Society

What is a Cult?

An outline of the definition of a cult, as well as the different types of cults that have existed throughout history.

A cult is a group of people who share an interest in an object, a goal, a personality or even religious beliefs. They often portray deviant behavior. The term can also be used to define people who display great loyalty to a person, a movement, an idea, or an object. Cultic groups vary in size from small local groups to vast millions of people spread out across the world. The groups are driven by varying motivations such as religious, political, and also cultural motives. There are numerous Cults in the world. The Cults are divided into several categories such as doomsday cults, terrorist cults, racist cults, political cults, polygamist cults, and destructive cults.

6. Doomsday

Doomsday cults share a belief in the Apocalypse. The Doomsday Cults teach their followers about impending disaster at the end of the world. The term "Doomsday Cult" was coined in 1966 by an American sociologist John Lofland. Psychologist Leon Festinger also conducted research on the behavior of the followers of Doomsday cults. Festinger found that the members chose cataclysmic teachings because the mainstream movements had failed them. Doomsday cults have common traits such as a charismatic leader, compelling messages used to convince members, secrecy in their operations, demand for blind loyalty, Isolation from society, and brainwashing their followers. One of the most famous Doomsday Cults is the “People’s Temple” religious movement. The group was started by Jim Jones in the 1950’s. Jones aim was to have an integrated society where racism and poverty ceased to exist. His message attracted many marginalized Americans who found solace within the group.

The People’s Temple had a complex leadership structure that helped manage the growing number of followers. In 1965, Jones prophesied about a nuclear holocaust that would wipe out civilization and capitalism. The group rented out land in Guyana and moved there. The cult members lived together as a community in a large compound. The place was christened “Jonestown.” A Congressman, Leo Ryan, visited Jonestown on November 17th, 1978 on suspicions of harassment to the congregants. Mr. Ryan was murdered shortly after the visit on his way home. On the same day, Mr. Ryan was murdered the leader of People’s Temple Jim Jones led his members in committing mass suicide. A record 918 people drank Kool-Aid laced with cyanide. Unfortunately, this dose was lethal for everyone involved. It registered the highest deaths in one go in America resulting from the deliberate action. In the same year, the organization was dissolved due to bankruptcy.

5. Terrorist

Terrorist cults lead their members to commit acts of terror on people outside the group. The groups are led by charismatic leaders who manipulate their followers. The terrorist cults teach their members violence. The Islamic State (ISIS) has been cited as a terrorist cult. The group recruits its members from all over the world. ISIS recruits are isolated from society and given a new identity. They get new names, new wardrobes and their diets change. Members are taken through rigorous training on how to conduct violent acts. The group has undertaken countless terrorist acts across the world. The inhumane acts include beheadings, bombings, shootings, and trucks running people over. ISIS continues to recruit new members through the Internet using twisted religious texts.

4. Racist

Racist cults are formed by people who fight against the infiltration of their race by other perceived inferior races. Equally, groups of minority races join to fight for fair treatment. In America, the Ku Klux Klan is one of the most famous cults of all time. The group was first formed in the 19th century shortly after the Civil War. The members wore conical hats, masks, and robes to hide their identities and to terrify their victims. Ku Klux Klan members targeted black families and black political leaders. They carried out weekly murders of black Americans. After the federal court outlawed racial segregation, the Ku Klux Klan’s influence died down. Currently, small groups spread out across the US identify with the group although the Ku Klux Klan as an organization has ceased to exist.

3. Polygamist

Polygamist Cults are groups that encourage and practice marital unions of more than two people. Most Polygamist Cults teach polygyny, whereby a man marries more than one wife. In the late 19th century, Church of the Latter-Day Saints denounced the practice of polygyny. Members of the Church who were dissatisfied with the decision left to form their community where polygyny was still allowed. This splinter group grew into Polygamist Cults in the US.

2. Political

Political cults are driven by issues of development and governance. Their members share a common ideology. One such group is the LaRouche movement. The movement advocates for more funding in the science community, promotion of classical art, financial reforms, as well as infrastructural development. LaRouche movement has members in the US and European countries like Sweden, Italy, Germany, Poland, and France. Members of LaRouche movement take part in fund-raising activities, cultural celebrations, political events, and periodic meetings. The movement’s founder Lyndon LaRouche unsuccessfully vied for the office of President of the US for eight consecutive elections (1976-2004). Mr. LaRouche was accused of conducting violent campaigns in the 1980’s. His campaign workers made numerous harassing calls to his opponents and threatened journalists. In 1991, followers of the movement campaigned against UN sanctions imposed on Iraq. They created a committee that sought to save Iraq’s children. LaRouche supporters were also against the Gulf War. LaRouche movement affiliates are spread out across the globe. The movement’s main center in Europe is located in Germany where LaRouche’s wife is the leader.

1. Destructive

According to American psychologist Michael Langone, a destructive cult is one that exploits its members and deliberately harms them physically or emotionally. Destructive cults also inflict harm on the general public. Some of the traits of a destructive cult are totalitarian governance, isolation from family ties, adoption of a new identity and demand for money from the followers. Members of destructive cults are likely to suffer abuse from their authoritarian leaders. Aum Shinrikyo is one of the destructive cults based in Japan. The group’s leader was Shoko Asahara in the early 1990’s. Aum Shinrikyo started out as a missionary group but later adopted destructive traits. The followers manufactured dangerous sarin gas which they used to assassinate opponents and defectors. On March 20th, 1995, Aum Shinrikyo members conducted a deadly attack on Tokyo’s subway station by systematically releasing Sarin gas in five different trains. The attack led to 13 deaths and over 900 casualties.

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