Archives for : October2018

This Is the Insidious Method Cult Leaders & Abusive Partners Use to Co-opt Your Brain

Charles Manson. David Koresh. L. Ron Hubbard. Their names are famous — or rather, infamous — for the control they exerted on their followers. At least one of the men on that list is arguably still exerting a lot of control on the world even after his death. All of these men could be described as cult leaders. But what draws people to cults? And once they’re in, why is it so hard to get out?

Related Video: Could You Start a Cult?


Keeping You Close

Recruiting is one thing, but how does a cult prevent its members from falling away from the fold? Generally, that comes down to making five demands that “protect” the faithful from forces that might lead them astray. It’s all about minimizing each member’s agency, whether by eroding their sense of self-worth, draining their bank accounts, or blocking out voices that might lead them to question the leader’s vision. The plan works like this, presented in no particular order:

A Cult of Personality

There’s one ingredient that pretty much every cult has in common, and that’s a charismatic leader. That’s because the key to building a community around yourself is convincing others that you’ve got what they need, whether that’s spiritual answers, creature comforts, or simply a method to ease their mind. Crucially, people seek a way to soothe their fears and anxieties, and cults have a special advantage when it comes to addressing those needs. They can make promises that no other group can hope to match — as long as the charmer in charge is convincing enough. According to California Institute of Technology psychologist Jon-Patrik Pedersen, those promises might include “complete financial security, constant peace of mind, perfect health, and eternal life.”

One way a recruiter might start is by asking a small favor (Benjamin Franklin effect, anyone?). For former cult member Ian Haworth, that favor was simply to fill out a short survey. From there, the recruiter played on his anxiety that he might have a greater purpose in life, asking, “Isn’t it time you considered giving something back to the community instead of taking from it all the time like most people do?” After that, it was simply a matter of making him feel inferior for things like his cigarette habit, along with promising to be able to help him break it. Soon enough, Ian had pledged his money, time, and labor.

Ian is quick to point out that the success of the recruiting methods that hemmed him in weren’t due to his lack of willpower or a mental illness. He was perfectly capable of making rational decisions and actually considered himself to be rather incredulous and skeptical. “The easiest people to recruit are ones with alert, questioning minds who want to debate issues with other people,” he told Vice. “You take a strong-willed, strong-minded person and put them into a cult environment and the techniques used will break a person down very, very quickly.” Maybe it’s that strong-mindedness that makes it so easy. Someone used to doubting themselves might be more inclined to realize that a person is attempting to manipulate them.


  1. Isolation. Often one of the first demands made of a convert is that they cut off ties with friends and family members. If they aren’t in line with the cult’s vision, they represent a danger to it. Besides keeping potentially positive influences out of the recruit’s life, this has the effect of grounding the recruit’s entire social life in the organization.
  2. Obedience. Well, this is a pretty obvious one. Is it even a cult if the leader doesn’t demand absolute obedience? By requiring members to follow a set of rules that might be arbitrary, nonsensical, pointless, or petty, the cult leader instills a reflexive obedience that can later be exploited to get the members to perform harmful and even violent deeds.
  3. Labor. Besides the obvious benefit of free labor that the cult reaps by requiring endless work of its members, putting people to work is a great way to keep them from questioning their leaders’ goals and thought processes. You can’t shake off an oppressor if you’re always exhausted.
  4. Money. By requiring members to raise money for or donate all of their money to the cause, cults don’t just fund their organization: they also prevent members from having the wherewithal to leave. It’s hard to flee if you can’t even afford a cab.
  5. Ostracization. The goal of these onerous demands is to leave members feeling as if the only thing worthwhile is the vision of the leader and the sense of community. But if a person does escape, they might find more purpose on the outside. To combat this, a cult will stigmatize those “apostates” even more than the uninitiated and will equate leaving the cult with failure and persecution.

It’s not a coincidence that these demands share many qualities with those made by abusive partners — in both circumstances, an individual is attempting to exert control by manipulating their victim’s sense of self-worth and value. It’s just something that’s worth thinking about. If you think you may be in a cult, here’s a guide on how to leave.


A Short History of the Salem Witch Trials USA in the 17th Century

One town’s strange journey from paranoia to pardon
The Salem witch trials occurred in colonial Massachusetts between 1692 and 1693. More than 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft—the Devil’s magic—and 20 were executed. Eventually, the colony admitted the trials were a mistake and compensated the families of those convicted. Since then, the story of the trials has become synonymous with paranoia and injustice, and it continues to beguile the popular imagination more than 300 years later.

Salem Struggling
Several centuries ago, many practicing Christians, and those of other religions, had a strong belief that the Devil could give certain people known as witches the power to harm others in return for their loyalty. A “witchcraft craze” rippled through Europe from the 1300s to the end of the 1600s. Tens of thousands of supposed witches—mostly women—were executed. Though the Salem trials came on just as the European craze was winding down, local circumstances explain their onset.

In 1689, English rulers William and Mary began a war with France in the American colonies. Known as King William’s War to colonists, it ravaged regions of upstate New York, Nova Scotia and Quebec, sending refugees into the county of Essex and, specifically, Salem Village in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. (Salem Village is present-day Danvers, Massachusetts; colonial Salem Town became what’s now Salem.)

The displaced people created a strain on Salem’s resources. This aggravated the existing rivalry between families with ties to the wealth of the port of Salem and those who still depended on agriculture. Controversy also brewed over Reverend Samuel Parris, who became Salem Village’s first ordained minister in 1689, and was disliked because of his rigid ways and greedy nature. The Puritan villagers believed all the quarreling was the work of the Devil.

In January of 1692, Reverend Parris’ daughter Elizabeth, age 9, and niece Abigail Williams, age 11, started having “fits.” They screamed, threw things, uttered peculiar sounds and contorted themselves into strange positions, and a local doctor blamed the supernatural. Another girl, Ann Putnam, age 11, experienced similar episodes. On February 29, under pressure from magistrates Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne, the girls accused three women for afflicting them: Tituba, the Parris’ Caribbean slave; Sarah Good, a homeless beggar; and Sarah Osborne, an elderly impoverished woman.

Witch Hunt
All three women were brought before the local magistrates and interrogated for several days, starting on March 1, 1692. Osborne claimed innocence, as did Good. But Tituba confessed, “The Devil came to me and bid me serve him.” She described elaborate images of black dogs, red cats, yellow birds and a “black man” who wanted her to sign his book. She admitted that she signed the book and said there were several other witches looking to destroy the Puritans. All three women were put in jail.

With the seed of paranoia planted, a stream of accusations followed for the next few months. Charges against Martha Corey, a loyal member of the Church in Salem Village, greatly concerned the community; if she could be a witch, then anyone could. Magistrates even questioned Sarah Good’s 4-year-old daughter, Dorothy, and her timid answers were construed as a confession. The questioning got more serious in April when Deputy Governor Thomas Danforth and his assistants attended the hearings. Dozens of people from Salem and other Massachusetts villages were brought in for questioning.

On May 27, 1692, Governor William Phipps ordered the establishment of a Special Court of Oyer (to hear) and Terminer (to decide) for Suffolk, Essex and Middlesex counties. The first case brought to the special court was Bridget Bishop, an older woman known for her gossipy habits and promiscuity. When asked if she committed witchcraft, Bishop responded, “I am as innocent as the child unborn.” The defense must not have been convincing, because she was found guilty and, on June 10, became the first person hanged on what was later called Gallows Hill.

Five days later, respected minister Cotton Mather wrote a letter imploring the court not to allow spectral evidence—testimony about dreams and visions. The court largely ignored this request and five people were sentenced and hanged in July, five more in August and eight in September. On October 3, following in his son’s footsteps, Increase Mather, then president of Harvard, denounced the use of spectral evidence: “It were better that ten suspected witches should escape than one innocent person be condemned.”

Governor Phipps, in response to Mather’s plea and his own wife being questioned for witchcraft, prohibited further arrests, released many accused witches and dissolved the Court of Oyer and Terminer on October 29. Phipps replaced it with a Superior Court of Judicature, which disallowed spectral evidence and only condemned 3 out of 56 defendants. Phipps eventually pardoned all who were in prison on witchcraft charges by May 1693. But the damage had been done: 19 were hanged on Gallows Hill, a 71-year-old man was pressed to death with heavy stones, several people died in jail and nearly 200 people, overall, had been accused of practicing “the Devil’s magic.”

Restoring Good Names
Following the trials and executions, many involved, like judge Samuel Sewall, publicly confessed error and guilt. On January 14, 1697, the General Court ordered a day of fasting and soul-searching for the tragedy of Salem. In 1702, the court declared the trials unlawful. And in 1711, the colony passed a bill restoring the rights and good names of those accused and granted £600 restitution to their heirs. However, it was not until 1957—more than 250 years later—that Massachusetts finally formally apologized for the dire events of 1692.

In the 20th century, artists and scientists alike continued to be fascinated by the Salem witch trials. Playwright Arthur Miller resurrected the tale with his 1953 play The Crucible, using the trials as an allegory for the McCarthyism paranoia in the 1950s. Additionally, numerous hypotheses have been devised to explain the strange behavior that occurred in Salem in 1692. One of the most concrete studies, published in Science in 1976 by psychologist Linnda Caporael, blamed the abnormal habits of the accused on the fungus ergot, which can be found in rye, wheat and other cereal grasses. Toxicologists say that eating ergot-contaminated foods can lead to muscle spasms, vomiting, delusions and hallucinations. Also, the fungus thrives in warm and damp climates—not too unlike the swampy meadows in Salem Village, where rye was the staple grain during the spring and summer months.

In August 1992, to mark the 300th anniversary of the trials, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel dedicated the Witch Trials Memorial in Salem. Also in Salem, the Peabody Essex Museum houses the original court documents, and the town’s most-visited attraction, the Salem Witch Museum, attests to the public’s enthrallment with the 1692 witch hysteria.

Editor’s note – October 27, 2011: Thanks to Professor Darin Hayton for pointing out an error in this article. While the exact number of supposed witches killed in Europe isn’t known, the best estimate is closer to tens of thousands of victims, not hundreds of thousands. We have fixed the text to address this issue.


Henry Sapiecha

Norway Apologizes for Persecuting WWII “German Girls” of their country.

Women who consorted with Nazi soldiers were attacked, shunned and deported after the war

For the “German Girls,” as they came to be called—the approximately 50,000 women in Norway who had consorted, or were rumored to have consorted with Nazi soldiers during the country’s occupation, and were later denied jobs, socially shunned, physically attacked or deported because of it—Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg has issued a formal apology. As the BBC reports, the announcement came at an event this week marking the 70th anniversary of the U.N.’s Declaration of Human Rights.

“[Norwegian authorities] violated the fundamental principle that no citizen can be punished without trial or sentenced without law,” Solberg said on Wednesday. “For many, this was just a teenage love, for some, the love of their lives with an enemy soldier or an innocent flirt that left its mark for the rest of their lives. Today, in the name of the government, I want to offer my sincere apologies.”

As Emily Sullivan at NPR reports, while trysts between locals and occupying armies are not uncommon during wartime, in Norway the situation was different. The Nazis encouraged soldiers occupying the Nordic nation to have children with local women, part of Heinrich Himmler’s designs to engineer an Aryan super race composed of German and Nordic genetics. It’s estimated that about 12,000 children were born to Norwegian mothers and invading Nazi German soldiers.

Approximately half of these babies, it is believed, were part of something called the Lebensborn or “fount of life” program that was designed specifically to propagate more Aryan babies. As Erin Blakemore writes over at Timeline, Himmler offered women impregnated by S.S. officers, who could prove their children were “racially pure,” special subsidies and treatment. Throughout Norway, there were at least eight Lebensborn homes where the babies could be birthed, something that Iliana Magra at The New York Times calls a “relatively large number.”

These children, along with their mothers, faced many forms of discrimination after the war. Women who married German soldiers and their children were stripped of their Norwegian citizenship, interned and deported to Germany. Many of the offspring who remained were abused, attacked and confined to mental institutions because of their parentage. Some, like Anni-Frid Lyngstad, a member of the band ABBA who is the daughter of a German father, fled Norway for Sweden with her mother to escape the rampant persecution.

While the Norwegian government issued an apology to the children in 2002 and offered them compensation, it’s taken another 15 years for it to acknowledge the mothers. Magra for the Times reports that this reassessment of history became feasible as the last members of the World War II generation, who considered the women collaborators or traitors, have aged out of political power.

“We cannot say women who had personal relations with German soldiers were helping the German war effort,” Guri Hjeltnes, director of the Center for Holocaust and Minorities Studies, tells the AFP. “Their crime was breaking unwritten rules and moral standards. They were punished even more harshly than the war profiteers.”

Norway was not alone in persecuting “horizontal collaborators,” as these women were crudely called. Violent purges of women occurred in other occupied countries. Take France, for instance. As Ann Mah at TIME reports, following the Allied liberation of the country, the public began attacking women who had entanglements with Nazi soldiers, as part of the center of a larger purge called the épuration sauvage. About 20,000 women accused of sleeping with the enemy had their heads shaved; others were covered in tar, physically assaulted, stoned, spat upon and shunned. As many as 6,000 people considered collaborators, including many women, were killed.


Henry Sapiecha

Mask of shame after experiencing an online love that turned into betrayal and financial disaster to the tune of over One Million Dollars.

Who Am I?

I am Debby Montgomery Johnson, an amazing, strong woman who has removed the mask of shame after experiencing a love that turned into betrayal and financial disaster to the tune of over One Million Dollars. Yes, that’s right … $1,080,762 to be exact!

Like so many of us who have experienced pain, challenge, shame, guilt and worry, I would put on a happy face, smile and have the well-rehearsed words, “I’m fine” come flying out of my mouth.

I hid behind that smile for decades and it seemed to be working, until it just wasn’t anymore and the time to remove the mask and step out from behind the smile became the only way for me to be.

Stepping out from behind the smile, and releasing the paralyzing fear of what others would think if they only knew the truth has allowed me to stand up in my power and I know it can do the same for you!


Henry Sapiecha