Manipulative GroupsFrom Social to Manipulative
Manipulative groups exist all around us: any social group or relationship can become manipulative. Religious, political and therapy cults, as well as educational, Internet, corporate and marketing cults prey upon people, using all sorts of tricks and traps. Manipulators create one-on-one cults with their partners, and extend their control into the family. Criminals form gangs that have the same dynamics as other cult groups. At worst, manipulators take over whole nations, which then operate as totalitarian cults.
Every religion is open to manipulative interpretations. There are cults based on Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist ideas. There are also many Neo-Pagan, New Age and Magick groups using excessive control. There are literally thousands of dangerous pseudo-religious cults in the world that isolate their members from society and control their freedom of thought.
Educational cults take over their members’ lives with the pretense that they are helping them to gain an education. Often disguised as speed-reading, memory enhancement or even philosophy courses, they claim to have perfected the “technology” of study.
For many years, scam artists have used letters, classified ads and phone calls to trick people out of their cash. These days, many scam artists use the Internet to lure victims into phoney marketing schemes. There are many forms of marketing scam, including Ponzi schemes, pyramid selling, and penny share trading.
There are many political cults, varying in size from one-on-one manipulators to whole nations such as North Korea. Left and right wing groups, race supremacists, terrorists and other hate groups have a political agenda which they insist is the only “correct” viewpoint. Instead of reasoned protest, they incite subversion and violence.
With the rise of the Internet, predators are able to control victims without ever making physical contact. These new gurus offer their “insights” for cash and unquestioning loyalty. They can control victims’ behavior just as powerfully as other manipulators. Marketing cults and radicalized terror cells also operate freely on the Internet, as do pedophiles and predators who urge youngsters to commit suicide.
Family & One-on-One Cults
Sometimes a predator creates a one-on- one cult, controlling another individual with threats and putdowns, but often keeping them trapped with superficial charm, confused by “crazy making” techniques such as gaslighting, and isolated by a web of lies and triangulation. In an intimate relationship, one partner is reduced to subservience. Children are pressed into service by the predatory partner, too. When a relationship fails, one partner often turns the children against the other, creating parental alienation.
There are many supposed therapies that are actually harmful. Practitioners use hypnotic methods to create euphoria and social pressure to create dependence, and then exploit victims emotionally, financially, socially and sometimes sexually. Even “mainstream” therapies can be used in manipulative and harmful ways.
A corporation can have all of the characteristics of any other destructive cult. These groups offer little of value to society, instead focusing on exploiting customers and the public. Corporate scams have again and again crashed the economy, most recently with the international banking scandal.
Criminal gangs combine the constant threat of violence with the full range of exploitative techniques. Gang leaders are not governed by any external authority, so often act savagely towards gang members. They bend the justice system to their own ends, sometimes terrifying witnesses into withdrawing testimony and buying the protection of corrupt officials.
Exploitation in the Name of God
At the fringes of every religious tradition, there are cults that manipulate their members deliberately to keep them in subservience. Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right, but many groups have abused this freedom to exploit their followers.
Religious Cults Resources
The Dalai Lama has said, “The whole purpose of religion is to facilitate love and compassion, patience, tolerance, humility, forgiveness.” The leaders of every decent, life-affirming group would surely agree with these sentiments, but many predators use the cloak of religion to isolate their members from the world, and subject them to inhumane treatment.
In some groups, there are inner and outer members, with only the inner members suffering significant indignities. A traditional religion, when displaced, can become a dangerous cult – so the Krishnas were founded by a well-meaning Indian guru, but their practices are completely foreign to modern western society.
Some practices that heighten compliance are used in religious groups. Contemporary medical advice would not advise limiting sleep to four hours a night, but for some groups this is considered normal. High carbohydrate diets are not recommended either, or long periods of fasting (though brief fasts can be beneficial).
Meditation techniques can heighten compliance, as can group singing, chanting or dancing, or the rocking back and forth of “davening“. The use of such techniques does not mean that a group is a destructive cult, but it is sensible to understand the physiological nature and effects of these techniques, rather than attributing any results to supernatural intervention or the superhuman insight of a teacher.
Destructive religious cults come in all sizes – from the one-on-one relationship, to those with millions of members. At worst, a destructive cult can take over a nation, and oppress and even murder disbelievers for their failure to accept eccentric laws of conduct and belief.
At the extreme, religious cults turn to terrorism. There are far right Hindu groups, armed Buddhist monks, and Islamist terrorists, who interweave religious doctrine with extremist views, and rouse fervor using manipulative techniques. In 2000, leaders of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God murdered more than 500 followers.
Religious cults can also become political. Core Nazis believed in a thousand-year Reich, embodied in a fusion of magical and political ideas. The techniques are the same, but the beliefs can vary significantly – except for the conviction that the leader is always right.
In the West, most of our religious cults have a Christian foundation. There are almost 200 sects of Latter-Day Saints – or Mormons – some are murderous cults, others are more socially integrated and relatively benign, or at least not actively harmful.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses joined behind a prophecy that the great battle of Armageddon – the war to end all wars – was about the happen. The first prophesied date was over a century ago, but, despite many failed predictions, the group has grown to an international membership of millions, and is accepted by misinformed members of the general public as a “regular” denomination.
Don’t Abuse the Believers
At Open Minds, we support freedom of belief, but oppose the freedom to abuse believers. Religious status is no guarantee of ethical conduct.
Any group that attacks disbelievers or violates the rights of its members should be treated as a totalist cult. The leaders should be brought to justice and the followers helped to regain their independence.
Manipulation of the People for the People
Dangerous political groups use the dynamics of cults to manipulate and control their followers. Fervent members become willing to commit anti-social acts on behalf of the group: disaster often ensues.
Political cults bring together the worst forms of manipulation, and can lead whole populations to hatred and even mass murder.
Political Cults of the 20th Century
The rise of fascism in Europe in the 20th century shows just how deadly political cults can be. Mussolini, Hitler and Franco entranced their followers and caused a global conflict. In Japan, the mixture of Soldier Zen and emperor worship stoked the flames of this conflict.
As fascist cults took over in central Europe, Russia fell under the sway of the Bolsheviks, who seized power from the existing socialist government. Despite his pretense of communist belief, Stalin completely subverted democracy, plunging Russia and its satellite states into decades of totalitarian rule.
On the Right
Today, at the right-wing end of the spectrum is the LaRouche Movement. Lyndon LaRouche is an American-born conspiracy theorist who was jailed for mail fraud in the 1980s. It was alleged that his organization had defrauded many elderly people through credit card fraud. Espousing an extreme conservative platform, he was a presidential candidate in every election from 1976 to 2004.
There are many political parties in Europe with a right-wing tendency. In Britain, the National Front morphed into the British Nationalist Party with a significant skinhead following.
In North America, White Supremacists and some Survivalist and Sovereign Citizen groups have the dynamics of political cults with unswerving dedication to a leader and a hateful attitude towards outsiders. Such groups include ‘Identity Christians’ who are strongly racist and other conspiracy cults.
On the Left
Left-wing cults are almost identical in behavior to right-wing cults. In the desire for complete democracy, members fall in line behind an autocratic leader. In Bounded Choice, Janja Lalich gives an excellent description of her time in Marlene Dixon’s Democratic Workers Party. Alex Stein’s Inside Out details her involvement with The O, another left-wing group that became totalitarian.
Radical Political Cults
North Korea is a political cult ruled for over 60 years by the Kim family. Because it has nuclear weapons, this totalitarian state poses a threat to all humanity, and keeps its 25 million citizens in a constant state of fear and subservience.
Daesh or ‘Islamic State’ is a political cult that has grown out of radical Islamism – a fusion of fundamentalist Wahhabi or Salafi religious belief with revolutionary communist strategies. Al Qaeda grew from the same beliefs and methods.
Therapy cults are fronted by predatory individuals masquerade as counselors and psychotherapists who dominate, manipulate & control their clients. There have been numerous cases of sexual and financial abuse by supposed therapists.
Therapist or Charlatan?
A 1990 survey of more than 8000 certified therapists and patients showed that ten per cent of therapists admitted sexual contact with their patients, even though such contact is prohibited by law in certain states in the US.
Therapists who molest patients inevitably do far more harm than good. There is never any excuse for sexual contact with a therapy client, or any other form of exploitation. An ethical therapist will not accept gifts or ask for favors of any kind. Any unethical conduct should be reported to the relevant professional association and legal advice should be taken. By reporting, you will protect others from abuse.
Psychotherapy cults have spread around the globe and attracted millions of followers. They make outlandish claims to cure serious medical conditions, including cancer and AIDs, insisting that these are “psychosomatic” in origin.
Fake Therapy is Harmful
At worst, fake psychotherapy can be deeply harmful, creating the same dependency as any other cultic system, and making the client’s problems worse.
Such therapies are practiced by both cranks and charlatans. Cranks believe their unsubstantiated claims, which are based upon their own experience and opinion. Charlatans are predators, looking to make easy money and manipulate vulnerable people, though some predators come to believe their own cranky ideas.
Therapy cults can overlap into religious beliefs – as they are unable to provide any scientific proof for their claims. There are groups that practice “past life” therapy, and others that focus on belief in UFOs and alien abduction. There are even “future life” therapies.
Followers of Wilhelm Reich practice “orgone therapy“, believing in an intangible energy that can be “accumulated” with the aid all sorts of objects and items of clothing, sold online by both cranks and charlatans online.
In the heyday of the 1970s, there were hundreds of therapy cults based upon the idea that birth could be re-experienced, and believers could be “re-parented” to maturity. Some followers were put into diapers or breast-fed by therapists as part of this bizarre process.
In “scream” therapies, clients are encouraged to express rage through screaming and physical aggression. This can actually heighten aggressive responses, rather than venting them, and if done without proper vocal control, can lead to damage of the vocal folds.
Hypnotic techniques that create euphoria or “reverie” states are frequently promoted and sold. Ethical hypnotherapists understand that their patients can easily accept suggestions and are careful to avoid this. Cranks and charlatans use guided imagination, visualization and hypnosis to convince clients of their own pet theories.
Among New Age beliefs, we find practices ranging from crystal healing and color therapy to magical spells and talismans.
Large group awareness trainings have been with us since the ’60s and should be treated with caution, as they can bring about severely negative reactions.
It is important to check a therapist’s credentials – it is easy to have a certificate printed with an embossed gold seal. Be warned that predators can also obtain proper certification. Check the Internet and contact a professional organization if you have any doubts.
As Singer and Lalich advise in Crazy Therapies, “If something about your interaction with a therapist or counselor doesn’t seem right, trust your gut instincts and go on out the door.”