Mind

The Psychology Behind Cults

Cult leaders often use manipulation, charisma and a whole range of abusive tactics to draw their followers. And many humans are vulnerable to their psychological grip.

By Cari ShaneAug 16, 2022 8:00 AM
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After moving into his daughter’s dorm room at Sarah Lawrence College in 2010, Lawrence V. Ray spent the next decade isolating, brainwashing and controlling the lives of his daughter’s friends and classmates. Accused of starting a cult at the suburban New York school, earlier this year Ray was found guilty on 15 federal counts, including extortion, sex trafficking, racketeering conspiracy and forced labor. He’ll be sentenced in September.

Dubbed the “Sarah Lawrence Cult Trial,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, the case centered around Ray subjecting his victims to manipulation and many types of abuse. His tactics included sleep deprivation, psychological and sexual humiliation, verbal abuse, threats of physical violence and alienating victims from their families. Prosecutors also highlighted how Ray exploited mental health vulnerabilities in victims.

Even after a story of “The Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence,” was published in New York Magazine in 2019, an article that led to an investigation and the eventual trial, reports suggest that some of his followers remained devoted to Ray. This scenario offers a glimpse at the complicated and powerful grip that cults can have on the human psyche.

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