A group of men is awoken sharply at four in the morning. Each one thinks to himself, "I wish I could sleep just a little longer." Anyone not awake, on his feet and ready for morning exercises can expect a strike with a board in his stomach or groin, or some other punishment to be meted out later.
It is winter, and each man hurries to pull on his stiff and frozen boots. In summer, the smell of manure from the animals housed below permeates the loft where they sleep, but the cold weather keeps the aroma of the animals they live with at bay.
A war veteran leads forty-five minutes of grueling exercises, including two hundred pushups and one hundred fifty sit-ups. A quick two-mile run ensues, with each man carrying a staff or club. After the run, all the men file into the animals stalls to urinate--no one had wanted to waste even a minute of their precious sleep time getting up early to urinate before exercises.
They file into the warm house where their leader sits; he will lead everyone in prayer and their daily devotion to God. Many begin to nod off as soon as they are seated, but a jab in the ribs and the fear of being caught sleeping when they should be worshipping God keeps everyone on edge.
The women in the compound serve the men breakfast; and their leader sits as a commoner among them at the table, which is soon enveloped in raucous laughter. The shared hardships of their life bind the men in a camaraderie they all cherish.
Breakfast ends and the men file out of the warm house. All spend the next half-hour tending to the numerous animals. It is now 6:45 a.m.
Some will stay in the compound all day, tending animals, repairing buildings, and working in the fields. Most will leave the compound to hitchhike to jobs in the city or suburbs. The select few who own broken-down vehicles struggle mightily to stay awake as they drive. Each remembers that three of their members have already died from falling asleep at the wheel, and they are determined not to be the next. Each man struggles hour after hour with his friend and enemy, sleep.
It is five-o'clock in the afternoon and the men begin their trek back to the compound. The vagaries of their modes of transport mean some will arrive back as late as 6:30 in the evening. As soon as they reach the compound, they begin their work tending to the animals. Dinner follows for most, but some are fasting, they believe fasting will help bring them closer to God.
After dinner, the lieutenants have lists--lists of arduous work to be performed, and lists of punishments to be handed out for the previous day's infractions. For most, their fate is assignment to a work crew, but others are not so lucky. One will be forced to run ten miles for the crime of not washing the goats properly before milking, another, five miles for failing to wake up on time.
Then it is out to the fields for more work. Each one secretly hopes it will be only work this evening--drudgery that may last until twelve, one, or two-o'clock in the morning. But tonight a meeting for worship and political instruction is called. Even though they revere their leader as a great prophet, inwardly, they fear him.
No one will admit it, but the hard labor is preferable to sitting in a meeting where they listen to lessons on their Holy Book from their leader, lessons and harangues that can last up to four or five hours. Individuals are singled out for criticism in front of the group. One is sentenced to forty lashes with a bullwhip. His crime? --wearing dirty socks to prayer.
Everyone struggles to stay awake. Finally the meeting ends at 1:00 AM.
The watch list is posted: eight unlucky men have drawn guard duty. The little sleep they have remaining will be interrupted by a twenty-minute guard duty between now and 4:00 a.m. Some wash before retiring, others fall filthy and exhausted into their makeshift beds.
A group of men is awoken sharply at four in the morning. Each one thinks to himself, "I wish I could sleep just a little longer."
The foregoing is an account of what my life was for nearly four years, not in some Middle Eastern terrorist training camp but on a farm forty-five minutes from Cleveland, Ohio in the mid 1970's.
Since leaving this fundamentalist Christian cult in 1977, I have spent considerable time and effort in gaining an understanding of how I could have been led to sacrifice everything, my time, family, money, and health, to follow a messiah into a living hell. The answers I discovered are dreadfully relevant today. It is the same way a terrorist is created to sacrifice everything to achieve his mad leader's goals.
In order not to spread any more fear than already exists in our country, let me point out that while our group believed in a coming apocalypse, we did not subscribe to any notion of terrorism. We did believe we must be ready to fight a foreign invader and that our group would emerge as a holy remnant on the other side of a coming conflagration. While there are literally thousands of cults in the United States today, only a small percentage are of a paramilitary nature, and even fewer advocate terrorist activity.
"It is odd that despite their current widespread use and looming future importance, most of us know very little about our automatic behavior patterns. ...Whatever the reason, it is vital that we clearly recognize one of their properties: They make us terribly vulnerable to anyone who does know how they work," warns Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., in his landmark work, Influence: The New Psychology of Modern Persuasion.
There is a deep-seated and widespread denial of the reality that we all have behavior patterns that can be manipulated by others. An example of a milder form of this manipulation occurs in sales situations. How many of us have bought something that we really didn't want or at a price that wasn't really fair? Another more extreme form is what is termed thought reform or mind control.
It is a difficult concept to understand how one individual can manipulate another to such an extent that he will believe and behave in a manner that is harmful to him or herself and/or society. This article will attempt to explain this phenomenon. I have lived it.
When I give a presentation regarding my experiences in the cult, I am usually met with some version of the same question: "What was wrong with your own psychological makeup that you were vulnerable to manipulation?"
Pursuing the answer to this question diverts our attention from the core problem, the source of the manipulation.
Suppose I venture into a bad neighborhood and am beaten and robbed by a neighborhood thug. I may have behaved foolishly for walking in a dangerous area, but to concentrate on my behavior leads us away from our core problem: the neighborhood thug.
Dr. Louis J. West, a psychiatrist who studied thought reform for more than four decades states: "no single personality profile characterizes those who join cults. Many well-adjusted, high-achieving persons from intact families have been successfully recruited by cults. So have individuals with varying degrees of psychological impairment."
We have missed what should be one of the most self-evident, looming lessons of history: that the millions of Germans who blindly followed Hitler could not have all been emotionally unbalanced or defective. The denial mechanism may work as follows: only defectives can be led and manipulated, I am not a defective, therefore I cannot be manipulated.
The denial that maintains that normal people cannot be taken in by a totalitarian system of belief was evident in the FBI's mistaken profile of a terrorist recruit. Each was thought to be very young, without a family, poor, uneducated, and psychologically unstable.
However, the terrorists responsible for the September 11th disaster proved to be quite unlike the FBI's profile.
It is this deep-seated denial that prevents us from understanding and countering the most dangerous trend of the 20th Century: the spread of cultic totalitarian governments and organizations that use thought reform or mind control.
If we reject the notion that only psychologically defective individuals succumb to mind control, we must use a new model to explain what happens when ordinary people follow the leadership of a new messiah.
Rudolf Odom in his 1933 biography of Hitler, addressed the question; Does Hitler understand what he is doing? Meaning, does he understand how he is manipulating the people? He compared Hitler to a comedian or football player.
Ask the comedian how he makes people laugh and he probably has no idea. Nonetheless, he is very good at it. Likewise, the typical cult leader has an innate ability to manipulate and control people, and many couple this innate ability with a shrewd theoretical understanding of psychology to further entrap their victims.
Cult leaders may also use or appropriate long-standing thought reform methodology developed over decades or even hundreds of years that are embedded in the culture. Arkon Daraul in his Secret Societies: Yesterday and Today, describes in detail this centuries-old Arabic mind control system from which much of the modern terrorist thought reform system has evolved.
"These cults are led by a charismatic leader who actively anticipates an apocalyptic event that will purify the world. Often they invite altruistic killings to accomplish this," said Professor Robert J. Lifton in his November 3, 1999 presentation of his book, Aum Shinryko, Destroying the World to Save It, to the Commonwealth Club of California.
Lifton further describes a cult leader in a 1989 introduction to his seminal 1961 work, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: "[The cult leader] tends increasingly to become the object of worship in place of more general spiritual principles that are advocated."
Evidence of this phenomenon is the proliferation of large photos and statues of the leaders of totalitarian states. Osama bin Laden has certainly reached the status of worship. His photo is ubiquitous and in Pakistan it is reported that one in five boys born is named Osama.
The evil wrought by madmen serial killers Richard Speck, John Wayne Gacy, or Ted Bundy pales in comparison to what has been perpetrated by leaders skilled in manipulating ordinary men.
The great crimes of history were carried out by men convinced they were doing the right thing, or serving the only God, their world-view warped by forces outside themselves.
"If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities"--S.R. Krishnan
How does a cult leader ensure that his followers will carry out his wishes? The tragedy of September 11th provides us with some terrible illustrations of how the process works.
Unlike passengers on the other three hijacked planes, the passengers of flight 93, hijacked over Cleveland and pointed towards Washington, resisted their attackers.
Simply because they were in possession of a different understanding of their fate than the passengers on the other three planes. Through conversations on cell phones, the passengers of flight 93 understood they were going to die at the hands of their hijackers. Consequently, they heroically rushed their attackers, minimizing any additional loss of life. They were behaving logically based on their understanding of their situation.
The passengers on the other three flights did not resist. Until this point in history, most hijackings had ended in negotiations with minimal loss of life. Standard procedure was not to resist. These passengers were also behaving logically based on their understanding of the situation.
In similar fashion, the cult member's world-view, not necessarily his capacity for judgment, is what is distorted and impaired. He behaves logically according to his world-view.
This is why the cult member can seem quite rational and capable of functioning in many levels of society, but the consequences of him following his conscience or world-view can be barbarous and insane.
When the cult's world-view is successfully inculcated in its victim it does not necessarily need to be closely regulated and the desired behavior will follow. An example is the Nazis' depiction of the Jews as sub-human. Once this view was accepted by a significant percentage of Germans, the anti-Semitic behavior of the populace logically followed.
The totalitarian cult leader in a free society is faced with two tasks: recruitment of followers, and retention of followers.
Once a sufficient mass of people have been indoctrinated and support the leader, and political and police power have been established within the movement, those who continue to resist the mind control apparatus of the state can be dealt with through the physical power of the government.
In Nazi Germany, the remaining portion of the populace that had not succumbed to the mind control system was either cowered into submission through fear, imprisoned, or murdered.
Once the cultic thinking becomes pervasive in the culture, it follows that there are two types of members in the totalitarian system, those who are recruited into the system, and those who grow up in the system. The methods used to convert someone can be exceedingly complex, and space prohibits a detailing of all of them.
However, by examining someone who has absorbed the cult's philosophy and world-view during their formative years, we will also encounter some of the principles used against the convert.
Travel is one method of becoming aware that human beings in every culture hold to beliefs that are quite irrational and bizarre. By doing some time-travel we can explore our own culture and see practices that were unquestionably wrong, but universally upheld at the time.
Before 1840, the notion that bacteria caused disease was unknown. Cleanliness with regard to medical procedures was considered unnecessary and the results in terms of public health were catastrophic.
Why did we tenaciously hold onto these quite mistaken notions?
There are two reasons: contradictory information was unavailable and this is the way everyone else thought. The tribesman who grows up eating roasted grasshoppers for a snack would be shocked at our spraying them with pesticides, and vice versa. So we all can grow up with some odd beliefs with absolutely no awareness of their irrationality, simply because they are accepted by our parents, community, government, or, in short, our culture.
One method a cult leader uses to maintain irrational beliefs is by ensuring that contradictory information is unavailable.
In a closed society, this is easier to accomplish than in an open one. In both open and closed societies, mind control measures instituted from the top typically present their victims with a plausible reason that attempts to hide the measure's true purpose. When the state directs that citizens can no longer listen to foreign broadcasts because they promote the interests of the state's enemies; the true reason is to ensure that no contradictory information is available to counteract the process of mind control.
For example Afghanistan's Taliban leadership issued a "break your (TV) set now" ruling, claiming that television was impeding prayer.
In Nazi Germany from 1933 until the end of the war in 1945, the Hitler Youth, the bad-guy equivalent of being a Boy Scout, were bombarded with the message of how glorious it is to die for the Fatherland. The official title of Hitler's elite military units, The SS Storm Troopers, was "The Order of the Death's Head."
Germany was steeped in a cult-ure of glorification of death.
Japan had the centuries-old tradition of the Samurai, from which the concept for the kamikaze suicide attacks evolved.
The parallels between the homicidal and suicidal nature of Nazism, Japan's Samurai, and Islamic terrorist cults are not difficult to draw. Pakistan has numerous religious schools called madrasas, which Jeffrey Goldberg of the New York Times characterizes as nothing more than jihad factories, or schools of indoctrination.
The Islamic extremist culture is infused with the glorification of death.
One of the most difficult concepts for people to believe is that mind control can be maintained in an open society.
I physically left the group I was in for two years after being drafted into the Army. I returned to the group after my discharge. I still believed I was doing God's will, and it made sense to return to duty with God, no matter how distasteful.
How is the control kept over the mind of the cult member even when he is not under the direct control of the group?
The adherent is taught to separate himself from the evil world, which typically translates to not socializing with non-believers.
Mass media is often portrayed as being co-opted by Satan, and so television, movies, magazines, and newspapers are avoided.
Though not the case with the Islamic terrorist sleeper agents, the mind control victim is often taught to evangelize friends and relatives so aggressively that he is either successful recruiting them or he alienates them.
There is thus no meaningful human interaction between the cultist and non-believers. The only contact with non-believers permitted is that which furthers the interests of the cult.
"Humans use logic not to solve problems in the first instance, but to check the work and put it in presentable order after the insight has been attained."--Edmund Cohen
Something that has continually impressed me is the fact that highly intelligent people come to widely differing conclusions about all manners of things in life. There are intelligent Democrats and Republicans; conservatives and liberals; religionists of all creeds, atheists, etc.
The divergence of opinion regarding crucial issues suggests that reason and logic may play a minor role in how people arrive at their philosophies about life. This suggests that people have an emotional reaction or experience about an issue, and then go about finding facts and intellectual arguments to support that position.
The danger the cult leader represents is that he typically understands not only how to create an emotional experience for an individual, but also then how to go about wedding a group of facts and arguments to the emotional experience.
For example, Hitler carefully planned the Nuremberg rallies with lavish pageantry and torches, and understood the additional psychologically manipulative power they would carry by always staging them at night. The pageantry was then combined with Hitler's charismatic delivery of the Nazi philosophy.
I will illustrate with a scenario that is similar to my experience in the Bible cult. Let's suppose a person attends a religious service. A friend has invited him. The friend sits next to him and hopes that he will have the same wonderful experience he's had at these services. The service is carefully calculated to heighten the emotions through music and ceremony. The leader may take the participants on an emotional roller coaster, first inducing euphoria and then guilt and shame. Healings and miracles might be part of the scheme, usually effected by either the power of suggestion, deception, or magic tricks. An invitation is made to surrender the will to a higher power and join this loving family. Prayer, shouting and emotion may ensue. There is joy; a new convert has been born into the group.
What we have now is a contrived emotional experience, almost entirely crafted and orchestrated by the leader of the group. The group now will strive to link the emotional experience of the convert to their doctrine and philosophy.
In the cult I was in, we were taught the importance of follow through with this new "babe in the faith."
We had a set of Bible study doctrines that we were instructed to teach the convert, many of which purported to explain in doctrinal terms his experience. In order to cement the convert's relationship with the group, the system proceeds to wed the doctrine of the group to the emotional experience of the convert. The cult creates the pseudo-spiritual experience, and then anchors its doctrine and cosmology to the experience they induced in their victim.
The emotional experience can be one that is contrived as pointed out previously, or it also can be a real-life scenario, such as growing up in poverty in a refugee camp, losing a relative to an act of violence, or fighting an oppressor, etc. The cult leader seeks to capitalize on that experience and wed it in the mind of his victim to the cult's philosophy or doctrine.
In a normal environment, an individual may educate him or herself with additional information that supports his world-view and associate with others of like mind. We can call this an educational process.
However, what the cult strives not for education, but indoctrination.
In education, information is processed with the student's understanding and consent, while indoctrination sneaks in the back door of the mind without its victim's approval.
Those involved in the education of students are typically not threatened by opposing points of view; in fact, the classical idea of the university is to encourage and test competing theories.
But those who seek to indoctrinate do everything within their power to separate the cult member from information that is critical of their cause. Since it is not always possible to separate cult members from negative information about their group and philosophy, they are trained to effectively close their senses to any information that contradicts its philosophy.
A chilling example of this is related by Jeffrey Goldberg in a September 16, 2001 New York Times article, "Jihad spins out from a corner of Pakistan." Goldberg was visiting a madrasa, a Muslim religious seminary where students range in age from 8 to 35. When Goldberg quoted passages from the Muslim Hadith forbidding the killing of women and children in a Jihad (an armed struggle), the students began chanting, Osama, Osama, Osama. The students then took turns defending Osama bin Laden.
This episode illustrated that when presented with an idea that directly contradicted everything they had been indoctrinated in, the tension became too great and they launched into thought-stopping chanting. They then went on the offensive with what were likely stock arguments they had been drilled on beforehand.
Cult leaders use many different techniques to indoctrinate their followers, including thought-stopping, rhythmic breathing, fear, sleep deprivation, supplying a deficient diet, repetition, charismatic leadership, peer and social group pressure, magic, isolation, guilt inducement, proselytizing, and revealed knowledge, among others. Most of these techniques work to place the mind in an altered state, a state wherein the victim is unable to critically process and filter information. In effect, these techniques are opening the back door to the mind without the victim's awareness or consent.
For example, the cult leader might present rhythmic breathing as the path to better health, while the true purpose is to place his victim in a suggestible state for indoctrination.
How well do you think when you are angry, tired, or fearful?
The connection between the cult victim's emotional experience and the group's doctrine or philosophy is strengthened to a frightening degree through this multi-front psychological manipulation. This bond is far stronger than any tie that could be achieved through education and takes on a sinister power.
Remember that the cult member experienced an emotional event through his own senses. Now any attack on the philosophy is experienced by the cult member as the same as an attack on his personal experience. That the information perceived by his senses was wrong is difficult to believe and too emotionally painful to contemplate. The cult victim cannot and will not deny the experience he knows his senses have told him are real, so the linked doctrine stands like a rock, impenetrable to any rational argument.
This is why the cult member clings to ideas and arguments that are clearly illogical; any information that attacks his doctrine and threatens to prove it false threatens to prove his powerful experience false as well.
In the previously mentioned Times article, Goldberg dispels some misconceptions regarding jihad: "'Jihad' is misunderstood in the West. It does not mean 'holy war.' It essentially means 'struggle' and there are two types of jihad: greater and lesser. 'Greater Jihad' is the struggle within the soul of a person to be better, more righteous -- the fight against the devil within. 'Lesser Jihad' is the fight against the devil without: the military struggle against those who subjugate Muslims."
The Biblical fundamentalist cult of which I was a member also had what they termed a war against self, or a war against one's own ego.
One manifestation of this struggle was the treatment of women and sexuality. Women were required to wear ankle length dresses, have their hair covered, and were not to look anyone directly in the eye.
There was also a considerable amount of preaching advocating the suppression of sexual thoughts for unmarried believers, not an easy task for a group of people who were mostly in their early twenties.
In retrospect, I believe nearly every person there failed at this task of suppression, and probably experienced the same requisite guilt, fear, sense of failure, and self-loathing that I did.
The game is: convince people their natural impulses are sinful and then set them at war against their own personality and nature. The cult victim then continually works at suppressing his own "unholy" personality, and his self-doubt drives him to further surrender his will and judgment to his leaders.
The fundamentalist extremist Muslims are at work at the same game.
Women are required to dress in the burqas, clothing that obscures their face and bodily form. Men are warned of the dangers of looking upon a woman.
Evidence that the hijackers were in this sexual double bind is found in a story recounted by the Florida motel owner who had rented a room to some of the hijackers. The hijackers had complained about a painting in their room that showed an uncovered shoulder of a woman. They requested that the painting be either removed or covered.
However, after they moved in, the motel owner marveled at how often they were seen watching women in bikinis at the motel pool.
Each look probably filled them with guilt and a sense of failure, and perhaps renewed purpose and resolve after each lapse in morality.
Ironically, in what may be a deadly harnessing of the sex drive, the Islamic martyrs are promised in heaven what they are denied on earth: marriage in paradise with 72 beautiful virgins. In a fantasy that is the height of hypocrisy, they are rewarded in paradise with an orgy that they would roundly condemn on earth.
The foregoing does not represent the entire gamut of the mind control or thought reform process, but hopefully can serve as a framework to illustrate how these powerful forces can be used to enslave the mind.
There is a loose-knit association of psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, sociologists, clergy, parents, ex-cult members, and most importantly, exit-counselors, which has studied and combated cultism and mind control in this country over the last three decades.
Exit-counselors assist those who are trapped in mind control cults, and understand how to break through the barriers of thought reform.
These individuals have stared in the face of totalitarianism and developed tactics to free minds from its grip. This expertise could be used to reach suspected terrorists our government has in custody and possibly transform them into useful sources of information.
In addition, the government and intelligence community can benefit from the other professionals who have studied this problem in helping to develop strategies for dealing with the cultic organizations in the Middle East.
The political situation we are currently in can be seen accurately through the lens of the thought reform and mind control models. And our leaders must develop a true picture of the forces arrayed against us in order to combat them more effectively.
Will this understanding allow us to avoid war or military action? Probably not.
But without a precise understanding of the psychological dynamics of cult leaders and their followers, our government's actions may lead to disaster.
The government misread the situation with the Waco cultists. We cannot afford to misread this new threat. We must not turn Afghanistan or a Middle Eastern country into a Waco disaster. If we do, there will be dire consequences.
It is popular for those wishing to sound a warning to quote George Satayana when he said, "Those that do not remember history, are condemned to repeat it."
We don't have a problem remembering the events of World War II, but I do think there is a problem with comprehending how the minds of millions of Japanese and Germans were turned to mass murder, destruction, and suicide.
My warning is to misquote Satayana by saying: "Those who do not understand history, are condemned to repeat it."