In all destructive cults the self must submit to the group. The “whole purpose” must be the focus; the “self-purpose” must be subordinated. In any group that qualifies as a destructive cult, thinking of oneself or for oneself is wrong. The group comes first. Absolute obedience to superiors is one of the most universal themes in cults. Individuality is bad. Conformity is good.

A cultist’s entire sense of reality becomes externally referenced: He learns to look to others for direction and meaning. I have observed that rank-and-file cult members universally have trouble making decisions, probably because of the overemphasis on external reference. In this state of extreme dependency, members need someone to tell them what to think, feel, and do.

Leaders of different cults have come up with strikingly similar tactics for fostering dependency. They transfer members frequently to new and strange locations, switch their work duties, promote them and then demote them on whims– all to keep them off balance. Another technique is to assign impossibly high goals, tell members that if they are “pure” they will succeed, and force them to confess impurity when they fail.

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People tend to obey authority because doing so absolves them of responsibility for their own actions or inaction.

Now, let’s look at these closely. On the Delphi server, we had houses, clans, and forum affiliations. Often, in order to remain amongst such a group, you had to submit to the authority of its leader. If you were not absolutely obedient to the leader, you were removed from the group, private folders, the forum itself.  It really was a case of “Individuality is bad. Conformity is good“, and it was definitely a case of “Group Will subordinating Individual Will“.

Often, we fell into the mindset that the group came first. When a person fell into this mindset that the group came first, and their own feelings took a back seat to everything else, they really were making external references. We basically had to anticipate what the opinion of the group leader was going to be, sometimes the rest of the group. That opinion influenced our own; if it did not, we would not be in that group for very long.

On the server, there was no requirement for changes of member’s physical locations (though there were certainly voluntary instances of this occurring), nor were there requirements extended to offline occupations. There were promotions/demotions conducted in terms of forum staff positions such as forum assistant, editor, and chat moderator; these positions were often determined by the relationships within the individual forum and faction.

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The Flat Earth conspiracy theory is cult narrative that is spread primarily over the internet (much like many other similar religious and political ideology narratives). I am hoping it will turn out to be a hoax started by bored Terry Pratchett Discworld fans.

Likewise, one could be kept off balance by external rifts between factions (allies, to rivals, to enemy combatants and back again) and internal rifts between faction members, and/or the leaders. Sometimes the internal rifts were organic, the result of personality or opinion differences that naturally occur, but many other times they were the result of external sabotage by outsiders preying on an internal member’s own paranoia.

Another way of keeping people off balance was status of an individual or group; that it could be “taken” by the self-appointed “guardians of the Delphi Dark Forums”. It was not just that this idea was promoted by this group; it was also promoted by those who believed them, and allowed them to have this kind of false authority over themselves and everyone else. But it was a façade; people made names for themselves; thus status couldn’t be granted or taken away; not really.

And then there was the never ending guessing games that kept people off balance in Delphi; the “alias” accounts members used when they wanted to hide their known profile identity from others. Aliasing was often used for spying and harassing members in the forums and in the chats. A rarely (if ever) discussed side effect of aliasing was that it focused member attention on trying to determine who was behind the alias account and what their intention was; usually distraction.

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In countries where the Religious Right successfully seized control of government and established a ruling religious dictator, Liberals have been the preferred “bogeymen” of choice (examples: Iran, Afghanistan).

Aliasing also came in handy in creating the “Big Bad Delphi Bogeymen”. Some individuals were singled out for their flat refusal to be directed by the self-appointed “guardians of the Dark forums” and banned “community wide”. This resulted in being welcome in only one or two forums, and some would fight back by using an alias profile and accessing the forums they were banned from. Others did not, but were accused; making them a bigger perceived “threat”.

Another way of keeping folks off balance is to set “impossible standards” for members on the server, then demand confessions (called “accountings”) when someone fails to live up to those “standards”. Combine this with a longstanding tendency for double standards where some members seemed to be able to break “community standards” with impunity while others would face community wide bans for the exact same behaviors resulting in constant imbalance.

It should be noted that none of these “community standards” were Delphi Forums Terms of Service related; therefore violations were not TOS violations. Individuals could have as many profiles as they wanted; what qualified as a TOS violation was sharing one profile between two or more individuals. If you got yourself banned from the entire server by Delphi Forums Staff on the other hand, they would also block any additional profiles one might have but that was rare.

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Are Conservatives being conditioned to kill Liberals? This has happened before in other countries ruled by theocratic (religious) dictators. This is one of several memes found on Conservative meme sites; I could not find any similarly threatening memes from the Left. Yet.
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Are Conservatives being conditioned to kill their fellow Americans? Is “Liberal” the latest label to be used to dehumanize a group of people so that other people can be more easily led into genocide?
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Are Conservatives being conditioned to the idea of killing their fellow Americans? Are people being softened up to the idea of killing other people over political or religious differences? How is this different than Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Islamic State, or Iran’s Ayatollah?

Today there are groups both online and off that place an emphasis on the welfare of the group over the welfare of the individual. Absolute obedience to leaders is demanded and followers will self-police to see to it that absolute obedience is adhered to by other members. You see this mostly in the extremist, fundamentalist religious groups which can be of any religious persuasion; especially when it mixes with political ideology.

So long as the group leader is the ultimate authority and the group or cause is more relevant or important than the interests or welfare of the individual, the group qualifies as a cult. Any group that claims a holy book, or a religious leader, or the religious laws are of greater significance than laws of the state qualifies as a cult. Especially if they prepare members to deceive, steal, fight, kill, and die for the sake of promoting the religious doctrine, leader, or religion itself.

What often gets missed when it comes to discussions of group will over individual will, is that this is the mechanism that keeps individuals within groups going along with the group when the group turns to violence to achieve its goals. This is the mechanism that keeps individuals within the group in conformity with the group and obedient to the group. This is the mechanism that turns individuals into watchdogs on other individuals within the group; enforcing the group’s will over individual will.

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Ultimately, the responsibility does not rest solely on authority figures. “Just following orders” does not explain the attraction to the narrative, rhetoric, and world view that brought one into the sphere of influence of a cult or a fascist regime in the first place. You have to choose to accept and go along with it first.
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And the road to Auschwitz begins when a politician justifies tearing immigrant families apart and putting their children in cages to await uncertain futures, by quoting Romans 13.

 

***This is part 24 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 it. 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.

Further reading on the use of Romans 13:

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/06/16/jeff-sessions-bible-romans-13-trump-immigration-policy/707749002/

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-44499048