Fight Against Coercive Tactics Network
|Motto||We are to destructive cults, fundamentalism, mind control, and mental coercion/torture what Amnesty International is to physical torture.|
Fight Against Coercive Tactics Network, also known as FACTNet, co-founded by Robert Penny and Lawrence Wollersheim, is a Colorado-based organization with the stated aim of educating and facilitating communication about "destructive mind control". Coercive tactics, or "coercive psychological systems", are defined on their website as "unethical mind control such as brainwashing, thought reform, destructive persuasion and coercive persuasion".
The founding thesis of FACTNet — that cults use mind control and brainwashing on their members — was considered and rejected as "unscientific" by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1987 when a special task force commissioned to study the question submitted its report (Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control). The APA has not reported a change of position since that time.
Conflict with Church of Scientology
In 1995 FACTNet was featured in the news due to a lawsuit regarding the seizure of FACTNet servers and files by the Religious Technology Center (RTC), a sub-organization of the Church of Scientology created to oversee the protection of its trademarks and copyrights. In August 1995 RTC lawyers went to a Denver judge alleging copyright infringement and illegal use of Scientology documents by FACTNet, a vocal critic of the organization's practices. A raid of two directors' homes was conducted on August 21, 1995 by two U.S. marshals and six RTC representatives, with the actual search for incriminating documents conducted by the RTC alone. Witnesses of the searches testified that the marshals allowed the RTC representatives to go far beyond the scope of the order in their search for information. The marshals also failed to search the representatives before or after the search, making it possible for them to carry off disks and other documents containing critical information. FACTNet immediately accused the Church of Scientology of attempting to silence their voice by stealing and contaminating information vital to their continued attacks and lawsuits against the Church. The raids provoked debate both on the internet and in the university setting, with university protesters in Denver, Colorado holding signs that read: "Hands Off the Internet" and "Scientology Harasses Critics," while counterprotesters at the Boulder County Courthouse carried signs such as: "Only criminals spread lawlessness on the Internet."
FACTNet filed a lawsuit, and on September 14, 1995 a Federal judge ruled the seizure illegal because it violated FACTNet's right to free speech on the internet, and ordered the RTC to return all computers and files that were seized. In his ruling in United States District Court, Judge John Kane stated: "The public interest is best served by the free exchange of ideas." Nevertheless, FACTNet states that it has incurred irreparable damage, as the secrecy of its documents had been violated by the RTC. An attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation approved of the Judge's decision in the matter, stating: "They certainly do not have the right to seize everything and to fish around. There seems to be this thought that things that are contained on a computer aren't subject to the same protections. I think the law is catching up." Helena K. Kobrin a Church of Scientology attorney with the firm Moxon & Kobrin, defended the seizures of the computers, saying after the judge's decision: "The decision yesterday was a very sad day for intellectual property owners and a very sad day for the Internet."
In a series of cases, Scientology (through subsidiary Bridge Publications) sued FACTNet for claimed copyright violations. In 1998, federal judge John Kane denied Scientology's request for summary judgment because FACTNet challenged Scientology's ownership of the copyrights of the documents. A settlement was later reached in 1999, whose terms were that if FACTNet is ever found guilty of violations of church copyrights, they are permanently enjoined to pay the church $1 million.
FACTNet has maintained a relatively low news profile since 1999, occasionally cited for speaking out against topics they consider important. The 2000 film Battlefield Earth starring John Travolta stirred up controversy because it was based on a book by L. R. Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology, and Travolta was a well-known Scientologist. The Guardian reported on FACTnet's claims that the film was a proselytism piece for Scientology, noting: "FACTnet suggested that subliminal messages had been cunningly inserted by Scientologists to win over new converts to join the church." The makers of the film asserted that it had nothing to do with the Church of Scientology, but The New York Times reported on FACTnet's assertions that: "..the film was secretly financed by Scientology, and that Scientology plans recruiting efforts to coincide with the movie's release." Sociology professor James Richardson did not agree with FACTnet's claims, stating: "I seriously doubt that someone is going to go out and join Scientology just because they see this movie." In 2002, after Lawrence Wollersheim won an US$8.7 million judgement against the Church of Scientology, FACTnet posted a statement from him on the site, quoting: "The cult that vowed it would never pay me one thin dime has now paid over 86 million thin dimes." FACTNet spoke out in support of an episode of the TV show South Park, awarding their staff the "FACTNet Person(s) of the Year for 2005" for the satirical episode on Scientology, "Trapped in the Closet". In 2006, FACTnet director Wollersheim was consulted for the 48 Hours story on the death of Scientologist Elli Perkins, "Scientology - A Question of Faith." Wollersheim was quoted in the piece, stating: "Scientology. They are the worst example of mind control in a religious setting that has ever existed". The program also noted that the Church of Scientology characterizes him as a "liar and a fraud," and asserts that most of its members live happy and fulfilled lives.
Legal cases involving the organization and the Religious Technology Center are cited in analysis of fair use law. The book Internet and Online Law noted that "reproduction in computer format of plaintiff's entire copyrighted texts for defendants' private use and study falls well within the fair use exception." The work Cyber Rights: Defending Free Speech in the Digital Age characterized FACTNet as part of the "publishers and posters" group, when analyzing Scientology related legal cases in the chapter: "The Battle over Copyright on the Net." The author also placed Dennis Erlich and Arnie Lerma in this classification while analyzing actions taken by the Church of Scientology, which the author calls a "famously litigious organization."
The FACTNet newsletter is described in the book Project Censored Guide to Independent Media and Activism as: "the oldest and largest cult and mind control resource on the internet." The organization is also cited as a resource by Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman in the 1995 edition of their book Snapping: America's Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change. The book California by Andrea Schulte-Peevers asks readers to consult FACTNet and draw their own conclusions about whether Scientology is a "Mind-control cult, trendy fad or true religion." The St. Petersburg Times described the site as an: "Anti-cult site that focuses on Scientology and its legal battles." The Washington Post noted that the site contains "several books and thousands of pages of documents relating to Scientology." Web sites of groups followed by FACTnet are grouped on the site next to those of related watchdog organizations and critical sites. In a piece on the company Landmark Education, The Boston Globe noted that FACTnet listed the group in its database of: "cults, groups and individuals that are alleged to be using coercive persuasion mind control techniques," though the organization has a history of suing those that refer to it as a "cult."
- Copyright infringement
- Fair use
- Freedom of speech
- Scientology and the legal system
- Scientology controversy
- Search and seizure
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