For dozens of years, people have tried to understand the mentality of those who rule over cults, and those who follow the leader.
The texts on the psychology of cult behaviour are entirely endless. Everything from Heaven’s Gate to NXIVM has inspired television shows, films, and soft-core porn. (no seriously this happens and EW Hollywood, EW!) Books, news programs, scientific journals and entire classrooms are filled with the education we’ve learned and compiled about cult-like behaviour, but what exactly does it mean to be a part of a cult?
- a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.” the cult of St. Olaf”
- a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.” a network of Satan-worshiping cults” Similar: sect religious group-denomination religious order church faith community belief persuasion affiliation movement group body faction clique
- a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing.” a cult of personality surrounding the leaders”
There are lots of people who cannot fathom that I was a victim of a cult – not a part of a cult, not a member, not an associate, not a protected ally, a victim of a group of men who believed that through sexual trauma they could feel the kind of power few men get to feel. As well as myself there were at least thirteen boys and countless other girls across the country who were victims of the same men.
The problem is that because there are so many victims, and because we don’t all know each other, people often think that people like myself are crazy.
- They made it up
- They don’t have full memories
- They use drugs
- They’re crazy
These are just some of the things that people say when it comes to victims of cults, and all of the excuses that people have for not hearing us have only one real reason for existing:
It makes you more comfortable to believe that we’re crazy than that we’re telling the truth, because of how we look, how we sound, how we dress, our size, our cars, and our family connections.
“How can this person be involved in a cult, they are rich, powerful, protected, their name means…XYZ....” none of these are acceptable reasons for the ignorance that surrounds cult life or escaping cult life.
The television show Escaping Polygamy is great entertainment for folks, but they don’t understand the real risks that these women take in trying to protect other women and children in the escape from polygamy.
It’s not that difficult for me to believe that in the world of polygamy where people need to escape via underground railroads and secret plans, are often facing violence, economic strife, and the possibility of death in some cases.
There are plenty of people who practise polygamy in beautiful healthy ways, but for those who thrive on cult mentality, there’s nothing respectful and kind and loving about the practice, and that’s what I went through.
It took me a lot of years to remember the wedding ring I was promised, so long as I behaved and grew up the way that my abusers wanted me to grow up. I didn’t. I got tattoos, I marked up my skin, I did everything I could and continue to do this, to make myself as unappealing as possible.
I went out of my way to hide myself from the world after leaving the church, as the full weight of what I went through fell on my shoulders, and while Loud Mouth Brown Girl has made the journey somewhat easier, lots of kids who were abused like I was, by the same people, didn’t get that opportunity.
Many of them are still connected to our abusers, many of them are stuck in lives with children that they are just barely surviving with, and many are looking at their lives wondering how to escape, having very little hope that life will get better.
Some are in prison for crimes they committed, others in prison for crimes they had nothing to do with, and others still are dead. Actually dead, buried in the fucking ground, because a group of men decided to abuse a group of children.
But to the outside world, we are abnormal. Because we joined gangs because we found drugs because found ways to survive without telling our story because we knew exactly what would happen when we did.
The last time I was gang raped, most of the men who raped me were men from my past, a few of them were children when it all started, just like myself, and even more of them were men I’d never met before who had nothing to do with what happened to us, but who was told I was a sex worker.
It’s been easy for me to point fingers and get angry, it’s been much much more difficult for me to look at the men who raped me as victims in their own right and it took me decades to see it that way. It took me years to realize that WE as a collective were children and that many of the men I knew probably didn’t want to grow up to be gangsters or homeless folk who didn’t get a fair shot at life.
People think it’s easy for me to come out. It’s absolutely not, my mom has very deep political ties, and so I am always aware that the people that know us don’t necessarily know my history and if they do, they may not understand why my mom – although she loves me – struggles with believing that all of this happened under her nose.
It’s not her fault and it never was, but if I am being honest, yes my anger is misdirected in a variety of directions, from teachers who failed to notice the signs to doctors who were a part of it and did nothing to help when I needed them to take the lead the most.
Now that I’m older I desperately want to reach out to others that I know are survivors, but that’s hard to do given their situation.
Some people are in a lot more danger than I am. Some people have been labelled gangsters – on purpose, blamed for crimes they didn’t commit and while the police may never believe it, it’s genuinely because threats of violence don’t always work against a guy who’s six foot two and three hundred and sixty pounds of almost all muscle.
“What the fuck could he be afraid of?” He, she, they, them, have children, family members, co-workers, friends, and allies, that they care about, and when you’re dealing with cults – in particular – all of these people are potential victims for those who want to keep you under their control.
People don’t understand that the victims of cult leaders are some of the most vulnerable people in the world. Either because of drugs, poverty, houselessness, or because they’ve been a part of a cult since the day they were born and don’t know anything different.
Cult leaders SPECIFICALLY target a very specific kind of victim, and it’s almost always someone who feels alone, isolated, angry, scared, and in need of leadership, willing to take whatever comes their way for lack of better options.
“People don’t really do that to each other…do they?” Uh yeah? They do? Like all the fucking time, where the hell have you been? Seriously, this happens to women and children all the time, and what happens to the boys is that they usually get thrown out to the streets, OR turned into gangsters in order to make more money for the cults, but try to google Canadian Statistics on Cults and you’ll find a bunch of half information because Canadians don’t actually track cults and produce that information the way Americans do.
The problem in Canada – to my uneducated mind – is that in Canada we don’t talk about the abuse that victims of cults experience, google Bountiful BC and you’ll find all kinds of stories about child marriage, abuse, and trauma, but what you absolutely won’t find is any information that explains how this cult has gotten away with what they’ve been doing for more than 30 years.
There’s a difference between polygamy as a chosen open relationship and polygamist abuse, and that’s the thing that a lot of folks don’t understand. NOT all polygamist relationships are abusive, I’ve known lots of people who love this practice and have really amazing relationships because of it, but there’s still a balance of power that needs to be respected.
Cultists who practice polygamy don’t give a fuck about the balance of power, especially if the balance of power is in the hands of the abuser.
The problem with serial rapists is that they often have more friends, and a network of support that can span an entire country or more, so collecting information on ALL of their victims can often be an impossible task for law enforcement.
In the last 15 years, law enforcement around the world has been cracking down against cults, especially after the Heaven’s Gate Massecure, which took the lives of 39 people, but there is still a very, VERY long way to go before civilian people really begin to understand the damage that cult leaders cause.
For years people alerted the FBI about Heaven’s Gate, but very few people paid attention UNTIL the massacre, and then all of a sudden it was all over the news. The movie Men in Black was “allegedly,” based on the film because of the alien component of the believers of Heaven’s Gate, but that’s a running joke that gets less funny with each passing day.
There are thousands of documentaries on survivor stories from cult life, from India to China, Istanbul to America and Canada, but very few people take these people seriously, largely because “how could you be so stupid” is a really easy judgement to make when you don’t understand how these people work.
To start a cult you need three things:
- The ability and desire to hurt as many people as possible
- The ability to scare, intimidate, or otherwise take advantage of the most innocent
Most cults today work on a “we started in 1754 and are still here,” approach to abusing their victims, and while they may not actually be a hundred years old, take Scientology for instance. This is nothing more than a cult masquerading as a religious order.
In reality, the reason that they are so powerful is that L. Ron Hubbard convinced a bunch of grown-ass adults that he knew what was really happening on earth, developed a program he SWORE would change their lives, and then literally sat back, took their money and waited for them all to have children, and the cycle has repeated for more than twenty years with that peice of shit David Miscavage now running things with Tom Cruise the face of Scientology.
“But he’s Tom Cruise, big bad superhero, clearly he knows what’s going on.” Probably, but he also has children involved with this “religious order,” and their lives are entirely dependent on his behaviour and everyone – and I mean EVERYONE knows it, but the problem is that rather than look at the fact that his children may be in danger, all they see is a rich white guy who seemingly has it all together.
I highly doubt it very much and not just because of Leah Remini, but because I know precisely what cult leaders will do to keep their secrets, and keep control over their followers. The answer: LITERALLY whatever it takes.
For cults, drugs, rape, torture, branding, nothing is off limits, whatever it takes to keep you under their thumb they will do, and sometimes it’s for money but at the end of the day, the ONLY thing that cult leaders are concerned with is power. Without their followers they are nothing.
Cult leaders will go out of their way to destroy your life, not because they’re mad at you in particular, but because destroying YOUR life ensures that the others who know what’s happening will stay under their thumb and behave so it doesn’t happen to them.
The level of fear that these people operate with is something that the average person never has to face or deal with.
How many cults are in the US?
There are more cults than ever before, with more members. Three research studies indicate there are 3,000-5,000 groups in every area of the United States and throughout the world.May 7, 1993CQ Researcher
There are ways to combat cult behaviour, but at the end of the day for those who choose to join a cult, it’s actually and more likely even harder to escape than those who are straight-up victims of cults. Victims who are not associated with the cult by choice, have just as hard a time escaping, but the difference is it’s more likely that they aren’t indoctrinated to the beliefs of the cult, so at LEAST they don’t have to deal with the brainwashing element the way that full-time members do.
There’s still going to be gaslighting, there’s still going to be abuse, there’s going to be a lot of “well you said this so now I get to do that,” but when you’re fully engaged as a full-time member of the cult, often times you’re completely cut off from the outside world.
In my case (I can’t speak for the others,) I had an outside life, I had things to keep me anchored to sanity in ways that those who were followers of Keith Rainier and others, were.
To escape a cult people have been known to leave whole countries, to escape a cult some people have to go into verifiable witness protection, some have 24-hour armed security, and people laugh when they read that, because they have no concept of what it’s like to know that these men will do ANYTHING to get you under their thumb, and it’s not unfortunately always men.
In the 90s almost every woman my mom knew in Calgary was moving from one church group to another, which is how I got involved with Keith Rainier, he met one of my mom’s friends, and they invited us to a “church,” gathering, and next thing you know thirty years had gone by, he’d moved to the USA, but the people who followed him were still abusing myself and many others.
It took years for the story to come out of my head and into the hands of people who can do anything and their only response was “how the fuck do we even begin to make this make sense?” Exactly.
Well-meaning people always want to help those they believe are connected to cults, but honestly they don’t know how and to be perfectly honest the language to help people disengage from these communities of cult life, hasn’t been fully invented yet.
The deprogramming alone can take generations, and not everyone has access to deprogrammers, and what’s worse is that the deprogramming that works for one kind of cult won’t work for others.
No matter how badly we want to escape these cults, there’s still a part of us – as sick as it may sound – that remembers what it used to be, and how survival can often become a dream that never happens, and so we find comfort n the darkness, because we become used to the darkness, and freedom can be absolutely terrifying for some folk.
Tell a child in their 50s, that they are no longer under the thumb of an abuser they have LITERALLY known their entire lives, and sometimes they don’t know how to function without the abuse, and trying to is fucking petrifying. You can’t understand what that feels like unless you’ve been victimized and terrorized by a cult, you think you can, but you honestly have no idea, and I honestly wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.
I wish I could end this post with something hopeful and uplifting, but it’s not about how to survive cult life, it’s about the fact that cult life exists, and that no one on this planet knows what it feels like to be completely mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually dependant on the leader of the cult you’re involved with, like another survivor.
Even survivors don’t often know how to connect with other victims, because sometimes we’re overwhelmed with our own emotions and what we did to turn off the “gotta believe this to survive,” switch.
The most important thing you can do for someone you know that is involved in a cult is to remind them that you’re there for them without judgement. They believe what they believe because it makes them feel safe to feel that way, maybe their beliefs are completely insane, maybe they aren’t, but the LAST thing they need to feel is attacked because you don’t agree with what they’re doing.
Judgement will only push victims and survivors further into the hands of their abusers, whether they are connected to a cult or not. And all the time this happens, the abuser/leader/cult will say “see they don’t understand you, stay with us?” Your judgement about a victim of cult life can actually push them BACK into the hands of cults.
The CW handles this quite well on their new show Superman and Lois, as Lois’s sister is a part of a cult and the more that Lois tries to fight against these beliefs the more her sister gets frustrated and more engrained with the cult until all hell breaks loose. That’s EXACTLY how so many people get stuck in the cult life.
Patience love and a severe lack of judgement are key to helping people get the help they need, but you can’t force them, if you’ve grown up as a part of a cult, then it’s even harder to escape as an adult because that conditioning is a part of your DNA.
If you or someone you know is connected to a cult and or PLEASE contact a professional for help and advice. I’d offer some here but honestly, I don’t know what to do to help. I got out because my abusers were fucking morons, complete and total idiots who told on themselves. LITERALLY, no one is as lucky as I am, and I use that term VERY loosely.
If you are looking for people to talk to please message me privately on Twitter @LoudMthBrownGrl and I will find someone for you to talk to. I have a wide network of former cult survivors and I know where to point you in the right direction – if I don’t they will.
Sending all my love,
Devon J Hall