When renowned cult expert Steven Hassan first published his seminal work Combatting Cult Mind Control in 1988, the world was a very different place.
There was no internet, so mega-cults like Watchtower, Scientology and the Moonies had a free run at inflicting their undue influence on people, including my parents, virtually unchallenged. There was precious little recourse for mounting any meaningful like-for-like rebuttal to the torrents of damaging nonsense spewing forth from cult leaders like the Governing Body.
And when it came to seeking support in escaping purveyors of undue influence, where could one turn? Cult refugees were forced to muddle through the best they could in their efforts to debrief themselves following their ordeal. There were no forums, reddit pages or facebook groups to turn to for solidarity, a hearing ear, or advice on what to do. Despite the groundbreaking work of pioneers like Robert J. Lifton, mind control as a serious field of study was even more taboo and misunderstood than it is now – and that’s saying something!
Step forward Steve Hassan, who since first publishing Combatting has gone on to author several other valuable guides for assisting those under undue influence, and with multiple media appearances has developed a reputation as one of the world’s leading authorities on mind control.
I had the pleasure of meeting Steven at the undue influence workshop in London last August, on which occasion he and I sat down for a quick interview (below). I recall in subsequent conversations Steven mentioned he was trying to secure the rights to re-publish the 1988 edition of Combatting so that he could bring it up-to-date with a quarter of a century’s worth of developments in the cult field.
Of course, one of the most appealing features of the 1988 Combatting was that, while introducing the BITE model as a means of recognizing cult characteristics, it didn’t mention Jehovah’s Witnesses once. This meant that Combatting could not be prohibited as “apostate literature” by the Governing Body, thus allowing doubting Witnesses to read it without having to wrestle with crippling feelings of guilt.
But why the oversight? Because as a former Moonie, Hassan simply didn’t know enough about what Watchtower was doing to consider the organization a cult back then. It took conversations with the likes of Randall Watters, a legend in the Watchtower resistance movement, to convince him that Jehovah’s Witnesses are “one of the largest contemporary cults,” and that almost everything he wrote in Combatting regarding cultic influence could be applied to Watchtower’s methods.
A 25th Anniversary re-release of Combating (now minus one of the “t’s”) was the perfect opportunity for Steven to redress the balance and drag Jehovah’s Witnesses under the umbrella of organizations whose toxic influence must be urgently remedied.
Ex-Witnesses (and those seeking to be ex-Witnesses) will find chapters such as chapter 4 (“Understanding Mind Control”) and chapter 22 (“Strategies for Recovery”) very helpful. The latter includes a section titled “Floating: Dealing With The Cult Identity After Leaving,” which offers strategies for coping with the inner torment experienced by many cult victims long after they have left.
Those who are trying to help a friend or relative who has been enticed into joining the Witnesses will find chapter 8 (“Curing the Mind Control Virus”) helpful, as it walks the reader through the basic techniques involved in staging interventions for loved ones. And trust me as someone who has tried and failed with an intervention on his own indoctrinated father – though there is never a magic bullet solution when it comes to waking up family members it is all too easy to get it wrong!
Combating also features two “survivor stories” from ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses on pages 173 and 175. One is that of Lee Marsh, president of AAWA, who suffered abuse as both a child and a wife during her traumatic Watchtower experience. The other story is my own – a brief run-through of my journey out of Jehovah’s Witnesses at the expense of normal relationships with my father and sister, who now shun me for taking a stand against the organization. (This is a story that I will be detailing in my forthcoming book, which I hope will be published next year.)
I am grateful to Steven for including both these experiences. By highlighting the specific ways in which Watchtower is ruining lives, we can hopefully inoculate others, including escapees from other cults, against ever getting entangled in the organization’s corrosive web of influence.
Steven reserves some of the most scathing material about Jehovah’s Witnesses for the closing pages of his book, where he mentions the deadly prohibitions on blood transfusions and calls for Watchtower’s tax exempt status to be revoked.
“Any country that grants tax-exempt status to organizations that abuse children, not just physically, but mentally, emotionally or spiritually, should be held responsible for that abuse. Tax-exempt organizations like Jehovah’s Witnesses, that have had policies in place for decades that systematically protect pedophiles from criminal prosecution, and which disfellowship victims and their families for speaking out, should lose their exemption. The leadership should be prosecuted for conspiracy to cover up illegal activities.”
I fully endorse those sentiments, and I am grateful to Steven for adding his voice to the growing calls for greater scrutiny of cults, particularly as regards tax exemption. After all, it is bad enough that governments are doing nothing to make life difficult for cults without them effectively giving them a leg up by subsidizing their income.
More than anything, I am thankful that Steven and others in the ex-cult movement are doing such wonderful work in raising public consciousness surrounding undue influence, and advising those who suffer from it.
The 25th Anniversary edition of Combating Cult Mind Control shines a bright light on the murky world of cults, and the strategies they use so successfully in controlling people’s lives. If you are struggling from the effects of cultic manipulation, or want to help a loved one escape its grasp, you will find this book a wonderful resource.
To order your copy of the 25th Anniversary edition of Combating Cult Mind Control, click here.
To listen to a recent podcast interview with Steven Hassan regarding his new book, click here.