Synanon: One of the Most Violent Cults of California in the 70s

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Imagine driving in Marin County, you miss your turn, suddenly you find yourself surrounded by 40-50 men and women with shaved heads, wearing blue bib overalls, yielding ax handles, clubs, and baseball bats, shouting, “Kill Them, Let’s Get Them!” Sounds like a horror movie. The word cult, from the Latin word Cultus, means a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object (Oxford English Dictionary). Robert J. Lifton, M.D., a Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at John Jay College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York defines the characteristics of a cult as: 1) a charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose their power; 2) a process called coercive persuasion or thought reform; 3) economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader (8.1) Numerous experts in both sociology and psychology supplementally include many other characteristics for cult classification, such as recruitment and isolation, but, the characteristics listed above prove prevalent amongst them all.
Cults have existed for over 2.000 years and have appeared all over the world. However, California’s sizable voluminous population of immigrants, seeking identity and acceptance, combined with the immeasurable freedom California offers, makes The Golden State the “cult capital of the world.” According to Willa Appel, author of, Cults in America: Programmed for Paradise, “Cults seek to replace a lost community and a lost idealism,” (11). Cults provide ethnogenisis for the diverse population of immigrants in California without discrimination. Many cults offer a family structure (Appel 65). Th...

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