I first published this 18 months ago, when QAnon wasn’t even on my radar. I’m reposting now, with some additional notes for this strange new time.
I started writing about cults in 2012 when a group I’d been recruited into more than a decade before began to implode, after the partner of one of the group’s leaders died of exposure in the Arizona desert.
In the ensuing nine years, I’ve weathered a broad spectrum of blowback from loyalists to the groups I’ve written about critically. The responses express a spectrum of defences: from primitive-enraged to sophisticated-subtle. I believe most of the responses share the features and impulses listed below.
This is not a complete list, nor is it scientific. It’s based primarily on personal observation. Some researchers might disagree with some premises here, and I welcome feedback and objections. I’m including a bibliography of diverse resources at the bottom of the post.
Please note: Most of the research on cult recovery comes from the pre-digital era. My working assumption is that for those who see clear cultic dynamics at play in online movements like conspirituality and QAnon, the list below will be both applicable, and need constant updating to reflect emerging research on algorithmic influence, influencer culture, and screen-related social isolation.
1. All group members are abuse victims, to varying degrees.
2. The voices of survivors are psychologically threatening to those who have not yet owned their survivorhood.
3. They love the group leader in a complex, intense, and painful way.
4. They believe their community loves and protects them, but they also doubt it. You are the external representation of those doubts.
5. They might have cognitive injuries.
6. They may feel existentially dependent upon the group ideology.
7. The financial benefits of group membership may be as invisible as other forms of privilege.