When Introvigne's friends were into "deprogramming" 

by Miguel Martinez

Introvigne often tries to prove his main point - that no legal steps should be taken against cults - by quoting the fact that the Italian courts decided that the law against plagio, roughly "undue influence", cannot be applied as the notion is too general. Indeed, one of Introvigne's favourite jokes refers to a typo in the French parliament report on cults, where plagio was referred to as "piaggio": 

"The legal part of the report mentions 'the existence in Italy of the crime of 'piaggio'' [sic], or brainwashing. 'Piaggio' is a well-known Italian brand of motorcycles. The crime of plagio - similar to brainwashig - was created during the Fascist regime and was removed from the penal code many years ago - in 1981 - by the Constitutional Court, as being contrary to the Italian Constitution". 
(Giovanni Cantoni, M. Introvigne, Libertà religiosa, 'sette' e 'diritto di persecuzione', ed. Cristianità, Piacenza, 1996, p. 124)

However, Introvigne prudently leaves out the history of how Italian courts came to such a decision. The reader should take note that this statement by Introvigne appears in a book co-authored by the "regent" of Alleanza Cattolica and published by Cristianità. In Piacenza, a very small town in northern Italy, which happens to be where the headquarters of AC are located. This location is no coincidence. 

In the 1960's, two young brothers in Piacenza fell under the spell of Aldo Braibanti, a self-proclaimed homosexual, Marxist and atheist all in one. 

Agostino Sanfratello, the elder brother, became a militant leftist, but was then called up for military duty. This break from Braibanti's influence supposedly allowed him to get his own ideas back. 

Giovanni, the other brother, on the other hand, went to live with Braibanti. 

The worried parents, together with Agostino, tracked down the place the two were living in. 

They swept up Giovanni, packed him into a racing car and locked him up in a psychiatric clinic (November 2, 1964).  

Court documents refer the testimony of one of the kidnappers: 

"We managed to drag Giovanni to the bottom of the stairs… during the trip, Giovanni continued to move, saying 'Four people against one!' […]. Braibanti started to have a nervous attack, shouting 'Giovanni don't go!' I held Braibanti, and at a certain point his glasses fell off." 
(quoted in Moravia, Eco, et. al., Sotto il nome di plagio, Bompiani, Milano, 1969, p. 45)

In other words, a classic deprogramming; as Introvigne, speaking critically of deprogramming would write many years later: 

"'Deprogrammers', on instructions generally from a member's parents (and at their expense: a 'deprogramming' today costs betweeen twenty and forty million Lire), kidnap the member of a new cult, keep him in an isolated place and use a series of methods - ranging from enticement to threats, and sometimes including physical violence - until the subject gives in and forswears his cult membership." 
(Massimo Introvigne, I nuovi culti: dagli Hare Krishna alla Scientologia, Oscar Mondadori, Milano, 1990, p. 194)

The deprogramming was followed by a trial against Braibanti, accused of plagio, and sentenced by what was certainly quite a prejudiced court of Catholics and anti-Communists. The trial, in 1968, was a moment of great mobilization by intellectuals against the law. 

The fascinating aspect of the case is that Agostino Sanfratello founded Alleanza Cattolica in the wake of the trial - the very movement Introvigne is proud to be a leader of was founded on an episode of deprogramming. Indeed, almost the only deprogramming in Italian history.  

During the Braibanti trial, the opposite sides were very clearly drawn: on the one hand, conservative, anti-Communist Catholics, on the other hand the very "secular humanists" Introvigne claims stand for deprogramming. 

Although Sanfratello, later dropped out of the organization briefly becoming a Lefèbvre seminarian, the national offices are still in Piacenza.