Recruitment 101

The next step after "First contact" is the recruitment phase. This is the "courtship" phase of group involvement. This phase can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few years and it does not end until the new recruit is bonded to the group to the extent that he or she will no longer willingly consider information that is critical of the organization. One goal of recruitment is to change the way a person thinks, acts, and relates to the world. There are many methods and techniques used to bring about this change but for the purposes of this article, we will focus on the "theory of cognitive dissonance". This theory was developed by Leon Festinger in 1957.
Briefly, the "cognitive dissonance theory" asserts that there is a tendency for individuals to seek consistency in their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and actions. When there exists an inconsistency between attitudes and behaviors (dissonance) something must change to eliminate the dissonance. It is most likely that the attitude will change to accommodate the behavior. Source: http://tip.psychology.org/festinge.html
In order to de-mystify this some, let me say that everyone has at some time experienced cognitive dissonance. A universal example is "the big purchase". Maybe it's a car, a house, a high-end computer or stereo system. You go out just to look but then you encounter a skilled salesperson. He knows how to build that sense of urgency in you and all of a sudden you are seriously considering spending way more than you originally planned. You are torn inside. You really want it, but you really can't afford it. You are almost ready to say yes, then you stop yourself and start thinking about the payments. Right now, at this very moment, you are experiencing "dissonance". Your head is telling you one thing, and your behavior and emotions are telling you the opposite. Finally, you say to yourself, let's go for it. The moment you do, Lo and Behold, you feel great. Do you feel great because you made the right decision? No! Maybe the decision was right and maybe it wasn't, time will tell but the reason you feel great at that point in time is because you resolved the internal dissonance. Your behavior, thoughts, emotions and beliefs are in alignment as to the purchase. This alignment causes a natural high. You write out the check thus giving the salesperson his or her own natural high, and off you go in dissonance free bliss.
Like salespeople, cult recruiters are masters at creating dissonance knowing that it all starts with behavior. You get the invitation to a picnic, a party, a singles activity, a Bible study, a "personal growth seminar". Once there, you meet some incredibly nice people, passionate, thoughtful, intelligent, and best of all they seem to really like you. Most likely, group teachings will not be introduced during the first experience and if they are, it will likely be pretty tame. The first few contacts are often geared at nothing more than modifying the potential recruits behavior. Come to a meeting, come to dinner, we sure hope you can make it next week, we have another group that meets on Saturday that we'd love for you to come to, etc. etc. The early weeks of the recruitment phase are very enjoyable for the unwitting recruit. Phone calls "just to say hi", invitations to dinner, movies, sports events or parties from the newly found friends.
Within the first month, the group teachings will slowly be introduced. This can be a slow process or in some cases can happen fairly quickly depending on the group and also on the strength of the recruits' connection to it. Normally though, the recruit will be exposed to the general, less controversial teachings early on in the process. Things that most would agree with, i.e. "God loves us", "there is a lot of room for improvement in the world", "it's important to help others", and similar general truths. This process helps strengthen the bond between the group and the recruit by emphasizing points of agreement and a common worldview. At this point the recruit can see that not only are these people fun and friendly, they are also decent and care deeply about their fellow man. This bonding process is important to the group because when the more controversial teachings are introduced, it will take a developing emotional attachment to carry the recruit through the rough spots and the doubts and on to full membership.
 
Pre-Cult Self
During Indoctrination
After Conversion
     
Feelings
Feelings
Feelings
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Thoughts & Beliefs
Thoughts & Beliefs
Thoughts & Beliefs
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Behavior
Behavior
Behavior
Above is a simple illustration of how the cognitive dissonance theory works. Column 1 shows a person in their normal state, with behavior on the outside staying mostly consistent with thoughts, beliefs and feelings on the inside.
Column 2 shows the early stages of the conversion process. Whether you are in the used car salesmen's office, the cult recruiters weekly study group, or even in your own home taking part in a Bible study that THEY are leading, you are on the other guys home turf. Your behavior is out of alignment because you are involved in something that is completely new to you and someone else is setting the pace. During this phase the salesmen/recruiter begins working on your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. The goal for him is to bring your heart and mind over to where your new behavior is. The salesmen goes to work on your commitment to stay within a spending limit and to get you to BUY NOW without comparison shopping. The cult recruiter begins to call into question your current beliefs about friends, family, your purpose in life, God, the Bible and/or your eternal destiny.
Column 3 shows the new recruit after a successful conversion. Thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behavior are now in the new alignment. This usually happens before (sometimes well before) any formal commitment ritual is performed with the new group. This new worldview is far from solid however and the skilled recruiter knows this. After conversion, continued indoctrination must take place to deepen and strengthen the new worldview.