About 3 summers back, I took a class called "Cults in America". I've always been morbidly fascinated by cult activity since impulse-bought a set of Crime & Punishment encyclopedias at age 17.
Stories of Jim Jones and the People's Temple simultaneously chilled me and thrilled me. What a monster… what a charismatic charmer, like the fabled serpent in the forbidden tree of knowledge–selling the idea of a utopian community to lost and lonely people… What a fucking MONSTER…
I did my final project of the People's Temple. For those who aren't familiar with the 1978 Jonestoown Massacre–the group had moved to Guyana and "Rev." Jim Jones convinced hundreds of men, women, and children to to drink cyanide laced Flavor-Aid to avoid a ficticious armageddon. They tape recorded the whole incident and I listened to it. Horrifying. You could hear children squalling in the background. Utterly horrifying, and yet I felt obligated to listen all the way to the end.
And then there's the Manson Family. Evil. Charles Manson is evil in the flesh.
What makes people join a cult, knowing what it could end up being like? Nothing. People DON'T join cults. They join church groups and self-help seminars and yoga classes. Sometimes those innocent things are cover-businesses. They feel you out, see how impressionable you are, how much they can nudge you into believing little things before they open their doors to the real thing. Some people spot a little weirdness and leave right away, but those who stick around gradually become brainwashed–and it's so subtle that they hardly see it comming. These are NORMAL people–not mindless baffoons. Accountants and baby-sitters and real-estate agents and nurses and florists… Regular, intelligent people.
There are two things that make people especially susceptable to cults: 1.) depression, and 2.) being displaced or in-between establishments–whether that's school, relationships, religion, jobs.
I'm both. Depressed, no job, no more school, hardly any friends left, far from my family… The really messed up thing is that my extensive knowlege of cults has done squat in conjuction with my deep desire to be part of something bigger than myself. The thought of letting someone else make the decisions for me sounds so damn comforting that it's scary.
I think my next book will involve escaping a cult.