Massimo Introvigne: scholar or political extremist?


by Miguel Martinez

Is 'Apostate' only an unfortunate definition, or is it the intellectual equivalent of an insult? Elsewhere, Massimo Introvigne favourably quotes Bryan Wilson (this is a re-translation from Italian): 

"The apostate generally seeks self-justification. He tries to re-construct his past, in order to excuse his former affiliations, to blame his closest colleagues. Not infrequently, he learns how to fabricate his own 'atrocity story' in order to explain how […] he was led into joining and then prevented from leaving an organization which he now disapproves of and condemns. Apostates, whose narratives are sensationalized by the press, sometimes try to make a profit out of their experiences selling their stories to newspapers or publishing books (often written by ghost writers)" 

(Bryan R. Wilson, The Social Dimensions of Sectarianism, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1990, p. 19, quoted in Massimo Introvigne, "Il fantasma della libertà: le controversie sulle 'sette' e i nuovi movimenti religiosi in Europa", in Cristianità, n. 264, April 1997, p. 22.)

Not having read the full piece by Wilson, I do not know if this all he has to say about apostates; it is all Introvigne wants to quote.

The prudent curtain of expressions like "not infrequently" does little to modify the extraordinarily insulting nature of this definition. A definition which, at least in my experience, is also utterly false.

I have never found resentment against one's "closest colleagues" in writings by former members. In fact, one of the main reasons behind former cult members' decision to go public is to help their friends inside cults.

From Steve Hassan to Gunther Träger or from Thierry Huguénin to Tom Voltz, I can think of no supposed apostate whose writings resemble Wilson/Introvigne's caricature. The only testimonies by former members which fit into this picture are those by American right-wing evangelicals, who - as we shall see shortly - are actually among Introvigne's best friends. Elsewhere, Introvigne's writings often make use of this latter kind of testimony: they purposely extend the shadow cast by certain idiotic American anti-Satanists (who claim for example to have taken part in hundreds of human sacrifices) over perfectly reasonable testimonies by normal former members. 

As far as the press sensationalizing, which is quite true, one of the reasons former members write books is because they are fed up with media clichés. This however is a problem of the journalists, not of the "apostates".

Trying to understand why one got intensely involved in a group is not "self-justification". People do have, or ought to have, the right to reflect on their own experiences and to write about them. 

Even a superficial reading of most testimonies by former followers reveals a crucial feature: increased awareness. Some people of course move from one kind of fanatical organization to another (like certain "occultists" who have moved over to extreme Christian groups); generally however former members move beyond fanaticism, towards a greater and deeper understanding of human relationships, manipulations and reality.

At least in my case, I can confirm that I have never held that I was "prevented from leaving" the organization, nor have I ever made any profit whatsoever "selling my story". By the way, I write these words myself: I do not have the funds for buying myself a ghost writer. Two journalist paid me a coffee, and one even paid me a pizza, however.

The whole issue of "survivors' memories" is of course highly emotional and political, since the denial of their validity, the notion that they are the figment of "socialization" into "sub-structures", lies at the roots of Holocaust revisionism, and many of the studies referred to by Introvigne have also been used to deny the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz or elsewhere. Personally however I believe that the political use, in one way or another, of the question of the validity of memory is always an interference: memories should be judged on their individual merits. Also, Wilson/Introvigne forgets the fact that many 'atrocity stories', as they politely call them, are not based so much on personal testimony, as on inside documents of various organizations.

By the way, apostate-brander Bryan Wilson is certainly the author Scientology has published most after Ron Hubbard himself: Wilson's articles, speeches and statements are to be found in virtually every Scientology magazine or Internet page. Bryan Wilson claims to have studied Scientology for 26 years, and to have merely discovered that it resembled Buddhism (See for example "Pioggia di riconoscimenti per Scientology", in Diritti dell'uomo, a Scientology publication: the same article also contains a Wilson quote about 'apostates' almost identical to the one quoted by Introvigne). Scientology also devotes a full page in its publication Diritti dell'uomo to listing Bryan Wilson's academic achievements, which by the way include the honorary presidency of the International Society of Sociology of Religions, of which Introvigne just happens to be a member. Diritti dell'uomo also frequently quotes Introvigne.

However, apart from the issue of these gratuitous personal insults, I felt curious about the reasons why a self-styled 'sociologist' should wish to call somebody he knows little or nothing about an 'apostate', portraying him in the worst possible light, albeit by association. This deserves a comment - Introvigne elsewhere says that 

"No academic scholar worthy of this name - whatever some may say - ignores the testimonies of ex-members; but no serious scientific study is based only on such testimonies." 
(Massimo Introvigne, "'Sette cattoliche': l'equivoco continua", in Cristianità, n. 260, dicembre 1996, p. 4.)

However he did know of my existence and could have got in touch with me if he had wanted to. The fact that he never did shows that he wants to listen to one side only. Even running the risk of making the factual mistakes he made in his analysis of me and of the Paris trial.

Whenever Introvigne intends to launch unjustified insults, he always uses the same technique of quoting other, "prestigious", writers. My favourite Introvigne quote-within-a-quote is the following:

Already in 1986, the prestigious American review 'Thought' of the Jesuits of Fordham University went even further; in a special issue on the anti-cult movement, it wondered whether the anti-cult movement itself, anchored as it is to the dogma of the severability between behaviour and doctrine, and of brainwashing, could not be considered - on the basis of its own criteria - yet another modern 'new cult', and whether many 'anti-cultists' were not 'psychologically disturbed' individuals, obsessed by a 'cult-phobia' which is only one of the forms of the modern fear of religion" 
(Massimo Introvigne, I nuovi culti: dagli Hare Krishna alla Scientologia, Oscar Mondadori, Milano, 1990)

This is Introvigne at his best. If not a good scholar, he is certainly a good architect, who knows exactly where to set up the various elements of his building. He places the above sentence at the end of a chapter, where he has a "prestigious" third party provide the conclusion. Like in the Bryan Wilson quote (with its 'generallies' and 'not infrequentlies'), one can hurl the most wild insults while appearing calm and serious, by merely adding a few "one wonders whether". The reader will appreciate the moderation of the insulting party, but will remember only the hypothesis he actually reads - that members of the "anti-cult movement" are mentally deranged.

My curiosity led to some rather interesting discoveries I would like to share with you. In the meantime, however, I invite the reader to notice how - in the sentence quoted above on serious scholars also listening to former cult members - Introvigne clearly identifies himself with "academic scholars" and "serious scientific studies"; the expression "whatever some may say" shows this: nobody has ever said that "serious scholars" do not listen to both sides, but many have said Introvigne does not. This kind of expression - which appears throughout Introvigne's writings, thus creates a completely non-extant division between " enemies of cults", who are fanatics, and "scholars", who, as scientists, possess the truth. Cult critics thus become the enemy of truth itself (and of course, cult PR people the friends of truth). Actually there is a conflict between cult critics and cults, with some scholars more on one side, others more on the other side.

Massimo Introvigne founded CESNUR in 1988. This organization today has international branches, but the world address is still in Turin, Italy. Even the initials of CESNUR only make sense in Italian (although in France the S of "Studi" has been quietly turned into the initial of "sur" to make it a "Centre of Studies on New Religions") . Friends have informed that at least some of the international personalities involved in CESNUR are bona fide academics, who have little idea of what the organization really stands for.

In his writings, Introvigne always identifies himself with a group of people he calls "sociology scholars", "specialists", "university specialists", "academic specialists", to quote only a few of his self-definitions in one article ("Il fantasma della liberta…" in Cristianità, n. 264, April 1997). The pronouns "I" and "we" mingle with these, in a way which is hard to pin down.

Exactly what Introvigne does is a matter of controversy. Zeit-Fragen (n. 32, nov.-dic. 1996, a German publication close to the alleged cult VPM, "Anti-'Sekten'- Aktivismus gefährdet Demokratie und Menschenrechte - Wissenschaftler gegen Hexenjagd mit der 'Sektenkeule'"), calls Introvigne "a historian and sociologist". The web site of the lawyers' study Jacobacci e Perani in Turin, Italy, where Introvigne works, does not however mention any degree in sociology; it states that Introvigne has been authorized to practice law locally, apparently a reference to a category known in Italian as "procuratore legale", immediately below that of ordinary lawyers. 

A brief item in Antifa Info-Bullettin ("DOSSIER: [Italy] Alfredo Mantovano, New Spokesperson for the `Post-Fascist' National Alliance," (Supplement 154, March 3, 1998), which made a passing mention of Introvigne's apologetics for NA, won a quick reply from the lawyer:

"Your mention of the undersigned in a Usenet group is both defamatory and inaccurate. "Low-degree lawyer" is basically stupid. I am a partner in Italy's largest law firm and quite well-known in my own specialized field (intellectual property) as even a cursory bibliographic search in the U.S. would have told you. Happily for me, my family (and the voracious Italian IRS) I have been quoted by an Italian magazine last year among the 100 most active attorneys in the country." 
(in Antifa Info-Bulletin, March 15, 1998)

Italy's "top one hundred lawyers" is a category which is unlikely to include a mere "procuratore". He is certainly the author of various studies on merchandising and advertising, two issues which however seem to have little to do with new religions (although they might have to do with cults).

Introvigne also claims in the same letter to be a "Faculty Member of the Pontifical Atheneum Regina Apostolorum in Rome". In a letter dated September 27, 1996 (Prot. n. 2291/96) and addressed to the Dialog Zentrum in Berlin, Mons. Michael L. Fitzgerald, secretary of the Pontificium Consilium Pro Dialogo inter Religiones, declares that Introvigne "is not a consultant with any body" of the Vatican and that he teaches for one week a year at the Regina Apostolorum Atheneum, a private body belonging to the "Legionaries of Christ", a Mexican organization. This body, according to Mons. Fitzgerald, is not a "Pontifical University"

Of course, credentials are far less important than arguments; except when credentials, or supposed credentials, are used as part of an argument, which is very much the case in everything written by Introvigne.

"Finally, what separates us from the anti-cult movements is not, whether one should be 'for' or 'against' new religious movements. Any polarization of this kind is simply wrong. Actually, there is a fierce clash between many specialists on religious sciences, especially sociologists, and certain anti-cult movements, a clash - it should be emphasised - which the sociologists have not sought" 
(Massimo Introvigne in Liberà religiosa, 'sette' e 'diritto di persecuzione", Cristianità, Piacenza 1996, p. 111; emphasis added)

In this case, credentials should be subjected to scrutiny like everything else.

Introvigne posted two replies to a shorter form of this essay. Here is all he had to say about his being or not being a sociologist:

  1. "Martinez is free to think as he pleases about my credentials (scholarly associations, universities and courts of justice think otherwise)"

  2. "Until you stay within the borders of the existing laws on defamation and libel you are free to define me as you please"

Although, unlike Introvigne, I am not a lawyer, I believe defamation and libel basically involve making false representations about people; he therefore seems to confirm that what I said about his credentials is not a false representation.

I suppose I should have kept my former title of National Commander of the International Organization New Acropolis for Egypt - something far more grandiose than an interpreter (or a "professional enemy", as he qualifies me in his web page). 

I was amused that the only discussion I ever had personally with Introvigne was about his definition of New Acropolis as a "Neo-Pythagorean" movement. I said it was theosophical. He passionately upheld his point of view in public. I now see that he calls New Acropolis a "neo-theosophical" group. Poor Pythagoras was forgotten somewhere along the road.

As far as his credentials are concerned, what "I believe" is irrelevant; what the web page of his lawyer's study says is not. I hope he does not intend to sue his own study. 

CESNUR, the organization founded by Introvigne, claims to stand for "professionality in a field where the presence of amateurs has not been of help in accuracy and in serene discussion. We are convinced that it is only through professionality that the reason of truth can come to light, be presented and understood". Speaking in the abstract, he is right: much critical material on cults is neither accurate nor serene. 

However, as has been seen discussing New Acropolis, long reference bibliographies, professional jargon and serene language are not enough to bring out "the reason of truth".

Scientology, by the way, does not agree with Introvigne's own definition of CESNUR. In a publication recently distributed around the word, entitled "Restoring and safeguarding Religious Freedom" (apparently published at the beginning of 1998), financed - as stated on the frontispiece - by the "International Association of Scientologists", CESNUR is not listed as a place of serene discussion, but as a "human rights organization" to be contacted in case of "religious persecution", together with several outfits set up by Scientology itself, such as the Ad Hoc Inquiry Committe on Discrimination Against Religious and Ethnic Minorities in Germany: the contact person here is Lord McNair, a well-known supporter of Scientology for many years; another organization persecuted Scientology accountants are supposed to contact is the Rutherford Institute - more about the latter later (Amnesty International is conspicuously absent from the list of "human rights organizations").

There is a certain mystery about CESNUR. The organization publishes no magazine or even a bulletin; membership is strictly by invitation; the organization officially avoids helping former cult members. This means that it cannot be funded in the normal way of other cult monitoring organizations: by the contributions of relatives of cult members and other concerned people who democratically share in the management of the organization. However, Introvigne travels constantly, always staying at the very top hotels, and has no less than two full-time secretaries (Cinzia and Monica - mere secretaries of course have only first names!). Of course, all expenses may be generously paid out of Introvigne's work as a lawyer. One can however reasonably doubt that a lawyer who devotes himself full-time to patents and merchandising can also find the leisure to be an expert on anything else.

After I wrote these lines, Introvigne sent an e-mail with the following information:

"It eludes many opponents that CESNUR International is not a private association; on 1996 it has been recognized as a legal person by a decree of the Government of Piedmont. This inter alia entitles us to public funds. We have always gratefully acknowledged this support."

I fortunately live in another part of Italy, so my taxes do not go to finance Introvigne's trips. I am of course glad to take back what I said about Introvigne's generosity. However, CESNUR was founded in 1988, government funds started coming in in 1996; we are left in doubt about the first eight years of the organization.

According to Zeit-fragen, quoted above, CESNUR claims to be "entirely independent of any religious movement, group or association".

This statement comes as a surprise, since the by-laws of CESNUR lay down that both the director and the president must be Roman Catholics.

Introvigne, in an e-mail note, objected strongly to this statement of mine, saying that:

"There is nothing in the by-laws of CESNUR International, nor of CESNUR Italy, nor of CESNUR France claiming that president and director shall be Roman Catholics. The reference in the Italian edition of Eileen Barker's book concerned, once again, the fact that the by-laws of CESNUR Italy included the individual NAMES of the president and director, both Catholics. On the contrary the by-laws make clear that no discrimination shall be made for reasons of religion in appointing CESNUR's officers" 

In any case, here is the exact wording from Introvigne's notes in Eileen Barker's book:

"Although the by-laws lay down that the President and the Director of CESNUR are Catholic, the scientific committee includes Anglican, Protestant, Orthodox personalities, and is not closed to professional contributions coming from other areas and experiences" ("Se presidente e direttore del CESNUR sono - statutariamente - cattolici...") 
(Massimo Introvigne, in Eileen Barker, I nuovi movimenti religiosi, Oscar Mondadori, Milano, 1992)

No individual NAMES (I repeat Introvigne's capital letters) mentioned. The only other two explanations I can think of are, the by-laws lay down that the president must always be called Massimo Introvigne, or that they have to have Catholic names (e.g., not Mohammed or Yitzhak).

This Catholic nature of CESNUR holds true for Italy. At least according to an anti-Masonic French publication, Faits & Documents (n. 27, 15.5.97, p. 5, quoted in "Alleanza… massonica?", Sodalitium, dic. 1997, p. 65), the entire leadership of the French branch of CESNUR supposedly belongs to the right-wing minority of Freemasonry:

"The directorship of Cesnur France, a study group on 'new religious movements' (also called 'cults'), a branch of Cesnur Italy directed by the Catholic sociologist Massimo Introvigne, seems to be controlled by the National Grand Lodge of France, considering the presence among the board of directors of Professor Antoine Faivre, chief editor of the Cahiers Villard de Honnecourt, of the lawyer Olivier-Louis Séguy and of professor Roland Edighoffer" 

We have no idea whether this allegation is true (Introvigne in his replies avoided commenting on this statement). Writing in L'Evenement du jeudi, Serge Faubert ("Les cathos au secours des sectes", L'Evenement du jeudi, June 13-19, 1996) says that both Séguy and his colleague, Jean-Marc Florand (the latter, surprisingly, a militant homosexual) are both right wing extremists and have held lectures for the Front National for over ten years; Florand also regularly defends the Jehovah's Witnesses in trials.

Masonic or French nationalist affiliation is of no interest to me; however it is curious in view of the complicated relationships of CESNUR we shall soon be seeing.