Home » Manipulative Groups

Manipulation at its Best (or Worst)

Few groups manipulate their members to act against their own best interests more effectively than the Watchtower Society. A case in point would be the irrational policies on blood established for Jehovah’s Witnesses to observe.

These policies have almost no theological basis beyond obscure Biblical commands to“abstain from eating blood”, and certainly no rational basis in science or medicine.

Rejecting a medically necessary transfusion of a forbidden blood product can and often does result in death or disability.

However, failure to observe the Watchtower’s bizarre policy will typically result in extreme shunning by JW family members and friends, and supposedly even eternal destruction by God. Even the simple act of questioning the validity of the policy can land a member before a judicial committee on charges of apostasy.

Congregation elders, and special committees of elders trained in the intricacies of Watchtower’s blood policy called HLCs (Hospital Liaison Committees) carefully monitor compliance among Jehovah’s Witnesses.

If a member accepts a forbidden blood product their disobedience will be reported to the local body of elders for investigation.

Even Jehovah’s Witness healthcare workers who learn of medically privileged information are expected to report non-compliance despite gross violations of medical record confidentiality. 

It is nothing short of remarkable that some Jehovah’s Witnesses still choose to think independently, question the policy, and make an informed conscientious choice to accept blood or a forbidden blood product. This notwithstanding years of meticulous indoctrination, implanted phobias regarding the exaggerated dangers of blood, and severe penalties for non-compliance.

The irony is that current Watchtower policy permits the use of 100% of blood in fractionated form, but not specific “formed” elements like red cells. 1

A Jehovah’s Witness can accept all of the ingredients of red cells (hemogoblin, hemin, the cell membrane, etc.).

However, they cannot have them at the same time. Nowhere does the Bible require compliance with such purely organizational policy.

Tami Davis is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses who summoned the courage to question the Watchtower’s irrational rules on blood. She is a mother of four, and thanks to her enormous courage, this is a story with a happy ending. This despite incredible pressure applied by her believing Jehovah’s Witness husband.

You can read Tami Davis’s story HERE

Thanks to her courage she will not be counted among the tens of thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses who have perished by following the consistently faulty medical advice of Watchtower writers who manipulate members to act against their own best interests. 2,3,4

Breaking free from the grip of skilled manipulators is difficult but it can be done. The key is taking that first step of starting to ask questions, and thinking both rationally and critically. Giving oneself permission to consider other views and evidence begins the process of breaking down years of indoctrination and mind control. For Jehovah’s Witnesses, it can be the difference between life and death.



1 http://ajwrb.org/watchtowers-approved-blood-transfusions

2 http://ajwrb.org/jehovahs-witnesses-and-blood-tens-of-thousands-dead-in-hidden-

3 http://ajwrb.org/the-watchtower-on-science-and-medicine

4 http://ajwrb.org/the-historical-perspective/blood-policy-timeline

Are We More Vulnerable to Manipulation in Groups?

“Humans are tribal. We need to belong to groups. We crave bonds and attachment, which is why we love clubs, teams, fraternities, family.”

But the groups and tribes we belong to can also make us much more vulnerable to manipulation by narcissistic leaders, which is what Amy Chua’s well-researched and timely book, Political Tribes, is all about.

Political Tribes by Amy Chua“The tribal instinct is not just an instinct to belong. It’s also an instinct to exclude.”

“Once people belong to a group, their identities can become oddly bound with it. They will seek to benefit their group mates even when they personally gain nothing. They will penalize outsiders, seemingly gratuitously. They will sacrifice, and even kill and die, for their groups.”

Getting specific, Chua warns us that terrorism is above all a group phenomenon: it’s a murderous expression of tribal politics. To understand how group dynamics can so twist an individual’s psyche, she states: “Groups not only shape who we are and what we do; they can also distort our perception of objective facts.”

Members of terrorist and fanatical religious groups don’t become killers or shun family and friends overnight. “They are typically drawn in through a gradual process of socialization, indoctrination, and radicalization—with group identity and dynamics playing a critical role at every juncture.

J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, praises Chua’s book with, “Political Tribes is a beautifully written, eminently readable, and uniquely important challenge to conventional wisdom.”

Other reviewers of the book say it is a clarion call, a page-turner and a revelation that will change the way you think.

The book definitely reads like a cannot-put-it-down encyclopedia with fascinating and expertly-researched information about group dynamics, our tribal instincts and how easily people can be manipulated in a group environment.

Two masters of tribal politics, Chua asserts, are the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and America’s Donald Trump, both unlikely political victors with similar personality types.

We will conclude this post with a Friedrich Nietzsche quote in Political Tribes, “Insanity in individuals is something rare—but in groups . . . it is the rule.”


Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations is available here on Amazon.


The Dynamics of Authoritarianism

In this new century, the most notorious form of authoritarianism is the terrorist group, but the dynamics of authoritarian behavior are also found in gangs, pedophile rings, among human traffickers and even in some of our most beloved institutions.

The horrifying child abuse scandals that have recently rocked the UK and the US show how authority and unethical influence have often been used to maintain criminal and immoral activities within organizations directed by both the church and state.

This is possible because the same dynamics apply to all human behavior, and, until we are familiar with the dynamics of authoritarian behavior, we will continue to fall prey to them.

(Authoritarian behavior has been described as: “A group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing, and employing unethical, manipulative or coercive techniques of persuasion and control designed to advance the goals of the group’s leaders, to the possible or actual detriment of members, their families or the community.”)


This post is an excerpt from Jon’s new book, Opening Minds – A Primer on Undue Influence, scheduled for release in the fall of 2019



The Process of Undue Influence

The process of undue influence follows a predictable series of steps. First comes contact. This will either happen in person or through an advertising approach. It comes in many forms: flyers, posters, mailings, books, media ads and articles are used by authoritarian groups. Many groups use street recruiters, and most have their own publications; some have hired professional advertising agencies to refine their approach.

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

Authoritarian groups seek out competent recruits. Anyone with significant physical or mental problems, including drug or alcohol addiction, will be weeded out at the beginning. There may also be certain groups that are not targeted – Scientology avoids homosexuals, journalists, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists and disabled people.

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

Authoritarian group 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 have little difference from the general population for mental illness, except for their practice of the anti-social beliefs of the group.


This post is an excerpt from Jon’s new book, Opening Minds – A Primer on Undue Influence, scheduled for release in the fall of 2019

No Safety in Numbers with Undue Influence

Any examination of history shows that people can be brought to believe almost anything.

So, Germans voted away the right to vote and put all power in the hands of a scruffy, diminutive, dark-haired, brown-eyed Austrian, who proclaimed the era of the neat, tall, blond, blue-eyed Aryan superman.

Fifty million people died in the aftermath of this group delusion.

There is no safety in numbers when it comes to belief, and joining the crowd often leads to catastrophe.


This post is an excerpt from Jon’s new book, Opening Minds – A Primer on Undue Influence, scheduled for release in the fall of 2019



Are You Being Misled Online?

Have you ever been misled online? If so, you are not alone! It’s not easy to discern fact from fiction online, especially for teenagers who grew up with the internet. But help is on the way, thanks to MediaWise https://www.poynter.org/mediawise/ and a three million dollar grant from Google.

What is MediaWise? It’s a groundbreaking digital literacy project designed to teach 1 million teenagers—half from underserved communities—how to sort fact from fiction online by 2020.

Yes, there are actual skills one can learn to become more critical consumers of information online.

While teens are generally regarded as digitally savvy, research from Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) show that the vast majority of teenagers have trouble navigating digital information—whether it’s viral hoaxes on Instagram, misinformation campaigns on Facebook, or sponsored content on news websites.

MediaWise is tackling these issues in three ways:

1. A new curriculum that will be available in fall 2019
2. In-person events at schools nationwide
3. Fact-checking content and outreach via social media

MediaWise also has a great hashtag #isthislegit.

In the meantime, Media Wise reminds all of us that there are three questions we should be asking when we see and read something online:

1. Who is behind the information?
2. What is the evidence
3. What do other sources say?

SOURCE MATERIAL: MediaWise https://www.poynter.org/mediawise/

Techniques Used by Authoritarian Groups – New Mini-poster

Manipulative, authoritarian groups can be found in many varieties – from destructive religious cults to exploitative pyramid schemes, from toxic offices to abusive families. But how can we tell if a group is abusively authoritarian? Here is a helpful new infographic showing the common techniques used by authoritarian groups.

Click here to upload a printable .pdf version.

What do you think about this infographic? Do you have a story about an authoritarian group that you’d like to share? Do you have an idea for an infographic you’d like to see? We’d love to hear from you! 

Learning Something New About Undue Influence

If you would like to learn something new about a subject most people know little about, you are in for a treat. And the price tag is only 53 minutes of your time; unless you choose to stop after 15 minutes, which will be well worth your time.

In this delightfully engaging video conversation, Jon Atack and Susan Gaskin bring to life what, to many, is a dry topic: undue influence. They begin with Jon’s colorful definition and appropriate synonyms, such as coercive control, exploitative persuasion, manipulation and brainwashing.                       

After briefly chatting about the history of these expressions, Jon explains why Open Minds has decided to default to the legally recognized term of undue influence.

Jon and Susan then liven things up by sharing scientific research which shows how easily the human mind can be swayed, and how predatory, abusive groups use undue influence to regulate their members’ thinking, dehumanizing outsiders and creating barriers between people.

Jon expertly explains why it is so important to educate young people to make up their own minds, rather than having their emotions manipulated by someone else. They also discuss what educational conventions actually work to prevent healthy personal autonomy, and share the latest news about some amazing reforms in education geared to create engaged, curious, and independent learners in our schools.

Among some of the fascinating topics discussed are:

  • What is undue influence, and how does it work?
  • How is it different from coercive control and exploitative persuasion?
  • What is manipulation? Where does the term come from?
  • What is brainwashing, and why has the term become inaccurate as we use it today?
  • What does social psychology teach us about influence?
  • What is personal autonomy?
  • How does our sense of infatuation lead to manipulation, and why is it so important to be careful with our love?
  • Why does chocolate taste so good?
  • What is the best way to avoid a scam?
  • Just what did Mrs. Mattel say when she first saw the Ken doll?

What do you think about this interview? Do you agree? Have you read Jon’s book? Do you have a story about undue influence that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 

And be sure to check out Susan’s YouTube channel, too!

Spike on The Ochelli Effect – Societal Influence and Lifton’s Criteria

Advisory Board member Spike Robinson was a recent guest on the podcast The Ochelli Effect, where she and host Chuck Ochelli discuss the pervasive nature of undue influence and societal manipulation in our culture, stressing the fact that all influence, from beneficial to malignant, lies upon a spectrum, with the same techniques and methods being used to harm as well as heal.

In the second hour, they break down Lifton’s Eight Criteria for Thought Reform, taking each element and discussing how various diverse groups use these methods of influence to sway opinions, actions, and lives.

Listen in to the conversation!




Spike and Pearse Talk to Aaron and Uncle

Advisory Board Member Spike Robinson and Open Minds on Air podcast host Pearse Redmond are the most recent guests on the two back-to-back podcasts, Trans Resister Radio and Uncle The Podcast.

For the first hour, Spike and Pearse visit with host Aaron Franz, and they take a serious look at some of the lesser known aspects of undue influence, such as magazine crews and time-share scams, as well as discussing high-control groups and the mechanisms of control. In the second hour, Uncle joins in for Uncle The Podcast, and the mood becomes a bit lighter as they talk about pop culture, American football, and even debate the feasibility of a combination spaghetti strainer/ mop bucket. 

Here is the first segment, on Trans Resister Radio, and here is the second hour, on Uncle the Podcast. Or you may listen to the two shows as one, here.

Load More Posts
Go to Top