A survivor of an infamous Australian sect has revealed the key warning signs if you suspect someone may have been led into a cult. Claire Ashman, along with her eight children, was a member of the Order of St. Charbel in New South Wales for nearly 10 years before escaping in 2006.
Having been raised in an ultra-conservative Catholic sect, Ashman would know more than most about the signs a religious community is, in fact, a sinister cult.
“I didn’t know it was a cult because I’d never heard that word [but] I didn’t have a good feeling about it,” Ashman, who was led into the cult by her husband, told Australia’s Yahoo7 Be.
“People need to understand that you don’t willingly join a cult. The thing is, it’s easy to join but you’ve got to remember cult leaders are the masters of manipulation, and you’re manipulated against your will but without knowing it.”
Ashman’s cult was run by William “Little Pebble” Kamm, who said the world was coming to an end, that he would be the last pope and that he could communicate with God and the Virgin Mary.
Kamm also said it was his duty to take 12 queens and 72 princesses and repopulate the Earth with his “holy seed,” something that led to his downfall when he was sent to prison for 10 years for having sex with two 15-year-old girls.
Participants in a movement that proselytized the world would end May 21, 2011, Judgment Day, gathered on a street corner, May 13, 2011, in New York City. Photo: Getty Images
As defined by the International Cultic Studies Association, “a cult is an ideological organization, held together by charismatic relationships, and demanding high levels of commitment.”
While perhaps the world’s most famous cult, run by Charles Manson and responsible for a string of murders, operated in the 1960s, thousands still exist all around the globe.
Ashman laid out the four key signs to watch for that a loved one is being lost to a cult. Unsurprisingly, the first one is the secrecy of the group. But excessive excitement, such as a loved one repeatedly talking about a group, can also be a potential alarm bell.
A heavy financial involvement in a religious group and a friend or loved one contributing money can also be a telltale sign.
“A lot of people think that when William Kamm went to jail for pedophilia, the cult closed down. It didn’t,” Ashman said. “There’s other cults connected to him, and he is getting money from all of that. There is money coming from somewhere, and that is how they flourish.”
Finally, Ashman said an individual’s vulnerability and being in search of meaning puts them most at risk. The solution, though, is love rather than judgment.
“The biggest thing is don’t judge,” she said. “Don’t tell them, ‘You’re in a cult. You need to get out of it’ because that’s the worst thing you can say.”
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