In 1976, Steven Hassan entered the field of violent deprogramming, a practice described as “protracted spiritual gang-rape” and “the most serious violation of... religious liberty in this generation.”
Hassan’s victims, members of minority religions he arbitrarily deems “cults,” have gone on to speak out against the cruel and brutal tactics he employed in an effort to suppress their religious freedom and force them to recant their beliefs.
Steve Hassan performed the function of “advisor” to the Cult Awareness Network (CAN), a group devoted to the violent deprogramming of its victims.
Using Hassan’s abusive methods, CAN targeted Pentecostal Christian and 23-year-old Jason Scott, whom they forcibly held against his will and abducted, handcuffed and brutalized for days. In 1994, Scott sued CAN for negligence and conspiracy to violate his civil rights and religious liberties. CAN was found guilty, with Scott awarded $4.875 million in damages.
“What this whole thing has done to my family is just unspeakable,” Scott said. “I felt absolutely attacked in every direction.”
The jury found the conduct of the deprogrammers “so outrageous in character and so extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency… atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.” U.S. District Judge John Coughenour described “the maliciousness of [CAN’s] conduct towards Mr. Scott,” and stated, “Thus, the large award given by the jury... seems reasonably necessary to enforce the jury’s determination on the oppressiveness of the defendants’ actions and deter similar conduct in the future.”
CAN subsequently filed for bankruptcy.
Hassan today uses any available platform to dehumanize members of minority religions. As the basis for his commentary, Hassan uses the myth of religious brainwashing—a theory advocated by disgraced psychologist Margaret Singer and rejected by the academic and scientific community for over 30 years.
As noted by Dr. Dick Anthony in the publication Social Justice Research, the theory is “not based on systematic research” but instead serves as “an ideological attack on new religions.”
In the 1980s, Hassan applied and was accepted into the masters program of Cambridge College in Boston, Massachusetts by representing he had obtained an undergraduate degree he never earned from either of the two colleges where he attended classes. Without a bachelor’s degree, Cambridge College Admissions Office states one cannot enroll into its masters program.
In another application, Hassan rebranded his years of violent deprogramming as “clinical experience... helping people.”
In spite of criminal convictions and multi-million dollar judgments against violent deprogrammers, Hassan continues to champion “involuntary deprogramming” as “the only effective method” of coercing individuals to believe as one sees fit. In 2019, Hassan went so far as to assert that the entire American population should be deprogrammed, a statement for which he was widely ridiculed.