Mattias Desmet’s theory of Mass Formation attracted a great deal of attention in 2022. In this review of Desmet’s book, The Psychology of Totalitarianism, we argue that it manifests the psychology of atrocity – and that “Mass Formation” paradoxically serves to legitimize the mass atrocity perpetrated during the Covid-19 era.
This article was written by David Hughes, Valerie Kyrie and Daniel Broudy.
It is a guest submission exclusive to Unlimited Hangout.
With the declaration of the pandemic that changed the world in March 2020, an army of thought police descended upon populations worldwide. Overnight, the public face of science was transformed from a civil and civilian endeavor into a matter of law and order. In place of what had formerly emanated from research communities came edicts from government officials, bolstered by celebrity bureaucrats, enforced by censorship, smearing, and coercion, and backed up by riot squads (e.g. here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). In the process, science as previously known, a careful product of time, hypothesis-testing, collective critique, and pertinent subject matter expertise, gave way to The Science™, a kaleidoscopic, ever-changing and capricious set of pseudo-medical justifications for government overreach and violations of citizens’ rights, riding on rolling waves of public messaging and manufactured fear, in keeping with a totalitarian model.
From the earliest days, there were those who could see these developments as dangerous, and those who could not. There were those who saw that the sharp turn away from democracy, due process, and human rights had nothing to do with empirical science whatsoever. And those who did not. The former have been mystified by the latter, and increasingly so as time has passed. Why can’t they see what’s going on?
For anyone who took seriously the entreaties to “follow the science”, as early as March 17th, when authorities were claiming to both know next-to-nothing about the “novel” coronavirus and yet, inexplicably, to have also settled The Science™, John Ioannidis (Professor of Medicine, Epidemiology, Population Health, Biomedical Data Science and Statistics at Stanford University), wrote: “The data collected so far on how many people are infected and how the epidemic is evolving are utterly unreliable.” He warned that while Covid-19 was being framed as a once-in-a-century pandemic, the science was shaping up to be a “once-in-a-century evidence fiasco” (Ioannidis, 2020).
Nevertheless, bureaucrats, government officials, tech moguls, social media personnel, and medical regulators studiously ignored Professor Ioannidis, a leading authority in his field, and proceeded, instead, to implement their “public health emergency”, Lockstep-style, as had already been planned through a series of “pandemic preparedness” exercises (eg Alexopulos, 2018; Gates, 2015; Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, 2017, 2019; O’Toole, Mair & Inglesby, 2002; Rockefeller Foundation, 2010; Simpson et al., 2020; WHO, 2017a, 2017b). The underlying weaponization of medicine and science and their casting into tools of oppression were enabled from the outset by a blitzkrieg of tried and tested propaganda techniques, as we have summarized previously (Broudy & Kyrie, 2022; Kyrie & Broudy, 2022a, 2022b). In concert, consistent with psychological operations tactics (Dhami, 2011; GCHQ, 2014; Kyrie & Broudy, 2022a), the enactment of the “public health emergency” was carefully fabricated by numerous means, many policies with origins that predated the announcement of the pandemic (Ardizzone, 2021; Business Wire, 2021; Deevoy, 2021; Farber, 2020; Mercola, 2022a; Truth for Health, 2022; Vilet, 2022a; Yeadon, 2022). These foundational fabrications included systematically withholding life-saving treatment.
Dr Harvey Risch, MD and Professor Emeritus of Epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, whose work has been cited over 46,000 times, said of the FDA warning against Hydroxychloroquine:
It’s a fraud …. This was the crux of the whole pandemic in the first place. The suppression of Hydroxychloroquine started before anyone even knew there was a pandemic … in fall of 2019 … [based on a] completely false theory [that was] completely impossible …. This medication’s been used in tens of billions of doses in hundreds of millions of people for half a century or more. It is one of the most important medications on the WHO list [and] one of the safest medications known.
Had this medication been used at the outset of this pandemic it would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives that were needlessly lost because this was suppressed for a year …. And had we been able to treat this disease adequately the necessity of vaccines would not nearly have been as important, and maybe not important at all. And that is the crux of the whole pandemic. It was used to sell vaccines.
Several months into the manufactured pandemic, in June 2020, with contrary evidence and opinion from an increasingly long list of experts being sidelined, censored, erased, and ignored (Atlas, 2020; Bhattacharya & Packalen, 2020; Binder, 2022; Gieseke, 2020; Lass, 2020; Leake, 2022; Rancourt, 2020; Reiss & Bhakdi, 2020; Shir-Raz, 2022; Vilet, 2022b), Professor Michael Levitt, biophysicist from the Department of Structural Biology in the School of Medicine at Stanford University, and recipient of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2013, wrote:
We let economics and politics dedicate the science …. And the fact is that almost all the science we were hearing – for example, from organisations like the World Health Organisation – was wrong. We had Facebook censoring [views contrary to] the World Health Organisation. This has been a disgraceful situation for science.
The net result was an arrested development in the public understanding of Covid-19 whereby official accounts of The Virus™ and its countermeasures were strategically frozen at a very early moment in time, before any genuine scientific understanding could form. That arrested public understanding has been prohibited from evolving ever since. Doctors, scientists, journalists, academics, and citizens have been threatened, fired, censored, de-platformed, and attacked, including by paramilitary police, for daring to question The Science™. Two and a half years later, orders remain in place granting medical registration boards the power to revoke licenses of health practitioners who “undermine” the “immunization campaign”, even as the rationale for that campaign collapses (Anderson et al., 2022; Bhakdi et al., 2022; Blaylock, 2022; Broudy, 2021, p. 102; Chung, 2022; Classen 2021; Exposé, 2022a; Fraiman et al. 2022; Gutschi, 2022; Maholtra, 2022a, 2022b; Oller & Santiago 2022; Santiago, 2022; Seneff & Nigh, 2021), and the vaccinated across all age groups die from all causes at a rate that is up to several fold higher than their fellow citizens who refused the holy grail of the manufactured pandemic – Covid “vaccines” (Altman et al., 2022, pp. 21-23; Beattie, 2021; Oller & Santiago, 2022).
There are those who continue to accept such practices as befitting genuine scientific endeavor. And there are those who do not. Answers as to the interests, agendas, and beneficiaries behind the manufactured pandemic and its countermeasures are not difficult to ascertain, thanks to a large literature of independent research, journalism, and scholarship (e.g. see Breggin & Breggin, 2021; Children’s Health Defense, 2021; Corbett, 2017, 2022; Davis, 2022; Hughes, 2022a; 2022b; Kennedy Jr., 2021; Kyrie & Broudy, 2022a; Mercola, 2022b; Robinson, 2022; Unterhalt, 2022; Vedmore, 2022; Webb, 2022). More elusive is the question as to why so many people are still in the thrall of the Official Story. Which is where Professor of Clinical Psychology Mattias Desmet’s theory of Mass Formation and his book, The Psychology of Totalitarianism, come in (Desmet, 2022).
Explanation or Exoneration?
The theory of Mass Formation, coined and proposed to explain the dynamics of totalitarian societies by Mattias Desmet of Ghent University, brings together work by Hannah Arendt (2004) on totalitarianism and insights from group-based psychology, psychoanalysis, and hypnosis. It offers an account of how and why populations might not only submit to totalitarian control, but eagerly embrace it. The thesis holds that under societal conditions of free-floating anxiety, loneliness, meaninglessness and discontent, populations are ripe to believe stories that offer an object for their fear and anxiety. With a shared purpose, in a state of hypnotic fixation, populations fall into formation en masse, on a mission to annihilate the object of their collective angst. The behavior has precedent. As Walter Lippmann described in 1922, “the leader knows by experience that only when symbols have done their work is there a handle he can use to move a crowd. In the symbol emotion is discharged at a common target, and the idiosyncrasy of real ideas blotted out.” In the contemporary process, Desmet (2022) posits, “the masses believe in the story not because it’s accurate but because it creates a new social bond … In this way, the masses come to accept even the most absurd ideas as true, or at least to act as if they were true” (p. 97).
Following Arendt (2004), Desmet differentiates this totalitarian dynamic, which he claims emerges “the way complex, dynamic systems organize themselves in nature”, such as “the way starlings swarm” (p. 125), from that of dictatorships, which are “based on instilling a fear of physical aggression” (p. 90). During the process of Mass Formation, according to Desmet, about 30 percent of the population is “hypnotized,” 40-60 percent is not hypnotized but chooses to go along to get along, and a minority, somewhere between 10 and 30 percent, is not hypnotized and actively resists (p. 140).
With its eloquent analysis of psycho-political malaise in contemporary societies, and its elegantly simple language with which to capture the trance-like split from reality that segments of the population have exhibited since 2020, Desmet’s book, released in 2022, whet an immense global appetite for psychological understanding. He has been hailed as “one of the most sincere, thoughtful, and important intellectuals of the twenty-first century,” who “stands shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Arendt, Jung and Freud”.
The enthusiasm for Desmet’s ability to draw theoretical links between social conditions and the mass submission to Covid tyranny is understandable. The resounding gratitude to this Belgian clinical psychologist for demystifying such a mystifying phenomenon is palpable. However, looking more closely at where Desmet’s thesis ultimately takes its reader, along an engaging and even mesmerizing trail, leads to a less enlightened, and less enlightening, destination.
Rather than trace the illusions of Covid-19 to the powerful entities and actors who have dictated and enforced The Science™ from the very beginning (Breggin & Breggin, 2021; Kennedy Jr., 2021; Broudy & Hoop, 2021; Broudy & Arakaki, 2020; Davis, 2022; Robinson, 2022), reappearing to steer the operation at every turn (Anderson et al., 2022; Hughes, 2022b; Knightly, 2022; Loffredo & Blumenthal, 2021a, 2021b; Loffredo & Webb, 2020a, 2020b, 2020c; Mercola, 2022c; Rockefeller Foundation, 2022; Stieber & Trigoso, 2022; Vandiver, 2022; WHO, 2021), The Psychology of Totalitarianism maintains that populations have primarily their own neuroses and auto-oppressive impulses to blame. We, the victims of mass deception, are encouraged to turn the critical lens on ourselves, to contend with our own foolish naïveté.
For instance, while Desmet acknowledges that Klaus Schwab’s Great Reset book and pandemic planning exercises by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Johns Hopkins University “described how society would go into lockdown as the result of a pandemic, that a bio-passport would be introduced, that people would be tracked and traced with subcutaneous sensors, and so on,” he argues that any such “consistency” (p. 133) occurs because populations perpetually push their leaders in a totalitarian direction.
“The modern crowd is always pushing in the same direction: the hyper-controlled society,” (p. 127) he contends. As a result, experts’ “decisions always move toward a more technologically and biomedically controlled society… The leaders of the masses — the so-called elite — give the people what they want. When fearful, the population wants a more controlled society.” Leaders, according to Desmet, “sense what people crave and they adjust their plans in that direction” (pp. 133-134). Who knew we were all masochistic serfs seeking to be shackled by digital chains?
Not only are leaders led into totalitarianism by crowds seeking greater social control, writes Desmet, but those leaders enact their totalitarianism “blindly”, under a hypnotic trance. “Totalitarian leaders are themselves caught in a form of hypnosis,” he explains. “The leaders are not only hypnotized by their ideology but also by the masses” (p. 110). Totalitarian tactics, therefore, “should be understood in terms of mass psychology rather than malicious, intentional deception” (p. 115).
Desmet’s deconstruction of the underlying social phenomenon, in other words, casts the progenitors of fear and hysteria — those in positions of power who devise and launch sophisticated propaganda campaigns to drive fear-driven narratives — as satiating the appetites of the crowd. Anyone who disagrees with this thesis, Desmet argues in Chapter 8, is a conspiracy theorist.
And yet, the notion that populations asked for what they got, and got what they asked for, is wholly divorced from the material realities of Covid-19. In truth, citizens were effectively placed under house arrest, their societies and economies taken hostage, and offered only one path out: the “vaccine.” The “biomedically controlled society” (p. 133) ushered in under Covid countermeasures had to be forcibly imposed upon citizens. Mass surrender of bodily autonomy was only achieved by threatening entire populations with the loss of their livelihoods, being excluded from society and locked out of education, socialization, and even healthcare, should they fail to submit.
Not to mention the reality that, even under such duress, rather than “modern crowds” “pushing” towards a “hyper-controlled society”, as Desmet argues (p. 127), from the earliest attempts at Covid “vaccine” mandates, populations marched against the Covid measures in their millions around the world, at an unprecedented frequency and scale (e.g. in Australia; Barcelona; Berlin; Brazil; Brussels; Canada; France; Holland; Israel; Italy; Lithuania; London; New York; Vienna and more). The protesters have been met with armed police, soldiers, paramilitary squads, armored vehicles, tear gas, pepper spray, and water cannons. The acute social tensions and assorted forms of viciousness evident in these scenes go unaddressed in The Psychology of Totalitarianism — save for a fleeting mention of the “10 to 30 percent” of the population that “actively resists” [p. 140]). If totalitarianism, as expressed in Carl Schmitt’s concept of the political, is about the “suppression and elimination of social relations” (Teschke 2011, pp. 86-7), then — in that respect — Desmet’s book ironically models the very kind of thinking it aims to critique.
Rather than acknowledging the victims of official violence, Desmet casts authorities as victims of their own self-destructive responses to the “will” (p. 126) of the crowd: “The totalitarian leader blindly sacrifices his own interests … [for instance] in the recklessness with which totalitarian regimes destroy their own economies and wreak economic havoc” (p. 112), he says. And yet, according to Oxfam, a new billionaire was created every 30 hours during the “pandemic.” What, precisely, were the obscenely wealthy sacrificing?
In fact, the Mass Formation thesis necessitates a fundamental revision of the history of Covid-19. It is a revision in which pre-meditation and violence by authorities is blotted out, and the scale of resistance from citizens even against armed repression and state brutality, is comprehensively downplayed. Which begs the question: Given the empirical reality of the orchestrated mass casualties inflicted by Covid countermeasures, the overnight imposition of tyrannical control, the use of violence, the material evidence of pre-planning, and the sustained infliction of foreseeable mass harm (Beattie, 2022; Bhakdi et al., 2022; Mercola, 2022c; Risch, 2022; Truth for Health, 2022), are we really looking at Mass Formation? Or is ‘mass atrocity’ a more appropriate term?
Subjugated Knowledge: Intellectual Burial and Mass Atrocity
An atrocity is defined by the Cambridge Online Dictionary as an “extremely cruel, violent or shocking act”, as in the sentence: “They are on trial for committing atrocities against the civilian population.”
Shock, a defining feature of atrocity, is itself defined as “the emotional or physical reaction to a sudden, unexpected and unusually unpleasant event or experience.” It is illustrated with the sentence: “I was in a state of shock for about two weeks after the accident.” Atrocities, in other words, are difficult to digest and comprehend.
While atrocities may be committed on an individual scale, mass atrocities are defined by the Journal of Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions as acts of “extreme violence inflicted on a large scale or in a deliberate manner, particularly on civilians and noncombatants, by State or non-State actors.” Examples typically include crimes against humanity, which the International Criminal Court lists as including “murder, extermination … unlawful deprivation of liberty … collective persecution … apartheid and other similar inhumane acts causing great suffering or serious injury.”
Despite their shocking and unfathomable nature, mass atrocities are not rare. History books, and nightly news broadcasts, are littered with them, in the form of war, persecution, repressive governance and state-corporate crime.
Given the scale of the damage wrought by the disingenuous official measures and official Science™ in the name of Covid-19, it is not difficult to describe Covid countermeasures using the language of mass atrocity. “State and non-State actors” have inflicted policies upon “civilians and noncombatants”, causing foreseeable and preventable death (“murder” or “extermination”), through lockdowns (Bhattacharya & Packalen, 2020; Green & Battacharya, 2021), treatment-suppression (Risch, 2022; Mercola, 2021) and vaccine mandates (Altman et al., 2022, pp. 21-23; Armstrong, 2021; Beattie, 2021; Expose, 2022b; Goss, 2022; Oller & Santiago, 2022) on a “large scale”, numbering in their millions and counting (Armstrong, 2021; Battacharya & Packalen, 2020; Mercola, 2021). Other “acts causing great suffering or serious injury” have included vaccine injuries (Beattie, 2022; Bhakdi et al., 2022; Goss, 2022; Palmer & Bhakdi, 2022; Redshaw, 2022; Stieber, 2022), mass unemployment (Bianchi et al., 2021; Germanos, 2020), mass poverty (BBC, 2020; Oxfam, 2022) and mass hunger (Battacharya & Packalen, 2020; World Food Programme, 2020), themselves all leading global causes of illness and disease (Bianchi et al., 2021; Black et al., 2008; Gupta et al., 2007; Szabo, 2021). Further harms have ensued from “unlawful deprivation of liberty” including forced medical experimentation, denial of freedom of movement, freedom of speech and bodily autonomy, alongside “collective persecution” through a fraudulent vaccine “apartheid.”
In short, applying the lens of atrocity to Covid countermeasures is an obvious imperative. Ignoring it is an obvious oversight.
In The Psychology of Totalitarianism, the word “atrocity” appears just three times. It is used not to describe the carnage wreaked by the response to Covid-19 but to warn against future harms from untamed populations. Desmet writes that under the thrall of Mass Formation, “The masses are inclined to commit atrocities against those who resist them and typically execute them as if it were an ethical, sacred duty” (p. 104). “Don’t underestimate where this could go in the future,” he warns. “We can see what appears on the horizon: random roundups, arbitrary isolation, and discretionary ‘treatment’ of ‘infected’ people” (pp. 115-16). It is as though huge numbers of people had not already been told to “self-isolate” based on tests not fit for purpose and prone to false positive results, as well as forced to pay for their own isolation in hotels when traveling between countries. Moreover, it is as though the intense propaganda campaign to demonize the “unvaccinated” as disease carriers (modeled on Nazi treatment of Jews as vermin, and epitomized by CDC Director Rochelle Walensky’s phrase, “pandemic of the unvaccinated”) had never taken place.
The Psychology of Atrocity 101
Psychologically speaking, atrocity, like Mass Formation, is a collective endeavor. Since World War II, psychological researchers have investigated psychological processes capable of fueling collective violence and atrocity in the hopes that travesties such as mass killing might be prevented from happening again (Reicher & Haslam, 2006). Studies on obedience to authority (Milgram 1974), system justification (Jost, 2018), moral disengagement (Bandura, 1999; Zimbardo 2007), dehumanization of outgroups (Kelman, 2005; Moshman,