Earlier this month, July 2022, I attended the 37th Annual Conference of the International Academy of Law and Mental Health (IALMH) in Lyon, France. The IALMH is founded on the belief that issues arising from the interaction of law and mental health – such as undue influence – can best be addressed through multi-disciplinary and cross-national approaches, drawing on law, the health professions, the social sciences, and the humanities.
IALMH holds an International Congress on Law and Mental Health every two years. The conference brings together the international community of researchers, academics, and practitioners to take a comprehensive look at the law and mental health issues from a wide-ranging, global perspective. This conference featured a collaboration with the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence.
I first attended an IALMH conference in 2017 in Prague, Czechoslovakia. The exchange of research and ideas at that conference was a wonderful experience, and I looked forward to attending the next meeting in Rome in 2019. I had planned to present two talks in Rome. Only days before the conference in 2019, IALMH received threats that if I were allowed to attend and give my talks, the conference would be canceled (due to pressure from an Italian organizer, who had reported ties to Opus Dei and then President Trump). The IALMH board was concerned with the possible catastrophic repercussions of canceling the gathering of 1500 scholars at the last minute and begged me not to attend. So, with regret, I canceled my trip. I did a video presentation that I gave at PIPATL.
Thankfully, I could attend this year’s conference, which was terrific. However, due to Covid-19 concerns, attendance was only one-third of what it was in Rome. I am embedding, below, the video of my panel presentation. Adding significantly to my presentation was the participation of three very significant people: Dr. Thomas Gutheil, my mentor, co-founder of PIPATL, and former President of IALMH; Dr. Barry Roth, a distinguished forensic psychiatrist, member of PIPATL, and expert on torture; and Matthew Bywater, MSc, of the London School of Economics and Political Sciences speaking on “Freedom of Mind” as a human right of all.
Updating the Law Regarding Undue Influence
In 1974, I was recruited into the International One World Crusade (a front organization of the Moon group). I was an idealistic nineteen-year-old who wanted to make the world a better place. But I was in a vulnerable emotional state, having just been dumped by my girlfriend. Some lovely women, who were members of the Moon organization looking to seduce new members into joining, started to flirt with me. Before long, I had dropped out of college, quit my job, and donated my bank account to the organization. For two years, I rose through the ranks, reaching high levels of responsibility in the cult. I had adopted militant, authoritarian beliefs. A former liberal thinker, I now fully supported Nixon and his right-wing politics. I believed Moon was the messiah and would have willingly killed or died at his command.
How does an intelligent, idealistic young man become someone so opposite to his true nature? The answer is through the subtle use of undue influence – by being subjected to consistent programming and mind control that creates a false self. After more than two years in the cult, a near-fatal auto accident allowed my family to intervene and lovingly help me see the truth of my situation. I was able to leave the cult, become a licensed mental health provider and dedicate my life to assisting others to escape the psychological and physical imprisonment of cult involvement.
During my career, I developed a model by which one could correctly label an organization an authoritarian cult. The BITE Model of Authoritarian Control draws on the work of Robert Jay Lifton, Margaret Singer, Edgar Schein, and others who studied brainwashing in Communist China, as well as the cognitive dissonance theory of Leon Festinger. BITE stands for behavior, information, thought, and emotions, the four areas in which cults exert mind control and instill loyalty and obedience to the cult.
But after 40 years of this work, I felt very little had changed. Cults were still able to recruit with impunity. If cult members faced legal action, little information was available to help judges and juries consider the effects of undue influence. The judges and juries made their decisions based on the assumption that the individual had acted with complete freedom and understanding. Mental health professionals, in general, did not have sufficient training to adequately address the needs of clients who had been involved in cults.
Through discussions with Dr. Gutheil and others, I realized that the law is about 100 years out of date. The law presumes that humans are rational agents. It often ignores the effects of mind control tactics. Changing laws requires scientific proof. I received sound advice from Dr. Michael Commons that to help change the law, I should get a Ph.D. and do a quantitative study of the BITE Model. I took his advice and finished my doctoral program in December 2020. The work of law Professor Emeritus, Dr. Alan Scheflin, my mentor, colleague, and long-time friend, played a significant part in my doctoral research, in particular his Social Influence Model which was cited as the best framework for expert witnesses to explain undue influence to judges and jury members. Dr. Scheflin has done decades of research on brainwashing and mind control, the effects of trauma, and the use of hypnosis, particularly as they relate to the legal profession. In 2020, I published my dissertation, “The BITE Model of Authoritarian Control: Undue Influence, Thought Reform, Brainwashing, Mind Control, Trafficking, and the Law.”
The Biggest Threat to Freedom is Loss of Freedom of Mind
Physical enslavement and control by force may seem a more significant threat, but losing freedom of mind is the greatest obstacle to a free society. Modern technology enables the 24/7 dissemination of disinformation, lies, and deceptive recruitment by authoritarian cults, coalitions of organizations, or others that seek to gain governmental control. One only has to consider this: as of June 2022, an estimated 70% of Republicans believe President Biden stole the 2020 election. This is a big lie.
Matthew Bywater, MSc, reminded us that freedom of mind is a fundamental human right based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights principles. Freedom of mind involves the following criteria:
Freedom from: Freedom to:
Indoctrination Exercise Agency
Thought Reform Access verifiable Information
Undue Influence Ranges from Torture to Advertising – Panel presentation at 37th Annual Conference of the International Academy of Law and Mental Health (IALMH) in Lyon, France
Dr. Gutheil is a top forensic psychiatrist with over 50 years of experience and hundreds of published papers, chapters, and books. I have previously written several blogs describing his work. In particular, a 2017 post, was The Need to Educate Judges, Attorneys, Citizens, and Governments About Undue Influence – Freedom of Mind Resource Center. I interviewed Dr. Gutheil for my podcast, The Influence Continuum, and included the video of the interview in my blog.
Dr. Barry Roth is a forensic psychiatrist who is an expert in the effects of torture and the interventions that are most effective in helping victims of torture heal from the trauma. In his remarks at the conference, Dr. Roth cautioned against emphasizing the details of a particular cult or authoritarian group. He said that could be a waste of time. We need to get to the common, shared concerns, going to the roots of the problem of undue influence.
My three panelists and I agree that planetary survival is a valid concern. It is not overly dramatic to say that human survival hangs in the balance, that we are standing with our toes on the edge of a precipice from which there will be no return. It is not too late to intervene, but it is necessary to do it now. The IALMH provides a precious opportunity at their conferences to help make the interventions needed all over the world a reality. Video of the panel presentation:
- Steven’s solo presentation at 37th Annual Conference of the International Academy of Law and Mental Health (IALMH) in Lyon, France: Proposing a New Model to Conduct a Forensic Evaluation of Undue Influence
- Mental Health, Psychiatry, and the Law with Dr. Thomas Gutheil – Freedom of Mind Resource Center
- Scheflin’s Social Influence Model
- Freedom from Mental Slavery (substack.com)
- The Social Dilemma
- Center for Humane Technology
- Undue Influence and the Law (elderjusticecal.org)