Steven Hassan’s history of violence spans more than 40 years both directly and through his support of deprogrammers who kidnap and abduct individuals from their religions.
By demonizing beliefs through false accusations, Hassan creates a climate of fear and divisiveness within families which he has used to profit, charging exorbitant sums to kidnap and physically abuse his targets.
One deprogramming victim, “AR,” signed affidavits detailing the mental and physical abuse he suffered when Hassan subjected him to a deprogramming attempt. AR was forcibly kidnapped by several men, imprisoned, hands and feet bound, with his hands tied behind his back so tightly they “were badly swollen and … the color of a bruise.” Deprived of sleep for three days, he was not allowed to shave or wash and was denied all privacy, even when using the toilet. Until his escape seven days later, Hassan subjected him to methods which the victim later described as brainwashing and mind control techniques. Hassan even threatened him with drugs if he did not recant his religious beliefs.
Another Hassan victim, “CK,” signed an affidavit describing being held against her will, confined to a room without doorknobs and guarded around the clock.
Hassan participated in the attempted deprogramming of another victim, “LS.” Three men forced their way into a motel room where LS was visiting her sister, physically threw her from the bed and threatened to break her leg if she called for help or attempted to escape. She was forced into a car and driven to an isolated house in New Hampshire where for eight days her abductors forced her to read and listen to materials critical and abusive of her religious beliefs and relentlessly harassed and ridiculed her. After nine days of imprisonment, when the attempts of the first team of deprogrammers had failed, Hassan was brought in to take over the attempt at faith-breaking. After three days of further harassment from Hassan, LS negotiated her release.
Hassan falsely presents himself as an “expert” on religions, basing his theories on the work of psychologist Margaret Singer whose theories were resoundingly rejected as unscientific by the American Psychological Association and by numerous U.S. courts. In March 1996, in Kendall v. Kendall, the United States District Court for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts rejected Hassan as an expert witness. Hassan’s testimony in this case shows that he was charging $200 per hour for preparation and $1,500 per day for his “expert testimony” on new religions, yet he had never testified in court before and his only qualification was a night-school degree in an unrelated field.
Professor Lorne L. Dawson, Full Professor in the Department of Sociology and Legal Studies and the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, and author of numerous books and papers, criticizes as unscientific Hassan and other proponents of Margaret Singer’s theories of religious brainwashing:
In the social scientific context, it seemed for a time that the only situation in which brainwashing could safely be said to have occurred was that of prisoners of war and other political captives, all of whom were physically compelled to participate in programs of indoctrination. Even in these instances, however, there is considerable doubt in the social scientific community that the experience warrants being called ‘brainwashing.’
As early as 1956, psychiatrists Lawrence Hinkle and Harold Wolff of Cornell University undertook a definitive study of brainwashing, with the support of the government and full access to the secret files of the CIA as well as some former Communist interrogators and their prisoners. Their report, overlooked for many years, refutes the effectiveness of all efforts to “brainwash” anyone—especially through inducing altered states of consciousness, the modus operandi that anti-cultists say new religions favor (e.g., Hassan, 1988; Singer, 1995). Where thought reform techniques do seem to have produced results, Hinkle and Wolff argue, one is merely witnessing behavioral compliance brought on by threats and the experience of physical abuse (see Anthony and Robbins, 1994: 460-461).
Dick Anthony, a forensic psychologist and foremost expert on “brainwashing,” censured Hassan for promulgating fake science:
Proponents of the cultic brainwashing theory such as Steven Hassan have appeared on media talk shows asserting that [a kidnapping victim] was brainwashed in a manner similar to that used to bring about the involuntary conversion of Patty Hearst to the Symbionese Liberation Front [SLA]…The cultic brainwashing theory has generally been rejected by mainstream academia as a pseudoscientific myth that has been definitively repudiated on the basis of authoritative research on Communist coercive persuasion and also by generally accepted research demonstrating that people convert to offbeat religions through a voluntary process.
Hassan has allied himself with various organizations that engage in violent anti-religious actions. He was an advisor to the old Cult Awareness Network (CAN) which declared bankruptcy after being handed a multimillion-dollar judgment in 1995 for its part in the violent deprogramming of a Pentecostal Church member.
In his book published in 2000, Hassan attempts to downplay the crimes committed by CAN and its members. The trial judge, however, cited CAN’s “seeming incapability of appreciating the maliciousness of their conduct.”
Hassan continues to be an advocate for individuals such as serial deprogrammer Ted Patrick, despite Patrick’s convictions for violent criminal deprogramming. Hassan states that the “involuntary deprogramming” originated by Patrick was “the only effective method” of bringing people out of “cults.” He even goes so far as to describe Patrick’s brutality as “help.”