An imbalance of information is the mother's milk of totalistic movements. Conversely, an informed citizenry is the bane of predatory cults. Cults thrive on secrecy. They strive for a situation in which they know much more about a potential mark than he/she knows about the group. This allows the cult members to know what values a person has and makes it easier for them to push the buttons of the novice member. This asymmetrical relationship between the cult and the devotee is the cult's source of power. If increasing numbers of potential recruits have access to critical information about the cult, the cult's power will be significantly diminished. Information is the bane of groups the seek to control people.
In Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, the authors describe how a lone gadfly helped to break the back of the Ku Klux Klan during the post-World War II years. Stetson Kennedy, a civil rights activist, determined that one of the Klan sources of power was its information control regarding its organizational structure and culture. Kennedy infiltrated the Klan and sent information regarding the Klan's mode of operations, including secret code words and rituals, to the writers of the popular Superman radio show. The writers incorporated
the Klan's heretofore secrets radio shows in which Superman fought the Klan. The workings of the Klan's inner operations were broadcast to the nation and, as a result, the Klan was demystified and it has flagged in influence ever since.
With the advent of the Internet, it is a lot easier for those opposed to destructive secretive organizations to expose these groups for what they are. Here are three examples of how Internet activist have exposed the dark secrets of destructive organizations:
The Church of Scientology
I first heard about Xenu, the galactic overlord described to Scientology converts in the highest levels of the cult, from William Poundstone's book Bigger Secrets in the late 1980's (and later in Bent Corydon and L. Ron Hubbard Jr.'s book L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah Or Madman?). When the Internet took off in the early 1990's, the Xenu cat was out of the bag. Anti-Scientology sites popped up exposing the Xenu theology to widespread mockery (the most prominent site has been Operation Clambake which uses the URL Xenu.net). Attempts by Scientology to suppress these sites have been a complete failure--one of the earliest examples of "the Streisand Effect." Although there has been much attention given to the tactics of a group of Internet-based anti-Scientology hackers known as Anonymous (click here for a video about the group), it was the older web-based groups that have set the stage for the mass exposure of the church's exploitation of its followers.
Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Movement
As I have noted previously, Sun Myung Moon and the Unification movement have kept a much lower profile in the US since staging massive public rallies and actively recruiting American members (mainly because because the would-be Messiah is the anti-Obama: the more people are exposed to the cult leader, the more they are repelled). It's revealing the the story about the coronation of the "True Parents" in the Dirksen Senate Office building was broke on an internet site, Salon.com (by John Gorenfeld--whose book on Moon will be available March 1). Other critical web pages and blogs have made it into the top sites for Google searches of Moon's name and Unification-related keywords.
I have to hand it to Amway. As soon as critical but truthful web sites emerged to counter the company's propaganda, Amway started google bombing--"using its large network of websites to move sites critical of Quixtar lower in search engine rankings." This was ineffectual because a counter-google bomb that I created more than counteracted the effects of the company's efforts to manipulate search engine results. The result: the first page of Google searches for "Amway" and "Quixtar" are loaded with critical sites.