Update: January 2021: Dissertation has been published. <https://www.proquest.com/docview/2476570146/>
In 1976, I was deprogrammed from the Moon cult. Since then, I have helped thousands of individuals leave and recover from the harmful influence of destructive cults. I have written four books, published a peer-reviewed article, conducted multiple scientific research studies, and spent decades learning and educating about mind control. The culmination of my life’s work happened yesterday with my doctoral dissertation final oral review, in which I earned my PhD. (The video is linked below.) I entered the doctorate program at Fielding Graduate University’s School of Leadership Studies – in the Organizational Development and Change (ODC) PhD program in 2017.
In March 2019, I published my first peer-reviewed journal article with the help of my research assistant, Mansi Shah. Thanks to so many people, we put up the study on Survey Monkey and wrote up the initial quantitative study with 1044 former cult members. Here is the information on this Elsevier journal article:
Hassan, S., Shah, M.J. The anatomy of undue influence used by terrorist cults and traffickers to induce helplessness and trauma, so creating false identities. Ethics, Medicine and Public Health (2019) 8, 97-107 Elsevier Masson SAS. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jemep.2019.03.002
Its genesis began when I gave a talk entitled, The “Anatomy of undue influence used by terrorist cults and traffickers to induce helplessness and trauma, so creating false identities” at the prestigious 2017 Congress of the International Academy of Law and Mental Health in Prague. I blogged about it here.
This study provided quantitative research into issues of destructive cultism. The data was helpful in developing a potential instrument to measure aspects of undue influence. My aim when I entered the doctorate program was to do what I could to help provide tools to the justice systems worldwide. My doctoral dissertation involved a factor analysis on my BITE model. My Influence Continuum, while not part of the quantitative study, offers an easy-to-understand framework to discern ethical from unethical influence. A new construct came out of this research. I call it The BITE model of Authoritarian Control. I looked up the definition of authoritarian and submission to authority and suppression of one’s own free will describes this phenomenon.
When I started this journey, one of my top goals was (and still is) to find ways to expand the current narrow definition of undue influence which has been largely confined to wills and testamentary capacity. It is long overdue that legal systems around the world recognize that human beings are not rational agents and are very suggestible and vulnerable to deception and social influence pressures. My hope is to help be part of the effort to develop models that will help promote human rights and punish those who enslave others.
Today, November 18th, marks the 42nd anniversary of the Jonestown massacre where over 900 people were killed. Most of the people who died were members of the People’s Temple, led by cult leader Jim Jones. Two years ago, in my blog, Jonestown and the Mind Control Cult of Jim Jones: A Survivor’s Story. In it, I shared my interview with Vernon Gosney, who was shot three times on the tarmac near slain congressman Leo J. Ryan and NBC’s Ron Harris along with others. Vernon, as a survivor of the Jonestown massacre, went on to become a police officer who wishes to help others understand what happened when so many people fell under the authoritarian rule of malignant narcissist, Rev. Jim Jones. A BITE model analysis of the People’s Temple was put online by John Collins and myself.
When many think of this tragedy, brainwashing and mind control come to mind. People were recruited into the group largely out of the social justice and human rights activism of Jones’ church. New members were love-bombed and their desire to make the world a better place was exploited. Everyone there was programmed to be obedient and loyal. Yet, they believed they were in full control and exercising their own free will.
One question everyone needs to ask themselves is, would they ever kill themselves or their loved ones if someone, anyone in power, told them things that endangered their lives? Right now, Donald Trump’s administration is putting out messaging that many Americans believe and, it is causing many to get sick and die unnecessarily because of COVID-19.
Mind control is any totalistic system of influence that disrupts an individual’s authentic identity and replaces it with a false, new one. The decisions made by people with this new identity are not always their own, often lacking critical thought processes.
Sadly, this is still happening, decades later. And this is why there is a need for scientific research studies and peer-reviewed articles. The justice system needs to be updated to incorporate this research that explains the psychology of predatory exploitation and factors that can help to identify it when it occurs. And we need to educate the public to inoculate people from the virus of unethical influence. My dissertation will be published in the near future.
I thank everyone who supported me in my endeavor. Please take time to read the abstract from my Doctorate Dissertation and watch my Final Oral Review. And, remember, it is never too late to start a journey of knowledge and growth!
My Dissertation Abstract
The justice system needs to be updated to incorporate research that explains the psychology of predatory exploitation and factors that can help to identify it when it occurs. Too often, people argue that judgments about undue influence constitute a “slippery slope,” or that “People are responsible for their actions once they reach 18 years of age.” It is also said that “One cult is another person’s religion” whenever the topics of brainwashing, thought reform, mind control or undue influence are brought up in legal cases.
This dissertation offers quantitative evidence about the BITE model (Behavior, Information, Thought, and Emotion) as a potential tool to help evaluate cases involving exploitative control or undue influence. BITE (Hassan, 1988, 2015) offers a clearly defined model based on observable behaviors that expert witnesses can use to evaluate the presence of mind control or thought reform across a variety of settings and groups.
The term undue influence has been used in British common law since at least the 1700s. (Winder, 1939, King, 1934, Sherman, 2008). However, its use has mostly been confined to the area of wills and testaments. The studies of systematic social influence have produced several models to describe exploitative influence over a person or group of people. A literature review was conducted on existing laws that address trafficking, coercive control, and undue influence. An analysis of major models of thought reform, mind control, or brainwashing was done using Robert Jay Lifton’s Eight Criteria (Lifton, 1961); Edgar Schein’s model which includes Kurt Lewin’s model for change (Schein, Schneier & Baker, 1961); Margaret Singer’s Six Conditions (Singer & Lalich, 1995); and the Influence Continuum and BITE Model (Hassan,1988).
Scheflin’s Social Influence Model (Scheflin, 2015) offers an overall framework for expert witnesses to comprehensively evaluate any potential undue influence situation.
Legal systems value quantitative research over qualitative research. A total of 1044 participants took part in this study designed to determine the efficacy of the BITE model in identifying undue influence. The items in the BITE model of mind control were found to have a reliability score of .98, and a Cronbach’s alpha of .93 demonstrated internal consistency and validity. A principal component analysis identified one highly significant factor that captures undue influence: Authoritarian Control. The BITE model offers a look at the dimensions that allow one to predict the presence of Authoritarian Control, particularly where undue influence is suspected in both civil as well as criminal contexts. Implications are discussed.
Keywords: Undue Influence, Thought Reform, Brainwashing, Mind Control, Coercive Control, BITE model, Influence Continuum, Trafficking, Terrorism, Extremism, Dissociative Disorder, Hypnosis, Parental Alienation, Predatory Alienation, Authoritarianism.