The Black Magic of Mental Warfare: A Retrospective on Michael Aquino's "From PSYOP To MindWar"

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The late Lt. Colonel Michael Aquino led a bipolar and deeply controversial career. Known both as an Army veteran with decades of work in the psychological operations (PSYOP) community and as a high profile occultist and professed Satanist, Aquino has justifiably received his fair share of suspicion from the conspiracy theory world.

As an occultist, he was known for founding the Temple of Set, a radical offshoot of Anton Lavey's Church of Satan. The introduction to Aquino's autobiography Ghost Rides immodestly describes him as “arguably the greatest Black Magician of his generation.” (Intro, p15) Aquino first became interested in Satanism while serving in Vietnam, during which time he corresponded with Anton Lavey, founder of the Church of Satan. He became something of a protege to Lavey, rising through the ranks of the cult between 1969 and 1975. Eventually, dissatisfied with the non-literal, non-theistic Satanism of Lavey, Aquino broke ranks and founded the Temple of Set. A 1998 Washington Post profile on the Church of Satan describes Aquino's role as a schismatic:

As the years passed, Aquino grew more and more frustrated by LaVey's policies. In Aquino's eyes, LaVey had always refused to believe in Satan as an actual supernatural being. Now, the high priest was selling priesthoods in the church for cold cash. This undermined the true purpose of Satanism, Aquino thought, and reinforced the reputation of the church as a farcical sideshow. In 1975, Aquino left with many church members and priests (some say 28, he claims 100) to form the Temple of Set, a tightly organized religion that revolved around an Egyptian deity on whom the Hebraic Satan supposedly was based.

According to his CV (published on his website Aquino's other occult affiliations included such obscure sects as the Order of the Trapezoid, the Rune-Gild, the Esoteric Order of Dagon (a bizarre cult modeled on the horror mythology of sci-fi author H.P. Lovecraft), and the Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis. Aquino's sordid reputation has been further darkened by allegations of pedophilia associated with the Satanic Ritual Abuse scandal of the late 80s and 90s (this was discussed at some length in the 2020 documentary Out of Shadows).

But his career was not strictly limited to the black arts. A decorated Vietnam vet, Aquino boasted an extensive resume in psychological operations both during and after the war. Aquino's best known non-occult article, From PSYOP to MindWar: The Psychology of Victory was commissioned in 1980 at the request of Colonel Paul Vallely, at the time commander of the 7th PSYOP group. (Vallely is best known today as a Fox News military analyst and a conservative conspiracy theorist who, among other things, endorsed so-called “birther” theories about Barack Obama, and has defended the QAnon movement as a “whitehat” psychological operation. The precise relationship between the politics of Aquino and Vallely is difficult to determine.) Aquino's article proposed a supercharged revision of PSYOP doctrine in the wake of post-Vietnam disillusionment in the PSYOP community. Although not officially intended for publication, Aquino states that MindWar was circulated as a “talking paper” among “governmental offices, agencies, commands, and publications involved or interested in PSYOP” (p2) during the 1980s – apparently to lively response.

We read through MindWar, and found it worth discussing. Its circulation among unspecified government agencies, and the broader context of Aquino's occupational “double life” raise many points of concern which ramify far beyond the idiosyncrasies of a Vietnam vet self-styled as a black magician. On the surface, the article in itself is not particularly scandalous, as its primary focus is ostensibly psychological warfare against hostile foreign powers. But the author is sneaky (which should be no surprise, considering his infernal patronage), and the devil is in the details. Aquino's best act of black magic might indeed be the impossible rhetorical backflips by which he simultaneously pays lip service to the illegality of employing PSYOP against the American populace, while at the same time using innuendo and semantics to suggest that MindWar (which, according to the author, is not propaganda because it always tells the truth!) must in fact target the American populace as well as foreign adversaries.

In the next section, we break down points of interest in Aquino's article.

From PSYOP to MindWar: A Breakdown

From PSYOP to MindWar opens with a reflection on the then-nascent field of psychotronics, particularly “intelligence and operational employment of ESP.” (p4) Aquino calls such research “decidedly provocative,” but states that conventional communication technologies are adequate to the task of “map[ping] the minds of neutral and enemy individuals and then to change them in accordance with U.S. national interests.” (p4) Aquino elaborates:

[PSYOP] must strengthen our national will to victory and it must attack and ultimately destroy that of our enemy. It both causes and is affected by physical combat, but it is a type of war which is fought on a far more subtle basis as well - in the minds of the national populations involved. So let us begin with a simple name change. We shall rid ourselves of the self-conscious, almost "embarrassed" concept of "psychological operations". In its place we shall create Mind War. The term is harsh and fear-inspiring, and so it should be: It is a term of attack and victory - not one of the rationalization and coaxing and conciliation. The enemy may be offended by it; that is quite all right as long as he is defeated by it. A definition is offered: MindWar is the deliberate, aggressive convincing of all participants in a war that we will win that war. (p4-5)

Reflecting at length on the failure of Vietnam War era PSYOPs at home and abroad (he asks, elsewhere: “Was the United States defeated in the jungles of Vietnam, or was it defeated in the streets of American cities?” [p7]), Aquino lands on a disturbing point. He writes:

Like the sword Excalibur, we have but to reach out and seize this tool; and it can transform the world for us if we have the courage and the integrity to enhance civilization with it. If we do not accept Excalibur, then we relinquish our ability to inspire foreign cultures with our morality. If they then desire moralities unsatisfactory to us, we have no choice but to fight them on a more brutish level.

MindWar must target all participants if it is to be effective. It must not only weaken the enemy; it must strengthen the United States. It strengthens the United States by denying enemy propaganda access to our people, and by explaining and emphasizing to our people the rationale for our national interest in a specific war.Under existing United States law, PSYOP units may not target American citizens. That prohibition is based upon the presumption that "propaganda" is necessarily a lie or at least a misleading half-truth, and that the government has no right to lie to the people. The Propaganda Ministry of Goebbels must not be a part of the American way of life.Quite right, and so it must be axiomatic of MindWar that it always speaks the truth. Its power lies in its ability to focus recipients' attention on the truth of the future as well as that of the present. MindWar thus involves the stated promise of the truth that the United States has resolved to make real if it is not already so.

To this end MindWar must be strategic in emphasis, with tactical applications playing a reinforcing, supplementary role. In its strategic context, MindWar must reach out to friends, enemies, and neutrals alike across the globe - neither through primitive "battlefield" leaflets and loudspeakers of PSYOP nor through the weak, imprecise, and narrow effort of psychotronics - but through the media possessed by the United States which have the capabilities to reach virtually all people on the face of the Earth. These media are, of course, the electronic media. (p7)

This rebranding of PSYOP as MindWar is a sloppy and rather transparent attempt to bypass the patent illegality of using PSYOPS on the home front. This, in fact, is the main thrust of Aquino's whole argument. It becomes crystal clear that Aquino's rebranding initiative for psychological operations was ultimately aimed at finding a technical workaround to existing prohibitions against PSYOPing the American people.

Moreover, having only just condemned the domestic use of Nazi-style propaganda, Aquino claims that MindWar can be waged without deception, citing the orations of Kennedy and Hitler as glowing examples (notably, Aquino was well known for his strong interest in Nazi occultism – see Out of Shadows):

Unlike PSYOP, MindWar has nothing to do with deception or even with "selected" and therefore misleading - truth. Rather it states a whole truth that, if it does not now exist, will be forced into existence by the will of the United States. The examples of Kennedy's ultimatum to Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis and Hitler's stance at Munich might be cited. A MindWar message does not have to fit conditions of abstract credibility as do PSYOP themes; its source makes it credible. (p8)

Aquino's logic is admittedly baffling. How, precisely, does MindWar make any pretense to truth, when the very metric of said truth is based on nothing but an appeal to the dubious authority of the US government to bring about conditions that do not yet exist? If the argument of MindWar is rather obfuscated, a condensed version of its basic structure runs something like this (my words, not Aquino's):

Vietnam represented a failure of traditional “leaflet and loudspeaker” PSYOPs at home and abroad. Therefore, the PSYOP community must adopt new technologies and a more comprehensive ideology. However, the use of PSYOPs on the American people is illegal – but only because of the false notion that all propaganda is deceptive! Thus, PSYOP needs a makeover. Enter MindWar, which allegedly only tells the truth. As such, it eludes existing prohibitions on propagandizing American citizens. But what is truth? Truth is what we say it is. And if present conditions do not reflect said “truth,” we'll bring it about soon enough. Just take our word for it. You can trust us.

The conclusion of MindWar finally circles back to the question of psychotronics. Recall that Aquino opens his article with an ambivalent attitude toward so-called parapsychological techniques as ESP, claiming that existing technologies are more effective than supernatural forces for the purposes of psychological warfare. In this vein, he goes on to claim that natural environmental phenomena such as invisible electromagnetic wavelengths can be manipulated, in conjunction with media broadcasts, to exploit vulnerabilities in the human psyche, and thereby can make targets more susceptible to MindWar.

For the mind to believe in its own decisions, it must feel that it made those decisions without coercion. Coercive measures used by the operative, consequently, must not be detectable by ordinary means. There is no need to resort to mind-weakening drugs such as those explored by the CIA; in fact the exposure of a single such method would do unacceptable damage to MindWar' s reputation for truth.

Existing PSYOP identifies purely-sociological factors which suggest appropriate idioms for messages. Doctrine in this area is highly developed, and the task is basically one of assembling and maintaining individuals and teams with enough expertise and experience to apply the doctrine effectively. This, however, is only the sociological dimension of target receptiveness measures. There are some purely natural conditions under which minds may become more or less receptive to ideas, and MindWar should take full advantage of such phenomena as atmospheric electromagnetic activity, air ionization, and extremely low frequency waves. (p9-10)

In footnotes 19-21 (p10), Aquino elaborates on the applications for weaponizing such invisible frequencies in the context of MindWar.

[Footnote 19] Atmospheric electromagnetic (EM) activity: The Human body communicates internally by EM and electrochemical impulses. The EM field displayed in Kirlian photographs, the effectiveness of acupuncture, and the body's physical responses to various types of EM radiation (X-rays, infrared radiation, visible light spectra, etc.) are all examples of human sensitivity to EM forces and fields. Atmospheric EM activity is regularly altered by such phenomena as sunspot eruptions and gravitational stresses which distort the Earth's magnetic field. Under varying external EM conditions, humans are more or less disposed to the consideration of new ideas. MindWar should be timed accordingly. Per Dr. LJ. Ravitz:

Electromagnetic field constructs add fuel to the assumption unifying living matter harmoniously with the operations of nature, the expression of an electromagnetic field no less than non-living systems; and that as points on spectrums, these two entities may at last take their positions in the organization of the universe in a way both explicable and rational ... A tenable theory has been provided for emergence of the nervous system, developing not from functional demands, but instead deriving as a result of dynamic forces imposed on cell groups by the total field pattern. Living matter has a definition of state based on relativity field physics, through which it has been possible to detect a measurable property of total state functions. (Ravitz, StateFunction, Including Hypnotic States" in Journal of American Society of Psychosomatic Dentistry and Medicine, Vol. 17, No. 4, 1970.)

[Footnote 20] Ionization of the air: An abundance of negative condensation nuclei ("air ions") in ingested air enhances alertness and exhilaration, while an excess of positive ions enhances drowsiness and depression. Calculation of the ionic balance of a target audience's atmospheric environment will be correspondingly useful. Again this is a naturally-occurring condition - caused by such varying agents as solar ultraviolet light, lightning, and rapidly-moving water - rather than one which must be artificially created. (Detonation of nuclear weapons, however, will alter atmospheric ionization levels.) Cf. Soyke, Fred and Edmonds, Alan, The Ion Effect. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1977.

[Footnote 21] Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) waves: ELF waves up to 100 Hz are once more naturally occurring, but they can also be produced artificially (such as for the Navy's Project Sanguine for submarine communication). ELF-waves are not normally noticed by the unaided senses, yet their resonant effect upon the human body has been connected to both physiological disorders and emotional distortion. Infrasound vibration (up to 20 Hz) can subliminally influence brain activity to align itself to delta, theta, alpha, or beta wave patterns, inclining an audience toward everything from alertness to passivity. Infrasound could be used tactically, as ELF-waves endure for great distances; and it could be used in conjunction with media broadcasts as well. See Playfair, Guy L. and Hill, Scott, The Cycles of Heaven. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1978, pages 130-140.


Although Michael Aquino is deceased, and MindWar is more than forty years out of date, his writings and career are illustrative of two broader areas of concern: first, the infiltration of military and intelligence agencies by subversive occult elements; and second, a crossbleed of military PSYOP practices into state-sponsored media messaging toward US civilians. If Aquino's claims about the wide inter-agency circulation of his article at the time of its publication are truthful, there is ample reason to suspect that MindWar is not isolated to foreign conflicts, but has disturbing domestic applications even during peacetime. Furthermore, if there was any doubt that the idea of MindWar is directly inspired by occultism, consider that according to his own website, MindWar was the first installation in a trilogy of works dealing with occult topics (see also MindStar and FindFar).

Finally, reflection on the extensive propaganda campaigns associated with the COVID crisis, 2020 election, and Russia-Ukraine War (to name the most prominent examples in recent memory) only indicates that the American people are being targeted by MindWar in an ongoing fashion.

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