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Advice and support for the families
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How cults operate

Over many years of experience, The Family Survival Trust has become aware of the wide variety of techniques employed by cults to win power, money and influence. We learn much of this through interested and aware members of the public, journalists, researchers, academics, officials and professionals, ex-members of cults, families of those in cults, and sometimes current members themselves. Some of the different ways in which they operate are given here.


Cults very seldom admit to the extortion, dissociation and manipulation brought to bear on their members. The face they present to the public and potential recruits is very different indeed.

When recruiting, cults do not make a full disclosure about what they are and how they operate. They may hand out leaflets or talk to passers-by offering friendship, love or relief from stress, for example. If someone, normally of above average intelligence and at a low point in their life, is enticed from the street by such conversation or literature, they may then be exposed to more of the same, except in isolation and mixed with hard-sales persuasion. This is not the basis for them to make a clear judgement about a group, especially one which has not made a full disclosure about itself.

When openly lobbying government, spiritual or religious cults will talk about their belief systems, which range from the apparently normal to the bizarre; political cults will talk about their political ideologies; therapeutic cults will talk about their therapies and so on. They will move the debate onto grounds of belief rather than the theory and practices they use which cause so much harm, hoping to distract attention from the real issue and presenting any critics as being anti-religious or bigoted.

A cult will not talk about any commercial activity unless it wants to be seen as a business, and commercial pyramid-sales cults will try to pass off extortion as legitimate business. Cults claiming tax-exemption on the grounds of religious or charitable relief will play down their fundraising altogether. Therapeutic cults claiming amazing cures, relief or treatments will not produce empirical evidence to back their claims and rely on officials not asking awkward questions.


Cults use freedom of speech and freedom of conscience legislation to give themselves an air of honesty and respectability. They do not mention the isolation, impoverishment and abuse of their members who are not conducting public relations. Higher ranking members can wear impressive suits and wine and dine officials, paid for by extortion from the lower ranks. There are large deputations of representatives of cults and their front groups at conferences hosted by national and international government. How can they afford to pay for their voices to be heard apart from commercial activity or extortion?

How can cults afford their often impressively grand headquarters, whether in the heart of London or other large cities in the United Kingdom and abroad, or in large country estates? Where does the money come from? At the same time, the members whose tithes, labour, money and manpower pay for the grand estates live in often cramped and squalid dormitory conditions, or struggle to pay for their own small homes. Cults may also apply for grants available to religious charities, paid for by the tax-paying general public, and often obtain what they want without providing any proof of their activities or satisfying any criteria.


Cults sometimes maintain front groups which may reveal nothing of the cults with which they maintain ties. Some cults publish newspapers which do not disclose their true owners, because the company possesses a different name, and thereby pursues its agenda on unsuspecting readers undetected.

Other cults have front groups of different names which provide education courses to discreetly pursue their cultic agenda with vulnerable and unsuspecting children and their teachers; some even maintain schools or universities; or offer management training to employees who know little or nothing until it is too late; others offer laudable-sounding literacy or drug-rehabilitation programmes which are untried, untested and make promises ungrounded in any science or research.


Cults will in some way isolate their members to prevent them from a balanced world view. This begins from the start, when the potential recruit is taken from the street and brought into a strange enclosed environment on their own, persuaded, cajoled and pushed into joining, rather than making a balanced decision in their own time and space.

On the whole, cults will attempt to diminish their members' ability to think for themselves by controlling information, being the only voice which knows what is right, what is best, and, in fact, where possible, the only voice at all. To a certain extent, this information monopoly can also be attempted as public relations tactic on the outside world.

Cults will make demands on their members to fit the cult's requirements, and in a black-and-white worldview, anything seen not to fit these requirements is seen as wrong, a failure to be shunned or shamed, or the enemy to be excluded or hounded. These demands are often justified with mystical or spiritual reasons which purport to give powers or benefits to those who observe them, or terrible (sometimes divine) afflictions to those who do not.

The worldview given by the cult is the only truth, and nothing else can be accepted. Those who do not accept it are liable to punishment or dismissal, because many cults maintain their own corrective regimes, courts and systems of justice which pay little or no heed to the real law of the land. This monopoly on "truth" and judgement may be supported by the use of a code, language or jargon which makes the group more inscrutable to outsiders and help maintain a feeling of superiority or separateness to insiders.

A cult member may be made to confess sins or faults, sometimes presented as counselling or advice but often kept for the purposes of blackmail. The cult members' own thoughts and ideas are increasingly subjugated or overridden by the doctrine of the cult as it pursues its totalitarian ideas to complete its control over its slaves. The control may be aided by hypnotic or other mind-altering techniques to induce extra suggestibility.

The process of taking an enthusiastic recruit, who may see certain aspects of the cult as being exciting or different, and then making this the chief weapon by which they suborn all other ideas in the member, is amongst the most disingenuous and manipulative of crimes to enslave an individual without their knowing it.


Cults will often encourage the separation of loved ones within families, business associations or friendships if it leads to unwelcome attention to the more unsavoury aspects of their dealings, or the hurt they cause. They will carry out harassment of critics who go to the press to highlight the damage they inflict, or disseminate negative publicity about their critics in the press or on the internet, to draw away attention from any directed at the cults themselves. More persistent critics may be subjected to a grinding process of litigation, which can, at times, continue into bankruptcy.

at a glance

Abusive cults use deception to recruit members and hoodwink the outside world.

They extort from their members and make false claims for public funds.

They isolate, coerce, control and abuse their members.

They infiltrate society with front groups, and separate, harass and litigate against families.

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