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(Almost) each work of fiction requires Villains. Sometimes the more dastardly, the better. And what is more dastardly than an evil, murderous, secret cult that practices human sacrifices?

And again I caught myself on thinking about the details, the personalities of people involved, the scenery and the likes, before having the most basic things set. How would our cult operate so that it could remain secret?

One problem that seems to have no solution is: What can a cult do if one of its members speaks out? Of course, the cult will have rather few members, none of them likely to speak out for obvious reasons, but... as Benjamin Franklin said, "Three may keep a Secret, if two of them are dead". Having only one cultist is implausible, so, sooner or later, someone is bound to speak out.

How can such a cult fight for survival if someone finally does speak out? Paradoxically, killing such a traitorous cultist seems to be the worst possible solution, since ANYTHING bad happening to them will be a firm confirmation of their words. The only semi-plausible way is to ensure that they live long and happily, while trying to discredit their credibility... But this, again, is a no win, since they simply know too much. If a minion of the law gives any credit to their words... if The Detective starts an investigation... We may be doomed. And now our future starts looking rather grim, since we can only await life sentences at best and an execution at worst.

Is there any way to fight back or does a member who speaks out spell doom for the whole cult?

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    $\begingroup$ "since ANYTHING bad happening to them will be a firm confirmation of their words". The cult must then develop fast and innocuous-looking methods of assassination. The problem is that modern pathology is pretty good at determining cause of death. For example: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poisoning_of_Alexander_Litvinenko $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Mar 8 '18 at 21:54
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    $\begingroup$ What era and region? A 19th century murderous, evil secret cult that practices human sacrifices (coughIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doomcough) in India is going to be a lot easier to keep secret than one in 21st century Chicago. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Mar 8 '18 at 21:57
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    $\begingroup$ I recommend you rewatch The Godfather, specifically the story of Frank Pentangeli attempted testimony against Corleones. It was enough to bring Frank's brother to the hearing to make him retract his confessions, and eventually commit suicide. $\endgroup$ – user58697 Mar 8 '18 at 23:03
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    $\begingroup$ I'd tell you, but then I'd have to kill you. $\endgroup$ – Mark Mar 8 '18 at 23:32
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    $\begingroup$ the question is based on the false belief that it is very difficult for evil cults who practice human sacrifice to remain undetected. My answer indicates that some have been relatively successful at it. $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding Mar 9 '18 at 7:34

16 Answers 16

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You need a cell-based organization, with the additional twist that recruitment must happen cross-cell-wise.

That is, the members of the Blackwater Lodge meet and discuss whether to admit mr. John Smith. They all need to know John Smith in order to pass a judgment, so John Smith's identity is compromised. In time, higher-ups in the Blackwater Lodge would come to know the identities of almost every other member younger than them, even if they wore black hoods during meetings.

If they decide that John Smith would make an acceptable adept, they supply him with the required passwords and tokens, and send him on to the Greyfriars Lodge. The Blackwater Lodge does not know where the Greyfriars convene, or when, and no one in the Greyfriars know who John Smith is - they only know that he's been accepted by another lodge of the same cult. John Smith knows nothing about the Blackwaters who have interviewed him, so nobody can betray anybody else. Someone in Blackwater could rat John Smith out, but all they'd be able to say is that he belongs to the cult. They wouldn't be able to say where he goes to perform the rites, or when, or even whether he's still an active member or not.

At the same time John Smith would know one or two Blackwaters, but again he would know nothing else. What you don't know, you can't betray.

steganographic communication (as per @Jay's comment)

So we have several lodges and they need to communicate secretly, and more than that, they don't want to make it look like someone is communicating at all. They need to set up the equivalent of a numbers station: the one talking won't know who and where and whether anyone is listening, and the one listening won't be able to see who is talking.

  • First they find some channel. This can be anywhere communication noise can be found; for example a Youtube channel's comments.
  • Then they must generate a largish set of symbols (this can be done automatically) which would not be deemed out of place on that channel. This could be the combination of some features of a user's name, avatar, and words in a message.
  • Finally they need to set up an automatic monitor that will, say, continuously download all the comments from several Youtube channels, and see whether any of those can be successfully decoded. Typos, word choices, emoticons, lolz etc. can all be used to encode bits.

A single message could then be broken in eight or ten comments, and e.g. a Polygen grammar could be used to generate not too incredible ones.

The necessary nicknames would then be created automatically and used to send the comments for everyone to read.

From the outside, you would see comments to a lolcat video

  • [Emily84] aww..... what a cutie pie.... I wish I had one ;))) <3 <3!
  • [EvilHaxx0r] OMG r u seriouse? I mean look at that lol
  • [JustinTheBore] lolcats for teh winnnnn ;-D
  • [Edzorg] RUN BABY RUN
    • [EvilHaxx0r] run what? lol what a retard XXP
      • [Edzorg] Well yeah f u

but once decoded you would get something like "REQUEST FOR MEETING, NEW MEMBER FOR GREYFRIARS". Even if someone monitored the whole Internet, they would only see some random guy blathering on some channel through a Tor node (special once-only keywords could be used by members in a hurry and without access to the full "comment encoding" system. Enter a Starbucks, look at some videos, leave two or three comments).

preventing higher-up treason (@cmaster's comment)

Smith may know only little, but he does know anything that's communicated to him. More specifically, at some point he may be in a position where he is interviewing new adepts. If smith is subverted

This is a real problem, since by design the interviewers and the new adepts have only the loosest of connections. Specifically, the new adept can't compromise the interviewers, which means that the interviewer can compromise the new adepts with very little exposure for himself.

So the interviewer is in a position where, if he ever needs, he can plead "Wait! Wait! I did embezzle that money! But if I get a reduced sentence, I can make it worth your while!". He can concoct a story where he learned by chance of the sect, and only had very little proof except his own hunches.

So the evaluators must not be able to conclusively know the evaluees - the one member that introduces the new adept will have to sanitize all documentation, and the evaluators must not know the new adept's identity. This both places a very large burden of investigation on the introducer, and allows him to plant an infiltrator in another lodge. By only allowing a limited number of new adepts per introducer, and limiting the role to the very high-up in the hierarchy, we can reduce this vulnerability.

Then, the introducer must have much more to lose than any number of his protegees; he might for example be the one in charge of victim procurement. This fact must also be very well known to the lower ranks, to ensure it can't be overlooked or denied. One new induction allowed for every ten rituals performed, and now whoever knows for certain (and can betray) the identities of X members is thereby also confessing to 10X counts of first degree multiply aggravated murder ("With planning involved... after the act of kidnapping... after the act of rape").

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    $\begingroup$ How do the Blackwaters send the initiate on to the Greyfriars without knowing where or when they convene? $\endgroup$ – Catgut Mar 8 '18 at 19:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Catgut there would have to be some innocent venues where such pick-up may occur. And, if these were compromised, nothing untoward would be uncovered. One possibility would be to reverse the table - have John Smith be somewhere crowded, with some distinguishing item, so that he might be contacted even if neither he nor his endorsers know by whom. $\endgroup$ – LSerni Mar 8 '18 at 19:49
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    $\begingroup$ Generally, any cross-sell communication compromises security provided be the cell structure. But in the days of Internet and secure protocols this can be more easily mitigated. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Mar 8 '18 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Catgut: Message board. Blackwaters leave a coded message on the board indicating they have a accepted newbie. Greyfriars respond with time and place and half a recognition code. Blackwaters provide John Smith with some form of disguise. John Smith shows up at appointed time and place, Blackfriars initiate contact via a cut-out telling him to go somewhere else, repeat until they're sure he's not followed, then initiate direct contact, confirming with their half of the recognition code. The complete code confirms his identity to them, theirs to him. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Mar 8 '18 at 20:32
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    $\begingroup$ @LSerni +1, "The moon is a harsh mistress" (Robert Heinlein) describes exactly such a cell structure $\endgroup$ – Dhara Mar 9 '18 at 12:28
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It might be useful to turn the question around. Suppose you're a perfectly normal serial killer, and the cops are on to you. You want to convince them that you're actually part of a secret murderous cult, so you can try for a lesser sentence by turning yourself in and offering to inform on a few "fellow cultists". Maybe Alice and Bob from work; they're jerks, anyway.

Now, regular murderers are a lot more common than the secret murderous cultist kind, so the cops aren't likely to believe you unless you come up with some really solid "evidence" to back up your story. Maybe you could break into Alice's and Bob's computers and forge some incriminating messages between them. (You think Eve might know the password.) But you really want physical evidence if you're going to convince anyone. So a better idea would be to grab some of the bloody knives in your garage, and possibly the kidney you took out of that one guy, and plant them at Alice's and Bob's houses. It'd be great if you could actually get a recording of them with one of the victims, but that's probably not doable unless you have time to kill another one before turning yourself in.

Now all of those things that the hypothetical serial killer was going to use to "prove" that he was in a cult? Don't have those things in your cult. Don't discuss anything in writing except maybe in really vague terms. Properly dispose of all the bodies. Use regular kitchen knives for your sacrifices instead of fancy ceremonial ones, and wash them properly when you're done. (That's just a good idea anyway; you don't know where that sacrifice has been.) Don't videotape your ceremonies, and for that matter, don't let anyone bring their phones or anything else that can take pictures to the ceremonies in the first place.

If the would be traitor can't provide actual evidence that the cult exists, all they'll accomplish by going to the authorities will be confessing to a murder and sounding like either a crazy person or a bad liar.

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    $\begingroup$ You think Eve might know the password -- Eve always does. It's uncanny. $\endgroup$ – LSerni Mar 9 '18 at 7:56
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    $\begingroup$ Cult members need to turn up naked: it’s hard to wear a wire if you’re not wearing clothes! $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Mar 9 '18 at 12:11
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    $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs naked, shaved and after colonoscopy :) $\endgroup$ – talex Mar 9 '18 at 13:23
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    $\begingroup$ ...but wearing mask and hood. The mask and hood are important. $\endgroup$ – Ben Barden Mar 9 '18 at 20:34
  • $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs At least, the rules should be that all pretty female cult membes must show up naked. Fat old men ... maybe I'll take my chances that they're wearing a wire. $\endgroup$ – Jay Mar 9 '18 at 21:15
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On 21 September 2001, the headless and limbless torso of a little boy was found in the Thames River at London England. The boy, about 4 to 7, was determined by forensic tests to have been in the UK for no more than a few days, and probably came from southwest Nigeria.

It is believed that he was brought to the UK to be killed for some of his body parts to be harvested to make muti medicine for sale.

There is no proof that a cult killed the boy, and it is possible that only one single person took him to the UK, killed him, and made muti medicine for sale. But those who purchased the muti medicine probably knew it came from a human murder victim and would only accept that if they belonged to a religious cult that accepted murder (presumably only of non cult members).

The boy has not been identified and the case has not been solved.

Wikipedia on that case

The muti system of traditional medicine widely used in Southern Africa has a dark side, the rare use of human body parts of murder victims, usually children.

Wikipedia on Muti Killings

There are are probably a few scattered cases of human sacrifice and/or ritual murder reported around the world each year. Sometimes the individual or cult responsible is arrested, sometimes the perpetrators are unknown.

Wikipedia on Human Sacrifice

The Mirror on Modern Human Sacrifice

I add that the Thuggee cult in Indian apparently operated in secret for centuries between first being discovered about 1290 until being suppressed in the 1830s (though Gunga Din, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Help claim that some Thugs continued to be active). So apparently the methods of the Thugs worked very well in medieval and early modern times, and perhaps only a few more precautions would be necessary in a better policed contemporary era.

Wikipedia on Thugee

So I find it very easy that an evil deluded cult could continue to get away with committing human sacrifices for many decades if they took enough precautions to avoid detection. If, for example, no bodies of their victims are discovered, the authorities might never know that a small fraction of the many missing persons reported (to say nothing of missing persons not reported) were human sacrifices.

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    $\begingroup$ The Thuggee are a prime example. Even after Sleemans investigations which excavated countless corpses, many revisionists wanted to believe that British colonalism invented or exaggerated the Thuggee cult. It seemed too horrible that whole groups of travelers were mercilessly killed over centuries undetected. $\endgroup$ – Thorsten S. Mar 9 '18 at 16:51
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    $\begingroup$ It always freaks me out that the answer to "how could this vile, evil, disgusting thing possibly be done" is so often "it has been done"... $\endgroup$ – cmaster Mar 10 '18 at 1:08
  • $\begingroup$ @cmaster - yes. Very depressing. $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding Mar 11 '18 at 16:51
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    $\begingroup$ could you please correct the accidental uppercase “Widely” in the fifth paragraph? cheers and thanks. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Mar 11 '18 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ @can-ned_food - I take it That improper Uppercasings kind of Bug you, huh? $\endgroup$ – user11864 Mar 3 at 2:51
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Cult members don't know each other. This is a tried and true method used by spies and terrorist since the dawn of time. Basically, the cult is working together to achieve a common goal (human sacrifice), but they don't know the real identities of any of the other cultists. When they meet in person, maybe they wear masks and disguise their voices. The upshot of this is that if any one member rats out the group, they don't actually know anything about any of the other members to implicate them in anything.

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    $\begingroup$ This may protect the cult's members, but not the cult itself. Once a member turns his cloak, the whole cell is compromised, and public/authorities are becoming well aware of cult's existence. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Mar 8 '18 at 19:55
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    $\begingroup$ @Alexander I don't think so. So this turncoat goes to the cops, and they investigate and all this discover is that this one person has murdered a bunch of people. The cops might think that this person is crazy and blaming their actions on a "cult", since they can't point to anybody else being involved. Therefore, the cult is fiction, and all these people were killed by this madman. Meanwhile, the other cult members move to a new spot and continue their sacrifices in secret, with no suspicion on them at all. $\endgroup$ – fiend Mar 8 '18 at 20:00
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    $\begingroup$ This answer makes sense however, it brings criminal gangs to my mind. Correct me if I'm wrong, but gangsters are rarely anonymous to each other, aren't they? So, if criminals can do without such measures, are they necessary for a cult? Or if they are, then why aren't they necessary for gangsters? Yes I know I'm digressing. $\endgroup$ – gaazkam Mar 8 '18 at 22:04
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    $\begingroup$ The identity of the other cultists isn't the main thing that needs protecting. The turncoat has to know something of how the cult operates and how to have some communication with other members (whether that's prearranged meeting times and places, how to send a signal, or merely the fact that other members of the cult will send signals to our turncoat to arrange meetings or send instructions). That can be used by the authorities to chase up further leads, especially if the turncoat turned their coat in secret and is willing to cooperate with the authorities. $\endgroup$ – Ben Mar 9 '18 at 6:17
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    $\begingroup$ This one has one downside. Say you are a cult member that suddenly decides you can't take it any more, so you go to the cops. You tell your story in exchange for immunity, and teach one of the cops all the signals, signs, codes, fist bumps, etc. give them your black robe, and tell them the location of the next meeting. Now no one knows who you were and so they have no way of knowing that the cop isn't you, since the cop knows all of the passwords. So they infiltrate, gather enough damaging evidence, and call in the swat team that has been waiting outside with a battering ram. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Mar 9 '18 at 17:58
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Make each person do something really horrifying or humiliating all by themselves on video. Make it the final initiation rite, don't tell them its being videotaped until it's completed.

They go to the police, their family, friends, and the entire world will see them, and them alone, glorying in murder, sadism, and some really sick stuff. You'd be amazed at what people will do to keep that secret.

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  • $\begingroup$ But then you run the risk of guilt making them turn themselves in and taking the rest of the cult with them $\endgroup$ – Thorne Mar 9 '18 at 5:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Thorne, yes, but once the video gets into the hands of the media, the person will be seen as a sick mental case. As long as you cover your tracks about the murders and other things through simple forethought and planning, you and your members simply act confused at how this poor individual could put a completely innocent book club into his strange fantasies. Keep things down low for a few months and you're in the clear. $\endgroup$ – Dan Clarke Mar 9 '18 at 5:52
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    $\begingroup$ Making newcomers commit atrocities is indeed a known technique used by some particularly vile criminal/terrorist groups. Not only does it compromise the newcomer as said, but it also has a psychological effect of "we're all in the same boat now". The subject will more easily commit new atrocities on the group's behalf, and will identify more with the group as a coping mechanism. The vilest groups prey on children for that, who are particularly vulnerable at it and can more easily be made desensitised, relatively obedient killers by force. $\endgroup$ – Eth Mar 9 '18 at 18:32
  • $\begingroup$ @DanClarke You mean like Arlington Road? $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Mar 11 '18 at 18:19
  • $\begingroup$ More like a gang initiation, a frat house hazing, or how Scientologists record initiates confessing their darkest secrets. It binds the person to the group, and gives them good blackmail if they turn on the cult. $\endgroup$ – Dan Clarke Mar 12 '18 at 3:55
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Depends how long you want the cult to survive. Over a long enough time, the probability that someone talks approaches one.

So your containment plan must work even if someone talks. For that, look to the real world. Make your cult contain as many "conspiracy theory" elements as possible, then leak it by yourself to a tabloid. In short: Make sure that none of the revalations anyone could make would be taken seriously. "So they now sacrifice children in Area 51, riiight..."

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Just take example from real world cults:

1. Recruit families

Aum Shinrikyo is the best example. This old Japanese cult recruited "Otaku" and promised supernatural powers to the initiated. Since they had to move to specialized "school" (understand forced-labor camps) and family is very important in this country, they were encouraged to bring their families and thus lost contact with the outer world really fast.

2. Tarnish credibility and self-esteem

That is a trick used by the Church of Scientology : once in a while, every member has to participate to a 'Dianetics' session. He/she has to reveal all his/her secrets and is recorded (members are heavily brainwashed with multiple technics so they won't lie) to achieve a clarity of mind. But the truth is that these recordings will be used against any member who wants to quit or talk to someone by tarnish his credibility.

3. The rule of 1%

Most of the biggest cults followed a "1% rule", meaning that they used 99% of the members to collect money, and only an "inner circle" of the most fanatic and brainwashed ones to achieve their darkest goals: examples would be The Children of God with the sexual abuses, Aum Shinrikyo with the drug and chemical weapons factories, etc...

So by limiting the human sacrifices to the inner circle, with carefully chosen members, you are limiting the risk of being caught.

As for the detective, you don't have to worry that much: The Scientology is basically untouchable because they managed to legally make themselves a religion, Aum Shinrikyo was shadowy, had connections with Yakuza with the drug business, and the truth is: police didn't investigate even if an old member would talk because... Their stories were just unbelievable and unthinkable. Children of God's leader was able to live a long life because he was able to make dummies sign for every official paper and his name appeared nowhere, like in the mafia.

My sources: the very documented podcast The last podcast on the left.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding! Good answer with interesting examples. If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Mar 9 '18 at 17:04
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Make the work mostly untraceable and make any confession seem ridiculous. You will need a cult leader. This is the one I expect not to suddenly have a change of mind and tell on the group. He alone does the dirty work. All victims are shaved, possibly lying on the front so the other members can't see face of the victim. And then, before killing, let the people of the cult do really embarrassing things to her they only do because the rest is cheering them on (basically like on every college party challenge I've seen). Those various actions can include:

  • Kissing unusual parts of the body, like the ankle.
  • Drumming on the butt cheeks.
  • Dipping the hand into a bowl of cold water until the victim pisses itself.
  • Draw something on the victim with permanent marker.
  • etc.

Wait. This is exactly like a college party.


"You were playing pranks on an unconscious person?"

"Yes, it was hilarious!"

"And then your leader killed her."

"Well, we want to be an evil, murderous, secret cult, after all."

"And you have no idea who that person was."

"Nope. Shaven clean. Could have been a hobo. Did I emphasize 'secret' yet?"

"And you were on drugs."

"High like a dragon in the sky, sir."

"Urgh. Commissioner, how did we get this guy again?"

"He was posting a selfie with the alleged victim on Facebook stating 'lol im gonna kill this hobo in a minute rofl'. In retrospect, the dim, colorful lights did somehow look like a college party."

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  • $\begingroup$ "You will need a cult leader. He alone does the dirty work." - I'm sorry but I can't see how could this work, both history and common logic tells us that leaders seldom, if ever, do any dirty work themselves, rather they order their minions to do this, both because it is safer and easier that way; $\endgroup$ – gaazkam Mar 8 '18 at 21:56
  • $\begingroup$ The downvote was not from me btw (yet) $\endgroup$ – gaazkam Mar 8 '18 at 21:58
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    $\begingroup$ @gaazkam "both history and common logic tells us that leaders seldom, if ever, do any dirty work themselves" You mean leaders of cults and organizations that aren't secret anymore? $\endgroup$ – SK19 Mar 8 '18 at 22:09
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    $\begingroup$ @gaazkam Also psychopaths are sometimes really good at getting things done. Take Dexter for an example. Access to the right drugs, enough preparation, bam. It is actually quite easy to murder a lot of people and get away with it if you are both intelligent and not bound by morals. Sometimes you are just not lucky, though. Adding a cult around that activity for the kick seems like a minor additional requirement. $\endgroup$ – SK19 Mar 8 '18 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ I thought the water needed to be warm, not cold. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Mar 11 '18 at 18:16
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The cult is family based.

Children are brought slowly into the cult and external partners the same way. The cult has multiple levels or circles and only the most devout make it to the top tier with the actual blood sacrifices.

Any members without the correct mindset are left on the lower tiers and don't actually know the extent of the cult.

Should a lower member find out the extent and be appalled and try and expose it, they have a tragic accident such as brakes failing or slipping off a ladder.

Should the cult have members in the police force and government, the investigation into said deaths could be a bit lax.

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    $\begingroup$ This is The Mafia. (Well, it was the Mafia up through the late 1960s. See Goodfellas.) $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Mar 9 '18 at 4:37
  • $\begingroup$ There is this nice example of the kid of one super fascist american who went to college, questioned his believes and got turned around. While I admit that giving them nothing else to grow up with creates a good mindset, once they catch a glimpse of the world outside their bubble, there is a good chance that they will betray you. Too risky in my opinion. $\endgroup$ – SK19 Mar 9 '18 at 10:36
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    $\begingroup$ This works better for really insular groups that don't do things like going off to college. Making sure that all major social connections are entirely inside the cult is also important. $\endgroup$ – Ben Barden Mar 9 '18 at 20:38
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    $\begingroup$ "[C]ult members in the police force and government" is an entire answer by itself. $\endgroup$ – qntm Mar 10 '18 at 10:56
  • $\begingroup$ @qntm A scene from Hot Fuzz comes to mind. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Mar 11 '18 at 18:14
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Another way is to have the members firmly believe in the cause. If you look at Dexter, he kills regularly. If the cult see themselves as saviors killing people that they see as needing killing for the benefit of society, the less likely the members will feel guilt or revulsion and confess

How hard would the police look into missing pedophiles, violent wife beaters and rapists especially if no body is ever found?

If each cultist sees themselves as saviors and each provide alibis for each other, the chance of being caught is extremely low.

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There's less risk than you think. The crazier the cult is, the more likely that nobody will believe it. If somebody turns you in, act incredulous and make fun of them.

I've heard lots of stories of weird cults kidnapping and murdering people. And I've heard lots of people dismissing these stories as wild tales by TV stations trying to boost ratings or crazy people trying to get attention by claiming they were former members or victims. Which of these stories are true and which are false? It's very hard to say.

Some suggestions what to do if someone reveals cult secrets:

  1. Claim the stories are wild and crazy conspiracy theories that no sane person would believe. Make yourself sound like the voice of reason.

  2. Get other cult members to promptly come forward and "corroborate" the turncoat's story, while adding wild and totally fictional details that can be proven false. Then in your rebuttals, casually attribute the false details to the original turncoat. Try to get it very mixed up in the mind of the public and the authorities who said what. Then when the police or reporters investigate, they find that most of the story is false, and the turncoat is discredited.

For example, the turncoat tells the police that you murdered 3 people in a room at the Foobar Motel. You quickly have someone else come forward who says that he knows that the cult also murdered someone in the basement of city hall. Someone else says that he saw mysterious people leaving the Foobar Motel dressed in red robes with a mystic symbol on the back (even though you were all wearing business suits). Someone else says he suspects his neighbor is a member of the cult (and the neighbor knows nothing about it). Someone says cult members have magic psychic powers. Etc. Then you agree to be interviewed by the newspaper and casually say, "Well, Mr Turncoat says we wear red robes. I invite the police to come and search my house looking for such a red robe. These people claim Mr Neighbor participated in this cult murder, but he claims he was in Europe at the time and has witnesses to prove it. And these wild stories about me and other supposed cult members being able to read minds and fly ... aren't these just ridiculous?"

When the turncoat replies that he never made these claims that are false, say, "Oh, now he's changing his story. (snicker snicker) Notice how every time one part of his story is proven false, he claims he never said that and switches to some other claim."

  1. Make it political. If any of the accused cult members are prominent politicians, claim this is an absurd attempt by the other party to discredit you. If none of you are politicians, have some of the fake witnesses from item 2 accuse prominent politicians of being part of the cult. If you're lucky, the politicians' party will defend them.

  2. Lump the revelations about your cult in with conspiracy theories and wild tales that few people believe. Like if you control any sort of media -- TV, newspapers, whatever -- start airing documentaries or printing stories about "modern legends, like UFOs, Bigfoot, the Foobar murder cult, and Kennedy assassination theories". If you don't control any such media, these days it's easy enough to publish books, create websites, etc.

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You get the authorities in on it, as part of the cult.

They will then not act against the cult, but rather in favor of it (even stopping colleagues from investigating or taking action against the cult).

It's classic corruption, and happens far more often than you might think, where "murderous cult" could be replaced by anything from a much broader set of large and small groups who believe they are above the law. One of the "benefits" these groups offer members might be that sense of superiority (which may motivate or come naturally to some in positions of power or enforcement authority). The inducement could also be money or whatever other benefits the group has to offer, as long as the authority figure perceives a strong enough benefit to him/herself personally to outweigh any sense of duty to a larger and more diffuse public who probably won't find out about what's happening (and even if they do find out, they won't believe once the authority finishes discrediting or quickly killing off whomever is trying to point out what's happening). Police, military, and paramilitary etc. in many jurisdictions regularly abuse their power for private gain to themselves and/or their friends. This can be especially effective in places where people prefer to pretend like this sort of thing just doesn't happen.

As an alternative to corruption, if the group members obtain power through other means after they've already adopted the group's ideas, they can use that power to execute those ideas, relatively unencumbered by the nobody doing anything about it. For example, consider the Nazi party, which took power and used that to kill millions of Jews as well as others they didn't particularly like.

Then, it doesn't much matter what the people in the group know or leak, because the authorities who theoretically have power to do something about it just won't.

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Let's say that everything was done in a way that was utterly unbelievable and implausible, where nobody saw everything and everything done was partially altered by someone else. Then nobody who said anything would ever get believed. Nothing said could be verified, no knowledge known only to a participant would ever be present. And nothing would sound serious.

Alternatively, everyone takes a drug that alters how memories from. As long as you take the drug, the memories work. As soon as it wears off, they're scrambled or inaccessible.

You only want two layers, keep it simple. The second layer should be that there's always a more plausible, innocent explanation, which means (post-statistics) that there's no observable spike in any type of death. You might even have members of the cult save other people so that the books balance.

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  • $\begingroup$ Turning the cult into a magic show? You'd need one group who knows how everything works and arrange things to fit the secondary explanation. OTOH, you could drag in some wealthy spiritualists, with more money than sense and charge them to fund your actual rites $\endgroup$ – nzaman Mar 9 '18 at 13:01
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This may be less enjoyable for the cult members, but it increase safety.

Do like they do on death row, give 5 (or whatever) people buttons, and they all push their buttons at once. However, a computer randomly determines who the killing shot comes from, and therefore no one knows who killed who.

Additional, maybe they wear blindfolds, and they get to stab at something that might seem human. However, maybe its not, or maybe someone else killed them so they are not actually killing anyone.

Guns, obviously only one of them gets a real bullet the rest are blanks or otherwise don't kill but still cause a kickback and etc so they can't tell they aren't doing anything.

Obviously, don't use real names, get voice synthesizers and nobody especially at the lower rungs gets to see anyone's face. Maybe some walk around on stilts to disguise their height, pillows or etc to help hide their physical make up.

Certain amounts of brainwashing will be necessary.

Another possibility is to have some get jobs as morticians, or even butchers who regularly carve up animals. People might dismiss a person as being wrong because a butchers is always carving up animals. S/He had blood all over the place, well of course s/he is a butcher.

Combine these ideas with some of the other ideas presented here and you might have a shot at it.

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Be murderous...

Make it clear that those who talk die. If anyone even begins to be suspiciously reluctant to participate, make an example of them. If someone does try to go to the authorities, they suffer badly.

Encourage members to spy on each other to some extent, to keep on eye out for traitors.

...But not too murderous

If the body count gets too high, the police will be more vigorous in their search. They'll work harder to get someone in, or to get someone out. And the fear might wear off if your cult becomes too murderous.

Rewards in heaven!

A mainstay of cults is that the rewards and/or punishments continue after death. You aren't just facing immediate punishment. You're facing eternal punishment. Or reward. Always work to reinforce that.

Stockholm isn't just a beautiful city

Stockholm Syndrome is a wonderful destination. Take your cultists there and make them love you. Make them love you more than themselves.

Isolation and Paranoia

Never forget the power of isolation and paranoia to keep people in line. All the great cults foster a strong "us vs. them" mentality in their believers. Convince them that Outsiders are evil and out to get them. Convince them that Insiders are their friends who love them.

Give them what they need

If you have everything a person needs, they won't need to seek it elsewhere. If they come to you for salvation, for healing, for food, for clothing, for comfort, for warmth, then they will become dependent on you. And you will have power over them. Give them happiness. Become the drug that strings them along.

Protect them from what they don't need

They don't need access to outsiders, for one. They don't need free thought. They don't need so much comfort that they get complacent or lazy. They don't need happiness that isn't from you.

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Look at the LDS and Jehovah's Witnesses for inspiration. If you were only allowed to be friends with or marry another member of this group, and only allowed to purchase property through this group, it would be insanely difficult to first, want to betray all of that, and second, to actually pull it off.

Now what if whatever went on in their holiest-of-holies site was nasty stuff? (Luckily for our example cases, it doesn't, but in many real cults, it does.) Nobody would believe you, you'd be ostracized from everything you know, kicked out of your family, fervently believe you're going to burn in the afterlife...these are strong deterrents.

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    $\begingroup$ While I understand where you're going with this, it's not entirely accurate. JWs for instance don't force you to buy property inside the group, and they don't prohibit external marriages or friendships, merely discourage it and even then, nowhere near as much as they did in the 70s, for example. In many respects, they're becoming mainstream. Even Freemasons are starting to open the doors a little, because of the very fact they don't have anything to hide, and being secretive makes them look guilty of something. The isolationist principle you describe is a hallmark of dangerous cults. $\endgroup$ – Tim B II Mar 8 '18 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not looking to offend, just provide real-world examples that could be expanded-upon. LDS (especially FLDS) is a much better example of the majority of the points. But as for your picture of JWs, jw.org/en/publications/magazines/w20150815/… was published in 2015, and I've spoken with people in the last year who have confirmed them. But yeah, this isn't the point. The point is that if somebody really wanted to, they can create a bubble of geography, association, and even generations that severely thwart the lone person snitching. $\endgroup$ – Carduus Mar 9 '18 at 14:12
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    $\begingroup$ LDS and FLDS are very different as far as this sort of thing is concerned. Please do not conflate them. $\endgroup$ – Ben Barden Mar 9 '18 at 20:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Chris no offense taken, but again I take this as discouragement, not prohibition. Also, it's important to note that there's a difference between dogma and practice in ALL religions; Catholics (for example) don't tolerate birth control or divorce in their dogma, but tend to be pragmatic to stay relevant in many cases. I deeply suspect that you'll find the same with JWs and other isolationist religions trying to build numbers in a modern world. $\endgroup$ – Tim B II Mar 9 '18 at 20:54

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