How to Respond to Blackmail

If you interact with enough people, speak offensive truths, or stand up to the powerful, it’s inevitable you’ll eventually be blackmailed. Extortion and doxxing are related techniques you may encounter as well.

If your first thought on reading those words is to say to yourself, “You can’t be blackmailed if you haven’t done anything wrong”, well, you’re delusional.

For one, we’ve all done something wrong, it’s simply a question of there existing the right kind of evidence to be employed against you at a certain time and under just the right circumstances. Your crime or sin could be very minor, but if you were to state under oath that you had never committed a crime, and then a blackmailer reminded you that at age 16 you exceeded the speed limit, or you lied in a phone call you made to a girlfriend and mailed across state lines, or you wore an American flag as a piece of clothing to a political rally, or you trespassed while protesting outside an abortion clinic, well, you have not just empowered the blackmailer, but you may have perjured yourself and be subject to additional criminal penalties.

Secondly, it doesn’t really matter whether you are guilty, because the blackmailer perceives that you fear the allegation, and not just the truth of it. Since most people are inclined to believe the worst of others, especially someone they already dislike, the revelation of negative information is almost certainly to be damaging, even if much later it is shown to be completely false. Further, since it is impossible to prove a negative, you can never truly exonerate yourself. Thus, if you are a generally virtuous person who enjoys a good reputation, you are more vulnerable than a guilty party who has a poor reputation or who cares little about his reputation.

If the allegation is very serious, but the blackmailer is savvy, he’ll not price the privacy too high (at least at the beginning). This can compel the victim to pay what he considers ‘insurance’ premiums.

I’ve experienced blackmail, extortion and doxxing and the most recent attempt this weekend prompted me to share what I’ve learned over the years so you might benefit when it’s your turn.

The key to blackmail is the blackmailer’s perception of your fear, and the resulting leverage he believes he has. If he perceives your fear as substantial, his leverage is greater. This simple but important fact is crucial to determining how to handle the blackmailer.

By far the best strategy to deal with the blackmailer is to persuade him that you don’t fear the disclosure of the information. The most effective method to prove this is to release the information yourself. This need not be public, but at least to the party you most fear having it.

The second is to disclose the information and the blackmail particulars to your attorney and to law enforcement. This carries risks of course and the revelation of the information to law enforcement should only be done with the guidance of a successful criminal defense attorney. However, this strategy can be successful if the embarrassing information is not of a serious criminal nature, or if the event is beyond the statute of limitations, or if the risk from prosecution is lesser than the risk of disclosure or payment AND disclosure.

The folks in law enforcement don’t like blackmailers. They know the power of information and how it can be used against people. It’s the same reason they don’t like informants, even though they rely on them. If your successful criminal defense attorney knows his stuff, he’ll choose the right person to take this to who will be sympathetic and have more interest in the blackmailer than in your past conduct.

One of the truths you must accept immediately upon being blackmailed is that there is a very high probability you will experience repeated demands for compensation AND you will suffer the revelation of the information anyway. The reason for this is owing to the nature of the blackmailer; he is not just a profit-seeking individual but usually also an angry person who sees himself as a victim and you as the perpetrator. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant. Their desire for inflicting pain on you is often as great a motivation as is the money.

If you grant that blackmailer power over you, you’ve ceded not just your money, and rights to more money in the future, but power over your very self, you heart and soul and peace of mind. If you consent to his scheme, you’ve become his slave, and as the money you pay over time increases and still fails to fill the hole in his soul, the likelihood of disclosure increases.

So dealing with the blackmailer and remaining in a state of peace both rely on confronting your fear. By far the best way to do this is to contemplate with complete seriousness the ‘What if?’ question, i.e., “What if I disclose this information myself?”

You may perceive this will have negative consequences. Explore all of those. Write them down and when you’ve exhausted that list, ask yourself again, “Okay, assuming these things, so what?”

The question isn’t as flippant as it sounds, it’s simply a method for removing the barrier between what you think you deserve and what reality may be. Put another way, you may have the mindset that you should not suffer, but that’s simply a delusion. For one, we all deserve to suffer, and secondly, even the innocent often suffer at the hands of the guilty. Managing your expectations is a critical initial step to coping with reality.

So now you’re itemizing the list of all the potential negative consequences. Going through that process could be painful and create anxiety-these are likely signs of your attachment to certain things of a temporal order. You need to confront those now and begin the process of embracing that discomfort so you can align yourself with reality and consequently reduce the fear of that future potential.

When you consider the worst possible outcomes and ask yourself, “What if?”, you’ll come face to face with a reality that is very likely already out of your control. You could lose a job, your material possessions, your friends and family, perhaps even your physical freedom. The truth is that you could lose all these things in an instant, whether you are truly ‘guilty’ or not. The difference is that before this moment you’ve likely been telling yourself that this couldn’t, wouldn’t, happen to you. Additionally, none of these things is as serious or final as death, and yet we all know that we will die and we manage to live in peace with that certainty. Surely you can live in peace with the realization that suffering could be/will be a part of your future.

Once you’ve acknowledged what might happen and expose yourself to the process of accepting it AS IF IT ALREADY HAPPENED, you’ve taken a big step towards eliminating the fear that gives the blackmailer power.

There are all sorts of circumstances that might compel you to negotiate with the extortionist, or even to pay, but do so through calculation rather than fear and with a full awareness of the situation. When you’re being extorted, your emotions may be clouding your judgment, so seek out the smartest, wisest and most logical objective thinker you know and share all with him. Ask him what you should do and benefit from his objectivity and logic. Keep in mind that unless your friend also happens to be a cleric or attorney, you might be putting him in legal jeopardy.

Finally, don’t forget the extortionist might even be doing you a favor by giving you the opportunity to free yourself from this baggage now, rather than at some later, less opportune time in your life. At the Final Judgment, all will be known by everyone, so it’s just a matter of time anyway.


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