© Charles Chandler
Fanatical cults always center around a leader, and an understanding of the leader is key to understanding the entire phenomenon.
The leader is simply an extremely manipulative person who gets an ego trip from seeing what he can get people to do for him. There are, of course, many manipulative people in society. "Manipulation" itself is a hard word to define, and surely there are times when it is actually a good thing. But when motivated by ego, it's usually bad. Ego trips are fundamentally destructive in nature — they have to consume in order to be satisfied. Intellectual and spiritual motivations might drive us to build each other up, but ego is a matter of sense of importance, and destruction is cheaper importance than caring and building. If someone is having a hard time getting enough sense of importance out of life, destroying things might be the only way that he can balance his emotional budget.
Another important point about ego-driven manipulation is that it leads to unnatural acts. Getting people to do things that they would have done anyway is not an ego trip. But getting people to do things that are against their natures is an ego trip. So we can expect the manipulative person to ask us to go against our common sense, the way we were raised, the influences of family and friends, and even against our natural instincts for safety and security. It is the amount that we can be deflected from our original course that gives the manipulative person a sense of importance. Unfortunately, most of the forces that influence us in our lives are healthy, and a fundamental change in course — the more radical the better — when driven by somebody's ego needs — is probably going to be unhealthy.