Alanzo: Brainwashing Is a Superstition, but Prosecutors and Judge Believe in It and Used It to Convict Raniere

Keith Raniere in this rare picture where he is caught on camera brainwashing three of his students' brains.

By Allen ‘Alanzo’ Stanfield

Coercive control is not unique to cults. Coercive control exists in the mafia, the military, in corporations, and in the flipping of witnesses in the Keith Raniere trial. In most of these situations, the judge would have let the Lauren Salzman cross examination continue.

In any case…  brainwashing is a superstition…  If ‘brainwashing’ starts to be taken off the table in thinking about minority religions and sub-cultures, maybe we can see criminals and criminal behavior for what it is – consciously chosen, intentional behavior.

And maybe anticult ninnies … will stop shilling for criminals just because they’ve been ‘deprogrammed’ now and are ‘no longer brainwashed’….

As for coercive control, yes there are degrees. But don’t be blind to your own culture’s use of coercive control.

For instance, the government threatened witnesses with life in prison in the Raniere trial and had the power to carry that threat out. And indeed, did carry it out and used that threat to coerce others.

The point is that coercive control is not unique to cults. It is used throughout the human species. Most people just believe that certain minority religions and sub-cultures are illegitimate. Many Catholics, for instance, believe it’s perfectly fine for their church to exert control over their members because they believe their church is legitimate. But other religions or sub-cultures they don’t like?

No way.

What was also necessary for the Raniere conviction was for the judge to be played in the lenient sentencing of Allison Mack was his belief in “brainwashing”.

Brainwashing is nonsense

He and the prosecution used deprogrammers throughout Raniere’s trial.

The judge believed that Lauren Salzman had been “brainwashed” and so he cut off her cross examination because she was “broken” and not responsible for her actions. And the judge believed that Allison Mack was undergoing deprogramming, making progress in her “recovery” and coming out from her brainwashing.

So he went easy on her.

Brainwashing is completely false. It has been debunked by dozens of scientific studies since the 1940’s.

But it has become an incredibly useful excuse for sociopaths to explain away the crimes they’ve committed, and with the pity it generates, criminals can even use brainwashing to cover up their criminal acts.

Brainwashing does not exist.

But the widespread belief in brainwashing works like a bomb.

My point was never that Lauren Salzman did not take responsibility for her actions. My point was that the judge, and the prosecutors, believed in brainwashing. This was one ploy they used, among many, to flip witnesses, prejudice the jury, and get convictions on charges with almost non-existent evidence.

Not all the charges were without merit, and did have plenty of evidence to support them, and I believe those convictions were sound.

MR AGNIFILO: Judge this repeated sort of system questions for each witness that looking back at it, ‘What did you think by a certain set of facts,’ and the witnesses, just like in this case, ‘I thought I was being groomed to join a harem.’ That’s not the witness testifying to eyewitness observations. This is a lay witness that’s here to talk about what she saw what she heard what she did. She is not an expert. She is certainly not an expert on another person’s intention in the context of her own life. It’s highly prejudicial. It’s been going on throughout the government’s case in chief, and I object to it, and I renew my motion to strike the court

THE COURT: Thank you. [AUSA prosecutor] Mr Lesko. Do you want to comment on that?

MR LESKO: Your Honor, I mean, I think it is highly relevant, and not only with respect to this witness, but for other witnesses and victims, that the jury understand their understanding of what happened to them, and particularly after they were, in essence, deprogrammed.

Did you get that? “So that the jury understand their understanding of what happened to them.”

This means that before these witnesses were deprogrammed, their testimony of their understanding of what happened to them would not have been ‘understandable’ to a jury. This is a use of deprogramming by the government so that their witnesses change their testimony to what the government wants them to say – under the ruse that the jury may then “understand” it.

This belief in deprogramming expressed to the judge – and accepted by him – proves the judge believes in deprogramming, and thus brainwashing, and it was a huge part of Raniere’s trial.

This prompted me to re-watch “The Crucible” and to restudy the Salem Witch Trials, to see how those prosecutors and judges believed in witchcraft, and how that belief corrupted their proceedings.

You should study the Salem Witch Trials, “All the best to you”.

By the way, if you want to give me arrogant and insulting life advice, see if you can muster the courage to do it under your real name.


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  • First, put aside the author’s guesses about what the judge “believes” or “accepted’ and what that “proves.” For sure, mind-reading has been debunked much more thoroughly than brainwashing.

    It’s astounding how many people are lining up to act as morally and intellectually superior to the judge and jury. You are not the only person who has an understanding of the law, of evidence, of psychology, of trauma, etc. Your own personal research does not make you an expert. Your personal inability to find a shred of proof that challenges you does not mean that proof does not exist. Someone may agree with your conclusions. That person might have a degree and credentials. They might have written a paper in a journal somewhere. That does make you, or them, right.

  • Alonzo & Sausage:

    Brainwashing is a catchphrase or an *umbrella word.

    *An umbrella term is a word or phrase that covers a wide range of concepts belonging to a common category.


    Dear Alonzo and Sausage,

    Clearly, cults all share the same general game plan to indoctrinate members.

    What would you both call the process that is used to indoctrinate people?

    • Very nice point. Among the other nonsense in the post, you’ve spotted a core definitional problem. Which will be ignored by the authors and editors.

    • Nice Guy –

      Lots of semantic games are played by anticultists to keep repeating the superstition that there are certain techniques that cult leaders use to get you to believe something against your will. It doesn’t matter what term they switch on you, it’s false: No one can get you to believe anything that you don’t want to believe.

      Minority religions and sub-cultures use the same techniques of indoctrination that the Democratic Party uses, the Republican Party uses, the Catholic Church uses, Jewish Synagogues, Amway Salesmen, and the Democratic Socialists of America.

      All human groups share a common ideology – it’s what makes them groups. When you join a group, you are accepting and joining their ideology, too. You learn the ideology from them, and they teach you higher and higher levels of that ideology in Christianity, Judaism and the US Marines. This is what “indoctrination” is.

      There is so much superstitious bullshit surrounding “cults”. You have to dump it in order to understand what you are looking at.


      • Alonzo,

        Regarding the US Marines, they actually bolster my argument.

        Some people are more susceptible to cult tools than others…..

        I get the “superstition” angle.

        QAnon is basically modern superstition. Instead of dark magical forces, there’re powerful shadow organizations like the Illuminati.

  • Here is something that makes no sense to me…

    Cult members claim brainwashing does not exist.

    Yet, they believe that the “deprogrammers” CAN influence the cult members that they try to help when the family and friends call them in.

    If one total stranger can impact a cult member’s mind – then obviously an entire group of people they live with and/or work with and spend all of their time with – could influence/impact their minds as well. No? Especially if they are taking endless classes, therapy, auditing, etc. And are perceiving the leader of their cult as an ultimate authority?

    It has to work both ways…Right?

  • Brainwashing is superstition? Think of this. You come into this world with nothing in your mind aside from instinct. Basically, the mind is a blank hard drive at that point, yet today you have many beliefs, which are not even your own, they were installed in you by others. Unfortunately, those who installed those beliefs in you control who you are today until you understand those beliefs were not yours to begin with.

    Perhaps “brainwashing” is not the correct word; however, once you understand how to change a person’s beliefs, which weren’t their own to begin with, you can begin to “program” their mind however you please by “installing” the beliefs you wish them to have, no different than how your upbringing shaped who you are today and you didn’t even know it – until now.

    • Persuasion exists.

      Cultures exist.

      For example, you are being persuaded in the opening post and in this comments section here that brainwashing doesn’t exist. Examples and scientific studies and their factual results are being presented to you for you to believe.

      But am I brainwashing you?

      Of course not, it’s up to you – for your own reasons – whether to believe any of this. It is all in your own power of choice to believe this or not.

      It was the exact same thing in NXIVM, in DOS, in Scientology and in the Moonies, Aum Shinrikyo and in the Peoples’ Temple.

      Those people chose to believe, and not to believe, just as you do now.


    • Another EXACTLY! I concur.

      Alonzo and Sausage may have both been brainwashed into believing they weren’t brainwashed…..

    • Yes, yours is an honest question, Honest Question. And it deserves an honest answer, one that I had to come to terms with as I was coming up out of anticultism. I read a lot of scientific studies, including this one on that very question called “A Market for Martyrs” funded by George Mason University.

      Here’s the abstract:

      Injury-oriented sacrifice is a market phenomenon grounded in exchanges between a relatively small supply of “martyrs” and a relatively large number of “demanders” who benefit from the martyrs’ acts. Contrary to popular perception, it is because of limited demand rather than limited supply that such markets rarely flourish. Suicidal attacks almost never profit the groups best equipped to recruit, train, and direct the potential killers. Once established, however, the markets are hard to shut down from the supply side –because so few “martyrs” are required and because terrorist “firms” can readily substitute across different methods and recruits. On the other hand, relatively small changes in the political and economic environment can combine to undermine the market’s demand side.

      Here’s that paper and my post on it and others: Scientific Studies That Debunk The Brainwashing Myth

      A lot of people accuse me of being a “cult shill” for arguing this point, or claim that it proves I’m a secret Scientologist working for the Office of Special Affairs.

      But the hard lessons I learned getting myself into and out of Scientology, and then getting myself into and out of Anti-Scientology, taught me that there are no “sides” to the truth. Fact and the truth exist no matter who benefits from it.

      So call me a cult shill. But show me the evidence that supports the claim that brainwashing exists.

      You can’t.

      No one can.

      Because, much to my dismay because I SO wanted to believe in it, brainwashing doesn’t exist.


  • Re Top Photo:

    The background is borrowed from an episode of Star Trek.

    That episode was one of my favorites. Unfortunately Frank has ruined the episode for me, because I will forever associate the episode with Raniere’s mug.

    Thanks a lot Frank! I hope you are proud of yourself. May your ricotta smell like Bangkok’s feet!

  • Alonzo-

    Please calm down with the bashing of the catchall word “brainwashing.”

    Bugs are to insects as brainwashing is to indoctrination.

    You are cutting hairs along the lines of semantics…..

  • The term “brainwashing” was invented by journalist Edward Hunter in September 1950 for an article in the Miami Daily News

    Brainwashing doesn’t exist. It’s a fable.

    It was a Cold War invention, useful for “explaining” how those Red Chinese devils could spread their ideology. Movies like The Manchurian Candidate helped spread the notion of “brainwashing”.

    It remains a popular belief, useful for explaining away one’s foolish choices such as joining a cult, getting branded with some asshole’s initials, etc. That way, you’re a victim instead of a fool.

    The term “brainwashing” is now often replaced with updated ones like “adult grooming” and “gaslighting”. They mean the same thing though.

    Short of a gun to your head, nobody can make you do anything. A lot of people can be convinced to do stupid and damaging things. Some a lot easier than others.

    There are plenty of people within Nxivm, and DOS, who didn’t go along. Who said “screw this” and left. Those people had strength of character. They had morals and courage.

    Many others collaborated, some to the bitter end. I have no respect and little sympathy for collaborators.

    It was the early whistleblowers I respect. People like Frank Parlato and Jessica Joan.

    • The big swingin sausage knocks it outta the park again.

      “There are plenty of people within Nxivm, and DOS, who didn’t go along. Who said “screw this” and left.”

      Yes. These are the “misses” that never get counted for believers in brainwashing. It’s incredibly important to count the hits AND the misses. The misses usually give you a benchmark.

      A great example of this sappy reasoning happens in AntiScientology when they talk about the poor “2nd Generation Scientologists”, or those who have been “born in” to Scientology. They constantly say “but they never had a choice!!!”

      All you have to do is count the number of children of Scientologists who never followed their parents into Scientology. That is by far the overwhelming majority. Only a small fraction of people followed their parents into Scientology. This proves 2nd Gens chose to join Scientology.

      The sociologist Eileen Barker conducted a famous experiment on “Moonie Brainwashing” in the early 1980’s. Throughout the 70’s newspapers and TV shows were screeching that the Moonies held 3 day seminars where people were being brainwashed into joining. All kinds of brainwashing techniques were claimed to be applied to people in those seminars to get them to join against their will.

      So Eileen Barker attended these 3 day seminars and counted the people in the room on the 1st day, the 2nd day, and the 3rd day. Then she counted the number of people who joined out of all those who signed up for the seminars. She found that fully 90% of those who attended these 3 day Moonie brainwashing seminars didn’t join up.

      And she also found that the remaining 10% who did join up from these seminars quit the Moonies within 2 years.

      So if brainwashing was really applied here, then it had no power. And if something like brainwashing has no power, does brainwashing really exist?


      “Cult Expert” Steven Hassan still claims to this day that Moonie brainwashing was applied and it’s VERY POWERFUL, without evidence and without any quantitative analysis.

      But “Dr.” Steven Hassan has books to sell on brainwashing, and family members to terrify so he can shake them down for up to $40,000 per deprogramming.

      He can’t let science get in the way of that.


      • But if we spell “silk” out loud and then say “silk, silk, silk, silk silk”. What do cows drink?

    • “Brainwashing: A colloquial term, it is more generally applied to any technique designed to manipulate human thought or action against the desire, will, or knowledge of the individual.” (Brittanica)

      Sausage don’t be obsessed with the nomenclature or layperson monikers. It’s all minutiae.

      Harvard Brainwashed the Unabomber:

      The truth is stranger than fiction and brainwashing is real. Read the article and blow your mind. 😉

      • Read the article, thanks for the link.

        That Ted Kaczynski was subject to some psychological experiments and would later become the Unabomber does not prove that the experiments made him the Unabomber. This is confusing correlation with causation.

        That “b” follows “a” does not prove that “a” caused “b”.

        Now if a higher than a random number of those experimented-upon Harvard students became violent crazies, that would be evidence. As it stands, the PT article presents nothing more than an interesting anecdote.

        As the article points out, the CIA and military were very interested in brainwashing. They, and a lot of psychologists, believed brainwashing was possible. They also experimented with psychoactive drugs including LSD. It was that research that established that brainwashing is not possible. And while it’s certainly possible to fry your brain on LSD, it sure ain’t the route to making an army of zombie super soldiers.

        The Army intensively studied indoctrination too. What they found is that some people can be pressured into doing things they wouldn’t normally do. This is the fallback position taken by the believers in high control group manipulation, “gaslighting”, etc.

        Isolate people and harangue them long enough, and you can convince some of them of all sorts of nonsense.

        However, all this means is that some people are gullible fools.

      • Brainwashing is a sticky belief. Some people want it to be true so bad they’ll start switching words to describe it. What AntiCultists believe when they use the term brainwashing is “a set of techniques cult leaders use to get you to believe things against your will, and against your own self-interests.” They often talk of a supposed “playbook” that ‘all cult leaders use’ to accomplish this.

        Then, when you start examining this claim and giving them the science, anticultists switch terms.

        Brainwashing becomes “mind control”. Then you prove that’s the same thing and so mind control becomes ‘thought reform’. Then, upon further inspection, that is abandoned and it becomes “undue influence”. Then when you say this is a concept from law – one of the 5 ways a contract can be broken – not unique to cults and it’s been used in courts for 500 years, it becomes “coercive persuasion”. And now we’re into techniques used on every used car lot in the western world.

        See how the goalposts get moved? The original claim is abandoned and something else replaces it because people who have adopted the belief in brainwashing find it useful to rationalize, excuse, vilify and terrify people. Some people, like Steven Hassan, Rachel Bernstein, Rick Ross, and Janja Lalich, build money-making careers out of terrifying people with it, so they can offer their deprogramming services.

        It’s just like the belief in witchcraft. People believe in witchcraft. They write books about it. They form covens and cast spells and incantations. They accuse others of being witches so they can burn them at the stake and take their land and livestock. But when science studies whether all those spells and incantations actually do anything, witchcraft is found to be without power.

        L Ron Hubbard believed in brainwashing. But he also believed that psychiatrists came from the Planet Farsec. The CIA, through its MKUltra program and others, ran a kind of “brainwashing arms race” for decades because they thought the Russians and the Chinese had cracked the code on brainwashing. The CIA destroyed the minds of Ted Kaczynski, Charles Manson and many others through their brutal and cruel experimentation, and unleashed them on the world. These government operators deserve to be fully prosecuted but never will be.

        The fact is that nobody, including L Ron Hubbard, Keith Reniere, Jim Jones, Shoko Asahara, and Marshall Applewhite, can make you believe anything you don’t want to believe.

        And so, when you really think about it, this might be more terrifying to people than believing in brainwashing.


  • For all of the talk about Raniere being a Rasputin or Svengali in terms of controlling people, all Raniere did was manipulate stupid and mentally ill people.
    People like Claire Bronfman and Allison Mack.

About the Author

Frank Parlato is an investigative journalist.

His work has been cited in hundreds of news outlets, like The New York Times, The Daily Mail, VICE News, CBS News, Fox News, New York Post, New York Daily News, Oxygen, Rolling Stone, People Magazine, The Sun, The Times of London, CBS Inside Edition, among many others in all five continents.

His work to expose and take down NXIVM is featured in books like “Captive” by Catherine Oxenberg, “Scarred” by Sarah Edmonson, “The Program” by Toni Natalie, and “NXIVM. La Secta Que Sedujo al Poder en México” by Juan Alberto Vasquez.

Parlato has been prominently featured on HBO’s docuseries “The Vow” and was the lead investigator and coordinating producer for Investigation Discovery’s “The Lost Women of NXIVM.” In addition, he was credited in the Starz docuseries 'Seduced' for saving 'slave' women from being branded and escaping the sex-slave cult known as DOS.

Parlato appeared on the Nancy Grace Show, Beyond the Headlines with Gretchen Carlson, Dr. Oz, American Greed, Dateline NBC, and NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, where Parlato conducted the first-ever interview with Keith Raniere after his arrest. This was ironic, as many credit Parlato as one of the primary architects of his arrest and the cratering of the cult he founded.

Parlato is a consulting producer and appears in TNT's The Heiress and the Sex Cult, which premieres on May 22, 2022.

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Contact Frank with tips or for help.
Phone / Text: (305) 783-7083