Dictators sometimes have no choice in their evil schemes but to get violent, start calling in the troops, and use methods that create calls for condemnation all over the world. However, most leaders and their ministers of propaganda would rather find a way to trick you into going along with their way of thinking before going to such extreme lengths. It’s a lot less trouble, a lot less expensive, and gives your enemies less propaganda against you, when you can convince your own people to do your dirty work for you, or get them under your control without firing a shot.
10. Repeating Lies Over And Over Again
The propagandist and second in command of the Third Reich, Joseph Goebbels (pictured above), once said “repeat a lie often enough, and it becomes the truth.” This was a cornerstone of his immoral philosophy to tell whatever lies necessary in order to further Hitler’s globe-spanning agenda and exterminate all Jewish people. He tried every propaganda trick in the book, and came up with quite a few new tricks as well, but repeating basic, simple lies over and over was one of his favorites. Now, researchers had always wondered just how true Goebbels’ famous saying really was, so they sought to understand it better.
After research tests, psychologists were a little bit concerned. They found that people tended to rate a statement as true, or more likely to be true, if they had heard the statement before, even if they had originally known the statement to be false the first time they heard it. Now, psychologists caution that when confronted with lies, people do still tend to be fairly discerning and aren’t necessarily tricked that easily, or by that trick alone, but it shows it can certainly at least be a part of an effective misinformation strategy. In a place like Nazi Germany, where information was fully controlled, and it was hard to even get access to the viewpoint that spoke the truth, we can see how some normal people had the wool totally pulled over their eyes.
9. Polarizing Everything Into Two Sides Of A Debate
This is a trick that many people know of, and yet they still fall for it every single day. It is far harder for anyone to stay focused on the issues when they are focused on hating the other popular political party just because. In countries like the United States, it is easy for a Democrat or Republican to renege on their promises later, after all, they know your only option to get back at them is to vote for the other party — and most party faithful have been taught that the other party is evil.
However, this trick has been used to truly evil effect in other countries, where it was used for more than just trying to distract the populace from your own broken political promises. In the country of Rwanda back in the early 2000s, political and news elite from the Hutu majority polarized the country into two groups, the Hutu and the Tutsis, and dehumanized the Tutsis by saying they were cockroaches that needed to be exterminated. This led to the eventual genocide in Rwanda, where it is estimated that close to a million people were killed, all because they were almost unrecognizably different. Whenever someone tells you to hate an entire other group, for such a ridiculous reason, it would be best to not only not listen to them, but perhaps to try to remove them from office — even if they do hail from your party.
8. They Always Punch Down And Try To Blame Your Problems On An “Other”
One of the favorite things that tyrants or wannabe dictators will pull is to blame any issues you have on a smaller group that cannot properly defend itself. Of course, your problems are generally really because the government needs to do something different, but it’s far easier for an evil leader to just convince people that a bunch of others are to blame, and then persecute them mercilessly.
This was a favored strategy of Adolf Hitler, who went after the Jewish people, stealing money from them, and rounding them up to put them in death camps. Many Germans assisted, or went along with it, as Hitler had spent years and untold amounts of money trying to convince people that the Jewish minority was literally greedily holding on to all of Germany’s money, and was truly to blame for everyone’s problems. Leaders today still try these tricks, whether they are blaming undocumented hispanic and latino immigrants in the United States, or Islamic immigrants in Europe. This does not necessarily mean, of course, that every leader who blames your problem on an “other” wants to exterminate them, but it is something that it is best to stay vigilant about.
7. Any News That Doesn’t Come Straight Out Of The Dictator’s Mouth Is Considered Suspect
One of the favorite tricks of any dictator who wants to keep control of the masses is to control the flow of information. This means that if there are any news sources not controlled by the evil person or people in charge, and they cannot immediately shut them down without too much backlash, they will constantly do everything they can to discredit that source and make it sound ridiculous or fake. In situations where the leader can shut down other news sources, they will slowly but surely do so until only theirs remains.
Some leaders who try this will try to be sneaky about it, and make people think the (now only) major remaining news source isn’t truly, entirely controlled by them. A good real world example of this is Russia Today, the main source of news in Russia. While Putin claims they don’t take their marching orders directly from him, they might as well. Russia Today is essentially controlled by the Kremlin, and Putin has control over what the Kremlin does and what policies it puts into place. If you have control over the flow of information, it can be hard for anyone to form a negative opinion about you or your administration, since you can ensure that only positive things are said about you and what you are planning to do in the future.
6. They Oversimplify Things And Hammer Their Point Homer Over And Over Again
One of the things any dictator or minister or propaganda has quickly learned is that the more complicated a message it is, the harder it is to get that message across. Many have theorized that this is what made it so difficult for Hillary Clinton to connect with people — she tends to be very intellectual in her manner of speaking and is not very good at summing things up. She lacks charisma and isn’t particularly relatable, in other words. On the other hand, Donald Trump was able to simplify his message into simple soundbites that take hold in the memory quickly. Whatever your thoughts on the man, it’s hard to deny he has charisma and knows how to appeal to his constituency. Now, this isn’t to pass judgment on either one as evil, but only to show how the simplicity of a message can have such a great effect.
The Nazis used this technique regularly themselves. Even if it meant losing the more intellectual people, they felt that to take control they needed to connect with the masses. In order to do this, they needed very simple messages that could be plastered over and over and reinforced in the mind again and again. While it may not have had effect on the deeper thinkers of society, when it came to the masses, it was a brutally effective strategy.
5. They Make Themselves Larger Than Life In Your Mind — Becoming Above Criticism
One of the favorite tricks of any dictator or wannabe leader is to make themselves into something larger than life. The human mind already tends to gravitate toward thinking of people with fame and success as somehow more than a regular human, and so those with evil machinations for power have realized just how much advantage they can take from this phenomenon. The most radical example of this is the Kim family from North Korea, who have gone to the trouble to teach children that they are actually gods and responsible for the creation of the world.
The propaganda and brainwashing in North Korea is so deeply ingrained that people cried as if the world had ended when Kim Jong Il died. This is, of course, the perfect way to keep the masses under control. Despite starvation, mass cruelty and all kinds of other awful conditions, it is hard for any real resistance to take hold when people believe they would actually be rebelling against God himself. While this may not hold up forever if conditions in North Korea get bad enough, right now there doesn’t seem to be any attempt at rebellion despite most of the population being stuck in horrendous conditions.
4. They Subtly Trick You Into Becoming A Willing Party To Your Own Delusions
Joseph Goebbels believed that people were actually mostly racist pigs on the inside, but that he just needed to bring that out in them more fully. He believed that one of the best ways to get people to think or do what you wanted was to subtly meld what he wanted you to think, along with your own deeply held beliefs or prejudices. Many people assume that Nazi tactics were always direct and in your face, but sometimes a less obvious approach was warranted. The Nazis would talk about people’s pride of country, and their right to a land with safety, security, good job opportunities and all of that — and how Germany needed to be brought back to the greatness it once had. Most people, of course, already believed this, and so it wasn’t hard from there to take people’s resentment that they don’t have what they should, and stir it into anger against almost anything that wasn’t the Nazis themselves.
This is one of the ways the Nazis were able to slowly get so many citizens to willingly learn such a terrible and unjustified hatred of the Jews. They started off slowly appealing to people’s sense of identity and fairness and then once they had them hooked, they made it more and more clear that there was only one way to make things better — destroy the Jewish problem entirely. Much of the time Goebbels didn’t believe in being too direct about violent talk against the Jews; he believed in using the right wording and emphasis, and letting people’s natural emotions and prejudices take hold and carry them further forward — by this time, you had become a party to the delusion yourself.
3. They Always Make You Think You Are Being Besieged By A Stronger Enemy
One thing the most crazy leaders or tricksters do is keep you distracted constantly. Perhaps the country is dealing with mass starvation, or is on a media blackout, or many of them are in death camps, or perhaps much of the army is infected with roundworms. Regardless of what the issue is, they would rather have you believe that something very horrible on the outside could be coming… any day now. You just don’t know when it will happen, and it’s really, really scary. In the case of North Korea, they constantly beat the drum that the evil United States is about to bang down their door, despite the fact that nuclear weapons are about the only reason the USA would ever spend the money in the first place to invade North Korea.
However, it’s really not for the other countries, or meant to truly intimidate them, but more to keep the people in line. If your country is not in good shape, or you are oppressing people, you can make the excuse that you are being besieged by enemies, and you are in a state of war or war readiness for very good reason. A restive population will stay calmer and be much less likely to start a revolution, despite some starvation issues, if they truly believe it’s all a sacrifice to make sure the country is prepared for an imminent invasion from a horrific enemy.
2. They Do Everything They Can To Appeal To Emotion Rather Than Logic
One thing that Goebbels believed was that logic was definitely not the way to go when you were trying to convince a massive amount of people to think your own way. On the other hand, he believed that emotion was always the best way to appeal to people, and so he designed his propaganda to target people’s most base instincts. He once said that he believed that the best way to utilize propaganda was when it spoke what people already felt in their hearts. In other words, it wasn’t important to give people a message that made sense, but basically to tell them what they already wanted to hear.
And this was used to great effect both throughout the Third Reich, and in many modern political parties today. At rallies, your favorite policies are shouted out in increasingly small soundbites, while the enemies are occasionally mentioned and quickly jeered derisively, with increasingly small counter-soundbites against their policies. This tribalistic manipulation makes it easy for a crowd of people at a political convention to briefly forget that the people in the other party are complex, mostly well-intentioned human beings like them, and not a dangerous enemy that needs to be squashed out no matter what.
1. They Constantly Reinforce The Greatness Of Their Own Country And Its People
Perhaps the final and most popular trick of the most brutal and effective dictators in history is to focus on national identity. After all, if you are going to oppress an entire populace and keep them largely under control without massive unrest, especially if you don’t have enough resources or tend to have draconian rules, you really need to keep them all in one group if possible. The less groups they are in, the easier it will be to keep them properly influenced and not have any pesky rebellions cropping up that get in the way of your rule.
Some countries today use this method, where the national identity is practically the religion, and you really cannot branch out that far into any kind of belief system that isn’t part of the party structure. North Korea is entirely entrenched in this philosophy, but China is not that far behind. The Party does allow you to have a freedom of religion, but they still do everything they can to make you want to avoid religion, and punish you if you practice in subtle ways. For example, the Communist Party, which basically controls everything and is very strongly in place, will not allow you to hold office if you are currently part of any religion. This ensures that any leaders, and the vast majority of party faithful, will remain atheist, and thus their true loyalty will be to country second, and party first, before all else. In North Korea, the level of patriotism indoctrination would make the most hardened American Patriot blush.