Experts mingled with cult survivors and members of the press before launching into nearly two hours of presentations and questions at a press conference at London College in Notting Hill on August 22, 2014. These leading thinkers on extremist groups and cults spoke freely about the challenges faced by governments when tackling the risks posed by such groups.
Masoud Banisadar, a former MEK member (an Iranian terrorist organisation), said, “Terrorism is like any other virus. It attacks through our weaknesses.” He pointed out that as long as there are “open gates” that allow the virus to spread, cults and extremist groups will have a free hand to continue. What is needed is vaccination and prevention – and an understanding of what is “undue influence” or (mind manipulation) that enables such groups to thrive.
All of the participants echoed this theme in their presentations.
Lloyd Evans, editor of JWsurvey.org, focused on the “undue influence” of Jehovah’s Witnesses over their members. While acknowledging the right of religions to promote their unique set of beliefs, he argued that when some of those beliefs violate human rights there must be mechanisms in place for proper redress.
Linda Dubrow-Marshall is an academic researcher from Salford University. She focused on the special issues associated with individuals who are raised in cults and the challenges they face when they attempt to leave those groups. She mentioned that they may experience depression, grief, existential pain, disassociation, foggy thinking along with many other issues during their transition out of a cult. Because they will face special situations as they try to return to a more normal lifestyle, they need to be given support through an approach she called “re-entry therapy.”
The research context was touched on by Professor Rod Dubrow-Marshall, Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Derby, who admitted that he had once been part of a “political cult.” He said the evidence of the psychological impact of such groups is clear. “It is essential that governments respond,” he emphasized. “In that sense a religion or ideology should not be a shield that people can hide behind – there should be accountability. All organisations should open up for scrutiny.”
John Atack is a former Scientologist and author of the book Let’s Sell These People a Piece of Blue Sky. He gave a moving and clear presentation about the research he undertook to uncover the facts about the life of L. Ron Hubbard and the inner workings of the small cult Hubbard created known as Scientology. Mr. Atack’s efforts resulted in some personal costs due to facing litigation. He pointed out that there is a general misunderstanding of the realities of this cult – just in terms of its membership figures. While there are only about 25,000 Scientologists, the organisation makes huge amounts of money by “unduly influencing” its members and by promising them “super-human powers.”
Steve Hassan was the last to speak.
A former Moonie – he is one of the foremost authorities on cults and mind control. He has been involved in educating the public about mind control, controlling groups and destructive cults since 1976. Steve wrote:
Combatting Cult Mind Control: The #1 Best Selling Guide to Protection, Rescue, and Recovery from Destructive Cults (1988),
Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves (2000), and in July 2012, he published the paperback and e-book, Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults & Beliefs, Second Edition, 2013.
Hassan’s insightful perspective and expert commentary have made him a definitive source for hundreds of national, international and local media outlets including: USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, People Magazine, Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live, The Today Show, Geraldo, 60 Minutes, NightLine, and Good Morning America.
Hassan is the founder the Freedom of Mind Resource Center Inc.: www.freedomofmind.com
He wrapped up the session by explaining his work that was born out of previous research by such experts as Margaret Singer and Robert Lifton. He has expanded that research and taken it much further in the development of what he calls “the BITE model.”
“People born into cults have an authentic suppressed self that they need to re-examine and recover,” he stated. “Through cloning, dependence, fear, and threats – the influence of extremist groups and cults is totalistic.”
A lively period of questions followed. Bo Juel, a former Jehovah’s Witness from Norway, asked how does this relate to “human trafficking.” Steven Hassan replied, “Human trafficking, sex and labor trafficking is a ‘commercial cult.’ Kidnapping, drugging, raping – it is along the same continuum up there with labour trafficking with political ends. The media needs to connect the dots.”
Professor Rod Dubrow-Marshall pointed out that the timing was now right to look deeper into the activities of these groups and they should be held to account for their actions.
When the meeting opened for questions, there were comments that led the group to agree that some in the media were beginning to take what is really happening within cults more seriously. There was also agreement that much more remains to be uncovered. We need a deeper understanding of exactly how “undue influence” is being used to recruit and retain membership within extremist groups and cults.
Now that governments have started an inquiry into the cover-ups of child abuse within public organizations (including churches and religious organizations), there was consensus among the panel that the time is ripe for abuses (like the “Trojan horse” situation within schools in Birmingham, UK) to be investigated, uncovered and addressed.
Workshops and group meetings will continue on Saturday and Sunday, August 23-24, 2014. We will provide updates on those gatherings in a future article.