This books covers a range of psychiatric abuses but is of particular interest for current service users in helping us know the history of how Nazis treated psychiatric patients and our survivor history of resistance and organising against psychiatric abuses.
Lapon was a militant activist beginning in 1978 with Mental Patients Liberation Front in Boston (MPLF) and the Alliance for the Liberation of Mental Patients in Philadelphia (ALMP), participating in organizing, demonstrations, civil disobedience, advocacy and writing. He was arrested on several occasions and completed a 60-day fast against psychiatric oppression.
Review by Sharon Jean Cretsinger, Tijuana, July tenth, twenty-twenty-one
I am happy to see that Mass Murderers in White Coats (1986) by Lenny Lapon is now in a digital edition. It is an impressive collection of essay and research that needs a much wider audience, especially now. While this book technically falls in the category of non-fiction, it is structured more like a doctoral thesis. This is not to say it is not eminently readable. The style is spare and intelligently rendered. I mention the overall construction of the book because the forwards and the appendices are important to the subject and should be read equally with the text. Lapon’s updated preface (May 2021) serves to contextualize its significance in historical place-time. He notes that the book is a kind of point-in-time look at the psychiatric inmates’ liberation movement. It was an important point in time because it was at almost exactly then that the radical and resistant arms of this movement were effectively (and perhaps intractably) broken by the government.
In the original preface, the book’s objectives are carefully laid out: to document the mass murder of “mental patients” by psychiatry in Nazi Germany and in the U.S (psychiatric genocide); to show common ideological roots of the killings in Nazi Germany and harmful, sometimes fatal, psychiatric “treatments” in the U.S.; to give the ex-inmate’s perspective on the oppressiveness of psychiatry, its violence and danger; to present excerpts from conversations with members of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) who are connected to Nazi Germany; to present a history of the organized resistance to psychiatry by its victims; and, to bring all of these issues into the light of public awareness.
The book achieves all stated objectives except for the last one. Hopefully, wider access to this digital text will help to publicly illuminate the pervasiveness of contemporary psychiatric atrocities and the almost-lost history of radical resistance to same.
Relevance to Intersectionality and Identity
In contemporary culture, there are emerging and increasing texts and discussions about marginalization and identity. Mass Murderers is important to this discussion because it clearly illuminates issues belonging to survivors of psychiatric atrocities. It reaches back to Nazi Germany and documents real conversations the author had with Nazi clinicians. This aspect of the book’s research is irreplaceable. Appendix 3, “The Myth and Politics of ‘Mental Retardation’” bears a special mention. This community remains one of the most oppressed in first-world cultures, with many individuals who carry this label still institutionalized and exploited for pennies a day in sheltered workshops. The fields of psychiatry and related behavioral health disciplines support the dynamic through large-scale drugging with psychiatric pharmaceuticals and various abusive and reductive behavioral “therapies”.
The author’s introduction makes the wealth of information presented in the text personal, and perhaps more importantly, relatable to “ordinary” folks. Psychiatric and behavioral health abuses and atrocities can literally happen to anyone. Yet, in the context of intersectionality, they happen more frequently to individuals who are otherwise marginalized such as people of color and those with disabilities. As these narratives become increasingly visible, the perspectives of ex-inmates and survivors are crucial to this body of work, but often missing. Mass Murderers is so valuable because it subverts basically every authoritarian attempt to control the narrative of the atrocities discussed. The importance of proletariat scholarship in the narratives of the marginalized and the working-class cannot be over-emphasized. This book is a beautiful example.
Relevance to the Present-Day, Ex-Mental Patients’ Movement
Particularly relevant in the context of today’s “movement” is Appendix 2, titled “Alternative Therapies Criticized and the Role of ‘Mental Health’ Workers in the Fight Against Psychiatry”. When seen together with Appendix 5, “Psychiatric Inmates’ Liberation/Anti-psychiatry Groups*”, we find a comprehensive picture of a movement that barely exists today. In place of most of the liberation groups listed in Appendix 5, we have many government-funded and pseudo-clinical organizations. These “practitioners” and “non-profits” have replaced radical organizing groups with various “alternatives” ranging from the clearly self-pathologizing to complicated systems of contrived, facilitated communications such as the “Hearing Voices Network”, “Wellness Recovery and Action Plan (WRAP)”, and “Intentional Peer Support”. The rhetoric of revolution and abolition detailed in Appendix 2 has been co-opted and replaced with these various pseudo-clinical “interventions” and “positions” such as “peer supporter” and “case management aide”. Lapon states it quite simply in this appendix: “They make money off our pain and suffering. Some of them have ‘anti-psychiatry’ conferences and invite a token ex-inmate or two. As with other oppressed groups we buy into our oppression in various ways.”
Mass Murderers in White Coats is ostensibly a book for those interested in doing serious antipsychiatry organizing. These individuals may wish to go directly to the chapter five, “The Resistance: A History of the Psychiatric Inmates Liberation Movement” to find inspiration. There is also plenty for those who are interested in antipsychiatry and historic and contemporary psychiatric and behavioral health atrocities and their intersections with other forms of marginalization and discrimination. Hopefully, this e-book will offer resources to readers and researchers interested in antipsychiatry, its intersections, and adjacent aspects of historical and Holocaust scholarship.