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PSYCHOLOGICAL COERCION & HUMAN RIGHTS:Mind Control ("Brainwashing") Exists

David J. Bardin,
Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn

 

Mind control exists.  Yet misguided academics like Professor Nancy T. Ammerman [1], are still trying to pretend otherwise.  In a report to the Departments of Justice and the Treasury [2] last fall, Dr. Ammerman said that cult followers "need" and "seek" what a Koresh offers and that "cult brainwashing" [3] is a "thoroughly discredited" concept [4].  In respectful memory of Koresh's victims, here are highlights of what Dr. Ammerman should have known:

A.        Judicial Insights

Supreme Court Justices Brennan and Marshall described mind control (psychological coercion) in 1988 when they explained "as a factual matter" why "the use or threat of physical or legal coercion" are not the only methods by which a condition of involuntary servitude could be created.  They wrote:

[T]he Court does not dispute that other methods can coerce involuntary labor — indeed it is precisely the broad range of nonphysical private activities capable of coercing labor that the Court cites as the bases for its vagueness concerns.  Nor do I know of any empirical grounds for assuming that involuntary servitude can be coerced only by physical or legal means.2  To the contrary, it would seem that certain psychological, economic, and social means of coercion can be just as effective as physical or legal means, particularly where the victims are especially vulnerable.  Surely threats to burn down a person's home or business or to rape or kill a person's spouse or children can have greater coercive impact than the mere threat of a beating, yet the coercive impact of such threats turns not on any direct physical effect that would be felt by the laborer but on the psychological, emotional, social, or economic injury the laborer would suffer as a result of harm to his or her home, business, or loved ones.  And drug addiction or the weakness resulting from a lack of food, sleep, or medical care can eliminate the will to resist as readily as the fear of a physical blow.  Hypnosis, blackmail, fraud, deceit, and isolation are also illustrative methods — but it is unnecessary here to canvas the entire spectrum of nonphysical machinations by which humans coerce each other.  It suffices to observe that one can imagine many situations in which nonphysical means of private coercion can subjugate the will of a servant.

 

Indeed, this case and others readily reveal that the typical techniques now used to hold persons in slavelike conditions are not limited to physical or legal means.

2In other contexts, we have recognized that nonphysical coercion can induce involuntary action.  For example, we have interpreted the federal crime of kidnapping to include the imposition of  "an unlawful physical or mental restraint" to confine the victim against his will.  Similarly, in determining when confessions are involuntary, we have noted "coercion can be mental as well physical.”  "When a suspect speaks because he is overborne, it is immaterial whether he has been subjected to a physical or a mental ordeal." 

(Emphasis added).[5]  That was a criminal case.  Mind control arises in civil cases under established "undue influence" concepts [6].  And mind control arises in destructive cult situations.

B.        Psychological coercion, undue influence and mind control

Yet Professor Ammerman advised our Government to disregard the factor of undue influence by cult leaders over cult followers as a "thoroughly discredited" concept.  According to her report, "real psychological needs" may lead persons "to seek such groups" as David Koresh's. [Report at 7 6.] She flatly asserts that the "vast majority" who commit themselves to groups such as Koresh's "do so voluntarily" and that "cult brainwashing" does not exist, having been "thoroughly discredited." [7]  She also observed that "the judgment of" Koresh followers "may indeed be altered by their participation," but, according to her report, "neither of those facts constitutes coercion."  [Report at 7 ¶6.]

Repeating the rubric that cult brainwashing is "thoroughly discredited" [8] reveals ignorance, at best.  Professor Ammerman was even in conflict with one of the other academic experts, whose advice the Government had sought, Robert Cancro, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Chairman of the Department at New York University Medical Center, who specifically referred to "brainwashing" in his report:  "The absence of corrective feedback from a diverse environmental experience strengthens the belief system through a process that can be described as a form of brainwashing.  It does not matter that this brainwashing may even be voluntary, because the operational effect will be the same."

·         Professor Ammerman ignored literature supporting the existence of mind control [9].  In responsive letters to the Justice and Treasury Departments, Margaret T. Singer, Ph.D., Emeritus Adjunct Professor of Psychology in the University of California (Berkeley) Psychology Department, and Herbert L. Rosedale, Esquire, President of AFF, cited close to 50 scholarly books, articles and official reports dealing with mind control, thought reform, coercive persuasion and brainwashing in the context of destructive cults.  [Appendix B lists such publications.  Pertinent excerpts from the Singer and Rosedale letters are in Appendices D and E.]

·         Authors of three of the four publications on which Dr. Ammerman relied joined in a 1987 amicus curiae brief, which claimed (unsuccessfully) (a) that "[a]fter searching scrutiny, the scientific community has repudiated" the conclusions about "coercive persuasion"; (b) that the specific methods (of reliance on interviews with victims who been subject to mind control) "have also been rejected by all serious scholars in the field"; and (c) that the "validity" of: 

the claim that, absent physical force or threats, "systematic manipulation of social influences" can coercively deprive individuals of free will lacks any empirical foundation and has never been confirmed by other research. [10]

These statements were untrue, recklessly or deliberately.  The literature does not limit brainwashing to prisoner-of-war or other conditions of confinement or physical mistreatment — a claim that cult publicists repeatedly assert even though cursory reading of the research studies demonstrates its falsity.  Two of the seminal researchers have issued explicit declarations debunking that false contention.  Professor Robert Jay Lifton, M.D., of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, declared: "Some of the people I interviewed had been put through ... no physical abuse"; and "thought reform is a complex psychological procedure involving interpersonal and social manipulations." [11] Professor Edgar H. Schein, of the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management, declared: 

I never attempt to suggest in my book that the system of influence used to change targets had to be applied in conjunction with prison confinement or in conjunction with physical brutality.

 

One of the essential points I attempt to make ... is that the effectiveness of coercive persuasion in changing attitudes and beliefs rests on the fact that the target person is physically, socially, or psychologically constrained from leaving the situation in which he or she is actively being persuaded to some new point of view. …

(One-page declaration dated July 25, 1989; emphasis added).  Amici's bogus claim of a unanimous rejection of the brainwashing thesis did not impress the California Supreme Court.  Its 1988 opinion instead held that the brainwashing concept was "controversial.”  Some highly respected authorities conclude brainwashing exists and is remarkably effective.  [Citing Lifton & Schein.]  Some commentators additionally conclude that certain religious groups use brainwashing techniques to recruit and control members.  Courts have recognized the existence of brainwashing in religious settings.  .... [Others] believe brainwashing either does not exist at all ... or is effective only when combined with physical abuse or physical restraint." [12]

·         Some of Professor Ammerman's criticisms of FBI tactics that hemmed in David Koresh and bound his followers closer to him are not exceptionable.  However, these are criticisms she shares with secular behavioral scientists, AFF, CAN, much of what she calls the "anti-cult" movement (as if it were a monolith) and others, rather than unique insights of a sociologist of religion.  In a joint statement to Congress on March 30, 1993, before the Waco tragedy, AFF and CAN stressed "the leader's psychological control over the group members" and the "dependency that cult leaders induce in their followers." [13] AFF issued a statement immediately after the tragedy (on April 20, 1993, excerpted in Appendix C) that was critical of FBI "tactics of pressure, harassment and psychological warfare."  As we later learned, the FBI behavioral scientists and consultants (in contrast to the tactical team), shared AFF's view, which is widely held in the cult-concern community.  As Professor Ammerman herself admitted, "this understanding of Koresh's ideas was basically accurate and … their assessment of his likely behaviors was on target."  [Report at 4.]

·         Professor Singer's letter (excerpted in Appendix D) points out that powerful leaders who foist dependency on their followers are a key element:

Charismatic, unscrupulous cult leaders such as David Koresh institute thought reform programs in order to ensure compliance among their followers.  The belief systems of such groups are of secondary importance.  …  Members follow the leader not so much because of a rational and informed acceptance of the belief system, but because of the orchestrated program of psychological manipulation designed to gain their compliance.  …  I recognize that some "new religious movements" do not employ thought reform programs.  For these groups, the belief system may be a central determinant of members' decisions to join.  Such movements, however, are not likely to pose law enforcement problems.  Dr. Ammerman seems not to recognize that some new movements may be psychologically and socially destructive.

·         Dr. Ammerman's view that followers "seek" the Koreshes of the world ignores the evidence of active recruitment.  To some academics it seems that if few targets accept a Koresh's invitation it proves that those few have a "need" for what the Koreshes offer.  More likely, those few were, in Mr. Justice Brennan's words, "especially vulnerable" at the time of recruitment.  And they were kept vulnerable thereafter through use of "nonphysical machinations by which humans coerce each other."  How much of the fault lies with the victims?  How much with abuse of hypnotic and other persuasive techniques by recruiters?  How much is debatable, but it is ignorant and unsupportable to claim that there is no psychological coercion in virtually any of these cases.

·         Professor Ammerman's report takes a non-judgmental ("values neutral") stance. The David Koreshes may demand "strange" commitments, may hold "unreasonable" or "illogical" beliefs, but nowhere does her report see Mr. Koresh as a bad man or even a fallible doer of evil.  To her, "charisma" is not "just an individual trait, but a property of the constantly evolving relationship between a leader and followers."  [Report at 7 -8.]  Under that analysis, a leader can never abuse power.  The leader and his followers are merely evolving together!  Yet Koresh tore families apart. [14]  Do spouses really have a "need" to be torn apart?  Koresh instilled in children the conviction that natural parents do not count.  Only David Koresh counted as their "family."  Koresh prevented children from developing independent selves.  He enslaved them to his whims.  What "needs" of the infants and little children was Koresh addressing?  Dr. Ammerman's kind of analysis ignores all that.

 C.         Attacks against Cult Awareness Network and "anti-cult" movement

In contrast to her non-judgmental view of destructive cults, Professor Ammerman's 1993 report attacked, without foundation, the Cult Awareness Network (CAN) and what she called the "anti-cult community" (as if those concerned about destructive cults are part of a monolith).  [Report at 1.]  CAN promptly challenged her factual basis.  An exchange of letters ensued. [15]

Dr. Ammerman partly changed her position.  She admitted having misrepresented the position of the National Council of Churches (NCC):  "In this instance, my statements evidently misrepresent the official position of the NCC on CAN."  Her report had claimed that "[t]he activities of CAN are seen by the National Council of Churches (among others) as a danger to religious liberty."  Although she retracted that claim, Dr. Ammerman defensively insisted:

My statements were based on personal conversations with individuals in the ecumenical and religious liberty community, as well as on general statements (not naming CAN specifically) issued after the Waco affair.  I stand by the assertion that there is general dismay in that community at the proposition that some religious groups deserve to be labeled 'cults' and thus not protected by the First Amendment.

Professor Ammerman has not explained how a "cult" label would deprive any religious group of First Amendment protections. [16]

Similarly without research or basis Dr. Ammerman wrongly identified CAN as "seemingly" a "major" news source for an extensive series of stories run in the Waco newspaper beginning February 27. [17]  In fact, CAN was a minor source.  It provided some material that was included in a single sidebar of an 11-part series. [18]

Dr. Ammerman's report is also wrong about CAN's role in the Waco events.  Both her report and a subsequent letter to CAN imply that CAN was a source of information to one or more of the Government agencies involved at Waco.  But that is not true.  CAN provided no information to the FBI or the ATF either before the ATF raid or during the standoff that followed.  Trying to explain misleading remarks on page one of her report, Dr. Ammerman wrote to CAN that she was merely alerting the Justice Department that "you are a group with a cause" just like  "the March of Dimes or Mothers Against Drunk Driving." [19]  She should have checked her facts and gotten them straight, instead of releasing a misleading report. [20]

D.  Conclusion

Professor Ammerman confuses "high commitment" groups that are open and ethical in their practices with those that are totalitarian, deceptive, manipulative and destructive.  [See Appendix F.]  "Taking the long view" of human history and looking at the rest of the world, she urges us to regard totalist groups as normal and as "widely sought" by millions of people.  [Report at 6 -5.]  As AFF President Rosedale responded, "[w]e do not believe we should take such a view towards racial discrimination, poverty, or other abuses of power simply because the harm is not great if we take a long enough view and because the number of abusers is great."  [See Appendix E.]

 

Mind control exists.  Some people unduly influence others to a very significant degree.  Most Americans know that.  Undue influence arises in connection with fraudulent investment schemes, totalitarian cults and all too many other abuses.  "[C]ertain psychological ... means of coercion can be just as effective as physical means" and "reappear with such depressing regularity."  [See Supreme Court opinion quoted in Appendix A.] Yet as April 19 approaches, cult publicists and apologists will probably trot out all of the stock misstatements, which Professor Ammerman parroted, including her admitted misstatements.  This memorandum provides information to set the record straight, hoping to catch up with Big Lies.

 

 

Notes

 

[1] Associate Professor of the Sociology of Religion, Emory University, and Visiting Scholar, Center for the Study of American Religion, Princeton University: B.A. Southwest Baptist University 1972; M.A. University of Louisville 1977; M. Phil. Yale University 1979; Ph.D. Yale University 1983.

 

[2] U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of the Treasury, Recommendations of Experts for Improvements in Federal Law Enforcement After Waco (Washington, D.C. undated; released October 8, 1993).  Professor Ammerman’s report was dated September 3, 1993.

 

[3] Dr. Ammerman did not define the term “brainwashing.”  The serious literature refers to the extreme levels in a continuum of psychological control when it uses the terms brainwashing, coercive persuasion, mind control, mental coercion, psychological coercion, thought reform or undue influence to talk about exploitative manipulation.  Cult apologists sometimes instead address a straw man, creation of a robot; serious scholars do not.

 

[4] Dr. Ammerman also gratuitously and ignorantly opined about CAN and what she called the “anti-cult community” in her report, but later retreated and qualified her statements.  [See Part C., below]

 

[5] United States v. Kozminski, 487 U.S. 931, 953, 955-56 (1988) (concurring opinion of Brennan, J., in which Marshall J., joined).  Appendix A provides a fuller excerpt.  The entire opinion deserves attention.

 

[6] For example, judges and juries must often figure out whether a deceased person was “unduly influenced” by some one else when he signed his will.  The concept also commonly arises in connection with fraud. See Rosedale, “Legal Analysis of Intent as a Continuum Emphasizing Social Context of Volition,” Cultic Studies Journal, 6:1, 1989, pages 25-31.

 

[7] III.

What, in hindsight, should the BATF and the FBI have taken into consideration in dealing with the Branch Davidians? . . . .

6. They should also understand that the vast majority of those who make such commitments do so voluntarily.  The notion of “cult brainwashing” has been thoroughly discredited in the academic community, and “experts, who propagate such notions in the courts have been discredited by the American Psychological Association and the American Sociological Association.

[Report at 7 6.]  Dr. Ammerman plainly failed to research or check her two assertions about supposedly discredited “notions” and “experts.” Both are inaccurate, even silly, assertions on her part.  Indeed, the APA included symposia at its annual conventions with the supposedly discredited experts as panelists: Drs. Steve Dubrow-Eichel, Michael Langone, Margaret Singer and Anita Solomon on “psychotherapeutic techniques for victims of destructive cults” (San Francisco, 1991) and Drs. Robert Cialdini, Michael Langone, Richard Ofshe, Margaret Singer and Philip Zimbardo and Herbert Rosedale, Esq. on “coercive psychological influence: clinical, ethical, cultural, business and legal issues” (New Orleans 1989, chaired by Dr. Frank Farley).

 

[8] The rubric, which seems to parrot and may have originated with cult publicists, is not likely original with Dr. Ammerman, who says up front “various political and lobbying groups have sent me information.” [Report at 1.]

 

[9] She cited four publications, none her own product.  Dr. Ammerman does not seem to have a background in cult issues.  Her published books include BAPTIST BATTLES: SOCIAL CHANGE AND RELIGIOUS CONFLICT IN THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press 1990) and BIBLE BELIEVERS: FUNDAMENTLAISTS IN THE MODERN WORLD (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press 1987).  She also edited SOUTHERN BAPTISTS OBSERVED: MULTIPLE PERSPECTIVES ON A CHANGING DENOMINATION (Knoxville: U. of Tenn. Press 1993). Her unpublished theses were “The Fundamentalist Worldview: Ideology and Social Structure in an Independent Fundamentalist Church” (Yale, Ph.D., 1983) and “Localism, Southern Culture, and the Role of Clergymen in the Civil Rights Movement in a Southern Community” (Louisville, M.A. 1977).  We do not know why the then Deputy Attorney General selected Professor Ammerman as one of the ten “experts” appointed after the Waco tragedy.  (Treasury advises that they were not responsible.) Perhaps, the Justice Department thought (not necessarily correctly) that David Koresh was a Christian fundamentalist.

 

[10] Amicus curiae brief dated February 10, 1987 supporting defendants in Molk v. Holy Spirit Ass’n (Supreme Court of Calif. SF 25038), originally field in the names of Americna Psychological Association (APA), Eileen Barker, David Bromley, James Richardson and others.  The APA withdrew its name from that brief on March 27, 1987.

 

[11] Undated one-page declaration to whom it may concern: emphasis added:

  Some of the people I interviewed had been put through the thought reform programs in prison settings where physical abuse was an element of the process.  Others I interviewed were subjected to thought reform programs at universities and other settings throughout the society, in which no physical abuse was employed.

  My work makes clear that thought reform in China has been carried out in both prison settings and non-confined settings.  My work also makes clear that thought reform in China has been carried out both with and without utilizing physical abuse as an element of the process.

  I found in my research that thought reform is a complex psychological procedure involving interpersonal and social manipulations.

  ….

  … When successful, and especially when supported by a particular social environment, thought reform can render an individual highly manipulable and susceptible to the demands of those controlling the environment.

[12]Molko v. Holy Spirit Ass’n., 762 P.2d 46, 54-55 (Cal. 1988), cert. denied,490 U.S. 1084 (1989).  The court used the terms “coercive persuasion,” “mind control,” and “brainwashing” interchangeably “to refer to the intense indoctrination procedures discussed herein.” 762 P.2d at 54, n. 10.

[13] “The unfortunate situation concerning the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas underscores … [that] … the leader’s psychological control over the group members can be so powerful that the group essentially becomes a projection of the leader’s psyche.  The future of David Koresh’s followers depends upon how rational Mr. Koresh is with regard to the question of remaining alive. If he decides he does not want to live, the probability is that his followers will die with him. The dependency that cult leaders induce in their followers has grave consequences – after leaving the cult as well as while in it.” U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Health, hearings on Health Care Reform, Serial 103-14, Vol. III at 753.

[14]  In America, even the law may recognize a paramount concern of maintenance of marriage and family relationships while cherishing our religious liberties.  See O’Neil v. Schuckardt, 112 Ida. 472, 733 P.2d 693, 67 ALR4th 1065 (1986) (under guise of exercising religious beliefs one does not acquire a license to wrongfully interfere with familial relationships); accord. Bush v. Carrieri, 419 P.2d 132 (Wash. 1966); Bear v. Reformed Mennonite Church,Pa. 341 A.2d 105 (Pa. 1976) (paramount state concern in maintenance of marriage and family relationship may authorize regulation even in light of the First Amendment); cf. Paul v. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of N.Y., Inc., 819 F.2d 875 (9th Cir. 1987); annotation, Invasion of Privacy by a Clergyman, Church, or Religious Group, 67 ALR4th 1086.

[15] Letters dated October 8, 1993 (from CAN), February 6, 1994 (to CAN), and March 11, 1994 (from CAN).

[16] Apparently, Dr. Ammerman casts herself as advocate for the cause of a vaguely-defined “community.”  However, she keeps her sources to herself and has not explained upon whose research she relied for her statements, who misled her into admitted misstatement or for whom she speaks. CAN wrote to Dr. Ammerman on March 11, 1994: “CAN certainly agrees with your feeling that all religious groups, no matter how unpopular or controversial they may seem to their critics or the public at large, deserve equal protection by the First Amendment for their beliefs and rights to free speech. However, unlawful actions do not necessarily enjoy such constitutional protection.”

[17] Report at 1, under the heading: “I. What information sources were available in the Waco affair?”

[18] The Waco-Tribune Herald conducted 175 separate interviews for their series, “The Sinful Messiah.” Five of the interviews were with David Koresh. Many of the interviews were with law enforcement officials. Editor Bob Lott characterizes CAN’s contribution as “minor.” Letter to CAN dated February 28, 1994.

[19] Her misleading remarks appeared under the heading and subheading, “I. What information sources were available in the Waco affair?” and “A. The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms” (which is in the Treasury Deparment). Dr. Ammerman wrote: “All organizations that exist to promote change have an interest in publicizing the problems they wish to change. …If no one ever heard stories about groups like the Davidians, you would be out of business. That does not necessarily impugn your motives. I could say the same thing about the March of Dimes or Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The point I was trying to make to the Justice Department was simply that you are a group with a cause, and they should take that motivation into account in evaluating the information they receive from you (as they should from any other group with a cause).” [Ammerman letter to CAN of February 6, 1994.] CAN responded that Dr. Ammerman “implied that you are under the impression that CAN provided information to the Justice Department at some time during the Waco standoff. This is not true, and strikes to the heart of CAN’s assertion to you that our organization should not have been mentioned at all in your section of the report entitled “what information sources were available in the Waco affair. … [W]e are unable to understand why CAN has been singled out among the many organizations involved in cult awareness activities.” [Letter dated March 11, 1994, to Dr. Ammerman.]

[20] Dr. Ammerman was briefed orally by both Departments and receive “a list of the experts consulted by the FBI during the affair.” [Report at 1.] Neither Department’s extensive published report on the Waco events includes or refers to receiving any information from CAN. See Report to the Deputy Attorney General on the Events at Waco, Texas (released October 8, 1993, in redacted form), Report of the Department of the Treasury on the BATF Investigation of Vernon Wayne Howell also known as David Koresh (September 1993).

Appendix A:  Excerpts from Brennan-Marshall Opinion in United States v. Kozminski, 487 U.S. 931, 953, 955-57 (1988)

If as a factual matter the use or threat of physical or legal coercion were the only methods by which a condition of involuntary servitude could be created, then the constitutional and statutory text might provide some support for the Court's conclusion.  But the Court does not dispute that other methods can coerce involuntary labor — indeed it is precisely the broad range of nonphysical private activities capable of coercing labor that the Court cites as the bases for its vagueness concerns.  …  I address those concerns below, but the point here is only that those concerns, however serious, are not textual concerns, for the text [of the statute implementing Amendment XIII to the Constitution] suggests no grounds for distinguishing among different means of coercing involuntary servitude.  Nor do I know of any empirical grounds for assuming that involuntary servitude can be coerced only by physical or legal means.2  To the contrary, it would seem that certain psychological, economic, and social means of coercion can be just as effective as physical or legal means, particularly where the victims are especially vulnerable, such as the mentally disabled victims in this case.  Surely threats to burn down a person's home or business or to rape or kill a person's spouse or children can have greater coercive impact than the mere threat of a beating, yet the coercive impact of such threats turns not on any direct physical effect that would be felt by the laborer but on the psychological, emotional, social, or economic injury the laborer would suffer as a result of harm to his or her home, business, or loved ones.  And drug addiction or the weakness resulting from a lack of food, sleep, or medical care can eliminate the will to resist as readily as the fear of a physical blow.  Hypnosis, blackmail, fraud, deceit, and isolation are also illustrative methods — but it is unnecessary here to canvas the entire spectrum of nonphysical machinations by which humans coerce each other.  It suffices to observe that one can imagine many situations in which nonphysical means of private coercion can subjugate the will of a servant.

 

Indeed, this case and others readily reveal that the typical techniques now used to hold persons in slavelike conditions are not limited to physical or legal means.  The techniques in this case, for example, included disorienting the victims with frequent verbal abuse and complete authoritarian domination; inducing poor health by denying medical care and subjecting the victims to substandard food, clothing, and living conditions; working the victims from 3 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. with no days off, leaving them tired and without free time to seek alternative work; denying the victims any payment for their labor; and active efforts to isolate the victims from contact with outsiders who might help them.3  Without considering these techniques (and their particular effect on a mentally disabled person), one would hardly have a complete picture of whether the coercion inflicted on the victims was sufficient to make their servitude involuntary.  Other involuntary servitude cases have also chronicled a variety of nonphysical and nonlegal means of coercion including trickery; isolation from friends, family, transportation or other sources of food, shelter, clothing, or jobs; denying pay or creating debt that is greater than the worker's income by charging exorbitant rates for food, shelter, or clothing; disorienting the victims by placing them in an unfamiliar environment, barraging them with orders, and controlling every detail of their lives; and weakening the victims with drugs, alcohol, or by lack of food, sleep, or property medical care. See, e.g., United States v. Warren, 772 F.2d 827 (CA11 1985); United States v. Mussry, 726 F. 2d 1448 (CA9 1984); United States v. Ingalls, 73 F. Supp. 76 (SD Cal. 1947).  One presumes these methods of coercion would not reappear with such depressing regularity if they were ineffective.4

 

___________________

 

2 In other contexts, we have recognized that nonphysical coercion can induce involuntary action.  For example, we have interpreted the federal crime of kidnapping to include the imposition of "an unlawful physical or mental restraint" to confine the victim against his will.  Chatwin v. United States, 326 U.S. 455, 460 (1946)(emphasis added).  Similarly, in determining when confessions are involuntary, we have noted "coercion can be mental as well physical … T]he efficiency of the rack and the thumbscrew can be matched, given the proper subject, by more sophisticated modes of 'persuasion.'"  Blackburn v. Alabama, 361 U.S. 199, 206 (1990).  "When a suspect speaks because he is overborne, it is immaterial whether he has been subjected to a physical or a mental ordeal."  Watts v. Indiana, 338 U.S. 49, 53 (1949)(plurality opinion of Frankfurter, J.).

 

3Although not detailed by the Court, the Government introduced evidence that the Kozminskis (1) ripped a phone off the wall in the barn when one of the victims was caught using it, and did not simply "discourage" contact with relatives but falsely told relatives who asked to speak to the victims that the victims did not want to see them and falsely told the victims that their relatives were not interested in them; (2) …

 

4Because the Court today adopts an expansive but rather obscure understanding of what "physical" coercion encompasses, … it is difficult to tell which, if any, of the means of coercion described in the last two paragraphs the Court would deem "physical."

 

 

 

Appendix B:  Bibliography on Thought Reform and Cults

 

Asch, S.E. (1952).  Effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of judgments.  New York:  Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Andersen, S., & Zimbardo, P.  (1984).  On resisting social influence.  Cultic Studies Journal, 1(2), 196-219.

Brown, J. A. C.  (1963).  Techniques of persuasion:  From propaganda to brainwashing.  New York:  Penguin.

Chen, T. E. H.  (1960).  Thought reform of the Chinese intellectuals.  New York:  Oxford University Press for Hong Kong University Press.

Cialdini, R. B.  (1984).  Influence:  How and why people agree to things.  New York:  William Morrow and Company, Inc.

Clark, J. G. (1979, July 20).  Cults.  Journal of the American Medical Association, 242, 179-181.

Delgado, R.  (1977).  Religious totalism:  Gentle and ungentle persuasion under the first amendment.  Southern California Law Review, 51, 1-98.

Delgado, R.  (1982).  Cults and conversion:  The case for informed consent.  Georgia Law Review, 16, 533-574.

Enroth, R.  (1992).  Churches that abuse.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan.

Farber, I. E., Harlow, H. F., & West, L. J.  (1956).  Brainwashing, conditioning, and DDD (debility, dependency, and dread).  Sociometry, 20, 271-285.

Finkelstein, P., Wenegrat, B., & Yalom, I.  (1982).  Large group awareness training.  Annual Review of Psychology, 33, 515-539.

Frank, J.  (1974).  Persuasion and healing.  New York:  Schocken Books.

Goldberg, L., & Goldberg, W.  (1982, March).  Group work with former cultists.  Social Work, 165-170.

Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry.  (1956).  Factors used to increase the susceptibility of individuals to forceful indoctrination:  Observations and experiment.  Washington, DC:  American Psychiatric Press.

Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry.  (1957).  Methods of forceful indoctrination:  Observations and interviews.  Washington, DC:  American Psychiatric Press.

Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry.  (1992).  Leaders and followers:  A psychiatric perspective on religious cults.  Washington, DC:  American Psychiatric Press.

Haaken, J., & Adams, R.  (1983).  Pathology as "personal growth":  A participant-observation study of Lifespring Training.  Psychiatry, 46, 270-280.

Halperin, D.  (1982).  Group processes in cult affiliation and recruitment.  Group, 6, 13-24.

Hinkle, L. E., & Wolff, H. B.  (1956).  Communist interrogation and indoctrination of "enemies of the state."  Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, 76, 115-174.

Hochman, J.  (Ed.)  (1990). Cults.  (special issue)  Psychiatric Annals:  The Journal of Continuing Psychiatric Education, 20.

Hunter, E.  (1953).  Brainwashing in Red China:  The calculated destruction of men's minds.  New York:  Vanguard.

Langone, M. (Ed.).  (1993).  Recovery from cults:  Help for victims of psychological and spiritual abuse.  New York:  Norton.

Lifton, R. J.  (1961).  Thought reform and the psychology of totalism.  New York:  Norton.

Lifton, R. J.  (1987).  The future of immortality and other essays for a nuclear age.  New York:  Basic Books.

Lucksted, O., & Martell, D. (April, May, June 1982).  Cults:  A conflict between religious liberty and involuntary servitude?  FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin.

MacDonald, J.  (1988).  "Reject the wicked man" -- Coercive persuasion and deviance production:  A study of conflict management.  Cultic Studies Journal, 5, 59-121.

Martin, P., Langone, M., Dole, A., & Wiltrout, J.  (1992).  Post-cult symptoms as measured by the MCMI before and after residential treatment.  Cultic Studies Journal, 9(2), 219-250.

Merloo, J. (1951).  The crime of menticide.  American Journal of Psychiatry, 107, 594-598.

Milgram, S.  (1974).  Obedience to authority:  An experimental view.  New York:  Harper & Row.

Mindszenty, J. (1974).  Memoirs.  New York:  MacMillan.

Mitchell, D., Mitchell, C., & Ofshe, R.  (1980).  The light on Synanon.  New York:  Seaview Books.

Ofshe, R.  (1992).  Coercive persuasion and attitude change.  In E. F. Borgatta & M. L. Borgatta (Eds.), Encyclopedia of sociology.  New York:  MacMillan.

Ofshe, R.  (1989).  Coerced confessions:  The logic of seemingly irrational action.  Cultic Studies Journal, 6(1),

Ofshe, R., & Singer, M. (1986).  Attacks on peripheral versus central elements of self and the impact of thought reforming techniques.  Cultic Studies Journal, 3, 3-24.

Rogge, O. (1959).  Why men confess.  New York:  Thomas Nelson.

Sargant, W.  (1951).  The mechanism of conversion.  British Medical Journal, 2, 311-316.

Schein, E., Schneier, I., & Barker, C.  (1961).  Coercive persuasion:  A sociopsychological analysis of the "brainwashing" of American civilian prisoners by the Chinese communists.  New York:  Norton.

Singer, M.  (1986).  Group psychodynamics.  In the Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Treatment, 15th edition, Psychiatry Section.  Rahway, NJ:  Merck, Sharp and Dohme.

Singer, M., & Addis, M.  (1992).  Cults, coercion, and contumely.  In A. Kales, C. M. Pierce, and M. Greenblatt (Eds.), The mosaic of contemporary psychiatry in perspective.  New York:  Springer-Verlag.

Singer, M., & Langone, M.  (1990).  Psychotherapy cults.  Cultic Studies Journal, 7(2), 101-125.

Singer, M., & Ofshe, R.  (1990).  Thought reform programs and the production of psychiatric casualties.  Psychiatric Annals:  The Journal of Continuing Psychiatric Education, 20, 188-193.

Sirkin, M., & Wynne, L.  (1990).  Cult involvement as relational disorder.  Psychiatric Annals:  The Journal of Continuing Psychiatric Education, 20, 204-218.

Temerlin, M., & Temerlin, J.  (1982).  Psychotherapy cults:  An iatrogenic perversion.  Psychotherapy:  Theory, Research, and Practice, 19, 131-141.

West., L. J., & Singer, M.T.  (1980).  Cults, quacks and nonprofessional psychotherapies.  In H.I. Kaplan, A. M. Freedman, & B.J. Sadock (Eds.), Comprehensive textbook of psychiatry, III.  Baltimore:  Williams & Wilkens.

Zimbardo, P. G., Ebbesen, E.B., & Maslach, C.  (1977).  Influencing attitudes and changing behavior:  An introduction to method theory, and applications of social control and personal power.  Reading, MA:  Addison-Wesley.

zfficial Reports Reprinted in the Cultic Studies Journal

New  organizations operating under the protection afforded to religious bodies:  Resolution of the European Parliament.  (1985).  Cultic Studies Journal, 2(2), 275-277.

Sects or new religious movements:  A pastoral challenge.  (Vatican Report on Cults).  (1986).  Cultic Studies Journal, 3(1), 93-116.

State of Israel report of the interministerial committee set up to examine cults ("new groups") in Israel.  (1989).  Cultic Studies Journal, 6(1), 32-68.

The  Council of Europe's report on sects and new religious movements.  (1992).  Cultic Studies Journal, 9(1), 89-119.

 

Appendix C:  Excerpts from "How Many Jonestowns Will It Take?" (20 April 1993)

Herbert L. Rosedale, Esq., President, AFF; Michael D. Langone, Ph.D., Executive Director, AFF

The tragedy at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas has focused attention on the Justice Department's effectiveness in dealing with David Koresh and his followers.  Lacking all the information pertaining to the ATF's and FBI's decision-making, we hesitate to join the "blame chorus."  Perhaps the authorities made serious mistakes.  Perhaps not.  Their job was exceedingly difficult.  The personal responsibility they must have felt and continue to feel ought to elicit sympathy in all of us. We doubt that any levelheaded person would have been eager to step into their shoes.

Cults are not merely weird groups that crazy people find attractive.  Cults are massive, enduring cons.  Although individuals may join cults during periods of stress and demoralization, most cult joiners are more or less within the normal range psychologically.  They do not join groups because they have made a rational and informed decision that the cult will benefit them.  They join because they are seduced through a gradual, step-by-step process of deceit and manipulation designed to advance the leader's objectives, regardless of the harm caused to members.  The centrality of sustained, exploitative manipulation distinguishes cults from benign new movements and mainstream religions.

All cult leaders are charismatic, persuasive personalities.  Those that are at the top of their trade gain virtually absolute control over their followers.  Some cult leaders are con men who are very much aware that their main goal is to make money.  Others are psychopathic personalities whose primary motivation may be the pleasure of wielding power over others or the satisfaction of endowing their idiosyncratic delusions with the pseudoreality of their followers' manipulated adulation.  Such leaders may often come to believe in their own convoluted "theologies," the underlying purpose of which is to enhance their power and sustain their delusional systems.  If David Koresh had been a "mere con man" who was in it for the money, the FBI probably would have been able to work out a deal because Koresh would have been rational enough to save his own skin.

It is now obvious that Koresh became intoxicated by his own charisma and enslaved by his private voices of doom.  There were many signs pointing to this conclusion before the Waco fire.  However, because David Koresh was a mercurial egomaniac, it is quite possible that no matter what the FBI did, he would have led his group into tragedy of one sort or another.  He apparently preferred death to surrender.  His followers "followed" his lead.

If the FBI can be faulted, it is for what they did and didn't do, not for the results, which may have been unavoidable.  The ultimate responsibility for this conflagration lies with David Koresh.

The FBI, however, apparently did not appreciate the uniqueness of the cult mindset, and opted to consult experts on terrorists and hostage taking, rather than eminent cult experts, such as Dr. Margaret Singer of the University of California at Berkeley and Dr. Louis J. West of UCLA.  If they had, they might have reconsidered their tactics of pressure, harassment, and psychological warfare.  In a terrorist hostage-taking situation, authorities confront a small group of fanatics who are usually surprisingly rational, given their assumptions, and a group of hostages who definitely don't want to be there.  In Waco, the authorities confronted an astoundingly persuasive, but fundamentally irrational, man whose "hostages," for the most part, wanted to be with him — even to the death.  These differences make for markedly different group dynamics.

Cultists often depend upon psychological dissociation, a kind of splitting of the mind, to adapt to the pressures and contradictions of the cult environment.  Koresh clearly had delusional tendencies.  Consequently, standard psychological warfare tactics, such as depriving members of sleep by playing Buddhist chants in the middle of the night, probably made Koresh and his followers even more irrational and less open to constructive outside influences.

 

The primary enemy of the cult mindset is truth — information from outside the closed, psychological walls of the group.  Research on defection from cults suggests that those who become aware of the leader's hypocrisy and those who are able to share private doubts with others are much more likely to leave.  This is why cult leaders so often control even the most mundane aspects of their followers' lives and why cult experts advise parents always to try to keep the lines of communication open.  The leader's hold on members is powerful, yet paradoxically fragile.

Before pushing Koresh into a corner, the FBI should have permitted the families of the Branch Davidian members to talk at length to their loved ones in order to try to connect them psychologically to the outside world and find holes with which to pry open the psychological cap that made the people in the compound followers rather than hostages.  However, given Koresh's psychopathology, this probably wouldn't have worked either.  But it should have been tried.

Appendix D:  Excerpts from October 29, 1993, letter of Margaret T. Singer, Ph.D. to Deputy Attorney General and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury

[C]ertain erroneous statements in the report submitted by Dr. Nancy T. Ammerman ... may seriously mislead the government and the public and, if uncorrected, cause government authorities to misjudge and mishandle future situations involving groups similar to the Branch Davidians.

I will focus on the two [factual errors and erroneous implications] that I deem to be the most destructively misleading.

 

1.                  Although the religious belief systems of groups such as the Branch Davidians are relevant to a full understanding of the group's psychological dynamics, Dr. Ammerman greatly exaggerates the role of belief systems and ignores the central role of thought reform processes.  Charismatic, unscrupulous cult leaders such as David Koresh institute thought reform programs in order to ensure compliance among their followers.  The belief systems of such groups are of secondary importance.  They vary tremendously in nature.  Some are political, others psychotherapeutic, some "biblical," and others "eastern mystical."  The belief systems' common characteristic is that they serve as "tools" to advance the leader's hidden agendas (which may sometimes be mere financial fraud, and other times, as with Koresh, the propping up of the leader's fragile and pathological ego).  Members follow the leader not so much because of a rational and informed acceptance of the belief system, but because of the orchestrated program of psychological manipulation designed to gain their compliance.  Attached is an article from Psychiatric Annals [not reproduced] in which Dr. Richard Ofshe and I describe thought reform programs and the psychiatric casualties that sometimes result from such programs.

I recognize that some "new religious movements" do not employ thought reform programs.  For these groups, the belief system may be a central determinant of members' decisions to join.  Such movements, however, are not likely to pose law enforcement problems.  Dr. Ammerman seems not to recognize that some new movements may be psychologically and socially destructive.  Indeed, she even seems to imply that the Jonestown tragedy resulted from family members' complaints to authorities — an absolutely ridiculous position.

 

In her report, Dr. Ammerman states:  "The notion of `cult brainwashing' has been thoroughly discredited in the academic community, and `experts' who propagate such notions in the courts have been discredited by the American Psychological Association [APA] and the American Sociological Association [ASA]."

 

The two clauses that comprise this statement are both erroneous.  First, contrary to Dr. Ammerman's claim, there is, in fact, widespread agreement, if not unanimous agreement among behavioral scientists who have studied intense social influence and indoctrination that thought reform programs are a reality.  Skepticism seems to emanate primarily from some sociologists of religion and religious studies scholars who are not behavioral scientists and have not worked clinically with victims of thought reform programs.

I can point to a number of compelling publications indicating widespread acknowledgement of the reality of thought reform within the behavioral and social science communities.  Richard Ofshe, a social psychologist in the Sociology Department of the University of California, Berkeley, recently published an important article, "Coercive Persuasion and Attitude Change," in the Encyclopedia of Sociology.  I have contributed articles on this subject to two authoritative texts, the Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy (15th edition) (the most widely read medical book in the world) and the Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, III.  Furthermore, a large  number of articles on the subject have been published in psychological and psychiatric journals.  Attachment B is a brief bibliography on thought reform and cults.

I also refer you to Dr. Cancro's report.  Contrary to Dr. Ammerman's conclusion, Dr. Cancro treats "brainwashing" (i.e., thought reform) as an accepted (rather than "thoroughly discredited") scientific concept.  He states:  "The absence of corrective feedback from a diverse environmental experience strengthens the belief system through a process that can be described as a form of brainwashing.  It does not matter that this brainwashing may even be voluntary, because the operational effect will be the same."

It is also noteworthy that the DSM-III-R (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association) includes the following statement with regard to diagnosis 300.15, Dissociative Disorder Not Otherwise Specified:  "dissociated states that may occur in people who have been subjected to periods of prolonged and intense coercive persuasion (e.g., brainwashing, thought reform, or indoctrination while the captive of terrorists or cultists)."

The second part of Dr. Ammerman's statement, which claims that APA and ASA have discredited experts who testify on "cult brainwashing," is also not correct.  Although attempts were made to persuade APA and ASA to take the stand Dr. Ammerman presents as fact, these attempts failed.  (Both APA and ASA withdrew their names from amicus curiae briefs taking that stand.  The egregious conduct of certain individuals in the attempted manipulation of the APA and ASA is the basis of a civil suit soon to be filed.)  Indeed, APA's Division 36 (Psychologists Interested in Religious Issues) rejected a proposed resolution that would have condemned expert testimony on thought reform and passed instead a resolution that acknowledged the reality of thought reform (while noting a lack of consensus regarding the degree to which particular groups practice thought reform).

 

Moreover, even before this year's Daubert decision by the Supreme Court regarding admissibility of expert testimony, expert testimony on thought reform had been considered in a number of court cases.

2.                  Dr. Ammerman appears to be lobbying for a group of academicians who, like herself, ignore the crucial role of thought reform in groups such as the Branch Davidians and, therefore, are not the consultants on whom the department should rely.  Their limited relevance becomes evident in Dr. Ammerman's analysis.  For example, she states on page two, referring to the outside experts the FBI consulted, that "this list of outside consultants is sorely wanting.  The psychiatrists who were most intimately involved are undoubtedly experienced in helping the FBI understand `the criminal mind.'  This, however, was a very different situation, and we have no evidence that any of these men had background or experience in dealing with a high-commitment religious group."  Then on page four, after reviewing some of the advice the FBI received from its behavioral science consultants, she says:  "It is my belief that this understanding of Koresh's ideas was basically accurate and that their assessment of his likely behaviors was on target."  It seems, then, that either the consultants had more expertise and experience than Dr. Ammerman realizes or they were pretty lucky.  Knowing Dr. Park Deitz [a FBI behavioral consultant], I believe the former statement is more accurate.

Soon after acknowledging the soundness of the advice offered by Dr. Deitz and his colleagues, Dr. Ammerman provides a list of points that she believes the FBI should have taken into consideration.  Other than the egregiously erroneous attack on "brainwashing" and the silly suggestion that the Jonestown disaster resulted from "the actions of government agencies pushed forward by `concerned families,'" these points are superficial or self-evident.  For example, does she really believe that the agents and their consultants did not realize that "new or dissident religious groups are often `millennialist' or `apocalyptic'"?

Thus, Dr. Ammerman's analysis seems inconsistent.  On the one hand, she acknowledges that the Waco situation called for special behavioral science expertise.  On the other hand, she is trying to make a case for recommending individuals who are mostly sociologists and religious scholars lacking the requisite behavioral science expertise.  Moreover, some of these "experts" have provided expert testimony favoring cultic groups with psychological dynamics similar to those of the Branch Davidians.  These "experts" are neither behavioral scientists aware of thought reform programs, nor have they had extensive first-hand experience debriefing and working with persons who have been subjected to thought reform programs.

The point of view generally advanced by these academicians is, in my view, superficial and off the mark with respect to groups such as the Branch Davidians (although their point of view may have more relevance for benign new religious movements).  They overlook the centrality of thought reform in determining the behavior of group members in destructive "new religious movements."  That is why Dr. Ammerman writes as though all law enforcement personnel need to do is learn about the diversity of religious groups.  She overlooks the crucial fact that law enforcement will not get involved unless criminal activity is believed to have occurred.  Because such groups are likely to be destructive, law enforcement personnel must understand the psychological dynamics that make such groups destructive and set them apart from benign groups to which Dr. Ammerman's analysis is more relevant.

Those of us who have studied thought reform and cults begin our studies of cult membership at the point when the potential recruit first makes contact with the group -- when the seductive process of thought reform begins.  (Parenthetically, let me point out that a common misconception about thought reform is that it requires the use of force.  This most definitely is not the case, as Dr. Robert Lifton's seminal studies of thought reform among Chinese civilians demonstrated.  See Attachments C and D for statements [partially reproduced in text; see n. 11] that Drs. Robert Lifton and Edgar Schein, another pioneer in the study of thought reform, wrote to rebut claims that thought reform requires physical force.)  The sociologists of religion whom Dr. Ammerman recommends tend to accept at face value the statements members make after they have already committed to the group and been exposed to the intense social and psychological manipulations of a thought reform program.  These academicians tend to overlook the deception and psychological manipulation that characterize the recruitment and indoctrination processes of many cultic groups.

I believe that if the Department of Justice followed Dr. Ammerman's advice, they would handle future situations involving groups that practice thought reform less effectively rather than more effectively.

Appendix E: Excerpts from letter dated October 12, 1993, of Herbert L. Rosedale, Esq., President, AFF, to Deputy Attorney General and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury

As a practicing attorney, I have been involved on a pro bono basis in this area of law for upwards of a dozen years.  I have become involved in the representation of victims without any personal or family connection to any group whatever because of my concern about the threat that destructive cults pose to our political and judicial systems.

While many destructive cults are organizations which deify their leaders and proclaim themselves to be "religious," often to take advantage of tax and perceived other legal benefits, some are totalistic political and abusive self-help groups.

In her report submitted to you, Dr. Ammerman reached a basic conclusion which, if followed uncritically, would cause the government to adopt a position of "benign neglect" with respect to violent and abusive conduct. She writes "... new religious groups are usually more threatening to cherished notions about how we all ought to order our lives than to our physical well-being." It is very hard to reconcile that statement with the deaths at Waco, Jonestown, Matamoros, etc.  Her conclusion is also premised upon inadequate consideration of the substantial body of academic and clinical evidence that (i) people who join destructive cults do not do so voluntarily and (ii) people who leave destructive cults have sustained physical and mental injuries attributable to their stay with the group.

Appendix B is a list of the authorities and sources, none of which are referred to in the report of Dr. Ammerman, that support these propositions.  Notably, Recovery from Cults, a series of 20 papers edited by Michael Langone, the Executive Director of The American Family Foundation, has just been published by W.W. Norton & Co.  It is a current selection of the Behavioral Science Book Club and is derived from professional papers presented at a conference sponsored by our organization and five cosponsoring Philadelphia organizations, including Northwestern Institute, a psychiatric center in Pennsylvania.

Ms. Ammerman's contention that the "notion of cult brainwashing has been thoroughly discredited in the academic community, and experts who propagate such notions in the courts have been discredited" is, simply, factually wrong.  Even a cursory examination in the material included in Appendix B and reference to the professional stature of the authors of that material, rebuts the conclusion of Dr. Ammerman. With respect to her statements as to the state of the law, they ignore the recent decision of the Supreme Court of the United Stats which discarded the evidentiary approach used by a number of courts in denying admission of certain testimony as to mind control.  Moreover, she has ignored the numerous cases in which such testimony has been admitted and relied upon by courts and juries.

Analysis of these issues was made in 1992 by a Committee of the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry in a text entitled "Leaders & Followers."  In addressing the question of whether the accusation of brainwashing is satisfied, this committee concluded that there is an argument that "forced isolation from family and friends predisposes 'captive' recruits to identification with the cult's leadership and goals" and that it is simplistic to use the term "voluntary" in determining the means used of gaining adherence by such groups since "rational judgment has little to do with any religious affiliation; indoctrination of those with the need to belong has a lot to do with it."  The above quote is made not because it is the strongest or most complete statement of the positions with respect to mind control, but because it is the conclusion of a group having no financial or other commitment to sustaining or denying the existence of coercive persuasion. Examination of the identity of authors of much of the material included in Dr. Ammerman's report will disclose financial support, connection and reliance upon the very groups that they are commenting about.

Particularly insofar as this report seeks to deal with guidance in future law enforcement, it would seem blatantly inappropriate to ignore the seminal works of Robert Lifton on thought reform and totalism where Professor Lifton has taught law enforcement officials for years in the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

It is clear in the conclusion of the "GAP" study that all sources of professional information, including those critical of a cult, must be consulted and considered prior to determining a course of conduct.  This seems to me to be more appropriate guidance for future law enforcement actions than the reliance of incomplete views advocated by Ms. Ammerman.

It is essential that in adopting a multi-disciplinary approach to the gathering of information relative to future law enforcement actions, you consider and evaluate he opinions of those who have had personal knowledge of particular groups and not rely, as do Dr. Ammerman and many of the authorities she cites, on the opinions of people who are still within and under the control of a group.  One must also consider the critics of the group and those whose experience have led them to leave it.

We at the American Family Foundation believe that the suggestion that the government should turn a blind eye on the harm destructive cults cause to its victims because of "the long view" and because such group's strange behavior is "widely sought by millions of people" is inappropriate.  We do not believe that we should take such a view towards racial discrimination, poverty, or other abuses of power simply because the harm is not great if we take a long enough view and because the number of abusers is great.

There are embodied in our Constitution certain inalienable rights including those of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  It is not an appropriate lesson from the tragedies of Waco and Jonestown that the dead are victims of a religious group pushed over the edge by actions of a government agency or that their deaths are attributable to their concerned families.

It is our hope that in your evaluation of how to improve federal law enforcement after Waco you will opt for more knowledge, rather than less, for a wider scope of consultation, rather than a narrower one, and multi-disciplinary considerations, rather than sole reliance upon academicians dealing with comparative religious theology.

Appendix F: Excerpts from letter dated October 29, 1993, of Michael D. Langone, Ph.D., Executive Director, AFF, and Editor, Cultic Studies Journal, to Deputy Attorney General and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury

The recently released report on the Branch-Davidian standoff includes three reports on the subject of "dealing with persons whose motivations and thought processes are unconventional."  The three reports were written by Drs. Nancy Ammerman, Robert Cancro, and Lawrence Sullivan.  Dr. Ammerman's report contains a number of inaccuracies regarding thought reform (also known as "coercive persuasion" and colloquially as "brainwashing" or "mind control"), which Dr. Margaret Singer has addressed in her letter to you.  Herbert Rosedale has also criticized Dr. Ammerman's report for implicitly advocating a "benign neglect" toward criminal groups with a religious nature, but has written favorably of Drs. Cancro's and Sullivan's reports.  Mr. Rosedale supports their call for a multidisciplinary perspective, but recommends that experts on thought reform be included in multidisciplinary deliberations.  I write to explain further why the concept of thought reform is relevant to your deliberations and how thought reform relates to other behavioral science perspectives and to religious studies.

Before proceeding, I want to make clear that I define a cult as an abusive, exploitatively manipulative group that uses thought reform to control members' behavior, feelings, and thoughts.  Cults often are religious, but may also be psychotherapeutic, or political.  I distinguish cults from new groups that are not abusive and manipulative, whether these be new religious movements, innovative psychotherapies, or new political movements.  Individuals "whose motivations and thought processes are unconventional" may or may not belong to cults, such as the Branch Davidians.  My comments are most applicable to cult situations.

The general issue that we all are trying to illuminate is interpersonal influence, that is, how the behavior of individuals and groups is influenced by interactions within the subject population and between members of the subject population and law enforcement authorities.  A diagram on page 19 attempts to clarify this issue.  Horizontally, the diagram is divided into religious contexts and nonreligious contexts.  Vertically it is divided into respectful forms of influence and abusive forms of influence.  Abusive forms of influence are further subdivided into situations involving thought reform and situations where thought reform is not present.

Obviously, this diagram is a simplification.  In real life the boundaries between respect and abuse, or between religious and nonreligious, are fuzzy, not sharp.  Moreover, no group would fit completely in one category.  Even the most abusive groups will demonstrate forms of respectful influence in certain situations.  However, there are differences in the frequencies and consequences of abusive influence.  I have elsewhere proposed the concept, "climates of influence," to distinguish between different types of groups.

In an essay on psychological abuse (Langone, 1992), I propose the acronym, MAID, to explain the difference between respectful and abusive forms of interpersonal influence.  MAID stands for Mind, Autonomy, Integrity (psychological wholeness), and Dignity (self-esteem, with social dimension).  When influencers honor the minds, autonomy, integrity, and dignity of influencees, the context is respectful.  When influencers dishonor these fundamental requirements of human happiness, they wrongly use influencees, and the context is abusive.  Respectful interpersonal influence is open, honest, and caring.  Abusive interpersonal influence is manipulative, dishonest, and exploitative.

Whether or not they have had formal psychological training, law enforcement personnel develop with experience a keen understanding of psychological abuse, of how people wrongly use other people.  Any training designed to advance their understanding of unconventional groups and persons should respectfully acknowledge and build upon what they already know.  For example, much sound advice came from individuals within or associated with the FBI, even if their understanding was not as great as it might have been.  However, as others have noted, the tacticians rejected this advice.

Law enforcement personnel could sharpen their understanding by integrating what they already know with relevant concepts and information from religious studies and behavioral science, including thought reform, or "cultic studies."  This integrated understanding would enable them to assess more accurately situations such as the Branch Davidian stand-off because they would understand how religious issues fit into the picture, how the leader's behavior reflects his psychological dynamics, and how thought reform processes influence members' behavior.

I will now elaborate upon the relationships described in the diagram on page 19.

Religious scholars are experts on how religious beliefs influence behavior.  Psychologists and other behavioral scientists study the processes by which individuals may come to adopt these beliefs and the psychological motivations that often affect behavior.  Behavioral scientists who have studied thought reform have a special expertise pertaining to situations in which the following conditions are present (or present to a high degree) [from M. Singer & R. Ofshe, 1990, Thought reform and the production of psychiatric casualties.  Psychiatric Annals, 20, 188-193]:

·         obtaining substantial control over an individual's time, and thought content, typically by gaining control over major elements of the person's social and physical environment

·         systematically creating a sense of powerlessness in the person

·         manipulating a system of rewards, punishment, and experiences in such a way as to promote new learning of an ideology or belief system advocated by management

·         manipulating a system of rewards, punishments, and experiences in such a way as to inhibit observable behavior that reflects the values and routines of life organization the individual displayed prior to contact with the group

·         maintaining a closed system of logic and an authoritarian structure in the organization

·         maintaining a noninformed state existing in the subject.

In a thought reform situation, such as the Branch-Davidian stand-off, traditional religious studies formulations about the relationship between belief and behavior will tend to break down because (a) the belief system becomes an instrument which the leader uses to enhance his control of followers, (b) followers are driven more by an induced dependency on the leader than by a rational, informed evaluation of the belief system, and (c) the leader, whose primary concern is control over his/her followers rather than maintaining the integrity of his/her beliefs, will adjust those beliefs to combat circumstances that threaten his/her control.  Consequently, the internal logic -- including the symbolic logic -- of the belief system, though certainly worth considering, cannot be exclusively relied upon to understand or predict the behavior of the leader or followers.

Although traditional behavioral science perspectives can be helpful in understanding the leader's behavior (e.g., the contention that pulling back would paradoxically decrease Koresh's power and influence with his followers), they tend to overestimate the degree to which followers' behavior reflects need fulfillment (motivation) and underestimate the extent to which it reflects the leader's exploitation of needs (manipulation).  They also tend not to appreciate the important role that dissociative defenses often play in the followers' adaptation to the extreme pressures and hidden, often contradictory, agendas of the cult environment.  Dissociation is a mental mechanism that enables cultists to "split" or "compartmentalize" their minds in order to adapt to powerful environments with contradictory agendas.  For example, a Branch Davidian mother might have adapted to the contradictory messages of "love and care for your child" and "obey Koresh" (when what Koresh was advocating placed the child in danger) by mentally disconnecting from the former message.  A behavioral scientist unfamiliar with thought reform situations might attribute some kind of unconscious motivation (e.g., suppressed hostility toward a child that interferes with the mother's life), whereas a thought reform specialist would not make that assumption and would tend to explain the mother's behavior as a consequence of Koresh's manipulations of the woman's mind.

How could the thought reform perspective have been applied to the Waco situation?

Before answering this question, I must emphasize that the reflections presented in the following paragraphs are not based on full knowledge of the facts, nor would they necessarily be endorsed by all thought reform experts.  Nor do I intend to imply that "if only the FBI had listened to us, everything would have turned out fine."  My personal suspicion is that, once the ATF raid was made, Koresh's psychopathology made catastrophe almost a foreordained conclusion.  However, this does not mean that mistakes weren't made, nor does it mean that it would have been impossible to get more people out before the catastrophe.  We will never know the answers.  To the credit of the Departments of Justice and Treasury, a sincere attempt is being made to learn from the experiences associated with Waco.

Based on my understanding of thought reform and the situation at Waco, I would have strongly agreed with the behavioral scientists who recommended a pulling back and objected to the use of psychological warfare tactics (the Tibetan chanting was especially counter indicated because it would tend to magnify the suggestibility of Koresh's followers, not decrease it).

I would have strongly recommended that an expert on the Branch Davidian theology be consulted.  Even though the belief system probably functioned, in large measure, as a tool, it was a tool that the authorities could have used, not just Koresh.

I would have strongly recommended that an expert clinician knowledgeable about thought reform and cults, such as Dr. Margaret Singer, interview as quickly as possible all available former members and family members.  These are the people who have the raw data on the group's techniques of psychological manipulation, even though they may not be able to articulate clearly what they know (which is why clinical expertise is necessary in order to pull out and organize the valuable information in their heads).

I suspect (though I do not have sufficient information to state confidently) that the information so gathered would have been useful -- in conjunction with the theological analysis (which would have helped negotiators to speak Koresh's "language") -- in negotiating for the release of children and others.  Family members, "coached" by an expert clinician, might have been able to begin to connect their loved ones to the outside world and find holes with which to pry open the psychological cap that made them followers, rather than hostages.  Negotiators might also have been able to identify strategies that would have given them more leverage over Koresh.

As noted earlier, I do not know if these if followed, would have significantly altered the outcome, for ultimately Koresh's personal needs (the only needs that truly matter in a cultic group) would have determined the outcome.  If, as seems to be the case, his need for power so outweighed his instinct for survival that he would opt for death when he believed himself to be trapped between utter humiliation and death, then death was inevitable.  The "next Koresh," however, may not be so thoroughly trapped, nor so "tipped" toward death, and a positive outcome may be possible if, as Dr. Sullivan says, "knowledge is the premise."

 

Forms of Influence

 

 

 

Forms of Influence

 

Respectful

Abusive

Contexts

 

Not Thought Reform

Thought Reform

Religious Contexts

 

Mainly functioning here are benign new religious movements and other religious groups, for which religious studies perspectives are most useful.

 

Little, if any, need for serious law enforcement involvement.

Abusive religious situations in which the motivations of the abused are prominent.

 

Traditional behavioral science view usually sufficient.

Abusive religious situations in which the manipulations of a leader are prominent (e.g., cults).

 

Thought reform expertise needed. 

Non-Religious Contexts

Functioning here would be benign nonreligious groups, such as communes that do not have a religious character.

 

Little, if any, need for serious law enforcement involvement. 

 

Abusive groups that are political psychotherapeutic, or commercial.

 

Traditional behavioral science views usually helpful here.

Abusive groups that are political psychotherapeutic, or commercial.

 

Thought reform expertise needed. 

Obviously, this diagram simplifies boundaries that, in real life, would be fuzzy, not sharp.  Also, no group would fit completely in one category.  The categories are useful only in separating groups with different influence "climates."

 

 

Cult Abuse Policy & Research Board of Advisers:  Peter N. Georgiades, Esq., Counselor at Law, Pittsburgh, PA; Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D.; Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Child Psychiatry, Dept. of Psychiatry, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX; Herbert Rosedale, Esq., President AFF, New York, NY; Patricia Ryan, M.P.A., Legislative Advocate, Sacramento, CA; Margaret Thaler Singer, Ph.D., Emeritus Adjunct Professor, Psychology Dept. Univ. of California, Berkeley, CA; Louis Jolyon West, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry, UCLA School of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA.

 

For more information, contact:

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This paper was originally published in Psychological Coercion & Human Rights (April 1994) and is reprinted with permission.

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