There's probably a lot of crossover on the Venn diagram of American Horror Story: Cult fans and those that find themselves lost in a click-hole spiral through Wikipedia's cult and serial killer pages once a week. Those viewers have likely looked into all the American Horror Story real-life inspirations that are referenced on the show. But what about Kai and his nihilistic clown cult in Season 7? Is American Horror Story: Cult based on a true story?
Ryan Murphy loves his not-so-subtle homages and easter eggs and has already revealed that Evan Peters will be playing a number of infamous cult leaders in flashbacks in the coming episodes. There are plenty of references to cults that inspired AHS: Cult.
So which cult leader does Kai most resemble? Why is Lena Dunham playing Valerie Solanas? Who are all the targets that extend beyond Ally that Meadow alluded to? What's the cult's ultimate goal? Here are all the ways the cults on AHS have already popped up and a few culty things we know are coming up this season.
The Manson Family Girls Dressed Much Like Winter Does
While Kai is the more obvious choice when it comes to picking characters that are reminiscent of famous cult leaders, his sister, Winter, bears a strong resemblance to an infamous cult member herself. Winter's long hair and her '60s goth-bohemian wardrobe give off some serious Manson girls vibes. Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten, who all played a part in the slaying of Sharon Tate, shared a similar aesthetic to Winter.
Maybe the styling is supposed to be a direct reference to the female Manson family members.
Preying On People's Insecurities Is A Typical Cult Recruitment Tactic Utilized By Kai
Kai shows an aptitude for manipulation that is emblematic of many cult leaders. He comes across as very perceptive and he's able to pinpoint people's fears and insecurities and use them as a means of recruiting them into his cult. His approach with Harrison is a prime example of this. In the episode "11/9," Kai approaches Harrison and pinpoints his fears before implying he can absolve him of said fears. He makes Harrison share his regrets and disappointments while simultaneously proving his loyalty to him.
Kai also offers Harrison a sense of belonging, referring to his "crew" and how he would do anything for them. He distinguishes himself from someone else in Harrison's life who obviously doesn't treat him, well - his boss at the gym - and "helps" Harrison to overcome the situation through brutal means, thus binding them on a personal level.
The Pinkie Finger Ritual Is Derivative Of A Scientology Practice
The pinkie finger ritual in which members of Kai's cult link little fingers and answer probing questions about their biggest fears could be compared to the "auditing" process used in Scientology. The church's official description of auditing is as follows: "The goal of auditing is to restore beingness and ability. This is accomplished by: (1) helping individuals rid themselves of any spiritual disabilities; (2) increasing spiritual abilities."
It seems like Kai's pinkie finger ritual is meant to alleviate the interviewee's fears by forcing transparency. But, it could also be a means of Kai discovering more about his follower's fears and gathering more information that he can use for manipulative purposes.
But there are more parallels - remember how in the first episode Kai asked Winter if she was a lesbian and about her experiences with rear-entry intercourse? It seems the Scientology auditing process is similarly fascinated with such relations. Author of The Church of Fear: Inside The Weird World of Scientology, John Sweeney wrote that "[o]n the question of auditing [...] the big thing is [intimate relations]. 'Who did you have [relations] with? What was she wearing? What was he wearing? What did you do? What did they do?'" So, is Kai using his interrogations as a means of leverage and manipulation like the Church of Scientology? That could well be the case.
Most Cults Promise Better Lives, One Of Kai's Driving Tactics
Kai takes another tactic from the cult leader handbook, by offering his would-be followers a better alternative to their less than awesome existence. He offers Harrison acceptance and the vague promise of sexual favors; he offers Meadow the affection and love she's always craved from Harrison but was never given; he offers Beverly a solution to her career problems; and he offers Ivy the chance to have full custody of her son Ozzy by driving her wife mad.
It seems like Kai is fully embodying the personality type shared by many a cult leader. He promises everything his followers could want, offering himself as the only solution to their woes.