If you think that cults are merely traps for gullible and weak-minded people, Steven Hassan would urge you to reconsider. The mind control expert is the author of Combating Cult Mind Control: The Guide to Protection, Rescue and Recovery from Destructive Cults. He’s also a former member of the Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church cult.
Based on Hassan’s lived experience and research, a destructive cult is dishonest from the beginning. Destructive cults always lie to new members about their true intentions, according to Hassan. This is a very repeated pattern in the stories of defectors of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK/ Cult of Rajavi).
Just for instance, a large number of former members of the MEK have been recruited to join the MEK in Iraq when they were working in neighboring countries of Iran and were dreaming of having a better life in Europe. The MEK’s recruiters never told them that they would join a political military cult. Instead, they promised to help the targeted folks immigrate to Europe to have their dream life and they should just stay in the MEK’s camp for a while. The victims had no idea that they would end with an isolated destructive cult that would coerce them to leave all their belongings behind and stay there for their whole life.
“You might think you’re getting a free dinner,” Hassan says, “you’re learning a self-help technique. You don’t realize that the goal is to get you to sign up for a week course. Then it’s a two-week course, a six-month course. And then they want you to divorce your wife, give over your assets, and work for no money.”
This is exactly what happened to thousands of MEK members. As the most recent defector of the Cult of Rajavi, Ali Asghar Zamani’s involvement with the group follows the same pattern that Hassan states. Ali Asghar Zamani, his wife and their two children were recruited by the MEK agents, in 2003. The Zamanis did not have any idea that they were going to Iraq to the military Camp Ashraf. The MEK agents had promised them immigration to Europe to build a happy life there. But, for years their destination was the isolated camp in Iraqi deserts where the family fell apart. Ali and his wife were forced to divorce. His initial resistance against this order did not work. His wife was finally separated from him. Their 17-year-old son was coerced to wear military uniform and their little daughter was taken back to Iran. Since then, they could hardly ever see each other. “During the 20 years of membership in the MEK, I could see my son four or five times, from long distance,” he recounts. Zamani escaped the MEK’s camp in Albania, called Ashraf 3, last month.
Steven Hassan believes that there are some warning signs of a destructive cult that people should watch out for. Based in research and theory from leading expert psychologists and scholars who’ve studied brainwashing, “BITE” stands for Behavior, Information, Thought, and Emotional control. These mind control techniques work because, according to Hassan while you’re getting indoctrinated, your critical faculties are getting worn away. That might be through hypnosis, food or sleep deprivation, or forcing them to cut off contact with friends and family. In the MEK all these tools are used except hypnosis.
The way BITE works is explained by Hassan:
A group member dictates where, how, and with whom the member lives and associates with, or isolates them from others.
They regulate your diet through forced fasting.
They manipulate a person and deprive them of sleep.
They practice financial exploitation, manipulation or dependence.
They impose rigid rules and regulations.
Instances in the MEK: Rules of a destructive cult with para-military attitudes dominate the MEK. Forced unpaid labor, sleep deprivation, forced dress code, forced hijab for female members are only a few of these suppressive rules.
They practice deception (by deliberately withholding or distorting information, and/or lying).
They minimize or discourage access to non-cult sources of information (TV, internet, former members, and so on).
They make extensive use of cult-generated information and propaganda (YouTube, newsletters, movies and other media).
Instances in the MEK: Mobile phone is forbidden in the MEK. The Internet is allowed to only a few of high-ranking members. All defectors of the MEK start to learn who to use a smart phone after they escape the group’s camp.
They require members to internalize the group’s doctrine as truth (black-and-white, good vs evil thinking).
They change a person’s name and identity.
They use loaded language and clichés which constrict knowledge, stop critical thoughts, and reduce complexities into platitudinous buzz words.
They employ hypnotic techniques to alter mental states, undermine critical thinking and age-regress the member.
Instances in the MEK: Most members of the MEK have pseudonyms. Questioning about the leaders’ decisions and strategies is not accepted. If you criticize the group’s leaders and cause you are considered enemy and so you deserve to be punished. Thinking is forbidden, let alone critical thinking.
They manipulate and narrow the range of feelings—some emotions and/or needs are deemed as evil, wrong or selfish.
They teach emotion-stopping techniques to block feelings of homesickness, anger, doubt.
They make the person feel that problems are always their own fault, never the leader’s or the group’s fault.
They instill fear, such as fear of the outside world, enemies, leaving or being shunned by the group.
Instances in the MEK: In the MEK love is forbidden. Members of the group are not allowed to miss their normal life outside Ashraf. Having feelings for their family and friends causes them to be the subject of punishment for the crime they committed: They have thought of wife and life! As a member of the Cult of Rajavi you must regard your family as your enemy.
By Mazda Parsi