10 Places Where Cults Find New Members

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The recruitment tactics that cults use to lure in unsuspecting victims are incredibly manipulative. The vast majority of cult recruits are normal people who were tricked into joining a group based on false promises.

A cult isn’t necessarily a religion, either. It can also be a business or political group. The common thread among all cults is that they expects their followers to sacrifice their normal lives in exchange for acceptance into the group. Cult leaders are often charming and charismatic, and they know how to slowly brainwash people into giving up their money and ties with friends and family in exchange for staying in the group. There are a few key places where cults look to find new members.

10. Yoga Classes

Holly Faurot  began taking classes at the Jivamukti yoga studio in New York City in 2007. Holly struggled with an eating disorder, and she was abused during her childhood. Holly felt that yoga helped improve her life so much, that she decided that she wanted to pursue a career as a yoga teacher. She paid the studio $13,000 to begin her training.

Many former students have claimed the Jivamukti studio teach their members to worship their guru. Holly’s guru, a woman named Ruth Lauer-Manenti, made Holly wait on her like she was royalty, and would only answer to the title “Lady Ruth.” Holly claims that she was afraid to say “no” to anything Ruth asked, because she would get very angry. Soon enough, Ruth began sexually assaulting her on a regular basis. Holly eventually sued Ruth, and as more details about the yoga studio became public, people began to realize that it was run like a cult.

Ruth Lauer-Manenti wasn’t just one bad apple in this yoga studio, either. The founders of Jivamukti, David Life and Sharon Gannon, demand a god-like level of respect from their students, as well. In a documentary about the studio, Life proudly admits that he brought his 13-year-old nephew, Jules Febre, to India on a yoga retreat. David forced Jules to wake up at 4:00 a.m. to do yoga, after knowing he only had one hour of sleep. As an adult, Jules was brainwashed enough to follow in the footsteps of Jivamukti Yoga leadership.

9. YouTube

In the age of the internet, you don’t even need to leave your house to be seduced by a cult. In fact, several new cult leaders are reaching new followers through producing content on YouTube.

One woman named Sherry Shriner claims that she is a “Prophet, Ambassador, and Daughter of the Most High.” She uses her YouTube channel and podcast to spread a conspiracy theory that “The New World Order”- a group of reptilian and alien elites – are plotting to enslave mankind. Examples of her “proof” are security camera footage in which she claims she has captured shape-shifting humans.

A woman named Barbara Rogers and her boyfriend, Steve Mineo, were devout followers of Shriner. Steve got into a disagreement with fellow Shriner followers on Facebook, and they accused him of being a reptilian. Barbara and Steve were excommunicated from the group, and they were harassed by Shriner’s followers for several months. Barbara shot Steve on July 15, 2017, and he died instantly. Afterwards, she claimed that Steve believed that his body been taken over by a reptilian overlord, and that she could feel the darkness creeping inside of her own body. Shooting him was the only way to save them both. Sherry Shriner continues to produce content online and seek more followers for her digital cult.

8. Dating

A woman named Alexandra Stein grew up in South Africa, and in the 1960s, she moved to the United States to be a part of the Civil Rights movement. After a bad breakup in her 20s, she wanted to be with a man who cared about politics as well. Alexandra found a political group in Minneapolis called North Star Press. They advocated for several human rights issues that Alexandra cared about. She thought that maybe she could potentially find a new boyfriend there.

People usually join a cult during a crossroads in their life, like a breakup, moving to a new city, or entering college. During these transitional periods, people are usually making new friends and trying new things, so it’s much easier to fall prey to manipulation.

Alexandra was in one of these transitional periods when she went to a few meetings at North Star Press. She wasn’t sure if she would stay, until the group leaders set her up on a date with one of the male group members. Of course, she thought she met the man of her dreams. They eventually got married, and had children. After several years, Alexandra began to realize that North Star Press was actually a cult. After escaping, Stein went on to earn her PhD. She has devoted her life to educating people on the signs of cults, and how to avoid them. She also counsels ex-cult members who are having difficulty adjusting back to the real world.

7. Anime

In 1995, The Aum Shinrikyo cult killed 13 people with sarin gas and permanently injured thousands of others in the Tokyo subway system. Not long before this terrorist attack, the organization paid to get their own series of animated films to play on TV. Of course, the anime starred their leader, Shoko Asahara. He claimed that he was the son of God, and that he could see visions of armageddon.

The anime featured his outlandish claims, like his apparent ability to astral project during meditation, where his spirit could fly above Tokyo to see and know everything. Asahara claimed that by setting off the gas attack in the subway, the Japanese people would lose faith in the government, and he could be crowned Emperor of Japan.

6. College Campuses

Almost everyone in their teens and 20s begin to question their parents, and the rest of society. This can result in a sort of rebellious phase in their lives, or they seek a better way of life than how they were raised. So, what better place for cult members to find recruits than a college campus?

According to an investigation by The Guardian and the Cult Information Center in the United Kingdom, there are over 500 active cults, and the majority of them use college campuses for recruitment. Usually, a cult member will invite someone to a Bible study, or they approach someone standing alone and begin what seems like an intellectual and philosophical conversation. According to Colleges.com, the same thing is incredibly common in the United States.

A man named Steve Hassan was attending school at Queens College. He had just broken up with his girlfriend, so he was sitting alone in the cafeteria. Three beautiful young women approached him, and began striking up a conversation. At first, he felt flattered, and they invited him to meet up with them later. He later learned they were actually part of front-group of a Korean cult called The Moonies. As Steve learned that day, if something seems too good to be true – it probably is.

5. Pyramid Schemes

A Pyramid Scheme is a business that promises its employees wealth and success. Employees are required to spend their own money buying a supply of the company’s product, and then try to sell it to their family and friends. Sales people on the lowest level of the pyramid are encouraged to recruit their friends to sell as well. The more people they recruit, the higher up in ranking they become. People at the top of this pyramid make the most, and the people at the bottom typically lose money, because they are buying products they can’t seem to sell to anyone. This typically puts people into massive amounts of debt. These groups often cultivate peer pressure and loyalty, or make it incredibly difficult to get out.

Just a few companies that have been proven to be pyramid schemes are Herbalife, Amway, and LuLaRoe. One LuLaRoe sales consultant was even urged by a group leader to stop paying her bills and sell her car in order to buy more inventory. According to witness testimony, they are taught to believe that if the product isn’t selling, it’s their fault, and they just need to try harder. LuLaRoe has also made it incredibly difficult for their sales consultants to leave without incurring thousands of dollars of debt.

In China, pyramid schemes suddenly popped up all over the place, convincing tens of millions of young college graduates to become employed as sales people. In 2017, the Chinese media began to classify pyramid schemes as “business cults.” In reality, pyramid schemes truly do have everything on the cult checklist: a charismatic leader, a promise that’s too good to be true, and peer pressure on the members to dump their money into the organization.

4. Door-to-Door Witnessing

This next recruitment tactic shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, since most of us have gotten an unwelcome knock on our door from a Jehovah’s Witness. While many people would classify them as just another offshoot of Christianity, Jehovah’s Witness has been classified by several cult education groups, and it has even been banned in Russia.

Jehovah’s Witness has some very shady practices, including the “two witness rule,” which allowed child molestation to occur on a regular basis. They also prevent members from dating or marrying anyone outside of the religion. Anyone who gets a divorce is considered to be such a sinner they are never allowed to find love again. They are not allowed to receive blood transfusions, celebrate holidays, and so much more. Of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses deny being a cult.

3. Bands

Musicians and bands sometimes have what is known as a “cult following,” like Juggalos from the Insane Clown Posse. Usually, that phrase isn’t meant to be taken literally, except that bands and cults have a lot of similarities. One band from Japan took these cult practices to a whole other level.

The J-pop band “AKB48” began with 48 members, and eventually grew to 88 young women in their teens and 20s. They are incredibly popular, selling out concerts and making millions from record sales every year. While they are supposed to exude cuteness and innocence, they are also used as sex objects. In one music video in particular, they dance in lingerie, singing the lyrics, “I want you.” They have a very strict rule that if you want to be part of the AKB48, you are not allowed to have a boyfriend, because it takes away from male fan’s fantasies that maybe someday they could end up with one of the girls.  

One member, named Minami Minegishi, joined AKB48 when she was just 13. At 20-years-old, she was caught in a relationship with a member of a boy band named Alan Shirahama. This caused such a huge scandal that Minami shaved her head and posted an apology video on YouTube, begging for forgiveness. She was allowed to stay in the band, but was still demoted, earning less money than she did previously. This scandal shed light on the cult-like rules forced upon musical talent in Japan, and started a discussion about what should and shouldn’t be legal in these labor contracts.

2. Self-Improvement Workshops

According to Business Insider, the Self-Help industry made $9.9 billion in 2017 alone. Obviously, plenty of people are looking to improve themselves. Many people also go to the extent of attending workshops and seminars.

One self-improvement group called NXIVM promises its members they can be successful, and they have branches all over the United States, Canada, and Mexico. One branch of the group in particular promised to empower women and help them lose weight. They were made to feel like they were joining a secret sorority that was destined for greatness.

One branch of the organization in Albany, New York required women to pose for nude photos during the initiation process, and it was used as blackmail to ensure they would never quit. The group members were starved and branded by hot irons, and given different rankings of ‘masters’, ‘slaves’, or ‘vanguard’, depending on how many friends they could convince to join the group. Obviously, plenty of women joined because of their friends, and before they knew it, they were stuck in a full-fledged cult. Despite the fact that this story was all over the news, NXIVM still exists as a self-help organization.

1. Media Advertisement

One would hope that traditional media would know when to censor content that could be harmful to people, but unfortunately, cults pay for ads in traditional media all the time. In 2016, Scientology spent millions of dollars on a Super Bowl commercial, but they aren’t the only ones who have coughed up big bucks to thrust themselves into the spotlight of mainstream media.

Aesthetic Realism is a cult that worships a poet named Eli Siegel, who committed suicide in the 1970s. When he was alive, Siegel was a successful poet and philosopher who claimed to have the “one true answer” …whatever that means. In 1990, the Aesthetic Realism Foundation paid over $300,000 for a double-page ad in the New York Times, where they claimed that they could “fix” gay people. Before he died, Siegel claimed to have convinced 126 men and women to stop being homosexual. The group never stopped trying, even after Seigel’s death.

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