Here is some informative information about how cults operate and why they are successful in luring in people to them.
The Leader is Infallible
In many religious cults, followers are told that the leader or
founder is always right. Those who ask questions, stir up any potential
dissent, or behave in any way that puts their loyalty into question are
often punished. Often, even those outside the cult who cause problems
for leaders can be victimized, and in some cases, the retribution is
The cult leader often believes him or herself to be special or even godlike in some way. According to Joe Navarro of Psychology Today, many
cult leaders throughout history possess "an over-abundant belief that
they and they alone had the answers to problems, and that they had to be
Deceptive Recruitment Tactics
Cult recruitment typically revolves around convincing potential
members that they will be offered something they do not have in their
current lives. Because leaders often prey upon those who are weak and
vulnerable, it's not hard to persuade them that joining the group will
somehow make their lives better.
Those who are marginalized by society, have a minimal support network
of friends and family, and who feel like they don't belong are prime
targets for cult recruiters. By offering potential members a chance to
be part of something special — whether spiritual, financial, or social —
they are typically able to lure people in.
Typically, recruiters lead with a low-pressure sales pitch. It's kept
fairly low key, and recruits aren't told about the true nature of the
Exclusivity in Faith
Most religious cults demand that their members give them exclusivity.
Participants are not permitted to attend other religious services, and
are told that they can only find true salvation through the teachings of
The Heaven's Gate cult, which was active in the 1990s, operated under
the idea that an extraterrestrial spaceship would come to take members
away from earth, centering around the arrival of the Hale-Bopp comet.
Further, they believed that evil aliens had corrupted much of humanity,
and that all other religious systems were in fact tools of these
malevolent beings. As such, members of Heaven's Gate were instructed to
leave whatever churches they had belonged to prior to joining the group.
In 1997, 39 members of Heaven's Gate committed a mass suicide.
Intimidation, Fear, and Isolation
Cults typically isolate members from their family, friends, and
co-workers outside the group. Members are taught early on that their
only true friends — their real family, so to speak — are other
cult followers. This allows leaders to isolate participants from those
who might try to get them out from under control of the group.
Alexandra Stein, author of Terror, Love and Brainwashing: Attachment in Cults and Totalitarian Systems,
was part of a Minneapolis-based group called The Organization for
several years. After breaking free of the cult, she explained her
experience of cult-enforced isolation in this way:
"...[f]ar from finding true comradeship or
companionship, followers face a triple isolation: from the outside
world, from each other within the closed system, and from their own
internal dialogue, where clear thinking about the group might arise."
Since a cult can only continue to operate with power and control,
leaders do everything they can to keep their members loyal and obedient.
When someone begins to make attempts to leave the group, that member
often finds themselves on the receiving end of financial, spiritual, or
even physical threats. Sometimes, their non-member families will be
threatened with harm as well, in order to keep the individual within the
Historically, religious cult leaders have been involved in illegal
activities. These range from financial misdeeds and fraudulent
acquisition of wealth to physical and sexual abuse. Several have even
been convicted of murder.
The Children of God cult
was accused of numerous counts of molestation in their communes.
Actress Rose McGowan lived with her parents in a COG group in Italy
until she was nine years old. In her memoir, Brave, McGowan
wrote about her early memories of being beaten by cult members and
recalled how the group advocated for sexual relationships between adults
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his Rajneesh Movement accumulated millions
of dollars every year through various investments and holdings.
Rajneesh also had a fondness for Rolls Royces, and owned over four hundred of them.
Japan's Aum Shinrikyo cult
may have been one of the deadliest groups in history. In addition to
carrying out a deadly sarin gas attack on Tokyo's subway system that
left a dozen dead and thousands injured, Aum Shinrikyo was also
responsible for several assassinations. Their victims included lawyer
named Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his wife and child, as well as Kiyoshi
Kariya, the brother of a cult member who had escaped.
Religious cult leaders typically have a strict set of religious
principles that members are expected to follow. While there may be a
focus on the direct experience of the divine, it is typically done
through the leadership of the group. Leaders or founders may claim to be
prophets, as David Koresh of the Branch Davidians told his followers.
Some religious cults include Doomsday prophecies and a belief that the End Times are coming.
In some cults, male leaders have claimed that God has instructed them
to take multiple wives, which leads to the sexual exploitation of women
and underage girls. Warren Jeffs of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a fringe offshoot group that broke away
from the Mormon church, was convicted of sexually assaulting two girls
aged 12 and 15. Jeffs and other members of his polygamist sect
routinely "married" underage girls, claiming that it was their divine
In addition, most cult leaders make it clear to their followers that
they are the only ones who are special enough to receive messages from
the divine, and that anyone else who claims to hear the word of God will
find themselves punished or ostracized from the group