This is the fourth article of a four-part series. Part One is here.
It’s important to note that the following article does not claim or attempt to claim that FreeDomain Radio is a destructive cult. It presents information on destructive cults in general and examines some of the public, documented, and controversial aspects of FreeDomain Radio. It’s up to you to draw your own conclusions.
Who are you, cult member?
Hey, no one’s more surprised than me that my three-part series suddenly grew a fourth part. Life’s crazy, ain’t it?
Anyway, somebody on Liberating Minds asked a question that shocked me a little. It touched on the type of people who join destructive cults and it was kind of a facepalm moment for me because I had never addressed it.
Frankly, it’s one of the most important aspects of understanding the operation of destructive cults; i.e., understanding the people who get recruited into them. Here was the question:
“…After the experience, what do you think one should teach people to avoid them getting caught by cults or cult-like groups?
As far as I understand, cults can get members because there is a lack of something in normal life…
What can one do as a preventive measurement?”
I was a little embarrassed because it was a gateway question for me. I was focused on what cults are—but, to do that, I also needed to focus on the question “what kind of people do cults attract?” (And even that question, as you’ll see, was wrong.)
It’s the ones you’d least expect
See, when I began my research, the first cold-water shock of realization that I didn’t know anything about destructive cults came when I discovered that the people who typically join them are completely the opposite of what one might expect.
- Weak-minded, right? Nope. They’re usually pretty bright.
- Weak-willed, right? Nope. As their friends and family soon find out, they can have wills of iron!
- Highly suggestible? Low self-esteem? Nope and nope. They’re just searching for something.
- Abandoned abuse victims? Sorry, turns out they usually come from close-knit families.
No one ‘joins’ a destructive cult.They are targeted, pursued, and acquired.
Everything began to unfold for me when I learned this simple truth:
No one “joins” a destructive cult.
They are targeted, pursued, and acquired. Destructive cults pursue the candidates they seek as any Fortune 500 company searches for the best possible new employees. The only difference is—in the curious paradox of “cult logic”—since the destructive cult is offering the key to ultimate truth and happiness, it’s OK to be deceptive or unethical during recruitment.
Here’s a better explanation from Cults: Public Perceptions vs. Research, by John Stacey:
Why Do People Join Cults?
Again and again in my research I have encountered the same phrase: No one joins a cult, rather people are recruited. Philip Zimbardo explains, “People join interesting groups that promise to fulfill their pressing needs. They become cults when they are seen as deceptive, defective, dangerous, or as opposing basic values of their society” (Zimbardo 1998). The fact is, the recruitment techniques that cults employ are quite effective. An explanation of these techniques will follow later in the paper. Cults obviously want to be successful, so they seek to recruit the most capable people who can effectively serve them. Many cult members are doctors, lawyers, professors, and high profile celebrities—responsible citizens. This is why some cults have survived for decades and functioned efficiently despite a high turnover rate, public disapproval and angry parents. People often believe cult members must have been neglected by their families. But this conclusion is in sharp contrast to the actions taken by many concerned families who will devote their money and time in intervention efforts to bring their children out of such groups and home again
Zimbardo urges us not to stereotype cult members. Rather than asking—“What kind of people join cults?” he suggests we should instead ask, “What was so appealing about this group that so many people were recruited/seduced into joining it voluntarily? What needs did the group fulfill that were not met by ‘traditional society?‘” (Zimbardo 1998). It is also important to note that cults make many promises to potential recruits in the initial phases of induction—it is often not until months or years later that the recruit realizes that these promises were ploys to gain their compliance. However, by that time, the member is already submerged in the group and likely in submission to and under the undue influence of its leadership.
It’s never who; it’s always when
The fact is, trying to figure out what type of person is recruited by destructive cults is the wrong question. Almost anyone is susceptible to a destructive cult if they are at a vulnerable point in their lives. For example, people who are newly divorced, single people who have recently accepted a job transfer, people in a new relationship surrounded by a new circle of people they don’t know, or people who are beginning to feel out of place in their current religious (or atheist or agnostic) community. And of course, the perennial champion—young adults, typically college students, at the point of individuation.
It can be crushingly difficult for some to endure the sense of isolation and loneliness that can occur at such an upheaval. Most of the time, however, things begin to work out—albeit slowly. These isolated people adapt to their new surroundings, build up a new friend/support system, and begin to find their way again.
But sometimes a destructive cult intervenes. Almost out of nowhere, that isolated person is surrounded by new, joyous friends who care for him or her deeply. And soon, he or she finds out the reason for their joy—the group has discovered something wonderful! They have the key to virtue, happiness, the very answer to life on earth. And they are the heralds.
Someone who understands destructive cults knows that that is the time to run. But the tragedy—the reason I’m adding this fourth article—is that the only thing most people “know” about destructive cults is that they are immune to them. Or at least that is what they think. “This can’t be a destructive cult!” they say to themselves. “Why, these people all seem like free thinkers making free choices—not the robotic zombies you’d find in a destructive cult! I want to know more about them.”
And that’s how it starts.
Jim Jones hated defectors, especially ones like Jeanne who tried to expose the destructive cult for what it was. Defectors sometimes died under mysterious circumstances.
Jeanne, her husband, Al, and their daughter Daphne were found murdered. Jeanne and Al were assassinated execution style. Daphne was shot in the head with exploding bullets.
Jeanne wrote about what it’s like to be surrounded by a destructive cult—a chilling reminder of how easy it is for anyone to become a victim:
“When you meet the friendliest people you have ever known, who introduce you to the most loving group of people you have ever encountered, and you find the leader to be the most inspired, caring, compassionate and understanding person you have ever met, and then you learn the cause of the group is something you never dared hope could be accomplished, and all of this sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true! Don’t give up your education, your hopes and ambitions to follow a rainbow.“
Given all that, let’s consider for a moment the FreeDomain Radio “community”—the main focus of this Web site. When FDR was exposed by The Guardian and other international media in 2008, Molyneux’ repeated his basic defense again and again:
“What are you talking about? FDR is just a Web site!”
Is it really?
In my article Prying Them Loose, part of my “3 Foundations of FDR” series, I demonstrate that FDR is anything but a mere Web site. It was a plan, a plan conceived by Molyneux and his wife Christina to drive a wedge between young adults and their families.
In his own words, Molyneux describes how he settled on his target—old enough to discard the family, yet young enough to have not been “corrupted” by the outside world. Once he decided on his targets “the great challenge,” as he puts it, was “how to reach the kiddies.”
FreeDomain Radio, conceived by Molyneux and Christina, was the answer. Through this mechanism he could target and reach “the kiddies.” A series of podcasts and books such as On Truth were targeted to early twenty-somethings (and younger). On the forums and chatroom, new members would meet the engaging author who chatted with them about anarchy, video games, music, whatever they liked. And he would sometimes personally Skype with them about their families. He would sympathize with every complaint they had and very often “revealed” that their families were much, much worse than they imagined. He would rarely speak of it as just a Web site. No sir, it was a “community.”
That was the targeting system of FDR. It was aimed directly at young adults—usually in their early 20s, people who are already in the process of individuation, a universal process that occurs in adolescence of rejecting or perhaps affirming but—in every case—replacing their families’ values with their own personal values. As he discussed topics as banal as video games or lofty as economics, Molyneux’s continual mantra was simple: “You’re separating from your family because they are evil” (just ignore the fact that just about everyone else in the world also separates from their families at this age!)
But so what? Doesn’t Taco Bell target roughly the same demographic? You may not agree with Molyneux’s message any more than you applaud the nutritional value of Taco Bell food, but simply targeting people isn’t all that sinister, is it?
…whenever Molyneux provides family counseling/therapy to an FDR member, everything the caller says is accepted without question. Callers are always 100% victims.
No, not until the next step. With Taco Bell, you pay your money, receive chips covered with some kind of orange fluid, and you go your separate ways. With a destructive cult, the next step is a practice commonly known as “love-bombing.” That’s what Jeanne Mills was trying to teach us—you find yourself surrounded by a group in which everyone is loving and caring, everyone is concerned about you, and none more understanding of your plight and your needs than the leader him/herself.
In podcast after podcast, whenever Molyneux is providing family counseling/therapy to an FDR member, everything the caller says is accepted without question. Callers are always 100% victims. And, as I’ve demonstrated elsewhere, Molyneux then typically reveals that the family members are even worse than the caller thought. In his review of “Crazy” Therapies—What are they? Do They Work?, by Margaret Thaler Singer and Janja Lalich, Bob Carroll wrote:
In fact, many therapists seem oblivious to facts with which any competent therapist should be concerned. For example, it is amazing that all these therapists develop theories which exclude the possibility that a patient might either have a physical problem or a character flaw. No patient is physically ill. And no patient is responsible for his or her problems. It is always someone else or something else which has the faults. Patients apparently never lie, manipulate, deceive, cheat, distort, rationalize, err, etc. If a patient has a “fault,” it is that he or she is not completely trusting of the therapist. Patients have “mental diseases” or “syndromes,” not character flaws. It would be an astounding fact to discover that emotionally disturbed or mentally troubled persons are completely without flaws in their moral character! Yet, these advocates of crazy therapies seem to treat all patients as if they were innocent children, incapable of the slightest peccadillo.
And this is exactly what routinely happens at FreeDomain Radio. Here’s an example:
Bombs away—FDR Style
An FDR member opened a thread on FDR with these words:
My current situation is that I have recently graduated college and moved out of my parents’ house, and am working two jobs to scrounge up enough money to pay my bills and expenses. But the part time jobs aren’t enough to cover my expenses, and my student loans are going to kick in soon, so my parents have offered to contribute money towards my monthly rent and to pay my loan payments until I’m financially stable.
However, for over a year now I’ve known that at some point I will deFOO. I have decided it would be more financially responsible to wait until I have a stable income to break it off with my parents. This would also give me more time to prepare myself emotionally.
So what I’m struggling with is this: Am I being dishonest by allowing my parents to support me financially while hiding the fact that I intend to cut them out of my life as soon as possible?
This type of message is common on FDR, even though it completely exposes the lie behind defooing.
Whenever Molyneux and his True Believers defend the FDR practice of defooing, they routinely say it is only recommended in “cases of severe abuse.” However, as you can see here, the member doesn’t appear to be coping with and fleeing some horrific trauma (nor does she fill in many blanks later in the thread, despite opportunities to do so); she’s simply trying to make the best rational financial decision and wondering about the ethics of accepting money from parents who are freely trying to help her out, even though she knows she’ll be discarding them soon.
Her “crisis” is her ambivalence about accepting the money.
You see, once a member “fully accepts” Molyneux’s philosophy, they realize that the term “severe abuse” can describe almost any negative childhood event. That’s the secret and the lie behind defooing. In one podcast, Molyneux says it’s OK to defoo your parents if you wouldn’t want to take them to a party with you!
But let’s get back to the love bombing, the member closes her post with this statement:
As a side note, I haven’t yet made an introduction post. I’ve been meaning to, and I want to at some point, but I this topic felt more immediate and I didn’t want to cram it into an intro post
This is important in understanding what follows. This was perhaps her first or second post on FDR. Whatever her grievances against her parents, they were apparently unknown to FDR members at the time of this post.
Her post draws sixteen replies over the next eight days as other members wrestle with the ethics of accepting money from the soon-to-be discarded. Only one member considers a possibility that the parents might be able to rebuild/repair the relationship, but he is quickly brought into line by the other members.
The other responses include lines such as these:
- In the court system they have criminals pay for psychological damages and so forth, in addition to restoring whatever they physically damaged or stole. How much psychological damage do you think your parents inflicted on you? How much time in terms of self-exploration and therapy will it take you to work through the issues you carry with you as a result of a childhood you did not and would not choose?
- I think that having spent 18+ years under more or less horrible circumstances qualify for some retribution.
- I’m so so sorry you’ve been put into this situation, my heart goes out to you. Massive sympathies.
- I assume that since you plan on explicitly breaking off with people you’ve known for that long, in that way (as parents), who have had that many chances to turn things around and treat you better, it must mean their behavior toward you has been consistently horrible in some ways, and you have strong reason to believe they won’t/can’t change.
- It makes me wonder how much money an abused person would accept to go through the abuse again. I don’t know if it logically follows that this amount of money is what someone should feel justified in taking, but in a court of law certain amounts of money are awarded to victims of abuse (and/or neglect) that are pretty large sums. I tend to think that’s pretty justifiable.
- I don’t know the OP’s background, but I don’t think her parents are going to just suddenly stop behaving the way they are because she points it out. Bomb in the brain kind of stuff. They are most likely traumatizing her because they were traumatized themselves.
This is no accident. They were simply mimicking what they learned from Molyneux, the same pattern he has used for years whenever he offers one-on-one therapy with his members.
Now, by FDR standards, these responses are fairly mild. But this short thread demonstrates the “Crazy Therapy” environment of FDR. The poster revealed almost nothing about her home life, but the respondents immediately fell into the pattern of assuming the parents were bad, and bad in the extreme—psychologically damaging, consistently horrible, abusive, traumatizing extreme.
This is no accident. The members were simply mimicking what they have learned from Molyneux, the same pattern he has used for years whenever he offers one-on-one therapy to his members via Skype.
It all appears sympathetic and kind, but it is the least healthy possible response for this member. There is no one here qualified or informed enough to offer this woman advice on her family. The members are simply trying to regurgitate Molyneux’s family and relationship advice the best they can, perhaps hoping that Molyneux himself is reading the thread and will point out that they “got it right.”
As the thread proceeds, we do find out more things about the poster—one of which is that her boyfriend was recruited into FDR first and is now recruiting her. This is also very common. (I don’t know if he’s defooed but I’d be willing to bet a few bucks on it!)
FDR is responsible for many break-ups, especially when one partner joins but is unable to recruit the other. In this case, it seems to be going well. Amusingly, however, the poster says:
My boyfriend (he introduced me to FDR) said something about how philosophy can’t give an answer in a situation like this. I just tried to type out more of what he said, but I stopped because I had a hard time explaining, so I don’t think I totally understood him…
She is immediately corrected by a True Believer because this is exactly what Molyneux’s “philosophy” is for!
The poster also demonstrates a hint of self-awareness. She also later says this about her family:
The other thing is that my mom (and by extension, my dad) has paranoid tendencies. One of my fears about deFOOing is that my mom becomes convinced that I joined a cult (or that my boyfriend “tricked” me into one) and that’s why I’m cutting them off. I know that sounds crazy, but she has a history of paranoia and she’s believed some crazy things in the past. Plus, if she ever discovers FDR, she would definitely jump on the “angry parents of deFOOed children who think their kids were brainwashed” bandwagon. The problem is that I don’t know if my parents are crazy enough to harass me (coming to my work or aprtmt, call/email obsessively) or to get other people involved (police, private investigators, try to take me to court… my dad works for the gov’t). I’m aware that part of this could be that my mom’s paranoia has rubbed off on me… But how do I tell what is realistic and what isn’t?
The last question is hard to answer when someone is this far into “the community!” By this time, her parents are “paranoid and crazy,” just like all the other angry parents.
By this time, a bubble has formed around the poster. Inside, she is the total victim surrounded by new, understanding friends ready to believe and console her. Outside are the “angry parents,” riding their bandwagon, railing against FDR.
All of them…
They must be…”
Perhaps she is unaware, or it doesn’t occur to her what Molyneux has often stated in his podcasts—that truly abusive parents remain silent, not wanting their true crimes to be known.
Those angry parents…they must be extreme abusers, too. All of them…They must be…
And so it goes. At the most vulnerable times in their lives desired members are targeted, recruited, loved, persuaded, and tantalized with the idea they just might have found the way to remain happy for the rest of their lives.
After that, it’s simply a matter of waiting for the inevitable train wreck when they figure out what has happened to them.
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