Thought Reform

Vernon Wayne Howell, alias David Koresh, is given an ultimatum. He must leave the compound that has been under siege for several weeks or suffer the consequences. He chose death by fire, for himself and seventy-nine followers. Koresh’s beloved “Ranch Apocalypse” burned to the ground. We now know that this even gave birth to the Oklahoma City bombing which happened two years later on the same date. We all remember “The Solar Temple,” because of the horrible outcome, just as we recognize “The People’s Temple,” and the “Aum Shiniri Kyo,” by their own infamous outcomes.

After each one of these terrible events unfold, we look for answers. How could this happen? How could people believe in such nonsense? They must all be a bunch of nuts! I could never be so deceived! This rationalizing is the very thing that can make you the most susceptible to a destructive cult. Not all destructive cults end in massive death, nor do they all gas or bomb people. But you can be assured that anyone involved in one of these groups for any length of time, will suffer emotional, mental, spiritual or even physical abuse – maybe all of these!!

It is important to understand these groups can have legitimate beginnings and then evolve into a destructive cult. The deeper, more unorthodox, teachings of a group may be concealed, until a prospective member makes a commitment. The new member is spoon-fed doctrine slowly, until it is decided the individual is ready to accept the deeper teachings. The perception given to the public regarding a group’s doctrines, goals, and practices are usually highly misleading and deceptive. Considering this, we need to realize that in some respects, all cults are secretive, seductive, and subtle in character.

It is estimated that there are approximately three thousand destructive cults existing in the United States alone, involving around three million people! They make contact through friends, relatives, or strangers that are members. They make indirect contact through publications, front organizations, invitations to a series of lectures, symposium, or movie. They recruit people from all walks of life, capitalizing on vulnerabilities and needs. Lives in upheaval are vulnerable and consequently, the person becomes an easier target for conversion to the group.

The leader(s) are people who thrive on power over others. They rely on two powerful tools to obtain and keep control of followers: “deception” and “manipulation.” Their goal is to change a human being at the very core, replacing the old identity with a newly conformed, dependent and predictable identity. This is done using psychological influences; a process coined, “Mind Control,” or “Thought Reform.” Like a great many other things, psychological influences can be good or bad. We have all experienced psychological influences most every day of our life. They are short cuts that constantly help us to make decisions. This can be good, as we don’t have time to think every detail through for all our decisions. the bad side is that people have come to realize the power they can gain by using these influences to trap us.

There are two groups within cults. Those that administer thought reform techniques, knowing full well they are deceiving others, and those that administer thought reform techniques in ignorance. The latter imitates their own deceivers. The following examples are some thought reform techniques that are used to recruit and keep followers.

•           Influence of “Reciprocation.” This influence is used to get the subject to share information about himself. It can be approached through another influence—the influence of “Identification.” This simply means that a person or people within the group will try to find stories with which you can identify, from your own life and relate them to you. In turn you will reciprocate personal information back to them. The more they can get you to reveal about yourself, the better!

•           Influence of “Like/Admire.” Another influence that plays into this scenario is the influence of “Like/Admire” If you begin to like/admire this person or people, your guard will automatically go down. You will talk freely and often not be critical of what they are saying. You might even feel a sense of belonging.

Now the Real Seduction Takes Place

From the information gained, an approach will be chosen. If the subject is a “thinker,” he will be approached intellectually. For “feelers”, a loving and caring approach is used. The “doer” is presented with a cause to believe in, and work toward. The “believer” is actively searching and is easily hooked. Almost always, everyone in the group showers the subject with attention. This has been called “Love Bombing.”

•           Another influence is the “Claim of Authority” made by the leader or leaders. This claim is usually accepted through the use of another influence.

•           The influence of “Social Proof.” This is one’s own assumption that, because everybody around us believes something to be true, then it must be true. Once the subject believes in the authority of the leader/s, they start assuming that what is said is true. A person may be influenced by:

•           “Emotion”, through social proof as well. For example, if everyone around you is expressing their faith in emotional ways, this may cause you to judge the group on entirely emotional grounds.

•           Usually the influence of “Scarcity” is used. There is a claim of exclusive information by the leader/s. This causes two things: It causes our nature to desire the possession of the rare or scarce and awakens a self-righteous attitude. We have the truth; others don’t. We are saved; others are not—they are ignorant of truth.

•           Once the subject commits to the group they are trapped by the influences of “Commitment” and “Consistency.” There is a strong need to be consistent with their commitment. There is a stronger influence if the commitment is written. This is when the new identity really forms at an accelerated pace because much of the new member’s defenses are now at rest. This has been labeled, “The Honeymoon Stage.” The new member will be encouraged to conform to the group identity, to rely on the group for decisions. Dependence upon the leader/s is encouraged. They are the parent, and the followers are the children. Doctrines hidden before are carefully revealed when the children are considered ready to accept it.

The individual is systematically being changed and manipulated. Unfortunately, few can objectively see what is happening. As more is accepted as exclusive truth, the individual feels more separate from those outside the group. Many fears are usually induced by those in control. The fear of leaving the group can become a full-blown phobia. Guilt is used, as the member is made to feel guilty about any thoughts and questions about the group or doctrines that may arise. The new member’s time is taken up with meetings, study, work, etc. Information from outside is either forbidden or reinterpreted to mean other things.

“Thought Reform” should not be confused with “Brainwashing.” “Brainwashing” is done against one’s will by a known enemy, and different methods are used. The victims of “brainwashing” do not internalize these commitments as well, because they have been forced to accept them. If they escape, they can understand the experience and generally recover quickly.

Unlike “Brainwashing,” the victim of “Thought Reform” has usually internalized the new identity quite well!!! Their perception of commitment and involvement is one that recognizes no coercion or deception of any kind. Re-indoctrination is carried out regularly, using the previously mentioned techniques of “Thought Reform” in other ways, and other influences that were not mentioned.

If the member should separate from the group, they suffer confusion and self-doubt. Recovery help and information is very necessary! After-effects are: purposelessness, disconnection, depression, grieving, guilt, anger, alienation, isolation, anxiety, anxiety attacks, distrust, fear of life and limb, low self-esteem, thoughts of suicide, floating (feeling that one is back in the group, or thinking the same way they thought when in the group). And in groups that chant, a return to chanting to escape pain or perceived danger. What a destructive power!

Just as early information could have prevented the bombing at Oklahoma City, so too can information prevent involvement in a destructive cult or catch it in its earliest stages. If you suspect the group in which you, or a loved one, are involved, arm yourself with both general and specific information.

Ironically, there was a sign above the throne of Jim Jones in Guyana that read, “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Let’s remember, and stop the deception!

Contributed by Sue Scaglione
Stop The Deception
Canmore, Alberta Canada