How cult leaders brainwash followers for total control | Aeon Essays

cult,sekta,The O,religion,dependency,Marxist-Leninist group

I joined this Minneapolis-based group, called The Organization (The O) believing I was to contribute to their stated goal of social justice, a value instilled in me by my family. However, what I actually did revolved around, first, being a factory machinist tending numerical control lathes and, then, grunt work in the group’s wholegrain bakery (we did at least make good bread) and, finally, writing business computer programs. The fact that these tasks seemed oddly disconnected from any strategy for social change did not escape my notice. I regularly questioned (until I learned not to) how all this was leading to justice for the poor and the powerless. A stern ‘struggle with the practice’ was the only answer I ever received, and back to my labours I would go, like Boxer the horse in George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945), hardworking but still unenlightened as to the ultimate goal.

 As I ‘developed’ over the years (as our groupspeak put it) it was revealed to me that ‘struggling with the practice’ would help us transform ourselves so as to be ready to contribute to some brave new world where we would finally fight for liberation of the oppressed. Meanwhile, we foot soldiers were so exhausted by the double shifts we worked year in and year out, the endless criticisms and self-criticisms, the leadership’s frowning upon any joy and spontaneity, that we no longer had the energy nor wit to keep asking questions.

However, despite – or perhaps because of – this dull and exhausting routine, in 1991 I did eventually make my exit along with two other disaffected comrades. Together we formed what I now call an ‘island of resistance’. We were able to gradually break the code of secrecy that silenced doubts about the group and its leader. With each other as validation, we began to articulate the real, dismal and frightening story of life in The O, which had as its unlikely recruiting grounds the 1970s food co-ops of the US Midwest.

After a dramatic exit, I wrote the memoir Inside Out (2002). The book was an effort to understand how I, an independent, curious and intelligent 26-year-old, could have been captured and held by such a group for so long. It was a cautionary tale for those not yet tempted by such a fate to beware of isolating groups with persuasive ideologies and threatening bass notes.