Psychologists that specialize in group dynamics said that “a charismatic leader” is the key to understanding the mindset of many terrorist groups, reports Channel News Asia.

Asian experts cited the ability of such leaders “to manipulate a group, and change their attitudes and beliefs.”

And instead of the purported profile of suicide bombers as poor, ignorant and disenfranchised, psychologists were not surprised to learn that many were sophisticated, educated and quite intelligent.

Experts paralleled identified Indonesian terrorists to cult members within Aum, the group that gassed Tokyo subways and also to the followers of Osama bin-Laden.

Elizabeth Nair, Psychologist, National University of Singapore said, “The charismatic leader is effectively able to say, ‘We who are in this group are right and moral, anyone who’s not in this group is not a good person'”

This is what Robert Jay Lifton identified in his breakthrough book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism (first published in 1961) as “The Dispensing of Existence.”

That is, members of the group and its leader are always moral, right and those who disagree are immoral, evil and therefore subseqently dispensable.

Nair added, “A skilful gifted charismatic leader with an agenda of aggression and hostility can successfully lead members to all sorts of action, suicide, homicide and unsociable behavior.”

Again, this was reminiscent of Shoko Asahara of Aum and Charles Manson.

And oaths and pledges are used to bind terrorist groups together, not unlike recognized destructive cult groups.

Once invested in the group and its ideology members seemed to possess a sense of equity and felt they were already in “too deep,” to refuse their leaders when asked to commit crimes of violence.

American psychologist Robert Cialdini has described this sense of investment in some detail in his seminal book Influence.

Cialdini defines what he calls “Commitment and Consistency.” He writes this is “a desire to look consistent through…words, beliefs, attitudes and deeds.” And that “…after making a commitment…people are more willing to agree to requests that are consistent with their prior commitment.”

As we confront the worldwide threat of growing terrorism common sense dictates drawing upon the existing and well-established body of knowledge regarding destructive cults and their patterns of indoctrination and influence.

By understanding destructive cult thought reform programswe can better understand the behavior of many existing terrorist organizations.


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