Why is the sectarian phenomenon only increasing?

the report 2021 of the Interministerial mission of vigilance and fight against sectarian aberrations (Miviludes), published in November, sounded the alarm about the amplification and mutations of the sectarian phenomenon. In 2021, the Mission received 4,020 referrals, i.e. 33.6% more than in 2020, and 86.1% more than in 2015. Although, among the 3,118 cases handled, many concern movements identified such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Church of Scientology or the Christian movement, the mission is concerned about the rise of tendencies linked to conspiracy, pyramid finance and, above all, unconventional care practices, “an issue of public health”, underlines the Mission, which deplores the insufficiency of means to act. This is evidenced by the resignation, on December 14, of its president, the magistrate Hanène Romdhane. Appointed in April 2021, she thus intends to protest against “the lack of human resources”.

How to explain the exponential increase in reports of sectarian aberrations?

Marie Drilhon I think there is a conjunction between the work of Miviludes, the destabilization of society by the pandemic and a phenomenon of freedom of speech, often on the part of the family circle. The health crisis has spread anxiety. People found themselves isolated and found answers on the Internet. This is how virtual communities have proliferated, notably around charismatic therapists like Thierry Casasnovas. Conspiratorial groups have taken up the issue of vaccines and the health pass. This, in a context of distrust of institutions and the fragility of democracy. We have seen it with QAnon and Donald Trump in the United States.

Hugues Gascan During the confinements, the Internet was the only window for socialization. Many have turned to conspiracy theories or miracle cures, with the feeling that we are taking care of them without curing them. The method of recruitment and the techniques of control are more effective and more efficient. They make it possible to have spaced contacts (every three to six months) with an almost weekly activity, but less close to the master. As a result, unlike the isolation patterns of the 1980s, followers are integrated into social life. They can be your neighbors on the landing or at work. The increase can also be explained with the diversification of the offer, particularly in the field of well-being, coaching and alternative medicine.

Delphine Guerard Several factors contribute to the expansion of the sectarian phenomenon, in particular the deplorable state of public health with its medical deserts, its doctors who do not have time to welcome their patients, forced to carry out expeditious consultations because they are overwhelmed and badly paid, and the worrying situation of psychiatry. Patients then find themselves mistreated or left to fend for themselves, and their families completely destitute. The public loses confidence and looks elsewhere for alternatives. Similarly, on the side of religion, people are turning away from institutions, while feeling a very strong need to believe and give meaning to their existence. And then there is the climate crisis, with its catastrophes and the anxieties it arouses. We are experiencing a real malaise in our society and in our civilization. Sects seem to offer a political, spiritual and therapeutic alternative, but, in fact, their alienating, even destructive processes, seriously damage psychic life.

Charline Delporte The “gurus 2.0”, isolated and autonomous manipulators, were able to easily exploit the health crisis and people’s fear to spread their doctrine. Vulnerable people have been seduced by antivax and alternative medicine practitioners, they have been tricked financially and have fallen into thrall.

Their territories are said to be online and their chiefs on YouTube. Under what new faces do sects present themselves and act?

Marie Drilhon The classic phenomena, like Universal White Brotherhood, are still there. But, since the 2000s, sectarian aberrations have developed in the form of networks. Moving and diffuse, they are particularly active in the field of health, well-being, personal development or spirituality. It has almost become “trendy”, “in tune with the times”, it is shameful not to be well. And it’s supported economically: “You have to be able to give your full potential. Many aim to make money, without there necessarily being a sectarian hold. Moreover, we have seen the development of online trading or multilevel selling, which promises rapid enrichment and mainly affects 16-25 year olds.

Hugues Gascan It’s no longer door-to-door or the distribution of flyers. Taking advantage of the “windfall effect” of the health crisis, charlatans have been able to place their therapies, in particular those with fasting as a dogma. However, a person who no longer eats or eats very little sees his cognitive abilities diminished and his judgment altered, so he is even more easily manipulated. These “therapies” are successful because they bring a kind of break from hectic daily lives.

Charline Delporte If we refer to our activity reports, the changeover dates from 2008. There was an overhaul of the police under Sarkozy and with it, a break in the links that we could have had with General Intelligence, for example. We were at the beginning of jihadist radicalization. We received parents whose children were going to Syria. We no longer spoke of sectarian aberrations.

Delphine Guerard It is difficult to identify a sect. These groups borrow reassuring names such as “school”, “institute”, “church”. They proliferate in the field of religion, all persuasions combined. Their favorite areas are personal development and therapies of all kinds. There, the cult leaders invent all sorts of titles, with the prefix psycho or with the suffix therapist, they use existing techniques that they distort. Self-taught, they often have no training. Entrepreneurs, they create their company, open schools, even dispense fake diplomas and communicate through their Youtube channel and their website. They all claim to have knowledge, to answer the big existential questions. Seduced, the future follower believes he has found a remedy, an answer, a capacity for action, a meaning in his life and friends. And yet, everything is set up to enslave him, because the true desire of the leader is to alienate.

In these fields of alternative medicine and well-being, what makes it possible to differentiate a charlatan from a true practitioner?

Marie Drilhon The sectarian risk (sectarian means “who cuts”) results in a triple rupture. A break with oneself, with one’s values, convictions, activities, vision of the world. Those around you don’t see it right away. Then there is a break with loved ones, friends and family. This is what comes up in the testimonies that we collect. Finally, there is a break with society. The sectarian influence, to exist, needs to convince that the good is inside the sect, the evil outside, namely the world, the society.

Charline Delporte The doctor is in science. Thus, a homeopathic doctor treats because he has a diploma after ten years of study, but he can choose to treat with gentler procedures, while charlatans are in “patamedecine”, a term which designates non-rational medicines, based on beliefs and not on scientific demonstrations. You should know that, in a grip, there is first a seduction, then a conditioning, then a family break, finally a contractualization, namely the signature with the leader to whom you are totally dedicated. You have nothing to do with the laws of the Republic. There is the addiction, emotional. You don’t know how to do anything without your dose of leader.

Delphine Guerard Regulated professions (doctors, psychologists, psychotherapists, etc.) protect the public through their obligations, training and ethics. Other therapists of all kinds have no obligations. For example, they are not subject to professional secrecy. Completing the law on the title of psychotherapist would further protect the public. In our view, psychotherapy can only be exercised by doctors, psychologists, psychotherapists and psychoanalysts registered in the directories of recognized analyst societies.

How can we better prevent and combat these sectarian phenomena?

Hugues Gascan It would be misguided to think that we can be sheltered from the phenomenon. It is not because one has completed higher education that one is spared, not at all. There are recruitments that take advantage of a state of vulnerability: divorce, job loss, illness or loss of a child. The best prevention is education and information. The study group on sectarian phenomena, made up of doctors, teachers, philosophers, intervenes in the school environment because middle and high school students are very vulnerable.

Marie Drilhon We are in a country of freedom, where freedom of association is precious. To protect ourselves, we really need to inform massively about what sectarian influence is, what it can lead to. People have to have the reflex to get information themselves, like when they go to buy a car or a washing machine. You also have to control. In 2018 and in 2020 and 2021, out of 600 checks carried out on the practices of naturopaths in particular, the Fraud Prevention Department, DGCCRF, reported 400.

Delphine Guerard Prevention is above all political, decisions at the level of education and public health have to be taken. Young people should be at the heart of prevention because they are the privileged targets of sects. From middle school to high school, during the time devoted to civic life, they should learn to identify issues such as conspiracy, religious radicalism, sects. Thus, they could protect themselves from it. Information spots from the Ministry of Health should specify what a psychiatrist and a psychologist are, explain the risks incurred when consulting a therapist who is neither a doctor nor a psychologist, as well as the possible remedies in the event of abuse.

Charline Delporte Our eldest daughter was a cult member. To see her a slave and happy to be one, it was not possible. We had been told that we had to keep the link, at all costs. What we have done. We need to be closer to the families who ask first to understand what is happening. It is very tiring to be a helper of the person under the influence and under sectarian addiction. The accompaniment of relatives or those leaving the grip is fundamental. This is what the Caffes does with professionals, psychologists and lawyers. Good news, the first meeting of sectarian aberrations and conspiracy should be held in the first quarter of 2023. They will bring together elected officials, state services, lawyers, associations, doctors and experts.

Since July 2020, Miviludes has been part of the Interministerial Committee for the Prevention of Delinquency and Radicalization within the Ministry of the Interior, with the State Secretariat for Citizenship. In your opinion, was this attachment appropriate?

Hugues Gascan The fact of having a management again at Miviludes can only revitalize its activity, especially since there have been many questions about its sustainability. This observatory is unique in the world, it is envied by many democracies, but the account is not there. Given the extent of the phenomenon, which affects 1% of the French population, it would be desirable to put substantial resources into it.

Marie Drilhon France is fortunate to have taken into account the sectarian phenomenon which puts the State and society in danger. The mission remains interministerial. If it differs from radicalization, survivalism or separatist separatism, there are nevertheless overlaps. Belgium has an independent study centre, established by law. The Miviludes, it depends on the government, it is more fragile.

Charline Delporte We are the only ones with a mission of this type. I find it surprising that she no longer depends on Matignon and that she joins the Central Bureau of Cults, in a way. His latest report is excellent, but I remain questioning about his future. It needs to be strengthened.

Why is the sectarian phenomenon only increasing?