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Home arrow Psychotherapy Cults arrow Scientology (Dianetics) arrow Coercive Persuasion - A New Coercive Psyco Technology

Coercive Persuasion - A New Coercive Psyco Technology

Copyright 1991 Lawrence Wollersheim

Is there a disinformation campaign to misrepresent the current scientific literature, discredit existing experts, and seal disclosures about a psycho-technology that can undermine all our freedoms? Within both the American Psychological Association and the American Sociological Association campaigns have been launched, in effect asking that this psycho-technology be declared nonexistent.

Those few voices that have warned of the technological danger have had to pay a heavy price. Adjunct Professor of Psychology Margaret Thaler Singer at UC Berkeley, Professors of Psychiatry Louis J. West at UCLA, John G. Clark of Harvard, Martin J. Orne at University of Pennsylvania, Professor of Law Richard DelGado of the UW Madison, and Professors of Sociology, Richard Ofshe at UC Berkeley, and Ronald Enroth of Westmont College have all been the targets of both professional and personal attacks. Besides distortions of truth and outright lies, charges that they are CIA operatives, associated with Nazi's, anti religious or the like, have been common.

Margaret Thaler Singer has been a favorite target. A dead rat with a stake though its heart was left on her doorstep. Her home has been vandalized, rats released in it, and some of her research stolen. En route to an educational conference on this psycho-technology, she was detained by British immigration police based on an anonymous tip that she was a member of the IRA.

The specialists in coercive influence systems are not the only ones feeling the consequences of calling attention to this threat. Attempts were made to menace a Catholic priest Father Kent Burtner. Episcopal Vicar Mike Rokos had stories broadcast that he was a convicted sex criminal.

Leading trial lawyers like Los Angeles's Charles O'Reilly have had to try cases related to this technology like they were living under siege in war zone. Outspoken former victims have fared no better. Many have had death threats, some have been assaulted.

Those who continue to speak out become targets of sophisticated intelligence programs to silence them. Expensive lawsuits are filed. Spurious complaints are filed against the victim's lawyers with state Bar associations.

Manufactured complaints are frequently registered with medical licensing boards or other regulatory agencies against the professionals who dare testify for the victims. These harassment programs are not created to win but to tie up the time and resources of this new generation of Patrick Henrys.

When lawsuits do enter the court system, they are usually settled out of court before any unfavorable verdict is reached. Then, as part of the settlement agreement to forestall public attention the case is sealed.

This psycho-technology is called coercive persuasion. l It is the methodica clandestine, gradual and continuous application of psychological and sociological stress and influence. It coerces its subjects into "learning" and "adopting" a designated set of beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors.

The 1950's technologies of brainwashing and thought reform also coerces belief or behavior by systematically manipulating psychological stress. But, there are important differences. These often misemployed terms do not accurately reflect the current capabilities of C.P. They are to often associated with the required use of imprisonment, physical abuse, a gun at the head, or the "manchurian candidate" misconceptions.

Coercive persuasion undermines the individuals defenses, perception, values, attitudes, conduct, and ability to reason without physical force. The "persuasion" is accomplished by covertly overcoming the individual's will without convincing his better judgment. Its victims gradually lose their ability to make independent decisions or exercise informed consent.


There are seven main techniques categories that are layered, interwoven, and overlapped into a coercive persuasion program. The presence of every technique is not always required for the program to be effective.

1. Increase mental confusion and increase the individual's suggestibility to "soften them up". This is done through hypnotic or other suggestibility increasing techniques such as: sleep reduction; drastic nutritional restriction of calories or protein; and excessive repetition of simple activities.

Repetitive audio, visual, tactile, or verbal fixation exercises or stimuli also may be employed. Prolonged starring at an object or partner would be a visual fixation example.

Within this technique mental confusion is employed to break or intrude upon the subject's normal concentration. Concentration is distracted or decreased to inhibit the subject's ability to think through or verify the claims or story they are being given. One way this can be done is by using a constant verbal or sensory barrage of pro system information.

2. Apply strong non-physical punishments. Techniques such as humiliation,loss of privilege, social isolation, abrupt social status changes, anxiety and guilt manipulation, and other techniques for creating intense negative emotional reactions are used.

Rewards paradoxicly play an integral role in this technique. Growing evidence of the behavioral sciences proves a smiling, loving Big Brother has greater power to influence thought and behavior than a visibly threatening one.

In this technique manipulatory leverage is usually maximized by alternating harshness with leniency or lavish rewards. Love, admiration, approval and other supportive rewards are used as weapons. They are deployed in calculated deluges or droughts depending upon whether the subject is on the program's agenda or not.

3. Promote social isolation. Contact with family, friends, or associates who do not share the group approved attitudes or ideology is abridged. Economic and other dependence on the new group is fostered.

By manipulation of rewards, group pressure, and non-physical punishments the program operators establish considerable control over a person's time, social environment, and sources of social support. The subjects are manipulated in such a way to put psychological distance between observable behavior that reflects the values, routines, and life organization that the individual displayed before contact with the group. This is sometimes done by symbolic and actual acts of betrayal, renunciation of self, or attacking past associations, or previously held values.

A person continually exposed to a C.P. program in lectures, events or experiences will gradually himself off from his past. They may begin to stop calling or writing family and old friends. Work, school, or other important previous activities may be dropped or relegated to such a low priority that eventually it is not possible for them to keep up. The group applying C.P. now occupies all their time.

4. Attack one's self concepts and world view. This is the most effective facilitator for coercing change of all C.P. techniques.

Using coerced confessions, detailed personal histories, or other discovery methods, frequent and intense attempts are made to cause the subject to reevaluate in unfavorable ways the most central aspects of his experience of "self," and his prior conduct. These efforts are deliberately designed to destabilize, degrade, or diminish the subject's self concept, world view, emotional control, awareness and interpretation of reality, and defense mechanisms. Such psychological assaults force the individual into reinterpreting their life history and adopting a new version of causality.

Regardless of previous fact, the individual is gradually convinced that his past, his beliefs, or his family, were bad; or at least considerably worse than they were. He is then manipulated into believing, to "survive," he must now commit himself to the group using C.P. and the superior knowledge, talent or mission they espouse.

5. Make intense and frequent attempts to undermine a person's confidence in himself and his judgment to create a sense of powerlessness. Criticism or complaints are handled by showing the subject that he or she is somehow flawed, not the group or the ideology being advanced. The subject is taught the system is always right and they are always wrong. Contrary to what might be professed, they soon learn through experience the system is the only true authority for decisions.

6. Manipulate information and language. Conflicting, upsetting, or non-supporting information is censored or prohibited whenever possible in group communication and indoctrination. Direct deception or the clever mixing of truth and lies in confidence game strategies also may be employed to manipulate information or inhibit discovery of falsehood in stated claims.

Rules exist about permissible topics to discuss with outsiders. Communication is highly controlled. An "in group" language is usually constructed.

To reinforce the belief system, commonly used words often are redefined and new words created. Language is loaded, often dividing the world into "good, aware, wonderful us" and "evil, unaware, ignorant them."

Information is controlled is such a way to offer "no choice choices." All alternatives given to the subject to choose from are void of any valid options that run counter to the goals of the operators of the C.P. program.

This technique also helps to prevent independent thinking, discovery of deception, or rebellion by maintaining a closed system of logic and an uninformed state in the victim. One main theme in Orwell's 1984 was, without the capacity to express or use certain words, people loose access to the thoughts and actions that those words represent. Since words represent thoughts and thoughts motivate actions, if words can be controlled thought and eventually action can be controlled.

7. Use or have present psychological threat of a secular nature. Those failing to adopt the approved attitude, belief, or consequent behavior are directly threatened, or are led to sincerely believe that severe punishment or dire consequences will befall them. Physical or mental illness, drug dependence, economic collapse, social failure, divorce, failure to find a mate are a few examples of these secular threats.

These seven techniques of C.P. combine the most effective, age old psychological and sociological coercive influence and deception techniques with the most powerful advances in behavorial modification, and other technologies. This synthesis is sometimes wrapped in a slick Madison avenue, public relations, or soft sell veneer.

As an English magistrate commented after hearing expert testimony on C.P., "Aren't you in essence really just describing the best con game yet to be designed?"


The progress of this psycho-technology is sufficiently effective to assure the "conversion" and retention of many of those exposed. But, not all individuals exposed to a C.P. program are effectively coerced. Coercive persuasion is not magic nor is it infallible.

Its variables are individual life experiences, and genetic, psychological, and physiological makeup. These variables react with the degree of severity of the application and duration over which the techniques are applied. Together these variables decide the C.P. program's ultimate effectiveness and the degree of injury caused to its victims.


C.P.'s seven techniques are selected and applied as a composer orchestrates a score to create maximum emotional effect. The orchestration of these seven "notes" brings to bear maximum stress, usually without inducing psychosis.

C.P.'s subtle style compels the subject to "adapt" in a series of tiny steps. Each step is designed to be sufficiently small and minor so that the subject does not notice the change in themselves. Hungary's Catholic Cardinal Mindzenty a man of tremendous personal forcefulness, strength of convictions, and belief in God described this phenomena, that also sometimes occurred in the older technologies. "Without being aware of it, I had become another person."

No matter which way the victim turns, one or more of the seven techniques are "played" to subtly induce submission. The individual encountering the severe stresses these programs cumulatively generate becomes trapped. They can reduce the pressures only by "accepting" the system or "adopting," the beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors being propagated by the operators.

C.P. is usually applied in a group setting. Victims of C.P. are unaware that it is their organizational "friends and allies" who are being used to slyly apply the techniques. Unlike the obvious adversarial applications of the older technologies, this method keeps the victims from putting up the normal ego defense mechanisms maintained in known adversarial situations like enemy capture, kidnaping, and hostile confrontations. When C.P. is used the subject may never become aware of the group's hidden agenda or that he has become a victim.

The forces of the stress, reward, and punishment techniques brought to bear on the person are extensive. They do not although, lead to a stable, self sustaining, reorganization of beliefs or values. First they lead to a coerced compliance, then, to a situationally required rationalization for the new coerced conduct. To maintain beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors, sustain the rationalization, and continue to unduly influence the person's behavior, C.P.'s techniques must be continuously "played."

When questioned about their abrupt or radical changes by those who know them well, victims of C.P. may aggressively insist their changes were "for their own good" and were "freely chosen by themselves." These two "beliefs" are standardly infused into the subject in a normal C.P. program. This twist helps minimize legal liability by keeping the victim believing he is doing it to himself and "voluntarily" changing.

Compared to the older technologies C.P. is easier, more powerful, less predictable, and applied faster. Because the newer large group applications of C.P. are less individually monitored, passing beyond the point of maximum stress into psychosis is a much more common occurrence.

In United States v. Lee, 455 U.S.(1982), the California Supreme court found that: "when a person is subjected to C.P. without his knowledge or consent ...[he may] develop serious and sometimes irreversible physical and psychiatric disorders, up to and including schizophrenia, self-mutilation, and suicide."

C.P. coercive force is maximized through its cummulative application and synergy. Over time it can produce more coercive power than physical abuse, imprisonment, or physical or legal threats.


The U.S. pilots recently captured by Iraq were most likely not victims of C.P.. To obtain these pilot's propaganda statements either torture and forceful interrogation, or the older technologies were used.

With the evolving refinements of C.P. one can change or create an attitude without the person's knowledge or volition. The subject will "cooperate" and do things "sincerely" and "willingly" that they may previously have opposed or have even detested. The older technologies did not change attitude so that the subjects followed orders "sincerely" and "willingly," e.g. the downed U.S. pilots.

C.P. changes both the individual's internal attitude toward the action and their external behavior, not just their external behavior. In C.P. there is now a workable technology for creating in the victim a "cooperation," "sincerity," and "willingness" that is so passionate, zealous, engrossing, and convincing that it imposes itself, essentially as fact.

This ability is embodied in the chilling words of the founder of a group, which is currently accused of using C.P. on its members. "A very effective thought-control technique could also be worked out from Scientology, which could be used to make individuals into willing slaves." L.Ron Hubbard.


It is possible to think of less intense examples of almost any of the seven techniques, which BY THEMSELVES do not form a C.P. program. Because of C.P.'s power to transcend the use of physical force, imprisonment, or threat of force, and it's near imperceivable method of application, at first glance, it can deceptively look like peaceful persuasion.

On a continuum for influence technology that runs in degrees peaceful persuasion and C.P. would occupy directly opposite sides. A harmless information transfer from reading a book presenting all opposing views would be far to one side. Recurring violent physical coercion would be to the extreme opposite side.

On one side of this influence continuum peaceful persuasion evolves beliefs and behaviors in an atmosphere that honors free will. In peaceful persuasion it is the value or truth held in the message itself that ultimately creates the message's acceptance.

On the opposite side C.P. is distinguished from peaceful persuasion by the intensified and totalistic DEGREE of simultaneous, environmental, informational, and interpersonal manipulation employed. C.P. develops beliefs and behaviors by undermining, inhibiting and obstructing free will. With C.P. it is the coercive medium that forces the message's acceptance. Inherent value or truth in the message is not in any way essential.

The "notes" of peaceful persuasion like a fiery, guilt ridden sermon, a strong sales pitch, or a potentially suggestibility increasing private meditation practice do not provide the continuous "orchestrational" multi technique intensity or depth of exteriorly generated deception needed for a C.P. program to be effective.

Sometimes, peaceful persuasion may imitate or superficially use a few tactics of C.P. But, if an influence program standardly uses a majority of C.P. techniques and emphasizes the outside assault upon the individual's self concepts it would not be Peaceful persuasion.

Looking like peaceful persuasion is precisely what makes C.P. less likely to attract attention or to mobilize opposition. It is also part of what makes it such a devastating control technology.

Victims of C.P. have no signs of physical abuse. They have convincing rationalizations for the radical or abrupt changes in their behavior. They have a convincing "sincerity." And, they have been changed so gradually that they don't oppose it because they usually aren't even aware it.

Deciding if C.P. was used requires case by case careful analysis of all the influence techniques used and how they were applied. By focusing on the medium not the message and on the critical differences not the coincidental similarities, which system was used becomes clear.


Over the last 20 years in group applications millions of people have been unknowingly exposed to C.P. There is now evidence that its techniques are also sneaking into Corporate America through management consulting or "productivity" services offered by affiliates of groups now using C.P.

C.P.'s potentials for use are limited only to the ill will and imagination of its users. It is an unregulated technology for "invisibly" exploiting our physiological and psychological vulnerbilities. For those who might "enslave us to save us," it may just be too inviting not to improve further.

C.P. has the power to bypass freedom of thought and undercut all of our other freedoms. Strangely, national or international laws explicitly making C.P., brainwashing, or thought reform a crime are absent.

Do we fear to open this new Pandora's box called C.P. because it means discarding sacred cow beliefs? According to Margaret Thaler Singer who has studied approximately 3,500 victims of coercive influence systems during her 40 years of research:

"...most citizens like to think that their own minds and thought processes are invulnerable. "Other people can be manipulated but not me," they declare. People like to think that their opinions values and ideas are inviolate and totally self regulated. They may admit grudgingly that they are influenced slightly by advertising. Beyond that, they want to preserve the myth in which other persons are weak minded and easily influenced, but they, are strong minded. People cherish a fantasy that manipulators confront, browbeat, and argue people into doing their bidding. They envision Big Brother coming in storm trooper boots, holding guns to their heads, and forcing persons to change their beliefs alter their personalities and accept new ideologies. Orwell drew on the wisdom of the ages, most manipulation is subtle and covert....This myth of invulnerability needs to be examined over and over to prevent Orwell's 1884 world from ever happening."

In recent legal briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court, Scientology, the Hare Krishna's, and the Moonies took de facto legal positions to the effect that C.P. does not exist and that the thought reform technology has stood still for the last 40 years. According to the legal positions of these petitions, brainwashing cannot occur without torture or imprisonment. These petitions claim C.P. cannot cause radical and surreptitious changes in behavior, ideology, or personality--at least not in their groups.


Throughout history man has had to fight oppressive political and religious systems for freedom. Now from a new arena a formidable challenger has arrived. Evolving from technology itself, it may just prove to be our most difficult adversary.

While important advances in other technologies like genetics has had the various legal, medical, and religious professions scrambling to establish guidelines and regulations, this technology has gone all but unnoticed. Though decades of scientific verification has accumulated on its dangers, no major human rights groups have yet to begin tracking its abuses.

In the 1940's and 1950's those promising social or political utopias used Russian brainwashing and Chinese thought reform on individuals or small groups. These were political and propaganda acts occurring in a foreign land. This could never happen here.

In the 1970's and 1980's those promising self actualization or spiritual utopias helped evolve the older technologies for cost efficient, entrepreneurial, large group application. These experiments produced Jonestown, the Manson helter skelter, and many yet to be discovered casualties.

Unforeseen by our constitutional forefathers, this psycho-technology poses the ultimate theft of freedom. It is the theft of one's free will, individual conscience, and informed consent. Applied politically C.P. is high treason. Totalitarian in approach and antithetical to democracy, it is the involuntary servitude and high tech slavery of the future.

When will new Madisons, Jeffersons, and Orwells appear to trigger a grass roots demand for establishment of national and international laws to outlaw C.P. in all its applications? Will this occur before this psycho-technology takes its next quantum leap from group application to mass population application?

Is coercive persuasion the invisible control technology of the information age? If it is, and it's done properly, you won't even know its happened.