Members of the Open Minds Foundation are attending the 11th annual conference of the Society for Terrorism Research at New York University on August 14-15th. Yuval Laor, PhD, will present a paper, and Leanne Smith and Chelsea Brass will be available to talk about the implications of their research into recruitment.

Terrorist recruitment has much in common with other forms of authoritarian seduction. Recruiters are predators, who depend upon the psychology of compliance, the use of thought reform techniques and the induction of awe and fervor to weaponize recruits to commit terrorist acts.

At the Open Minds Foundation, we show how to recognize human predators and their methods. In the context of terrorism, this can be called “preradicalization” – we can proof people against recruitment into authoritarian groups through an understanding of well-established principles garnered from the social sciences. We translate these principles into accessible materials for the public at large. They apply directly to those preyed upon by terrorist recruiters.

Open Minds has drawn together experts from many disciplines. Our Advisory Board includes leading psychologists Philip Zimbardo, Robert Cialdini and Anthony Pratkanis. We also include cult experts and counselors, as well as experts on terrorism, human trafficking and coercive control in families. We are drawing together every discipline that can offer a broader solution to each of these problems.

Our focus is to expose the use of deliberate manipulation or undue influence upon vulnerable people (and at the wrong moment almost anyone can be vulnerable). We tackle the problem by giving readily comprehensible information about thought reform and the induction of fervor.

Leanne Smith - Advisory Board Member - Legislative Coordinator at Amnesty International - Washington, USA

Leanne Smith

Chelsea Brass - Advisory Board Member - Texas, USA

Chelsea Brass

Terrorist groups have much in common with other authoritarian or totalist cults. Chelsea Brass and Leanne Smith, who will attend the Society for Terrorism Research conference on behalf of Open Minds, have corroborated the research of Professor Carmen Almendros of the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.

Many terrorist groups have been political or secular in nature – for instance, the PKK, ETA, the Red Brigades, the Tamil Tigers and Sendero Luminoso. The Group Psychological Abuse Taxonomy produced by Professor Almendros and her team confirms that terrorism is not a religious, Islamic or Christian problem. This research shows that a significant reason for the success of terrorist recruitment – or “radicalization” – is the psychological abuse applied by terrorist leaders, who manipulate and unduly influence followers to commit destructive acts.

Professor Almendros and her team have investigated six forms of psychological abuse:

  1. Isolation
  2. Control and manipulation of information and language
  3. Control over a member’s personal life
  4. Emotional abuse
  5. Indoctrination in an absolute belief system, reducing everything to black and white thinking
  6. Imposition of a single and extraordinary authority

Chelsea Brass and Leanne Smith will be available to discuss their work in this field. Chelsea is a student at the University of Texas at Austin, where she is studying for a PhD in interpersonal communications with a planned emphasis on public health and safety campaigns, as well as possibly designing clinical interventions for trauma center patients deemed at-risk of highly-controlled domestic violence. Leanne Smith has been a legislative co-ordinator for Amnesty International since 2005.

Yuval Laor, Ph.D. - Review Board Research Coordinator - Author & Filmmaker - Colorado, USA

Yuval Laor

In his talk, Yuval Laor will describe the model of awe and fervor he has developed, and which applies to all authoritarian organizations, including terrorist groups. By understanding the methods that are used to induce compliance through awe, individuals are much better equipped to recognize and resist those methods.

At the Open Minds Foundation we are developing free, online interactive courses for our website. We will also make the site available in as many languages as possible: the Dutch site is about to go live. Open Minds is creating nodes around the world to make information broadly and freely available.

We have 501(c)3 non-profit status in the US and charitable registration in Holland. We are also active in the UK and about to launch a Belgian outpost. We are planning seminars in North America, Australasia and Europe in the coming year.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about terrorist recruitment that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!