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Major Roy James Blakeley (December 10, 1928 - July 22, 1965) - USAF (KIA)

When I was young my dad would say
Come on son let's go out and play

No matter how hard I try
No matter how many tears I cry
No matter how many years go by
I still can't say goodbye

- "I Still Can't Say Goodbye," Performer: Chet Atkins

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For a larger image click on the photograph.

One of the most important books to be written about the "re-education" program of the Chinese Communists was Thought Reform of the Chinese Intellectuals, by Theodore E. H. Chen (1). The following year saw the further use of the term "thought reform," as well as its twin "coercive persuasion," in the literature of psychiatry by Robert J. Lifton (2) and Edgar H. Schein, (3) respectively. Like Chen, both authors reported the findings of their investigation into the effects of the "ideological re-molding" programs applied by the Communist Chinese to many of their own citizens following their rise to power on the Chinese mainland in 1949. Lifton and Schein also reported on the use of thought reform on Western and national prisoners held in various detention centers throughout China. Numerous other authors had already written about aspects of the phenomenon prior to Lifton and Schein in fact, both authors had also written about it prior to their books, but had not used the above expressions to describe it (4).

Numerous authors on the subject of brainwashing, thought reform, or coercive persuasion point out that such programs and techniques "have been applied at various times throughout history," (5) and this century has seen such techniques employed in numerous countries and organizations, affecting literally hundreds of millions of people. Singer and Ofshe, citing Chen, report that "as early as 1929, Mao Tse-tung was waging a 'thought struggle' to achieve unity and discipline in the Chinese Communist Party. Following the proclamation of the People's Republic of China in 1949, hundreds of thousands were exposed to thought reform programs to achieve 'ideological remolding.' 'Group struggle sessions' convinced individuals to denounce their past political views and to adopt the new state-approved political outlook" (6)

Baron refers to "the Russian Purge Trials of 1936-39, [in which] a number of men who had actually participated as Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution made implausible public confessions of treason. These confessions, in fact, were based not on deeds but on the defendant's private disagreement with aspects of party policy. During their various trials the defendants asked to be executed. Eventually they were indeed sentenced to death and executed" (7). Other cases cited by Baron are the post-Gestapo interrogation confession of a Dutch national to setting fire to the Reichstag, and the pro-communist confession of anti-communist Cardinal Mindszenty following six weeks of inquisition (8).

According to Singer and Ofshe, "[t]here have been two generations of interest in extreme influence and control programs. The first generation of interest was in Soviet and Chinese thought reform and behavior control practices that were studied 20 to 30 years ago. The second generation of interest is in thought reform programs either currently operating or that have been in existence during the last decade in the United States and the Western world" (9) The second-generation programs are generally more "efficient and effective" than first-generation programs and "may be more psychologically risky for individuals exposed to them" (10) The main difference between first- and second-generation thought reform programs seems to be that in addition to influence techniques found in the first-generation programs, second-generation programs also employ "a variety of new influence techniques" (11) Some of these are: sensory deprivation and sensory overload; guided imagery and visualization; trance induction through repetition of words, slogans, prayers, chants, or songs, etc.

Singer and Ofshe elaborate on key differences between first- and second-generation thought reform programs:

Attacking a person's evaluation of the self is a technique present in both older and newer programs. However, in first-generation programs, primary attack was made on the political aspects of an individual's self-concept a peripheral aspect ofmost people's sense of self.

In the newer thought reform programs, attacks appear to be designed to destabilize the subject's most central aspects of the experience of the self. The newer programs undermine a person's basic consciousness, reality awareness, beliefs and world view, emotional control, and defense mechanism (12).

Finally, Singer and Ofshe state that "second-generation programs are illustrated by certain cults, in therapeutic communities gone astray, and in some large-group awareness programs" (13). In 1992 Philip G. Zimbardo, a Stanford University psychology professor, said, "Would-be mind controllers are springing up everywhere. They pose more of a threat [today] because their tactics are more subtle, their strategies more insidious and their influence more pervasive" (14).

Research Methods of Robert J. Lifton
In 1953 Dr. Robert J. Lifton participated in the psychiatric evaluation of recently released and soon to be repatriated American soldiers who had been held as prisoners of war in North Korea. Dr. Lifton described this experience and his psychiatric findings at the time in his article "Home by ship: reaction patterns of American prisoners of war repatriated from North Korea" (15). A few months later, Lifton arrived in Hong Kong, intending only to make a brief stopover on his way back to the United States following two years as an Air Force psychiatrist in the Far East. However, while in Hong Kong he began hearing accounts of the high level of effectiveness of the indoctrination program used by the Communist Chinese on their own people as well as on Westerners they had detained.

Lifton writes, "[Western scholars and diplomats] told me of Western missionaries who, after having made lurid 'espionage' confessions in prison, arrived in Hong Kong deeply confused about what they had believed; of young Chinese students violating the most sacred precepts of their culture by publicly denouncing their parents; of distinguished mainland professors renouncing their 'evil' past, even rewriting academic books from a Marxist standpoint" (16). Lifton eventually stretched his Hong Kong "stopover" to seventeen months of psychiatric interviews and analyses of twenty-five Westerners and fifteen Chinese who had all been put through the Communist thought reform program.

Throughout his interviews and evaluation of these individuals, Lifton kept constantly in mind the very significant differences between the two groups. First, the differences in the locale in which they underwent the thought reform process: in the case of the Western civilians it was prison, in that of the Chinese it was in universities or"revolutionary colleges." Secondly, Lifton took into account the differences in cultural and historical backgrounds of the two groups. He treats the two groups in separate sections of his book in order to highlight these differences.

Due to the effects of the thought reform programs, most subjects (especially the Chinese) were hesitant to trust Lifton at first, and often weeks or even months were required before this necessary trust could be established. But once it had been, then the often initial recitation of anti-Communist clichÚs gave way to revelation of "the true conflicts stimulated by Communist reform" (17).

Lifton was able to interview some of the Chinese subjects very soon after their arrival in Hong Kong from the mainland; however, most had come to the colony a few years earlier (1948-1952). In contrast to the typical psychiatric study, Lifton was able to maintain long-term relationships with most of his Chinese subjects, including some for longer than a year. His practice was to see his subjects "frequently at first (two or three half-day or even full-day sessions per week) and then at weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly intervals." Only four of the Chinese subjects spoke fluent English; the others required the aid of an interpreter. Even so, Lifton expressed surprise at the "emotional depth that could be achieved in these three-way relation-ships" (18).

With the Westerners Lifton found it necessary to follow a rather different method. For one thing, these people were not coming to Hong Kong to stay and start a new life, but rather were en route back to their home countries Hong Kong was only a way station for them. Thus Lifton elected to work more intensively with them, as soon as he was able to overcome their initial fear and suspicion. He met with these people in his office-apartment when possible, but often it was necessary to visit them "in homes or mission houses where they were staying, or in hospitals where they were convalescing" (19). With one exception, he conducted the interviews in private (the exception was a priest who was so fearful he insisted that a colleague remain in the room at all times).

Lifton spent an average of fifteen to twenty hours with each Western subject. Some interviews comprised more than forty hours spread over several months, though in one or two cases only a single interview was possible. Average length of the sessions was one to three hours. "Thus," Lifton wrote, "a typical relationship with a Western subject consisted of eight or nine two-hour interviews over a period of eighteen to twenty days" (20). Lifton encountered no language difficulties with the Westerners, because, even though most were Continental Europeans, English was the common language among Westerners in China.

Lifton was impressed by the immediacy of the information garnered from the Western subjects. Having only recently been released from Chinese detention, they were mere days away from their reform ordeals. Hence, as Lifton put it, they "still carried with them its entire atmosphere" (21).

For the most part, during his interviews Lifton simply listened and wrote as the subjects told their stories. Occasionally, when they were interested, he also discussed "such things as mechanisms of guilt and shame, and problems of identity" (22).

As he interviewed each subject, Lifton sought answers to the following questions:

What was the nature of the process which he has experienced? What in his emotional responses did he share with the other subjects? How did he as a specific person respond to this process? What relationship did his character and his background have to his particular mode of response?

In addition to the actual interviews, Lifton spent a great deal of time learning as much as he could about thought reform from every possible source available in Hong Kong: people, Western and Chinese, who had any knowledge of the subject; all available literature on the subject; and translations of the Chinese Communist pressprepared by the American consulate. In this process of learning about thought reform Lifton sought to learn especially "what was behind thought reform, what impelled the Chinese Communists to carry out such extreme measures on such an extensive scale" (23) One discovery from this research was the important realization "that what we see as a set of coercive maneuvers, the Chinese Communists view as a morally uplifting, harmonizing, and scientifically therapeutic experience" (24). (This is similar to the view of cult trainers.)

How People Are Recruited
and Held in Thought Reform Programs
Perhaps the major difference between first-generation and second-generation thought reform programs is that in the former subjects are/ were unwilling participants and thus have/had to be held by physical restraint or group peer pressure, while in the latter subjects are willing participants who need no such restraint. This is especially true in cultic mind control in which the subjects are generally favorably disposed toward the cult and indeed toward the teachings with which they are being indoctrinated.

Contemporary skeptics regarding the validity of claims of mind control typically fail to recognize this crucial element in second-generation programs. Especially telling is Bromley and Shupe's denigration of "claims that such rapid transformation can routinely be accomplished by neophytes against an individual's will" (25) The fact is, however, that the transformation is not against an individual's will. The cult recruit is first brought to the point where he or she gives up his or her own will in order to be taught and directed by someone (the cult leader) who knows better than he or she does. As Rick Seelhoff said in the Minneapolis TV program "The Moore Report" (the episode entitled "Thy Will Be Done"), (26) "I wanted to put myself over onto someone that knew better than I did I willed to not will."

The first question that must be answered, therefore, is "How can someone be brought to the place where he is willing to abdicate his psychological, spiritual, and volitional autonomy?" Following the lead of Soviet emigrÚ historian Mikhael Heller, psychiatrist John Hochman uses the model of the "Grand Inquisitor" of Dostoyevsky's acclaimed novel The Brothers Karamazov to explain cultic indoctrination (27). In the parabolic chapter entitled "The Grand Inquisitor" Dostoyevsky has the inquisitor telling Jesus (as Hochman paraphrases him) "that mankindhas been unable to tolerate freedom, thus freedom is now 'ended and over for good' so that men may be 'happy.' "

Hochman then quotes the inquisitor: " today, people are more persuaded than ever that they have perfectfreedom, yet they have brought their freedom to us and laid it humbly at our feet." Hochman, again following Heller, contends that the cultic indoctrination process involves the triad of "miracle, mystery, and authority." He briefly defines these as follows:

Miracle - ideology imputing miraculous power to leaders and/or activities.
Mystery - secrecy obscuring actual beliefs and practices.
Authority - claims on members' time, talents, bodies, or property to meet group needs (28).

The following extended quote from Hochman offers ample illustration of how the individual parts of this triad function to attract and hold people in a thought reform environment:

The suspension of "natural" and "ordinary" routines, to produce an atmosphere of awe, is implicit in the ideology of every cult. Leaders may prophesy, be masters of de-materialization, communicate with the dead, possess superhuman strength, or have unprecedented intelligence. Transformational groups imply one's life may be completely transformed in only several days. Lyndon LaRouche's political cult followers see him as the only leader who can unerringly understand world events and perceive hidden conspiracies. Therapists (not always licensed) who have found the ultimate theory and unfailing psychotherapy lead psychotherapy cults a miracle indeed! In the 1970s, cults capitalized on the counterculture, emphasizing transcendental experiences, social action, and communal living. Today, some cults offer "instant enlightenment" while others obscure spiritual doctrine to attract the secular-minded seeking self-improvement.

People who harbor secrets can find this exciting or gratifying, particularly if done for a "higher purpose." Cults are riddled with secrets. Secrecy in recruiting hides unattractive aspects of cult routine. Front groups purportedly crusading against Communism or world hunger may "funnel" potential new members into a cult. Fronts may promise tutoring, drug abuse counseling, political action opportunities, or management consulting to big business or to small dental offices. Belief systems may discourage or forbid open discussion of any doubts new or old members might have. Members must keep full knowledge from the less initiated, purportedly so as not to damage their spiritual progress. Secrecy is heightened if there are real or imagined battles with nonmember "enemies." Secrecy can hide sexual exploitation or financial excesses of the leaders. Members may fear verbalizing criticisms of the group. Thus, members spend much time living and working in close proximity, but know surprisingly little about one another's thoughts or feelings. Secrecy allows the moral banality of cults to fester, but cults want to maintain it at all costs. Synanon perfected the art of threatening media with libel suits to forestall adverse publicity. Jim Jones directed his followers to relocate to Guyana after having been unable to kill publication of an article entitled "Inside People's Temple" in a regional magazine (New West Magazine, August 1, 1977).

A leader's allegedly immense intellectual, spiritual, or even physical powers may rationalize whims and doctrines to hold sway over followers. While leaders are intelligent and articulate, often their biographies and abilities are puffed up. Public corporal punishment (particularly of children), humiliation, and confession may become routine. A few groups have applied terrorism against nonmembers, which serves to remind members that leadership means business. If members have previously lost contact with family and prior friends, threats of expulsion or shunning may be powerful. Cult ideology may attribute all individual suffering to misapplication, misunderstanding, or even casual doubting of the group's unfailing teaching; Lifton calls this "doctrine over person" (29).

Principles of Influence
Psychology professor Robert B. Cialdini highlights six universal influence techniques which are employed in a wide variety of everyday situations to get us to comply with others' requests (30) The techniques themselves are ethically and morally neutral; however, they can be used unethically to manipulate and exploit us to serve the ends of the influence practitioner. When thus used by someone in an attempt to "destabilize the subject's basic consciousness, reality awareness, beliefs and world view, emotional control, and defense mechanisms," (31) they are characteristic of destructive cults.

The first technique identified by Cialdini is "the principle of reciprocation." If a person gives us something we feel obligated to give something back to that person. This is true whether the thing given is tangible (money, a book, or what have you) or intangible (friendship, praise, attention). When such gifts are given altruistically, with no thought or expectation of a return, they are ethical and praiseworthy. When, however, they are given in an effort to induce the recipient to comply with the "donor's" wishes, they are unethical and manipulative. Cult leaders are frequently able to give very little to their followers, because in contrast to the abuse many of them normally dole out, a small gift or a little bit of "niceness" seems much greater than it really is.

A second technique described by Cialdini is "the principle of scarcity." When a commodity is widely unavailable we tend to want that commodity more. Again, this is true whether the commodity is a material object or animmaterial one, like a philosophy, teaching, or spiritual improvement technique. This is also true whether or not the scarce item is really scarce, or is really worthy of our desiring it all that is necessary is that we believe it is scarce, and that our lives would be enhanced by possessing it. Again, this is a typical assertion of cultic organizations and programs that they alone have the Truth, the Path to Enlightenment, the Key to the Universe, etc. In addition, cultic groups also often assert that the opportunity to avail oneself of the Truth may not last much longer.

A third influence technique in Cialdini's analysis is "the principle of authority." Most people, at least on some occasions and to some degree, tend to follow the lead of those we view as "authorities." Whether the authority is parental, political, scientific, academic, religious, or some other kind, we tend to respect the opinions and suggestions and indeed, the orders of those we accept as authorities. This is usually a relatively "safe" practice.

However, sometimes we follow "authorities" who are unworthy of our trust or allegiance, and this is especially true in the case of cultic authorities. Clever individuals often know how to convince us of their "trustworthiness," even though they're actually out to exploit us for their own benefit only. This is especially true of those character ized as "sociopathic individuals" the Adolf Hitlers and Ted Bundy's of the world.

Consistency to Commitments
A fourth technique is "the principle of consistency to commitments." If someone can get another to make a commitment to something, even a small commitment, it is then often possible to induce that person to make increasingly larger commitments if each increase is relatively small. Thus people can be led step by step by step through a whole series of small commitments to the point at which they are willing to renounce their families and former friends (as in the case of many cults), to become "hookers for Jesus" (as in the case of hundreds of female members of the Children of God), to traffic in narcotics as a "fund-raising effort" (as in the case of numerous followers of the late Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh), or to commit suicide by drinking cyanide-laced Fla-Vor-Aid (as in the case of 912 followers of Jim Jones).

A fifth technique is "the principle of consensus." If people like us choose to do or believe something, we are more inclined to do or believe that thing ourselves. Likewise, if many people choose to do or believe something we are also more inclined to do or believe that thing ourselves. In a cultic environment in which little contact is maintained with the world outside the cult, this is an especially powerful technique. But even in organizations that don't physically isolate their members, this can still be powerful all that is needed is to convince the members that non-members are ignorant, benighted, worldly, satanic, suppressive, "bad influences," etc., and the members will continually reinforce this to themselves and minimize their own involvement with outsiders. Thus all meaningful communication ends up being between the cult member and others of his/her cult.

The sixth and final influence technique that Dr. Cialdini found to be universal is "the principle of liking." We tend to be influenced more by those people we like than by those we don't. And, according to Cialdini, there are three factors that cause us to like others: similarities, positive regard, and cooperative efforts. We tend to like those people who are like us, and we will be more readily influenced by them as well. Cult recruiters will typically play to the target's interests, concerns, hopes, fears, and dreams in order to make him/her think they are alike in these things. This makes it easier to persuade the target to come to the cult center for a meal or lecture, and then the progressive increase in level of commitment begins. Along with this, the cult recruiter will also engage in "love bombing" showering the target with praise, attention, affection, etc., to disarm him and make him feel obligated to reciprocate in some way, often by accepting the invitation to a meal, lecture, or weekend retreat.

Once in the cult (or at least at an introductory retreat) the new or potential recruit is often put in a small group or team that is then engaged in some collective activity sports, work, or even intimate sharing of the members' lives. These activities serve to dissolve whatever psychological barriers there may be between members and convert them to close friends and confidants. Later, if the recent convert concludes for whatever reason that the group is not for him, he finds it difficult to part from his new friends.

- "Thought Reform: A Brief History of the Modeland Related Issues: Part I," Lawrence A. Pile, Wellspring Journal, http://www.wellspringretreat.org/journal/v9n2/reform.html

1. Theodore E. H. Chen, Thought Reform of the Chinese Intellectuals (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1960).

2. Robert J. Lifton, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism (New York: Norton, 1961 [republished by University of North Carolina Press, 1989]).

3. Edgar H. Schein, Coercive Persuasion (New York: Norton, 1961).

4. Lifton, "Home by ship: reaction patterns of American prisoners of war repatriated from North Korea,"American Journal of Psychiatry, 1954; Vol 110, pp. 732-739; Schein, "The Chinese indoctrination program for prisoners of war," Psychiatry, 1956; Vol. 19, pp. 149-172.

5. Robert S. Baron, "The process of intensive indoctrination: an overview" (conference paper).

6. Margaret Thaler Singer and Richard Ofshe, "Thought reform programs and the production of psychiatric

casualties," Psychiatric Annals, 1990; Vol. 20, No. 4, pp. 188-193.

7. Baron, op. cit. Baron cites L. E. Hinkle and H. G. Wolfe, "Communist interrogation and indoctrination of enemies of the state," Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, 1956; Vol. 76, pp.


8. Ibid., again citing Hinkle and Wolfe.

9. Singer and Ofshe, ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. Quoted in Robert McGarvey, "The brainwashing puzzle," The American Legion, April 1, 1992.

15. Lifton, "Home by ship: reaction patterns of American prisoners of war re- patriated from North Korea," American Journal of Psychiatry, 1954; Vol 110, pp. 732-739.

16. Lifton, Thought Reform , pp. 6-7.

17. Ibid., pp. 8-9.

18. Ibid., p. 10

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid., p. 11.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid.

23. Ibid, p. 13.

24. Ibid., p. 15; emphasis in the original.

25. David G. Bromley and Anson D. Shupe, "Public reaction against new religious movements," in Cults and

New Religious Movements, ed, by Marc Galanter (Washington,

DC: American Psychiatric Association, 1989) pp. 325-326.

26. WCCO Channel 4 TV, Minneapolis, Minn., January 3, 1980.

27. John Hochman, "Miracle, mystery, and authority: the triangle of cult indoctrination," Psychiatric Annals,

1990; Vol. 20, No. 4, pp. 179-187.

28. Ibid., p. 180.

29. Ibid., pp. 182-183.

30. Robert B. Cialdini, Influence: The New Psychology of Modern Persuasion (New York: Wm. Morrow, 1984).

31. Singer and Ofshe, op.cit.