Dragged Into the Light – Tony Russo

Dragged Into the Light

Dragged Into the Light

Summary

An investigation into and contemporaneous report on the effects of a bizarre internet cult and the individual lives it ruins.

Review

I’m not particularly interested in cults. I have a general sense of how one could get caught up in one, and the damage they often do to individual lives and to society. But I have to admit that author Tony Russo does an excellent job of bring this one particular cult to life – or perhaps not the cult itself, but some of the cultists and what becomes of them.

As Russo himself admits, it’s not a cult in the traditional sense – it has no physical locus and the leader is a somewhat shadowy background figure with cloudy motives – but it has rituals, goals, select membership, and an inner elite. And, of course, it damages almost everyone who comes near it.

In this case, the cult is organized around an internet figure who repackages old bullshit in new wrappingI for a new internet delivery system. It’s obviously, vividly, vehemently bullshit, but any time she’s called on it, the cult’s leader doubles down on it and forces a confrontation – believe my obvious lies or be ostracized. And it works.

It’s impossible, reading this book just after 2021 ended, not to think of another, higher profile figure who spewed bullshit and doubled down on it. If nothing else, the book helps answer the nagging question of, “Yes, they stick with him, but why?” These are the same tactics, just with a more gothic message – demons and lizard people and magic rays –  to go with the more familiar stuff of pedophile rings and government conspiracies.

The cult leader of this book builds on existing credulity and finds fertile ground in religion. When you’ve already accepted angels as real, demons aren’t a big stretch. When you have a source document with such a rich history and so many internal contradictions, it’s not hard to make new stories out of old cloth. What’s disturbing is that it’s so easy to get people to believe them and so hard to get them to stop.

Russo does a nice job of bringing his story along, focused on individuals who get caught up in the cult and mostly don’t ever really get free. He has apparently excellent, contemporary access to his sources and is able to report what happens to them first hand. The main flaw in the book, unfortunately, is that he doesn’t distinguish clearly between what is first hand and what is reconstructed or imagine. The other weakness in the book is that it uses a dramatic death as a climax it doesn’t need. The story of the cult is itself fascinating – and its political parallels frightening – and a cloudy murder could have been more side note than crisis.

Worth reading both in itself and for its insights into why people are so willing to believe the obvious falsehoods of shameless, immoral liars.

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