What Can You Do?
The Need for Action
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is a Destructive Cult?
Why Do People Get Into Cults?
Who is a Typical Cult Recruit?
How Can I Recognize a Dangerous Cult?
How do Cult Recruiters Work?
Why Would Someone Join a Destructive Group?
How Do Distructive Groups Recruit?
Aren’t Pimps and Con Artists Like Cults?
What is the Difference Between Cults and Terrorist Groups?
Why Do People Do These Things?
Why Doesn’t Someone Do Something?
How Can You Tell the Difference Between a Destructive and a Benign Group?
Where Does the Money End Up?
Don’t Feed the Hand that Bites You!
Notes by Jesse Ancona
There is strong evidence that religious, political, and self-improvement groups are actively recruiting on university campuses. These movements very often claim that they offer the sole channel for spiritual and therapeutic insight. Under the right circumstances, anyone can be vulnerable to them. The assault is not on your intellect, the assault is on your emotions.
You should know that there are basic principles of psychological coercion. If you make a person behave the way you want, then eventually, you can make that person believe the way you want. The converse is also true: if you can make a person believe what you want, then you can make that same person behave the way you want them to behave.
A classic example of the latter is the Jonestown Massacre: these people were coerced, first of all, to turn over all their money, their Social Service cheques – everything they had, all their possessions – to the so-called Reverend Jim Jones. Second, they turned over their children and their responsibility to those children. Finally, they turned over their own wills, so that they were coerced into actually murdering their children and committing suicide.
This is a very extreme example, but unfortunately, not the only one: such things do happen. If you can make a person behave the way that you want, you can make that person believe the way you want, and if you can make a person believe what you want them to believe, you can get them to do what you want them to do. Mind control is a gradual process: it does not occur overnight. Be on your guard: cults nowadays have become very, very efficient at recruiting.
What Can You Do?
- You can become very aware of what is written and what is said: there are books that you can read, and book lists that can be provided by a reputable Cult Information Service [ed. note: do not accept materials or information from the Cult Awareness Network, a once-reputable organization bankrupted by a cult, and now owned as a front for their own organization.]
- Remember that people don’t generally seek out a destructive cult, trying to become a member: the cults actively recruit new members, and they recruit them under many different guises, though always under the guise that it is something you need or want.
- If what they are offering sounds too good to be true, chances are it probably is. Check it out very carefully, through independent organizations, not organizations that the cult will refer you to.
Hundreds of parents have been rudely awakened to the fact that cults are still actively recruiting young people as well as older people, despite all the Jonestowns and all the ominous warnings of people actively involved in exposing the cults. Remember that psychological coercion by dangerous mind-bending cults can only occur if there is a cover for it: they don’t come up and say, "We are a dangerous cult, come and join us."
A lot of the cults are using the cover of religion, and this can only occur, like a disease, when there is no immunization against it. In most cases, the immunization is our freedom of speech. The cults, using tax-free dollars, can violate human rights only when the truth is allowed to go unpublished. Quite a lot of the cults, if you speak out about them, and indicate what it is they are actually doing, will immediately try to sue you for speaking up, in order to silence you. Very few of these lawsuits actually ever get to court, because the cult drags it on and on, and most people will just settle out of court, just to have it over with.
The Need for Action
‘When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.’
Edmund Burke in ‘Thoughts on the Cause of Present Discontents’ 1
If enough good people do nothing, destructive groups can take over the world, and this is the ultimate plan of most of these organizations. They are usually run by characters who are quite charismatic, quite often megalomaniacs, who want power and control, and the more they get, the more they want. It becomes an insatiable desire for them, to get power and control over other people – over their minds, over their properties, and over their families.
Some of this is done in the name of God. Quite often, though, it is approached as, "We can help you to be better, and then all we need to do is to have enough people working to make the organization stronger," and then it is really being done in the name of the organization. The assumption becomes that what is good for the organization must be good for the world – even if it means that a lot of people are going to be killed.
This is the kind of situation that causes wars, murders, and intolerance – the pseudo-religious cults talk a lot about freedom of religion, but they don’t practice it: their whole idea is that anyone who doesn’t believe the same as they do are "fair game," and may be tricked, lied to, sued, or destroyed by any means, by one of their chosen flock.
Pay attention if you hear someone bleating about freedom of religion, and ask yourself if they are only wanting that freedom so that they can rob you of your freedom, or rob us all of our freedom of choice.
Remember, a dangerous cult does not come along to you and say, "We are a dangerous cult, come and join us" – it is presented to you in a way that is acceptable. When you go fishing, you take a lot of trouble to put a tasty, attractive little morsel on the hook as bait for the fish. You are not doing this out of compassion for the fish! This is the same method that is used by the cults: if they can get you to swallow some of their smaller lies, then they can hook you on the really big ones.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Destructive Cult?
I consider a destructive cult to be something that takes from society and individuals, and grows to be strong and powerful so it can take more from society and individuals. A destructive cult is something that teaches its victims to become recruiters, promoters, and defenders for the cult and its own lies. It uses brainwashing, mind control, intimidation, blackmail, threats, and lawsuits – anything to stop its victims getting their money back or alerting others. The whole idea of a cult, basically, is money and power. It has many guises, and they won’t tell you that their idea is money and power, but quite often, they will admit that they are very powerful and have a great deal of money.
Why Do People Get Into Cults?
Generally, people don’t seek out a cult, cults actively recruit new members. People usually get recruited into a cult because they have been deceived and systematically entrapped. They don’t know what the group is about, they don’t know the real nature of the organization – otherwise, they would have nothing to do with it. They don’t know that involvement in the group actually entails loss of their individual freedom. Most people think they can go into one of these groups, and get what they want out of it – whatever the "bait" is. Sometimes, they’re lucky, and they may be able to get the bait off the hook and escape, but more often, they become hooked and end up with psychological scars.
Sometimes, people are feeling lonely, and when approached by a recruiter, they are attracted by the appealing warmth and sincerity of the recruiter. Remember, recruiters are also victims of the cult, and they have been brainwashed, and actually believe what they are saying. Recruiters are carefully educated and programmed into saying just those things that will avoid any dangerous questions that might shatter the new belief of the victim, or even the beliefs of the recruiters themselves.
Hundreds of parents have been rudely awakened to the fact that the cults are actively recruiting: there is cult recruiting going on in campuses and schoolyards, but there is also cult recruiting going to older people’s homes. The people who come to your door, telling you they are doing a survey for the local radio or T.V. station, and then very, very cleverly manipulates you into answering questions about stress, and about your home, and offers to sell you a book on stress, and then invites you along for a free I.Q. test – these are cult recruiters. This particular method is being used right now, in this city.
Be alert for such things: remember, there is no free lunch. There is always a catch. People can be brainwashed very easily. In this particular example, the people going door to door say they are doing a radio or T.V. survey in order to get your attention and cooperation. Then, they invite you to complete a questionnaire with two hundred questions in it that you answer with Yes, No, or Maybe, and the answers that you give provide the cult with enough information about you to make you vulnerable to their mind control.
You are always told there is something they can do for you, to help you, because the graph they create from your answers to their questions is always too high or too low, or have areas of weakness that can be improved. Then, they recommend that you do a communications course with them. That’s the first step in the actual brainwashing, but you are told it is to help you to communicate more effectively, to help you to understand communication, and help you get along better with people. Basically, its purpose is to get you into the organization. It is not designed to help you to get out of it, but to pull you further into it.
Just be alert: remember, there is no free lunch. People don’t give these services away for nothing: the whole idea is to get people to be willing slaves, to promote, recruit, and defend the cult. They also don’t tell you that, in some cases, they actually pay a commission to each individual for every recruit they bring in. Often the way the recruiters are paid is in cult "services," that is, in more "counselling" or brainwashing training, which makes them even more dependent on the cult. The cycle becomes: better recruiters, better defenders, better protectors of the organization, bringing in more recruits, who in turn, become recruiters.
It is like the unreachable carrot on the stick. Here is some insight from someone who was there:
"When you meet the friendliest people you have ever known, who introduce you to the most loving group of people yu have encountered, and you find the leader to be the most inspired, caring, compassionate, and understanding person you have ever met, and then, when you learn that the cause of the group is something you never dared to hope could be accomplished, and all of this sounds too good to be true, then it probably is too good to be true. Don’t give up your education, your hopes, and your ambitions to follow a rainbow."
This quote is by Jeanie Mills, who, at the time she said this, was a survivor of Jonestown. She was later murdered by a person or persons unknown. Her killers are believed to be among the protectors, defenders, and recruiters of that particular organization, following the instructions of their dead leader, that they were to ensure no one spoke out against the organization.
Who is a Typical Cult Recruit?
Typical recruits come from middle- to upper-class family backgrounds, are sixteen to thirty-five years old (though some are older), and are of average or above average intelligence. Recruits are usually well-educated. These are people who can afford to unwittingly pay their way into the organization: they usually end up selling their homes, leaving their families, and mortgaging their future income – all for a rainbow.
Once a person has been systematically deceived and entrapped by an organization, it is very, very hard for them to actually get out of it. It can be done, but it is exceedingly difficult. It is much better to avoid the problem by knowing the names of destructive groups, and knowing the real nature of these groups.
Even so, knowing the names of various cults isn’t a guarantee of safety. There are many hundreds of cults, and many of these cults have hundreds of fronts, and many of them are constantly changing their names. Better than trying to know the name of every cult – an impossible task – is to understand how they work.
Cults actively recruit people: they may approach you, and try to get you involved in a conversation with them, and then they invite you along to a meeting or ask you to complete a questionnaire, or invite you to come along to a free movie, a free lunch, or a free weekend seminar. 2 Once you are there, you find that there is a degree of control exercised over your choices: it’s not quite so easy to walk out of the seminar – you have people talking to you, making you feel that there is something wrong with your life.
You have chosen your present life. You came into this world in order to learn about it by overcoming your own problems: no one is going to do it for you. It’s your life and your challenges, and it is always your choice whether to do hard time or easy time, but there is no easy way out of living your life. Going through a cult – especially a destructive cult – is not the answer.
Life doesn’t get any easier by letting people make your decisions for you: think of the people in the Jonestown situation; think of the people who have had to be unprogrammed away from these things; think of the many, many people who have committed suicide in order to get out of these groups.
Joining a cult is not the way to go, and it won’t make your life any easier.
How Can I Recognize a Dangerous Cult?
Here are some of the signs:
- People who avoid answering the issues you raise with them;
- A group that uses psychologically coercive techniques to recruit and indoctrinate members;
- An organization that uses falsehood in their indoctrination and recruiting methods;
- A group that maintains that "the end justifies the means";
- An organization that forms a totalitarian society;
- A group that has a charismatic, dogmatic leader who plays "Messiah" and demands total devotion: he or she can seem like the most wonderful person you have ever heard of;
- A group that obtains funds through deception for the personal gain and/or power of the leader;
- A group that performs no real service to society, although they claim to do so (remember, deceit is one of their tickets);
- A group that destroys existing relationships with family and friends – if your family is aware that something is happening to you, the group tells you that your family is evil, or doesn’t want you to progress, or that your family is the only reason you have ever been sick or unhappy in your life. (This is another major tool destructive cults use: they tell you your family members or close friends, if they are critical of the organization, are "negative" or "suppressive", or whatever buzzword the group uses for its enemies, and that your family and friends are actually making you sick, and trying to hold you back);
- An organization that teaches fear, hatred, and rejection of society, while claiming to promote the cause of world peace and universal love. (A good example of a group that teaches hate, fear and rejection is the Ku Klux Klan – under the definition of most religions, political parties, the Mafia, any terrorist group, the KKK – all of these could claim they are a religion, since they follow the same definition used by most of the pseudo-religious cults and mind control groups);
- A group that practices intimidation of critics by threats (which they sometimes carry out) or lawsuits, allow no development of the individual. (If a person in the group questions or wants to be an individual, he or she is told that the way to be an individual is to become more and more involved with the organization);
- An organization that isolates their members, either mentally or physically, polarizing the group and society into opposing camps, creating an "us / them" mentality, making the members identify exclusively with the group;
- A group that demands full-time or lifetime commitment: if you are allowed to work in the outside world, it is to get money for the cult, or for further programming or training within the cult for yourself;
- An organization that has secret practices and docrines and/or objectives that the average new recruit has absolutely no idea about;
- A group that has simple black-and-white solutions for the world’s problems: if everyone becomes a member of this particular cult, then there won’t be any war, hunger, or oppression;
- An organization that makes its members afraid to dare to speak up, even afraid to think about how the cult is oppressing them;
- A group that suppresses critical thought, blocking out questions and doubts by various methods, such as: chanting; rules of silence; long hours of meditation, study, processing, or counselling; speaking in tongues; various forms of repetitive action; inadequate diet or sleep;
- An organization whose methods rob their members of free will, destroying family relationships;
- A group that creates an attitude of willing slavery in its members: people in the group become willing to work long, long hours for the benefit of the organization – not for their own individual benefit;
- An organization that creates neuroses and psychoses in its members, so that some members become very angry if anyone points out that their organization may not be what it says, and may even be a destructive cult, and other members can even become violent towards anyone who disagrees with them;
- A group that creates physical deterioration in its members, often caused by malnutrition, sleep deprivation, overwork, or emotional stress;
- An organization that destroys its members’ judgment, reducing their ability to evaluate for themselves what is most important to them individually, so each member thinks only of the group, losing sight of his or her own self.
There is a movie available on video, called Ticket to Heaven, which has a disclaimer at the beginning of it, but it is actually a true story about an existing cult that is currently recruiting in this area.
How Do Cult Recruiters Work?
A recruiter may be someone you meet on the street, who engages you in conversation, testing you to see if you show interest. Once you show interest, you are easily subjected to their recruitment techniques. Remember, these recruiters have practiced and drilled in their recruitment techniques, because recruits are essential to the continuation of these organization.
Enormous trouble and effort is made in getting recruits because each recruit is worth thousands and thousands of dollars, either in material possessions, cash, or in the value of their unpaid labour.
Remember that under the right circumstances, anyone is vulnerable to a recruiter: if you meet a recruiter at the wrong time, you can get pulled into one of these groups.
The technique the recruiter uses is to get you to like them first, and then to get you to trust them – and then they betray you, taking your like and trust, and turning it (and you) over to the organization. At that point, your recruiter is sent back out to recruit more people.
When recruiters approach you, they seem innocent, and look you straight into your eyes – they have been trained to do this – it’s like hypnosis. If you are critical, they will get angry with you. If you indicate that they might be brainwashed or hypnotized, they will get very angry with you! Another thing to beware of is where you go for information on cults: sometimes, the media are manipulated by cults to get their twisted message out, and sometimes cults pose as experts on how to spot cults, giving you a blind spot for their own organization.
Why Would Someone Join a Destructive Group?
Remember, there is active recruiting into these groups. Potential recruits are not told they will be turned into a lawless person, that they will look at their family as worse than strangers or evil, they are not told they are going to be alienated from society.
If people were told these things, they wouldn’t be interested.
How Do Destructive Groups Recruit?
They basically recruit through deception. They promise you that you are going to be helping them to make a new world, that you are going to have a new life with more meaning. They tell you that your life is going to be wonderful, without barriers or problems, and that there will not be anything that you cannot do, until you get to the point that you have become part of a destructive cult or even a terrorist group.
How can you tell is a person has been taken in, recruited, hypnotized, or held in thrall by one of these groups? The person who is trying to recruit you will appear to be very friendly, but they will always direct your attention back to talking about that group, its ideas and ideals, and they will come out with booklets and will give you quotes, and invite you along to meet others in their group.
This is how people get recruited, and if you don’t know about these groups, it is very easy to get pulled into them.
Aren’t Pimps and Con Artists Like Cults?
Of course, cult mind control or brainwashing is exactly the same kind of hold a pimp has over a prostitute or a con artist has over a victim. The prostitute is not working for her own benefit, she is working for the benefit of the pimp, and regardless of what happens, she thinks he is the most wonderful person in her life: he is her protector, he tells her he is going to take her away on a holiday, without telling her he will do it on her money, or that he has many other girls working for him. If she does know about the other girls, he tells her that she is his favorite – he tells all of them that – and he criticizes the other girls to her, pointing out their weaknesses and faults, which are things he wants her to improve on.
Pimps and cult leaders are essentially in the same game: they are both users, and they will use anyone. They have no compunction about using and enslaving other people. So, in answer to this question, it is essentially the same kind of hold a cult leader has over his members 3, a pimp has over a prostitute, and a con man has over his victim.
With con artists, they do not come along and say, "We’re going to con you out of your money or time": first of all, they tell you that this is something you can make a profit on, that you can get better at, and then they tend to make you a little bit afraid that you might miss out on this marvellous deal, or that they are the only one who can help you.
A more bizarre form of con artist is the person who tells you that you have a spell or curse on you, and they scare you, and tell you they are the only ones who can help you – and they are not even sure they can help you, because it is so serious.
If they think you will listen to them a little bit more, they will get you to give them money, a little at a time. First of all, they may say, "Well, in order to appease the spirits, we have got to burn a holy candle" – a candle "blessed" by the con artist, no doubt – but they will tell you that they have had to have it specially blessed, and it costs a lot of money, like ten dollars, or twenty dollars, to burn this candle.
If you fall for that, they will then come up with, "The curse is a bit worse, and you need more candles," and if you come up with the money for that, over a period of time, gradually you will find yourself doing more and more bizarre things. Remember, if they can get you to believe wht they want you to do, they can then get you to behave how they want.
They may do things somewhat differently, by getting you to do something ridiculous first, like carrying an egg around in your pocket, or putting an egg under your bed, in your left shoe, in the night-time, and then taking it back to the con artist the next day. Remember, the other side of the equation is that if you can get a person to behave the way you want, you can get them to believe the way you want. Be alert to this.
What is the Difference between Cults and Terrorist Groups?
There is no essential difference: it is just a matter of degree. Destructive cults normally destroy a person’s mind and family, whereas terrorists go a step further, and engage in violence and destruction of property. Still, people who are part of a terrorist group have been coerced and brainwashed so completely that they are prepared to do anything.
Terrorists have gotten to the point where they believe in the group – which is always a cult of some sort – so much that they are prepared to do whatever they are told, even if it means becoming a terrorist, and blowing up buildings or killing other people. This is just one step further than the more extreme cults. 4
You may think, "Well, hey, most cults don’t become terrorist groups", but while this may be true, terrorist groups are often breakaway factions of nonviolent cults 5, so they are, in a sense, more advanced along the cult pathway: they get worse and worse. These groups certainly do not get better and better the further they go.
There is another way you can recognize destructive cults or terrorist groups: the further up the individual goes in the organization, the more fanatical and anti-social they become. As they rise in the organization, they are more likely to see society as their enemy, and anyone outside the organization as deserving to be tricked, lied to, sued, or destroyed by any means.
Terrorist groups are just a further extension of a fanatical belief system that separates people from the society at large.
Why Do People Do These Things?
The victim does it because they are being tricked into it. The con artist does it because they want the money and the power, and they get a kick out of tricking you.
If someone comes to your door, selling objects or flowers or candy or candles or books, or whatever, ask them if they have a licence. They will lie to you, and say they do. Ask to see it: they will lie again, and say their friend has it, or they must have left it at home. Phone up the city, and ask for the licence, and find out if these people are licenced – but it is just simpler to refuse to buy from them. There are plenty of stores around that pay for their licences, and work at providing a service.
Make it a policy not to buy from people going door to door: while not everyone who comes to your door is involved in a cult, probably ninety percent of them are, so if you buy at your door, you are most likely contributing money to support a cult or some other destructive, deceitful group.
Remember: don’t feed that hand that bites you. Just be alert to that.
Why Doesn’t Someone Do Something?
Well, we are trying, and there are more and more people becoming aware of the problem of destructive groups and cults. There are now groups that can help people who need information on cults, on leaving a cult, and on recovering from cult trauma.
Unfortunately, in this country, there is no law against brainwashing someone during peacetime (though it is illegal during wartime), and there is no law against running a mind control cult – so, we have no laws to protect us.
All we can do is to become aware of it, and cut off the source of their funding at the roots. This takes a fair amount of alertness.
There are certain things each individual can do:
- Be alert to various confidence tricks;
- Read up on cults, and be aware of current cons going on;
- Tell other people about these things;
- Don’t let your friends become willing slaves to a cult;
- Don’t buy from people coming door to door;
- Don’t go along to free movies;
- Don’t answer questions about family, commitments, or other personal things;
- Don’t let yourself get pulled into discussing private aspects of your life with people who can use that information to manipulate your mind.
How Can You Tell the Difference between a Destructive and a Benign Group?
One example would be the Lions’ Club. It is a genuine group: it does more good for society than it takes out; the same is true of Rotary Clubs.
These groups do not require unquestioning obedience from their members. If their members want to get away from them or leave, they can do so, and the group will not blacken that individual’s character and spread gossip and scandal about that individual to punish them. They do not sue someone for leaving their group, but this is what the dangerous mind control cults do.
There are many, many good groups. Check them out carefully:
- Do they have roots in the community?
- Do they have connections to some other rather unspecific group somewhere else?
- If asked about the above, and they say, "Well, we are all part of this, but this little group here is different from the main branch," be very careful, because this probably means the main branch may be a group you have heard about, and you would not want to be a part of.
I am quite sure that when someone is recruiting for the Ku Klux Klan, they do not come along and say, "We are members of the Ku Klux Klan, come and join us, and let’s go and burn some Jews or some Negroes" – first of all, they have to get your trust, and they have to get you to believe what they believe, and what they want you to believe, and then they can get you to do what they want. 6 They can get you to behave how they want, once they have gotten you to believe what they want.
The difference, again, between a cult and a terrorist group is only a matter of degree, the depth to which they have sunk, or the degree they have moved up in the hierarchy of the particular cult – how convinced are they, how brainwashed, how uncaring for their own survival and the survival of others? Have they reached the point where they are prepared to kill and destroy? These are areas one must be alert to – it is all only a matter of degree.
Where Does the Money End Up?
It goes to the cult leaders. These groups do not have to pay taxes or business licences, like ordinary businesses. If there is a need for licences, they skip from town to town, especially if they sell door to door. They claim they have religious exemptions; they can claim they are religious and can get away with a lot by simply saying they are a religion and bleating about "freedom of religion." The leaders quite often live in absolute luxury, while the members, the willing slaves, live in abject poverty, quite often with not even enough to eat.
Don’t Feed the Hand that Bites You!
Read as many books as you can on cults, since each one gives a different view on how cults work. This way, you can be sure you have a broad understanding: there are many different recruiting methods used, but they all have deceit, and all have vague promises when you become involved with them.
You may be led to believe you will only be involved for a few days or one course, or something will only cost a few dollars: they don’t come up to you and say, "We want your whole life, all your money, all your time, all your commitment, all your energy" – they don’t say that, or they would lose you. Instead, this is all done very gradually, and little by little, they get all your time, all your money, all your energy, all your devotion, all your effort.
Be aware that cults are tremendously big business: there are millions of dollars involved in these groups and many thousands of people becoming willing slaves, turning over their property and their money to the group. For example, just watch TV on a Sunday morning: the "Televangelists" are too often cults with charismatic leaders, and often their morals are nothing to boast about 7.
Remember Jim Jones of the Jonestown Massacres? He was a very charismatic leader who was able to convince anyone of just about anything: remember, if you can make a person believe what you want, you can get them to do what you want – like sending you their money, or their government cheques.
This is what cults are all about: money and power. They often get their way by calling down general society, and those who are not part of their belief system. Be alert: you are probably more ethical than any of the people you see recruiting or preaching on television or coming to your door trying to recruit you into a group. But remember, the people who do the recruiting are willing slaves, and they themselves are already victims of the cult.
Don’t feel as though you can help these people: if you try, they are likely to pull you in, because they have got the organization behind them, and the training to know how to catch you off-balance. Remember, if you show any interest in what they are doing – even trying to help the person recruiting you – you can be pulled into the cult.
I know that you feel, as you read this, that you would not be vulnerable to being pulled into a destructive group, but this is a dangerous attitude to take. 8 Be careful, since thinking you are immune only makes you more vulnerable: remember, the assault is on your emotions, not your intellect, so the cults go for an uncritical part of you to make their initial conquest.
You should know that there are two basic principles of psychological coercion: 1) get the person to listen: if you can get them listening, you are on your way to getting them to believe what you want them to; 2) once you have the person listening, and believing what you are saying, you can get them to behave the way you want.
While it doesn’t happen like magic, sometimes it can occur surprisingly quickly, just like hypnosis. And, like hypnosis, people don’t believe they can be hypnotized, even though most of them can be, if the circumstances are right, and the hypnotist is in tune with them. The same is true with recruiters, except that most hypnotists do not train as much as cult recruiters train.
Be aware that, if you have been pulled into a cult, you are not alone: there are groups of people who have gotten out of cults, who have removed children from cults, and they are prepared to help. People doing this work need more people to become aware of cults, since the more you know about cults, the less likely it is that you will become involved with them. Knowledge, in this case, "immunizes" you against certain cults. Cult information involves telling people these things are happening, but there needs to be some caution about naming groups.
Many of these destructive cults cannot be named, because then they can silence us by bringing forward a lawsuit. They do not need to win the case – and they eventually do lose, because there is freedom of speech – but in the meantime, they can tie us up in court, and drain our finances in legal fees, and by causing endless delays, these groups can keep a battle going for four or five years, all the while costing time, effort, and expensive lawyers’ fees. Unfortunately, in this scenario, people often weaken, give up, and just settle. It is better not to become vulnerable to this abuse of the courts, and be alert.
Always remember, people don’t just accidentally get involved in a cult: cults actively recruit and they systematically deceive and entrap the individual into becoming a willing slave, and this is what we need to speak out against.
- For L.L’s summary analysis on the principles of mind control, see Cults & Memes: An Overview of Mind Control.
- For a background on the author, see L. L.’s Bio.
- For a look at general cult techniques from the perspective of one person's experience in a Christian cult, see Jesse Ancona's Lying with the Truth: Deception and Mind Control in the Worldwide Church of God, a Case Study in Religious Manipulation.
- For a profile of one style of deceptive religious leader, see Jesse Ancona's The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: The Deceptively Humble Man
- Ticket to Heaven (1981) Director: Ralph L. Thomas. Writing credits (in alphabetical order): Anne Cameron, Josh Freed (from his novel, Moonwebs), Ralph L. Thomas. Cast: Nick Mancuso, Meg Foster, Saul Rubinek, Kim Cattrall, Jennifer Dale, R.H. Thomson. Produced by: Ronald I. Cohen, Vivienne Leebosh. Drama, Color. Running Time: 1 hr 47 mins Rating: PG. Country: Canada. Summary: A gripping drama and shocking expose of the shady world of California's cults. Based on fact. This convincing film reveals the hideous truths behind many so called "non-profit religious organizations."
- American History X (1998) Director: Tony Kaye. Writing credits: David McKenna. Cast: Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Beverly D'Angelo, Jennifer Lien, Ethan Suplee. Produced by: Bill Carraro, Steve Tisch, Kearie Peak, Lawrence Turman, et al. Drama, Black and White/Color. Running Time: 1 hr, 59 mins Rating: R Content: graphic brutal violence including rape, pervasive language, strong sexuality and nudity. Country: USA. Summary: A former neo-nazi skinhead (Norton) tries to prevent his younger brother (Furlong) from going down the same wrong path that he did.
Leap of Faith (1992), director: Richard Pearce. Cast: Steve Martin, Debra Winger, Lolita Davidovich. Summary: Jonas Nightengale, an evangelical huckster, decides to set up camp in Rustwater, Kansas, a small farming town hard-hit by drought, where one of his vans has broken down. [A lighter, more humorous look at religious con men than the other movies listed here - JA.]
©L. L. and B. M. Edited by Jesse Ancona. Notes ©2002, Jesse Ancona. This article is from the transcript of a tape of a standard talk given to groups seeking basic information on how cults work. Permission is granted to download, print, or copy this document without charge for private study or non-profit distribution for Cult Information purposes only. Permission is not given to reprint this work in a larger work, post it on another website, or to use it for resale, public reading, or broadcast. For information on citation of Internet sources using the Harvard System, see Library - BRIDGES: Harvard System - Electronic Material.
Notes (by Jesse Ancona)
1 This is often given as the bogus quote, "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for enough good men to do nothing." No one has ever found this quote in Burke’s writing. When looking for the source of this quote, I was surprised to see it was not genuine. I thought that this example of an unquestioned "truth" uncritically accepted was relevant to this subject, since one of the weaknesses that cults play on are our prejudices, and those things we have never thought to question – and they can build on these blind spots.
For a further discussion on this pseudo-quote, see:
Porter, Martin. 2002, All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. [Online], Available: http://www.tartarus.org/~martin/essays/burkequote.html [2002, Oct. 8].
On the following page, Martin says:
Anyway, the complete answer to the origins of the triumph-of-evil quote is not to be found on the Web, but in a very neat dictionary of misquotations I have discovered by Paul F Boller and John George called They never said it (Oxford University Press, 1989).
The much-quoted triumph-of-evil statement appeared in the 14th edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (1968), with a letter Burke wrote William Smith on January 9, 1795, given as the source. But the letter to Smith was dated January 29, 1795, and it said nothing about the triumph of evil. When New York Times columnist William Safire asked Emily Morrison Beck, editor of the 15th edition of Bartlett’s, about the source, she acknowledged she hadn’t located the statement in Burke’s writings ‘so far’, but suggested it might be a paraphrase of something Burke said in a speech he gave in Parliament, ‘Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents’, on April 23, 1770: ‘When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.’ Safire thought her suggestion was a ‘pretty long stretch,’ but she included it in her introduction to the new edition of Bartlett’s.
2 Not all cults recruit face to face. Many do so through radio, television, and literature, but the same carefully-controlled exposure is still a hallmark: they tell you what they want you to know when they want you to know it. It is still the "progressive revelation," the various levels of knowledge, or initiation.
For example, the Worldwide Church of God would gain exposure through radio, television, and their free magazine, which was often left in waiting rooms or given to libraries, and later distributed through newsstands. Sometimes, there would be ads in magazines, promoting a booklet on a topic of current interest (the Reader’s Digest ad for a booklet on hippies was so successful that requests were still pouring in decades later, from third-world countries who had received the Reader’s Digest among various charitable donations!)
The next step would be to get a person to write away for various booklets – all completely free. All of the freebies were, of course, paid for by the committed members of the organization. Their magazine, The Plain Truth, was offered by free subscription. Eventually, many people would become interested enough to sign up for the free Bible Correspondence Course. There were no marks, and the tests at the end were self-marked, but the course was designed to funnel people into the church.
I once heard from the pulpit that a high percentage of the people who took Worldwide’s correspondence course would end up in the organization, and that the average length of time from first exposure to church attendance was about three years. I have since learned to be suspicious of publicly-quoted church statistics (from insiders who knew the difference between the real numbers and the reported ones), but three years was about the time for me, and for many people I knew, so this statement may have been accurate enough.
In this case, by being patient, Worldwide made people want to get into the organization so badly that they would do anything to get in. Also, many people would feel obligated after receiving so much for free, so would feel a loyalty to the organization. Many people, of course, would begin sending money in, especially after receiving the booklet on tithing. If they did so with regularity, they would then receive monthly "co-worker" letters, telling them of the state of the church, the work it was doing, and of some crisis or other that required them to send in more money right away. By the time many people actually walked in to a meeting, they had been sending in money for years.
This is a somewhat unusual method of recruitment, but it screened out people who were not "serious" and made for a group of people who had already invested so much time (or even money) into the organization that they would hardly be likely to admit they’d bought a pig in a poke.
Another method of recruitment, even more subtle, is the Mormons’ use of "fellowshipping," by which they mean the covert assimilation of the targeted family into a Mormon social circle. As one ex-Mormon woman told me, weekly "fellowship meetings" would gather to discuss the targeted neighbours. One family would invite them to a barbecue on Monday, another, to something else on Tuesday, another to a picnic another day – the idea was to keep them so busy with their "new friends" that they would not have time for old friends or extended family, and would eventually find their social life revolved around people they did not yet know were Mormons.
Once the non-Mormons felt "part of the family," they would be led into the organization, presumably by being invited to church events, and so on. Many people, once they found they were ipso facto in a Mormon social circle, would move forward, since they were happy and comfortable with their new "friends." In this case, the "recruitment" was so subtle – just being a social invitation – and the length of time before the identity of their "friends" was revealed, that this method was very difficult to defend against.
In both extremes, whether the only contact is by the media and literature, or the only contact is social, the recruit is being "led down the garden path" towards a tightly-defined goal. This relates to Lufton’s cult criterion, "milieu control."
3 Those who think it is too extreme to compare a cult leader to a pimp should consider the following: many members of cults have been made into virtual slaves, just as a prostitute is, and many times, female members are preyed upon sexually by cult leaders, who have power over them as leaders or employers. Children have also been abused by cult leaders as part of the cult itself, and young girls may be "married off" to older men, who may have many young girls as "wives," who may bear them children who are also going to be virtual slaves to the cult leader.
Sexual abuse aside, many cult members have died, or let their children die, because cult leaders have told them not to get medical treatment. And still others abuse alcohol, in order to anaesthetize themselves against the pain of their lives, just as prostitutes use drugs for the same purpose. Prostitutes become addicted to "the life," and find it hard to leave, just as many cult members do. Many cult members have become so despondent, feeling trapped in the cult, that they have committed suicide, feeling they had no other way out.
Of course, membership in most cults is not as extreme as a life of prostitution: a pimp is an extreme version of a cult leader, just as a terrorist group is an extreme version of a cult. Many cults are much less dangerous, and easier to leave than prostitution, and there is not the same extreme stigma to being an ex-member of a cult than being an ex-prostitute, though there is a minor stigma. Only in the most dangerous, violent, sexually abusive cults is the comparison a close one.
In many ways, the closest parallel to a pimp is an abusive husband, whose physical, sexual, and emotional abuse of his wife is nearly indistinguishable from what a pimp does to a prostitute – except the abusive husband is treated much more lightly by the law.
The similiarity lies in the general principles of the use of deception, abuse, and enslavement to a greater or lesser degree. In each of these different situations, innocent people are used by unscrupulous individuals who manage to gain power over them. The ability to discern these patterns will help a person to recognize when they are being "recruited," and avoid being victimized by any of these "creeps".
4 The more extreme cults do have elements of terrorism in them, in that they may involve beatings, torture, or individual killings, including suicide pacts, but they tend mainly to kill breakaway members or individual critics – or incite to suicide as an endpoint of the insane beliefs of the cult. Cults try to keep these acts as quiet as they can, and never claim responsibility for them. In the case of murders, if individuals carrying out death orders are caught, the cult distances themselves from that person.
Terrorists have larger goals, and their targets are more likely to be random: the main point is not who they kill, but to create terror in the population at large, and they usually want to take credit for their violence in order to associate their name with the terror. Violent cults, on the other hand, keep their violence hidden, and it is only used to control those few who know about it, to silence those who may be tempted to speak out against the cult.
5 For instance, David Koresh’s "Branch Davidian" cult was an offshoot of an offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, and though some former Adventists have testified to their own traumatic cult experience in this church, it is a relatively mild group compared to David Koresh’s group.
6 The KKK probably feels out potential members to see if they have an underlying predisposition towards the kind of prejudice that they can use, because it may not be so easy to inculcate this into someone who has not been raised by it, and there are plenty of people to choose from who have this upbringing. In this case, the bigoted family has been the preparation into the mindset that the KKK can use. This is also probably true for various neo-Nazi groups. For an interesting – though graphically violent – depiction of how a person from a bigoted family can be pulled into such a destructive, violent group, you might consider watching "American History X", starring Edward Norton. It is now available on video. Strong warning: some scenes of graphic violence will stay with you forever. Even so, I felt the experience and understanding I gained by watching this modern tragedy was worth the trauma of watching some of these scenes.
This reminds me of a well-known Christian author, who was raised in an atmosphere of extreme racial prejudice. He came to a place where he became aware of its evil, and radically changed his mind, but admits that he will always carry some remnant of what once seemed so normal to him. Despite feeling ashamed, he cannot totally shake something that was so much a part of his life for so long. And he is not what one would think of as a "bad person" or even a "weak person," but, due to his upbringing, he was vulnerable in this area, and could be swayed towards unjust actions.
The issue of upbringing emphasizes the fact that destructive groups prey on whatever weaknesses they find, making it very important not to give strangers any personal information, as it may be used to entrap you with your own pre-existing blind spots.
7 There have been many cases, over the years, where people in this business are caught in various sexual and/or financial abuses, such as Jim Bakker or Garner Ted Armstrong; unfortunately, merely controlling peoples’ lives is usually not sensational enough to create a media scandal. While simply preaching on television does not automatically make a person a villain, one needs to be aware of what one is listening to, and careful not to be deceived or victimized.
8 As the medieval saying goes, "He who sups with the devil must use a long spoon." It is always a risk to have contact with a destructive cult.