Extremism & Manipulative Groups

Groups often use coercive persuasion and coercive control to recruit, retain and manipulate individuals. Each group has its own agenda, but they all use recognisable techniques to gain members.
Types of disinformation +Getting support +

Manipulative groups

Manipulative groups exist all around us: any social group or relationship can become manipulative. Each will have its own agenda, and each will seek to manipulate an individual for its own gain. The manipulation can take many forms, from gaining financial or emotional control over the individual, to recruiting ‘disciples’ to further the agenda of the group. In turn, these manipulated individuals become ‘followers’ to be used by the group for a specific aim. For example, a religious extremist group or a criminal gang will recruit individuals to serve their cause. A cult on the other hand may seek to gain financially from the individual, who may be encouraged to ‘donate’ their life savings and belongings to the betterment of the cause. At worst, these techniques can be used at a national scale, to take over whole nations and operate it as a totalitarian cult. Types of manipulative groups include:

Religious Cults

Any religion can become manipulative, or have a subgroup with a manipulative interpretation. Some ‘religions’ are even set up specifically to manipulate people. There are manipulative cults derived from Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist ideas, as well as neo-Pagan, New Age and Magick Groups. Similarly, ‘religions’ such as Scientology have been established to specifically gain followers. 

All of these groups use coercive control, including isolation techniques, to alienate their members from society, and control their freedom of thought. 

Learn more about religious cults


Educational Cults

Although there are few well-known educational cults, they do exist, and they do manipulate and harm individuals on a daily basis. Many educational cults claim to have perfected the ‘technology’ of study, but share information and topics that are filled with misinformation. These groups take over their members’ lives with the pretence that they are helping members to gain an education, commonly speed-reading, memory enhancement, or ‘philosophy’. 

Learn more about education cults

Marketing Cults

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.

Learn more about marketing cults

Political Cults

Manipulative political groups exist to sway a political agenda or control a nation. Not everyone needs to believe the propaganda for it to be effective or change the direction of the political landscape. 

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 also have a political agenda which they insist is the only “correct” viewpoint. Instead of reasoned protest, they incite subversion and violence.

Learn more about political cults


Internet Cults

Capitalising on the anonymity, reach and sense of community that the internet delivers, internet cults are able to control victims without ever making physical contact. ‘Gurus’ offer ‘insights’ for cash and unquestioning loyalty. Gaining trust over time, manipulators can ultimately control their victims virtually, as effectively as other groups control their victims face to face. 

Marketing groups, terror cells, criminal gangs and pretty much any other manipulative group can also operate freely on the internet, as do paedophiles and online predators.

Learn more about internet cults…

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.

Learn more about family & one-on-one cults


Therapy Cults

Further victimising vulnerable individuals, therapy groups seek to deliver ‘relief’ that actually keeps the victim enthralled. Often, one manipulative group is exchanged for another, with the victim never actually recovering. 

Many ‘therapies’ are actually harmful to the individual, or at the very least do not support with sustained recovery. ‘Therapists’ 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. 

Learn more about therapy cults

Corporate Cults

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.

Learn more about corporate cults


Criminal Gangs

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.

Learn more about criminal gangs

Getting support

The type of support available to you is dependent on what information you have received, and its impact on your life. In its simplest forms, e.g. reading incorrect information on social media, prevention is your best hope of support, equipping yourself to proactively check facts, vet sources and consider the truth behind what you read. You can also take proactive action in these cases, reporting fake news to the platform that is carrying it, or the admin that is overseeing it. AT the other extreme, disinformation may have led you to behave out of character, resulting in joining an extremist religious group or cult for example. In these scenarios, additional support for recovery is available. 

US Support
Agree which to include
UK Support
Agree which to include

 

Religious & Spiritual Extremism

It is important to differentiate humane from destructive interpretations of religion. Religious extremism has been a major cause of human suffering throughout recorded history. As the Dalai Lama has said, “The whole purpose of religion is to facilitate love and compassion, patience, tolerance, humility, forgiveness.”

Human Suffering

Religious Extremism - Exploitative Techniques

People have justified the most barbaric acts with claims to sacred duty. As Pascal said, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”

All too often, religious extremists have led their followers to commit atrocities through a dogmatic belief in inhumane ideas. The contemporary focus is on terrorist acts committed by Muslim zealots, who have allied a fundamentalist interpretation of their faith with guerrilla tactics devised by revolutionary Marxists.

Hatred of the Minority

And yet, less than half a per cent of Muslims are followers of the Salafi or Wahhabi faction of Sunni Islam, and most of these are not militant, but the acts of the few thousand followers of Daesh and Al Qaeda have stirred hatred towards all Muslims. This hatred has swelled support for the militant Wahhabis, just as they intend.

Christian Extremism

The Troubles in Northern Ireland became an internecine war between Protestants and Catholics. Extremists on both sides believed that they were the true Christians, with little thought for the teachings of the Prince of Peace they claimed to be following.

Religion as an Excuse

Destructive bigots have frequently used religious belief as an excuse for vicious anti-social behaviour throughout history. Christian extremists destroyed the greatest library of the ancient world at Alexandria. The Iconoclasts destroyed great art, as did the English Puritans of the 17th century. Muslim extremists have destroyed much great art due to their fundamentalist misinterpretation of the Qu’ran.

The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Huguenot wars, the witch-hunts and many persecutions have stigmatized Christianity. But extremism is not limited to any particular religion: after partition in India in 1947, as many as two million people may have died in conflicts between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs.

In the lead up to WWII, unthinking obedience was fostered in the Japanese public with the cult of the Emperor and “Soldier Zen“. Leading Zen Buddhist teachers have acknowledged the error of this teaching, and apologised for it.

Radicalization is Extreme Propaganda

Radicalization is the process of causing someone to adopt fanatic, radical positions on political or social issues through propaganda and thought reform.

Radicalization Resources

Grievances Lead to Radicalization

Radicalization - Exploitative TechniquesIt is a mistake to think that radicalization applies only to Islamist terrorists, just as it is a mistake to believe that suicide bombings all have a religious motivation – there are many terrorist groups driven by purely political objectives.

There are pathways that lead to radicalization, beginning with a personal grievance – for instance, the Chechnyan “black widows”, suicide bombers who had lost their husbands. Muslims who have been slighted for their belief also fulfill this criterion: anti-Muslim prejudice makes radicalization all the more likely.

The first step may also be group grievance, where a group feels under attack – all separatist terrorists have experienced this. Kurds may support the PKK, because of attacks upon their fellow Kurds. In cultures that are under siege, there is no need for radicalizing thought reform techniques. The realities of daily life are enough. For instance, Tamils in Sri Lanka were denied the right to vote, so some joined the Tamil Tigers and became terrorists. Nothing can justify terrorism, but we need to work for a more fair, equitable world if we are to stop radicalization.

Romantic and family attachments can also influence radicalization. Some groups originate as extensions of family or friend networks, and a pretty face can be used to recruit just as easily as into a cult.

Cultural Isolation

In the West, second generation offspring of Muslim parents often feel isolated from their roots and are prey to radical groups that apply thought reform techniques to instill new beliefs and behaviors. Sometimes they are rebelling against their parents’ moderate beliefs.

The “slippery slope” addresses gradual radicalization through retreat into a like-minded group and withdrawal from the larger society. Resentment is amplified slowly, and the recruit is encouraged to bond with fellow-believers while disparaging outsiders. This may begin with something as laudable as charity towards the victims of prejudice but can escalate into “dispensing of existence”, where outsiders are perceived as demonic and evil, without human rights.

Status is achieved by participation in the cause. Killing an enemy in war is viewed differently from murder in almost all societies. Killing an enemy is praiseworthy, and increases the status of the perpetrator. Risk-taking becomes a positive activity in a radical group. In groups that perform suicide bombing, a high status attaches to successful bombers and their surviving families. In some parts of the world, billboards have shown images of smiling “shahida” or “martyrs”.

Existing concerns and beliefs are put aside for transformation as a member of the group, which, in effect, becomes a larger self – a set of values to be defended at all costs. “Unfreezing” of existing beliefs leads to changing of beliefs and then the “refreezing” process, where the new concerns and beliefs become central to a new sense of being and purpose.

Belonging to a group often means accepting all of the values of the group, whether they are understood or not. Recruits submit to the higher authority of the leader or doctrine and demand purity – compliance with that authority.

Polarization will happen, once group values have been accepted: you are either with us, or against us. There is no longer any middle ground. Those who disagree are the enemy. This argument is used to justify the murder of “enemy” children.

Isolation strengthens the bond to the group in line with Hassan’s BITE model – control of behavior, information, thought and emotion will take place as an aspect of separation from the society beyond the group. Access to conflicting information is completely cut off: the media is under the control of hostile forces, anyone who disagrees with the leader is diabolic. Thought-stopping will prevent true believers from even listening to criticism.

Provoking Competition

Competition can also escalate into radicalization. This is seen in left-wing groups that compete to show that their doctrine is more pure than that of rival groups.

Ju-jitsu politics indicates the use of provocation to make governments act against minorities and create oppressive legislation that will ultimately strengthen the radicals’ cause. This strategy is aimed at isolating moderates to cause social polarization. Al-Qaeda wanted First World countries to invade Muslim countries, to support their effort to create a united opposition. Their numbers grew from less than 500 at the time of 9/11, into tens of thousands after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. They want westerners to believe that all Muslims are militant Wahhabis and persecute them, so that there are even more persecuted Muslims, now eager to join the cause.

An “Us and Them” mentality is fundamental to all cults; it is essential to terrorist groups. Opponents are seen as demons or even vermin – just as in genocides.

It is Not a Mental Illness

Extensive investigation has shown that terrorists do not suffer from mental illness. Ariel Merari has provided a significant survey of the psychology of suicide bombers in the Israel-Palestine conflict. He did find a higher proportion that is usual of dependent and avoidant personality types, but suicide bombers in Palestine come from a community that needs no radicalization. His book “Driven to Death: Psychological and Social Aspects of Suicide Terrorism” gives a lot more detail.

In contrast, western terrorist recruits are often from moderate Muslim families and have a university education. They have fairly normal personality profiles. Marc Sageman challenges conventional wisdom about terrorism, observing that the key to mounting an effective defense against future attacks is a thorough understanding of the networks that allow these new terrorists to proliferate in his book “Understanding Terror Networks“.

Some experts prefer to avoid any suggestion of thought reform, but fail to explain what they mean by “radicalization”, which most certainly contains elements of manipulation and the use of undue influence.

It is important that psychological and social research into terrorism continues. It is equally important that real grievances are addressed. At Open Minds, we want to teach students to understand the methods used to induce fervor and devotion by life-destroying cults of every type.

Criminal Gangs The “Made Men” Club

Criminal gangs are all around us and have a powerful negative influence on our lives. Where the rule of law is failing, these gangs grab power. They are highly manipulative to their members as well as to outsiders.

Cults That Exploit

Criminal Gangs - Manipulative GroupsAmong the worst gangs are those who exploit young people in pedophile rings and the slavers involved in human trafficking.
Where the rule of law is failing, gangs grab ever more power and wield more influence. They are highly manipulative to their members as well as to outsiders.

 

Autocratic Governance

Gangs are invariably formed by human predators. They function as autocracies, with all of the power resting in the leader, until that leader is deposed. While violence or potential violence is a significant part of any gang, successful leaders use psychological intimidation, ranging from groupthink to isolation.

Ridicule is heaped upon anyone who fails to use the group’s loaded language accurately, fails to wear the correct uniform, or display the right tattoos. The behaviors of the group are modeled by the leader.

Gangs in History

In Manchester, England, in the mid-19th century, gangs of youths called Scuttlers fought pitched battles against each other and the police. Serious injury was a normal hazard, and there were many deaths in these street fights. Up to 500 youths aged from 13 to 25 would use belt-buckles as flails and other weapons, causing serious damage to opponents.

These gangs echoed the earlier Roman gangs, who followed a particular chariot racing team, and regularly trashed parts of Rome. In the 1960s, Mods and Rockers battled on Brighton beach, on the South coast of England.

Tribes form around a leader whose word becomes law. Group rituals are practiced to unite the members – a sort of gangland team-building. Any account of the Hell’s Angels details the vicious and misogynistic rites that allow initiates to rise through the ranks.

The Mafia have an elaborate code of honor – as do other criminal and anti-social gangs. This code is imposed as thought reform; failure to follow a rule induces guilt in the gang member. Gang members are conditioned to learn contempt for all outsiders.

Controlling Trade

Gangs are a significant problem: where they control trade, they are known as cartels. Pablo Escobar became one of the richest people in the world from cocaine trafficking: by the time he died, in 1993, he had accumulated over $30 billion. There are perhaps 35,000 members of the Crips or Bloods, two of the gangs who control the drug traffic of every major US city.

While some members seek out a gang because they are already suffering from an anti-social disorder, many are simply in the wrong place and are recruited and then trapped into a street or criminal gang.

Gangs seek only their own profit, making no claim to benefit society, they are otherwise like extremist and terrorist groups.

Marketing Cults: Dreams For Sale

Marketing cults are scams run by predatory people who prey on the desires of their victims using a mixture of charm and manipulation.

Marketing Cult Resources

Manipulative Marketing

Marketing Cults - Manipulative GroupsMass marketing scams have evolved at an alarming rate on the Internet. Advanced fee scams offer huge rewards for small investments. These marketing cults are sometimes called 419 scams, referring to the Nigerian Criminal Code section on fraud, because many scammers have pretended to have cash stuck in Nigerian banks.

Typically, a contact email will say that the sender needs help to unlock an inheritance, or that the recipient has won a lottery, but needs to make a registration payment. If a payment is made, there will be a request for a second payment. The requests will continue just as long as payments are made. Nothing will be given in return.

No Free Love Here

Sweetheart scams usually target older people with the offer of love from a younger, desirable person. The first approach may be an email saying that the author has seen the recipient’s profile online and fallen in love. After a few exchanges – often boilerplate emails – there will be a request for funds: perhaps airfare to visit the victim, or an urgent need for medical assistance.

From Pyramid to Ponzi

Some scammers advertise high-quality merchandise at low prices, but then provide sub-standard goods; they may even send out debt collector’s letters to victims when these are returned.
Pyramid schemes are illegal in most western countries, but versions still exist. In these, a great business opportunity is touted. Enthusiastic success stories are shared – often at cult-like meetings – and victims are persuaded to buy huge stocks of soap, kitchenware or jewelry that ends up filling the purchaser’s garage.

In Ponzi schemes, money from new investors is used to pay dividends to earlier investors – until there is no new money.

Mag Crews - Legal Child Enslavement

“Mag crew”, short for magazine sales crew is another form of marketing cult that preys on young adults just out of school. These companies sell magazines, toiletries, or other products door-to-door. Lured with promises of easy money and fun, victims are bullied into cheating customers with poor quality or even non-existent products. They survive appalling living conditions, and they can be exposed to drug addiction and beatings as a part of everyday life.

Most often, we are only give something for nothing by a marketer when the giver expects us to reciprocate. So, be suspicious of any offer of a free lunch (or a free personality test).

Family & One-on-one cults: The Guru in the Living Room?

Family and one-on-one cults are far more common than we think. In an intimate or family situation with someone controlling another individual with threats and putdowns, but often keeping them trapped with superficial charm, isolated by a web of lies and triangulation the victim is often oblivious to their entrapment.

Family & One-on-one Cult Resources (Domestic Abuse)

Family & Domestic Abuse

Family & One-on-One Cults - Manipulative GroupsFamilies can turn into one-on-one cults, where one partner uses coercive control over the other partner, or even the whole family. The abusive partner will create petty rules that are impossible to keep. There will be a stream of criticisms: nothing will ever be good enough. At the same time, the predatory partner will fail in responsibilities to the family – pursuing some hobby or private entertainment, rather than offering support or attending to the family’s needs.

Domestic violence can be a part of an abusive relationship, but it is the coercive control or undue influence that should be the focus, because domestic violence is a consequence, not the cause, of manipulation. This was recognized in the UK in 2015, with a new law regulating coercive and controlling behavior. Prison sentences have resulted from this legislation, which carries a maximum penalty of five years.

Your Partner as a Predator

In a coercive environment, victims are punished for any infraction of the stringent rules laid down by the manipulator; the hardest rules to follow are those that are never fully explained, or are made up on the spot, in order to reframe abuse into “correction”. Family members are isolated from outside contact – forced to abandon friends and relatives. This practice of ostracism or “shunning” is fundamental to cultic behavior, and is a powerful form of emotional blackmail.

A predatory partner may also abuse children – whether as a parent, stepparent, or even foster-parent. Any such behavior should be reported to the police.

In the 1990s, the American Medical Association estimated that about one and a half million women seek treatment for domestic abuse every year (the problem is not confined to women – while most reported physical violence is perpetrated by men against women, we must not dismiss situations where men are assaulted or coercively controlled by women, or where domestic abuse occurs in same-sex partnerships). In the US, as many as 3000 murders a year are committed by partners as a consequence of coercive control.

Children are Easy Targets

Evan Stark reports that from 3.3 million to 10 million children are affected by domestic violence and abuse in the US, framing it as “domestic terrorism”. Such violence is the largest category of police complaint in the US.

Parental alienation is another form of coercive control. It occurs when one parent has custody, and cuts a child off from the other parent without good reason. Typically this is most severe in high-conflict separated families. As adults, some children who were caught in parental conflict find it hard to form relationships.

Read about abusive relationships here.

Corporate Cults: Scammers, Inc.

Corporations vary, from being highly socially beneficial, to causing disaster for society and their own members. Corporate scams have happened in every generation since the first merchant corporations emerged.

Luring Shareholders

Corporate Cults - Manipulative GroupsShareholders have frequently been lured into paying money for nothing more than promises. In the early 18th century, the French economy was ruined by the Mississippi Bubble – basing its currency on the proposed profits of a settlement in Louisiana. To populate this settlement, prison inmates were released, married to prostitutes, and sent on to Louisiana, where they were abandoned, along with the dreams of the investors.

The South Sea Bubble burst in England at around the same time. In the 19th century, Oscar Wilde wrote about the Panama Canal bubble scandal, which happened years before a different corporation eventually built the canal.

Corporate Cults Exploiting People

Historical accounts show one sinister corporation after another exploiting people and natural resources. The larger corporations even rivaled governments in their power. The various East India companies – Dutch, French and British – plundered India, China and the Americas, oppressing the people they found there with their own fully equipped armies.

In India, slavery was maintained by the British through the system of “indentures”. There are still about 13 million slaves in India at the time of writing, according to the UN.

In the 20th century, the Great Depression began with speculators pushing up the price of land, leading to a collapse when the banks could not recoup mortgage loans. The social and political fallout from this disaster was a significant cause of the Second World War.

Globalization

One aspect of Globalization has been the creation of Special Economic Zones, where national laws are replaced by corporation laws. Many western corporations have taken advantage of cheap labor willing to work long hours in conditions that would not be accepted in any western country.

This exploitation is obvious for all to see, but many corporations also use innocuous-seeming “team-building” exercises that use behavioral training to make employees more compliant. Some of these training programs were taken directly from dangerous high-control groups using the controversial “large group awareness trainings”.

This exemplifies an approach that pretends benefit for the individual, by promoting a false sense of community. Team-building experiences invariably feature trust exercises that make people less willing to assert themselves, by amplifying mindsets that foster groupthink and unthinking compliance.

Simple Deception

Deception is the simplest of all forms of manipulation, and basic to every scam used by corporate cults. The first deception is the notion that something is for your benefit. Ransomware in computers is a good analogy for this trick: if you buy the fix from a scamming on-line security company, they will put ransomware in your machine, and charge periodically to remove it (and install more).

Ethical Responsibility

Perhaps the biggest error is taking away responsibility for ethical behavior by making corporations legally liable to make money for shareholders and nothing else. Indeed, current legal constraints restrict benevolent action by corporations, while protecting those running them from prosecution for their unethical behavior.

Hedge funds, the Savings and Loan scandal, and corporations like Enron and Worldcom, squandered financial wealth and led to recession in our economies. Corporate cults are among the most successful, and the most dangerous, of all cults.

Internet Cults: Just a Click Away

On the Internet, predators roam free. They can lure victims and destroy lives through scams, bogus philosophies, and deliberate intimidation.

Internet Cults

Predators find victims for sport or profit. They enjoy the thrill of manipulation. Trolls target vulnerable people with the intention of causing distress. Con artists offer riches from lottery wins or locked inheritances; they pose as desirable mates offering love to the lonely, or offer computer software to fix non-existent problems, while actually putting ransom-ware onto machines – the gift that keeps on taking, as any infected machine will need frequent – and costly – repair.

It is possible to buy bogus educational degrees, fake medicines and pseudo-scientific “technology” through the world-wide web. Some people have lost their life savings to these scams.

With the decline in street recruiting, many existing destructive cults have moved their seduction strategies onto the Web. Pseudo-religious, philosophical and educational cults thrive on the Internet. The International Cultic Studies Association posted this article – The internet as a new place for sects

Defooing - Departure from the Family of Origin

Freedomain Radio has been soundly criticized for its practice of “defooing”, or departure from the family of origin, where followers cut all ties with their families. This use of ostracism, disconnection or shunning is a fundamental cultic behavior. Founder Stefan Molyneux’s wife was sanctioned for recommending defooing to her therapy clients. While it is sensible to withdraw from an abusive relationship, Freedomain Radio seems to insist that all parental relationships are damaging.

Children Are at Risk

Internet predators groom children for pedophile relationships or even trafficking and murder. In recent years, investigations around the world have implicated politicians and celebrities as members of pedophile rings. These scandals have shaken the Catholic Church, the Methodist Church and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Children’s homes have been implicated, and police enquiries in the Australia, the UK and the US show that organized pedophilia has eluded detection for decades.

Pedophile grooming has moved to the Dark Internet; the Dark Net is rife with pedophile rings, trading child pornography, and sharing methods of manipulation to lure unsuspecting children into immoral and illegal sexual relationships, complete with sites featuring “how to” manuals.

Suicide Grooming

Suicide grooming is another predatory activity found on the Internet. Predatory websites encourage young people to confide their unhappiness online. They are then manipulated by predators into taking their own lives. In 2008, The Independent newspaper reported the deaths of seven young friends in South Wales. They had been persuaded to end their lives, so that memorial websites could be set up for them. Police fear internet cult inspires teen suicides

As crime moves to the Internet, a new world is coming into being. We must be watchful and develop approaches that protect the vulnerable from Internet cults and exploitation.

Education Cults: Education as Domination

Education 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.

Teaching Fads for Control and Profit

Education Cults - Manipulative GroupsEducational fads easily become cults that take over their members’ lives. They can be teaching study skills, philosophical or religious ideas, or even martial arts.

Some groups offer educational therapies for those with severe communication difficulties, or who have been diagnosed on the autistic spectrum. Facilitated Communication was devised by an Australian teacher and spread by an institute in New York. It claims to produce “unexpected literacy” in previously uncommunicative people. Practitioners guide the hand of the subject to spell out answers in a technique that is prone to the same subconscious responses as Spiritualist Ouija board readings.

The London based School of Economic Science recruits with posters claiming to teach methods of philosophical enquiry. In fact, it teaches a version of Hindu philosophy allied with a series of questionable meditation techniques (called “The Exercise”). It draws upon the same teachings as the Transcendental Meditation cult.

Scientology’s Ron Hubbard made many claims for his “Study Technology“, none of which are supported by scientific studies or independent scrutiny. He said that simply by clarifying “misunderstood words” it would be possible to achieve the benefits of earlier education that had not registered. He made claims of “super-literacy” based upon his teachings.

Several cult groups have established their own universities in the US, including TM’s Maharishi University, the Moonies’ University of Bridgeport and Soka Gakkai’s Soka University in California.

Brat Camps

Among the worst abuses in education are the controversial “brat camps” for difficult adolescents. With their parents’ consent – and payment – students can be forcibly taken to isolated camps, where they are subjected to humiliating treatment in the attempt to break and tame them. Some of these programs are run by former US Marines. These programs should not be confused with legitimate schemes that engage adolescents in outdoor activity, such as the UK’s Duke of Edinburgh Awards Scheme.

Manipulating Sexual Orientation

Another shocking use of manipulative techniques in an educational context exists in Christian groups that seek to change gay people’s sexual orientation. In the UK, this practice has been condemned by the National Health Service and the Council for Psychotherapy.

While most health professionals no longer consider homosexuality a disease (as medical manuals used to insist), there are still a few psychiatrists who try to change sexual orientation. The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality offers such programs.

In 2000, current vice-president Mike Pence suggested that tax dollars be used to establish “conversion programs” for people who wished to change their sexual orientation.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

All educational programs should conform with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The materials taught should be accurate and verifiable, without recourse to unsubstantiated cultic views. Students should not be restricted in their access to materials – information control is a significant aspect of cult practice. Students should not be bullied or humiliated, and must have the right to communicate freely about their ideas and concerns, which is not the case in a cultic setting. Education should encourage intelligent disobedience, rather than unthinking compliance.

Therapy Cults: Hypocritical Oath

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?

Therapy Cults - Manipulative GroupsA 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.

Check Credentials!

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.”

Political Cults: 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 of the 20th Century

Political Cults - Manipulative GroupsThe 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.

Political cults bring together the worst forms of manipulation, and can lead whole populations to hatred and even mass murder.

RELIGIOUS CULTS

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

Why Religion?

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.

Extreme Religion

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.

POLITICAL CULTS

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

Hypocritical Oath

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.

Check Credentials!

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.”