pic.twitter.com/kBmI56ZjMu
Men need skincare, too—even if they sometimes aren't comfortable enough to address it.
That's the issue that Austinite Benjamin Smith hopes to tackle with his skincare line Disco, which provides sets and products from anti-aging cream to cleansers to help men feel their most "dapper."
Smith, who struggled with acne throughout early adulthood, strayed from the overly-masculine packaging of many men's beauty products and instead opted for a sleek, simple look that can be seen online and at Nordstrom. The company has been featured in GQ and the Wall Street Journal and is expected to see $10 million in revenue at the end of 2021 after an original $5 million in funding.
Finance—Jeron Davis, RLJ Equity Partners, 28
Forbes 30 under 30 in Finance should be renamed Forbes 30 under 30 in Blockchain!— nicola 💾 (@iamnotnicola) December 1, 2021
Although he's based in Maryland, Jeron Davis has found success as a senior associate at RLJ Equity Partners, a firm founded by Austin billionaire Robert L. Johnson.
Davis is a former investment banker at Citigroup Global Markets, Inc., where he made a$4.6 billion leveraged buyout of Petco and a $2.2 billion sale with CenturyLink. With RLJ, Davis made a $60 million LBO of Pro-Vac and $31 million TechMedia buyout.
Education—Chandler Bolt, Self Publishing School founder, 28
Investor and Self Publishing School founder Chandler Bolt holds a five-year company and has helped 6,000+ writers publish their own books—and he's just 28.
His company, which helps writers work—from creating a writing timeline to arranging speaking engagements after publishing—charges $6,000 to bring writer's works into fruition.
The Austin-based Self Publishing School has been an INC 5000 company for three years in a row among the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. But Bolt's not stopping there, he's also published six books of his own, hosts two podcasts, and has a YouTube channel about the self-publishing process.
Energy—Thomas Sherman and Daniel Vassallo, CRCL Solutions co-founders
💡ATI Company Spotlight: CRCL Solutions💡— ATX Tech Incubator (@ATI_UT) September 9, 2021
Congrats to CRCL Solutions for winning a National Science Foundation SBIR award! CRCL will investigate how AI can be used to improve atmospheric modeling for the renewable energy industry.
For more, visit: https://t.co/SVKzscHxL4
Texas' renewable energies are growing fast—but when the wind turbines aren't turning, it can hard to predict how much the state will be able to use.
Using artificial intelligence, CRCL Solutions founders Thomas Sherman and Daniel Vassallo are helping power traders reduce risk and increase profitability by forecasting usage of ERCOT's solar and wind energies. Eventually, the duo hopes to help create carbon neutrality by erasing some risks from the fluctuating renewable energy market.
And their efforts are gaining national attention: so far, they've received funding from the National Science Foundation and the Austin Energy Incubator.
Downtown may be recovering from the pandemic but the priorities residents want in their city center are changing, according to the City Pulse Survey done by design firm Gensler.
After studying 7,500 people in 15 global markets, including Austin, Gensler found that life in COVID has pushed city-dwellers to want more outdoor activities, social spaces and entertainment venues in bustling business districts.
Post-pandemic, the highest-rated downtown activities were shopping, visiting parks and just “hanging out.” The need for more public spaces like parks jumped from sixth on the list to second this year.
Although globally people view downtown as a business district for task-based activities, across the U.S., downtown districts are viewed more as a vehicle for entertainment. This is especially true for Austinites, where people surveyed said they would rather see more entertainment and cultural venues than shopping or public transit downtown.
For Melanie Gartman, a manager at construction software company Levelset who has been living in Austin for most of her life, the needs and wants of the average resident closely align with her own.
Austin clocked in second-most desirable downtown, tied with Charlotte, North Carolina. Like the 78% of Austinites in the survey, Gartman said she thinks Downtown Austin is hanging on to its lovable charm.
“Even now with fewer people out and about it's still very vibrant and lively. I feel like I saw life come back to downtown a lot sooner than I expected it to,” Gartman said. “It's still holding on a bit that Austin vibe and with the high rises coming in, it's scary that we could lose that. I think it's holding on better than I would have expected, especially within the last two years of everything that happened.”
As Austinites eased back into downtown, the first stop Gartman made was to go see music again. Since venues opened back up, Gartman and her loved ones have seen live music at their favorite venues: Moody Amphitheatre, Mohawk, The Parish and Empire Control Room.
Blackillac opened for Gary Clark Jr. at the Moody Amphitheater's first show back in August. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
Entertainment is most important for Gartman’s life in Austin—seeing Gary Clark Jr. in August brought normalcy back into her routine—and said our local downtown is the ideal out of other cities in Texas.
“I've always noticed that between Houston’s downtown and Austin’s, Houston's is so Monday to Friday, eight to five, maybe a post-work happy hour,” Gartman said. “Growing up, downtown (Austin) was always the place to go. It has always been the hub and I think Austin is unique in that way.”
Traffic in downtown areas is way down overall, even though concern over pandemic safety has taken a backseat. Shopping traffic has decreased by 28%, dining out and entertainment attendance dropped by 33% in the post-pandemic sphere.
Even though her office is located downtown, Gartman usually works from home. Her downtown visits tend to be for the purpose of entertainment and she said the lack of parking sometimes becomes problematic.
“I feel like all these high rises are taking over all the parking,” Gartman said. “It used to be for go-to parking, I would just park under I-35. No big deal. But now, that’s kind of scary, especially if you're by yourself. The party parking is a barrier to actually making it down there.”
But with the rise of the hybrid work model, it’s likely that the downtown sphere is going to change all across the U.S. For now, survey participants said they would like to see their downtown reduce traffic, add more green space, improve the cityscape and increase parking capacity as we shape the future of cities.