We’re going to begin our series on How to Operate an Anti-Authoritarian Hacktivist Cult by reviewing the three essentials of operating any type of cult: (1) the Charismatic Cult leader; (2) Isolation from Society; and (3) the Apocalyptic Ideology. We assume you’re already familiar with how these features function in more traditional cults, so we’ll focus on how you can make them work for you in an “anti-authoritarian” environment. This will involve a little tweaking, but not as much as you might suspect. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get right to it.
1. The Charismatic Cult Leader (or the “Non-Leading” Leader)
Now this is crucial, as you can’t expect to operate a cult without a charismatic cult leader, or at least some sort of celebrity figurehead that people can rally around and idolize. Your cult leader is also the “public face” of your cult as far as the media is concerned, and the one who’ll be flying all over the world to all those hacktivist conferences and parties, so you definitely need to get this one right.
The tricky part is, because you’re going to be dealing with anti-authoritarian types, you can’t just go with some obvious spook with shiny black shoes and a jarhead crew cut. No, your cult leader needs to look the part, speak the anti-authoritarian lingo, and otherwise pass as an anarchist hacktivist. So you’ll be looking for a Manson-type, as opposed to someone like Jones or Miscavige (i.e. someone who can blend into the hacktivist subculture the way Manson blended into the hippie subculture).
The good news is, there are plenty of these around. Manipulative domination freaks and other such sociopaths are a dime a dozen, and they’re going to be drawn to any type of non-hierarchical group or community that suspends the rules of normal society like sharks to bleeding shipwreck survivors floating around helplessly in their orange life jackets … so it shouldn’t be too hard to find one.
What we suggest, when it comes to your cult leader, is letting nature take its course. Assemble and isolate your hacktivist community, suspend the rules of normal society, and let the sociopaths fight it out to establish themselves as de facto leader. Nine times out of ten this works. People’s ingrained authoritarianism does not just magically disappear because they read some anarchist tract online or sit around in some general assembly twinkling and monitoring vibes, and so on. In the absence of any overt hierarchy, dominant personalities dominate, and submissive personalities submit. Any potential cult leader knows this, which is why they’re so drawn to these “leaderless” groups. Which brings us to our second point.
2. Isolation from the Larger Society (or Suspension of the Rules of Society)
Isolating your hacktivist cult from society is just as important as finding the right cult leader. In fact, it may be more important, as not even the most manipulative cult leader can successfully control his devoted followers unless their ties to the outside world have been severed. This doesn’t always have to mean physical severance — e.g. a heavily-armed compound out in the desert — isolation can be a state of mind ( with everyone glued to their phones these days, “community” is almost completely virtual, so there’s really no reason to physically isolate). The crucial thing is to get your hacktivists to suspend the rules of “normal” society, which shouldn’t be too hard to accomplish, as most of these rules exist in order to encourage the type of mindless conformity and subservience your typical hacktivist hates. Once you’ve done that, the next step is easy.
What you want to do now is foster a kind of ongoing intra-cult competition wherein cult members openly vie with each other to prove who can be the most anti-authoritarian and transgress the most societal norms. This reinforces their sense of isolation, and gives them something fun to do. Sexual transgression always works well — Manson was particularly adept at this — although these days it’s getting harder to find any norms that haven’t already been transgressed. Still, we recommend going with sex, as your newer cult members (i.e. “fish”) will probably have a few taboos that they haven’t yet broken by the time they join. Invite them over for drinks or dinner, get a casual orgy going, and then make the fish the center of attention. Be sure to include their romantic partners to get the full transgressive effect! Drugs are another useful tool, the more hallucinogenic the better — e.g. LSD, DMT, psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline, et cetera — but anything paranoia-inducing will do.
Keep your eyes on the prize, however. As fun as these drug-fueled orgies can be, sex and drugs are not an end in themselves; they are simply a means of reinforcing your cult members’ isolation from society, and their estrangement from anyone who isn’t a cult member, who ideally you want them to come to regard as unenlightened and potentially dangerous. (A good example of this would be the way, in the Hollywood movie The Matrix, anyone who hadn’t taken the red pill, and learned “the truth” about “reality,” was liable to be a “potential agent,” and thus could never be entirely trusted. You want your cult members thinking of anyone who isn’t a member of the cult like that.) Which brings us to our final point.
3. The Apocalyptic Ideology
The majority of start-up cults that fail do so because they’ve somehow neglected their apocalyptic ideology. Either they fail to articulate it clearly, or it simply isn’t paranoid enough. Paranoia is the key factor here. A cult is only as strong as its enemies, even if those enemies are completely imaginary, or have no interest in the cult whatsoever. Examples of apocalyptic ideologies include: Manson’s vision of “Helter Skelter,” Jones’s “religious communalism,” and the Scientologists’ “going clear” thing. Obviously, for a variety of reasons — among them that they are batshit crazy — apocalyptic ideologies of this type are inappropriate for your hacktivist cult.
Please keep in mind that your apocalyptic ideology does not have to be a doomsday scenario. By “apocalyptic,” what we mean is “final,” but not necessarily “suicidal.” So no one has to drink any Kool-Aid, or slaughter any Hollywood celebrities, or anything quite as dramatic as that. All we’re really talking about when we talk about an “apocalyptic ideology” is an eschatological revolutionary program with a clearly defined and powerful enemy, and some half-assed vision of a better future, which everyone knows will never come about (we’ll return to this point in just a moment).
For anti-authoritarian hacktivist cults, the ideal type of apocalyptic ideology is going to be some political crusade that your hacktivist types can get obsessively involved with, and pretend they’re waging a guerrilla war against powerful government and corporatist antagonists, who are probably logging their every keystroke, watching them through their notebook cameras, and recording every word they say on their smart phones. Don’t be afraid to overdo this; the more powerful and evil the antagonist the better. You want your cult members believing they’re actually doing damage to the NSA, CIA, GCHQ, or some similarly romantic and invincible adversary.
The invincibility part is important, because you don’t want to ever win this battle, as that would be the end of your cult. The main thing is — regardless of whichever specific apocalyptic ideology you go with — it has to be something dangerous enough to draw the attention of the agencies in question, as you definitely want your well-known cult members actually harassed by the real authorities, and detained and questioned at the airport, and so on, as this establishes their credibility as dangerous jet-setting hacktivist outlaws.
It will help if you can get your celebrity figurehead to assume the role of a persecuted martyr, like Julian Assange or Edward Snowden. People eat this martyr stuff up. (Look at what Omidyar is doing with First Look, and the Edward Snowden franchise thing. The genius of it is, he’s hired a handful of extremely intelligent and talented journalists, who normally — i.e. if they didn’t work for him — given their politics, would be inclined to tear him a new asshole on a regular basis. Which, of course, is the last thing they last thing they want to do. Their extremely generous salaries aside, the way it’s going, they can string this Snowden documents thing out for literally decades, and in the meantime do their adversarial reporting, and maybe win some more Pulitzer Prizes. In terms of Baudrillardian insidiousness, it does not get any better than this.)
In any event, if you can get that going (i.e. the celebrity mascot martyr thing) we’re talking gold mine in terms of knock-on benefits … not only will you reap the intangible rewards of the whole celebrity-worship thing, but you will generate all sorts of revenue streams, e.g. t-shirts, coffee mugs, books, movies, and any other branded products you can think of.
Now you don’t want your actual cult leader to do this, as you want him free to fly around the world speaking on behalf of your celebrity figurehead, giving interviews and intimidating “snitches,” not to mention attending those drug-fueled orgies, and other day-to-day cult-related stuff. This doesn’t mean your cult leader can’t exploit the persecution angle — on the contrary, he should milk it hard, as should everyone in his inner circle. When being photographed or giving interviews, they should try to project a “persecuted” look, as if Special Forces were about to swoop down and render them off to some black-site prison. Another nice touch is demanding that journalists (or anyone trying to contact or meet with them) utilize special encryption software, remove the batteries from their cell phones, and observe other complex “anti-surveillance” measures. All of this will help to reify your apocalyptic ideology, and guarantee the long-term survival of your cult.
Well, that pretty much does it for the basics. In Part 2 of our series we’ll take a look at some other features you may want to incorporate, e.g. Milieu Control, Loading the Language, Using Shame to Control Other People, and How to Effectively Deal With Snitches … that last one being particularly useful if your cult experiences a leadership crisis. So stay tuned to this space for that.