The psychology of gang stalking, and the difference between conspiracy theory and delusion

If you’ve spent enough time on the Internet (or read the New York Times yesterday), you might have come across the phenomenon of gang stalking – the alleged stalking of particular individuals by organized groups. It might seem like gang stalking is a sort of conspiracy theory, and that we can maybe understand it in the same way that we think about things like the 9/11 Truth Movement and beliefs in UFO coverups. I’m not sure about this. There are some pretty major psychological differences between the two. It’s probably not helpful to conflate run-of-the-mill conspiracy theories, which are not considered to be an indicator of psychopathology, with gang stalking, which is widely considered to be the product of delusional thinking.

In gang stalking, large gangs of perpetrators will (allegedly) use subtle methods of manipulation and harassment – muttering hurtful phrases or insults while passing their target on the street, repeatedly driving past the target’s house, preventing them from sleeping by making loud noises at odd hours, and so on. Many people who claim to be victims of gang stalking (search YouTube for a reasonably representative sample) allege more exotic stalking methods – in particular, “electronic harassment,” the use of advanced technology to torture, annoy, or even control the mind of the target from afar.

If you think this sounds pretty far-fetched, you’re not wrong. Stalking is real, of course – there’s no denying that. And there are situations where multiple people participate in bullying or even stalking – often close friends or family members. But “gang stalking” – the type that involves muttered insults, dozens of strangers working together, electronic harrassment, secret hand signals – is not really an accepted thing. In fact, suspicions of gang stalking are considered to be markers of delusional disorders like paranoid schizophrenia. In a 2015 study, Sheridan and James examined 128 reports of group (gang) stalking in an online questionnaire and found that all of them – every single one – exhibited delusional qualities.

From an examination of free-text responses, all 128 group-stalked cases fell into one or more of three categories:

  • cases where the resources or elaborate organisation required to carry them out made the alleged activities highly improbable (e.g. hostile operatives being inserted in victim’s workplace and their children’s schools; 24-h electronic surveillance involving teams of men in black vans; surveillance by cameras placed throughout the city; staff of shops and libraries being amongst the group stalkers; everyone in the street being ‘plants’ acting out roles towards the victim; ‘more than a thousand’ people being involved; traffic lights being manipulated always to go red on approach; repeated sexual assault during sleep; horns on the street hooting to bring attention to particular sentences on the radio; collaboration between diverse agencies, such as the Automobile Association, a building society, a website and neighbours),
  • cases in which the activities described were impossible (e.g. minds of friends and family being externally controlled; use of ‘voice to skull’ messages; witchcraft focussed through gold objects; insertion of alien thoughts; organised electronic mind interference; remote removal of bank notes through electronic attraction; invasion of an individual’s dreams at night), and
  • cases where the beliefs were not only impossible, but bizarre (e.g. docile family dog replaced by exact double with foul temper; remote enlargement of bodily organs).

Gang stalking victim advocates maintain that any resemblance to psychosis is either coincidental, or the result of the very real harassment itself – that the sophisticated influencing technologies can mimic the symptoms of schizophrenia by inducing hallucinations, paranoid thinking, and so on.

Yet the “influencing-machine” delusion is a common enough one, with a long history. While 21st-century delusions involve mind manipulation via satellites, nanotechnology, and neuroscience, delusions during the Industrial Revolution involved that era’s high technology: the loom. The first known (or at least strongly suspected) case of paranoid schizophrenia, that of James Tilly Matthews in the late 18th century, involved persecution via a mind-control machine called the “Air Loom,” which allegedly controlled its targets’ thoughts and behaviour through the careful manipulation of magnetic fluids.

air-loom-drawing_jtm_med

The Air Loom, with its operator and targets.

At first glance, gang stalking seems like a conspiracy theory: a group of powerful individuals come together in secret to carry out a sinister and deceptive plan. And under that definition, it is. But even beyond the involvement of mental illness, there’s a crucial difference between delusions of persecution (like gang stalking) and conspiracy theories. In most conspiracy theories, the victim of the deception is usually a relatively large social group: Christians, men, African-Americans, the general public, taxpayers. Conspiracy theories are stories about one group trying to outmaneuver another. In persecutory delusions, the target is the self. While conspiracy theories say “they’re out to get US,” persecutory delusions say “they’re out to get ME.”

But for all the psychological differences between gang stalking and the rest of the conspiracy world, there is some crossover between them. Gang stalking proponents seem to have provided some of the raw material for more mainstream conspiracy theories – perhaps thanks to the efforts of gang stalking victim advocacy groups, the references to electronic harassment and mind control that pop up after mass shootings often adopt some of the language of the gang stalking subculture. There’s an interesting (though not, to my knowledge, very well-supported) hypothesis that psychoses like schizophrenia serve an important function in traditional cultures and in the evolutionary history of humanity: they provide a connection to a world other than our own, enrich us with insights that we wouldn’t otherwise have had, and give us ideas about how the world might work beyond what we can see. Maybe “targeted individuals” and other sufferers of delusional disorders serve a similar function in the world of conspiracy, providing raw material for speculation in the form of almost-spiritual insights into a world of power, evil, and high technology that goes beyond what the rest of us can grasp.

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98 Responses to The psychology of gang stalking, and the difference between conspiracy theory and delusion

  1. sissykim says:

    I can explain the whole thing to you in layman terms. It happened to me and I fell for the paranoia and everything that goes with it. Heres how it started. I worked in a factory and became friendly with a young man who reminded me of my daughters friends. One night I yelled him because I didnt feel good. He was mentally and emotionally ill and yelling at him triggered his rage toward me. He started turning other women against me. This is a well known narcissistic sociopath game. Charles Manson used it. They charm and manipulate women against their enemies. This is published. The women got me fired and he started showing up at my house. He let me see him following me and standing in my bushes. However, I knew several of his male friends were in on this too they brought him over to do it or gave him their cars. Like all good stalkers he got my neighbors involved by using fake social media sites and emails saying i insulted them or was harassing him with nude pictures. Like all good stalkers, he claimed to be a victim and played on the females motherly instincts. They fell for it. The noise campaign started…loud cars going around and around my house. Then the corrupt cops playing along. Its called street theater. I sat back and watched. I finally figured it all out. I installed a hidden security camera to record their nonsense. Dancing in front of my house. All kinds of crap. Even getting me fired from jobs by spreading sexual explicit rumors. Its shocking how many people are willing to believe lies and or dont care if its true or not they enjoy bullying others…period. It takes the right kind of people and community to get this going and mine is perfect. A woman who specializes in narcissism recovery or codependent recovery told me what he has done is charmed a group of women who are enamored with him. He in return in enamored with one of them. They are all using friends and associates to harass you on the queen bees behalf. She was right. One of my married neighbors became infatuated with him. She is a harassing bully and I know this because thats all shes done since I moved in here 25 years ago. They are stupid misfits who can’t run their own lives and he taught them how to harass at a much higher level.. They hide in bushes when I am outside they sneak on my porch and move things around. I have photos of this. The thing is the more you fight with them the more they do it. I just ignore them. The stalker himself moved out of state and started over. These people, in mental health world they are called flying monkeys, they keep doing the same things, tricks he taught them, over and over. Its dying down but, still goes on for a few. I can honestly say its one of the most ignorant displays of behavior and mob mentality I have ever seen and there is no stopping it yourself. They have to either come to their sense or get bored with it. Its hard for some to let go of it. If I profile some of these people and many I grew up with, I can see they too are mentally ill and so were their parents. This is on the mental health books. Its called at stalker who is mentally and emotionally ill who is a narcissistic sociopath and this is his harassment and smear campaign. A stalker induces anxiety and fear and along with that comes paranoia. The one common thing all of the people involved in this seem to have is death metal music and video game obsessions. They also seem to come from families with a long history of mental illness and major dysfunction with addictions to drugs and booze. You can not defend yourself you have to have someone else do it. After all, you have been painted a liar, a criminal and you deserve it. Others have to spread the word about the one who started it all. Then you have to go after the others and threaten to take away what they treasure. Its all a dumb game to them. It does exist but its not called gang stalking and there is no government after you. Yes, they have used these tactics but they are looking it all wrong. Technology has made this so much easier. With a tap of the phone they can reach thousands of bored stupid souls who have nothing better to do with their time.So, look around you and you will see the cars that follow you live down the street. They will all hang in familiar bars and coffee shops. You know, places where people gossip and rumor monger others. It all seems like everyone is involved but, they are not. its a small or large group of people who most likely live around you. Sit back and watch the show and you will figure it out. But, dont give them attention it give them energy.

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