Mind control: Deprogramming and the anti-cult movement

In the United States, from the mid-1970s and throughout the 1980s mind control was a widely accepted theory in public opinion, and the vast majority of newspaper and magazine accounts of deprogrammings assumed that recruits’ relatives were well justified to seek conservatorships and to hire deprogrammers. It took nearly 20 years for public opinion to shift.[29]

One aspect that gradually became disturbing from a civil rights point of view, was that relatives would use deception or other ethically questionable methods—even kidnapping—to get the recruit into deprogrammers’ hands, without allowing the person any recourse to a lawyer or psychiatrist of their own choosing. Previously, there would be a sanity hearing first, and only then a commitment to an asylum or involuntary therapy. But with deprogramming, judges routinely granted parents legal authority over their adult children without a hearing.

One of main objections raised to deprogramming (as well as to exit counseling) is the contention that they begin with a false premise. Lawyers for some groups who have lost members due to deprogramming, as well as some civil libertarianssociologists and psychologists, argue that it is not the religious groups but rather the deprogrammers who are the ones who deceive and manipulate people.

David Bromley and Anson Shupe wrote:

Deprogrammers are like the American colonials who persecuted “witches”: a confession, drawn up before the suspect was brought in for torturing and based on the judges’ fantasies about witchcraft, was signed under duress and then treated as justification for the torture.[30]

A number of factors contributed to the cessation of deprogramming:

Some of the deprogrammed adults sued the deprogrammers or the relatives who had hired them. Also in 1987, psychologist Margaret Singer became unusable as an expert witness after the American Psychological Association (APA) rejected her Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control(DIMPAC) report.[31]

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