ICYMI — Psychoeducation with Dr. Steven Hassan: ‘It’s Your Mind, You Should Be In Control’
A Q&A over breakfast at Johnny's Luncheonette with the famed cult expert
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When I met with Dr. Steven Hassan last Friday at Johnny’s Luncheonette near Boston, it was merely to thank him for his service. Not only have I winningly deployed his teachings on radicalized people in my own life — the curious questions, the ‘love is stronger than mind control’ tenet — but he has done so much good to help and heal our fellow citizens in this time of terrible psychological warfare.
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When I think of American Heroes, he tops my list for his passionate dedication to psychoeducation. Dr. Hassan is an expert on the tactics of cult indoctrination and how to be freed from undue influence. His FreedomOfMind.com resource center, which features his books The Cult of Trump, Combating Cult Mind Control, and Freedom of Mind, explains the BITE model and Influence Continuum that he developed to help people regain their true self.
Most of my readers know Dr. Hassan’s background, how he was love-bombed into the Moonies as a vulnerable young man and how an accident due to sleep deprivation removed him from his cult long enough for his family to initiate an intervention. He has spent the last 47 years helping people out of cults.
As soon as we started chatting over breakfast, I knew I would be remiss if I didn’t record our conversation.
We opened with a chat about what he’s reading — Rachel Maddow’s Prequel — and he said he learned that the Nazis were doing the equivalent of $16 million dollars a week of propagandizing in America during the run up to World War II.
Dr. Steven Hassan: They had many Congressmen and Senators, they had Father Coughlin, who had one-third of the United States listening to his antisemitic screeds, they had the equivalent of Elon Musk in Henry Ford, who was publishing his antisemitic screeds… the reason I’m bringing Maddow up is addressing what you said. There are a lot of ground forces and people with care and values and she is calling out the heroes who saw something wrong — like Charles Gallagher, who wrote the Nazis of Copley Square, he saw a picture of military rifles with the Christian Front and he said, ‘This is dangerous. This is not for civilian use or deer hunting.’ So he dug dug dug, and he tracked down a Nazi spy who was living here.
She called out and said if it were not for the citizens who stood up and were whistleblowers then, we would be Nazis, because they did not want us to enter World War II. She calls it Prequel, because if you want to understand today, this was the playbook that they’re replicating pretty closely.
HSC: Yes, and it is vitally important that the people understand that it was citizens who exposed the Nazi network, and that people can defend democracy wherever they are. Thank you for sharing that story. Let’s chat about your dissertation — The BITE Model of Authoritarian Control: UNDUE INFLUENCE, THOUGHT REFORM, BRAINWASHING, MIND CONTROL, TRAFFICKING AND THE LAW, thank you for sending it to me. As you know, my partners and I on RADICALIZED Truth Survives podcast have been alerting our viewers that we are experiencing the biggest radicalization pysops our country has ever seen and there are no rear areas in information warfare. You clearly experienced that first-hand.
Dr. Hassan: Yes, so you know I got recruited into the Moonies in the ‘70s — weirdly recruited the same month Patty Hearst was abducted by the left-wing Symbiomese Liberation Army.
After I got out and whistle-blew about the Moonies, and then nothing happened after Jonestown happened, I was invited to go to Washington to teach about cults, and then I was dropped from the line-up. And then they invited the head of the Moonies to speak, and I was like, ‘There’s something really wrong here.’
So I read the 11 volumes of the Congressional investigation, and they interviewed the founder of the Korean CIA, who said under oath that he organized and utilized the Unification Church as a political tool. So what I came to understand is there were two coups in South Korea — it was unstable, the CIA or somebody in the CIA said, ‘let’s help stabilize them, let’s help them set up a Korean CIA, then we can infiltrate everything, we’ll use a proxy group to brainwash South Korean dissidents to stabilize the regime, because we know North Korea is brainwashing people.’ So the Moonies were that front group.
And it was when Americans were saying ‘we need to get out of Vietnam, this is a no-win war, they said, ‘let’s bring the Moonies to the United States and set them up on college campuses and say we need to stay in Vietnam and fight the communists’ and that’s where I got recruited.
So it was in this psycho-historical moment that Moon came to the United States — he was very dissatisfied with the American movement. They weren't militaristic enough. So he brought over a top Japanese leader. And I was one of his disciples, his 12 disciples.
So the headquarters had been in DC, and it was moved to New York, I was moved to the national headquarters building, and I was personally groomed to be the leader. I was in these meetings. I had translators, of course, because most of it was in Korean or Japanese. But I got to hear the plan of infiltrating the government, how democracy was ‘satanic’. They planned to assign three people for every Congressperson. And Moon was giving talks and they were recording it and transcribing it without editing it and publishing it. So I had the actual documents. And when I got deprogrammed, I gave them to this House subcommittee investigation. And at the time, I was truly afraid of being assassinated. So I just recorded everything I could think of, and I said, don't make me public — I'll be in the background.
Later, Robert Boettcher, the head of the staff of the investigation wrote a book called Gifts of Deceit several years later. And at that point, I hadn't been killed so he used my name with my permission.
HSC: What I see that is so important about your story and your experience is that I see the patterns being repeated over and over again, with different names, different leaders, but it's all the same and that is — the aim — to push people toward extremism. Ukraine just busted a cult run by the GRU and kicked its leader out, as just one example. They don’t have time to f**k around. What do you think the disconnect is with our government not taking it as seriously as they should to warn people about cult dangers and patterns?
Dr. Hassan: They’re infiltrated. Not just by Russia. But the largest group in the FBI, the CIA, and Homeland Security are Mormons. And I counsel people out of the Mormons — they’re a cult. They’re an authoritarian cult.
HSC: They also have a long buried problem of child sexual abuse.
Dr. Hassan: Among many other problems. I interviewed Denver Riggleman, who wrote The Breach — he’s an ex-Mormon — he loves me.
HSC: I’m sure. I assume you’re aware of the film Sound of Freedom, and how Jim Stewartson exposed the nefarious people behind it and their direct links to child trafficking and now the Mormon church has denounced the film’s creator, Tim Ballard.
Dr. Hassan: I haven’t seen it, but I know about it. So the bottom line is, I've been doing this for 47 years — a mental health professional with 47 years of field experience, counseling people who come out of groups that are extreme. And about seven, eight years ago, I realized as an activist, nothing was getting better, it was getting worse and I realized the law is out of date — the law itself. So I was introduced to someone who was a founder of the leading forensic think tank in the world and was invited to speak.
The group was psychiatrists, psychologists, lawyers wanting to change the law, people who are expert witnesses. So I presented and one of the professors said, ‘You need to go get a doctorate and you need to do a scientific study on your model. Because the law doesn't accept qualitative studies, you need a quantitative study that can be tested.’ And I said, ‘I'm too old, I'm 63.’ And he said, ‘I'm 77, do you want to change the law or don't you?’ So I did it.
I sent you the dissertation. I decided to take the major brainwashing models from China… connect it to trafficking law, which is fraud force, or coercion. I developed the BITE model — but if you think of the Influence Continuum, ethical influence to unethical influence, informed consent or lying, withholding information, distorting information, honoring people’s authentic self, creating a pseudo-self with disassociated identity.
So it's a way to visualize healthy cults, unhealthy cults. I'm worried about authoritarian cults. And my model looks at behavior control, information control, thought control and emotional control. This is the laundry list.
Not every group needs to do all of them. But what helps people who are in cults is they start going through the long list. And they start checking everything off. They're like, ‘Oh my god!’
So that's what I did the quantitative study on and trafficking fraud, force. Force, and coercion. But what is coercion? Well, the labor trafficking experts use my model because it explains coercion. You control behavior, information, thoughts and emotions, you control people, not only minds, but their bodies.
So I did that. Then I added a law professors’ social influence model, we created a model for expert witnesses. It says you look at the influencee, and their unique vulnerabilities or receptivities — could be dispositional. They could be on the spectrum. They could be sex trafficking survivor or whatever. Or it could be situational vulnerability — a loved one was killed in a car crash, break up of a relationship or something.
Then you look at the influencer — a predator and their predatory organization. Do they have higher status? Is it a therapist or priest or President of the United States? And you look at the factors of influence, and then you can analyze undue influence.
So with my BITE model — an acronym for behavior, influence, thought, emotion — being high-factor analysis for authoritarian control, any judge or jury could look at any specific case, and say, ‘This is a crime.’
Right now, the law says if you're over 18, it's a slippery slope. One person's cult is another person's religion. And who can say? I'm like, ‘Well, I've studied Chinese communist brainwashing — this is not a religious group.’ Let's use that as a baseline. So this dissertation is, in my opinion, the game changer, but how to change the law when corrupt judges are put in place. Not going to happen here anytime soon unless we win a supermajority next year, and then we expand the Supreme Court and make this illegal to brainwash another human being.
HSC: What you just delineated are the fixes. People get into such despair when they think nothing can be done. But no — we get the House back. We deal with the Supreme Court because there are things that we can do to get the structural reforms that we need to continue as a democracy and protect citizens from undue influence, which is not covered under the First Amendment. My fear is that too many people are mentality obeying and advance like, ‘Oh, there's nothing we can do.’ That’s simply not true.
Dr. Hassan: There are absolutely things that we can do. And we must do. I know how to do it. I just don't have the resources.
First, we have to declare a public health emergency, we need to do inoculation. We need to do our training, and for interventions, get my courses to mental health professionals.
We need to destigmatize the fact that people who are under mind control are not stupid. A lot of bright people who are coming out of MAGA — we need to educate them and train them to be able to see when they’re being subjected to undue influence.
HSC: I know when people come out of these cults they often feel shame so they're not like proselytizing. There's a period of time when they're not proud of the particular ties and that makes them vulnerable for the next cult.
Dr. Hassan: People coming out of authoritarian countries like Russia where a million Russians emigres in Israel are listening to Putin propaganda and following Netanyahu, is there any surprise that they want to destroy democracy in Israel? Duh.
HSC: I have been researching the background of Linda Yaccarino, who is reputation washing Musk and Twitter, and she represents a clear and present danger to our country in my opinion because she gives cover to the most venal propagandists and antisemites, while delivering soft fascism.
Dr. Hassan: I can’t be on there very long. The whole Israel subject has been very traumatizing. So I'm just trying to stay afloat and do what I can and say what I need to say.
If You Can Name It, Claim It
HSC: What would you tell people who are being constantly traumatized by newsporn and traumaporn on Twitter, designed to polarize people into taking sides, and designed to destroy our humanity and empathy. What tools do you have or suggestions on how to armor up and see beyond the propaganda to its intent?
Dr. Hassan: I will quote a former FBI agent, who trained people to go undercover. He said, ‘If you explain the psychology, you can name it, then you can claim it.’ So when you see the technique and you can name it — and you do that in a comment — it neutralizes a lot of its power.
Human beings are embodied minds, and mind control is a dissociative disorder, which means you're not in your body. So teaching people to be in their body is another piece of this. I say, ‘It's your mind, you should be in control — the internal locus of control should be in your power. Not looking outside with some authority to tell you what reality is.’
HSC: How do you counsel people who find community in these cults — even hate cults — like the woman who listened to InfoWars and stalked a Sandy Hook father who lost his child to a violent massacre — she’d believed he was a ‘crisis actor’ and she went to prison, and Alex Jones is still lying to Americans each day and going on Russian television doing anti-US propaganda.
Dr. Hassan: I can talk for weeks on this. When you’re in a mind control cult, there’s an illusion of community. I was brought to Moscow when the Soviet Union fell to teach psychiatrists and psychologists what cults were — because all the American cults were coming into Russia fast and furious.
But in any case, real love, like love you have for your children is based on beingness — it's based on relationship. When you're in a mind control cult this illusion of community is just that, an illusion — they know that if you step out a line, they're going to turn on you, and you'll be evil. It's not real love. It's conditional love, based on conformity and obedience.
HSC: Wow, wow, wow.
Thinking Was Evil
Dr. Hassan: I’ve been studying people exiting extremism for nearly five decades, and to be honest, I was as programmed as anyone I've ever met in 47 years. I would have flown a plane into the World Trade Center, because I was trained not to think, thinking was evil. ‘Follow God. Follow my leader, whatever he says is God's will. We have to take over the earth.’
So when Moon literally was 10 feet from me, and he said, ‘When we take power in America, we will amend the Constitution and make it a capital offense for people to have sex outside of the Unification Church Weddings.
I said, ‘Yes, father.’
The New Arms Race
HSC: Right. And now we have what you once called the new arms race — data, our private information public, through data mining. And what has that done to accelerate mind control?
Dr. Hassan: (He points to his phone). This. This is the biggest problem when I’m coaching families now. I was just coaching a family who went to Europe to rescue their daughter. I can't discuss the details but I coached them, and they were successful and the daughter is back in America, and now we have to do an intervention.
But it requires a lot of effort and timing and coordination and teamwork. But coming back to the solution — the solution is psychoeducation.
So October 6 on Christiane Amanpour on CNN, Hillary Clinton said we need a formal deprogramming program for MAGA cult extremists. So I'm listening to this, ‘Oh, I’ll get a phone call.’ It's November. I was deprogrammed, I deprogram people, then I became a mentor. How do I reach out to Hillary Clinton.
HSC: Hillary, if you’re listening… How many more people do we have to lose before this is acknowledged as the public health crisis it is?
Dr. Hassan: The Moonies not only have been at the heart of rightwing propaganda in America, I recently learned from reading The Parrot and the Igloo, the Moonies have also been at the forefront of climate science denial for 50 frickin years. They were taking the disinformation scientists, who were saying there's no proof, and doing science conferences and propagandizing.
HSC: And Robert Mercer funds it — he funded the anti-Fauci fraud Scott Atlas — and America’s Frontline Doctors were financed through CNP dark money Koch ops. Unremarkably, they profit off anti-science rubery. We are dealing with large swaths of people radicalized away from caring about truth.
Dr. Hassan: You should listen to my interview with Christopher Leonard, his book Kochland came out two weeks ago. It's an extreme libertarian corporate cult — the second largest private corporation in the United States.
Their father helped with the John Birch Society, and they're running on automatic pilot. People raised in cults, they program other people, and they program other people, and they think they're right. And they're missing the big picture.
And my perspective is — myself and ex-members are the antibodies to the virus — the brain control virus that's afflicting the entire planet. And I say, we need to think about planetary survival and work backwards. What do we need to do to keep the planet livable and work backwards… And fossil fuel countries — Putin’s and the Middle East, etc — they deliberately have set up institutions and front people to confuse, distract, disorient and buy off politicians to keep making money.
But for what purpose? They're on automatic pilot. If they were put in a room, and they were aware that toxic fumes were coming in the room and they couldn't get out of the room, they might get it. We're in a biosphere and there’s no escape to this. You can imagine going to Mars, but it ain't gonna happen.
HSC: I’m so glad you linked all this back to environmental rights and environmental justice. So much of what we endure is obfuscation of science and reality to profit fossil fuel interests.
Dr. Hassan: I used to say, that's number one, and undue influence is number two until I understood this is a disinformation campaign using my former cult — undue influence is the most important topic on the planet.
HSC: Billions are spent each year to confuse people about reality and the fact is, we can’t create jobs on a dead planet. The dominionist strain that thinks it has dominion over earth… the link between the Kremlin and GOP network…
Dr. Hassan: Putin is someone with attachment disorder, raised in a cult — programmed by the KGB — he’s on automatic pilot, too.
But deprogramming is psychoeducation. It has to be delivered in a strategic way, customized for the person so they don't feel like they’re being pushed. The single most powerful technique to help someone get out is a respectful, curious question.
And follow up in the series, not trying to take facts and push them on somebody — that activates the cult dynamic, and makes them feel persecuted. The thing is, it's formulaic. That's how I've written books on it, because I see these patterns over and over in all types of groups. But if you step back and look at the patterns, it’s like, Ah hah!
But there are basic misconceptions, humans are not rational. We're social, and we're emotional. That's what social psychology has demonstrated over and over. We can have dopamine addiction. That's what the social media is playing on — BJ Fogg and Stanford Persuasive Lab.
The other thing I wanted to put on the record is hypnosis, because I've written in The Cult of Trump that when I was watching Trump debating in 2015, he was using NLP — neurolinguistic programming — something that I learned in 1980 and ‘81.
And aside from a couple of people, nobody understands what that is or how dangerous it is. And Tony Robbins is the single most high-profile promulgator of NLP only he doesn't call it NLP, but he would go into corporations and do trainings — I think he trained Trump… but people need to understand how the mind works, how to protect your mind, and how to identify predatory people.
And when when there are explicit conditions of stress and fear as has been done in the pandemic to supercharge it, people have to make extra effort to think otherwise they're just reacting emotionally.
I know what I know — and it's a struggle for me to be interfacing with what I see on the internet. But those who make a conscious decision to just talk about technology and not about predators are missing the boat
HSC: What always helps me is zooming out and asking who benefits? When I see a horror event or flashpoint, the farther I zoom out, the easier it is for me to spot the orchestrators of the misery and who and how they profit. That helps me from falling into despair, and I would like you to help people stay out of the mental trap of despair and stay in action.
Dr. Hassan: Name it and claim it. If you don't understand how to tell the difference between an authoritarian cult and a healthy group, if you don’t know specific behaviors to watch out or what questions to ask, then you have no orientation.
If you say to somebody, do you believe in the golden rule? Don't do to others what you don't want them to do to you? Let's get back to basics. Let’s go back to ethics. Do we want to play and have friends and live life? Or do we want to be bullied and watch other people bully people and live in fear? So do we want women's rights, gay rights, indigenous rights, children's rights, human rights, or do we want authoritarianism and fascism where we're living in fear, and we can’t say what we're thinking. We have no access to free press.
So if you want people to not despair, turn off the phone. Use it in 10 minute increments, deliberately, understand that they're not your friends. Use it, don't let it use you. TikTok is particularly evil — it’s really bad.
We have to criminalize this behavior — we have to criminalize brainwashing and mind control — just as we’ve criminalized trafficking, labor and sex trafficking. We need to have a more robust way to evaluate any relationship or organization and be able to specify, here's the individual, here's the predator, and what's the consequences.
The consequences are people are sleeping less. People are living with phobias, because phobias are a universal mind control technique. I was taken to see The Exorcist movie in the Moonies and then Moon gave a lecture on how God made this movie. ‘This movie's a prophecy’ and what would happen to us if we left the church. And I'm Jewish — I didn't believe in Satan a few months earlier, but now I'm afraid of what I saw in that frickin movie. And that movie was the first one I believe that had subliminals. And there's no regulation on subliminals. We need to regulate. Do we want to protect the public and human rights? Or do we want to let the predators make more money?
HSC: Two more things — how do we get rid of infiltrators in our government, military, and law enforcement?
Dr. Hassan: The Washington Post had op-ed by three retired military generals, maybe three years ago. They said, ‘We should be banning Fox on every military base.’ And we need to root out extremists.
HSC: They did that in Germany. They have an anti-fascist arm of law enforcement that does just that.
Dr. Hassan: So the question that I have for people is, ‘Listen, if you belong to the Mormon church and you believe there's a living prophet who speaks for God that controls your salvation, and you are an FBI agent, swearing an oath to the Constitution, will you follow what the prophet tells you to do? Or will you follow the Constitution? Because if you're swearing an oath to the Constitution, you have to honor that.’
So I’m for religious freedom, but this is why my model is so threatening to everybody who has power, because I say if we're going to give tax exemption status to a religious group, and we can prove they use deception recruitment systematically, why are we subsidizing them with our tax dollars? Why aren’t we taxing them and all their property and everything else? But they say, ‘Religious freedom!’
HSC: We continually allow our freedoms to be used to destroy us from within and without — often by countries that have no freedom. Our First Amendment wasn’t a free pass to radicalize millions and our Second Amendment wasn’t a free pass for mass murder.
Dr. Hassan: There’s no such thing as absolute ‘free speech’ — the law says if there's no fire, you can't yell fire in a crowded theater. Why? Because it will hurt people. People will get injured or die. Telling people that the election was stolen and having a riot, how is that different? It's the exact same principle except we’re afraid to call Trump out.
HSC: Last question, if George Orwell were alive today what do you think he would say about the situation we find ourselves in?
Dr. Hassan: His real name is Eric Blair. Jim Jones used 1984 as a roadmap when he was in Guyana. Blair was anti-communist, he was anti-fascist. So what would he say today? ‘I told you so. I just got the year wrong.’
Dr. Steven Hassan, live from Johnny’s Luncheonette, irl.
For Bette Dangerous, I’m Heidi Siegmund Cuda, signing off and giving you much to think about.
As always, please stay kind, please stay focused, and please stay loud.
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