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There are three basic stages of recruitment. The first is outreach or “prospecting,” in which a group tries to make contact with potential recruits (and make their pitch). The second is screening or selection, in which the available candidate pool is winnowed down and the best recruits are chosen. In the third and final phase, those recruits are offered training and integrated into the organization. These basic stages apply whether the group is a modern military, a business, an institution, or a resistance group.


The outreach method depends on the number of people required and the skills and talents they need. For rallies or protests, a movement may simply need large numbers of people with no particular skills. In this case, “warm body” recruitment based on mass call outs, word of mouth, posters, etc., can work very well. However, if specific skills and attributes are needed, it is necessary to go out and find those people, often in more peripheral parts of the resistance movement (like the mass base or auxiliaries).

Aboveground recruiters have many ways to look for people. They watch to see who does good work, solicit volunteers, and seek out recommendations from comrades and colleagues. (Underground recruiters can also do so, albeit more subtly, as we will discuss.) Once a candidate has been found, it’s the recruiter’s job to make the pitch.

A good pitch has four distinct parts.

First, recruiters should hit their high points and explain the benefits of joining up. In personal terms, as already discussed, the recruitment may look beyond material benefits and focus on the social benefits (being part of a tight-knit group with similar beliefs and perspectives), esteem and accomplishment (actually getting things done, making a difference in the world, accomplishing goals they couldn’t reach without the group), and self-actualization (putting their own special gifts and talents to use, actualizing their own potential as a human being and a member of the resistance, responding creatively to difficult and challenging situations, and so on). Recruitment may also focus on causes, anything from making a difference in a local community to saving a local landbase to building a more equitable society to stopping the destruction of the planet.

Speaking with a person who has experience in the organization can help convince the candidate. The US National Guard, for example, had increased recruitment rates when they used more people with actual overseas experience. As an alternative, or in addition to this, recruiters can use testimonials from other members, explaining the benefits of being involved. Most resistance groups don’t have funding for wages, but offering special perks or incentives, if appropriate, can help bring a recruit into the movement.

Bard E. O’Neill lists seven methods by which insurgents and revolutionaries attempt to gain support. They apply to general public support and to recruitment in particular. These are:

a) Charismatic attraction, in which revolutionaries attract people through persuasion, example, and the force of personality of charismatic leaders.

b) Esoteric appeals put revolution in an ideological context, and are usually directed at more intellectual or educated groups.

c) Exoteric appeals focus on the concrete grievances of the people.

d) Attacks on those in power, which Bard calls “terrorism,” to demonstrate weakness of the government.

e) Provocation of government repression, to alienate people from the government and show that the government is bad.

f) Demonstrations of potency by the revolutionaries, either through force or through administrative and social services, or both.

g) Coercion to force or threaten people into supporting them.

Although all of these are interesting on a broader strategic level, the first three are directly relevant to individual recruitment.

Second, the appeal needs to hit at a deep emotional level, not just an intellectual one. Many people are aware of problems and do nothing about them. A personal or emotional impact is required to spur people to action. Furthermore, current neuroscience research shows that we often make decisions on an unconscious level long before coming up with a conscious rationale for those decisions.1 Recruiters are after the small minority of people who are predisposed to resist. They don’t have to create new feelings; they just have to evoke or release strong feelings already present in the candidates.

These candidates want to resist, but often suppress that desire because they lack an effective outlet. By joining, aspiring resisters can meet their deep-seated desire to fight back and make a better world. For some, just the idea of being part of an effective resistance group—being trained, participating in actions, working with like-minded people—is exhilarating. For others, an emphasis on grander goals or narratives may resonate more.

Third, recruiters must address any concerns or anxieties. As volunteer recruiting experts McCurley and Vineyard put it, “Remove their reasons to say ‘no.’ ”2 Obviously, a recruiter should have good answers to common concerns in advance. Candidates may be concerned about the level of risk involved, the people they would be working with, their role in the group and how they would be trained, their existing relationships with friends and family, security issues, or the amount of time they’ll be committing. Recruiters can start by asking only for an initial commitment, like a “tour of duty” for a specific campaign.

Some people may say they are just too busy, but I suspect most sympathizers wouldn’t be too busy to help with something they felt would actually make a difference. Few people who care about the planet would turn down a chance to do something they felt was genuinely effective. But that’s also the difference between auxiliaries and cadres. Auxiliaries engage in resistance around their normal schedule. Cadres live for resistance, and make the time and personal sacrifices needed to engage in serious resistance. That can mean not watching television. It can mean living minimalistically. It can mean not having children.

Lastly, the recruiter offers next steps to the candidate. The recruiter may want to make a follow-up appointment or have a particular follow-up process. It’s the recruiter’s job to take responsibility for the next step—although a recruiter should constantly be aware of how a candidate is feeling, that recruiter should also offer definite ways to proceed.