Rebuttal to Jon Atack’s (under the banner of Open Minds) latest article “The paradox of undue influence.”

By Cathleen Mann, PhD

The latest article written by Mr. Atack lends confusion to the term “undue influence,” not clarity.

Mr. Atack does not provide a definition of undue influence, so it’s impossible to know how he arrives at his conclusions.

Undue influence has a specific legal definition within hundreds of years of case law in the United States, borrowed liberally from British common law.  It includes elements of duress and a form of diminished capacity, among other variables.

Mr Atack does not include any educational credentials upon which to rely or inform, so it’s difficult to know how his ideas are supported.  He illustrates a form of the logical fallacy of ‘arguing from authority,’ which means we just have to take his word for it.

As someone who has actually testified numerous times in court on the legal construct of undue influence, I have a few issues with his reasoning and conclusions.

First of all, the concept of “free will” is a religious term with ambiguous meaning.  I’ve never used the term for that reason, and because there is not enough research or evidence to indicate it actually exists.  Moreover, from my experience, lawyers love to use the term because it implies that people choose rationally and “freely,”‘which they often do not.  Indoctrination includes a large component of deception to work, so how is that “free will?”

The use of statistics like “99% of…” is not referenced or cited. Thus, I doubt the statistic is accurate.  I’ve worked in a lot of cases involving the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and each case is different.  Such a large group is not homogenous, nor can it be assumed that everyone in the Witnesses is equally indoctrinated.  I most strongly disagree that anyone’s “fate is sealed.” There is no evidence or research to support this depressing idea.  Frankly, it is offensive to current and former cult members to imply such a thing.

The idea that people do not know they’re under undue influence at the time it is happening is also false.  There are many reasons why people go along or agree to destructive or harmful ideas and their level of awareness varies.  They may not know the right term to use, but many cult members know they’re being manipulated when it’s happening in real time.  They may have not have figured out a way to get out of the circumstances, but they often know that they want to.

If social psychological research has taught us anything, it’s replete with the idea that individuals have the determination to improve their circumstances.  Undue influence may be affecting them just a little or a lot.  It’s hard to know, but assuredly they are not doomed to anything.


About Dr. Mann

Cathleen Mann, PhD, has consulted in about a hundred cases involving cults, undue influence, psychological influence, and related areas. Qualified by a court of law as an expert in 16 states, she has provided sworn testimony in about 40 legal cases. She does counselling, evaluations, investigations, supervision, and consulting. Dr Mann has extensive experience with the qualification process required to be allowed to testify as an expert. Dr Mann has extensive experience evaluating children and testifying as to the impact a particular group and/or leadership has made on the children and his/her family. Dr. Mann has a PhD in psychology and has held a counselling license in Colorado since 1994. Court qualified as an expert in the area of high demand groups (cults) and family, child custody, and individual issues. Dr Mann passed away on November 21, 2020.

Website: CultExpert.Net