PSYCHOLOGICAL COERCION & HUMAN RIGHTS:Mind Control ("Brainwashing") Exists
Mind control exists. Yet misguided academics like
Professor Nancy T. Ammerman , are still trying to pretend otherwise. In a
report to the Departments of Justice and the Treasury  last fall, Dr.
Ammerman said that cult followers "need" and "seek" what a Koresh offers and
that "cult brainwashing"  is a "thoroughly discredited" concept . 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
[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). That was a criminal case. Mind
control arises in civil cases under established "undue influence" concepts .
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."  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"  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
Professor Ammerman ignored literature supporting the existence of
mind control . 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"
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. 
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."  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."
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."  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.  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.
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. 
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.  In fact, CAN was
a minor source. It provided some material that was included in a single sidebar
of an 11-part series. 
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." 
She should have checked her facts and gotten them straight, instead of releasing
a misleading report. 
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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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]
 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
 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.
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
[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).
 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.]
 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.
 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.
 Undated one-page declaration to whom it may concern:
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
� 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.
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.
 �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.
 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.
 Letters dated October 8, 1993 (from CAN), February 6,
1994 (to CAN), and March 11, 1994 (from CAN).
 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.�
 Report at 1, under the heading: �I. What information
sources were available in the Waco affair?�
 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.
 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.
 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
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
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
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
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,
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,
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Appendix C: Excerpts from "How Many Jonestowns Will It Take?" (20 April
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Not Thought Reform
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.
situations in which the motivations of the abused are prominent.
science view usually sufficient.
situations in which the manipulations of a leader are prominent (e.g.,
Thought reform expertise
Functioning here would
be benign nonreligious groups, such as communes that do not have a religious
Little, if any, need for
serious law enforcement involvement.
Abusive groups that are
political psychotherapeutic, or commercial.
science views usually helpful here.
Abusive groups that are
political psychotherapeutic, or commercial.
Thought reform expertise
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:
This paper was originally published in Psychological
Coercion & Human Rights (April 1994) and is reprinted with permission.