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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.


Nihad told of the brutality she had endured when she was kidnapped by Islamic State and sold into sexual slavery.HER STORY.

‘Australia will be my first home and my last home’: Nihad’s new life begins

London: Twelve months ago Nihad Barakat al-Awsi’s eyes were heavy with sadness.

Sharing her story with Fairfax Media, Nihad told of the brutality she had endured when she was kidnapped by Islamic State and sold into sexual slavery.  She has never again seen the baby boy, Issa, she gave birth to at just 15, and probably never will. She spoke of a sadness so deep she feared the trauma would be ever present in her mind.

Today, Nihad’s face is a happier picture. Three weeks ago she received a call that would change her life. Her application for Australia’s protection & residency had been accepted.

“I will go and I will change everything; I will start a new life there. I will remove it all from my mind,” the 19-year old said from Iraq.

Nihad Barakat al-Awsi will start a new life in Australia.

Later this week, Nihad – one of 18 children – will board a flight to Australia with two brothers and a sister, ready to close the door on their grossly troubled Iraqi lives. It will be a day of mixed emotions & feelings because it means saying goodbye to her parents, who want to stay in Iraq with the remaining family members.

Two of her brothers were forced into Islamic State training camps, while two sisters and another brother were murdered in the terror group’s attempted genocide of the Yazidis.

But Nihad is looking forward to her new life. She dreams of speaking English fluently and becoming a teacher.

“When I reach Australia I just want to learn English and become a teacher,” she said. ”This is the only purpose I have – to become a teacher.”

‘I will go and I will change everything. I will start a new life there.’

Liberal senator Zed Seselja, who met Nihad in London last year while serving as the assistant minister for social services and multicultural affairs, said there was “absolutely no doubt” Nihad would achieve her dreams in Australia,  and be welcomed & resettled by her new community.

“Like all refugees who are resettled in Australia, Nihad and her siblings will receive 500 hours of intensive English language lessons and can apply for more if needed, so she’ll have a great opportunity to pick up English,” he said.

He said refugees are offered housing assistance and help to enrol in education or training courses or look for work. They also receive a basic care or welcome package when they arrive into Australia.

Senator Seselja said only a tiny minority would begrudge the taxpayer-funded services provided to those fleeing harm and persecution.

“We’ve resettled a few hundred Yazidis and several thousand from Iraq and Syria in the last few years,” he said. “Most people I speak to want Australia to be a generous nation and are welcoming of refugees.”

Senator Seselja said Australia also offered support to victims of trauma and torture and this would be provided in Nihad’s case.

Since her escape from Islamic State, Nihad has received support from doctors and psychologists in Iraq. Her case inspired the AMAR Foundation, a London-based charity, to set up its Escaping Darkness program, which funds psychological support services for many thousands of Yazidi women who were traded as sex slaves by Islamic State.

Australia accepted 17,555 refugees in 2015-16 under the humanitarian program, with the highest number (4358) from Iraq. This year Australia will accept 18,750 people fleeing persecution in their country.

When Nihad arrives she will live in Toowoomba, which is home to quite a sizeable Yazidi community, including some of Nihad’s relatives. Nihad is looking forward to seeing her relatives again but also wants to become part of the Australian community.

“I don’t want to come just to see the Yazidis; I want to change my life, I want to change everything,” she said. “Australia will become my first home and my last one.”

Senator Seselja said Nihad’s desires to live an Australian life was common.

“I’ve seen that from so many people who come, not just refugees but from migrants, and it’s wonderful that they can come and want to integrate,” he said. ”I think that’s a great attitude to bring with them.”

But as Nihad looks forward to embracing life in Queensland, she will not entirely close the door on Iraq and the horror she has lived from that August day in 2014 when a cry rang out that dramatically changed her life: “IS are coming.”

About 10,000 Yazidis are estimated to have been slaughtered or kidnapped in the few days that followed. Thousands have never been seen or heard of again. Sinjar is now a rubble and nearly 50 mass graves have been uncovered.

“When I go to Australia I wish to help my people in Iraq because they need us,” she said.

Henry Sapiecha

Journalist shuts down interview after islamic isis ‘scholar’ man says it’s beneath him to be interviewed on video by a woman


May “In this studio, I run the show” be your catchphrase today.

Lebanese TV host Rima Karaki was joined on her news program by London-based scholar Hani Al Seba’i to discuss the recent wave of Christians joining ISIS.

As the conversation – with time running out – got sidetracked into historical detail, Karaki tried to steer Al Seba’i back to the topic at hand.


Henry Sapiecha


Henry Sapiecha

UN says Iraq jihadists order female genital mutilation

Geneva (AFP) – The United Nations said on Thursday that jihadists in Iraq have ordered all women between the ages of 11 and 46 to undergo female genital mutilation, but experts quickly cast doubt on the claim.

Iraq jihadists order female genital mutilation image

The UN’s second most senior official in Iraq, Jacqueline Badcock, told reporters in Geneva via video conference: “It is a fatwa (or religious edict) from ISIS, we learnt about it this morning. We have no precise numbers.”

The Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), took over large swathes of the country last month and has begun imposing its extreme Salafist interpretation of Islam.

But several experts have speculated that the fatwa may have been a hoax, and a number of journalists said on Twitter that their contacts in Iraq had not heard of it being issued.

Charles Lister, visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center and expert on Iraqi and Syrian extremist groups, said the UN claim appeared to be based on a “quite clearly faked statement” that began circulating online on Wednesday.

“It would certainly be a very big coincidence if the UN source was separate but happened to arise at the same time as this fake statement online,” he said.

“FGM just doesn’t fit with the Islamic State’s image, notwithstanding how brutal an organisation it has proven itself to be,” he added.

A spokesman for the UN in Geneva told AFP that “checks” were underway in Iraq, and that until then “nothing had changed.”

Badcock earlier said that if you took UN population figures as a guide, around “four million girls and women could be affected” by the alleged fatwa.

Female genital mutilation is unusual in Iraq and is only practised in “certain isolated pockets of the country”, she added.

She said only 20 families from the ancient Christian minority now remain in Mosul, the northern Iraq city which ISIS has taken as the capital of its Islamic state. Most have reportedly fled north into Kurdish-controlled territory.

Badcock said some Christians have converted to Islam, while others have opted to stay and pay the jiyza, the tax on non-Muslims the Islamic State has imposed.

Henry Sapiecha

Sudanese mum sentenced to death by muslims for being a Christian gives birth in jail

 Daniel Wani and Meriam Ibrahim on their wedding day image

Happier times … Daniel Wani and Meriam Ibrahim on their wedding day.

A Christian Sudanese woman who has been sentenced to hang for apostasy has given birth in jail in Khartoum, a Western diplomat said on Tuesday.

“She gave birth to a girl today. The mother and the baby seem to be doing okay,” said a diplomat, who wished to remain anonymous.

But he said: “It’s a cruel treatment to be in such a situation.”

Meriam Ibrahim was sentenced to death after being found guilty of converting from Islam to Christianity and marrying a Christian man, US citizen Daniel Wani, who lives in New Hampshire. The couple are also parents to 20-month-old Martin.

The 27-year-old doctor was three weeks pregnant in September when she was arrested under the Islamic sharia law that has been in force in Sudan since 1983. At the time, her husband was visiting Khartoum to try to arrange for the family to move to America.

She will receive 100 lashes before she is executed sometime in the next two years.

Martin, the 20-month-old son of death row prisoner Meriam Ibrahim.image

Meriam’s toddler son lives with her in the prison, where she has been shackled to the floor for the last months of her pregnancy. Officials will not allow her husband to take the children as they say they are Muslim and should not be under the care of a Christian.

The mum of two is unrepentant about her choice, telling her husband weeks ago, “If they want to execute me then they should go ahead and do it because I’m not going to change my faith.” She says she has “always been a Christian” after her mother brought her up in the religion, and that she could not “pretend to be a Muslim” in order to save her life.

An online petition that requests the cancellation of Meriam’s execeution has accumulated more than 660,000 signatures

Henry Sapiecha



sharia woman in berka being flogged image

Sharia law … A woman is caned in Aceh for selling food during Ramadan in October. A woman and a man will soon be caned publicly for adultery. Photo: AFP


Sharia police in the Indonesian province of Aceh will publicly flog a young woman for adultery after she was turned in by eight vigilantes who had already gang-raped her as punishment.


The woman, a 25-year-old widow, and her alleged partner, a married 40-year old man, were caught inside her home last Thursday by a group of eight who were intent on enforcing the sharia prohibition on sex outside marriage, local media reports say.


The eight, who included a 13-year-old boy, tied up and beat the man and repeatedly raped the woman before dousing both in raw sewage.


They then marched the couple to the office of the local sharia police.


Ibrahim Latif, the head of the sharia police, or Wilayatul Hisbah in the town of Langsa, in Aceh’s far south-east, was quoted in The Jakarta Globe saying: “We want the couple caned because they violated the religious bylaw on sexual relations”.


Under the sharia law, which is peculiar to Aceh, each of the couple faces nine strokes of the cane in a public place.


The woman’s ordeal at the hands of her accusers would not be taken into account in delivering the sentence, Mr Ibrahim said.


“They have to be [caned] as a form of justice … they’ve confessed to having sex several times before, even though the man is married and has five children”.


The Jakarta Globe newspaper reported that Teungku Faisal Ali, the head of the Aceh chapter of the country’s largest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama had backed the caning.


The organisation is usually considered part of Indonesia’s moderate muslim maintream.


However, Mr Faisal said the alleged rapists themselves should be treated more harshly than the couple, because they had “set back efforts to uphold sharia in Aceh”.


He said vigilantes should not act directly, but report offences to the sharia police.


Three of the alleged rapists including the boy are in police custody, and police have appealed for the families of the other five to give them up.


They are facing investigation and conviction by the ordinary criminal courts.


Aceh is the only province of Indonesia which enforces sharia law, after the central government in Jakarta granted its religious leaders the right to impose it in 2001 to try to quell separatist sentiment.


A recent bylaw in the province extended its provisions to all residents and visitors, including non-Muslims.


The law is enforced patchily, but Langsa is known to be strict. In nearby Lhokseumawe, women are prohibited from wearing tight jeans and riding astride motor scooters — they are required to go side saddle. Women are also expected to cover their hair, and young unmarried couples are not allowed to sit together in public in case sexual feelings emerge.


The law has often been abused by vigilantes and overzealous officials.


In one tragic case in 2012, a 16-year old girl was at a concert with friends in Langsa when the sharia police harangued her as a prostitute. When local media picked up the story the next day, repeated the accusation and published her full name, the girl hanged herself.


In 2010, three sharia policemen raped a 20-year-old university student after they found her riding a motorcycle with her boyfriend.

Henry Sapiecha