by Massimo Introvigne — On November 27, 2020, FECRIS, the European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Cults and Sects, an umbrella organization for anti-cult movements in Europe and beyond, significantly funded by the French government, lost a landmark case at the District Court of Hamburg, in Germany, where it was found guilty of 18 counts of untrue factual allegations against the Jehovah’s Witnesses. On May 24, 2021, Bitter Winter published a commentary of the decision. On May 30, 2021, i.e., six days after Bitter Winter’s article (and six months after the decision, proving that it was indeed answering Bitter Winter, and without our article it would never have commented the judgement in public), FECRIS published a press release about the case.
by Massimo Introvigne — In previous articles, we explained how the 1981 Constitutional Court decision on “plagio” made it impossible in Italy to prosecute religious leaders for the alleged crimes of “brainwashing” or “mental manipulation” of their followers. The decision concerned the leader of a Catholic group, but the Constitutional Court ruling also saved Eugenio Siragusa from the charge of “plagio,” leveled for the first time against the leader of a new religious movement. Siragusa was the founder of the Cosmic Brotherhood, a UFO religion. He had been arrested in 1978 and accused of “plagio” against two rich American members of the Cosmic Brotherhood, who had made important donations. The Court of Catania, Sicily, acquitted him in 1982, acknowledging that “plagio” no longer existed in Italian law.
by Massimo Introvigne — In the previous articles, we discussed how article 603 of the Fascist Criminal Code of 1930 incriminated what would be later called “brainwashing,” and how its use in 1968 against Aldo Braibanti, a gay Marxist philosopher accused of “brainwashing” its pupils into homosexuality, generated a long-lasting controversy. Today in Italy many of the older generation confuse in their memories the Braibanti case and the Grasso case that occurred ten years later, in 1978. Many “remember” that it was the Braibanti case that brought the Italian Constitutional Court to declare the illegitimacy of the crime of plagio, but their memories are failing them. The Constitutional Court never reviewed the Braibanti case. It did, however, review the case of Father Emilio Grasso, a Catholic priest and the leader of a Catholic community called Redemptor Hominis.
by Massimo Introvigne — In the previous articles of the series we saw how, at the end of a century-old legal evolution, in 1930 Mussolini’s Justice Minister Alfredo Rocco, prevailing against the opinion of the committee that was drafting the new Italian Criminal Code, included in it an article 603 incriminating what would later be called “brainwashing.” The committee was concerned that the provision may be arbitrarily used against those who would persuade others of ideas some judges or prosecutors might regard as unacceptable. It was, however, much ado about nothing. If Mussolini believed that the new provision could be used against opponents of the regime, he was up for a disappointment. In the Fascist era, nobody was convicted for “plagio.” In fact, the “plagio” provision never led to convictions even after the end of the Fascist regime, until things changed in the 1960s.
by Massimo Introvigne — In the first article of the series, we have seen how the term “plagio,” which also means in a different context plagiarism or copyright infringement, was used in Italian law to identify the enslavement of human beings, and the 1853 code of the Grand Duchy in Tuscany had included for the first time a provision incriminating psychological, rather than physical, enslavement, although it was never enforced and was not included in the Italian Criminal Code of 1889, known as the Zanardelli Code. In 1930, the Zanardelli Code was replaced by the Rocco Code, named after the Fascist Minister of Justice, Alfredo Rocco.
by Massimo Introvigne — In Italy, we often hear the expression “plagio,” coming from the Latin plagium, used as a synonym for “brainwashing” or “mind control.” We may read, for example, that a “victim” was “subject to plagio” by a “cult.” This use of the word “plagio” is rooted in the old article 603 of the 1930 Italian penal code, which under the heading “plagio” mandated a jail term of five to fifteen years for those who reduced one or more other persons to a “total state of subjugation,” depriving them of their free will. Article 603 was repealed by the Constitutional Court in 1981.
The session "Gnosticism and New Religions: The Case of L. Ron Hubbard" held on August 30th during the first day of the annual meeting of the European Academy of Religions at the University of Münster (Germany), was chaired and moderated by a member of our Scientific Committee: Rosita Šorytė; one of the speakers, Professor Aldo Natale Terrin, is also part of the same Committee. It is therefore necessary to give space to this article written for Bitter Winter by FOB's President Alessandro Amicarelli. But this is not the only reason for publishing this paper.
by Massimo Introvigne — In the fourth article of this series, we saw how the combined action of scholars of new religious movements and courts of law marginalized both theories of “brainwashing” and their use as a legal weapon against “cults.” The idea that “cults” practice mental manipulation or “brainwashing” survived in the popular media, and inspired laws and court decisions outside the United States, particularly in France. However, the arguments formulated by a large majority of the leading scholars of new religious movements, and mentioned in the Fishman decision, do not refer to the United States only. “Brainwashing” and mental manipulation remain concepts rejected as pseudo-scientific by a vast majority of the scholars of religion (although accepted by a minority, and by some psychiatrists and psychologists who do not specialize in religion). In the second half of the 1990s, James T. Richardson, who had played an important role in criticizing anti-cult “brainwashing” theories, systematically surveyed with some colleagues all American court cases where the word “brainwashing” appeared.
by Massimo Introvigne — One of the most tragic consequences of “brainwashing” theories applied to religious minorities is that they were used to justify the illegal practice of “deprogramming,” created by Ted Patrick in California and flourishing in the 1970s. If their sons and daughters had been “brainwashed,” these parents felt justified in hiring “deprogrammers” who claimed to be able to kidnap the “cultists,” detain them, and persuade them, more or less violently, to abandon the “cults.” In the same years, the academic study of the new religious movements was born, both in the United States and the United Kingdom. The scholars who studied the movements criticized as “cults” found that conversions to them happened much in the same way as conversions to any other religion, and only a small percentage of those attending the courses and seminars of groups like Unification Church, studied in depth by Eileen Barker and where allegedly miraculous techniques of “brainwashing” were used, joined the groups. Empirical evidence confirmed that there was no “brainwashing” or mental manipulation, and these labels and theories were not less pseudo-scientific than the ancient claims that “heresies” converted their followers through black magic.
by Massimo Introvigne — In previous articles, we saw how the CIA coined the word “brainwashing,” and accused Communists of using sinister mind control techniques. At some stage, the CIA started believing its own propaganda and launched a secret experiment codenamed MK-Ultra, where it tried to “brainwash” so-called volunteers. The project failed, and proved that “brainwashing” techniques may reduce the unfortunate victims to vegetable-like human wrecks, but cannot install in them new ideas or loyalties. One who, without probably being aware that the secret MK-Ultra Project was being planned, had anticipated that the only possible result of violent “brainwashing” would be the production of zombie-like victims was the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard. He had a peripheral involvement in the Cold War discussion about “brainwashing” as the Church of Scientology published in 1955 (and then rapidly withdrew, reportedly following a suggestion by American governmental agencies) a booklet called Brain-Washing: A Synthesis of the Russian Textbook on Psychopolitics.
by Massimo Introvigne — In the first article of this series, we saw how CIA propaganda created the word and a theory of “brainwashing” to explain why intelligent people might embrace such an absurd doctrine as Communism was, and to accuse the Soviet and Chinese Communists of sinister practices depriving their victims of their free will. Paradoxically, the CIA came to believe in its own propaganda, and tried to replicate the Communist “brainwashing” in its own experiments. The CIA secret “brainwashing” project was codenamed the MK-ULTRA project. Originally, it was only mentioned in a handful of publications critical of the US government, and often dismissed as supporting conspiracy theories. Later, however, the CIA became the defendant in several lawsuits filed by “volunteers” who had suffered permanent damages in the MK-ULTRA experiments and their relatives, the most important of which resulted in a 1988 settlement. Through the lawsuits, several key documents became public.
by Massimo Introvigne — We are at it again. New books are launched with great fanfare that revive old theories of “brainwashing,” and almost everybody, from Donald Trump to Bill Gates, is accused of using “mind control techniques” to gather followers. And of course, that they use “brainwashing” is an old accusation against groups discriminated and labeled as “cults.” Do these techniques exist? That the answer is “no” is one of the key conclusions of the academic discipline of the study of new religious movements (NRM studies). A tiny minority of scholars of religious movements, with connections to the anti-cult activists, rejected this conclusion, seceded from the majority, and created a different discipline of “cultic studies.” However, as Mike Ashcraft emphasized in his authoritative textbook on the academic study of new religious movements, while NRM studies are generally regarded as a legitimate part of the scholarly study of religions, “cultic studies” are “not mainstream scholarship.”
by Gao Zihao — On August 17, 2021, the CCP’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection informed that it had expelled Peng Bo from the Party. The decision was taken “with the approval of the Central Committee of the CCP.” Peng Bo is the former deputy director of the Office of the Leading Group for Prevention and Handling of Xie Jiao Issues, i.e., one of the top bureaucrats involved in the repression of religious movements banned and included in the list of the xie jiao, a word the CCP itself translates into English as “cults” or “evil cults,” but whose meaning is “heterodox teachings.” CCP bureaucrats rise and fell continuously, but it is not common that press releases are issued, the approval of the Central Committee is mentioned, and detailed explanations are added.
Six scholars look at the European anti-cult federation, and conclude it is seriously dangerous for religious liberty.
By Luigi Berzano (University of Torino, Italy), Boris Falikov (Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow, Russia), Willy Fautré (Human Rights Without Frontiers, Brussels, Belgium), Liudmyla Filipovich (Lesya Ukrainka Eastern European National University, Lutsk, Ukraine), Massimo Introvigne (Center for Studies on New Religions, Torino, Italy), and Bernadette Rigal-Cellard (University Bordeaux-Montaigne, Bordeaux, France)
by Massimo Introvigne — A historical decision was rendered by the 4th Senate of the State Administrative Court of Appeal of Bavaria, with reasons communicated on August 3, 2021, overturning a first instance judgment by the Administrative Court of Munich dated August 28, 2019, on the controversial issue of a “sect filter” used by the City of Munich. ”Sect filters” are documents required by local governments, businesses and political parties in some areas of Germany. Anybody looking for a job, or for doing business with these institutions and companies, should sign a statement that s/he is not a Scientologist nor does s/he “use the technology of L. Ron Hubbard” (the founder of Scientology).
by Massimo Introvigne — In a previous article reviewing the recently published report for the years 2018–2020 of the French MIVILUDES, the French Inter-ministerial mission for monitoring and combating cultic deviances (dérives sectaires), I noted how it suffers from a fundamental methodological problem. The report is a building built using as bricks the saisines, i.e., the complaints against a religious movement that everybody can send to the MIVILUDES by letter or by using an online form. For pages and pages, the report summarizes and quotes the saisines. There is no indication that the saisines have been verified by confronting them with the existing scholarly literature on the accused religious movements, or by interviewing members in good standing of the religious organizations, who may have a totally different point of view.
by Massimo Introvigne — The MIVILUDES, the French Inter-ministerial mission for monitoring and combating cultic deviances (dérives sectaires), which is now part of the Ministry of the Interior, published last week its report for the years 2018-2020. Like Diogenes wandering with his lantern in search of an honest man, the MIVILUDES wanders around France with the anti-cult ideology as its lantern looking for dishonest “cultic deviances.” Dérives sectaires is a quintessentially French formula and invention, of which MIVILUDES is no less proud than of the Tour Eiffel. It comes out handy to find “cultic” dangers even where no “cult” (which should be translated into French with the corresponding derogatory word, secte) exists.
by Massimo Introvigne and Alessandro Amicarelli — The first three articles of our series presented two conflicting, irreconcilable narratives about Jaroslav Dobeš and Barbora Plášková, who are currently detained in the Immigration Detention Center of Bagong Diwa, near Manila, in circumstances international NGOs have described as unsanitary and dangerous. Plášková was separated from her son, who is also in the Philippines, when he was ten months old, and has been able to see him only twice during her six years of detention. According to the authorities of the Czech Republic, the rituals of “unhooking” in the Guru Jára Path performed by its leader Dobeš with the assistance of Plášková, which as we have explained were based on ritual intercourse within a framework of sacred sexuality rooted in the Tantra, amounted to rape in the case of at least one woman, for which a final decision has been rendered sentencing Dobeš and Plášková to jail terms respectively of five and a half and five years.
by Massimo Introvigne and Alessandro Amicarelli — In the first two articles of this series, we presented the history of the Guru Jára Path, its interaction with the Czech anti-cult movement, and its teachings on sacred sexuality that led to the criminal prosecution. As we mentioned in the second article, the police’s attention focused on the ritual of unhooking, where female devotees were “cleansed” of the negative psychic residues of their past sexual experiences through ritual intercourse with the guru. The anti-cult movement had put the police on the track of the Guru Jára Path since the early 2000s, but the situation precipitated after Guru Jára and his main co-worker Barbora Plášková announced that they were leaving Europe definitively and move to Asia in 2007. A preliminary investigation of Jára had been started based on the complaint of a woman who had been unhooked but, rather than to the ritual, objected to Jára’s alleged misrepresentation of his own Tantric qualifications and initiations. Although before their departure Jára and Plášková had been interrogated, but no charges had been filed at the end of the preliminary investigation, the police placed both Jára in 2007 and Plášková in the 2009 in their wanted list since their whereabouts were unknown.
by Massimo Introvigne and Alessandro Amicarelli — Guru Jára, the Czech spiritual teacher Jaroslav Dobeš and his main co-worker Barbora Plášková are seeking asylum in the Philippines and fighting extradition to the Czech republic, where they have been found guilty of seven counts of sexual abuse of female disciples. In our first article, we told the story of the movement Dobeš founded, the Guru Jára Path. In a third article, we will discuss the Czech court case. But the latter is inseparable from Jára’s teachings, which are the subject matter of this second article. The main source of the teachings of Guru Jára is Shivaite Tantrism, although his books also include references to Egyptian, Tibetan, Christian, and Kabbalistic teachings. While he quotes several authors and masters, Jára believes that all genuine esoteric teachings can be traced to one source, which started being spread throughout the world during the reign of pharaoh Nyuserre Ini, the sixth ruler of the Egyptian Fifth Dynasty, who lived in the second half of the 25th century BCE.