ANTI-CULT MOVEMENT FAIR (Religious Movement)

Cult Information Centre (CIC)

The ‘anti-cult’ movement (ACM) can be considered as the first social response to the phenomenon of New Religious Movements (NRMs) when they emerged in Western countries in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The term ‘anti-cult movement’ is generally used as a generic designation for any, usually secular, organized initiative opposed to at least some aspects of NRMs. This opposition combined with the conceptualization of NRMs as ‘cults’ gave rise to the notion of the ACM, a label to which some groups object, preferring descriptions such as ‘cult concern’, ‘cult monitoring’ or ‘cult-watching’ organization. However, the latter terms are generally understood to have a wider remit and to include organizations taking an academic approach to NRMs, such as INFORM (Information Network Focus on Religious Movements) and the (former) Centre for New Religious Movements at King’s College, University of London.

Also, just as the study of NRMs requires careful differentiation between the various groups and movements subsumed under the heading ‘NRMs’, despite the ‘generic’ features they share, the study of the ACM requires equally careful distinctions between the various strands in the spectrum of organizations. Thus Introvigne’s (1993, 1995a, 1995b) typology distinguishes between the secular anti-cult and the religious counter-cult, a distinction developed and refined further by Cowan (2002; 2003).

The first ACM groups were formed by concerned parents (and some sympathetic clergy) who were the first to experience the consequences of ‘cult’ membership in their families. These early self-help groups tended to be informal and to focus on adherence to a particular NRM, such as the Children of God (now The Family)—as in the case of FREECOG (Free Our Sons and Daughters from the Children of God)—or the Unification Church—as in the cases of CERF (Citizens Engaged in Reuniting Families) in the US and FAIR (Family Action Information & Resource) in the UK.

As the emergence of NRMs was first felt in the United States—a wave which slowly moved towards the United Kingdom and Continental Europe (see Arweck, 1999), it is here that the first groups formed in the 1970s (FREE-COG, CERF, American Family Foundation or AFF). Their aim was to support parents affected by ‘cult’ membership in their families, to gather and exchange information about the new religious groups (information which was not as readily available then as it is now), to find out about the whereabouts of their children, and to finds ways of getting them back. The groups became more established and expanded, both in terms of their structures and objectives, for example, FREECOG became Citizens’ Freedom Foundation; they also developed connections with one another and formed networks and umbrella organizations, such as the Cult-Awareness Network (CAN), a process which was accompanied by a broadening of aims to include support and action from the wider society (the public and public authorities) which meant lobbying politicians, raising awareness locally, nationally, and internationally, campaigning for legal provisions, etc.

The ACM has sought to present a counterweight to NRMs, which they conceptualize as ‘destructive cults’ and thus see as harmful, if not dangerous. Generally speaking, the ACM’s stance has been based on the idea that such groups actively recruit young people by applying a range of methods summarized under the heading ‘brainwashing techniques’ or ‘thought reform’ that keep members committed through ‘mind control’ or ‘thought control’ (see e.g. Conway and Siegelman, 1978; Hassan, 1988; Landau and Lalich, 1994; Singer and Lalich, 1995). Thus, it was argued, the only way to free someone from the ‘clutches of a cult’ was through ‘deprogramming’, a process designed to reverse ‘brainwashing’, which involved forcible physical and mental/emotional withdrawal through the agency of professional ‘deprogrammers’. This model of (de)conversion is predicated on the notion of the individual as passive victim rather than active agent in the process of acquiring a religious affiliation—a model which has been at the centre of fiercely fought ‘cult controversies’ (Beckford, 1985) and one which has been at the centre of strong disagreement between the ACM and academic approaches to the study of NRMs. Although the ACM has not abandoned the ‘brainwashing thesis’, the practice of ‘deprogramming’ has given way—not least because of legal implications (a case of deprogramming led to the demise of CAN in 1996, although it was re-formed under new ownership and approach)—to Exit Counseling, an approach which is based on using information and communication to dissuade ‘cult’ members (see e.g. Giambalvo, 1992). However, it needs to be stressed that the practice of deprogramming was also controversial within the ACM and generally subscribed to by what might be described as the more radically inclined groups.

In Britain, the first ‘anti-cult’ group to form was FAIR (then Family, Action, Information & Rescue, changed to Family Action Information & Resource in 1994), founded in 1976 by Paul Rose, then a Member of Parliament who had unwittingly become the focus of ‘cult concerns’ after raising the issue in Parliament. At that time, FAIR constituted a coalition of concerned politicians, journalists, relatives of members, former members, some clergy, and parents, with the latter forming the main contingent and providing the funding. FAIR expanded by widening its remit to include all ‘destructive cults’, setting up a network of regional branches, and also working closely with evangelical groups. However, FAIR regards itself as non-religious in outlook, although its membership includes many committed Christians.

As it does not have charitable status, FAIR and its branches depend on voluntary donations from its c. 120 members, subscriptions to its quarterly newsletter, FAIR News, and the sale of occasional publications. FAIR’S emphasis is on supporting families, while also providing information and counselling and educating the public about ‘cults’ and its own work. FAIR is embedded in a national and international network of similar organizations, maintaining links in the UK with ‘cult concerned’ organizations, such as Deo Gloria Outreach, Cultists Anonymous, Cult Information Centre (CIC), Reachout Trust, CONCERN, Housetop, the Dialogue Centre Dublin, and the Irish Family Foundation as well as ex-members’ groups, such as EMERGE (Ex-Members of Extremist Religious Group), the Ex-Cult Members Support Group, TOLC (Triumph Over London Cults), and rehabilitation projects, such as Catalyst. Quite a number of the above organizations have either receded or folded, but CIC has remained one of the most active organizations. The creation of an umbrella group of ‘Cult Concern Groups’ in the UK was envisaged in the late 1980s, but did not progress beyond the preliminary stages.

On the European level, FAIR has co-operated with its counterparts, for example ADFI (Association pour la Defense de la Famille et de l’Individu) in France, Elterninitiative in Munich, Germany, the Panhellenic Parents Union (PPU) in Athens, and others. After the events of 1989 which opened the borders to the countries in Eastern Europe, links were expanded or formed with parents’ groups there, a development which might be described as a process of exporting the ‘anti-cult approach’ to the East (see Shterin and Richardson, 2000).

FAIR is also a member of the European umbrella organization FECRIS (Federation Europeenne des Centres de Recherche et d’Information) which had its inaugural meeting in October 1994. Beyond the European level, FAIR has maintained connections with, for example, AFF in the US, Info-Culte in Canada, CCG (Concerned Christians Growth) Ministries in Australia, and the Free Mind Foundation in New Zealand.

The Cult Information Centre (CIC) was founded in 1987 by Ian Haworth, who has actively campaigned against ‘cults’ since 1978. CIC is a registered educational charity which is engaged in public education about the ‘dangers of cults’, dissemination through the media, consultancy work, family assistance, support for ex-cult members, and information (see Haworth, 2001). Unlike FAIR, CIC is not a parents’ group, but acts as an agency for the provision of information and services.

Like other organizations (including NRMs), the ACM has made use of communications technology (electronic mail, internet facilities) to increase the dissemination of information and its ability to network, with most groups maintaining web sites (see, e.g., Cowan, 2001). Although the transformation of the organizations which have provoked their creation has been to some extent mirrored in the ‘ant-cult groups’ themselves, their raison d’etre is ensured by the needs of those negatively affected by ‘cult’ membership—whether as parents or former members.

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