How Fierce Loyalty Goes Terribly Wrong, Part 1

DISCLAIMER: This article is not aimed at any specific group or groups, or “those other people who are wrong”. We all have a part to play.

You’d have to be living in an air-sealed cave to be unaware of the rise of Fiercely Loyal and Fiercely Dangerous groups around the world. I won’t go into specific details about any of them because all anyone has to do is turn on the news or scroll through Facebook to get more than enough information. However, there is one question I keep hearing from my friends, colleagues and even total strangers on social media about this alarming state of the world, and that is “How did we get here?”

While there are some specific and unique circumstances at play in many situation, I’d like to use the Fierce Loyalty model to unpack how it is these groups/communities have a) come into being and b) gained so much energy so quickly. My hope is, that by understanding how it is happening, we can stop finger-pointing at and begin to understand how to fix it.

So here we go:

Fierce Loyalty Building Block #1 – A Frame of Common Interest and/or Value

The groups I’m talking about in this post most often share one pointed, black and white, all-or-nothing interest or value. This could be a set of religious beliefs, a political point of view, a value/moral system, a hatred for another group, a thirst for power, isolationism, populism, racism (no one groups holds the corner on this one), fear, and the list just keeps going.

What “it” is isn’t nearly as important as the fact that “it” is clear-cut with a razor sharp edge and zero room for any gray areas. You are either in or you are out. And if you are out, you are reprehensible and will be shouted at, shamed and shunned. No discourse. No exchanging of viewpoints. No fact-checking.

In a world that is moving beyond the speed of light, where change is the only constant, where economic booms for some are busts for others, and the divide between the haves and have nots gets wider by the minute, it’s no surprise that there are people who are desperate for something to cling to as their world rocks out of control. People who feel disenfranchised and afraid quickly move into desperation. Enter the clear-cut (some might call it extreme) interest, belief or value that feels like a life preserver.

Building Block #2 – People Who Share This Common Interest of Value

With all media running 24/7 now and social media channels connecting people who would otherwise never meet, finding people who share a common value is easier than ever. Websites, blogs, youtube and even the Dark Web are all portals for spreading whatever message an individual or group wants to spread. It’s never been easier to broadcast a message and it’s never been easier to find others who share a belief or point of view.

This massive flow of information feeds those who are feeling desperate and searching for something that will keep them from drowning. Groups know this and are always on the hunt for recruits to convert to the cause. They know how to find the right people and craft just the right message that will tap their fundamental fears in a way that moves them in a powerful way.

Building Block #3 – Compelling Needs

As I said in my book, Fierce Loyalty, just because someone shares a common interest or value doesn’t necessarily make them candidates for a community. The same holds true for this discussion. Just because someone thinks, feels or believes a certain thing doesn’t mean they will automatically join a group that espouses that point of view. For that to happen, that individual needs to have three compelling needs:

  • The Need for Belonging. They want to belong to something that is bigger than themselves. They are looking to be surrounded by like-minded people. Most of the desperate and afraid do not want to feel alone and isolated. They want to be part of a group that feels the same way.
  • The Need for Recognition. I’m not talking about prizes and awards. I’m talking about feeling seen and heard. Those who feel disenfranchised also feel like they are practically invisible and voiceless. They are desperate for an opportunity to be seen and heard.
  • Anyone feeling desperate and afraid is craving a place to feel safe. Any port in the storm they are experiencing fits the bill.

Fear and desperation push many people to actively seek out somewhere to go, somewhere to be, some group to belong to that makes them feel safe. They may form a group (that’s how many gangs get started). More often, they go looking for a group or organization that already exists so that they can experience an immediate sense of safety and relief.

How they get there isn’t nearly as important as the structure of the organization they join. Which moves us to the next part of the Fierce Loyalty model.

Building Block #4 – A Specific Organizational Structure

Groups and communities that build any kind of Fierce Loyalty vary widely in how they operate. However, they all share three specific organizational elements:

  • Connection points. It’s not enough to connect individuals to the organization (which is incredibly important). The real power comes from connecting individuals to each other. These connection points can be as simple as a community meeting or as sophisticated as a secret dark web portal, and everything in between. It’s these connection points that give individuals, and the group as a whole, a sense of growing power and boldness.
  • Support points. Building on connection points, support points allow individuals to give and get support to and from each other. It’s between the connection points and support points that organized action is devised. Support from other members of the group also emboldens members into drastic and catastrophic action. With a team cheering them on, they feel more important than they’ve ever felt in their lives.
  • While it may seem like these groups are anything but predictable, nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone knows what the rules are, who is in charge, how and where the group meets, how communication is handled, and how you get kicked out (or worse). While these groups can appear messy and disorganized at times, those inside the group trust it’s predictable operation.

Building Block #5 – The Evolution of Fierce Loyalty

Many groups never move into this evolutionary process. Maybe they can’t get their organizational structure stable enough or they don’t have a consistent number of perspective members with compelling needs. Whatever the reason, only a limited few move to this level. However, those that do also have the potential to be the most dangerous. Here are the Hallmarks of a Fiercely Loyal group:

  • They wear the uniform, the armband, the tattoo, the haircut, the t-shirt, the bumper sticker, the hat, whatever it is that displays to everyone that they are members of the group. Belonging is part of their identity in the world and they are permanently in “recruiting” mode. Their opinions and zealousness can make others uncomfortable, yet they seem oblivious. At their worst, their pride drives them to do despicable things in the name of group loyalty.
  • In these groups, trust is critical glue that holds the group together. And yet, trust can be fickle. If it serves the group, or group leaders, or even an individual, trust can go out the window in a coup, a PR debacle, or internal “restructuring”.
  • This is what really separates the wheat from the chaff. Members of these groups have a passionate relationship with the group. It is entrenched in who they are in the world. And, like many passions, it makes many members blind to reality and drives actions in the name of the cause that are inexplicable to the rest of the world.

Fierce Loyalty is a powerful motivator – for groups, tribes, peoples, perhaps the most powerful there is. But as we’re seeing all too clearly in the current climate, and as we’ve seen throughout history, it can be used in the service of good, just as it can be manipulated for evil intent. Where does your Fierce Loyalty lie?

In Part 2 of this article, I’m going to use the Fierce Loyalty Accelerators to illustrate how these groups have gained so much momentum so quickly. I hope you’ll stay tuned.

This post was first published on Fierce