Articles From the January 1994 Unification News
Challenging 'Mind Control" in Illinois
by Andrew P. Bacus
The following is the transcript of a statement delivered to the Illinois Senate Committee on Education, December 7, 1993.
The issue that is before this committee today, as framed in Senate Resolution 448, is whether certain groups which have been identified as "destructive cults", should be allowed to freely express their beliefs on college campuses. Another way of looking at the issue, however, is whether young adults on college campuses should be allowed free access to all religious/political ideas, or just those to which it is permitted to by the state.
It has been suggested by some of those who have appeared before this committee that, beyond just presenting "ideas" on campus, certain groups have resorted to the use of unethical techniques of persuasion called "mind control". In fact this allegation is nothing but a negative value judgment made by persons who wish to deny members of non-traditional religious organizations the opportunity to share their faith with others.
The chief proponent of the "destructive cult" label and "mind control" theory is an organization by the name of the Cult Awareness Network (CAN) which is based here in Illinois. The executive director of the national CAN organization is Ms. Cynthia Kisser. I understand that Ms. Kisser has made a presentation to the committee. Though I have not heard her presentation I will assume that it substantially the same as those she has given on numerous prior occasions. I will address the substance of Ms. Kissers position in a moment. First, however, I would like to say a few words about CAN.
CAN was founded several years ago under the name, the Citizens Freedom Foundation (CFF) by Ted Patrick. Ted Patrick is generally considered to be the "father" of a controversial technique known as "deprogramming". Essentially deprogramming involves the involuntary abduction of a member of a new religious movement (NRM) to a remote location where they are subjected to a lengthy and intense "faith breaking" program. According to social scientists who have interviewed persons who have been subjected to this experience, the process often involves violence, physical bondage, and lengthy sessions of verbal abuse. According to Dean Kelly, executive director for religious liberties for the National Counsel of Churches, deprogramming is best described as: "spiritual gang rape".
Since 1974 it is estimated that over 10,000 persons of all different faiths have been subjected to involuntary deprogramming. Persons who have been subjected to deprogramming include not just members of unpopular NRM's but also members of the Catholic faith, Episcopalians, and even lesbians. Deprogramming is big business. A professional deprogrammer can charge parents as much as $50,000 to conduct a "snatch" and "deprogramming".
Since its inception, CAN has been actively involved in referring parents of members of religious groups (which CAN has arbitrarily designated as "destructive cults") to deprogrammers (now called "exit counselors" by CAN). For example, former deprogrammer Mark Blocksum, who acknowledges having participated in hundreds of deprogrammings, states in an affidavit dated July 18, 1992 that he received 100-200 referrals of deprogramming customers from CAN officers and directors, including Cynthia Kisser. Cynthia Kisser herself, has conceded under oath that she has personally referred persons to deprogrammers. In exchange for referrals, deprogrammers have made cash payments to CAN as referral fees. Recently, Galen Kelly, the former security director of CAN, was arrested and convicted for kidnapping a forty year old member of a fundamentalist Christian group in northern Virginia. According to FBI records, at the time Mr. Kelly was arrested by the FBI he was under $1,500 per month retainer to CAN.
Besides Ms. Kisser, several current and former directors and officers of CAN have been involved in facilitating deprogramming activities. For example, Ann Olander, who I understand submitted a letter to the committee, is a current officer of the local CAN chapter in Chicago. She kidnapped and subjected her daughter to involuntary deprogramming by obtaining an illegal conservatorship order issued by a judge in Texas on the basis of an affidavit signed by a doctor who had never even examined her daughter. Now, almost twenty years later, she is still intolerant of her forty-three year old daughter's religious convictions. Not withstanding Mrs. Olander's view as expressed in her letter, I think we can all agree that it would be difficult for any child to maintain a normal relationship with a parent who for twenty years has passionately believed that her daughter is "brainwashed". Mrs. Olander is not unlike other parents who have testified before this committee, who likewise hold intolerant attitudes concerning their adult child's religious affiliation based on dis-information supplied by CAN.
CAN officials say that there are 2,000 - 5,000 cults in the United States. Included among the groups that have been identified as destructive cults are: The Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews for Jesus, the World-Wide Church of God, and dozens of bible based evangelical groups. Steve Hassan, who is a deprogrammer and former national director of CAN's FOCUS group, stated in 1989 at a CAN sponsored educational meeting in New Brunswick, New Jersey that, "The biggest cult in America is the Catholic Church." Since the designation of a group by CAN as a destructive cult is essentially an arbitrary decision, virtually any group can be so designated. CAN's policy has been to designate any group which is actively recruiting members to be a destructive cult.
CAN makes no distinction between the groups it catalogues as "destructive cults". Thus "political cults" are said to be pretty much the same as destructive "diet group cults" . And small "weapons amassing end of the world cults" are said to be the same as large "self improvement cults". Devil worshipping groups are said to be just like strict fundamentalist Christian groups, etc. For CAN, if you've seen one cult you've seem them all. According to the CAN hype, any dangerous cult out there is a potential "mass suicide risk". Indeed, the specter of Jim Jones is CAN's biggest selling point to parents in the marketing of their "services".
Tragically, the ones who suffer the most from CAN's irresponsible fear mongering about "cults" are the parents of members of NRM's who naively rely on CAN for information about their adult child's religion. CAN provides no positive information about any of the groups it has designated as destructive cults. It is no wonder that parents who contact CAN for information about their adult child's involvement in a NRM have problems maintaining relationships with their adult children. How are parents and child supposed to relate when the parents are taught to believe that their adult child has been brainwashed while the child feels that he has just had a profound religious experience?
CAN's main spokesperson for the past several years has been Ms. Cynthia Kisser. Ms. Kisser holds no professional degrees or training which qualify her as an expert on cults. She is what you might call a "self-styled cult expert". Aside from her lack of credibility, however, Ms. Kisser is an eloquent speaker who has presented CAN's views on "destructive cults" literally hundreds of times on college campuses, on TV, on radio, and before investigative committees such as this one. Reduced to its essence, CAN's position on "dangerous cults" boils down to one controversial theory. That is the theory of "mind control" (sometimes called "coercive persuasion" or "brainwashing").
The "mind control" theory holds that certain unethical techniques of persuasion are utilized by "dangerous cults" to pre-empt the free will of unsuspecting recruits and cause them to be involuntarily recruited. It is said that the exercise of these mind control techniques can cause lasting psychological harm to recruits. The primary professional proponent of this theory is a psychologist by the name of Margaret Singer.
Over the years CAN has routinely brought forth persons who were previously members of NRM's and who have nothing but bad things to say about their former group. Some of these people have testified before this committee today. Invariably, these persons are ex-members who have had their faith broken, or "re-defined" by deprogrammers. During a deprogramming or exit counseling session, a person's experience as a member of a NRM is re-defined by their "exit counselor" in strictly negative terms. Thus the religious experience which was so real to the young convert when he first made a commitment to the NRM is re-defined as the "euphoric illusion of mind control". The loving fellowship of fellow members of the NRM is re-defined as sinister "love bombing". Participation in a bible study program or lecture series is re-defined as "systematic control of social influences". Religious experience of any kind is re-defined as a mind control induced "delusion".
Numerous empirical studies have shown that most persons who become members of NRM's leave the group they have joined within one year. Ex-members who leave NRM's voluntarily almost never harbor ill will toward their former group. They typically perceive their experience as a valuable learning experience and move on with their lives. However, ex-members who are "deprogrammed" almost always exhibit great animosity toward their former group. Many, actually become deprogrammers themselves. Steve Hassan, for example, is an ex-member of the Unification Church who was involuntarily deprogrammed. He has spent the last 15 years deprogramming other persons. Mr. Hassan has been most active recently in providing "exit counseling" to members of the Boston Church of Christ. In fact Hassan, who charges $1,000 per day for his services, has received tens of thousands of dollars from the parents of members of the Boston Church of Christ and other groups to provide "exit counseling" services. Like other "exit counselors", Hassan relies on the mind control theories of Margaret Singer to justify his actions.
Social scientists who have examined the research of Margaret Singer and other "mind control" theorists have found that their data is based almost solely on research involving ex-members who have undergone "deprogramming". To put it in perspective, this is like relying on Mia Farrow to provide objective information about Woody Allen. For this reason, the Singer research has been rejected by the overwhelming majority of mental health professionals as not reliable. In examining her research, the American Psychological Association went so far as to comment that her research was "unscientific". Her mind control theory was described as "a negative value judgment in scientific garb". Yet in spite of the complete repudiation of her theories by the scientific community, her theories continue to be promoted by CAN and other such groups as fact.
It is scandalous that the Senate has incorporated in its resolution the notion that mind control is an accepted fact. Even a cursory examination of the scholarly writings found in main stream psychological journals would reveal that this theory has been rejected by most mental health professionals.
Singer's theories have been so reviled by her peers that during the early part of 1993 she filed a RICO action against the American Psychological Association and the American Sociological Association in an effort to force those organizations to recognize her theories as legitimate. That action was recently thrown out of court, and Singer's theories continue to be viewed as sophomoric by her peers.
CAN's intellectual dishonesty with regard to its promotion of the mind control theory is very much like that of certain organizations who have determined that blacks are intellectually inferior to whites. These organizations, such as the Ku Klux Klan, point to a small body of discredited scientific research which seems to support this ludicrous theory and rely on that (to the exclusion of all evidence to the contrary) to support their racist agendas. Likewise, CAN members have adopted as true the discredited theory of mind control, one rejected by the American Psychological Association and the overwhelming majority of mental health professionals, to justify their intolerant activities. Take away the mind control theory and what is left? Nothing but the negative value judgment of a group of intolerant people who disagree with the beliefs espoused by others.
It would do the citizens of the State of Illinois the greatest service for this committee to investigate the role that CAN has played in consciously providing false information about new religions to educators throughout the state.
There are numerous other issues relating to this topic which should be addressed but time does not allow. However, to aid in the committee's consideration of the issues I have provided materials which address most of the relevant issues. I draw your particular attention to two legal briefs filed in a case involving the legitimacy of the mind control theories of Margaret Singer. One was filed by the American Psychological Association (APA) and a number of psychologists and sociologists. It contains arguments and citations to scholarly works which dispute the acceptance by the scientific community of the "mind control" theories of Dr. Singer. The second brief is one that was submitted on behalf of the National Counsel of Churches and other religious organizations. It contains arguments and citations to scholarly works which challenge the Singer "mind control" thesis as being fundamentally opposed to religion. I have also included a copy of the U.S. v. Fishman federal court decision which summarizes the current law with regard to acceptance of the mind control theories. Section III of that decision is most instructive.
I am confident that upon this committee's consideration of all the evidence that is available, it will recognize that there is no danger posed to students at Universities by new religious movements, and it will continue to grant students the right to evaluate the views of others without state sanctioned impediments.
Andrew P. Bacus is an attorney who has represented HSA-UWC since 1986.
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