There are many kinds of high-control environments. You might think first of a cult compound or perhaps the house of an abusive family. One of the most controlled places is omnipresent in American culture, joked about and mulled over in personal conversations and politics. I’m talking, of course, about the United States prison system. After incarceration, a person receives a number. They wear uniforms and eat inexpensive food. Their identities must be changed to fit rigid rules and regulations. Likewise, the prisoner’s identity must conform or be punished. The trauma of the environment and (the BITE Model) threatens their ability to exist as functioning members of society once they walk free. Ramadan Shabazz is a rare success story, having emerged (with the assistance of former Governor Charlie Baker and the parole board) from incarceration more stable than before. Ramadan Shabazz and my friend, Dr. Richard Parker, joined me on the Influence Continuum podcast this week to discuss his life journey and the phenomenal effort to help him be a free man today.
Katherine Spallino, the author of a new book, The Bad Cadet: Growing Up in the Church of Scientology’s Sea Organization, has had quite a life journey. Katherine grew up on a secluded ranch within the cadet org, Scientology’s Sea Org school for children. At a young age, Katherine began to journal about her day-to-day life, capturing the thoughts and experiences of a child coming of age in a cult. Katherine’s background offers the rare opportunity to tell the story of the hundreds of children who rarely saw their parents and were indoctrinated to become future Sea Org members.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the acclaimed psychiatrist and my mentor, Robert Jay Lifton, M.D., about his new book, Surviving Our Catastrophes: Resilience and Renewal from Hiroshima to the Covid-19 Pandemic. Lifton is a pioneer in the field of psychohistory, especially his studies on the psychological causes and effects of war and political violence. Renowned cult experts and scholars use his theory of thought reform and cult behavior worldwide. As the title of his book suggests, he believes that those of us who have experienced the trauma of mind control have a crucial role to play in the coming years. We have overcome our past and found resiliency and can be role models to help teach others.
This week, on my podcast, The Influence Continuum, I spoke with Dr. Bandy X. Lee, the forensic psychiatrist and world-renowned expert on violence, who is the editor of the best-selling book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President. Years after she and other mental health experts warned that Trump was unfit and a danger to the public, we continue to see vivid proof that the public has suffered because of the censoring of experts! Her recent book is Profile of a Nation: Trump’s Mind, America’s Soul. What was behind the mainstream media silencing of credible experts like Dr. Lee, and myself, and even the most renowned names in mental health? We discuss this and many important topics like the “duty to warn” and the importance of mental health, especially in people who are supposed to be public servants. We discuss the 25th Amendment of the Constitution and how it could be bolstered to prevent anyone so grossly incompetent from coming to the Presidency again. We also discuss the corrupt and authoritarian family court system in the United States, which has contributed to diminishing our collective mental health: the subject of a forthcoming book.
This week, we focus on two crucial overlapping and timely subjects: Freedom of Mind as an essential new human right and using my BITE Model of Authoritarian Control by Chinese netizens during the November 2022 protests in China against the zero covid lockdown policy.
Matt Bywater first learned the phrase and idea of Freedom of Mind during his research into authoritarian cults, which began with my books Combating Cult Mind Control and Freedom of Mind. He decided to work towards identifying a pathway for freedom of mind to enter into the international human rights architecture. Shortly thereafter, he came across the first Declaration of Freedom of Mind in history, issued by the World Mental Health Coalition, founded by forensic psychiatrist Bandy X. Lee. Dr. Lee edited the best-selling book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, with 37 experts weighing in on Trump. When I put together a panel at the 37th Annual Conference of the International Academy of Law and Mental Health in Lyon, France, presented his research on Freedom of Mind and why he believes the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is insufficient to protect the mind. He has also presented at the 2023 International Cultic Studies Association conference. He is currently looking for a human rights scholar and academic institution to supervise his research into freedom of mind as part of a doctoral program.
On the Influence Continuum podcast, I cover all kinds of cults: from family units to political movements, toxic workplaces to Scientologist compounds. Today, I returned to the basics of Christian fundamentalism used by cultic groups. As I discuss in my book, The Cult of Trump, many groups are deeply involved in politics and influence believers to vote according to the leader’s direction of who is “godly.” Here to discuss his experiences with this and his evolution away from religion is Dr. Darren M. Slade, a graduate of the controversial Liberty University’s seminary and apologetics program. Darren is a professor of history and comparative religion in Denver, Colorado. He specializes in the socio-political development of religious belief systems and also serves as the Director of the North American Committee on Religious Trauma Research. He is the President of the Global Center for Religious Research (GCRR.org) and Founding Editor of the peer-reviewed academic journal Socio-Historical Examination of Religion and Ministry (SHERMjournal.org).
This week the Influence Continuum podcast hosts Pam Hemphill, a 70-year-old cancer survivor from Idaho. Pam has been in the news speaking out because of her involvement in the January 6th assault on the Capitol. Pam is now a vocal detractor of the cult of Trump. She’s been a fan of the podcast and of Freedom of Mind in general and joined us to discuss how her life changed because of Trump. She is a retired Substance Abuse Counselor who says she has 44 years in recovery. She served a 60-day sentence for her involvement in the attack, which former President Trump encouraged. After serving her sentence in federal prison, Ms. Hemphill learned information contradicting the narrative she had believed was truthful. That interaction with facts inspired her to continue seeking information not circulated in her previous media sources. For several months, Pam has been hosting Twitter Spaces to “Stop the Spin” and push back against the gaslighting and lies of January 6th defendants and defenders. Ms. Hemphill says she now realizes she was part of a cult and is on a mission to help others recognize what happened to them so they may reevaluate their prior beliefs.
Neo-Nazi sentiment, racism, and white supremacy have seen a recent resurgence globally, fueled by political polarization, economic disparities, and social grievances. The internet and social media have played a significant role in spreading extremist propaganda, while some politicians’ normalization of hate speech has emboldened these groups. Combating this rise requires a multifaceted approach, including education, countering online extremism, promoting social cohesion, and addressing underlying grievances. My guest for this episode of The Influence Continuum was Kelvin Pierce, author of the memoir Sins of my Father: Growing up with America’s Most Dangerous White Supremacist. Kelvin was born into a highly racist and abusive household but was able to shed his indoctrination, create the charitable organization “Divine Child Foundation” to help orphans in Georgia, publish his memoir, and live a life of activism and inspiration fighting racism and extremism.
In my book, The Cult of Trump, I discussed the lobbying dedicated to keeping solid gun legislation off the floor in American politics. This influence, one of politics and money, has had consequences, as we all know. Gun-related deaths are already over 17,000 as of May of this year. In 2021, they were at their highest ever at almost 50,000 murders, suicides, and accidental deaths involving firearms. These statistics are personal to me due to my experiences in the Moonies cult, so to further raise the profile of this crucial issue, I spoke with Jonathan Lowy. Jonathan founded Global Action on Gun Violence, a nonprofit working with the international community to stop gun trafficking and violence through litigation, human rights, and other strategies. He has been litigating and advocating against gun violence for over 25 years. He helped win over $100 million for victims in verdicts and settlements, created the precedent that holds gun companies accountable and reformed dangerous gun industry practices. His articles include “The Right Not to Be Shot.” He has been named one of the 500 leading lawyers in America for over ten years by Lawdragon magazine.
Over the last four decades, I have met and worked with many former members of the Kundalini Yoga cult founded by Yogi Bhajan. He set up numerous profit and non-profit entities, including the Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization (3HO), the Kundalini Research Institute, Sikh Dharma International, the multibillion-dollar companies Yogi Tea and Akal Security and the Siri Singh Sahib Corporation overlooking them all.
In the modern era, many of us spend most of our time at home, subsisting on what we can get through tech and grocery chains. But in her new book, Forager: Field Notes on Surviving a Family Cult, Michelle Dowd proposes that we are all still foraging internally. Instead of gathering food, we gather what we need emotionally and intellectually. Following our dual appearance on The Megyn Kelly Show, she joined me on the Influence Continuum podcast to discuss how she reframed her harsh experiences to find joy and fulfillment.
In an increasingly polarized society, our country needs compassion and critical thinking more than ever. Isolation due to social media and the work of political demagogues can keep us from exploring alternate perspectives. Being taken in by these forces does not make you stupid or weak. However, resistance can reflect intelligence and strength of will. We learn about this strength in Denver Riggleman’s book The Breach: The Untold Story of the Investigation into January 6th. Denver joined us on the podcast to discuss the book, his career in the military and as a congressman, and how to battle black-and-white thinking in politics.