Diversionary Tactics by an Internet Demagogue.
The pro-Sathya Sai Baba Campaign of Gerald (‘Joe’) Moreno
Brian Steel December 2007 (Updated March 2008)
Copyright © 2007 and 2008 Brian Steel
(This is an edited extract from ‘An Annotated Bibliography for Research on Sathya Sai Baba, in Three Parts. Part 3. A Bibliography of Apologetic Writing about Sathya Sai Baba. Presenting Sathya Sai Baba to the World ’)
In the swirling debate and controversies about Sathya Sai Baba there is one recent development, peculiar to the Internet, which calls for special comment.
In late 2004, the direct public defence of Sathya Sai Baba was revived when a New Age admirer of SSB and former frequenter of his ashram (possibly inspired by reading the previous efforts by The Sai Critic) suddenly took upon himself a gargantuan task: to reveal the "real Truth about Sathya Sai Baba" on his website. He began his campaign by conducting a series of vigorous email interrogations of several prominent SSB critics (subsequently published on the first of his websites) and with these it rapidly became apparent that his modus operandi was simplicity itself: to set himself up as prosecutor, judge and jury and issue unappealable guilty verdicts (usually based on the flimsiest of evidence) on the writers of ALL criticisms of SSB – indiscriminately –, beginning with most of the extremely varied output of 5 years of publishing by www.exbaba.com. (Two flaws in the campaigner’s method were visible from the outset: his refusal to consider any evidence which conflicted with his preordained verdicts and an evasion of the central divine claims issue – claims which he had admitted he did not endorse.)
Over the past three years, this propagandist has devoted considerable time and energy to his self-imposed mission, adapting techniques drawn from basic propaganda procedures, ‘spin’ tactics, demagogic talkback radio (talk radio), and low-level Internet discussion forums. He has been bombarding Internet surfers for over three years with hundreds of articles containing his idiosyncratic versions of the truth about Sathya Sai Baba. From his elaborate network of at least 14 interlinked websites and blogspots, this unofficial champion of SSB is now able, like an electronic Jack-in-the-box, to pop up all over Search Engine results for ‘Sathya Sai Baba’ (or even ‘Sai Baba’) or for individual critics’ names, in an increasingly more strident and dictatorial attempt to impose these biased opinions on Internet users curious to know the facts of this growing controversy.
As he concentrates more and more on the messengers rather than the inconvenient messages, the activist's intemperate language and strong personal denigration and defamatory statements have escalated, in an Internet system which has proved incapable of dealing with such deliberate abuse.
This person’s name is, variously, Joe Moreno or Gerald Moreno. (Google results are interestingly different for these two forms of address - but Gerald is the more fruitful.)
During the three years of Joe / Gerald’s voluminous output of propaganda aimed, unrealistically, at exposing the “errors, lies, deceit and smears” of all of SSB’s critics (rationalists, ex-devotees, journalists, scholars and other commentators), some of his victims have – not unnaturally – protested against his crude bullying and disparagement. Such unwelcome reactions have merely provoked fresh diatribes. In fact, Moreno’s most concentrated bile and “Google massaging activities” seem to be reserved for those of his victims who dare to question or reject the detail of his usually dubious “evidence”, or who issue strong protests against his personal denigration and defamatory remarks. See, for example, the websites or blogspots of his favourite targets: Robert Priddy, Barry Pittard, Sanjay Dadlani, Connie Larsson, Timothy Conway and B. Premanand.
Lone wolf Moreno denies affiliation with the Sathya Sai Organisation and, as far as I know, there is no proof of a direct link, but it must be pointed out that he is the only public defender of SSB and that the devotees who manage the largest unofficial promotional SSB website (www.saibabalinks.org) promote his major attack website (www.saisathyasai.com) twice, once directly, under ‘Personal Sites’, with the description: “A Pro-Sai Site exposing the lies, deceit and dishonesty of critics, skeptics and ex-devotees of Sri Sathya Sai Baba” and, secondly (under ‘Websites’) as a directly linked part of another site, apparently under Moreno’s control, www.sai-fi.net (“All about Sathya Sai Baba”). On the Index page of the “sai-fi” site (which bears his name as Webmaster at the foot of the page), following a major presentation of all sorts of standard devotee material and corresponding links (SSB’s story and extraordinary claims, his alleged miracles, etc. as well as links to the major official SSO sites), Gerald Joe Moreno’s link to his major site (www.saisathyasai.com) is triumphantly advertised to his audience of devotee readers as follows: “Sri Sathya Sai Online Debate & Controversy: Smear Campaigns Against Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba EXPOSED”.
With such powerful links to devotees and others through the unofficial promotional SSB network and further boosted by his tireless Search Engine Optimization activities, Moreno has engineered a high Internet profile to project his own extensive “smear campaign” with its egregious deceit and dishonesty – and smokescreens. Nevertheless, whether Moreno and others are aware of this or not, the high risks inherent in his extremist Internet activities are self-evident. The open promotion of his polemical work, on the unofficial but high profile "saibabalinks.com" and elsewhere, underlines the fundamental anomaly that Gerald Joe Moreno’s (unofficial, non-devotee) propaganda is the only current (official or unofficial) Internet response to the considerable body of allegations and criticisms about Sathya Sai Baba and the Sathya Sai Organisation. Although devotees and the SSO may relish (or be comforted by) this non-devotee’s daring in taking their totalitarian Sandeha Nivarini dogma (‘all doubts about SSB can be resolved’) to such wild extremes, they should also be aware that the weakness of such superficial Internet ‘solutions’ to the SSB controversies is that they not only undermine Moreno’s (weak) credibility but they also focus the spotlight on the credibility of Sathya Sai Baba himself and of the Sathya Sai Organisation. When readers and researchers pause to take note of Moreno’s preference for intemperate language and ad hominem tactics and realise that many of his triumphant boasts and dogmatic ‘refutations’ of criticisms are misleading, unfounded or malicious, they may feel curious - ‘No smoke without fire’ - to look more closely at the specific object of Moreno’s ranting: any detailed criticisms and allegations directed at Sathya Sai Baba and the Sathya Sai Organisation.
Already Moreno’s reckless behaviour has earned him public condemnation on the Internet for one high-profile but minor part of his extensive campaign. Thanks to his highly aggressive attempt to dictate toWikipedia contributors what should and should not be included in their (mediocre) article on Sathya Sai Baba, the propagandist has received a significant official rebuff from that prominent Internet institution. After months of Moreno’s abrasive demands and provocative filibustering, the already heated Wikipedia debate became incandescent and vituperative, leading, inevitably, to the intervention of an internal Arbitration Committee. After three months of discussions, in March 2007, Joe Moreno (as ‘User SSS108’) and others involved in the debate were banned indefinitely from contributing to the Wikipedia Sathya Sai Baba article, its Discussion page and related articles. (Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Requests_for_arbitration/Sathya_Sai_Baba_2)
Much more damaging for Joe / Gerald Moreno’s increasingly fragile credibility are ten substantial analyses of his pattern of bullying and crude ad hominem attacks. These are by no means the only Internet protests about his conduct but they are especially worth a perusal since they were written by reputed researchers of other subjects who have felt the need to express strong criticisms of Gerald (‘Joe’) Moreno’s idiosyncratic methodology with his only known research topic: the ongoing Sathya Sai Baba debate. Moreno’s subsequent furious retaliation against these writers (and others) offers ample further proof (if it is needed) of the inflexibly propagandistic motivation hidden behind his unconvincing claim to be a champion of the Truth.
"Moreno against Robert Priddy"
"Moreno banned from Wikipedia"
'Gerald 'Joe' Moreno's Google infovandalism'
'Gerald 'Joe' Moreno. A Case Study of an abusive devotee'
'Gerald Joe Moreno - Links'
Kevin R. D. Shepherd:
"Sathya Sai and Wikipedia"
‘Kevin R.D. Shepherd in response to Gerald Joe Moreno’
(Added on 25 August 2009)
‘Wikipedia, Moreno, Google (2008)’, www.kevinrdshepherd.net/html/22__wikipedia___moreno__google.html
‘Pro-Sai Activist Gerald Joe Moreno’, www.citizeninitiative.com/sathya_sai_and_wikipedia.htm#activist
‘Internet Terrorist Gerald Joe Moreno (2009)’, http://www.kevinrdshepherd.info/internet_terrorist_gerald_joe_moreno.html
A recent calmer but firm voice of reason is also worth listening to on this topic:
Dr Timothy Conway ('The Crucial John Hislop Letters, Sathya Sai Baba, & Sathya’s Defender Joe Moreno').
A concise presentation of Kevin R.D. Shepherd’s two long essays on Moreno, offered in my ‘Sathya Sai Baba Research Bibliography, Part 2’ gives a clearer idea of the sorts of unusual behaviour Shepherd is highlighting:
2007a: ‘The Sathya Sai Baba Cordon in Wikipedia’, http://citizeninitiative.com/sathya_sai_and_wikipedia.htm
“A substantial and informative Internet article (originally of 30 pages) which meanders far beyond its arcane title referring to the acrimonious 2006 controversy which engulfed the Wikipedia article on Sathya Sai Baba and, at one point, cast malicious aspersions on Shepherd’s scholarly status. The author covers several topics related to Sathya Sai Baba criticism and also offers an explanation and defence of his long-term status as an amateur scholar and as a self-publisher of several books which have attracted academic attention. He also describes and strongly condemns some of the crude tactics of the aggressive pro-Sathya Sai Baba activist and propagandist, Joe Moreno, defends Robert Priddy (and later, himself) from reckless assertions and unfounded ad hominem disparagement, and offers a glimpse of fellow scholar Alan Kazlev’s spirited reaction to a belated discovery of Moreno’s true colours. He also weighs in heavily in support of Sathya Sai Baba’s critics who have promoted allegations of sexual abuse by Sathya Sai Baba, singling out the critical work of Robert Priddy and Basava Premanand and also citing the also relevant disillusionment with Sathya Sai Baba of the late Dr Marianne Warren, a fellow Shirdi Baba scholar.
The original 30 pages consist of four parts, plus Notes and References. (The Internet references and end links given by Shepherd will guide researchers to much of the critical work on Sathya Sai Baba.)
Part 1: Gerald Moreno’s Bias against Robert Priddy and Kevin R.D. Shepherd, and how Dr Marianne Warren became an ex-devotee.
Part 2: Profile of Gerald (Joe) Moreno and the Testimonies to strongly alleged sexual abuse by Sathya Sai Baba.
Part 3: Wikipedia, the rival Citizendium, and the Wikipedia ban on Gerald (Joe) Moreno.
Part 4: [On other matters]
A few months later (in November 2007), Shepherd responded to further personal disparagement and provocation by Moreno on the Internet by appending a substantial (18-page) 'Response' to the above article. Since this complex addendum was later issued for separate consultation, it is listed below.”
2007b: 'Kevin R.D. Shepherd in response to Gerald Joe Moreno',
“As well as cogently expressing his personal grievances against Moreno’s unsupported assertions and verdict, Shepherd comes to the aid of many other victims of the activist’s relentless campaign to disparage and discredit all critics of Sathya Sai Baba. In doing so, Shepherd draws special attention to the extraordinary technological component of Moreno’s aggressive strategy: exploiting the current primitive Search Engine system in order to weight Internet search results for critics’ names (including Shepherd’s) against the critics and in favour of Moreno’s own enormous accumulated stock of questionable articles disparaging them.
A reasonable conclusion one may draw from such a disturbing revelation is that it is now the Search Engines’ responsibility to take note of this serious systemic weakness and improve their service to the public.”
Other selected responses from targets of the intensive Gerald (‘Joe’) Moreno Internet campaign against critics of Sathya Sai Baba
‘Serious Defamation Attempt by Gerald Moreno Defeated’, ed. Barry Pittard, for the 7-person Working Committee of the JuST Group
‘Gerald ‘Joe’ Moreno’s Deception’
‘Diversionary Tactics by an Internet Demagogue. The Campaign of Joe (Gerald) Moreno:
Addendum, 23 August 2008:
A more detailed indictment of Gerald (Joe) Moreno's extensive smear campaigns against all criticism of Sathya Sai Baba has recently been issued by Robert Priddy.
Other Background references:
Part 3 of the Bibliography on Sathya Sai Baba
New Factors for Researchers to Consider
Part 2 of the Bibliography
Part 1 of the Bibliography
Other research articles are available on Brian Steel's Sathya Sai Baba Page.