“We, the members of the Libertarian Party, challenge the cult of the omnipotent state and defend the rights of the individual.” This is the first sentence of the official “Statement of Principles” for the Libertarian Party, a document first adopted in 1974. While some find the language of this statement to be rather extreme, an in-depth examination reveals that there is truth in the comparison of radical, big-government devotion and collectivism to cult-like behavior.
Steven Hassan, a mental health counselor specializing in mind control and cults, developed a tool for assessing organizations against this type of authoritarian control. Using research and theory developed by a number of experts, he put together the BITE Model to characterize specific methods that institutions use to exercise undue influence over human beings. An acronym for Behavior, Information, Thought, and Emotional control, this model describes how each of these areas are used to manipulate individuals in order to impose authority.
A close look at these methods reveals undeniable parallels to government entities, corporate interest groups, and the media that support them. While they have been in place for decades, these practices have rapidly escalated over the past couple of years.
In a cult, an individual’s physical reality is regulated by controlling their behavior. This includes isolation, regulation of personal associations, and micromanaging sexual relationships. Members are financially exploited with an aim of driving wealth to leadership and creating dependence upon the organization. Individualism is discouraged in favor of group-think and various aspects of life are regulated with permission needed for many major decisions. Punishment is a real possibility for those who fail to comply.
These methods were blatantly apparent during the government response to the pandemic. Stay-at-home orders took a devastating psychological toll on the population, particularly in areas where these mandates lasted for months rather than weeks. The economic repercussions of business closures meant that many relied upon government handouts for survival at the expense of self-sufficiency. Those distressed by the infringements upon their individual civil liberties were portrayed as selfish or uneducated.
There is a long history of government interference into regulating sexual relationships and other aspects of life that should be considered entirely personal matters. The government has made incarceration for victimless “crimes” a routine practice, resulting in the largest prison population in the world.
According to Hassan, the predatory institution will deliberately deceive the adherent by withholding and distorting information or by systematically lying. Access to information is controlled by minimizing unapproved sources while extensively using information and propaganda generated by the cult. Statements from outside sources are regularly misquoted or taken out of context. Members are distracted or kept busy so that they do not have time to think about or investigate information that the powers-that-be wish to suppress. This is reinforced by monitoring calls, texts, and internet usage and by encouraging members to spy on one another, reporting deviations to authorities.
The combination of shelter-in-place mandates and business closures for months left many with little connection to the outside world other than politically-driven media. What should ideally be havens for the exchange of free thought, social media platforms routinely eliminate opposing voices and restrict the free flow of information. Ideas that do not fit the mainstream narrative are mischaracterized as “disinformation” and unapproved sources are demonized with undesirable labels so that the public is discouraged from consuming them.
Awareness of the government surveillance programs unveiled by Edward Snowden in 2013 has created a chilling effect upon many who would not wish to be associated with certain activities, even if those activities are simply research, education, or having a presence on a particular platform. Highly sensationalized stories about trivial matters aid in burying more substantial news that might cause outrage or opposition to positions of authority if it were more well known. Government officials routinely call on citizens to report those holding “extremist” views to authorities with specific mention of libertarians being included.
Dominance over adherents is exercised by attempts to influence even their innermost thoughts. The group creates a “map of reality” that is imposed upon the subjugated as their reality. This map employs false binary thinking, organizing ideas as good or evil and human beings as “us” versus “them.” Complex ideas are reduced to clichés, buzz-words, and other loaded language that flatten nuance and stifle critical thought. Any criticism or questioning of leaders or doctrine is met with negative consequences and any belief system outside of the approved one is portrayed as illegitimate, nonsensical, or evil.
Regardless of the leanings of the political majority, an atmosphere of polarization has reached a fever pitch over the last few years. Tolerance for those considered to be “outsiders” has dwindled to the extent that many view those who disagree as an inferior class. With slogans like “Hope and Change,” “Make America Great Again,” and “Build Back Better,” people often adopt an entire slate of issues without question, fearing that publicly acknowledging any deviation of opinion will result in being ostracized by the tribe. Catch phrases and buzz-words such as “flatten the curve,” “new normal,” “disinformation,” and “snowflake” quickly permeate the culture. Those who make public statements that question the common narrative are viciously attacked, subject to death threats, intimidation, doxing, and loss of livelihood.
Cults define an acceptable range of feelings. Emotions that are not useful to the cult are deemed to be wrong or selfish. Problems are portrayed as being the fault of the victim rather than that of the leader or group, promoting feelings of shame based on unworthiness due to one’s identity, family connections, past actions, or social and historical guilt. Irrational fear of a perceived enemy and unapproved activities is instilled, positioning the institution as the only form of protection against the danger. The emotional manipulation is reinforced through shunning, punishment, and fear of rejection.
The emotional manipulation promoted by fascist governments and the institutions that are in league with them has never been so blatantly obvious as during the pandemic. Where responsible leaders seek to provide level-headed advice without instilling panic, the messages put forth over the last year and a half have served to drive fear rather than abate it, while positioning government institutions as the only solution that will save us from inevitable doom. Individuals who question these actions or express concern for loss of civil liberties are characterized as selfish and dangerous. Ostracism and “cancel culture” are employed to discourage any who disagree with mainstream sentiment to voice their opinions. Identity politics encourages a culture of blame and shame, even of innate things that we cannot control.
People who manipulate others to accrue power are a problem—but a common one. Leaders of a cult will try to legitimize and justify new forms of control. They act in their own interest—not that of their followers.
The focus of the efforts of fighting the Cult of the Omnipotent State must not be on those running the cult but, instead, on those who have been brainwashed. Education, logic, and critical thinking are key components that we should encourage. By consistently providing messages that emphasize the irrationality of government actions while outlining these parallels to cult-like behavior, we can perhaps reach those who are ready to free themselves from that most pernicious false religion.