he American Cult Awareness Network (CAN)—recently dubbed the bubonic plague of religious freedom—is no more. The group was shut down last year after a series of U.S. court rulings in which CAN and individual members were found guilty of hate crimes. The case that finally stopped the plague involved the kidnapping and five-day consignment and assault of a Christian man in an effort to force him to abandon his beliefs.
Similar infections in the UK, such as Ian Haworth’s one-man Cult Information Centre (CIC), are practicing historical revisionism in an attempt to distance themselves from the criminal practices that led to CAN’s demise in American courts.
CAN had long denied any involvement in forced “deprogramming” (see “Tom Sackville’s Odd Friends”). But the criminal conviction of several CAN agents in recent years in deprogramming cases proved the lie in this denial. Then, in 1996, a Seattle, Washington, court described a CAN deprogrammer’s conduct as “so outrageous in character and so extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency and to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilised community.”
CAN’s anti-religious counterparts in the UK had already recognised the legal liability to themselves of continued endorsement of violent deprogramming. Some former deprogrammers adopted the milder-sounding term “exit-counselling” and claim they have dropped some of the more violent aspects of the practice.
Asked today, Ian Haworth, for instance, says he has never advocated deprogramming. Pure historical revisionism. Haworth is quoted in numerous newspapers in the 1980s promoting deprogramming. In a May 1988 article in the Croydon Post, for example, he describes “do it yourself deprogramming” as “grabbing individuals and talking to them forcibly, ” and adds, “I would recommend doing whatever they felt was appropriate....”
Haworth set up CIC after leaving Canada in 1987 to avoid the consequences of a libel and slander suit brought about by his intolerant activities. But the case caught up with him in April, 1996 when the High Court approved a statutory demand against him for more than £20,000.
The next time you hear Ian Haworth quoted in the press, recognise that there is a cure for the bubonic plague: the truth.