Thursday, May 17, 2018

Cult members and the attack-dog syndrome

Here is yet another warning about what can happen when dealing with cult members:

They may automatically attack, with varying levels of viciousness, people who say or do something unacceptable to them, their ideology or their organisation. They may behave like attack dogs, sometimes just growling or snapping at people and sometimes going straight for the jugular.

I have already written about the phenomenon known as the attack-dog syndrome in this article, but want to add something to my original ideas and go into the topic more deeply and in greater detail.

Games, tricks and techniques
When cult members don’t want to talk about something or listen to what people are trying to tell them, they will use one or more of the standard techniques in their repertoire.

It is all automatic, and the goal is to silence people.

For example, cult members often avoid people who ask awkward questions and even cut off contact completely; they immediately change the subject when someone raises an unwelcome issue, ignoring what was said and talking very quickly about something else; they use robotic slogans and repeat official propaganda instead of having a real discussion; they use denial and dismissal to close the subject.

I have experienced all this for myself: “I am very busy”; “We must make sacrifices for the cause”; “They are lying”; “He is a traitor”; “You shouldn’t take any notice of these rumours” and much more of the same.

The use of these techniques demonstrates what sort of person the recipient is dealing with. An uncontrolled, on-the-level decent human being does not behave like this; people who habitually play these games may be prisoners and hostages. And what does the need to play them say about the cause and people that are being promoted and defended?

The attack-dog syndrome
Behaving like an attack dog is another of the games that cult members play. While the other tricks may generate anger, confusion and frustration in the people on the receiving end - such standard techniques as deflection, diversion and avoidance make them feel that they are up against a wall - being attacked is much worse. It can be very painful indeed.

In its mildest form, the attack may consist of standard accusations, vehemently and angrily expressed: “You are jealous”; “You are crazy” and my old friend, “You don’t know what you are talking about”.

Another old friend: “How can you say these things about such a fine person?”

The attack type may be primarily defensive or it may be primarily offensive. It may be based mainly on fear and guilt in the first case and anger in the second; the perpetrator may see the recipient mainly as a threat in the first case and a criminal in the second.

The goal may be to drive someone away or to silence, punish, discredit, damage or even destroy them.

Criticising the leader of a cult is guaranteed to trigger an attack; asking awkward questions, expressing doubts about the legitimacy of the cause and repeating allegations may also bring on a major onslaught.

All hell breaks loose and they really let you have it.

I have been shouted down many times. As I mentioned in another article, I have also been on the receiving end of a lot of screamed abuse: even over the phone I could feel the venom directed at me. 

My crime in this case was to mention some very serious allegations I had just read about. The extreme reaction made me believe that the allegations were true!

I also refused to go on a demonstration, so was attacked for not obeying orders. The perpetrator shouted that I was an enemy, a supporter of the oppressive regime that the cult was fighting. My attempts to explain my reasons for not going were ignored, dismissed and shouted over. Even then I realised that they were losing supporters, so the attack was a sign of increasing desperation.

Another kind of attack
I remember a time when I couldn’t sleep because I was feeling terrible. It was as if I had been hit hard, knocked down, driven over and squashed flat by a steamroller. I also had flu symptoms: I felt shaky and tearful. I told myself that I had been there before: the symptoms were familiar and were the result of some kind of attack, perhaps psychic. I must try to remember what I could have said to trigger it.

I replayed a very recent conversation in my mind and the answer came to me: I had mentioned a letter I had found online. It was from a prominent politician to a senior cult representative. It was very critical and ended with a very nasty remark.  I could sense the exasperation behind it; the politician had been lied to once too often. 

No one had said much to me when I asked whether they had seen the letter, but something must have responded from a deeper level.

Possible explanations for this type of attack
There is a theory that when many people think, feel, say and do the same things over a period of time, a group mind is created. This can also be described as an energy form or artificial elemental. Once it grows big enough, it will take on a life of its own and act of its own accord. It will take over and possess everyone who joins the cult, and attack anyone it senses is a threat to its existence and the status quo.

Another theory says that the entity was already in existence before the cult started. It was the master mind behind the cult, gradually sucking more and more people in and taking them over.

This is getting into very deep water, but with theories such as these maybe it is best to neither believe nor disbelieve but entertain possibilities.

Dealing with the attack-dog
People who are involved with cults and their members must expect to be attacked if they say or do the wrong thing.

It may seem that the choice is between getting their head bitten off or, as the proverb advises, letting the sleeping dog lie - by always going along with everything and talking about the weather or some other unexceptionable topic. This is not always the case: I did once manage to speak out without waking the attack-dog.

Some of the members did something terrible. It got on the news so they couldn’t deny it, and anyway they wanted the publicity. I decided that I couldn’t say nothing, but would have to be very careful not to unleash a tirade of abuse.

I knew that it was essential to keep calm and not shout at them despite the temptation: if I couldn’t do that I would be no better than they were. I suspected that they knew that they had gone too far this time, and were expecting me to behave as they would if things were reversed. I also knew that I must not let the conversation become scripted, saying what they expected me to say.

I thought for a while before speaking, then I said very calmly, “This will make your enemies very happy. Now they can say, ‘We told you they are fanatics and extremists. If they will do that, they will do anything.’”

This was very effective indeed. There was a silence, the sort that you get when you have slipped past the defences and hit home.

A final point about the attack-dog syndrome
All this has been merely an introduction to the subject. It would be possible to provide many more examples of these attacks, more theories about what is behind them and suggestions about how to deal with them.

A reminder of the most important point to bear in mind:

The attacks are a sign that we are on the right track; they are confirmation of our suspicions; they are a dead giveaway.