This blog continues my examination of Desteni, a cult that uses, among other things, conspiracy theories
as a tool to attract and recruit new members. Desteni is a mostly Internet-based cult, and they have never been shy about taking on those who criticize them. Recently, however, Desteni's tactics have changed. They are now engaging in a ritual that they call "Anti-Hate Responses." Destonians characterize any criticism of their group or their ideology as "hate speech," so the very term "Anti-Hate Responses" is carefully constructed as a thought-terminating device.
The "Anti-Hate" cycle works like this. A video on YouTube critical of the cult is selected as the target. Members then make videos responding to, and trashing, the target video and posting the links on a topic on the Desteni web forums. (I might add that the Desteni forums were recently made almost exclusively members-only, after an embarrassing incident where their forum was hit by a porn spammer. However, there is still one part of the forum, "Introduction to Desteni," that is still public. The "Anti-Hate Responses" topics are posted in this publicly-viewable forum. What goes on behind this public forum is no longer visible to non-Desteni-affiliated Internet users).
What's interesting about the "Anti-Hate Response" ritual is what's missing from it. Due to the clampdown on Desteni's web forum, the manner in which the target videos are selected--and by whom--is kept carefully out of sight. We know nothing about who is choosing these videos, why, and how the selections are communicated to Destonians. In fact, the forum topics laying out the responses rarely link the target video directly, and none are posted on YouTube as video responses directly to the target. To me this suggests the "Anti-Hate Response" procedure has some sort of top-down coordination. If the "Anti-Hate Response" phenomenon was spontaneous and user-initiated, most likely you'd see these responses popping up all over the place and being done in all sorts of different ways. That's not the case. Indeed just by browsing the "Anti-Hate Response" section of the Desteni public forum, one gets the sense of a well-coordinated effort directed at churning out angry responses to critics in eerie lockstep with each other, which is the only way Destonians ever do anything.
Let's look briefly at a case study. One video that was selected as a target was created by a YouTube user called "TonyAteJesus" and was posted as a video response to one of the many videos in which Desteni spokesperson Sunette Spies pretends to channel various spirits through an "Interdimensional Portal." I picked this particular subject because the video TonyAteJesus was responding to is part of the conspiracist mythology of Desteni--it purportedly deals with the "Annunaki," which Destenians believe were reptilian extraterrestrials who exerted a large impact on humanity in ancient times. Actually the Annunaki were gods believed in by the ancient Sumerians, but the identification of Annunaki as reptilian aliens in Desteni mythology intentionally dovetails with the widely-known views of British conspiracy theorist David Icke who maintains that the world is still secretly run by reptilian aliens ("reptoids") who shape-shift into human form. It appears that many Destenians believe in the conspiracy theories of David Icke, or similar variants of these theories. Desteni cult leader Bernard Poolman obviously does, as he has warned Desteni members about "reptilian sleeper cells."
In any event, in his video TonyAteJesus posits, quite reasonably, that Desteni's interpretation of Sumerian mythology is completely false, and states that intellectuals who are knowledgeable about this subject would find Desteni's take on it to be ridiculous. He also states that Ms. Spies is acting and there's no such thing as an "interdimensional portal." Interestingly, this video was posted almost three years ago and is the only video this user has ever made.
You can see three representative responses to this video. One user takes a philosophical approach, speaking about the "key to truly understand us." Another Destonian goes after TonyAteJesus with both barrels blazing, flinging insults not only at him but at intellectuals in general, insisting that historical knowledge of Sumerian mythology is totally irrelevant. Another cult member obliquely reinforces the reptilian conspiracy theory by stating, "You are clinging to your constructed identity," playing into the old conspiracy theorist trope that what we know to be reality is a false construct created by conspiratorial powers. She even employs two age-old catch phrases of conspiracy theorists, that being "why haven't you proposed a solution?" (meaning a solution to all the world's problems), and the ubiquitous "Wake up!"
All three responses, and the others I sampled, make the same claim that the creator of the target video doesn't really understand Desteni and hasn't researched it well enough. This is a very common tactic used against Desteni critics and one that appears in almost every "Anti-Hate Response" I watched in one form or another. The argument is silly because this cult has literally thousands of hours of YouTube videos out there, which altogether spin a dense web of often self-contradictory material. A person could spend a lifetime watching nothing but Desteni videos. If one chooses not to do that, he or she is vulnerable to attack by the cult for "not having researched it well enough."
After sampling a broad range of "Anti-Hate Responses," I believe that these videos are not really aimed at Desteni's critics. Nor do I believe they are intended to sway fence-sitters or potential recruits to discredit voices warning them against getting involved with the cult. Instead, I suspect that at least one motivation behind the "Anti-Hate Response" ritual is to shore up Desteni members' own beliefs about the cult, to reinforce the "us vs. them" mentality that Desteni is the only proper way to think and act, and to serve as a vehicle by which Desteni members can demonstrate, to themselves and each other, how devoted they really are to the group and its ideology.
In this sense the "Anti-Hate Responses" are a form of group-think, as well as a means of control by the Desteni higher-ups. We already know that Desteni encourages its members to confess publicly on the Internet everything they've ever done wrong in their lives, in the guise of "self-forgiveness." Encouraging "Anti-Hate Responses" is merely another way for the cult to ensure that its members do what is expected of them. When prompted by a target video, they dutifully take to YouTube to sing the cult's praises and trash its critics, thus demonstrating how well they've absorbed and internalized the teachings of the group, and how willing they are to let the world see it. That it does double duty as damage control and broadsides against the critics is merely a fringe benefit.
The more I investigate Desteni, the more astounded I am at the tremendous sway that this group and its leaders have over the members. Each aspect of the cult's public persona, from the "Desteni I Process" financial scam
to the skillful deployment of footsoldiers on YouTube to crush dissent against the group, seems to be carefully engineered to reinforce the cult's authoritative and xenophobic structure. The "Anti-Hate Responses" are merely another facet of this same tendency, and one that seems particularly disingenuous. It's not really about the critics at all. It's about how far Destenonians will go to to appease their leaders.
Thanks for reading.