For more than a decade I have crisscrossed the country as a cult deprogrammer, confronting destructive cults and fanatical religious groups in every corner of the nation. In hundreds of cases, I have seen firsthand the suffering and broken lives they endanger. Yet it so often seemed as if the American people were indifferent to the dangers posed by these extremists flourishing within our society. When warnings were surrounded about cults, few listened.
Today, people throughout the United States and the world have been shocked into reality. As we watched Mount Carmel burn to the ground near Waco, horrified by the terrible loss of life, we jointly witnessed fanaticisms ultimate handiwork. One cult leader, David Koresh, controlled his followers to their deaths.
There are thousands of destructive cult groups operating in this country in every state. They have penetrated virtually every metropolitan area, even finding their way into small towns and isolated communities. No matter where we go, no matter what we do, we can not hide from this problem. How will we face it? Will we attempt to learn from the tragedy at Waco? It is my hope that this book will increase and stimulate the process of education about cults and destructive religious groups, enlightenment that hopefully will save others from sharing in the Branch Davidians awful fate.
First, America must take a long, hard look at Vernon Howell, later known to the world as David Koresh, because among cult leaders, he is not atypical. It seems they are all the same. As I travel the country and delve into different destructive cults, I meet the same cult leader over and over again. Only the names are different. They are self-obsessed, egomaniacal, sociopathic, and heartless individuals with no regard whatsoever for their followers. They seek only their personal aggrandizement, financial well-being and physical pleasure. Such leaders exercise total control over their followers. The personalities of those adherents have been dismantled by systematic brainwashing to the point where the leaders desires become their own. Cult victims and fanatical followers of radical sects are deceived, lied to, manipulated and ultimately exploited. They number in the millions.
We would all like to believe that only crazy people from bizarre families or those with deep personal problems join destructive cults. This is a convenient form of denial, not the truth. The Waco Branch Davidians came from many socioeconomic, educational, ethnic and national backgrounds. David Koresh recruited from around the world and from every strata of society. Some of his followers sought greater meaning in life, others had become disenchanted with our societys materialism. David Koresh seemingly offered a sense of belonging to those from broken homes, or seemed to provide his followers with direction and great spiritual insight. For many Davidians, his fraud never became apparent.
Once recruited, there was one main reason Koreshs followers stayed: they stopped thinking critically for themselves. Through a process of manipulation, they fell under the control of an absolute, authoritarian leader. They were isolated from the outside world, cut off from any other frame of reference. Even their families and old friends often were discredited. Again, the mind-control methods of David Koresh are typical of many cult leaders.
What can be learned from the tragedy at Mount Carmel? What are the warning signs? A prospective member of an unknown sect of religious group should be wary if the groups leader is accountable to no one. He or she should think twice if members are not allowed to question; if isolation and spiritual elitism are promoted by an ethnocentric theology; if independent thinking is discouraged or described as rebellion against God; if the only truth is the leaders truth; or if the leader is above mans law and accountable only to God. In destructive cults, that deity most often speaks exclusively through their leader, who may ignore all civil authority and reject accountability to anyone.
The Waco Branch Davidians are a wake-up call to America. Destructive cults are no longer a distant reality in the jungles of Guyana, but have come home to claim scores of victims in the heartland of the country. Meanwhile, other violent cults continue to proliferate across the American landscape. White supremacist churches, apocalyptic Bible-based cults and other fanatical groups in all shapes and sizes are waiting to explode on the American scene at any time.
Everyone must be aware of the dangers posed by these groups. But it is also time for government and law enforcement agencies, and child protection services to enforce the law. Destructive cults should not be allowed to hide behind the walls of separation of church and state. All Americans are responsible to the same laws of reasonable conduct. That includes so-called religious organizations which illegally stockpile weapons, abuse children and sexually exploit their members in the name of God. Mount Carmel represents the consequences of a nation looking the other way.
Where will the next Waco be? Who will be the next David Koresh? If we dont heed the tragic lessons of the Branch Davidians and their leader, it will only be a matter of time before we find out.