Conspiracy theories? I’ll give you conspiracy theories. Emmanuel Goldstein in 1984 might be a Party invention, existing as a means of ensuring loyalty to Big Brother by opening up the necessary distance between the citizen and the Party. That is, if all citizens are entirely within the state, there is no object to which they can render their complete loyalty.
So supposing you had this totalitarian cult that demanded complete loyalty from its members. How would it open up the aforesaid necessary distance?
One way would be to create a group whose sole function is total opposition to the cult. Creation of such a group would have twofold effects: one, as a means of maintaining loyalty of those internal to the cult. Two, as a means of maintaining public consciousness of the existence of the cult itself: a cult that seeks new members is likely to judge that any publicity is good publicity.
The easiest way of setting up such a group would be to have a verifiably committed member of the cult assist in the ‘liberation’ of several of the most impressionable cult members, and lead them in campaigns against the cult. One of the benefits of the counter-campaign would be the potential for recruiting suggestive people who are not normally reachable by the rather narrow scope of the cult itself. So the campaign could target isolated loners, by characterising it as some sort of social endeavour for the common good, perhaps involving apparently innovative use of social media. The less malleable of such loners might participate briefly in the campaign, in which case they will assist in the publicity effort, at no loss to the cult. The more committed recruits, especially resolute in their opposition to the cult, would be the ones most easily flipped into outright support for the cult if the need arose at a later date.
It’s a worrying prospect. I need a free stress test.