Friday, March 29, 2019

Indoctrination by Any Other Name

QAnon is a failure of critical thinking, but it's also a failure of community. People with thriving familial and social circles simply don't waste their lives pretending John Podesta eats babies and Michelle Obama is actually a man.
- Mike Rothschild, Twitter

It could be argued whether fringe subcultures cause delusion or attract those predisposed to it, but one thing's for sure: once involved, irrationality is cultivated among participants. Unsubstantiated and extreme group beliefs are reinforced through p
roviding and withholding emotional support. I've discussed the dynamics rather lengthily on a variety of mediums, and it continues to be an evergreen topic. Let's consider some ways we got to a point in which ever increasing numbers of people emphatically believe wild, unverified stories, and we'll reflect on the UFO community's part in the mishap.

Image tweeted by POTUS from a rally and containing apparent support for QAnon (center, right)

The final two decades of the 20th century in American UFO circles were full tilt alien abduction. It was pretty much the hay day of the abduction scenario. Authors such as Budd Hopkins and David Jacobs (and a whole lot more) spread terrifying tales of midnight rambler aliens. Conferences, late night talk radio, daytime television talk shows, even "documentaries" explored the topic. Regularly.

Significantly, the most widely used so-called investigative tool was regressive hypnosis. The moral and ethical dilemmas were many - and continue to be - but for the purpose of this particular blog post, the manufacturing of alleged alien abductees was in many cases strikingly similar to extreme born again religious or cult indoctrination.

I personally attended a variety of meetings of UFO groups, ranging from small local gatherings to large conferences, from the early 1990's off and on up until recent years. Again and again, newcomers would be emotionally embraced or rejected by the more vocal participants - and subsequently the group majority - in proportion to the extent the individual towed the party line. The preferred beliefs were distortions of speculation presented as fact most of the time.

Moreover, it was typical to see newcomers steered into premature and unsupported conclusions. People would attend a meeting where they seemed to expect to find either a professional facilitator or obtain science-based information (MUFON, for example, claims to be dedicated to scientific study), yet would be treated as if they were in denial or uninformed if hesitant to fully embrace the popular dogma. This rather naturally overlaps into reward of inclusion (or punishment of exclusion) in other social dynamics as well. 

It should be obvious that the more one desired emotional support, the more likely one would be to arrive at conclusions and offer stories consistent with a group or researcher's particular take. That was especially true over time, as one became increasingly isolated from former support systems while simultaneously becoming more attached to attention and acceptance received from UFO pals. That can particularly be the case when remaining the subject of a high profile researcher's next book or film is contingent upon the way the person forms their beliefs and interpretations of their experiences. Such individuals often sincerely believe their otherwise uncorroborated stories and questionable memories, especially when methods like hypnosis were employed during the "investigative" process.

If you didn't care to attend live UFO meetings, you could observe the same dynamics unfolding on most any UFO message board, or forum, which were popular online discussion outlets prior to the rise of more universal social media sites. Well into the last few years it was easy to see an individual open an account when they had a desire to talk UFOs with like-minded people, often wanting to share a sighting from long ago or similar personal memory. In a significant number of circumstances, such a person who joined the group discussion with no apparent particular agenda or opinion, and wanted to hear what others thought, would seem to become awakened to profound experiences of alien abductions and otherworldly interactions within a matter of weeks or months. It was not unusual. Then they, in turn, would become part of the group who welcomed newcomers and "helped" them navigate the labyrinth and supposedly understand what it's all about. 

Many undoubtedly had good intentions, but it can't be denied that extreme ideas about interactions with omniscient entities who pop in and out of objective reality became discussed with casual indifference. Their existence becomes taken for granted, not even up for discussion, and those who explore explanations for even some reports are typically considered to be undermining the group and insulting the integrity of the participants. 

The consistent tainting of the well does not necessarily mean no one anywhere ever had any interesting experiences, but confirmation bias thrived in the vast majority of UFO meetings and organizations. It seemed that whatever symptoms you experienced, from insomnia to craving salt, they were indicative of alien abduction. Surveys were administered to prove it. I have personally witnessed such surveys distributed to a group to be filled out after a meeting was held in which specifics of alleged alien abduction were discussed at length - more than once. It deserves emphasis that our culture manufactured alien abductees

David Jacobs
Specific case studies supporting the point are available, as well. The events that befell Leah Haley and Emma Woods, just to name two of the many, are ethically atrocious. Both involved excessive hypnosis and blatant peer pressure, to put it mildly. Both involved wildly questionable actions of what purported to be educated authority figures (John Carpenter, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and MUFON honcho, in the circumstance of Haley, while David Jacobs, an Associate Professor of History and self-proclaimed expert of alien abduction, in the Woods saga).  

In Haley's case, a chorus of accusations of being a disinfo agent followed her rejection of the alien abduction narrative, among numerous other shameful occurrences. Similar accusations followed those who heard her out and wrote about it, which included yours truly.

Woods was threatened with circumstances ranging from doxing to public shaming if she continued to ask what were rational and overdue questions about, among other things, Jacobs' entourage conducting hypnosis sessions on one another by telephone and text - which were allegedly getting hijacked by ET-human hybrids, no less. Woods eventually reviewed recordings of her dozens upon dozens of hypnosis sessions and published audio of indefensible behavior on the part of Jacobs, the amateur hypnotist. 

The pendulum has a long way to swing back to center. I covered aspects of both the Woods and Haley sagas in my book, The Greys Have Been Framed, and provided many citations, as well as quotes from first hand interviews and other public sources.

It's not just alien abduction. There are sects of the UFO community which do not support the alien narrative, yet operate on many of the same dysfunctional herd mentalities. Variations evolving out of the core story involve alleged Targeted Individuals, mind control, theories of what became known as high strangeness, and other such scenarios where we can observe pockets of similar cult-like elements. This is the case regardless of what events may or may not have actually occurred in the lives of those who share their stories, and what varieties of explanations may account for the diverse range of reported phenomena. 

There are a lot of reasons people wade into the UFO community. Some hope to learn more about something they remember seeing in the sky once. Some want to learn more about a series of odd events, and they see some movies or hear a radio interview that makes them wonder if answers can be found at a UFO conference. Some just find it interesting. There are lots of reasons people ever start browsing UFO sites and wandering into gatherings, but we can observe some things that evolved over the last few decades. 

During the 1980's and 1990's, one pretty much heard about a UFO conference on the radio or by reading about it in a newspaper. The brave and interested would show up. A percentage of those got somewhat inspired, bought a book or two, took home info about ways to get involved, and eventually made it to more events. Relationships were formed. Letters were written. Phone calls were made. 

It was not a better time, not for truth, quality of research or investigative methods, not at all. It just happened less rapidly and people did not cluster together electronically under screen names without actually meeting one another.   

As the century turned, computers were increasingly popular, along with internet access. This was accompanied by some tiger traps while needs arose to take deeper responsibilities. Perhaps many of us never had much reason before to think about such responsibilities. A lot of us were understandably unprepared for the new frontier of cyberspace.  

Entire electronic communities opened up via UFO forums and listservs. We gained previously only imagined access to the relatively high profile researchers and apparent witnesses we'd seen on TV, heard on the radio, and met at the conferences. The UFO topic grew from being discussed by a few via snail mail into untold numbers of individuals - spanning continents - interacting on a daily basis, if not all day long. A lot of head space was gifted rent free, and we got our first glimpses of internet-induced false senses of familiarity and credibility. 

This was bound to detract in some instances from other aspects of life. I'm of course not hanging this all on UFOs. The topic was just a vehicle, as were many. Online activity involving everything from researching car engines to playing blackjack substantially eroded workforce productivity and personal relationships.

We now can isolate ourselves to large extents while insulating our minds with only the rhetoric of QAnon, both literally and metaphorically. Emma Woods encountered and documented a group of people revolving around David Jacobs who were reinforcing the unfounded beliefs of one another to extreme extents. In Jacobs' case, he was writing emails in code and using aliases, purportedly to keep the mind-reading hybrids from knowing the abductees were working with him (It's often built into the group narrative that other people don't understand, secrecy is essential, and figures such as law enforcement officers and psychologists can't be trusted because most of them subscribe to the gov disinfo). Jacobs' security measures particularly made no sense whatsoever, even more so than other cases, because he was publishing books and regularly speaking publicly about what he called the "threat." Many unanswered questions remain about his motives. 

Such scenarios are absolutely more common than we might like to think. The cult staples of indoctrination through isolation, getting in someone's head, and rewarding and punishing their compliance through emotional gratification are not new to the UFO scene, not by any means, but it appears easier than ever to do it en masse and quite effectively. 

Isolation contributes to yet another dynamic that deteriorates the reliability of information circulating: self-proclaimed knowledgeable individuals become social media staples without ever needing any first hand experience in what they pontificate about. They read like anyone else in a social media feed and they sound like anyone else on podcasts heard by the isolated untrained ear. It all blurs together in a sea of irrationality and fragmented, untested philosophies.

The technology and devices aren't to blame. Brainwashing and exploitation were around before mobile phones, but humankind indeed seems to have a self-destructive knack at making it easier to manipulate one another into bad situations. 

We indirectly encourage runaway irrationality by enabling it. We each have personal responsibilities to support best practices in research and reporting. It is each of our responsibility to cultivate dialogue that accurately identifies differences between fact and opinion, in both electronic and face to face interactions. 

It's unreasonable to demand people agree with something you can't prove to be correct. Don't expect it, and allow challenges to your proclamations. Expand horizons, explore possibilities, and be fascinated by the unknown, but be part of the solution, not part of the problem.


  1. A very timely piece, Jack. I've experienced first hand exactly what you describe here. Although I still have a keen interest in the ufo phenomena, I am also interested in other seemingly aberrant sociological trends. I started watching Leah Remini's A&E show about life after being in Scientology. Quite interesting. Some serious allegations are made and the viewer is coaxed into having an anti-Scientology point of view. Whereas I do not have a horse in this race, I have read enough other sources, i.e. The St. Petersburg Times series of investigative articles on Scientology in Clearwater, to realize that Scientology seems to be a cult masquerading as a religion. All of this led me down the proverbial rabbit hole which the world wide web so eagerly provides. I ended up on what seems to be the most popular anti-Scientology forum. I lurked there a few days to get a feel of the place. There seemed to be a mix of posters, from ex-Scientologists to curious never ins like me. Then I started posting, mostly replies to original comments. Whereas I agreed with some comments, I questioned others about accusations they made against individuals. I asked if they personally knew the person who they were making these salacious accusations about. I asked if they personally witnessed these events. And lo and behold, I was branded as a spy,a Scientologist (I'm not, I'm agnostic) who was sent into that forum as a disinformation agent... or some such thing. The crowd ganged up on me and demanded the blog owner to ban me. Ahh yes, I thought, there it is... Group Think. Or, as I refer to it, Hive Mentality. And there it was, the bee colony, in all its glory, being led and steered by their queen bee, the author of that blog. The crowd didn't realize that it had succumbed to the very thing which they were obsessively railing against. And that is - cult-like behavior. I now see my experience there as an interesting social experiment, although this was not my original purpose.

  2. I just finished reading Pale Horse Rider: William Cooper, the Rise of Conspiracy, and the Fall of Trust in America. it was interesting to think about how Cooper set the stage for so much that has followed, from the search within ufology for inside information and conspiracy to QAnon.

    Much of this seems driven by fear, the need to seek a underlying thread in a chaotic world. Some of it may relate to all the things we don't know- Jacobs and others have provided an answer to a phenomenon that has eluded explanation. And there is always the need to entertain by embracing the fringe and offer increasingly wilder stories, as seen at everything from MUFON to events like the recent UFO MegaCon in Nevada,

    Your caution against runaway irrationality is therefore important. As Kerry Cassidy wrote (in regards to the claims of "Captain" Mark Richards):

    "They, those who don’t believe in conspiracies and who are in denial about the existence of visiting alien races, chemtrails, ufos, and state-sponsored terrorism also known as false flags, have little imagination."

    My response to this remains that although imagination is important, it gives rise to fiction as well as insight. The ultimate measure is to know the difference between speculation and facts that are grounded by what can be documented and proven.

    Sadly, in many circles, critical thinking seems to be a lost art.

    1. Hmmm, I think that maybe you are giving a little too much credit to Cooper on this. A lot of his ideas came first from John Lear who in turn was very chummy with Richard Doty (from X-Descending by Chris Lambright). I know Pale Horse was a bestseller but I don't think Cooper was very influential afterwards except for maybe a small group of listeners to his radio show. Meanwhile, Lear and Doty were very active in Conspiracy circles and appeared on many mediums.

  3. I've witnessed all of the cultish "symptoms" you mention, Jack. Most often in Budd Hopkins' support groups. But I was startled to read your assessment that "the manufacturing of alleged alien abductees"was often "strikingly similar to extreme born again religious or cult indoctrination." Another scene I know very, very well. And I do agree with your wise analysis. I'm writing about that very parallel.

    1. Susan Clancy (Abducted) came to view aliens as a way of coming to terms with conflicts between science and religion, concluding that abduction beliefs offer the same thing that people derive from their religions. Her book is worth reading, particularly for those interested in this parallel.

    2. Thats actually something i personally struggle with.
      I reject all the religious stories and the promise of life after death etc.
      But then in my interest in this phenomena, i can see the possibility that "they" are post biological bioforms into which consciousness is transferred when the native bio-form breaks down, and that that's their true story.
      Lots of the data points surrounding this narrative fit this hypothesis. That where a supernatural mechanism/path for life after death strikes me as superstitious wishful thinking. A wholly technological mechanism for the same result might be technically possible.
      None the less i recognize it may just be the same wishful thinking with a modern slant.
      I dont expect "life after death" in the traditional sense. (a new body to wear while dwelling in the heavens) logically i expect oblivion when this vehicle no longer supports my conciousness.
      But i cant help but hope thats what the greys are. A technological equivalent, uploading consciousness at death to an artificial bioform. Several clues in the abduction narrative suggest this IS what they are/do.
      But is that just substituting one silly hope for life after death with another ?
      I dont see a supernatural mechanism/path for life after death in the old stories, but i can accept a technological path might be possible.
      But i am also acutely aware that in entertaining this idea, i could be simply substituting one belief for another more contemporary one.

  4. Thanks for the comments and encouragement, everybody.

    Looking forward to reading your work, Carol!

    There are pretty much two kinds of UFO communities: face to face and online. Those who participated in the former tend to either fall in step with the herd mentality and peer pressure or resist it (eventually if not initially). This can also be observed in online communities, but if you hear people discussing organizations and high profile researchers without factoring the social dynamics, it's a reasonable assumption they don't have much actual experience at interacting with the UFO community.

  5. I agree, to a point. I don’t agree that the burgeoning of technology and our now almost total dependency on electronic devices to fulfill many of our social needs does NOT also play a significant role in the Q’anon and conspiracy hoax phenomenon.

    Many of us now believe the community we belong to is one we've chosen online, for the most part based on its underscoring and validating our views about ourselves, or our interests, or our work, or view of the world. We often belong to more than one of these online communities. And it’s as easy as a few clicks and a brief online registration to do so. Not like before when we had to actually motivate ourselves to get washed up, get dressed, leave the house, travel to and from, and attend a meeting, conference, lecture, class, etc.

    Millennials don’t think of "community" as human beings living in proximity that we interact with face-to-face almost daily, even if we only stand at the same bus stop every morning. Community isn’t the people living down the block or across the street. No, community to so many in that generation is a network of online-only friends who totally agree with their personal agendas, biases, and point of view. If a “friend” stops agreeing with or validating those, he’s blocked and removed from the “friends” list.

    The rise in the dependence on the Internet is at the very core of the easy spread of Q’anon and other recent conspiracy hoaxes. It has greatly facilitated these hoaxes being spread more quickly and much wider than they ever could have been before the advent of the Worldwide Web and easy access to it.

    Another factor in the Q’anon phenomenon is that we now have a couple of generations that believe almost anything they see online (many under the age of 50). It’s beyond their experience to think of technology as anything other than a benign and believable purveyor of good things, having grown up playing with or being taught by electronics from a young age or at least from their teen years.

    This dependency on and faith in the Internet has primed our society to willingly accept the most outlandish, nonsensical, illogical, dangerous, and downright crazy hoaxes and claims. Clearly Russian trolls knew this to be true when they engaged in the widespread online manipulation of the American electorate during the 2016 election campaign. Even knowing about this now, most of us still haven’t realized or fully accepted that our first step down the road to oblivion is relying on Internet sites to do our thinking for us.

  6. Yes, but for those who have experienced something strange, there is no spinning it, and the whole social dynamic is quite derivative. It's as simple as seeing a bird, or cloud, or falling leaf, but not a bird, or cloud, or falling leaf.