Thought Control: A Criminal Mastermind’s Greatest Weapon

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Photo courtesy of patternsofmeaning.com.

Overview  

Thought control (aka brainwashing, mind control, and re-education) is a complex process – but a relatively straight-forward concept. Basically, the idea behind brainwashing is that our minds can be controlled or altered through a series of psychological tactics.

These mind-altering techniques are employed by either a single person (or a group) who seeks to reduce another person’s ability to think independently. Not only is the goal to restrict a person’s critical thinking process, but to also introduce unwanted ideas and thoughts into the victim’s mind. The ultimate goal is to modify the subject’s essential values, beliefs and attitudes.

Mind control tactics are used by people throughout the world, ranging from despots to democratically elected politicians. And, of course, criminal enterprises – such as street gangs, terrorist organizations and drug cartels, utilize re-education in order to have complete psychological control over their foot soldiers.

History

The idea of manipulating others through the use of coercion has existed for millennia. But, the actual concept of isolating an individual for re-education was initially coined in the 1950s by a journalist named Edward Hunter.

During the post-World War II period, the rise of global communism was in full force. And to make sense of the growing control of the Chinese Communist Party, many were convinced that Chinese officials were brainwashing their subjects into absolute loyalty to the “cause.”

Hunter believed that – in addition to brainwashing their own citizens – the Chinese Communists were using mind control over American POWs during the Korean War. Hunter posited that the Chinese were attempting to convert the American soldiers into communists, with the ultimate goal of conquering the United States.

Once the idea of thought control entered the consciousness of mainstream society, it became apparent that so-called mind control was being utilized throughout the political, religious and criminal worlds.

Essentially, it was discovered by sociologists and criminologists that many leaders gained power and undying loyalty through indoctrination, and the remolding of their followers’ ideologies.

Outlaw enterprises, such as crime rings and gangs, were exploiting vulnerable members of society to carry out the grunt work. They sought people who could be easily swayed through a series of psychological control tactics, such as isolation, absolute obedience, social pressures, punishments and deprivation of life essentials.

Criticism

Although mind control is a generally accepted concept, there are many who believe that brainwashing is not grounded in science. They opine that the idea of thought control fails on several levels.

Namely, the critics believe that thought control is a pseudoscience that ignores research-based explanations of human behavior. And, because it denies people their free will, the idea of mind control essentially dehumanizes individuals.

The inconsistency in the application of the brainwashing label is another critique. For example, the term brainwashing seems only apply to behavior of which we disapprove. For example, we would say members of a cult are brainwashed into subjugation, but we generally do not believe soldiers are brainwashed to kill people – no, that’s basic training.

Regardless of the critique, there is no doubt that certain individuals are manipulated through psychological control tactics. And whether we use the term mind control or “coercive persuasion,” the outcome remains the same.

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Photo courtesy of bbc.com.

Victims of Criminal Mind Control

Norrmalmstorg Bank Robbery Hostages

The term “Stockholm Syndrome” was coined as a result of this bank robbery. The notion refers to the mind control tactics that result in hostages becoming empathetic (and often, sympathetic) to their captors.

Here, a Swedish bank was robbed by an escaped convict. The thief kept four hostages with him in the bank vault during the whole ordeal. Within only two days, the brainwashed victims were on a first name basis with the robber, and when communicating with the police, the hostages had a very hostile attitude towards the people trying to free them from captivity.

As the police raided the bank, the hostages hugged the captor in order to protect him. Months later, they even collected money in order to pay for the criminal’s legal defense fees.

Patty Hearst 

In 1974, one of the most famous cases of criminal mind control occurred. It involved Patty Hearst, the granddaughter of newspaper titan William Randolph Hearst. Here, Hearst was kidnapped by a group of political radicals known as the Symbionese Liberation Army and held captive for over a year.

During her time in captivity, Hearst was put in isolation and tortured. And the longer she remained in captivity, Hearst grew sympathetic to the SLA’s “cause.”

Less than two years after being kidnapped, Hearst was a full member of the group, and joined them in a slew of propaganda and illegal activities, such as armed robbery.

When she was caught by the FBI, the Bureau’s psychologists had determined that she had become a “low IQ, low affect zombie,” whose IQ had dropped 18 points from the time of her kidnapping.

Hearst was deemed to be a classic case of mind control.

She was sentenced to 35 years in prison but was famously pardoned four years later by President Carter.

Criminal Defense

Despite the widespread critique of mind control by those in the criminal justice field, criminals do use the defense of thought control went the prospect of heavy jail time looms over their lives.

The defense is simply this – “I was forced to commit this crime through brainwashing.”

The defense is a viable one, but very difficult to prove. In a nutshell, to be convicted of a crime, the prosecution must prove that the perp committed the crime (actus reus) and that he had a guilty state of mind (mens rea).

Basically, you have to do a bad thing with bad intentions. There are some crimes that are considered ‘strict liability’ in which no mens rea is required, i.e. speeding, but for the most part – the criminal needs to have the requisite “intent” in order to be found guilty.

So, if the criminal can prove that their actions were not of their own free will, and they did not possess the required psychological intent, then there is a chance that the they will not be found guilty.

This is tenuous defense, but it is workable if the legal team can gather enough scientific support to convince a jury.

This is truly a fascinating topic. What are your thoughts on mind control – is it a bogus concept or does it truly exist?

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About jchasenovelist

Published thriller author, criminologist, and blogger.
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