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Purpose of mistreating cult leader's own family?


bpobst
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Aloha,

 

I am a newly registered user but have been a lurker for a long time. I enjoy reading and studying topics concerning religion in many different forms. A fascination of mine is fundies (of all religions, not just Christianity), how religions begin and are altered over time, and religious cults. I have some questions that I haven't been able to find the info to and would like to either be pointed in the right direction for study or begin a dialogue here.

 

My questions today involve cults. I know Scientology has been in the news quite a bit over the last year or so, and while reading about Jenna Miscavige-Hill I am intrigued about family connections to cult leaders. This encompasses not just Scientology, but also smaller cults or cult-like groups such as the branch of FLDS concerning Warren Jeffs and stretching even further back in time to groups like Peoples Temple (Jonestown) and etc.

 

If the purpose of a cult leader is to gain and maintain control and assets of followers and have free reign to carry out abuse on those followers, then it is obvious that the founder(s)/leader(s) know what type of system they are implementing. It seems there would be a clear linear goal with the end results possibly becoming more macabre as years drag on, but not always necessarily. The question I have is, "Where does the role of family members come into play?" If the leader(s) are aware that the group is based on false beliefs and that the group is used for nefarious purposes then why are family members often subject to the same mistreatment as other, regular members of the group? It would seem to me that it could be a benefit to pass down the leadership to someone who has been a part of the group their whole life and who possibly doesn't realize how awful things are from an objective viewpoint. Perhaps when they assume command and they fully begin to realize the deception and despicable things going on they are too invested to ever be able to leave the group. I understand that possibility. But when leaders subject their very own family members to such abusive behavior starting in early childhood, and it is clear that that family member will never assume command or leadership roles of the group then I am failing to understand any possible benefit for allowing or encouraging that to happen.

 

In the COS example, Jenna Miscavige-Hill, the niece of leader David Miscavige was subject to the same horrific abuse as all other, regular, non-celebrity members. Her treatment was severe as she was born to parents in the Sea Org, the most hard-core sector. Fortunately she was able to leave COS before it was too late but the damage has already been done. Why are family members subjected to this type of treatment? I find it hard to believe that David Miscavige believes in the tenets of Scientology and that his motives are anything other than financial and the satisfaction he has in controlling other people. If he KNOWS Scientology's religious aspects are false then what benefit would he have for having his own family treated in such a way? I would assume it would cause more damage to COS when word got out that family was treated just as horribly in the likelihood of an escape and denouncement.

 

If his own family was treated and regarded more highly then not only would a defection be statistically less likely, if one did occur then the leaders could always claim that they were treated fairly and that the defector is publishing pure lies. Is it just that the leaders have such little regard for other people that this is extended to their own family? Jim Jones (Peoples Temple/Jonestown massacre) subjected his own immediate family members to his madness as well and had radioed his son to commit suicide the day of the massacre as his son was away at a ball game. I'm struggling to understand the purpose and/or benefit with involving those closest to you. For a founder of a group who's end goal doesn't concern mass suicide, wouldn't it be better to teach immediate family how to continue or further the group and teach the recruiting, financial, psychological tactics, etc to ensure its continuation?

 

I am just at a complete loss and have been pondering this for some time. Now that I am registered, I figured I could post. If this is in the wrong sub-forum please feel free to move.

Edited by OnceUponATime
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Thinking of our own cult experience, family of the leadership did get special privelage but that ended wherever absolute blind obedience ended. Same for the inner circle. And I think really it may have been worse for them, as they had the most to lose.

But considering that a cult leader is probably sociopathic, I don't think family ties necessarily have the same importance to them as they would a normal person who cares about others. There may not be a specific purpose in harming family members. Or the purpose may be to put up a facade of "equality" with other members. "See, even my own relatives are treated like the rest of you, no special treatment here."

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Thank you, maybeizfundie for your reply. I'm aware that cult leaders tend to be sociopathic and that they probably have just as little regard for their own family as they do others. I do understand that the mistreatment of them could be to demonstrate that they are indeed treated the same as others. But logically it just makes no sense to me. If someone is treated better and then they stop completely, unquestioningly obeying and those privileges are revoked then I would think that there would be an incentive to break away from the group. Especially because the blind obedience often encompasses such minute, mundane things and it seems that punishing someone for something so ridiculous would make the person want to leave that much more. I understand how difficult it can be to leave a group such as that, not only financially, physically (COS often forcefully retrieves escapees), and emotionally, but also because of how difficult it can be to survive in the world without adequate education, job experience, support from friends and family, etc. I would think it would take a great deal of time to come to the conclusion of wanting to leave and then even more time to try to implement the escape.

While there is the possibility of having no actual motive for mistreating family members, again logically, it makes zero sense to me. I can think of a number of negative connotations for mistreating family and actually cultivating their knowledge on how to continue the group would be a much, much better idea (this makes me sick to even think about). As I had mentioned above, mistreatment would increase the probability of a denouncement, make that denouncement more believable as they were "family members", stifle false hope that someone could "work harder/behave better/give more financially/etc and rise through the ranks where people are treated better", etc.

I understand these groups aren't operated in any logical manner but I just can't grasp how intentionally or not, these family members are treated horribly.

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I'm not trying to be flip or oversimplify but maybe the saying about absolute power corrupting absolutely applies here. I'm not a shrink, but it seems to me that a certain type of personality is required to be a hard core cult leader. Yes, they're probably sociopaths and don't care about others' pain like a well adjusted person does, but I honestly think most of them -especially Jones- just enjoyed having that kind of control over people and I think that sick bastard in particular drank his own Kool Ade regarding how awesome and amazing and godlike he thought he was. If he was going out then there could be nothing left on earth for his congregants because they didn't deserve it. Kind of like how Hitler ran Germany in the ground and then blamed the generals and his people for his failure. I'm not sure if I'm making any sense, but this is an object of study that has always fascinated me and I see so many parallels with certain cult leaders and leaders of the cult of personality.

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I'm reading a very thick book on Jones at the moment. As far as I can tell, he treated his wife pretty shittily from the start. And from the documentary I watched a few weeks ago, his wife and children also drank the poison (wasn't actually look aid but some other brand), except for his son Stephen who was in town for a basketball game.

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I'll venture an idea as far as "Why won't family members of the leader leave a cult if they are being abused?" I think someone whose whole known family is in the cult, especially if born into it, has literally nowhere to go. Someone who joins a cult in their teens or later may be brainwashed into believing his/her family outside the cult doesn't value them, but after years of abuse they finally realize isn't tolerable for any religious or social reason, they still have some "escape route" to the world.

But the nephew/niece of a cult leader whose family ties are all linked to the organization and who grew up in it might not have any sense of the outside world as a safe haven, and no one to reach a hand out to.

As for why cult leaders abuse their own families, the answers above all seem reasonable given the little we actually know about Miscavige and his sociopathies. Also, let's not forget the psychological conditioning aspects of punishment and reward. When/if Miscavige does decide he needs to groom a successor, he simply calls off the abuse of one or more family members or close aides and that person is so grateful for that, and grateful to be back in the good graces of the abusive leader, that he or she is a more willing follower than before.

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I appreciate everyone's replies. I always assumed that living in a cult would be very similar to living with an abusive spouse. Abused spouses tend to be very reluctant to leave for a variety of reasons and I thought it would be similar. I guess I am mostly wondering the "why's?" from the leader's perspective. Do they sit and actively think about how they can harm their own family or is just an automatic skill cultivated with years of mistreating everyone else. I agree about how difficult it could be for family to leave the cult, especially if they were born into it and after being brainwashed for years about the dangers of the outside world. It is just hard for me to reconcile the reasoning behind it because I would imagine it would be easier for them to treat their family better in the long run. The stories I have heard coming out of ex-Scientology members are just astounding. I can't wait to read Jenna's book and hope it contains new details that are still relatively unknown in the wider world.

An awful lot of cult leaders are/become dependent on hard drugs; I believe Jim Jones was on cocaine or something similar. I would imagine that drugs combined with that type of personality would result in seriously delusional behavior and thoughts and after a while I am sure they DO believe what they are saying/teaching. With the added isolation inherent in these groups I know it would make leaving extremely difficult. I also realize that most of the people who join cults were at vulnerable periods in their lives and I would think that since they were emotionally unstable or vulnerable at those points it would be easy to fall back into that emotional state after such severe abuse. So I do understand there are multiple factors at play that make it difficult to leave but I am not sure why it is so hard for me to grasp the reason for treating their own family like that. Logically it still makes zero sense to me and I still think it would be of more benefit to the leaders themselves to treat family a little better. I am trying to look at it from a "pros and cons" angle and am having trouble looking at it from other points of view. I think it would be better for them to prevent or mitigate negative associations from the beginning instead of damage control when one escapes.

Also, with the tactics that are used to control people do the leaders actively research things like mind-control techniques and the psychology behind it or does this knowledge come naturally to sociopaths? Most seem to employ the same strategies regarding sleep and food deprivation, different language and vocabulary, verbal repetition, etc. I'm wondering if they research these things to do them correctly or what?

With Jonestown, it boggles my mind how easily all of the members would carry out the "suicide drills" without protest but when the time came to actually carry out the procedure, many were screaming, crying, begging, and protesting at the very beginning. Once the children started to die it became even worse. They were then threatened with being shot and many were forcefully injected with the poison or shot but they were protesting and making a scene by then. I don't understand how someone can go through practice drills with no problem but then all of a sudden they fight back when the end is apparent. Makes no sense to me.

Also, regarding Jonestown, there is a long audio recording available online that follows the final suicide/murder that day. Jones is extremely paranoid, delusional, and most likely high on drugs. You can hear the victims screaming and crying and the leaders telling them to be quiet because they are scaring the children. It is one of the creepiest things I have ever heard. I read that Jones did try to coerce his son to kill himself since he was away at the time. Thankfully, he did not. I also know that Kool-Aid denied their drink mix was ever used and most of the time it is reported that it was grape Flavor-Ade. However, there is video footage online of Jim Jones himself giving a tour of the facility in Guyana showcasing the grounds and the food available at the time. At one point he opens a large storage chest and you can clearly see that it was Kool-Aid brand drink mix inside. I believe both brands were used.

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Yes, Jones left instructions for those in town to also kill themselves. Most of them were out, but one woman did kill her three children and herself with a knife.

The book is called Raven and is written by one of the journalists who went down with Congressman Ryan. I'm still only in the early years of it, but it's fascinating. I would not be surprised if he were on drugs of some kind, but there was clearly paranoia there from his early years.

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Yes, Jones left instructions for those in town to also kill themselves. Most of them were out, but one woman did kill her three children and herself with a knife.

The book is called Raven and is written by one of the journalists who went down with Congressman Ryan. I'm still only in the early years of it, but it's fascinating. I would not be surprised if he were on drugs of some kind, but there was clearly paranoia there from his early years.

This book is fascinating. It shows how a fairly benign religious group can evolve into a cult. People who would normally be skeptical of a totalitarian group were gradually turned into "true believers" committed to Jim Jones and/or to the ideals they believed People's Temple represented.

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I think it's potentially fallacious to assume that the leaders don't really believe what they're espousing. A cult leader has to either lie continuously for years on end.... or be telling the truth. Since they are able to convince large numbers of people to make extreme sacrifices I'd argue the evidence suggests the leaders really mean what they say. If not the risk of detection by their followers goes up, not down, over time. This makes them much more scary.

I'd recommend reading The Evolution of God by Robert Wright. Think of cult leaders as people in possession of a dangerous idea. If they espouse it they get worship down on earth and potential glory in the hereafter. So the idea spreads and evolves. Like any other form of evolution some ideas are positive and some aren't. The ideas of these cult leaders, since they're only extremely beneficial to the leaders and partially beneficial to the followers (members get to be surrounded by 'friends' and 'sheltered' from 'evil') spread by exploiting weaknesses in the human brain.

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I think it's potentially fallacious to assume that the leaders don't really believe what they're espousing. A cult leader has to either lie continuously for years on end.... or be telling the truth. Since they are able to convince large numbers of people to make extreme sacrifices I'd argue the evidence suggests the leaders really mean what they say. If not the risk of detection by their followers goes up, not down, over time. This makes them much more scary.

I know I screwed up the quote thing, but bear with me as I'm doing good to be able to post. I'm not well versed in tec stuff. I agree that some people lie so often and so well that they actually believe their own lies. It makes sense because you can really sell a product better if you believe in it. Jonestown has always struck a chord with me. So many lives lost and all so fucking senseless. I just can't imagine the true horror of what those who weren't willing went through. GDit :(

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Jonestown has always struck me too. That one and the Heaven's Gate suicide in the late 90's. I was in 8th grade when that happened and remember I used to sneak out to watch the comet passing in the middle of the night. I had serious nightmares for a really long time with that one for multiple reasons. I know the Heaven's Gate website is still up and the video tapes Applewhite made are online. I learned a few months ago that Applewhite went to the same college I did (small liberal arts college). Talk about freaky coincidence.

I cannot imagine what those people went through in Jonestown. There is full audio recording online that covers the entire mass suicide/massacre and you can hear basically everything. Leaders in the inner circle handing out the poison and babies and children dying. It is completely horrific. This is why I don't quite understand how the mass of people were okay with the "rehearsals" for suicide but not until the actual time came did they really protest and freak out.

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I was going to mention Heavens Gate, but thought it would be a wall of text. They all seriously believed; I think Applewhite truly thought he was enlightening them about the gospel truth. You don't castrate yourself unless you're a die hard believer. The media thought it was connected to another cult at first that killed themselves and set their homes on fire because the leader's little girl was supposed to be their spiritual leader and they were supposed to ascend to some kind of higher realm on their home planet I think. What fascinates me is that all over the world there are these kinds of cults and that there is something in human nature that is drawn to them.

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I agree with Heaven's Gate truly being believers, but I'm intrigued on how exactly they get to that point. I understand the brainwashing techniques and how they work but it is bizarre to me how they work on the leader's themselves as well. If you repeat something often enough you will believe, but how do they develop these beliefs in the first place? I find it hard to believe that Applewhite always felt he was going to a higher realm on a comet. What beliefs did he start out with and how did it evolve from there? Do these people consciously develop plans on how to recruit people with statements and beliefs that are unusual and slightly bizarre and then consciously give out more tidbits slowly enough to not raise too many questions? If you start from day one and mention all the very bizarre beliefs about hitchhiking on the tail of a comet you will be seen as mentally ill and very few people will probably keep in contact with you. It is a strange mix of preying on the vulnerable, mind control, isolation, being extremely charismatic, etc. But something is missing, I just am not sure what it is. At what point did his beliefs go from being a little weird to truly extreme and at what point did he really believe what he was saying?

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