Janja Lalich

Janja Lalich

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Janja Lalich
5 Nisan 1945
In most cases, there is one person, typically the founder, at the top of the cult's structure, and decision making centers in him.
These leaders typically have the following characteristics.

Cult leaders are self-appointed, persuasive persons who claim to have a special mission in life or to have special knowledge. For example, leaders of flying-saucer cults often claim that beings from outer space have commissioned them to lead people to special places to await a spaceship. Other leaders claim to have rediscovered ancient ways to produce enlightenment or cure disease, while yet others claim to have developed inventive scientific, humanistic, or social plans that will lead followers to "new levels" of awareness, success, or personal and political power.

Cult leaders tend to be determined and domineering and are often described as charismatic. These leaders need to have enough personal drive, charm, or other pulling power to attract, control, and manage their flocks. They persuade devotees to drop their families, jobs, careers, and friends to follow them. Overtly or covertly, in most cases they eventually take over control of their followers' possessions, money, and lives.

Cult leaders center veneration on themselves. Priests, rabbis, ministers, democratic leaders, and leaders of genuinely altruistic movements keep the veneration of adherents focused on God, abstract principles, or the group's purpose. Cult leaders, in contrast, keep the focus of love, devotion, and allegiance on themselves. In many cults, for example, spouses are forced to separate or parents forced to give up their children as a test of their devotion to their leader.
Cults are not uniform nor are they static. Cults exist on a continuum of degrees of influence, from more to less extreme. There are live-in and live-out cults. Groups vary in levels of membership and degrees of involvement: for example, members on the preiphery of a group usually are not privy to the costs, contents, and obligations of the later stages of membership and ahve little knowledge of the real purposes of the group or the amount of power wielded by the leader. Even within the same cult, rules, restrictions and requirements may change from year to year, or from location to location, depending on outside pressures, local leadership, and the fancies of the leader.

The manner in which controls are put into place, the extent of control over details of members' behaviour, and the blatancy of these controls also vary from cult to cult. In most live-in cults, every detail of life comes under group scrutiny. For example, there are dress codes, food restrictions, and enforced marriages or relationships. In such cults, the members generally live together at the headquarters or at specified locations around the country or overseas and work for cult-owned enerprises. However, there are also cults whose devotees appear to remain active in quite a few major aspects of the outside world, earning a living outside the cult. But for all practical purposes these individuals also live under rules governing such crucial features of their personal life as the people with whom they associate, what happens to their moeny, whether they raise their own children, and where they live.
Some of the larger cults have training manuals for recruiters and carry out drills on where and how to approach prospects, much as sales trainers train new salespersons. For example, former cult members who had been involved in recruiting while in their various cults told me the following:

* One cult member was directed to get a job in the registrar's office at a nearby universtiy and to target anyone who came to drop out of courses. Such persons were depressed and needy and more likely to accept invitations to the cult's house near the campus than someone doing well at school.
* A female recruiter was instructed to stand outside the student counselling service and invite the lonely to the cult for a dinner-lecture and evening of fellowship.
* A number of recruiters were sent to toursit attractions in San Fransisco, such as Fisherman's Wharf, to the French Quarter in New Orleans, and to tour-bus stations in major cities to look for visitors with British flags on their backpacks who were alone. (The British flag identified English speakers; it is just too difficult for cult members who speak only English to persuade and manipulate someone who does not speak English.)
* Recruiters were sent to social events at various churches to approach people who were standing alone. The recruiter was to invite the person to come to have pie and ice cream or some similar treat or to offer the person a ride home - anything to ingratiate the recruiter with the person.
Readers should know that a number of cults are highly litigious and use their wealth and power to harass and curb critics. Citizens, academics, journalists, former cult members and their parents, and publications ranging from Time magazine to the Journal of the American Medical Association have been the targets of leagal suits brought by various wealthy cults in efforts to intimidate and silence critics. Defending himself of herself against the false accusations made by some of these cults can break the ordinary person. It appears that winning is not the most important goal for the cults. Their motivation appears rather to be to harass, financially destroy, and silence criticism.

Last year alone, one large cult was involved in approximately two hundred suits with government entities, critics, and ex-members who spoke out about their time in the group.
In the United States, there are at least ten major types of cults, each with its own beliefs, practices, and social mores. The list below is not exhaustive, but most cults can be classified under one of the following headings:

1. Neo-Christian religous
2. Hindu and Eastern religious
3. Occult, witchcraft, and satanist
4. Spiritualist
5. Zen and other Sino-Japanese philosophical-mystical orientation
6. Racial
7. Flying saucer and other outer-space phenomena
8. Psychology or psychotherapeutic
9. Policital
10. Self-help, self-improvement, and life-style systems.


This kind of listing could go on and on, exposing the sheer numbers and scope of the cults around us. Yet, on one level, all cults are a variation on a single theme. And ultimately, that theme has nothing to do with belief. In cultic groups, the belief system -whether religious, psychotherapeutic, political, New Age, or commercial- ends up being a tool to serve the leader's desires, whims, and hidden agendas. The ideology is a double-edged sword: it is the glue that binds the member to ghe group and it is a tool exploited by the leader to achieve his goals.
I perefer to use the phrase "cultic relationships" to signify more precisely the processes and interactions that go on in a cult. A cultic relationship is one in which a person intentionally induces others to become totally or nearly totally dependent on him or her for almost all major life decisions, and inculcates in these followers a belief that he or she has some special talent, gift, or knowledge.
For our purposes, the label 'cult' refers to three factors:

1. The origin of the group and role of the leader.
2. The power structure, or relationship between the leader (or leaders) and the followers.
3. The use of a coordinated program of persuasion (which is called thought reform, or, more commonly, brainwashing)
Cults basically have only two purposes: recruiting new members and fund-raising. Established religions and altruistic movements may also recruit and raise funds. Their sole puprose, however, is not simply to grow larger and wealthier; such groups have as goals bettering the lives of their members or humankind in general, either in this world or in a world to come. A cult may claim to make social contributions, but in actuality these remain mere claims or gestures. In the end, all work and all funds, even token gestures of alturism, serve the cult.
I have found that two conditions make an individual especially vulnerable to cult recruiting: being depressed and being in between important affiliations. We can be especially vulnerable to persuasion and suggestion because of some loss or disappointment that has caused a depressed mood or even mild to moderate clinical depression. And we're especially prone to the cults' kind of influence when we're not engaged in a meaningful personal relationship, job, edcuational or training program, or some other life involvement.

Vulnerable individuals are lonely, in a transition between high school and college, between college and a job or graduate school, traveling away from home, arriving in a new location, recently jilted or divorced, fresh from losing a job, feeling overwhelmed about how things have been going, or not knowing what to do next in life. Unsettling personal occurences are commonplace: A gigh school senior is rejected by the college of her choice. A man's mother dies. A woman decides to sell her condo and travel after an unhappy ending to a long-term relationship. At such times, we are all more open to persuasion, more suggestible, more willing to take something offered us without there might be strings attached.
I interviewed two Russian students who had been brought to the United States by a cultic group under false pretenses. They had been promised full scholarship to a U.S. university. Instead, once they got here, they were put out in tourist areas to recruit new members.
Cults are authoritarian in structure. The leader is regarded as the supreme authority although he may delegate certain power to a few subordinates for the purpose of seeing that members adhere to his wishes and rules. There is no appeal outside of the leader's system to greater systems of justice. For example, if a schoolteacher feels unjustly treated by a principal, he or she can appeal to another authority. In a cult, the leader has the only and final ruling on all matters.

Cults appear to be innovative and exclusive. Cult leaders claim to be breaking with tradition, offering something novel, and instituting the only viable system for change that will solve life's problems or the world's ills. For example, an Arizona-based group purports to have found immortality and tells its followers that they too will live forever - but only by staying with the leaders, known by the initials of their first names, CBJ (Charles, BernaDeane, and James). CBJ is reported to have thirty thousand followers worldwide. Meanwhile, another group professes that by living with the group and learning the secret breathing method members will eventually be able to live on air alone. Almost all cults make the claim that their members are "chosen," "select," or "special," while nonmembers are considered lesser beings.

Cults tend to have a double set of ethics. Members are urged to be open and honest within the group and to confess all to the leader. At the same time, members are encouraged to deceive and manipulate nonmembers. In contrast, established religions and ethical groups teach members to be hones and truthful to all and to abide by one set of ethics. The overriding philosophy in cults, however, is that the ends justify the means, a view that allows cults to establish their own brand of morality, outside normal social bounds.
For example, one large group introduced the consept of "heavenly deception," another introduced "transcendental trickery," and some of the neo-Christian groups introduced terms such as "talking to the Babylonians" or referred to outsiders as the "systemites." Language such as this is meant to justify a double set of ethics, making it acceptable for members to deceive nonmembers.
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Janja Lalich
5 Nisan 1945

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