Guest View: The Whole Idea of ‘Brainwashing’ is a Red Herring!

By Abelard

What is Frank Report’s fascination with brainwashing?

Brainwashing is very real and very dangerous as this image proves.

There is no charge in the Keith Raniere case related to “brainwashing.”

I doubt very much that it appears in the Government’s sentencing recommendation, or any submission related to sentencing, or the judge’s order sentencing Allison Mack.

Authors seem to like it because “brainwashing” can be given whatever definition they like, and then “debunked,” thus showing how smart they are.

It’s fun to demolish a straw man.

Straw men are not hard to bowl over.

What are these modern-day inquisitors trying to say, other than “I’m much smarter and wiser than Judge Garaufis”?

I think their point is that the social pressures, coercive methods and traumas built into the NXIVM system should not count in mitigation. If they just said that, we could have “a sensible discussion of these things and draw meaningful contrasts and comparisons.”

Or we could talk about the Unabomber and how this mentally ill person’s conspiracy theory was not accepted by courts or psychologists.

Theodore John Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber.

Take that, Alison Mack. Case closed.

Of course, social pressures, coercive methods and traumas are routinely considered by judges in our system of justice. They typically don’t present to this degree, and when they do, the facts are tremendously complicated, so apples-to-apples comparisons are tricky. Courts sentence a person based on the totality of the circumstances and principles of justice, of which comparisons are only one piece of the puzzle. There is much, much more to this than asking “brainwashed or not?”

Allison Mack meeting Keith Raniere for the first time
Allison Mack met Keith Raniere for the first time in November 2006, Did he proceed to brainwash her? If so, it ended badly for both of them.

It certainly seems like the inquisitors are misunderstanding the importance of knowledge and intent in sentencing. One of the core considerations in crafting a sentence is the intent to harm. This is why a drunk driver can get 10 years for hitting a pedestrian, but someone who intentionally runs a guy over will get 50 years.

Specific intent to harm is critical in sentencing.

The evidence of NXIVM teachings, pressures, and coercions are incredibly relevant here because they go directly to that point. The defendants believed (or, at least, say that they believed) that what they were doing was good. And not just good for Keith or themselves, but for the other members and recruits. They believed their teachings were helpful, not harmful. This renders the argument about “brainwashing” pretty immaterial. What matters for sentencing is their genuine, good faith belief about the harm they were causing. And beyond doubt, beliefs are shaped by things like societal pressures, selective teachings, and the like. Considering these things is necessary to evaluate the genuineness of their beliefs.

There is a ton of evidence on these points, but here is the best evidence in my opinion. Alison, Lauren, and the rest wanted, at bottom, to recruit people into the same life that they had.


Lauren Salzman and Allison Mack during their DOS days.

They didn’t ask anyone to give what they weren’t giving, or to assume any burden that they hadn’t already assumed. Money on demand, sex on demand, slavish devotion to authority – Alison Mack thought this was a GREAT life because, if she didn’t, she wouldn’t want it for herself. Of course, she didn’t want her recruits to rise higher than she did, but she certainly wanted them to be just like her – a slave to the higher power.

We might compare this to other criminal organizations, like a street gang. The gang sells drugs. Members don’t think that customers will be improved by taking drugs.

These dudes were not thinking that the buyers of their products were being improved but rather likely harmed but profits were more important.


DOS First-Line Slaves were thinking, it is believed, that they were not only gaining profit by recruiting other women but that their “customers” would also gain immeasurably.

Or maybe the gang hijacks trucks. They don’t think it helps the truckers. And so we don’t care, particularly, why they are a member of the gang. Many gang members will tell judges that they are in gangs because they need money, or because they grew up in the gang and were taught that gangs are good. These things don’t matter much unless they negate knowledge or intent to harm. But if someone was taught that heroin was medicine, and could prove that to a judge’s satisfaction, this would be evidence in mitigation.

So the whole idea of “brainwashing” is a red herring. It relieves the person of the tiring task of considering all the evidence in light of the statutory and constitutional factors, like the judge had to, and enables an easy judgment purportedly justified by science.

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  • Abelard-

    Let’s turn the tables around! If you’ve never been brainwashed, how would you know it’s not real?

    • Not sure how to respond to this. Using the term in its usual sense, I’m pretty sure that it does exist. But my larger point is that it doesn’t matter.

  • Abeltard-

    Most intelligent people use “brainwashing” as slang for group indoctrination. I do not believe in “brainwashing” per se.

    No intelligent person believes in
    Clockwork Orange, Homeland, or Manchurian Candidate “brainwashing” type scenarios.

    Socials groups and the social bonds which exist within those groups exert psychological/sociological control over members. You should read up on evolutionary psychology. Seriously

    Lastly no intelligent person believes Raniere was prosecuted for brainwashing except Actaeon.

  • There is not “brainwashing” unless the circumstances of imprisonment are extreme, but no one can silence one’s inner understandings or questions, not even then. The revolution happens within. We each decide, like it or not, admit it or not, who we are. It seems to me that this “beingness” is all that each one of us takes with us when we go. Nothing else can remain.

    Yet people do become influenced and convinced about things which turn out to be against our own principles, and usually, the hook is subtly disguised, but somehow attractive, ego-bait.

    The revelations of those who say that they have eluded Raniere’s grip are seen by me as a part of their inner and outer processing of what is and of what is not.

    A lot of it is too much, too soon. The understandings take some time, when somebody has been caught up in this delusionary prescriptive for “living,” manufactured by Salzman’s and Raniere’s sociopathy, for years and years. This is my personal perspective, though.

    What people say and believe while processing the past and the present is always subject to changing. It is a lot like peeling a smelly onion, sometimes with tears in one’s eyes.

    Its ever-shifting content is questionable, therefore, as to its truly valuable comprehension, depth and also, motivation(s.) What is temporary; what is not? Peel it off. There’s no excuse for doing a rush job. It is always weak.
    Enough is enough. Who is sincere?

    At least music and poetry can turn out to be timeless. And paintings, etc. An artist is no longer able to be an artist when anyone supplants the inherent and necessary FIRE, our free will. Nothing is ever finished on earth. It’s funny that way. Only the breath stops.

    We get breathless and the truth follows us only as much as we have been searching. So, grain of salt.

  • Some excellent points. The “good faith belief” and lack of “specific intent to harm”, as you put it, is precisely why I’m glad the judge gave Mack the sentence that he did. It doesn’t negate the wrongness of her actions, but it mitigates the level of punishment meted out, and it definitely should, even if some would prefer that intent be ignored and the harshest punishment possible be given. Your final paragraph I thought was particularly clear in why setting up brainwashing to attack it is the easy way out. It’s a black-and-white solution in a world where proper justice is a lot more gray.

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.” He also appeared in "Branded and Brainwashed: Inside NXIVM, and was credited in the Starz docuseries "Seduced" for saving 'slave' women from being branded and escaping the sex-slave cult known as DOS.

Additionally, Parlato’s coverage of the group OneTaste, starting in 2018, helped spark an FBI investigation, which led to indictments of two of its leaders in 2023.

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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