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. 

Matt Bywater is an academic researcher, educator, and activist in the UK. He works as a language teacher and is developing a series of lessons (aimed at non-native speakers of English) that highlight the importance of critical thinking and teach people how to spot manipulation and coercion. He works with and advocates for refugees and asylum-seekers, volunteering his professional skills to teach English to these vulnerable groups in society. 

The Meaning of Blank White Paper

Matt lived and taught English in China for over three years and observed first-hand the rise of authoritarianism in government and public management. He recounted a short anecdote to me explaining the daily ramifications of these changes. In Shanghai, there are cameras and video screens on crosswalks. Matt discovered the purpose of these screens when he casually jaywalked one day and then saw a photo of himself with words to the effect of “shame on you” written over it.  

This public shaming bothered him, as did the strict COVID lockdowns. In Shanghai, even one case of COVID could lead to the whole city being shut down. This government policy resulted in fatalities as people were cut off from necessities. But as attempts at control have increased, there was a matching rise of protests amongst everyday Chinese people. Matt was particularly enamored by a group called the White Paper Movement, which he wrote about in his extensive article on the changing political landscape in China. Their name comes from the significance of a blank sheet of paper, which they often hold up during their protests. The lack of information symbolizes censorship and secrecy. Notably, at the time of the protests, some Chinese netizens disseminated a Chinese-language translation of my BITE Model to promote understanding of the psychological aspect of authoritarianism. This global interaction is what Matt is working to emphasize. Authoritarianism is not a Western problem or an Eastern problem; it’s a human problem. Humanity is not too thin a community to base a universal right to be free; it is the widest community we have. And that is why freedom of mind is so important.

Below is a copy of the social media post that has the translation of key elements of my BITE Model of Authoritarian Control.

For these reasons, Matt strenuously opposes the idea that freedom of mind and individuality are the same as individualism. Just as civil rights come with civil responsibilities in a democratic society, freedom should come with social responsibility. Today, there is a growing awareness that people worldwide are not so different from each other and that our actions are interdependent. Despite the disinformation from big oil companies, we can see that the loss of the Amazon on one side of the globe affects air quality on the other. And as mentioned above, research into undue influence and mind control in America encourages resistance in China and vice versa.  

Freedom To Versus Freedom From 

For this reason, Matt also keeps abreast of global legal developments surrounding freedom of mind as a human rights issue and does his best to spread awareness within his sphere. He believes that while many Americans, in particular, are familiar with the idea of freedom of speech, for example, or freedom of religion, they have yet to expand that to the idea of freedom of mind. This may be due to our cultural emphasis in America on the freedom to do something (such as practice a particular religious ritual) versus freedom from something (such as mental coercion). Both are essential rights, but our system is unbalanced towards the first. Matt and I both favor a more developed body of law recognizing the second, such as the idea that deceptively recruiting someone into a religious group violates their rights.  

We also discussed tax fraud and similar civil violations by authoritarian cults like Scientology. This area of the law is making more progress in Europe than in America. In Norway, the Jehovah’s Witnesses were threatened with losing their legal status for practicing shunning. Shunning, or enforcing no contact between believers and apostates, is practiced in various Bible cults. This tradition has gotten some heat in America as well recently. The New Jersey State Senate is debating a proposal to criminalize predatory alienation. Coercive control in the context of domestic violence is rapidly becoming a crime across the Western Hemisphere. After many lost decades, we may be approaching the day when naked manipulation tactics are no longer protected by religious status and when taking away someone’s mental freedom is no longer permissible under the law. As this change of law takes place at the national level, the international human rights system will have to take note and respond accordingly. Here, freedom of mind is key. 

We still have a way to go, especially with the new dangers found online, from deepfakes to radicalization. Still, with researchers like Matt on the job, we stand to see a future where nobody is taken advantage of like I was by the Moonies, and nobody must stay silent in the face of governmental oppression.  


Matt Bywater’s YouTube Channel

The Chinese Join the Expression of a Global Effort for the Freedom of Mind by Matthew Bywater (This is the most comprehensive description. An important read).

Matt’s profile

Freedom of Mind: Evaluating Undue Influence in Legal & Mental Health Settings International Academy of Law and Mental Health ( Panel that I did with forensic psychiatrists Thomas Gutheil MD, and Barry Roth MD and Matthew Bywater in Lyon, France 

DECLARATION OF THE FREEDOM OF MIND Forensic psychiatrist Bandy X. Lee founded the World Mental Health Coalition. This declaration was posted on February 27, 2020. I joined the coalition and gave my permission to use the term Freedom of Mind. 


Professor Alan Scheflin’s Social Influence Model (SIM) post by Jon Atack 

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