To what degree can a cult leader influence their followers?

by Jade MacDonald

(Jade MacDonald wrote this paper while at student Renmark High School in Renmark, Australia.)

Proposal

I have chosen this topic question because it interests me in the way that the cults operate and how followers can be so brainwashed by a leader, even when the leader is known to be mentally unstable. It is also interesting to know about the cults and the activities they participate in and how significantly they can impact a person’s mental, physical and social state. Cults have always been an interest of mine, and in choosing cults as a topic, I know that I would stay interested throughout the course of the project and as cults are a broad topic that can be easily narrowed down, I know that I can easily find relevant information about a particular cult.

The Research Process

To obtain information, I will use the internet to get information about the psychological aspect of cults and defining what a cult is and how it works. I will also interview people who know about psychology like a psychology teacher from Renmark High School such as Miss Yates or a psychology university professor and people who may have been in a cult in their life and escaped. If that isn’t possible due to the rural town I live in, I may have to use the internet to find an interview between a cult survivor or member and the interviewer because there must be a limited amount of cult survivors out there. Pictures and books will also help as I can see pictures of cults and what they have done and reading what happens in certain cults. I will be watching documentaries about certain cults as that will really help as they will be crammed with information about that cult and will be able to show me the true details about what happened within the cult. 

Chosen Capability

I am focusing on the Ethical Understanding capability because looking at cults is a sensitive topic and I have to be mindful of certain questions, as some might not be ethical to ask and could trigger or affect people in a bad way. I will learn to respect the thoughts and opinions of people or sites I talk to or read even if they don’t match my own as I must realise different people have different ethics and morals. To progress this capability, I will listen to others and their experiences and learn what questions are appropriate and what ones will cross the line. I will also consider safe and ethical ways to conduct my research like respecting thoughts and opinions of the people I talk to, and respecting and being able to comprehend the experiences, viewpoints, and motivations of people involved. Safety also has to be considered as I will talk to someone who could be violent or unpredictable like a cult member or survivor and I don’t want to put anyone at risk, as I will have to bring an adult with me because I am underage. To prevent plagiarism, I will reference all my information and resources to give credit to them. I will only use information that the interviewee has gave me permission to use as they might want their answers private which I can understand.

Research Outcome

For my outcome, I predict that cults will indeed have a significant influence on their followers in all ways. I think the level in which a cult leader can influence people could be based on the person’s state of mind before entering a cult. If the person’s state of mind is better, they might not be as manipulated as a person with a poor state of mind. Other factors may also be taken into account like drugs and alcohol, bad childhood or past, being easily persuaded, or mental disorders. I think that an outcome to research could be that whether a person escapes a cult is based on mental state. This will all be presented in an essay presenting my outcome along with my research and pictures and a reference list showing all my resources.

PLANNING

Ideas for sources:

  • Internet
  • Books
  • New articles
  • Documentaries
  • Emails
  • Interviews
  • YouTube videos
  • Surveys
  • Discussions
  • Lectures

Ways to record research development:

  • Source analysis
  • Development of questions asked
  • Survey questions and answers
  • Annotated notes of research
  • Source List
  • Challenges throughout the research and how I overcame them
  • How my capability has been developed throughout the research

What I would like to research:

  • The psychology behind a person when joining a cult
  • Examples of cults and what happened within them
  • What the leaders use to lure people to join their cult
  • Techniques used by cult leaders to appeal to people
  • What symptoms a person may show if they have joined a cult

Sub-Questions:

  • What techniques do cult leaders use to convince followers or people to join?
  • What cult leaders have successfully influenced their leaders?
  • Does everyone get affected by cult leaders?
  • Does the degree that people get influenced based on their mental health?
  • How can people avoid the techniques of a cult leader?
  • Do leaders influence their followers in a good way or a bad way?

ANALYSIS OF SOURCES

As a part of developing my research, I used sources such as a book, television program, YouTube video, an interview, email discussion, a survey, news articles, dictionaries, documentaries, and websites. To decide if a source were useful or not, I analysed a mixture of them, figuring out their purpose, relevance, reliability, credibility and authority, key points, and any further investigation that needed to be done. This showed me if the source was helpful in answering my topic question or not.

 

Source 1:

https://people.howstuffworks.com/cult4.htm

Reference: Julia Layton “How Cults Work” 13 April 2006.
HowStuffWorks.com.<https://people.howstuffworks.com/cult.htm> 8 March 2018

Secondary Source

Purpose

This article’s intent is to inform visitors about the way cults work so they can potentially spot if they are being pressured into a cult. It provides them with information with what each technique is and how cult leaders may act in order to recruit them.

Relevance

This is related to my topic because it goes in depth about how cults work and each technique they use in cults. It is a current information source that I found very useful because it provided me with a recollection of a past experience of someone involved in a cult and how that affected them which relates directly to my topic question. This source will be mostly relevant in the future as it contains more articles about the way cults work.

Reliability

The information on the website is not opinionated and based purely on fact. The writer of the article, Julia Layton, holds a B.A. in English literature from Duke University and a M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Miami. This makes her able to write and display the information well, but her knowledge of the topic could be limited to secondary sources and not firsthand knowledge in the field. The article doesn’t have references to where the information included came from, so it is possible it is exaggerated or partly untrue.

Credibility/Authority

HowStuffWorks got started in 1998, so they have experience and time behind them. Writers, editors, podcasters, and video hosts write unbiased, reliable and easy-to-understand answers and explanations on ‘how stuff works’. All the people who contribute articles on the site have a degree or bachelor in some field, so they are all educated. No one else can edit these articles, only editors can. As the site has won awards and 30 millions of people visit the site each month, the website has shown its credibility to visitors and researchers everywhere.

Key Points

  • Cults can use numerous techniques to get members to stay, commit themselves and take part in potentially dangerous activities. It’s often referred to as “mind control,” “thought reform,” “brainwashing,” and “coercive persuasion” and it involves the systematic breakdown of a person’s sense of self.”
  • Most psychologists believe that cult brainwashing techniques, similar to techniques used in prisoner interrogation, do change a person’s thought process. These techniques are used in cult recruiting and indoctrination.
  • These techniques include: deception, isolation, induced dependency, and dread.

Further investigation

After looking at this article, I will continue to research these techniques and how the leader has used them to influence followers. I will find examples from real cults like the Branch Davidians and Scientology to dig deeper into my topic question.

 

Source 2:

http://www.workingpsychology.com/cult.html

Reference: Working Psychology 1997, Cults: Questions & Answers, Kelton Rhoads, Ph.D., Los Angeles, accessed 19 March 2018, http://www.workingpsychology.com/cult.html

Secondary Source

Purpose

The article’s intent was to answer questions visitors of the site have about cults and some psychological science on things surrounding cults. It provides research from experts in easy to understand language.

Relevance

This is related to my topic because it provided me with facts on psychology in cults and the symptoms of a person who has been influenced by a leader which show if the influence is heavy or not. It is a factual source that I found to be very informational and was easy to understand. However, the last edit on the article was in 1997 which means new research could have been discovered since then.

Reliability

The author Kelton Rhoads has a doctorate in Social Psychology, with an emphasis in the field of influence which is helpful because influence is a big part of my topic question. He has provided training, consulting, and presentations for industry, government and defence agencies, educational agencies, public relations firms, and medical entities, helping people apply the principles of influence to real-world situations. He has published a variety of scholarly and popular journals and books and has received print and TV advertising awards. He has taught communications, statistics, psychology, and English at the university level. The articles he writes sometimes have references to other sources which shows his ability to research and place the best research on his site.

Credibility/Authority

Working Psychology is run by Kelton Rhoads himself with the help of some of his friends. This means there is no sponsoring body of the site or a bigger company who checks and runs the site. However, when typing “cult leader’s influence” into Google, the site was the top result so that means the information on the site is credible enough as people were using the site a lot. The site has no mention of awards or records the website has won which shows the site hasn’t been recognised as efficient by authorities but nevertheless was still seen as good to the general public.

Key Points

  • There are over 3000 damaging cults in the US, with around 4 million members which fall into 4 basic types
  • Research shows that approximately 2/3 thirds of cult members are psychologically healthy and that they come from normal families. The remaining third are likely to have depressive symptoms, normally a personal loss such as a death in the family, failed relationship or career issues.
  • Cults don’t want, and don’t recruit, people with psychological problems or physical disabilities as they represent a loss and not a gain of cult-oriented productivity. Cults prefer intelligent, productive individuals who can contribute money and talent to the “cause” of the cult, whatever it may be.
  • The environment can easily dominate personality-based differences among people

Further Investigation

After visiting this site, I will continue to look in depth about the psychology behind a person who joins a cult and the symptoms present when a person is influenced by a cult leader.

 

Source 3: 

The Road to Jonestown – Jim Jones and Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn

Reference: Guinn, J 2017, The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple, Simon and Schuster, New York.

Secondary Source

Purpose

The purpose of this book is to inform readers of Guinn’s findings. He goes into depth on Jim Jones’ life from the drug use, counterfeit faith healing, to his decision to move almost a thousand people into the jungles of Guyana. The book tells this story and the interviews undertaken by people in Jones’ hometown, Indiana.

Relevance

This source is relevant to my topic question because it looks into the actions and thoughts of Jones and how he managed to influence a large group of people to change their lives. Throughout the book, there are chapters with different kinds of information such as “A man to be reckoned with” and “Gaining influence” which contain information relating to my topic question.

Reliability

The information in the book is based on facts that Guinn acquired by going through thousands of FBI case files and even going to the Jonestown site with the same pilot who flew Congressman Leo Ryan there or by research. The book includes a wide list of references that range from books to articles to the names of the people he conducted interviews with. This information would have been checked for accuracy as the book was published for the general public.

Credibility/Authority

Guinn has released 19 books about cults, shootouts and crime-related topics with his book Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde becoming a Edger Award finalist which is an award that honours the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction, television, film, and theatre published or produced in the previous year. He has won national, state, and regional recognition for investigative reporting, feature writing, and literacy criticism. This shows he has experience writing with this genre and that he is capable of writing a good book based on facts he finds.

Key Points:

  • Jones was obsessed with Nazis from the age of 10, studying Adolf Hitler intently on how he claimed power from crowds of people and how he always kept audiences engaged by changing his speech from shooting to whispering then a normal conversation, building back up to an overbearing finish.
  • Jones’ most effective way to persuade people was with empathy. He had an uncanny ability to meet people, assume what was most important to them and convince them he had the same interest. They could then work together to achieve a common goal.
  • In high school, he was downgraded by his peers but people who disliked Jones were still fascinated by what he had to say, religion and sex being his two most common topics.

Further Investigation

After reading this book, I will move on from Jonestown and focus on the Branch Davidians to see what influence the leader, David Koresh, had on his cult.

 

Source 4:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3BNLN4B5hQ

Reference: Dawson, S 2017, SCARIEST CULTS EVER, online video, 17 March, accessed 26 March 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3BNLN4B5hQ>.

Secondary Source

Purpose

The purpose of Shane Dawson’s video is to enlighten viewers on scary cults that occurred over time. Dawson tells the story of the Branch Davidians and what events led to the tragic event that followed.

Relevance

The video was somewhat relevant to the topic question because it describes some ways in which Koresh controlled his followers, but the majority of the video was providing details on the event itself and not the leader. The video was updated in 2017 which means the information is current and useful to me in answering my topic question.

Reliability

Throughout the video, Dawson provides references as to where he got his information or imagery which include sources like CNN, National Geographic, and The Cult Education Institute. These sources are very reliable as they are experienced in their field and have a high range of people watch or read their information daily. The information was factual as Dawson’s opinion on the topic does not influence any information he discusses. This makes the information very reliable and trustworthy to me.

Credibility/Authority

Shane Dawson made this video by himself as this is a topic that interest  him greatly. Personally, I trust the information provided because I follow Dawson and his content deeply, so I know him as a person. Dawson has been a Youtuber since 2006 so he knows what it takes to make a good video and what viewers would want to watch. However, he does not have any qualifications in this topic, so he isn’t as experienced as a professor or an expert in the field. Dawson has posted many videos about cults, crimes, and conspiracies so he knows the ethics about talking about this field which is important because there should be an ethical understanding when talking about this topic as it is sensitive and can be easily exploited if fact isn’t used.

Key Points

  • Roden had a son called George who wasn’t falling for it and he was pissed because he was next in line to take over the church and he thought Vernon (Koresh) was coming in to fall in love with his mum and then take over the church when she died.
  • The rest of the church loved Vernon which got George scared.
  • Over time, Louis, Vernon, and George started to fight as they all wanted to be in control of the church. Instead of fighting, Vernon decided to leave. When he left, he decided he wanted to get his own followers and start his own religion which was much darker, more radical and much more focused on a apocalyptic future.
  • Vernon claimed to be a messiah and said he had seen a vision of the future, so he changed his name to his biblical name which was David Koresh.
  • He then started to illegally practise polygamy and started taking all his followers and turning them into his wives.
  • David also wanted lots of weapons, so he started to hoard guns and explosives which made the place look like a military base. The followers all went along with it because it was apparently what God said should happen.
  • Some members left at this point because it was getting too much so they notified the ATF, which is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
  • The FBI then got involved and wanted everyone to come out the building because they assume everyone in the building are just hostages, but all the members wanted to be there to do God’s work.

Further Investigation

This source didn’t provide me with much information about how Koresh influenced his followers, so I plan to further investigate how Koresh influenced and to what degree he did so.

 

Source 5:

https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/923715/waco-siege-inferno-david-koresh-cult-leader-followers-branch-davidians-anniversary

Reference: Murray, J 2018, ‘Followers of cult leader David Koresh still under his spell 25 years after Waco inferno’, Express, 28 February, accessed 27 March 2018,

Primary and Secondary Source

Purpose

The purpose of the article is to warn readers that cults do influence people heavily as followers of David Koresh are still influenced by him 25 years after the event. It shows readers quotes from interviews with Waco survivors on how torturous the events were or how they still have hope that Koresh will come back. This informs readers on the seriousness on cults.

Relevance

This article is highly relevant to my topic question because it provides me with information on survivors and to what degree Koresh influenced them. It covers followers who weren’t heavily influenced, to followers who are still influenced heavily today which is useful information because it provides different insights of different people.

Reliability

This article contains factual information, however as it is written for a tabloid news source, it is possible some information was exaggerated. When a quote from an interviewee is made, it is clearly quoted and referenced. If this article was to be written again by a different author, it would contain the same information but possibly, a different sway to show if more people were influenced or not.

Credibility/Authority

The Express website is home to the Daily and Sunday Express,which is the ninth most-circulated daily newspaper in the UK with a circulation of 364,721. The paper works as a part of an organisation. Hugh Whittow is the editor of the newspaper. He has worked for newspapers before like the Western Telegraph and the Daily Star so he is experienced in journalism, however it is unclear if he has any qualifications but judging from his jobs, it seems he would have one in order to acquire the jobs.

Key Points:

  • During the tense 51-day siege which followed a variety of tactics were used, including stopping food and milk supplies, and blasting music light shows in the middle of the night to destabilise the group through sleep deprivation.
  • Survivors said the impact on the children was horrendous.
  • They felt they were being subjected to psychological torture.
  • Mr Fagan, who spent 14 years in US jails, is convinced that the spirit of Houston-born Koresh lives on.
  • He talks frankly about February 28, 1993, the fateful day when 80 heavily armed law enforcement agents ringed the compound where he lived with his family.
  • They had come to arrest Koresh for firearms offences after he had amassed an arsenal to protect the community.
  • “We were engaged in morning worship as usual,” said Mr Fagan, from his flat in Nottingham.
  • “An undercover agent called Rodriguez joined us for bible studies.
  • “We all knew what he was doing but David was in the business of saving souls and that is what he was attempting to do. Mr Fagan said Koresh was aware he was being investigated and had even invited agents to meet him to discuss their concerns about his guns.
  • Australian-born Clive Doyle, 77, another inferno survivor who still lives in Waco, said: “I understand he is toting himself as a prophet to a group of followers with him in Honduras. “He made a prediction that the Yellowstone National Park was going to erupt and cover the US in lava, so he advised them to go to South America.
  • “Those people don’t keep in contact with anyone, so I don’t know where they are.
  • “I don’t know if he is dangerous.”

Further Investigation

After reading this article, I am now clear on the influence Koresh had on his followers and I will now investigateHeaven’s Gate and the influence of the leader.

 

Source 6:

https://theconversation.com/what-the-heavens-gate-suicides-say-about-american-culture-74343

Reference: Zeller, B 2017, What the Heaven’s Gate suicides say about American culture, The Conversation, accessed 27 March 2018, <https://theconversation.com/what-the-heavens-gate-suicides-say-about-american-culture-74343>.

Secondary Source

Purpose

This source’s purpose is to compare Heaven’s Gate to American culture and spark thought into viewers’ heads about if the American culture is right or not. It provides examples of the similarities between the two and questions what would happen if political leaders were to present a similar style.

Relevance

This is somewhat relevant to my question as it goes into depth about what happened in Heaven’s Gate that led up to the final event which is relevant because it is important to understand the history of the cult before looking at the events but however, the influence that the leaders had wasn’t mentioned that much throughout the article, making the article a good source, but not the best source I could have used.

Reliability

This article is a factual source of information that has been written in a way that would appeal to the general public. The author of the article, Ben Zeller, made a reference to his own book to state where he got his argument from but doesn’t make any references to any other source during the article. However, he does make quotations to terms used by the Heaven’s Gate themselves such as “The Luciferians.” If this article was to be written again, it would most likely be the same.

Credibility/Authority

I trust the information that is provided because it is published on The Conversation, a site that only allows writers that have signed up to publish in which they can only write about a field that they have expertise in, which is displayed in their article. Zeller is currently an associate professor of Religion at the Lake Forest College, Chicago. Previously he was Director of the College Honours Program and Coordinator of the Religion and Philosophy Major at Brevard College. This shows his extensive knowledge in his field which makes him very credible.

Key Points

  • In the groups final years, the members came to believe in a conspiracy that leading government, religious, and economic figures had made alliances with a group of demonic extra-terrestrials called “the Luciferians.” According to Heaven’s Gate members, the evil forces were working in unity to cover up the existence of UFOs, in particular a UFO “companion” that followed the Hale-Bopp comet, which came closest to Earth on March 22nd, 1997, the day the suicides began
  • The group’s followers increasingly rejected their earlier belief which is called biological metamorphosis, where their human bodies would chemically transform to alien brings. They now intended to abandon their human bodies on earth and transfer their consciousness’s into “Next Level bodies.”
  • Followers had committed suicide on the 22nd and 23rd of March, ingesting a lethal amount of barbiturates (a drug that causes total anesthesia) and alcohol. They laid under purple sheets, with fiver dollar bills and rolls of quarters in their pockets, all wearing dark clothes and Nike tennis shoes. Law enforcement discovered 39 decomposing bodies in a San Diego, California, mansion.

Further Investigation

As these are the main events of what happened at Heaven’s Gate, I plan to research Marshall Applewhite and his influence on his followers as a part of my topic question.

 

DEVELOPMENT OF CHOOSEN CAPABILITY – ETHICAL UNDERSTANDING

At the beginning of my research, I made sure that the word “cult” was clearly defined so that I wouldn’t confuse it or assume the word meant something that was just good or bad, it in fact has many different meanings. The word “cult” is often associated with groups of bad people doing evil things which is why I wanted to make sure that I knew what the word meant before doing research to not have bias when writing notes of asking questions.

Throughout the research, I have had to learn how to research respectfully such as valuing the work of others and making sure I have acknowledged their work by referencing their information and quoting them when I copy their quotes word for word. When researching, I also explored the different ideas, opinions and ethical principles from different websites and people and learn to respect them, even if they were different from my own. It’s important to recognise that everyone has different beliefs and opinions because of many different factors such as their upbringing or their personal experiences.

When inquiring about the topic of cults and surrounding topics, I had to do so from an ethical position as I didn’t want to create an ethical issue and cause people to feel angry or immoral because of my words. Interviewing people or watching videos helped me develop this skill as I would be talking or listening to people with different ethics, and to fully understand where they are coming from, I need to approach the discussions with an open mind.

To research ethically, I had to make sure I was doing all my research legally and ethically and respecting these dimensions and make sure I don’t break them as I could get in trouble with the content owner or even the law. I realised that looking at websites meant that I was looking at someone’s hard work and to not exploit it or judge it based on one article or something that has been written or said as that is not the whole of who they are, and they have many other sides to them.

Respecting my own personal ethics when making decisions was also important because I didn’t want my ethics to get manipulated by other people’s opinions and I realised that my ethics make me who I am and that it is okay to have my own set of ethics, despite them being different or wrong to someone else.

Doing this research has helped me develop my ethical understanding in so many ways and I plan to continue applying the knowledge I now know into other aspects of my life like work or school. Choosing Ethical Understanding as my capability for this project was helpful because respecting ethics are important when talking to other people with different ethics and experiences.

 

Interview with Fielding M. McGehee III, Research Director for the website https://jonestown.sdsu.edu/, conducted on February 21, 2018 – Research Project – Primary Source

Reference: McGehee, F 2018, pers. comm., 21 February.

Why I conducted the Interview with Fielding McGehee

I conducted this interview because when I looked at the website, I noticed it contained a wide range of sources that would be useful when looking at a new religious movement in particular, as the site was based on Jonestown itself. I had used information from this site on another project based on the topic of Jonestown, so I could rely on the information. I then decided the website would take a long time to explore through to get what information I would find relating to my topic question, so I contacted McGehee and asked if I could ask him some questions and he agreed, allowing me to record him and quote what he says in the notes.

Questions Asked

Why did you choose to study new religious groups, in particular Jonestown (Peoples Temple)?

McGehee says that he and his wife, Rebecca Moore, made their website, the Jonestown Institute. Moore is a religious researcher and has studied many groups, but their main focus is Jonestown. The reason they research this particular cult was because Moore’s two sisters, Ann Moore and Carolyn Layton, were a part of Jonestown and they were both leaders, but they both died. McGehee mentions how the older sister, Carolyn Layton, was kind of Jim Jones’ wife for the last 10 years of Jonestown, despite Jones being married to another woman. The two also had a son who died in Jonestown. McGehee and Moore decided that it was their job to find out more about what Jonestown was and about what happened that tragic day.

How much influence do leaders of new religious movements have on their followers?

It depends on the group. McGehee says some groups will be so dedicated to the cult, they won’t have a life outside of it such as the Branch Davidians. This is what happened to Jonestown when they moved to Guyana, making Jim Jones have almost absolute control. When Peoples Temple was still in San Francisco, the Temple was a place they would go to as people did have their own lives to live. McGehee says that what still stuns him is how many different people Jones was able to attract. He says before the group moved, Jones had little control over them which changed when they moved into Jonestown and isolated themselves. He says his sisters-in-law lived communally and had jobs but gave their money to the Temple, where they were free to come and go as they please. Whenever Jones would say something to his followers, no matter how outrageous it was, they would still cheer and would turn their power over to him without knowing it. McGehee refers to this as “audience corruption.”

Why do you think groups like this are formed in the first place?

There are many reasons why groups like this are formed. McGehee says Layton joined in the late 60s because she saw it as an“action for social change” and was interested in changing the world and this was part of the reason Ann Moore joined as well. Ann also joined because she saw it as a religious way to look at the world’s problems and how to solve them in a religious context. Jones used faith-healing as a way to lure people into his group because they wanted to follow a leader who could perform these miracles. He also took care of anyone and everyone who joined the Temple in any way, including helping with money issues or even having an attorney from Jonestown help you if you needed it. Some people joined for religious reasons and some people wanted help, some didn’t join for either.

Have you talked to many survivors of Jonestown other than your family?

McGehee says they do a lot. The information discussed between survivors has been added to the website.

What do you think is an aspect of Jonestown that separates it from other groups?

One aspect is that most groups maintain a strong religious message while Jonestown was much more than that. When McGehee was once asked if he thought Jonestown was a religious group, a political group, a social action group, or an organisation for the poor, Fielding said it was all of them and it was very unique to Jonestown as they organised these things when someone needed it, so it catered to many people when most churches or groups wouldn’t do this.

Do you think Jones’ decision to move everyone to Jonestown and his history of drugs and mental illness contributed to the tragic event that happened in Jonestown?

It did have a big impact because when they were in San Francisco, they still were in large communities of people and had jobs and families to attend to, then they were isolated into the jungle. All the religion that was in Peoples Temple while in San Francisco, like church services and Bible readings, disappeared once everyone moved to Jonestown.The followers felt the US was too corrupt for them to live so they made this utopia town to make a community. There wasn’t enough food, they were too far out, not equipped and trained enough to sustain a town. Jones’ word eventually became the law and it went downhill from there. They didn’t see how they would survive and they were worn out. Jones became paranoid of threats towards his town, some were in his head and some were real threats that he made a bigger deal of then they really were. He used a conspiracy against himself to unite people and for a long time people believed it, but by the end it’s hard to know how many people still believed in him. The drugs Jones used were not recreational, they were “uppers” to make him happier yet made him crazy and then he would take “downers” to be able to sleep. This made him mentally sick and physically sick and when a doctor visited Jones and told him to go to a hospital, Jones refused because he felt like he needed to stay in Jonestown. This made Jones feel like if he died, the community wouldn’t survive without him, so he took everyone down with him.

Congressman Ryan

They didn’t want Ryan and his team of reporters there because of the conspiracies that the government, CIA, FBI, Concerned Relatives wanting to know if their families were okay or even the press were plotting against him. He was allowed in, despite debates of him being allowed in, and Jones convinced his followers that these forces were there to take down his town and that he was right this whole time and the only option was to die before they were killed themselves. Jones had people go to the airstrip where Ryan and the team’s plane were, and they killed them.

What do you think are some of Jim Jones’ key personality traits?

McGehee says a lot of people believed Jones had faith-healing powers and people still believe it today. It is most commonly said that 90% of Jones’ faith healings were staged and 10% were real. Jones was smart and was very informed about the Bible, using references to biblical language and Bible verses in his talks and even in conversation. He was good at telling people what they wanted to hear and could reach individual people and what was important to them and could address that. One woman from Jonestown had said that Jim Jones had scarred her and knew she had a real fear of death, so he said to her “Grace, if you ever leave this church, you will be dead within a year. I won’t be the one to kill you but if you leave, you’ll die within a year so stay here for your protection.”After years of staying in the church, Grace said she’d rather be dead then be inside the church, and so she left. He used this fear and blackmailing technique on others to make them stay.

Do you think Jonestown was a mass suicide or a mass murder?

People wrote notes to Jones talking about their willingness to die which was partly because that was what expected to do as a part of a tradition where everyone wrote reports to Jones on a periodical basis where Jones used that information to figure out if people needed to be talked to about their loyalty or weaknesses. People in the leadership did express dissatisfaction about Jonestown but could get away with saying things others couldn’t. McGehee says that there are around two dozen conspiracies about what happened like it was the US government or that Jones was a rogue CIA agent who needed to be taken down and that no one has come forward with solid proof that these are true so McGehee’s POV is that he tends to discount any of these theories unless he gets solid proof and that he will view it as it is and for what is currently there. He believes that in the 40 years since Jonestown, someone involved in those conspiracies would have confessed what happened or a deathbed confession would have been said and that someone would have to been willing to make money of it. He is willing to change his mind if shown proof though.

Pages McGehee had referenced to:

Why weren’t some questions asked?

I didn’t ask certain questions like “what survivor story had the most impact on you and why?” because during the interview, I felt they were too sensitive to ask and that wouldn’t be ethical of me to get answers from as his own family was involved in it. Some questions like “why do you think cult leaders are so convincing in getting people to join them?” were answered during other questions so there was no need to ask it again. New questions and topics such as Congressman Ryan were also brought up as I felt they were relevant at the time and could be helpful in figuring out future investigations to research.

Key Summary of Points

All information that was especially useful to me are highlighted in this colour.

Further Investigation

After this interview, I will begin to research other groups such as the Branch Davidians and Heaven’s Gate to be able to compare leaders and see how much influence each leader had over their followers.

 

Link to Survey: https://s.surveyplanet.com/rkdwkXIOz

Reasons for conducting the survey:

  • To get information from locals
  • To get different meanings and opinions of things
  • To get a wider range of understanding about questions
  • Evoke discussion
  • Base decisions on unbiased information
  • Compare results

Survey Questions

  1. What is your gender?
  2. What is your definition of leader?
  3. What characteristics does a leader need to have?
  4. Who do you see as a leader in your life?
  5. Have you ever done something because that leader has told you to? If your answer was yes, provide an explanation what it is?
  6. On a scale of 1-10, how big of an influence is that leader to you? 1 being not at all and 10 being a 100% influence.
  7. Do you think a leader can influence you physically? If yes, explain.
  8. Do you think a leader can influence you mentally? If yes, explain.
  9. Do you think a leader can influence you socially? If yes, explain.
  10. In the past week, have you encountered or heard of any bad leader? If so, explain why you thought this.
  11. Have you ever been peer-pressured to do something because everyone else was? If yes, explain.
  12. What is your opinion on cults?

Summary of Survey Responses (based on most common answers)

*taken into account the fact that every question had one person not answer

  1. 80% were female, 15% were male and 5% were other
  2. Someone with authority in control who influences and inspires others by being credible, upholding values, responsible and trustworthy. People follow this person, normally a charismatic and influential person. They can control a group of people or a nation.
  3. Charismatic, charming, honest, confident, smart, visionary, people skills, power, leadership, persevere, and humble.
  4. Out of 20 people, 8 say family, 2 say friends, 3 say community members, 0 say celebrities, 1 said politicians, 1 said none and other responses were invalid.
  5. 85% of people said yes and examples were things like what work bosses wanted, school teacher giving instructions, family members giving commands, and doing it because they respected the other person while 15% of people said no
  6. The average result was a 6.05 out of 10.
  7. 75% of people said yes and provided examples like violently, be praised by or ridiculed by the leader, and taking advantage of vulnerable people to make them believe their worth is based on the leader’s opinion.
  8. 100% of people said yes and provided examples like expectations, manipulation, positively or negatively depending on leader’s personality, give good advice, changes the way you think and values.
  9. 80% of people said yes and provided examples like believing in what they are telling you like how the KKK make white people hate blacks, making you “jump through hoops” to win approval, peer pressure, and blackmail while 20% of people said no.
  • 60% of people said yes and has said because of bad politicians behaving like brats, Donald Trump, world leaders, and Hitler while 40% said no
  • 55% of people said yes and said examples like smoking and drinking, drugs, and wanting to fit in while 45% said no.
  • Cults are fascinating and dangerous and the mentally ill leaders prey on and manipulate vulnerable people for their own gain. They are normally bad and sometimes people get benefits from a cult but it’s mostly about money. They are destructive, and plague inflicted on society resulting in mental and physical abuse that can apply to innocent children.

How has this helped me:

This has helped me by gathering information on what people know about cults and what the stereotypes are surrounding them. It has helped me get a understanding of the ways real life leaders can influence people and how much of an influence they really are. I have also got different meanings for a ‘leader’ and learnt things from a non-biased perspective.

 

Further Investigation:

After getting this information, I will continue to research the ways a leader can influence a person. I will research how these leaders in cult’s situations act and why they do so.

SOURCE LIST

  • David Koresh Biography 2018, A&E Television Networks, accessed 26 March 2018, <https://www.biography.com/people/david-koresh-9368416>.
  • Dawson, S 2017, SCARIEST CULTS EVER, online video, 17 March, accessed 26 March 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3BNLN4B5hQ>.
  • Guinn, J 2017, The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple, Simon and Schuster, New York.
  • Com 2005, Branch Davidians, accessed 26 March 2018, <https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/history/us-history-biographies/branch-davidians>
  • Julia Layton “How Cults Work” 13 April 2006. <https://people.howstuffworks.com/cult.htm> 8 March 2018
  • McDonald, J 2018, To what degree can a leader influence their followers? Survey, SurveyPlanet, 2 March, accessed 26 March 2018, <https://surveyplanet.com/>.
  • McGehee, F 2018, pers. comm., 21 February.
  • Merriam Webster 1828, Definition of Cult by Merriam Webster Dictionary, Springfield, accessed 23 March 2018, <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cult>.
  • Murray, J 2018, ‘Followers of cult leader David Koresh still under his spell 25 years after Waco inferno’, Express, 28 February,
  • accessed 27 March 2018, <https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/923715/waco-siege-inferno-david-koresh-cult-leader-followers-branch-davidians-anniversary>.
  • Psychology Today 2018, Why Do People Join Cults?, Sussex Publishers, LLC, accessed 23 March 2018, <https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sideways-view/201402/why-do-people-join-cults>.
  • ‘What Really Happened in Waco?’ 2018, television program, 60 Minutes, Nine Network, 7 March.
  • Working Psychology 1997, Cults: Questions & Answers, Kelton Rhoads, Ph.D., Los Angeles, accessed 19 March 2018, <http://www.workingpsychology.com/cult.html>.
  • Zeller, B 2017, What the Heaven’s Gate suicides say about American culture, The Conversation, accessed 27 March 2018, <https://theconversation.com/what-the-heavens-gate-suicides-say-about-american-culture-74343>.
  • Zeller, B 2018, pers. comm., 27 February.

What is a cult?

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the word ‘cult’ has many different meanings. Definitions of a cult include “a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious” and “a great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (such as a film or book),”[1]. There are over 3000 destructive cults in the US with around 4 million members in total.[2] These cults fall into four basic types which include: religious cults, psychological/enlightenment cults, commercial cults, and political cults.

How cult leaders get followers to join
When a cult is in the process of recruiting members, a leader can use a number of techniques similar to military recruiting which most psychologists believe can help change the thought process of a person.[3] These techniques can include deception, induced dependency, isolation, and dread. Each technique slowly breaks down the mental state of the victim and allows the leader to slowly, bit by bit, enter into the victim’s mind and manipulate their mind in order to benefit the leader’s wants. Research shows that two-thirds of people who join cults are psychologically healthy and that they come from a normal background.[4] The remaining third are normally people who are suffering from miserable symptoms such as a personal loss. This is because a cult leader wants members who can contribute money and/or talent to whatever cause the cult is fighting for.

Human behaviour science

The behaviour of a person is a function of a person’s personality and their situation as stated by the Lewinian formula which is (B=f [P, E]), B meaning behaviour, P meaning Person, and E meaning Environment.[5] However, one of the biggest discoveries in social psychology has been the incredible influence the environment, or immediate situation, can have on different personalities, making differences between people a minor part of the equation. This has been demonstrated in the laboratory by psychologists such as Sharif and Asch, and unfortunately in real life demonstrated by Nazism and Jim Jones. There appears to be no personality trait that shows a person is more or less likely to join a cult, however certain environmental situations such as loneliness, depression, or uncertainty can make a person more likely to join a cult.

Symptoms of people in cults
When a person begins to act differently, they could be starting to show symptoms that they have joined a cult which could include:

  1. Personality changes
  2. Dramatic shifts of values or beliefs
  3. Changes in diet or sleeping patterns
  4. Refusal to attend important family events
  5. Inability to make decisions without consulting a cult leader or guru
  6. Sudden use of a new ideology to explain everything
  7. Black and white, simplistic reasoning
  8. New vocabulary
  9. Insistence that you do what they are doing[6]

These symptoms are mainly influenced by cult leaders. Cult leaders are often known to be very charismatic and have a way of persuading people to get what they want. They often control their followers for faith, time, money, discipline, sexuality, and intimacy which often leads to followers having a sense of deindividuation, which means the follower can feel submerged and anonymous in an environment, resulting in a loss of self-awareness.[7]

Jonestown

Jonestown was a cult ran by Jim Jones which started in the mid 1950s in Indianapolis and finally, they moved to Guyana. When asked about the type of cult that Jonestown was, researcher Fielding M. McGehee says “it was a social group, religious group, political group, and an organisation for the poor.”[8] When Jones made the big move to Guyana, an isolated place in the middle of a jungle, many of the members became dedicated to the cult, leaving Jones in complete control of them and their actions.[9] This wasn’t the case while Jones and the Temple were still in San Francisco as the members of the cult used the Temple as a place to go to as well as living their own lives.

However, once the Temple was shifted to Jonestown, all the elements of religion such as Bible readings and church services disappeared as the followers felt the US was too corrupt at the time, so they created a utopia world. In true fact, Jones was feeding his followers fake news about how the US was going to go back into racial segregation which was a powerful statement as over three quarters of Jonestown’s population was African-American.[10] This information made Jones appear powerful and all-knowing, almost God-like. This made Jones’ influence over his followers even stronger that it already was. Jones had the ability to keep his followers by him, despite them being starved, exhausted and working in the scorching heat. This influence eventually led to the death of Congressman Leo Ryan and his crew. This event led to the mass suicide of nearly 1000 people by cyanide poisoning, including people who died from a gunshot.[11]

Jones was a powerful leader, however his move to isolate his followers from the real world made his influence much stronger than normal in my opinion. By isolating his followers, he made his followers dependent on him and made them feel like he was their life. Jones made sure to keep his followers weak, so he could influence them more easily without them fighting back or realising how wrong he was. The change in the way that Jonestown works was also a major influence on followers as all the attention was focused on Jones and not on another leader figure. Without that move to isolate his followers, I believe Jones’ influence on his followers would be minimal as followers would also have a normal life to live.

Branch Davidians
The Branch Davidians were a religious cult ran by David Koresh. Koresh moved to Waco, Texas and joined the cult in 1980. At this time, he was known as Vernon Howell. In 1990, Koresh went back to Waco and became the leader of the Branch Davidians and the first thing he does is make all the women get rid of their marriages to make sure all the women were his wives. Koresh had claimed that he was the reincarnated Jesus Christ and he was having visions from God and that God said it was okay for him to have many wives.[12]

Some members got freaked out and left the cult, however most members trusted him because of the visions he was having. Koresh also wanted his church to have lots of weapons, so he started to hoard guns and explosives and the followers went along with this because this was apparently what God said should happen. Some of the members left at this point because it got to be too much and reported it to the ATF which is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The FBI then got involved which turned into a four-week siege.[13]

During this siege, Koresh was stopping food and milk supplies, and the ATF was blasting music light shows to the group to destabilize them during sleep deprivation. Survivors have said that they felt they were being tortured and that the impact on the children was horrendous.[14] Towards the end of the siege, the FBI tried to raid the building, but something happened, and the building caught on fire with the members still inside, killing 75 members of the church, 25 of which were children while Koresh shot himself in the head.[15]

I believe that Koresh had a fairly big influence over a degree over his followers, however some members left at certain points when it became too serious which shows Koresh’s flaws in his leadership. He wasn’t able to get inside certain people’s heads and his persuasive skills weren’t effective enough to keep people under his power. To keep people under his control, I feel like he shouldn’t have used such extreme methods and stuck to more subtle ways of practice as people saw the true side to what he was doing and were able to break out of his power.

Heaven’s Gate
Heaven’s Gate – commonly known as the “UFO cult” – was founded in 1972 by two Texans, Bonnie Nettles, who later died of cancer, and Marshall Applewhite when they bonded over shared interest in alternative spiritual exploration, astrology, and biblical prophecy.[16] They both believed that the Bible predicted an extra-terrestrial rapture where some individuals would be saved from this planet and would travel to the “Next Level,” a physical realm in outer space where they would live as immortal, perfect species of aliens.

Around 500 people joined the cult in the 1970s, however 39 people remained by the end as people with the least attachment to the group’s teachings and morals either left or got kicked out.[17] Followers had committed suicide on the 22nd and 23rd of March, 1997, because they believed they would be taken to the “Next Level” on those days. They ingested a lethal amount of barbiturates (a drug that causes total anesthesia) and alcohol. They laid under purple sheets, with five dollar bills and rolls of quarters in their pockets, all wearing dark clothes and Nike tennis shoes. Law enforcement discovered 39 decomposing bodies, including Applewhite’s, in a San Diego, California mansion.[18]

Applewhite’s influence wasn’t very strong as a majority of his cult had left before the end of the cult’s time. Applewhite had his own strong view on the “Next Level” and his ability to push that view onto others wasn’t successful as many members left because they didn’t believe this was true. It seems like the followers who stayed hadn’t stayed because they were fascinated with Applewhite, they stayed because they were generally interested and convinced by the Bible and what they thought it had predicted. Applewhite seems to be more of a teacher of this theory than a leader of the theory as people had an open choice to stay or leave.

Conclusion
These cults all show different degrees of influence on cult members by cult leaders, from Applewhite’s not strong influence compared to Jones’ very strong influence. To answer the question “To what degree can a cult leader influence their followers?”, I believe that a cult leader can have a high degree of influence on a follower, however different situational or personal factors can heighten or decrease a leader’s influence. All cults are different, so it is impossible to say that all leaders will always have a certain degree of influence on followers, however different leaders will implement different techniques in order to keep the followers focused on them. The way and degree to which a person is influenced is based on the person themselves and not always the leader.

References

  • Merriam Webster 1828, Definition of Cult by Merriam Webster Dictionary, Springfield, accessed 23 March 2018, <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cult>
  • Working Psychology1997, Cults: Questions & Answers, Kelton Rhoads, Ph.D., Los Angeles, accessed 19 March 2018, <http://www.workingpsychology.com/cult.html>.
  • Julia Layton “How Cults Work” 13 April 2006.
    com. <https://people.howstuffworks.com/cult.htm> 8 March 2018
  • Working Psychology1997, Cults: Questions & Answers, Kelton Rhoads, Ph.D., Los Angeles, accessed 19 March 2018, <http://www.workingpsychology.com/cult.html>.
  • Dawson, S 2017, SCARIEST CULTS EVER, online video, 17 March, accessed 26 March 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3BNLN4B5hQ>.
  • McGehee, F 2018, pers. comm., 21 February.
  • VICE 2017, Rare Photos from Jonestown, the Deadliest Cult in American History, VICE MEDIA LLC, accessed 13 February 2018, <https://www.vice.com/en_au/article/qvj8ev/rare-photos-from-jonestown-the-deadliest-cult-in-american-history>.
  • Encyclopædia Britannica 2017, Jonestown Massacre, accessed 13 February 2018, <https://www.britannica.com/event/Jonestown-massacre>.
  • David Koresh Biography 2018, A&E Television Networks, accessed 26 March 2018, <https://www.biography.com/people/david-koresh-9368416>.
  • Dawson, S 2017, SCARIEST CULTS EVER, online video, 17 March, accessed 26 March 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3BNLN4B5hQ>.
  • Murray, J 2018, ‘Followers of cult leader David Koresh still under his spell 25 years after Waco inferno’, Express, 28 February, accessed 27 March 2018, <https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/923715/waco-siege-inferno-david-koresh-cult-leader-followers-branch-davidians-anniversary>.
  • Dawson, S 2017, SCARIEST CULTS EVER, online video, 17 March, accessed 26 March 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3BNLN4B5hQ>.
  • Zeller, B 2017, What the Heaven’s Gate suicides say about American culture, The Conversation, accessed 27 March 2018, <https://theconversation.com/what-the-heavens-gate-suicides-say-about-american-culture-74343>.
  • Zeller, B 2018, pers. comm., 27 February.

Bibliography

  • Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training n.d., The Jonestown Massacre, Berggruen Institute, Los Angeles, accessed 13 February 2018.
  • David Koresh Biography2018, A&E Television Networks, accessed 26 March 2018, <https://www.biography.com/people/david-koresh-9368416>.
  • Dawson, S 2017, SCARIEST CULTS EVER, online video, 17 March, accessed 26 March 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3BNLN4B5hQ>.
  • Guinn, J 2017, The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple, Simon and Schuster, New York.
  • Encyclopædia Britannica 2017, Jonestown Massacre, accessed 13 February 2018, <https://www.britannica.com/event/Jonestown-massacre>.
  • Com 2005, Branch Davidians, accessed 26 March 2018, <https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/history/us-history-biographies/branch-davidians>
  • Julia Layton “How Cults Work” 13 April 2006.
    com. <https://people.howstuffworks.com/cult.htm> 8 March 2018
  • Kyung Kim, E 2017, Under the spell of Jim Jones: Inside the tragedy of the Jonestown massacre, Today, accessed 13 February 2018, <https://www.today.com/news/under-spell-jim-jones-inside-tragedy-jonestown-massacre-t109982>.
  • McDonald, J 2018, To what degree can a leader influence their followers?survey, SurveyPlanet, 2 March, accessed 26 March 2018, <https://surveyplanet.com/>.
  • McGehee, F 2018, pers. comm., 21 February.
  • Merriam Webster 1828, Definition of Cult by Merriam Webster Dictionary, Springfield, accessed 23 March 2018, <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cult>.
  • MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching.) 2014, Leadership Styles: Martin Luther King vs. Jim Jones, Department of Religious Studies at SDSU, accessed 13 February 2018, <https://jonestown.sdsu.edu/?page_id=31431>.
  • Murray, J 2018, ‘Followers of cult leader David Koresh still under his spell 25 years after Waco inferno’, Express, 28 February, accessed 27 March 2018, <https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/923715/waco-siege-inferno-david-koresh-cult-leader-followers-branch-davidians-anniversary>.
  • Psychology Today 2018, Why Do People Join Cults?Sussex Publishers, LLC, accessed 23 March 2018, <https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sideways-view/201402/why-do-people-join-cults>.
  • Scheeres, J 2011, A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown, Simon and Schuster, New York
  • VICE 2017, Rare Photos From Jonestown, the Deadliest Cult in American History, VICE MEDIA LLC, accessed 13 February 2018, <https://www.vice.com/en_au/article/qvj8ev/rare-photos-from-jonestown-the-deadliest-cult-in-american-history>.
  • ‘What Really Happened in Waco?’ 2018, television program, 60 Minutes, Nine Network, 7 March.
  • Working Psychology1997, Cults: Questions & Answers, Kelton Rhoads, Ph.D., Los Angeles, accessed 19 March 2018, <http://www.workingpsychology.com/cult.html>.
  • Yates, L2018, Psychology, presentation, 14 March.
  • Zeller, B 2017, What the Heaven’s Gate suicides say about American culture, The Conversation, accessed 27 March 2018, <https://theconversation.com/what-the-heavens-gate-suicides-say-about-american-culture-74343>.
  • Zeller, B 2018, pers. comm., 27 February.

 

EVALUATION

To what degree can a cult leader influence their followers?

Summary

The reason I chose this question was because the topic was appealing to me and it was a subject that I knew I wouldn’t lose interest in. It was also a question that was broad but specific at the same time which made researching easier. When researching about this, I found four main research processes that I felt had helped me greatly which was an interview with Fielding McGehee, an online video created by Shane Dawson, a website named Working Psychology, and a website article from the company The Conversation. My Outcome was an outline on what a cult was, why people joined, the science behind why they joined, and what signs they had displayed, and information about three different cults which helped answer my question that cult leaders can have a high degree of influence on their followers, however certain factors can increase or decrease their influence.

EVALUATION OF RESEARCH PROCESSES

When planning for my research, I decided to make a list of things I did know and things I didn’t know in order to focus on the things I didn’t know when researching so I wouldn’t waste my time on information I already knew. It was also helpful to brainstorm a list of different research processes to use such as books or videos as each different process gave me different information about what I needed to know. To further increase my detail of research, I had made a lotus diagram which had broad topics, then fine-tuned them with key points to research and provide me with sub-questions that could be used while researching such as “What cult leaders have successfully influenced their followers?” and “What techniques do cult leaders use to convince people or followers to join?” Planning had helped my research greatly because it helped to separate the important information I needed to find from the information that wasn’t helpful in answering my topic question.

My first important research process was an interview with Fielding McGehee which I used because I could ask McGehee questions about the cult Jonestown specific to my topic question. McGehee is the Research Director for the website: https://jonestown.sdsu.edu/. As he has been researching this cult for many years, I feel that the information he provided made him a reputable source. The information McGehee had provided was very reliable as McGehee’s wife Rebecca Moore had connections to people involved in Jonestown so the information came from a primary source and was based on fact. It contained information about what had happened in the cult and how Jim Jones was as a leader. McGehee had also provided me with information directly from his website, which is very current as it was last updated April 27th, 2018 which is current information for my topic. Overall, I thought the information from this source was very helpful because when asking questions specific to finding information about my topic question, I could get relevant answers from a human being and not get random search results which are similar and then having to filter between all the searches.

My second important research process was an online video created by Shane Dawson which I had used because the video went into depth about what happened in different cults and information about the leader. Dawson is a YouTuber on the famous site YouTube, a video publishing site. This video was very helpful in finding out information about the cult Branch Davidians. Dawson includes information about the cult and the timeline of the cult, which included all the events that happened between the start and the ending of the cult. Dawson also provides references to sources he used which included CNN, National Geographic, and The Cult Education Institute, of all which are high profile sources which make Dawson’s information highly reliable. Despite not having any qualifications in this field, I still believe Dawson to be a trustworthy source as he has been researching this topic for over ten years. The video was made on March 17, 2017 which is pretty current and is current enough for my research. Overall, I think that Dawson was a trustworthy and relevant source of information because the information was factual and ethical as well which is very important because this topic is sensitive and can be easily exploited if not based on factual information.

My third important research process was a website named Working Psychology, in particular a page on the website called Cults: Questions and Answers. This source includes questions commonly asked by people about cults including what they are, how leaders convince people to join them, and what kinds of people join cults, and the answers are then explained by the author of the site, Kelton Rhoads. Rhoads has a Ph.D. which is in the field of social psychology, majoring in the study of influence so the information is based on facts he has researched thought the year, which makes him a dependable source. The source was last updated in 2012, however because the information is scientific and factual, the information will stay the same therefore the currency of the article isn’t relevant. This source has been very helpful as it explains what I wanted to know in a clear and precise way with an easy to navigate site. When answering my Outcome, I would say that this source was by far the most used source as it contained key information that helped to answer my topic question.

My fourth and final important research process was a website article on the site The Conversation, titled What the Heaven’s Gates suicides say about American Culture which I used because it was an interesting article and it was written exceedingly well. The source contained information about the inner workings of Heaven’s Gate such as their beliefs and morals, information on the leaders, and what happened to the cult. The source is based on fact and uses references when using information from another source and provides a link to where he accessed his information from. The author of the article is Ben Zeller who is currently an Associate Professor of Religion at Lake Forest College. He researches the topic of religion and his qualifications include being a Philosophy Major from Brevard College. This makes him a reputable source as he is experienced in his field of work. The article was written on March 24th, 2017 which is very current information and because the information is based on facts from himself and others, the information provided is relatively current as the facts won’t change at all. This source was very helpful because it provided clear information that I could use to answer my topic question and develop my Outcome.

Some challenges that were faced during the researching process was the internet at the school as it wasn’t very reliable and would cut out if too many people were using it. This meant that any collection of information would have to be done at home and anything else would have to be done at home which was hard because it cut into time I could have been spent doing something else, but I overcame this by planning ahead what to do with my time, so I could still have time for other commitments like work, homework, and social time and still manage to complete my Research Project. There also weren’t very many books in the school library that related to my topic which was hard because that meant I had to gain access to other books somewhere else and potentially having to pay for them myself or borrowing from a friend, but I managed to gain access to a good book I could use about Jonestown because my friend had gifted it to me. These provided me with good opportunities as it provided me with the chance to practise time management in preparation for year 12 and having to manoeuvre around obstacles that can’t always be fixed in order to complete my main goal of completing the Research Project.

I am happy with the Outcome I have produced as I had put a lot of effort into it and I feel like it is very informational about the topic question and answers it well. What I think is a strength in my Outcome is that it is very well-structured, and it is easy to find specific information because of the sub-headings at the beginning of each new topic. Also, the information about the three cults I mentioned, Jonestown, Branch Davidians, and Heaven’s Gate, is very accurate and have been explained in a clear way. I also find that the paragraph after the cult has been explained where I talk about the influence of the leader was very good as it gives an overall thought about the cult and describes the influence the leaders had over their followers which links directly with my topic question. However, I find that the sourcing of the outcome is a little messy as when a source is repeated, it is not correctly referenced, and some references were in the wrong spot, but this is because I was unfamiliar with footnoting before Research Project. My Outcome could be useful when I am looking into the topic of influence and cults for another class or possibly university. I could improve my Outcome by referencing it better and making sure I use more footnotes. To further develop my Outcome, I could add more primary source interviews with victims of cults to get more primary information. Overall, I feel like the Research Project has helped me greatly and I will continue to use the skills developed from it in my everyday life.

Notes:

[1] Merriam Webster 1828, Definition of Cult by Merriam Webster Dictionary, Springfield, accessed 23 March 2018, <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cult>

[2] Working Psychology 1997, Cults: Questions & Answers, Kelton Rhoads, Ph.D., Los Angeles, accessed 19 March 2018, <http://www.workingpsychology.com/cult.html>.

[3] Julia Layton “How Cults Work” 13 April 2006.
HowStuffWorks.com. <https://people.howstuffworks.com/cult.htm> 8 March 2018

[4] Working Psychology 1997, Cults: Questions & Answers, Kelton Rhoads, Ph.D., Los Angeles, accessed 19 March 2018, <http://www.workingpsychology.com/cult.html>.

[5] Working Psychology 1997, Cults: Questions & Answers, Kelton Rhoads, Ph.D., Los Angeles, accessed 19 March 2018, <http://www.workingpsychology.com/cult.html>.

[6] Working Psychology 1997, Cults: Questions & Answers, Kelton Rhoads, Ph.D., Los Angeles, accessed 19 March 2018, <http://www.workingpsychology.com/cult.html>.

[7] Yates, L 2018, Psychology, presentation, 14 March.

[8] McGehee, F 2018, pers. comm., 21 February.

[9] McGehee, F 2018, pers. comm., 21 February.

[10] VICE 2017, Rare Photos from Jonestown, the Deadliest Cult in American History, VICE MEDIA LLC, accessed 13 February 2018, <https://www.vice.com/en_au/article/qvj8ev/rare-photos-from-jonestown-the-deadliest-cult-in-american-history>.

[11] Encyclopædia Britannica 2017, Jonestown Massacre, accessed 13 February 2018, <https://www.britannica.com/event/Jonestown-massacre>.

[12] Dawson, S 2017, SCARIEST CULTS EVER, online video, 17 March, accessed 26 March 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3BNLN4B5hQ>.

[13] Dawson, S 2017, SCARIEST CULTS EVER, online video, 17 March, accessed 26 March 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3BNLN4B5hQ>.

[14] Murray, J 2018, ‘Followers of cult leader David Koresh still under his spell 25 years after Waco inferno’, Express, 28 February, accessed 27 March 2018, <https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/923715/waco-siege-inferno-david-koresh-cult-leader-followers-branch-davidians-anniversary>.

[15] Dawson, S 2017, SCARIEST CULTS EVER, online video, 17 March, accessed 26 March 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3BNLN4B5hQ>.

[16] Zeller, B 2017, What the Heaven’s Gate suicides say about American culture, The Conversation, accessed 27 March 2018, <https://theconversation.com/what-the-heavens-gate-suicides-say-about-american-culture-74343>.

[17] Zeller, B 2018, pers. comm., 27 February.

[18] Zeller, B 2017, What the Heaven’s Gate suicides say about American culture, The Conversation, accessed 27 March 2018, <https://theconversation.com/what-the-heavens-gate-suicides-say-about-american-culture-74343>.

Originally posted on September 29th, 2018.

Last modified on October 22nd, 2018.
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