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Encyclopedia > Political cult
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Political cult is a term used to describe some groups on what is generally considered to be the political fringe. Although the majority of groups to which the term "cult" (currently often used as a pejorative term according to some comparative religion scholars[1] [2]) is sometimes applied are religious in nature, a number are non-religious and focus either on secular self-improvement[3] [4] [5] [6] or on political action and ideology.[7] Image File history File links Unbalanced_scales. ... ‹ The template below has been proposed for deletion. ... A new religious movement or NRM is a religious, ethical, or spiritual grouping of fairly recent origin which is not part of an established religion and has not yet become recognised as a standard denomination, church, or religious body. ... The W. Edwards Deming Institute. ... An ideology is an organized collection of ideas. ...



Groups that some writers have termed as "political cults," mostly advocating far-left or far-right agendas, have received some attention from journalists and scholars. In their 2000 book On the Edge: Political Cults Right and Left, Dennis Tourish and Tim Wohlforth discuss about a dozen organizations in the United States and Great Britain that they characterize as cults.[8] In a separate article Tourish argues that in his usage "The word cult is not a term of abuse, as this paper tries to explain. It is nothing more than a shorthand expression for a particular set of practices that have been observed in a variety of dysfunctional organisations."[9] “Leftism” redirects here. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged into Left-Right politics. ... On the Edge: Political Cults Right and Left is a non-fiction book about political cults, written by Dennis Tourish and Tim Wohlforth. ... Timothy Andrew Wohlforth is a former Trotskyist politician. ...

The term "political cult" has also been used to describe the "cult of personality" in North Korea (in a context that clearly describes practices more extreme than those in most communist countries to which the term has been applied).[10] [11] [12] [13] A cult of personality or personality cult arises when a countrys leader uses mass media to create a larger-than-life public image through unquestioning flattery and praise. ...

Author and journalist Chip Berlet, the senior researcher at Political Research Associates (PRA) [21], compares political cults to totalitarian movements. In part, he bases this characterization on the writings of Hannah Arendt, author of The Origins of Totalitarianism[14]> Chip Berlet. ... Political Research Associates (PRA) is a non-profit research group located in Somerville, Massachusetts, which studies the U.S. political right wing, as well as white supremacists, anti-Semitic groups, and paramilitary organizations. ... Hannah Arendt (October 14, 1906 – December 4, 1975) was a Jewish-German (later American) political theorist. ... The Origins of Totalitarianism is a book by Hannah Arendt, dedicated to her husband Heinrich Blücher. ...

The term "cult" has also been used loosely and sometimes sarcastically to refer to tightly controlled or excessively fanatical political formations or movements without necessarily meaning that they fit the definition of a destructive cult in the sociological sense of the term. For instance, a Republican Party activist in Texas complained to writer Joe Conason that the local party had become "more religious cult than political organization."[15]

Non-mainstream Religions and Politics

Some religious groups that have been described variously as cults or new religious movements participate vigorously in politics, including the Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon[16] and Maharishi's Transcendental Meditation movement (which sponsors the Natural Law Party), but such groups often clearly identify themselves as being religious organizations that are motivated primarily by spiritual concerns. Sun Myung Moon in 2005. ... The Natural Law Party was a trans-national political party with national branches in over 80 countries. ...

The Falun Gong case

Falun Gong, a religious movement in China, was described as a cult by the Chinese government in the 1990s and has been subjected to harsh repression ever since. The China-Anti Cult Association (CACA) borrowed many of the concepts of the western Anti-Cult Movement in its polemic against Falun Gong, according to one scholarly article.[17] Another report claims that the "brainwashing ideology" of the Western anti-cult movement has been a contibuting factor in the repression of the Falun Going by the chinese government.[18] In an interview published by the Chinese embassy, American Family Foundation Board member Margaret T. Singer labeled the Falun Gong as a cult, and said she did not feel that the government crackdown on the group was “a religious freedom issue at all.”[19] Singer told the Embassy reporter that the American public’s perception of the Falun Gong as a suppressed religious organization was a result of misunderstandings by the American public and a bias against the Chinese government. The American Family Foundation's then president, Herbert Rosedale, presented a paper at a CACA meeting in China in 2001[20] and the following year hosted a meeting of the China Anti-Cult Association and "cult experts" associated with the AFF.[21] Rosedale was criticized at the time for lending support to the Chinese government's suppression of the Falun Gong.[22] Falun Gong, (Traditional Chinese: ; Simplified Chinese: ; pinyin: ; literally Practice of the Wheel of Law) also known as Falun Dafa, (Traditional Chinese: ; Simplified Chinese: ; pinyin: ; lit. ... It has been suggested that Opposition to cults and new religious movements be merged into this article or section. ... Book published by the International Cultic Studies Association The International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) is since 2004 the new name of the American Family Foundation (AFF), a major anti-cult organization based in the United States. ...

Falun Gong countered the arguments of the Chinese government with Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party, a book-length attack on the entire history of Maoism. The book claims that Chinese communism is a cult that has used brainwashing, criticism and self-criticism, physical repression, isolation, paranoia, personality cultism and a full range of other cult-like manipulative methods to control the Chinese people, and further characterizes Chinese Communism as a distortion of Chinese culture that has reached deep into Chinese society.[22]

American Family Foundation Guidelines

Guidelines have been developed by the American Family Foundation (AFF) [23] that claim to provide a basis for making a provisional judgment as to whether a particular group might be a "political cult" rather than simply an ideological sect that uses flamboyantly extreme rhetoric and/or elicits a high level of voluntary commitment from its core members. Book published by the International Cultic Studies Association The International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) is since 2004 the new name of the American Family Foundation (AFF), a major anti-cult organization based in the United States. ...

  1. The group is preoccupied with making money and often elevates money-making duties above the group's ostensible ideological or religious goals. In a political cult, this would include excessive fund raising, especially by illegal means such as electoral campaign-finance fraud.
  2. The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations). In a political context, this would apply to cult-of-personality dictators, as well as other political leaders who strive for a position of authority free from oversight.
  3. The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members' participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group. In a political context, this could include criminal activities, including unprovoked violence against opponents.
  4. The group has an us-versus-them mentality that causes hostility towards, and/or conflict with, political opponents and the wider society to an irrational degree that usually undermines the cult's ostensible goals. Although non-cults, including mainstream political parties, also frequentlyencourage us-versus-them thinking, in the political cult it is carried to an extreme in which the entire world outside the cult is regarded either as the enemy or as pawns to be manipulated in the fight against the enemy; in turn, critics of the cult and other opponents are demonized in a manner that brooks no questioning from the cult's cadre.
  5. The group not only requires members to adhere to particular doctrines or a particular "line" (a feature of many non-cultic groups as well) but also strongly discourages or even bans any questioning or criticism of the behavior or instructions of the group's leadership, and often harshly punishes any members who persist in criticism even if such members are loyal to the "line."
  6. The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law. In the context of a political cult, this could be compared in some respects to Stalin's cult of personality or Nazism's Fuhrerprinzip.

Iosif (usually anglicized as Joseph) Vissarionovich Stalin (Russian: Иосиф Виссарионович Сталин), original name Ioseb Jughashvili (Georgian: იოსებ ჯუღაშვი&#4314... A cult of personality or personality cult arises when a countrys leader uses mass media to create a larger-than-life public image through unquestioning flattery and praise. ... National Socialism redirects here. ... Hitler strongly emphasised the Führerprinzip Führerprinzip was the German name for leader principle, a system with a hierarchy of leaders that resembled a military structure. ...

Examples of groups that have been described as "political cults"

The LaRouche Movement[24] and Gino Parente's National Labor Federation (NATLFED) [25] [26] are examples of political groups described as "cults" that are based in the United States; another is Marlene Dixon's now-defunct Democratic Workers Party (a critical history of the DWP is given in Bounded Choice by Janja A. Lalich, a sociologist and former DWP member).[27] The LaRouche Movement is an international political and cultural movement which promotes Lyndon LaRouche and his ideas, including a number of conspiracy theories. ... Eugenio Perente-Ramos (Gino Perente) (1935-1995) Originally Gerald William Doeden, Perente was a labor organizer who founded the National Labor Federation, a collection of community labor organizing drives often described as a left-wing political cult. ... The National Labor Federation (NATLFED) is an umbrella term for a network of American political cults. ... Bounded Choice: True Believers and Charismatic Cults is a nonfiction psychology book on cults, by Janja Lalich, Ph. ...

Liberalism, a small Marxist group centered in Manhattan and Hollywood that believes that man is god, but is also evil, but can be good if forced to be by the government. They sacrifice babies in a sacrament called abortion and they worship the deities of John Stewart and the people in Hollywood. They hate it when hardworking people earn money, and push to take the money from them and give it to the welfare state. They always want criminals freed, and they are for letting everyone into our borders except those running away from communism, because the liberals don't understand why anyone wouldn't want to be in a communist paradise. Liberalism is an ideology, philosophical view, and political tradition which holds that liberty is the primary political value. ... Marxism is the political practice and social theory based on the works of Karl Marx, a 19th century philosopher, economist, journalist, and revolutionary, along with Friedrich Engels. ... Manhattan is a borough of New York City, USA, coterminous with New York County. ... ... --- John Stewart John C. Stewart is an American singer/songwriter. ... There are three main interpretations of the idea of a welfare state: the provision of welfare services by the state. ... Communism is an ideology that seeks to establish a classless, stateless social organization based on common ownership of the means of production. ...

The "O", a small Marxist group in Minneapolis, is the subject of a memoir by ex-member Alexandra Stein.[28] Organizations headed by Fred Newman, such as the International Workers Party and the New Alliance Party, have been described as a cult by political critics such as Tourish and Wohlforth, Chip Berlet, and the Anti-Defamation League.[29] [30] [31] Newman is involved in both politics and psychotherapy, and has described the cult claims as false and as politically motivated, destructive attacks by political opponents.[32][33] The followers of Ayn Rand were characterized as a "cult" by economist Murray N. Rothbard during her lifetime, and later by historian of science Michael Shermer.[34] [35]. The core group around Rand was called the "Collective" and is now defunct (the chief group disseminating Rand's ideas today is the Ayn Rand Institute). Although the Collective advocated a decidedly libertarianism philosophy, Rothbard claimed they were organized in the manner of a "Leninist" organization.[36] Fred Newman is a controversial philosopher, psychotherapist, playwright and political activist. ... The International Workers Party (IWP) is supposedly a secretive Marxist political organization founded by controversial organizer, playwright and psychotherapist Fred Newman. ... The New Alliance Party was an American political party formed by psychotherapists Fred Newman and Lenora Fulani. ... Chip Berlet. ... The Anti-Defamation League (or ADL) is an advocacy group founded by Bnai Brith in the United States whose stated aim is to stop, by appeals to reason and conscience and, if necessary, by appeals to law, the defamation of the Jewish people. ... Ayn Rand (IPA: , February 2 [O.S. January 20] 1905 – March 6, 1982), born Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum (Russian: ), was a Russian-born American novelist and philosopher,[1] best known for developing Objectivism and for writing the novels We the Living, The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged and the novella Anthem. ... Murray Newton Rothbard Murray Newton Rothbard (March 2, 1926 - January 7, 1995) was an American economist and political theorist belonging to the Austrian School of Economics who helped define modern libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism. ... Michael Shermer Michael Shermer (born September 8, 1954 in Glendale, California) is a science writer, historian of science, founder of The Skeptics Society, and editor of its magazine Skeptic, which is largely devoted to investigating and debunking pseudoscientific and supernatural claims. ... The Ayn Rand Institute: The Center for the Advancement of Objectivism (ARI) was established in 1985, three years after Ayn Rands death, by Leonard Peikoff, Rands legal and intellectual heir. ...

In Britain, the Workers Revolutionary Party, a Trotskyist group led by the late Gerry Healy and strongly supported by actress Vanessa Redgrave, has been described by others, who have been involved in the Trotskyist movement, as having been a cult or as displaying cult-like characteristics in the 1970s and 1980s.[37] It is also described as such by Tourish and Wohlforth in their writings.[38] In his review of Tourish and Wohlforth's book, Bob Pitt, a former member of the WRP concedes that it had a "cult-like character" but argues that rather than being typical of the far left, this feature actually made the WRP atypical and "led to its being treated as a pariah within the revolutionary left itself." [39] Workers' Struggle (LO, Lutte ouvrière) in France, publicly headed by Arlette Laguiller but revealed in the 1990s to be directed by Robert Barcia, has often been criticized as a cult, for example by Daniel Cohn-Bendit and his older brother Gabriel Cohn-Bendit, as well as L'Humanité and Libération.[40] The Workers Revolutionary Party was a Trotskyist political party in the United Kingdom. ... Trotskyism is the theory of Marxism as advocated by Leon Trotsky. ... Gerry Healy (December 3, 1913 - December 14, 1989) was a Trotskyist activist. ... Vanessa Redgrave, CBE (born 30 January 1937) is an Academy Award winning English actress and member of the Redgrave family, one of the enduring theatrical dynasties. ... This article does not cite its references or sources. ... Arlette Laguiller (born March 18, 1940) is the spokeswoman and by far the best known leader of the Lutte Ouvrière French Trotskyist political party. ... Robert Barcia is a leader of the Union Communiste Internationaliste (UCI), a Trotskyist organisation that is better known by the name of its weekly paper Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle). ... Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Ash Wednesday 2004 at Biberach/Riss Daniel Marc Cohn-Bendit (born Montauban, France, April 4, 1945) is a European politician and was a leader of the student protesters during the May 1968 riots in France. ... LHumanité (Humanity), formerly the daily newspaper of the French Communist Party (PCF), was the only French newspaper owned by a political party. ... Libération (affectionately known as Libé) is a French daily newspaper founded in Paris in 1973 by Jean-Paul Sartre, Pierre Victor alias Benny Lévy and Serge July in the wake of the protest movements of May 1968. ...

Armed movements

The Shining Path guerrilla movement active in Peru in the 1980s and 1990s has been described variously as a "cult"[41] and an intense "cult of personality."[42] The Tamil Tigers have also been qualified as such (as well as one of the most effective guerrilla movement) [43] The Communist Party of Peru (Spanish: El Partido Comunista del Perú), more commonly known as the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), is a Maoist guerrilla organization in Peru that launched the internal conflict in Peru in 1980. ... Guerilla may refer to Guerrilla warfare. ... This article needs to be cleaned up to conform to a higher standard of quality. ...

The People's Mujahedin of Iran, a leftist guerrilla movement based in Iraq, has been controversially described as a political cult and as a movement that is abusive towards it own members. [44] [45] [46] [23]. MKO Logo The Peoples Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI, also MEK, MKO) (Persian: سازمان مجاهدين خلق ايران sazmaan-e mujahedin-e khalq-e Iran) is a militant political party that advocates overthrowing the government in the Islamic Republic of Iran and replacing it with its own leadership. ...


  1. ^ Miller, Timothy. Religious Movements in the United States: An Informal Introduction (2003) [1]
  2. ^ Melton, J. Gordon. Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America, New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1986.
  3. ^ Dave Mitchell, "Light to Celebrate 25th Anniversary of Its Pulitzer," Point Reyes Light, April 15, 2004 (on Synanon drug rehabilitation clinic)[2]
  4. ^ Carol Lynn Mithers, "When Therapists Drive Their Patients Crazy," California, August 1988 (on Center for Feeling Therapy, a psychotherapy clinic) [3]
  5. ^ Stephen Butterfield, Amway: The Cult of Free Enterprise, Boston: South End Press, 1985
  6. ^ Compendium of press articles and public record documents on Landmark Education (successor to the "est" self-improvement organization) at [4]
  7. ^ Dennis Tourish and Tim Wohlforth, On the Edge: Political Cults Right and Left, Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2000. Sociologist Janja Lalich has written that this book helps to dispel "the old myth that all cults are religious" but she criticized the authors for using what she believed was "disparaging language" (e.g. "political automatons") to describe those trapped within political cults. ("On the Edge" (review), Cultic Studies Review (online journal), 2:2, 2003 [5]
  8. ^ Tourish and Wohlforth, 2000
  9. ^ [6]
  10. ^ Christopher M. Centner, "The Cult That Is North Korea," Cultic Studies Review, 1:3 2002
  11. ^ John Gittings, "The Cult and the Crisis," The Guardian, October 14, 2006 [7]
  12. ^ Bo-Mi Lim, "N. Korean kids play part in leader's personality cult," Associated Press in Chicago Sun-Times, October 12, 2005 [8]
  13. ^ James Brooke, "North Koreans Celebrate Birthday of 'Dear Leader'," New York Times, February 17, 2003[9]
  14. ^ Berlet, Chip and Bellman, Joel. "Fascism Wrapped in an American Flag", Political Research Associates Briefing Paper. March 10th, 1989.[[10]
  15. ^ Joe Conason, "With God as Their Co-Pilot," Playboy, March 1993
  16. ^ John Gorenfeld, "Bad Moon on the Rise," Salon Magazine (web journal), September 24, 2003[11]
  17. ^ Edelman, Bryan and Richardson, James T. Imposed limitations on freedom of religion in China and the margin of appreciation doctrine: a legal analysis of the crackdown on the Falun Gong and other "evil cults". Journal of Church and State. 47.2 (Spring 2005)
  18. ^ Anthony D, Robbins T, Barrie-Anthony S. Cult and Anticult Totalism: Reciprocal Escalation and Violence. Terrorism and Political Violence, Volume 14, Special Issue 1, Spring 2002, pp. 211-240.
  19. ^ [www.china-embassy.org/eng/zt/ppflg/default.htm Outlawing Falun Gong Cult An Interview with Dr. Margaret Thaler Singer. Translated by the Embassy of People's Republic of China in the United States of America.]
  20. ^ Rosedale, Herbert L. Perspectives on Cults As Affected by the September 11th Tragedy. Cultic Studies Review, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2003
  21. ^ ICSA E-Newsletter (formerly AFF News Briefs) Volume 1, Number 9, 2002
  22. ^ Robbins, Thomas. Cults, State Control, and Falun Gong: A Comment on Herbert Rosedale's "Perspectives on Cults as Affected by the September 11th Tragedy." Cultic Studies Review, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2003
  23. ^ Guidelines, American Family Foundation
  24. ^ John Mintz, "Ideological Odyssey: From Old Left to Far Right," The Washington Post, January 14, 1985[12]
  25. ^ Jeff Whitnack (former NATLFED member), "Cadre or Cult? Gino Parente, NATLFED and the Provisional Party," The Public Eye, Vol. 4, Nos. 3-4, 1984. [13]
  26. ^ Alisa Solomon, "Commie Fiends of Brooklyn," The Village Voice, November 26, 1996.
  27. ^ Janja A. Lalich, Bounded Choice: True Believers and Charismatic Cults, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2004 [14]
  28. ^ Alexandra Stein, Inside Out: A Memoir of Entering and Breaking Out of a Minneapolis Political Cult, St. Cloud, MN: North Star Press, 2002.[15]
  29. ^ "A Cult by Any Other Name: The New Alliance Party Dismantled and Reincarnated," Anti-Defamation League Special Report, New York, 1995 [16]
  30. ^ "Fred Newman: Lenin as Therapist," Chapter 7 of Tourish and Wolhforth [17]
  31. ^ Chip Berlet, "Clouds Blur the Rainbow," pamphlet, Political Research Associates: Cambridge, MA, 1987[18]
  32. ^ Cook, Sean. Walking the Talk. Castillo Theatre of 2002: Newman vs. the Anti-Defamation League. (2003). The Drama Review 47, 3:78-98.
  33. ^ "Culture shock." New Therapist 24 (March/April 2003)
  34. ^ Ibid.
  35. ^ Michael Shermer, "The Unlikeliest Cult in History," Skeptic, vol. 2, no. 2, 1993 [19]
  36. ^ Murray N. Rothbard, "The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult," 1972 (Murray Rothbard Archives)[20]
  37. ^ David North, Gerry Healy and His Place in the History of the Fourth International, Mehring Books, 1991. ISBN 0-929087-58-5. Does not define the group as a cult but draws parallels to Scientology and provides a detailed account of Healy's descent into personal authoritarianism.
  38. ^ Tourish and Wohlforth, "Gerry Healy: Guru to a Star" (Chapter 10), pp. 156-172, in On the Edge: Political Cults Right and Left, Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2000
  39. ^ "Cults, Sects and the Far Left" reviewed by Bob Pitt, What Next? ISSN 1479-4322 No. 17, 2000 online
  40. ^ (French) "Arlette Laguiller n'aime pas le débat", L'Humanité, April 11, 2002. 
  41. ^ Steven J. Stern (ed.), Shining and Other Paths: War and Society in Peru, 1980-1995, Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1998
  42. ^ David Scott Palmer, Shining Path of Peru, New York: St. Martin's Press, second ed., 1994
  43. ^ Gérard Chaliand, Interview in L'Express (French)
  44. ^ Elizabeth Rubin, "The Cult of Rajavi," The New York Times Magazine, July 13, 2003
  45. ^ Karl Vick, "Iran Dissident Group Labeled a Terrorist Cult," The Washington Post, June 21, 2003
  46. ^ Max Boot, "How to Handle Iran," Los Angeles Times, October 25, 2006

Timothy Andrew Wohlforth is a former Trotskyist politician. ... On the Edge: Political Cults Right and Left is a non-fiction book about political cults, written by Dennis Tourish and Tim Wohlforth. ... Book published by the International Cultic Studies Association The International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) is since 2004 the new name of the American Family Foundation (AFF), a major anti-cult organization based in the United States. ... Chip Berlet. ... Clouds Blur the Rainbow: The Other Side of New Alliance Party is a non-fiction book by Chip Berlet, published in 1987 by Political Research Associates. ... ISSN, or International Standard Serial Number, is the unique eight-digit number applied to a periodical publication including electronic serials. ... LHumanité (Humanity), formerly the daily newspaper of the French Communist Party (PCF), was the only French newspaper owned by a political party. ... This article does not cite its references or sources. ... LExpress is the name the first news magazine in France. ...

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