WACO: The Government's Failure to Understand Destructive
Lecture at Harvard University Science Center
February 27th 1994
© 1994 Steven Hassan, all rights reserved.
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I viewed a videotape this afternoon, I believe it's
the one you're discussing tomorrow? Is this the one by Linda Thompson?
Yeah. This videotape is, in my opinion, a destructive-cult-propaganda
masterpiece. It is not credible at all. Well, we can go through
the entire videotape at a later point. Tonight I'm giving my "bashing"
of the U.S. government. I'm just telling you my opinion because
I viewed it this afternoon. [Interruption]. Excuse me, I'm stating
it as an opinion, and if you continue to disrupt, I'm going to ask
you to leave, because there are people here who have come a long
I'm extremely frustrated and horrified by what took
place last year. Actually, the raid occurred a year from tomorrow.
I think that the government was certainly ill-advised, ill-prepared,
I think to attempt a forcible assault, as they did, with women and
children in a compound such as that, was just beyond stupid. Good
for media, good for hype, good for Rambo-style things, but in terms
of serving the public good I think it was horrible. Unlike what
destructive cults like Scientology, the Moonies, and other groups
that I criticize that say that government has no right to go there
at all, I do believe they had a right to go there to investigate
arms, to look after people's well-being including the alleged sexual
abuse of minors and such. Clearly in retrospect what the government
should have done was taken David Koresh when he was jogging, when
he was in town having a cheeseburger, or lure him into town, and
from there they could have sent a handful of agents to investigate
the premises, and then it would have been a non-event. But unfortunately
they didn't do that.
And I also want to state that I have no inside track
of information. I have never talked with the FBI, I have not talked
with any insiders, and so all of information is based on interviews
that I've done with people as well as media and such. So I'm sure
there's lots more information that will come out later about what
information was available. So I just wanted to give that disclaimer.
I don't have the full facts, but I can tell you that it's clear
by the government's activities they do not have an idea about the
destructive cult mentality. They were treating this as a criminal
operation, they were treating David Koresh as a con man who was
a psychopath, and like most cult leaders that I've studied, he was
a victim of a cult himself, and there's a parallel between many
cult leaders and sexual perpetrators, in that many sexual perpetrators
were victims of sexual abuse themselves. Vernon Howell turned into
David Koresh and Vernon's shadow-side became dominant.
My orientation, my background, is that I was in a
cult. I was in a cult for two and a half years. I was in the Moon
Organization; I actually was involved in recruiting and indoctrinating
people into the Moon Organization. I know how cult leaders think,
as a generalization based on what has since become 17 years of my
life work and research and helping hundreds of people involved with
many destructive groups to get out.
I also want to comment that I made numerous efforts
to try to correct the situation after the initial assault. I approached
my congressman, Joe Kennedy's office. They wrote numerous letters
and made many phone calls to the Department of Justice encouraging
them to get in touch with me. They did not. I faxed a letter to
George Steppanopoulos, actually the letter was to President Clinton,
a letter was faxed through the Massachusetts Attorney-General's
Scott Harshbarger's office directly to Janet Reno, and in fact I
would like to read you a portion of what I wrote in that fax, which
was March 30th. The compound went up in flames on April 19th.
"Dear Attorney-General Reno, I am contacting
you in regards to the FBI operation in Waco, Texas. I am absolutely
certain that the tactics currently being used will not result in
a speedy, peaceful resolution of the standoff. This is not a typical
criminal operation. This is a cult mind control situation."
And I go on and actually outline some of the things that I'll cover
in a minute, things they should have done that would have resulted
in a peaceful intervention.
Also Eleanor Acheson reportedly handed a copy of my
book to Webster Hubble approximately one week before the final assault
was done. My book, Combatting Cult Mind Control by the way, has
been out since 1988, you can go to B. Daltons, it's out, it's widely
regarded as one of the best books on the subject of cults and mind
control, and I know that Belinda Ganem, whose son David Thibodeau
was one of the few survivors who was able to escape the flames,
gave a copy of the book to FBI negotiators in Waco, Texas prior
to the assault as well. But I've never been called. I've never been
contacted in fact, even though there was supposed to be a follow-up
investigation into how to prevent future tragedies from occurring.
In fact, I believe there's been a big whitewash. It's
been a political whitewash, and I truly believe that because of
the government foul-ups from the very beginning, that men, women
are children are dead that should be alive. I'd like to state that
I believe that people involved with destructive cults are as a generalization,
intelligent, idealistic, kind, warm, loving, creative, wonderful
people. And I resent the kind of blame-the-victim mentality that
exists in the media, exists in society today, that "Oh those
crazy people in Waco, they wanted to be controlled, they wanted
to be raped, they wanted to have their liberties curtailed."
Nonsense! These people were, in my opinion, mind-controlled by David
I want to give you my definition of a destructive
cult: "a pyramid-structured authoritarian group with someone
or some group at the top that has total power, and that uses mind
control techniques to recruit and indoctrinate people to be dependent
and obedient." I define mind control in terms of four components
or B.I.T.E.: control of behavior; control of information; control
of thoughts and control of emotions..
I'd also like to say that it doesn't matter what the
belief system is. My focus is on the methodology of practices of
groups. And so a group could be a religious destructive cult. It
could be a political destructive cult. It could be a therapy destructive
cult. It could be a business destructive cult. If these controls
of behavior, including control of sleep, food, privacy, rules and
regulations, not allowing people to be alone, not allowing people
to see their families, not allowing people to read letters of critics,
of seeing people outside, inculcating thought-stopping techniques.
Telling people that if you have a negative thought about the leader
or the doctrine the group, that it's coming from your reactive mind,
or it's coming from your fallen nature, or it's coming from Satan,
and so you should chant, or pray, or meditate, or speak in tongues
to get rid of the negative thought. And when I was in the Moon cult,
that's what I was taught to do. I was told that if someone said
something critical of Moon or the organization, to start chanting
or praying in my head to get rid of Satan, to get rid of the "negativity."
And so I was doing a thought-stopping technique on myself. And what
happens when an intelligent person is not allowed to have doubts,
or is not allowed to think negative thoughts? Well, all you're left
with are positive thoughts. Your negative thoughts all get suppressed.
What happens then? Reality testing is undermined. There's no way
of testing out your environment. And so very bright, talented people
can become extremely dependent on someone who says, "I HAVE
THE ANSWERS. I KNOW WHAT THE SEVENTH SEAL IS, THAT NO ONE ELSE KNOWS."
The most universal mind control technique is phobia
indoctrination. Irrational fears programmed into people's minds
that if they ever leave the group, terrible things are going to
happen to them. Some groups say you're going to get cancer, you're
going to get AIDS, you're going to be hit by a car, you're going
to get a heart attack, you're going to be possessed by evil spirits,
you're going to be kidnapped and beaten and tortured by deprogrammers
-- that's a very common phobia of the destructive cults indoctrinating
people. So if a person has a phobia, for example, of an elevator,
they can't get in an elevator, they just freeze up, their heart
races and pounds and such a person cannot imagine riding in an elevator
safely and comfortably, as most people can, someone under mind control,
in a mind control cult, can't imagine leaving the group and living
a happy, fulfilled life. They can only generate negative imagery,
and only hear negative words in their minds.
So, yes, we can look in towards the Koreshians and
say, "Yeah, they could have walked out, they could have left
if they wanted to," but they didn't have the capacity to in
their minds. Now mind control as practiced by destructive cults
does not erase a person's real identity. But what it does is it
creates a pseudo-identity that suppresses the person's real self.
So Steve Hassan, son of Milton and Estelle Hassan, was recruited
into the Moonies, and now a new identity was created where now my
parents were Moon and his wife, and this new identity came to believe
that the old identity, Steve, was fallen, was Satanic. So his poetry
got thrown away. It wasn't spiritual enough. Playing basketball
was no longer considered to be valid use of time. Seeing family
and friends, going to college, was no longer valid. This new cult
identity was suppressing my old identity.
But every single person in that cult had a real self.
And yet many family members and friends of those people inside the
compound desperately approached the FBI and said, "Please deliver
the letter. Please let me talk with them. I'll go into the compound."
And the FBI put up a wall, an information wall, to deprive access
of the cult members to those personal connections to reality. Emotional
connections, behavioral connections, life connections. And that
was a horrible, horrible error in judgement. David Koresh's own
grandmother wanted to speak with him. They wouldn't allow it. Steve
Snider, lieutenant, the number two person, was very close with his
sister, Sue Johnson, whom I'd spoken with on the phone. She wanted
desperately to speak with her brother. The FBI prohibited it.
So this dual identity concept is very important. I've
read in reports where the negotiators would say that David Koresh
would one moment be very rational, very warm and easy-going and
communicative, and then all of a sudden he'd snap and he'd become
this raving lunatic. And they described it as mood swings. Well,
from my perspective, it wasn't a mood swing, it was an identity
shift that was going on. He was flipping back from Vernon Howell
to David Koresh. Back and forth. But the FBI didn?t understand this
concept, didn't understand how to elicit Vernon Howell. Because
it was Vernon Howell who would have come out peaceably, in my opinion.
Not David Koresh.
Other things that I thought the government did wrong,
and that they should have done. I think that they needed to bring
in a third party negotiator. And I've read a lot of newspaper reports
and magazine reports, and I've not seen it written anywhere except
by Harvard researcher Alan Stone, who was one of the very few people
asked by the government as a follow-up investigator who actually
criticized the government. I just read his report, and he actually
said, "That situation called for a third party negotiator."
And I completely agree with that. Why? Because inside the compound,
their view was, the FBI was evil. They shot their dogs. They shot
their people. Their friends were dead, bleeding and such. The FBI
would come around with tanks and crush their bicycles, crush their
cars, crush his boat. Intimidating, violent. So in order to facilitate
a peaceful negotiation, to bring in someone that David Koresh could
view as at least neutral or at least wasn't part of the forces to
do harm to him, that would have made a very big difference.
They gave one radio. What was the psychology of giving
one radio? See, for me, information control is a mind control technique.
And when you're trying to help someone who's under mind control,
you want to give him information. In my opinion, they should have
given 100 radios. Why? Because every single person there was a human
being, and every person had to capacity to say, "I want to
listen too." So why not let them sit with boxes of radios in
front of everyone? If David Koresh wouldn't let anyone else listen,
and let them be thinking, "Oh, the government wanted us to
have these radios, but David's not letting us have these radios,"
as opposed to, "Well, we don't know what's going on, only David
and only Steve Snider know, and they know what's best."
I thought it was an error to torture them, to cut
off their electricity, to not allow medical aid. When you're in
a mindset that's -and-white that the outside world is evil, and
you know you're dealing with someone who has this mindset, the greatest
thing you can do is undermine that world view. And so what was called
for was paradoxical interventions. And I was quoted in the Globe,
on page 1 right after the fire, and I said the FBI mentality was
wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. They would have done better to
call a truce, and set up picnic baskets and give them fried chicken.
And I meant it! Why? Because the members would then be seeing, "Hey,
they're being nice to us!" I would have arranged truces so
people could come out in the sun. They wouldn't be treated like
rats, like objects, like criminals.
The FBI brought in their hostage negotiation team.
This was not a hostage situation. This was a cult mind control situation.
I would have brought cult counseling information to
people in cults. When I was in the Moonies, I was programmed not
to have negative thoughts about the Moonies, as I've just indicated.
So likewise, when my father and my mother, who loved me very much,
still do -- fortunately they're still alive -- and they'd say, "But
Steve, Moon has an M16 gun factory," or they'd say, "But
Steve, Moon is a multimillionaire! How could you believe in him?"
I'd vocalize internally, "Crush Satan, crush Satan, crush Satan."
My parents didn't understand that a frontal approach wasn't going
to work. But the weakness is that when you're involved with a destructive
cult, you're not taught to stop negative thoughts about other groups.
And so, if you're talking to someone in the Moonies, you can talk
to them about a different group how it uses mind control, and they'll
think about it.
There were survivors of Jonestown that wanted to go
down there and talk to these folks. And they could've talked about
Jim Jones, and they could have talked about what was going on in
Guyana, and what was happening, and the phobia indoctrination, they
could've talked with them about love, and the central message of
the Bible, which is love, and service and kindness. They could've
talked about control of thoughts and feelings. They could have given
that information. Time was on the outside world's side to help the
people inside. But unfortunately the FBI did things like sleep deprivation.
Bright lights, loud blaring music of rabbits being slaughtered and
Tibetan chants and Nancy Sinatra singing, "These Boots are
Made for Walking," and I'm not sure which of those three was
the worst for them. What they were doing was classic brainwashing
techniques. The FBI was doing brainwashing. Physical, coercive,
sleep deprivation, undermining people's faculties, and yet in an
information vacuum, all that was doing was making the people more
dependent on David Koresh, and making him more whacked out! So I
feel that the FBI provoked further disintegration of the situation
there through their methodology. I mean, there are people who are
not cult experts who are looking at that and going, "That's
stupid!" What was going on in government officials' minds,
thinking that this was a good thing to do? And by the way, what
about the children? Wasn't this about helping kids? Well, the kids
were there, they were getting tortured, they were being kept frozen.
They were given some milk. They weren't being given other nourishing
food and such.
So there could have been interventions done with Steve
Snider, I believe. There could have been interventions done directly
with David Koresh. David Koresh had a thing about women. I guess
most of you have read reports about how he abolished all sexual
relationships between husbands and wives, and he could have sex
with all the women in the group and nobody else could, and such.
I would have recommended women negotiators. I think one of the things
the government did right was they allowed Dick DeGueren, the lawyer
hired by Koresh's grandmother, to go in and see him, and I think
DeGueren could have gotten them to come out. I would have gone one
step further. I would have sent in lawyers for every single member
there. Again, you want to break down the isolation. You want to
give people a sense of hope. You want to undermine the phobia indoctrination.
You want people to be thinking they have a future. You want people
to be connecting up to their past, and to their loved ones, and
to creative instincts within themselves.
I wonder what David Koresh would say if someone on
the team said, "You know, I had a dream last night, that God
had a very important message for you, David." How could David
Koresh not have been responsive to somebody saying, "I had
a dream about you," or "I had a dream that God wanted
to make something happen with you," and such, because it's
entering his model of reality. And I think it's a good thing that
they brought in the Biblical scholars, not the early ones, but later
on where they were saying, "Well, you know, the interpretation
of Revelation says that there probably is more time that you have,
so why don't you write out your interpretation of the seals?"
And encouraging him to think about a future. You know, "You
can do a movie on your life," and this and that. That would
have opened up doors towards a future.
The whole use of CS gas was totally horrible. Stupid!
I mean, this is a weapon of war, that with adults, can cause pulmonary
failure. Again, where were the children in the thinking of the officials,
when they were thinking about gassing? What about the tanks? What
about the language? Think about the language. The final words that
were told to the members before the tanks started destroying the
walls, and canisters were being ejected at high speed, and exploding
inside, they were saying, "This is not an assault!"
Excuse me? My walls are falling down, things are exploding,
and it's not an assault? Just the language, if you wanted to talk
about language for a second, saying "it's not an assault,"
is like saying, "Don't think of a white horse." You know?
"This is not an assault, we are not attacking you now."
How are they going to respond? Well how rational are you going to
be when you are choking, when your lungs are burning, when you have
chest pain, nausea, gagging, inflamed eyes, nose, throat? Insane.
Why weren't cult experts contacted? I understand from
reading Dr. Stone's report that there were behavioral scientists
who had said that this isn't a situation where using a heavy hand
and doing a forcible type of approach was going to work. Why weren't
those people listened to?
There's still so many answers that I want, and I don't
think that we're getting real answers. Unlike the video that I watched
this afternoon, that says that the whole fault was the Cult Awareness
Network, which likes to kidnap and beat and torture people, which
is in my opinion, total nonsense, cult propaganda to try to put
down cult-watchers like myself. By the way, I do not kidnap people,
I do not deprogram people, I do not beat and torture and rape people,
despite what destructive cults like to say about me. And I don't
think that the individuals in the government were really out to
harm men, women and children, but I think it's reasonable to guess
-- and I'm completely speculating now -- and it's my personal opinion
-- based on what I've heard, that the ATF was coming up for budget
reconsideration, they wanted to get more money, they wanted a big,
splashy, sexy media-savvy thing, so they did this frontal assault
on these poor people.
And once that happened, and people died -- and by
the way, it was not a surprise assault, and documents have come
out to prove that -- and experts have said, with an armed assault
like that, in a criminal operation, if you lose the element of surprise,
you should call it off -- but they didn't call it off, and so people
died. And I think that government agents were angry that some of
their own died, and I think they wanted retribution. And the poor
victims of David Koresh have paid the price, and are still paying
the price. It's my personal opinion that these individuals should
not go to jail, and if anything I'd like to see these people counseled
and I'd like to see them united with their families, and I'd like
to see them given another chance after the horrible, horrible trauma
that they have lived through.
[Question from audience.] Well, Janet Reno,
as far as I can tell, was not given good information, and she was
relatively new in her post, and I think she was out of her league.
She should have exercised common sense, which she didn't, and for
that, she probably should have resigned.
SH: How can somebody who says, "I was
doing it to help the children," how can somebody like that
authorize the use of CS gas in a closed environment on children?
And so that breaks that to pieces.
I think blaming it all on David Koresh, which President
Clinton did, is equivalent to going into a basement where you know
there's a gas leak that's being going on for an hour, and then striking
a match, and then blaming the gas company for a gas leak. There
were numerous former members who were saying for years, "Koresh
is a demagogue, he is power-hungry, he's control-crazy." They
knew that they had hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of weapons
there. They had all of that information, and to go in the way that
they did was irresponsible. As I wrote in my letter to Clinton,
this was March 19th, this was a month before it went up in flames,
"I'm writing to ask you to personally intervene in the FBI
handling of the Branch Davidian cult situation in Waco, Texas. I
am appealing to you directly because I believe you could prevent
further embarrassment, psychological torture of innocent cult victims
as well as loss of life. Please help the more than 100 people who
are under the mind control of David Koresh. The way the government
has conducted itself so far has been a national embarrassment and
the ATF's and the FBI's refusal to admit that they do not know how
to deal with a cult leader forces the situation to continue on unnecessarily.
The nature of the initial confrontation is not being aided by cutting
off electricity and shining bright lights at night in the compound.
These tactics make your administration look anti-religious, which
I know it is not. It also makes your administration look bad to
use such coercive measure where children are concerned."
And I think it's still a whitewash. I don't know if
anyone is here from the FBI, but I'm still waiting for somebody
to say, "Gee, Steve, you have twenty years of background in
the work with people involved with destructive cults, how about
sharing some ideas?" And I have many more ideas than what I've
shared, but these are some of the basic ones. Things like bringing
in a third party negotiator, utilizing the family, giving information,
putting information into the compound about other destructive cults,
and what mind control is, and what phobia indoctrination is, those
are just a few common sense basic things. Being nice to them; allowing
lawyers to go in and meet with them; allowing cards and letters
to go in and out; utilizing Sue Johnson to try to influence Steve
Snider, because he could have helped to undo the entire situation
I also would like to make a comment that I'm aware
that the FBI could have assassinated David Koresh on numerous occasions.
They had him in the crosshairs of sniper rifles numerous times.
And so I'm glad that they didn't do that. But in the context of
everyone being dead, I don't even know what to say about that, except
that I don't personally like the use of guns at all.
I just want to make one other statement before we
go on with question and answers. I believe that people have a right
to believe whatever they want. If they want to believe that Moon
is the Messiah, and bow to an altar with his picture on it, fine.
But where I criticize organizations is in their use of methodology
where they are recruiting people and indoctrinating people before
there is informed choice. You need information in order to make
a good choice. And when I was recruited by the Moonies, I asked
the recruiters, "Are you part of some religious group?"
and they looked me in the eye and said, "No. Not at all."
And they infringed on my civil rights. And it was only the first
of many different lies. I had no interest in dropping out of school,
quitting my job, and cutting off from my family and friends. But
due to the controls in the workshop environment, the isolation,
the sleep deprivation, the manipulation of information, the use
of hypnotic techniques, which I really haven't mentioned yet. But
David Koresh was using hypnotic patterning. And when you're sitting
there for 18 hours and he's going on and on and on with his indoctrination,
it goes beyond and past your intellectual, critical faculties. I
know there was a Harvard-trained lawyer who was a follower of this
group. I want to restate. People involved with destructive cults
are not to blame. They're not crazy. They're not weak. They're not
stupid. They may have been at a vulnerable point in their life when
they were approached, and they may have not asked critical questions
like, "Well what do you expect of me after I join?" or
"What is the real beliefs of this group?" or "What
is the background of a leader?" or "What will happen to
me if I want to leave later?" or "What is the nature of
the controversy of this group?" And I believe legitimate organizations
will tell people up front who they are, what they believe, and what
they expect of them. And if people don't want to belong any longer,
they go, "Good luck!" They don't say, "If you leave,
Satan will possess you!" "If you leave, you will lose
your entire existence!" or "If you leave, you will get
cancer!" or "If you leave, you will go insane!" But
destructive mind control cults do do that. So this for me is a human
rights issue, it's a consumer rights issue, and I believe again
that I'm not interested in criticizing a group's beliefs, but I
criticize a group's actions, when it undermines people's civil liberties.
[Question from audience] How did you get out?
SH: This is an opportunity to plug my book.
It will give you more detail that I can give you right now. Essentially
I fell asleep at the wheel of a van driving 80 miles an hour due
to sleep deprivation. After two weeks in the hospital, I was able
to get permission to visit my sister, at which point parents hired
ex-members to deprogram me. Five days after the deprogramming started,
I started questioning whether Moon was the Messiah. On the fourth
day, I said, "I don't care if Moon is like Hitler! I've chosen
to follow him, and I'll follow him to the end!" Coming from
a Jewish background, that was very weird, but that was how I was
indoctrinated. That's how far gone I was. And in coming out of that
experience, and realizing the horror of how far I had been taken
away from myself and my own values, and my own integrity, it caused
me to research the whole subject, and to spend the past 17 years
of my life helping people to come away from totalitarian organizations.
On a larger political note, I'd like to mention that
two years ago I was in Moscow, giving a seminar about mind control
and talking about behavior control and thought control and emotional
control and information control, and one of the psychologists said,
"Mr. Hassan, are you aware that you're describing the entire
pedagogical system of the Soviet Union?" And I said, "Yes,
I am!" And he said to me, "Are you aware you're describing
Young Pioneers and Komsomol?" And I said, "Yes, I am.
The model that I've used to help me to understand my Moon experience
was the Chinese Communist system, and a very important and relevant
book to this day, called "Thought Reform and the Psychology
of Totalism," by Robert J. Lifton.
Now one other comment before we go on to questions.
The scariest thing, the scariest single thing of everything in the
last 20 years, is that the U.S. government, particularly the CIA,
which has done more mind control research than any other institution
in the history of mankind, with perhaps the exception of the K.G.B.,
has never made a statement that mind control techniques exist. In
fact, in 1979 ABC did a special based on a book called "The
Search for the Manchurian Candidate," that documents the CIA's,
LSD, hypnosis and electroshock therapy research of the 50s and the
early 60s, and John Gittinger, former Chief Psychologist of the
CIA said that, yes, they did do some mind control research, but
they didn't find anything that worked, and they stopped all research
in 1973, and they burned their records. Unbelievable, I'd say!
And yeah, the connection of the knowledge that we
have amassed about how the mind works, about communication works,
about how we process information, about how we act in groups, can
be used to sell products, as you know so well, can be used to help
give people choices, as in good and ethical therapy, or it can be
used to take away people's choices, and to narrow and constrict
people, and I think it's essential for us in a "free society",
to understand these mechanisms of mind control, and to not get obscured
by content beliefs of particular groups, but look at how groups
are operating, including our government, including our military,
and such. Ultimately, I think our future lies in each person taking
responsibility through choice, through information, and not just
denying. I think there's a tremendous fear that people have in thinking
about mind control. Because they think, "It could never happen
to me. You know, it's those weak people over there! It could never
happen to me!" Well, if you have that belief, and you don't
understand mind control, it can happen to you. In fact, it's very
easy to manipulate someone who's convinced that they can't be manipulated.
Someone might say, "I can't go into a trance!"
So you say, "Okay, DON'T go into a trance! I order you not
to go into a trance!" And then what are they going to do?
[Question from audience] "Doesn't everybody
do mind control? Parents? The Catholic Church?"
SH: I have a problem with any institution doing
behavior control, thought control, emotional control and information
control for the purpose of keeping people dependent and obedient
to some other external authority figure. I have a problem with any
organization that does that. I think that good parenting recognizes
that from birth, through the growth cycle, there are many different
forms of parenting. And that when a child is an infant, it requires
the parent to make decisions, to give food, and to give shelter,
and to protect, but the intention, ideally, is to encourage the
child to grow up, to maturity, and to autonomous individuality,
and not to keep the person controlled by fear, controlled by guilt,
dependent, narrow, with phobias. Are there dysfunctional families?
Yes. Are there painful parental relationships? Yes. Does that make
it okay for a group like the Moon Organization, or Scientology,
to do what it does? I don't think so. I don't think two wrongs make
a right. And I don't buy into this kind of analogy of, you know,
"My Catholic teacher used to do this, therefore what David
Koresh was doing to an 11-year-old was okay." I don't think
There really are fundamental distinctions, and I think
that legitimate groups, especially religious organizations, don't
ask for commitments before there's conveyance of information about
what the group believes, and what the group practices, and what's
expected of the person, so that there can be informed choice. For
example, with Scientology, this is an organization that says, "We
are a religion! We are a religion!" But you can't know what
the upper level beliefs are, what the OT beliefs are, until you've
gone up through all of the courses, because if you find out that
information before you're ready, you will die. That's what they
teach. So you're getting involved with an organization, whose upper
level of the pyramid, you don't even know what their beliefs are.
And by the way, one of the big ones is, that 75 million years ago,
there was a galactic confederation of planets, with Xenu, a despotic
dictator, who was trying to solve the overpopulation problem, so
he was brought many beings to the planet Earth ? then called Teageak?
and dropped them into volcanoes. Then hydrogen bombs were dropped
on them, separating their thetan (or spirit) from their physical
form. That is why "Dianetics" has a volcano on the cover,
to supposedly stimulate our memories of past lives. What sane person,
intelligent person, would join a religion with that belief? But
you see, nobody knows that until years later, and tens of thousands
of dollars later, but I'm telling you this story as related by the
documents from former top officials who've left. And I think that
makes it a very different animal from the Catholic Church or other
so-called mainstream religions. But I abhor any totalitarian system
that undermines people's spirits.
[Question from audience] inaudible
SH: The government exists around laws, and
if a group isn't breaking laws, then the government shouldn't be
involved. Do I think the law needs to be updated, to include the
fact that there is hypnosis, for example, that people can be manipulated
without the use of a gun, or without the use of external force,
to do things that are destructive? Yes, I think the law should be
updated to include that, but not until there are universal methods
for evaluating that, that can be applicable in order to preserve
freedom. And by the way, I think the baseline document to read is
the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And if
destructive cults supported the human rights in that document, I
wouldn't be up here criticizing them. Because they don't.
[Question from audience] inaudible
SH: Transcendental Meditation is a group that
I do consider to be a destructive cult. Why? Am I against meditation?
No. I'm not against mediation. I meditate myself. But here's a classic
example of a group that says, "We're not a religion, we're
not a philosophy, we're not a lifestyle." But they believe
that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is the greatest spiritual leader on the
planet Earth, they're vegetarian, and the "puja" ceremony
in which you're given your mantra is actually, according to Maharishi,
is an initiation into Hinduism. This is an organization that says,
"If you have any anxiety, any stress, meditate." Well,
as a therapist, I know that stress and anxiety are very important
to have, because they tell us to pay attention to things. And if
we are having anxiety, it could be because we should get out of
the way of that moving car! Or we need to get counseling for our
marriage. Or that we have to go see our doctor, because that pain
we're experiencing isn't normal. But if you're doing it as a thought-stopping
methodology, or as a way to just get into a trance, I think it can
be very destructive. Also, there are many different ways to meditate,
and one way is not going to be good for everyone, and yet TMers,
you know, the fanatical ones, believe everyone should do it their
way. And some studies have been done that suggest up to 40% of the
general public actually can increase stress from repeating a mantra
over and over and over again, as opposed to other types of meditation.
So let me just backtrack and say, "What's my
concern about TM?" That they're deceptive; and that past the
20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon ? which
I have no problem with at all ? if you take the advanced courses,
and get further and further involved, and go up the pyramid, it
becomes more and more totalitarian and destructive. And there are
many former top leaders of TM that can tell you what's really going
on inside that group.
[Question from audience] inaudible
SH: My experience is that the vast number of
people who get into a destructive cult get recruited at a vulnerable
point in their life. What does that mean? When they break up in
a relationship, when they experience the death of a loved one, when
they become unemployed, when they move to a strange new location,
when they're off balance. For me, I had broken up with my girlfriend,
I was approached by three women, in the cafeteria, who were smiling
and flirting with me. So my vulnerability was two-fold, breaking
up with my girlfriend and ignorance about deceptive mind control
cults. For me, they said, "Why don't you come to dinner? We'd
like to cook you dinner. Come on over." So that was Step One.
Step Two was: "I want you to meet some of our friends from
all over the world, we're kind of like a little United Nations here,"
which seemed really nice to me, I was interested to meet people
from different cultures and such. The next thing was, "We're
going away for the weekend. Why don't you come along?" They
didn't say, "We're going to have a three-day workshop where
you're going to have eight hours a day of lectures. You'll never
be alone for a minute, not even to go to the bathroom. We believe
that Sun Myung Moon is the Messiah, and that he has to choose whom
you're going to marry and when you' can have sex, and what position
you can have sex," and such. They didn't say any of that. So,
to get to the heart of your question, for me, it was a snapping
experience at the workshop site. They wanted me to say, but my insides
were saying, "GET OUT OF HERE! GET OUT OF HERE!" And I
left, at two in the morning, and I went home, but it was already
in my head. And I talked to my Mom, and she said, "Oh, let's
go talk to the rabbi," we went and talked to the rabbi, who
convinced me that I wanted to learn more about the group, talk about
polarity responses! Within one more week, my long hair was getting
cut, my blue jeans were thrown out and I was putting on suits. It
was three months into the experience that I remember stopping any
questioning thoughts. And I was made a leader, and I recruited and
indoctrinated hundreds of people into the organization. By the way
I was at a leadership situation with Moon in the fall of 1974 where
he said, "When we take power in America we will amend the Constitution
and make it a capital offense for people to have sexual relations
with people other than those assigned to them by the church."
And then he proceeded to say, "If people can't control their
sexuality, we will be doing them a favor by taking their physical
bodies away from them and sending them to the spirit world where
they can be restored later." And my response was, "Yes,
[Question from audience] Do all cult leaders
know what they are doing?
SH: There are a number of con-men who are heads
of cults, but the vast number, in my experience, are people who
really believe their stuff, and as I mentioned before, and that
they themselves were victims of a cult. L. Ron Hubbard, the head
of Scientology, was a follower of Aleister Crowley, by the way.
Werner Erhardt, head of est and Forum, he was once a Scientologist!
Moon was involved with a cult in Korea called the Monastery of Israel.
Most con-men, they want to make money, and then they want to split.
They don't want to get caught, and they don't want to have problems,
they don't stay around. But cult leaders make decisions based on
that they really think that what they're doing is good and justified
and that they're above the law and such.
[Question from audience] What about Koresh?
SH: Well, he was involved with George Rodin.
George Rodin was the head of the group before. Vernon Howell later
joined this particular group, later started having sex with Rodin's
wife, Rodin wound up being put in the mental hospital. There was
a whole shoot-out situation, and a challenge to raise the dead,
and all of that. But it's my personal belief that David Koresh,
a.k.a. Vernon Howell, could have been convinced to leave peaceably
from the standoff, and that he was not a psychopath. He was acting
psychopathologically, but he was not a psychopath. And I believe
that going in with tanks and with CS gas was, well, I knew that
morning, I had CNN on, I saw the tanks moving in, I heard rumors
a week earlier they were going to bring in tanks and gas, from contacts
down in Waco, and as soon as I saw the tanks, I thought, "My
God, they're all dead." And they died. And I cried, as I cried
when I saw the carnage of Jonestown. Because I saw, "but by
the grace of God - I believe in God - that could have been me. I
could have died. I could have been in the flames, I could have had
the gun out, and I feel so sorry for the people who survived the
loss of all their friends, I feel so sorry for the families, and
I feel sorry for all people involved with destructive mind control
cult experiences. And I think that people deserve to be free.
[Question from audience] inaudible
SH: The Cult Awareness Network - the entity,
the Cult Awareness Network, which is a non-profit educational organization
- does not support or endorse any kidnapping or deprogramming activities,
but they are concerned about destructive cults, and they are a source
for information and referral. There are individuals who subscribe
to their newsletters and who go to their conferences who engage
in forcible attempts at interventions to help people involved with
destructive cults. Like Rick Ross. I have no love for Rick Ross.
In fact, I'm glad you mentioned him. At the point the FBI was shining
the bright lights and doing the auditory barrage, I criticized it,
and I was quoted in numerous newspapers, in AP and such, and Rick
Ross called me, and said, "Steve, you don't understand what's
going on. The FBI knows what they're doing. Don't say these things."
I said, "Rick, the FBI doesn't know what the hell they're doing,
they're torturing people, they're reinforcing Koresh's worldview,
and they're making people even more vulnerable." And yes, he
was consulted by the FBI, he was the only person that I am aware
of that even has any connection whatsoever with the Cult Awareness
Network, in the sense of even having attended some of their meetings,
and I think personally that the FBI made a major error to rely,
or even to talk to him. Because he was never in a cult himself.
He doesn't know how to think like a cult member. And in my experience,
my ability, because of my first-hand experience, to be able to go
inside the mindset, is what helps me to have empathy, and also to
have an awareness of what to say and how to say it. Groups like
destructive cults, some of which I've mentioned before, have created
an image that there's this multi-million dollar, international neo-Nazi
group of kidnappers who like to beat and torture people out of new
religious groups, and they're the Cult Awareness Network, and the
reason why Waco went up in flames is because the Cult Awareness
Network was really behind the FBI, and it's all these evil people.
And I say, "That's just cult propaganda. That's bull. That
is not correct. Wrong, wrong, wrong!" That's my personal opinion,
and it's based on twenty years of experience. [NOTE added in 1999:
in 1996, The Cult Awareness Network was used into bankruptcy by
agents of Scientology. One of Rick Ross's failures became a multi-million
dollar civil suit against a CAN volunteer for recommending Ross.
Since then, the name, logo and phone number now belongs to agents
of Scientology. The Leo J. Ryan Foundation of Bridgeport Connecticut
is trying to fill the void left by the loss of CAN.]
[Question from audience] Was the government
justified to go after Koresh?
SH: An armed raid, with 80 agents, the way
they did it? No. But do I think they were justified in going there
to look for firearms, and to investigate claims of sexual abuse
of minors. Absolutely! I'm not a defender of the U.S. Government,
if you've heard anything I've said. Well, I'm aware that it's difficult
to use ordinary, self-reporting type of things with destructive
cults. You can't go into destructive cults as an agent of the "enemy"
government, and say, "By the way, is anyone harming you?"
They'll say, "No, not at all, I'm fine!" One of the most
powerful things, and anyone who's really interested in getting to
the underpinnings of mind control with David Koresh, is looking
at the artwork of the children who were released during the siege,
evaluated by a trauma specialist named Dr. Bruce Perry. If anyone
doubts that mind control exists, just look at the artwork that was
done by these kids. And it's so clear. The split of identity, the
incredible fear, indoctrination, in terms of going up in flames,
and the outside world, and such, and a completely diminished, as
opposed to healthy, sense of self-identity, and normal relations,
as would be depicted in the artwork of a healthy child.
[Question from audience] Weren't some children
allowed to leave?
SH: The children who were allowed to leave
were not any of Koresh's own children, I know that much. I believe
some of the adults, the ones that were bringing the kids out, that
walked out, those were the ones who clearly had problems with what
was going on there. In other words, they weren't totally under the
spell of David Koresh anymore, they wanted out, and David didn't
want people who were asking questions there. In fact, I can understand
that the FBI was thinking, "The more people we get out of that
situation, the more people we can save," and that was right
thinking on one level, but from a perspective of trying to undermine
the totalitarian control that David Koresh had, it might actually
have been better to keep people who were doubting with those other
people inside, instead of letting them out- provided they did the
other things I've suggested.
[Question from audience] Isn't CAN guilty of
SH: Being a member of the Cult Awareness Network
means that you pay $30.00 dollars and subscribe to their newsletter,
which I believe Galen Kelly did. But cult groups like to say, "Oh,
he was an agent of the Cult Awareness Network, the Cult Awareness
Network kidnaps people, and beats and tortures them," it's
just not true in my experience. But you can say it, over and over
again, and you can say it, and you can say it. That's not my understanding.
Now if anyone is frowning about the Cult Awareness Network, they
have lawyers, top mental health professionals involved with the
organization. I think they do a good job. I have not given a speech
for the organization in years. I am not a principal of the Cult
Awareness Network. If you buy my book and read it, I do recommend
them as a source of information about cults and mind control. And
I'm also aware of a new project that's being started called "FACTnet.org",
which is a computer database for collecting information about destructive
cults that anyone can dial in, with a modem, and download files
about destructive cults. And I think that's the future. And that
way people can find out information must more easily and quickly,
without the human component inside there. Cult Awareness Network
is not involved with kidnapping. Patricia Ryan, who is President
of the Cult Awareness Network, whose father, Leo Ryan, the Congressman,
was killed at Jonestown, does not endorse kidnapping, has never
endorsed kidnapping, the organization does not kidnap, does not
recommend kidnapping, and I say it over and over again, but the
people involved with destructive cults, they've been told this is
what it is, so that is what they think. But it's not, in my experience,
true. Even they say that I kidnap people and beat and torture them!
[Question from audience] Weren't you deprogrammed?
SH: My book came out in 1988, so it came out
11 years after I got out. For me, the fifth day of my intervention,
and I should say, I called it a "deprogramming." It started
involuntary for the first day, but then it was voluntary, as you
will read in my book, if you ever get it. I agreed to speak with
the ex-members to prove to my parents that I wasn't under mind control.
And fortunately for me on the fifth day, I did start to think that
maybe Moon wasn't perfect, at which point I started researching
the whole psychology of brainwashing, mind control, influence processes,
persuasion, attitude change, etc., and so the moment I realized
that Moon wasn't the Messiah, I was never going to go back. And
it took me a while to remember feelings, remember memories, even.
Because when I was in the group, they had recoded my entire childhood
to be a horribly oppressive experience, as compared to what it really
was. I came from a very loving, close family, good friends, I was
an extra Honors student, as I mentioned before I wrote poetry, I
was a Creative Writing major, but it took me time to heal. It took
me at least a year to heal. And one of the things that helped me
the most to heal was interacting with former cult members of the
group I was in and with former members of other groups. And so for
me, it's been a continuous learning experience in terms of interacting
with people from other destructive cults. The people who know the
most are the ex-members, and there are many of them, if you want
to talk with them they can share their own experience.
[Question from audience] Isn't the government
SH: There was a destructive cult in Philadelphia,
MOVE, in which the government went in and dropped a bomb, and killed
people, and burned down a lot of homes as well. Totally inappropriate
use of force. Total lack of regard for human rights and respect
[Question from audience] Isn't the word brainwashing
SH: I agree. The word "brainwashing"
has also been used to the point where it is no longer describing
the process for which it was coined originally, which was about
Korean war prisoners and such. But words are tools. They should
be used to help us to expand our understanding of reality, and to
communicate better with ourselves and with others, but unfortunately
words can also constrict and narrow. And I do think that it's important
to remember that people are human beings, and they deserve respect,
and they deserve love, and they deserve honor, and not just ? And
I blame the media, we haven't trashed the media, but the media circus
around Jonestown was horrendous. People said, "Well, why didn't
you go down to Texas, Steve?" And the truth is, I would have
gotten a lot of media if I'd gone down to Texas after the initial
siege. I probably would have sold a lot of copies of my book, but
I was personally repulsed by the idea of jumping into a media circus.
[Question from audience] inaudible
SH: No, I haven't had a chance to read his
report, but I think that, with the exception of Professor Guttman's
investigation of the ATF, and Dr. Stone's investigation, I think
the rest was a big whitewash. And I still think there needs to be
a really good, thorough, investigation. I think the public deserves
that. Unfortunately, I'm very, very busy. When I was asked by Harvard's
Humanist chaplain, Tom Ferrick, to come and give this talk, I immediately
said, "Yes," because I haven't said what I've said wanted
to say in a public lecture. It needed to be said, and hopefully
my point of view will be known.
[Question from audience] Do you think the media
has covered the story properly?
SH: There's no question, there's no question
in my mind, that there is control of behavior, thoughts, feelings
and information within the United States. I read a publication called
"Covert Action Bulletin," which is published by a group
of former CIA agents who are critical of government covert operations
and such, and I do believe there's censorship in the United States
media. It's not total. But, for example, I was interviewed by TIME
Magazine, right after Waco went up in flames, and talked about all
of my efforts during the siege to try to help that I have mentioned
earlier. Even Joe Kennedy's office backed down, I guess to minimize
embarrassment of the Clinton administration. The story never appeared,
and no one has asked me my opinion how the Waco tragedy could have
been averted. I voted for Clinton, I confess, but I think there
were political considerations, to not make the administration look
bad, and how can it not look bad, when innocent men, women and children
died, for no reason. Thank you for coming!
NOTE: It is now October 1999 and a reinvestigation
is taking place into the events at Waco. I am still waiting for
a responsible report to be done- a report that answers the question,
"If you had to do it over again, what would you do differently?"
Well, after the compound went up in flames, government agents reportedly
answered, "we would do it the same way." It is my sincerest
belief that in the future, we will learn from our mistakes. There
will no doubt be future cult mind control incidents that will affect
many throughout the world. I am preparing the release of my new
book, Overcoming Cult Mind Control: How to Empower People to Think
for Themselves and Act Independently. My web site is www.freedomofmind.com.
© 1994 Steven Hassan, all rights reserved.
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