When one thinks of cults and indoctrination processes, one of the first things that come to mind are terms like “brainwashing”, “thought control” and “mind control”. Thought control is an element of mind control which will be covered more in-depth later on. The term “brainwashing” comes from the Chinese term his nao, literally, “wash brain”. It was coined by Edward Hunter, a journalist in 1951, while describing captured Military during the Korean War.
American servicemen, captured during the Korean War, were forced to give false testimony alleging commission of fictitious war crimes and speaking against the United States. Brain washing is a more coercive form of mind control. In brainwashing, a person is captured; they know they are captured, they know they are in the hands of an enemy; there is no question about the nature of the situation or the role of predator and prey.
A prisoner undergoing brainwashing is abused, tortured, until they comply or they die. The brainwashing “produces compliance to demands”. When one is tortured until one agrees to sign a forced confession, and denounce a government, the instinct is to rationalize it as a choice made due to “new information” rather than the alternative option being death. They are brainwashed (see Stockholm syndrome).
Mind control is committed by someone who is trusted; a family member, peer, or friend, someone the person has no reason to feel defensive with. The person cooperates with the mind control; participates willingly in their indoctrination process. The person gives their manipulators personal information about themselves and don’t realize it is being used against them. There is virtually no physical abuse. Instead, “hypnotic processes are combined with group dynamics to create a potent indoctrination effect”.
The victim of mind control is led along by deception and manipulation into making “prescribed choices”. A victim is talked into a choice; as if arriving to a sensible conclusion, through a process that involves giving approval, validation, friendship, or withholding it. The person internalizes the new ideas they are being indoctrinated into by incorporating them into a new identity. The victim responds without any resistance.
In “the Dark Forums”, the sub-set of communities within Delphi Forums, the social dynamic centered on identity; members set up profiles, joined forums based on their interests, and sometimes started forums of their own to cater to those interests. The Dark Forums consisted of groups with overlapping interests in spirituality and religion, Gothic subculture, and role playing. Individuals drew their Delphi personas from those roots.
Two forums played influential roles in forming the indoctrination process; “The Delphi Game” originated in a spirituality forum, and after it imploded, two of its surviving members started the second forum. The second forum incorporated role playing elements out of vindictiveness toward the previous forum’s owner who disliked role players. They kept the methods of manipulation and to some degree the spirituality.
The second forum faction established themselves as de facto “protectors of the community”, they created a set of rules for the forums outside of Delphi’s terms of service, and then started policing any and all forums belonging to members that had become part of the sub-set of forums. Resistance to this group led to conflict while some factions validated it by using the second forum faction as arbitrators in disputes.
If they didn’t like you, they would make sure everyone else knew it through message board posts. If they didn’t like your friends, you were guilty of whatever your friends were accused of, until you quit those friends. If you quit those friends, you were a “traitor” for “betraying” those friends. If your friends “betrayed” you, because they were tired of being caught in the middle, they were the “traitors”. If you refused to go to their forum, you were a “coward”. If you blocked them from yours, they found a way in.
If you kept them out of your private folders, or your forums, you clearly had something to hide. They would send in others to find out what it was and it would usually end up showing up on their forum message boards in the form of accusations. It all boiled down to “comply with us or else”. Pressure was put on other members, they would be told who they could associate with and what forums they could go to. Or be punished.
Punishment would be losing status with friends or forum status within the “community”, being subject to chat room interrogations, message board accusations, name calling, or threatened with hacking, Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”, or “dark magic” (hearkening back to the days of the spirituality forum and its influence). People were given choices; but most of the choices weren’t pleasant. Obey or else; obey or you are out of the group.
The devil is always in the details isn’t it? The parts of this story that are ultimately irrelevant, is that these forums had their roots in spirituality and religion, Gothic subculture, and role playing. I’d bet money that some of you reading this snapped your fingers at the earlier mention, and thought “Oh I see the problem right there, these people were fantasy-prone and prone to religiosity; no wonder they ended up in a cult“.
Religiosity may be a common denominator; but I doubt you will find any elements of Gothic subculture or role play in real world examples of failed states or states under the control of fascist dictatorships, theocratic or otherwise. The common denominator is the social dynamics of indoctrination, the deceptive manipulation at the hands of those we know, trust, and love. Before revolution always comes rhetoric against the state.
In Delphi, people like me were harassed on the one hand by one faction, while on the other, those we were close to would come to us with politeness and concern, to counsel on the importance of respect for “The Delphi Way”. My “rebelliousness” was “hurting them”. I was informed that the responsibility for their hurt, was on me. They were paying the price for my refusal to conform to “the rules”.
In other places on the internet, like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, you have factions like the American Right Wing, Neo-Conservatism, White Nationalism, etc., “exercising their First Amendment Rights” to harass and threaten anyone who disagrees with them; and anyone that is “Other” and doesn’t fit in. Memes and videos, and hashtags extolling America’s heritage of hate and second-class citizenship as if it were “good ole days” are shared.
Its our own family, friends, the people we like, respect, and trust, begging and bullying us to conform to the “rules” of bigotry; racism, sexism; classicism. It’s the people we know, trust, love, and want the approval of, that are doing the converting to Right Wing, Neo-Conservatism, White Nationalism, etc., and if we don’t comply, well, we are hurting them; our family, our friends, with our rebelliousness and stubbornness.
Al-Qaeda and Islamic State are doing the same thing, in the same places, employing the same techniques. It is important for religious people to be seen as good people, strong believers, whether its Christianity or Islam, or Buddhism or Hinduism. So they go find people who seem to be the kind of people they want to be; to learn from them, to emulate them, to gain their friendship, their validation, approval, and protection.
Are you familiar with the word “Milieu“? It means social environment. Every group has one; Delphi had one, Facebook, Twitter etc. do too; and each faction had its own milieu. Each faction had its own narrative, it’s very own version of “The Delphi History Lessons”. Truth is ultimately very subjective. Every religion and political ideology has a Left Wing Liberal, a Moderate, and Right Wing Conservative side; its a dimensional spectrum.
These milieu are passed from one generation to the next through the family; through religious affiliation, through the political, social, and class group affiliations. Likewise, families also pass on Left, Moderate, or Right leaning spectrum views; though individuals also choose their own. Someone might start out a Moderate in a family of Moderates, but then run into others within their accepted milieu; and become radicalized.
The radicalization process is a cult indoctrination process. “Brainwashing” does not need to be used at all. Mind control is so prevalent around us its a norm; we don’t notice it because we are saturated in it. Our relatives take part in it because it is tradition to pass on to the children the importance of adhering to family unity, values, beliefs, and identity. And tradition to harass and bully the family rebels for their lack of conformity.
It is being done on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and everywhere else on the internet one meme at a time. It is being done to us, and by us, one piece of fake propaganda disguised as news, and one piece of truth decay at a time. What is to be gained? Influence, trust, loyalty, power, and money; lots and lots of money. What is the coin you are being paid with? Approval, validation, protection, and control by intimidation and fear dressed up to look like friendship. So long as you stay loyal and obedient.
***This is part 6 of a series of posts on cults and cult indoctrination online. It will focus on the book that played such an integral role in ending the indoctrination process on the Delphi Forums server; Combatting Cult Mind Control by Steven Hassan. This series will be heavily revised and updated; the purpose is to show that Delphi is not unique.
The same process occurs elsewhere on the internet; Al-Qaeda and Islamic State did not invent it; they did not even innovate. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, none of these sites were first to find themselves the vehicles of fake news, propaganda, or truth decay. There are much bigger cults out in the world; awareness is key to stopping the cycles.