Introvigne calls for investigation of “cult experts”
In a comment on the mass-killing of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Hamburg, Germany on 9th March, renowned Italian sociologist of religion Massimo Introvigne calls for an investigation of hate-mongering “cult experts” regularly featured and quoted in mainstream media. Such investigations would no doubt reveal the key role played by such experts in firing up a perpetrator to commit atrocities.
The scholar points out,
“I would, however, suggest also investigating those who, by publicly slandering the Jehovah’s Witnesses and depicting them as an evil to be eradicated at all costs, might have slowly pushed the assassin’s fingers to pull the trigger.”
Introvigne made his comments in an article published in Bitter Winter a magazine for religious freedom and human rights, 18th March 2023. He is the head of Center for Studies of New Religions (CESNUR).
His critical comments are not just directed at so-called “cult experts”, but also at large and influential media outlets, which uncritically let such self-appointed experts market their torrents of hate speech.
Many of the “cult experts” make substantial earnings on their anti-religious activities. It is clearly in their own interest to make religious movements into as big a problem as possible. American Steve Hassan is known for making a living of spreading disinformation and false claims about new religious movements. Facts may easily be twisted by such “experts” to suit their own interests.
Introvigne draws parallels between the killings in Hamburg and last year’s assassination of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. According to the Italian sociologist, “cult experts” had demonstrably been in contact with the assassin Tetsuya Yamagami prior to his horrendous crime. Those experts did not outright suggest to him to murder Abe, but certainly did their best to stimulate and foment the young man’s hatred of the Unification Church and its allies.
Investigative reporter Jan Leonid Bernstein writes,
“We should never minimize the influence of hate speech on people. And definitely, we should not apply double standard based on which religious affiliation are the killer and the victim. Terrorism is terrorism. Abe’s murder has a terrorist component and the hate speech directed for years at the Unification Church by some anti-cult groups may certainly be somewhat responsible for what happened, whatever personal grievance the killer would have had.” (Shinzo Abe’s assassination to be called terrorist, article in The European Times 16th July 2022)
Massimo Introvigne wrote earlier,
“While the weak mind of the assassin had clearly been excited by anti-Unification-Church campaigns by militant lawyers and anti-cultists, the latter succeeded in persuading most media, both in Japan and internationally, that rather than being a victim the Unification Church was somewhat responsible for the homicide, in a spectacular reversal of both logic and fairness.” (The Assassination of Shinzo Abe and the Unification Church, The Journal of CESNUR, volume 6, issue 6, November – December 2022, pages 74—96.)
Many are amazed at how “cult experts” again and again skillfully succeed in diverting potential criticism of their own hateful and incendiary rhetoric, by always blaming the religions. And in horrible attacks on religions, like we saw in Hamburg and in Nara, Japan, where Abe was killed, the victims become the culprits. The religions are without fail the guilty party.
According to such rhetoric, the actual perpetrator is just a victim, hardly to blame for his evil deeds.
It is interesting to note, though, that more and more are having their eyes opened to the role of so-called “cult experts” and the media in fueling the hatred that leads to horrendous killings like those committed by Tetsuya Yamagami and Phillip Fusz in Hamburg.
And in order to prevent such killings, it may well pay rich dividends to take a closer look at the role “cult experts” play in their constant hostile barrage against religions.
Text: Knut Holdhus
Featured image above: Kingdom Hall in Hamburg-Alsterdorf, ten days after the killing spree of 9th March 2023: damaged door, flowers and candles. Photo: NordNordWest / Wikimedia Commons. Licence: CC ASA 3.0 Germany