As a former senior member and leader of the Unification Church, Steven Alan Hassan, now an exit counsellor, held several meetings with the self-proclaimed South-Korean Messiah Sun Myung Moon, who has just died at the age of 92.

"I was a fanatical member and leader," he told IBTimes UK.

At the age of 19, just like many young people of his age, Hassan was deceptively recruited into the "Moonies" while a student at Queens College in New York.

"My highest position was assistant director at national headquarters and director of CARP [Collegiate Association for the Research of Principles, a Moon organization] at Queens College, which was responsible for recruiting students at the college," he said.

He was favoured by top Unification Church leaders for his discipline and zeal, and success as a recruiter.

Hassan was eventually "deprogrammed" by his own family after causing a traffic accident due to lack of sleep at the wheel of a church van. "I almost died and I broke my leg," he recalls. "I was away from the group so I called my sister, who called my parents."

Hassan's parents contacted former members of the Unification Church, who engaged in a hard deprogramming session with him. Despite his resistance, Hassan eventually agreed to start a five-day intervention, after which he would be free to decide whether to return to the Unification Church. He chose to leave the organisation.

After his exit, he founded an organisation called ex-Moon Inc, with 400 other former members of the church.

'Moonies don't believe in democracy'

"We tried to investigate the Moonies," he said. "They don't believe in democracy. It's a Hitler-esque kind of organisation which wants to take over the world.

"After the Jonestown tragedy [in which 913 members of the Peoples Temple, a religious organisation led by radical preacher Jim Jones, died in 1978] I started to study psychological influence techniques, methods of persuasion, mind control and indoctrination to develop new exit counselling methods."

He became professionally interested in the field of social psychology, studying techniques cults use "to take away free will from people".

In his 1988 book "Combating Cult Mind Control," Hassan came up with a model of mind control or brainwashing, known as the BITE model.

According to him, the four components of mind control are Behaviour, Information, Thought and Emotional control. Cults forcibly recruit members using an extensive range of techniques, including "systematic deception, behaviour modification, withholding of information and emotionally intense persuasion techniques".

But other cult experts such as David Clark, Carol Giambalvo, Noel Giambalvo, Kevin Garvy and Michael Langone have criticised Steve Hassan's approach to exit counselling. They stated that Hassan's four points are "vague and rather standard fare for counselling approaches within the field of humanistic psychology".

"Hassan runs the risk of imposing clarity, however subtly, on the framework's foundational ambiguity and thereby manipulating the client," they said in a chapter entitled "Exit Counselling: A Practical Overview" from the volume "Recovery from Cults."

Unification Church - what's the way forward?

"In the 1970s the target was people between 18 and 24-25 years old, now the baby-boomers in their 50s unsatisfied with their lives," Hassan said. "Cults like Moonies want money from them, so they target wealthy, powerful people."

Hassan says the Internet era was "a big shift" in exit counselling as a "force to create change and tell people to leave".

"The ability to get information 24/7 is crucial in helping and motivating people to research and scrutinise these organisations," he adds.

According to Hassan, the death of Moon is "a critical moment" in the history of the Unification Church.

"Several of Moon's sons are now at war with each other," he said. "There are two options, either the family decide to come together to keep the father image, or they decide to stop this nonsense about religion and focus on business."

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