or Jason Scott, the nightmare is over. So is it for Laverne Collins Macchio. And for millions of Americans. Scott and Macchio are just two of many Christians who were subjected to brutal deprogramming attemptsphysical and mental assaults aimed toward breaking their religious beliefsby members of a hate group known as the Cult Awareness Network or CAN.
Both ultimately won court judgments against their assailants. But, with CAN still in operation, the threat that they or other members of religious minority groups could be victimized was always present.
The group is defunct, having been forced into liquidation on June 20, 1996, after unsuccessfully seeking refuge in bankruptcy in the face of a $4.8 million damages verdict handed down in September 1995 by a U.S. District Court in Seattle.
A Legacy of Anti-Religious Crime
From its former offices in Barrington, Illinois, CAN became notorious for waging a propaganda war against Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists, Catholics, Orthodox Jews and a host of other religious groupswith particular and peculiar emphasis on fundamentalist Christians. CAN was a clearinghouse for false and biased information concerning religious groups, with the purpose of inciting prejudice, hatred and fear.
But that may be the mildest possible description for this deceased group. CAN preyed on the gullible, violated the civil rights of the innocent and has even been linked to kidnappings, rapes and deaths nationwide.
CAN began in 1974 as the Citizens Freedom Foundation (CFF), spearheaded by Ted Patrick, widely known as the original deprogrammer. CFF provided the front Patrick needed for his lucrative business of violent assault. In his autobiography, he admitted that deprogramming may be said to involve kidnapping at the very least, quite often assault and battery, almost invariably conspiracy to commit a crime and illegal restraint. Case histories and court records show that CAN deprogammings have also included rape of both male and female victims.
CAN also defrauded the U.S. government into believing that its activities were educational in natureeven swearing to this in documents filed in its application for tax exemption, filed in 1978. This lie was only part of a pattern of widespread deception, a smokescreen to hide CANs vast involvement in the black market of hate and violence. Indeed, documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by Freedom Magazine show that while CAN disavowed its involvement in deprogramming, its own leaders, such as former president John Sweeny, have testified at length that such conduct was CANs stock in trade.
Such loathsome acts were but the tip of the iceberg. Later events would find CAN morally, if not criminally, responsible for the April 19, 1993, tragedy at Waco, according to religious scholar J. Gordon Melton, director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion and professor of religion at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
It was CAN and one of its highest-ranking deprogrammers, convicted felon Rick Ross, who provided the information which spurred the deadly raid on the Branch Davidian compound at Mount Carmel in Waco, Texas. Ross and other CAN officials worked with apostate former Davidians to convince law enforcement that lethal force was justified at Mount Carmel. (For a detailed story of what happened at Waco, see Fanning the Fires at Waco, from Freedoms Special Report on CAN, available on request.) The 86 lives lost at Waco speak volumes of CANs involvement.
So do the legion of criminal acts, charges and convictions surrounding CAN and its members. Many of its officers, members and associates were charged with or convicted of criminal acts, including its former president, Michael Rokos, and former security adviser Galen Kelly, a felon found guilty of criminal charges associated with kidnapping for the purpose of deprogramming.
When it comes to examining an organization, the words of its top officials are often instructive. And the views of CANs last executive director, Cynthia Kisser, shed much light on CANs agenda and explain its fascination with Christians. If [Jesus Christ] were alive now, she told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, wed take an interest in him because of the great controversy surrounding his fringe activities. ... Wed try to see if there was abuse, unethical behavior or deceptive practices. And Id send whatever we could find to reporters.
CANs support of and involvement in lawless conduct led to the $4.875-million damages verdict against the group and Rick Ross, in the case brought by a Pentecostal Christian, Jason Scott. Scott was brutalized, handcuffed, silenced with duct tape across his mouth, abducted and forcibly held against his will for days in a failed attempt to destroy his beliefs.
The jury in the Scott case found that the conduct of some of the defendants was so outrageous in character and so extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency ... atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.
CAN tried to have the verdict set aside in the case, claiming it was unreasonable. But U.S. District Judge John Coughenour denied the motion, stating, The court notes each of the defendants seeming incapability of appreciating the maliciousness of their conduct towards Mr. Scott. ... Thus, the large award given by the jury against both CAN and Mr. Ross seems reasonably necessary to enforce the jurys determination on the oppressiveness of the defendants actions and deter similar conduct in the future.
CAN then filed for bankruptcy, hoping to continue its operations while avoiding its obligations. But CANs hopes were short-lived. The group was ordered into liquidation when evidence revealed that it was improperly seeking to avoid responsibility for its actions and debts. CANs doors are now permanently closed.
J. Gordon Melton said, The Scott case virtually brought deprogramming to a halt in this country. What this judgment did to CAN was cut the communication lines that allowed deprogramming to go forward.
On the same day that the bankruptcy court shut CANs doors, four more CAN-associated deprogrammers joined the ranks of the convictedfor the failed deprogramming of a member of a Christian church in Idaho.
Kidnappers dragged the victim, Laverne Collins Macchio, from her home in Boise in 1991 as her three children looked on in horror. Macchio was hauled across the lawn, forced into a waiting vehicle, driven to a remote cabin and held against her will for seven days.
In an Idaho court, the deprogrammers, Joy and Carmine DeSanctis, Michael Howley and Charles Kelly, were forced to face the consequences of their actions. Based on an agreement with the trial judge, all four agreed to plead guilty to felony kidnapping charges if their defense was rejected on appeal. The June 22 ruling by the unanimous Idaho Supreme Court, written by Chief Justice Charles McDevitt, threw out the deprogrammers defense and left the CAN hate group with four more nails in its coffin.
It is notable that the DeSanctises were relied upon as informants by Time, a magazine noted for its involvement in misinformation scandals. (See Of the Media, By the Media, For the Media?.) Joy DeSanctis infiltrated a church, stole documents from it, then provided information to Time for the centerpiece of a thoroughly discredited article.
An analysis of CAN, its violent deprogramming tactics, and its assaults upon individual rights and freedoms can be found in the 145-page special report published by Freedom in 1995, entitled, The Cult Awareness Network: Anatomy of a Hate Group.
That publication noted how certain experts, such as psychologist Margaret Singerrelied upon by CAN criminals to defend their actionshave been completely eviscerated by courts and colleagues.
A violent deprogrammer who sought to make the transition to expert, Steven Hassan, took it on the chin in yet another recent judicial decision. A Massachusetts judge had initially said Hassan could qualify as an expert on a single issue. On closer review, Justice Christina Harms ruled Hassan did not qualify.
She withdrew Hassans preferred status, stating his views were not sufficiently accepted within the applicable scientific community to constitute an area of expertise"giving the anti-religionist a short shelf life indeed as expert.
These recent events herald the decimation of one of the worst forms of religious intolerance seen in modern Americaand new life for religious freedom.