Headgames 

Two years ago, Erika Van Meir thought social therapy could change the world. Today, she calls it a cult.

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Not surprisingly, Newman burned through teaching positions rapidly. In 1970, he took a test for a drug rehabilitation counselor with New York State's Narcotics Addiction Control Commission. He passed, and soon he was counseling inmates in the prison system. It was there that he says he first questioned the notion of addiction. And it was then, he said, his hunch that psychology was a "pseudo-science" was confirmed.

"[M]y belief [is] that bourgeois psychology is a myth -- that it is based on profound methodological errors, that it is essentially an intellectual and bourgeois methodological fraud," he said in a 1986 speech.

In response, Newman created "social therapy." More to the point, he assembled a gumbo of ideas from his intellectual heroes: Ludwig Wittgenstein; a long-dead Soviet psychologist named Lev Vygotsky; and, most importantly, Karl Marx. Newman himself has written tens of thousands of words on social therapy, and descriptions such as the following are typical:

"Social therapy does not try to help people to 'modify' their behavior. Rather, we help people to break out of their societally over-determined patterns and to become the active creators of their lives."

While Newman may hold mainstream psychology in contempt, it has treated social therapy with little more than indifference. "Our profession has a very laissez faire attitude toward fad psychotherapy," says Scott Lilienfeld, an associate professor of psychology at Emory and consulting editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine. "There's this attitude of 'let a thousand flowers bloom.'" The result, Lilienfeld says, is a movement like social therapy, which to lay people sounds legitimate, but whose theoretical underpinnings are "complete gobbledygook."

As a Marxist, Newman has spent his career trying to create an alternative to capitalism. In the early 1970s, he founded the Centers for Change, a disparate collection of clinics, schools and meeting places in New York City for like-minded revolutionaries. It was at the Centers for Change that Newman first began practicing social therapy.

In 1974, he and his followers forged an alliance with Lyndon LaRouche, the perennial presidential hopeful and, some say, fanatical cult leader. Although once seen as an ardent leftist, by the early 1970s, LaRouche was starting to weave the conspiracy theories for which he'd become famous in his many campaigns. That might explain why the alliance between LaRouche and Newman lasted only a few months. Critics, however, say the merger was a cynical attempt by Newman to learn LaRouche's leadership techniques -- techniques Newman himself would adopt and use later on.

On his own again, Newman quickly formed the International Workers Party, whose goal was to spark an "international socialist revolution." According to the Anti-Defamation League, the party recruited members under the guise of social therapy, and therapists were often IWP members.

By 1979, however, Newman had abandoned the IWP and created the New Alliance Party. At its forefront was Lenora Fulani, the black radical who in 1987 led a New Alliance Party contingent to Libya to meet with Moammar Qaddafi and protest the U.S. bombing of that country. A year later, she got her name on the presidential ballot in all 50 states, an organizational feat that resulted in about 200,000 votes nationwide. Four years later, she was on the ballot again, raising $4 million in her second presidential bid.

But for the next several years, the party drifted. A defector from within the New Alliance Party told federal authorities that the party took advantage of the government by using matching funds to spend not on outside vendors, like public relations firms and ad agencies, but on groups connected to social therapy.

In 1997, the Federal Election Commission ordered Fulani's 1992 campaign to repay $117,269 to the U.S. Treasury. The repayment was for, among other things, $73,750 for campaign expenses to individuals that couldn't be traced.

By that time, though, Newman and Fulani had turned their attention to the Reform Party; their lobbying helped put Ross Perot on the California ballot in 1996. And in 2000, Fulani threw her support behind the presidential bid of Pat Buchanan, irrefutable proof that politics makes for bizarre bedfellows. In interviews, both Newman and Fulani justified their alliance with the arch-conservative by explaining that it was a call for political reform, not an endorsement of Buchanan's platform. Newman told The Washington Post that if it was Buchanan's social positions that got him elected, "I would pack my bags and go to Canada."

The Anti-Defamation League has long had Newman in its crosshairs for his comments on Jews. Newman, Jewish himself, has been quoted as saying the Jewish people sold out after the Holocaust. "The contract with Jewish people, with the Jewish leadership, has been: 'We're going to let you live. We're going to let you survive. We're going to make sure it never happens to you again as long as you function as the stormtroopers of decadent capitalism against people of color the world over!'"

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