National Commentary

On Deprogramming ISIS Recruits

nfbenton-mugThe claim by some in the U.S. intelligence community that the key to stopping the recruitment of young radicals to ISIS is to show that ISIS “is losing, militarily, on the ground,” is foolish and counterproductive. It only enhances a martyr complex for a prospective recruit.

The Atlantic magazine’s Graeme Wood, in his cover story, “What ISIS Really Wants,” comes close to the root of the problem in a way that can help isolate and begin shutting the cult down. It can’t be done militarily, as much as the U.S. “military industrial complex” is pressuring the Obama administration to dive into another Middle Eastern “endless war” quagmire.

Wood identifies the moving impetus behind ISIS to be a form of passionate religious fundamentalism, based on an apocalyptic vision of a final Armageddon-like impending end of the world.

In this way, ISIS’s core identity is identical to the cookie-cutter formula for the creation and maintenance of self-destructive apocalyptic cults, generally. Such cults are never formed with an objective of self-or-wider social betterment. Since a new formula for creating them evolved as sinister western intelligence operations in the wake of World War II, these cults have always been formed to be utilized for some wider purpose that even the cult leaders often have no clue about.

A right-wing faction of the U.S. covert intelligence capabilities in the CIA and FBI designed the cult model to achieve their objective of causing otherwise ordinary people, especially the idealistic young, to act according to an agenda against their own will. In the U.S., such cults have been deployed for a variety of reasons, mainly to undermine serious organized civil rights and labor movements.

The covert agencies found in the late 1940s that methods of individual brainwashing were unreliable. They learned that brainwashing works best when victims are put into, and maintained in, very intense closed environments.

These environments became the model for cults. Their key elements are veritable 24-7 control over the lives of cult victims, including through sensory deprivation and ego-stripping, cutting off of the victims from the outside world – including most importantly, their own family and friends – the victim’s loss of a sense of self, the abandonment of any independent means for survival outside the cult, and a relentless insistence that “ultimate things,” such as the impending end of the world, constitute what is real, contrary to anything else.

The cult victim loses a sense of “I,” replacing the term with “we” or “us.” Everything except the outcome of impending “final days” is not only irrelevant, but is a dangerous distraction.

Countless cults were encouraged to grow and expand in the U.S. under the cover of the so-called “counterculture” of the 1960s and 1970s. Many were religious in nature, but others were political. Any particular ideology or belief system was not so important, except that they were all outlandishly false. The role of a cult’s charismatic leader served to reinforce authoritarian control and childish dependence.

In the U.S., cults were capable of recruiting from all walks of society, and from all manner of personal psychological strengths.

A significant common denominator in the profile of likely cult recruits is found in an individual’s perceived sense of an unjust society with no visible capacity for redress. Such individuals can be victims of abuse, themselves, or highly empathetic to the plight of others.

So, keys to dismantling a cult, any cult, lies in aggressive measures to show the fraud of a belief system, on the one hand, and offering evidence that there is a way, a “better way,” to address the ills of society.

Both components are demanding, and anyone who knew a loved one trapped in a cult in the U.S. in the last 40 years, and tried to wrest them free, knows how hard it can be. But the key is to counter a cult’s sinister tissue of lies and psychological grip with a shared dedication to meaningful alternatives that can be shown to produce tangible results. The goal is to replace a posture of anger with one of compassion in the mind of the cult victim.