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Profile of Cult Leaders

Here are a few articles on the web that profile the negative personal qualities of cult leaders gone wrong, very interesting. Also read my Air Fire Pentagram article as well for astrological / psychological insights into these guys. This forms part of lesson 29 of the Diploma of AstroPsychology course.


Profile of a Cult (Part 1)

Los Angeles television station KTTV has investigated a number of cult groups on its news program ON TARGET. These have included: The Children of God, Krishna Consciousness, Love Israel Family, Sun Myung Moon, The Alamo Foundation and others. Researcher-newsman, Larry Attebery, who does the series, says it is remarkable how divergent cults, with different teachings, leaders, dieties, rites and customs are so often identical in the psychological techniques and indoctrination methods they employ. He told AMBASSADOR REVIEW that he has observed four characteristics found in almost all cults:


Cults encourage separation from non-member family and friends. Converts are told by their leaders that the "outside world" is evil and that they should not associate with it. They are discouraged from "contaminating themselves" by delving into other philosophies or religions.


No questions or thoughts against a cult are tolerated by its leaders and members. Self-hypnosis, meditations, chanting, constant use of slogans, repetition of key phrases and special prayer routines are some of the methods used to stop conscious, constructive thinking. Many cults encourage constant activity for members so that they do not even have the time to think or question.


Cult members are taught to accept all orders from their superiors. In some groups even lying and stealing can thus be justified. According to Mr. Attebery, "All actions are justified in the name of God, because the group is God's tool, and all outsiders 'serve the devil'."


Cults encourage unrestrained, indiscriminate giving to the group's leadership. It is not unusual for a cult to coerce new members into giving all their money and possessions. It sometimes even includes signing over one's legal rights (especially inheritances).

The C.F.F. (William M. Rambur, President) is an organization of concerned citizens, many of whom are former cult members, who are dedicated to exposing cults and supporting legal action against such groups. It is also lobbying for legislation designed to protect the public from the abuses of religious or pseudo-religious charlatanism. Its March 1976 newsbulletin lists 31 cult groups which it is investigating. The Worldwide Church of God is one of them.

Profile of Cult Leaders (Part 2)

‘I've been reading Captive Hearts, Captive Minds by Madeleine Tobais and Janja Lalich. It's a 1994 book on cults and abusive relationships. Madeleine was in an eastern meditation cult, and Janja was in a political cult, so they do not focus on Scientology very much. But I was struck by how their profile of cult leaders matches LHR. They describe cult leaders as psychopaths. I've summarized chapter 5, Characteristics of a Cult Leader, below. Spelling errors are mine. You can order the book at I think the specific comparisons to LRH are obvious, but I'm curious if former members have any personal experiences that match the profile, perhaps some stories that haven't already been published in the biographies or in affidavits.’

1. Glibness/Superficial Charm

Glibness is a hallmark of psychopaths. They are able to use language effortlessly to beguile, confuse, and convince. They are captivating storytellers. They exude self-confidence and are able to spin a web that intrugues others and pulls them into the psychopath's life. Most of all, they are persuasive. Frequently they have the capacity to destroy their critics verbally or disarm them emotionally.

2. Manipulative and Conning

Cult leaders do not recognize the individuality or rights of others, which makes all self-serving behaviors permissible. The hallmark of the psychopath is the _psychopathic maneuver_, which is essentially interpersonal manipulation "based on charm. The manipulator appears to be helpful, charming, even ingratiating or seductive, but is covertly hostile, domineering... [The victim] is perceived as an aggressor, competitor, or merely an instrument to be used ... The manipulation inevitably becomes the end-all and is no longer qualified by the reality principle." In other words, there are no checks on the psychopath's behavior -- anything goes.

The psychopath divides the world into suckers, sinner, and himself. He discharges powerful feelings of terror and rage by dominating and humiliating his victims. He is particularly successful when, through an overlay of charm, he makes an ally of his victim -- a process sometimes described as emotional vampirism or emotional terrorism.

3. Grandiose Sense of Self

The cult leader enjoys tremendous feelings of entitlement. He believes everything is owed to him as a right. Preoccupied with his own fantasies, he must always be the center of attention. He presents himself as the "Ultimate One": enlightened, a vehicle of god, a genius, the leader of humankind, and sometimes the most humble of the humble. He has an insatiable need for adulation and attendance. His grandiosity may also be a defense against inner emptiness, depression, and a sense of insignificance. Paranoia often accompanies the grandiosity, reinforcing the isolation of the group and the need for protection against a perceived hostile environment. In this way, he creates an us-versus-them mentality.

4. Pathological Lying

Psychopaths lie coolly and easily, even when it is obvious they are being untruthful. It is almost impossible for them to be consistently truthful about either a major or minor issue. They lie for no apparent reason, even when it would be easier and safer to tell the truth. This is sometimes called "crazy lying". Confronting their lies may provoke an unpredictably intense rage or simply a Buddha-like smile.

Another form of lying common among cult leaders is known as _pseudologica fantastica_, an extension of pathological lying. Leaders tend to create a complex belief system, often about their own powers and abilities, in which they themselves sometimes get caught up. "It is often difficult to determine whether the lies are an actual delusional distortion of reality or are expressed with the conscious or unconscous intent to deceive."

These manipulators are rarely original thinkers. Plagerists and thieves, they seldom credit the true originators of ideas, often co-opting authorship. They are extremely convincing, forceful in the expression of their views, and talented at passing lie detector tests. For them, objective truth does not exist. The only "truth" is whatever will best achieve the outcome that meets their needs.

5. Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt

At the core of the psychopath is a deep-seated rage which is split off and repressed. Some researchers theorize that this is caused by feeling abandoned in infancy or early childhood. Whatever the emotional or psychological source, psychopaths see those around them as objects, targets, or opportunities, not people. They do not have friends, they have victims and accomplices -- and the latter frequently end as victims. For psychopaths the ends always justify the means. Thus there is no place for feelings of remorse, shame, or guilt. Cult leaders feel justified in all their actions since they consider themselves the ultimate moral arbiter. Nothing gets in their way.

6. Shallow Emotions

While they may display outbursts of emotion, more often than not they are putting on a calculated response to obtain a certain result. They rarely reveal a range of emotions, and what is seen is superficial at best, pretended at worst. Positive feelings of warmth, joy, love, and compassion are more feigned than experienced. They are unmoved by things that would upset the normal person, while outraged by insignificant matters. They are bystanders to the emotional life of others, perhaps envious and scornful of feelings they cannot have or understand. In the end, psychopaths are cold, with shallow emotions, living in a dark world of their own.

Hiding behind the "mask of sanity," the cult leader exposes feelings only insofar as they serve an ulterior motive. He can witness or order acts of utter brutality without experiencing a shred of emotion. He casts himself ina role of total control, which he plays to the hilt. What is most promised in cults -- peace, joy, enlightenment, and security -- are goals that are forever out of reach of the leader, and thus also the followers. Since the leader is not genuine, neither are his promises.

7. Incapacity for Love

As the "living embodiment of God's love," the leader is tragically flawed in being unable to either give or receive love. Love substitutes are given instead. The leader's tremendous need to be loved is accompanied by an equally strong disbelief in the love offered him by his followers; hence, the often unspeakably cruel and harsh testing of his devotees. Unconditional surrender is an absolute requirement.

8. Need for Stimulation

Thrill-seeking behaviors, often skirting the letter or spirit of the law, are common among psychopaths. Such behavior is sometimes justified as preparation for martyrdom: "I know I don't have long to live; therefore my time on this earth must be lived to the fullest." "Surely even I am entitled to have fun or sin a little." This type of behavior becomes more frequent as the leader deteriorates emotionally and psychologically -- a common occurrence.

Cult leaders live on the edge, constantly testing the beliefs of their followers, often with increasingly bizarre behaviors, punishments, and rules. Other mechanisms of stimulation come in the form of unexpected, seemingly spontaneous outbursts, which usually take the form of verbal abuse and sometimes physical punishment. The psychopath has a cool indifference to things around him, yet his icy coldness can quickly turn into rage, vented on those around him.

9. Callousness/Lack of Empathy

Psychopaths readily take advantage of others, expressing utter contempt for anyone else's feelings. Someone in distress is not important to them. Although intelligent, perceptive, and quite good at sizing people up, they make no real connections with others. They use their "people skills" to exploit, abuse, and weild power. Psychopaths are unable to empathize with the pain of their victims.

10. Poor Behavioral Controls / Impulsive Nature

Like small children, many psychopaths have difficulty regulating their emotions. Adults who have temper tantrums are frightening to be around. Rage and abuse, alternating with token expressions of love and approval, produce an addictive cycle for both abuser and abused, as well as create a sense of hopelessness in the later.

The cult leader acts out with some regularity -- often privately, sometimes publicly -- usually to the embarassment and dismay of his followers and other observers. He may act out sexually, aggressively, or criminally, frequently with rage. Generally this aberrant behavior is a well-kept secret, known only to a few disciples. The others see only perfection.

These tendencies are related to the psychopath's need for stimulation and inability to tolerate frustration, anxiety, and depression. Often a leader's inconsistent behavior needs to be rationalized by either the leader or follower in order to maintain internal consistency. It is often regarded as divinely inspired and further separates the empowered from the powerless.

11. Early Behavior Problems / Juvinile Deliquency

Psychopaths frequently have a history of behavioral and academic difficulties. They often "get by" academically, conning other students and teachers. Encounters with juvinile authorities are frequent. Equally prevalent are difficulties in peer relationships and developing and keeping friends, marked control problems, and other aberrant behaviors such as stealing, fire setting, and cruelty to others.

12. Irresponsibility / Unreliability

Not concerned about the consequences of their behavior, psychopaths leave behind them the wreckage of others' lives and dreams. They may be totally oblivious or indifferent to the devestation they inflict on others, something which they regard as neigher their problem nor their responsibility.

Psychopaths rarely accept blame for their failures or mistakes. Scapegoating is common, blaming followers, those outside the group, a member's family, the government, Satan -- anyone and everyone but the leader. The blaming may follow a ritualized procedure such as a trial, "hot seat" denunciation, or public confession. Blame is a powerful reinforcer of passivity and obedience, producing guilt, shame, terror, and conformity in the followers.

13. Promiscuous Sexual Behavior / Infidelity

Promiscuity, child sexual abuse, polygamy, rape, and sexual acting out of all sorts are frequently practiced by cult leaders. Conversely, there is often stringent sexual control of the followers through such tactics as enforced celibacy, arranged marriages, forced breakups and divorces, removal of children from their parents, forced abortions or mandated births. For psychopaths, sex is primarily a control and power issue.

Marital fidelity is rare in the psychopath's life. There are usually countless reports of extramarital affairs and sexual predation upon adult and child members of both sexes. The sexual behavior of the leader may be kept hidden from all but the inner circle or may be part of accepted group sexual practices. In any case, due to the power imbalance between leader and followers, sexual contact is never truly consensual and is likely to have damaging consequences for the follower.

14. Lack of Realistic Life Plan / Parasitic Lifestyle

The psychopath tends to move around a lot, making countless efforts at "starting over" while seeking out fertile new ground to exploit. One day may appear as a rock musician, the next as a messiah; one day a used car salesman, the next the founder of a mass self-transformation program; one day a college professor, the next the new "Lenin" bringing revolution to America.

The flip side of this erratic life planning is the all-encompassing promise for the future that the cult leader makes to his followers. Many groups claim as their goal world domination or salvation at the Apocalypse. The leader is the first to proclaim the utopian nature of the group, which is usually simply another justification for irrational behavior and stringent controls.

The leader's sense of entitlement is often demonstrated by the contrast between his luxurious lifestyle and the impoverishment of his followers. Most cult leaders are supported by gifts and donations from their followers, who may be pressured to turn over much of their income and worldly possessions to the group. Slavery, enforced prostitution, and a variety of illegal acts for the benefit of the leader are common in a cult milieu.

Psychopaths also tend to be preoccupied with their own health while remaining totally indifferent to the suffering of others. They may complain of being "burned out" due to the burden of "caring for" their followers, sometimes stating they do not have long to live, instilling fear and guilt in their devotees and encouraging further servitude. They are highly sensitive to their own pain and tend to be hypercondriacs, which often conflicts with their public image of superhuman self-control and healing abilities. According to them, the illnesses they _don't_ get are due to their powers, while the ones they _do_ get are caused by their "compassion" in taking on their disciples' karma or solving the group's problems. This of course is another guru trick.

15. Criminal or Entrepreneurial Versatility

Cult leaders change their image and that of the group as needed to avoid prosecution and litigation, to increase their income, and to recruit a range of members. Cult leaders have an innate ability to attract followers who have the skills and connections that the leaders lack. The longevity of the group is dependent on the willingness of the leadership to adapt as needed and preserve the group. Frequently, when illegal or immoral activities are exposed to the public, the cult leader will relocate, sometimes taking followers with him. He wll keep a low profile, only to resurface later with a new name, a new front group, and perhaps a new twist on the scam.

Profile of a Cult Leader (Part 3)

by Randall Watters

Question: What did Sun Myung Moon, Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Joseph Rutherford have in common?

Answer: They were self-styled leaders of religious cults that started the deadly mind control machinery in motion (such as Rutherford), or who were directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of their own followers.

Early in 1993, in Waco, Texas, the news media focused extensively on the events surrounding the Branch Davidian leader, David Koresh, and what appeared to be a mass suicide by himself and his followers. Koresh had figured that the government raid upon his compound was a precursor to the events of Revelation, and that Armageddon was then imminent — an event which, to him, was focused solely against his group.

What causes a man or woman who is a leader of such a group to become so egocentric, feeling that it is his or her group versus the world in the battle between good and evil?…

The key to understanding the cult leader tends to lie in a fundamentalist attitude-gone-bad. While in Christianity a fundamentalist is one who sincerely believes in all aspects of the 66 books of the Bible as being true with no errors, a broader, more psychological definition would be “one who believes in a world of black & white issues; and that he or she is fully right and others are fully wrong.” Such a definition of fundamentalism then may also include those who are not affiliated with any religious groups or ideals at all, but channel their fundamentalist thinking into politics or psychology. While there are many Christians who consider themselves fundamentalists, who believe strongly in the Word of God, and who cause no trouble to their family or friends, there are many others who make fundamentalism itself a religion. Many communists, fascists, and even some ultra-right wing Republicans, for example, are fundamentalist in their thinking, often to the detriment of others.

The most visible cult leaders of late seem to be the Christian fundamentalists who go one step beyond the Bible, or who read themselves into the Bible in such a way that it all seems to apply to them… exclusively.

Reverend Moon feels that Jesus failed in his mission to produce the “perfect children” when he was killed, and that Moon himself was the Messiah appointed to finish the work and produce those children. His Unification Church will one day be the “universal (and only) church.”

Jim Jones started out as a conservative fundamentalist Bible teacher in San Francisco, praised by California state official Willy Brown and others as “the man whom we all ought to be about,” mainly due to his efforts to relieve racial tension among blacks and whites. In time, Jones began to feel himself above the Bible and the law, isolating his followers in the jungles of Guyana. Stripped of their self-worth and ability to make decisions of their own, they became like children waiting to obey his every command. They did; Nine hundred of them died in 1978 when Jones ordered them to drink poison-laced KoolAid.

Joseph F. Rutherford, though not the founder of the Watchtower movement (Jehovah’s Witnesses), was responsible for the persecution complex and us-versus-them mentality (“them” being Christendom) of the modern-day Watchtower, which allows for little or no trust in those outside the movement, including family. This mistrust goes even to the point of viewing one’s fellow cult members with suspicion if they appear to fall back into pre-cult ways of thinking. Rutherford’s writings were antagonistic against all those outside the movement (seen as “agents of the devil”). He even periodically purged from among his own followers any who regained some of their own healthy ego and self-respect. One could not question Rutherford or the organization without risking being cast out and shunned completely. How deep does this control go? Consider that since the 1940’s thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses have died due to their policy against taking blood transfusions.

David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidians that perished in a conflagration at their compound in Waco, Texas, believed himself to be a messiah (if not the Messiah), and that the history and future of his cult were written in the pages of Revelation. He controlled every move of his followers, and was the only male allowed to impregnate his host of female followers.

The following are certain characteristics that are common amongst such leaders:

• Their ego and sense of self-importance swells, and they lose all accountability to anyone else. They see themselves as the only ones truly doing God’s work.

• Their sense of righteousness and their simplistic black and white mentality cause them to wage war against the agents of the devil; i.e., outsiders. The followers are indoctrinated with a persecution complex and a deep sense of paranoia towards the world. They will finally only trust and obey their one leader or organizational dictates. They have a righteous cause, which tends to alleviate their own consciousness of guilt and failure, and this becomes a drug that insures their continued obedience with a fanaticism that no logic seems able to dismantle. Like the heroin addict who needs his fix, the cause or leader is their drug that must be retained at any price, even to the point of death. (Religion can be a much stronger and more addictive drug than heroin.)

• The Bible is written to them and about them, indeed it cannot be understood without them in mind. The Book of Revelation is their own history: past, present, and future. JW’s, for instance, feel that the seven trumpet blasts of Revelation 8-11 were the seven Watchtower district assembly talks given between 1922 and 1929! The cult leader practices various forms of mind control over his followers, including control of their thoughts, their emotions, and their behavior, as well as restricting what they are allowed to read or listen to.

• Cult leaders keep their followers so busy that they do not have time to return to previous, more intuitive and natural ways of thinking. Such ways of thinking are now seen as worldly or “of the devil.”

Are such leaders a special breed of people, or are they much like you and I? Evidence indicates that in most cases they are not outstandingly different than any of us, except in their making of wrong choices, in coping with the insecurities of life, and in not being comfortable with who they are. An unmet hunger for approval, the desire for power over others for the sake of attention and self-worth, and even the desire for riches and fame seem to be gradually nurtured in such persons over a period of years. Politicians often suffer the same fate, and in many countries such people have become dictators. They are very much cult leaders by the exact same process! In other words, “God” does not have to be the key figure in extreme fundamentalist thinking.

Pastors of mainstream churches or independents can become cult leaders over time. That is why many churches have a board of directors whom the pastor must answer to, or some other devise to check their power. If you are a part of a church whose pastor makes you feel he is “God’s chosen instrument” or who disparages most all other churches, or who humiliates or otherwise seeks control over his flock, watch out! (I recommend reading Churches That Abuse by Ron Enroth for more information.)

By Randall Watters

© Free Minds, Inc.. Reprinted (by permission) from an article in The Free Minds Journal, Vol. 12, No. 4, July/August 1993. Free Minds Inc., Box 3818, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266


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