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Sharing their demons on the web

Sharing Their Demons on the Web
By SARAH KERSHAW
November 13, 2008

>http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/13/fashion/13psych.html?_r=1&oref=slogin&pagewanted=all 
> FOR years they lived in solitary terror of the light beams
> that caused
> searing headaches, the technology that took control of
> their minds and
> bodies. They feared the stalkers, people whose voices
> shouted from the
> walls or screamed in their heads, "We found you"
> and "We want you
> dead."
>
> When people who believe such things reported them to the
> police,
> doctors or family, they said they were often told they were
> crazy. Sometimes they were medicated or locked in hospital
> wards, or
> fired from jobs and isolated from the outside world.
>
> But when they found one another on the Internet, everything
> changed. So many others were having the same experiences.
>
> Type "mind control" or "gang stalking"
> into Google, and Web sites
> appear that describe cases of persecution, both
> psychological and
> physical, related with the same minute details — red and
> white cars
> following victims, vandalism of their homes, snickering by
> those
> around them.
>
> Identified by some psychologists and psychiatrists as part
> of an
> "extreme community" on the Internet that appears
> to encourage
> delusional thinking, a growing number of such Web sites are
> filled
> with stories from people who say they are victims of mind
> control and
> stalking by gangs of government agents. The sites are
> drawing the
> concern of mental health professionals and the interest of
> researchers
> in psychology and psychiatry.
>
> Although many Internet groups that offer peer support are
> considered
> helpful to the mentally ill, some experts say Web sites
> that amplify
> reports of mind control and group stalking represent a dark
> side of
> social networking. They may reinforce the troubled thinking
> of the
> mentally ill and impede treatment.
>
> Dr. Ralph Hoffman, a psychiatry professor at Yale who
> studies
> delusions, said a growing number of his research subjects
> have told
> him of visiting mind-control sites, and finding in them
> confirmation
> of their own experiences.
>
> "The views of these belief systems are like a shark
> that has to be
> constantly fed," Dr. Hoffman said. "If you
> don't feed the delusion,
> sooner or later it will die out or diminish on its own
> accord. The key
> thing is that it needs to be repetitively reinforced."
>
> That is what the Web sites do, he said. Similar concerns
> have arisen
> about a proliferation of sites that describe how to commit
> suicide, or
> others that promote anorexia and bulimia, providing
> detailed
> instructions on restricting food and photographs of
> skeletal women
> meant to be "thinspiration."
>
> For people who regularly visit and write on message boards
> on the
> mind-control sites, the idea that others would describe the
> sites as
> promoting delusional and psychotic thinking is simply
> evidence of a
> cover-up of the truth.
>
> "It was a big relief to find the community," said
> Derrick Robinson,
> 55, a janitor in Cincinnati and president of Freedom from
> Covert
> Harassment and Surveillance, a group that claims several
> hundred
> regular users of its Web site. "I felt that maybe
> there were others,
> but I wasn't real sure until I did find this
> community," Mr. Robinson
> said.
>
> There is no concise survey of mind-control sites or others
> describing
> gang stalking — whose users believe that groups of people
> are
> following and controlling them, as part of a test of
> neurological or
> other kinds of weapons likely conducted by the government
> — on the
> Net. But they are easy to find. Some have hundreds of
> postings, along
> with links to dozers of similar sties. One,
> Gangstalkingworld.com,
> welcomes visitors with this description: "Gang
> Stalking is a systemic
> form of control, which seeks to destroy every aspect of a
> Targeted
> Individual's life. The target is followed around and
> placed under
> surveillance by Civilian Spies/Snitches 24/7."
>
> The site lists more than 71,000 visitors, and it has links
> to several
> other sites, including Harrassment101.com, which has 965
> posts.
>
> One poster to Gang Stalking World wrote in August:
> "It's insane that I
> daily have to come home and try to figure out if my Web
> sites will
> still be up or shut down. This week they have really been
> playing with
> me, and so it was my time to play back." The post
> directs readers to
> other gang-stalking sites should their favorite sites be
> shut down.
>
> Mr. Robinson said in an interview that that he has been
> tortured and
> abused by gang stalkers and by "neurological
> weaponry" since leaving
> the Navy in 1982. "To read the stories and the
> similarity of the
> harassment techniques that were going on, to hear about the
> vandalism,
> appliance tampering and all the other things were designed
> to drive a
> person crazy, who do you go to with this?" he said.
> "People will say
> you are delusional."
>
> For Mr. Robinson and several other Web site users
> interviewed for this
> article — all of whom insisted they were not delusional,
> including one
> man who said he had been hospitalized in psychiatric wards
> — the sites
> provide the powerful, unfamiliar experience of being
> understood by
> others.
>
> "By and large, most people are sane and coherent and
> can relate
> exactly what's happening to them," Mr. Robinson
> said. "They can say
> the things that would otherwise get them labeled as
> delusional."
>
> His group of self-described "targeted
> individuals" met offline in Los
> Angeles last month for their inaugural conference, he said,
> where they
> attended a meeting to share stories, including the
> humiliating
> experiences of being told they are insane.
>
> Mental health experts who have closely looked at the Web
> sites are
> careful to say that there is no way to prove if someone
> posting on,
> say, Mr. Robinson's site, Freedomfchs.com, which says
> its mission is
> to seek justice for those singled out by "organized
> stalking and
> electromagnetic torture," is suffering from mental
> illness.
>
> Vaughan Bell, a British psychologist who has researched the
> effect of
> the Internet on mental illness, first began tracking sites
> with
> reports of mind control in 2004. In 2006 he published a
> study
> concluding that there was an extensive Internet community
> around such
> beliefs, and he called 10 sites he studied "likely
> psychotic sites."
>
> The extent of the community, Dr. Bell said, poses a paradox
> to the
> traditional way delusion is defined under the diagnostic
> guidelines of
> the American Psychiatric Association, which says that if a
> belief is
> held by a person's "culture or subculture,"
> it is not a delusion. The
> exception accounts for rituals of religious faith, for
> example.
>
> Dr. Bell, whose study was published in the journal
> Psychopathology,
> said that it does not suggest all people participating in
> mind-control
> sites are delusional, and that a firm diagnosis of
> psychosis could
> only be done in person.
>
> For people who say they are the target of mind control or
> gang
> stalking, there may be enough evidence in the scientific
> literature to
> fan their beliefs. Many sites point to MK-ULTRA, the code
> name for a
> covert C.I.A. mind-control and chemical interrogation
> program begun in
> the 1950s.
>
> Recently the sites have linked to an article published in
> September in
> Time magazine, "The Army's Totally Serious
> Mind-Control Project,"
> which described a $4 million contract given to the Army to
> develop
> "thought helmets" that would allow troops to
> communicate through brain
> waves on the battlefield.
>
> And the users of some sites have found the support of Jim
> Guest, a
> Republican state representative in Missouri, who wrote last
> year to
> his fellow legislators calling for an investigation into
> the claims of
> those who say they are being tortured by mind control.
>
> "I've had enough calls, some from credible people
> — professors — being
> targeted by nonlethal weapons," Mr. Guest said in a
> telephone
> interview, adding that nothing came of his request for a
> legislative
> investigation. "They become psychologically affected
> by it. They have
> trouble sleeping at night."
>
> He added: "I believe there are people who have been
> targeted by
> this. With this equipment, you have to test it on somebody
> to see if
> it works."
>
> Dr. Bell and some other mental health professionals say
> that even if
> the users of such sites are psychotic, forging an online
> connection to
> others and being told — perhaps for the first time —
> "you are not
> crazy" could actually have a positive effect on their
> illnesses.
>
> "We know, for example, that things like social
> support, all of these
> positive social aspects are very good for people's
> mental illness,"
> Dr. Bell said. "I wouldn't say it's entirely
> and completely positive,
> but it can be positive."
>
> Some research has shown that when people with delusions
> undergo group
> cognitive therapy, the group process can be helpful in
> their
> treatment.
>
> But the Web sites are not moderated by professionals, and
> many
> postings discuss the failure of medication and say that
> mental health
> professionals are part of the conspiracy against them.
>
> "These people lead quietly desperate lives," said
> Dr. Jeffrey
> A. Lieberman, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at
> Columbia
> University. "And if they are reinforcing each other
> and pulling people
> toward something, if they are using the Internet and
> getting
> reinforcement, that's good."
>
> The mind-control sites remind some experts of the accounts
> of those
> claiming to have been abducted by aliens in the 1970s and
> '80s. One
> person's story begat another until many insisted they
> had had
> virtually identical experiences of being taken onto space
> ships by
> silvery sloe-eyed creatures.
>
> Some of those now posting on mind-control sites say they
> are being
> remotely "sexually stimulated" by their
> torturers. Some alien
> abductees had said similar things. Subsequent research
> generally
> showed that those who believed they had been abducted were
> not
> psychotic, but suffering from severe memory and sleep
> problems, or
> personal traumas, Dr. Bell said.
>
> Psychiatrists and researchers say it is too soon to say
> whether
> communication on the Internet among people who may be
> psychotic will
> negatively effect their illnesses." This is a very
> complex little
> corner," said Dr. Ken Duckworth, the medical director
> for the National
> Alliance on Mental Illness, an advocacy group. "Some
> people may find
> it's healing, but these are really hard questions. The
> Internet isn't
> a cause of mental illness, it's a complicating new
> variable."

 

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