Personality is a dangerous thing, and the ability to influence people can be used for ill just as easily as it's used for good. We naturally find ourselves attracted to magnetic people, allowing their charisma to blind ourselves to their intentions and ideas.
Criminology and psychology researcher Joe Navarro has dedicated his life to understanding the twisted charisma of cults and cult leaders. Here, we've outlined his list of 50 traits common to cult leaders that help them dominate the lives of others. Check the list, then compare them to the profiles of history's most infamous cult leaders starting on page 3 to see the shocking patterns and similarities.
Charles Manson was born Charles Milles Maddox on November 12, 1934, in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Kathleen Maddox, a 16-year-old girl who was both an alcoholic and prostitute. He was placed in an all-boys school but ran away back to his mother, only to discover she didn't want anything to do with him. Charles was soon living on the streets and getting by through petty crime, going to prison several times.
He was described by probation reports as suffering from a "marked degree of rejection, instability and psychic trauma" and "constantly striving for status and securing some kind of love." Other descriptions included "unpredictable" and "safe only under supervision." While in prison he was extremely difficult to control, and once raped a fellow inmate at knife point while incarcerated in Mcneil Island prison.
After he was released, Manson began taking heavy dosages of LSD and became obsessed with armageddon and new-age religion. Eventually he gathered a group of followers that shared his passion for an unconventional lifestyle and habitual use of hallucinogenic drugs. They became known as The Family and moved to a deserted ranch in the San Fernando Valley. His followers numbered around 100 young people. At the core of this group was a small hard-core unit of impressionable young girls who believed without question Mansons claims to divinity and prophesied race-war.
But the most despicable of his actions came when Manson gathered a group of his most loyal Family followers to carry out a massacre among the Hollywood elite. Targeting what he called, the beautiful people."
The most inhumane killing is arguably that of actress Sharon Tate at the home of famous director Roman Polanski. Despite pleading for the life of her unborn child, Tate was mercilessly stabbed in the stomach by Mansons accomplice Susan Atkins. She then used Tate's blood to write the word "pig" on the front door. Instead of this brutal massacre sating the pathological Manson, he instead criticized the murderers for being sloppy.
Manson and his followers were later arrested for vandalizing Death Valley National Park until it was discovered they were behind the terrible murders. Manson showed absolutely no remorse for his actions and revelled in the media attention he was showered with.
Former professor Marshall Herff Applewhite and nurse Bonnie Nettles created a religious cult commonly known as Heaven's Gate that drew from science fiction as well as apocalyptic scripture. In 1997, they led their followers to commit suicide in hopes of being transported onto a spaceship traveling with Hale-Bopp comet.
Applewhite was by all accounts a very normal man before meeting Nettles. He was known for his musical and dramatic talents. Being a charismatic public speaker and impressing people with his strong baritone voice and good diction.He was an assistant professor at the University of Alabama, where served as choirmaster for several groups.
Raised in Houston as a Baptist, Bonnie Nettles knew the Bible well, but then became fascinated by alternative spirituality as an adult. She believed that she had a spiritual guide in the form of a 19th century monk named Brother Francis. She learned to make astrological charts and participated in sances to make contact with the dead.
The pair met in 1972, although reports on how they met exactly differ. Some reports indicate that they met at a hospital where Nettles worked while others indicate they met at a drama class taught by Applewhite. Instantly, the pair believed that they shared some type of spiritual connection and owned a failing spiritual bookstore together.
They would later decide that they were "The Two" mentioned in the Book of Revelation and that they were on an important spiritual mission. They spent months wandering around the country under the belief that their higher calling allowed them to ignore earthly laws.
Wanting to share their knowledge with others, they began holding information sessions. Due to the combination of Nettles spirituality and Applewhites speaking skills, they started to develop a devoted following. During this period they became a national oddity, and were even featured on the news.
Uncomfortable with increased public scrutiny, Applewhite and Nettles sent their followers to out to travel the country as missionaries while they kept a low profile. They spent several years living at campsites with Applewhite and Nettles making sure that their followers kept busy performing tasks for the group or trying to curb their human nature. In their community, lying and breaking the rules were considered major offenses. Uniformity was strictly enforced, and members wore uniform hair styles and clothing.
In 1985 Nettles died of cancer, devastating Applewhite. He regained his zeal with the discovery of the Hale-Bopp comet in 1995. He believed the comet was a sign that a spaceship was coming to take them to a higher plane of existence.
As the Hale-Bopp comet drew closer to Earth in 1997, Applewhite and his followers prepared to make their exit from this world. On March 21, they ate a last supper of sorts at a restaurant, all ordering the same thing: turkey pot pie, cheesecake with blueberries and iced tea. A day or two later, when the comet was closest to the planet, Applewhite and his followers took their own lives by drinking a mixture of vodka and barbiturates.
Shoko Asahara was the leader of the most notorious religious cult in Japanese history, Aum Shinrikyo. Recruiting over 10,000 followers, Asahara believed he was destined to become Emperor of Japan and organized a deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.
Shoko Asahara was born as Chizuo Matsumoto on March 2, 1955 in Yashushiro, Japan. One of seven children, his impoverished family made a meager living making flooring material for traditional Japanese homes. Asahara contracted infantile glaucoma at birth, leading to blindness in his left eye and limited sight in his right eye.
After attending a school for the blind, Asahara graduated in 1977, but failed to gain entry into a university. Instead he turned his ambitions to peddling herbal medicines and was convicted of practicing pharmacy without a license.
He experienced a spiritual awakening and founded Aum Shinrikyo (meaning roughly, "religion of truth"), blending Hindu and Buddhist spirituality with the teachings of the Bible's Revelations, and the writings of Nostradamus. The cult believed the world was on the brink of an apocalypse, and that Shoko was the only savior who could lead the pure to salvation. At its height, Aum Shinrikyo was estimated to have 10,000 members in Japan and thousands more across the world.
Asahara repeatedly attempted to have members of his cult elected to public office, but failed in the elections. Instead, they began forming political organizations to influence the government despite reports at the time that Aum Shinrikyo were buying and manufacturing materials for chemical weapons.
In March 1995, members of Aum Shinrikyo attacked the Tokyo Subway System with the nerve gas Sarin. Thirteen people died and thousands suffered from the after-effects. Evidence revealed that Asahara was the mastermind behind the attack and the organization's facilities were raided.
Asaharas trial lasted eight years due to scandal and his refusal to cooperate with his court-appointed attorneys, claiming insanity. He was eventually convicted of al thirteen deaths among other charges.
The Aum Shinrikyo organization was renamed Aleph in 2002, and its members have attempted to distance themselves from the actions of Shoko Asahara. Presently, he is reportedly confined to a wheelchair and unable to respond to anyone coherently.
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (n Chandra Mohan Jain) was born on December 11, 1931, in Kuchwada, India. He took a year off from his studies in 1953 and believed that he had achieved enlightenment during the this time. However, he returned to his schooling anyway and became assistant professor of philosophy at Raipur Sanskrit College. His radical ideas soon put him at odds with the institution's administration and he was forced to find work elsewhere, eventually becoming a professor at the University of Jabalpur.
Also at this time, Rajneesh traveled throughout India to spread his strange and controversial spirituality. This included the notion that sex was the first step toward achieving "superconsciousness." He began developing meditation groups and eventually left his position at the University of Jabalpur to devote himself entirely to his teachings. This resulted in an outpouring of attention and as a result he was nicknamed "the sex guru."
In 1970, Rajneesh introduced the practice of "dynamic meditation," which he insisted could allow people the chance to experience divinity. During this period, many young Westerners became entranced by Rajneesh and travelled to India to learn from him. In the process they took new Indian names, dressed in orange and red clothes, and participated in group sessions that sometimes involved both violence and sexual promiscuity. He was so popular that his six-acre ashram was so overcrowded that Rajneesh required a new site. Tensions with the local government prevented this, and in 1980 he was the target of an attempted assignation by a Hindu fundamentalist.
As a solution, Rajneesh fled to the United States with 2,000 of his disciples, settling on a ranch in Oregon, which he named Rancho Rajneesh. He began the construction of a city for him and his followers, naming it Rajneeshpuram after himself.
As tensions between the commune and the Oregon government increased, Rajneesh began using more drastic measures to achieve their ends. He and his followers constructed a mass salmonella poisoning in 1984 that affected more than 700 people. After this and several other crimes, police arrested Rajneesh while he was attempting to flee the United States to escape charges of immigration fraud. During his subsequent trial, Rajneesh pleaded guilty of immigration charges and was deported to India to be dealt with by the Indian government.
He tried to continue his teachings, but the number of followers and the control he had over them decreased significantly. He renamed himself Osho and died of heart failure in one of his few remaining communes in 1990.
However, following his death, the commune was rebranded into the Osho International Meditation Resort, which is currently estimated to attract as many as 200,000 visitors a year. And the organization continues to spread his beliefs from the meditation centres they have opened in major cities across the globe.
James Warren "Jim" Jones was born the son of James Thurman Jones, a disabled World War I veteran. He was largely left to himself as a child, due to his mother often working and his father having little interest in him.
One of his neighbours began taking him to church, and at the age of 10 Jones began his own personal religious quest. He would visit the churches in town and absorb their teachings like a sponge, turning around and proselytizing those messages to the other children. He was a strong student and a good public speaker, but he was intensely disliked by his peers for his overpowering religious zealotry.
After years of struggling to find his way, Jones decided to become a minister in 1952. He became an apprentice pastor, and by the following year had developed a reputation as a healer and evangelist in the state of Indiana. He split with the traditional church due to his desire to hold racially integrated congregations, forming the Peoples Temple in 1955.
His move was a success, and by the mid 1960s he was operating out of Northern California. The combination of his fiery sermons preaching a better life, supposed healings and neatly groomed appearance made him extremely popular, and Jones became wealthy off the donations of his followers. In order to consolidate power over his followers he sought to destroy their family bonds and positioned himself among them as the father of all.
By the 1970s he became increasingly paranoid and moved 1,000 members of the Peoples Temple to a compound in Guyana that he christened Jonestown. He assumed total control over the lives of his acolytes, preaching to them over loudspeakers while preventing them from leaving with armed guards and conducting fake suicide drills in the middle of the night.
In 1977 American congressman Leo J. Ryan visited Jonestown and attempted to stage a rescue. They were attacked by Jones thugs and Ryan was killed.
Knowing that his time was up, Jones launched what he called his "revolutionary suicide" campaign. Cyanide and Valium were mixed into a batch of powdered drink mix to make a toxic punch, and cups of this lethal beverage were distributed to the members. The first to die were the children and those who refused to drink were forced to by armed guards. In all, more than 900 people died at Jonestown276 of them were children. Meanwhile, Jones surrounded himself with his inner circle and was shot in the head.