Cults and Terrorism, Part 5 – Features of Destructive Cults

Continued from part four. Groups have a personality and destructive cult-like groups have certain behaviors in common. “Good” cult-like groups may or may not have the same traits. In “good” groups the traits serve to strengthen group identity and help members conform positively to the group’s ideals and mission. The acid test is in the results. There shouldn’t be any violence, to a member’s mental or physical health or to anyone outside the group.

The test is to apply Hippocrates’ admonition from 300 BCE: “Do no harm.” If there is harm, the group and its teachings are not “good.”

Signs most often cited for destructive cult-like groups are:

  • Exclusivity (only we know the truth)
  • Deviant beliefs (e.g., what the Book of Revelations really means)
  • Charismatic leader (more selfish than selfless)
  • Blind loyalty (prevents critical thinking)
  • Secrets and/or rituals (reinforces separation from society)
  • Social and/or family isolation (substitute group for family)
Dr. MacHovec authored Cults and Terrorism (available in paperback and ebook) which “describes the psychology of cults and terrorism with examples from ancient and modern history, the psychological concepts involved, how to detect and prevent them and treat its leaders and member-victims.”
The is the fifth article of a six-part series on Cults and Terrorism. Throughout the week, the remaining articles will be published; Cults and Terrorism – Leader-Follower Traits will follow.


MacHovec, Frank. Cults and Terrorism. Publisher: Frank Machovec ( 2010. ISBN: 978-0-557-04459-7.

Frank MacHovec, MA, PhD

Frank MacHovec, MA, PhD, is a retired clinical psychologist who worked 30 years in mental health clinics and hospitals and in private practice. In addition to BA, MA, and PhD degrees, he earned two post-PhD diplomates and was a certified forensics examiner who testified as expert witness in civil and criminal cases.
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