a criminal cult is a group or movement exhibiting a higher or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea. Criminal cults commit crimes ranging from homicide, (Branch Davidians, 1993), arson, drug trafficking, terrorism (aum shinrikyo, 1995), burglary, suicide, (Heaven’s Gate, 1997), and child abuse (Hare Krishnas, 1990). Many individuals in society have wondered about prevalence of criminal cults in recent decades (Lottick, 2005). since 1960, mental health professionals estimate that two to five million americans have been involved with criminal cult groups the 1960’s (Langone, 2003). adults and youths can become criminal cult members. Most criminal cult members come from normal, functioning families, and are educated.

Youths overwhelmed by school and parental demands and perplexed by society may affiliate with a criminal cult (singer, 2003). a limited example of destructive cults are presented here, such as the Branch Davidians, led by David Koresh 1981 to1993, aum shirinkyo, led by shoko asahara from 1987 to 1995, (Parachini, 2005). In 1969, there has been a 13% increase in the Us of criminal cults established since 2002 (Fagan, 2004).


since the 1980s’fundamentalists movements have tripled in size (Ranstorp, 2002). Religious violence fills the pages and media each and everyday (Kent, 2004). There are thousands of unrecognized new religious movements in society (Perlmutter, 2004). at no time in history as today, have more religions existed. society now faces more threats from small and new dangerous cults (Kent, 2004). Many cults resort to violence when the group feels threatened by society and young and inexperience leaders resort to violence when threatened “from inside or outside” the group (Traverton et al, 2005, p. xiv).

Law enforcement needs to understand the complexity of religious differences and the problems new religious movements may generate (Perlmutter, 2004). Police agencies have a challenge to determine the danger many cults impose on society (szubin et al, 2002). Cult groups can turn to violence against society (Langone, 2007). Cult group vary in size, different in doctrines, and perceive the world different (szubin et al, 2002).

Many high-profile events can be linked to cults (Merton & Bromley, 2002). abusive religions are usually detached from society (Kent, 2004). according to Jinkins (2004) fringe religions and cults have often caused fear in the United states (Lewis, 2004). Criminal cases that have received the most attention include the Peoples Temple, Branch Davidians, aum shinrikyo (1995), solar Temple, and Heaven’s Gate (Lewis, 2004). Groups with apocalyptic expectations are prone to violence due to their world view condemning the existing social order (Lewis, 2004). since many millennial groups regard themselves as the vanguard of the new order, there is a tendency to disregard the existing normative order.

according to Kaminer, (2002) religion can cause cruelty and bigotry. all religions have murdered in the name of God (Marty, 2002). Religious terrorism is violence committed of fulfilling a divine command (Lerner & Lerner, 2006). Killing in the name of God has escalated in today’s society (Traverton et al, 2005). Most americans can not comprehend religious violence (Marty, 2002). according to Perlmutter, (2004), religious terrorists never consider their violent acts as terrorism. Religious extremists commit savage attacks against society in the name of God (Traverton, 2005). Many religious terrorists will even risk their lives and the lives of innocent bystanders in suicide missions (Lerner & Lerner, 2006). There are similarities between terrorism and cults (Mansfield, 2003). The success of a suicide mission earns them martyrdom and an “elite place in the afterlife” (Lerner & Lerner, 2006, p. 1). Terrorists train very hard in order to succeed in their violent acts (Jackson, 2005). according to Perlmutter (2004) religious terrorism is “any act of violence or threatened use of violence by a group or individual with the intent of intimidating individuals, citizens or governments in the furtherance of religious objects” (p. 2).

according to Gesy, (2003) adolescents who exhibit hostile behaviors do not see themselves as connected to society, nor depending on society. They cut themselves off believing that they are dependent in an attempt to create something they think is new and better. Religious cults criticize society and claim to create a better society for adolescents. according to Richmund (2004) many cults are destructive and manipulative towards members and society. Law enforcement officers have found the connection between satanism and crime (Karlsberg,).

Certain cults in society target teenagers (Richmund, 2004). according to Karlsberg, satanism is a threat to the United states and teenagers. satanism is a concern to law enforcement agencies because of the “violent and bazaar incidents” (p. 1) involving satanic practices. satanism consists of many different beliefs and practices (Lowney, 2002). The Church of satan teaches that there are no standards for being a satanist (Tamara & Roloff, 2002). Teenage satanists are known to have committed physical abuse, stabbings, and mutilating other teenagers (Richmund, 2004). There are satanists that visit cemeteries and churches to perform rituals (Lowney, 2002). The cloak of secrecy allows satanists to avoid being arrested by law enforcement officers (Lewis, 2004).

Problem statement

The general problem in this study is a lack of general access of information for effective law enforcement criminal investigation on criminal cults. Criminal cults commit crimes ranging from homicide, arson, drug trafficking, terrorism, burglary, suicide, and child abuse. The specific problem in this study is there is that there are barriers to obtaining accurate and immediate information to assist law enforcement officers in investigation with criminal cults. Due to the lack of law enforcement having current information regarding criminal cult activities, professional law enforcement groups concerned about criminal cults have no nationalized database of information and must rely upon private independent criminal cult awareness groups. The solution to information sharing is leadership (Ratcliffe. 2007, p. 7).

Law enforcement personnel must take advantage of their information-rich environment (Ratcliffe. 2007, p. 1). Intelligence information allows leaders and decision makers to devise better policing and crime prevention, view of crime patterns, and criminal behavior ((Ratcliffe. 2007, p. 3).

The appropriate method and research design will be a qualitative research design. The general population of the proposed study will be United states federal, state, and city law enforcement investigators and trainers.


The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological research study was to identify and address the barriers that prevent federal, state, and city law enforcement personnel in the United states from obtaining accurate and immediate information on criminal cults. The qualitative approach is appropriate for this study because “qualitative research aims to achieve an in-depth understanding of a situation” (Cooper & schindler, 2006, p. 36).

The appropriate research design is survey design. The survey design is appropriate because it allow the researcher “to question the subjects of the study and collect their responses by personal means” (Cooper & schindler, 2006, p. 136). according to Creswell (2005) a questionnaire allows the participant to complete and return to the researcher (p. 360). The specific population group of the proposed study will be federal, state and city law enforcement personnel in that deal with cult investigations and enforcement. The geographic location of the study will be the New York City. Relationships and comparisons will be made with the information obtained from the specific population of the study.

significance of the study

The significance of this qualitative phenomenological study is that it will offer intelligence information and strategies for federal, state and city law enforcement who deal with cult investigation and enforcement. The study is important because it will offer federal, state, and city law enforcement accurate and immediate information on criminal cults. according to Kotter, “In order to transform your organization you must establish a sense of urgency, identify and discuss crisis, and form a guiding coalition” (p. 50). The contribution this research may make to current and future generation is effectiveness in dealing with criminal cults through accurate and immediate information on criminal cults. The contribution will also lead to further study in area of criminal cults.

significance of study to the field of leadership

The significance to the study to the field of leadership will allow leadership in federal, state and city law enforcement to collaborate in the area of criminal cult. Cult groups have the higher risk of breaking the law. according to Gebhardt, (2004), law enforcement officers are in the front line protecting citizens (p. 1). The results of this study will add to the body of leadership knowledge literature by “getting rid of obstacles to change, and develop leaders in the organization who can implement the vision” (Kotter, 1999, p. 50). Law enforcement must work, and face leadership challenges together (Gebhardt, p. 2, 2004). Management “leads, directs, or manages the organization towards its goals” Dantzker, p. 146, 2003).

Nature of the study

a qualitative method was appropriated for this research study because qualitative research allows an “interpretive naturalistic approach to the subject matter” (Denzin 1994, p. 2). The qualitative research arena is the natural setting with an attempt at interpreting and making sense of observable facts by the meaning people give to them. Qualitative research focuses on human behavior in a “social, cultural, and political contexts in which they occur” (salkind, 2003, p. 13). The qualitative approach refutes the existence of an “external reality” (Joniak, 2002, p. 2). searle defines external reality as that which exists “outside and independent” of one’s interpretation (1995, p. 154). Qualitative research embraces internal veracity with an understanding and appreciation of the knowledge acquired. Qualitative research is much more subjective than quantitative research and uses very different methods of collecting information, mainly individual, in-depth interviews and focus groups. The nature of this type of research is exploratory and open-ended. small numbers of people are interviewed in-depth and/or a relatively small number of focus groups are conducted. Participants are asked to respond to general questions and the interviewer or group moderator probes and explores their responses to identify and define peoples’ perceptions, opinions and feelings about the topic or idea being discussed and to determine the degree of agreement that exists in the group. The quality of the findings from qualitative research is directly dependent upon the skill, experience and sensitivity of the interviewer or group moderator. This type of research is often less costly than surveys and is extremely effective in acquiring information about peoples’ communications needs and their responses to and views about specific communications. It is often the method of choice in instances where quantitative measurement is not required.

a phenomenological survey design gave the researcher the opportunity to gather the appropriate information to the study. according to Cooper and schindler (2003) “the research design “constitutes the blueprint for the collection, measurement, and analysis of data” (p. 154). The appropriate research design for this study is in-person and telephone interviews and questionnaires distributed to law enforcement officers in the selected population. Research design serves as the “plan and structure of investigation so conceived as to obtain answers to research questions” (Cooper, 2003, p. 154).

Hypothesis/Research Questions

The qualitative, ethnographic study provides answers to the following research questions:

1. Why should leaders care about cults or new religious movements?

2. Why are cults a leadership problem?

3. Why is lack of information a significant problem?

It is clear that the generation of the cult of personality came about as a result of personal ambition within parties characterized by certain structural features. Principal among these was the low level of institutionalization of the party at all levels: a lack of definition in leadership positions within a formally collective ethos added to a lack of certainty about tenure of office al all levels of the structure. such structural factors were reinforced by circumstances of the party’s growth in economically under-developed societies. a focus upon these structural characteristics of the party’s constitution and of its social and temporal location as elements of an explanation of the emergence of a personality cult is much more satisfactory than is an idealist focus upon political culture. The cult seems to spring from the concrete circumstances of the political institutions at the time, rather than from some vague set of principles inherited mysteriously from the traditional political culture. These can at best provide a cultural backdrop.

In today’s turbulent world, the spotlight on individual leaders and their performance grows ever brighter. Those organizations that are sustaining their value-and the reputation of their leaders-in these challenging times have one thing in common: leaders who pay attention to what they will leave behind them after they are gone. They ask themselves what values will sustain the organization over the long haul; what people will say of them; whether the organization they led will still be there to remember them; and if so, what position they will hold in the organization’s memory.

The paradox at the heart of organizational leadership is that the leader must add value to the organization but must not take it away when he or she leaves. an essential part of a leader’s job is to become dispensable through creating a culture of leadership that extends throughout the organization. When an organization becomes incapable and falls apart after the leader departs, the subsequent ruin is, in a sense, a validation of that leader’s talent and evidence of the value added during his or her tenure. But it is also evidence of that leader’s failure to endow the organization with the qualities needed to transcend previous achievements, the failure to nurture the conditions under which leadership can flourish. These reflections point to the critical questions: Why should leaders care about cults or new religious movements? Why are cults a leadership problem? Why is lack of information a significant problem?

Theoretical Framework

In developing a theoretical perspective for examining the barriers to obtaining accurate and immediate information to assist law enforcement personnel in investigating cults committing crimes, several theories and concepts apply. several concepts and theories exists that address cults in society (Lifton, 2003; Juergensmeyer, 2001).

The super Power syndrome

according to Lifton (2003), the super Power syndrome describes deviant behavior as part of “psychological and political constellation” (p. xii). Individuals and groups find a need to eliminate vulnerability (p. 129) because they fear that vulnerability. Gruenfeld (2006) contends feeling powerless does not allow the individual or group to “regulate their impulses and control behavior (as sited by Rigoglioso, 2006, p. 1). One maintains an “illusion of invulnerability” (Lifton, 2003) to feel powerful and in control. according to Gruenfeld (2006), “power disinhibit the individual or nation” (p. 1) and “stop trying to control themselves” (p. 3), (as cited by Rigoglioso, 2006).

Cognitive Dissonance Theory

Leon Festinger invented the cognitive dissonance theory in 1957 (aronsen, 2000, as cited by Kasdin, p. 141, 2000). Cognitive dissonance theory is considered important and “provocative theory” (p. 141). according to Festinger (1957) cognitive dissonance is psychological tension pertaining to the conditions that aroused the dissonance (Cohen, 1962). Festinger considered the social group as a source of cognitive dissonance (Matz and Wood, p. 22, 2005). Maintaining conflicting principles (e.g. logically incompatible beliefs) or rejecting reasonable behavior to avoid conflict can be increasingly maladaptive (non-beneficial) as the gap being bridged widens, and popular usage tends to stress the maladaptive aspect. Cognitive dissonance is often associated with the tendency for people to resist information that they don’t want to think about, because if they did it would create cognitive dissonance, and perhaps require them to act in ways that depart from their comfortable habits. They usually have at least partial awareness of the information, without having moved to full acceptance of it, and are thus in a state of denial about it. This “irrational inability to incorporate rational information” is perhaps the most common perception of cognitive dissonance, and this or another example of extreme maladaption would appear to be underlying many conceptions of the term in popular usage. according to Matz and Wood (2005), Festinger studied the reactions of doomsday group members when their apocalyptic predictions failed (Matz and Wood, p. 22).

Cosmic War Theory

Juergensmeyer (2000) developed the Cosmic War Theory. The Cosmic War theory refers to the battle between the forces of evil against the forces of good (Traverton, 2005). The New King James Version Bible (Revelation 20: 8-9), describes the “armageddon” as, “satan will be loosed…and gather in Gog and Magog, to gather them together for battle and compass… the beloved city and fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them” (p. 401). The forces of evil will be punished eternally in hell and the forces of good will be rewarded eternally by God on earth (NKJV Bible, Revelation 20:12). Most world religions teach about the Day of Judgment (Traverton et al, 2005). The Cosmic War Theory is characterized by the justification of violence, operating on a divine time line, the perception of imminent victory, and making powerful those taking up the cause (p. xii). according to Traverton et al (2005), “many terrorist groups including the al Qaeda, are dramatizing their cosmic war paradigm (p. xii). apocalyptic destruction is envisioned as ‘consuming flames’ (p. 32) that will devour evil doers (Lifton, 2003). according to the NKJV Bible, Revelation 20:10, “and the Devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”

anti-social Personality Disorder

Psychology plays a central role in understanding cults or new religious movements. according to Burke (2006), antisocial personality disorder (asPD) comprise of groupings of personality traits (p. 3). Blackburn (1998) states an individual with aggressive disposition will commit patterns of verbal or physical aggressive acts (as cited by Burke, 2006, p. 3). Burke (2006) identifies dominance over others and aggression as two prominent asPD traits. Hare (1993) states that psychopathy can affect everyone and remain “under-identified in society” (as cited by Burke, 2006, p. 4). according to Hare (1993) cult leaders with psychopathic behaviors can be identified (as cited by Burke, 2006, p. 4). according to Burke (2006), “antisocial cult leaders engage in manipulation, domination, and exploitation for their own ends” (p. 5).

Charismatic Leadership

according to Hobbs and Higgs (2004), charisma, is the Greek word meaning “gift of grace” was introduced by Max Weber (1947). Weber defines charisma as a personal quality that sets a person apart from ordinary people (Choi, 2006). Leadership is not the same as expertise (Robinson, p. 1, 2005). according to Choi, (2006), the three components of charismatic leadership consist of “envisioning, empathy, and empowerment” (p. 24). subordinate empowerment transforms the organization (Yukl, 1989). Charismatic leadership attempts to transform the “values, beliefs, and attitudes of followers” (Conger and Kanungo, p. 7, 2000).

Bennis and Goldstein (2003) stated:

…”Good leaders make people feel they are at the very heart of things and that,

when they are, they are making contributions to the success of the organization. When that happens, they feel centered and that their work has meaning. Leadership gives the workforce a sense of its own meaning, significance, competence, community, and commitment”… (p. 5).

according to Conger and Kanungo (1992), charismatic leadership has its negative side. according to Conger and Kanungo (1992) leaders can become extremely narcisstic leading to “self-serving and grandiose aims, … exaggerated behaviors, lose touch with reality, or become vehicles for pure personal gain” (p. 211). according to Howell and avolio (p. 43, 1992):

“… charisma is value neutral it does not distinguish between good or

moral and evil or immoral charismatic leadership. This means the risks

involved in charismatic leadership are at least as large as the promises.

Charisma can lead to blind fanaticism in the service of megalomaniacs and

dangerous values, or to heroic self-sacrifice in the service of a beneficial cause.”

Definition of terms

For the purpose of this qualitative study, the following terms and words are defined


Leadership: Leadership is defined as the process “organizational members are influenced to facilitate the meeting or the organizational goals and objectives” (Dantzker2003, p. 146,).

Cults: Cults are claimed to be deceitful. They are claimed to be harmful to their members. They are claimed to be undermining american values. (Lindlof 1995 , p. 124)

Criminal: Of, involving, or having the nature of crime. (Conger et. al. 1997 , p. 55)

Law Enforcement: a person employed by a local, state, tribal, or Federal justice agency including law enforcement, courts, district attorney’s office. (Howell 1992 , p. 66)

Terrorism: The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological. (seale 1995 , p. 81)

Religion: a religion is a set of beliefs and practices often organized around supernatural and moral claims. (Denzin 1994 , p. 42)

Religious Cult: a system of religious worship; devotion, homage to person or thing. (Denzin 1994 , p. 46)

National Database: National Data base is a powerful, fast, multi-jurisdictional search of United states criminal records database. (Howell 1992 , p. 106)

self Esteem: self-esteem can apply specifically to a particular dimension (for example: “I believe I am a good writer, and feel proud of that in particular”) (Lindlof 1995 , p. 236)


The researcher has three basic assumptions for this qualitative research study. First, the researcher assumed the law enforcement and intelligence personnel fully understood the anonymity and confidentiality of the research study. second, participants of the study would respond providing their professional perceptions pertaining to the selected topic of the study; and third, the researcher assumed the participants would offer their perspectives and input based on their perception that their feedback to the research study will benefit law enforcement and intelligence personnel.

scope, Limitations, and Delimitations

after the september 11, 2001 Terrorist attacks, law enforcement leaders need to take within the parameters of the law, a proactive aggressive approach in dealing with religious extremists. a lack of knowledge and intelligence about new religious movements trifles and delays law enforcement tactical and strategic public safety operations. accountability is central to law enforcement leaders because law enforcement personnel are accountable to their agency, community, legal system, and delivery of services (Dantzker, 2003). Law enforcement plays a complex role in society (Walker & Katz, p. 7, 2004). Management and leadership are important to an organization Dantzker, p. 146, 2003). at a tactical level, it is necessary to train and retrain the law enforcement, security and intelligence services, and the military to better understand and respond to the terrorist threat. There is a grave lack of knowledge and understanding of the ideologies, organizations and operations of the threat groups. For instance, instead of building the capabilities to disrupt terrorist operations at the launch phase, government enforcement agencies must develop indicators for early detection. as precursors can be procured commercially from pharmacies, chemist stores and hardware stores to manufacture explosives, police must work closely with the service sector to report suspicious procurement.

The selected method of this study was a qualitative study. This qualitative study was limited to only those participants that agreed to voluntarily participate in the study. The study was also limited by the number of participants and the amount of time required to answer questionnaires and phone interviews. The study is limited to active law enforcement officers in selected federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.

This qualitative study was confined to surveying law enforcement officers in various selected law enforcement agencies for this study. since no survey instrument was available, a survey instrument was developed to conduct this qualitative study.


Many individuals in society have wondered about prevalence of criminal cults in recent decades (Lottick, 2005). a criminal cult is a group or movement exhibiting a higher or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea. Criminal cults commit crimes ranging from homicide, (Branch Davidians, 1993), arson, drug trafficking, terrorism (aum shinrikyo, 1995), burglary, suicide, (Heaven’s Gate, 1997), and child abuse (Hare Krishnas, 1990).

according to Kaminer, (2002) religion can cause cruelty and bigotry. all religions have murdered in the name of God (Marty, 2002). Religious terrorism is violence committed of fulfilling a divine command (Lerner & Lerner, 2006). Killing in the name of God has escalated in today’s society (Traverton et al, 2005). Law enforcement needs to understand the complexity of religious differences and the problems new religious movements may generate (Perlmutter, 2004). Police agencies have a challenge to determine the danger many cults impose on society (szubin et al, 2002).


This chapter, the literature review, identifies and analysis contemporary research on the area of new religious movements, leadership, religious violence, intelligence gathering and analysis, and the role of law enforcement. The purpose of this qualitative, ethnographic study is to identify and address the barriers that prevent federal, state, and city law enforcement personnel in the United states from obtaining accurate and immediate information on criminal cults.

an extensive literature search was conducted through the electronic databases of EBsCO, ProQuest, and Questia. a total of 300 peer-reviewed articles, 45 books and 25 dissertations on new religious movements, leadership theories, intelligence gathering, motivation, and adolescent theories were reviewed. a gap in the literature was identified in this study. The gap is the lack of a central law enforcement database on cults for law enforcement agencies to conduct research and comparisons on criminal cases related to cults.

Intelligence Gathering and analysis

Historically, intelligence sharing with law enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies was done as little as possible (Isaacson and O’Connell, 2002). Intelligence is interested in the association among individuals (scully, 2004, p. 1). The role of intelligence is a permanent and important part of the United states government (Cheltenham, p. 227, 2002). Intelligence sharing is very important with other agencies in the war against terrorism (Isaacson and O’Connell, 2002).. Intelligence is information needed to make the United states safe (CIa, 2007). Proper analysis will protect the security of the United states of america (Isaacson and O’Connell, 2002). Intelligence is defined in many ways. Intelligence is defined as “Information that is gathered clandestinely through ease dropping or other data collection method” (steele, 2006, p. 1).

The art and Role of Intelligence

Intelligence is defined as “a product resulting from the collection, processing, integration, analysis, evaluation, and interpretation of available information concerning foreign countries or areas…” (Cole, 2005, p. 3). Criminal intelligence is the “creation of intelligence knowledge product that supports decision making in the areas of law enforcement, crime reduction, and crime prevention” (Ratcliffe. 2007, p. 8).

Intelligence provides “knowledge of the enemy…what the enemy is doing, capable of doing, and what they may do in the future” (Coles, 2005, p. 3). social intelligence is an “in depth knowledge of local culture and custom” (scully, 2004, p. 1). The role of intelligence is looking for individuals who want to murder, change the world, and perceive others as the enemy (scully, 2004, p. 3). Cultural intelligence is defined as. “an analysis of social, political, economical and other demographic information that provides understanding of a people or nations, history, institutions, psychology, belief… and behaviors” (Coles, 2005, p. 1). Cultural intelligence allows the understanding as to “why a people act as they do and how they think” (Coles, 2005, p. 1). all source analysis is the “consideration of every type of available information that helps in understanding a specific problem…” (Wolfberg, 2006, p. 40). In law enforcement, open-source information provides intelligence (Ratcliffe. 2007, p. 9). The intelligence community lacks training in thinking “effectively about the world’s current security environment (Wolfberg, 2006, p. 35). Personnel need training in observation skills of their environment, and the people around them (scully, 2004, p. 4). There is a need to reconstruct how the intelligence community thinks (Wolfberg, 2006, p. 36). In today’s world, violence has moved from great power to small states and individuals (scully, 2004, p. 1). Intelligence experts are surprised over the ruthlessness and violence of terrorists (Wolfberg, 2006, p. 35). Crime analysis and criminal intelligence must blend together. Crime analysis provides the “what is happening,” and criminal intelligence provides the “why it is happening” (Ratcliffe. 2007, p. 2).