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Steven Hassan Tweets: “Sirhan after extensive testing appears to be a Manchurian Candidate!”

May 5, 2011

Cult and “mind control” expert Steven Hassan, proclaimed on his Twitter page on April 29 and also on his website:

Sirhan, after extensive testing appears to be a Manchurian Candidate!

I see a few problems with this pronouncement.

First of all, I was not aware that there was any scientifically reliable or valid test to determine whether someone is a Manchurian Candidate. Sirhan’s lawyer is attempting to bring this to court, but if he does, I have to wonder how such a claim could ever survive Daubert. The Daubert Standard, which has been in effect now in Federal cases for more than a decade now, requires that expert witness testimony be backed by scientific evidence. In the past, when the Frye Standard was in effect and it still is, in many state courts, the standards were much less rigorous. The evidence presented only needs to be generally accepted by the scientific community. That standard more vague and more open to interpretation, although it is doubtful that the fantastic claims about Sirhan being a Manchurian Candidate could even meet that standard. I don’t see how they could meet the Daubert Standard.

What was Steven Hassan’s source for his incredible claim? He links to this Associated Press release on  As with Hassan’s tweet, the article ominously entitled “Sirhan’s lawyers argue mind control plot,” makes a number of unsubstantiated pronouncements.  The evidence?

The documents filed this week in federal court and obtained by The Associated Press detail extensive interviews with Sirhan during the past three years, some done while he was under hypnosis.


For the first time, Sirhan said under hypnosis that on a cue from the girl he went into “range mode’’ believing he was at a firing range and seeing circles with targets in front of his eyes.

“I thought that I was at the range more than I was actually shooting at any person, let alone Bobby Kennedy,’’ Sirhan was quoted as saying during interviews with Daniel Brown, a Harvard University professor and specialist in trauma memory and hypnosis.

He interviewed Sirhan for 60 hours with and without hypnosis, according to the legal brief.


Sirhan maintained in the hypnotic interviews that the mystery girl touched him or “pinched’’ him on the shoulder just before he fired, then spun him around to see people coming through the pantry door.

“Then I was on the target range … a flashback to the shooting range … I didn’t know that I had a gun,’’ Sirhan said.

Under what Brown called the condition of hypnotic free recall, he said Sirhan remembered seeing the flash of a second gun at the time of the assassination. Without hypnosis, he said, Sirhan could not remember that shot.

Did he and Steven Hassan appear to be missing is that extensive research on memory have shown, after much damage was done to people in s0-called recovered memory therapy, that  memories recovered under hypnosis are not considered reliable.

I will be following this case with great interest to see how long it lasts. But really, these kinds of far-fetched conspiracy theories about “mind control”  does great harm to the credibility of those of us who have an interest in exposing the actual, many abuses of cults and other charismatic leaders on their members. More ordinary and much more scientifically supported theories of social influence can provide a much more parsimonious (simpler) explanation to fit the facts, so I must go by the principle of Occam’s Razor, that the simplest explanation that fits the facts, is usually the best one. No need to resort to these far-flung claims about “mind control” and Manchurian Candidates which I thought had been discredited in the 1990s.

Hassan has also made some equally troubling pronouncements (similar to the unsupported pronouncements to AT parenting coach Nancy Thomas that I have discussed elsewhere on this blog) to the press about Osama Bin Laden, maintaining that:

“It comes back to the lack of successful organized attachments with the mother,” said Hassan, author of the book, “Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves.”

“Basically, because of a lack of healthy attachment, they have an inability to have empathy…They can’t put themselves in another person’s shoes.”

Figures like Hitler, Manson and Jones need the blind adoration of their followers — their narcissistic supply — a “compensation goes on wanting to feel love,” according to Hassan.

However, there is no actual evidence that attachment to mother has anything to do with why these people are (or were) the way they are. Looks like Mr. Hassan has fallen in with the AT camp’s myths when, in fact, the symptoms of RAD have nothing to do with that sort of behavior. These theories are on the same level as the now-discredited theories of the schizophrenogenic mother causing schizophrenia or the refrigerator mother causing autism. Can we please stop blaming everything on mom and stop perpetuating these myths?

  1. If that is what Sirhan actually believes, it sounds like a schizophrenic delusion to me.

  2. Dr. Cathleen Mann permalink

    It’s highly likely, in my view, that this is an idea posed by Sirhan’s attorney. Such posturing usually requires the finding of an expert willing to take money to espouse such a belief. Since Hassan has never been qualified in a court of law as an expert in anything, then his claims of expert status are in his own mind only. No authority has claimed him as an expert, so his position is completely without foundation.

    • I agree, and this is the big problem with the self-proclaimed “experts” but it is amazing how many people in the media fall for this.

      One thing I am curious about is who paid for Sirhan’s attorney. Any ideas? I hope it was not the taxpayers.

      I would really love to see the court documents on this one.

  3. Dr. Cathleen Mann permalink

    Yes, of course, it was the taxpayers. Sirhan is indigent, and he still ha the right to due process under the US justice system. There is ample legal precedent for right of counsel without ability to pay. I see your point, and share your concern that experts are paid for junk science and most lawyers, judges, and the public don’t know the difference because or irresponsible “experts” eposuing theories and applications not accepted within modern scientific psychology. I don’t know what the solution is, though, except wide exposure.

    • I was afraid that was the case. What a complete waste, that our taxpayer dollars would be going towards the application of discredited pseudoscientific procedures applied to a convicted assassin who should be living out his days in prison with no more publicity and attention. But of course to some people, just about everyone is a victim of “mind control”. Let’s hope this case gets quickly dispensed with, so they take as few of our tax dollars as possible.

      This is especially a travesty, given all the truly innocent people who were later acquitted on DNA evidence while they languished in prison for years while their cases were not reopened and what they had to go through to finally get their cases reopened. Instead, taxpayer dollars are wasted on an assassin trying to ride in on the “mind control” defense.

  4. Brain Fart permalink

    Roy Masters has asserted that Sirhan (among other recent assassins) was programmed and that RM knows how to program almost anyone. I’m inclined to believe him, but don’t expect that he would publicly explain how, much less prove it. He’s spoken favorably of the Sinatra version of the “Manchurian Candidate”, but disparaged the remake. I’d be interested if either you or Dr. Mann would challenge RM to (discreetly) explain the programming assertion to you.

    I mainly wanted to alert you and Dr. Mann to the video at youtube(dot)com/watch?v=tTO5swNZokk titled: “Why Attorneys do not Accept Cult Related Litigation”. Here’s the blurb:

    “Published on May 16, 2015
    During the 1990s Peter Georgiades was one of most successful attorneys in lawsuits against cultic groups. He won many cases. Yet his activity in the cultic area diminished significantly. At the ICSA 2004 conference in Atlanta in 2004, Mr. Georgiades explained why he and other attorneys are reluctant to take on cases related to cultic groups. His explanation is candid and illuminating.”

    I watched it all. You might also enjoy youtube(dot)com/watch?v=oQrsGjT0Sn4 titled “Joe Rogan Experience #680 – Steven Hassan”, published on Aug 7, 2015. I watched the beginning, where I found some hope that SH might be learning. SH introduced the legal terminology of “undue influence” before the BITE model. I expect that it would be easier to present modern psychology in time-honored legal terms than persuade the courts to accept much modern psychology. SH seemed reluctant to acknowledge his practice of Judaism as a cult. But after disclaiming the pejorative connotation of the word “cult”, and distinguishing between destructive, benign, and constructive cults, as well as proclaiming his opposition to undue influence, I think he got there. I hit the wall after 13′, and doubt that I’ll listen to more, but the first 7′ were tolerable.

    • Challenge Roy Masters? Are you kidding me? RM is not a credible source and there is nothing of his unsubstantiated nonsense to challenge. If he wants to make a nonsensical assertion, he has the burden of proof. I don’t challenge bogus nonsense. I dismiss it out of hand, as any rational person would. I wouldn’t waste my time – the only rational response is that if he is making assertions, he has the burden of proof.

      I am familiar with the Hassan appearance on Joe Rogan. SH didn’t “introduce the terminology undue influence”. That is what is being used in courts of law and has been for a long time. I agree with him, though, that Judiasm isn’t a cult. I take strong issue, though, with the claims he is making for the new treatment that he says will cure personality disorders in a few years. There are only a few studies and his grandiose claims go far beyond the data and are way premature – let alone his application to people born and raised in cults, who do not inevitably have these personality disorders anyway. There is so much wrong with that talk, it deserves an entire artlcle to refute.

  5. Brain Fart permalink

    I’m not asserting RM as a credible scientific source, e.g., in terms of licensed clinical practice or peer reviewed publications, much less Daubert. I assert that RM has the best model and most efficacious treatment that I’ve found. I’m prepared to argue that, but not absent expressed interest. I want to accord people the credibility they’re reasonably due, no more, no less.

    More to the point, absent a scientific test for a “Manchurian Candidate”, I agree that SH’s tweet evinces baseless self-promotion that warrants criticism. But I’m more interested in the feasibility of programming assassins because, as an extreme case, that science might inform deprogramming theory and treatment generally. In my view, scapegoating is the prevalent non-coercive technique to promote character or career, if not physical, assassination. As a case in point, since it affects SH critics generally, and certainly involves SH, RM, and LM (LIM), I argue that physical assassination is but a difference of degree from character or career assassination, i.e., the scapegoating programming principle obtains for both.

    I assert that SH envied RM’s position as a non-coercive anti-cult adviser. So SH attacked RM, ironically and shrewdly, by stigmatizing RM as a cult leader. This strategy would at once depose a prominent, perhaps leading, competitor and promote SH in RM’s place. As evidence, I submit youtube(dot)com/watch?v=MVTy4EtusHc titled “Roy Masters Calls Steve Hassan a Parasite!” I had stumbled into a smear of RM and argued against it, e.g., to consider oversight on my part. After some refutation, it became obvious (even to me) that LM was a programmed disciple of SH, in that she evinced an unwillingness to acknowledge factual refutation. I assert that LM was a suitably suggestible subject who, arguably, was subtly recruited by SH to scapegoat RM using SH’s BITE model. If I google “Roy Masters BITE”, I find ample evidence of this arguable abuse. So I assert that when SH implies that Manchurian Candidate programming is credible, SH well knows whereof he speaks. Beyond that, SH critics should expect ruthless and unethical competition, far more than his merely whimpering at an ICSA conference during presentations he found threatening. I would be unsurprised to learn, e.g., that SH was behind sock puppets or tools who attacked you with online smears and disinformation.

    You seem to share RM’s posture of welcoming sensible challenge to discover a more perfect truth. That’s why I value the disciplined argument of legal tradition, as well as western traditions of sensible debate more generally, and of course, scientific method. I agree that “undue influence” is a time-honored legal doctrine that predates SH. My point was that in that recent interview, SH prefaced his promotion of his BITE model with legal terminology. Established legal doctrine, while perhaps of limited value to develop a robust theory for efficacious treatment, is a foundation to develop a legally acceptable psychological theory to successfully argue undue influence. Legal conformance is arguably a paramount treatment priority to lawfully extract abuse victims from abusive environments for professional rehabilitation, and to help legal professionals prosecute abusers. If you see Peter Georgiades express his frustration, you might consider the utility of the strategy I suggested for model development. I think SH might be understanding that strategy, and moving toward relating the BITE model to prevailing legal practice. Considering how Dick Anthony apparently torpedoed Margaret Singer in U.S. v. Fishman, 743 F.Supp. 713 (1990), I don’t see how expert legal testimony can be reliably useful otherwise. I little doubt that RM offers a more useful model than BITE, but I would value any advance in the science. I might prefer that advance came from you or CM rather than SH, but I less value the agency than the advance. I wonder if SH’s failures of attribution to others, e.g., MS, might be calculated to distance BITE heritage from theory the Fishman court rejected. The question is, has SH remedied the defects identified by DA and effectively barred by Fishman?

    At culteducation(dot)com/group/1965-is-dick-anthony-a-full-time-professional-cult-apologists.html, I see some suggestion that later settlements indicate that DA is losing influence. On the contrary, the cases mentioned scarcely appear relevant to the holding in Fishman. It appears those later cases settled for economic risk management, reflecting less legal import than the wealth, and jeopardized future income, of the defendants. While those settlements might induce attorneys to accept similar cases, they don’t appear to remedy the asymmetrical advantage of wealthy abusers. Tony Alamo’s fall might be more instructive as to how to attack wealthy or criminal, if not otherwise influential, abusers.

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