Inside the Social Media Cult That Convinces Young People to Give Up Everything
The DayLife Army always seemed like a troll. Then it became a nightmare.
It started with a tweet. In the fall of 2013, Matthew had recently turned 18 and was just finishing up his first semester at a college in Chicago. A freshman music business student with a happy-go-lucky laugh and a fascination with the internet, he’d been making electronic tracks since high school and wanted to learn how to market his work.
Matthew came to college dreaming of creating his own “multidimensional content brand,” combining the positivity-obsessed social media hijinks of his favorite alt-lit writers with the proudly Web 2.0 memes circulating in the net art scene. He’d had a productive first semester, putting the finishing touches on an upcoming album, setting up a website, and rolling out a few music videos centered around the idea of ushering in a better world. He’d even printed out a set of business cards. Now all he needed was fans.
On November 23, after posting the album’s first single, Matthew noticed a comment in his Twitter mentions praising the track from a woman he’d later learn was named KoA Malone. Around the same time, a man named Eben “Wiz-EL” Carlson started replying to his tweets too, offering bits of advice on how he was packaging the project. As he began tweeting back and forth with them, he learned that KoA and Wiz-EL were partners. In photos, he noticed that they only wore white.
The sudden flurry of interest was strange — Wiz-EL would sometimes reply to one of Matthew’s posts from several different Twitter accounts — but Matthew was flattered that two strangers seemed to be taking his music seriously. “No one was paying attention to me online,” says Matthew. “And suddenly he starts responding to every single one with seven or eight responses.”
Wiz-EL seemed to intuit Matthew’s obsession with branding. “Any tweet that I felt was kind of corny or stupid, he would insult me, make fun of me, or criticize me. Anything that I did that I already thought was good, he would praise me, building me up. I thought, ‘They’re paying more attention to me than I am.’”
Twitter replies evolved into DM conversations, then phone calls. As it turned out, Wiz-EL and KoA also lived in Chicago. Wiz-EL had the sort of credentials Matthew was looking for in a mentor at the time: Forty-six years old with salt-and-pepper hair, he said he came up in the ’90s Seattle rock scene, where he claimed he rubbed elbows with grunge legends. He seemed to have an encyclopedic knowledge of counterculture, art, and different religious traditions.
Wiz-EL was critical of Matthew’s brand. Matthew remembers Wiz-EL, who is white, quipping that “you can’t be a white dude who talks about saving the world,” but he also encouraged Matthew to think bigger. “He was basically spelling out the history of things as he saw it, implying that I was in a unique position to do something that was revolutionary,” Matthew says. He encouraged Matthew to begin releasing music under a new artistic pseudonym: Buum.
Matthew looked up to KoA too: Née Kimberly Laura Malone and 10 years Wiz-EL’s junior, she’d run a beloved cocktail bar in Tacoma, Washington, and often spoke about coming from a family with deep ties to the music industry. One of her brothers was Kyp Malone, who plays in the popular indie rock band TV on the Radio; another was influential Los Angeles DJ Total Freedom, a regular guest at the zeitgeist-defining queer and POC-focused party GHE20G0TH1K.
Matthew says the couple finally invited him over to their penthouse apartment, located in a luxury building on Lake Shore Drive, during the summer after his freshman year. Stepping inside, Matthew remembers being struck by the dissonance of the place: The apartment was impressive, he says, with floor-to-ceiling windows and a view of Lake Michigan — but it was basically unfurnished, as though they’d never really settled in.
Though they seemed to Matthew to be strapped for cash, KoA and Wiz-EL were brimming with business ideas, from a plant-based healing company specializing in legal cannabis to a lifestyle brand called Fuxy. They seemed excited about the future: Conversations with Wiz-EL and KoA invariably circled back to the power of aspirational visualization as a means of “manifesting” one’s dreams. Matthew was eager to learn more about the set of spiritual principles they were developing. During the visit, Wiz-EL AirDropped a collection of images to Matthew’s phone from a white iPad: fantasy brand logos, fashion photos, expensive properties, movie stills. Matthew left the apartment with a paper bag full of folded white designer clothes.
The meeting was a step into a rabbit hole that would derail Matthew’s life. During Matthew’s sophomore year, Wiz-EL began posting about a spiritual community he’d started called Tumple. Matthew, who requested we only use his first name for this piece and went by the name “Buum” during his time in the organization, would become Tumple’s first recruit.
A 2016 Daily Dot article about Tumple, “Inside the magic sex cult recruiting from Facebook meme pages,” left the group open to interpretation: Was it a new religious movement? An art project? The group’s leadership, which openly described the organization as a “cult,” communicated in a language they had dubbed “Unglish,” substituting the letters U and Y for random vowels. It was an attempt, they claimed, to subvert the Western written tradition, which they associated with whiteness and maleness.
KoA, who is Black, explained to the Daily Dot that the idea was to dismantle the “white methodology” that governed modern capitalist society and replace it with “a new foundation, the Black pleasure foundation.” Marrying a distinctly internet-centric sensibility with KoA’s knowledge of African diasporic spirituality and Wiz-EL’s interest in Gnostic Christianity, the group outlined a lifestyle that prioritized pleasure, anti-racist education, sober living, and a suite of mystical sex practices, which members could learn through a course called “Pearl Divun,” which cost $2,000 per month. For $1,000 per month, adherents could join a program Wiz-EL described as “lazy visualizatiun” and “like Tumblr.”
By the time of the Daily Dot article, Tumple had reeled in a dozen members along with at least 50 “orbiters,” or more casual followers. The vast majority of these individuals only interacted with the organization over the internet.
There was certainly something utopian about the project — a millennial-focused religious movement rooted in themes of anti-racism and economic justice and tailored to life online. Wiz-EL and KoA painted a picture of a world where users would own the capital generated from their own content, and followers could earn money simply for being themselves on the internet.
But in practice, Tumple would resemble a kind of social media pyramid scheme, one that mostly targeted young artists and musicians: Members would create promotional Facebook posts, Tumple-related videos, Facebook group chats, and other content, generating income through PayPal donations while delivering a cut of their earnings back to Wiz-EL and KoA.
Though Tumple’s self-adopted label as a “cult” always seemed like a half-joke steeped in internet irony, Matthew would come to learn that it was wholly serious. In interviews with OneZero, 24 individuals, including Matthew, other past members, people within the group’s extended circle of online followers, and their families and friends, described how the organization evolved into a self-described “military” that convinced a small group of young people to relinquish their personal property and leave their lives behind. Starting in 2017, they would join Wiz-EL and KoA in building what they envisioned as an alternate society, one Facebook post and PayPal donation at a time.
In its own idiosyncratic way, the organization expressed a progressive ideology that was aligned with the cultural moment: Donald Trump had just taken office, and a group of young artists posting about white supremacy, gender issues, and economic exploitation on social media, and calling out other people’s ignorance didn’t feel out of place. Many members gravitated to the group out of a genuine conviction in its professed ideals and a belief that a better world was possible — especially when one of its chief architects was a Black woman.
But there were signs that something was off. Wiz-EL had a habit of making pronouncements like “Black women hav a cultural entitlemunt that mirrors whyt mens financial entitlemunt.” On at least one occasion, he defended his use of a racial slur, writing, “I would say somethung myself but Iym tired of black folks making acusatiuns and having to defend myself so they get a free atory.” Former members noted that he would often post sexual photos of women who were unaffiliated with the organization without asking for their consent, seemingly to draw attention to the group. And though he and KoA claimed they were building a society based on pleasure, past recruits said the organization evolved into something else entirely.
Former members described the group as an insular, rigidly authoritarian organization that put serious demands on its recruits, including a strictly prescribed lifestyle, grueling content and revenue quotas, and — for those who eventually joined the real-life community Wiz-EL and KoA had started building — total personal and financial sacrifice. Recruits spent their days performing unpaid labor for the organization, working to bring donations and new members into the group while sometimes living in tents or cars; they became alienated from their friends and families and had little control over their daily movements, eating or sleeping habits, or geographical whereabouts.
The realities of daily life inside the organization often contradicted the very values that drew recruits there in the first place, past members said. “The narrative that they were pushing was focused on putting Black women in positions of power,” said Bambi Phu, a former member who said she left the organization this May. “But it’s not focused on that. It’s focused on putting KoA in positions of power and keeping everyone subservient to that.” (Phu, who is Black and Vietnamese, said she experienced the group’s makeup as predominately white and cisgender.)
Anita, a former orbiter of the organization who identifies as Black and Chicana and requested that we publish only her first name for privacy reasons, described her feelings about the group in a statement: “The only good things I got out of all this was quitting drinking and doing any other drugs besides marijuana,” she wrote. “Every fucking thing else led to sadness and confusion and fear-based emotional responses.” She ended the statement with a warning to OneZero: “Be careful how you write and publicize this thing.”
Several people who had ties to Tumple declined to comment for this story, citing emotional discomfort or fear of retaliation. KoA and one other current member of the organization agreed to respond to some questions for this story, though she and Wiz-EL declined to sit for a formal interview.
As Tumple’s first recruit, Matthew had unique insight into the group’s descent. He played a central role in building the organization’s ideological scaffolding and online presence and recruited others. He was also one of its central victims. Though Matthew was the only former member of the organization who shared his full personal story on the record, other past recruits confirmed his narrative and told OneZero that many of the details of his story mirrored theirs.
During his four years with the organization, Matthew says, what began as mentorship devolved into an intricate system of emotional, monetary, and sexual control. By 2018, Matthew — like other members of the organization after him — would be living out on the street, frantically messaging people on social media and dating sites, trying to eke out enough money to keep KoA and Wiz-EL’s dream alive.
KoA and Wiz-EL ended up living together in Chicago because Facebook’s “suggested friends” algorithm had destined them to fall in love. Or at least, that’s how people in the Tumple community explained it.
Former members say KoA kept her backstory mysterious, though she emphasized her artistic family lineage. In an email to OneZero, the organization detailed KoA’s “family history of service AND performance” and pointed to her great-grandfather, William Malone, a Black violinist and alto player from Mississippi who toured with blues pioneer W.C. Handy. A former Jehovah’s Witness who grew up in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, KoA attended college in Washington state. In her twenties, she worked in the service industry and did some music and acting. In 2005, she opened a bar called the Monsoon Room in Tacoma but closed it a few years later. She began offering coaching services under the name A Goddess in Love, describing her skills as helping individuals reach their “own state of sexual sovereignty.” In 2013, she would tell people, she accepted a Facebook friend request from Wiz-EL.
At the time, Wiz-EL was an unemployed man in his forties. A former graphic designer by trade who grew up in Seattle and Chicago, he moved into his mother’s home in Chicago in the 2000s. His parents had deep ties to civic affairs, and his mother worked as an education reformer. Wiz-EL’s pursuits varied: He published a semiautobiographical novel called The Love Artist; he opened and shuttered an audio equipment and rental business. Sometime in 2014, after he and KoA started dating, the couple moved into the luxury building on Lake Shore Drive.
Since moving to Chicago, he had begun developing a spiritual belief system, penning multiple book-length treatises on the history of religion and culture and the hidden knowledge he believed to be embedded in them. As KoA explained to the Daily Dot, she and Wiz-EL bonded over these ideas, which included a ritual they both believed to be the key to self-mastery.
The practice, which has its precedents in early Christianity and modern esoteric religion, includes masturbating, collecting one’s semen — or “whyte stone” — in a cup, mixing it with water, and consuming its contents. Sources with past ties to the organization say this ritual, along with the idea of combining semen with menstrual blood to create an even more powerful elixir called “The Alchemical Philosopher’s Stone,” would become one of the core tenets of the organization they would build.
In addition to these more esoteric interests, Wiz-EL and KoA shared an interest in social media. The year 2014 was a transitional time for millennial counterculture, both online and off. Tumblr was falling out of fashion as the de facto blogging platform for art kids, the youth-driven literary movement called “alt lit” was collapsing under the weight of a series of sexual misconduct allegations. People at the intersections of those scenes (along with electronic music, SoundCloud rap, social justice, and miscellaneous weirdos of all stripes) were gravitating to Facebook. By the end of 2014, groups with names like Shit Memes and Freddy Yolo were in the process of wracking up tens of thousands of followers on the platform, and this irony-obsessed online milieu had a name: Weird Facebook.
The birth of Tumple can be traced back to Weird Facebook and one particular series of posts written by Wiz-EL. Around the time of Matthew’s first visit to the penthouse, Wiz-EL became involved in a monthslong spat with another Weird Facebook poster. Eventually, Matthew says, the poster compared Wiz-EL to a cult leader. Wiz-EL seemed to take the joke to heart, Matthew says: In 2015, Wiz-EL began posting about a cult he was starting called Tumple.
Matthew started posting about Tumple too. He’d been fascinated by Wiz-EL’s stories about different chapters in counterculture history, and Tumple seemed like the culmination of all of those pieces — an opportunity to participate in the rare art project that was actually doing something wholly new. He remembers thinking that most people wouldn’t understand Tumple when it launched, but they’d understand later, and that was exhilarating.
At first, he, Wiz-EL, and KoA would mostly just spam other people’s Facebook pages and their own, drumming up attention for the proposed group with jokey memes and diaristic status updates. Matthew says that Wiz-EL saw Weird Facebook as a creative frontier: At a time when young artists were using social media merely to promote creative work, Tumple was using it to build an online social experiment that took the form of a cult.
In many ways, Tumple resembled a lifestyle brand, defined by all-white clothes and Wiz-EL’s penchant for leaving jarring and critical comments on strangers’ Facebook walls. Those comments could consist of calling out a subculture the stranger seemed to identify with or a perceived substance abuse problem or even harping on stereotypes about their gender or race. Those who engaged with Wiz-EL would soon learn about a list of guidelines called “Standurds,” which formed the main entry point to Tumple’s program of spiritual development.
Some Standurds were straightforward — Tumple forbid the consumption of drugs and alcohol, for instance. Others were more esoteric — scented products were banned as was residing in untidy spaces and keeping pets. Tumple’s promise of spiritual development — of reconnecting with one’s authentic self — hinged on members’ successful application of these principles to their lives. And by posting about their progress online, members would be living proof of the so-called “glow-up” that Tumple made possible. It was present-day influencer marketing done on behalf of a religious movement.
During Matthew’s sophomore year, Wiz-EL suggested he read a book that would pull Matthew deeper into the Tumple orbit. It was called The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education. Written by a middle school teacher turned “unschooling” proponent, the 1991 self-help manual instructs young people to forgo traditional education in favor of hands-on experience. Wiz-EL’s timing couldn’t have been better: Matthew was no longer enjoying school, and his devotion to Tumple was putting a strain on his relationship with his girlfriend. He dropped his classes one by one, until he was only going to yoga. He dropped out of that too.
It was around this time, Matthew says, that Wiz-EL and KoA started suggesting that he ask his parents for money. Now that Matthew was in the process of leaving school and taking charge of his own destiny, they explained, his parents ought to support the path he had chosen. Matthew started calling and messaging his parents, demanding that they give him access to the fund they had set aside for his college education so he could use it to learn in a nontraditional way, working with Wiz-EL. The plan backfired, and his parents soon stopped paying his rent. By February 2015, he was back living under their roof.
In real life, Matthew was an unemployed college dropout. But online, he was becoming a Tumple poster child. Holed up in his childhood bedroom, he would crank out Tumple-related Facebook posts from morning to night, sometimes as many as 100 in a day. Eventually, he started including PayPal links in his posts and asking for donations. Matthew’s personal PayPal earnings were meager, but the content helped attract attention. In the fall of that year, Matthew released a music video inspired by Tumple ideology. When it generated dozens of shares on Facebook, more than any other music he’d posted, he took it as a sign that Tumple was helping him to manifest creative success.
Wiz-EL and KoA seemed to believe they were onto something, too. In October 2015, the couple set up a GoFundMe to finance a move to Los Angeles. After arriving in California, they set off on an extended West Coast road trip with a spreadsheet full of multimillion-dollar properties as their guide. KoA and Wiz-EL dreamed of one day owning a piece of land large enough to accommodate several businesses and a sizable group of future Tumple followers, Matthew says, and they seemed to think that visiting these properties would bring them one step closer to obtaining one. They started posting a new catchphrase on Facebook — “Pray for Land” — and broadcasting their adventures on social media, sometimes live.
Matthew, who often called into the live broadcasts from home, says they raised at least a few thousand dollars in donations from the livestreams. He believes that people were being drawn in by the duo’s charisma. “I had a totally unshakeable belief that we are going to be like billionaires and famous,” Matthew says.
The enterprise was scrappy: Months before they announced the trip, public records show KoA and Wiz-EL were evicted from their apartment. They also seemed to be relying on donations to pay for food and gas.
Then, in early 2016, the group launched Tumple.co, where followers could sign up for what amounted to a loyalty program. For $24 a month, members were granted basic membership status with access to private groups and some documents penned by Wiz-EL. Individuals within Tumple’s orbit could also join Facebook groups with names like “WhytePain” (which focused on racial reeducation) and “Syde I” (which featured KoA’s spiritual take on celebrity gossip).
Former members say dues were collected on a pay-what-you-can basis. Making content for the group earned members points, called “Tyme Whores,” which they could trade for access to programs like “Pearl Divun’” and the positive visualization course. Six months after launch, KoA gave the system a conceptual overhaul: Members were now sorted into seven tiers, each corresponding to varying degrees of access to sacred documents, Facebook groups, private chats, and, ultimately, KoA and Wiz-EL. In practice, though, everyone except for KoA and Wiz-EL was ranked level three or below. Former members say these systems — along with the organization’s evolving belief system — were riddled with inconsistencies and felt improvised.
Matthew remembers the 2016 Daily Dot article as something of a high watermark, a moment when it felt like “some big thing [was] going to happen.” The mainstream outlet offered a certain legitimacy to the community. VICE France and the AV Club picked up the story too.
But offline, Matthew’s home life was starting to deteriorate: He was constantly picking fights with his parents and criticizing different aspects of their behavior; meanwhile, his parents were becoming more and more suspicious of the group. “The article freaked my parents the fuck out,” he remembers. They’d already stopped paying for his phone bill, but after the story was published, they blocked him from accessing the internet by changing their home Wi-Fi password.
A week later, he logged onto a Tumple Facebook group from a public library to complain, instructing his followers to call his mom and ask her to restore his internet access. When she came home that night, she was understandably furious: He’d previously added her to the group. Their argument ended in his mom calling the cops, who picked him up and dropped him off outside of a motel. The next morning, she allowed Matthew to come home to retrieve his suitcase and sleeping bag. He’d spend the next year hopping from state to state, on different friends’ couches, working odd jobs to support himself. One of the first things he did was call Wiz-EL and KoA.
In late 2016, KoA fired off an announcement: “I have a confession to make,” she wrote in a Facebook post that has since been republished on Medium. “I am not entirely who I have said I was.” KoA Malone now said she was a Pleiadian Light Form known as a Generalissimo KoA, serving on behalf of alien co-conspirators to carry out a “Pleasure” offensive on Earth.
KoA and Wiz-EL had decided that the Tumple brand was no longer the central focus of the group. Instead, they’d begin operating under the auspices of a new organization, one they viewed as a real-life application of Tumple’s spiritual principles. It would be called the DayLife Military.
The DayLife Military took its name from the lifestyle they were promoting — “daylife” as opposed to nightlife — and modeled itself after a military organization. Members of the DayLife Army, the organization’s first division, would henceforth be known as “soldiurs” and answer unilaterally to KoA, the group’s self-appointed General. Wiz-EL would be her second-in-command.
Together, they claimed to be operating on behalf of a benevolent extraterrestrial government called the Galactuc Federation, or GFed. (The group later began referring to this entity as the Thu Unified Federatiun of Light, or Thu UFed.) Over time, Matthew says, the idea that KoA was communing with an alien entity bled into the decision-making of the group. She began carrying a little pendulum with her, claiming that she could use it to consult the GFed and divine the truth about any situation or individual. “She was giving herself superpowers with it,” Matthew says.
Like Tumple, the DayLife Army emphasized impeccable hygiene and all-white clothes, but its branding was more overtly political. Soldiers would leverage their personal social media accounts (and financial and social capital) to wage war on the Pain Matrix, a shorthand used by the organization to describe modern society and the racist and exploitative ideologies that fuel it. (In practice, Matthew says, it came to describe any and all human activity not directly controlled by KoA and the organization.)
In some ways, though, the DayLife Army’s belief system offered a clear-cut formula for understanding the world: You’re either part of the Pain Matrix and contribute to the problem, or you can drop out and help KoA build the Pleasure Matrix.
With the DayLife Army, the group ramped up its fundraising efforts. KoA began describing donations as an opportunity for members to “wash” their money of the ills of modern society while supporting the DayLife Military’s “2,000-year plan”: accumulating the manpower and resources to build a new world. The contributions would also fund one of the organization’s short-term goals: a live-in community of DayLife Army members, or “IRL soldiers,” or “in real life” members, in a remote cabin in western Washington.
Matthew was one of the first people to enlist. He arrived at the property, which was owned by Wiz-EL’s mother, in September 2017. Though the living quarters at the cabin were cramped (he slept on couch cushions on the floor), the scenery was gorgeous, and the prospect of uniting with KoA and Wiz-EL had carried him through a difficult year.
For the first few months, Matthew was one of just two soldiers at boot camp. Dues for IRL membership varied — Matthew paid $480 a month. Matthew was training to be a “Specialust,” a role he says involved training others in content production and helping to “style” their social media photos. The group was also working on a cryptocurrency project that would eventually be called Tume: In exchange for service to the organization, soldiers would receive Tume credit, which they could, at some point, use for services within the group. Soldiers weren’t paid for the work they performed in fiat currency, Matthew says, nor were they allowed to handle any money directly without KoA’s permission; upon joining, they were required to surrender — or wash — all of their money and possessions.
Mostly, though, Matthew says days at the cabin involved meticulous cleaning, posting on Facebook, and participating in long, psychoanalyzing conversations with Wiz-EL and KoA — often picking apart small gestures and facial expressions as a reflection of childhood trauma, unconscious desires, or the ways soldiers had been been conditioned, or “brainwashed,” by the Pain Matrix. Over time, Wiz-EL and Matthew began filming snapshots of life in the cabin with the aim of posting them online, Matthew says, in the manner of a DIY reality TV show.
Matthew says he was tasked with dishwashing and scrubbing the toilets, among other chores. Failure to clean to KoA’s exacting specifications — or follow minute household rules — would be cause for still more psychoanalysis. While KoA cooked and oversaw the house’s day-to-day operations, Matthew says, Wiz-EL would spend hours in bed to stay “emotionally sober.”
Matthew says he was not allowed to take a walk outside without Wiz-EL or KoA’s permission. And though they were on the hook for monthly dues, IRL DayLife Army soldiers were forbidden from working conventional jobs.
Matthew noticed early on that there were certain rules that seemed to apply only to him: how much sugar he should consume (none) and how to drink his water (no ice).
In the months leading up to the boot camp, his conversations with Wiz-EL and KoA had begun to revolve increasingly around his sexuality. Matthew says that Wiz-EL had previously encouraged him to explore relationships with Black women, and now KoA brought up the possibility that he might be interested in men — gently at first. “They didn’t say that I was gay flat-out,” Matthew says. “They were like, ‘You have some stuff around men that you should figure out.’”
Over time, they pushed him harder about his sexuality. About a week before he came to the cabin, Matthew says KoA called him with a question: “Do you like black cock?”
Prior to joining the group at the cabin, Matthew was contacted by an online-only member of the organization who related an assignment from KoA: He would have to hook up with a guy. According to Matthew, the directive he received was to hook up with a Black guy specifically. Though Matthew identifies as straight, he wasn’t necessarily opposed to the idea of experimenting with men. But the idea of profiling a sexual partner because KoA believed that he had an “unconscious infatuation with Black male sexuality” made him a little queasy. Still, he complied. “If [someone’s] about to be your general, who rules every aspect of your life, you really want them to be right about everything,” he remembers feeling. He went home with a man he met on Tinder and reported he’d completed the directive.
He felt bad about the entire episode, but when he finally arrived in Washington, things got even weirder. One day, Matthew says KoA used her pendulum to gain a new insight. She stared at it intently and used it to divine answers to a series of questions about Matthew’s parents, who’d refused to send money despite his repeated urging. (KoA insisted that they compensate her for teaching him things that they hadn’t when he was growing up.) KoA informed Matthew that his mother was a CIA agent — an accusation Wiz-EL and KoA routinely leveraged against the organization’s detractors.
Later that October, the group left the cabin, and he, Wiz-EL, and KoA spent a few months moving throughout Washington — the first in a series of relocations. During this time, Matthew remembers a two-week period when Wiz-EL encouraged him to ingest orange juice that he had mixed with his own semen — a privilege he was required to “pay” for by creating a certain number of Facebook posts each day. Later in the group’s travels, Matthew says, he was forbidden from watching straight porn while practicing the whyte stone ritual. Participating members were instructed to log their masturbation sessions and give weekly presentations on their progress to the group.
By February 2018, the group had migrated to Southern California, and two new IRL soldiers had joined, both of them in their twenties. Matthew says KoA told the group she had found a picturesque white house in Palm Springs to accommodate the expanding group, but the rental fell through. From there, they headed for Las Vegas, where they hopped from one Airbnb to another, including a giant McMansion with a pool.
To Matthew, it was unclear where their funding was coming from — if it was coming at all. None of the soldiers were allowed to work jobs, and they spent the bulk of their time cleaning, psychoanalyzing one another, and talking to potential recruits.
Matthew was barely making music anymore. Though Wiz-EL and KoA had entered his life as creative mentors, the DayLife Army generally frowned upon the pursuit of art as a vocation — partly on the basis that it centered objects, not people.
Instead, the soldiers were focused on creating other types of content. Wiz-EL had begun pushing a new marketing strategy he was calling “social ads” — posts where members would leverage their social media following to draw attention to other members of the group. “There were points where I was not allowed to move,” Matthew says of one content marathon. “I had to sit on a stool with no back, and I’d just sit there writing social ads about Wiz on my Facebook page.” One night, after missing his quota, he was sent to bed without dinner. Wiz-EL slipped him a container of applesauce in secret.
It was a precarious lifestyle. They continued leapfrogging from place to place, eventually arriving in the Phoenix metropolitan area. There, all five members settled into a trendy hotel, crammed into a single room. A new IRL soldier was about to be onboarded, and according to Matthew, Wiz-EL and KoA were expecting him to deliver “tens of thousands of dollars” when he joined.
When Edaan Brook first came across the Daily Dot Tumple article in 2016, he was in a rut. Earthly, the electronic project he’d started with a friend, was generating some buzz — and he had a cool job doing A&R for North Carolina’s Break World Records, a respected experimental electronic music label. But his job had begun to feel like a slog: Just a year and a half before, he’d lost a close friend, mentor, and collaborator in a car accident, and he’d been partying and working as much as his body could handle to numb the pain.
Edaan, who spoke with OneZero during a three-hour phone interview in May 2019 and is currently living with the DayLife Army, said he read the article and thought, “This is the craziest thing I’ve seen on the internet.” He added Wiz-EL, KoA, and Matthew on Facebook and signed up for a couple of Tumple groups.
Aspects of Tumple resonated with Edaan. For one, the organization centered around a “clean” lifestyle. KoA and Wiz-EL, he says, encouraged him to derive his sense of self-worth from the parts of himself that weren’t being monetized in the music industry. “There’s a lot of value in the relationships you bring, and there’s emotional and spiritual currency that everyone has,” Edaan says, echoing the DayLife Army’s philosophy. “You — being the person that you are — is actually your most valuable asset.”
Edaan was used to all-encompassing belief systems: His father, Yaron Brook, a prominent objectivist pundit who began his career working in Israeli military intelligence, served as the executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute for 17 years, and Edaan says he grew up attending an objectivist school. “To be honest, the cult shit is not that new to me,” he says.
The DayLife Army’s belief system was especially appealing to him considering his father’s staunch capitalist and Zionist views, which he described as having a painful effect on him. “A Black woman who’s getting white people to give them all of their resources … is the biggest threat to white supremacy and global capital that exists,” said Edaan.
In the spring of 2018, Edaan logged onto the DayLife Army website and filled out the enlistment form to become a URL soldier, or online member. Within a few days, KoA and Wiz-EL got in touch asking if he wanted to become IRL. “You’re only going to be scratching the surface if you’re doing this from a URL perspective,” he remembers them explaining. Edaan took them up on the invitation.
Edaan began practicing the Standurds in earnest, dressing in white clothes, doing his best to stay sober, and selling his belongings. “I sold all my synthesizers and all my gear — everything that tied me back to that world.”
In July 2018, after quitting his job, Edaan traveled from Los Angeles to Phoenix, where he was set to link up with the group. When he arrived, he remembers, “I had a few sets of white clothing [and] no money in my bank account.”
Because of Edaan’s affluent background and network, Matthew says, Wiz-EL and KoA had been expecting a windfall. The plan, Matthew recalls, was for Edaan to leverage his connections in the music industry, so he began scouring his contact list and making calls. Matthew says it was clear early on that Wiz-EL and KoA were grooming Edaan for a leadership position in the organization. Shortly after his arrival, he adopted a moniker that suggested as much: “DayLife Jesus.” (According to the organization, he now goes by D’Jesus.)
Money was an ongoing issue: After the group relocated to a nearby Motel 6, Matthew says, KoA and Wiz-EL gave the soldiers a new mission: secure at least $90 each day to cover the couple’s food and lodging. Any additional money might go toward their own room and board but only with the leadership’s consent.
Since they weren’t allowed to work conventional jobs, Matthew says, he and the other soldiers only had a handful of options for making their daily “washes,” or payments. One was hitting up friends and family members to see if they were feeling generous. Another was digital panhandling, sending copy-pasted messages to random social media accounts explaining they were in a bad way. Sometimes, when they were really in a pinch, they’d beg in the street. Matthew didn’t really feel like he had a choice: He felt he owed KoA and Wiz-EL his loyalty after all the years they’d spent mentoring him.
Within the DayLife Army’s belief system, escort work was regarded a bit differently from other kinds of work. Like charging someone for access to your secret Facebook group, the group seemed to view it as an example of generating income for your presence alone. Matthew maintains that KoA never directly instructed him to start using dating sites for fundraising purposes, but when he set up a SeekingArrangement profile and began communicating with other users, he remembers her telling him to set an initial asking price at around $2,000, plus travel expenses, with the understanding that all the money that was left over after the trip would be sent to her directly. The SeekingArrangement plan didn’t pan out. But later, Matthew says, KoA would take it upon herself to personally rewrite his profile, hoping he would earn money for the group as a “jet-setting escort that would fly around the world.”
As the soldiers started spending more nights on the street, Matthew says they began going on Grindr and Tinder, looking for money and shelter. During their roughly three-month stretch in the Phoenix area, Matthew says that he went on roughly a half-dozen dates in which he managed to secure $10 or $20 payments at a time, occasionally more. Matthew says the soldiers eventually started using dating sites to solicit help. On their profiles, they indicated that they were “stranded.”
As summer turned to fall, Wiz-EL and KoA issued a new directive: In order for the group to leave Phoenix, they would have to “manifest” a white Toyota Sequoia — a glamorous upgrade from the old Corolla they were driving. Since moving into a new Motel 6, Wiz-EL and KoA had distanced themselves from the group, hunkering down in their room and spending time on the internet. Edaan, who was now ranked captain in the group, had become a messenger of sorts.
During one meeting, he disappeared into the motel for four hours. “We were like, ‘All right, they’re going to have some new shit, a new plan, a new something,’” Matthew remembers. But when Edaan finally returned, he didn’t have anything substantial to tell them. Instead, he informed them that they had to begin putting sticky notes over the cameras on their phones.
With Wiz-EL and KoA largely holed up, the soldiers were more autonomous. They started hanging around a local university, sleeping in classrooms and charging their phones at the student center. Occasionally, they’d steal food from supermarkets and shirk the no-work rule, signing up for delivery jobs on Postmates.
In early October, Matthew says, the boys finally manifested a car. Through Grindr, they’d connected with a wealthy man who took a liking to the crew. A few days later, the man cosigned the lease on a eight-seat Honda Pilot — not exactly a Toyota Sequoia but close enough. Several days later, Wiz-EL and KoA set off for California in the new eight-seater with Edaan at the wheel. The other soldiers piled into the old Corolla. After all the effort they’d put into obtaining the car, they weren’t allowed to set foot in it.
Matthew was reaching a turning point: The homelessness, around-the-clock work, and absurd directives were all starting to add up, and the leadership’s justification for the soldiers’ predicament — that living out on the street was an opportunity for soldiers to “burn their ego” — felt increasingly flimsy.
One day, Matthew found himself sitting at a picnic table with Wiz-EL. Wiz-EL downplayed the hard work of the soldiers, and claimed that it was he and Matthew alone who had manifested the car. Matthew stood up from the table. “You can tell me of all this esoteric stuff that you were doing from a distance and how you created the context in which this is happening, but I don’t care,” he remembers saying.
Wiz-EL ordered him to leave the table. It was a small moment, but it marked a rupture in Matthew’s connection to the group. Matthew set about quietly distancing himself.
In November, he began staying with a man in San Diego he had met on Grindr. He was still on the hook for his daily washes, and the man agreed to offer him regular financial assistance. Over the next two months, he says, he got the man to donate over $1,000 across dozens of payments, most of which went to KoA.
That same month, the group reached out to Matthew with another fundraising scheme, one even more absurd than the ones that had come before. KoA had started claiming that she was in possession of all of humanity’s souls and offered individuals a chance to “buy” them back. Matthew was tasked with sending a message to every white person he knew outlining why they needed to send money to KoA.
Matthew felt his mental state deteriorating. Unable to shake the overwhelming feeling that what he was doing was wrong, he increasingly turned to alcohol and caffeine and eventually called a crisis hotline. On December 7, after being declined a temporary medical leave from the organization, Matthew messaged another member of the group and tendered his resignation.
A couple weeks later, back home at his parents’ house, Matthew received an official discharge notice from the DayLife Military via email. “Your unwillingness and/or inability to fully commit your financial, social and/or personal capital to this organization’s mission makes a relationship with DLM that serves its commission to expand the PleasureMatrix very difficult,” the letter explained. “To wit, DLM has chosen to no longer make up the difference in that lacking capital and for that difficulty.”
The notice detailed requirements for future reenlistment should he choose to do so within 30 days: They included the recruitment of a new or returning soldier and the creation of 12 social capital ads for General KoA. Almost a year later, the organization sent him an accounting statement. It included the total amount of money the group claimed he had sent to the KoA since he’d arrived at the cabin — $9,000. It also indicated that he still owed the DayLife Army over $20,000 in dues.
At the start of 2019, the DayLife Military was no closer to its 2,000-year goal than it was when it launched. Another soldier had parted ways with the organization around the same time as Matthew, reducing Wiz-EL and KoA’s IRL army to a headcount of two. On Facebook, members of the organization continued to churn out content, but social engagement fell off. Meanwhile, Edaan’s behavior online was becoming increasingly combative and erratic.
In March 2019, dozens of musicians in the underground electronic scene had started sharing stories about Edaan on Twitter — many of them claiming the former A&R guy had contacted them asking for help getting a room for the night without revealing that he was involved with a cult.
Soon after, Edaan tagged over 60 people, including one of the writers of this story, in a long, explanatory status update on Facebook: “Yea Iv been copypastaing the fuck out of everyone this same message,” he wrote. “Yes, I used the fact that I’m homeless, and living in a car to get money. I used that. I used you. And your money is literally DISGUSTING and covered in blood. I shovel it into my General’s furnace. I BURN IT ALL. I burn white people’s money, I burn black people’s money, I burn trans peoples money, rich, poor, I don’t get a fuck. Whoever sends it, it gets burned.” In early April, Edaan claimed that FBI officers had visited his brother’s house in Los Angeles, looking for him.
When OneZero reached him in May 2019, Edaan spoke at length about his personal backstory and the “glow up” he felt he’d experienced after joining DayLife Army. He also said he was unable to reveal specifics about the organization’s day-to-day operations and location. “We operate like a military,” he explained.
At the time, Edaan said, the group was gearing up for another overhaul: They were leaving Facebook. KoA told the group that her personal account had been permanently removed by the platform, and while no one seemed to know exactly why, Edaan likened the situation to Facebook’s ban of political figures like Alex Jones, Louis Farrakhan, and Milo Yiannopoulos: “KoA is the most dangerous fucking person in the world, in a way,” he said.
Plus, Edaan said, the organization was tired of relying on other people’s platforms: ”We’re turning away from Facebook because we’re not going to give away all of our story for free anymore,” he said. “We already have our own platform — a spiritual and emotional platform and that can manifest itself anywhere.”
That summer, Wiz-EL announced he was leaving Facebook too. Edaan followed suit. Some DayLife Army affiliates are still active on the platform, but the social ads and Pain Matrix jokes have become less frequent. Waiting Ruum, the group that once herded scores of prospective members, has become something of a ghost town: No one has joined in the last 30 days.
After OneZero first reached out to Wiz-EL and KoA for an interview for this story, KoA agreed to answer a list of email questions in the form of a series of voice memos.
In the recordings, her voice is bright and warm. She announces that she will be speaking on behalf of Wiz-EL and herself, though she also encourages OneZero to consult Wiz-EL’s Facebook archive for answers to queries. “Also, you know, white guys talk a lot — constantly. You can find out where they’ve talked all the time,” she says.
KoA says she never set out looking to start a self-proclaimed “cult.” That was more Wiz-EL’s idea, she explains, though she says they were jointly responsible for developing Tumple’s spiritual philosophy. The DayLife Military, she says, was her attempt to apply those principles to the realm of “lived experience.”
Her goals are ambitious: As the leader of a real-life “social military,” she hopes to usher the world into an era of “social fascism,” siphoning resources from the Pain Matrix in order to redistribute wealth and upend the racial and economic power structure. “It’s about spending, spending, spending,” she says, speaking to her unilateral control over financial decisions within the group. “My job is to spend better than anyone else on the planet ever has or ever could at this point in time.”
She paints a picture of a future where Tume, the group’s “social currency,” will supplant fiat money as the dominant form of exchange (she calls it a “proof of pleasure,” as opposed to “work”). And while DayLife Army represented the first stage of this operation, she claims, somewhat implausibly, that she has plans to roll out a “navy” and “air force” as well. (She clarifies that the military’s goal was to spread the “Tumplar pleasure ethic” and was squarely against munitions and violence.)
Responding to questions about the soldiers’ day-to-day responsibilities, KoA denies that certain types of work were off-limits in the DayLife Army, claiming that the organization simply emphasizes “emotional and spiritual work.”
“It’s kind of like making a giant military of service,” she says. “Next-level service employees, like hospitality employees.”
While she declines to detail the group’s source of income, she stresses that the soldiers’ primary obligation was to live their lives according to the Standurds, which “give them room they wouldn’t otherwise have to focus on their emotional and spiritual development.”
Speaking to the group’s philosophy on sex, KoA says she disagrees with the Daily Dot’s characterization of the organization as “sex cult,” arguing that the soldiers’ adherence to these guidelines, along with the group’s emphasis on emotional honesty and accountability, preempted the sort of hippy-era free-for-all the term implies. “My general philosophy is that if you can straighten up all your boundaries and get all your standards in order, you have access to unlimited, virtually unlimited power as a human being in your sexuality,” she says. Still, she says, she didn’t necessarily mind the Daily Dot’s use of the descriptor. “Any attention, technically, is fine attention on the internet.”
On the whole, she is transparent about the level of sacrifice the group demanded from its soldiers. “To be clear,” she says, “people can wash many things. They can wash money; they can wash assets, like physical objects — they can wash their lives.”
She likens the DayLife Army to traditional militaries around the world. “[Military service people] literally volunteer for a contract where their life is not their own any longer,” she said. “And they will even, in the traditional military, die for that. That’s not what we’re doing here. We actually say that you must experience ego death, not physical death, and then live more than you ever have before. Live larger and louder and longer than ever before.”
Though its Facebook operation has slowed, the DayLife Army is still operating. In December 2019, the group rolled out the first installment of a new newsletter. Written by Wiz-EL, it offered advice for women looking to empower themselves in the social media age. Former followers say that the DayLife Army onboarded at least three new IRL members in 2019. On platforms like Twitter and Instagram, you can catch glimpses of the army from time to time, in motel rooms or standing against an expanse of desert or colossal trees.
A post on the DayLife Army’s Instagram account from fall 2019, which currently boasts around 350 followers, shows a young woman clad in all white, head shaven, brandishing a small placard: “They made me eat my yogurt in a closet.” In a series of Instagram live broadcasts in spring 2020, members of the organization took turns, in the manner of a confessional, speaking at length about the ways they were working to interrogate their own behaviors and thoughts, searching for traces of the Pain Matrix programming they had internalized as a result of the different facets of their identity. A few months into the coronavirus pandemic, they appeared to be spending the bulk of their time outside; in some posts, members mention they have been sleeping in tents.
As nationwide protests against police violence and systemic racism erupted following the killing of George Floyd, the group seemed to seize the moment as a recruitment opportunity.
“Evurythung is ready to EXPLODE,” KoA explained in a tweet on June 2. “Thu rotting corpse of thu PainMatrux is on the side of thu road — bloated to bursting. Get yr air matresses ready folks, u might b camping sooner than u thunk.” Days later, Wiz-EL criticized protesters for “providung free emotio al and apirual labor to bandaid” global capital’s “continual PR crises.” Eventually he published a Twitter thread claiming that if protesters didn’t feel like the police, the government, and the economy were serving them, they should try “surving” KoA instead. “Uts a lot more fun thun foghtun cops,” he tweeted on June 13.
Meanwhile, the organization continues to lose members. Two IRL DayLife Army soldiers left the organization in May. One of them was Yasmin Ben-David, who announced her departure on Facebook: “I will continue my own mission, fostering immaculate ethics and values, continuing the work that my soul is meant to do,” she wrote.
She said she was initially attracted to the group’s politics. “I liked the inversion of society’s pyramid structure and putting Black women in control of the resources,” she told OneZero. Though she appreciated the idea of a social economy and the group’s emphasis on living a physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy life, her issue was more with the DayLife Army’s approach. “The group’s execution of their mission is marred by misprized arrogance and unchecked hypocrisy,” she said. “Using the same structural methodology as the systems that originally brainwashed everyone into white supremacy and violent institutions sounds like an effective strategy until you realize that that system was engineering people for pain, toil, violence and blind subservience to malevolent entities — not for pleasure, harmony and spiritual alignment.”
Days after she announced her departure online, Ben-David began circulating an online fundraising page to assist her in leaving the organization. “I have not had my own money since the moment I got off the Greyhound bus in July 2019,” she explained in a later Facebook post. “Since then, I have not seen a doctor, dentist, had a bank account, bought new clothes, cooked a meal for myself, gone anywhere by myself.”
Phu, the other soldier who left, said she was especially drawn to the group’s idea of “Black Subpremacy,” a belief system that prizes and emphasizes the power of Black women. But her time with the organization told a different story: Only white people, she said, were promoted to leadership positions. Meanwhile, these leaders were empowered to impose the organization’s strict rules and disciplinary measures upon the Black women they supervised. Phu said KoA and Wiz-EL would often accuse her of being “irresponsible” and “ruining the organization’s integrity with [her] pussy,” in a manner Phu said evoked the racist “Jezebel” trope. “[This is] totally not an anti-racist organization,” Phu said.
Before joining the in-person community last October, Phu, who is transexual, said KoA personally assured her that the group would ensure her continuous access to hormone replacement therapy and associated medical care. But, she says, the leaders caused her to repeatedly miss or delay scheduled appointments by refusing her access to her own money or car. At one point, Phu said she experienced a three-week stretch without her daily hormones; after she traveled to receive care, she said the organization penalized her by increasing the amount of money she was expected to bring in. “They think [medical care for [transexual people] is not real,” Phu told OneZero. “They don’t give a fuck about trans women.”
After a year and a half of reporting, OneZero sent KoA, Wiz-EL, and Edaan a list of fact-checking questions. While KoA and Edaan both participated, Wiz-EL chose not to, either not commenting or answering “Fake Nuws.” During the formal fact-checking process, OneZero again reached out to the group, and KoA responded with a nearly 5,000-word message. “Do you know why you are doing this article, really?” she wrote in part. “Do you know how it ended up coming from you? Have you wondered about all the overlapping contexts that created this particular reality we are engaged in together?” Others in the DayLife Military simultaneously shared the same illustration to their Instagram Stories feed: It said “Lying to the press is legal.”
And on June 14, Tumple issued a statement on its official Twitter account: “we r seekung no mew memburs curruntly an understund @daylifearmy is seekung none eithur.”
Matthew moved back home in late 2018 and eventually entered treatment with therapists specialized in recovery from cultic groups. He also began attending a monthly group meeting for cult survivors.
At first, he said, the thing that struck him was “how similar everyone’s stories were.”
“The idea of needing to sacrifice one’s ego, of needing to destroy people in order to bring in a new matrix,” was a common refrain among survivors, he said. He recognized his experiences in the tales of other victims: the minute rules and the punishments for violating them, the incessant cleaning and menial labor, the constant fundraising and recruitment, the charismatic leaders claiming supernatural authority. Matthew believed that Tumple was doing something wholly new, but at the end of the day, he realized Wiz-EL and KoA had just created another cult.
“It hurt — especially because the initial thing that was tapped into was, ‘You’re going to be this legendary artist,’” he says. “You’re being inflated with this importance that you’re saving the world, thinking that you’re in new biblical times and everyone around you is the most pivotal person ever, and you’re creating a new way of life, the greatest artistic statement of your century. If anything, I feel like the real art piece of the thing is just basically that they recreated the exact abusive structure of the quote-unquote Pain Matrix.”
Reached for comment for this story, Kyp Malone, KoA’s brother, said that while he loved and respected his sister, he chose not to know the specifics of the situation. However, he stressed that he understood why an individual like his sister might end up following the path she chose based on their family’s strict religious background. “We grew up in a high-control group,” he said. “Sometimes people find different ways to reproduce situations that were essentially traumatizing to deal with.”
High-control groups like cults can come in all shapes and sizes. According to Alexandra Stein, a London-based social psychologist specialized in ideological extremism and other dangerous social relationships, they can range from activist groups fighting for progressive causes to multilevel marketing schemes. There’s nothing particularly unusual about a new religious movement that dresses up in the clothes of a specific youth subculture — even one as niche and of-its-moment as Weird Facebook — and taps into the same issues at the heart of progressive social causes and movements.
In her 2016 book Terror, Love, and Brainwashing, Stein outlines some of the characteristics that define high-control organizations: a totalizing belief system that hinges on good-versus-bad, us-versus-them thinking; thought-stopping buzzwords that gloss over complex realities; members who become increasingly isolated from their friends, families, and former selves; the belief that any single person holds the answer to all of the questions of existence — and on that basis, has the right to dictate every aspect of yours.
Stein says that all humans share an innate need for community. As such, we’re all vulnerable on some level to the advances of these groups. And they can be particularly attractive to individuals in the midst of a major life transition, such as starting college, leaving a job, or losing an important relationship.
As we spend more and more of our time online, there may be more opportunities than ever to fall into these crowds. And thanks to social media, communicating with and keeping tabs on members has never been easier.
Rachel Bernstein, a licensed therapist, cult expert, and educator, says that while the internet has made it easier for individuals to investigate groups, it’s also become “a free-for-all for any and all people who want to recruit to their group or to their idea or to their ideal or to their conspiracy or to their paranoia.” She estimates there are hundreds of internet-based high-control groups.
The DayLife Army’s origins in Weird Facebook, and the particularities of its belief system, may be unique, but the organization shares something in common with contemporary conspiracy theory groups and far-right online communities, which tend to embrace a similar mix of memes, irony, and insider-outsider thinking.
“Conspiracy stuff is challenging what we take for granted — the most extreme example being the flat-Earth thing,” says David Robertson, a lecturer in religious studies at the Open University in the U.K. “It’s about [how] what you’ve been told is true isn’t true.” Part of that formula, he says, is using deliberately provocative rhetoric to prod at consensus niceties and norms. “They say they’re doing it: ‘We’re not even using your language.’ Using the word ‘cult’ to describe themselves — it’s all part of that.”
Eventually, Matthew says, he realized that the only thing that really stood out about the DayLife Army was the way it flagrantly advertised itself as a destructive, dictatorial organization. In some ways, this was more transparent than most high-control groups.
But it also offered the group some plausible deniability, especially in the irony-obsessed context of millennial internet culture. In a social media ecosystem where the most shocking claims always seem to travel the farthest, it was also part of the pitch.
Like many cult survivors, Matthew is still coming to terms with some of his own actions during his time with the group: “Everyone that I walked around to with my enthusiasm and excitement that we could do something new, I was just dragging all these people into an abusive structure that some of them are still in to this day,” he says.
In an effort to raise awareness of the realities of life in the organization and encourage remaining members to leave, Matthew began sharing his story on an Instagram account he created this spring. The account dissects the psychological tactics that underlie the organization’s online and IRL activities. “I didn’t know what was ironic, what was sincere, fake or real,” he wrote. “All I knew was that I was going to follow the next order and keep going at all costs.”
Mostly, Matthew has been spending the past year trying to rebuild the parts of his life he neglected during his years with Tumple and the DayLife Army: repairing his relationship with his parents, reconnecting with old friends, forging new ones, and embarking on a new career. Since coming back home, he’s started making music again, too.
This story was fact-checked by Matt Giles.