Questioning Credibility

Questioning Credibility

20 Questions to Evaluate the Validity of a Group or Leader

  1. Ask about credentials. Can they be checked with outside sources? Are they credentials only within the group?
  2. If there are written materials, are you able to verify authorship and publication. Is it a peer-reviewed publication? Is it published by the group? Is the article timely, accurate, scholarly, referenced?
  3. If there are no written materials, why not?
  4. What is the reputation of the leader, the group?
  5. What are the stated purposes or goals of the group? Do they seem realistic? Are promises being made? What is tangible? Testable?
  6. What accomplishments are presented? Is there a track record that can be checked? Have there been results? Are they measurable? Are there proofs to the claims?
  7. What about former members/devotees/clients? How are people who left the group treated? What is said about them? Will the group give you names of people who left? Both those who were satisfied and those who were not?
  8. Are former members willing to speak about their experiences? How do they evaluate their time with the group or person?
  9. What is the process for filing complaints? Is there a feedback mechanism that is real and honored? Are complaints made public? Is there a money-back guarantee?
  10. Are your questions answered directly? Are you told time and again to listen to your heart and not your head? Are you told that you are too new, too uninformed, too nosy, and so on, and shouldn’t be asking such questions? Are you expected to take what’s said on faith and criticized if you challenge that approach and ask for more?
  11. Is there a leader who appears to be the ultimate authority, spokesperson? Are his or her views challenged by others? Must the leader’s opinion be accepted without question?
  12. What is the attitude of the followers toward the leader? Is devotion to the leader expected at all times? Is it excessive? Are there checks and balances to hold the leader accountable?
  13. Is more than one point of view presented? Are other points of view recognized? Are other points of view seen as valid but different?
  14. Is the group’s philosophy original? If so, how can you tell? Does the leader claim to be the only person with this particular knowledge?
  15. Is the group affiliated with other organizations? Which ones? Is that a stated relationship or is it real? How can you check that out?
  16. Do others in the same or other fields publish the leader’s writings or points of view? Is the leader’s work cited elsewhere? Where and in what context?
  17. Have there been any media reports about the leader or the group? Have you read them? Are they positive or negative? What is the group’s comment about them?
  18. What kind of commitment is expected? In time, money, lifestyle changes?
  19. Does it appear that there are secrets? Is information restricted in any way? Is there some information that you are told must not be shared with outsiders? Is there information that you’re told you can’t get until you’re a member of the group or reached a certain level?
  20. What are the espoused attitudes toward relationships, sex, money, education, marriage, employment, nonmembers, the outside world? Does what you have observed match what they say? What are you expected to give up?

Internal and External Variables That May Contribute to Internal or External Violence

  1. Sequestered, isolated (e.g., alienated from outside world, allies, sympathizers, etc.; lack of exposure to outside sources of information).
  2. Sectarian behavior (e.g., alienates other like-minded groups, attacks or attacked by competitors, discredited actions, wants to keep up with competitors).
  3. Temperament of leader: charisma versus sociopathy or extreme narcissistic personality (e.g., thirst for attention, thirst for publicity, easily bored, personal vendettas, paranoia, megalomania, propensity to show off or scare people).
  4. Temperament of inner circle: extent of groupthink (e.g., “yes” men, opposition silenced or ousted, habit of covering for leader, zealotry).
  5. Seeds of violence in the ideology (concepts, imagery), the tradition (e.g., armed struggle, revolution, revolutionary heroes), or the language (violent rhetoric).
  6. Erratic and/or violent pattern of response to internal crises (e.g., leadership struggle, leadership, failure, leadership or group destabilization, unexpected deaths, humiliation, lose base, need to, boost morale).
  7. Erratic and/or violent pattern of response to external crises, persecution, or negative public, attention (e.g., loss of external supporters, exposure of bad behavior and/or corruption, agents provocateurs, defectors speak out, investigations).
  8. Dubious background of leader or key personnel (e.g., fabrications; prior destructive, violent, or, illegal activity).
  9. Length of time leader/group engages in unchecked negative or destructive patterns of behavior, (e.g., indulgences, drugs, sex, violence).
  10. History of arming selves and/or touting armed struggle as solution.
  11. Prior history of leader and/or internally influential members involved in deviant or violence-prone, behavior/activities (e.g., illegal activity, military or weapons training, drug use, mental illness, violent behavior toward others).
  12. Declining health (physical or mental) and/or increasing age of leader (e.g., signs of leader, burnout, competition or factionalizing within group, strength of various leadership bodies, no, plans for succession).
  13. Type and intensity of group rituals (e.g., trials, physical or psychological punishments, mock suicides, purges).
  14. Government or police intervention (e.g., raids, arrests, surveillance).

Copyright 1996 Janja Lalich. Do not reproduce without permisison.