July 25, 2009
By: Lynn LaRowe
Now that Tony Alamo faces a sentence that puts him behind bars for the rest of his life, many are wondering what will happen to his ministry and his followers.
“Sometimes we find that people get more stubborn in their beliefs as they try to justify what’s happened,” said Carol Giambalvo, the International Cultic Studies Association Director of Recovery Programs.
Giambalvo, who admitted she was once a member of a group with traits similar to those described during the trial of Tony Alamo, said followers who choose to leave need help. She said anyone who wants help dealing with such an experience can call ICSA at 239-514-3081 or Re-focus, a support and recovery program for ex-members at 386-439-7541.
Outside the federal courthouse Friday in Texarkana, curious observers wondered aloud what led the members of Alamo’s group to their devotion.
The following is a list of characteristics associated with “cultic” groups condensed from a list provided by ICSA. The list was created from a book published in 1989 by Dr. Robert J. Lifton, “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism”.
1. Milieu Control: Isolation of individuals from society by controlling information and communication.
2. Mystical manipulation: Manipulation of experiences that appear spontaneous but are actually planned and orchestrated to demonstrate divine authority by the leader.
3. Demand for purity: The world is portrayed as black and white and members are made to conform to the group’s ideology. Guilt and shame are powerful control devices.
4. Confession: Sins as defined by the group are confessed to personal monitors or publicly to the group. There is no confidentiality within the group and leaders exploit and discuss what is confessed.
5. Sacred science: The group’s doctrine is considered to be the ultimate truth, beyond all questioning or dispute. Truth is not to be found outside the group. The leader, as God’s spokesperson, is above criticism.
6. Loading the language: The group interprets or uses words and phrases in new ways so the outside world does not understand. The jargon consists of thought-terminating cliches that serve to alter members’ thought processes to group thinking.
7. Doctrine over person: Personal experiences are denied or reinterpreted if they are contrary to the group’s ideology.
8. Dispensing of existence: Those in the outside world are not saved. They are unenlightened and must be converted. If they don’t join or are critical they are rejected. The outside world loses credibility.