People can be situationally vulnerable and deceptively recruited and indoctrinated into violent extremist groups, just like any other cult. It is notable that much of this recruitment is now taking place over the internet with recruitment videos, social media posts, and chatting instead of in person.
Cults often have “front groups” which they use to recruit people who have negative feelings about the main organization. Similarly, groups that engage in violent extremism use front groups to locate individuals who might be persuaded to join their cause. They target people who “like” certain posts on social media, build up rapport, then invite them to chat in encrypted message boards and private chat programs. These posts that are “liked” are designed to appear innocuous or sympathetic.
After the initial “hook,” recruiters use a pattern of commitment drawing people deeper into the group. They start by asking for small favors, like sharing a video or blog post. As time goes on, they ask for more and more involvement. They never lead by asking a person to commit violence against themselves or others.
Recruiters will also use social media to mine information about potential group members. They can later claim that they saw a certain image while praying or meditating, and pretend to have been inspired. This is the same tactic that “psychic” scam artists often use to appear to have supernatural abilities. Recruiters can also use the information on young people’s social media profiles to make them feel guilty. People are manipulated into believing that the only way they can be redeemed is by joining or becoming a more zealous member of the group. This is eerily similar to the tactics used by Bible cults: “You are a sinner, and the only way to be saved is to attend our group and give us your time, money, and devotion.”
Time spent watching videos and chatting with recruiters serves to further isolate young people from friends and family, and decreases the time they have to seek out healthy relationships. Recruiters are skilled at building up rapport and making young people feel like they are joining a larger community, united by one righteous cause. They will even pose as new or potential members of the group in message boards and encourage people to conform to the ideals of the group. They will coordinate efforts to make a potential recruit feel like they have stumbled onto a new group of friends who will love and accept them. This technique is called “swarming” or “love bombing.” This friendship is often contrived, insincere, and only in effect for as long as it takes to convert an individual into a zealous member of the group.