Brainwashing, Italian-Style: The Birth of “Plagio”

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 Article 603 was repealed by the Constitutional Court in 1981.

Gnosticism, “Dark Legends” on Scientology Founder Discussed by Scholars

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.

Nelly Ippolito Macrina, obituary

On 22 August, a few days after the departure of her husband, Dr Giuseppe Macrina, Dr Nelly Ippolito Macrina, recently retired Vice-Prefect of Florence, died in Florence.

She was an outstanding civil servant and held various roles at local and national level.

At the Ministry of the Interior she dealt extensively with civil liberties and was responsible for the Affairs of non-Catholic Faiths, and directed the Observatory for Religious Freedom. Her last assignment was as Vice-Prefect of Florence.

Around 50 Tibetans arrested on suspicion of keeping photos of the Dalai Lama

Military search operation in Dza Wonpo Town enforced eight months on from the death in custody of 19-year-old Tenzin Nyima. On 22 August, around 200 military personnel and nine military vehicles arrived in Dza Wonpo Town and carried out mass arrests of around 50 people. The town is located in Sershul County, Kardze (Ch: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in the eastern Tibetan region of Kham. None of the detainees in Chinese police custody are allowed to meet their family or friends and the official reason for their arrest has not been disclosed.

Are “Brainwashing” Theories Coming Back?

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.

The Fall of “Brainwashing” Theories in the Late Twentieth Century

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.

How “Brainwashing” Theories Were Applied to Religion

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.

Testing “Brainwashing” Theories: CIA and the MK-Ultra Experiment

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.

“Brainwashing”: A False Accusation Against Unpopular Minorities

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.”

2021 International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief: We Must Be Vigilant

by Alessandro Amicarelli — Today is 2021 International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief. Whilst most international observers are posing their eyes on the future of Afghanistan under the rule of talibans, few observe the limitations to human rights and other fundamental freedoms in some democratic countries. Among the largest democracies of the world, both India and Pakistan are responsible for violations of human rights and freedom of religion and belief of their citizens and residents at different levels. Also in the European continent there are situations of concern.

Peng Bo: Top “Anti-Cult” Bureaucrat Expelled from the CCP

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.

The Anti-Cult Ideology and FECRIS: Dangers for Religious Freedom. A White Paper

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)

The Bavarian State Administrative Court of Appeal Rules that Applying the “Sect Filter” is Illegal

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).

Giuseppe Macrina, obituary

FOB Scientific Committee member Dr Giuseppe Macrina passed away in Florence on 12 August 2021.

A legal consultant specialising in tenders, author of manuals on legal subjects and a journalist, he was interested in religions and collaborated in this field with CESNUR, the Centre for the Study of New Religions, in Turin.

FOB expresses its closeness to his family, trusting that his commitment and passion can be carried on by new generations.

European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FOB)

Jehovah’s Witnesses in the French MIVILUDES Report: Five Mistakes

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.

The Defector’s Syndrome

by Fabrizio d'Agostini — The ‘defector syndrome' refers to the behavior, considerations and reasoning of individuals who, having left a group, party, religion, denomination, turn against their past friends and comrades and recount negative facts or events in which they have participated, making criticisms and becoming witnesses to a variety of accusations. The syndrome does not affect all former members, in fact proportionally very few. With reference to religious movements, which appear to be the most studied and monitored trend groups, and in which the turnover is greatest (statistically, participation or affiliation lasts two years, both incoming and outgoing), the defector’s syndrome affects about 15% of the 2%.

The New MIVILUDES Report: Bad Methodology, Unreliable Results

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.

Munich condemned by Bavarian Admin Court for discriminating a member of Scientology

by Juan Sanchez Gil — The written judgment of the Bavarian State Administrative Court of Appeal (file no. 4 B 20.3008) in the case of a Munich Scientologist against the city of Munich is now available. The case dealt with the city E-Mobile Funding Directive, issued for the purpose of environmental protection, and the city´s refusal to provide a grant for the purchase of an E-Bike to the plaintiff, solely by reason of her adherence to Scientology. The Bavarian State Admin Court condemned the city practice with unmistakable words as an unjustified interference in the religious freedom guarantee of Art. 4 of the German Constitution and as a violation of Art. 3 of the Constitution which prohibits unequal treatment before the law.

Religious Books Publicly Burned, DVDs Bulldozed in Yunnan

by Hu Zimo — Totalitarian regimes have a thing for burning books, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) joyfully burn dissident books and destroys other material not approved of by the regime. In the festive climate of the 100th anniversary year of the CCP, it is recommended that this is done in public ceremonies to “educate the masses.” To explain how these modern auto-da-fés should be organized, a “pilot” book-burning and DVD-destroying ceremony was organized by the Ministry of Public Security in Kunming, Yunnan province, on July 16, in two locations. The aim was to show how to publicly destroy illegal religious material, in this case coming mostly from Falun Gong and The Church of Almighty God.

Guru Jára: Why Philippines Should Grant Asylum

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.