Guest post: How cult members respond to a major crisis

Originally two comments by Bjarte Foshaug on These two loudmouth mammals.

I’m not at all a cult expert, but as an interested lay person who has read both Lifton, Singer, Ross, and Hassan, I think the importance of “saving face” can hardly be overestimated. How cult members respond to a major crisis depends heavily on how easy or difficult it is backpedal without too much public humiliation and loss of face. Those who haven’t made too much of a public commitment tend to just slip away quietly and pretend nothing ever happened. The people you really need to worry about are the ones who have made a strong commitment in public, invested everything they have in the cause, burned all bridges behind them*. These are the people who tend to double and triple down on their commitment and keep fighting to the end. Beyond a certain point even forcing Kool-Aid mixed with cyanide down your children’s throats before drinking it yourself may appear less unacceptable than admitting you yourself and the world that you weren’t too clever to be taken in by a cult after all, that you have dedicated your life to a lie, that the people you have been attacking and vilifying for opposing the vicious cult you’re in were right all along, that you are the bad guy, that you have gotten your hands irredeemably dirty in service of an unworthy cause etc. etc.

Of course TRAs do not follow a single leader like Jim Jones, nor are they all physically gathered together in one place, which makes a Jonestown-like scenario seem far less likely. Still, I think there is a real danger that single individuals or even small groups of dedicated gender fanatics are going to do something crazy if/when the real world finally starts closing in on them. Still, while I sincerely hope I’m wrong, I’m not as optimistic as many others that the trans craze is going to start dying down any time soon. It reminds me too much of the way people kept predicting that Trump’s followers were going to start abandoning him on mass every time he said or did something outrageous (i.e. every time he said or did anything at all). While Maya’s and Allison’s victories, the closing down of the Tavistock etc. are certainly good news, the institutional capture seems to continue pretty much unabated, and as we all know, all of Trump’s supposedly career-ending scandals didn’t prevent him from gaining votes between 2016 and 2020.

Also, while comparisons to People’s Temple – like comparisons to Nazism – should be used with caution, it doesn’t mean that any attempt to extract any lessons from the history of People’s Temple or Nazism that are applicable to current affairs is inherently fallacious in principle. In the case of People’s Temple, they were first and foremost a social justice cult thinly disguised as a Pentecostal Church. As I understand it from reading Tim Reiterman’s The Raven it was pretty much common knowledge within the Temple that Jones’s miraculous healings and psychic readings were simple deceptions** to lure people to the church so they could be exposed to the Temple’s teachings about racial integration and Communism. There are recordings of Jones openly deriding and even stepping on the Bible.

The Temple’s mixed race policies and uncompromising stance on racial integration earned them considerable support from large segments of the political Left including Leftwing media, and one of the main reasons Jones managed to get away with his endless scandals*** for as long as he did, was that the Temple and their apologists were successful in portraying any criticism as part of a racially motivated rightwing conspiracy to discredit the group because of its progressive values. Sounds familiar?

*Of course the Internet has made it a lot harder to pretend you never said what you did or that your words have been misremembered, misinterpreted, misconstrued etc.

** Very much like the ones Peter Popoff was exposed using by James Randi.

*** Considering the obvious self-destructive tendencies of this guy, and his pathological compulsion to get himself into trouble, it’s hardly surprising that his final act would be to take all his followers with him in an act of mass-suicide.

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