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Crazy Eddie,Wikipedia a notorious retailer that engaged in bait-and-switch tactics[1]
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The bait-and-switch is a logical fallacy that occurs when someone presents a partial, appealing truth while hiding an unappealing falsehood. The term "bait-and-switch" originates from retail sales, in which a product is advertised as a bargain, but when the buyer shows up at the store, they are given a sales pitch and induced to buy a more expensive and more profitable item.[2] The practice is illegal in many jurisdictions.[2]

The fallacy is a fallacious argument style.

Usage by cults and extremists[edit]

Bait-and-switch tactics are used in cults and other authoritarian settings to conceal doctrine from outsiders and new inductees. Since many such groups base themselves on principles that outsiders often find outlandish, such groups often choose to spoon-feed doctrine to inductees rather than letting them study it independently, in hopes that the extreme points of doctrine will be much more acceptable to the new believer after a period of conditioning brainwashing.

The difference between bait-and-switch and telling people the introductory-level concepts of a religion before teaching the more complex concepts of a religion is twofold. In a bait-and-switch:

  • the more complex parts of the religion are deliberately hidden (as opposed to hidden for practical reasons[note 1]), and
  • the more complex parts of the religion are also the parts which are most objectionable (or, at best, merely nonsensical to the fresh mark uninitiated — but most often they are both), as opposed to merely being more nuanced versions of more basic beliefs.

By employing this strategy, the mark new initiate is encouraged to commit to and emotionally or financially invest in the religion before being shown the "inner doctrines" that most tend to inspire resistance and rejection. Once this is done, the strategy exploits a number of known weaknesses of human psychology, such as the sunk cost, groupthink, and in-group bias, that tend to lead the new initiate to smother her/his own resistance.

Would a rat enter a trap if it knows in advance that it is a trap?

Extremist groups, such as white supremacists, militias, men’s rights groups, and anti-Muslim agitators, have been noted as using an initial soft-sell approach to lure people to their causes.[3] Entry-level bait includes memes, edgy humor, video games, chat rooms, Hawaiian shirts (Boogaloo boys), swag (e.g., the Proud Boys leader's T-shirt shop),[3] et cetera. Some of these tactics have been adopted from Islamic extremists.[3]

Milk before meat[edit]

Milk before meat is the Mormon term.[4][5] For example, Mormon missionaries might tell you that that Joseph Smith was a prophet who died a martyr for his faith, but they won't tell you that he was a huckster who actually died in a gun battle and attempted to censor a newspaper for exposing his sexual misconduct. Similarly, they'll tell you Mormonism is the One True Church, but they won't tell you that said One True Church thinks that Jesus was actually married and that Satan is JC's brother. That's not even getting into doctrines that were once called "eternal" and "everlasting" but were later retracted or the inconsistencies in its founding myth.[5]

The LDS likes to keep this kind of stuff under wraps, and it winds up hurting them in the long run. A lot of members don't actually receive said "meat" in official church settings, so when they learn about the church's unsavory history or contradictions in doctrine on their own, they often wind up leaving the church.[6] Ken Clark, a former Coordinator for the LDS Church's Church Education System (CES), also points that this whole bait-and-switch business muddies the waters when it comes to informed consent.[7] After all, it's not really an informed decision if someone is leaving out important details.[note 2]


Gradient is the Scientology term (and in Scientology's case, some good ol' fashioned money spendin' is involved so the investment is not just emotional). As a controversial example, new converts to Scientology[note 3] are told that it is compatible with all other religious beliefs, but at higher levels are told that other religions are the result of implants, most famously the R6 implant, and are expected to follow Scientology to the exclusion of other faiths.


In a similar fashion, anti-Masonic conspiracy theorists are notorious for claiming that only the "higher, 33rd degree Masons" know the true, evil practices of the fraternity. However, in mainstream Freemasonry, no degree is higher than the third degree; all other degrees are supplementary. The numbers are only a substitute for the ornate titles of the degrees (e.g. Master of the Royal Secret).

Motte and bailey[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Motte and bailey

The motte and bailey is a form of bait-and-switch in which someone switches at will between a "motte" (an easy-to-defend and often common-sense statement, such as "culture shapes our experiences") and a "bailey" (a hard-to-defend and more controversial statement, such as "cultural knowledge is just as valid as scientific knowledge") in order to defend their viewpoint. Usually, someone will put forward the bailey — something controversial — and retreat to the motte when attacked.


  • Under scrutiny, a theist might exclaim "God is love" or "just the Ground of Being", or that all believers find God eventually (motte), but then they turn around and demand prayer or insist that those who don't believe properly are damned to Hell (bailey).
  • Right-wing libertarians will typically claim to defend freedom and oppose authoritarianism (motte), but then will support hugely repressive policies like the right to discriminate by a dominant racial group (which would lead to things like sundown towns)Wikipedia or fascist dictatorships (bailey). Friedrich August von Hayek is a typical example of this in action. He claimed all socialism is authoritarianism only to support Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship.[8][9] Another form of libertarian bailey has been put forth by Walter Block who argued that people should be able to "voluntarily" trade their freedom for slavery.[10]
  • Most proponents of Intelligent Design maintain one clearly Christian version, which they will advance at all times (bailey), but when pressed, it's just some unknown designer who created it all (motte).
  • Christian apologists, such as William Lane Craig, believe in one specific, Christian God who is capable of all kinds of supernatural feats (bailey), but in debates they defend a Prime Mover and Universe Starter (motte).
  • Proponents of quackery like homeopathy might maintain that their "cure" can do wonders (bailey), but when pressed, they are okay with it being indistinguishable from placebo (motte).
  • A minority of feminists, while claiming a broad definition, such as "feminism is the radical notion that women are people" (motte), personally hold a far more specific definition (bailey) in order to exclude some group. For example, TERFs and SWERFs exclude trans persons and sex workers respectively, while some sex-positive feminists have excluded anti-pornography feminists.[11] This has been criticized as infighting.[12]
  • Many MRAs espouse "egalitarianism", the belief that both genders should be equal, while painting feminism as outright female supremacy (despite the concept of "egalitarianism" being actually the same as feminism in general) and is thus appealing (motte), but then argue that men should leave society altogether, or that women should be viewed primarily as targets for sexual "hookups", or that men are entitled to sex from women, that women are biologically inferior at STEM fields, or that they just generally hate them (bailey).
  • Many Tankies pull this with their supposed "anti-fascism", claiming that they're simply opposed to right-fascism/Nazism (motte), but then reveal that they consider anything not specifically part of their authoritarian far-left program to be "fascism" and that the best way to fight this supposed "fascism" is via violence and totalitarian means.
  • The Alt-Right like to claim while on the defensive that they're simply defending the legacy of "Western Civilization" from the extreme left (motte),[note 4] before ranting about how the Jews control everything, blacks are inferior to whites, it's the job of (white) women to produce more white babies to protect the white race, and that anything even slightly to their left (i.e. the vast, vast majority of the population) is a "far-leftie" who must be combated via violent, authoritarian means (bailey).
  • Anti-immigrationist nativists will typically claim that they're not racist and that they're just asking questions about the effects of immigration (motte), only to then spew vile racist bigotry about the immigrants themselves (bailey).
  • An atheist might make affirmative and definitive declarations such as "God is impossible" (bailey), but under pressure retreat to the easier-to-defend position that atheism is just a passive lack of belief in a god (motte).
  • Holocaust deniers will claim that they are only engaging in good faith historical revisionism (motte), but will then oftentimes use their "revisionism" as a means of promoting anti-Semitic bigotry (bailey).
  • Self-professed race realists and HBD promoters often like to claim a sense of intellectual apoliticality and lack of racist bigotry when discussing the racial differences they believe exist (motte), but will then often use their "science" as a means of justifying racist injustices like educational segregation, race-based immigration policies, or racial profiling in policing, as well colonial atrocities against people of color (bailey). For a good example of this in action, Ryan Faulk (who blogs at TheAlternativeHypothesis) claims to be an academically impartial student of race science who conveniently uses said platform to engage in Congo genocide denial. Another example of this is Jared Taylor. Taylor often claims to be impartially studying race science, but will often use his "conclusions" as a means of justifying police violence and educational segregation against African-Americans.
  • Black supremacists will use the Recent African Origin hypothesis as “evidence” to support their pseudo-historical and pseudoscientific claims (e.g the Ancient Egyptian race controversy).
  • Islamophobes will often claim to simply be criticizing Islam out of genuine desire to critique the religion and its perceived excesses free of racial or religious prejudice (motte), but will then often devolve into bigotries of various sorts as well as, more often than not, use said "argumentation" as a means of promoting a Western supremacist, Hindu nationalist, hyper-Zionist, or racist political agenda (bailey). The textbook example of this is Sam Harris. His "critiques" of Islam rapidly devolve into parroting pro-Israel talking points (such as believing that mass Muslim immigration will make Europe look like Jerusalem at the height of the Second Intifada, ignoring the fact that most of its participants were not Muslims), justifying imperialist atrocities against Muslims (particularly in Iraq), and promoting racialism. Another example could be the Middle East Media Research Institute. Many people, including renowned Middle East studies professor Juan Cole, have accused it of promoting a covert, hyper-Zionist political agenda (propaganda) aimed at making Muslims and Oriental people look bad in order to whip up support for the reactionary, racist, and Islamophobic policies that the Israeli right as well as its allies and kindred spirits in the West seek to implement.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. For example, it makes little sense to teach advanced aspects of a religious doctrine before teaching the more basic aspects that serve as their foundation. If this still sounds unreasonable, bear in mind that mainstream education does the same thing for the same reason — for example, it makes no sense to teach algebra before teaching basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
  2. A cynical skeptic might point out that obtaining "consent" through deception is the entire point.
  3. L. Ron Hubbard famously referred to outsiders and newbies as "raw meat".
  4. Though even this is questionable, since their own philosophy arguably draws more from counter-Enlightenment Romanticism movements than it does from the Enlightenment itself.


  1. Crazy Eddie Early Years by Sam E. Antar, White Collar Fraud.
  2. 2.0 2.1 bait-and-switch Lexico.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 From memes to race war: How extremists use popular culture to lure recruits by Marc Fisher (April 30, 2021) The Washington Post.
  4. Milk Before Meat — But Meat by Robert L. Millet (archived from February 13, 2019) LDSLiving
  5. 5.0 5.1 To Those Who Are Investigating "Mormonism" by Richard Packham (Last revised June 15, 2011) Recovery from Mormonism
  6. About MormonThink, MormonThink
  7. Lying for the Lord by Ken Clark, MormonThink
  8. The Road From Serfdom by Greg Grandin (November 17, 2006) Counterpunch.
  9. "Preventing the 'Abuses' of Democracy: Hayek, the 'Military Usurper' and Transitional Dictatorship in Chile?" by Andrew Farrant et al. (2012) The American Journal of Economics and Sociology 71(3):513-538.
  10. Toward a Libertarian Theory of Inalienability: A Critique of Rothbard, Barnett, Smith, Kinsella, Gordon, and Epstein by Walter Block (2003) The Journal of Libertarian Studies 17(2):39-85.
  11. See the Wikipedia article on Sex-positive feminism. "[Rubin criticizes] anti-pornography feminists who she claims 'have condemned virtually every variant of sexual expression as anti-feminist'."
  12. EverydayFeminism: Why Everyday Feminism Is For Everyone