Nya Wermlands Tidningen (NWT) - A Documentary History of Journalistic Defamation
NYA WERMLANDS TIDNINGEN
A Case Study of Newspaper Slander and Defamation
Against NCCG, a Small Christian Church
08[2A]. The Anticult Network
by Lowell D. Streiker, PhD.
On a regular basis, colorful stories appear in the media, setting forth the claims that Mr. X or Ms-Y has been "brainwashed" and otherwise harmed by a "dangerous cult group. Mr.X and Ms.Y, we learn from such stories, had lost their freedom of will and had to be "rescued," that is, abducted and deprogrammed. Shortly thereafter, additional stories inform the public that Mr. X or Ms. Y is bringing a lawsuit for several million dollars against the group in question.
Such stories do not appear spontaneously. The negative opinions of cults, sects, and awareness training groups appearing in the media are often placed there by individuals and groups belonging to "the anticult network" (ACN). The accounts of harmful effects of destructive cult involvement offered to the press and TV by disgruntled ex-members are often the result of anticult network orchestration. From my point of view, ACN groups are essentially propagandists who seek to justify extralegal and questionable practices as a means of suppressing individuals and groups who exert parentally unacceptable influences on their adult children. In addition, ACN groups front for dozens of deprogrammers, anticult mental health professionals, and anticult attorneys who make a substantial part of their living from the attack on nontraditional groups. Although the media rely on the ACN, their clients, and their allies, the data provided by them is scarcely reliable. To regard the ACN as a source of objective data or sound criticism of any group or form of influence is like regarding the KKK as a source of objective data or sound criticism of blacks.
The anticult network (ACN) is a loose-knit confederation of parents' groups, deprogrammers, dissatisfied former group members, cult-concerned mental health professionals, attorneys, and evangelical religious propagandists. The ACN began about ten years ago with the efforts of parents opposed to their offsprings' involvement with the Children of God, a fundamentalist sect. COG having been driven out of the United States within a short time as the result of Ted Patrick kidnappings and anti-COG publicity, a new target or targets were required. As with any newly emerging institution, the deprogrammers and the anticult parent groups had too much invested in the ACN to simply fade away. The Hare Krishnas, tile Unification Church or the "Moonies. and Divine Light Mission soon became the foci of anticult efforts. These efforts won very little public support and had practically run out of steam by late 1978.
Public, media, and legislative bewilderment at the mass murder and suicide of more thin nine hundred U.S. citizens at the Peoples Temple enclave in Guyana in Central America revivified the spirit of the ACN. For about two years the chief targets remained the Moonies, the Hare Krishnas, and DLM. Since 1982, new targets have included Transcendental Meditation, awareness traiining seminars, various New Age groups, and fundamentalist sects.
The ACN exploits the media to spread hatred and fear, to solicit business for deprogrammers and their suporters, and to poison the public's perception of nontraditional groups . . .
In an effort to avoid appearing anti-religious and to attract proponents of conventional religions into the fold, the ACN has been careful to attack their enemies on mental health grounds rather than theological ones. Allegations of thought reform, mind control, brainwashing, or mental manipulation have proved the most effective weapon. For a mother and father to accuse an unscrupulous group of having brainwashed their son or daughter has several advantages. Mom and Dad need take no responsibility for their child's rejection of them and their values. Further, they are able to regard their child as a helpless dupe or victim rather than as a willing rebel. When their child finally defects from the group - as the vast majority do even when no intervention is undertaken on their behalf - the apostate is able to blame the group rather than himself for his actions while still in the group. Under the brainwashing explanation, no one is ever to blame except for the "evil cult."
If it is influence rather than theology that makes a group an evil cult, it is a short step from condemning a handful of unpopular religious sects to condemning any group or experience. If a parent or a spouse feels that newly adopted values, attitudes, vocabulary, or social affiliation is somehow weird or threatening, they can readily explain it away as a manifestation of thought reform or brainwashing. Once again, neither the individual in question nor his or her concerned loved ones nor society nor anyone other than the evil brainwashing group is to blame. The ACN quickly adopted this point of view and began to accuse large group awareness training seminars, human potential groups, multi-level sales organizations, mental health professionals, and other sources of interpersonal influence of brainwashing. The absurd culmination of the brainwashing myth is the deprogramming of young men and women whose selected marital partners are unacceptable to their parents. Such unacceptable (to the parents) relationships are spoken of in ACN circles .cults of one."
1. Cult Awareness Network
Cult Awareness Network (formerly Citizens Freedom Foundation) is not one but about fifty-one organizations. At the top is the national organization with its office in suburban Chicago. There is a national board of directors which meets quarterly. CAN is poorly financed and essentially volunteer staffed. In the past ten years, it has been headquartered in southern California (various places), Virginia, upstate New York, and Illinois, and has been beaded by a succession of executive directors. After CAN went through three executive directors in one year, the then president became executive director and located CAN in her home ill New Yolk. CAN moved to the Chicago area with Reginald Alev serving termporarily as executive director. The current executive director is Cynthia Kisser, who holds a master's degree in American Studies from Bowling Green University. I have been told that the address appearing on CAN literature is merely a commercial mail drop.
CAN publishes a monthly newsletter which consists, for tile most part, of reprints of newspaper articles which are unflattering to cults, sects, et al.
A major activity of CAN is a national conference that draws between 400 and 800 attendees. The CAN conference was held in Los Angeles in 1983 and Washington, D.C. in1982. The 1987 annual meeting was held in Pittsburgh; this year's is scheduled for Portland, Oregon. Major anticult figures speak and direct workshops, and anticult literature is sold. Most major deprogrammers attend and many deprogrammings are arranged in informal gatherings. A subsidiary, FOCUS (Former Cultists Support Network), consisting of former members or "victims" of cult groups, holds its annual meeting in conjunction with CAN's. All sessions of the CAN /FOCUS annual meeting are semi-public. The public is invited, but CAN reserves the right to exclude anyone at any time without explanation.
There are approximately fifty affiliated chapters of CAN. The national organization has very little control over them. When there have been policy disputes in the past, the CAN board has found some way to disaffiliate troublesome chapters.
As a counselor of families disturbed by so-called cults and an opponent of forcible deprogramming I would estimate that eighty percent of all deprogrammings that have been reported to me were set up by CAN national headquarters or its chapters.
Some chapters (e.g. CAN/New York, New Jersey) have many active volunteers who answer phone inquiries, arrange public forums, distribute literature, "educate" the media, provide speakers, and lobby incessantly against "destructive cultism.. Many chapters exist in name only. A single pair of parents of present or former cult members attempt in a hit-or-miss manner to coordinate local anticult activities. Several chapters are substantial anticult groups which antedate the national confederation. Some have retained their original names and publish their own anticult newsletters. Examples include Free Minds (Minneapolis), PAC (Positive Action Center in Portland, Oregon), and PAIF (Pittsburgh Association for Individual Freedom).
ACN groups front for dozens of deprogrammers, anticult mental health professionals, and anticult attorneys who make a substantial part of their living from the attack on nontraditional groups.
The official policy of the national CAN on deprogramming states that CAN is opposed to kidnapping. Yet CAN executive directors and presidents have been regular referral sources for deprogrammers. At the chapter level, CAN is basically an informational and referral service for deprogramming. Many CAN chapters are headed by deprogrammers. As a counselor of families disturbed by so-called cults and an opponent of forcible deprogramming, I would estimate that eighty percent of all deprogrammings that have been reported to me were set up by CAN national headquarters or its chapters. For example, Jon Ruth, a university graduate student in Colorado, was recently kidnapped by deprogrammers hired by his patents, who did not approve of the young woman he was about to marry. Using the fact that Jon had attended a Lifespring workshop as a pretense he was kidnapped and forced to renounce his fiancé. A private detective retained by Jon's fiancé was able to determine Jon's location by phoning CAN in Chicago, claiming to have a relative involved in Lifespring, and asking for a referral to someone ill Colorado. The person to whom the investigator was referred was a deprogrammer, who, at that very time, was holding Ruth.
The following story illustrates how CAN works:
A client of mine, who later became a personal friend, had a son who had for a few days been with the Golden Realization Church (a fictional name chosen to protect the anonymity of the individuals involved). Her descriptions of him convinced me that he was ill suited to any structured lifestyle and that he would probably leave the group on his own or be expelled in a matter of days. This in fact happened. The mother told me that, in the meantime, she contacted the national office of CAN and was told that her son had suffered possible brain damage as the result of the Golden Realization Church's uses of "mind control." The mother was warned that if her son were not deprogrammed he would probably go insane and kill himself. When the young man returned home, the Mother had him committed to a mental hospital - even though he manifested no evidence of any form of mental illness- and deprogrammed by the president of the local chapter of CAN.
I do not know how much the mother paid for the deprogramming. Current fees (or abduction-style deprogrammings are $15,000 to $25,000 and more. To continue:
Despite the pseudo-psychiatric opinions with which they were barraged by the anticult network, the hospital staff soon came to the conclusion that the young man was not suffering from any form of mental illness and ordered his release. Shortly after he returned to his mother's home, he became deeply depressed. Since he no longer trusted his mother, he went to live with his father. (His patents were divorced.) Unable to shake his feelings of despondency and rejection he committed suicide. Remembering the predictions made by the anticult network, the mother blames the Golden Realization Church. I suspect his sense of having failed as his mother's son was the greatest contributing factor. The young man and his mother had always been very close. But when he turned to her after his short stay with "a cult," she opted to listen to the deprogrammers rather than to her own son, had him locked up, forced to listen to anticult propaganda, and drugged. He must have been devastated.
This story illustrates a common pattern. A family phones a CAN chapter seeking information. CAN regales the concerned relatives with atrocity stories, provides them with newspaper clippings and videotapes filled with more exaggerated accounts, puts them in touch with apostates with chips on their shoulder, offers to arrange for kidnappings/deprogrammings or other forms of 'exit counseling'. In typical cases, when the family member has been successfully removed from the group, he or she is introduced to anticult mental health professionals who convince the deprogrammed individual that he or she was the victim of brainwashing techniques that have caused irreparable harm. Soon the former adherent is being urged to bring a lawsuit against the cult group or leader and to make media appearances to warn the public. The deprogrammers and the anticult mental health professionals often reap huge fees either directly from the deprogramming or later as expert witnesses when the former group member sues.
Two deprogrammers are former truck drivers; one is a convicted felon (drug-related charges); one is a private detective; many are ex-cultists who themselves were deprogrammed.
CAN has been instrumental in having conservatorship bills introduced in various states which would allow courts to suspend the civil rights of adult cult members so that they could be placed in their parents' custody in order to be deprogrammed. Such bills have twice been passed ill New Volk but were vetoed by then Governor Carey.
Both the Canadian group, COMA (Council on Mind Abuse), and the Boston-based American Family Foundation are "associate" members of the CAN family. It is estimated that the total number of individuals involved in CAN activities throughout the country is less than one thousand. CAN annual conferences, which drew eight hundred a few years ago, now draw about four hundred. Most of those involved in "cult" groups, particularly the Unification Church, Divine Light Mission, the Church of Scientology, The Way International and various smaller Bible-based sects and "guru" groups. Approximately two-thirds of those actively involved in CAN are vehemently in favor of coercive deprogramming and most of them have used the services of such big name deprogrammers as Ted Patrick, Joe Alexander, Jr., Galen Kelly mid more recently Mark Blocksom and Joe Szimhart. CAN's parallel organization, FOCUS, is a council of former cult members, most of whom have been successfully deprogrammed from such groups as those mentioned above.
Allied to CAN in the anticult crusade are appproximately forty individuals who work fulltime or part-time as active agents of deconversion. Popularly known as deprogrammers, this group is available for hire by concerned parents for fees averaging fifteen thousand dollars per case. (Parents have spent as much as $50,000 in an individual case.) The activities of deprogrammers typically consist of abducting "cult" converts, forcing them to reconsider their allegiances, and creating a stress-overload situation which is eventually resolved in successful cases by the subject's renunciation of the group. Two deprogrammers are former truck drivers; one is a convicted felon (drug-related charges); one is a private detective; many are ex-cultists who themselves were deprogrammed; several are born-again Christian zealots who participate in the coerced deprogramming of born- Christians whom they regard as influenced by the devil. There is a category of noncoercive or "voluntary" deprogrammers who usually refer to themselves as "exit counselors." "Exit counselors" include some mental health professionals, a large number of former coercive deprogrammers whose wings have been clipped by civil and criminal court cases, former cult members who are opposed to force, evangelists for various evangelical Christian groups clergymen of various faiths etc. However, it should be noted that noncoercion is the exception rather than the rule among the practitioners of the ACN. Further many individuals who claim too participate only in voluntary deprogrammings have long records of involvement in kidnappings. Other "exit counselors" routinely make referrals to deprogrammers when less forcible means of persuasion fail.
3. Cult-concerned mental health professionals
There is a small company of anticult "shrinks". These psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers are extremely important to ACN because they provide a professional legitimization for deprogramming, the advocacy of anticult legislation and for anticult propaganda. The chief role of these professionals within the ACN is to describe as "psychologically harmful" the conversion to lifestyles which parents find socially unacceptable. Accusations of brainwashing, mind control, trance induction and hypnosis thus become the basis for extralegal and religiously suppressive ACN activities.
Working closely with deprogrammers and anticult mental health professionals are lawyers who specialize in litigation against cults, sects, and human potential groups. In a typical case, an individual who has been deprogrammed is referred to in anticult attorney. The attorney then retains all anticult mental health professional to offer "educative therapy" to the ex-cultist and to testify against the group in question
Litigation is seen by the anticult network as the chief means of suppressing groups deemed guilty of practicing "thought reform." To date, lawsuits have been brought against cults, sects, fundamentalist churches, awareness training seminars, and even a men's clothing store.
I am a sympathetic critic of manifestations of religious experience, group processes, and awareness training having studied such phenomena for nearly thirty years. I am appalled by the reliance the media place on anecdotal accounts of defectors and professional anticultists.
Since the ACN's only source of information is what they have learned from deprogrammers, former adherents who have been deprogrammed, and sensationalized stories in the popular press, their information is of very little value. Apostates are notorious for telling unreliable and self-serving stories. Would we trust a man's former wife as our only source of information about his personality? The ACN is composed of controversialists whose efforts are aimed not at understanding but at suppression. The ACN spreads atrocity stories about their targets in much the same manner as government ministries of propaganda publish exaggerated and accounts of enemy nations. Like all propaganda, the tales of the Anti Cult Network must be taken with a large grain of salt.
Apostates are notorious for telling unreliable and self-serving stories. Would we trust a man's former wife as our only source of information about his personality?
The ACN exploits the media to spread hatred and fear, to solicit business for deprogrammers and their supporters, and to poison the public.s perception of nontraditional groups so that when ACN-promoted lawsuits are brought, fair hearings before juries are impossible.
To accept the word of the ACN is to court the destruction of our most fundamental rights-freedom of religion, freedom of association, and freedom of the press. By spreading propaganda to justify its own deprogramming activities, the ACN subverts the integrity of the press and tramples oil the basic liberties of followers of nontraditional religious communities.
I have kept a file of media stories dealing with so-called cults during a recent one-year period. The stories were culled by a commercial clipping service and fill an entire six-foot bookcase shelf. I would estimate that approximately ninety percent of the coverage is negative and that approximately ninety percent of the negative material was based on allegations against groups made by deprogrammers, individuals who had been deprogrammed, the anticult network, and the attorneys of ex-cultists engaged in litigation against groups.
CAN has been instrumental in having conservatorship bills introduced in various states which would allow courts to suspend the civil rights of adult cult members so that they could be placed hi their parents' custody in order to be deprogrammed.
Scarcely ever is a story based on first-hand investigation or participative observation of the group in question. The few positive or neutral observations that do appear are often taken verbatim and uncritically from standard library sources or group handouts. Essentially the media allow the enemies of the groups in question to do all their spadework for them.
Over a period of years, many investigative reports on television have been set up by the ACN as follows: an individual is deprogrammed; the local ACN representative approaches the news or reporter with a pre-packaged story about the alleged "mind control," financial manipulation and sexual misdoings within the 'cult' offering the deprogrammer and his 'client' in support of the claims. Having been prejudiced by the exaggerated accounts offered by the ACN, the reporter then approaches the group in a 'have you stopped beating your wife!' spirit. The results are distortion and hate-mongering.
Citing cult-bashers and deprogrammers as experts on the harm caused by so-called cults is like quoting leaders of the American Nazi Party as experts when they claim that the American economy is harmed by what they view as the Jewish control of banking. Not only is the uncritical acceptance of ACN dogma unfair, but it is devastating to our most cherished constitutional rights and antagonistic to the pursuit of spiritual truths by citizens of a pluralistic society.
For six years, Lowell Streiker served as executive director of
Freedom Counseling Center in Burlingame, California,
Which assisted families and individuals disturbed by cults.
This article Copyright © 1988 Dr. Lowell D. Streiker