I've found that a good way to keep oneself safe from manipulation is to understand the methods people use to manipulate others. An introductory course in Sociology alone is sufficient for a basic understanding of just how easy we are to "brainwash" and just how valuble critical thinking skills are. Mind you, I'm not talking about some sort of tinfoil hat conspiracy nonesense here. I'm talking about very ordinary attempts at socialization and resocialization we see everyday, often from religion.
Thunderf00t's most recent video is a short interview he managed to get with two women from the Westboro Baptist Church. These loud mouthed coiners of the ever-popular "God hates fags" slogan have come to epitomize religion gone wrong for believers and skeptics alike. Many must wonder how these people can spout their bile so freely without a shred of guilt. Is it really possible for one human to smile at the thought of another human being tortured forever? Thunderf00t's video reveals exactly how this is possible.
It is no accident that most of the content of this interview consists of personal attacks on Thunderf00t. Insults like "little boy" are obvious attempts at making another person feel beneath you. I can't tell whether or not these particular women are attempting to demean Thunderf00t on purpose or whether it's just out of habit. Either way, the demeaning or dehumanizing of a person is a hallmark component of a process called resocialization. As the word itself suggests, resocialization is the changing of the personality or practices of a person by controlling their environment in specific ways. Organizations such as prisons, mental institutions and the military resocialize people all the time with (usually) good intentions. Unfortunately, cults and religious groups (Scientologists and the WBC in particular) use similar techniques to gain and maintain followers.
The process can be summed up simply. There is generally some degree of isolation (if not complete isolation) from people outside of whatever group is doing the resocializing. People joining the group often undergo "mortification", which generally involves tearing down one's previous life and persona. After the he has been made vulnerable, it is quite easy for the values and practices of the group to be used in order to rebuild the mortified person.
Many people are very succeptable to this kind of manipulation without meaning to be. This is the reason Scientologists are told constantly in the beginning that they must be "cleared" of all of their supposed personality flaws before they can continue through the ranks. It is also way so many people "find religion" after periods of emotional vulnerability and why "raising a child" in a particular religion is so important. Faith schools provide segregation that is useful in the instilling of ideas.
This is not to say that all groups maliciously brainwash their followers. We're all socialized in some way or another. Most of us are uncomfortable with public nudity because we were raised in a culture that frowns upon such things. Such social conventions are relatively harmless as long as they don't discriminate against, abuse, etc. other memebers of the society.
One thing we must be able to do, however, is call this kind of behavior when we see it. When Ray Comfort lists the Ten Commandments and says that we've all broken them in some fashion and are thus sinful, we should be able to take his claims with a grain of salt. Is "lusting after a woman" really the horrendous crime he makes it out to be? Does that pencil we "stole" in the third grade say anything about us as adults? Of course not. But if we were convinced that there was something dreadfully wrong with us and that the only way to fix that was to picket funerals and chant "God hates fags", we'd probably do it.
The best protection we have against these groups is critical thinking. Don't believe everything you hear, even if it comes from the mouth of a supposed "authority". Whether it's "you're a filthy sinner" or "evolution is a fact", run every assertion through your head and, if nessasary, ask for justification. If you've already been convinced by the likes of Ray Comfort, the Church of Scientology or any other religious or politcal body, take a moment or two really consider what you believe and why you believe it. Keep in mind that "I need this", "That's what I was taught" and "It makes me feel good" are bad reasons to hold a belief. Remember, the truth will come out in the wash if you make the effort to seek it objectively and without bias.
I think it's safe to say that it's too late to "save" the members of the WBC. However, we have the ability to prevent those like them from gaining power. We all have the cure within our own minds. It's only a matter of making use of it.