The American Family Foundation (AFF) was founded in Massachusetts in 1979 by Kay Barney, the father of a young woman who had become involved with the Unification Church. For a time it was affiliated with the Citizens’ Freedom Foundation (CFF) which later became the Cult Awareness Network (CAN). It also developed links with Evangelical Christian counter-cult movements such as the Christian Research Institute.

In 1980-1 Barney brought in psychology academics such as Dr John Clark and Dr Michael Langone, the current executive director. AFF’s stated mission is ‘to study psychological manipulation, especially as it manifests in cultic and related groups.’ It also aims ‘to help individuals and families adversely affected by psychologically manipulative groups and to protect society against the harmful implications of group-related manipulation and abuse’.

The AFF has a three-fold approach: ‘research, education, and victim assistance’. As well as offering an information helpline, it organizes conferences and has published a number of books, including Recovery From Cults (1993), Recovery From Abusive Groups (1993), Cults on Campus: Continuing Challenge (1996), and Cults and Psychological Abuse: A Resource Guide (1999).

Unlike some other anti-cult organizations the AFF is conscious of the imprecision of meaning of the word ‘cult’ (see Cult and New Religions), and that different people use it in widely differing ways. Again unlike some other organizations, it makes good use of academics in the field, though at least some of these, such as sociology professor Benjamin Zablocki and psychology professor Margaret Singer, are supporters of the brainwashing or thought reform hypotheses, which most sociologists of religion believe to be discredited. Since the late 1990s, however, the AFF has also been in dialogue with academics from what it sees as the ‘pro-cult’ camp, and appears to be open to wider scholarly approaches than are usually found in anti-cult organizations.

The AFF’s early magazine, The Advisor, was superseded by the Cult Observer in 1984, when it also began publishing the Cultic Studies Journal In 2002 these were merged and replaced by the subscription online and print journal Cultic Studies Review. The AFF also provides a free emailed newsletter, AFFNewsbriefs. The AFF’s website at and contains several articles and offers AFF books and journals.

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