Questions from the Balcony: A Critique of Dick Anthony
In the earlier days of radio, I used to listen to a program called, “Ask Mr. Anthony,” in which the host of the show would answer all questions about everything. A highlight of the show regularly occurred when the announcer ventured out into the audience with a hand-held microphone and shouted out “Mr. Anthony, I have questions from the balcony.” In reading Dick Anthony’s “Tactical Ambiguity and Brainwashing Formulations in B. Zablocki & T. Robbins [Eds.], Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001, I recalled this radio program because while reading the paper I wanted to ask so many questions of Mr. Anthony.
Mr. Anthony’s piece contains several distinct parts. The first, which is an extensive, tendentious, ad honimum exegesis, inveighs against Benjamin Zablocki and Mr. Anthony’s formulation of brainwashing theories. I will not critique Mr. Anthony’s spate of sound-bytes and quips, since Mr. Zablocki comments on deficiencies in Mr. Anthony’s analysis in the same volume.
In a second segment, Mr. Anthony steps away from his exclusively negative perspective to endeavor to account for destructive cults by using the concept of “totalitarian influence,” which he says is derived from Eriksonian personality theories and authoritarian archetypes. Then Mr. Anthony offers random observations on civil liberties, reliability of information derived from ex-members of new religious groups, and the so-called “anti-cult movement.”
In critically reading Mr. Anthony’s work, one must always bear in mind who he is and what he does. His vocation is that of a paid advocate, which means that he prepares partisan submissions and gives counsel and testimony on behalf of NRMs, primarily, at least recently, for the purpose of suppressing adverse testimony. (“Since 1981, I have also conducted a private forensic psychology practice specializing in cases involving minority religions and other organizations accused of so-called brainwashing, or other forms of coercive influence. I have served as an expert and/or consultant both in criminal and civil cases, and both for the defense and the prosecution.” – p.292) While he has said that he has been “largely” successful, in this chapter he omits any facts indicating how many times and on what basis his position has been rejected. Neither does he furnish details of any lawsuit in which he has participated. Without that information, it is impossible to evaluate his claims of success, for litigation is fact and issue based as opposed to scholarship, which requires continual revision. Certainly, Mr. Anthony is aware of the elementary legal proposition that omission of information warrants an inference that it is adverse.
To put Mr. Anthony’s expressions in context, one should emphasize the difference between scholarly inquiry and legal advocacy and always view Mr. Anthony’s work as the latter. The legal system does not call for scholarly balance or objectivity on the part of an advocate. Rather, it embraces the adversary process in seeking resolution of a particular dispute and leaves it to the opponent to achieve balance by eliciting information through cross-examination. See: Confronting The New Challenges of Scientific Evidence, 108 Harvard Law Review, 1218, (1995).
In Bromley, Science and the Law, American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, Chapter 10, 1999 Science and Technology Policy Yearbook, Professor Bromley points out that expert testimony in a litigation is time-bound and does not consider circumstances and facts occurring after the case is heard or evidence that was not brought to the attention of the court. Hence, if facts upon which expert testimony is based are subsequently repudiated or a theory abandoned in the face of further study, the decision still stands, even though it has no continuing intellectual validity. Likewise, court decisions may be based on social policy inconsistent with scientific theory. An example Bromley cites is a case in which a judge, in the face of conclusive blood type evidence, made a determination of paternity that was “totally impossible” on the grounds that the child “would have a better life” with the putative father than with someone whose pockets were not as deep (Bromley Supra).
In legal maters involving cults, we know that since the early 1960’s and 1970’s new facts have come to light, research has continued, and information furnished to researchers and experts has been repudiated and proven false, yet many continue to cite and rely on cases and authorities using such flawed data.
Mr. Anthony’s employment as an expert witness requires him to support his clients in the strongest possible manner; otherwise, his clients would purchase a stronger advocate. See Weinstein, Improving Expert Testimony, 20 Rich L. Rev. 473, 482 (1986). As observed in a handbook prepared for experts, “when a party or attorney selects or retains experts, there is an inherent potential bias in the expert’s testimony because experts are more likely to be retained in the future if they express opinions favorable to the party that has selected them.” (Court Appointed Scientific Expert’s Handbook, Version 2.0, prepared by the American Association for the Advancement of Science at page 19). This inherent bias not only relates to the particular testimony, but, because of the expert’s vested interest in maintaining consistency so as to assure future employment, pervades all of his or her interactions. Supreme Court Justice Steven Breyer criticizes that kind of frozen perspective in Chapter 9 of the Science and Technology Policy Handbook of 1999 in an article entitled, The Independence of Science and Law. He points out that in areas where conclusions are “highly uncertain and controversial” with respect to scientific matters that come before the courts, it is unreasonable “to expect scientists always to be certain or always to have uniform rules,” yet when they become experts uncertainty leaves their vocabulary. A historic view of controversies in various disciplines evidences analogies, such as the rigid suppression of the views of Galileo with ultimate vindication many years later. See: Cheeseborough, Galileo’s Retort: Peter Huber’s Junk Scholarship 42 American University Law Review 1637 (1993). Mr. Anthony’s experience and long history as an expert leads one to draw persuasive analogies to the well-financed campaigns to bar scientific evidence and exclude it as “junk science” in the areas of product liability claims, toxic torts, injuries caused by asbestos and tobacco, and many forms of civil rights litigation (Compare Huber, Galileo’s Revenge, Junk Science in the Courtroom, (1991) with Galileo’s Retort, supra).
So, Mr. Anthony, in seeking to exclude from judge or jury consideration theories and analyses supported by competent and credentialed scholars and professions, are you comfortable being in the company of the discredited advocates of the tobacco industry and those who sought to bar testimony leading to the decision in Brown v Board of Education? In utilizing the methodology of suppression, can you still paint yourself as a defender of human rights?
In your continued criticism of your version of “brainwashing theorists,” how aware are you of research carried on since you started testifying as an expert witness? There is an absence in your criticism of Mr. Zablocki’s theories of reference to recent research. Where are citations to research in the past five or six years, and how have you factored into your analysis recent admissions, such as those of ISKCON, about NRM members providing false or misleading information to NRM researchers? Prior to ISKCON’s revelation in their own journal that child abuse was rampant in their gurukulas, did you join the chorus of criticism of “anti-cultists” of the early 1980’s for alleging that child abuse was occurring in ISKCON?
In this context, my experience in litigation involving the Zoning Board in the Town of New Castle is instructive. The Unification Church was accused of violating a promise not to use a particular property until after it had received zoning board approval. When local residents reported the use of the property contrary to that promise, the Unification Church asserted the information was false and untrue and that the residents’ lying was motivated by their religious bias. This spurious claim was rebutted at the hearing by testimony under oath from a person who had participated in the Unification Church’s activities on the property. Moreover, I interviewed the Unification Church representative who, following instructions given by a senior official of the Unification Church, lied to the police and fabricated the entire story. How does Mr. Anthony deal with this kind of misinformation and to what extent has he discounted it? Is it part of his inherent and necessary bias that he is unable to reject testimony offered by representatives of NRMs without also rejecting their money?
Additionally, with respect to Mr. Anthony’s mantra-like attack on his version of the dreaded “brainwashing theory” on the ground it does not satisfy the “falsifiability” test and, therefore, must be suppressed, Mr. Anthony has misread current federal law with regard to admissibility of evidence. Under prevailing Supreme Court decisions relating to admissibility of evidence, there is no single test which must be satisfied in order for scientific testimony to be admissible. Kumho Tire v. Carmichael 526 U.S. 137, 119S.Ct. 1167, 1179, 1175 (1999). The “clubby” rule of Frye, under which a dedicated group of professionals could block admissibility through citations of reams of paper they produced and published allegedly demonstrating that a theory contrary to theirs was not “generally accepted,” is no longer binding law. Nor is soft-science testimony barred solely by showing that it does not meet one of the four-fold requirements of Daubert (one of which is falsifiability). See Kumho (supra and Kumho Wrestling, Are Your Intellectual Property Experts in Shape 23 The Trial Lawyer, 457-470 (2000). The test of admissibility rests on examination of whether the theory propounded has been developed with principles consistent with scientific rigor. That relates to current research on which the theory is premised, and it will not do to deny its validity based upon a strained construction of a “straw man” using paraphrases of 30- and 40-year old texts in a manner rejected by their authors. Attention must be paid to current research and current developments in the field, and it is inadequate for a critic to simply base his claim for suppression on what he said over and over for many years. So, Mr. Anthony, with respect to your rejection of “brainwashing theory,” I cannot accept your continued formulation in a manner that reflects old mischaracterizations and ignores current research and theory. Your critique is largely based on vintage works and rechewed cud preserved without consideration of what has transpired since they were written. Also, why, Mr. Anthony, do you believe brainwashing theory need only be addressed with respect to recruitment as opposed to maintenance of cult membership, and how have you dealt with data from those people born in cults who were not subjected to recruitment? Is it possible that your limitations of analysis are simply explained by the dimensions of the legal proceedings in which you were retained?
When Mr. Anthony strays from his role as gladiator seeking to protect the trier of fact from being sullied by brainwashing theory and tries to express his own theories, absence of the kind of scholarly discipline he seeks from others weighs negatively upon the credibility of his assertions. He espouses a rigid dualistic view of the world, and it needs no citation to recall the litany of evils that have followed from division of the world into vacuum-tight categories of good and evil, mind and body, or right and wrong. In his simplistic binary postulate of totalitarian and totalistic group models, he presents a pair of entities each populated by clones, one containing all evil and the other uniformly populated by those who would preserve and protect all that, in his view, is good and desirable. Such rigid binary methods of thought require conclusions which thoughtful cult critics have abhorred; namely, characterizing all individuals within a “bad” group as equally evil and all people within a “good” group as uniformly virtuous. I would like to know where Mr. Anthony finds support for these views, as they obliterate all regard for individual diversity.
I find this mode of thinking, which ignores years of philosophical criticism going back at least to the age of enlightenment and resonates with current totalistic ideologies, unacceptable and abhorrent. Also flawed are Mr. Anthony’s feckless leaps in reasoning in reaching the conclusion that participants in totalistic and totalitarian groups who become true believers were originally people who had particular vulnerability and susceptibility to the propagandizing recruitment of the groups. I have no idea how that rationale relates to Lifton’s work on Nazi doctors or to Orwell’s 1984 or explains why people ever leave cults after joining them. He offers no clue as to how to distinguish between “totalitarian” and non-totalistic groups and offers no explanation about how good people do bad things in groups that are not totally evil. Nor does he explain how some people in “bad” groups do good things despite their environment. His simplistic dualism is firmly grounded in his overweening advocate’s approach towards truth. All virtue and good are located on the side for which he is testifying and all evil is represented by his unworthy opponents. It is all too evident where this road leads.
Mr. Anthony demonstrates beyond cavil the dangerous elements of his mode of thought. It takes no great scholar to find embedded in his preaching of a dualistic world order the inevitable need for an inquisition directed against non-believers who harbor evil, a suppression of deviant ideas, and a crusade against those who fail to conform to the author’s view of good. Frankly, I was shocked by Mr. Anthony’s fall into this swamp, but it is not entirely surprising given his strident views of the necessity for suppression of ideas different than those he espouses. His characterization of the so-called “anti-cult movement” as “totalitarian” is a bizarre perversion of language consistent only with those who claim that words mean whatever they say they mean and propound the theory that emphatic repetition of an untruth gives it validity.
Again, using his binary mode of thought, Mr. Anthony asserts that all brainwashing theorists are “like other totalitarian ideologies since they divide the world into the saved and the dammed” and all people into “brainwashed and non-brainwashed.” Mr. Anthony’s simplistic dualism is not worthy of intellectual respect. One could respond that there are really two kinds of people, those who characterize people using dualistic modes of thought and those who don’t. Of course, using Mr. Anthony’s myopic scope, there are two more classes of people: Those who see the world from a pluralistic viewpoint with many different groups and people within groups as individuals with differences to be respected, and those who don’t, but enough of these binary games.
I hope that those who include Mr. Anthony among the coterie of “new religious scholars,” do not regard his analysis as consistent with theirs, for otherwise I would be sorely disappointed in those among that group whose views and intellects I respect.
Turning to Mr. Anthony’s conclusion about civil liberties and the “anti-cult movement,” I must conclude that he has really missed the boat. In his role in what he considers to be civil liberties litigation, he attempts to persuade courts to exclude testimony with which his clients disagree and which is adverse to them. If successful, of course, this limits the constitutional right of trial by jury and narrows the ability of fact finders to consider all evidence relating to the merits in making their determination.
In Beggs, Novel Expert Evidence in Federal Civil Rights Litigation, 45 American University Law Review 2, 62, 64-5, 74 (1995), the author, in reviewing the history of attempts to introduce expert evidence in civil rights litigation (which, of course, includes litigation involving freedom of religion), states that “because civil rights actions assert basic personal rights and often raise broad social justice issues, district courts should incline toward admitting novel expert evidence to facilitate the resolution of those cases on their merits.” Blocking consideration of different viewpoints has always been characteristic of totalistic ideology, while toleration of dissenting views has been characteristic of the “anti-cult movement.” Therefore, Mr. Anthony, is it the “anti-cult movement” that reflects the totalitarian model? I am glad to note that you acknowledge that these views of yours are not “set in stone.” I suggest that they have the consistency of loose sand, and don’t have the intellectual rigor that ought to underpin ideas to be taken seriously. Name calling demeans scholarship and only weakens the position of those new religious movement scholars who seek to understand the “anti-cult movement” by reading its literature, attending its conferences, and perhaps even going so far as communicating with its spokespersons.
In what appears to be almost a series of ad hoc addenda, Mr. Anthony also sallies forth without restraint into a couple of other areas. First, he offers his views on “apostate tales.” He distinguishes former members of new religious groups who have had “some involvement in the “anti-cult movement” from those “who do not become affiliated with the anti-cult movement.” Unsurprisingly, he finds the former not worthy of belief while the latter are paragons of truth telling. Predictably, if not logically, this leads Mr. Anthony to place complete reliance on those who support him and to dismiss the views of those who oppose him. Of course, he ignores and gives no reason as to why there is no bias in the views of those who are current members of new religious groups, or whether those “who have some involvement” with their cult would be subject to sanctions were they to act contrary to the interest of the group, or if testimony from those who receive pecuniary consideration from new religious groups is tainted. There is no excuse for one who has had as much experience as Mr. Anthony with bias and interest in legal proceedings to ignore it on only one side when dealing with ex-members of new religious movements. I wonder exactly what personal experience Mr. Anthony has had with ex-members of new religious groups, both those who have had some involvement in the “anti-cult movement” and those who have not.
Yet further, Mr. Anthony seeks to enlighten us with respect to his views of the “anti-cult social movement.” He appears to define this movement as including anyone who supports the “anti-cult brainwashing ideology” as he sees it.
In my experience over the past 20 years, there is no “anti-cult movement.” Activities expressing negative views of cults are participated in by a very diverse group of people with very different views and very different backgrounds, and they do not have the same discipline and degree of uniformity of views as are associated with “new religious movement scholars.” I don’t know if Mr. Anthony attended a single one of the more than twenty American Family Foundation conferences. Having attended all of them, I don’t recall ever having seen him. But, his conclusions are so inconsistent with positions presented, expressed, and discussed that it is inconceivable that he was there and paying attention, for if he were, he could not still believe that there is a single monolithic “anti-cult movement.”
Mr. Anthony’s characterization of the “anti-cult social movement” as totalistic and having a world view (Anthony page 287) is arrant nonsense. He fleshes out his fantasy by describing three elements of this purported movement, which I will deal with serially.
First, he accuses the “anti-cult movement” of having a bias in favor of cultural uniformity in which “alternative world views” are deemed heretical, irrational, and unworthy of respect. The all pervasive, world view Mr. Anthony sees everywhere does not characterize the “anti-cult movement” I have known for over 20 years. Nor is it characterized by finding “heresy” in “alternative” views. Mr. Anthony ought to examine his own prejudices, which seem to incline him to see in the “anti-cult movement” what his prejudices tell him is “real” rather than what is truly there. At the American Family Foundation, we need label no view as heresy. The American Family Foundation conference last year had representatives from 30 different countries with many “world views.” Diverse arrays of papers were presented (including my own, which stressed cultural diversity in approaching cults and views critical of cults). I know of no support for cultural uniformity propounded by participants of the “anti-cult movement.” Moreover, since there is no dictate of legitimacy, I don’t know what the “alternative world view” is. Is Mr. Anthony referring to extraterrestrial worlds, the world of polygamous families, or a world in which slavery and abuse of women and children is celebrated? And, by the way Mr. Anthony, what is your view of those alternative world views?” Do you approve of any or all of them? Do you believe that all alternative world views should be tolerated? If not, what criteria do you use to differentiate among “alternative world views” that warrant toleration or approbation?
Mr. Anthony says that the so-called “anti-cult social movement” has a favorable view towards extending state power and eroding the absolute protection of freedom of religious beliefs. Mr. Anthony does not give us any citation to enlighten us about the basis for this pronouncement. Does he mean to criticize actions of the state in regulating genital mutilation, polygamy, child labor, or sexual abuse? Does he include abrogation of slavery, legislation of mandatory vaccination, and minimum requirements for medical care and education as unwarranted exercises of state power or “evasions” of the absolute protection of freedom of religious beliefs? Is he familiar with the United States Supreme Court decisions in this area and would he reverse them? Is he in favor of abandonment of secular state regulation in favor of exercise of political power by zealous religious groups, abolishing the distinction between church and state and creating bastions of enforced religious conformity? Is that his alternative world view?
Further evidence of Mr. Anthony’s still being mired in an anachronistic morass is contained in his repetition of the hoary canard that the so-called “anti-cult movement” still supports physical force to suppress heretical beliefs by forcible deprogramming, conservatorships, and something else he phrases as “ETC.” Putting aside speculation about what demons Mr. Anthony conjures up as included in the scholarly vapid term ETC, Mr. Anthony has no citation indicating current support by the so-called “anti-cult movement” of forcible deprogramming or conservatorships. Those issues might have been at the forefront of discussions in the 1960’s and 1970’s, but, contrary to Mr. Anthony’s prejudices, opinions were sharply divided. Many, including myself, opposed forcible deprogramming and conservatorships. His present reiteration is indicative of the pervasive problem that infects Mr. Anthony’s work and thought. Because of his overwhelming need to protect the absolute inerrancy of his previous testimony and the inoculation of all of his writings against exposure to future cross examination, he has no recognition of his fallibility or the passage of time or occurrence of events outside courtrooms, and he is frozen like a relic of the ice age caught playing a phonograph record with a needle stuck on one note.
Mr. Anthony continually includes in a single sentence without citation compound multiple errors in interpretation. While he may have unlimited time to invest in his future advocacy, which he buttresses by increasing the number of self-serving writings he can cite, it is very difficult for those without protean partisan funding to combat the endless flow of deep-pocket financed material. Writing this critique has been a source of great personal frustration. Had I attempted to deal fully with Mr. Anthony’s criticisms of his characterization of Benjamin Zablocki’s “brainwashing” theories or the deficiencies in his application of totalitarian or authoritarian analysis to cults and their members, my essay would have been many times longer than his article.
This problem is pervasive in many other areas where the economic and ideological power of zealots often firmly cement the blindfold over the eyes of justice and have a pervasive corrupting influence on the pliable ethics of scholars. In this article, I have shown the degree to which bias infuses some who make a career of testifying as an expert for one side in contested matters, particularly where the goal is not to present an alternate theory to a fact finder, but to prevent the fact finder from hearing views contrary to those they are paid to express. That does not mean I don’t acknowledge my own bias. But, mine is different since I do not have a pecuniary interest which prevents me from changing my ideas and opinions over time, and I do not have to edit every word I write and speak so as to preclude its being used in my future cross examination. I can acknowledge error, change my thinking, and eschew rigid formulations and disclaim certain and exclusive possession of the Truth. I can even acknowledge that those who disagree with me at times have been right and have caused me to change my views. Indeed, fruitful dialogue results not in victory of one protagonist over another but in both sides modifying their views.
In the February, 2002 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, an editor writing about an interview with a scholar at a recent international conference reported that the scholar stated he was “so darn sick of the cult – anticult debate [he] could just puke.” Articles like Dick Anthony’s will contribute to his queasiness and will not make any of us feel better.
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