From: FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Vol. 69, No. 9, 2000
Interacting with "Cults": A Policing Model
There is a common tendency to view "cults" with a combination of mistrust and
fear. Much of this hostility derives from widespread misconceptions about the
nature of "cults," founded upon popular stereotypes and simple ignorance. While
such misconceptions are unfortunate in the general populace, they may be
dangerous when harbored by law enforcement officers charged with dealing with
these groups and ensuring the safety of both "cult" members and the general
public. The intent of this article is to shed light on what "cults" are and are
not, to give law enforcement officers some general guidance on how to approach
such movements, and to provide an illustration of how one police department
successfully handled the arrival of a doomsday "cult" in its jurisdiction.1
In sociological terms, a "cult" may be defined as a movement that is foreign to
the culture in which it lives.2 Thus, Americans would define a
"cult" as a group, generally with a religious foundation, whose beliefs and
practices are unfamiliar to the majority of U.S. citizens. Many groups that
Americans once thought of as "cults"—such as the early Quakers, Seventh—Day
Adventists, or Mormons-have received increased recognition and acceptance and
have become accredited churches.3
Other groups, such as Zen Buddhists, which many Americans may view as "cults,"
represent mainstream movements in other parts of the world. Thus, defining a
group as a "cult" generally has much more to do with the way society perceives
the group than it does with the characteristics indigenous to the group itself.
Most scholars of religion avoid the word "cult" altogether because it carries
with it a set of negative connotations: "cult" leaders are con artists; "cult"
followers are brainwashed sheep; "cult" beliefs are bizarre or ludicrous; and
"cult" movements are dangerous, tending toward suicide or violence.4
These scholars instead refer to cults as "new religious movements" or "NRMs"
because the majority of "cults" are young religious movements still in their
first generations. To avoid the negative stereotypes often associated with the
word "cult," the authors will refer to these groups as new religious movements
or NRMs throughout this article. Scholars of religion have identified various
characteristics that are common to NRMs. In practice, however, it proves
difficult to provide a specific description of NRMs because they vary so widely,
from New Age associations to Buddhist meditation groups to Christian
premillennialist movements. NRMs may range in size from groups with just a
handful of followers to groups with thousands of members, and they embrace
radically different doctrines, ascetic to hedonistic, from apocalyptic to
utopian, and from reactionary to New Age, each with a very different attitude
toward society at large. It is critical to note at the outset that the majority
of NRMs stay within the boundaries of the law. Generally, the public only
learns about the exceptions—NRM members' committing suicide, violently
confronting law enforcement, or engaging in fraudulent financial transactions.
Most NRMs, however, practice their religions peacefully, never attracting the
attention of the public, the media, or law enforcement. Regardless of this, NRMs
still conjure up negative thoughts in most people's minds primarily because of
some long-standing myths, or misconceptions, about such groups and their
Analyzing Common Myths About NRMs
NRMs engender enormous amounts of fear and mistrust. And, because they ardently
advocate beliefs that are unorthodox or countercultural, NRMs usually have few
Moreover, inaccurate or sensational media reports and misinformation spread by
organizations that may have an anticult bias often provide the public with its
only source of information. Finally, new religious movements themselves do not
have the numbers, influence, or, perhaps, interest to change society's
impressions of them.8
Thus, despite the lack of evidence, inaccurate myths about NRMs persist. To
reach an accurate and effective understanding of NRMs, law enforcement officers
must start from a clean slate without the prejudices that can hamper effective
Mr. Szubin recently graduated from Harvard Law School. Special Agent Jensen is
an instructor in the Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy. Lieutenant
Gregg serves with the Garland, Texas, Police Department.
Brainwashing stands as the most common allegation leveled against NRMs. Even the
existence of brainwashing, however, is debated fiercely among behavioral
scientists.9 Clearly, in cases where movements physically coerce
inductees (e.g., depriving members of food or preventing them from freely
leaving), definite grounds exist for law enforcement concern. In the majority of
instances, though, NRMs try to attract members through the same methods used by
missionaries in mainstream churches or secular movements. NRM members may
approach strangers or distribute pamphlets in the hope of enticing the
uninitiated to attend a series of classes or lectures about the group's belief
system. At these sessions, groups commonly hold extended meetings or prayer
services during which they emphasize and repeat certain themes or messages.
Absent illegal activity, this process is entirely legitimate. Critics should not
apply the term "brainwashing" to the NRM missionary and conversion process
simply because they do not approve of or understand the religion in question.
Misconceptions about brainwashing may persist because it is difficult to
understand the attraction of the intensely demanding NRM lifestyle. Many people
think that sane individuals never would join such a group unless they were
coerced physically or mentally. People overlook, however, the enormous social
and psychological rewards that NRMs can offer. Converts to NRMs may receive a
sense of purpose, a moral compass, a highly structured guide for their daily
behavior, and a strong sense of social identity and belonging. In this respect,
NRMs often seem more attractive to prospective converts than established
churches, which sometimes appear to have lost their dramatic sense of revelation
and urgency. For individuals who feel unfulfilled by existing outlets in their
lives, spiritually adrift, or merely lonely, joining an NRM may provide a
successful solution, at least temporarily. To put NRMs into context, the same
individuals who join these groups might just as easily find happiness in such
secular, high-intensity movements as the armed forces or the Peace Corps.
While it may prove difficult to relate to a member's absolute commitment, it
remains vitally important for law enforcement officers to at least recognize the
depth and sincerity of that commitment. Dismissing NRM members' beliefs as the
products of brainwashing and gullibility can result in sorely inaccurate
assessments of NRM officials and members and can lead to ineffective and
NRMs often are stereotyped as con games run by opportunistic leaders.11
Undoubtedly, some founders establish NRMs to intentionally bilk followers out of
money or to unilaterally promote their own interests. More frequently, though,
NRM leaders genuinely believe in their teachings, however outlandish or
fantastic these seem. Such leaders or prophets will undergo great sacrifices-up
to and including death-for the sake of their message, and it is dangerous for
law enforcement officers to approach such leaders as if they were disingenuous
Certain practices sometimes are mistaken for indicators that leaders are
insincere. For example, the fact that NRM leaders enjoy benefits or living
comforts that their followers do not simply may reflect the honor that the
groups attach to the leaders' positions. Similarly, groups' requirement that
members turn over their assets to the movements may be prompted by a genuine
attempt to promote an ascetic lifestyle among the members. Law enforcement
officers should be very hesitant to assume that the leaders of NRMs are not
If officers suspect that NRM officials have improper motives, they should
examine the leaders' backgrounds. Sociopaths12 or con artists
generally will not invest years trying to spread their messages and form groups
without a guaranteed payoff. Officers also should remember that NRM leaders and
followers may have many complex motivations for their behavior, not all of which
are internally consistent. NRM leaders may manipulate others and, yet, still
hold sincere religious beliefs. Thus, even if leaders display signs of
sociopathic or criminal behavior, officers should not assume that these
individuals are insincere about their religious beliefs. In the absence of
contrary evidence, officers should assume that NRM leaders are true to their
Determining the Risks Posed by an NRM
Law enforcement officers face the extremely difficult challenge of determining
how dangerous a particular NRM may be. Such groups as Aum Shinrikyo, which
released deadly sarin nerve gas into the Tokyo subway system, pose a definite
threat to their communities. Others, such as Heaven's Gate in San Diego, where
members killed themselves in order to "beam up" to God's flying saucer, pose a
threat to themselves. The majority, the ones that the public rarely hears
about, keeps mostly to themselves and never bother anyone.
Fortunately, officers can turn to established organizations that provide threat
assessments of NRM groups or individuals. For example, law enforcement agencies
can contact the FBI's National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime through
their local FBI office and obtain a threat assessment at no cost. Also, scholars
of religion often can provide valuable information regarding a group's history
and belief system.
The authors have developed a risk assessment table that can be of assistance in
evaluating the dangerousness of NRMs. The table divides NRM characteristics
into three categories: risk factors (elements that may indicate potential
danger), neutral factors (traits that may appear dangerous but in fact shed
little light on a group's threat potential), and protective factors (indicators
that suggest that a group is stable and not dangerous). Although mainly derived
from general threat assessment guidelines, these factors are tailored to the
specific attributes that officers often will encounter in NRMs.11
These factors, however, will not offer a complete "profile" of a potentially
violent group. Rather, officers should consider the risk, neutral, and
protective factors as a guide to, not a replacement for, their common sense and
firsthand impressions of a specific NRM.
Officers should remember that no single factor, with the possible exception of a
history of violence, will determine a group's threat potential. Groups that
exhibit several risk factors may never commit violent acts, while groups with
few risk factors may become dangerous. For example, NRMs may obtain and
stockpile weapons for different reasons. Because most NRMs exhibit a certain
amount of paranoia, some will arm themselves to protect against an expected
attack by the government, private groups, or some other perceived "enemy."
Groups with this outlook are quite different from those that arm themselves
specifically to embark on a violent crusade. Groups of the latter type have an
"offensive" orientation, while those in the former category have a "reactive"
one. Offensive groups obviously pose more of a danger to the community and to
themselves than reactive groups.14 Officers, therefore, should try
to determine a particular group's orientation and not assume that a group has
violent intentions merely from the presence of weapons or another isolated risk
Officers, of course, also must keep in mind the legal protections afforded to
American citizens. Before taking any investigative action, departments should
consult their legal representatives to ensure that officers do not violate the
rights of potential subjects. Finally, and most important, officers always
should exercise caution when dealing with unfamiliar NRMs.
A Case Study of the Garland, Texas Police Department
Little differentiates Garland, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, from other midsize
American cities. The crime rate remains low, thanks in large part to the
progressive, community-oriented policing strategies employed by the Garland
Police Department. Despite its open-minded, modern approach to law enforcement,
however, nothing prepared the department for the challenge it faced when the
Chen Tao religious movement came to town.
Founded in Taiwan in 1993, the Chen Tao movement15, also known as the
"True Way," practices a hybrid version of Buddhism and fundamental Christianity.
As with some NRMs, the 150 members offer total allegiance to their lone leader.16
They function as a single unit, and at least some members allegedly have
contributed their life's savings to the group.
When the Chen Tao movement arrived in Garland in August 1997,17 the
leader announced that, on March 31, 1998, a flying saucer would land in Garland
with God aboard. Coming on the heels of two highly publicized suicides
involving religious groups (the Solar Temple in Switzerland and Canada and
Heaven's Gate in California), the Garland Police Department understandably
became concerned. What steps could the department take to ensure that the
situation was resolved as peacefully as possible?
First and foremost, the Garland Police Department mobilized its resources,
tasked a group of officers with planning strategy and communicating with the
members, and took the lead role in coordinating the various branches of local
government that the group's presence might impact. These branches included the
city manager's office, the fire department, the sanitation department, child
protective services (the group included about 40 children), the transportation
department, and, to prepare for every contingency, the medical examiner's
office. Next, the Garland Police Department devised a strategy to deal with the
situation that included assessing the group's threat potential, creating a
meaningful dialogue with Chen Tao officials and members, and planning for
Assessing the Threat
To determine the true motivations and intentions of the group, the Garland
Police Department contacted several sources, including such U.S. government
entities as the FBI's National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, the
U.S. Department of State, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, as
well as such international organizations as the Taiwanese Office of Consular
Affairs and Office of Economic Affairs. The department also examined several
Web sites relating to NRMs, in general, and Chen Tao, in particular. Last, the
department contacted NRM experts in the academic community and developed a
partnership with a professor from a local university.18 Prior to
working with this expert, the department set ground rules, including what role
the expert would perform (he would serve as an advisor rather than a
negotiator); what information the expert subsequently could use in research; and
what statements, if any, he could make to the media.
Creating a Meaningful Dialogue
Law enforcement behavioral consultants and hostage negotiators have preached the
doctrine of dialogue building for some time.19 However, law
enforcement agencies should consider two caveats to dialogue building.20
First, authorities should approach NRMs only if it appears safe to do so. The
second caveat concerns trust—rapport can be established only if the group feels
that the department is as good as its word. Broken promises and lies will lead
to a complete breakdown in communication. In that event, it would have been
better not to have tried to establish a dialogue at all.
For the Garland Police Department, creating an ongoing dialogue with Chen Tao
officials and members soon after their arrival stands as perhaps its most
effective strategy in peacefully resolving a potentially dangerous situation.
When the group first arrived, the department assigned a lieutenant to initiate
and maintain contact with members during their stay. This officer used an open,
friendly approach. He assured members that the department recognized their
rights under the U.S. Constitution and stated that, in fact, it was the
department's responsibility to protect these rights. The lieutenant and others
met often with Chen Tao of facials to discuss various newspaper articles or
interviews that appeared in the media. In addition, the lieutenant provided a
contact number for them to reach him on a 24-hour basis. Relations became so
cordial that soon members of the department and Chen Tao were meeting every 2
weeks for dinner at a local restaurant.
The rapport between the group and the department provided many benefits. First,
it established a level of trust and made Chen Tao officials and members
recognize that the police were, indeed, there to help them. Garland authorities
underscored this fact at every meeting or public event by reminding Chen Tao
members that the department was there to protect them from individuals who might
resent the group or wish to do it harm. Second, the rapport allowed authorities
to become so well acquainted with group activities that they probably would have
noticed any changes that might have signaled planned violence or suicide.
Finally, the rapport between the group and authorities eventually grew to the
extent that officers felt comfortable asking more probing questions, such as
whether the group had violent or suicidal intentions, and had confidence in
their evaluations of the responses they received.
The department also established communication with two other groups in addition
to the Chen Tao movement. The first was the community, which did not know quite
what to make of the group. Its presence unsettled many Garland residents. They
did not understand the group's different style of dress and behavior, and many
feared violence. Throughout the group's stay, the department maintained contact
with community members and informed them of investigation developments and
contingency plans for the community's well being. The department also
established an ongoing dialogue with the media. Beginning with the Chen Tao
movement's arrival in Garland, media scrutiny proved intense. Reporters and
camera crews came from as far away as England, France, Germany, and China to
cover the story. As with any major news-breaking event, the Garland Police
Department used public information officers to deal with the media. They issued
media passes, created press kits, provided interviews, and arranged such
logistical considerations as parking and sanitation facilities. Planning for
As the date approached for God's alleged arrival on earth, the Garland Police
Department felt relatively certain that, even if God did not show up as planned,
Chen Tao members would not resort to violence or suicide. However, the
department decided not to take any chances. It set up an on-site command post
and had a special weapons and tactics team available to respond if it appeared
that the group would harm itself or others. The department had area child
protective services on hand to care for children as necessary. In case the
group released poisonous gas, the department had fire department units and
paramedics on the scene and had established evacuation routes. The department
also had a judge available to issue search warrants if necessary. Finally,
because it feared that helicopter traffic over the area where Chen Tao members
lived could pose a safety hazard, the department had requested that the Federal
Aviation Administration restrict air traffic if necessary.
All of these plans culminated on the morning of March 31, 1998. Law enforcement
officers and the citizens of Garland held their collective breaths. Time
passed, and God did not arrive. The situation, however, did not end in
tragedy. The Chen Tao leader announced that he obviously had misunderstood
God's plans, and members quietly returned to their homes. Eventually, those
members who did not return to Taiwan relocated to upstate New York to continue
The Garland Police Department put a great deal of time and effort into
peacefully resolving the Chen Tao situation. At the end of day on March 31,
1998, the department could take pride in its achievement.
Dealing with new religious movement leaders and their followers stands as one of
the most sensitive and difficult tasks that face modern law enforcement
agencies. The Garland, Texas, Police Department faced the possibility of such a
threat when the Chen Tao religious movement arrived in its community. To
safeguard Garland residents, as well as group members themselves, the department
gathered accurate information about the religious movement, established a
meaningful dialogue with the group's members, mobilized community resources, and
planned for the worst. By employing this kind of informed, deliberate decision
making and avoiding popular misconceptions about "cults," law enforcement
officers may achieve similar success with NRMs that they encounter.
Certain characteristics provide indications of a new religious movement's
instability and potential for violence. While some of these factors may prove
more significant than others, many may signal a marked shift in a group's
attitude, orientation, or behavior toward violent activity. History of violent
episodes or clashes with law enforcement
Leader's past or current condition (e.g., history of violence,
drug or alcohol abuse, or mental illness; increasing amounts of paranoia;21
onset of real or perceived serious illness; or recent death)
Any abrupt reversal of direction, whether the change appears
positive or negative (e.g., stops recruiting new members or suddenly changes its
message from doom to optimism)
Recent attempts to obtain the knowledge to carry out a violent act
(e.g., recruitment of military or ex-military personnel or those with knowledge
of chemical/biological weapons) and intelligence gathering against specific
persons, organizations, or locations
Recent purchases of weapons, poison, or unusual amounts of drugs
or drug accessories
Training in the use of weapons and rehearsals of suicide (e.g.,
performing ritualistic ceremonies where members jointly consume a single food or
Instances of violence within the group (e.g., child abuse, sexual
abuse, ritualistic violence, violence as a form of social/ religious punishment,
or violence as a rite of passage)
Setting an exact date for the imminent transformation of life on
Moving the date for transformation forward, or closer to the
Conversely, officers can view a group that pushes this date back as less of a
Phrasing its prophecies or predictions in a detailed manner (e.g.,
the general claim that "a day will come when evil will be punished" represents
less of a risk factor than the more specific claim that "a day will come when
America's institutions will bum and its officials will be slain")24
Envisioning an active role for the NRM in the coming
transformation (e.g., predictions that "God's chosen people will be taken up,"
which is phrased passively, versus a prediction that "God's chosen people will
shed their mortal bodies and transport themselves to heaven")
Having the knowledge, means, and ability to carry out a plan that
makes sense operationally
Because new religious movements exhibit many unfamiliar traits, it becomes
difficult to distinguish between risk indicators and characteristics that appear
strange but are not necessarily dangerous. Several traits common to these
groups exist but are not, in and of themselves, danger signals.
Members offer absolute and unquestioning adherence to their leader and the
belief system. In the absence of other risk indicators, this does not indicate
a propensity toward violence or other criminal activity. Indeed, total devotion
is the hallmark of new religious movements. The group physically segregates
itself from others. This also is a common characteristic of many new religious
movements and says little about a group's attitude toward violence or suicide.25
Members adopt unfamiliar customs or rituals, which may involve diet, dress,
language, or family and social organization.
The presence of some characteristics may indicate that a new religious movement
is comparatively stable or is becoming more stable and, hence, less of a
danger. Members take practical steps to plan for the future (e.g., send their
children to school, work at permanent jobs, or make medium to long-term
investments in commodities or real estate).
The group adopts bureaucratic processes that routinize its affairs (e.g.,
transcribes its leader's teachings to writing for dissemination or appoints a
committee to handle such aspects as outreach, finances, or general management).
When the leader dies, a more conventional style of governance, involving voting
or a committee structure, replaces autocratic decision making. Often, this
causes outsiders to change their opinion of the group and view it as a religious
denomination or mainstream religious organization rather than a new religious
1 The authors gratefully acknowledge Special Agents Alan Brantley and
Kenneth Lanning of the FBI's National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime,
Special Agent James Duffy, formerly of the FBI's Crisis Negotiation Unit, Drs.
Anthony Pinizzotto and John Jarvis of the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit, Dr.
Catherine Wessinger of Loyola University at New Orleans, Louisiana, and Dr.
James T. Richardson of the University of Nevada at Reno, Nevada, for sharing
their invaluable experience and insight.
2 For a general discussion of cults and cult movements, see J. Gordon
Melton, Encyclopedia of American Religions, 5'" ed. (Detroit: Gale Research,
3 See James R.P. Ogloff and Jeffrey E. Pfeifer, "Cults and the Law: A
Discussion of the Legality of Alleged Cult Activities," Behavioral Sciences and
the Law, 10, n. 9 (1992): 117, 119; and Jeffrey E. Pfeifer, "Equal Protection
for Unpopular Sects," New York University Review of Law and Society Change 7, n.
9 (1979): 9-10.
4 J. Dillon and J. Richardson, "The Cult Concept: The Politics of
Representation Analysis," Syzygy: Journal of Alternative Religion and Culture 3
(Fall/Winter 1994): 185-196.
5 For a description of structural/demographic features common to
cults, see J. Gordon Melton, Encyclopedia of American Religions, 5th ed.
(Detroit: Gale Research, 1996); and Philip Lamy, Millennium Rage (New York:
Plenum Publishing, 1996).
6 Supra note 2.
7 For an analysis of negative public reactions to NRMs, see David
Bromley and Anson Shupe, "Public Reaction Against New Religious Movements" in
Cults and New Religious Movements, ed. Marc Galanter (Washington, DC: American
Psychiatric Association, 1989), 305-330.
8 However, a few groups have employed public relations workers for
this purpose (Dr. Catherine Wessinger, interview by authors, December 12, 1999).
9 Many scholars contend that individuals cannot be "brainwashed" to
act against their wills. See Miriam Karmel Feldman, "The Mind Control Myth: Is
Brainwashing All Wet?" Utne Reader 92 (March/April 1999): 14-15; and James T.
Richardson and Brock Kilbourne, "Classical and Contemporary Applications of
Brainwashing Models: A Comparison and Critique," in The Brainwashing/
Deprogramming Controversy: Sociological, Psychological, Legal and Historical
Perspectives, ed. David G. Bromley and James T. Richardson (New York: Edwin
Mellen Press, 1983), 29-45. Other researchers claim that NRMs effectively employ
coercive mind control techniques. See Margaret Thaler Singer and Janja Lalich,
Cults in Our Midst: The Hidden Menace in Our Everyday Lives (San Francisco:
Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1995).
10 For a discussion detailing why individuals join NRM groups, see
Philip Zimbardo, "What Messages Are Behind Today's Cults?" available from
cult.html; accessed July 13, 2000.
11 See Saul V. Levine, "Life in the Cults" in Cults and New Religious
Movements: A Report of the American Psychiatric Association, ed. Marc Galanter
(Washington DC: American Psychiatric Association, 1989), 101-102.
12 The term sociopath or antisocial personality disorder is a
clinical diagnosis used by mental health professionals. For law enforcement
purposes, sociopaths generally are totally self centered individuals who lack a
conscience, do not display remorse for their actions, and do not learn from
their mistakes. Law enforcement professionals spend a great amount of time
dealing with these individuals, who some believe are responsible for most of the
criminal acts committed in society. For further information, see The Sociopath A
Criminal Enigma (undated) produced by the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit.
13 For dangerousness typologies relating to militia and extremist
groups, see James E. Duffy and Alan C. Brantley, "Militias: Initiating Contact,"
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, July 1997, 22-26; Anthony J. Pinizzotto, "Deviant
Social Groups," Law and Order, October 1\996, 75-80; and Catherine Wessinger,
"Presentation to the FBI, June 7, 1999"; available from http:lwww.loyno.edu/-wessing; accessed July 13, 2000. Also, the authors gained valuable information
from numerous personal dialogues with Special Agent Alan Brantley.
14 However, if an armed group perceives law enforcement behavior as
threatening, even a reactive group could respond with violence or suicide.
15 This movement originated nearly 40 years ago and grew out of a
quasi-academic group known as the Research Group of Soul-Light, which had as
many as 3,000 members. The present leader, formerly a sociology professor at
Chianan College of Pharmacology and Science in Taiwan, reorganized the group
around the revelation concerning God's appearance on earth that he received in
1993. See Matthew Goff; "An Historical Overview of the Chen Tao"; available from
users/tdaniels/Articles/72-history.html; accessed July 13, 2000.
16 While loyalty to leaders represents an enduring stereotype
associated with NRMs, it may vary from group to group. (Dr. James T. Richardson,
interview with authors, December 29, 1999).
17 The group first arrived in the United States in 1996 in San Dimas,
California. The leader moved the group to Texas upon alleged instructions from
God. The members chose Garland because it sounded to them like "Godland." See
Ted Daniels, "Chen Tao and Rationalization of Failure"; available from
http://www. channell. com/users/tdaniels/ Articles/71-chentao.htm
18 Dr. Lonnie Kliever supplied a great deal of beneficial information
to the Garland Police Department. For his perspective, see Lonnie Kliever,
"Meeting God in Garland: A Model of Religious Tolerance," Nova Religion: The
Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 3, n. 1 (October 1999): 45-53.
19 For the benefits and strategies of communicating with militia
groups, see James E. Duffy and Alan C. Brantley, "Militias: Initiating Contact,"
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, July 1997, 22-26; and Anthony J. Pinizzotto,
"Deviant Social Groups," Law and Order, October 1996, 75-80.
20 See the previous section on determining risks of NRMs.
21 A certain amount of paranoia is normal among NRM leaders. However,
high degrees of paranoia or an increasingly paranoid outlook should raise a red
flag. For an in-depth analysis of paranoia in groups, see Robert Robins and
Jerrold M. Post, Political Paranoia: The Psychopolitics of Hatred (New Haven,
CT: Yale University Press, 1997).
22 This illustrates why officers must use their common sense and
establish a dialog in interacting with NRM members. While eating and drinking
common food and beverages may serve as a rehearsal for suicide, it may act
instead as an integral part of a group's religious practices. In Christianity,
for instance, parishioners consume wine and bread routinely as part of Communion
ceremonies. Law enforcement personnel may, at some point, have to evaluate the
purposes of such acts; the best way to do this may be merely to ask group
members about it.
23 A good investigative strategy would include determining whether
the group in question has fixed upon other dates in the past. If so, how did it
respond when those dates passed? A group that has bounced back from past
disappointments is less likely to self destruct upon arriving at its next
unfulfilled prophecy. Precedents exist for dates marking God's return to pass
without incident. Groups can easily explain God's failure to return by claiming
that he changed his mind or did return but only "believers" could see him.
24 To protect freedoms of speech and religion, law enforcement
agencies should consult their legal advisors before collecting and scrutinizing
groups' publications, pronouncements, Web sites, or other material.
25 For a discussion of the circumstances under which physical
isolation may assist in propelling a group toward violence, see Kevin M.
Gilmartin, "The Lethal Triad: Understanding the Nature of Isolated Extremist
Groups," FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, September 1996, 1- 5. Copyright United
States. Federal Bureau of Investigation Sep 2000