Take Back Your Life: Chapter 5: Characteristics of a Cult LeaderFor previous sections of this series go to: Captive Hearts, Captive Minds/Take Back Your Life
A NOTE regarding the book. The book is being revised and updated and will get a new title; Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships (previously titled Captive Hearts, Captive Minds and this is the title I am working with) by Janja Lalich and Madeleine Tobias"Take Back Your Life: Chapter 5: Characteristics of a Cult Leader
As I read through this chapter I kept thinking back to Rutherford rather than Russell as the originator of the WTS that we know today. I did this for a couple of reasons. Once Rutherford took over the organization he remodeled it based on his own pattern and most of the beliefs that Russell published were disposed of in favor of Rutherfordís beliefs. The entire structure of the organization changed under his leadership including the renaming of followers to "Jehovahís Witnesses. After reading many of the historical accounts of Rutherford and his personality traits I believe his leadership more than any others was responsible for turning the WTS into the cult we know today. The GB has, in my opinion becvome a reflection of that personality.When I first started learning the real truth about the WTS I found it really hard to accept that so much of what they did was deliberate. I could not imagine the lies and manipulations. I always believed that the GB were men who made mistakes but they were basically honest and following scriptual guidelines. I never would have dreamed about the money, the UN, the political shoulder rubbing. And I would have argued with you about all of those things.
Well now I know better. But the big question most people have is "Why?" Why would these men who profess to care about Godís sheep? I first started connecting the pieces when I got to know more about Rutherford and his alcoholism. Now, in my work with people who had been abused I frequently saw families where alcoholism was a huge factor in some families. The alcoholic controls the family. Everyone in the family becomes enablers to the alcoholic. As I started examining the WTS under Rutherford, I realized it is just one big dysfunctional family.As we go through this chapter remember the characteristics can apply to a cultic group leader, an abusive spouse and in the case of the WTS Ė a group of men who are collectively "the leader".
The beginning of chapter 5 states:
A cult cannot be truly explored or understood without understanding its leader. A cultís formation, proselytizing methods, and means of control "are determined by certain salient personality characteristics of [the] cult leader. . . Such individuals are authoritarian personalities who attempt to compensate for their deep, intense feelings of inferiority, insecurity, and hostility by forming cultic groups primarily to attract those whom they can psychologically coerce into and keep in a passive-submissive state, and secondarily to use them to increase their income." (p. 64)The effect of living under a leader like this is that people experience a lot of anxiety as a result of feeling powerless and to counter that powerlessness they are likely to adopt a feeling of self-blame. In turn the message they often get from the group is that they are not good enough.
Like a child who is beaten by their parent, group members usually blame themselves for any bad treatment from the leader. Because their survival depends on their leader, they take responsibility for problems on their own shouldrers rather than see the problems that exist with the leader(ship). It is too firightening for them to think their leader is "cruel, untrustworthy, and unreliable." (p. 65) Even after leaving some may continue to put the blame on themselves rather than see the group leader as the problem.The Authoritarian Power Dynamic
In any abusive relationship the purpose of all activities are for the benefit of the leader Ė not the followers. Their role is to fill the needs (emotional, financial, sexual and power) of the leaderís regardless of the personal cost to themselves. This is a top-down power relationship (all the power at the top and none at the bottom). The characteristics of authoritarian personalities include the following:
the tendency to heirarchy
the drive for power (and wealth)
hostility, hatred, prejudice
superficial judgements of people and events
a one-sided scale of values favoring the one in power
interpreting kindness as weakness
the tendency to use people and see others as inferior
a sadistic-masochistic tendency
incapability of being ultimately satisfied
paranoia (p 65-66)
The Role of CharismaCult leaders must have some quality to make people want to follow them, at least at first. Max Weber, a sociologist defines charisma as "an exceptional quality in a an individual who, through appearing to possess supernatural, providential, or extraordinary powers, succeeds in gathering disciples around him . . . .a sorcerer with an innovative aura and a personal magnetic gift, [who] promoted a specific doctrine . . . .[and was] concerned with himself rather than involved with others . . [He] held an exceptional type of power; . . . and assumed instead those of demagoguery, dictatorship, or revolutuion, [which induced] menís whole-hearted devotion to the charismatic individual through a blind and fanatical trust and an unrestrained and uncritical faith." (p. 67) NOTE: I have the book they are citing in this quote from The Sociology of Religion (p. 6-7) by Max Weber and the quotes are accurate. All [ ] and . . . are in the text of Captive Hearts, Captive Minds.
The authors continue:
In the case of cults, of course, we know that this induction of whole-hearted devotion does not happen spontaneously but it is the result of the cult leaderís skillful use of thought-reform techniques. Charisma on its own is not evil and does not necessarily breed a cult leader. Charisma is, however, a powerful and awesome attribute found in many cult leaders who use it in ways that are both self-serving and destructive to others. The combination of charisma and psychopathy is a lethal mixture . . . (p 67-68)The Cult Leader as Psychopath
Dr. Hare, a leading expert in psychopathology, and the author of the book Without Conscience: The Disturbing world of the Psychopaths among us, states:
Psychopaths are social predators who charm, manipulate, and ruthlessly plow their way through life, leaving a broad trail of broken hearts, shattered expectations, and empty wallets. Completely lacking in conscience and in the feelings of others, they selfishly take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without the slightest sense of guilt or regret." (p. 69)Those who have read many of the descriptions of Rutherford (many of which can be found in The Best of... Rutherford info) during his time as the WTS president may begin to see the characteristics noted above. Rutherford was a man who claimed that his power came directly from God. His manipulation of board members to gain the leadership after Russellís death; his authoritarian attitude; his alcoholism; his attiudes towards government; religion and women all support the belief that he alone was appointed to take care of Godís earthly organization. This was a man who claimed titles for himself and refused any criticism of his methods. These character traits were what Rutherford imposed upon the organization he developed. His unrealistic expectations of his followers led him to use them in a most shameful way to get media attention for his "cause" at the expense of those who naively followed his orders.
The authors of the book Captive Hearts, Captive Minds states:
Neuropsychiatrist Richard M. Restak stated, "At the heart of the diagnosis of psychopathy was the recognition that a person could appear normal and yet close observation would reveal the personality to be irrational or even violent. (p. 70)The Master Manipulator
Cult leaders need to be able to manipulate people. The authors state:
Cult leaders have an outstanding ability to charm and win over followers. They beguile and seduce. They enter a room and garner all the attention. They command the utmost respect and obedience. (p. 71)Further on they state:
Beneath the surface gloss of intelligence, charm, and professed humility seethes an inner world of rage, depression and fear. (p. 71)The Profile of the Psychopath
Robert Lifton stated that there are three main characteristics of the cultic leader:
A charismatic leader who . . . .increasingly becomes the object of worship
A series of processes that can be associated with "coercive persuasion" or "thought reform"
The tendency toward manipulationfrom above . . . with exploitation Ė economic, sexual, or other Ė of often genuine seekers who bring idealism from below (p. 72)
1. Glibness/superficial charmMany cult leaders are able "use language effortlessly to beguile, confuse, and convince.
2. Manipulative and conning
Cult leaders do not recognize the individuality or rights of others, which makes all self-serving behaviors permissible.
3. Grandiose sense of selfThe cult leader enjoys tremendous feelings of entitlement. He believes everything is owed to him as a right.
4. Pathological lying
- Psychopaths lie cooly and easily, even when it is obvious they are being untruthful.
- Leaders tend to create a complex belief system, often about their own powers and abilities in which they themselves sometimes get caught up.
- These manipulations are rarely original thinkers. Plagarists and thieves, they seldom credit the originators of ideas, often co-opting authorship.
- The only "truth" is whatever will best achievethe outcome that meets their needs. (p. 73-74)
- Psychopaths see those around them as objects, targets, ot opportunities, not as people.
- They do not have friends, they have victims and accomplicesóand the latter frequently end as victims. (p. 74)
- While they may display outbursts of emotion, more often than not they are putting on a calculated response to obtain a certain result.
- Hiding behing the "mask of sanity," the cult leader exposes things only insofar as they serve an ulterior motive.
- He casts himself in a role of total control, which he plays to the hilt. (p. 74-75)
7. Incapacity for love
- As the "living embodiment of Godís love," the leader is tragically flawed in being able to either give or receive live.
- The leaderís tremendous need to be loved is accompanied by an equally strong belief in the love offered him by his followers; hence, the often unspeakably cruel and harsh testing of his devotees.
- Unconditional surrender is an absolute requirement.(p.75)
- Thrill-seeking behaviors, often skirting the letter of the law or spirit of the law, are common among psychopaths. Such behavior is sometimes justified as preparation as marytrdom: "I know I donít have long to live; therefore my time on earth must be lived to the fullest.".
- Cult leaders live on the edge, constantly testing the beliefs of their followers, often with increasingly bizarre behaviors, punishments, and rules. (p. 75-76)
- Psychopaths readily take advantage of others, expressing utter contempt for anyone elseís feelings.
- Psychopaths are unable to empathize with the pain of their victims.
- Meanwhile, part of the victimís denial system is the inability to believe that someone they love so much could consciouly and callously hurt them. It therefore becomes easier to rationaize the leaderís behavior as necessary for the general or individual "good."(p. 76)
- Like small children, many psychopaths have difficulty regulating their emotions.
- Rage and abuse, alternating woth token expressions of love and approval produce an addictive cycle for both abuser and abused.
- He may act out sexually, aggressively, or criminally, frequently with rage. Who could possibly control someone who believes himself to be all-powerful, all-knowing, and entitled to every wish, someone who has no sense of boundaries, no concern for the impact on those around him?
- Generally this aberrant behavior is a well-kept secret, known only to a few disciples.(p. 76-77)
Psychopaths frequently have a history of behavioral and academeic difficulties (p. 77)11. Irresponsibility/unreliability
- Not concerned about the consequences of their behavior, psychopaths leave behind them the wreakage of othersí lives and dreams
- Psychopaths rarely accept blame for their failures or mistakes.
- Scapegoating is common, blaming followers, those outside the group, a memberís family, the government, Satan.
- Blame is a powerful reinforcer of passivbity and obedience, producing guilt, shame, terror, and conformity in the followers (p. 77)
For psychopaths, sex is primarily a control and power issue.
13. Lack of realistic life plan/parasitic lifestyleThe psychopath tends to move around a lot, making countless efforts at "starting over" while seeking out fertile new ground to exploit.
14. Criminal or entrepreneurial versatility
- Cult leaders change their image and that of the group as needed to avoid prosecution and litigation, to increase their income, and to recruit a range of members.
- Cult leaders have an innate ability to attract followers who have the skills and connections that the leaders lack. (p. 79)