|SECRETS OF SUCCESSFUL MIND CONTROL
HOW TO START YOUR OWN CULT
One of the great puzzles of the modern world is why, in this advanced age of scientific
development, irrationality continues to be such a major factor in social movements. Having
mulled over this question for many years I am now prepared to synthesize a variety of ideas
from a number of different sources and suggest an explanation. As I hope to demonstrate,
these principles have been applied to most religious and political movements of the past,
and will undoubtedly be applied to new ones in the future. By being aware of these
techniques, the reader can be forewarned.
1. There must be a charismatic founder who is elevated to divine or quasi-divine status.
Christ, Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna, Confucius, Marx, Hitler, Mao, Joseph Smith, Ron
2. There must be an enemy/scapegoat who is the cause of all problems and who opposed
Christians and Moslems blame Satan; Zoroastrians blame Ahriman; Right-wing
Republicans blame the Communists; Communists blame the capitalists; Nazis blamed
the Jews; Fundamentalists blame Secular Humanists; Martin Luther blamed the Popes;
Catholics blamed the Protestants, etc.
3. There must be an official holy book in which The Founder's will, and strategy against The
Enemy, is spelled out. It is said to be infallible, but it must, nevertheless, be ambiguously
written so as to facilitate a flexible interpretation.
The Bible, The Koran, The Bhagavad-Gita, Das Kapital, Mein Kamph, Quotations of
Chairman Mao, Book of Mormon, Dianetics, etc.
4. There must be a well-organized hierarchy of officials to interpret The Holy Book and to
claim, or imply, that they are in mystical communication with The Founder.
The church, the party, the government, the army, etc.
5. There must be a graphic symbol which is associated with The Movement. This should be
reducible to a simple logo which can be scrawled on a wall within a few seconds.
The Christian cross, or fish; the Moslem star and crescent; the Jewish menorah, or Star of
David; the Nazi swastika; the Mormon Image of Moroni blowing his horn; the Communist
hammer and sickle, etc.
6. There must be a pantheon of martyrs who have died for The Cause. This inculcates
hatred for The Enemy, and guilt in the members for not doing more when others have given
their very lives for the sake of The Movement.
Christians claim their founder as the apotheosis of martyrdom. But there's also a
plenitude of saints who were alleged to have been dispatched by agents of Satan.
Moslems have Imam Hussein, who was murdered by a band of infidels. The Communists
have their heroes of the October Revolution. The Nazis had their martyrs of the Beer Hall
Putsch, etc. And of course any outbreak of war presents a bountiful harvest of new martyrs.
7. There should be a slogan which captures the basic concept of The Movement. The slogan
serves as a mnemonic device for encapsulating and reinforcing the idea.
The Protestants have Jn. 3:16. Catholics have Mt. 16:18. The Communists coined "From
Each According To His Ability; To Each According To His Needs." "Of the People, By the
People, and For the People" well captures the spirit of America. "Liberty, Equality,
Fraternity" symbolized the French revolution. "Make Love, Not War," helped unify the
hippie movement of the 1960s. "God is With Us" was inscribed on the belt-buckle of every
Nazi soldier. "There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his Prophet," is quoted by
both Shiites and Sunnis as they battle each other in the Middle East.
8. There should be an official song – ideally in a major key and march tempo. The more
songs the better.
"Onward Christian Soldiers," and hundreds of other hymns supply Christian needs. Every
country has its own National Anthem. Communists have the "Internationale." Napoleon
marched across Europe under "The Marseillaise.” The Nazis had "Deutschland Uber
Alles!' "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" stirred the souls of abolitionists during the Civil
War. "We Shall Overcome" was the rallying cry for the American civil rights movement,
while "Dixie" remains the official song for white supremacists.
9. The target audience for any mass movement should consist of those who are
psychologically vulnerable. Erik Hoffer described them as "True Believers." They are the
poor, old, sick, crippled, ignorant, lonely, dispossessed, immigrants or minorities, children,
widows, unemployed, recently divorced, drug addicts, alcoholics, neurotics, soldiers,
prisoners, etc. These are people under extreme stress, or who cannot otherwise cope with
life and are desperately looking for guidance. And they may comprise a majority of any
The New Testament repeatedly says that Christianity is for the "meek of the earth," the
poor, the downtrodden, etc. "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle
than for a rich man to enter heaven" (Mt. 19:24). Social upheaval is the spawning ground
for True Believers. Christianity grew out of the Roman conquest of Judea and the later
collapse of the Roman Empire. Both the Nazi and the Communist revolutions were born
out of the collapse of the existing governments. And the Middle Eastern wars today seem
to generate new fanatical factions faster than they can be counted.
10. The recruit should be told there is a simple answer to all his problems. All he has to do is
believe whatever The Group tells him. This generally means reading and believing The Holy
Book and following the orders of officials.
11. The recruit must be presented with a glowing image of The Movement, including a
utopian world at some time in the future. But for the present, the organization is presented as
beneficent and powerful. No expense is spared in the creation of awe-inspiring architecture,
paintings, statuary, stained glass, music and theater. Food and shelter are offered to the
poor. There is ceaseless repetition of the refrain that this movement is the source of all True
Morality. If the group happens to be in power then they claim civilization could not exist
without them. But if they are out of power, they claim that collapse of civilization is imminent
and they are the only ones who can save the world. This is the bait, or "come-on."
Almost all religions promise a personal heaven for True Believers. Meanwhile, there is
the beauty, benevolence, and majesty of The Church. The Nazis promised a new race of
Supermen who would bring purity and superior culture to a decadent and benighted world.
The Communists promised a workers' paradise where there will be plenty for all and
government will no longer be necessary. Meanwhile, in both of the above cases, obedient
party members are rewarded with power and privilege. Many cults promise a self-
contained Shangra La of peace and love which is free of dependence on the wicked
12. The ordinary world of experience must be discredited. The recruit is told that education,
worldly wisdom, wealth, beauty, talent, fame, political power, love, family – all of the things
that human beings normally value, but which the best recruits don't have -- are actually of no
value anyway, but merely a snare and a delusion. He is taught not to trust his own perception
and judgment, but to rely only on what The Group tells him.
These are basically metaphysical arguments and are therefore more applicable to
religion. For political groups to make use of them, they must associate themselves with a
particular religion so they can announce that "To disobey The Leader is to disobey God."
This was the ancient concept of the "Divine Right of Kings," and it is still used by would-be
dictators. But it has presented a severe handicap to the Communists, so in their case
"The Party" has taken on a sort of godlike infallibility.
13. The recruit is presented with a new vocabulary of "double-speak." None of the words
used in ordinary conversation retain their original meanings, but are turned upside down and
inside out – so that punishment of an apostate, for example, is called an act of "love," while
the "wrong kind" of love is called a "sin." A fertilized ovum is referred to as a "baby." The
reality of death is denied. Atheism is defined as just another false religion. Man has "free
will," but is also "predestined." Or "The only path to True Freedom is to submit to The Will of
God" (as dictated by The Group, of course). Other words are used in such peculiar ways that
the recruit can never be sure what they mean.
Additional words are invented to stand for self-contradictory ideas. In the Christian
religion, for example, words like "Trinity, Paraclete, atonement, transubstantiation,
infallibility, omnipotence, original sin," etc. are presented as mystical wisdom. This kind of
jargon usually consists of polysyllabic words derived from archaic languages and spoken
with great solemnity to intimidate the Initiate. If the recruit objects that they don't make
sense, he is told that it is impossible to understand the infinite mind of God with the finite
mind of a mere mortal.
Soldiers, of course, are provided with a special argot to disassociate them from reality.
Villages are never plundered and pillaged; they are "liberated." None of our soldiers are
ever killed; we "sustain casualties." We don't shoot little boys; we "engage The Enemy."
We don't massacre soldiers; The Enemy "loses troops." We don't kill civilians; we
inadvertently inflict "collateral damage," etc.
14. Paranoia is inculcated. The world is dichotomized into two opposing forces of Good and
Evil. Anything which supports The Group is good; anything which threatens it is the work of
The Enemy. Nothing is irrelevant. Things which may appear to be the most insignificant
events are actually part of a diabolical plan, and The Enemy is everywhere.
Traditional religions could not exist without the concept of a devil to explain away their
failures. Thus, if they get what they want, it is the work of God; but if they don't get it then it is
the work of The Devil. Likewise, any opposition or criticism of The Group is the work of The
Devil. During the Middle Ages this psychological mechanism led to the massive annihilation
of suspected witches and heretics.
In Germany and Russia it led to the persecution of thousands who were suspected of
opposing the government. In America it led to the anti-communist hysteria of the
15. The recruit is terrorized. Most supernatural religions propose some type of unpleasant
afterlife for those who disagree with them. At the very least, the torments of hell are
described in exquisite detail and repeated ad infinitum. Recruits are also told that unbelief
or disobedience will bring bad luck in the present life.
If The Group can get away with it, the recruit is actually tortured, or threatened with death or
some other punishment for disobedience or apostasy. During the Middle Ages heretics
were routinely tortured until they recanted their unacceptable opinions. Torture is an
essential element in the brainwashing of political prisoners. In religious schools, corporal
punishment of children is traditional. And on the most subtle level, even citizens in a free
society can be intimidated by threats of violence, vandalism, harassment, loss of
16. Delusions of grandeur and omnipotence are inculcated. Recruits are told that they are
part of something divine, and by their participation, they also become divine. Religious
recruits, for example, are told that they can have anything they want simply by praying for it in
the proper manner. This claim is conveniently unfalsifiable. Thus: If the member gets what he
prays for, then he believes he has acquired power over the universe. But if he does not get
what he wants then he is told it's because he is lacking in faith, or because he secretly
harbors some sinful thoughts. Perhaps he wants the wrong things, or wants them for the
17. The recruit is made to feel guilty about being human. All normal emotions are called
sinful: anger, pride, envy, etc. But of all the basic physiological drives, the only one that can
be totally suppressed without death of the individual is sexuality. Consequently, that is the
one the Christian church most closely identifies with original sin. This is the one unique
feature of that religion and probably its greatest source of power. Since it is impossible for
any human being to avoid sexual thoughts, this creates a chronic feeling of guilt, which he is
assured will lead to his eternal damnation unless he totally submits to the will of The Church.
The neo-fascist government of Ayatollah Khomeini has adopted this method with a
vengeance, creating the most anti-sexual laws in the world.
18. Anti-intellectualism is instilled. Another basic drive is a desire to understand. The
favorite word of a healthy child is "why?" And among productive, creative adults curiosity
remains a primary motivation. So this has also been identified with Original Sin. The Greek
myth of Pandora's Box and the Hebrew myth of the forbidden Tree of Knowledge exemplify
this point. Religious recruits, therefore, are taught that asking questions is just as bad as
thinking about sex. Blind acceptance, not logic, is the key to salvation.
Most religious sects have their own private schools so that children's natural curiosity can
be nipped in the bud. The Greek word for "freedom of thought" was "heresy." So the
prevention of heresy is the primary purpose of any religious school.
When combined with religion and terrorism, political recruits can also be converted to anti-
19. To help in the suppression of curiosity, the recruit is drilled with questions and answers.
The questions are those likely to be raised by The Enemy. And the answers are those which
have been approved by The Organization.
In the Catholic Church this is called Catechism. Among Protestants it is part of Sunday
School. Seminarians study such questions under the rubric of "exegesis" or
"hermeneutics." These pre-packaged answers are also included in all other forms of
communication and activity: school lessons, sermons, plays, books, newsletters, etc. This
technique is equally applicable to politics.
20. The required repression of normal feelings and denial of forbidden thoughts means that
"faith" is simply the ability to ignore reality, whereas to recognize and accept it is called
"sin." Since this naturally leads to inner conflict the recruit is therefore taught to
compartmentalize different areas of experience. He may then be able to function normally in
most aspects of daily life, but becomes totally psychotic when a subject approaches an area
of conflict. This is akin to the multiple-personality syndrome whereby a person assumes
different personalities under different conditions and each personality has no memory of
what the others have done.
The technique is taught, basically, by feeding the recruit with specious arguments and
doubletalk to "prove" that there is no contradiction between certain ideas, when in fact
there is conflict, and also by demonstrating methods of evading the problems.
21. Mob hysteria is promoted. Members and recruits are regularly assembled into huge
crowds and whipped into frenzy by various theatrical and propagandistic techniques. It is
difficult to retain objectivity when surrounded by hundreds of others who are overcome with
emotion, so each individual is swept up in the emotional tide.
The revival meeting and the faith-healing service are perfect examples. Hitler also made
effective use of this technique in his party rallies and torchlight parades.
22. Every possible propaganda technique is employed through every available means of
communication: one-on-one discussions, mass meetings, recordings, film, TV, live theater,
print, etc. These techniques include Dogmatic Statements, The Big Lie, The Smear, Half
Truths, Glittering Generalities, Name Calling, Bandwagon, Slogans, Testimonials, Card
Stacking, Plain Folks, Snob Appeal, Association, Subliminal Messages, etc. The Group will
also make extensive use of logical fallacies such as the False Premise, Undistributed
Middle, Unwarranted Distribution of Terms, Shifting the Meaning of Terms Within the
Syllogism, Circular Definitions, Oversimplification, etc. One absolutely essential technique is
called "Ventriloquizing." The propagandist must never admit that his opinions and orders
originated with himself. They must always be phrased as "The Will of God" or whoever The
Founder was alleged to be – which then precludes any argument about it. Many books have
been written about these types of crooked thinking, and it takes an extremely sophisticated
person to recognize them for what they are.
23. Some form of hypnosis is employed. Usually this is done on a mass basis, through
meetings, or it is self-induced.
Occasionally there may be cases of individuals put into a somnambulistic trance and
given post-hypnotic instructions. This was the plot of a political film called "The
Manchurian Candidate" – which was probably an exaggeration of what is actually
possible. But in most cases, the subjects are placed in a highly suggestible state by
assembling them in a darkened room, illuminated only by candles or stained glass, where
they are lulled by soothing music, required to listen to long, soporific sermons, chant for
hours at a time, or repeat slogans in the call-and-response pattern. Pentecostal churches,
in particular, require members to constantly follow orders: sit down, stand up, wave their
arms, hug their neighbor, shout "Amen!" etc. This works them into a state where they are
then able to begin seeing visions, feel no pain, speak in unknown tongues, etc.
Self-hypnosis is induced in the prayerful or meditative state.
24. Occasionally, psychotropic drugs are administered. This has the advantage of confusing
the recruit and breaking down the barrier between reality and hallucination, but the
disadvantage is that it is so obviously manipulative, and the results are sometimes
The ingestion of psychedelics was part of religious rituals for certain Native American
tribes, and it was also practiced by the Eleusinian Mystery Cults of ancient Greece. It can
be useful in military brainwashing, but a more common technique for religious groups is
to make use of the body's own pharmacopoeia through asceticism. Recruits deliberately
subject themselves to starvation, pain and sensory deprivation in order to experience
"visions." Early Christian anchorites, for example, used to compete with each other to see
who could lie longest in the desert sun without food and water. Even today, Moslems of the
Dervish sect regularly whip themselves and whirl around and around until they attain a
25. Magic tricks are employed to make recruits believe that certain Holy Men have
supernatural powers. In some cases these "miraculous powers" are widely advertised in
order to attract new members. But in other cases, the tricks are performed in an off-handed
way, as though they were an everyday occurrence. And when members mention these
"miracles," they are dismissed as "perhaps just a coincidence or a misperception:' But the
implication is that they are trying to hide their supernatural abilities from those who are not
spiritually developed enough to be trusted with such momentous knowledge.
The relation between religion and slight of hand has always been so close that the history
of one is the history of the other. The word, "magic," itself is derived from the "Magi"
mentioned in the New Testament. These were Zoroastrian priests who were widely known
for their ability to perform "miracles." Another magician mentioned in the New Testament
was Simon Magus, who tried to buy the secrets of Jesus' "miracles." And for a time during
the first century the Simonian cult was larger than the Christian one.
Perhaps the most common techniques in America today are the mind reading and
"prophetic" tricks used by faith healers. In India, "gurus" and "fakirs" commonly roam the
countryside performing "miracles" for the peasants, and some have attained considerable
political power. In the Philippines "psychic surgeons" do a thriving business of removing
"cancers," etc. without the necessity of surgical instruments.
26. The recruit is told that the human mind is Satan's playground. Every thought must be
guarded against temptation, but no one is immune to Satan. So the only salvation is to
cleanse the mind regularly through confession of sin.
The Catholic Church, of course, is best known for this activity, since confession is one of
the required sacraments. But other religions make use of it also. Evangelicals frequently
urge members to confess their sinful thoughts before the entire congregation.
This is an extremely powerful brainwashing technique that is used for military and political
purposes. The prisoner is constantly cross-examined until he finally loses all sense of
reality and confesses to "sins" that he didn't even commit.
27. The recruit's dignity and integrity are destroyed. In order to "test his faith," he is given
more and more absurd concepts to affirm and more and more repugnant tasks to perform.
After committing these acts, the recruit then is left with only two choices: If he were to
maintain his old moral convictions then he would feel self-contempt, but if he adopts The
Group morality he can view these atrocities as courageous acts of self-sacrifice. Therefore,
in order to resolve the cognitive dissonance created and maintain any kind of self-respect
he must accept The Group norms, forcing him farther and farther into their fantasy world.
A typical religious recruit, for example, starts down this path by accepting all sorts of
unsupported propositions about heaven, hell, God and salvation. If he goes that far then
he will be asked to contribute money. Then more money. Of course he will be required to
give up all the things he likes best – especially sex. He may be asked to abandon his
family unless they join with him. He will probably be required to put in many hours of work,
performing menial or embarrassing tasks, such as soliciting people on street corners.
Finally, it will be suggested that he dedicate his entire life to The Cause – quit his job, get
a divorce, take his children out of public school and put them in The Group's custody –
where they may then be abused – sign over his estate to The Church, etc.
In the Appalachians there are sects which still prove their faith by handling deadly snakes
and drinking poison. Those who survive have proved to themselves that God has given
them supernatural powers. Those who don't live were obviously lacking in faith. Since this
practice has been outlawed in most states, a more common practice is for faith healers to
require sick people to reject medical treatment and just believe that "Doctor Jesus" will
heal them. Many a child has died because their parents withheld medical treatment for
this reason, and instead of weakening the parents' faith, it only strengthens it.
A favorite brainwashing trick is to require a prisoner to torture his own friends until they
"confess." And the final condition of membership in certain gangs and terrorist
organizations is to require candidates to commit some heinous crime. This puts the
initiate completely within The Group's control – not only emotionally but also legally, since
The Group then has the power to turn them over to the police at any time.
28. Under the extreme conditions of military brainwashing, which is also practiced by some
cults, boarding schools and monastic sects, additional conditions may be possible: For
example, the recruit may be Isolated from the outside world so that feedback from The
Group becomes his only reality. If forced isolation is impossible, voluntary isolation is at
least encouraged. Most religions teach that it is a sin to listen to any opposing or
29. The recruit may be deprived of adequate food, sleep, and rest. This weakens his
resistance and makes him more suggestible.
This is a normal part of military training. It is essential in the brainwashing of political
prisoners. And it has been a favorite device of reclusive cults.
30. The recruit is never allowed to be alone – because solitude permits reflection and
evaluation. Consequently, members of The Group are assigned to be with him at all times,
constantly observing his behavior, questioning him, and providing approved answers to his
questions. This "smother love" technique is only applicable in a closed environment, such as
a military camp, private school, or monastic cult.
31. After being thoroughly indoctrinated, the recruit is then a borderline psychotic – ridden
with anxiety, depression and hostility – unable to think logically, unable to feel anything, or at
least to understand what he is feeling, unable to assume responsibility, or relate to other
people on an intimate level; in short, he is unable to function as an autonomous adult in the
outside world. But The Group then offers what appears to be love and support – if he will just
confess his sins, beg their forgiveness and be obedient. Thus he becomes totally dependent
on them, and life outside of their circle becomes inconceivable. The recruit has then been
turned into a complete robot, capable only of following orders and repeating the answers
and slogans to which he has been conditioned. In Fundamentalist jargon this is called being
In the Spring, 1987 issue of "Free Inquiry Magazine" Edmund Cohen hypothesized that the
reason for the surprising resurgence of virulent religiosity all over the world is because the
old mainline religions had begun to downplay these principles, trying to improve their public
image. But when liberal Protestant groups, for example, eschew fear and guilt in favor of a
Disneyesque version of biblical mythology, they therefore lose control over their members.
This created a political vacuum for the misfits of society, and a fruitful field for radical groups
who offered a return to these fundamental principles.
I do not mean to imply that every social movement has employed every one of these
techniques. Obviously some methods are more applicable under certain circumstances and
others are more effective under different conditions. Some social leaders may have ethical
scruples, or simply regard blatant trickery as bad strategy. And some preacher/politicians
may even believe their own propaganda – as unaware of the techniques they are using as
the audiences on whom they are being used. And even if such propagandists were aware of
what they were doing they would probably rationalize their actions by claiming that the end
justifies the means. This paper, however, is about means, not ends. A lie is still a lie - even if
told with the best of intentions.
Nevertheless, the psychological devices listed here constitute the most common types of
surreptitious behavior modification. And the reason people allow themselves to become
addicted to this kind of manipulation is because they are not aware of what is being done to
them, and why.
Perhaps the reader is now less vulnerable to the horde of Machiavellian hustlers that seems
to grow larger every day.