Gurus, crooks 2.0: the new faces of sectarian influence

In its 2021 activity report, published on November 3, the Interministerial Mission for Vigilance and the Fight against Sectarian Abuses (Miviludes) warns of “the vivacity of the sectarian phenomenon, its extent and its dangerousness” of which she notes the “crossing a new threshold” with 4,020 referrals in 2021, an increase of 33.6% compared to the previous year and nearly 50% compared to 2015.

The organization sees “a proliferation of new players, more discreet, mastering the web and its codes, knowing how to control minds, by exploiting fears, the loss of bearings, the search for simple solutions in the face of existential questions, by definition complex. Delinquents who are experts in manipulation know how to instrumentalize the vicissitudes of our fellow citizens”.

Naturopathy, reiki, new Germanic medicine…

Next to “multinationals of spirituality”such as the Church of Scientology, Anthroposophy or Jehovah’s Witnesses, also thrive on “gurus 2.0”who are at the head of groups “Mobile, changing and impalpable”characteristics of a sectarian phenomenon “in gaseous state”, according to the report. In 2021, 744 referrals concerned health-related abuses, of which nearly 70% related to unconventional care practices such as naturopathy, reiki, new Germanic medicine, etc.

These practices have proliferated during the health crisis, during which an increasingly significant rejection of conventional medicine has emerged. Miviludes is concerned about the mental influence exercised by those it qualifies as “slippers” on people who have lost their bearings. As in 2020, the Interministerial Mission denounces the influence of the alleged naturopath Thierry Casasnovas, who has been the subject of 54 referrals. This fervent defender of fasting and raw food – a diet that consists of eating exclusively raw foods – has prompted many of his followers to give up their medical treatments.

The report also cites the case of two people suffering from cancer who died after following the precepts of a naturopath, who claimed to help them heal through natural remedies such as cocktails of essential oils, a centered diet on fruit and vegetable juices, severe and prolonged fasts. This man, who introduced himself as “molecular doctor, holder of a doctorate and a postdoctorate”was sentenced in 2021 by the Paris Criminal Court to a two-year suspended prison sentence for the illegal practice of medicine.

Cleaning on Doctolib

On October 26, Doctolib, the French leader in online medical appointment booking, decided to clean up, following numerous criticisms from professionals reporting this on this platform – that its status as a quasi- public operator when making appointments for the anti-covid vaccine had legitimized – practitioners such as naturopaths or hypnotherapists, who have no recognized medical training.

From now on, only professionals registered in the shared directory of health professionals (RPPS) or with an ADELI number, two references recognized by Health Insurance, will be accepted. In total, 5,700 practitioners should see access to their appointments cut off by next spring.

“The government’s mistakes during the COVID crisis have contributed to weakening people, who have lost confidence in the official word. Combined with the fact that for many, the only window to socialization during confinement was the internet, this explains why the carriers of conspiracy theories or miracle cures have been successful when no so-called alternative medicine has ever been scientifically proven to its efficiency “explains Hugues Garscan, research director at the CNRS. “Taking advantage of this windfall effect, charlatans were able to place their “therapies” , especially all those with fasting as a dogma. A person who no longer eats or eats very little sees their cognitive abilities diminished and their judgment impaired, so they are even more easily manipulated.specifies the immunologist.

Mindfulness meditation at school?

He himself was one of the spearheads, within the League for Human Rights (LDH), of the battle against the entry of mindfulness meditation (MPC) into schools. public. This practice, which Jean-Michel Blanquer had accepted to experiment under pressure from his colleague from LaREM, the deputy Gaël Le Bohec, was finally banned in national education in June 2021, after alerts from the LDH and fifteen other associations and unions. Between 2018 and 2020, Miviludes was the subject of twelve referrals for problems related to the MPC concerning minors.

“The MPC problempoint Hugues Garscan, it is that it centers individuals on themselves and discourages any collective action. This is no doubt why the economic and financial world is so favorable to these practices, which have made their way into companies. The bosses prefer that their employees meditate rather than join unions. So imagine the damage when a child is taught, from an early age, that CPD and the fact of “to empty” are the solution to all his problems: it will be a reflex that he will then keep, not seeking to improve his living conditions through collective action and socialization. »

The “right-of-way market”

Moreover, the “market of influence” develops on the concerns that run through society. Thus, eco-anxiety has enhanced the power of survivalist-type cults. Among the areas of concern identified by the Miviludes report in 2021 are eco-villages, where “psychological or even physical or sexual violence” could be observed on people who gathered in these community and autarkic places of life.

What makes the sectarian phenomenon more and more difficult to define is its multifaceted character, very far from the image of closed communities and enlightened preachers in atypical costumes. “Today the gurus are entrepreneurs who welcome you in a suit and tie. They are coaches, who start by offering free services before gradually asking people who are harpooned “to invest” in their projects, notes the psychologist and expert with the courts, Delphine Guérard. “

As for the victims, they are sometimes just as difficult to spotcontinues the author of Sectarian influence, Psychopathologies of gurus and followers of sects (Dunod 2022 editions). Many of them are unaware of being under the influence and only realize what has happened to them when they are in great pain, or completely despoiled. And even then, they sometimes find it difficult to admit to themselves that their will has been abolished and that they have been manipulated. The phenomenon of influence is very complex and difficult to grasp. This is why I think that the referrals are not representative of the reality of the sectarian phenomenon.»

“It’s probably only the tip of the iceberg”, confirms Sonia Backès, the Secretary of State for Citizenship, on which Miviludes depends, now attached to the Ministry of the Interior. She announced the creation of a toll-free number for victims and the holding of “Conferences on sectarian aberrations and conspiracy” at the beginning of 2023, to bring together the actors in the fight against these phenomena and come up with a roadmap for the years to come.

Eugenie Barbezat

Gurus, crooks 2.0: the new faces of sectarian influence