How a TikTok Dance Cult Exploited and Abused Its Brainwashed Members


TikTok is on the verge of being banned in the United States, and Dancing for the Devil: The 7M TikTok Cult won’t alter its reputation as a tool utilized by conniving Asian power players to manipulate and brainwash young Americans. Derek Doneen’s three-part docuseries is an eye-opening story about aspiring dancers, social media, and a Korean pastor accused of various offenses ranging from financial fraud and sexual abuse to coercing adherents to sever all ties with their families and friends. If it features more than a few frustrating plot holes that undercut its comprehensiveness, it remains a startling look at the ease with which 21st-century hucksters can ply their trade online.

“I cannot be defeated!” proclaims Robert Shinn in one of many audio recordings featured in this bingeable affair (May 29). The preacher, however, has never met a foe as formidable as Netflix, and Dancing for the Devil: The 7M TikTok Cult takes him to brutal task for his myriad wrongdoings. Shinn is the founder and leader of the Santa Ana-based Shekinah Church, a religious outfit that, as evidenced by the material on display in Doneen’s docuseries, indulges in speaking-in-tongues craziness and promotes generic mumbo jumbo about heaven and hell, and its leader as the “Man of God” capable of guiding people to the former and away from the latter. Central to Shinn’s teachings is the idea that the faithful must completely detach from their loved ones in order to pledge allegiance to the Almighty (and him). The closer to Shinn, the closer to God—and getting into his orbit means working for peanuts and catering to his every whim.

Such notions are straight out of the Cult 101 playbook, and thus the revelation that Shinn was filching most of his followers’ earnings is about as surprising as the dawn of each new day. As far back as two decades ago, Shinn had a guiding interest in celebrity, going so far as to executive produce two (crummy-looking) movies and to attempt to launch entertainment careers for his right-hand man Daniel and his daughter Kloe. When those didn’t pan out, he shrewdly turned to a group of dancers who were trying to make it big on TikTok. It was here where Shinn made a serious mark, beginning with his recruitment of James “Bdash” Derrick, a rising star in the scene who served as a de facto recruiter for Shinn’s church. When Shinn saw that this might be a lucrative opportunity to extend his reach into TV and film, he formed a management company called 7M Films and signed a host of additional dancers eager to parlay their hard work into fame and fortune.

All of this is background material for Dancing for the Devil: The 7M TikTok Cult’s primary narrative involving Melanie and Miranda Wilking, whose lives in Detroit were, from an early age, fixated on dance. When the two found it tough, post-high school graduation, to make it big in L.A., they gravitated to TikTok and quickly established themselves as a popular brand (the Wilking Sisters). This, in turn, attracted the attention of James, who was soon joining them on videos and in group text chats, and becoming romantically involved with Miranda. While this initially seemed to everyone—including the siblings’ parents Dean and Kelly Wilking—like another positive step on Miranda’s path to stardom, everything soured when she began inexplicably cutting herself off from her clan. Considering how close they all were, this made no sense, although videos of her reading the Bible and dancing with a scarily robotic smile certainly suggested something sinister—as did attempts to see her that ended in cruel rejection.

Kylie Douglas in Dancing for the Devil: The 7M TikTok Cult.

Kylie Douglas in Dancing for the Devil: The 7M TikTok Cult.


Melanie, Dean, and Kelly speak candidly throughout Dancing for the Devil: The 7M TikTok Cult, as do many former members of Shinn’s 7M troupe, including Kevin “Konkrete” Davis, Kailea Gray, Kylie Douglas, and Aubrey Fisher, all of whom were seduced by Shinn’s promises of success—many of which came true, at least in terms of commercial gigs and concert-tour jobs—and concurrent biblical teachings. The longer they stayed, however, the more they realized that something was amiss, and in its back half, Doneen’s docuseries reveals that Shinn wasn’t simply a crook and a phony but something more along the lines of a serial con man, since the TikTok dancers weren’t his first marks. Shinn had actually been at this for the past 20-odd years, and just as he was now preying upon artists desperate to do whatever was necessary to achieve their dreams, he had previously taken advantage of the vulnerable with Shekinah Church.

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Desperate to find a way to rescue their daughter (literally and psychologically) from the cult’s clutches, Dean and Kelly reached out to other parents of dance troupe members and also posted a please-come-home video online, which garnered national media coverage (including by this publication, whom Shinn refers to in audio as “Daily BEEEAST”) that caught the eye of Melanie Lee, who had escaped Shekinah Church. Eventually, Melanie’s sister Priscylla did as well. Alas, their healing process has been a slow and arduous one, especially for Priscylla, whose unvarnished anger and misery—rooted in shame, regret, and outrage—is startling in its intensity. In their tormented conversations, Dancing for the Devil: The 7M TikTok Cult lays bare the difficulty of coming to terms with having been duped and exploited by the very people you most trusted and revered.

If the series paints an agonized portrait of the pain and suffering caused by a friend or relative’s indoctrination into a cult, it nonetheless undercuts some of its impact by ignoring key details, such as Shinn’s origins (where did he come from? When, how, and why did he start Shekinah Church?). By not fleshing out its tale, Dancing for the Devil: The 7M TikTok Cult occasionally comes across as sketchy. Nonetheless, that doesn’t wholly diminish its indignant power. Thanks to a formidable roster of interviewees who persuasively explicate Shinn’s sleazy and self-serving modus operandi, it does what the justice system has yet to conclusively do: out Shinn as a dangerous cult leader interested less in salvation than in lining his own pockets and gratifying his own sexual urges.

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