“An interesting dynamic of cults is that they tend to change a person’s relationship to his past, present, and future. As mentioned before, the member’s past is rewritten. He tends to look back at his previous life with a distorted memory that colors everything dark. Even very positive memories are skewed toward the bad.
“A cult member’s sense of the present is manipulated, too. He feels a great sense of urgency about the tasks at hand. I remember well the constant feeling that a time bomb was ticking beneath my feet and that the world might become a heaven or a hell depending on how well I carried out my current project.”
“Many groups teach that the apocalypse is just around the corner. Some say they are preventing the apocalypse; others merely believe they will survive it. When you are kept extremely busy on critical projects all the time- for days, weeks, and months– everything becomes blurred.”
“To a cult member, the future is a time when you will be rewarded because the great change has finally come– or it is the time when you will be punished. In most groups the leader claims to control, or at least to have unique knowledge of, the future. He knows how to paint visions of future heaven and hell to move members this way or that. Many groups have timetables for the apocalypse, which tends to be two to five years away– far enough not to be discredited any time soon, near enough to carry emotional punch. These predictions have a way of fading into the background as the big date approaches. In other groups the timetable is believed right until it actually fails to come true.”
Members of Delphi’s Dark Forums all had an “online past”; depending on who was giving the description, either someone describing their own past, or someone describing someone else’s past, that past might be relatively free of negative bias or relatively full of negative bias. People tend to remember best the things that are the most threatening, the most frightening, or the most humiliating while they tend to forget the positive remarkably quickly. Hindsight memory can also be prone to embellishment, exaggeration and inaccuracy, especially inaccuracy.
A common characteristic of groups that develop their own culture or sub-culture is that members often develop cultural stories. In one such group I was acquainted with, such stories were referred to as “no shit, there I was” stories. They were usually funny and related events that were important or semi-legendary about important people or important situations and Delphi had its own version of such stories that predated the cult building strategies; positive memories that over the years and the animosities, were retold in ways that skewed negative.
Once upon a time members of Delphi used to play harmless pranks on other chat room groups in Delphi under the name March Hare. There was a shared alias account called Projekt Mayhem for a while, that other members trying to guess who was in the account long before it became a means of spying or harassment (the fun was that everyone secretly had access to the account but didn’t know who else was involved). Then a forum called The Most Dangerous Game appeared; sinister, spooky, and ultimately clever, it “captured” thousands of Delphi’s curious members.
As time passed and animosities grew, March Hare and Projekt Mayhem were recast as grist for the guilt trip, bits of obscure detail spun to look as bad as possible, for the benefit of people who had been there so didn’t know the truth when those that did were at each other’s throats. The Most Dangerous Game was forgotten altogether, there wasn’t a way to spin its memory into something bad or ugly and those who remembered it didn’t want to remember ever having been friends.
Sense of time manipulation occurred in Delphi in large part because of the rate and speed of posts being posted to the message boards. There was always pressure on those addressed to read and respond whether they initiated the thread or not. There was pressure exerted on those who had some role or knowledge pertinent to whatever was being discussed to enter the conversation and address others as well as respond to posts addressed to them. Imagine a real time shouting match between 20-50 people all following each other around to various rooms, but online.
Then throw in email, instant messengers, forum chats, and multiple forums and multiple threads. On average, it could be three to five threads per forum, two or three forums involved, and then consider that discussions could go on around the clock for several days to a couple of weeks. There was a sense of urgency in keeping up with what was going on, and what everyone else thought of what was going on, and what they thought of who was involved in what was going on. While rare it was possible to have more than one major dispute going on at a time.
There was also some imbalance between members who held full-time jobs and family obligations and those who were unemployed or retired. Members lived all over the United States and Europe, creating some imbalance in time zones and sleeping patterns. Basically, engulfing individuals in hundreds of posts in a single day was relatively easy to do, and that individual would spend much of their free time trying to keep up before getting overwhelmed and giving up. Delphi disputes did not stop so people could go to work or get sleep.
Apocalypse; there were some groups for whom this was a favorite topic of speculation in the context to which Hassan describes. There was also an alias profile called Apocalypse that kept the server occupied for weeks back in 2007 playing the usual guessing game. Did it pose a “threat”? Who was behind it? Was it (insert whichever rival someone wanted it to be)? Some forums locked it out upon its first visit, others questioned it directly, and everyone watched it.
Whoever it was did an excellent job of imitating the thoughts, opinions, attitudes and writing styles, the tone-of-text of known members. Everyone was intrigued and at the same time alarmed because this was something not previously seen before. It went beyond mere mockery; this was more akin to someone role playing other people’s personalities, which meant someone spent a lot of time profiling the members of every person that was imitated. This person did such an uncanny imitation of a role play character I created and played I was stunned and impressed.
It was all basically another round of “The Delphi Game” indoctrination process; everyone thrown off balance, blurring of divisions as members of the different factions crossed their lines to consult with their rivals and compare notes. Members running to the dubious “safety” of the self-appointed “Guardians of Delphi”, and even the Delphi “Bogeymen” groups were drawn in, and consulted with, everyone trying to determine who this unknown person really was. In the end the profile was locked out everywhere and eventually it was forgotten.
But not before everyone was giving everyone else a bunch of shit for how they decided to deal with the whole encounter. Some caught hell for locking out without so much as a second thought; others caught hell for trying to be fair. Whoever was behind the Apocalypse profile got put through a gauntlet of interrogations and probably had themselves quite a laugh over it all before everyone trying to “play fair” had enough of the guessing game of mass distraction too.
In 2011, in the post corresponding to this one I wrote: “And as usual with Delphi, this too shall blur to a point where if referenced in future, none of us will be able to remember what month or year this even occurred, without consulting an old post first.” When you go from one crisis to the next, one right after the other, in either a physical sense or a non-physical but no less, a cognitive and emotional sense, you lose a sense of timeline. This is a common memory problem made more noticeable and obvious because the space to process and recharge is never given.
And back to the whole context of apocalypse, Armageddon, “end times”; some members were religious and some were spiritualists. Most of us were either Baby Boomer or Generation X members who grew up during the Cold War era and the beginning of the Global Warming/Climate Change speculation and debates. Delphi was designed to be a communications channel for individuals and groups on whatever they wanted to talk about. Evidence of climate change was being reported as early as 2000 and news of it made it to Delphi.
By 2007 the argument over Climate Change was far from over but more and more scientifically supported research studies were coming back with some pretty terrifying predictions. We also noticed an uptick in apocalyptic discussion and prophecy from the religious forums in Delphi, and this seemed to correspond with an uptick in general religiosity, and especially evangelical religiosity everywhere else. More and more people seemed to be taking the whole idea of an “end times” seriously, in and out of the Dark Forums.
Some just figured eventually Delphi would shut down and cease to exist altogether. In 2007 I speculated that give it another 20 years and none of us would likely be giving Delphi a second thought because we’d all be too busy trying to survive the depletion of resources related to Climate Change and the ensuing social breakdown (paraphrasing; I wasn’t yet acquainted with the term social breakdown then). In talking with members and former members of Delphi now, the details of those earlier times have gotten hazy. We remember each other, and fighting.
But the details of those fights don’t seem so easy to recall anymore. Perhaps we wonder what the attraction of it all was back then. Some people left and some people stayed; not many stayed. Those that did stay stopped being manipulated by “The Delphi Game”, and they stopped the practices inherent in it. The forums that still exist are mostly inactive, some are abandoned completely; some are “mothballed”. Most of the members went on to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook; and some of us still keep in touch there. Others don’t keep in touch.
Meanwhile, Climate Change is less and less a debate every day; the current U.S. Government (POTUS and Congress) may have collectively shoved their heads up each other’s asses, the rest of the world is taking the mounting scientific and anecdotal evidence of its own eyes seriously. So is the U.S. Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security; Climate Change is being recognized as a threat to national security.
Islamic State continues to radicalize, indoctrinate and recruit young people to it’s cause, and its been left to Facebook, Twitter ,and YouTube to disrupt this endeavor. Islamic State is not the only group to use social media and websites in this way. Right Wing extremist groups, in particular, White Nationalist, Neo Confederate, Right Wing Conservative sites are also radicalizing, indoctrinating and recruiting.
As the polarization along Christian fundamentalist and White Supremacy lines continues to increase, so too is the reactionary momentum from the Left. As the polarization and indoctrination continues, it is rather common to see blame for different policies and regulations, from a primarily GOP Congress, be blamed on the Obama Administration. Even for policies and regulations that date back to the Bush Administration.
Changes in time orientation seems to be a major factor in the need to fact check any politically motivated information shared with or by the general public. And this problem is only continuing to worsen as time goes by.
***This is part 29 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.