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Notes on the geopolitics of cults. Part 4: from Russia with Love

Luigi Corvaglia

Prologue: the russian icon

Take a look at the photo above. It was taken on September 29, 2017 in Salekhard, Siberia. That's me on the far right. It is certainly not my best photo, far from it. It is, however, the most famous. In fact, it keeps popping up on websites and in publications that use it as a "smoking gun" to demonstrate the unspeakable relationship that links me and FECRIS to Russia. The thesis is that the European Federation for the fight against totalitarian cults (like Scientology, but not only) is involved in the bad situation of religious freedom in Russia for the simple reason that its Vice President until 2021 was Alexander Dvorkin (second from left in the picture), who is the founder of the Saint Irenaeus of Lyons Center for Religious Studies. It seems that the Russian Federation needs an advisor associated with a body from a cockeyed nation hostile to civil rights such as France to enforce illiberal laws. The fact is that the photo has had a long and successful career. The now iconic image has served its purpose on the main websites of opponents of the anti-cult movement's work, it has also appeared in such improbable circles as a book about the Covid 19 pandemic published by All Faith Network (!), and even in an article full of at least "inaccurate" allegations in an obscure online newspaper claiming that the anti-cult movement is responsible for anti-Ukrainian sentiment in Russia and therefore morally complicit in the ongoing war (!). The photo appeared recently in a magazine called Bitter Winter with a nice but sibylline caption (see below left).

"Luigi Corvaglia at the extreme right ( not his political position)".

The photo, by the way, accompanies an article that has nothing to do with the Siberian conference I attended and of which the picture is a testimony. This shows how the image has become a kind of icon whose importance lies more in the connotation given to it than in its objective representation. The famous photograph was even given the honor of being presented as part of a erudite dissertation at the international congress of the celebrated Centro Studi Nuove Religioni (CESNUR). An example of high conceptual elaboration and rare scientific rigor was the speaker's comment: "I was told that this person - she meant me - is a strong atheist - who told her that? - but you can see that he has no problem associating with the clergy." In fact, the Orthodox bishop in the middle was not exactly incognito (you can see the convincing argument here).

The photo was even mentioned by the noted scholar Massimo Introvigne in an article in Russian, in which the savant claims to have seen a photo in which I appear "almost swamped by priests" (the bearded man next to me, Thomas Gandow, is a Protestant pastor). The reader may wonder where this special interest in my person and acquaintances, clerical or otherwise, comes from. It will then be necessary to introduce CESNUR as well as the magazine Bitter Winter and the All Faith Network.

Introvigne commenting on the usual photograph at the American Academy of Religion conference in Denver in 2018

The Sound of Music (all together with a passion)

The Centro Studi Nuove Religioni - Center for the Study of New religions (CESNUR) was founded and is directed by Massimo Introvigne. Introvigne is known to those who work in the field as an expert on "new religious movements" and as an active denier of the positions of the anti-cult movement, so much so that he is considered one of the main cult apologists (simply put, he would defend "cults"). His CESNUR, founded in Turin in 1988, is a famous research center on the "new religious movements" that claims to be "independent of any religious or denominational organization," but several leading and prominent figures are members of Alleanza Cattolica. Introvigne was even its national "Reggente Vicario" until 2016, when personal events led him to leave the organization. The director of CESNUR claims that his personal views have no influence on the documentary and scientific production of the center, which is guided by scientific rigor. In fact, it was Introvigne himself who said in 1993 that CESNUR was founded by Alleanza Cattolica activists to participate in the dramatic struggle between Lacism and reactionary tradition. The point, then, is to understand what Alleanza Cattolica is. It is a traditionalist association that has always explicitly referred to Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, a Brazilian thinker and founder of the Brazilian Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP), a traditionalist Catholic organization defined by the Brazilian Bishops' Conference in 1985 as "not in communion with the Catholic Church." Introvigne himself dedicated one of his many works to de Oliveira, Una battaglia nella notte (2008). Now Alleanza Cattolica seems to be taking a more "modern" line, and the following statement on its official website has disappeared: "Alleanza Cattolica, neither founded nor directed by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, but during his earthly life made thematic reference to his counter-revolutionary magisterium." However, at the beginning of 2022, a search of the Alleanza Cattolica institutional website revealed no less than 96 pages dedicated to de Oliveira, with 5 articles per page. In short, a fundamental and constant reference over time. Spontaneously arises the curiosity to understand who was this thinker, so appreciated also by a large part of the leaders of CESNUR, and what he advocated. De Oliveira was the revered bearer of a program for the 'restoration of order', which was described as a return to a

Christian civilisation, austere and hierarchical, fundamentally sacred, anti-egalitarian and anti-liberal.

The quote is from his most famous book, Revolution and Counter-Revolution (1958). This desired state is thus understood as the restoration of the traditional order of the world. Having clarified what de Oliveira means by counter-revolution, it is appropriate to leave the explanation of what revolution is to the words of the thinker himself:

In Revolution and Counter-Revolution we have presented the three great catastrophes of Christendom, i.e. the Pseudo-Reformation, the French Revolution and the Communist Revolution, as a single great Revolution which, after having occurred in the religious-moral sphere in the 16th century, spread to the political-social sphere with the great shock at the end of the 18th century and contaminated the economic-social structure of the West in our time with the worldwide fire of Communism.
These three catastrophes are the great signs of the advance of a historical process in which impiety, immorality and anarchy are conquering the universe.

(Emphasis added. Taken from Il concilio e l'egualitarismo moderno, 1962).

Even reading these lines causes some confusion. Indeed, one cannot understand how it is possible to combine, not the position of a defender of alternative cults, but even neutrality in the study of new religious movements, with the conviction that even the Protestant Reformation was a sign of the advance of a historical process of impiety, immorality, and anarchy. This is not enough. The Brazilian thinker saw a fourth revolution on the horizon, characterized by tribalism, that is, the fragmentation of the social body into sections that claim to govern themselves according to their own ideas. The cause of this, he said, was the relativism brought about by the 'cultural revolution'. It is hard to imagine anything more tribalistic than the various competing cults. The author is clear: "omnia dii genium doemonia," i.e., "All the gods of the gentiles are devils" (Ps. 95:5) [page 101]. If someone were looking for the perfect description of what anti-ecumenism is, he would find it here.

Another group of CESNUR authors is based in France and is led by the esotericist Antoine Faivre, a member of the religious studies department at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris, an outpost of the French New Right. Interest in esotericism seems to be a constant among the French-speaking members of CESNUR. Another member of CESNUR France was Roland Edighoffer, also an esotericist. Jean-François Mayer, a member of the French-Swiss far right, writes for the esoteric magazine Politica Hermetica.

Ecumenism: you are doing it wrong (if you are a traditionalist Catholic). If we were to play the same game that CESNUR plays with photos what should we say about this one?

Having said all this, one can imagine that the reader is surprised that Introvigne himself, who was an apical figure of an anti-ecumenical association like Alleanza Cattolica, is able to express his turbo-ecumenism as director of CESNUR; certainly much more surprised by this than about the fact that a person like me, considered secular, maintains cordial study or friendship relations with religious people. It must be said that it was de Oliveira himself who displayed this paradoxical behavior after the Brazilian Episcopal Conference officially declared, on April 18, 1985, that the movement was not in communion with the Church because of "its esoteric character, its religious fanaticism, the veneration of its leader and founder, and the abuse of the name of the Most Holy Mary." In December of the same year, the TFP published a successful pamphlet entitled Brainwashing: A Myth Exploited by the New 'Therapeutic Inquisition. The pamphlet contains all the ideas that the CESNUR think tank would later develop. Ultimately, the central theme is that the idea of brainwashing by groups deemed 'insane' is a myth used by a supposed 'anti-cult' movement to censor them. The pamphlet strongly emphasizes what only occasionally appears in CESNUR, namely the idea that this anti-cult movement is a conspiracy of psychiatrists and communists. The TFP, a strongly anti-communist movement, was thus attacked by the Bolshevik psychiatric octopus that now prevails in the Latin American Church as well. Massimo Introvigne, who until then had not been particularly concerned with "cults," began with singular rapidity his activities as a defender of religious pluralism and as a denier of the concept of "brainwashing." Three years later he was already such an expert that he founded CESNUR. There is also a branch in the USA, whose leader is Gordon Melton, a Methodist preacher , founder of an Institute for the Study of American Religion, of whom Tilman Hausherr, a Scientology critic, said he knew no other representative than him. He taught at the College of Santa Barbara as a 'visiting scholar' (it is said for having donated his library to the California college). Today he is 'distinguished professor' at Baylor College, which was founded by Baptists. He has also served on the steering committee of the APRL, a Scientology front office, and is one of the leading experts on the new CAN, Scientology's US-led panel of cult scientists (see the second part of this investigation).

In any case, those who have read the first three parts (see the first, second, and third part) will not be particularly shocked by the paradox. Indeed, that the defense of "religious freedom" is carried on by subjects and organizations of a Christian fundamentalist or fundamentalist character has been clearly brought out in dealing with the U.S. government's deputy commissions. This may not be the only similarity between these groups and CESNUR.

According to Stephen Kent of the University of Alberta, CESNUR is "the highest-profile lobbying group for controversial religions" and its director is said to be "[a] fierce critic of any rational attempt to identify or limit so-called 'cults,' who has spoken out against what he considers intolerance towards 'minority religions,' especially in Belgium, France, and Germany." This description puts CESNUR in a position where it can be described as a synergistic agent of the American government commissions whose links to Scientology have sometimes seemed ambiguous (see the second part).

In a recent article, Phil Lord of McGill University even speculated that 'it is very likely that Scientology may be funding CESNUR'.

excerpt from Phil Lord's paper

More from the text by Phil Lord

However, this position may even prove to be simplistic and somewhat naive.

Introvigne, highlighted in the red circle, at a panel organized by Scientology and the Universal Peace Federation (an emanation of the Unification Church) in Buenos Aires on March 22, 2023

Having satisfied the first curiosity, namely what CESNUR is, we can leave the Turin Study Center and its director for a moment to look at the two other institutions mentioned in the prologue of this part, which showed the same curious attention to the Siberian photo. One was the magazine Bitter Winter. We are not getting very far, I think. It is, in fact, a magazine published by CESNUR that focuses on denouncing Chinese persecution of religious minorities, such as the Muslim Uighur minority and the Church of Almighty God. The article in which the photo is shown for the umpteenth time (the article with the strange caption) is by Massimo Introvigne himself. All that remains is the book published by the All Faith Network, entitled People of Faith. Rising above Covid 19. First of all, it should be said that the All Faith Network is a "charity" registered in Great Britain, "close to" Scientology, and is also a member of the Federation for Freedom of Belief (FOB), which we have already met several times.

Martin Weightman next to a quote from his favourite author

This is the Italian organization which has a significant Scientology follower among its founders. The authors of the said book are Martin Weightman, Alessandro Amicarelli and Tracey Coleman. The first is the president of the Network and the former president of the Scientology Human Rights Office. The second, Alessandro Amicarelli (the guy who called me an accomplice of the organ removers. See the first part) is the president of the association FOB and Tracey Coleman is a member of the Church of Scientoloy in London (the city where Amicarelli lives). The Scientific Committee of the FOB Association has also Rosita Šorytė among its memebrs. She is the lady who commented with wise words on the famous photo at the CESNUR Congress. Well, we are not far off the mark here either: she is the wife of Introvigne, the director of CESNUR! It is like going around in circles. In short, this little set is a bit like an old soap opera where there are many plot lines but the characters are always the same.

Alessandro Amicarelli at an All Faith Network event. The person portrayed in the picture behind him is Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology

Post Scriptum

As mentioned earlier, immediately after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, an incredibly defamatory article appeared in an online newspaper claiming that the anti-cult movement was responsible for anti-Ukrainian sentiment in Russia. Of course, the famous photo appears in it. We are also partly responsible for the war! As if that were not enough, the absurd article was published a few days later on the website of the United Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)!

The newspaper in which this article was published is The European Times, a strange publication registered in Spain, but whose editor is a Bulgarian, a certain Petar Gramatikov. This one claims to be a hierodeacon of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, although his ordination was done in violation of the canon (he has been married and divorced several times, which makes him unfit for ordination). In any case, he was ordained by the Metropolitan of Tyrnovo, although he lives in Plovdiv. Most likely, therefore, his diaconate and monasticism are only decoration. The only thing that is certain is that he publishes the newspaper of a wellness centre, Orpheus Club, in Plovdiv and that he maintains very good relations with Scientology, as evidenced by his presence at the celebration of the 46th anniversary of the founding of the organisation's Belgian headquarters. The photo below shows him during the celebrations at the centre.

The Brussels correspondent for The European Times is an old acquaintance: Willy Fautré.

Anyway, what does not quite fit with my pro-Russian activity is the parallel campaign of those who flood social media with sentences denouncing my action as a French agent. See below:

But this is not bad either:

They say I am with a former mujahideen of the MEK, then agent of the Iranian intelligence, so I am an Iranian agent...

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