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Crowd Sourcing a Witch Hunt: An Eight-Step Guide to Internet Abuse

by Marc Gafni

I am greatly saddened by the necessity of writing this post. Recently, Stephen Dinan called for a boycott against a film, RiseUP, based on my original role in inspiring and galvanizing the movie. In his post, he refers to articles written against me in the last several months. The articles are part of a smear campaign that Dinan and his posse have catalyzed against me for the last five months. If necessary, at the right time, I will do a line-by-line refutation of the major deceptions in Dinan’s article.

In future posts, both in this forum and in others that are now being created I will address, in a direct and personal way, all of the key claims and actors, past and future, in the smear campaign. I have been silent for ten years, thinking that the dignity of silence, forgiveness and moving on to new creativity and contribution would cause the agony of these false attacks to fade away. By their own admission, the perpetrators of the (false) attacks against me ten years ago were shocked that I survived their attempted social murder. Sorry for the trouble folks. I know it is annoying to have to try it again and again. Sadly, they have – and this is well documented – spent much of their energy in the last eight years seeking avenues to complete the deed.

My commitment to integrity and intimacy no longer allows me to be silent. As of this post my decade of silence is over. I will respond fully via video posts, email records, as well as other forms of documentation and analysis to any and all false claims.

I stand fully against sexual harassment in all of its expressions. I stand fully against any form of victim shaming.

I also stand against all forms of name rape. Name rape often happens via false accusations which hijack the victim narrative to hide their own malice. And let me add that you cannot make false accusations and then ask not to be challenged by labeling any challenger a victim-shamer. This is a weirdly inverted form of the old adage, where the son kills his parents and then throws himself at the mercy of the court because he is an orphan. That just not okay in any way.

I also stand against the new form of cyber-bullying which is the orchestrated smear campaign.

For now, however, I want to focus specifically on the meta issues which underlie Stephen’s article, because they are more fundamental.

By his own admission in private emails, and in conversations with his colleagues, Stephen has been a key figure in an organized campaign to destroy my good name. In this, he has deployed the classic playbook of the Big Lie propaganda campaign, and adds to it some new virtual techniques.

To say it simply, Stephen is, in my best understanding, a self-styled jihadist. This phrase in regard to Stephen was coined not by myself, but by Barbara Marx Hubbard’s daughter after interacting with him in my regard. You can read Barbara’s relevant description of these sad events here.

By jihad, I mean holy war, launched by those with who are so fanatically persuaded of their righteousness that they move to destroy all who they deem infidel or heretic.

Stephen is not following the precepts of a particular fundamentalist religion. Far more insidiously, he is self-appointed. He and those attracted to, or aligned with, his vibration of jihadic consciousness are driven to save the world from demonic forces and evil. Conveniently, those that they deem evil or demonic are usually also those who arouse in them the kind of rage and grenvy – greed and envy –that is the source of malice.

Malice is a core feature of reality, which we recognize in the political, business and religious worlds but somehow we sometimes forget that it exists in the New Age Spiritual world as well. Malice is aroused, as Rene Girard reminds us, by those whose essence makes us feel somehow small, those who are professional competitors in some visceral way, as well as those who perhaps play Mozart to their Salieri, or Othello to their Iago.

Like all those engaged in various forms of jihad, Stephen is convinced of his righteousness. He has cast me as the infidel who must be both excommunicated (i.e. “don’t talk to him”) and, for the sake of the good, destroyed. In this distorted internal scenario, Stephen seems to be the self-appointed jihadist protector, protecting the purity of the helpless victims. Key to this process of course is to hide all of your own more base ulterior motives – be they financial, psychological or professional – under the fig leaf of the protector mantle. Let us state this clearly and fearlessly: this is a regressive meme that threatens the very soul of public culture.

Crowd Sourcing a Witch Hunt: An Eight-Step Guide to Internet Abuse

Here’s how such a cyber-jihad campaign is done:

1) You dredge up old stories—some outright false, some merely distorted—and make contact with your target’s old enemies (such as an angry ex-wife, ex-students and professional rivals with axes to grind and hidden agendas) in order to get them to support your campaign.

2) Using loaded words like ‘sociopath’ and/or ‘pedophile’ without any evidence as to their accuracy, you begin seeding a series of false or distorted allegations about your target around the web.

3) You might even go so far as to claim, as Stephen’s closest allies have, that this so-called sociopath has occult or demonic powers. The claim that I am demonic, made both in private conversation and in public posts, has been a major theme of Stephen’s campaign. Psychologists tell me that only such a disassociated projection allows one to make sense of the extremity of the smear campaign. I do not know. Such explanation is beyond the realm of my expertise. However, I do know that the ascription of demonic powers to me allows anyone who associates with me to be said to be under some kind of malevolent spell, and anyone who wants to hear my side of the story is warned that they might be affected by my ‘demonic’ energy.

(For those interested in further sources on this see René Girard’s critical work on scapegoating. See also Wilhelm Reich’s work on the Murder of Eros.)

4) You set up a system where there is no possibility of fact checking and no possibility of transformation. In terms of fact checking, I have invited a fair process of fact checking many times. Such a process would require all parties to take responsibility, including especially responsibility for the results of organizing and leveling false complaints.

I have also invited any individual who feels hurt to engage with me in a mediated process of resolution and transformation. I am not only open but very much want to learn if there is a way that someone feels genuine hurt, for which I owe an apology. Let’s have a genuine conversation in a mediated context and see transformation and healing.

But if you are organizing a cyber-jihad campaign you must endeavor to make sure that there is not a possibility of fact checking, mutual responsibility or resolution. That would defeat the entire goal of the jihad: the destruction of the infidel. Because the infidel is in some sense demonic, no true transformation or resolution is ever possible. The infidel must be killed.

5) You must hide your malice. After all, as Milan Kundera reminds us, Malice must never admit of itself so it must always plead other motives. What are the motives that malice pleads? The perpetrator claims to be rescuing future victims or pretends to be a victim. This is famously referred to in Karpman’s “drama triangle”, or the victim triangle.

The other motives pleaded are that of being a protector. So the next step in the smear campaign playbook is to enroll a group of your friends and colleagues, by telling them that you are protecting ‘future victims’. You establish credibility by pointing to personal testimonials, none of which have been cross-checked for facts—just as, in the old witch trials, unreliable personal testimony was used to ‘prove’ that someone was a witch.

Remember again: Malice must never admit of itself so it must always plead other motives.

It is a shockingly accurate description of the approach that Dinan and his two colleagues have taken in organizing this smear campaign.

6) The next step is to crowd-source your witch hunt. In a short time, using the tools of social media, you form an internet mob. The mob generates likes, tweets, posts, blogs and the like. Credible information no longer matters. In the outpouring of vituperation, it is nearly impossible to tell that most of the statements made about the object of attack are grossly untrue; He or She has become an object. Accuracy and integrity no longer matter much when attacking an object.

You have almost all the key elements necessary to have a contemporary Trial by Internet – the modern form of a Salem Witch Trial. Just one more step is necessary. Victim Voices.

7) A key move in such a campaign is to hide behind what are ostensibly “victim voices”. You gather first person testimonies with emotionally evocative power to front your cause. It is not dis-similar to the mafia using an ostensibly kosher business to cover up for the criminal rackets of murder and extortion. Evocative first person testimonies shift attention from the true ulterior motives of the smear organizers.

First person testimonies are powerful because they evoke emotional resonance. That is why these kind of personal testimonies were so central in the European witch trials that tortured and burned –according to some estimates – tens of thousands of women at the stake.

But of course anyone who is truly involved with working with victims, knows that first testimonies are by themselves not reliable. Just ask any African American family who has a family ancestor that was lynched because a posse of white women claimed that he was sexually in appropriate with them, and they will tell you that first person testimonies can be organized for the sake of murder. Once the horrific demonizing meme of the perpetrating black person with occult powers was set into play, then dozens of white women came out of the woodwork to testify.

That is why, in a rational society, we have evolved post-witch-trials and post-lynch-mobs. We gather evidence, we check for social ties that bind the ostensible victims and look for evidence of collusion and aligning of testimony between the “victims”[1]. We might investigate the influences behind the scenes that are pulling the strings, and check for subtle signs that there is social and psychological pressure or reward at play, influencing the narratives etc.

In the regressive meme of Trial by Internet, however, none of these checks are in place.

The facts of the first person testimonies are never checked or cross-checked. The idea is to create a virtual mob of victim voices, which is orchestrated and manipulated from behind the scenes. In an internet age this is relatively easy to do.

8) Deploying the strategy of the Big Lie: Where there is smoke there is fire

Is it not true that where there is smoke there is fire?

How does it happen that there are multiple accusations against one person? Indeed after closely researching the literature and interviewing a dozen people who are experts in the field, it turns out that the nature of the Big Lie is that it always generates multiple accusations. This lends a veneer of credibility to the smear campaign. This is how the principle of ‘where there’s smoke there’s fire’ is deployed to support to the Big Lie strategy. However, even slightly more careful scrutiny reveals that the accusers virtually always know each other and have close social, political or communal bonds. They emerge from the same network or have been drawn into the same network via the internet because they all represent disgruntled or offended ex partners, ex business associates, ex lovers, ex wives, ex students and the like. They enter into a kind of group-think in which subtle or not so subtle social reward and pressure move to align their stories and foster collusion, which is easily revealed once a process of cross-checking information and fact-checking is begun.

Let me give you a simple example of how these dynamics emerge. A leader/ teacher/ television personality/ corporate head etc. can work with tens of thousands of people over many years. 95% of the people may have had wonderful experiences. But they are the silent majority. They are living their lives productively, balanced and healthy. There will also often be five or ten percent that respond negatively to any kind of strong personality. They may also be dis-satisfied with their lives, or have any number of interior at issues at play, which are triggered by their meeting with the leader figure. Some amount of triggered folks is particularly probable if the leader is doing work that is edgy or provocative, or that demands a lot for people. If the leader him or herself is not pallid, but is, in his or her own ways edgy, demanding and provocative then it is even more likely to have a small percent of disaffected folks.  Usually those people are from the “ex” society, made up of ex partners, ex lovers, ex colleagues or ex students.

As long as there is no crisis of any kind, these voices are in right proportion to the majority of people having positive experiences. But once there is a crisis or trauma in the system – say, for example, the president of a hospital is sued – then victims begin to appear from all periods of the person’s life. Sometimes those victims are real. The powerful person has a genuine shadow side, which for example, could be that he consistently sexually harasses women. If the evidence is checked and that turns out to be true then we must deal with it appropriately.

It is important however to realize that just as often as these stories are true, they are just as often not true. Precisely however because these stories are sometimes true, and because we have seen so many of them in the media over the past two decades, there is a confirmation bias; that is to say, a tendency to believe them.

However they are just as often not true as they are true.

A good friend of mine in South America was sued about a decade back. She had run mental health clinics there for several decades with thousands of employees. When the suit happened, the overwhelming majority of her former employees rallied to her support. But because she is a strong and often demanding figure who calls people out on their stuff, over the decades she has accumulated several dozen enemies. These are former colleagues, staff she has fired, jealous competitors, angry ex lovers and the like. A face group group formed called “victims of Janet”. People reading superficially might assume, that there must some truth to the claims. After all, where there is smoke there is fire. But more accurately, in this case, where there is smoke there is a smoke bomb.

How did this happen. When her crisis – being sued in a very public case- hit the press, the persons pressing the suit – which was based on false claims, organized several dozen victims to speak against her. That is the source of the smoke bomb. They found people who had worked for her at different stages of her career over many decades. This was easy to do through the Internet. It would have been impossible in a pre-internet age. These victims then attempted –via internet attacks to – hijack the narrative of her life. They attempted to them claim that there was a pattern. Of course one of the first lessons of cognitive behavioral therapy is false pattern recognition. You create the illusion of a pattern by mobilizing a horde of victims sharing their public testimony, which to the sloppy and glancing eye of the internet consumer, might seem to evoke a pattern. Careful fact checking often eviscerates the initial seductive mirage of a pattern.

Where There Is Smoke There Is An Ember[1]

This does not mean that the leader is without responsibility. It might also be true that where there is smoke there is an ember. The leader may well have made genuine mistakes. It is however malice that fans an ember into a fire. It is however malice that attempts to turn mistakes, which take place in the normal arc of human relations, into wildly exaggerated and demonized pathology, which is termed evil, and according to the self appointed jihadist, must be eradicated at all costs. Malice fans an ember into a fire.

The ostensible victims have been in touch, sometimes for a decade or more, aligning their stories. There is a kind of group think victim consciousness which takes over. By participating the victim voices receive many social benefits and potentially avoid social censure within their communities.

Of course all of this is subtle and hidden. Particularly if your playground is the internet you can easily  hide all of the back stories that belie the integrity of the victim voice. You can avoid all forms of genuine fact checking, both at the level of deeds-what actually happened, and at the level of motives.

On the surface, in a plethora of internet posts, all you see are brave victims risking reprisal who are breaking the silence. When the stories are carefully checked and turn out to be true according to genuine standards of inquiry, then we have travesty of integrity and intimacy that must be righted. When the stories are not true however, which is no less often the case, then we have no less of  a travesty of integrity and intimacy that also must righted. The latter is precisely the case in the crowd sourced witch hunt of Dinan and his colleagues.

Spiritual Teachers

It is unbelievably painful to me that a group of spiritual teachers and growth movement professionals, who do not know me personally, but who have business relationships or financial ties with Stephen, have been persuaded to lend their names to this campaign without cross-checking the information being purveyed. I am certain however that once all the facts are known, the moral and formal liability of having taken such a stand will become self-evident.

It has also been most disheartening but not as unexpected to see people who have been colleagues who have close ties to Stephen, jump on Stephen’s bandwagon, some from fear, and some from self interest.

I do not know Stephen personally. I have never had a conversation with him, other then a passing hello at a public event. At several points, leaders in the Center have strongly urged Stephen to sit with me, our staff and team and carefully cross check facts and information before acting. They have also strongly urged me to sit with Stephen. Stephen has consistently refused.

I remain open to meeting Stephen directly – face to face, in a facilitated context whose intent is to create truth and reconciliation. That would require people being willing to admit having borne false witness, made false complaints and more. Everyone in the system—including myself—would need to hear each other and own their own responsibility for their part in the contribution system that led to this very moment. This is a context in which neither myself or my colleagues nor Stephen and his colleagues would be “on trial”; rather, it would be a place to give up being right and seek genuine transformation and peace. We could model this for ourselves and for the larger culture.

My colleagues at the Center for Integral Wisdom have responded directly to the smear campaign. Until this point we have only circulated our response to our own community and lists. But in light of Stephen’s rehashing of the same old canards again and again, we are sharing our public response. Following the Board of the Center’s public statement are 55 blog post by Center leaders.

I invite the reader to read each of them. They are short and wise and to the point. In reading them I hope you will actually get a direct sense of the quality of my life, relationships, and the work that we are doing at the Center for Integral Wisdom.

We live in a world of outrageous pain. The only response to outrageous pain is outrageous love. Outrageous love is not tepid or lukewarm. It is a fire that both warms and inspires even as it fierce and demanding. For the sake of goodness, truth and beauty, for the sake of my partners, my children and the many people with whom I am deeply in love, I will at the appropriate time respond in depth to every single false claim. I want to do so in a way which seeks not to destroy but to create, not to tear down but to build up, not merely to shout against the darkness but to add light.

Statement from the Center for Integral Wisdom

In response to the current attacks on Dr. Marc Gafni, The Center for Integral Wisdom has released the following statement:

Dr. Marc Gafni is under attack from certain quarters of the religious and spirituality worlds. Based on our careful review of extensive documentary evidence, numerous professional evaluations, and our collective experiences with Dr. Gafni, we fully trust that the claims of sexual harassment and abuse are false.

The Center for Integral Wisdom takes the strongest possible stance against all forms of sexual harassment and abuse. Before any of us became formally affiliated with the Center, we, collectively, carefully reviewed these allegations. We concluded, and reaffirm now, that the claims against Dr. Gafni are either untrue or significantly distorted.

Furthermore, all of us have extensive professional and personal experiences of the most positive nature with Dr. Gafni, regularly observing his goodness, integrity and kindness.

Over the years, Dr. Gafni has offered many times to engage in a professionally facilitated dialogue with the parties involved in making and disseminating these claims. However, these parties have not been willing to meet for mediated resolution in which all parties take responsibility for their part in the contribution system that created these conflicts.

Instead, over many years they have aligned with each other, coordinating their stories and efforts, avoiding forums which would allow for discerning fact checking and mutual responsibility. Given our common desire for peace in the world, it is more then unfortunate that there has not been the opportunity to engage in a productive process of resolution. The agenda of the parties has been to create public campaigns of character assassination intended to discredit Dr. Gafni in his professional and personal life.

If you would like a deeper sense of Marc, his collaborative work and character, the Center’s work, as well as a substantive refutation of the core negative stories on the web, you might want to read some of the posts below, as well as the Facts section on Marc’s personal website, WhoIsMarcGafni.com. You might also want to peruse the extensive material on the Center for Integral Wisdom website, or just read one of Marc’s books. In the next few weeks and months, Marc and other leaders at the Center will be sharing more specific information, as well as reflections on the larger issues at stake in this conversation.

Please see below for fifty-five blog posts from Center leaders that deal with these issues directly. We would urge any reader interested in deeper understanding and truth to read these posts with care, discernment and an open heart.

You can access the 55+ posts by clicking here.

Also read this beautiful analysis by Dr. Clint Fuhs titled: Anatomy of a Smear: The Internet Trial of Marc Gafni



[1] Where there is smoke there is an ember. In most of these stories there is a pattern of behavior that takes place over many years. Beware however of the common mistake of false pattern recognition. The ostensible pattern needs to be properly interpreted. If the issues at play are sexual, the pattern of interaction over many years may be primarily post conventional, with all of the messiness that sometimes implies or the pattern might be predatory. The difference is everything. To ascertain the distinction, there is all sorts of objective evidence that needs to be reviewed. That review is called fair process or integrity.



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