Cults are an endless source of fascination to myself and many others. I used to find it baffling that seemingly otherwise sane, intelligent people could buy into the flimsily-constructed dogma that the founders of these organizations base their ideologies upon.
I don’t wonder anymore. I get it. My confusion about the issue as a child was based primarily upon the assumption that grownups were generally smart, and knew what they were talking about.
As I reached the end of my thirties, I began to realize that a shockingly high percentage of them really aren’t, and they usually don’t.
All day long, especially now in the social media age, people fill their heads with bullshit, and incorporate it into the way they think and live. They are low-hanging fruit, ripe for the picking.
All a potential cult leader need do is find a group of people with questions, and give them answers that sound real to their emotions. They usually offer some sort of solution to some kind of major problem, but at a cost. Eventually, the cost is all that’s left: all the devotion with none of the rewards, which are always dangled just out of reach.
A successful cult leader must have a strong sense of empathy, but lack sympathy. This is the key to employing the kind of emotional manipulation/blackmail that is required to foster unwavering loyalty needed to run a cult.
If you’re a charismatic, intelligent and articulate person with an over inflated ego who can easily manipulate others, Here are some basic rules of thumb you can follow to start your very own cult:
- Find a niche audience.
- Exploit fears, stir up panic.
- Present self as savior who holds solution to these problems.
- Fabricate some convincing spiritual/supernatural/UFO mumbo jumbo bullshit story with just enough fact or established religious iconography interwoven into it to make it appear real.
- Make up unique terminology and rhetoric and stick with that narrative, never wavering unless absolutely necessary. If it does become necessary, make sure to give some kind of mystical bullshit reason for the change. Nothing tangible, ever. Symbolism and aesthetic are important. Create a cool, aesthetically pleasing symbol for people to rally behind. Create catchy slogans.
- Make them feel as if they are privy to some kind of important info and that the rest of society isn’t as enlightened as they are because they lack this knowledge.
- Establish doctrinal guidelines.
- Establish a hierarchy with ranks and positions to strive for.
- Make the physically stronger, emotionally insecure men of the group into your personal secret service, or personal guard. Find one with a military or police background, or who is knowledgeable about guns and defense, and have him train the others. Never attempt yourself what someone else (under your strict control, of course)can teach better.
- Convince members you need exorbitant sums of money to build church or compound.
- Build said church or compound on the cheap, pocket the rest.
- Keep pressuring them for money and give convincing reasons for doing so; the work is never done.
- Make it hard to leave.
- Rail against those who do leave to existing members.
- Maintain a tight leash on members’ behavior and hold those who violate the rules publicly accountable.
- Control may be maintained via holding basic human needs hostage: love, sex, food, whatever it may be.
- Dole these privileges out in increments; you are the gatekeeper to life’s pleasures, the giver of happiness, and also the one who administers punishment for misbehavior.
- Gradually establish self as the center of their universe.
- At some point, perhaps even early on, it will be necessary to strictly regulate or entirely curb their internet usage as well as contact with extended family. Can’t have them reading things contrary to your agenda, or being influenced by skeptical family members attempting to “de-program.” They need not have any further contact with such people.
- If family members come to your compound starting shit, turn them away. Tell them to vacate your property immediately. If they insist upon trespassing onto your compound, have your “guards” turn them away at the end of a legally owned and registered firearm, but avoid such confrontation if at all possible, lest you attract undue legal scrutiny. Protect your property under the guidelines of outside law and never cross that line. No hotheads on the front lines.
As more people on the outside question what you’re doing on the inside, this should serve to bolster the faith of your followers, if you’re doing things right. Their faith should be self-sustaining, self-perpetuating, their loyalty to you and your enlightened teachings unwavering.
Most cult leaders fuck these things up, because they’re fucking losers who get swept up in an imaginary world of their own creation. They believe their own hype.
Never believe your own hype.
Remember this fucking weirdo?
Marshall Applewhite was a troubled person, a self-hating closeted homosexual who committed suicide and took a bunch of people with him so he wouldn’t be alone when doing so. Don’t be a Marshall. He wasn’t even having any fun, himself! Always make sure that you are having fun, and make others believe that they are as well, even if they aren’t. Change their definition of what fun is and tell them they are having it. They will believe that they are.
At least David Koresh employed the old “I have to have sex with all the women because my seed is magic” trope. He played guitar and had pussy on tap. His problem was that he was fucking underage girls. Fucking moron. That’s a surefire ticket to a Fed-hosted human bbq.
For Applewhite, it was all about preparation for the journey. The end of said journey, of course, being this:
There’s a riveting docu-series on Netflix about the Rajneesh cult from Oregon in the mid-80s called Wild, Wild Country. Now that, at the beginning, at least, was culting done right.
They built their own town, with its own utilities and infrastructure, including schools and a police force. They very nearly took over the whole county.
Their downfall was not being satisfied and pushing for more power as a result of people on the outside fucking with them. They fucked with them right back, but took it too far and began engaging in illegal activity that gradually caused the whole thing to unravel.
If one can heed the lessons from examples of cults throughout the 20th and 21st century, avoiding the pitfalls that brought each(except for one that continues to thrive to this day)of them down, a long-term, sustainable cult may be established. Because people crave structure and control. They are chomping at the bit to submit to something greater than themselves. You, as the cult leader, absolutely can not share this inclination, lest you be swept up in your own rhetoric and end up either in prison or dead.
The cult of personality, the near-deification of a central figure is imperative, though. Many political figures throughout history, and even currently, have employed cult-like tactics to achieve their goals. CEOs do it, too. As you read this, pictures are forming in your mind. You know exactly who the fuck I’m talking about.
They give people the feeling that they are an integral part of something important. Pay attention to all of these things, and learn from them, as you establish your cult. Never stop studying, never stop observing.
Also, don’t call it a cult. Always dispute any such accusation and dismiss it as jealousy from “haters.” Frame all criticism as persecution.
I must confess to a grudging admiration for anyone who is able to pull this stuff off on a grand scale. It’s pretty amazing. The character of Richard Kryuss from my Effugium series of short stories was born of this admiration/fascination.
Let me be clear that “admiration” in this case does not mean I approve of cults or cult-like behavior, because I don’t. I simply recognize that one can learn things from and take lessons from anyone who has risen to power from nothing by unlocking the human brain and convincing people to relinquish control of it. Such principles can be applied to any of life’s potential endeavors. Including writing. It’s all marketing.