NXIVM outreach / Public works

"Pick-Up Artist" Mystery giving YouTube advice in a black fur hat, dark eyeliner, soul patch and sneaky expression
Screenshot: YouTube

Today: Anna Merlan, author of REPUBLIC OF LIES: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power; and Colin McGowan, a writer living in Chicago.

Issue No. 36

One Weird Trick to Avoid Possible Cult Recruitment
Anna Merlan

Water Cribs
Colin McGowan

One Weird Trick to Avoid Possible Cult Recruitment

by Anna Merlan

Perhaps you are too young or high-minded to remember pickup artists, who roamed the mid-2000s landscape, sometimes wearing accessories like top hats and enormous goggles, attempting desperately to attract women in bars through a series of increasingly counterintuitive tricks and flop-sweaty group maneuvers. (The top hats, part of an attention-attracting strategy known as “peacocking,” were most memorably demonstrated by Mystery, a Canadian man whose real name is Erik, and who is, lo these many years later, still doing his whole schtick.) 

The most culturally durable tactic the pickup artists preached was “negging”–inserting an insult into a conversation with a woman in order to intrigue and beguile her into seeking your approval. Soft versions of the tactic have made their way into non-dating spaces, as I learned when a fellow journalist used it to ask me to attend a “self-improvement group.” A couple years later, I realized the group was almost certainly the cult NXIVM. 

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