Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? front cover
(This is a slightly revised version of material from Chapter 9 of Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure?)

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18. Economic Exploitation. Cults not only exploit their own members, but, when they can manage it, nonmembers as well. Some, such as the LaRouchites, Synanon, and the People’s Temple, have extensively targeted nonmembers.

Cults which target nonmembers solicit money by presenting themselves–or their front groups–as doing good works, such as fighting drug addiction, when in fact virtually all of the money that they raise is spent on their own operations and, often, on enriching their leaders. Synanon fundraisers, for example, routinely represented Synanon as a drug rehabilitation program for years after it had effectively abandoned working with drug abusers. The LaRouchites have gone further and have engaged in criminal fraud–under the guise of fighting drugs and other good works–on a massive scale. A a result, many of the top members of the cult, including founder Lyndon LaRouche, Jr., were sentenced to lengthy prison terms in the late 1980s. Drug addiction programs remain a fundraising/recruiting tool with cults today, and the Church of Scientology’s Narconon program is currently engulfed in a sea of lawsuits filed by former clients and public agencies.

Direct economic exploitation of members by their cults is often even less subtle. Many cults, such as the People’s Temple, strip their members of assets. In the People’s Temple, the technique was crude: members were pressured to “donate” their possessions to the church. The Scientologists have taken a more sophisticated approach–potential members are lured by street recruiters and advertisements to take a “free personality test,” which, of course, shows personality defects, for which help is available. “Raw meat,” those who bite, then take low cost introductory courses leading to much higher priced courses, with many expensive “auditing” sessions along the way. The total Scientologists pay to go up “The Bridge” (to total freedom) commonly costs up to and over one hundred thousand dollars.

Another way in which cults exploit their members is by having them work long, exhausting hourse for little or no pay. Cults which employ(ed) such tactics included Synanon, the People’s Temple, the Unification Church, the Church of Scientology, and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishnas).

Finally, lest we forget, a good majority of cults in the United States are religious organizations, and enjoy all of the many public benefits showered on religious groups.  One of these benefits is exemption from paying property taxes. So, in a very real sense, all other Americans–through the taxes they pay–are picking up part of the tab for the Church of Scientology, Moonies, FLDS, Church Universal and Triumphant, and other cults.


All Posts in this Series

  • Characteristics of Cults (part 1)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 2)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 3)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 4)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 5)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 6)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 7)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 8)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 9)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 10)



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  10. […] Characteristics of Cults (Part VII) […]


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