It is encouraging that the Obama administration this week concurred with the lines in this series to identify ISIS and related outfits in the region as a “cult,” rather than a religion or a political movement. This will prove to be enormously helpful in devising strategies to defeat it.
As I have been saying in this series, the rise of cults in the U.S. in the 1950s was an outgrowth of a sinister faction of the CIA that launched a secret war on the U.S. population known as MK-Ultra.
While fascinated with “brainwashing,” it became evident to that faction that brainwashing a single, isolated person (as in “The Manchurian Candidate”) would not reliably “take,” and that a much tighter, sustainable environmental control was required to make it work. This gave rise to the phenomenon of “cults” in the 1950s.
The key component of a cult is its ability to isolate a victim from the outside world by, among other things, claiming a 24-7 control over her life and cutting her off from family, friends and possessions from her “old” world.
In that context, cult members could be indoctrinated into a belief system, usually espoused by a charismatic leader, without having that challenged by the outside world.
The aim is the abandonment of an individual identity apart from the cult. Former cult members recall their inability to use the word, “I,” always substituting “we.”
This heavy containment environment serves to introduce the objectives of the controllers of the cult that are adopted by the cult members without regard for whether or not they conform with members’ self-interests. This is the essence of “brainwashing” that is rarely sustainable outside of the cult context.
For the new cult recruit, often attracted by an idealistic face presented to the world, invitation to enter the “chosen” inner circles of a cult involve the techniques of playing on guilt and fear and sensory deprivation (lack of sleep and nutrition) binding the victim to the cult. All the elements of peer pressure, backed with subtle or not so subtle uses of intimidation are included, and fear of rejection can bind the victim in a powerful psychological way more than any logic or legitimate debates or discussion of the cult’s core belief system.
Ego stripping, often with the help of drugs and sensory deprivation, and the imposition of guilt for real or imagined transgressions, drive the victims to seek, above all, the approval of the group.
On the flip side, victims trapped in cults are assured that they are the “chosen ones,” guaranteed ultimate rewards, in heaven or on earth.
The dark side of the CIA invented and promoted such cults – elements of the CIA were involved directly or indirectly to cultivate many of them in the 1950s – not only to disable their victims, in terms of any problems with social ferment, but also to use cults to execute a range of functions, from busting up a labor rally to theoretically almost anything including violence, suicide and murder.
The “New Age” so-called “human potential movement” became the social support network for scores of cults and set the groundwork for the social paradigm shift in the U.S. by the early 1970s to defang the anti-war and civil rights movements, and more.
An exemplary cult was the People’s Temple of Jim Jones in San Francisco in the 1970s. When the Rockefeller Commission and the Church Committee hearings on CIA covert domestic operations threatened to blow the roof off all this, the People’s Temple was migrated to Guyana.
After the Church hearings, Congressman Leo Ryan flew to Guyana to bust up the Jonestown operation. Ryan, a former FBI agent, was particularly motivated by his own nephew’s plight in a cult, and when he threw light onto Jonestown, he was murdered on the spot and over 900 cult victims were slain.
Less than two weeks later, Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, the two political leaders in San Francisco, where most of the Jonestown victims came from, most likely to undertake an independent investigation of the covert CIA involvement in Jonestown were also murdered.
(To be continued)