|Title||Branch Davidians - WACO: The Government's Failure to Understand Destructive Cults|
Branch Davidians - WACO: The Government's Failure to Understand Destructive Cults Transcript of Lecture at Harvard University Science Center February 27th 1994 by Steven Hassan
I viewed a videotape this afternoon, I believe it's the one you're discussing tomorrow? Is this the one by Linda Thompson? Yeah. This videotape is, in my opinion, a destructive-cult-propaganda masterpiece. It is not credible at all. Well, we can go through the entire videotape at a later point. Tonight I'm giving my "bashing" of the U.S. government. I'm just telling you my opinion because I viewed it this afternoon. [Interruption]. Excuse me, I'm stating it as an opinion, and if you continue to disrupt, I'm going to ask you to leave, because there are people here who have come a long distance.
I'm extremely frustrated and horrified by what took place last year. Actually, the raid occurred a year from tomorrow. I think that the government was certainly ill-advised, ill-prepared, I think to attempt a forcible assault, as they did, with women and children in a compound such as that, was just beyond stupid. Good for media, good for hype, good for Rambo-style things, but in terms of serving the public good I think it was horrible. Unlike what destructive cults like Scientology, the Moonies, and other groups that I criticize that say that government has no right to go there at all, I do believe they had a right to go there to investigate arms, to look after people's well-being including the alleged sexual abuse of minors and such.
Clearly in retrospect what the government should have done was taken David Koresh when he was jogging, when he was in town having a cheeseburger, or lure him into town, and from there they could have sent a handful of agents to investigate the premises, and then it would have been a non-event. But unfortunately they didn't do that. And I also want to state that I have no inside track of information. I have never talked with the FBI, I have not talked with any insiders, and so all of information is based on interviews that I've done with people as well as media and such. So I'm sure there's lots more information that will come out later about what information was available. So I just wanted to give that disclaimer.
I don't have the full facts, but I can tell you that it's clear by the government's activities they do not have an idea about the destructive cult mentality. They were treating this as a criminal operation, they were treating David Koresh as a con man who was a psychopath, and like most cult leaders that I've studied, he was a victim of a cult himself, and there's a parallel between many cult leaders and sexual perpetrators, in that many sexual perpetrators were victims of sexual abuse themselves. Vernon Howell turned into David Koresh and Vernon's shadow-side became dominant.
My orientation, my background, is that I was in a cult. I was in a cult for two and a half years. I was in the Moon Organization; I actually was involved in recruiting and indoctrinating people into the Moon Organization. I know how cult leaders think, as a generalization based on what has since become 17 years of my life work and research and helping hundreds of people involved with many destructive groups to get out. I also want to comment that I made numerous efforts to try to correct the situation after the initial assault.
I approached my congressman, Joe Kennedy's office. They wrote numerous letters and made many phone calls to the Department of Justice encouraging them to get in touch with me. They did not. I faxed a letter to George Steppanopoulos, actually the letter was to President Clinton, a letter was faxed through the Massachusetts Attorney-General's Scott Harshbarger's office directly to Janet Reno, and in fact I would like to read you a portion of what I wrote in that fax, which was March 30th.
The compound went up in flames on April 19th. "Dear Attorney-General Reno, I am contacting you in regards to the FBI operation in Waco, Texas. I am absolutely certain that the tactics currently being used will not result in a speedy, peaceful resolution of the standoff. This is not a typical criminal operation. This is a cult mind control situation." And I go on and actually outline some of the things that I'll cover in a minute, things they should have done that would have resulted in a peaceful intervention. Also Eleanor Acheson reportedly handed a copy of my book to Webster Hubble approximately one week before the final assault was done.
My book, Combatting Cult Mind Control by the way, has been out since 1988, you can go to B. Daltons, it's out, it's widely regarded as one of the best books on the subject of cults and mind control, and I know that Belinda Ganem, whose son David Thibodeau was one of the few survivors who was able to escape the flames, gave a copy of the book to FBI negotiators in Waco, Texas prior to the assault as well.
But I've never been called. I've never been contacted in fact, even though there was supposed to be a follow-up investigation into how to prevent future tragedies from occurring. In fact, I believe there's been a big whitewash. It's been a political whitewash, and I truly believe that because of the government foul-ups from the very beginning, that men, women are children are dead that should be alive. I'd like to state that I believe that people involved with destructive cults are as a generalization, intelligent, idealistic, kind, warm, loving, creative, wonderful people. And I resent the kind of blame-the-victim mentality that exists in the media, exists in society today, that "Oh those crazy people in Waco, they wanted to be controlled, they wanted to be raped, they wanted to have their liberties curtailed."
Nonsense! These people were, in my opinion, mind-controlled by David Koresh. I want to give you my definition of a destructive cult: "a pyramid-structured authoritarian group with someone or some group at the top that has total power, and that uses mind control techniques to recruit and indoctrinate people to be dependent and obedient." I define mind control in terms of four components or B.I.T.E.: control of behavior; control of information; control of thoughts and control of emotions.. I'd also like to say that it doesn't matter what the belief system is. My focus is on the methodology of practices of groups. And so a group could be a religious destructive cult. It could be a political destructive cult. It could be a therapy destructive cult. It could be a business destructive cult.
If these controls of behavior, including control of sleep, food, privacy, rules and regulations, not allowing people to be alone, not allowing people to see their families, not allowing people to read letters of critics, of seeing people outside, inculcating thought-stopping techniques. Telling people that if you have a negative thought about the leader or the doctrine the group, that it's coming from your reactive mind, or it's coming from your fallen nature, or it's coming from Satan, and so you should chant, or pray, or meditate, or speak in tongues to get rid of the negative thought. And when I was in the Moon cult, that's what I was taught to do. I was told that if someone said something critical of Moon or the organization, to start chanting or praying in my head to get rid of Satan, to get rid of the "negativity." And so I was doing a thought-stopping technique on myself. And what happens when an intelligent person is not allowed to have doubts, or is not allowed to think negative thoughts? Well, all you're left with are positive thoughts. Your negative thoughts all get suppressed. What happens then?
Reality testing is undermined. There's no way of testing out your environment. And so very bright, talented people can become extremely dependent on someone who says, "I HAVE THE ANSWERS. I KNOW WHAT THE SEVENTH SEAL IS, THAT NO ONE ELSE KNOWS." The most universal mind control technique is phobia indoctrination. Irrational fears programmed into people's minds that if they ever leave the group, terrible things are going to happen to them. Some groups say you're going to get cancer, you're going to get AIDS, you're going to be hit by a car, you're going to get a heart attack, you're going to be possessed by evil spirits, you're going to be kidnapped and beaten and tortured by deprogrammers - that's a very common phobia of the destructive cults indoctrinating people.
So if a person has a phobia, for example, of an elevator, they can't get in an elevator, they just freeze up, their heart races and pounds and such a person cannot imagine riding in an elevator safely and comfortably, as most people can, someone under mind control, in a mind control cult, can't imagine leaving the group and living a happy, fulfilled life. They can only generate negative imagery, and only hear negative words in their minds. So, yes, we can look in towards the Koreshians and say, "Yeah, they could have walked out, they could have left if they wanted to," but they didn't have the capacity to in their minds.
Now mind control as practiced by destructive cults does not erase a person's real identity. But what it does is it creates a pseudo-identity that suppresses the person's real self. So Steve Hassan, son of Milton and Estelle Hassan, was recruited into the Moonies, and now a new identity was created where now my parents were Moon and his wife, and this new identity came to believe that the old identity, Steve, was fallen, was Satanic. So his poetry got thrown away. It wasn't spiritual enough. Playing basketball was no longer considered to be valid use of time. Seeing family and friends, going to college, was no longer valid. This new cult identity was suppressing my old identity. But every single person in that cult had a real self. And yet many family members and friends of those people inside the compound desperately approached the FBI and said, "Please deliver the letter. Please let me talk with them. I'll go into the compound."
And the FBI put up a wall, an information wall, to deprive access of the cult members to those personal connections to reality. Emotional connections, behavioral connections, life connections. And that was a horrible, horrible error in judgement. David Koresh's own grandmother wanted to speak with him. They wouldn't allow it. Steve Snider, lieutenant, the number two person, was very close with his sister, Sue Johnson, whom I'd spoken with on the phone. She wanted desperately to speak with her brother. The FBI prohibited it. So this dual identity concept is very important. I've read in reports where the negotiators would say that David Koresh would one moment be very rational, very warm and easy-going and communicative, and then all of a sudden he'd snap and he'd become this raving lunatic. And they described it as mood swings. Well, from my perspective, it wasn't a mood swing, it was an identity shift that was going on. He was flipping back from Vernon Howell to David Koresh. Back and forth. But the FBI didn?t understand this concept, didn't understand how to elicit Vernon Howell. Because it was Vernon Howell who would have come out peaceably, in my opinion. Not David Koresh.
Other things that I thought the government did wrong, and that they should have done. I think that they needed to bring in a third party negotiator. And I've read a lot of newspaper reports and magazine reports, and I've not seen it written anywhere except by Harvard researcher Alan Stone, who was one of the very few people asked by the government as a follow-up investigator who actually criticized the government. I just read his report, and he actually said, "That situation called for a third party negotiator." And I completely agree with that. Why? Because inside the compound, their view was, the FBI was evil. They shot their dogs. They shot their people. Their friends were dead, bleeding and such. The FBI would come around with tanks and crush their bicycles, crush their cars, crush his boat. Intimidating, violent. So in order to facilitate a peaceful negotiation, to bring in someone that David Koresh could view as at least neutral or at least wasn't part of the forces to do harm to him, that would have made a very big difference.
They gave one radio. What was the psychology of giving one radio? See, for me, information control is a mind control technique. And when you're trying to help someone who's under mind control, you want to give him information. In my opinion, they should have given 100 radios. Why? Because every single person there was a human being, and every person had to capacity to say, "I want to listen too." So why not let them sit with boxes of radios in front of everyone? If David Koresh wouldn't let anyone else listen, and let them be thinking, "Oh, the government wanted us to have these radios, but David's not letting us have these radios," as opposed to, "Well, we don't know what's going on, only David and only Steve Snider know, and they know what's best." I thought it was an error to torture them, to cut off their electricity, to not allow medical aid.
When you're in a mindset that's -and-white that the outside world is evil, and you know you're dealing with someone who has this mindset, the greatest thing you can do is undermine that world view. And so what was called for was paradoxical interventions. And I was quoted in the Globe, on page 1 right after the fire, and I said the FBI mentality was wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. They would have done better to call a truce, and set up picnic baskets and give them fried chicken. And I meant it! Why? Because the members would then be seeing, "Hey, they're being nice to us!" I would have arranged truces so people could come out in the sun. They wouldn't be treated like rats, like objects, like criminals.
The FBI brought in their hostage negotiation team. This was not a hostage situation. This was a cult mind control situation. I would have brought cult counseling information to people in cults. When I was in the Moonies, I was programmed not to have negative thoughts about the Moonies, as I've just indicated. So likewise, when my father and my mother, who loved me very much, still do - fortunately they're still alive - and they'd say, "But Steve, Moon has an M16 gun factory," or they'd say, "But Steve, Moon is a multimillionaire! How could you believe in him?" I'd vocalize internally, "Crush Satan, crush Satan, crush Satan."
My parents didn't understand that a frontal approach wasn't going to work. But the weakness is that when you're involved with a destructive cult, you're not taught to stop negative thoughts about other groups. And so, if you're talking to someone in the Moonies, you can talk to them about a different group how it uses mind control, and they'll think about it. There were survivors of Jonestown that wanted to go down there and talk to these folks. And they could've talked about Jim Jones, and they could have talked about what was going on in Guyana, and what was happening, and the phobia indoctrination, they could've talked with them about love, and the central message of the Bible, which is love, and service and kindness.
They could've talked about control of thoughts and feelings. They could have given that information. Time was on the outside world's side to help the people inside. But unfortunately the FBI did things like sleep deprivation. Bright lights, loud blaring music of rabbits being slaughtered and Tibetan chants and Nancy Sinatra singing, "These Boots are Made for Walking," and I'm not sure which of those three was the worst for them. What they were doing was classic brainwashing techniques. The FBI was doing brainwashing. Physical, coercive, sleep deprivation, undermining people's faculties, and yet in an information vacuum, all that was doing was making the people more dependent on David Koresh, and making him more whacked out! So I feel that the FBI provoked further disintegration of the situation there through their methodology. I mean, there are people who are not cult experts who are looking at that and going, "That's stupid!" What was going on in government officials' minds, thinking that this was a good thing to do? And by the way, what about the children? Wasn't this about helping kids? Well, the kids were there, they were getting tortured, they were being kept frozen. They were given some milk. They weren't being given other nourishing food and such.
So there could have been interventions done with Steve Snider, I believe. There could have been interventions done directly with David Koresh. David Koresh had a thing about women. I guess most of you have read reports about how he abolished all sexual relationships between husbands and wives, and he could have sex with all the women in the group and nobody else could, and such. I would have recommended women negotiators. I think one of the things the government did right was they allowed Dick DeGueren, the lawyer hired by Koresh's grandmother, to go in and see him, and I think DeGueren could have gotten them to come out.
I would have gone one step further. I would have sent in lawyers for every single member there. Again, you want to break down the isolation. You want to give people a sense of hope. You want to undermine the phobia indoctrination. You want people to be thinking they have a future. You want people to be connecting up to their past, and to their loved ones, and to creative instincts within themselves. I wonder what David Koresh would say if someone on the team said, "You know, I had a dream last night, that God had a very important message for you, David." How could David Koresh not have been responsive to somebody saying, "I had a dream about you," or "I had a dream that God wanted to make something happen with you," and such, because it's entering his model of reality. And I think it's a good thing that they brought in the Biblical scholars, not the early ones, but later on where they were saying, "Well, you know, the interpretation of Revelation says that there probably is more time that you have, so why don't you write out your interpretation of the seals?" And encouraging him to think about a future. You know, "You can do a movie on your life," and this and that.
That would have opened up doors towards a future. The whole use of CS gas was totally horrible. Stupid! I mean, this is a weapon of war, that with adults, can cause pulmonary failure. Again, where were the children in the thinking of the officials, when they were thinking about gassing? What about the tanks? What about the language? Think about the language. The final words that were told to the members before the tanks started destroying the walls, and canisters were being ejected at high speed, and exploding inside, they were saying, "This is not an assault!" Excuse me? My walls are falling down, things are exploding, and it's not an assault? Just the language, if you wanted to talk about language for a second, saying "it's not an assault," is like saying, "Don't think of a white horse." You know? "This is not an assault, we are not attacking you now."
How are they going to respond? Well how rational are you going to be when you are choking, when your lungs are burning, when you have chest pain, nausea, gagging, inflamed eyes, nose, throat? Insane. Why weren't cult experts contacted? I understand from reading Dr. Stone's report that there were behavioral scientists who had said that this isn't a situation where using a heavy hand and doing a forcible type of approach was going to work. Why weren't those people listened to? There's still so many answers that I want, and I don't think that we're getting real answers. Unlike the video that I watched this afternoon, that says that the whole fault was the Cult Awareness Network, which likes to kidnap and beat and torture people, which is in my opinion, total nonsense, cult propaganda to try to put down cult-watchers like myself.
By the way, I do not kidnap people, I do not deprogram people, I do not beat and torture and rape people, despite what destructive cults like to say about me. And I don't think that the individuals in the government were really out to harm men, women and children, but I think it's reasonable to guess - and I'm completely speculating now - and it's my personal opinion - based on what I've heard, that the ATF was coming up for budget reconsideration, they wanted to get more money, they wanted a big, splashy, sexy media-savvy thing, so they did this frontal assault on these poor people. And once that happened, and people died - and by the way, it was not a surprise assault, and documents have come out to prove that - and experts have said, with an armed assault like that, in a criminal operation, if you lose the element of surprise, you should call it off - but they didn't call it off, and so people died. And I think that government agents were angry that some of their own died, and I think they wanted retribution.
And the poor victims of David Koresh have paid the price, and are still paying the price. It's my personal opinion that these individuals should not go to jail, and if anything I'd like to see these people counseled and I'd like to see them united with their families, and I'd like to see them given another chance after the horrible, horrible trauma that they have lived through. [Question from audience.] Well, Janet Reno, as far as I can tell, was not given good information, and she was relatively new in her post, and I think she was out of her league. She should have exercised common sense, which she didn't, and for that, she probably should have resigned. SH: How can somebody who says, "I was doing it to help the children," how can somebody like that authorize the use of CS gas in a closed environment on children? And so that breaks that to pieces.
I think blaming it all on David Koresh, which President Clinton did, is equivalent to going into a basement where you know there's a gas leak that's being going on for an hour, and then striking a match, and then blaming the gas company for a gas leak. There were numerous former members who were saying for years, "Koresh is a demagogue, he is power-hungry, he's control-crazy." They knew that they had hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of weapons there. They had all of that information, and to go in the way that they did was irresponsible. As I wrote in my letter to Clinton, this was March 19th, this was a month before it went up in flames, "I'm writing to ask you to personally intervene in the FBI handling of the Branch Davidian cult situation in Waco, Texas. I am appealing to you directly because I believe you could prevent further embarrassment, psychological torture of innocent cult victims as well as loss of life. Please help the more than 100 people who are under the mind control of David Koresh.
The way the government has conducted itself so far has been a national embarrassment and the ATF's and the FBI's refusal to admit that they do not know how to deal with a cult leader forces the situation to continue on unnecessarily. The nature of the initial confrontation is not being aided by cutting off electricity and shining bright lights at night in the compound. These tactics make your administration look anti-religious, which I know it is not. It also makes your administration look bad to use such coercive measure where children are concerned. And I think it's still a whitewash. I don't know if anyone is here from the FBI, but I'm still waiting for somebody to say, "Gee, Steve, you have twenty years of background in the work with people involved with destructive cults, how about sharing some ideas?"
And I have many more ideas than what I've shared, but these are some of the basic ones. Things like bringing in a third party negotiator, utilizing the family, giving information, putting information into the compound about other destructive cults, and what mind control is, and what phobia indoctrination is, those are just a few common sense basic things. Being nice to them; allowing lawyers to go in and meet with them; allowing cards and letters to go in and out; utilizing Sue Johnson to try to influence Steve Snider, because he could have helped to undo the entire situation as well. I also would like to make a comment that I'm aware that the FBI could have assassinated David Koresh on numerous occasions.
They had him in the crosshairs of sniper rifles numerous times. And so I'm glad that they didn't do that. But in the context of everyone being dead, I don't even know what to say about that, except that I don't personally like the use of guns at all. I just want to make one other statement before we go on with question and answers. I believe that people have a right to believe whatever they want. If they want to believe that Moon is the Messiah, and bow to an altar with his picture on it, fine. But where I criticize organizations is in their use of methodology where they are recruiting people and indoctrinating people before there is informed choice.
You need information in order to make a good choice. And when I was recruited by the Moonies, I asked the recruiters, "Are you part of some religious group?" and they looked me in the eye and said, "No. Not at all." And they infringed on my civil rights. And it was only the first of many different lies. I had no interest in dropping out of school, quitting my job, and cutting off from my family and friends. But due to the controls in the workshop environment, the isolation, the sleep deprivation, the manipulation of information, the use of hypnotic techniques, which I really haven't mentioned yet. But David Koresh was using hypnotic patterning. And when you're sitting there for 18 hours and he's going on and on and on with his indoctrination, it goes beyond and past your intellectual, critical faculties.
I know there was a Harvard-trained lawyer who was a follower of this group. I want to restate. People involved with destructive cults are not to blame. They're not crazy. They're not weak. They're not stupid. They may have been at a vulnerable point in their life when they were approached, and they may have not asked critical questions like, "Well what do you expect of me after I join?" or "What is the real beliefs of this group?" or "What is the background of a leader?" or "What will happen to me if I want to leave later?" or "What is the nature of the controversy of this group?" And I believe legitimate organizations will tell people up front who they are, what they believe, and what they expect of them. And if people don't want to belong any longer, they go, "Good luck!" They don't say, "If you leave, Satan will possess you!" "If you leave, you will lose your entire existence!" or "If you leave, you will get cancer!" or "If you leave, you will go insane!" But destructive mind control cults do do that. So this for me is a human rights issue, it's a consumer rights issue, and I believe again that I'm not interested in criticizing a group's beliefs, but I criticize a group's actions, when it undermines people's civil liberties.
[Question from audience] How did you get out? SH: This is an opportunity to plug my book. It will give you more detail that I can give you right now. Essentially I fell asleep at the wheel of a van driving 80 miles an hour due to sleep deprivation. After two weeks in the hospital, I was able to get permission to visit my sister, at which point parents hired ex-members to deprogram me. Five days after the deprogramming started, I started questioning whether Moon was the Messiah. On the fourth day, I said, "I don't care if Moon is like Hitler! I've chosen to follow him, and I'll follow him to the end!"
Coming from a Jewish background, that was very weird, but that was how I was indoctrinated. That's how far gone I was. And in coming out of that experience, and realizing the horror of how far I had been taken away from myself and my own values, and my own integrity, it caused me to research the whole subject, and to spend the past 17 years of my life helping people to come away from totalitarian organizations. On a larger political note, I'd like to mention that two years ago I was in Moscow, giving a seminar about mind control and talking about behavior control and thought control and emotional control and information control, and one of the psychologists said, "Mr. Hassan, are you aware that you're describing the entire pedagogical system of the Soviet Union?" And I said, "Yes, I am!" And he said to me, "Are you aware you're describing Young Pioneers and Komsomol?" And I said, "Yes, I am. The model that I've used to help me to understand my Moon experience was the Chinese Communist system, and a very important and relevant book to this day, called "Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism," by Robert J. Lifton.
Now one other comment before we go on to questions. The scariest thing, the scariest single thing of everything in the last 20 years, is that the U.S. government, particularly the CIA, which has done more mind control research than any other institution in the history of mankind, with perhaps the exception of the K.G.B., has never made a statement that mind control techniques exist. In fact, in 1979 ABC did a special based on a book called "The Search for the Manchurian Candidate," that documents the CIA's, LSD, hypnosis and electroshock therapy research of the 50s and the early 60s, and John Gittinger, former Chief Psychologist of the CIA said that, yes, they did do some mind control research, but they didn't find anything that worked, and they stopped all research in 1973, and they burned their records. Unbelievable, I'd say! And yeah, the connection of the knowledge that we have amassed about how the mind works, about communication works, about how we process information, about how we act in groups, can be used to sell products, as you know so well, can be used to help give people choices, as in good and ethical therapy, or it can be used to take away people's choices, and to narrow and constrict people, and I think it's essential for us in a "free society", to understand these mechanisms of mind control, and to not get obscured by content beliefs of particular groups, but look at how groups are operating, including our government, including our military, and such. Ultimately, I think our future lies in each person taking responsibility through choice, through information, and not just denying.
I think there's a tremendous fear that people have in thinking about mind control. Because they think, "It could never happen to me. You know, it's those weak people over there! It could never happen to me!" Well, if you have that belief, and you don't understand mind control, it can happen to you. In fact, it's very easy to manipulate someone who's convinced that they can't be manipulated. Someone might say, "I can't go into a trance!" So you say, "Okay, DON'T go into a trance! I order you not to go into a trance!" And then what are they going to do?
[Question from audience] "Doesn't everybody do mind control? Parents? The Catholic Church?" SH: I have a problem with any institution doing behavior control, thought control, emotional control and information control for the purpose of keeping people dependent and obedient to some other external authority figure. I have a problem with any organization that does that. I think that good parenting recognizes that from birth, through the growth cycle, there are many different forms of parenting. And that when a child is an infant, it requires the parent to make decisions, to give food, and to give shelter, and to protect, but the intention, ideally, is to encourage the child to grow up, to maturity, and to autonomous individuality, and not to keep the person controlled by fear, controlled by guilt, dependent, narrow, with phobias.
Are there dysfunctional families? Yes. Are there painful parental relationships? Yes. Does that make it okay for a group like the Moon Organization, or Scientology, to do what it does? I don't think so. I don't think two wrongs make a right. And I don't buy into this kind of analogy of, you know, "My Catholic teacher used to do this, therefore what David Koresh was doing to an 11-year-old was okay." I don't think it's okay. There really are fundamental distinctions, and I think that legitimate groups, especially religious organizations, don't ask for commitments before there's conveyance of information about what the group believes, and what the group practices, and what's expected of the person, so that there can be informed choice. For example, with Scientology, this is an organization that says, "We are a religion! We are a religion!" But you can't know what the upper level beliefs are, what the OT beliefs are, until you've gone up through all of the courses, because if you find out that information before you're ready, you will die. That's what they teach. So you're getting involved with an organization, whose upper level of the pyramid, you don't even know what their beliefs are. And by the way, one of the big ones is, that 75 million years ago, there was a galactic confederation of planets, with Xenu, a despotic dictator, who was trying to solve the overpopulation problem, so he was brought many beings to the planet Earth ? then called Teageak? and dropped them into volcanoes. Then hydrogen bombs were dropped on them, separating their thetan (or spirit) from their physical form. That is why "Dianetics" has a volcano on the cover, to supposedly stimulate our memories of past lives. What sane person, intelligent person, would join a religion with that belief? But you see, nobody knows that until years later, and tens of thousands of dollars later, but I'm telling you this story as related by the documents from former top officials who've left. And I think that makes it a very different animal from the Catholic Church or other so-called mainstream religions. But I abhor any totalitarian system that undermines people's spirits. [Question from audience] inaudible SH: The government exists around laws, and if a group isn't breaking laws, then the government shouldn't be involved. Do I think the law needs to be updated, to include the fact that there is hypnosis, for example, that people can be manipulated without the use of a gun, or without the use of external force, to do things that are destructive? Yes, I think the law should be updated to include that, but not until there are universal methods for evaluating that, that can be applicable in order to preserve freedom. And by the way, I think the baseline document to read is the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And if destructive cults supported the human rights in that document, I wouldnâ't be up here criticizing them. Because they don't. [Question from audience] inaudible SH: Transcendental Meditation is a group that I do consider to be a destructive cult. Why? Am I against meditation? No. I'm not against mediation. I meditate myself. But here's a classic example of a group that says, "We're not a religion, we're not a philosophy, we're not a lifestyle." But they believe that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is the greatest spiritual leader on the planet Earth, they're vegetarian, and the "puja" ceremony in which you're given your mantra is actually, according to Maharishi, is an initiation into Hinduism. This is an organization that says, "If you have any anxiety, any stress, meditate." Well, as a therapist, I know that stress and anxiety are very important to have, because they tell us to pay attention to things. And if we are having anxiety, it could be because we should get out of the way of that moving car! Or we need to get counseling for our marriage. Or that we have to go see our doctor, because that pain we're experiencing isn't normal. But if you're doing it as a thought-stopping methodology, or as a way to just get into a trance, I think it can be very destructive. Also, there are many different ways to meditate, and one way is not going to be good for everyone, and yet TMers, you know, the fanatical ones, believe everyone should do it their way. And some studies have been done that suggest up to 40% of the general public actually can increase stress from repeating a mantra over and over and over again, as opposed to other types of meditation. So let me just backtrack and say, "What's my concern about TM?" That they're deceptive; and that past the 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon ? which I have no problem with at all ? if you take the advanced courses, and get further and further involved, and go up the pyramid, it becomes more and more totalitarian and destructive. And there are many former top leaders of TM that can tell you what's really going on inside that group. [Question from audience] inaudible SH: My experience is that the vast number of people who get into a destructive cult get recruited at a vulnerable point in their life. What does that mean? When they break up in a relationship, when they experience the death of a loved one, when they become unemployed, when they move to a strange new location, when they're off balance. For me, I had broken up with my girlfriend, I was approached by three women, in the cafeteria, who were smiling and flirting with me. So my vulnerability was two-fold, breaking up with my girlfriend and ignorance about deceptive mind control cults. For me, they said, "Why don't you come to dinner? We'd like to cook you dinner. Come on over." So that was Step One. Step Two was: "I want you to meet some of our friends from all over the world, we're kind of like a little United Nations here," which seemed really nice to me, I was interested to meet people from different cultures and such. The next thing was, "We're going away for the weekend. Why don't you come along?" They didn't say, "We're going to have a three-day workshop where you're going to have eight hours a day of lectures. You'll never be alone for a minute, not even to go to the bathroom. We believe that Sun Myung Moon is the Messiah, and that he has to choose whom "you're going to marry and when you can have sex, and what position you can have sex," and such. They didn't say any of that. So, to get to the heart of your question, for me, it was a snapping experience at the workshop site. They wanted me to say, but my insides were saying, "GET OUT OF HERE! GET OUT OF HERE!" And I left, at two in the morning, and I went home, but it was already in my head. And I talked to my Mom, and she said, "Oh, let's go talk to the rabbi," we went and talked to the rabbi, who convinced me that I wanted to learn more about the group, talk about polarity responses! Within one more week, my long hair was getting cut, my blue jeans were thrown out and I was putting on suits. It was three months into the experience that I remember stopping any questioning thoughts. And I was made a leader, and I recruited and indoctrinated hundreds of people into the organization. By the way I was at a leadership situation with Moon in the fall of 1974 where he said, "When we take power in America we will amend the Constitution and make it a capital offense for people to have sexual relations with people other than those assigned to them by the church." And then he proceeded to say, "If people can't control their sexuality, we will be doing them a favor by taking their physical bodies away from them and sending them to the spirit world where they can be restored later." And my response was, "Yes, Father!" [Question from audience] Do all cult leaders know what they are doing? SH: There are a number of con-men who are heads of cults, but the vast number, in my experience, are people who really believe their stuff, and as I mentioned before, and that they themselves were victims of a cult. L. Ron Hubbard, the head of Scientology, was a follower of Aleister Crowley, by the way. Werner Erhardt, head of est and Forum, he was once a Scientologist! Moon was involved with a cult in Korea called the Monastery of Israel. Most con-men, they want to make money, and then they want to split. They don't want to get caught, and they don't want to have problems, they don't stay around. But cult leaders make decisions based on that they really think that what they're doing is good and justified and that they're above the law and such. [Question from audience] What about Koresh? SH: Well, he was involved with George Rodin. George Rodin was the head of the group before. Vernon Howell later joined this particular group, later started having sex with Rodin's wife, Rodin wound up being put in the mental hospital. There was a whole shoot-out situation, and a challenge to raise the dead, and all of that. But it's my personal belief that David Koresh, a.k.a. Vernon Howell, could have been convinced to leave peaceably from the standoff, and that he was not a psychopath. He was acting psychopathologically, but he was not a psychopath. And I believe that going in with tanks and with CS gas was, well, I knew that morning, I had CNN on, I saw the tanks moving in, I heard rumors a week earlier they were going to bring in tanks and gas, from contacts down in Waco, and as soon as I saw the tanks, I thought, "My God, they're all dead." And they died. And I cried, as I cried when I saw the carnage of Jonestown. Because I saw, but by the grace of God - I believe in God - that could have been me. I could have died. I could have been in the flames, I could have had the gun out, and I feel so sorry for the people who survived the loss of all their friends, I feel so sorry for the families, and I feel sorry for all people involved with destructive mind control cult experiences. And I think that people deserve to be free. [Question from audience] inaudible SH: The Cult Awareness Network - the entity, the Cult Awareness Network, which is a non-profit educational organization - does not support or endorse any kidnapping or deprogramming activities, but they are concerned about destructive cults, and they are a source for information and referral. There are individuals who subscribe to their newsletters and who go to their conferences who engage in forcible attempts at interventions to help people involved with destructive cults. Like Rick Ross. I have no love for Rick Ross. In fact, I'm glad you mentioned him. At the point the FBI was shining the bright lights and doing the auditory barrage, I criticized it, and I was quoted in numerous newspapers, in AP and such, and Rick Ross called me, and said, "Steve, you don't understand what's going on. The FBI knows what they're doing. Don't say these things." I said, "Rick, the FBI doesn't know what the hell they're doing, they're torturing people, they're reinforcing Koresh's worldview, and they're making people even more vulnerable." And yes, he was consulted by the FBI, he was the only person that I am aware of that even has any connection whatsoever with the Cult Awareness Network, in the sense of even having attended some of their meetings, and I think personally that the FBI made a major error to rely, or even to talk to him. Because he was never in a cult himself. He doesn't know how to think like a cult member. And in my experience, my ability, because of my first-hand experience, to be able to go inside the mindset, is what helps me to have empathy, and also to have an awareness of what to say and how to say it. Groups like destructive cults, some of which I've mentioned before, have created an image that there's this multi-million dollar, international neo-Nazi group of kidnappers who like to beat and torture people out of new religious groups, and they're the Cult Awareness Network, and the reason why Waco went up in flames is because the Cult Awareness Network was really behind the FBI, and it's all these evil people. And I say, "That's just cult propaganda. That's bull. That is not correct. Wrong, wrong, wrong!" That's my personal opinion, and it's based on twenty years of experience. [NOTE added in 1999: in 1996, The Cult Awareness Network was used into bankruptcy by agents of Scientology. One of Rick Ross's failures became a multi-million dollar civil suit against a CAN volunteer for recommending Ross. Since then, the name, logo and phone number now belongs to agents of Scientology. The Leo J. Ryan Foundation of Bridgeport Connecticut is trying to fill the void left by the loss of CAN.] [Question from audience] Was the government justified to go after Koresh? SH: An armed raid, with 80 agents, the way they did it? No. But do I think they were justified in going there to look for firearms, and to investigate claims of sexual abuse of minors. Absolutely! I'm not a defender of the U.S. Government, if you've heard anything I've said. Well, I'm aware that it's difficult to use ordinary, self-reporting type of things with destructive cults. You can't go into destructive cults as an agent of the "enemy" government, and say, "By the way, is anyone harming you?" They'll say, "No, not at all, I'm fine!" One of the most powerful things, and anyone who's really interested in getting to the underpinnings of mind control with David Koresh, is looking at the artwork of the children who were released during the siege, evaluated by a trauma specialist named Dr. Bruce Perry. If anyone doubts that mind control exists, just look at the artwork that was done by these kids. And it's so clear. The split of identity, the incredible fear, indoctrination, in terms of going up in flames, and the outside world, and such, and a completely diminished, as opposed to healthy, sense of self-identity, and normal relations, as would be depicted in the artwork of a healthy child. [Question from audience] Weren't some children allowed to leave? SH: The children who were allowed to leave were not any of Koresh's own children, I know that much. I believe some of the adults, the ones that were bringing the kids out, that walked out, those were the ones who clearly had problems with what was going on there. In other words, they weren't totally under the spell of David Koresh anymore, they wanted out, and David didn't want people who were asking questions there. In fact, I can understand that the FBI was thinking, "The more people we get out of that situation, the more people we can save," and that was right thinking on one level, but from a perspective of trying to undermine the totalitarian control that David Koresh had, it might actually have been better to keep people who were doubting with those other people inside, instead of letting them out- provided they did the other things I've suggested.
[Question from audience] Isn't CAN guilty of violent deprogramming? SH: Being a member of the Cult Awareness Network means that you pay $30.00 dollars and subscribe to their newsletter, which I believe Galen Kelly did. But cult groups like to say, "Oh, he was an agent of the Cult Awareness Network, the Cult Awareness Network kidnaps people, and beats and tortures them," it's just not true in my experience. But you can say it, over and over again, and you can say it, and you can say it. That's not my understanding. Now if anyone is frowning about the Cult Awareness Network, they have lawyers, top mental health professionals involved with the organization. I think they do a good job. I have not given a speech for the organization in years. I am not a principal of the Cult Awareness Network. If you buy my book and read it, I do recommend them as a source of information about cults and mind control. And I'm also aware of a new project that's being started called "FACTnet.org", which is a computer database for collecting information about destructive cults that anyone can dial in, with a modem, and download files about destructive cults. And I think that's the future. And that way people can find out information must more easily and quickly, without the human component inside there. Cult Awareness Network is not involved with kidnapping. Patricia Ryan, who is President of the Cult Awareness Network, whose father, Leo Ryan, the Congressman, was killed at Jonestown, does not endorse kidnapping, has never endorsed kidnapping, the organization does not kidnap, does not recommend kidnapping, and I say it over and over again, but the people involved with destructive cults, they've been told this is what it is, so that is what they think. But it's not, in my experience, true. Even they say that I kidnap people and beat and torture them! [Question from audience] Weren't you deprogrammed? SH: My book came out in 1988, so it came out 11 years after I got out. For me, the fifth day of my intervention, and I should say, I called it a "deprogramming." It started involuntary for the first day, but then it was voluntary, as you will read in my book, if you ever get it. I agreed to speak with the ex-members to prove to my parents that I wasn't under mind control. And fortunately for me on the fifth day, I did start to think that maybe Moon wasn't perfect, at which point I started researching the whole psychology of brainwashing, mind control, influence processes, persuasion, attitude change, etc., and so the moment I realized that Moon wasn't the Messiah, I was never going to go back. And it took me a while to remember feelings, remember memories, even. Because when I was in the group, they had recoded my entire childhood to be a horribly oppressive experience, as compared to what it really was. I came from a very loving, close family, good friends, I was an extra Honors student, as I mentioned before I wrote poetry, I was a Creative Writing major, but it took me time to heal. It took me at least a year to heal. And one of the things that helped me the most to heal was interacting with former cult members of the group I was in and with former members of other groups. And so for me, it's been a continuous learning experience in terms of interacting with people from other destructive cults. The people who know the most are the ex-members, and there are many of them, if you want to talk with them they can share their own experience. [Question from audience] Isn't the government against cults? SH: There was a destructive cult in Philadelphia, MOVE, in which the government went in and dropped a bomb, and killed people, and burned down a lot of homes as well. Totally inappropriate use of force. Total lack of regard for human rights and respect for life. [Question from audience] Isn't the word brainwashing overused? SH: I agree. The word "brainwashing" has also been used to the point where it is no longer describing the process for which it was coined originally, which was about Korean war prisoners and such. But words are tools. They should be used to help us to expand our understanding of reality, and to communicate better with ourselves and with others, but unfortunately words can also constrict and narrow. And I do think that it's important to remember that people are human beings, and they deserve respect, and they deserve love, and they deserve honor, and not just ? And I blame the media, we haven''t trashed the media, but the media circus around Jonestown was horrendous. People said, "Well, why didn't you go down to Texas, Steve?" And the truth is, I would have gotten a lot of media if I'd gone down to Texas after the initial siege. I probably would have sold a lot of copies of my book, but I was personally repulsed by the idea of jumping into a media circus. [Question from audience] inaudible SH: No, I haven't had a chance to read his report, but I think that, with the exception of Professor Guttman's investigation of the ATF, and Dr. Stone's investigation, I think the rest was a big whitewash. And I still think there needs to be a really good, thorough, investigation. I think the public deserves that. Unfortunately, I'm very, very busy. When I was asked by Harvard's Humanist chaplain, Tom Ferrick, to come and give this talk, I immediately said,"Yes," because I haven't said what I've said wanted to say in a public lecture. It needed to be said, and hopefully my point of view will be known. [Question from audience] Do you think the media has covered the story properly? SH: There's no question, there's no question in my mind, that there is control of behavior, thoughts, feelings and information within the United States. I read a publication called "Covert Action Bulletin," which is published by a group of former CIA agents who are critical of government covert operations and such, and I do believe there's censorship in the United States media. It's not total. But, for example, I was interviewed by TIME Magazine, right after Waco went up in flames, and talked about all of my efforts during the siege to try to help that I have mentioned earlier. Even Joe Kennedy's office backed down, I guess to minimize embarrassment of the Clinton administration. The story never appeared, and no one has asked me my opinion how the Waco tragedy could have been averted. I voted for Clinton, I confess, but I think there were political considerations, to not make the administration look bad, and how can it not look bad, when innocent men, women and children died, for no reason. Thank you for coming! NOTE: It is now October 1999 and a reinvestigation is taking place into the events at Waco. I am still waiting for a responsible report to be done- a report that answers the question, "If you had to do it over again, what would you do differently?"Well, after the compound went up in flames, government agents reportedly answered, "we would do it the same way." It is my sincerest belief that in the future, we will learn from our mistakes. There will no doubt be future cult mind control incidents that will affect many throughout the world. I am preparing the release of my new book, Overcoming Cult Mind Control: How to Empower People to Think for Themselves and Act Independently. My web site is www.freedomofmind.com. (c) 1994 Steven Hassan, all rights reserved Reprint permission For permission to copy or post elsewhere please contact us first.
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