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Signs someone is in a cult

Local News
 We explore some red-flags and warning signs that someone you know might have joined a cult [Courtesy, Getty]

A Christian cult practising starvation and operating in Malindi town has claimed over 80 lives and stunned the world. It has been dubbed “the Shakahola massacre.”

The deadly cult has also sparked debate about mental health awareness and the regulation of religion in the country.

More details continue to unfold and as police continue to make gruesome discoveries of a rising death toll, we explore some red-flags and warning signs that someone you know might have joined a cult.

“No longer simply religious extremist groups, cults can also be secular, identity-based, or political groups that aim or claim to do good,” Psychology Today reports, noting that a cult is typically led by a charismatic leader who love-bombs members and promises to solve all their problems with one “big idea.”

The religious leader at the center of the deadly Shakahola cult is one Pastor Paul Mackenzie, who is being accused of radicalizing Kilifi residents to starve themselves to death.


Psychology Today reports that cult leaders often resort to isolating members from the public to maintain control and prevent outside forces from interfering.

“The leaders ban acts of individual free will. The cult isolates its members from the world beyond, depicting the outside as corrupt, evil, and violent. This increases bonding as members see themselves as ‘threatened victims’.”

Extreme obsession with a group or leader

It is a red flag when all a person can talk about is their new religious leader, mentor or group.

More so if they are obsessive about the group or person and if they are unreasonably protective and defensive.

“If someone you know is becoming increasingly overwhelmed with a group or leader, it could be time to intervene. Especially if that obsession is ‘to the exclusion of friends or family, and to the detriment of their employment, education,’ or other other facets of their life,” lifestyle website ATTN reports.

Touching on why cult members are often defensive, the report notes that they often take any questioning or criticism as persecution.

Being in a vulnerable state

When a person is going through a particularly difficult time in their life, a cult may take advantage of this as they are easy to sway.

Insider Magazine reports that being vulnerable makes one susceptible to various brainwashing techniques.

“People who were recently diagnosed with terminal or chronic illnesses are living on their own for the first time, or who have experienced the death of a loved one, are examples of people who tend to enter fragile states, and are therefore more likely to join a cult-like group.”

Being strangely close with a particular charismatic leader

If someone you know develops a close friendship with a leader, and this person begins to have influence over their life and the decisions they make, that is a red flag.

“Incessant ‘checking in’ with, or having to ‘clear’ outside activities with a person's group or leader is probably a bad sign. Watch for increasing dependency on or hyperactivity within the group,” ATTN reports.

Insider magazine adds to watch out for a vulnerable person fully trusting the leader and being in a state of overwhelming confusion.

“When a ‘charismatic’ leader figure steps into their lives, they might convince the vulnerable person to trust them, becoming that person's main source of contact before brainwashing them.”

The person is economically oppressed

Your family member, colleague or friend is suddenly donating a lot more money to a certain group. It becomes worrying when the amounts escalate, and it seems that they would give everything they have if asked.

Refinery 29 reports that cults don’t just survive on ‘good feelings’, rather they have to support themselves in some way. Most require members to send donations and in some cases, membership fees.

“How they choose to spend their money is another thing entirely. Cult leaders such as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and Herbert W. Armstrong spent the money on dozens of Rolls Royces and private jets. Others keep their overhead low, like The Brethren who have been given the name "The Garbage Eaters" for their practice of "freeganism" – a portmanteau of "free" and "vegan" – which involves collecting discarded food to eat.”

They are practising doctrines outside the normal teachings of a religion

If someone you know is involved with practices outside the norm of typical known religions, something might be up.

Insider Magazine reports: “Some fringe religious groups can differ greatly in teaching from mainstream religion. For example, groups that manipulate their followers for money could be seen as cults, as they have ‘twisted’ Christianity in such a way that it ‘takes away the good part of the religious experience’.”


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