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Deism versus Islam
by R. Taggart
A former cultist provides unique insight into the making of
terrorist, and a warning if we misunderstood the nature of the
A group of men is awoken sharply at four in the morning. Each
one thinks to himself, "I wish I could sleep just a little longer."
Anyone not awake, on his feet, and ready for morning exercises can
expect a strike with a board in his stomach or groin, or some other
punishment to be meted out later.
It is winter, and each man hurries
to pull on his stiff and frozen boots. In summer, the smell of
manure from the animals housed below permeates the loft where they
sleep, but the cold weather keeps the aroma of the animals they live
with at bay.
A war veteran leads forty-five minutes of grueling
exercises, including two hundred pushups and one hundred fifty
sit-ups. A quick two-mile run ensues, with each man carrying a staff
or club. After the run, all the men file into the animals stalls to
urinate--no one had wanted to waste even a minute of their precious
sleep time getting up early to urinate before exercises.
They file into the warm house where their leader sits; he will
lead everyone in prayer and their daily devotion to God. Many begin
to nod off as soon as they are seated, but a jab in the ribs and the
fear of being caught sleeping when they should be worshipping God
keeps everyone on edge. The women in the compound serve the men
breakfast; and their leader sits as a commoner among them at the
table, which is soon enveloped in raucous laughter. The shared
hardships of their life bind the men in a camaraderie they all
Breakfast ends and the men file out of the warm house. All
spend the next half-hour tending to the numerous animals. It is now
6:45 a.m. Some will stay in the compound all day, tending animals,
repairing buildings, and working in the fields. Most will leave the
compound to hitchhike to jobs in the city or suburbs.
The select few
who own broken-down vehicles struggle mightily to stay awake as they
drive. Each remembers that three of their members have already died
from falling asleep at the wheel, and they are determined not to be
the next. Each man struggles hour after hour with his friend and
It is five-o'clock in the afternoon and the men begin their
trek back to the compound. The vagaries of their modes of transport
mean some will arrive back as late as 6:30 in the evening. As soon
as they reach the compound, they begin their work tending to the
animals. Dinner follows for most, but some are fasting, they believe
fasting will help bring them closer to God.
After dinner, the
lieutenants have lists--lists of arduous work to be performed, and
lists of punishments to be handed out for the previous day's
infractions. For most, their fate is assignment to a work crew, but
others are not so lucky. One will be forced to run ten miles for the
crime of not washing the goats properly before milking, another,
five miles for failing to wake up on time.
After dinner, it is out to the fields for more work. Each one
secretly hopes it will be only work this evening--drudgery that may
last until twelve, one, or two-o'clock in the morning. But tonight a
meeting for worship and political instruction is called.
Even though they revere their leader as a great prophet, inwardly, they fear
him. No one will admit it, but the hard labor is preferable to
sitting in a meeting where they listen to lessons on their Holy Book
from their leader, lessons and harangues that can last up to four or
Individuals are singled out for criticism in front of
the group. One is sentenced to forty lashes with a bullwhip. His
crime? --wearing dirty socks to prayer. Everyone struggles to stay
awake. Finally the meeting ends at 1:00a.m. The watch list is
posted: eight unlucky men have drawn guard duty. The little sleep
they have remaining will be interrupted by a twenty-minute guard
duty between now and 4:00 a.m. Some wash before retiring, others
fall filthy and exhausted into their makeshift beds.
A group of men is awoken sharply at four in the morning. Each
one thinks to himself, "I wish a could sleep just a little
The foregoing is an account of what my life was for nearly
four years, not in some Middle Eastern terrorist training camp but
on a farm forty-five minutes from Cleveland, Ohio in the mid 1970's.
Since leaving this fundamentalist Christian cult in 1977, I have
spent considerable time and effort in gaining an understanding of
how I could have been led to sacrifice everything-- my time, family,
money, and health, to follow a messiah into a living hell. The
answers I discovered are dreadfully relevant today. It is the same
way a terrorist is created to sacrifice everything to achieve his
mad leader's goals.
In order not to spread any more fear than already exists in
our country, let me point out that while our group believed in a
coming apocalypse, we did not subscribe to any notion of terrorism.
We did believe we must be ready to fight a foreign invader and that
our group would emerge as a holy remnant on the other side of a
coming conflagration. While there are literally thousands of cults
in the United States today, only a small percentage are of a
paramilitary nature, and even fewer advocate terrorist activity.
OBSTACLES TO UNDERSTANDING
"It is odd that despite their current widespread use and
looming future importance, most of us know very little about our
automatic behavior patterns. ...Whatever the reason, it is vital
that we clearly recognize one of their properties: They make us
terribly vulnerable to anyone who does know how they work," warns
Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., in his landmark work, Influence: The New
Psychology of Modern Persuasion. There is a deep-seated and
widespread denial of the reality that we all have behavior patterns
that can be manipulated by others.
An example of a milder form of
this manipulation occurs in sales situations. How many of us have
bought something that we really didn't want or at a price that
wasn't really fair? Another more extreme form is what is termed
thought reform or mind control. It is a difficult concept to
understand how one individual can manipulate another to such an
extent that he will believe and behave in a manner that is harmful
to him or herself and/or society. This article will attempt to
explain this phenomenon. I have lived it.
When I give a presentation regarding my experiences in the
cult, I am usually met with some version of the same question: "What
was wrong with your own psychological makeup that you were
vulnerable to manipulation?" Pursuing the answer to this question
diverts our attention from the core problem, the source of the
manipulation. Suppose I venture into a bad neighborhood and am
beaten and robbed by a neighborhood thug.
I may have behaved
foolishly for walking in a dangerous area, but to concentrate on my
behavior leads us away from our core problem: the neighborhood thug.
Dr. Louis J. West, a psychiatrist who studied thought reform for
more than four decades states: "no single personality profile
characterizes those who join cults. Many well-adjusted,
high-achieving persons from intact families have been successfully
recruited by cults.
So have individuals with varying degrees of
psychological impairment." We have missed what should be one of the
most self-evident, looming lessons of history: that the millions of
Germans who blindly followed Hitler could not have all been
emotionally unbalanced or defective. The denial mechanism may work
as follows: only defectives can be led and manipulated, I am not a
defective, therefore I cannot be manipulated.
The denial that maintains that normal people cannot be taken
in by a totalitarian system of belief was evident in the FBI's
mistaken profile of a terrorist recruit. Each was thought to be very
young, without a family, poor, uneducated, and psychologically
unstable. The terrorists responsible for the September 11th disaster
proved to be quite unlike the FBI's profile. It is this deep-seated
denial that prevents us from understanding and countering the most
dangerous trend of the twentieth century: the spread of cultic
totalitarian governments and organizations that use thought reform
or mind control.
THE CHARISMATIC LEADER
If we reject the notion that only psychologically defective
individuals succumb to mind control, we must use a new model to
explain what happens when ordinary people follow the leadership of a
new messiah. Rudolf Odom, in his 1933 biography of Hitler, addressed
the question; Does Hitler understand what he is doing? (Meaning,
does he understand how he is manipulating the people)? He compared
Hitler to a comedian or football player. Ask the comedian how he
makes people laugh and he probably has no idea. Nonetheless, he is
very good at it.
Likewise, the typical cult leader has an innate
ability to manipulate and control people, and many couple this
innate ability with a shrewd theoretical understanding of psychology
to further entrap their victims. Cult leaders may also use or
appropriate long-standing thought reform methodology developed over
decades or even hundreds of years that are embedded in the culture.
Arkon Daraul in his Secret Societies: Yesterday and Today, describes
in detail this centuries-old Arabic mind control system from which
much of the modern terrorist thought reform system has evolved.
"These cults are led by a charismatic leader who actively
anticipates an apocalyptic event that will purify the world. Often
they invite altruistic killings to accomplish this..." Professor
Robert J. Lifton in his November 3, 1999 presentation of his book,
Aum Shinryko, Destroying the World to Save It, to the Commonwealth
Club of California. Lifton further describes a cult leader in a 1989
introduction to his seminal 1961 work,
Thought Reform and the
Psychology of Totalism: "(the cult leader) tends increasingly to
become the object of worship in place of more general spiritual
principles that are advocated." Evidence of this phenomenon is the
proliferation of large photos and statues of the leaders of
totalitarian states. Osama bin Laden has certainly reached the
status of worship. His photo is ubiquitous and in Pakistan it is
reported that one in five boys born is named Osama.
The evil wrought by madmen serial killers Richard Speck, John
Wayne Gacy, or Ted Bundy pales in comparison to what has been
perpetrated by leaders skilled in manipulating ordinary men. The
great crimes of history were carried out by men convinced they were
doing the right thing, or serving the only God, their world-view
warped by forces outside themselves.
"If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities"--S.R.
How does a cult leader ensure that his followers will carry
out his wishes? The tragedy of September 11 provides us with some
terrible illustrations of how the process works. Unlike passengers
on the other three hijacked planes, the passengers of flight 93
(hijacked over Cleveland and pointed towards Washington), resisted
Why? Simply because they were in possession of a
different understanding of their fate than the passengers on the
other three planes. Through conversations on cell phones, the
passengers of flight 93 understood they were going to die at the
hands of their hijackers. Consequently, they heroically rushed their
attackers, minimizing any additional loss of life. They were
behaving logically based on their understanding of their situation.
The passengers on the other three flights did not resist. Until this
point in history, most hijackings had ended in negotiations with
minimal loss of life. Standard procedure was not to resist. These
passengers were also behaving logically based on their understanding
of the situation. In similar fashion, the cult member's world-view,
not necessarily his capacity for judgment, is what is distorted and
He behaves logically according to his world-view. This is
why the cult member can seem quite rational and capable of
functioning in many levels of society, but the consequences of him
following his conscience or world-view can be barbarous and insane.
When the cult's world-view is successfully inculcated in its victim
it does not necessarily need to be closely regulated and the desired
behavior will follow. An example is the Nazis' depiction of the Jews
as sub-human. Once this view was accepted by a significant
percentage of Germans, the anti-Semitic behavior of the populace
The totalitarian cult leader in a free society is faced with
two tasks: recruitment of followers, and retention of followers.
Once a sufficient mass of people have been indoctrinated and support
the leader, and political and police power have been established
within the movement, those who continue to resist the mind control
apparatus of the state can dealt with through the physical power of
the government. In Nazi Germany, the remaining portion of the
populace that had not succumbed to the mind control system was
either cowered into submission through fear, imprisoned, or
Once the cultic thinking becomes pervasive in the culture,
it follows that there are two types of members in the totalitarian
system, those who are recruited into the system, and those who grow
up in the system. The methods used to convert someone can be
exceedingly complex, and space prohibits a detailing of all of them.
However, by examining someone who has absorbed the cult's philosophy
and world-view during their formative years, we will also encounter
some of the principles used against the convert.
Travel is one method of becoming aware that human beings in
every culture hold to beliefs that are quite irrational and bizarre.
By doing some time-travel we can explore our own culture and see
practices that were unquestionably wrong but universally upheld at
the time. Before 1840, the notion that bacteria caused disease was
unknown. Cleanliness with regard to medical procedures was
considered unnecessary and the results in terms of public health
Why did we tenaciously hold onto these quite
mistaken notions? There are two reasons: contradictory information
was unavailable and this is the way everyone else thought. The
tribesman who grows up eating roasted grasshoppers for a snack would
be shocked at our spraying them with pesticides, and vice versa. So
we all can grow up with some odd beliefs with absolutely no
awareness of their irrationality, simply because they are accepted
by our parents, community, government, or, in short, our culture.
One way a cult leader is able to maintain these irrational
beliefs by ensuring that contradictory information is unavailable.
In a closed society, this is easier to accomplish than in an open
one. In both open and closed societies, mind control measures
instituted from the top typically have an ostensible reason
presented to their victims that attempts to hide their true purpose.
When the directive that citizens can no longer listen to foreign
broadcasts because they promote the interests of their enemies and
enemy spies; the true reason is to ensure that no contradictory
information is available to counteract the process of mind control.
Afghanistan's ruling Taliban recently issued a "break your (TV) set
now" ruling, claiming that television was impeding prayer.
In Nazi Germany from 1933 until the end of the war in 1945,
the Hitler Youth (the bad guy equivalent of being a Boy Scout) were
bombarded with the message of how glorious it is to die for the
Fatherland. The SS's, Hitler's elite military units, official title
was "The Order of the Death's Head". Germany was steeped in a
cult-ure of glorification of death.
Japan had the centuries old
tradition of the Samurai. The parallels between the homicidal and
suicidal nature of Nazism, Japan's Samurai, and Islamic terrorist
cults are not difficult to draw. Pakistan has numerous religious
schools called "madrasas", which Jeffrey Goldberg of the New York
Times characterizes as nothing more than "jihad factories," or
schools of indoctrination. The Islamic extremist culture is infused
with the glorification of death.
One of the most difficult concepts for most people to believe
is that mind control can be maintained in an open society. I
physically left the group I was in for two years after being drafted
into the Army, only to return to the group after my discharge. I
still believed I was doing God's will, and it made sense to return
to duty with God, no matter how distasteful.
How is this done? The
adherent is taught to "separate himself from the evil world," which
typically translates as not socializing with non-believers. Mass
media is often portrayed as being co-opted by Satan, and so
television, movies, magazines, and newspapers are avoided. Though
not the case with the Islamic terrorist "sleeper" agents, often the
mind control victim is taught to evangelize friends and relatives so
aggressively that he is either successful recruiting them or he
alienates them. There is no real human interaction between the
cultist and non-believers, except those that are for the purposes of
"Humans use logic not to solve problems in the first instance, but
to check the work and put it in presentable order after the insight
has been attained."--Edmund Cohen
Something that has continually impressed me is the fact that
highly intelligent people come to widely differing conclusions about
all manners of things in life. There are intelligent Democrats and
Republicans; conservatives and liberals; religionists of all creeds,
atheists, etc. The divergence of opinion regarding crucial issues
suggests that reason and logic may play a minor role in how people
arrive at their philosophies about life.
This suggests that people
have an emotional reaction or experience about an issue, and then go
about finding facts and intellectual arguments to support that
position. The danger the cult leader represents is that he typically
understands not only how to create an emotional experience for an
individual, but also then how to go about wedding a group of facts
and arguments to the emotional experience. For example, Hitler
carefully planned the Nuremberg rallies with lavish pageantry and
torches, and understood the additional psychologically manipulative
power they would carry by always staging them at night. The
pageantry was then combined with Hitler's charismatic delivery of
the Nazi philosophy.
I will illustrate with a scenario that is similar to my
experience in the Bible cult. Let's suppose a person attends a
religious service. A friend has invited him. The friend sits next to
him and hopes that he will have the same wonderful experience he's
had at these services. The service is carefully calculated to
heighten the emotions through music and ceremony. The leader may
take the participants on an emotional roller coaster, first inducing
euphoria and then guilt and shame. Healings and miracles might be
part of the scheme (usually effected by either the power of
suggestion, deception, or magic tricks). An invitation is made to
surrender the will to a higher power and join this loving family.
Prayer, shouting and emotion may ensue. There is joy; a new convert
has been born into the group. So what we have now is a contrived
emotional experience, almost entirely crafted and orchestrated by
the leader of the group.
The group now will strive to link the
emotional experience of the convert to their doctrine and
philosophy. In the cult I was in, we were taught the importance of
follow through with this new "babe in the faith." We had a set of
Bible study doctrines that we were instructed to teach the convert,
many of which purported to explain in doctrinal terms his
experience. In order to cement the convert's relationship with the
group, the system proceeds to wed the doctrine of the group to the
emotional experience of the convert. The cult creates the
pseudo-spiritual experience, and then anchors its doctrine and
cosmology to the experience they induced in their victim.
The emotional experience can be one that is contrived as we
have seen in the paragraph above, or it also can be a real-life
scenario, such as growing up in poverty in a refugee camp, losing a
relative to an act of violence, or fighting an oppressor, etc. The
cult leader seeks to capitalize on that experience and wed it in the
mind of his victim to the cult's philosophy or doctrine.
In a normal environment, an individual may educate him or
herself with additional information that supports his world-view and
associate with others of like mind. We can call this an educational
process. However, what the cult strives not for education, but
indoctrination. In education, information is processed with the
student's understanding and consent, while indoctrination sneaks in
the back door of the mind without its victim's approval.
Those involved in the education of students are typically not threatened
by opposing points of view; in fact, the classical idea of the
university is to encourage and test competing theories. Those who
seek to indoctrinate do everything within their power to separate
the cult member from information that is critical of their cause.
Since it is not always possible to separate cult members from
negative information about their group and philosophy, they are
trained to effectively close their senses to any information that
contradicts its philosophy.
A chilling example of this is related by
Jeffrey Goldberg in a New York Times article, "Jihad spins out from
a corner of Pakistan". Goldberg was visiting a madrasa, a Muslim
religious seminary where students range in age from 8 to 35. When
Goldberg quoted passages from the Muslim Hadith forbidding the
killing of women and children in a Jihad (an armed struggle), the
students began chanting, Osama, Osama, Osama. The students then took
turns defending Osama bin Laden. When presented with an idea that
directly contradicted everything they had been indoctrinated in, the
tension became too great and they launched into thought-stopping
chanting. They then went on the offensive with what were likely
stock arguments they had been drilled on beforehand.
Cult leaders use many different techniques to indoctrinate
their followers, including thought-stopping, rhythmic breathing,
fear, sleep deprivation, supplying a deficient diet, repetition,
charismatic leadership, peer and social group pressure, magic,
isolation, guilt inducement, proselytizing, and revealed knowledge,
among others. Most of these techniques work to place the mind in an
altered state, a state wherein the victim is unable to critically
process and filter information.
In effect, these techniques are
opening the back door to the mind without the victim's awareness or
consent. For example, the cult leader might present rhythmic
breathing as the path to better health, while the true purpose is to
place his victim in a suggestible state for indoctrination. Consider
yourself how well you think when you are angry, tired, or fearful.
The connection between the cult victim's emotional experience and
the group's doctrine or philosophy is strengthened to a frightening
degree through this multi-front psychological manipulation. This
bond is far stronger than any tie that could be achieved through
education. Now the bond takes on an its most sinister power.
Remember that the cult member experienced his emotional event
through his own senses. Now any attack on the philosophy is
experienced by the cult member as the same as an attack on his
personal experience. That the information perceived by his senses
was wrong is difficult to believe and too emotionally painful to
The cult victim cannot and will not deny the experience
he knows his senses have told him are real, so the linked doctrine
stands like a rock, impenetrable to any rational argument. This is
why the cult member clings to ideas and arguments that are clearly
illogical; any information that attacks his doctrine and threatens
to prove it false threatens to prove his powerful experience false
THE WAR AGAINST SELF
In the previously mentioned Times article, Goldberg dispels
some misconceptions regarding "jihad": Goldberg states: "'Jihad' is
misunderstood in the West. It does not mean 'holy war.' It
essentially means 'struggle' and...there are two types of jihad:
greater and lesser. 'Greater Jihad' is the struggle within the soul
of a person to be better, more righteous--the fight against the
devil within. 'Lesser Jihad' is the fight against the devil without:
the military struggle against those who subjugate Muslims."
The Biblical fundamentalist cult of which I was a member also
had what they termed a "war against self," or a war against one's
own ego. Women were required to wear ankle length dresses, have
their hair covered, and were not to look men or each other directly
in the eye. There was a considerable amount of preaching advocating
the suppression of sexual thoughts for unmarried believers, not an
easy task for a group of people who were mostly in their early
twenties. In retrospect, I believe nearly every person there failed
at this task, and probably experienced the same requisite guilt,
fear, sense of failure, and self-loathing that I did. The game is,
convince someone their natural impulses are sinful and set them at
war against their own personality and nature. The cult victim then
continually works at suppressing his own 'unholy' personality, and
his self-doubt drives him to surrender his will and judgment to his
The fundamentalist extremist Muslims are at work at the same
game. Women are required to dress in the burqas, clothing that
obscures their face and bodily form. Men are warned of the dangers
of looking upon a woman. Evidence that the hijackers were in this
sexual double bind is found in a story recounted by the Florida
motel owner who had rented a room to some of the hijackers. The
hijackers had complained about a painting in their room that showed
an uncovered shoulder of a woman. They requested that the painting
be either removed or covered.
After they moved in, the motel owner
marveled at how often they were seen watching women in bikinis at
the motel pool. Each look probably filled them with guilt and a
sense of failure, and perhaps renewed purpose and resolve after each
lapse in morality. Ironically, in what may be a deadly harnessing of
the sex drive, the Islamic martyrs are promised in heaven what they
are denied on earth: marriage in paradise with 72 beautiful virgins.
In a fantasy that is the height of hypocrisy, they are rewarded in
paradise with an orgy that they would roundly condemn on earth.
The foregoing does not represent the entire gamut of the mind
control or thought reform process, but hopefully can serve as a
framework to illustrate how these powerful forces can be used to
enslave the mind.
IS THERE A WAY OUT?
There is a loose-knit association of psychologists,
psychiatrists, social workers, sociologists, clergy, parents,
ex-cult members, and most importantly, exit-counselors, which has
studied and combated cultism and mind control in this country over
the last three decades. Exit-counselors assist those who are trapped
in mind control cults, and understand how to break through the
barriers of thought reform.
These individuals have stared in the
face of totalitarianism and developed tactics to free minds from its
grip. Their expertise could be used to reach suspected terrorists
our government has in custody and possibly transform them into
useful sources of information. In addition, the government and
intelligence community could benefit from the other professionals
who have studied this problem in helping to develop strategies for
dealing with the cultic organizations in the Middle East.
The political situation we are currently in can be seen accurately
through the lens of the thought reform and mind control models. Our
leaders must develop a true picture of the forces arrayed against us
in order to combat them more effectively. Do I think this
understanding will allow us to avoid war or military action?
Probably not. But without a precise understanding of the
psychological dynamics of the cult leaders and their followers, our
government's actions may lead to disaster. The government misread
the situation with the Waco cultists. We cannot afford to misread
this new threat. We must not turn Afghanistan or another Middle
Eastern country into a Waco cult-mishandling disaster. If we do, the
consequences will be dire.
It is popular for those wishing to sound a warning to quote
George Satayana when he said, Those that do not remember history,
are condemned to repeat it. I don't believe we have a problem with
remembering the events of World War II, but I do think there is a
problem with comprehending how the minds of millions of Japanese and
Germans could be turned to mass murder, destruction, and suicide. My
warning, then, is to misquote Satayana by saying: "Those who do not
understand history, are condemned to repeat it."
© 2001 R. Taggart
Excerpts from Will Durant's The Age of Faith Pages 162-186 Pub. 1950
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