Today we have a guest post from amazing Billboard Babe Kat LaRue, tackling the most asked question we have about those caught up in cults.
Kat LaRue became interested in studying cults after a mainstream cult was involved in the death of a loved one. She began immersing herself in research, and specialized in cults while completing a master’s in forensic psychology. Although other pursuits steered her career in a different direction, the interest in cults never waned. Once she became aware of Scientology, she decided that one of her goals would be to spread awareness and information about this group. Kat has determined to do something each day in an effort to stop the abuses that are evident within the group. To this end, she has visited Washington DC several times, speaking with various politicians, she has lodged formal complaints with various agencies, and has been actively trying to ensure that abuses are uncovered. She is also one of the “Billboard Babes”, the group that raised money and erected a billboard in Clearwater, created bumper stickers and other things that are designed to bring awareness to the group.
Why Do They Stay?
What would make me, or anyone else, stay in a cult?
The cult of scientology is both fascinating and disturbing. Taking a close look at the beginnings of the cult reveal the usual common cult hooks: making the planet safe, helping mankind, and the usual self-improvement angles that were very appealing to the seekers of the sixties and seventies. Lost souls looking for deeper meaning to life and a way to stop what many viewed as the decline of civilization- lures that worked. And worked well. The original underpinnings of Scientology had the same high ideals of many that came before and have been created since. Many well-known cults operate this same way. They target the inherent need for people to feel special. To stand out in a crowd. To feel like they are making a change for good. This is generally how they get people ensnared. For scientologists, it used to be the hook of helping mankind. Making the entire universe a paradise of super beings who could improve every aspect of living, even offering the promise of perfect health and endless life. The very thing that sent those thousands of unsuspecting and vulnerable young Americans on journeys of self-exploration, searches for ‘truth’, seeking a purpose or religion that made sense to them. Many remained benign, mostly disintegrating after the purpose has been served, the members discovering that there were other, more practical avenues of self-help. A few turned deadly. Mostly because the leader of the cult was unbalanced and had such a hold on the followers that they gave up free will and self-preservation to die on the altar of their ‘truth’.
However, instead of crumbling under the modern views and demystification of major cults, scientology quickly evolved. Within several decades, the lure of their original causes ceased to have the staying power they once held. By the time Hubbard had died in 1986, a crisis within the cult was looming. The fact that the ‘perfect health’ and immortality promised by the founder had proven to be a lie left the new leader, David Miscavige, scrambling for a reason to keep followers from doubting their purpose.
Scientology still remains one of the great puzzles- while it hasn’t imploded, it still manages to retain members- even after the hooey of Xenu and ‘superpowers’ has mostly been demystified. How? That question has rumbled around for a while- Is it because of the desire to become some super being? Not likely. What was a poor cult leader to do? Miscavige didn’t have the storytelling acumen of Hubbard. He lacked the charisma. He was unable to create new ‘tech’ that would fill the gap and keep followers emptying their pockets in an effort to promote the greater good.
Instead, David Miscavige has latched on to one of the oldest grifts in the book. The need that evolved in the materialistic eighties and nineties. The need to feel ‘superior’ the need for acquisition and recognition. The need for an elusive cache that would make them ‘better’ than their fellow man. Miscavige, being unable to compete with Hubbard’s imaginings, was left casting about for a way to maintain the flow of cash. A way to retain the control of the people whose loyalty was to Hubbard. He landed on ‘wins’. Using trashy trophies, ten cent parchment paper, smarmy announcements and over the top mandatory attendance galas, this born huckster gives PT Barnum a run for his money. Truly embracing the adage that there is a sucker born every minute.
Prior to the death of L. Ron, the cult members had already been indoctrinated into paying for ‘courses’- after all, this was what Hubbard had devised as a way to make easy money off the backs of others, so the precedent had already been firmly entrenched. Miscavige just turned it up several notches. Using the razzle dazzle of the paparazzi laden ‘stars’, the neon gaudiness of Las Vegas and the liberal use of terms such as ‘epic’, ‘stupendous’, ‘unprecedented’, and ‘astronomical’, this modern day Barnum was able to sell the newer members of the cult into believing that they too could be ‘winners’.
That was actually easier than even he may have realized. Coming to age in the excess of the eighties, led into the decade of the nineties when commercialism and attaining ‘things’ were symbols of status and ‘worth’ made his job much easier. He turned to combining the older aspects of the cult- that of attaining ‘super powers’ and ‘clearing the planet’ with that same acquisition and status currying that marked the world. He devised the perfect scam.
Turning the tech that Hubbard left into the cults current moneymaking scam was relatively simple. Who has never been willingly suckered into shelling out money for some worthless prize? Who among us hasn’t been motivated by the desire for recognition? Look around you. Every day, we compete for approval. We compete for the ‘prize’ of status and recognition. The easiest thing to visualize is the common ‘carnival’ grift. People lining up to play rigged games in an effort to win the stuffed animal that could be purchased at a local dollar store. Intellectually, we know the games are rigged. We know the stuffed animals are trash. We know that they aren’t worth the money spent to win the prize, yet many still pour their cash into tokens in order to succeed. Look as well at the paper certificates proclaiming ‘employee of the month’. The lure of the name on a plaque. The ability to preen over the recognition and envy of coworkers. The worthless piece of paper designed by companies to keep workers happy and productivity up.
This same concept has been applied to members in this cult. Spend vast sums of money to obtain ‘recognition’. To gain ‘status’. To ‘win’. That undeniable affliction that lures people to spend a hundred bucks trying to win a fifty cent stuffed animal has been used to great gain by Miscavige. He no longer has to deliver amazing outcomes. He no longer has to worry about the ‘tech’ working well. Miscavige, the consummate carnie huckster, has devolved the original purpose of members into a theme park game. People are willing to spend millions for a tacky trophy. They are willing to forego college for their children to keep up with the Jones. And if someone balks? He has the means to batter them back into compliance with secret tapes of their auditing, games of ‘snitch’ and ceaseless browbeating. The threat of disconnection and banishment. His ‘stats’ games have replaced any lingering vestiges of ‘planetary survival’. This is no longer just ‘us versus them’. This is ‘we are so much better than them’. This is ‘look at all these awards that PROVE we are winning’. When in fact they are losing.
Unfortunately, the only one winning is Miscavige.
But what about the older members? The ones who joined with the anticipation of ‘saving the world’. The ones who were sold the con by the charisma of Hubbard. The whole ‘space opera’ complete with the promise of perfect health and super powers? Most of these were tossed away like yesterday’s garbage, consigned to the wretched living conditions open to bankrupt elderly people with no life skills and a cult unwilling to spend the funds to maintain the comfort of feeble bodies. Others- the ‘lucky’ ones with money still in the bank, were courted incessantly, petted and groomed to keep the money pouring in. these ‘whales’ were treated the same way the ‘whales’ in Vegas are- the pampering, ego stroking and flattery that is designed to separate a fool from his money.
Some of the older members left in a fit of pique. Instead of recovering themselves, they cling to the vestiges of Hubbard’s con. They created a new ‘scientology’ based on the constructs that Hubbard had sold them so long ago. Unfortunately for these people, they cling to the lies, unable to recognize that they have been robbed. They are robbed of true understanding of their folly and continue to struggle with the reality of the situation. They have forsaken the chance to emerge from a cult and reconnect with the lives and families they left behind long ago.
Either way, the house of cards is built on a very shaky foundation, a foundation which, even now, is threatening to collapse. We never-ins are left shaking our heads and wondering if such a thing could ever happen to us or our loved ones.
The answer is yes.