The word cult conjures images of some of the most famous examples: Jonestown, Heaven’s Gate, The Davidians and Waco, and present day groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is easy to believe that cults are extremely noticeable, and effortlessly recognized. However, social media and a lack of public awareness has allowed cults clothed in the appearance of innocent groups to easily recruit and manipulate followers.
The most important concern with groups is being able to identify, and distinguish, a dangerous cult from a healthy group of people who share similar beliefs or commonalities. Defining what a cult is can be a difficult task. However, there are parallels among experts in identifying, and distinguishing, a destructive cult from a non-influential group. Followers of Love Has Won continually defend that their organization is not a cult, but rather, a way of life. The harsh reality is that Love Has Won shares many identifiers of a cult.
Cults generally can be recognized if they have one primary leader or small group of leaders, who are afforded the sole responsibility of making all decisions and guiding the direction of the organization. Psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton identifies an authoritative leader who becomes the object of worship as a foundational characteristic of a destructive cult. Amy Carlson meets this criteria. She is viewed and worshipped as "Mother God," and her words and actions are held to the highest standard. Even with videos of her abusing a cat, and locking a child in a closet, Amy Carlson is protected by the cult mentality that she can do no wrong. When a member of a group is not held responsible for their actions, and they are the primary person in charge with unquestioning followers, the group can be identified as having a common characteristic of a cult.
Mind control, or undue influence, is another classic marker of a cult. Undue influence, commonly referred to as brainwashing, is a complex topic. Sociologist Janja Lalich, and psychologist Michael Langone, found that cultic environments utilize mind altering practices, and the discouragement of questioning, to suppress doubts about the group and its leaders. While brainwashing is a complicated subject, one can recognize it, in its most simplistic form, when followers are discouraged from questioning the group or its beliefs, and punished when they do express concerns. Love Has Won implements this practice by requiring members to use “I feel” phrases, instead of “I think." Members are instructed to "trust the plan" and "trust Mother" rather than expect answers or explanations. When members begin to question, they are told they are “spinning out” and instructed to ground themselves. It is common on livestreams to see members mock former or current members that have spun out. Dr. Steve Hassan notes that in many cults, one can never criticize their leader but instead must criticize themselves. This practice of "feeling into things" and "trusting the plan" go against our human nature of wanting to have a clear understanding of our environment. By suppressing our thoughts, we are subconsciously denying ourselves the information to make educated decisions. This is a classic method used in cults to illicit control, and to keep members from dwelling on obvious gaps in the belief system. Cults run their groups in high pressured environments where critical thinking, independence, or personality are extremely discouraged. Members are given tactics to stop their thinking patterns. For example, Love Has Won stresses the importance of grounding and meditation. They refer to people who become anxious or upset as “spinning out.” Rather than address the followers’ concerns for their upset behaviors, they are encouraged to ground, meditate, "re heart" themselves, remind themselves that they “don’t know shit”, and trust the plan. Imagine an instance where someone is upset, and you are in their presence. A healthy response is to comfort them and encourage them to think, speak, and resolve their issue. Cults do not encourage critical thinking. In fact, they strive to teach their members techniques which can be implemented with loaded language and phrases, in hopes of minimizing their independent thought processes.
Social isolation increases the likelihood and effectiveness of undue influence. Dr. Steve Hassan stresses that cults often limit members access to outside information, discourage them from communicating with non-members or those against the group, and disrupt a person’s identity by giving them a new identity. Love Has Won exemplifies this, as they replace members legal names with their given names from "Mother God." This seemingly small decision plays a large mental role in erasing a person’s previous identity and replacing it with their new, cult identity. This new identity is solidified with minimal contact from their previous identity's social circle. By minimizing their social interactions with family, friends, co-workers, and even their children, members slowly lose their former identity. Pressure is kept on members to continue distancing themselves. Love Has Won states that you must "disconnect from everything, so you can reconnect to everything." This simple statement encourages members to remove themselves from their typical social circles to re-focus their attention on the group and "Mother God." Many members have stopped speaking with their families after their families expressed concerns. One former member was mocked on a livestream for not being able to “get off the bus” and focus his attention solely on his destination and not where he had come from. Another member was told by "Mother God" that she needed to spend less time with her children and not take as much care of them. This is a painful thing to watch from the outside. If you are being asked to distance yourself from family and friends, recognize that this is a sign that someone is attempting to control you.
It may be surprising to learn that mind control is not strictly mental. Behavioral tactics are used to strengthen one’s allegiance and vulnerability to the group as well. Dr. Steve Hassan identifies behavior control as a tactic used in cults to regulate followers' physical reality. By commanding their behaviors, it encourages their minds to follow suit. Our physical realities can be manipulated. This is a main reason why cults implement behavioral tactics which reform how you act and subsequently, how you think, and feel. In Love Has Won, members' sleep schedules are regulated by "Mother God," and their food intake is reviewed by her as well. Members are instructed to sun gaze, work without pay, and be constantly active. Punishment is administered to those who do not follow the set behavioral rules. Those who sleep more than allotted are ridiculed, and those who eat food not specifically approved are told they are "taking from God." Love Has Won members have been asked to leave the main residence and sleep in tents or cars in parking lots because they were in wrong action. By reforming these behaviors, members' minds will then also begin to change over time.
To keep cult members together and practicing, fear is implemented into cult structures and daily life. Dr. Steve Hassan describes fear being used in cults to create an outside enemy. The group bonds over this shared fear, and the fear motivates members to continue to forgo their intuition in the hopes of eliminating this fear. In Love Has Won, members are constantly speaking about their fears of The Cabal, the Elite, dark forces, Democrats, etc. They say that the only way to eradicate these dangers is to support "Mother God" through her ascension. Amy Carlson assures her followers that if they push hard enough on society to increase love and happiness, she will ascend to the fifth dimension and all terrors and negative things will cease to exist. Members become stuck in the mindset that if they do not continue serving towards this cause, they will live among humanity in a world of darkness and horrors. They are instructed that they will not ascend if they are too dense from overeating, or if they have not undergone etheric surgeries to remove microchips and ailments. By continuing to remind followers that they are battling the dark, and that they are responsible for the future of humanity, their fears are emphasized. Fear is a common denominator in many cults.
This is a brief overview of the many characteristics which are common among cults. The hope is that with education and awareness, one can make an informed decision prior to joining something that may seem appealing on the exterior. Cults are more prevalent today with social media. They are easily hidden amongst healthy, non-influential groups, making it hard to recognize a dangerous group even when they are right in front of you.
If you are reading this, and feel that some of these experiences apply to you and/or a group you participate in, take the time to continue researching. Distance yourself from the group, and reflect before you continue further.
Dr. Steve Hassan and Rick Ross both offer excellent books, which can help you identify what a cult is, and how to mentally and emotionally recover from the damage these groups can do without your knowledge.
Please reach out to the site or to your own family and friends for help. We are always here to help in any way we can!
Hassan, Steven. Combating Cult Mind Control: The #1 Best-Selling Guide to Protection, Rescue,
and Recovery from Destructive Cults. Freedom of Mind Press, 2015.
Hassan, Steven. Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults, and
Beliefs. Freedom of Mind Press, 2012.
Langone, Michael D., ed. Recovery from Cults. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995.
Lifton, Robert Jay. Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism. Chapel Hill: University of
North Carolina Press, 1989.
Ross, Rick Alan. Cults Inside Out: How People Get in and Can Get Out. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014.