We talk a lot about core motivators here at AP, and there’s a reason for that. Understanding humans — how they think, what they want, how they’re driven — is absolutely critical. If you know every single thing about your general area but don’t understand the people in it, you’re still going to fail. You can’t, however, understand other people unless you truly understand yourself. That’s not some New Age yoga-motivated psycho-babble, that’s Sun Tzu.

Unless you understand what drives you, what weakens you, what angers you and terrifies you, you will not accomplish much. Having that level of knowledge about yourself is in itself a form of mental armor, because it helps you protect against certain types of attacks by allowing you to recognize them and potentially mitigate or even prevent their effects.

There are two major concepts to understand here, and if you get them about yourself, you’ll be better at getting them about other people.

1. Everyone, deep down, needs validation.

We are all different people depending on our environment and the people around us. While many like to brag that they are “the same all the time and don’t change for anyone,” the truth is that you do not allow yourself to be the same person with strangers that you are when you’re alone with your spouse. If you truly don’t act any different around strangers than you do with your spouse, then you have some problems that can’t be addressed in this article.

We all have family, friends, or confidants, and we by default allow them to see different parts of us. You might tell different jokes around certain people, or allow yourself to be emotionally open and vulnerable. You might be careful about what you say in the presence of certain folks because they have no need to hear your life story, hopes and dreams.

Past all of that, however, is the core of who you are. We’ll call it the basement. The person you are when no one is there, no one is asking you, no one sees. That’s where our real weaknesses are, where we cannot be anything but honest with ourselves if we expect to grow as people. Very few people are completely, totally honest with themselves about what’s there. Many choose to ignore it; we’ve all met them. They’re convinced that they don’t have the weaknesses they see in that basement. They put a locked door to it and never go there; they either don’t want to face what’s there, or they already know and they cannot deal with it.

Others, however, have the guts to go into that basement, open every box, take out every item, and inspect it. Every weakness gets faced, analyzed, and understood — and then a plan is made to mitigate its possible effects on their life.

If you can do that, you’ll come out mentally and emotionally stronger, and far more able to recognize weakness in others; that puts you in a position to truly gauge whether or not someone is a threat to you or your group. If your group members have also been through this type of self-evaluation — and the results shared within the group whether overtly or by stressors/observation over time — there can be a deeper sense of loyalty and bonding based on shared mental or emotional burdens. If you know your own strengths and weaknesses, and those of your group members, you can all support and defend each other with an effectiveness not possible in the standard, “we all love liberty and that’s good enough” mentality.

Don’t believe me? Think about your longest, deepest friendship, or if your spouse is that for you, think about your marriage. What’s something you can say about each other? They know everything there is to know and they’re still here. To them, I still matter. They accept me. That understanding of who you are, what’s in your basement, makes your bond stronger. That effect is exacerbated under extreme stress; people you go through hell with have a different bond than those who don’t. They SEE you in ways others do not.

We all have a basement. And deep in the basement is a box with our biggest need of all: validation. We all need to know that we matter to someone, that our existence has some kind of meaning. How that need manifests in each of our lives, how we choose to FILL that need, is what makes us different.

2. To find the core motivator, reverse engineer the validation need.

You’ll see a lot of people talk about how they’re driven by a “deep love of liberty” or something similar. The truth is that no, they aren’t. They may believe in liberty, they may work towards a goal of liberty, but that is not what really DRIVES them.

To find that drive, you’ll need to understand that 1) they need validation and 2) find how they chase that need.

One example I talk about in class is a guy who appears to be motivated by money. We’ll call him John. John loves money. He will do just about anything if it nets him a couple more bucks. He’s always looking for another angle, another way to get more. Yup, John is driven by money. So wait, how can we say that John’s true need is validation?

To answer that question we need to ask a few more.

Why does John need to seek money? That’s an important question because it’ll push you to understanding the key to working with or even manipulating him.

Does John see money as being indicative of being a good provider?

Does John see money as being an indicator of success?

Does John see money as being a way that he can “help others,” thereby either purchasing loyalty or getting accolades from those who see him as a benefactor?

You see, John’s love of money is the manifestation of his need for validation. Once we understand this about John, then sure, we can motivate him with money if we choose. That’s easy.

If we really want to do some damage, however, we can go deeper than that and target the connection between his need for validation and his manifestation of it. We can see, perhaps, that John seeks money because it validates him to be seen as a successful big spender. THAT is a point of leverage. That is the open door we talk about so often. If John needs money so that his wife sees him as a “real man,” that’s a big sign saying, “Come on in, I’m vulnerable.” If his wife is also pushing that need with irresponsible spending or emasculating John at home, you’ve got a wide open playing field, filled with opportunities for damage.

Suddenly, John being a penny-pincher or “money guy” doesn’t sound like such a small thing, does it? John is a ticking time bomb of vulnerability.

Let’s look at another example.

We’ll use a guy named Cal. Now, Cal runs a group that is pretty active in the “liberty scene,” and by that I mean they’re at every rally, protest, or other controversial event. As the group’s leader, he sees it as his job to control messaging, and so he’s also very active on social media, he gives interviews to anyone who asks for one, and he seems to be everywhere along with his group.

A lot of people look at Cal as being a ballsy, amazing patriot who leads from the front, but let’s look deeper.

“Aha,” you’re probably thinking. “He’s just getting validation from the attention.” That’s a pretty valid assumption, but again, it’s too shallow. Too easy. In order to really leverage Cal or decide if he’s a threat to the group, we have to go even deeper than that. Look at things Cal says.

  • “I will make sure to give everyone an interview who has asked for one.” – What is he saying here? What information is he giving away about himself?
  • “I am the leader and commander of a large group of patriots 200 strong.” – What does this statement say if it’s true? If you’re already aware that his group is actually about 20 guys of varying levels of commitment, what does that tell you?
  • “I am a full Colonel in the militia.” A lot of folks would laugh at this on its face, but again, go deeper. What is happening here? If he’s the top dog, who gave him this “rank,” and what’s that tell you?
  • “People always try to crap on what I do, but they don’t understand how hard it is and how much I’ve sacrificed.” – Again, read that sentence carefully. What is he really saying?
  • “The rest of you can talk all you want but you’re just cowards because you’re not out there on the front lines of the cause like I am.” – What’s happening in this statement?

It’s not about just attention, is it? That validation need is manifesting as actual narcissism. I talked about why that’s a bad idea before.

Suddenly, Cal’s general need for attention becomes far more than “oh, that guy is great but he likes the camera a bit too much.” Now we’re into “Cal is dangerous because his narcissistic manifestations will always come first.”

THAT is how you protect your group; by seeing things for what they truly are.

Cal exists in real life; he’s a composite of several people who have actually made those types of statements. If we now understand that Cal is a lot more dangerous than previously believed — and not to any adversary but to his own group and his cause itself — then we also understand that the problem throughout the greater community is a lot bigger than most understand enough to admit.

How do you manipulate Cal? Sure, you could offer him an interview, but that’s not really going to get you where you need to be. How do you steer someone like Cal? How do you foster loyalty with him? Give him what he wants — not just attention, but validation. Cal defines loyalty as being in awe of who he is and what he does. In order to manipulate him, you simply need to make him believe that you think he is everything he says he is. It’s not about attention. It’s about feeding his narcissism.

Putting it All Together

In your typical group, whether it’s a “stand up to tyranny” group, a social media yapping club, a group of rallygoers, letter writers, or a bunch of guys calling themselves a “militia,” people can go “apply” for “membership,” or approach the group and announce an intent or desire to become part of them. Many groups have various hoops one must jump through; some do a background check, others have an interview process, others just look at a social media presence. Your group might require a current member to vouch for the newbie (that’s a bad practice that I cover here). Here’s the problem — NONE of those things will effectively catch a real threat before it’s too late.

Sure, it might weed out the sex offender or the thief. It might save you from having to deal with someone who is overtly BAD. It might catch the bear. But it won’t catch the fox.

If none of you have spent any quality time in your own basement, you cannot possibly understand the depth and breadth of your own vulnerabilities — which means you cannot stop them from being targeted. More importantly, you cannot possibly recognize those things in others, which means you are that much more likely to get a bad actor of some type in your group. You cannot truly recognize the threat even if it’s standing right in front of you. You MUST understand these things about yourself, and you need to know the people in your group well enough to understand those things about them as well.

Which brings us to a few uncomfortable rules:

  1. You cannot do this in a 100-person group, or 50.
  2. You cannot do this if you allow open recruiting.
  3. You cannot do this if you invite the public to all of your events.
  4. You cannot do this if your sole function is public action.
  5. You cannot mitigate threats you do not fully understand.

This is why lists of “people you don’t want in your group” exist. This is why you find people who are absolutely unyielding in the type of people they will even consider taking on, or why you see people who are wholly unapologetic about their refusal to attend rallies, work with public groups, or act as some kind of “patriot contact” for the unwashed masses. This is why certain people advocate for very small groups.

This is also why you see the same bad actor tactics, working over and over, in groups all over the country, for decades on end. Why should adversaries change their tactics? They keep working.

If you want to protect yourself and your group against bad actors, regardless of their origin or goals, then you need to learn how to see the threats. Otherwise, you’re just another group, at the mercy of the next drama, the next poorly-planned event, the next bad recruit.

Break that cycle. Be better.

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