Letter to the editor 9-22-16

Excerpt from William Palmer, assistant professor of engineering:

While on campus last week, an eager young student placed a card in my hand. It was for a magic show at Lovett Auditorium with the name Maze. She said he was a really good magician.

So, my wife and I got a little excited to actually have something different to do in Murray on a Saturday evening.

We got there a little early, paid our $5 each, found some friends and made sure we could see the stage because, you know, it’s a magic show. Or at least we thought it would be a magic show. Actually, the magic show itself was just an illusion, it was fake.

Finally, there was loud music and flashing lights, no doubt trying to emulate the movie Now You See Me. It was loud and fairly effective, but mostly just loud.

Some magic started and it wasn’t bad, but not great. It was about that time that something didn’t seem quite right. The language and the phrasing of the magician seemed familiar somehow, not quite so much like a magic show, but more like a larger scale manipulation of the audience, more like a deceptive recruitment con.

Why did I suspect a con?  Over the years, I have been invited or innocently attended several deceptive recruitment cons unintentionally.  In recent history, they are sponsored by socially -manipulative organizations such as EST, Scientology and some Christian organizations that use cult-like tactics for recruitment.  And after being burned a couple of times, you develop con radar. The experience has never been pleasant for me. Let’s just say the radar went off in a big way.

Typically the manipulative organization creates an event or party and invites a significant number of sympathetic supporters to seed the crowd.  The key is they then go out in the public and try to entice unsuspecting individuals to take part in the party or event with the intent to persuade them later on. The event or party usually starts out innocently enough, but after a while, subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle pressure comes to bear on the innocent attendees to join the organization that sponsored the event.

At our fake magic show, after a couple more tricks I did a quick search of the name of the show on my wife’s phone and sure enough my radar warnings were validated when I discovered the show in Lovett Auditorium was in reality an Evangelical Christian Event. I whispered to my wife and friends that our show wasn’t quite on the up and up and that we might want to leave shortly.

A few minutes later, the magician said there would be a break because he was going to start talking about what he thought the world was really like and how we were all being fooled in our own lives. It was now obviously time for the hard sell part of the deceptive recruitment plan. He basically gave everyone who didn’t want to hear about his beliefs 90 seconds to leave.

In hindsight, it was disturbing to watch the magician work the room, supposedly engaging individuals into innocent magic tricks while actually targeting specific individuals in the audience for manipulation by engaging them personally and taking advantage of their natural state of suspended disbelief that occurs during a magic show. This, of course, makes the subjects easier to influence later on. The magician literally said to those to whom he had thrown objects during the early part of the show that they couldn’t leave during the 90-second break. The magician explicitly used his influence on those individuals to reduce their willingness to leave.

Since we already knew it was coming, we were ready to leave. I’m sure others there, those who didn’t already know it was a religious event, those like me looking for innocent secular weekend entertainment, may have frozen like deer in the headlights and stayed, at least for a while. I’m sure that was part of the intent of this disingenuous event. The leaflets on campus were no doubt part of the evangelical wing of the operation, designed to bring in those who might be influenced.

My wife and I and others left. When we complained on the way out that the event was deceptive, but the man at the door said we should have done more research about what we attend. Really?

So, about that whole “we should have done research” thing. In The Murray State News, it said the magician was a cancer survivor hoping to find people who could be donors to help cure other cancer patients. Hmmm, no information here about a religious event there. That seems kind of deceptive.

When we got home we looked at the card that the eager young deceptive recruiter had put in my hand, at the very bottom, in a 3/16 inch black stripe, in tiny grey font, are the letters “Sponsored by FBC of Murray State BCM”. . I literally had to struggle to read it and I still don’t know what the acronyms stand for. That’s the only information on the card about a sponsor. No information about a religious event there. Hmmm…that seems kind of like no information. Could that be intentional?

For us, it was a wasted evening, a feeling of betrayal and serious disappointment that this could happen at Murray State. How is it possible that we can walk into what appears to be a secular entertainment event at a state university and end up uncomfortable and almost cornered in a church event? This should not be possible.

It’s also troubling to see these eager and intelligent young people being orchestrated into being complicit in cult like deceptive recruitment tactics. To those who were part of the program to pass out cards for this show, please be aware that deceptive recruiting is most often used by unethical businesses (pyramid schemes etc.) and cults. Please examine your affiliations carefully to ensure your faith is well placed. A feeling of loyalty is not the same thing as your faith.

At this point, my Christian friends and students are all getting nervous about seeing me in the hallway, but please consider this. What if you had gone to see a movie on a college campus and it ended up being a deceptive recruiting event trying to convert you to Islam or Scientology or Buddhism. I think you might have had a similar response.

No one likes to get conned. However, unfortunately, the world is full of con men. Please, Murray State students, use those critical thinking skills to evaluate the information you see around you and then make smart decisions.


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