With the semi-recent news of Allison Mack being sentenced to three years in prison
for her role in the NXIVM sex cult, I wanted to experience a cult post on ONTD, so this is that post. Cults are one of the most fascinating and dramatic things to think and read about for me, so here are some starting snippets of not-so-well-discussed:
Celebrity Cult Connections
Glenn Close and her childhood/adolesence in the Moral Re-Armament (MRA) movement
The legendary actor shared her experiences in The Me You Can't See, the Apple TV+ series by Prince Harry and Oprah Winfrey, as well as on previous occasions (like the interview above). For 15 years Glenn lived with her family as part of a group called Moral Re-Armament (MRA). This was an international spiritual movement with Christian roots developed in 1938 by American minister Frank Buchman. The movement is still around - in 2001 it was renamed Initiatives of Change and remains dodgy.
MRA advocated "the Four Absolutes (absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness and absolute love) and it encouraged its members to be actively involved in political and social issues. One of the movement's core ideas was the belief that changing the world starts with seeking change in oneself."
Some direct quotes from Glenn:
"It was basically a cult. Everyone spouted the same things, and there's a lot of rules, a lot of control"
"Because of how we were raised, anything you thought you'd do for yourself was considered selfish. We never went on any vacations or had any collective memories of stuff other than what we went through, which was really awful."
"We were so broken up. It's astounding that something you went through at such an early stage in your life still has such a potential to be destructive. I think that's childhood trauma."
Michelle Pfeiffer and her involvement with breatharianismMIchelle became involved with this idiotic and dangerous group when she first moved to Los Angeles. She had no idea it was a cult until she began helping her ex-husband Peter Horton research the Unification Church for a film, and realised that she too was in a cult.
"Because of the devastation, emotional and psychological, of the cult, I have not been successful in my relationships and finding a permanent partner, and I'm sorry about that."
Glenn left MRA at 22, and ended up in therapy to deal with the issues and trauma caused by this destructive cult. Her family members were affected in similar ways.
“We were talking with an ex-Moonie [members of the Unification Church] and he was describing the psychological manipulation and I just clicked.”
Breatharianism is a pseudo-scientific cult whose members believe that if a person is spiritually strong enough, they can survive on air and sunlight alone, without any food or water. As this belief is tied to diet, that's probably what leads many people like Michelle to it in the first place, just like Fruitarianism etc. There have been several deaths linked to Breatharianism, notably 49 year old Australian Verity Linn, who joined the movement and was discovered on a lonely Scottish mountain after having died of starvation.
"They were very controlling. I wasn't living with them but I was there a lot and they were always telling me I needed to come more. I had to pay for all the time I was there, so it was financially very draining. They believed that people in their highest state were breatharian."
Unsurprisingly movies about cults tend to lean towards the horror end. These are just three films on this topic I personally really enjoyed and never hear much talk about. Big hitters like Midsommar, Hereditary, Martha May Marcy Marlene, and Rosemary's Baby are not listed, even though they're all wonderful, just because I'd love some fresh recs!
1. Sound of My Voice (2011)
Another gem from the duo that created The OA on Netflix (an absolute fave), Sound of My Voice follows a couple who set out to make a documentary to expose a charismatic cult leader who claims to be from the future. It's sci-fi adjacent, well-acted, well-written, and just a great movie.
2. The Ritual (2017)
An unexpectedly enjoyable horror film set in the wilds of Sweden, The Ritual follows a group of men who have reunited on a hike after the tragic death of their friend. As they hike deeper and make wrong turns, they find themselves in a spooky forest where something mysterious and scary begins to stalk them.
3. V/H/S/2 — Safe Haven (2013)
As a horror anthology film, V/H/S/2 is really fun, and Safe Haven always stood out to me among the other stories. It's genuinely scary (and gory), but ends on a bizarrely hilarious note. It follows a documentary crew that infiltrates an Indonesian cult known as Paradise Gates.
Cults around the Cosmos
Ok I'm sorry, instead of cruising the entire cosmos for less-known cults, this section will only cover one cult-like religious community from New Zealand because this post is getting too long. But please
tell us about cults or dangerous movements from your neck of the woods! Really interested to hear what is going on out there in the world.Gloriavale Christian Community
Gloriavale is an isolated Christian fundamentalist commune on the west coast of the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. Gloriavale members live by the Word of God, wear handmade uniforms, have enormous families and all live in one compound, with a core belief that all personal property, assets and money are given up and used collectively within the community. Gloriavale is plagued with allegations of physical, psychological and sexual abuse, forced labour and exploitation, and in recent years has seen a decent number of people escaping their lives in the commune - and telling the outside world of the horrible conditions there.
Virginia Courage left Glorivale with her husband and ten children in 2019 and is quoted as saying:
“They want you to be a person that's just going to obey and trust them so that they can tell you what God wants you to do. When you're in there, you genuinely, full-heartedly believe that if you're not inside Gloriavale, you and your children will go to hell. And that is probably the number one fear that traps people in there.
Gloriavale has had pretty extensive media coverage here in NZ, including a three-part docuseries in 2016, which might be available somewhere online for international viewers. But here is a short clip about Lilia Tarawa, the granddaughter of Hopeful Christian (the Church leader) her experiences in Gloriavale, and eventual escape:
You can read more about Gloriavale here
Could you be in a cult??
Are you struggling with your identity? Are you prone to anger? Do you struggle with feelings of self-worth and crave validation? You might be the perfect candidate for a cult!
Contrary to popular belief, most people can be susceptible to the influence of such groups under a certain set of conditions that make them vulnerable. Cults aim to pick the right target — normally stable people going through a stressful period in their lives which makes them easy to exploit (financially, emotionally, sexually).
According to this article
, the prime targets for cults are people who are "stressed, emotionally vulnerable, have tenuous or no family connections, or are living in adverse socioeconomic conditions. New college students are a prime example of good targets for cult recruitment since they're still forming their identity and have recently been separated from their families. In addition, people who were neglected or abused as children may be easily recruited because they crave the validation denied them in their childhood."
If you suspect you or someone you know might be in a cult, firstly, please share your story with us here on ONTD, and then take a peek at Steven Hassan's BITE model of authoritarian control to determine a cult:
A psychologist specialising in destructive cults and rehabilitation, Steve Hassan is a former member of a cult himself, and his BITE model can be applied to all sorts of groups, from religions, to terrorist organisations, and to cults themselves (spidermanpointing.jpg).
"The BITE model includes something Hassan calls the Influence Continuum, providing examples of healthy and constructive – and unhealthy and destructive – actions for individuals, leaders, organizations and relationships. The continuum indicates that a person free from influence has an authentic self, capable of critical thinking, free will and creativity. On the other end of the spectrum is an individual with a false identity whose actions are motivated by fear, guilt and obedience."
If you'd like to read up in more detail about each section of the BITE model, with more specific examples, you can do so here
I deliberately didn't put in anything really well-known in this post (Manson, Scientology, etc), but please feel free to chitchat about any and all contemptible characters of these crazy cliques!
Interesting extra reads:
Sources: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
+ my own random knowledge