Recruitment: the Way to Unhappiness – an excerpt from Opening Minds, part I

5 January 2017

Open Mind’ Editor’s Note: The following is adapted from Jon Atack’s new book, Opening Minds, chapter 2. This is the first part of a two-part blog.


‘manipulate: to manage or influence skilfully, especially in an unfair manner.’

Manipulative groups and individuals use similar approaches to trick us into handing over our cash and our  loyalty. Manipulation most often follows a series of steps, beginning with contact. It can be in person, but groups also use advertising, including flyers, posters, mailings, books, media ads and articles. Many cults use street recruiters, and most have their own publications; some use advertising agencies. Narcissists use dating websites and chat rooms to lure new victims.

Step One: Contact

The Moonies and, more recently, militant Islamists, approach college freshmen. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons and Larouchies knock on doors. The Larouchies also use obituary columns to target grieving widows and widowers.

Cults do not want incompetent recruits. Anyone with significant physical or mental problems will be weeded out at the beginning.

People do not join extremist groups because they are stupid. No high-demand group would survive long with dim, ineffectual members. Many are idealists convinced they are working towards a better world. Studies show that cult members tend to be middle-class and fairly well-educated. They have higher than average IQs and perfectly normal personality profiles.

Cult members do not present with any more emotional or psychiatric problems than the normal population. The same is true of terrorists. Detailed surveys of several terrorist groups have shown that their members are neither mentally ill nor abnormal, except for their adherence to the anti-social beliefs of the group.

Step Two: Rapport – ‘a close and harmonious relationship’

Once contact is made with a potential recruit, rapport is developed. The recruiter looks for common ground, for agreement on cultural, political or religious biases. The intention is to create a friendly atmosphere; an instant friendship.

We want to give something in return for what we’ve been given. Krishnas used to hand out joss sticks and ask for a donation: the principle of reciprocity. Many people reached into their pockets and overpaid for the few pennies worth of ‘Spiritual Sky’ joss sticks. Contact is meant to start a conversation, which is the agenda hidden behind the approach. Pick-up artists teach physical contact to gain instant rapport.

Moonies sold candy and flowers on the street, at vastly exaggerated prices.  Scientologists offer a free personality test. By answering the 200 question test, you volunteer private information, and you also grant authority to the tester. The test was actually written by a merchant seaman with no training in psychological testing.

The prospective recruit will be flattered – called ‘love bombing’ by the Moonies. Your appearance, beliefs or talents are praised to the skies. False friendship is created and rapport is built. Recruiters see nothing wrong in this deception, because they think it is for the greater good and it raises their

own status in the group (Moonies call it ‘heavenly deception’). For the recruiter, it is another statistic, leading to praise from the group, just like a salesperson selling another car. Recruits, however, feel they have made a new friend, who resonates with their existing beliefs. By the time they realize that the recruiter was just agreeing to be agreeable, it will be too late.

Any resistance to the cult is then tested. Bad press is dismissed: ‘You can’t believe anything you read in the papers’. Not one person ever disagreed with me when I used this line – such is the distrust of the media.


This is part one of a two-part blog. Tomorrow, in part two, Jon focuses on the next steps of recruitment.


4 thoughts on “Recruitment: the Way to Unhappiness – an excerpt from Opening Minds, part I”

  1. I have experienced street recruiters or so it seems to me. After several years, four if I remember right , of yoga classes I longed to help, yoga being a way of helping that seemed to me unautoritarian so that it made me want to help in like fashion. Too shy to start a yoga school, in fact i was not a good leader and much as it seems to me human to imagine that being a teacher is something lots do, so I should be able to teach too, some part of me doubted my abilities at managing a class, the result was that I decided to see if i could help tramps. My mother had always invited the occasional tramp who called at the door, to dine at home, getting us girls, her daughters to serve them, so it was a field i felt more or less at home in. It brought me into contact with a lot of wandering missionary street recruiters, the article above says cults use use street recruiters. MY experiences may ring a bell with others and help them write of their experiences, too.
    I have seen another person put into the way of Catholics who will correct her because she was charitable , so it seems to me that charity is one arm that groups can use to put people into contact with recruiters.
    These street recruiters seemed friendly but soon started to try to induce guilt in me and a fear of how bad they would make me look, they searched for information of any sins i had committed but apart from using actual mistakes in my life as a way to try to make me feel guilty they also insisted in believing anything vile of me, believing things i had not done but that they refused to believe i had not done. They also chose to believe i had vile motives for good acts, they are good at thinking of vile motives for good acts. A catholic enlargement is that they love the sinner but hate the sin , however they seem to excel at seeing nothing but sins in people who don’t follow their every word; so that comes to hating the sinner. they turn their minds firmly away from any possibility that their are virtues in sinners. I became frightened of how i would be hated if everyone heard of their version of my character. That is to say, they tried to push me in their direction by frightening me; much as they pretend to simply teach religion, they in fact tried to coerce me. I have been the prey of street recruiters for some twenty years now.
    What also frightened me was their careful avoidance of any arguments or facts that might doubt some attitudes of extreme Catholics. I feared they would mind wash me by simply denying any part of my old world that did not suit their belief system. They looked bored, walked out, begged to speak themselves or sought to interrupt me slaying i did not like letting others talk in order to stop me saying things they did not want to hear. I could not believe they would try to stop me ever mentioning anything they did not like, thus suffocating part of the truth if it had not worked for them on other people, so i feared it would work on me. In the end I found that they cannot block out my memories of ideas and facts I used to know; so that part of the fearfulness they induced in me has receded. It sounds like a small matter but i found this fear of being mind washed was big and painful, very painful. Their multiple techniques made me so overwhelmed it was difficult to tell my children off; even though children should be told off occasionally, I had not will left for other problems in my life. I was a very passive mother.
    They denied being in any way catholic. As i live in Spain it was hard to imagine they were of any other religion.AS far as i could make out their arguments backed up all i knew was Catholic though i never expected people to push such extreme Catholicism on me.
    Also, they did not encourage discussion of any other religion and I found that one such recruiter, who seemed interested in foreign religions, had somehow always left Buddhism in ridicule when i talked to him.
    It was on going over our conversation later in my head that i used to realize that Buddhism had been distorted and ridiculed even that i had been lead to criticize, calm behavior say, something Buddhism admires, myself. I like to find out the good things in other religions. I used to be very catholic at the same time as being interested in other religions. I have become afraid of were any religion can lead.
    These people are terribly good at leading one down conversational paths, ones i often take, to leave me at some point in which i myself have seemed to prove their arguments and then cutting off the conversation so that i could not add any extra points could not add measure to their arguments by putting in any comments that toned down their arguments often extreme. They usually take an argument to an extreme and knock out all middle points as a way of lying about things: I ended up screaming at them so as to make sure i got what i wanted through which made me look wild and very un yogi. I felt that making to be noisy had led me to make Buddhism look stupid.
    In the end i found an article on the Opus Dei in Time magazine I think it was, maybe News week and read up about this sect which allowed me to understand what was happening to me. The article gave the addresses of the Opus Dei Awareness group sites. The Spànish one was very good but it seems to me that Opus Dei members have infiltrated it.
    In the Opus Dei, as I learned, they target victims and choose four people to make friends with them. As the Opus Dei collects and archives information on people who are in contact with their members, these four, who try to befriend you, may know a lot about you, though you don’t know them; this apparent knowing you when they don’t can seem miraculous.
    Recently i have found out,from conversation with a member of the Legion of Christ,that legionaries are meant to attack most especially their own families, the argument being that they care more about their blood relations going to hell. They are taught to attack people to save them from hell; on the receiver end, it feels like being coerced. Another argument for the attack is that sinners must be seen to suffer so that others receive the message tat sinning is not a good idea. So an effort is being made to stop such from suceeding in anything, inquisition style.
    It seems to me that attacking ones own family is a very cruel duty. of course MM was a very cruel man so he would think do whatever most hurts his follower, it forces these members to get on badly with their own families. Of course they know more about their own families than others would. In my family the legionary was not saying s/he was one, and even pretending; another member of the family told me as much; that I was the cause of unpleasant remarks that came from her. It seems that any tactic, such as scapegoating others, which allows them to work in the dark more easily, is encouraged and excused. She also persuaded many members of the family to fight with each other arguing that it is good to clear up the faults of others. This has been terrible for family members. Such arguments are valid but carried to far they are destructive, so they are hard to evaluate and it is the easier to persuade people to fight each other.
    I have so much to say that might be useful to all of you. Maybe my experienceas are not valid i have no proof these street recruiters were such except that it is impossible for me to believe they werent, they so persistently tried to push around my attitudes, however all of you will recognise things I write about if you have suffered from the same and so recognise the truth of what i say if and when it corresponds with your own experiences so they maybe useful even though i cannot prove what i say.
    It has only been recently that i have been in contact with somone who has admited to being from a sect, the legion.
    I dont feel a need to apear in the blogs, this piece is very long, or mind being in them but I do feel a need to give those who have created this blog all of my experiences in case it help their fight. I have like as not repeated myself. I got to busy to remember to read the last letter i wrote to you.

  2. Your above article says that members of the Legion dont go mad.
    I was trying to understand the psycology of the member I know by reading about all the different pathologies i could think of as possibly related to her as she was behaving very oddly for example getting extremely anoyed about what should have been very small things that made her envious, which research lead me to narcisim and she ticked all and every symptom for narcisism.
    I have deduced from what i have heard that the legion encourages members to feel agreived at any slight they have ever received. I can only imagine that this is because it makes their members more willing to attack victimes and so it helps the legion to persuade members to attack and coherce recruits.
    The excuse they give for increasing peoples feelings of agreivement over slights is that the poeple who behave badly have to be taught to treat people better, so be furious if you have been slighted. That they carefuly nurture any possible reason for their members to feel agreived could increases narcisistic symptoms as i see it, such as being unable to perceive that others are different from themselves. Often seeing that others are different helps us acccept that they are not crazy about us, and so dont always do what we would like. forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them …I have often been mean without meaning to be so. Seeing difference helps me not to feel agreived.
    People dont have time to look after everyone, they just dont have time to be everyones friends. it hurts but you cant always be cross with others because they have forgoten or slighted you.

    One of your Regum Christ stories mentions that the formators are never meant to be criticised and the opinon of this one time formator was that meant that their bad characteristics get increased. It seems possible that never being criticised might induce narcisim.I suppose that superiors suggest changes instead of criticising,

    Also if you read the stories of regnum Christy ex-members, lots of girls who were part of regnum christi became anorexic, that is a life threatening psyclogical problem, a killer neurosis.

    Also the behavior of the member of the legion I know but who refuses to say as much to others, is calculated to induce anxiety in her victims, she has even said to me in a moment of truth that she knew it created anxiety., The Legion seems to approve of sleeplessness, as working all the time is holy, work being, to be always criticising others so as to shove them into heaven, so she does everything she can to prevent others sleeping, in order to train them and also to stress them out. As they are sinners they should be seen to be in a mess, it seems.
    Sleeplessness is one good way of eating away at peoples mental health and her own.

    Also, they seem to always tell the poeple they are trying to recruit, of the criticism that they have heard from the friends and family of those they are recruiting all while they try to make sure that no praise gets through to their victims, so masses of criticism and not one word of praise which might make recruitees vain, all of which means that their victims begin to feel or think they know that no one loves them and that they do nothing right, ideas that increase anxiety.
    The very frequent reminder of how many friends I had lost during my life, to my suprise, had me absolutely tense and in tears. It is something one can handle in normal doses but which is hard to handle in big ones,

  3. I have been thinking about the wisdom of suggesting that the members of the legion are intelligent and i have thought that a lot of people have called me stupid and it has made me try hard it has made me try and increase to any abilities i have and so I would like to say they are stupid, what ver their level of education, however hurtful this is to them, beiugn called stupid is one facet of life we have all suffered from and so they can too.
    I realise that in the article the point being made is that the legion focuses on getting intelligent, well educated people into the legion and so my addition has little to do with the article but the comment that they dont go for the stupid has me screaching. The legionaires are so stupid the only one I know for sure is and she studied at Oxford, She needs to be told that she is. There are so many different ways of being clever that it is a hard topic.

    when street recruiters approached me and started a long friendship, sort of, with me, I was hoping to help,among others the mentally ill and i was approached by people wgho in the long run seemed to want to indoctrinate me as if these had been somwhat loopy. I just could not make out whether this or that person was loppy had something to teach me. Something cahtolics say is learn from people in the street: I am stupid.
    I felt terribly humiliated when i found they thought they could hedge in the conversation in such a way as to suit only their own point of veiw without me noticing that they had done so. In other words i was cleverer than many of their victims, i saw wht htey were doing. So they are stupid no matter what degrees they had managed to get. I was brought up when the Soviet Union stilll existed and Spains General Franco too. I was brought up in times when fear of totalitarianism was everywhere, how could anyone think I did not notice when a whole lot of human knowledge was being avoided.My sister however swallowed their bait hook line and sinker and i think she needs to be called stupid, it is one of the things that might bring her to her senses.
    I have just read that Paul Lennon of this site is a psycologist.the thought tht there is somone who fights the legion with this feild of knowledge imediatly showed up how worried I am by my sister, it doubled me up in that sort of pain one has when one has been hiding the pain and sees suddenly a chance of help that makes ons drop for a while tha tcontrol that makes on ego one. My sister is so mad, I need a psycologist so badly to advise me on how to reduce her madness, that i nearly burst into tears on hearing this.
    As I am a woman i thought that these men doing street recruiting had decided I was stupid and had a program specially directed at your stupid woman. I felt desperately humiliated that they should imagine i would not notice that they were hedgeing in the conversation. I have come to think that maybe they themselves only did what had taken them in. as a woman i was always taught that women were stupid and easily drawn in not that men of a certain education level were so.

    I once saw a program which included a piece on how on,or orthodox russian, i think, not extreme roman catholic preists, had been taught to go into the Soviet Union to convert communists and they had not been taught the beauties of communism, only the points on which comunists could be criticised.WHile the idea of communism is beautiful I am not a admirer of the Soviet Union, i am only talking of the point made in the documentary. We do not imagine our preist have been brian washed are in fact pretty ignorant. This program opened my eyes to a whole new set of possibilities.
    I once read about the psycology of gorups and the point made was that they use a division of knowledge, so one group does not know the half of it, which free’s them, one part or the other, of a multination say, to act more freely. If you have one group of jesuits going to the Amazon and living with those who they find in the jungle for years and documenting faithfully all their traditions, as l learnt they did in another documentary and another group picking out the bits of information in the Jesuits reports, most necessary for the churches use, if what they wanted was to sepreate the natives from their culture that is piccking out the most negative parts of their culture, which infomation they pass on to a third group, the missionaries, specially prepared with the faults of the culture of Amazons, then the missionaries need not feel they are destroying anything valuable when they destroy the old culture.
    They are not stupid, the missionaries who have not been taught the whole truth,they trusted their organisation .lt still it maybe better to call them stupid, for not going into things themselves.
    The people in the legion seem to me terrribly stupid and that comes from someone who has been called stupid myself often. It might be as well to say they are stupid to their face so that they learn to question things.
    My sister who has several times said she is a legionaire, is always talking of what I am not meant to tell her or of what i am not meant to know, in an attempt to teach me not to learn anything tha tmight influnce me in ways tha tthe vatican would not like. It is stupid of them to allow people to tell them not to study so many things.
    I hav eknown many catholics who do not whatch much telly. Totalitarianism asks people not to do anything which teaches people. Sit coms may look stupid but I have learnt a lot of psyciology from them and the psycology of the legion is terrrible, they need to whatch telly endlessly, it would stop them from being such idiots. Any attempt to stop people whatching telly can be one of many roads to making a group too ignorant to criticise the sect that has them enthrall,. They are endlessly stupid.
    My sister was brouyght up in a liberal way and she now, her head eaten out by the legion, says things like, thought Hitler was not good he was not bad, or that the kkk is a misunderstood group. As she is secretive about her allegiances, she will go back on having said such things but she has.

  4. Paul Lennon – Dubliner, Legionary of Christ [1961-84], mental health therapist living in the Washington DC are since 1985, bilingual Spanish, 13 years in Mexico, married to a pretty Guatemalan; I am "amateur writer", translator, co founder of REGAIN, INC,, Legionary of Christ "expert", member of International Cultic Studies Association.
    ReGAIN says:

    Rose, thanks for comments. Feel free to post in another language, if you feel more comfortable. Appreciate you keen observations and desire to warn others of the dangers of Catholic sect like groups….

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