There is an important legal precedent set by the case of the notorious Charles Manson “family”. It is that Charles Manson was not present at any of the gruesome murders, and yet he was convicted of murder because the people who carried out the crimes were under his total slavish control. The Court found that they were so controlled by him and obedient to him that they would not have committed these murders without his approval, so he was responsible for his followers’ deeds.Emotional comfort is central to the allure of cults.
California Institute of Technology psychologist Jon-Patrik Pedersen, in attempting to explain why people are drawn to cults, has argued that the human longing for comfort leads us to seek out people or things that can soothe our fears and anxieties.
In and of itself, the urge to quiet internal demons is not a negative trait. I'd argue that, to the contrary, it's an effective adaptation that allows us to cope with the stressors, big and small, that bombard us on a regular basis.
However, cult leaders meet this need by making promises that are virtually unattainable – and not typically found anywhere else in society. This, according Pedersen, could include 'complete financial security, constant peace of mind, perfect health, and eternal life.'
Beyond exploiting human desire for emotional comfort, cult leaders don't always have the best intentions when it comes to the mental health of their followers.
Psychiatrist Mark Banschick has pointed out that cult leaders employ mind and behavioral control techniques that are focused on severing followers' connections to the outside world.
These methods can actually deepen members' existing emotional insecurities, while encouraging them to become completely reliant on their cult for all their physical and emotional needs.
Physical and psychological isolation can result, which actually exacerbate many of the problems, like anxiety and depression, that attract people to the cult in the first place.
The anxiety and depression can become so overwhelming and feel so insurmountable that the followers feel trapped.
That is a scary thought for other cults that require total, unquestioning obedience to a universal leader. The leader can be held responsible for what his followers do.