A new member is often induced to abandon his former behavior patterns and become “dedicated” by being paired with an older cult member who serves as a model for him to imitate. The newcomer is urged to be this other person. Mid-level leaders themselves are urged to model their superiors, the cult leader himself being the ultimate model at the top.

One reason why a group of cultists may strike even a naive outsider as spooky or weird is that everyone has similar odd mannerisms, clothing styles, and modes of speech. What the outsider is seeing is the personality of the leader passed down through several layers of modeling.

As far as we know, this is not actually a member of Delphi.

And then, there is Delphi Forums; in general there were no official pairings; and no speeches about imitating leaders. There were a few instances of faction leaders acting as role models for their faction members, but this came down to a case-by-case basis, depending on the faction. But in the beginning with the first forum group to bring in behavior modification techniques and other influence processes, members did imitate the forum leader’s behaviors in a spooky way.

The leader carefully created a brand and an image of dark, brooding, neutral, but intense seriousness. This leader usually arranged chat room appearances and would post sparingly on the message boards, appeared to read everything posted carefully, but comment was minimal. Those who gravitated toward this group, especially in the beginning, tended to adopt and promote the same air of gravity, conciseness and lack of humor; this was at odds with natural personalities.

Later on, after that forum and faction imploded, some members of the inner circle having turned on the original leader and forming their own faction (and imposing themselves as the new “community authority” over all other “Dark Forums”), member personalities thawed a bit from the previously austere and icy tone but still remained cool towards others; the humor returned but tended to sarcasm, cynicism, humiliation, mockery, and antisocial.

And then there was the “The Delphi Game”; the indoctrination process which also forged an uncanny sameness in general conformity in thinking, feeling, and behaviors within the forums. This would usually occur because of certain individuals who would play the role of a mentor on “how things are done in Delphi”, to those who were not complying with the “The Delphi Game” itself. These were the individuals that gave “Delphi History Lessons” with the expectation that recipients would act accordingly in terms of various faction rivalries in their own forums.

There is often a choice between at least two options in many different kinds of groups. Beware the group whose leader controls the options you have to choose from. If they control the options, it doesn’t matter what you choose.

Another area where this came up was in attitudes about role-play in “The Dark Forums”. Initially there was a great deal of overlap between individuals who participated in role play gaming, and those who participated in spirituality and religious forums. Then “The Dark Realm” happened, and the original leader did not approve of role play so individuals either gave up role-playing or were driven off from TDR. After TDR imploded, the new faction adopted a role play veneer.

This was done to spite the former leader, not because they really wanted to role-play. They also did it because they wanted to attract the role players that had previously been driven away from the sub-set of forums due to the hostility of TDR toward role-playing and role players. The result was that members of the Dark Forums claimed to be role players; they adopted fictitious personas but otherwise behaved as their ordinary everyday real selves.

This kind of role-playing is not entirely unknown; some historical reenactment groups adopt personas in a similar fashion and then slip in and out of character when in public, usually for demonstrations. But role play in the sense of games and online gaming consist of drawing up a completely fictitious character, and playing the character like a method actor would. The player and the character are not one and the same; they are supposed to be different personalities.

The result of this was a group of people pretending to be role-players who had no idea how to role play in the normal sense, and occasionally attracting individuals who considered role-playing and role-playing games as good practice for writing fiction and/or dramatic acting. It was completely incompatible; and so the “mentors” would show up and explain “this is not how we do things in Delphi”, and if the role players stayed, they had to conform to persona role play.

And then we will tell you why you did those things wrong, how awful you are, invite everyone else to heap criticisms upon you, demand repentance and then perhaps, grudgingly offer conditional forgiveness so long as you swear allegiance and change your “evil” ways.

This confusion in operational definitions of role play caused some spectacular instances of shock and confusion as character role players found themselves being taken out of context and way too seriously by other individuals who claimed to also be role players. Character role players would be interrogated in chat rooms about their fictitious storyline motives and not realize that the people questioning them thought the storylines were real, and that the character was real.

There were of course other behaviors being modeled by those on the server; usually faction leaders but also “mentors” promoting “Delphi History Lessons”, and “the way we do things on this server”. Mostly it was expected that faction members emulate the faction leader, be loyal to the faction leader and to the group, think and behave in a way that promotes the group identity, and to defend the group and leader from all criticism and rival hostilities.

Much of this behavior, previously described, did not constitute healthy adult interaction. To outsiders, members of this sub-set of Delphi likely did look “spooky” and “weird”; like a group of hive-minded clones. There was an established culture; a shared history of interactions on the server going back enough years for everyone involved to know each other’s habits. We all developed similar reactions to server and forum conditions from shared experiences.

Members of these forums talked alike; shared a group jargon, thought and behaved alike; could anticipate one another’s actions based on past actions and knowing the circumstances well enough to guess at motives and agendas. Modeling of behaviors did not have to be formal or done through pairings; members modeled the behavior of friends, rivals, and perceived enemies. Sometimes behaviors were based on what individuals believed their enemies were doing.

Strict obedience and modeling a leader is one of the most obvious markers of an authoritarian fascist state: the Soviet Union was one such state and at one point there was a great deal of fear and paranoia that Americans would somehow be indoctrinated into Communism in ways not at all dissimilar to the way some fear that American Muslims could be indoctrinated into Extremist Islam. The internet seems to make the spread of false narratives and extremist worldviews much more prevalent than any other form of propaganda in the past.

Today, there are countless groups online as well as off whose members adhere to a very strict obedience through modeling the leader. You can go on any social media platform, anywhere, look at any political talking point that is currently going on, and determine which paid political and/or religious spokesperson or spokespeople any given individual trusts and listens to, just by reading their opinion. There are Hannity and Jones clones everywhere. People are often quick to identify, emulate, and follow anyone at all.

Even in the world of business, it is very common to see employees adopting the mannerisms, speech, opinions, and even dress code of executive leadership, the CEO specifically. This is why organizations must take great care to monitor for groupthink, and it is critically important that executive leadership model the kinds of behaviors desired in employees of lesser status in a genuine and consistent manner. Hiring for culture fit is fine; so long as it doesn’t result in emulation of questionable ethics.

When it comes to strict obedience and modeling the leader, there are many terrorist organizations that could be pointed to as an example. Few however, are as fanatically terrifying as the apocalyptic doomsday cult Islamic State.

And last but not least, extremist, fundamentalist groups promote a strict obedience to the leader, doctrine, and world view, including modeling the leader, this includes groups that use terrorism as a method and means of promoting their views and their cause. This strict obedience and modeling of the leader is how followers show loyalty and display identification with the leader, the doctrine and the promoted narrative; it is almost like product branding; only the product is terrorism.


***This is part 25 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.