I wrote in my book, Fighting for Justice: Religious Fraud, Mental Illness, and the Collapse of Law & Order, that cult leaders are by-and-large narcissistic psychopaths. In their insatiable lust for power they are seemingly incapable of empathy. Yet cult leaders are very adept at “reading” the emotions of others and shrewdly using those emotions to manipulate people, oftentimes appearing to be empathetic. But it’s all an act. Cult leaders — whether religious, political, self-improvement, corporation, etc. — are oftentimes extremely intelligent. They are highly skilled at “sizing up” people, and they adjust their verbal and psychological lures accordingly.
My cult leader brother, Ken “Pastor Max” Parks uses classic cult 101 tactics, as seen in his online interactions. Over the years his own public online posts show his extreme vacillations on positions. When he’s trying to bamboozle those who identify as Christian and/or politically conservative he makes use of religious jargon, Bible quotes, and presents himself as pro-life and politically conservative. When he’s schmoozing with non-Christians, and especially with those who are very anti-Christian or anti-religion, he’s right there with them siding with them on pro-abortion stances, hurling vile insults and defamation at “stupid Christians/religionists” and railing against politically conservative ideas and entities. It’s the thrill of the con job, apparently, so that he can make himself feel intellectually superior over those he knowingly dupes. Sadly, it doesn’t take much to convince those who belong to one side or the other that he’s in their corner.
Especially for religious cult leaders, their primary motivation for gaining a following is not only to replace God in people’s lives, but to replace or redefine the idea of a good, loving, just God. All in all, religious, political, self-improvement, or corporation cult leaders seek to fill people’s “God hole” by becoming the center of their followers’ universe, promising to provide all the solutions to life’s difficulties, offering a place of belonging and camaraderie, and guaranteeing success and happiness to all who follow their “expert” or “enlightened” ways. From this primary motivation of replacing God, of becoming for all purposes God or at least god-like in people’s lives, comes the cult leader’s other exploitative tactics.
Once the cult leader’s lure has hooked a follower then, little by little, more is expected of the follower. Cult leaders know when to make increasingly more demands of each individual follower. They know how to make followers feel “special,” ordained to a greater calling and purpose than “non-believers” or the less “enlightened.” Followers’ ethical and moral restraints are systematically broken down as the cult leader digs his claws deeper and deeper into the very soul of each person, making more and more outrageous demands of their followers’ time, talent, and their very beings. It is at this point when followers give enormous sums of money and even their entire life savings to the cult leader, and it is also at this point where emotional, spiritual, physical, and sexual abuse begins. Remember: the primary motivation of any cult leader is to become God in their followers’ lives, and their lust for all-encompassing power as God over their followers is insatiable.
This has been the path some of my brother Ken “Pastor Max” Parks’ cult followers have taken after he played on their emotions and worked them up into a maelstrom of righteous indignation with his outrageous lies against me and my husband. My brother’s cult followers have harassed us in person and by phone. Would these people have committed the crime of harassment if they’d never allowed themselves to be lured in by my brother’s lies — “She’s a child abuser! She and her husband are domestic terrorists! They’ve threatened to kill me to stop me from being God’s minister! They’re wanted criminals and fugitives!”? Probably not. The sad thing about my brother’s cult followers is that not one of those who allowed themselves to be taken in by his drama queen lies against me and my husband (and probably against other people) ever contacted the police in my area to check to see if anything he said even had a smidgen of truth. If they had done that they would have realized that they’d been taken for suckers by my brother. No, it took the police contacting them after we made complaint about their harassment for them to wise up and realize they had been taken for fools by my brother. One can only hope they’ve learned their lesson.
Over the years I’ve heard directly from people who were initially taken in by my brother Ken “Pastor Max” Parks’ use of religious jargon and Bible quoting, and they truly believed — for a time — that he was a good, godly man badly victimized by me and by others. But once their innocent questions were met with my brother’s paranoid attacks on their character, or they read through the documentation I’ve published demonstrating that he is a mentally unstable, dangerous, religious fraud out to scam people emotionally, spiritually, and financially, they wanted nothing more to do with him.
Thus there are lessons we can all learn from our online and in-person encounters, especially with those who use titles meant to evoke instantaneous trust (pastor, life coach, guru, spiritual guide, etc.): Never take anyone you don’t really know at face value. Check out and confirm everything they claim about themselves. Listen to your gut instinct when something they’ve said, posted, or done doesn’t sit right. Look for any self-aggrandizing, pompous statements in which they come across as vastly superior in knowledge, spirituality, or experience. Observe how they react to questions to see if they instantaneously go on the attack — especially making personal attacks — over some minor statement or disagreement. Don’t fall for them giving you special attention, overly praising you and complimenting you (that’s called grooming). And be on your guard when they attempt to lure you into some form of intense commitment to their “cause” especially if it involves giving them money or doing some kind of weird “favor” or committing a crime for them. Remember: God hasn’t dropped dead and He certainly hasn’t left any mere mortal in charge.