Why are Some People attracted to Destructive Leaders?

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Leadership Identification

Identification of potential leaders is made focusing on certain social cues such as confidence, charisma, and ability to show direction. Certain people take advantage of the cues to take a leadership position and lead people into cultic following and beliefs. Leaders should be in a position to attract followers. There are different motivating factors which are used to sustain the following. In some cases, the followers are brainwashed and recruited to adopt radical beliefs which sustain the leader and view him as supreme. Leaders with the cultic following are confident and often ruthless. The leaders are also highly charming carrying certain attractive ideologies which may find a soft spot in peoples’ minds and lives. Some bad leaders also use terror and fear to monger to rule and lead. This paper will focus on the bad leadership of David Koresh and the ways of sustaining his cultic following. 

Born in 1959, David Koresh was the head of Branch Davidians, a religious group which stockpiled weapons as a way of preparing themselves for the apocalypse. The cult referred to their members as the ‘army of God.’ Report by Federal Bureau of Investigation revealed that the children recruited were abused physically and emotionally often being subjected to incidences of in-fighting as a way of preparing them for the tough days ahead. According to Williams (2009), during the 51-day stand-off, more than seventy individuals were killed. Koresh shot himself ushering the beginning of the end to the cultic group. Therefore, in line with the argument being succeeded in this paper, Koresh’ leadership was characterized by the radicalization of its members. After radicalization, they were brainwashed to view Koresh as supreme and unquestionable. His word became law. Survivors revealed that the members were ready to die for the group which only occurs in cults. 

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Religion acts as a soft spot to culture bad leaders. The fear of the unknown and the fate of human life after death is often used as a soft spot to proceed cultic beliefs. In Koresh’ case, he understood his members. According to Ammerman (1995), Koresh made the people believe in issues which could not be proved using empirical evidence. People are attracted to charismatic leaders who are ready to offer solutions and answers to the questions that the members may be having. Koresh offered the solution and presented the apocalypse as a physical process which called for preparation. Branch Davidians, therefore, turned to be a group of individuals who were ready to die. The 51 days face off which ended with Koresh committing suicide portrayed a group which did not recognize the law. They viewed the federal government and national government as systems which were earthly and hence limited them from realizing their heavenly mission. Therefore, in the success of bad leaders, alienation from the law is needed to introduce new terms to govern them. 

The best way to appeal to people and lead them is triggering their emotions. David Koresh used spirituality to trigger the peoples’ emotions and provide a platform in which they would stand out as a distinct group breaking off from the mother group due to power wrangles. The cultic following cannot be achieved without making the people own up the struggle. The members must be forced to oppose and alienate themselves from the rest of the population as a way of securing them and ensuring that the team is safe from interference. During the child abuse court battle against the cult, the case was thrown out due to lack of evidence. The members were not ready to testify against their leader despite having full knowledge that the cases were taking place. Destructive leaders succeed by creating an aura of fear around them. No one in the group is ready to attack them or question their actions. 

Instilling uncertainty often creates support and a chance to brainwash people and introduce cultic beliefs. Religion is a soft spot with the fear of the unknown and security being used to radicalize members. David Koresh succeeded in creating a strong team with members being held together by religious beliefs and the preparation of the apocalypse and life after death. Koresh has been defined as a sociopath. Taking refuge in religion, he managed to ascend to power and create a cultic following where the members were ready to die for him and the beliefs they were introduced to. Destructive leaders succeed by igniting the people to defy the law and subscribe to other ideologies which cannot be proven empirically or scientifically. 

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  1. Ammerman, N. T. (1995). Waco, Federal Law Enforcement, and Scholars of Religion. In Armageddon in Waco, Edited by: Wright, Stuart A. 285. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 
  2. Williams, J. (2009). Memories of the Branch Davidians: The Autography of David Koresh’s Mother by Bonnie Haldeman (Review). Southwestern Historical Quarterly, 112(3), 358- 359. 
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