Anti-Cult Movements:
Systematic Religious Persecution


We conclude . . . that the vast bulk of scientific findings whatever clinical, field observation or survey methodologies used never supported the ACM [anti-cult movement] perspective that most "cult" members were duped or psychologically shanghaied into membership, coercively maintained in subservience as slaves or impaired in any meaningful way through their membership.

p. 82, Shupe, Bromley and Oliver, The Anti-Cult Movement in America

Anti-cult movements

Obviously some kind of movement is needed to raise public awareness of the danger of some doomsday religious groups which are (or were) clearly destructive and even life-threatening to their membership or others. That is fine and good. But as we pointed out earlier, the number of such doomsday religious groups can be counted on the fingers of both hands, while the number of new religious movements all of which tend to be branded as "cults" by the anti-cult movements is in the tens of thousands. The anti-cult movements tend to cast their net around (and blacklist) all new religious movements indiscriminately, which amounts to blatant religious persecution.


It gets worse. Many of the anti-cult movements became even more radical and took direct action against members of what they called "cults". They attempted to "liberate" members from their groups. Some parents of "cult" members, some disillusioned former members, and some "kidnappers for hire" became "deprogrammers". For a fee which could exceed $10,000, they engaged in such activities as:

  • kidnapping adults
  • assaulting them
  • holding them for days against their will
  • attempting to forcibly brainwash them, so that they will abandon their religious faith and adopt the belief systems of the kidnappers
  • deprive them of sleep, food, etc. in order to facilitate their emotional / mental / spiritual breakdown
  • prevent them from communicating with the people in their support network
  • charging large sums of money for their services

This has caused considerable emotional damage to members of new religious movements. The goal was to return them to their family of origin. It is ironic that the deprogrammers felt justified in using the very practices that they accused the "cults" of engaging in. "Fighting fire with fire", they sometimes called it.

These anti-cult groups appear to have been generally successful in avoiding criminal charges. This is largely because their victims realize that such charges would implicate members of their family in a criminal conspiracy. In many cases, the deprogrammers convince the former members to leave the group, and to get on with their lives with no residual animosity towards the deprogrammers.

ACLU   Report on Deprogramming



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