With little creativity and even less imagination a vast resource of information can be obtained with the simple click of a mouse. This in many ways is a blessing to most people. From research, homework, staying in touch with friends and family, to idle searches for unfamiliar topics and the latest breaking news the internet is a very useful tool.
The flip side of this coin or darker side of this shadow is what some call the underbelly of the internet. This is the area, where with just as little imagination, an unlimited amount of images and content can also be found, though much of its purpose serves a very different agenda.
Pornography, illegal online gambling, and hate groups just to mention a few of these groups use the internet for many purposes, mostly money, in the tune of billions of dollars annually. They also use this forum to spread their messages, and beliefs with like minded individuals across the world, in essence a large mountain of a platform for which to broadcast their propaganda.
There is nothing earth shattering about this observation. Throughout history survival has always depended upon the ability to both adapt and use the surrounding resources for a continued existence. Groups of this nature have always existed in a cloud of obscurity and mystery. This form of presence is perhaps their greatest strength in not only surviving but allowing for their secretive beliefs to go unchallenged by its members.
Cults are organized and have existed in many different forms with a high majority labeling themselves as religious sects, normally as a branch or a division of a larger sect and sharing some core beliefs. But more so than their message, the one thing that all cults share is an energetic and forceful leader that demands complete submission from its members.
This includes relinquishing control over all aspects of a follower’s life: contact with outsiders including family members, financial control, sexual submission, and mainly independent thought. This last one is the domino that starts the collapse, without it none of the others would be handed over freely. And yet millions have done just that, giving up all to the cause and more times than not, giving their own lives for the beliefs of another.
Sadly, many of the names that are familiar to most are due to the fact that a tragic event occurred to shed light on the actions of these groups. The Peoples Temple , Heavens Gate, Order of the Solar Temple , and Aum Shinrikyo are but a few of those that have misled followers and ultimately led to the untimely deaths of many men, woman, and children. The Peoples Temple alone was responsible for over 900 deaths, a staggering number for any war, or terrorist act to be measured against.
Another component that links the previous mentioned groups is the true horror of what they represented not being discovered until after the fact, buried among the bodies. Part of the problem during the height of these four groups was their secrecy. There were concerns to be sure, alarms were raised, and questions were beginning to be asked. Victim groups started by former members began to raise their voices to officials with their very real concern for existing members, some of them their own children that still remained within the cults.
Now without forgetting the tragedies of the past a very scary aspect of these same four cults is the fact that two of them still exist to this day. One has changed their name to Aleph (formerly Aum Shinrikyo) and has distanced themselves from their former leader Shoko Asahara. Through their website, they at least acknowledge the tragedies which consisted of several separate gas attacks in Tokyo that led to the deaths of 19 people and injuries to thousands more. They offer their condolences along with information on joining their group.
Heavens Gate website is still up and running, though dated on some pages, offering their book as well as documents for viewing explaining some of their views and beliefs. There is a link for contacting an administrator which gives the strong impression that they are still quite active.
50% survival rate in some of the more dangerous cults is by far too high of a percentage in many opinions. And this is from dated groups with a known history of violence. To take it a step further a quick sampling of any search engine can produce thousands of groups or societies that by definition are labeled as cults. How simple is it to query a search in the privacy of ones home, and be subjected to these groups’ views.
In reality many of these cults’ websites are very harmless in appearance. There is no video of a leader preaching to the masses and cultivating viewers to drop their lives and follow. This would be impractical and highly ineffective in a recruitment tool. But there is also very little in the way of accurate information relating to exactly what these groups do, or a detailed breakdown of their belief system. It is almost an ideal mixture of information and a lack there of.
What is meant by that is this, even though these groups are operating on a seemingly large stage in full public view there is still a large shroud of secrecy that they hide behind. Now what does that translate to in regards to the general public, not much, in many ways they achieve exactly what they want, they are ignored for the most part by the mass.
This plays directly into these groups goals for they are not targeting the majority of people. Sadly they prey on people that are longing to fill a void, whether it is for acceptance by others, a cause to believe in, a longing for meaning to an existence that until then has gone unfulfilled, or perhaps it is a desire to have a structure and discipline in their lives.
In many ways the internet is a far more powerful recruitment tool for these organizations then they have ever had in the past. First of all, no time is wasted by weeding out the tempted or vulnerable recruits, for those are the ones that are drawn to these sites.
With correspondence initiated by the one visiting the website, it is clear that they are interested, and in more than just a curious visit. This is the first step and even at this point the push is very subtle with no hard sale, or people showing up at the doorstep. Cults have also learned to reflect a harmless, misunderstood group of individuals that want nothing more than to live in peace within their beliefs. And the majority of these websites do a good job at concealing these groups’ true intentions by showing mission works, pictures of smiling families, and a mission statement that is both craftily worded and lacking of any great substance.
And like with any commercial fisherman who finds the right bait, depending on the area of the ocean he is in, cults will use the right wording and phrases to draw closer only those that they feel are susceptible to their teachings. They have now been singled out, hooked, and slowly reeled in to the early stages of recruitment.
With the use of the internet these organizations have broadened their scope of potential recruits, but with every blade there is always another edge and in this arena the greatest aspect of the internet can be used against these organizations. The global reach of the web combined with the unlimited resources of information can combat them and show them for what they truly represent.
Peoples Temple : 900 + dead murder / suicide
Order of the Solar Temple : 74 + dead murder / suicide
Aum Shinrikyo: 27 + dead murder
Heavens Gate: 40+ dead / suicide
Branch Davidians: 70+ dead murder / suicide
Over three thousand more cults or groups with cult like tendencies are presently in operation, though this number is probably much higher. Even though so much information is available, sadly we still only hear of the deadly cults after the fact and far too late to be helped.
Statistics through 2009 obtained from: Cults, Conspiracies and Secret Societies by Arthur Goldwag