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Malignant Narcissism and Power: A Psychodynamic Exploration of Madness and Leadership

Authors:
MALIGNANT NARCISSISM
AND POWER
Using psychodynamic theory and riveting case material, this book dissects the figure
of the malignant narcissist leader (MNL). Across the world today, individuals and
societies are impacted by unprecedented disruptive influences, from globalization
and climate change to economic uncertainty and mass migration. The rise of
populists and would-be saviors has promised certainty for anxious populations, but
are such leaders suffering from the MNL pathology?
Through the psychoanalytic lens of Otto Kernberg, the authors explain the
etiology of the charismatic MNL’s clinical features: charisma, grandiosity, criminality,
sadism, and paranoia. The book outlines the limitations and complexity of diagnosis,
contextualizing the MNL within the transcendental and millenarian movements,
and discusses the patho-dynamics of high-pressure groups and totalitarian regimes,
including types of groups, methods of mind control, categories of constituents, the
corporate totalitarian state, and the authoritarian demagogue. The book looks at a
wide range of leaders including Donald Trump, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Roger
Ailes, Keith Raniere, Jan of Leiden, and Credonia Mwerinde.
Distinguishing the disordered personality of the MNL from other personality
disorders, and presenting a new model of overlapping descriptors to categorize high-
pressure group types and identifying types of followers as well, this book represents
essential reading for psychodynamically minded psychologists, psychiatrists, social
workers, sociologists, political scientists, and those working in organizational
development.
Charles Zeiders, PsyD, is the T.S. Eliot Lecturer for Humanities and Spiritual
Psychology, Reformed Episcopal Seminary in metropolitan Philadelphia, USA.
A clinical and forensic psychologist, Dr. Zeiders is an expert clinician and
psychopathologist. His books include The Clinical Christ, Faith, Forensics, and Firearms,
as well as volumes of depth-psychological poetry.
Peter Devlin, LGSW, is a psychotherapist at Capitol Hill Consortium in
Washington, DC. He received his BA from the University of Pennsylvania and his
MSW from the University of Southern California. His research interests include
trauma and the psychology of power.
Charles Zeiders and Peter Devlin
MALIGNANT
NARCISSISM
AND POWER
A Psychodynamic Exploration of
Madness and Leadership
First published 2020
by Routledge
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© 2020 Charles Zeiders and Peter Devlin
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In memory of our friend,
Jaime Robert Tr iplett,
Poet
Credit list x
Acknowledgments xii
Introduction xiv
1 An introduction to the malignant narcissist leader: a
psychological autopsy of Bishop Frederick Ladysmith-Jones 1
Review of the literature 3
Psychological autopsy of a malignant narcissist 5
Conclusion 23
2 Assessment of the malignant narcissist leader: clinical
features, selected psychodynamic epidemiological items,
and interdisciplinary observations 25
Malignant narcissism in a leader: broad assessment and analytic
recommendations 26
Clinical features and interdisciplinary observations of the
malignant narcissist leader profile 33
Conclusion 51
3 Sympathy for the devil: application and limitations of the
malignant narcissist diagnosis 55
The client: Robert Green 56
Conclusion 64
CONTENTS
viii Contents
4 The patho-dynamics of totalitaria: how mad leaders form
followers and gain ascendance 67
Cult or high-pressure group: synonymous terms with a range of
meanings 68
How the MNL colonizes the organization 69
The followers: various types and singular madness 80
The authoritarian personality and the cults of influence related to
the rise of Donald Trump 82
Treatment options for survivors of cults 90
Conclusion 92
5 A totalitarian sampler: the mad leader in context
of the cultic organization 96
Categories of cults 97
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and the Rajneesh movement: a
predominantly spiritual/human potential high-pressure group,
with commercial and political sub-features 102
Tony Alamo and the Alamo Christian foundation: a
predominantly spiritual/human potential high-pressure group,
with commercial and political sub-features 104
Keith Raniere and NXIVM: a predominantly commercial
high-pressure group, with spiritual/human potential and
political sub-features 105
Roger Ailes and Fox News: a predominantly political high-
pressure group, with commercial and spiritual/human potential
sub-features 108
Marshall Applewhite and Heaven’s Gate: a predominantly
spiritual/human potential high-pressure group, with commercial
and political sub-features 110
Marcus Wesson’s Christo-Vampire family cult: a spiritual/human
potential high-pressure group, with few political or commercial
features 112
Shoko Asahara and Aum Shinrikyo: a spiritual/human potential
high-pressure group, with political and commercial features 114
Conclusion 116
6 The perversion of utopia: malignant narcissist leaders and
the transcendental 120
The rise of the modern tyrant 121
Utopia and its perversion 129
Conclusion 131
Contents ix
7 Zeiders and Devlin dialogue: etiology, sexuality, and a
primal horde of horrible insights useful for research 134
Introduction 134
Zeiders and Devlin dialogue 135
Conclusion 147
Index 150
Chapter 1
An earlier version of Chapter 1 appeared as “A ‘Psychological Autopsy’ of a Malig-
nant Narcissist in Church Leadership: A ‘Composite’ Scenario with Discussion,”
published in The Journal of Christian Healing, spring/summer 2016, 32(1). It is
reprinted here with edits and additional discussion.
Content in Box 1.1 is adapted from Goldner-Vukov, M., & Moore, L. J.
(2010). Malignant narcissism: From fairy tales to harsh reality. Psychiatria Danubina,
22(3), 393.
Text extract (68 words), p. 9, reprinted by permission from SpringerNature:
Dunn, M. Mysticism, motherhood, and pathological narcissism? A Kohutian analy-
sis of Marie de l’Incarnation. Journal of Religion and Health, 52(2), 650.
Chapter 2
Content in Box 2.1 is reprinted with permission from Owen, D., & Davidson, J.
(2009). Hubris syndrome: an acquired personality disorder? A study of US Presi-
dents and UK Prime Ministers over the last 100 years. Brain: A Journal of Neurology,
132(Pt 5), 1398.
Chapter 4
An earlier version of the section “The Followers: Different Types and Singular Mad-
ness” appeared in “A ‘Psychological Autopsy’ of a Malignant Narcissist in Church
Leadership: A ‘Composite’ Scenario with Discussion,” published in The Journal of
Christian Healing, spring/summer 2016, 32(1), and it is reprinted here with edits and
additional discussion.
CREDIT LIST
Credit list xi
Chapter 5
Content in Box 5.1 is reprinted with permission from Lalich, J., & Tobias, M.
(2006). Take back your life: Recovering from cults and abusive relationships. Richmond,
CA: Bay Tree Publishing.
Friends and colleagues whose support, love, and wisdom made this work possible
are innumerable.
First and foremost, we bow to our developmental editor Victoria White, prin-
cipal editor and manuscript consultant of Write Vision Services. If advancing the
meaning and integrity of a manuscript was ballet, she would be Baryshnikov. She
redacted our impossibly dense copy into clarity and made it appear effortless. All
those with writer’s block should rush to her door. Thank you for sharing your edi-
torial virtuosity so generously, Victoria.
Heartfelt thanks go to Andrea Klingler of Silverwood Editorial & Communica-
tions. Her dedicated efforts as project permissions editor have improved our biblio-
graphic health immeasurably.
We are further grateful for the brilliant source-finding assistance of Joan Wolff,
medical librarian of the Bryn Mawr Hospital Medical Library, and for the diligence
of our CC Therapy Associates’ intern Melissa Stern, whose polymathic approach
to translating research summaries into psychodynamic formulations was genuinely
impressive.
I thank my colleagues at CC Associates of the Main Line, especially psycho-
therapists Julie Wegryn and Donna Drennan, whose support and sharing of ideas
provided me with deeply appreciated professional scaffolding and psychodynamic
insight. I am grateful to the Reverend Doctor Jonathan Riches, Dean of Reformed
Episcopal Seminary, for granting me the leave of absence required to research and
write this book; I further thank Dr. Riches for being a model of fiduciary leader-
ship and a man for all seasons. I extend gratitude to my patients and students whose
courage and curiosity leave me humbled and inspired to press toward answers that
heal. I most especially thank my sweet wife, Emily Selvin, who endured a preoc-
cupied husband and brought me espresso as I pored over Kernberg and remarkably
thick books. Te amo diversi generis multa nimis, Emily! Forever.
Charles Zeiders
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Acknowledgments xiii
I thank my many colleagues from over the years at Green Door and Washington
Hospital Center, including two remarkable former clinical directors, Joanne Kim
and Kajal Gehi. I am also grateful to thank Pritish Vyas for his invaluable assistance
to both Charles and myself, and John Broening for his willingness to listen and
provide helpful criticism. I would also like to thank my co-author, Dr. Charles Zei-
ders, for his friendship and extraordinary support during difficult times. Foremost,
I would like to thank my son, Eliott, whose innate optimism and joy is a rebuke to
the mad leaders in this volume.
Peter Devlin
Lastly, we thank the anonymous psychoanalyst from Washington, DC, who reflec-
tively stroked his beard and reminded us (in a Viennese accent!) of the speculative
nature of our work and its epistemological equivocality. “Ambiguity is endless, he
said, and drank all the schnapps.
Across the world, individuals and societies are impacted by unprecedented disrup-
tive influences – globalization, neoliberalism, climate change, war, rumors of war,
economic uncertainty, cultural breakdown, and mass migration. Ours is a trepidatious
time when anxious people seek certainties in all manner of saviors and would-be
messiahs, whose mad interiors are not at first outwardly evident but whose narcissism
and criminality pose an existential threat. That is a fact. But what can really be done?
Prior to our graduate work, Peter Devlin and I were earnest young men when
we met on Philadelphia’s famous South Street in the late 1980s. At some dramatic
point amidst our always-animated early discussions, Devlin pulled from his backpack
a copy of Erich Fromm’s The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1977) and brandished
the tome at me. He declared that Fromm’s work would stand the test of time; he
described it as a prophetic, poly-display masterpiece. Devlin thus introduced me to
an expansive form of psychodynamic, psychosocial criticism that, to varying degrees,
has subsequently informed both of our clinical and scholarly pursuits. We stand firm
in the Frommian conviction that psychodynamic theory is instrumental to establish-
ing healthful interpretations, not only for the single analysand, but also for the larger
society. Like Fromm, we find in the psychoanalytic tradition a body of thought that is
comprehensive enough to be critical theory of the human condition – one applicable
to the mental phenomena of an individual, a group, or a world.
Operating out of this mindset throughout our clinical lifetimes, we have wit-
nessed an eruption of patients with signs and symptoms immediately emergent
from institutional betrayals – antisocial policy, the security state, corporate surveil-
lance, predatory lending, downsizing, cancelled health plans, religious rip-offs, mass
fraud, and the extraction economy. They may have dashed hopes from a parade
of ingenious, charismatic leaders whose tenure culminated in personal miseries
and community calamites. Like Fromm, Devlin and I hold fast to the notion that
informed, self-possessed people and professionals have a great deal to offer social
elements seeking genuine safety from both disruption and tyranny.
INTRODUCTION
Introduction xv
Following in Fromm’s footsteps, we are convinced that destructive leadership is
a disease that psychodynamic forensics can locate in history, diagnose in the present,
and even prevent in the future, especially if placed at the disposal of “healthy” inter-
est groups. In the course of our writing, we have further discovered, perhaps at a
new level, the versatile utility of psychodynamic theory as a critical tool applicable
to psychopathology, psychohistory, psychobiography, political forensics, psychologi-
cal autopsy, religious psychology, organizational analysis, and cult studies. But most
significantly to our purpose is that our insights about the methods and mind of the
mad leader will result in individual, organizational, and social freedom from the
subjugating influence of the destructive leader.
As psychotherapists, we find that exposure to a malignantly narcissistic leader can
inflict untold psychic damages upon anyone at any stage of development, regardless of
their ego strength. As consultants, we find that any organization of any size will lose the
bulk of its fineness under the “visionary” executive who ascends to power amid expec-
tations of transformational leadership, but who then purges the critical thinkers, pays her
or himself for ruinous management, and makes self-serving decisions that will cripple
the organization – all the while injuring external parties with breathtaking criminality.
When indictments roll in, this leader will then declare him or herself to be a perse-
cuted genius and a victim of jealous mediocrities in league with perfidious out-groups.
Despite our convictions, Devlin and I appreciate the experimental nature of our ideas,
so we deploy a range of terms to refer to these leaders – mad, destructive, or malignant
narcissist among them. With this range of referents, we demonstrate that a breadth of
options exists for how exactly such actors might be interpreted. To us, the reality of a
psychodynamic phenomenon falls within an interval, rather than at a point.
We have written this book to explicate the patient zero of mad leadership: the
leader whose narcissism, criminality, sadism, and paranoia metastasize from a power
position, hurting friends and enemies alike. The mad leader presents ubiquitous
health threats out of self-obsession, grandiosity, infectious megalomania, and can-
cerous hatreds. The malignant narcissist in leadership must be more fully compre-
hended to stave her or his pathogenic search for unlimited power. We must actualize
the promise of psychohistorical, psychobiographical, and psychosocial hunts for the
historical, social scientific, and forensic realities that account for the rise of the mad
leader – the (mis)leader whose inner sickness has determined so much of human-
ity’s betrayed, heart-sick careening from time immemorial to our uneasy present.
Charles Zeiders, PsyD
Clinical and Forensic Psychologist
The T.S. Eliot Lecturer for Humanities and Spiritual Psychology
Reformed Episcopal Seminary
Clinical Director, CC Therapy Associates of the Main Line
Metropolitan Philadelphia
August 8, 2019
Philadelphia, PA (USA)
An earlier version of this chapter appeared as “A ‘Psychological Autopsy’ of a
Malignant Narcissist in Church Leadership: A ‘Composite” Scenario with Dis-
cussion, published in The Journal of Christian Healing, spring/summer 2016,
volume 32, number 1, and is reprinted here with edits and additional discussion.
How does one account for the rise and fall of a would-be messiah? The prepon-
derance of institutional scandals, crimes, cover-ups, and malfeasance in recent years
necessitates an exploration of the concept of malignant narcissism. Although not
listed in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.;
DSM-5; American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2015), the construct is helpful
for understanding the charismatic leader whose attractiveness is predicated on her
apparent embodiment of the answer to the deep concerns of a beleaguered group.
She grows in fame and influence, only to disappoint with criminal scandals born
of grandiosity and megalomania. Combing diverse documentation for malignant
narcissist (MN) behaviors exhibited in the past and the present establishes credible
inferences about their psychodynamics. The term malignant narcissism denotes an
assessment of mental operations rather than a medical diagnosis. It is a term applied
following assessment, often relying on information and belief, a standard legal/forensic
phrase that qualifies remarks as believed to be true but without first-hand knowl-
edge (see Chapter 2 for more information on assessment criteria).
In the case of psychobiography or forensic psychology, the phrase information
and belief implies a higher degree of equivocality than a diagnosis. This is because
the assessor cannot directly examine the subject. Various sources, reports, and per-
sons are scrutinized prior to a determination. Nevertheless, there is an urgency to
understand the construct because, if left unrecognized, its dangerousness increases
1
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE
MALIGNANT NARCISSIST
LEADER
A psychological autopsy of Bishop
Frederick Ladysmith-Jones
2 The malignant narcissist leader
exponentially. We address broad assessment criteria, recommendations to screen for
these behaviors, the limitations of diagnosis, and the complexity of treatment for
such individuals in Chapters 2 and 3 of this book. Chapter 4 explores the patho-
dynamics of organizations led by malignant narcissist leaders (MNLs) and recom-
mends treatment options for survivors of high-pressure groups led by MNLs. MNs
must be screened and prevented from obtaining leadership or removed from power
if they achieve it. Lives are at stake. Perhaps our own.
Religious organizations are particularly vulnerable to destructive leaders. Prey-
ing upon the preexistent credulity of the faithful, the MNL claims inspiration and
rejects any demands for verification or peer review. He enjoys the flattery afforded
to luminaries, and his followers idolize him, revering him as the vessel through
whom god reaches their hungry hearts. In such groups, the lack of checks and the
plethora of imbalances attract grandiose leaders with unverifiable claims to ultimate
truth. Malignant narcissism is especially dangerous when it manifests in a religious
leader, because such a leader is trusted with intimate information from their follow-
ers, making it easier to manipulate or even blackmail them. New and old religions
alike are vulnerable to leaders who aspire to lead the faithful to themselves. They
would themselves be god.
When a narcissistic cleric assumes church leadership, the matter is intrinsically
problematic. But when the leader’s narcissism is malignant, it is catastrophic. Such
a destructive cleric will injure not only her detractors but also her followers and
eventually herself. She will be charismatic and grandiose, offer infectious oratory,
and gain followers. She will become the adored champion of a disaffected group
looking for recognition in a world populated by “enemies. She will use convinc-
ing theological rationalizations to gratuitously and sadistically injure the enemies
of her “divine” agenda. Her followers will continue to buy in and love her. Her
grandiosity will delude her into thinking that providence has vouchsafed her to be
incapable of mistakes. Wildly overconfident, she will engage in criminal overreach
and when called to account, demonstrate enraged paranoia. To preserve her legacy
and avoid accountability, she will blame former allies, run away, or die by suicide.
If she ends her own life, she will depict this last destructive act as a kind of victory.
In some cases, the MNL will encourage followers to co-suicide. This is especially
true when the destructive leader cultivates apocalyptic paranoia among followers.
Individuals with this pathology may be male or female. But the broad profes-
sional consensus is that this affliction is predominately a male one, and the existing
literature focuses on analysis of male behaviors and male case histories. There are
many possible reasons for this, including the fact that sexism has historically pre-
vented women from reaching equivalent positions of power. As a result, the male
pronoun is used throughout the remainder of the book except in Chapters 6 and 7
where equally menacing examples of female MNLs are addressed.
This chapter presents a cursory literature review followed by a profile of a malig-
nantly narcissistic leader (MNL), sketching a composite to form an “as if,” but clini-
cally accurate, psychological autopsy. Thus, the autopsy’s patient is a fiction, but his
psychodynamics are not.
The malignant narcissist leader 3
Review of the literature
Psychology’s great thinkers have concerned themselves with this characterological
disease. After World War II, psychoanalyst Eric Fromm introduced the term “malig-
nant narcissism” in 1964 and described it as a severe mental illness which repre-
sented the quintessence of evil (Fromm, 2010, p. 33). Fromm used evil, an import
from the theologians, as a referent for socially cancerous authority motivated by
hate, likely to culminate in terror, horror, and death. He reserved the malignant
narcissist label for grandiose, charismatic leaders whose psychopathology accounted
for a broad destructiveness that devours enemies, proponents, and the individuals
themselves. Writing in the wake of the world wars, with genocide and total war-
fare finalizing in nuclear devastation, Fromm saw the negative visionaries behind
these repulsive behaviors as lovers of death, or necrophilic personalities. These were
the MNs, “the root of the most vicious destructiveness and inhumanity” (Fromm,
2010, p. 33).
Others have noted that this cancerous form of narcissism is built around aggres-
sion and idealizes the destructive aspects of the self. Herbert Rosenfeld, a German-
British analyst and Kleinian, postulated a destructive form of narcissism, whereby
the ego merges with an aggressive, idealized self-image and surrounds itself in gran-
diosity expressed in self-evidently “virtuous” violence (Steiner, 2008). Cornell Uni-
versity psychiatrist Otto Kernberg (1970), celebrated for his theories on borderline
personality organization and narcissistic pathology, described the MN as funda-
mentally narcissistic and criminal. More specifically, Kernberg delineated the most
salient features of MN into a quaternity: a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)
with predominant grandiosity, antisocial features, ego-syntonic sadism, and para-
noia. George Pollock (1978), a professor of psychiatry who taught at Northwestern
University, characterized the MN as an actor who evinces diseased grandiosity,
amorality, and unregulated behavior with traits of sadism. His definition very much
mirrors that of Kernberg – a bit of interrater reliability, to say the least.
A more recent peer-reviewed exploration of this pathology was conducted
by Mila Goldner-Vukov and Laurie Jo Moore in 2010. Reiterating the Kernber-
gian Quaternity (KQ) (a term I use for convenience sake) for the 21st century,
they pinpoint the four criteria essential to the KQ form of malignant narcissism:
(1) narcissistic personality disorder, (2) antisocial features, (3) ego-syntonic sadism,
and (4) paranoid tendencies (Box 1.1).
When these four elements of malignant narcissism constellate in a single leader,
the profile that emerges is of a monstrous personality who will devolve into an
impaired professional and imperil his organization. Sam Vaknin (2016), an Israeli
expert on psychopathic narcissism, wrote:
The malignant narcissist invents and then projects a false, fictitious, self for the
world to fear, or to admire. He maintains a tenuous grasp on reality to start
with and this is further exacerbated by the trappings of power. The narcissist’s
grandiose self-delusions and fantasies of omnipotence and omniscience are
supported by real life authority and the narcissist’s predilection to surround
himself with obsequious sycophants.
The narcissist’s personality is so precariously balanced that he cannot tol-
erate even a hint of criticism and disagreement. Most narcissists are paranoid
and suffer from ideas of reference (the delusion that they are being mocked
or discussed when they are not). Thus, narcissists often regard themselves as
“victims of persecution.
The narcissistic leader fosters and encourages a personality cult with all
the hallmarks of an institutional religion: priesthood, rites, rituals, temples,
worship, catechism, mythology. The leader is this religion’s ascetic saint. He
monastically denies himself earthly pleasures (or so he claims) in order to be
able to dedicate himself fully to his calling.
The narcissistic leader is a monstrously inverted Jesus, sacrificing his life
and denying himself so that his people – or humanity at large – should bene-
fit. By surpassing and suppressing his humanity, the narcissistic leader became
a distorted version of Nietzsche’s “superman.
n.p.
BOX 1.1 GOLDER-VUKOV AND MOORE’S FOUR
ELEMENTS OF MALIGNANT NARCISSISM
First criterion: narcissistic
personality disorder
“The core features of NPD that are recognized in
malignant narcissism (MN) are a grandiose sense
of self-importance, preoccupation with fantasies of
unlimited success, a sense of power and brilliance,
a belief in being special or unique, a strong need
for excessive admiration, a sense of entitlement,
interpersonal exploitativeness, a lack of empathy, and
prominent envy” (p. 393).
Second criterion:
antisocial features
“[Malignant narcissists] are contemptuous of social
conventions and show a . . . tendency to lie, steal
and mismanage money. They may commit burglary,
assault or murder, and they may even become leaders
of sadistic or terrorist groups. They are capable
of feeling concern and loyalty for others . . . but
primarily for their disciples or blind followers. They
realize that others have moral concerns, but they
easily rationalize their antisocial behavior” (p. 393).
Third criterion: ego-
syntonic sadism
“Individuals with malignant narcissism have a tendency
to destroy, symbolically castrate, and dehumanize others.
Their rage is fueled by the desire for revenge” (p. 393).
Fourth criterion:
paranoid features
“The paranoid tendencies in malignant narcissists
reflect their projection of unresolved hatred onto
others whom they persecute” (p. 393).
Source: Goldner-Vukov & Moore, 2010.
4 The malignant narcissist leader
Psychological autopsy of a malignant narcissist1
That Bishop Frederick Ladysmith-Jones ended his own life was sad but not surpris-
ing. Rumors were that the indictments issued against him by the State Attorney
General’s Office were damning. A list of charges leveled against Ladysmith-Jones
and his Faith Cathedral included defamation, fraud, illegal detention, harassment
by communication, and perjury. At the same time, his estranged (and excommu-
nicated) lover, Margot Van Buren, provided a damning interview to Dan Truth, an
important religion journalist. According to Ms. Van Buren, the beleaguered Bishop
was a frighteningly insecure child-man who compensated for his inferiority by cul-
tivating a messianic persona, surrounded himself with yes-men and sycophants, and
brutally denounced and injured the reputations and fortunes of his detractors. The
interview further exposed Ladysmith-Jones for illegally disbursing Faith Cathedral’s
money in order to finance his lavish lifestyle and reckless lawsuits. Complicit in
his crimes, Van Buren turned state’s witness and cooperated with investigators to
expose the once popular churchman’s malfeasance.
Bishop Frederick Ladysmith-Jones, a religious leader who felt entitled to
speak for God and to control virtually any agenda that interested him, was finally
confronted with a situation he could not control. After firing several legal teams
(dubiously financed by Faith Cathedral endowment monies to which he was not
personally entitled), Ladysmith-Jones simply had no good options. The law appeared
ignorant to his “special” status as the self-proclaimed “Reformed Catholic Prophet
to the Sacramental Communions of Christendom, and his group of formerly blind
followers now looked upon Ladysmith-Jones with dismay. The newscasts of his
preposterous grandiosity, rhetorical meanness, and cruel treatment of his detractors
caused a precipitous falling away of his flock and a ruinous drop in tithing.
Unable to afford more counsel, and on the heels of a grueling, humiliating depo-
sition, Bishop Ladysmith-Jones returned to his rectory, prepared certain documents,
drank a half gallon of communion wine, and shot himself in the head. Authorities
found his body adorned with his vestments, wearing his Bishop’s cross and ring. His
“final epistle” was a rambling document in which he affirmed that God had chosen
him for a prophetic ministry to the Sacramental Communions of Christendom. He
blamed the failure of his mission on “revisionists in the greater church, atheists in
secular society, and Judas Iscariots within Faith Cathedral.
For a brief but poignant time, Bishop Ladysmith-Jones had been the darling
of the Reformed Catholic Movement. He was a charismatic, persuasive speaker
who embodied the hopes of Christians from various sacramental denomina-
tions. They desired ecclesial unity and the affirmation of a conservative, reso-
lutely orthodox faith to counter a spiritual lassitude perceived to have crept from
contemporary culture into the church. He had been the Golden Boy of theo-
logians, seminary deans, and laity. He was the protégé of the venerable Bishop
Augustini.
The news of his suicide made me reflective. What were the extenuating factors
in Ladysmith-Jones’ learning history that created his sick, attractive character? Why
was he successful? Did his ministry have to conclude so ignominiously?
The malignant narcissist leader 5
The origins of narcissism: shame, neglect, and trauma
Fred Jones was born into a poor family in Lincoln, Nebraska. His father, Fred Jones,
Sr., spoke neither about his own family history nor about his family’s origin. His
father did not seem to want a past. He also possessed no outward signs of piety. But he
did insist that his wife and son attend a non-denominational church, despite the fact
that his wife was Catholic. Fred, Sr., was often too hung over to attend services with
his family. A welder by trade, he spent money as soon as he earned it. He gambled it
away or bought drinks at dive bars near the rundown home he rented on the poor
side of Lincoln where he kept his family. Records indicate police arrested Fred Jones,
Sr. on numerous occasions for domestic abuse of his wife and young son. Charges
were always filed and always dropped by Mrs. Anne Marie Jones. Evidence suggests
Mrs. Jones was afraid of her husband and was depressed. She told pastoral counselors
that neither her father nor her husband had been any good to her. She could only
depend on the Pope and God the Father. She resented her son, Fred, for keeping
her in an unsatisfactory marriage. Blind to Fred’s trauma and neglect, she lacked the
insight that Fred required love, care, and treatment. While neglecting young Fred for
being his father’s son, she also made the boy the object of various fantasies based on
imagery from the Catholic faith her spouse forbade her to practice. Vamik Volkan
(2004) described a similar, religiously-laden developmental driver of narcissism:
A Catholic mother fantasized that her son would grow up to be the Pope
(i.e., an idealized father to replace the bad father she herself had experienced
as a child), while her routine mothering functions left the child deprived of
ordinary affection and approval for just being an average child. This perception
of her child as unique was conveyed into the developing self of the small child
and became the foundation for the child’s future sense of his own grandiosity.
p. 313
As in this scenario, young Fred’s value depended on an unreality. His mother did
not value him for himself, but as a toy savior. In an early psychological defense, Fred
repressed his need for love and attention and instead assumed a grand persona. After
he became Bishop Frederick Ladysmith-Jones as an adult, he wore magnificent
vestments to cover his unimpressive physique. While yet a little boy, Fred traded
the reality of shame for the glory of spiritual importance. What else could he have
done when his mother attended to him only when he was quoting Scripture with
flourishes like the TV priests and preachers? She only brightened and praised her
son when he played the “minister game.
Joseph Burgo (2016) pointed out that future cult leaders like Fred Jones develop
narcissistic defenses in reaction to the sense of defectiveness sustained from trauma,
neglect, and abuse.
The belief that one is exceptional and superior betrays a defensive sense of self
out of touch with reality. In order to escape from feelings of core shame – of
being small, needy, and defective – the cult leader takes flight from himself
6 The malignant narcissist leader
and seeks refuge in a grandiose self-image meant to “disprove” all the damage.
I’m not defective. I’m a supremely important person. It comes as no surprise that
Charles Manson, David Koresh, and Jim Jones all emerged from horrific back-
grounds. . . . In denial of early trauma and the resulting psychological damage,
all three men eventually came to view themselves as exceptional and superior,
projecting a grandiose self-image that persuaded others to do their bidding.
pp. 117–118
From a developmental viewpoint, it is important to note that the mothers of some
cult leaders maintained quasi-delusional notions that their sons were messiahs. But
of course, there will always be variations on the parental theme and the manner in
which care-failures deform the budding character.
Elementary and middle-school years
Fred Jones performed well in school, and enjoyed praise from teachers for excelling
academically. He presented with superior verbal ability, perhaps an outcome of hav-
ing imitated preachers at home. His essays were generally excellent, and he enjoyed
lead roles in school plays and musicals. Social adulation from academic achievement
and starring roles sustained his sense of specialness.
It is noteworthy that he performed poorly in gym class. Not being particularly
athletic, Jones simply refused to play sports. Phobic of appearing inadequate, his will
to power required another route. Instead he played army with his friends, inevitably
choosing the role of a beleaguered combat commander who vanquished enemies
against incredible odds. During this imaginary play, Fred offered stirring speeches to
his playmates, mustering them to charge into combat with him and kill imaginary
enemies.
His growing charm empowered him to make friends easily. But he also lost
friends quickly due to his inflexibility, his insistence on having his way, and his
unwillingness to be vulnerable to others. He also gained a reputation for telling tall
tales; he said he had helped his father invent a medical instrument that saved lives
and earned his family a fortune. These fictions elevated his mood above the depres-
sion, trauma, and shame at his core.
A family friend observed that 12-year-old Fred would stand before the mirror
wearing his mock military uniform, and pose by himself for long periods of time.
He also read Superman comics avidly and enjoyed collecting the magazine that
offered stories of the mundane, mild-mannered Clark Kent transforming into the
Man of Steel.
High school and early college
At his father’s insistence, Fred attended a high school sponsored by a consortium of
Bible churches, which was also a feeder school for a strict Protestant fundamentalist
college. Staff was drawn from among male seminarians and pastors associated with
the fundamentalist churches.
The malignant narcissist leader 7
In one of his unpublished memoirs, Fred wrote that the teachers saw him as a
threat, especially in matters of religious doctrine. He read precociously and ecu-
menically and earned enemies among the staff by quoting passages from Church
Fathers in class, literature with which his teachers were unfamiliar. To them he
sounded “too Catholic” and culturally alien to be appropriate for their school.
But many of the students celebrated Fred for his ability to hold his own, chal-
lenging authority figures in matters of doctrine. To the chagrin of his instructors,
this fueled Fred to advance more “Catholic” beliefs in his religion classes. Eventu-
ally there was a blowup between Fred and an instructor in which Fred and the
instructor accused each other of apostasy and heresy. The students rallied around
Fred while the administration supported the instructor.
To keep order, the administration suspended Fred and put him under investiga-
tion for insubordination. This deliberately isolated him from the rest of the student
body. Students and faculty alike speculated that Fred might be expelled. Without
support from other students, frightened for his future, and bedeviled by unredressed
resentments toward the school leaders, Fred became depressed and tense. He wrote:
Without the support of my friends, suffering mightily under accusatory
interrogations with the hawk-nosed headmaster and his inquisitors, I began
to feel bereft and numb. My appetite collapsed, and I became gaunt like the
ascetics of the early Church. I was sure to be expelled, despised by men, and
hopeless for a meaningful future. To myself I was as an insect. Nightmares
plagued me, and I awoke screaming from images of winged giants descending
from thrones to devour me.
Clearly, Fred’s narcissistic defenses were collapsing. Depressed, unable to feel
pleasure, or even to eat, his core shame born of maternal deprivation manifested in
his image of himself as an insect. Paternal abuse caused core trauma, here manifested
in hyperarousal and nightmares of malevolent authority figures.
Fred’s memoir continued:
In desperate fervor, I prayed that in my weary and heavy-laden state God
would grant me rest. Then, to my amazement, all grace came upon me. In a
flash the Great Commander seized me in soothing brilliance. Sorrow turned
to joy, darkness to sight of inner light. So close was I held by Deity that I felt
at one with the Source who loved me utterly. Nervousness vanished in the
face of charismatic streams of divine energy. I understood myself to be of pro-
found importance to the paradisiacal Father who set before me a providen-
tial path to advance His kingdom with powerful authority. My confidence
completely returned. My sense of myself as unique among men caused me to
exalt within my spirit. I told no one about the experience.
This mystical experience drove Fred’s acute psychopathology into spontaneous
remission. It was affirming, kind, and reparative. Nothing about the experience is
8 The malignant narcissist leader
bizarre or suggestive of a psychotic process. This brief unity with the divine radi-
cally rebalanced Fred’s psyche. Mary Dunn (2013), professor of theological studies
at St. Louis University, described “mystical union” as:
an archaic desire for merger with an idealized other “who possesses wisdom,
kindness, vast knowledge, unending strength and a capacity to soothe . . . and
maintain emotional balance” . . . for the Christian mystic – as for the patho-
logical narcissist – the quest for union with the divine . . . attests to an effort
to maintain the wholeness of the self against the threat of its fragmentation.
p. 650
Dunn (2013) further believed that spiritual encounters (like Fred’s) offer the pos-
sibility of mystical re-parenting through God’s divine omnipotence, a reparative balm
to counter parental neglect. To the extent that Fred met divine empathy, his mother-
wound – born of maternal neglect – would have been addressed toward repair,
thereby ameliorating some of his depression and shame. To the extent that Fred met
divine protection, his paternally inflicted trauma would have been repaired – the
divine blessing breaking the curse of paternal abuse. But it was not to be.
Although the potential for repair and health was implicit in Fred’s mystical expe-
rience, the encounter instead inflated his grandiosity. He saw himself as “unique
among men” and felt superior, special, and entitled. A good spiritual advisor might
have mentored the future Bishop to appreciate his encounter as a healing grace that
facilitated a healthy narcissism (a self-valuation sufficient for effective functioning).
But the paternal figures in Fred’s world at the time reprised his traumatizing father.
No safe authorities existed in his psychosocial universe. He had undergone a rare,
beautiful encounter with the divine, but he missed its meaning and placed the
experience in service to his narcissistic defenses.
From Protestant fundamentalist college
to Reformed Catholic seminary
Following his mystical experience, school authorities solved the problem of their
precocious student by graduating him early. He attended Calvin and Luther Col-
lege, a Protestant fundamentalist school, where he majored in Religion and minored
in English Literature. He joined the debate team and demonstrated a unique talent
for making even the most ludicrous position viable. He excelled in his classes, dem-
onstrating a grasp of every subject and expressing himself with a quick wit. A fellow
alumnus described him as a “riveting monologist with opinions about everything.
People loved being around him; he was so engaging. He never reached out; we all
just came to him. I think he took it for granted.
In the course of his studies, Fred encountered Anglo-Catholic writers. He
attended several services and became “hooked” on the liturgy and captivated by
the pageantry, the solemn intonations, and the authoritative poetry of The Book of
Common Prayer. He thrived on the Gothic context and soaring music. Most of all, he
The malignant narcissist leader 9
was drawn to the role of the priest. The priest wore the most resplendent vestment,
read the most important texts, and officiated at the changing of bread and wine
into the body and blood of the Savior of the world. Fred decided that he would
seek ordained ministry.
When he graduated from the Protestant fundamentalist college, he flew to the
United Kingdom and spent the summer reading Anglican and Roman Catholic
works while exploring cathedrals and shrines. A dean’s discretionary grant for an
extraordinary student funded his transatlantic adventure.
When he returned to the United States to begin his studies at Reformed Catho-
lic Seminary, he was more polished than ever. His pale blue eyes had the arresting
knowingness of the mystic, and his Midwestern twang had given way to a slight
but durable British accent. Not only did Fred change his voice, he legally changed
his name to Frederick Ladysmith-Jones. Fred/Frederick morphed his persona from
that of a poor Midwesterner from an alcoholic family into that of an Englishman
with a pedigree and a future in a church that purported to defend the very soul of
Christianity.
Divinity training
Classmates describe Frederick’s seminary years with both envy and disgust. He
gained notoriety as a brilliant, radically conservative theologian with no tolerance
for ambiguity. Widely read and annoyingly confident, he gave no ground in theo-
logical debates. He backed his arguments with excellent points drawn from Scrip-
ture, tradition, and reason. One contemporary stated:
Frederick spoke with amazing authority. He came off like some guy from
Downton Abbey or the House of Lords. He dazzled people with brilliant lin-
guistic skills while oozing a messianic sense of himself. Faculty and students
gravitated to him; they felt they could be adjunct saviors with him. They gave
him a lot of attention and in return he made them feel special and important.
His grandiosity was infectious. It was in seminary that his charisma really
heated up. The faculty fed into it, too. Frederick was easily their favorite stu-
dent, and he received special treatment. The seminary dean, who went on to
become Faith Cathedral’s Bishop Augustini, began to groom Frederick for an
important role in the Reformed Catholic Movement. What Augustini didn’t
get was that Frederick was grooming him, too. Augustini didn’t see Fred-
erick’s lethal ambition and megalomania. All he saw was this brilliant high
church guy who would be invaluable in the Reformed Catholic Movement
and who would help win the culture war.
Interestingly, the seminary dean was psychologically minded. Prior to receiving
Holy Orders, each seminarian endured a mandatory psychological examination.
Dean Augustini consulted regularly with Dr. Roosevelt, the seminary psychologist,
and generally followed the expert’s recommendations.
10 The malignant narcissist leader
Dr. Roosevelt administered a battery of standard psychological assessments to
priest-candidate Ladysmith-Jones. On a well-respected test of character pathology,
Ladysmith-Jones scored positive for narcissistic personality disorder and evidenced
elevations on a scale of antisocial or criminal traits. Dr. Roosevelt also felt that
Frederick suffered from a latent mood disorder (plus trauma and shame) that he
defended against with pathological grandiosity.
When interviewed for this psychological autopsy, Dr. Roosevelt disclosed the
following:
Until I tested Ladysmith-Jones, Dean Augustini and I enjoyed an excellent
working relationship. I figured that I’d just tell the dean that – while bril-
liant – Frederick shouldn’t be a priest. He tested out with narcissistic personal-
ity disorder, and his clinical presentation supported that. His grandiosity was
more pronounced than any I’d ever encountered. So, I compared the way he
presented with the diagnostic criteria for narcissistic personality disorder in the
DSM-5. He had fantasies about becoming a historically important church fig-
ure and saving the Western world from spiritual death. He disclosed that provi-
dence chose him during a high school mystical experience. Ladysmith-Jones
presented himself as an exaggeratedly self-important young man, preoccupied
with fantasies of unlimited success. He had a reputation for being interperson-
ally exploitive. He indicated that he could only be understood by others who
were “also culturally and spiritually elite.” He threw the words “high church”
and “Anglo-Catholic” around a lot. He was obviously put off that I was not
buying into his greatness and providing him with excessive admiration. He
made some dismissive remarks about psychology not really being a science, and
his sense of entitlement got under my skin. I lost my cool, which is rare for me.
Dr. Roosevelt informed Dean Augustini that Frederick’s character pathology
made him a poor priest candidate. He expressed his concerns that Frederick’s spir-
ituality was likely to involve de facto self-worship, that he had the personality of a
cult leader, and that he had criminal tendencies. Dr. Roosevelt presciently predicted
that Frederick presented a suicide risk if the “narcissistic supplies that keep his gran-
diosity charged up over his hidden depression were ever to be interrupted.” Sadly,
Augustini simply did not believe him. Dr. Roosevelt further observed:
Augustini was childless, and I think he had deeply paternal feelings toward
Ladysmith-Jones. But Jones fed on the old man’s affection in service to his
grandiosity, so his injured core went unrepaired. It was obvious that the pro-
tégé was not exactly introjecting Augustini’s humane values into his unre-
ceptive super-ego. FLJ’s concealed egomania, combined with his immature
conscience, was a leadership cancer waiting to spread. I knew it was just a
matter of time, but Augustini just could not abide my determination about
Fred’s psychopathology. No father wants to hear that his son is a malignant
narcissist. When Augustini told me he would put Ladysmith-Jones forward
The malignant narcissist leader 11
for ordination, I flipped and went over Augustini’s head to the Seminary
Board. Ladysmith-Jones was an impaired professional in the making and an
obviously bad choice for a church leader. He also represented a threat-in-the-
making to the credibility of the Reformed Catholic Movement. Frederick
had an ability to develop a theory of mind about any person who was useful
to him. He lacked empathy, but he could read people. This made him a mas-
ter manipulator. Despite my efforts, he convinced the Seminary Board that
he was as pure as the driven snow. With that fake English accent, he piously
announced that I was an apparently well-meaning psychologist, deleteriously
enlisting the tools of so-called social science upon a population of holy peo-
ple called to religious life. He asked the board if they valued the instruments
of nasty secular humanism over the still, small voice that guides the hearts of
men to become priests, etc., etc. The board got all worked up. They fired me,
and Ladysmith-Jones went on to ordination.
Speaking in a tone of regret and bitterness, Dr. Roosevelt concluded, “I wish
Augustini and the board had listened to me. Ladysmith-Jones went on to destroy
Augustini, Faith Cathedral, and the faith of innocent people. Decision makers
should heed the advice of their experts.
At Faith Cathedral with Augustini
Faith Cathedral was the jewel in the crown of the Reformed Catholic Move-
ment. It boasted Gothic architecture, Anglo-Catholic worship, a huge endowment,
a dedicated staff, and a host of ministries. Augustini, who left Reformed Catholic
Seminary to lead this extraordinary place, administered all of this with his ambitious
young protégé by his side. The venerable old man and his brilliant young spiritual
scion must have impressed the distinguished parishioners. Parishioners tended to
be wealthy and smart, and successful in either academic or business careers. For
newly ordained Father Ladysmith-Jones, the grandeur and success of the institution
reflected and affirmed his own specialness.
By tradition, Faith Cathedral was led by a Bishop. Thus, when Augustini came
into leadership there, the Archbishop of London flew to the United States spe-
cifically to ordain Monsignor Augustini a Bishop. To the chagrin of senior priests,
Father Frederick Ladysmith-Jones played a prominent role in the ceremonies. Dur-
ing the celebratory dinner, he sat on the left of the Archbishop of London and
drew more time and attention from the Archbishop than Augustini, who sat on his
right. During their animated conversation, Father Ladysmith-Jones learned of the
Archbishop’s grand plans for the Reformed Catholic Movement, as well as his wor-
ries about church finances in the United Kingdom and his personal struggles. Part
of Ladysmith-Jones’ success was his ability to make people and groups feel deeply
understood, accepted, and safe. The Archbishop of London must have succumbed
to that part of the young priest’s character and over-confided in him. One profes-
sional described Ladysmith-Jones as possessing “psychopathic charm.”
12 The malignant narcissist leader
Once ordained, Bishop Augustini put his young priest forward on every front.
Unwisely, Augustini appointed him Cathedral Chief of Staff and allowed him the
role of diplomat in internal and external affairs. Frederick played a prominent role
in all areas of church administration. Augustini trusted him implicitly. Frederick was
condescending and impatient when interacting with administrative staff. But his
interactions with vestrypersons, wardens, and wealthy donors were cordial, warm,
interesting, and fun. One church administrator said:
The second he arrived, he went on a charm offensive with the leaders and
the wealthy people. He also made himself indispensable to Bishop Augustini,
who was suited to the role of father figure and patriarch but definitely not
CEO. It was kind of irresponsible to give such an inexperienced priest so
much power so fast. Nobody knew if he could handle it. But we all learned
quickly that scandal slid off of Father Ladysmith-Jones; we learned to put up
with him and did what he said.
Charisma
For the next 12 years, the career of Frederick Ladysmith-Jones soared. Throughout
the Reformed Catholic Movement, he became a household name. His sermons
and opinions were all over the Internet. Even his detractors acknowledged that he
was a brilliant theologian and speaker who inspired and persuaded when articulat-
ing the conservative orthodoxy of the movement. A delighted Bishop Augustini
continued to dote on his now-famous priest. After all, Ladysmith-Jones perfectly
espoused the important positions of the movement concerning the inerrancy of
Scripture, male priesthood, moral theology, culture wars, and so forth. He had made
several well-received television appearances that raised the profile and prestige of
the Reformed Catholic Movement. One member of Faith Cathedral reflected:
During the 12 years Ladysmith-Jones was on the ascent, he demonstrated the
most astonishing charisma. He held us spellbound every time he spoke. His
sermons and addresses were always greater than the sum of their parts. Hear-
ing him preach changed the way we felt. He was like a drug to us. The more
we adored him, the more he glowed. The more he glowed, the more we idol-
ized him. At the time, the idea that he was an egomaniac and a criminal was
inconceivable to us. He gave voice to everything we believed, and for that
we adored him. He controlled our smiles and our tears. Now people say it’s
obvious that he was bad. But we saw him as representative of God Himself.
Regarding the mass credentialing of such disturbed characters as Ladysmith-
Jones, Burgo (2016) observed:
Human beings apparently have an innate need for leaders or role models they
can look up to and aspire to emulate. The Grandiose Narcissist who appears
The malignant narcissist leader 13
to embody our ideals, often by manipulating his public persona, plays into
that need by presenting himself as a hero, and by nature, we are easily seduced.
p. 37
From documentary and interview data, it is clear that a reciprocal relation-
ship existed between Ladysmith-Jones’ adoring coreligionists and his grandiosity.
His radiating rightness and messianic self-confidence were cause for his culturally
beleaguered followers to shower him with ever more adoration – which fueled the
fires of his sense of election and infallibility. Volkan (2004) affirmed,
It is generally when a large group’s identity is threatened and when the group
is regressed that the “fit” between a community and an individual with exag-
gerated self-love is likely to be the strongest: the leader’s belief in his or her
own omnipotence . . . creates comfort for followers in search of a savior.
p. 193
Integral to understanding Ladysmith-Jones’ success is the profundity of spiritual
experience that some of his followers experienced. Occasionally during his ritual-
istic healing services, followers experienced streaming energy that correlated with
psychosomatic relief. They attributed this relief to a divine force flowing through to
Ladysmith-Jones, and they complimented their minister’s specialness all the more.
Ladysmith-Jones absorbed these narcissistic supplies into his ever-increasing gran-
diosity. A Jesuit acquainted with this element of his ministry explained:
Ladysmith-Jones possessed something uncanny in terms of his person and
ministry. . . . His moving healing rituals combined elements of Roman Cath-
olic and Anglican healing liturgies, which he celebrated incanting soaring
liturgical poetry accompanied by stirring music. People loved it. As a cel-
ebrant, the man was a rock star . . . so it’s not surprising that suggestible people
benefitted. . . . He choreographed these events with himself as the amazing
central figure who eventually anointed supplicants with oil while dramati-
cally droning ancient prayers of healing. Don’t get me wrong, I know that
God can work through a broken vessel. And I definitely believe in the legiti-
macy of healing. But I’m sensitive to the fact that cult leaders can engender
healing experiences that mimic genuine charismatic healing. After Ladys-
mith-Jones fell from grace, I reread Feet of Clay by Anthony Storr (1996).
The chapter on Jim Jones made it clear that a self-obsessed cult leader, who
is undoubtedly headed for destruction, can inaugurate electrical sensations in
followers that are construed as divine transmissions from the cult leader to
the people. It’s documented.
This same interviewee remarked that Ladysmith-Jones seemed to encourage
dependence among his followers, a phenomenon not uncommon to cult leaders
(see Chapter 4).
14 The malignant narcissist leader
The dark side
Ladysmith-Jones espoused a “perfect” theology that eloquently identified enemies
of the “good. Reviewing his writings, sermons, and YouTube videos, we see how
he used embodied evils – critics of the Reformed Catholic Movement, Mus-
lims, immigrants, billionaires, women, homosexuals, the media, pornographers, the
lazy poor, secular globalists, theological revisionists – to explain the anxiety and
unhappiness of so many of his followers. Finnish Jungian analyst Harri Virtanen
(2013) explained the function scapegoating plays in the psychology of narcissistic
defenses:
Certain kinds of personality structures may be supported by ideologies that
seem to cure the narcissistic wound. An extreme ideology coupled with low
self-esteem may cause inflation of the ego. Ideology is the answer to the
narcissistically wounded ego – the pain, frustration, fury and hatred find an
explanation and reason. And, most importantly, ideology helps the wounded
ego to find an enemy. Extreme ideology is what fills their existential vacuum
and provides some sense of meaning and purpose.
p. 672
Volkan (2004) added that narcissistic extremism has properties created by the
pathological leader’s defenses:
It can be recognized in the hatred of uncertainty; the revulsion against any-
thing imperfect, impure, or bodily; the rage and violent retaliation against
perceived attack, unbearable humiliation and shame; destructive envy and
the arrogant disregard for humble limits . . . the evasion of vulnerability; the
presence of self-deception and the denial of the harm that one has done to
others; the moral condemnation for those who do not share the same beliefs;
and ultimately in the negation of love.
p. 160
As Ladysmith-Jones’ followers learned whom he despised, they understood
whom God must despise. The minister’s sermons and fireside chats implied the
message that God had elected Ladysmith-Jones and his followers to live out
divinely revealed truth and to flourish in pure metaphysical certainty. Those outside
Reformed Catholic belief were an existential threat to the people of God, a threat
to the pure and the good, and to truth itself as expressed through Ladysmith-Jones
and, thus, his followers. But God would not allow His elected to be destroyed by
evildoers. Ultimately, all threats would have to be destroyed. With gratuitous pun-
ishments, God would obliterate them in this life and the next. This was divinely
ensured and supported by reasonable theology. The God of Reformed Catholicism
would roast the impure in endless, ever-burning infernos, while the elect would
enjoy protection, prosperity, and divine congratulations.
The malignant narcissist leader 15
Analysis of Father Ladysmith-Jones’ rhetoric heightens our understanding of the
malignancy of his narcissism, and at the same time accounts for the tenure of his
success as a social phenomenon. He evacuated his core sense of inadequacy with
projective defenses. Once he identified the object of his projections, he feared their
return in terms of some kind of attack that would injure the perfection embed-
ded in his grandiose self-fantasy. To the extent that he experienced anxiety, it was
paranoid anxiety. He conflated internal threats to his psychic balance with external
enemies. To quell the fear that he would be devoured by externalized enemies that
bore his projected inferiorities, he cultivated sadistic fantasies of gratuitous torment
for them, the plausibility of which he upheld through theological rationalizations
and apocalyptic imagery. The public adulation he received strengthened these gro-
tesque psychodynamics, and their ongoing operation amplified his grandiosity, his
projective identification, and his sadistic scapegoating across a large cross-section of
the Reformed Catholic Movement.
A disillusioned follower of Ladysmith-Jones, Daniel Dickenson, who later
became director of the Shaker Committee for Human Rights, inveighed:
Initially Ladysmith-Jones organized our upset and disappointment in terms
of an orthodox Christian worldview. We believed in him and his message.
He told us we were the light of the world, and he pointed to where the
spiritual, cultural, and economic darkness resided. He gave hope to those of
us who felt betrayed by our institutions. But, ultimately, he was toxic. His
message contained far too much in-group flattery and a mean message to
hate the out-groups. Plus, his enemies consisted of a lot of terribly vulnerable
populations that would have benefitted more from ministry than vilification.
When I watched a documentary on European dictatorships of the ’30s and
’40s, I realized that Ladysmith-Jones was cut from the same cloth, so I left.
Demagoguery and fascist psychology have no place in a Christian movement.
Somehow, I knew the guy was an impaired professional, and a tyrant, and that
he would, sooner or later, fall apart.
Dickenson’s intuition was prescient. Ladysmith-Jones’ career indicates that the
narcissistic accolades he received from his followers swelled his grandiosity to the
point where he believed he was incapable of making mistakes. At that juncture,
the criminal element of his character may have begun to express itself. Regarding
what she calls the “tyrant, Professor Betty Glad (2002) wrote, “The tyrant [easily
recognized as a malignant narcissist in leadership] is one who exercises powers for
his own rather than the general interest. She explained that although his persuasive
traits provide initial advantages when gaining power, other elements of his person-
ality (criminality and lust for absolute power) are his downfall (Glad, 2002, pp. 1–2).
Then she added:
For those [leaders] with the malignant narcissistic disorders noted above, the
achievement of absolute power can act as a kind of narcotic. As Volkan has
16 The malignant narcissist leader
noted, the narcissistic leader in certain historical circumstances may be able
to structure an external world that supports his grandiose claims. Unlike
the ordinary narcissist who experiences repeated frustration of his grandiose
claims in a world he does not control, the tyrant can minimize his frustra-
tions and thus the experiences that can lead to depression. In short, he can
construct a world that provides him with temporary relief from his internal
conflicts. But . . . this structuring has long-term consequences that are apt to
prove detrimental to his psychic balance.
Glad, 2002, p. 25
This was certainly the case with Frederick Ladysmith-Jones.
Criminality
After 12 years of remarkable success, and while at the pinnacle of his career and
influence, Frederick Ladysmith-Jones began his sad and destructive days of over-
reach. A Cathedral bookkeeper with whom he was having an affair commented
one day that despite Ladysmith-Jones’ celebrity and ability to raise vast monies for
the movement, he had not received any advancement in his ecclesial rank. Further,
she continued, the benign Bishop Augustini laid claim to the bishopric, while Lady-
smith-Jones, the de facto leader, was without a prestigious title. Her point pierced
the priest between the eyes.
For some time, Ladysmith-Jones had worked to consolidate power both within
the Cathedral administration and in the worldwide Reformed Catholic Move-
ment. For years he had quietly purged influential board members who objected to
his heavy-handed control of Cathedral administration. Eyewitnesses describe his
leadership style as increasingly tyrannical and intolerant of power sharing.
Felix Benjamin, Esq., the former Faith Cathedral Chancellor and chief legal
advisor, describes his tenure under Bishop Augustini and Father Ladysmith-Jones:
When Augustini was ordained bishop, he called and asked me to be his
Chancellor. As a religious and cultural conservative, I jumped at the chance to
contribute to the Reformed Catholic Movement. For me it was a vocation.
But I became increasingly frustrated with Augustini’s shirking of meaningful
leadership. He kept shrugging things off to this very young, cocky priest who
operated almost independently of supervision. At first, I tried to make the
best of it. But then, I had to speak up, because genuine matters of law were
involved. Ladysmith-Jones was impulsive and impatient with the checks and
balances of Cathedral administration. Like any large institution with a not-
for-profit-status, the Cathedral administration and the Board of Directors
have to abide by procedures that are determined both by bylaws and by state
and federal law. Departure from those statute-determined procedures opens
the institution to lawsuits. For instance, when a donor tithes big money to
Faith Cathedral, he has the right to specify what the donation will be used
The malignant narcissist leader 17
for, such as missions. Once we get a donor-specified gift, we can’t divert
the funds, say, to buy the popular priest-in-charge a better car, or remodel
his residence, or increase his discretionary budgets. But that is exactly what
Ladysmith-Jones did. He trampled all over due process as it pertained to
authorizing his access to money. He was having an affair with the cathedral
bookkeeper, and she set up all kinds of “discretionary funds,” the monies of
which had been diverted from the board-approved budget and donor direc-
tives. He would also hustle extremely large sums from philanthropists for an
expressed purpose, like the Cathedral school, which he promised to name
after them; then, he would spend it for another purpose, like hiring a minor
army of IT workers to promote him all over the Internet or produce his
videos. It was unethical and illegal. When I alerted Augustini and the board,
I thought they would sack him. Little did I suspect that I myself would lose
my job and my reputation.
Documents reveal that Ladysmith-Jones paid IT workers to decimate Mr. Ben-
jamin’s reputation on social media. Using fraudulent identities, the IT workers
spread allegations on LinkedIn and Facebook that Benjamin was under investiga-
tion by the State Bar Association. They mentioned felonies and misconduct. Then
links to the slanderous and libelous allegations were sent to Bishop Augustini and
the board. Alarmed that the Cathedral Chancellor faced imminent indictment,
Augustini asked the board to dismiss Mr. Benjamin. They readily complied, and
Ladysmith-Jones had purged the one person in Cathedral governance who might
have checked his larcenous overreach.
He continued using social media to injure his enemies both within and without
the Cathedral. Sadly, his benefactor and boss, Augustini, was to fall victim to this
criminality too. Sally Lightfoot Tipton, a former Cathedral administrator, recalls:
Father Frederick had just received a huge check for a Christian Education
Building from Grover Vancouver, chair of the Vancouver Custard Founda-
tion, when several panicked board members entered his office. They were
upset and asking for advice. They said they saw a post from a mother with a
baby – they did not recognize her name – who was appalled to see Bishop
Augustini in the Cathedral garden acting strange and confused and exposing
himself. They had also received emails from several parties indicating concern
that the Bishop was demented. Father Frederick affirmed that he had been
covering up for Bishop Augustini out of loyalty, but now, because the old
man’s impairment was so obviously advanced . . . he had to take action. I don’t
know what happened, but the Bishop just went away – it happened fast – and
Father Frederick was acting head of the Cathedral.
After Ladysmith-Jones’ suicide, investigators learned that the priest had placed a
stack of official papers before the Bishop for signatures. Augustini, who eschewed
the work of CEO, signed the documents perfunctorily and thanked his protégé for
18 The malignant narcissist leader
his excellent administrative work. Unbeknown to the Bishop, he had effectively
signed his powers of Cathedral governance over to Ladysmith-Jones – and had
legally granted the priest power of attorney in all his financial and medical affairs.
A lead police investigator remarked:
There were illegalities in numerous ways. Augustini had been tricked into
signing documents that caused him to lose his job but also his liberty and civil
rights. Once Ladysmith-Jones had power of attorney, he retired Augustini
to a monastery affiliated with Faith Cathedral, where he kept the old man
imprisoned and drugged. Every week a nervous looking neurologist – a man
blackmailed by Ladysmith-Jones with information about illegal drug use
gleaned from a sacramental confession – would come, inject the patient with
a mind-numbing drug, and write bogus notes about the Bishop’s dementia.
Finally, a nun trained in nursing transferred to the monastery and recognized
that Augustini had medically induced delirium, not dementia. She alerted the
authorities. We investigated and sorted it all out, but it was too late. Augus-
tini’s mind was chemically wrecked, and Ladysmith-Jones had committed his
crimes. Ladysmith-Jones was the bad actor, but Augustini does not get a pass.
He was asleep at the switch.
Ladysmith-Jones’ trespass against Bishop Augustini came to light later, but at the
time of Augustini’s loss of power, the priest lost no time pursuing more power and
rank. He arranged to purchase an ordination as bishop.
Seized email correspondence between Ladysmith-Jones and the Reformed
Catholic Archbishop of London reveal that Ladysmith-Jones diverted $600,000
from the Vancouver Custard donation to the London Bishop’s UK foundation.
Correspondence further shows that the London Archbishop was also “tithed”
$100,000 for his personal “discretionary fund.” It is believed that the Archbishop
of London was all too happy to sell the rank of bishop to Ladysmith-Jones. Poor
financial management of his UK foundation combined with a variety of expensive
personal problems made him Ladysmith-Jones’ willing confederate.
The fall
Ladysmith-Jones’s ordination celebration took place at Faith Cathedral. The event
was impressively luxurious and expensive. Important media outlets covered the
event, and Ladysmith-Jones’ IT department used the event to plaster social media
with positive propaganda for their master. On the outside, the moment appeared as
another predictable triumph for the Teflon prophet of Reformed Catholicism. But
events began to unravel the minister’s momentum.
Just prior to Ladysmith-Jones’ ordination, Felix Benjamin, Esq., filed suit against
Ladysmith-Jones, Faith Cathedral, and board members for defamation and numer-
ous damages that all but wrecked his reputation and legal career. The suit was all
the more alarming in that Mr. Benjamin’s own attorney was the former Provost
The malignant narcissist leader 19
of an Ivy League law school, and was reputed for his relentless aggression in mat-
ters of civil litigation. During this period, several members of Ladysmith-Jones’ IT
department defected Faith Cathedral as a matter of conscience. They had come to
regret their complicity in the destruction of so many reputations and livelihoods on
behalf of their boss’s ambition. As part of discovery, they provided Benjamin’s legal
team with damaging depositions as well as evidence on flash drives and damning
memoranda. Bishop Ladysmith-Jones dismissed the veracity of the evidence and,
with fanfare and bravado, promised to submit to a deposition.
Coevally, Daniel Dickenson published a critique of the Reformed Catholic
Movement in the popular Shaker Committee Human Rights’ blog. Calling for a
different approach to the solving of the problems of postmodern Christendom, he
chastised Ladysmith-Jones for teaching against Christian baptismal vows:
Bishop Ladysmith-Jones fails to call for “serving Christ in all persons and
loving one’s neighbor as oneself.” His scapegoating theology does not “strive
for justice and peace among all people” and it fails to “respect the dignity of
every human being” (Episcopal Church, 1979, p. 304). To the contrary, to the
extent that he calls us to despise our neighbor but love ourselves, he calls us
to participate in the life and doctrine of Antichrist. The Bishop’s doctrine
is uncharitable and is therefore unsupported by the Gospels into which we
were baptized.
Dickenson’s post went viral and as an avalanche of similar critiques followed,
tithing at Faith Cathedral went into free fall.
Next, attorneys representing the incensed Vancouver Custard Foundation sent
threatening inquiries. Grover Vancouver wanted an accounting for the small for-
tune his fund donated for the explicit purpose of building a Christian Educa-
tion Building on Faith Cathedral’s campus. A disillusioned insider had tipped off
the philanthropist that the donated monies were spent on Ladysmith-Jones’ phony
ordination and his team of expensive lawyers.
Then concerns about the handling of the Augustini matter broke. Federal and
state authorities opened an investigation and Ladysmith-Jones was a person of
interest facing serious charges. Bishop Ladysmith-Jones hired another team of the
best and most expensive attorneys. To pay their fees, he raided Faith Cathedral’s
endowment fund without board authorization.
In the midst of this fury of changing fortunes, the Bishop had a falling out with
Margot Van Buren, his longtime bookkeeper and with whom he had been having
an affair. When she learned her hero had become dissatisfied with her recent weight
gain and had spent a weekend “spiritually advising” a young triathlete from a Seven
Sisters college, Ms. Van Buren grabbed her laptop and marched into the state Attor-
ney General’s Office. For immunity, she turned state’s witness. She also gave several
damning interviews to Dan Truth, an important religion journalist who followed
Ladysmith-Jones and the Reformed Catholic Movement. The interviews depicted
20 The malignant narcissist leader
Ladysmith-Jones as a deluded con man and a fraud. Of Bishop Ladysmith-Jones’
reaction, a Faith Cathedral intern said the following:
When Ms. Van Buren gave her interview, the Bishop lost it. Against the advice
of everyone, he went on TV and excommunicated her. It was so bizarre
that the media coverage proliferated into a circus. Story after story about his
crimes came out. The Bishop could not manage the damage to his office and
ministry. I think he turned to heavy drinking, which only fueled his erratic
behavior. In his public rants, he accused lots of people of disloyalty and heresy
and anti-Christian conspiracies. He insisted God would get them. And he
kept proclaiming that he represented the authentic soul of the Western world.
He looked desperate and silly, declaring holy war against – well – everybody
while insisting on his virtue and importance.
This observation of the Bishop’s behavior under duress is consistent with an
unhealthy narcissistic coping style under pressure. In a study of narcissism and the
use of fantasy, Robert Raskin and Jill Novacek (1991) found:
Narcissists cope with stressful experiences by imagining themselves in more
ideal situations. In particular, narcissistic persons who are experiencing higher
levels of daily stress tend to experience (1) power and revenge fantasies in
which they see themselves in a powerful position able to impose punishment
on those who have wronged them, and (2) self-admiration fantasies in which
they imagine themselves and others admiring their fine qualities of compe-
tence, consideration, wisdom, greatness and attractiveness.
p. 496
Bishop Ladysmith-Jones was suddenly in immense trouble. His public airing
of revenge and self-admiration fantasies demonstrated aggravated paranoia and his
weakened grasp on reality. His attorneys advised him to keep a low profile and adhere
to sensible legal strategies. Heated arguments ensued and the Bishop fired several
excellent, incredulous teams of top legal advisors. One attorney put it this way:
Whenever we discussed with the Bishop the realities of his legal disadvan-
tages, he either embarked on violent declamations that devolved into ram-
bling non sequiturs, or he accused us of not being for him, arguing we were
against him. Eventually he fired us, which was remarkably stupid, because
we’re among the profession’s best, and we really could have helped him – not
to escape reality, which he apparently wanted – but to cut a very good deal
with the prosecution.
Two events precipitated Bishop Ladysmith-Jones’ suicide. First, he rushed unpre-
pared to a deposition with the attorneys working on behalf of Mr. Benjamin’s civil
The malignant narcissist leader 21
suit. Meticulously prepared, the plaintiff ’s side asked questions to which they already
knew answers. Besides appearing arrogant and hung over, the Bishop answered sev-
eral questions in such manner that his perjury was obvious. Second, the religion
journalist Dan Truth invited Bishop Ladysmith-Jones to participate in an interview
to rebut the interview given by his estranged, excommunicated lover. Ladysmith-
Jones made the mistake of allowing Mr. Truth to film the interview. Once released,
the video revealed an exhausted, furious man incapable of providing clear answers
to reasonable questions. Dan Truth said:
I gave him ample opportunity to clear himself. Why wasn’t he a hatemonger?
Was he having an extramarital affair? Was he a serial cyber stalker? Where
did the Custard donation go? What really occurred in the Augustini matter?
Was it false that he purchased his Bishop’s ordination from the Archbishop
of London? If there were reasonable explanations, Bishop Ladysmith-Jones
did not provide them. He ranted, alluded to enemies, and showed lots of
anger. Then he referred to himself as the Reformed Catholic Prophet to the
Sacramental Communions of Christendom. That was quite a big title for a
very naughty boy to give himself. Ladysmith-Jones was a cartoon. My readers
laughed him off the web.
Bishop Ladysmith-Jones left the interview, returned to his rectory, adorned him-
self with his vestments, prepared documents, drank communion wine, and shot
himself in the head. Authorities reported that Ladysmith-Jones described himself
as a martyr “who died for an unutterably beautiful vision of what the world could
be” in his final epistle.
It is a matter of psychoanalytic wisdom that the trapped MN will use suicide in
service to his grandiosity. Goldner-Vukov and Moore (2010) explained that narcis-
sists use suicide as a mechanism to control their own fate while twisting it into a
type of victory (p. 394). The psychodynamic logic of suicide resides in the MNL’s
antipathy of accountability, which is tied to a wild dread of prestige loss. Death
before dishonor becomes the guiding cognition, even if dishonor serves a truly
corrective function. Philippe Cotter (2009) wrote:
The powerful dynamics of cognitive and paranoid degeneration the . . . [malig-
nant narcissist] . . . is caught up in is proof that the . . . [defenses] . . . he resorts
to are inadequate. . . . [His defiant attitude] . . . is, in the end, always defeated
by the forces he himself has unleashed. Martin Luther King once wrote that
“evil contains the seed of its own destruction.
On a final forensic note, blood spatter evidence on an open comic book in the
rectory study indicates that Ladysmith-Jones was, strangely, reading from a section
of a Superman comic at some point prior to his suicide.
22 The malignant narcissist leader
Final notes on the psychological autopsy
An excerpt of a recent study of the dimensionality of narcissism could begin the
obituary of Bishop Ladysmith-Jones. Back et al. (2013) found that the narcissist
brings to the world a host of tendencies which:
involve a grandiose view of the self, a strong sense of entitlement and superi-
ority, a lack of empathy, and a need for social admiration, as well as tendencies
to show dominant, charming, bragging, impulsive, and aggressive behav-
iors. . . . [R]esearch has revealed a complex mix of . . . [narcissistic features] . . .
including traits such as extraversion, self-esteem, need for power, and domi-
nance, but also disagreeableness, aggressiveness, low need for intimacy, and
hostility. . . . With regard to interpersonal behaviors, narcissism is related to
charming, self-assured, and humorous behaviors . . . but also to selfish, hostile,
and arrogant behaviors. . . . Narcissism is related to popularity . . . and leader-
ship and celebrity status. . . . It is, however, also related to negative evaluations
in long-term acquaintance . . . and conflict in romantic relationships.
p. 1014
The late Bishop Ladysmith-Jones was all of the things that these researchers say
about narcissism, while his leadership status, combined with his criminality, morphed
him into malignancy. He demonstrated the bio-psycho-social-spiritual problems that
narcissists inflict upon their relationships. What separated him from manifesting merely
annoying narcissism, or discrete NPD, was his malignancy. Overwhelming evidence
shows that his personality contained criminal, sadistic, and finally paranoid features. His
tenure as a prominent minister, then bishop, in the Reformed Catholic Movement
destroyed careers, reputations, tithing, institutional credibility, relationships, and faith.
That police, social workers, and pastoral counselors did not rescue him from the
paternal abuse and maternal neglect of his childhood is sad. His childhood required
defenses for his psychological and perhaps even physical survival. His unconscious
impulses formed narcissistic defenses, using his latent social skills and brilliance
toward disarming charisma, and led to a socially compelling grandiosity. That his
seminary mentors and Cathedral bosses did not address his identifiable and escalat-
ing psychopathology is a tragedy not easily measured. Bishop Frederick Ladysmith-
Jones is easily identifiable as an MN and a criminal. However, perhaps those who
might have interrupted the formation of his destructive character, his entrance into
ministry, and his freewheeling ways as a pastor, share culpability for his pestilential
leadership and his grandiose suicide (see Chapters 2 and 4 for further detail).
Conclusion
Malignant narcissism is an extreme character pathology that may afflict clerical
leaders in addition to other types of leaders. The pathology is defined by core
The malignant narcissist leader 23
narcissism, criminality, sadism, and paranoia. The trajectory of this madness involves
initial success, grandiosity, overreach, decline, and possible suicide. Durably success-
ful leaders with this issue will closet their narcissism and not engage in overreach.
This phenomenon can no longer go unaddressed.
References
1 Spiritual megalomania pertains to the mad leader’s conscious or unconscious self-iden-
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24 The malignant narcissist leader
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