In 1974, I was recruited into a cult. Known as the Unification Church, but often referred to as the Moonies, the group was — and still is — a far-right cult founded by the Korean cult leader Sun Myung Moon. The Moonies believe that Moon was greater than Jesus and is God’s “Messiah.” His teachings, followers have said, supersede conscience, the Bible, laws and universal human rights.
Thankfully, after two-and-a-half years, I was deprogrammed and realized my mind had been hacked. With the help of ex-members and my family, I was able to break away. Looking back, though, I see that the fear tactics that Moon used to recruit and keep me in the cult are the same ones that leaders of the anti-vaccination ideology are using today to attract and retain followers via social media and other outlets.
While there are many mind control techniques that destructive cults use, emotional control is one of their most powerful weapons for keeping people dependent and obedient. Known as phobia indoctrination, it exposes a person to a series of persistent, irrational fears that initiate a closed cycle of fearful images, thoughts and feelings. The goal is to cause people to fear things that are actually harmless in reality. The cue can be internal or external, such as a thought, image, word, smell, feeling or behavior. This stimulus causes a person to generate negative feelings (often doom).
For instance, when I was 19 years old, I was indoctrinated to believe that I couldn’t trust my own thinking because unseen Satanic forces were affecting my mind. Moon did this by taking me and other cult members to see “The Exorcist,” a movie about a little girl who gets possessed by the devil. He was able to implant a phobia — a persistent irrational fear — by repeatedly telling us that God made the movie and that it was a prophecy of what would happen to us if we left the group. That phobia — the fear of being possessed by the devil — is one of the primary things that tethered me so deeply into the cult and prevented me from leaving.
Anti-vaccination groups are doing the same thing today. Everyone is susceptible to mind control when under great stress and disorientation, and these groups use social media to bombard their targets with messages that sow doubt, fear and confusion about the Covid-19 vaccine. As a result, a significant portion of the US population is refusing to get vaccinated and putting themselves at risk of being hospitalized or dying from Covid-19.
Helping people to overcome these fears is the only way to end this pandemic.
Here are three specific ways anti-vaccination groups use deception to influence the public:
Withholding vital information
There is a difference between fears and phobias. Legitimate fears are good — they help keep us from danger. Phobias, however, are powerful fears of something bad happening that are irrational, very small or nonexistent. For example, some people are phobic of elevators or of leaving their homes. Telling someone that elevator accidents happen each year, without telling them how many elevator trips are successful, deceives them into believing that elevators are dangerous.