Cult activity has been on the rise over the past few decades. With it there has
been an increase in the fear surrounding it. From this fear, society has learned
much about cults, how they get members and what to look out for as far as cult
recruiters go. Society as a whole has also learned what can be done to deal with
cults. Cult activity and the fear that surrounds it Throughout the last couple
of decades more and more stories of illegal cult activity or murders by satanic
cults appear on the news each night. This surge of reported cult activity has
caused a spark in public interest.
There has been a large increase in the fear
that surrounds cults over the past couple of years. A cult is a therapeutic
or unconventional religious movement (McBride, 1985, 22), and the more cults
that fall beneath the public eye, the more serious the fear of cults becomes.
Much of this fear has been sparked by major cult related incidents such as mass
suicide by the Peoples Temple or the murder of Sharon Tate. These incidents,
and incidents like them, grab the nations attention and create widespread
panic. But as the nation reads about these stories in the paper, the same
questions seem to surface.
Questions like How does this happen? or What
can we do to stop this from happening again? are often asked. The panic and
fear of cult activity in our country seems to continue to grow with the more
unbelievable stories that hit the news. The first big news event that was cult
related occurred in 1969. Five dead bodies were found by the maid at 10050 Cielo
Drive. Beautiful actress Sharon Tate who was pregnant at the time, and her
friends Steven Earl Parent, Abigail Folger, Voytek Frykowski, and Jay Sebring
were found butchered thoughout the residence (Bugliosi, 1974, 18).
The murders themselves grasped the nations attention, but it was when the murderers and
their motives surfaced that the fear began. It was in February of 1970 that the
motive of these murders was discovered (Bugliosi, 1974, 283). Through police
investigation, it was discovered that the murders were cult related. Charles
Manson and members of his cult, known as The Family, were to blame. Manson
and family lived on a ranch in California. Manson was an avid fan of The Beatles
and believed that this rock band spoke to him though their lyrics.
He particularly liked The Beatles White Album which included the song Helter
Skelter. Manson interpreted this songs lyrics as a prophecy of a race war
that would take place between the blacks and the whites. In this war, he
believed the black man would rise up and slaughter all of the whites. So
Mansons plan was to take his family out into the desert and hide in a
bottomless pit until the war was over.
After the war, he believed the blacks
would realize all they ever knew was taught to them by the white man, and if
they wanted to survive, they would need a white person to tell them what to do.
That is when Manson and his Family would surface from the bottomless pit, and be
the rulers of the world as the master race (Bugliosi, 1974, 284-290). The only
problem with Mansons prophecy was that Helter Skelter never came. So he sent
Family members out to kill Sharon Tate and friends and instructed them to make
it appear as if the blacks did it.
He tried to accomplish this by writing words
in the victims blood all over the walls like Arise, Helter Skelter,
and Death to the Pigs. All this was done in hopes of starting the race war
(Bugliosi, 1974, 424). The trial for this terrible crime was so publicized that
it played a very significant role in creating cult fear. The next largely
publicized cult related incident occurred in 1979 with the mass suicide in
Jonestown (Green, 1993, 34). Jim Jones started his cult in California. His cult
was referred to as the Peoples Temple, and his followers called him Reverend
Jim Jones. Jones operated his cult under the cover of a home for depraved
children. He managed to round up 300 children, some taken illegally, and around
600 men and women who wanted to help these children.
Jones then left California, and headed to Guyana (Miller, 1990, 42). It was there that he convinced his 900
followers, made up of men, women, and children, to drink orange squash laced
with cyanide. Jones called it revolutionary suicide (Green, 1993, 34).
This event was such a big deal in the public eye because of the number of people
involved in the suicide. 900 people were convinced to voluntarily kill
themselves and when this hit the newspapers, fear of cult activity grew. In
April of 1993, the FBI became aware of man named David Koresh and the cult he
led which was known as the Branch Davidians cult (Green, 1993, 38).
He lived in a house on a Texas ranch with his followers who were known as disciples.
Koresh believed he was Christ reborn, and he would not allow any of his
followers to come in contact with anyone outside of the cult. The FBI got
involved when they discovered that the cult was stockpiling weapons. When the
FBI discovered the Branch Davidians cult was heavily armed, they surrounded the
Texas ranch with FBI marksmen and a fleet of tanks. Koresh refused to allow any
of his disciples to leave, and the stand off lasted several days. This stand off
ended, however, when a fire broke out in the ranch and twenty-four people burned
to death (Green, 1993, 36).
This occurrence helped spread the fear of cult
activity because a number of the people that burned to death were children who
really had no choice in joining the cult. If their parents joined so did they.
Big news events like the Manson Family murders, and the mass suicide at
Jonestown, only happen every so often. However, events that seem to continuously
be in the news are those related to Satanism. Most of these events are small and
isolated, but the massive numbers of them are stirring worry. A highly
publicized example of this occurred in Jasper County, in southwest Missouri.
Three high school seniors Ron Clements, James Hardy, and Theron Roland II, were
convicted of murdering Stephen Newberry.
The three struck Newberry over the head
with a baseball bat more than 50 times during a satanic ritual and then dumped
the body in a cistern, which already had the remains of mutilated cats and
squirrels. The three boys used their obsession with Satanism and devil worship
as their defense during the trial (Futterman, 1989). Cases like these from all
over the country hit headlines and widen the fear surrounding Satanism and
Satanic Cults. Larry Jones, founder of the Cult Crime Impact Network, claims
that Satanists slaughter 50,000 children each year (OReilly, 1993). With the
quoting of statistics like these, its no wonder that the alarm over satanic
activity is on the up-rise.
With all of the panic and fear surrounding cults,
much research has recently been done to see who is at risk of becoming a cult
member and how the cult leaders recruit them. For the most part the young are at
risk. It has been thought that most cult members must have started off with
deeply rooted psychological problems, but this is not the case. Predominantly,
the kids are normal in every way, but are at some in-between part of their
lives, such as entering college (McBride, 1985, 115). Usually the recruiter is
of the opposite sex and approaches the potential cult member with a smile and an
invitation to dinner with some friends. It is there that the complex method
known as brainwashing begins (McBride, 1985,116).
Brainwashing, also known as
mind bending or thought reform, is professionally known as psychological
coercion. There are many different methods of brainwashing, each usually very
subtle. Fritz Knabe, an ex-cult member, said Its very hard for people to
understand brainwashing. People think that their mind is a temple and that
nobody can force them to think anything. The point is, you cant tell its
happening if its successful (Green, 1993, 36). The main goal of
brainwashing is as follows: (1) to drastically alter a persons sense of
reality, (2) to get the potential cult member to accept a new reality, (3) to
alter the understanding of the potential cult members past, (4) to get the
potential cult member to accept a new belief system, and (5) to get that person
to be a loyal member of the cult (Miller, 1990, 96).
The book Coping with Cults
outlines a very general method of the brainwashing process. The method is as
follows: Isolate the person and manipulate his or her environment. Control
the channels of information and communication. Wear the person down though
inadequate diet and fatigue. Replace uncertainty, fear, and confusion with the
promise of joy but only as part of the group. And finally, assign repetitive
tasks such as singing, chanting, or copying pages from a book (Miller, 1990,
A prime example of the recruiting and brainwashing process is Charles
Mansons method. He used the girls in the Family as a recruiting method. He
would allow men to have sex with any of his girls as much as they like. After
they did it once, the men were his, they would do anything Manson said (Bugliosi,
1974, 120). The family stayed on a ranch that had no clocks and was isolated
from the rest of the world. There was also much drug use by Manson and the
Family. The average family member ate LSD at least 300 times while they were at
the ranch, while Manson preached about Helter Skelter or orchestrated massive
orgies (Bugliosi, 1974, 431).
Occasionally he would feed the family LSD and
reenact the crucifixion of Christ with himself as Jesus (Bugliosi, 1974, 120).
How extreme the cult recruiters will go to get new members seems to be matched
with how extreme people will go to get their loved one out of cults. The first
method to get someone out of a cult came about in the 1970s and is known as
deprogramming. It was started by the Father of Deprogramming, Ted Patrick.
Ted Patrick was an ex-trucker with no training in psychology or cults who
decided something needed to be done. He offered his services of getting a loved
one out of a cult for the cost of nearly $80,000. In his book, Let Our Children
Go, he spoke of fighting fire with fire meaning going to extremes in order
to get the loved one out of a cult (Miller, 1990, 109).
His idea sounds good in
concept, but deprogramming is illegal. Deprogramming involves holding people
against their will after being kidnapped and then convincing them over many days
not to go back to the cult (Miller, 1990, 111). He also openly took part in
hundreds of kidnappings and went to jail repeated times for breaking the law. It
is a sort of reverse brainwashing, only not nearly as subtle. Ted Patrick was
quoted as stating, I believe firmly that the Lord helps those who help
themselves — a few little things like karate, mace, and handcuffs can come in
handy from time to time (Green, 1993, 38).
A much safer and legal way of
getting the same result is known as exit counseling. It is a much better way of
cult recovery because it doesnt involve kidnapping or restraint, which is
just as bad as what the cult leaders do. Exit counseling is really a quite
simple process. It involves the cult member that the family or friends wish to
get out of the cult having a meeting with ex-cult members and a psychologist. In
the meetings, the cult member hears similar experiences from ex-cult members and
they learn more about topics such as mind control (Miller, 1990, 110). After the
cult member realizes what they have gotten themselves into, they need help
getting out and rejoining society.
Exit counselor Ayman Aksar, speaking on the
topic of exit counseling said, People can feel very insecure and afraid, and
need help (Green, 1993, 38). Continuing to meet with the exit counselor helps
deal with these feelings. Cult activity has been in the headlines for decades.
With each story comes the heightening of the fear surrounding cults and cult
activity. Cult activity can take the form of something as obvious and publicized
as the Manson Family murders or can come in random and unrelated Satanic acts.
With the fear from the public came many questions that were demanded to be
answered. It was from this fear that society now knows who is at risk, what to
look out for, and how to get someone out a cult safely and legally.
Bugliosi, Vincent. (1974). Helter Skelter. New York: W.W. Norton &
Company, Inc. Futterman, Ellen. (1989, February 5). Hints of Darkness: Satanism
Reports Stir Worry. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, pp 1A+. Green, Caroline. (1993,
Febuary). The Far-out World of Cults. Focus Magazine, pp. 34-38. McBride, James,
Sheperd, Williams C., & Robbins, Thomas (Eds.). (1985). Cults, Culture, and
the Law: Perspectives on New Religious Movements. The American Academy of
Religion. Miller, Maryann. (1990). Coping With Cults. New York: The Rosen
Publishing Group, Inc. OReilly, David. (1993, July 18). The Devil, You Say.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, pp G1+.