Have you ever wondered how cult leaders managed to convince a big number of people to believe in their ideas? Take a look at some of their stories.
As an avid consumer of true crime documentaries, I've always been intrigued by how cults work and how their leaders manage to convince people to believe in something, let's say, not very reasonable. Earlier this year Dianne Lake, a former member of the Manson Family (responsible for the murder of Sharon Tate and other of her guests), declared in an interview for People Magazine that, now that several decades have passed, she’s come to understand how she got involved with such a despicable character like Charles Manson. She was just a teenager when she met him and, as she explains, she was in a particular emotional state that was perfect for him to convince her to join him.
She was the youngest member of the group and, by the time they met, she had just moved out of her parent's house, since they basically pushed her to live by herself. She needed the affection and care that her parents didn’t provide. That sense of belonging Manson offered was his weapon to drag her in. Now, I’m not saying that those who follow a cult, especially those that end in terrible crimes, are absolutely innocent, but it’s true that their leaders are really smart people who know how to use people's weaknesses to their advantage.
There are many cults that have passed to history due to the shock and the public attention they got at their time, but there are others that the media ignored, despite being really dangerous. Here are seven of these:
In 2010 Goel Ratzon was arrested in Israel on the charges of rape, incest, and enslavement. The police department started an investigation out of rumors of children living in the most terrible conditions at a crowded set of apartments. When they found the place they were staying at, the police were surprised to learn that this was, in fact, the main place where the Savior’s (the name Ratzon gave to himself) cult had formed about ten years ago.
He presented himself as a healer and convinced about 17 women that the only way he could save them was by moving in with him to these apartments in Tel Aviv. According to the police investigations, he fathered at least one child with each woman, although there aren't official records on how many children they conceived throughout this time. Moreover, they believed that he actually had raped some of his daughters and impregnated them while they remained captive. If this isn’t sick enough, he gave them a cell phone that they could only use to let him know they were actually ovulating. The investigation showed that he had TV circuits all over the apartments through which he spied on them, and one of the ways to control them was by tattooing his name on their skin.
What was at the core of this cult and how did he manage to convince them? He presented himself as a guru at first, but once he managed to get a group of women following him, he changed his status to a Messiah, the promised figure that would save humanity, as it regularly happens with these stories. The sad part is that even after he was arrested, his followers remained loyal to him and did their best to help him get out of it, without any result, of course.
This is not Manson’s Family, but Anne Hamilton-Byrne’s (an Australian yoga instructor). What started as a simple and harmless yoga class became one of the creepiest cults in the history of Australia (and, to be honest, in the history of humanity). This suburban mom touched the hearts of all her students and, seeing the power and influence she had over their lives, she decided to turn things a little bit to her own benefit. Thus, she started presenting herself as a spiritual master.
She founded a community in the countryside, where she lived with her adoptive blond children and some of her followers. However, the circumstances through which she adopted those kids are mostly suspicious. Her community or cult was based on the foundation of race and only those she considered being worthy were accepted into her clan. Once she had convinced everyone that she was their only access to a pure and spiritual life, she actually proclaimed herself as the reincarnation of Jesus although her religious precepts were actually a mixture of anything she wanted, from Christian ideas to esoteric, and even the belief in the existence of UFOs. No matter how far-fetched these ideas sounded, she proved to be extremely persuasive. Of course, she gave her followers and children LSD before preaching.
It was not until 1987 when the authorities raided her house due to some reports of child abuse. There they found out everything about this woman’s cult and terrible actions. The police took the five children (who had been forced to bleach their hair to have an Aryan look), and she was arrested. She’s now in her mid-nineties and dealing with dementia. What was very interesting about this cult is that most of her followers were actually important members of Melbourne’s society and successful professionals, some of which still believe in the teachings of their spiritual guide.
The Source Family
Not all cult cases end up in hideous mass murders or terrible crimes, and Jim Baker’s group is the best example of this. Baker was a World War II veteran marine who, after returning safely from war, wanted to follow a quite different career path and became a movie stuntman in Los Angeles. One of his biggest hopes was to become a famous celebrity, so when he heard rumors about him being cast as Tarzan in a movie, his ambition grew immensely. Sadly this was just a rumor, so deception and anger pushed him to quit his job. During this time he became acquainted with a group of beatniks who lived in a sort of commune. They were strict vegetarians and didn’t consume or engage in modern industrial attitudes.
These were the sixties and Hindu philosophy and religion were adopted by many young people who wanted to believe in something purer and deeper. Of course, Baker got acquainted with these ideas, and he saw his opportunity to shine. He started a group where he was the guru and leader, but these ideas didn’t really fit his own ambitions, so he decided to alter them to create his own religion, where his words were the ultimate truth. He called it the Source Family, and together with his followers, he opened a vegetarian restaurant that was actually quite famous throughout the US (Figures like Frank Zappa and Marlon Brando were frequent customers).
Besides the restaurant, Father Yod (as he made himself be called) got a huge house, where he and his many followers lived happily for so many years. As many hippie communes, all the members became avid drug consumers and free love (as it was called) was basically what they preached. But things got messy when one of the many babies that lived there had to be taken to the hospital in the most deplorable conditions due to a terrible infection. Before the police and the authorities got time to investigate what was happening in that house, Yod took his flock to Hawaii. In 1975, Yod, who thought of himself as almighty and indestructible, had the brilliant idea of trying hang gliding, without any previous knowledge and, naturally, as it happens with these sort of stupid ideas, he crashed and died. Soon after his death, the family disbanded.
Children of God
As you might have seen, the leaders of these cults often present themselves as Messiahs or God’s envoys to save humanity. Well, following this by the end of the sixties David Berg decided to start an organization called Children of God, where he told people (mainly hippies wanting to do something meaningful with their souls and lives) that he was Moses David, at the service of Jesus to spread his loving message. He founded a colony in California and told his followers that the only path to salvation was to detach themselves from any material possession they had, including their families.
However, although his plan sounded really good for him, he realized they needed money to get food and other basic supplies, so he convinced the young women to prostitute themselves on behalf of their new family. He named his idea “flirty fishing” based on the Bible episode where Jesus multiplied the fish. For some time this worked perfectly until 1987, when Berg decided to end his business due to the increasing AIDS epidemic among his flock. Believe it or not, after Berg’s death in 1994, the colony didn’t fell apart. They changed their name to The Family International, and it’s still functioning under the leadership of Steven Kelly (King Peter for his followers).
There will always be gullible people and those who will take advantage of them. That's why there are still tons of cults throughout the world. But is there something that can be done to stop evil people like these leaders? If you want to know more stories about mysterious and creepy cults, take a look at these: