In May 2019, while I and my colleagues from the Center for the Study of Psychological Abuse (CeSAP) were attending a congress in central Turin, another event was taking place nearby. CESNUR awarded the FIRMA (International Festival of Religions, Music and Arts) prize at the Salone del Libro, a famous book fair. This prize is awarded to individuals who have excelled in promoting peace through interfaith dialog. The prize was awarded to Marco Respinti, director of Bitter Winter (who, it must be said, was in his home, as he is a member of CESNUR), Apostle Naasón Joaquín García, leader of the Luz del Mundo Church, and Greg Mitchell, founder of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable. As an aside, Naasón Joaquín García was arrested in Los Angeles a few weeks after receiving the award as a human rights advocate and author of charitable works on 26 charges, including human trafficking, production of child pornography, and rape of minors. The trial ended with a plea bargain of the apostle and his sentence to 17 years in prison. Although a figure as colorful as the Mexican Apostle can steal the show with such plot twists, which are not without irony, it is the American winner of the award, Greg Mitchell, who deserves our attention. We have already met him. He is the chief lobbyist of Scientology (see the second part of this investigation). Not only are the activities of this follower of the American religious holding company regularly reported on institutional websites, but Mitchell himself stated in an interview with Business Insider that the Church's lobbying work with the U.S. government is currently focused not on promoting Scientology, but on promoting 'religious freedom.' This work "often involves working with other religious organizations to encourage the U.S. to put pressure on foreign countries that persecute religious groups." There you have it. Pressure on other countries-preferably when they are not "allied"-for their actual or perceived interference or restriction in religious affairs is thus not a conclusion based on clues, but a stated intention pursued by a variety of actors who, albeit with different motivations, believe such action to be congruent. A confluence of interests, even if with theoretically opposing goals. For this reason, Christian fundamentalists find it useful to defend cults that are far from Christianity.
An example of this convergence is found in the article of the European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FOB) mentioned in the first part of this report. This calls for the countries on the watch list of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to be expanded to include all countries where associations or individuals belonging to the anti-cult federation FECRIS are active. These countries would be in addition to "traditional" countries such as France, Russia, and China. As for Russia, which was the subject of Part Four, the role of Scientology, which is banned in that country, may have been considerable in activating the campaign that has taken on the grotesque proportions we have described. Indeed, in 2012, Mitchell accepted two payments of $20,000 each from Scientology to lobby the White House, the State Department, the Justice Department, and other agencies for greater U.S. engagement on Russia's "growing restrictions...that contribute to an atmosphere of intolerance and discrimination against religious communities and their individual members." On the Russian issue, Mitchell circulated a letter signed by "35 religious and human rights organizations," including the Church of Scientology itself, expressing concern about the situation. These groups are believed to be members of an "informal" organization called the International Religious Freedom Roundtable, which is headed by Mitchell himself. The other co-chair is Chris Seiple. He is the sone of someone we have already met, Anton R. Seiple, the first president of the Office of International Religious Freedom (OIRF)! (see the first part of this report). Currently, Seiple is also director of the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE), which describes itself as a "think-and-do- tank operating at the intersection of religion, realpolitik, and reconciliation." A former conservative evangelical Marine, he was also an advisor to the U.S. Secretary of State and co-chair of the working group on Religion and Foreign Policy, whose recommendations led to the creation of the Office of Religion and Global Affairs. A very close connection, then, between the U.S. government and Scientology. The circle is closed.
The question is: If it is clear why Scientology needs the state, why does the state need Scientology?
Heterogenesis of the ends
In 2019, the Scientology front organization Fundación para la Mejora de la Vida, la Cultura y la Sociedad was granted Special Advisory Status by the United Nations. The Foundation is headed by Ivan Arjona Pelado, a senior member of the Church's intelligence agency, the Office for Special Affairs (OSA). This status will enhance Scientology's ability to speak to the United Nations and also allow it to hold conferences under the umbrella of UN, bringing in new political allies from around the world. Last year, Ivan Pelado, Greg Mitchell and Eric Roux, a leading Scientology figure in Europe and head of OSA, attended a religious freedom summit in Brussels organized by ACRE, the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe. This is a Eurosceptic political group in the European Parliament. The most distinguished participants were Ahmed Shaheed, special rapporteur for human rights at the Human Rights Council UN, and Sam Brownback, former governor of Kansas and U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom until Biden's election. Brownback's office published the State Department's annual report on international religious freedom. USCIRF elected Brownback as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom in 2018.
Other speakers included Willy Fautrè, president of Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF), the guy who stole my place in line at OSCE (part two), and Patricia Duval, a French lawyer who is rarely absent from Scientology panels and who sits on the scientific committee of the Italian European Federation for Freedom of Religion (FOB) and is among the authors of Bitter Winter and the Journal of CESNUR.
Also present was Bashy Quraishy of EMISCO, an association that fights against anti-Islamic prejudice but strangely wages a battle against the anti-cult movement. I was there in person in Copenhagen in 2013 when he infiltrated the FECRIS Congress as an accredited journalist. He started asking the president why FECRIS was recreating the Inquisition. When he was recognized, he was chased away. Downstairs, a group of Scientologists was waiting for him. The next day, he claimed on his private TV, that he had been beaten up by FECRIS.
The plots and plans are as complex as in a Christopher Nolan movie. Another area related to this theme is the world of 'Christianists' (a term used to define the use of Christianity for political purposes) and pro-market associations, the prototype of which is the Acton Institute, founded in 1990 by Robert Sirico and Betsy DeVos. Sirico is a Catholic priest - formerly a Pentecostal -, and supporter of anarcho-capitalism, who was arrested in 1976 for organizing an auction of male slaves found naked and with sadomasochistic paraphernalia in a Los Angeles club. The second, DeVos, belongs to the family that owns Amway. The latter organization and others associated with it fund the Acton Institute, which, incidentally, is headquartered in the same city as Amway, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Amway is a multinational multi-level marketing (MLM) company that distributes various soaps and detergents and whose executives are evangelical activists closely associated with the American economic, political and military Right who claim to speak directly to God. Many Amway distributors are Scientologists . After all, in America they say "Amway is much like Scientology, but with soap." This multinational Ponzi scheme is in turn part of a vast network of Christian-pro-free market organizations called the Atlas Network, controlled by the Atlas Institute, which explicitly refers to the thought of Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand was a thinker who extolled the virtues of selfishness and capitalism, and the author of the "superhumanist" novel Atlas Shrugged, hence the name of the Institute. Ayn Rand is a source of inspiration for some of libertarian thought. However, many do not recognize themselves in her absolute lack of compassion and charity toward others. Indeed, Rand considered altruism "immoral." Unchristianly, the leading figure in the galaxy of these Christian associations believed that it was unjust and immoral to sacrifice oneself for others.
In 1992, the Vietnamese archbishop Francois X Nguyen Van Thuan, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, granted Sirico access to the Vatican. In 2004, he was even among the editors of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, the same doctrine that Sirico, as a rampant free market advocate, fought against throughout his life. In 2001, in Italy, Robert Sirico was among the signatories of a manifesto in favor of capitalist globalization, along with Michael Novak, a leading theocon theorist, and a large part of the board of Alleanza Cattolica, the organization of which Massimo Introvigne, founder of CESNUR and editor of the magazine Bitter Winter (which deals with the Chinese persecution of religious minorities), was the "reggente vicario."
Members of American government structures dedicated to the defense of religious pluralism were or still are prominent members of organizations belonging to the constellation led by Amway and the Atlas Network. If we take only USCIRF, the bipartisan commission on International Religious Freedom that produced the report that began this journey into the geopolitics (i.e., the report that called on Trump to obstruct my work at OSCE), we find members of the Federalist Society (such as Leonard Leo, chairman of USCIRF in 2009), the American Enterprise Institute (such as John R. Bolton, former commissioner), or related organizations such as the Hudson Institute (such as Nury Turkel, commissioner). In 2018, USCIRF endorsed Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Senator Sam Brownback, who was among the speakers at the Brussels convention, along with Scientology and Euroskeptic politicians. His Kansas campaign was funded by Koch Industries, which is one of the founders of the anarcho-capitalist, Amway-affiliated Americans for Prosperity.
Ultimately, we now find ourselves contemplating this scenario: The front in 'defense of religious freedom' consists of a jumble of units that is difficult to disentangle. They can be divided into
- governmental entities (such as the three of the U.S. government);
- non-governmental interest groups active in international bodies such as the OSCE and the Council of Europe (such as Human Rights Without Frontiers - HRWF, the European Federation for Freedom of Belief - FOB and the Coordination des associations et des particuliers pour la liberté de conscience - CAP LC). We can call them "lobbyist" associations;
- "Christianist" groups oriented toward political and economic conservatism (Atlas Institute, Amway, Acton, etc.); and
- a study center (CESNUR)
- a magazine (Bitter Winter); and
- various cults (most notably Scientology).
The mutual contacts between these institutions are so close that there are hardly more than two intermediate nodes between one node of the network and another. Often there is even complete overlap. For example, let us look at the activist organizations against the anti-cult movement. Among the founding associations of FOB are various controversial cults - for example, Soteria International, which is linked to MISA Yoga of the controversial sex guru Gregorian Bivolaru (wanted by Europol) - but most importantly, among its leading figures is a high-ranking Scientology representative. This is also true for CAP LC. Members of CAP LC are in turn also members of FOB. On the scientific committee of FOB sits the wife of the director of CESNUR, a study center that should not play an "activist" role in this script. Also on the advisory board of FOB is a leader of Italian traditionalist Catholicism, Marco Respinti. He is a member of Alleanza Cattolica, the organization where Massimo Introvigne was vicar regent. Respinti is also editor-in-chief of Bitter Winter, the magazinel of CESNUR, as well as the Journal of CESNUR. He is also a senior fellow at the Russell Kirk Center, an organization dedicated to promoting traditionalist conservatism. We are still in that cultural realm favored by so many government officials and members of 'Christianist' associations. FOB publishes Bitter Winter's articles and the U.S. State Department freely admits in its 2021 report on religious freedom that much of the information about persecution in China comes from Turin magazine. I repeat: Not a government advisory committee like USCIRF, but even the Department, whose documents represent the official position of the United States, produces a public report with information about China which should guide U.S. policy with information provided by a magazine published by a nonprofit organization in Turin. Its editor rightly boasts about it, writing
Readers of Bitter Winter will forgive us if we mention that, in the section on China, Bitter Winter remains, as it was in the report of last year, the single most quoted source. We were quoted 74 times in 2020. The quotes became 85 in 2021.
Now, we have made it clear that
1. the pro-market "Christianist" associations (Atlas Institute, Amway, Acton Institute, Federalist Society, etc.), the state commissions for religious freedom and the U.S. State Department can euphemistically be described as very close (see above and also the third part of this report). Suffice it to say that Sam Brownback, former governor of Kansas and U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom (elected by USCIRF), chair of the 2022 International Freedom Summit, is close to the Amway world and heads the office that publishes the State Department's annual report on international religious freedom (the one that cites Bitter Winter, CESNUR magazine, as its source).
2. the links between Scientology and certain sectors of the U.S. government are more than a guess and there is more than one proof of it (see the second part and also this one);
3. Scientology and other groups are linked to various lobbyist organizations (FOB, HRWF, CAP LC, see second, fourth and fifth parts);
4. religious freedom has always been used as a geopolitical tool in a soft power perspective (see part five).
Everyone can draw his own conclusions. Jeffrey M. Bale of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, arguably the best-known international expert on political and religious extremism, terrorism, unconventional warfare, and covert political operations, doesn't hesitate to write in the second volume of The Darkest Side of Politics that unconventional warfare involves organizations, pursuing "hidden religious or political agendas wich, in the name of religious and other democratic freedoms, are in reality intended to shield extremist, totalitarian, anti-democratic groups from scrutiny, criticism, and potential government crackdowns, and more generally to resisting or even roll back against <<secular humanism>>, liberalism, and modernism in the West." The expert adds that perhaps the most prominent case of these organizations is CeSNUR. Instead of defending religious freedom with paradoxical "liberal" arguments (since its director is a "right-wing Catholic activist"), the "sub rosa" agenda of this center is to fight against secularism, perhaps at the behest of Vatican circles. He writes this in a seminal text on "state terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, religious extremism, and organized crime." In truth, it was Introvigne himself who noted in a small volume in 1993 that "activists of Alleanza Cattolica, together with others, founded and still animate CESNUR [...] as an "apologetic response that never fails to go back to the broader framework of the dramatic struggle between evangelization and anti-evangelization, that's, in the language of the counter-revolutionary Catholic school, of which Alleanza Cattolica is particularly inspired, between revolution and counter-revolution."
Through what we've called "heterogeneity of purpose," the goals of these organizations, those of groups like Scientology, those of U.S. government agencies, and those of neocons, converge even as they arise out of different needs.
In La Mafia des Sctes, Bruno Foucherau speaks of the funding of the Moon Church by CIA and of training courses for gurus run by the same agency. In short, the relations between the U.S. intelligence agencies and the "cults" have been repeatedly pointed out. Going a step further, we can say that the preservation of religious pluralism allows some states to use the lack of respect for religious freedom to put other countries under international pressure. This can also mean funding certain groups, and not just for the purpose of social polarization and subversion. For example, creating a religious movement out of thin air in a country that cannot be influenced in any other way can guarantee the retroactive efforts of that government to suppress it, exposing the totalitarian nature of that country. For their part, the cults associated with the government would benefit. For example, there is evidence of economic ties between the U.S. government and the Chinese Falun Gong movement (see Part 5). But there is a problem. What happens in a closed and undemocratic country, especially if it does not flatter the government, can be difficult to leak abroad. The fact is that the spread of such news is critical to international influence. Therefore, an international megaphone is needed to spread these facts. In the case of Falun Gong, much of this work of spreading the wrongdoings of the Chinese Communist Party is done by the cult newspaper, The Epoch Times. Nothing is known about the most persecuted (and most defended) movement in recent years, the Church of Almighty God. This religion is also associated with Falun Gong, as its members are allegedly subject to the same practice of organ harvesting. All that is known is that this religious movement has colossal sums of money and that much of the information about its persecution is known in the West thanks to the multilingual daily magazine Bitter Winter, which, not coincidentally, is the preferred source of USCIRF and the U.S. State Department for Chinese affairs (see above). If one takes a "synoptic" reading of Falun Gong and the Church of Almighty God, Bitter Winter seems like a premium version of the Epoch Times.
Mentioning these points has led to the Chinese press defending me, unsolicited, against attacks from the world of 'cult apologists'. This earned me the infamous charge of collaborating in murder, torture and organ harvesting.
It's my dance and I dance it.
Does this mean that cult apologists, as individuals and as associations, are funded by state institutions in a logic of soft power? Given our digression, it is plausible that this is the case for many cults, but as far as apologists are concerned, the matter may prove more complex. The present investigation, which focuses not so much on the origin of apologists' funds as on their role on the geopolitical chessboard, does not exhaust our curiosity about the world of apologists, especially those who claim to be representatives of the academia. Indeed, disturbing money flows are already emerging between this world and the cults themselves. This will be the subject of an upcoming investigation that can only irreparably destroy the credibility of these figures.