A destructive cult is a pyramid-shaped authoritarian regime with a person or group of people that have dictatorial control.  It uses deception to recruit new members and does not tell them what the group is, what the group actually believes, and what will be expected of them if they become members.  It also uses mind control techniques to keep people dependent, obedient, and loyal.  The BITE Model is our way of understanding the phenomenon.  Dr. Robert Jay Lifton has his Eight Criteria for Thought Reform.  Dr. Margaret Singer has her Six Conditions for understanding destructive cults, which typically seek to “clone” recruits in the image of the cult leader, rather than respect and encourage their individuality, creativity and self-will.

Benign cult groups are any group of people who have a set of beliefs and rituals that are non-mainstream.  As long as people are freely able to choose to join with full disclosure of the group’s doctrine and practices, and can choose to disaffiliate without fear or harassment, then it is not a destructive cult.

There are destructive groups that are clearly anti-social.  They teach hate and encourage criminal activity.  A case by case evaluation must be made to determine if a particular group is using elements of the BITE Model to recruit and control people.

For more information, visit our Influence Continuum page.