Scientific Evaluation of the Dangers
Posed by Religious Groups: A Partial Model
Stephen A. Kent, Ph.D.
Department of Sociology,
University of Alberta,
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
This article borrows from family-violence and
sociology-of-religion literature to provide a biopsychosocial
model for evaluating religious danger. Taking its departure from Kenneth G.
Roy’s model of four necessary levels of analysis concerning the
determination of violent behaviour, this article
identifies four interrelated “domains” that contribute to, and help
explain, religious violence, especially within alternative religious groups.
These domains include 1) intrapsychic or biopsychosocial contributors; 2) interpersonal
contributors; 3) intragroup contributors; and 4)
intergroup contributors. Each of these contributors has various subcategories,
many of which have parallels in family-violence literature.
Religiously driven violence fills
the pages of history with battles, crusades, martyrs, and persecution. Yet
similar themes recur in our era, as religion continues to motivate
contemporaries around the world to perform heroic acts of courage and dramatic
gestures of rage. Certainly, more religions exist now than ever before in
history, as secular tolerance allows—and some say catalyzes—people’s
claims to have been moved by the word of God. Consequently, in addition to the
world’s major religions, which themselves often have violent legacies, we
now also face threats from some smaller, newer, but occasionally dangerous new
High-profile events involving a
few new religions drew attention to the reality of violence by and, often,
against those religions. If we limit our understanding of violence to
“multiple homicide or suicide,” then we can identify (according to
the religious scholars Gordon Melton and David Bromley) some twenty newer
religions implicated in violence in the last years of the twentieth century
(Melton and Bromley 2002:44). Although they do not tell us which ones they
identified, and their restricted definition overlooks failed attempts at killing
(including shoot-outs and non-lethal bombings, poisoning, arson, assaults,
etc.), certainly this list includes ones (such as People’s Temple and Aum Shinrikyo) that we all know
(see Appendix). If, however, we use a broader, more comprehensive definition of
violence—the use of force or its threat, causing harm or abuse—then
the list of violent, newer religions is uncountable. Now we must identify
groups that allow or at least facilitate the following: corporal punishment;
medical neglect or assault (Asser and Swan 1998; Swan 1998); spousal violence;
punitive dietary restrictions; exhausting work regimes; private, demanding
re-education and punishment programs (Kent 2001); sexual assaults; emotional
battering; and socio-political terrorism. Significant about the more widely
drawn lists of violence in these religions is how many of the acts of religious
aggression resemble, in varying degrees, what we know goes on within violent
Several reasons suggest why an
examination of family violence literature might provide key insights into
predicting violence among some religions. Both types of
organizations—violent families and abusive religions—tend to be
“somewhat detached from a society with which they are at tension ... and
charismatically led. Intense relations, intimate face-to-face interaction,
social isolation, and a dynamic of powerful leaders and dependent followers all
provide the context for familial styles of coercion” (Cartwright and Kent
1992:351) and violence associated with radicalized religions. Indeed, a leading
expert on family violence, David Finkelhor, used
language to describe domestic violence that closely resembles what
‘cult-critics’ say about abusive religions:
All forms of family abuse seem to occur in the context
of psychological abuse and exploitation, a process victims sometimes describe
as ‘brainwashing.’ Victims are not merely exploited or physically
injured: their abusers use their power and family connection to control and
manipulate victims’ perceptions of reality as well (Finkelhor
not wishing to ignore the exemplary work that many religions do for peace and
life-enhancement, we also must acknowledge that some religions have, at their
core, an intimate relationship between what Renee Girard called “violence
and the sacred” (Girard 1972).
family violence literature is vast, with various models seeking to explain the
use of force and coercion in the home or between intimates. One theoretical
formulation, however, that seems especially apt when drawing analogies to
violent religious danger appeared in 2000, when Kenneth G. Roy proposed
“a set of conditions for the four levels of human behavior—intrapsychic, interpersonal, intragroup,
and intergroup—that are [sic]
necessary, but not sufficient in and of themselves, to determine the expression
of violent behavior” (Roy 2000:389). Drawing from recent, prominent
studies on violence, Roy showed how each of these four levels (or domains, as I prefer to call them ) of human behavior often contains
conditions that enhanced the likelihood of violence. This likelihood escalates
in a ‘value-added’ fashion (Smelser
1962:13-14) as circumstances develop from individual (i.e., intrapsychic)
conditions to intergroup interactions. I propose that a refined and adapted
version of Roy’s model is useful in evaluating the danger posed by
religious groups of whatever age or lineage. Although the four domains overlap
to some degree as one examines the complexities of conflict (Sapsford 1998:69, 71), this model allows me to draw upon
family-violence literature at crucial junctures. It also allows me to refer to
other key concepts from the social sciences (such as social-movements theory)
when the issues warrant.
Typically, social scientists have
examined issues such as intergroup violence WITHOUT looking at issues related
to the leader. So, for example,
sociologists have studied intergroup violence by examining access to weapons,
outside support, historical ideologies of social change, etc. One can do such
analyses within any of the four "domains" and not necessarily trace
how the biopsychosocial issues around the
leader/founder come into play. The model presented here adapts Roy's model to
sociological concepts by drawing attention to the vital role of the leader in
[SK3]I. Intrapsychic or Biopsychosocial Contributors to Religious Dangers
Many predictions about subsequent
danger in social settings begin with analyses of psychiatric and psychosocial
factors among key players—factors that Roy calls intrapsychic but that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders (DSM) calls biopsychosocial (American[ML4] Psychiatric Association, DSM-IV, [SK5][SK6]1994:25;
see also Pilgrim 2002). These factors, especially ones related to childhood,
can provide foundational experiences whose lessons last a lifetime. Some of
these experiences will stem from interaction with the social environment;
others are complexly connected to biophysiological
conditions. These factors limit or frame what many people can experience or
understand, and the restrictions that they impose carry into adulthood. During
any life stage, substance abuse further complicates people’s
personalities, including their ability to express and cope with feelings such
as anger, disappointment, and shame. As Roy concluded about the importance of
(what he called) intrapsychic factors and their
potential contribution to violence:
...regardless of the biological or psychological system
to which one ascribes, it is clear that a person must end up with a reasonably
integrated sense of self that allows for reasonable goal-directed thinking and
acting. Most important, one must have the intrapsychic
mechanisms for resolving anger so that one is not left with a pool of anger
that does not dissipate. If not, the person always has a pool of anger that can
be tapped. This [pool of anger] is the first favorable condition needed for the
development of extremely violent behavior (Roy 2000:395).
Central to the role that
psychiatric and psychosocial dysfunction can contribute to violence are factors
that “may further compromise an individual’s ability to have an
integrated sense of self and effective mechanisms for resolving anger”
A. Mental Illnesses
Roy (2000:394) mentioned both
“genetic/biological conditions” and “alcohol and drugs”
as culprits, which (separately or in combination) occasionally play crucial
roles as either disinhibiting or catalyzing factors
in religious settings of violence. Despite some academic attempts to minimize
the connections between “organizational outcomes” and “the
personality of a single individual” in a leadership position (Melton and
Bromley 2002:47), scholarship has made those connections for several groups
(Stark and Bainbridge 1985:174-176).
Sometimes that scholarship has
linked theologically sanctioned violence in or by groups to intrapyschic
conditions of leaders, even to some conditions that first appeared in the
leaders’ childhoods or adolescent periods. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, for
example, demonstrated narcissistic characteristics (beginning in childhood)
that infused his group’s theology and facilitated some of its violence
(Clarke 1988; Oakes 1997:53-54). The leader of Heaven’s Gate, Marshall
Applewhite, demonstrated schizophrenic symptoms in combination with deep sexual
confusion (Hall with Schuyler and Trinh 2000:150; Raine
In Submission). Another leader, David Berg (of the
Children of God/The Family), experienced harsh corporal punishment, oral sex
performed by a female adult, and childhood shame over sex. Together, these
experiences translated into group policies during Berg’s adulthood that
fostered various forms of physical and sexual assaults against women and
children (Kent 1994a; 1994b; Kent 2001; Kent and Hall 2000). Indeed, Berg’s
adult sexual behaviour strongly suggests that he was
a nonexclusive heterosexual pedophile (American Psychiatric Association
1994:527-528), as also likely was David Koresh (Breault
and King 1993:62-64, 72-73, 78-81, 90-92; Thibodeau
and Whiteson 1999:109, 113-114).
Several years before the tragedy
at Jonestown, Guyana, a psychiatric examination of Jim Jones determined that he
was “‘paranoid with delusions of grandeur’” (Reiterman and Jacobs 1982:262). Speculative diagnoses of
Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, include “anti-social
personality” (Atack 1990: 371-372) and manic
depressive with paranoid tendencies (Atack 1990:371;
Miller 1987:166, 175-176; Oakes 1997:67), but by my reading he was most likely
an individual with a combination of paranoia and narcissism (see Atack, 1990: 372). Anne Hamilton-Byrne, the Australian
leader of a group (called The Family or the Great White Brotherhood) who
brutally trained children whom she believed “would continue her cult
after the earth was consumed by a holocaust” (Hamilton-Byrne 1995:1),
showed symptoms of psychosis (possibly some form of schizophrenia). According
to a medical doctor who had been the subject (as a child and teenager) of
Hamilton-Byrne’s training, “her thoughts skip and derail, she
seldom finishes a sentence and she has fantastic and grandiose delusions”
(Hamilton-Byrne 1995:110). The doctor noted that her odd speech patterns were
“just like some of the psychotic patients I spoke with when I was on
psychiatry rotation during my medical course” (Hamilton-Byrne 1995:111).
B. Drugs and Alcohol
Similar associations between some
leaders of groups involved in forms of violence also exist with drugs
(including alcohol). David Berg remained a group leader during periods of alcoholism
(Berg 1982), and the volatile founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, reputedly
abused a wide variety of drugs and alcohol (Atack
1990:119, 131, 171, 274; Corydon and Hubbard 1987:300, 303; Hubbard
1980:123-124; Miller 1987:266). The leader of Love Israel became a cocaine
addict (Balch 1988:207-208, 212). So, too, did the heavy drinker, Hyo Jin Moon, thought to have been in line to assume his
father’s leadership position in the Unification Church (Hong 1998:169,
175, 177). In the latter case, his substance abuse contributed to extremely
violent behaviour toward his wife, who finally had to
flee at night for fear of losing her life. Trungpa Rinpoche’s drunkenness facilitated violence among his
followers and associates (Investigative Poetry Group 1977; Marin 1979), and
Canada’s Roch Theriault
operated on his followers when he was roaring drunk, castrating one follower,
disemboweling another, and amputating the arm of a third (Kaihla
and Laver 1993:18-19, 39, 44-45, 112, 155-156, 209, 211, 220, 221, 225, 263,
265, 276, 290, 294). In Guyana, Jim Jones created a surreal, abusive (and
ultimately deadly) world as his mental health deteriorated amidst his
consumption of “injectable Valium, Quaaludes,
uppers, [and] barbiturates” (Reiterman with
Jacobs, 1982:446). Aum Shinrikyo’s
founder, Shoko Asahara, “sampled the initial
batches of his group’s production of LSD” (Brackett 1996:98).
C. Religious Irrationality
Beyond, however, instances of personality
dysfunction among some leaders of violent groups, secularists may argue that
the central culprit in so many cases of violence is religion itself (See van Uden and Pieper 1996:50). Like people, sometimes the gods
are crazy, and in a divinely (mis)attributed
craziness, people can, and do, hurt and sometimes kill themselves and others.
Religiously driven suicide is the most sombre
example, which we all know about in groups such as People’s Temple, Order
of the Solar Temple, Heaven’s Gate, and (at least in some cases) the
Branch Davidians. We must not forget, however,
less-well-known examples of much the same thing—anorexic starvation among
the Breatharians (Walker and O’Reilly 1999);
self-immolations among Buddhist, Catholic, and Quaker dissidents during the
Vietnam War (Zaroulis and Sullivan 1984:1-5) and
several protesting Falun Gong members in China (Chang, 2004:16-19, 21, 104;
Page 2002 – although some claim these were staged by the government [Xie & Zhu, 2004]); and extreme Jain monks who view
“the ideal mode of death as being a form of highly controlled wasting
away through fasting [sallekhana]”
(Dundas 1992:155). All of these forms of violence
against the self bear some resemblance to contemporary suicide bombers, yet the
latter’s goals include the infliction of death and destruction upon
others as well as themselves (Juergensmeyer
Less dramatic, but oftentimes no
less deadly, are people who deny themselves (and often their loved ones)
medical treatments on religious grounds. Ordinarily, one would not think of
groups such as the Christian Scientists (Fraser 1999:416-435) or
Jehovah’s Witnesses (Williams 1987:116-209) as fostering violence, but
the denial of appropriate medical treatment can kill just as easily as can a
weapon or a fist. Sometimes researchers are able to trace these medical denials
to the peculiar psychologies of groups’ leaders; for example, the founder
of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, probably was paranoid and literally
afraid of medical treatment (Fraser 1999:26, 103, 107-108). Regardless,
however, of the cause or religious rationale behind such denials, often the
consequences are dire. In its worst manifestations, religion itself can foster
violence to the extent that it subverts “higher reasoning to help offset
the more primitive focus on sex and aggression”
(Roy 2000:394-395) or, I would add, self-preservation. It does so, in many
instances, by substituting faith for reason and obedience for questioning. To
support this claim, one need not rely only upon Karl Marx’s quip about
religion being “the opium of the people” (Marx 1964:42; see van Uden and Pieper 1996:44), since the less offensive
observations of Max Weber will do. In his 1915 essay on “Religious
Rejections of the World and Their Directions,” Weber observed,
“[t]here is absolutely no ‘unbroken’ religion working as a
vital force which is not compelled at some
point to demand the credo non quod sed quia absurdum—the
sacrifice of the intellect” (Weber 1915:352). Now
one should object immediately by pointing out that billions of people believe
in faiths, and most of them never show violent tendencies. But for people whose
cognitive capacities are dulled or compromised by biogenetic imbalances,
social-psychological stressors, chemical alterations, or aggressive theologies,
violence may (and often does) flare up. When it flares up in religious
contexts, the results can be especially severe.
II. Interpersonal Contributors to
A. Mental Illnesses
debilitations likely will hinder interpersonal relationships. Roy emphasizes
that (what he calls) “a pool of anger” within some individuals can
poison their ability to socially interact (Roy 2000:394-395), but mental and
personality disorders also inhibit people’s ability to enter into social
exchanges. Psychopaths or sociopaths (probably like Charles Manson) have no
consciences and lack the ability to feel empathy (American Psychiatric
Association 1994:645-650; Emmons 1986:202; Sanders 1989:12), while narcissists
demand asymmetrical, constant adulation (American Psychiatric Association
1994:658-662). Schizophrenics distort social and personal reality, and interact
according to delusional notions about themselves and others’
relationships to them (see American Psychiatric Association 1994:287). Manic
depression (now called bipolar disorder) involves “a chronic pattern of
unpredictable mood episodes and fluctuating, unreliable interpersonal or
occupational functioning” (American Psychiatric Association 1994:359).
Paranoids, of course, demonstrate “a pattern of pervasive distrust and
suspiciousness of others such that their motives are interpreted as
malevolent.... [They] assume that other people will exploit,
harm, or deceive them, even if no evidence exists to support their
expectation” (American Psychiatric Association 1994:634).
Even among groups whose leaders
lack demonstrations of diagnosable mental-health problems, the social distance
between leaders and followers facilitates violence by diminishing leader
accountability. Moreover, groups sanctify that social distance through divine
claims. Gurus, reputedly enlightened masters, and religious virtuosi of all
types claim special spiritual gifts that set them apart from others (at least
when others accept their claims). Removed from the flock, these charismatic
leaders can direct, facilitate, or justify violence, making divine or
transcendent assertions that few can challenge but all must accept. If leaders
become deified, then followers get diminished, and it is easier to strike out
at one’s underlings than it is against one’s peers or superiors.
Said succinctly about family violence but also applicable to religion,
“abuse tends to gravitate toward the relationships of greatest power differential” (Finkelhor 1983:18, italics in original).
B. Shared Drug Experiences
If mental illnesses and social
distances distort the ways in which some leaders relate to followers, then
shared drug experiences create even more complex interpersonal dynamics that
often contribute to violence. Drugs alter (among other things) judgment,
cognition, and sensation, so people under their influence may engage in actions
that they otherwise would avoid. Likewise, they also may adopt the
interpretations about their altered consciences that their leaders provide
about them, thereby relinquishing considerable autonomy to persons whose mental
and emotional stabilities themselves may be questionable. Numerous examples of
these patterns come to mind.
The late yuppie guru, Dr.
Frederick Lenz (also known as Zen Master Rama), took LSD himself but also gave
it to his students. One student among the ten or so to whom Lenz provided the
drug on one occasion subsequently recalled that several hours after their trips
called us to the living room
and began to talk. And talk. And talk. I tried to understand how his words were
affecting us. I thought in terms of computers. I decided that he had rebooted
us with LSD and now, as we were coming down, he was downloading his wordy
operating system to our unformatted, receptive minds. ‘He’s
formatting us like floppy disks!’ I thought (Laxer 1993:143).
On different occasions,
apparently Lenz gave other members LSD and then harangued them about being
“possessed by demons and entities” (Butler 1987: see Okerblom 1988:B8). While on LSD himself (and dressed in
yellow rain gear), Lenz spent an hour supposedly cleansing water-like demons
out of a follower’s basement (Senders and Moloney
1988:24). Eventually, however, Lenz’s own paranoid demons overtook him,
and in early 1998 he convinced a female student and lover to commit suicide
with him by drug overdose. (He ingested 150 Valiums and drowned, but his lover
survived despite having swallowed 50 [SK7][ML8]Valiums
and 45 Phenobarbitals [Konigsberg 1998:22]).
Lenz was notorious for sleeping
with female followers (Motoyama 1992:12), but it is
not clear whether he combined sex with LSD. Charles Manson, of course, did. For
a period of time, he gave his followers the drug several times a week over
several months (Faith 2001:111, 113), often amidst orgies (Bugliosi
with Gentry 1974:236-237), and. at least in one instance. a
mock crucifixion ceremony in which he was Jesus (Sanders 1989:86-87). Few of
his followers likely knew that “when Manson passed out the LSD, he always
took a smaller dose than the others.” Presumably he did so “to
retain control over his own mental faculties” so that he could
“instill his philosophies, exploit weaknesses and fears, and extract promises
and agreements from his followers” (Bugliosi
with Gentry 1974:237).
Manson did not limit the drugs
that his he and his followers abused simply to LSD—he gave them marijuana
and peyote whenever they were available. Indeed, his abuse of amphetamines may
have contributed to the violent rampage that his followers undertook (under his
orders) in 1969 (Faith 2001:115). Although he introduced LSD to some of his
followers, others had taken it well before meeting him (Bugliosi
with Gentry 1974:235, 483). Members of another group, Love Israel, also had
psychedelic histories before joining, but their leader introduced them to a
drug that almost certainly was new to them all—a solvent called toluene
(or what the leader called ‘tell-u-all’). Even after two of his followers
died from the fumes, Love and other leaders continued to advocate the sniffing
practice as a means of inducing visions (Balch 1988:192; Israel, Israel, and
Looking at yet another group
leader, Shoko Asahara’s visions during his
first LSD trip were so dramatic that, when he came down from it, he declared,
“This is excellent,” even though he had wet his pants while on the
acid (Brackett 1996:98; Kaplan and Marshall 1996:162-163). Soon LSD was one of
“an illicit pharmacy of hallucinogens, stimulants, and other psychoactive
drugs” that his organization produced (Kaplan and Marshall 1996:163), and
members by the thousands experienced the mind alterations caused by LSD. He, of
course, benefited greatly from these trips, because the members misattributed
the vivid colors and perceptual distortions “to the mystical power of Asahara’s training” (Kaplan and Marshall
The leader of Australia’s
Great White Brotherhood, Anne Hamilton-Byrne, had a similar goal of
misattribution behind her “religious ritual” of giving LSD to her
teenaged followers. One former member, who was a fourteen-year-old when the
leader gave her LSD, subsequently surmised that part of the reason that the
leader subjected her young followers to these trips was that
[i]t was also meant to make
the spiritual bonding easier between the Master and the disciple. You were
supposed to recognize Anne as the ‘one true Master,’ Christ
incarnate. She would come in to people when they were under [the effects of
LSD] and ask, ‘Do you know who I am?’ The correct answer was
‘The Lord Incarnate.’ The incorrect answer meant you weren’t
working hard enough (Hamilton-Byrne 1995:143).
These and other examples show how
leaders’ abuses of various drugs can have direct and damaging
consequences for members, especially when those leaders facilitate, and usually
direct, the experiences that the members have while on them.
C. Trusted, Fictive Families and Abuse
Related to the hierarchical,
asymmetrical social structure is the frequent pattern of alternative (and some
traditional) religions to use familial terms to describe members and their
relationships. Called ‘fictive families,’ groups often speak of
leaders in parental terms and followers as children (in relation to leaders)
and siblings (in relation to one another). Violence researchers realize,
however, how dangerous family dynamics can be, so what frequently occurs in
religions whose members portray themselves as fictive families is that these
members engage in acts of intrapersonal exploitation and violence roughly
analogous to actions that occur in real family settings (Cartwright and Kent
Unfortunately, among the acts of
interpersonal exploitation that sometimes occur in families and hierarchical
religions are various forms of child abuse. Innocent adults trust the fictively
parental members in the hierarchy (Shupe 1995:29),
while a few of those trusted members use their relatively unmonitored positions
within the hierarchy to gain access to children and youth. Religious scandals
involving sexual assaults against children now plague numerous religious
communities, including Catholicism, the Hare Krishnas,
and the ministries of some Protestant preachers (such as the convicted
pedophile Tony Leyva, who admitted to having sexually
abused as many as 100 teens but whose actual number many have been closer to
800). As one of Leyva’s victims lamented,
“‘He was a preacher, and that means he was a man of God, and the
atmosphere felt true’” (Smothers 1988:A2). In any social setting,
religious or otherwise, children are at unnecessary risk for suffering sexual
abuse when left alone with unmonitored adults, and pedophiles have used trusted
religious hierarchies and positions to gain access to victims.
D. Sexism, Patriarchalism,
and Corporal Punishment
Sexism, which occurs in many (but
by no means all) groups, facilitates sexual assaults against women and
contributes to the crushing poverty—an often-neglected form of
violence—in which some families live. Looking globally at the combination
of sexism and poverty, the abusive religious arrangement that epitomizes
violence against poor women is the devadasi, or
temple prostitution system in India. Impoverished families sell their daughters
to temples that in turn hire them out to male clients in what may be the
world’s largest child- and female-prostitution ring (Barry 1995:181-184).
An additional interpersonal
facilitator of violence within some religions is the imposition of corporal
punishment at early ages. Fictive families, as well as families within mainstream
Western societies, often resort to ‘the rod’ or the hand to
discipline children. The long-term consequences are enormous for the victims
who are hit and the society in which they mature. For the victims—the
recipients of the punishment—“[r]esearch
over the past 40 years [has] been remarkably consistent in showing that hitting
children increases the chances of a child becoming physically aggressive,
delinquent, or both.... [C]orporal
punishment leaves invisible scars that affect many other aspects of life”
(Straus 1994:186). It also “reflects a deep but rarely perceived
cultural approval of violence to correct many types of wrongs” (Straus
Specifically writing about
corporal punishment in Christian religious settings, Philip Greven
identified a litany of negative consequences on young victims, all of which
have dramatic implications for assessing risk posed by religious groups. These
negative consequences for corporal-punishment victims frequently include the
creation of: anxiety and fear, anger and hate, apathy and the stifling of
empathy, melancholy and depression, obsessiveness and
rigidity, ambivalent feelings of love and hate toward the perpetrators,
dissociative states, paranoia, attraction to sadomasochism, authoritarianism,
and propensities toward domestic violence (Greven
1991:121-204). A specific religious consequence of religiously sanctioned
corporal punishment is the creation of what Greven
called “the apocalyptic impulse,” which he described as
“anticipating the end of this world and the inauguration of the new
millennium” (Greven 1991:204). Clearly,
therefore, any attempt to assess and predict danger from religions must factor
in whether they utilize corporal punishment in child-rearing. To the extent
that they do, then their members, especially those reared within these groups,
may have a propensity toward apocalyptic violence that stems from the violence
they already have known firsthand.
Contributors to Religious Dangers
Just as biopsychosocial
issues can increase the likelihood of violence manifesting in interpersonal
relations, so too can difficulties in interpersonal relations affect the
likelihood of violence in exchanges between individuals and groups. Initial
insights into these conditions for the likelihood of radicalized religious
violence take their lead from Roy’s work on teen violence, but the
infusion of religion into our analysis makes the conditions more complex. Roy
offered that the probability of violence increased under two conditions[ML9]:
people feel alienated from groups (and react against them with anger), or they
align with groups that have violent norms (Roy 2000:396). The basis for these
claims is Roy’s belief that people (especially teens) may lash out at a
group which [SK11]they
feel has excluded or humiliated them, but they also may commit violence simply
by following the norms of a group that is violent but which fulfills their
needs for belonging, friendship, and self-esteem. While certainly these
insights have some bearing on the issue of assessing groups for their potential
risks, the infusion of religious ideology into (especially volatile) intragroup settings makes risk assessment much more
Adding to group volatility, of
course, is the fact that the content of the religious ideology—and the
social structure that reinforces it—likely reflects the imbalances of the
charismatic leader. Put simply, many charismatic leaders have unrecognized biopsychosocial disorders, and they create theologies based
upon them. These theologies contain the usual secular rewards that most groups
offer—possibilities for friendship, status, purposiveness,
and so on, but also ‘heavenly’ rewards involving enlightenment,
salvation, closeness to God, and the like. Equally important as human
motivators are the secular and spiritual punishments within these
theologies—shunning, costly rehabilitation programs, dire warnings about
hell and damnation. The charismatic leaders, however, place themselves within
these reward and punishment systems either as godly arbiters who assign the
rewards and punishments or as the god-figures themselves. In either situations,
the theologies replicate, in significant degrees, the biopsychosocial
dysfunctions of the leaders. As increasing numbers of people misattribute biopsychosocial dysfunction as proof of a guru’s
charismatic connections to the divine (see Proudfoot
and Shaver 1975; Kent 1994b), they become adherents or followers who staff
social structures that attempt to maintain and further the dysfunctional
worldviews. Dysfunctional leaders and their followers, therefore, become
codependents. The followers believe that they need their teachers’
messages for access to desirable proffered rewards in this life and ‘the
next,’ while the leaders need the followers to translate their worldviews
into secular structures that undertake social action. To the extent that these
worldviews, structures, and actions embody the paranoia, narcissism, delusions,
and/or sexual dysfunctions and idiosyncrasies of group leaders, they are
especially unstable and open to internal and external criticism.
As individuals come to categorize
themselves as devotees or followers of particular teachers, they accentuate or
emphasize either people or things that they perceive to be similar and people
or things that they perceive to be different. According to
self-categorization theory in social psychology, this
categorization-accentuation process “highlights intergroup
discontinuities, ultimately renders experience of the world subjectively
meaningful, and identifies those aspects which are relevant to action in a
particular context” (Hogg, Terry and White 1995:261). One aspect
of this categorization process is that “[p]eople
are essentially ‘depersonalized’: they are perceived as, are
reacted to, and act as embodiments of the relevant in-group prototype rather
than as unique individuals” (Hogg, Terry and White 1995:261). When
something happens to one or more members that shifts group categorization of
them from the in group to the out group, the remaining in-group members have
clear and immediate targets for hostility and aggression. Such shifts in categorization
may come about through a number of ways, initiated by leaders’ alteration
of doctrines, internal scapegoating over a group
failure, internal power realignments among inner-circle elites, schisms (which
may involve numerous ‘defectors’), or members’ inability to
continue the high costs of membership. Regardless of the reasons, however, an
out-group categorization gives in-group members a clear and direct target
against which they can enhance their own sense of similarity and solidarity,
sometimes through acts of violence.
A. Violence Resulting from
People’s Alienation from Groups
Particularly visible targets for
in-group members are clusters of former associates who now define themselves as
the true bearers of the master’s teachings. Although former believers who
depart silently may present a challenge to remaining members if those members
believe in the universality of their teacher’s message, a direct
challenge comes from former members who still claim allegiance to the spiritual
master but assert that their way is the true path. These people are schismatics, and members of the original group must silence
them because potentially they can “proselytize among actual or potential
adherents of that group” (Coser 1974:109).
Keeping in mind that many new religions form as schisms from existing faiths
(Stark and Bainbridge 1985:101-107), issues about hostile, violent, or
otherwise aggressive interactions between the old and new groups become indices
of danger. All of the issues that motivate division and
divisiveness—money, authority, legitimacy, property, doctrine,
leadership-personality, and so on—amplify as participants interpret them
through religious hues, and danger increases as the stakes rise and the
disputants each claim God as their guide. Under these circumstances,
shunning—acting as if the other party were dead—may be a
comparatively mild response, given that court action and even interpersonal
violence occasionally will occur. Rarely do disputes turn into gun battles, but
such battles indicate a willingness on the part of the disputants to translate
sectarian disputes into deadly confrontations.
B. Violence after Alignment with Groups
and/or Traditions That Have Violent Norms
As far back as 1971, social
scientists have realized that previously nonviolent individuals may become
violent when they expect that their social roles call for it. In that year,
psychologists at Stanford University cut short (after six days) what was to
have been a two-week experiment in which college students enacted various
social roles found in prison. Within days, some of the players become
increasingly aggressive, violent, and sadistic. Reflecting upon the findings of
that study, two of its designers concluded that it
demonstrated the power of
situations to overwhelm psychologically normal, healthy people and to elicit
from them unexpectedly cruel, yet ‘situationally
appropriate’ behavior. In many instances during our study, the
participants’ behavior (and our own) directly contravened personal value
systems and deviated dramatically from past records of conduct. This behavior
was elicited by the social context and roles we created, and it had painful,
even traumatic consequences for the prisoners against whom it was directed
(Haney and Zimbardo 1998).
The analogy to what can happen
when psychologically healthy and normal people become involved in violent
religions is obvious. After groups establish norms that
condone violence, and create social positions or roles to enact it (and often
do so under their leaders’ directions), many formerly nonviolent people
will rise to the occasion and commit acts of aggression or abuse.
Although I do not wish to initiate a debate about the guilt or vulnerability of
persons involved in complex and often disturbing court cases, neither Charles
Manson’s ‘girls’ (Faith 2001:27-33, 88-90), Patty Hearst, nor
the American Taliban fighter, John Walker Lindh, had
histories of violence until they became involved with violent groups. For what
it is worth, at Walker Lindh’s sentencing
hearing on October 4, 2001, he reflected, “‘...had I realized then
what I know now ... I would never have joined them’” (Cable News
Nothing better illustrates this
ethic of learned, group-contextual violence than an examination of key members
of Aum Shinrikyo, who
followed the orders of their guru, Shoko Asahara, in
a series of killings that culminated in the sarin gas
attack on the Tokyo subway in March 1995. Summing up the kinds of young people
who became involved with Aum and its murderous
practices, journalists David E. Kaplan and Andrew Marshall concluded:
...many were students of the sciences or technical
fields like engineering. More than a few were otaku, Japan’s version of computer nerds—techno-freaks
who spent their free time logged onto electronic networks and amassing data of
every type. They were inevitably described as quiet kids, with little apparent
interest in the outside world. They spent what free time they had absorbed in
their comics and their computers (Kaplan and Marshall 1996:26-27).
Nothing in their backgrounds
would suggest that some of them would become killers and chemical terrorists.
The best explanation for their participation in violence is that they devoted
themselves to a leader, Asahara, whose aggressive
paranoia about an apocalypse played itself out through the organization that he
built (Brackett 1996:98).
C. Group Alienation from Disaffected,
Former Members: Stalking
While it remains true that a
person who is alienated from a group may lash out violently in an act of revenge,
and a group may do the same toward a schismatic competitor, evidence indicates
that often when radicalized group members strike out against targets, those
targets are former members. In other words, apostates who now feel alienation
from the groups to which they had belonged may become targets of violence by
the remaining members who feel threatened by their defections, concerned about
the knowledge that the defectors may have about group operations, and worried
about the complaints to civil authorities that the defectors may be making.
Even though these persons have left the immediate membership of their former
groups, the groups themselves still consider these people as legitimate targets
for their social-control efforts through harassments and retaliations.
We need not be reminded, for
example, that a defector was among the first people killed on the tarmac at
Jonestown (Reiterman and Jacobs 1982:517-518,
530-531), and the first victims of the Solar Temple deaths were a disaffected
couple who had access to the leaders’ secrets, along with their infant
son (Hall with Schuyler and Trinh 2000:112, 139-140). Former members of Ervil LeBarron’s Church of
the Firstborn (a fundamentalist Mormon group) died in murders directed by the
leader, some deaths even occurring after he was dead (Chynoweth and Shapiro
1990:3-5, 148); and a vocal critic on the fringes of the Kirtanananda
branch of the Hare Krishnas was shot, stabbed, and
had his head bashed in (Hubner and Gruson 1988:18). Synanon sent out
members of a “goon squad” (i.e., a group of thugs) to silence
critics and defectors (Gerstel 1982:263-264;
Mitchell, Mitchell, and Ofshe 1980:168, 169-171,
180), and Aum Shinrikyo
killed the elderly brother of a defector in a failed interrogation to determine
where his sister was (Brackett 1996:121-123; Kaplan and Marshall 1996:227-229).
Scientology had a written policy
in place (dated October 18, 1967), specifically applied to troublesome former
members and other critics, which stated that a member whom the organization
declared an “enemy” was “Fair game. May be deprived of
property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of
the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed” (Hubbard
1967). Its originator was Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard; and when
he cancelled the “fair game” policy a year later, he did so because
“[i]t causes bad public relations.” He
added, however, that this supposed cancellation actually “does not cancel
any policy on the treatment or handling” of a person attempting to hinder
or harm Scientology (Hubbard 1968). During that and subsequent years, Scientology appears to have applied
the “fair game” doctrine to numerous troublesome defectors and
critics (Breckenridge 1984a; Hubbard 1968; Kent 2003).
Drawing another analogy to the
family-violence literature, the manner in which some groups attack former
members parallels how some abusive former partners stalk their estranged
companions (Sheridan, Davies, and Boon 2001). Neither the abusive group leaders
nor the abusive former partners can stand the loss of power represented by the
defections—by persons formerly under their control but now ostensibly out
from under it. Among, for example, the different types of family abuse, “they seem to be acts carried out by abusers
to compensate for their perceived lack of or loss of power” (Finkelhor 1983:19 [italics in original]). So, too, is it
the same for types of abuse by some groups toward persons who have left their
flock. Moreover, some of the power that defectors can have over leaders is
"inside knowledge"—knowledge about life as a member that may
reveal realities that persons holding group power would prefer to keep quiet.
Sometimes, therefore, group leaders and/or members attempt retaliations to
frighten and intimidate; other times, they kill. A strong predictor, therefore,
about the danger posed by a religion is the manner in which it deals with
former members, especially ones who turn into critics.
IV. Intergroup Contributors to Religious
Somewhat cryptically, Roy
(2000:398) states that “feeling alienated from and persecuted by other
groups aid the development of violence.” Presumably because of that
[g]roup members are unable to
enter into superordinate goals with people from other
groups. Superordinate goals require the cooperation
of people from different groups to accomplish a goal. Without superordinate goals, conflict between groups can escalate
Although sociologists might
dispute these statements as absolute truths—for example, controversial
‘religious’ groups have worked together on the superordinate
goal of fighting perceived opponents—they nonetheless allow researchers
to connect group conflict with group structures and ideologies that reflect the
biospsychosocial issues of many group leaders.
Among the clearest attempts to
connect the mentality of a leader with potentially dangerous group conflict
appeared in a 1984 court decision against Scientology. In his “Memorandum
of Intended Decision,” California Superior Judge Paul Breckenridge, Jr.,
concluded that the Scientology
organization clearly is
schizophrenic and paranoid, and this bizarre combination seems to be a
reflection of its founder LRH [L. Ron Hubbard]. The evidence portrays a man who
has been virtually a pathological liar when it comes to his history,
background, and achievements. The writings and documents in evidence
additionally reflect his egoism, greed, avarice, lust for power, and
vindictiveness and aggressiveness against persons perceived by him to be
disloyal or hostile.... Obviously, he is and has been a very complex person,
and that complexity is further reflected in his alter ego, the Church of
Scientology (Breckenridge 1984b:7-8).
While part of the "diagnosis"
that Breckenridge gave almost certainly was incorrect (Hubbard was far more
likely to have been bipolar with paranoid tendencies or narcissistic than
schizophrenic), the connection that the judge made between the mind of the
founder and Scientology’s organization and its aggressive policies rings
true. He reached these conclusions in a case in which the organization had
"fair gamed" former member Gerald Armstrong, and Breckenridge saw a
direct connection between Hubbard’s paranoia and the organization’s
reaction to someone whom leaders perceived to be an enemy.
Scientology applies the same
"fair game" policy to organizations, including governments, against
which it struggles. As the author of a review of Scientology’s litigation
strategies concluded, “[m]uch to the
Church’s chagrin, opponents frequently cite its own founder, L. Ron
Hubbard, for the ‘fair game doctrine,’ a revealing statement that
may explain the ferocity and zeal of the organization’s litigation
stance” (Kumar 1997:748). While providing examples of that ferocity
against individuals, the author (J.P. Kumar) also reported that
Scientology’s application of fair game “can frustrate the largest
of adversaries. Large media defendants and multinational
corporations have learned that even a successful battle against the Church is
something of a Pyrric victory after the costs of
litigation are tallied” (Kumar 1997:750). Even the American
government has experienced the force of Scientology’s
“hardball” tactics (Kumar 1997:747-748). Persons suffering from
paranoid personality disorder often are “litigious and frequently become
involved in legal disputes” (American Psychiatric Association 1994:635),
but this characteristic also fits the organizational alter ego of
Other examples of (what appears
to be) organizational paranoia that originated in the minds of leaders have led
to dire consequences. Jim Jones’s paranoia escalated (with fatal
consequences) when some members tried to defect and leave with visiting
Congressman Leo Ryan, and the assassination squad that killed five members of
the departing party foreshadowed the mass murder and killing of 913 people that
soon followed in the compound (Reiterman and Jacobs
1982:527-529, 556-560). In yet another group example, by 1994 the apocalyptic
warning of Aum’s leader, Shoko Asahara, led a former foreign correspondent to conclude
that the mindset of that organization “was a classic paranoia in the
making, striking out at an imagined enemy before the enemy has a chance to
strike first” (Brackett 1996:105). In part, a delusional Asahara and Aum leaders saw the sarin attack in the Tokyo subway as a preemptive strike
against enemies (i.e., Japanese and American officials) who were poised to
assault their organization.
Oregon’s Rajneesh community
grew increasingly paranoid in the 1980s, but this paranoia was not necessarily
the direct result of its leader’s narcissism. Ashram leaders’
pattern of frequent lying to officials certainly reflected a behaviour common to narcissistic individuals (Clarke
1988:41-42; Carter 1990:137-139; see American Psychiatric Association
1994:658), but the commune’s paranoia was a response to increasing
challenges from Oregonian officials over the constitutionality of their
settlement as a city (Carter 1990:194). As leaders’ concern grew over Rajneeshpuram’s future, they “appear to have
believed that they could yet secure the commune by desperate tactics. These
took three forms: heightened security, provocative rhetoric, and what appear to
have been initial and tentative attacks on others (later becoming more general
and demonstrable)” (Carter 1990:196). Rajneesh’s narcissism likely
explains the bombastic, incendiary rhetoric that he so often used, and
“[p]erhaps in emulation of the controversial
Bhagwan, Rajneesh leaders tended toward inflammatory rhetoric” as
external pressures and internal weaknesses increased (Carter 1990:198).
Moreover, his narcissism probably explains his laissez-faire attitude toward
ashram management (until moments before its imminent collapse). As long as
devotees idolized him, he essentially stood ‘above’ the mundane
operations of the facility (see Clarke 1988:38-39).
counterattack” is another narcissistic feature (American Psychiatric
Association 1994:659), and certainly this term amply describes the behaviour of many Rajneesh members, especially in the
commune’s final days. In the end, sixty-three Rajneeshees
faced charges on eleven different types of criminal offenses, many of them
directed at perceived opponents both outside and inside the group. These
offences included lying to federal officials, criminal conspiracy, burglary,
racketeering, first-degree arson, second-degree assault, first-degree assault,
and attempted murder. Leaders had carried out the assaults
and attempted murders through poisoning, which included the salmonella
illnesses of some 750 people caused by salad bar contaminations in 1984 (Carter
Paranoia in the Children of
God/The Family organization certainly reflected the attitudes of its founder,
David Berg, but his fears probably were not based in mental disorder but rather
in a realistic appraisal of legal and social consequences he would have had to
face if authorities could have held him accountable for his teachings about
pedophilia and ephebephilia. Many of these teachings
appeared in publications that leaders restricted to trusted disciples, and in
April 1989 Family leadership published an “emergency notice” about
security leaks. It reminded members that “in order to avoid unnecessarily
endangering the Family Homes or members by either antagonizing our enemies with
the New Wine [i.e., Berg’s teachings] or even revealing the methods &
tactics of our spiritual warfare or life style, Dad [i.e., Berg] has laid down
very definite rules & security guidelines for each of our Homes &
Members that receive DO [Disciples Only] lit[erature]” (World Services 1989:1). Despite these
efforts, the material about the “life-style” that Berg encouraged
continued to leak out. The eroticized information about children and teens
sufficiently alarmed government officials around the world (Argentina,
Australia, France, and Spain) about children’s safety that they led a
series of controversial raids against Family homes during the late 1980s and early
1990s. None of these raids led to child-abuse convictions, which has allowed
the Family and many supportive academics to condemn these actions as an
unfortunate consequence of anti-cult propaganda (see, for example, Richardson
1999:179, 182-183). However poorly conceived and executed many of these raids
appear to have been, the fact remains that authorities who encountered
Berg’s teachings about child sexual abuse felt compelled to act. Having
obtained various copies of the Family’s more explicit publications and
videos, child-welfare agents in various countries would have been negligent in
their duties if they had not removed children from the care of adult Family
members. Rather than laying blame on the shoulders of the group’s
opponents, therefore, for the Family’s government confrontations, the
final responsibility for them must rest upon Berg himself.
In these and numerous other
cases, groups’ abilities to negotiate with competing contenders for legitimacy
and resources diminish significantly when founding figures have translated
their biopsychosocial dysfunctions into the cultural
ethos of their respective groups. Negotiation becomes exceedingly difficult;
paranoia increases dangerously, and compromise become impossible. In such
cases, the likelihood of violence increases as members feel that they have few
options when trying to protect their groups’ messages. In the domain of
intergroup relations, as in the related domains of intragroup
and interpersonal relationships, biopsychosocial
issues can have a profound impact upon the quality, direction, and content of
social discourse and conflict resolution.
Of course, a biopsychosocial
model that discusses the potential for religious danger must remain, at best,
only partial in its explanatory power. So many items, for example, can interact
with religions, especially in the intergroup domain, that the
‘science’ (or perhaps the skill) of predicting danger becomes
increasingly complex. Factors such as nationalism, ethnicity, gender, resource
availability, and class weave together in complex ways to affect possibilities
of religious danger. Also important are the reactions to these groups by agents
of social control, since groups and authorities can lock themselves in spirals
of deviance amplification and escalation that end tragically. Regardless,
however, of what external, socio-political factors may put pressure on groups,
a significant aspect of members’ responses to these factors likely will
reflect their leaders’ biopsychosocial issues.
These issues have infused the groups’ theologies and impacted previous
social interactions, all of which influence groups’ responses to
perceived outside threats.
Into complex social situations
that reflect national or even global issues, religion can ignite dangerous
social and political issues by adding powder to already explosive situations.
Often, it makes stakeholders less willing to compromise and combatants more
willing to inflict suffering and die in the process. By teaching that all
extremist action gets forgiven (if not rewarded) in heaven, religion can assist
in people refusing to see their own contributions to the creation of hell on
When social scientists discuss
the possibilities of religious danger, they should not forget to consider the biopsychosocial factors of the founders and/or leaders [SK13]at
work in any if not all domains of human behavior that are relevant to the
issues at hand. [SK14]Some
academics, however, have chosen to do so, and this article offers a corrective
against their choices. Complex, frequently troubled personalities interact
amidst rapidly changing, globalized societies, and sometimes those
personalities help shape the actions of hundreds if not thousands of both
innocent and complicitous people caught in their
influence. Yet even on smaller scales, where family violence literature helps
to prepare researchers for interpreting religiously violent situations,
victims may experience the less-noble dimensions of divinely sanctioned human
action. Overemphasizing the extent to which the biopsychosocial
issues of founders and/or leaders heighten the prospects of religious danger is
alarmist, but understating or ignoring their importance is exceedingly unwise.
[SK15]Appendix: Sects, Cults, and New Religions Involved with
Violent Deaths During the Past Four Decades
February 21, 1966, at least three members of the Nation of Islam in
Philadelphia fatally shot Malcolm X, who was critical of the
then-current leader of the organization (Evanzz
‘Family’ killed at least nine people in California between July 27
and August 26, 1969, although the actual number of murders may reach at least
into the thirties (Bugliosi with Gentry,
Between 1975 and 1977, Ervil LeBarron, who was the
leader of a fundamentalist Mormon polygamous group, Church of the Firstborn,
had his followers carry out a series of murders against defectors and perceived
rivals (Chynoweth with Shapiro 1990:145, 147-148, 207-208).
In the Guyana compound named
after Jim Jones, 913 members committed murder/suicides on November 18, 1978,
and five members of Congressman Leo J. Ryan’s entourage were murdered as
they prepared to fly out of the local air strip (Reiterman
with Jacobs 1982:529-531, 571, 579).
On July 31, 1978, self-proclaimed
prophet and leader of an anti-Mormon cult, Immanual
David, committed suicide in a canyon outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. Over a decade earlier, the Mormon church had excommunicated him for “proclaiming that he
was God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, that he had the original Book of
Mormon gold plates in his possession, and that he had received a revelation
that he would someday take over leadership of the church” (Fleisher and
Freedman 1983: 133). Three days later, his wife and seven children went over an
eleventh floor balcony of the hotel in which they were living in Salt Lake.
(Some eyewitnesses said that the widow and mother had to throw the youngest
children over the balcony, but that the older ones and her
jumped.) Only one child lived, but
suffered severe brain damage ( Fleisher and Freedman
On January 18, 1979, police
killed fundamentalist Mormon John Singer on his property in Marion, Utah,
during a failed attempt to arrest him over the schooling of his children
(Fleisher and Freedman 1983: 178-184).
In Singapore, spirit medium
Adrian Lim and two associates were executed for the 1981 ritual murders of two
young children (Fong 1989; John 1992).
In the fall of 1983, Robert Mathews
formed an Aryan terrorist group named the Order, which subsequently murdered a
Denver talk-radio host (Alan Berg) in June 1984 and a police officer in
Missouri in April 1985. Mathews died in a gun battle with police in early
December 1984 (Martinez with Guinther 1988).
Followers of Yahweh Ben Yahweh
(in the Nation of Yahweh) murdered and decapitated a member, whom they
apparently believed was a stool pigeon, in mid-November 1981 (Freedberg 1994:128-133). In late 1983, members killed
another suspicious adherent (Freedberg 1994:156-160),
and other murders followed throughout the mid-1980s (Freedberg
1994:189-190, 202-203, 205, 207-208, 217-218).
On July 24, 1984, Mormon
fundamentalist Daniel Lafferty killed his sister-in-law (Brenda Lafferty) and
fifteen-month-old niece (Erica Lafferty), allegedly after discerning
God’s will that he was to do so (Krakauer 2003).
Two members of the Hare Krishna
sect (based in New Vrindaban, West Virginia) murdered
a fringe member (in 1983), and one of them subsequently (in 1986) killed a
former-member-turned-critic (Hubner and Gruson 1988:17-20, 319).
In Philadelphia, the
“back-to-nature” and anti-technology group MOVE engaged in a gun
battle with police, which ended in the death of eleven members (on May 13,
1985) after police dropped a bomb on the top of the row house (aiming for the
group’s bunker), which burned down the entire block (Assefa
and Wahrhaftig 1988).
Late in 1988, while he was drunk,
Roch Theriault of Ontario
and Quebec, Canada, killed a follower (Kaihla and
Laver 1993: 219-228).
In April 1989, Jeffrey Don
Lundgren, who broke away from the Reformed Latter Day Saints organization,
murdered (with the assistance of his followers) five members of a family that
had drifted away from his teachings (Earley 1991:268,
284-291; Sassé and Widder
During the Spring
of 1989, law enforcement uncovered twelve bodies in a ranch in Matamoros,
Mexico, where drug dealers had killed victims and then used them in Palo Mayombe rites of protection (Kilroy
and Stewart 1990:112; Schutze 1989).
Four federal agents and at least
six members died in a gunfight with the Branch Davidians
on February 28, 1993, followed by the deaths of seventy-four Davidians on April 19 in a building fire (that some leaders
may have started) and related ‘mercy killings’ (Hall with Schuyler
and Trinh. 2000:44).
Seventy-nine members of the Order
of the Solar Temple died in murder-suicides at various times in Quebec, France,
and Switzerland in October 1994, 1995, and 1997, and several members murdered
an apostate couple and their infant son (Hall with Schuyler and Trinh
Members of Aum
Shrinri Kyo released sarin gas on the Tokyo subway on March 20, 1995, killing 12
and injuring 5,510 people (Hall with Schuyler and Trinh 2000:79-80). Some of
the group’s leaders also had been involved in other murders (Brackett
1996:121-123; Kaplan and Marshall 1996:40-43, 274).
Thirty-nine members of
Heaven’s Gate committed suicide on March 22 or 23, 1997, in southern
California (Hall with Schuyler and Trinh 2000:149).
The Movement for the Restoration
of the Ten Commandments of God killed an estimated 780 members at various times
in March 2000 in Uganda (Mayer 2001).
In August 2003, South Korean
investigators discovered that adherents to a sect devoted to a leader named Cho
had killed nine members whom Cho believed questioned his authority. The
group’s main dogma “is that eternal life can be obtained by
observing Cho’s 131 commandments, which include avoiding sexual relations
during marriage. It once had over 3,000
devotees” (Ja-young, 2003).
In early September 2003, five
members of a sect named Superior Universal Alignment were sentenced in a
Brazilian court for having tortured, killed, and mutilated up to 19 boys (whose
ages ranged from 8 to 13) between 1989 and 1983. The female leader of the sect,
Valentina de Andrade, believed that a medium had told
her that “boys born after 1981 were possessed by the devil,” so she
and her followers slit their victims’ wrists, cut out their eyes, and
sliced off their sexual organs (Reuters
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