Everyone wants to belong. Some people join a World of Warcraft guild, some people get really into kickball, and other people join cults. But unlike most other groups, how cults get people to join is a somewhat secretive practice. As you’ll soon come to learn, the cults that try to gain followers by using the most outlandish techniques are rarely the groups that make an impact. The cults that gain followers by using a person’s insecurities against them are the ones who make it to the big leagues. While you take a look at these cult recruitment tactics, think about whether or not they would work on you.
Cult recruiting can take a myriad of forms, from reaching out to people on the Internet to simply owning a business and letting your disciples come to you. Most of the cults on this list are now defunct. Some of them literally went down in flames. But a few of the new religious movements that you’ll be reading about are still operating today in one form or another, so if you want to get that familial experience while wearing white robes and having your bank account drained, feel free to do a little Googling once you’re finished.
Keep reading to find out how cults recruit people and then vote on the strangely awesome cult recruitment tactics that might even work on you!
Free Drugs and a Never-Ending Party Fueled the Manson Family
The Manson Family is easily the most popular cult that existed in America. It may not have had the amount of followers of the People's Temple or the connections of Aum Shinrikyo, but they had the freewheeling spirit of the '60s (and a lot of drugs) on their side, so for a few years, they were the cult in Southern California.
Many people don't understand how young men and women like Leslie Van Houten and Tex Watson could get caught with a maniac like Charles Manson. But by all accounts, Manson was a charming, smooth-talking guy who used drugs and sex to get what he wanted. He essentially served as a paternal figure who allowed the folks who joined the Family to do what they subconsciously always wanted to do. If you were looking to do a lot of speed and meet some weird ladies, the Manson Family was there to help you do that.
The Promise of Integration Fueled the People's Temple
Jim Jones and the People's Temple is the doomsday cult that all other doomsday cults are measured against. The infamous Jonestown mass suicide/murder claimed the lives of 918 people, 276 of which were children. But before Jones moved his cult to Guyana, South America, he spent the '50s and '60s recruiting new members by preaching about the beauty of integration, something that spoke to directly to America's African American and young liberal populations. The Jonestown Massacre shows how one good idea can lead to a horrible path when it's twisted by the wrong person.
Promises of a Science-Fiction Fantasy World Lured People to Heaven's Gate
For all you science fiction nerds out there, the Heaven's Gate cult initiation video served as a dog whistle, calling out to you with phrases that would be reminiscent of some of your favorite films or pieces of literature. In the video, the group's founder, Marshall Applewhite, talks about how the "earth is about to be recycled" and that it's time to evacuate the planet. And now you, yes you, can be a member of the Heaven's Gate crew who gets to leave the planet behind and begin an all new adventure. Sounds like fun!
An Anime with a Subliminal Message Drew People in to Aum Shinrikyo
You probably remember Aum Shinrikyo as the Japanese death cult that released sarin gas in the Tokyo subway system in 1995, killing 12 people and injuring 5,000. As far as death cults go, Aum Shinrikyo was one of the scariest. At one point they were working with the Russians on developing nuclear technology, but the paranoia of Aum's leader, Shoko Asahara led the group to attack the city with the one thing they had on hand, a bunch of poisonous gas. To bring in recruits, Aum Shinrikyo produced an anime series that followed Asahara as he floated through the air, stood on mountains, and did groovy guru stuff.