Political Terrorism and the Stockholm Syndrome

August 31st, 2010

“During the “Cold War,” individuals living under Soviet rule would have to be on constant guard against “thought police.”

Children were indoctrinated in school to inform authorities if their parents spoke critically or even questioningly against the State, even within the privacy of their home.

In political tyranny, rulers have to “dumb down” the masses for some pathological need to project the image of “being right” and, hence, in charge.
 
A common methodology of winning over groups to the sway of simplistic ideologies is through combining seduction with fear. The concept of the “Stockholm syndrome” began on August 23, 1973, when Jan Olsson began a bank robbery that would forever transform the spectrum of how the world would view the outcome of hostage situations.
 
It started with the storming of a local Kredit Bank in downtown Stockholm, Sweden, and the shooting of the police officers who had gone in after Olsson.
 
With this action, a six-day ordeal and hostage situation known as the Norrmalmstorg Robbery began. Three women and one man were confined to a small room, fighting to survive. Four hostages were taken into the bank’s vault. Dynamite was strapped to them, and they were rigged to traps that would kill the hostages regardless of any rescue attempts. Yet when these captives were released, they had more sympathy for their captors than the police who had rescued them – and went so far as to publicly decry their own rescue. Two of the hostages became friends with the captors, establishing a fund to help pay for their defense fees accrued through the trial. They continue to support their captors against the police even today. The psychologist Nils Bejerot named the captives’ attachment towards their abusers the “Stockholm Syndrome” (“The Six-Day War in Stockholm.” New Scientist, 1974: 61). 
 
While the phenomenon of “emotional bonding” between hostages and their captors had been familiar in psychological circles, the use of the term “Stockholm syndrome” became popularized following the publicity of two more high profile hostage cases: Patricia Hearst and Elizabeth Smart. Both cases involve the kidnapping of a woman to pursue of ideals of their captors. In the case of Elizabeth Smart, at the young age of fourteen, Smart’s instincts of survival and protection resulted in the development of a strong bond between her and Brian Mitchell, resulting in intense Stockholm syndrome. This paradoxical sense of loyalty is exemplified by her behavior in the willful obstruction of rescue attempts by family and law enforcement: Only three days after her kidnapping, Smart had heard her uncle searching and calling for her, not far from her hidden location, but did not call out or attempt to draw attention to herself. The pervasive resistance to be rescued dominated the entire nine months during which she was kept hostage. During her captivity and living under constant threat, Smart’s personal will broke down. This allowed a relationship of affection to develop towards her captor to the point where she even adopted as her own the propaganda presented to her by her captor. Unlike Hearst, Smart did not speak out against her captor once she returned to regular life. Despite her family’s anger and disbelief, she remained silent about her relationship with Brian Mitchell during the nine months in which she remained his hostage, and was never defensive about her choice to avoid seeking rescue. 
 
The Stockholm syndrome refers to the unique bond of loyalty established between a hostage and his or her captor occurring within the dynamic of the victim’s absolute dependence upon the predator (Dee, Graham and colleagues. ”Love Thine Enemy; Hostages and the Classic Stockholm Syndrome.”  NY University Press, 1994). This unique attachment established between the victim and captor evolves from the exclusive dependence by the former on the latter. In exchange for the restricted life granted by the captor, these victims are willing to adopt a false reality in which no harm can come to them. In this apparent act of self-deception, victims of Stockholm syndrome believe that their irrational empathy for their captors and their ideologies will protect them. 
 
The psychological dynamics dominating subservient bonding patterns have been previously conducted among abused children and women, victims of incest, cult members, mistreated prisoners of war, and criminal hostage situations. On a more global scale, it has also occurred under Communist dictatorships such as the Soviet Union and North Korea, as well as other dictatorships such as Iran and Syria. In this fashion (through a combination of threat, isolation, and propaganda), a political tyranny has been asserted over the collective consciousness of large populations inducted into the mythical ideologies of their masters. When entire communities lose their power of critical thinking, there is nothing to protect them from the exploitations of their ‘anointed’ leaders. There is also the phenomenon of modern day charismatic leader who can provide an almost religious adherence, via brainwashing and milieu control, to a shared belief in a grand plan. Adherents are rewarded by a shared devotion to lofty, quasi-mystical attributions of meaning devised by the idealized leader’s social and political goals. Within this religious or political model, unquestioning dogma can explain all facets of life. While lacking some of the other attributes of Stockholm syndrome, the replacement of autonomous, critical thinking by the “science” of a “sacred” ideology may, in fact, constitute a newer and softer form of political tyranny (Galanter, Marc. “Psychological Induction Into the Large-Group.” Am J Psychiatry, 1980).”

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