Cults and Violence
Although the potential for violence exists in many
cultic groups, one should be careful not to overgeneralize from the more
extreme examples to all cultic groups. There is much variation among
cultic groups, even among those that may be abusive to their members.
The potential for violence is probably magnified when
the following characteristics are present to a high degree in a group:
(1) centralized control by a charismatic leader; (2) an us-them mentality
that results from and fortifies the psychological, if not physical,
isolation of the group�s members; (3) lack of toleration of dissent; (4) a
belief that the group and its leaders are above the laws of the land.
Power corrupts leaders who do not permit dissent. Isolation fosters the
development of paranoid thinking. Disrespect for the law leads to law
breaking. Isolation, paranoid thinking, and law breaking all contribute
to conflict with mainstream society. Conflict with the outside
exacerbates all those characteristics that led to conflict in the first
place. If unchecked by other factors, such conflict may spiral upward
until either the boundaries of the group break down and some accommodation
with the outside world is made or the group implodes or explodes
It is difficult if not impossible to predict which
cultic groups, including many unknown to the public or event to experts,
will in the future become violent. Much research is needed.
Society�s response to violence should be threefold: (1)
help the victims of the current act of violence and their families
(including the psychological victims among cult members used as pawns by
leaders); (2) redouble efforts to study cultic groups scientifically and
to develop information collection and distribution mechanisms that provide
useful information without unduly infringing on First-Amendment liberties;
(3) teach the public, and especially youth (who are the prime targets of
recruiters), about how cultic groups seduce, control, exploit, and abuse
members and how their techniques of persuasion and control can be
recognized and resisted.