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.’ Dictionary.com
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.