T.F.P.'s reaction: the invention of the "anti-cult conspiracy"
by Miguel Martinez
As we can see, TFP ("Tradition, Family and Property") was under fire as a "cult" or "sect" in both senses: as a small, heretical religious group; and as a closed group practising mind control. With problems from theologians, parents and former members, in much the same way as, say Scientology.
Many former members of the organization had started to reveal controversial aspects. TFP reacted by publishing a text with the significant title: The New Atheist and Psychiatric Inquisition Calls Those They Wish to Destroy 'Cults' (Gustavo Antonio and Luís Sérgio Solimeo, ed. Société Française pour la Defense de la Tradition, Famille et Propriété, Paris 1991, translation of a Spanish text of 1985). In the same year, TFP in Columbia published a booklet called "Brainwashing: What is it? A Machiavellian Device? Satanic?", which of course quoted various sources to deny that "brainwashing" existed.
Fighting this "new inquisition", attributed - in the first text mentioned above - to "an alliance between socialist politicians and Freudian psychiatrists", calls for coalitions even with those whose fate in the future Middle Age will be "inflexible punishment", that is with other groups accused of being cults.
This also involves the invention of a non-existent enemy: the "secular anti-cult movement", supposed to operate for ideological and anti-religious purposes. Of course cult critics do exist: but in virtually every case, their organizations were founded by people with an immediate family problem and no ideological agenda of any kind. Also, "psychiatrists and socialists" know very little about TFP: the most well-documented criticisms come from Catholic traditionalists, who belong to the same milieu of people.
I have not been able to track these booklets
down, so I do not know in what relationship they stand to a booklet I have
been able to get hold of, and which is of decisive importance for understanding
the whole issue of Introvigne's war on the "anti-cult movement", as one
can see from the very title: Brainwashing: A Myth Exploited by the New
'Therapeutic Inquisition'. The book dates from what we have seen to
be the decisive year: 1985.
Although in a still relatively primitive form, this booklet contains every idea that Introvigne would later develop: it is indeed quite obviously the very archetype of all his future writings.
The only difference is that it does not claim to be a work of academic scholarship. Like most extremist publications, it is anonymous, being signed merely by "The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) and the Foundation for a Christian Civilization, Inc." The frontispiece also specifies that "this study has been published in Colombia and Brazil". It is not easy to understand the origin of this text: although the contents are definitely from the USA, the book is a translation from Brazilian Portuguese.
The text is divided into two quite distinct parts: a foreword by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, setting down the ideological guidelines for the war against the "anti-cult movement", and a larger part, anonymous, which is mainly a collection of quotes from various personalities which all tend to prove that something called "brainwashing" does not exist. These quotations, as we see, are somewhat unsubstantial; but they do pose a question: how did this Brazilian organisation suddenly manage to find so many quotations of US scholars in its very first foray into this field? A Brazilian expert on Fatima prophecies would not even know where to look for such items as an article by Faber, Harlow and West in "Sociometry, vol. 20, no. 4, December 1957, pp. 271-285", to quote a typical bibliographical reference. This is merely a hypothesis, but one does suspect that this text was largely copied from some other publication by a US group, perhaps the Unification Church, which had had much more experience in rebutting accusations of being a cult. It would probably not be difficult to track down the original.
The foreword by the Doctor, in its very title, clearly lays down the approach which Introvigne would still be following over a decade later: "Brainwashing and Cult: Two Indefinable Catchwords That Are Paving the Way for Worldwide Tyranny and Religious Persecution".
A series of "extravagant" organisations
are rising around the world.
Here we can see who invented Introvigne's "anticult movement". Plinio tends to make a complete separation between a minority of delinquent groups, and others which are simply repressed because they are, as he repeatedly puts it, "extravagant":
Obvious, of course… except that no movement against "extravagance" actually exists. No cult critic, for example, has ever complained for example that Scientologists wear tricorn hats. The complaint (whether justified or not) is that they take your money.
Like Introvigne in his critique on Jonestown,
The false reasoning here will be obvious to anyone who has even the slightest knowledge of the so-called "anti-cult movements". In the first place, "socialism and communism", like fascism or the Catholic Church, do not fall within the rather strict criteria used to define a cult. Second, cult critics have always taken note of those Communist, Catholic or other movements that do fall within such criteria. This is the reason why certain Marxist-Leninist groups or Opus Dei, but not the Church or Communism in general, have been targeted (whether rightly or not is a completely different issue). The rock movement of course is not targeted, just because it is "extravagant", and can hardly be considered a "mind control cult".
Plinio then proceeds to discuss "brainwashing":
Put this way, it seems as if a journalist invented the word. Actually, "brainwashing" arose as a positive term in Communist China, hse nao, although it was introduced into the West by Edward Hunter in his book Brainwashing in Red China. However, already in 1956 - almost thirty years before Plinio penned these lines - Lifton had introduced a new term, "Thought reform" (also of Chinese origin), and around 1980, the term "Mind control" had come into common use. Margaret Singer, one of the leading cult critics in the USA, introduced the rather clumsy expression, "systematic manipulation of psychological and social influence" in 1982 (see Margaret Thaler Singer, Cults in Our Midst: The Hidden Menace in Our Everyday Lives, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco 1994). Of course Plinio may well be forgiven for not knowing this; however these facts are important since the "anti-cult movement" generally made a clear distinction between "brainwashing", that is the violent imposition of a change of opinion under conditions of physical duress, and methods of "thought reform" based on the systematic use of every possible psychological key for maintaining control over individuals, without however use of physical constraint. Journalists of course continue to use the term "brainwashing", but "anti-cult movements" rarely do, or did at the time Plinio wrote. I do not intend here to take a stand on this complicate issue; however, Plinio is clearly fighting a false enemy.
By attacking brainwashing, Plinio - as they say in Italy - is bursting through an open door: brainwashing means physically coercive manipulation; there is little opportunity for Chinese-style physical coercion in modern Western cults, therefore the entire theory of "brainwashing" is wrong. The problem with this is that any sensible cult critic would agree with him. Indeed, psychiatrist Louis Jolyon West is quoted favourably in the booklet as a critic of the notion of "brainwashing". What the writer forgets to say is that West is certainly one of the leading critics of cult control.
A rather different issue is, whether social environments can be extremely persuasive; entirely apart from the whole issue of cults, any attempt at denial here is bound to be fruitless. An obvious, if extreme, example were human sacrifices among the Aztecs: whether the individual priest enjoyed actually driving in his obsidian knife, there exists little doubt that he was socially convinced that it was a highly moral thing to do, and indeed that not doing so would be a seriously immoral deed.
However, as we have seen, "brainwashing" (lavado de cerebro) was certainly an explicit accusation launched against one group: Plinio's TFP.
The real reason for Plinio's sudden interest
in "brainwashing", "cults" and the "anti-cult movement" emerges, with an
Introvignesque deviousness, only at the end of his foreword. After saying
that the only solution for "extravagant behavior" is to bring the lost
sheep back "into the fold of the Holy Catholic Church", he says:
The greater part of this booklet, as we have said, is devoted to quoting criticisms of the notion of brainwashing, or of its relevance to present day cults.
One quote is quite startling; however,
before launching accusations of bad faith against the TFP writers, it should
be remembered that this is probably merely a reprint of material collected
by others. On page 18, the booklet includes a long quote from Thought
Reform and the Psychology of Totalism by Robert J. Lifton, which denounces
the abuse of the term "brainwashing" in contexts other than that of physical
constraint. What the collector of this material apparently did not know
is that this critique was part of Lifton's proposal for using an entirely
different terminology to describe non-violent manipulation; and Lifton's
suggestions were the theoretical groundwork for the entire "anti-cult movement's"
reflections on persuasion and (as the term later developed) mind control.
Even Introvigne had to acknowledge this fact, without however betraying
Doctor Plinio's orders: these conflicting demands have led him to speak
of "second generation brainwashing theories".