“Mind Control” and “Brainwashing”: Dispelling the Myths

The Politics of Religious Persecution

Over the last few decades, there have been an increasing number of cruel attacks on sincere people of many faiths and religions, brushing off their dedication and idealism as an apparent symptom of “brainwashing” or mental or spiritual coercion. The notion that religious leaders are controlling the minds of their members has been dramatized in the media, serving to further popularize the concept. As a result, restrictions on religious liberty have been or are presently being enacted in more and more countries around the world, limiting individual religious freedom, even though such legislation is at odds with most of these countries’ constitutions. Some anti-religionists have also attempted to present such “mind control” theories in courts of law as established scientific fact, despite the fact that “brainwashing” as a concept has been rejected by most of the international academic community. Such efforts, accompanied by intense lobbying by anti-religious sectors, have enabled the “brainwashing” theory to be found nominally acceptable in varying degrees in Western European governmental reports and legislation, though it remains a nebulous concept without clear definition.

Anti-religious organizations on several continents cultivate and sponsor the few psychologists or academics that espouse the theory of “mind control” for the purpose of attacking the membership of various churches and religious organizations. These “experts” help such organizations cloak religious bigotry under a wrap of scientific- and medical-sounding terms to gain respectability for their unscientific deeds and claims. Such organizations that oppose freedom of religion or freedom of association are commonly referred to as the anti-“cult” movement (ACM), in direct relation to the minority religious groups they attack, which have been popularly labeled by their opponents as cults. The word “cult” as such is not useful, in that it comes laden with prejudice and the intent to denigrate minority religions. Anti-cult organizations have taken upon themselves to determine whether groups merit the status of religion or cult—which they define as a destructive group, in an attempt to obviate their religious nature. Membership in bona fide religions is an expression of free choice; cults, they contend, employ mind manipulation techniques that control individuals and thus do not allow for individual free choice.

We contend that theories of “robotic brainwashing” and “mind control,” as popularized by anti-religious sectors, are unfounded myths with no basis in sound scientific or medical research. Many academics, theologians, sociologists, psychologists, and psychiatrists have actively disavowed and debunked these theories and have published much research on the topic. The remainder of this paper will be largely devoted to presenting some of their most relevant findings.

Where Did the Myths of “Mind Control” and “Brainwashing” Begin?

Brainwashing” is a term that supposedly describes a historically defined event; that is, the process of indoctrination that is said to have occurred to some American prisoners of war during the Korean War (1950–1953). It is a term coined by journalist Edward Hunter (1951) to describe “thought reform” programs and methods developed by the Chinese Communists after taking control of China in 1949. The Communist Chinese hoped to influence their own people and some prisoners of war enough to cause them to change their beliefs and accept beliefs as true that they previously had considered false. Their methodology included starvation, deprivation of sleep, and isolation of victims alone in a prison cell or a small room for long periods of time where they feared for their lives. They were told repeatedly and harshly that their political, religious, or social beliefs were wrong, while shown the advantages of complying with their captors’ position.

Dr. Lee Coleman, a psychiatrist in Berkeley, California, with a longstanding interest in the problems of psychiatry and law as applied to New Religious Movements (NRMs), has written dozens of articles in professional and lay journals. He is a very outspoken critic of the “robotic mind control” myth and explains that out of “the embellishments of Cold War propaganda that sought to gain support for what was an unpopular war [the Korean War], came the idea that the Red Chinese had developed a method of ‘mind control’.” The idea that scared so many people, he adds, was that “a zombie could be created, one that acted like he was in control of his own thoughts and feelings, but whose mind was in fact under someone else’s control. It is this zombie that anti-cultists and vocal psychiatrists so vehemently claim the cults are fashioning” (Coleman, Psychiatry 15).

Interestingly enough, lasting conversions supposedly brought about through “brainwashing” did not occur even in Chinese and North Korean prisoner of war camps, where attempts were made at “thought reform” of American prisoners. Early research into brainwashing, though done a few years after the events and involving a rather limited sampling, pointed away from the possibility of brainwashing happening in the absence of extreme physical coercion. Certainly, no modern-day version of “brainwashing” without the use of prisons or torture has been scientifically documented.1

Psychiatrist Robert J. Lifton prepared a study on “thought reform” following the Korean War. He interviewed 25 Western political prisoners who had been arrested and detained by the Chinese authorities and put through up to a three-and-a-half-year period of ideological remolding (szu-hsiang kai-tsao), which employed techniques of torture, ill treatment, and prolonged incarceration.2 He also interviewed 15 former students of Chinese “revolutionary” universities. Similarly, Edgar Schein, for his study on coercive persuasion, interviewed 15 of the more “notable” American POWs from the Korean War. Neither Lifton nor Schein found scientifically useful the sensationalistic model of robotic brainwashed mind-controlled zombies, as popularized by journalist Edward Hunter in his book, Brainwashing in Red China (1951) (Schein, Persuasion 18).

Robert Lifton and Edgar Schein did use the term “brainwashing” in the titles of their books Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism—A Study of “Brainwashing” in China (Lifton 1961), and Coercive Persuasion: A Socio-Psychological Analysis of Brainwashing of American Civilian Prisoners by the Chinese Communists (Schein 1961). However, both authors not only repudiated in their text the use of the term “brainwashing,” but in effect disallowed the substance of present-day “robot theories” of brainwashing aimed at denigrating certain church memberships, especially in new religions. Lifton concluded, “From the standpoint of winning them over to a Communist view of the world, the program must certainly be judged a failure” (Lifton 274).

Contrary to Hollywood’s versions of mind control, as portrayed in the motion picture The Manchurian Candidate (1962), the facts do not support the fantasy. The 50 out of 3,500 American prisoners who seemed to convert or collaborate at the time (Scheflin and Opton 89), simply did so for expediency. If any real conversion did take place, it was no more real than could be expected from having such close communication with the Communists, and not because of brainwashing and Pavlovian techniques capable of suborning free will and judgment.

The Amicus Curiae Brief 3 of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR) says:

True conversion to communism did not occur in either Korean POW situations, or in the Chinese incarcerations of Westerners on the mainland.4 What sensation-seeking journalists had interpreted as conversion turned out upon closer scrutiny to be simply coerced behavioral collaboration accompanied by little, if any, internal attitude change towards communism. (11–12)

Schein, in The Chinese Indoctrination Program for Prisoners of War: A Study of Attempted “Brainwashing,” concludes, “Although collaboration was prevalent, genuine conversion was rare. Considering the effort devoted to it, the Chinese program was a failure” (Schein, Indoctrination 332).

The “brainwashing” excuse was not “considered adequate defense in the trial of the American POWs who were court-martialed for collaborating with the enemy. In those trials, Communist indoctrination processes were considered to have produced no distinctive induced loss of capacity, and therefore could not constitute a legal defense” (Amicus Brief 22).

Another famous case involved Patty Hearst, the daughter of the wealthy California newspaper publisher. She was kidnapped on February 4, 1974, and after two months “converted” to active involvement and collaboration in the criminal life of her captors, an urban rebel group called the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). She helped rob a bank on April 15, 1974. She was arrested by the FBI on September 18, 1975, and was tried for robbery in 1976. At her trial she tried to explain away her participation in their criminal behavior by implying she had been brainwashed, and was therefore not accountable for that period of her life. She testified that the SLA had threatened to kill her if she did not join the group. The “jury rejected the implied brainwashing defense,” and she was sentenced to seven years in prison (Amicus Brief 23).5

The Amicus Brief brings out that Lifton and Schein concluded that “coercive persuasion in a strong and unequivocal sense cannot be distinguished from mainstream religions and other conventional social influences by any criterion other than the presence of incarceration and physical maltreatment” (Amicus Brief 19, 21). In other words, if someone is free to leave a group and is not physically coerced into submission, then the conditions are not distinguishable from mainstream life, and therefore cannot be classed as brainwashing.

Schein and Lifton also acknowledged that coercion takes place in many everyday situations, which people enter into or leave voluntarily, and that just because someone is coerced in a given situation, that in itself is no indication that it is a bad situation to be in. There is, for example, a high degree of coercion present in the military, college fraternities, Roman Catholic orders, self-help organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous, psychoanalytical training institutions, mental hospitals, and even some child-rearing practices, but that does not imply that those situations are bad (Schein, Persuasion 202, 260–277, 281–282; Lifton 1961: 141, 435–436, 451).

Attempts by anti-cult activists to capitalize on “brainwashing” have received a cool reception in the more scientific and level-headed sections of the academic community. A unanimously approved resolution passed by the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (USA) at its council meeting on the 7th of November 1990, reaffirmed the unscientific status of mind control theories, stating:

In response to problems in legal and scientific contexts, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion [SSSR] has been asked to address the issue of our scientific community’s evaluation of processes, variously described as brainwashing, mind control, thought reform and coercive persuasion, which have sometimes been applied to participation in new religious groups. Rather than continue to respond to these debates on a case-by-case basis, the SSSR makes the following resolution:


This association considers that there is insufficient research to permit informed, responsible scholars to reach a consensus on the nature and effects of nonphysical coercion and control. It further asserts that one should not automatically equate the techniques involved in the process of physical coercion and control with those of nonphysical coercion and control. In addition to critical review of existing knowledge, further appropriately designed research is necessary to enable scholarly consensus about this issue.

An American Psychological Association (APA) Task Force on “Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control” (DIMPAC)—under the chairmanship of Margaret Singer and which included Harold Goldstein, Michael D. Langone, Jesse S. Miller, Morris K. Temerlin, and Louis Jolyon West—produced a report which condemned cults and mental development groups for what they considered to be the use of brainwashing. They submitted their report to the American Psychological Association’s Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility for Psychology (BSERP) for its approval. The Board in a final reply issued 11 May 1987 to members of the DIMPAC Task Force thanked them, but found the report “unacceptable to the Board,” stating that, “In general, the report lacks the scientific rigor and evenhanded critical approach necessary for APA imprimatur.” The Board warned the Task Force to in no way use their past APA appointments or in any way imply that this report had the Board’s or the APA’s approval, specifically instructing them to inform readers of the report that it was found “unacceptable” by the Board. The Board considered that the APA did not have sufficient information available to guide the APA in taking a position on the controversial area of deception and indirect methods of persuasion and control. This APA refusal is known as the “BSERP’s Memorandum,” and shows that there is neither general nor substantial agreement concerning “brainwashing” and “mind control” in the U.S.

In spite of the clear rebuff given by their professional colleagues, Margaret Singer and other like-minded individuals have made a career of offering their “expert” opinion. However, courts have shown themselves to be skeptical of such testimony. In the case of Green and Ryan v. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (filed 13 March 1991, USA), Drs. Singer and Ofshe’s theory that “thought reform” is possible in the absence of physical coercion was ruled inadmissible as the basis of evidence, since this theory does not enjoy “substantial” scientific approval.6 Likewise, in the case of Steven Fishman, this same thought reform robot theory of Singer and Ofshe was not accepted because it lacked “general” acceptability. These two cases established that in the field of both civil and criminal jurisprudence, the theories of non-coercive mind control do not enjoy sufficient (whether general or substantial) acceptability within the scientific community to constitute the basis for expert opinion in litigation.7

It is understandable why such theories are not acceptable when you take a close look at what such theories imply. A simplified description of current mind control mythology is offered by University of Nevada Professor of Sociology James T. Richardson, who studies the dynamics of conversion and regards new religions as a social movement. The following is an admittedly interpretive rendition of the “brainwashing” theories put forth by archrivals of the new religions—Richard Delgado, a legal scholar; and Margaret Singer and John Clark, psychiatrists:

Under these myths, a leader who is interested in financial gain, sexual favors, or just plain power starts a new group using some extraordinary powers of hypnosis or mind control. He somehow “zaps” potential converts simply by looking them in the eye and uttering a few magical phrases, or by tricking them into participating in a high-pressure group recruitment process. Thus, the recruit falls completely under his command, and becomes a deployable robot, also, interestingly, imbued with this magical power to trick people into joining. These new converts go out and convert even more people through similar processes, and the new group is off and running. This process allegedly will cause the group to continue growing until it is huge and threatening to society. The membership is controlled via some type of ESP, and through this mental power all the members do the master’s bidding for eighteen hours a day or more. The organization continues to grow because this power of the leader, even if passed on through member evangelizers, is so strong as to defy efforts by the converts to leave. Thus, so the myth goes, once a Moonie (or Hare Krishna, or Divine Light Mission, or Children of God) recruiter “looks you in the eye,” you are a “goner,” destined to live out your life as virtually a slave to the omnipotent group leader.


This mythology about why and how new religions start and succeed is very appealing, particularly to those who feel somehow threatened by the growth of new religions. Such myths furnish ammunition for fighting the growth of new religions. Thus “exit counseling” (formerly “deprogramming”), legislative action and governmental bureaucratic controls of various kinds (using the brainwashing myth as a justification) may be visited upon new religions. The myth is, as Anthony, Robbins and McCarthy have said, a “social weapon” to use against unpopular groups. (Robbins, Shepherd, and McBride 163–165)8

“Brainwashing”—A Mixed-Up Metaphor

In the long run, communist-style brainwashing proved to be more a propaganda scare tactic than an easy-to-apply practical way to command the loyalty of political opponents. Yet, fears and fascination with the prospects of brainwashing far outlived the facts of the matter. Experts found brainwashing to be a very transient transformation of allegiance at best, requiring complete physical control while using unspeakable conditions of torture and confinement in order to implement. Images of totally controlled “brainwashed” zombies captured the imagination of people, and the term entered popular usage. Sociologists David Bromley and Anson Shupe sum up the situation in their book, Strange Gods, The Great American Cult Scare:

The entire concept of brainwashing, as we have seen it, is a misnomer. It is repudiated by many sociologists, psychologists and psychiatrists as a crude euphemism. Worse, it is a distortion of a real, understandable process of attitude change [behavior influencing and religious conversion] that is neither mysterious nor unusual in American society. (124)9

Anti-psychiatry psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Szasz, in his article “Some Call It Brainwashing” (The New Republic, 6 March 1976, p. 32), tried to clear away some of the semantic debris surrounding the term “brainwashing”:

Like many dramatic terms, “brainwashing” is a metaphor. A person can no more wash another’s brain with coercion or conversation than he can make him bleed with a cutting remark.
If there is no such thing as brainwashing, what does this metaphor stand for? It stands for one of the most universal human experiences and events, namely for one person influencing another. However, we do not call all types of personal or psychological influences “brainwashing.” We reserve this term for influences of which we disapprove. (Streiker 153)

Lowell Streiker, religious and mental health reformer, and author of several books, says the following about brainwashing:

“Brainwashing” is a term of opprobrium, which indicates that the speaker does not approve of the consequences of the process upon the subject. “Conversion” and “reform” are terms which indicate the speaker’s approval of the results.
“Brainwashing” has been frequently applied both popularly and academically to religious phenomena. The critics of revivalism have often accused Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, tent evangelists, Campus Crusade for Christ, et al., of brainwashing. (148–154, 166)

Theologian Harvey Cox, Professor of Divinity at Harvard University, said, “The term ‘brainwashing’ has no respectable standing in scientific or psychiatric circles, and is used almost entirely to describe a process by which somebody has arrived at convictions that I do not agree with” (Biermans 33).10

Sociologist Robert W. Balch in his article, “What’s Wrong with the Study of New Religions and What Can We Do About It?” writes, “As a descriptive label, brainwashing is essentially useless because it depends on un-testable assumptions about the slippery issues of freedom and control” (Biermans 5).11

Despite the fact that little evidence has been produced to show that Chinese Communist “thought reform” resulted in any significant number of defections, or that “robotic” zombie-like brainwashed humans even exist, the ACM with their small group of “experts” still vigorously promote the myth, trying to exploit as much as possible “a widespread public belief in and fear of brainwashing” (Bromley and Hammond 221–224).

Deprogramming: The Anti-Cult Antidote to Brainwashing

Theodore (“Ted”) Patrick, a self-styled “cult expert,” in actuality a high school dropout and ad hoc state social worker, developed what he considered a solution for brainwashing in the 1970s. He opted for re-creating conditions similar to those in the communist Korean prisoner of war camps, and proceeded to forcibly de-convert through capture, control, confusion, condemnation, coercion. He called this procedure “deprogramming.”

Lowell D. Streiker, in his book Mind-Bending: Brainwashing, Cults, and Deprogramming in the ’80s, describes Ted Patrick’s role in promoting the anti-cult “brainwashing” myth:

Ted Patrick gained notoriety for seriously applying the term “brainwashing” to religious cults and for the coercive methods which he justified on the basis of such alleged brainwashing. Patrick’s world is as dualistically black and white as any cultist’s. The universe is divided into heroes and villains. The villains have mysterious “ESP mind control” powers which enable them to hypnotize or brainwash gullible youth on the spot.
[Patrick] believes that American religious cultism is the creation and pawn of communism, a means of overthrowing America by subverting the minds of the young. He is a conspiracy theorist who believes that virtually all tragedies of the past generation (political assassinations, mass murders, terrorism, and the like) were deliberately caused by “the Communists” and are the direct result of Communist experiments in mind control. (148–154, 166)

Ted Patrick was also instrumental in the formation of one of the original anti-cult organizations, Citizen’s Freedom Foundation (CFF) in 1974, and got the “robotic mind control” myth rolling in America. Patrick refused to see new religions as religious movements, but viewed them as part of a systematic Communist plot to take over the minds of young Americans. Deluding himself into believing that anyone who is in a new or novel religion must be brainwashed, Patrick rationalized the use of brutal force to make people confess that they were indeed “brainwashed,” and kept them captives until “they convince their captors, in truth or out of desperation, that they had renounced their faith and are ‘deprogrammed'” (Barker, Movements 17, 19).12

Such failure to allow “children” of legal age to make their own choices in life spawned further forcible deprogramming, pitting the domineering parent against the adult offspring. In essence, the parent is trying to force the child to conform to his preferred choice of lifestyle or belief. The child has decided to become a missionary, but the parent may have wanted him to become a doctor, so decides to “rescue” him from his “wrong” choice.

Earning felony charges for his efforts, Patrick cashed in on cults with a vengeance, “rescuing” young “victims” for anyone who could afford his exorbitantly high fees.13 He never winced at using “mind-liberating” techniques all but identical to the dreaded “mind-controlling” communists he so abhorred.

Although Ted Patrick was the originator of deprogramming, he was by no means alone in violent attempts to separate members of unpopular religious groups from their chosen faith. Deprogramming was adopted and espoused by anti-cult groups around the world, and notably by the Cult Awareness Network (CAN), formerly one of the largest and most organized anti-cult networks. Not only was deprogramming a lucrative industry, preying on vulnerable relatives, but it was essential in recruiting activists to the anti-cult cause via parents and “reformed” ex-members of the groups.

The Demise of CAN and Deprogramming

Deprogramming, one of the mainstays of CAN, was also to bring about its demise. Ironically, the demise of CAN would also signify the virtual demise of deprogramming in most of the world.

In 1995 deprogrammer Rick Ross, working in conjunction with CAN, undertook the deprogramming of Jason Scott, a young man who was a member of a small Pentecostal church. Not only was the deprogramming unsuccessful, but Jason Scott launched a successful suit against Rick Ross and CAN. The ruling awarded Jason Scott US$875,000 in actual damages and $1 million in punitive damages against the Cult Awareness Network, forcing CAN to declare bankruptcy.

On April 8, 1998, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco upheld the first-degree verdict against the Cult Awareness Network (CAN) in the Jason Scott case. The Court of Appeals confirmed CAN’s responsibility in the organization of “involuntary” deprogramming and stated that CAN members routinely referred people to deprogrammers.

On March 22, 1999, Reuters reported on the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous decision to reject any appeal of the Jason Scott v. CAN case:

The U.S. Supreme Court Monday rejected an appeal by an anti-cult group that has been held liable for abducting a Pentecostal Christian Church member in a bid to “deprogram” him. The high court, without any comment or dissent, let stand a ruling that upheld the award of $1 million in punitive damages and $875,000 in actual damages against the Cult Awareness Network in the case of Jason Scott.
Scott was awarded the damages in 1995 by a federal court in Seattle that found his civil rights had been violated during the attempt to “deprogram” him of his Pentecostal beliefs. According to testimony at the trial, Scott was abducted by three men, bound, gagged and blindfolded, and held for five days.

J. Gordon Melton, religious historian, in an introductory essay for a forthcoming anthology edited by himself and Italian scholar Massimo Introvigne entitled, “Brainwashing and the Cults: The Rise and Fall of a Theory,” gives the following analysis of the important repercussions of this court case to the international anti-cult movement:

Deprogrammer Rick Ross failed in his attempt to deprogram one Jason Scott, a member of the United Pentecostal Church, a large Christian denomination. In suing Ross, Scott also named the Cult Awareness Network (CAN), the major group advocating efforts against new religious movements. Though the Cult Awareness Network publicly stated that it was not directly involved in any deprogramming activity, Scott charged it with being the referral agent that allowed his mother to get in touch with Ross. The jury agreed and, without the ability to argue that the church had “brainwashed” Scott, both Ross and CAN received hefty judgments. The million-dollar judgment forced CAN into bankruptcy and eventually some of its assets, including its name, were purchased by a coalition of a number of the groups it had specialized in attacking. That decision has been sustained on appeal. That coalition now operates a new Cult Awareness Network. The fall of the Cult Awareness Network was a major setback for the anti-cult movement in the English-speaking world.

The Rise of “Exit Counseling”

Deprogramming was more common from its inception in the early 1970s until the mid-1980s, at which point it began to face serious legal challenges, culminating in 1995 with the Jason Scott v. CAN decision.14

Anti-cult organizations began to shift to less coercive strategies involving varying degrees of voluntarism, which they found to be quite effective, while for the most part avoiding coercive techniques which rendered them legally vulnerable. These involved at times mental health professionals and social workers, cloaking the process in a more professional garb. However, as Stuart Wright notes in his analysis, “Factors That Shape the Apostate Role”:

The issue of voluntariness became more complex as the ACM began to shift its strategy to less coercive interventions through professionalization, a process in which research and the roles of psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers became more salient (Robbins 1988: 6). The development of the role of medical personnel as social control agents gave rise to exit therapy/exit-counseling, a noncoercive form of intervention (Hassan 1988). However, even these forms have been occasionally assisted by some coercive deprogrammings, and the degree to which intervention has been “voluntary” remains a subject of some debate. (Bromley 105)

Accounts abound of involuntary exit counselings, involving deception and trickery by panicked relatives seeking to dissuade the convert.

Anti-cult activists have invested much time and effort in distancing their organizations from the coercive techniques widely associated with deprogramming. In promoting the exit-counseling model, the attempt has been made by anti-cult organizations to assure the public and officials that the “experts” are able to reason effectively and professionally with the devotees to help them reach an understanding of their victimization against their will and better judgment. In promoting this new form of faith-breaking, anti-cult organizations (such as the former CAN) have officially condemned the violent procedures involved in deprogramming and attempted to claim that they did not actively collude with the deprogrammers, who were thus simply independent activists. This posture was, however, confuted by the verdict in the Jason Scott v. CAN case.

As David Bromley notes in the volume he edited, The Politics of Religious Apostasy, though exit counseling replaced coercive deprogramming, the ACM’s objectives continued to be realized. Former members were reintegrated into conventional social networks, with their doubts and disputes reinterpreted into accounts that were consistent with the ACM’s cult/brainwashing ideology (41). According to exit counselor Carol Giambalvo, “Exit counselors are usually former cult members themselves” (3). This provides the apostate with a professional or occupational role within the ACM, ensuring what Stuart Wright refers to as the “institutionalization of apostasy” (Bromley 97). In other words, the ACM provides former members careers as professional apostates, including exit counseling, amongst other possibilities.

The “Stolen Mind” Strategy

Although “brainwashing” and “mind control” theories find “little confirmation in a mounting body of social science research findings” (Bromley and Hammond 225–229), international anti-cult networks still enjoy much success by filling the media and frightening parents of members of new religions and the public with “mind control” accusations. European scholar Massimo Introvigne states, “Anti-cult brainwashing and mind control theories are, indeed, not part of psychological or social science. They lack empirical evidence, and are a mere tool used in order to deny the status of religion to groups perceived as deviant or subversive.” Why then does the myth persist in spite of all the evidence to the contrary?

Lee Coleman’s writings reveal that “brainwashing” labels are used to explain and condemn any change of attitude or behavior with which people disagree. His writings provide penetrating insights into the underlying motives of the anti-cult and anti-religious movements, alienated parents and other forces at work within the mental health community. He states:

Critics of cults, especially parents who sought to reclaim their adult children, have recognized that their major obstacle has been that those they wished to “rescue” were not themselves complaining of coercion or deception. Our legal traditions dictate that the apparently voluntary activities of such converts could not be forcefully interrupted unless evidence of incompetence could be established. It was for this purpose that a strategy was required. It took the form of an alleged “stealing of the mind,” and it allowed parents and other critics to argue that they were justified in taking control of a convert’s body in order to free that person’s mind. (Coleman, Religions 322, emphasis added)

He earlier wrote:

The claim of “brainwashing” today accomplishes what the claim of “possession by the devil” accomplished hundreds of years ago. Today indeed critics can’t accept the fact that many young people are finding fulfillment in some of these new churches, so they attribute their contentment to the effects of “mind control.” (Biermans 36–38 citing Coleman, Psychiatry 16)

“I Was Brainwashed!”—The Blame Game

The desire to find a scapegoat to blame everything on makes the blame-it-on-brainwashing solution a sure winner with some parents of members and ex-members of new religions alike. It “tends to absolve everyone (apart from the group in question) from any kind of responsibility” (Barker 1989: 17, 19 citing Robbins [1988: 95] and Skonovd in Bromley and Richardson [eds.] [1983: 101]).15 In other words, why confess to having made a mistake when all you need to say is, “I was a poor helpless victim of brainwashing! I didn’t know what I was doing; my mind was not my own!” Bromley explains:

The brainwashing explanation provided families with a superficially plausible model of seemingly “bizarre” behavior that did not place any stigma on either themselves or their errant (cult) family members, and it came embellished with the legitimacy of science. Even more importantly, it created the basis for placing a diverse array of new religious groups under the rubric cults. (Bromley and Hammond 221–224)

Much of the recrimination today against new religions is derived from the accounts of deprogrammed or exit-counseled ex-members. In order for the exit counseling to be successful, easy ways must be provided for ex-members to explain away their previous “abnormal” behavior, absolve themselves of all accountability and justify why they joined in the first place. Parents don’t like the suggestion that something was wrong with their child or their previous life, so the blame has to be placed on the group.

Parents are under strong pressure not to blame either themselves or their children for cult involvement. Once a young person becomes convinced that the new religion is not nearly as lofty, appealing, or benevolent as once thought, he or she too comes under the same pressure: not to blame oneself for misplaced idealism or naiveté. (Bromley and Shupe 198–202)16

Coleman writes:

If only he will acknowledge that he is brainwashed and did not truly choose—by his own free will—to join “the cult,” all will be forgiven. All family resentment will then be focused on the cult, which is solely responsible for any disapproved behavior. This is too tempting for some persons to resist, and it is from such persons that the anti-cult movement recruits its crusading members. (Robbins, Shepherd, and McBride 72–73)

Researchers Alan Scheflin and Edward Opton in their book The Mind Manipulators suggest that “brainwashing” or “mind control” are convenient ways to rationalize one’s actions and thereby avoid taking responsibility. Anyone can commit an act such as joining an unpopular group and afterwards claim, “I was programmed to do so.” Scheflin and Opton point out that esoteric notions such as “brainwashing” allow people to forget that they are responsible for their own actions—in a manner that compares with the insanity plea in legal cases. Personal values and independence of thought and judgment “are not snatched away from people. The concept of brainwashing is the most seductive mind manipulation of all” (Biermans 36–38 citing Scheflin and Opton 474] see also Hexham and Poewe 11, emphasis added).

Exit counseling is focused on helping the “victim” transfer all that is negative in his or her life onto the former group. It encourages ex-converts to blame others and avoid accepting any blame or responsibility for their actions or choices in life. However, the negative proselytizing of exit counseling is built upon the myth of “mind control.” Therefore, once the apostate accepts the brainwashing solution, he or she is in effect admitting to having had a “sickness of the mind” and now must provide the “facts” to substantiate his or her claim to having taken a “mental leave of absence” to join a new religious group. Having to come up with “evidence” of his or her brainwashing is the penance and price every apostate must pay who opts for this “easy way out.” The tangled web begins (Robbins, Shepherd, and McBride 95; Skonovd 10).

Coleman describes this transformation as follows: “Back in the arms of Mom and Dad, freed of all responsibility for whatever choices they made, they are ready to further legitimize their new stance by attacking others who have strayed from the path of purity” (Robbins, Shepherd, and McBride 73–74).

The ACM Conversion Process—From Devotee to Apostate

The aberrant behavior of ex-members who get tangled up with exit counselors or deprogrammers is surprisingly enough explained in part by coercion-theorist Dr. Robert J. Lifton, whose writings often end up fueling the fires of brainwashing mythology and religious bigotry. Lifton explains: “He [the ex-member] must also look upon his impurities as originating from outside influences. Therefore, one of his best ways to relieve himself of some of his burden of guilt is to denounce, continuously and hostilely, these same outside influences. The more guilty he feels, the greater his hatred” (Robbins, Shepherd, and McBride 73–74).

Such feelings, Lifton warns, encourage “mass hatreds,” purges of heretics, and “political and religious holy wars. In their enthusiasm to discredit their former churches, and vindicate themselves before their families, ex-members joining the ranks of anti-cultists have, unfortunately, contributed massively to the wave of religious bigotry which is now growing” (Robbins, Shepherd, and McBride 73–74).

Social scientists have traced this puzzling pattern of polar opposites, love-turned-to-hate behavior coupled with the remarkable “similarity” of atrocity tales, directly back to anti-cult deprogramming and exit counseling (Barker, Movements 128).17 Robbins further develops this point (96–97):

The recrimination against cults for brainwashing converts has derived much of its popular plausibility from the accounts of ex-members, who have often become ACM activists. Research by sociologists has revealed that there is really a wide range of attitudes to be found amongst ex-converts, and recriminative attitudes are exhibited primarily by ex-members who have been deprogrammed or have otherwise been involved in ex-member support groups and therapeutic programs linked to the ACM. (Beckford; Lewis; Skonovd, Apostasy; Wright, Attitudes)

In other words, it has been widely documented that many ex-members actually only become hostile to their former group after they receive counseling from anti-cult organizations. Coleman says:

The degree to which a former cult member claims he or she was the victim of mind control is dependent on the degree of exposure to anti-cult ideology. Anti-cult mental health professionals have relied overwhelmingly on biased sampling methods. They seldom spoke with either current members of new religions or the high percentage of recruits who left voluntarily. Reliance on such sources is hardly sufficient for a fair assessment of recruits to new religious movements. (Coleman, Reign 323)

Why Are Tales of Atrocity so Similar?

It is a well-established fact that most new religious converts leave their newfound faiths as easily as they entered. Research on former members indicates that the majority of those who leave new religions assess their experience spanning the entire range from positive or ambivalent to disillusioned (Wright, Rothbaum, and Jacobs, quoted by Bromley 40). Bromley further comments that “most leave-takers do not adopt an openly adversarial relationship with their former movements, and therefore it is the small segment of countermovement-affiliated former members that dominates the public arena” (40). Stuart Wright even suggests that many have a positive outlook on their experiences: “Indeed, the former commitment is often defined as a necessary or meaningful episode in the individual’s spiritual and socio-emotional development” (Bromley 87–88).18

The largest proportion of leave-takers of new religions exit of their own volition and seek a low-profile reentry into conventional networks, resuming familial, occupational, and educational pursuits (Bromley 40–41). This is rarely the case for those who have undergone exit counseling or deprogramming. Converts to anti-cult ideology often claim to have been brainwashed and tell very similar stories of “atrocities” aimed at turning their listeners against the new religious group they were formerly a part of. Where do they get these look-alike ideas? Sociologist David Bromley comments on this in a chapter entitled “Social Construction of Contested Exit Roles”:

Apostates whose role transitions are coordinated through ACM-sponsored identity transformation rituals typically fashion their personal sagas as captivity narratives. Although the specific details of these personal narratives vary, apostate recounting of captivity tales is pivotal to the ACM’s achieving its social control objectives. The allegations of deliberate use of potent psycho-technology to undermine individual free will and the systematic organizational practices that would sabotage an array of central social institutions are used to document subversive capacity and intent. [Thus] the ACM gains confirmation of its cult/brainwashing ideology. (42)

Lee Coleman adds,

Given the realities of social psychology, particularly the felt need of the ex-member to justify previous behavior with a rationale that exempts him or her from personal responsibility, most researchers agree that testimonies of ex-members as to the causes of their behavior are extremely suspect and should not be presented with the aura of scientific evidence. (Robbins, Shepherd, and McBride 73–74)

James T. Richardson, in his analysis of this phenomenon, further adds:

In the history of controversial religious groups, some of the most ardent critics have been former members of some of the groups. Some of those strong critics have become involved in dramatic activities, including deprogrammings, and whistle-blowing-type claims that have provoked official action against the groups. Motivations are not always obvious in such instances, but what is clear is that sometimes former members devote their lives to efforts at social control. They may spend large amounts of time educating media representatives, governmental officials (including those in law enforcement), and others about the alleged evils of a group. (Bromley 76)

Normal Social Control and Voluntary Compliance Is Not Brainwashing

Excluding extreme situations where a person’s behavior and beliefs are physically determined by something outside his or her control, there remain only the normal range of social, emotional, psychological and religious influences and expectations that all members of society experience and are exposed to as a part of life and growing up. Religious orders; political, social, business, corporate and educational organizations; clubs; fraternities; military academies; youth organizations—all seek, to a greater or lesser degree, to influence and persuade their members to accept and follow certain beliefs and codes of behavior. All organizations, from the Boy Scouts to exclusive academies, set limits on autonomy. Influencing others is what human society is all about, from religious beliefs, to colorful political campaigns aimed at swaying voters, to high-power advertising designed to prompt people to purchase certain products. Social order itself is largely maintained by a complex web of influences and persuasions that very obviously impose certain limits on its members’ personal freedom and autonomy, without necessarily affecting their ability to reason or undermine their legal capacity. New religions are no exception to this. Coleman points out:

It should not be necessary to examine in detail the indoctrination or conversion methods of the many groups labeled as “cults” in order to conclude that “mind control” is a myth. The scenario of mindless robots who carry out the wishes of others, while believing they are doing as they please, may make exciting movies, but it is not consistent with human psychology. People who conform to behavioral expectations of a group have made a choice to do so. (Reign 323–324)

Research by social scientists further confirms that entry and membership in a new religion involves decision-making processes, contrary to the images portrayed by proponents of “brainwashing,” who attempt to portray these processes as forced and not voluntary. Religious studies professor Irving Hexham and anthropology professor Karla Poewe of the University of Calgary offer a similar conclusion:

We reject the brainwashing thesis not only because it represents an attack upon religious conversion generally but also because there is considerable evidence that people join new religions of their own free will. [A]ccounts of the cult members themselves often indicate that their decision to become members in new religions followed a long search not only for meaning but also for the resolution of major life crises. (Hexham and Poewe 9–10)

Melton and Moore also contend, “Contrary to popular treatments, existing research by sociological investigators indicates there is no reason to believe that entry into an alternative religion evidences any different decision-making processes than entry into other voluntary associations and activities common to a comparable population” (Melton and Moore 36–46).

The Role of the Counter-Cult Movement

Social scientists have tended to categorize religious anti-cultists in a separate category, known as “counter-cult.” For apparent reasons, the motives for and means of opposing new religions differs greatly between the secular anti-cult groups and the counter-cult groups, who focus more on the theology and religious aspects of the new religions.
Introvigne highlights the differences between the two movements:

Christian ministries, however, did not really claim that cults were not religions. They were more concerned with clarifying that cults were not Christian, and therefore part of a larger category of “false religion.” Evangelical enemies of the cults did not seek the cooperation of the government, nor claim that cults should lose their tax-exempt status as religions. Their main concern was to warn fellow Evangelicals about the un-Christian character of the cults. Social scientists usually call these evangelical ministries “counter-cult movements” in order to distinguish them from the secular anti-cult movement. The latter claims to care about deeds, not creeds, and seeks the cooperation of public powers against groups perceived as deviant and subversive. Unlike the evangelical counter-cult movement, the secular anti-cult movement (ACM) claims that cults are not religions. Focusing on deeds rather than creeds, the ACM concludes that cults are not entitled to the privileged status of religion because they are guilty of a variety of criminal acts. The ACM, however, does not claim that legitimate religions may lose their status by committing a certain number of crimes. It suggests that cults are based on a crime of their own, unfortunately not (yet) recognized as such by the law. This crime was originally called brainwashing, but—since the label has been discredited by mental health scholars—has been renamed as mind control, mental manipulation or mental destabilization. Brainwashing narratives offer a powerful and user-friendly tool to distinguish between religions and cults. Cults use brainwashing (or “mind control” or “manipulation”). Religions—once again, by definition—respect freedom, and joining them is an exercise in free will. (Introvigne)19

History is full of examples of mainstream attacks on marginal religious groups (Cox in Needleman and Baker 125–129). Bromley and Shupe explain this phenomenon in historical context:

Anti-groups that opposed new religions have traditionally come from established churches, various levels of government, and groups of individuals who have come into direct, personal conflict with the new religions. For established churches the issue has been the new religions’ belligerent rejection of them. Leaders of established churches usually warned their parishioners of the spiritual dangers posed by the new religions and tried to discredit their teachings. Often they were not averse to rallying public opinion and stimulating government action wherever possible. Organizations formed with the avowed purpose of exposing and attacking one or more of the new religions. (Impact 17–19)

Robbins points out that “certain church leaders [fundamentalist Christians, some representatives of mainline denominations, and some Jewish associations] have been active in attacks on cults”20 (172–173). Bromley and Shupe also point out that “Quakers, Seventh-day Adventists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mennonites, Christian Scientists and even Catholics have at different times been the targets of allegations strikingly similar to those being made against the new religions” (211–212).

Standing passively by, watching a crime being committed, does not speak well for one’s character, yet many mainstream religions have protested little or remained silent in the face of anti-cult attacks on vulnerable new religions. Some, in fact, have felt justified in condemning the new religion, proclaiming it a false religion. Now the anti-cult network has grown in strength and in some parts of the world has begun attacking more mainstream denominations as well.

In Belgium, for example, a 1997 parliamentary commission report on cults includes bizarre allegations against five mainline Catholic groups (among them the Catholic Charismatic Renewal), Quakers, the YWCA, Hasidic Jews, and almost all Buddhists. The Belgian Parliamentary Commission on Cults report, released April 28, 1997, also proposes legislation making “mind control” a crime (Introvigne, “Brainwashing”).

James Richardson sums up the impending danger to everyone’s religious rights:

By allowing religious conversions to be branded as “brainwashing” and then dragged into the arena of the courts for resolution, one is in effect forcing the State to control religions and rule on the acceptability of religious beliefs. Protecting a person from “brainwashing” is merely a derogatory way of saying a person must be protected from embracing new and life-changing beliefs. The court thus arrogates to itself the authority, on behalf of the State, to determine which conversions constitute a “great abuse” and therefore can be freely regulated, even to the point of destruction of the church through protracted litigation and ruinous damage awards.

Media, Mythmakers, and Mind Control

Perhaps it is prejudice, or simply the gray walls of daily routine, that render people vulnerable to the spurious tales of modern mythmakers. Or maybe it is just an inborn propensity to believe the bizarre. Whatever the explanation, the ancient craft of creative mythmaking flourishes to frightening proportions in modern times. This is attributable, in part, to a media dependent on sensationalism, and the deliberate focusing of public attention for manipulative and monetary motives. Fact and fiction are flashed instantly around the world to obtain a desired response; information is broadcast more and more for a predetermined effect rather than simply to keep the public informed. The mass media has become a powerful mythmaker, able to disseminate information and disinformation around the world practically at the speed of light.

Anti-cult lobbyists have been highly active in focusing the media and law enforcement on vulnerable minority groups, giving rise to questions about the moral or legal character of the organization. Typically, they furnish negative material on the targeted group to investigative agencies in order to initiate and/or heighten negative publicity about the group in question. Many anti-cult misinformation “packages” find their way into government and news agency files, and eventually become accepted as “facts” about the various groups. Anti-cult activists also encourage parents to write complaints and lobby news and government agencies requesting action be taken against new religions. Any resulting action provides their organization with free publicity, while serving to generate enough hysteria to render their services useful as “experts” for the media and counselors for concerned relatives and members of minority groups. The media, for their part, do not mind this symbiotic sensation-seeking relationship with the anti-cult faction, as it’s good for their ratings as well, and the new religions are frequently not powerful or popular enough to fight back effectively.

James Richardson makes this analysis:

The media are the most significant mediating structure between the mass public and marginal religions. All the major networks have shown made-for-television movies with the theme of “rescuing brainwashed cult members,” some a number of times. It may also be that this type of coverage has developed because of increased public interest in titillating stories framed in terms of “cults stealing children” or “breaking up families.” Such emotion-laden, demonizing stories sell newspapers and gain viewers, thus those operating the commercial newspapers, and television and radio networks and outlets, have been more apt to take that approach. (Wright, Attitudes 156)

The ACM’s “Expert” Industry

The modern anti-cult organizations surround themselves with “a vocal group of mental health professionals who regularly claim before courts, professional meetings, and the media, to have found evidence of such ‘mind control'” (Robbins, Shepherd, and McBride 71).

Coleman points out the need for “experts” to sanction the myth of mind control:

It is one thing for parents and a few apostates to make such claims [of mind control] and yet another to have those claims validated in court. If temporary conservatorships were to be obtained, testimony from mental health professionals would be necessary. Support from the mental health profession was also crucial if proposed conservatorship laws aimed specifically at new religions, and civil lawsuits centering on allegations of mind control, were to have any chance of success. To back up courtroom and legislative testimony, a body of literature was needed; the concept of mind control would have to become not just a personal opinion but a legitimate scientific finding. This professional literature was indeed forthcoming, largely under the authorship of the same mental health practitioners who had frequently recommended forcible removal of a religious recruit—sometimes without ever having talked with the individual involved. (Religions, 322)

Bromley and Hammond also talk about the role of professionals in keeping anti-cult organizations afloat: “The professionals in this network were particularly important, for they provided the expertise in drafting anti-cult legislation, offering expert testimony when former members brought legal suits, and providing exit counseling” (225–229).
Robbins (170–172) further documents the commercializing of cult concern:

The intense agitation over “destructive cultism” creates the basis for the elaboration of an opportunity structure whereby certified professional helpers can develop new and prestigious roles as counselors and rehabilitators of “cult victims” (Kilbourne and Richardson 237; Robbins and Anthony 283–297). Therapy and counseling have been urged for cultists, ex-cultists and families traumatized by the involvement of a family member with a cult. Some clinicians have been active crusaders in this area.


It should be noted that anti-cult organizations are not “benevolent societies.” The “professionals” and others who work for these organizations are not dedicated volunteers, but well-paid individuals, some of whom receive a large percentage of their income from cult bashing. These proponents of pseudo-science offer their services as “expert witnesses” or guest speakers in their capacity of anti-cult activists. To be discredited would mean a substantial loss of income for them, something to which they violently react. ACM “experts” have been known to charge hundreds of dollars an hour for their services. For example, Margaret Singer “earns a considerable portion of her income from cult cases.” (Richardson 59)

The New Psychology and “Expert” Testimony

The involvement of psychologists and psychiatrists within the legal arena continues to grow rapidly but remains highly controversial. Studies show that professionals often fail to reach reliable or valid conclusions and that the accuracy of the judgments does not necessarily surpass that of laypersons, thus raising substantial doubt that psychologists or psychiatrists meet legal standards for expertise.

“Where it has been possible to test psychiatric judgment against known objective criteria, those judgments have been shown to be more often wrong than right.” That statement was made by Dr. Jay Ziskin, a Los Angeles psychologist, attorney, and author of Coping with Psychiatric Testimony (1995) along with David Faust, Professor in Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University. Ziskin and Faust characterize psychiatric evaluation and methods of assessment as “fraught with danger of distortion, incompleteness and inaccuracy due to personal values, attitudes, and biases of the examiner.” Yet more and more “expert” psychiatric “testimony” is being used and even relied upon in courts.21 Faust and Ziskin write:

As the courts and the public come to realize the immense gap between experts’ claims about their judgmental powers and the scientific findings, the credibility of psychology and psychiatry will suffer accordingly. Expert testimony may exert a prejudicial effect on juries. Confidence and accuracy can be inversely related, and yet the jury may well accept the opinion of an expert who exudes confidence over that of an opposing expert who expresses appropriate caution. Expert evidence is readily subject to abuse due to its highly subjective nature and vulnerability to biases. The involvement of experts wastes many hours of already too scarce court time and costs taxpayers millions of dollars. Experts also create malpractice risks for colleagues. (emphasis added)22

Many reputable mental health professionals are becoming concerned about the rapid erosion of their own professional credibility. Psychiatrist Walter Reich of the National Institute of Mental Health aptly notes: “Psychiatry endangers itself—debases its coinage—by entering areas in which it lacks a broad base of expertise. In [brainwashing] cases, psychiatric experience is limited and not widely tested. It does not amount to legal expertise” (Reich 1976: 403).

William Kirk Kilpatrick, Professor of Educational Psychology at Boston College, examines this topic in his book, The Emperor’s New Clothes—The Naked Truth about the New Psychology :

There is adrift in the psychological community an abundance of speculation, wishful thinking, contradictory ideas, prejudice, double-talk and ideology disguised as science. As a short commentary on our capacity for self-delusion it’s hard to improve on Hans Christian Andersen’s story of the Emperor. To me it has a special application to our current veneration of psychology and psychologists. The story is essentially about bowing to expert opinion [and] the folly of letting common sense take a back seat to expert knowledge. [In the story] each one thinks, “I can’t see anything in this, but who am I to say?”Our confidence has been outmatched by the force of expert psychological opinion because psychology has achieved emperor-like status in our culture, and partly because all the clever people swear that it’s cloaked in handsomely woven ideas.


Much of the psychological garment truly is invisible. Christians too believe in many unseen forces. Psychology, like Christianity, is partly a matter of faith. (3–6, 8, 15)

The anti-cult organizations have capitalized on this popular concept of the mental health professionals turned court “experts,” as James Richardson points out:

Anti-cult organizations such as the American Family Foundation (AFF) and [the former] Cult Awareness Network have had impressive success in shaping public attitudes in the United States and overseas. Moreover, CAN and AFF work closely with, and even include in their leadership, representatives of the therapeutic and helping professions and certain religious organizations. Consequently, there is a significant confluence of interest among CAN and similar groups:

  1. Therapists who think current and former members of new religions need psychological help,
  2. Politicians who want to legislate against cults,
  3. Social workers and counselors who think cults destroy families, and
  4. Religious leaders who, through gate-keeping functions, attempt to protect their respective domains, alleging the cults steal children, or that they are the work of the devil. In some cases, parents of converts are involved, some of whom are quite well enough placed socially and politically to cause trouble for such groups and to assist those who oppose them. (Bromley and Shupe; Richardson, Mental Health, Evolution)

The “Medicalization” of Assaults on New Religions to Circumvent Civil Liberties

Social scientists Anthony and Robbins have concluded that the anti-cult network’s attempt to achieve the “medicalization of deviant religions”—i.e., accusing them of brainwashing members—constitutes a misuse of scientific-sounding ideas for political ends. They also maintain “involvement of the mental health establishment in the suppression of alternative religions constitutes a substantial threat to civil liberties” (Melton and Moore 36–46, citing Robbins and Anthony 286).

In countries where the free exercise of religion is an issue, medical and psychological allegations are frequently used in attacking new religions. By accusing new religions of “brainwashing” members, it becomes a “medical” issue rather than a religious one (Robbins and Anthony 1982: 286).23 Subsequently, following a twisted form of Machiavellian logic, religious rights are denied to new religions because by definition all members of new religions are “brainwashed.” Therefore, they are not able to “freely” practice their own religion since, as the perpetrators of the myth would have it, every member of a new religion is a mind-controlled zombie in need of being “rescued.”

William Shepherd (31–370, citing Robbins and Anthony (286), writes:

“Impaired psychological freedom” and “zombie-like obedience” and “brainwashing” are merely other terms for pathology and mental disorder. Once involuntary behavior is imputed to someone, the disease or medical model is already in play.
The state’s medical way of thinking about deviance gives anti-cult citizens a way of stigmatizing cult membership as sickness. Rescuing “victims” is a laudable objective, and rescuers (vigilantes?) need not therefore be overly concerned with the niceties of civil liberties. “If cultism is essentially a medical issue it cannot also be a civil liberties issue, for the sick must be healed.” (emphasis in original)

Hence, “the primary function of the idea of brainwashing as applied to new religious groups has been to legitimatize oppression” (Brockway and Rajashekar [eds.] 1987: 97–100). This infringement on religious rights becomes a deliberate, concerted, protracted, violent assault on new religious faiths. Bromley and Shupe explain:

Those who have created the great cult scare want to marshal the power of the state, the churches, the mental health profession, and other sectors of society in rooting out something they see as an unprecedented threat, and they are perfectly willing to sacrifice legal guarantees, established scholarly procedures, and accepted boundaries of civil discourse to do so. They want us to believe the cults pose an unprecedented and extraordinary threat so that the use of unprecedented and extraordinary means to uproot them can be justified. (Impact xiii–xv)

The greater the power given the state to dictate which religious beliefs and practices are “sane” and which are deviant, the greater the risk of state-imposed religious dictatorship and totalitarianism, as was manifested in the former Soviet Union, where active members of Christian churches were frequently “hospitalized” or shipped off to the gulags—Soviet concentration camps—to be “cured.”

ACM Activism

Despite the vast differences between high commitment groups and the anti-cult movement, there are some extraordinary similarities that the anti-cult networks prefer not be noted. Many of the same symptoms of conversion to new religions that the anti-cult movement delineates as “destructive behavioral” patterns are notably quite prevalent in their own organizations.

Anti-cult organizations are unquestionably crusades, composed of individuals with a cause they hold to as deeply as if it were a religious one. They have an ideology which they actively campaign to further via media campaigns and public awareness programs, extensive fundraising efforts, lobbying governments and congresses around the world, in an attempt to have legislation passed that will further their cause.

ACMs network internationally to write and disseminate their own publications. They collaborate with like-minded individuals who devote their time to defining and developing research on supposed behavior patterns that confirm their theory that progressive and new religions are inherently harmful to individuals. Members typically are activists, distributing literature, running phone services, visiting schools and government organizations to further their cause, despite the lack of scientific research and support from the vast majority of the academic community.

David Bromley indicates the important role that disgruntled ex-members play in ACM activism:

The apostates recounting of their personal captivity and of the organizational atrocities they witnessed highlight countermovement lobbying campaigns, media reports, investigatory hearings, trial testimony and deprogramming sessions. Successful moral status degradation influences the nature of the entire array of social control initiatives against NRMs. The violations alleged are so fundamental and massive that protestations of innocence may be summarily rejected. Contented NRM members are dismissed as brainwashed, civic projects are deemed public relations stunts and organizational affiliates are derisively labeled front groups. Institutions not directly involved in the conflict are encouraged to find occasions for invoking sanctions when opportunities arise, and a climate of hostile public opinion is created that is conducive to expansion of social control and authority. (Bromley and Breschel)

The “mind control” argument has been promoted by the ACM extensively in Western Europe, leading to the imposition of restrictions on the activities of new religions in some countries. Parliamentary commissions to investigate cults were established in several countries, which included much involvement from European anti-cult organizations, as well as apostate testimony. Many of the fledgling democracies in Eastern Europe have followed the Western European models, imposing even stricter restrictions on the free exercise of religion.

Massimo Introvigne comments on the role the mind control theory has played in raising concern regarding new religions in Europe:

The media, continuously fed by the ACM, started running lurid exposures of the “danger of the cults,” and parliaments instituted enquiry commissions in several countries. In the French and Belgian commissions, politicians did collaborate with anti-cult activists and vocal disgruntled ex-members of some new religious movements. Academics got only a minimal audience, and the reports produced by the commissions were largely based on information supplied by the ACM. Although with different nuances, and dismissing the word “brainwashing” as inadequate and old-fashioned, these documents rely on the ACM model distinguishing between religion and cults on the basis of manipulation and mind control. The Belgian report quotes the deposition of the president of the French ADFI [Association for the Defense of the Family and Individual], stating that a cult could be distinguished from a religion because the former is “a group where a mental and affective manipulation is present” (Chambre des Représentants de Belgique 1997: 1, 138). According to a militant anti-cult psychiatrist quoted by both the French and the Belgian report, it is not difficult to distinguish between a religion and a cult. Although some features may be similar, a religion is founded on “free will” and there is no “manipulation,” while manipulation and mind control are the trademarks of the cults. (Introvigne, “Brainwashing”)

Dr. Introvigne further points out that the academic consensus on the brainwashing model is virtually unknown in Europe, and therefore the anti-cult organizations are able to sell this idea with great ease to the press, courts, law enforcement and government officials. In some cases, the national anti-cult organizations have received funding from their governments to support their endeavors against cults, which has further aided their dissemination of religious hatred and intolerance.

The Jungle of ACM Jargon

As an additional point of comparison, new religions and progressive churches are frequently condemned by anti-cult networks for developing their own systems of symbols and special terms, while the ACMs shroud themselves in a unique dialect. Some terms they borrow from the new religions themselves, which they apply in demeaning ways. Pseudo-scientific sounding terms are very popular, too, as they help make even the most innocent of everyday human activities and experiences sound like a disease that must be treated and overcome.

Stanislav Andreski lifts the lid for a peek at the world of socio-psychological semantics. In his book Social Sciences as Sorcery, chapter 1, entitled “Why Foul One’s Nest?” he writes:

Even the old and valuable insights, which we have inherited from our illustrious ancestors, are being drowned in a torrent of meaningless verbiage and useless technicalities. Pretentious and nebulous verbosity, interminable repetition of platitudes and disguised propaganda are the order of the day. One could fill an encyclopedia trying to expose all the foolish antics, which pass for scientific study of human conduct. (Andreski 11, 16)

Van Driel and Richardson elaborate:

Any action can be denoted as good or bad by the choice of words to describe it. “Conversion,” “recruitment,” “re-education,” “secondary socialization,” “mind control,” “menticide,” and “brainwashing” are all words used to refer to the same process, but as you see, they are definitely not synonyms. One person may describe a lifestyle as “sacrificial devotion” while another will call it “authoritarian exploitation.” Depending on the context in which they are used, words such as dedication, discipline, surrender and submission can be imbued with very different values. (Van Driel and Richardson 54; Dyson and Barker 202–225; also cited in Barker, Movements, 39–42)

Here are some popular ACM terms translated into everyday English (Biermans 1988: 38–39):

brainwashing: used to account for both the process of proselytizing and religious conversion.
cult: “A fashionable buzzword thrown about haphazardly by the media, anti-cultists, establishment ministers (who no longer worry about the label being applied to them). Although the term has a fairly precise technical meaning, it has been run into the ground by persons who indiscriminately attach it to any group not conforming to a narrow range of so-called normal middle-class religions” (Bromley and Shupe 21–22).
exit counseling: a term describing the process by which a self-styled “exit counselor” demonstrates to members of a new religion, usually novitiates, that they are victims of “mind control,” their religious conversion is bogus, the leadership of their group is self-serving and manipulative and that they are being taken advantage of without their knowledge.
love bombing: a derogatory term used to describe any group display of affection, brotherly love and concern shown for others.
mind-altering techniques: singing, praising the Lord, chanting, dancing, clapping your hands, or just about anything done by a regular churchgoer or member of a new religion that would “tamper with the quality of information fed into the brain.”
snapping: conversion to or from an unpopular cause or religion. Ted Patrick and other deprogrammers used the term for any sudden conversion or de-conversion.
thought reform: Since the term “brainwashing” was not found scientifically acceptable, many anti-cult organizations opted for this term, along with “coercive persuasion,” to describe the changes brought about in a person who has undergone a religious conversion experience.

ACM ploys that serve to further misinformation campaigns against New Religions

The following are some of the propaganda ploys used by anti-cult activists that distort public perceptions of new religions:


* Focus on isolated negative incidents involving new religions as representative of new religions in general

Incidents such as the tragedy that occurred in Jonestown, Waco, Solar Temple, Heaven’s Gate, or other highly unusual situations of violence are focused upon and highlighted extensively by the ACM, as representative of the belief structure and probable outcome of any committed religious person. John R. Hall, Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Davis, even suggests that in effect, the anti-cult movement benefits from cult tragedy, and in Jonestown and other cases played an important role in precipitating conflict (Wright, Armageddon, 231).

While such incidents are tragic and highly reprehensible, they no more reflect all religious persons than violent conflicts between ethnic groups in a given country are a true representation of the political circumstances of the rest of the world.

Melton comments:

We note no level or pattern of condemnatory behavior in the New Religions that is not also present in the older religions. Some groups (both old and new) have been accused of illegal and violent activity, and a few have had leaders and members convicted of such activity in a court of law. Where we see such activity, it is rightly to be condemned, and we have condemned it. However, we also know that only a small number of groups have had substantive accusations of either illegal or violent activity thrown at them, and even fewer have been found guilty in court. That a few cases have occurred is no reason to condemn or even suspect the great majority of groups.

* Disseminate information primarily from hostile ex-members

In gathering information about new religions, the anti-cult organizations seldom, if ever, go directly to the group in question, but almost exclusively gather information from hostile ex-members, collecting and cultivating atrocity tales. On the other hand, they ignore the less vocal vast majority of former members who have very different accounts, ranging from positive to ambivalent.

Wright’s findings highlight this:

For example, 67% of former members from three NRMs in a previous study conducted by the author reported that they were “wiser for the experience.” Levine, who studied over 800 youthful converts to extremist groups, found that 90% left within two years of joining and used their experiences to navigate a turbulent, post-adolescent identity crisis. “Most important,” he states, “they [were] able to resume the sort of lives their parents had hoped for them and to find gratification and significance in the middle class world they had totally abjured. In short, they [were] able to use their radical departure in the service of growing up. “

* Disregard academic research that is not supportive of the “mind control” myth

Anti-cult literature typically ignores the majority of findings of mental health professionals and sociological researchers of new religions whose findings do not support the theories of “mind control” or “brainwashing.” As such, “Mind control theories are part of a rejected knowledge consistently repudiated by academia, professional associations, and courts of law” (Introvigne, “Brainwashing”). Terms such as “mind control” therefore become buzzwords to support attempts to demonize and stereotype new religions, despite the lack of any academic consensus in support of such a concept. “No court that has conducted an evidentiary hearing has found that any religious organization has subjected its adherents to mind control, coercive persuasion, or brainwashing” (note 53 N.Y.U. L. Rev. at 1281) (Shepherd 31–37, emphasis added).

Coleman notes: “When more dispassionate investigators, avoiding such obvious ‘mistakes’ in methodology, have studied new religious movements, they have found no evidence of mind control or of the mental or physical harms claimed in anti-cult literature” (Coleman, Religions 323).24

* Play upon the fears of concerned relatives rather than fostering tolerance and communication

Anti-cult literature and stereotypes of new religions can play upon the fears of parents of new members, leading them to believe that they will never see their child again once he or she joins a new religion. Usually, however, the offspring’s willingness to maintain contact can depend in large measure upon the attitude and motivation of the parent who wishes to remain in contact. Parents who are being fed anti-cult hysteria often become very threatening and critical of their offspring’s choice, which only worsens relationships and widens any real or perceived division. If the parent becomes hostile and threatening, the member may feel that the breach has become irreparable.

Barker explains:

This process is greatly exacerbated if the parents are also frightened by sensational media reports, or they have been otherwise persuaded that their child is now a brainwashed robot who is incapable of independent thought. The parents might then start to “see” signs that their children are indeed “not themselves.” It is, however, unlikely that the converts will have been drastically manipulated by sinister techniques of mind control—and extremely unlikely that they will be suffering from any lasting (or even temporary) physiological damage. (Movements 33–36)

* Present inflated statistics to foster fear and concern

It is highly common for anti-cult literature to present to government, law enforcement and media inflated membership figures and particularly inflated statistics regarding the number of new religions active around the world. These highly exaggerated statistics are appropriated to foster fear and concern, and convince officials that new religions pose a threat to the establishment by their sheer numbers. This also “confirms” the “mind control” myth, in that it becomes apparent that the techniques are highly successful by the supposed high membership rates.

Melton comments:

There are at present in North America between 700 and 1000 New Religions. There are about the same number in Europe. That there are no more than about 1,000 new religions operating in North America means that the estimates of 3 to 5,000 groups that appears frequently in popular literature about cults are simply false. There is absolutely no evidence after a generation of study that suggests such a number, and it is difficult to take seriously those who continue to perpetuate such figures.

* Redefine religious conversion as “mental illness”

The most vigorous critics of cults have attempted to define the issues and conflicts surrounding cults as constituting primarily a mental health problem (Robbins 1985: 7–8).

This simplistic and secular point of view is widespread and fanned from time to time by media portrayals of new religions, or by the handful of anti-religious academics in the social and behavioral sciences, as well as by some religious leaders jealously guarding their congregations. Anti-religionists portray religious beliefs and conversion experiences as forms of mental illness.

Levine and Salter concluded in their study of members from various cults that “psychiatric diagnoses could not be applied to the majority of cases. It would be fallacious to label all of these religious followers as more emotionally disturbed than their peers.” Nor did they believe that membership in a cult was necessarily a dangerous experience for individuals. They acknowledged: “Of those who do join the fringe religions, most will not be markedly changed, or harmed, any more than if they had joined any other intense belief system and cult, be it political, for example, Communist, chemical (drug scene) or therapeutic (primal groups)” (cited in Bromley and Shupe 80–81).

Melton and Moore note: “The point of view expressed in such a book as Snapping reflects a militantly secularist reductionistic and regressive reading of religious experience characteristic of classic Freudian and other hostile interpretations of religion in general and conversion in particular” (36–46).

Barker warns that “it is a dangerous path that a society is treading once it starts defining people as mentally ill merely on the grounds of their religious or ideological beliefs25, and it is a path that the nations of the West have vociferously denounced” (Movements 55–57).

* Affirm that new religions cause emotional or psychological harm

Contrary to the assertion reiterated in anti-cult literature, there is some evidence that participation in new religious groups may be beneficial to the participants’ psychological and emotional health. Discouraged young people entering alternative religious groups may, for example, feel like social and interpersonal failures, having experienced many disappointments in relationships in their lives before joining. The close, supportive atmosphere common to many groups offers a less threatening environment in which social skills may be tested and practiced. The experience of communities shared in such a setting de-emphasizes competition and emphasizes acceptance, both factors that encourage new attempts at risk-taking in close relationships (Movements 55–59).

Melton and Moore state:

There is not sufficient empirical quantitative research evidence to justify the assumption that the incidence of disorders is significantly higher [in new religions] than in mainline congregations. With regard to the genesis of the emotional disorders which do exist, we have suggested that it is highly unlikely the difficulty is rooted chiefly in the groups, but rather in early childhood development and family dynamics within the primary family system. (36–46)

Finally, religious research consultant and author Dick Anthony argues: “There’s a large [amount of] research literature published in mainstream journals on the mental health effects of new religions. For the most part the effects seem to be positive in any way that’s measurable” (Sipchen 1).

* Contend that new religions are pseudo-religions

Anti-cult assertions that cults are pseudo-religions run counter to world trends that generally seek to broaden the range of recognized religious beliefs and practices. “Up to the present, at least, all of the major cults whose status as religious groups has been challenged have passed court tests” (Bromley and Hammond 1987: 230–232).

A consultation report sponsored by the Lutheran World Federation and the World Council of Churches, Free University, Amsterdam, called “New Religious Movements and the Churches,” prepared in September 1986, took a close look at this common anti-cult network stereotype:

It is crucial to anti-cultists to insist that the cult, which a loved one has joined, is not a legitimate religion and that one could not have experienced a genuine and voluntary conversion to it. Thus it is not an invasion of religious liberty or a violation of the adherent’s free choice, but a high duty and obligation, to “rescue” the adherent from the cult. (Brockway and Rajashekar 95–97)

This argument is particularly crucial to the anti-cult networks in countries that have constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and association. Therefore the anti-cult organization typically negates the conversion experience, debunks the religious aspect of an alternative religion as bogus, and insists that they are not attacking religion, but “destructive behaviors.” In this way, they protect themselves from litigious responses from religious groups claiming their constitutional religious rights. By focusing on “destructive behaviors” and “destructive groups,” while eliminating any religious substance, or denoting the group as “pseudo-religious,” they effectively hope to raise official concern on issues that can be legally actionable.


The “mind control” myth ranks among the greatest hoaxes perpetrated on the public in modern times. The present prosperity of the ACM leans heavily on the pillar of “mind control” theories for support. The myth serves many purposes:

1. It creates fear and concern, especially among parents of members of a new religion whom the ACM targets, enjoining them to support the anti-cult network or hire exit counselors.

2. It enables ex-members and their parents alike to save face and avoid having to take personal responsibility for their actions.

3. It “medicalizes” ideological differences in order to sidestep the obvious issue of violations of human and religious rights by anti-cult organization activists.

4. It creates a set of accusations so nebulous that much effort and expense is needed to disprove the “experts,” since their conclusions are based on highly speculative, theoretical, abstract, and subjective personal opinions and values.

5. The “mind control” myth is the basis of many legislative efforts around the world, to curb, control, and limit the free practice of religion. The ACM has discovered that the most effective and lucrative way to attack new religions is through attaining government support for their anti-religious programs, along with sensationalizing the issue to attain media attention, which further highlights the need for “experts” on the issue.

“Mind crimes” are impossible to substantiate with real and tangible evidence or eyewitness accounts. No one has ever actually seen a person’s mind being kidnapped, especially without the person involved even noticing it. The simple fact is that although people can be bullied, bribed, intimidated, tortured, blackmailed, blinded by love and emotions, tricked, etc., still none of these can produce mind-controlled zombies who happily abdicate all power of reason and personal choice to others. It just doesn’t happen.

People can be influenced, coaxed, coerced, pressured, persuaded, convinced, and even converted and indoctrinated, providing they voluntarily decide to go along with or accept the ideas and suggestions being given them. However, this still does not produce selfless “brainwashed” zombies. Actually, the term “brainwashing” doesn’t describe a real condition at all, but is used as a demeaning bias-evoking pejorative for any transfer of beliefs, influence, conformity, indoctrination, socialization, conversion, or change of attitude that doesn’t meet with the accuser’s approval.

Brainwashing in the original Communist sense does not exist, and brainwashing in the popular sense is, at most, coercive persuasion, which in the absence of imprisonment and torture “cannot be distinguished from mainstream religions and other conventional social influences” (Amicus Brief 21).

Devotees of the “mind control” theory are not able to disprove the adage “A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.”26 Even if “brainwashing” were possible—which it is not without torture, coercion, and total control, and even then many social scientists and mental health experts are skeptical of any sustained effect 27 —that does not change or alter the fact that people have the right to associate with and be members of a religious faith of their choice. As Lifton points out, “Some people understandably prefer to live within self-sufficient religious communes characterized by regimentation and uniformity of opinion rather than in the atomistic alienation which characterizes a pluralistic secular society” (Amicus brief, 20, citing Robbins, Shepherd, and McBride 59, 61, 67–68).

In attempting to negate the inherent right of individual freedom of religion through arguments of mind control or coercive persuasion, anti-religious organizations insidiously promote religious intolerance, which can eventually lead to the curbing of the rights of all members of society, regardless of their religious beliefs or creeds. As such, it is clear that the “mind control” argument is not merely an academic debate, but the cornerstone of anti-religious activism. By allowing such anti-religious activities to proceed unchecked, a dangerous precedent is set that will eventually have serious repercussions for all faiths.

The Family and Freedom of Choice

Active Christians, like those in the Family International [the Family], have throughout the ages stirred up some hostility from certain sectors of society that either misunderstood or rejected the message of the Gospel. The apostle Paul, a leader of the Early Church, was accosted by some inquirers, who demanded, “We want to hear what you believe, for the only thing we know about these Christians is that they are denounced everywhere!” (Acts 28:22 TLB). The first-century Roman writer Celsus even described Christianity as “an attempt to subvert society, to destroy family life” (Frend 1982: 63). This sounds very much like criticism leveled at the Family and other new religions today.

As active proponents of the importance of individual freedom of choice, the Family has developed a membership Charter, which states members’ rights and responsibilities, and allows much personal freedom of choice and movement, within our Christian beliefs.28 The Family believes in the importance of individual freedom of choice, yet we have rules and standards that our members are expected to observe. We also have religious beliefs that our members prescribe to in varying degrees. We have an evolving Christian culture that teaches us to love God and our fellow man as ourselves. We have a common general goal and purpose, and we strive to conduct and organize our lives accordingly.

Membership in the Family is voluntary, and as such, members are free to depart from our fellowship when they so desire. Our goal is to teach others about Jesus Christ—not to accumulate members. We recognize that the calling of a full-time missionary is a sacrificial, difficult one, and it typically has been a profession chosen by only a few. We therefore take our commitment seriously, and the decision to become or remain a member of the Family is one made freely and individually without coercion.

Statistics of the Family (covering the first 34 years of our movement’s history from September 1969 through October 2003) reveal that of all those who have joined us full time, one adult member in ten has remained active in the movement; 88% have returned to their secular lives. Of all the children born in the movement, 54% have now departed either with their parents, or alone (in the case of older teenagers or young adults) if their parents remained in the Family. Of the over 29,500 adults who have at one time joined one of our communities, and of the nearly 13,800 children born in the Family, approximately 25,900 adults and 7,400 children are no longer associated with us.29 Of those who are no longer with us, only a few have become apostates active in anti-cult or counter-cult organizations. Of course, as a maturing movement composed of a wide variety of individuals, we also strive to learn from the past and have taken many steps to reconcile with former members and examine their complaints, rectify mistakes, and restore relations where possible.

As these statistics confirm, the Family has neither the ability nor the desire to gain or maintain members who would wish to pursue a different calling or career other than the missionary lifestyle that Family members adhere to. Such commitment and devotion to the service of God and humankind is only possible with a willing, voluntary compliance on the part of the individual, who must be fully determined that this is the course he or she wishes to follow. The apostle Paul wisely counseled the early Christian converts to “let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Romans 14:5).

Our founder, David Brandt Berg (1919–1994), wrote: “I’ve always been strictly for volunteers. Our whole work is built on this concept—only willing and cheerfully given volunteer labor!—‘The love of Christ constraineth me!’ (2 Corinthians 5:14). We all work together out of love for Him and each other, in loving and voluntary cooperation.”

And as D. H. Lawrence wrote, “Men are free when they are obeying some deep, inward voice of religious belief. Obeying from within. Men are free when they belong to a living, organic, believing community, active in fulfilling some unfulfilled, perhaps unrealized purpose” (13).

This paper is presented as an instrument to be used towards claiming and proclaiming this fundamental right of religious freedom. We pray that this material has helped to show that the “mind control” and “brainwashing” theories are myths, and that these myths have been appropriated by anti-religious organizations and religious competitors to promote a hidden agenda of discrimination and religious intolerance. We do not ask for your agreement with our creed, but we do ask for your tolerance towards others whose beliefs are different than your own.

Speaking to the Religious Freedom Crisis Task Force at the American Academy of Religion in 1994, former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark exhorted:

I want to [state] how critically important I believe teaching religious tolerance is for the planet right now. We have to reach out to those people whose religions seem different to us and show that we care about them and about their rights to their faith as they see it and to live as they choose by their faith, that we love them and that we will do what we can to protect them.


Andreski, Stanislav

Before becoming Professor of Sociology at Reading University in 1964, Stanislav Andreski was Lecturer at Brunel College (1947–1960), Professor of Sociology at Santiago, Chile (1960–1961), and Senior Research Fellow, NISER, Ibaden, Nigeria. He is the author of a number of books, including Military Organization and Society and The African Predicament, as well as Social Sciences as Sorcery (1972).

Anthony, Dick

Dick Anthony has extensive experience as a research psychologist evaluating the mental health effects of involvement in new religions. The results of his research have been published in over 50 articles in professional journals and in several books. His expertise has been used in the legal arena to evaluate anti-cult brainwashing theories and testimony, such as the “robot” theories of mind control promoted by Singer, West, and others.

Barker, Eileen

Eileen Barker is Professor of Sociology of Religion with Special Reference to the Study of Religion at the London School of Economics. Her main research interest over the past 25 years has been new religions and society’s reactions to them. Most of her research involves living with and/or interviewing those whom she studies. She has over 160 publications, which include the award-winning The Making of a Moonie: Brainwashing or Choice? (1994) and New Religious Movements: A Practical Introduction (1989). In 1988, she founded INFORM, which is a British-based information service on the new religions, which is supported by mainstream churches and the Home Office.

Beckford, James A.

James Beckford is Professor of Sociology, University of Warwick, England. His research and publications have focused on the theoretical and empirical aspects of religious organizations, new religions, church-state problems, civic religion, and religious controversies in several different countries.

Biermans, John T.

John T. Biermans is a New York attorney, having studied law at the University of Toronto and the University of San Francisco, and author of the book The Odyssey of New Religions Today (1988).

Brockway, Allan R.

Rev. Brockway, a Methodist minister, was Secretary of the World Council of Churches’ Consultation on the Church and the Jewish People (Sub-Unit on Dialogue with People of Living Faiths) based in Geneva, until 1988. He later taught religion at the Selly Oak Colleges and the University of Birmingham, U.K. He teaches religion at the University of South Florida at Tampa.

Bromley, David G.

After serving on the faculties of the University of Virginia, the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of Hartford, he is currently Professor of Sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond with an affiliate appointment in the Department of Religious Studies. He also holds an affiliate appointment in the Department of Sociology at the University of Virginia. Most of his current work is in the areas of sociology of religion, social movements, and deviance, with a primary focus on contemporary religious movements. He is past-president of the Association for the Sociology of Religion (ASR) and editor-emeritus of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. He has written extensively about new religions and the anti-cult organizations.

Coleman, Lee

Dr. Coleman is a psychiatrist practicing in Berkeley, California. His longstanding interest in the problems of psychiatry and law has led to two dozen articles in professional and lay journals, as well as the book The Reign of Error: Psychiatry, Authority and Law (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984).

Cox, Harvey Gallagher (Jr.)

Harvey Cox is the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Divinity at the Harvard Divinity School. His research and teaching interests are in the theological, social, and political issues confronting Christianity in the non-Western world and on religious values and cultural conflicts.

Faust, David

Dr. Faust is Director of Psychology at Rhode Island Hospital and Professor of Psychology at the University of Rhode Island, and Brown University Medical School.

Hadden, Jeffrey K.

Jeffrey Hadden (deceased January 26, 2003) was Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. He was president of the Southern Sociological Society (SSS), and the Association for the Sociology of Religion(ASR), and the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR). Hadden was published extensively in the field of sociology of religion. He also explored the use of the Internet as a resource tool for students and the general public and has assembled a comprehensive information source on religion, new religions, religious liberty, and current religious issues including the brainwashing controversy on his university website: www.religiousmovements.org.

Hexham, Irving and Poewe, Karla

Irving Hexham is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Calgary. He is the author of several books, as well as numerous journal articles and chapters in books. His wife and sometime co-author, Karla Poewe, is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Calgary.

Introvigne, Massimo

Massimo Introvigne is a lawyer and social scientist (B.D. Philosophy, and Dr. Jur., University of Turin, Italy). He is a partner in the Jacobacci & Perani law firm (Italy’s largest) and is a part-time professor at the Queen of the Apostles, Rome, Italy. He is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), established in 1988 in Turin, Italy, and currently active in France and the United States. CESNUR is an international network of some 700 academic scholars of minority religions and has held 15 international conferences. In the report of the 1991 Catholic Consistory of Cardinals, CESNUR was regarded as one of the most reliable sources of information internationally on new religious movements (www.cesnur.org). He is the author of 20 books including Le Nuove Religioni (1989), and I Mormoni (1991), and editor of nine books in the field of sociology of religion.

He has served in various capacities for the International Society for the Sociology of Religion and the International Federation of Catholic Universities. He has held seminars for groups of Catholic priests and bishops, Protestant leaders, and law enforcement officials in Italy, Denmark, France, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the United States.

Kilpatrick, William Kirk

William Kilpatrick is Professor of Educational Psychology at Boston College, where he teaches courses in human development and moral education. A graduate of Holy Cross College, he holds degrees from Harvard and Purdue universities. He is a lecturer on psychology and religion in colleges and universities around the U.S. He authored Psychological Seduction (Nashville: T. Nelson, 1983), The Emperor’s New Clothes—The Naked Truth about the New Psychology (Westchester: Crossway Books, 1985), and Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992). He is a past recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Lewis, James R.

Social scientist James R. Lewis is the author and co-author of several scientific studies and papers, many of which focus on the dynamics of membership in new religions.

Lifton, Robert J.

Psychiatrist Robert Lifton first made his mark in 1961 when he published his book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism—A Study of Brainwashing in China. Scholars have rejected Lifton’s attempts to extend his studies of American prisoners of war and his theories of “coercive persuasion” to all sorts of other groups and practices in society. Lifton was a close associate of Dr. Louis Jolyon West and a frequent speaker at anti-cult organization conventions, held by such groups as the former Cult Awareness Network (CAN).

Melton, J. Gordon

J. Gordon Melton is the author and senior editor of the comprehensive Encyclopedia of American Religions (Detroit: Gale Research, 7th Edition, 2002). He is the founder and Director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion (ISAR) based in Santa Barbara, California. The institute is a religious studies research facility with a particular focus upon the smaller religions of the U.S. and has compiled an extensive archive of both primary and secondary materials on the religious groups and movements it has studied. As director of ISAR, Dr. Melton has also been the author/editor of more than 30 books and has been responsible for the more than 250 titles generated by the Institute.

Moore, Robert L.

Robert Moore is Senior Professor of Psychology in the Center for Theology, Ethics, and the Human Sciences, an interdisciplinary institute at the Chicago Theological Seminary. For over a decade Professor Moore was the Chair of the Religion and Social Sciences Section of the American Academy of Religion. He is the author and editor of numerous books in the field of psychology and spirituality. In addition to his clinical and academic work, Dr. Moore has long been active in the struggle for international human community and social justice, working in areas of civil rights, human rights, ecological concerns, and interfaith communication and cooperation in compassionate action.

Rajashekar, J. Paul

Dr. Rajashekar was secretary for the Lutheran Church and People of Other Faiths with the Lutheran World Federation’s Department of Studies. He is currently Professor of Systematic Theology at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. His interests include social and political ethics, cross-cultural dialogue and Christian ecumenism.

Richardson, James T.

James T. Richardson is Professor of Sociology, lawyer and the Director of the Masters of Judicial Studies Program at the University of Nevada, Reno, where he has taught since receiving his Ph.D. from Washington State University in 1968. In 1986, he received his law degree from the Nevada School of Law and passed the Nevada Bar Exam. He has authored six books, and written over 100 journal articles and chapters in books. His writings on religion cover conversion processes, also treating new religions from a social movements perspective. Much of his recent work has focused on freedom of religion issues and on how legal systems are used to exert social control over minority religions.

Robbins, Thomas

Thomas Robbins is a sociologist of religion who has written numerous articles on new religious movements for leading sociological and religious studies journals. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. He has taught or held research appointments at Yale University, Queens College of the City University of New York, Central Michigan University, the Graduate Theological Union and the New York School of Social Research. Robbins concentrates on research of new religions in the U.S. and Western Europe; he analyzes theories relating the growth of new religions to socio-cultural changes, the dynamics of conversions to and defections from movements, patterns of organization and institutionalization, and social controversies over the new religions.

Shepherd, William C.

William Shepherd (deceased 1982) received his Ph.D. from Yale in religious studies and was Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Montana. His wife, Molly, a lawyer, finished and published the book To Secure the Blessings of Liberty (1985).

Shupe, Anson D. (Jr.)

Anson D. Shupe, Jr., is Professor of Sociology at Indiana/Purdue University. His primary research interests are in the areas of social movements, sociology of religion and political sociology. He is engaged in the long-range study of social movements and societal response with co-author David Bromley.

Singer, Margaret

Margaret Singer [died November 23, 2003] was a clinical psychologist in private practice who also gave testimony in courts as an “expert witness” against the new religions. She had been an adjunct professor at the University of California at Berkeley, but had never held a paid or tenured-track position there. She was on the board of directors of the former CAN. She presented the theory of “Systematic Manipulation of Social Influences” with a flair for alliteration by including a “thought reform” theory of “five d’s,” which simply put says that NRM deception leads to dependency on the NRM which debilitates them because of group control which causes dread mostly of the outside world which desensitizes (mind controls) the person so that he or she is no longer able to make full use of his or her former conscience in making decisions about conduct.

She presented her theory as having strong scientific underpinning, but this is absolutely not the case and was challenged by the professional community to the point that in some cases Singer was barred from giving testimony (Amicus Brief, 29 Feb. 1988). In 1990, U.S. District Court Judge D. Lowell Jensen reviewed in detail the history of Singer’s controversial “expert witness” status and barred her from testifying because, “The evidence before the court shows that neither the APA nor the ASA [American Sociological Association] has endorsed the views of Dr. Singer.”

Streiker, Lowell D.

Lowell Streiker is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in religion from Princeton University. He has written, co-authored, edited, and contributed to more than 20 books. He has served as a consultant on religious affairs to the National Conference of Christians and Jews, to various church bodies, to members of the U.S. Congress and to the White House.

From 1976 to 1979, he was Executive Director of the Mental Health Association of San Mateo County, California. Previously, he was Executive Director of the Mental Health Association of Delaware. In Delaware, he assisted in the rewriting of mental health statutes and spearheaded efforts for the renovation or closing of inhumane treatment facilities.

One inhumane organization he was concerned with was the former CAN, which he said was so deeply involved in illegal deprogramming that he (who some NRMs consider an “exit counselor” himself) had, “had to clean up the wreckage that was left by [the former CAN’s] deprogrammings that went sour over the years.”

Szasz, Thomas S.

Szasz, born in 1920 in Budapest, immigrated to the U.S., obtained his medical degree at the University of Cincinnati, served his psychiatric residency at the University of Chicago Clinics and was trained in psychoanalysis at the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis. Szasz is a co-founder and member of the board of the American Association for Abolition of Compulsory Institutionalizing into Clinics for Nervous Diseases and a member of the board of directors of the National Committee on Crime & Criminality. The Humanistic Association of America in 1973 elected him “Humanitarian of the Year.” Szasz is currently a professor emeritus of Psychiatry at the SUNY Health Science Center in Syracuse. Author of over two dozen books, he is also a lecturer for the Cato Institute, a prominent Washington, D.C.-based, public policy think tank dedicated to the traditional American principles of limited government, individual liberty and peace.

West, Louis Jolyon (“Jolly”)

Dr. West (deceased 1998), who was forced to resign his position with the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute in Los Angeles in 1989 over questions of wrongdoing related to research grants, has played a key role in bolstering the credibility of major ACM players, Citizen’s Freedom Foundation (CFF) and the former CAN. He served on the advisory board of the anti-religious group American Family Foundation (AFF), which was formed by CFF members in 1979. Early in his career, West conducted experiments that were part of the Central Intelligence Agency’s mind control programs (i.e., MK-ULTRA) of the 1950s and 1960s. The CIA funded West’s LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) research on human subjects, funneling the money through a private medical research foundation, the Geschikter Fund. After years of denying that he had worked for the CIA, he finally admitted to a New York Times reporter in 1977 that he knew the money he received came from the CIA. In the early 1970s, criticism of West for his animal and human experimentation, and racism resulted in his being denied government funding for his proposed Center for the Study of Violence. West served on the advisory board of former CAN.

Wright, Stuart

Dr. Wright is Professor of Sociology at Lamar University in Texas. Wright was a postdoctoral fellow and lecturer in 1984–85 at Yale University, where he received an NIMH grant to study the social and psychological effects of participation in new religions. He has published a monograph on the subject, Leaving Cults: The Dynamics of Defection (1987), as well as numerous articles and book chapters in edited volumes.

Ziskin, Jay

Dr. Jay Ziskin is a Los Angeles lawyer and psychologist in independent practice in forensic psychology and the co-author with David Faust of the three-volume set in its 5th edition, Coping with Psychiatric and Psychological Testimony (Law & Psychology Press, Venice, CA: 1995).

1 Gene G. James, “Brainwashing: The Myth and the Actuality,” Thought, Fordham University Quarterly, Volume LXI, June 1986, p. 254, said it was “absurd to compare this [recruiting practice of new religions] to the fear of death in prisons held by the Chinese and North Koreans.” Baker, The Making of a Moonie (1984), p. 134, said the comparison “cannot be taken seriously.” Saliba, “Psychology and the New Cults: Part I” (1985), Academic Psychology Bulletin, vol. 7: 51, said, “The model of the Chinese prisoner of war camp is highly deficient since members of the new religious movements are not abducted or physically detained.” Anthony and Robbins, “New Religions, Families, and ‘Brainwashing,’ In Gods We Trust” (Robbins et al. [eds.] 1981: 263–265), called the comparison “far-fetched.”

2 The term “brainwashing” was derived from the Chinese phrase hsi nao, which literally means “cleansing the mind,” and describes the process whereby the vestiges of the old order were washed away in the process of reeducation to assume one’s proper role in the new Communist order. The Chinese Communist program of reeducation was more commonly referred to as szu-hsiang kai-tsao, which is variously translated as “ideological remolding,” “ideological reform” or “thought reform” (Lunde and Wilson, “Brainwashing as a Defense to Criminal Liability: Patty Hearst Revisited” [1977], 13 Crim. L. Bull. 341, 343 fn. 6).

3 This brief was prepared for use in the Molko and Leal v. Holy Spirit Association case to clarify the state of acceptable scientific opinion concerning theories of brainwashing, and was initially put together by the American Psychological Association (APA), which subsequently withdrew its involvement because its Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control (DIMPAC) had not yet reported and the brief, therefore, pre-empted the Task Force report. The brief was then taken over by the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and endorsed by a number of other scientists and academics in the United States. Drs. Singer and Ofshe have incorrectly implied in declarations that the Amicus Brief filed by the APA in the Molko case was “discredited.” The fact of the matter is that the APA was waiting for Dr. Singer, who chaired the DIMPAC Task Force, to present her report, which the APA ended up rejecting. As for the Amicus Brief, the APA clearly stated when it withdrew it that “by this action APA does not mean to suggest endorsement of any views opposed to those set forth in the Amicus Brief. Nor does APA mean to suggest that it will not ultimately be able to subscribe to the views expressed in the brief” (cited by London 1990: 18).

4 Also see Lunde and Wilson, “Brainwashing as a Defense to Criminal Liability: Patty Hearst Revisited.”

5 Brief Amicus, p. 23 cites Lunde and Wilson, “The Patty Hearst Trial.”

6 In the civil action suit which Jane Green and Patrick Ryan filed on March 13, 1991, against Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (#87–0015 OG), in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking damages for alleged mental and psychological harm against the transcendental meditation movement, the plaintiffs sought to bring in expert evidence from Dr. Margaret Singer and Dr. Richard Ofshe. Singer and Ofshe sought to adduce to expert evidence that thought reform could be induced without the application of physical coercion. They sought to argue that Robert Lifton in Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism—A Study of Brainwashing in China, 1961, and Edgar Schein, Coercive Persuasion, 1961, concluded that thought reform programs could bring about a change in an individual’s belief system. Most of the cases studied by them involved physical coercion. The question was whether or not Dr. Singer and Dr. Ofshe’s theory of thought reform in the absence of physical coercion was admissible as scientific evidence. In considering the nature of scientific expert evidence in civil proceedings, the District Court applied the Frye test, namely that the theory upon which the scientific opinion was based had to enjoy “substantial” acceptance in the scientific community. The court ruled that Singer and Ofshe’s theory did not enjoy “substantial” scientific approval and was therefore not admissible as the basis of expert opinion.

7 In the case of Steven Fishman in the United States District Court of California (docket no. CR–88–0616; DLG CR 90 0357 DLG), the Court in criminal proceedings ruled that the theory was not admissible as the basis of expert opinion in criminal proceedings using the test of “general” acceptability. In a deposition submitted August 7, 1990, Dr. Perry London, Dean of the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology at Rutgers University, a licensed psychologist in the U.S. and Israel, gave testimony against Dr. Ofshe and Dr. Singer’s use of the terms “thought reform” (or “coercive persuasion” or “brainwashing”) to refer interchangeably to two radically different theories, which Dr. London called the “Social Influence Theory” and the “Robot Theory.” He pointed out that these “experts” tried to use scholarly literature which only applied to the “Social Influence” theory in an attempt to cause “confusion and misunderstanding in the minds of listeners as to the status of the ‘Robot Theory,’ which is not recognized by the scientific community as there is no controlled empirical scientific literature supporting it.”

8 The chapter, “The ‘Deformation’ of New Religions: Impacts of Societal and Organizational Factors,” by James T. Richardson (Robbins 1985: 163–164), cites the following footnotes:

/1/ This admittedly overdrawn mythological interpretation of new religions is illustrated in the work of Richard Delgado, a legal scholar, and of Margaret Singer and John Clark, two prominent psychiatrists associated with the Anti-Cult Movement. See Richard Delgado, “Limits to Proselytizing,” 17(3) Society 25 (1980); John Clark, “Cults,” 24 (3) Journal of the American Medical Association 281 (1979); Margaret Singer, “Coming Out of the Cults,” 12 Psychology Today 72 (1979).
/2/ Dick Anthony, Tom Robbins, and Jim McCarthy, “Legitimating Repression,” 17(3) Society 39 (1980).

9 See also Biermans 38–39.

10 Biermans (33) cites “Interview with Harvey Cox,” in Steven J. Gelberg, ed., Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna (New York: Grove Press, 1983).

11 Biermans cites Robert W. Balch, “What’s Wrong with the Study of New Religions and What Can We Do About It,” in Brock Kilbourne, ed. (25).

12 Ted Patrick’s personal interest in “rescuing” members from NRMs originated from an incident in which some youthful members of the Children of God witnessed to his son, telling him how to receive Jesus as his Savior. Incensed that religious beliefs different from his own were presented to his son by the COG missionaries, Patrick devised dubious means of dealing with those who converted to NRM beliefs: forcible kidnapping and “deprogramming.”

13 Ted Patrick is known for his violent deprogramming techniques and has faced numerous legal actions, arrests, and convictions: In June 1974, he was sentenced to one year imprisonment, but got off on probation. In 1975, an attempt to deprogram a Catholic woman from Canada resulted in a government ban on his entering Canada. In June 1975 in Orange County, California, he was charged again with false imprisonment and received a sentence of 60 days. His probation was revoked, and in July 1976, he started a one-year prison term. In 1976, Wendy Helander sued him for 86 days of false imprisonment, and was awarded damages by the court in Bridgeport, Connecticut. While out of jail on a work-furlough program, in February 1977, he attempted another deprogramming. In August 1977, he pleaded guilty. In April 1980, he received another one-year jail sentence and five years of probation. In January 1982, he faced six counts of sexual battery, three counts of kidnapping, abduction and assault. In October 1982, he was jailed in San Diego for violation of parole as a result of another deprogramming attempt. In June 1984, his parole was revoked due to another deprogramming attempt. In May 1985, in San Diego, he was charged with possession of cocaine. In August 1985, he was sentenced to three years in prison for violation of his 1980 probation.

14 Through the 1990s, the challenges to testimony by experts on brainwashing theory have led to significant alteration in civil litigation by ex-members against new religions (and the other organizations that, according to [Dr. Margaret] Singer, practiced coercive persuasion). After [the 1990 case of United States v. Steven] Fishman, there was a marked decline in forceful deprogramming (it being replaced with a more acceptable noncoercive exit counseling) and served as a warning to those organizations that supported it. While the number of involuntary deprogrammings had dropped significantly, they still occasionally occurred (Melton 1999).

15 Skonovd, continuing in his chapter “Leaving the Cultic Religious Milieu,” also says that the “brainwashing” explanation for all NRM involvement effectively “absolves individuals of responsibility for their own conversions, for remaining in the group, and for behaving in ‘abnormal’ ways while in, based upon the argument that they were brainwashed into converting and then manipulated by mind control.”

16 James T. Richardson in “The ‘Deformation’ of New Religions: Impacts of Societal and Organizational Factors” (Robbins et al. [eds.] 1985: 167–168), says: “Some of the parents simply cannot believe that their children would, of their own volition, choose such a life. To admit such a choice is to admit that their son or daughter rejected them, their values, and perhaps more importantly, the hope and plans that those parents had for the offspring in terms of education and occupation.”

17 Barker also includes the following footnote:

Lewis (n.d.), p. 15; James R. Lewis “Reconstructing the ‘Cult’ Experience: Post-Involvement Attitudes as a Function of Mode of Exit and Post-Involvement Socialization,” Sociological Analysis, vol. 47, no. 2, 1986

Lewis’ study replicated an earlier one by Trudy Solomon, reported in Robbins and Anthony (eds.) (1981), pp. 275–294. See Bromley (ed.) (1988), especially part III.

18 Barker also comments: “Sometimes, indeed, an unquestioning, womb-like atmosphere in which clear-cut directives are given can enable a person to cope when he or she had felt unable to do so ‘outside.’ In fact, there is some evidence that suggests that some people can, in a number of ways, fare better as a result of their stay in some movements” (Barker 1989: 55–57). The Hill Report to the Ontario Provincial Government in Canada, entitled “The Study of Mind Development and Groups, Sects and Cults in Ontario,” said, “Only a small number of persons related totally negative experiences. Most former members, even if strongly disenchanted with their movements on other grounds, were relatively healthy and admitted that their membership had some positive effects. Most of those who became casualties or experienced substantial psychological difficulty short of breakdown seem to have undergone personal crises in their lives prior to joining their movements. A few clearly had been unstable (Hill 1980: 552).
“The Hill Report, commissioned by and presented to the Ontario government (Canada) concluded with the recommendation that “no public inquiry be held regarding the issues arising out of the activities of cults, sects, mind development groups, new religions or deprogrammers” (Hill 1980: 596).”

19 For a comprehensive archive of documents, court documents and academic analyses of the brainwashing/mind control debate, please see CESNUR’s Web site at: www.cesnur.org/testi/se_brainwash.htm.

20 Watchtower, August 15, 1992, reports that in 1991, a Consistory [solemn council of cardinals] was organized to discuss certain matters of great concern to the Roman Catholic Church, such as the “aggressiveness of the sects.” Italian newspaper Il Sabato reported, “All are in accord that there is a need for a more in-depth study of the phenomenon of new religious movements and also a need to prevent, as far as possible, their expansion.”

The Resolution on Missionaries and Deprogramming, which was officially adopted by the United American Hebrew Congregations on November 21, 1977, states: “We affirm the right to use legal deprogramming efforts. We recommend that our Movement work locally and nationally with individuals and groups concerned with activities of the cults. Join in an effort to remove the influence of such groups from within our communities” (Cultic Studies Journal, vol. 2, no. 2, 1986).

21 The unreliability of psychiatric diagnosis has been adequately demonstrated in the California Law Review (vol. 62: 693).

22 See also “The Expert Witness in Psychology and Psychiatry,” David Faust and Jay Ziskin, Science, Volume 241, July 1988.

23 Shepherd (31–37) adds: “The ‘cult problem’ thus becomes medicalized such that the inflicting of ‘involuntary harms’ through traumatic and pathologenic processes of coercive persuasion is deemed by some legal authorities to constitute grounds for governmental intervention against cults.”

24 The following are references to such investigators and results of their investigations: Bromley and Shupe (1979); Galanter et al., 1979, American Journal of Psychiatry 136: 165–170; Hill (1980); Levine and Salter, 1979, Canadian Psychiatric Association J., 21(6): 411–420; Ungerleider and Wellisch, 1979, American Journal of Psychiatry, 136: 279–282.

25 Shepherd (1985: 31–37) writes: “Psychiatric afflictions may of course arise, but religious deviance is not necessarily and by definition a front on which state-condoned compulsory psychiatry may move. When we use the rhetoric of mental illness to justify intervention, we may both mask and exacerbate tensions within society that make new religious group membership look attractive in the first place and fuel the righteous vehemence of the anti-cult movement (Robbins and Anthony 1982; Shupe and Bromley 1980). And by stigmatizing new religious movements we may force members into further closure and further alienation (deviance amplification) (Robbins 1979–80: 48).”

26 The collapse of Communist control of the East Bloc and the former Soviet Union demonstrates the great flaw in any serious consideration that brainwashing and mind control are realities, even using brutality to put it into effect. The Communist state used all its power to attempt to “brainwash” its citizens for over 70 years, with obviously little lasting success. The Soviet state really only succeeded in controlling the outward behavior of people, not their hearts and minds. Sadly enough, free democratic Western nations seem to be following a similar pattern of oppression of religions at a time when the former Communist Bloc has emerged from former dark days of repression.

27 In the U.S. court case, Kropinski v. Transcendental Meditation, Dr. Margaret Singer’s attempts to testify that brainwashing is possible even without confinement and threats were denied by the Washington, D.C., Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court concluded, “‘Kropinski has failed to provide any evidence that Dr. Singer’s particular theory, namely that techniques of thought reform may be effective in the absence of physical threats of coercion, has a significant following in the scientific community, let alone general acceptance.’ In March 1991, the trial court ruled that Singer could not testify to [her] brainwashing/thought reform theories because they were not widely held in the scientific community.” (Richardson, July 1991, p. 23.)

28 In mid-February 1995, the Family adopted a governing charter, which went into effect on April 1. The Charter is basically comprised of two main components, the “Charter of Responsibilities and Rights,” and the “Fundamental Family Rules,” along with explanations and appendices. It outlines the most important and basic principles, goals, and beliefs of our movement and codifies its methods of government. A personal copy of the Charter was sent to every full-time adult member age 16 and over.

29 Population statistics have been kept of membership in the Family and its predecessor, the Children of God, going as far back as 1969. Adult membership (16 years and up) in our Family communities worldwide currently numbers about 6,000.


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