How Do Cult Leaders Recruit Followers?

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How Do Cult Leaders Recruit Followers?

Cult leaders are perceived to be charismatic whom provides comfort and spiritual answers / Photo by Kairi Aun via 123RF


Cult leaders have one dominant trait that makes them convincing: being charismatic. Followers are drawn to their community in droves and droves, charmed and awestruck by their powerful presence. They claim to provide what people are searching for such as comfort, spiritual answers or other ways to make calm their mind. Jon-Patrick Pederson, a psychologist from the California Institute of Technology, says that they often guarantee that believers will gain “complete financial security, constant peace of mind perfect health and eternal life.”

People are inclined to move towards what can potentially ease their troubles and cults have a certain way of fulfilling their needs. Once they have entered into the cult, they will dedicate everything they have to it and will find it difficult to get out.

Four Common Characteristics of Cult Leaders

Refinery29 states that these are the four most common traits of cult leaders which were described in their interview with Dr. Lalich:


The manner in which they present themselves such as how they speak, dress and how they relate to their followers is one of the reasons why others may find them irresistible. They may have an alluring aura to them which their followers may perceive them as a special being. Since not everyone is charmed by the same things, the cult leader seeks out those are devoted to them. After that, they will take their devotees with them to help them persuade other people to join their cause.


Cult leaders are brought up in a manner that makes them believe they are more superior compared to others and are extremely self-absorbed. Some of them get their delusions of grandeur from their alleged contact with a deity. Usually, that meeting is what induces them to create a cult. These cult leaders will require their followers to be extremely committed to them. No one is permitted to criticize them and they will try to take charge of everything that happens within the cult.


The cult leader will rarely grace the followers with their presence, but when they do, they do not always act in the same way. They are said to behave with duplicity. Dr. Lalich emphasizes, “You don’t know if he’s going to come in as a raging bull or a sweet seducer.” She also explains that their unpredictable behavior aids them in keeping the power imbalance. This technique, she says, incites fear in them and makes them want to please the head of their cult even more.

Have a “turn-on”

When the cult leader has finally made their cause known and they have experienced being in a position of authority, only then will their true intentions be revealed. Dr. Lalich says that they are driven by either sex, money or status or a combination of all of them. Although they may declare that they are speaking or performing such acts on behalf of a higher power, the truth is, they are just doing those things to satisfy their desires.

People Most Likely to be Recruited

In an interview Vice had with Ian Haworth, an ex-cult member, there was a surprising discovery made: It was demonstrated that it was not those who had mental disorders or had weak willpower who were easily persuaded to join the cult, but rather those who were skeptical and rational, which he considered himself to be.

He narrated his experience how he was influenced into a cult, saying that he was shopping the other day in Toronto when a woman approached him asking him to fill in a survey. Then she asked him if he would like to join a community she was part of. She challenged him, pushing him to think about having a more meaningful role in life. She said, “Isn’t it time you considered giving back to the community instead of taking from it all the time?”

Haworth said the discussion comprised a talk, having coffee and watching a movie. From there, they had somehow rebuked him for the way he acted like his smoking habit. They claimed that they could help him quit it. After that, he began giving away the entirety of his time, money and effort to the cult. He even resigned from his job.

Haworth revealed, “The easiest ones to recruit are the ones with alert questioning minds who want to debate issues with other people. You take a strong-willed, strong-minded person and put them into a cult environment and the techniques used will break a person down very, very quickly.”


People with mental disorder or weak willpower are easily to be persuaded in joining the cult / Photo by Beauty Pandit via 123RF


How They Keep their Followers

According to Curiosity, this is how leaders prevent their followers from breaking away from their cult:


Through establishing a set of rules and regulations that may be unreasonable or trivial, they train their followers to fully submit to them. When they are able to demand absolute obedience, they will be able to manipulate their believers into carrying out harmful actions.


The cult leaders not only get to command their followers to engage in endless labor, but this also helps distracts them from doubting the way their leader’s intentions and the way they think.


Usually, this is one of the first requirements of being part of a cult is to break off their connections with friends and family members, especially if they contradict the cult’s mission. This will ensure that their whole social life will be focused on their group.


They will inculcate in the followers the belief the most important thing is to realize the cult leader’s vision and their belongingness in the cult. If one of the members tries to leave the cult, they will be persecuted and seen as failures.


By being able to convince their followers to donate their money to their community, they are both able to gain funds for the cult and make it more difficult for them to leave.

Being part of a cult is said to be similar to having an abusive partner, since both situations involve a person who is trying to take charge of their target’s self-esteem and value. The best course of action is to simply get out.




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