What process do cult recruiters use to gather followers? How does someone go from being an everyday member of society to standing in line for Kool-Aid at the compound? Found out in this video.
By: Zach Good
Cult recruiters go to locations at times when they know they'll be most likely to encounter the kind of people they’re looking to recruit. For example, if a cult is made up of mostly young professionals, the cult’s recruiters will go to a grocery store between 6-8pm, which is right around the time when people leave work and stop at the store on the way home. In that way, they’ll be able to see who is dressed nicely—an indication that the person has some kind of professional job.
Once the recruiter locates a potential target, they find a reason to approach. They may use a legitimate reason to make contact (“Hey, is that frozen pizza in your cart any good?”) or they might fabricate a reason (“You look familiar. Did you go to ______ high school?”). The recruiter will appear friendly and trusting; they’ll seem to be just a normal, everyday person.
Once contact is made, the recruiter uses harmless questions to gather information about the target. Let’s go back to the recruiter who asks if the target went to a certain high school. Here’s how the interaction might look:
Recruiter: You look familiar. Did you go to Thomas High School?
Target: No, I went to high school in Missouri.
The recruiter now knows where the target grew up and also knows that the target moved to the area at some point.
Recruiter: Ah, sorry—you look like someone I know. So what brought you to this area?
Target: I moved here last year when I got a job offer from XYZ Corporation.
The recruiter now knows where the target works, their career field, and how long they’ve lived in the area.
Recruiter: Oh, I know them! That’s a good company. I think I actually know someone who used to work there. Do you like it there?
Target: There can be some long days, but overall it’s good. They treat their employees well.
The recruiter now knows the target doesn’t enjoy working long hours but values an employer who pays well and offers perks.
Recruiter: That’s awesome. So how do you like Southern living so far?
Target: It’s nice. I definitely miss some of my old friends, but I like the weather here a lot more.
The recruiter now knows the target feels slightly homesick and values a network of friends, which is probably still growing in his new home.
In one minute, the recruiter learned a multitude of knowledge about the target just by asking friendly questions.
Once the recruiter has vetted the target, they begin the sales pitch. Often times they use vague, utopian visions to entice curiosity. Picking up the conversation from above:
Recruiter: I bet. It’s tough meeting people in a new place, especially when you move somewhere where you don’t know anyone. I’m actually a member of ABC Group—it’s a group of people mostly our age that does non-profit work. It feels so good to be able to help others; plus, it’s a ton of fun. We meet once a week to plan events, but mostly we just hang out and have a good time (laughs). I’ve made a ton of good friends since joining. I think you’d love it. You should come to our next meeting on Saturday afternoon!
Target: Sounds like fun. I’m not sure if I’d be able to commit because my work hours are constantly changing, though.
The recruiter senses doubt, but the target still hasn’t given a firm no.
Recruiter: That’s no problem! How about I get your phone number and email address and I’ll add you to our distribution list—then you can see our schedule and see if there's a time that works well for you?
[Recruiter gets target’s name and contact information]
Recruiter: I’m actually the marketing guy for our group, and I also have a pamphlet I can give you. If you look down here at the bottom, you can see that each pamphlet contains its own security code. If you go to our site and enter the code and your name, one of our partner groups will donate $1 to charity.
By this point, the recruiter has received the target’s information and has also given him a follow-up task to complete, along with a good faith reason to do it. The target wants to help charities and doesn’t want to let the kind recruiter down, so he goes to the site and enters the code. While on the site, he takes a look around. The site contains vague propaganda about how ABC Group helps people and is committed to making the world a better place.
[When the recruiter sees that the target entered the security code on the site, he knows that the target has some of level interest and saw the site’s page. He sends the target an email the following day]:
Recruiter: Hey Tim, thanks so much for entering the code! We really appreciate it. What do you think of our website?
Target: No problem! I like your site. Your group looks like fun.
[The following day the recruiter sends the ABC Group distribution list and Tim an email]
Recruiter: Hey everyone! Just a reminder, our meeting is Saturday afternoon at 2pm. I also want to introduce you all to Tim! He’s a fun guy I ran into the other day at the store who moved here last year. He might be interested in joining us one of these weeks!
ABC Group Member 1: Welcome, Tim! I think you’ll really love our group.
ABC Group Member 2: Awesome! We love new people!
Tim now feels pressure from the group and doesn’t want to let everyone down.
Tim: Thanks! I’m not sure about my schedule, but I’m going to try to make it to one of your meetings soon.
The process continues forward. With every touchpoint the ABC Group has with Tim, they put a little more pressure on him and make it less likely he’ll cut off contact. They also give him little tasks to do that gauge his interest and participation level.
The point of this is to show that cult members recruit targets in tiny, tiny steps. They have to do this. Why? Because if they approach targets and give them the full truth—“I’m a member of ABC Group, and we believe that our leader is the messiah and we need to give away all our possessions and follow him wherever he goes,” the target would be turned off immediately because it’s such a drastic leap from his life at the time.
Cults recruit people over large amounts of time because as time goes by the target’s brain continuously renormalizes such that what was outside his comfort zone last month is now normal and acceptable. Maybe he was iffy about joining a charity group because of not having much free time, but he joined. Now that he joined, being part of the group is his new normal. Then, after a while, paying $50 monthly for dues seems like a stretch, but he does it because he likes the group. Now, being part of the group and giving the group $50 each month is his new normal. Then, after a while, the group explains to him that he should fly to California to take part in a very important charity event. He thinks it’s a bit much, but he agrees to go. Now, being part of the group, giving the group $50 each month, and flying cross-country for an event is his new normal.
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