Cult-like Fanaticism Comes to College
by Lynnea Dally


I like to study cults as a hobby. Now by cult, I mean any adopted belief system that is intensely illogical, religious or not. I’ve studied the odd claims of channeling, crystals, scientology, faith healing, homeopathy, graphology, pyramid schemes, 9/11 theorists, millionaire-making training programs as well as traditional ‘cults’. A new form of cult has attacked college students, even here at UCSB.

The follower’s first mistake is the belief that they are immune to cults; they don’t see when reality starts to slip. Believers are initially exposed to very appealing views or benefits and commit themselves just a little bit. They gradually are given more controversial views of that belief set. The indoctrinated thinks, “well, I liked that initial view so much,” that they accept minor faults. They’ve invested quite a bit by now, and can’t allow themselves to back out. They double-think themselves into supporting increasingly huge gaps of logic until contrary evidence only strengthens the follower’s resolve. Unfortunately, this article won’t help that small minority already lost. (Heck, some people still believe in the Cottingley Fairies.)

With that, I’d like to introduce you to the campaign of Ron Paul. Like many “charismatic”, “strong” and “dogmatically rigid” cult leaders, he’s lured a few strays in with attractive views: get out of Iraq now, decrease government spying and general power, legalize drugs and so on. Sounds great, right? The details are bit stickier, however.

He believes we should leave the UN, get rid of the FDA, allow alternative medicines, ignore the slavery in Sudan and the genocide in Darfur, and he believes there’s a war on Christmas. He wants to leave social security, health insurance, energy sources, and environmental issues completely up to the free market, has votes “no” on basically every single social program he can and wants to get rid of income taxes altogether (which I suppose would be possible if you got rid of everything else). He also supported David Koresh’s “community” as a poster child of religious freedom from government.

While claiming to promote freedom he makes an interesting number of contradictions, most of which would hurt ethnic minorities, women and the LGBTQIA community. For example, he argues that states should protect their right not to recognize gay marriage, that fetuses should have a right to life, all forms of immigration should be more restricted, it should be perfectly legal to discriminate against minorities (freedom of choice) and that ideal communities should be centered around the Christian church. The few things that this self-proclaimed “Dr. No” would vote yes for were the Defense of [Heterosexual] Marriage Act and an Amendment banning flag burning.

It’s no wonder many prominent libertarians such as Dale Franks and Ron Chusid distance themselves from him; he doesn’t actually support liberty. Even if libertarians don’t support him, many white power, Neo-Nazis, and other racist groups do. They support him in spirit and financially because they know his policies will “inadvertently” aid their causes.

Not only does he have conflicting stances, but he’s irresponsible. He has claimed that for over a decade staff-written political newsletters published in his name weren’t actually proofed by him. He let statements such as the one calling Martin Luther King Jr. a “lying socialist satyr” and the one saying that homosexuals infected with AIDS “enjoy attention and pity that comes with being sick.” slip by. How irresponsible to never check all those statements published between 1978 and 1990, if you believe he didn’t check them and wasn’t just passing the buck to his ghostwriters.

I have seen fans defend every single one of his strange policies. It’s fascinating how people can convince themselves to believe anything. Not only have they convinced themselves, but just like any other cult, they’ve poured their money to his cause. Like the wealthy scam-artist Peter Popoff from the 80’s, Ron Paul has suckered millions of dollars by preying on the small minority who actually believe his message. In light of his record money-making binge, like any other cult leader he responded by asking believers to donate more. He’s impoverishing the poor just to inflate his own interests.

Ron Paul fanatics claim discrimination whenever he is not mentioned in polls or on TV, even when he performed terribly. This is a common cult tactic. First, it rallies the individuals together in a cause against a common enemy. It also aims to give media legitimacy to a candidate who deserves none. This is the same tactic as scientologists who want official “religion” status or creationists that want “scientific” debates. By recognizing them, even as losers or low status, you give them legitimacy.

At the risk of giving him undue exposure, I felt it was worthwhile to write what was happening. I’m just fascinated by the real-life manifestation of a phenomenon that’s interested me for years. I might have missed the 80’s crystal-pyramid form of mysticism, but I landed right in the middle of the political one.

If your friends or family have been affected, count your blessings. After the failed election, Paul’s hold over them should fade quickly. With other forms of cults, they would not be so lucky.


  1. Geeez, I tire of people who don’t know what they are talking about
    writing as if they do. She basically defines anything she doesn’t like
    as a ‘cult’. She needs to go talk to Steven Hassan about what a cult
    is. By her method of defining, I could call anything from football to
    Obama rallies as a cult.
    One of the most important ingredients to a cult is a chain of
    authority. Without that, the subject becomes merely a commonly held
    interest. Because she doesn’t understand the interest, she dismisses
    the subject as a cult that must have some incomprehensible grasp on
    followers. She then exaggerates the most fringe elements to suggest
    that they are the norm, and blatantly distorts the message to appear
    ‘whacko’. She is an example of the worst form of journalism. Even
    progressive commentators like Thom Hartman and Stephanie Miller have
    treated Ron Paul with respect, unlike this gal. Sigh.